As I was saying, I think the real test is not so much what the right hon. Gentleman has achieved in the last six months, but whether production has been organised, whether the machine has been geared up and whether the policy he has framed is adequate to meet the needs of housing the people. The two main bottle necks which he will have to face, either in the carrying out of this Bill or any other part of his programme, are those of labour and material. I would like to ask two questions and I hope the Minister may be able to give us some information about them tonight. The figure of building labour employed before the war was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1,070,000. It is now about 690,000 but, as I have already pointed out, half of that labour is still employed, according to the figures issued the other day, on bomb repairs. Could the right hon. Gentleman give us any estimate as to when these men will be released for permanent house-building? It is obvious that, while we have this enormous labour force locked up in bomb-repair work, it will be very difficult indeed to get on with the building of permanent houses on any scale. Could the Minister also tell us what the output per man is on bomb-repair work compared with work on other construction, and whether it is proposed to continue the cost-plus system? As everyone knows, this system has had a disastrous effect in slowing down progress.
My third point is that temporary housing has been held up very considerably because of the delay in the delivery of fittings. Can the Minister tell the House what is the cause of this hold-up? Has there been any increase in the number of those working in the factories producing those fittings, and is full use being made of women workers in those factories? On the question of material, are we going to stick, in the main, to the old traditional methods of building? The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health has today told us— and I am sure the House was glad to hear it—that construction on the permanent steel house will be continued, and that there is to be a new concrete house in the rural areas. I must say that the building of concrete houses in the rural areas strikes rather a chill note to my heart. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us on this point and, perhaps, make available to the House the designs of the models he intends to build.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether these methods are to be used to any great extent? Otherwise we are going to find ourselves up against the most serious bottleneck of all. Take, for instance, the production of bricks. I think that the production of bricks before the war was at the rate of 8,000 millions a year. Compared with that figure, the production today is 1,300 millions. That is a very serious drop indeed. How is it proposed to make up the deficiency? The London Brick Co., which produced roughly a quarter of the country's bricks before the war, is now working at something like 10 per cent. of its normal production. The Minister told us some time ago that conditions in the industry are bad and that he was going to try to improve them. I see that the Minister of Works yesterday met representatives of the industry and discussed these matters with them. May I say I hope that that was not the first time such meetings have taken place, and that that is not the first stage reached yesterday. Otherwise, it is going to be a very long time indeed before we make up the deficiency.
All these experiments have been carried on over a long period of time by the Ministry of Works. They were started in the days of the Coalition Government and were carried on by the "Caretaker" Government. I suggest that we have got past the experimental stage and that the Government should definitely have made up their minds about the types of houses to be built. After all, these experiments have been established in America, for the most part, for a number of years and have now become established building practice, so that we have got that experience to build on. I am perfectly certain that unless we make use of varied and alternative building materials, the right hon. Gentleman will be held up disastrously in this matter. I hope, therefore, that he will be able to give us a little more information on that point when he comes to reply to the Debate tonight. No task has ever offered a greater challenge to successive Governments, to local authorities, employers and workers in this country than this question of the provision of houses for the people. I believe that it can and will be solved if we tackle it with a far greater sense of urgency than we have shown to date. I believe it can be solved if we secure that co-operation among all parties and sections of the nation for which the Prime Minister appealed in these critical peacetime days.
The House can congratulate itself on the fact that, up to the present, this Debate has been conducted with extreme moderation and with nothing but the most earnest desire to try to solve the desperate housing problem. I think the one departure from that state of mind was the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink), who repeated a statement which he had made several times in this House, namely, that private enterprise built four out of five houses in the period between the wars. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, as a former Minister of Health, ought to know his statistics just a little better than that. The facts are that 4,000,000 houses were built in England and Wales between 1919 and 1939. Of these, 2,500,000 were built by private enterprise and 1,500,000 were built by local authorities, a proportion not of four out of five, but five out of eight.
The hon. Gentleman is challenging something that my right hon. and learned Friend said, but I must point out that the figures he gave are not the figures which he will find in the official document, "Private Enterprise Housing," Appendix 4, where he will see that the total number built by local authorities from 1st January, 1919, to 31st March, 1940—this is a Ministry of Health publication—is 1,162,939 and not 1,500,000 as he said. And under the heading of "Private enterprise" the total given is 3,029,765.
I am very grateful to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for his correction, but, even in the face of that document I cannot accept it because my figures are taken from the Ministry of Health statement of housing returns, published yearly up to the beginning of the war.
Can we then have an explanation of the discrepancy? This document that I have is an official document. It is the report of the private enterprise sub-committee af the Central Housing Committee, and it is published by the Ministry of Health. If the figures are entirely inaccurate, perhaps when the Minister replies he will tell us how the difference has arisen.
I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will, at least, agree that it is not for me to explain the discrepancy. Of the 1,500,000 houses built between the two wars, 900,000 were built under Acts passed by Tory Governments, and 600,000 were built under Acts passed by the Labour Government. I would remind hon. Members opposite that they were in office for 18½ years and the Labour Party were in office for only two-and-a-half years. Therefore, the Labour Party built one-third of all the houses built by municipal authorities in the 20 years between the wars. They built one-third of the houses in one-eighth of the time and did it at one-fifth of the cost.
Having said that, I would like to return to the Bill. I am sorry the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Croydon spent so much time dealing with the apparent misdeeds of the Labour Party in the past, and so little time dealing with the Bill itself. I join with the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) in congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary on his clear and able explanation of the Bill, which was listened to with the greatest interest and pleasure by the whole House. He commended it as an instrument for solving the housing requirements of the great majority of the people in this country, and I freely admit that he made good his claim. If tomorrow all the houses and flats which this Bill is designed to create were, in fact, completed he would find eager tenants.
The people are so desperately in need of houses that they are prepared to accept anything—any kind of shelter, from the substandard flat to the temporary house, Anything is better than life with the "in-laws"; anything is better than two women sharing the same kitchen, and anything is better than the horrible slums of my constituency—and of many other constituencies—where people suffering from tuberculosis sleep in the same bed as younger brothers and sisters, as yet unaffected. In circumstances such as these, the people are not asking for the best houses; they are asking simply for houses. But if it is the policy of His Majesty's Government—and I believe and hope it is—to provide the people with not only any kind of houses, but with homes, then I believe this Bill, in one important respect, falls very far short of the ideal.
The principle adopted in this Bill of paying subsidies for expensive sites was introduced into British housing legislation by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal in the 1930 Housing Act, when housing subsidies were graded according to the cost of sites, and higher sums were paid for tenement houses than for houses with gardens. These subsidies were increased in 1935, and were again steepened in 1938 by the then Minister of Health, the late Sir Kingsley Wood. By that time a considerable change was apparent in informed quarters, where the steady deterioration in working class housing standards produced by a tenement building policy was causing considerable alarm. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, who opened the Debate on that Bill for the Labour Party, went voluntarily into sackcloth and ashes and admitted his own responsibility for giving the housing subsidy policy a twist in the wrong direction; he told the Minister that the time had come to reconsider the whole position. The Lord Privy Seal prophesied that the Bill would result in a worsening of housing conditions. Eight years have passed since my right hon. Friend made that statement. In six of them, housing has been practically at a standstill. There has been time, and opportunity, to reconsider the policy. Yet, when we look at this Bill we find that, however good it is in other respects, the wrong principles of town development embodied in the 1930 and 1938 Housing Acts are to be perpetuated and intensified.
I shall try to show to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health that Clause 4 of this Bill is thoroughly bad economics, and I shall attempt to show him that sociologically it is even worse. Let us compare the costs of houses and flats under the Bill. A house of the standard recommended by the Dudley Committee costs roughly £1,000 today. Perhaps the Minister would tell me that I did not hear the Parliamentary Secretary aright when I heard him say that the standard house was to be 900 square feet, and not the 950 square feet as recommended in the Dudley Report. A house of 950 square feet costs roughly £1,000 today. A flat of the same floor area would cost £1,750, assuming the cost of constructing a flat is 175 per cent. of the cost of building the equivalent house. That is a reasonable estimate, because the prewar costs were 182 per cent. of house construction. The subsidy scale does not permit of building such spacious flats at 36 to 40 flats to an acre of land. It permits only of building much smaller flats—the Parliamentary Secretary says of 800 square feet floor area. Such a flat, at such a density, works out at £1,400 to £1,500 on land at any price at 35 flats to an acre.
We are, therefore, faced with the fact that the Minister considers it to be good housing policy and good economics to provide people with inferior accommodation in fiats at a greatly increased cost per individual flat. He further considers it is good economics to pay a subsidy of £1,105 for a flat without a lift on land costing £5,000 to £6,000 an acre, or a subsidy of £1,267 on a flat on land costing £11,000 an acre, or a subsidy of £1,482 on land costing £20,000 an acre. At this level the discrepancy between the subsidy for a spacious modern house and an inadequate flat reaches the phenomenal figure of £888, the difference between the standard house subsidy of £594 and the £20,000 an acre subsidy of £1,482. If a lift is provided the discrepancy is even greater and the capitalised value of the subsidy goes up by a further £282. Therefore, such a flat, still costs with inferior accommodation, on land at £20,000 an acre in a combined Exchequer and local rate subsidy, an additional £1,170 as compared with a spacious family house and garden.
If under the Bill 28,000 flats are provided on high cost land, say at £13,000 an acre in the centre of the city, they will cost the nation and local authorities in combined subsidies roughly £37 million. If the Bill were amended—and I hope careful consideration will be given to the possibility of its amendment—so that the high cost of land subsidy permitted of mixed development, say, roughly, one-third flats and two-thirds houses—I do not want him to tell me in reply that that is permitted in the Bill as it stands, because it is not—and 14,000 families were provided with accommodation at an overall density of 20 dwellings to the acre, and another 14,000 families were provided with spacious new houses in a fine modern new town, then the cost in building would go down from £51 million to £40 million and the cost of subsidies would be reduced by almost £10 million. At the same time, the people so re housed would get more space inside their houses and outside their houses and would pay lower rents.
The Bill does not allow that. Local authorities are not being persuaded by the eloquence of the Minister of Health to build flats rather than houses. I have so much admiration for the Celtic word wizardry of the Minister that I have no doubt he could persuade local authorities to build many more flats than they really want. However, they are not being persuaded. They are simply being told, "You must build flats on expensive sites, and nothing but flats on expensive sites." But I forget, there is one meager concession. The Bill says they may build a few houses on expensive sites provided the Minister is satisfied that the same accommodation could not have been provided on the same sites in blocks of three-storey flats. I do not know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be taking part in this Debate. If he is, I should like him to tell the House whether we are now such a wealthy country that we can afford, in rehousing 28,000 families, to throw away an additional £10 million in subsidies. If we are as wealthy as that, then this is the first indication that we have had from the Government that that is so.
One wonders whether the Minister of Town and Country Planning has been consulted in the preparation of this Bill. whether he tendered advice, and if so, whether his advice was accepted. I hesitate to remind the Minister of Health of the pamphlet "Let Us Face The Future," the pamphlet on which he and I and all of us on these benches fought the General Election. In that manifesto we said there must be one Ministry for housing and planning. The Government changed their minds. The Government had a perfect right to change their minds, but that change of mind, I suggest, is only acceptable to the House and to the country if the Government are able to secure that close coordination between the Departments concerned that makes their amalgamation unnecessary. There is no sign of such co-ordination in this Bill. On the contrary. I should like to remind the Minister that it is the stated view of the Government that the decentralisation and dispersal of population and industry from our over- crowded towns is one of the most urgent and necessary tasks of our generation. 1 should also like to remind him that it has always been the policy of the Labour Party to provide for increasing standards of living space for our people, and that the policy of the Labour Party, as decided at the Conference held in December, 1944, is completely at variance with the principle embodied in Clause 4 of this Bill. The Government have given repeated pledges that they will carry out the policy of decentralisation and dispersal recommended by the Barlow Commission. This Bill, as it stands, does not help that process one scrap. On the contrary, it takes us back to principles of city development which have been denounced by every enlightened authority for the last 50 years.
I welcome the Government's announcement yesterday of their acceptance of the Abercrombie Plan for the Greater London area, which attempts, for the first time in history, to apply the principle of the limitation of the size of cities, coupled with decentralisation into garden cities and satellite towns. In the preamble the Abercrombie Report describes 100 persons per acre as the maximum desirable limit, but it accepted the fact that in special circumstances there would have to be a density of 136, and even in certain peculiar instances, a density of 200 persons to the acre. These higher instances were, however, accepted, reluctantly. In the Ministry of Health Housing Manual, the maximum density suggested for central areas of towns is 100 persons to the acre, and for central areas of very large towns the density suggested is 120 persons to the acre. In this Bill the rate of subsidies does not provide for 100 persons to the acre, or even 120 persons to the acre. It provides, at the very best, for a density of 130 to 160 persons to the acre. That is a density which if permitted at all, should be very exceptional, but it is a density which is a really intolerable and lamentable denial of living space for the ordinary wage earner, his wife and family.
One is tempted to inquire if this Bill is the product of the combined operations of the Government, or whether it is solely the inspired view of the Minister of Health, who wishes to depart from the British tradition of the house and garden and substitute the proved Continental failure of the tenement flat. The Minister of Health would dump his birth control barracks not only in the heart of our cities, but even in the English countryside. The Minister has always prided himself on being a revolutionary. Is this the first fruit of his revolutionary zeal? I can understand a Minister saying, "I shall not allow the high price of land in the centre of our cities to determine the living conditions of the people of this country." I could understand a Minister who said, "I shall not allow the rapaciousness of landlords to cut down in any way the living space, the elbow room, the sunlight and fresh air, the contact with grass, flowers and trees of the people of our cities." There, indeed, we should have had a revolutionary approach. But I cannot understand a Minister, and especially a Labour Minister, who says that because the nation has to pay vast sums to the landlords the people must put up with inferior living space. The Minister may say, however, that he is putting an end to suburban sprawl, and that by building high at the centre, he will be saving the countryside of Britain. If he says that, he is merely showing that he has not grasped the very elements of the problem he is trying to solve.
Between the wars there were two things wrong with the way in which our towns and cities expanded. One was suburban sprawl, the other was increased vertical density in the centre. Why was it that in a decade a million people fled from the London county area to the suburbs of London? It was because they wanted fresh air, sunlight, more intimate contact with nature. They wanted to potter about in the garden, they wanted some sort of escape from the increased mechanisation of factory and city life. They were prepared to pay a very high price for those things in long and tedious journeys to and from their work. That is the intolerable choice that our great city civilisation places on the ordinary man and woman—the choice between a house and garden a long way from their work and a tenement flat near their work. This Bill does not present the lower paid worker with that choice at all. The workers of our great cities are to be told by this Bill that they must be warehoused, whether they like it or not.
The hundreds of thousands of people who fled from the congested cities out to the suburbs to get better conditions before the war were not wrong. The result was wrong, but they were not wrong. What was wrong was that there was no method of guiding the development which resulted so that the houses did not sprawl into a vast rash of red tiled bungalows and dormitory suburbs, but were grouped in compact towns related to industry, to town amenities and to the natural healthy recreations of an unspoilt countryside. Clause 4 of this Bill is a panic stricken Clause. Obsessed with the idea of the need to avoid suburban sprawl, the Minister is adopting a means which is no means and is forcing people to live in flats who want to live in houses. Although he imagines himself to be a revolutionary, the Minister is a conservative in his housing theory.
Monumental planning may or may not have a place in democracy in our commercial and civic centres. It is an interesting and debatable point, which I will not go into now. But monumental planning has very little place in our residential areas. The ordinary people of this country have no need for the delusions of grandeur which huge-scale blocks of flats provide. The Karl Marx Hof of prewar Vienna provided living boxes of 400 square feet behind the facade of an imitation Hapsburg palace. Responsible Austrian architects now admit that those buildings were a fundamental mistake. They point out that they resulted in two things, the lowest birth-rate in Europe and the wholesale development of allotments and hutments on the outskirts of Vienna. We are told by the Minister that he weeps when he sees a woman having to carry her baby up four flights of stairs, but, surely, it is even worse to provide flat conditions of life which will certainly not arrest, but will rather accelerate, the decline in the birth-rate of this country? The Soviet Union—if the Minister thinks we are to look to Russia for an example—went in for a flat- building policy before the war. There, too, they have learnt their mistake. Professor Vladimir Witman, who might be called the Sir Patrick Abercrombie of the U.S.S.R., is planning 30 new towns for the Soviet Republic without providing a single building of more than two storeys in any one of them.
The Minister may imagine that he is following the lead of the French architect and planner, Le Corbusier. If he does he is profoundly mistaken. In his latest book, "The Three Foundations of a Humane Civilisation," Le Corbusier advocates decentralisation of population and industry, the creation of garden cities, and a low density housing policy. Le Corbusier has discovered, as the Minister will discover, that people will not consent to live in the clouds if land is available. The Bill can be described, in its most important Clause, as so much "flat-doodle." I would suggest to the Minister that he would be making a bad bargain if he attempts to fit out his brand new but still practically empty housing wardrobe with the cast offs from a mid-European jumble sale.
Perhaps the Minister is of the opinion that the wishes of the people of this country should not be consulted. If that is his view, perhaps he is entitled to do it, but it does not square with my conception of Socialism, or with what I have always regarded as the outlook and policy of our great Labour Party. If the Minister thinks that the wishes of the people—even more than their wishes, their deepest desires and instinctive biological needs—should be consulted, then it is relevant to point out that Clause 4 ignores them all. During the war a great many surveys were taken to find out the kind of house in which people wanted to live. They all showed that 90 per cent. of the people of this country want to live in houses with gardens, and prefer them to flats.
In the survey conducted by the Bournville Village Trust published in the book, "When we build again," 92.4 per cent. of the people wanted to live in houses with gardens, and of those who had no gardens, 78 1 per cent. wanted them. In the survey carried out by Mass Observation and published in the book, "People's Homes," in Dagenham, I ford, Fulham and Worcester, the people who preferred a house to a flat were from 75 to 95 per cent. in the areas covered, while, over all, only 8 per cent. of those interviewed would, by choice, inhabit a flat. In the survey carried out by the Womens' Housing Advisory Committee, 94 per cent. preferred a house to a flat. Among the Services, and particularly among the women's Services, there was an overwhelming preference for the house rather than the flat; 98 per cent. of
the men in the Forces, and 85 per cent. of the women, preferred a house to a flat. Mr. Arnold Whittick, who carried out a survey among Service people, the results of which were published in the pamphlet, "Civic design," said:
The voting was recorded after I had pointed out the different advantages of both types of dwelling, and had asked groups to vote on the assumption that they could live in an almost ideally developed estate of flats, with each living room facing south, with central heating, with a crêche and nursery school in each block, with a communal restaurant, club room, clinic, allotments and tennis courts, swimming pools and children's playground in each area.
That is not the kind of thing proposed in this Bill, and yet, even then, 98 per cent. of the men, and 85 per cent. of the women in the Services preferred the house to the flat.
In the survey conducted by the Association of Women House Property Managers, who must speak with peculiar authority on these matters, only three per cent. of those living in houses wanted to live in flats, while 79 per cent. of those living in L.C.C. flats wanted to live in houses. The Minister may urge that the people consulted did not know what a good flat looks like. My reply to that is that the advantages of flats are well known—central heating and constant hot water have very big attractions. So have labour-saving kitchens. Prewar houses were never so well equipped as prewar flats, and the flat, therefore, had an adventitious advantage in comparison with the house in that usually the flat was well equipped while the house was poorly equipped.
The rule of the House is that hon. Members may not read their speeches, but they may refresh their memories. It is all a question of the degree of the refreshment.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his point of Order. We are always grateful for instruction. The noble Lord is an expert on manners, no doubt, as well as on the rules of this House. I am perfectly capable of making my speeches without even a reference to a note. I was merely trying to state a somewhat complicated and difficult case which did require that I should consult my notes rather more frequently than, perhaps, the noble Lord would have to do making a slightly less direct and pointed speech.
I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health to think again about Clause 4, and, if possible, to consider whether the Government might not introduce an Amendment to the Bill, with certain consequential Amendments which would leave it open to the local authorities to decide whether to have houses or flats or both, and in what proportion. I want to make it quite clear that I am not against flats. Flats have their use in society. They are desirable for certain sections of the community, for single persons, for older people, for young couples without children; but they are not desirable as family dwellings. I want the Minister to consider if he could amend this Clause by bringing in suitable Amendments. If he does that he will be satisfying the needs and the demands of the people in away in which the Bill, as it stands at present, does not.
Finally, I should like to put to the Minister this simple point. When he or I or any ordinary citizen has to make up his mind about where to live, he has all sorts of things to take into consideration. He has to decide whether he will live in an expensive flat in the centre of, say, London or Manchester; or whether he will live in a suburb. If he decides on the expensive flat, he will have to pay an expensive rent. If he decides on a house in a suburb his rent will be a little less, but his daily travel charges must be added. I put this to the Minister. Suppose that he said to anyone, "Here is an expensive substandard 800 square feet flat in the centre of one of our great cities, and it is costing a minimum of £1,400 and a maximum, as far as one can gather that there is a maximum, of £1,800. You may live in this flat if you choose, but if you would prefer not to live in the flat then we will give you £1,400 or £1,800 in order that you may build and buy a house for yourself." I put it to the Minister of Health that the number of people who would, in those circumstances, prefer a flat to a house with a garden is such a small number as to be completely negligible.
In his castigation of the Minister of Health, the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) dubbed him as Conservative in his housing theories. We must disown the right hon. Gentleman. These notions which we see exemplified in this Bill are certainly not notions that we hold on these benches. The Minister is going ahead with his plan with, we think, too little regard for the practical considerations which will decide how many houses are to be put up in 1946 and how many will be put up in the years that immediately follow. I think that the Minister has undoubtedly learned something from the regional conferences he has been holding with the local authorities. We hope to see that wisdom reflected in Amendments to his preconceived notions as we go on.
The Minister must know, as all hon. Members know, that there is a sense of frustration among local authorities at the moment. They have not been held up because they have not known the amount of the subsidies, but because of departmental red tape and the impossibility of getting started with their housing schemes. They have got their land and their plans all ready, but they are very slow in getting off the mark. In ray part of the country, Berkshire and Wiltshire, there are many small local firms of builders. They are getting back quite a number of their men from the Forces. I am afraid that too much of their enterprise and skill at the present time is being used for repair work and decorating rather than for building the new houses which we all want It is true that some small firms are overcoming the handicaps that lie in the road of their starting on their own account to put up houses. I saw a startling advertisement in my own local paper this week-end. Perhaps I may give it to the House. It says:
Ready early Summer. Semi-detached, six room houses Modern conveniences. Bath. Hot and cold. Main road frontage. £1,165. Freehold. Order now from the firm with a reputation for good house building. Building society terms arranged.
There is a firm that is showing enterprise. I hope the enterprise will take the form of good houses, and if it does, I am certain that that little advertisement will have plenty of answers. How nice it would be if our local authorities, on whom the Minister is pinning all his faith, were in
the same happy position of being able to say to hundreds of applicants, "By early this summer we shall have six-roomed houses ready for you." This would be a better Bill if the Minister had remembered that in the rural areas, particularly, we have many thousands of old cottages, not too good to live in, and not too capacious. The living space is not sufficient to house a family decently. A great many of these cottages can be brought up to date and made into good houses. At the time they were built they were structurally sound. They are out of date. They can be made good for an expenditure in labour and materials of something like £400. Unfortunately, the Minister took delight in the autumn in stamping on the Housing (Rural Workers) Act.
The Parliamentary Secretary today in his opening speech told us that they were deliberately delaying the reconditioning of these farm workers cottages. I hope that that deliberate delay will not go on too long because the need is very great, as the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) told us in his tale of the housing conditions in Gloucestershire. There are spots all over the country districts where the housing is bad. Happily, there are also many good cottages in the agricultural villages and on the farms. By all means let us have new cottages built by the local authorities in the villages and also by private enterprise. We need all we can get. I should like to ask the Minister of Health whether local authorities will be encouraged to put up some cottages for remote communities. The Minister of Town and Country Planning had recently given us the idea that some villages in his estimation are what he calls "disintegrating villages," where no new houses should be built. I do hope the local authorities will not be bound to concentrate entirely on the bigger villages. We have many villages of 300 or less people and they need just as good houses as the Government were hoping to provide in the bigger villages or in the towns. I would remind the Minister that many cottages in villages and on farms are service cottages, that is to say, they are held in connection with a man's occupation I know that that is anathema to hon. Members opposite. These cottages go with a man's job. They are occupied by cowmen, carters and so on, who are men with great responsibilities. Many of them prefer living on the jab. By all means let these men have the choice of a cottage put up by a council or a cottage on the farm. Above all, let these men have good cottages.
In Clause 13 of the Bill, the Minister shows decided political bias by excluding from subsidy new cottages which are built for service occupation. The leaders of the Agricultural Workers' Union make a great point of attacking tied cottages. I have no doubt that at their meetings strong things are said about tied cottages, but I do not think the ordinary farm worker really worries whether his cottage is tied or whether it is free, so long as it is a good cottage. I believe it to be a fantasy to imagine the cowman sitting down to his cows at 5.30 in the morning, grousing that he lives in a tied cottage; he is thankful his cottage is handy to his cows. I hope that soon we shall be able to tackle this problem of the service cottage with a rather more open mind.
I want for a moment to look a gift horse in the mouth. This Bill provides special rates of subsidy for housing the agricultural population, classed with those of low rent-paying capacity. The Government hope, by an abstruse calculation, that the estimated average rent for agricultural cottages will be 7s. 6d. per week, as against 10s. per week for houses in the towns. That is a higher rent than for most agricultural cottages at the present time, but, in my view, it would not be a bad thing if farm cottage rents were fixed a little nearer to an economic figure. Indeed, the whole scale of farm cottage rents fixed by the Agricultural Wages Acts and the Rent Restrictions Acts, should now be reviewed. Like most hon. Members, during the election I referred to the desirability of bringing farm workers' earnings closer to the earnings of the men in the towns. In this Bill, we are perpetuating the idea of agriculture as a poor relation by giving special subsidies to agricultural houses over a period of 60 years. We all recognise that it is more expensive to build in the country than in the town, but I object to the idea of treating the farm worker as a poor relation for ever. I want to see the farm worker in a position of being able to pay a rent of 10s. a week for a good cottage, rather than having this special subsidy. Many of us are alarmed at the continuing tendency to subsidise agriculture directly or in- directly. Subsidies do not breed confidence, nor, indeed, shall we have decent houses for farm workers until the men engaged in the industry are able to pay a decent rent for them.
I should like to see the farm wage go up and an economic rent paid for farm cottages. Only in that way can we make sure that better houses are put up, and that the houses are properly maintained. At the moment rents of 3s. per week are being paid, which means £7 16s. a year to the farmer, which after rates are paid leaves only £2 or £3 to pay for repairs, to put new slates on the roof, and so on. Is it any wonder that many of our farm cottages are not as good as we should like to see them? This Bill does not help in any way to straighten out the problem. It gives generous subsidies, and I hope that it will help towards quicker building of the houses so urgently needed. We on this side of the House are not tied to any political notions. We want to see both free enterprise and local authorities getting on with the job. I hope the Minister will soon revise his ideas. He will have to revise them as the months go on.
I want wholeheartedly to endorse the eulogy given to this Bill by the Parliamentary Secretary, and the House will agree that I cannot give it any higher praise than that. I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that the Bill is generous in scope and sound in principle. I have been very interested to observe that the attack from hon. Members opposite has been very limp indeed. The only criticism which has been delivered with any note of conviction at all, was that from the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister). I believe that he misunderstands the purpose of the Bill and misjudges its effect. I have read the Bill very carefully and I do not see that it will lead to more flats going up where flats grew before or to flats going up in new places. However, I have to pay the hon. Member the tribute of obvious conviction. Hon. Members opposite are in a bit of a difficulty, because the only criticism which they can advance against the Bill—and the only criticism about which they feel strongly—is that it does not give public money to the speculative private builder. Hon. Members opposite
are having their last fling on the housing question. They know that we are set on the road to progressive expansion of housing through municipal channels which will leave them very shortly with no argument at all. Therefore, at this stage they are exploiting to the utmost the fact that in these early difficult months private enterprise has got off to an easy start. In case any speaker later in the Debate should feel like pressing this argument a little too far I would draw the attention of the House to the attitude of the "Economist" in regard to the figures of private enterprise housing to date. The "Economist" states:
One explanation of this is that the local authorities are mostly working on large schemes for which the initial preparation is greater, whereas private enterprise is building mostly in very small lots. This is borne out by the figures for housing under construction, which shows 16,000 for public, and between five and six thousand for private enterprise. Only 28.000 licences to private builders have yet been issued. It is, therefore, very improbable that private enterprise will maintain its lead for very long.
I am prepared to wait on events and see how many of the private enterprise "mickles" there are when the municipal "muckle" really gets going. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have really only one conviction on this housing question—and the whole of their harking back to the history of housing between the wars goes to confirm this. They have staked their all on getting a subsidy for the private speculative builder; and they cannot get over their disappointment that that has not been achieved. I remember fighting my election campaign very substantially, so far as housing was concerned, on this point. I drew the attention of my constituents in Blackburn to the report of the Conservative Party housing committee, issued just before the General Election, in which one of the major suggestions for solving the housing problem was that a public subsidy of some £100 million should be paid to the speculative builder, in exchange for which he would very graciously submit to public control of his standards of building, and most kindly submit to rent control for a period of five years. I believe—and I have behind me the vote of the people of Blackburn—that it is wrong to put £100 million of the taxpayers' hard earned money into private pockets in order to build houses which are privately owned and after five years subject to no control whatever.
I have always been at a loss to understand why there should be this emphasis on the need for subsidising and giving a free rein to the speculative builder. Of, course, my right hon. Friend is not excluding private enterprise from his housing scheme. Local authorities are not going to build the majority of these houses by direct labour. They are going to build them with the aid of private builders and pay them a fair profit for doing their job. What then is this extra inducement which the speculative builder seeks in asking to be given a free hand? Is it that he seeks an unfair profit; because under municipal contracts he can get a fair profit in any case? I am strongly behind the Minister in the confidence he places in the municipal authorities in this question of housing. I was very interested to read an article on Sunday by Sir Miles Mitchell endorsing the Minister's view that the local authorities could and would carry this burden. It is, therefore, very important to know what are the reactions of the municipalities to this Bill. I think that it can be agreed that local authorities generally are pleasantly surprised by the concessions that have been made by the Minister. On three major points he has met them substantially and generously— the three to one ratio of Exchequer subsidy to rate contribution is a concession they appreciate; the fixing of a definite period for the operation of these subsidies as against the operation of a sliding scale is a concession they appreciate; the sixty year period is a concession they appreciate.
There is one point, however, which I wish to take up with the Minister this evening. That is the argument which is going on between him and the local authorities as to what will be the actual size of the deficit which will remain to be met by subsidies. The Parliamentary Secretary, in his most moving and convincing speech, established it as a cardinal point of the Minister's policy that these houses should be let at rents averaging 10s. a week. I do not think that many of them are going to be let at less than that; therefore, it is a matter of primary concern that there should not be a large number let at more than that figure. The big question mark in all these calculations is what is the present range of building costs, what should be the present range of building costs, and what will be the future range of building costs. In his housing policy the Minister's intentions are impeccable and his exhortations to local authorities most excellent. But on this aspect of policy he is putting a task on them which I do not think is a very feasible one.
In November last, the Minister issued three directives to local authorities. In the first place, he told them to build and plan their new houses to the full Dudley standard, 900 square feet minimum area for a three bed roomed house. That, of course, they welcome, and we welcome. After all, we are building now for many years ahead, and we are building for the men who have been promised a great deal during this war, and it is only right and proper that we should start our great housing programme on a basis and to a standard which is adequate for our modern conceptions and ideals.
Secondly, he asked the local authorities to get off to an early start with some portion of their housing programme in order that they should be ready to absorb the labour coming back from the Forces and not allow it to drain away in trivial repair work. Thirdly—this is the crux of the whole question—he asked the local authorities to take a strong line on the question of tenders and to turn their backs sternly on those which were unreasonably high, even if that meant a delay in carrying out their housing programme. That, undoubtedly, has meant a certain amount of delay. According to the Minister's own figure, up to January last some 10 per cent of local authority tenders were rejected on the grounds that they were unreasonably high, and some of these tenders have been reduced by cutting out what the Minister thinks are "frills"—but with that all of us may not agree.
I suggest to the Minister that he is leaving the local authorities rather single-handed to fight this battle of building costs—one of the most serious battles which face us in the housing field. Is the deficit on these houses going to be £22, as the Minister visualises, or is it going to be £30, which the local. authorities visualise? If the Minister is wrong and the local authorities are right then we are faced with this situation: Local authorities will have to take the rap. They will be left then with the decision as to whether they should put an extra burden, in addition to their statutory rate contributions, on the rates, or let these houses at more than 10s. a week rent; and that will mean in many cases that with rates included— and rates are going to be inflated by this housing programme—these houses will let at something nearer a gross rent of £1 a week. In my constituency three-bed-roomed houses completed just before the war were letting at a gross rent of 10s. 7d. a week. I admit that the postwar houses will be better houses; but are we always going to deny to the low income groups a share in our progress in housing development, because the rents move beyond their range?
I agree with everything that the Parliamentary Secretary said about the importance of giving the low income groups a fair share in future of the good things that are coming in houses; but I am afraid that unless something drastic is done about building costs we shall find . the rents creeping up and up, and then these fine houses will move outside the range of the people who have as much right to them as anyone else. I know the Minister appreciates as much as any of us the importance of checking and controlling building costs. I ask him what is his mechanism of control? The only one I have been able to discover so far is the mechanism of stone-walling—of refusing to accept excessive tenders. That is a mechanism which is incompatible with the need for a tremendous stride forward in housing progress, at top speed, and it is also a mechanism which may interfere with the steady flow of production which would bring down building costs by increasing housing construction per man hour. I am sorry that the "Housing Return for England and Wales," which is so adequate in other respects, does not give full details on this issue of building costs. What is the main cause of these high prices? If we knew that, we could give the Minister our full support in combating whatever is the cause, and we could decide as a representative body what is the best way to meet the situation. I do suggest to him that he is being a bit canny about this question. He is not giving us the information and I believe he is thereby weakening his own fight against whatever vested interests may be standing between us and the realisation of a democratic housing programme.
I should like to begin by answering the general charges made by the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass), which were really a repetition of what has been the gist of many speeches from the other side. He, and other hon. Members, referred to the 20 years between the wars as a period during which the Conservative Party were really in power and it is suggested that that party should not be proud of its record. I say that the record of house construction in this country during that 20 year period is without any precedent in any other country in the world. There were 8,000,000 houses in this country in 1919. In 20 years, another 4,000,000 houses were added. It is not a bad performance to add 50 per cent. to the number of houses in the country in a period of 20 years, and during a period when other things had to be done at the same time. There was the building of factories and the building of other industrial premises, and the right hon. Gentleman is fully aware that today again the President of the Board of Trade is asking that there shall be, in the Development Areas, a good deal of labour diverted to the building of new factories
As far as housing in this country was concerned, the Conservative Party put first things first. The first thing was to overtake the shortage of the number of separate dwellings and by about 1933 there were as many separate dwellings as there were families. In fact, by1933, the first problem had been overtaken—that of the shortage of housing—and not until then, did the Conservative Party turn its attention to slum clearance. That is exactly the situation in which the Minister of Health finds himself today. We hear from the hon. Member for Thornbury about the appalling conditions that exist in this country today, but the Minister is rightly saying exactly what the Conservative Party said 20 years ago—a Government cannot begin demolishing the slums until they have overtaken the acute housing shortage which exists in the country. It was under the regime of Sir Edward Hilton Young as he then was that subsidies for the building of new houses were completely done away with, and it was under that legislation, that subsidies were limited to slum clearance All the slum clearance in London, for which we have heard the Socialist Members opposite take credit on behalf of the Socialist London County Council was done under the enabling legislation which was passed by the predominantly Conservative Parliament of 1931–35
Really it is not a question of why it was not operated by a Tory Government, but rather of the extent to which it was operated by the local authorities. The proof of the pudding must be in the eating, and what happened was that an improved Slum Clearance Act was passed by Sir Edward Hilton Young when he was Minister of Health. I am perfectly willing to give such measure of credit as is appropriate to the Socialist majority of the London County Council, which carried out extensive slum clearance in London under legislation passed by a very distinguished and successful Conservative Minister of Health. That is the party's record, first of all, to provide the necessary number of houses; secondly, to pass the legislation enabling slum clearance to be undertaken. When that was well under way, we then passed legislation which made overcrowding in houses an offence. By the time the war broke out 4,000,000 additional houses had been added to the equipment of the country and there were subsidies only for slum clearance and also for the reduction of overcrowding.
The hon. Member for Thornbury said that whatever might have been the performance of private enterprise—and he knows perfectly well that three out of four of all the houses built in this country during those 20 years were built by private enterprise—it was not a matter of any great interest to the working classes, because very few of those houses were built to let. Let us look at that statement. It is quite true that before the Four Years' War the vast bulk of the houses that were built—90 per cent. to be accurate—were built for letting. Those were the days when the working classes of this country had so little purchasing power that a comparatively small proportion of them could afford to buy their own homes. It is a matter of immense satisfaction to us that the great development of building societies and the development of thrift in this country has enabled a large proportion of the houses that have been built during the 20 years' truce to be built for the owner-occupier, in spite of that, it is a fact that very nearly 500,000 houses were built by private enterprise for letting. I apologise for taking up so much of the time of the House, but I think it is about time that some of the facts and figures were stated, and in stating these facts quite plainly, we are not in the least nervous about being reminded about "homes for heroes." It took a very long time, but by the outbreak of the present war we were well on the way to the solution of the housing problem.
As regards the Bill, I would begin by mentioning the points in it on which I am able to congratulate the Minister and to support him. The subsidies are very large and also very generous. The Treasury provides three-quarters instead of two-thirds for 60 years instead of for 40. I believe all that to be quite necessary, and extremely desirable. I also congratulate the Minister on having provided for an early review of the present figures of the subsidies. It is anybody's guess what building costs will be, and he is right and wise to ensure that he can at an early date review, in the light of experience, what the subsidy should be. I am also glad that the subsidies, if at all, now err on the generous side. I have already given a brief sketch of the history of housing during the past 20 years. On each occasion when subsidies were reduced there followed a reduction in the cost of building, and I hope that one effective way of reducing the cost of building will be a reduction in the subsidies. I would like to say one more kind word about the right hon. Gentleman before I come to my criticisms. He has always recognised the vital importance of reducing building costs. May I quote, not for the first time, a passage on this subject in the report of the rural
housing sub-committee on which, so far as I know, I was the only Conservative member, certainly the only Conservative Member of Parliament:
At present building costs are inflated by all sorts of factors, some of which should cease with the war, and the cost of the wartime agricultural cottages cannot, therefore, be taken as a guide. It is obvious to anyone, conscious of the limitations of the national resources, that it would be impossible to carry out the long term housing programme of 4,000,000 houses at the present level of building costs. To do so would involve locking up so large a share of the national resources in housing as to make it impossible to meet many other equally urgent social needs.
Therefore, I hope we may hear from the right hon. Gentleman, when he winds up the Debate, what other steps, besides a progressive reduction in subsidies, he will take in order to reduce the cost of building. I also welcome Clause 17 of the Bill, the purpose of which is to encourage the development of new non-traditional methods of construction. I am also glad that the right hon. Gentleman has accepted the general recommendation of the rural housing sub-committee for an especially large and generous subsidy to be paid in the case of rural houses. Their standard has fallen far behind that in the urban areas, and special assistance, in our view, was necessary.
But from that point onward I fear I am unable any longer to agree with the Minister. Why has the assistance which has been given to local authorities in rural districts been so grudgingly given to private individuals? Why has it not been given at all in urban areas? Agricultural cottages fall into two classes. Either they are held by service tenancies, which are called tied cottages, or by contracts of tenancy, and come under the Rent Restriction Acts. Why are the Government at pains to exclude the tied cottages from the provisions of this Bill? The Government are asking for more intensive cultivation of the countryside; they are paying subsidies in order that more land shall be brought under the plough Yet they are fully aware that the greatest of all difficulties facing agriculture at the moment, is the shortage of housing, and its poor standard. Surely it would only be logical and consistent, if there were full and cordial co-operation between the Ministers of Health and Agriculture that when the Minister of Agriculture is paying subsidies, and doing all he can to encourage development of the countryside —when he has said that to carry out his programme there must be 100,000 more agricultural labourers—the Minister of Health would not be unwilling to give assistance to landlords to provide the houses that are so needed.
Are the terms of this Bill to be indicative of the spirit in which the Minister of Health will administer the law as it is at present? I would like to put before the Minister a case which was brought to my notice by a neighbour of mine in the country. He is a rather large landowner, and he went to the Ministry in August, 1945, and obtained a permit for the building of certain houses for agricultural workers. As from January this year, there was an increase in the wages of building operatives, and he consequently went back to the Ministry and asked for a permit to enable him to complete those houses at the additional cost, which directly arose out of the increase in building operatives wages. He was told that a permit could not be given, that the expectation was that with the higher rates of wages output would be so much greater from the building operatives that the problem would not arise. He said, "Am I to understand that my builder and I, who began building these houses under your plan in August, 1945, will not now be provided with a permit so that they can be completed?" He was refused, and he said that he and the builder would finish the houses and that, if necessary, both were prepared to go to gaol.
What is the position? Is the Minister prepared to do all he can to encourage landowners, who are able and willing to do so, to provide houses, or is the general administration of his Department to be similar to the terms of this Bill? Will there be the same hidebound doctrinaire hostility to anything which is not Socialistic in its outlook? Why is it that whereas in the case of local authorities permits may be given them for building houses of more than 1,000 square feet in area, such permits will not be given to private enterprise?
Now I come to the question of reconditioning. I would like to know how it is going on, and whether the Minister can tell us how his mind is working on this matter. For example, has he received any report on the subject and, if so, is he prepared to publish it? The right hon. Gentleman will remember that at one time he plunged us into the depths of despair when we thought there would be no reconditioning. Then he aroused our hopes later by saying that, in good time, he would not only reintroduce reconditioning, but would provide a better Statute than the one which he found on the Statute Book. Would the right hon. Gentleman, in his reply, be good enough to let us know how things are progressing in that respect? It is a matter of very great seriousness to people in the countryside.
Reconditioning can be done, improvements can be carried out, under the Rent Restrictions Acts, and any improvement of that kind which is made can be charged to the tenant on the rent of 8 per cent. of the additional cost which has been provided out of the landowner's pocket. Therefore, the effect is that the tenants of rich men are able to have water supply, drainage, electricity, and so on, put in. It is those who are living in their own houses or on impoverished estates who are unable to obtain these benefits. Therefore, it seems to me extraordinary that the hon. Member for Thornbury should have denounced those Acts. I ask him to read the report of the rural housing sub-committee, which pointed out that "the conditions attached to the grant are designed to ensure that the whole benefit of the improvement goes to the tenant." I hope the right hon. Gentleman in his reply will tell us something more on the subject of reconditioning.
I want to ask a further question about the position of a builder who builds for the local authorities as compared with one who builds for private enterprise, or for himself. Is it the case that many of the contracts which the right hon. Gentleman approves, and which are let by the local authorities, not only provide for the lump sum mentioned in the contract, but also provide that if there is an increase, for example, in the price of building materials or if there is an increase in wages, an additional payment may be made by the local authority? Is it the case that with those contracts the private builder who enters into them is, in point of fact, safeguarded against many of the hazards and risks which he has to carry if he is building for himself? Does the right hon. Gentleman try to take this into account when he considers the figure at which he is prepared to approve a tender by a local authority? I understand that price is not rigidly fixed, although he has rigidly fixed the maximum price at which he is prepared to approve the building of a house by private enterprise.
I ask him also to consider whether it is not the case that there is a great dislocation where a local authority asks for tenders for the undertaking of a large housing scheme. Perhaps 25 builders tender and only one tender is accepted, and in the case of the other 24, a great deal of work has gone into preparing the tenders and then, afterwards, the builders have to look around for other work, and an amount of labour has been accumulated, and is left without employment. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will deal with these points in his concluding speech. It is only in this way, hon. Members on this side believe, that the maximum production of houses can be obtained in this country—if the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to reconsider the general principles of this Bill, and to use private enterprise as well as local authorities.
I must confess to a certain amount of surprise at the speech which we have just heard from the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson). My surprise is not due to the circumstance that he, with a curiosity worthy of Rosa Dartle, addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health I do not know how how many questions—I lost count of them. My surprise arises from the fact that the hon. Member for The High Peak, whom I have always esteemed as a rather shrewd tactician in this House, should have allowed himself to be drawn by my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) into an exordium, which lasted ten minutes, and delayed the real content of his speech, with an unnecessary defence of the political record of the Conservative Party in the interwar period. I suggest that that is a closed chapter. It was closed last summer, when the political tide, sweeping through Derbyshire, swept away every Conservative Member, with the very distinguished exception of the hon. Member for The High Peak.
I would like to bring the House back to the financial realities appertaining to this Bill. My hon. Friend the junior Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) raised a point about the financial burdens which are imposed upon the country as a consequence of this Measure. She referred to the rises in rates which are a prospect under this Bill. This Bill inflicts heavy burdens on ratepayers and taxpayers alike by virtue of the subsidies, burdens which, in my opinion, are absolutely unnecessary and could be done without. I believe there is no need whatever for the subsidies. Let me take, as an instance, the normal house about which we have heard today, the house which is to cost about £1,100, and is to have a subsidy of £22 a year. It is not an accident that the interest, at the rate of 3⅛ per cent. per annum, on the £1,100 will in the first year give rise to a burden of some £34. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) have on the Order Paper an Amendment, the terms of which will be familiar to hon. Members, in the course of which we suggest that, instead of these burdensome subsidies, which will impose heavy burdens on the ratepayers and taxpayers alike, the Treasury should use its powers under the Bank of England Act to direct the clearing banks to create credits for local authorities' housing schemes at a rate not exceeding 1 per cent, per annum. If the rate of interest on £1,100 were 1 per cent. per annum, instead of 3⅛ per cent., the interest burden in the first year would be not £34 odd., but about £11.The saving would be some £23 In other words, the need for the subsidies would be completely wiped out.
I am very disappointed that the Labour Government should have thought fit to perpetuate these subsidies, and for no better reason that I can conceive than to maintain the artificial practice of paying interest on these loans at what is more or less a market rate. The right hon. and learned Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink), who opened the Debate for the Opposition, referred to certain burdens he had had to carry, burdens which, I believe, took the form of a baby, in the early days of his married life. I feel very strongly about another kind of burden I had to carry. When I was demobilised after the last war, having had four-and-a-half years in France, and desiring some domestic comfort, I chose to marry the girl of my choice. I decided to get married, and I wanted a house in which to put my bride. The only money I had was the rather exiguous Army subsidy, which did not amount to very much; and in order to get a house for my wife, I had to go to a building society, which charged me 6½ per cent. per annum, which was the rate in those days. I thought then, and I think now, that that rate of interest was perfectly preposterous, utterly monstrous, and totally indefensible. Today, the building society rate is down to 4 per cent.; it is rather more than the 3⅛ per cent. at which local authorities can borrow.
But I had been led to believe, by the speech of my right hon. Friend in the House last October, when he dealt with the housing programme, that he did not intend to expose local authorities to this burden of 3⅛ per cent. per annum. He made a very strong statement about building societies in which he used this very emphatic language:
After all, there is no reason why the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in order to help my right hon. Friend's housing programme, should not direct the clearing banks to create the necessary money, however much is needed, and lend it to the local authorities at I per cent. per annum. It is useless for hon. Members to say to me, as some of them have since I put this Motion on the Order Paper, "Would you lend your own money at I per cent. per annum?" There is no comparison between the two sets of circumstances. I would invite the House to envisage the hypothetical condition of things in which I put my hand in my pocket to lend money to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. If I lent him £100, the condition would be that I should part with the £100 I lent him, and having put my hand in my pocket I should be entitled to claim some interest as the wages of abstinence. That is only fair. The banks, however, do not part with the money they lend; they create it. The authorities who corroborate that statement are so numerous and so respectable—names like the late Reginald McKenna and the late Hartley Withers —that I do not need to repeat them or quote them.
I would remind the House that the process by which money is created is described with the most meticulous choice of language in Paragraphs 71 and 74 of the Report of the Macmillan Committee on Finance and Industry, 1931. The process is perfectly well known to hon. Members of this House who follow that kind of thing. The Bank of England begins by buying securities in the open market. The seller of the securities is paid with a draft on the Bank of England. He takes that draft to his own bank, which is one of the clearing banks; and, when he has put it in, the clearing bank finds itself with that much more bank cash and proceeds to erect upon it a pyramidal edifice of 10 times the amount in loans which it pays out, circulating £10 for £1. The £10 begin their existence as new money in the form of a book entry, and they continue their existence, circulating from one bank to the other, thanks to the accidental and purely fortuitious invention of the cheque-book.
There is no need for these subsidies whatever when the Chancellor of the Exchequer is empowered, as he now is, to direct the money to be created at a rate of interest of 1 per cent. per annum, which would be more than sufficient to cover the Bank's administrative charges and at the same time do away with the need for these burdensome subsidies. 1 know that things in this country go by precedent—I am always being told so— but happily in the short period during which I have been a Member of this House we have had a precedent sufficient for the purpose I am advocating now. Last October the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House how he had saved the taxpayers £32 million a year through conferring with the Governor of the Bank of England and the chairmen of the clearing banks, and then persuading the clearing banks to reduce from I per cent. to ½per cent. the interest on Treasury Bills and from 1¼ per cent. to five-eighths of I per cent, the interest on Treasury Deposit Receipts—reducing short-term interest in that way in a perfectly arbitrary fashion merely by going into a huddle with the bankers, even before the Bank of England Act was on the Statute Book. Thus my right hon. Friend saved the taxpayers £32 million a year, and he gloated about it in this House. I am all for it, but why not apply this precedent to the housing programme?
It is useless for anyone to try to tell me that this would mean inflation. Every hon. Member knows perfectly well that somehow, somewhere, new money has to come into the system every year. In the ordinary course of peacetime existence there is and must be a steady increase of bank deposits merely to keep pace with the rising population and, much more important, with expanded business due to the constant impact of cumulatively improving technology which expands the output of consumer goods. It is necessary to increase the amount of money coming in from outside every year. In practice it comes in through the banks increasing their deposits. If I study the way in which that happened in peacetime before the war, I find that from 1934 to 1935 there was a quiet unobstrusive increase in bank deposits of 6 per cent. of the total. The following year that quiet, unobstrusive increase was 10 per cent., new money coming into existence as a debt owing to the banks, money they had created out of nothing but upon which they reckoned to charge interest at the market rate. If from 1935 to 1936 you could have the circulating currency of the country increased in that way by 10 per cent. behind everybody's back, coming into existence as a debt to the banks, what would a 10 per cent. increase in bank deposits mean in the circumstances of 1946 when bank deposits are of the order of £4,000 million, about double what they were before the war? You would have in that way a fund at your disposal without burdening the ratepayers or taxpayers of £400 million per annum upon which you could draw without inflation. There is no trickery about it; it merely means that in the future the monetary circulation of the country, passing by cheque from one bank account to another, is going to be expanded without benefit of interest to moneylenders who secretly create that which they lend.
I want to put it to the House that really the Labour Government—which makes what must appear to hon. Members opposite to be a fetish of wanting to socialise things—should not stop short at socialising credit; that it should adopt a really revolutionary techniq up which would benefit the poor without taking a way anything that is legitimately owned by those who are not poor. There is in this country a large and ever increasing public opinion in favour of the socialisation of credit, and I can imagine no more appropriate outlet for the application of this policy than to the housing programme, housing being one of the three primary needs of all human beings—food, shelter and clothing. Public opinion in favour of this technique is increasing rapidly not only in this country but also in the Dominions. My right hon. Friends on the Front Bench are in favour of socialisation. Let them begin with the socialisation that matters more than any other. Let them take their courage into their hands and remove from the people of this country, the ratepayers and the taxpayers, the burden of these endless subsidies introduced for no other reason than to conform to the unnecessary orthodoxy to which this party—goodness knows why— appears to be committed. I beg my right hon. Friends to go ahead with it. They will carry the people with them, if only they will go to the microphone and explain what is going on. If they have not sufficient confidence to go to the "mike," then I. will go to it for them.
After listening to the very lucid and optimistic speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, I feel rather hesitant in getting up to make any comment. The Noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd-George) encouraged me to think that houses were expected to spring up in the spring, even if it was the late spring. My own impression after hearing such optimism was that when I go down to the country this weekend and look around my farm I shall see houses springing up everywhere. In fact, I might even imagine that instead of the shortage we have been talking about, I shall see some of the 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 houses which we were promised would be built "in very quick time" during the Election campaign.
I do not propose to attack this Bill. This possibly may be a disappointment to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), who suggested that we on this side take every opportunity to attack the Government whatever is brought forward. I think, from my own short experience in this House, that the contrary has been the position, and that when big Measures have been brought forward there has been a great deal of support from this side of the House. In this particular instance I am sure we shall do all we can to give the Government our assistance to see that the necessary houses will be built. In the few words I wish to utter I will comment on rural housing. I have heard a lot about the lack of rural houses from all parts of the House, and I want to warn the Government that they are plainly heading for a crisis in rural agricultural labour similar to the food crisis through which they are just going. We have been promised for the harvest of 1946 more prisoner-of-war labour than we had last year, I believe somewhere in the neighbourhood of 147,000. But in six months time we have got to plan for the harvest of 1947, and that is the problem we have to face. This country cannot for an indefinite period keep 147,000 prisoners of war, and we must take steps at once to replace these men.
What I complain about is not what is in the Bill, but what has been omitted from it. Every step should be taken by every possible means to increase the number of houses, whether they are built by private owners or by council builders. We want the houses and we must have them. I suggest that we should get very many more houses if we allowed private enterprise the same opportunity as council building. Council houses are entitled to a subsidy of ¢28 10s. for a period of 60 years. Why is not that same offer available to the private owner who wants to build? He is only. offered ¢15 for the period of 40 years. I ask the Minister whether the difference between the subsidy which is payable to the council houses and that payable to private enterprise is the measure of the difference of efficiency between council house building and private enterprise building. The dice are loaded against the private builder by more than the subsidy
In Clause 13 (2, b) the rent which the private builder can charge for his own house can only be deduced by the average of the rent for the council built subsidised houses, which is another unfairness as far as the private builder is concerned. I want to know why the agriculturalist should be expected to pay something into the Exchequer for the subsidisation of houses in the rural districts and in the urban districts. I would illustrate the point by one which comes to my mind. A sanitary inspector is living in one of the council houses outside my own town. That man is getting a far better salary than a great many of the farmers living near the town and yet the farmers are paying some thing into the Exchequer to help build the house for a sanitary inspector to occupy That is not fair.
I would like to say a word or two about the question of tied cottages. The hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) gave some figures with regard to the troubles which arise through tied cottages, and although I do not want to dispute them, I have had a good deal to do with tied cottages during the past 45 years, and I have very seldom come across these terrible hardships about which the hon. Member spoke. In my own case, if my man and I disagree about anything we part, and I have never had any trouble with him whether or not he wished to go out. The remedy for the tied cottages abuse, which it is claimed by hon. Members opposite exists, is to get on and build the council houses, and the men can then please themselves whether they go into a tied cottage or into a council house. Hon. Members opposite will find that when the council houses remain unoccupied our tied cottages will still be occupied.
I notice that one reason given for building these cottages away from the farms is because of the amenities. I do not agree. Amenities are necessary in the farm houses as well as in the cottages, and when these amenities are brought to the farm houses then they can be put into the cottages. I have some sympathy with the hon. Member below the gangway who made an attack upon flats, because I want to make an attack on the proposed building of these blocks of houses in villages away from the farms I do not think that the people of this country want to live in solid rows of houses; they want to live in a house with their own garden and their own orchard round the house, and I am quite sure that they want to live close to their own work. I have had letters from a number of districts where housing for the agricultural worker has recently taken place, and it is complained that these houses have been built somewhere near the village or the school, with the result that the labourers who are living in the cottages will not go on with a job which is some distance away. That is what is happening under the present system of building. If we put up these houses in the villages we shall not help the production of food in the outlying farms of the country. If a man is offered the chance of living near a village two miles away from his work or to live on the farm close to his work, he will prefer to take the latter choice. That is another disadvantage. It has always been a tradition of the countryside that our workmen, their wives and their children are part of the family. If there is any sickness or if there is a fresh arrival coming, it has been a tradition that the farmer's wife visits the woman to see if she can help in any way possible, and I want to see that tradition carried on.
I want to see those people cared for in their own little communities. It is better than having them in a row of cottages in the village where they can hardly move without getting into trouble with the people next door. When they are put in cottages in the villages they are not able to keep a few fowls or a pig; I would like to see every farm labourer able to keep a few fowls and a pig.
Another point which has been raised, and one which cannot be raised too often, is the question of doing away with the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. I think that is a tragedy. The objection is that money would be spent on "wicked land- lords' houses. "I know that slums exist in the country, as they do in the towns, but it was not the" wicked landlords "who were responsible, but the wicked industrial system which bled the country white. I want to see houses built to repopulale the countryside. In the last 90 years the parish in which I live has lost over 50 per cent. of its population, and I have seen cottage after cottage disappear. Only two cottages have been built in the parish in the last 50 years. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because it is not worth while, and the industrialist system drove the men away from the land.
Whether it was the capitalist or the working man, they wanted cheap food and did not care where it came from so long as they got it. I appeal to the Minister to reconsider the question of reinstating some form of reconditioning country cottages. He promised in the first housing Debate that he would give the matter consideration. I would remind the hon. Member for Thornbury that it is not quite as he described it. If his county council are doing their job properly—and they are a very efficient county council—there is no reason why 46 per cent. of those reconditioned cottages are not occupied by farm workers I have done up 12 cottages for myself and clients—reconditioned them. One of the conditions is that I cannot let such a cottage at more than 4s. a week and I have to fill up a return each year giving the name of the man living in it, and what his job is, and send a fire insurance certificate. I have to tie myself down and cannot sell that cottage for 20 years. If anyone doubts whether the people in these cottages are reaping the benefit or not, they should go and ask them. The hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn said that it did not help the housing of the people, but it does; in several cases I have been able to turn a two bedroomed cottage into a three bedroom one.
I appeal to the Minister of Health to reconsider this question of reconditioning the rural houses, and he can put on whatever conditions he likes, to see that we do not abuse the privilege he is giving us.
I follow the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) as a speaker from another agricultural district. The hon. Member for Leominster has spoken for the Southwestern part of the country; I would speak from my experience in the Eastern counties. I think the decision of the Minister to concentrate his first efforts on building new houses is the correct one. It is perfectly correct to provide additional houses to meet the urgent need at the present time. Reconditioning does not increase the number of houses to accommodate additional families. In many cases it consists of turning two old cottages into one, and therefore reduces the number of cottages available. I think the decision to concentrate on new houses is a very wise one. Not only is it wise to concentrate on new houses immediately, but people in the villages can make immediate use of them. We get far more letters from constituents on housing than on any other subject, and we must see to it that new houses are built as early as possible. I well remember the present Prime Minister broadcasting on New. Year's Eve, or New Year's Day, in 1945, to the effect that whatever Government came into office immediately following the war, they would not be able to alter existing arrangements for housing or any other matters relating to reconstruction. Those arrangements were being made by the Coalition Government. The numbers of houses now being built are the result of the planning that was made by the previous Government, and we are seeing some advantages of it.
In the rural districts on the Eastern side of the country there is more activity in the building of new houses than I suppose there was in any area before the war. There were difficulties up to six months ago. Councils did not know what the new arrangements were in regard to town planning or Ministry of Health provisions. Having found out what those new arrangements are, they are going forward with building plans. In 'he county of Norfolk, for instance, the Minister of Health has already approved no less than 640 houses in the rural districts. Contracts have already been approved and many of the houses have been started. There is growing activity in new house building and at the same time a certain amount of preparation for adaptation of either military buildings, or other buildings for houses. We feel the proposals in the Bill are quite adequate in their financial provisions to enable district councils to get on with building. So also are the arrangements for assisting private owners to build cottages if they are so inclined. In the eastern parts of England, a number of owners are building new cottages for their workers even under the existing arrangements whereby they are getting £10 per annum for 40 years. Under this Bill they are to get £15 per year for 40 years, provided the house is occupied by the owner or by a tenant. This is the first arrangement that has been made for a subsidy to assist the farm worker to have his own cottage, and the Government are to be congratulated on making that arrangement. So far as the provision of houses by landowners is concerned, the new arrangement whereby there must be a tenant or owner-occupier to get a subsidy is certainly a great advance.
Hon. Members on the other side of the House have been speaking of the advantages of reconditioning and the subsidy that has been given in respect thereto, in cases in which the properties remain tied to the job. We have an entirely new conception of the home which the farm worker ought to have. Our conception is that he should be free in his own home to decide the course of life that his family should follow, that there should be no conditions attached to it, that if the man feels that he would like to work on a farm there should be no obligation on him to compel his children to work for the same person. That exists in many cases today. It is not freedom for the father of the family to tie his children, sons or daughters, to work for the same person by whom he is employed. We know by past experience that for various reasons people are turned out of '' tied'' cottages. They can be turned out in the case of old age, and we certainly ought not to subsidise a system which enables an owner to turn out a person from that cottage merely because of old age without there being proper alternative accommodation. Yet that is the kind of system which hon. Members opposite are asking a Socialist Government to subsidise
Hon. Members opposite shake their heads, but only a few weeks ago 1 was in a police court before which two elderly widows—one was 77 years old and the other 78—both of whom had been tenants of their respective cottages for 40 years, were taken on an application for an ejectment order. The cottages had not been "tied" to the farm, but the owner had applied to the war agricultural executive committee for a certificate to say that these cottages were now essential to the working of that particular farm, and on the strength of that applied for an ejectment order. It should be said, for the honour of the bench that tried the case, that they did not grant the application, on the ground that it would be a greater hardship on those old widows to be turned out than it was for the farmer not to have the use of it. Not satisfied with that, the owner has now taken further steps, and this time has applied to the county court, for an order for the ejectment of one of these old widows. Surely we, on this side of the House, cannot subsidise any system of housing in this country which gives to one person the power of denying to another person his home without adequate alternative accommodation being available.
I am at the moment talking not about the cowhouse, but about the home of the human being, and I shall always maintain that the human being comes before the cowhouse. I was actually born in a house with a cowhouse adjoining. I was brought up among cows, had to feed them, milk them, from my very earliest days. I am full of experience in dealing with cows and other animals on the farm. With all that experience. I, as a farmer, a small owner-occupier, employ men who live a mile away in a new council house, with all modern amenities, far better than those which I had. It can be done. Cows do not calve every minute of the day or of the night, and if they are properly attended to and looked after, by the vet. as well as the farmer, they do not get into difficulties at calving, neither do they have a great deal of trouble through ill health. Therefore, I do not think it necessary that there should be a subsidy for a system of tied cottages, just to have a man available at all hours for the occasion of calving.
We also have the trouble of people being ejected from "tied" cottages because of the death of the workman. The widow and the family have to go. We have cases of differences between the employer and the employee, and if there is such a difference, the employer has the whip hand. Not only can he deny the man work, but he can throw him out of his house. We can move into a system different from that. There are also other reasons. It has been brought to our notice, time after time, that men and their families have been turned out of their cottages for no other reason than the man joining a trade union, or voting for the Labour Party at a General Election or at a rural district council election. I was a candidate for a rural division, in which, in the 1935 General Election, one owner went to every house in the village which he owned, and said, "If you vote for that fellow Dye, the Socialist, I will turn you out." Having won a majority in the country, are we now to give way on this point, a political principle? It is a political principle to us, but not to hon. Members opposite, because for them it is holding on to the privileges they hold today, the privilege of determining who should work for them and who should live in a particular house.
The ballot is secret, and if landowners of the country respected the secrecy of the ballot, they would not go from door to door of their tenants' cottages, asking how they intend to vote or threatening them if they vote in the opposite way.
They do not wait until after the election to try to fin 1 out how they voted. They actually intimidate them before they vote. In rural Britain that is still going on. I certainly hope that the Minister of Health will stand firm on this principle that in the houses we build, the houses we subsidise, there shall be freedom for the tenants, a tenancy that gives them protection against any landlord. Further than that, the great task now before us in rural Britain is to rebuild by far the greater quantity of the houses that now exist, or to pull them down and build new ones. We must have new villages, with all the modern amenities. We cannot scatter our houses broadcast over the countryside. They must be gathered together, so that every cottage can be serviced with electricity, water and sewerage. That cannot be done if they are broadcast over the whole land.
Therefore, we ask that the district council, as the housing authority, shall have full power to proceed rapidly with this great task of rebuilding rural Britain. We have now a far greater enthusiasm for housing in the countryside than we ever had before. One thing we find, so far as housing is concerned, is that our Conservative opponents get up an enthusiasm for it when they no longer have a majority in this House, or when they are in danger of losing their seats on the county and district councils. Then they are enthusiastic for building houses. That is where we want to keep them. We want to keep them enthusiastic and keep them in opposition so that they are not in a position to prevent the houses being built. I urge on the Minister to proceed with this scheme of financial assistance that will enable the greatest number of houses to be built in rural Britain that it is possible to build, within the next few years.
It would be attractive to follow the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye) in his arguments in regard to rural housing. I think that many of them, though eloquently put forward, are in fact misconceived. There is much that I might say, and would indeed like to say, in regard to rural housing generally, and to the question of the tied cottages in particular, but I shall resist that temptation. I shall resist it for the reason that I think it will be common ground in the House that the particular aspects of rural housing have received a very generous meed of attention in the course of this Debate. Though from my own point of view I would willingly send my bark up one of these interesting and attracting tributaries in pursuit of the hon. Member I feel I probably serve the interests of the Debate more if I come back into the general broad stream of housing in general in regard to this Bill.
I do not denounce this Bill by bell, book and candle. It is indeed a welcome change in that respect as regards Government legislation. This Bill is not as bad as some that we have had. I ask hon. Members opposite not to take too much comfort from that observation because I mean no more than this, that there are, after all, degrees of ineptitude and gradations of unwisdom. This is not a Bill of demonstrable futility, such as the nationalisation of the Bank of England Bill, nor is it a vicious and mercenary Bill, such as the Bill to repeal the Trade Disputes Act. Having said that much, I am bound to add that we on this side regard it as a most inadequate and incomplete contribution to the great problem of housing the people. There is no doubt that at this time the people of this country are disposed to look with a partial eye upon any measure which can in any way contribute to the solution of that problem. They are in the mood, too, to look much more to the question of the construction of houses than to the merely financial aspect. There is no doubt of that. It must not however on that account be thought that they are going to be other than grievously disappointed and annoyed if the results of this Bill fall short of their legitimate expectations and of the outlay that is involved.
It is a matter of general agreement at this time that a subsidy is necessary for . the housing of the people. Let us be quite clear on this. It is a regrettable necessity. The payment of a subsidy of itself has never been a guarantee of the building of houses. It does not pave any royal road to house construction. If it were so, then the period of the Addison subsidy, which has already been referred to in sober yet challenging terms by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Woodbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Hare), would have been the greatest period in the house building of this country; but it is well known that it was not so. The greatest period in the house building of this country was in fact the period of the least subsidy, the period from 1927 to 1939. [Laughter.] The hon. Gentleman will enjoy his little joke but he really must learn that it is impossible to laugh away figures.
The principle of the Addison subsidy was carried to its furthest logical conclusion and, some would say, to a reductio ad absurdum, because the principle of the Addison subsidy was a complete indemnity to the local authorities for any expenditure above a penny rate. It was, therefore, a complete divorce of the responsibility for spending, on the one hand, and from the responsibility of meeting the bill, on the other hand. That was the principle of the Addison subsidy. It was catastrophic in its effect. In fact, it made the worst of both worlds. We got lamentably few houses even by the standards of the present Government. When I refer to the standards of the present Government, I mean of course their standards now they are in office, which are small. At the time of the General Election these standards were large. I can only think that the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, who made play with such astonomical figures of housing at that time when seeking the confidence of the Electorate, must, when he went to the Foreign Office to lay his cards face uppermost on the table, have left the ace of trumps in regard to housing up his sleeve and forgotten to pass it over to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health.
In fact, the figures were small for housing and we are still bearing the cost of the Addison subsidy today. We must get it out of our minds that we can solve the housing problem merely by swelling the figures of our housing subsidy. This subsidy does not repeat the unorthodoxy in principle of the Addison subsidy. It is orthodox in principle. It is not based on the theory of indemnity; but the amounts are large and the proportions are varied. The Exchequer will bear three-quarters of the rate fund and one-quarter of the subsidy, as compared with two-thirds and one-third respectively under the 1938 Act.
We have to go back to the Wheatley Act to get a subsidy at all comparable. The Wheatley Act gave an annual subsidy of £ 13 10s. as compared with the £22 of the present subsidy. I would like to point out that, though the amount of the Wheatley subsidy was large, it differed in two important respects from that subsidy which we are asked to approve today. In the first place, it was strictly temporary in character. It was to carry over only until 1927. In fact, the great bulk of the house building that was done between 1925 and 1939 had nothing whatever to do with the Wheatley subsidy. Secondly, the Wheatley subsidy, though Mr. Wheatley was a Socialist Minister of Health, did not exclude private enterprise from its benefits as does the Measure recommended by the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary. Therefore, I say with confidence that we cannot regard the giving of this subsidy in itself as necessarily a very long step in the direction of the building of houses in this country.
Let me put this specific question. Is the payment of this subsidy likely to do what is required of it? What is required of it is this—to give us houses of 10s. a week rental in the towns and of 7s. 6d. in the country I take the typical case of any one house. It is not difficult to assess, at any rate, in average and general terms, the cost of construction of a house today. I have not been assisted in this matter by the Parliamentary Secretary, who, for some reason which rests hidden in his own breast, saw fit to deny to the House this afternoon the information which his Department had given it yesterday. [Interruption.]The hon. Gentleman who interrupted and whose observations I must guess at because they are completely unintelligible, put this question—Why, if I knew the answer, did I ask the question? I will tell the hon. Gentleman now. That information was given in a written answer yesterday. It is common knowledge that not all hon. Members of the House bear in their minds the answer to every Written Question, and I thought it but right, when the Parliamentary Secretary referred to it, that he should share that knowledge with the House at the time of making his speech. Instead of that, he replied in a very controversial and prejudicial utterance indeed, which obviously had no substance since his Department had already given that information yesterday.
Let me say again that that is not the fact. The information that was given yesterday was the information of the average price of houses for which approval has been given. It was not the price which was the basis of the calculations on which the subsidy is put forward.
The question I asked was: What was the average tender approved by his Department? Well, we shall see, but that is the question 1 asked and the one which he refuses to answer. It appears that, not only was he lacking in courtesy, at which, though I may be disappointed, I was wrong to be entirely surprised, but that he was also unfamiliar with the information given by his own Department in the written answer to a Question yesterday. I can well understand that the hon. Gentleman should shrink with some not altogether unnatural reluctance from reading the depressing information from his own Department. However, we have that figure—the average figure of 22s. per superficial foot for the approved tender, and we have the area of the house of 950 superficial feet. An easy mathematical sum enables us to see that it involves £1,050 as the average approved tender price of a house. To that figure, I add a sum of £150 as an average sum to include the cost of land, roads, sewers and professional fees. That is £1,200, and I am going to add a further £50 for the average excess of the final cost of the house over the tender price. The last thing I want to be in a Second Reading Debate is technical; but the House will appreciate that, in general, for building contracts, there are a large number, and an increasingly large number, of what are known as provisional cost sums and prime cost items. In respect of these, a notional figure is quoted, and the final price is the price of that item ruling on the market at that time. In nearly every case, that price is larger than the tender price. I take a very conservative estimate to account for that margin.
There we get a figure of £1 250 as the average cost of a house. Of that £594 is to be provided from the subsidy, and that leaves £656 to be accounted for by local borrowing or by rent. The figure of £656 represents, in repayment for sinking fund and interest charges, the sum of £24 10s. a year, which is less than the £26 represented by a 10s. a week rent; but, of course, as the House will appreciate, that 10s. has to have certain deductions made from it in respect of repairs, maintenance, management, painting and voids. In respect of all these items, I take again a conservative estimate of 20 per cent., which leaves the rental at £20 16s. a year. Therefore, the outstanding sum on that typical case which I have taken is £3 14s. a year. Where is it to come from? It must either be added to the rent or added to the rates If added to the rent, it will involve an increase of about Is. 6d. on the desired rent of 10s. a week. If, on the other hand it is added to the rates, it further increases the burden on the ratepayers.
There has been an effort, in the Financial Memorandum to this Bill,' to try to brush aside the effect on the rates of these proposals. It is pointed out that 100,000 houses will only involve an increase of the rates by a halfpenny But why take only 100,000 houses, which represent one year's work by 100,000 building trade operatives? We already have 450,000 building trade operatives engaged in housebuilding in this country today, so that these figures should not represent at all the sort of target which the hon. Gentleman ought to have in mind. We must have a much bigger target. There are four million houses required to house the people of this country; and, if only three million are to be built at something approximating these rates, they are adding, not a halfpenny to the 'rates but Is. 3d. Every tenant of one of these houses will pay, in addition to the 10s. rent, plus is 6d. in regard to the gap for which I have already accounted in the normal way, rates of a sum roughly equivalent to one-third of his rental—a sum of about 33. 6d., which is based on an average rate able value of £15 and an average rate in the £ of 12s., which is again a conservative estimate. Taking all these things together, we get a total, above the rental to be paid, of anything up to 6s. on each house.
These are the figures which, I submit, should be before the House rather than the more optimistic figures given to us; and it is not only the tenant whose interests I have in mind, but the ratepayers as a whole. Under this legislation, there will be many ratepayers economically less well off than the tenant whose rent they are subsidising and who will find their rates grossly inflated by reason of these proposals. I say, therefore, that it is an unsatisfactory situation, because it gives, not the certainty of the building of houses, but the certainty that large financial burdens will fall on those least qualified to bear them and which will be disproportionate to the result unless we get a much quicker and cheaper construction of houses.
In my submission, we will not get that cheaper and quicker construction of houses if we exclude private enterprise, and I believe that the most ominous feature of the Bill is that it seeks to set the seal on the exclusion of private enterprise. Though in normal times private enterprise does not seek a subsidy, and, under prewar conditions, built the largest number of houses without a subsidy, it is economically impossible at the present time to build without a subsidy.
I would refer briefly to this document entitled "Housing Return" recently issued by the Ministry of Health, which is rather like a painting by Picasso. It is full of detail, but the most prominent features are not necessarily the most important. However, I will extract two points from page 4 of this document. The first is that, in spite of all the obstacles with which the right hon. Gentleman has seen fit to fetter and shackle private enterprise—obstacles which make the "Pilgrim's Progress" look like a children's obstacle race—they are able to get quicker off the mark in house building than the local authorities who are favoured by the right hon. Gentleman. The second point is that the proportion of houses on which construction has begun to the number of licences issued in respect of private enterprise is smaller than the proportion of local authority houses on which construction has been begun to the number of tenders approved. Why is that? In my submission, it must be because the house builders are beginning to lose heart in face of the intransigence of the right hon. Gentleman, and find themselves unable, without any subsidy, to proceed with the construction of the houses for which licences have been approved.
It would seem, if private enterprise is to be excluded, that we are forced in this great matter of housing to rely on the weaker partner—we are forced to rely on local authorities to the exclusion of private enterprise. In regard to that, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is not bringing an unduly doctrinaire mind to bear on this eminently practical problem, and whether he is not resembling those German generals in the days of the Napoleonic war who preferred to lose the campaign according to their stale and outmoded tactical doctrines rather than emulate the freer and more elastic strategical plans of the man who won the victory over them. In a recent speech, the right hon. Gentleman declared that the house-builders were unorganisable. One never knew, he said, what they were doing. It may be that in some moment of extreme indiscipline and unparallelediniquity they would be the sort of people who would sneak off and build some houses.
I do not wish to detain the House unduly, but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that governmental methods in house-building have always been costly, and will always be costly. Whatever Government it is, that is bound to be so. Let me pray in aid the example of the prefabricated house. Originally its cost was estimated at £500, then at £600, and now it is about £1,500 or £1,600. All the new methods of construction are costing 5 to 10 per cent, more than the traditional methods and in cases of steel construction some 20 per cent. more. The cost is higher because there is rigidity about such building. The shortage of labour should be balanced with the shortage of materials, and the one should be switched to meet the other. This happens under private enterprise, but not with local authorities. We have to get a better synthesis and synchronisation of building operations such as have been achieved in the United States of America which enable them to produce houses more cheaply in spite of both higher labour costs and higher cost of materials.
I can see just one little gleam of light, one small sign, at present no bigger than a man's hand, that the right hon. Gentleman is not bringing an entirely prefabricated mind to bear on this question. It is his recent declaration at Newcastle when he said, as I understand it, that he was willing to allow small private enterprise builders, with their knowledge of local conditions and circumstances, to build on local authority sites houses for sale to local authorities. That is the first instance we have really had that the right hon. Gentleman is facing up to the facts as they are at present. We hear a lot about facing the future, but I respectfully suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is more important to face the present. He has been the great mañana Minister of this Government. It has always, in his view, been jam tomorrow; but the result has always been to leave us in a jam today
I accept the expert testimony of the right hon. Gentleman. In conclusion, would he allow me, on the strength perhaps, of an old personal friendship, to offer one piece of advice? At the time of the General Election the country performed a considerable act of absorption in swallowing the propaganda of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends which helped them to the seats of power. The custom of the country demands at least that he has the other half; and I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should now perform, in the matter of reallowing private enterprise into the field, the difficult act of swallowing his pride. It will be a big and no doubt a bitter draught; but, if he does so, then we can, with some confidence in the success of our toast, join him in the pledge—success to the housing of the people of this country.
I am confident that everyone on this side of the House will welcome this Bill because we believe it will give added drive to the already considerable progress made in building houses. It will be doubly welcomed by those on this side of the House who have experienced and had to live in working-class housing conditions in the years before the last war. I am rather surprised when I hear hon. Members opposite talking about housing. What do they know about working class housing conditions? I was born in what we call in Scotland a "butt and ben," and until I was 23 years of age I never lived in a house with a bathroom. That may be a very minor point, but I believe we have to suffer those conditions before we have that desire and enthusiasm to build decent houses for the working class which is necessary if we are going to get on with the job. Because many hon. Members on this side of the House have experienced bad housing conditions we are going to make that drive. I especially welcome the elasticity which we find in the financial proposals in the Bill. I believe that a rigid Government subsidy would not have fulfilled the function we desire. In the present experimental period with fluctuating costs and with the need for experimentation we need elasticity in Government payments, and I therefore welcome that part of the Bill. I am sorry, however, that the Minister has not gone further. In the 1919 Act, which some people have said was a failure— it may have been so in many ways, but I think it had something to commend it— there were fixed local charges but Government charges were fluid. The Government charge was such as to provide, as the Bill said, houses at rents comparable with other working-class houses in the district. I think that was right.
In my constituency we have got on with the job of building houses and our progress is much above the average. As the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd-George) said, many authorities have held back from building because they did not know what the amount of the subsidy was going to be. In my constituency we got on with the job and did not worry about the subsidy. I believe that those authorities which started building early have been at a disadvantage, because since they accepted various tenders, approved costs have increased. In the City of Wolverhampton, which I represent, we are, at the present time, building some 400 permanent houses and some of those houses have already been completed and people are in them. When the tenders were accepted the estimated gross rent was 15s., but since then, on the advice of the Ministry, by building covered ways and outbuildings, we have increased the total super feet by another 116, which has increased the cost of the building. The cost of building materials has also increased considerably, as have wages in the building trade. Today, when people are going into the houses and we have to face the question of rent, we find that the cost of the houses varies, according to type, from £1,365 to £1,419. If we go into the question further, we find that the total annual charges per house amount to a sum, varying again according to type, from £50 10s. to £52 10s. If we add the cost of maintenance, which we have estimated at £8 8s. a year, it brings the total up to about 61 If we deduct the subsidy of £22 it still leaves a net rent of 15s., and if we add a comparable rate to that it brings the gross rent up to between 19s. 6d. and £10s. 6d.
I, therefore, ask the Minister, what is going to happen to local authorities who, because they started building early and because the prices have since gone up, are faced with the problem of asking working class people to pay a rent of £I a week? We believe—and we have a Labour majority on my council—that we cannot ask people to pay such a rent. How does the Minister suggest we can get out of that problem? I believe that at the present time we should leave the Government subsidy fairly flued. Let us fix a subsidy of —I6 10s. for one year hence, but for those houses which have been built during the experimental period the Government subsidy should be fluid to this extent, that we have a fixed local grant and the Government grant is such as will allow houses to be let at reasonable rents comparable with other working-class houses in the district. In that way we can get round the problem. Apart from those few remarks, I am confident that this Bill is a great step forward and will be enthusiastically supported by all Members on this side of the House.
I listened to the Parliamentary Secretary moving the Second Reading of this Bill. I also listened to the late Minister of Health criticising the Bill. I think it required a lot of effrontery to criticise a Bill like this after the Bill which the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself introduced. I am very pleased with this Bill. I am pleased to observe there is no reference to temporary housing, because I think that would be the most expensive thing we could have. A dozen of those temporary houses have been built where I live. I went to see them one day, and I was very disappointed. When I was there I felt that no good fanner would put up buildings like those to house his cattle. They are very poor and they make a very bad impression.
I have one disappointment about this Bill. It does not deal with the leasehold question. I think the old leasehold principle might have been dealt with in this Bill, so that housing in the future might have been put upon a better basis than it has been hitherto. I believe the leasehold principle is a scandal. People pay ground rent for the whole term of the lease, which is often 99 years, either to the man who built the house or to his family, and when the time arrives, he has to put that house into repair and hand it back to the landlord again. I think that is a scandal which should be abolished. I would like to see in this Bill a provision dealing with that question, so that the whole principle of leaseholds could have been done away with. I do not know whether it is possible to put such a provision in the Bill; I do not see why not. We are legislating for the future, and that is one point above all others which ought to be dealt with. If a man pays ground rent for 25 years the house ought to be his own property without reference to any landlord. Perhaps the Minister would consider that point, because it is one which is criticised, perhaps, more than any other in connection with housing.
To my mind, the importance of this Bill does not lie in its financial proposals, because we are all agreed that in this matter finance is secondary and it is the provision of houses which really matters. This Bill is important in that it reflects Government policy, and the test that I want to try to apply to this Bill is this: Are the proposals in this Bill and the policy behind those proposals such that the country is likely to get all the houses it requires in the shortest possible time? Bearing in mind that test, I would say of this Bill that, so far as it goes, it is good, but it does not go far enough. The subsidy to local authorities is quite generous and adequate, though I wish my right hon. Friend had been able to say that local authorities could borrow their money at less than 3⅛per cent. I do not go so far as the hon. Member who asked that money should be loaned at 1 per cent., but I would have thought, in view of what the Government themselves are having to pay for money, that they might have found it possible to lend to local authorities at 2 per cent., which I think would have been a very valuable contribution to housing finance. If my right hon. Friend can reduce the rate of interest at some future time, if not immediately, I think he will render a great service to the housing problem.
I speak as one who has been a member of two local authorities for a great many years. I know what they can do, and I also know their limitations. I know that although local authority machinery is efficient, of necessity, it works very slowly. I am convinced that the Government will not get the houses they require in time, if they rely entirely on the local authorities to produce them. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister to give further consideration to the suggestions which have been made, that there should be a subsidy to private enterprise to build houses. If the Government want to limit that subsidy to houses that are to be let, well and good. Let the Government make whatever conditions they like, but I am sure it is important to use every possible agency in order to obtain houses. I see that in the Bill provision exists by which, as far as agricultural areas are concerned, private enterprise can still receive a subsidy. The principle is accepted. If it is good enough so far as houses in rural areas are concerned, I do not see why it should not be extended to urban areas as well. In this matter one must not be too doctrinaire.
I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give consideration to another matter. My own local authority has bought one large house and is proposing to buy some more for the purpose of conversion into flats to accommodate those who badly need better housing facilities. The one house that they have already bought will cost them, after conversion, something like £3,750. It will provide five good flats. Each flat will have a bathroom, and there will be proper accommodation. The local authority will receive no subsidy whatever on that house, yet in a very short time they are providing accommodation for five families. As far as the hostels which the Minister is handing over to local authorities are concerned, he is prepared to accept the principle of Government assistance. In the case of requisitioned property which the local authorities convert, the whole of the expenditure is borne by the Exchequer. Therefore, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will give consideration to allowing not necessarily the same subsidy, but a subsidy of some amount to local authorities who buy houses and then convert them into flats? There does not seem to me to be any reason why, on the principle he himself supports in the Bill, he should not agree to this, and I sincerely hope he will agree to do so.
I regret, too, that he has decided to discontinue the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. A reason which has been put forward by one hon. Member is that it is right for the Government to concentrate on new housing 1 think it is a mistake to say the two courses are opposed. In point of fact, the work that is done on reconditioned houses is usually done by small builders who do not tender for the larger building contracts. The two operations could go on side by side. Further, the improvement of the accommodation in these houses can be carried out quickly. The new building is bound to take a long time. In answer to the hon. Member who said that the operation of that Act was to reduce the number of houses, I would say that may be true, but it certainly improved the accommodation, because the only houses it dealt with were those that were not up to a decent standard, and its effect was to bring them up to a reasonable standard.
It is a mistake that the right hon. Gentleman should pay so much attention to mere costs so far as building houses is concerned, and say that licences should not be given to private builders to build houses for more than £1,200. Surely, the important thing is to get the houses built. The way to bring down prices, not only of new houses, but also of existing ones, which are being sold at exorbitant figures, is to provide more houses. I am sure that that is die right policy. At present people are paying extravagant prices for houses because they must have the accommodation. I agree with the hon. Member for Thornbuiy (Mr. Alpass), that the country has paid a big price in sickness and in ill health for unsatisfactory conditions. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman also that the country is paying a bigger price for those unsatisfactory conditions today than ever before. It must be clear to all hon. Members that it is becoming extremely difficult for soldiers who have been serving overseas to come back to live under the present housing conditions. That is having a very unfortunate effect on many marriages. I do not believe we can estimate what the existing unsatisfactory housing position is really costing the country at this time. I believe it is much important to get the housing problem solved in the shortest possible time rather than to say that unless houses can be built at a certain price they shall not be built at all
I do not agree that the right hon. Gentleman has always been able to get down tenders, so far as the local authorities are concerned, without sacrificing anything that matters in the amenities of the house. I think if he examines how some of the tenders have been brought down he will find it is not just the frills that have been cut out, but that the house for which the tender has been accepted at the lower price is not really of so much value as if the original tender, somewhat higher, had gone forward, because something of real importance will have been sacrificed. I welcome this Bill so far as it goes, but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he could not be a little more flexible in his policy, and not regard the private builder as if he was doing something wrong in building houses, and not describe him contemptuously as a . "speculative builder."
I do not want to be unfair to the right hon. Gentleman. I think it is quite true to say that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) did refer contemptuously to the speculative builder and gave the impression that whilst she was very keen on getting houses built she was also very keen to kill private enterprise in building. She asked why the private builder required a subsidy. He requires it for the same reason that the local authority requires it, to enable him to let the houses at reasonable rents. When the right hon. Gentleman considers his housing policy I hope he will remember what this country did in 1940 when it required planes. It did not worry too much about cost; it did not worry too much about who made them. All kinds of people, and all kinds of factories, which had not made planes before were put on to it. The result was that the planes were delivered. There is just as great a need for houses today as there was for planes in 1940. I believe a great deal can be learned from the lesson of 1940 as to how we can solve the housing problem of 1946.
As a friend and colleague of the Parliamentary Secretary—if he will allow me to say so—for some 40 years, and as one who has followed his career with admiration, I should like to tender my congratulations to him for his magnificent speech in introducing this Bill. I believe this Bill will be welcomed by local authorities responsible for housing. In particular, I believe it will be welcomed by great cities like Sheffield, where there has been a forward policy so far as housing is concerned. The city council of Sheffield has been controlled by a Labour majority since 1926, with the exception of one year. The council has done a grand job of work in building housing estates in the outer fringes of the city. Much still remains to be done. I have been in houses in my constituency in Sheffield in which men and women ought not to be living, in which the landlords who are drawing rent from them would not stable their horses. The Sheffield Council, with a forward-looking policy, has estates ready for building. There is an urgent need for some 30,000 houses or more, and I believe that this Bill will make a very real contribution towards getting those houses under way at the earliest possible moment.
May I, however, venture to direct the attention of the Minister to what may seem to him to be a relatively small problem compared with the many other big plans he has in hand? I refer to the position of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The Commissioners are owners of considerable urban estates, in London in particular, and they have naturally been desirous of pursuing a forward policy in regard to housing. Unfortunately this policy has been held up by the war, but the Commissioners have been preparing for an active resumption as soon as possible. In particular, they have been in communication with the London County Council about their London estates, and I believe that the London County Council welcomes the co-operation of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The Commissioners have also had the advantage of advice and help from Sir Patrick Abercrombie, and their plans for the development of their estates have been so drawn up as to fit in with the County of London plan. But as I read this Bill, it may deprive the Commissioners of the essential financial assistance which has previously been received from the Government, and I feel bound to tell the Minister that, unless this financial assistance is forthcoming, the Commissioners will not be able to develop their estates and build houses for the wage-earning classes.
I am sure that the Minister will appreciate that the Commissioners are not a housing association, and that they cannot engage in housing work to the detriment of the work which they were set up by Parliament to perform, but their position, I suggest, is unique. They have been given the unified ownership of properties and have considered that they have a public responsibility to develop those properties in the interest of their tenants. They are content with the least economic return on expenditure, and the full benefit of the subsidy has been passed on to the tenants in reduced rents. The Commissioners would regret losing the opportunity for co-operation with the London County Council in housing work. I do not think it is extravagant to suggest that the co-operation of the Commissioners with the London County Council has been advantageous to both. The Commissioners' management practice has been followed by many local housing authorities and, after all, as older Members of this House will be aware, the Commissioners are a public body and peculiarly sensitive to criticism which, in the past, has been forthcoming fairly readily.
Apart from these general considerations there will be particular cases of difficulty where comprehensive schemes were not completely carried out before the war began. For example, in Lambeth, in the Waterloo area, on a whole site containing three large tenement blocks only two, at each end, have been completed. The third and largest area is now clear. Plans are ready, and the whole should form a single scheme, with accommodation in all parts at comparable rents. Without the subsidy that is impossible. At Vauxhall, again, a similar difficulty will arise on completion of a scheme there. Then there is the further problem of so-called working class accommodation built in the 19th century which is wearing out, and is in need of replacement. This, unfortunately, is all in the inner areas of London, and I put it to the Minister that the Commissioners are in a better position to undertake this work, as part of a long-term policy, than anybody else, because, firstly, they have the land already; secondly, they accept the minimum return on expenditure, and, thirdly, the restriction to use their land for this purpose in full accord with the planning desires of the public authority will be self-imposed, and the Commissioners will not require compensation.
I have just one further point to put to the Minister, and I hope he will not regard it as too technical. The Minister, in this and other legislation, is putting a tremendous responsibility on local authorities. Local authorities are experiencing very great difficulty in getting technical and other staff to carry out the work, and one of the problems in connection with obtaining the requisite staff is that of housing accommodation. I know case after case where a man would be prepared to take up a post with a local authority, but is unable to find accommodation within a reasonable area. Under the Housing Act of 1936, Section 97, county councils and mental hospital boards can provide accommodation for their employees, and under the Public Health Act of 1936, Section 183, there is a somewhat similar provision. The technical point I would put to the Minister —and I apologise for putting it at this late hour—is this. Will houses built by a local authority and let to their employees —one is not asking for any specially . privileged position—attract the subsidy as laid down in this Bill, as will other houses?
In conclusion, I want to congratulate the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary on this Bill. I believe it is a tremendous step forward, and the criticisms which we have had from hon. Members on the other side will be belied as time goes on.
I had hoped to take part in this Debate a little earlier, and I had several points to make, some of which have been taken up by the hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) who has just sat down. I had intended to discuss the relative merits, from a technical point of view, of private enterprise and of the local authorities. As the time is late, I shall utter those famous last words, "I shall not detain the House very long." I should, however, like to say a word about the high cost of building. I have been a little astonished that in this Debate scarcely any Member on either side of the House has mentioned the present high cost of building. The hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, who opened the Debate, said that the cost should not be allowed to remain so high as to frustrate the provision of houses. But the real point is that he did not go on to say what action he and the Government propose to take to bring costs down. In another place, in November, 1945, it was stated that the cost per superficial foot in 1939 was 9s. 4|½ whereas at the present moment it was 20s. 11d. The same position arose after the last war, and the then Minister of Health instituted a departmental Committee to report on the high cost of building working class dwellings and to make recommendations to bring down the costs of building.
This time all that has really happened is that people of two schools of thought have been touring the countryside; the first one has been ranting about price rings, and those of the other school of thought have been saying that the labour output is very low. I must call the attention of the House to what Mr. Wheatley said about price rings in 1924:
I started that period with a pledge from the associated brick manufacturers that they would keep to their prices. They have kept their word in the letter and in the spirit. I do not think the nation could get a more generous offer from any section of people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd June, 1924; Vol. 174, c. 1112-1113.]
I think that that deals fairly adequately with the price rings, because they are just as good today as they were then. My view of the present high building costs is that they arise from a combination of circumstances. The flow of materials from the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works is not really satisfactory at the moment, and I think he will agree with me. It causes disruption of the time and progress schedule on site. There is from the management point of view, rather bad site organisation in this country compared with that in America. I think site organisation could be greatly improved. One point which makes costs rather high is the altering of the specification of quantities, when these have been decided, by having additions and omissions which are rather extensive variations. Local authorities are rather prone to making that error. Another cause is, undoubtedly, the low output of building labour today, and that is a matter which has to be faced up to.
I should like to make a suggestion to the Minister of Health to bring down building costs. I think a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the higher costs of building and to make suitable recommendations for bringing them down. There has been far too much loose talk about the reasons for the high cost and I think it is time the public and this House, in particular, knew where they stood, and who is receiving the money. Let us have a comparison of the costs of the labour and the costs of materials. Let us give the Committee suitable terms of reference, so that they can make proper recommendations. In the meantime could not the right hon. Gentleman, pending receipt of the Committee's Report, let us have a detailed analysis of the cost of the houses which have already been built? Let the public have some definite information so that they may know on what they can base their criticisms. I recommend the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health to study Mr. Wheatley who, again in 1924, gave some of the figures for building. He said that land was responsible for 1½. a week, material 1s.10d. per week, labour is. 3d.2½ was taken by the bricklayer—and finance, and this will please the hon. Member for South Nottingham (Mr. N. Smith), with interest at 5 per cent., was 6s. 6d. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us some information about what is going on at the present moment? The searchlight of publicity should be turned on to the building costs of today.
Another thing the right hon. Gentleman can do to bring down costs is to study carefully the report of the commission appointed by the Ministry of Works on the methods of building in the United States. On page 19 of this excellent report is a summary of recommendations. It states:
We are satisfied, from our observations in the United States, the following practices, if adopted, would reduce cost, and increase speed and efficiency.
Surely all hon. Members want speed and efficiency increasing. Here are over a dozen recommendations, and, so far as I know, very few of them have been carried out. I suggest that a committee is appointed to study this question from a long-term point of view. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman immediately gives his costing figures for completed houses; and in addition that some of these recommendations are carried into effect straight away.
We all agree that the right hon. Gentleman has very many talents indeed. He has a very quick mind, and an even quicker tongue, but in all sincerity, I say that he has a very difficult job to do—I know he has from the technical point of view. There are two ways in which he can tackle this job. One is the doctrinaire and rather ideological way, and the other is the practical business-like and technical way, recognising the whole time that the key word is incentive. I hope for this country and the homes that it needs he will adopt the latter course.
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add:
this House, while recognising the necessity for a subsidy to assist local authorities to provide houses to let at reasonable rents, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which makes no adequate provision for assisting the building of houses by private enterprise; gives no sufficient stimulus to the provision of houses for the agricultural industry; and make no provision for assisting the conversion or reconditioning of houses.
In spite of our differences, and there are obviously many, we have all the same fundamental idea on the subject we are discussing today, and that is that we all want to see the greatest number of houses built, in the shortest possible time, at the cheapest cost of production, consistent with proper up-to-date standards. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman will object to that. The trouble about this Bill is that those who sit on this side of the House do not think that it will achieve that supremely important purpose. I should like to preface my remarks by thanking the Parliamentary Secretary for his very lucid explanation of these very technical and difficult financial problems which are dealt with in the Bill, and to note that when he left that side of the picture, the greater the emphasis with which he addressed us, the less substance there was in what he said.. We are indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for holding himself back—I am sure he has been straining at the leash all afternoon— to conclude the Debate, because that will enable him to deal with some of the points which have been raised with authority which the Parliamentary Secretary has not got. Of course, that is rather dangerous for a Minister, because he may be forced to say something which in other circum-
stances the Parliamentary Secretary would excuse himself from saying. However, it is good of the Minister to wind up, and we are very much obliged to him.
It has been inevitable in a Debate like this, that discussion of the Bill has been mixed up to a certain extent with reference to the recently published housing report. After all, that is the background of the whole picture. This White Paper has long been awaited. I noticed that on the day it was published, "The Times" observed that this return was "well worth waiting for." That seemed to me to be a rather double-edged phrase. I do not know what "The Times"—that great friend of the Government—meant by "well worth waiting for." I looked at this return with great interest, and particularly at Appendix B, because that is the most revealing part of the picture. It certainly does justify some of the criticism that has been made about the output of houses in this country.
I would be quite prepared to admit with the Minister that we are still in the early days of this development, but we are not in such early days that there ought not to be some figure in the columns called "number of tenders approved", let alone that called "number of houses under construction" . While it may be early to expect much completion, there may be quite a lot of tenders approved, and certainly there may be a great deal of preliminary development, because we know from the figures that it is not the shortage of sites, taking the country as a whole, which is holding up progress. But when I come to look at what is happening in my county of Lindsey, with a population of some 400,000, I find that there is no permanent house completed and only 34 temporary houses completed. [Interruption.] It is not any bad influence. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman exactly what the cause is because I went to some pains to find out. I understand that the two real difficulties which these local authorities are up against are, first, the bottleneck caused by the shortage of architects and staffs on the local authorities; and the second thing which affects this matter, I am told, is that the influence of the Minister of Town and Country Planning on this programme makes everything slow. I give the right hon. Gentleman that as the explanation which I have been given.
This Bill is to implement the Government's housing programme. Let us remember what they said about that:
Housing will be greatest and earliest test of the Government's determination to put the nation first. Labour's pledge is firm and direct. It will proceed at the maximum practical speed. Only the Labour Party is ready to take the necessary steps.
I would re-echo, for the benefit of the right hon. Gentleman, the words of Cardinal Newman, "One step enough for me." It is only the local authority step that he wishes to employ on his journey. The local authority is the chosen instrument. The figures show that the private builders given licences to go forward were quicker off the mark, whatever may happen in the long run. When the Government talk about the" maximum practical speed "I can only assume that the maximum speed is to be determined by the slower of the two horses. The right hon. Gentleman says that it does not matter what will happen in the first six or seven months; it is the first six or seven years that are going to count. We none of us know what his target is for the first six or seven months, or the first six or seven years. I do not see why he has not given himself a target. I should be glad to know.
In the Debate last week on economic affairs, when the Prime Minister had a mere handful of his own supporters but fairly crowded benches on this side of the House, he made an important speech. The Prime Minister said this—and I do want to know why the Minister of Health will not have anything to do with it unless it is that, once again, as in war time he is at variance with the Prime Minister:
The right hon. Gentleman had something to say about plans and controls, but, although one may have to plan without having all the data, it is better than having no plan at all. We must make some kind of economic forecast. We cannot get certainties, but we can get targets to work to."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1946; Vol. 419, c. 1964.]
I find it very difficult to see why we cannot have some sort of target against which to assess the process—the "one step enough for me" process of the right hon. Gentleman.
The object of the Bill is to help the Minister of Health to get these houses and, target or no target, we are told there is to be a flood of these houses in the spring. I am not so sure about that flood, but we can hazard some guess of the limits of the water coming down the river by looking at the estimated number of houses where construction has begun. I suppose they might be finished -by the spring. Then there are those cases where tenders have been approved. With them it will be a case of late Summer rather than Spring. Next, there are a number of houses for which licences have been issued. I give this to the right hon. Gentleman. If those houses for which tenders have already been approved, those which were damaged during the war and are being rebuilt by local authorities, and those which are being built by private builders, all come along in the course of the year it will be quite a respectable total. But I do not think it is very likely that there will be a flood in the spring, considering that we are well into March. I should like to make this point about the Bill. It is largely a financial Bill, and, of course, we have all got to face the fact that the price of houses has increased enormously. We recognise that there has got to be a subsidy. Every one appreciates that because of the high costs whatever may be the reason for them. But what is involved? For the first time the subsidy is being given for 60 years. Hitherto the longest period was 40 years and that is a big difference.
Secondly, there is the change in the proportion between the Exchequer grant and the rate grant. The Exchequer is now paying three times the rate payment instead of the normal figure. We have to bear in mind that that is going to come from the taxpayers pockets. One right hon. Gentleman put some pertinent questions with regard to the high cost of building. As a matter of fact the Minister of Works gave some information on 15th October last analysing prewar prices and prices today. The cost of material before the war was £274 out of £550 on the average, whereas the figure on the 1945 basis was £472 cut of an estimate of £1,200, which, of course, means in percentages that the materials have gone up 72 per cent. and other costs have gone up by no less than 164 per cent. It is to that that one Member invited the Government to direct their attention by inquiry if necessary, because we do not know what is the explanation for this increase. Perhaps the Minister will tell
us whether it is land, loans, labour, or whether it is a fact that the local authorities are doing the thing that has led to this very great increase in other costs.
Of course, it may be what is called an exorbitantly high price due mainly to the inefficiency of or to the absence of any force making for a high level of output in the industry. These conditions are partly the result of the physical shortage applied to labour and materials and, we need not deny it, they are aggravated by a slackness that pervades the entire industry. It cannot be attributed to war weariness alone.
I do not know what the Minister will say to that. It is not my sentiment; it is a quotation from the "New Statesman" of last week, which says:
The trouble is the slackness pervading the entire industry.
The "New Statesman" is certainly a supporter of the Minister. If that is their considered view about housing costs, perhaps it would be as well to have a committee, to see whether there is anything in it. 1 hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider that. At any rate, it seems clear that a reduction in costs would in this, as in every other, direction be very desirable. We have not been able to find out what is the estimated cost of the average house, and perhaps the Minister can tell us. The Parliamentary Secretary has fenced on this. In a reply given yesterday, it was stated that the average cost of the tenders submitted was £980. We know that the mathematical equivalent of the subsidy, that is to say, £I6 10s. multiplied by 60, makes the figure of £990, and we have also seen in the "Economist,"in a learned disquisition on this matter, the estimated price of £960. I am sorry the Minister was not here when my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) was dissecting certain figures. I know that he cannot be here all the time, and that he has been very good in listening to this Debate. But I hope he will study those figures, which I will not repeat now as it would be unseemly to do so after the expert has spoken. If the Minister does not feel free to tell us tonight, perhaps he will tell us some other time on what he bases his cost. After all, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and I— a funny combination, but there it is— think there is a grave risk of rents creeping up if there is a gap which is not covered by subsidy. That gap has to be made up somehow, either by a further
charge on the rate or on the rent. The hon. Lady was worried lest it would, in many cases, go on the rent, with the consequence that those for whom the houses are primarily designed would, in the long run, not be able to enjoy the amenities which the houses would afford. I would like to know, from the Minister, something about that gap.
There are two other points on which 1 should like further information, if the right hon. Gentleman is in benevolent mood. I do not think the Minister was here, either, when we had an interesting "reading" as I think they call it in Scotland, from the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister). In connection with Clause 4 he raised the question of congestion and the relation of houses to flats. I think the Minister had better read what his hon. Friend said about this matter, because some or it was very un- complimentary. I think it is a true deduction which the hon. Member made, that most people prefer to live in a house if they can. But one has to remember that in great urban areas not everybody can live in a house. Thus, there is the question as to how far houses can be more mixed up with flats in the high site value areas. Perhaps the Minister would let us know his views about this. With regard to Clause 18. which deals with housing associations, what precisely are the intentions of the right hon. Gentleman where, in pursuance of arrangements made by him, housing associations can be formed? Is he going to press his unwilling intentions upon reluctant authorities? Does he intend to force them to have some kind of housing associations? If a local authority is desperately in need of help is there any real need for him to set up a housing association? Would it not be good time to let the ordinary builder come in, and do what he is ready and willing to do in every part of the country?
I would like to sum up our objections to the Bill. We have pat them succinctly, I hope, in this reasoned Amendment. There are three elements in the criticisms that are made. To take them in the reverse order, there is the criticism that the Bill makes no provision for assisting the conversion of houses. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the Government intend to concentrate on new house building, but that that does not mean it will not be supplemented later on. I must refer once again—although 1 know it is very awkward for the Minister—to the Report of the Sub-Committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee on the conversion of existing houses. The Parliamentary Secretary was one of the signatories to the Report, and the right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister of Town and Country Planning was the chairman. They signed the Report on 31st August last, when they had already held office for some time. There were no reservations whatever, and they said, like their other distinguished colleagues:
We have no hesitation in recommending that assistance should be given to private owners by means of loans at lower rates of interest based on the total cost of conversion, including necessary repairs and making good dilapidations.
They went on to say:
We have reviewed a number of suggestions, and dismissed them all except the following, namely, that a percentage of the approved costs of actual conversion should be payable to the owner up to a limited amount for dwellings provided.
In their recommendations, they urged that all this should be done because
conversion will provide much needed additional housing accommodation, can be accomplished with less material in time of shortage than will be needed in the construction of new houses, and, where the cost does not exceed £500 per dwelling, with less skilled labour "—
it seems almost too good to be true—
and social and other amenities are available without extra cost.
The hon. Gentleman very properly nods his head in agreement that it is a very good plan. Then why not put it into operation? It could go on pari passu with the erection of new houses, particularly as it requires less material and less skilled labour. It is because there is nothing about that in the Bill that we take exception to it. Certainly there is nothing about reconditioning, and although that is a term used more with regard to the agricultural position, it does apply and is to some extent what is covered by conversion here. There is not sufficient stimulus for providing houses for the agricultural industry.
We have had several very telling speeches on this subject during the Debate. The Noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd-George) did not think that the Housing (Rural Workers) Act—which was so wantonly withdrawn by the present Government— had fully justified itself in the past, but it did, I understand, lead to the reconditioning of 35,000 houses in Scotland, and a great deal of work was done in different parts of the country, some in my own constituency during the war, I am happy to say. Where it was not brought fully into effect 1 dare say that was entirely due to members of local authorities of the political persuasions of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who thought, quite wrongly, that somehow or other it put money into the pockets of the landlords. Actually, it did nothing but provide much improved housing for the agricultural workers. We have heard a certain amount also about the tied cottage. I will not go into that because it is also an awkward subject for the Minister and for the Under-Secretary for Scotland with regard to the minority report which they signed on rent restriction where even they were constrained to admit that they could see no reason for a change relating to service cottages for stockmen.
I do not see why the Minister has not taken powers to deal with reconditioning except that in the same way that he does not agree with what the Prime Minister has said about targets he apparently does not agree with what the Lord Privy Seal says should be done about reconditioning. We had a Debate on the Address during which, on 17th August, the Lord Privy Seal expatiated on this subject. He said:
We shall deal with the question of rural housing as part of the general housing campaign. I think it is better to fit it in that way. ... I am quite certain the Government will do nothing whatever to imperil the housing so badly needed by the people of the countryside. ... I agree about reconditioning "—
That is not having it—
I am not turning it down at all "—
This after having said that he did not want it—
It is vital, it is an immediate contribution. I agree about that. I say that we must take it in our stride as part of the general housing programme and housing campaign."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th August, 1945; Vol. 413, c. 256-7.]
That is what the Lord Privy Seal said, but since then it has been eclipsed and apparently he has been eclipsed too for
we never see him about. 1 do not know why the right hon. Gentleman is so firm against reconditioning It seems a commonsense thing to do. It employs a certain number of people, who would not otherwise get work in the general housing programme at the moment—small people in the countryside—for comparatively little expense, and a great deal of improvement can be made to these cottages. If I may use the adjectives used by the late Lord Snowden in another connection, the policy of the Government on this matter is both grotesque and ridiculous.
The third point about which we are anxious is, as mentioned in the Amendment, that there is no adequate provision for assisting the building of houses by private enterprise. This has been discussed throughout the day and indeed the right hon. Gentleman would have appreciated, even if we had not said it, that we would not have approved a Bill which gave so little assistance in the agricultural areas, although there is the very small provision in Clause 13 where the subsidy is put up to 10 guineas. [HON. MEMBERS: "Fifteen guineas."] I am sorry, it goes up from 10 guineas to 15, but it is only given for 40 years instead of 60, and it is a smaller subsidy than that given to the local authorities so that in any case it is not very exciting. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] In the light of the high costs we have been discussing throughout the day. What really worries me is that we are passing a Bill which, on the financial side, is obviously going to be a charter for the next two years unless a review is made—and I hope it will not be amended in that time because if it is, it will probably have to be in a higher direction and I would not like that at all. This charter neglects the most potent solvent of the whole problem.
There was last week's Debate, there was the Lord President's speech, there was the Prime Minister's speech and there was the Prime Minister's broadcast on Sunday. In all these, we were told that what we must do was to mobilise every effort, every endeavour, every agent, to get the country going again. All of this seems to have had an absolutely nil effect upon the right hon. Gentleman. What is he doing, to put forth every effort, to use every agent, to make every endeavour in securing this mobilisation? Housing is the key to the whole problem, and well we
know it, but the right hon. Gentleman is doing nothing of the sort because for purely doctrinal reasons he is pushing the private builders aside. After all, hon. Gentlemen opposite have quoted some figures, but they may have got them wrong, because they took them out of a Labour Party pamphlet, instead of the Minister of Health's own document, with regard to the building figures in the 20 years between the two wars. The fact remains that three out of every four of the houses built at that time were built by private enterprise. [HON. MEMBERS: "For sale and not to let."] I can deal with that interjection, but I go on to say that now the only permitted licences that are offered to private enterprise are of the ratio of one in five. The position then is that the private builder who put up three out of every four of the houses built in the years between the two wars, is now only being graciously allowed the chance of one in every five. If I may quote again what the right hon. Gentleman said:
If local authorities exercising these licences are too tardy in their housing schemes then I shall suspend the power to issue these licences for this purpose.
That is to say, if a local authority cannot build the houses for which licences have been issued because it is inefficient then nobody else is going to build either. I must say that this is a most extraordinary plan, and I cannot understand why, in all these circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman takes the contrary view. [Interruption.] I do not know what he does, but it does seem to me that unity can be achieved here. A great increase of housing could be developed if everyone were mobilised. Of course we did have unity during the war, but the right hon. Gentleman personally contracted out of it. Perhaps he is contracting out of it this time, or can it be that he only remembers the song known to many of us, "The more we are together the merrier we shall be "? That of course is the song of the Ancient Order of Froth-blowers, but not of statesmen.
Let the right hon. Gentleman think again. Let him mobilise everyone, and we shall certainly see that everything possible is done in every direction in which we have any influence to help him in that job. [Interruption.] Yes, in our constituencies some of us still believe, as I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite do, that we can speak for those whom we represent. If the Government do that I am perfectly certain that there will be a great surge forward. There is a great effort to be made throughout this country, but we see no sign of it in this Bill. It is for that reason that we move this reasoned Amendment.
I very much enjoyed the speech that has just been delivered by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), as, indeed, I am sure did every one in every part of the House. I enjoyed it rather more perhaps than many of my hon. Friends here because it is not the first time I have heard the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. When I first came to this House he was then in opposition. I knew at once that the Opposition were in considerable difficulties when I heard that they had asked him to wind up, because, as some of my hon. Friends will recollect, at that time he was known as "Stonewall Crookshank." Whenever the Opposition wished to prolong the Debate into complete sterility they always sent for the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and I am bound to say he discharged his tasks manfully. However, he then became a Minister, with the change of Government, and passed into comparative obscurity. He led an almost clandestine, if not furtive, existence for some years. Now, however, he is out again and is one of the chief illustrations of the political embarrassments of the Party opposite. They now have to call upon, I admit, one of the most formidable adversaries in Parliamentary technique I know of and they are obviously going to use every single piece of knowledge they possess in order to put every obstacle in the way of the Government carrying out their programme. In fact, we have already had some experience of it.
I have no reason to complain about the Debate to which we have listened today. It has for me been a very comfortable and agreeable time. I asked deliberately that the Second Reading of this Bill should be postponed until the progress reports were out in order that hon. Members in all parties might have an opportunity of discussing the virtues of the Bill in the context of the reports. The Opposition cannot say that we have attempted at all to prevent them from having the fullest possible information. I stripped myself stark naked at the most disagreeable part of the year and I expected, after reading some of the newspapers in the last few weeks, that I should be the victim of a hurricane today. So far it has only been a gentle zephyr. I ask hon. Members to compare the speeches to which we have listened today with the headlines in the newspapers. The fact is that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are much too sophisticated to accept the leadership of those who wish to impose their leadership upon them. They know very well that every attack made upon me at the moment on the number of houses, as the hon. Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) pointed out—every attack made on the Government for the lack of finished houses is actually an attack on the late Government for not having started them. Everybody knows: the facts are there. Hon. Members opposite have been asking me not to be doctrinaire. I will be strictly practical and empirical. They know very well that traditional houses are not started in the autumn. They know that the only houses that could have been completed towards the end of the year and in the month of January must have been houses which were started last summer.
Therefore, all this has been beside the point; all these attacks are entirely beside the mark. That is why today we have had speeches in a minor key, because they know very well that in attacking the Government for this progress report they are actually indicting themselves. I do not blame them. I am not suggesting that it was possible. But it applies both ways. I am not suggesting that it was possible for hon. Members, when they were in the Government, to have started houses when the war was in progress. Also, it was not possible for this Government to start a housing programme in the middle of winter. Therefore, we shall have to be judged, not by what has happened up to now, but by what will hap pen this year, and by that I am content to be judged, because I believe that the housing progress will fully justify the plans we have made.
Let me ask hon. Members to consider the sort of task we have to face, and perhaps if they will look at it from the point of view I am about to describe, they will get a little better perspective. A house is at the end of a production line, not at the beginning of it. It is the last product. All sorts of preparations have to be made before the houses appear on the site. Hon. Members opposite, both here and in the organs of public opinion which serve them, or do not serve them, lay emphasis all the while upon the one factor—the building contractor, the speculative builder, the building operatives. I wish to tell the House at once that the main anxiety is not the actual building force on the site. It is the provision of building materials in the background. If we stimulated, by every effort at our disposal, the actual building on the sites, what would happen? There would be no correspondence at all between the assembly of the building force on the sites and the preparation of building materials to supply that force,
My difficulty is that—and I can explain here to hon. Members that the decision to rest the main responsibility for the provision of houses upon the local authorities was not a doctrinaire one at all. It is that, if we are to have any correspondence between the size of the building force on the sites and the actual provision of material coming forward to the sites from the industries, there must be some planning. If we are to plan we have to plan with plannable instruments, and the speculative builder, by his very nature, is not a plannable instrument. In fact, I cannot tell the House at the present time how many houses private enterprise is building. I do not know what they are doing, where they are doing it or how they are doing it. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about licences?"] Because in fact, once they receive their licences, how they use them is entirely a matter for them. If the majority of houses were being put up at the present time by speculative builders, operating quite freely and under their own influence, it would be impossible for the Government to organise the provision of building materials. We would not know what they were doing. We rest the full weight of the housing programme upon the local authorities, because their programmes can be planned, because we know what they are doing, because in fact we can check them if we desire to, and we may have to. In fact, in very many instances the local authorities have pro- grammes now going ahead of the provision of some building materials. Therefore, if we are not to have chaos, as we had at the end of the last war, it is necessary that we have some correspondence between what is happening on building sites and what is being done in the background.
Hon. Members opposite have been reading some history. I have been reading it too. I can tell hon. Members the truth. I am a bit worried, because it looks as though I have failed, in a sense completely different from what hon. Members allege. At the end of the last war, for one year, one whole year, 124 houses were built. That was in one whole year. All were built by local authorities. During the second year, up to November, 1920, a further 16,643 houses were built, 10,998 by local authorities and 5,645 by private builders. During the third year, up to 30th September, 1921, a further 57,429 houses were built, 40,155 by local authorities, and 17,274 by private builders. In other words, at the end of the last war, when housing was at its most difficult, it was the local authorities that had to build houses, and not private enterprise.
In fact, when references are made to what private enterprise did between the war years—and speech after speech from the benches opposite has mentioned it— the reference is to what private enterprise did 17 years afterwards. Are we to wait 17 years before we get the houses? When hon. Members opposite talk about the 4,000,000 houses when did they start to be built? They reached their peak in 1937–19 years afterwards. Those are the comparisons that have been made but, as I say, I failed in a sense which alarms me, because apparently I have been able to stimulate private enterprise, with no subsidy, more than they did it with a subsidy. For that success I may be taken to task on this side of the House, but hardly on that side.
It has been suggested that the Government cannot claim credit for the houses built by speculative builders under licence. They say, "That is private enterprise; that is not public enterprise."Do hon. Members, therefore, suggest that I should make no provision either in manpower or building materials for private enterprise building?
Do they suggest that? If the Government are to make provision for building materials and labour for private enterprise, are not the Government entitled to take credit for the houses built in that way? Hon. Members cannot have it both ways, but they want it. [An HON. MEMBER: "They need it."] They want it. I am suggesting, therefore, that their analysis is completely wrong and that private enterprise is perfectly satisfied to build without the subsidy because it is building a lot more houses today without the subsidy than it built two years after the last war with a handsome subsidy.
The fact is that the reason why we do not wish to stimulate the production of houses by private enterprise is because the Government have accepted a solemn obligation that we shall use our building materials and our labour first for the production of houses for those who need houses, and not for those who can buy them. Hon. Members opposite come forward with the old Tory clap-trap. The only remedy they have for every social problem is to enable private enterprise to suck at the teats of the State. That is the only kind of remedy they have —that we should pour out public money to private enterprise at the moment in order to build houses to sell. The Government believe that it would have been an act of gross betrayal to the men and women who have been fighting in the war to return home to find well-to-do people able to buy expensive houses while the majority of them wandered about the streets without a shelter. Therefore, we decided, and I should have thought:all hon. Members opposite would have approved it, that, when things are in short supply, we should do as we did during the war and make the things which are in short supply available, first of all, on grounds of equality, to those who need them, and so we are devoting most of our material and most of our labour at the present time to provide houses of that sort.
If I accepted the logic which has been put forward from those Benches today, the consequence would be inflated housing prices. If all we did was to stimulate the building of houses by private enterprise, as was done at the end of the last war, so that anybody who thought he could build a house started to build it, we would have a vast number of houses started all over the country, no houses completed and a whole crop of bankruptcies in the building industry— exactly what happened at the end of the last war. Housing prices went up, between 1919 and 1922, 200 per cent., because no controls of any sort were exercised over the building industry. Therefore, the Government have decided that they are not going to buy short term advantages at the price of long term disasters, and that they are going to start their housing programme as they intend to continue it.
Criticism has been made today because I have said that, for every four houses built by the local authorities, one shall be built by private enterprise—one in five. Why did I say that? It certainly is not a figure based upon any strict statistical inquiry, because the facts are not available, but because it seems to me to bear the proper relationship to the social situation of most of our people, because four out of five in Great Britain need houses to let and cannot afford to buy them. In fact, one in five is a very generous provision. I want that to be a ceiling, and, where local authorities are able to absorb the whole of the local building force and the whole of the local building material in building their own houses, I hope they will not licence houses at all; because it is not desirable, in these circumstances, that individuals should be able to use things that are in short supply for the building of houses for well-to-do people.
Something has been said this afternoon about the provision of rural houses. Hon. Members opposite ought to have some slight sense of shame. They ought not to say anything about rural housing. Their main contribution today is to ask me to pump in money in order to build tied cottages. I would like to say to the countryside beyond this House that they should judge hon. Members opposite, not only by their past—because they have been asking us to forget that, as every criminal does in the court—but by what they are doing now. The other day I introduced into this House a Land Acquisition Bill. I want that Bill very badly; I want the powers very badly because, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said, in what I thought was a most distinguished speech, we are devising a special scheme for constructing houses of an untraditional type in rural areas. We have a re-designed house in an approved system. We have searched for it, and we have found it. But if those houses are to be provided this year in rural England, Wales and Scotland, in the quantities we need, it is necessary that there should be ample site preparation. One of the difficulties about organising untraditional houses is that the sites must be got ahead of the system of construction, as, otherwise, the whole thing breaks down.
If there is one class of authority in this country which does not possess land in sufficient quantity to go on building, it is the rural authority. When hon. Members opposite talk about the global figure of the number of sites owned, they are talking largely about the boroughs. But the rural authorities have not that land, and the Bill for its acquisition has already been upstairs seven days. Hon. Members opposite have been putting down one frivolous Amendment after another to the Bill. I warn their supporters in the rural countryside that every week that that Bill remains upstairs, it is costing thousands of rural houses this year.
Further to that point of Order. Unless I misheard the right hon. Gentleman, is it not a fact, Mr. Speaker, that the word "frivolous" was mentioned? I agree that it is in Order to refer in a general way to what takes place upstairs, but, surely, the right hon. Gentleman is not entitled to refer to "frivolous Amendments "as, otherwise, we should be entitled to take objection to that, as I do.
The fact is that hon. Members opposite cannot take it. What they want to do is to give abstract lip service to housing and to try to block every Parliamentary Measure dealing with it. We need—and I would have hon. Members realise this—powers to acquire land very quickly at the present time because we have only two or three months at the outside in which to prepare the housing sites after we acquire the land. Rural authorities that have not large quantities of labour available need to have as much time as possible. Therefore, I beg hon. Members opposite to realise that every day they hold up these Measures costs houses.
Reference is made in the Bill to certain powers, which I ask the House to give, to finance the construction of untraditional housing schemes. That has a direct relationship with the acquisition of land for those houses, and unless we can have the powers, we cannot get on with the job of providing houses. Furthermore, it is"necessary that we have this Bill very shortly. [Interruption.] Hon. Members really must be fair. We really must have this Bill in a Committee of the House, but there are certain powers in this Bill which we must also have quickly. I am not asking that hon. Members of the Opposition should forgo their Parliamentary rights, but I am asking, if they are sincere and earnest in their intention to build houses, that they ought quickly to furnish the Government with the legislative instrument to get on with the job.
The right hon. Gentleman has not only accused hon. Members on this side of the House of moving frivolous Amendments, but has also cast a reflection on the Chair in Committee.
The right hon. Gentleman's mental processes are very slow. We left that point five minutes ago. The City of London does not seem to provide a sufficient stimulus to the right hon. Gentleman. I hope the House will give us this Measure very quickly, because these powers are necessary for us to get on with the job. As the monthly returns come out they provide us, and, I think, the country, with an excellent means for stimulating the local authorities into action. We are providing more information than any Government has ever given before. Appendix B gives the record of every local authority. Is that not a wonderful instrument of democratic emulation, when each local authority compares its own progress with the progress of its neighbour, when each local journal and newspaper points out the backwardness or forwardness of this or that particular local authority? Will that not, in the course of a year, produce friendly "competition among all the local authorities, stimulating them into activity in a most agreeable and democratic way? It seems to me that, so far from being criticised, the Government should be praised, because we are really sincerely trying to harness the forces of British democracy to the solution of this housing problem, and I beg hon. Members to believe that we are not riding prejudices. We are directing our resources to where they can in fact best be used.
The Amendment deplores the fact that we are not going in for conversion. I will tell hon. Members why not. I have told the House before. War damage and cost-plus have had a most demoralising influence upon a section of the building industry, both workmen and employers. The progress that has been made during the last six months in the rehousing of people who suffered war damage, and especially towards the end of last year and the beginning of this year, is due to going over from cost-plus to firm prices. All that rehousing, or most of it, has been done in the last six months. When the war damage is over we want the building workers to go on to the straightforward clean job of building new houses. If you take them from war damage work and put them onto conversions again it does not satisfy the craftsmen's pride. It is dirty work; we will not be able to get from the building workers the result that we ought to get. We an go back to conversions later. In the meantime, we can get a more wholesome building industry by putting the workers on to the straightforward clean job of building newhouses.
I hope hon. Members in no part of the House will press me at this stage to implement that report. It will require legislation, and very complicated legislation at that. At the same time, it will use up skilled labour, which is in very short supply and which we need today on our new housing schemes. In the rural areas it is impossible for us at this moment to use any labour at all on reconditioning, because the rural workers want to see new houses going up. I have had deputation after deputation from the rural areas objecting to the use of labour and materials putting tied cottages in good repair when there is a shortage of housing accommodation. We are providing a subsidy. Objection has been taken to it. The only case of private subsidy under the Bill is the subsidy for the farmer to build a house for his stockman. It is suggested we ought to give exactly the same subsidy as that given to the local authority. Why? It will be private property. It will increase the capital value of the farm. Surely, the owner of the property ought to make some contribution. It is not reasonable to expect that the State should find the whole of the difference. These houses must be subject to the Rent Restrictions Acts, because I am not going to be responsible; as Minister of Health in this Government, for the provision of public money to tie agricultural workers, under the threat of eviction, to an employer they do not like.
The hon. Member opposite can regard that as doctrinaire prejudice if he likes. The fact is when we try to take the local property off the shoulders of the people in those areas it is regarded as doctrinaire prejudice.
I would like the right hon. Gentleman to give an answer to this question about reconditioning. Has he had any advice upon this matter, and if he has is he prepared to publish the report?
Certainly. There is no reason why it should not be published. Hon. Members can have all the information they wish. I do not desire to sit on any piece of information, and if the information we can provide will help them to bring forward better arguments than I have heard today, I shall be delighted. I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. I hope the House will reject the Amendment, because, if carried, it will have the effect of disorganising the
whole housing programme of the Government. I am convinced that as the year develops the housing situation will show that the Government have the whole thing well in hand, and the people of Great Britain will realise that they have in office at the present time people who are really concerned about housing and not merely about making political capital out of it.
|Division No 96.||AYES||10.15 p.m.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Crawley, Flt.-Lieut. A||Hardy E. A.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Daggar, G.||Haworth, J.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Daines, P.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)|
|Allighan, Garry||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)|
|Alpass, J. H||Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Hobson, C. R|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||Hubbard, T.|
|Attewell, H. C||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)|
|Austin, H. L.||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Ayles, W H.||Deer, G.||Hughes, Lt. H D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||de Freitas, Geoffrey||Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Delargy, Captain H. J||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)|
|Baird, Capt. J.||Diamond, J||Irving, W. J|
|Balfour, A.||Dobbie, W.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J||Dodds, N. N.||Jeger, Capt. G. (Winchester)|
|Barstow, P. G.||Donovan, T.||Jeger, Dr S. W (St. Pancras, S.E.)|
|Barton, C||Douglas, F. C R.||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)|
|Battley, J. R.||Driberg, T. E. N.||Jones, J. H. (Bolton)|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)|
|Belcher, J. W.||Dumpleton, C. W.||Keenan, W.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Durbin, E. F. M.||Kenyon, C.|
|Benson, G.||Dye, S||Key, C. W.|
|Beswick, Flt.-Lieut. F.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||King, E. M.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Edelman, M.||Kingdom, Sqn.-Ldr E|
|Bing, Capt. G. H. C.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Kinley, J.|
|Binns, J||Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Kirby, B. V.|
|Blackburn, Capt. A. R||Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Kirkwood D.|
|Blenkinsop, Capt. A.||Evans, E (Lowestoft)||Lang, G|
|Blyton, W. R.||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Lavers, S.|
|Boardman, H.||Ewart, R.||Lee, F. (Hulme)|
|Bottomley, A. G.||Fairhurst, F.||Leonard, W.|
|Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W.||Farthing, W. J.||Lewis, J. (Bolton)|
|Bowen, R.||Fletcher, E. G M. (Islington, E.)||Lewis, T. (Southampton)|
|Bowles, F G (Nuneaton)||Follick, M.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Brad dock Mrs. E. M. (L'p'l, Exch'ge)||Foot, M. M.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Foster, W (Wigan)||Logan, D. G|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Longden, F.|
|Brooks, T. J (Rothwell)||Freeman, Maj. J. (Watford)||Lyne, A. W.|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Freeman, Peter (Newport)||McAdam W.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Gaitskell, H T. N||McAllister, G.|
|Bruce, Maj. D W T||Gallacher, W.||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Buchanan, G.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S||McGhee, H. G.|
|Burden, T. W.||George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)||McGovern, J|
|Burke, W A.||Gibbins, J.||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Butler, H W. (Hackney, S.)||Gilzean, A.||Mackay, R. W. G (Hull, N.W.)|
|Byers, Lt.-Col. F.||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||McKinlay, A S.|
|Champion, A. J.||Gooch, E. G.||Maclean, N. (Govan)|
|Chater D.||Goodrich, H. E.||McLeavy F.|
|Chetwynd, Capt. G R.||Gordon-Walker, P. C.||MacMillan, M. K.|
|Clitherow Dr. R.||Greenwood, A. W. J (Heywood)||Macpherson, T. (Romford)|
|Cluse, W. S||Grey, C. F.||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Cobb, F. A.||Grierson E.||Mallalieu, J. P. W|
|Cocks, F. S||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J (Lianelly)||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)|
|Collick, P.||Griffiths, Capt. W. D (Moss Side)||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)|
|Collindridge, F.||Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Marshall, F. (Brightside)|
|Collins, V. J.||Gunter, Capt. R. J.||Mathers, G.|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Guy, W. H.||Mayhew, C. P.|
|Comyns, Dr. L.||Hale, Leslie||Medland, H. M.|
|Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G. .||Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Middleton, Mrs L|
|Corlett, Dr. J.||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R||Mikardo, Ian|
|Cove, W. G.||Hannan, W. (Maryhill||Mitchison, Maj. G R.|
|Montague, F.||Roberts, Sqn.-Ldr. Emrys (Merioneth)||Titterington, M. F.|
|Moody, A. S.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Tolley, L.|
|Morgan, Dr. H. B||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Morley, R.||Rogers, G. H. R.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)||Scollan, T.||Usborne, Henry|
|Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Scott-Elliot, W.||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Segal, Sq.-Ldr. S.||Viant, S P.|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)||Shackleton, Wing-Cdr. E. A.||Walkden, E.|
|Mort, D. L.||Sharp, Lt.-Col. G. M.||Walker, G. H.|
|Moyle, A.||Shawcross, sir H. (St. Helens)||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Murray, J. D.||Shurmer, P.||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Nally, W.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Warbey, W. N|
|Neal, H. (Claycross)||Skeffington, A. M.||Watson, W. M.|
|Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Skinnard, F W.||Weitzman, D.|
|Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)||Smith, Capt. C. (Colchester)||Wells, W T. (Walsall)|
|Noel-Buxton, Lady||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)||White, C. F. (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Oldfield, W. H.||Smith, H N (Nottingham, S.)||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Oliver, G. H.||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)||Whiteley, Rt Hon. W.|
|Paget, R. T.||Smith, T (Normanton)||Wigg, Col. G. E.|
|Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Snow, Capt. J. W.||Wilkes, Maj. L.|
|Palmer, A. M. F.||Sorensen, R. W.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Pargiter, G. A.||Soskice, Maj. Sir F.||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Parker, J.||Sparks, J. A||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Parkin, Flt.-Lieut. B. T.||Stamford, W.||Williams, W. R (Heston)|
|Paton, J. (Norwich)||Steele, T.||Williamson, T.|
|Peart, Capt. T. F.||Stewart, Capt. Michael (Fulham, E.)||Willis, E.|
|Perrins, W.||Stokes, R. R.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Platts-Mills, J. F. F.||Stubbs, A. E.||Wilmot, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Poole, Major Cecil (Lichfield)||Swingler, Capt. S.||Wilson, J. H.|
|Popplewell, E.||Symonds, Maj. A L.||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Porter, E. (Warrington)||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)||Woodburn, A.|
|Porter, G. (Leeds)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Woods, G. S.|
|Pritt, D. N.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)||Wyatt, Maj. W|
|Proctor, W. T.||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)||Yates, V. F. .|
|Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Ranger, J.||Thomas, John R. (Dover)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Rankin, J.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Rees-Williams, Lt.-Col. D. R.||Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Ed'b'gh, E.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Reid, T. (Swindon)||Tiffany, S.||Mr. Pearson and Mr. Simmons.|
|Rhodes, H.||Timmons, J.|
|Agnew,, Cmdr. P. G.||Glossop, C. W. H.||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)|
|Aitken, Hon. Max||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. G.||Maude, J. C|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Grimston, R. V.||Mellor, Sir J.|
|Assheton, Rt Hon R.||Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Hare, Lieut.-Col. Hn. J. H. (W'db'ge)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.||Mott-Radclyffe, Maj. C. E.|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Haughton, S. G.||Neven-Spence, Major Sir B.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Head, Brig. A. H.||Nicholson, G.|
|Birch, Lt.-Col. Nigel||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Nutting, Anthony|
|Boothby, R.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Orr-Ewing, I L.|
|Bower, N.||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Peake, Rt Hon. O.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Maj. J. A.||Hollis, Sqn.-Ldr. M. C.||Peto, Brig. C H. M.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Hope, Lord J.||Pickthorn, K.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Howard, Hon. A.||Pitman, I. J.|
|Carson, E.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)|
|Channon, H.||Hurd, A.||Price-White, Lt.-Col. D|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.||Jarvis, Sir J.||Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Roberts, Maj. P. G. (Ecclesall)|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Keeling, E. H.||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Kerr, Sir J. Graham||Robinson, Wing-Comdr. Roland|
|Crcokshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Ross, Sir R.|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Langford-Holt, J.||Savory, Prof. D. L.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Scott, Lord W.|
|De la Bère, R.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Shephard, S. (Newark)|
|Digby, Maj. S. W.||Linstead, H. N||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Lipson, D. L.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Donner, Sqn.-Ldr. P. W.||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Dower, Lt.-Col. A V. G. (Penrith)||Low, Brig. A. R. W.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Dower, E. L. G. (Caithness)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Drayson, Capt. G. B.||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Macdonald, Capt. Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Studholme, H. G.|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Mackeson, Lt.-Col. H. R.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Teeling, William|
|Fraser, Maj. H. C. P. (Stone)||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Gage, Lt.-Col. C.||Marples, Capt. A. E.||Thomson Sir D. (Aberdeen, S.)|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D.||Marsden, Capt. A.||Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.|
|Gammans, Capt L. D.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A. F.|
|Touche, G. C.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J||York, C.|
|Vane, Lieut.-Col. W. M. T.||White, Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Wakefield, Sir W. W||White, J. B. (Canterbury)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Walker-Smith, D.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)||Sir Arthur Young and Mr. Drewe.|
|Ward, Hon. G. R||Willink, Rt. Hon. H. U.||Mr. Drewe|
|Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
Question put, and agreed to.