Government Policy

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th October 1947.

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Photo of Mrs Lucy Middleton Mrs Lucy Middleton , Plymouth, Sutton 12:00 am, 29th October 1947

I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman on that point. He may be right. I will look into the matter. What I do know, from my contact with working class people, is that the average diet, particularly of the larger families, was nothing like the calorie intake of 2,900 units per day.

I now wish to refer to the question of housing. No man or woman of patriotic spirit, or who is concerned about national survival, will fail to support this Government to the utmost of their capacity in the measures which the Government have found necessary to take, and which were outlined in the Gracious Speech, in order to get our country out of her present difficulties. I would emphasise that they are difficulties which have not been caused by this country or by the actions of this Government; they are the result of world factors over which this Government and this country have had very little, if any, control. Nothing in this Debate has staggered me more than the way in which hon. Members opposite, including their Leader, despite protestations of concern for the national interest, have been willing to put a spanner in the wheel of national recovery by making speeches calculated in some instances entirely to mislead people in other countries and to produce the very maximum misunderstanding abroad.

Among all the items of retrenchment which the Government have announced, that which worries me most is that which foreshadows a cut in housing programmes. It is a blow to our community—and particularly to the women of our community—at our most vulnerable spot. I hope that when the Prime Minister replies tonight we shall hear something about the question of alternative materials, and of research which is being done in order to find ways of overcoming the difficulties—for instance, the difficulty of not being able to import all the soft wood we should like for housing purposes; and I hope we shall hear about experiments which are going on to produce from plastics, or from other sources, the substitute materials which will enable our housing programmes speedily to make headway.

I think every one of us in this House must agree that the Minister of Health and the Government are quite right in giving priority in housing in this particular situation to the mining villages. There, are terrible conditions of housing in our mining areas, conditions created by capitalism—capitalism red in tooth and claw—and by the poverty which capitalism has imposed on the mining communities for many decades past. No one will question for a moment the wisdom of the Government in giving priority in housing to those engaged in this most basic of all our industries. Indeed, national recovery depends upon that priority. The men we are hoping to recruit to the mining industry will not tolerate conditions for their wives and for their families in their homes hardly one whit better than the conditions they themselves have to tolerate in some of the more obsolete of the mines in which they are called upon to work underground. Nor, I think, will any one disagree with the Government in giving priority in housing to those engaged in the great service of agriculture. Here again—I know this from personal experience—housing conditions in rural areas are sometimes shocking—sometimes more shocking than those in mining villages.

Frankly, however, I cannot understand Members of the party opposite belabouring the Government about conditions of housing in the rural areas. In the countryside the power of the Conservative Party has been unchallenged for decades—the power of landlordism, combined with the power of control of almost every organ of local government. This terrible housing situation in the rural areas could have been obviated by the party opposite, both in the localities and in this House, when they had the power to do so in the years before the war. During the Recess I have had an opportunity of visiting many rural areas in the West Country. I find, I admit to the House, bitterness about housing conditions, certainly; but bitterness not directed against His Majesty's Government, not directed against His Majesty's Minister of Health, but bitterness directed against reactionary local authorities who have failed to use, or who are definitely misusing, the powers the Minister of Health has handed to them.

My plea to the Government tonight is not that these priorities should be scrapped, or that they should be whittled down by one iota. My plea is that, alongside these two inescapable priorities, with which we all agree, a third priority should be recognised, the priority of those areas in this country that were heavily damaged during the period of the war. I am fortified in putting forward this claim to the House for priority for blitzed cities in that the Leader of the House yesterday reminded the Leader of the Opposition, who seemed to have forgotten it, of this problem. Here are his words: A whole lot of building and labour has had to be diverted to putting up these houses"— those destroyed in the war— and to getting them on a care and maintenance basis."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 730.] That is what the Leader of the House said. I can speak with greater confidence in asking for this priority because of the excellent record of the municipality in which my constituency is situated. This area; after two years of a Labour controlled administration, has a record, I believe, unequalled by any city of its size in any part of the British Isles. That work of reconstruction, of putting the city on its feet again after the havoc of war, has been signally honoured today by a visit from Their Majesties to commemorate the first step in the physical reconstruction of our Civic Centre on the lines of the Plymouth Plan, which, through the film, "The Way We Live," and by other means, has now become world famous. If he will allow me, I should like to pay my personal tribute to the excellent work that has been done by my colleague, the hon. Member for the Drake Division (Mr. Medland), who is also an alderman of the Plymouth City Council, in. forwarding that work of reconstruction, and in all that he has done in getting it so far advanced as it is at the present time.

The work of reconstruction of our Civic Centre, opened by the King today, is only part of the job that has been done in the City of Plymouth in the last two years. The House may be interested to know that during that period 23 miles of new concrete roads have been made in the city, and that 49 miles of sewers and drains have also been made to serve our new housing estates. The housing committee of the local authority have erected no less than 3,237 houses, and of those, 1,002 houses are permanent houses.

In connection with the question of road making may I draw the attention of the House to what has so often happened under private enterprise development in years past, when that enterprise was engaged on the job of building houses for lower middle class and working class tenants or buyers. No proper roads were made. In many of our cities, including parts of my constituency, people who have bought houses, or people who are tenants of houses, are still waiting—have been waiting for years from before the war—in order to get the roads made up. In this connection, indeed, only this week it was my duty as Member for the Sutton Division to send to the Minister of Health a petition that I have received from one such area in my own constituency, an area of particularly steep gradients. I would challenge any hon. Gentleman opposite to wheel a perambulator 20 yards along the road in question without toppling the baby out head foremost. There are roads where some doctors refuse to call, especially after dark, because the roads are so dangerous.

This is an area for the development of which the present Minister of Health is not responsible, nor for which the Labour controlled administration of the City of Plymouth is responsible, but one that was developed by private enterprise for profit making in the years before the war. Houses were put up in this fashion, and no one cared whether the services or roads were ever provided. Under our Labour controlled administration, an end has been put to all that, but the work of making up the leeway left over by the Tories when they were in office in the City of Plymouth is still very great.

The House may ask, "Why, in view of the fact that Plymouth has, as you say, so excellent a record in the last two years"—as indeed have many other of our war damaged cities—" do you still ask for priority treatment for blitzed areas? "The answer is that, in spite of our efforts the problem which we face in the blitzed areas of this country is very great indeed. In spite of 12,500 people being rehoused in my city we still have 12,548 families on our housing lists waiting for accommodation; and I am assured by those in charge of housing in the City of Plymouth that 9,246 of those cases can be classed as desperately urgent needing, if we could give it, immediate rehousing.

In addition to that we have nearly 1,000 of our families still evacuated, some as far afield as Penzance, Torquay, Polperro, Mevagissey and other parts of Cornwall, with their menfolk having to travel long distances to and from work, or else having to face the almost impossible task of maintaining their families some miles away while maintaining themselves and getting lodgings in the areas where their work is located. In view of the accelerated programme for demobilisation this problem which confronts us in Plymouth, as it confronts those in control of the affairs of many other cities, will be greatly worsened.

I want the Government and the House to realise that these figures which I have given are for only one of our cities. I want them to realise also what all this means in frustration, in loss of physical efficiency, in risks to health and life, to the very morality of our young people, and in danger to that greatest of all our national assets—the family circle. I do not look upon the housing problem as one that can be postponed until better times are with us, but as one which concerns the most essential of all our national raw materials—a happy and contented working population. Yesterday evening the hon. and not so gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) made a disparaging remark about my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench. He referred contemptuously to "old women of both sexes."