Hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent blitzed areas will be glad of this opportunity to discuss this important topic for several hours. During the past few years we have had an opportunity to discuss the plight of the blitzed towns and cities only in Adjournment debates, when only one or two speakers could join the debate. But today, if Front Bench speakers restrain themselves and do not make their usual speeches of 40 minutes' duration and if back benchers try to speak briefly, as I hope to do, we may be able to hear the views of a number of hon. Members from the various blitzed areas. Thus we shall be able to get a complete picture of what is happening and of what the people in these areas think about this matter.
Of course, citizens of every city in this country suffered during the six years of Hitler's war. It would be reasonable, however, to say that those who lived in the blitzed towns and cities suffered more than others. They suffered the same casualties, the same losses of fathers, brothers, and sons in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, as did people in other towns. In Southampton we suffered considerable losses among those who served in the Mercantile Marine. One of the most respected aldermen in the borough of Southampton lost all his four sons in the Royal Air Force during the war.
But in addition to these losses which were shared with the people of the nonblitzed towns, the citizens of the blitzed towns suffered considerable civilian casualties from air raids and extensive damage to their property. Those sufferings and losses were borne with fortitude —a fortitude which earned the admiration of the whole of the Allied world and especially that of the United States of America.
The people of the blitzed areas thought that immediately the war was over they would be given reasonable priority in men and materials for the reconstruction of their damaged premises. They were buoyed up in that hope by a statement made by the present Prime Minister in March, 1945. He said:
Victory lies before us. certain and perhaps near. Of course, we must first concentrate on those parts of our cities and towns which have suffered most.
I cite the example of Southampton not because I take any parochial view, but because I know the facts and figures connected with that town best. Other hon. Gentlemen will be able to give the facts and figures relating to their areas. In Southampton, 5,000 houses were completely destroyed through enemy action and we also lost the major portion of our shops and offices and our business centre. A long street runs down the centre of Southampton—Above Bar Street, High Street and Below Bar Street. During two prolonged and concentrated night raids enemy aircraft systematically destroyed almost every shop, office, business establishment and every church in that long street and the streets which run at right angles to it.
By taking advantage of the admirable housing policy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) which has been continued, with modifications, by the present Minister of Housing and Local Government, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), we have been able to provide the people of Southampton with 7,000 new dwelling houses since 1945. This accommodation includes prefabricated houses, permanent houses, cost-ofworks houses, houses erected by private builders and flats. But though we have now more houses than we had before the war, there is still a large waiting list at the office of the local authority.
Very few of the shops, offices and business premises have been reconstucted. If one goes down the main street and into the side streets one sees a number of one-storey prefabricated shops where before there were handsome buildings; but one also sees a large number of bare and desolate patches of ground which are covered with a kindly mantle by the willow-herb and other wild flowers in their season. Southampton is the major passenger port of Western Europe and we get a large number of visitors from the United States. They must have a very poor idea of our post-war efforts at reconstruction when they view the barren and desolate areas where once shops, buildings and offices stood.
The people of Southampton, with those of other blitzed areas, awaited with great interest the announcement by the Minister of the value of the licences which would be allocated this year for reconstruction in the blitzed towns. The announcement was made a few months ago when it was stated that this year £4½ million would be allocated, of which £2½ million would be a carry-over from last year, leaving new construction to the value of £2 million. This £4½ million is not, as some people think, a financial grant to the blitzed areas from the Ministry and the Treasury. This merely gives the people permission to spend their own money. The sum to be allocated for all 18 blitzed towns is £4½ million. I am informed that the total expenditure of the country today runs at the rate of £2,000 million per annum.
I had the figures the other way round. Before the right hon. Gentleman corrected my mis-statement I was saying that our capital investment runs at the rate of £2,000 million a year. Actually, £4½ million is only 0.2 per cent. of the £2,000 million. Is that the regard which we have for the blitzed cities of this country—a 0.2 per cent. regard? The first question I want to ask the Minister is why this comparatively meagre sum for the reconstruction of the blitzed cities has been fixed. Surely it cannot be said today that there is any shortage of steel, when last year, under public ownership, we had a record output of steel in this country, amounting to over 16 million tons? Then, of course, there are the one million tons which the Prime Minister secured from the United States, and which I assume have now arrived here, so that the excuse of a shortage of steel for new construction cannot be a valid reason for the disappointingly small global sum that is to be allocated for reconstruction during the coming year.
I should not think that the sum is not larger because the Ministry or the Treasury fear that, if the sum were increased, there might be an inflationary tendency as a result. Even if the 0.2 per cent. of the capital investment of the country was increased to 0.4 per cent. of the total investment, it would not have more than an infinitesimal effect so far as inflation is concerned.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister, in the Adjournment debate of 4th December, said that, after all, even if the amount were only £4½ million, it was twice as much as was allocated for the reconstruction of the blitzed cities by the previous Labour Government, but the figures which were supplied by the Minister of Works on 30th October to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) do not bear out the contention which was then made by the Parliamentary Secretary. According to those figures, in 1950, under the Labour Government, the allocation was £4,345,300, and, in 1951, also under the Labour Government, it was £4,811,000. Both in 1950 and in 1951, the allocation under the Labour Government was about the same as the allocation will be this year under the Conservative Government.
The Minister must be aware that the announcement of this figure of £4½ million was greeted with a chorus of disappointment and disapproval from the leading figures in a number of the borough councils of the towns affected. For instance, on 26th November, the "Hull Daily Mail" had this to say:
Hull's allocation of only £400,000 for the continuation of blitz construction is a bitter
disappointment to planners and traders, who were hoping for a much bigger share of the £4½ million which is to be divided among 18 cities. Councillor R. W. Buckle, DeputyChairman of the Town Planning Committee, told the 'Hull Daily Mail' yesterday: 'We feel that Hull's allocation is very disappointing and hopelessly inadequate. We feel bitter that we have not been given a fair chance when we have the labour and the materials. We shall expect our Members of Parliament to stamp on Mr. Macmillan's doorstep.'
I should imagine that, if the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, Central (Captain Hewitson) has done much stamping on the Minister's doorstep, there cannot be much doorstep left. The quotation goes on:
'We shall stamp ourselves, if he will let us. May be, we shall stamp if he does not let us.'
Sir Clifford Tozer, a leading Conservative on the Plymouth City Council and Chairman of the Reconstruction Committee, said:
It would be foolish to pretend that I am satisfied with the allocation. I hope we shall have some more.
The Mayor of Southampton said:
I am by no means fully satisfied.
That was in December, and he has recently repeated his strong dissatisfaction with the allocation to Southampton. Alderman John Lane, the alderman who lost four sons in the Royal Air Force during the war, and to whom I have referred, who is now chairman of the Planning Committee of Southampton, said:
Every one of the badly blitzed cities is going to express disappointment and dissatisfaction. I am starting the chorus of protest.
So there was general dissatisfaction throughout the blitzed towns of this country both with the global amount of £4½ million and with the way in which that global amount was allocated to the respective cities.
I wish now to come back to the case of Southampton. The allocation to Southampton this year is £350,000, of which, £88,000 is a carry-over from last year. The leading members of the Southampton Borough Council state that, during the last four years, they could easily have spent a yearly average of £350,000 upon the reconstruction of the central blitzed part of their city. In fact, the allocations given during those four years amounted on the average to only £262,000 per year. That was the amount which they were allowed to spend. To bring that average back to £350,000, it would be necessary for Southampton this year to have an allocation of £705,000 instead of the £350,000.
But the leaders of the borough council in Southampton, like the two Members of Parliament for the borough, are reasonable and moderate men, and they are asking, not for £705,000, but for £528,000. With £528,000, the council could get on with 13 projects which, at present, are very urgently required in Southampton. As it is, with the amount allocated this year, they can get on with only six of those projects. They claim that they have the men and the materials with which to get on with these 13 projects, instead of the six which are allowed under the allocation. If they have the men and the materials, why should they not be allowed a sufficient allocation to complete these 13 projects?
Then there is the question of the rateable value of the blitzed towns. Very few of the blitzed towns have yet recovered the rateable value which they possessed in the pre-blitz period, and, because they have not recovered that rateable value, the fact is that, with the ever-increasing costs to local authorities and the ever-increasing services which they are bound to provide, their rates are higher than they would have been had the blitz not occurred; indeed, their rates are higher than they would have been if the local authorities had been allowed to proceed more quickly with the reconstruction of their shopping and business premises.
It is true that a number of houses have been built which have added to the rateable value, but, at the same time, the building of council houses also involves a fairly large expenditure on social services which tends to outweigh the additional rateable value they provide. With council houses, there are quite a lot of children, which means considerable additional expenditure on education. Shops, offices and business premises, on the other hand, generally have a fairly high rateable value and do not attract as much expenditure on social services.
Perhaps I may give some figures of the rateable value of blitzed towns compared with their rateable value in preblitz years. The rateable value of Southampton is now 94.7 per cent. of the figure in 1940, when the first heavy raids took place. The rateable value of Portsmouth is 96,07 per cent. of that of the pre-blitz years. The rateable value of Liverpool is 96,58 per cent. and of Plymouth 95.12 per cent. For West Ham, where in many ways there was more destruction than in other cities, taking size into account, the rateable value today is only 78.62 per cent. of pre-blitz years.
The first Labour Government of 1945–50 gave grants to the blitzed towns for their loss of rateable value. In Southampton I think we had something like £750,000 as a grant from the Exchequer as compensation for loss of rateable value. These grants have now been stopped, except in the case of West Ham, which still continues to receive some Exchequer grant.
I hope the Minister will give that assurance.
Let us compare this loss of rateable value in the blitzed towns with figures for the non-blitzed towns. We find that in many non-blitzed towns the rateable value has considerably increased over that of the pre-war years. In Reading, for example, the rateable value is 129.53 per cent. of the figure in 1938; in Wolverhampton, it is 112.69 per cent., and, in Salisbury, it is 117 per cent. of the 1938 figure. We feel that there is a case for large allocations to the blitzed areas in order that they may more speedily reconstruct their cities.
I do not regard this as a party matter at all and I am not trying to make a party issue out of it. I hope that if the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will abate his partisan zeal in the contribution which he makes and will behave with that moderation and discretion which is becoming to a gentleman who is both honourable and gallant. My hon. Friends and I frequently criticised our own Government from 1945–51 for not doing, as we thought, sufficient for the reconstruction of the blitzed cities. I made a number of speeches on the subject from time to time. Mrs. Lucy Middleton, who then represented one of the divisions of Plymouth, also made a number of speeches on the subject, with much more cogency and pith than I can command.
My hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Southampton, Test made a plea for greater assistance for the blitzed areas the main subject of his successful maiden speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), whose glittering eloquence and powers of invective have made him the idol of the television fans of the country, made a series of brilliant speeches against some of our own Ministers for not giving sufficiently to the aid of the blitzed towns.
This is not a party matter at all. It is a national matter; it is a matter for the national honour to see that the blitzed towns are properly treated. The blitzed towns and cities of this country are the orphans of the storm. They are in need of care and protection. Both the major parties of the State should vie with one another in their efforts to see that they get that care and protection.
I had not intended to intervene in the debate, but the admirable speech of the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley) made me feel that I ought to say something about one-half, at least, of my constituency. I do not propose to attempt any comparison between the claims of the City of London and those of any other blitzed city in the country. Quite naturally, hon. Members who represent cities which have suffered severe damage and grave loss of life, property and rateable value in the blitz will put their cases from the point of view of their own cities and their own fellow citizens. I want to put the case of the City of London solely from the national point of view.
It is beyond argument, I think, that the City of London and the activities which are carried on within its boundaries have always been of enormous importance to this country and today are vital to our survival as a great power. The invisible exports provided by the services of banking, shipping, insurance and of merchanting within the City of London have always provided the balancing factor which has enabled our economy to stand up to international strains and has made us the great commercial and industrial nation we have always been. Not only does the City house the institutions concerned with these activities but it is also the seat of the head offices of administration of great industrial and commercial organisations with international reputations, of international importance and of the greatest possible significance to our national economy.
Yet today, eight years after the end of the war, of that square mile of the City of London, the most valuable square mile of land in the world—not only financially valuable, but vital to the country—over a quarter, well over 1,200 to 1,300 acres, is still completely derelict, occupied by nothing but heaps of weed-grown rubble, car parks and things of that sort. Inside the City the people on whom the recovery and development of our trade and industry depend are sitting almost on one another's laps, working in conditions which make it quite impossible for them to attain proper efficiency.
The workers who flock into the City in hundreds of thousands a day are queueing for anything up to half an hour or even an hour at a time to get a mid-day meal, and more often than not they miss the meal altogether. We have great national organisations with their administrative offices scattered in four, six and in some cases ten or a dozen buildings in the City of London and the boroughs which immediately surround it. Surely, in those conditions, it almost becomes nonsense to appeal to the industries of this country to develop and increase our export trade and save us in the time of acute financial crisis through which we are now passing.
What an advertisement this is for British enterprise. The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen, referred to American visitors who come to Southampton. What about the visitors from all parts of the world who come, not as they do to Southampton to see its beauties as well as its tragedies, but to London to do business and who frankly are amazed that a nation, facing economic trials such as it has never faced before, should be so slow to restore to its businesses and industries the conditions in which alone they can make their proper contribution to our recovery? It is true that something has been done in the City already. Something like £12 million worth of work has been done on substantial new buildings in addition to quite a considerable amount spent on restoring smaller buildings. I do not want to make this a political debate and I will not say why this is so, but the fact is that practically the whole of that space is occupied by civil servants who are living and working in conditions far better than those in which any of the commercial companies are working, and far better than those in which, in past and most properous times, commercial companies ever did work.
Government offices have traditionally occupied twice as much space per man, and often more, than have ordinary commercial concerns. Not only do they occupy the new buildings in the City, but they occupy still under requisition large numbers of vast and fine old office blocks in the City and in the area immediately surrounding it. I make no appeal on behalf of the citizens of London, but I appeal on behalf of the country that something substanial should be and must be done at once to give back to the City the opportunities which it needs if it is to render its proper and continuing service to this country and our Empire.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Works announced a few days ago his intention to grant £10 million worth of licences for the re-building of central London. I confess that I do not find it easy, within the bounds of Parliamentary etiquette and Parliamentary language, to express an adequate opinion on the utter inadequacy of any such suggestion. I welcome it, of course, as a gesture. I think that at least it gives the opportunity for a beginning, but I would remind my right hon. Friend, through his Parliamentary Secretary, who is present today, that already the City Corporation have granted consents under planning powers and approval of projects which amount to well over £60 million outstanding at present.
So the £10 million, even if the whole of it came into the City of London, which apparently it will not, would be a mere beginning and a pretty poor beginning at that. But it is not even true that the share which is coming into the City of London is intended to meet the real needs of that great city, because it is common knowledge that a big part of whatever is coming is ear-marked for the Bank of England. The Bank of England—and I pay them a tribute—have undertaken a substantial scheme of redevelopment within the City. They are to take over responsibility for a substantial redevelopment area, but a very big part of the accommodation which they are to provide will be, of course, for their own use.
In these days it is very difficult to find out anything about these Government and semi-Government organisations, but from personal knowledge I can say that the Bank of England already occupy a large building within 100 yards of Oxford Street. It is a large and modern office building of some six or seven floors. As that building faces the well of the staircase of my own office I am able every day to look into every floor. I can assure the House that for many months past not more than two of those floors have had any occupants at all.
I would estimate the population of that building as being well under 100 and possibly not more than 50. I am told that that building is held as a reserve to meet any special urgent need of the Bank of England. Surely it would be possible to meet urgent needs somewhere other than in the heart of London in one of the most expensive and one of the finest buildings that exist. I do not want to carry that point further. I merely mention it because I am convinced that it would be quite improper to allow additional expenditure by the Bank of England unless the Government are amply satisfied that they are using properly what they have already.
I know the reason which is always given for the Government's refusing to give more than a limited number of rebuilding licences. The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen said that it was wrong any longer to give the shortage of steel as a reason for withholding licences for building of this kind. I agree entirely with him. I believe that in the matter of the supplies of structural steel, Government Departments, as is inevitably the case with all planning Departments and has been for five or six years now, are several months behind the facts. At present, there is a fairly substantial supply of structural steel available for building of this kind. There is plenty of stone and plenty of concrete and there is labour available for this building without entrenching on the field of domestic house building.
I should be the last to suggest anything in competition with the housing programme on which, if I may be allowed, I should like to offer my very sincere congratulations to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. But I would beg him to show in this matter the same imagination, the same courage and the same energy as he has shown in the housing programme. I would remind the House that until some 12 or 18 months ago we were assured time and time again that 200,000 houses a year were all that the building industry and the building materials industry could possibly produce. My right hon. Friend refused to accept that. He set himself a target 50 per cent. higher, and he is today reaching it. He has shown that it is not impossible and that if the demand is there and it is a real and active demand the labour and materials will be forthcoming.
Even with this increased rate of house building I have not heard of any serious hold up for the lack of either materials or labour. I am convinced that if the Minister will make a like appeal in regard to the materials and labour required for a proper rebuilding of these blitzed areas—and, in the national interest, primarily those great and vital areas within the boundary of the City of London—he will meet with a like response.
It must be done; the condition of the country demands it. I beg my right hon. Friend to adopt the same policy that he adopted with such great success in connection with housebuilding, and say to the local authorities not, "Thus far and no farther" but, "Here is your allocation and your quota of licences to start off with. The quicker you get through them the more you shall have." In that way he would produce the answer to the problem of labour and materials.
Hon. Members on this side of the House will most readily echo the call of the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) for a dynamic approach to the problem of the blitzed areas. The areas that we speak for were blitzed because they were the most important targets for the enemy. In the case of the community of West Ham, for instance, which my hon. Friend and I have the honour to represent, it was blitzed because it was a vital part of the industrial heart of Britain.
This area, with its dockland, its many factories, its extensive acreage of sugar refineries and flour mills, was a tremendous target for the enemy. It is a community the morale of which was vitally important last time and will be vitally important again if danger arises. There have been moments during the last seven years when many of us on both sides of the House have felt that that morale was not being sufficiently boosted and thought about.
It is right that we should approach this debate in a non-partisan way. I, too, hope to follow the exhortation for brevity which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley), so that as many Members as possible can speak. I feel I need make no apology in this debate for turning immediately to the major specific problem of my own constituency. It is first and foremost a question of cash—pounds, shillings and pence. The financial difficulties of West Ham are well known to the Minister and I am sure he is well aware of the exceptional conditions that prevail there owing to the depletion of its population and rateable value as a result of the devastation caused by the war.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen, in introducing the debate, has already given the graphic figures. Until this year the Government have recognised that in the case of West Ham there are special problems which need special treatment, and until now special financial assistance has been given. I earnestly hope that at the end of the debate the Minister will say that once again, this year, that special assistance will be continued. He has already before him the memorandum from the West Ham Council on revision of the equalisation grant formula and I hope that it will receive the careful and sympathetic consideration of the Government. This matter of the revision of the grant formula concerns the permanent fabric of financial aid which the Government can give; we are also, however, deeply concerned with the immediate financial help which is necessary this year, because that help is desperately needed. This year the rates are going up by a shilling, to 27s., so that the people themselves are playing their part. They are not coming to the Government as a community which has not tried and is not trying; they deserve this assistance.
It is a matter for satisfaction that the expansion of house building in West Ham continues, and a matter for rejoicing to me, as one who, like many other Members, has received such painful, pathetic and very often tragic letters from constituents about their housing problems. But in a financial sense that expansion provides its own special difficulties. I am informed that the burden on the rate arising from housing will be 50 per cent. more in 1953–54 than it was two years ago. The financial problem has been accentuated by the undoubtedly socially beneficial development of the housing programme.
Therefore, without apology, I come, like Oliver, again to ask for more. There is a certain feeling of impatience in West Ham about the fact that we have to come annually cap in hand in this way. I quite readily do so today; but we hope that very soon a more satisfactory arrangement will be made than these uncertain annual acts of assistance, indispensable as they have been in the past and essential as they are in the immediate future.
The other matter to which I wish to refer is a very small one, which I think will receive a sympathetic hearing from the Minister but which requires action on the part of his colleague, the President of the Board of Trade. I ask for a more liberal attitude from the Board of Trade towards the issue of industrial development certificates. The Minister will probably agree that factory development in blitzed areas requires as much help and consideration as in even the new towns. I am informed that there has been very substantial delay in dealing with some applications for industrial development certificates which has held up important factory development in my constituency.
I feel sure that the Minister will want to inquire from his colleagues whether any of that delay is avoidable. If he finds that it is, I ask for urgent action to be taken to deal with it. At the moment, the materials problem is not so acute. We may be running into manpower problems fairly shortly, but this matter of a hold-up in the procedure with regard to applications is causing a little trouble and I should be most grateful if the Minister would look into it.
The hon. Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones) thinks that the problem of the blitzed cities is primarily one of cash; but he is not entirely accurate about that. I should have thought it was a question not only of cash but also of what can be exchanged for cash, in other words, labour and materials. Many hon. Members have some difficulty in understanding the difference between allocations and work actually done.
This is a very important point. My hon. Friend, when speaking of the question of cash, was referring specifically to the problem of one blitzed area. He would agree with the general line of argument which the hon. Gentleman is developing.
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I rather thought he was carrying on the point raised by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen who, I felt, confused the allocation with the work done. In referring to the Adjournment debate on 4th December, he quoted the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I do not want to make a party point of this; it was the hon. Member who raised it. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the amount allocated for 1953 was twice what had been allocated on a previous occasion. The hon. Gentleman, in quoting the Parliamentary Secretary, gave certain figures which it seemed to me he quoted as figures of allocation. What the Parliamentary Secretary said was:
… because the work done in 1949 and 1950 was £2,300,000, in 1951 it was £3½ million. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 1913.]
Thus, provided £4½ million worth of work is done in 1953—I agree that at the moment it is only an allocation—it will then be a fair thing to say that the allocation and the work done have increased very considerably. That should be a source of some relative satisfaction to everyone in the House, but I suggest that relative satisfaction and absolute satisfaction are two entirely different things.
I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House are dissatisfied absolutely with the allocation of £4½ million for 1953. In the Adjournment debate on 4th December, the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen, indicated that, at the present rate of progress, it would be the year 2088 before Southampton was restored to its pristine beauty. I do not quarrel in any way with the hon. Member's mathematics. I feel as strongly about the matter as he does. I feel very strongly about Portsmouth, not merely because I happen to represent a part of it, but also because Portsmouth is the greatest naval seaport in the Empire. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I believe that the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) questions that, but I do not think there is any doubt about it. It seems to me that on those grounds Portsmouth should be a show-place of the Empire whereas at present its centre is something of a shambles.
The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen, suggested that, for rather a similar reason, that it is the gateway of the Empire, Southampton should also have a very strong and urgent claim. The claim of all the blitzed cities is still a strong one, after eight years of peace, including—as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) might have said had it not been for the exhortation of the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen—six years of Socialist mis-rule.
As the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen said, not the least serious aspect of the matter is the loss of rateable value and, thus, of rates. It has a double effect. First, it forces up rates on existing property, and we cannot force up the rates beyond a certain point because, if we do, they become high relative to other parts of the country and people begin to leave the area, and then we have an absolute loss of revenue as well.
Another matter which applies with force to a seaside resort—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas) will say something about it—is that when the centre of a city is as dreary as is the centre of Portsmouth today, visitors coming for the first time are frightened away, and in those circumstances a seaside resort which ought to have a great trade and revenue as a result of its visitors is very heavily penalised.
It has been said that, to the blitzed cities, shops and offices are very nearly as important as houses. Civic dignity is also a very important and healthy influence in our communal life, and my heart bleeds for Portsmouth City Council as I look at the shell of the Guildhall and see the cramped quarters in which it has to try to carry out its duties at present. At the count in the 1950 General Election my result was the last of the Portsmouth results to be announced—at 7.30 a.m.— for the simple reason that there was not room for all the checkers required in the flats on the front at Southsea used as council offices.
It is true that for the last General Election better arrangements were made, and the count then took place on the South Parade Pier at Southsea, but it seems a little incongruous for such an important civic event to take place in an atmosphere of penny-in-the-slot machines and "What the butler saw at Brighton." I hope that in the very near future it will be possible not only to provide the houses, shops and offices which are required, but also to restore important civic buildings.
Everything I have heard so far today has been temperate, but it has been of a nature which would make one feel a little pessimistic were it not for three things. First, if the allocation of £4½ million worth of work is actually completed in 1953 it will be a substantial advance on anything which has happened since the war. That may not be progress as rapid as we should like, but at any rate it is progress. Secondly, I believe that it is the policy of my right hon. Friend that, where a local authority in one of the blitzed cities can show that it has already, as it were, used up its portion of the allocation for 1953 and has labour and materials available, he will consider an application from it for an addition to its share of the £4½ million allocation, whatever that may be. Lastly, I believe that the policy of the present Government is more likely than that of some of its predecessors—I am trying to keep this on non-party lines as much as I can—to guarantee that more labour and materials and capital investment will be available in the future.
I am not at all certain that the allocation of £4½ million is not the maximum that most, if not all, of the blitzed cities will be able to cope with in 1953, but I hope and believe that 1954 will see Portsmouth, Southampton and the other blitzed cities taking a much bigger stride on their way to the restoration of the beauty and dignity to which their position in our civic life entitles them.
It would be wrong, in a debate of this sort, if a word were not said on behalf of the City of Liverpool, of which I am one of the representatives here. I am disappointed that someone who is perhaps better informed than I am is not able to speak for it. However, I wish to make a few observations following what has already been said. I approach the problem like other hon. Members, anxious for the rehabilitation of the places they represent or live in, and we can all say that we are disappointed that so little has been done over the years.
I live in Bootle, one of the worst blitzed places, and Liverpool and Merseyside generally suffered nearly as badly as did Portsmouth and Southampton. Like other hon. Members, I am concerned because insufficient has been done and, so far as I can judge, sufficient is not likely to be done for a long time. If I were to criticise what has been done in the City of Liverpool, I should say that a lot of attention has been given to business premises, perhaps more than to the housing aspect of the problem. I recollect that in the last four or five years Lewis's were allowed to spend £1,250,000 on rebuilding, while small businesses were hardly able to get a licence at all. That is not right.
I know that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board have done a reasonably good job. They have done all that they can. But there was a time—about three years ago—when housing was held up, and I hope that the Minister will try to avoid a recurrence of that position. So far as I can ascertain, that was largely due to the fact that a very large number of large houses were being built or rebuilt, which caused a problem with regard to normal house building.
I want to criticise, in that respect, not merely the Government but perhaps the city council responsible in the area which I represent—the built-up working-class area in Kirkdale, where we have thousands of blitzed shops in respect of which nothing had been done, other than to put in sheets of galvanised tin, most of which are now falling down. In Liverpool, as apparently in many other places, large sites were appropriated and small businesses were demolished. I think that there has been insufficient work done to repair these small premises by every Government since that time.
I remember approaching, during the war, the then Minister of Health—I think that it was Mr. Brown—who was visiting us in Bootle on the question of what could be done to rebuild the area in the town in which I live, and for which I had then some responsibility on the emergency committee. I remember pointing out to him and those who were with him that on a considerable portion of land a few dozen very large houses had been blitzed, and the difficulty was, as it apparently still is, to acquire the property and use it in a better way than was contemplated. There seems to have been no royal road towards making use of that property for rehabilitation, and on that particular site there are now a large number of "prefabs."
There are in Liverpool very many places of probably a few acres each where there has been a very bad blitz of property, and it seems to me that there is no desire to do other than just clear it up. Liverpool will have to extend in order to deal with its housing problem, but surely it is not beyond the wit of man and of Government to do something to make it easy for the local authorities to acquire that land so that it can be used within the town. Most of the people today in the big centres are being rehoused on the outskirts of the town. In places like Liverpool, there are sites which, if rebuilt within the city, would give satisfaction to many people who do not want to go into the garden city. They want to live somewhere near their work.
That may not be desirable from some points of view, but I think that we have to recognise that position. I hope that the Minister, during the period he is in office—and I hope that it will not be too long—will look at this problem to see whether something more cannot be done to make it possible for the authorities to do more than they have done, and have been able to do, for very good reasons. We have only been fiddling with this problem since the end of the war. Insufficient has been done. I have never been satisfied that enough has been done in Liverpool. Fears have been expressed this afternoon about what might happen if, for instance, too great attention were given to houses to the exclusion of business premises, or the other way about. Figures were given by the Minister, not more than a month ago, to show that building trade labour had increased from 25 per cent. to 28 per cent. for the building of houses. There would not appear to be any shortage of labour if we are using only 28 per cent. of the building trade labour for houses.
I ask the Minister whether he is serious about the blitz problem. I hope he will see that not only will a great measure of financial assistance be rendered, but that there is no hold-up on the score of either labour or materials. If the figures I have quoted are correct, then it is not building trade labour for housing purposes which is preventing the hold-up.
I am not so worried about the City of London, as a show-place; I am worried about the other places where people have not the houses to live in. Liverpool is not replacing the number of houses lost during the blitz, which demonstrates very clearly to me how much more must be done. What we have heard on the question of rates has to be taken note of. The figures for Southampton and West Ham show a very serious position, and Liverpool and other places are something like 5 per cent. down on the rateable value as compared with the pre-war period. That requires some attention. I urge the Minister to give this problem more attention than has been given. There is need for it and we have to face the position.
Eight years after the end of the war some awful sites still remain in the blitzed areas. If we are to have good residential properties, much more has to be done. I think that the Minister flatters himself, perhaps with some justification. on what he has done, but if he could do more to restore the blitzed cities he would earn the gratitude of a great number of people who have been very worried about the lack of attention which the Government have given to this problem.
I am most grateful to have caught your eye, Mr. Speaker. The City of Plymouth, in which my constituency lies, was one of the most savagely devastated during the war. I will make my remarks brief, in view of the number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who wish to take part in the debate.
I should like to associate myself with hon. Members on both sides who have made the point that the rebuilding of our blitzed cities is not a party problem. It is a national problem. The blitzed cities were blitzed only because they were of great national importance, and if they were a national asset in 1943 they are a national asset in 1953. Their national importance is sometimes forgotten.
I do not intend to try to impress upon hon. Members from Portsmouth or Southampton that Plymouth is more important than Portsmouth or Southampton, but I do ask the Minister to consider which city has helped itself most, to remember the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, and to bear in mind which city has done most about its plan for reconstruction and which city has done most by its own effort. I do not think anyone would disagree that the progress Plymouth has made since the war is second to none in England.
I ask the Minister to consider two points about Plymouth, the first being the necessity for continuity. It is impossible for a local authority to plan unless there is continuity in the flow of materials and licences. Plymouth is peculiar in that it is the only large city in the area of Cornwall and South Devon, and unless there is continuity the labour force working on reconstruction will be stood down, will leave the area, and it will be impossible to reassemble it. That problem affects Plymouth more than any of the other blitzed cities.
I believe the Minister has said that, where possible, when there is unemployment in the building industry in blitzed cities, he will grant more licences to absorb that unemployment. Despite the rearmament programme, which means that the dockyard is fully employed—and the dockyard in Plymouth is the main source of employment—the average unemployment in Plymouth is double the national average of 2.2 per cent., and the unemployment in Plymouth is largely in the building industry. If the Minister is to fulfil his wish to absorb unemployment in the building industry in devastated areas, Plymouth is a place where he can do so.
In conclusion, I will say only this. I know that the Minister is aware of the problems of Plymouth because he has been there; he is aware of the efficiency of the local authority because he has seen it. I ask him to bear in mind the opportunity for diminishing unemployment now in Plymouth by granting additional licences, and to bear in mind the necessity to maintain our special labour force—and the labour force on reconstruction is not the same, in every respect, as that for housing—because if Plymouth loses that labour force, once it leaves Plymouth it will leave the area, and it will be difficult to reassemble it.
There is a word, which I would describe as a very ugly word, growing up in the English language. I have found it in other countries when I have gone abroad. In speaking of the damage which has been done to a blitzed city, the verb "to Coventrate" is used. That is a word which, I know, we all hope will not gain much standing in the language, but I think it conveys to a good many people, not only in this country, what the blitzing of a city means.
In common with hon. Members on both sides who have spoken so far, I am not anxious to try to show that the city I represent has suffered worse than any other city, but I know that the Committee will forgive enthusiasm on the part of any hon. Member who feels that his city suffered particularly and has made the very strongest effort to recover.
This is a non-party debate; it is the type of debate we have raised from both sides, whoever has been in power, and I say here and now that we in Coventry feel that the present Government are not unsympathetic to our problems in Coventry. The Parliamentary Secretary has been to see us there; the Minister has received a deputation in the House; and I hope that this debate today will enable us to reach further conclusions.
Everyone will agree that all of the cities we represent should be included in this debate on blitzed towns, but we in Coventry have a new point that we wish to put to the Minister, which we believe is a valid one. We believe that Coventry should no longer be approached solely —I would say even mainly—from the viewpoint of a blitzed town. We believe that we have an additional, or alternative, claim to the consideration of the Government, which is that Coventry should be considered from the viewpoint of a new town.
I shall hope to show in the course of a few brief remarks why we in Coventry feel that. In this city of ours we have the problems of a new town, as well as those of a blitzed city. We think we are right in assuming that it is the policy of this Government, as of the previous one, to foster the new towns. Well, we in Coventry are collecting a new population. We have been collecting a new population ever since 1900, and also since the end of the war. In 1942, the population of Coventry was 200,000. The population in 1951 was 258,211—an increase of 58,000 in 10 years. We contend that such an increase, quite apart from being a great drain on a blitzed city, is the problem of a new town.
If we in this city are to play a part in the defence and export programme of our country, we believe that there should be a decisive effort on the part of the Government as well as on the part of Coventry itself to give us the means of having a decent civilised community. It is no use building factories and attracting workers if simple human needs are disregarded, and in this city, as in the cities of other hon. Members who have spoken, we have problems of houses, schools, hospitals, shops and other amenities.
The point I wish to stress, even unduly, is that the expansion of Coventry has been so great since the end of the war that it has been quite impossible for the building of houses and schools to keep pace with the expansion of industry. In one part of my constituency there is a very big housing unit, which I hope the Minister will be able to come and see some time. I recently spent some days there and encountered very natural grumbles which we have all met from housewives, that, while it is very nice being so far out from the city, the problems of shopping, bus fares and of the children are almost insuperable, and they were not entirely convinced that it was better to be so far out when the shops were so far away. We are aware of that, as is every other city council. We know that the ideal is to have the houses, shops, churches and schools near one another.
During the last two years we in Coventry have had schools made of aluminium, which have attracted attention from all over the country. I must also express my admiration of the work done in the Coventry hospitals. I simply do not know how it is managed. Our accommodation is a disgrace to any city, never mind a city the size of ours. Talking of matrons and the recruitment of staff, and the difficulties of space and accommodation, I should like the Minister to realise that it really is impossible to treat people as they should be treated when there is that lack of accommodation. A wonderful job is being done.
Now, coming on to other amenities— and I do so because I want to keep my speech brief—I should like to take one in which I am very interested, and that is swimming. Concerning the question of bathing in Coventry, I have a notice here which tells me that the earliest reference to a public bath in Coventry was in 1742. That is going back a very long time. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary, although he may not be keen on swimming, at least is keen, as I am, on athletics, and I understand that now he is also keen on swimming.
In 1742, an advertisement appeared in the "Coventry Mercury" of 14th June, which said:
Francis Blick has just opened an excellent cold bath at the bottom of Palmer Lane, Coventry, where people may privately bathe for 10s. a year or 6s. the summer season. N.B.: Proper attendance will be given.
If we go forward about 100 years from that date and come to 1851 we find that the first municipally-owned baths in Coventry were commenced in Hales Street for a cost of £4,500. They were opened on 8th July, 1852, and 2,000 persons were admitted between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. that day.
My purpose in going back 200 years is to tell the Minister that today, as a result of war, we are in Coventry as we were 100 years ago as far as the provision of swimming baths is concerned. We have one; and that is an illustration of the lack of amenities, which is very important from the health point of view. In 1938 and 1939 we had five swimming baths, and the attendance of swimmers in the city was over 300,000. In 1951, just for one swimming bath, the attendance was 216,167, which proves the demand. Club attendance and attendance from schools has gone up.
This growth in demand has led to a two-way grumble from the people in the city. The swimmers complain of the restrictions on their enjoyment because attendants at the one bath have to limit them to one hour—while, on the other hand, the people outside are complaining because they are being kept waiting. I have not time to say more than these few brief words on this subject, but that is one amenity which I hope the Minister will bear in mind.
In my constituency, Coventry, South, practically the whole of the commercial centre of Coventry was destroyed. The Parliamentary Secretary will know because he has been there. In the centre of the city we are making a real effort to overcome the dreary appearance which is so disfiguring our blitzed cities and great credit must be given to local initiative. Pre-war development and war-time development brought large shadow factories to Coventry. It brought them to the exclusion of social, cultural and civic amenities.
The point I wish to stress today is that in a city of the size of Coventry, growing, as it is, we have a serious lack of social, cultural and civic amenities of every description. Side by side with that, I think I ought to inform the Minister, if indeed he does not know, industry in my city is three times more heavily committed to defence work today than industry in Great Britain as a whole. Side by side with that, as everybody knows, we are almost equally heavily committed to the export drive.
I am hoping that when the Minister replies to the debate he will tell us what responsibility the Government feel they have for a blitzed city and four new towns combined. I would say that Coventry should be treated as a new town. For one thing, it has increased its population by 200,000 since 1900, and I think that that is the population figure for four new towns. During the last 20 years alone, 90,000 people have come to the city. The corporation, employers and workers are doing everything possible, but we want to know what the Government are prepared to do as well.
In Coventry, we are very short of market accommodation for selling fruit and vegetables. We have acquired a site for a new wholesale market at Barras Heath, and we should like the Government to help us get on with that project very quickly. I was very glad to see that last week the Minister of Works, in Birmingham—I hope he was correctly reported in the Press—said that there is no anxiety over the supply of bricks for Coventry. At one time it had been felt that this would prevent carrying on as fast as we should have liked. The Minister did stress the point that the opening of hostels for the building labour force had been successful. There is now a balanced building labour force in the Coventry area. So, in conclusion, I ask the Minister whether, in addition to considering Coventry as a blitzed city, he will bear in mind that we have the problems of a new town, and that we feel that it is to that particular aspect of our problems that special consideration should be given.
Many points have been raised by my colleagues on both sides of the House who represent blitzed cities. I myself should like to raise the point of equalisation grants, which became possible under statute in 1948, under the Socialist Government. Doubtless the scheme was made with the very best of intentions, but certain weaknesses have developed, and Portsmouth, in particular, is one of those places that have suffered from them.
First of all, let me say that the heavy bombing destroyed whole areas of our city, and our population has been very much reduced. Revaluation has taken place, and honest revaluation at the highest figure raised the rates per head, so that we get no grant. Our rateable value per capita is too high. Secondly, because we are doing as we were asked to do—making a new town outside the city at Leigh Park—the overspill into that new town has reduced our population without any benefit to our rateable value. Hence we get no grant.
I should have liked to have said a word about sawn-off buildings, but I under- stand that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) hopes to deal with that, and I shall leave it to him—except to say that I have raised this matter before in the House, that it is one which bears very hardly on us, and that in the cases of sawn-off houses, where the house next door is pulled down, we cannot get anybody to say who is to pay for the party wall to be put right.
We are continually having to fight for permits to rebuild blitzed or burned factories, garages and the like, and have been refused permission because of lack of steel. In several instances I have been lucky in getting a revised opinion on a permit refusal, because it has been possible to put forward new plans using less steel; then we have got some sort of licence granted. I have a case now of a tyre factory, damaged by fire, where, for several years, the men have been working in the open because there is no roof. I only hope that now the supply of steel is supposed to be easier we shall get more help in these matters.
Portsmouth has suffered severely. Southsea is a resort which attracts great numbers of people. It is very severely handicapped by having bombed areas in the middle of the shopping district. I do hope that my right hon. Friend will pay special attention to Portsmouth as a bombed city and one of the most important ones of the whole country.
I wish to begin by joining with the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas) in the plea he has made about sawn-off houses and by making a positive proposal to the Government on this subject. They are houses where the immediately adjoining property has been knocked down, leaving the party wall standing, where the War Damage Commission repairs the wall but where, within a few months of repairing the wall the damp comes in again.
I, like the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke), who raised this matter some months ago, have several cases in my constituency where the War Damage Commission has repaired the same wall two or three times but where the damp is still coming through. Eventually, the War Damage Commission loses patience and says that it cannot do any more about it. That leaves the poor householder in a situation where the War Damage Commission, although it has made considerable efforts to repair the house, has not carried out its obligation to restore the house to its pre-war condition.
It is very expensive for the local authority to build on the site where the adjoining house has been knocked down, and in such cases one cannot blame them for not wanting to build on such sites. It is also very difficult for the householder to discover who is responsible for building on the site. In these circumstances, I suggest that the Government should see whether it is possible, either under their present powers or by the introduction of a small amending Bill, to introduce a system of special grants to local authorities to enable them to build on these sites. If something of that sort is not done, the householders concerned will continue living in perpetually damp houses without any redress from the War Damage Commission or anybody else.
Such a scheme would not involve a great amount of money because there cannot be a great number of cases of this nature in the country. Therefore, I hope the Minister will look into the point put to him on a number of occasions by the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West and myself and see whether he cannot devise some remedy for a very real grievance under which a number of householders are labouring.
Yes, and I know of cases where the War Damage Commission has said, "We quite realise that the householder suffers a grievance but, as we have already twice paid for the wall to be put right, we do not think we can pay again," even though the architects consulted at the start may have stated that the only way to tackle the problem was by rebuilding the house next door. But, as I have said, that house will not be rebuilt in present circumstances because it would be more expensive than building a house elsewhere. If the Minister can find a remedy for this problem, I am sure we shall all be very grateful to him.
On the general question, I think it would be wrong for those from blitzed cities to give the impression to the country that we in those cities are on our knees begging for help, because I do not agree with those who deny that a great deal of work has not already been done in those cities since the war. In my own city a great deal has been achieved since the end of the war. I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor), whose father played such a big part in enabling that city to go ahead in preparing its plans during the war. I believe that after the war the city council also played a great part in the matter of reconstruction.
It is wrong to suggest that much has not been done in the blitzed cities since the end of the war, not only in reconstruction work but in the number of houses built. Very soon we shall be able to say that Plymouth has built more new houses in the years since 1945 than were built between 1918 and 1939. In addition, factories have been built and huge and expensive roadworks started in order to make this development possible. The blitzed cities are not asking for charity, but only for their rights and that the Government should really examine the problem and make sure that no obstacles are put in the way.
It would he possible in this debate to have a discussion on what I consider to be the misdemeanours of the Minister during the past year so far as the blitzed cities are concerned. But I will not spend much time on that because in some respects the right hon. Gentleman has shown signs of repentance, and I am much more eager to encourage those signs than I am to encourage the right hon. Gentleman to confess his misdemeanours.
On the question of the figure for capital investment allowed in blitzed cities, the Minister on one occasion made the curious statement that he would not know the figure until the end of the year. I am glad he has been persuaded that it is advisable to give the figure so that we may have this debate, not on the basis of estimates known only to the Minister, but on estimates known to all of us.
I am glad to see the Minister nodding his head because that is a proposal which he turned down on
It was suggested that we should take the 1952 figure of actual work done and compare it with the 1951 and 1950 figures, when it would show an improvement over those years. In the same way, if we took the figure for 1953 it would show an improvement on the figure for 1952, and that, therefore, there was nothing to worry about. I wish to comment on that, because it is the main defence of the Government.
It is not sufficient for the Government to say that the amount to be spent on actual work done in 1953 will be greater than the figure for 1952 and that the figure for 1952 is greater than that for 1951, because there must be a much bigger expansion than that each year if the blitzed cities are ever to be rebuilt. We must have an expanding figure of the amount allowed, and that was always the policy of my hon. Friends in the Labour Government who carried out the process of expanding the amount. It is necessary that the amount of capital investment permitted in the reconstruction of blitzed cities should be sufficient to allow the work to go ahead at a reasonable pace.
The second comment I wish to make is on the Government's chief defence of their reconstruction programme. I say that the figure of £4,500,000 to be allocated for work actually to be done in 1953 is not sufficient because it involves penalising those cities that have gone ahead fastest. If the Government enforce this total of £4,500,000 for work actually to be done in 1953, it will mean that the City of Plymouth, which has gone further ahead than most of the other blitzed cities in its plans for reconstruction, will be seriously penalised.
If the Government operate this figure in a rigid way, those cities which went ahead in the first two or three years will be held back because they were adventurous. I am sure that that is not a principle which the Minister would like to defend in public, whatever he thinks in private.
May I give the Minister the full facts about Plymouth, which have been reasons why we have put down so many critical Questions during the last year, and which prove that what was said by the representatives of the City of Plymouth was more correct than what was stated from the Treasury Bench? Let me give the figures for the value of licences for new projects during the years beginning 1949. In 1949 the total value of those new licences was £741,389; in 1950, £583,941; in 1951, £772,250; in 1952, £80,000—that was the first year of the right hon. Gentleman's tenure of office—and in 1953 under the present proposals of £4½ million the new allocation would be £186,000 as compared with an average of £500,000 or £600,000 in the last three years of the Labour Government.
From the point of view of Plymouth this was very alarming, and before the Minister had ever announced the figure for 1953 we were already alarmed about it. We, of course, foresaw that many new licences would be required if we were to maintain our reconstruction programme, but the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary said on many occasions "You know you need not be alarmed." That was the purport of the Parliamentary Secretary's remarks on 25th February, 1952, when he said, in reply to myself and to the hon. Member for Sutton:
But I can assure him that we in the Ministry will try to see that all the building work is kept on a level to retain the force."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1952; Vol. 496, c. 901.]
The force referred to is the force which we had working on reconstruction in Plymouth.
That was what the Ministry said in February, 1952, was to happen, when we were asking the Minister to pursue a policy which would result in the retention of the workers engaged on reconstruction in Plymouth. What has happened? When the Labour Government went out of office 1,000 people were employed on the reconstruction of Plymouth's centre, but by last Christmas the figure had fallen to just about 400. There were 600 people fewer working on the reconstruction of Plymouth's centre. The Minister nods his head, and I do not know what that means other than that he accepts the figure. It certainly confirms what we prophesied last February, that the Minister was not issuing sufficient licences to enable us to maintain our reconstruction effort. We were proved right and the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary were proved wrong.
In Plymouth not only has the number employed on reconstruction of the centre fallen from 1,000 to about 400, but the total number of building workers unemployed is round about 300. For six years under the previous Administration we never had any building workers unemployed, and we have now about 300 out of work. Over and above that, a considerable number have left the city for other forms of employment. One of the matters that we are concerned about is that we may have some difficulty in attracting them back to our reconstruction programme if we are to attain the momentum which we had before.
Unfortunately, the Minister and his Department seem to have been very illinformed on this subject because, although the figures are as I have stated and as has been stated by the hon. Member for Sutton, and although the average in Plymouth is twice the national average, on 4th December, speaking in this House, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry said:
There is no evidence of unemployment … it is wrong to say that there is unemployment in the building industry.
That may have applied generally to the blitzed cities, but it did not apply to Plymouth. Therefore, before making any such statement and before basing his policy on that kind of allegation, the Parliamentary Secretary ought to have discovered the facts of the unemployment situation in Plymouth.
If the Minister is to carry out a policy of reconstruction in Plymouth which will enable the whole of our building force to
be built up to the figure which prevailed at the end of 1951, then instead of allowing Plymouth new licences to the total of £186,000 he will have to raise the figure to about £1,200,000. That is the evidence which I have from the Town Clerk of Plymouth, and perhaps I will be permitted to read the whole passage. He said:
The strength of our case for more licences lies in the fact that we can, without affecting defence or housing programmes, find employment for our building trades employees which would meet an expenditure at the rate of £1,200,000 per annum instead of the inadequate sum of £400,000 of which only £186,000 represents new work next year.
Instead of the value of the actual work to be done in Plymouth being £400,000 under the Ministry's plan, it should be treble that amount if the building force that is available in Plymouth is to be employed on reconstruction work. That is what we are asking for. We do not expect to get the full amount, but we hope the Minister will reconsider the matter in that light.
There are two other propositions which will assist us in dealing with our problem. First, I should like to call attention to what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary on 4th December, 1952. As I have already pointed out, he was saying quite mistakenly that there was no evidence of unemployment. He went on to say:
If there should be unemployment, the Minister of Works has a scheme whereby when any district can prove to him that it has unemployed resources of men and materials it need only apply to the Regional Office for more houses and it will get the go-ahead straight away and the materials. Therefore it is wrong to say that there is unemployment in the building industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 1915.]
As I have said, the information on which the hon. Gentleman based his remarks was incorrect, but that does not alter the point that he was suggesting how unemployment could be dealt with. I will only say this to the Minister. As far as the further allocation of houses to deal with this problem is concerned, that would not be a solution for Plymouth, as I think he will readily admit from the discussions which he had when he came to the city. Already Plymouth has more housing allocations than have been taken up, and it would not be a solution to the problem. I think he admitted in his statement that an extra allocation of
houses would not be sufficient to deal with the building workers who are unemployed.
That is where the Minister should try to reduce a little of his arrogance. It is no use the Minister trying to tell the House that these are not the right kind of workers. We had 1,000 workers engaged on Plymouth's reconstruction when he came into office. Today, there are only some 400 engaged on reconstruction.
The hon. Member is now doing his usual side-walk from one point to another. He said that when I went to Plymouth I admitted that it was not possible to take up the unemployment by the immediate allocation of more houses. My reason for saying that was a very good one—100 of the men unemployed, out of the total of 300, were painters. It is just as impossible to put them immediately to work by giving some long-term allocation for the building of office or shop projects. This is a problem of the utilisation of a balanced labour force, as hon. Members realise. The hon. Member is now on a quite different point. I have replied to his challenge about what I said at Plymouth.
But the right hon. Gentleman was trying to suggest that it was not possible to re-employ these people on Plymouth's reconstruction because of the different types of workers included in the 300 unemployed.
All that I am saying in reply—and I am perfectly entitled to say it—is that during the Minister's term of office the number of people employed on reconstruction in Plymouth has fallen by some 600. Obviously, these people could be employed on the same kind of work as that which they were doing before. That is the point with which the Minister must deal, and which he has refused to admit in the House. On 4th December, the right hon. Gentleman sent his Parliamentary Secretary to give incorrect information to the House. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman has now discovered that there is heavy unemployment in the building industry in Plymouth. although on 4th December his Ministry were apparently unaware of the fact.
There is a further suggestion which I should like to put to the Minister. Not only do we hope that he will reconsider the proposals for giving extra licences for building shops in the city centre, but we also hope that he will use his influence with the Ministry of Works and other bodies which may be concerned to try to get them to go ahead with building projects which will assist in the solution of our problem. For instance, in the case of the Gas Board, a licence to build was withdrawn several months ago. I hope that it will now be restored and that work will start.
In the same way, the station project in Plymouth could be started. We hope that the right hon. Gentleman will use his influence with the Railway Executive or anybody else concerned in the allocation of the licence to enable them to go ahead with that work. We hope that he will review the other projects which might be undertaken in the city.
We hope that, following the debate, the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared to reconsider the figures of the allocations which he has announced and to study the facts which I have given him, and of which he was apparently unaware when these allocations were made; and we hope that he will do his best as quickly as possible at least to try to restore the level of reconstruction and the numbers employed on that reconstruction to that prevailing in Plymouth some 12 to 14 months ago.
We are all agreed that the subject which we are discussing this afternoon is not of a party nature. I hope that I shall be able to keep at any rate within the bounds laid down by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), that I shall be no more partisan than he and that I shall be able to imitate his humility, if nothing else.
As well as being non-party, this is the kind of debate in which one may properly put forward the case of one's own constituency. I do so all the more readily since what Hull endured during the war was not generally recognised at the time. I do not remember the exact figure, but I think that, after the blitz on London had ceased, Hull endured something like 100 consecutive nights of bombardment from the air. Hull endured them with great patience and fortitude but nobody outside the city knew that it had had anything to bear at all, because, for security reasons, it was not permissible to mention the name of Hull. It is not my intention to weary the House with statistics. I do not say that Hull suffered more than any other city in the country, but certainly it suffered as much.
The houses which were destroyed have very largely been either rebuilt or repaired. In the main, the factories and the industrial premises have been replaced. There is, however, one great gap in Hull. A similar gap exists in other cities, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley). I refer to the shopping centre and business centre, which was almost completely destroyed and which Hull has scarcely begun to replace.
This has been a great inconvenience to the people of Hull; it has represented a considerable loss of trade to the city; more important perhaps than anything else, it has represented a great loss of rateable value, because the area in the centre of Hull, which was completely wiped out, was probably the richest area in rateable value in the city. It is difficult to make exact calculations but, as a result of the virtual obliteration of the shopping centre of Hull, I believe that an additional charge of about £200,000 per annum falls on the rates. Already the rates have reached the fantastic figure of 25s. in the £ and the forecast is that they will be raised almost immediately to 27s. in the £. This very high figure is largely due to the effects of the war and to the fact that the shopping centre has not been rebuilt.
That is clearly not the fault of my right hon. Friend. It is eight years since the bombardment of Hull ceased and, of those eight years, he has borne responsibility for only 18 months. Nor do I wish to make party capital out of this. I do not think in this case that it is the fault of the last Government. Indeed, the last Government were helpless in this problem of the business centre. It was not the last Government which prevented the rebuilding of the centre of the city. It was the policy pursued by the Hull City Council, a Socialist-controlled council, which made progress impossible.
The hon. Member for Devonport referred to the great progress which has been made in Plymouth. I suppose that, outside London, the two places which I know best and which I visit most frequently are the cities of Hull and of Plymouth, and the contrast between the two is staggering. If we drive through Plymouth we see a magnificent new shopping centre, as modern and convenient as any in the world. The hon. Member for Devonport said very fairly that that is due to a great extent to the devotion and energy of one man—the late Lord Astor.
It is also due, however, to the fact that those responsible for the administration of Plymouth knew what they wanted and made up their minds; and, because they made up their minds, they were able to get what they wanted. How different is that from the sorry story of the City Council of Hull.
The right hon. Gentleman, I am sure, wants to be fair. My right hon. Friend gave me the task of preparing a report for him in order that he could adjudicate. It is only fair to say that certain sections of the business community of Hull were not as co-operative as they might have been. There was a clash between the two, and whenever there is a clash, all the faults are not on one side.
Certainly the business community of Hull were not as co-operative as the City Council would have liked them to be, and I will tell the hon. Gentleman briefly why that was. The City Council of Hull, which has been in power since 1945, had all the hallmarks of Socialist administration everywhere. It was determined that fact should be made to conform to theory.
The fact was that the shopping centre was in a certain part of the city and it was determined that the shopping centre should be moved before anything was done. The council lost that battle. The Socialist City Council also determined that freeholds were objectionable and that leaseholds from the corporation were desirable. Therefore, it spent four or five valuable years in trying to bully and blackmail the freeholders into abandoning their freeholds. It did not succeed.
If the City Council had concentrated on the simple fact that this was the most convenient centre for the shops, that it was where the people of Hull had been accustomed to do their shopping and where they wanted to go on doing it, and that it did not matter from the point of view of the citizens whether the shopkeepers were freeholders or leaseholders; if it had concentrated on the simple fact that it was its first duty to rebuild the blitzed area, that area would have been rebuilt even under the late Labour Government.
Now at last the Council has come to realise that it is no good kicking against the pricks in this way and that it is time it was getting on with the job. Unfortunately, things are nothing like as easy today as they were four or five years ago. There is the re-armament programme. Money is not so free. There are fewer songs in fewer hearts——
It is all much more difficult than it was. I am glad to say that the people of Hull now know who it is they should blame for the fact that the business centre still does not exist in the main. They do not blame my right hon. Friend. I am glad to be able to say they do not blame the late Labour Government. They blame, and quite rightly, the Socialist administration of the City Council. The people of Hull also know who to blame for the fact that the rates are going up from 25s. to 27s. They do not blame the late Government. They do not blame the present Government. They blame, and rightly, the present Socialist Council.
Although it is not the fault of my right hon. Friend, I beg him to do everything he can to relieve the position of my constituents, who have suffered so patiently and for so long. I join with other hon. Members on both sides of the House in asking my right hon. Friend to realise that this is a real problem for parts of the country which suffered so greatly in the war only because they were nationally of the greatest importance. I do not ask him to cast all discretion aside but to stretch his discretion to the fullest possible limit and give what help he can, certainly greater help than he is giving at present, to the blitzed areas.
In view of the time factor, I shall not recite to the House details of the damage done in Swansea by enemy action. The Minister has full details in his possession. I recognise that reconstruction cannot be divorced from industrial, commercial, housing and educational development. It is a vital part of such aims and must obviously be included in the Minister's conception of a balanced programme.
None can deny that the blitzed areas are severely handicapped through no fault of their own, and we are engaged in an unequal struggle with towns and cities that were fortunate enough to escape some of the worst penalties of the last war. We suggest that we are entitled to priority in respect of capital expenditure and a greater supply of steel. The devastation of our towns was a national calamity, and if it is not accepted as a national responsibility we should at least be given every facility to expedite the work of reconstruction.
The right hon. Gentleman visited Swansea recently and observed the wide open spaces in the centre of the town which formerly accommodated our principal shops and stores in addition to the largest and finest covered market throughout the country. The potentialities of the town are fully recognised. We have a queue of applicants waiting and willing to invest their money and other resources in order to restore the facilities that were formerly available.
The allocation for 1953 is only £300,000. We have eight buildings for which plans have been approved, involving an expenditure of £616,000. Those plans are held up until 1954 at the earliest. Sites and terms have been agreed in respect of 14 other building projects but if we cannot get an increased allocation the prospective developers will be unable to proceed with their schemes until 1956. The Minister is able to appreciate better than most people what that means in loss of ground rents and rateable value to the local authority.
Listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), I was surprised to find the number of features that Coventry and Swansea have in common. The hon. Lady referred to the desperate need of improved hospital accommodation. When we were discussing Welsh affairs recently I gave details in respect of our claim. Then she mentioned the lack of such amenities as swimming baths. We have been waiting for years for the authority and material to provide that necessary amenity for an industrial town like Swansea.
In April, 1952, we sought the approval of the Minister for a further stage of road and building development. We emphasised to him the need of such a scheme to cater for a number of small, wellestablished businesses. People who have spent a lifetime in Swansea and have given the community good service are now waiting to return to their old sites. There have been protracted negotiations and a mass of detailed information has been submitted to the Department, but we are still without approval. The delay and uncertainty is detrimental to the commercial interests of the town, and there is a tendency for prospective developers to drift away.
Meanwhile it is increasingly difficult for the local authority to resist applications for the temporary repair of damaged premises, although the life of those premises is necessarily limited and expenditure on them represents a waste of labour and material. Swansea caters for a much wider area than its own boundaries. Shopping and commercial facilities are urgently needed. The local authority is in need of the rent and additional rateable value. In fact, the prospect is that the rates will go up this year by about 4s. in the £. If the authorities are given proper encouragement, they will complete the task that they commenced the day after the blitz. I mean that in a literal sense. There was no moaning, whining, or waste of time. We resolved immediately on "No surrender," and we started to build a new and better Swansea from the ashes.
The local authority have ample initiative and enterprise, but unfortunately they are held up for want of the Minister's approval to go ahead with the business and commercial premises and the development of road communications. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South said that Coventry was trying to create a new town. On the initiative and inspiration of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), we are giving the town of Swansea an entirely new shape. But this means new roads and all the other ancillary features.
Another aspect concerns the steel that has been withheld for the completion of the new Neath River Bridge, which is to give improved access, not only to Swansea, but to the whole of West Wales. Unless the additional steel is forthcoming, the tremendous amount of money that has already been expended will have been spent in vain and progress will be stultified. Although there is a very good approach from the bridge itself, the approach to Swansea is a bottleneck, and unless we are able to complete the work all the labour of the past two or three years will have been in vain.
The Minister knows the area very well and I understand that he has accepted an invitation to visit us next month. I hope that by the time he comes he will have resolved to increase the allocation. Hon. Members have said that they are not making undue claims in respect of their constituencies, and I do not intend to do so. I only wish to reinforce the argument that this is a national problem and should be so accepted on a much wider and more generous basis than hitherto. With these very brief comments on behalf of the principal town in Wales that has suffered extensive damage, I commend our appeal to the Minister and hope that he will respond on a non-party basis. We shall give the Government full credit for any help which they may give us.
I want to enlarge on the question regarding sawn-off houses which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas) and by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot). These sawn-off houses, as they are called locally, have been a big problem for a long time, a problem to which no end seems to be in sight. I hope that when my right hon. Friend replies tonight he will be able to tell us what is being done for the people affected.
Like all houses, these buildings were insured against war damage, but unlike other people's houses, the people to whom these belong have received no compensation whatever. There are, in fact, two kinds of sawn-off house. There is the house where the bomb landed on and completely demolished the house next door, leaving an exposed party wall. In that case, I understand, the War Damage Commission have paid in some cases, some sort of compensation and have allowed the wall to be rendered against the weather, although often, as it happens, unsatisfactorily.
But there is also the case of the house which was not completely demolished but which was pulled down for some other reason: because, for instance, planning consent could not be given to replace the house or the council wanted to run a road through the site. In that case the house has not been replaced. The War Damage Commission say that they have paid for it to be replaced and that they have no further responsibility in the matter. The council, on the other hand, say, "We have no responsibility. It is a matter for the War Damage Commission."
I got a number of these people together in my constituency, and we obtained legal advice. Unfortunately, both the War Damage Commission and the council have had legal advice also, and I understand that although we have no case which we can fight, the legal opinion say that we have a very good moral case for getting some money.
These people have suffered damage, and it is quite useless to put up a small amount of waterproofing material and to tell them that their house is as it was before the war. In fact, it has lost a considerable amount of its support. It has lost the front and back walls of the next door house that acted as a support, and it has lost the next door roof which kept the water off.
In the case of terrace houses, many of the walls are made of what are called mild clamp bricks, which, I am told, cannot be rendered waterproof by any known means other than by building another skin four and a half inches thick on the outside. This the War Damage Commission refuse to do. In some cases, they have attempted to hang slates or tiles on the side of the damaged houses, but this has proved thoroughly unsatisfactory because small boys can throw bricks at them and once more the house is rendered liable to rain and the ravages of the weather.
I should like to draw the Minister's attention to this matter. Portsmouth suffered appalling war damage, more than 7,000 houses being destroyed and a great many more damaged. Recently we have witnessed the tragedy of the floods on the East Coast, and everybody has responded to the appeal for money to help those who have suffered loss. We all understand the position and feel very sorry for those on the East Coast, but I remind my right hon. Friend that we are not asking for charity. We are asking merely for our rights in having the War Damage Commission pay for the damage that occurred during the war and which was insured against.
I understand that the total number of these houses in the country is something like 500, of which about 150 are in my constituency. The cost of building a skin on the outside to render these houses safe for ordinary weather purposes would cost about £150 a house, and I hope that when my right hon. Friend replies to the debate he will say that a more generous attitude is being taken over this matter than was taken in the past.
I should like to touch upon the general aspect of the war-damaged city of Portsmouth. We have welcomed the number of houses that have been put up since a Conservative Government came back to power. We were unable to put up houses in the past because of red tape and obstruction from the Socialist Government, but recently we have almost doubled the number of houses that were going up and I hope we will double the number once more in the coming year.
The centre of the city still remains blitzed, but we put houses before town halls and other public buildings. I should like to point out to the Minister, however, that now, after seven years, six years of which were under Socialism, we should begin to see our way to build up these blitzed cities. We are grateful to my right hon. Friend for having given us more money this year than we have had in the past, but we ask him to double the sum and to give us still more in the future.
It is rather difficult to intervene in this debate on behalf of the burgh of Clydebank, a very heavily blitzed burgh in Scotland—by ratio of its prewar property, probably the heaviest blitzed burgh in the country. When the list of capital allocations for the blitzed cities of the United Kingdom was published, however, Clydebank was not included. I put down a Question on the matter and was told that the allocation of capital to Clydebank was nil.
I have had hundreds of protests about this from the citizens of Clydebank. I am not deprecating what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) or by other Members who represent Portsmouth and other cities, who are justly proud of their achievements, but to maintain the tradition of my predecessor I must mention that the beautiful ships that adorn the country's docks were built on Clydebank. On that alone Clydebank merits considerable consideration.
We have built more than 4,000 houses since 1945. We require another 6,000, but we have been compelled to go three or four miles outside the centre of the burgh and to build houses in country lanes. We cannot get an allocation to build roads to service those houses. We cannot even get schools and there are individual cases of parents paying for taxis to take their children three miles to school from burgh houses.
As the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland knows, there is the whole of the Mountblow area. There there is a lane over a bridge which carries only three tons and we cannot get necessary permits to widen that road or rebuild that bridge. Who is responsible? The Minister of Housing and Local Government is not responsible. Presumably the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible, but he cannot get the money. The Minister of Housing and Local Government can get £4,500,000 from the Treasury, but the hon. Gentleman cannot get a penny. This is making it very difficult for all Scottish hon. Members. When Scottish people see these things happening and see that there is no capital for Clydebank they want Scottish hon. Members to move to Edinburgh and have financial matters under their own control because then they might be able to get some money. That is the attitude of the rank and file who point out that the Minister of Housing and Local Government gets £4,500,000 for England and Wales while the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland cannot get a penny.
We have been successful in building houses, but cannot get an allocation for development. Because that capital development does not necessarily cover business premises it does not mean that the people of Clydebank do not need capital expenditure—they do. They need a road to Mountblow and they need to have several halls rebuilt. We are in the alarming position, on the Faifley Estate, of not having a hall which can be used as a polling station for the municipal elections. There is not a hall near the place, because it is three miles from the town.
We had a workers' hostel in Clydebank. Now we are short of skilled labourers in the shipyards as there is no accommodation for workers. We want 6,000 houses, but cannot get capital allocation to rebuild the workers' hostel to which workers would come from other parts if it were rebuilt. I ask the Joint Under-Secretary to see whether he cannot be as successful as his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is in England. That Minister has £4,500,000 for the blitzed towns of England and Wales. I do not think it is enough for them but I think the Under-Secretary should try to get a considerable sum for the burgh of Clydebank. We are bearing a burden which is far beyond our capacity as a burgh. If we could get more capital allocated we could recoup some of the necessary expenditure.
I am glad of the opportunity to raise the question of the blitzed City of Sheffield, which suffered very badly during the war. In its centre whole shopping areas were destroyed and in one shopping centre, known as "The Moor," there was a complete flattening of the whole area. I have had interviews with the town clerk of Sheffield and the councillors and aldermen with a view to getting the blitzed areas restored and rebuilt. At the present rate of allocation of licences it will be a very long time before the area is developed.
I have been in correspondence with the Minister by letter about this area but that, unfortunately, does not help the city to get on with the small amount of allocation of licences they have. This is having a very serious effect on the people of Sheffield who have to bear an increase in their rates owing to the loss of rateable value from the value of land on which the shopping centres formerly stood. I feel that a global figure of £4,500,000 for the whole country is too small. I say this not from the point of view of party politics. We must bear in mind that it will take a great many years to restore some of our blitzed cities. The allocation does not allow local authorities to plan their city centres as they wish. That is one of the complaints I heard in the City Hall in Sheffield—that they were unable to plan the city on the right lines or to hasten the planning of the city owing to slow development and the small amount of money involved in the number of licences allocated to Sheffield.
There is a feeling of anxiety and frustration in Sheffield about the restoring of blitzed cities. People believe that they have not had a fair allocation of the global sum in view of the damage which has been done. After all, Sheffield was employed in a full war effort when the blitz took place and it is still carrying out very valuable work for re-armament. More sympathetic consideration is due to Sheffield in the assistance given for rehabilitation of blitzed shopping centres.
The "Sheffield Telegraph" says, in a leading article today:
This Government is certainly doing more than its predecessors. Last year it allocated for such areas £1,000,000 more than was allocated in 1951 and £2,000,000 more than the amount for 1950. But even at this accelerated pace it will be a long time before Sheffield's rateable value is restored. Something more must be done. Delay is dangerous.
I agree. The article goes on:
It is dangerous because the loss of rateable value means that Sheffield people are having to pay unnecessarily high rates. Considerably less than a 3s. 6d. increase would have been possible if the city's shopping areas had been rebuilt.
It is dangerous because people may have formed new shopping habits. Not only have people in the region around who made Sheffield their shopping centre had temptations to go elsewhere; within the city itself shoppers have been diverted from areas no longer able to serve them.
I appeal to the Minister. We cannot build up a shopping centre one store at a time over 12 months. Whole areas have been wiped out and the problem must be looked at on a far wider scale with a more sympathetic mind. I plead
with the Minister to give this matter more sympathetic consideration from the point of view of the global sum. I ask him to adopt a wider outlook and to consider increasing the figure of £4½ million. The number of licences issued to the blitzed cities might also be increased gradually so that they may secure the assistance they badly need.
When my hon. Friend says that only one hon. Member from London has spoken from this side, may I point out that no hon. Members representing Sheffield have spoken and that Sheffield is a more important city than London?
Sheffield may appear more important in the eyes of my hon. Friend, but without doubt London and Greater London suffered more damage than any other area, including Sheffield.
With my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones), I represent a county borough in the East End of London. Although enormous damage was inflicted upon it, West Ham is only one of many boroughs in a similar position, including Poplar and Stepney. In West Ham over 56,700 dwellings were damaged, and of those 14,000 were destroyed beyond repair. In addition, other buildings such as public houses and shops with living accommodation, and factories, also were damaged, and West Ham, in common with other boroughs, has an enormous housing problem.
Thanks to the wonderful work of the London County Council a magnificent job of housing has been carried out for the people in the London County Council area. But the people outside that area are not included. Both during the war and immediately afterwards West Ham continued with the job of re-building. But even though 1,400 temporary hutments were allocated the housing problem remains, because these hutments are now obsolete and should have been pulled down a long time ago. Some 60 per cent. of the existing houses in West Ham were built before 1895, and many have been condemned as dangerous because of the effect of bomb blast on the foundations. This has aggravated the housing problem as people are being moved out of houses which normally would have been used to re-house the population. The same difficulties which confront the West Ham council confront other councils and may be quoted by other hon. Members.
In West Ham we have built over 1,600 new permanent houses and we have a further 2,600 under construction. The difficulty is that as West Ham and similar councils overcome their housing difficulties they are creating for themselves a financial problem. With an urgent priority housing list of 14,000 in addition to the general waiting list, it will be apparent that in West Ham there exists a financial problem as well as the problem of repairing and replacing houses.
I agree with the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings) and the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) that it is unfair to expect councils to meet out of their rates expenses which are directly the result of war. West Ham now has only 78 per cent. of its pre-war rateable income, and even with a rate of 27s. in the £ the council cannot overcome their problems. I ask the Minister not only to continue the generous grant of £50,000 which he made last year, but to increase it. The costs of the council are increasing, through no fault of their own, and if £50,000 was thought to be needed 12 months ago, I think the Minister will agree—with the depreciation of the £ and the higher cost of living—that figure will not compensate for the loss of rateable value which the borough has suffered.
I suggest that something be done about the blitzed sites which are so apparent. As this is Coronation year, I ask the Minister to give some financial assistance towards clearing up these bomb sites, and perhaps making them into Coronation gardens.
I understand that a committee is now meeting to discuss the question of the equalisation grants. I ask the Minister to urge that committee to expedite their report. Many of the blitzed cities will benefit if a fair and equal distribution is made, and it will be generally agreed that help and assistance should first be given to the blitzed areas. The Minister should ensure that when the Budget proposals are framed his Ministry is not neglected, so that financial assistance may be given towards the replanning and rebuilding of our blitzed cities.
I want to refer to the aspect of the rebuilding of blitzed cities which concerns the constituency I have the honour to represent. One of the great problems in this rebuilding is to allocate the money and the effort correctly between the demand for houses and the calls of commerce and industry. I am sure that hon. Members would not like to interfere with the output of houses. The overwhelming majority of our people are filled with admiration for the efforts made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the success which is being achieved.
I am certain, however, that the provision of adequate facilities for industry, especially for manufacturing industry, is all important. There is no point in building houses or rebuilding our cities unless we provide places where people can do useful work. In a city like Exeter the problem is exceptional. There is a certain amount of manufacturing in the city, but it is not undustrialised like towns in the Midlands or like certain parts of the Metropolis. Its function is concerned mainly with the distribution of goods for a large area.
The large agricultural community which comprises the major portion of Devonshire treats Exeter as the centre to which the people must go to buy most of the necessities of life. Unless a special effort is made to rebuild the shopping and commercial centre of Exeter we may find ourselves in difficulties. Younger people cannot enter the trades followed in the city in the past, because many of those trades are not now carried on.
The damage done by air bombardment was confined mainly to the shopping centre. I make a special plea to the Minister to consider the demands of the city council that they should be allowed to proceed at an accelerated tempo with the reconstruction of that area. This is not only a question of more shops: there is a grave shortage of office accommodation. Businesses are spread all over the city and various parts of one organisation may have a number of addresses. The same applies to the municipal offices. We have not many of the facilities normally to be expected in a large distributing centre like the capital of Devonshire. We have not got a satisfactory civic hall, and so on. All this leads to extreme inefficiency in the performance of the city's function as the centre of a large agricultural community, and I suggest that special consideration should be given to the problem.
We have had a most interesting debate in which hon. Members from many parts of the country have successively made the case for their own constituencies. That, on an occasion like this, is most proper. It is a most valuable function in the work of the House. Members from the blitzed cities, in whatever part of the House they may sit, form a special kind of pressure group; but it is a most legitimate pressure group—a moral pressure group. It is right that they should, jointly and severally, come together and put their case to the present Minister of Housing and Local Government.
It will not be challenged when I say, not naming too many names in the comparison I propose to make, that the success which has attended the work of rebuilding the blitzed cities has depended on the efficiency of the local authorities —and such efficiency has varied greatly from one authority to another—and also upon the assiduity of the Members for the constituencies in accosting the appropriate Ministers on all possible occasions. In the years from 1945 onwards I would certainly say that none was better served in this respect, both by the efficiency and imaginative sweep of mind of the local authority and by the assiduity of their Members in this House, than Drake's City of Plymouth, on the one hand, and Lady Godiva's City of Coventry on the other.
I will deal with Scotland later. Both authorities got off at high speed. Plymouth, even during the harsh ordeals to which it was subjected in the war, was all the time planning for the victorious future which Plymouth knew would come. It is surely symbolic that in this famous city associated with so many great names and great adventures in the past, standing forth first of which is Francis Drake, they were, through their elected representatives, preparing the way even under the bombs for the new Plymouth which would arise from the ashes. I pay my tribute to the splendid speed with which that authority got off the mark when victory came. Indeed, they were well served at that time by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) and by Mrs. Lucy Middleton who admirably represented the Sutton Division of Plymouth through that crucial Parliament of 1945 when first decisions were taken and the framework was laid down for the handling of this problem.
Coventry was not far behind. Coventry, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) has said, has a special feature in that it is an expanding city as well as a blitzed city. It was a little rash of her to call it a new town. If that phrase were followed through in its full statutory significance, we should put in charge of the affairs of Coventry, not the elected representatives of the ratepayers, but a corporation of wise and able persons appointed by the Minister. That, I am sure, was not part of her dream for the near future. But she can put herself right in statutory terms by speaking of it as an expanded town, because that is provided for under a recently passed statute where the rights of the ratepayers remain unimpaired.
Coventry also went ahead with great imagination and great energy. And no one can say that the Members for Coventry are seldom either heard or seen in this House or in wider public circles. I must not go on making invidious comparisons one with another, but perhaps I may say a few words about Swansea, because Swansea presents a very special case. Relatively to the size of the town, Swansea suffered most severely. The only consolation that comes to me, as one who knows that part of the world very well, is that although it suffered so severely, its most beautiful civic buildings, by some miracle, just escaped. For that I was deeply thankful.
Indeed, it has been necessary in Swansea, before the actual rebuilding of the offices and shops and the centre of the town could be begun, to reshape the pattern of the whole town, and, in fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris) said, give it a new shape. I well know about that, because sometimes I used to prod the local authority, when I was the Minister responsible, to get on with the building, but they always made the answer that, until they had made the roads, they could not begin the buildings that were to stand along the roads. I understand that the new roads have now been substantially completed, and I hope the Minister will pay heed to what my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West said and will give that authority an increase in their allocation.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Law) has now left the Chamber, so I am not concerned to say anything on behalf of the Hull City Council, which he attacked, although the right hon. Gentleman is a representative of the city in this House, beyond saying that, as far as I know, and contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman alleged, the rate payers of Hull have retained their confidence in the present majority on the Hull City Council. I leave the matter there for the moment, but, were the right hon. Gentleman present, I would have pursued with him in detail the question of the lack of co-operation between the business community and the city council to which he referred.
As to Scotland, I do not think the present Minister of Housing and Local Government would either wish or dare to plunge northwards on official business. In that Department we only cross the Border when we have something other than "shop" to transact. So much for some of those who have put a case today. The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) was also quite right in saying that Exeter had a very special problem, and that there is a danger that, unless they can quickly rebuild their city centre, they will lose much of the present status of Exeter, which they should not lose.
The only other point that I wish to make where I shall give the name of a particular authority concerns West Ham, and I hope that the Minister will pay heed to what was said by my two hon. Friends who spoke as representatives of West Ham here, and will be able to tell the House, I hope tonight, that he will be continuing the special grant which, on all the facts, I am sure is still justified in the case of West Ham, which suffered quite exceptionally, not only in the destruction of property and all the death and misery which went with it, but also in the destruction of its rateable value, which, in the case of West Ham, was quite disproportionately large.
This, indeed, is a point which we must always bear in mind in discussing this question. It is not only that these blitzed towns and cities stand forth above all others in the degree of damage which they suffered during the war, but they have also been heavily smitten in the post-war period in their rateable value, and, therefore, they are less able to meet the requirements of their citizens for public services on a proper level.
As the years pass, and almost eight have now passed since the end of the fighting, it certainly does become more and more sore that we should see these wounds still gaping in the centres of these cities. Whatever our political views may be, and from whatever part of the country we may come, we must all feel that these wounds gape more and more cruelly as the years pass. It is quite true that, as the years have passed, those of us who have had to deal with this problem in any Ministerial capacity, have hoped that we should be able gradually to get an expanding programme of reconstruction in these cities, so that these deep wounds might soon be closed and healed. I am sure, though I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to reaffirm it, that the present Minister shares that hope with the rest of the House, and no doubt will be able to tell us, so far as next year is concerned, that this will be a period of a gradually expanding scale in this work of reconstruction.
If I may be permitted one comment on current affairs here, I would say that this odious proposal or suggestion that German airmen should be trained in this country to drop bombs once more surely must bring our thoughts back with a sharp pang of pity for all those communities which were so badly knocked about by the Luftwaffe in the last war. Today, we are not debating whether German airmen should drop bombs over here again, but we are discussing the destruction that was actually caused by German airmen only 10 years ago. With regard to the procedure in handling this problem, it has been said, and I think very truly, that the steel shortage, which has been a hampering and limiting factor in the past, is at any rate alleviated now. The steel shortage, if it has not actually passed, is becoming less severe. While I was responsible for these affairs, it always was such a factor. But I do not think the supply is now so short that we are not able to grant more licences for buildings which must contain a great deal of steel. I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to say that the easing of the steel shortage will enable him to make larger total provision for the rebuilding of the blitzed cities than was possible at an earlier stage. Indeed, I hope that this figure of £4½ million is not final, but that the right hon. Gentleman may find that more will be available.
Apart from the question of the steel shortage, one of the aims which we have always held before us in the past was the need to have a properly balanced labour force engaged upon this blitz reconstruction, and the need for it to be held at a pretty steady level city by city, the need to see that it is suitably composed of different types of craftsmen and skilled workers, and the simultaneous need for a sufficient civil engineering labour force for the laying of the foundations and so on. It would indeed be a setback to any proper programme of reconstruction of the blitzed cities if this labour force, at one stage balanced, was to become unbalanced and dispersed, because the rate of progress would be necessarily slowed down in the future.
With regard to the granting of licences, when I was the Minister responsible I always tried, though I did not always succeed in what I was seeking to do, to arrange with the local authorities that they knew well ahead what licences, how many and for what amounts, they were going to get. I have had lately a rather uncomfortable feeling—and perhaps the Minister can allay it—that this period has been shortened and that local authorities have been kept waiting until a rather later date than used to be the case before they knew how rapidly they might go ahead. I hope the Minister is aiming at giving them adequate notice so that they are not suddenly taken by surprise by the number of licences to be granted being either larger or smaller than they had been hoping for.
I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman only this weekend made a speech which was rather apposite to what we are discussing. He said that there was a danger that the centres of many great cities would rot away; that is true, and it opens up wider questions than those upon which we are engaged today. But here we have the centres of a number of cities and towns not merely rotting away slowly, but completely blotted out as a result of warlike action. Although a certain amount of rebuilding has been done in the last seven and a half years—and do not let us under-estimate it—yet here we already have the problem starkly posed of how to reconstitute worthy centres for those cities to fit in with the ever growing activities of these great communities.
It is not enough—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree—to build houses on the circumference, where the centre is either blown away or for some other reason is unworthy of the city as a whole. It is not even enough to build blocks of flats somewhere in between the circumference and the centre. The centre must be rebuilt and properly planned, and it may mean, as in Swansea, the reshaping of the whole road pattern, or as in Plymouth the breaking through, among new features, of a great new public way right to the famous Plymouth Hoe. But the centre must be thought of as the most important part of all for without a well planned, beautiful and healthy development of the centre, even a beautiful circumference will not make a city.
Therefore, the problem that confronts us is how most quickly we can proceed with planned developments which will at no too distant date ahead give us back something better than that which Hitler and his airmen destroyed. It has indeed been said—and it is true—that in some places we should be very grateful to the late Hitler for what he destroyed. There are some places—I am not sure that some of the constituents of hon. Members on this side of the House who have spoken today are not among them—where slum clearance was long overdue. If only we could have had a clearance of the populations before the bombs fell, nothing but good could have resulted. But these were not the only parts damaged. Damage was also done to essential public buildings, shops, warehouses and the like, and it is that property which has to be rebuilt now.
There has been one or two excursions into party politics, some from the other side, but all that may be regarded as secondary. The primary purpose of this debate is to draw from the Government a statement that they propose to press forward, I hope on a greater scale and at a more rapid pace, than they have hitherto been able to announce with regard to this most important part of the rebuilding of Britain.
I repeat that houses on the circumference are not enough if the city has not a centre worthy of the whole, and the theme of this debate has been the need for re-creating such worthy centres. I invite the Minister to tell us what the Government are able to announce in this respect today.
This has been a most valuable and interesting debate. I have had the good fortune to listen to every speech with two exceptions, that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Law) and that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris), to whom I tender my apologies.
I am very grateful to the Opposition for choosing this subject for debate today for, except for the rather disconnected discussion which is inseparable from a debate upon the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech and from rather short Adjournment debates, we have really not had the opportunity of a comprehensive discussion whether upon a party or a non-party basis. Non-party lines are all very well, but the right hon. Gentleman opposite and I have long experience of how they easily develop into a general coalition against the Government of the day. At any rate, in this historical review, he has been as much a target as I have been.
I do not propose to be partisan, but neither do I propose to stand in a white sheet, even under the pressure of the grand inquisitor below the Gangway. In any event, we must agree that the loss suffered by the blitzed cities and by their populations and the hardships caused to their citizens must never be forgotten. We are grateful to hon. Members on both sides who have very properly reminded us of those losses today. We in the House of Commons as representatives of the people owe a corporate duty to them, and, indeed, to ourselves not to forget, and this duty, I hope and think, the country will feel has been admirably discharged today.
There are many different problems and each city has its own peculiar problems. I think that was admirably put by the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), when she pointed out that by a strange paradox the position in Coventry was that it was both destroyed and increased at the same time. It had all the problems of an expanding town while it lost so much of its amenities and necessities which would not have been sufficient even had they remained undestroyed. That is the rather special problem of Coventry, and we will try to help that city all we can. There is one way in which, perhaps, the hon. Lady will help us.
In the new towns, under the beneficent autocracy set up by the right hon. Gentleman before me, we arranged to allocate houses to bricklayers and others of the building force. That arrangement works well, but after all the efforts of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to get something like that in Coventry we did not succeed. If we could get 30, 40 or 50 bricklayers housed in Coventry it would make a great difference to the speed with which we could get on with the work.
Again, there is the special problem of West Ham. It was mentioned quite rightly by the representative of the constituents of West Ham in this House and by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It has not really to do with the allocation of expenditure for rebuilding, but rather with the special question of grant. I will study most carefully what has been said with a view to whatever proposals the Government will be able to make this year.
I thought it might interest the right hon. and hon. Members if on this occasion I told them—I do not know whether it is usual, but I shall be quite frank to the House even to the point of indiscretion—that when I took office 15 months ago I was introduced to an institution known as the capital investment programme. This somewhat mysterious conception has puzzled many acute minds who have tried to understand it from the outside, and even when one is admitted to the esoteric mysteries of Government it still has its obscurities.
As I understand, the capital investment programme was instituted immediately after the war, but it did not reach its full fruition, its peak period of beauty, until the functions of the Minister of State for Economic Affairs were combined with those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. From that date there were brought together in the Treasury two organisations, the old Treasury financial experts and the new economic planners. It was indeed an amazing marriage. It was a fusion of those who, like the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis), think that only cash matters and those who, like the planners, think that only things matter; and as we can well imagine, proceeding from the first dawn of that new era of progress which only began in the world in 1945, it pressed on rapidly. This combination of two Ministries coalesced; and it was soon apparent that there was a rigidity and austerity more suitable to religious dogma, where any kind of backsliding might endanger not merely the economic stablity of the country but the immortal soul of the weaker vessel.
I am the last person in the world to wish to throw any doubt upon the value of planning in economic affairs. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Government said it was all 'boloney'."] As Professor Joad would say, whether it is "boloney" or not all depends upon what one means by planning. Properly used as a servant and not as a master, as a general guide to economic trends and possibilities, and not as a kind of Bradshaw or A.B.C. which one looks up to get what one reasonably hopes is an accurate result, economic planning is a vital need of our present structure of society, divided, as it is, into two sectors, one publicly controlled and financed, and, therefore, only capable of being controlled by direct planning, and the other privately controlled and financed and capable of control by other, possibly more old-fashioned processes.
When the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley) gave a percentage of particular allocations of the spending programme to the blitzed cities he referred to the whole of the investment programme and not to the building element. I think that he would have been fairer if he had made it a percentage of the building side of the investment programme.
The investment programme in the case of the building industry deals with the total availability of building resources, labour and materials and does not, of course, deal with the manner in which these resources are to be financed. In other words that is quite another question. It comprises all the work which has been done on public account, on local authority account or on private account. That is right because if one is considering this by the physical test of the labour and materials available the question of how they are paid for is quite irrelevant. Most of what we have talked about today is not a matter of public expenditure, as the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen said. We are not asking the taxpayer to do anything, but allowing private individuals to spend their own money in building shops, offices and the like.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) fell into this confusion when he said that the Minister had £4,500,000 and asked what grants the Secretary of State for Scotland had obtained. It is not a question of grants. It is a question of permission and of licences which, of course, operate in the same way in Scotland as in England. The reason why not so many licences have been given in Clydebank is that the main loss there was a housing loss and not so much shops, services, and the like; and that main loss is met in the ordinary way by the central subsidy, by local authority subsidy and by the specially generous assistance given by the Scottish Housing Association, from which the local authority finds great relief. I have been informed that licences have been given to cover most of the damaged shops and, I am happy to say, most of the church buildings.
On the other hand, over the whole range of the investment programme the greater part of what we have to consider, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) will remember, is work financed in whole or in part by local government or the central Government. That is to say, most of it falls under the categories of housing, schools or defence work. Factories are sometimes privately financed and sometimes fall to be done with Government help.
Since the war, all other building, ordinarily speaking, has been prevented altogether. The general idea of those who prepare the investment programme so far as building is concerned is to try to create a picture of the total amount of building effort which will be available, measured in terms of money. For money is still, even in these days, the most convenient mathematical formula for describing effort; and they have to make a general division as to how it is to be used.
There are certain questions which, I frankly admit, arise from this procedure. First, how is the total amount of effort calculated? How is this estimate made? It is quite clear that there can never be an absolutely accurate figure. For, first of all, it deals with the global amount available throughout the island as a whole and, of course, we all know that labour is the least mobile of all these assets. Even some physical assets can be carried great distances, but sometimes it is expensive to do so.
In the second place, the total estimated productivity of the building industry in any one year is the result of a series of calculations which, again, can only give a general guide. The total returns under the census of production are added together for the whole industry and this is said to be the productive capacity of the industry. During the period when repairs were running at certain levels without licence, it was necessary to make a certain estimate of them. The only way that that could be done was to add together all the licensed building, then deduct that from the total as shown by the census of production and assume that the difference amounted to the amount of unlicensed repair work.
That was the basis of the whole calculation. I quite realise—and perhaps I realise it more than it has been realised until recently—that there must be a considerable margin of error in such a method of calculation. Nevertheless with all its faults, this is the only practicable way in a period during which demands exceed supply of getting a broad general guide on which any Government of whatever complexion, can act.
But now, in the case of the blitzed cities, comes another complication. The total building productivity available is divided among the various Ministries which either finance undertakings themselves or act as sponsors to people who are prepared to finance these undertakings. The priorities, under previous Governments and under this Government, have been rightly given to houses, schools, factories for export, and defence —over the whole country. These are the overriding needs for, after all, security from foreign aggression, homes, food, and work are still the most important things to give to our people, beyond all else.
It often happens, however, that a considerable amount of building in a blitzed city can take place and has taken place not under what we are now discussing, but under the schemes sponsored by one of the Ministries concerned—the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Works, and the Ministry of Supply. It may be, for instance, an insurance company, a bank, an oil refinery or a similar project is brought into being in the blitzed city, or its immediate vicinity under one of these methods.
For the first few years after the war these priorities were faithfully observed and no exceptions were made at all. The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) talked of expanding, but this did not start until 1949 or 1950. The total amount of such work since the war—quite apart from the special allocations of offices and shops in the central parts of the blitzed cities—has been very considerable. I calculate that what they have got under the sponsorship of other Ministries is probably far more than the total amount sponsored under the particular system which we are now discussing.
Immediately after the war the blitzed cities obtained their share only to the extent that they could contribute to the prior needs of defence, schools, exports and the like. During those first years office buildings, shops, cinemas and the rest were either wholly banned or allowed here and there only on new housing estates, on rather a small scale, when new shopping centres were brought into being. But by 1949 it had become apparent that something more had to be done for the blitzed cities, otherwise the town centres would never recover and the lives of the people would become intolerable. Even the Treasury has an interest in this matter, because the Exchequer was and is paying considerable amounts in loan interest in land in these cities. It was therefore decided by our predecessors that a special allocation should be made for this purpose, and the task of sponsoring this programme and deciding the major priorities was allotted to the then Ministry of Town and Country Planning.
That was the point at which I took over the investment programme in November, 1951. I claim that it is open to argument whether this allocation has been reasonable in the past. That is not my affair. I am responsible with regard to whether it is now running at a reasonable rate and whether we are managing it as fairly and as reasonably as we can. It is worth remembering that, except in the new housing estates of the new towns, where some provision has been made on a modest scale, nothing has been allocated for shops, theatres or similar amenities. In respect of the City of London this ban has now been partially withdrawn and some considerable orders are to be placed. I think £10 million worth of orders was mentioned for the next three years.
As my hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) pointed out, this is being done because of the importance—especially the dollar-earning importance—of the great trading and finance companies operating in the City of London; but, even here, so great are the divergent pressures that while my hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster thought that this provision was too little, the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) thought that it was too much.
That shows how different are the pressures which are put upon the Government. Questions have been put down suggesting that this money would be better spent on houses.
At this stage, I should like to point out that the allocation of money is one thing and the spending of it is another. The making of a scheme is the first process, but carrying it out is the part that matters. In all building, as in all other forms of production, it is vital to get the flow of orders running at a rate which is neither too high nor too low for what can be carried into effect. That is why I am much more interested in figures of work done than in figures of money allocated in any particular year to any particular authority.
It was that difference to which the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen referred when he said that he did not altogether accept the figures given to him by the Parliamentary Secretary. That is because he was thinking of schemes planned and the Parliamentary Secretary —with his naturally practical character— was thinking of work done. There is a very great difference between the two. Let us take the years since this method came into operation. In 1950, £4½ million were licensed; but only £2,300,000 worth of work was done—just over half. In 1951, £4,800,000 were licensed but only £3,500,000 worth was done. Then came 1952. Even with the Chancellor of the Exchequer having gone to the United States, I dare not tell the House what was the sum allocated under the investment programme which was compiled at the end of the year. All I can say is that £4,600,000 worth was done, and that is twice what was done two years before.
It is the work done—the houses, schools, offices and shops completed— which is the true test. Under the special arrangements the worth of work done in the years 1949 and 1950 together was £2,300,000. In 1951, it was £3,500,000 and, in 1952, £4,600,000. It may be said "But this has been carried out as a result of falling housing programmes." Not at all. Let us take the housing progress in these blitzed cities. In 1949, the number of houses built was 14,500; in 1950, it was 17,500; in 1951, it was 20,200 and, in 1952, it was 24,500. So there has also been a growth there.
That is the story up to date. Here it is perhaps not indecent to lift a little further the veil of mystery that surrounds the capital investment programme for 1952–53 as it affects the blitzed cities. I have always held that these programmes are a general guide and that we should not allow them to dominate. By local and national effort we can get a few more schools; by getting people to work a little harder we can increase the productivity rate a little more.
That is what we do in time of war; now we have to do it in peace. We must try to get a little more than a pint from a pint pot. I take a little pride in the fact that we managed £4,600,000 worth of completed work in 1952, which was certainly higher than a meticulous application of the investment programme by my Department might have suggested. One of the beauties of these things is that no one can add up the figures until the end of the year—as the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland knows. At the same time, we have built more houses in these cities and the rest of the country than either we or anybody else thought possible, except the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes).
Coming to the plan for 1953, I want to think of it in a practical way. First, we have to start with the fact that there is £2 million worth of work going on, and we have to consider how much should be fed in to achieve a good result. We want to make sure of £4½ million as a start, and I have suggested that we should feed in about £2½ million worth of new allocations. But when that has been allocated we have to take the position of each city and town. It may be easier to put a little more into one than into another.
There cannot be absolute fairness, because one has to think of all the other things which are needed. It may be that at one place we need a great refinery which is of vital importance from the economic point of view, and that town will have to do with a little less than another town which has no such rival claim. One cannot have priorities. One must take the total of what is fair and reasonable and try to feed it into each place at a rate which will achieve the best results.
At the same time, one cannot go quite crazy about it and lift the lid altogether. If we did that we should be running to the other extreme. We must neither allow ourselves to be unduly tied and fettered by an economic planning system so operated as to take all the enterprise, spirit and elasticity out of the system, nor go back—especially when the Government are spending so great a proportion of the total national effort—to a system of complete laissez faire. One must get all one can by seeking to attain a reasonable position between the two, and that is what we are trying to do.
We must keep the priorities—food, work, homes and the defence of our people against the aggressor—but we must deal honourably with the blitzed cities, giving them all we can. We must make every effort we can; we must not tie ourselves up. The £4½ million must be a programme; it is an ambition, an aim. If the completed work at the end of 1953 bears some relation to the unrevealed programme for 1952 I shall not be too unhappy.
I am just coming to that. The hon. Gentleman, not unexpectedly, introduced the only note of real acidity, even of poison, into the debate. I do not mind; he does much more harm to his right hon. Friend than he ever does to me.
The hon. Member for Devonport pleaded with me to keep Plymouth specially under review. It is true that Plymouth has a very special situation. It is a long way off and it is not surrounded by many competing industries and, thus, there are not quite the same problems that arise in the case of Southampton or even Portsmouth. The hon. Member has a right to speak for Plymouth, although the remarkable start that Plymouth made was due, more than to anyone else, to Lord Astor, who served the city so well.
It may be argued that more ought to have been started, but Plymouth made a good start. When the first allocation of £2½ million was made for the country. Plymouth got £700,000 of it. That is not bad. I congratulate the hon. Members for Plymouth, and, still more, those who made the plan, but we cannot continue to give one city a third or a quarter of the total for the country. The same thing happened that has always happened, the completions did not run to that extent, being £488,000 in 1949–50, £734,000 in the peak period 1951 and then dropping to £681,000 in 1952, even giving Plymouth all it could reasonably do. Do not forget that at the same time I am anxious—so is the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that we should get all the work done. The reason is that everybody gains if that happens. We gain politically, we gain from the feeling of having done our duty in bringing happiness to the people, we gain because local authorities will get an easement of their financial position, and, above all, we gain because a great proportion of the loans which have to be made for the purchase of the cleared land have to be supported by very large Treasury grants until the buildings are completed and so the Treasury stands to gain as much as anybody else by our getting on with the job.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me one more question. Is it the aim of his Department in the coming year to try to restore the number of people employed on the Plymouth reconstruction as soon as possible to the figure of at least 1,000, which it was some 14 months ago?
I am not running away from that. I am just coming to the point of the local labour position which is rather peculiar to Plymouth, but I prefer to answer my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor), who spoke before the hon. Member for Devonport.
It is true that everyone wants to achieve as much as can be done, but the amount of local labour which may be temporarily available is not the only test when considering this class of building. Broadly, the class of building about which we are thinking employs, to a great extent, building firms of national reputation who operate all over the country. These firms employ a good deal of special skilled labour, and the labour is employed centrally, especially in the case of steel erection, in producing the lifts and all the rather complicated paraphernalia of this type of building operation, and a considerable number of skilled men have to travel around for the firms for the erection of this kind of building.
Therefore, although I regret it when I hear that there are 99 painters, 24 other skilled men and 159 general labourers in the building trade at the moment out of employment in Plymouth, that is a normal situation at this time of the year and I do not believe that the mere drawing in of those people would provide a balanced labour force. On the other hand, it would result in a drawing upon the skilled labour and the special plant and machinery for which all the representatives of the other 18 cities have been asking. The situation is not quite as simple as the hon. Gentleman suggested. Much as I should like to see the force built up to its full capacity, it would have considerable impacts upon what could be done by the rival claimants in the other cities, even drawing upon the same kind of mobile labour force and the same kind of production capacity for the provision of the plant required.
There it stands. I can assure the House that the best way to treat the temporary labour situation would be not to get the painters and a few skilled men and a certain number of general labourers into the building force but what the Minister of Works has done in raising the repair licence figure to £500 and in giving additional licences for smaller and simpler types of building, such as a room or two here and a small hall there, for that might be done without bringing in quite so much external labour. At any rate, we will keep in touch with hon. Members representing Plymouth and the other cities about what we are trying to achieve.
I inquired whether the right hon. Gentleman was keeping in mind the need to give local authorities good notice of the number of licences which they might grant for major re-buildings. I am speaking now not of the small items but of major blocks of shops and offices, and so on.
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has asked me that. He has perhaps had the same experience that I have had. It is possible to give notice earlier, but I like to keep a fight going, and I do not believe that the local authorities have lost because of a month or two's delay in the allocations which have been made. One has to keep something in hand, and I do not think that has always been possible in this rather moving battle with uncertainties as to the future.
Take steel, for instance. After all, there was no steel allocation for the last two years of the right hon. Gentleman's Administration; we had to set up steel allocation in January of last year. That did not halt us, and I felt sure the position would get easier, but it incommoded us. I will certainly do my best to give good notice and, what I think is better, consistent feeding in of anything additional which may be possible and not keep too rigidly to the annual determination. If there is any extra, we will feed it in as it appears to be convenient to do so.
I did not promise anything when we started in this office 15 months ago. I remember that in the first two or three months as Minister I never came into the House or answered a Question without hearing the cry, "What is happening to the Conservative programme for 300,000 houses a year?" I observe that those interruptions have become less frequent of late. All I can say is that I am willing to do my best—I cannot promise more— for the blitzed cities and to be judged by the results.