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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Hon. Members who served in the last Parliament will be familiar with this Bill. Indeed, some of them were more familiar with it than I was, because I am in the position today of making what amounts to my maiden speech as Minister of Public Building and Works. I hasten to assure right hon. and hon. Members opposite that I do not claim any indulgence on that account, partly because the matter which we are discussing and my own speech will in some respects be controversial and in that sense, therefore, I shall find myself contravening the traditions of a maiden speech. But there is at least one parallel with a maiden speech proper that I wish to observe—that is to be relatively brief.
I want to be brief, partly because it is a good habit for Ministers to be brief, and partly because the proceedings on the Bill are due to finish at a comparatively early hour and many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. For these reasons, I want to speak on what seem to me to be the main issues of principle between the two sides of the House and not to go too much into what might generally be regarded as Committee points.
The purpose of the Bill is to provide permanent machinery for the control of privately sponsored building projects of a value of £100,000 or more. It therefore affects only a part of the building industry. According to a recent figure, about £180 million a year—about 7 per cent. of all new starts in building and indeed, in all parts of construction defined in the Bill—will be affected.
Our purpose is to lay down a rate at which starts can be made in this sector of construction and to use that power, alongside those already exercised by the Government in the public sector, to correlate demand and capacity and to ensure that priority is given to projects of relatively large social value.
The case for this ought to be considered in the main by looking forward, but I understand, from reading the proceedings of the Bill in the last Parliament, that quite naturally much of the discussion was concerned with the situation that existed in July 1965, when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced measures to deal with the economic situation, and with the situation of the construction industry in 1965 and 1966. Clearly, this will be part of the framework within which we shall be discussing the Bill this time.
But the point to which the House should direct its attention is that we are concerned here with a permanent piece of machinery and one that will affect the well-being of the construction industry as a whole and, therefore, the well-being of the economy in the years ahead. Looking back to July 1965, it would be difficult in retrospect for anyone to argue against the proposition that, at the time, the country had an over-heated construction industry within an over-heated economy and that it was essential for the Government to take some measures to restrain pressure of demand.
Equally, I think it would be difficult for people to argue—although I am prepared to listen with interest to what is said in Committee—that in taking measures to restrain demand the Government should have confined them to construction in the public sector. I do not see that anyone can make a defensible case for saying that the economic situation required the Government then to defer university building, road building etc. but not to do anything about holiday camps or restaurants. I do not believe that any kind of presentable case could be made for saying that the private sector should not have been included in the restrictive measures taken.
We need to look forward and, in doing so, the House should have some regard to the time scale of what we are doing. In particular, we are not discussing the state of the construction industry now. Any decision taken now and any taken in the months ahead when the Bill becomes law will really be affecting the pressure on the construction industry in 1967 and 1968. It is this forward looking view that is really relevant to the question of whether the Bill should have its Second reading.
We can draw a lesson from July 1965 and a similar lesson from occasions under Conservative Governments who found it necessary to slam on the brakes on the construction industry and the economy generally at times of economic difficulty.
We have to face the fact that in the post-war period Governments of all parties have found it necessary to exercise a measure of control over construction activity. In most of the situations in which this has been done, including that of last year, the exercise of that control has been by a blunt instrument, or has been arbitrary or perhaps unfair, and it has been felt to be unfair by those in the construction industry who have said that they always take the brunt of an economic crisis to a greater extent than others. It was not the best kind of control for that reason.
To paraphrase what I said a few minutes ago, when a measure is taken suddenly to prevent new projects from starting, it has an effect not only on the immediate future, but on one year and two years ahead. In other words, it controls the level of demand at a later period when the economic situation might have changed altogether. That is why that kind of measure was unsatisfactory, and that is why the Government need powers of a permanent and more sophisticated kind. That is the essential issue which the House has to decide this afternoon. If hon. Members opposite do not agree, I put it to them that when their party was in power they found it necessary to slam on the brakes and use blunt instruments from time to time when those instruments were not the most effective means. Part of the case against what they did and against what we were forced to do last July is the case for the Bill.
The kind of powers which the Government need to have in this respect should have three main characteristics. First, in addition to the powers over the public sector, which already exist in many different ways, there should be powers over the private sector. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite accept that proposition, but if not I should like to hear their arguments against it. I can only say that if there are to be powers to control school building in the public sector, there should be powers to control projects at least as large in the private sector. There are powers relating to the level of housing and hospital building, and similarly there should be powers relating to holiday camps, restaurants, bingo halls, and so on. This is a proposition which it is difficult for the Opposition to counter.
Secondly, the powers should be reasonably long-term, because, as I have explained, starts in construction in a particular year affect the following year and the year after. Therefore, the way in which the Government operate these powers should be related to the forecasts of the progress in demand and the pressures on the industry in the following year and the year afterwards. Our aim, therefore, has to be as far as possible to ensure that the industry is not subject either to under-employment or overheating, but that there is a framework within which controlled expansion related to the growth of efficiency in the industry can take place.
Thirdly, the powers which the Government possess ought to enable us to discriminate both between different types of construction and different areas of the country, so that we can operate a different kind of policy in an area subject to local unemployment from that in another area where there is over-full employment and overcrowding.
In other words, what is needed is a sophisticated discriminatory system which can operate in time and which therefore makes it less likely for any Government in the future to need to operate the kind of control which is applied in a hurry by slamming on the brakes and preventing development from taking place. It is against that background that I want to describe what is in the Bill. I shall do so briefly, because I have no wish to detain the House too long.
In Clause 1 there is the main provision which makes it unlawful to carry out work in construction or alteration of buildings or fixed work of construction and civil engineering unless that work has been licensed, or comes within one of the categories exempted in later Clauses. In Clauses 2 to 7 there is a list of exemptions of which the more important are work costing under £100,000, work in progress or contracted for before 28th July, 1965, all housing work, all industrial building, all work in development districts and all work in the public sector. In other words, there is exemption for about 93 per cent. of current starts in construction, leaving about 7 per cent. remaining, although within the 93 per cent. a great deal is already subject to public control in one form or another.
Clause 8 gives the Minister power to vary the scope of the control. Generally speaking, any decision to extend control in any way would need an affirmative Resolution of Parliament, while any decision to relax it would need only the negative procedure. Two very important aspects are entrenched within the Bill and cannot be altered by regulation. The Bill cannot apply to housing and cannot apply to projects of less than £50,000 in value, so that variations downwards can extend only that far.
Clause 9 deals with enforcement and related matters. Here I should like to take the opportunity to repeat what was said by my predecessor during one of the stages of the Bill in the last Parliament. We regard this aspect of the Bill, and particularly the powers of entry, as being matters to be used only in the last resort. Our approach to the Bill is that the penal sanctions have to be included, but we expect them to be used only in very exceptional circumstances. It is relevant to that to say that ever since last July a system of authorisations has been operating between the Ministry and the industry very well and, on the whole, with the co-operation of everyone in the industry. There have been very few exceptions to this, and I take this opportunity of paying tribute to those in the industry who have co-operated in this way.
In the best traditions of the House, a number of Amendments were made to the last Bill in Committee, Amendments to which hon. Members from both sides contributed. While some were made in Committee, others were put down as a result of discussion in Committee for what would have been the Report stage. By and large, I have aimed to preserve these Amendments and I have no wish to interfere with those arranged after joint discussion and agreement between the two sides in the last Parliament.
Inevitably, one Amendment was made in Committee which I feel bound to reverse. That deleted the reference to alterations in Clause 1. Clearly, it is absolutely logical that if the Bill is to apply to new construction, it should equally apply to alterations. Alterations can use up resources on a very big scale, in the same way as new construction, and they may be less desirable. In certain circumstances, someone refused a licence to set up a new building might instead make alterations to an old one, costing just as much but being far less desirable from the planning or aesthetic point of view. This is therefore a logical Amendment. Whether hon. Members opposite will accept it as such, I do not know. They are always logical in these matters and they ought to see the logic of this case.
I turn to what has been one of the most difficult and controversial aspects of the whole argument, the subject of retrospection. I reiterate to the House what was said towards the end of the last Parliament by my predecessor and the Leader of the House about the way in which this operates. I say straight away that I agree completely with what they said about this matter, but I would like to deal with the argument about it. This has not only engaged hon. Members but been the subject of editorials in The Times and other comment.
When the Bill becomes law in, say, a few weeks' time, it will then be unlawful to proceed with any project within the scope of the Bill which has not been licensed. As was explained in the last Parliament, no penal sanctions apply to actions taken before the date on which the Bill becomes law. I should like to make it clear that we are dealing with the status of what one might call overlapping projects—projects started between 28th July, 1965, and the date on which the Bill becomes law, and which are not then completed.
If a project of that kind is within the definitions of the Bill and it is unlicensed, then it will be unlawful to proceed with work upon it after the Bill becomes law. For that purpose the whole value of the project counts, not merely the value of the work remaining to be carried out after the date upon which the Bill becomes law.
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain something which has been puzzling me? Supposing one embarked upon a project, for which the estimated cost was £98,000, and included in the contract was an escalation clause allowing the contractor to claim more because of wage increases or material cost increases. If the final cost came to more than £100,000, would the developer then have to apply for a licence or would he be exempt?
There is provision in the Bill for some reasonable note to be taken of increases. I will not follow the arithmetic of the hon. Member, but I will ask my hon. Friend to reply to him later if he has the time.
That is correct. All work for which the contract have been signed before 28th July, 1965, is exempt. What the Leader of the House was saying before Dissolution was simply that the Bill was retrospective in the sense that I have described. There is no retrospective penal sanction for work done before the Bill becomes law but there is the risk of a possible refusal of a licence. That is the risk, taken by someone in this position, of being left with a building partially completed. As a matter of common-sense, anyone who was in any doubt about this ought to take advantage of the arrangements made by my predecessor, by which advice could be obtained. As the House will recall, authorisations from my right hon. Friend, and more recently from myself, will count as a licence for this purpose.
I would like to deal with the merits of the arguments raised. I quite take the point that this House has always been sensitive, and rightly so, about retrospective legislation. We ought to be clear what the argument is about. It is possible for hon. Members opposite to argue that there should not have been any restraint on construction in July 1965. It would be wrong to argue thus, but it could be argued. Hon. Members opposite could argue, and again it would be wrong, that this restraint should be confined to the public sector. But if the point is taken that there was a need for restraint, which had to apply to the privately-sponsored projects as well as to the public sector, then I do not see how the Government, last July, could have used any other instrument than that which they did, and say, "We intend to legislate and to make that legislation retrospective". That was the instrument they had to hand and I do not think that any viable alternative has been put forward in the arguments which have taken place about it.
If we take the position since then, it could be argued that there is no need for permanent legislation. Again I think that this would be a wrong argument. If we are right in saying that we need permanent legislation then there has to be continuity. The worst thing possible for the construction industry would be to exercise restraint for a while then to relax, or abandon it, and then to reimpose it again, by Act of Parliament. If that is what hon. Members opposite think, then they would get no thanks from the construction industry.
It would be very unfair to the majority in the industry who have co-operated with the Government on this, to give some kind of carte blanche to the small minority which has chosen not to cooperate and it would be quite unworkable, at this moment, to say that the Bill will only apply from the date it becomes law, because that would be an invitation for everyone to rush in to get contracts signed and work started in the weeks immediately ahead. There has been a very long period between last July, and whatever date in the next few weeks when the Bill becomes law. Several reasons and a series of circumstances, which are unlikely to be repeated, account for this.
For one thing the economic crisis of last July, and the methods used to deal with it, occurred just before this House went into Recess and there was a period when it was not practicable to legislate. The period from the autumn onwards was very crowded, with a great deal of long overdue legislation. If I wanted to be controversial, and I do not, I would say that after 13 years of another sort of Government, there was an awful lot for us to do very quickly. The programme was crowded and became much more crowded with the Rhodesian crisis, and the need to pass the emergency legislation through Parliament at short notice.
This situation was made more difficult by the small majority of the Government and then, a few weeks ago, we performed the patriotic duty of taking time off for a General Election in order to knock hell out of hon. Members opposite All of these things took an abnormally long time. It may be a legitimate comment to say that Parliament ought to be able, even despite circumstances of this sort, to legislate on public policy rather more quickly. This is perhaps a criticism of the way in which we do things in this House, and a reason for looking closely at proposals for Parliamentary reform, something the Government are anxious to do. Given the situation, and the circumstances which I have outlined. I feel no need to make any apology for the retrospective aspect of the Bill now before the House.
I said earlier that I hoped that we would focus our attention upon the future effects of this proposal. I hope that this Parliament is going to be forward-looking in all that it does in the years ahead. The construction industry is faced with the need to expand production for its industrial and housing programme, and for other social programmes. It will have to expand its production at a considerable rate without any appreciable increase in manpower. It faces the need to be more efficient and to expand at a rate greater, on the whole, than the rest of the economy.
It is entitled to look to the Government to make provisions which will provide a framework in which this steady growth can take place, without unreasonable interruption from ups and downs imposed by the Government. In the last few years it has certainly had to face a fluctuating period that has been bad for growth and efficiency. In 1963 the industry's order books went up by 10 per cent. and in 1964 by 15 per cent. There were certain political reasons behind these figures—the Election and so on. It became a very overheated industry. The interesting thing about last year is that despite the credit squeeze and the deferring measures, despite the beginning of restraint in the areas to which this Bill relates, output still went up.
Surely that is the point which the Minister has been making from the outset—that these controls and restrictions do not bite upon the construction industry or its programmes for a period of time. Therefore, there is no possibility of their having any real effect this year. The effects will come later, perhaps when one does not want them.
There were more short-term effects. There were certain short-term effects concerning the movement of Bank Rate and its effect on private housing and by deferment in the public sector. Demand was affected in 1965, although the right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that those policies will have other effects in 1966 and even in 1967. The point that I was making was that in 1965, when there was, compared with the previous year, a drop of 6 per cent. in demand for the reasons which I have given, there was a 2½ per cent. rise in output, which merely illustrates that the industry had gone through this overheated period and some short-term measures were needed. But what we want for the future of the industry is a steady increase in demand and an increase in output, with the two being kept in touch with each other.
There would clearly be a danger in 1967 of overheating in the industry again if there were no power in the hands of the Government to exercise the kinds of control proposed in the Bill. The forecast is an increase of demand of about 5 per cent. in 1967 over 1966. Much of that, we hope, will be absorbed by extra efficiency, but there is need for a control to fall back on to make sure that the two things keep in step with each other.
I submit that the Bill and the policies behind it are in the interests of the construction industry and of the economy. For these reasons, I commend it to the House.
May I begin by offering my congratulations to the Minister on what he called his maiden speech as Minister of Public Building and Works. He said that his speech would be non-controversial. I found it almost non-controversial because he made an excellent case for not having controls, certainly not permanent controls. None the less, the right hon. Gentleman's speech was charming and amiable, and we are grateful for it.
We are dealing with a Bill which has had a very attenuated and unhappy history. It is still a bad Bill. I readily concede that it is better drafted and even improved in content, but that is because it incorporates so many of the Amendments which we on this side of the House put forward in Committee on the previous Bill. We conducted our business in that Committee "with some despatch" and we contributed towards making it a "better and tidier Bill"—not my words. but those of the former Minister, the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), to whom I pay tribute for his kindness and personal generosity towards me and other members of the Committee on almost every occasion.
In Committee, the Government were, to say the least, somewhat accident-prone at one time. Their back-bench Members, drenched in the persuasive oratory from our side or overcome by mid-morning thirst, and, on one occasion, by a desire to visit Strasbourg, exemplifying a European urge not always obvious on the benches opposite——
I see that the hon. Lady notes that point—allowed some Amendments to be carried against the Government. There would probably have been rather more repercussions among hon. Members opposite had it not been for the admirable percipience—almost crystal ball percipience—of the Government Whip who resigned before the defeats occurred. Our Amendments, as the right hon. Gentleman said, have not been adopted in the Bill, although the proceedings in the Committee—modesty almost prevents me from saying this on behalf of my hon. Friends—were an example, as the magazine Building said, "of Parliament at its best."
But we still have this bad Bill before us. The question which arises is: why do we have to have a Building Control Bill at all? By the way, it is not a question of there not being time for a Bill even in the early part of 1964 or in 1965, as the Minister suggested in his closing remarks. It was not lack of time which stopped the Bill coming forward. I sus- pect that it was because the then Minister, who took office in October, 1964, was not persuaded of the need or desirability of controls.
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but between his taking office in October, 1964, and January, 1965, he twice told the industry that he foresaw no chance of the Government imposing further controls on the industry. At that time, he had an ally, Mr. Fred Catherwood, who was preaching the admirable gospel, "The Government do not want licensing". The Minister was with him on this. Licensing is coming and Mr. Catherwood is going. He deserves to go where he has gone. We are, however, stuck with this Bill.
By 27th July, 1965, the Minister had spent his fight against control and, if I may use that rather fashionable but vulgar phrase, had rolled over on his back like a spaniel and had accepted that they were coming. On 27th July, 1965, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the controls. But no serious reason has been advanced for the need to introduce them. The right hon. Gentleman started this afternoon, and then I thought drew back, to claim that they had something to do with the shortage of materials. I should not have thought that that was the case, because the Government should blush with shame at the glut of bricks with which we are faced. Then he tried to claim—indeed to some extent he did claim—that it was to redirect the resources, and I shall seek later to explain why that view is not sustainable. The right hon. Gentleman can hardly claim that it was to damp down the building industry. After all, the Government want houses to be built rather than hotels—in fact, more building, not less. That claim is not tenable, in my view, either.
Therefore, what is the reason for the Bill? The original reason was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 27th July. He said that the Bill was part of the Government's measures to
reach our aim of eliminating the deficit in the course of next year and of maintaining the strength of sterling …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 27th July, 1965; Vol. 717, c. 228.]
While that may or may not be the reason for introducing a control Bill, it is not
a reason for introducing a permanent control Bill. That was why, on 8th December, I asked the Government why, if their crisis was temporary, there was a need for a permanent Measure, or whether the Government believed that their crisis was permanent. The right hon. Member for Leeds, West went away, as he is doing now, and for two months brooded on this question. He is going to find the answer now. After he had brooded, the Parliamentary Secretary hatched up an answer. When I heard the reply, it was so ludicrous that I am almost disposed to spare the hon. Gentleman the embarrassment of reminding him of it—almost but not quite.
The occasion was the ordinary general meeting of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Many off-the-cuff remarks—and some of them perhaps prepared—are male by members of the Government at dinners, but on this occasion they were made at an ordinary general meeting on 7th February this year. The Parliamentary Secretary explained that:
if a time limit is imposed on the operation of this Bill, the Government will be deprived, once the time limit has expired, of a useful weapon to deal with the situation. Indeed, if it were to arise again there would be no alternative but to have recourse to retrospective legislation once again and this would surely be as unwelcome to the trade as it would be to my Government.
That is fair enough. The Government's record of retrospection is bad enough already. But then the hon. Gentleman warmed to his task and we got the meat. He explained that
in another economic crisis, the measures which were appropriate to the 1965 crisis would probably not be exactly what was needed".
That is a pretty important admission, and, in my submission, an excellent reason for not making the Bill permanent.
But, as the hon. Gentleman said—and this is another of his gems—
The Government, in this Bill, is aiming at the anticipation of a crisis so that measures can be taken in good time to ensure that a really serious situation does not arise".
The Government have dropped the pretence that the Bill was to deal with the July crisis which they had created, and we are now told that the purpose of the Bill is to deal with future crises which the Government expect to create. We have all heard of contingency planning, but that is really ridiculous! Even as
contingency planning, it is absurd because the
present measures might be altogether inappropriate at a later date".
That was what the Minister said.
Now, I suppose, that is why we are getting this contingency planning—if contingency planning is the reason for the Bill—rushed through on the tail of that other useful Measure, the Outlawries Bill. Certainly, speed has not always characterised the handling of the Bill previously.
I said earlier that the reason behind the Bill can hardly be the redirection of resources, and I maintain that now. When I spoke on the previous Second Reading, I pointed out to the Minister that his proposal would be unlikely to result in the building of a single new house. That is because the organisation and personnel for building houses and hotels are two completely different things. Housing is exempted from the Bill, but the crazy logic of what seems to be the Government's argument—and I heard echoes of it again this afternoon—is that while people cannot build an hotel or a bowling alley in certain places, they can build them in Liverpool or in Glasgow.
The Bill almost propounds the extraordinary philosophy that if a builder wants to build a casino, he must build it in a place where there ought to be a house. This is a most extraordinary philosophy. How it helps the housing plight of some of the large cities which have a housing plight is difficult to understand. If a major firm is told that it may not build an hotel in Eastbourne, it does not follow that it will build houses instead, much less build them instead in Liverpool. But it may build a hotel there.
Do not both sectors use plasterers and bricklayers? If an organisation is prevented from building an hotel in Eastbourne, will it not have to disgorge some of that scarce labour to other people who are willing to build houses elsewhere?
Yes, there could be a number of bricklayers involved, but this is a tiny part of the problem. I do not know whether the hon. Member has done any research into the kind of people that these larger firms use for the type of things that the Minister is trying to stop. I do not know whether he has looked at the question of structural steel erectors, reinforced concrete workers, marble masons, mosaic workers, terrazzo craftsmen and many other people. If the hon. Member has done his homework, I wish that he had come to the Committee on the last occasion, as he promised.
I am sorry, I must get on. The Bill does not mean that more houses will be built in Liverpool, but it may well mean that a firm which is frustrated by this piece of legislation will go and build an hotel there.
As I said earlier, speed, which is a factor in the waning confidence of the industry, has not always characterised the passage of the Bill. In fact, it has been almost an example of stop-go in the way that it has been handled.
On 19th November, 1965, the former Minister told an eagerly attentive gathering of quantity surveyors—and my report of what he said is headed
Minister's vigorous defence of building controls":
I know you would have liked more consultation but we are moving against time.
Getting the Bill out quickly is vital and I hope it will put you all at rest.
As I said in Standing Committee, I understand that the applause for that remark was rather less than deafening.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman was moving against time, and he was moving against rather more than time. He was moving against the massed cohorts of his own Cabinet, who scratched his Bill from the legislative race to allow the Royal Assent to be given to certain other Measures so that Ministers could come to the House day after day to publish their election addresses, as we saw only too well shortly before the Election. I remember a whole day being devoted to the White Paper on leasehold enfranchisement. It could well have been devoted to Report and Third Reading of the Bill. Then, the Minister would have had his Bill and one source of anxiety in the industry would in that way have been removed.
Since then, the vital factor of confidence in the industry has not been helped by the rather unhappy statements which we were given on retrospection in the dying days of the last Parliament. The Minister referred to some of them today. The House will recall that all that we managed to extract from the Leader of the House, and it was given under pressure, was what the Minister told us this afternoon: that there would be no retrospective penal action.
We have had, therefore, the spectacle of the Government trying to use powers which they did not possess, based on a Bill which did not exist, in a Parliament which had been dissolved. Today, we are left with the situation in which a builder who began and completed his work without authorisation before the Bill gets Royal Assent cannot be prosecuted, but that another builder who started after 28th July without authorisation and has not finished by the time of Royal Assent may have to desist from what he is doing. It does not matter how far advanced he might be. We may find, I suppose, that people who have incurred enormous expense are left with, perhaps, only a roofless monument to Ministerial folly.
Incidentally, the Leader of the House told us when bailing out the right hon. Member for Leeds, West that the industry had broadly accepted the situation
in which it found itself as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's statement and the kind of statement that he was going to make. He said that the Government's purpose was to give guidance. It was, therefore, rather surprising to find in the Contract Journal of 17th March—I found this only a few days ago—the rather acid statement that:
Not having seen the latest figures resulting from Mr. Bowden's private opinion poll of building industry feelings, the House would not challenge this remark.
However, despite the absence of good cause, we are faced again with the Bill and the clumsy way in which it has been handled. Our charge has always been, just as the building industry's objection has always been, that we cannot view the Bill in isolation. It must be viewed along with the great nexus of controls which the Government have introduced. I need not enumerate them again this afternoon, because the Minister will have studied them recently.
This extensive system of control, simultaneously with the cut-back of local authority mortgages and the severe famine in building society mortgages, has, however, hit private enterprise extremely hard, and no one can be surprised by that. It has hit the housing sector immediately, as the drop in completions and starts of homes for sale has shown all too clearly. Other sectors, as the Minister has said, are affected less directly and at a later stage. That is what is so sinister about it. They will be affected so much later that we cannot really tell what will happen.
The former Minister showed that he understood that when he gave that unforgettable, unforgotten interview to the Builder of 20th November, 1964, because he said:
Controls of the sort which the Government seek to introduce now will not achieve their full effect until many months after their introduction.
That was certainly noted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), who was at that point not with us, when he wrote in the Building Industry News:
The full effects of the Government's savage restrictions on public and private construction work will not be felt immediately. The slowdown of the rate of public expenditure and the postponement of starting dates will certainly soon cause the sort of dislocation and
delays that put up costs. But the measures will only really begin to bite hard when the work now in progress, or for which contracts were signed before 28th July, has been completed. Then the repercussions will be severe and will last for a very long time.
On the former Second Reading, I deployed various statistics which sought to show the run-down in confidence in the building and construction industries. I recognise that statistics are rather dreary, but the House will appreciate that they are essential if one is to strip away the covering protection of Government propaganda and see what the situation really is.
The N.F.B.T.E. state-of-trade inquiry reveals that the building industry is still slowing down. Those were the National Federation's words of 18th April. The replies to its questionnaire indicated that order books and work in hand had generally continued to decline. In fact, the majority of firms which replied contemplated doing less work in 1966 than in 1965. I need hardly say how important that statement is.
The inquiry also found that the medium and small firms were basically the ones which were really being hit. I doubt whether that was ever the intention, but it is important for two reasons. Firstly, because it bears out what the Leader of the Opposition once called the Government's policy of "the survival of the fattest", and secondly, because it seems to me to be a classic example of the undesirable spread of effects of controls and restrictions far beyond the areas which they were intended to affect. The major purpose of this Bill is to control large firms which undertake large construction work not to start competing with smaller firms for smaller contracts. Of course, the little man is now suffering.
In the first nine months of 1965 the industrial production figure went up two points. In 1963-64—I gave this figure last time—it rose by nine points. We did not have the figure for the last quarter of 1965. I wonder whether the Minister could give us the figure for the whole year when he winds up the debate. I said last time that the building industry expanded under a Conservative Government at a record pace and its production record was second to none. I wish the right hon. Gentleman would examine what I did say—I do not often ask people to do that—on 8th December, when I read out the statistics, and possibly he will be good enough to ask his hon. Friends to stop talking about all the wasted years. This is something we are very tired of hearing about. [An HON. MEMBER: "So are we."] If one looked at the figures one would not think them wasted years.
I am afraid there is still a considerable lack of confidence in the building industry, and something must be done to put confidence back into the industry. I was glad to hear the other day that the right hon. Gentleman is to see the N.F.B.T.E. in the near future. I think he said that. Because unless something is done to put that confidence into the industry, he can forget all about the targets in the National Plan, and the national housing plan, modest though they are.
Let us look at the figures. I have some here, and a new figure came out today. After allowing for price changes and seasonal factors, the total orders obtained in the last quarter of 1965 were 10 per cent. lower than those obtained in the third quarter. Orders obtained in 1965 were lower than those obtained in 1964, £2,912 million as compared with £2,993, or a fall of about 5 per cent. after required adjustments. The January figure was somewhat better, but the February one, which only came out today, was £12 million worse.
That is the situation with which we are faced at the moment. Now there are certain new factors which have entered into the arena of diminished confidence. On Thursday we had the Minister of Housing bringing one of the Whitehall battles right to the surface. When he was asked, I understand, about the future of the N.B.A., his interesting reply was that this was a matter which embarrassed him considerably because he was still in dispute with his right hon. Friend the Minister who sits opposite to me at that Box today. So that the battle has come to the surface.
But it is a matter which is worrying the industry very considerably. It is worried, too, by the possibility that the whole conception of the administration of the licensing arrangements machinery may be transferred to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. The industry's doubts about this arise from the somewhat vague statement in the Labour Party's manfesto which made reference to this possibility. The industry is very concerned about it, and, as I understand it, the industry's fears stem really more from an instinct about the Minister rather than about his Department.
At the time of the Committee stage of the last Bill, I remember saying that we would be left to rely on the benevolence of the Minister—so much depended on administration that could not be set out in the Bill. I remember saying that good intentions are no substitute for clear legislation. We may find a different Department under an entirely different Minister in charge of these operations.
Building, which I have quoted earlier today, on 15th April, said:
During the Committee stage of the Building Control Bill, the reintroduction of which is expected to be announced in the Queen's Speech, Mr. Pannell gave every possible assurance that he and his officials would handle the licensing system sensibly; that it would be a kind of fingertip control envisaged in a recent leading article in Building.
It added, rather naughtily:
It is much more difficulty to imagine Mr. Crossman displaying such delicacy, precision and consideration. Already the Construction Industry Training Board is responsible to the Minister of Labour and the two little Neddies to Mr. George Brown's Department of Economic Affairs, so we trust that Mr. Prentice will stoutly resist a severe encroachment on the responsibilities of his Ministry.
Of course, if I can help him in any way I shall be only too delighted to do so.
Then there is a story about the N.B.A. It is also suggested in some quarters that the research and development work carried on under Sir Donald Gibson and also the Agreement Board may be transferred to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Well, I know the industry would very much regret such a happening. It is thought, rightly or wrongly, that the Ministry of Public Building and Works is a somewhat non-political Ministry as set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hexham, was extremely helpful to the industry, and the industry would not wish to see it stripped of its powers.
There are certain points to which I would like an answer from the Minister. These are more detailed points. Firstly, in regard to the retrospective provisions, is there not still need for a clear statement—I do not know whether, on reflection, and after reading what the right hon. Gentleman said today that will seem a clear statement of the position—but a clear statement as to the position of the building owner, professional agents and the contractor who started work of a licenseable kind after 28th July, 1965? We know that there will be no legal sanction against them; but there is this point if the work is not completed: if they have taken legal advice and possibly been given wrong legal advice, will this help them, possibly, in their attempts to get licences from the Minister? Will it help them with their applications?
Secondly, and this I regard as important, will the Minister produce, or consider producing, an annual report of what has been happening in the way of licensing and of the kind of licensing—of the type and whereabouts of licences—and will he consider producing what may be called a bulletin of licence—that is, if he is imposing conditions as to costs and types of materials and so on? This is the kind of thing which is needed as a guide to the industry and to people contemplating looking for licences.
It might be thought, for instance, that the Minister was at some time or another trying in this way to promote industrial building. To be told this would be a guide to possible applicants, and it would save time and money from being wasted in planning work for which they were unlikely to get licences.
The third point is this, will the Minister be prepared to discuss applications with applicants and tell them, possibly, that if they wish to vary their applications in some way or another—for instance, not using copper or some other material which may be in short supply or be particularly expensive at that time—then the licence may be granted? I think that this, again, would be a help to the industry, and it is a matter which should be considered.
Fourthly, will he issue a plain man's guide to the provisions of the Act? Would he also consider including a guide on all the controls and on the interaction of one with another. That would be a considerable help.
It appears from the new Clause 1(3) that licences are not transferable. I should like to know what the effect will be on the building owner who, being a company, has been taken over, or whose company is reorganised in some way or another. Does that mean that there may possibly be further delay in obtaining a licence or, indeed, in applying for a licence? Need there be delay there?
Then it seems to me that in retaining the power under Clause 8(1, c) to bring laboratories and warehouses back into control is hardly in keeping with the times, or with the Prime Minister's one time Op-Art vision of "forging a new Britain in the white heat of the scientific revolution." And the Queen's Speech itself unmasks the remarkable fact that science is to go on. Perhaps these points could be looked at again. We shall return to them in Committee.
This is a bad Bill. To say that it is not as bad as it was is no justification for us not voting against it tonight. We are told that it affects only 7 per cent. of the whole of the construction industry, and that that amount will be further whittled away when we come to pass legislation dealing with the development areas. There is no doubt that it is a smaller Bill than the last one, but the argument that it is only a small one is not an argument to condone what is really an illegitimate conception. We have here a Bill which is irrelevant to social needs, which is really an attempt by the Government to operate retrospectively a building licensing system without the prior consent of Parliament, and we must take this very seriously indeed. For this reason, and others which I have advanced, I have no hesitation in asking my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the Bill tonight.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark). I was impressed by the long roll of organisations which he listed in support of his conclusions, including the N.F.B.T.E. The only sad fact about it is that he omitted to mention any support from the people who do the work in the construction industry, represented by the trade unions of this country, and I hope to remedy that defect during my speech.
I hesitate to make a maiden speech on this subject because I feel so keenly about it, and I realise that there are certain traditions of the House which demand that a maiden speaker keeps within the bounds of, shall we say, respectability, and I realise that if I do not I shall be transgressing the fine reputation which my predecessor Percy Holman had in this House. During his 21 years here he earned a reputation for almost continual kindness and courtesy, and in paying him a tribute for those characteristics I like to think that this is not merely a token tribute, but something which I can say on behalf of the whole House to a man who diligently served it for more than 21 years.
Percy Holman represented an area which I am proud to represent now, Bethnal Green and South Hackney, which is inhabited by what some misguided people call typical East-Enders. There is nothing typical about East-Enders. In this area, persecuted religious and political minorities from all over the world have found a warm and hospitable welcome which has been denied them in other parts of the country. There is, therefore, nothing typical about the generosity of character which I have found there. The tolerance to be found in the East End of London is something to be experienced.
It was suggested to me that the greatest example of tolerance which the East-Enders of London had shown in the last century was to allow themselves to be represented in this House by a man with an accent like mine! My accent is misleading. I was born in Yorkshire, and I spent the first six years of my life there. Fortunately, or otherwise, I was the son of a skilled building craftsman who could obtain no work in Yorkshire and gradually drifted through the North until he managed to obtain a seasonal job in Scotland, and I obtained a permanent accent. I mention this not because I think the House is interested in my autobiography, or even that I am capable of writing it at this stage, but to show the criminal waste of building craftsmen at a time when the people of this country desperately needed homes, and when it was necessary to replace obsolete accommodation. This waste is something which, though not on the same scale, could be repeated unless we support the Bill tonight.
Let me try to tell hon. Gentlemen opposite about the industry which we are discussing. Very often we hear people opposing any kind of Government planning or legislation for an industry because they say that the industry is well organised and co-ordinated and can control itself. The building industry lacks almost any crystallisation of capital and control, and this fact must be recognised. There are 70,000 individual employing agencies in the construction industry. This is bad enough, but we now have a number of what the unions term "pirates" in the industry, the labour-only sub-contractors, who employ about 4 men apiece. There are 50,000 of them in the country, which means that there are 120,000 employing agencies all competing with each other for labour.
There is no elasticity of labour supply in the construction industry at this time, and although some people have said that last year was something of a recess for the industry, during most of the year there was a net deficit of craftsmen, and I had building employers crying on my shoulders asking me to get them craftsmen—an extremely uncomfortable process for me. If we expand the building programme we as a House will be responsible if, with the restricted labour supply which exists at the moment, we find that we are getting less efficiency than we could get by applying the safety valve which the Minister is proposing.
I find this question of brick supply rather a peculiar one. Hon. Gentlemen opposite ask about the number of bricks in stock with tragedy in their voices, and then express pleasure when they realise that there are more bricks than usual in stock. During the severe winter of 1962-63 brickyards in this country had a stockpile of more than 912 million bricks, but within a few weeks of better weather—and in this country that means that the rainfall is not as high as it normally is—those bricks were eaten up, and it is common history that we ran into a brick shortage. As research officer of the N.F.B.T.O. I was asked by bricklayers in Scotland to find them jobs. They were out of work because of a lack of co-ordination of supplies and labour, at a time when the people of this country required homes. We had, therefore, gone full circle in the 30 years since my father experienced this kind of thing. It is not a question whether we on these benches can afford this situation. The question is whether the House can afford to allow an overload in an industry which is not capable of meeting it.
The point at issue is not simply and solely that all the men are employed. The latest statistics issued by the Ministry of Labour show that, on average, they are also working 50 hours a week. For some reason or other some people expect building workers to be rather inhuman, but I suggest that we cannot expect them to work very much longer hours. If there is not a 7 per cent. control over the programme, and if we insist on a free and open market, it is the people who are represented by the Opposition benches who will suffer in the first instance, because the wage rate will escalate from the present 40 to 80 per cent. above the basic rate.
Building workers will be attracted from one site to another. There will be no chance of building up special work teams to construct houses or anything else. Building workers will be peripatetic rather than productive. Is that what hon. Gentlemen opposite want? It is certainly not what the unions want. They want the activities of their members devoted to the common good, and they believe that the industry needs some sort of a safety valve to do that. The Bill provides a safety valve of 7 per cent. If I were asked how the ills of the building industry could best be rectified I would propose complete social ownership. However, I have been told not to express that point of view today, because apparently it is a controverial subject in the House.
I think that I have already said it. In the absence of anything else, however, I am telling the Opposition with complete sincerity, as one who has studied the industry and has friends among the employers—strange as it may seem—that there should be some control so that the industry simply does not blow up due to overloading. If we allowed this industry to suffer a completely free and open market the wage rate would escalate—and I am sure that hon. Member opposite do not want that—the wage drift would escalate, and materials will also rise in price. Would anybody on either side of the House be glad to face an irate prospective owner-occupier who demands to know why his house is taking longer to build and is costing more?
Since I came to the House several people, probably assuming me to be the spokesman of the construction industry, or its main defender, have asked me, "Why does it take over a year to build a council house?" It does not take over a year to build a municipal house, or any other kind of house, if we judge the situation purely from the physical aspect. It can be built in three or four months. But there are people—perhaps not Members of Parliament who are in a privileged class—who, after asking a builder to erect a house for them, find that nothing happens for three or four months and that the green grass remains undisturbed. They then pester their builders, who send two or three men to dig a trench, misleading the poor clients into thinking that something is happening.
This is why it will take longer to build houses the greater the overloading there is on the industry—because builders will accept every item of work they can possibly get. They will try to spread even more thinly a labour force which is completely restricted. We can do a great number of things by offering extra pay, but we cannot create a building craftsman overnight. If I could have done that I could have made a small fortune last year, when some people said that there was a recession in the industry but when, in fact, the industry was completely overstretched.
I therefore support the proposals contained in the Bill. I emphasise that the 7 per cent. is purely a safety valve; it is not the application of doctrinaire principles—even though I may be in favour of applying doctrinaire principles to the industry. I would ask those who say that the Bill is a doctrinaire Measure whether it is not more doctrinaire to allow the industry to become completely overloaded, in the interests of a free market, so that housebuilding times are extended and costs escalate. Is not that more doctrinaire than the idea of applying a 7 per cent. safety valve to the industry? If I were merely expressing my individual support for the Bill it might be regarded as quite insignificant, but I am speaking on behalf of our 20 building unions, which were not mentioned by the Opposition but which want to see the energies and activities of their members devoted to the common good rather than to speculative profit.
We support the Bill in its general principle not because we believe it to be the application of doctrinaire legislation, but because we believe that it will make the industry in general more efficient and help us more easily to satisfy those of our people who urgently require accommodation.
It is always a pleasure for a back bencher to follow a maiden speaker. It is customary in this House for the back bencher on the opposite side of the House to pay a compliment, which is sometimes not as justly deserved as it should be, to the previous speaker. I can say with all sincerity that we have heard a fine maiden speech. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Hilton) upon making such a speech without a note. It is clear that he has a good knowledge of the building industry.
I must declare an interest, in that I have a knowledge of the building industry, acquired over about 40 years. The hon. Member defends the Bill, and in doing so says that it is not a doctrinaire Measure. I cannot agree. It brings in doctrinaire principles. He says that if we have a safety valve of 7 per cent. in the building industry everything will be all right, and he suggests that the Bill provides that safety valve. The value of a safety valve depends on whose hand is on it. What hon. Members on this side of the House object to is the fact that the cold hand of Whitehall is on the safety valve—and Whitehall does not possess a great deal of intimate knowledge of the building industry.
The hon. Member seems to think that the House should be surprised that he has a number of friends among building employers. I have a number of friends among the operatives and in the unions. In fact, at one time Dick Coppock, whom the hon. Member will remember, was a very great friend of mine. We had many arguments and disagreements, but in spite of them we became very close friends, because we respected each other's point of view. Incidentally, I also congratulate the Minister on his maiden speech. It is a little unusual for a Minister to make a maiden speech on such an old hack as this Bill—because it had been right through the Committee stage.
The Minister thought that the Bill should have a quick passage. It should have a much quicker passage than the previous Measure, because a great deal of the nonsense which was written into the first Bill has now been eliminated. If the previous Minister had taken our advice on the first day in Committee and come to an agreement with us, as I asked him to do, to limit the amount by which he could reduce a licence to £50,000, instead of trying to fight several Committee days on the basis that it could go down even to £10, we would have made much better progress, and the Bill might have been an Act by now.
In introducing the Bill the Minister talked about the need for control. He made it clear that what worried him and his Department—although the previous Minister did not let this cat out of the bag quite so clearly—was that if there were a restriction on the public sector there must also be a restriction on the private sector. That is doctrinaire policy, and is typical Socialism. It puts forward the proposition that if one person cannot have it nobody else can. In replying to the Minister my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) made it clear that many items which are restricted by the Bill do not contribute towards building houses.
The hon. Member for Bethnal Green told us about his father's having to go from Yorkshire to Scotland in order to obtain employment, and explained his very pleasant accent as being due to that unhappy event. It is quite unusual in the building industry for people to go north. We generally find that people come from the north to work down here. I hope the hon. Member appreciates that this Bill will not solve those sorts of problems, because it only restricts; it does not say that work shall be done in Yorkshire because there is an excess of supply in Yorkshire. All it says is "Thou shalt not."
The hon. Gentleman referred to the excess supply of bricks and I will not develop that point now. He quite rightly said that in the very severe winter of 1963 there were over 900 million bricks in stock. That was an act of God, and a regrettable one, but we do not want an act of government to make the acts of nature even worse.
The hon. Member was interrupted by his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short). I would only warn him that in these debates the hon. Lady is always very vocal. I hope that he does not make my mistake of being led astray by some of her interruptions, as they are always away from the point.
We have to ask, "Is this Bill necessary?" In the Second Reading debate on the previous Bill on 8th December, I suggested that the industry was not overheated but that certain bearings were overheated, and that what was needed was some type of licensing that would take the overheating out of a section or sections. I said that if we want to control some Type of production it is better to control those materials that are in short supply rather than have overall control. If there is a shortage of a certain skill or craft, it is better to restrict its use rather than put a blanket of loss of confidence over the whole industry.
I said that what was needed was a Measure that would make it illegal to use short supply materials or labour on anything but essential projects. The advantage of that would appeal, I am sure, to the hon. Member for Bethnal Green because he must, with his great knowledge of the industry, realise that the industry does not become overheated from start to finish, from the north of Scotland to the south of England. It does not become overheated in each individual trade. People are often unemployed in the building industry because there is a bottleneck in the supply of materials or a scarcity of labour.
My proposal, which I wish the Minister had adopted, was that we should not use those types of labour and material in short supply for anything but essential work. That would have the further effect of encouraging substitute materials to be manufactured, it would encourage other crafts to be introduced, and it would encourage designs which required only the type of labour that could be trained for that type of work. The hon. Member will appreciate that if we used that sort of control we would get a more even distribution over the whole industry, but this idea of 7 per cent.—the idea that one can build a bingo hall in Glasgow but cannot build a nursing home in Folkestone—does not make sense to us on this side.
I have compared the new Bill with the former Measure and it is extremely interesting to see what has been altered. The Minister has already explained, or tried to explain, why in Clause 1(1) the Government have reintroduced alterations. I still say that his arguments are not well founded. The Bill covers a two-year period. How on earth can anyone sort out over that period the amount of money that has been spent separately on maintenance and alterations in order to come to a decision? They did not know at the time that the figures had to be kept separately, and so could now quite innocently be committing an offence. That is not very likely when the figure is £100,000, but would be more likely with a lower sum.
Subsection (3) of Clause 1 is new, and: quite clearly states:
(3) Any licence under this Act in respect of any work shall be issued to the person at whose expense the work is to be carried out, and the licence shall operate to authorise only work carried out at the expense of that person.
My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry asked whether a licence automatically transfers when one firm amalgamates with another? I would further ask: what happens if the man who has the licence dies? There is then no longer a licence. Is the work then being carried on illegally? Will his heirs automatically go to gaol because they have been left a building with no licence attaching to it? This is an important consideration, and should be answered.
There is the further position of two adjoining factories merging. Each, separately, might be carrying out £55,000 or £60,000 worth of building work, but when they unite, by a forced or a willing marriage, they might unwittingly be committing an offence. Will the Minister give an assurance that that would not be a criminal offence.
The other new subsections in Clause 1 are fairly clear, but I think that Clause 2(4,b) will need to be amended in Committee.
This is to be a short debate, and I promised I would speak for only a very short time. I still contend that this Bill is unnecessary and that it is, in itself, taking confidence from the industry. A much more simple Measure could have achieved what the Minister wanted and the most retrograde fact is that it is permanent legislation. If ever there were a clear admission by the Socialist Government that they expect to keep the country in crisis for the whole of their time in office it is the introduction, as one of their first Bills in a new Parliament, of a Bill imposing building controls for all time. Are we to accept that they themselves, after a fortnight of a new Parliament, admit that they will make such a hash of our economy that we—one of the few free nations of the world, one of the free democracies that have building licensing—will have to live for all time with building controls? I can only think that they have no confidence in the future.
I first congratulate my right hon. Friend on making his first speech as the Minister and presenting his first Bill. I pay tribute to his predecessor for the work he did for the building industry, which has allowed us to reach this stage unalarmed by a shortage of building materials.
We have had some highly contentious speeches from the Opposition. It ill-behoves either the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) or the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) to talk about the need to get this Bill through with speed. When we started the Committee stage of the Bill in the last Parliament we spent a whole day discussing whether or not we should meet the following week. We spent that whole day simply because hon. Members opposite were piqued about being called together before Christmas. There were 47 pages in the OFFICIAL REPORT of speeches dealing with whether or not we should meet in the next week.
When we met the following week, we spent most of the time discussing an Amendment by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe suggesting that we should stand the Bill on its head and discuss Clause 8 before discussing Clauses 1 to 7.
The hon. Lady is the last person from under whose feet I should wish to pull the carpet, but not only did the Minister say at the end of that debate that we had dealt with the matter with some despatch, but he caused the Committee to be adjourned before the usual time.
Be that as it may, we wasted a great deal of time on that debate. I hope that this time we shall get the Bill through quickly although I feel, as did my right hon. Friend, that when there has been a General Election which has caused Bills to be lost and the same party has been returned to Government determined to carry on with those Bills, it ought not to be beyond the wit of the House to find some machinery whereby the whole process does not have to be gone through again.
It seems that the Opposition is still unaware of the basic tenets of the Bill. Hon. Members opposite still tell the House that they do not understand why it has been brought forward. We had from the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe precisely the same speech as he made upon Second Reading last time, in which he urged the Minister not to embark on the control of materials and labour in the way in which he is doing, but only to be concerned with the rationing of materials. It would cause a great deal of alarm throughout the industry if my right hon. Friend accepted the hon. Member's advice. I am glad that he is not going to do so.
As my right hon. Friend said, the Bill is to regulate starting dates and to get a major control and a balance between supply and demand in the industry. Look at the demands to be made on the industry by the Government and the planned proposals before the nation in the National Plan. There are proposals to reach at least half a million houses per annum. I believe we can do much better than that. There are proposals for increased school and other educational building, for hospital building—a field grossly neglected by the Opposition when they were in Government—and the demands for increased road building. It is quite clear that we have to introduce this Bill if the labour force and materials are to be available for what we believe to he building priorities in the interests of the whole nation.
We have to adjust the demands on the construction industry with its capacity. The situation which was allowed to continue for far too long when the party opposite was in power was a social scandal. We saw buildings such as motor-car showrooms, new "pubs", prestige office blocks and so on being put up. Those sort of buildings were allowed to go on unhibited and to siphon off money, men and materials to the detriment of building which was socially necessary and infinitely more desirable.
The hon. Lady has spoken of siphoning off money, men and materials, but how does she think that money which was to be spent on motor-car showrooms will necessarily be spent on housing?
The hon. Member must possess his soul in patience and remain seated on the bench. I shall not give way to him again. Unnecessary expenditure of money has to come from somewhere. If it is taken out of the economy that is to the detriment of building which is needed and it adds to the cost of goods which are sold. The result has been an over-expanded industry and an over-heated economy. What is serious to hon. Members on this side of the House, if it does not seem serious to hon. Members opposite—and it should—is that the building of a house by a local authority took as long as 18 months. That is an absolute scandal. But it happened because men were put to work on more profitable prestige jobs. Many of those prestige jobs are standing empty today, four or five years after they were built.
This shows the stupidity and incompetence of the Opposition, when they were in power, to put the nations affairs in order. The nation is paying dearly for the Tory Party's acceptance of "Powellism", the sterile doctrine of the anti-social anti-planners.
These are some of the problems which the Bill has to tackle. The Bill will affect about 7 per cent. of the construction industry. It will apply, naturally, to new building and to alterations. Hon. Members opposite seem unable to appreciate the fact that alterations take men and materials and that those men and materials form the key to this problem. Projects in the private sector costing less than £100,000 will not be affected. Housing will not be affected, and industrial buildings and buildings needed for scientific research work will be excluded from the control of the Bill.
My right hon. Friend will be able to keep work flowing through the pipeline so that alongside the tremendous impetus coming from local authorities, public bodies of all kinds and from the nationalised industries, there will be a steady flow of work by private enterprise to keep demand and capacity in line with each other. My right hon. Friend's predecessor made clear that prospective clients will be able to ascertain from the Minister in advance whether their schemes are likely to receive his approval. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will do everything he can to help the building industry and to remove uncertainty about starting dates. He is an eminently reasonable man and I am sure that he will deal with them fairly, intelligently and quickly.
I was surprised that the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe did not raise the question of the attitude of architects in his speech today, as he did so in Committee. I am sure my right hon. Friend will be glad to know that the Bill is welcomed by architects and surveyors.
I have given way and I want to get on with my speech. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be glad to see a letter which I shall be pleased to show him. It is from an asociation representing architects and surveyors. It says that the general consensus of opinion among building surveyors seems to be that the Bill will not materially affect their practice, but that it will do a service to the building industry because it will generate more interest in high priority building. So they are on the side of my right hon. Friend.
The architects believe that the Bill would not affect their work significantly, except for those who have specialised in jobs costing more than £100,000. Those architects are certainly in a position to diversify the kind of work they do. There will be plenty of work for achitects and surveyors and the construction industry and there is no need for them to feel that they will be adversely affected.
I raise two points which I think are germane to this problem. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to deal with them in his reply. There is the danger that possibly co-ordinated development of town centres could be adversely affected by the Bill where there is a composite scheme—this could affect either a private enterprise or a local authority scheme—of houses, shops and offices in the same development where some parts of the scheme may not be licensed under the Bill. This might create a kind of unbalance. I believe architects would like to have reassurance on this point.
Then there is the question of precisely what constitutes a development district under Clause 4. Perhaps my hon. Friend would say a few words about the south-east region in this respect, because we have been concerned about the drift to the South-East and the overheating of the economy generally and of the building industry in particular in this part of the country.
It is clear that architects and surveyors are behind the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Hilton), who made such an impressive maiden speech, made it quite clear that the building workers are behind the Bill. So it does not look as though anyone is against the Bill, except perhaps for a few hon. Members opposite.
One of the major problems is the question of labour supply. There is the problem of how to increase productivity and output in the building industry. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is very concerned with the question of encouraging far greater use of industrialised building systems. The application of building research is also absolutely essential. It is scandalous that it should take so long, sometimes 15 to 20 years, for the results of research to be applied in the construction industry.
The problem of labour is what the Bill is intended to tackle, in that it will take labour away from unnecessary prestige, luxury jobs and make labour available for the jobs which we believe are important. There are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green said, over 50,000 labour-only sub-contractors in the industry today. They handle about one-fifth to one-sixth of the total building force. There are grave dangers in the development of this. People who buy privately built houses run the risk of buying a shoddy job because of the activities of labour-only sub-contractors. This is a very grave problem. Now that the practice is spreading into the civil engineering industry it means that the problems of insecure or unsafe buildings can affect a very large section of the population. Besides this, they avoid P.A.Y.E., National Insurance contributions and membership of the union. Fringe benefits are denied them, as is insurance against accident and death on the job. All my right hon. Friends who are concerned with this should take action upon it.
In view of the problem of the productivity of housing, which the Bill is intended to go some way to meet, I suggest that my right hon. Friend the Minister should look very urgently at the terms of reference of the National Building Agency. If in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government he could extend that Agency's terms of reference to the task of building dwellings all over the country—houses for rent—as indeed his French opposite number is doing with great success, then not only would he be able to ensure continuity of contracts, but he would be able to balance any fortuitous fall in the level of building outside his own control. It is vital that we should make some urgent progress which would give us some kind of publicly-owned building industry. I know that the Agency is well able to undertake this, provided that we can enlarge it and give it the men and the tools to carry out the job.
My right hon. Friend would then be able to have a look at another project on which I do not look very kindly; that is the so-called research organisation within his Department. This should be liquidated because it is an absolutely pointless set-up. It was set up by the last Conservative Minister of Public Building and Works, the present right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). He did this in order to be one up on his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), who was then Minister of Housing and Local Government. This is a completely unnecessary and irresponsible waste of public funds. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider abolishing this organisation and extending the powers of the National Building Agency, with a view to increasing the productivity of the construction industry as a whole and producing the houses we so urgently need.
The Bill is a first step in a series of what I hope will be constructive and worth-while Bills to increase the productivity of the building industry. I hope that we shall be supported by right hon. and hon. Members opposite in Standing Committee and thereafter in seeking to get the Bill through the machinery of the House as quickly as possible.
I shall not rehearse all the arguments which were used in the previous Second Reading debate last December. I want to remind the House merely that the Bill has the general support of the Liberal Party, because it appears to us that it is a genuine attempt to concentrate the resources of the building industry on the socially most valuable projects, although in that Second Reading debate my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) made a number of Committee points to which he hoped that it might be possible for us to return.
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) touched me on a rather sore point, because we were not invited to nominate anyone to the Standing Committee, but perhaps he would have a word with his right hon. Friends so that a place can be made for us on the Standing Committee on this occasion. Then I should be very happy to give him the benefit of my advice and to introduce some of the Amendments which we mentioned last time.
As the hon. Gentleman will realise, if we had not dissolved when we did it would have been possible on Report for us to have tabled the Amendments of which we spoke, if they had not been dealt with before. I hope that with the hon. Gentleman's co-operation we shall be able to get a Member on to the Standing Committee which will deal with the Bill. I shall be only too delighted, if the hon. Gentleman will use his influence with his Chief Whip to see that that happens.
Would the hon. Gentleman refer to the statement of the leader of his party in the last Parliament—8th March, 1966. column 1922—that the Government should drop the whole project?
My right hon. Friend made it quite clear that, although we were in support of the Bill, we utterly deplored retrospective action taken over a Dissolution, which one newspaper called "the new constitutional horror". The hon. Gentleman must not attempt to distract me from the thread of my speech, or I shall take a great deal longer.
I have not changed my opinion on that subject. I still think that, in spite of everything the Minister said this afternoon, private Members must protest against the new and dangerous precedent which was set by the last Government in carrying retrospection over a Dissolution, because it could be carried to almost unimaginable lengths. Immediately before a Dissolution statements in large numbers could be made by Government spokesmen, which, they would say, would have the force of legislation behind them assuming that their party was returned to power. Therefore, during an election period nobody would know exactly where he stood until after polling day, when he would know whether that particular party had been returned.
So I do not retract a word of what was said on that occasion by my right hon. Friend, but my right hon. Friend was not speaking of the merits of the Bill itself. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT for the previous day, when my right hon. Friend made a speech after the then Minister of Public Building and Works had made a statement in the House, he will find that my right hon. Friend said right at the beginning of his remarks that we supported the general principles of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Londonderry quoted something that the Builder had said about the former Minister, about his delicate touch and fingertip control. I only wish the former Minister had been here to listen to that, because I do not think that these epithets have ever been applied to him before. I very much hope that the present Minister will also have this delicate touch and fingertip control in applying the provisions of this Bill once it reaches the Statute Book.
I do not think, however, that the hon. Gentleman was quite fair when he said that we were anticipating future crises. What we are trying to do is to prevent future crises from occurring, by taking action in good time to prevent the overloading of the building industry, which has been a recurrent feature of all the economic crises that we have had since the war. Therefore, I entirely agree with the principles on which this Bill is based.
I do not agree, on the other hand, with some of the criticisms made by newspapers to the effect that it will be very difficult to distinguish between the projects that ought to be allowed permission and those that ought to be refused permission under the powers conferred by this Bill. I noticed that the hon. Gentleman did not make this point this afternoon It must be borne in mind that if the figures given by the previous Minister are correct, we are only talking about 500 projects per annum worth £170 million, and this is a very small fraction of the industry's total output, amounting to only about 7 per cent. I should be interested if the Minister, in winding up, could tell the House whether the figures given by the previous Minister have been borne out in practice. The industry has been submitting licence applications to his Department since 27th July and he ought to be able to tell us whether the estimate of 500 projects valued at £170 million has been borne out.
The other thing that we particularly like about the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness mentioned on the last occasion—this again does not seem to be appreciated by the Conservative Opposition—is that the development areas are totally exempt. Therefore, we hope that this will encourage the more uniform use of resources in the building industry as well as a flow of wealth into the areas concerned.
I want to make only two brief points which have occurred to us since the Bill last had its Second Reading. One of them I touched upon in an intervention in the Minister's speech. I do not think he has answered it very satisfactorily. There is some doubt about what will happen to projects with an estimated cost of less than £100,000 which then suffer from cost escalation, either of wages or materials, so that the final bill presented to the developer is over the limit mentioned in the Bill. Clause 2 states:
Work shall be exempt from control under this Act if
That must mean the final bill which the developer has to pay, and not the amount that is shown on the quantity surveyor's bills of quantities when the estimates are placed before the developer. Therefore, we could have a very difficult situation arising in which a developer has a project which is going to cost £95,000, let us say for the sake of argument, and then as a result of cost escalation during the course of the construction, it finishes up at £105,000.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, and I am obliged to him for giving way. He will recall—I am not suggesting that this is a complete answer to his point—that we extracted from the Government in Committee the information that there would be a tolerance of about 5 per cent., I believe.
If this was extracted from the Minister, it should be written into the Bill. It should be made quite clear, either in Clause 2 or by some other means, that if people in good faith enter into a contract of a value of less than £100,000, then they will not be penalised if, through no fault of their own, the final bill amounts to more than the limit specified in the Bill.
The reason that I raised this matter at the point that I did raise it in the Minister's speech is that he said that no action would be taken against people who started work since 27th July last when the Chancellor's announcement was first made. I believe that many of these people will be in the position that I described after this Bill gets on to the Statute Book. They may suddenly discover that, as a result of the increase in cost, which the right hon. Gentleman knows has taken place during the past 12 months, they will be faced with a final bill of a good deal more than 5 per cent. over the theoretical limit in the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman has, to some extent, gone on to the point that I was going to put to him just now, that this is of particular importance when we are concerned with contracts for projects under course of construction. Will not the hon. Gentleman agree that it has been made clear in Committee that the criminal offence is created the moment a single brick is laid which takes it over the minimum £100,000? If a person starts without a licence and goes over that limit as a result of escalation, he is in danger of committing a criminal offence without prior knowledge.
Yes, he started in perfectly good faith thinking that the project would cost less than £100,000. We want not only an assurance on this but an assurance that an Amendment will be written into the Bill safeguarding these people from the possibility of criminal prosecution.
There is one other point that is causing us anxiety. There is a new feature in the situation which has arisen since last December—the danger that the Bill may achieve its effect by taking the heat off the construction industry while, at the same time, the Government's general credit restriction policy will prevent the resources of the industry from being properly redeployed into the housing sector. Looking at the housing summaries for the first two months of this year, one finds that the number of completions is 4,000 down on the equivalent months in 1965, and the reduction has occurred in both the private and local authority housing sectors. The figures of local authority housing completions are down by 1,100 in the first two months of this year compared with 1965, and in the private sector the figures are down by 3,500.
As regards private housing, the Building Societies Association's figures published last week show that although there was a record inflow of funds amounting to £244 million in the first quarter of the year, the societies were able to lend on only 110,000 properties as compared with 115,000 in the final quarter of 1965, a decrease of 5,000 properties, because of the continual increase in house prices in that quarter. Thus the fall in local authority completions, although smaller, is an even more serious matter because it indicates that the measures taken so far to increase council house building, such as the Housing Subsidies Bill, are not yet having the desired effect.
Therefore, I emphasise to the Government that their policy of restricting certain inessential private building, to which we are going to give approval in this Bill, makes sense only if it is accompanied by further measures to stimulate house building. It would be out of order for me to discuss it in detail, but I think we are entitled to assurances from the Government on this question before the end of the debate.
I should like to pursue the last point raised by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). I agree with him that this Bill can be seen to make sense only if it is taken as part of the general context, not just dealing with the general housing situation but a positive planning and programming measure to deal with the whole social field of building construction in this country. It is for this reason that I welcome the Bill so far as it goes. My regret is that I do not feel it goes far enough, and we shall have to take up certain points with which it does not deal as time goes on.
I hope the Minister and his collegues in other Departments will concern themselves with what I believe to be a very serious situation administratively at Government level which has been developing for some years. That is the failure for many years to plan and programme public building works throughout the whole of the field of local government and national Government. We see little sign yet of an integration of administrative policy as between, for example, the construction of clinics, of hospitals, of schools and of housing, all of which are under the oversight of different Ministries, whichever may be the local authorities undertaking or planning these projects. We see little sign of an effort to fit these together at a fairly local level according to a proper programming of our resources.
In so far as the Bill begins to establish a limited control over the activities of the building industry in the private sector, much more limited than it has been for many years over the building activities of local authorities and Government and other public authorities, we must all give it a welcome while at the same time putting certain queries. It cannot be denied that, if people want schools, clinics and homes built in the areas which call for a stepping up of this kind of activity, something must be done to bring under control the wide-ranging activities of the private sector which reflects no sense of priority or social need within the context of all our building resources.
In the borough where I live, part of which I represent in this House, there are still standing empty many thousands of square feet of office accommodation. It has been empty for years. In London today office projects are still being started. The control which we imposed, which I welcomed at the time in November, 1964, has not been effective enough, and I fear that this Bill will not be effective enough. No one denies that the action announced by the First Secretary of State within weeks of our coming into office in the last Parliament was right, but it was not drastic enough. My fear is that the same will apply to this Bill.
I regret very much that efforts to bring the control limit down, as was suggested earlier in the debate, into the region of £10,000, £15,000 or £20,000 were unsuccessful. It is sheer nonsense to tell a local authority, as happened recently in my district, that it must not spend more than £95,000 in the coming year on minor capital works for all its schools—we have plenty of ancient ones in my district—while at the same time allowing a £56,000 ballroom to be built, which will be converted into a bingo hall later, or allowing, not far from the same spot, a new floor to be put on the top of a motor cycle depôt. That motor cycle depôt does flourishing business, and I have no doubt that it needs more room, but which is more important—having some indoor toilets put into our schools or allowing that extra floor to be put on at a cost of about £8,000? Which is more important to the community? This is the point which will be missed.
Not very far from here, there are new "pubs" being built which will not cost anything like £100,000. But which is more important—having better schools built in this part of Westminster and having better clinics and better swimming pools here and elsewhere or allowing projects of that kind which will come well under the £100,000 limit or, in many cases, under the other limit mentioned in the Bill, the figure of £50,000 which can be applied if the Minister so decides, subject to Parliament?
These are the aims towards which we must work. The Bill takes one short step, as did the Control of Office Development Bill in the last Parliament, also a welcome move, as was the First Secretary of State's announcement in November, 1964, which preceded it. But these must be seen only as first steps, negative steps, if one likes, towards building up more positive administrative control as a matter of policy over how we use our building resources for the public good. We are not getting them used in the right way. We are allowing things to be done in our community which, desirable as they may be, are not as important as the things which are being left undone and which we are unlikely to see being done for many years, because so much of our resources in the building industry are devoted elsewhere than to such sectors of first priority and social need as those to which I have referred.
I do not know, and I do not pretend to know, what the answers are to the problem of integrating administrative policy, but there is a definite need. I have outlined the problem briefly, and I hope that, after this Bill has become law, the Minister will be in close consultation with his colleagues in the Government who have a direct responsibility for major building works throughout the country in order to see whether something much more effective can be done.
What so often concerns me is that a general financial weapon is used to control the expenditure of, for example, local authorities in a variety of ways which has no real relationship to actual building resources in the region or locality concerned. I can understand it to a certain extent if a Government Department says that only so much must be spent in the next year on minor capital works in a given area, but I can fully understand it only if it is known, and we can be assured, that that figure and the figures applied in all local education authority areas are based upon a knowledge of the resources available in any area.
I see precious little evidence of this. I saw precious little evidence of it under the last Government and, I confess, I have seen precious little evidence of it forthcoming under the present Government, certainly from the standpoint of administrative controls. With housing it does not arise so much because, as has been said, in so far as local authorities can extend their housing programmes and enlarge them, the Minister will welcome this and give them the go-ahead to expand their activities.
There is another direct relationship between the point I am making and the very limited nature of the step now proposed under the Bill. It has been said, apparently with some pleasure—the hon. Member for Orpington made the point—that the develpment areas are excluded from the Bill. Why should they be? Why should a bingo hall be built in place of a new school or a new classroom? The Bill should be extended to the development areas. We should not be frightened by the Opposition's sneering at us for imposing controls. We do not wish to impose control for control's sake. I have had many years in local government, and it has sickened me, as it has sickened thousands of people of all parties, to see the waste which has gone on in the building industry, to see the bingo halls, the "pubs" and the car showrooms being built while we could not have indoor toilets installed in our schools.
I want the Government to take much more effective action. This is my message today, and I make no more than these two points. First, there must be a much closer study of the method of controlling public building works and a much closer integration of the administrative controls which exist as between different Government Departments in relation to the local authorities and other public authorities. Second, there must be a much greater desire to take more drastic action to bring under control expenditure of resources on relatively unnecessary building works so long as we cannot get our schools built or modernised and so long as we cannot get the hospitals, clinics and health centres, not to speak of housing, constructed in this country.
There is nothing to be ashamed of here. I am prepared to stand up in this Chamber and elsewhere and advocate it. People come to me as a Member of Parliament or to other public representatives and complain that, "Our kids have to go across the playground in snowy weather in the winter and the pipes are frozen up". Yet, at the same time, there is a "pub" being built down the road. The "pub" may be very desirable. I like a drink myself, I like a good restaurant, and I want to see nice dance halls and all the rest built. But it is no good people complaining about rotten conditions in some of our old schools, hospitals and clinics if at the same time they, we in this place, and members of the Government continue to accept and, indeed, welcome and encourage non-priority building going on just round the corner from the very schools, clinics and hospitals about which complaint is made. I hope that we shall not leave the matter once the Bill has been passed. It is far too serious a matter for us simply to pass the Bill and then to leave it there.
I listened with interest to the arguments of the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) and I will attempt shortly to deal with them. Before I do so, may I make some comment about those parts of the Bill which are different from the Bill as it first came before the House in the previous Parliament? No one would deny that the alterations which have been made in the Bill between its two appearances in the House are an improvement. Although I am still opposed to the principle of the Bill, I should like to make one or two comments to the new Minister on the changes which have been made and to ask him one or two further questions.
I am glad to see that the Minister has carried out the pledge which his predecessor gave to me in Committee on the last occasion by including new subsection 9(7) which ensures that in future no prosecution can be undertaken under the Bill other than with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Minister said today that he is not anxious to use the penal sanctions of the Bill, and this is what his predecessor said in Committee. But the Minister would not have had the power over the bringing of prosecutions had he not accepted the recommendations made from this side of the House and included them in the Bill.
I also welcome that he has removed the Clause whereby imprisonment could be imposed by the magistrates' court. But I put one specific question to him: he has removed the power of imprisonment under Clause 2 but has retained it under Clause 9. Is this intentional or merely a mistake? We are now in the position, as the Minister said, that in the magistrates' court the maximum penalty for building without a licence is a fine of £300, but under Clause 9 one is still in danger of imprisonment for three months by the magistrates' court for failing to answer any question put by the Minister at the time at which a building was built in case it has been constructed against the terms of the licence. It seems to me that this is wrong. If the Minister has removed the short-term imprisonment in Clause 2, and he has rightly done so, he should look at Clause 9 to see whether it should not be deleted from that Clause, too.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) made great play of the fact that the Committee stage took a long time. It may be that the position which I have just described has occurred in the Bill because the last four Clauses and the Schedule to the previous Bill were passed in one morning's sitting of the Committee through the co-operation of the Opposition with the Government. It may be that it was the failure of the Opposition to raise the point at that time which has resulted in this matter not being looked at again by the Minister.
Another change—and I believe an important and welcome change—which has been made is the Minister's acceptance of the argument which we advanced as to the burden of proof in criminal prosecutions under the Bill. Previously a person carrying out the work was in danger of being prosecuted and convicted even though he might not know and might not even suspect that a licence was ever required for the work which he undertook. A main sub-contractor might be called in to do a small part of the job and might have no idea that the total cost of the project was such as to require a licence. The Minister has removed that possibility. I am glad that he has made that important change.
May I offer another method by which the Bill could be improved still further, and this concerns the question of the licences required. I have asked this before but I respectfully ask the Minister again to consider it. The contractor wishes to know whether the Government intend to allow him a licence for a particular building. Why not include in the Bill, therefore, a system of outline permission as is done under planning law? We cannot expect a contractor to go to great expense in preparing plans without knowing whether a licence will be granted.
The Minister's predecessor replied that there would be an unofficial agreement. I am not questioning the Minister's good faith in any way, but Ministers change, and how can a contractor be sure that an unofficial promise of a licence by the Minister's predecessor will later be turned into a licence by the subsequent Minister in office? I ask the Minister to consider whether he can introduce a system whereby someone who is anxious to obtain a licence can apply for outline permission as it done under ordinary planning law.
I turn briefly to the whole principle of the Bill and say that I oppose the principle because I believe that it is the imposition of control for the sake of control. The Minister challenged us to say how we justified opposing control in the private sector of building when control exists over the building of hospitals, schools and other necessary and desirable social buildings. This point was made by the hon. Members for Willesden, East and Wolverhampton, North-East.
With respect, the Minister is making a fundamental mistake. The control to which his hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East refers is not a control caused by a shortage of building components but a financial control, a financial limit placed upon the carrying out of repairs to schools, the building of schools and the building of offices. This limit was placed by the Government because, in my view, they have their priorities wrong in the expenditure of money within the social services. But it is not a control deliberately imposed to prevent the building from taking place. It is merely the absence of money to carry out the building required.
On the other hand, we have resources available at the moment; we know that nearly 900 million bricks are lying idle in this country. Yet the Government have chosen to place a deliberate control on the use of these resources in the fond, and I believe erroneous, belief that by doing so they will ensure that these resources are used for more socially desirable purposes. It is not lack of resources which has prevented the achievement of socially desirable projects in this country but lack of finance to build the new schools and hospitals. There is no need for the Bill. If there were a need for it, then the hon. Member for Willesden East would be right; it would be pointless to remove the development districts from it. There is no need for the Bill. It merely creates a form of bureaucracy with no purpose. I am still opposed to the principle of the Bill, although I welcome the fact that it is better in detail than it was before.
I welcome the opportunity, however briefly, to participate in the debate. It is unfortunate that the debate is of such short duration. I am sure that had there been more time, more hon. Members would have been interested in expressing their point of view. But it must be said that many of the arguments deployed this afternoon have already been dealt with adequately in the Second Reading debate in the last Parliament and during the Committee stage.
I do not want to take up too much of the time of the two Front Bench speakers who will wind up the debate. I am pleased that in the speeches particularly of my hon. Friend the Member for Willes- den, East (Mr. Freeson) and the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), the spokesman of the Liberal Party, more consideration has been given to the social aspects of the Bill. It is important that on both sides of the House we should see how the valuable resources in the construction industry can be mobilised when the Bill is passed.
We are talking about a Bill in relation to the building industry, the oldest industry in the country, and yet, paradoxically, a veritable Cinderella industry, one which has been grossly under-planned as long as I have been connected with it and one which inevitably has had to bear the brunt of the economic crises which have occurred frequently over the last few years. If we look at the National Plan and the target which it sets out—raising the house building programme to 500,000 houses a year by 1970 and catering for 850,000 additional school population by 1970—we recognise the additional strain which will be imposed on the industry if it is to provide the educational buildings required and the new hospitals required by the Health Service and to participate in the modernisation of industry and the production of the new factories which are essential to our economic recovery. In addition to being badly under-planned, as we realise, the industry is grossly under-manned. It is required to achieve a target of 4·8 per cent. increase in productivity annually until 1970 and probably to increase beyond that target after 1970. That is what is required by the National Plan.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East, I am especially pleased, as are many of my colleagues in the development areas, that development districts have been left out of the terms of the Bill, even though I sincerely hope that people will not be inclined to take advantage of this fact in order to build luxury buildings and other buildings, such as bingo halls and clubs, which have been described as coming into the luxury category. In my opinion, those within the building industry are sufficiently responsible to react to their own responsibilities in this matter. The omission of the development areas is undoubtedly a good thing.
In order to carry the argument to its logical conclusion, surely hon. Members opposite should welcome any legislation which channels the available material and resources of craftsmen within the industry to the more desirable social projects which we need. As I said on Second Reading in the last Parliament, I give a wholehearted welcome to the Bill. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short), I hope that we shall have much more co-operation in Committee in passing the Bill through its stages as speedily as possible towards the Statute Book.
I venture to speak on the Bill partly because I am somewhat familiar with its predecessor, but mainly because I believe that it has very little practical and overall value and also because it represents restriction. I am glad to see that the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Hilton) has returned, although I am sorry that he missed other interventions in the debate when he could have heard other points of view than his own.
This is a restrictive Measure. It is restrictive through the control it imposes on industry and does not offer a compensatory opportunity for expansion elsewhere.
Productivity in the industry between 1958 and 1964 increased by about 5 per cent. The trouble is that in the last quarter of 1965 alone this went down by some 10 per cent. Luxury jobs have been referred to, and here I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson). The Government are seeking in the Bill to control luxury jobs outwith the development districts—yet within the development districts these jobs are to continue to go on. Thus the overall effect from that point of view is very limited.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), who said at the outset that the proportion of really non-essential building that will be eliminated by any building licensing procedure, however devised, will be minimal compared with the damage done to the industry. If we want evidence of this, we should look for a moment at what has happened, partly as a result of the threat of the Bill, to the housing programme. Both sides agree that housing should proceed at an accelerated pace, but what has happened to local authority and private house building?
The most disquieting feature arising from the disruption of the industry and of its planning is that, in the third and fourth quarters of 1965, local authority building was down by about 10 per cent. and private building by about 5 per cent. That is a serious situation and gives me no confidence that the Bill will contribute to improving the position of essential building while delaying, as it seeks to do, luxury building.
What we need is an expanding construction industry. We shall not get it by offering it uncertainty, which can at best only mean delay and can cause disruption which will not become effective or obvious, even to this House, for twelve or eighteen months.
My second complaint is based on the permanency aspect. Neither from the right hon. Gentleman nor his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), have we had any convincing answer. During the proceedings on the previous Bill it was clearly stated many times that the original intention was that it should meet the economic needs of the moment. That was stated again and again—for example, during Standing Committee proceedings, in column 94. But I am not convinced that the permanent feature embodied in the Bill is anything other than an imposition of the doctrinaire aim which lies behind this Measure.
In dealing with exemptions, perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will do me the honour of recalling that I moved an Amendment in the last Parliament to exclude Scotland from the Bill. The Minister was then so impressed with my argument that Scotland, with the exception of Edinburgh and Leith, was excluded from the Bill. Now we have this new Bill with all the ramifications of its application simply to control Edinburgh and Leith in Scotland and, curiously enough, to control in Leith one of the largest industrial and commercial projects in Scotland, the erection of a considerable concern for the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society. What an extraordinary thing for the Government to wish to restrict in any way.
If the procedure is gone through, the S.C.W.S. project may be the subject of a licence, of course, but my argument remains that it is unnecessary to extend the Bill to Scotland in order to restrict the Co-operative Society's activities and the essential and long overdue development of some of the central parts of Edinburgh.
I know that we are running rather short of time and so my final point concerns the exclusion of a number of things, including local authority projects and projects of the nationalised industries. It is no consolation to me, and I doubt whether it would be a consolation to any housewife, to know that a great new building is being erected for my local electricity board simultaneously with a rise in electricity charges. If we are to get priorities right in the building industry, we should look seriously at the exemptions in the Bill. We have the example in Scotland, which is not very convincing logic, and the example—the only one I have time to illustrate, of the local electricity board.
I could go on a long time to give similar examples but shall restrain myself in the interest of time. I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned the alterations in relation to criminal proceedings which are now reduced. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look most carefully at Clause 9 and seek to apply to it the argument which has eliminated criminal procedure in Clause 2. I note the statement that there will be indulgence for those who make genuine mistakes, but who is to judge what is genuine and what is a mistake? There are still great flaws in the Bill and I remain primarily opposed to it in my confirmed view that it is a measure designed to impose restrictive control in the interest first of control itself.
I welcome whole-heartedly the principles in the Bill, unlike the hon. Lady the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson). Because of the shortage of time, however, I can refer only to two points. It is wrong that Clause 2 should exempt from control work costing less than £100,000. It is far too generous an upper limit. I could tell my right hon. Friend of the expertise of some developers and contractors in break- ing jobs down into a number of units, with the result that each unit will obtain exemption under Clause 2 whereas the whole job may represent a much larger expenditure.
Secondly, I am particularly concerned about Clause 5. Is it not possible to revise the exemption for works carried out by the Crown? I do not want to be too parochial about this, but my constituency suffers a great deal—overmuch, some of us think—from the activities of the Crown. I refer particularly to the activities of the Crown Estates Commissioners in the Regent's Park area.
Many hon. Members will recollect that the Gorell Committee some years ago recommended that the Nash terraces in Regent's Park should to a large extent be rehabilitated and retained, and I am very happy that that has been done. I must confess an interest, because I am myself a tenant of the Crown in my own constituency in Regent's Park.
I have been very distressed in recent years because there has been a tendency on the part of the Crown Estates Commissioners to hand out the work of rehabilitation and redevelopment to private contractors and developers. For instance, in Albany Street, there is a row of shops in perfectly good order and doing a very good local job of serving the community. Above the shops are flats in which people are happily living. Recently I called on a young couple living in such a flat. They have their own lavatory, bathroom and kitchen and are perfectly content.
Suddenly, along comes notice to quit in the unsacred name of redevelopment. The Crown has come to an arrangement with a private contractor that the whole row of shops, with the living accomodation above, is to be demolished. There is nothing wrong with these premises. The only motive for doing this, I am afraid I can only conclude, must be that someone is going to make some money out of this extraordinary exercise.
Yet, not five minutes walk away from this perfectly adequate accommodation, there are slums at the back of St. Pancras and Kings Cross Stations which are such a disgrace that at every election when canvassing there I fervently hope that by the next election they will have gone. But year after year they remain.
I cannot see what is the basic usefulness of a Bill which has the kind of exemptions that will permit private developers, under cover of an arrangement with the Crown, to pull down adequate and in some ways attractive and useful property while at the same time making it so difficult for the people who will be displaced to be accommodated.
I am sorry that there is time only to refer to this one scheme, but under it new shops are being built along Albany Street which are to be let at £1,000 a year exclusive, and they have no living accommodation above. The new flats that are being built in the area are completely beyond the reach of the people who are being displaced in order to further this exercise.
There is a beautiful scheme of redevelopment in one of the terraces, Chester Terrace, facing Regent's Park, where one can buy a 90 year Crown lease on a house for between £45,000 and £50,000. Of course, it is said that these are expensive properties because of their splendid position in overlooking the park. But, without straying too far from the Bill, I ask what on earth developers have done that they should deserve to make some profit out of the existence of Regent's Park, which they have neither bought nor maintained and which is completely irrelevant to the financial arrangements entered into.
I have raised this matter on the Bill because I do not see why the Crown, with its very wide resources and a far larger building programme than is generally realised, should be exempted from this element of control. If the purpose of the Bill is, as I hope, to see that our building manpower and resources are projected into those sectors where they are most needed, we cannot have a situation in which the Crown Estates Commissioners are able to go on providing expensive accommodation and to give notice to quit to people living in apparently adequate accommodation. These things are contradictory to the spirit of the Bill and I hope that it will be possible at least to amend Clause 5 so that we can bring some of these schemes within the ambit of legislation.
I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) will forgive me if I do not comment on what she had to say about that aspect of her constituency which she described. The last time when we took part in the same debate together the subject was Cyprus, on which, to my astonishment, I found myself in substantial agreement with some of the things she said.
The most agreeable feature of the debate, the House will agree, has been the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Hilton). As soon as I saw the list in The Times of new Members of the House of Commons, I had a wager with a friend that the new hon. Member for Bethnal Green would make his maiden speech on the Second Reading of the Building Control Bill. We are very glad that he has done so, because he brings to this problem a depth of experience which few if any of us in the House can match.
We were also fortunate in having the Minister come to the debate with a fresh mind. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark), the Parliamentary Secretary and I are all too familiar with the subject by now, although on this occasion in our travels we missed the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) who conducted the last Bill almost to the end of the journey, but not quite. By one Parliamentary day the Government failed to obtain their objective of getting the former Building Control Bill, because they preferred—and I think the House recognises that this is true—to spend three days electioneering, debating the Welfare State, leasehold reform, and new taxation proposals. We shall be interested to hear tomorrow from the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether those new proposals have been modified since that debate.
Perhaps it was wise from the Government's point of view to decide to concentrate on propaganda rather than legalising the building control scheme which they had been putting forward and operating for nine months, to use the unhappy phrase of the last Minister, on the authority of the statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 27th July. At any rate, the Government's priority was propaganda rather than legislation, and we all know that priorities are the language of Socialism.
On the last occasion, the right hon. Member for Leeds, West promised us that this would be the first Bill of the Session. It was the 21st. The Parliamentary Secretary—we must not forget him—told us in Standing Committee:
My right hon. Friend's Department has a sense of urgency about the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 16th December, 1965; c. 33.]
I dread to think what happens to a Government Bill when there is no sense of urgency, but perhaps we can congratulate the new Minister on bringing the Bill forward so early in the Session.
Although we do not like the Bill, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I think that the present state of limbo of the construction and building industries is the worst of all, and it is vital for them to know exactly what their future is to be under the building control scheme. Therefore, if the House agrees—and I suspect that it will—to give the Bill a Second Reading, I can assure the Government that we will wish to pass its stages quickly, because it is only fair that the construction industry, which has been waiting for the Bill for a long time, should have it at the earliest possible moment.
During the course of the passage of the two Bills, we have been given various reasons why the legislation should be permanent. There is no doubt that the original reason which was given for the introduction of the Bill was the economic crisis and the statement of 27th July. There was no intention when the Government came to office of legislating on building controls. It was not in the 1964 Labour Party election manifesto and I doubt whether it was in the election manifesto of the right hon. Member for Leeds, West, although I have not read it. After the right hon. Gentleman had been in office for about a month, he told us that the construction industries were in a generally satisfactory condition. He told the magazine then called The Builder that he had no intention of imposing further controls and he said:
We see the industry in a positive and not a negative way.
I do not know what changed the Government's view into deciding to take a less positive and more negative attitude to the problems of the industry, but I suppose that it is fair to say that it was
largely the economic situation. We have, therefore, to decide why they have adopted permanent legislation to cure what, we hope, is a temporary situation.
After all, one of the first Measures introduced into the last Parliament was the Control of Office and Industrial Development Act. It was announced on the second day of the last Parliament. It expires in 1972 and is, therefore, not permanent. What is the Government's intention about offices? Are they to abandon office control in London and Birmingham in 1972 in the unlikely event of their still being in power at that time, or is it their intention to continue office control by using the terms of this Bill? If so, that is a fine commentary on the assurances which we were given during the passage of the Control of Office and Industrial Development Bill when we were told that its provisions would he temporary.
There is no doubt that the Government have shifted their ground in their approach to building controls. On 27th July, the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not talk about permanent control of the building industry. He wanted to cure the economic situation which existed at the time and tomorrow we shall see whether he has been able to do so. The Parliamentary Secretary—I will not weary him by quoting further from his speech of 7th February to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors—said on that occasion more or less that the Government needed the Bill as a contingency measure for the next economic crisis. It is scarcely encouraging for the House to be told that on the eve of the Budget.
I have never known him to be so before, but I hope that my hon. Friend is wrong on this occasion.
We must admit that this is a better Bill than that which was presented to the House last November. We think that it is a bad Bill, although better than it was, and the credit for making it better and our thanks must go to the right hon. Member for Leeds, West, who accepted many Opposition Amendments, and we must thank his successor, the present Minister, for honouring the commitments which the right hon. Member made during the Committee proceedings on the earlier Bill. As originally introduced, the Bill would probably have been more acceptable to the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) and the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South The Minister then had power if he chose to reduce the cost limits to £100. It is a great step forward that the Bill has been limited so that control cannot go below £50,000.
But why does the Minister need to go even that far? Can the Parliamentary Secretary assure us tonight that it is the Government's intention to honour the previous Minister's undertakings which were given to us in Standing Committee when he said:
I can assure the Committee that there is no intention at present to have included anything below £100,000."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 1st February, 1966; c. 206.]
Does that remain the Government's intention? If so, the provision is a contingency power, merely a reserve power, and that, too, is what the right hon. Member for Leeds, West told us at the time. Is that the new Minister's position?
The Parliamentary Secretary will know that if the limit is fixed at £100,000 about 500 projects a year will have to apply for licences, projects costing about £180 million. If the limit were ever to be £50,000, there would be 1,000 projects a year at a cost of about £220 million. Hon. Members opposite will agree that the cost of living is unlikely to remain steady, whichever party is in power. Therefore, with the passage of time, inevitably the control will become potentially more severe. If in the circumstances of 27th July in the Government's view there was no case in the foreseeable future for reducing the limit below £100,000, surely there is no need for the Minister to keep this reserve figure of £50,000 in the Bill. If he thinks that it is vital to continue with this £50,000 figure, we are owed an explanation of the possible circumstances in which it would be likely for a Labour Government to reduce the figure below £100,000.
Another assurance which we were given in Standing Committee concerned administration, because whether the Bill works well or badly depends on its administration.
I must ask the Parliamentary Secretary about tolerance. The previous Minister told us that he would allow 5 per cent., or £20,000, tolerance to people on their building licences—he would licence an approved project at the approved cost but he would make it a condition that the cost would not be exceeded by 5 per cent. or £20,000, whichever was the less. To take the example of a £200,000 licence, there would be a note on the back saying that if it was not exceeded by more than £10,000—5 per cent.—no action would be taken against the builder concerned. Can the Minister confirm this very useful provision will still apply?
I hope that the Minister also appreciates that it will be necessary to amend many of the standard contract forms in the building industry as a result of this Measure and that as soon as possible he will help the industry in this task, if necessary giving them assistance in drafting the necessary amendments. One of the points bound to crop up is what will happen to a building owner? How will he be protected in his contract if the contractor, not the building owner, uses material forbidden under the terms of his licence? The Minister may forbid the use of copper. What are the contract positions for the building owner and contractor? Can the Parliamentary Secretary also clear up the difficulty about starting dates? I am glad that the Minister is prepared to give professional advice for several years ahead, but what evidence of bona fides will he require? Surely not outline planning permission, because if that is necessary it will often involve people in considerable expense to no purpose in the long run?
Can the Parliamentary Secretary also tell us what will happen to the normal applicant, the person compelled to start within six months? If a reasonable case is put to the Minister, will he grant a supplementary licence postponing the starting date? The Parliamentary Secretary will know that we are still unhappy about the six months rule and that we are also unhappy about the power of revocation remaining in the Bill. Can he go so far as to say that before he uses the power of revocation—because it will often hurt the innocent more than the guilty—he will hold some form of inquiry? I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give an assurance that he will consider this before we give this Bill as Second Reading—if we do give it a Second Reading.
I agree with those hon. Members who have said throughout the course of this debate that we have to consider the general effect of the whole of the Government's activities towards the construction industry. From 1955 to 1964 the construction industry expanded enormously. In 1955 the value of new work done by contractors was £1,336 million. In 1964 it was £2,219 million—£893 million of which represented new housing. That can be claimed as a substantial achievement. The position is very different now. How are the Government going to maintain their target in the National Plan?
Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us what rate of expansion he thinks that the industry will require to attain the target in the National Plan and how does that tie in with the Minister's remarks this afternoon about his fears of a 5 per cent. expansion in the building industry next year. The National Federation of Building Trades Employers told us earlier this year:
1965 opened on a note of uncertainty and the year has been in many respects a disappointing and discouraging one for the building industry.
The building industry has had an enormous amount of legislation directed towards it during the lifetime of the present Government. There has been an enormous amount of legislation, either put through or promised. But legislation alone does not build houses or expand the building industry. Added to the Government's action of 27th July last and the deferments announced by the Chancellor, and added to building controls, the building industry has had to face higher costs, increases in taxation, pressure for higher wages and the threat of the Government's Land Commission increasing the cost and diminishing the supply of building land.
Is it surprising that the cumulative effect has been to undermine confidence in the building industry? The last quarterly state of trade inquiry by the N.F.B.T.E. shows that the building industry is still slowing down, as my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry has pointed out. In figures issued today the
Minister of Public Building and Works show that the total orders for new construction during February are lower than in January. The Minister's hand-out says:
The main reduction was in new housing in both the public and private sectors and was distributed throughout most of the regions.
Are the Government proud of that? I maintain that the activities of the Government towards the construction industry have resulted in the total orders for new construction in 1965 being 5 per cent. lower than in 1964 and in their having to admit that in February the main reduction was in new housing in both the private and public sectors.
What about bricks? The hon. Member for Bethnal Green mentioned these. I do not wish to take him up on his maiden speech, but he said that at the end of March, 1963, the brick stock was 912 million. The position today is that stocks are 882 million and the difference between the two situations is that in 1963 the glut was caused by the weather whereas in 1966 it is the direct results of Government action. The Government have created a glut of bricks, not the bad weather.
I hope that the hon. Member will forgive me for not giving way as I have only three more minutes. Apart from the effect of the Bill upon the construction industry, the most extraordinary part of it has been its history. We were told how early it was going to be introduced and that alterations were to be exempt. After the three months of the Summer Recess last year, when the Government were presumably drafting the Bill, they came forward, three months later, with a changed Bill in this important respect. Finally, we were told, in the dying days of the last Parliament that the Government's control over the industry sprung from the Chancellor's statement of the 27th July and that builders who went ahead did so at their peril.
It is small wonder that the Leader of the House had to come down and promise no retrospective penal action. The trouble about that was that it was not an assurance at all because the Bill, as drafted, provided that there would be no retrospective criminal sanction on work done
before Royal Assent. The assurance of the Leader of the House was worth precisely nothing and altered nothing unless the Minister meant that work done before the Royal Assent would not count towards the £100,000 limit. I gather that that is not the situation. I wonder whether the House realises that an industry which employs 1,800,000 people, vital to our expansion hopes, is still faced with a Second Reading of a Bill nine months after legislation has been threatened, and nine months after the Chancellor's action. The Bill is still in the state where a leading article in Building of last week pointed out that:
The retrospective provisions are not fully understood.
This is a disgraceful way to treat an industry of such importance. The industry has been treated with contempt by the Government. The truth is that after saying that they would not impose controls, as the last Minister said, the Government imposed them at a period of temporary economic crisis and found an excuse for making them a permanent measure. No one complains now that the building industry is over-heated. No one complains about this who looks at the figures for new constructions or for housing starts.
It is the Government who have made it difficult for the building industry to expand, who have imposed controls for the sake of controls and who have introduced a permanent system to tackle a temporary problem. They have done nothing to help housing by this Bill, as has been shown conclusively by my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry and others. The Government have done nothing to help the construction industry by this Bill. This is an unnecessary, out-of-date, retrospective, petty little Bill, and I ask my hon. Friends to vote against it tonight.
As everybody in the House who is interested in the building industry knows, the main obstacle to the building industry's capacity to cope with the demands made on it is the supply of labour, especially skilled labour. In the past, credit squeezes have caused exaggerated unemployment in the development areas and this has always particu- larly upset the building industry in those areas. Those of us who live in development areas and know their problems are very conscious of this. Just as general employment in these areas always recovered more slowly when the squeeze was relaxed than in the prosperous areas, so it was in the building industry. The Government's policy nationally of maintaining full employment, despite damping down consumer demand, is a break-through in social and economic policy as distinct as the Keynes' theory of the multiplier was in its day. One of the differences is that the Labour Government have applied the policy quickly and with success.
Perhaps I can particularly illustrate this with regard to the Government's policy in the building industry in the North-East. Apart from the period of a freak blizzard in December last year, unemployment in the building industry in the North-East has, month by month, been lower in the last winter than for a very long time. It would be fair to say that employment conditions this winter have been as good as they normally were in a Tory summer. A Labour winter is as good as a Tory summer.
There is a factory building boom in the North-East. There is considerable activity in Government building, such as the M.P.N.I. at Newcastle, Army houses at Catterick and the Post Office Savings Bank in Durham. Large road schemes and housing drives are beginning to gather momentum, particularly through factory built houses and through local authority consortia.
This is the background to the introduction of the Bill and the announcement about it last year. The limitation on Government expenditure on building announced last July, plus the proposal to introduce the Bill and subsequent administrative actions which followed this—they have all been damping down the building industry—have maintained full employment in the prosperous areas and better employment in the building industry in the development areas than for very many years.
In the second half of 1965 building orders in Scotland rose by 3 per cent. and in the Northern Region and in the North-West there was only a very slight fall in orders which obviously did not affect very much the general prosperity of the building industry there. Although in Wales and the South-West orders fell much more in the second half of 1965, the total value of orders placed in Wales in 1965 was substantially higher than for 1964 and the orders in the South-West were as high in 1965 as in 1964. We must remember that the 1964 figures, as a percentage increase, were much higher than 1963 because of the bad winter of 1963, and there was something in 1964, I believe, to do with an election.
Since as a general rule the areas which I have been talking about and other development areas have had less than their share of construction and house building under the Conservative Administration than the more prosperous areas, it is thoroughly desirable socially and economically to absorb in these areas the unused labour which exists—and it is only in part of the country that there is unused labour—in the development areas. In other words, the Government's policy nationally has been a great success as far as employment and the building industry are concerned. This is the background to the Bill and it is one of the substantial reasons why electors voted as they did in the recent election. It is true to say that Labour's management of the economy is succeeding.
A parallel struggle is in damping down domestic demand in the battle for the prices and incomes policy. The building employers and the building trades unions can certainly claim credit for having achieved recently a reasonable long-term wage settlement. I think that the Under-Secretary of State to the Department of Economic Affairs and, perhaps, myself can claim some credit for this since we took some part in discussing the situation with the employers and with the trade unions. Certainly credit is very much due to the trade union leaders who have shown great responsibility in this respect and commendable statesmanship in understanding the Government's policy.
I am delighted that we have had in this debate the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Hilton). He gave us a vivid explanation of the danger of wage drift in the building industry and the effect on the cost of housing of wage drift and feverish inflation in some parts of the industry. It was most refreshing to hear in the House the voice of someone from the trades union on this particularly complicated and difficult industry. I hope that we shall hear my hon. Friend speak on other matters, but always when we discuss the building industry. He made a most thoughtful speech which faithfully reflected the 12 years or so that he has been thinking and working on this problem as a research officer in the building industry trade unions. I congratulate him most sincerely on his speech.
The Bill sets out the administrative framework which will add yet another element of stability and opportunity for steady expansion to the building and construction industries. I think that the industry has only partially understood this. It is of course difficult to talk about "the industry". Building and construction are many sided and one section is often very quick to criticise another, frequently when the faults are mutual. The rivalry between Newcastle and Sunderland on the football field is nothing compared with the rivalry between the professions and the builders over who does what. It is often assumed that it is the trade unions which argue about who does what, but in the building industry one finds this kind of divisive effect all across the board.
Far too often the professions and contractors have assumed that it is highly desirable to have so many contracts available that the contractor has to switch labour and staff from one job to another in a feverish attempt to cope with the impossible. The Bill will remedy this situation. It is surely much better for individual contractors that they should have a steady amount of work with more regular customers and a more stable team of craftsmen. The picture which my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green painted of 50,000 labour-only sub-contractors is nothing short of horrifying. The policies of the Ministry of Public Building and Works will work in well in this matter of steady expansion by encouraging the most formative part of building expansion.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) was so unkind to D.G.R.D. because many of the activities which it and the Department as a whole are encouraging—such as serial tendering, negotiated contracts, group contracts, improvement of building techniques—are the sorts of things which add to the productivity of the building industry and which will enable us to get the steady expansion which will result from the Bill. If, for example, all the best techniques which the best firms applied in winter building were applied by the less effective and less progressive firms, we should have about £50 million of extra building in the course of a year merely by applying fairly well-known bad weather building techniques.
Reference has been made several times to the finger-tip control of the Bill. Whatever word may be used, it certainly is not a chopper; it is not a Wirral hatchet. It is a delicate device which hon. Members in the Committee were from time to time at some pains to make even more delicate. At present, as has been said by several hon. Members, the Bill will affect about 500 jobs a year. Their approval or deferment—I emphasise that it is deferment and not rejection—will derive from the best possible consideration of the pressures on the industry locally and nationally.
No one will dispute that the regional and national headquarters of the Ministry of Public Building and Works are in the closest touch with the building industry—the contractors, the professions and the trade unions. They also have close contacts with the other Government Departments concerned—the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Power, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Labour. Our regional directors and their staff know their local industry intimately and are the builders' friends. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), as Minister, many times declared that it was one of his pleasures and duties to represent the building industry to his colleagues and to champion it. My right hon. Friend said this within my presence and publicly.
The builders and the building professions appreciate this understanding and respect it. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why the building industry has co-operated so well in this limbo, to which the hon. Member referred, between the initiation of the Bill and its becoming law in the near future. I pay tribute to the building industry for its sense of fair play in this matter.
The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) seems to have a phobia about Whitehall. Who would speak for the building industry if it were not for the Minister of Public Building and Works? Perhaps the hon. Member wishes to be the industry's spokesman. Certainly, as he would agree with his knowledge of the Ministry, the regional directors and the headquarters of the Ministry are good friends of the industry and know it intimately. They are likely to be the best people to administer the Bill.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) about the figures. So far, about £45 million worth of building has been authorised to start up to the end of last month—April—and £24 million worth has been authorised for the months of May to October. The starting dates were spread out to fulfil the intentions of the Bill.
The breakdown of the work is as follows: offices, 57 jobs with a value of £22 million; shops, 21 jobs with a value of £5 million; private educational, 18 jobs, £6 million; hotels, 17 jobs, £5 million; hostels, 12 jobs, £3 million; storage, 28 jobs, £8 million; mixed development, 20 jobs, £11 million; and miscellaneous jobs, including nursing homes, training centres and religious buildings, 27 jobs to a value of £9 million.
The Bill enables stop-go to be avoided and it establishes proper priorities. That is why it needs to be permanent. It creates the conditions for steady realistic expansion and there is strong incentive for the industry to increase its productivity. Take, for example, the maintenance side of the industry, which employs something like 40 per cent. of the labour resources of the industry. A 10 per cent. increase in the efficiency of maintenance work would enable licensing to be dispensed with. Therefore, if the efficiency of the industry in maintenance and in winter building reached its maximum, this fingertip control would be even lighter. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would welcome the day when, although the Bill will be on the Statute Book, he need not operate it because the industry would be in balance.
I cannot give way; I have many points to answer.
Criticism has been made of the industry that it has not been doing enough research and that it does not communicate adequately the results of its research down through the industry. My right hon. Friend is looking forward to the establishment of the Building and Civil Engineering Research and Information Association as a breakthrough in the information field. The building in-try needs a service similar to that of the National Agricultural Advisory Service. I hope that this new service will soon get under way and will be as effective as the N.A.A.S.
The Bill will enable due consideration to be given to building material shortages. At the beginning of the last Parliament, my right hon. Friend and I were constantly criticised for the shortage of bricks, cement and plasterboard. Most of the criticism came from hon. Members opposite, who complain even more bitterly today of the brick surplus. Even some of my hon. Friends had strong views on cement and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) gave me the honorary title of "Blue Circle 'B'". Rather less fuss is made when the position improves.
My right hon. Friend expects during 1966 that contractors will have no difficulty with bricks, cement or plasterboard. Considerations of materials shortages, except perhaps copper, will probably not need to come into the control this year. I should like to pay tribute to the cement companies for the way in which, in the difficult times in the past, they helped the Ministry of Public Building and Works in ensuring that cement got to the right places.
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) asked whether, when legal advice was taken about the difficulties of a contract, this would exempt the undertaker from penalties. Legal advice might be evidence of good faith but not necessarily so. The hon. Member asked whether the Minister would issue an annual report. My right hon. Friend will certainly explain his policies from time to time, but he prefers at the moment not to give a definite commitment about an annual report.
I was asked whether there is a "plain man's guide" to the Bill. A document has been published, but I do not know that it is a plain man's guide. It is a background note to the Bill. When the Bill is passed, however, a leaflet will be produced to explain the operation of the Act. The hon. Member for Londonderry asked about the difficulties in getting guidance from the Ministry. Any developer who wants advice from the Ministry has only to write and he will he accorded an interview by the staff and will have matters explained to him.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe whether, if somebody died, the licence would be transferable. I refer the hon. Member to our earlier discussions in Standing Committee at about page 166 of the OFFICIAL REPORT. This provision was included at the request of the Opposition.
Great play was made by the hon. Member for Londonderry about the hostility of the building Press—the Contract Journal was quoted—to the Bill. That is far from being the fact. A great many of the journals have given the Bill a good reception. For example, the Illustrated Carpenter and Builder stated:
Even the building industry must admit that Mr. Pannell has common sense as well as social sense and economic sense on his side. The limping progress of house and other essential construction during the past ten years has been very much due to the burden of prestige building that it has been called upon to carry.
The Builder, which has been quoted by hon. Members opposite, refers to a N.F.B.T.E. report, which it calls gloomy, and states:
This report shows once more the lamentable myopia of the builders' leaders, who can see licensing only as a threat to their main source of fat, not as a planned expansion of essential new building and renewal which should be their flesh and bone.
I hope that tonight there will be no doubt that sweet reason will prevail to carry the Bill into law very quickly indeed. The building industry has played the game and shown a sense of responsibility. I wish that hon. Members opposite would stop inflaming the smaller builders, who are very prone to being inflamed by hon. Members opposite, against the Bill and against the Government. I hope that hon. Members opposite will exercise a certain amount of responsibility in supporting us on the Bill getting the priori-
ties right and giving the building industry a stable and economic base from which to advance.
|Division No. 3.]||AYES||[6.59 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Ennals, David||Lomas, Kenneth|
|Albu, Austen||Ensor, David||Loughlin, Charles|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Luard, Evan|
|Alldritt, Walter||Faulds, Andrew||Lubbock, Eric|
|Allen, Scholefield||Fernyhough, E.||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)|
|Anderson, Donald||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)|
|Archer, Peter||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||McBride, Neil|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||McCann, John|
|Ashley, Jack||Floud, Bernard||MacColl, James|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Foley, Maurice||Macdonald, A. H.|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||McGuire, Michael|
|Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Ford, Ben||Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Forrester, John||Mackie, John|
|Barnett, Joel||Fowler, Gerry||MacLennan, Robert|
|Baxter, William||Fraser, J. D. (Norwood)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)|
|Bence, Cyril||Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton)||McNamara, J. K.|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Freeson, Reginald||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)|
|Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton)||Galpern, Sir Myer||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Gardner, A. J.||Mallalieu,J.P.W.(Huddersfield,E.)|
|Binns, John||Garrett, W. E.||Manuel, Archie|
|Bishop, E. S.||Garrow, Alex||Mapp, Charles|
|Blackburn, F.||Ginsburg, David||Marquand, David|
|Boardman, H.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Booth, Albert||Gourlay, Harry||Mason, Roy|
|Boston, Terence||Gray, Dr. Hugh||Maxwell, Robert|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. Herbert||Gregory, Arnold||Mayhew, Christopher|
|Boyden, James||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mellish, Robert|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanellv)||Mendelson, J. J.|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Brooks, Edwin||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Millan, Bruce|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Milne, Edward (Blyth)|
|Brown,Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.)||Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)|
|Buchan, Norman||Harper, Joseph||Moonman, Eric|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Cant, R. B.||Haseldine, Norman||Moyle, Roland|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hattersley, Roy||Murray, Albert|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Neal, Harold|
|Chapman, Donald||Henig, Stanley||Newens, Stan|
|Coe, Denis||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Coleman, Donald||Hilton, W. S.||Oakes, Gordon|
|Concannon, J. D.||Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||Ogden, Eric|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hooley, Frank||O'Malley, Brian|
|Cousins, Rt. Hn. Frank||Horner, John||Oram, Albert E.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Orme, Stanley|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Oswald, Thomas|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Howarth, Robert L. (Bolton, E.)||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Owen, Will (Morpeth)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Howie, W.||Padley, Walter|
|Davidson, A. (Accrington)||Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Paget, R. T.|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Park, Trevor|
|Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hunter, Adam||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Hynd, John||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Davies, Robert (Cambridge)||Janner, Sir Barnett||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Pentland, Norman|
|Delargy, Hugh||Jeger,Mrs.Lena(H'b'n&St.P'cras,S.)||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Dell, Edmund||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.|
|Dempsey, James||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)|
|Dewar, D. C.||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)|
|Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Dickens, J. M. Y.||Judd, Frank||Probert, Arthur|
|Dobson, Ray||Kelley, Richard||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Doig, Peter||Kenyon, Clifford||Randall, Harry|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Rankin, John|
|Dunn, James A.||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Redhead, Edward|
|Dunnett, Jack||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Rees, Merlyn|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Leadbitter, Ted||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Eadie, Alex||Lee, John (Reading)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly)||Lestor, Miss Joan||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Robinson,Rt.Hn.Kenneth(St.P'c'as)|
|Ellis, John||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)|
|English, Michael||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Roebuck, Roy||Stonehouse, John||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Rogers, George||Swain, Thomas||Whitlock, William|
|Ross, Rt. Hn. William||Swingler, Stephen||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)||Symonds, J. B.||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Ryan, John||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)||Tinn, James||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Sheldon, Robert||Tomney, Frank||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)|
|Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.||Urwin, T. W.||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Shore, Peter (Stepney)||Varley, Eric G.||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Short,Rt.Hn.Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)||Winnick, David|
|Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton,N.E.)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Silkin, John (Deptford)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Wallace, George||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Slater Joseph||Watkins, David (Consett)||Woof, Robert|
|Small, William||Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)||Yates, Victor|
|Snow, Julian||Weitzman, David||Zilliacus, K.|
|Spriggs, Leslie||Wellbeloved, James|
|Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)||Whitaker, Ben||Mr. Charles Grey and|
|Mr. George Lawson.|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Goodhew, Victor||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Gower, Raymond||Nabarro, Sir Gerald|
|Awdry, Daniel||Grant, Anthony||Neave, Airey|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Gresham Cooke, R.||Nicholls, Sir Harmar|
|Batsford, Brian||Grieve, Percy||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. E[...]unds)||Nott, John|
|Bell, Ronald||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh)||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Page, R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Biffen, John||Harris, Reade[...] (Heston)||Percival, Ian|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Peyton, John|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Blaker, Peter||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Body, R.||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J.||Hastings, Stephen||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Hawkins, Paul||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Bromley-Davenport,Lt.Col.SirWalter||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Buck, Antony (Colchester)||Heseltine, Michael||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Higgins, Terence L.||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Burden, F. A.||Hiley, Joseph||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Campbell, Gordon||Hill, J. E. B.||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hirst, Geoffrey||Rippon, Rt, Hn. Geoffrey|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Roots, William|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Holland, Philip||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Clark, Henry||Hordern, Peter||Royle, Anthony|
|Clegg, Walter||Hornby, Richard||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Cooke, Robert||Howell, David (Guildford)||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Hunt, John||Scott, Nicholas|
|Cordle, John||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Sharples, Richard|
|Corfield, F. V.||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Costain, A. P.||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Smith, John|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Stodart, Anthony|
|Crouch, D. L.||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)|
|Crowder, F. P.||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Talbot, John E.|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Tapsell, Peter|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Temple, John M.|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Dance, James||Lloyd,Rt.Hn.Geoffrey(Sut'nC'dfield)||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)||Longden, Gilbert||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Doughty, Charles||MacArthur, Ian||Wall, Patrick|
|Drayson, G. B.||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Walters, Denis|
|du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Eden, Sir John||Maddan, Martin||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Magginis, John E.||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Marten, Neil||Whitelaw, William|
|Eyre, Reginald||Maude, Angus||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Farr, John||Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Forrest, George||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Worsley, W. M.|
|Fortescue, Tim||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Wylie, N. R.|
|Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone)||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)||More, Jasper||Mr. Francis Pym and|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Mr. R.W. Elliott.|
|Goodhart, Philip||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|