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Volume 466: debated on Monday 4 July 1949

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3.56 p.m.

The subject which we are to discuss and the aspects of it which we are to consider today are, in fact, closely bound up with the general situation on which a statement has just been made—the proper employment of the manpower of this country. We have indicated to the Minister that we desire to review the Housing Vote today with special reference to manpower; that is to say, the houses completed as compared with the labour employed, for these figures cover to a great extent the speed of construction and also have a great bearing on costs, and these are the points at which the housing programme actually comes into touch with the consuming public.

The Government's programme seems to be settling down at 230,000 houses per annum, of which something like 25,000 will be built in Scotland and the rest in England and Wales. This may be an over-estimate, and I should be glad if the Minister can give us a forecast for this year's out-turn, because half the year has already gone. Is it likely for England and Wales to be more or less than, say, 205,000? Whatever the figure may be, it will be substantially less than pre-war. To take the pre-war figures for Great Britain, in 1933–39, the rate was 340,000 a year, and for the two pre-war years 364,000 per year. Obviously, therefore, there is a great need for a substantial rise in houses built in this country, and the only question before us is how far, and in what way, can this be done.

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman allow me? He is giving us comparative figures. Would he give us fairer comparative figures and tell us the number of houses built in the fourth year after the first war?

I am perfectly willing if I may make my speech in my own way, to deal with that point. This is a serious point, and I beg the hon. Gentleman to contain his desire to rush to the assistance of his right hon. Friend, who, frankly, is in no need of his assistance. We wish to take the Minister in his most formidable form and on his most important actions, and these are his actions as Minister of Housing.

I would ask the Committee, and particularly the hon. Gentleman who interrupted me, to note that the deployment of manpower is exactly the same for the smaller output as for the larger. In 1937–38, there were, roughly speaking, an average of 1,042,000 men employed, and, in 1947–48, 1,036,000, and that is the important figure. In fact, I think these figures are more favourable to the present situation than appears on the surface. The pre-war figures included Northern Ireland, and I think they also included those registered in the industry, whereas the post-war figures, so far as I can ascertain, include only those actually employed. At any rate, the broad figure remains.

We had in 1937 and 1938 a million men plus employed, and in 1947–48 we also had a million men plus employed, yet we had an output of houses which was anything from 100,000 to 130,000 a year fewer. It may be said that this is only a global figure of building labour, that we had a war and that we have had a great deal of repairs to carry through. Let us look at that argument. The operatives employed before the war for new housing, in June, 1947, to be specific, were 240,000. That is a ratio of 33 per cent. housing to non-housing. In June, 1948, mid-summer in both cases, there were 244,600, which is a ratio of 32 per cent. housing to non-housing. We have only estimates for the non-housing and housing figures in relation to operatives before the war, but these estimates show that in mid-1936 there was 35 per cent. of the labour force employed on new housing, as against other activities, and in mid-1938 there was 30 per cent. In both cases, therefore, both pre-war and post-war, the figure ranges around one-third on new housing and two-thirds on non-housing, so that there is no explanation of the lesser out-turn of houses in that figure.

The Minister is wont to put to us the dilemma, "If you want more houses do you want me to cut down hospitals or schools?" But the force which is now deployed was giving before the war a large output of schools, hospitals, factories and other buildings. According to the OFFICIAL REPORT of 19th May this year, there was a pre-war delivery of schools of the order of £4 million per annum at pre-war prices. The figures for pre-war hospital construction are not readily available, but we have only to go a few hundred yards from this House and look, for instance, at Westminster Hospital or go to Leeds and look at Leeds Hospital to see examples of what was being done. In fact, the Economic Survey states that hospital building since the war has been at a minimum, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would be only too willing to admit that.

Let us take another angle on this question, the angle of expenditure. If one reads the Oxford Economic Papers by Professor Bowen, one finds that they show that, taking the figures of expenditure, in addition to the erection of 340,000 houses, non-housing work to the extent of 2½ times was done in 1935–38—a figure of, say, £400 million at pre-war prices. The volume of non-housing work done since the war, estimated by the same authorities, is, £374 million at post-war prices, a very considerable lower figure; and that is a figure which includes war damage repairs, conversions, the repair and maintenance of fabrics and structures, and the rest.

The Minister contends that this argument can be countered in two ways—first, that this enormous number of houses which were built before the war were built for sale and not to rent, and furthermore that the houses now being built are superior to the houses built before the war. The Minister said that they were superior and slightly larger, and there is a slightly increased amount of equipment. We had a Debate on costs a year ago, and I conceded those points. I do not want to run away from any of these arguments, because they are of the greatest importance to every individual in the country.

Let us take the argument relating to houses for sale and not to let, and, secondly, the argument of the greater cost due to better equipment and the larger size of rooms. I do not think the argument about houses being built for sale as against letting disposes of the enormous advantage to the whole house hunting community of an extra 145,000 houses per year and more added to the housing pool. These are all houses which were added in exactly the field in which they were most needed. Ninety per cent. of all the four million houses built between the wars were of a rateable value below £26 a year or £35 in Greater London. Even on the argument of lettings as against sale, it is common knowledge that by various means, such as the building societies, the weekly payments for these houses were quite comparable to weekly rents, and in addition they were saleable assets which were easily disposed of and were disposed of when the vendors desired to move from one house to another.

In fact, the argument in relation to houses for sale as against houses to let is met by these additions to the housing pool, and they were of the greatest advantage to the people in the country, for a man moving into another house does not burn down the house from which he moves; he leaves the house in vacant possession—perhaps the most desirable of all things at the moment, and a thing which every Minister of Health would desire to see increase in large numbers.

Then there is the argument of the more commodious nature of the present houses. The London County Council reported in 1948 that with a rise from £543 pre-war to £1,819 in December, 1948, only £252 is accounted for by the larger size and the better equipment. That is the London County Council, a body to which right hon. Gentlemen opposite attach great importance. That relates to council houses. I do not think it will be denied that many of the pre-war privately ordered houses were quite up to the present local authority standards. The Minister cannot have it both ways—first, that these were among houses built for the idle rich, and secondly, that they were of a vastly inferior standard to the standard of the local authority houses.

The Minister has two other arguments with which I think it is desirable to deal. First of all, there is the argument about the war. That argument was brought up by an hon. Friend of his who seemed uneasy about the enormous out-turn of houses which was being secured by the Conservative Governments before the war. The second argument of the Minister was, "We are doing better than anybody else." Let me take the war argument. In 1918 the post-war Governments had to work up housing from the rate of 64,000 houses a year to which it had been allowed to drop in 1910–15 by the then Liberal-Labour Coalition—[Laughter.] It is an odd thing that whenever the Labour Party gets hold of houses, it reduces them from what the Tory Government were previously doing. Many hon. Members opposite seem to doubt this. Before that war the figures produced by the Tory Government were 131,000 a year. That was in 1900–5 after which the Liberal-Labour Coalition brought it down to 64,000. That was partly due to their innate stupidity and partly to their attempt to exact development charges, which they are starting upon again and which is likely to have not an unnaturally similar result upon the output of houses.

This time the Government took over from a pre-war Government which had been turning out 300,000 houses a year more than that, and they took over from an industry which had been the object of intense preparatory work by the war Government as well. I do not need to go further than to quote the Girdwood Report on that. In any case, arguments about 1910, 1915 and 1918 do not answer our main charge. Why are a million men, post-war, being so deployed as to produce less of all their produce than pre-war? It is not accepted in the case of agriculture; it is not accepted in the case of steel; it is not even accepted in the case of the nationalised industries. Nothing would annoy the Minister of Fuel and Power more than a suggestion that he should be content with output in the pits substantially less than the output per man pre-war. Why should it be accepted for this great primary industry of housing? It is having a disastrous effect not merely on speed but on costs.

We had a word upon costs last year and the Minister, in a winding-up speech which everybody enjoyed, could not say any more in answer to the Debate than that other things had gone up too and some of them had gone up more. That was, in fact, not merely the gist but the whole of his answer. That is an argument for a better deployment of labour, not a worse. We have had the Girdwood Committee's Report, which gave £1,242 for the post-war house as against £380 for the pre-war house. Allowing £328 for improvements—that is the figure which the Girdwood Committee gives—that is still £534 above pre-war.

I have spoken already of the report of the London County Council on present housing costs, but it is worth while stressing their report because it is a later report than that of the Girdwood Committee. Will the Committee believe that that report shows that a typical L.C.C. house costs, inclusive of roads and sewers, of course, £1,819 in December, 1948, as against £543 pre-war? Deduct the £252 for the larger size and better equipment, and that still leaves the house at £1,567 as against £540 pre-war—that is to say, £1,000 more.

These figures are, of course, inevitably producing a corresponding steepening of rent. Local authorities are continually having to do exactly what the Minister of Health keeps passing Bills in this House to prevent anyone else doing—to put up rents. The Acton rents are 1s. 6d. to 2s. 1d. a week up, Tottenham 1s. 10d. up, Wood Green 1s. 6d. to 3s. 10d. up, Finchley 1s. 10d. to 3s. 6d. up, Folkestone 6s. up, Bristol 6s. up, West Ham 10s. 5d. up, and Portsmouth 12s. 6d. up.

These are figures by which rents have been raised. I do not suggest that they are averages. Does the Minister really ask us to believe that Portsmouth could raise all rents by 12s. 6d. per house without producing a good deal of trouble and possibly stopping the victory parade?

It is much more honest to give the whole range of increases than pick out increases which may relate to a very small number of houses.

When it comes to honesty, I am perfectly willing to put my political honesty against that of the right hon. Gentleman. We shall each have to stand our trial and I am perfectly willing to stand in the dock alongside the right hon. Gentleman. The Committee will note, however, that the right hon. Gentleman does not deny that these increases have been made. He does not deny that if any private individual tried to raise rents by one-tenth of those figures the Minister would have him brought before the courts and have him hanged, drawn and quartered.

Again, on a question of violence, I am perfectly willing to put my record against that of the right hon. Gentleman. If we have to stand in the dock together, I will average out my statements against his and I think I could probably come in at a lower figure.

All this is producing not merely speeches in this House but vehement representations from local authorities, as the right hon. Gentleman and, indeed, every hon. Member in this House knows. The subsidies which were originally announced are far below the deficits which were originally estimated. The charges on a £1,400 house are not £26 a year, which they would be on a £1,100 house, but £63 a year, and the London County Council is now making a rate contribution not of £5 10s. per house, as the Bill provides, but £23 10s. a house; and this, of course, leads local authorities to ask for more. The Minister has just reported upon this. In a document ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on 27th June, 1949, the Minister says:
"The available information indicates that the cost of repairs, maintenance and management will be higher than was originally estimated and that there has been since the date of the last review a slight increase in tender prices for the 950 sq. ft. standard house."
The Minister says, optimistically:
"On the other hand, tender prices for these houses have now remained steady for some months and there are grounds for believing that they will tend to decline."
That may be: everything else may be going up and these things may be about to go down, but the Minister admits that up till now they have gone up and he says:
"The prices of certain materials have already fallen and there are definite signs of increased productivity"
—and I will give him that, for I am anxious not to shirk any of the strength of the argument which he can bring forward. The Minister concludes:
"After a review of all the circumstances the Minister has come to the conclusion that he would not at the present time be justified in making an Order reducing the level of contributions and he has decided that they should remain as at present.…"
That means that the Minister is not going to foot the bill and, unless a diminution in the cost of houses can be obtained in some other way, either we are faced with an indefinite maintenance of these very high costs and these inevitably very high rents, or else there will have to be a very large rate contribution, far larger than the bill provides, to clear off the deficit. The resultant pressure is, of course, naturally against housing. The rent level anticipated for the latest L.C.C. blocks of flats, inclusive of rates, runs from 17s. 9d. to 23s. 3d. a week for a three-roomed house and from 21s. 3d. to 26s. 6d. for a four-roomed house. These are very high rents.

As I said, they are inclusive of rates, but perhaps the Minister's attention was diverted at the time. Certainly I would not in any way attempt to diminish the weight of my argument by any fallacious interjection of figures. The argument, heaven knows, is quite strong enough.

Meanwhile, the waiting lists are enormous, and with an output of houses 140,000 a year less than before the war that is not astonishing. Mr. B. S. Townroe estimated in a recent article in the "House Builder"—it was in May this year—that at the present rate of building it would take from 10 to 30 years even to meet the existing demand. He was an optimist compared with the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) who said, on 16th March, that it would take more than 30 years for Birmingham even at double the present rate.

The Minister has dealt with that also, for by recondite application of the higher mathematics, he proved to his own satisfaction—though I do not think to the satisfaction of anybody else in the Committee and certainly not of anybody on the waiting lists—that we now have more houses per head of the population than before the war and that we are now catching up on the number of houses becoming obsolescent. He achieved that result only by counting in the 150,000 houses which were completed during the war—which, of course, were done by Mr. MacDonald, Mr. Ernest Brown, and Mr. Harry Willink—and also by leaving out all the houses that became obsolescent during the war except those that actually could not be used any longer—so to speak, suspending the sinking fund of houses, not merely for the war years but for the peace years. He can only bring out the figures if he is reckoning that something like 20,000 or 25,000 houses a year become obsolescent in this country. If he thinks that, he is welcome to do so. It assumes a life of about 240 years for every house. I wish he could convince the Public Works Loans Board of that figure.

A further argument he brings forward is that no nation in the world, in the war or out of the war, has been able to come near it. That depends entirely on what percentage of the labour force other countries are deploying in house building. But let us take two countries. Let us take one from the Old World and one from the New World. Let us take Sweden and the United States—because, remember, the Minister issued a challenge to the world; no country in the world, in the war or out of it, had been able to come near it, he said. Between 31st December, 1945, and 31st December, 1948, the United States completed, in addition to their temporary houses, one permanent house for every 67 citizens. We completed, also in addition to our temporary houses, one house for every 117 citizens, or, if we count in the temporaries, one to every 71.

Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman know how the American lists are compiled?

Really, do the Americans know how our lists are compiled? The Minister was making a general assertion, which one can check only by taking the figures which are available. The Minister cannot invent these figures out of his head. He also must rely upon the figures which he obtains from friendly countries.

No, no. These were in addition. These were their permanent houses. But we shall not say that Sweden includes trailers and vans. Or will the right hon. Gentleman? Does he suggest that in the Arctic wastes of Sweden, people, simply to confute the Minister's argument, go about living in biscuit tins and setting up caravans—in the midst of the primeval pine forests in the eternal night of the winter? No, Sir, Sweden may be expected to be reckoned pretty seriously in this, and Sweden built in 1946 and 1947 and 1948 certainly more than one house for every 50 citizens; and the figure may well be, according to whether we consider the output per head or not, nearer to one to every 25—but certainly more than one for every 50. These comparisons are, of course, quite inconclusive. At the end of the day we can only compare Britain with Britain.

How are we doing? The index of output which I have been able to get hold of as far as possible, out of the Interim Index of Industrial Production, for building in 1948 is 120. That is, by doubling the figure for the first six months. Perhaps, the Minister could indicate whether that is an accurate figure or not. I am giving him the full benefit of the doubt, because that shows a rise from 1946 and 1947. But while that figure today is something of the order of 120 the output in 1937 was 142; the output in 1938 was 143.

What is the reason for these differences? Well, there was the very interesting report of the Harlow Development Corporation erecting the new town of Harlow. They allotted 65 of the first 100 of their houses to the people actually building the houses, and the clerk of the works reported that not merely the speed but the quality of the construction was very much improved. The Girdwood Report said quite categorically that in the last six months of 1947 local authority houses were taking 14.5 months to complete on the average, and private enterprise houses 11.2.

How does the picture look pre-war and post-war? From October, 1937, to September, 1938—and these figures are the last pre-war figures, and for a year that is actually less favourable to private enterprise than the year before—the local authorities built 94,000 houses, and private enterprise built 265,000 houses, a total of 359,000. From October, 1947, to September, 1948, the local authorities built 216,000 houses—122,000 houses up; private enterprise—this is all part of the Minister's policy—built 39,332 which on balance, is 225,000 down. And for the same number of men.

We are maintaining the same labour force to build this vastly smaller output of houses, in addition to putting out a much smaller volume of schools, of hospitals, and of repair works—as I have said, £400 million worth at pre-war prices and £374 million worth at post-war prices; a smaller amount. If ever one could point to a bad deployment of labour here it is. When the Girdwood Committee said that the local authority houses required twice as much labour and a third more material and three and a half times as much cost to build, they were pointing the way to the difficulty. The verdict is also given by the £1,800 house of the London County Council. The verdict is also given in the waiting lists. The verdict is given—and we on this side of the Committee have good reason to know—in the municipal and local authority elections, because, in spite of the Minister's arguments, no individual in this country believes that we are in a better housing position than we were before the war, and every individual is keenly aware of the terrible pressure which the housing shortage exercises just now upon the ordinary rank and file of the people of this country. We are perfectly capable of standing on our record. I was a Minister before the war, and I am perfectly willing—

Yes. I am perfectly willing to stand on the record of 365,000 houses a year against the Minister's record of 225,000—for a million men, exactly the same labour force as the right hon. Gentleman has.

In the same time, for the same number of men. We were able so to deploy that force as to produce 140,000 houses more—and schools and hospitals and repairs, which are so heavily in arrears just now. The million men of the building industry have clearly been deployed in a wrong formation, and have been launched at an objective which will take, according to hon. Members of this Committee and people elsewhere, 30 years to reach. That is only 10 years less than the children of Israel wandered in the desert of Sinai, but they had that imposed on them as a punishment. By the time they reached the Promised Land all the original ones were dead, and it was no consolation to them to know that Moses had, some time before, told them from a height that they were within sight of their promised objective.

The further we remove the producer from the consumer the slower is the rate of housing. The closer we bring them together, the more rapid is the rate of housing. There is no reason whatever why, for instance, where a pool of private enterprise houses exists, it should not be available for local authorities who have exhausted their pool, as against other local authorities who have not. But a rise there ought to be, and a rise there can be with the labour force at present employed. Let the dog see the rabbit; let the householder see his own house. Give the British people the tools and let them finish the job. Unless we can have an affirmative answer to our request for a change of policy, we shall, of course, certainly divide the Committee.

4.31 p.m.

When I was told that the Opposition wished to discuss housing, the deployment of labour on housing, and housing costs, I was quite frankly surprised, and I am still surprised after having heard the opening speech, because for the very life of me I cannot understand the arguments of the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Univer- sities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), although he has been more than usually industrious in looking up the figures. I congratulate him upon that, and upon having made a speech which is rather an improvement on those we usually get from the Front Opposition Bench on the subject of housing. Nevertheless, although he has laboured very hard indeed, what he has brought forth will not, I think, give me much difficulty to refute.

The first thing I would ask him—because the Committee knows that I am always seeking information from the Opposition on these occasions—is how he explains, if the housing needs of the country are of the order that he now says they are, the White Paper on Housing produced by the interim Government in 1945? It really is very perplexing. We are now told by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that it will take a very long time indeed to provide the number of houses which the country requires. As I have explained before, with my usual credulity I took what the last Government said was the housing need. This estimate was not made in 1940, 1941, 1942 or 1943; it was made when the war was coming to a close, and when all the facts were available. Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell me how it came about that when the last Government decided that 750,000 homes, including reoccupied war-damaged houses, were all that were required by Great Britain—

Nonsense. The right hon. Gentleman really should not make these wild and foolish statements.

I am quoting from the White Paper—perhaps the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will get it from the Vote Office—Cmd. 6609, March, 1945. The objective stated in the White Paper was 750,000 dwellings to afford a separate dwelling to every family desiring it. Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman deny that?

Has the right hon. Gentleman totally failed to appreciate any of the long and careful arguments I advanced to the Committee about obsolesence?

Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman deny that the target set to the nation and to the building in- dustry by the last Government in March, 1945, was the production of 750,000 dwellings, by which time they estimated that every family in the country desiring a separate home would have one? Does he deny it?

Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that any Government would say that at that point housing in this country should come to an end? The right hon. Gentleman must do his best to address himself to the serious argument, which I laid before the Committee. As he well knows, the first stage in any attack is not the last stage. We are now four years beyond that.

Let me assure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that there is not a single one of the arguments he advanced which I will not deal with faithfully before I sit down, and I hope he will appreciate the reply. What I want to know from him—and he will not answer—is how it comes about that such a modest target was set? He will not give me the answer; I will give it. The answer is, of course, that the Government based their estimate on the assumption, which they never disclosed, that they expected to have in Great Britain the same number of unemployed people as existed in 1939, and that, therefore, we would have a situation such as then existed when speculative builders were let loose on the country.

The Tory Party, which has always held itself up as the patriotic party, boasts today of what the speculative builder did between 1926 and 1939 in the south and south-east of England. Go up any of the avenues leading from London and look at the monstrosities. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that they built the houses where they were needed. Thousands of children are losing their lives because they were allowed to do so. The houses were strung along the highways. Children cannot obey the normal impulses of childhood without being murdered by the results of speculative builders. Can he deny that? Does he deny that it is much cheaper to build houses strung along the highway, because that is why they built them that way. It is much dearer to build houses off the highway in closes—

I shall be a long time making my speech if there are all these interruptions.

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain which Minister and which Government introduced the restriction of ribbon development?

And what a rotten thing it was. Is the hon. Member boasting about that? I remember the miserable little thing going through the House, and the Minister who introduced it; I think it was Mr. Leslie Hore-Belisha. That poor little thing was almost murdered by the vested interests among the Opposition. Ribbon development, indeed! The hon. Gentleman should be ashamed to mention it. All it did was to put a little grass verge between the road and the houses; that is all. It was an improvement, we agree, but what a miserable little improvement. We now refuse permission for local authorities to string their houses along the highways, and we make them go back and build service roads for the housing estates. As a consequence, the houses are much more expensive.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been making a comparison between how much it takes to build houses in the post-war world and how much it cost in the pre-war world. I would rather spend more public money on putting down more miles of drains and sewers for houses and more miles of roads in order to keep the children alive than cheapen the cost of houses and murder children. Which way does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman want it?

It seems that the right hon. Gentleman will prolong his speech almost indefinitely. He is not answering any of the questions which have been put to him; he is not answering the fundamental point as to why the productivity of labour on house building, upon which the Girdwood Committee reported, is lower, and why one million men are building so many fewer houses.

Perhaps the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will wait; I am approaching that point. I thought I was already giving one answer. If my memory serves me aright, the Girdwood Committee speaks about the cost of building the house within the curtilage; I am speaking about the overall cost of building, comparing it with the overall cost of the house before the war. If, instead of taking advantage of the highway, and of stringing sewers and houses along main roads, one goes off the highway and builds more services, taking the roads and sewers longer distances, it is obvious that the house will cost more. Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman concede that? If it does cost more, does he agree that it is a good thing for Great Britain to bear that additional cost rather than exposing children to the risk of being murdered on the roads? That is all I was asking. Apparently we have finished with the item of additional cost. The Opposition accept that.

I am coming to the other points. Apparently that one is accepted, so we are making progress; that one has gone. I am coming to the comparison of costs in a moment. There is an old German adage which says that to understand is not necessarily to leave behind, and I therefore wish to bring the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's mind to the fact that if much more equipment is put into a house, the house will cost more. We are putting into the modern house equipment costing very nearly £200—built-in cupboards, and conveniences of that kind. It is fair to set off against rent the amount of additional capital put into the house by way of modern gadgets and conveniences. If that is done there has been a very modest increase indeed compared with the additional value being put into the house. That answers another of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's arguments. I am now about to deal with his main point.

Perhaps the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will permit me to deal with his main argument.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman must let me finish my argument. I have been interrupted four or five times. Do let me finish now.

Then at least let me finish this part of my speech. The substantial point made by the Opposition is that, after having made allowances for all these things it remains the fact that the modern house costs more than the pre-war house, taking like with like. That is the main case we have to answer. If it be the fact that the cost of housing is moving disproportionately to the cost of other materials, that would be a very serious charge indeed, and I should have to answer it. But I think that hon. Members in all parts of the Committee will agree with this contention: that a house, with all its equipment, is about the most complex product in society. One can hardly think of an industry that does not make its contribution to a house and its equipment. Every other industry has to be stimulated into activity; every other industry has to be organised to make the bits and pieces that go into a house. Therefore, it is practically impossible for the price curve of housing to move differently from the price curve of every other industry.

Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman contend that the cost of building a house in the post-war world moved disproportionately to the cost of other things as against the pre-war world? This is the gravamen of my case here: it is impossible for bricks, steel, coal and wood to cost more—all the ingredients that go into the building of a house—and for the price of a house to fall. If that were so it would be miraculous. Of course, it is a miracle performed by the Opposition every time we have a Debate nowadays; they always insist, as I said a few days ago, upon all the items being up and the total being down. I have looked at these figures very carefully, and I find that since pre-war years the cost of building—not the housing alone, but the cost of building—has moved in exactly the same ratio as all other costs, which is exactly what we would expect. Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman deny that?

I am always in a little difficulty to know whether the right hon. Gentleman wishes to indulge in a soliloquy or a dialogue. Using his own argument, is it not an odd thing that the efficiency of the deployment of labour in so many other industries has gone up while the efficiency of deployment of labour in this industry has gone down? That is what I was asking the Minister to address himself to.

This is exactly the opposite of what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was saying.

If it be the fact that the deployment of labour in the building of houses was less efficient than the deployment of labour in other industries, then the cost of the houses would have moved up relative to that of all the other industries. Is that not so? It must have expression somewhere, and the expression would be in the cost of the house. But if it be the fact, as it is, that the cost of housing has moved in the same ratio as the cost of other products, then it is not inefficiency in the building industry that is responsible but the difference in the product the industry is making. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot have it both ways.

Surely the Opposition would agree that it would be very remarkable, and almost impossible having regard to the builder's own profits and his own efficiency, for the cost of the house to fall if all the materials cost more. I repeat: if it be that the product produced by the building industry—in this case the house—has moved up no more than the cost of other things, then, obviously, there is not a greater increase in inefficiency in the building industry.

What has happened is that the building industry has been given the task of making a superior product. That is it exactly. But that does not contradict the Girdwood Report, because if it be that the building industry is inefficient, and if it be that the costs of every other industry have moved in the same ratio, that only means that the whole of industry is inefficient; it does not mean that the building industry is more inefficient than any other. In other words, if there were to be a Girdwood Report on every industry in society they would produce the same result. Therefore, I cannot understand the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument at all.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman also gave the Committee a comparison of the amount of time it took to build a local authority house as against the time taken to build a house for sale. Does he wish to press that point? I knew that in 1946 and 1947. I called the attention of the building contractors to it, because the same building contractors who are building the houses for sale are building the houses for local authorities. We knew what they were doing. Because they were building the local authority house with public money advanced at different stages they did not care how long it took to build the house if it competed with a house they were building for sale.

The quicker they built the house for sale the quicker they got their money back, but they were losing no money by delaying the local authority house. We knew, and I accused them of it, that very often they were neglecting local authority schemes in order to man their private schemes. In other words, what we were having to deal with was not so much the inefficiency as the cupidity of the building industry. They were very efficient in pursuing the thing that gave the most profit. For example, if they were not paid for a local authority house until it was completed they would build it more quickly.

It has always been in question in the building industry whether we ought not to insist upon holding a larger sum of money until the house is actually completed before paying it over. Indeed, we knew—and we know even now, although it is getting less and less—that the finishing stages of the house were being unduly prolonged, because at that stage the builder had got 90 per cent. of the money from the local authorities. It did not matter very much how much longer they took on the finishing stages of the houses. That is one of the reasons why it took longer. But the Girdwood Report also says there is no reason, on the evidence, to suppose that houses for sale are being built more efficiently than houses for the local authorities. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not mention that, but it is a fact.

My contention is that there is no case lying against the building industry in this matter, certainly not against the cost of housing, and that it will be possible to reduce the cost of house building only by other industries being able to produce their products more efficiently and more cheaply. What other element is there in the cost of the house? We could, of course, reduce the cost if the builder took less profit. Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman suggest that way? Or we could pay landlords less for the land.

In London? The Chairman of the L.C.C. Housing Committee will tell us that the cost in London is appalling. It is a very considerable proportion of the cost of building in the London area. That is one of the reasons why we have to build flats, why we have a bigger density per acre than we sometimes think desirable in order to escape land costs in London. The fact is that an examination of the cost of building houses puts us in a white sheet, and nothing the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has suggested besmirches it.

It is true, and no one expected otherwise, that immediately after the war it took some time for the building industry to be geared up. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman went very far afield when he suggested that in 1945 we started off with a building industry far superior to the building industry after the 1914–18 war. In August, 1945, I started the building programme with the war with Japan still on. We started the building programme with 50 per cent. of industry in this country still geared up for war production. We started off with our Army, Navy and Air Force all over the world. As a matter of fact, if we take the first year, which is a very modest thing to do, as a year of preparation and not of building—as, indeed, it could not be and was admitted here it could not be—if we take the first post-war year as a year of preparation, of mobilising the industry and getting designs and schemes started, then we managed last year to achieve a rate of building that was not achieved until eight or 10 years after the 1914–18 war.

These are the facts, not the garbled description that was given by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. We have already provided homes not only for the 750,000 that was held to be the target—we passed that target last December— but before the end of the year we shall have provided more than one million homes. We shall be 250,000 beyond the target set by the last Government in March, 1945. But we shall still need houses, and why? Because all our people are in work. That is the reason. Because most of our old people are now able to live out their lives in their own homes. I know how the Opposition would solve the housing problem. They would solve it quite easily by making it impossible for people to pay rents at all. In 1939, in a town whose housing report I have already given, there were 120 idle houses. There were idle flats in the centre of London in 1938–39, and there was an appalling slum problem. The speculator was all right because he built all the luxury houses for the people in the centre, but, at the same time, people in the periphery were all crowded out. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that to be true. Anyone can solve the housing problem in the way the right hon. and gallant Gentleman suggests, by making people too poor to occupy new houses.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman talks about rents and about high housing costs leading to high rents. In 1945 I estimated that if a 10s. rent were paid—I am talking about a net rent; I suggest to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman it is always better to talk about net rents than gross rents, because putting in the rate amount always falsifies the figures—plus a subsidy of £16 10s. from the State and £5 10s. from the local rates, it would roughly finance the house I have described with a minimum of 950 superficial feet. That was the position I inherited. The position today is that to amortise the cost of that house it would be necessary to change the net rent to 13s. and add another 1s. for additional management costs and repairs, making it between 3s. and 4s. net rent more than it was in 1945.

But since 1945 earnings have gone up, too. It is as easy for a wage earner, on the average, to pay at the 1949 rates of earnings 13s. or 14s. net rent as it was for the wage earner in 1945 to pay 10s. Does anyone deny that? Furthermore, the rents that are being charged for postwar houses bear the same relationship to post-war earnings as pre-war rents bear to pre-war earnings. In other words, we have moved in exactly the same relation- ship. We have not moved away but have moved at exactly the same pace. Therefore, no case whatsoever lies against us in that respect.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned that local authorities have altered their rents. The fixing of rents is a matter for the local authority, and my advice to Members is not to try to do it themselves, because if they try to fix rents they will have a good many quarrels on their hands. It is entirely a matter for local authority management. When local authorities have raised some of their pre-war rents in order not to raise post-war rents too much, have they not done a perfectly reasonable thing? If it be the fact that post-war rents are roughly the same in relationship to earnings as pre-war rents were, if no prewar rents were raised at all and people are living in subsidised houses, then the ratio of earnings to rents for pre-war housing would alter immediately.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the private landlord is not allowed to do that, but he is under no obligation to provide rented houses; he does not do it, nor has he done it for a long time, which is the reason why every enlightened housing authority has always said we cannot solve the housing problem except by public authorities building houses for renting. No injustice is being done to the private landlord if he cannot raise his rent. The local authority is permitted only to do it in order to consolidate rents, and distribute the burden evenly all over the tenants, as many of them have done and are doing progressively.

Of course, people quarrel about rents. Whenever rents go up 1s. or 2s. there is a row. That is human nature. Everyone wants the product he is selling to go up in price, and the product he is buying to fall in price. No hardship is suffered at all by virtue of the fact that the local authorities have decided to raise rents. As these people are living in subsidised houses, it is reasonable that they should pay a slight increase in rent rather than the other people should pay an increase in rates in order to keep those rents down.

I have only one more thing to say on the subject of housing costs. I should like to see the cost of housing less. We should all like to see the cost of everything less, but the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has not suggested to the Committee any way of doing it. Let me remind him that when he brings this indictment against the building industry, he is bringing it against private enterprise. These houses have been built by private enterprise. His is a heavy indictment against his friends, the builders, and they will not thank him for it.

A resolution was intended to be moved at the last Labour Party conference asking for the nationalisation of the building industry. It ought to be moved after today's indictment against inefficient private enterprise in building. I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will not persist in that matter. We do not want to add at present to our nationalisation programme, but if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman persists in this indictment of private enterprise in the building industry then we shall have to consider it seriously.

After all, there are only two ways of attending to this business—either by public enterprise or private enterprise. If private enterprise is falling down we may have to pick it up, and we will have to consider this matter very seriously indeed. When my friends the building operatives read the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech they will regard it as an incitement to them to get the industry nationalised. I should be put in the absurd position of having to accept nationalisation on behalf of my party, or trying to prove that private enterprise in the industry is efficient and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman wrong. I would not like to be driven there. I would not like to have to prove him wrong. I am prepared to accept what he says—that in his opinion the labour force in the building industry is inefficiently deployed, and I shall call the attention of the master builders to his remarks the next time I meet them.

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will also call attention to the fact that what I was advocating and am still advocating is that it should be efficiently deployed—that is to say, instead of putting the men in fetters on a tight rope and asking them to dance, they should be taken off the tight rope, and allowed to dance on the floor.

Now we are coming to it. I was very glad to have that inter- ruption, because I want to know where the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is. I have asked him this question before. I mentioned the last time that we discussed housing in Committee that the Opposition had not yet made up its mind what was to be ratio of houses for sale and houses for rent. Now the right hon. Gentleman has let the cat out of the bag. He wants to set them free. He says they are in fetters. What fetters? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I know the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is in a very delicate situation and I do not want to appear to be sadistic in torturing him, but I should really like to know where he and the Opposition stand in this matter. Indeed, we all want to know and the country wants to know. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said, "Do not keep them in fetters." In other words, would he say that we should let the building industry build as many houses as it likes? That is the first question I would like him to answer, and I am entitled to an answer.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that we should not keep the industry in fetters. Does he suggest that the building industry should build what it likes? He does not want that; he would not want it to build cinemas and not houses. It would have done it in 1945, but it has learnt much better in 1949. Does he suggest that the builders should build as many houses as they like? We should like to know that. If he cannot give an answer, then perhaps the acting Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) can give the answer. I know that we can only elicit the Election programme from the Opposition in bits and pieces, and not until their Leader has spoken, but it was the Opposition who asked for a housing Debate, not me, and I should have thought that they would come prepared to answer these questions, because I have asked them before.

The right hon. Gentleman has been answered time and time again, and will be answered as often as he likes. I said at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of my speech that if he cannot come up to the level which I established he might come up to the level of the years before. If he cannot keep up to the progress made he might keep up not merely to the level of Mr. Chamberlain, but that which Mr. Baldwin maintained for the whole of his time.

I shall try to get some coherence into the Opposition's argument. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman now says that he does not entirely want the fetters to be struck off the ankles of the building industry, but that it should be given a longer chain. How much longer? We are building about 200,000 houses a year at present.

Is that the right hon. Gentleman's answer to the question, what is the out-turning of the year to be? I have asked him that and he has not given an answer yet.

We are building at the rate of 200,000 a year; that is the rate of completion.

Is that the right hon. Gentleman's answer to my question? What is the rate for the year?

As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has launched such an indictment against the building industry I cannot tell what it will do. All we know is that we are finishing at the rate of 200,000 houses a year. What is the extent of the chain which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman wants for the building industry? Is it 330,000 houses? He says that the industry cannot reach the rate of pre-war days, and I claim that we have reached the rate. The right hon. Gentleman blinks, but does he think we are going to count the silly little bungalows built before the war along the coast as anything equal to a modern house? They are all along the south and south-east coast of England, and eyesores they are. Builders made a fortune in putting them up, and fortunes are now being made in holding them up.

Do we understand that what the Opposition says is that they would build at the rate of 330,000 houses of this type? If so, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us where he will get the softwood from? The frivolous irresponsibility of some of the things that fall from the lips of the Opposition these days is astonishing. The great limiting factor on the building of houses, indeed the greatest limiting factor, is the supply of softwood timber. We get a great deal of it from Canada, which costs dollars. A great deal we have got from Sweden, which always tends to become hard currency. We are getting very little from the Soviet Union. We have only been able to build the number of houses which we have built by cutting down to half the amount of timber in each house, which was an extraordinary technical feat.

We were able to do that only by taking exceptional emergency measures to get the bitumen mastic industry manned up to produce a covering for the hard floors. Half the timber is costing twice as much as before the war. In other words, the price of soft timber, which is beyond our control, has increased. It is responsible for 14 per cent. of the cost of a house and is between three and four times more than it was. That is the item with which we have to deal, because it is the limiting factor. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that he will set the building industry free to start a whole lot of houses they would not have the timber to finish.

Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that he could get enough timber for 100,000 houses a year from the resources of this country and for an expenditure of just over £8 million. Does he suggest that there is no waste going on from which it might be possible to get just the timber essential for housing, which is the first of all our social services?

The answer is that in Canada there is a sharp conflict between timber and food. There is no waste in Canada. We are buying from Canada wheat, bacon and things of that sort. In the conflict to which I have referred we have decided that a reasonable priority would be timber for 200,000 houses and that the rest would have to go on food. That is a very reasonable proportion indeed. At one time it looked as though the number of houses would have to be less. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman must face the possibility that there might be a national misfortune: the Opposition might get into office. They should now be thinking what they would do when they got there. They should apply the Kantian principle of making the immediate action of universal application.

I am sorry to weary the Committee, but there is one more thing to which I want to refer before I sit down—

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of timber will he say whether he has taken all possible steps to get timber from Canada, and what other steps he has taken apart from those taken in dollar countries?

Buying timber is a matter for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I am satisfied that he has taken all the steps that lay within his power, and I know that he will take note of what has been said in this Debate. If there are other means open to us they will be explored. The situation may get better or it may get worse.

The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities has not answered my question about the size of the programme. Does he now accept the proportion of one house for sale to four for rent? Last year he was a little confused on this point. Lord Woolton said one thing. The Leader of the Opposition, in an unguarded moment in Blackpool, said another thing. The right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) said another, and the right hon. and gallant Member himself said a fourth. What kind of ratio does he think would be reasonable? What should be the length of the chain there?

It really is rather awkward if we cannot get an answer to these questions. Should the proportion be one in five, or four, or three, or two? What should it be? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer?"] It was the Opposition who asked for this Debate. They ought to tell us. We have told the country and they should tell us and take us into their confidence. Just tell us. The Leader of the Opposition has not spoken yet. I warn hon. Members opposite that they ought to give him counsel about this matter. He does not know much about it, and he might say something very embarrassing. They ought to make up their minds before he speaks, so that he will not land them into something embarrassing. In this interrogation I am seeking to assist the Opposition to make up their minds for themselves.

No one who goes about the country at present and sees the housing schemes that are under way can be anything but proud of what is being accomplished. I am now not making a party or a Government point about it: this is co-operation among the builders, the local authorities and the central Government, and a very remarkable job is being done. I went to Bath the other day and saw houses being built there in Bath stone, small houses that would compete with anything that Nash did. I have seen mining villages being built in a small distressed area of Durham, as lovely as any of the classical villages in Great Britain. I have seen little housing schemes in rural areas that were an adornment to the countryside. All over the country there is this co-operation going on among various people.

I hope most sincerely that no pressure will be brought to bear upon the Government to lower housing standards. That would be a cruel thing to do. After all, people will have to live in and among these houses for many years. Enough damage has already been done to the face of England by irresponsible people. I hope we shall defend housing standards. If we have to wait a little longer, that will be far better than doing ugly things now and regretting them for the rest of our lives. I hope the Committee will join with me in congratulating local authorities upon the job that they have done in building good houses for our own people.

As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman said that longer building time meant increased costs, according to the size of the house, and he gave the figure £250. He also mentioned £200 on fittings. That makes £450. Is there not still a figure to be added to that figure for wages costs? Could he give us any information about it?

It is undoubtedly correct, in the year which was under review by the Girdwood Committee, that it was taking far too long to finish the houses. No one denied that. The time has now been drastically reduced. It is very much less than a year now, as against 18 months, and the local authorities are having the benefit of it in being able to let people go into the houses more quickly. Costs are tending to fall. They have already fallen about £10 per house because of the fall in the price of timber and non-ferrous metals. The final costs of houses are tending to reproduce the tender price. In other words, final costs are not far away from tender prices. That has been stabilising the position over the last year, and I am hoping that it will improve still further.

Let me return to the point about housing standards. We are taking a pride in them, and we ought to congratulate local authorities, after four years' experience, on the way in which they have managed their housing programmes. Local councillors have a very difficult task. It is very much easier for us than it is for the local councillor, whose door is being knocked at day by day by anxious people who want to get a house. We are all deeply conscious of the amount of suffering that exists in the country. We are also conscious of the fact that we are making substantial progress in dealing with it. When the new Bill comes into operation we shall be able to apply ourselves not only to building new houses but to reconditioning old houses and pulling down some of the slums. Indeed, slum clearances schemes are already being started in some parts of the country. I am deeply grateful to the Opposition for the opportunity it has afforded us once more of calling the attention of the country to the housing programme and for the illumination which the Opposition always throws on the subject.

5.20 p.m.

The Committee has listened as usual with a great deal of pleasure to the Minister of Health. He has allowed us to enjoy all the emotions. We have listened to wit, sarcasm and ferocity, and at the end I thought we were beginning to listen to penitence. The Minister did not attempt in any serious way to deal with the very full and considered speech of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). In trying to deal with the speech of my right and gallant Friend, the Minister was in his more frivolous mood. He more or less admitted that all he wanted to do was to ask questions. Most hon. Members would probably feel that the right hon. Gentleman probably went too far in that, for, having asked four questions and having been answered by my right hon. and gallant Friend, the Minister asked a fifth question and then said, "I must not be interrupted." That was hardly just to the very serious argument put forward from these benches.

I am glad that in his final remarks the right hon. Gentleman admitted that, despite whatever may have been done during the post-war years, an immense housing problem remains. I wish he had always tried to keep that fact before the people and his own colleagues in the Government. We must not forget that not so many months or years ago the right hon. Gentleman was parading the country saying that the back of the housing problem would be broken by the time of the next General Election. Remarks of that sort create a very false impression. We ought not to forget that even in July last year the right hon. Gentleman used these words:
"I would warn hon. Members not to pay too much attention to the housing lists because the housing lists are not now an expression of the housing needs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1948; Vol. 453, c. 1320.]
He did not say anything on those lines today. Anyhow, I am grateful that the last 12 months have made the right hon. Gentleman realise the folly and crime of remarks of that sort. Many hon. Members opposite took him up on that point on the Second Reading of the Housing Bill in March when he did not go as far as he did last year but concentrated on the achievements of the Government rather than on the immense need for new housing that remains. I think it was the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) who said that even if output were doubled, the problem in Birmingham would take 40 years to solve. The hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson), who is chairman of the housing committee of the London County Council, knows that in London we still have an immense housing problem. My hon. Friends and I consider that we are being grossly hampered by the policy of the Minister, but as far as we are able to do so, irrespective of party, we are all trying our best to deal with this vast human problem.

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the revision of the housing lists which has taken place during the past year, has shown a considerable reduction compared with the time about which he is speaking?

I am very glad that that may be so in Plymouth. I think that the hon. Member for Kennington would agree that as regards London we are disappointed and that the combing of the lists has not brought the drastic reductions for which we hoped. In spite of combing the lists and trying to cut out duplication where people have their names down on more than one list, I do not think any hon. Member would suggest for a moment that the problem will not take years at its present rate of progress before it can be said in any way to be overcome. The immensity of the problem must be kept constantly in mind. If we were in power, we might take the line of the right hon. Gentleman and try to concentrate on what we had done, but we should be wrong if for a moment we lost sight of the objective which must lie before us.

I agree with my right hon. and gallant Friend that the real problem, which must worry all of us who are concerned with the provision of new houses in large numbers and at the right place, is the cost of housing. When trying to answer the very carefully considered points put by my right hon. and gallant Friend, the Minister burked the issue. He did not give any solution to the crippling rate of housing cost. He more or less tried to whitewash the building industry and accuse my right hon. and gallant Friend of trying to produce a case which might bring pressure on him to nationalise the industry. He treated the argument in a very flippant way. No hon. Member will dispute it if I say that we all agree that something must somehow be done to bring down building costs. Owing to my good fortune in being on the London County Council housing committee, I know that already we are beginning to discover that people are finding it difficult to pay the rents which we are having to ask, although we are subsidising our new houses to a far higher degree than we are asked to do by the Minister under the Act.

The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye) will agree with me that in the country areas—I also represent a country constituency—the farm workers are finding it very difficult to take up the new houses which are being built for them. The hon. Member shakes his head and apparently does not agree, but I find that is so in my part of East Anglia. It is a most serious situation and a situation which, if we are, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to indicate, entering a period of recession, will get more serious because there will be less money about. Therefore, if the present height of rents is already having this serious effect on the tenants whom the local authorities are hoping to re-house, it will be much worse in a period of depression. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will indicate how the Government intend to deal with the problem of housing costs.

I was not impressed by the manner in which the Minister tried to account for the extra cost of a house today compared with 1939. He really did not answer the salient point put to him by my right hon. and gallant Friend, namely, that in the United States it requires.85 of a worker to complete a house as compared with 2.25 in this country. I would assure the right hon. Gentleman that the figures of house completions given by my right hon. and gallant Friend did not include trailers or caravans or temporary constructions; they were figures taken from the Bureau of Labour Statistics and dealt only with permanent houses.

It is clear that we are not getting the same productivity of labour in our building industry as is being achieved in the United States, and it is also clear from other figures given by my right hon. and gallant Friend, that we are not getting the same productivity as the building labour force of Sweden. Their performance, unfortunately for us, compares favourably with what we have done. Neither my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee nor myself believe that the Government can continue their present policy and bring down costs. I am certain that they are as worried as we are about those costs because, what- ever the right hon. Gentleman may say about people being in the same position now to pay rents at these post-war levels as they were in 1939, I do not think that view is shared by the general public or by most hon. Members of this House. I read in the paper today that the Association of Municipal Corporations is to bring this point to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. I read these headlines: "Rents Reach Limit, Councils Protest." That association is a non-political body and speaks for a number of local authorities whose interest in housing cannot in any way be questioned, and it ought to know the position.

The Minister could have said a little more than he did about the necessity of trying to vary the type of house now being produced. In the past he has concentrated, and has asked local authorities to concentrate, much too much on the three-bedroom type of house. He stuck to that rigidly until he showed indications of vacillating, although not very much, in the speech he made in this House in March this year on the Second Reading of the latest Housing Bill. All hon. Members who have the subject of housing at heart have no desire in any way to reduce amenities unless brutal necessity forces us to do so, but I suggest that more two bedroom houses should be produced by the local authorities and, as we are trying to do in the London County Council, more homes for single people of both sexes who require accommodation, the young as well as the aged.

I believe that a great deal of accommodation in this country is under-occupied, and that if local authorities were told to build a larger proportion of the smaller unit of accommodation, they could go through their lists and offer attractive smaller dwellings at cheaper rents to tenants at present occupying council houses. I do not think there should be any question of compulsion, because we do not want to force older people to leave a house they have lived in all their lives. However, there are many older or single people, even married couples who have not had the good fortune to raise a family, who would be delighted to move to smaller accommodation with modern amenities if this were available at a cheaper rent.

I am certain that the great building industry on which this housing development depends is not being allowed to produce of its best. I hope that the Government today will give us far more indication than the right hon. Gentleman has given of how we are to face up to the problem put so ably by my right hon. and gallant Friend, namely, how is it that with approximately the same number of men we are producing 50 per cent. fewer houses? That is a problem which we must face and which the Government must solve by every means they can call to their aid.

I feel that we are menaced by the possibility, owing to the high building costs, of local authorities failing to produce houses for people who are their first responsibility. I am talking about the £5 and £6 a week men. I am afraid that those houses are becoming too expensive for that type of person, and that they are going to people with larger means who are getting priority over those Who should, normally, be the first responsibility of the local authorities. Also I am certain that many people are going into council houses who could well afford either to buy their own houses outright or to pay economic rents for houses let in the market. For instance, only this morning I was discussing a case in my constituency where, because of the shortage of houses, the local council was giving a council house to one of its senior officials, a person of ample means compared with the average applicant on the waiting list in that rural district area. I am certain that more flexibility is needed if we are to achieve the object we all have in mind.

On that point, the local authority is perfectly at liberty to charge an economic rent in the type of case mentioned by the hon. Member if it so wishes.

It may be open to the local authority to charge an economic rent, but my point is that the house should go to somebody in a less high income group who would never have the opportunity which this highly paid official has of occupying a decent house, and I consider that a poorer person is the first responsibility of the local authority.

I do not wish to detain the Committee any longer, and I hope I have made my points clear. I am absolutely convinced that the future will demand of our people all their energies to produce the extra volume of goods to sell abroad which is needed, and to grow more food in our own countryside. They will do this far better if they are given real hope of looking forward in the next 15 years to a solution of the housing problem which faces this country.

5.40 p.m.

I have listened with very great care to what the hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) and the hon. Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare) have said. The Debate, apparently, was asked for in order to examine critically the work of the Government on housing, and one would have thought, therefore, that suggestions would be made for meeting the difficulties to which hon. Members opposite have referred. Although I have listened very carefully to what has been said, I have not yet heard a single suggestion for reducing the cost of house building. I hope to say more about this presently.

On the general question, I find it very difficult to understand what seems to me the false criticism which has been expressed today when I remember what happened in this country between 1919 and 1926. I was in the building industry, and I know the stops and starts which were occasioned by the inefficient Government policy of those days, when prices went up to fantastic heights, so that even the Government of the day had to cut down work on housing as though with a sharp knife. No one can reasonably say that since the last war we have had anything like the kind of experience which we had in the days after the first world war.

I remember taking part in agitations to try to get the Government and my local authority to build houses for people who could afford only to pay rent, who could not even contemplate the possibility of purchasing a house. It took many years to get things done and to have houses built in large numbers. When they were built, in spite of what the hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities has said, many of them were jerry-built. I speak with feeling and with experience, for I took part in the agitation to expose the jerry-building which took place in those days, not only in London, but all over the country. Anyone, therefore, who recalls the facts and remembers the British housing tragedies of those days in comparison with what has been achieved since the end of the last war, must admit that a very fine effort has been made.

To have housed 981,000 families since the end of the war is by no means a bad effort. Even if, to make the number smaller, we deduct the number of families who live in camps, the total still represents 960,000 families living in homes which did not exist when the war ended. What is more, these homes are infinitely better and larger than the kind of home which was built before the war, but which in spite of increases in rent here and there, are on the whole not very much more costly to their tenants. It is quite false, therefore, to try to give the impression—the hon. Member for Woodbridge failed miserably to do so, as the public will agree when they read his speech—that there has been a complete failure in the housing work of the Government since the end of the war.

Having said that, I agree, as the Minister himself emphasised, that an enormous problem remains yet to be solved. Hundreds of thousands of people are in need of houses all over the country. But the houses are needed for renting, and not for purchase. The need for continued drive is as great now as ever it was, although the hon. Member for Woodbridge got rather out of his depth over the numbers of people who are on waiting lists. The recent check-up has very considerably reduced the numbers. As the hon. Member knows, the number still on the waiting list in London has been reduced to 125,000.

I agree—I am talking about the London County Council—but even if we were to add that number, the total would not be more than approximately 200,000.

There is no excuse whatever for the slightest complacency, for much remains to be done; in addition, there are slums which need to be pulled down; some of us have already made a start on slum clearance. I always thought that I knew something about slum conditions, but last week, when I went into one of the worst slum areas in London, I was appalled at the conditions existing in one part of Islington. The houses themselves are so sound structurally that medical officers of health are dubious about condemning them, but inside they have been allowed to become festering dens of unhealthy life, with walls falling down, floors cracking, no proper convenience, and no water. There are thousands of houses like these, not only in London but in many other large cities, which must be dealt with. There is, therefore, no call for anyone to imagine that there is not still a great deal to be done in the building of new houses.

A very important point which is apt to be overlooked is that since the end of the war there has grown up a new standard in people's requirements. I receive letters almost daily from people asking why they cannot have a flat in one or other of the blocks which have been completed by the L.C.C. One woman will say, "Mrs. Brown has got one, but my conditions are worse than hers and I have been on the list far longer." Very often I find on inquiry, however, that such an applicant is not living in conditions which are overcrowded and has a very low position in the list of priority. But I do not blame those people, for they are merely seeking something better.

The more we build the type of accommodation which is being built today, the more we shall increase the desire for better living conditions. One poor woman in the slum which I visited last week said, "I would be content with these two rooms if someone would give me a bathroom." There is no doubt whatever that the provision of a bathroom and facilities for hot water are prominent in the present-day demand for houses, and this must be taken into account in estimating the numbers of houses which require to be built.

I do not believe that private enterprise will ever do all that is required. It did not do so before the war. When private enterprise had its opportunity between the wars it did not build the masses of houses needed by the poor who could afford only to pay rent. The task, therefore, was left to the borough councils and to the L.C.C. It was we on those bodies who were expected to carry the burdens and the losses, but wherever there was a possibility of profit on the outskirts of towns private enterprise would come along with what were in many cases jerry-built houses. I hope that we shall encourage people to want better and better homes, for in that way we shall help to bring about a better citizenship.

Costs are, of course, very high and ought to be brought down, but they have not reached the extravagant, fantastic heights which they attained after the first world war. I have listened intently to hon. Gentlemen opposite in the hope that we should receive suggestions from them about how costs could be brought down. Before I make one or two further remarks let me put right a quotation which we have had from the Front Bench opposite, when it was suggested that the average rate contribution of the L.C.C. for housing was £23 a house. That is not true. The London County Council did, however, publish a report of its building work on cottage estates, which showed for those estates a supplemental loss of something like that figure, but we have recently published a further report which shows a considerable reduction. All housing authorities must amalgamate their housing work, as is done by the L.C.C. It is no secret that the average supplemental rate cost to London as the result of the London County Council's housing is £2 13s. a house—not £23. It is necessary that I make that correction, otherwise there is likely to be considerable misunderstanding in the Press of the figures which the Opposition have given.

The figure of £23 10s. was in a report some six months ago. Am I not right in saying that the present figure for the new cottage estates is £16 10s. per house to be borne on the rates of London County Council, and that this information was published only a few days ago?

That is true, except that it is not to be borne on the rates. The amount to be borne on the rates is the average amount of the whole of our housing estates and all the flats and cottages by law must be included in our housing revenue accounts. The supplemental rate charged at the moment is not £22, nor £16, but £2 13s. and, if we go on with the success we are getting now, I think we shall get a reduction on that.

I did not say that the average cost was £23, but that for the 1,800 houses the contribution would be £23 and that goes to raise the level of the whole rate contribution. Obviously houses produced under beneficent Tory Governments produced far less burden on the local authority.

It might also be remembered that where a subsidy results in a balance as a result of the beneficent efforts of this Government, that must be taken into account.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows better than that. I will repeat, although it has nothing to do with my argument, that the loss per cottage outside the county is something below £16. It has been reduced from £23 to £16, but averaging the two types of building, as we have to do in connection with our housing finances, we find that the result works out at £2 13s. per dwelling on all the dwellings built by London County Council in London. I think it right to say that that is the position, and it is not what the Opposition Press have been saying, something in the nature of £23.

Nevertheless, costs ought to come down. How are we to do it? Would the Opposition do it as they did after the First World War when the building industry were allowed to chop wages vigorously? Members of my own union lost twopence an hour overnight and wages came down with a rush. That resulted in a reduction in building costs. Do the Opposition suggest that should be done, or that the hours should be extended? Just as we are not entitled to get cheap food from agriculture at the expense of the agricultural workers' low wages, we are not entitled to get cheap homes at the expense of building trade operatives. In any case, the wages in the industry have not gone up as they did after the First World War and no one can suggest that they have been using their economic position to exploit the community.

Would the hon. Member comment on that part of the Girdwood Report which says that we need three men now to do the work of two?

Yes, I intend doing so, because that is quite wrong. I think the way to get a reduction in building costs, among other things, is by improving the efficiency of the industry. So far as I can see, even the industry's own journals admit the necessity for that. To improve the efficiency of the British building industry to the level of the American building industry would very considerably reduce building costs. It would help if they were a little less conservative in the use of machines. I admit that some operatives are conservative about the use of machines, but, given proper conditions, even that difficulty can be got over, as I have discovered from personal experience.

I believe that if the operatives are brought into the closest consultation through the joint committee, which is now accepted, and are paid properly, that will result in an all-round efficiency and a reduction in building costs. The building industry has a means of reducing costs in its own hands. Twelve months ago it agreed to an incentive bonus scheme under which the men would be entitled to a bonus of 20 per cent. on the average rate. That scheme is worked in only a few parts of the country. Employers do not like it because it requires thinking about and some organisation and a little staff to run it, but where it has been worked, it has been a success.

In London the value has been shown of getting the co-operation of the operatives on London County Council estates as a result of the use of the incentive bonus scheme, adjusted from site to site by agreement of the men. We have reduced the labour cost on houses built for the L.C.C. by £63 per house since November, 1947. I suggest that if this scheme, on which the industry themselves have agreed, were used vigorously all over the country, it would result in a big increase in output, as well as greater earnings for the operatives, and would give local authorities houses very much more quickly.

We have had an increase in output of more than 40 per cent. and it is not true to say that it requires three men to do the work of two. In London the output for county council and most of the borough council schemes is up to prewar standards, indeed, on some sites, the men are well in advance of the schedule sand are producing at an even greater rate than before the war. They are entitled to credit for that. No one is satisfied with the position, but the men should be given credit for what they have done. By this means we may have greater output and a reduction in price.

Prices of materials should come down. I understand that the Board of Trade have referred certain industries to the Monopolies Commission. I wish to appeal to the Commission to be quick with their inquiry into prices charged for building materials, particularly in London. The Girdwood Report said that London was in a particularly bad position from this point of view because margins charged by the industry in London were very much greater than in other parts of the country. We have a special interest in the activities of the Monopolies Commission and I hope they will report quickly.

One of the biggest headaches some of us have is the cost of land. London has a special difficulty in this matter but all large towns have a similar difficulty. In London the average cost per acre is more than £12,000. We start off with an enormous handicap.

Yes, £12,000. One borough council, in order to find a site for working people, has had to pay £60,000 per acre and others have paid anything from £40,000 to £50,000. If the right hon. and gallant Member for Scottish Universities is anxious to do something to help to reduce the cost of producing homes in the City of London I shall be glad to welcome him with my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) and a few more of us who have been pressing for the taxation of land values, in order to reduce those costs or, alternatively for the State to take the land over and let local authorities have it at a reasonable price, but I do not find any enthusiastic support from the Front Opposition Bench for tackling the land question. Until we do so, housing in this country, not only by local authorities but by private enterprise, will be hamstrung because of the enormous prices which have to be paid for housing sites before building can begin.

I believe, nevertheless, that even if the cost is greater than before the war—and if we do these things we may get the costs down—good housing is a social insurance and will obviate the expenditure of public money on all kinds of public health services. The spending of money to provide people with good homes, with a garden if possible, in good surroundings, is a form of social insurance which this country should not stop providing; I hope it will go on doing so for many years to come. I believe that good housing will in the end cost less to the community and will produce good citizenship and happy women and children. I hope that this Government will be allowed to continue for many years the beneficent housing work which they are doing.

6.2 p.m.

The Committee will no doubt have contrasted the two speeches which we have heard from the Government benches. The hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson), with all the knowledge and experience that come to him from being Chairman of the Housing Committee of the L.C.C., has applied his mind this afternoon to what I should have thought was common ground to both sides of the Committee—the urgent and pressing need to reduce the cost of building. I studied a report which he was good enough to send me, and which was the work of the committee over which he presides, on the cost of housing. Therefore I was not surprised that on a number of matters he confessed this afternoon, as the committee confessed in their report, that he did not see his way clear to the bringing about of any substantial reduction in costs.

But the hon. Gentleman has certainly referred this afternoon to some of the most important things connected therewith. I was very much interested in what he said about the incentive bonus scheme. I am bound to say that I was astonished that the Minister of Health should have made a lengthy speech this afternoon without having so much as referred to that matter. It is known that this has been a matter, if not of dispute, at any rate of argument—I believe that there never are disputes between the Government and the trade unions—between the Minister of Health and those who represent the workers in the building industry. As from last November there was to be this new system of payment containing an incentive for production. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies we may be given some information about that.

After all, we are in the position—I have referred to this matter in other connections—in which the Government are to a large extent the employer of manpower in this country, which is a new development, and yet the level of wages and conditions are decided by free negotiations between the trade unions and the employers. There is, therefore, a great danger that he who pays the piper is not allowed to call the tune. That is so fundamental and obvious an issue that I had thought that the Minister of Health would have discussed that matter this afternoon. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with the matter when he replies to the Debate.

The Minister of Health appeared to have only the most superficial acquaintance with the Girdwood Report, but in this Debate, to which he has contributed at no inconsiderable length, one would have thought that he would have dealt with the fall in the productivity of labour of 31 per cent. which was found as a fact by the Girdwood Committee. He said that he did not consider that the cost of building had risen disproportionately to other costs. In that he was taking an entirely different view from that of the Girdwood Committee, and one would have supposed that he would have explained why his assessment of the facts is entirely different from that of the committee which he himself appointed. The hon. Member for Kennington spoke about a 40 per cent. increase in the productivity of building labour in London during the recent past, and it may be that that 40 per cent. accounts for the discrepancy between the facts as found by the Girdwood Committee about 18 months ago and the statement of facts made by the Minister this afternoon.

When a Minister is accounting to this Committee for his administration, matters of that importance might be referred to in his speech. When we seek to raise, in a useful and constructive way, the question of the cost of building, which is a burden on the whole of the people of this country, and which no responsible person will seek to deny is a problem, and when the Minister is replying to a careful and detailed speech by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), one would expect that those facts would be dealt with, and that it should not be left to us to have to listen to back benchers with greater familiarity with the subject than the Minister possesses, in order to find a possible justification for the facts as the Minister states them.

I return to the Girdwood Report. It may now be out of date, but we have certainly not been given any opportunity up to the present time of discussing it. I know very well that the Minister of Health—I regret making these remarks about him in his absence, but I am not responsible for his absence—

It is only fair to say that the Minister said that he had to go to the American Embassy. I said that we on this side would understand.

I readily accept that. It may well impose a slightly additional burden on the Parliamentary Secretary, which I am sure he will find it quite easy to bear, of explaining and justifying certain parts of the housing administration of his right hon. Friend which were criticised in the Girdwood Report. They found as a fact that there had been an increase in the cost of the typical three-bedroom house built by a local authority from £380 in 1938–39 to £1,242 in 1947.

Will the hon. Member also quote the price for a three-bedroom house at the corresponding period after the First World War, namely, £1,500?

That is really not relevant to my argument. I am not discussing the inflated prices of a quarter of a century ago. If the hon. Member would wait and listen to my argument, he would find that I am dealing with the cost of building at present.

Of this increase £201 is attributed to the increase in size. The right hon. Gentleman has referred with pride and satisfaction to the increase in the size of houses built after the war. Improvements are supposed to account for a further £127. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will be good enough to notice that figure of £127 in the Girdwood Report, because actually the figure which the Minister gave this afternoon was £200. The total increase in labour costs is £297. Of this £96 is due to increased wage rates, and they are not disproportionately up in comparison with other increase in wage rates; improved standards, £75 and then we come to the decline in output which is £126; materials, £472; overheads and profits, £77.

As regards the increased size, there is a great deal to be said for having more two-bedroom and one-bedroom houses in the country and that is one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Population. I know from the hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson) that in the case of the London County Council they have done quite a lot in that direction. But when they began doing it, it was in the face of a circular issued by the Minister of Health which gave contrary advice.

May I point out that the Royal Commission on Population also stresses the need for larger houses as well as smaller.

That is quite true, and I hope it will be done. But at the moment I was dealing with the need for smaller houses which was also put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare). There is another point made by the Girdwood Report. When tenders are submitted by local authorities to the Ministry, it is not the total cost which is considered, but the cost per square foot. While the Minister has laid down a minimum area for local authority houses he has not laid down a maximum area; although in the case of houses built by private enterprise he has laid down the maximum and not a minimum. Consequently local authority houses are often unnecessarily large and consequently unnecessarily costly.

I make no complaint about the past increases in wages, but I do regret the payment for travelling time which has been introduced and I view with grave concern the recently proposed further increase in the pay of building operatives. I do not believe that it can be said that the undertaking given two years ago has been honoured, that there would be an increase in production at least proportionate to the last increase in wages, and that there should be no increase in the labour cost. I understand that this new agreement for increased wages is not associated with increased output at all. I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary that that is not in accordance with the statement of policy issued by the Prime Minister in February, 1948. I feel that in a case of this kind, where nearly the whole of the industry is being supported out of public funds, it is particularly a case where the wishes and behest of the Government, as expressed by the Prime Minister, should be observed.

I am surprised that the Minister did not refer at all to the statement in the Girdwood Report that there was a "lack of individual effort" in the industry. In paragraph 79 it is stated:
"Until this problem of personal effort is solved, output cannot be satisfactory.…"
There is mentioned a deterioration in the quality of labour, which of course was inevitable. Then the Committee come to what they call the serious overloading of the industry beyond available labour, and for that, of course, the Minister is personally and gravely to blame. He has been pleased for his own purposes to quote a White Paper issued by the "care-taker" Government, before the present Government came into power. In March, 1945, the previous Government issued a White Paper in which they gave a warning against beginning more houses than the building industry would have materials and labour to complete within a reasonable period of time. They pointed to the experience of the last war, and the hon. Member who was asking about building costs will be interested to note that the last Conservative or National Government was anxious that the mistakes that took place under Lord Addison should not be repeated on this occasion. They said:
"'There was a serious rise in building costs after the last war because demands went far beyond the real capacity of the building industry. In order to check such a tendency the Government will this time'"—
and so if we had remained in office it would have happened—
"'control the volume of contracts let by local authorities, the building and repair work done on private account and the price of materials, standard components and fitments.'"

I shall go a little further and then be glad to give the Parliamentary Secretary an opportunity to reply. They went on to say, in paragraph 167, about the policy that was followed by the Ministry of Health:

"Nevertheless it is evident that in practice the speed with which the housing programme developed during 1945 and 1946 far outran the effective capacity of the building and allied industries."
It goes on to give some figures and the comment is made in paragraph 170:
"Whether a housing programme on the scale undertaken was justified under these conditions, and in the light of the warnings we have mentioned, is open to question.… This resulted in too thin a spread of labour and materials over the amount of work in progress and has thus been largely responsible for the low level of productivity in house-building in the past, and the extra cost arising therefrom."

The hon. Member has just been saying—most interestingly—that had his party had the opportunity they would by controls have very severely restricted the operations both of local authorities and of private building. Will he therefore kindly equate that remark with the remarks made by his right hon. and gallant Friend?

I do not intend to equate my remarks with those made by anyone else in the Debate. My right hon. and gallant Friend was quoting today from what was said by the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was the Leader. This was made perfectly plain at the time. Of course, the Parliamentary Secretary was not in the House at the time, but it has been frequently quoted against us that Mr. Willink on a number of occasions said that the building programme would have to be controlled. He also said he would give priority to local authorities. All that has been said, and it is quite futile to go on bringing up these well known and familiar quotations just in order to score a debating point.

I am not anxious to score a debating point. All I am anxious to know is precisely what the right hon. Gentleman's party is really proposing when they say they now wish to "strike off the fetters." He has been asked by my right hon. Friend on several occasions what he meant, and now the hon. Gentleman is putting a new construction on "striking off the fetters."

The hon. Member really must not put words into my mouth. That is not what I said, and if he looks in the OFFICIAL REPORT he will see that it is not. Naturally I am in full agreement with what my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) is saying.

I do not want to take up much more time, so I shall summarise what I have said. It was that at the end of the war it was foreseen that as the building industry had been reduced to rather less than one-third of what it was at the outbreak of war, it would be necessary for the industry to resume building at a comparatively modest level. It was indeed because of the modesty of the level at which the building of permanent houses was to be undertaken that the late Lord Portal and his successors at the Ministry of Works undertook the programme of temporary houses.

The whole of that programme was clearly worked out. Mr. Willink also made it plain that the whole building programme would be controlled. He made it plain that in the early years after the war the local authorities would be expected to bear the greater part of the burden, but he also made it clear that, in proportion, as it was possible to relax controls, to avail ourselves of private enterprise and to enable people who wished to build houses for themselves and occupy them to do so, this would be done. Nothing that my right hon. and gallant Friend and I have said today is inconsistent with that.

I draw attention to the fact that these very heavy building costs, in the opinion of the controller of the London County Council, have made out of date the whole basis upon which the subsidies of the Act of 1946 were calculated. I welcome one thing that the Minister said today. I gather that he deprecates, as I do, the subsidising of rents of new houses beyond the statutory minimum of £5 10s. But if that burden is to be put, as I think it should be put, upon the tenants who are to occupy those new houses, then indeed the cost of building will be a very great burden upon the tenants. It would be most unjust if the rates were used to subsidise the rents of these costly new houses. It would mean that those people who live in worse houses would be expected to pay enhanced rates to reduce the rents chargeable to those occupying the latest and best houses. The Minister of Health has not faced up to the gravity of this issue. A clever debating speech will not really he considered an answer by those people who are suffering now from inflated building costs.

6.23 p.m.

I and my colleagues think that on balance the Government are failing in their duty to house and rehouse the people, but in feeling that, we have very little sympathy with the criticisms of the Opposition. I accept a great deal of the case put forward by the Government in their own defence. For example, the observations of the hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson) seemed to be almost exactly correct, within their limits. It is perhaps a little insolent on my part to comment on them in that strain when he knows these matters much better than I do, but to the best of my belief it seemed to me that he was right. There is no doubt that the Government have done infinitely better than the Tories would have done. There is no doubt that they have brought about the building of houses of a very good standard; but they have not done nearly enough.

The fact remains that the number of people waiting to be decently housed seems, at any rate in my constituency, to be increasing rather than decreasing. The battle, if it could be called a battle, between the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) and the Minister will build no houses, and seemed to be rather remote from the situation. It was really like a cat and mouse episode except that the Minister, with his usual gentleness, refrained from actually eating the mouse, who is still there.

The sort of criticism that we wish to make is, for example, that rents are much too high. I think that 32s. 6d. a week for a three-bedroomed flat in a good building in London is a usual charge. I do not suppose that hon. Gentlemen opposite would want to reduce such a rent. The Minister justifies it fully on a financial basis. But what is the good of justifying it when the net result is the working- classes cannot pay? I have nothing to say against the Hammersmith Borough Council or the London County Council. The Borough Council has built a very fine block of flats in my constituency for example. The workers worked with real enthusiasm because they were on a decent job. The flats are well built and nice to live in, but the rents are such that one working-class family after another, desperately needing rehousing and earning at least the average wage for the country, and generally more, simply could not take them. Sometimes they were told that they could not even have an offer, because it was clear that they could not pay the rent. Those flats are now occupied by all sorts of miscellaneous people. They are perfectly reasonable and worthy people who, for one reason or another, happen to have the money to pay what is, in substance, a middle-class rent.

Associated with that is the problem that not nearly enough building is being done. The Minister and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Scottish Universities quarrelled about how much is being done. The Minister makes a very good case with the fact that when one builds to better standards one cannot build quite so many houses. That is absolutely true. I agree entirely that he should stick grimly to his standards. Incidentally, the very fine block of flats which I mentioned is not in my constituency, it is in the other half of the borough, but it was built very largely to house my constituents. Those flats illustrate the trouble about standards. I congratulated the borough architect about one point and another in them, and he replied, "Yes, that is all right, but the Ministry of Health will not let us do it so well again because they have cut the standards." However, it is a relatively small cut. The Minister's case that he is maintaining standards and that he must maintain them is on the whole, sound.

But I am confronted by constituent after constituent who says, "We are five in a room," "We are six in a room," or "We are seven in a room." They say, "There is no bath; we are a long way from the lavatory; there is this difficulty, and that difficulty." The borough authorities tell them that their need is recognised but that they cannot have accommodation for a very long time. I turn to the borough to ask about these matters. Whatever other troubles we may have in my excellent constituency, troubles which do not stop it from being 100 per cent. Labour in all respect, they do not prevent me from getting on very well with my borough officials. I say to them, "What about that?" They reply, "We are very sorry. It is true that we have to refuse these cases, but we are doing our best. We were the only borough in London without a single house vacant when we made a return the other day. We are building as hard as we can, and so are the county council." They just cannot house all the people; and, where they can house them, the houses are at such high rents that half the people are automatically excluded. One does not get the real measure of the horror until one goes about among the people, and until one realises the relief of those lucky enough to be rehoused. When one of my constituents was told recently that he was to be rehoused, he, literally and physically, had a fit, simply from the overwhelming sense of relief.

The Minister is too complacent. He says that if we calculate percentages of earnings and rents people are not really being asked to pay any more rent than some years ago. The answer to that is that those years ago people could not get properly housed, so there is nothing new in that. What the Minister ought to be able to claim is that we are doing very much better with housing, and not merely that we are doing just as well.

Where do the faults lie? Some have been pointed out already by a number of hon. Members. Land costs are really fabulous, and I do not think it is unfair to say that the Government are doing nothing about it. I did not have the honour of attending the conference at Blackpool, but one or two hardy gentlemen there raised the question of the nationalisation of land. They are still alive and have not been compelled to join my group, but they did not get very far. Then, interest costs make a difference of a good many shillings a week, and a variation of one-half per cent. can make a good deal of difference. The Government have not cut interest costs down, but have let them go up.

On the question of charges for materials, we have had a Report recently from the Ministry of Works on the Dis- tribution of Building Materials and Components, which made some fairly striking observations, so striking, in fact, that they were struck out of the Tory newspapers. The Report also referred to wide margins in the costs of materials of which practically every one is subject to restrictive practices, and made recommendations that the prices of materials should come down. I hope the Government are trying to do something about it, but they have not come down a penny yet. Labour costs have been dealt with very well by the hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson). If any real security was given to building operatives there would be a great deal more inspiration and encouragement, and, in spite of the rise in the average ages of building workers, their output would soon show a more favourable comparison than the hon. Member for Kennington says it does now.

One remedy is a greater use of direct labour, but the Minister was so busy putting his paw on and off the mouse that he did not mention it. I think I can say that in my constituency the adoption on a larger scale of direct labour has already led to a great deal more enthusiasm and enterprise and to cheaper and quicker construction, although, so far as I can tell, building by private enterprise is working better there than most private enterprise activities in most places. I am sure that a great deal can be done to improve methods of building, but the Minister pointed out that he was severely limited by timber supplies, and said we are using about half as much timber per house as we used to do. I have the authority of a very able building technician to say that we can very well build houses with half the timber the Minister is now using, and that there has not been sufficient investigation into that and similar matters, or not nearly enough adoption of the results.

The Minister touched on one or two of the more general causes of shortage of houses when he talked about the wood which, he said, we could not get from Canada or Sweden without the expenditure of dollars or something like dollars and which we should have to balance against the wheat supplied to us from Canada. But is there no timber anywhere else? Has not the Soviet Union been asking us for four years to supply them with timber-cutting machinery in return for which it will give us plenty of timber? Has not Roumania been asking us to give them tractors, as a result of which we should get their timber? That is the sort of thing that is most important. It is not the Minister's fault that the foreign policy of the country is so bad that it prevents him building houses, but it is a matter for investigation and a matter for him to press the Cabinet to deal with.

The real trouble is the restriction of expenditure on building. I do not accept the story that as soon as we start building more rapidly we find that we cannot get the materials or the men. We should remember the building we did for the Americans during the war, which provides a good answer to any argument that we cannot build faster if we want to. We cannot, however, build fast, and at the same time spend £2 million every 24 hours on armaments.

The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the houses built for the American soldiers during the war being built quickly, yet he is now saying that we cannot build houses quickly and spend £2 million every day at the same time.

If the hon. Gentleman will wait he will hear how it is possible. The story arises in this way. We are told that we need Marshall Aid, and, some weeks ago, Mr. Finletter, who was so extravagantly praised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer three weeks ago—the Chancellor said he was so charming that the more he was with him the more he wanted to give him, so it is perhaps just as well that he went away in the end—had to defend, before the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate, the reduction of our expenditure on housing as sufficiently great to justify the supply of further Marshall Aid for ourselves. He stated that the policy of the British Government is to put as much as possible of its efforts into exports, especially to dollar countries, and into pure capital expenditure, and to cut down "Governmental Consumption," by which he meant the social services, including housing, health and education.

It is interesting that the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities thought that we were balancing between housing on the one hand and hospitals and schools on the other.

The hon. and learned Gentleman should listen to what is said before he quotes it. I never said anything of the sort. I said that we should have both.

I thought the right hon. and gallant Gentleman did, but I was wrong to bring him in because what he said was of no great importance.

Some people have said that we were balancing one against the other, and Mr. Finletter told the Senate that we were cutting down. He said that in 1946 we spent 26.2 per cent. of our resources on this form of Government consumption, that we got it down to 20.7 per cent. in 1947, to 18.2 per cent. in 1948, and that, according to him, we are budgeting to cut it down to 16.8 per cent. in 1952, and that that is the official British Government policy and practice. When Senators said that they did not believe that the British were cutting down their housing programme, Mr. Finletter said, "Oh, yes they are; they have now seriously cut down their housing, health and education." He went on to quote what is superficially true, as the Tories assert, that there are fewer houses being built in this country today than in 1938 and that a smaller percentage of the national product is being expended upon them. The Minister gives the answer that we have quite rightly concentrated an enormous part of our house-building effort in building houses for the working classes, but the fact remains that we are now building fewer houses, that the Government are not going to build more, and that the Tories are not asking the Government to build more.

The hon. and learned Gentleman must not go on making these fantastic and absurd statements. We have asked the Government to build more, we asked them today to build more and we still ask them now to build more. Now withdraw.

I referred not to the right hon. and gallant and egotistical Gentleman but to Tories generally; and until he can get his party into such discipline that no Member of it says anything different from what he says, I shall not withdraw.

The hon. and learned Gentleman's party leadership has gone to his head.

It would be simpler if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had a head into which anything could go, because then he would think before he interrupted, and would interrupt less.

I am not a party leader any more than is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman; I am the leader of a small but growing group, and not even the leader, but the chairman. However, let us get on with the work, because this is important.

The Government are not, in fact, extending their building programme. The Minister, of course, can explain anything, and can score off most of his opponents, but unless he can break through this American plus Cabinet ruling that he is not to build more he cannot stop the queues of tragically homeless and unhoused people from growing.

What is the obvious remedy for this? Some of the remedies could act quickly and some only slowly. First, of course, take the land, either piecemeal at reasonable rates, and not at the fabulous rates mentioned by the hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson), or take the lot. Cut the interest rates; fix the prices of building materials, and cut through the combine profits; introduce a good many new methods in construction. I do not profess to be an expert, but I know from experts that there are many new ways of building which are, in fact, shouldered aside by the old traditional methods. The encouragement of direct labour would save a good deal. If we could expand the programme to such an extent that the workers in the industry felt really secure, and did not need to fear that an extra drive would put them out of a job next time there was a seasonal fall, that would help a lot. Those are all remedies for speeding up building and keeping prices down.

The remedy for building more is, of course, to enlarge the programme and to spend more money. I think it is right to say that an increase of the Government's subsidy is something which might very well have to follow. I notice that the Association of Municipal Corporations has, in the last day or two, provisionally put forward that demand. I am inclined to think that if one carried out every improvement increased subsidies might conceivably be unnecessary, but I doubt it. We certainly cannot have, and cannot view with the complacency which the Minister seems to possess, a position in which, with a great deal of efficiency from the Government and from councils, we are not only getting too few houses, but rents which the normal worker simply cannot pay. The subsidy is an answer to that, and it may well be the only answer. We must certainly build more, and we must certainly build faster and put a larger percentage of capital expenditure into houses. Above all, we must certainly defy the orders of Mr. Finletter.

6.44 p.m.

I am indeed fortunate in that I believe myself to be the first hon. Member of this House who has had the good fortunate to congratulate the new party on its initial pronouncement of policy. I note that the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) is making an appeal for recruits, and I trust that as a result of his speech this afternoon he will get some. I am not quite sure what is his party's policy with regard to housing. I gather that he did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health when he said a short time ago that at the next General Election housing was not likely to be an issue. The only other thing I gathered from his speech was that if we would take his advice and go quietly on to the other side of the Iron Curtain, many benefits would come to us, including better and cheaper houses.

I am sorry the Minister is not here, because I wanted to comment on his speech. As he is rather meticulous in these matters, perhaps I had better, first of all, tell him what my interest is in housing apart from the general interest of all of us in housing.

In fairness to the Minister, I think it ought to be understood that while Mr. Finletter is managing our housing the right hon. Gentleman has to obey instructions to attend the celebrations in connection with American Independence Day.

I shall deal with the Minister and with Mr. Finletter in due course. With regard to my interest in building, perhaps I had better tell the Government that before the war I caused to be built some thousands of houses at about one-third the cost at which they are being put up today.

They were two, three and four-bedroom houses, but their price was approximately one-third of what it is now, and they were mostly built to rent. Another thing is that I should like to have a house myself in which to live.

I wish to refer to the speech of the Minister; we always like to listen to him, whether he is talking about housing, the Press, or anything else. He is a magnificent debater; the worse his case, the better he puts it over. But he did not answer the two main charges made by my right hon. and gallant Friend against the Government. The first was that with approximately the same number of men in the building industry as before the war, we are not putting up anything like the same number of houses. That is the first of our charges. When the Minister asks, "What are you charging us with? How would you do better?" our answer is quite simple. We say that we managed to build so many houses before the war, and that we can see no earthly reason why it should not be possible to build the same number after the war.

The right hon. Gentleman may say that timber is limited. If he does—I shall not go into an argument as to whether or not we could get it from other sources—and if timber limits the number of houses built, then we say that the labour force engaged in the industry should be according to the number of houses for which timber is available. The fact that we are using as many men as before the war and are not putting up anything like the number of houses is our main charge this afternoon. I suggest to the Committee that that fact has not been explained, certainly not by the Minister himself or by any of the hon. Members who spoke on his behalf.

The other charge, made by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), is with regard to the Girdwood Report, and especially the point that, by and large today, there are three men doing the job which two were doing before the war. The hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson) said that it was better than that in respect of the L.C.C. houses. I hope it is true, but it is obviously not better in the country as a whole. We should either see fewer men in the industry or the same number of houses going up as before the war. Why is there this unproductivity of labour? I think there are many reasons.

Last week I spent a day haymaking. I tell the Committee this entrancing piece of news, not because I want them to congratulate me or to commiserate with me, but because a fellow who was pitching hay with me at the bottom of the escalator was a bricklayer. I said to him, "Why in the name of conscience are you pitching hay? Why are you not laying bricks? Down in the village there are six houses which have been awaiting completion for the best part of a year." He said, "Oh, we do not work today." I asked him why not, and he said, "So far as I am concerned, if I work today I shall be liable to Income Tax at 6s. in the £1, and I am blessed if I am going to give this or any other Government 6s. in the £1." That may or may not be the reason for the present state of affairs.

His employer was not pitching hay so I could not ask him. How would the hon. Gentleman suggest that the man's employer could make him go—at the point of a pitchfork or how? I suppose that what he got for pitching hay was not subject to Income Tax, if the truth were known.

Those are the two charges we have made against the Government, and I hope that some hon. Member opposite will tell us why it now takes three men to do what two did before the war. I hope someone on the other side will also tell us why, with the same number of men in the building industry, they cannot turn out anything like the required number of houses.

Apparently the hon. Gentleman did not listen to the very interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson) who pointed out that today, at any rate for the county for which he is partly responsible, the building rate is at least equal to that of pre-war.

If that were the case in the country as a whole we should be more than gratified and, what is more, I assure the hon. Gentleman that we should be the first to congratulate him not only on his good red herring debating speech, but on building more houses; we would far sooner congratulate him on that than on anything else. It was stated that it is hoped that the number of houses proposed to be built this year would be of the order of 200,000. If the output per man for the country is going to be what the hon. Member for Kennington said it would be for the L.C.C., we can expect in the near future that a large proportion of productive labour can be moved to another productive industry.

Do I understand that private enterprise does not accept any sort of responsibility for this at all?

The hon. Gentleman's Government are controlling all our public life. They cannot have it both ways. They control everything. When the results are bad, they blame private enterprise. We managed to get better results with private enterprise. Why cannot the present Government? The builders are the same, the houses are very largely the same, and the people who are laying the bricks are the same. We got better results; why cannot the hon. Gentleman and his Government?

Is the hon. Gentleman referring to pre-war housing? Did he listen to the very proper strictures of my hon. Friend on the quality of the houses which were then built?

That is one of the old red herrings again. The hon. Member for Kennington talked about the slums in London. If there are slums in London, I should like to know how long has Labour controlled the London County Council. If jerry-built houses were put up in London, what has happened to the L.C.C. who have not only the power but an obligation to inspect new premises?

I should like to put to the hon. Gentleman one point with which I hope he will deal. One section of the Ridley Report—a famous document by this time—suggested that as soon as there is any sort of stability in the building industry, an expert and technical committee ought to be set up to go into the question of costs of repairs. Is there any earthly reason why that committee should not be set up now? I cannot see why it should not have been set up years ago. I think the Committee are entitled to know by what percentage the cost of the repairs of houses has increased. Tenants of council houses, who have their rents increased arbitrarily because of the increased cost of repairs, are entitled to have that increase measure against something. I should be glad if the hon. Gentleman would tell us if the Government, during their remaining life, propose to set up such a committee, and if not why not.

I want to come on to the second point, about costs. I do not understand hon. Members opposite because whenever we raise the question of costs they imply that there is something rather disgraceful in talking about the subject. But are we not all interested in costs? Is it not the duty of every hon. Member in this Committee to see that the money which is taken out of the taxpayer's pocket is properly spent? If hon. Members opposite are as keen on the social services as they pretend they are, every time they see a case of extravagance by the Government they ought to say to themselves, "There goes my new hospital," or, "There goes the park which I hoped to see in my constituency," or, "There go some social services for which I have long wished." Until hon. Members opposite can get that attitude, neither this nor any other Government will be efficient or will cease to be extravagant. When we raise the question of costs, instead of hon. Members opposite trying to pretend that we want jerry-built houses or to shove people down in cellars, they ought to co-operate with us and ensure that this matter of costs is properly tackled.

I warn hon. Members opposite, if they do not realise this already, that this present housing programme is going to topple on the issue of costs, if it does not topple for other reasons as well. No country could possibly stand the cost today of building houses. It is quite impossible that we should house four out of every five people at the expense of the taxpayer and of the ratepayer. The hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) should not grin. I say it is physically and financially impossible, and no country could stand it. Therefore, hon. Members opposite ought to co-operate with us.

This argument regarding costs is most interesting. Would the hon. Gentleman go into more detail as to which type of costs he is talking about? Does he wish to see economies in wages, profits or the cost of materials?

I want to see economies in all of them. I sincerely want to see economies in the cost of materials. If hon. Members make these dark innuendoes about rings, why do they not go to the Commission which has been set up to investigate monopolies? We supported the Government in that Measure, and if they had not brought it in we should have brought it in ourselves. [Laughter.] It is perfectly true. It was in our Election programme.

A lot of things in the Opposition's election programme would not have been carried out.

Is the hon. Gentleman now suggesting price controls for building materials, over and above the present range of controls?

We have building controls already. Timber is controlled in that the Minister of Supply imports it. We do not consider that to get prices cheaper it is necessary to clap on more controls. We much prefer to see prices come down by means of the ordinary laws of competition. What can be done to get these prices down? I warn the Committee that this building programme will topple on the question of costs. What will happen?

If hon. Members opposite, when they have finished listening to me, care to look at the evening papers, they will see that one urban district council cannot find tenants for their council houses because people cannot pay the rents. These houses are now being put up with a subsidy. Subsidies were primarily intended for that section of the population which could not afford an economic rent—people on the lower income scales. Those people are going to be driven into the older houses owned by private individuals who are not allowed to raise their rents, and the council houses which were originally intended for a special section of the population are going to be used by the population as a whole.

How can costs be brought down? The hon. Member for Kennington has told us about an incentive scheme. I hope that what he told us is correct. If that incentive scheme is as successful as he told us it was, why cannot we adopt it all over the country? Up to now the Ministry of Health has lost the battle for incentives. I saw in a newspaper on Saturday a remark made at the architects' conference, I think, by an architect who said that the cost of the tea interval morning and afternoon was £50 a house. Is that figure right or not? If it is right, there is something drastically wrong with the incentive scheme of this Government. Now, £50 a house, I think I am right in saying, is another 9d. a week rent in perpetuity for the tenant who has to live in the house.

I think the hon. Member might like to know that already something like 30 per cent. of local authorities who are using direct labour schemes are operating a bonus scheme. Unfortunately, at the moment a smaller proportion of private contractors are operating a bonus scheme. We are doing all we can to encourage it.

I am glad to know that. Can the Minister do no more than give verbal encouragement? Is it not possible to go further than that? Cannot clauses be inserted in the contract? After all, lots of other clauses are inserted in the contract—why not this one?

The Parliamentary Secretary knows that clauses have been inserted in building contracts by local authorities for many years. Does the Parliamentary Secretary stand for an incentive scheme or does he not? If he does, why cannot it be inserted as a clause in the contract? I will give way to the hon. Member if he cares to answer. Apparently he does not, so I shall continue.

My last point is this: I really should like to find out from the Government what is the underlying principle which demands that four out of five houses shall be built with a subsidy whether the people who live in the houses need the subsidy or not. May I give two examples? Every Friday night I sit in my constituency and people in trouble, either real or imaginary, come to see me. I had a man in the other night who posed to me a question which I could not answer. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can answer it. He said, "I have saved nearly enough money to buy a house. All that I have not saved I can borrow. I am willing to build a house for myself and I want it to be only what is regarded today as standard size—three bedrooms. Nevertheless, I have been told I cannot build a house. The local authority in whose district I want to build have told me it will be years and years and years before they get round to me, but they have said that I can live in a subsidised house." Does that make rhyme or reason—that where there is a man who is willing to put up his own house, and who has his own money, the Government should come along and say, "No; you shall not use your own money. We will put you in a house exactly the same size and we will let it to you at a subsidised rate with taxpayers' and ratepayers' money"?

I will give another example. Some years ago a friend of mine bought a farm—and a pretty derelict farm it was, too. He agreed with the agricultural committee to set up a T.T. herd of cows. Cows need cowmen, and so he proposed to put up two cottages for the cowmen. They said, "Oh, no; you cannot have two cottages for the cowmen; the cowmen may live in a council house a mile-and-a-half away." He first of all asked me whether the Ministry of Agriculture had any pamphlets on milking cows by remote control. I said I doubted whether they had. He then pointed out that not only was it fatuous that cowmen should live one-and-a-half miles away, but what was equally fatuous was that when he proposed to put up the money for the houses they came along and said, "No, you shall not put up your own money; the Government will put it up for you and the cowmen shall live in subsidised houses."

What I am asking is, what is the underlying principle of this system of four out of five? This affects not just the Ministry of Health, but it affects the Government as a whole. I suppose somewhere in the archives of the Socialist Party there is a picture of what we may call a perfect man under Socialism. I suppose he is somewhat a replica of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the sense that first of all he is a man who works hard. He is a man who is prepared, if necessary, to do a lot of overtime and who does not worry about "pay as you earn"; a man who does not waste too much of his substance on dog-tracks, drink or cigarettes; and a man, above all, who is prepared to invest his money in National Savings. I suppose we should regard him, as would hon. Members opposite, as a very worthy citizen, the sort of citizen to whom these appeals are always being made by the Prime Minister and others although, on the whole, I think, very largely in vain. Nevertheless, that is the ideal.

How are we going to encourage this man? I think the first thing we have to do, if we want him to save money and if we want him to work hard to save money, is to give him something to save money for; and I suggest to the Committee that the overwhelming percentage of people who want to save money want to do so in order to buy themselves a house. Therefore, if the Government really want to build houses without this staggering cost to the taxpayer and ratepayer, they should encourage people to build their own houses and to save for that purpose. If the Government want to save the National Savings scheme—and judging by the latest figures the word "save" is probably the right word to use—they should encourage people to build their own houses. If they want to encourage people to do more work, again, give a man a chance to build his own house.

These are our two main charges against the Government. I suggest that neither has been answered. The Government have not told us why they require this enormously larger labour force than we required before the war to do the same job. They have not told us what they are going to do to prevent the next Gird-wood Report saying that it required three men to do what two men did before the war.

7.7 p.m.

I am very glad to have an opportunity to take part in a Debate on housing, because it is a practical job and I like applying both my hand and my mind to a practical job. I am equally pleased to follow the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) because he has told two stories which, if true, reflect on a certain council. If a farmer went to a rural district council with a proposition to build houses for his cowmen and the reply from that council was as the hon. Member has said then the only purpose of that reply could be to sabotage the housing effort of the country, because the rural district council, as such, has no interest in limiting the number of houses built for cowmen. The chief interest in granting the necessary licences for building houses for agricultural workers lies with the Ministry of Agriculture and its county executive committees. If, therefore, neither the man nor the farmer went to that authority, then obviously they went to the wrong place; they went to a Tory council which, like many others, are not interested in increasing the number of houses built but are interested in trying to reflect upon the efforts of my right hon. Friend to get more houses built.

I said it and I shall stick to it, too. The houses were built in the end, but a year was wasted and for a whole year that farm had no cows on it.

We proceed a little further. We might get a further instalment of the little story which the hon. Member clearly wanted to tell both this House and the country, with a view to damaging the reputation of my right hon. Friend.

Of course, once people know a man, even if he be an hon. Member of this House, they will take what he says for what it is worth.

The hon. Member said at the beginning of his speech that he was interested in house building, particularly before the war. I take it that part of his interest in building houses before the war was under the Land Settlement Association. No people in this country built worse houses than were built under the guidance of the hon. Member for Hornsey. He has been arguing for decreased costs in house building. Under the guidance of the hon. Member for Hornsey, on one estate of that association in the North of England they even cut the cost of houses by £10 per house by eliminating felt under the roof.

Again, before the hon. Member gets steamed up too much, I think he ought to know that the plans for all the houses by that association had to be approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, and that the amount to be spent on them had to be approved by the Ministry of Labour.

I am not in the least concerned about what a Tory Minister of Agriculture did. I am glad the hon. Member admits that what I said is true—that the way to cut costs in the initial building of housing is to eliminate things which are essential, and which, in a few years' time, have to be put in at three times the cost. That is the Tory way. I am very glad to have had the hon. Gentleman's attention. If we want to see how not to build houses we should go into Bedfordshire and see those that were built by the Land Settlement Association. "Rural slums" is too good a name for them. They are little rabbit hutches stuck on the edge of a concrete road without a shrub, without gardens, without any amenities whatsoever.

They were completed less than 15 years ago, and the hon. Member for Hornsey now comes along in this Committee to criticise the Government for their housing policy on the ground that they are spending too much. He has been a standing example of how not to do it. Now somebody has to come along to take the responsibility for the Land Settlement Association estates, and to try to make them places fit for people to live in—which the Association completely failed to do, for as soon as the tenants could get out of them they got out of them, and squatters and others went along to occupy them. So, as the hon. Member for Hornsey said, we can take for what it is worth what anybody says, even on the matter of housing.

I rose really to speak particularly of rural housing, for I have been a member of a rural district council for the past 16 years and have taken a very great interest in rural housing. The problem of the cost of building those houses is an important one. We do not want the cost of building to go up too high, so that rents are beyond what agricultural workers and other rural workers can afford to pay. I am glad to be able to say that I am a member of a rural authority that has built a large number of houses since the war. The number that has gone out to tender already exceeds the total number built by the same council before the war. The post-war houses completed by the end of this year, within four and a half years of the end of the war, will equal the total numbers that were built before the war—and they started to build in 1913. That shows that progress can be made where local authorities are determined to overcome the housing problem along the lines of the Government's policy.

On the question of cost, we found, as members of that council, that by putting out to tender, by endeavouring to put in the best possible construction and amenities into the houses, the price was creeping up; at one period it got to £1,500 per house. That would have meant charging the tenants a net rent of at least 15s. a week, which, we concluded, was too much. As a result of the activities of the council and the architect and its other officers, and of negotiations with the building trade, we are now able to build houses at £1,250 apiece, and to let them at 12s. 6d. a week rent. That is being done in the Swaffham rural district, in my constituency. They are building them so rapidly that, having met all the immediate need for houses in the rural district, they are receiving, every day, applications from people from all parts of the country to go to live there, showing quite well that if council houses can be built and let at a rent of 12s. 6d. there will be plenty of applicants in rural England for them. Therefore, I should not say that £1,250 per house, taking all other things in consideration, is too high, bearing in mind the level of wages in agriculture.

I should not say 12s. 6d. a week rent was too high for a house of three bedrooms, with electricity, with water supplies and water sanitation, and with built-in cupboards and other amenities, and hot and cold water, which we are now putting in all of the houses. Bearing in mind all these things I should not say that that is too high a price. If one rural district can do it why cannot all the others? They cannot do it unless the members of those councils take a personal and keen interest in the housing problem. If, as hon. Members tried to make out a little while ago, the replies that are made to people who would like to build houses for themselves are such as to discourage them, there is a sure indication that those councils—and there are many of them in rural England—still do not want to overcome the problem of housing which faces us.

However, as I have said, where there is the fullest co-operation by the members of councils, their staffs and the regional officers of the Ministry, then headway can be made, and that rapidly. The time in which we are able to build houses at £1,250 apiece, from the time of commencement to the time of completion, has been reduced to six months. Again I ask, if one rural authority can do it—and I know others besides Swaffham Rural District Council are doing it—why cannot others?

I know that there is the overall limitation of supplies, particularly of timber. That is bound to limit the total number of houses built, but where the contractors are able to marshal as they would like to—and now are able to, in many cases—the supplies of the necessary materials, and can call upon the skilled workers, then, with proper organisation, we can overcome this great problem.

What the hon. Member is saying is very interesting. What sort of numbers of houses is he talking about?

It is open to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to learn from the Housing Returns that are published each quarter; I have already mentioned that I am referring to the Swaffham Rural District Council, which happens to be in Norfolk and my constituency. The number of houses completed by 31st March was 162.

Some of them were not £1,250. Earlier, some were completed at less than that. The figure then went up, and the contract prices are now around £1,250 per house. When one remembers that the population of this rural district is fewer than 8,000, the figure of 160 houses completed is not too bad; and the 240, which is the total number gone out to tender, also reflects great credit upon that council.

This is very interesting. Would the hon. Gentleman complete the picture by saying what proportion of the 160 houses were let to agricultural workers?

I could not say off-hand, but in my village it was eight out of ten; and in most other villages the proportion is about the same. We set ourselves a minimum of six out of ten, and in most villages it is higher than that. To my knowledge, since the war only one agricultural worker who has gone into a new house has come out of it because he though the rent was too high. We are now getting an increasing number of agricultural workers who want to live in better houses than their old ones, and who are applying for the new houses. That is a very satisfactory state of affairs, reflecting great credit on those workers, on the farmers of the neighbourhood and, I believe, on the agricultural policy being pursued by the Government. I should like to see the same thing throughout the country.

There has been some criticism about the sizes of the houses being built, and it is suggested that we could build more smaller houses. My council went into that question with a view of building bungalows for the old people; but for the accommodation provided the cost of building those bungalows would be much higher than the cost of building three-bedroomed houses. The Government are now coming along with their policy of reconstructing decent cottages, and I think there is a sufficient number of twobedroomed houses which can be reconstructed for elderly people or those with small families, and for a time we should pursue the policy of building cottages for the family. Nevertheless, we want many more.

In certain parts of the country the need is greater than in others: for example, in those areas which were derelict before the war, where land had gone out of cultivation but was brought back into cultivation during the war. There are vast areas of such land in Norfolk, in the Fens. I have seen some in Cambridge, and I have seen the same problem in other parts of the country. In those areas we do not seem to be building new houses fast enough to supply permanent workers to work on that land, and I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to say, in reply, what is the Government's policy in this respect. Where areas of land have been brought back into cultivation, but where there are no cottages for permanent workers on that land, are the Government going ahead to supply new cottages so that people may be established on land reclaimed during the war?

In my opinion, that is the weak point in housing in rural areas. I know of two Fenland areas in Norfolk where land was brought back into cultivation during the war, largely with the aid of prisoner-of-war labour or European displaced persons—which is not a satisfactory method—where we now want to establish men, working either larger units or smallholdings, pursuing an agricultural policy enabling cattle, pigs, and so on, to be grazed and fed on the land as well as growing crops on it. That is something to which the Government should give their intention, to see if they cannot increase the supply of houses in those places.

I apologise for keeping the Committee so long, but I am very keen to see our housing problems solved as quickly as possible, so that every family shall have a decent home, and amenities are available in the countryside as well as in the towns.

7.26 p.m.

I deem myself fortunate in following the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye), because he has spoken of the needs of agricultural housing and housing in rural districts, and my only reason for desiring to take part in the Debate was because I felt that sufficient reference had not been made to this most important subject. We all listened to what he said with great attention; we know that he has practical knowledge of the subject, and I congratulate him on the work that has been done by his rural district council. Most of us know that today one of the great problems is the high rent of council houses and its reaction, in many places, on would-be occupiers among agricultural workers. That is becoming a serious matter in many areas.

I should like to call attention to the fact that it is not only agricultural labourers, in the direct sense of the term, who need housing in the countryside. They may get assistance from the Minister of Agriculture about which the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk spoke, and from other agricultural sources, to influence local authorities to give them houses. There are many trades ancillary to agriculture: mechanics, the tradesmen in the villages, and veterinary officers who, in housing priority, do not rank directly with agricultural workers, but who need houses very badly and for whom provision must be made if we are to have a well-balanced agriculture.

All Members for agricultural constituencies know the urgency of the problem. I get more letters about housing than about almost any other subject, and I have to reply that, by and large, housing is the affair of the district councils, and not that of the House of Commons or the county council, of which I am also a member. Nevertheless, when there is the opportunity I do everything possible to assist district councils in their onerous tasks, and I should like to pay tribute to these district councils, both rural and urban. All those I have come across have done tremendously good work. It is not an easy task, and not always a pleasant task. It is not easy for neighbours to sit down and decide who is to have a house and who is not. It is a most invidious task, and one which has been performed extremely well. But that does not remove the difficulties.

It might help to increase the building of houses in the countryside if the ratio of privately built houses were increased. In most cases that would not reflect on the building of council houses. Many small builders who would willingly build one, or possibly two, houses for private persons could never face taking on a large contract for a number of council houses. In fact I do not believe there would be any prejudicial effect on the building of council houses.

Would they not use up some of the timber that goes into council houses at present?

The question of timber is a difficult one. I may be alone in this, but I think that if there were more freedom more timber could be produced in the countryside. I know that that could be done on my estate without interfering in any way with the long-term planning of timber. There are a great many trees in most rural areas which could be utilised without spoiling the amenities or prejudicing the economic growing of timber.

Has the hon. and gallant Member any estimate of the quantity of timber that could be produced from a policy of felling British trees over and above what is already being done?

I am speaking of building houses in the countryside for agricultural workers, which involves a comparatively small number of houses compared with what the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) has in mind in the case of suburban and city areas. I am thinking of perhaps half a dozen houses in a parish.

It will use up a lot of timber. Is the hon. and gallant Member suggesting that we can get it from hedgerow trees?

Not necessarily from hedgerow trees. In the more wooded counties of England anyhow timber could be obtained if more latitude were allowed in the matter of licences.

That felling is already going on; there is nothing to stop the felling of timber.

I can assure the hon. Member that to utilise the timber it is necessary to have a licence and that there is considerable difficulty, even if it is done with estate labour. I believe that if more latitude were allowed in rural districts something more could be done.

That brings me to a question which is a rather thorny one, that of rehabilitation, which has not been touched on so far in this Debate. It is a very urgent matter in country districts. I do not want to be involved in a highly controversial discussion about service cottages. I know there is a feeling that it is a system which gives a man more control than he should have over the intimate life of his servant and neighbour. I know that that is the view of the Agricultural Workers' Union, and I can see the origin of it, but I feel that to do away with the service cottage would produce a far greater evil. It would greatly hamper agricultural production and would be prejudicial to a great number of agricultural workers. It would impede the freedom of many of the workers.

If a worker wants to take on a job with another farm about three miles away, he does not want to walk that distance every day and have to take his dinner with him. It can generally be arranged that he takes over the cottage from the man who is leaving the job, which means he does not have to walk that distance but can get home for a hot dinner and give his wife any assistance she requires. I believe that if a plebiscite were taken among agricultural workers it would be found that more are in favour of retention of the service cottage system than are against it. It is a matter which will gradually solve itself, although we wish it could be solved more quickly. The time will come when practically every agricultural worker will be able to chose whether he prefers to live in a service cottage at a low rent or in a council house in the nearest village at a council house rent. We shall see what the answer is in due course, and I have very little doubt that there will not be a lot of empty service cottages.

In some counties like Cambridgeshire, owing to the admirable way in which farming communities have been laid out, probably under the old manorial system, the farms are mostly in the villages, which is an ideal situation. It means that the men can live on the job as well as in the villages. It is possible that as time goes on and some areas are replanned both farms and cottages will be sited in villages.

Could we not have rather more flexibility in the types of council houses? The types that are allowed at present are rather limited. I think I am right in saying that a three-bedroom house can be built with two double bedrooms and one small bedroom, but that it is not possible to have one double bedroom and two small bedrooms. I think that is a pity, because some families want that sort of accommodation, the family of a man and wife with one child and perhaps an aunt or an old parent or friend, as often happens, living with them. It may not matter particularly from the convenience point of view, but it makes a considerable difference in cost in building a council house. A little more latitude there might be a good thing.

There is one other question on which I should like some guidance. I do not know what the Minister thinks should be done about averaging the rents of old and new council property. There is a tremendous disparity between those which have been built after the first war and those which have been built recently. Does he recommend that there should be a re-assessment throughout a rural district and some common mean arrived at? That would be an advantage to some and a disadvantage to others. I think if the new rents remain high it will mean that to a certain extent older people living on pensions will gravitate to the older houses and the young families will get the newer houses. I should like to have some idea of what the Minister thinks about that.

As I have said, certain difficulties are put in the way of private owners who wish to build houses. I came across a new difficulty the other day, and that was from the water authority. I was trying to get permission to build two cottages. I had found an excellent site, but I was not allowed to build because I was told that the water authority drew their water from underneath and that the sanitation from the cottages would affect the water supply. I do not know where I shall be able to build these cottages, because the water authority draw their water from a wide area. There is still a great demand for houses, as I am sure the Ministry is well aware. We all know something of the position from our correspondence. Some of the most pathetic cases are those where people have been unable to get houses, and this starts family troubles. We hope everything will be done to increase the number of houses, which is the root problem, and that the rural districts will have their full quota, and more if they can get it.

7.41 p.m.

A word should be said from this side of the Committee with regard to the matter mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) which deals with tied cottages. I agree that it would be undesirable and almost impossible to abolish completely the tied cottage in agriculture and in certain other industries. I agree, too, that in the long term the tied cottage problem will be solved by the building of sufficient, untied houses, but that is comparatively long-term, and meanwhile injustices continue. I see no reason at all why some action should not be taken now to remove those injustices. Evictions continue. In my division recently a man just over 40 died, leaving a widow and three children. He died on Tuesday, the landlord sent a wreath on Friday and a notice to quit on the following Tuesday. The widow and her three children were out of that cottage within five weeks.

Was it a stud farm, where it was essential that a manservant should be employed, or was it a case that the widow could not do milking and so on, but where the work must be done and a man was necessary to look after the feeding of the stock?

I do not think it is a material point in my argument. In this case the cottage was given to another man, who lived a little further away, but was employed by the same farmer. There are cases of the kind where a worker gets injured and no longer is able to carry on with his work. There should be a code of conduct set up immediately, whereby such things do not happen, and where a farmer is assisted by the local authority and the farm workers union to overcome those difficulties. It would be equally undesirable if a farm worker were in a cottage and decided to leave agriculture and become a bus conductor, but nevertheless stayed in the cottage. There are difficulties on that side, too, and I hope all parties in this House and particularly those hon. Members connected with agriculture, will get together to avoid this evil of eviction until the long-term remedy comes along.

I am very glad that the Debate has taken this turn and that mention has been made of the needs of rural areas. In my view, although the Government have provided nearly one million new homes and have an excellent record in this matter, a great deal remains to be done, particularly in the rural areas. There are two factors which in my view have changed the whole situation with regard to housing. One is full employment, which has enormously increased the demand for houses, and it is a factor which none of us must lose sight of. We on this side of the Committee believe that we can maintain full employment, which will vastly increase the potential demand for houses and everything else. The second thing is the standards of housing which are to be provided. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) said that in earlier years the Conservatives built houses where they were wanted.

I said they did it in the sphere of the cottage below £26 a year rent. That is the point I was making.

Certainly the cottages in rural areas are rented below £26, but the numbers built in the rural areas when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was responsible were hopelessly inadequate. Not merely were they inadequate, but the standards were extremely low. Recently I saw a report by the Somerset Rural Housing Committee, which referred to a survey they had made of nearly 27,000 houses, and of that number nearly 7,000 were found to be completely unfit for repair and only fit for demolition. Some 10,000 were in need of major repairs or structural alterations. That meant that 60 per cent. out of the number examined were really unfit for human habitation. That gives some idea of the immensity of the problem.

It is not merely necessary to provide a separate home for each family. Some of the rural authorities in my area will achieve that objective certainly by the end of next year. They will have provided a separate home for every family on their waiting list, but we have a very large number of families who have seen this other accommodation and quite naturally desire it, because it is so much better than that which they are occupying. Reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson) to slums in London. In the countryside there are slums as bad and as numerous as anything in any town with which I am acquainted. It is not merely that the only running water is what comes through the roof, but it is a fact that sanitation is almost entirely lacking, and the water supply is a matter of great difficulty.

In my own town of Taunton there are houses or cottages where the only lavatory is an outside one in the street, shared by four houses, and where one water tap at the end of the street is the only supply. They are real slums. It is not now merely a case of the original conception, whether it was 750,000 or a million houses needed to supply each family with a separate dwelling, but it is clear that through full employment and the raising of the standard of houses we have a vastly increased demand for decent houses.

Against that, the potential demand in my own county is for some 20,000 rural houses to replace those that are only fit for demolition or those which are substandard and need a great deal of repair and structural alteration. We have built fewer than 3,000. That is a great many more than were built in any previous comparable period, but large as it is, it is going to take something like 25 years not only to provide a separate house for every family, but to provide sufficient houses of the standard which people in my view rightly demand.

How are we going to secure that improvement? Tribute has been rightly paid to the local authorities, but their accomplishments are not uniform. What is to be done with lagging local authorities, such as those who have said this year publicly that they have not yet started on their 1949 allocation? What is being done to prod them forward? The performance by local authorities, even within their own areas, is not uniform. Members who sit for rural areas will be aware of local authorities who have built all, or almost all, of their houses in one parish whereas in other parishes where the need may be only for six or eight houses, they have not started even one house because of difficulties about sites, water supply or sanitation.

Nevertheless, the need in the neglected parishes is still acute for the people who are concerned. If we are to keep people in those parishes at work upon the land, the Ministry of Health must see that the local authorities spread their housing programmes over their whole areas where houses are wanted. Thus we shall get a uniform rate of advance not only among local authorities but within the area of each local authority.

is the hon. Member suggesting that it would be advisable for a local authority to sacrifice the building of houses in places where it can complete them with sanitation, water and electricity, in order to build houses in other places where it cannot complete them with those amenities?

No, I was not suggesting that the total number of houses should be in any sense sacrificed, but I am very far from being satisfied that such amenities cannot be provided. A case occurred only this week where it was proposed to build houses in a remote village. Objection was raised that tenders could not be obtained, and a long argument went on in the local council. Eventually, the matter was published in the Press, because it had been decided to advertise. Members of the council were against advertising, but through the insistence of one or two of the members, tenders were at last obtained.

In regard to water, great advances have been made in the supply to rural areas, but I do not think enough advantage has been taken of small sources of supply which might be furnished to many areas. There are six or seven old American army camps near Taunton, in every one of which during the war a bore hole was made and machinery was in position by which sufficient water was obtained from that land to supply about 2,000 troops. Some of those camps are in the vicinity of villages that have no water at all. I have made inquiries about this matter and have found that only two of those water supplies are being used by local authorities. In other cases the works and the machinery have gone. I should like the Minister to write to local authorities inquiring whether there are such camps in their areas with disused water workings and if so, whether they could obtain water from them. In that way we could enable water to be supplied to villages which have no supply now. The operation would not cost a great deal and I believe it would enable houses to be built where they cannot be built at present.

We all agree that there is not enough labour for the building of new houses. That is particularly the case in rural areas. I ask the Minister to tell us whether he has information about the extent to which the raising of the licence-free limit to £100 for houses and £1,000 in the case of factories has had any effect in withdrawing labour from the building of new houses. That point is important. In Taunton there is a housing site of 84 aluminium houses which had been in process of construction for two years. Only 12 of those bungalows are occupied but every one of the 84 is completely ready on the site. Occupation of the remainder is delayed because of difficulties connected with road works, sewers and concrete paths, which are not completed. Only 11 men have been employed upon them for months and months. Those men are working like heroes for seven days a week and until 9 o'clock at night but their numbers are inadequate for the job. This is a matter which requires attention.

In conclusion I congratulate the Government upon what has been done and I ask for an assurance that the great need occasioned by the raising of housing standards and by full employment is recognised and that the special needs of rural areas are equally having attention. I ask that the proportion of our capital expenditure devoted to agriculture and to rural areas should be increased and that the necessary labour and materials for houses in the countryside should be diverted to rural areas as soon as possible.

7.56 p.m.

I wish to detain the Committee for only a very few minutes to make a point which I think is important. I want to draw attention to the perfectly unscrupulous way in which the Government have misled the public over the housing question from the outset, even before they came into office. [Laughter.] An hon. Member opposite laughs, but I can tell him that there is very strong feeling on that point in my constituency, and particularly among people who voted Labour at the last General Election. I should like to start by recalling some of the election promises made four years ago. For instance, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:

"If the Labour Party is returned to power the housing situation would be clarified within a fortnight."
[An HON. MEMBER: "No."] The hon. Member may disagree, but that was what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said. And yet the situation is not yet clarified, as one can hear from the speeches from both sides of the Committee in this Debate. The Chancellor of the Exchequer went on to say:
"As for housing, I think that can be dealt with within a fortnight."
The Foreign Secretary said, in 1945:
"I believe we could build four or five million houses and knock down any amount of wretched slums and rebuild our country in very quick time."
What did he mean by "quick time"? The Government have had four years, and they have not built half a million permanent houses yet.

Nor is it only by their election promises that the Government have misled the country. Statistics recording the progress which has been made since the present Government were in power are also extremely misleading. The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) talked about providing more than a million new homes. What does he mean by "new"? What exactly does he mean by "homes"? Approximately half the houses which the Government claim to have "provided" are not newly built permanent houses. Some are temporary houses to which the Minister of Health referred contemptuously before he came into office as "steel boxes." Others are not new houses but existing houses, which have been reconditioned, requisitioned, repaired or readapted. Included in that figure quoted are even old Army huts.

The houses which have been repaired probably took as much labour as building new houses. When I said "new homes," I meant exactly what I said. To most of the people occupying them, they are so infinitely better than whatever they were occupying before, that they are very much new homes.

I accept that, but there is an impression in the country, when figures of 750,000 or one million are quoted, that they refer to new permanent houses built, and that is not so. The true figure is something like half that number.

I would like to go on to quote another case in which only some of the facts have been put before the public. It concerns housing conditions in my own constituency, in Lancaster. In his recent speech at Blackpool the Minister quoted some figures which were apparently designed to show how great an improvement there had been, and how satisfactory conditions now were in the City of Lancaster. As far as the figures went, they were correct. But they were nevertheless extremely misleading, for the Minister left out a very important figure from the report he was quoting. It was the estimated excess of families over houses, which was no less than 2,140, a not inconsiderable figure for a city with a population of 50,000.

From the large number of constituents who complain to me about their housing conditions, I can tell the Minister that the situation in Lancaster is highly unsatisfactory. I can tell him of any number of young couples who have been married several years and who cannot live together because they cannot get a house. I can tell him of people whose marriages have been broken up from having to live at too close quarters with their mothers-in-law. That has happened again and again. I can tell him of families who are in danger of permanently harming their health, and particularly the health of their children, through the insanitary conditions under which they are living.

Those are people who voted Labour because they were told that the housing situation would be settled in a fortnight. Those are people who spent five or six years in the Services and were misled by the promises of the Minister to "the returning soldier yearning for a home." They are still yearning. When they go to the housing authorities they have to be told that no hope can be held out, not for a fortnight but for several years. These are largely people who voted Labour at the last Election.

Is the hon. Member aware that anyone who had the good sense to vote Labour at the last Election could not possibly have been so foolish as to think that the housing problem could have been settled in two weeks?

The fact remains that some people assumed that responsible leaders of the Labour Party meant what they said.

I cannot give way any more. Whatever hon. Members opposite say, the housing situation, after four years of Labour Government, is extremely serious. After the number of Government promises which have been made, and after the degree of Government interference which has occurred at every level, the responsibility cannot be shifted either to the local authorities or to the building trade. Nor can it be laughed off with the old tag about 20 years of Tory misrule, because the housing figures were, in general, very much more satisfactory for the years before 1939 than they are now, as several of my hon. Friends have shown. No, the responsibility rests fairly and squarely with the Government and, in particular, with the Minister of Health.

In his speech the Minister made a rather obscure reference to a white sheet. The white sheet is the traditional garb of the penitent, and my advice to him is that the best thing he can do with his white sheet is to wrap himself in it. It is all very well for the Minister to dwell on the difficulties he is encountering and to try to distract attention from the mess he is making of things by attacks on the Opposition who, he seems to forget are not in power at the moment. None of this releases him from the "firm and direct pledges"—I quote from "Let Us Face the Future" issued at the time of the General Election—to which the Labour Party undoubtedly owe many of the votes cast in their favour.

Nor does it release them from the promises which they have since made in order, as the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. E. Porter) points out, to get a few votes from people who are still gullible enough to vote for them. Let me quote the Minister of Health himself. Three years ago—after he had been in power for a year or more, and had some knowledge of the facts of the situation—he said:

"I confidently expect that before the next Election every family in Great Britain will have a separate house."
He said that in May, 1946. In July, 1946, he said:
"When the next Election occurs there will be no housing problem in Great Britain for the British working class."
Then, a couple of months later, he said:
"I give you this promise, that by the General Election there will be no housing shortage as far as the mass of the British people are concerned."
He is rather like the bellman in the "Hunting of the Snark" in his belief that what he tells us three times is true. That was the promise, that there would be no housing problem and that every family in Great Britain would have a separate house by the next General Election. I want to know how that promise is to be fulfilled. The Minister may have three, six or 12 months before him; he knows better than we do how long he has. But the promises he has made are still a very long way from being fulfilled. I hope that, when he answers, the Parliamentary Secretary will give us a little more idea than we have been given up to date of how the Government propose to honour them. I cannot help feeling that the Minister would be very well advised to wipe off some of those outstanding accounts before he turns his attention to his next crop of Election promises.

8.10 p.m.

I hope the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. F. Maclean) will forgive me if I do not follow his speech in view of the fact that we have learned our political mathematics in different schools and, therefore, must come to different deductions even on the matters referred to by him. I want to refer to only one aspect of the housing question in which I have to declare my interest. Like the late Jack Jones, I am a building trade operative by profession and a Member of Parliament by accident. Having spent the whole of my life in the building industry, I object to coming to this Committee and hearing so many people endeavouring to make a scapegoat of the operatives in the building industry and making them responsible for all the shortcomings of the housing question. In passing I want to refer to the Minister himself who in his closing remarks when taking credit for what had been done, said that certain people were to be congratulated. Those people were the Government, the local authorities and the builders. As one who believes that the only people who actually build houses are the operatives who use the raw material, I think they ought to come in for the congratulations, if congratulations are being made.

In reference to the remarks made by the Opposition in an endeavour to pin the responsibility for the lack of housing on to the operatives, I have to refer them, and probably hon. Members on this side of the Committee, to the difference in the approach to the problem made by this Government and by those responsible for building before this Government came into office. It is all a question of for what purpose houses are being built, and this Government laid down a programme of house building so that people could live in those houses. Prior to the war, the majority of the houses built in this country were not built primarily for people to live in but primarily for some one to draw rent from. I say that, without fear of contradiction, as a result of my connection with the building industry and the housing programme.

Before the war I saw the methods forced upon the artisans responsible for building houses. People talk about an incentive bonus that could be operated now. The incentive bonus that could be operated now is nothing to the incentive bonus operating before the war in spite of the disagreements with the unions concerned, when men were laying squares of flooring and nailing every third joist instead of every joist; when chaps were going into houses, trying a staff into every door frame in the house and shaving bits off until they found that the staff would go into the door casing of every door, and then going to the bottom floor and making the doors all one size irrespective of whether they were a good fit for the opening or not; when bricklayers were building walls without using a line and, when it came to fixing floor joists, putting various sized blocks under each joist to make it level, or knocking a piece out of the end of other joists so as to let them down. And all those considerations were purely and simply for the purpose of cheapening production.

Today, having looked over some of the houses being built by the local authorities, I feel some pride in the fact that my fellow craftsmen have put their work into those houses. There are no "half crowns" on the newel posts of the houses—we call a half crown the mark of the claw hammer of the joiner or carpenter who usually leaves such marks by doing quick work in those houses where it does not matter whether the finish is good or bad so long as the production of the house is cheap. I say definitely that the houses today in cubic capacity are considerably larger than the houses that have been referred to, and the amenities in them are much better. If we are to have comparison, let us have comparison of like with like.

Because of the type of industry in which they are concerned, it may be found difficult to make decent conditions for carpenters, bricklayers and other operatives on the building sites at the start. However there are certain developments in regard to the sites which could be made in the interests of the operatives but which are seldom made except by one or two decent firms.

In laying the responsibility for what is taking place in the building industry on the shoulders of the operatives, it would be as well to remember what "The Times" said on 18th June, 1947, at the commencement of our building operations:
"The building industry stands out among the nation's leading trades today for its poor output and general inefficiency. The gap between the performance of the best and the worst firms is enormous, but the industry as a whole still retains the place it has held for several generations as one of the least progressive and most wasteful of British industries, negligent of research, indifferent to innovation, and backward in management and welfare."
Those are the circumstances in which the lads came back from the front, out of the munition factories, back from both the fields, with a real endeavour to build houses for peace.

Surely the hon. Gentleman will recollect that was written at a time when "The Times" was supporting the Government? It has ceased to support the Government now, so its views are probably much stronger today.

I am giving it the credit of telling the truth, and if that was not the truth it was never refuted by any responsible member of the building industry. All members of the building industry are not being criticised. The hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) might be called one of the decent employers, but even he did not take the trouble to deny that statement.

I want to refer to the summary reports of the Ministry of Works for January to December, 1948. It is rather humorous to read the section referring to the advisory service given in regard to building. The report says this with regard to assimilating the research taking place in the industry:
"The Service endeavoured to achieve this by working in collaboration with the regional organisations of employers, operatives, and the professions, by discussing with individual builders and contractors problems which had arisen on the jobs and by arranging lectures and talks with groups of employers …."
Therefore, even at this period of the building programme, we have reached the stage when it is necessary to get the employers together—at any rate, some of them—and give them a lecture. That can be appreciated by reference to Table II in relation to Building and Civil Engineering Industries. We find that nearly 124,000 firms are concerned in the industry. Altogether, they employ less than one million operatives between them. The number of firms who employ over 100 operatives is just over 1,000; of those who employ over 500 there are only 85. The point I want to emphasise is this. So far as the results already achieved are concerned, whilst anything can be put to the debit side of the operatives in the industry we should at the same time, when considering the credit side, give them credit for what they have achieved.

From inquiries I have made I understand we are now getting back almost to the position we were in before the war. The comparable figures for the numbers of houses now being built and the number of workers engaged in that building—

This is the result of my reading of the figures. That of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman may be different.

The hon. Member should look at the figures of the Minister himself. The right hon. Gentleman tonight gave the figure of 200,000 houses, whereas before the war we were building 360,000.

It would be better if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would listen to me instead of jumping up to controvert something I did not say. I said that we were gradually getting back to the situation existing before the war. To prove that, I was about to point out that the figures for houses built and of men employed on that building work show that we are getting down to a one and a half man hour year per house, which was the figure before the war, in spite of the fact that the houses now being built are very much better than they were in those days. I hope, therefore, whatever else may be said, that credit will be given to the operatives in the industry; that if right and proper development which should have taken place in the industry—again, I refer to "The Times," which says:

"In the long run technical improvements in materials, tools, building methods, and forms of construction are likely to make the largest contribution to building efficiency, and it is in this direction that Government sponsored research … has been most energetically pursued."
If development takes place along those lines, and every opportunity is given to the artisan to do a greater amount of work with a less expenditure of personal energy, we shall achieve a considerable development in the housing of this country.

8.23 p.m.

The contribution of the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. G. Porter) is particularly interesting to me on this occasion, for two reasons: firstly, he is a building operative while I control a firm of contractors; secondly, he is a Member of Parliament for Leeds, where my own firm is now building the superstructure and river works of the Skelton Grange Power Station. I propose, therefore, to trespass on his generosity and invite him to that site; and if he has any constructive suggestions to make to a building employer, they will be gladly heeded.

I should never hope to tender the hon. Member any advice on building instruction, but I will tender him advice at any time on his politics.

It will always be helpful to have the hon. Gentleman's advice. If he decides not to give advice on building that is his responsibility, but I am always willing to listen to advice from any building trade operative. Although the speeches of the hon. Member are always sincere, they are sometimes inaccurate as to the facts. At the end of his speech tonight, when talking about the present building labour force being the same size as before the war and that they were now building the same number of houses as pre-war, the hon. Member was in error to a considerable extent.

I should like to pass from the speech of the hon. Member to that of the Minister. I very much regret the absence of the right hon. Gentleman this evening. He has been absent now from this Debate over two and a half hours, and it is somewhat discourteous to the Committee that he is not here. While I know the right hon. Gentleman has been out—to the American Embassy, I understand—on what may be an important engagement, knowing the power of the Minister's personality, his wealth of knowledge and his charm, I should have thought that a mere half an hour would have sufficed for him to make the impression that was necessary.

I propose tonight to go into the question of timber and I had intended to ask the right hon. Gentleman some questions. As he is not present, perhaps the Committee will forgive me if I address those questions to the Parliamentary Secretary. My first question is this: regarding soft woods the back benchers of the Socialist Party adopt the line—I think the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) took this line—that it is impossible to obtain any more timber without giving more dollars, which we do not possess, or by taking less wheat. Is that the argument of the hon. Member for Gravesend?

All right then; I shall make some suggestions how we can get more timber in another way and I should be glad if the hon. Gentleman would interrupt or criticise me if he thinks my suggestions are wrong. The Minister himself made great play with timber. He said it was the greatest limiting factor in house building today and that we are paying twice the cost for half the quantity. In that he is quite right. A standard of timber cost £18 before the war; now it costs over £80 a standard. This is an increase of 400 per cent. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) demonstrated that the cost of London County Council houses had increased by 200 per cent. Therefore, the cost of house building has risen by 200 per cent. while timber is up by 400 per cent.

During his speech I interrupted the Minister to ask what steps be had taken—I know that the right hon. Gentleman is now somewhere in the precincts of the Palace of Westminster, and it would be gratifying if he would come to answer some of these questions—to get more timber other than by fighting for dollars within the Cabinet. Has he made any suggestions at all? Has he any suggestions to make, or has he none? We on this side are perfectly entitled to ask a Minister of the Crown, especially a Cabinet Minister, that question, because if he has any suggestions he should let the Commitee know them, and if he has no suggestions to make he ought at least to be here to listen to the suggestions made from this side of the Committee.

I shall take two points in connection with timber and its use to show why the cost of timber today is excessive, and then I shall make constructive suggestions about how this position should be remedied. My first point concerns timber in the merchant's yard. At present the timber merchant employs an enormous staff. He employs practically the same number of staff as pre-war. He also rents or owns the same building space for storing timber. Also he possesses expensive American appliances known as "lifters" and "carriers," which are capable of moving timber from the yard into a railway truck in a matter of three, four or five minutes. Those overheads of the builders' merchants in 1938 were spread over 2,400,000 standards of timber. In 1946 they were spread over 790,000 standards of timber. In other words compared with pre-war there are three times the overheads on each standard of timber today. That, obviously, is one reason why the costs of timber have increased. The only way to correct that is to increase the supply of timber—

That possibly suggests itself to the mind of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) and, if so, I should be glad if he would produce that argument in Gravesend where there are many timber yards. I should be delighted to hear him making a speech on those lines in Gravesend.

My next point is in regard to the site itself. There is considerable uncertainty in the minds of the builders contractors as to what timber a person can obtain from the builder's merchant. The reason is that the merchant himself does not know 48 hours in advance the quantity, price, size, or quality of timber he is to receive via the Government. He does not know whether it will be Swedish, or Brazilian. One merchant near my constituency has 20,000 standards of timber on order. At present he has a mere 350 in stock and in addition knows of a certain 350 more standards coming in. So when builders are asked for a price for building houses, they have to put in a figure for timber which bears no relation to the cost of timber they might have to buy. A builder can never know today what he is to receive by way of timber and so it is completely impossible to plan ahead.

Hon. Members opposite have criticised the industry for lack of efficiency. The industry itself has tended for some years to have more prefabrication done off the site than on the site. The hon. Member for Central Leeds will agree that the tendency has been to use more freely specialist sub-contractors to produce a cheap specialised article which can be assembled off the site. Prior to 1914 various sizes of timber were sent from the merchant to the site, where it was shaped in accordance with requirements by the contractor. After 1918 the tendency was for the builder not to do this work on the site, but to buy direct from the merchants according to the exact lengths and quantities of timber ready for assembly. Thus the timber merchant was in fact, a specialist subcontractor.

In the 1930's, when we had that extraordinary burst of house building; a builder would ask his merchant for timber for 1,000 houses and get the complete pieces sawn to length and size sent direct to the site. He himself takes no part in the shaping of the timber. That had several great advantages. If the site builder has small ends of timber lying idle on the site they invariably go on the fire to keep the watchman warm. But in a builders' merchant's yard the timber could be prefabricated rather like a "meccano" set, and the short ends were not wasted as on site but used for packing cases because the packing case industry can use short lengths of timber while the building industry generally only use long lengths. That is important in relation to the cost.

I have a suggestion to make, on the assumption that the Parliamentary Secretary has no suggestions of his own as to how we in this country can increase the supply of timber. If the hon. Gentleman has any suggestion, I will sit down and listen to him now. Has he any suggestion of how we can increase the supply? We on this side have been asked a series of questions this afternoon by that exuberent personality, the Minister of Health, in a 50-minute speech which failed to produce any constructive suggestion of how to procure more timber. May I ask one question of the Parliamentary Secretary; what suggestion, if any, has he made for in- creasing the supply? Anyway I will make mine.

I consider that in this country we have carried too far the use of materials as substitutes for timber until that has reached such a stage that it is uneconomic. The Committee of European Economic Co-operation have recognised that the timber substitute is usually uneconomical. The right hon. Gentleman may study the Report of the committee for July-September, 1947, vol. 2, in which they state:
"An increase in production costs, leading to increases in the cost of living, demand for higher wages and other symptoms of inflationary pressure comes from using articles in lieu of timber."
The Report also says that a diversion of manufacturing capacity from export to domestic consumption takes place in using these substitute materials. If we send one ton of steel to Canada in its cheapest form, such as structural assembly, we are able to sell it for £50 a ton. If we buy a ton of timber in Canada it costs us in dollars only £16 a ton. Therefore, for one ton of steel in its cheapest form we can receive from Canada three tons of timber. If we sell steel to Canada in its more expensive form such as watch springs or motor cars we obviously get hundreds of pounds per ton.

Let us examine how the use of substitute articles for timber affects the foreign exchange position of this country. Metal windows cost £24 compared with £18 for wood. In 1947 we produced and used in this country 50,000 tons of steel metal doors and windows. If we had exported these abroad at the same price as we sold them in this country they would have produced about £5 million in dollars.

I shall come to the point made by the new leader of the new party in a second. Therefore, we should have received £5 million in dollars. The timber which we should have required to replace the steel which we sold would have cost £1 million, so that the net saving would have been £4 million of dollars in that item alone and by an expenditure of £8 million worth of dollars on timber we should have enough timber to build another 100,000 houses a year. Has the Parliamentary Secretary ever gone into that aspect of the matter?

Let me show the Committee how much we could save by carrying the process a little further. In 1948, Canada asked this country for 300,000 tons of steel for a project in Alberta plus 2,100 miles of steel pipe for a pipe line. All that we could offer was 20,000 tons. If we had sold them that steel we could have bought 900,000 tons of timber in exchange, or sufficient for 232,000 houses. Let us look at how much steel we are using in this country. On light rolled products in 1947 we used about 3 million tons. If we had exported 10 per cent. only in its most unprofitable form the net gain would have been £10 million in dollars.

That is providing we use the substitute article in an effective manner. There are occasions when we do not use it in an effective manner, and then there is greater waste. I will give the Committee an instance of that. A nationalised body specified in a contract for which I tendered that we should use steel shuttering. They said:
"In view of the difficulty of obtaining timber steel shuttering shall be used wherever possible and the contractor shall state at the time of tendering the amount of work for which they propose to use timber shuttering."
Timber shuttering is used to house concrete, which is poured in to make a heavy base for a power station, school or something of that nature. On that particular job it was virtually impossible to use that steel shuttering due to the nature of the work, but the contractor still had his steel delivered to the site for the job. He had it specially faced up with a plastic material which is very expensive to use, but found that it could not be used because the specification was ridiculous. He was given the timber and the net result was that he received steel plus timber. If the Parliamentary Secretary would like to come with me tomorrow I will show him where the steel is and where the timber has been used. There has been a complete waste of dollars in that one item.

If I might summarise, we have from time to time made suggestions in various committees, which seems to be the only way to get things done in a democracy. I suggest that a committee be appointed to go into the effective and economical use of substitute materials in lieu of timber. I suggest that it be given specific terms of reference to find how much steel is being wasted, and if we are using steel here which we could sell to Canada and get timber in exchange. I assure the hon. Member for Gravesend that what I am saying is a practical possibility. It can be done, even where we use steel as an effective substitute for timber.

Having dealt with the timber item without being jeered at by hon. Gentlemen opposite—and I have tried to be constructive on that particular proposal! come to the question of house-building costs generally. When the Minister replied to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) with his customary exuberance, but with less than his customary fairness, he justified the increase in the cost of house-building in what I thought was a rather elaborate and theoretical argument; about roads and sewers and the deaths of little children, which seemed to have no relevance to the particular point whatsoever. That was the first item which he said went to make the increased cost of houses. The second item was that equipment was now superior to what it used to be. Those two items, he claimed, justified the present increase in the cost of house-building. He went on to say that it had not gone up unduly as compared with other commodities. I do not think I am being unfair to him in saying that; roads and sewers have taken houses off the arterial roads, equipment has been increased and the cost has not gone up unduly as compared with other commodities.

I wish to make my analysis of the increase in building costs and I would pray in aid the report of the Girdwood Committee. This was the report which the right hon. Gentleman himself accepted, and the committee which he set up. I should like to try and take this logically, because it is important we should point out to the Minister the exact figure he has cost us in his housing programme. The first point is, what was the Government's intention? In the White Paper of 1945, which was referred to by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities, and which the Minister himself accepted—because he had accepted that as the basis for his housing programme—it declared that the actual number of houses to be built would be dependent on the building resources likely to be available from time to time. So in the White Paper of 1945 that was indicated as the inten- tion of the Government. The report went on to say:
"'There was a serious rise in building costs after the last war because demands went far beyond the real capacity of the building industry. In order to check such a tendency the Government will this time control the volume of contracts let by local authorities, the building and repair work done on private account and the price of materials, standard components and fitments.'"
That was the Government's intention, and it is what the Parliamentary Secretary will accept now as the Government's intention, when they started the housing programme.

Let us look at the Government's action. Paragraph 169 of the Girdwood Committee's report states this:
"Nevertheless, all the evidence shows that a serious overloading of building resources took place."
In other words, what the Government did was contrary to the intention expressed in that White Paper in 1945. Let us go further and say this, that the result of the Government's action has been as is stated in paragraph 170:
"This resulted in too thin a spread of labour and materials over the amount of work in progress and has thus been largely responsible for the low level of productivity in house-building in the past, and the extra cost arising therefrom."
So the first point is that the Government's intention was not to overload the industry. The second point is that, in point of fact, their own committee said they did overload the industry. The third point is that the overloading has been largely responsible for the low level, for the
"… low level of productivity … and the extra cost arising therefrom."
I wish to be fair to the Minister. He said in the House of Commons on 28th July, 1947:
"In other words—and this is a legitimate point of criticism—by the end of 1946, the housing programme was out of phase, out of balance. I accept that at once. I accept that by the end of 1946 we had placed more contracts at the disposal of the building industry than the physical resources of the industry could manage.… I accept it as an inevitable concomitant of the planning of building over a wide field."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1947; Vol. 441, c. 85.]
So there we have the case complete. The Minister has accepted it as the:
"inevitable concomitant of planning building over a wide field,"
that is, overloading the industry. Let us look at what this question of overloading cost the nation. In paragraph 233 of the same committee's report it says:
"The decline in productivity in the building industry since 1939 led to an increase of some 45 per cent. in the number of man-hours required to build a house in 1947, and a resultant extra cost of about £150 in the case of the typical three-bedroom house."
This was largely due to the Minister's own action of overloading in the industry.

Is there any chain in that evidence which the Parliamentary Secretary does not accept, because I am going to work out how much that has cost the nation first, in terms of money and secondly, in terms of houses not constructed. It cost us £150 per house, and the hon. Member for South-Western Norfolk (Mr. Dye) was complaining bitterly about my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) trying to cut £10 off the cost of a house in a certain manner. He should bring this to the attention of the Minister of Health, who has cost this country £150 a house.

The number of houses built to 30th April this year was 478,988—that is, permanent houses—and at £150 per house, which is the Girdwood Committee's own figure, it amounts to a loss in productivity of £71,848,200. That seems to me a fair price to pay even for someone who has given us a delightful dialectical display on certain occasions.