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Ministry Of Works

Volume 480: debated on Monday 13 November 1950

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Decorating Firms (Registration)

1.

asked the Minister of Works what is the purpose of continuing the registration of decorating firms.

The registration of decorating firms, together with all other firms in the building and civil engineering industries, continues for the purpose of collecting statistics of employment and output in these industries.

Is this creation of a virtual closed shop in the decorating industry really justified for the sake of a few statistics?

Decorating forms a considerable part of the amount spent on maintenance, and it is considered absolutely necessary to keep a proper record.

Government Offices

2.

asked the Minister of Works who will occupy the block of offices to be built in the Headrow, Leeds, at an approximate total cost of £600,000.

The Inland Revenue, Ministry of Labour and Customs and Excise Departments. As I said the other week, no licence to build has yet been issued.

Will the Minister bear in mind that it is high time productive industry had access to the new office accommodation of the country rather than tax-consuming Government Departments such as this?

I think the hon. Gentleman is under a misconception. Where we erect those buildings we do it for the purpose of derequisitioning other buildings at present occupied by the staff. It is only done to that end.

3.

asked the Minister of Works how many new Government offices have been erected since the end of the war where the Government has taken over a long lease from a private owner.

4.

asked the Minister of Works the average annual rental per square foot, separately, in London and the provinces, paid in respect of Government offices erected and owned by private contractors.

I assume that the hon. Member is referring to office buildings erected since the war for lease to the Government under what is known as the Building Lessor Scheme. The average rents to be paid under these agreements are 7s. 8d. per square foot in the Metropolitan Police area and 6s. 6d. per square foot in the provinces.

Will those buildings count for the Government share of capital expenditure, or are they regarded for the purpose of the survey as outside it?

9.

asked the Minister of Works how many schemes for the building of office accommodation, to be leased wholly or partially to Government Departments, have been licensed in London in the past 12 months; and how many new applications for similar buildings are now under consideration.

Thirteen buildings and part of another building have been licensed in the past 12 months. Plans for future building are under review. Unless there is no other way of releasing requisitioned premises before emergency powers expire, none of these new building schemes will be proceeded with until I am satified both that on balance it offers financial advantage and that the material and labour required will not interfere with the housing programme.

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered using temporary buildings or even huts for Government offices in order to release the labour for house building?

What consultations take place with the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence? Every day we hear of more and more Government offices going up in London. Surely, from the strategic and civil defence points of view, it is the height of folly to have any more here.

I am in constant touch with the Departments concerned and we have not yet come across any difficulties.

Building Manpower

5.

asked the Minister of Works what is the total building force at the latest convenient date; and how it is apportioned to new house building, house repair, and civil engineering, &c.

The total building labour force at the end of September, 1950, is estimated to have been 1,068,000 operatives; 23.8 per cent. were engaged on new house building, 25.8 per cent. on house repair and 50.4 per cent. on all other work including civil engineering.

Could the Minister tell us whether this is less than the number last given as employed on house building, and will he reconsider this proportion and see that the operatives who should be building houses are directed into those quarters rather than into a mass of office and luxury building as at present?

I could not answer the first part of that supplementary question without some research, but I can assure the hon. Lady that, as far as possible, we get the necessary labour required for building houses and that whenever a report comes in to the effect that housing is being held up, we always take action.

Is the Minister satisfied with the percentage allocated to house repairs?

As the hon. Gentleman will no doubt know, maintenance is vitally important. If maintenance is let down, things always go wrong. I do not consider that any labour is wasted which is engaged on repairs.

10.

asked the Minister of Works the proportion of building manpower in Cardiff engaged on house building, maintenance and repair work and the construction of new offices, respectively.

The proportions of building manpower in Cardiff engaged on new house building, all maintenance and repair work and the construction of new offices at the end of October, 1950, were estimated to be 33.4 per cent., 40.6 per cent. and 2.6 per cent. respectively.

Building Licences

6.

asked the Minister of Works whether there is any arrangement whereby hon. Members can ascertain the requests for licences to build, other than housing, before the licences are actually granted.

No, Sir, but I am always ready to consider representations made to me by hon. Members about individual cases or particular types of cases.

Is the Minister aware that there is no possible way of hon. Members getting to know who has made a request for a licence—either through the local authority or through his regional departments? Can he take some steps to see that some of us, at any rate, are aware of who are making applications for licences, so that we can make some reference to it if necessary?

I should explain to the hon. Lady that the whole thing is somewhat formidable. As over 15,000 applications are received every month, I should need an army corps to do what the hon. Lady wants.

Is the Minister aware that the attempt of the hon. Lady to catch his eye before he issues licences is regarded as most unbecoming on this side of the House?

To avoid what happened to the Lambeth Borough Council, which only found out, by accident, the intention of the Minister to grant a £300,000 licence for shops and offices in Brixton, would my right hon. Friend ensure that at least the local authorities concerned should be informed of these applications or of the intentions of the Minister in relation to them?

Where large projects are involved, to the best of my knowledge local authorities are informed, but I will certainly look into it and see what can be done.

Would the Minister say whether he thinks it is desirable that these applications should be disclosed to hon. Members? Is there not something confidential in them?

Mobile Labour Force

12.

asked the Minister of Works if, in view of the amount of work in isolated areas and the requirements for National Defence, he is satisfied that the disbanding of the Mobile Labour Force at Porton will not mean increasing costs when the work is put out to contractors.

The Mobile Labour Force will complete the work for which it was required at Porton. Any further construction needed afterwards can be let out to contract and should not result in increased costs.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that since the Mobile Labour Force arrived in the Salisbury area work on temporary sites at Porton, on contracts for the War Office and at Oldstock Hospital, has come out at less than estimated cost, and that the force has built houses in Dover, Plymouth and for the L.C.C. at less than the contractor's estimated price? Before my right hon. Friend finally decides to disband this force, which it was costly to bring into being, will he give consideration to these points?

On a point of order. Could we have that supplementary question again, so that we can follow exactly the Minister's reply?

I will certainly study in the OFFICIAL REPORT what my hon. Friend has said. I can only assure him that the work of the Mobile Labour Force has been limited to work in cases where labour is not readily available or cases of great urgency. That is the policy we have been following.

Could my right hon. Friend look again at the whole question of this force, because it is doing a wonderful job and, as my right hon. Friend knows, throughout the country there have been constant complaints of building schemes having to be ignored because this force is not available?

As I have already said in the House, the work done by the Mobile Labour Force is quite admirable, but the conditions under which it was originally required have, thank goodness, passed, and I do not think it advisable, in the interests of the taxpayer, to keep it in being.

Before coming to a final decision, will my right hon. Friend consult with the trade unions of the building industry with a view to finding a solution of the difficulties which he mentioned and which, I know, are very real?

The trade unions are perfectly aware of what I am doing. They knew before I did it, and the Mobile Labour Force is not suddenly coming to an end. It is engaged on a considerable quantity of important work which should take about another 18 months to complete.