Aneurin (Nye) Bevan was a socialist leaning member of the Labour Party who was Health Minister post war in the Atlee government. He is the most significant figure in the history of the NHS, Britain's national health care program. This speech is about housing policy.
Mister Chairman, and comrades, the last time that I spoke in this hall was when I was leading an [inaudible] demonstration. It was a most unorthodox affair frowned upon by large numbers of respectable persons. You fellas have gone right mad now these days. This is a nuisance. But nevertheless the task that lies ahead of us is far greater than what we have already accomplished. We want to get those 45,550 families back into their homes as quickly as possible, because we want to get those 140,000 building workers on clean straightforward jobs of new building. Now I know Mister Chairman, dribbling about in a war damaged house is not a very satisfying job for a craftsman, and the sooner we can put this behind us the better. Comparisons are being made at the present time with the housing policy in different parts of the country. Our critics, and there are a good many of them, are going to be confounded.
At the end of the last war no houses at all were being built, yet we have got, as I said, throughout the country as a whole, not only to replace the consequences of a destruction of war, not only to put up the houses that Hitler's bombs blew down. Not only have we got to repair the houses that were damaged, not only have we to make up the arrears of six years of lack of housing maintenance, but in addition to that, in addition to what the enemy did to us, we have got to try and make up for the arrears of housing left by 50 years of Tory misrule in Britain.
A house is at the end of the production line, not the beginning. A house is the last product. Before you can start building on any scale, every single industry in society has got to be organised and stimulated into production. A house, a modern house, is a most complex economic production. Every single industry is a contributor. Not only the simple building materials of bricks and mortar and cement and plasterboards and slates, and tiles, and timber, but every single component and all the furnishings of a house make it built upon every single conceivable industry. And therefore before we can start houses going up in any great numbers, all these industries have got to be manned and organised, and it is to that task that I have been devoting myself during the winter months.
It was my purpose, and it is still my purpose, to try and get houses started everywhere so that as the men come home from the forces, some building work should be going on near their homes, because we want to try and make it possible for all the building operatives to do their building work and get back to their own homes at a reasonable hour. That purpose can only ... [skip]
We don't know what they are doing, where they are doing it, or how they are doing it. How is it going to be possible for the government to plan the production of all 101 components of a house unless we know what the contractors are doing, and therefore I made up my mind. As this plan had to be implemented to a plannable instrument, that the only plannable instrument lying ready to hand were the great public authorities. And so I decided to place the principle responsibility for the main features of the housing programme upon the public authorities. And there was a further reason.
Now private enterprise cannot build houses to last, because you don't make money that way. Private enterprise makes profit out of houses only when it builds houses to sell, and therefore as the primary consideration was to provide houses to let poor people, or for relatively poor people, then again the only instrument able to build houses to let in good numbers are the local authorities. And there was another ...[skip]
And that competitor is a black market in building repairs. Now repairs have to be done, as I said, because there are great arrears to be made up. A licence is obtained by a building contractor who enters a house, and then all sorts of things happen from then on. All sorts of things that I could describe if I had time, and that you could tell me about. Now comrades, that isn't good enough. That isn't good enough. There is a sacred obligation upon every building worker to refuse to engage ... [skip]
Our housing prices have got to be brought under control ...