§ Postponed Proceeding resumed on Amendment to Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Captain HACKING
When the Housing. Bill was introduced on Second Reading by the Minister of Health, I made an interjection and asked if the grant applied to public utility societies, and I am very glad that it does, because I have always believed that public utility societies would be the salvation of the housing scheme. The reason why not many houses have been built in the past by such societies has been, I think, the tremendous amount of red tape in the Ministry of Health. When I say red tape I mean in a polite sense to this extent. The Regulations with regard to housing have been very much delayed, and that delay has meant that the big firms in the country who were quite willing to form themselves into public utility societies to build houses have not dared to venture On such undertakings until they had full particulars. Those particulars have been pressed for on many occasions, and especially in connection with the powers they would have to dispose of the houses when once built. I understand now from the White Paper, only produced to-day, that there will be no Regulations to prevent the houses, when they are built by a public utility society, being sold to anybody they care to sell them to or being let to anybody they care to let them to. In other words, if a largo society, a large firm, cares to build houses for its own employés it will be allowed to let those houses to the employés. I want to be quite clear on that point as that will 1031 induce a great number of firms to form themselves into public utility societies. I should like to know definitely whether there are any more Regulations going to be published in connection with this new Bill, or any more conditions issued which might hinder a society from going on with this work. It would be very hard on any large firm which had been induced under the conditions laid down here to start building operations if it found when it got half way through that fresh Regulations were published. I agree with an hon. Member opposite that it is a pity that the Regulations are not embodied in the Bill itself, because almost every Bill of this character can be provided afterwards with Regulations which absolutely nullify the original intention of the Bill. Therefore, I would like to know if the Government have really published in this White Paper all the restrictions necessary for the carrying out of these housing schemes. If the grant of from £130 to £160 is applicable to the public utility societies as we are informed it is, I presume such a society would have the choice now of coming under this scheme and having the lump sum grant or of resorting to the old conditions as under the original Act.
§ Dr. ADDISON
That is a very important point, and I hope the hon. Member will understand that no society will receive a grant under the new set of conditions in respect of the same house.
§ Captain HACKING
Quite; I did not expect that the Government would be generous to that extent. Will the societies have the choice of coming under either the new Regulations of the grant or under the old Regulations of the original Act? I do not suppose any of them would take the conditions of the old Act and that if they had the choice they would naturally prefer the grant of from £130 to £150. Such being the case, I think it is a pity that the Minister of Health has stated that he will not allow the public utilty society which has already started its work under the old Act to change on to the new conditions. In other words, the society which was wishful to help the Minister and to get houses for the country, and started its work in face of the fact that it was bound to suffer loss on the building of those houses, is going to be crippled and jeopardised by not being allowed to change on to the new conditions. The society which has been 1032 patriotic in this respect is going to suffer, while the society which has held back is now going to benefit under these new conditions. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider his decision on that point. There are several points which I do not know, if I would he in order in mentioning, although I think I could raise them by saying that I am sorry they are not embodied in the Bill. There are Regulations at present in operation whereby local authorities can actually take over a completed house. I think it is rather a pity that such Regulations are not extended to a public utility society. I know of some firms who are wishful to take over houses which are already completed, and they are not allowed to do so, because they have not the same opportunities and they are not under the same conditions as a local authority is. Another point is that I wish something had been stated in this Bill with regard to the question of rating as it affects subsidised houses. It is a. question which has often been raised, and I believe has been under the consideration of the Minister of Health. It would be unfair to base ratings on the same system, in the one case having a subsidised house and in the other case having a house which is not subsidised, and I think that point ought to have very careful consideration.
An hon. Member who spoke from the Labour Benches (Mr. W. Graham) this afternoon mentioned the system of dilution, and naturally from his point of view he opposed such a system, but we were told by the Prime Minister only a few days ago that there were no builders left in the country. He said that the builders were depleted by 200,000 men, and that there were not sufficient builders left to continue the schemes under the Housing Act. If such is the case, I certainly think the system of dilution ought to be very carefully considered. Apparently all available trade labour is already employed, and we had a system of dilution during the War in the engineering trade, which was certainly an emergency measure, but an emergency exists to-day in the building trade, and if it was essential during the War to have a system of dilution in the engineering trade, I think it is just as necessary to have it in the building trade to-day, as the national emergency still exists. The right hon. Baronet who sits for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Sir Tudor Walters) knows that I have been pressing for a long time, with 1033 regard to the £150 Grant, to try and get a lump sum granted instead of having it spread over a number of years, and I am glad that at last this has been agreed to by the Government. I can assure the Government from several firms in my Constituency that they are delighted to have the opportunity of accepting this lump sum Grant in preference to the other form of the subsidy spread over a great number of years. It means that they will be able to get rid of the houses to their employés, who are most anxious to buy, and it has a lot of other advantages, amongst which is that the firm which does not wish to remain a public utility society for the next fifty years, say, can build its houses, can get rid of them, and can settle down to its ordinary everyday business again. I was more than delighted when I saw how few Regulations had been published up to now. I do hope that no more will be published, and that nothing will be put down on paper to prevent houses being built by the societies I have mentioned. We have had quite enough paper in the past. The Minister himself upstairs said we could not build houses on paper. I believe that is quite true, but really the amount of paper that has been seen in connection with these housing schemes, if it could all be collected and compressed into blocks, in the same way as paper is compressed for railway carriage wheels, I believe you would have sufficient bricks to build the next 100,000 houses with, and, moreover, as all that paper has been bound with tape of the appropriate colour, I think the bricks would probably be also of the correct shade.
§ Sir PETER GRIGGS (indistinctly heard)
As a county councillor and as an urban councillor for many years, I must say that I do not see how the local councils are going to make up the housing shortage very quickly. If you are going to rely on them, I think you will have to wait for most of your houses for some time, for many of them are finding great difficulty in obtaining reasonable tenders. If the Minister of Health wants to get building done quickly, he must try to regain the confidence of the private builder who has done the work before. If you can regain his confidence you will soon make up the shortage, but they have lost that confidence. You took away their profit by the 1909 Act, by the Increment Duty and the Undeveloped Land Tax, where they made any, and left them to make up any losses 1034 on buildings when made. There seems to be an opinion in this house that this is a very good thing for the private builder. Several of them have already been to me asking for my opinion, and they have given me their thoughts on the matter. They say, "What have we to do in only twelve months? We have to find new plant, scaffold poles, scaffold boards, and many other things, and we shall have to buy them very expensively, for they are very dear, and we shall not get to work, with all our plans to prepare and consents obtained, before March or April, and in the end, when we have settled down and our workmen are at work and they are rather far away from a town, those men may all be drawn away for a little better pay or for less travelling or other inducement. Some of them do not seem inclined to carry on unless they have a longer term to do the work in.
If their houses are not finished in twelve months, the subsidy is curtailed, or perhaps none is given to them at all. That is not the way you are going to make up the shortage quickly. But if you give them some extension of time, then, I believe, they will come along with their building. You must give them a chance of profit, and when you remember that building material is exceedingly costly and houses are costing nearly three times as much as they did, £150 or thereabouts is not going to be a very great help. If you can give them more time, I think they will come in, but unless you do that they will stay out. Then they are afraid that the local authorities will enter into undue competition, as they have better terms and larger subsidies. Builders and companies at the present time own a very large amount of building land. They have spent a large amount of money on sewers and roads, and if you can only give them confidence to go on, a large number of houses will soon spring up. I have just had a letter from a builder saying that he has got about 50 acres of land on which he has just started putting up the brickwork of some houses, and he supposes that he will have to pull it down again to enable him to come into the subsidy, for they must be begun after the passing of the Act to obtain it. That will lead to some little delay, unless it is possible to bring houses commenced within the last month or two within the terms of the subsidy. There are points which are worth thinking about, because the private builder's work will be much less costly than that of the local 1035 authorities, seeing that after the £150 you are having no further liabilities whatever. The houses are badly wanted and every effort should be made to obtain them.
§ Sir T. WALTERS
It has come as a complete surprise to me, in the course of this Debate, to discover that some of my hon. Friends regard the two Bills that have been submitted, the first, which is now the Housing and Town Planning Act, and the Bill before us to-night, as in sonic degree antagonistic Bills. The Mover and Seconder of the Motion for the rejection appeared to think that we had two rival schemes submitted to the House, that the Minister of Health had originally conceived one method by which the housing difficulty could be dealt with. and then, forsooth, that he had tried that method, and that it had failed, and that he had come to the House to-night with a new and fresh proposal which was itself destructive of his original measure. A more entirely illusive view of the present position is almost impossbile to conceive, I believe that these two methods are part of the same comprehensive scheme, that the proposals which are submitted to-day are a natural corollary of the measure which we passed in the Housing and Town Planning Act in the early part of the year. The Mover of the Motion for the rejection, who has always been a very good friend of housing reform, who has always taken very enlightened views, and to whom we are very much indebted—every housing reformer regards him as a colleague and a helper—to-night really ventures to suggest that he has been reading into the original Act all sorts of purposes and intentions that were never there. If I understand his speech aright. he appears to read into the Housing and Town Planning Act, of which we are all still very proud, and with which the name of my right hon. Friend will always be honourably associated, the suggestion that it imposes upon the local authority the building of all the working men's houses that are going to be built both this year and next year and for all time. I followed that Bill pretty closely. I took a modest part in the Debates both in the House and Committee stages. I had something to do with the sittings of the Committee and the Report that was issued on which very important sections of that measure were based, It never entered into my head to suppose that I was taking part in framing a measure that 1036 imposed upon local authorities the building of all the working-class houses required in these Islands for all time. Such a position seems to me ridiculous and absurd, and just, see what it would mean to the Exchequer. I do not want to weary the House with figures. We are talking about a shortage of houses to the number of 500,000, and others talk of 1,000,000. The proposal is that 200.000 houses should be built per annum. Is it seriously suggested that the unfortunate local authorities in this country have themselves got to build 200,000 houses a year for five years? Supposing them to cost £1,000 each, they would have to raise and spend £1,000,000,000. It is a mere matter of arithmetic to find out how many years it would take to pay off an expenditure to that extent.
I have never placed such an interpretation upon it. Had I done so, I should certain'y have done my best to dissipate it while the Hill was under discussion. I do not think that was the last intention. Let us go back historically to what took place. It is an extraordinary thing how everyone who is criticising the conduct of the Ministry of Health fails to put himself back to the position of a few months ago, and is always reading what we ought to have done then in the present position at which we have now arrived. What was the position of the housing question when my right hon. Friend was called upon to deal with it? The position was this. All housing enterprise was paralysed. There was no output of material and no organisation of labour, and it was impossible for any one to begin without long preparation. There was not only the paralysis of the War, but the pre-war paralysis, and we were all conscious that, not only building had to be commenced, but when we did commence again we would commence on wiser and better lines. My right hon. Friend, I think with great prescience and wisdom, decided that the measure to be submitted to this House should deal first of all with the general survey of housing conditions, that is, to impose upon local authorities responsibilities which had never been imposed upon them before, not actually to build these houses, but to see that adequate housing accommodation was provided in their various districts, and they are just as much discharging that obligation by organising enterprise and seeing that work is being done as by actually doing it themselves. The object 1037 certainly was to take a survey of the situation, and to organise and arrange the work so that it should not be carried on in the old haphazard way, but on proper lines and with adequate preparation.
It was then decided. that we should lay down standards for houses. I am proud of those standards. I did my part in assisting to frame them. I regard the little work I did in that direction as the best work I have ever done in public life. I would never do anything or take any steps that would undo that work, or lower the high standard, or make it possible for us to revert to the old haphazard and chaotic methods of the past. After having framed that policy and embodied it in the Housing and Town Planning Act, then comes the question of administration. We had to go very carefully about this. There was no suggestion at the beginning of the scheme of any subsidy for private enterprise, because private enterprise at that time did not exist. I suggest, however, that it may be seen by a very superficial and casual perusal of the Bill that we had this in contemplation from the very commencement. There are various sections of the Act which deal quite clearly with the measures that it is possible to devise for getting private enterprise into the work. We have arrangements by which the local authorities may acquire land and lay it out for themselves, and we have arrangements with which local authorities can buy houses from private speculators, and these latter may build and sell to the local authorities. If the Act is read carefully it will be seen it is to be the framework, the commencement of the organisation of a broad and comprehensive policy for dealing with the great housing necessities of the country.
Therefore, I venture to suggest that when, after a few months have elapsed, and private building again becomes possible, when men are demobilised from the Army, when builders and contractors have been able to organise their stocks, it is only a step forward that we should now endeavour to supplement the building operations of the local authorities by inviting private enterprise to come in and render direct assistance. I should be very much surprised, too, if this Bill is the last word on the matter. There will be development, and we shall find, possibly, that there are other agencies and instrumentalities of which it will be our bounden 1038 duty to make use. One timing is to be avoided, and that is spending our strength in putting up rival doctrinaire schools. What I want is any method, any machinery, any organisation that will, in fact, produce houses. Houses are the things we want. If we work for that purpose and to that end, we can leave our theories, dogmas, and doctrines over for settlement till a more convenient season. Suppose hon. Members look closely at the problem now before us. Is it possible to apply any one measure or any one scheme to the solution of this great housing question? Is there any universal remedy that can be applied? I venture to suggest there is not. The problem is too big, too complicated. Look at it for a moment!Look at the problem that confronts one in housing matters in Lancashire, with its suggestion of contiguous and continuous towns. Is the problem the same there as confronts us in Devonshire or Suffolk? Is the. problem before the urban district the same as that in the rural district? Decidedly no!There is no scheme, no manual, no one set of regulations, no one housing handbook published by the most learned expert, which is sufficient to guide and enable us to deal with these various problems. Again, you have the different prejudices and predilections of the men and women who occupy these islands. Many look to the State to do this work—to build great State colonies all around our large towns. Personally, I have great admiration for the garden suburbs of cities, but I know some men who regard them with loathing and contempt. There are many people who would consider themselves buried if they had to live in a garden city. They say that garden cities are places forsaken of God and despised of men. People do not all want to live in the same kind of house. Some people like a municipal dwelling; others do not. Some like a garden, with half an hour's tram-ride from their work; others like it close to their work, and a place to which they can walk in a very few minutes. We have no business to lay clown a dogmatic interpretation of what people ought to do, or what people must do, in this respect. Provided the conditions are healthy and sanitary, let people either live in their own houses or someone else's house. Let it be a municipal house, or a builder's house, or any other. Do not let us cramp the outlook and expectation of our people by preconceived doctrinaire views! 1039 Therefore, though I believe in municipalities and local authorities contributing a substantial part to this quota, let us make no mistake about it. In the next few years the local authorities must put their backs into it and do a great deal of the work; but they cannot do it all. They ought not to be expected to do it.
In order to convince every Member of the House of that, I will ask each hon. Gentleman just to imagine for a moment the town or countryside that he knows best. I will take for my purpose, not the, great City of London—the problems here are so complicated. I will not take places even like Glasgow, Liverpool, or Manchester. I will take some moderate-sized provincial town like Nottingham, Leicester, or Derby. I go down to Leicester, say—a place I used to know very well—and I look at it from the standpoint of how I should solve the housing problem. Take the schemes of the local authority. They have done what they ought to have done. They have acquired an outlying tract in one of the great suburbs. They have planned a comprehensive scheme which is to the credit of the town. It is going to take some time to get through with it, but already there are a number of roads, a tramway extension to it, an extended sewage scheme laid down, and houses are being planned. In a few years that will be a very fine suburb. If I leave there and go down into Leicester, and walk about the town, I find that the working men do not seem to be satisfied with the idea of this fine garden suburb. Those whose work does not happen to be on the side of the town in which this great suburb is situated do not regard the future of this place with great satisfaction. They say, "We do not want long tram-rides to get from our work to the garden suburb, nor do we want to walk that way." "Besides," says one man, "I want a house now, next week, at once." Estates round about Leicester are being laid but, several leading into the town of Leicester; some near the centre. These estates are all laid out for building, the roads and sewers are made. People there say, "Why can't we at once get some houses on them?" Then I go and talk with the local builders. They tell me they do not want to do the work at present; they have plenty to do; but they add they would like to put up the houses if they could get someone to do it, and see the prospect of an economic 1040 return in the letting of the houses. I say it is really a ridiculous and absurd thing that when you have that land already laid out, when you have those streets made—at pre-war prices, too, at half and one-third of the cost of now—when you have the plant, scaffolding, and a staff of men, and on the other hand you have men clamouring for houses, it is a preposterous, ridiculous, unpractical, and absurd thing to say because this is not put up by the local authority, or is not the garden suburb that we want we will not pass these dwellings for the people.
That is the way to look at the problem. Take any particular town and see what method you have to employ to solve the difficulty. Even in Leicester, Nottingham and Derby you can go along to the builder or to the estate owner, and if you offer grants varying from £130 to.£160 per house they will be able to build, and why? The reason is not because that represents the real difference between the increased cost of housing and what it used to cost, but that is the margin, and a man can borrow the rest and proceed to build. My right hon. Friend opposite knows that that is the case. You need not provide them with loans, for with that £l50 from the State a man can go to an insurance company or some local agency and people will be ready to finance him. A man under those circumstances can pass his plans almost at the next meeting of the town council, and he can set to work immediately, and in three months, weather permitting, he can have a roof on those houses and soon get people to live in them. If you want this job done you must take the quickest way, and use the material nearest to your hand. You can still go on with your garden suburbs and the acquisition of land for sites round towns, and while you are going on with such schemes you can at the same time find some humbler and simpler and more direct method of providing the houses the people want. I believe under the scheme of this Bill you would be able to do that without setting up rival or antagonistic schemes to those which are being carried out under town-planning schemes.
Some hon. Members have spoken as if the intention was to provide a low standard of houses, but no such intention exists. My right hon. Friend (Dr Addison) would not let me do it if I wanted to, and although I am not the Minister I could be very obstructive if I liked, and I may say that I would not let my right hon. 1041 Friend do it without opposing him. There is no intention of reducing the standard. Because houses are erected in the centre of provincial towns it does not follow that they need be insanitary. We shall take good care that the local authorities, should this subsidy be granted, adopt a standard fit for men to dwell in, and only when the kind of workmanship is satisfactory and has been approved by a competent surveyor will this Grant be made. The House need have no fear about jerry-building or the adoption of a low standard of houses. It is a great deal better to live in a well-built cottage, twenty to the acre, than to live in a converted Army hut, a Canadian log cabin, or a mud building. We believe that under this scheme the builders in the town will respond, and that we shall get our 100,000 houses built in this way without competing with the schemes of the local authorities. One hon. Member suggested if these builders commenced to build in this way they will monopolise all the labour that would have been used by the local authorities. I think the hon. Member is mistaken in his facts. The house builder, as a rule, is not the contractor who tenders with the local authorities for building. As a rule he does not care about contracting, because he does not like the conditions imposed by architects and surveyors, who are fine and noble people, but very often they impose absurd conditions which the local builders do not like to carry out. They like to know exactly what they are doing, and, therefore, I think you will get your 100,000 houses built by men who do not work for the local authorities. Each small builder in a town generally manages to produce from somewhere a little following of his own. I do not know where they come from or where they hide themselves, but they do produce apprentices and men who do not care much for the ordinary hustle and bustle of contract work and who between times, are no doubt engaged in doing repairs. At any rate, they do produce their own staffs of men, and I suggest that at least 70 or 80 per cent. of these men will be a new contribution to the housing problem of the country, and they need not conflict with the carrying out of the housing schemes of local authorities.
I must just say a word or two about the countryside. It has been my lot to spend most of my days in the country, and I know something about the difficulties, of country housing. I believe this is the most effective method of producing houses in 1042 the country districts. It is astonishing Low many hundreds and thousands of men have bought their own farms during the last eighteen months or two years, and there is hardly one amongst those farmers who is provided with an adequate number of suitable dwellings for his men. I see no reason why the men who purchased those farms should not build one, two, or three houses upon their farm, and even after the £150 subsidy has been paid to them they will not be a paying proposition. But they would not build them merely to let in the ordinary open market, but with the £150 granted towards the cost of building the advantages to the farmers of having their men on the farm would make it well worth their while to build the cottages. I know some hon. Members do not like what I am suggesting because they would be tied houses.
I know something about the disadvantages and I also know something about the other side. I suggest. that if every farm in this way had its two, or four, or six cottages for the men who work upon it provided at a nominal rent for the use of the workers on the land it would mean that the cottage would follow the employment, and if a man moves from one farm to another he would simply have to move from one house to another. I cannot see, if it is an obligation that rests upon a farmer to provide good farm buildings for his cattle and stables for his horses, why, in Heaven's name, should it not be his duty to provide good dwellings for his men passes my comprehension. If you consider the ordinary countryside, scattered hamlets, small villages and farms, it will be extremely difficult for the local authorities to carry out adequate schemes for dealing with all these things. There are many districts in which local authorities can well build, but I believe if every landowner and every smallholder, village tradesmen, blacksmiths, carpenters, bricklayers and plumbers could all do their bit in the direction of making a contribution towards housing, it would do something substantial to mitigate the hardships under which we are suffering. At least it cannot do any harm, and it may be a considerable contribution to the solution of this problem.
I have only one more word that I will say—I have a great many more words that I would like to say, but. I will restrain myself—and that is on the question of profiteering. It has been suggested that this grant of.£150 will en- 1043 courage profiteering. I think the result will be the opposite. There never was so much profiteering in the building trade than exists now under the schemes of the local authorities. If you look at the prices that are being paid for ordinary five or six-roomed cottages, I am sure that you will agree with me. £800, £900 and £1,000 for five and six-roomed houses! The thing is monstrous, ridiculous and absurd. There is no foundation in fact for any such price. How then is it arrived at? By the grossest form of profiteering. There are three classes of people who are profiteering in connection with these schemes of the local authorities, namely, the people who supply the materials, the contractor who is carrying out the work, and the workmen who are laying the bricks and doing the work. All these three classes are profiteering. The people who are supplying the materials are running up the prices beyond anything that is necessary. The contractors are profiteering. Why, bless my life, the old-fashioned builder had to build houses and sell them for £20, £30, or £35 profit a piece. The contractor under these schemes wants £200 and £250 on each house that he builds. I am not passing judgment upon him, because I know that there are extenuating circumstances. I know that there is uncertainty. He does not know what will be the output of labour, and he does not know what will be the cost of the material. Therefore, he has to put on a considerable margin. He knows also that there are a great many more jobs than there are contractors to do them, and that he need not trouble to cut his price. Then, as far as the men are concerned—I am not passing any severe condemnation upon them any more than upon their employers—it is a well known fact amongst all of us, whether bricklayers, architects, or Ministers of Health, that if there is nothing to stimulate us to activity we are not as active as we might be. When you have the public purse to go at, and when there is no particular limit to your expenditure, there is no inducement to be economical.
There is, I think, slackness in each branch of the trade, and there is gross profiteering. I believe that any builder who set to work to build in the ordinary way with the ordinary inducements to economy, knowing that the expenditure would come out of his own pocket, would 1044 build these houses for at least £300 less than the amount for which they are being built. I suggest that if on the 100,000 houses to be built under this subsidy you give a bonus of £150 per house, costing £15,000,000, you ought, by anything like good management and by the exhilarating influence of judicious competition between the house builder and the private contractor, to save £200 on the next 100,000 houses of the local authority, and thus save £20,000,000, as against the £15,000,000 which this subsidy will cost. The one thing necessary to secure any kind of economy is to make it necessary for people building houses to see that they get value for their money both in materials and labour. I am satisfied, therefore, that the measures contained in this Bill will be of considerable advantage, both to the local authorities and to the community at large, and will help to secure the houses which we so much need. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition (Sir D. Maclean) asked me to indulge in a prophecy about what would happen between now and next May.
§ Sir T. WALTERS
One of my rigid rules is never to prophesy until after the event. If I were ever to indulge in betting I should want to put my money down after I had seen the horse win. I do not think it would do for me to prophesy how many houses will be built. under this scheme before 1st May next, but I am advised that already numerous applications are being received. My advisors have no doubt, I have no doubt, and my right hon. Friend has no doubt, that we shall receive sufficient applications to build 100,000 houses in the next twelve months if the material and the labour are forthcoming, and I promise my right hon. Friend that any humble assistance which I can render will be cheerfully rendered to secure the early completion of these 100,000 houses. I believe that at any cost of time, labour, or money we must secure the fulfilment of our hopes. The homes of our people are the very centre of our national life, the homes are the cradle of our race, and whatever we may do in providing universities, art galleries, and public buildings, will not suffice, and, however beautiful our churches and our cathedrals may be, they will be of very small avail to us if the homes of our people are mean and poor. Therefore, it behoves us all not to quarrel 1045 about different plans and methods and not to waste our time about doctrinaire theories, but to address ourselves with a single purpose and a united aim in endeavouring to solve this housing problem.
The right hon. Gentleman told us that he did not indulge in prophecy, but he indulged in one prophecy which seemed to me to be the most severe attack upon the main Housing Act which he professed to be supporting, that I have heard in this House. The prophecy which he made as to the difference in the price of building under this scheme and the price resulting from the profiteering, as he described it, under the schemes of the local authorities under the existing Act was simply staggering, but I do not believe that it will become true. The right, hon. Gentleman uttered the most severe condemnation of the Act which the House passed a few months ago that we have yet heard. he asked us not to be led away by doctrinaire views. I think it was in pursuance or doctrinaire views that the right hon. Gentleman spoke, because the opposition to the main principle underlying that Act came from the other side, from people who believe entirely in private enterprise, and do not believe in municipal enterprise. There is a strong body of opinion represented in this House which is out to kill that Act. I am sorry to say that there are a number of people, though they voted for that Act, who do not believe in the main principle underlying it. They do not believe in municipal enterprise in this direction. I must say, however, that I did not expect to hear such a forcible attack upon the finance of that Act as we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I do not think it will help municipal schemes to proclaim in this House, on the authority of the Government, that they lend themselves to profiteering, whereas private enterprise helps economy. That will not help the progress of the main Act.
But I did not get up for the purpose of speaking on the main question. I want to say a few words as to how this Bill is likely to affect rural housing in Scotland. I am glad to see the Under-Secretary for Health in his place. This is a question which affects his Department. But before I deal with it I wish, as one who has taken some little interest in the main Bill, to make some remarks about it. The White Paper has given an idea that the standard of housing is not to be so 1046 good under this Bill as was contemplated under the main Act. I think that is a fair deduction from a reasonable reading of the Act and of the White Paper. The standard has been made more elastic. It gives an opportunity of building twenty houses to the acre. I think it would be a very great pity if the standard and ideals of the right hon. Gentleman who was in charge of the previous Bill, ideals which he set himself when he undertook his great task—a task which, if I may be allowed to say so, he fulfilled to the great satisfaction of this side of the House—I say it would he a great pity if those standards are now to ho modified under this new Bill, and I shall regard it as a retrograde step. There is one point I would also like to emphasise, and it applies not only to England, but to Scotland. The Minister of Health in England and the Board of Health in Scotland should not, merely think of building new houses. They should also not forget to provide hotter houses for those who are now housed in slums.
There is no doubt about it; the great white scourge of this country, tuberculosis, is really a house disease. It is the experience of medical men that nowadays they seldom find tuberculosis in roomy houses where there is plenty of fresh air and sunlight. It is in the poorer quarters of a city that you find tuberculosis. It is a disease caused by poverty, underfeeding, and overcrowding, and especially overcrowding, and I hope that one of the first objects of the authorities will be to remove these slums and to get on with providing houses for those who now live in insanitary dwellings.
With regard to the application of this Bill to Scotland and the rural areas there, I welcome the elasticity which the measure has brought into the scheme for housing both in England and Scotland, and, I hope, also in Ireland. I think the subsidy is going to do much more good if properly applied in the rural than in the urban areas. Indeed, I would suggest to the Secretary for Scotland that the subsidy of £150 should be devoted almost entirely to rural areas, because the Bill, with all its good points, hardly touches the question of rural housing. It passes it by on the other side. I am very glad to acknowledge that the Secretary for Scotland has made great amends for that defect and has been the means of getting a large amount of money to help in the provision of crofter houses in crofting areas. But the fact is that, for the crofter houses particularly, 1047 the guarantee is of such a complicated character that it will be very difficult under the main Bill to provide houses in crofting areas. But through the exertions of the Secretary for Scotland the Board of Agriculture were empowered to grant loans, although there were no free grants. I am glad that this Bill will make up for that defect and enable people who build houses for themselves to get the grant. I have heard rumours that the Regulations that are in course of being framed with regard to the distribution of this grant are such as to make the operation partial in certain areas and to give the grant only to a certain class of new landholder. I feel somewhat perturbed about that, and my chief object in getting up was to ask for some information with regard to the application of the grant to rural housing in Scotland. I want to know who are the people who are to get it, and under what conditions it is to be given. I congratulate the Government upon this scheme particularly with regard to rural housing. I believe it will be of great benefit to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and that it will meet the peculiar conditions of those parts.
Lieut.-Colonel W. GUINNESS
I regret that the Paymaster-General should have risen to answer on the general Debate so early in the evening, because the discussion has been interrupted by private business, and a large number of questions which have been asked, and more which are going to be asked, will remain unanswered. We have had really no answer to the pertinent questions put by the hon. Member for St. Pancras (Mr. Lorden) from the point of view of the building trade, neither has an answer been given to the questions of the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Lane-Fox) as to the retrospective effect of this £150 grant. On these points we have had no light whatever from the Government. The Paymaster-General was very modest in his speech as to the general scope of the Bill, and I think he did something to put it back into its proper perspective. He admitted that neither this nor any other Bill was likely to prove a universal remedy for our housing difficulties. I must express regret he did not give us a little more hard facts about the £150 grant. The House is absolutely in the dark as to how the figures, have been arrived at. There is a very general distrust of this grant, on 1048 the ground that it is a dole, and until we get a little more information from the Government I think there will be a very natural feeling that the grant might as well be dropped out of the Bill altogether. On the financial side we have this to go upon, that the General Housing Memorandum, No. 8, published by the Ministry of Health, estimates that the normal level of prices will be reached in 1927 and that that level of prices will be two-thirds of the present level of the prices for building. That Memorandum, therefore, lays down that local authorities must arrange their rents so as to get two-thirds of what would be an economic rent at present prices by the year 1927, and it provides that the remaining one-third shall be paid out of public funds. The Paymaster-General, in his speech ten days ago, made out the conditions to be even worse. He said that out of every £1,000 that the local authorities would spend on housing they must lose £500.
How is this grant of £150 going to solve that economic question? There are two alternatives. First, you may insist that those who receive this grant are to build on the same standard of construction as the local authorities. If the Housing Memorandum is right, this grant of£150 on the same basis of construction will bridge the difference between the building cost and the rent available for a house of not more than £450 capital value. If, however, the Paymaster-General is right, this grant will only meet the difficulty for a house of a value of £300. Of course, with the same standard, it will not get over the gap between the economic rent and the capital value in respect of any house of a larger cost. As we have had no explanation of this fundamental difficulty, I am inclined to fear that the Government are going in for the second alternative, namely, that they are proposing this £150 grant to allow houses to be built at a lower standard than they insist on in the case of local authorities. it would be most undesirable for the State to set up a system of State-aided slums. We have had quite enough experience of a bad type of building in the past, and I do not think we ought to have this dole at all if it is going to lead to a lower standard of construction.
In any case, a great deal of opposition has been expressed to this principle, and unless it is going to be effective it had better be dropped altogether. I am afraid the truth is that the small builder at present feels such uncertainty, owing to 1049 the operation of the Rent Restriction Act and to the lurking fear that it may be extended, that he is not going to launch out on building schemes under present conditions. Until the situation is cleared up and things become normal, we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that we have to depend on municipal enterprise. If that is so, I am sure that, rather than cause suspicion and party feeling by carrying the provisions about the £150 grant, the Government would be better advised to drop it altogether. On the financial provisions of the Bill I am informed that the local authorities are by no means satisfied. I was told to-day that there was a meeting of various local authorities in the North-eastern area of England who believe that in many cases, if left to their own devices, they could raise loans at 5 per cent. They may be wrong. Unless the State is prepared to guarantee this loan, and give its assistance in that way, I do not see why you should stereotype any particular rate of interest, as is done in this Bill. Over the whole country I doubt whether you can get 5frac12; per cent. for local loans, as is laid down in this Bill. I am quite sure you cannot get it without a State guarantee behind it. Therefore the Government ought to consider one of two alternatives, either a State guarantee behind the 3frac12; per cent. loan, or freedom to local authorities to raise the money at the best rates they can without any State guarantee. I am not at all satisfied that all the financial expedients have been properly explored. In the case of factories, local authorities are now allowed, in certain eases, to give exemption from rates. I am informed that if local authorities were given the right to waive rates in the case of new working-class accommodation erected for the next few years, it would be possible to charge a rent for this new accommodation only 30 per cent. higher than the general level of pre-war rents. It has been pointed cut that local authorities would not lose under this system because they would, for the most part, be covering land with buildings which at present is producing no rates whatever, and they would have just as many households on which to levy their rates in the existing accommodation as they have at the present time. I was disappointed that the Paymaster-General did not deal with other forms of construction in a more sympathetic spirit. There is a very general feeling that the Ministry 1050 of Health are not doing all they can to solve the difficulty on new and unconventional lines. I was rather annoyed to hear the Paymaster-General talk in the same breath in a tone of contempt of Canadian log huts and mud buildings. That only bears out the general impression we have formed that the Ministry of Health are looking at these new methods in a spirit of obstructive acquiescence.
To compare wooden houses with mud huts is obstructive acquiescence. The Minister of Health, in the last Debate, very rightly poured a good deal of ridicule on the efforts of an irresponsible journalist to push a certain class of wooden house. I do not think that by any means deals with the case, because since then the Agent-General for British Columbia, Mr. Wade, has published a very suggestive letter urging the advantages of mass construction, which saves architects' fees and an enormous amount of labour and material in measuring and cutting. If you had mass construction in the case of these wooden dwellings, you could prevent monotony by fixing a considerable number of different types, so that you would not have continual repetition in any one area. The Government would do well, instead of pouring ridicule on any new form of construction and speaking of it as lumber huts and mud dwellings—
§ Dr. ADDISON
When have I poured ridicule on any form of construction? We have spent money and no end of trouble in order to encourage new forms of construction and advertise them to all the local authorities of the country. It is most unjust.
§ Sir T. WALTERS
I poured no contempt on any form of new construction. I simply suggested that well-built houses, such as are proposed under this scheme, were very much better than log dwellings or mud huts, and I think so still. That is no reflection on new forms of steel and concrete construction.
I am very glad to have that disclaimer and to hear that when the hon. Gentleman condemned mud huts and mud cabins he was not condemning new forms of wood construction, which have so far not had a very warm welcome from the authorities.
§ Dr. ADDISON
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is utterly incorrect. They have had a most warm welcome and every form of encouragement.
This is better and better. We will hope that in future those who specialise in this form of construction will be able to take advantage of the sympathy now expressed by the Minister of Health. On the whole, one feels that the Ministry of Health is, perhaps, rather prone to deal with particular symptoms rather than with the disease as a whole, because, after all, our trouble is due to the cost of building. Subsidising may be a necessary expedient at present, but it is certainly economically unsound. I remember on former occasions very weighty speeches being made from the Labour Benches against subsidising rents on the ground that it kept down wages It is frequently asserted that one of our difficulties is due to the restriction of output. It is said that bricklayers nowadays only lay 300 bricks, whereas they could lay 800 to 1,000, and under United States hustle methods they can lay in plain work up to 1,500 a day. I do not know whether that is true or not, but we ought to have information. When the Prime, Minister was talking on this subject ten days ago the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes) interrupted him and said the trade unions concerned would like an inquiry and have asked for one. Why has not the Government accepted that invitation. Why also is it that they have not set up an inquiry, which I believe would also be welcome, on the dilution of labour. This is obviously a question which the House as a whole cannot judge of without further information, and I do not think it is wise for the Prime Minister to deal with this case as he did ten days ago and not go right through to the end and set up an inquiry when it is courted by those who are most concerned. If the facts are as asserted, public opinion will be the very best cure for our difficulties. If we really fail to solve this housing question on really fundamental lines—because all these Housing Bills are really makeshifts and are not going to the root of the question at all—it is very difficult to foretell what the eventual consequences may be. If rent is permanently to be subsidised, undoubtedly we shall land ourselves in a disastrous financial position, and if we do not go on subsidising rent, and if at time same time the high cost of construction permanently prevents our 1052 people being properly housed, we shall have such a growth of discontent that it may upset our whole organisation. I therefore beg the Government not to be content with this or any other Bill, however good it may be in its details, but to try to deal with the root causes of the trouble and to lose no further time in holding an inquiry and turning the full light of knowledge and public opinion on the factors to which the high cost of building is now alleged to be due.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
The Paymaster-General's speech was very plausible. There is evidently a good deal of disagreement in regard to methods of building between members of the Government. Last Friday I had the company of the Secretary for Overseas Trade in my Constituency. We were on the same platform and were doing our best to excuse the Government for delay in the housing problem. My hon. Friend is a very fine specimen of a. gentleman who has been brought up in a log cabin in Canada and he advocated most strongly that form of dwelling in this country. The Paymaster-General advocates a good and well-built house, Any sort of a. house is better than nothing at all. Whether it is mud or a log cabin, give us a dwelling for men in the congested coal areas, where there are beds which are never cold. I represent a mining constituency. There are scores of dwellings where the beds are never cold from 1st January to 31st December. We ought to utilise any material at our disposal in order to put up some dwellings where people can have a roof over their heads. The original idea of the Government. was to entrust the whole question of housing to local authorities, and the Paymaster-General gave valuable service on the Housing Committee. But there is the stamp of the professional on his work and on his speeches. Now he says the private builder must do the work, and he makes a proposition which every business man knows is quite futile. What is the good of offering a dole to a builder when he cannot possibly put up a house even with the dole and get an economic rent? In my part of the country it costs £950 to put up a house which in pre-war days cost £250. Take off the £150 dole. The builder is faced with a capital expenditure of £800 a house, which even at 5 per cent. means £40 a year rent. The working men in that locality cannot pay more than £20 to £25 a year rent. What is the good of talking about asking a 1053 private individual to put up houses when you know perfectly well that it is economically impossible to do so? There is only one way out of this difficulty. There has been a great deal of talk in this Debate about profiteering. I do not think the profiteering has been intentional. The fact is that there has been a shortage in this country of materials for putting up houses. There is competition for those materials, and whether the merchants like it or not the prices are forced up automatically owing to the shortage of the commodities. The only remedy is that the Government to-day should do what they did during the War. This is a war measure. The building of these houses is a war measure, Just as much a war measure as the provision of munitions of war, and the only remedy for the state of affairs now existing is for the Government to control these commodities and give them out, leaving a reasonable profit for the merchant.
There is one other difficulty in regard to finance. The Wrexham District Council have made an application since last July to the Government for a loan. The assess able value of the Wrexham Urban District is £208,000. The Government when list appealed to said they would apply to the Treasury. We waited a few weeks for the reply of the Treasury, but it was not forth coming. We could make no progress, although the plans were agreed and 1,700 houses were accepted by the Local Government Board as being suitable. Everything was ready to proceed with the work. There were plenty of labourers and plenty of masons to go on with the work, but we could not get the money. Every source was tried, but we could not get the money. We cannot get funds in order to start the scheme, and up till to day in that congested area, a mining area, where I have described the housing conditions, we are held up because we cannot get the money to start the work. What is the position? There can be no doubt that there has been a serious conflict between the Treasury and the Minister of Health. I know how keen the right hon. Gentleman is to proceed with housing, and I am also equally convinced that the Treasury is stopping him. It is high time the Treasury should realise how very important it is that this money should be forthcoming, and that those authorities Who cannot raise money should be helped by the Government, particularly where schemes have been approved, 1054 where plans have been accepted, and where everything is ready to proceed with the work, especially during this season, when so many, as in my Constituency, are out of employment. I do appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to consider this question, and first of all to control materials, because that is really vital. We must also dispose of the dole. It is absolutely no use, and if it is proceeded with, I predict that we shall be discussing, a few months hence, the failure of the housing scheme once more. It is no use proceeding with something which we know is quite impracticable. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, to drop the dole, and instead to control the materials.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
Then there is something radically wrong, seeing that the prices of materials are in some cases 400 per cent. higher to day than they were in pre-war days. It is high time the matter should be investigated. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to deal with the matter, and to bring pressure upon the Treasury to make arrangements so that the difficulties in regard to money can be overcome by those local authorities who are prepared to proceed with housing work.
§ Mr. MOLES
The right hon. Gentleman who spoke last from the Treasury Bench told us that he should not be surprised if it were necessary to come to this House again to ask for an Amendment even on this amending Bill. I speak my own mind, and I doubt not that of a good many others in this House, when I express the hope that, whatever Amendment may be necessary, this is the last occasion on which the House will be called on to carry it into effect. I rise for the purpose of calling the attention of the Minister in charge of the Bill to one rather serious oversight. It is indeed a cardinal defect in the Bill, and if not remedied will produce a serious position when the details of administration come to be worked out. I allude to the question of valuation. Valuation nowa- 1055 days is determined in one or two ways or in both—either upon the cost of construction or upon a rent economically based on the cost of construction. Either way the result is the same. The house which in pre-war days would have cost £250 had a valuation, say, of £15. That house to-day would cost at least £750, and the valuation would be practically treble the former figure. That is a point of very great importance. All our schemes of economic rent were based upon the assumption that the valuations of houses of identical type would be identical and on the pre-war basis. That is an entire misapprehension of the facts, yet no provision has been made for it.
Take a city like my own, Belfast, with a city consolidated rate of 10s. in the £ or Dublin where the rate is 17s., or Cork where it is 19s. 6d. in the £, and see what happens. There are two houses side by side. One, built in 1913, has a valuation of £15, and the other built, let us hope, in 1920, has a valuation of £42. There is a difference of £27 in the two valuations. If you apply that difference to a rate of 10s. or 17s. or 19s. 6d., and you add an Income Tax of 6s. in the £ on that £27 you have produced what would be a substantial rental on that basis. No provision whatever is made for this either in the original Act or in the amending Bill. I hold that to be a cardinal defect. The rate must be paid on that increased valuation either by the local authorities or by the State in the form of a subsidy or by the tenant. Whichever way it happens, the taxpayer has to pay the bill. We want a clear understanding on the point. Do not let us have the whole finance breaking down on this matter. It astonishes me that an important point of this kind should have been entirely overlooked. I do not suppose we can do anything with it here, but I do desire to draw attention to it, so that when the proper time arrives for making ample provision for it that provision shall be made. Let me say, in spite of all that has been stated in condemnation of the private builder and in praise of municipal enterprise, that I note with pleasure that it is proposed to call in now the private builder to the aid of the municipality. The reason is obvious. The local authority has been utterly inadequate to the task, and unless you mobilise the private builder you will again fail in meeting, within the prescribed time, the demand which has arisen for houses. But when you call in the private builder you 1056 must have regard to his situation. No private builder, certainly no speculative builder, embarks upon building merely for the purpose of earning a dividend upon his capital in the form of rent. He builds in order that he may sell; he is constantly having his capital absorbed in building enterprises and having it realised as soon as he sells. Therefore, it is imperative that you should see to it that those who desire to buy from him are placed in a position to buy, in order that he may be able to sell. How is it proposed to do that?
I venture respectfully to make a suggestion. We in Ireland have had very gratifying experience of the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act. In my own city, just prior to the War, the corporation had advanced £60,000, under that Act. Forgive civic vanity for a moment. Of that £60,000, two-thirds have been paid back, and the corporation has not lost so much as a sixpence. Dublin affords an almost equally gratifying example. The Small Dwellings Acquisition. Act has been paralysed by the War. What I suggest is that prompt steps should be taken to revitalise that measure, so that the corporations scattered throughout the three countries may be put in a position to advance to good tenants the purchase price, that thus the builder who builds to sell may be able to sell, and constantly go on repeating his building experiments. It has been objected that the builder must not be subsidised. I think that a complete misapprehension of the position. The builder must lay out in actual hard cash a specific sum. If the tenant proposes to buy, he would be required to sell to the tenant at an equitable cost of construction minus the subsidy. Perhaps I am wrong; if so, I can be corrected from the proper quarter. Thus the tenant would become the real beneficiary, and it is not the builder who is subsidised. Then there is the question of giving better facilities for securing materials. That has been one of the great difficulties in the way of corporations. It has been found utterly impossible to get bricks. timber, cement, and other materials. I know definitely that the Corporation of Belfast within the past fortnight sought to buy only half a ton of cement, and it could not get delivery; no purveyor of that article would supply more than a single bag at a time. How are you going to carry on great municipal building enterprises if you are 1057 hampered by restrictions of the kind? It will be up to the Government, now that they have called in the private builder, and when they realise that the hands of the corporations have been tied in this way, to take the shackles off these things and to put the materials on the market in sufficient quantities, so that those who are prepared to build may be permitted to do so to the limit of their capacity. If it is not too great a shock to the feelings of the right hon. Gentleman, and I know he is a staunch and valorous defender of departmentalism, I hope he will forgive me if I urge the desirability of unswathing his Department from the red tape which surrounds it. Really business men have grown sick and tired of the whole thing. Let me give a typical instance, and I think when the right hon. Gentleman hears it he will not ask for another, and if he desires corroboration of it the right hon. Gentleman who sits on his left (Mr. Macpherson) will give it. I am quoting from the city of Belfast—
§ Dr. ADDISON
Are you quoting an example of red tape from my Department, because if it is not from my Department I cannot be responsible.
§ Mr. MOLES
I propose to quote a. typical example of what I complain of. The right hon. Gentleman invited me to give an example and now let bins have it. We formed in Belfast a panel of architects as desired, for the purpose of carrying out building schemes in Belfast. A body of most capable business men drew this body of architects around them, and for the building of £1,000,000 worth of houses that panel of architects undertook to do the duthes of architects for a sum of £11,000. Here is the red tape. The agreement was sent to the Local Government Board Housing Committee for approval, and that sapient body sat in judgment upon it, and sent out a memorandum which for official ineptitude I have never seen paralleled. They expressed the hope that due provision had been made for office expenses—for lead pencils, I suppose—and then they launched out into a series of the most ridiculous propositions ever heard of, with the net result that what the architects were prepared to do for £11,000 was, by the suggestions made, brought up to £38,000. If my right hon. is not satisfied with that instance of red tape I am prepared to go further, but I presume he is. May I, as a final touch of comedy, point out that the document containing all, those suggestions 1058 was quite appropriately signed by a gentleman named "Codling.'' We want to get on. We put the best of our knowledge and energy and practical skill at the disposal of the Government, and we say to them, "If you want us to go on we are ready to go on, but do give us the facilities to make progress." All that the Corporation of Belfast can do has been done. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland will bear witness to that. We have even sent a deputation to appeal to him. He is supposed to have an even more than usually stoney heart, though I do not subscribe to that, but I myself saw tears of emotion in his eyes on that occasion. At any rate, he knows now that we are prepared to help him in every kind of way, and I believe the example of our corporation is typical of nearly every other public body. We are painfully conscious of the responsibility and the public have taken care to remind us of it. It is not fair to have them put in the position that indignation meetings of the whole public have been called in my city, and blame laid on the corporation, though they are as guiltless as the Serjeant-at-Arms. It is not fair to expose them to accusations of this kind when the real blame is with the Government. They want us to get on, and we are willing, but we say this to them: "Clear the way."
§ Mr. J. DAVISON
I desire, first of all, to congratulate the Minister of Health on the sincerity of purpose which has actuated him in urging the local authorities to proceed as rapidly as possible with their housing schemes. The local authorities are fully alive to the necessity of that themselves, but what they require is the assurance from the Government that if they fail to raise the requisite loans the Government will be behind them in financing their schemes. From some of the speeches that have been delivered to-night one would imagine that the housing problem was a new discovery of the present Government. They are not quite so progressive as even the Government of 1913, because the present Prime Minister, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, advocated the very thing that the Labour party are advocating from these benches to-night. Speaking at Swindon in October, 1913, the Prime Minister, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:On behalf of the Government, we propose to get a schedule of all these districts, find out what the shortage is, what houses are required, and we propose to build them ourselves.1059 Again at Middlesbrough, on 8th November, 1913, he said:I will summarise what we propose to do. We propose to deal with the evils of the leasehold system as regards business premises and leasehold property. We are going to make a national survey of the housing problem. The first step will be the organisation of a complete survey, or national survey by the Imperial Government, of the whole of the housing accommodation in this island. Note will be taken of every inadequacy, every defect, every insufficiency in housing accommodation, everything which has led to overcrowding and all its evils. There will be an inventory of all slums, the insanitary character of dwellings, the lack of air, and light, and space. the absence of any means of healthy recreation. In fact, the survey will be complete and searching, and it will be the basis of all future operations against Slums and overcrowded houses.The right hon. Gentleman went on to describe the evils of slumdom. No one, think, know it better than the working classes of the United Kingdom, because they have had to tolerate it for the generations when both the political parthes were in power. For the ten years before the War, let me remind the House, we were building houses of three and four rooms for dwellings at the rate of 74,000 a year. The population was growing during the same period at the rate of 330,000 each year, and yet immediately the present Prime Minister came into the country and attempted to solve the housing problem by the institution of his Budget proposals, the private builder, of whom we have heard so much to-day, took fright. The production of houses during the year when he was making his Budget proposals was 88,000; immediately those Budget proposals became known the production fell to 11,000. They were reassured during the following year, and they produced another 80,000. But directly the two speeches to which I have referred were made by the Prime Minister, production in houses immediately fell to 47,000. Are we going again to entrust the task of reconstructing this old country of ours upon the lines indicated by several hon. and right hon. Members to the same party who failed to do their duty in the production of houses before the War?
§ Mr. DAVISON
At any rate, I think you are one of the party to whom I am referring. We must proceed upon national lines, because it is a national problem. It is just as much a national problem as the winning of the War, and I claim that we 1060 are not proceeding on those lines. If we attempt to give a subsidy to the private builder, what will be the result? Immediately you will have the workers engaged in the building industry demanding higher rates of wages, because of the subsidy. Is there not a better way so far as the Government and the local authorities are concerned? Why not float a national housing Loan, get the money at 5 per cent., and lend it to the local authorities at 3frac12; per cent? I venture to suggest that is one method by which the local authorities would immediately proceed to erect all the houses, possibly with the materials at their disposal. But there is another method, and this was tried during the reign of the two political parties immediately before the War. There were great municipalities which instituted works departments. They engaged their labour direct. They paid the trade union rates of wages, and—I say it with a due sense of what I am saying—maliciously the vested interests upon those local authorities prevented those works departments becoming a success. Let me suggest to the Government that, instead of giving a dole, they should permit the local authorities to set up their works departments, and that those works departments should be given priority of materials for the erection of houses, in conjunction with the financial assistance which I have suggested. There would be another benefit accruing from that. While proceeding with their housing schemes they would have the loyal co-operation of the great trade unions in supplying all the labour necessary.
We have heard during the Debate that prices have risen enormously, and one of the reasons given is that labour has demanded higher rates of wages. There is a combine known as the Metal Trades' Combine, which raises the price of the materials that are necessary so far as stoves and grates are concerned. Although there were no imports coming into the country, this combine during the early stages of the War was so patriotic that it raised the price of the raw materials required for the building of houses from 2s. 6¼d. to 4s. 5d. The increases in wages amounted to 6½d. We must place the responsibility for the very rapid rise in the materials necessary to the building industry, not upon the shoulders of the workers, but upon those 1061 who ever seek by combination to raise prices. Upon these lines have I intervened in debate to suggest to the Government, in my humble way, that they would be doing far more effective service by abolishing the suggested dole, and by substituting the two courses I have suggested.
§ Dr. ADDISON
May I intervene to ask the House now to give a Second Reading to the Bill, in view of the fact that we have various other Orders that we desire to get?
Mr. G. MURRAY
First of all I would like to express agreement with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who wished that the Paymaster-General had deferred his reply till later in the evening. The question of housing is probably the most vital problem with which we have to-day to deal. The previous Debate took an almost entirely English turn. The Scottish Members were not called upon to speak, Only at the fag end was one Scottish Member called upon, and the Secretary for Scotland was counted out. I speak with considerable diffidence, being a new Member, but I feel—and suggest—that some arrangement should be made in a Bill that touches the whole of the United Kingdom whereby Members from all parts might have an opportunity to speak, and that towards the end of the Debate the respective Secretaries of State or whoever the respective representatives of the Government were, should reply to the different points raised. This may not be a feasible solution, but I ask that the Leader of the House should take this matter into consideration, and see whether it is not possible to arrive at a solution which will allay the feeling aroused in Scotland. Nearly every Scottish Member in the last Debate was pilloried in the Scottish newspapers because he was not, present at the fag end of that Debate. The reason for that was that the Scottish Members understood that they would not be permitted to take part in the Debate.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That has nothing to do with the Bill. Will the hon. Gentleman give his attention to the Bill before the House?
One of them was the Leader of the Independent Liberal 1062 party and the other represented the Labour party, and that was the reason why I raised the question I sincerely welcome this Bill. It raises many points which have been discussed in this House and outside which were not dealt with in the Housing Acts already passed, and with certain Amendments in Committee I believe that this Bill can be shaped into an exceedingly good measure. Take the question of subsidies. The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Dr. Murray) suggested that the subsidies should be applied entirely to rural houses. I have great sympathy with that view, because when the Scottish Housing Bill was before the Committee upstairs and before this House I took the view that it was necessary to provide subsidies to private persons to enable rural housing to proceed in an efficient way. I am not sure, however, that in this instance be is right in proposing that these subsidies should be applied to rural housing. The total number of houses to be allotted in the United Kingdom is 100,000. We may take it that eleven-eightieths will be allotted to Scotland, and that will mean about 14,000 or 15,000 houses. Take the city of Glasgow, one of the divisions of which I have the honour to represent. It contains a little less than one-quarter of the inhabitants of Scotland, or over 1,200,000 people. If we take a quarter of the houses that will be allotted to Scotland that would give us about 3,500 houses for Glasgow. The housing scheme in Glasgow is one which necessitates the erection in the course of the next seven years of 57,000 houses.
I am given to understand that the local authority are of opinion that only some 7,000 houses can be erected in the course of the next three years. Supposing that, as part of this subsidised allotment, 3,500 houses are allotted to Glasgow, that will make very nearly 10,500 all told for the next three years. That is little enough in any case. It will only touch the fringe of this fearful, horrible housing question with which we have to deal in Glasgow, and I therefore appeal to my hon Friend not to press that side of the case. If he were to make a visit of inspection to some of the awful slums in a part of the constituency that I represent, he would come away of the opinion that it is more necessary to provide houses in Glasgow to relieve the congestion there than to provide houses in the more salubrious climate of the Western Isles.
I have visited these houses in the hon. Member's constituency at all hours of the day and night.
§ 11.0 P. M.
Mr. G. MURRAY
Then my hon. Friend is all the more likely to agree with me. I should like further to take up the question of wooden houses. Two or three weeks ago the right hon. Gentleman (Dr. Addison) stated that wooden houses were very cold. I do not agree with him entirely. It is possible for wooden houses to be made as warm as other houses with central heating and other appurtenances. I am glad to hear that 500 wooden houses are being erected in Glasgow. It is not, however, of wooden huts but of wooden-frame houses, regarding which the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness) gave a very good account, that I wish particularly to speak. I suggest that this £600,000—I work it out at more or less that figure—which will be allotted to Glasgow for the purpose of subsidising these additional houses in Glasgow might very well be utilised in erecting wooden-frame houses—wooden-framed houses which, as one learned from a very interesting letter written to the "Times" a few days ago by the Agent-General of British Columbia, could be shipped over from Canada in a very short time. These houses could obviously be erected very much more cheaply than masonry or brick, they could be put up in a very much shorter time, and, judging from the experience of Canada and America, they would prove as warm as either brick or masonry. They would last thirty or forty years. I make the suggestion that the amount proposed to be allocated for this purpose in subsidies might very well be utilised for wooden-frame houses, and so remove very much more quickly the terrible congestion in the slums and the shortage of houses for other people in Glasgow. Now I come to the question of finance. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) stated early in the Debate that the whole of this question really rests on finance. I do not think that the financial Clauses, as they stand, are going to meet the situation which we have in front of us. They may go a certain length towards doing so. But take, again, the case of the City of Glasgow. That city, with its 57,000 houses, will require ultimately the sum of £50,000,000 in order to house and re-house the inhabitants. It is most unlikely that it will be possible for the Glas- 1064 gow local authority to raise that amount under the Clauses of this Bill. In regard to Section 5, the Member for Central Edinburgh mentioned the fact that the luxury provision referred only to construction, and suggested that that should be extended to repairs. I regard that as a most dangerous proposal; if such a power were placed in the hands of any authority or any individual it would be liable to misuse. Still, I do not believe that the Clause goes far enough. It should be amended to include houses under reconstruction. I call to mind a case in one of the main thoroughfares in Glasgow about eight weeks ago in which a cinema company bought up three or four business houses in which fifty or sixty hands were employed. The owners of the businesses had no remedy, but if there had been a provision in the Act covering cases of reconstruction as well as construction such a case could have been met. There is one other point—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide !"]—I will not detain the House more than a few minutes, but I want to get this point out. I observe that there is nothing in Clause I which provides a guarantee to a builder who erects a house that he will receive the subsidy. Builders in a city may erect houses, and the local authority may say, "We have only so much to spend and your houses will overdraw the account. Notwithstanding the fact that your houses do fall within the ambit of this particular Clause, we have no money with which to pay for them." I suggest, therefore, that Clause I requires Amendment in that respect. I regret that it has been necessary for me to detain the House so long, but there is no City in the Kingdom that is more in need of housing reform than Glasgow.
§ Mr. WALLACE
I wish to say a word about the Scottish housing position because the problem there is much more serious and urgent than in any part of the United Kingdom. An hon. Member opposite, speaking of Ireland, said that the local authorities were quite inadequate to deal with the housing problem. That may be perfectly true about Ireland, but it is not true about Scotland. The municipal authorities in Scotland, as soon as they had the power under the Housing Act, set to work with a will. While England and Ireland were talking, Scotland was building. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] In places too numerous to mention. When the building schemes were well matured, my right 1065 hon. Friend projected a totally new element has entered into the scheme —the element of the subsidy. I think that the subsidy is a mistake. Money subsidies to Scotland are mostly unacceptable. If there is any money going to which we have a right, of course we shall look after getting our share. That leads me to ask a direct question of my right hon. Friend. I understand from the White Paper, which I studied carefully this morning, that there is a sum of £l5,000,000to be expended for this subsidy. England requires 500,000 houses and Scotland requires as a minimum 250,000. What share of this £15,000,000 is Scotland to have? It is surely self-evident that if we want half the number of houses England wants, our minimum share of the subsidy ought to be one-third—that is, £5,000,000. I hope it will certainly not be less than that.
Page 4 of the White Paper gives particulars of how these subsidies are to be divided for a certain class of house, I should like to know how the guarantee given by the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister that the maximum sum to be expended as a subsidy on any one house was to be £150 is safeguarded. I wish to know under this scheme what is to prevent my right hon. Friend, or, indeed, one of the many bureaucratic gentlemen who will be under his control, in a moment of exuberance not regarding this £150 as a maximum but increasing it to £250 or £350. What Parliamentary Statute prevents this increase in what up to now we have always regarded as a maximum?
I do not depreciate in any way the efforts of the private builder, but what position is he in under this scheme? He expends in Scotland, say, £850 in the building of a house. That is the average expense of a house of the kind we have in view. He gets a subsidy of £150. He is more likely to let it than to sell it. Deducting the subsidy, he has £700 left, upon which he must have a return, and being a Scotchman, he wants a reasonable return, and a reasonable return, taking repairs, etc., into account, would be 8 per cent., which means that he would have to charge a rent of £56 per annum. All these houses are built to the workingman's house specification. There is no working man prepared to pay £56 for a house which before the War he got at £18. I can see the Scottish builder letting 1066 a house to some homeless millionaire at a very high rent, and the working classes may not be any better provided for.
I would, therefore, like to know from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health whether there is to be any jurisdiction over the letting of the houses built by the private builder, what that jurisdiction is, and how it is to be exercised. Another important matter on which I should like additional information is the question of finance. While the Scottish municipal authorities are willing to co-operate loyally and heartily with the Government in the adequate provision of houses, they are faced with serious financial difficulties. In my own Constituency the housing scheme of the city of Dunfermline is complete, but there are serious financial obstacles, which I have already brought to the notice of the Secretary for Scotland. It is next to impossible to raise the money required on long-term loans, and the municipal authority of Dunfermline wishes to know if Treasury sanction can be obtained to arrange for short-term loans of, say, three, five, and seven years. If such loans were approved and called in to an unexpected extent, the Dunfermline. Corporation would like to be assured of definite Government help in that emergency.
§ Mr. HAROLD SMITH
The last two speeches have put, the Scottish point of view before the House. Scotland has spoken, and it wants £5,000,000, which is a third of the Grant it is proposed to give under the Bill, though, in fact, on a population basis, it is only entitled to one-seventh. That is Scottish arithmetic with which I will not attempt to deal.
§ Mr. WALLACE
I pointed out that this was not on the basis of population, but of shortage, which in England is 500,000 and in Scotland 250,000. If that arithmetic does not appeal to the hon. Member I cannot make it clear.
§ Mr. SMITH
It interests me very much as a further example of what a Scottish Member can do when he wants money. I do not suggest that the hon. Member was advocating it from a population point of view, but, if he did, he is only entitled to one-seventh. However, Scotland has spoken, and it wants a third. There are one or two things in the Bill to which the attention of the Government ought to be 1067 called. I am glad to see the Attorney-General present. I would call his attention to Sub-section (4) of Clause 5, which says:In any action or proceedings for breach of a contract to construct any works or buildings, it shall be a good defence to the action or proceedings to prove that due fulfilment of the contract was rendered impossible by reason of an Order having been made under this Section.I particularly call his attention to the words "was rendered impossible," and submit that these words shall be amended before this bill reaenes the Third Reading. The Attorney-General will know much better than I the grave and difficult problems with which the Courts nave been faced during the last five years, surrounding the question whether a contract was ended or merely suspended. What is the issue here raised How is the contract to be rendered impossible in order to justify a breach? Is it to be rendered impossible at the time when the prohibition of the Sub-section was made or does it arise subsequently It is impossible for these words to remain as they are. There is a precedent for the Sub-section. The Attorney-General knows well that under the Defence of the Realm Act there was a Regulation passed which rendered the commandeering by the Government of stores, buildings, or equipment a good defence for an action for breach of contract. If these words remain in the Bill they will give rise to a very great deal of trouble, and possibly heavy litigation. They need to be more clearly defined. If "A" undertakes to build a cinema for "B" for 136,000, it is no use using language like this to say that "B" may break his contract if it be impossible by reason of an Order having been made under this Section to carry out the contract. May I draw the attention of the Minister of Health to Clause 6? This Clause should be extended. I am entirely in sympathy with it, but my friendly criticism of it is that it does not go fro enough. Within a half-mile of this House there is a very large building which before the War was used as an hotel. Let us assume that there are something like 500 bedrooms. It was commandeered by the War Office, and has been used for military purposes because it is situated within a few hundred yards of Victoria Station. I understand that the hotel is going to be turned into offices. Is that to be allowed? Here you have an enormous building suitable 1068 for housing accommodation, and you are going to turn it into offices for which there is no demand comparable with the demand for houses in London. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider including in the Section not only the prohibition of the demolition of houses but the conversion of houses into offices or for any other purposes. I cannot get over the question of this big hotel, the Buckingham Palace Hotel, which, I believe, would accommodate something like 500 persons if turned into flats at a very small cost, being converted into offices, and I would ask my right hon. Friend to extend the Section so as to stop, if the local authority so desire, any person from either demolishing or converting into offices any building which at a small cost could be rendered suitable for occupation as a dwelling-house or houses.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) drew attention in an able speech to the fact that under Clause I no builder can in any circumstances receive a subsidy if through whatsoever cause his house is not completed within fifteen months. That point has not been answered. Perhaps there may be difficulties in answering it now. There is no power to extend it beyond three months. Imagine a builder who has put down the foundations of ten, twenty, fifty, or 100 houses under this Bill, encouraged—because no builder is going to do this except by the encouragement which this Bill offers—by the subsidy of £150 per house which he is going to get. If he did not there would be no inducement to put down a single brick in present circumstances. Suppose, as my right hon. Friend suggests, owing to the impossibility of getting delivery of materials, or to strikes in the building trade, he cannot complete in the time, is the Minister not going to take power under this Bill to say, "We regard this as a special case and we are not going to make him bankrupt or to break him, because, through no fault of his own, he has riot been able to complete the work which he started at our request?" I beg the Government to take power in special cases to extend the period to an unlimited extent, provided they are satisfied that the man has bond fide striven to do his best, that he has started the scheme with the honest intention of finishing the job in time and has not been able to do so through no fault of his own. I hope that the Government will, in Committee stage, introduce an Amendment 1069 providing themselves this increased power. We have had a most interesting debate, and the greatest tribute the House can pay the Bill, of which I am a very warm supporter, is derived from the fact that scarcely a speech has been made in support of the Amendment. There has been an honest attempt on all sides to criticise in a friendly way. I think the Minister of Health may congratulate himself.
§ Mr. STURROCK
We have had no authoritative statement from the Government, as to the present position of the Scottish housing question. In view of what happened in this Rouse not so many weeks ago, I think that is a legitimate point of complaint. I am not prepared to admit that in Scotland we are at all backward in the matter of housing. As a matter of fact I hold strongly that our municipalities have done a very great deal. While I was listening to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Rollox (Mr. G. Murray) I almost felt tempted to introduce the brilliant example of Montrose, a town scarcely less known than Glasgow, which has made very considerable headway in housing. There is one point to which I wish to draw attention. A very great deal has been said about the subsidy or dole which is to be offered for the encouragement of building. In the present state of things I do not think we should quarrel for a moment about whether it is a subsidy or a dole or anything else, provided it is going to produce houses to meet the demand. I would ask my right hon. Friend to consider this—that the offer made by the Government is not circumscribed in any way so far as workmen's houses are concerned. In my reading of the Bill, and if the White Paper is correct, the builder may proceed with plans for any sort of dwelling, of three, four, or five rooms, and having completed his work can obtain his subsidy, and having done so, it does not appear that he is compelled in any way to put that house in the market at an economic rent; on the contrary, he might secure a rent from any sort of person who was willing to pay anything from £60 to £60 a year for the house. I do not think for a moment that that is the intention of the subsidy. I take it the purpose of the Government is to secure the rapid erection of artisan dwellings I ask that that point should be taken into account, and that the Government should let us know 1070 where there is any sort of control as to the ultimate disposal of the houses which are erected with the aid of the dole.
Mr. J. JONES
I have been very much interested in hearing this Debate, because I am one of the very few Members who happen to live in an ordinary working-class cottage. In the district which I represent we are not housed—we are warehoused. Consequently, we have personal understanding of the problem with which we are now faced. I do not object to subsidies provided they achieve their object, and if by encouraging people to do their best out of them, nobody has a right to grumble. During the time we were engaged in that great struggle, which, if we were victorious, was supposed to mean the ushering in of better times for the people, we held out the hope to them that one of the first subjects which would be tackled as a consequence of our victory would be the proper housing of the people. In order to win that victory, we found it absolutely essential in the national interest to establish means whereby munitions should be properly provided. We were short of guns and high explosives. and all the things essential for the carrying out of modern warfare. We did not stop then to argue as to whether private or public enterprise was the best method of realising our object, but we said that every man and woman in the nation who had the interest of the community at heart would he prepared to sink their differences and unite upon the common object which was to win the War. We established a Ministry of Reconstruction, with the deliberate object and purpose of preparing the means whereby, as soon as we had established peace, we should win the results of victory. I have travelled all over the country as a trade union official trying to point out to the members of the union I happened to be connected with the necessity of sinking their grievances and agreeing to lay their case on the table, so that it might be decided by independent courts of arbitration at that time. If they wanted their pound of flesh they could have got all they wanted by simply taking advantage of their economic opportunity. We were called into consultation by the Ministry at the time. Both employers and employed of the building trade were asked to meet the Ministers round a table to discuss how and where and when 1071 we could dispose of our labour and of our capital in order to provide the things required. Munition factories were wanted, extensions were required, and organisation of the total labour power of the nation was essential so that we might have places, not to house the people in the ordinary sense, but in order to produce the things essential to protect the national interests from the military and naval point of view. If it was essential for us to have proper buildings to produce those things at that time, now that peace has broken out almost as suddenly as war, from the standpoint of those who claim to be in authority, I ask why should there he all this quibbling as to the means whereby methods should be organised to provide the public with the things they require? We have heard a great deal about Scotland and a little bit about Ireland, and I know a bit about both, but I happen to represent a London constituency, not a very insignificant part of the United Kingdom, and where we know the housing problem from A to Z, where we know what it is to lead laborious days, and very often have to look for a bed when nobody else can give us the opportunity of enjoying one. Consequently, we want to know what this dole to the builders means. I ask the Minister responsible for this Bill to tell us why, when he consulted us to produce munition factories, he did not consult us when he wanted houses for the people?
Might I remind this House that lately one of the most honoured Members of this House has been responsible for a scheme which has resulted in the form of fifty different industrial councils in some of our most important industries? Amongst the first of these councils established was the Building Trades Industrial Council, and I believe it has been one of the most successful in dealing with the problems affecting the industry. Would the House really believe that this Building Trades Parliament, as it is now termed, held its annual meeting at York a few weeks ago, and that no member of that Building Trades Parliament, either on the employers' side or on the workmen's side, ever heard a single word regarding this subsidy to builders? Who was responsible for proposing the subsidy? It seems a most extraordinary thing, after the promise made to us by the Minister of Reconstruction. When the Industrial Council was established we were promised that in 1072 any matter affecting the building trades that the Government had to deal with they would look on the industrial Council of the Building Trades as the first authority they would appeal to. That promise hag not been kept, and no later than—
§ Dr. ADDISON
That statement is entirely incorrect. That. promise has been kept. I have been in constant negotiations with the Joint Industrial Council, and I met them for the last time on Friday last.
I will accept the correction of the right hon. Gentleman, but I am giving exactly the report that was made to us. The only information I can get is that given to me by those people supposed to have been in constant touch with yourself, and their report at the last meeting at York, ten days ago, when I was present, was that up to that moment they had not been consulted about this proposed subsidy. Therefore I suggest that this subsidy has never been before the representatives of the Industrial Council, and I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to say that he has ever consulted the Building Trades' Industrial Council on the matter of this subsidy.
§ Dr. ADDISON
It is quite true that I did not consult the Joint Industrial Council on the proposals in this Bill. I submitted the Bill to Parliament. I consulted them on all the points affecting the building of houses, and I adopted their main recommendations, and am now carrying them out, but I did not consult them on the details of this Bill, which is a matter for Parliament, and I never promised that I would, either.
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has given that explanation. We are told that one of the main incentives for getting houses built is the establishment of this subsidy. If as a result of experience it has been discovered that the only method whereby houses could be produced would be to subsidise the private builder, surely the working-class organisations and the National Association of Master Builders were interested in a proposition of that character. I say that this proposition has come from quarters which no section of the trade, either on the workmen's or employers' side, ever heard anything about until it was actually brought before this House as a Bill. Consequently. what is the good of talking about National Industrial Councils, and asking for confidence between capital and labour if those 1073 organisations do not even get a hint of the proposals likely to be made, and all of a sudden, without any consideration, a measure is introduced here, and the people mainly responsible for the production of houses have no inkling of the intention of the. Government? What is the consequence? Various trade unionists in the building trade are already tabling Resolutions through their different branches that they will have nothing to do with subsidised building. I want to see the houses built, and I am not particular who is going to build them, but I am particular about their being proper houses when they are built. In order to meet the immediate difficulty, I am anxious to see in every possible direction that everybody who can help shall be brought in to help. But if we are going to be told that this problem is simply a question of private enterprise against public enterprise, then it means that one set of experts is to be set against another set of experts. We shall have plenty of theories but nowhere to live.
Then as to the financial part of the Bill, who is going to finance the scheme? If the local authorities have got to find the money to build the houses, I can see how some of us are going to be handicapped. If we go into the local market to float a loan we stand a very poor chance, with high rates and low rateable value. What chance shall we have against big sites with high rateable value and low rates? We are handicapped at the start, and, therefore, we think that the only way out of the difficulty is a national housing Loan. If it were necessary to float a Loan to win the War, it is just as necessary to float a Loan to win the Peace. The best way to win the Peace is to see that people are properly housed, and before you can ask us to agree to the housing proposals before the House to-night, we claim that you should give every support and assistance to the municipal authorities, so that they shall not be wiped out of existence in their desire to provide proper housing accommodation. An hon. Member says "Wait," but we have waited as long as we can. If we wait any longer we shall want, not houses, but coffins. The housing problem is not a new one. William Morris said that, so long as the people are poor, they will be poorly housed. Therefore, so far as we are concerned, we want the municipalities to have the right to build houses, and not to be held up by red tape. I have been for sixteen years 1074 a member of a local authority in the East End of London. We have built some houses. On the system on which we have been allowed to build, and under the financial arrangements and the powers we possess, what is the position? That before we have finally escaped our financial responsibilities we have paid more in interest for the houses than they originally cost to build. It is a jolly fine game played slowly—almost as good as tip-cat. The private builder is not held up in the same way that we are. Give us the same freedom as the private builder and the municipalities will be able to go on with the work. For at present the municipalities are handicapped in every direction. The power of the law is used against them. So far as this Bill is concerned, I do not want to oppose anything, but I repeat give us greater powers and we will get the work done
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir G. Hewart)
An hon. and learned Member has asked for an expression of opinion upon a point of law, under Clause 5, Subsection (4) of the Bill. This Sub-section provides that where the local authority sees that labour and materials are being used so that the building of houses is delayed it may prohibit the further construction of works in process of erection. The question raised was—at what point of time ought the work to be regarded as impossible from the point of view of Subsection (4), which says:(4) In any action or proceedings for breach of a contract to construct any works or buildings, it shall be a good defence to the action or proceedings to prove that due fulfilment of the contract was rendered impossible by reason of an Order having been made under this Section.In my opinion, expressed on the spur of the moment, and at the request of my hon. and learned Friend, the moment at which the work is impossible is to be taken as the moment at which that order is made—whenever that moment may be. That, and many other points of substance, have been raised,—and if I may make a general observation upon these points it is that they are really—and I speak more particularly with reference to the speech made by the hon Gentleman who has just sat down—points, no doubt of some importance, but of detail. Every one of them is well worth consideration in Committee. But I am sure my right hon. Friend recognises that the matter we are now upon is whether the Bill is or is not to be 1075 read a second time. I ask that at this comparatively late hour we may now agree to read the Bill a second time, with the assurance that every point of substance will be fully considered in Committee.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Wednesday.—[Dr. Addison.]