§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Captain Guest.]
§ Sir F. LOWE
Would it not be possible for the Minister of Health to lay his proposals before the House for consideration before we proceed to discuss them? The proposals which have been made hitherto have been proved by practical experience to be insufficient and incomplete, and we want an opportunity of judging whether the new proposals are going to be more complete and more practical than the other proposals. On the last occasion when he brought forward the Housing Bill there were many of us who thought it was incomplete and that it did not provide for the assistance of private enterprise. The Government have found out that these criticisms were well justified, and he is proposing to remedy them. We ought to have the opportunity of considering the new proposals rather than the right hon. Gentleman should make his verbal statement and that we should have no opportunity of considering what attitude we will take in regard to them.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Dr. Addison)
I think my hon. Friend will find in what I have to say that the legislative proposals to be submitted to the House following upon my statement will provide abundant opportunity for examination and criticism.
§ Sir F. LOWE
Will fresh legislation be necessary?
§ Dr. ADDISON
Yes. All men who are interested in the housing question will welcome this discussion. I certainly do, as the Minister in charge, for all useful constructive criticism is valuable just now. I propose, in the first place, to review the housing position as it was at the end of the War, and to work down to the present time. Then I will discuss the causes of delay and describe the action which we are taking or propose to take in connection therewith. I see statements in the Press, not, I confess, by those who have given much time to a careful examination 1294 of this topic, to the effect that the scheme has failed, that it is a fiasco, or words to that effect. The scheme has not failed, and I am not in any apologetic humour as to my responsibility for the scheme. A friend of mine when the War came to an end decided to turn his gunshop to the manufacture of locomotives. Could it be said that because only a week or two ago he turned out his first locomotive, that the scheme was a fiasco? Of course not. Any man who understood anything about it would know perfectly well that in turning over to something entirely fresh, especially when you are having to deal with 1,800 local authorities, this kind of thing cannot be done in a month or two, that it requires time, resolution and courage, that the difficulties inherent in it are very great, and that they have been intensified many times by the difficulties arising out of the War. I see that the Noble Lord who preceded me in the office which I held at the beginning of this year said the other day in another place that when I was Minister of Reconstruction I had given him no warning. This is not an accurate, statement. It is true that the warning which I gave him was not in terms of labour cost and materials, but the warning was this—in the autumn of 1917, and again in the spring of 1918 urgently repeated, and put in writing, that he should institute as well as he could during the War the necessary organisation to survey the land, prepare plans, lay out sites, and all the rest of it, because I knew perfectly well, as did every Committee that had gone into this question, that all these proceedings would take many months, and that great time might be saved if as far as possible, these difficulties were dealt with during the War, I found a blank when I did start the work, and the country is suffering from his negligence to-day.
We had to prepare legislative proposals which would be sufficient to deal with the situation. We had to submit a financial scheme. We had to frame all these proposals, and throughout the whole country we had to establish as well as we could the organisation for dealing with the difficulties on the spot. I am sure the House agrees almost unanimously that, making full allowance for inherent difficulties in creating the new organisation, in finding personnel, and all that kind of thing, a decentralised scheme of organisation for dealing with this problem is essential, and that in the main it is on sound lines. Up 1295 till April all this had to be done when the issues of peace were still in suspense, when neither the local authorities nor ourselves were equipped with the necessary trained personnel, and we had to get them gradually out of the Army. The first four months of this year inevitably were occupied in that work. I would also recall to the House this fact, that when the proposals now under discussdon were submitted to the House they were unanimously supported by men of all parties. At that time we had not all these newfangled inventions. We had not men who declared that the whole situation was wrong. It is only fair to say that there was a striking unanimity as to the soundness of the proposals.
Let us bear in mind that we were dealing with 1,800 authorities, many of which had never been responsible before for actual house-building. The greatest total number of houses in any year provided for the local authorities of the country was only 5.000. In the first place we had to get together men from outside who were willing to come in and help us—men of experience. The first thing was to agree as to the minimum accommodation for a proper standard of health. That had to be done, allowing for the fact that there was a largo number of single people who did not require so much accommodation, and every scheme must allow for that. In the main, the minimum standard of family accommodation was put down at one living room and three bedrooms. Why three bedrooms? Because one bedroom is required for the man and his wife, and the children are of two sexes and they ought not to occupy the same room. Does anyone complain of that? The next thing was to provide a manual giving model types and specimens of houses, plans, and specimen schemes for the best way of laying out sites and as to the proper aspect of the house and so on. That was done, and I believe that our manual is now looked upon as the standard not only in this country but in every other country. The next thing, seeing that your many authorities were ill-equipped with the necessary staff, was to see that they were properly equipped. I am not now-speaking of the great authorities because they had the staff, but the majority of them had not the necessary staff. Therefore' we had to prepare model specifications strictly, put together from the point of view of securing as economical a 1296 construction as we could of a cottage giving the minimum accommodation. That required care and time.
Then we had to prepare a model standard specification for the economical construction of streets, byroads, and so forth. That again was a great advance on anything we had before, because it makes the construction of these streets much cheaper, allowing for the cost of material and labour, than it ever was before. Then we set to work and found a great diversity and a great deal of confusion as to the methods of contract. I got together a number of men from outside, and they have finally prepared a model form of contract. The best testimony I can give to it is that the Joint Industrial Council Committee of the building trade, representing both the employers and the employed, has asked us to make it mandatory in all cases. All this preliminary spade work was inevitable, and took a long time. Further, we had to try as far as we could to produce order out of the chaos of types, because everyone knows that if you are to have more economical construction on a large scale you must have an increasing measure of standardisation. The difficulties of that are immense, because every manufacturer has his own type, his own models, his own catalogues, customs, and so on, and they are very loth to change, and it has been very difficult. We have made great progress in all manner of directions, in simplifying standards for fittings of all descriptions, but I will not trouble the House with details.
The next matter to which we turned our attention not, if I may use a slang word, since the stunt Press turned its attention to it, but months before, was the examination of new and cheaper types of construction, and we had a committee of experts working at this not shackled with the prejudices of Departmental red tape, because they had never been in Departments at any time. I had them working at this in the month of April. They were working at the construction of various types, and we had to see that these things were sound and thorough before we could take action, and I am sure the House will support me when I say we have no right to be stampeded into asking others to accept dwellings which will be found rotten and unsatisfactory. I have this morning a protest from a number of people who are living in converted Army huts. We will make the best use we can of them, and I will say a 1297 word later on that. But the protest was that during the last few days these people had found the huts frightfully cold. We knew that all along. It was quite easy to overlook these important considerations in the hot days of July, but they will find out in November, especially when the temperature, gets down somewhere in the neighbourhood of zero.
I have two observations to make on these points. The first is, that until the 31st July the whole of this work, the whole of the proceedings as to the acquisition of land, surveys, planning, finance, everything had to be done under legal forms which were cumbrous to the last degree. The next observation which I have to make to the House is on the question of new and cheaper types. As illustrating in a practical form what we have done and the kind of value which the House would fairly attach to some criticisms, I will take what is perhaps the latest illustration. Statements in general terms we pass by. On 6th November in a certain newspaper there was in double-column form under large headlines:Do you want a frame house? £160 cottages. Hustle hint for the Ministry. A Mr. Regan can supply 60,000 houses at £160 apiece. Hi; desires first to consider the needs of the working man.He is a real philanthropist, and it goes on finally to say:Talk about keeping down expenditure! Here at one stroke I wipe out the cost of 60,000 workmen's cottages so jar as the Government and the taxpayers are concerned. Is Dr. Addison asleep?Well, I might have thought I was dreaming had I not known that long before Mr. Began we had actually arranged for the building of timber houses. I will come to that in a moment. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is beside me, and I think that kind of language will strike him as it struck me. In the early days of munitions we had a number of people who came along and offered millions of shells and hundreds of thousands of rifles, all to be delivered in no time, ready to go on with. They remind me of Mr. Began. I should have taken no notice of that kind of rubbish, of course, but twelve days later, in the same paper, there appeared a leading article:Filled with the sense, of their own importance, the officials—That is the officials of the Ministry of Health—have been drawing up building regulations impossible of observance, and instead of determining to use material at their disposal have 1298 stipulated for the use of materials which are inaccessible owing to shortage or cost. The Government must make short work of by-laws and Departmental Ciders, and the rest of it.In fact this publicist plagiarises another latter-day writer, practically adopting the policy of "Sack the lot!" When I saw this leading article it called to my mind Mr. Regan, and so I sent along to the Department and I asked, "Have you inquired into this? Tell me about it." But, whatever the Minister may have been, the Department had not been asleep, for as soon as they saw this they had inquired into this promising proposal. They looked up directories and all the rest of it, and could find no trace of Mr. Regan or of his company. Not to be outdone, and before I said anything about it, the chief architect, Mr. Russell, had written to the newspaper or had sent a letter addressed to Mr. Regan and marked, "Please forward." That was on 13th November. In this letter he stated:The Minister's attention has been called to this article. Will you kindly forward plans and specifications of the houses referred to? Have you any assurance that the necessary shipping will be available to bring these houses to this country if the Ministry decides that it is desirable to obtain them?The House will not be surprised to learn that we have not yet had a reply.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
Who is Regan?
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Which paper is this?
§ Dr. ADDISON
Let us see what the facts are. We did work during the summer in examining new methods of construction and arranging for sample houses to be built, because we could not recommend things to the authorities until they had been tested. Therefore in four of the chief cases sample houses have been built, about twenty in all. When it was shown that these houses were sound, we took advantage of a section of the Housing Act, which, of course, was deliberately put in in order to enable us to scrap bylaws which we are accused of hanging to, and on 13th October this circular was issued Lo local authorities in reference to the new Regulations relaxing the housing by-laws:These Regulations have been framed in general terms so as to leave a wide discretion to local authorities in regard to materials and methods of construction. The walls may be of any material and construction which will give sufficient stability and reasonable protection against the weather. The requirements as to foundations and roofs have been placed at the 1299 minimum necessary to safeguard life. The object of these Regulations is to encourage new forms of building construction and the immediate provision of additional housing accommodation.In the event of any authority having an undue affection for the old by-laws we added this:Any person who feels aggrieved by the neglect or refusal of a local authority to give their consent under this Section, or by the conditions under which that consent is given, may appeal to the Minister of Health.That is to say, we wanted this thing really to be effective. I have caused to be circulated to Members to-day a White Paper, giving the arrangements which have been made so far, and I hope Members have been able to obtain a copy. It shows that a large number of firms are prepared to supply houses of new types and new construction. The Paper gives the price, the number which the firm can supply, and the time required for erection. All these things have been gone into and approved. They have, of course, taken much time, and, so far as we have gone, it is now made available to Members. I hope they will examine the Paper.
Has there been no progress made? It is true, for the reasons that I will come to in a moment, that the actual building is trivial as yet. I should mention that the Act became law only on 31st July—that is, four months ago. We have approved 24,000 acres of land, properly laid out and planned for housing. A further 24,000 acres has been surveyed by the authorities, and is now before us. Most of it, I have no doubt, will be accepted. Forty-eight thousand acres of land, and that is land enough for the whole of the 500,000 houses of the programme.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
§ Dr. ADDISON
Yes, it is; you have to allow for twelve houses per acre.
§ Sir F. LOWE
Has it been laid out in streets, and so on, and is it really going to be built on?
§ Dr. ADDISON
A great mass of plans have been agreed upon, and many streets have been started, but of course it has not been laid out. That will take a lot of time, which the hon. Member knows as well as I do. If a private owner has an estate—and many of these estates are hundreds of acres—and wants to lay it down for housing, he gets somebody to draw up plans and specifications, and all the rest of it. That will probably take 1300 six months in the case of the private owner, and you cannot expect a Government Department to do it in four months, or a municipality either. There are certain causes of delay which I have mentioned, and there are some others which are said to be Departmental, and which I am not proposing to defend. In the mass of authorities there are probably cases where the delay might have been less, and of course no sensible man would pretend that there have not been mistakes. You had to get together many people from outside. Everybody makes mistakes; sometimes even the House of Commons makes mistakes. But certain of the delays were really inevitable. All I can do as Minister is to see that the officers in charge, as soon as their attention is called to this kind of thing, set it right without delay. But so far as most of them are concerned, they fall into two categories, and both of them relate to the present cost. It is quite true that a sprinkling of cases have been held up, so far as the site goes, because we would not agree to the price proposed to be paid. If I were to say to the Inland Revenue valuers, who have helped us loyally throughout the country, "Agree to anything they ask," then we could settle the matter quickly, but I could not do that, and the House would rightly dismiss me from my office if I did. At some time I hope to supply a summary of these cases. There was the famous Chertsey case, which formed the basis of all sorts of statements. What was it all about? It was because we refused to allow a certain authority to pay £250 for a piece of land which we were advised was worth about £90, and when they would do nothing we finally issued a compulsory Order. The matter will now go to arbitration, and I have no fear as to the consequences so far as the reputation of the valuers is concerned. Another cause is that when tenders for housing come in over a certain figure, I have had to instruct the Department to see if they cannot cut the figure down. I am sorry to say in order to do so we have had to go into more detail than we like. It is a very unpleasant business, and I am taking steps to shorten it. But the result of this work is that on the average the price per house has been reduced by £80, and if you spread that over many thousands of houses it amounts to a very large sum.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Can the right hon. Gentleman say from what to what?
§ Dr. ADDISON
It might be from £850 to £770 or £780 to £700.
Mr. T. WILSON
May I ask how the tenders sent in for the erection of these houses compare with the Estimates prepared by the Department?
§ Dr. ADDISON
The fact that we tried to cut them down shows that our Estimates of the cost was less than the tender. I cannot say in detail the particulars, as there is a large variety of different pricey. There are certain other delays. For instance, there is great difficulty, as everybody knows, in transport. I may say that I for one rejoice that at last we have a Ministry of Transport. For instance, take trucks. We want 7,000 trucks per week at the present time for the transport of Flet-ton bricks, and we are getting from 3,000 to 4,000. That is nobody's fault, and I do not complain of it. It is the inevitable result of the War, with the shortage of labour here. The Minister of Transport takes up all these cases and I am only too glad we have got such an organisation to appeal to.
§ Sir P. PILDITCH
Is there not a very large number of trucks in France I Why not get them back?
§ Dr. ADDISON
I know there are several trucks in. France. [Laughter.] When the hilarity has subsided I will deal with the matter. The number there is relatively trivial compared with the number wanted in this county, and they are bringing them back as quickly as they can; but you will not remedy even a small fraction of the deficiency from France.
§ Sir P. PILDITCH
The War Office two days ago stated, in answer to a question, that there were 44,700 trucks in France. Those belong to the railway companies, and I am only suggesting that the Government would find a large source of supply there.
§ Dr. ADDISON
That is not my job. But those 40,000 trucks are a mere nothing. There were 700,000 privately-owned trucks apart from the railway companies' trucks. It is of course very important that we should get every one back that we can get back. But even if we got them all back, the point I am trying to make is that that would not meet the deficiency or anything like it. Another matter is the cost of material. We all know the cost of material. I have here a table showing the cost of material, both before the War and now, and it will be 1302 found in the case of many articles that the price has gone up 200 per cent., and in some cases 300 per cent.; the average is about 150 per cent. I have the details here which I can show to any hon. Member. But these things are small as compared with the bigger problems to which I shall now refer, and the first is the state of the building trade itself. Early in the year there was a good deal of unemployment, arid, therefore, we urged local authorities and others to speed up their public works. Then there was a period of hesitation, and finally people generally came to the conclusion that prices were not going to fall, and they started building. We had five years of repairs waiting. Practically every house in the Kingdom wanted some repairs, and large numbers of manufacturers had got their post-war plant ready and wanted to extend their factories, and the period of hesitation came to an end. At the same time, the War has depicted the buil ling trade by about 200,000 men—what with those who have boon killed, those who have been injured, a largo number of others who drifted during the War into other occupations where they could work in shelter and in regular weekly work, and so on, and who are not disposed to go back into the building trade. Then there was a great diminution of apprentices, and the result of it is that the man-power of this industry at the present time is at all events 200,000 short, and probably more.
What is the employment in the trade? Something like 60 per cent, is employed in doing repair work, which is very attractive work. You do not have as a rule to give detailed specifications; the customer gets the bill in at the end, and he pays it with as good a grace as he can. It is a very profitable branch of work. Then again, 30 per cent, out of the remaining 40 per cent, of the trade is employed in all kinds of extensions, shop extensions, and things of that kind, and there is, in addition to that, a considerable amount of extravagant building, and we shall have proposals to submit in regard to that. The result of all this is two-fold; first, you get extravagant building. We have had several cases in which a man put up a building, and he did not care what he spent on it, and he said to the contractor, "Pay the men 3d. an hour more than anybody else." We have also had cases where men have gone away from building ordinary houses to somebody who is putting up a luxury building. I had a case 1303 two or three weeks' ago whore we had 152 bricklayers on a housing scheme one week and forty-two the next, for that very reason, I cannot blame the man. He has got the chance of getting 3d. an hour more by going across the road, and, of course, he goes. It cannot be wondered at, but all that is reflected in the price of tenders. That is to say, in the first place, owing to this very remunerative work which is open to every competent builder, he is not very anxious to tender, and we have several cases of local authorities who have received no tenders at all. Further, with the uncertainty as to what is going to happen as to wages and prices of material, every sensible man takes care to put into his tender a margin to cover his contingencies, and owing to these two circumstances, first, that there is plenty of other attractive work, and, secondly, that he must cover himself against possible rises in cost, the whole of this inflates the tender prices.
This brings mo to the first great difficulty of the local authorities, which is the high cost. It makes them hesitate, Many of them have had their tenders in und have refused to proceed, some have not been able to get any tenders at all. In addition to that, there is the question of rents. We discussed it the other night in the House, and, while I think in some cases the position taken up is unwarrantable, there is misgiving as to the position of local authorities in respect of rents. The intention of Parliament was that any authority who did their work in a fair and proper manner, with proper frugality, and charged as little rents as they could, were not to lose more than the proceeds of a penny rate. That was the intention of Parliament, and the Regulations under the Act have now been issued. Members have complained of them, and we do not want to go behind the intention of Parliament, but we must be protected against authorities—and there might be euoh—who would seek to exploit the scheme and perhaps get a little fleeting popularity by letting houses at less rents than they ought to charge. Now there is another big difficulty, the difficulty of authorities in raising the necessary loans, and here you have a very striking diversity amongst authorities. We have some authorities complaining of difficulties which are cities with centuries of tradition, and we have some places which get the money wthout any trouble, small places with a few public- 1304 spirited citizens who really try and get the money raised. Then again, especially shall I say, perhaps, on a line north of the Wash, you find a habit developed in the municipalities which has encouraged the citizens for many years past to contribute their portion towards local expenditure, and those authorities have no difficulties in raising loans. It is very easy to fall back upon the Exchequer every time, but we all know the difficulties of the Exchequer, and the mass of floating debt, and we do not want to add to it. The Government fixed the limit of £200,000 rateable value, below which they would finance out of the Local Loans Fund, and above which they would expect the authorities to finance themselves. We have several cases where it is quite clear that nil that has been done is that the local authorities have gone to the local banks— it is not a banking operation at all—or they have gone to the insurance society.
Some time ago a Committee was appointed, in conjunction with the Treasury, under the chairmanship of Mr. Goschen, and we hope to issue in a few days' time a scheme which should provide a very attractive form of local municipal investment; and we propose to start a campaign in different centres encouraging the local authorities by this means to finance themselves. A large number certainly can, with local support, and I would appeal to the Members of this House, when the scheme is issued, to give all the help they can in their own localities. It is quite clear that the more our citizens are contributing their portion in their own place towards the housing finance, the greater will be the interest in the scheme and the more enduring the success, und we ought not to encourage, if we can possibly avoid it, a mere leaning back on the Exchequer.
Mr. GIDEON MURRAY
Will that be a central scheme, including- Scotland, or will there be two schemes, one for England and one for Scotland?
§ Dr. ADDISON
It will be a municipal scheme. It will apply to all authorities, whether in England or in Scotland.
§ Major O'NEILL
What about Ireland?
§ Dr. ADDISON
Now I come back to the next set of difficulties on which we are proposing action, that is, those arising out of the state of the building trade itself. So far as house-building is concerned, there are two sets of builders, having very 1305 little relation to each other and very little overlapping. There is the builder who builds by contract, and who, speaking generally, is a federated builder, and then there is the house builder who has built a large number of houses in the past. During September and October I had many separate conferences with the representatives of these builders, who are in two different categories, and the result was that we came to two agreements. The first agreement relates to what I call house builders. Now these were the builders who built the majority of houses before the War, taking sites and developing them, and so on. Some people, of course, would 'describe all builders of small houses collectively as jerry-builders—a very unjust description. A large number of these houses are thoroughly good and popular, and these builders can certainly build at a much smaller cost than the average contracting builder. They have their own little clientele of men, their own plant, their own yards and so on, and most of them are now doing repair work. They do not overlap—not materially, at all events— with the contracting builder. Under the Housing Act it is open to the authorities to make arrangements with builders to build houses for them, and the agreement covers that kind of operation. Of course, it provides that the houses have to be of a certain type, properly laid out, and it was welcomed by the trade and the authorities. But it was clear, after discussing the matter with the building societies, who are very much in touch with this kind of thing, that the operation of the agreement to which I have referred under Section 12 of the Housing Act would not by any means evoke all the aid that might be obtainable. I think the House will agree that we have got at the present time to put aside our predilections and get everybody in to help who can help, and therefore, with all the reluctance which necessarily attaches to asking Parliament to make special grants, the Government deliberately decided to make this proposal to Parliament which I now come to. It is, in fact, a proposal to which there will be conditions limiting the number of houses, and requiring them to be built within a limited time. I think that is most important. Any person who builds a house of an approved type, properly laid out—not like sardines in a box, but free from embarrassing detailed supervision—will receive a subsidy in 1306 respect of it; but it must be certified to be a house fit for habitation. The subsidy it is proposed to lay before Parliament amounts to this—that if it is a satisfactory house, the builder will receive a subsidy of not more than a maximum of £150 on the house. That will be based, probably, on 3d. per cubic foot of space.
§ Sir FRANCIS LOWE
Will the £150 maximum agreed upon bear any relation to the cost? Will it be any definite proportion of the cost per house?
§ 1.0 P.M.
I will explain. It will bear relation to the amount of accommodation provided. This is limited to twelve months, and, of course, it is given solely because of the high cost of material and labour, under the very exceptional circumstances, because we feel we must bring in everybody who can build a decent house.
§ Dr. ADDISON
Certainly, that is the full extent of its liability. Nobody recognises more than I do all the objections which may well be brought against this proposal, but the fact is that we were not receiving the aid of these builders, and there was no likelihood of our receiving it. They were engaged in repair work all over the country, and there is a mass of it still to do. It was clear, therefore, that some scheme must be devised whereby their aid could be secured. We have discussed this with great care, and the House may be assured that we are not going to subsidise houses which are not decent houses.
§ Mr. PEMBERTON BILLING
Will the Government ask for any charge or mortgage on these houses for the money advanced?
§ Dr. ADDISON
It is proposed that it should be a free grant, in view of the high cost of building, because at the present tune they are not building houses, the reason being that it costs twice as much to build a house as it did before the War. It is costing more than it will, we hope, two or three years hence. They know very well that the cost to them to build a house will not enable them to let it at an economic rent, and because of that they are not building, and never will build so long as that state of things prevails.
§ Sir P. PILDITCH
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman had better allow the Minister to proceed. If there are any questions to be asked, they had better be put at the end of the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
§ Dr. ADDISON
Let me say at once that the Government would never have agreed to this, and I certainly would never have agreed to it, if I thought it was going to undermine or arrest the local authority's scheme. It is quite clear that you are really bringing in a different class of builder altogether, who never builds by contract, and who will not, save in exceptional cases, build by contract for local authorities. You are bringing in very largely a different clientele of labour.
Now I come to the very important agreement with the federated builders. I must pay a tribute to the immense help received from the Committee of the Joint Industrial Council of that great trade. They have co-operated with me during the last two months. We have been working out this agreement with the utmost possible earnestness. We started from this: that the builders were not now tendering freely to build houses. They ought to do their fair share of housing. They agreed they should, and that the whole force of the Builders' Federation in every district should be brought to bear on all the builders. The agreement is that each man will take his fair share of housing, whatever other orders may be before him. In order to provide for this I have recently been operating upon the plans worked out in the summer time, which in effect are these: the small numbers of houses which have been approved in the different areas were sample types. We did that deliberately because we wanted the local authorities all over the country to begin to build houses on existing road frontages where they would not have to make new roads. We said, "Put on these frontages some of the types you are going to build throughout your whole scheme." The result of this was that we have worked out practically, in all the big districts which we are subsidising, all the quantities and the rest of it for most of the types of houses. All we require to do now is to bring in the federated builders so that, instead of saying, "We will build one hundred of these houses," they will say, "We will build five hundred."
1308 To give one example. At Newcastle the other day I had a conference with the chairman of the Builders' Federation in that area. We have approved plans, and tenders have been arranged for 119 houses of four different types. The federated builders amongst them undertake to erect 1,000 of the same classes by next June. That idea is now being extended into the principal centres of the country. I am asking the co-operation of Members of this House in their different areas. The result of this expansion of schemes, taking the last fortnight, as compared with the previous fortnight, shows that while in the previous fortnight plans were approved for 3,600 houses, in the last fortnight the number was 17,500. These are the plans for houses to be built for the authorities by the federated builders. I call them "federated builders" when they have agreed to this work, but not all builders are in the federation.
In order to assist this, with the aid of a well-known expert, we have worked out a system which we are trying in a number of districts. With the co-operation of the builders we get the actual cost of production, to see if we cannot provide a system which will, at all events, avoid undue inflation of the tender. We have done this with the full agreement and concurrence of the building trade itself. After all, there is an irresistible attraction—human nature being what it is—when somebody comes along and, regardless of expense, wants to build some luxury building! Therefore, although I discussed it with friends of mine in the House who are members of the Housing Group on a couple of occasions, we have finally come to the conclusion that we must take steps during this crisis and for a limited time to arrest luxury building. We propose to operate this through the local authorities. At present the proposal —it will be set out in the Bill—is that in the event of an appeal against an alleged unreasonable prohibition there should be a Committee of this House to which those concerned can appeal. I may say that on no account will the Government undertake the administration of any scheme of prohibition of luxury building by a system of licences. We had that during the War, and I never want it again. It is irksome and irritating to everybody. Therefore we proceed from the other and. In the event of non-essential buildings limiting the provision of houses in any 1309 area we authorise the authority to represent it to us; then we give them the necessary powers not to pass plans— that is what it comes to—for this kind of building. One other power is proposed, but it does not operate very widely; it is of great political and social importance. We have sometimes been blamed for allowing people to be evicted from their houses which somebody wanted to pull down for, say, a cinema. As a matter of fact we have not any power; that is a judicial matter purely. There was a very bad case in Manchester the other day. One of my officers went down and, with great skill I am glad to say, he got the different parties together, and they agreed that the people should remain in their houses. But it is no use, I think, expecting people who cannot find another dwelling to endure being turned out of a decent house for it to be pulled down to make a pleasure house. We want to have regard, of course, to facts. We do not want to stop the provision of factories which give employment, of the buildings necessary for the extension of industries, education and so on. I would not regard them as non-essential. But there is a great deal of building going on which is absorbing labour which does not come under that head.
Finally, we have to consider the big issue of labour. Let me say at once that it is no uso—and my right hon. Friend had greater experience, perhaps, than any man, as Minister of Munitions, and I was through it with him—it is no use beginning to scold people about facts. Therefore, we want to proceed by agreement. It is proposed that a conference shall be called by the Ministry of Labour of all those engaged in the building trade, employers and employed, and proposals will be put to them by Ministers on behalf of the Government. There appear in this matter to be three essentials. The first is that, so far as housing is concerned, at any rate, we ought to revert to and get down to pre-war methods of building—to get the utmost possible output. The next point is that we must, by some abbreviated system of training, get more men into the industry. That is absolutely essential. There is a shortage of 200,000. Every man who has been in the building trade, and those who were in it for years before the War, always had before them the spectre of walking the streets. It is no good scolding the man in the building trade when he says, "If yon have all these newcomers here I may 1310 be out of a job." He has in mind those years before the War. He has misgivings. You tell him there is ten years' work for the building trade in tins country—as a matter of fact, there is! It is not much comfort to him. He will still have his misgivings. He does not want lo be out of a job. Therefore the proposal we make will contain provisions which will deal with that aspect of the situation.
There are other matters which I will not for the moment go into. But I should like to say that the number of authorities who have been in default is small amongst the larger authorities. There are, however, some who are already receiving letters from us asking them to show cause why they should not be found in default in accordance with the terms of the Act. I am concentrating upon that matter, not upon the little ones, but upon the big ones. We propose to exercise the powers of the Act, and arrangements have been made to do so. An agreement has been arrived at whereby we get the assistance of the Board of Agriculture and the county councils in rural areas. The vast majority of the authorities in the country have thrown their minds and hearts into this work. Occasionally it has been my unpleasant duty, in discharging my obligations, to bully some of them, more or less, and it has been a very unpopular thing to do, but I have had to do it and keep pressing them forward. Some of them thought us very unreasonable, and we have been exposed to blame, but we have to take that as part of the day's work. In the main, however, I think we can say that we have had their good will and ready help. They recognise our difficulty and we recognise theirs. Out of 1,800 authorities 1,270 have already sent in housing schemes, and they would not hare done this had it not been for the large number of hon. Members of this House who have helped by interesting themselves in their own areas. These are great undertakings, and they take a considerable; measure of time to get going.
I well remember, and this is my final point, our experience at the Ministry of Munitions. With all the patriotic pressure of the War it took us months, when embarking upon new enterprises, far-tones or gun shops, to overcome the physical difficulties of getting them started. Let the House bear in mind what our powers were then. Some people say, "Why cannot you do the same now as you did in the Ministry of Munitions?"
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
§ Dr. ADDISON
I will say why not. In the first place, so far as we can do it we are trying to do it. We took a long time then about a great many things, although we did them in a quarter the time they had ever been done before. At that time we could go into any shop from the biggest engineering shop to a small blacksmith's shop in any part of the country and say to the man in charge, "You are to do this, and that, and nothing else," but you cannot do that now.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Why not? [An. HON. MEMBER: "Bolshevism."]
§ Dr. ADDISON
I welcome the newfound enthusiasm of my hon. and gallant Friend opposite for the Defence of the Realm Act.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
This is a war measure, is it not?
§ Dr. ADDISON
I derive some comfort from the reflection that a proposal under which we should have that power over every builder in this country was never made when the Housing Act was before this House; in fact, the whole cry was, "Release them, and let them be free." That was the cry at that time. The point I make is that in the Ministry of Munitions we could go to every man in any shop and tell him what to do and what not to do, but now the entire centre of gravity is the other way. This is peace, and men want to get back to their own work, and they are not under, if I may say so, the same tyrannical powers which we had then. We have not the same claim on individuals. At the time all our efforts were centred on one object, that of defeating the enemy. Now, quite rightly, the efforts of the masses of the people are centred upon re-establishing businesses, increasing production, and getting trade and industries going. If the housing problem was the one object of the industrial powers of this nation as the making of munitions was, the case would be parallel; but it is not, and never can be. I make no apology for what has been achieved with these limited powers. The fact is that land has been acquired for over 300,000 houses, and we have agreed to the plans of 50,000 houses. We have got through all the preliminary stages in this matter, and that is a record of which I am not at all ashamed. I wish to say, in this respect, that our own staff and the staff of 1312 the local authorities have had to work like slaves. Let me say this, too, that in the War we could go to any man and say, "Come along and help us," and he came. Now I cannot do that. Naturally, people are concerned with their own affairs, and they cannot come and spend their days and nights in a Government Department.
What do these 1,270 schemes imply? Every one implies a scheme for the construction of new and decent houses properly laid out, and when that accommodation is provided the scheme in every case includes the reclamation of the slums of their own district. The fact that we have got 1,270 authorities to survey their housing needs not for a day, but for the future, including the reclamation of the slums, is great achievement, pregnant for the future-good of our country. How difficult all this has been those who have studied the problem will well understand. This scheme, let me say, until the newspaper headlines began to appear, had the support of all parties, and these suggestions for scrapping, as I have no intention of doing, came from no source. These matters which I have recited show that we are confronted with prodigious difficulties, and we shall not diminish them by recrimination, but only by resolution, patience, courage, and good temper. The Government is not to be stampeded from this great project by any cry. We propose to stand by the scheme, and we will be no parties to delivering the country again to a sporadic, ill-directed, casual system of housing which has given us slums in every town in the Kingdom, which are a degradation to us, and which have condemned multitudes of our people, with good air all around them, to live in places that are unfit for human habitation.
§ Mr. LUNN
I would like the right hon. Gentleman to explain what definite rule he is going to put into operation with regard to the rent to be charged. This is a most important matter for the local authorities. I understand that they are going to receive financial assistance provided they charge a satisfactory rent. I want to know what that rent is to be. Are you going to fix a minimum rent to be charged in accordance with the cost of the houses, and what are you going to do to help the authorities in this respect?
§ Dr. ADDISON
I think ray hon. Friend had better defer that question until later. What we mean by n reasonable rent is such a rent as is fairly obtainable for that class of accommodation in the district.
I feel, notwithstanding the very interesting and lucid statement made by the Minister of Health, that he has not dispelled from my mind and from the minds of many others the impression that much more might have been done under the Housing of the Working Classes Act to have given practical effect to the hopes that -have been engendered since the signing of the Armistice. The right hon. Gentleman spoke as though the housing difficulty only dated from the passing of the Act in July of this year, but in the many schemes for reconstruction that were spoken of before the termination of hostilities the question of making good the shortage in housing was always placed before the country. In February of this year the House was informed that a Director of Building had been appointed in the person of Sir James Carmichael, a name well-known, appreciated, and honoured throughout the world in the building industry. It was thought that the Department -would at once set to work not only in the direction of promoting a Bill, but also in the direction of getting the local authorities together and making some progress. Later, in answer to questions in this House, we were told that the Ministry were doing all that they possibly could to get the brickyards, which 'had got out of repair and which had gone out of use during the five years of war, into an efficient state in order that we might proceed at once with the production of bricks. People thought that was the first step in the right direction, and temporarily it gave satisfaction. Later, in answer to a question from the Front Opposition Bench, we were told that 1,000,000 bricks had been made, but that no houses had been built. Afterwards came the question of the shortage of labour, and still no real progress had been made.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the position in the Peterborough and Fletton brickyards. The position there is tragic from more points of view than one. Before the War those yards used to send out an average of 1,250,000 bricks per day. In consequence of the lack of transport and other things, over which I do not pretend to assume that the right hon. Gentleman has any control, they have been stacking down until at the present time there are many millions of bricks stacked in the yard. At a recent conference the employers were faced with the possibility in the immediate future of 1314 having to shut down their works, because of no more stacking room. In the face of the great call for houses, that is tragic in the extreme. One would have hoped that steps would have been taken to remedy the position, and I know that some steps have been taken. I believe that the employers interviewed the Minister of Transport, representatives from the Ministry of Munitions, and representatives from the right hon. Gentleman's Department. They have also interviewed jointly with the workmen's representatives the various railway companies in order to try and get sufficient transport facilities to prevent the shutting down of the brickyards. I do really suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that what the Ministry of Munitions was able to do during a period of greater labour shortage than the present ought to be able to be done now.
The erection of buildings for war output was a grave national emergency. Every work of less value was at once stopped, and labour was diverted to the erection of works and buildings for the War. The housing of the people is an equally grave emergency to save the people of the nation. If you are going to build up sound human bodies and give the rising generation the opportunity that they should have, you must give them proper housing conditions. Your inactivity to-day is not only condemning them to premature old age and physical deterioration, but is rendering them subject to preventable epidemic diseases. In consequence of people having to herd together and overcrowd in these rut-pits which the right hon. Gentleman has described as existing in every industrial or important town, you have diphtheria, measles, and other complaints and the children have no opportunity of throwing off their evil effects. Yet we are informed that this is such a stupendous task and has reached such a stage that the local authorities have not been able completely to cope with it and we must, therefore, call in private enterprise. I submit that this is not work for private enterprise at all. This is a national obligation, and the nation should fulfil its obligations to the people of the country by giving them facilities for proper sanitary housing.
I should like the right hon. Gentleman, in replying to the various speeches that may be delivered upon this subject to-day, to give us some information as to the subsidy to what I call the "field-ranging" 1315 builder. He has been described as a jerry-builder; we sometimes describe him as the "field-ranger." He is the man who opens up an estate, and when you pass by during one week you see an attempt at digging out footings, and when you pass the next week you see a row of houses. The right hon. Gentleman said that they were to be free from detailed supervision. What I am anxious to know is, are these houses to be built to specification? Is the builder to be left free to use what material he cares to put in, what footings he chooses to give, what air-spaces he thinks to be correct, and then, forsooth, somebody from the Ministry of Health or the local authority approves of that house when it has been erected without any supervision as to the material used. We know how they used to be put up—lath and plaster, and sometimes very little of that, with defects hidden away, and lack of foundations. One would like to know whether, in the event of the "field-ranging" builder being called in, he is to be left to his own sweet will, or will the houses have to be built to specification?
I cannot help thinking that it does not go far to satisfy the people of the country merely to recount the difficulties you have had, and the fact that so many acres have been approved for building and so many schemes have been approved. What the people desire is not the promise of something next year. They would have been delighted to learn that from 50,000 to 100.000 of those houses would be completed, as I believe they ought to have been completed, before this year was out I feel that local authorities have not done all that they might have done. There are various reasons for that. In the first place, the Financial Clauses have been exposed to a good deal of criticism—I think unnecessary criticism. I do not think there is any justification for a great deal of the criticism that one has seen through the Press has been taking place in the various council chambers throughout the country. The fault lies in there not being 'more definitism about them. The 1d. rate is assured for a period of seven years, but after seven years a review takes place as to what would be the proper assessed value, from the" point of view of the rent chargeable, in view of the rents for similar properties round about. Many local authorities who have had no desire to do more than they have been compelled to do by public opinion have said to the people in their 1316 constituencies, who have been faced with gradual increases in the local rates brought about for other reasons and purposes—they have said, "Yes, we would not mind pressing on with our housing scheme if we were sure that at the end of seven years a 1d. rate would represent the maximum obligation of the local authority." They go further, and put fear into the minds of the people by saying that at the end of seven years the officials of the Ministry of Health might come and review the whole position, and say that the rents must go up in proportion to the cost of the building, or that all subsidy or assistance from the State would be withdrawn, and the people would be thrown on their own resources and would have to make good any deficiency. Such statements have been made, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman's attention must have been called to them. I know that in introducing the measure he gave the assurance that the intention of the Department was that at no period should the cost falling upon the local authority exceed the 1d. rate; but at the end of seven years they did claim the right to have a review of the whole position, if not with the view of saddling the local authority with the full deficiency after that period. I would, therefore, like him to make that statement perhaps a little more definitely than it was made, because it will dispel a good many of the fears that are in the minds of the people at the moment.
Another point about which I should like to ask is, Whether, in interviewing the federated builders, the right hon. Gentleman has met the combined bodies, because there is some uncertainty as to the position?
§ Dr. ADDISON
Does the hon. Member mean by that the workmen and the employers?
§ Mr. HAYDAY
§ Dr. ADDISON
The answer is Yes.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
There appears to be some hesitancy. At the moment, at all events, the workmen's section have not committed themselves as suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. So far as regards the subsidy of £150 per house to the "field-ranger," I know there are bound to be some differences to be threshed out.
§ Dr. ADDISON
That was no part of the agreement. That was not the agreement to which I was referring.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
All that I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman is whether, he is satisfied that the local authorities and his Department have done their best, first, to try the scheme from the national, the local authorities, and the public utility point of view; whether they have used up all their resources, and still find it imperative to call in the aid of the private builder. I do not like to repeat what may, after all, be mere idle rumour, because one knows that the Members of this House have quite enough to contend with, and if they were to pay attention to all the suspicions that are given expression to they would very soon qualify as inmates of a mental hospital, I would, however, just like to have something made clear upon this point. I would like The right hon. Gentleman to give us the price per thousand of the Fletton bricks—because that is the largest brick-producing area in the country—at the time of the Armistice, and to say to what extent the cost of those bricks has gone up since then. I understand that the present price is somewhere about 80s. or 82s. per thousand, and it is suggested that the Department contemplate, not only a subsidy on the house itself, but a subsidy on any increased cost of the bricks.
§ Dr. ADDISON
No, certainly not.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
I understand that their price has gone up by 7s. per thousand since July of this year, but I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has answered definitely in the negative. If, however, bricks at the time of the signing of the Armistice were somewhere in the neighbourhood of 30s. per thousand, and now are in the neighbourhood of 82s. per thousand, I would impress upon the Department that an assurance was given from those benches to myself, in answer to a question, that, although the restrictions and the maximum prices of bricks have been taken off, they could be re-imposed if it was felt that the price charged was out of keeping with the ordinary contributory causes of increased cost. I understand that at the moment the average price is somewhere about 80s. odd.
§ Dr. ADDISON
§ Mr. HAYDAY
It may be that the 80s. is the price delivered at the particular place where this information has been given to me, the freight being added to the price in trucks at the works. I do 1318 hope that we shall try to use to the full all the local machinery. There has been a large reactionary clement in most of these local authorities. I also hope that the right hon. Gentleman in his reply will answer another point. He suggests that, as one way of preventing the attraction of labour and the use of material, which cause hardening of the market, for the purpose of erecting non-essential or pleasurable buildings—such as picture palaces and so on—they intend advising local authorities, who understand local conditions, to refuse to pass plane, as a means of preventing the use of material and labour that might well be put into the erection, of houses. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what remedy is possible in those cases whore plans have already been approved? I know of some localities where plans for the erection of huge buildings which are not of a productive character have been, passed, and where tenders have been received, and the estimated cost approaches £250,000 for putting up a huge building. Those plans have already been passed. If the Minister of Health and his Department have no power to prevent the diversion of labour from house building to building these places, I am sure if he can adopt any means to secure that power public opinion will be behind him and give him all possible support. If you spend £150,000 on a picture palace, and by that means provide cheap entertainments for the people from the slums, those people get into an atmosphere which gives them artificial happiness and contentment. They come out of a building erected with material which should have gone to construct decent houses for them, and they are driven back to the slums, and their environment becomes embittered. We should get these houses up as quickly as possible, especially for the sake of the children. I am more concerned with the children than with the grown-up people. A man who cannot fight his way out of his environment is not worth much, but the children are condemned 'to suffering. The children are dragged down and smothered in such an environment. Decent homes for these children are much more to me than any palatial 'building, and we should at once set to work to take the children from the fever dens and from the breeding-grounds of epidemic diseases and get them into decent conditions.
§ Sir PETER GRIGGS
As a member of the Housing Committee, and also as a 1319 member who has attended almost every meeting of the Housing Group, I know that the right hon. Gentleman and his Department have done everything possible to push forward housing schemes. To my knowledge, they have worked right and left and night and day. This is the greatest problem of the time, and it requires a great deal of solving. I have just been told by a member of an urban council that their tenders were opened yesterday, and the lowest price quoted was £ 1,300 odd per house. If that is a sample of the tenders that are coining in, it will make the matter very difficult, because apparently these houses represent a rental of only 10s. or a little more. How is the difficulty to be met? The price I have mentioned ought to be brought down considerably, because it is not at all necessary. I know what I am talking about, because I have been the creator of towns, and therefore I know something of the building of houses. One of the difficulties in the way of a bulkier is that he gets specifications covering fifty pages; every item is specified, and he has to go to one certain firm for the different items. That runs up cost materially. The builder is bound down in every possible way until it is hardly worth his while to undertake the work. We should give him more freedom. I do no, say that you should give unlimited Freedom, because that would be altogether wrong. The right hon. Genteman says that there are many groups of houses in different parts of the country that are well built, and which have been sold by the builders to the people who are the present owners. That is the class of builder you want to bring in, but you will not bring him in unless you give him some security that he will meet his costs.
It is said that the War has caused the shortage of houses. That is not so. The cause of the shortage of houses at the present time is the valuation under the Act of 1909, which brought the building of houses almost to a stop. Before that Act was passed we were building about 70,000 houses per annum throughout the country. The following year it was brought down to almost one tenth of that number. You want to bring these builders in again, and to do that you will have to give them confidence. The best way to do it is to give them a subsidy up to £150, according to the size of the house, per cubic feet, or by making them a loan, the repayment and interest being spread over 1320 twenty years, using the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act for that purpose. Whether that be the way or whether there be any other way, the builders must have their materials at lower prices than they are paying now. Perhaps the best way in which the Government can give them confidence is to give them a subsidy of £80, £100, or £150. Again, if you want to give thorn confidence you must break down some of the red tape and restrictions which stop them from coming in. They should have freedom to sell or to let. It is far better that they should sell. We want pleasant garden suburbs. There is a marked difference between a suburb with rows of houses where the owners occupy and another part of the same district, quite near at hand, which is occupied by tenants. There are many schemes before us. There should be a public inquiry into some of those schemes. There are cases where large areas of land have been scheduled. In one case thousands of acres have been scheduled, where food production is going on at the present time, which is very much wanted. From one area alone on the yearly average 30,000 tons of food come into London by road. That matter should be well considered before the scheme is sanctioned. I am afraid that if you do not provide these houses many of our families will have to emigrate. Many persons come to my offices with piteous tales. Something should be done in a material way to help the people along. Let us help them in every way we can. If we can give them the low money, which has worked so successfully in the Small Dwellings Asquisition Act, of which I moved the adoption in my town twenty years ago and which has been the means of some thousands owning their houses to-day, that will be one of the most material things to help it along. If I can help the Government in any way in the provision of houses as the result of my experience, I shall be very glad.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ROYDS
Notwithstanding the views expressed by the hon. Member (Mr. Hayday), I think the House and the country generally welcome the proposal to introduce the private builder into-this housing scheme by giving him a sufficiently substantial subsidy. The right hon. Gentleman said his scheme had not failed. I hope it has not, because it has considerable merit in many respects. But there is certainly a general suspicion in the country that it is exceedingly doubtful whether the required number of houses 1321 will be provided under it and whether the loss on these houses, which the State may be called upon to bear, will not be greater than it really can bear, or than it expects to bear. The right hon. Gentleman said that when the Housing Bill was introduced the whole House was practically unanimous in support of it. We were all unanimous in support of a Housing Bill, and we all agreed that housing could not be undertaken under the then prevailing conditions, or, indeed, in present conditions, by private enterprise only, and we all supported the introduction of municipal buildings. But many of us strongly held the view that private enterprise should go along with municipal buildings, and that it should be encouraged to the same extent and should have the same subsidy as municipal buildings On the Second Reading of the Bill I dwelt on the great danger there was in the Government pinning their faith to the provision of houses by municipalities, who had never provided any houses in any considerable numbers in the past, while altogether ignoring private enterprise, which had provided houses. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that he is going to introduce the private builder. I welcome that statement because I really believe we shall now have houses built, and I am perfectly satisfied that they will be built very much quicker and much cheaper by private enterprise than, by municipal authorities; also that they will be more attractive, because there is a very strong feeling among a large number of the working classes against municipal-built houses. That was stated in the last Local Government Report, and I believe that objection still holds good. I believe it is because of that objection that many of our local authorities are holding back and are not going forward as they should, and as the right hon. Gentleman hoped they would under the scheme.
The Government went wrong in three directions in their Housing Act. In the first place, they pinned their faith to municipal building. In the second place, they devised a scheme which excluded private enterprise from competing at all. That was the greatest mistake they made. They subsidised municipal buildings, and did not subsidise private enterprise, and thereby precluded private enterprise from competing altogether. Had they subsidised private enterprise instead of municipal building they would very likely have 1322 provided very many more than have been provided under the present scheme. In the third place, they based their housing scheme and their finance on the wrong supposition that any considerable number of houses had in the past been built or would be built in the future to return an economic rent. The whole financial scheme of the Housing Bill is based on the supposition that you are going to get an economic rent, and unless an economic vent is got the local authorities do not get the State subsidy in full. The local authorities know perfectly well, and all practical builders know, that houses in the pant have not been built to pay what is called an economic rent. They have been built by the private builder to sell and not to retain at all. If a private builder retains his houses, in nearly nine eases out of ten he finds that after he has had thorn for a certain time the rent does not equal his outgoings in the shape of interest on his outlay, whether mortgage interest or otherwise, and he fails. The local authorities in the same way, if they retain these houses, will find that they will not be able to get an economic rent. I do not sec why they should in the future any more than they have done in the past, and they are alarmed, knowing they will not be able to get an economic rent, that the State will turn round and say, "We cannot give you your subsidy." Houses have been built, for sale. People are perfectly ready to give the cost of the house and a profit to the builder for the privilege of owning a house. There are many considerations in regard to the building of houses besides the question of rent. The question of rent is one of them, but it is only one, and if private enterprise is to come in under the scheme now put forward it could only come in and remain there if at the same time purchasers turn up in order to buy his houses, because the private builder cannot go on unless he has purchasers who will come forward and take the houses off his hands. The purchaser—I can speak from forty years' experience—finds in most cases that he only gets a return of something like 2½ per cent, on his purchase money.
That is the basis on which nearly all the houses of this country have been provided. It is altogether wrong to think they can to provided on an economic basis as regards rent. In country districts, to take an instance, we will say a cottage costs £250 and the economic rent at, say, 5 per cent, would be £12 10s., but the owner only. 1323 gets £5 or £6 rent. Cottages have not been built solely for the consideration of the rent, but for a variety of other reasons. It may be the amenities of the property, it may be partly philanthropic motives, or it may be in order to occupy the houses themselves. All these considerations apply in the building of houses, and I hope the right lion. Gentleman will bear that in mind in any arrangement which he makes, because any financial provision or arrangement made on what is termed mi economic rental basis is directly opposed to the basis which has prevailed in the past in the provision of houses. I should like to know whether the subsidy which he proposes to give to the private builder is in his opinion equal to the subsidy which is going to be given to the municipal authorities? That is of very great importance, because if you are going to introduce the private builder successfully and enlist his support in this housing scheme he must be introduced on the same footing as the municipal authorities. I hope that question will be gone into very carefullly when a reply is given. He said that the private builder can build houses cheaper than the municipal authority. In view of the fact that the municipal authorities who are building houses with this subsidy are being encouraged for a term of years up to 1927 to let those houses at less than an economic return on the cost, it is obvious that the private builder, if he is to compete, must have a sufficient inducement to enable him to compete with that state of affairs.
Calling in the private builder has one great advantage. The State will not only not have to bear the great loss that it will have to bear if the building is all done by the municipal authorities, but it will not have to find the money to build the houses at all. That is a very important thing now. Private building has been done in the past by means of a sort of floating balance. The right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) in his speech on the Housing Bill said that £25,000,000 was the floating balance with which the houses that were necessary were always provided in this country. I think he was perfectly correct. As soon as that £25,000,000 was spent the houses were sold and the £25,000,000 became available again. Nearly all the purchasers of those houses are the working class for whom the houses have been built. If the scheme for private enterprise is to 1324 be successful in the future purchasers must be found, and they will be found among the working classes, who at: this moment own seven-tenths or eight-tenths of the working class cottages of this country. We must deal with facts, and we were all wrong on the Housing Bill because we ignored facts. We did not deal with realities, but with theories After the experience we have had I hope the right hon. Gentleman and those allied with him—we are all ardently desirous of making this housing scheme a success—will deal with facts, and bring to bear in any proposals which are put before the House the hard facts gained by experience of those who build, and also the experience of his predecessor iii the position of President of the Local Government Board (Mr. John Burns), who dealt very closely with these matters, but whose opinion has been entirely ignored in the housing scheme.
I asked the Minister of Health the other day if he had information to show to what extent, if any, the largely increased cost of providing houses for the working classes is attributable to less output of work per head of the men employed on such work now as compared with the pre-war period? He replied, "I am afraid I can give no precise information un this point, but it is obvious that the reduction of output must operate seriously in tin direction of increasing the cost of building." I think he should be able to give that precise information, because it is of vital importance in connection with the cost of all buildings. It is highly important to the working classes, more so Io them than to anyone clse, that the cost of building should be kept down, because, whether they buy or rent their house, they want to buy it as cheaply as they can and to rent it as cheaply as they can. If the cost can be reduced it is in their highest interests that it should be reduced. The right Hon. Gentleman must have some information in his possession to be able to answer the question I put to him. If he has not the information I hope he will get it. There is no doubt that there is a considerably diminished output per man and it is that diminished output which accounts very considerably for the increased cost of housing. There is a diminished output in everything, as there must, be after such a war. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the fewer number of men there were in the building trade, and also of the want of experience of in any of t lose who are in it. Allowance must be made for all these 1325 things. No doubt a large number of men went out of the building trade not only when the War began but during the three or four years previous to the War, when the building was so much diminished, and there was not work for thorn to do. We are suffering from that now. This matter should be put very clearly before the country, and the representatives of Labour should themselves thoroughly understand how far the cost of houses is affected by diminished output. I am quite sure that Labour would be the very first to respond, and if an appeal was made to them fairly and squarely they would do the best they could to remedy it and to increase the output. The right hon. Gentleman did not deal with that in his speech. It is of vital importance. He ought not to shirk it, and he cannot shirk it. It is his duty to ascertain these facts, and I hope he will be in a position to give the information to the House.
§ Mr. LORDEN
Knowing something of the building trade, I can, perhaps, offer some criticism upon this scheme, and those criticisms I desire to make as helpful as possible, because I realise, as do most hon. Members, that houses are a necessity, and even if the cost is high they must be produced. The right hon. Gentleman stated that his scheme has not failed. There has been no time for the scheme to fail. I remember distinctly, when I was on the Committee upstairs, that I stated that, unless he brought in private enterprise, instead of relying solely upon municipal authorities, it would be two or three years before he would be able to get houses fit for occupation. There is not the slightest doubt that that is what is going to happen. The authorities have to start from the commencement. I pointed out very strongly that I wished them to bring in private enterprise, and I may quote from the official note that was taken at the time, because to-day I am of the same opinion— a typical instance where private enterprise was practically turned down, and the houses that might have been ready for occupation this Christmas are not even commenced yet. I said:The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board—which he was then—is trying to infuse some little enthusiasm into the local authorities, but I think he would have a much easier job if he had put in something which would unable private enterprise to have am opportunity to take part in this great housing business. You have a Clause here which enables you to make or adopt the prin 1326 ciple of co-operation between certain people. It' you really want any houses quickly you should enlist private enterprise and give them a subsidy, and that arises I think entirely on this Clause.I go on to say:Most important of all, private enterprise should be enlisted in supplementing the efforts of local authorities. Every agency which can supply houses should be stimulated and encourage. Red tape should be cut, hampering regulations should be put over and preconceived theories abandoned. Preconceived ideas 011 municipal housing have not brought us the houses we want, and I am under the impression that it would be three years before you got any tenants into any houses that the municipalities would have, with the exception it' they have a State rent.Then I go on further to press upon them the principle, at a later hour on the same day, and I ask them to deal with it on something of this basis.
I feel very strongly upon it. We ought to have enlarged this Clause to have brought in private enterprise. At the present time a, local authority with which I am concerned have had an offer to build 600 houses before the end of this year, provided you could subsidise the people co the extent of 25 per cent, of the cost. Before the War these houses cost £300. Today they will cost at least £600, and if you give £150 per house you would get 600 houses before the end of the year, and that would be a great advantage to the community. There would be no further expense to the rates and no further expense to the Treasury. You may depend upon it, if you want houses you have got to strengthen this Clause by putting private enterprise into the saddle.There is nothing new in what we have had to-day. The Minister had it before him on this 13th of May that private enterprise was one of those things that must be enlisted, and I welcome very much this similar proposition. While the Minister has given this information with regard to the £l50, I had the cube taken out of these houses last night and I find that on the basis of 3d. a foot your subsidy would be £160, though they offered at that time to build these houses with a subsidy of £150. To-day you are not in the same position as you were then. There is, as you know, and you will sec by this morning's papers, an agitation because the Ministry of Labour, or whoever it may be in authority, has not given his sanction to an increase in the wages of the building trade which has been agreed upon by employers and employed. Why they should hold up this is a most extraordinary thing. There it is. There is an advance of 2½d. an hour for mechanics and 3d. an hour for unskilled labourers. I want to offer a few criticisms on what the Minister has suggested to-day. While in the past they have 1327 done very little in the matter of house building I have been interested in building ever since I left school. In fact I was apprenticed to the carpenters and joiners and served my time as a carpenter and joiner, and I know something about the building industry. One point that has been made by the Minister is that he is going to restrict luxury building- What is luxury building?
§ Mr. J. DAVISON
Eighty thousand pound houses.
§ Mr. LORDEN
While you are going to make more work for a few in the building trade, what are you going to do with your stonemasons. In the scheme put before us and in the manual which has been issued there is not a single ha'porth of work for the stonemason, unless in some districts where stone is the material used, and there you only bring in the hewer or the man who hews rough, while you do not bring in the men at all who carry out the fine artistic stonework which you see in many places. How are you going to get buildings finished if you are going to limit the capacity of the carpenter and joiner to a four panel door with no mouldings on it? You are going to drive out of the trade the highly skilled people. You are going to deal 10 the trade a backhanded blow. Why is there such a deficiency in the building trade? Is it not in the first place attributable to the stupid legislation which was passed in 1909–10? That is how it con-menced. In my own place we had at that time plenty of young men who were willing to come in and serve five years in the workshops and offices to get an idea of the business. Two of these young men are not in the building trade to-day. Their father, who was going to set them up in the building trade, said that he would not do so, because the trade was being broken and they are in a different business to-day. Then there is the wastage of the War. Building work was stopped for two and a half to three years. Skilled mechanics have become very short and the output of the skilled mechanics that there are has been reduced to half what it was before the War. In this I am speaking of what I know. Wages are doubled and the output is halved. That means that your rate of labour will be up four times. That is a very serious thing; but I do not agree with the hon. Member (Lieut.-Colonel Royds). The Minister did allude to this question of 1328 output. I think it is a matter in which the working classes of this country are even more interested than the employers, because if you are going to have this very serious state of affairs, with all the men you put into the building industry only producing half the former work, you will want to subsidise them four times, you will want to bring in four times the number. Where are you going to get them from?
One serious defect from which we are suffering to-day which is more likely to bring down housing schemes than anything else, is this very serious diminution in the building trade. I cannot speak about any other trade; I do not know. But I know for a fart, and I can prove, that the diminution of output in the building trade is something very serious and scandalous. There was a question about trucks. Why is it that there is this shortage of trucks? It is largely because goods that used to take three days from the time of loading on a truck to arrival at their destination, now take three weeks. How many more trucks does that mean? It means an enormous number of trucks. Then, again, it has been suggested that 60 per cent, of the building trade is employed on repair work, which is highly remunerative. You cannot blame the builder if he does look out for something which is remunerative, because he has had a rotten time during the last four or five years. He has had a very heart-breaking struggle to keep body and soul together. Then there is, again, the question of restricting luxury buildings. There is a very largo building being put up in Oxford Street to carry on a very big business. Is that luxury building? Is any building that does not simply house the working classes to be called a luxury building? There is as great a dearth today of middle-class houses as there is of working-class houses. Therefore, it means that the working classes are having all the benefit of this Act and the middle classes have only to pay, as usual.
I omitted to mention, when dealing with this question of houses offered to the local authority in which I am interested, that although the proposals were that the private builder should find half the extra cost, the arrangement we came to with him at the time was that his cost would be increased by only 50 per cent.—that is, to cover the 50 per cent, additional expense he would be put to. Therefore, the whole scheme seemed to be thrashed out from A 1329 to Z. This question of cost was one of the points raised by the Minister of Health. Are not some of the Government Departments very largely to blame for this cost? I will give an instance. They have cornered the material. They say, "We have bought it at a lower price than that at which you could buy it." What has happened? The brick manufacturer, the cement manufacturer and the hardware manufacturer care nothing about the private man They do not want any competition. They have been given orders for material at a certain price. When you go to a private manufacturer and ask him his price he says, "My price is so-and-so." You say, "This is a terribly big price," and he replies, "We can get it out of the Government." I have had that put to me not once or twice, but scores of times. That is what you are suffering from to-day. This cornering of material is a mistaken policy. Talk about trusts! The manufacturer would much rather had to deal with a Government Department, which is sure to pay, than with a private man, who may go down and not be able to pay. The manufacturer turns round and says, in effect, "Let the rest of the country go hang" That is what it amounts to. The Government have paid an enormous price, and we cannot get our building material at a reasonable price, and we shall not be able to do so all the time this is happening. The right policy would be to take all this control off. Let us have fair competition amongst ourselves, and the country will get all the houses very much cheaper. I heard the other day that one of the type in the Manual was tendered for at £l,300.[...]it to be wondered at? It has been pointed out to some of these builders that they can obtain material through the Government agency. They would much rather go to the merchants. There is so much red tape and delay in getting the material through Government channels that it adds greatly to the price of tenders. If you have to buy material through the Government you have to go through such an enormous number of different Departments that you practically have to keep a staff to get the material released.
I hope I am saying nothing that is criticism destructive of the scheme. I want to help the scheme. As a builder, I believe I know where some of the defects he. The right hon. Gentleman said we want more men in the industry. How are you going to get more men when you are going to restrict the highly skilled men? 1330 There are degrees in workmen. There are plenty of them who would build a cottage a good deal better than the highly skilled men, probably. Any bricklayer can lay bricks to a line if he is a bricklayer of any sort or kind. The bulk of people who think of going into the trade see that it is a dirty trade, and they then try to get into something where they can wear black coats. Compared with the work of a man who is engaged on an "alteration" job, a sweep's job is clean. I press upon the right hon. Gentleman strongly that he should enlarge the amount of the subsidy. If he had taken up the matter in April or May last I think he would have got it done at 3d. a foot, but if he offered 4d. a foot, which will not be more than 25 per cent, of the total extra cost, I believe he would have had a large number of houses immediately put up. Around London there are now numbers of estates where all sewers are in and roads are laid out. Those are the places for houses. In connection with one estate, of which I have heard something, the valuation was made by the authorities on such a basis that it barely covered the cost of making roads and sewers pre-war. One statement such as that must very greatly retard matters, for it goes a long way to make people feel dissatisfied. I am sure there is no one in the building trade who will not help as much as possible to obtain the houses if he is treated fairly. I hold no brief for the jerrybuilder. I do not understand him. I do not understand the house-builder. The house-builder in the past was, as has been stated, a gentleman who lived with a loss. There is no doubt about that. He provided an enormous number of houses and then went into the Bankruptcy Court. I could point to a place not many miles from here where hundreds of houses were put up. The people concerned were in affluence for a few years, but in the end they had to go to the Bankruptcy Court. Is not that the point you are dealing with? Unless you give the private builder sufficient to make up the difference of the extra that he has to pay you are simply asking him to go into the Bankruptcy Court. I would ask the Government, in considering the question of a subsidy, to make it something that is adequate and not to restrict the building of houses while they might restrict the building of cinemas. We must not forget that unless you let some of this better class building go on you are going to lose your highly skilled 1331 mechanics, and that will be a very serious state of affairs. To-day people have gone out of the building trade, workmen have gone out of it, and many people have said, "Damn the building trade from A to Z." The private builder has done a very great national work in the past. We are only just finding out that the speculating builder who built houses, although perhaps they were not pretty, yet provided houses for the people in which they could live and served a very great want. I would therefore impress upon the Government that they should now make the scheme a real one, and by getting complete co-operation get the houses which we want and ought to have.
§ Major PRESCOTT
There is general agreement that the housing problem is one of the most serious domestic problems at the present time. Those of us who have the privilege of representing large industrial areas are very much concerned and most keenly disappointed at the very slow progress that is being made. I chink the right lion. Gentleman must agree that he has been met in the most friendly spirit, and that he has not had any obstacles placed in his way by hon. Members. We have all recognised the urgency of the situation. I think the right hon. Gentleman has received sympathy and good will and encouragement from all sides of the House. In the right hon. Gentleman's speech to-day he referred to the fact that he appeared in this House in no spirit of apology, and that the scheme was in no way a failure. We must deal with facts as they are. In my judgment, this new housing administration, which is costing the country £122,000 per year, is a colossal failure. This new housing administration is not producing the houses we were led to expect, and thousands of people are saying, and rightly so, very hard and bitter things against the Government for not providing decent dwelling accommodation. Having been connected with building operations all my life, I know perfectly well the tremendous amount of work which is involved in getting forward all the preliminary negotiations. I was in the House on the 30th June last, when the Minister of Health made a statement that they had sanctioned 12,000 acres of land, which, at the rate of ten houses to the acre, would mean 120,000 houses. That was the end of June. I would like to ask the number of houses for which founda- 1332 tions have been laid during the last three months, or since the Housing Act was passed?
§ Dr. ADDISON
I think the number since June is 5,400.
§ Major PRESCOTT
The light hon. Gentleman told us in June that the shortage of houses is not due to any luck of supply as far as materials are concerned, and that the building material available would be quite sufficient to enable him to build 100,000 houses. He also told us that the local authorities were doing their very best to speed the matter up and that they were quite willing to co-operate; with him and to help him in any way that was practicable and expedient. Ho went on to say, "We are sparing ourselves no effort nor, I believe, are the local authorities sparing themselves any effort." I would like to ask, if there is no question of shortage of material, and if there is no lack of good will on the part of the local authorities, and we all know there has been no obstruction of any sort or kind on the part of hon. Members of tins House, why is it this new housing Department is not able to produce the houses more quickly? On the 30th June the Leader of the Opposition (Sir D. Maclean) strongly urged on the right hon. Gentleman that he should call to his aid private enterprise as a means of solving the difficulty. But when the Parliamentary Secretary subsequently replied on behalf of the Government, that suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition was most decisively and most effectively ridiculed. The Parliamentary Secretary said tin that occasion:The next point which the Leader of the Liberal party made was that private enterprise ought to be encouraged. He said most emphatically that private enterprise ought to have dealt with the housing problem. What did the right hon. Gentleman mean? Does he suggest that the Government ought to give financial assistance to private builders.… Is that the official policy of the unofficial members of the; Liberal party"—[OFFICIALREPORT, 30TH June. 1919. col. 713, Vol. 117.]I would like to ask what is the position now? The right hon. Gentleman has told us that it is quite hopeless to get these houses without the aid of private enterprise. Let me say a word or two with regard to the question of finance. It does seem to me that there is a financial crisis with regard to those housing schemes which have been submitted by the various local authorities. In my judment the Treasury are doing an incalculable injury to the country. The 1333 Public Works Loan Commissioners do not advance money to local authorities whose rateable value exceeds £200,000, and those authorities have to find the money in the best way they can in the open market. The housing scheme that has been submitted to the Minister from the Constituency which I have the honour to represent is estimated to cost something like £750,000 sterling, and the local authority have been able to arrange a temporary loan for £32,000—I think that is the purchase money—for the acquisition of seventy or eighty acres of land, but although they have done all they possibly could to induce the bank to advance money for the erection of those houses and the construction of roads and sewers, and have approached innumerable, insurance companies, savings banks, and other financial houses, they have not been able to get any assistance whatever, and it seems perfectly clear to me that unless the Public Works Loan Commissioners come to the aid of these poor districts, these large industrial areas, these housing schemes will have to be abandoned. I had an informal discussion with the Minister of Health on this very question a few days ago, and he then threw out the suggestion to me that this money, or at any rate a very large portion of it, might be raised if the local authorities were to authorise an issue of housing bonds. That is a very good suggestion, and I have no doubt it would meet with a very large measure of success in the large provincial cities and towns, but I am quite sure, knowing Greater London as I do. that it would not: be in the least successful in these poorer districts of London and Greater London. You have got a fine public spirit in the provincial cities and towns in the North of England that does not obtain in the Metropolitan areas, and although, by arranging and carrying out propaganda to raise up public enthusiasm and that sort of thing, it might be possible to get, say, £100,000, I am quite convinced it is hopeless to get anything like £750,000.
The suggestion I would like to make is that if the Public Works Loan Commissioners are not able to advance this money to the local authorities, some central financial body should be instituted to advance money, not merely for housing, but for municipal purposes generally. As it is now, local authorities are competing against each other for the available money in the country, which tends to force tip the rate of interest, but a central body would 1334 be in a position to tap all available sources of supply, and it would equalise the rate of interest, obviate competition, and save the agents' fees. I want in a few words to refer to the London Housing Board, and I am very sorry to criticise the board, which I had the greatest respect for some time ago, but I think I shall be able to give the Minister some definite facts and to show him that the machinery in that Department, requires speeding up as quickly as possible. The activities of this London Housing Hoard have been engaged very largely in the past two or three months in acquiring large empty houses throughout London in order to convert them into flats. I suppose almost every lion. Member in the House is in the same position as I am myself in this matter. In my Constituency there is a grave shortage of houses, amounting to something like 3,000, and it is heartrending and distressing to receive these letters day by day from demobilised soldiers who are unable to get houses. Some of them point out that their parents are living in another town; in some cases there may be a husband in one town, a wife in another, and the children in the country, and in many cases in my own Constituency there are seven and even eight persons sleeping in one room.
In order to meet that condition of things a list of these large empty houses in the district has been sent forward to the London Housing Board. On the 29th July the Ministry sent round a Circular with regard to the conversion of empty houses into flats, and on the 8th August particulars were sent by my local authority to the Ministry. On the 10th September the London Housing Board wrote saying that these properties had been selected for conversion, and on the 18th September the London Housing Board asked the district council to pass an authorisation to the Board to acquire. On the 2nd October the Tottenham District Council acknowledged receipt of that letter, and on the 3rd October, the following day, the London Housing Board were authorised to proceed. On the 15th October the Board asked to be provided with a list of vendors to carry out the purchase, and on the following day that information was supplied, but I am here to tell the right lion, Gentleman to-day that nothing whatever has been done. Having regard to all these thousands of demobilised men who have been promised by the Prime Minister a land for heroes to live in, and that they 1335 are arriving home and finding they have not even got a roof to shelter them, I think it is most desirable that the London Housing Hoard should get a move on with out any further delay. In regard to the price of land, again I must criticise the activities of this Department. We require something like, or at any rate we have practically settled, subject to the approval of the Ministry, the purchase of seventy or eighty acres of land, and of this land—
§ Dr. ADDISON
Is that Tottenham?
§ Major PRESCOTT
Yes. Twenty-two acres of this land is in the ownership of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and the price they asked was, I think, £355 an acre. I went to see the Commissioners myself, and I told them the local authority thought the price was rather high, and to my surprise they answered, "Perhaps you will be surprised to hear that the price we sent in to the local authority was the price fixed by the Government valuer in 1909." The Government valuer of to-day valued this land at £306, and the sum eventually agreed upon with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners was £326. All the land required for housing purposes immediately adjoins the site acquired by the London County Council. They did the best thing they could; they took the land at the agreed price with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners as the basis for negotiating all this other land, and got it at an average of something like £340 an acre. Now the London Housing Board came forward and said, "This price is much too high, and the matter must go to arbitration." What I desire to point out is that the land immediately adjoining these sites was laud acquired by the London County Council nearly twenty years ago, and for which they paid at the rate of over £400 an acre. I do suggest to the right lion. Gentleman it would be much better if his Department had greater confidence in the local authorities, and I am quite sure it would expedite the settlement of these schemes. I am very delighted indeed that the right hon. Gentleman is getting on right lines at last. I am perfectly sure that private enterprise is the only key to solve the problem.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
The lion. Member who has just sat down expressed disappointment at the very few number of houses so far erected, and that disappointment, I think, is shared by all who are 1336 interested in this great housing scheme. All the same, I do not think many people consider what a long time it; takes before you can get to any serious work on a house, and the long drawn-out work that is necessary before you can get to building. Some people appear to think that they have only to go and order a house and take it away under their arm. We have to-day no Merlin who can create houses for us by merely waving a magician's wand. Although we are all anxious to see a great many more houses built than already exist, I think the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health can be congratulated on what has been done already. I submit there are two ways in which the Government scheme might be modified to great advantage. An important part of the Government's proposal is that which deals with public utility societies and local trusts. This, I think, is an extremely valuable reservoir of enterprise, but so far as I know, and I think I am right in saying, hardly any schemes at all have been submitted by public utility societies. This is a very deplorable state of affairs, because nothing can be more valuable or useful to the Government than to encourage public utility schemes. I think the chief obstacle in their way is the financial one. The assistance from the Government is so small that it is impossible for them to carry out a scheme and charge economic rents without it being a fiasco. Unless the Government does everything it can to aid public utility societies, there will be a total exclusion of anything in the natures of that enterprise. I know the local authorities have some hope that in some way or other one day the tenants who occupy their houses will be in a position to pay an economic rent; yet even so, in one particular, it is not very satisfactory. The Regulation issued by the Ministry of Health relating to the assistance of housing schemes imposes limitations with which the local authorities will find it very difficult to comply, and especially with regard to the annual deduction in respect of unoccupied houses and uncollected rents, which are not to be higher than. 5 per cent, of the gross estimated rent, and the average annual cost of repairs shall not be estimated at a higher figure than 15 per cent. I submit this is very much too low. I think greater latitude should be given to the local authorities, especially in regard to the provisions dealing with arbitration between local authori- 1337 ties and the Minister as to rents, which I think should be applied to all matters of dispute. As matters stand at present, the local authorities may very well find themselves liable to far more than the 1d. rate unless their rents go far higher than any sanguine man can expect. I know that greater help given to local authorities and public utility schemes will prove more expensive, but I think it will be cheaper in the end to the community. The whole crux of the situation, to my mind, is the economic rent, and it is better to have a scheme that is a success, and a little more expensive, than to have a costly failure. Therefore, I think public utility societies and local authorities might be given a little more assistance.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
There are a great many hon. Members who wish to speak, and I do not intend to enter into all the details we heard from the Minister of Health. I think every one in the country and the House will realise that my right hon. Friend has devoted himself wholeheartedly to this question, and has not spared himself or those serving under him, but has endeavoured to do his utmost to provide the houses that the country so urgently requires. I do think that an initial mistake in policy was made when it was decided that the whole question should be undertaken by the local authorities and the State rather than rely in the first instance on the building trade which has supplied the necessities of the nation in the past. I am really rather the more surprised at that, because one of the observations which my right hon. Friend made, and which I heard with very great pleasure, was that this was only a temporary arrangement, and that he hoped to revert to pre-war methods. That proves to me, and I think will prove to the whole House, that my right hon. Friend still believes we have to rely upon private effort to provide the houses required for the population of this country. But if we were merely desirous of temporarily employing the services of the State and of the local authorities, surely it follows clearly that that effort ought to have been confined to doing that part of the work which private enterprise was unable to undertake. Had he confined his policy to that I think there would have been no difference of opinion. I think everyone will agree with what my right hon. Friend who spoke last said—and what the other hon. Member emphasised so strongly—that you cannot develop and 1338 organise a great building enterprise in one or two months. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, but the right hon. Gentleman knew that. He knew there was in the country an industry which was already developed and already organised. Surely the first step to take would have been to set that going so far as possible, and then, as a second step, to set the municipal authorities to work to do what the former could not do. Had he-adopted that policy delay would have-been very largely avoided. The very fact, which has been referred to by my hon. Friend here, of cornering—if I may use the expression as he used it—with the best intentions in the world—all the building material in the country in order to distribute it to the best advantage—has been merely to create another obstruction, to the natural flow of trade and industry. It really is incalculable. Some of us know the difficulties and delays which will occur if you leave trade and industry to-work on its own. But it is better, especially after a great war like we have had, that delay should occur to some extent in order that you may get back that freedom and elasticity which are absolutely necessary if trade and industry are properly to be conducted in this or any other country.
Taking and holding up all the material has really been a very serious handicap to the building industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford pointed out how the speculative builder has been the main factor hitherto in providing houses to meet the needs of the working classes. When such a man put up a house he sold it mainly to the working classes themselves. Surely that is the procedure which has the greatest advantage from every, point of view! I do not want to go over the whole ground which has been covered by several speakers. But a point which not been made, and which seems to be of very great importance at the present time is that in view of the large wages which are now being paid in many of the trades and the fact that the young men desire to set up house are now able probably to earn more money and to put by more money than ever before, suggests that this is a particularly opportune moment to give them the opportunity of investing their savings in the house in which they and their future families will live. There never could be a better opportunity of doing this. 'Therefore, from every point of view it is desirable that the speculative building trade—by which I mean the 1339 builder who provides houses, and whose object is, as soon as he has built it, to sell it to somebody to live in it, should be encouraged. It is a good form of investment. It is of more benefit to the country that the same amount of savings should pass through several hands than that they should be invested in some loan which is to be applied for building generally. It is preferable that a man should put his own money into his own house, and so have the responsibility of a citizen, than that he should be a small lender towards a general building scheme. That is another great advantage which private enterprise has over other forms.
The present work is being undertaken at the present time under very great difficulties. It has been prevented for reasons which we all very well understand. But I am bound to say that I cannot myself understand why the cost of building at the present time should be so heavy as is stated. It seems to me, as a practical man who has been responsible for building many hundreds of working-class cottages, and who has spent many hours and days going into every detail of these houses, and seeing how the necessary accommodation could be provided at the lowest possible cost—I cannot see how it can be necessary, even at present prices, to spend £800 or £900 to build a working-class house. If any proof were necessary that it could be done otherwise, I can only tell the House that this very week—last Monday—I inspected some houses that have been built by a builder for sale, and the houses are being sold at a profit, and at £500. These houses are built with Fiction bricks, which have been transported from Peterborough to Ipswich, a distance of seventy-five miles. They have five rooms. There are two downstairs rooms and three bedrooms upstairs, and all the necessary fittings, bath, and other accommodation that is required in a cottage. I went carefully over these houses, acting as my own clerk, as I have done for forty years. I could find no fault with the houses. They are plainly built, not extravagantly. A minimum—they do not pretend to be anything more than a minimum. But they do provide all that is required, and all that, in my opinion, is required in a working-class house. They can be built, and sold at a profit, for £500. I have here a letter from the builder who built them, in which he says:I commenced my experiment six months 1340 ago by putting sufficient money on the table to build forty of my ideal dwellings. The instructions to my people were that these dwellings should be sold to purchasers who could find £100— —and mostly ail workers to-day can put up this amount—and pay the balance of £400 by instalments. This plan is working uncommonly well. So far I am quite satisfied that my scheme can be carried out without any expense whatever to the taxpayers of the country.Then my friend goes on to say that he himself, the president of the Builders' Federation of that district, is perfectly prepared, and so is the society of which he is president, to put their experience at the disposal of the Ministry. That is a fact and an object lesson. Everybody knows that there is a very large difference in building conditions in different parts of the country. Because one man has succeeded in building a good house which can be sold for £500 at a profit, it docs not follow that everybody can do it. I am perfectly well aware of that. I do not want to press this single case too far. But the difference between the figure of £500 and the figure which is quoted as being tendered to the local authorities goes really far beyond the difference which ought to exist merely because of local reasons. Therefore, I do hope my right hon. Friend will look carefully into this case, and examine it. I can give one reason which covers really the whole ground of building, and it is this, that if you have an individual builder, an employer, who has got the staff with which he has worked for years, that they thoroughly understand the position and the work, they take a pride in competing with other builders who are doing the same thing, to provide the best at the least cost —because a builder takes just as much pride in his work as does anyone else. He desires equally with them to turn out a good job and as cheaply as possible, and to get the credit for so doing. All these things come in to the trade, and give them the opportunities which they make use of to the best advantage. They must, in the nature of the case, be denied to the public authorities. The public authority may be composed of the very best men in the world, but the same men who, if given the chance to do the thing privately and to go anywhere they like for their material and take advantage of every local trade and condition, put those men under the local authorities and tie them up with regulations which must be imposed by some central authority in London and set them to do the same thing at the same price, can they do it? The 1341 House knows they cannot do it. If ever there was a time when it was essential that we should get the best value for our money that time is now. We have been told that because we were able to spend millions a day during the War we must be able to find the money now, but that is a futile argument. Finance is the real trouble. It is at the bottom of the whole thing, and if you are going to build half a million houses, and if by the kind of enterprise I have mentioned you can build them £100 a-piece cheaper than by public effort, look what an enormous saving that would be to the country. I must say a word about the subsidy which haw been proposed by my right hon. Friend. I think it might succeed in getting a large number built. Is 3d. per cubic foot to be the figure?
§ Dr. ADDISON
Yes, but with a maximum of £150 to any one house.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
That subsidy ought to enable a very considerable number of houses to be built, but I must enter a caveat on one point. I hope my right hon. Friend will confer with the Inland Revenue Department, and make sure that they will not claim Increment Value Duty in order to get back the subsidy. This is not a subject which I wish to go into now, because I am not quite sure whether the Committee appointed to consider this matter is still in existence, and if so it would not be desirable to go into details. This, however, is at the root of the whole matter. I have had put into my hands to-day a case in which a particular builder in Yorkshire provided some houses on which there was an actual loss of £200, and this very year £93 Increment Duty has been demanded, and he is now being compelled to pay this sum at £4 a month. That is the way building enterprise is being encouraged. When historians look back on our proceedings they will say that we began by putting on a penalty, and the result was that to get the work done we had to give a subsidy. It is not business. I think the principle of the subsidy is sound and in some cases it might be preferable to making an advance at a low rate of interest.
I am only speaking without full consideration, but I think it might be helpful, and might produce a feeling of absolute fairness between the private builder and the public authority if this subsidy were made available to both of them, and if you laid down that you would give 1342 the local authority the same terms as the private individual. I think that matter is worth consideration. I do not press it, because I have not had time to have consultations on the matter. I hope my right hon. Friend will be very careful in the matter of sites in not overriding the views of the local authorities who know the ground much better than anybody else, who, with the best intentions in the world, may go down there and spend a day in the locality. They really have a better knowledge than anybody from London can possibly have, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind. As to the land, it is always easy for one side to contend that attempts are being made to obtain land at less than its value, and, on the other hand, or that attempts were being made to prove that owners were attempting to get a great deal more than the proper value, and I have no doubt we could find instances to support each case.
What is the real cost of the land under this scheme? I think it works out at just under £18 per house. The cost of the house complete is to be about,£700 or £800, according to the figures before us. Out of that sum £18 is for the land. To hear some people talk upon this subject you would think that the whole of the rent and everything else depended upon the land, whereas it is only £18 out of £700 of £800, so that really it is a storm in a teacup. We hear arguments on matters of wages, and most justly put forward, that the value of money is not what it was. But why should that argument be applied to wages and not to the price of land?
§ Mr. GRUNDY
Who creates the value of the land?
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
The man who puts his money into it and cultivates it, and erects buildings upon it. If you would only pay in case of the whole of the land of the country what the owners have spent upon it you could have it all
§ Mr. RAFFAN
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the owner of agricultural land creates its value?
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Certainly I do. Take the case of a man earning pre-war wages amounting to 30s. per week: in order to put him in the same position as he was before the War he must now have £3 or £4 per week. Take the case of another man a little bit older who has been saving out of his pre-war wages and has had a similar sum upon which he was dependent 1343 as rent from houses, in which he had invested Ids savings and was living upon it. Is there any reason why that man should be denied an increase because he happened to save his money before the War, and invest it in houses? Is he to be regarded as a pariah, and on a totally different plane to the man who is still working? What you argue in one case is just as applicable to the other. I hope that my right hon. Friend will understand that any criticism that I have made is intended absolutely to be helpful. I am not here to say that private enterprise could do all that is required-it could not achieve all that we required before the War—and I am not here to say that there is not a big field of enterprise where municipal work is necessary. I go so far as to say that I think my right hon. Friend has done his very best and has gone to endless pains and looks likely to succeed in utilising that work to the best advantage, but the mistake that he has made is that he did not treat that not as temporary and supplementary but as primary. We may have derived some advantage from it if it teaches the nation that the attempt to supplant and kill private enterprise by State effort in the production of the necessities of life is doomed to failure and will bring just punishment if it is attempted.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
We have listened to a very interesting speech from my right hon. Friend who approaches this topic with exceptional knowledge, and we all appreciate the public spirit which he has shown in connection with it. I ally myself at once with him in saying that any remarks that I make there will be certainly no note at all of unnecessary criticism, but, on the other hand, a really genuine desire to deal with a very urgent national problem. I do not propose to follow my right hon. Friend in his disquisition on the question of Land Values Duties. It is a very fascinating topic, particularly as we have the Prime Minister here. I do not at all waver in my allegiance to the principles upon which those duties were founded. I think, if they had not, unhappily, been made the subject of a direct party political issue, they might have been found to be working quite soundly and smoothly within our financial administrative machine to-day. I cannot but think that the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health was one which occasioned a great deal of 1344 disappointment in the House generally. It is almost inevitable that it should be so, but, with all respect to him, I do not think that he really grappled with the profound difficulty of the problem with which we are faced. After all, what is it that the people are expecting, and, not only expecting, but commanding? It is the delivery of houses in the immediate future.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I am not going to touch on that kind of thing at- all; it does not further our object, the nation is in a very grave position with regard to this question, and our duty, irrespective of any sort of feeling, is to see if we cannot help to get the nation out of it It is from that point of view that I approach the subject. Far too much reliance has been placed upon what Government Departments and municipalities can do for us in dealing with this great problem. I say at once that I would be no party in joining any cry that suggested that you should undermine what I venture to think is a great Act on the Statute Book. It marks an immense advance in the view of the Government and in the opinion of the country as to how7 people should be housed in the future—I fear the too distant future—it will no doubt lead to people being housed under conditions somewhat approximating to the ideals for which social reformers for many years have been working. I have a very interesting quotation from the Prima Minister himself which admirably fits the present position. In Manchester, on 12th September of last year, he said:We have had Acts of Parliament running into hundreds of Statutes, we have had Regulations that would fill a library, we have had the most effective pictures of model dwellings circulated, and we have had endless authority, but you cannot plough waste laud with writing paper, you cannot sweep away slums with paint crushes, and you cannot bind the gaping wounds of the people with red tape.That is profoundly true. I do not know low far it might have been avoided. I think it ought to have been avoided by-grappling with the other side of the question. The urgency of the problem is getting daily more acute, and it is no exaggeration to say that the competition for thousands of houses in this country resolves itself sometimes into a physical contest. Go where you like into any part of the country, and you will see the same very dangerous social problem exciting more unrest than almost any other factor 1345 with which the Government have to deal. Emigration was practically stopped during the War; there are still thousands of men daily reaching our shores from all parts of the world; there is the natural increase in the population; young people want houses; young people who want to get married cannot get houses; and there is the increase and development of industry. All these things demand not only the user of building materials, but the necessary dwelling places for the working people themselves. Every day the problem is steadily growing. What is the real position of affairs? Under the Government scheme 124 houses are being completed in England, and in Scotland there may be, perhaps, two or three stone houses completed and seventy wooden houses in occupation. That is indeed a serious problem, and what we have to do is to see if we can get over that problem. An hon. Member below the Gangway quoted some words of mine on the 30th June, when I pressed upon my right hon. Friend the urgency of not relying upon a Government Department or upon municipalities, however earnest they might be, to grapple with this question. I said,Take whatever organisations are around you and let them get to work. Put no obstacle in the way of any organisation. Meanwhile let your great plans go on for the delivery of the local authority and State houses. It will be splendid when they come, but meanwhile get anything which is fit and proper for human beings to live in delivered as soon as you can.What is the proposal which the Government at last meets the House with? I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree with me that it is only very vaguely indicated in what he said. I understand that he is going to bring in a Bill which will amplify in all necessary details the very sketchy plan which he put before us. He did not, for instance, use one sentence which was at all clear or informative on the question of municipal finances. I hope that whoever replies will give as many particulars as he can with regard to that. Do the Government in their plan realise that under very favourable conditions not more than 10,000 houses are at all likely to be completed within twelve months? If that can be dispelled, so much the better, but I will give the figures upon which I arrive at it. There are, I understand, 10.700 houses tendered for, and 8,646 of those tenders have been approved I do not know whether that means accepted: I am taking it from answers given in the House. [Dr. ADDISON indi- 1346 cated assent.] On the present basis of delivery of houses, which is practically nil as far as the real essentials of the situation are concerned, what likelihood is there by, say, June next, of more than 10,000 houses being provided? I cannot see that there is any, as far as one's experience has gone during the past few months. I hope I may be profoundly wrong as regards that, but I think it is better that we should think of what appear to be the real probabilities of the situation at the present moment, and not drift on to another time, when the House will again have to debate the matter, and may find that we have arrived at no real solution. I hope that whoever replies for the Government will give us not merely I hope, but some sound ground for thinking that within the next six months at least 10,000 houses will have been completed and in occupation by the people who so sorely need them. I do not suppose for a moment that the Government desire to shift their resonsibility from their shoulders. My right hon. Friend said something about the neglect of his predecessor in office, Lord Downham, being largely responsible—I hope I am not misquoting him—for the present unfortunate state of affairs. I noticed that in the course of my right hon. Friend's speech the Prime Minister reminded him that the Act only came into operation on the first day of August, or something of that kind. But that will not do; the responsibility of the Government cannot be limited by the Act at all. If Lord Down-ham was largely responsible for the present position, it is obvious that the Act was not a bar to something substantial being done. The Government must take the responsibility, and I have no doubt that they frankly take the whole responsibility, for the position in which we at present find ourselves.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Would my right hon. Friend say, before he leaves that part of the subject, because it is very material to the House, docs he make any suggestions as to how this building can be accelerated?
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
After all, that is not the duty of a private Member. If my right hon. and learned Friend were on the Front bench he would be responsible for the policy.
§ Sir E. CARSON
My policy would be to build as fast as ever you can, but, when the criticism is made that that is not being done, is it not fair that the House and the 1347 Government should be assisted by suggestions as to what steps are proposed? Otherwise the country gets very irritated by such criticisms.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I think one of the duties of Members of this House who are not actually members or supporters of the Government is to criticise, and if, every time one criticises, someone gets up and asks, "What is your plan?' and expects him to provide one, then I am quite clear that one of the most useful functions of this House will be gone. I have my faults, I dare cay, but I should be very much surprised if it could be levelled against me that one of them was that I indulged in carping. Of course one cannot help sometimes getting beyond the bounds of what the Government think to be reasonable. If the Prime Minister were standing where I am to-day I should like to know what sort of speech he would make.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I think it would be limited by none of the bounds of criticism which I am putting upon myself. The suggestion I am making is that the Government should fully recognise the immense urgency of this question in the country, and that they should not allow themselves to be too much bound by official regulations in grappling with it. We are in a position at present with regard to this particular problem which very nearly approximates to war conditions, in which we swung aside all sorts of Regulations and grappled with the problem for the sake of the national position. I quite agree with what was said by my right lion. Friend (Mr. Pretyman) who has just addressed the House, as to the importance of allowing private enterprise to have full play, but I hold that in this problem we should even run very considerable risks of going against what might be regarded by purists in economics as dangerous for the moment, and that we should get things done. As far as I am concerned, although I dare say it would not meet with the approval of many Members belonging to the Labour party who sit with me on this side of the House, I say that if you can under adequate supervision—but not too much of it—in view of the urgency of the problem, get the private organisations going on this very important question with a substantial and adequate subsidy, it is worth doing. I entirely agree with my right hon. 1348 Friend, as long as it is understood that that is a temporary measure to meet a temporary, and we hope not too long continued, emergency. It is much too serious a question to be bound by small punctilios of economics. It really resolves itself very largely into a war position. I am certain that the matter must be grappled with on those lines, while maintaining with a a strong grip the Act itself and seeing that everything possible is done to keep the Act going. Meanwhile, for the sake of the country, not only for the sake of the people who are suffering the actual inconvenience, but for the sake of the immense importance of this factor of unrest being mitigated as far as possible, let the Government brush aside all the officialism which grapples and throttles everything. It seems to be necessary to every kind of Government work. Why it is so, I do not know, but it is a fact that you cannot get out of it. It is inherent in every Government system. It throttles private initiative and deadens private enterprise, and you cannot in that way get the best out of any nation. It may not be a popular doctrine, but I have always held it. That is the principle upon which any nation progresses, and any nation that neglects it must decline. I am certain that the result of this Debate must be stimulating to the Government. It is a warning to them that the country will not tolerate any trifling with this mailer, and will not be satisfied with any move official reasons for not getting on with it. It is a problem, urgent and insistent, requiring immediate action.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The right hon. Gentleman has just delivered a speech with which I do not think anyone can find fault as being unduly critical of the Government. I do not know that I have anything very much to object to in what he said. This Debate has taken absolutely— except for the Minister's speech—the appearance of dealing with the proposals of the Minister, naturally and properly, and with the existing conditions of the housing problem. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down made a reference to Lord Downliam. I hope the Minister of Health will not object if I venture respectfully to express my regret that the name of Lord Downham was used. The Minister of Health said:The country is suffering from his negligence to-day.That was a very strong thing to say. I must remind my right hon. Friend that 1349 Lord Downham resigned a good deal more than a year ago now and I do not think the present housing position can be attributed to him exclusively Moreover, when he did resign he was fortunate to obtain the approval of his colleagues and of the Prime Minister, as was signified by his being recommended for a high honour. As to the details of the proposals laid before the House by the right hon. Gentleman, I do not propose to go into them in detail, and the right hon. Gentleman cannot expect any of us to do so. We have no materials for doing so at present. We hare no materials to show how he arrived at the figure of £150 as the subsidy. We have had no figures given to us at all. Frankly, I do not understand this scheme for bringing in what he called the federated builders. We have no materials or details as to what he exactly intends by cutting off all luxury buildings, a proposition with which, in the main and generally, we shall all agree, but when you come to define what are luxury buildings you will find the matter one of some difficulty. I hope we are not going to commit the same mistake some of us made over the Profiteering Act in holding up to the country as a remedy what has proved to be a very trifling element in the matter. Finally, we have no details—I do not complain of that, because it is obvious we cannot get them until the scheme is launched—of the loan scheme which is to assist the local authorities. There was one observation made by the right hon. Gentleman which, frankly, I regret. He said that he stood by his; scheme. If that means that he proposes to try to solve this problem on the same lines as he has hitherto followed, I do not think his prospects of success are very good. I speak mainly for the rural districts with which I am personally acquainted. There is no doubt that at the present moment the scheme is not functioning properly, the houses are not, in fact, being built. I received a telegram only two days ago which said:I have been asked to send you a copy of the following resolution, namely, that this conference of the housing committees of the county of Hertford recommend their respective councils not to proceed with further schemes until the Housing Regulations are satisfactorily amended.That refers, of course, to the Housing Regulations we discussed the other night, but it shows the kind of feeling at present existing owing to what has been called the too bureaucratic note of the present pro- 1350 posals. In the country districts the housing situation is really tragic—there is no other word for it. It is shockingly bad and it is impossible to exaggerate it. One aspect of it was brought home to me by a labourer with great force, and I think it is worth the attention of everybody. He said the present situation is such that the labourer is entirely at the mercy of his employer. If there are conditions put upon, him which are not satisfactory and he desires to leaves his employment, he will probably have to leave his house-—in any case somebody else will have to be put in the house, for there is no other means of getting labourers upon the farm—and then he and his wife and family will very likely be thrown on the streets. That is a situation in regard to which they rightly feel that it is one in which they ought not to be placed. I regret very much that my right hon. Friend—I hope whoever is going to reply will deal with the point in detail—did not really face the central difficulty of the situation, which is purely financial. There is nothing else in it really. It is finance and nothing else. I will illustrate it by a few figures. The Government in answer to a question the other day said the average cost of a labourer's cottage was to be about £750 under the existing scheme. If you are to treat that as a commercial proposition you must allow at the very least 8 per cent, in the present condition of finance. I am told 8 per cent, is too low, but take 8 per cent. That means that you have to obtain is rent, in order to make it a commercial proposition, £60 a year—£60 a year is a perfectly fantastic rent to suggest to an agricultural labourer. It is utterly absurd, he will not be able to pay more than 5s., or possibly 7s. 6d. I have made considerable inquiries of local authorities, and I am told that is the very highest you can expect to get. The Wages Board have fixed 3s., but that is probably too low. That means, of course, £13 to £20 a year. That leaves a margin, which you have to provide for out of public funds, of £40 a year on each cottage. That really means that the thing will not work. It is not a question of dipping your hand and pulling out so much money from the taxpayer's pocket. If your finance is so unsound as that you do not get the tiling actually to run. That is the real practical state of things. It is impossible that the country can go on for ever and ever paying enormous sums in subsiding the housing of the working classes, and that is a situation which I am quite 1351 sure would he disastrous to the working classes themselves. It would be exactly the same as all other subsidies given to the working classes where the subsidy—bread, unemployment or any other subsidy—will ultimately come out of the wages of the working classes. That is the central difficulty. I know it is an enormous difficulty.
§ Dr. ADDISON
What is your remedy?
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I am a little tired of that observation from the Government Bench. When any criticism is made, they say, "It is your business to make a suggestion." If I were the Government I would make my suggestions, and gladly stand by thorn. But there is a good deal of force in the old maxim, "Never prescribe until you are called in." However, I am going to break that maxim to-day. The difficulty is very great, but I am quite sure that at present it is being greatly increased by relying exclusively on official means of solving it. The clerk of one of the rural districts in my division came to see me one day, and I asked him to tell me in detail what was the present procedure in order to build a house in a rural district, and I will tell the House what the actual procedure is.
§ Dr. ADDISON
What he said it, was!
§ Lord R. CECIL
This is what he told me. In the first place, there is the site. That has to be selected by the local authority. The Housing Commissioner, one of the officials appointed under this scheme, inspects it. The district valuer has to value it. That is two officials already. The next step is that they send in an application to the Ministry of Health to raise the money, and they may approve or disapprove. That is only the site. Then they have to make out plans. They have to send a, plan showing the number of houses and the general features. That, again, has to be approved by the Housing Commissioner. I am not saying it is not all right, but if you do all this you cannot expect to build houses cheaply. Then a separate estimate, including the cost of specification and quantities, has to be approved both by the Housing Commissioner and by the Ministry. Then they have to send a house plan in duplicate to the Housing Commissioner and to the Ministry, with the specification and estimate. Then they have to get a tender from someone with quantities, which I am told is a new re- 1352 quirement altogether, and adds greatly to the expense, because it is so much less elastic than the old system, and that has to be approved by the Housing Commissioner and also by the Ministry. Them they have to get the material, and for the material they do not go into the open market, but are tied to a new official called the production officer, and he brings in the Ministry of Supply, and he has to provide the material. Under Clause 23 of the Housing Act it appears that they cannot sell the materials under the market price, so I do not see where the cheapening comes in. But, apart from that, I am fold the delay, in getting the material makes it almost impossible for any small builder to enter upon this business at all. On that there is the building which necessarily has to be constantly approved and supervised by the various authorities concerned. I am Quite sure that a scheme of that kind is not going to produce the cheapest kind of house. There is only one way to get a cheap house, and that is to get the intellect and enterprise of everybody who has made it; their business to produce cheap houses, and to ask them to co-operate to the utmost of their power. I entirely welcome the proposal to provide a subsidy, if the Government like to put it that way, to private enterprise, because at the present time we cannot get on. If you are to get private enterprise in you must say to them, "You have to come in and build houses, and your profit or your loss will depend upon the ingenuity and skill which you carry out those plans, subject to the necessary control, of providing healthy and decent houses for the class for which they are intended." I am quite sure that the present plan is unworkable. I do not believe that £750 is the proper price for a cottage. Before the War, between £150 and £200 was the possible price at which you could build cottages in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Yes it was.
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
§ Mr. BILLING
On sweated labour at 4d. an hour!
§ Lord R. CECIL
Prices have gone up, broadly speaking, all over the country from two and a half to three times, but that does not bring the price up to anything like £750. That would make the price somewhere between £400 and £500. I believe that is what private enterprise, if it was left free and uncontrolled by 1353 all these red tape Regulations, would provide the houses for. I was told the other clay the story of a man of the working class who was so tired of waiting for the production of houses under the existing scheme that he decided to build a house for himself. He submitted the plans to the local authority, and they were in accordance with all their building regulations, and ho built his house for £360. A great deal more could be done in that way, once you leave people free. My recommendation is that you should have a perfectly simple and straightforward scheme; as simple and straightforward as possible, by which you would call to your assistance private enterprise as well as local authorities and public utility societies. It is very doubtful whether the scheme of a subsidy of £150 is the best that could be adopted. I should be disposed, and I hope the Government will consider it, to favour advancing money at a low rate of interesl rather than providing a subsidy. But whatever the Government are advised by their practical advisers is likely to produce houses, that is what they should do. This is not the time when you can afford, in face of all the great need, to be told by some political pedantry that we are not to do this, that, or the other, and that we are not to subsidise private, enterprise. We have to get the houses. That is the essential thing to be done, and I certainly share the view that as part of a good, sensible, straightforward scheme you must get rid of the ridiculous land taxes. Everybody knows that they have proved to be a complete failure financially, and have had no effect except to hamper private enterprise. What you want is a broad, simple, statesmanlike scheme, and to get rid as far as you can of this deadening, sterilising. State control, which is strangling us at every turn of our lives, and every part of our lives.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)
It is not my intention to make any prolonged observations, but I have risen because there are two or three appeals which I wish to make to lion. Members and through the Members of this House, to the municipalities and others who are associated in building operations in this country. First of all, may I say how-glad I am that notwithstanding the doctrine laid down by my Noble Friend (Lord R. Cecil) that it is not the business of a private Member to go beyond criticism and to make suggestions, he was much better than his doctrine. As a rule 1354 we fall short of our doctrines. The Noble Lord has improved upon his, and has made two or three suggestions upon which I shall make comment. Let us see what the difficulties are. I agree with my right hon. Friend who spoke from the Front Bench opposite, that there is nothing which contributes more to a sense of disquiet and disturbance in the country than the shortage of houses. That is the information which the Government have from every quarter. I will not say that it is the main irritant, but it is a very considerable contributory cause of the sense of dissatisfaction and unrest which prevails in a good many quarters, especially in the industrial centres. There is a great shortage of houses, and there is, no doubt, a great deal of overcrowding as the result of that shortage. Some of the cases that have come specially to my notice in the letters which have been written to me are of a very painful and distressing character. Therefore, there is nothing which is more urgent from the point of view of social order and social stability than that houses should be built and built quickly.
It is from that point of view that the Government have approached the problem, and without any hesitation, in spite of all the implications which are involved, have come to the House of Commons with proposals for amending the proposals which we put forward, earlier this year. A Government which cannot do that, whatever the implications, is not fit to govern, certainly in such difficult and straining conditions as prevail at the present day. I also quite agree with my Noble Friend that nowhere is the shortage of houses more disastrous than in the rural areas. I have had to make an appeal recently, as J had once before when the War was on, to the agricultural community to increase the food production of the country. It is most important from every point of view, especially when, we survey the future and its possibilities when other great lands will come into the food markets and compete with us—it is of vital importance that we should increase the food production of this country to the utmost limit of its possibility. But there is nothing which interferes more with that than the fact that farmers cannot get the necessary labour in certain areas. They cannot keep the labour there they cannot increase it, because of the shortage of housing accommodation. The other point is that it interferes with the mobility of labour.
1355 During the War we had necessarily to crowd great aggregations of population on to certain areas. We want, if possible, to remove them from those areas now to districts which are more associated with peace work—I mean the work of peace— and we find it very difficult. I had this brought under my notice the other day, when there were deputations from the dockyards. It is very easy to say to men, "There is plenty of work for you up in the shipyards in the North and in other areas," but when they get there they find that there is no housing accommodation. Therefore, the shortage of houses confronts you wherever you go, and in almost every problem which is on our hands. One of the most pressing needs at the moment is that we should build houses and build them quickly. Still, I would like to emphasise what was said by an hon. Friend of mine earlier in the Debate—that you cannot order a house and get it by return of post.
Up to the 31st July we were operating under the very obsolete Acts to which my right hon. Friend referred. He quoted from a speech of mine in condemnation of those Acts, which were bound up in red tape and never produced many houses in this country. The enabling Act, which is a very considerable Act passed by this House with very wide powers, has only been in operation, since the 31st July. You had to give three months to the municipalities to operate under it, that is, to produce their schemes. There was the difficulty that a great many of the men who were formerly working in municipalities, in an official character, in connection with housing schemes, were not available. That retarded the speed with which operations could be carried on, but we had to wait until the beginning of November before we could see that the municipalities could not adequately supply the deficiency. The moment we discovered what the municipalities could do and the extent to which they were prepared to undertake the task of rehousing, and the moment we saw what the deficiency was, then we took the first step in order to supplement the activities of the municipal authorities. Considering that the municipal authorities have not done very much in the past—I think that they supplied something like 5 per cent, of the houses in the country; no more—considering that this was very largely a new undertaking for the vast majority of them, I think that 1356 on the whole they have done very well. It is true that up to the present they have purchased only sites, but, as my hon. Friend pointed out, they are sites which will provide for something like half a million houses. There are 60,000 plans for houses which local authorities are prepared to undertake. That is a very considerable addition to anything the municipal authorities have done in the past. In fact, in the history of municipal authorities, there is nothing comparable to the energy they display in this respect. Members may think they might have done more, but that is a very considerable undertaking when you look at it in the aggregate. The Secretary for Scotland, I think, might tell an equally good tale about what is happening in Scotland as far as the municipal authorities there are concerned. But still it is quite clear that, even if the municipal authorities take the fullest advantage of all the powers they have got, even if they carry out all the schemes which they have submitted to the Minister of Health, there will still be a very deplorable shortage at the end of another twelve months. Therefore, we came to the conclusion, after looking at all the conditions, that we ought to make an appeal to the great industry which had up to the present supplied our houses for the industrial population and to bring that industry in. What was the difficulty as fur as they were concerned? I know the hon. Member for Chelmsford quoted the Land Act. I have heard that said before. If he will allow me to say so it is to him King Charles's head. The only difference is that I think he would be very pleased to substitute my head for that of King Charles. Apart from that, there was nothing to prevent the builders of the country, immediately after the War, from starting building operations for the purpose of supplying working-class cottages, except this one fact—and it is the one we have to deal with—that prices are uncertain.
The builder is under the impression—whether he is right or wrong does not make any difference for this purpose—that in the course of a year or two, or three, the cost of building material will come down and that the permanent rent of the cottages will be fixed not upon the price of material now, but on its cost two, three, or four years hence, and that he might find himself in the position of having built houses at a time when the cost of material was at its maximum and find himself either selling 1357 or collecting rent upon the basis of the cost three years hence, when it would be considerably down. That is the justification of subsidy. You want to provide a subsidy which will enable him to bridge over the chasm between present prices and the permanent fixed prices of the cost of building. I have heard a good deal on this question of cost, and it is very difficult to get to the bottom of it. You constantly hear either in the Press, from letters which come to you, from hon. Members, or others that houses have been built in their areas at £500 or £550, or that if you were to use certain materials you could build them even more cheaply then that. Whenever you investigate such cases you find one or two things. In some cases there has boon omitted something which is perfectly essential to the completion and equipment of the house, not altogether the price of land—for I agree that that is not a very material ingredient at the price at which we have been able to secure land for this purpose—such as the laying out of the land, the drainage, the roads, or something inside the house, such as grates or baths or the staircase. I have heard of a case of that kind. They simply give the price of the frame of a house, forgetting that a man cannot live inside of it unless he has got the modern equipment which is associated with the essentials of civilisation.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I never said they were. If hon. Members will look at the quotations of very cheap prices for building houses they either result from what I have pointed out just now or, as in the case referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend (Mr. Pretyman), there are specially favourable conditions in that neighbourhood—for instance, gravel and brickfields are not very distant.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
§ The PRIME MINISTER
There are many cases, I am sure, where they cannot get bricks as close as that. I am told there are specially favourable conditions there, and so much is that the case that the figures which have come to the Ministry of Health range between £550 in that area —and my hon. and gallant Friend has an advantage of £50 on that — to between perhaps £800 or £900 in other areas. You must take the district into account and therefore it is no use quoting one par- 1358 ticular area where the conditions are favourable and saying, "Here is a house built in this area for £500 and therefore houses ought to be built in every area for that amount." You cannot do it. However, I am very struck with the case quoted by my hon. and gallant Friend. He has an advantage of £50, and that means, if you are going to pay 8 per cent., a sum of £4 difference in the rent of the House, which is no mean advantage to a working man, and therefore it is worth while further investigating that case, and I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will be good enough to tell me the particulars outside.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I will send them in.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
And I shall be very glad to give the figures to the very able builder who has voluntarily placed his services at the disposal of the Ministry, and who is one of the ablest and biggest builders in the country. That is all I have got to say about the question of cost. But before I leave the subject let me say this. The subsidy is not necessarily confined to builders but is for anybody who is prepared to set up houses. If in the rural areas anybody is prepared to supply houses he ought to be put in the same category as the builder because we want houses built. For instance, there are co-operative societies——
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
Subject to approval?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
For instance supposing a small landowner or cotter wants to build a house for himself of an approved type, will that man get the subsidy?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Certainly that is the intention, and as a matter of fact we want specially to encourage cases of that kind. There has been great difficulty, for instance, with regard to settling soldiers on the land. We have given an undertaking, which the House of Commons has honoured, to furnish land for the purpose of settling soldiers on the land. The land is available to a very considerable extent. I forget the exact figures, but some hundreds of thousands of acres, at all events, have been acquired for the purpose. But the difficulty there is a, building difficulty. This subsidy will be available for that purpose as well, and that is very important. It will also be applicable to the case of crofters and of workmen's associations.
Mr. T. WILSON
Will he say whether the Government are going to inspect the books to see what the cost is?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I think the basis of the subsidy is the right one. That is, for the builder. This is simply a payment per foot cube, and you pay so much. If some builders can do it cheaper than others, provided the house is a house that passes the examination—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I think the best possible guarantee that the rents will be reasonable is the building of as many houses as possible. There is no better guarantee than that, and the more builders respond to this, the more favourable will the position be. They might for a short time take advantage of it, but in the long run the result will be that you will be provided with a sufficient number of houses, and you will fall back into the old system where, if a man charges too much rent, he does not let his house.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Will the subsidy apply to houses built under the housing schemes in Ireland?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am afraid I am not in a position to answer my right hon. and learned Friend in regard to that. I understand that there is a totally different system there. The Housing Acts are different there, as my right hon. Friend knows better than I do.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Not if you are going to extend it to individuals in the way you have mentioned. I would be very glad if my right hon. Friend could clear that up, because it is a matter which would create a great deal of anxiety if there is a discrimination between this country and Ireland.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am afraid I am not in a position to answer that now. That is a question which I know is occupying the mind of the Chief Secretary, but for the moment I cannot give my right hon. Friend the answer to which he is entitled, and which I hope he will get. Here is another point which I want to put to the House. It is not merely a question of supplying houses, it is a question of trying to improve the houses which are being built, and I should be very sorry if his were the last word to be said in the matter. You have got to deal with an 1360 emergency. In order to deal with the emergency I think that it is essential that we should take this step, but I shall be very sorry if we do not in this country follow the very excellent example which has been set by many Continental countries in trying to build houses and aggregations of houses for the working people of the country a little further removed from the towns. That has been a great success in two or three countries. One of them I dare not mention at the present moment, but there is no doubt at all that it has been a great success. Belgium is one country that I can talk about. They have tried to get the working men away from those dismal aggregations of houses which modern civilisation seems to think is the last word in providing accommodation for the industrial population. In these countries they are endeavouring to spread the population further out to the country within easy access of their work. Take Antwerp, for instance. There you have the dock population living ten, and in some cases even thirty, miles outside Antwerp. There is a most complete system of communication. There is telephonic communication. The old-fashioned labour problem is solved very largely there by having these men working on their own gardens, sometimes running to very considerable dimensions, and whenever extra labour is required—say fifty men are wanted—there is railway or tram accommodation which takes them down in a very short time to the docks. It produces a greater sense of content altogether, and I do trust that the municipalities will not feel, the moment they have filled up the immediate need, that they have nothing more to do in the way of improving the working-class accommodation of the country.
Now I come to two great difficulties which we cannot overcome by any legislation, and I really got up rather to draw attention to these, and to ask the assistance and co-operation of all those who can enable us to overcome them. The first is the one referred to by my Noble Friend—the question of finance. I do not think his suggestion, if he will allow me to say so, is a good one. He said he would prefer to have money advanced at a low rate of interest rather than a subsidy. The subsidy has this advantage: you have done with it; you have cut your loss. The advantage of the other method is nothing comparable to the trouble if the State advances 1361 money to hundreds and thousands, and it may be tens of thousands, of builders and little societies here and there. It is a relation the State cannot possibly have with thousands, and tens of thousands, of individuals all over the country, and that is really why the State cannot build these houses. Someone has suggested that we should build the houses as we put up houses under the Ministry of Munitions. There you had to build a few cottages just for the occasion. That is not what you want to do here. It is all very well to build something in a hurry, just for people during a war to occupy, it may be for a year, or two, three, or four years, but it is a totally different thing to build houses which may last thirty, forty, or fifty years. There is another objection. If the State built these houses, just think of the position. Talk about officials! There would be no end of them. You would have to appoint agents in every area, every town and village, not merely to collect rent, but to repair the houses. There would be complaints that a grate had been broken hero, a staircase there, or "You have not painted my cottage." Questions, it may be, in the first instance, would be put to the Prime Minister on a Thursday. An hon. Member would ask why the houses in his area had not had a coat of paint for five years or more. It is quite impossible for the State to be in that position. Therefore we were bound to operate either through the municipalities, who are in the habit of dealing with the trades in their areas, who have officials, or through the builders, who are in the habit of dealing with property of this kind. Still, finance is the difficulty. Here I should like to support the appeal made by my right hon. Friend not to be always looking to the Exchequer for everything. I do not believe that municipalities have exhausted their local patriotism. I am perfectly certain that if they enlisted their local patriotism for the purpose of raising housing loans to improve the housing accommodation of the working classes in their areas, they would succeed.
§ Mr. DAVISON
Will the Government, if the local authority fails to raise the necessary amount, come to its assistance?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Oh, well, in that case nothing would happen. They really must be thrown upon their own resources. This is a thing which has never been tried. I am sure, if it is, it will succeed. If you can get the counties and the 1362 towns to try local loans, get the population interested in them, and get them to put small sums in them, it should be to the the good. Those concerned are investing under the security of the county or town they love best. By this means yon could. I am sure, really raise sufficient sums of money for building. There is no doubt that one thing which is preventing the municipalities going forward is the fear that they cannot raise the necessary money. On the other hand, if they knew they could raise the necessary money they would feel a sense of support in local opinion. Beyond that you would have local opinion enlisted on the side of building without extravagance. The people would be pecuniarily interested. I should very much like to see the local authorities, not merely in great places like Glasgow, Birmingham, and Liverpool, that are accustomed to raise great local loans, but in the counties, to try housing loans for the purpose of building houses in their own areas. I am sure if that were done it would succeed, especially if you could get the workmen who desire to purchase their houses to put their money into the bonds, the bonds to form part of the purchase money. That is one of the appeals I am going to make. The municipalities and local authorities ought not to be always appealing to the Exchequer. If the Exchequer is always going into the market you depreciate the value of their securities. It becomes increasingly difficult to raise money. People do not want to have too much of their money in the same kind of securities. A good many local people have done very well during the War. They have saved money. They might very well be appealed to to subscribe liberally in order to solve a problem upon which the peace and security of the country depend very largely.
My second appeal is to the working men. Whatever your scheme or plan you are not going to got houses unless the working men assist. I have heard of rules with regard to the restriction of output and they are perfectly appalling.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Yes, I include them, and I appeal to both. This is not a question of criticism of the working man, but it is an appeal to them. In regard to the number of bricks that can be laid compared with the figures before the War, I am told there is an appalling reduction. I hope this is not going to be made a matter 1363 of controversy. After all this is a question of building houses for workmen, and I am only appealing to workmen to help their own unhoused fellow workmen, and I think we are entitled to do that. When you come to build these houses the workmen are just as interested as they are in setting up factories, and I would especially make an appeal in the matter of building houses for workmen. If the output is to be restricted I am afraid the cost will not be £700—I doubt whether it would not be £l,000. That would be a permanent charge upon the working classes of the country in the end. The second thing is that you will not get your houses in time. It takes you twice as long if the rate of laying bricks is to be so low. I appeal to my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches, who have great controlling influence over organised labour in this country, to make a special appeal to the building trade to relax any regulations and restrictions of that kind in order to enable us to build cheaper and to build more quickly. The State is coming to the rescue; but we cannot subsidise regulations which are in themselves monstrously unjust, and which I think are fatal to industry in this country, and which would create a permanent charge upon the industrial population.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I am quite sure that appeal will be made, and I hope good results will come from it. I would, however, like to ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that resolutions have been passed by the trade unions representing the men in the building trades asking for an inquiry into these allegations with regard to the limitation of output?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I should be glad to know that there is no justification for this. I am not bringing this matter forward to cast any aspersions, but in order to remove any possibility of restrictions of this kind. I have heard these allegations from so many quarters that I have felt it necessary to make this appeal. I am afraid that my right hon. Friend opposite cannot give me the same assurance on my next point, which is that there is a shortage of labour in the building trade. Even if labour put the whole of their strength into it, you could not, with the numbers you have got in the building trade at the present moment, meet requirements, even if you include all the builders in the country, and all 1364 the men we hope we may induce to come in after this subsidy. Un-less you have sufficient men you cannot get the houses. A good many workmen, during the War went to the shipyards and. other industries. They like it better, and they are going to remain there. There-tore, we must get into the building trade, not highly skilled workmen, but men who will be able to do those operations for which only a very short time is required in order to acquire the necessary skill. Un-less you do that I really sec no prospect. No. Government can do it, no House of Commons, can do it, no muncipality can do it, no builders, federated or unfederated, can do it unless we are able to induce the trade unions to relax their regulations to the extent that they will allow labour that they regard as unskilled to come in and assist in order to build, I do not think that it is an unfair appeal. I conclude, therefore, by thanking the House for such an informative and suggestive discussion. Many suggestions of the most valuable character have been made wich I am perfectly sure my right hon. Friend and others who are primarily engaged in carrying out this work will take into account. Many of the questions which have been asked will be answered when the Bill is tabled, The Bill is already prepared. It will be introduced next week, and I trust that the House will enable us to carry it through with as little delay as possible. I hope to have an opportunity of meeting the leading representatives of the trade unions of the country and the leading representatives of the employers as well, and to make an appeal to them to make one special effort, regardless of restrictions and regardless of regulations, as they did during the War, in order to lift their own class from this condition which is at the present moment causing real distress to hundreds of thousands of their fellow countrymen.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
Many hon. Members in this House are aware that quite a large number of central warehouses and other buildings have been erected for the luxury trades, and I would like to ask the Prime Minister if he is not in favour, until this great housing problem has been in some way ameliorated, of issuing licences for particular classes of building?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My right hon. Friend explained that it is proposed to take full powers to prevent anything in the nature of luxury building.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman when the Bill is to be introduced?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Early next week.
§ Mr. CHARLES EDWARDS
I listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to-day. He thanked hon. Members for having assisted him in getting housing going in their constituencies. I am afraid that my experience has not been quite the same as that of other hon. Members. I had a letter from the right hon. Gentleman a short time ago, asking mo to get the housing going in the urban areas m my Constituency. I had a meeting the following Friday night, and I thought it a good opportunity to see if I could do so. I am afraid I had rather a bad experience. There was a meeting of the Risca Urban District Council on the Friday night. They had nearly 250 municipal houses there already, so that they knew how to get at the business; it was not an experiment on their part. I have been a member of the council for eighteen years, so I knew them well, and, after putting the point to them, they told me the experience that they had had, and it rather led me to believe that the Government had not been serious in pushing forward housing, but that, while they had been doing it professedly by sending out letters and pamphlets, they had, on the other hand, boon putting something in the; way. I want to get that cleared up if possible. They told me that a certain site had been agreed upon and an inspector was sent down. He agreed to the site and recommended it. Some time afterwards a second inspector was sent, and he disapproved of the site that the first one had agreed to, and recommended another. Then a third inspector was sent, and he disagreed with what the two others had done, and recommended still another site. They then, not knowing what to do, decided to send a deputation to the Ministry in London, and I attended that deputation. I do not know who the officials were that we met, but I know that Sir James Carmichael was present. We agreed upon a site that day, and hi told us to go back and commence building at once. It was an excellent site, and well off the coal and on the limestone. Later, I asked were they not building on that site, and they said, "No; soon after we went home something turned up with that site, and for the fourth time we had to seek another." That rather led me to 1366 believe that the Ministry themselves were hindering and not helping them in building. I heard the hon. Member for Cardiff say the other day that the same thing had happened there. They wanted to build on a certain site a certain class of houses, such as had been done before, and the Ministry of Health stopped them, and wanted them to put up houses of an inferior class, so that was held up. The very same thing applies to London, where the complaint has been made that the Ministry was not seriously helping in these matters.
Why are the local authorities fighting shy of building? I think that is the problem we have to face. They are holding back, and, although the Minister of Health to-day said he was perfectly satisfied with the number of houses that have been started, I am anything but satisfied. I do not think that anything like the number of houses are being built to-day that ought to be built. These plans were talked about, and sites were talked about, long before the Armistice, so that the matter has been in hand, not since July, but long before that. What stands in the way? Why do not the local authorities take this matter up better? I think it is because of the uncertainty of the position that will exist after 1927. I have had a letter from the Newport Corporation. Their town clerk reported on the position of housing, and, on what he considered would be the position of the corporation after 1927. They then passed this resolution:That the joint committee, whilst of opinion that the erection of the first hundred houses in Newport should proceed forthwith, think that, before the entire scheme is entered upon, there must be a further very careful consideration of the financial aspects of the matter, as the Government proposals at present are far from being satisfactory to the local authorities.The town clerk of Newport, and also, I think the clerks of almost every other urban or rural authority, have the idea that, as they do not know what is going to happen after 1927, the local ratepayers ought not to take the responsibility. They consider, and, I think rightly, that it is a national question, and not a parochial question in any sense. The War was a national thing. This is consequent upon the War, so that I think the responsibility for funds, and all other responsibilities outside the 1d. rate, ought, to be taken by the Exchequer of this country, and not by the local people. If the urban and other local authorities could be assured that they would not be called upon to find anything more than that 1d. rate, I believe that building would commence.
1367 There is also the question of subsidising private builders. That step has been eulogised by a number of speakers today, but I am entirely against it. I believe that whenever any public funds have to be used they should be administered by public authorities. I do not believe that the plan suggested by the Government will have the desired effect —indeed, it will have the opposite effect. A private builder, when he is building houses for sale, will not put up fifty, forty, or even thirty, houses. Will he not rather build two or three or half a dozen, so that he may gain experience and know how they will sell? In my opinion there will not be any large numbers of houses built, and it will be a sort of hand-to-mouth business. Another consideration is that private individuals cannot buy these houses even if they wish to. If the councils purchase these houses in large numbers, the builder will have made a profit on the building and alo get a profit on the sale. There will be a profit taken out of the houses that ought never to be allowed. It will also be a premium on jerry-building. Any man who builds a house to sell and to get it off his hands at the first opportunity puts in the poorest material, the work is scamped, and the man tries to get the house completed in order to get it off his hands. It will be the worst experiment that any local authority or the Government could undertake. The cost of repairing the house will be much greater than if they were built by the local authority. Again, the builders will not contract to build for local authorities if they are to get a subsidy from the Government. So far as I know the subsidy is against all precedent. A meeting was held at the Board of Trade at which the Minister of Health was present, when the same suggestion was made of subsidising private individuals. Mr. Hayes Fisher, now Lord Downham—the Noble Lord who was rather slated to-day by the Minister of Health—was the Chairman. Lord Crewe was present, and said that although he was not opposing the subsidy altogether, yet if any society could be found to do the building, he thought it ought to be given to the society and not to the private individual. Lord Salisbury, who was present, said that the subsidy ought to go to the utility societies and not to private individuals, and that it would be fatal to the utility societies if the subsidy were given to private individuals. The Chair- 1368 man on that occasion said that neither this House of Commons nor any other House of Commons would ever agree to hand over public money to private individuals. Yet that is the proposal of the Government to-day. I am sure it will not work in the way they suggest, either in the direction of providing more houses or of giving satisfaction.
There are rings and trusts outside the Government in building material. You can only get certain material through those rings and trusts. There is also a scarcity of railway rolling stock which makes material dearer. There are no less than 160,000 trucks in this country to-day standing idle for want of repairs. At Gretna Green there is every facility for making and repairing railway wagons, but this Government has some holy fear of doing anything which will compete with private individuals. Private enterprise never kept pace with building, even before the War. I do not know that it wanted to, because a long list of women looking for houses was a very useful thing on its books. I am strongly in favour of the councils doing the building, and I believe it national factories were set up to repair railway stock and for many other purposes more would be done for housing than is going to be done under the scheme suggested now. Why not sut up national brick-works, and confine the produce of the works that now exist to the smallest possible area? That would save the rail-way transit very considerably, and would cheapen the houses. When munitions were wanted works were altered and they were provided. Could not they be rearranged to supply fire grates and different parts of houses? I do not think it would be a very big job if there was the disposition and the wish to do it, which I am afraid is not present with this Government. That accounts for the whole thing. I sup pose building labour has gone very largely into other trades. We certainly want it back. The Prime Minister has been talking about the rules and regulations which affect output. I am assured that the building trade has relaxed many of its rules especially as regards ex-Service men, and has made it possible for ex-Service men to go into the trade to-day where at one time they could not have come in, but the Government has provided little or no means whereby these men can be trained. So 1369 that again I put the fault very largely on the Government for not increasing the number of people in this trade.
The question has been asked, What is luxury building? I am told a house is being built in Mayfair costing £80,000. a think that is luxury building. Under the guise of repairs there are many extensions and alterations to large houses going on— a thing that ought to be stopped. Sel-fridge's are proposing to extend their premises over acres of ground and to alter certain shops. If that is allowed to go on it will take up a large amount of the building material and labour. I should call that luxury building. I should call anything luxury building which is not providing homes for the workers of the country. That seems to me to be the very first necessity and the first call upon it. I should recommend a thing which will not foe accepted by the Government or by a large number of hon. Members. First, I would give more liberty to local authorities by interfering less. If that had been done in the past, we should have had many more houses than we have to-day. I would remove the uncertainly as to the future, limiting local authorities to the 1d. rate. That would give them a sense of security and work would proceed in consequence. I would drop the proposed subsidy to private builders, which I believe is against all precedent in this country. I would commerce national factories for the supply of building materials. I would repair railway rolling stock, and I would stop all unnecessary extensions and alterations. I should depend upon the local authorities to do the work. They are the only people who can do it. If you are going to deal with private individuals and to subsidise them, they will not tender for houses for municipal authorities or for anyone else. I hope, as a result of this discussion, there will be real progress in providing the much-needed houses.
§ Mr. BILLING
There have been many points suggested for solution of the housing problem. Our whole trouble to-day is that we have no banks in this country. We have many lenders and misers operating under the name of banks. Had we banks, I am perfectly certain that the municipal authorities would experience no difficulty in fulfilling the general scheme of the Government. I do not want to misrepresent the Minister of Health, but I am not sure that I am not saying something which the right hon. Gentleman has thought when I say that when the 1370 Government scheme was first laid down he relied in the main upon the various banks to show confidence in municipal effort and to support it. It is all very well for the Prime Minister to say let there be patriotism among the municipal authorities; but this is essentially a banking proposition; it is essentially a proposition where the local bank managers are hoarding money and are not-willing to come forward in any way to help in this movement. I will give one illustration, and perhaps hon. Members may think when they hear it that I have a personal feeling against banks. I have not. In January of this year I laid down a small garden village for experiment. I laid down eighteen houses, on very valuable land, for which I paid £l,000 au acre. The houses proceeded, and £14,000 of good money has been put into that building. I do not profess to be a wealthy man, but there is no charge on that estate. You go to the bank and say, "Can you give £5,000 as a first charge on building property which is increasing in value every day, and on which £14,000 or £15,000 has been expeditiously and economically spent? There are no builders' profits. I have employed all my own men, and, therefore, everything is at prime cost. The bank tells you, "This is not the sort of property in which we like to deal." There is only one alternative, if we have a courageous Government, and I am not sure that the present Minister of Health would not recommend it—I do not know about the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I Ho not know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer is like other Chancellors of the Exchequer in the past, who have been mere pawns in the hands of the huge banking combines.
I hope he is not. But why does he not say straight to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "This is a question for a State bank. Let us have a State bank and encourage the working classes to put their money into it, and it will finance this scheme not under economic conditions but say at 2 or 2½ per cent.?" If we had a State bank and the various municipal authorities could go to it, something on the lines of a gigantic building society, I am perfectly certain that the money would be forthcoming. Let them pay 5 per cent, or 6 per cent, to the working classes for their investment and lend the money at 2½ per cent. The bank would lose 2½ per cent, admittedly but it is far better to lose that, where they do know 1371 the extent of their liability than to give out—I do not say that they will do it indiscriminately—the sum of £150 to the various builders of houses.
It is a very generous offer of the Government, but instead of paying for the houses that are built it is paying rather to the profiteer for the houses that are not built, because if there is a house built to-day on which at least £150 does not go in profiteering on materials I should like to sec it. I put up my first house for workers this year at £495. It was a very nice house. The second house which I am building this mouth is costing much nearer £900. In January I was paying over the local rate for my labour, which is eightpence. To-day the local rate is 1s. 3d. and a bonus. In January I was paying a man about £2 and I have paid as high as £5 last month. In January I paid £2 10s. for bricks where I had to pay £6 10s. last month. There is something wrong there. I am not a good buyer. I buy in small quantities. Hut I would ask the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health to give the man who buys in small quantities a hand. We want the small men to build.
The way to stabilise the country is to make people owners of their houses. A man will lake more care of his own property than of hired property. You hear two men discussing the political situation in the street. One man is talking boldly of, "Let the revolution come. We want this and that in the country. Down with the Government and everything else." The other man is taking a more sober view of the situation, and trusting that the crisis which we now see will never come. Follow them home. The man that talked of revolution is probably a weekly tenant in a slum, and the man of more considered view has just gone into his house for which he has paid £150 to a building society. There is nothing in this country or in any other country which tends to stabilise the whole situation more than to give a man private possession. You must really appeal to the working classes of the country if they are to support any proposition that the Government puts forward. That is why I trust the Minister of Health will modify to some extent the suggestion now before us, before putting it into the Bill. Do not make it a gift. Cannot some scheme be found whereby it may be an investment, whereby the individual may 1372 gradually become the owner of his house? Let the money he invests in the State bank accumulate so that when he has £50 they will then finance his house.
Surely there is some scheme, and not only in regard to houses. Let it be carried even further, to allotments and small farms. It has been suggested that men are hanging back and laying only 400 bricks a day. I think that is the case in some parts of the country. If it be the case, it is unsound. I hive said to my own men working at my own place, "The sooner you get this house up the sooner you will be able to live in it. I do not want the house; I have a house; and if you want a house the quicker this is up the quicker you will have a better place to live in," If a man lays only 400 bricks a, day he is not doing a day's work of a man. Twenty-five years ago I was laying 1,100 bricks a day in Durbar, South Africa, and that was working in a climate where we had to dip every brick. It was true we had two negroes each to help us. I was only a youngster at the time, and I am certain that an able-bodied man can lay more than -100 or 500, especially when he is building his own house. The Prime Minister has said that we are short of building labour. I am not surprised that we are. Why are builders' labourers scarce? Because it is the last job a man will take. It is the most casual of casual labour. You start at six o'clock one morning and at half-past six it begins to rain. The foreman will give you fifteen minutes, and then probably it is "down tools" for the rest of the day. The labourer mikes about in the wet and prays to God that it will be better weather the next day. The next day it snows and the site is covered for a week. It is spoken of as unskilled labour, but some of these unskilled men are the most skilled in the country. It calls for a bit of skill even to use a pick and shovel.
The whole question wants reviewing. Of course, the whole problem has been made a subject for political powder and shot. There is, we are told, the wooden house to solve everything. Do the people who have described the wooden house really believe in what they advocate? Or is the wooden house only a now weapon with which to flog the Prime Minister? I went into the question of those wooden houses, and as I was spreading my experiment over all forms of building, I put in a paper of considerable circulation, the 1373 "Daily Express," an offer that I would give an order for three of these houses, that I would provide the site and put the foundations in, if anybody inside or outside this country who was in a position to build a wooden house would build it at the same price as a brick house and in the same period of time that the building of a brick house would occupy. I had about four answers. The outcome of it was that the cheapest house of seven rooms that I could obtain I had to get myself from, f.o.b., Sweden, and, after having paid for it, I had to bring it to England, to erect it myself, to paint it myself, and to put in the foundations and the sanitary conveniences; and the price was £780. If there is any hon. Member who knows how to build a wooden house of anything approaching the same convenience and strength as a brick house and for the same price, I for one will give an order for a few to prove it or disprove it. I am bringing in that topic because it seems to me such a pity that this question, upon which so much depends, should be made the subject of political powder and shot inside or outside this House. I listened to the Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil) with considerable interest. He said, "You have first to do this and then to do that." But is there any Regulation demanded by the Government that any building society would not demand, and then would they not delay you a couple of months before they gave you a decision? Would not the Noble Lord be the first, if, the Government simply said, "Here is the money, go to the Treasury and get hundreds of thousands or millions and get on with the building without the passing of plans, or sites, or anything else," to say, "Is that the sort of Government to trust with money when it will not take the trouble to find any security for the money it is advancing." That is pure criticism, and it Is easy enough to pull down without making any constructive suggestion. I have never risen to criticise any Government action or otherwise without putting, however feebly, an alternative proposition.
The sum and substance of my proposition is a State bank for the purpose of housing and agriculture, and that I think will go a long way to solve the financial position. I want to see some means by which there is more direct touch between the individual who wants to build and the Government which wants to help him. If we had some organisation whereby an individual who 1374 wanted a house could deposit, say £50, in a State bank and submit his plans, I am perfectly confident you would find many ready to build. I have got between seven and eight thousand applications from people asking me to build them houses simply because it was known that I was experimenting on the subject All those people have little sums of money but they cannot afford to start in the ordinary way. The Noble Lord said that a price of £750, or possibly £900 was ridiculous. But nowadays the builder cannot estimate, and you could hardly get an estimate for motor car repairs, as those concerned say, "We do not know what price labour is going to be." If they give an estimate they put on about 33 per cent, against possible rises, and if those do not talte place it is a good thing for them, and if they do they try to twist out of it. That 33 per cent. is an off-set against possible fluctuations in materials and labour. Then there is profiteering. I know it is a disease and I have heard it described as making excessive profits in any business in which you are not personally interested. It is also very infectious and even newsboys at night will charge you twopence for a penny paper. There must be something wrong when the price of essential things for building has risen so much. It might be suggested that these things should be controlled, but in that case, like the wily rabbit, the materials might disappear altogether. I suggest the right hon. Gentleman should call for a list of the prices of building materials in 1914, January, 1919, and to-day, and make a comparison, and send for the large wholesalers and manufacturers and ask them to explain the difference. I have no doubt they will say that labour has gone up a 100 per cent., or whatever it is, but I am satisfied there is no justification for the price of cement or bricks or the green timber which you have to put into the roof and which probably next summer will raise its hat to you. I do say it is possible to save by simply getting hold of the people who are concerned in the price of essentials. I hope a sum of £200 at 2½ per cent, will be given to any man who is sportsman enough to start and build his own house and to try and solve this problem.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
I agree that the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has put his finger on the causa of our trouble. I think the Minister of Health would be the first to admit, or will soon, that we are in considerable trouble 1375 over this question. I am going to put forward an alternative suggestion. Why were the housing plans not ready at the time of the Armistice? I sympathise with my right hon. Friend. If they were not ready, someone ought to pay for it, and not be translated to the House of Peers. The plans ought to have been ready so that we could have got on with the work immediately the War stopped. If the reply is made that they did not know the War was going to end so soon, that is equally indefensible, because anyone with any knowledge of the military situation knew two years before the end of the War that there was a chance of the enemy cracking up within a few weeks. If the Government were too busy, and the people whose particular job it was to look after housing were too busy, why did not they call in the help of the Opposition, who were willing to help them, men like Mr. Herbert Samuel and Mr. Asquith, great administrators who could have had this thing ready and pigeon-holed. The houses are not being built twelve months after the Armistice, although, according to the White Papers, there are numbers of schemes in which the time of construction is given as four weeks per house, five weeks per house, and so on. Apparently, therefore, there are people ready to build houses at a price within a certain number of weeks, and yet how many have been built? Have 500 been built? I doubt it, and the situation in the country, as the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin said, is really tragic.
What are we going to have offered when we do get these schemes approved? Houses with one living room and three bedrooms. Are those houses fit for heroes? We are faced with an arrant failure of one of the great schemes of reconstruction, and it is not going to be remedied by the present suggested subsidy of £150, for as soon as half-a million workmen's houses begin to be built, up will mount the price of bricks, mortar, slates, water-pipes, and everything else required. What is the eause of this? Finance is the beginning and end—bad finance during the War, and the bad financial system with which we are faced. Some way out will have to be found. I spoke to one of the most active bailies on the Glasgow City Corporation when I was North of the Border during the Recess. They are faced with this problem in Glasgow in building houses which they can offer to the people—because the working 1376 man to-day is not going to live under conditions which his father and grandfather did; he wants something better, and he is going to have it, and, if this Government cannot do it, it will be a case of "sack the lot," and they will go on sacking Governments until these houses are built—the house in Glasgow they will accept costs to-day, with site, lighting and so forth, £1,000, or perhaps a little more. They borrow this from the bankers at a rate of interest on the Governmert's own scheme to repay the money in sixty-six years or thereabouts. By the time they have repaid the £1,000, they will have paid £3,330, I think is the sum. That is the cause of the trouble—what used to be known as usury, and what is now known as amalgamation of banking interests, and also what is called, in other terms, the inflation of accounts by the financial system of the present Government. Until this banking monopoly is broken by some system of land banks, and until the currency is deflated, I do not think we will get over this trouble.
You have this situation in the country, that one of the things most in demand is working-class houses, and it does not pay the private builder to put them up. The only thing that pays is the creation of luxuries, such as cinemas and hotels, and that is why, naturally, builders go in for that sort of construction. Now that you propose to subsidise this house building, prices will go up, and you will have to goon increasing the subsidy, so that you are simply speeding up the vicious circle. This scheme will not work, and we shall have serious trouble within six months. Until this question of the inflation of the currency is tackled, the subsidy will only mean more paper money, higher costs, and less enterprise on the part of private builders so far as workmen's houses are concerned.
I beg and pray, and other people in this House have begged and prayed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take over this matter at once, and to appoint an independent Committee to look into the whole question. The Chancellor of the Exchequer burkes the whole thing. He will not give us a definite answer. Until this matter of the inflation of the currency and the consequent high prices is tackled houses will not be built. The hon. Gentleman opposite on the Government Bench (Sir Tudor Walters) knows it and will admit it—if not now, in a very few months. That is one side of the question. During 1377 his speech the Minister of Health said that nobody had suggested making use of the emergency powers that we had during the War to build houses. Let me quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT for 10th July a question by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Tottenham (Major Prescott), who is a practical builder, as the House will be aware, and the reply of the Minister of Health:73. Major Prescott asked the Minister of Health whether he is aware that numbers of demobilised soldiers in a most every town are unable to get suitable living accommodation, which is causing public concern; whether, in view of the waste of time involved in relying upon local authorities to meet the national need for a quick supply of houses, he will consider the expediency of establishing an emergency organisation with a view to making good the shortage of houses in this same way in which the Government, got shells, explosives, and other munitions of war?Dr. Addison: In the circumstances referred to in the question, when the local authority is not able to deal with the matter with sufficient rapidity it will be possible to take such action as is sirigesied by my hon. Friend if the Housing B 11 passes into law in its present form."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th July, 1919, 2015 Vol. 117.
The moment has arrived. We should take that action now. We are a year late, but never mind, "better late than never."
Everyone who has a knowledge of housebuilding should now be roped into this scheme. Honestly, it is no exaggeration to say the position is desperate. In every town and every locality there are appalling conditions, because people cannot get houses. They have got to be built! I was taken to task by the Minister of Health because I interrupted him about taking war powers in what is really a war problem. I do not know whether D.O.R.A. happens to be here, but whatever powers in the same way are now in existence I do not see why we should not at once tackle this matter as we built factories, buildings, and aerodromes of a permanent character, and not, as the Prime Minister says, of the nature of temporary hutments. We can at once put out contracts to the builders on a percentage basis of 10 per cent., or whatever the percentage agreed upon the outlay may be. Tell them to get ahead with these houses. The nation after all is the master, the nation will find the money, and will see to it that they are paid. Let the municipalities also go ahead in helping. Have your costings system to see that there is no extravagance as you had before—and I think you have the machinery still. Stop all luxury building, even in the case of shops which sell 1378 women's hats. Such a shop is a luxury building now. It may be said It helps trade and industry; that is not so. I do not say stop the building of a factory as a luxury building which makes articles required for every day use. It is rather late in the day. When we had the war fever still in our veins was the time to make the appeal.
Put all the people into this work whether skilled or not. Train bricklayers as you did soldiers—if necessary. Appeal to the workpeople to help, tolling them there will be strict limitation of profits, which f think is rather important in view of the state of mind of the ordinary man in the street to-day. Such a programme as I suggest—500,000 houses at £1,000 each—might cost £500,000. That could be added to the present £8,000,000. It would not make all that difference. We have added more than that this last year with nothing to show for it. In the case I suggest we will have the houses to show for it, and you will be occupying the people. The Government ought to have done this twelve months ago. Under present circumstances you are not going to get these houses built in a reasonable time. Resides, you are not going to get the houses you want. A house with one living room and three bedrooms is not good enough. You want something better in which to bring up the next generation, and the next generation will want better houses still. If the social organisation of to-day is incapable of providing proper housing accommodation for the people, then we must find some other organisation and the Government must step in and treat the question as a war emergency to meet an emergency created by the War.
§ The PAYMASTER-GENERAL (Sir Tudor Walters)
I do not think it will be the desire of the House that I should attempt any detailed reply to the various criticisms which have been made. I have, however, taken a very careful note of them, and when we come to discuss the Bill which will shortly be submitted to the House it will be more convenient then to make some reply to the helpful criticisms which have been offered. I am sure we are all anxious to bring this interesting Debate to a close, and it is obvious from the attitude of hon. Members in the discussion that the House realises even more than it did before the very great difficulties with which the Minister of Health has been confronted. My right hon.
1379 Friend, in an admirable speech, has explained the various steps which will be taken to deal with this problem in the near future. What is being done is not intended to be the last word on the subject, but it is what has been suggested in view of now experiences and new departures in dealing with our social problems.
I think the supplementary policy which has been put forward by the Government can be put in a very few words. We now propose to mobilise all the housing resources of the country for the purpose of getting on with this programme. We do not recede one iota from our belief in the importance of entrusting a large portion of this work to our great municipalities and local authorities We still hold to those high ideals of a better standard of housing which were presented when the Bill dealing with this subject was before the House. We are still anxious that the population shall live under conditions butter than anything they have previously, known. We do not abate on jot or little of our standard of housing but we realise that we have an urgent problem to deal with We do not propose to supersede the local authorities or to j scrap the great schemes under our Bill, but we mean to supplement those schemes by bringing in every other agency. We want to do this work at once. We feel that hon. Members have listened to our explanation, and we have been allowed to state our reasons for the delay, and practically hon. Members have said, "All right; we understand your difficulties and we will give you another six months" We think that is our position. After an examination of the facts, I am convinced that there is no other way of immediately providing the houses except by dealing with the financial difficulty that confronts private enterprise, and so making it- possible for all those who have had experience in house-building to set to work and supply the necessity.
The Prime Minister explained pretty fully the basis of the scheme. It means that this grant of so much per foot cube will be paid to anybody and everybody who can produce the type of house that w want, in the place in which we want it, and of the kind of construction of which we approve. It does not matter whether he is a land-owner, whether it is a workman's club, whether it is a co-operative society, 1380 whether he is a man who has recently purchased a small holding, whether it is the local grocer, baker, or bookseller, whoever it is, so long as he is able to build a house of the type that we want in the place where we approve of it being bum that man on completion and on satisfying our Regulations and requirements will get this subsidy. Since this matter has been published in the Press, and since my name has been in any way associated with it, I have daily received [...]and hundreds of letters from people all over the country, workmen, and small and large builders, asking for details and particulars, and how soon they can get to work upon the houses. I do not commit myself to the precise figure of £150 that has been suggested. I believe that six months ago £100 per house would have produced all the houses for which we had workmen and materials. Of course, prices have risen since then, and the tenders that have been accepted in ail parts of the country have excited the cupidity of everybody in the building trade. Prices, therefore, have risen to a very high figure. Those who realise the supreme necessity of the provision of these houses must in conference with those who can supply them agree upon such terms as will make it possible to produce them. We want the commodity, we must have it, and we must make the arrangements with those who can produce it to supply the commodity to us I am entirely satisfied myself that there will be a large response to this Order, and that we shall soon have a number of houses in process of erection.
We call this a subsidy. It is a very unfortunate word to use, because, when you talk about a subsidy, you assume that someone is going to put a certain sum of money into his own pocket. The curious fact about this so-called subsidy is that it never finds its way into anybody's pocket at all. It is not a subsidy. We are simply providing for a wasting asset. I can explain it in a very few words. You go to a house builder to-day and say to him, "How is it that you do not build any houses?" He says, "I should very much like to, but I am afraid that if I built houses to-day, and had to keep them two or three years, at the end of those two or three years I should have to sell them at a loss." He is afraid, in other words, that the present cost of building is not a true standard of value, and I agree that it is not. The present cost of building is from two and a 1381 half to three times the pre-war standard. I believe that in a few years' time it will fall to twice the pre-war standard. The £100 or £150 per house is a thing that never materialises — never goes into anyone's pocket. Therefore, if you tell the builders and other people that you want them to build now, when it does not economically pay, they would say that, if the State for some great national purpose demands the building of houses at a loss, the State should pay the margin of insurance and reimburse the builder for that wasting asset. If this amount does go into anyone's pocket, it goes into the pocket of the man who lives in the house. The tenant gets the benefit because a house is provided which otherwise could not be provided, or only at a higher rate. Therefore, I think that it is a policy which can be defended on economic grounds, and is one that this House should approve of and accept.
Let us compare the cost of houses built even with this subsidy with the cost of houses built entirely by municipal enterprise. I do not think that municipal houses within the next, twelve months will cost less than £1,000 each. If time permitted, I could give the reasons for that, and shall be glad to do so during the Committee stage of the Bill. We have to charge a gross rent of 8½ per cent, on that £1,000 in order to gel, after paying rates, etc., 5 per cent, That 8½ per cent, means £85 a year, and you would be lucky if you got tenants who could pay 15s. a week. That means that practically, out of £1,000 spent on a municipal house, you finally lose £500, so that for 100,000 houses you would have to find £100,000,000, and the real capital loss to the State on that would be £50,000,000. If this grant of £150 is made per house, you do not have to find that money. That grant would amount to £15,000 000, so that, instead of losing £50,000,000 on municipal houses, you only lose £15.000,000 on the houses built by private enterprise.
§ Captain REDMOND
Where do you get the £15,000,000?
§ Sir T. WALTERS
It would be a State Grant.
§ Captain REDMOND
But it would have to be raised by loan.
§ Sir T. WALTERS
I think I have put the argument clearly. In the case of the £100,000,000 you borrow, and you lose 1382 £50,000,000 anyhow. Under the subsidy scheme you only lose £15,000,000, and you save having to find the remaining £85,000,000 by loan. If my hon, and gallant Friend does not agree with me there is nothing to be said, but I think there can be no question about the financial advantage to the State of building by means of this Grant. I only regard it as a temporary matter, and only want to see it done for twelve months. I quite agree with my right lion. Friend the Minister of Health, that the scheme of our Housing and Town Planning Act of this year is the permanent measure on which we shape our policy of entrusting to local authorities the task, not necessarily of themselves providing, but seeing that adequate provision is made, and of a proper standard, for working-class housing in this country. But while that new Act, the working of which is entrusted to local authorities without previous experience, is getting' into its stride, this temporary measure for twelve months, to produce 100,000 houses, should be a matter on which we should concentrate our efforts for the moment, so that the houses may be quickly supplied.
I believe that these two sources of supply taken together, using the municipal authorities to the utmost of their capacity —it is very important that they should not imagine they are to relax their efforts in any way—coupled with the stimulation of private enterprise, will very soon ease the situation, provide a large number of houses which are urgently needed, and at a cost which will be an advantage to the State. I do not think there are any other points I need refer to except to say my right hon. Friend appreciates the friendly nature of the criticism to which his Department has been, subjected to-day and how anxious he is that there should always be the fullest and freest expression of opinion by hon. Members. What he most desires is that all these measures shall be carried out with the co-operation of the House of Commons, and that, instead of allowing any party politics or division of opinion to creep in we should resume those cordial, united relations which characterised the passage of the Bill through the House of Commons. We are satisfied that, all working together for the common good, we shall be able to give a good account of ourselves in regard to the housing policy in the next six months.
§ Major O'NEILL
I am glad to see the Chief Secretary for Ireland in his place, because the words I shall address to the 1383 House will be concerned with the housing question in so far as it affects Ireland. Yesterday I asked the right hon. Gentleman a question in regard to housing in Ireland, and he gave an answer which showed that a largo number of local authorities in that country have formulated schemes under the Housing Act, so large a proportion that he rightly said it-was an encouraging feature of the way in which the Act was going to succeed. He said:The Housing Act became law on the 15th August last and since then the local authorities have lost no time in considering the requirements of their schemes and the possibilities offered by the financial arrangements." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1919, col. 1113.6.0 P.M.
My right hon. Friend the Member for the Duncairn Division (Sir E. Carson) interposed and asked whether the Chief Secretary considered that the Housing situation in Ireland was satisfactory? and the right hon. Gentleman replied he considered it was going on very well. Could not every word of the Chief Secretary's answer, to the effect that local authorities have lost no time in considering the matter and so on, be applied to-day to the housing position as it is in this country? Yet we have had this Debate this afternoon, and as a result of the Debate we have been given definite proposals by the Government for meeting and improving a situation which they recognise to be highly critical in so far as the housing question in England is concerned. I maintain that although the Irish Housing Act came into operation a fortnight or so later than the English Act, nevertheless the housing position in Ireland is no better than it- is in England, that, if anything, it is worse, and that all the considerations we have heard so much about this afternoon with regard to financial and building difficulties apply equally to Ireland The hon. Gentleman (Sir T. Walters) explained very clearly the possible immense advantages of this grant of £150. It is not really a subsidy but a grant to bridge over the difference between the unexampled conditions of to-day and the conditions which will probably exist in two years' time, and by that grant he expected a large stimulation in the building of houses. I am sure the Chief Secretary will be able to tell us whether or not it is proposed the Grant shall apply to Ireland. Furthermore, we were told that a scheme was shortly to be 1384 prepared as the result of which the borrowing of money for housing would be placed in a much more, easy condition.
The Minister of Health said he was hoping to bring up a scheme which would create an attractive investment for people in various municipalities, and would raise the money winch it is at present being found so difficult to secure for housing. Are we to have the advantage of that in Ireland or not? The housing scheme in Ireland is going badly in many localities.
I asked the Chief Secretary a question yesterday as regards the situation under the Labourers Acts, which have been of great benefit to the rural districts in the past and which have been enlarged by an Act passed last Session, in order to cope with the conditions of affairs which has arisen since the War. I asked him how the matter was going, and I got this very remarkable and unsatisfactory answer:No improvement scheme proposing to provide new cottages under the Labourers Acts has been lodged for confirmation with the Local Government Board since the Armistice. The finance of such schemes out of land purchase funds is limited at present to cases where an urgent necessity exists for providing additional housing accommodation.That in my view is a very serious state of affairs. Not one single rural district council has submitted a scheme under the Labourers Acts since the Armistice. One might think there was no demand for houses in the rural districts, yet I know from my own personal experience that the number of applications which have been lodged with the rural district councils for houses under the Labourers Acts within the last few months has been enormous. The housing conditions in the rural districts and the smaller towns are what one might really term appalling. I he Labourers Acts have been practically suspended during the latter part of the War, and quite apart from the provision of new accommodation, the existing houses in the smaller towns are in a condition which hon. Members from England if they saw them would, in some cases, hardly credit. I have seen houses only recently with mud floors and no sanitary accommodation whatever. I saw one house where husband, wife, and five children were all sleeping in one room, and the man was earning good wages and could well have afforded to pay an economic rent for a reasonably built house. The Labourers Acts have been of enormous benefit to the rural population. The whole countryside used to live in tumbledown cabins where 1385 the pig came into the kitchen and the chickens slept by the fire. That kind of thing is rapidly disappearing as the result of the Labourers Acts. But it still exists in many places and the necessity for housing is of greater magnitude to-day in many rural districts than it over has been. Yet we are told that not a single scheme has been put forward by any local authority during the past year.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Macpherson)
That is not the fault of the Government.
§ Major O'NEILL
I agree, but the Government should in some way bring pressure to bear on the authorities to see that they do carry out the powers with which they are invested under these Acts, and get a move on to bring about what we all desire. There is money available we know, and if it is not used what is the use of passing legislation of this kind for rural houses? In my part of Ireland, and I have no doubt it is the same throughout the whole country, they are crying out for the provision of 'houses in rural districts. I hope most sincerely that the Chief Secretary, quite apart; from the larger questions of urban housing and the application to Ireland of these new benefits of which we have heard to-day, will do what he can to speed up the proper administration of the existing Labourers Acts so as to bring about in the rural districts of Ireland a housing system which would be consistent with conditions in which human beings should live.
§ Captain REDMOND
I do not know whether we are discussing a proposal that is to extend to Ireland as well as England, but what we do know is that in the original Housing Act Ireland was excluded. I suppose it was with the customary regard of the Government, and indeed of this House, for the integrity of the United Kingdom as a whole; and their desire once more to demonstrate the solidarity of that kingdom that they once more excluded Ireland from the benefits of an Act which was to apply to other parts of the Kingdom. However, the British Act we are told has not worked well. The Minister of Health to-day informs us that 5,000 houses had already been constructed in England since July, and that 24,000 acres of land had already been acquired for building houses in England. Yet the Act has admittedly broken down, for if not where would be the necessity for the Government to come to this House to-day 1386 with supplementary proposals. The new remedy put forward by the Government, at any rate in regard to England, is what has been termed a subsidy in the nature of a grant of £150 maximum towards the total cost of construction of each house. I am not particularly concerned, much as I have at heart the well-being of the working classes of this country, many of whom are fellow-countrymen of my own, with the facts concerning the breakdown of the English Act. The only thing that occurs to my mind is that as far as I can recollect sufficient energy was displayed and sufficient money was found to put the Lord Chancellor's House into a state of considerable repair, though it is true that he was denied a bath. Passing from the English point of view, what I am anxious to elicit from the Chief Secretary is also what has been put, I might almost say so mildly, though certainly I have no cause to disagree in any way with it, by the lion, and gallant Gentleman (Major O'Neill). If the Act has broken down in England, a fortiori it has broken down in Ireland. We are told that 5,000 houses have heen erected in England. How many have been erected in Ireland?
§ Captain REDMOND
Only yesterday the Chief Secretary informed us that the colossal number was two houses had been erected in Ireland. It is true the Act did not come into operation at the same time, but there was really a difference of only a few weeks. How many schemes have been put forward by the local authorities in Ireland? I am particularly anxious to elicit this information from the Chief Secrectary, because I want to disabuse the mind of Members of this House of the belief, should the Government seek to place the responsibility on the municipalities, that the municipalities are responsible in any way for the breakdown of the Housing Act in Ireland. How many schemes have been put forward by the municipalities? As far as I understand, ninety out of 127 of the local authorities have submitted schemes. That is not a bad proportion when one considers the short time at their disposal and the financial terms of the Act. How many of these schemes have been approved and what has been the nature of the criticism passed upon them by the Local Government Board? The reason why the rural areas and the small urban areas have not come forward with proposals under this Act, is 1387 that on the face of it such proposals will be laughed out of court. It is utterly impossible for a small community in Ireland, certainly a small urban community, to undertake the financial responsibility which this Act will throw upon them. The larger corporations have been ready to go on, and have gone on. In a great many oases their proposals have been turned down. I am not going to speak about the city of Belfast beyond saying that I saw in the papers the other day that the Local Government Board has found fault with their scheme, and that even there, where the scheme was welcomed with open arms, it is the fact that owing to the action of the Local Government Board the scheme has been turned down.
Take the case of my own Constituency, the city of Waterford. The corporation there rapidly sent along a scheme for the construction of 500 houses. To my knowledge as many as five times 500 are required in that city for the proper accommodation of the working classes. These 500 houses were estimated to cost £600 each—a very large sum indeed for a house in Ireland. According to the Act, the £600 would have to be acquired by loan at the rate of at least 6 per cent., which would mean £36 per annum. Add to that at least £15 for insurance, sinking fund, ground rent, etc., and you arrive at a sum of almost £l per house per week as the economic rent. Out of that a rent of 6s. is charged by the local authority—6s. is almost double the amount that has been charged heretofore for any other house— and, according to the terms of the Act, 7s. 6d. would be paid by the State. That makes a total of 13s. 6d., and leaves a balance of 6s. 6d. to be found by the municipality for every house. Gs. 6d. a week for 500 houses is a considerable amount for a city whose rates are already 18s. 5d. in the pound. It would be almost an intolerable burden. So anxious were the custodians of the people in my Constituency for the welfare of the city, and especially of the working classes, that they sent forward a scheme and the Local Government Board replied, "Your houses are not good enough, and your rates will not be sufficient, and you will have to build better houses." Thus the scheme was turned down. I do not say that that is a typical instance, but I do say when you get a municipality so desirous and anxious to co-operate and take advantage of this Act, and actually to run 1388 the risk of incurring so much financial responsibility, and to have the Local Government Board turn down the scheme, then how can any sane man say that this Act is not unworkable in its present condition in Ireland?
There is entire dissatisfaction throughout the country with the working of the Act, and I am very pleased to find myself in complete accord with, my fellow-countrymen from Ulster in this matter. A meeting took place on 28th October between the Housing Committee and a deputation from the Municipal Representatives Association of Ireland at the Custom House, Dublin. I am told many things-were said there which went to show that the Act was impracticable, and as it stood, now unworkable. Shorthand notes were taken, I understand, of that meeting. I would be very grateful if the Chief Secretary could supply us with the report of the proceedings because I think they would go a Ions; way to show the dissatisfaction, and the well-founded dissatisfaction, which exists in all parts of Ireland as to the working of this Act. What we really want to know in regard to Ireland is this, is Ireland to be left out again or is it to get an equivalent to what is being given to England? I fully admit you cannot deal exactly in the same manner with Ireland because you chose to deal differently by framing a different scheme and passing a different Act. But at the same time you can place Ireland in the same position to-day as yon art placing England in regard to the present cost of materials and in regard to the present difficulties in building which have to be got over. The Prime Minister stated to-day that the reason for bringing forward these supplementary proposals was to bridge over a chasm between the present, and the permanent price in the construction of houses. That chasm exists in I ml and just as much ns in England, and I want to know, do the Government propose to do anything to bridge over that chasm in Ireland by rendering financial assistance, to Ireland under the. Irish Act, just as it is rendering to England, in accordance with the terms of the English Act? I would suggest personally that it would be better if they were to change the whole basis of the Government Grant under the Irish Act, and as I stated many times in Committee upstairs and also hero, I would much prefer that the basis of Government contribution was not upon the rent collected but upon the economic rent. You could have a 1389 sliding scale, and make the extra financial contribution on the basis of the economic rent. If Unit would not satisfy the Treasury, a substantial grant should be made towards the construction of each house in Ireland in the same way as it is proposed to be made in the case of England. We thought nothing some months ago of spending £8:000,000 per day in the prosecution of the War, and what was the War for? We were told, and some of us believed it at one time, that the War was to make this country fit for heroes to live in. We have paid the price, both in money and in men, to make the country fit to live in, but I say that that goes for nought if the Government and the Treasury are not willing now to expend a few millions, or even a hundred millions, on the most urgent problem for the benefit of the social conditions of the people, namely, proper housing accommodation.
It has been suggested also that it could be done by way of a loan. I would much prefer that it should be done by way of a loan. I instanced the case of the Irish Labourers Act. Why cannot the Government come forward again, as they did in that instance, and grant a sum of money-it may be a large sum of money, but what is a large sum of money to-day for the social uplifting and betterment of the people, compared with the large sums of money which we spent upon the War? Let them come forward and give a large sum of money at a low rate of interest and let the people pay off gradually that loan, and eventually become the proprietors of their houses. This is not a local question: this is a national question, and it should be dealt with in a national way. It is not incumbent upon, nor is it the fault of the localities that they are in the present position. Very often the very poorest of the poor, and the worst housed are living in those municipali[...]s which are not able to propose schemes under this Act in Ireland, because it would entail too much increase on the local rates. Therefore, I say it is a national question, and not a local one, and I ask the Chief Secretary, in view of the fact that he is speaking to a united Ireland—in this case, even he will not succeed in dividing Ireland—to rise above and out of the groove that unfortunately he seems to have got into in Ireland for the last few months. Let him show that he means to do something for the people of Ireland as a whole, and get a substantial grant from the Treasury which Ireland deserves, and is en- 1390 titled to just as much as, if not more than, any other part of the United Kingdom, and so render the best assistance that he can, and do the best work for the future prosperity and goodwill of the people of that country.
§ Mr. MOLES
I shall only detain the House for a moment or two with some views of the Irish housing problem which I entertain. May I say that the House was interested, and in some part entertained, by the exposition given by the Minister of Health, and I am not sure whether it did not enjoy rather more the entertainment than the philosophy. I could see the whole Treasury Bench rippling with admiration as he proceeded to set about the stunt Press. He got it into the ring, punched it violently in the diaphragm, delivered a cross cut in the ribs, and finally laid it out with an upper cut. Not content with that, he seized one of the seconds, a gentleman named Regan, dragged him into the ring, and the apostle of wooden houses is now moaning in a quiet recess—I would not leave my Little wooden hut for you.I have had one licking and I don't want two.I assume the Chief Secretary is in agreement with the Minister of Health in respect of the general principles laid down in that speech. It was, denied that the scheme of finance has broken down. If it has not broken down, I do not know what tins discussion has been about, and I do not know what the Government s new proposals mean if they do not connote that the scheme of finance has broken down. But whether it has broken down or not in respect of England, Scotland, and Wales, it has undoubtedly broken down in respect of Ireland. I do not say that that is the fault of the Chief Secretary, but I do make the case that it is not the fault of the municipalities and townships that have entered into this scheme. I take the case of Belfast, and I am more concerned for the case of Belfast than I am for other cities, though there is common ground between us. We put forward a scheme in the city of Belfast, adequate, as we believed, for our own needs, and capable of being soundly run on the financial scheme applicable. We could have gone on with that scheme successfully, and at once, but the advisers of the Government insisted upon a much more grandiose scheme, and it was found that, instead of £600 being the cost of construction, the lowest tender was £900. It was pointed out quite recently 1391 by a deputation to the Chief Secretary that if they insisted upon a housing scheme of that kind the loss upon each individual house would be £30, or, for the whole scheme of 5,000 houses, £150,000 per annum. If we much choose between these two alternatives, either to remain without houses, as we are, or to take a scheme that will involve, such a costly outlay per annum, u means the strangling of every new enterprise in the city and the arrestment of every movement calculated to improve the condition of the working-class people in our cities. That is not a position that we can contemplate light heartedly.
We are here to make this claim for our workpeople—the putting forward by the Government of a scheme which will give to them housing allowing all the amenities and decencies of fite, and, in addition, give them some decent margin of comfort. That is the least we may do. We recognise quite frankly that it financial conditions permitted us to do better we would be bound to do better. We have, however, got to draw the line somewhere. We are prepared to do it at some prudent point winch will, on the one hand secure all that the working classes really and absolutely need, while not, on the other hand, involving us in financial difficulty. I would respectfully call the attention of the Government to the danger of puitinj forward too high a type of house. What would that involve? It would mean that one man would become the tenant. He will find he has undertaken a rent which he cannot discharge out of his own resources, and ho will then proceed to sublet, and so set up a double tenancy, with all the injurious conditions of life which attend them. We do not desire that. We do desire to see every workman in our city in a decent house and in the possession of all that appertains to a decent home
We were told that stimulus must be given to building. We agree. We are told that private enterprise must be brought into this scheme, and that we must me bilise all the building industries of the country. We agree. We endeavoured in Committee upstairs, to the best of our ability, to persuade the Irish Executive and those responsible when the Bill was under consideration. We put before them agreed proposals. They were turned down. The case of Scotland had been already turned down We were told no exception could be made in our case. My right hon. 1392 Friend the Chief Secretary will remember two important Amendments put down in the name of an hon. Friend and myself. They had for their purpose that the great Queen's island shipbuilding yard, Workmen, Clark and Company, and others, should be given the same kind of facilities for erecting the best class of houses they were prepared to undertake that were given to municipalities and utility societies. Is not that the very proposal the Government are now making to-day—that they turned down with us? We propose to hedge these firms round with every kind of restriction to prevent the possibility of abuse. My right hon. Friend will remember that one of our Amendments was in the form which proposed to secure that no employer should have the right to eject an employé from any house except upon the ground of destruction of property, the continuance of non-payment of rent, or leaving the locality for other employment. We surrounded that with such restrictions that the employer could not even harass the workman in his work. We carried that even beyond the trade union point of view. We put down an Amendment that upon a complaint being made by any worker living in one of these houses that he was being harassed in his employment he should have the right of appeal to the Local Government Board, who were bound to take cognisance of the complaint, to investigate it, and if it were found to be founded upon fact, the subsidy was to be withdrawn entirely and in perpetuity, or a specific penalty was to be imposed. One of my hon. Friends opposite did not see eye to eye. But he would not have resisted the proposal if we had gone on. We were not given the opportunity to go on? What is the Government doing now? It is practically proposing to do the very thing. I am glad to see they are advancing on that line. I am glad to see the Government are bringing in the private builder and mobilising the whole building forces of the country. We wish them heartily god-speed in the work. What I desire to elicit, in common with others who have spoken from the Irish point of view, from the Chief Secretary is: Is it proposed to apply what has been called the subsidy to the Irish housing scheme? Does he propose to give 3d. per cubic foot in the case of every house with a maximum of £150? When this question wag dealt with before, it was agreed that the conditions in Ireland were exceptional, and that the measure for Ireland, should be more generous than for England and 1393 Scotland. If the conditions in Ireland demanded exceptional treatment before, they no less demand it, now, and to give to English and Scottish housing schemes this subsidy and withhold it from Ireland would be a cruel wrong, and would produce disaster. We need the help of the Government more urgently in Ireland than in England or Scotland. The hon. Member for Waterford (Captain Redmond) said the rates in his city were 18s. 2d. in the £. In Dublin they are 16s. 11d. and in Cork 19s. 6d., and if you impose upon them in addition to these burdens, the building schemes under your Bill, your policy will be doomed to disaster. I hope the right lion. Gentleman will make it plain that such financial provisions will be extended to Ireland as will make the scheme workable.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I have no reason to object to the tone or the temper of the criticism which has been addressed to me on the question of housing in Ireland. I do not think that my hon. Friend has contended that the Irish Housing Act is bad in itself; the contention appeared to me to be that the Act is badly administered. I see that my hon. Friend assents to that statement. As I pointed out in the course of Question Time yesterday, the Housing Act has not been very long in operation. In England and Scotland the people for quite a long time now—ever since the institution of the Ministry of Reconstruction —have been prepared for a very large scheme, and throughout the whole of Great Britain the attention of the local bodies and the municipalities has been directed towards such a scheme. In Ireland there was no such expectation and no such promise, and, frankly, I am astonished at the real and genuine progress which has been made under the Irish Housing Act. As I said yesterday, about ninety local authorities have actually submitted schemes, and when one considers the attitude of mind of so many of the local authorities in Ireland, one is astonished at the largeness of that number.
§ Major O'NEILL
Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many of those schemes have been approved?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am coming to that. Fifty-five urban districts have selected sites, and in forty-two cases the land has already been inspected by the Board's inspectors and the local authorities have been informed of the results. In all, we have sites amounting to 2,024 acres.
1394 Those authorities are purely urban. I will develop later the point made by the hon. Member for Ormeau (Mr. Moles), but the contention of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Mid Antrim (Major O'Neill) is a just one. He points out that nothing has so far been done under the Labourers Act; but, an he himself admitted, nothing in the shape of housing has given so much satisfaction in any country in the world as the houses provided under the Irish Labourers Act. It gives one infinite satisfaction to go through the country districts in Ireland and see n happy and contented agricultural labouring class in really good houses, where they can bring up their children in good surroundings. Not only are those houses good, but they have been built in large numbers, and apart from certain localities there is realty no greathousing difficulty in the rural districts. I agree that where the difficulty does exist it is in an intensified form, and my hon. and gallant Friend has described conditions which are neither palatable nor such as should be tolerated in a country which has any pretence to civilisation. My hon. and gallant Friend, however, knows as well as I do that the progressive urban authorities are quite different from the Town Commissioners who are in charge of rural housing in small rural counties. These have not the same progressive spirit, and it is very likely that in a good many parts of Ireland the Town Commissioners do not realise that, under this new Amendment which I passed at the instigation and with the good will of my hon. Friends who represent Ireland, they have now the power so to extend the Labourers Act that there need not be in any rural locality in Ireland a bad house for a working man. I think I am right in my contention that it cannot be ascribed to the Government if any failing does exist so far as this side of the housing problem in Ireland is concerned. With regard to the urban side, I say that the Irish Housing Act is a good one. I know that when I introduced a scheme entirely different, financially and otherwise, from the scheme which was introduced for England and Scotland, I took my own political reputation in my hands, but the longer I live the more content I am to stand by that scheme.
§ Mr. MOLES
Will the right hon. Gentleman dispute the suggestion of the Belfast Corporation that, if that scheme is persisted in, it will involve a loss of £30 per house, and does he say that that is a financial success?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
We are not dealing with the same point. My Friend agrees with me that the scheme as it stands and as it was passed is good. The point he was trying to make is that it was so hedged around with administrative difficulties and Regulations that the Belfast Corporation, who unanimously accepted it and said it could be worked by them without the assistance of a penny from the rates, are being hampered in their progress.
§ Captain REDMOND
The same thing applies everywhere.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I had already said in the course of questions yesterday that I would consider with the Local Government Board whether Regulations which so hamper the work of the Belfast Corporation and in other areas could not be amended to such an extent to enable them to carry on this work of social reform. The hon. and gallant Member for Water ford (Captain Redmond) made a very interesting speech, as he always docs. I cannot help thinking that he got his information not only from his own constituency which he adorns as a Member, but from one or two people in Ireland who were interested in housing who consistently opposed this scheme in its inception and have done so ever since it became an Act of Parliament, quite unreasonably in my judgment. He quoted the rates of Dublin.
§ Captain REDMOND
I never mentioned Dublin.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I beg the lion, and gallant Gentleman's pardon, I made a mistake.
§ Captain REDMOND
May I say that my information was obtained from no other source whatever than my own observation, and from urban authorities and people in Ireland who were primarily concerned in the working of the Act?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am sorry if I attributed to my hon. and gallant Friend an assertion which really came from my hon. Friend the Member for the Ormeau Division (Mr. Moles), who, with his usual accuracy and knowledge of statistics, gave us the rates of certain large municipalities in Ireland. I think he quoted Cork, Waterford, and he certainly quoted Dublin, and said, quite truly, that the rates in Dublin were 16s. 11d. in the £. He expected me to infer that it was impossible for any of these urban authorities to continue to build houses without a 1396 burden on the rate unless and until they got some such subsidy or grant as is proposed to be given in England. I have in my hand a report from the "Daily Express" of Dublin, of 15th November, 1919. It is the report of a meeting of the Rathmines Urban Council, and I will read part of the speech of a man who began by being prejudiced against the financial Section of the Irish Housing Act. This is what he said:Mr. Carruthers Said be was put on the Committee solely to regard the project from the financial print of view, and from that point of view he had strongly opposed the scheme—That is my scheme as I introduced it.He opposed the spending of more than they could possibly avoid in the belief that it would turn an uneconomic investment. It was only on the previous day that he learned at the committee from the officials who had gone into the question that, with the resistance given by the Government what the loss, if any, would he to the rates. He was very pleased at the statement pit, forward by Mr. Stevens, in making a calculation on the outlay which they prepose in Church Avenue and which would come to about £22.000, that it would cost the township nothing when they took into account the Government assistance of £25s. for every £1 rent.… That was an agreeable surprise to him and he was sure it would be a surprise to the council. They could now put their house in order and do away with objectionable slums or insanitary areas.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Captain REDMOND
I must point out to the right hon. Gentleman a fact of which perhaps he is unaware, that Rathmines is not in the City of Dublin, and that not only is ii not in the City of Dublin but that it will not come into the City of Dublin. And several times the City of Dublin had asked for Rathmines to be included within the corporation boundary and Rathmines has always refused because it enjoys all the benefits of the City of Dublin, but lies outside it and does not bear any of the cost.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
That does not really affect my contention, because Rathmines is an urban authority.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
But everyone regards it as being a part of Dublin. Here is a very striking case, on 15th November where a man says he was intensely prejudiced against the scheme as I introduced it, but he is pleased to say he is satisfied now, as a financial man, that the corporation can carry out a scheme of building 239 houses without a single penny of cost to the rates. One example of the fact is as 1397 good as ten of theory. But I saw the other day in the "Northern Whig" a case in which an excellent little house was being built for £500. I am told the corporation wished to have an estimate for the same house to be built, but instead of being charged £500 it was immediately charged £900. Without profiteering of that kind, if the Irish Housing Act is given a fair chance it should, and will do, well. I have been pressed to state what the Government policy is with regard to the proposals which have been put forward by my right hon. Friend (Dr. Addison). I did not really know what the particulars of these proposals were till I came into the House this afternoon, though I had general knowledge of what they might be. Naturally, as the Irish Housing Act is entirely different in its substance from the English and even the Scottish Housing Act. I cannot be expected to lay down straightaway what my attitude should be to any proposals which are produced.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
If I answer that in the affirmative or the negative I am pledging myself. I cannot do that without consideration.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Most certainly. It is obviously my duty to consider it. I cannot possibly give a definite answer without consulting my advisers and without considering exactly what is the meaning of some of the practical difficulties which have been brought to my attention.
§ Captain REDMOND
When will the right hon. Gentleman be in a position to give a reply, because this is a most vital matter?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
No one realises that more than I do myself. It is impossible to fix myself to an hour or to a day, but I will promise to give the case which has been submitted to mo my most earnest consideration. I am a great believer in the Irish scheme. But hon Members have.a great deal of power in their constituencies, and I am convinced that if their support is given and continued it would be a great blessing and a boon to the people of that country.
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
It would be unfortunate if the Debate came to an end without something being said from the Scottish 1398 point of view. If there is any part of the three Kingdoms where the housing question is acute it is in Scotland, and you have ample demonstration of that in the important proposals of the Housing Commission which investigated the conditions in that country. I welcome this subsidy that the Government proposes to give towards the building of houses. The only thing I am doubtful about is as to the sufficiency of the amount. I do not think that a maximum of £150 is sufficient to induce private persons to come forward and take the risk of building houses for which they will not receive an economic rent. But I welcome it because I think it will offer an inducement to manufacturers and landowners to do something in the provision of houses. One of the difficulties we had in the Scottish Housing Committee was that we were unable to deal with rural conditions in Scotland Our schemes were largely for villages and towns, and the difficulty that local authorities have in devising schemes for rural conditions and for isolated farms could not be overcome. This subsidy will present an opportunity of getting over that difficulty, and will enable, private persons to make provision for rural housing. On that ground alone I welcome the proposals made, but I think that when the Bill comes to be considered the Government: should consider whether 3d. a cubic foot, with a maximum of £150, is a sufficient inducement to get anyone to come forward to build houses. I do not think that it is, and I think that it must he increased.
Considerable progress has been made in Scotland, and I am not going unduly to criticise the Board of Health in Scotland Anyone who knows the facts realises the necessary slowness of progress, and how difficult it was to get all the activities set in motion. It was necessary owing to the fact that the State was so largely involved in the cost of the houses that the Board of Health should exercise strict supervision over the local authorities. That necessarily led to delay, but while I say this and bear testimony to the very efficient bodies of officials in Scotland who have undertaken supervision of the schemes of local authorities, I must also say that more discretion should be left to the local authorities Far too much attention has been paid by the Board of Health to small matters of detail. This morning I received a letter from the clerk to a housing committee of a local authority in Scotland of which I am chairman, and he say's that the 1399 main difficulty in connection with the carrying out of the housing scheme expeditiously lies in the fact that the Local Government Board, now the Scottish Board of Health, pay too great attention to details. A week or so ago when T was in Scotland I was told, when presiding at my committee, that our architect had been held up fur live weeks because the Board of Health was considering solemnly whether he should be authorised to have his schedules, issued to contractors, printed, lithographed or typewritten.
These are little things which cause a great deal of irritation, and prejudice the Board of Health in the eyes of the public. In connection with the submission of tenders there should not be undue delay in having them accepted. My correspondent further says that offers are now being received by the committee after advertisement, and the Board have asked that the three lowest tenders for each class of work should be submitted to them along with a list of tenders and the amount of each, with the names and addresses. He also says, in respect to the appointment of clerks of works, that the district board are to advertise for applications, and the -applications are to be sent to the Board for consideration, which is an unnecessary waste of time. These details might be left to the local authorities. There is in Scotland a, great deal of dissatisfaction at the delay in carrying through the scheme. A great deal of the supervision should be dispensed with and they should rely more upon the common sense and business ability of the local authorities to attend to those little details in order to expedite the work. Another point to which my correspondent refers is the disinclination of the contractors to offer for these schemes. Builders in Scotland have an amount of repair work which is most remunerative. They, therefore, are rather reluctant to undertake these special housing schemes. Perhaps the measure to be introduced will overcome that difficulty.
I agree that we should not allow unnecessary luxury buildings to go on, but concentrate more on building houses for the working classes. We should allow local authorities to utilise local material. Supplies have to come from the central authority. I have been told that near some of our villages there is local material that could be used with great economy, but they are not allowed to use it, and the material has to be brought from a distance. 1400 I am sorry to sound a critical note, because I know the enormous difficulties with which the Board of Health are faced. They have helped us considerably in connection with the price of land. The other day we had before us the question of acquiring land for a certain scheme at a price which we thought not unreasonable, but when it went before the central authority, and the valuer got to business, we were informed that the price suggested to us was nearly double what it should be, and it was cut down by one-half. In that way we find that in connection with the provision of land for housing the Acquisition of Land Bill is working out not so badly, after all. I trust that when we come to deal with the Bill that is to be introduced there will be some relaxation of the limitation of subsidy that is to be given, and that there may be an opportunity of increasing the amount. There is an old saying, "Don't spoil the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar." If there is any doubt as to the sufficiency of the subsidy to bring in the private builder or person, do not let us hesitate to give a little more.
§ The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. Munro)
I fully share the view expressed by my hon. Friend—though I am not sure that at this late hour it is shared by other hon. Members here—that it would be unfortunate for the Debate to close without some discussion of the housing situation in Scotland. I welcome the opportunity of telling the House quite briefly how the matter stands. I may say that I welcome the suggestions which have been made by my hon. Friend, and I am grateful to him for the generous appreciation which he has expressed of the officials who administer the Housing Act in Scotland. In the observations that I am going to make I want to make it quite clear that they apply only to Scotland. I do not profess to speak about England, because I have not the necessary knowledge. With regard to one statement made—namely, the refusal to use local material—I am informed that no such case is known to the Board of Health, and that if the hon. Member will provide me with the information at his disposal I shall certainly have that matter looked into at once. With regard to the subsidy, as I said, I am dealing with the Scottish case rather than the British case, but I have no doubt it will be duly considered. In considering the progress made in Scotland with the Housing scheme, there are two 1401 dates which it is necessary to bear in mind. One is the date of the passing of the Scottish Housing Act and the other the date when the Circular went out from the Board of Health to local authorities informing them of the precise terms of the financial assistance which would be offered to local authorities. That Circular went out in February of this year. The Scottish Housing Act was passed on 19th August last The contents of the Circular received statutory effect for the first time when the Housing Act was passed. I think I am right in saying that many local authorities waited — I do not say that they can be blamed—until they saw embodied in the Statute the precise terms of the financial assistance to be given by the Government before they proceeded with their full arrangements. Under these circumstances there have been only three months since the passing of the Act during which progress could be made I am bound to say, in so far as the local authorities are concerned, particularly those in the larger industrial centres, that the progress made has been really substantial. Let me say, parenthetically, that the proposal to use the assistance of local authorities and to make them the instrument in the matter of housing reform was one of the recommendations of the Koyal Commission on Housing in Scotland. Accordingly, I think the Scottish Housing Act is built upon a sure foundation m that respect. It is quite true that there are disadvantages inherent to employing the aid of local authorities. In some cases their procedure is cumbersome; they have meetings only at stated periods; and in some cases there is a certain disinclination to give plenary powers to their officials or committees, and, in addition to that, there is a very large number of necessary processes through which they have to so before the schemes are finally approved by the Board and are put into operation. There has to be careful selection of the site, negotiations with regard to the land, the securing of reasonable valuation, inspecting the site, approving of it, and so on. Many of those operations I should like the House to understand proceed not successively but simultaneously, so that there is not the delay which has been suggested in some quarters due to these very necessary proceedings. An hon. Member has said that the Board of Health has taken too much to do with details. In the cases in which they have dealt with details I think I am 1402 right in saying that that corresponding, economy has been effected as a result of their intervention. While local authorities ought to have certain freedom of choice, and to exercise discretion, nevertheless we must not forget that we are, after all, spending public money for which the Government is responsible and the Board of Health is responsible. Therefore, under any procedure to be adopted, and in the manner in which it is spent, the Government and the Board of Health—that is, the central authority—not only have the right, but also the duty to interfere. I quite agree that they ought not to interfere in an irksome manner. I do not think it has been suggested that in the vast majority of cases they have done so, but if there is any case in which detail has been dealt with unduly, and if the information is given to me, I will have it looked into.
While there are those difficulties, nevertheless in Scotland the situation differs from the English situation, as explained by my right hon. Friend, and there are curtain advantages which we possess. At the present moment, and here I differ from my hon. Friend, there has been no lack of tenders by builders to local authorities. That is my information. My hon. Friend seems to think it is not so, but I specially inquired. I am told that on our side of the Border no difficulty is being experienced in that matter, nor in the matter of materials. Materials are available, although in the future it may well be that there may be a little difficulty with regard to slates, but we are endeavouring to provide as to that. At the present moment labour is available, I think I am entitled to say, in sufficient quantity, although it might quite well be when spring arrives and when the number of schemes which are in operation are probably doubled, there may be a shortage of labour. In other words, there is no actual shortage of labour, but there may well be a prospective shortage of labour, and to meet that latter contingency full preparations are being made. In the matter of transport, which is a difficulty in England, we have experienced up to date, very little difficulty in Scotland. When the schemes am in fuller operation those difficulties may emerge and it would be well to provide against that inconvenience, and that I hope we shall be able to do. As regards finance, there has been a good deal of difficulty in England in those districts with an assessment of over £200,000. In Scot- 1403 land, so far as I have official knowledge, there is only one case in which any difficulty of that kind has been experienced, and that is Coatbridge. I want to be perfectly frank. While there are the difficulties to which I referred a few moments ago, there are at the same time these advantages over the situation as it seems to exist on this side, of the Border.
Very gratifying progress has been made by the local authorities in submitting housing schemes, and most, if not all, of them, have now submitted their schemes. The local authorities in the larger industrial areas where the congestion is greatest and the need is most acute the local authorities have already submitted their schemes. There is some difficulty as my hon. Friend has indicated with regard to rural authorities. In some cases, I believe, they are waiting for the elections to take place in December when new rural authorities; will be created. In some cases in crofting counties the matter of crofter housing has been committed to the Board of Agriculture, and is being carried through by them. The grant of which the treasury promised the other day of £15,000 per year for ten years on the condition that I provide £15,000, or pound for pound from the Agriculture (Scotland) Fund, will be of inestimable service in the matter of rural housing in the crofting counties. The present situation with which some of my hon, Friends may not be acquainted is that we have now got for crofter housing in Scotland a sum of £30,000 per year for ten years, and that is the exact sum which the Royal Commission on Housing recommended in their Report two years ago. I know that figures are tedious, hut I think some of my hon. Friends would like to know them up to date as regards one or two of these important matters. With regard to local authorities who have submitted schemes the present position is that sixty-five county authorities have already submitted schemes and 144 burghal authorities—that is to say, in Scotland 209 local authorities, county and burghal, have submitted their schemes to the Board of Health. The sixty-five county authorities propose to provide in their schemes for 14,497 houses, and the 144 burghal authorities propose to provide 98,143 houses — that is to say, the total of the houses proposed to be provided by local authorities, burghal and county, is 111,640, and that in areas where the full needs of the 1404 districts are estimated by the local authorities as 125,000 houses. I venture to think that that is, in the circumstances, a creditable record so far as these local authorities are concerned.
May I put it in even a more striking way? Take the population as related to the schemes which have been received—I am taking the Census of 1911—the burghal population is 3,200.000. The population affected by burghal schemes which have been submitted is 3,162,000—that is to say, it is within a few thousand of the full burghal population. In the districts, of course, the figures are not so excellent. In the d stricts the population is 1,561,000, and there schemes have boon submitted affecting 762,000 people. I venture to think those figures are figures of which we have no reason to be ashamed, nor is there any reason for me, as representing the Board of Health or the local authorities, to wear a white sheet. I think the question was put with regard to sites which were approved, because that, after all, is an important matter. Up to the week ended 15th November this year the Board of Health had approved 198 sites, covering 2,183 acres, and these sites will accommodate 24,170 houses. As regards the plans, I am assured the Board of Health had approved type plans for 14,094 houses, additional, as I understand.
Something has been said about tenders. I venture to think the figures with regard to tenders, and the gradual ass n[...]t of those figures, is very striking. Taking week by week, from the 20th September to 19th November, the number of houses for which tenders were approved, are these—each figure represents a week, and the House will see the gradual ascent week by week— 718, 994, 1,014, 1,150, 1,314, 1,364, 1,380, 1,604, 1,604, 1,804. The 1,804 houses for which tenders were approved were in the course of the last few days, from the 15th to the 19th November, and the Board, I may say, are well aware that several local authorities are at present invifing tenders covering over 2.000 houses—that is to say, the present figures I have been able to give the House will presently be more than doubled.
May I say a word about two other topics connected with the subject? Temporary houses have been urgently needed, and some of them have been already erected. In Dundee, for example, which has been a pioneer in the housing movement in Scotland, sevent-two temporary houses have been erected already and are now 1405 occupied, and another eight houses are to be provided. In Glasgow, the Corporation are making arrangements for the erection of 500 temporary houses at this moment. Another local authority, such as the middle and upper ward districts of Lanarkshire, are considering the same important topic. As regards the progress of houses, only three months have elapsed since the date of the Act, but in Dundee, which went ahead very rapidly, of 250 houses under what is known as their "Logie" scheme, forty-eight are roofed to-day, and twelve of them are up to the wallhead; 112 are being built, and in seventy-eight cases the excavations are proceeding. In Renfrew, I understand, 1406 there are 106 houses under construction, I and the number roofed to-day is eighteen.
§ Mr. IRVING
What has been done in I the way of converting huts?
§ Mr. MUNRO
I have not got the de; tails hero, and I should not like to answer that question offhand. If the hon. Member will put down a question, I shall be glad to answer it.
§ Notice taken that forty Members were, not present; House counted, and forty Members not being present,
§ The House was adjourned at Twenty-five minutes before Eight of the clock till Monday next.