Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £200,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1921, for Expenditure in respect of the erection of houses by the Office of Works on behalf of Local Authorities proceeding with Assisted Housing Schemes approved by the Ministry of Health in accordance with the provisions of the Housing, Town Planning, &c., Act, 1919.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ The FIRST COMMISSIONER of WORKS (Sir Alfred Mond)
Perhaps it will be for the convenience of the Committee if I explain the necessity for the Supplementary Estimate and what is the inner meaning of this Vote. Some considerable time ago it was found that the housing schemes were not making that progress which we had hoped and which was anticipated, and that there were a number of local authorities, both in London and in the country, who, for a considerable number of reasons, were proceding very slowly and having great difficulty in getting along with their housing schemes. It was therefore decided that it would be advisable to use the organisation of my office, which has had considerable experience of this class of work, to act as agents of the Ministry of Health, and, in conjunction and cooperation with the local authorities, to undertake a number of housing schemes for local authorities in their capacity as architects and contractors. The finance of the scheme explains itself in this sense, that the local authorities are really the paymasters; and although at the beginning of the scheme it was necessary for a short period to make advances from Government funds in order to get the schemes started these advances have been repaid. The Committee will notice in the Estimates appropriations-in-aid in respect of £700,000 estimated in this financial year. These sums come from 1290 the local authorities and will be repaid as the work is being carried on. The scheme is that the local authority is supposed to have the money before the scheme is started, and the money is repaid as the work proceeds. It may be asked why I am asking for a Supplementary Estimate of £200,000. The reason is that there are overlapping periods. After the local authorities have received the approval of the Goschen Committee for their loans, their housing bonds or the various forms of raising money, it takes some time for the actual financial transaction to take place, and it is estimated that this £200,000 will form a kind of floating balance to enable schemes which we have now in hand to be carried on in the interval. It will, of course, be repaid ultimately by the local authorities concerned in the schemes, and will not in any sense be a burden or a charge on the Treasury. It is a temporary banking arrangement to facilitate the rapid progress of the work.
It has been found that my office has been able to intervene usefully in a considerable number of schemes where tenders proved either very difficult to obtain or were unreasonably high. The actual procedure has been that of direct labour, supervised by the technical advisers of my Department, and I am glad to be able to say that this gives work in a very satisfactory manner. We have had in practically every instance the active co-operation and help of the trades and labour councils in the districts, and also the trades unions, and I wish to take this opportunity of expressing, on behalf of my Department, gratitude to the various building trades unions and the trades and labour organisations for the very hearty way in which they have supported us, which has enabled us to obtain labour. They have also been prepared to assist us in training labour for the various schemes, most of whom have been ex-service men.
The percentages of trainees and apprentices by trade union operatives among bricklayers are as follows: Camberwell, 13 per cent.; Finchley, 10 per cent.; Carshalton, 10 per cent.; Bedford, 15 per cent.; Shoreditch, 20 per cent. Among carpenters the percentages are as follows: Camberwell, eight per cent.; Finchley, 14 per cent.; Carshalton, 15 per cent.; and Shoreditch, eight per cent. 1291 On these schemes we have solved to a small extent a problem which we hope to succeed in solving to a much larger extent throughout the building trade. Up to the present time schemes have been put in operation in fifteen areas, five of which are London boroughs. The total number of houses to be completed under the schemes is 2,236, and the estimated cost when the schemes are completed is £2,200,000. There are negotiations in progress with local authorities in reference to about twenty schemes, and on these schemes work will be commenced when the financial arrangements have been made by the local authorities. Those schemes relate to about 4,000 houses. There are further negotiations pending for an additional number of houses, but it is impossible to say now when the schemes will be commenced. Those pending negotiations relate to 6,000 houses. That makes a total of 10,000 houses. As the schemes are still under negotiation, it is impossible to give anything but a very approximate estimate of the cost, but roughly the Committee may take it that it will be about £1,000 per house, that figure covering the roads, sewers, and other services of that kind. That is about as good an estimate as I can give. It does not follow that every house will cost £1,000; some will cost less and some cost more.
§ Sir A. MOND
A small number have been completed. At Poplar a certain number have been handed over to the local authority.
§ Sir A. MOND
I have not the number. At Camberwell 28 have been handed over out of 290, and it is estimated that of the remainder half the total will be occupied by March, 1921.
§ Sir A. MOND
I have nothing at all to do with the rent. It is for the local authorities and not my Department to fix the rent.
§ Mr. STEVENS
Is the right hon. Gentleman doing this work for the local 1292 authorities as an ordinary contractor at a fixed price, or is he allowed to do what he likes and charge what he likes?
§ Sir A. MOND
If the hon. Member will find any contractor who will take any contract at a fixed price, I should be obliged if he will mention him to me.
§ Sir A. MOND
A fixed price subject to fluctuations in labour and material? That is not a fixed price. We do exactly the same thing.
§ Sir A. MOND
I have not the figure, because I do not think the cost has yet been worked out. Most of these schemes have been begun only recently, and therefore the number of houses completed is very small. In nearly every case our price has been about £200 less per house than a contractor's price. I am very confident that when the final results are reached our costs will compare very favourably indeed, in fact, will be lower than those of the ordinary contractors. One of the reasons why we were asked to undertake this work by the Minister of Health and the local authorities was that they had found it difficult in many cases to get anyone to tender at all, or to get a reasonable tender. We are not getting the easiest jobs in the country; on the contrary, we are getting the most difficult. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why do you take them on!"] Because the Government decided that we were to do so. We want to get houses built, for housing progress is deplorable. If any Government Department is able to give any assistance, because it has the necessary technical ability to do the work by direct labour, it would be criminal for that Department not to make every possible effort.
§ Sir A. MOND
We are increasing our capacity as the work increases. What the ultimate result will be I am not yet in a position to state.
§ Sir A. MOND
I am astonished that an hon. Member should ask such a question. I have just said that my Department is carrying out this work on the decision of the Government. The Government is the Cabinet, as my hon. Friend ought to know. Does he imagine that a Government Department undertakes work like this and all that is involved, without a Cabinet decision? It is the most extraordinary observation I have ever heard an hon. Member make. I have explained, generally, the position, and I have gone into it in perhaps greater detail than was required. [HON. MEMBERS: "No"!] I am merely dealing with a Supplementary Estimate, but as this is a new Vote, in the sense that I have not yet had an opportunity of explaining it to the Committee, I think it only right to put the Committee as far as possible into possession of the general facts. As to the financial side of the arrangement, we are acting really as agents for local authorities and we are incurring no financial liability as far as the taxpayer is concerned. This money is all repayable, and there are careful safeguards which provide that the schemes are not embarked on until the money is forthcoming. We do not proceed with any scheme except at the request of a local authority and with the approval of the Ministry of Health, which naturally checks the scheme in its details and expenditure. The final upshot will be that the property will belong to the local authorities in exactly the same way as if they had done the building themselves under the supervision of their own surveyor or of any firm of architects or contractors whom they chose to employ. We are really acting as a kind of public utility society where we think we can be helpful. I hope the Committee will sympathise with the nature and the difficulties of the work we have undertaken and will give us this Vote.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
My right hon. Friend is one of the best business men in the country when engaged in private affairs, but when he comes to deal with Government matters he makes a statement which, if it referred to the affairs of private life, would lead any firm, however rich, into bankruptcy. I really do not, even now, understand all the ramifications of his explanation. What I did gather was that the Office of Works is the 1294 agent of the local authorities. The local authorities are controlled by the Ministry of Health. Surely the Ministry of Health is a Government Department. Therefore my right hon. Friend is acting as a second intermediary for one of his colleagues in the Government, the Minister of Health.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I will come to that; I am not going to shirk anything. The right hon. Gentleman told us that this undertaking has been authorised by the Cabinet. As to that, I would like to ask, is there really Cabinet Government to-day?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Do all these matters come before the full Cabinet, or is there a home Cabinet, in which one Minister is, so to speak, oiling another's back?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
My right hon. Friend says it is his business to get houses built, but is it his business to get houses built at any cost? These houses are going to cost £1,000 a piece. If so, that means something like five times pre-War prices. My right hon. Friend tells us that his is a very economical Department, because it constructs houses at five times the pre-War price! I ask him, as a business man —we must appeal to the business men of the Government—have they ever considered at what price these houses should be let?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman really appreciates the point of this Estimate. The Government has decided on the policy of building houses at current cost and letting them at less than an economic rent, but that does not affect this Department. The only question here is whether the Office of Works should have built the houses under the authority of the local authority.
§ Mr. G. LOCKER-LAMPSON
I understand that if a supplementary service is a new service, one is entitled to discuss the whole question of policy embodied in it. If, as it seems to me, this is an entirely new service, we are entitled to discuss the policy.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is perfectly right. This is a new service, and he is entitled to discuss the whole policy which is concerned in this Vote, but not the policy which is concerned in the main Vote of the Ministry of Health. The Office of Works is only acting as agent in this matter. The policy whether it should be allowed to do so or not is fully open to the Committee.
§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
Is it not possible to discuss, as the right hon. Gentleman was apparently about to do, whether these houses can be an economic proposition to put before the Committee in the present Estimate? I can imagine that a great many Members who have got in their minds the point which the right hon. Gentleman is about to raise may feel inclined to vote against the Estimate on that ground. Surely it must be open to the right hon. Gentleman to persuade us that the policy of his Department, which is the policy of the Government, is a sound policy economically. Otherwise, I do not see any means by which the Committee can judge as to how its votes should be given.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Perhaps I did not make myself clear. The question of the housing policy, and the burden that may be thrown upon the ratepayer and the taxpayer, was decided earlier in the year as the main policy of the Government. The question that arises here is the position of the Office of Works as a private contractor under the local authority. That is the point.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I know that your rulings are always fair, but may I suggest that you cannot quite take the Office of Works as being agent for the Ministry of Health? The Office of Works is a separate entity, and need not engage in this unless it thinks right. My right hon. Friend says that he has engaged in this matter at the request of the Minister of Health, but he himself is a free agent, and therefore it devolves on him to defend his Department on the question as to whether he is building houses which can be let economically. As he is a free agent you cannot put him in the position of a contractor. If he did not do this work, nobody could compel him to do it; but as he has done it, he is responsible for the consequences. The Minister of 1296 Health could not give my right hon. Friend orders.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The Committee has full power over the right hon. Gentleman. The Committee is quite entitled to say, "We will not vote this money and the Department shall not be allowed to do this work," but not to re-open the full housing policy which was discussed on the Bill that was passed, and on the main Estimates of the year.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I will not do that, but in my judgment my right hon. Friend did not take prudent action in building houses without knowing at what rent they could be let. Has he done it at the direct request of the Minister of Health?
§ Sir A. MOND
My right hon. Friend entirely misunderstands my position. I have acted as the agent of the local authorities, and not of the Minister of Health. The local authorities come to me and say, "We have got a building scheme; will you kindly carry it out for us?" If I ask Messrs. Trollope to build a house for me, they would not be interested in the amount of the rent. If the Camberwell Borough Council asked me to carry out a building scheme, they would have to settle the rent I am not interested in that. Therefore, I do not know what rent they will be able to obtain. All I am interested in is providing houses as cheaply as possible, and I think that I have succeeded in obtaining them cheaper than in any other way.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
My right hon. Friend says that he acted as agent, and if Messrs. Trollope were to build him a house they would not be interested in the rent. But Messrs. Trollope's estimates do not come before the House of Commons, and those of my right hon. Friend do, and we have got to see that he is spending public money properly.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Some of us who have a great deal more experience in Parliamentary matters than my hon. Friend—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member must not make interjections. If he wishes to contribute to the Debate, he will rise later on.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Can these houses be let at an economic rent? My right hon. Friend says that he is only acting as an agent. This is an amazing position for a Government Department to be put in. It is difficult to discuss it within the rules of Order, but we have never before had, in my experience in the House of Commons, a Government Department coming down here and saying that they are not responsible for the money they spend, and when I am told that we are the guardians of the public purse, I do want hon. Members to realise that if there is extravagance in public expenditure, whether by ratepayers or taxpayers, it will fall upon those who have got to get their living by manual or intellectual work. Has my right hon. Friend got his money from the local authorities? Where did the local authorities get it from? If they have borrowed it, from whom did they borrow it, and has my right hon. Friend got it?
§ Sir W. DAVISON
We are very much in the dark. If the right hon. Gentleman is acting as agent for the local authorities why is Parliament asked to Vote this money?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I observe that the hon. Member was not in his place when this point was being explained by the Minister. The Minister explained that it was necessary to have a certain floating account because the money did not always come in from the local authorities at the same time that the payments had to be made. Perhaps the hon. Member will get a further reply on that question afterwards.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
My right hon. Friend does not give us what he would give us were he acting in his private capacity as a business man. He has not given us the real estimate of his activity. He is acting as an agent. I agree that that puts a different complexion upon it from a Parliamentary point of view, but I protest against a Government Department acting as the agent for a local authority. I protest against this extension of Government Department activity into the building trade. To come down to the root principle. In my judgment the 1298 Government never have and never will execute public works economically. My right hon. Friend with all his experience cannot point to a single work where economy and efficiency have gone side by side with Government expenditure. All the Government expenditure which we had during the War was extravagant. My right hon. Friend has got his Department, and a huge swollen Department, I have no doubt, and he wants something for them to do. Of course we shall never get these Government Departments down unless we persuade the Ministers that these gentlemen who want something to do at the taxpayers' expense can be got rid of. I know also that my right hon. Friend is subjected to great pressure, and that there will be great pressure put upon him by all the officials whom he has got in his Department to carry out all sorts of schemes all over the country. But that is not the way to keep down public expenditure. We shall never get public expenditure down until Ministers say to their subordinates in their Departments, "I am very sorry we cannot go on extending these Government activities." There is no official in the Government service to-day who cannot suggest innumerable opportunities for his usefulness, but you will never reduce Government establishments by that. You will never bring economy into the public service by acting like that.
I feel so strongly about this matter that I shall vote against my right hon. Friend's Estimate. I do it on the ground of public principle that we must reduce Government activities. I know it will be painful. The Prime Minister said in his speech last night to the Federation of British Industries, "Look out, there will be a good deal of screaming." There has to be a good deal of screaming if we are to get back to rigid rules of public finance. When I say these things I hope my hon. Friend on his side will really understand that I am doing so in the interests of labour and of the men who have got to get their living, because it is upon them that the consequences of this large Government expenditure will fall. I hope that the House will read, not to my right hon. Friend personally because I have a very high respect for him, but to this policy of a Government Department acting as the agent for the local authority which in its turn is agent for another Government De- 1299 partment, a very severe lesson, and I trust that the Committee will reject this Estimate.
I do think there is a very important question of policy involved in this Estimate. We have to decide whether the Office of Works shall perform functions which at its inception it was not authorised by Parliament to perform, or undertake an entirely new kind of work such as was never contemplated when it came into existence. The Office of Works originally, as I understand, was appointed to look after the care and upkeep of public buildings and for nothing else. If this Committee decides that in future the Office of Works is to step in where municipal authorities and private enterprise have failed to provide an essential for the community then well and good, but the Committee ought to do so with its eyes open and ought to realise what it is doing. With reference to what the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) said about the number of individuals who are being employed by the Office of Works in the prosecution of this new policy, I endeavoured to make a few inquiries yesterday as to what exactly were those activities, and I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions. I would like to point out that originally in the Office of Works the gentlemen who were appointed to assist the Minister in all matters of construction and upkeep were surveyors and not architects in any sense of the word. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman what amount his Department is spending in its architectural department to-day, because I think the Committee will find, if he is able to give that figure, that it is a very large sum. I maintain that is not a proper function for the Office of Works. I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to give some better reason than we have yet heard why this Committee should authorise him to continue this work of constructing working-class houses, which apparently he has embarked on and already performed without the previous sanction of this House. We have the clear choice whether we are going to authorise the Office of Works to step in, for the convenience it may be I am quite ready to admit, of local authorities and become contractors at a time when we all 1300 had hoped that the building of houses would go back eventually to private enterprise, or whether we are to restrict the Office of Works to its original, economical, and necessary functions. It is quite a different thing if the Office of Works is to become a convenience for bodies outside Government Departments, and if the Committee authorise the provision of this money it should understand clearly what it is doing.
§ Mr. MYERS
In listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lambert) I came to the conclusion that he permitted his indignation in connection with this matter to run away with his judgment. He based his criticism on many different points, some of which were contradictory. I do not think any hostile criticism can be sustained on the ground of economy in national expenditure, because it has been established, I think, that the money that is raised is raised locally, and for a necessary and essential purpose which is recognised by all parties in this House. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that we should reduce public activities. I venture to suggest whatever differences of opinion we may have as to policy few people will be got to admit that it is necessary to reduce public activities to-day in the direction of housing. We have got to recognise and accept that it is necessary and useful work which must continue by some agency or another. I want to put an exactly opposite point of view from the view put forward by the right hon. Gentleman. As one somewhat interested in this matter I am prepared to say that this is the one bright spot in the whole of our housing policy. Here we have had local authorities confronted with numerous difficulties. The first difficulty was that of being unable to secure contractors, and sometimes when tenders were received they were altogether unreasonable and out of all proportion to prices generally recognised even in these days. Then local authorities also found themselves up against the difficulty of securing materials. It is well known, and by people in this House, that many of these building materials have been cornered and the prices put up by various trusts and combines which placed them out of the reach of many local authorities, and owing to the quantity produced they have not in some instances been able to secure any at all.
1301 Here is a case of a Government Department which can put its hand on materials in considerable volume being asked to come to the assistance of local authorities and to do the work without the intervention of outside agents. I am afraid it is here where the chief trouble is to be found. This public authority, without asking for tenders from any outside agency, put their hands on material and go in and do this work and ease the local authorities in their burden. All the evidence is in the direction that they are doing this work well and as well, if not better, than many of the other housing schemes in the country. They are building houses and employing skilled labour continuously and with little or no disputes, and good and efficient work is being done. At Camberwell they have 115 bricklayers at work, 60 carpenters, 8 plasterers, 6 plumbers, 5 painters, and the rates of wages recognised in the trade are being paid, and the report states that there has been no stoppage on the work and all difficulties have been settled smoothly. Materials have been secured by the Office of Works and the work is proceeding. The Office of Works recruit their own staff and exercise their own supervision, and in every detail have complete control of the work. Surely we are not going to condemn a Government Department which can exercise as effective supervision and can get the work done as reasonably as under a private contractor [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] An official report has been issued in connection with this Camberwell scheme, which states there can be no question by the execution of this work by direct administration with sympathetic labour the progress is excellent and the scheme will be economical and rapid in execution. The standard of building is very good throughout. It must always be recognised that direct labour work requires the closest knowledge of organisation and a most careful supervision and control. That has been secured in this scheme, and, so far as I can express an opinion, I would hope, not that this work should be restricted, but that it is work which should be extended in the various parts of the country, and that the Office of Works should not weary in well-doing, and in eliminating all those agencies which are really stopping house building owing to excessive cost of materials, high tenders, 1302 profits, and all these things, and the cost of internal fittings. If any Government Department can take hold of this work and eliminate all those factors, which are plundering the community in this direction, they ought, I submit, to be encouraged, and not retarded, because it is going to interfere with the profits of contractors.
§ Mr. G. LOCKER-LAMPSON
The First Commissioner of Works gave us to understand that he was acting in this matter as the agent of the local authorities and also as the agent of the Minister of Health I do think when he has been requested by the Minister of Health to undertake this very important work that the least we might expect is the privilege of the presence of the Minister of Health in the House in this Debate. It is quite evident questions are going to arise turning very largely on the amount of rent. The First Commissioner told us that he had nothing to do with the question whether there was going to be an economic rent for the houses his Department built, and that that was really a question for the local authorities. It is also a very large question for the Minister of Health, and it is one which has been discussed over and over again on the Ministry of Health. Surely it is enormously important before we agree to give the right hon. Gentleman this money for these houses that we should be able to make up our minds whether they are going to be let at economic rents. The Minister of Health is the only member of the Government who can tell us. I submit before we go on with this Debate we ought to have the Minister of Health here to deal with this question and to satisfy hon. Members. You, Sir, have decided that this is an absolutely new service. It is a new service, and a very grave and important departure. I think my hon. Friends of the Labour party are very glad to see this new departure, and from their point of view they must necessarily be very pleased because it is a question really of nationalisation in the building trade. The First Commissioner told us that this scheme is going to be very largely extended, and he has not got up to ten thousand houses, and probably has in the back of his mind the erection 1303 of a hundred thousand houses. We shall all be delighted to see a hundred thousand houses, but it is quite evident in my mind that the Office of Works in future is practically going to undertake the whole of the building that comes for local authorities. That is an entirely new departure and by it you are practically giving the whole of this building trade into the hands of one of the Departments of State.
I should very much like to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether he thinks he will be able to do this as cheaply as local authorities can do it by employing ordinary contractors? I know he is interested in buildings at various places at some distance away from London. Has he got a plant on the spot belonging to the Office of Works? Has he a building plant at Bedford, has he one at Chester-le-Street, has he one at Richmond in Surrey? Is he going to transfer the building plants of the Office of Works from various parts of the country all over the place? If so, it seems to me that this is going to lead to enormous cost, for surely it is cheaper to employ a plant on the spot than to go up to some centralised place in London and have the whole of your plant transferred from there all over the country. In regard to the question of the £200,000, I understand according to the right hon. Gentleman, that the whole of this sum is going to be refunded at some time by the local authorities, and therefore, he will say, there is no permanent Exchequer money expended at all. There is no Exchequer money on this page at all. The local authority is not responsible for anything over a penny rate, so that if the right hon. Gentleman in building these houses builds up to a sum which goes over the penny rate, the whole of that added expense will fall upon the Exchequer. Therefore, how can he know that no money will fall on the Exchequer? The right hon. Gentleman said that the costs had not yet been got out for the completed houses, but everybody knows that the right hon. Gentleman is one of the best business men in the country, and I cannot conceive that in his private business he would say that the costs could not be got out for completed work. If he carries on business in that way, the whole of his business would have gone smash years ago. I should very much like to satisfy my mind that there 1304 is not going to be an enormous cost eventually falling upon the public Exchequer in regard to this building.
The right hon. Gentleman also said—but he did not prove it—that his Department would be able to build much more cheaply than ordinary contractors. Of course he would if his Department are not working under the ordinary rules and regulations of the Ministry of Health, and I should like to know whether the Office of Works are going to be bound up in the same red tape as the Ministry of Health have imposed on ordinary contractors and local authorities. Naturally, if the Office of Works are free to do as they like, independent of the ordinary regulations, they can build more cheaply. Anyway, I do not think we have had nearly enough information on this subject, and I suggest that the Minister of Health ought himself to be present and give an explanation with regard to this policy.
§ Mr. REMER
I should like to join in the protest which has been made against this Vote. I should think there is not a single hon. Member who heard the speech of the hon. Member for the Spen Valley (Mr. Myers) who did not realise that this Vote means nothing but mere socialism in its worst principles. I should also like to impress upon the Committee the point which was elicited from the right hon. Gentleman during his opening statement. He gave his estimate for these houses at £2,200,000 for 2,000 houses, which comes out practically at £1,000 a house, and although 28 houses have been completed, he is utterly unable to give any estimate whatever of what these 28 houses are going to cost.
§ Mr. REMER
I think it will be very interesting to know what the estimate is. I happen to know about one of the particular sites where they are going to at present, in my own constituency, which I have seen, and there they are going in because the contractors' prices are supposed to be so high. They are high solely because of the very difficult position of the site, and before we go on with this Vote I think we ought to have some considerable information from the Minister of Health. It is most unsatisfactory to come down here and have to deal with these figures in his absence. Last night 1305 we had a speech from the Prime Minister in which he told us he was in favour of economy, and it looks as if that was mere words when we come down here the next day and have gross extravagance of this kind brought before us. I shall certainly go into the Lobby against the Government on this point, because I think they have no mandate whatever for any such scheme, and I wish to enter my strong protest against this kind of Vote being put before us.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
I have just taken the trouble to telephone to the Borough Council of Kensington, for whom the right hon. Gentleman has been doing some work during the past year, and I am told on the telephone that the completed figures have only been received from his Department in one instance, although frequent applications have been made. I asked what the result of the expenditure in that particular instance was, in order to see whether the work had been done in a cheap and businesslike manner, and I was informed that in regard to this particular matter the estimate, which was submitted to the Borough Council, and was accepted, amounted to £1,018, and that the actual cost which has now been returned—and this is the only case where they have been able to get the figures—amounted to no less than £3,300.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
It is the case of a house in Bassett Road, Kensington, so I am informed on the telephone, which was converted by the Office of Works into five flats, and the estimate, I am told, which was given to the Borough Council was £1,018. That was agreed to, and the actual cost of the completed work was £3,300, or more than three times the amount of the original estimate. It only shows how very unsatisfactory work done by Government Departments is, and what I think is equally unsatisfactory is that, although they have done a considerable amount of work in Kensington at the request of the Ministry, in no other case are there any final figures available. I was amazed, on telephoning to the Council office, to hear that they had only got the final figures in this one case. The whole procedure of this Estimate seems to me to be very irregular. The right hon. Gentleman 1306 says he is acting as the agent for a local authority. This House has conferred on local authorities very considerable powers in connection with housing under certain safeguards. The Chairman pointed out an explanation which had been given by the right hon. Gentleman, but in effect we are asked, apparently, for some floating sum of money to be given to him until such time as he recovers the money which is due to him from the local authorities. As he has only submitted his accounts, so far as Kensington is concerned, in one instance, and there are a large number of houses which have been completed, and for which the accounts ought to have been sent in long ago, it looks likely to cost the country in interest a considerable sum. I cannot be a party to voting money to a Government Department for carrying out works which had very much better be done by private contracts.
§ Mr. HOGGE
There are two parts in this Estimate, which I think we ought to look at separately. There is, first of all, the question of policy which is raised by this new service. I can understand an hon. Member who supports a Socialist type of Government supporting this Government, which is not a Socialist Government, in setting up a Socialistic scheme to deal with housing, but it seems to me that the House is too frequently asked to debate a new principle and a new theory on Supplementary Estimates. This is probably the biggest new principle that has been submitted to the House this Session, and we have present no responsible Minister beyond Departmental Ministers. This is a question of policy for which the First Commissioner of Works should not be made responsible, and either the Leader of the House or the Prime Minister, together with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, ought to be present in order that the House should have an expressly stated view from the Head of the Government as to whether this is the policy or not. I am not for the moment quarrelling, and I hope I shall not quarrel, with any of my Labour Friends behind me as to the merit of their views as against mine, but if we agree to this, it means that all the local authorities in the country and all the private contractors who serve the local authorities will finally be roped into a new building Civil Service.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I do not want anything my hon. and gallant Friend wants, except perhaps an old despatch box, but let us follow out logically the principle of this Estimate. If you agree with the policy, very well, and if you do not agree, very well, but do not let us carry it through in a Supplementary Estimate. That is the real point. Even my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works does not know what he is doing, and I should very much like to know really how far he does know that he is going on his own figures. He said he had 2,236 separate houses now in hand, and that these houses were going to cost £2,200,000. Then he said he had 4,000 more. Are those firm, or are they not?
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOGGE
He has 2,000 firm, 4,000 in the offing, and 6,000 in the distance. That is exactly where this policy will take the Government. For those who believe that this is not a good scheme the whole future is going to be imperilled. I do not want to argue that, because I think it is better to leave the merits alone in view of the far bigger point I have put, that the Government has no right to do this thing in this way. It may be a good thing, but that this national service should be worked by the Government, and that every man employed in that service should be a Government servant, in receipt of Government pay and a Government pension, may he an ideal which some people believe in, but I do not. Whether I believe it or not, this is not the way to do it. What encourages me to say this is that those who were in the last Parliament have a very vivid recollection of what the Government attempted to do in the way of building houses and other things during the War. Somebody behind me says they did it very successfully. At Chepstow, for instance? 1308 [Interruption.] We are not talking of munitions. We are talking of building, and I am giving a parallel case—the buildings at Chepstow. I am not even talking of the cost of building ships. What I am talking about at Chepstow is the cost of building houses.
§ Mr. HOGGE
No, of course you did not build them, but some of your friends built them. The Government built those houses, and we know exactly where we are in that matter. Mr. Whitley has debarred us from discussing directly the question of the economic rent of those houses, and therefore I am debarred from saying more about them than that I cannot for the life of me see why the average ratepayer, who has got to endure the conditions which lie to his hand, should have to shoulder the burden of more favoured people. That is all I can say about the economic position, though I am very much tempted to go into greater detail. My right hon. Friend told us the cost of these houses was, roughly, £1,000 each, and I think he said he was building them for £850.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Some of them. My right hon. Friend must tell us what the houses are that he is building for £850—the size of the houses, and the accommodation, as compared with houses which are being built outside. I know of houses that are being put up at less than £850, even including the Government subsidy. We are not going to be fobbed off without that information. When my right hon. Friend estimates for these houses, does anything go down in respect of overhead charges for his Department? What portion of his salary which he draws from the State is credited to the cost of these houses?
§ Mr. HOGGE
My right hon. Friend and the whole of the officials under him draw a large amount of money from the State in salaries. Is any of that money debited to the cost of the building of these houses, or is the £850 simply the cost of the material, bought in the cheapest market, and often in the most expeditious way, not open to other people? He has to prove that to the Committee, even if 1309 we agree to him building houses under this scheme. For these reasons and many others which we need not go into this is, perhaps, the most unsatisfactory supplementary estimate which has been submitted to this House, and this Committee will be very unwise if it agrees to it, and I for one will vote against it.
§ Mr. STEVENS
It seems to me that this Committee is asked to commit the House of Commons to an entirely new policy, the policy of the nationalisation of the building trade, and without any reason, because the right hon. Gentleman has told us that he is only acting as agent for the local authorities, an agency which any firm of contractors would readily undertake under like circumstances. He has not told us how much of his overhead charges, how much of the hundreds of thousands of pounds which his Department is costing the State, is charged to the local authorities, and whether any of it is included in this £850 per house. I do not want to repeat what has been said already, but I wish to know whether the Leader of the Government or the Leader of the House is aware that this new policy is being brought before us in this way.
§ Mr. R. GRAHAM
There seems to me to be no reason whatever to offer any severe criticism against the Ministry on this Estimate, either for wastefulness or extravagance, unless the accusations are supported by evidence. I suggest to hon. Members who have submitted a number of questions in their speeches this afternoon, questions which it seems to me have been designed to serve as criticism, that they might have ascertained the information before this Debate opened, and, having obtained the information, have been able to say whether the Minister has done his work in a satisfactory way or otherwise. The hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) has questioned whether the Office of Works can construct the houses more cheaply, or whether they will not construct these houses at a higher price than is charged by ordinary builders under contract. There is in this House a considerable number of business men, and surely they either know, or could easily ascertain, whether private builders can build houses of the kind that are being built by the Minister as cheaply as the Minister is doing. There is no excuse for coming here with an implication that the Minister 1310 is wasting public money, or that he is incompetent to do the work, without better evidence than has been submitted to the Committee. It has been suggested that the Office of Works is in a fair way to develop into a building civil service. I do not know whether hon. Members are aware of the work that has been done by the Building Trades Joint Industrial Council and of its aims and aspirations. The principal aim of the Council is so to organise the work of building that the industry shall become an industry devoted to public service, and I ask hon. Members to recognise that that is a far higher aim than any aim declared by any other industry in this country. If that is the aim of the building industry of the country, as represented by the Building Trades Joint Industrial Council, there is surely no very wide difference between that combined aim of employers and workmen and the scheme that it was suggested by the hon. Member on my left (Mr. Hogge) might ultimately be developed by an extension of the work of the Minister before us.
§ Sir A. MOND
I think it would be convenient to the Committee if I took the opportunity of dealing with some of the points raised during the discussion. I must honestly confess that when I came down to the House with this very modest Supplementary Estimate for £200,000 I was surprised to find myself suddenly accused of being a Socialistic Minister. Had anybody ever told me that I should come, to be called that, I should have looked at him with amazement. This very small, modest, temporary scheme for solving a very urgent social problem has been elaborated, developed and exaggerated in the most fantastic and ridiculous manner I have ever heard. We are even told that the Office of Works is going to do all the building in the country. You have a Building Programme for 500,000 houses, and out of that number we may possibly build 10,000, and yet this is the colossal principle, the enormous departure, something so terrible that hon. Members of all parties, of the most divergent views, and the most hostile political opinions, all unite! If one had not been used to a good many years of parliamentary discussion one would really think there was something in all this; but, of course, there is not. Really, my Department are acting in this matter not 1311 with the boundless ambition which the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert) so eloquently described. It is said that I am a Minister presiding over officials anxious to over-work themselves and to sit up day and night, that I have not the strength of mind when at the head of a Department not to employ incompetent officials. It really seems amazing for hon. Members to get up and say, "We all recognise that in private life you are a competent business person, but because you are a Minister of a Government Department"—and it is as efficient body as any I have ever had under me—" I am entirely incapable of carrying out the building of 250 cottages." I am not in the slightest in favour of the Government undertaking work it is possible to avoid. Neither I nor my Department have any desire to be burdened by these troublesome cottage-building schemes; but, after all, let the Committee reflect how far we are behind with our building schemes. Let them go down to their constituencies and say that by their vote they are preventing the building of houses.
§ Sir A. MOND
What other policy is there? The policy is that a Government department is going in to take up housing schemes which cannot be carried out, and to get them carried out quickly and cheaply. If this Estimate is not passed, these Housing schemes will not be carried out, and all these people will not have houses to which to go. That is the logical and definite result of opposing this. If it were a proposal to take over the whole housing schemes of this country, and to do away with private builders, that would be a great new policy and I should not be in favour of it. That is not what I am asking for, nor is anybody asking for it. On some of these schemes contractors are being employed. We have no desire to do work which private contractors can do, but this is work which can be done more economically and conveniently by the Department. I will give a few details. In the case of Pontypridd, there was a tender for £1,098; our estimate is £904.
§ Mr. STEVENS
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an estimate of one of the houses which have been completed?
§ Sir A. MOND
I do not think that would be of very much value, and it would not help the Committee at all. The hon. Member is perfectly well aware that you want a scheme complete before you can get the actual cost of the houses. Hon. Members will remember that these figures include roads, sewers, and many other things involved in the laying-out of a scheme. I have no doubt the figures can be got out. Speaking from experience, I may say that we are not so bad at estimates as hon. Members may think. I have been sometimes surprised at the extraordinary accuracy of our estimates. Let me give a few variations of figures. Here is a tender for Llantrissant, £1,100, and our figure is £975 on the same basis. I have many more figures which show that these local authorities are being held up by unreasonable costs. That is why the local authorities in these cases have come to us to do the work. There is no doubt to anybody who has been following the matter that there has been a deliberate attempt to reap exaggerated profits in the building of these houses. Take the case of smaller authorities, who have not got the same facilities, and have not the capacity for doing this work which large corporations have. We would not dream of building for the London County Council or the Liverpool Corporation, or other big authorities, and nobody suggests that they are not capable of doing the work. We are helping a number of small public bodies, which, hon. Members know perfectly well, have not got the organisation or the staff to carry out large building schemes, and that is really why we are doing it. We are not laying down any enormous new principle, and I hope the Committee will see we do not lay down any new principle. I admit we are acting in the capacity of an agent for local authorities. I do not suppose any Government Department has ever before demeaned itself by rendering such service of public utility. I dare say that is new, but if the work is required and the Department can do it efficiently, and I say, speaking with twenty-five years' experience, we can do the work efficiently, then it would be a great wrong on our part as a Government if we did not undertake it.
Hon. Members have talked about the economical side, but does any hon. Member remember any of these housing 1313 schemes which have been economical propositions, because I do not. I always understood that it was accepted by this House that in these building schemes we were not dealing with the economic question. The question here is, Will the houses built by my Department work out more expensively than those built by private enterprise? That is the whole question. From the best information, and to my knowledge, I have every reason to anticipate that they will be cheaper, and I am very much encouraged in this by the experience I have had in another branch of the work of my Department which has adopted direct labour as against tenders. It may interest hon. Members if I give some cases in which work can be done more cheaply by Government Departments than by giving it out to private tender. Repairs had to be done to a wall, and the lowest tender sent in was for £2,225. The actual work carried out by direct labour cost £832. [An HON. MEMBEE: "The same work?"] Yes, and better. [An HON. MEMBER: "Including material?"] Including material. Here is another case, the lowest tender being £1,597 and the actual cost for the work by direct labour £980.
§ Sir A. MOND
Yes. You can have all the overhead charges you like; it will not make a difference of £600. I could quote a large number of other cases. I do not think it unnatural. I do not claim any great credit. I think these cases are bound to occur. I am not arguing that Government Departments always do work more cheaply, but I do contend it is equally unreasonable to lay down the general principle that it is quite impossible for any Government Department, well-equipped, well-staffed, and well-managed, to do its work with as great intelligence as private contractors.
§ Mr. J. DAVISON
Can the right hon. Gentleman state why, if these figures are correct, there should not be an extension of the scheme on a national basis?
§ Sir A. MOND
I will give the hon. Member one of my reasons. I think you would get an organisation so vast that it would be impossible to control it, and you would not get an efficient result.
§ Sir P. MAGNUS
Has the right hon. Gentleman taken into consideration the annual cost of the Department?
§ Sir A. MOND
I have taken that into consideration. The annual cost of the architectural staff is very much lower than that for which you could get any private works to take the work on. I have figures to prove that that is the case. As a matter of fact, I had great doubt on that subject before going to the Office of Works. When I was a private Member I had an idea that the cost of working the Department would be very high for the work done, but, as a matter of fact, it is altogether different. The figures which I have had an opportunity to examine convince me that quite the reverse is the case. I have been asked as to how we handle the building plants in the schemes which are going on in various parts of the country. We deal with this matter as an ordinary builder would, and put them in the most convenient places. As I have told the House, these houses are being built under the supervision of, and with the approval of the Ministry of Health, and the type of house is that which costs us £880 and contains a living room, a parlour and three bedrooms. [An HON. MEMBER: "Any bathroom?"] I do not know.
Really, I think a good many hon. Members do not appear to be aware of the cost of building at the present time. One hon. Member queried whether I really realised that the cost of these things was now five times that of the pre-War period, and that a house costing previously £400 to £500 now costs £1,000 or more. At the Office of Works we are only too painfully aware of the difference. The tenders for houses seem a large figure, and a large figure per house, but, looking over the figures given to local authorities, and in connection with London County Council schemes, they work out very much about the same. That is to say, from £880 to £l,100 per house, according to the different types. Then one hon. Member referred to a conversion scheme which we undertook for a borough council. The borough council were themselves unable to undertake the work, and that was the only reason why we undertook to do it. Then we have people telephoning about it! I can tell hon. Members, who may not be aware of it, that the conversion of these houses 1315 into flats is one of the most difficult and unpleasant jobs anyone could undertake.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
That is exactly why we have protested against the conversion of these houses. We were forced into converting these houses by the Ministry of Health. The work was put upon us, and we were obliged to accept the offer of the Office of Works to do it—much to our annoyance. The Minister was unable to go into details as to the cost in his statement. I took the trouble to get hold of it. I state frankly I got the particulars from the Town Hall. I am a Member of the Housing Committee, and I am aware in general terms of the very great additional cost, and the very large amount by which the Estimate of the Office of Works has been exceeded. What I wanted to get was the precise details, and I obtained them on the telephone. I have informed the House of what I have done.
§ Sir A. MOND
The hon. Gentleman might have informed me, so as to give me the opportunity of meeting the attack. This kind of conversion is always a very difficult operation, and you cannot give a close estimate. I hope I have succeeded in fairly well covering points put to me. This policy we are pursuing is a temporary policy only—not a permanent one. I contend that the House has every reason to be satisfied with the way the work is being done and the cost of the work, and certainly I shall do all I can to push forward this most urgent problem of getting the people housed.
§ Mr. FRANCE
I am afraid I have been a Member of this House too many years to be much impressed, excepting in one regard, by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I certainly was impressed by his Parliamentary art in endeavouring to laugh out of court the criticisms which have been addressed to him on this subject from every quarter of the House, except from the Labour Benches opposite. He tried a course at which I was rather surprised, and that was in adopting the suggestion that those of us who sincerely wished to see the right line adopted in these matters are unsympathetic towards the building of houses in this country. It is, I think, hardly necessary to assure this Committee that some of us who feel it our duty to speak on this subject are 1316 as keenly anxious as is the right hon. Gentleman himself or any Member on the Benches opposite, and have perhaps been engaged in as many efforts to assist housing conditions and to bring about better housing conditions as the right hon. Gentleman. Some of those who are as sincerely determined to try to see that this great evil of the lack of houses is remedied yet feel, as the hon. Member for East Edinburgh put it so well, that in this purely innocuous and small Supplementary Estimate there is a very great principle involved.
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman was brought to a finish by the usual Front Bench platitude that of all the Departments of the State, whatever the others may be doing, the Department of the right hon. Gentleman is "the" Department, and that there is nothing worthy of criticism in regard to it. But surely the question is: Can these houses be built better by the local authorities or by his Department? I would only ask one question in connection with this, or put one point: If the right hon. Gentleman is so convinced that the Government Departments can do so very much better in this respect than, not the local authority, but the local authority working in conjunction with private enterprise, why in the name of Heaven does not he hand his own business over to a Government Department? He is far too wise a man for that, and—if I may say so—far too successful a man to attempt such a course.
§ Mr. FRANCE
With great respect, I shall believe that statement more fully when I see the fact. May I point out to the Committee that no one can suggest that those of us who feel that this is a very serious matter, not to be left— we do recognise and always have recognised that there is already in existence building schemes—this is only one small feature—are indifferent in any degree to the necessities of the case. There already have been vast schemes which we support, schemes of municipal housing, and under the inevitable circumstances of the case, and in view of the emergency and need of the times, helped by national effort and from the Exchequer. But this goes much further. It has been recognised, and the House has decided—and I 1317 think everyone must admit that the country has decided—that these schemes are to go on hand in hand with private enterprise so as to encourage and help those who have been engaged in the building trade in the past. If they are profiteering, if they are charging too much, every possible measure should be taken against them, and I should wish to see it done. If the Ministry of Health had been a little more energetic and determined in this matter they might have taken steps to see that these evils were overcome. The only ground, said the right hon. Gentleman, upon which this could be defended was the cheaper method which he adopted. If I may say so without any offence, I did hope when he came down to the House to-day to hear something more. The right hon. Gentleman does not apparently regard this as a very big matter. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is quite so well informed on matters in connection with these schemes as he might have been in view of the importance of the thing. He does not know now whether he is going to put up buildings or finish these houses more cheaply than can be done by private enterprise. Therefore we have not even evidence on the very points under discussion. There is one point more I want to put, and I want to put this point forward without any suggestion of an unfriendly feeling towards those who hold entirely different views to myself as to the advantages of nationalising this trade of house building, or any other trade. It is all very well to say that this is only a small item and that there are only 20 local authorities involved. But I do want to suggest to the Committee that it may be—I do not say it is, but it may be that in some of these local authorities there is a majority in favour of the nationalisation of the building industry.
§ Mr. FRANCE
Yes, it may be so. In some cases perhaps it is not so. To say that all the building of this country is eventually to come under the control of the State—well, if that is so, it is perfectly natural that those concerned would wish to come to a Government department and prove, if they can prove, that under the very exceptional circumstances of the time, the Office of Works can more successfully carry out a scheme than a 1318 local builder can. But may I point out what an unfair advantage is given to the Office of Works. The Office of Works are not going to the Treasury permanently for a few hundred pounds. They are collecting the money for the time being and lending it to these local authorities who have difficulty in raising money. Therefore they are really financing schemes which under present circumstances are difficult to finance, and they are making it easier for the local authorities to compete with private enterprise. If there is anything in this idea, any motive on the part of those who first of all invited my right hon. Friend to be come their agent—I do not say an unworthy motive, but a perfectly honourable motive that they believe in the system— that by going to him they can get money-borrowed and collected which they otherwise would not get, and that the House of Commons will endorse that, then it is not to be wondered at that they will want the Office of Works to take up their schemes and carry them out.
I would warn the right hon. Gentleman whether he wishes to become a socialist, whether he wishes to adopt nationalisation methods in the building of houses or not, it is inevitable if you make the conditions so unfair, and the advantages so great towards these particular schemes, whether they cost more or not, you will inevitably have the tendency towards the drifting of the whole system of building into Government hands. That is a decision which I think the House is not prepared to take upon a Supplementary Estimate of £200,000. Therefore I do very urgently appeal, with every desire to see housing hurried on, that as Members of this House we have not had sufficient evidence from the right hon. Gentleman that he is doing the work better than anyone else, or that the work could not be carried out without his assistance, or whether, indeed, he should embark upon such a large enterprise on such insufficient grounds.
§ Mr. W. SMITH
I have listened to this discussion with a great deal of interest, and, really, it is surprising to find hon. Members in different parts of the House apparently angry because houses are being erected. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!" and "Withdraw!"]
§ Mr. SMITH
I thought my observation would not be very acceptable to hon. Members opposite, but how any other explanation can be given of some of the statements made here to-day in condemnation of what the Office of Works have done I am at a loss to understand. I agree with what has been said that it is difficult to call to mind any discussion where there has been greater exaggeration and misrepresentation than that which has taken place this afternoon. To listen to some of the speeches one would have thought that the Office of Works was a terrible body going about all over the country compelling local bodies to accept its services in regard to the construction of houses, that the local authorities named in the Estimate are not possessed of any judgment as to what is best for their own localities, and that the Office of Works pounces down upon them and compels them, against their own wishes, to accept its services in the direction of this Estimate.
I am surprised at the criticisms that have been made. When I take my mind back to the demands made by hon. Gentlemen opposite as to what the Government intend to do in the way of housing and the ex-soldiers, I am surprised to hear the criticism forthcoming now that the Government have extended their services in that direction. You must bear in mind what is taking place in different parts of the country. Houses are being seized and occupied by soldiers. [An HON. MEMBER: "And a good job too!"] Is that what hon. Members wish to see continued, or is it not better to develop housing schemes to provide houses for them to live in so as to prevent the necessity of conduct of this description? I understand that local authorities are anxious to develop housing schemes; they work out their plans in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and then they find either a difficulty in getting them erected, or the estimates submitted are of such a character as to warrant them considering other methods of construction. Anyone with any knowledge of local bodies in regard to this question of housing know that gross profiteering is taking place, so far as contractors are concerned, in the building of houses. The question of economic rent is being raised when as a matter of fact the economic rent would be higher under private 1320 enterprise than is the result of the system which has been adopted. The interest of hon. Members in the workpeople who will occupy these houses is mere pretence, and the real ground of objection on the part of hon. Members here to-day is because this means the breaking down of vested interests. That is the real objection in the criticisms which have been made this afternoon, and the pretence that it will cost more is not borne out by the facts.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) made some wonderful accusations against the Department about gross extravagance, ignoring entirely the statement made by the Minister that one experience of the Department was the carrying out of some work for the Board of Agriculture which, according to the estimates and the prices submitted from other sources, would amount to £1,100, and it was actually completed by the Office of Works for £800. Further figures have been submitted to us, all of which show that the work done by this Department gives a better service and better results in the end than what has been accomplished in other directions. I can quite conceive that if the Office of Works had been asked to meet the difficulties with which local authorities find themselves confronted, and they had refused to lend any assistance, there would have been much more criticism made against them. In my judgment the whole basis of this criticism against the Department is because they have taken action which breaks down the ring surrounding the building of houses. Some hon. Members have asked what right has this Department to do this work, just as though we were not passing through very exceptional times in regard to housing which amply justify the Department in rendering every service it can to enable the country to meet its difficulties.
So long as we can be assured that the full charge is being entered up and that no expense is falling upon the national Exchequer — we do not want any camouflaging of the position in that respect—so long as this Department is properly crediting all the expense to these schemes, and the local authorities are satisfied with the services of the Office of Works, this House has no right to raise any complaints as to the activities of this Department in that 1321 direction. I think it is to their credit that they have come to the aid and assistance of local authorities in the building of houses. When we reflect upon the effect which this shortage of houses is having upon the national life at the present moment, when we think of two or three families living in one house, crowded together and jeopardising the future of this country from the standard of the manhood and womanhood of the people, when the Department is criticised for giving services to help the country out of that condition of things, it is astounding to find criticisms in the direction I have indicated, and no wonder some of us are tempted to believe that the real reason is the gross profiteering which is going on by a vested interest so far as housing is concerned.
In my own locality the estimate for the building of houses amounted to £1,005 each. In the contract there is a clause which entitled the contractor to add to his estimate any increased cost of labour or materials during the course of construction. The price of materials has gone up since that time, and two advances in wages have taken place. Although it is true that the specifications have been somewhat modified, those houses have been built for £900 each, or £105 less than the contract, in spite of the increased cost of materials and an increase of wages that has taken place on two occasions. Just the same thing happened in Wiltshire, where the local authorities have built their own houses by direct labour, and where they have given the best conditions of labour to the men employed, even to the extent of guaranteeing them a full 47-hour week, full pay for holidays, and other concessions, and yet there has been a saving on building there to the extent of about £200 per house. Until hon. Members opposite can substantiate their charges they have no right to oppose the activities of the Office of Works in assisting public bodies to construct houses which are so badly needed by the people of this country.
§ Mr. PERRING
I wish to point out that the exception hon. Members are taking to the policy of the Office of Works has no connection whatever with what has been referred to by the hon. Member who has just sat down. The hon. Member alluded to the building of 1322 houses by direct labour, and if they can build them cheaper than anybody else in that way I welcome the opportunity of them doing so. In the early part of this year the Ministry of Health, in their anxiety to make some sort of a show with regard to housing, sent representatives to visit most of the metropolitan boroughs, and they endeavoured to coerce those boroughs into converting a number of houses which were out of date. Some local authorities were not prepared, having regard to the local knowledge they possessed of these houses, to undertake this work, because they realised it would involve a very heavy loss. In the Borough of Paddington we were urged to hand over 20 houses to the Office of Works, and we objected, but as an experiment we handed over one, and what was the result? In this case it cost £1,000 more to carry out the work than the estimate which was given us in the first place, and what would have been the loss if we had agreed to 20 houses? In this one case we were involved in a loss of £200 a year on the economic rent which falls on the local rates. I object to the principle that the Ministry of Health, acting with the Office of Works, should coerce any local authority to have certain work done, and then throw the charge, if there is a loss, on to the local authority. Under the Housing Act we were led to believe that the charge would only amount to a penny rate.
§ Mr. PERRING
The principle is the same whether it is one house or 100, and, thank goodness, my borough only had one house done in this way. I submit that this is a wasteful and extravagant method of dealing with the problem. In the particular house I have mentioned I have taken a concrete case, because the last speaker suggested that we were making statements without evidence. May I point out that the hon. Member himself had not very much evidence to place before us on the question we are considering. I am stating these facts because I think hon. Members should know of these cases. This is concrete evidence of what has happened, and what is likely to happen again. I think it is the duty of hon. Members who have had experience of this 1323 kind to bring instances before the House so that we shall not give our sanction to a continuation of a policy which is not only wasteful and extravagant, but which throws further heavy burdens on the rates when that burden should be thrown on the National Exchequer.
Why was it that in the particular case I have cited the house cost more? It was because the work was done under the old wasteful system of the cost sheet. As far as we can judge, the men engaged on it did not put their backs into the work in the same way as they would have done had they been working for a contractor. It was done at a price, and they hung it out as long as they could. That is the policy which is dominating the men who are working under this system, and I think it is important we should bring it before the House, because, if it is allowed to go unchallenged, there may be an extension of the system, and presently, instead of being involved in thousands of pounds, we may find ourselves involved in millions of pounds. We are only concerned now with the money involved in a certain part of the programme of the Office of Works. We have not been told of the work which has been carried out for which the local authorities have paid the money. We have not had a full account of the operations of the Office of Works in respect of this housing business, and although the right hon. Gentleman has referred to two estimates, there is no evidence of any kind that in any, barring these two odd cases, the work has been carried out at a cost below the estimate submitted. I do not think, when speaking of a large sum of money, it is sufficient to quote two isolated cases as a justification for a large expenditure.
It usually follows that in a large number of schemes there may be one or two cases where the Works Department may have done the work much cheaper than was estimated, but I should like to hear in how many cases the work has cost more than the estimate. That would be more enlightening to the Committee. We do not know the circumstances of these two particular cases; if we knew the facts we might form a different opinion to that of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not suppose that he himself knows the facts. They are given to him, and, while he is an exceedingly able man of business, I doubt 1324 even if he would claim that all the work of his Department is done with equal success. I venture to suggest that large sums of money have already been and will in future be wasted on this policy which the Committee should condemn, and I am glad of this opportunity of calling attention to a concrete case where, it is true, the money involved was not large, but where it would have been much larger had it not been for the forethought and commonsense of the borough I represent.
§ Major NALL
It is a curious thing that the only support which the right hon. Gentleman is getting comes from those in this House who are concerned with people in the country who, more than anybody else, are doing their best to restrict building; who are doing their best in every possible direction first to restrict the number of the men who are working and next to prevent any more men being employed in the industry. I am not going into the figures of this Vote. I can quite appreciate, as I am sure the Committee does, that the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works is not really responsible for the principle behind this question. It is the old story of the Ministry of Health. This is the socialism of that Ministry being dished up in another form, and the Minister responsible for it conveniently keeps out of the House because he knows perfectly well that his presence on the Front Bench would immediately arouse the suspicions of many hon. Members. The right hon. Gentleman's only justification for a speech which did nothing, to my mind, to convince hon. Members of the correctness of this procedure was that he mentioned one or two instances where the estimates of his Department were some 20 per cent. below those of private contractors. But he had nothing to say in regard to those cases where the estimates of his Department were exceeded three times over in the cost of the work which was actually performed. If that principle is to be applied to all building work actually performed, and if the cost is to be three times more than the estimate, what is the good of telling the Committee that in one or two instances the estimate was 20 per cent, below that of private contractors? All this arises from the present stagnation in the building trade.
1325 When we are considering whether we shall vote this money for this particular way of building, we must have regard to the fact that the only alternative to this sort of thing is to restore the building trade to a basis on which private enterprise can find full scope. This policy of the Ministry of Health is all linked up with the socialistic conspiracy to retard the provision of houses. We have on the one hand the building trade union pre venting the absorption of more labour into the trade. We have on the other hand the Ministry of Health, in the powers which it already possesses and which it is seeking to obtain in another Bill under consideration upstairs, pre venting building enterprise, obstructing the proper development of the building trade, and preventing proper scope being given to builders. The Ministry is seeking in that Bill to interfere with and prevent the proper development of the building trade, and until we can get the building trade back into the position it held ten years ago—
§ Major NALL
—into the position it held ten years ago, when it employed 50,000 more men than it employs to-day, we really cannot get a proper move on with the housing question. These proposals of the Ministry of Health play into the hands of agitators in the country. There is nothing more responsible for the discontent in the country to-day than the shortage of dwellings, and that is why hon. Members on the Labour Benches support any scheme that will prevent the building of houses. This discontent is the most fertile ground they can find for the pernicious doctrines so many of them preach, and it all arises from the shortage of dwellings. I for one shall oppose this Vote, not because of the amount involved, but because it is part of the socialistic policy of the Ministry of Health, and I appeal to hon. Members not to be led away by the explanations of the First Commissioner of Works, but to have regard to the fact that this is a part of the socialistic policy of the Ministry of Health, which is playing the game of those who want to retard building, and are doing their best to prevent the development of private enterprise.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, the First Commissioner of Works, is thoroughly well 1326 satisfied with the position he occupies to-night. It must be a source of great delight to him to find he has the support of hon. Members on these Benches who are out for the destruction of private enterprise in the building trade. I must say I am surprised and, perhaps, a little disappointed to find the right hon. Gentleman lending himself to a piece of humbug and camouflage such as this Vote discloses. This Vote is part of a series of measures and of Votes which have already run a considerable length and which will continue to run until the Government either of their own accord or because they are forced by this House, show a little intellectual honesty and admit that their housing scheme is one of the most ghastly failures the world has ever seen.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I would remind the hon. Member that we are discussing this particular Vote and not the general policy of the Government.
May I submit that we are entitled to discuss the origin of such a Vote as this, seeing that it is really symbolical of the industrial policy of the Government. Might I not be allowed within reason to discuss the origin of the Vote as part of the Vote itself?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The origin of this particular Vote is with the Office of Works which asks to have this money voted to enable it to carry out this particular housing work. But it would not be in order to discuss the origin of the housing policy of the Government, or to go back to that.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
We are not now discussing the duties of the Ministry of Health or the housing policy generally. If we were the Ministry of Health would be here, but the Minister in charge of the Office of Works is here and it is only his Department with which we are now dealing.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Am I not right in thinking that this is practically a new service which authorises the Office of Works to exercise a function which it has never before undertaken. In these circumstances would it not be in order to discuss 1327 whether or not it is right for this House to grant any sums or particular sums of money for this particular purpose. The question of the housing policy of the Government is of course more general, but I submit it would be in order to discuss whether or not it is advisable to grant to this particular Minister the sum now asked for.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The right hon. Baronet is perfectly correct. This is in that sense a new service. For the first time the Office of Works is undertaking direct building under the Housing Scheme. It is not open to hon. Members to go back on the whole housing policy of the Government as embodied in the Housing Act on this Vote.
My point is this, the First Commissioner of Works is asking for a very large sum of money, and he has therefore to justify this Vote. We who wish to criticise this particular policy are entitled, I submit, subject to your ruling, to question the principle and the origin of this particular Vote. According to the White Paper this is "Provision for expenditure on erection of houses undertaken by the Office of Works as agents for various local authorities proceeding with housing schemes approved by the Ministry of Health." I submit I am entitled in discussing this to present our views as to the processes which have rendered this Vote necessary. I was saying, Mr. Whitley, before you came in, that I was rather surprised at the right hon. Gentleman lending himself, and his reputation for sound business acumen, to this camouflage and this fraud upon the public. I was going to point out, when I was called to order, that this Vote is one of a series of Votes and a series of legislative measures which have become necessary owing to the refusal of the Government and the refusal of the House of Commons—which is just as much to blame as the Government in this case —to admit the obvious and complete failure of their housing policy. As the Committee is well aware, the House has been called upon again and again to throw over all its political principles in order to bolster up that policy, and now we find the right hon. Gentleman involved in a scheme of pure socialism with a view to bolstering it up again. The Minister of Health has discovered what, perhaps, 1328 many of us knew before, namely, that when a Government Department or a municipality goes into any market—not only the building trade market but all markets—it immediately gets fleeced right and left by the people concerned.
The hon. Member who spoke last from the Labour Benches (Mr. W. B. Smith) talked about rings in the building trade. Of course there are, and always have been, rings in the building trade when Governments and municipalities were concerned. At the present time it is notorious that those rings are stronger and more pernicious than ever, and we have to investigate the causes of that. To anyone who has been engaged in industry the cause is clear. It is perfectly clear to the right hon. Gentleman himself, and I think he will admit it. It is that, where you have a limited market in any commodity, whether it be labour or material, and when into that limited market is introduced a customer with unlimited funds, determined to buy whatever the cost, then you get that complete corner and system of rings which puts up the prices as it is putting them up at present week by week. During the greater part of last year building costs were extremely high. They were high, in the first place, because wages were high. Wages were something like 2¼ to 2½ times what they had been before the War, and that, of course, correspondingly increased the cost of building. Then there was—induced, presumably, by the world-shaking events of the past six years—a certain amount of laxity, for which one cannot blame the building-trade. In addition to that, there was in many trades deliberate restriction of out put—not accidentally, but as a matter of policy, carried out under the supervision of "walking delegates."
§ The CHAIRMAN
That would lead us greatly beyond the present Vote. The hon. Member will please confine his argument to the question, whether or not the Office of Works is to be permitted to undertake projects of this kind in lieu of local authorities, or of local authorities acting through contractors.
I bow to your ruling, but I think you allowed me, by implication, when the point of Order was raised before, to deal with this ques- 1329 tion on the lines that I have been taking. I was unaware that I had infringed your implied ruling.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not see how the question of restriction of output comes in on the present occasion. Up to that point the hon. Member was quite right, I think, in building up his argument—I suppose against the Government acting in lieu of contractors.
I am afraid I did not make myself very clear, but the basis of my argument was that the interference of the Government, whether as a builder or as a supplier of the funds for building—as the Ministry of Health is—results in every case in higher costs.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member's second point is covered by an Act which was passed by the House, and we cannot now go back on that. His other point is quite in order.
My submission is that, in dealing with a Vote which is not of the ordinary kind to which we are accustomed in Supplementary Estimates, inasmuch as it is an altogether new departure in policy, a little more scope might, perhaps, be left in the Debate than would be usual in the case of ordinary Supplementary Estimates. We have seen by experience the result of the entry of one Government Department into the building trade and providing public funds for builders and contractors. The result has been that building contractors and operatives in the building trade have made a very good thing out of it indeed at the public expense. It was really by way of analogy that I was bringing in these facts which have come under my own observation, in order that I might bring that analogy to bear on the main argument in regard to this Vote. We know that a man employed by a Government Department on manual work is the most inefficient workman that it is possible to employ. I myself have had the privilege of serving in the ranks of the Army, and in that capacity I have done a great deal of manual work—digging trenches, unloading coal wagons, sweeping out barrack rooms, and many other things; and my experience is that it always takes at least three times as many men to do any job in the Army as it would have taken had those men been working for a private employer.
1330 The reason, of course, is obvious. Men will not work properly for a Government Department, because they know that they are the master of their employer, and that cannot be avoided in a country constituted as ours is. What happens when the Government takes over the railways? Immediately every man engaged on the railways does less work than ever he did before in his life? What happens when the Government starts controlling munitions? Everyone on the munition trade—both masters and men—becomes extremely prosperous, and the wretched, unfortunate taxpayer has to pay. Now we have the right hon. Gentleman proposing, I suppose under very severe and unavoidable stimulus—I will give him the benefit of that—to put one of the most difficult trades into the hands of a Government Department—for, when all is said and done, the building of small houses at the present time is one of the most difficult operations that any trade has to perform. It is difficult to criticise the right hon. Gentleman, because we all know that it is the last thing that he would possibly think of if he had only himself to consult. If he wished to build a village or a town, would he, under any circumstances, dream of going to the Office of Works? No, he would build it himself, and so would any other sensible man. We have the spectacle here of one of the most capable supporters and exponents of the system of individual enterprise linked hand in hand, in peace and affection, with my hon. Friends on my right. It is a spectacle to make angels weep, and certainly to make taxpayers weep. It is a very serious matter indeed, for, if the House passes this Vote, how is it ever to resist again similar proposals from other Departments of State?
That is the trouble. My hon. Friends on my right have, unfortunately, not quite realised the fact that the method of dealing with national problems which is embodied in this Vote has, during the last two years, been thoroughly well tried on the largest possible scale, and under the best possible conditions for success. The authority to whom I am referring in this connection is M. Lenin. The chief difference between M. Lenin and his friends here on my right is that he is a man of extraordinary intellectual 1331 honesty. He is a man of great determination who has followed the principle of this Vote to its logical conclusion, and then has had the courage to admit that he has failed. This Vote, in the long run, involves the nationalisation of another of our industries, and the nationalisation of an industry involves consequences of which my hon. Friends on my right have no conception whatever. Apparently they are not aware of the facts that I have just stated. They do not even know, perhaps, that their friend M. Lenin has laid it down both in speech and in writing—
§ The CHAIRMAN
So far the hon. Member has been quite pertinent to the Vote, but we must not travel as far as Russia.
In dealing with a very mixed Committee such as we have now, it may be desirable to use these little devices of parallel and analogy, which may appeal to some intelligences more directly than plain statements of fact. The point is that the right hon. Gentleman is supported in this proposal by one section of the Committee, and one section only. Therefore, I think it is the duty of those of us who believe that they are mistaken, to do our best to explain to them our reason for that belief, so that they may have the opportunity of thinking over the arguments on both sides, and deciding accordingly as to how they will vote. Therefore, I felt that I was justified in using an historical analogy, in order that my hon. Friends might get a real conception of what I was endeavouring to explain, and might, possibly, see the point of view of hon. Members on both sides who do not agree with them. I was endeavouring to explain what the ultimate result of this policy must be—the nationalisation of an industry—and in order to explain that, I introduced the consideration of an object lesson which is plain to the whole world, and that object lesson is this.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Really, if the hon. Member is to travel over the whole world we shall never get to the point. If the hon. Member will only direct himself to the point.
I was on the point of coming to it. The quotation I wish to impress on hon. Members on my right is—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I have tried to guide the hon. Member two or three times. He must now follow my guidance. He must remember that I must allow replies.
I will endeavour to explain my meaning in another way. We are perhaps going rather far abroad in this discussion, but we have the example, during the "War and since, of the Ministry of Munitions, which was practically nationalisation, and there again we got exactly the same thing, the defect of nationalised industry, the Government stroke. Those of us who had the opportunity of going into large armament and munition work during the War, and those who had experience of that trade, were singularly impressed again and again with the astonishingly small amount of work which was being done in munition works. I am referring, of course, to day work, and necessarily in the building trade all this work proposed to be done by the right hon. Gentleman will be done on day work and time rates and not on piece-work. In the case of the Ministry of Munitions we found, as we found in Government dockyards, as we found in the Post Office, as we found in every industry in which men are employed direct by Government or municipalities, that the work done is a small proportion of the amount of work which would be done for private employers. The reason is evident. It is that the man is master of his employer. The right hon. Gentleman himself is only here by the suffrage and permission of a very large number of manual workers, and he is in that unfortunate position of having to control men and order them about, possibly even to dismiss them from his service—the very men who put him in the position of being their employer. To my mind, in spite of all that may be said from these Benches on the right, that is a difficulty round which there is no way whatsoever. No matter how ingenious the method, and no matter how much compulsion is brought to bear on the manual labourer, as long as he is working for a Government Department or a municipality he cannot be expected to get through as much work as he would for a private employer.
§ The CHAIRMAN
After half an hour, I think the hon. Member might come to the point. He sees it all the time, but he is quite unable to arrive at it. Ten 1333 minutes ago he told me he was coming to it, but he does not show a sign yet.
I may be mistaken, but I fancy I have come to several points already. I will not press it further, although it is really the foundation of the whole of our objection to this Vote, that we are asked to vote away money for nationalising an industry which, less even than any other industry, is susceptible of success under nationalisation.
The PAYMASTER-GENERAL (Sir J. Tudor Waiters)
It is desirable to call the attention of the Committee to the question before it. We are not in this Vote the least bit concerned with any general policy of nationalisation of the building industry or the erection of houses by direct labour. We are concerned simply with what has happened in an emergency. In connection with the Ministry of Health's housing policy, certain local authorities, chiefly in London, being seized with the importance of carrying out certain very urgent housing schemes, have found it almost impossible to secure contractors who were prepared to undertake the work owing to the fact that so many contracts were available and such very high prices were being asked that the local authorities felt they would be too high and the delay would be too considerable in carrying out these urgent works in that manner. Therefore the Ministry of Health had to consider, in view of the urgency of the provision of these houses, what was the best course they could adopt. It was obviously not desirable for the Ministry of Health to set up a Building Department and having another Government Department, a very highly organised Department, accustomed to carrying out building works, it became a question for consideration whether purely, as a temporary measure in a time of national emergency, the Office of Works should be asked to undertake the erection of some of these houses. How did they go to work? In some cases they had tenders from contractors which were obviously too high. They prepared their estimate and they found they could not in fact carry out certain building works at a lower price that the estimates which had been submitted to them by private contractors. They have not carried out all this work by direct labour. In some cases work has been done on a schedule by contractors who, by open tender, are 1334 contractors for the Office of Works. One or two very large firms of contractors tendering to the Office of Works are Government contractors for the time being on a definite schedule and a definite percentage of profit.
I myself, having to alter a house that belonged to me, took advantage of the schedule of one of these contractors working for the Office of Works, and I was able to alter that property at a price very much below the lowest tender I received in open competition. The very firm that did that work for me on a certain schedule of prices has done a portion of this work for the Office of Works at the self-same schedule of prices. I am not accustomed to pay more for building work than I am obliged to pay, and I am not entirely ignorant what is a fair price to pay for putting up houses or converting houses into flats. Therefore, I say this method of, in some cases, employing their regular staff of builders, bricklayers, and carpenters under a thoroughly competent highly-trained organisation, and in other cases employing contractors on a schedule of prices by open competition to the Office of Works, has, in fact, carried out these undertakings in less time and at a lower price than could have been done in the ordinary way. I am not the least bit in favour of any general policy of nationalisation of building. I desire at the earliest possible moment to see the resuscitation of the ordinary methods of building by private enterprise, which I believe will mean more rapid and more economical building. I state that, which is not part of the subject under discussion, to show what is my attitude of mind. Very emphatically regarding that as my policy, I am still entirely satisfied that for the immediate necessities of the case, for the urgent and temporary work of carrying out these jobs, the policy pursued by the Ministry of Health in delegating work is a sound policy. In fact, if any hon. Member will give careful examination to the details of this work which has been done he will find it compares very favourably with anything which could be done by ordinary tender and ordinary private contract.
§ Mr. PERRING
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me why one house they converted in my borough of Paddington cost £1,000 more than the original estimate?
§ Sir T. WALTERS
It is not an unusual thing for an architect's estimate to be exceeded. Although I do not know the facts of the case, I might throw some light on the reason why that house may have been more. I have found that when contracts have been made for converting houses into flats and the work has been commenced, the local authority still says, "That is not what we want. We want something a great deal more than is provided in. the schedule." Therefore there are considerable additions and alterations and a remodelling of the scheme, with the natural result of extra expense. It is my opinion that the work that is being done by the Office of Works in these particular cases for which this Vote is asked has been done on an economical basis, and is, in fact, cheaper than any other way in which the work could have been done. I am quite satisfied when we get to normal times, when we have the ordinary competition of the market, and when it is not the case that local authorities are asking for tenders all over the country, we shall get work done at a lower price even than the Office of Works could do it. But in the present emergency, while contractors have so many opportunities of getting contracts at very favourable prices, I believe it has been a good policy, it has tended to steady the market, and has resulted in real economy. Therefore I suggest that the Committee should grant this Vote.
Mr. T. THOMSON
The Committee must have noticed that, comparing this Debate with previous Debates, the critics who before complained that the Government had not produced houses are now the ones who are complaining that the houses have been produced. Surely there is a certain amount of inconsistency in such criticism. They cannot have it both ways. Moreover, this question of the policy of the Office of Works building houses is not put before the Committee for the first time. It was embodied in the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919, which this House sanctioned, and whose final reading was, I think, passed unanimously, and therefore the Office of Works is only carrying out that policy which this House has unanimously approved. The hon. Member (Mr. Hopkinson) gave us an interesting lecture on the forces of political economy, 1336 and economics generally, with which, I think, we should all agree, but surely the whole point is that these forces of supply and demand operate under normal conditions, and that, just as during the War we had to disregard the ordinary forces of supply and demand because the conditions were absolutely abnormal, so the condition that was left in the industrial world after the War was equally abnormal, and it was necessary, as a temporary measure, to bring in forces which at other times would not have been introduced.
Therefore it is perfectly consistent for those who believe in private enterprise to realise that, as immediately after the War, it was impossible, owing to the abnormal conditions, to allow the free play of those forces, and, as in the War, it was necessary to bring in abnormal methods, it was equally necessary, to supply the tremendous shortage of houses which existed, to canvass every means that was available for increasing that supply, and it was only when the local authorities had found that it was impossible by means of ordinary tender in the open market to provide the houses which were absolutely essential to health conditions that they called in the Office of Works to supply the needs which private enterprise was at that time unable to supply. The Office of Works only steps in where local authorities themselves desire it, unless in exceptional cases the local authorities are in default, and then, acting under the powers given by this House under the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1919, the Minister comes in and using either private contract or the Office of Works carries out the necessary work. In the White Paper which we have before us the great bulk of the money which is there scheduled has been used by the Office of Works in doing those things which the local authority itself has voluntarily asked them to do. Why in many cases have the local authorities called in the Office of Works? It is because, owing to the abnormal conditions, there has been a ring of contractors who have put up the prices to an extraordinary extent to everybody, whether it be the municipality or the private builder, and when these prices were so abnormal the local authorities called in the Office of Works, who have been able to carry out the work at a less cost, and with economy to the nation, 1337 than the price which was available at the time. Therefore, I hope that the Committee, realising the urgent necessity for these houses, realising that private enterprise for the time being has failed to supply the houses, will see that it is necessary for the Office of Works to do this work, and that they should be encouraged whilst these abnormal conditions continue to go on until the tremendous shortage, which is a menace to the public health of the country, is brought to an end.
The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) in a somewhat wide-sweeping way criticised the local authorities, and the workers employed by them. He said that it was well known that where you bad workmen employed by a local authority they did less work, and the cost of their service was, consequently, infinitely more. Those who have knowledge of, and are connected with, municipal affairs, know that the municipalities in regard to tramways, electric lighting and gas supply, have worked these services as economically, and in many cases, more economically—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] —than private enterprise. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The figures which are published every year confirm the statements I am making. I do not wish to pursue the matter further. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] Hon. Members may take it that I am not frightened to go into it; but I do not pursue it because it would not be germane to the particular point of the discussion. The hon. Member for Mossley having attacked the public service carried on by Government Departments or municipalities it is only fair to say that the experience of the great majority of large municipal undertakings is that they provide a public service at a lesser cost than private enterprise.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I listened with great interest to the very excellent speech made by my hon. Friend (Sir Tudor Walters) and I think he dealt very ably with part of the case, but I do not think he dealt with the main objection which is in my mind and in the minds of a great many hon. Members who have criticised this Vote. What he defended was the fact that the Office of Works had come in and undertaken this work. That is not the chief objection to this Vote. The grave objec- 1338 tion to the Vote is not that the Office of Works is coming in simply as a contractor to do work for the local authority under the Housing Act and the housing grants which this House has already provided for that purpose, but that we are asked to vote £200,000. Why? My hon. Friend say that the Office of Works are simply taking the place of a contractor, and can do the work cheaper. Would a contractor have to find £200,000 out of his own pocket in order to do this work? I do not think he would.
§ Sir T. WALTERS
All the money that the First Commissioner of Works spends in this particular case comes back again. It is all part of general housing expenses. The Office of Works does not itself lose money on the transaction. It is temporarily out of pocket until the local authorities have raised their loans, and are able to make payments for the work that has been done on their behalf.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
The local authorities are confined to a penny rate and the State has to find the balance. Are we to understand definitely from the First Commissioner of Works that he gives a definite undertaking that not one single penny of this £200,000 will eventually fall through this Vote upon public funds?
§ Sir A. MOND
Yes, certainly, I can give that undertaking. The whole of the method by which we are working now is that money is found by the local authority before we begin spending any money on the buildings. The local authorities raise loans either through the Public Works Loan Commissioners, or by housing bonds. We know that the loan is authorised and is going through. We know that the Public Works Loan Commissioners have sanctioned it, but the money has to be found, and there are technical difficulties of getting meetings of the Council committees, and other legal formalities which interfere perhaps for a week or two weeks before the money is forthcoming into the banking account. We want this £200,000 simply to carry on during these overlapping periods in connection with the work we have in hand. When we started these transactions we had to advance £150,000, but all that money has been repaid by the local authorities. This £200,000 is a kind of floating balance to enable us to carry on, and not one penny piece will fall upon the Exchequer.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I am glad to hear that, and I am sure it is a satisfaction to know that not one penny of this £200,000 will eventually fall upon public funds through this Vote; but I do think it would have been very much more desirable if this Vote could have been avoided in some way or another, or if the money could have been found without the Vote. My objection still remains, and that is that it is a bad precedent for a Government Department to definitely undertake this contracting and building work for the erection of houses. I do not want to go into the question as to whether a Government Department gets its work done more cheaply than private enterprise. Perhaps we are inclined to go too far in accusing the Government of Socialism, or evil designs. I believe it is more thoughtfulness on the part of the Government than the fact that they really see how far their policy is likely to carry them. There is work that needs to be done, and every Government Department is always anxious to extend the scope of its work. It is a most mischievous policy which, in the interests of this House and in the interests of economy, ought to be prevented. A great deal of trouble arises from the fact that owing to the enormous pressure of new legislature which is thrown upon this House by the Cabinet, every Department is left to itself, and these proposals do not get full Cabinet consideration on their merits. There is no real opportunity of seeing how far the policy which underlies some comparatively harmless, proposal, which is suggested in perfect good faith by a Department to meet some temporary emergency, carries them. We do want more Cabinet supervision of these apparently small matters, in order that we do not give away a principle which this House values, a principle which is valuable, and ought not to be departed from, namely, that Government Departments should not undertake contract work of this kind.
I have had some little experience at the Admiralty, which is a very large employer of labour, and the general line followed in the Admiralty, and it is a sound line, is that repairs and maintenance are best carried out by your own staff, but if you want to do new work you had better get a contract for it. We had definite 1340 tests as to the cost of building battleships in His Majesty's dockyards and in private yards, and definite tests as to the cost of repairs, and we found that we could get our battleships more cheaply built in the private yards, and our repairs more cheaply done in the dockyards. I do not think it would be right or just for it to go forth that this House is of opinion that work done by a State Department is necessarily bad. Some work done by workmen under State Departments is very good work, but there is a tendency if new contract work is undertaken by a Government Department that on the whole it is likely to be less cheaply done in the end than by private contract. It is very unfortunate that this particular work has been undertaken, and it would be very much better if the Government could withdraw this proposal, which has met with such grave objection from every side of the House, and find the money in some other way, without setting a precedent by means of a Government Department which is responsible for the general care and supervision of Government buildings. The principle upon which work has been done hitherto has been that the Department presided over by the First Commissioner of Works has a staff of architects who are responsible for supervising the work of other people who are contracting to do work for the State, and it is from the right hon. Gentleman's own point of view a very bad policy that the one Department which has to supervise, and criticise, contract work and itself be competing by means of the very same officers with the contractors who are responsible for carrying out work for the nation. From that point of view as well as the other it is a very bad precedent. If these objections which have been in the minds of many hon. Members had come before the Cabinet they would have found some other way of keeping this money within the orbit of the original Vote which was passed, instead of bringing it into this Vote, and setting a bad precedent. I hope it is not too late to withdraw this Estimate, and although I do not vote against the Government on it, I cannot vote for it.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Sir EDGAR JONES
I wish to say something on this Vote, because some local authorities in my own district are involved in the question. It would be a great misfortune if because of the tilting tournament this afternoon the Office of Works is induced not to lend its aid to local authorities for another 12 months. I ask the Committee to set aside the grave fears that have been expressed. I agree that it has been worth while to emphasise the importance of preventing this thing becoming permanent and making it perfectly clear to the Government that they must not launch out in this direction. Let us look at the position of some of the small authorities in the mining districts. They would never get houses built unless they got aid from London. We cannot get the work done. We have tried, but have failed, and as a result we have miners with no cottages, and heaven knows there is plenty of discontent among them for other reasons! The authorities, in despair, come up and ask that we should lend them some aid. It is not so much a question of price. The contractors there cannot get the materials and cannot get the houses built. You can build them because you have the control. The whole Committee agree that it would not be wise that this work should be done by the Ministry of Health itself. It would be still less wise for the Ministry of Health, for this emergency purpose, to create some new body to do it which had never done any building. Therefore I think it was very wise, under the circumstances. The circumstances were exceptional; we all regret them; the First Commissioner of Works himself does not like them at all, as he has said. There was nothing else to do, save to leave us in the lurch, with no houses, to wait until the clouds roll by or the place blows up. The practical point is, Are you going to leave these particular authorities—and they are not very many—and say, "Stew in your own difficulties; we do not care anything about them"? I do not think that that was the temper of the House when the Housing Bill was passed. I appeal to the Committee, having made it clear that, with the exception of the party opposite, we are unanimously against this being made a permanent policy, to let the Vote go through, on the understanding that it will act as a sort of leg-up to people in exceptional difficulties.
§ Lieut.-Colonel POWNALL
There are two questions to which I should like a reply from the right hon. Gentleman. He has told us that this is a temporary scheme. He says that the whole of this £200,000 will be repaid, and that none of it will come eventually out of our pockets, except as regards the housing grant. Can he tell the Committee whether this sum will be repaid during the next financial year, or can he give us any year at all when it is likely to be repaid? These are days of great financial stringency, and if he could hold out the hope that it is only a loan to his Department for 12 months we might not feel so strongly against it. He foreshadowed the possibility of a further 10,000 houses being built by his Department. It may be that the hostility shown this evening may modify his ideas in that respect. If it is necessary to let him have £200,000 for 2,000 houses, then he will come down to us in a few months' time and ask for a super-Supplementary Estimate for £1,000,000, in order to finance the local authorities for those extra 10,000 houses which he admits he has in contemplation. I should like to know whether he will require further working capital for his housing schemes if he wants to build that extra number of houses?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The right hon. Gentleman who spoke a few moments ago in defence of the Office of Works gave reasons why this Vote should be supported. He said it had nothing to do with direct labour, and that the only reason for it was that as the local authorities could not get contractors it was necessary to go to the Office of Works, who had already been able to obtain contractors. He also said it was a temporary measure, but I think he expressed disapproval of it, except as a temporary measure which would not be continued. The Committee has heard that argument over and over again. All these Measures that have been introduced during the last five or six years have been said to be for a year, or a year and a half, or two years; but invariably, as soon as that particular period has terminated, they have been extended for another year or two years. Therefore I do not place the slightest reliance upon the argument of the right hon. Gentleman that this is only a temporary Measure. The hon. Member for Merthyr (Sir E. Jones), if he will excuse me saying so, has rather given the show away. He says the miners have no houses, or very few; that they are dis- 1343 contented for various reasons—I suppose because they have got too much money— and he asks what will happen unless something is done to provide them with these houses. He went on to say that he was in favour of this Measure purely as a temporary one. So far as I understand it, this Measure is to build houses somewhere about London. It does not propose to build any houses in Wales, and there is nothing about Wales in the Vote.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That is just my point. They are excluded, but the Welsh are a very persistent people, and they have very great weight with the Prime Minister. The result of this will be that a deputation from Wales, in which the hon. Member will probably take a prominent part, will attend on the Prime Minister, if they can get through the barricades, in order to point out to him that Wales must not be left in the lurch, but must be included. Thus, the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, that this is only a temporary measure, at once falls to the ground. Let the Committee remember this. We shall go on. We shall be told that we have sanctioned the principle, and that it is absolutely necessary to do this and that. The Office of Works is a wonderful body, which has already, I think, agreed to restore cathedrals and to repair churches, so that there is no limit to the efforts which, under the presidency of the right hon. Gentleman, it may endeavour to carry out. I cannot be accused of having any prejudice against the Office of Works, because I was the Chairman of one of the Sub-committees of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, which had the privilege of investigating the operations of the Office of Works. It is true that it was done three years ago, but our Report was extremely favourable to the Office of Works. We said we thought that they were, on the whole, a businesslike body, which carry on its proceedings in an efficient and proper way. There fore, when I vote against this Vote, as I shall do, I cannot be said to be prejudiced against the Office of Works. If I have any prejudice it is rather in the contrary direction, because I am inclined to think, certainly in those days, that 1344 the Office of Works did not do their work badly.
The reasons why I intend to oppose this Vote are as follow. I believe it is a bad departure, and a bad precedent. It is useless to tell me it is a temporary measure; it will tend to become a permanent one. The idea that it is absolutely necessary, because the local authorities cannot get contractors, falls to the ground at once. If the Office of Works can get contractors, so can the local authorities. The contractors who work for the Office of Works will be quite willing to work for a local authority. There is no particular object in working for the right hon. Gentleman, and in not working for any other honourable gentleman who may be a mayor of a local authority. I object to this, but I understand why hon. Members opposite are in favour of it. An hon. Gentleman who spoke a short time ago imputed motives to hon. Members on this side. He said they were regarding the vested' interests, and that they wished to support profiteering. There is no foundation whatever for the second of those suggestions. No doubt, hon. Members on this side of the Committee do wish to protect what sometimes are described as vested interests, that is to say, that everybody in this country should have an opportunity of earning an honest living if he can do so. I do not know really that vested interests go farther that that, unless it is said that you must not put your hand into somebody else's pocket and take something out. I have a vested interest in the money that is in my own pocket, and I do not want hon. Gentlemen opposite to put their hands into it. That is what I call a vested interest. Beyond that I do not want to go. With regard to the profiteering charge, everybody knows that in business some people are rather too greedy, and are not so particular as they might be in tendering a contract. Because, however, there happen to be a certain number of that class of persons in any given business, you have no right to say that the whole class is a profiteering class and does not carry on its business in a proper manner. I could, if I wished—I do not desire to do so—impute motives to hon. Members opposite, and with more foundation. I ask the Committee to vote against this Vote because it is the beginning of socialism. I think socialism is fatal. Hon. Members oppo- 1345 site hold a different opinion. I do not quarrel with them; they have a right to their opinion, just as I have. I much prefer them to say straight out what their opinion is; I much prefer that sort of opponent to an hon. Member who calls himself a Conservative, but who votes for all socialistic legislation. This is the beginning of the State taking up the ordinary work which has been carried on by private people. It is the beginning of the State finding what is now described as a necessity, namely, houses. Why on earth should the right hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Mond) suppose that by his interference at the present moment he will in any way expedite the provision of houses? I am not so sure that he is going to get that sum. In these days it is rather a large amount which has to be found from somewhere. It can only be found by somebody with a vested interest, who can lend it to the local authorities, who will repay it to the right hon. Gentleman. It is by no means certain that the local authorities will be able to get this largo sum. For the first time some years before Queen Elizabeth we had socialistic legislation of this sort, when the State interfered in matters on which it had no business to interfere. Now in what is supposed to be an enlightened age we are going back to the principle that we are to have no houses unless we get the right hon. Gentleman with the taxpayer's money to build them. I trust earnestly that the Committee will vote against this Estimate, and that the energies of the right hon. Gentleman will be confined to the restoration of ancient cathedrals and churches.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
I am unable to understand the speech which has just been delivered. The question which is strictly before the Committee is not a question of the nationalisation of the building industry or the introduction of a great scheme of ownership and control in the solution of the housing problem. If that were before, the Committee my reply would be that according to a very large number of Members of this House, irrespective of political party, it had been conceded that because of conditions obtaining after the War it was impossible to solve this problem exclusively by private enterprise. The point before the Committee is a comparatively small one, as to whether the Office of Works is to act for the time being within certain restrictions as the 1346 agent for the local authority, and if hon. Members opposite who object to this proposal want to be logical they will object to the people who are really the principals in this transaction, namely, the local authorities, and will seek to stop altogether the enterprise of the local authority in the solution of the housing problem. That is the position and we are simply confronted with the question as to whether this departure of the Office of Works which may present some features of novelty—in my judgment generally speaking there is nothing novel about it— is justified in existing conditions. I shall not be accused of emphasising the importance of State Departments. While believing that an extension of public ownership is necessary, I believe that a solution will come about in this country, not through great public Departments centralised in London, but through the people of the locality on one side with guild organisations on the other. I say this merely to indicate that I am not tied to the particular proposal to which hon. Members object. But from experience of local authorities of this country some device of this kind is necessary.
Hon. Members opposite have repeatedly accused us on the Labour Benches of either speaking in complete ignorance of building conditions or in utter disregard of the country's interest. I am not complaining, but I ask hon. Members opposite who do know industrial conditions if these things are not true—in the first place, that those who have been connected with large local authorities know how very difficult it is to get offers at all, and, at the same time how very difficult it is to get offers where small local authorities are concerned. When we do get offers there is a very significant state of affairs. I have sat in Committee where these tenders are opened. There was a strange similarity in the figures. There was no doubt a desire that a certain contractor should get the contract. That as a rule happened and the price was in these cases comparatively high. Go right to the other side of the building trade, the side of the local authorities. Personally not directly, but indirectly, I happen to know it. Does any hon. Member opposite deny that for a single moment the builders of this country are at this time working in close association? No one would deny that. Hon. Members who attack our policy have admitted that the 1347 rings, associations and combined effort in the building trade were never stronger than to-day. On that point I have every respect for the policy which has been pursued by the builders. I think it desirable that they should act in harmony and combination. I believe that it is going to help sooner in the solution of these difficulties. They want the contracts in localities to be distributed. They have made that statement publicly and privately. They have their regulations regarding prices, perhaps the closest and most precise regulations which have been framed by any employers' association in this country, far stronger, more drastic and complete than the regulations of the most extreme of the trade union movement. These regulations are in force. They are abiding by them and forcing up the price of contracts. If the Office of Works or any other public department can come along and get a job done more cheaply than it would be done because of the state of affairs which we all know exists, it would confer a great public advantage on the people in the solution of our housing difficulties. For all practical purposes direct labour is engaged only to a very limited extent in this controversy.
There is another question which is almost equally important. Why is it that some of the remote local authorities, and even in the cases of some of the larger local authorities, cannot get genuine bedrock lowest cut offers for housing schemes to-day? Ask any builder or contractor, ask the operatives who are serving on the Joint Industrial Councils and know this problem. The reply is that simply at the moment there are vast arrears of repairs to be overtaken. Repairs work does not involve for the most part anything like the anxiety of house building. It does not as a rule cover one-fourth of the time. It is as a rule promptly paid for by the people who get it done. It has not any of the risks and the chances of these housing schemes that extend over long periods. Contractors can get any amount of that class of work at present especially at the hands of people who have profited largely by the War. They can get practically any prices they like to name if they are consistent with reason at all. These things are directly influencing a solution of the housing problem, and I hope that 1348 hon. Members will take these facts into consideration when we are deciding as to what after all is the effort on the part of a public Department in a restricted sphere to help in a time of difficulty. I am excluding all reply to criticism of the Labour party and to all remarks regarding its ignorance and lack of appreciation of the situation. But I will take a point which influences many of us on this side, and which should be of the highest importance to hon. Members opposite. What is hindering us in this particular question in a rapid solution of our industrial affairs? We are losing millions of money annually in this country by reason of the immobility of labour. You cannot move labour from one part of the country to another because of the housing problem. You cannot get conditions which—
§ The CHAIRMAN
That again, I think, is going a little wide of the question under immediate discussion.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
I agree entirely. I was simply endeavouring to take a point which would appeal in this particular consideration to hon. Members opposite. The proposal before us is based on grounds of expediency. It is an effort to hasten the solution of the housing problem, and I want to press home that consideration, because it is very important in this connection. I hope on these grounds that hon. Members opposite will modify their ideas regarding the efforts of this Department and will enable the Vote to go through.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
This is an interesting discussion because it does seem to me to raise an important issue, perhaps more important than the Government quite faced when they put down this Vote for consideration. The interesting speech which has just been delivered by a speaker of great ability was really directed to the main controversy. The substance of the hon. Member's argument has been used over and over again when contrasting the advantages of State action on one side and the action of private enterprise on the other. Certainly I would not say, and I do not suppose that any hon. Member would say, that there is nothing to be said in favour of State action. The case has been stated, and it is a strong case, but we are not going, on a Supplementary Estimate put forward by the Office of Works, to revise 1349 the general policy of the country in respect of State action. The argument in favour of this is only that there is an emergency, that there is a certain difficulty in production, that private enterprise is taking advantage of that emergency and difficulty, and that accordingly it is desirable for the State to take action by competition or through giving its service. Let us be sure that you will be able to justify any proposal for nationalising anything. There is always an emergency, and some kind of action is always needed or a larger production of some kind. There is always a suspicion, very often a well-grounded suspicion, that private enterprise is taking advantage by combination to restrain production. I will not go into that further than to say that this is not the occasion, when an Estimate of this kind is put down, to start to reverse what hitherto has been the policy, and to make State action take the place of private enterprise in any particular field of activity.
The whole theory of private enterprise is an opposite one. It is, I submit, the gains of private trade, not because of the trader but because in the end you increase production more in that way than by State intervention. I am not going to argue this question, which is too wide, but it is necessary to realise that the sort of speech to which we have just listened, and other speeches from the Labour party, are speeches which might be used in defence of proposals to nationalise anything. It has two aspects. There is the industrial aspect and there is the financial aspect. As I understand it, my right hon. Friend, not satisfied with officiating as contractor, wishes also to officiate as banker. He is going to advance £200,000 of appropriations-in-aid for the use of local authorities to meet a temporary financial difficulty which they are afterwards to repay to him. I cannot conceive why the Office of Works should act as banker. It seems a great financial irregularity. There is a particular procedure by public works loan by which the local authorities are able to borrow money. Why should we do away with that normal procedure for this exceptional procedure of allowing the Office of Works to lend out to local authorities £200,000 as a temporary accommodation loan? It seems to be bad enough that my right hon. Friend should act as contractor, but it 1350 seems to be still worse that he should act as banker. What other trade will he interfere in next? If there is some necessity for corn production perhaps he will appear as a farmer. Some successor of his may launch forth into any trade, and he can say that there is a difficulty in that particular trade and it is necessary for the public Department to go in and take over the work. On what ground are you going to draw a distinction between this particular contract and any other into which it may be advantageous to the Government to enter?
This really is a great innovation. It appears on a Supplementary Estimate, but it is a great innovation. It is much more than municipalisation. It is nationalisation. It is a case of a national Department taking up the position of a private trader. I hope the House will not sanction that by supporting the Government in the Lobby. I think it would be a step of a very dangerous character if we sanctioned this Vote. As my right hon. Friend the Member for the City truly said, these things are always put forward as temporary expedients and then the precedent comes to be used. What a precedent we should be setting for a Labour Government which might develop the Office of Works into a complete system of the nationalisation of all industries. They would have this precedent and could point out that there is really no difference between national action in this case and any other. You are asked to support on a Supplementary Estimate an innovation of the most serious character when all the time the Government are going about the country taking credit because they are the great resisters of the policy of nationalisation. My right hon. Friend the First Commissioner appears here as a banker and contractor, and presently, I suppose, will go down to the country and ask everyone to support the Government because they resist nationalisation. Who can have listened to this Debate without being struck by the strangeness of seeing speaker after speaker of the Labour party rising up in support of the Government and regarding my right hon. Friend as a Moses to lead them out of Egypt. I suggest if we desire to resist nationalisation in all its forms we ought to resist this Vote and make it clear that we are not going to have the local authorities using the Government as their bankers 1351 for the purpose of advancing money when they should use the means provided by the Public Works (Loans) Act, and that we are not going to have a public Department officiating as contractors and taking over works which might otherwise be done; and setting an example which cannot but be of a most dangerous tendency in the hands of this Government or any Government which may succeed.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must point out that we are discussing the same question over and over again, and I hope the Committee will be prepared to take a decision now.
§ Sir A. MOND
Before the Committee takes a decision, I should like to reply to one or two questions which have been asked. One was with regard to a temporary loan, and an hon. Member desired to know if it would be repayable within twelve months. I do not suppose it will be outstanding for many weeks much less months. It is really temporary, and is not meant to be in any way a permanent part of the finances of the scheme. The Noble Lord (Lord H. Cecil) said that the Department ought not to act as bankers, but I do not think that is really a correct description
§ Sir A. MOND
We want this money in order to pay for labour and material, and it will be repaid. In spite of the really eloquent speech of the Noble Lord, and that of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City, I hope the Committee will take a really common-sense view about this matter. I could almost have imagined this afternoon that this was a debating society rather than an Assembly which has got to deal with a very simple proposition. The local authorities, owing to many circumstances, are in difficulties about the housing scheme. They come to the Office of Works not to act as contractors merely, but for advice and for technical assistance to my Department.
§ Sir A. MOND
If they cannot get a satisfactory tender it is done by direct 1352 labour. Direct labour is exceptional when you cannot get a satisfactory contract. We have no wish to take over any more than we can possibly help; and neither it is permanent; or permanent policy. It is an emergency, and when it is over everybody will revert to the ordinary pre-War practice. We are merely asking for money for schemes already under weigh, and which cannot possibly be withdrawn and stopped in their present stage, half finished. They are assisting to remove deplorable housing conditions, which everybody is anxious to solve at the earliest possible moment.
§ Sir JAMES REMNANT
I was going to fall in, Sir, with you suggestion had it not been that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks open the way to further discussion. May I refer to an undertaking by the London County Council some years ago under precisely similar conditions which the Government are urging to-day. The County Council started their own works department to carry out work in London, which they said could not be carried out otherwise because of a ring of builders, who made it impossible for the work to be done in that way at a reasonable price, and with due regard to the interests of the ratepayers. What happened? They took a case which is obviously one requiring a certain amount of speculation, I refer to underground work, they selected a particularly high estimate, said it was too high, and that they would do the work themselves. They happened to be lucky and carried out the work at much less than the contract. They then proceeded by easy steps to argue that that was the way to save the ratepayers' money and that it was necessary not only in London, but in other districts, and they provided their own department to do their own work. After a regular rake's progress the whole thing had to be shut down because the ratepayers were not benefiting. The same thing will happen in this case if you allow what must be considered to be a nationalisation policy. Once you start this you hesitate to do away with the Department because that would cause a certain amount of unemployment. I hope the Committee will see the wisdom of stopping this extravagant policy at a time when economy is being preached by every Member of the Government, 1353 and that Members will vote against this suggestion of starting this experiment which could be avoided if only control were taken off the building trade.
§ Question put,
"That a sum not exceeding £200,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during1354
§ the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1921, for Expenditure in respect of the erection of houses by the Office of Works on behalf of Local Authorities proceeding with Assisted Housing Schemes approved by the Ministry of Health in accordance with the provisions of the Housing, Town Planning, &c, Act, 1919."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 190; Noes, 64.1355
|Division No. 379.]||AYES.||7.45 p.m.|
|Adair, Rear-Admiral Thomas B. S.||Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel John||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike|
|Adkins, Sir William Ryland Dent||Glanville, Harold James||Perkins, Waiter Frank|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Pollock, Sir Ernest M.|
|Allen, Lieut.-Colonel William James||Graham, R. (Nelson and Colne)||Pratt, John William|
|Amery, Lieut.-Col. Leopold C. M. S.||Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)||Purchase, H. G.|
|Armitage, Robert||Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)||Ramsden, G. T.|
|Baird, Sir John Lawrence||Greene, Lt.-Col. Sir W. (Hack'y N.)||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, East)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Gregory, Holman||Rees, Capt. J. Tudor- (Barnstaple)|
|Barlow, Sir Montague||Greig, Colonel James William||Rendall, Athelstan|
|Barnett, Major R. W.||Grundy, T. W.||Renwick, George|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Guest, J. (York, W. R., Hemsworth)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Barrie, Charles Coupar||Hartshorn, Vernon||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Barton, Sir William (Oldham)||Hayday, Arthur||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Hayward, Major Evan||Rodger, A. K.|
|Bigland, Alfred||Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)||Rose, Frank H.|
|Bird, Sir A. (Wolverhampton, West)||Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Rutherford, Sir W. W. (Edge Hill)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hope, James F. (Sheffield, Central)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Bramsdon, Sir Thomas||Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. A. (Midlothian)||Scott, A. M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)|
|Breese, Major Charles E.||Home, Sir R. S. (Glasgow, Hillhead)||Scott, Sir Samuel (St. Marylebone)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Hudson, R. M.||Seager, Sir William|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Hunter-Weston, Lieut.-Gen. Sir A. G.||Seely, Major-General Rt. Hon. John|
|Broad, Thomas Tucker||Hurd, Percy A.||Sexton, James|
|Bromfield, William||Irving, Dan||Shaw, Hon. Alex. (Kilmarnock)|
|Bruton, Sir James||Jephcott, A. R.||Shaw, William T. (Forfar)|
|Buchanan, Lieut.-Colonel A. L. H.||Jesson, C.||Simm, M. T.|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Jodrell, Neville Paul||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Cairns, John||Johnson, Sir Stanley||Smith, W. R. (Wellingborough)|
|Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Spencer, George A.|
|Carr, W. Theodore||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)|
|Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Lianelly)||Stanton, Charles B.|
|Casey, T. W.||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Birm., Aston)||Law, Alfred J. (Rochdale)||Sturrock, J. Leng|
|Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)||Law, Rt. Hon. A. B. (Glasgow, C.)||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales)||Swan, J. E.|
|Clough, Robert||Lewis, T. A. (Glam., Pontypridd)||Taylor, J.|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.||Lonsdale, James Rolston||Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Coats, Sir Stuart||M'Curdy, Rt. Hon. C. A.||Thomas-Stanford, Charles|
|Collin's, Sir G. P. (Greenock)||M'Guffin, Samuel||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||McLaren, Hon. H. D. (Leicester)||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West)|
|Cowan, Sir H. (Aberdeen and Kinc.)||M-Lean, Lieut.-Col. Charles W. W.||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell- (Maryhill)|
|Craig, Colonel Sir J. (Down, Mid)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Tootill, Robert|
|Davies. A. (Lancaster, Clithcroe)||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury)||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Turton, E. R.|
|Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Mallalleu, F. W.||Vickers, Douglas|
|Davies, Sir William H. (Bristol, S.)||Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.)||Walters, Rt. Hon. Sir John Tudor|
|Donald, Thompson||Martin, Captain A. E.||Ward-Jackson, Major C. L.|
|Duncannon, Viscount||Mason, Robert||Ward, William Dudley (Southampton)|
|Edge, Captain William||Middlebrook, Sir William||Watson, Captain John Bertrand|
|Edwards, C (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred M.||Weston, Colonel John W.|
|Edwards, G. (Norfolk, South)||Montagu, Rt. Hon. E. S.||White, Lieut.-Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Wigan, Brig.-Gen. John Tyson|
|Edwards, Hugh (Glam., Neath)||Morison, Rt. Hon. Thomas Brash||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.||Wilkie, Alexander|
|Eyres-Monsell, Commander B. M.||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)|
|Fildes, Henry||Murray, C. D. (Edinburgh)||Wilson, Daniel M. (Down, West)|
|Finney, Samuel||Murray, John (Leeds, West)||Wise, Frederick|
|Ford, Patrick Johnston||Myers, Thomas||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Forestier-Walker, L.||Neal, Arthur||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Newbould, Alfred Ernest||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Young, Lieut.-Com. E. H. (Norwich)|
|Gardiner, James||Ormsby-Gore, Captain Hon. W.||Younger, Sir George|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Parker, James|
|Gilbert, James Daniel||Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Lord E. Talbot and Captain Guest.|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Colonel Martin||Bowles, Colonel H. F.||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)|
|Ashley, Colonel Wilfrid W.||Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Brassey, Major H. L. C.||Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W C. H. (Devizes)||Brown, Captain D. C.||Cralk, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry|
|Borwick, Major G. O.||Burn, Col. C. R. (Devon, Torquay)||Dean, Lieut.-Commander P. T.|
|Dewhurst, Lieut.-Commander Harry||Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton|
|Doyle, N. Grattan||Johnstone, Joseph||Randies, Sir John S.|
|Falcon, Captain Michael||Kelley, Major Fred (Rotherham)||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Falle, Major Sir Bertram G.||Kidd, James||Remer, J. R.|
|France, Gerald Ashburner||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Remnant, Sir James|
|Gretton, Colonel John||Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Gritten, W. G. Howard||Lorden, John William||Sugden, W. H.|
|Hambro, Captain Angus Valdemar||Lyle-Samuel, Alexander||Surtees, Brigadier-General H. C.|
|Henderson, Major V. L. (Tradeston)||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)|
|Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Manville, Edward||Waddington, R.|
|Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Marks, Sir George Croydon||Warren, Lieut.-Col. Sir Alfred H.|
|Hogge, James Myles||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Holmes, J. Stanley||Nall, Major Joseph||Willoughby, Lieut.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Hopkins, John W. W.||Newman, Colonel J. R. p. (Finchley)|
|Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Home, Edgar (Surrey, Guildford)||Nield, Sir Herbert||Sir F. Banbury and Mr. Marshall|
|Hotchkin, Captain Stafford Vere||Perring, William George||Stevens.|
|Inskip, Thomas Walker H.||Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles|