§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Neville Chamberlain)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Of all the problems which the War has left behind it, there is none that is more obstinate or more persistent than that which concerns the housing of the people. As we look around us we see progress going on in many directions, and, although we may still be far from our goal, which is a return to normal conditions, yet at any rate it is perceptible that we are moving. But in housing, after four years, and in spite of a prodigious effort, the results of which were altogether disproportionate to the cost, we hardly seem to be any better off than we were. The census of 1921 shows that in the last ten years the average increase in the population of the country was a little over 181,000, and if you take the average family in the country as consisting of four and a half persons, which is rather more than the actual figure, it will be seen that of the 215,000 houses, which have been provided with State assistance, no fewer than 161,000 were required to meet the normal and ordinary increase in the population, leaving, therefore, only 54,000 as a contribution towards the reduction of the shortage. So we find ourselves to-day faced with the condition that great masses of our people are unable to find separate dwellings for themselves, and they have to be herded together without privacy, without comfort, without almost the ordinary decencies of life.
The effects of this over-crowding are far-reaching. It constitutes a perpetual danger to the physical and moral health of the community. It is, I am sure, responsible for much unrest and social discontent, although I am bound to say that anyone who is familiar with the conditions in the poorer parts of our great cities must, above all, be dominated by a feeling of admiration for the patience and the good humour with which for the most part these evils are borne. But that is only a further claim upon our consideration, 304 and indeed every consideration of humanity, of patriotism, and even of prudent care for the future must impel us to the conclusion that there is no question more urgent, and none that cries more loudly for immediate attention than this question of housing, which, so long as it continues, must remain, of course, a great anxiety to those who are responsible for the Government of the country, to whatever party they belong. It would be easy to give the House poignant illustrations from my own experience of the tragedies to which this state of things has led, and, if I refrain from doing so, it is because I feel sure that the House is convinced already, that it does not require further evidence, and that it would wish me to address myself to the much harder task of trying to find some remedy. After all, eloquent expressions of sympathy, of pity, and even of indignation will not provide houses. It is not enough to pour out the most lavish expenditure of the nation's money, as we have already learned to our cost. We have got to treat our problem with sense as well as with sensibility. We have got to realise that our resources, great as they are, cannot be mobilised in the twinkling of an eye, and that the only result of calling for a higher rate of speed in building than that which the trade is able to undertake would be to cause a rise of prices which would be disastrous to the whole scheme and which would speedily bring it to a standstill.
To my mind, the important thing is that we should begin our work upon lines which are capable of growth and development, and that as far as possible we should try to avoid artificial devices which cannot go on indefinitely and which, when sooner or later they come to an end, will leave nothing behind them. Therefore, I am going to ask the House to regard this Housing Bill from that point of view, not as a solution of the housing problem, but as the beginning of a solution; not as the engine itself, but as the starting apparatus which will put the engine in motion. This is not entirely a war problem. To find the origin of the shortage, we have to go back further than 1914. We must go back to an historic year, the year 1909. If you take the houses under the annual value of £20, you will find that the net annual increase in the five years previous to 1909 was 80,000. In the five years after 1909, it fell to 46,000.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am not asking what it is due to; I am merely stating what are the facts. In those five years, which brought us up to the period of the War, we had a loss, if you may call it so, or at any rate a reduction in the rate of output of houses amounting to no less than 170,000. After that came the War years, during which no houses were built at all, and when we had to live, so to speak, upon our own fat, because, as was pointed out last year by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond), in 1914 there were something like 430,000 houses in the country which stood void and empty. If it had not been for that reserve, which enabled us to survive the want of building of new houses during the War years, there is no doubt that our position would have been very much more serious than it actually was. I have already explained how, since the War, in spite of all our efforts, we have made but a trifling contribution to the accumulated arrears. Taking those facts into account, I think the House will see that it would be altogether unreasonable to suppose that these arrears which have been accumulating over a period of 13 years could possibly be wiped out in the short period which is covered by this Bill. Indeed, neither this Bill nor any Bill which operates only for a short period could possibly in itself provide a solution of the housing problem
Let me pursue my historical investigations a little further. Hon. Members will be aware that the private builder who was responsible for the large number of houses that were being produced prior to 1909 did not build to hold, but built to sell, and he had a ready market, because there had gradually grown up an elaborate set of financial machinery, which, through the medium of solicitors, agents, surveyors and the like, provided the financial resources which were necessary for the builder, mainly from the savings of small tradesmen, clerks, artisans, and people of that sort of station. That machinery was built up upon confidence, upon confidence in the security of property as an investment. It ought to be remembered that in those days there were no War Savings Certificates and that this particular form of investment was almost the only one which 306 was familiar to the small capitalists of whom I am speaking. That confidence was first shaken and then shattered, not so much perhaps by the famous Budget itself, as by the devastating eloquence with which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) illustrated and enlivened his campaign in support of his Measure. Therefore, what we have got to do to-day, if we are to get back to similar conditions, is not merely to reinstate the small builder who did most of the work, but also to restore, or, if we cannot restore, to replace, the financial machinery by which alone he is able to carry out his operations.
What is the situation to-day? Private enterprise is beginning to function once more. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] I am going to tell you where. I have been rather surprised to find how many houses have been built recently without any assistance from the State or from local authorities at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Working class houses?"] Perhaps hon. Members will be good enough to let me develop my argument. During the last six months upwards of 12,000 of such houses have been completed and a further 16,000 are in course of erection. It is perfectly true that most of these houses are of a superior class suitable for the middle-class, but there are two features about this operation which are worthy of notice, because they confirm and bear out what I have just been saying. The first is that these houses are all for sale, and for the most part they are being sold to the people who desire to occupy them. The second feature is that as cost has come down and as trade has improved, so there has been a gradual extension of the operations of the private builder from the better class to the less good class of house. In fact, gradually the enterprise of the private builder is approaching nearer and nearer to the type of house which is desired to-day by the working class. That provides me with a guide, because, if you can at the same time stimulate private enterprise and provide fresh facilities for financing his operations, you will be approaching nearer to the time when the private builder can cover the whole field of housing, and the more work that he undertakes the greater will be the attraction to labour to enter the building trade, and the greater there- 307 fore will be the capacity of that trade to undertake fresh enterprise. Having said so much, I am bound to recognise that this process which I have described, whereby private enterprise is gradually extending its operations from the more expensive to the less expensive house, is bound to be a very slow and gradual one, and that there still remains a considerable margin which for some years to come it will be impossible for private enterprise to touch.
Therefore, I had to consider a choice between two alternatives. One was to take no notice of these houses or the want of these houses and to do nothing to provide them at all, and the other was to initiate a new scheme of State subsidies to tide over the interval until these houses could be built without assistance. In face of the circumstances of to-day, I could not hesitate between those two alternatives. No Government could allow the total cessation of activity in the very class of houses which we want the most, and, therefore, the only question left for me to decide was, what was the smallest subsidy which we must give, in order to obtain the hearty co-operation of the local authorities, upon which we have to rely to carry out our programme. I saw the representatives of the local authorities, and I made arrangements with them. I have been criticised because it is said I gave too much. I think that criticism has been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea. I do not perceive in the Amendment which he has on the Paper that he is pursuing that criticism to-day. Possibly, he found it was one which is not popular in South Wales, but I think the fact that I have been criticised both for giving too much and for giving too little is, perhaps, the best argument I can find for supposing that I have given about the right sum. At any rate, I gave the local authorities what they asked—
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
—and I received in return their assurance that they were completely satisfied, and that it was, to use their own expression, "up to them" to see that now they carried on their building programmes with all possible haste.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
If I may sum up this preliminary statement, which was really necessary in order that I might indicate to the House what were the ideas underlying this Bill, I would repeat that it is not to be regarded as an instrument for making up all the arrears of housing in a period of little more than two years. What I hope it may do is to lay the foundations, and those foundations are the two lines of policy which I have indicated, namely, the encouragement of private enterprise, and the stimulation of the desire which I believe exists among large sections of the population, to be able to own their own houses, by giving them facilities for obtaining capital, and with that policy is coupled a temporary provision, lasting only for a short time, in order that we may tide over an interval during which certain particular classes of houses could not be provided by private enterprise alone, and that object we hope to achieve by means of the subsidy.
Now I come to the detailed examination of the Bill, and I propose this afternoon to confine myself, for the most part, to those Clauses which are concerned with the main lines of policy and with the special temporary provision about which I have been speaking. Clause 1 deals with the purpose of the subsidy. It will be observed that it is to be paid only to local authorities, and not to individuals, but that it may be used for two purposes, first for giving assistance to private enterprise, and second for providing houses by the authority itself. It is provided that before the second is adopted, the authority will have to satisfy the Minister that the needs of a particular area can best be met in that way. In passing, I would like to say that in line 6, on page 2, paragraph (b), the word "such" has been accidentally omitted from the final draft before the House. The words should be "provision of such houses," and that word is necessary in order to ensure that the conditions as to size and type and date of completion, apply to houses provided by local authorities as well as those provided by private enterprise.
I come next to Sub-section (2) which deals with the limitation of size, and if I am to judge from my correspondence and from what I see in the Press, and from the manifestos which have darkened the air for the last two or three days, 309 this is a provision which excites the greatest interest and the most criticism of any in the Bill. I have to admit that I, myself, am partly responsible for some of the misunderstanding which has undoubtedly arisen as to the purpose and intention of this Sub-section. In answering questions I have, myself, used the terms "parlour house" and "non-parlour house" as compendious terms, which expressed as I thought, fairly well, the class of house I had in my mind, but because I have spoken of subsidised houses as "non-parlour houses," it appears to have been thought that I had some prejudice against a parlour as such, that I desired to give the children no room for study, and sweethearts no room for courting, and generally to lower the standard of the working-class population. I very much doubt whether the activities of the sweethearts would be hindered in any way even if no parlour were provided.
All this shows how dangerous it is to answer questions about a Bill before the Second Reading, and it will be a lesson to me to try to exercise a little more reserve in future when I come to other Bills which may possibly be the subject of controversy. The House will have already seen that the word "parlour" does not appear in the Bill at all, and if it is desired by local authorities to meet the wishes of those who desire parlours there is nothing in the Bill to prevent them doing so—[HON. MEMBERS: "Space!"]—providing they keep within the limitations as to size.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
You are simply taunting us. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] I am not going to sit and listen to this. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] I will talk if I like; I do not care.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member will please understand that a Minister introducing a Bill is entitled to a hearing. I shall not give another warning to any hon. Member who attempts to prevent the Minister from being heard.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not think there is any occasion for any heat to be generated on this matter at all.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
There is no occasion for jibes. It is our class that is being dealt with, and am I not entitled to speak?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am endeavouring to explain to the House exactly what are the proposals in the Bill, and what is permitted under them, and I shall go on afterwards to give the House my reasons for having drafted the Bill as it is. If hon. Members do not agree with me, and no doubt they will not, they will have ample opportunity afterwards of expressing their views, and explaining why they dissent. I hope in the meantime they will preserve that serenity of demeanour which is necessary if they are to understand what I want to put before them. I gather from the interruptions just now, that hon. Members consider that the space allowed is insufficient to permit of the inclusion of a parlour in the house which is contemplated. That is not so, because houses are being built to-day which come within these limits, and which do provide parlours, and I would like to give the House the dimensions of the rooms in such a house, because I think if hon. Members will take note of them, and measure them by some of the rooms in which people are now living, they will see that they do not compare unfavourably with the standards which obtain to-day, but, on the contrary, are something very much better. This is what can be put into the house. On the ground floor a scullery, 7 feet 6 inches by 5 feet 10 inches; living room, 12 feet by 13 feet 4½ inches; parlour, 10 feet 6 inches by 9 feet 3 inches—big enough to court in.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Have I got to listen to this? What does he mean by that? [HON. MEMBERS "Order!"] What kind of language is that to use?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
On the first floor there is a bathroom and lavatory, 6 feet by 5 feet 10 inches; first bedroom, 11 feet 4½ inches by 13 feet 6½ inches; second bedroom, 12 feet 2½ inches by 9 feet 3½ inches; third bedroom, 10 feet 6 inches by 6 feet 10 inches. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about height?"] The height is not given, but these figures, at any rate, show that it is possible to build a house, within these dimensions, with a parlour included. No doubt hon. Members opposite will say that these rooms are 311 very small, and that they want a house with larger rooms. It is suggested that the space should be increased from 850 feet to 900 feet or 950, or even more. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I quite agree it is a fair subject for difference of opinion. Really, it all depends on what is your object and what is the class of person for whom you are proposing to find houses. When I first considered this question, I was rather inclined, myself, to make the limits wider than they are, but, on the whole, I came to the conclusion that the balance of argument was in favour of something like the dimensions which I have put in the Bill, and I will tell the House why. There were two reasons which weighed with me particularly. The first was this. It is quite certain that nobody would build a class of house without assistance if State assistance could be obtained for that class of house, and therefore, if you wish to get back, as I frankly say I do wish to get back, to the time when private enterprise can undertake the building of all classes of houses, you must be careful not to give a subsidy to any class of house which either can be to-day or may be within the period covered by the Bill provided by private enterprise unaided.
That is one reason, but there is another, which is even more important. This part of the Bill is a temporary provision. It lasts only until 1st October, 1925, and I think that in these days, when conditions are changing so rapidly, it would be extremely unwise to introduce any provision for State assistance which would be prolonged over a considerable period. The provisions in this Bill will come to an end in 1925. When that time comes, or even before, it will be necessary to review the situation again and to see whether anything further is necessary in the light of the circumstances which then obtain, but in the meantime we have got to consider this limited period. Whatever subsidy we gave, we could not get more than a certain limited number of houses built in this period. We are limited by the capacity of the trade, and therefore this is the consideration which you must put before your mind—Who are to come first? Who are to be provided with houses first, since all cannot be provided with houses in the time which we are considering? Well, I must say that it 312 seemed to me that those have the greatest claim upon our consideration who are living to-day under the worst circumstances. If you have two classes of houses, different classes, each available for a subsidy, it is quite certain that the tendency will be to build that class of house which gives the best return, or which will result in the smallest loss, and, therefore, I think it is clear that, if these limits be extended, the tendency will be to build the houses near the higher limit, which will command rents of, perhaps, 8s. 6d. a week or more, exclusive of rates.
The census shows that in London, if I take London as an example, 53½ per cent. of the families are living in from one to three rooms, and I do ask the House to give special thought to these unfortunate people, whose condition, it seems to me, cries aloud for immediate attention. It may be said by hon. Members opposite that these people are living in that narrow, cramped accommodation only because they cannot get more, but I have got from the London County Council some figures which, I confess, surprised me and which, I think will still more surprise hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I know my hon. Friend the Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) is omniscient, but these are figures relating to the applications for the new houses built by the London County Council. They had a very large number. In fact, they had to close their lists, the applications were so numerous, but this is the remarkable fact, that out of those applications no less than 80 per cent. were for houses with two or three rooms. Why?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
It was because they could not afford to pay more. That is exactly why I am pleading for these people, because I desire that they should be able to have a separate dwelling, of which they can afford to pay the rent. Of those applications, 15½ per cent. applied for four-roomed houses, and only 4½ per cent. of the applications were for houses with five and six rooms. These people cannot afford high rents, but they 313 can afford a rent which will give them a house, not as large as they or we would like them to have, but which, at any rate, would be a paradise compared with what they are living in now. I ask the House to consider this, and not to be led away by purely sentimental considerations, because these unfortunate people are depending very much for their housing accommodation upon the final decision taken in this matter, and I would warn hon. Members that if, as a result of increasing the space permitted, the class of houses to be built should be all of the higher type, instead of the type that I have thought of in drafting this part of the Bill, one of two things must happen. Either those houses will be inhabited by persons in a better condition to afford the rents, earning higher wages, who want houses, no doubt, but who are not living under such bad conditions as those of whom I have spoken, or else, if these people are put in, they will be forced to take in lodgers, and to those lodgers they would let the bedroom or parlour. They would have less accommodation than we have desired to give them, they would have lost their privacy, and they would be on the road to create again the very conditions that we want to overcome.
I come now to Sub-section (3), which is the only provision in this Bill which deals with the question of slum areas. I do not want the House to think that this is the last word of the Government upon this subject. I do not think anyone in this House can have given more attention than I have to the difficulties in connection with slum areas, and I hope at some future date, when I have had more time to work out my ideas, I may be able to bring in some further legislation. In the meantime, we have a Clause here which will, I think, enable us to get some considerable amount of work done during the next few years, and it may be remembered in that connection that there is a very close tie between the amount of work we can do in slum clearance and the available provision of new houses. You cannot turn people out into the street to pull down the old houses. You must see that there is somewhere to receive them before you can really undertake any great or drastic scheme of slum clearance. But we substitute here, in this Clause, for the old provision whereby the liability of the local authority was limited to a penny rate, a provision under which the State under- 314 takes only half of the estimated annual loss. We have already before us extensive proposals under this arrangement from the London County Council, from Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Nottingham, Bradford, and several other towns.
Sub-section (4) is designed to protect certain local authorities which have gone ahead with building schemes without waiting for the Bill to become law. Some time ago they came to my predecessor and they said that they desired to begin their schemes at once, but that they were not prepared to do so if thereby they were going to lose any advantages which might be given to them if they waited for the Bill, and my predecessor, being desirous that all the available time should be utilised, gave them that pledge. That pledge is, therefore, inserted in the Bill, and will be carried out. That is why those words occur at the end of the Subsection—notwithstanding that the houses do not comply in every respect with the conditions imposed by or under this Section.Obviously, at that time, it was not possible to tell the local authorities what precisely would be the conditions which would have to be inserted in the Bill.
Now I come to Clause 2, which deals with the various methods in which local authorities may be of assistance to private enterprise, and I would remark here that we contemplate that the annual loss on houses built under this Bill will be, according to the locality, up to double the equivalent of the £6 subsidy which the State is to provide, and the extra loss, therefore, will have to come as a contribution from the local authority out of the rates, but it will be observed that here we have exactly reversed the scheme which was adopted under what is known as the Addison plan. Under the Addison plan, the liability of the local authority was limited, but the liability of the State was unlimited. Under this plan it is the other way round, and the liability of the State cannot exceed the £6 per house per annum for 20 years. The local authority has got to find whatever else may be necessary to make up the loss, and I think it will be agreed that that is a far better plan than the old one, because the local authority will now have a direct incentive to economy. I have enough experience of local authorities to know that the best of them are not as careful, when they are 315 dealing with money which is provided for them by the State, as when they are dealing with money which they themselves have to raise, and since, under this plan, any extravagance, any wastefulness, will mean simply an increased charge on the local authorities, they will have every reason to watch most carefully that their money is spent well and economically. I do not wish to claim any credit for myself for the adoption of this plan, which did not originate with me. It originated, I think, with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea as Minister of Health. It was adopted afterwards by local authorities at what was called the Manchester Conference. It was revived again by my predecessor, Sir Arthur Boscawen, and it has received the finishing touches from me. To complete the circle of benevolent godfathers, it only now wants the blessing of Dr. Addison.
Sub-section (3) of Clause 2 specifies three different ways in which assistance may be given to private enterprise by local authorities. The first of these is what is called the lump sum method. It is one which is, I think, particularly favoured by builders, because it is administratively simple; it is clean; once it is given it is done with, and there is no further trouble about it; and I may point out that it is a method which may also he perhaps advantageously applied in dealing with public utility societies. This method of subsidy was adopted in one of the late schemes, and it is generally believed that it led to great abuses. I think that those abuses have been exaggerated, but it did lead to abuses. It was given, no doubt, to certain houses which were not at all the houses which it was intended to produce by the scheme, but, as far as I can make out, there were not more than something like 15 per cent., at the outside, of the houses provided under the subsidy which were of that character. I would point out that we have tried to safeguard ourselves from any such abuse in this Bill, and it will be seen that, before approving proposals under this Clause, the Minister has to be satisfied that there is need for such houses in the area of such authority, and that the need cannot be met without assistance.
The second method is one which permits the local authority to refund over a period 316 of time a portion or the whole of the rates upon the new houses. That is a proposal which has received a good deal of advertisement, because of the proposal of rate exemption, and a great many people have been affected by it, and have even suggested that it ought to be applied compulsorily. I, personally, should consider that it was an unwarrantable interference with the autonomy of local authorities, and when I am told that a plan of this kind has been extremely successful in New York, I would warn the public against accepting as applicable to this country conditions in another country where methods of taxation are very different from what they are here. As a matter of fact, there has been a general boom in building in the United States, which has not occurred only where this plan has been in operation. Of course, any subsidy big enough will stimulate building, and exemption from rates is really only a form of subsidy; but it is a concealed subsidy, which, to my mind, is the most objectionable of all subsidies, and, personally, I must say I do not at all approve of the idea. I would point out, however, that what is referred to in this Bill is not exemption from rates. It is merely an annual contribution from the local authority in respect of a house, instead of a lump sum, and the only reason for attaching it to the rates is to tie up that annual payment to a particular house, instead of to a particular individual.
The third method is to encourage house purchase through building societies. I do not anticipate that any very great use kill be made of this particular method, seeing that the class of house which is in question is not likely to be inhabited by people who would be in a position to purchase their own dwelling-house. Nevertheless, I want to give the utmost possible latitude to local authorities to try different methods which may be applicable to different localities, and I think that is so important that I have included this method in the Bill, and it is possible that one might be able to add to this method by a provision which would allow the local authority to give assistance to public utility societies by means of an annual subsidy, as well as by that method in the first paragraph of the Sub-section which enables them to give a lump sum.
317 Clause 3 is designed to meet the case of certain public utility societies formed by railway companies or by associations such as that with which Sir Tudor Walters is connected. These Societies do not want to be tied up to the local authorities. They are quite willing to take upon themselves that part of the contribution which would be given by the local authority, and, seeing that they really can make a very substantial contribution to the total of the houses which will be available under the Bill, I think it is wise to make this special provision for them, and to allow us to deal directly with them. That is really the end of that part of the Bill which deals with the subsidy provisions. I am convinced that, under that provision, we shall get a very considerable number of houses built in the course of the next few years. There is only one thing that could stop them, and that would be a great rise in prices. I have already appointed a Committee, as the House knows, and I have been at some pains in the composition of that Committee to see that it shall include men who are in a position, I think, to effect its purpose. I do not think I need say more about that question to-day than to repeat what I have said before. We do not intend that this great, fresh burden upon the taxpayer shall be diverted from the purpose for which it is intended, in order to enrich a few individuals. I believe that my Committee, which will be meeting in the course of a few days, will be able to furnish this House and the public with that information which will bring to bear the first of those great forces about which the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite was speaking this afternoon in asking leave to introduce his Bill. We shall be able to mobilise public opinion and focus it against any attempt of any abuse, and while I hope it may not be necessary to resort to more drastic steps, I shall not hesitate, if the Committee give me reason to suppose it is necessary to have further powers, to come to this House and ask for them, or for anything which will safeguard us from an abuse of this subsidy.
I come now to the powers which it is proposed to give to local authorities to facilitate building without State assistance, and I would call attention to Clauses 5 and 17, the latter of which 318 amends the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act, and I think they can be conveniently taken together, as they cover very much the same ground. It will be seen that these Clauses apply not only to the houses with which I have been dealing, but to the houses of a much larger type, and, in fact, they reach the type of house which is generally occupied by persons of the middle-class and superior artizan class. We are hoping that, under these Clauses, we may help these people to help themselves by providing the local authority with power to make advances to them, to assist them to build houses and to purchase houses for themselves. I have an hereditary interest in the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act, which, somehow or other, has never fulfilled the anticipations formed of it, and, by the provision of Clause 17, by the removal of some of the restrictions which have hampered it, by making it applicable to houses of a greater value, and to houses in course of construction, as well as those already constructed, we hope to make it more popular, and to see it more widely adopted by local authorities.
Clause 5, as I said, is similar in its purpose, but it will be noticed that it is temporary in character, and that it goes further than Clause 17. It extends these powers of making advances, not only to persons who intend to occupy their houses, but to bodies of persons who construct or undertake to construct. That, of course, is intended to bring in the public utility societies. The estimated value of the house in respect of which advances can be made is raised to £1,500, and we have added a provision, which is intended to meet a set of circumstances which has frequently been brought to our notice. It is the custom of building societies to lend not more than 75 per cent. of the value of the house, and we are told—I am sure it is true—that there are many people who would be glad to buy a house, but that they cannot find the remaining 25 per cent. We think that if the local authorities are willing to provide a part of it, say, another 15 per cent., that will bring into operation quite a considerable number of people who have a certain amount of money at their disposal, but not quite enough. From that source, again, we shall get a considerable increase in the number of houses to be built. I regard this Clause as more or less experi- 319 mental. It only runs, as I have said, until September, 1925, but I shall watch it with interest, and if it proves successful, I see no reason why its provisions should not be incorporated in a further Amendment of the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act.
I would like to call attention to Subsection (1, c) of Clause 5, because it deals with another matter, which has been the subject of considerable controversy. There are a great number of empty houses, which, apparently, cannot be sold, and cannot be let, and a good many of those houses would instantly be occupied if they could be converted into flats or maisonettes, but the owner is restrained from incurring the expense in making the alterations which would be necessary, by the knowledge that if he did so his converted house would at once have its rates raised. Therefore this is a provision under which the local authority can practically keep the rates of a converted house of that kind where they are, and the local authority would be no worse off, because all the necessary services have already been provided ex hypothesi, and, if I am correctly informed, this provision, if adopted by local authorities, will probably result in the conversion of a considerable number of houses, and a consequent addition to the available accommodation.
There are only four more Clauses to which I am going to make a brief passing notice. First of all, there is Clause 6, Sub-section (2), which is designed to give some assistance to existing public utility societies. I have a good deal of sympathy with these public utility societies. They were called into existence at a time when the most urgent appeals were being made for the erection of more houses, and I think there is little doubt that at the time it was intended to put them in practically the same position as the local authority by the assistance which was given to them from the State. Of course you cannot apply exactly the same method to a public utility society. You cannot limit it to a penny rate, but the assistance which is given by way of contribution towards the charges amount to 50 per cent. up to 1927, and thereafter to 30 per cent., and I believe it was thought that assistance was to put them in the same position as the local authorities. What happened? Costs 320 went up enormously, and, particularly, among other things, the rate of interest which they had to pay on the capital they borrowed went up. The result is, that many, if not most, of these societies to-day find themselves in a position when they cannot reduce their rents without going into bankruptcy, and they cannot let their houses unless they reduce their rents. As I say, I think they are deserving of a great deal of sympathy, and thus Sub-section is designed to give them further assistance. I have not been able to put in an exact figure, because our negotiations are not yet quite complete, but I am hoping that I shall be able, when we get into Committee upstairs, to put in a figure which will preserve most of these societies, if not all, from the consequences which, otherwise would befall them, and enable them to continue their useful work. I will pass to Clause 10, paragraph (c). Those who are familiar with the Housing Acts know that the local authority is able in certain circumstances, if the landlord will not or cannot carry out the repairs to a house, notice of which has been served on him by the local authority, the local authority can do the work itself and charge the landlord with the cost. But the local authority cannot borrow for that purpose. Thy must execute these repairs out of revenue, and that hinders very consider ably their undertaking of repairs. This provision enables them to borrow for the purpose of repairs, and I hope it will facilitate their operations in that way in the future.
Clause 12 is one which deals with bye-laws. There are still antiquated bye-laws in force in the areas of nearly every kcal authority. These bye-laws hamper and impede the building of houses, especially at a time when costs are so high. Perhaps the local authorities in some cases are a bit antiquated too, at any rate, they do not seem to be able to get up steam enough to frame new bye-laws for themselves. So it is provided in Clause 12 that the Minister may devise a set of model bye-laws and local authorities may, by simple resolution, adopt that code and thereby save themselves the trouble of going into the details of a special code of their own. Lastly, I mention Clause 16, which extends the tine within which, under the Act of 1919, 321 local authorities must submit town planning schemes. I do not think I shall be accused of any want of interest in town-planning, but many local authorities have been very busily occupied with post-War problems, and, as I know from experience, the preparation of town-planning schemes is a very long and complicated affair. There is another point. There has been considerable development in recent years of regional town planning as opposed to town planning applied only to the area of one authority. It is extremely desirable that regional town planning should be extended. It enables the local authority to cover a wider area and to take a broader and more statesmanlike view of the needs of the future. But that needs time and therefore, at the request of the local authorities, and with my express approval, we are proposing to extend the time further within which it is necessary for these schemes to be submitted to us.
I have concluded my survey of the Bill so far as I mean to go into it this afternoon, but I have one or two words to say in conclusion. I have noticed that there are a number of Amendments upon the Paper, and, in particular, I have seen one which has occasioned me some amusement. It is the official Amendment of the Labour party. It sets out with great elaboration no less than seven reasons why they cannot accept this Bill. I would have thought one reason would have been enough if it was a good one. I suppose the Labour party have collected these seven bad reasons, some of which do not seem to me to have much to do with the Housing Bill, in order to disclose the fact that long ago they made up their minds that they must oppose any Housing Bill. I am not going to ask, and I do not expect, them to withdraw their opposition, but when they have satisfied their offensive spirit by being beaten in the Lobby to-morrow night, I would appeal to them and to all hon. Members to recollect that building is a seasonal trade and that, while speeches are being made here and in Committee upstairs, precious hours are going by. Therefore, I would ask hon. Members, bearing that in mind, and bearing in mind the urgent need that we should get along with the building of the houses at the earliest possible moment and that we cannot expect local authorities to go full steam ahead until they 322 know exactly what is to be their position under the Bill—I would urge all hon. Members to confine their Amendments to those which they do consider absolutely necessary, and not to spend more time in discussing them than is necessary for their proper examination. On my part, I think I may undertake that, while of course I could not give way on anything which I really regard as vital to the main principles of the Bill, I am not so conceited as to think the Bill is perfect as it stands, and I am perfectly ready to listen to and, so far as I can, to meet any Amendments which may be put forward by hon. Members, so long as they are put forward in a constructive spirit and With a genuine desire to improve the Bill.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsthis House cannot assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which is inadequate to deal with the present housing shortage, ignores the difficulty of land purchase and transfer, fails to provide the means of securing a sufficient supply of building materials at reasonable prices; throws an excessive financial burden upon local authorities and interferes unnecessarily with their administrative powers, fails to reduce the burden of interest imposed upon dwelling-houses by the present financial system, and provides only for an unreasonably small type of house.If it will not be thought presumptuous on my part, I would like to begin by congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on the lucid and eloquent manner in which he introduced his Bill. I am grateful to him for that, because I think the clearer he makes the Bill the less the Bill appeals to this House. I am bound to say that, as I listened to the right hon. Gentleman, I became more and more convinced that he does not understand the extent of the housing problem, that he does not understand the cause of the housing shortage, and that he does not understand the people and has no sympathy with the people for whom he is endeavouring to provide in this Measure. I would like, to some extent, to cover the ground which was traversed by the right hon. Gentleman. May I say at the outset that the housing problem is not one of house building; it is really a problem of finance? It is part and parcel of that great social problem by which, at every step, we are 323 baffled by poverty at one end and exploitation at the other. I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman admit that conditions are becoming worse, and I do not think he has over-estimated the extent of the worst of it. He tells us that something like that 54,000 houses have been provided to reduce the shortage of houses that existed in 1919, when the local authorities, in response to the appeal by the Government, made their return of the shortage. But may I remind him that, in addition to the deduction he made for the natural expansion of the population, he should have made a further deduction for the depreciation of property that has occurred during these years?
I have no doubt, if he were to consult the larger local authorities, he would find that to-day the shortage in every one of their areas is considerably greater than it was four years ago. In the city of which I am one of the representatives, there are on the waiting list of the Corporation at the present moment over 20,000 names of applicants who want houses. Probably more than a half of that 20,000 are families who have never known what it was to have homes of their own. They are married couples who live a sort of vagrant existence in furnished lodgings; they have never known the stability and the joy and the inspiration of family life which is so essential not merely to their happiness but to communal welfare. But to stop at the figures relating to the actual returns in the shortage of houses would be to display an utter lack of capacity to take a comprehensive view of the situation with which we are faced. We have to take into account the unsanitary houses which are occupied and which are in many cases over-crowded. Again, to take the city with whose affairs I am connected, and which may be taken at a type, the tinder-Secretary for the Scottish Board of Health, in reply to a question the other day, stated that there are at the moment in the City of Glasgow no less than 13,195 houses occupied by 58,000 human beings, which houses are certified by the Medical Officer of Health for the City as not reasonably fit for human habitation. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman and everyone who has had any connection with local authorities knows that in the present condition of things it is abso- 324 lutely impossible for the local authorities to provide against the evil of the insanitary house because of lack of alternative accommodation, and that to all intents and purposes all the Housing Acts referred to in the present Bill are a dead letter in their operation.
But even there you do not exhaust the examination of the housing problem; you have to go further and take into account the abominably low standard of houses in which a very large percentage of our population reside. In the City of Glasgow 66 per cent. of the houses are of not more than two apartments. In these houses, speaking generally, you have neither bathroom nor closet accommodation, but three families as a rule have to use the common closet, and the vast majority have to go without bathing facilities so far as the home is concerned. When you turn to the neighbouring County of Lanark, the condition is actually worse. I find that in Lanarkshire 69.3 per cent. of the houses are of the one and two-room type to which I have referred. No statistics, no reports, no speeches can convey to those who have not had the experience of that life what it means to the unfortunate inhabitants of that kind of life. May I try to convey some of it to hon. Members, so far as it may be, in the words, not of members of the Labour party or of members of your own party? I take two extracts from the newspapers over the week-end, and I find that in an Edinburgh Court a young man who had been found guilty of incest, stated that he was driven to commit the offence because of the conditions under which he lived. I have got another extract from the report of the sanitary inspector of Cowdenbeath, in Fifeshire. In that report that gentleman states that the work of improving the housing conditions during the past year have been carried on with vigour, but progress was slow, so slow in fact that little difference was being felt in the congestion which exists in the burgh. Cases have been encountered, continues the report, where a whole family of eight persons, four adults and four children, were occupying a one-roomed apartment, three separate families were occupying a two-apartment house, two families were utilising one apartment between them, a family of five was living in the scullery, and a family of 12, nine adults and three children, were 325 living in two-apartment houses, a family of 16, 11 adults and five children, occupied another two apartments.
I mentioned that it was difficult to understand these things from reports or from extracts. I speak as one of the many people on this side of the House who has studied the housing problem from hard experience of living in the slums. I was one of 11 persons who lived, not merely for a month but for years in a single apartment dwelling in Lanarkshire. I am perfectly satisfied, if I attempted it, I could shock even hon. Members on the other side of the House by a narrative of what life means under those conditions. But I would say to hon. Members that not merely do you not understand the housing problem, but you do not understand the intense and imperishable hatred of your social order that is bred in the breasts of the victims of these housing conditions. Surely hon. Members on the other side of the House must agree that those conditions are a national disgrace? Surely it is not something to the honour and glory of the Empire that the representative of the Government should stand up in this House and tell us that what he is proposing is not intended as a solution of the problem? Surely the time has arrived when the country wants a solution, and if he confesses to political bankruptcy on that side of the House, is that any reason why the country should go without a solution of the problem?
If you are to deal with the housing problem you must be prepared, not merely to remove the housing shortage, you must also be prepared to deal with the insanitary houses in which hundreds of thousands of our people to-day are residing. You must be prepared to go further and remove the low standard of housing referred to in the report from which I have given extracts. The housing problem is Britain's greatest and most pressing problem, and in dealing with that problem, I submit the Measure that has been introduced this afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman has only added insult to injury. I followed with interest his explanation of the cause. It was somewhat characteristic for it suggested the old practice of the people being deluded into turning from one party to the other party in the hope of getting an escape from their difficulties. He said it was due mainly to two things. First and 326 foremost it was the Finance Act passed towards the close of 1909. Secondly, it was due to the War. I wish that the causes of the problem were so easily overthrown as has been the author of the Finance Act, 1909. In attributing to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) the exercise of such a baneful influence over the House of Commons and the country you are only adopting a favourite system of hero worship. The shortage is due to something more durable than the right hon. Gentleman, to something more powerful than he, and to something that you will find more difficulty in overthrowing than you did in overthrowing the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Premier.
Nor is it due to the War. One might have gathered from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill that slums have been of recent growth. Why, it is 30 years since I left the single-apartment room which I occupied in the county of Lanarkshire. It was long before the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs came into power; long before you had the War. As a matter of fact, does not every Member of this House recall the housing shortage which got to such a stage at the beginning of 1915, a few months after the outbreak of the War? In order to control the houseowners and their agents you introduced the first Rent Restrictions Act. Houses had been getting scarcer and scarcer since about 1910. It is mere accident that it was contemporaneous with the Measure of the right hon. Gentleman. It was due to—and I think I should be able to convince anyone on the other side—business experience, and the inevitable outcome of the formation of rings and combines in the building industry. If you think of the needs of houses, and how the things stood, you will see what brought about the shortage. Houses differ from other commodities in their durability. A loaf of bread baked on Monday has no influence at all in fixing the loaf of bread baked on Wednesday. The baker of Wednesday's loaf can put the full cost of baking on to that of Wednesday's loaf when he puts it on the market. When the rings came into operation they rapidly put up housing costs. I think one of the very first was the Light Castings Association. One of its members told me that within 18 months of its formation they were able 327 to put up the price of their commodities by no less than 60 per cent.
§ Lieut. -Colonel FREMANTLE
Of course the hon. Member realises that any shortage in 1910 would not be due to that cause?
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I will be able to explain the matter, even to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Light Castings Combine, in its earlier formation, induced the manufacturers and merchants of other building materials to form similar rings, and between 1910 and 1913 the cost of building houses in the City of Glasgow had gone up by 30 per cent. I said that housing differed from other commodities in the fact of its durability. Empty houses which have been built at the pre-trust prices had to be let in competition with houses built at a higher price. It has frequently been urged, even by hon. Members on the opposite side, that, a house built at higher price could not compete with the house of an owner who had found empty houses in the market which had been built at the lower prices and bought then. Consequently building had to slow down. Capital had to be withdrawn from the industry. Labour had to be withdrawn until two things had happened!
Until first of all the enormous number of empty houses built at the lower cost of production had disappeared from the market, and the scarcity had enabled the owners of the cheaper houses to raise the rent and the standard at which new houses could be built and profitably let. You had actually reached that stage in the economic evolution of housing at the end of 1914. There was a scarcity of houses, and owners were setting out to increase the rents, when you, having a War on, found it undesirable that you should be fighting tenants at home and Germans abroad. Therefore you decided to stop the war at home until you had succeeded in defeating your enemies in the foreign fields. You practically said to the tenants: "You stand aside, you can wait until we have disposed of the Germans—and then we will be able to 328 dispose of you!" I make bold to say that if to-day you were engaged in a war with Germany, or any other Power of equal capacity, that it would be much easier for the tenants of this country to make terms with you on the question of housing.
Let me now, having, as I said, covered the ground so far as the cause of the housing shortage is concerned, try to turn the attention of the House to the essentials of dealing successfully with the housing problem. In providing the necessary housing four things are required: you require land, materials, finance and labour. I do not think I agree with all the people who say that private ownership of land is the one thing that stands in the way. I can find nothing to convince me that the cost of the site is responsible for the necessity of having to subsidise the rent of houses. I think land can be usually had for something in the neighbourhood of £400 per acre. Under the Addison scheme the maximum permitted to local authorities was £500 per acre. Now it is proposed to erect 20 houses to the acre, so that the total cost for the purchase of the site of each house will be exactly £20. That £20 has to be distributed over 60 years, so that we find the actual cost of the site only adds 7s. a year to the rent of the house, which rent we are required to subsidise now by at least £12 a year. I agree with those who say that private ownership of land adds to the cost of materials and other things, and I want as enthusiastically as anyone in this House to abolish as speedily as possible private ownership in the land of this country.
As far as housing is concerned, my objection is not so much on the ground of price as on the ground of the power it places in the hands of the private owner to prevent the public getting one of the necessaries of life. The Minister of Health talks about a period of two years, but if he examines the files of his office he will find evidence of cases where two years were laboriously spent by the local authorities and the Board of Health trying to get possession and approval of a site for housing under the late Addison scheme. This Bill does nothing substantial to increase the facilities for local authorities obtaining land, and on that ground alone it is quite inadequate for dealing with the housing problem, and on that ground alone it ought to be rejected.
329 When you come to deal with the question of rings you are up against the greatest element in the whole problem. It is quite true that the right hon. Gentleman has appointed a Committee to deal with this question, but I wish he would consult the right hon. Baronet the Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond) in regard to his experience in dealing with rings and combines in building materials. I think the right hon. Baronet could explain some of the difficulties that stand in the way. Rings and combines are the inevitable and natural outcome of the competitive industrial system, but, after all, they are merely but the last round in a contest for the elimination of the weaker from the industry. If you put it in another way, they are a combination of the survivals in the struggle which has taken place in that industry. Every attempt to deal with rings and combines is faced with all the difficulties you encounter in trying to curb private enterprise. How could we expect the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea, the champion of private enterprise, to use his position and his Government to destroy private enterprise? How could we expect a monopolist in chemicals to become an effective weapon in destroying monopolies in cement? We are told that trusts and combines are nationally desirable because they eliminate waste, but I wish to point out that all the benefits go to the few who happen to be the members of those combines, and they use their powers for the exploitation of the masses of the people for the benefit of the few. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee will be required to wink and nod at many of the operations of the building rings, and the Minister of Health will find the utmost difficulty in controlling the prices of materials while the manufacture and distribution of those materials are in the hands of private owners.
We all know the experience of the building department which dealt with building materials and supply under the Addison scheme. There an attempt was made to control prices, but only the prices of such materials as were to be used in the building of houses, and the result was instead of the materials going to housing where prices were controlled they went to the erection of picture 330 palaces where the prices were uncontrolled. That is only one method of escape which may be adopted by the rings and combines, and the only way which the country will be driven to in order to find a solution of this problem—even if it is necessary to rid itself of a Conservative Government—will be by undertaking the manufacture of the building materials required in the housing problem, and you will be driven to produce homes for heroes exactly the same way as you were driven to produce shells for heroes.
There is another aspect of this question to which no attention has been given by the Minister of Health, probably because he understands nothing about it. The Labour party have been chaffed for having referred to this question. I allude to the question of finance. The rings and combines have been increasing their stranglehold on the housing industry. The type of house now proposed by the right hon. Gentleman could have been built in pre-War days for something in the neighbourhood of £200—I am putting it at a high figure at that, but the case is so strong that I do not want to exaggerate it by a fraction. Before the War the money could have been borrowed quite easily at 3 per cent., with the result that the burden of interest on the rent in pre-War days for such a house would have been about £6 per annum. During the operation of the Addison scheme the cost of building houses of that description went up from £200 to the neighbourhood of £1,100, and the rate of interest on the capital went up from 3 per cent. to 6 per cent. What was the result? On the £1,100 capital necessary for this small house, there had to be paid £66 in interest. In other words, the burden of interest on all houses of that kind went up during the War by 1,000 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman takes the optimistic view that prices have fallen, and he is now going to escape the grip of the moneylender, but on that point I am not so optimistic as the right hon. Gentleman. I know prices have fallen because you are not building houses. Under your system the only thing you could do was to stop private enterprise from building houses and prevent local authorities from taking their place. The only way to solve this question is to deliver the goods, and you have not been able to do that. Prices are 331 down to one-half of what they soared to during the régime of Dr. Addison.
I do not think I should be overestimating it if I said that the money necessary to cover the cost of the site, the roads, and the sewers of the house which is required will be in the neighbourhood of £500, and the rate of interest will not be less than 5 per cent. The method adopted in this Bill, because the right hon. Gentleman and his Government do not understand the problem at all, is the very method by which you will put up the rate of interest. You say that all these local authorities will compete for the available capital, but the result will be to put up the price of money. The price of your housing capital will be at least 5 per cent. Even if you take it that you will be able to control the rings and compel them to deliver the houses at £500, and you get the money at 5 per cent., there is still a burden of £25 per annum to be placed by the money lenders of this country on the rent of the smallest type of working-class house that even a Conservative Government can provide. We object to a Government which, in dealing with the housing problem, takes no account of that side of the question. They tell us that we are dealing jocularly with this problem, and that we are trying to get in a number of bad arguments because we cannot find good ones.
Then there is the question of the provision of labour. Here I blame the trusts for having left you in the present position. Let me say quite frankly that when you set about building these houses you will find that you have not a sufficient quantity of skilled labour in this country, and to what is that due? It is due to the fact that private enterprise, having reached the apex of its prosperity in trusts, and having brought the building industry to a standstill, have left no future open to those who were engaged in the building industry. The consequence was that your skilled men emigrated. What is the way to remove that shortage of labour? Is it not to give those engaged in the building industry some prospects of a successful future? Is it not a better policy to try and convince the skilled operators of this country that, there is no need for them to go abroad, and that there will be plenty of work in rebuilding the large areas of 332 this country which will have to be done if you are going to solve the housing problem. You will have to convince the fathers and mothers of this country that in putting their children into the building industry and housing they are likely to have some security for sufficiency in years to come.
When all this is wanted, the Minister of Health brings in a Bill which says this scheme is only to last for two years, and if you will only wait for two years it will then be open for you to go to Canada and you can have 160 acres in a land far, far away. You say to the youths of this country, if you enter this industry as apprentices you will have two years' training, but we cannot guarantee that there will be any future for you in the industry after the two years is over. Therefore the two years' limit is ridiculously inadequate, and this must be quite apparent to all those who understand the difficulties of negotiating with local authorities. The local authority has to convince the right hon. Gentleman not merely that there is a shortage but that private enterprise cannot remove that shortage by providing the houses. Negotiations have to take place for the sites, and then there is the question of the rent, and the period fixed is two years. I object to these proposals on the broader ground of not giving security for the necessary labour. I wish the right hon. Gentleman would realise that everyone engaged in the industry, and every member of every political party outside Parliament is agreed that private enterprise is not in the future going to provide working-class houses as it did before the War, but that the provision of working-class houses will in the future be a public enterprise, and, realising that, will tell the people that we are going permanently into this industry and intend to remain in it, and that, if they will send their boys into these trades, they will have security in them to obtain an adequate livelihood. I know the right hon. Gentleman would argue that, if you did not put on a limit, there would be no stimulus to the local authorities. May I assure him that it is not the local authorities who require a stimulus but His Majesty's Government? The stimulus is needed on the other side of this House. There is no need to stimulate the local authorities. I only wish the Government were as enthusiastic in 333 regard to housing as their Conservative supporters in the local authorities all over the country are.
Let me just, in a few words, refer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman and to the provisions of the Bill in its general outline. I should like to emphasise what the right hon. Gentleman said, namely, that in this Bill you are transferring the unknown liability from the State to the local authorities, and you are limiting it to 20 years. Assuming, as I think you may, that the houses are going to cost £450 or £500, it will become necessary, even with a £12 subsidy, to charge to the people who inhabit those houses a rent which, combined with rates, will amount to not less than £40 a year. May I, however, remind the House that the working classes of this country have been reduced now to such a position that a large proportion of them have not an income exceeding £100 per annum; and to expect people to pay 40 per cent. of their income for housing accommodation, particularly when the income is down to about 40s. a week, is expecting too much from human nature. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman, also, that there must be some system of differentiation in dealing with the subsidising of houses—that the cost of erecting a house is not merely greater in Scotland than in England, but it is greater in the rural areas than in the industrial centres; and that the result, if you stick to this system of making no differentiation, will be merely to discourage enterprise in the rural areas. It will be quite impossible for them, with their lower valuation, to proceed with the erection of houses, and you will drive the population more and more into the already congested industrial areas. May I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, apart from party politics, to give some encouragement to the population of this country not to crowd into the cities to any greater extent than they have already done in the past?
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that local authorities might, of course, grant relief of rates to certain people who would provide houses, but this again is the old Conservative policy of compelling the poor to help the poor. The right hon. Gentleman is following out the principle that has been adopted on the other side for a considerable time now, of relieving the richer people, who can afford to live 334 outside the poverty-stricken areas, of all the financial burden of dealing with these social problems, and throwing the entire burden on the poor people who most require assistance. I would not mind if all rates on houses were abolished. I think the time has arrived when it should be seriously considered by any Government in this House that, housing accommodation being one of the necessaries of life, and being hampered by the existing economic conditions, the whole system of placing local rates on housing accommodation might be abolished. I do not care whether the rates are placed on land or whether they are found in super-taxation, but I do submit that to find them either from the land or from super-taxation would be a more equitable and humane way than placing them as a barrier in the way of the man who wants a good house and who is responsible for the healthy upbringing of children.
I am not enthusiastic about the right hon. Gentleman's scheme for clearing slum areas. I know that, whenever housing is talked about, housing reformers of a certain type always appeal to one's emotions by talking of the poor folk in the slums, but may I remind the House that this is not the way to deal with the housing problem at all? The way to deal with the housing problem is to provide healthy houses, and to say to the people in the slums, "Come out of those wretched dens of yours, which we want to close, and we will find you healthy habitations"; and then to say to the owners of those houses, as you would say to the owners of diseased meat, "We are not going to allow you to make a profit out of these unhealthy houses, but are going to pull them down and remove them at your own and not at the public expense." Nor do I think there is much that we should consider seriously in the provision for giving financial assistance to the owner-occupier in the erection of a house. That all betrays a total divorcement from the actual facts of industrial life to-day, What section of the working classes have a sufficiency to enable them to consider seriously the erection of a house to-day, and what section of them have security for the erection of a house to-day in any particular locality?
I do not want to deal with other details of the Bill, but I would like to say in 335 conclusion that the houses are too small—they are miserably small. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman must have shocked his own supporters when he talked of a parlour 10 feet 6 inches by 9 feet 3 inches. I wonder what were the dimensions of the table on which the right hon. Gentleman was writing his figures. These houses will never be homes. They will very soon be slums. They proceed on the assumption that the working classes have no friends, and do not require any place in which to entertain their friends. As I listened to the right hon. Gentleman, I could not help feeling that his idea of a home was that of a jack-in-the-box. May I remind him that he is here laying down the standard of housing in this country, not merely for to-day but for 30 years to come—that he is stereotyping poverty? Whatever be the vicissitudes of party politics in this country, he is stereo typing poverty in housing for half a century to come, and he is giving Parliamentary acceptance to the permanency of class distinctions in this country. He talks about the people for whom these houses are being provided. Why should you object to the preaching of class war on this side? What are you doing in all your legislation? Why do you propose these boxes for our people? Are they inferior people to you? Are they less useful to the community than you? Are you laying it down that this Britain of ours is not, within 50 or 60 years from now, to rise in its housing superior to the boxes which you are providing in this Bill to-day? All these proposals emanate from men who believe in their souls that Britain is a spent force, and that all you require is some temporary Measure such as this in order to house your old and faithful servants, until by your legislation you can shift them to the Antipodes. Fortunately, however, for Britain, and, I think, fortunately for the human race, the control of this country and the control of this Empire is rapidly passing out of the hands of the people who bring a Measure like this before the Members of this House.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I beg to second the Amendment.
I want, if I may, to make one or two comments on the agreement which the Minister of Health is supposed to have made with the local authorities in con- 336 nection with this Bill. I think the Minister will find that those people who negotiated with him on behalf of the local authorities will be far from satisfied with the provisions of the Measure which he has presented to the House to-day. In fact, I could state on fairly reliable authority that some of the provisions of this Measure are condemned by some of those authorities, and by the leaders of the municipal councils concerned, as by far too restricted. Indeed, some of them are of the opinion that the Minister has already broken a bargain with them in this connection.
I listened with a great deal of interest to what the Minister said, and, if I remember rightly, he made a statement to the effect that the case against our housing conditions had already been made out, and that he need hardly again call the attention of the House of Commons to the conditions which now prevail. I rather disagree with the Minister in that statement; and I am reminded that he represents a Division of the great city of Birmingham. A few weeks ago I visited Deritend, one of the poorest Divisions in that great city, and I thought that I never saw a more mean or squalid part of this country than I saw in the very city which the right hon. Gentleman represents. On the other hand, I thought he would have been touched by the extreme parallel of that magnificent garden city, Bournville, built by Messrs. Cadbury Brothers, and that he would have been stimulated by the two sights—the district of Deritend on the one hand and Bournville on the other—to give us a better Bill than he has produced to-day. I have said that I am not convinced that the House of Commons, and I am sure that neither this Government nor its predecessors, have ever been convinced yet of the terrible circumstances under which most of our people live. I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that at least 10 per cent. of the population of this country are living in slum dwellings at the moment.
I want to approach this Bill from an entirely different aspect from that which has been referred to already, and to pursue the point that we are bound in the first place to convince, not only the House of Commons and the Government, but the people of this country, that the housing conditions are bad in themselves. The other day information was given that the 337 London County Council took a census in 1921, and found, to my astonishment, that 147,797 families, totalling 262,263 persons, occupied one room each, and that 2,433,136 persons had less than one room each to live in. I want to bring to the notice of the Minister this point, that his Bill fails to deal with one aspect of this problem which is very acute. On the very night when this census was taken it was found that there were 18,969 empty houses, with 101,554 vacant rooms in the City of London. I think that the Minister of Health ought to have inserted a Clause in this Bill to deal with the atrocious system that allows a landlord to hold an ordinary family house vacant, free of rates in the vast majority of cases, without any compulsion upon him at all to let that house. In fact, what he does now is to keep the house on sale with vacant possession, and to sell it to the highest bidder at an extortionate price.
There is no provision in the Measure either to deal with the large number of temporary dwellings which were brought under the control of the Ministry of Health itself, because in their own Report for 1921–22, 2,928 temporary dwellings were provided by the conversion of huts and hostels. The Minister ought to have told us something as to what is likely to happen with the thousands of shanties, to use a slang term, which were brought under his control. As stated, I want to approach the housing problem from an entirely different angle. I believe bad housing is a costly thing in itself. It is a fertile breeding ground for crime, for intemperance, for immorality and for all the bad things that afflict a community. A census was taken in Manchester, whence the provisions of this Bill emanate, of juvenile crime, and the local education authority found out from it where the boys and girls who played truant and committed offences came from. Out of 100 selected cases of juvenile crime, 88 came from the crowded central area, which is only a quarter the size of the whole of the city. In that area there is one person to every 356 square yards and in the rest of the city one person to 980 square yards. You will always find a close and intimate relationship between juvenile crime, immorality and intem- 338 perance and the number of people who are crowded on an acre of land.
I think it would have been well if the Minister of Health had brought a very much more generous Bill before the House. I fail to understand, for instance, how he expects local authorities to do in two years under the provisions of this Measure what they failed to accomplish from 1918 to 1923. The position is impossible. The Minister has assumed, in connection with the size of the houses, that all districts in the country are accustomed to the non-parlour type of house. There are one or two local authorities who, if they are not allowed a sufficient space to provide a parlour in each house, will not lay a brick under this scheme. I trust in our further discussions on the Bill we shall be able to extend the amount of space allowed, and I hope that the maximum which will be accepted by the Minister will not be less than 1,150 feet. I do not think there is a proper appreciation of this problem, and I want to leave another suggestion with the Minister. There was a time when housing schemes had to be arranged that the workpeople were compelled of necessity to live near their place of employment. I want any future schemes to be so set out that houses shall not be built near any factory or workshop, but that the people shall be taken out of those surroundings in which they are now living far removed from their scenes of labour. If we had a Minister exclusively in charge of the housing of the people as we had a Minister to tarry on the War, these problems would have been settled provided we had the same energy to house the people properly as we had for fighting our enemies. We can now facilitate the transport of the workpeople in all our big towns from their work to their place of residence. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not sanction any schemes at all unless they are removed from industrial areas. I want a segregation of the industrial factories and workshops from the places of residence of our people.
As stated, I had hoped the Minister's proposals would be very much more generous. I cannot see some local authorities accepting these proposals very heartily. Six pounds per house for 20 years to some of them is not very much. I know that some local authorities would have been quite content with less, but the progres- 339 sive authorities, I feel positive, will require very much more than the Minister is proposing to induce them to work. I came across a scheme the other day which I think would have fitted our situation very well. Hamburg is a free city, entitled to make its own laws and by-laws, and the corporation decided that the way to deal with the housing difficulty was that every family of five persons would be allowed six rooms, but that every family of five which had more than six rooms must find accommodation for the homeless. They had, however, the alternative that if a family with more than six rooms did not desire another family to live with them, all they had to do was to pay a tax to provide money to build houses for the homeless. Needless to say it was a Socialist municipal council that did that, and I dare say that if we had a Socialist Government we might attempt the same thing here, too. It is very interesting to those who are interested at all in a scheme of that kind to find that one very rich person in Hamburg, who lives in a very large mansion, whose name is pretty well known in financial circles in this and other countries, had to contribute, because he had so much spare accommodation, sufficient to build 25 working-class cottages. I do not think a scheme of that kind would be at all amiss in this country. I am very anxious that we should have better housing accommodation for our people in order to prevent the waste of money now proceeding. I will describe what I mean. As a member of the local authority for Manchester, it pains me very much to find scores and hundreds of young people brought from the slums of our great city, tested by the medical officer and carried away to sanatoria right on the hills of Wales and in parts of Cheshire, where we spend about £2 10s. per week each in order to cure them. We provide them with the best medical attention we can give, and in about nine or 12 months after we have done all we can in that way they are brought home partly cured and return to exactly the same spot where they contracted consumption in the first instance, at a cost to our city of about £200,000 per annum on sanatoria alone. It is the policy of the party to which I belong, and I am hoping 340 that some day it will be the policy of the Government of the day, that we shall spend less on these institutions—workhouses, hospitals and sanatoria—that we shall not be bothered with dealing with effects, but we shall deal with the root causes, and the root cause in this case of consumption—intemperance in part, immorality in part—comes back in the end to the bad housing conditions of the people. I trust the further we discuss this Measure, the more we go into details, the Minister will give us more generous treatment, especially in those parts of the Bill to which I have referred.
§ Sir JOHN HEWETT
I am sure I can rely on the House, in accordance with its generous practice, making allowance for one who addresses it for the first time. I propose to refer only to the conditions prevailing at Luton, the headquarters of my constituency, because I do not know anything of the conditions elsewhere, and I know that there there is a great need for increased house accommodation both among the working classes and the lower middle class. The history of Luton before the war in respect of housing is a rather remarkable one. The town grew at the beginning of the century more rapidly than any town in England except Coventry, and it rose in about a quarter of a century to be nearly double its previous size, reaching the respectable size of 60,000 inhabitants. There was naturally a great demand for housing in that period. The whole needs of the town were met by the speculative builder and by private enterprise. There were many shrewd business men who had made small fortunes at different kinds of business in town who were ready to take off the hands of the speculative builder the houses as soon as he had built them. The tendency during the whole of this period was to build, as time went on, a better type of house. Sometimes there were only two bedrooms. Much more often there were three. Sometimes there was a bathroom, sometimes there was not. But in every single instance, for the last 15 years or so, there was a parlour in addition to the sitting room. The result of the efforts of private enterprise was also to provide a cheap form of house. When the War came there was no shortage whatever of houses. In fact there was a slight surplus above the 341 needs of the town. When the War ended, 1,500 houses were required. Under the scheme introduced by Dr. Addison 100 houses were built. No houses have been built since. The present needs of the town are for 3,000 houses. The House will admit that the constituency I represent has, therefore, a real interest in a Bill which we hope will have the effect of giving it the opportunity of getting more housing accommodation.
If I may say so without presumption, I think the Bill which has been introduced to-day by the Minister of Health—whose experience in municipal administration and in municipal housing is as great, at least, as that of anybody else in the House—is an admirable one, well calculated to carry out the object of producing a housing scheme for the country. One particularly good point about it is that it avoids the faults of previous Bills, which involved the Government in an indefinite amount of expenditure. It is right and proper that the Government share should be strictly limited, and the responsibility for enforcing economy should be laid on the local authority. In Luton, the local authority is, I fear, not likely to wish to do much in the way of building itself, since it, burnt its fingers rather badly over the previous scheme. The number of occupiers of houses purchased for themselves is only about 20 per cent., and it does not appear likely that there will be many more purchasers of houses in the future than in the past.
I think it will be necessary to look again to the private investor and private enterprise. There are signs that private enterprise is beginning to awaken again, but there are two factors which tend to retard this progress. One factor is that so long as no definite date is fixed for decontrol, people will always be afraid that legislation may be undertaken to place the rents of houses built since 1919 under control. The second reason is that with materials 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. above the cost before the War, and with building costs nearer 100 than 75 per cent. above what they were before the War, it is not possible for a house to be built, without assistance, which a purchaser can afford to buy. The three methods of assisting building, which the Bill provides, should encourage private enterprise to start building again in Luton. Everyone will readily admit the contention of 342 the Minister that those who have the greatest need should be the first to be looked after, but if you pursue that argument too far it would practically mean that no one would receive any assistance for some time, except in London. We have in Luton a town of 10,000 houses, and we ought to have 3,000 more. There are within that area a large number of people who are suffering very much from shortage of houses and who should come as soon as possible under the benefits of this Bill.
I want to be plain about one matter, and that is in regard to the type of house required in Luton. Before the War everyone got accustomed to the parlour house. The borough council has passed a resolution that the town will not be satisfied without the parlour house. These views are shared by everyone in the town. It is, therefore, perfectly certain that unless the Government scheme will permit of a house being built which shall be able to provide a parlour as well as a living room, it will be of no advantage to the town of Luton. I have had the opportunity of looking at the plan to which the Minister referred. That plan has a surface area of 850 feet and provides for three bedrooms, a parlour, and a living room. I have one or two objections to take to the space provided in that plan. In the first place, the parlour is not big enough. In the second place, the scullery of 7 feet 6 inches by 5 feet 10 inches, which is to have a copper, sink and gas-stove, does not give the housewife enough elbow room. The third bedroom, which is 10 feet 6 inches by 6 feet 10 inches is much two small for, say, two growing boys or two growing girls to occupy. I am told by the Borough Council of Luton that such a room would not have sufficient floor space to be sanctioned under the by-laws of the borough. We want the houses to be built under these schemes to be milestones on the road of progress. We do not want to find, after advances have, been made in sanitary science, of which we cannot at present make any forecast, that 20 years hence the houses are not adapted to the sanitary arrangements which everybody might then consider necessary. I therefore, earnestly appeal to the Minister to take this matter into consideration, because I feel that his Measure will be shorn of 343 much of its utility if he restricts the area to 850 feet. I appeal to him to allow the area to be enlarged.
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
I am sure the House has listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Luton (Sir J. Hewett), who has addressed us for the first time with such success, and has added so much to the value of the Debate. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, carrying what I may call the shirt of Nessus of the housing question, which I took over from my predecessor a considerable time ago, is to be congratulated on the very able and lucid speech he made, and on the tone of his remarks. He, like all of us, is convinced that the housing question is in a far from satisfactory condition, that the housing accommodation of the people of this country is far below the standard either of hygiene or of comfort which we would like to see, and he had, somewhat mournfully, to confess that, after all the efforts which had been made, the question was still far from being solved, and that he himself was only preparing to lay a very small brick in the edifice of reform which is still required. I wish my right hon. Friend, with all his experience, under happier auspices than I had, at a time of cheaper building, and with a large Government surplus, which I did not possess, had proceeded with a more elaborate scheme. I took over the remnants of a scheme for which I was not myself responsible and which I had to wind up, at a time of great financial stringency, but always looking forward to the time when a halt would be called and one could proceed on lines of a somewhat different character.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that the general financial lines of the Bill are very much sounder than the old scheme, and on a larger and more definite scale. My right hon. Friend omitted to inform the House what financial aspect the proposals will have. That is a very important point with which, no doubt, he will deal at some future date. I recognise that he could not cover entirely the whole ground in his speech to-day. I should like to know how many houses he expects to be built, what will be the annual expenditure on his estimate, and what will be the additional capital charge this year, added to the capital charge already incurred, 344 which, from my recollection, is something like £960,000,000 under the old schemes. Although my right hon. Friend said that what had been done had not achieved very great results, I must remind the House that, in one way or another, the late Government did contribute something like 226,000 houses to the housing needs of the country—the biggest effort which has ever been made in the history of the country, and the first time the Government has ever intervened in this question.
§ Sir A. MOND
A very large part of the promises were carried out. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Certainly. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the 500,000 houses?"] Well, 226,000 houses is nearly half of 500,000.
§ Sir A. MOND
We shall not advance the cause by the interruptions from my hon. Friend. It was a very considerable contribution. In dealing with this problem, my right hon. Friend will find exactly the same difficulty that I experienced, and that is, the number of houses you can get built is very strictly limited. One of the difficulties I had to deal with was the limitation of skilled labour in the building industry. If certain negotiations in which I was interested some years ago, which would have enabled us to train unemployed ex-service men in the building trade, had come to fruition, we should not have been in the position of having tens of thousands of houses standing unfinished because there were no plasterers, or of being in the position that we could not continue building because there were no more bricklayers. That is an important point.
§ Sir A. MOND
The cinemas were stopped by Dr. Addison when he was Minister of Health. Anyone who has seen the figures which the Minister of Labour gave to me yesterday of the unemployed men in the building trade will know that the numbers of skilled men in 345 the trade are not so great that you can very largely extend the amount of housing accommodation, and that we cannot achieve something like 50,000 or 60,000 houses a year unless there is a larger increase in the supply of labour. That is a very limiting factor, and a very important one. The right hon. Gentleman gave a figure with which I am very familiar, as to how the shortage is to be caught up with the materials and labour at our disposal in any given time. I do not want to enter into past controversy, but I cannot without a protest leave the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the discussion on the Budget of 1909–10 was the serious cause of the falling off of building at that time. I know that allegation has often been made, but I do not think it bears serious investigation. My right hon. Friend must know that the opportunities for money being more profitably employed in other directions than building were more contributory to the falling off in building than the speeches of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Lloyd George).
My right hon. Friend's whole desire, as I understood him, is to get back to private enterprise as soon as possible. We have to admit that private enterprise, so far as this particular type of house is concerned, failed long before the War, and I think failed owing to economic causes. That was a matter which presented ones of the gravest difficulties. I quite agree with the general principle that a subsidy on houses given either by the State or by the Municipality is unsound, and that the sooner we get away from it the better. It is evident to my mind that it will be a considerable time before we get there. The period will be much longer than my right hon. Friend allows. He allows in his Bill only until the end of October, 1925. We are now towards the end of April, 1923. He will be fortunate if he gets the Royal Assent to his Bill by the middle of June. In that case he will see the best months of the building season of this year disappear before anything is done. That is why I regret that the Bill was not introduced at an earlier stage, because his limit of about two years will be reduced practically to 18 months. That is too short a time in which to get the Scheme going on any scale, and I would request the right hon. Gentleman to extend the period, I will not say the 346 exact number of years for the moment, but by a considerable number of years, as otherwise he will get practically no results out of his proposed Scheme.
A point on which I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman is the question of the limitation of the subsidy to a certain type of house. His argument really amounts to this, that private enterprise to-day is already beginning to supply what people call parlour houses, in ordinary parlance—what we used to know as type B house of a larger character. Owing to the popular outcry against the non-parlour house, the right hon. Gentleman has got his staff to work out for him a plan to get some kind of parlour into the kind of house which is proposed, but the kind of parlour that would be got into this house is not worth having. I think it would be a great mistake, because it would result in not having a good house of either one type or the other.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I would like to explain that the illustration which I gave has not been devised by ingenious officials at the Ministry of Health. It came from an actual plan which was submitted by the London County Council and built by them.
§ Sir A. MOND
That may be, but it was evidently devised by some ingenious person. For myself, I must confess that I am very sorry that such a plan has ever been passed. I think it will be making a great mistake to adopt it. There is a very strong feeling on this subject in all parts of the country. Those with whom I am associated are not generally hostile to this Bill. They have no desire to impede its passage on general grounds. They are anxious to get on with the Bill, and any Amendment brought forward by them in Committee will be designed to assist and not impede it. The hon. Member for Luton (Sir J. Hewett), who spoke last, and other hon. Members, feel in the same way. Is it necessary to refuse a subsidy to a local authority which chooses to build a certain number of parlour houses? I agree that a certain number of local authorities may not wish to build them at all. A certain number may wish to build them, but the right hon. Gentleman cannot seriously mean that he will pay no subsidies to any local authority which wishes in its housing scheme to introduce any houses with real adequate parlour 347 accommodation. He has had great experience of municipal housing schemes. He knows that if he were laying out an estate as chairman of a housing committee, he would want to build a certain number of houses of B type and a certain number of the other type.
Why he cannot increase the dimensions to 950 or 1,000 feet and why he cannot give a subsidy for that type of house, I cannot understand. It is not compelling local authorities to build parlour houses, but it is not impeding the building of that type of houses for which in many parts of the country there is an enormous demand. In many of the country workmen will not live in houses without decent parlours, though in certain other parts they do not care so much about them. What the right hon. Gentleman is doing is to create almost insuperable difficulties for local authorities in many parts of the country. This is a very serious blot on his Bill which will compel many who have wished to support him to oppose him on this point. I hope sincerely and in all friendliness that before we come to a Division on this Bill the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider the point and be able to indicate that, in the Committee stage, he will be prepared to make a concession which is not going to cost him much, if any, money and to which I can see no sound and reasonable objection. We do not wish it to be said that the Ministry of Health is forcing a lowering of the standard of housing. However costly or uneconomic Dr. Addison's scheme may have been, I have no doubt that it raised the standard of housing in this country. It introduced a new conception of what housing ought to be.
§ Sir A. MOND
I did not turn it down. I carried it out at very much less expense; I built more houses under the Addison scheme because I managed to get the prices down. By the use of the little business ability which I have acquired, I managed to provide more houses for less money, and I helped as far as I could to increase the number of houses. But we do not want to lower the type. We do not want it said that the Government-assisted house is of a lower type than the houses which we have set 348 up. It ought to be the model of what houses should be. There is another point as to which I am very uneasy in my mind. The right hon. Gentleman was not so clear as I should wish as to the effect of giving subsidies to private builders. In my opinion, the giving of subsidies to private builders in connection with housing schemes is a most costly, unsatisfactory and inefficient system. The right hon. Gentleman's figure, 15 per cent., is probably accurate. I do not carry it in my memory, but that would be a very high percentage. The giving of a subsidy of £250 a house was not fulfilling the object which we wished to fulfil when it was used to provide chauffeurs with cottages and all kinds of amenities by people who could very well have done it for themselves. I found it very difficult to make regulations which gave us real control of what was being done.
I am very much frightened if we allow local authorities under the Bill, with very little, control, to hand out lump sums of Government money to private builders in order to put up cottages. You may get a very poor class of cottage and in many cases you may get a considerable amount of hanky-panky, but, the point wants very careful investigation if not reconsideration. I do not like using Government money for subsidies enterprises in this way. I think that it is a dangerous precedent. Personally I would much sooner see this money given to local authorities for houses to be built by the local authorities and owned by them. I think that our local authorities which on the whole have considerable experience of houses will produce better results, and I will be a great deal happier in my mind if they have the whole control of handing out this money which they will receive than if it is dealt with in the manner suggested by the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has not made it altogether clear whether the local authority will be able to do this by the lump sum; whether they can capitalise the subsidy and give it as a, lump sum or by what method the final transaction between the local authority and the private builder will be carried out. Perhaps later on we may hear something of that part of the machinery because although I have carefully studied the Bill I have found it impossible to follow it in this particular matter.
349 The right hon. Gentleman's argument as to the demand for non-parlour houses seems to me to be a little fallacious. He adduces the demand for non-parlour houses in reference to some of the London schemes, but he ought to bear in mind that the charge of the London County Council for houses then was naturally higher than it would be now, as they could build houses more cheaply now because the prices have come down, and that people were asking for houses with inadequate accommodation then because the rents for parlour houses were too high. But I do not think that he can deduce from that that if you supply, as you ought to be able to do now, better houses for lower rents, people will not be anxious to take them and will not be able to pay the rent. That argument of the right hon. Gentleman is one which I think is subject to criticism.
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman is going to do something to assist public utility societies, especially those which were started during the War for the good of the State, which for one reason or another have not been the financial successes which they ought to have been. Their condition weighed very heavily on my mind when I was a Minister. I was always very anxious to help to put those who could be so put into a solvent condition. The money for many of those societies has been put up by workmen in small sums, and it is very desirable that they should be helped through merely temporary difficulties. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to get the Public Works Loan Commissioners, who are much concerned in this matter, to adopt a more generous attitude than I could induce them to take up. A good deal depends upon the attitude which the Public Works Loan Commissioners are prepared to take up. That applies especially to the smaller local authorities who are not in a position to float large loans for themselves on cheap money and are unable to obtain cheap credit. The right hon. Gentleman did not explain why he has limited the subsidy to a period of 20 years. I am not sure whether the difference between the figures I have in my mind, which were lower than his, may not be affected by the fact that I regarded the subsidy for the whole period of the loan, whereas he has limited it to 20 years. Perhaps I was a little 350 more generous than my right hon. Friend. At any rate, I would like to know why he has adopted the 20 years' period. I think it is a mistake. After 20 years the local authorities will have reached a time when increasing repairs and dilapidations will become a heavier burden. I feel sure that local authorities would prefer a smaller amount over a longer period. Although that would entail a longer burden on the Exchequer, it would not necessarily mean so much out of the revenue as does the proposal for a 20 years' subsidy. The lower you can make your charge on the Exchequer now, the better it will be, because the financial difficulties now are greater than they will be in years to come. I hope that the Minister of Health will consult the London County Council and other local authorities on the matter. It would be interesting, too, to have some figures to show how the deficits are calculated.
There are in the Bill many points of detail and of drafting which require careful consideration. I take it that the figure of £6 is not a fixed figure, but an average figure on a sliding scale? If it is fixed it ought not to be, because the cost of building in London is much higher than the cost of building in the provinces, and more ought to be given for building in London and the big towns than for building in other places where the work can be done more cheaply. That is a point which the right hon. Gentleman ought to consider. I feel sure he will recognise that there is substance in it. With many of the points in the right hon. Gentleman's speech I am in complete accord. I am glad that he is continuing the slum work which I undertook when I was Minister of Health. The whole problem is not by any means as large as many people think. With a determined policy and a little encouragement, I see no reason why, in a relatively small number of years, the whole of the slum areas of this country, which have been a standing disgrace to our civilisation, should not be wiped out entirely. I am very glad that my right hon. Friend, who knows this problem very intimately, has definitely taken it in hand. There are powers under the Act of 1919 and the Act of 1920, and with the assistance to be obtained under the grant, if local authorities would move a little faster, we 351 could get on with this aspect of the housing problem better than we have been able to do in the past.
I hope my right hon. Friend will not allow any two-bedroomed houses to be built. Such a house has its advocates, but it is a great mistake. No house with fewer than three bedrooms ought to get the Government subsidy. There is a tendency for a certain number of people who can afford better houses to be extraordinarily parsimonious about house accommodation. I hope that those people will not be encouraged by the erection of the two-bedroomed type of house. I never encouraged them when I was at the Ministry. Although, of course, local authorities have been given a freer hand than they were given under the Addison scheme, I hope my right hon. Friend intends to keep a sound supervision over any scheme for which he grants a subsidy. I see it stated that the proposal is to allow 20 houses to the acre, as against the 12 originally proposed. The jump from 12 to 20 is altogether too extreme; 12 was on the low side, but 20 is generally too high. I hope he will not allow schemes of that kind to go through until they have been examined by himself and by the competent staff at his disposal. Many local authorities to-day have surplus land at their disposal, with roads and sewers laid out. The sale or lease of that land to public utility societies would do a great deal to facilitate progress with housing schemes on an economic basis, with low rents. I was studying schemes of that kind when I gave up office. My recollection is that such schemes could be carried out without imposing any new charge on the Revenue.
A proposal in the Bill of an original and bold character allows local authorities to finance building activity. Apparently, there is no limitation imposed as to the amount that can be spent in this manner. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend thinks that that is altogether a safe thing to do, or whether in Committee he will not think it necessary to introduce some kind of safeguard. As far as I can see, there is no limitation in the Bill which would prevent a small local authority from lending sums quite incommensurate with its financial position to a speculative 352 builder, who might be a bankrupt, and so land the ratepayers in very considerable difficulties. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman thinks he can deal with that matter administratively, without legislation, but, in view of the fact that this House has repeatedly endeavoured to keep some control over rates as well as over taxes, it would seem dangerous to pass a Bill which appears to hand a blank cheque to local authorities for the financing of building. What I have said are general observations which have occurred to me. There are many other points which require to be discussed. I would urge my right hon. Friend not to put difficulties in the way of those who are anxious for housing reform, and mainly the difficulty of the non-parlour house subsidy. Let him abandon the plea that you can get some kind of parlour within the dimensions of the House he has in view. That idea is really not worthy of him.
§ Sir A. MOND
Nor for a mug of beer. It is not worthy of my right hon. Friend's well-known zeal for housing reform. If before we divide he can himself, or through one of his colleagues, make a concession on this point, it will give satisfaction in all sections of the House, and I can assure him that I and my friends will then be very pleased not to divide against the Second Reading.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
I share the last speaker's feeling of appreciation of the excellent statement which we have heard from the Minister of Health. I am rather disappointed in the speech of the last speaker in many respects. I recollect that but a few weeks ago he was the champion of private enterprise as against nationalisation, but, as I heard his speech to-day, what he was advocating and what he was endeavouring to impress on the Minister was that, at any rate, the greater proportion of housing in this country should be handed over to the local authorities. I do not share that view at all. If there has been one experience in the last few years more marked than another, it is that, while no doubt it is necessary to assist local authorities financially with schemes, yet they have not proved the most suitable bodies to carry out building works. I do 353 not criticise the local authorities for that. When you have building operations conducted by members of authorities which meet once a month, or of committees which, at the best, meet only once a week, no wonder there is delay and a great deal of red tape in connection with house building when it is entrusted to them. In fact, while this is a very excellent Bill in many respects, one of the great defects of it is that it leaves such a great deal to local authorities. All those matters which the Minister referred to as very excellent ones, such as bringing in building societies, remitting rates, and that sort of thing, are, in fact, entirely dependent upon the desire of the local authorities. No private builder can go in any part of the country and say, "I am going to put up this house; therefore, I am entitled to have a remission of rates, or to receive assistance." He has to wait; in fact, his building operations have to be dependent on whether the local authorities will, or will not, put this scheme into operation. I am very much afraid that a good many local authorities—perhaps, if you like, after the experience of the past three, four, or five years—will be very loath to begin building operations again.
When I consider the financial portions of this scheme, I am the more dismayed at the prospect. The Minister of Health has explained some of his reasons for proposing a £6 subsidy. He said that a very good result of his suggestion was that people were criticising it from two aspects; that one lot of people were saying the amount was too small, and the other lot were saying it was too large. In fact, I observed an article by his predecessor, Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, a few days ago, in which he stated that he supported this Bill because it was mainly his Bill, and that when he was at the Ministry he had been going, he hoped, to agree to this subsidy being a lesser sum. I remember when the right hon. Gentleman for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond) was at the Ministry, he was considering a subsidy of £3 instead of £6. I recall that one large corporation—I think it was Leeds—was prepared to accept a subsidy of that much smaller amount. The difficulty of the situation is that while some corporations might be content to accept a lesser sum than £6, a good many, owing to their financial 354 difficulties, will not be able to operate, even with the £6 itself. As the Minister of Health stated, and as I gathered in reading the provisions, this is a fixed amount and not a sliding scale. The result may be that in those districts where houses are needed the most, it will be impossible for them to proceed on this basis; whilst in places where they are proceeding we shall be paying a much larger sum than is necessary. I hope the Minister of Health will consider that point very seriously, and that he will consider whether it is not possible, in some way or other, to ensure if a man is prepared to put up a house of a proper character and of proper dimensions, that he shall receive adequate State assistance without being dependent on the desire or resolution of the local authority.
I share entirely the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea on the question of the limitation of the subsidy to the smaller type of house. The statement the Minister of Health made this afternoon, which interested me most, was his apology to the House, in which he said that he had never properly explained this matter, and that he ought to have said in this smaller type of house the parlour was always possible. I accept his statement, of course. I only say this, that I do not think he can get a single body of people who are interested in building, from the Land Union downwards, or upwards, however we may regard it, who will say that such a scheme is practicable or desirable. Very many theories and very many different reasons have been put forward by people who support the limitation of this subsidy, beside that stated this afternoon by the Minister of Health. A good many hon. Members will know, and will no doubt respect, the views of Mr. Edwin Evans, who is President of the London Property Owners' Association. This Bill of my right hon. Friend has given Mr. Evans great satisfaction, because the subsidy is limited to the lower type of house. I observe that he gave his reasons in support the other day, in what, I think, is a very significant statement. He saidWhat was going to stop private enterprise was the fact that local authorities were putting up a better class of house, under the cost at which private enterprise could compete.There is no doubt that it is the desire and the wish, quite properly, of Mr. Evans, in his business capacity, to see 355 the local authorities removed from this sphere, in order that private enterprise may put up these houses, with a parlour, and suitable for the lower middle classes They will then be in this position. They will be able to say to these people—who are just as much, in my judgment., in need of houses as any other class of the community—and other builders will also be able to say, "If you want this house, you will have to buy it; and, secondly, you will have to buy it at the price which we fix." That is a very unfair position in whch to put a very hard-pressed section of the community.
I cannot follow my right hon. Friend, when he said that his policy, in confining the subsidy to the lower type of house, was that he was going to help those who needed assistance the most. He would be a very bold man who would to-day distinguish as to who needs assistance most in housing. I could give the right hon. Gentleman very many cases—I doubt if he requires them—of people, in the middle and lower middle class of this country, who are as badly pushed and are living in circumstances as dreadful as any other class of the community. I do not know how he is going to distinguish as to whose need is the most at the present time. He gave an illustration of a London County Council estate, and stated that a, very large number of houses were built there without parlours. I wish he had pursued his inquiries a little further. If he will pursue them a little further, he will find that at any rate 75 per cent. of the people who have gone into those small houses on the London County Council estate are not what you would call people from the slums. They are not even people from the working classes. It is the hard-pressed middle class, to-day, who are going into that type of house, of very necessity. As I understand the scheme of my right hon. Friend in this particular, he is going to lay down a new condition, and to say, "Nobody shall enter these new houses which we are going to erect unless they are able to prove that they are the hardest hit of the community." What Committee is to be set up to decide that? Who is going to decide that, out of a number of applicants, whether they come from the slums or from the hard-pressed middle-class home? It is an utter impossibility to lay down a condition of this kind. 356 Therefore, I join with hon. Members in all parts of the House, in pressing the right hon. Gentleman to modify this part of the Bill which, in my judgment, is a very great blot upon the Measure.
I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman's contention that private enterprise will look after this class of house; and I must point out that a very large number of people, all over the country, who have special opportunities of judging the situation, do not share that view. Take, for instance, the chairman of a very important housing committee like that of Bristol, where they have a very excellent committee. He says, about this proposition of my right hon. Friend:The decision would have disastrous effects. Builders could not afford to erect a large number of houses for investment, and could only build to sell. In Bristol, the opinion is unanimous that not a single non-parlour house would be built by private enterprise.Go to Manchester, which, I believe, is to a large extent responsible for this suggested scheme, and for the arrangement which is being made. There, I think, the Lord Mayor, or Councillor Simon, who was the Lord Mayor and is a great authority on housing, has said, quite publicly, that it would be a great disaster to depart from the previous standard. The result of attempting to put up a house, with a parlour, 12 feet by 8 feet, can, I think, best be demonstrated by someone erecting such a parlour in Palace Yard and seeing how many hon. Members could actually sit inside it. I think decent and proper life requires better accommodation than that.
I appeal to the Minister of Health to do something more than he has been doing in connection with rings and combines. He has come to a decision to continue the subsidy. That, I think, is a very grave decision, indeed. I do not differ from him in doing it, but undoubtedly a great deal of our difficulties during the last three years have been due to the giving of the subsidy. It has proved too much of a temptation to a very large number of people. I do not exempt from my indictment in that respect the builders or workers themselves, but when I hear statements from my hon. Friends opposite—quite sincere and to the point—I would remind them that in the cost of a house, whether it be 357 £300 or up to £1,100, it is no exaggeration to say that 75 per cent. of that sum goes in wages and into the labourers' pockets. While it is true that building materials and other things went to sky-high prices on account of this subsidy being paid, it is equally true that wages went up from 200 to 250 per cent. over pre-War prices. I do not grudge them. My complaint against labour during the old scheme was not that they ought not to receive a fair day's pay. My great regret was that they did not do a fair day's work.
§ Mr. J. JONES
On a point of Order. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the fact that an agreement was arrived at, during the time of the operation of the building scheme under the right hon. Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond); that a wage rate was agreed upon, based on the cost of living; and that the workers' wages automatically went down, in consequence?
§ Sir K. WOOD
It is very late in the day, after a scheme has been established for four years, to have to come to an agreement in the time of the tenure of my right. hon. Friend opposite. What was going on in the three or four years previous?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
These are not points of Order. The hon. Member for Silver-town (Mr. Jones) has no right to interrupt. If he wants to correct some statements that have been made, he must ask leave of the hon. Member to intervene.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I venture to say—because I do not think one can emphasise this aspect of the matter too much, and this is the place to say it, where it can be answered—that it is undoubtedly true, in the case of a house where only 300 bricks are laid per day, that it means to the worker who has to occupy it, as compared with a house upon which 600 bricks are laid each day, no less than an additional 1s. 6d. a week in his rent.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I believe, if this point were thoroughly understood by the people engaged in this work, they would do a great deal more to increase the output—as I believe they are doing to-day. There is no doubt that the building trade and building workers occupy a privileged position. I do not grudge the workers their pay, but I say that, if not in building mansions in Park Lane, at least in erecting cottages for their fellow workers, it is up to them to do a great deal more than they did during the old schemes. I confirm all my right hon. Friend has said about the shortage of skilled men. It is undoubtedly true that at one time practically the whole of the housing schemes of this country were at a standstill owing to the want of skilled men. There is also this deplorable fact, that had there been more skilled men we would have been able to employ many more unskilled men. I hope the Minister of Health, before he pays away all this public money, will come to a clear understanding with the builders and the workers as to exactly what is going to happen. I do not see why the basis of apprenticeship in this trade should not be widened. An hon. Member opposite expressed the fear that building operations in this country were going to cease in two years. I know of no trade with greater prospects before it than the building trade at this time, and every opportunity should be given, on proper and reasonable terms, to widen the basis of apprenticeship, to get more skilled workers into the trade, and by that means provide employment for many more unskilled men.
With regard to the Amendment before the House, I was very interested to observe its terms. I notice the very first phrase is to the effect that the reason why we should reject this Bill is because it ignores the difficulties of land purchase and transfer. There never was a greater mistake. The only thing that did not cause any difficulty at all in connection with the housing schemes which have been in operation during the last four or five years was the purchase and transfer of land. I do not think it is thoroughly understood that, on the average, the land upon which stand the cottages which were erected under the schemes did not cost a penny more than £18 each house. The only people, in my judgment, who have not profiteered under these schemes are the people who own 359 land, and for a very good reason, because if there were any dispute about the matter some independent person settled it.. There is no reason for rejecting the Bill on account of difficulties of land purchase and transfer; I only wish that the difficulties in connection with the building trade and building labour were as easy of solution as those in connection with the land. I notice that in the next phrase of the Amendment it is stated that this Bill fails to provide the means of securing a sufficient supply of building materials at reasonable prices. I hope hon. Members opposite have no idea of going back to that very dreadful institution which we had in operation during the recent years under the Director of Building Supplies, through whom the local authorities had to buy. I suppose one of the most interesting chapters in the history of Socialism might be written in connection with the Director of Building Supplies in days gone by, and I hope nothing will be done in the direction of reviving that system.
Seeing my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) on the Front Opposition Bench, I am surprised that there is nothing in this Amendment to the effect that the only way to bring about building reform in this country is the nationalisation of building. I think the experiment has been very fairly tried in connection with the building operations of the last few years. I was hoping to hear something from the Mover or Seconder about the guild building scheme, because I remember how Member after Member questioned the harassed Minister of Health—whether Dr. Addison or my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea—as to whether he was going to give the National Building Guild a fair chance. If ever a guild had a fair chance the National Building Guild had. It had exceptional advantages offered to it and it was allowed to embark on a most tremendous scheme. After making an inquiry from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, I have elicited the fact that the National Building Guild of Manchester started and continued on its way—as my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley no doubt would desire it to do—with very little capital. It had a capital of £20 and it entered into contracts for many thousands of pounds, 360 if not millions, up and down the country. Its organisers said it would build from 15 per cent to 25 per cent. cheaper than the lump sum tenders of contractors and some of the workers thought that the guild particularly appealed to them, because under it they would be working for themselves and not for bosses.
Some authorities went so far as to encourage this guild by saying, "You shall have nothing to do with buying the materials; you shall have no responsibility except to put up the houses, and we will give you proper remuneration for your wages and work." What has been the result? To-day the National Building Guild of Manchester is in liquidation. I believe, at one stage of their liquidation they appealed, I do not know with what success, to a large firm of building contractors in Glasgow to endeavour to come to their assistance, but in the result, as the Minister said in answer to me the other day, the local authorities have had to take over their contracts. That is an illuminating example of Socialist building operations, and if I had any complaint to make about the general body of my right hon. Friend's scheme, it would be that whilst he has made a very excellent speech in favour of private enterprise I doubt whether his Bill goes very far in that direction. However, time will show. No doubt as the Bill proceeds on its course my right hon. Friend will find, as other Ministers who sat in his place have found, that he will have more bricks thrown at his head than put into his houses. As far as I am concerned I support the Bill, believing that it can be made a better Bill in Committee. I appreciate very much the sympathetic spirit in which my right hon. Friend has presented it, and I have considerable confidence that, with his administrative ability and experience, those of us who desire to make it a better Bill will, in any case, have the opportunity of doing our best and by that means helping to solve to a small extent—because have no better anticipation than that—one of the greatest problems of to-day.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
The Minister of Health has a great record as a municipal administrator and bears a name honoured in the annals of local government, and those who are associated with local government look to him for an example in their work. Therefore, it is the more disappointing that he should 361 have submitted to us this afternoon a Measure which, as he admitted, is but one step towards dealing with what is, perhaps, the most tragic human problem which we have before us to-day. The Minister began his speech by painting a grim picture of the need for houses. Those of us connected with local authorities know that you cannot possibly exaggerate the need, certainly not in the industrial areas, and I believe in the rural areas the shortage of houses is almost as badly felt. Yet, on the Minister's own admission, this Measure, so far as financial assistance is concerned, only covers the next two years, and is but a partial attempt to meet the situation. The House will agree with me that too much of our legislation in recent years has been of a temporary character, based on mere questions of expediency and lacking comprehensive and well thought out schemes from which could be developed a permanent policy. As the Minister well said, the question of housing is not merely a War problem. I do not wish to cross swords with the right hon. Gentleman as to the reason for the shortage before the War, but that shortage is admitted, and it has been aggravated tremendously by the Wartime cessation of building operations. I do not wish to dwell on the extent of the problem except so far as it is necessary to show that, in the opinion of many, the Minister's proposals are entirely inadequate.
It will be remembered that a Committee was set up by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in 1912, and that Committee, after careful investigation, found that between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 men, women, and children in our urban districts were then living under slum conditions, and they estimated that at that time one-tenth of the population were living under over-crowded conditions. Since then, building operations were brought, to a standstill by the War. The Minister stated that since 1914 215,000 houses had been built, and that the figure of the normal building requirement of this country is between 75,000 and 80,000 houses a year. The period from the outbreak of War until to-day is nine years, and multiplying 80,000 by nine, we find, as regards the need of houses to replace wastage and to provide for the growing population, a gross 362 need in that period of 720,000 houses, against which, as the Minister tells us, only less than 215,000 have been supplied, leaving a necessity to-day for at least half-a-million houses. That is without having regard to slum replacements and the clearance of congested areas. Yet the Minister suggests a Measure which, so far as financial assistance to local authorities is concerned, only covers 2½ years. I recollect the Minister himself speaking on the 1919 Bill, and stating that in Birmingham alone 50,000 houses were then required. I wonder how many of the 50,000 have been supplied, and how many are likely to be supplied under this Bill during the next two years.
I am sure he will admit that there will be a severe shortage even then, and that shortage has all along been with us creating ill-health and disease which, in the years to come, will entail a heavy extra burden on the taxes and the rates unless we can deal with it upon adequate lines. I regret that the Measure is so inadequate and that we still lack that statesmanlike and comprehensive scheme which is so necessary to deal with this crying need. Regarding the provisions of the Bill, I appeal to the Minister to grant more favourable terms to the local authorities. He told us that he had met the request of the local authorities. The local authorities, when they first approached him, asked for assistance over the whole period of the loan, that is to say, for 60 years, and they asked for £6 a house for that period. They had negotiations and conferences, and in the end the compromise was arrived at of £6 for 20 years.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member is not quite correct, I think. The officers of my Department made an offer to the local authorities of £4 for 20 years. The local authorities made a counteroffer of £6 for 20 years, and I agreed to that suggestion.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his explanation, but if he will turn back to the previous records, before he was Minister of Health, I think I am right in suggesting that he will find that the Municipal Association asked, in the first instance, for £6 for 60 years. That was, no doubt, before the right hon. Gentleman's reign as Minister of Health, but whatever may have been the compromise finally agreed upon, I am satisfied, from my knowledge of various 363 local authorities, that they are by no means content with this very limited grant for the period of 20 years. No one will suggest that the houses will be paid for in 20 years. In many cases the £6 per annum will not cover half the loss to the municipality during the 20 years for which it is paid, and therefore local authorities will be left with a very heavy charge for the remaining period over which the loans run. Even if the £6 were adequate, as it may be in certain districts, it is totally inadequate in other districts. In fact, the irony of the situation is this, that in large industrial areas, where the need is greatest, where they want to build the most houses on account of the shortage, and where the assessable value is lowest, there the £6 is totally inadequate, whereas in other districts, where comparatively few houses are required and where they have a high assessable value, there is no doubt that the £6 will cover, and possibly more than cover, their requirements.
I suggest to the Minister that something can be done in Committee, without departing from a fixed sum, which has many advantages. I think, for reasons of economy, it is better than the old scheme, although less favourable to the municipalities; but if he could conceive of some method of regional areas, defining districts where building costs are higher and where the need is greater, and fix a fiat rate one for these areas, and another for those areas where the need is not so great and the costs are less, he might retain the advantages of economy which a fixed sum gives and, at the same time, remove some of those inequalities, which will hit very hardly those districts which most need assistance. We were told the other day that the Government had conceded a grant to rural districts because of the heavy rates in those areas. The heavy rates in the rural districts average in the £. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that in urban districts the rating is not 11s., but in many cases 20s. and over, and I submit that it is taxing the social consciousness of those local districts to the breaking point to expect them to add still further to their heavy rates in order to remove this social evil which is in existence in their midst.
364 Therefore, I hope that when we come into Committee this matter will be reconsidered, for, in spite of the two Amendments for the rejection of the Bill, which have been supported from different quarters of the House, I suggest that the need for houses is so great that it is desirable that the Bill should go to Committee at the earliest possible moment. Many of us agree with the criticisms that have been made as to the inadequacy of the Bill, and we seek to improve it, but at the same time the need is so tremendous that we cannot afford to wait any longer. It is true that the Government have delayed bringing it in, but it would be folly to reject this Bill, even if we could, because that would mean that the day when more houses were to be provided would be put off even further than it has been through the fault of the Government. I submit that the Bill can be amended in Committee. There is nothing vicious in the principle of the Bill that makes it past redemption. Even those who sit on this side of the House will agree that, if they have the power to reject, they also have the power in Committee to amend, on such lines as will make it a workable Measure, one which will give them houses at once, and much quicker than if we have to wait until that Socialistic system is established of which they dream, but which will not materialise in time to give the houses which are so badly needed to-day. It was refreshing to hear the right hon. Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond), now sitting on this side of the House, putting forward arguments to the other side which some of us addressed to him only a few months ago, and which he had then rebutted somewhat skilfully.
With regard to the parlours, that is a matter which comes in for criticism from all sides, but I approach it on this special ground, that it is very desirable that a locality should have freedom to work out its own salvation in its own way. We welcome this Bill in so far as it scraps to a large extent that bureaucracy and that control from Whitehall which during recent years have possibly somewhat hindered the development of housing in each district. The hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) suggested that local administration had not been a success, so far as the production of houses was concerned, and that a 365 local authority was bound to have much red tape and cause much delay; but I would submit that the reasons for delay were not too often with the local authority, but with those at Whitehall to whom they had to send plans and counter plans, from whom inspectors came down on every conceivable occasion, and it was that huge bureaucracy which strangled the developments which the local authorities desired to make. Therefore, I think it is a gain that in this Bill as little restriction and control from the bureaucracy at headquarters as possible will take place, and that it should be left to each locality to work out its own salvation in its own way. On those grounds, I appeal to the Minister to lease the locality the freedom to put up houses which will have a parlour, not of the miserable dimensions to which he referred, but that they should have the opportunity to go to 950, or 1,050 feet if need be, if a particular district required it, and that each district should satisfy their own needs in their own way. It would not necessarily place any further burden on the Exchequer, and, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman would not be making any concession in finance.
Reference has been made to the granting of a lump sum, but there I submit that the right hon. Gentleman is repeating one of the evil Sections of the previous Bill. The right hon. Member for West Swansea said his memory did not serve him sufficiently to contradict or challenge the estimate of 15 per cent. which the Minister said, in introducing the Bill, was the number of houses which were erected under the private builders' subsidy, which were not of the class intended. I happened to turn up the OFFICIAL REPORT and find the Debates on that question, and I see that the right hon. Member for West Swansea, speaking in this House on 21st July, 1921, stated that according to the records that he had in his Department, only about two-thirds had been used for working-class houses. He said:Week-end bungalows, chauffeurs' cottages, and gamekeepers' houses were surely not meant to be paid for by subsidies from the taxpayer."—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1921; cols. 2481–2, Vol. 144.]I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that in re-inserting in this Bill the principle of a lump sum subsidy to private builders, there is a very great danger of the same 366 abuse of the expenditure of public money which occurred under the 1919 Act. Anyone connected with local government knows that in too many cases public money did not go for the benefit of those for whom it was intended, that in many cases the private builders, the jerry builders, pocketed a large part, if not the whole, of that sum, and I submit that the same thing will occur again. What check is there in the Bill? The Minister referred to Sub-section (2, b) of Clause 2 as a protection. That Sub-section states that the Minister has to be satisfied as to the need, but surely that gives no protection that the houses will go to the people who most need them. Of course, houses will not be built unless there is a need, but that is not to say that those particular houses will not in the future go to gamekeepers or to chauffeurs, or that seaside residences or country cottages will not be erected with this money. It is true, the limits of size possibly restrict that to an extent which was not possible before, but many people would be glad of a seaside cottage or a country bungalow as a secondary house, even under the limitations which the Minister has laid down, and what is there to prevent them building two together and, after a short time, knocking the intervening wall down, thus getting two subsidies and using that which has been provided out of public funds for their own enjoyment?
I submit that there is a very great danger in making this grant to the private builder. By all means, encourage the man who wishes to build a house for himself, the owner-occupier, but that that can be done either under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act, through public utility societies, or by a direct grant to the owner-occupier, without running the risks, which are very real, of an abuse of public money. Supposing you make this grant of a capital sum of £75 or £78 to anybody who says he will put up a cottage of these particular dimensions, when it is put up, to whom is he going to sell it? There are no conditions, no restrictions, and he can sell it to whom he likes. He will sell it, of course, to the highest bidder, and surely that will be the man, not who has necessarily the largest family, but the man who possibly had the good fortune, or otherwise, not to go overseas, but who stayed at home, getting higher wages, and saved money 367 The poor fellow who went overseas at 1s or 1s. 6d. a day saved nothing, has not got a house, and has no chance of competing against his more fortunate mate, who has money saved and can outbid him in the demand for a house. There is no protection whatever, and those houses will go to the people who need them most. They may not go to the man with the largest family, and yet it is that man who requires the greatest assistance, and I submit that the Minister should reconsider this matter, because there will be a very real danger of public money being used, not for the benefit of those for whom it was intended, but of putting extra profit into the pockets of those who are merely speculating in house building.
I hope the Minister, with his great experience of municipal effort, will encourage the municipalities rather than seek to encourage private enterprise, and that his influence will be thrown on the side of the development of a higher standard of houses than we have had in the past. He referred to what happened before 1909 and how the private builder, without the aid of the municipalities, had erected the bulk of the houses, but what houses were they? Are we really proud of the great majority of the houses put up for the working classes prior to 1909, with 30, 40, and sometimes 45 houses crowded to the acre, miserable brick boxes with slate lids on, in dull, mean, sordid surroundings? That was the product of the private builder before 1909, and we do not want to go back to those days. With all its faults, possibly of extravagance, the 1919 Act did set a higher standard, a vision of something better, of houses not crowded together, not in sordid conditions, but with breathing space, and I hope it will be stipulated that not more than 12 houses per acre shall be erected out of subsidised funds, and that we shall insist that there shall be a bathroom in every house in industrial areas, and, if possible, not less than three bedrooms. We do not want to go back to the bad days of 1909; our people demand and require something better, and what we should gain in better health and more contented people, would more than repay the cost to the State for the time being. The right hon. Gentleman has a great record in municipal administration. He can make his name even greater still as the Minister of 368 Health who had vision to see what the people required, and gave them homes worthy of the name.
§ Sir SAMUEL CHAPMAN
The small and select band of Unionist Members for Scotland have not, I think, been very prominent in recent discussions. [An HON. MEMBER: "We do not get a chance!"] At all events, our friends on the other side of the House monopolise most of the opportunities. I only want to say a few words with regard to the practical side of this question. I must, however, protest against some of the assertions which were made by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), when he said, with a wave of his hand, which he often extends over these benches, that we have no sympathy on this question, and I was horrified to hear that the right hon. Gentleman who has introduced this Bill has also no sympathy. That is both unjust and ungenerous, and, coming from gentlemen, presumably of liberal minds, I do think it is anything but right judgment on their part. We on this side for generations have been keen on housing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, long before there were Labour Members in this House, and long before the franchise was extended which enabled them to come here. I myself had some slight acquaintance with that greatest philanthropist of all times, the great Earl of Shaftesbury, who was a Tory, a Member of the Tory party, and who was the great leader in the reform of housing long before hon. Gentlemen opposite were heard of. I do not wish to introduce any matters of controversy, but surely when charges are made against us, I am right in refuting such a charge as that, and asking hon. Members, whom we know in private to be most excellent and fair-minded Gentlemen, not to make assertions such as we have heard this afternoon which cannot be substantiated. I happen to have the honour to represent, for the time being, probably the best-housed constituency in Scotland, the South Division of Edinburgh, and I make it my duty to talk individually and collectively to large numbers of my constituents. When I hear such things as I heard from the hon. Member opposite, that we have no sympathy, I can tell him that those people who are in excellent circumstances in the South Division of Edinburgh would be only too delighted to 369 back up the right hon. Gentleman who has introduced this Bill, even if it means more money out of their pockets, to remove those horrors which we know exist in Glasgow and to a lesser extent in Edinburgh. It is our duty to do what we can to put those things right, and I for one will back up the right hon. Gentleman, and so will the constituents I have the honour to represent, even in providing more funds, and to make further sacrifices to put this matter right, or try to improve it.
It is a question of finance. It is very easy for hon. Gentlemen on the other side to propound schemes. We can all do that, and should be delighted to do it. I could not talk like my hon. Friends opposite, but I could point out the horrors of Glasgow. I have not, thank God, lived in them, but I have been in the slums. I have been in the slums of London. Nearly 40 years ago I walked through Seven Dials with Lord Shaftesbury. I knew Gray's Inn Road before it was improved, and taught as a boy in the Thieves' Kitchen as a teacher of Lord Shaftesbury. I for one would be only too delighted to support any scheme which would at once sweep out these things. But, as I say, it is a question of finance. Hon. Members opposite do not worry about this, but somebody has to worry about finance. I was downstairs just now with some citizens of Glasgow who are concerned about education. I do not know how many hundreds of thousands they want for education in the city of Glasgow. And so it goes on. You cannot provide for everything in the same year. You must do what is reasonable and practicable, and the right hon. Gentleman in this Bill is doing what is reasonable and practicable. I shall support him through thick and thin, and I shall be delighted to support him if he wishes to strengthen the Measure in Committee.
I made a few remarks on this question at the opening of the present Parliament, and ventured to suggest that that Act, which I remember so well, which the father of the right hon. Gentleman introduced into this House, might be improved and extended, in order that those who wished to build houses should have advances made to them. That statement only took two minutes to make, but within less than a week, it brought me over 500 letters from all parts of the 370 country, Scotland and England. One of the letters came from the County of Lanark, from a very eminent public servant who, unfortunately, passed away a few weeks ago, and who thoroughly understood the housing question in Scotland. He said:The suggestion which you have made will, of course, not solve the housing problem, but will interest people immensely in Scotland, and will go some way towards solving that great problem.That was written to me by Sir Thomas Munro, Clerk of the County of Lanark. My hon. Friend opposite said we should soon be in the grip of the moneylenders, and I think he asserted that money could not be obtained under 6 per cent.
§ Sir S. CHAPMAN
Yes. I hold in my hand documents which were sent to me by Sir Thomas Munro to keep me au fait with what was going on in the County of Lanark. The finance committee of the County of Lanark have already schemes in hand which they can put into operation the moment this Bill becomes an Act in regard to the acquisition of small dwellings. I have here all the details which are already prepared, and I believe they are operating under these tables. Sir Thomas Munro wrote to me on the 7th March that at a meeting of his finance committee that day they had agreed that they should make loans—not borrow money—at the rate of 4½ per cent. interest, and those terms might be improved on later if the financial situation altered. They are prepared to lend money themselves at 4½ per cent. My hon. Friend opposite says it cannot be borrowed at 5 per cent. If he would like to know, the City of Edinburgh at this moment can borrow as much money as they want at 4 per cent., and I was told by a financial authority that they believe if they had a new scheme on hand they could borrow as much money as they wanted for 3½ per cent. [An HON. MEMBER: "For how long?"] For as long as they want, and for as large an amount as they want. The truth of the 371 matter is that local authorities can borrow money a good deal cheaper than the imperial authority can. I do not know how it is, but local authorities all the time, and every time, can get money from their own locality at percentages cheaper than the imperial authority can borrow it. And it will interest my hon. Friend to know that this scheme on which they are prepared to lend money at 4½ per cent. has been drawn up with great care, and I have the papers in my hand with regard to the practical working of the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act, extended as the right hon. Gentleman proposes to extend it. I ventured to suggest to Sir Thomas Munro that the proper way to deal with this question was this. When we are young, we like to have a life insurance policy at a low premium to be paid at 55, but as we get on in life, we think that we will have another £100 or £1,000, and make 15 or 12 payments, as the case may be. In the same way, I think the payments under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act should be provided for, say, 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. I have the tables here, and will tell the House how they work out. They work out a great deal cheaper per annum than was anticipated by the hon. Member who moved this Amendment. Say a house cost £600—I will take the highest figure—this 4½ per cent. includes sinking fund.
It is the greatest scheme that was ever introduced and the Labour party will not have the credit of introducing it. For a house which costs £600 a 10 years' premium, including a sinking fund of 4½ per cent., comes to £75 per annum; for 15 years, £55 per annum; for 20 years, £45 per annum; for 25 years, £40 per annum; and for 30 years, £36 per annum. That is to say, a man could go to a local authority and he could order through the local authority a house to be built by his own architect if he wished, and he could get the money advanced to him. He will begin to pay £36 a year, which will include rent and sinking fund. Every year he comes nearer and nearer to being the absolute owner, and at the end of 30 years he is the owner of the property. I was told by Sir Thomas Munro that had that scheme been in operation in the county 372 of Lanark during the last 25 years, thousands of the miners of Lanarkshire would have now been the owners of their houses. The hon. Member for Shettlestone (Mr. Wheatley) spoke about Cowdenbeath. I know Cowdenbeath very well indeed. There are many old houses there, but there are many very new houses, and in some respects and in some streets they are model houses. I know two miners who built houses there within the last four years.
§ Sir S. CHAPMAN
The houses I refer to were built by two miners, and the hon. Gentleman would be delighted to live in them; I know I would. They are built of stone. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to extend his knowledge of Scotland, and if he will come with me, we will go through Cowdenbeath, and we will see the houses there. Please do not assume that everything is as dismal as the hon Member for Shettleston says. There are very many bright spots in all the villages, just as there are many black spots. I conclude as I started, but I do assure him we are deeply in sympathy with those on the opposite benches when we talk about the terrible housing conditions. We do not carry our hearts on our sleeves perhaps in the same way as hon. Gentlemen opposite, but we do wish to unite with these hon. Gentlemen in wiping out this great blot on the social conditions of our country and doing something to better the social conditions of our people.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I am sorry the Minister for Health has gone, but probably he will be back in his place before I finish. I am very sorry I am not able to congratulate him on the Bill he has introduced, because I have been told by many of my friends on this side of the House that the Minister of Health whom I would have to deal with was the best Minister of Health we have yet evolved. I can assure you that it was a sad blow to me to listen to his speech, which was a complete shock to me. I do not want any sympathy, and the class I represent do not want any of your sympathy. What we want and what we will have is housing. We are not going to have these rabbit hutches. I ask the Minister of Health why should he have one type of house for himself, and 373 require another type for my class? Those who talk about being in sympathy with us and of their good feelings and who want to assure us of their good fellowship and all the rest of the twaddle, have now a good chance to put their sympathy into practice. Here is a golden opportunity for the Minister of Health who has come here with a great reputation for administration of municipal affairs, and he was supposed to be able to devise ways and means whereby we would be able to get round this knotty problem, the housing question. This, in my opinion, is the most serious problem that faces Britain to-day. Our housing conditions are a standing disgrace. The houses of our people, and the house I live in are a standing disgrace. Talk about parlour houses! I never had a parlour in my life. We were never able to afford one. In my own case we have three apartments, and I am considered well off as a working engineer. We have three apartments, with seven in the family. I have four sons who are as big as myself, some of them are bigger. I have two daughters and one smaller boy. We have not got sleeping accommodation for them and we cannot get it. Those are the conditions that prevail, and no amount of sophistry and no amount of figuring about whether it will take £1,000,000 or £10,000,000 to deal with it will get away from the fact that the home human life of our people is the backbone of the British Empire. You are busy sapping at that foundation. The homes of our people are a standing disgrace. Mr. Speaker, when you intervened to protect the Minister when he was insulting my class what was he talking about? He said a parlour 12 feet by 8 feet was big enough to court in. Do you think I was to sit calmly in my seat and listen to my class being insulted in that fashion. Let me tell you the working class know how to court and the individual who spoke does not. I recommend the Front Bench and the Government to read the national bard of my country, Robert Burns, in "The Cotter's Saturday Night," and there they will get an insight into how Scotsmen court. There is nothing to be ashamed of. It does not require to be in a parlour. We never had parlours to court in. We court beneath—the white hawthorn that scents the evening gale.374 Listen to the words of James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd—It's no' beneath the coronet,Nor yet beneath the crown—'Tis no' on beds of velvet,Nor yet on beds o' down;'Tis beneath a spreadin' birkIn a doll withoot a nameWi' a bonnie smilin' lassieWhen the kye comes hame.Is there any wonder that I lose my temper when I hear the references which are made to my class? Then we had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond) to-night again. He told us in his speech that we should wait until the Bill goes to Committee. For audacity there is nothing in this House to equal him. I was on the Rent Restrictions Act Committee with him. We sat nine times and he only put in one appearance. There is a hearty, intelligent chiel for you! He would do a lot in Committee. In Committee, until we arrived on the scene, there was no publicity for it, but like everything else we have changed all that. There was a good deal of publicity on the Rent Restrictions Bill Committee, and of course the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea, had he known there was to be so much publicity, would have put in a better attendance. You would have thought, to have heard him delivering himself to-night, that he had never in his time had an opportunity of putting his high ideals, which it is so easy to pronounce but so difficult to put into operation—but he had a glorious opportunity of putting those ideals into operation. Did he do it? He certainly did not, but he displaced a man—Dr. Addison—whose heart I believe this House broke.
That is my firm conviction. Dr. Addison, when Minister of Health—an English gentleman of the type we read about but very seldom see—had high ideals, which he put into operation. He arrived on the scene at the crucial moment, at the psychological moment when those who sat on the opposite Benches were afraid to crush the working class any further, and therefore they were prepared to placate the discontent that was abroad at the time. So Addison was allowed to proceed until those who dominated the Government of this country should recognise that Dr. Addison was a menace to the big 375 financiers of Britain. That was Dr. Addison, the man who was responsible for putting on the Statute Book that no houses of less than three apartments should be built in Scotland. Prior to that, one apartment was good enough for a Scotsman. Yet you wonder, Sir, that I get angry? One apartment was good enough for a Scotsman, while you had two apartments for a pig. Then you wonder at me losing my temper! It is a wonder that I do not make some individuals lose their lives. The Attorney-General, who sits opposite, shakes his head. I am making a serious charge. The truth of it was brought out in the Robing Room at the Sankey Coal Commission. The statement was made and proved conclusively: a pig in this country has to have two apartments, while one apartment is good enough for the working classes. Dr. Addison would have none of that. He wanted a three-apartment house and enacted that nothing less should be built in Scotland.
The men who had lived for years in tented fields were just coming back at the time from the War, and the right hon. Gentleman for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George)—I wish he was here now—was in power at the time. He recognised quite well that it would be dangerous not to handle these men carefully; so he went out and made a great declaration that he was going to make this land a land fit for heroes to live in. But it has always been that. It neither required a Welshman nor an Englishman to make our land fit for heroes. If we could only be allowed to live in it. We are busy at the moment, however, driving the men across the wild Atlantic. Those behind the Government in Dr. Addison's day recognised perfectly well that this man was a menace to them because a three-apartment house in Scotland meant the raising of the standard of life of the working-classes of Scotland. A three-apartment house meant a three-apartment dress, a three-apartment educational system, and those behind knew that meant the end of the capitalist system. We recognise perfectly well—and I make no bones about it—that it is not possible to give us in Scotland a three-apartment standard of living as against the single apartment that we have, and for the capital system to continue. We know that those who hold 376 Britain by the throat are holding up our country to ransom at the moment, that is to say, the individuals who claim that we owe them £8,600,000,000 of war debt—which means we have got to pay them £1,000,000 per day as a first charge on the produce of the workers of the country—£1,000,000 a day for interest. Those who recognise the facts recognise that if Scotland were to get a three-apartment standard of living it would be impossible then to pay £1,000,000 per day.
What, therefore, did they do? They went to the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Premier and they told him: "You have got to get rid of Dr. Addison; that man has got to go." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs replied: "No, no; he is a very able man." Unfortunately, however, pressure was brought to bear on him, and he at last agreed to dispense with Dr. Addison. Yet he made him Minister without Portfolio. But, no fear, those wolves, those individuals, who live on the flesh and blood of the working classes, they are not like the working classes; they never forgive. They are vindictive. They pursued Dr. Addison, and told the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Premier that he had to sack him, and Dr. Addison had to leave the Government. He was a great and a noble man. He had to go. But I should have liked him to have had the courage to come out of the Cabinet at the time, and we of the Labour party would have been with him, even if others had not. We know all that is coining. Therefore, I only rise to say that the day is past when hon. Gentlemen opposite can speak to us with their tongues on their cheeks. We are going to keep fresh in the memories of our people these various things—although the working people are generous to the last degree. They always forgive. That is part and parcel of their nature. It is our duty as members of the Labour party, however, to keep these matters fresh in their memory. Why? When we stood in 1918 at the election, the then Prime Minister wired down to Glasgow that there would be no increase in the rents of the houses. What happened? Immediately the Government came in, they increased the rents of those wretched hovels, and there are 13,000 houses in Glasgow declared, not by the Socialists, but by the sanitary authorities, to be unfit for habitation. They raised the rents of these houses. They they come 377 forward, after all these years, after all the suffering, and when the people of this country do not know what to do to make both ends meet.
Starvation is rampant in the land, and at the same time there never was so much food in Britain as there is to-day. There is absolutely a shortage of nothing except houses, and they do not come from Ger many or Russia. We have the material for houses in this country, and our people never were so competent as they are to-day to build them. We would not be worthy of our sires if we were not better than our sires. Our people are more competent than ever to build houses, and who stands between us? Only the Government. If they were in earnest about building houses they would organise the building of houses just as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs organised the manufacture of munitions during the War at a time when our country was faced with a great military danger. At a time when we were in a panic and when we feared that the Germans might become the rulers of this country, then we saw to it that there should be plenty of munitions.
Why should the Government not adopt the same policy in regard to housing? I hold that the housing problem is as grave a question as was the German menace, and the right hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite know that every word I am saying is true Those who do not know, if they would only consult the medical faculty in any of our big industrial centres throughout the island of Great Britain, what would they find? That the medical faculty fear the coming summer. Those who are responsible for the health of the people fear the incoming summer because of the pestilence that may arise owing to inadequate accommodation for the people. That goes on, and yet we are expected to sit quite calmly, and we are twitted by the Minister of Health about asking for a parlour 12 feet by 8 feet. The right hon. Gentleman gave us the size of this parlour, and he had the brazen audacity to make that statement in cold blood. Supposing it had been a Zulu or a wild man, who had never been near any kind of civilisation, he would have known just as much about the people that he was discussing in regard to their manner of life, their symptoms, and their ideals as 378 the right hon. Gentleman who made that statement.
The Minister of Health represents that these houses are intended for a certain class. That is my class, and I assure the House by any system they like to introduce that I am as good as the right hon. Gentleman on anything he likes to take. I am as good mentally or physically, and I make that challenge to the entire class represented by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I say that we are not going to take this lying down any longer from the Government of this country, and they are not going to treat the working classes in this fashion any more, because that day has passed. We stand here representing the working classes on an equal footing with all the right hon. Gentlemen and hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite, and they will have to remember that fact when dealing with housing. Who are the people that they are going to build those houses for Are they the working classes? They propose to give £6 a year per house for 20 years. In my own constituency in Clydebank and Dumbarton that is no use, for we want nothing less than £12, and we want it for 60 years, which is the life of the house, and that is what we should get. We are not asking for anything but our own rights. We do not want any of your sympathy nor even your kind looks. We want none of your kindness. There has been too much of this business about kindness and brotherly love. There is no brotherly love here. Believe me there is no man living who would be better pleased than I would be if I could believe that there was brotherly love.Behold how good a thing it isAnd how becoming well,Together such as brethren are,In unity to dwell.Can there be any unity or brotherly love between the man who cannot get shelter and the man who has two or three hundred apartments in a house? Where is the brotherly love? Those individuals who own all those apartments have time and again had the power to rectify that state of things. They have been in power, you have had the Salisburys and the Cecils in power for over one hundred years, and they have had every opportunity of reconstructing society. Have they reconstructed it? Where are the houses that they have built? Where are 379 the cities that they have built? Who is responsible for the slums? Who is responsible for the single-apartment houses? Is it the Labour party? Are we responsible for those awful dens that people are condemned to live in, yea, to die in—where every function in life has to be performed in a single apartment? Who is responsible for that? Was it not the great men of Britain, the men who claimed to be the ruling class of this country? I would gladly forgive them had they not known how to build better houses for my people. Had they not known of a better system of housing than the wretched housing accommodation that the great mass of my people are condemned to live in, I would have forgiven them; but they knew of better houses, because they got better houses built for themselves, which is absolute proof, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that there is no brotherly love. It is cant and hypocrisy which is at the root of the British Empire at the moment. The whole of their actions are governed by cant and hypocrisy, and the sooner the ruling class of this country recognise that fact the better it will be for Britain, because I believe that, unless they recognise that, Britain is doomed, and there is no road that they will go more surely down to doom than the road of bad housing of the people. As I have already said, it is the homes of the people that we are discussing here to-night, and it has flashed over my mind at the moment that even the King was brought into the discussion when the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was the Prime Minister. The right hon. Member said that they had only trifled with the housing conditions of the people, but they were going to set about building houses now. Glasgow was to get 52,000 houses—we have not got 5,000 yet—and the King at that time said that it was not houses that we were going to build but—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs quoted the opinion of His Majesty the King, he was out of order, and the hon. Member would equally be out of order in quoting His Majesty's opinions. They are not allowed, under a very ancient rule, to be discussed in this House.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
No; an hon. Member is not allowed to do so. It is a very ancient rule that the opinions or words of His Majesty must not be introduced into our Debates.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I will obey your ruling, but I will see to it that I use all the influence I have to have that rule turned down. We are discussing here to-day the housing of the working classes. We have tens of thousands of them all over the country that are desperate to get a home, there are no homes for them, and the Government come forward with this Bill. It is produced by an individual who is supposed to be the man of the moment. They have discovered someone who is going to be able to lead this Government out of the desert of Sinai and right into the plains of Palestine. [An HON. MEMBER: "Dead Sea fruit!"] Yes, there is no doubt about that. I am sorry that the Minister is not in his place. I would have liked him to hear me, because I intended to put him through it in no uncertain fashion. Still, he is a man, and, that being the case, I want to appeal to him still in the hope that he will go over this Bill carefully and see if it is not yet possible for him to grapple with this great problem as only a great man can grapple with it. I say to him that he has a glorious opportunity to make a name for himself, a name that will go down to history, a name more creditable than that of his father, a name that will be revered by the working people of this country. If he would grapple with this as the right hon. Member for Carnarvon, when he was Minister of Munitions, grappled with munitions in this country, then he would make a name for himself. I suggest to him that he grapple with this, because it is a serious question, and if it is not grappled with in that drastic fashion, ensuring that every father and every mother and every family in this country will have a home, unless the Government have that as their guiding idea, as the fundamental idea underlying all their actions, you can take it from me that it is the end of the Tory Government, or any other Government that stands betwixt the people and better houses.
§ Mr. DUNCAN MILLAR
Unlike the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir S. Chapman), who claims to represent the best housed constituency in Scotland, I represented for eight years one of the worst housed constituencies in the North-Eastern Division of Lanarkshire, where I learnt how appalling the housing conditions were, and I am not surprised at all that hon. Members who sit in this quarter of the House should feel so deeply upon this question of housing. I am sure, too, that we ought to do justice to the hon. Member for South Edinburgh and others on the other side of the House, although they may not agree with us in going as far as we would desire, when they say that they themselves are anxious to see something done. But the Bill is altogether inadequate to meet the situation which exists to-day. I rise very specially to draw attention to a gross injustice, I go so far as to say a slight upon the people of Scotland, through the inclusion of Scotland in a, Measure which is concerned mainly with the general housing conditions in England and Wales, especially in view of the widely differing needs and conditions in Scotland and the separate legislation which has been provided under the Housing and Town Planning (Scotland) Act, 1919, and subsequent Statutes. There is a very strong and rising tide of indignation with regard to the treatment which Scotland has been accorded under this Bill, and there will be a very strong protest made not only in the country but on these benches and other places. I hope we shall have Scottish Members united in this matter as the representations which come to us come from all sections and all political parties. We have a solid body of opinion united in the protest which is made to-day against Scotland being included in this Bill instead of receiving separate treatment. That body of opinion includes such representative bodies as the Convention of Royal Burghs, a non-political body representing some of the leading experts in housing and other municipal matters. We have the Scottish Housing and Town Planning Committee, the Special Housing Committee appointed also to advise the Scottish Office with regard to housing matters, the local authorities in Scotland and the housing experts who have gone into the matter. We have received to-day a telegram from a large gathering of the 382 larger Scottish local authorities held at Dundee, at which it was unanimously agreed that a separate housing Bill is necessary for Scotland. We have, last but not least, the long-suffering body of rate-payers, who are finding that the burden which it is proposed to cast upon them under this Bill will be altogether intolerable, and who protest against its provisions.
I am glad to think that in this matter I can claim the sympathy and the support of the Under-Secretary of Health for Scotland, and the Secretary for Scotland himself, because it has already been made abundantly clear that in this matter the Scottish Office have committed themselves definitely to the view that Scotland deserves and ought to have received separate treatment, and that the case was made out for it. The Under-Secretary for Health paid a visit to Edinburgh on 23rd March at which he made some very important announcements on behalf of the Government. This is what he said with regard to the situation:The views on the future housing policy of the Government in Scotland which he intended to put forward were the views the Secretary for Scotland and he had been able to form as the result of many months consideration of this problem and consultation with all the authorities at their disposal both building experts, municipal experts and others. … In essence their claim was for differential treatment in flavour of Scotland and the more strongly they could enable to put this claim the better he would be pleased.He went on to indicate in a very able speech the grounds upon which that differential treatment should be accorded to Scotland. He referred particularly to the difference in the cost of building. He referred to the sum of £23 per house, which was due to the use of sashing and felt for the roofs and rough casting and plastering the walls of the houses and the sculleries.It might, he thought, be claimed that the Scottish climate demanded these three items.He went on to refer to another very important question which affords a very clear line of differentiation with regard to the Scottish case, and that was the difference in the rating provisions in Scotland, where you have a heavy burden already thrown upon the owner of property which does not attach to ownership of property in England. He put the 383 figure, taking the rates at 4s. per £1 of gross rental, at 20 per cent. of the rent which fell to be paid by way of rates, and which was the additional burden thrown upon owners of house property which was not felt in England. He concluded by saying:The figures showed a justification—and he was speaking as Under-Secretary for Health—for an increase of £1 a house over England.It is clear that opinion in Scotland was very satisfied by the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech, because the following day one of the principal Scottish newspapers the "Scotsman," a leading article indicated that it was so far satisfactory that the Scottish Office had acceded to the principle of differentiation between the two countries, although it remained to be seen whether Scottish local authorities would regard the figure named as adequate. It did not take very much time, however, to ascertain what the feelings of the local authorities were, because even on the occasion when the hon. and gallant Gentleman addressed the members of the Conservative Club in Edinburgh, on which occasion there were some housing experts also present, he received an indication of the strong volume of opinion in favour of a larger subsidy than even the which was voiced on that occasion. But while I feel sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman will recognise that in this matter there is a strong claim put forward, I appeal to him to see that that claim is made good. The position to-day, in a word, is this. The Scottish Office themselves recognise that the case for differentiation has been made out but they have been turned down by the Cabinet and we are in this position, that Scotland is going to suffer in consequence because the Cabinet refuses to give effect to the wishes of the people of Scotland.
I should like to make the points in regard to the case for differentiation. We go back to the Report of the Royal Housing Commission, which reported in 1917, and made it abundantly clear that in Scotland there was a very much more serious condition than existed at that time in regard to housing needs than in England. The Royal Commission established that there were 113,000 uninhabitable houses in Scotland, 114,560 new houses were 384 required to raise the standard and to avoid overcrowding, and that there was a deplorable condition in the rural district, where some 8,000 new houses were required for agricultural workers, bringing up the total to 235,990 new houses which were required to satisfy the situation. We heard to-day some figures with regard to overcrowding in London. We were told, I think, that 53 per cent. of the population lived in one to three-roomed houses. In Scotland the position is very much more serious. There 47.9 per cant. of the population live in houses of one and two rooms, as compared with 7.1 per cent., the corresponding figure for England. We have also to keep in view that in Scotland 45 Per cent. live in houses where there is less than one room to each three persons. The situation in Scotland in 1919 was recognised to be very serious, and schemes were presented by the Scottish local authorities for the erection of 130,000 houses. The Government even then recognised the necessity for differentiating between Scotland and England, because they provided that in the case of Scotland, to enable us to make up lee-way and as building was somewhat slower in that country, we should have the period of the subsidy extended for two years longer, namely, until August, 1924, thus recognising that our needs required special treatment. Then we had the halt that was called by the Government in July, 1921, without any Parliamentary sanction at that time and involving a very gross breach of faith with the local authorities, who had been building upon the assumption that they were to have a continuation of the arrangement under which they were only to be liable for a 4/5ths of a penny rate, the Government being responsible for the balance. What happened then was that an immense number of schemes were suddenly started. In my own division we have had only about half the number of houses built that were proposed to be built under the original schemes of the 1919 Act, and if you take Scotland as a whole, it will be seen from the reply given by the Under-Secretary for Health, that 22,530 houses had been built or authorised to be built, leaving still a shortage of some 3,000 houses to make good even the limited provision made at that time, although that represented only a very small fraction of 385 the needs of the country and of the 130,000 houses that were asked for. We maintain that in Scotland we have not received anything like the equivalent which has been given to England in regard to the number of houses which were actually supplied, in proportion even to the requirements of both countries, and that that shortage ought to be made good, and that we ought to be put at once in the same position as England before any alteration in the original scheme is proposed to be carried into effect.
Another point of differentiation which is of great importance is the difference in the Scottish building standards over those of England. We have in the past always had a higher building standard in regard to floor space, the height and thickness of the walls and the roof, and recognition was given to that fact in the original schemes under the 1919 Act, where a distinct differentiation in regard to the Scottish standard was admitted. Owing to climatic and other conditions, the cost in the past of erecting Scottish houses has been substantially more than that in England. The figures which the local authorities brought out from their experience show that the difference is from £114 to £122 per house in Scotland as compared with England. It is true, as stated by the Under-Secretary for the Board of Health, that that figure does not represent the cost of an exactly corresponding class of house, of precisely the same type, as in England, but I ask, are we in Scotland to have all our standards subordinated to an inferior English standard?
We ask that we shall be put in a position of maintaining the standard which our own Scottish local authorities in the past have insisted upon to meet the needs of the Scottish people and the conditions under which they live. Although they do not admit the figure of £122 difference, the officials of the Scottish Board of Health have admitted that there is a difference per house which is very substantial. They have insisted upon comparing houses of the A 3 English type with a Scottish house built on exactly the same footing, and they have brought out the difference of the additional cost involved in building the Scottish house at £23. That standard we do not accept for Scotland. That is a standard which is taken by comparing an English house with 386 an exactly similar type of house in Scotland. We are anxious that the standard should be that of comparing the Scottish type of house which is required for Scotland with a house of the same number of apartments in England, and if you take that standard it will be found that the difference is a very much more substantial one.
There is also a differentiation in regard to rates. That is a matter of very considerable importance in this controversy. The best way in which I can give the information on this subject to the House would be by quoting the speech of the Under-Secretary. He said in Edinburgh:In England practically the whole of the local rates were paid by the tenants, whereas in Scotland the owner paid separate owners' rates. He understood that in burghal Scotland the average owner's rate per £ of the gross rental was about 4s.—20 per cent. of the rent fell to be paid by way of rates.He took a house of £20 rental, showing that whereas in Scotland there was £4 to be deducted in rates from the owner before he could secure the balance of the rent, in England the whole £20 would be made available as rent to the owner. That is a very substantial difference, which again involves a differentiation between the position of England and Scotland.
I come also to a further point which is of importance. In Scotland we have had our own separate legislation dealing with the question of housing in the 1919 Act and subsequent Statutes. The housing and Town Planning (Scotland) Act, in which the Government scheme was carried into effect, was a long Measure with 53 Sections made applicable to Scotland, and involving Scottish law and Scottish considerations. The subsequent Acts, the Housing (Scotland) Acts of 1920 and 1921 were both separate Acts for Scotland as distinct from English Statutes. Is it at all likely to conduce to clearness or satisfactory legislation if you have embodied in this Bill, which has 20 Clauses, a Scottish application Clause which has no fewer than 15 Sub-sections involving different interpretations? I do not think that in my experience I have seen any Bill which has involved so much confusion in draftmanship as this Bill. There is not only a difference in law but a difference in administra- 387 tion. Scotland has its own Board of Health, its own traditions, and its own legislation, and I am sure that the Bill as drafted will make a most unsatisfactory Measure if left in its present position. It has been the fashion of this Government to tack Scottish Clauses on to English Bills. That was done in the Increase of Rents Bill and the Poor Law (Emergency Provisions) Bill. It is a thoroughly bad system, especially when we have a Scottish Committee capable of dealing with these matters. Scottish Members who are far better acquainted with Scottish conditions ought to have the matter before them.
The proposals in this Bill are entirely inadequate as far as Scotland are concerned. We require a much larger subsidy if we are going to meet the needs of our country in regard to building in the immediate future, both in regard to floor space, the number of cubic feet, and larger dimensions. Moreover, we want our subsidy to continue until the period has elapsed when the whole amount of the loan involved shall be made good and redeemed. I do not quarrel with one of my hon. Friends in asking for 60 years. For a shorter period nothing less than a £10 subsidy will be sufficient to meet our case.
The effect of this Bill on Scotland is seriously to endanger the building of new houses. Hon. Members representing Scotland have received representations from many Scottish burghs. Experts who can speak for Scotland tell us that if there is a subsidy of only £6, there will be no building or there will not be sufficient building done to meet the needs. I believe that the result will be not only to lower our Scottish standard, but to prevent many local authorities from incurring this unknown liability which will be placed on them. The local authorities have got to face not only this unknown liability, but the concurrent liability of four fifths of a penny which is already on the rates in respect of the 1919 Act. I understand that they are going to get one-half of the deficit which will be involved in slum clearances. Beyond that there will also be substantial amounts required to be added for this unknown liability which may greatly exceed the amount which the right hon. Gentleman agrees to, and his £6 subsidy, I under- 388 stand, is to be regarded as a maximum. In no circumstances is there to be further provision made, even in the cases where very special needs may be indicated.
The Scottish claim has been flouted and ignored. The Government has turned it down. I am certain that the Under-Secretary for Health and the Scottish Solicitor-General know well that the feeling in Scotland is in favour of greater provision being made, but they will probably tell us that they have been turned down by the Cabinet and have had to accept its decision. That may be an answer in this House, but it is no answer to the people of Scotland, whose verdict upon the question, when the time comes, will be a very strong and drastic one. We have come to a very serious impasse when political exigencies override Scottish rights. We are determined that this Bill shall go before a Scottish Grand Committee, so that it can be dealt with on its merits. We are out, not to destroy this Bill, but to make it a thoroughly good Bill. We believe that it can be made a good Bill, although it is full of defects at present. I do sincerely hope that the hon. and gallant Member, in his reply, will respond to the appeal, which I make to him, to have this Bill divided into two parts, and have the Scottish Bill sent to a Scottish Grand Committee, so as to secure a settlement of this problem which will meet the needs of our country, and we are determined to allow nothing to stand in the way of securing the best possible housing conditions for the people of Scotland. If it were to go to that Committee we should then be able to re-assert Scottish claims and look after the interests of Scotland. If this request is declined that action will be regarded, by those of us who represent Scotland and by many outside, as a betrayal of the best interests of our people.
§ Sir WILLIAM RAEBURN
I do not yield to the hon. Member opposite in my love of my own country and my desire to see Scotland get a full share of her rights. At the same time I do not think it in the least unpatriotic to say that I do not agree with the speech which he has made My first reason is that it is not, to my mind, a wise thing to have a separate Bill for Scotland. I am convinced that you would never get a separate Bill for Scotland through in this Session of Parlia- 389 ment. I do not think that you will get it until about this time next year. My great concern in the housing question is to get on with it with the utmost speed. As regards Scotland, I think that we should have a fair representation on the Grand Committee dealing with this Bill. I have found in the past that Scotland was always able to assert itself on these Grand Committees, and I do not remember anything that has been done during my career in Parliament that I could say was really unfair to Scotland. The hon. Member spoke about Scotland not having had its share under the 1919 scheme. I am informed that not only has Scotland had its eleven-eightieths, but that it has got even more. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That is a fact. My hon. Friend has quoted the Convention of Royal Burghs. This very afternoon the officers of that organisation admitted to me that that was so. The only doubt that seems to exist is as to whether we have got the amount of money up to the present date that should be allocated to us on that proportion.
§ Mr. T. JOHNSTON
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health this afternoon admitted, in answer to a question put by me, that they were still 3,000 odd short of our proportion under the 1919 Act.
§ Captain ELLIOT (Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health, Scotland)
If me hon. Friend will allow me to speak, I may point out that all these houses which have been allotted to Scotland are about to be built now, and when they are completed we shall have more than our share.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
That is what I said. I knew what I was talking about. Another submission which has been made was that Scotland ought to have a higher rate per house than England, and at the meeting with the members of that organisation yesterday the leading speaker said that they did not want a penny more than England. They did not want to loaf on England for a single pound. If they got equal treatment with England they ask no more. If it can be proved, as I think it can be proved, that we are getting our full share, then I admire their independence in not asking to have anything given them by way of grant more than is given to England. We always have 390 been able to get along ourselves, and I hope that we shall never go hat in hand to beg for favours from our brother country.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
The chairman of the organisation was talking about money. The hon. Member for Shettlestone (Mr. Wheatley) seemed to conclude by a wave of his hand that neither the Minister of Health nor anybody else on this side understood anything about the housing question. I have been engaged closely for years on the housing question, and I think that I do know something about it. Among other things, I have been chairman of a workman's dwelling company, which put up a series of buildings, not for the profit of those who invested their money, but to clear away slums and to enable the poorer workers in those places to have better houses than they could afford out of their meagre wages. [HON. MEMBERS: "With 5 per cent. dividend!"] The company has been in existence for 21 years, and the whole dividend paid in that time has been the grand total of 2½ per cent. If anyone doubts that statement, I will hand him the accounts and he can investigate them for himself.
I agree that this question of housing is, perhaps, the most urgent that we have before the country at the present time. I do not think that the great bulk of our people put such questions as the occupation of the Ruhr Valley and the Conference at Lausanne on the same level as the question of housing. It is a problem which has been going on for years, and it has become greater as time has passed. I have seen the passage through this House of two Housing Bills under the Coalition Government. There was the first Bill that the Coalition took in hand when it assumed office. That Bill had very careful examination. It was not treated on political lines, and I trust that the House will not treat the present Bill on political lines. The 391 subject is one in which we ought all to be interested to do our best. The high hopes that we had that the first Bill, when it became operative, would do a great work, have been belied. At any rate, it did not accomplish the purpose for which it was passed. I shall not go into recriminations or rake up the past. There is no doubt that the Coalition Government was not to blame for the failure of that Act. I remember well sitting on this side of the House and hearing the appeals made from time to time by Dr. Addison to the other side to do their best to persuade trades unions to permit ex-service men to come to the rescue when there was a scarcity of labour. That request was constantly turned down. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I was here and hon. Members were not.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
The right hon. Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond) has said the same thing, and so has the Minister of Health. When it came to the actual building of the houses, hundreds and thousands of them could not be finished for want of plasterers. When I heard the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) speak, I felt that he had in his mind a huge scheme for all our great cities, involving the clearing out of the slums and all bad houses and the building of a better class of house. But surely he must recognise that there is a limit both to the material and the man power at our disposal now? [HON MEMBERS: "Rubbish!"] We put a question to the various municipal authorities that came here. I put it myself in this form, "If a greater scheme were promulgated, have you the skilled labour to carry it out?" Without a single dissentient they said, "No, we have not." This Bill is an honest attempt to lay the foundation for a better state of things than we have at present. The Minister of Health does not claim that it is a solution of all our difficulties, and he would be very foolish if he did so. The Bill is at any rate a great step in the right direction.
The principle of the Bill, of which I approve, is that the unknown liability is to be placed upon the municipal 392 authorities or the urban authorities, who will have the management of the scheme, and not upon the Government. That is a reversal of the old principle. The other principle underlying the Bill is that it is mainly directed to supplying, or causing to be supplied, that kind of house which is most in demand. I know most about the position in Scotland. The working man and woman can pay only a rent commensurate with their wages. It is impossible to suppose that any authority or any private enterprise can erect houses suitable for such people at a rent which they can afford to pay, and yet make the undertaking commercially sound. A great deal has been said about the size of the houses proposed. The right hon. Member for Swansea said that he hoped there would be no such thing as a two-bedroom house under the scheme. Let us look at the matter squarely and in a practical way. When you begin a housing scheme you must surely have in your mind the various classes of people for whom you are to cater. There is the single woman, or there may be two singles women, one at work and the other keeping house. Such people do not want two-bedroomed and three-bedroomed houses. To begin with, they could not pay for them. Then there is the old couple, the man and his wife with no children. Many of them do not want the larger house. Then you have the man and wife with a family. They do want a larger house.
What has happened to those who have built the larger houses in recent years? I speak from personal experience. There was a great deal of difficulty because of the rent. Those who took the three-bedroomed houses let either one or two rooms to another family. They made money by sub-letting. Almost every day I am receiving letters from sub-tenants complaining of the extortion of the tenants-in-chief. Lately, from the Parish of Bonhill, in the Vale of Leven, which is in my constituency, I received a letter from the secretary of the authority asking me to plead with the Minister for permission to get on with the two-bedroomed house scheme, because if the Government continued to insist on three-bedroomed houses the authority would not go on with the scheme at all. That council is not made up of capitalists or 393 employers, but, if I may use the expression, is composed largely of the extreme section of the Labour party. These people insisted upon being allowed to build two-bedroomed houses. Representations on the point were made to my right hon. Friend, and I believe the necessary permission has now been granted. You have to consider all these classes of tenants. Many workpeople, especially the older people and single ones, still cling very tenaciously to the one-roomed house. Hon. Members talk about parlour houses, but I have never heard of any such great demand from Scotland as has been mentioned by the English Members.
We should provide sufficient superficial feet, and then let the local authorities, accordingly as they know the needs of the people, apportion that space into a suitable number of rooms. Supposing you were to say to Scottish tenants, "There is a parlour, a kitchen and two bedrooms; you must use the parlour as a parlour, and nothing else." Are you going to appoint inspectors to see that they do that? If it suited them to let it, and make it into a double-bedded room, they would do so. Under the Regulations, I contend you could not get, with the number of rooms suggested, sufficient cubic feet in each room as set out in the Bill. The Minister of Health read out what could be done with the 850 superficial cubic feet house. You could not do that in Scotland. You would spoil the house if you divided it up into so many little compartments. You would need bigger rooms. I do not suppose the Minister of Health will think us too exacting if we ask him to extend this 850 cubic feet to 950 cubic feet. I feel that this is not an heroic Measure. We cannot settle this question by heroic measures. We have to go step by step and to have the hearty co-operation of utility societies and of municipalities. We must try, if we possibly can, to invoke the aid and enterprise of the private builder. The Bill makes an honest attempt to do all these things, and no doubt the Government will profit by experience.
I think the Measure is capable of a good deal of alteration and improvement in Committee. The Minister of Health could not have given a more cordial response to a request of that kind than he 394 has had to-night. This is not like the Transport Bill in this House, in which I took a prominent part. Then the Home Secretary said, when we first went up to the Grand Committee, that the Government would not allow a word or comma to be altered There is nothing of the kind here. We are going to be allowed full scope, to try and improve the Measure. I am sure no one will be more thankful grateful for any improvement we can make in it than the Minister of Health. I quite admit that the customs in England and in Scotland are very different. We Scotsmen will take care to try to get some liberty to build according to our own methods. I do not see any difficulty in the Bill in that respect, as long as you have some principle laid down as to the superficial size of the house.
There is one thing I think ought to be altered, and that is the £6 subsidy, which is limited to houses of a minimum of 550 superficial feet. You cannot get it for a house smaller than 550 superficial cubic feet. We have in the Dwellings Company to which I have referred many houses of under 550 superficial feet, houses of two apartments, and they have been inspected and commended by a society well known to members from Glasgow, viz., the Scottish Women's Trade Council, of which Miss Irwin is the respected secretary. Although to-day we should not be able to get this £6 subsidy on these houses, yet they are highly prized, and we have some of the most respectable tenants in them. They are what we have been asked for for years and years. The rents are collected by lady collectors every Monday, and the reports given by the Christian Social Union on the condition of the houses reflect great credit on the tenants and on those ladies who look after the arrangements.
As a sample of what can be done in housing, there is a scheme that has the highest possible commendation on all hands. That is the Admiralty housing scheme at Gourock, where they have put up a large torpedo factory. It is an admirable scheme, and the houses are of the cottage type, with gardens round them. They are in a very nice situation. I was curious to find from the Admiralty what they cost, what the rents were, and what loss the Admiralty was sustaining on them to-day. They were erected in 1915–16, at a cost 45 per cent. over pre-War price. To-day, at a modest 395 computation, they would cost 90 per cent. over pre-War prices. The rents range round about £24 per annum, rates and taxes paid. The Admiralty do not pay taxes, they only pay rates. They calculate interest at 4 per cent. I have the documents here—I could have got the information by question and answer from the Government, but I prefer to get it in my own way—to show that the loss per annum is £1,300, and that is based on a cost of only 45 per cent. above pre-War prices. If you double that; and put it at 90 per cent., you would see what the loss would be.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
I am coming to that. I say that the £6 will not look at it. You are in this position. The Government have said they will not give more than £6, and somebody has to find the difference. The municipalities and the county councils are the only people I know of that can make up the difference. I hope my right hon. Friend will not be annoyed with me when I say that my feeling, when the Budget was introduced, was that here was a surplus of £100,000,000 which we never expected a year ago, all placed to the reduction of the National Debt. I was very tempted to get up the other day, and appeal to the Government to devote part of that £100,000,000 to make this £6 up to £8. I know quite well that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government Front Bench would not thank me for making that suggestion, but I feel I should be inclined to be liberal, and to help get over the housing difficulty and the clearing of the slums, as we ought to do, if we are going to have a, really happy and healthy people. While I think the Bill will not do all that the Minister of Health probably hopes, yet it is a step in the right direction. I earnestly plead with all parts of the House to do their best to get the Measure through Committee, in perhaps an improved and amended form. I appeal to them not to oppose it, and not to put back the achievement which we all want, of a greater number of houses for the working classes, and a speedy clearing out of the slums which are a disgrace to our civilisation at the present time.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
If I wanted anybody effectively to corroborate what I say, I should not desire anyone other than my right hon. Friend who has just sat down, and who is a defender of the present Government. I am standing here as a Scottish Member. I listened to the speech of the Minister of Health and, may I say, from the Government point of view, they could not have had a clearer or more able exponent. As a Scottish Member I was astonished to find that from beginning to end of his speech there was not a single reference to Scotland. He talked with almost parental fluency of the consultations which he had had with the authorities. I heard Manchester, Birmingham, and Leeds mentioned, but not a word of Glasgow, Edinburgh, or Dundee—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or even Dingwall!"]—or even Dingwall. As one of the oldest Scottish representatives, I demand on behalf of my colleagues from Scotland, even at this hour of the day, our right to have a Scottish Bill. My right hon. Friend the Minister will not deny that, although he is principal Government exponent on this matter, he knows nothing about Scottish conditions. My hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), in a brilliant speech, also my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Boroughs (Mr. Kirkwood), and the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Sir W. Raeburn)—Dumbarton has had a fair share in the speaking, whatever the rest of Scotland has had—have all made it plain, though speaking from independent points of view, that Scottish conditions are entirely different from English conditions, and the whole of this Bill, from the first Clause to the end, is intended to suit English conditions.
In 1919 we had separate arrangements for Scotland. At that time we had a Government with, at any rate, a good many Scottish Members in it, and we got certain arrangements for Scotland. At first the local Authorities thought they were not very good, but in the course of time the arrangements which were made for Scotland turned out to be good arrangements and worked well. [HON. MEMBERS: "They did not build houses!"] Well, we have done very well in Scotland. We are short of houses, but we will be shorter still, unless we fight for a Scottish Bill. As a result of the working of the arrangements of 1919, local authorities in Scotland have become 397 adepts in the building of houses. I do not know what my own colleagues from Scotland have found, but I have found that authorities who have written to me from Scotland have been unanimous in demanding a separate Bill for Scotland. If we do not get a separate Bill, what will be the result? Those of us who can manage to catch Mr. Speaker's eye will be allowed to say a few words. A separate Scottish Bill would be sent, as of right, to the Scottish Grand Committee, which has been for years composed of all the representatives from Scotland, irrespective of their political opinions. I do not know why we should not get a separate Bill, but I have a shrewd suspicion that the Government does, not wish these proposals to go before the experts from Scotland. I should like to hear a reply upon the subject from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Scottish Board of Health. The English Minister of Health knows that he is not competent, able as he is, to deal with the conditions of Scottish housing. We have a problem of our own.
I am speaking in the main for my own native Highlands, because the South of Scotland has very able speakers on its behalf. In the last Bill a special grant was made for the special conditions of the Highlands, but I find nothing in the present Bill to help my fellow Highlanders in this matter, and there is no indication as to whether that grant is to be renewed or increased. We had, only a few days ago, the spectacle of hundreds of the best men in the world going out to seek a new home in foreign parts and for what reason? Firstly, because of the land conditions, and secondly because of the housing conditions, In the time of stress and war we appealed to the manhood of the country and told them we were entirely dependent upon them, but you will never get a great population in Scotland or anywhere else unless and until you deal adequately with housing conditions. I make a special appeal on behalf of the Highlands, and I hope the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Scottish Board of Health will be able to satisfy us that something is going to be done.
I wish also to corroborate what has been said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Millar). I put a Supplementary Question to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary this after- 398 noon and he told us explicitly that the building of a house in Scotland to suit the climatic conditions would cost more than the same type of house in England. Is the hon. Member going to stand now under the aegis of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and tell us, a few hours later, that Scotland has no right to claim an additional subsidy for houses. I say we have a right, upon the hon. Gentleman's own showing, to demand such a subsidy, and if he is going to attempt to perpetuate bad housing conditions in Scotland, he is making a great mistake. In my judgment the plan at present adumbrated will only intensify the evils of bad housing 40 years hence, and the Minister of Health and the Secretary for Scotland should see to it, that not only is Scotland given a larger subsidy because of the climatic condition and the different type of house to which the people of Scotland have been accustomed, but also that they should provide houses which are in accordance with the rural traditions of Scotland and which have what, are called parlours in them. In Scotland, I believe, a house in a rural district costs far more than a house in a town, and if we do not get a sliding scale subsidy I tell the Under-Secretary here and now that the hopes of this housing scheme, as far as Scotland is concerned, are nil.
I am anxious to see a development of the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act. It has worked very well in the past, and there is a strong desire in the minds of each man who has fought his way in the industrial world, to own his house. I am delighted to think that the Minister has, in any case, advanced the sum of £800 to £1,200 or £1,500. May I say in conclusion I am not an opponent of the Bill, If I were an English Member, I should regard it as a fairly good Measure. [HON. MEMBERS: "We do not."] I know that, but I am perfectly frank about the matter. So far as England is concerned, I believe it is a fair Measure, but I am not satisfied that it can be made a good Measure for Scotland until the Scottish Members of Parliament, as a whole, have discussed it in Committee, and I warn my right hon. Friend that it will get no support from the Members with whom I am working, first, until there is a reconsideration of the subsidy. and, secondly, unless there is a guarantee that that house which is built in Scotland should have a cubic 399 measure sufficient to allow to people desirous of occupying that house a room for their children to read in and to play in. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider the position, to give us a separate Bill for Scotland, and, in any case, to give the Scottish Members the right, as Parliament meant them to have the right, in connection with any Bill dealing with Scotland, and particularly with peculiarly Scottish conditions, to discuss that Bill and improve it in Committee.
§ Mr. W. HUTCHISON
One welcomes any Measure that deals with housing at the present time, but one cannot help feeling great disappointment at this Measure which has been introduced by the Minister of Health, which deals with only the fringe of the subject and does not endeavour to grapple with the question in the way that is necessary to produce really decent housing conditions. This matter of who is responsible for building the smaller type of houses is no new thing. So long ago as 1855 the Government of that day passed a Measure to try to encourage voluntary associations to build houses for the working classes. That was found not to be a Measure which gained much acceptance, and, consequently, it years later, the Government passed another Act, which endeavoured to encourage local authorities to go on with houses of the smaller type, realising even then that private enterprise was not likely to do anything towards helping the housing conditions of that day. That has since been the policy of all the Governments up to 1919, and even then the policy was to remit to the local authorities the responsibility of providing houses for the people, but we have in this Measure a very strange going back on what had been accepted as the tradition of that class of housing, because we have in this Measure, not that the local authority is to build the houses, but that the local authority is to endeavour to encourage private enterprise to build houses of this particular type, and it is only after the local authorities are able to satisfy the Minister of Health that private enterprise cannot do it, that the local authority is to get any power to build houses at all.
The matter is urgent, the matter is clamant, and how long is it going to 400 take a local authority to discover that private enterprise will not undertake this housing question, and how long, after that, is it going to take the local authority to persuade the Minister that private enterprise has failed in this matter? It seems to me that it is not attacking the problem in the right way at all. It is admitted by everybody who holds houses of the class referred to in this Bill that every private owner of such a house would be glad to get rid of it to-morrow on almost any conditions whatever. It has never paid him a return on his money, and it never will, and, therefore, how is it likely now, after all the unrest that has been caused regarding the question of the taxation of land and houses, that a private man is going to build a house, which he builds, not for the purpose of holding, but for the purpose of selling to somebody at a profit? I cannot see at the present day that it is possible to believe that private enterprise will deal with this class of houses, and why should this obstacle be imposed between them and the policy which has been accepted for 50 years and more as the policy of all the Governments of this country, that houses of this particular type have been the care of the local authority and the national Government, and not the care of private enterprise at all?
The legislation of 1919 limited local authorities as to the amount for which they were responsible, but this Bill places upon them unlimited responsibility because the Government is going to give them a subsidy of only £6 for 20 years. If the Government itself in 1919, when prices went up against, them, stopped their housing scheme, how much more readily will the local authorities, which will find prices going up against them, stop their housing schemes, when it means unlimited liability and an increase in the already overburdened rates? You will find no local authorities that will go on with that particular matter, and therefore we will have at once a cessation of this building, and the difficulty that will emerge therefrom. A point that the Bill does not deal with is this: Assuming that under the Bill we get these houses, or some of them, there is no provision made in this Measure, as far as I can see, as to what the rental of these houses is going to be. You may have the houses built, but what rental is going to be exacted 401 from the tenant who takes a house? No control seems to me to be exercised on the private builder as to what amount he shall exact from the tenant who takes his house, and surely that is of the very essence of the problem, for if the Government is going to give a subsidy something should be said about fixing the amount of rent to be exacted from the tenant. The Bill is silent on that subject. It is most important, nevertheless, because, after all, in the majority of cases, and particularly in industrial districts, it is impossible to assume that any man will ever be in a position, with present-day wages, to have sufficient money to acquire his house, and therefore he must remain, as so many of us have to do, a tenant practically all his days.
We have heard a great deal from the other side regarding rural areas. At any rate, there is this difference between them and the industrial centres, that in rural areas they have fresh air, but in the great industrial centres the conditions are appalling, with people herded and crowded together in places that are not fit for animals to be in, and this is a matter that must be seriously faced. The local authorities, in connection with slum clearances, before the War had not done the duty imposed upon them by Act of Parliament, and they had not endeavoured to go on with housing conditions in normal times. Is it likely, then, that now that we have unlimited liability placed upon them, we shall find them keen or anxious to go on with this housing scheme? While the Government is endeavouring, by small bribes to the local authorities, to get them to build the houses, there is no compulsion on those authorities. We may find one local authority taking up a housing scheme, but there may be dozens of others refusing to have anything to do with the matter, and, consequently, in those particular districts you will have no houses built whatever under this scheme.
I would like, if it were possible, that we should have had something done for the peculiar conditions of Scotland. They have been referred to over and over again, and those of us who know the industrial centres in Scotland know that the tenement house in that country is on an entirely different footing from the English cottage. We have no such thing. The man in a Scottish city like Glasgow, 402 from which I come, is not going to live two or three miles away from the place where he works. He has never been accustomed to do it. The time and money it costs him make it impossible. Therefore, he has got to get his slums cleared, and new and proper houses erected in the same district. All these very difficult problems are not contemplated in this Measure. It is only a flat or two-flat house. In our flats in Glasgow there are 3, 4 or 5 tenants sometimes in one flat. Does the £6 subsidy apply to every house in a particular flat, or does it only apply to one flat? There are a good many conditions which do not arise from the English point of view, but which arise from the Scottish point of view, and we as Scottish Members must insist in Committee that the remedies are suitable for Scotland. I am not so much interested in having a special measure for Scotland, but if this Measure is put into proper form as far as Scotland is concerned, that will satisfy me.
I would like to know if subsidies are going to be given to benefit individual builders? Where the private builder sells his house, who is going to get the benefit of the subsidy? Is it the man who built the house, or is the purchaser of the house to get it? There is nothing in the Bill showing what is to be done in that particular matter. Then what are the prospects under this Measure, unless force is applied, and the Government take the matter in hand themselves, that we shall have any houses under the scheme? It is almost impossible to believe that if this scheme is to be completed in the period laid down wages and prices will not rise to such a figure as to make these houses impossible to build except at greatly enhanced values, and if a so-called economic rent were to be charged on the house, it would be beyond the limit of any worker to pay. It does not seem that this Bill, unless considerably amended in Committee, will accomplish the object which it is intended to serve. It is only a tentative measure at the best. It is something better than nothing, and we should give it a Second Reading and try to get it enlarged.
Another point on which I am not satisfied with regard to this Measure is as to the size of the houses. There are many districts where the local authority would like to go beyond the standard 403 which the Bill contemplates, and there are many cases where the local authority might consider the limited space in the houses absurd. It seems to me there should be more elasticity in the Measure, or some power given to the local authority to choose what particular class of house it shall build. It seems to me this standard has been based on some particular town or village. I would vote for any Bill that would build houses, and, therefore, I shall support this Measure. The real criticism in connection with Scotland against this particular Measure is not so much the question of separate treatment; it is that if the Bill is carried through as it stands, without some alterations being made, you will be compelled to adopt a standard house for Scotland fixed on an English principle. Now standard things are not things that we seek. We know perfectly well that the great theory during the War was to have standard ships, but when the War was over no shipowner would accept them. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill in the hope that it will be considerably amended in Committee.
§ Mr. HARDIE
On a point of Order. May I ask whether it is the rule of this House to call to speak those Members who have gone to the Speaker's Chair, or whether you, Sir, are guided by what you think is right in the matter?
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. NEWBOLD
I rise to speak on this Measure as one who represents a part of Lanarkshire which is famous throughout the country, or, rather, one might say, as a result of the evidence that has been given before various Commissions and inquiries, is known as the worst housed in the whole of the kingdom. I come from the Burgh of Motherwell, which, unfortunately, has a reputation for housing conditions probably without parallel in this country, and when I examine the present Bill, for which I intend to vote, I find that it is altogether inadequate to deal with the situation which presents itself to us in Lanarkshire. We have there a condition of affairs which has resulted at successive elections in the virtual sweeping out of 404 all representatives of the capitalist parties into the agricultural and more barbarous parts of the Kingdom. It has been stated in the Press that Motherwell is something in the nature of a political phenemenon. If anyone will visit the town which I represent in Parliament, he will understand quite well why I have been elected to represent that constituency. He will realise that architecturally, and from the sanitary position, Motherwell is a blight upon the landscape, which has produced the condition of affairs that presented me to this House. I am clearly aware that that is the explanation of the extremism which is manifested in the County of Lanark.
I have here statistics derived from the Census returns of 1911, which are substantially correct for at least one part of the borough at the present time. I find that in 1911, in Wishaw, which was at that time the worst housed borough in the whole of Scotland, Coatbridge, Airdrie, Hamilton and Motherwell coming next, the proportion of people living more than two to a room was 70.1 per cent.; more than three to a room, 45.1 per cent.; and more than four to a room, 24 per cent. The number of one-roomed houses was 23 per cent. I have here to-day, sent to me by local Labour representatives on the town council, reports of the medical officer of health dealing with over-crowding and general insanitary conditions, and also with the effects on the health of the people of the conditions prevailing. I find there are at present in the burgh 415 one-apartment houses which are described as utterly unfit for human habitation. There are other houses of two rooms, which are also in a similar plight, and when I come to the figures showing the phthisis or consumption compiled by the medical officer of health, these figures bear a striking relation to the horrible over crowding there prevailing. There are some of us who have seen those nearest to us slowly dying of consumption and know what this horror really is. It is a horror which affects primarily the members of the working classes. Consumption is a disease produced by overcrowding, underfeeding and poverty conditions. It is one of the diseases from which the whole body politic is rotting. Venereal diseases and other diseases are aggravated by overcrowding.
405 I have here figures showing the enormous increase in the infant mortality under the age of one year, and the medical officers' figures bear out quite clearly that the reason for this is the overcrowding in the burgh. I find, taking the figures month by month, that in October last year in phthisis cases there were five cases in one-apartment houses and one case in four-apartment houses. In November there were 12 cases in one-apartment houses, and one case in three-apartment houses. In February 11 cases in one-apartment houses, and one case in three-apartment houses. These are the horrible results of overcrowding such as we are suffering from at the present time, not only in the part of Lanarkshire I represent, but throughout all the mining areas of that county, and I feel sure the Members who speak for the other mining areas of Scotland will be able to show similar figures. I suggest to the Under-Secretary of Health and the head of the Department that if they desire to stamp out this disease they will have to deal in a much more thorough manner with the problem of housing. It is not possible for the moral standard of the people to be maintained; it is not possible for the educational standard to be improved unless they provide housing far in excess of which they have provided in that scheme. That is the thing that is making tens and hundreds of thousands of people into revolutionaries. This is the most serious problem with which they have to deal. It is a problem which, if they do not tackle it, will result in a revolutionary situation in the Clyde Valley. There is no likelihood of them dealing with it in a satisfactory manner. I would desire to see that situation arising as quickly as possible, but what I do desire is that the people in these areas should have an opportunity of studying and educating themselves so that in the critical moment they will be able to avail themselves of the opportunities that occur.
When this Bill comes to the Committee stage, it is my intention to put forward a number of Amendments. This Bill, in my opinion, arising out of a grave national difficulty, is being used for the purpose of further strengthening the position of two economic interests in the State. One of these is the landowner, and I propose to bring forward an Amendment to extend and improve the opportunities for local 406 authorities compulsorily to acquire land at cheaper rates. That is not the whole Communist position, but, until the Communist position is realised, we are going to do something if we can to clear the cesspool which the industrial areas are at present. Then the Bill does a great deal to assist those who have money lying idle. There are not only a great number of unemployed workers at the Labour Exchanges. There is, also, a great amount of unemployed capital at the Stock Exchange. There is capital awaiting investment at higher interest, and everything in the Bill points to an endeavour to help that capital to find a higher rate of interest. At a later stage in the proceedings on the Bill, it is my intention, if possible, to introduce an Amendment for the purpose of substituting for the loans, which the local and central authorities are empowered to raise, a levy on capital. In my opinion this is a matter which should have priority so far as a capital levy is concerned. If capital will not, come forward and come forward for nothing, then that capital should be compelled to come forward and save the life of the people. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea protested that he was in favour of larger rooms and larger houses. That came rather curiously from that particular quarter. It may be that it is unknown to him, and if it is, I suggest he make application to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs as to the interest many members of his party and their immediate relatives have in building rings, particularly those which have erected some palaces in the county of Dumbarton. These people are complaining of the Bill and desiring it should be put back six months. In my judgment, they are only utilising this as an excuse for showing hostility to a policy whereby the Government is attacking the building syndicates and rings. When this Bill comes to the Committee stage I intend to have something to say about it. All of us who come from Lanarkshire feel this matter intensely, because at the present time we are noticing preparations for giving a start in life to somebody who has not produced as much as many of those in our constituencies. If the same opportunities were given to the workers as are given to the Duke of York we would not complain.
§ Mr. JAMES STEWART
I should like to ask the Minister of Health two questions before I address myself to the Scottish aspect of this question. In Clause 3 the Minister of Health said that railway companies and such like who wished to build houses would be able to do so, and I desire to ask him if these houses will be tied houses? Will the people who reside in these houses and work for the railway or colliery company, or whatever it may be—will they be compelled to leave these houses should they leave the employment of the companies? That is the first question. The next is in regard to Clause 17, paragraph (c), regarding the proprietor who has got a house partly erected by public money and has to reside in it for five years, and who seemingly then can dispose of it; if he does dispose of it, is he to be entitled to put on it any price the market will allow, and thereby, if the housing shortage still continues, to be able to make a profit on the house partly built by public money?
Two speakers to-night, dealing with the Scottish aspect of the question, have pointed out that we are in a different position to England; that we required a bigger subsidy and different conditions. The necessity for some differentiation of treatment between the English portion of the Bill and the part that applies to Scotland has been accentuated from the opposite side of the House. There is one other point that, I think, might be made in regard to the Scottish part of the Bill in view of the tremendous shortage of houses that still exists. We have since 1919, instead of making progress towards making up a little leeway, actually been going back steadily all the time. In Glasgow, a city which represents, as the Scottish Members very well know, practically one-fourth of the population, there was in 1919 a shortage of 57,000 houses. There had been not sufficient houses built for the years 1905 until 1919–1922 by private enterprise to fulfil the necessary requirements in any one year—not by thousands of houses; consequently, all that time from 1905 onwards we have been going downhill. So that since 1919 there is to be added to the 57,000 houses a shortage averaging about 5,000 houses per year. This makes a total of, not 57,000, but of something like 77,000, To meet that shortage, only a little over 4,000 houses have been 408 erected or are in process of being erected, some hundreds of these being temporary wooden structures put up when the shortage was very bad and the Government of that time was eminently desirous of showing its tremendous anxiety to build homes fit for heroes. Therefore, they built them little wooden huts or shacks.
The tremendous problem of the one-room house has been pointed out and emphasised. English Members have absolutely no idea of the meaning of the word. The Minister of Health to-day made his statement in regard to housing. The Report he was presenting from the London County Council seemed to strike him as abnormal in regard to housing conditions, and the number of people living in one-and two-roomed houses. Why, we take that all for granted. It is the natural condition of affairs that prevails in every industrial part of our country. What is the price you are paying? I want, so far as in my power lies, to treat this merely as a business problem. When a firm or person in business discovers a new way of dealing with production he is interested in, as has frequently happened in the United States, he puts down machinery costing millions of dollars and after he has done this he discovers that newer, better and more effective machinery has been introduced. What does he do? He at once scraps his new machinery and puts down the better machinery. We as business men are in exactly the same position in dealing with housing. We are allowing our raw material to go to waste because of the bad machinery that is being employed. We are allowing it to go down on every hand, and therefore I suggest that you should scrap these bad houses and erect better houses and then you will get a profit.
A Member of this House, who was once a medical officer of health, has written a little book or pamphlet in which he demonstrates, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this country is losing £100,000,000 every year as a result of the bad health of the people mainly caused by bad housing. Besides this, we have reports from Sir Arthur Newsholme, the late head of the Medical Department of the Ministry of Health, who has also written a book which ought to be read by every person in this country, showing the terrible 409 effects of bad housing, accompanied by the poverty that is usually attached to bad housing conditions, and he shows the many millions of pounds you are losing annually in this way. In my own city we have two great general hospitals, kept up mainly by private philanthropy, and they are costing over £250,000 a year. We have a great general hospital and two subsidiary hospitals attached to our parish council, and in one of them we have room for 1,200 patients, and in the other room for about 500. The Glasgow Parish Council, in dealing with relief of bad health caused in a great degree by bad housing, is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds, and we have charities dealing with this problem as well. Glasgow Corporation Health Committee is spending on the treatment of tuberculosis £250,000 annually, and we are ever building more hospitals and sanatoria. Our fever hospitals are often filled to overflowing, and every patient in them costs £2 per week per patient. Altogether I estimate, and it is a conservative estimate, that we are spending not less than £1,000,000 on ill-health and diseases that mainly arise from bad housing. Suppose that you capitalise that £100,000,000 which is mentioned by the hon. and Gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle), at 20 years' purchase what do you get? You get a figure of £2,000,000,000.
Do not think that by not building you are escaping paying the price, for you are paying it, and you are paying it in every other way. You are paying it in a stunted population. Come with me to my city and walk through our streets, go through the places where you find the people who sometimes work, when they can get an employer. Notice the height of the boys at the corner—young men of 18 and 21 years of age, hardly over 5 feet—something in keeping with the stature of myself, and something of the same physique. Watch the women, flat-chested and anæmic, with no development. Come with me then to the well-to-do streets—Sauchiehall Street, Renfield Street, Buchanan Street—and there you will see an entirely different type of men and women, more developed; and why? Because they are living under decent conditions, that give them an opportunity to develop. That is what you are paying.
410 Let me, in conclusion, say this, that you are not working at this problem in ignorance. In the Minister of Health's own city, in the City of Birmingham, those philanthropists, the Messrs. Cadbury, thought they would like to try and do a little towards solving the housing problem. They were accustomed to working in the slums with their Bible classes and Sunday schools. They saw the results of the conditions, and then, not as philanthropists, but as men dealing with a business proposition, they put some hundreds of thousands of pounds into building these houses, not 20 to the acre, but 10 to the acre, with 500 yards of ground attached—each house standing on an area representing 500 yards of ground, and no house with less than four rooms; and they were able to build them, in these days, and let them at a rent of 4s. a week. It is true that the first houses they built for the working classes had that kind of bath room which is going to be perpetuated in this Bill, with the bath in the scullery, and which is the kind of thing that, after many years' experience, you are now offering to the workers. Everyone has commended Messrs. Cadbury's scheme. Many Members of this House have been there, and many public authorities have sent their representatives there to see and to learn what could be done with housing. Later the same thing was done by the other cocoa manufacturers, Messrs. Rowntree, and then, to cap all, Mr. Lever, now Lord Leverhulme—not as a philanthropist, but as a business man—built houses at Port Sunlight, eight to the acre, to be let at the cost of merely keeping them in repair, not a penny being allowed for the capital that was in them. When it was pointed out to him that this was philanthropy run mad, he said, "No, it is not philanthropy, absolutely no; it is a business proposition. I get the return in the improved health of my workers; I get their steadiness at their work. There is no sickness, and their children are not now rickety; they are straightening out under the new conditions that obtain." In my city tens of thousands of the population are ricketty because of the conditions that obtain. We suggest to you that as business men you should look at this from a money point of view, and if you do you are not going to stop us building in 1925. You are not going to 411 be content with your houses of 800 cubic feet or thereabouts. Local authorities know this problem. There is practically no difference between Conservative and Liberal and Labour now with regard to the necessity, and they are not prepared to waste the ratepayers' money any more than you are prepared to waste the taxpayers' money. They are mostly one and the same people, and they have come to the conclusion that the schemes that you have promulgated, and the actions you have taken with regard to housing are not promoting housing and will not solve the problem.
Give us a free hand in our localities, guide us if you care to, but do not prevent us from building houses that we know from the experience we have had are required, and we are ultimately going to pay you cent. per cent. for every penny you have paid. I ask you to accept it on a business proposition, and to remember the ultimate well-being of the people. You are driving away from our country thousands of your very best, and are leaving us with the residuum, and with that residuum we cannot build up those four thousands who are going every week. You are destroying the power to build. The men who are going away are attracted to Canada and the United States by the large wages that are being paid and the reductions that are taking place here. There is no attempt to lengthen hours there. Forty-four hours a week with a wage ranging from a dollar to a dollar and a half an hour are being paid in the building trade. If you allow these men to go away, when you start to build houses again you will be up against the same problem. The men will not be there to work, and then there will be the cry to allow for opening up so that the trade may take in unskilled men, and you will spend money once more, as you did under the Addison scheme, as you did under the Gentleman who solved the housing problem by building no houses. It will come back to that again, and we shall be in the same plight we are to-day. I beg of you in the name of the people, in the name of what has been said here to-day, in face of what I believe is happening, to tackle this question. Allow us to spend money knowing that we are spending it for the ultimate well-being of our State, and if the 412 people decay, your State decays with them.
§ Captain ELLIOT
I have delayed intervening as long as possible. No one would consider it would have been anything but a loss to our Debate if we had been deprived of the very sincere and passionate and suggestive speech which has just been delivered. But in many of the contentions which the hon. Member advances he will find us wholly at one with him. He pleaded for a freer hand for local authorities. The very gist and essence of the Bill is to provide, as far as possible a freer hand for local authorities than they had under previous schemes. To get the Government out of the business of controlling local authorities it is necessary to have some scheme different from the 1919 Scheme. The same request that has been made with so much force by the hon. Member who spoke last has been reiterated to us. They said: "Give us a free hand. Make us a contribution, and clear out of the housing business. Leave it to the people who are able to administer the thing locally and who are infinitely better acquainted with local conditions than you are." The essence of this Bill is that it is an enabling Bill extending the powers of local authorities. That is the justification for bringing in one Bill to-night to meet the two cases of Scotland and England. The essence of the problem is the same. The essence of the problem in both countries is that the demand has been the same, that we should make a contribution to the local authorities, and that we should cease to interfere with them in every possible way. There are people still who would wish the schemes under the 1919 Act to continue, that we should have the unlimited liability of the State continued, and that the liability of the local authorities should be allowed to completely terminate. It is not possible to continue the schemes on that basis. We have had this matter before us for several years. We have seen the working of the old schemes.
The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), who moved the rejection of the Bill, spoke with confident assurance—which those of us who are neither of his mental calibre nor of his long acquaintance with every phase of the problem must envy—and with an absolute certitude of what the difficulty was, and every detail 413 of the exact steps by which the difficulty can be solved. We on this side of the House pretend to have no such omniscience. As the Minister of Health says, this is an attempt, this is an instalment, this is a trial to embark on some new scheme for providing houses which shall not have the defects which have been revealed in practice in the actual test of the older schemes. As recently as 1917 a Commission on Housing in Scotland reported on the housing situation in that country. That Commission was composed of the greatest experts in the country, and more than one Labour representative sat upon it, and they reported that it was possible to produce 215,000 houses at a complete cost to the State of £28,000,000. When that was the verdict of the experts in 1917, it will be realised with what trepidation it is necessary for ordinary Members to approach this gigantic problem. The Addison schemes in England have produced less than 215,000 houses, and the cost to the State has not been £28,000,000, but will amount to something like £600,000,000. In the face of a divergence so great between theory and practice those of us who are lesser mortals than the Labour party will be content to move humbly, to go warily, and to feel our way step by step. [An HON. MEMBER: "That will not carry you far!"] The hon. Member, no doubt, with that zeal which so characterises him, desires us to make a frontal attack on the problem, and to solve with a great sweep the question which confronts us, not only in Scotland, but throughout the country. With that desire I am in heartiest sympathy, but to do that we should require to take much more drastic steps than have been contemplated in any previous housing schemes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—much more drastic than we could get assent for from any hon. Member on the other side. [HON. MEMBERS: "Try us!"] Hon. Members have suggested the production of houses as shells were produced in the War. Do they forget that that involved not merely conscription for the Army, but conscription of labour at home? The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) ought to be the last to quote the experience in that case when he knows that so bitterly was that industrial compulsion resented by the working classes on the Clyde that he organised many a demonstration on account of it, 414 and eventually he was placed in the serious position of having to be removed by Governmental action from that place.
§ Mr. T. JOHNSTON
They asked for guarantees that if dilution was allowed they would have guarantees after the War was over. You could do that in housing and have no objection.
§ Captain ELLIOT
The hon. Member has a belief in the power of Governments to control the future which is not shared by anybody who has been a Member of this House for any length of time and I am certain is not shared by any Member of the present Government. The situation is that we have the Addison and Munro schemes working out and coming to an end. We are taking advantage of them coming to an end to devise some machinery which shall not be open to the criticism which we have found in practice to be justified when levelled against the scheme. There is nothing more probable than that we shall find defects in this scheme, but we must realise that in the case of a problem so intricate and so colossal, nobody can pretend to come down here and lay down the book of the 10 tables on the despatch box with the certainty of the Prophet Moses bringing back the book of laws from the Mountain of Sinai.
§ Captain ELLIOT
My hon. Friend suggested that the wisdom which Moses drew from the mountain of Sinai will be found in the Scottish Grand Committee.
§ Captain ELLIOT
While I have the highest opinion of the intelligence of the Scottish Committee, I have no such absolute assurance as the hon. Gentleman seemed to indicate.
§ Captain ELLIOT
I am not sure where that reference would bring us. It might take the hon. Gentleman very much further than he thinks if he pursues that line of reasoning. The action which the prophet took on returning towards those who, he found, had strayed during his absence, might have to be paralleled by the Government on finding that the Committee had not been, perhaps, so reverent 415 in their treatment of the question as they should have been. There are two problems before the House to-night. There is the great problem of the Bill, to which I wish to address myself, I can assure the House, as a whole. I do not think that my colleagues will need the assurance that for a Scotsman to sit silent all these hours while arguments of the strength and ferocity of the arguments brought forward on this question were delivered and then to limit himself to a bare half-hour, is putting a strain on himself which, as a Minister of Health, I should deprecate any other Scottish Member having to do. A point to which I must address myself now is the action of the Government in bringing forward the one Measure for Scotland and for England. On that I would wish the House to bear with me, particularly the non-Scottish Members, while I reason with the brethren. It will not escape the House that this Bill has been the subject of such bitter complaint against us in reference to housing in Scotland that, in the Debate this afternoon, I think nine Scottish Members, or Members representing Scottish constituencies, have taken part, and only four of what might be termed other nationalities—two Welshmen, the right hon. Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond) and another, and two Englishmen. One of the great objections to the Bill was that Scotland was being oppressed, and even gagged, under the procedure. The complaints of gagging have come not from the nationality which had only two representatives, but from the nationality which has had nine representatives. First and foremost, the justification for bringing these two Measures into the one Bill is that, except for one or two minor points, the provisions are the same for both countries. [HON. MEMBERS "They ought not to be!"] It is said, first, that the provisions are not the same, and that a complicated Clause is being introduced in order to twist this Bill to apply to Scotland; and there is the further contention that, although the provisions are the same and no such twist is taking place, they ought to be different. Let me deal with the first point. The position is that the provisions for both countries are the same. There are the usual translations for Scotland. The points of differ- 416 ence are in one or two Clauses—Clause 8, Sub-section (5), and (14) and (15). They are points of minor importance. The main difference which divides me from many hon. Members is that, although the provisions are the same, they ought not to be the same; that Scotland has always had separate treatment in Housing Acts before, and should have it now. But let us consider whether that is actually borne out by the facts. The main Act, the Act of 1890, the great consolidating Statute, was a United Kingdom Measure, which applied to Scotland as well as to England—
§ Captain ELLIOT
I must develop my case. I am mentioning the origin of these Housing Statutes. I come first to the Act of 1890. That was a United Kingdom Act. I admit that in 1919 you got a separate Bill for Scotland, as against England. But why? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Inverness (Mr. Macpherson) asked why? The reason was that the Royal Commission of 1917 made a Report making certain definite recommendations for Scotland which were not made for England, and those recommendations had to be given statutory form, and the statutory form was the Act of 1919. We do not pass separate Acts merely for the purpose of debating and re-debating subjects in this House, but to carry provisions into effect, and the provisions which required to be carried into effect in 1919 were the statutory provisions recommended by the Royal Commission. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The Government brought in a further Bill in 1919, a subsidy measure, to deal additionally with the problem of housing. That was a United Kingdom Bill, applicable to Scotland as well as to England. These points would serve to dispose of the contention that a precedent is being created now, and that Scotland is in some way being baulked of its rights and is not receiving its accustomed treatment. I have shown that both in 1890, and again—once the provisions of the 1917 Royal Commission had been given statutory effect to—in 1919, in both these cases, the United Kingdom problem was tackled by an United Kingdom Act and met by a single statute, common to both kingdoms of Great Britain.
417 What, then, is the gist of the problem before us, which involves a treatment very similar, if not identical, both for Scotland and for England. Surely, it is the financial provision. The gist of this Bill is the financial provision made in it for the subsidy which is to be paid to those erecting new houses in the future in Great Britain. When we are faced with that, we have to realise that unless you can get a differentiation in the subsidy, two separate Bills are really scarcely worth having. Unless you can get a differentiation in the finance of the Bill, as those hon. Members who have sat in Grand Committee, and in Scottish Grand Committees, know, at every turn we are held up by the unalterable limits of the Financial Resolution. Once you have a Financial Resolution you come up against a thing which the Chairman rules out of order. If we cannot get separate financial treatment of Scotland against England, the chief case for a separate Scottish Bill falls to the ground. The case for separate treatment for Scotland depends, again, on two aspects of the case. The first is the claim of the Scottish authorities that the house they were building was a better house than the English house; and the second is that the actual cost of building was greater in Scotland than in England. That is to say, that to produce the same article cost more in Scotland than it did in England. There is the other point brought forward by many hon. Members, that you must have a superior article for Scotland as against England. With that, as a Scotsman, I am in the most hearty agreement, but when I came to England, Englishmen say—I cannot deny that there is much justice in their claim—"Have a superior article for Scotland if you wish, but, in the name of self-respect, pay for it yourself."
With regard to the very eloquent speech of the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division of Glasgow (Mr. J. Stewart), although, as a Scotsman, I was touched by his eloquence, I find myself wishing that he had made that speech, not here, on the Floor of the House, and particularly not in the presence of so many Englishmen. His case was that there was a financial return to be found by building good houses; that it paid the community that did the improvement, and that in Glasgow, £1,000,000 a year, spent on the treatment of disease, could be saved by the provision of better houses 418 In the face of those arguments, I find the greatest difficulty in going to the British Treasury and saying, "We propose to do improvements which, by our own showing, will result in a great economy, but we wish that the subsidy to be paid on account of them should be higher for us in Scotland than you are able to obtain in England."
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Did not the hon. and gallant Gentleman say, this afternoon, that this type of house cost more in Scotland than in England?
§ Captain ELLIOT
Of course, I did. I should not have thought it necessary for one Scotsman to have to tell another that he had put in a claim for more money out of the Treasury. Of course, I used every power at my disposal. I considered that we had made out a case. The case was put up to an impartial tribunal, and that tribunal decided that the regional claim could not be made out.
§ Captain ELLIOT
It is a regional claim. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. If you are to have a United Kingdom subsidy, it is a United Kingdom subsidy, and if you are to have differentiation for one part of the United Kingdom, do not let him delude himself with the idea that the other parts of Great Britain will be satisfied to see Scotland get away with her special subsidy and will not, at once, put in claims themselves. Let me in the few moments left to me ram home the point as to why the Cabinet decided against regional treatment and in favour of the flat rate, and why I ask the House, and particularly the Scottish Members, to vote for the flat rate. As against regional treatment the argument is delay. If there is one thing that means delay more than another, it is to break up the principle of the flat rate and mark out the various areas of Great Britain for differential treatment. Each of them can make out 419 a claim for differential treatment, under some head. Can we conceive that Wales will not put in a claim for separate treatment? Can we believe that the claim which was so eloquently urged by the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Newbold) in respect of phthisis cannot be urged as strongly by the Members representing Wales? Can we believe that our claim for special treatment because the undulating nature of our sites calls for special under-building, cannot be urged with as much insistence by the Members for Wales? In Liverpool the cost of building is high and all up and down Great Britain there are differential factors. Time is running on. If we are to embark on a detailed examination of this problem on these lines, not only for this summer, but I venture to predict for next summer, building will be quite impossible. We must get down to facts. We must get to work on this problem. We must get a start made on this new experiment.
Therefore I welcome the appeal which has come from many sections of the House not to treat this as a final solution of our problem, but as an instalment; to take up and pass the Bill as rapidly as possible through all its stages, and then, if necessary, evolve further plans for the settlement of the question.
It is not possible for me to take such statements as have been made by the hon. Members for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) and East Fife (Mr. Millar) with the due amount of seriousness with which they, as Members of the House, should be treated, when they suggest that, while in England some of the local authorities have come to an agreement for £4 a house for 20 years, we in Scotland should have £12 a house for 60 years. Such claims immeasurably worsen our position. They make people in England think that there is no seriousness in the claims we advance, and that we are asking for more money on the principle that it cannot do any harm and that we may be able to have half the loaf when we ask for the whole. Finally I should say that we must recognise an aspect of the problem merely touched upon to-night. This point is that at present we are making the worst of both worlds. We are interfering 420 with private enterprise and ruining its chances, yet, so far, we must frankly admit we are not succeeding in dealing with the problem by communal enterprise. We are barely keeping pace with the annual increase of population. We are not dealing with slum clearances, and we are not dealing with the problem of the wastage of houses.. I cannot go further into the condition to-night, but I would appeal to all sections of the House, particularly to the Scottish Members, to come in with England in this business, and let us see what we can do with the subsidy that is provided in the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Sir John Simon.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.