HC Deb 12 February 1924 vol 169 cc755-7

There are one or two very large questions which any Government coming in now must strive to handle, or, at any rate, conceive in a large way. Small pettifogging methods and policies and proposals would be bound to yield nothing that is worth yielding. The first of these is Housing. The view of the Labour Government, quite generally, is this: that as regards the great problem of housing —as far as housing means the providing of homes for wage-earners that can be rented with some relation to their wageincome—we have only just touched the fringe of the problem. The Labour party want to get right into the heart of it. We are considering at the present time the problem in its essential characteristics, and I hope that before long my right. hon. Friend the Minister of Health will be here presenting his detailed proposals. The first point to consider is this--and do not let us shirk our responsibilities, or avoid facing them—the housing problem can only be solved when decent. human homes are provided for the mass of the working classes of the country at rents that can be borne by the average income of those classes. The second consideration is that in the production of these homes it will be necessary, somehow or other, to get the material and the labour necessary for that production. The first point—the point of price—has been met since the War by subsidy. I am afraid that will have to continue. From the point of view of good sound economics, I dare say our strictly academic friends will point out that it is very wrong. As far as we are concerned, we are going to continue it, and at the present moment we are continuing it in relation to the problem of how we can build houses, on the average, for £500, and let them, on the average, for 9s. per week, including rent and rates.

That is the problem. It may have to be varied. I am not making a party speech. I am stating exactly what is in our minds, and telling the House exactly what will have to be in the minds of every Government that really faces this problem. It may have to be. varied. I said that the average price of the houses is £500, and that the average rent and rates is 9s. From that we have to work out all sorts of possibilities—possibilities of construction, possibilities of finance, possibilities of funding, possibilities of arranging with local authorities, and so on. From that foundation, and the exploration that. is going to follow it, our scheme will have to be produced. See what has happened before. Take the houses called the Addison houses. Not 10 per cent. of those houses are inhabited by the class of people whose needs must be met if we are going to solve the housing problem. Then the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. N. Chamberlain) produced a scheme, but apparently, as far as my information goes, that scheme is going to be fruitful, if it be fruitful at. all, in the building of houses for sale. That does not solve the problem. It is very essential that the class of people catered for in that way ought to be catered for, and, as far as we are concerned, we shall do nothing against it. But nevertheless that is a mere thin fringe of a tremendously big problem, into the heart of which we are determined to dig our way, in the hope that we shall bring up some scheme which will really face, at last, this tremendous problem of how to house the wage-earners of this country.

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