HC Deb 12 February 1924 vol 169 cc757-9

Then we come to the problem of labour. We have had a great deal of criticism—and some of it indeed to-day—about how the only problem relating to the building of houses is trade union conditions, the refusal of dilution, and so on. It is nothing of the kind. That is not the problem. To-day we have only 50 per cent. of the men in the building trades whom we had in those trades before the War. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because private building has failed so utterly. The figures are indisputable. The trade had become so disorganised, the demands had become so intermittent, the ups-and-downs had become so normal, that no man or woman who had an alternative choice for his or her child ever thought of putting him into the building trade, because the uncertainties were so great that a decent person thinking of his child's welfare chose some other channel as his trade. That is the fundamental reason. Take the question of dilution. Apparently, a great many hon. Members in this House imagine that the way to solve the problem of dilution is just to open a door, and allow people to come in. I should like to ask what sort of houses are going to be built by a building trade recruited in that way? The laying of bricks is a highly skilled trade, and merely to talk about dilution and say, "All you want to do is to take men in," is to talk sheer nonsense.

What has happened? What is the way to face. this very difficult problem? The first thing is to give the building trade a guarantee of continuous work over a certain number of years. There is no harm in it, and there is no difficulty about it, because your shortage of houses now is so great that, all that is required is to create a programme which will stretch over a certain number of years. That is a guarantee of time, and that guarantee would have to be given, whether or not you had the. problem of shortage of labour, because only upon a basis of a continued programme of houses can you construct a rational financial system by which you are going to solve the problem. But that is not all. The workmen, perfectly rightly, say: "If we are going to agree to a great inrush of men into the trade, in order to meet the convenience of the community, is it not right that we should ask the community to give us a concurrent guarantee that, in the course of the next 12 months or two years, that inrush is not going to be kissed to swamp us completely, to reduce our wages, and still further disorganise the trade? "I think that is a perfectly fair position for the workmen to take up. HON. MEMBERS:" Protection PI Then I can understand why so many hon. Members think that they are Protectionists. It is organisation, it is forethought—

Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. HALL

Protection of labour—that is what it is.


It is organisation, it is forethought, it is foresight, it is the capacity that the State has, and can show, not of dealing with five or six men and two or three separate interests, but of dealing with the combined, coordinated, and unified interests of the whole of the community in the. production of houses.


Disguised Protection:!


That is our programme. What is the result? Government after Government has tried to bring the employers and employed together to come to an agreement. They have failed. We are going to succeed. We have already called a conference. The spirit of the conference has been admirable, and I have the greatest confidence that when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health addresses this House upon his proposals, he will be able to inform the. House that a complete agreement has been come to, and that the question of-labour in production has been successfully solved.

Colonel Sir C. YATE

How many bricks a day?


The number of bricks a day is a very old story, which apparently has never been accurately told, especially by those who really imagine. that all the ills in life arise from the fact that a bricklayer does not lay so and so many bricks a day.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the statement is likely to be made in this Debate, or when we shall have a statement from the Minister of Health on this very important question?


I would like very much had I been able to make it to-day. I was accused, when I asked for three weeks' vacation, of asking for too much. I wish I had been wiser, and asked for a little more. The three weeks have been weeks of rather full and strenuous work. The first conferences have been held. Consideration is now being given to the matter, reports are being prepared on both sides as to the suggested ways of meeting their difficulties, and as soon as my right hon. Friend is in a position to communicate the result to the House, that result will be communicated. I am sorry I cannot say. anything more than that, but I assure the House that no time is being wasted in getting the matter through. In the meantime, all schemes in hand are being pushed forward as rapidly as they possibly can be; nothing is being set on one side, nothing is being scrapped, nothing is being delayed, while these new investigations are going on which are going to be the basis of our new housing policy.

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