§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 71A.
§ [Mr. ROBERT YOUNG in the Chair.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That it is expedient—
- (a) to authorise the payment, out of moneys provided by Parliament, of contributions towards the expenses incurred in connection with the provision of houses of the type and size mentioned in Sub-section (2) of Section one of the Housing, Etc., Act, 1923, which are completed before the first day of October, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, not exceeding in the case of any house which is subject to special conditions, whether as regards rent or lettings or disposal or otherwise, a sum of nine pounds, or (if the house is situated in an agricultural parish in England or Wales, or in a rural area in Scotland) a sum of twelve pounds ten shillings, payable annually for a period not exceeding forty years, and in the case of any house which is not subject to such special conditions a sum of six pounds payable annually for a period not exceeding twenty years; and
- (b) to make provision as to such special conditions and, in the case of houses which are subject to special conditions, to provide for the reduction or variation of the contributions in the event of any of the special conditions not being complied with; and
- (c) to make provision for the withholding of contributions or the reduction or variation of contributions except in the case of houses completed before certain dates; and
- (d) to make provision for the amendment of the financial provisions of the Housing, Etc., Act, 1923, and for other purposes incidental thereto or connected therewith."—(King's Recommendation signified.)
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Wheatley)
After the exhibition of inconsistency with which the House was treated just before going into Committee, I am not quite sure whether I would have more to gain by the adoption of the Resolution I now move than I would from its refusal by the Committee. It 1100 seems to be part of the policy of certain Members on the other side, having exhausted the time and patience of this House in opposing the policy promoted by the Government, to proceed then to-mop up the remnants of our time in a mock presentation of a similar kind. I hope a good deal of latitude will be allowed in the discussion about to take place. The Committee will expect me to present, as far as one can in general terms, the Government proposals on housing, and the reasons which led to the adoption of those proposals by the Government. Perhaps the first point to which I ought to address myself is whether the Act of 1923, as it now stands, is not sufficient for the solution of the housing problem. I take it that Members in all parts of the House will agree that it is not. I count, at any rate, on the acquiescence of the party opposite to that statement. [HON. MEMBERS: NO !"] Then I wish to quote a statement made by the author of the Act when he was introducing his Bill in this House, and, if the view of the party opposite is not what it was a few months ago, perhaps the right hon. Member will explain the reason for the change when he addresses the Committee. In introducing this Bill the right hon. Member for the Ladywood Division of Birmingham (Mr. Neville Chamberlain) said:I am going to ask the House to regard this Bill from that point of view (growth and development) 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. I think the House will see it will be altogether unreasonable to suppose that these arrears which have been accumulated for a period of 30 years can 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.Therefore I am going to assume that, as the 1923 Act is due to expire in 1925, it is still the view of the Front Opposition Bench that the future policy of the country on housing should be determined in the interests of all concerned.
Perhaps the next point on which we ought to be clear is as to what is the real ultimate problem. If I were to state it in my own words, possibly the statement would be suspect, as coming from a Socialist source, but no such suspicion will attach to anything coming from 1101 Birmingham. The housing committee of the city of Birmingham is one of the few authorities—indeed the only authority of which I know—that has actually opposed my housing proposals. I am not objecting; I am not complaining. I never regard their opposition as anything but an expression of appreciation and affection for their political representative. So anxious was that committee to get en with my execution that it could not have the patience to wait until the proposals were drafted, but it condemned them in advance. Therefore, I will take their statement as one with which every Member, particularly the most moderate Members of the House, can agree. They have issued a report in criticism of my proposals as they stand, and their real views upon housing, as apart from the political affection to which I have referred, overflow from the report. They say:—The real problem is the provision of houses, not to sell but to let, and to let at rents which the working classes can afford to pay. Subsidies to private enterprise for houses to sell are good to the extent that they do get houses, but they do not touch the real problem and even larger subsidies would not get working men's houses built to be let. Let there be no mistake about that; no one will build these houses on any terms.They mean that no one in private enterprise will build houses to let to-day or at any time. Taking the 1923 Act and subjecting it to this test of "houses to let," I have no difficulty in proving that it has been a complete failure On the 1st May of this year I find that in England, Scotland and Wales, under this Act which came into operation on the 31st July last, 4,645 houses have been completed and there were under construction 12,738 houses, making a total of 17,383 houses either completed or under construction by the local authorities for the purpose of letting. In comparing that with what we might have expected, it is well to consider for a moment what the annual requirements of these millions of families who depend for housing accommodation on houses to let amount to in this country. I do not want to lay down any dogmatic figures. There are no reliable data with which one can defend any figure that is controverted, but I think that those who understand the problem will be inclined to agree that, taking into account the loss arising from the depreciation of property 1102 and the growth of population, something like 100,000 new houses would be required annually to prevent the housing shortage from increasing. If we require anything like 100,000 new houses per annum and we are only getting for that section of the community 17,383, one can see how rapidly the housing conditions of this country are worsening. I am giving to the operation and the success of the Act in this department of its operations all that I think its dearest friends could fairly claim. I am admitting that all the houses under construction at the beginning of this month will be completed in the course of the present year, that is, not in the twelve months of the Act but within the present building year, ending on the 30th September. I do not think that anyone who understands the state of the building industry would on any terms support the idea that that admission was capable of realisation. Even admitting that all the houses—only 4,000 of them are actually completed and 12,000 of them are still incomplete—were completed by the 1st of October, the fact is that the housing conditions of the people who live under the worst conditions in this country are considerably worse now than when the present Act was introduced about twelve months ago.
I go further, and say that the party opposite never expected the working classes to get the houses during the period of the operation of the Act. I think I can prove that by the speeches of the author of the Bill. On the same occasion to which I have referred, the right hon. Gentleman said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th April, 1923; col.307, Vol.163.]Would it be unreasonable on my part to interpret that speech in this way? The right hon. Gentleman contemplated a situation in which there was a limited supply of labour and materials and a shortage of housing among all sections of the population. It was greatest among the poorest, it was smallest among the richest and it was considerable among the middle class. Having contemplated that situation, he said to himself, "Let me 1103 frame a policy that will begin with the more expensive houses, that will take into account, first, the requirements of the richest. Having dealt with these, we will then come to the condition of the people below the richest who can afford to buy houses, and if there be any crumbs of material and labour remaining, those crumbs may be used for the production of working-class houses." [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense!"] If that was not the intention of the 1923 Act, then that was the result of the 1923 Act. I have no doubt at all from the questions that have been put to me by leading Members of the Opposition, that when they rise to reply they will quote figures showing how many houses are being erected for the rich. They will talk about the larger houses outside the scope of the Act of 1923. They will say as they have said—whether they will do it to-day or not I am not sure—that beyond the type of houses covered by the 1923 Act there are tens of thousands of houses which have been erected in this country. They will tell the Committee that there are about 70,000 houses, not subsidised houses but the larger houses, the more expensive houses—
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
There are these houses to be provided before you can deal with the housing conditions of the working classes. There have been a large number of these houses provided, and hon. Members opposite will quote these houses and try to deceive the Committee into believing that in some way or another these are the houses that are contemplated in the Government's proposals now being submitted to the Committee. When they get down below that—[An HON. MEMBER: "You want worse houses!"] I am not talking about the houses being too good, but I am talking about the class for whom the houses are built. If you suggest to me or to Members of this House—
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
Perhaps if hon. Members on the other side lived for a week in a slum, we should soon get the problem solved. Having dealt with the 1104 requirements of the richer people and the more expensive houses, the policy of the 1923 Act was to provide more houses for that fringe of the working class who can afford to buy houses rather than for that mass of the working classes who must have houses to let. So we find that under the 1923 Act there have been completed for sale 5,963 houses and that there are under construction 26,027 houses. All these houses are for sale. Not a single one, as far as I can ascertain at the Ministry of Health, of the 32,000 houses being erected by what is called private enterprise, are for the purpose of letting to the people who are so much in need of houses.
It is unnecessary to emphasise the fact that, if the great toiling multitude of this country are getting down to a condition of greater and greater slumdom, it is an alarming situation. I remember that on a former occasion when I was addressing the House, and I was moved to refer sympathetically and pathetically to the conditions of these people, my speech was referred to as "sob stuff." Therefore, to-day I will not indulge in "sob stuff." I will not be guilty of what evidently was an offence then of assuming that Conservatives have souls as well as pockets.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
This afternoon I am going to talk to them pocket politics. I am going to remind them as the representatives in this House of the great industrialists of the country, dependent for their supply, in the main, on the people who live under these poor housing conditions, that they have entered upon the keenest industrial struggle in the history of this country, and that their success in the competitive markets of the world depends to a large extent on the maintenance of an efficient British working class, and to urge them, for the sake of their pockets, to recognise that it is impossible to produce in the housing conditions of to-day workers who can successfully compete in the world's markets of to-morrow.
That was the situation with which I, as representing the Government, had to deal. I had to choose whether in approaching industry I was to do so in a spirit of force or a spirit of good will. A spirit of force would, of course, have 1105 been more picturesque. That is the policy, if I may judge by speeches from the other side, of right hon. and hon. Members opposite, with regard to the building industry of this country. Again, if I may quote from Birmingham, where all sound anti-Socialist doctrine germinates, I might tell the Committee what appears to be the Conservative policy in approaching a situation like this:
"What is wanted is dilution"—
This quotation is from the Report of the Birmingham Housing Committee—Longer working hours. The building trade hours are less than in any other trade. Greater output, and normal competition throughout the trade. If the unions refuse to co-operate in the dilution process, the municipalities could easily train young labourers with the countenance and support of the Government and the decision to face whatever consequences ensue.It seems all so very simple. The right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) has only to don the garb of Mussolini and to strut forth and say to these trade unionists, "Unconditional dilution, or the life of trade unionism!" Does anyone believe that until you have exhausted all the resources of reason, that a policy of that kind will be tolerated in this country? Immediately you began it with the building industry, what would be the views of the other industrial organisations? Would not they feel that it was a war on trade unionism, that it was a class war, and that when you had smashed the building trade union you would take union after union, particularly in what you are now pleased to call the sheltered trades, and that you would smash trade unionism? Rightly or wrongly, would not they take the view that what you were after was not houses, but slaves? Before the struggle was over bon. Members on the other side would learn that the people of this country value liberty far more highly than they value the Conservative party.
Before coming to a decision as to how far dilution should go, perhaps I may be permitted to submit to the Committee an analysis of the rent of a working-class house, in order to see where relief may be obtained. Taking the case of a house at £500, I find that the amount which the land on which the house sits adds to the weekly rent of the house is only 1½d. The 1106 land costs us about £200 an acre. It is well that the Committee should know the facts., For ail the land purchased for housing in England and Wales, the average price was only £206 per acre. Taking the whole period during which we have been building after 1919, and taking £200 an acre, and 10 houses to the acre—although we usually put more—it means that there is a burden on each house of £20. But that £20 has to be distributed over 60 years, which is the reasonable expectation of life of the house. That brings the burden on the house to 6s. 8d. a year, or only 1½d. a week. So that if we could get the land free, we should reduce the rent by 1½d. a week. Taking the next item in the expenditure, the cost of materials and profits amounts to £280, and I find that that puts a weekly burden on the house of 1s. 10½d. Coming next to the cost of the people who build the house, that is, all the tradesmen—apart from the cost of building material—the bricklayer, mason, plumber, joiner, slater, and labourer, the whole burden of the cost of building a house only adds 1s. 3d. a week to the rent. In other words, if you got the house built free of labour charges, if the workers worked for nothing, you could reduce the rent by 1s. 3d. a week. That is the wages cost of building a working-class house, and, distributing it over the 60 years, it works out at 1s. 3d.
I want to know whether relief can be got in the housing problem. I find that, of the 1s. 3d., the bricklayer takes 2½d. So that if we have the ideal method, the bricklayer—this would cheer the hearts of the Opposition—who would lay bricks for nothing, we could reduce rents by 2½d. a week. Now I may be asked, how is it we require a subsidy, seeing that the labour costs, the costs of the landlord, the manufacturer, the builder and the tradesmen and labourers engaged in producing a house only amount to a weekly rent of 3s. 3d.? It is when I come to the finance of it that I find where the burden comes in. Taking the rate of interest at 5 per cent. for the loan periods, it requires 6s. 6d. a week from the house to meet the burden of finance. In other words, if all the people who, by hand or brain, give service to the production of the house, take 3s. 3d., that section of the community who lend, not their labour but their credit, their surplus wealth—usually, not their savings but their makings—take 1107 twice as much out of the rent of the house as all the useful contributors to the erection of the house.
A great deal is being said about the total to be contributed in subsidy by the State and local authorities for the erection of these houses, and the impression is left upon the public mind that, somehow or other, the working class are the recipients of charity from the people who pay these subsidies. I find that the total subsidies are only equal to half the interest charged. In other words, if you gave double the subsidy, you would not have met the demand of the interest of the people who lend their credit for the erection of these houses. Since 1900, the price of money has gone up by 1¾ per cent., which means an increase of £400 on every working-class house erected in this country. For a period of 60 years 1¾per cent. on £500 is at least £400. I notice that the right hon. Member for Twickenham, in criticising my proposals the other day, said, "This is real Socialism!" I can compliment my right hon. Friend on many things, but I cannot say that he is a good judge of Socialism. I can assure him, if this were real Socialism, I would begin dilution on that 6s. 6d., and I would end the dilution on the last penny of the 6d. The proposals which I am submitting are real capitalism—an attempt to patch up, in the interests of humanity, a capitalist ordered society.
With that knowledge of the situation, I have approached the building industry in a friendly manner, in a spirit of good will, and I asked for their views in a national emergency as to the best manner of producing the necessary houses. Why had we such a shortage of skilled labour in the building industry? I have been told it was due to the hostility of the trade unions, but I was informed by the employers that it was due to nothing of the kind, and that within the rules of the trade unions 34,000 apprentices more than actually were at work could have been at work in the industry to-day. I asked why apprentices were not there, and I was told it was because of the insecurity of employment in the industry. First of all, parents would not send their boys into a trade that might be busy to- day and offered only emigration next year, that employers were in exactly the 1108 same position, and unless they had a guarantee of work for their apprentices for the period of their apprenticeship, it was unprofitable to take on more than the minimum of apprentices. I found that the explanation was that the industry was subject to violent fluctuations, and that sometimes, when money was comparatively cheap, the building industry would have a boom, would go on for a year or two, and then something would happen to disturb it, and there would be a slump extending over art almost corresponding period. During the slump period, the skilled men trained in the busy period were the vcitims of unemployment, and had to find relief in emigration.
Only last year over 900 joiners were transferred form the trade unions on the Clyde to the trade unions of New York. In 1924 there are 62,090 fewer skilled men in the industry than were in it in 1913, although the demands of the nation are considerably greater to-day. People ask me why we are not proposing to build as many houses as was the case two or three years ago. I find that we have 25,470 fewer skilled men in the industry to-day than we had in October, 1921. I mentioned the skilled labourers to the employers—the skilled labourers who could be promoted in such abundance, according to the theories of politicians—and the employers asked me if I could tell them where they were. They told me that these skilled labourers had been for years gradually absorbed into the industry, and that they did not exist, except in the imagination of Members of Parliament. I asked them about the trainees, about which I have heard so much in this House, the ex-service men who have served their country well, and come home and been trained by a grateful Government in the art of building houses, and whose services have been rejected by wicked trade unions. They told me, as the leaders of the operatives told Members of the House of Commons who met them upstairs, that the trade unions did not refuse to accept those trainees, that the union operatives had taken in a large number of them, that, after they had taken them in, the poor fellows could not find employment in the industry, because employers would not accept them, as they were not capable of competing with the better trained men, and that, as a result, the Joiners' and Carpenters' Union had 1109 been mulcted in a considerable sum in the way of unemployment benefit to those men, as a reward for their generosity in accepting them in their union.
Notwithstanding that, we have had the story floated all over this country that the wicked trade unions are the enemies of the ex-service men. [An HON. MEMBER: "Quite true!"] I put it to this Committee that it is not good national service, that it is anything but patriotic to be setting up in opposition the ex-service men who fought for the country, and the industrial workers who maintain the country in its wealth. That is not good, sound patriotism, even when it comes from the Conservative party. In order to get the essential labour for the production of houses, it was necessary to stabilise the industry by the adoption of a long-term programme, and when the representatives of the men and the employers put to me a proposal for a long-term building programme, I said, "There is no use going to Parliament and asking it for a one-sided guarantee. Parliament will expect from you, in return for any guarantee it gives to you, a reciprocal undertaking by the industry itself." And the question they asked me was, "Can you, in return for a guarantee from the State, undertake to deliver the houses for the people?" I think the Committee will agree that it is impossible to give an absolute answer. To bring this 2½ million houses which I want built and put them on the Table, and to ask them to accept that, can be the only guarantee, and, of course, that is an impossible guarantee. I had then to face the basis of a guarantee that was possible. 5.0 P.M.
There seemed to be only two methods. One method was a guarantee based on teaching the industry how to run its own business—to tell them how many apprentices they required, how many bricklayers the industry should take in, and how many bricks each man should lay per day. In general, this method would be to teach them how to do that which they had been trained to do, and of which we had only the most remote theoretical knowledge. I felt that that would be no basis at all. I said to them: "I am not going to talk to you in terms of labourers, in terms of apprentices, or in terms of dilution. I want to talk to you in terms of houses. How many 1110 houses can you give the nation in a year? It is for you to decide how you can produce the houses. If you are prepared to accept from the State a 15-years' building programme on condition that you deliver a certain number of houses every year, then I am prepared to consider entering into such an agreement." They went into the matter very carefully, and ultimately we fixed and made an agreement on that basis. It is not a basis fixed on the number of apprentices; it is not a basis fixed on how the industry is to be run. It is a basis fixed on the annual output of houses of this kind, by the industry, as the 15 years go on.
The scheme, as far as the industry is concerned, works automatically. We go on building for three years. At the end of the three years we take stock and, if the average output of houses agreed on between the State and the industry is not maintained, then the agreement automatically terminates. On the other hand, if the output of houses is maintained, the agreement proceeds for a further period, at the end of which we take stock again. In that further period, through the augmented labour, we get an ever-increasing number of houses, as stated in the Schedule, and if that increased number is again maintained, then automatically the scheme goes on over a further period; and so on to the end of the 15 years, when we have produced 2½ million houses.
§ Mr. NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain to us what is the quid pro quo with the building industry? I understand what they agree to give him, but I do riot understand the form of guarantee he has to give to them in the way of employment.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
In the written guarantee we have given to them you will notice that they are to maintain two-thirds of the output stated in our Schedule. I wish to state that that addition was put in at my request. The output, for instance, for the first two years, is to be, I think, 190,000 houses. I said: "You are taking a considerable risk. You have to deal with all the disadvantages of a disorganised industry. If you fail during these three years to maintain the output, you will be faced with all the additional labour and all the additional capital you have put into it. I suggest to you that you make the 1111 irreducible minimum two-thirds of the number that you say you will he able to produce." I want to emphasise here something I said at the beginning, for the clearer understanding of this problem of housing. The houses we are proposing to produce are not like the larger type which are being produced outside of the subsidy limits to-day. The houses we are proposing to produce are houses of the subsidy type. They are additional houses; not alternative houses.
Assuming that the Act of 1923 provided for 40,000 houses, and that the output by the industry next year is 90,000 houses, then that would mean that there would be 50,000 additional houses next year, and so on. Before passing from this, may I revert again to the basic condition and give an illustration of the difference it makes? In the course of the negotiations the bricklayers raised the question of part payment for loss of time due to wet weather, and they approached me about attaching that payment to the erection of these houses. It was a claim, I think personally, that would give me more houses by bringing more people into the industry, but notwithstanding that, I said to these bricklayers: "All these questions under my agreement have to be regarded as the internal affairs of the industry. I am not going to dictate to you as an industry what wages you are to give; I am not going to dictate to you how many bricks you are to lay; I am not going to talk to you in any terms except in terms of the number of houses."
Then we came to another important point in the negotiations. I had to negotiate with the manufacturers, and they are unpopular on many of these benches. There is an impression—I think largely justified—that building materials in this country mile controlled by building rings. During my negotiations with the employers I said: "There is no good in talking about a given number of houses; unless we can have some assurance that the price—the cost of housing—will not be increased when we set out to build more. In other words, I want you to suspend the law of supply and demand in regard to housebuilding. I want each section of you to pledge yourselves that you will not 1112 take advantage of the launching of this scheme to gain anything that you would not have gained had I not launched it." That is the basis on which we began. I continued: "And although we may be building 50,000 more houses next year, and in the following year 70,000 additional houses, this fact is not to be taken as a justification for an increase in the cost price of the houses." They were perfectly agreeable to enter into an arrangement of that kind, but they said: "We must have full protection against the manufacturers and merchants of building materials. We obviously cannot continue to give you houses at present prices unless the cost of materials are maintained at the present prices." That seemed so perfectly reasonable that I agreed with them. I went to the building materials people and explained again the national difficulty, pointing out to them that they did not stand to gain by this policy of boosting prices every time we increased our building operations, because the result was to throttle the building industry and bring about ruin even to the manufacturers themselves, and that they would be much more profitably employed in keeping down prices, arranging for a larger output, and relying on an increased income on an increased output.
I have to acknowledge that they met me in what I regard as a very generous manner, and I want to state here, particularly in regard to the brick manufacturers, that I have been driven to the conclusion during the past few weeks that, in a period where the nation has problems of this kind, it would be much easier to deal with a ring than to deal with unfettered private enterprise. It is just the same condition as employers of experience recognise in dealing with their workers; it is easier to deal with a trade union than to deal with a body of disorganised men. My experience of the past few weeks was this. I started that period with a pledge from the associated brick manufacturers that they would keep to their prices. They have kept their word in the letter and in the spirit. Large manufacturers assure me, and I have no reason to doubt it, that they have passed by orders which offered them 10s. to 20s. a thousand more for bricks than the price at which they are selling bricks to-day. But what has happened all over the country? The orders refused by the combine members, 1113 out of loyalty to the nation, have been taken by other manufacturers outside the combine, and the result is that there is a temptation for the members of the combine to get into that state of greater freedom, where there is greater profit to be made.
I had an interview with these people this week, after I had drafted a Bill on building materials, in which I ask Parliament, when it is produced—I hope, in a few days—to give me drastic powers to deal with profiteers. The Government, having made up their mind, I had further negotiations with the brick manufacturers, and they made me what I regard as a fairly generous offer. They are prepared to take the prices of January, 1924, as the basis of prices for future building under the housing scheme. They are prepared to sea it inserted in an Act of Parliament that it will be regarded as the basis of an investigation of an offence when the price charged by any manufacturer is higher than that which he charged on 1st January this year, unless he can prove that the increase was justified by circumstances out of his control, such as an increase of wages, or an increase in the cost of living, or a similar increase in the cost of production. You cannot stereotype the cost of living. Apart from these, an increase in the price of bricks would be regarded as a serious offence. I do not think the nation could get a more generous offer from any section of people. All around me people will say: "But that closes the door against an investigation for the period prior to 1st January, and there was probably profiteering going on then." I am not submitting to the House proposals for changing the capitalist order of society. I am merely submitting proposals of a limited character with the object of protecting my building scheme against being exploited by the manufacturers of building materials, and as my building scheme was not in existence in January of this year, as the Government were not in office and I never expected to be Minister of Health, much less to propose this scheme, no one could reasonably say that the prices prevailing in January this year were raised in expectation of the Government's present proposals.
The manufacturers insisted on the importance of a long-term building programme, because they said, "Look all over the country and you will find dere- 1114 lict brickworks everywhere, which are the result of the fluctuations of the industry. People put their capital into them during the busy period, and then trade fell away and they lost their capital and will not renew it." Above all, in the output of building material, the supply must tend to approximate to the amount of labour that exists for handling the material. Anyone with business experience would know that that would be a first consideration. The objection made to a long-term programme is, that no other industry is given such protection. I have seen that stated again and again. I wish to state, in reply to that, that the building industry is distinct from any other industry in the country. In building houses you, build for 60 years, so you can afford to build five years ahead of requirements this year and then stop building for five years, but you cannot stop building and retain your builders and the means of manufacturing building material. If you allow those to go to wreck, then when you require to begin building again you would have no means of carrying on the work. That does not apply to the baker, the miner, the railwayman or any other industry.
There again I notice that another criticism about a long-term building programme is that in so far as we are trying to help the industry we are to-day sanctioning more than we would otherwise sanction. I submit again that that is not so. We are not sanctioning more than we would otherwise sanction. All that we are doing is ordering ahead, so that the people responsible for the output will know what the conditions of the industry are to be over a given period. For instance, if we could: get a quarter of a million houses to-day, we would unanimously accept it. We cannot get it, because the industry years ago did not know that a quarter of a million houses would be wanted. Therefore if we want to get houses we have got to stabilise the industry in the interests of all the people concerned in the industry.
Then also it is feared that at the end of 15 years we shall have unemployment. Those who put up that argument pay us the flattering testimony that we shall produce the houses. They are agreed that the scheme will succeed because they say that at the end of 15 years we shall have all these workers on our hands. I submit 1115 that I should not be expected to deal at length with this. If we could put 15 years between us and unemployment I am sure that that should be taken as a hearty recommendation. I am told that a long-term programme forces up prices. That objection is based on the idea that you can build on the quiet—build houses without the manufacturers getting to know that you are building. In other words, you are only to build the number of houses for which manufacturers will produce materials without wanting to increase the prices. I submit that if we have reached that stage, it is the most damning condemnation possible of private enterprise. If private enterprise in time of national emergency were unable even for the public good to suppress the desire for increased profits, then in modern society there would be no room for such an institution. If that were to happen, I submit that the only alternative would be an alteration in the present method of producing these materials.
The next point is as to whether we call trust the industry which has promised these houses. I notice that there is an inclination to sneer at the building industry as people whom we cannot trust. I suggest that this is a field in which, as in all others, confidence begets confidence, and in which you are not going to get the best out of them by simply sneering and calling them names. I have listened for years to appeals from the other side for employers and employed to get together in the general interest of the industry in which they are engaged, and when I respond to that appeal and, for the purpose of getting the houses built, bring employers and employés here together in what I regard as a holy combination, I am immediately denounced, and Members in all parts of the House begin to point out the danger of this unholy alliance.
I submit that if these people were not British workers, but French or Italian people, you would treat them with considerably greater respect. The British workers here are offering you a treaty. If French or Italian workers offered you a treaty you would not treat them in the same way. You would invite their leaders to dine with you. I claim the same respect for British workers, from the leaders of this House, as would be given by them to the representatives of 1116 a foreign Power. Whatever be our differences, let us remember that these people for whom these houses are wanted are the basis of the nation's prosperity. After all, they are our best, and, in my opinion, with all their faults they are the world's best. The industry proposes in order to carry out this scheme to set up committees. I do not want to go into the nature of them in detail further than to disabuse the minds of Members of this House of any idea that they are to be permitted to interfere with the work of the State or local authorities or with the competitive system of dealing with houses.
They propose to have three committees—one composed of the builders and operatives, another of manufacturers and merchants of material and a third, a prices survey committee. These three will be interlocked by three representatives sitting on a super-committee, a National Building Committee, to be set up by the Ministry of Health. The object of the committees is to see that the scheme which is being launched here is a success, and the industry is very interested in seeing that it shall be successfully carried through. They would co-operate in seeing that there was a sufficient supply of labour where building contracts were being placed, and that there was a sufficient supply of material. There will be a central committee and local committees of builders and operatives assisting and advising local authorities.
Sir PHILIP PILD ITCH
Will there be representatives of the local authorities on the central committee?
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
There would be no representation of the local authorities or of the State, because they will have nothing to do with the business of these advisory committees.
§ Sir P. PILDITCH
I am not speaking of the local committees, I am speaking of the central committee.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
No, there is no proposal to have public representatives on it. Obviously, if they were going to interfere with public business, we would require public representatives and a majority of public representatives, but as they have only to deal with the business of the industry and with nothing else, their representatives, and no other representatives, will be eligible for membership.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
To watch themselves and help themselves and help the nation. Assuming that Manchester wants to build 5,000 houses, it will be the business of these committees to advise the Manchester local authorities as to the labour and materials available in that neighbourhood, and as to how far they can be augmented so as to balance the orders for building placed with the supply of material and labour. One of the great defects of the Addison scheme was that there was no attempt at all to balance supply and demand. A fundamental object here is to relate supply and demand and build houses where most labour is available and most material is available.
I am afraid that I have wearied the Committee but I want to say a word in reference to the local authorities. I had next to negotiate with the local authorities, because unless I could come to the House with the assurance that the local authorities were prepared to accept this scheme, then the House would not he justified in proceeding further with the scheme. I acknowledge the kindly help which I got from these representatives, and I appreciate it more especially because the great majority of them are my political opponents. They are people who in theory are opposed to the State or the municipality entering on the field formerly occupied by private enterprise, and it is to the credit of these people that they were able to rise superior to their political prejudices in order to hammer out a scheme with which we could approach the House in a spirit and condition of universal consent. In the course of our negotiations one of the first questions to be decided was the amount of the subsidy, and I have now to submit the proposal of a subsidy of £9 for 40 years, as stated in the Resolution, and in agricultural areas of £12 10s. per annum. The amount of the subsidy is to be revised periodically. It is to be reviewed every three years, not in respect of the houses that have been built, but in the light of existing circumstances with respect to the houses of the future.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
No, the understanding—and I am sorry if I did not make it clear—with the industry is that, unless the Committee to which reference has been made keep dawn prices then the scheme automatically ceases. They are under an obligation to keep down the prices of houses. The rents to be charged for these houses are controlled rents; the rents are to be as nearly as possible—by Regulations laid down by the Ministry of Health, I cannot give you the exact formula, but, roughly, it is this—the rents prevailing now in the area for working-class houses erected before the War.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
No. Working-class houses, not the same kind of houses. Our object is to produce better houses at the rents which they are now paying for the bad ones. Where these rents can be obtained for less than £13 10s. then any reduction down to £4 10s., which is the contribution of the local authority, will go to the credit of the local authority. The object of that proposal is to stimulate everyone concerned into a united effort to keep prices down. We want to make it in the interest of the locality to get its houses built as cheaply as possible. You have to-day towns where the prices vary considerably, and we want to see that the well-administered local authority which can get houses produced cheaply shall have the benefit of it in local rates. In one respect I am sorry I had to yield to the local authorities, but when one is negotiating one has to be prepared to make concessions. One of the things on which the local authorities insisted was that I should not interfere with the size of the houses laid down under the 1923 Act. I need hardly state I would have liked to have altered those standards. I was particularly anxious to raise the minimum and I would have liked to have added 100 feet to the maximum, but the local authorities said that they had not been building these very small houses, and I found that within their discretion of 550 feet to 950 feet the average size of the houses being built in England and Wales was about 817 feet. The local authorities say, "All we are claiming is our right to determine what the size of the house is to be. We are not going to lay it down that we will build these smaller houses, but we want 1119 to be left free to choose what suits the requirements of our neighbourhood." They want to be left with the freedom which they had under the 1923 Act. They wanted me to leave them there, and as I had to come to a general agreement with the local authorities I had, against my will, to give way on this point and it is part of the terms of the agreement.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Ladywood Division of Birmingham, earlier in my speech, asked: "How can you reciprocate the guarantee given to you by the building industry? You have left the local authorities free, they are not to build except when they like, and as they like." I admit that is so, but that part of the freedom of the local authority is part of the general policy of keeping down prices. For instance, prices might be "boosted" in Bristol, and "boosted" is the proper word. It might be in the interests of all concerned —it is in the interests of all concerned—in such a, case to leave Bristol free to slow down and enable us to get on in other parts of the country where no attempt has been made to put up prices. How can I guarantee to the industry? I can guarantee in this way. In the earlier years, at any rate, if even half the local authorities decided to build houses, they would mop up all our available supplies of labour and materials during those earlier years, and it would give us an opportunity of ascertaining who are the defaulting authorities; who are the local authorities who will not build, who are the reactionary local authorities. I wish to say about Birmingham that it is the most progressive local authority in housing in England. At any rate, it is one of them—I will put it as high as that. It has been one of the most active in building houses, though I am not going to say there are not other good ones. During these earlier years, when we could not supply all the demand in any circumstances, we have an opportunity, as I say, of ascertaining the defaulting local authorities, and then, in the case of defaulting local authorities, there is power, under Section 4 of the 1919 Act, for the State to go in and build where the local authorities have defaulted. That enables us, as the State, to make the scheme watertight by giving a guarantee to the building industry.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Are you going to include in your guarantee to the building trade an undertaking that you will come in and build State houses, in the event of the local authorities not doing so?
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
No. I want to say that no one in the course of the negotiations contemplated such a. situation. Our feeling in the Ministry and I am sure it will be shared in the House, is that the local authorities are enthusiastically in favour of building houses. There is no danger at all of the demand for houses not meeting the supply for many years after the 15 years are over.
The question is asked, "Assuming your scheme is sound, can we really afford it?" Some people say that, the industry will not give the houses. If they do not give the houses, then they do not take the money. Always remember that point. All these tables of figures, all these sums of money, will only be asked for if the industry does deliver the houses. I am inclined to think that those who talk about the sum being so great really believe the houses will be built. I do not think there is much dread in the minds of certain critics of the houses not coming. First, as to the capital expenditure, I notice that statistical maniacs have been totalling up the sum that will be required to give us two and a half million houses at £50C each, and they say that the nation cannot afford all that money May I remind these financiers that whoever builds the houses it, will take the same amount of capital, and not one penny more, and it may take considerably less, if they are erected under the control system which I am laying down in these proposals.
As to the annual expenditure, which I believe at the peak will be £34,000,000, State and local authorities combined, it seems when you work it out to be a terrible sum, but it is just 1 per cent. of our national income, and if we cannot afford 1 per cent. of our national income to remove what is really a cancer in the heart of our community, then we are not worthy of the income that the blessing of modern knowledge is putting at our disposal. Again, it may interest some hon. Members to know that the sum, even at its peak, is only equal to 10 per cent. of the national drink bill. If I had the time and the desire and wanted to make out 1121 a tempting prospect for my policy, I could prepare very quickly a table on the credit side of this scheme which would more than balance the expenditure. I would show its contribution towards wiping out disease, its contribution towards diverting our youth from the Employment Ex-changes into useful industry, and towards spending our millions in useful employment instead of in the maintenance of an unemployed army. I want to say about unemployment that the proper and scientific method of dealing with it is to put your people, in youth, into occupations in which they have a reasonable prospect of earning an honest livelihood and, if I might say a word to those who have been putting forth the claims of the ex-service men, the movement on foot in connection with my scheme of organising the sons of ex-service men as apprentices for the building industry, is one of the finest contributions you can make to the memory of those who have served you in days gone by. In conclusion, I want to thank the Committee for the tolerance and patience which they have shown. I submit this scheme, firmly believing that if it is adopted it is one in which we can visualise the building industry growing stronger and stronger every year, meeting our annual wants in housing, removing the shortage in housing, and taking the population of this country out of the shadow of the slum.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The Committee is indebted to the Minister of Health for the way in which he has outlined his great scheme. I am afraid the Committee will be forced before I have spoken long to realise that he has put me in the very difficult position of having to deal on the spur of the moment with facts and figures which have not previously been put before us. We have not the details in print, and I have had to take such notes as I could of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and therefore I ask hon. Members opposite to afford me every courtesy and kindness in my attempt to deal in a practical manner with the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has just made. I propose to deal with it from three points of view—first, the need for these houses second, the finances of the scheme; and, third, the labour conditions of the scheme. If the right hon. Gentle- man succeeds in satisfying the House on 1122 the last two points the House will give him his Bill. If, on the other hand, the House is not satisfied by the time these Debates are over that the finance and the arrangements are sound, and that he will be able to get the necessary labour—as to which point I very much fear—then the House will not give that support to the scheme for which the right hon. Gentleman has asked. We all admit there is need for building. We admit it on this side of the House just as much as hon. Members on the other side. Despite the Measure which my right hon. Friend the Member for the Ladywood Division of Birmingham (Mr. N. Chamberlain) brought in and passed last year for the building of further houses, T am quite prepared to admit there is a need, but I think the Committee should realise that the need is not quite the same as some people imagine.
I have the advantage of having been a predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman at the Ministry of Health, and there I found a remarkable fact—namely, that to-day the number of people per occupied house is less than it was 10 years ago. It is only 4.67 to-day, and in 1911 it was 4.93. That has arisen from the fact that the half million empty houses which were always available in pre-War days have all been absorbed into occupation. That is one of the principal reasons for the difficulty in housing to-day and for the rise in rents. I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me—because his own political economy this afternoon did not seem to me to be quite sound—but I put it this way—1,000 houses, 500 applicants, a low rent; 1,000 applicants, 500 houses, a high rent. There you get the whole political economy of supply and demand in one sentence, and the best way of getting rid of the high rent and the privations which undoubtedly occur is to increase the supply of houses by any means in your power—not necessarily by increasing the number built by the housing authorities, but by getting houses built of any type and any description by any person or any body or any authority. The moment you get a surplus of houses over and above the requirements of the people, down go the rents, tumbling down, and until you get that surplus the rents will continue high. The right hon. Gentleman asked permission to suspend the laws of supply and demand. I do not think, able as he undoubtedly is, that be 1123 is clever enough to do that. I almost wonder why he does not tackle as well the laws of gravitation.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
These laws may be interfered with temporarily. There may be inroads made upon them, but the whole of the right hon. Gentle man's scheme, as he frankly told us, is a scheme to suspend the laws of supply and demand, and I am going to put it to the House that the existing system, coupled with the laws of supply and demand, the desire of men—if you like, the unholy desire of men—to make profit by business enterprise, which is shared by the working people as well, who desire their share in a rise in wages—I do not object to their doing so; it is part and parcel of human nature, which is common to employer and the employed. The right hon. Gentleman made some rather unfair re marks about the souls of the Conservative party. It was not worthy of his speech. It was a good speech, and those kind of sentiments—I do not think he believes in them himself—do not help us in this very difficult matter. We, on this side, are just as much concerned with matters of slum clearance as he is. He told us that all the great local authorities were politically opposed to him and that nearly all the great local authorities are keen on dealing will the slum question. I have been in the office which the right hon. Gentleman now holds, and to say that we have no souls on this matter is not fair.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
What I said was that evidently the objection to my sob-stuff indicated that I was not to speak here to your souls but to your pockets.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I think the Noble Lady is quite right. I was not going to use the term "sob stuff" in regard to the right hon. Gentleman. It is not necessary in this House. We know the difficulties, and we want him to assume that all three parties are just as much concerned and just as eager to deal with the question of housing as he is, though we have different views on political economy. We believe that it should be dealt with in one way, and he believes 1124 that it should be dealt with in another way, a way which, unfortunately, we fear will not lead to the success which he anticipates. I am going to deal with the question of finance, because you cannot get rid of the financial difficulties of this scheme by merely saying it is 10 per cent. of this or 1 per cent. of the other. That may be very well for a public meeting, but it will not do for a Committee of this House. I am going to base a good deal of my argument on the success of the Act of 1923, which imposes a capital subsidy of £75 upon the State for every house built under it. The present value of the subsidy of the right hon. Gentleman, £9 for 40 years, is £162, plus £4 10s for 40 years from the rates, or a capital subsidy of somewhere about £240 to £243. Those figures will not be denied by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. The burden on the country, as admitted in the right hon. Gentleman's White Paper amounts sooner or later, paid year by year. to something like £1,400,000,000.
Only last week I heard the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) standing at this Box and making some observations in regard to finance. He will forgive me, as a beginner, in saying that they seemed to be exceedingly apposite, and he warned the Chancellor of the Exchequer that every Chancellor of the Exchequer should budget with his eye on future Budgets and not merely budget for this year alone. We have here an enormous scheme which budgets for some £270,000 expenditure only this year, a little more the following year, rising in the year 1939–;40 to £23,000,000 a year, standing at £23,000,000 a year for another 22 years, and then gradually going down. The right hon. Gentleman, if his scheme be a success, is fastening on future Chancellors of the Exchequer this enormous burden, without taking the slightest trouble or consulting, I assume, his own Chancellor of the Exchequer as to how that money is to be provided in the years to come. He smiles. He may say, "Thank God, I shall not be Chancellor of the Exchequer then. We shall all be out of office, and we will leave it to our successors, whoever they may be, to find that money." But it is right that the Committee and the country should realise what we are putting on our shoulders. We all talk of the need of economy and of the need for paying off Debt, and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer com- 1125 plained, I remember, last year, though it was not so apparent in his Budget this year, that we were not paying off Debt sufficiently rapidly. By this scheme we are placing on the shoulders of the country another debt equal to, or greater than, all the amount of debt that has been paid off since the Armistice. To put it in another way, we are putting a debt on the country very nearly equivalent to our total Debt and our total obligation to America at the present time.
Many are the complaints one hears about our liabilities to America. Many are the complaints I have heard about the annual liability, the cost to trade and commerce, of paying off that debt. It may be right to put this new debt on our shoulders, but there it is, and it is nearly as big in its liability, because it runs to 60 years and to £23,000,000, as our total commitment to America at present. There is a further liability on the cost of the scheme. This subsidy does not pay for the houses. It is only a subsidy to protect the local authority against the loss which it makes in its rent. In addition to this £1,300,000,000, the houses have to be built, and 2,500,000 houses at £500 each will be about another £1,250,000,000, which has to be borrowed by the local authorities, for which interest will have to be paid, for which sinking fund will have to be paid, and ultimately it will have to be paid off, In other words, the total cost of this scheme to the country as a whole—whether it be partly State and partly local authorities really matters little—the obligation entered into by the scheme is £2,500,000,000, or, roughly, about a third of the National Debt at the present time. That is the obligation which, if the scheme be a success, we are placing round our necks at this moment.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The hon. Member is generally rather right, but he has apparently forgotten that these houses work out, and are derelict at the end of 60 years.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
That is the basis on which all houses are built, for 60, 70 or 80 years, at the end of which time they will be scrapped, and the hon. Member's assets will have disappeared. That is the basis of the problem of house building. You may keep your houses in some instances a little longer, but, generally speaking, they go to pieces in 60 or 80 years. I want to consider whether it is really necessary, having arrived at what the figure will be, to turn the country upside down with this enormous expenditure, and here I differ from the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the figures he gave us as to the Act of my right hon. Friend who was Minister of Health last year. Under the Act of 1923, there have been 161,000 applications to my right hon. Friend, myself, and my successor, the right hon. Gentleman, for houses built with subsidy. Some 133,556 houses have been authorised, many of them by the right hon. Gentleman himself, up to 1st May last. I was rather in hopes that he would have given us the figures up to 1st June, but I presume we shall get those in a week's time. Out of that number, one-third are being built by local authorities, and no less than two-thirds are being built by private enterprise. These are figures given, not by myself, but by the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to questions generally by the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor), month by month in this House, and they cannot be gainsaid. Of that number, 10,519 are already completed, and many of them are occupied. There are under construction 36,000 of these houses, of which 14,000 are already roofed in, and there are 85,380 houses included in definite arrangements of which the finance has been settled or contracts entered into. The right hon. Gentleman took the building year to the end of September next. Having regard to the number completed, the number under construction, the number under contract, I say to him—and it is for the Committee to form its opinion—that there will be a very considerably larger number than 40,000 houses built by the end of September this year.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY indicated dissent.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I say 1127 that 10,000 are completed, 14,000 are roofed in, and another 24,000 are already being built.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
We all know what took place during the War. It was common ground with all of us that we could not build them during the War, and we all want them built at the present time. The difference is that we want to get the right hon. Gentleman to permit of private enterprise building these houses, to give private enterprise a chance to build them, and not to make them all State-aided or municipally-aided houses. He made another remark, in regard to houses built for what he calls rich people. He said there are houses being built outside the subsidy scheme, and he gave the figure of 70,000 such houses, a much better number than I thought. I should have been quite satisfied if he had told me that 40,000 houses were being built to-day outside the subsidy scheme, but he has given us the figure of 70,000. Nearly all of these are small houses.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Many of them are houses which are within the terms of this Act, but which got no subsidy because the very object of my right hon. Friend and myself—and I had many cases before me—was not to waste public money in giving a subsidy unless it was needed. If a proposal was put before me to build houses, say, in a suburb of London or a great city where there was a large demand for this subsidy type of house, I said: "There is no need to give you a subsidy. Go you, and build your houses. You can sell them and get rid of them, and you will make a profit." A very large number of that kind were refused by us, and I dare-say by the right hon. Gentleman too, because there was no need to waste the subsidy where houses were being built by private enterprise. I will give him another case. When I was at the Ministry I tried to find out how many large houses were being built. Last year only 800 houses of more than 12 roams were built 1128 in this country. [HON. MEMBERS:" Oh!"] Hon. Members will surely allow people to have larger houses if they wish it? The great bulk of these houses are being built without subsidies; and 70,000 small houses are being built for the working-class population.
§ Mr. CLIMIE
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us any district where small houses which would come under the subsidy are being built now and where the subsidy has not been paid?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Yes, certainly, I can tell the hon. Member. [HON. MEMBER: "Go to Wembley!"] Yes, go to Wembley, or to Malden, and you will find case after case. I myself have refused subsidies for houses which came within the limit of the Act of my right hon. Friend. There is no question about that.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
There is no doubt about it. If my hon. Friend opposite will put a question to his own colleague, the Minister of Health, he will find any number of cases where houses that would otherwise be liable for the subsidy are getting no subsidy. There is no need to waste public money the demand for houses is so great that when they are built they are easily disposed of. I think we shall succeed in building these houses. The whole case of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Health is based not on houses to sell, but on houses to let. I join issue with him completely. Give me 100,000 houses. I do not care what becomes of them. People will go into them, and people will vacate other houses.
§ Mr. MARLEY
The workers always get second-class houses, and always have got them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] It is quite true. They live in second-class houses all their lives.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I remember the house I first lived in. It must be a very second-hand house by now. What we have to try to do is to get private enterprise going. The right hon. Gentleman opposite taunted us on this side with being anxious as to private enterprise; but we have got to get the engine going. What we want is that the right hon. 1129 Gentleman shall not interfere -with the engine and stop it. If he will see to that, it will go faster. I want the Committee to consider the figures of the right hon. Gentleman. He has told us that he is counting on 100,000 houses per annum. I think that is an entirely fallacious statement. I think 60,000 or 70,000 houses will be considerably nearer the mark, but I am giving his own figures for the moment.
The real crux of his difficulty is the labour question. Anyone who is going to build more houses has in some way to provide more labour. How is he going to get over that difficulty? The right hon. Gentleman has not dealt with it. He has shirked the question. He has handed it over to this statutory or non-statutory committee. He has told the committee that they must find some way to guarantee the number of houses. He has said that he would not be responsible. The House of Commons, which rules this country, is not to be responsible. He has told this committee: "You must do it. I will trust to you to find the labour, and so on." [An HON. MEMBER: "You shirked it."] I did not shirk it. If hon. Members look they will find that I did not shirk this question of dealing with labour. Just consider for a moment. I could have got. double the number of houses of the right hon. Gentleman. Take the case of Birmingham. At the end of last year—and surely this is the very essence of the case—for housing contracts running, there were 899 bricklayers: required, and on other Corporation contracts, 146, or a total of 1,045. There was a deficit in Birmingham of 606 bricklayers. These are statements by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health given in answer to questions. It appears from a question the other day that Birmingham has drained the surrounding district country and town in order to get bricklayers. In spite of that fact Birmingham is prepared to-day to -start building more than double the number of houses they are building, but they cannot get bricklayers to build them. When the right hon. Gentleman was dealing with the case he spoke of the carpenters and joiners. We all know that some of these are out of work, because they cannot get to the houses: for you cannot utilise your carpenters and joiners unless you have enough bricklayers to go on building the houses. When T was Minister, Work? 1130 ington wanted to build 500 houses. They have there no unemployed bricklayers, one plasterer and one slater. I gave them permission to put up 24. Hull wanted 600. They had two bricklayers unemployed in Hull, no plasterers and no slaters. I gave them permission to put up 200. Norwich applied for 1,000 houses. I made inquiries here and found that in some respects Norwich was a more fortunate city than others. They had 27 bricklayers unemployed, seven plasterers, and no slaters. I gave them permission to build 200 houses.
What happened after all this? I got the figures from the right hon. Gentleman himself. At Workington up to date there are 50 houses sanctioned and the right hon. Gentleman has sanctioned a few more. Not one has been commenced: there is no labour. At Hull out of 984 houses sanctioned, 341 have been commenced, 64 have been completed, and they have eight bricklayers unemployed which is the only town where there is unemployment in this matter. That is to say temporarily unemployed. Where have the men gone to? The fact is they are not here. We want them here. In Norwich there are 447 houses authorised, 138 begun, two completed, no bricklayers available. In Bristol there are 1,347 authorised, 471 begun, 146 completed and one bricklayer unemployed. In West Bromwich there are 271 approved, 62 begun, 17 completed. In all these places, Birmingham, Workington, Hull, Norwich, Bristol, West Bromwich, there are to-day only 13 bricklayers unemployed; and the local authorities are calling for workmen. They are energetic. They have got their authorisations, but they cannot build their houses because they cannot get the workmen to do it. The same thing applies all over the country. The right hon. Gentleman told us about the number of bricklayers 20 years ago and now. There are only 53,000 as against 109,000 20 years -ago. There are 13,000 plasterers against 227,000 20 years ago. There are 2,800 slaters against 8,400 20 years ago. To erect 100,000 small houses a year would require 20,000 bricklayers—that is to say, 100,000 next year in addition to those now being built. Really at the moment I am trying to find out whether if we give the right hon. Gentleman the money for which he is asking he will he able to de-liver the goods! He has asked for 1131 100,000 small houses of a certain type, and for these there are still required 20,000 more bricklayers, 7,000 more plasterers, and 1,700 slaters, in addition to the other workers concerned. I will not weary the House by reading further.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Anyone who desires to see these figures will find them in the Report to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, on pages 12 and 13. Suggestions have been made by the other side that we should stop all the other work, what is termed luxury building, but the right hon. Gentleman's committee would not have that at any price —and quite rightly—because if you stop building commercial buildings, railway stations, factories, workshops and all that kind of work, because you want to get on to small houses, you break up the commerce of the country and prevent your trade competing with that of other countries. You throw out incalculably a greater number of men than you get in in the other way. These large buildings make a lot of work not only for bricklayers but for those who are engaged in the steel making that is necessary for them, and if you put 10,000 bricklayers off work of that kind and on to the smaller work you would probably throw 40,000 men out of work. Of course that cannot be done, it cannot be thought of for a moment!
I am now coming to a matter which is rather more debatable, and that is the cause of some of this difficulty. I have not been afraid previously to express my views with reference to this matter. All through, since the close of the War, the Government of the day have tried to come to terms with the building trade unions. My right hon. Friends who were in the Coalition Government tried. Dr. Addison, as he told the House quite frankly when he was dealing with this subject, said:I have got no help from organised labour in this matter.He made that statement in this House. In February, 1920, the building trade unions met at Manchester and passed a Resolution:To resist the dilution of building trade labour with the utmost strength of our organisation.1132 At that time there was a great shortage of skilled men in the building trade. The Government in December, 1920, actually offered the Building Trade Union £1,250,000 if it would take 50,000 ex-service men in and train them at £5 per head. The trade union considered this offer and they rejected it by an enormous majority. I think at that time there were 300,000 ex-service men out of employment in the country. These were men who wanted work, who were willing to work, but the trade unions would not allow them. An hon. Member suggests that it was selfishness on their part. Perhaps, but in any case they said: "We are entitled to protect ourselves. We do not recognise any liability to the ex-service men to provide them with work. We want to have nothing to do with these men, and we will not take them in." My right hon. Friend opposite, in dealing with this question of trade unions, mentioned the word "liberty." Where is the liberty I want liberty for the unemployed man to work at a decent trade. You have in your unions half the number of men you had twenty years ago as, far as bricklayers are concerned. Why should you keep the trade closed like that? [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not closed."] Then why do you pass resolutions stating that you will resist dilution to the utmost extent of your power?
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
The objection to the dilution proposed is to the way in which it is suggested to augment the building industry. The industry desire to allow a very much larger number of apprentices. The point I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman is that, whether you have dilutees or apprentices, you will have to train them and make them economic units, and we suggest that it is better to do this by means of apprenticeship and give them a thorough training rather than a. had training.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
That is your answer, and it means that no ex-serviceman need apply, because everybody must be under 20 years of age. Here is the report upon which the right hon. Gentleman has based his case. It is apprenticeship for four years, and, 1133 therefore, the building trade under those circumstances might just as well go and play skittles.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
Since the right hon. Gentleman has referred to the report, may I point out that it says:That apprentices entering the trade prior to their twentieth birthday shall serve not Jess than four years. Special consideration shall he given to applicants who have had previous experience of the trade.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
It is fair to try and bowl one over by reading these extracts: but may I point out that one Clause begins:The Committee further recommends that these apprentices be accepted up to 20 years of age, and special consideration shall be given to applicants who have had previous experience of the building trade. Apprentices entering the trade prior to their twentieth birthday shall serve not less than four years.I want to see the builders' labourers having a chance, because I am sure they could make them skilled labourers in a very few months. There are thousands of able men who are only too keen and eager to join the union and become skilled labourers. At any rate, it is clear that you have not got the men, and I am asking the Minister of Health where he is going to get his men in order to build 100,000 houses. The right hon. Gentleman has suggested a committee composed of masters and men, upon which there will be no local authority or State representative. I do not know whether the expenses of this committee will be paid for by the State or not, but I assume their expenses will be paid by the State. The right hon. Gentleman asks xis to accept his word in regard to this matter, but I think he ought to show us that there is a reasonable chance of carrying out his scheme. He admits that he has no building labour available and no unemployed bricklayers, and there is no kind of guarantee as to whether the labour required will be found or not. Before I close I want to ask some questions which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will explain on the Second reading. What is the meaning of the last Clause in the Financial Resolution which reads:(d) To make provision for the amendment of the financial provisions of The Housing, &c, Act, 1923, and for other purposes incidental thereto or connected thoie-with.1134 Does that include some other financial expenditure I know there was a demand from the local authorities that in the event of this Act bringing down the rent of the houses built under other Acts the weekly loss should be made good. I could not quite make out from the right hon. Gentleman's statement whether he means -to make that good or not. If he does, and if the loss is to be anything like 2s. 6d. a week, I suppose he expects his scheme will produce a house at less cost than the London County Council is building to-day. I understand that under the Act of 1923 they are building houses to let at something like 11s. 3d., and the computation is that the right hon. Gentleman's houses will cost 11s. 6d. per week. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will explain this point, because if his scheme if. going to produce; houses at a less rent than the London County Council is now charging there will have to be a diminution of rent in the case of all those houses at Becontree and other places all over the country. Who is going to bear all that loss? That is the point which the right hon. Gentleman has not explained. I see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman) looks as though he is going to speak. I want to call his attention to the very remarkable resolution passed, I think unanimously, by the National Liberal Federation at Brighton. I am trying to discuss this matter without heat, and to find out whether these proposals will work. If they will and do not cast too heavy a burden on the country they will go forward, but if they will not work then they are light and airy schemes not in accordance with the law of gravitation or the law of supply and demand. I want to know if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme is going to base himself on the resolution passed at Brighton, and which is as follows:The Council of the National Liberal Federation regards the present shortage of houses as a serious and dangerous social evil, and declares that the Government should undertake full responsibility for ensuring that the necessary number of houses is built as soon as possible, making full use both of local authorities and of all suitable forms of private enterprise. The Council considers that an increase both of the number of skilled artisans and of the rate of output in the different sections of the trade is vital to the success of any housing scheme; and while it welcomes the proposal in the recent report of the Building Trades1135 Committee to secure augmentation of labour, it regrets that the report appears to adopt a standard of output which is actually lower than the normal standard of 20 years ago. The Council accepts the necessity for a long period housing programme in order to increase the available supply of labour and material in a businesslike and systematic way. But it recognises the danger of such a guarantee resulting in enhanced prices, and is only prepared to support a Bill which provides the fullest possible safeguards against such a result."I do not think the Minister will agree with all that is in that resolution, and I want to know whether the Liberal party is going to stand by that resolution, and, at least, I hope they are, because I am in favour of private enterprise and so are they. If there be one thing that the pro posal we are considering does it kills private enterprise. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is killed already:"] The wish is father to the thought. The desire of the minister is to kill private enterprise. We know that from his speeches. He wishes to make it as dead as the hon. Member opposite thinks it is going to be. The hon. Member for Withington (Mr. E Simon) moved that resolution, which the Council of the Liberal Federation accepted, and in doing so he said:They always came up against one difficulty. For practically the whole time there has been an inadequate supply of labour, especially of skilled labour.The hon. Member went on to deal with this proposal, and he said thatif they were going to grant enormous subsidy to housing they should exact something to the effect that it would be illegal to strike against the building of houses.He went on to say:not absolutely illegal, because that was impossible, but compulsory arbitration; he hoped it would be possible for the Liberal party to put down Amendments on these lines.Then the hon. Member for Withington, amid cheers, proceeded to say:In return for the definite subsidy labour should agree to the employment of a definite number of men.On that I agree with the Liberal party, because I want to see a definite number of men employed. He went on to say:They must see that private enterprise which was willing and able to co-operate in building houses was given the fairest possible chance of doing so.Where is the fair chance in this Bill? The private enterprise man is left under 1136 the Act of 1923 to build houses with a subsidy of £75, in competition with a local authority which is going to build the same kind of houses with a subsidy of 2243. Again—They must see"—and here also I agree with the Liberal party—that the thrifty workman who had saved some money and was prepared to buy a house received generous terms. Surely the owner-occupier was the man they wanted to encourage.There is no sign of it in this Bill. It is wiped out In the schemes that are just now in progress, and there is one going on in my own constituency, working man after working man is building his house, or getting it built for him, potting down his £50 which he has saved, and very often bringing that £50 to the local authority in 50 £1 notes which he has put by week after week in order to make provision for building his house. They are building those houses on a loan made by the local authority under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act, and they pay over 30 years, less than the amount of the rent of those houses. In 30 years a man becomes the owner of his house. That is what we want to encourage; that is what the Liberal party want in encourage; and that will be absolutely smashed under the provisions of this Bill. I want the right hon. Gentleman, before this proposal comes before us in the form of a Bill for Second Reading, to consider These things.
I have not made a bitter speech this afternoon. I recognise the great effort which the right hon. Gentleman has made is producing this scheme. I have grave doubts as to whether it will really work, and those doubts are founded, firstly, on the enormous outgoings, and, secondly, on the grave difficulty in regard to labour. The right hon. Gentleman has not satisfied me that he has got the labour. I will not deal, because I am sure other Members will deal, with the question the cost of materials. That is one of the most difficult problems. The right hon. Gentleman is going to try and stop the rise in the cost of materials. That was tried during the War, and everyone knows how it failed. The right hon. Gentleman said this afternoon that he recognises that there may be a rise in the cost of wages, there may be a rise in the cost of materials, and there may be a rise in the cost 1137 of living, which acts and reacts; and he is going to try and prevent a rise in the profits of the man who builds, or who makes bricks, or whatever it may be. T only hope that he may be able to do it. I do not object, hut I believe it to be impossible. I believe he will get into greater trouble than he is in to-day. I believe he will stop the production of these things, which can only be produced by the free interplay of the laws of supply and demand.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Wait one moment. I did not mean to do it, but, if the Committee will forgive me, part of the proposal of the building trade material people in this remarkable Report is that foreign imports should be prevented, and I will read it—In the opinion of the Committee, it is extremely desirable, in the national interests, that no foreign manufactured goods should be used on houses built under Government subsidy.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I agree, but I am dealing with the makers, with the origin of the materials, and you cannot suppose that they will put in Capital, make new brickfields, build new factories for the production of materials which the right hon. Gentleman must have, unless they are given this, not protection, not a tariff, bat complete blocking out of all foreign materials. That is a nut which the right hon. Gentleman has to crack at some time or other. He has not told us anything about it; he (lid not read that part of the Report; but he will have to deal with it before the Second Reading of the Bill. I wish him luck in trying to solve all these difficulties. He is a great man. He has very quickly raised himself by his abilitiy to a high position in the House of Commons, but if he can solve all these difficulties which I have put before him this afternoon, he will be one of the greatest men that have ever sat on those benches.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) on two things—firstly, on his good-tempered and interesting speech, and, secondly, on the nature of his studies day 1138 by day, and especially the authorities to which he goes in order to obtain sound information concerning the housing question. I can commend to him and his friends no better subject than discussions such as those which were held in the National Liberal Federation. If he is in complete agreement with them, if the ideas of my hon. Friends behind me meet with his approval, I can assure him that, with the excellent knowledge and skill he possesses, there will always be found a small corner for him on this bench when he chooses to leave a dying party and join ours. Considering the hour, and the number of other Members who will want to speak, it is obvious that it would be monstrous of me to occupy very much of the time of the Committee, and I shall, therefore, leave to my hon. Friends, both of whom are present, any justification they choose to make concerning the challenge which has been made. I shall only say that, so far as I know myself, every statement made by them is a statement to which the bulk of our party would adhere, and every statement made by them can be comprised within the, four corners of the Government Bill. If the Minister will be willing to accept with an open mind certain Amendments which are to be put upon the Paper, and will deal with the whole subject, not as the product of one party but of the House as a whole, there is not the slightest reason why this scheme of building necessary houses should not be combined also with a scheme by which men who want to own their own houses should have the fullest facilities for doing so. There is no divergence between the two, there is no opposition between the two, and there is no reason why the two should not be combined.
I speak under the same difficulty as my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham. Despite the extraordinary lucidity and excellence of the speech of the Minister of Health, we do not even know what the Bill is going to be, and, if I were to ask him all that is to he done, I should spend the remainder of my speech in showering questions upon him. All that we know is that we are provided now with a general Money Resolution. I have no criticism to make of that Resolution, certainly not on account of its wideness, because a Bill can always limit a Money Resolution. If I had any criticism to make, it would he that it is not sufficiently wide, and 1139 especially on one point. I cannot quite understand why the Minister should consider it necessary to draw his Resolution so tight that no houses can be built under any conditions by any local authority with the subsidy it provides, except within the very strict limits as to dimensions which the Minister denounced more than anyone else in the House, and with greater eloquence, less than a year ago. If he says he has come to an agreement with the local authorities, surely that agreement does not prevent him from putting the widest possible arrangements of a permissive character in the Bill. No local authority need build larger Houses if they do not want to do so, but, if they do, if they are moved by the very eloquent speech which the Minister made a year ago, when he stated that houses of these dimensions were not fit for working people to live in, I suggest that he should be good enough to accept an Amendment which is being proposed from these benches, and allow the fullest possible terms in the Resolution, however much he may consider it necessary to, or persuade the Committee to, limit the conditions when the Bill is brought in.
The second point that I should like to make is this: The Minister has told us this afternoon, and I have followed the Debates on these questions for some months, of a number of agreements and conditions, some of them signed, some the result of consultation, some of which have been published, and some of which, I believe, have not hitherto been issued. I am speaking, not only for myself, but for a number of hon. Gentlemen in the House, including my right hon. Friends on these benches, when I ask if the Minister could see his way, before the Second Reading of the Bill takes place, to issue a White Paper giving us in a concise form all these various agreements? Although the right hon. Gentleman has the right, as Minister of Health and as representing the Government, to enter into tentative agreements with various authorities, I am sure he will agree that we have the right to know what those agreements are, and to say whether the House of Commons is prepared as a whole to implement the tentative arrangements he has made. I think he will probably be willing to do that. There is another point that I want to 1140 make at the beginning. I am not one of those who wish the right hon. Gentleman's scheme not to go through. I know so much intimately of the terrible conditions of the people at the present time, and of the result on future generations of a, continuance of those conditions, that I wish all these doubts to be removed, and all vested interests of any sort broken down, in order that this number of houses may be erected, for you are leaving a worse legacy to a subsequent generation by letting people grow up under the conditions in which they are living than any financial legacy which may be established by this Bill or by the encouragement of private enterprise.
Let me, on the other hand, make clear what it is exactly that we are doing. With commendable fortitude and composure we are building for ourselves houses for which our children's children will pay. This is a course which is sometimes described as courageous, and is sometimes described as heroic. Whether they will use those adjectives in connection with it remains conjectural. From 1940, after the last of these houses have been built, until 1963, more than £35,000,000 of public money will have to be raised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the clay in order to pay for these houses, quite apart from further houses which will be required in that generation, and all the other apparatus of slum clearance and the particular needs of future times. Therefore, although it is, easy to throw these things on posterity, we must, as the High Court of Parliament, consider what the verdict will he in the future, as to whether we do well or ill in this matter and I think it will be determined by two considerations, which I will submit with humility to the Committee. The first will be, "Is the building that you have done good enough for us, looking back on it now and considering it at this time "—in 1960, or at some other time—" or have you rather done things in your building which are not of the kind that we should have expected you to do when we have to pay for the building in our time? "The second question is," Have you had sufficient intelligence and courage"—not as a Member of a Government, but as a United Parliament, all of whom are called upon to take responsibility, and with a Government which has the right to claim that it is in a minority—"Have you had 1141 sufficient intelligence and courage to defy all prejudices, to break down all vested interests, not to be led away by false arguments, in order that you shall make as light as possible the burden that you are laying upon future generations, and shall not lay upon them a burden which might not have been what it was if you had adopted other possible and conceivable courses?"
As to the general question of subsidised houses, of course, it has nothing whatever to do with Socialism at all. Socialism ought not to have been introduced into the matter. Socialism is a vague word, and very few people in the House or outside have the slightest idea what it means. If it be Socialism for a local authority to build houses, that was first started by the party opposite in 1890. If it be Socialism to subsidise houses built by local authorities, that has been done by every Government since 19L9, every one of which has made a hopeless failure of the housing question. What I should be doubtful about is this. Is the best way of subsidising what are, roughly, called the working classes, the subsidising of the houses of a certain limited number, and is not there a possible danger that you will find yourselves getting back to the same condition as when you subsidised wages—to the pre-1834 Poor Law? I offer that for consideration. I do not say that should prevent us giving a subsidy, but I say it should make us very anxious to cut that subsidy to the lowest possible dimensions, and, if possible, get to a condition when we can build without it, and to leave no stone unturned to build cheaply and quickly for the present needs which we are encountering to-day.
Our sole test is net the price of the houses. It is the question whether by the present scheme the Minister of Health will obtain more houses and obtain them more quickly. There is only a limited number of people in the country after all, and the bulding of any houses except the houses of the rich must lighten the pressure of those who now demand houses. So it is idle to say that if you built and could let 200,000 or 300,000 houses to the middle classes, or what are sometimes unfortunately called the lower middle classes, you would riot to that extent relieve the pressure on the working people and enable large numbers of them to obtain accommodation which they cannot 1142 obtain at present. That makes me rather doubtful whether you ought to have such a strict limit of conditions as to the houses to which you will give a subsidy.
Therefore you come back entirely to what is the real heart and kernel of the whole matter, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite very rightly asserted, and that is how are you going to obtain the supply of those who are going to build those houses as quickly as you can? I do not know how much the right hon. Gentleman still adheres to the Building Committee Report. I thought he had thrown it over in substantial particulars. I hoped that he had. I am certain a scheme carried out under the conditions of that Report will not receive the approval of the majority of Members of the House. He has apparently abandoned the idea of a statutory Committee to deal with labour. They demanded control over that labour. They demanded the power of disciplining those who would not come into their building trust—a rather ominous and rather unfortunate word. They demanded the power of rationing local authorities with labour. How you are going to ration local authorities with labour without raising the price at which houses are built I cannot understand.
They demanded that there should be no migration from one place to another —fixing the workmen to one particular area. It seems to me a retrograde proposition. They demanded that there should be one labour rate for all work. They refused to accept any training of skilled labour in other trades or any training for ex-service men, except a tiny reservation that they might under certain circumstances permit some of those who are now builders labourers to come into the building trade. Their sole contribution in order to increase the supply was that they should extend the apprenticeship system which, however, should be limited to those under 20 years of age, and that only a limited number should he admitted into the building trade unless they have served four years.
I do not know whether the right non. Gentleman has abandoned the system which one of the leaders of the building material combine said he demanded, what he called a reasonable amount of protection—and Heaven only knows what a reasonable amount of protection is—for English manufacturers of material on 1143 which alone a ring or combine can live, which I am glad to see the Noble Lord opposite, whose Tariff Reform sentiments are, I think, unimpeachable, denounces in a great London newspaper in the interests of the great majority of people, who demand the freest possible play and the freest possible encouragement for the cheapest possible material to be brought in untaxed from every corner of the world. This is the heart of the whole matter.
It is nonsense for anyone on these benches—I have not the impertinence to speak of hon. Members opposite—to say that, by asking for a larger supply of labour in this great emergency, we either want to war against or destroy trade unions, or that we want to bring down the wages of those who are in the building industry. The thing is grotesque. What are we faced with? Every trade unionist, every builder, every skilled craftsman in the building trade is fully occupied at present. You are now going to give a guarantee of continuous employment to the building trade, and you are going enormously to increase the output through the building of your 2,500,000 horses, in addition to the houses you may build through private enterprise.
Have we not the right to demand this one thing in return from the building trade? If we give you a 15 years' guarantee and you have not got the men in the trade to do this work, ought not you to come to the help of the nation, not to build cinemas and houses for the wealthy but houses for the very poorest of the community, by either allowing the Minister to train or yourself undertaking the training of the large numbers of skilled men in other trades who are now out of employment and receiving nothing but a miserable dole on which to live and of the men who were fighting in the War and could not go into any system of apprenticeship just because they were saving this nation in a dark hour. Unless you do that, your scheme will fail. If you do not do it it will be denounced as a fraud and sham, and it will be rightly denounced. If you will undertake, either in friendly negotiation with the building trade or by Government training of these men, not only to produce the necessary rearrangement in industry, but to give to an industry which is demanding these 1144 thousands of skilled men an opportunity of getting them in the public interest, your Bill will go through with general acclamation, and we shall be the first to congratulate you when it is passed.
Let me now speak honestly to hon. Members above the Gangway. There is not one single member of any great trade union here to-day who does not realise in what chaos and disorganisation the building trade has been. I do not want to attack the employer or the employed. The building trade is a protected trade, and has every vicious element of a protected trade. I do not want to go any further than the testimony of the Prime Minister himself. Last February, when outlining the Labour scheme, he said:Ca'canny has become the policy of both sides.There is not one of our great export trades which, if it was carried on as the building trade has been carried on up to DOW, would not be bankrupt and unable to maintain the export trade of the country. We do not seek to destroy the union, but to strengthen it. Take men who have been their comrades in other unions. Take the skilled engineers. They responded in the time of the War to the vast demand for engineers for the making of munitions, and under no circumstances which I can realise will those engineers be able to be re-absorbed in the engineering trade. They have to go to other trades. They are the largest trade that is unemployed. Here is a trade which wants 20 or 3o thousand more men at once, as soon as those men can be trained. No one will make me believe that a man who is a skilled engineer cannot be trained as a bricklayer or a plasterer. We ask for new methods. We ask for a reduction of cost in so far as it can be obtained by free competition. We ask for building quickly. We ask for new materials and methods of building houses in any way in which those houses can be built efficiently and cheaply. We ask, as far as possible, that this, great burden may he removed from posterity and that these houses may be let at economic rents, without those who are in them feeling that they are pensioners on the service of the State. I believe that in stating that I am carrying with me the overwhelming majority of the party above the Gangway.
My last appeal is this. I have gone back and have read with interest a great and 1145 eloquent speech, with no unnecessary sob-stuff, a very moving account of his own childhood which the Minister of Health made something like a year ago in this House. He was then moving the rejection on the Second Reading of the Act of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ladywood (Mr. N. Chamberlain). He moved it for various reasons. One was that there was nothing in it for obtaining the acquisition of the land necessary for building. I hope that will be in his Bill. Another was that there was nothing in it which would control rings and combines, which I regret to say he has now unfortunately fallen a victim to in amorous relations. He said there was only one way of undertaking the manufacture of building materials required for the housing problem, and that was some national undertaking. But, above all—this is what specially appealed to me—speaking for the future as well as the present, he appealed against the dimensions and the nature of the houses the right hon. Gentleman was going to build. It is true the dimensions were slightly enlarged in Committee, but I do not think in substance he would disagree with these words to-day:The houses are too small—they are miserably small. Those houses will never be homes. They will very soon be slums.….He is here laying clown the standard of housing in this country, not merely for to-day, but for 30 years to come—that he is stereotyping poverty. Why do you propose these boxes for our people? Are they inferior people to you? Are they less useful to the community than you? All these proposals emanate from men who believe in their souls that Britain is a spent force."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th April. 1943: col.335; Vol.163.]He does not believe Britain is a spent force. Let him give us an opportunity not of providing boxes, but satisfactory homes, for which his name will be honoured 30 years hence and not merely to-day, in the attempt to solve a difficult Question. One last general remark. We hive had two schemes during this last week dealing with the future, and here I want to appeal to the Committee without the slightest question of party at all. The one is to provide continuous benefit apart from contribution perhaps to a million men for an indefinite number of years. The other is to provide for those men and for others subsidised houses, in which the community in future will be both contributing to the cost of those 1146 men who are living in idleness under the unemployment scheme, and who will be living, not rent free, but at subsidised rents under the housing scheme. I say in all seriousness, to quote a historical statement,that is a condition to dizzy and appal.7.0 P.M.
It is not a civilisation; it is the negation of a civilisation. It is not a condition that we ought to contemplate for a moment as the condition of England in the twentieth century. I believe the continuous idleness and unemployment may be solved on the lines for which we pressed last Thursday. I believe these great subsidies may be removed if the right hon. Gentleman will take the decision, for which he is pressed from all questions, to build cheaply and quickly by breaking through all those regulations, and getting the men who are willing to work in the building of houses to contribute to the general nature of the scheme. I will guarantee that if he does that, though the scheme may have sonic opposition, he will be a bigger man and break down that opposition. In relations with the building industry, he will have the whole spirit of the House behind him, and he may get rid of these subsidies and the parasitic life into which we may turn large numbers of our work people if we are not careful, and which may lie as a nightmare on the generations to come.
§ Mr. HERBERT MORRISON
This afternoon we have heard from the Minister of Health the outline of a scheme which may do much to set on foot a rather more definite scheme of house building than we have had since the War. I am sure that I speak for my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches when I say with what satisfaction we have heard the statement of the Minister of Health. He has been in his office some appreciable time in working out the details of his scheme. He has discussed the principles upon which he would work with the employers and the workpeople in the building industry and with representatives of the local authorities. I think it must be admitted, having heard the scheme which he has put before the House, that the time that he has spent in securing sound foundations for his scheme has been time well spent, and is going to be productive and secure a degree of permanence for his 1147 scheme much greater and much more real than the schemes of his predecessors Those who have been engaged in the work of local authorities since the War have been appalled by the way in which, after housing schemes come along and have had their period of popularity and prosperity, prices have soared and reactionary in fluences have got to work and the speed of house building has gone down to zero once again. There was the scheme of Dr. Addison. There have been schemes since. I remember, on the London County Council, Lord Downham, a very enthusiastic Conservative for development, to whose efforts in this direction London owes a good deal, persuading the council to engage in a large housing scheme, and in a year or so a recommendation came forward to revert to the formal slow pace of building. I feel that there is a degree of permanence about this scheme which the Minister has brought forward, and its fundamental characteristic of endeavouring to get a scheme operating for fifteen years is the right spirit in which the housing problem should be faced.
The House has been discussing, and it will be discussing, on the initiative of hon. Members opposite and below the Gangway, the question of labour supply in the industry. The two biggest problems about the future of house building are the question of the supply of materials at reasonable prices and the adequate supply of labour. It would be foolish in the extreme if one denied that the problem of the labour supply, as well as the problem of the material supply, has been a real problem in the housing situation in recent years. It is a problem which statesmen and Members of Parliament have got to face, but I would beg the House, both the Conservative party and the Liberal party, not only to face the actuality of the labour shortage, but to face the psychological conditions which have produced that shortage in the building industry. I do not know whether hon. Members have ever read a book entitled "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. I would heartily recommend them to read it. There is a good deal of bad language in it, but it is none the worse for that and it describes in the most understanding and sympathetic way the psychology of the building trades workman. What was the trouble of the building trades 1148 workmen before the War! I want hon. Members to realise that if there has been a monopolistic instinct about the building trade unions it is not the fault of the workmen so much, it is not because of any anti-social instinct on the part of the workmen; it is a product of a social order which incites the workman from the cradle to the grave to look out for himself and let the general interests of society take second place.
The conditions of building trade labour before the War were these: The workman had it impressed upon him when he started the building of a house, that the sooner the job was finished the sooner was the likelihood of him becoming unemployed and thrown on the industrial scrap heap. That is a real psychological factor, which Members must take into account when dealing with the question of building trade labour. The whole incentive to the workman, whether he be labourer or skilled m. chanic in the industry before the War, was to make the job last in order to 1.ut off the evil day of unemployment. I here was an extraordinary degree of unemployment in the industry. There ware seasonal fluctuations. Members must know that it was the practice of the painter to get exceedingly busy on Good Friday morning in painting the local butcher's shop and getting slack at other times. There was a whole social incentive for the workman, first of all, to make, the job last, and to prevent other workmen coming into the industry. If we are going to deal with the problem of labour shortage, we have to give the workmen in the industry a sense of security, confidence, and of conviction that, if they will lo their duty by the State, the State will play the square game by the workmen in the building industry. I think the hon. Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman) will admit that the building industry did not have a square deal from the State and society before the War It was neglected. The workmen had long periods of unemployment. Society was indifferent to their sufferings, and I am perfectly sure that if society will give a square deal to the workmen, the workmen on their part will give a square deal to society.
The basis and principle upon which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has proceeded is that there shall be reasonable security of employment during 1149 the next 15 years. When we give the workmen that security we are entitled to say to them, "There must be reasonable recruitment of labour into the industry and particularly into the skilled occupations in the industry." That is conceded by the trade unions. It is really absurd to think you can within a fortnight make a skilled bricklayer. Bricklaying is an exceedingly skilled occupation. There was a great deal of discussion after the War as to the ability of bricklayers to lay bricks, as to the number of bricks they were laying, and, apart from the incentive to lay few bricks in order to make the job last, I was assured by an architect, who certainly was not a Labour man or a Socialist, that what we were suffering from largely was that the bricklayer had been out of his job for many years and had lost part of his skill. Therefore, it should be appreciated that the skill in these occupations is not rapidly secured and that we have to make due allowance.
The National Building Committee and the employers and workpeople have put forward two proposals. I confess I want to be satisfied that there is going to be adequate recruitment into the industry. It is stated in the Report that the existing labour in the industry can be almost wholly occupied in commercial work. It has to be recognised that commercial work requires a different character of skill from house building. I think Members might give sufficient credit to the proposals and the Report itself. First of all, it is stated that there shall be recruitment by way of an extended apprenticeship scheme to young people under 20 years of age. It is apparently accepted by the employers and the work-people in the industry that there is a great advantage in bringing people into skilled occupations while they are young, supple and nimble in the years under 20. I do not think the- right hon. Gentleman the Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) attached sufficient importance to the sentence which follows, namely:that special consideration shall, however, be given to applicants who have had previous experience of the trade; for example, building trade labourers.I read that is a proposal that the restriction of age shall not be applicable to labourers whom it is suggested should be 1150 promoted to the rank of skilled craftsmen. I suggest, without prejudice to the interests of the ex-service men which all of us are exceedingly anxious to meet—a good many labourers themselves are ex-service men—that instead of wholesale recruitment outside of the industry, there is a good deal to be said for the promotion of the unskilled labourer into the skilled ranks. He has been regarded sometimes, even by other workpeople, as belonging to a kind of lower grade, and surely it is in the interests of the industry itself that the unskilled labourer should have the first claim for promotion into the ranks of the skilled craftsmen in the industry of which he is already a member, and that then there should be recruited as unskilled labour workpeople from outside in which special consideration might well be given to the claims of the ex-service men. On practical grounds and on the legitimate ambitions of the labourer himself, that is the proper way to proceed, and I submit that that is already in the Report of the Committee by the sentence which I have read: Firstly, the recruitment of apprentices; secondly, the recruitment by promotion of the labourer to the ranks of the skilled craftsmen.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I quite agree with your interpretation of the Report as against my right hon. Friend, but your third point is not made in the Report.
§ Mr. MORRISON
It is not in words, hat surely it is clear that if you have apprentices, and then, if you can promote the labourer to skilled craftsmen, you create a shortage of labourers. There has never been any great limitation on the employment of labourers within the industry. The whole problem has been with the skilled craftsmen.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
The Minister of Health stated just now that there were very few builders' labourers and therefore there could not be that accession by progression. They have all gone.
§ Mr. MORRISON
I certainly did not hear the right hon. Gentleman say what the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) has described.
§ Mr. MORRISON
Well, show it to-morrow. I need not deal with it now. Above all, this problem of labour supply has to be dealt with on the basis of giving he workmen security and confidence. Hon. Members opposite are for ever claiming that yon must give capital a sense of confidence. There is something in that, but if it is right that capital should be given confidence and security, surely it is equally reasonable that the workman should be given confidence and security. [An HON. MEMBER: "Would you extend that to the agricultural labourer?"] Yes, I want everybody to have sufficient security. My claim is that the workman has not had it. The incentive on the part of trade unions to become close corporations is an incentive for which neither the workman nor the union are to blame. It is really ascribable to the conditions appertaining to the capitalistic system prevailing in this country. That is why I am a Socialist. The onus is on these who condemn, to produce social conditions in which it will not be necessary. The difficulty is that hon. Members condemn the workmen for looking after themselves. The basis of the social system is that the individual shall put his interests before the interests of society, but one cannot expect the humble worker to practice all the virtues of Socialism—and they are many—under a capitalistic system. Therefore, we have to get a fair deal for the workmen, and my right hon. Friend is trying to do that. We have a right, to expect, when we do get it, that we shall secure from the workman a fair deal with the community in return.
Further, we have to recruit from outside into the industry steadily. You are not going to recruit from outside into an industry which is one of the most insecure industries in the country. We shall have to make fathers who want to apprentice their sons to the industry feel that if they put them into the industry they are going to get a decent chance of a. livelihood. No father is going to spend money on apprenticing his son in order to put him into an industry in which foe half the year he may be out of work. It 1152 has been said we ought to look to private enterprise, rather than to public enterprise, to meet the shortage in the building industry. The Minister of Health has not excluded private enterprise from the possibility of activities under the scheme he is proposing. If private enterprise can do the job sufficiently well, there is nothing in the British Constitution or in the laws of Parliament to prevent from doing it. I notice an hon. Member opposite laughs. He is a great champion of private enterprise, but I repeat that if it can justify itself against municipal enterprise let it have a go. When private enterprise and municipal enterprise, however, meet on a basis of equality, private enterprise usually fails. It is perfectly true that the pre-War housing estates et the London County Council show a doubled return as compared with before the War. [An HON. MEMBER: What was the capital before the War?"] I am comparing municipal enterprise with private enterprise. Private enterprise in the matter of pre War housing complained that they were losing money.
All this superstition—this sheer superstition—that municipal enterprise is inefficient is absolute nonsense, it is private enterprise which is inefficient. Members have only to walk around London and look at its architecture, so dull and so monotonous, to look at the similar houses which show no sort of planning, and. they must come to the conclusion that private enterprise has failed. Hon. Members are willing to spend money on slum clearances, yet what are slums but the products of private enterprise? The money spent on sanitary inspectors represents an outlay due again to private enterprise. We have to face considerable expenditure under this Bill, but I think the proposals of the Minister, far from cutting across the principle advocated by the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks)—he suggested that we ought to look ahead in our budgetting and finance—prove that that is the very thing which the Minister is doing. Even if it does involve a substantial expenditure of money, may I point out what existing private enterprise in housing has cost the ratepayers of London. In addition to the money spent on slum clearances, the Public Health Services are largely the product of bad housing conditions, the result of private enterprise. A considerable pro- 1153 portion of the £1,880,000 spent by the London ratepayers on Public Health Services other than housing is to be ascribed to private enterprise. So, too, is the £500,000 spent on tuberculosis and the £125,000 spent on sanitary inspectors. Nearly the whole of our expenditure on sanitary inspectors is money we have to spend to keep private enterprise in order so that it shall keep its houses in proper repair.
We need more public enterprise in housing, we want more architectural variety. In spite of the shortcomings and false economy of the Geddes Report, municipal enterprise shows a far greater sense of variety in the building of houses than does private enterprise. I think the scheme that the Minister has put before the House is the most hopeful scheme of housing development we have had since the War. It is true that the amount of subsidy is large, but that is necessary in view of the fall in wages of the work-people and the fact that they cannot possibly afford to pay an economic rent. The rents of many of our municipal housing estates have been fixed by orders issued by previous Ministers of Health and are too high.
§ Lord E. PERCY
In my own constituency the Minister of Health is insisting that the council shall increase the rents.
§ Mr. MORRISON
I have cases where the Minister has sanctioned reductions of rent, but, under existing legislation and existing regulations, he is compelled to observe four factors, and he cannot get out of that. This scheme he is now proposing will tend to secure a good class of house at a lower rent.
§ Mr. MORRISON
Lower than the rents which would obtain under existing legislation. I think that is very necessary. The rents of some of the municipal houses are undoubtedly too high and ought to be lowered. The scheme which has been put forward by the Minister, the patient negotiations which have taken place— 1154 and which have been scorned by hon. Members, although it was a profoundly important factor in dealing with this problem that the Minister should secure the goodwill of the industry—the sound basis on which he has proceeded, and the good plans he has made, in my judgment holds out the greatest hope in dealing with this housing problem—far greater hope indeed than we had under any scheme submitted to the House or the country by any other Minister of Health since the conclusion of the great War.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I am sure the House has heard with considerable interest the speech which has just been delivered. It is a very fair speech, and recognises a good many of the difficulties of the present problem. I share the view expressed this afternoon by more than one speaker, that the real problem with which we are faced to-day is not a question of finance but rather a question of men and materials. I am very glad indeed that the hon. Gentleman has with such perfect frankness recognised that situation. While I have great admiration for many of the qualities of the present Minister of Health I have always thought he has taken a wrong view as to the difficulty of the problem of housing. I remember very well what he said last year when he was criticising the provisions of the last Housing Act, but really to-day he has gone along the same lines. A year ago he said that the housing problem is not one of house building but is really a problem of finance. T entirely differ from that view of the problem. Hon. Members will give me this credit, that I have never grudged proper sums of money being paid for a reasonable scheme of housing. Money has never been the difficulty. I have been associated with a good many schemes in this House in connection with housing, and it has not been money that has been the trouble. There has been no more generous country in the world, if you can call it generosity, as regards the money which has been given to housing in this country. There has been no country in the world that has spent so much on this question. Money has not been our difficulty, and it is not our difficulty to-day. Our difficulty is the difficulty of men and materials.
The first thing that interested me in this scheme was to see how exactly the 1155 Minister of Health is going to act as far as men in particular are concerned and materials in the second place. It is true, and we must give them credit for it, that the building trade has a past which they cannot easily forget. I want to be fair in any criticism I make. While they have a past, they must, as reasonable men, bear this fact in mind, that there is no industry in the country that has such a future in front of it as far as work is concerned, because it is not only housing schemes that are waiting for them, but great commercial enterprises, places of amusement and so on, are all waiting to be built. Whilst we can sympathise with the difficulties with which they have been faced, we must, as reasonable men, ask them to look at this matter in the same way as everybody else looks upon it, and to realise that there is room in the building trade to-day, without any exaggeration, for another 50,000 skilled men. 1 dc not know anyone who, leaving their political prejudice on one side, will dispute that statement.
All that this scheme comes to is this, that, there is a very definite scheme presented as far as apprenticeship is concerned. That is set out in the greatest detail, but when we come to the point of the building trade labourers we find a most indefinite paragraph. We must realise that to-day we are making the bargain. We are being asked, quite properly, to vote a very large expenditure of money, and this is the time when we have to make the bargain. We are asked, very precisely, to vote for a certain Financial Resolution, and, therefore, we must expect preciseness and a definite arrangement when we come to the other side of the picture. What we find is this:Special consideration shall, however, be given to applicants who have had previous experience of the trade.That may mean anything or it may mean nothing. If there is one thing that anyone who is in the building trade knows, it is that these men could be very largely used in erecting houses. The apprenticeship scheme has not been successful—to day one-third extra number of apprentices could be taken on even under the old conditions—and one reason why people will not be apprenticed to the building trade is that whenever an apprentice has been two or three years in 1156 the building trade, and getting rather a low rate of remuneration, suddenly you see a building labourer coming along and doing exactly the same work as the apprentice and getting twice the amount of money for it. That is one of the difficulties of the situation. So far as the proposal is made in this building trade document, the building trade could, to-morrow, without any breach of faith being alleged against them, say:We did not give any undertaking as far as that is concerned.It is a fair thing to say that the Minister of Health was at one time in favour of dilution of the building trade. Is it not also fair to say that he has failed to bring about dilution? I will tell hon. Members why I say that. I had sent to me a copy of the article written by the Chancellor of the Exchequer or: the housing plans of the Government. It is headed:Socialist Cabinet offer 15 years' building programme of municipal housing to relieve unemployment by extensive public work. Human life put before capitalist profits. By Philip Snowden. M.P., Socialist Chancellor of the Exchequer.I quote from this article, because I was surprised at what the Minister of Health said about dilution. He said something about abandoning freedom, and that we were going to become slaves if we go in for dilution. That was not the view of the Exchequer, because, referring in the article to the difficulty of building labour, he says:The question of labour is a very difficult one. The suspension of house building for 5 years during the War led to the depletion of the building trade. Apprentices did not go in for the trades. Many men formerly employed in the industry drifted into other occupations. A great many migrated to the Colonies and America. The result is that the available supply of skilled labour is only about half that which existed before the War"—Then there comes this very valuable statement:and is quite inadequate for such a big housing scheme as the Government now contemplate. The building trade unions have hitherto, naturally, resisted the dilution of their industry"—The Chancellor of the Exchequer has no objection to using that word. He faces the problem—by the introduction of large numbers of semi-skilled men. They had no guarantee that there would be work for them for any lengthened period. The building trades in 1157 the pre-War days often suffered terribly from unemployment. That experience has left a lasting impression. More men and, indeed, a -large number of additional men"—Hon. Members will notice the word "men"—for the skilled branches of the building trade are needed if the large programme of housing now contemplated is carried out. If the trade unions can get a guarantee of continuous work for the men said to be needed for the scheme "—They have got that, the Minister of Health has told us that this afternoon—their objections to dilution will be removed.That is the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the colleague of the Minister of Health, which appeared in the "New Leader" of Saturday, 8th March. Therefore, it must have been written a fortnight or, possibly, a week before tint date. There is no doubt that at that time the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Minister of Health and the Government were expecting the trade, in return for the 15 years' guarantee, to give them a proper and adequate form of dilution. The Government have failed to obtain that, and I think it is a great pity that, they have failed, because, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:A Labour Government is in a much better position to negotiate with the building trades unions on the subject of dilution than a government of the employing class.After all that advantage, it is a matter of regret that the dilution which was contemplated by the Government, by the Minister of Health, and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not been obtained. I want to be perfectly frank when I say, that until this Government or some other Government does obtain—I do not mind by what means or what they give in return—the accession of numbers that I have mentioned, namely, some 50,000 skilled men in their appropriate crafts, they will get very few houses erected in this country. I am not particularly concerned with 15 years ahead. When I look at this scheme I look at it—I have had some experience of previous schemes and of the high hopes that were raised then—as to what is going to be done during the next two or three years. That is what the country is looking for. The people of the country are not particularly interested in what is going to happen in 1930 or 1935. They want to know how 1158 many houses are going to be built during the next two or three years.
One of the most melancholy things this afternoon in the undoubtedly able speech which the Minister of Health made, was the confession that he did not anticipate being able to build in the next year even the number of houses that were built under the scheme of two years ago. It is a most regrettable thing, not from the point of view of party, but from the point of view of the people who are living under such discomfort, that the right hon. Gentleman has to make that statement after all the efforts he has made. I give him credit that he has done his very best to come to an agreement in this matter, but at the end of it, all that he is able to promise is that during next year we shall have a less number of houses built than were actually built two years ago. I think that is the greatest condemnation that we could make of this scheme. The right hon. Gentleman can promise all sorts of things and talk of the enormous sum of money that is to be spent and of the 15 years programme, but what people are really anxious about is this: "Is there any chance of my getting a decent house next week or next month?" It is not a question of getting a decent house 15 years hence. It is no use bringing in a Bill for your grandchildren. You must bring in a Bill for the people to-day. I am surprised that this is the result, after the boasts of the Prime Minister. A few weeks ago the Prime Minister said at York—and this was not in his state of innocence before he came into office—We have had other Governments in favour of housing but they had not the grip of the housing problem and how to solve it which the present Government possesses.Yet to-day we have the confession, and I am sorry that it is so, that under this scheme in the first year we must expect fewer houses than were built under the scheme of two years ago. With respect to the question of materials, hon. Members may remember that when the last scheme was introduced by the ex-Minister of Health I took a very strong view on the question of profiteering in materials, and I got up against my own party a year ago and said that they were behaving too generously or with lack of foresight in not taking stronger powers to deal with the situation. There is another most unfortunate fact from the point of view of the future success of 1159 this particular scheme to which I would draw attention. In this building trade report, which the Minister of Health says is a very valuable one, they put forward this very extraordinary assumption that houses to-day are being built at the cheapest possible price. I do not believe it for a moment. I urged the Minister of Health a month ago, before he embarked upon this scheme of committing us to an arrangement with the building trade, to appoint a Committee of three to look into the present cost of building, and to see whether we were really justified in entering into a bargain on present price's. He did not do it. I should have thought that it was an ordinary precaution to have taken.
We know that during the last few months the price of the non-parlour house has gone up £100. That information is given in an answer which the Minister of Health gave to me a few days ago. Whether the price has gone up £100 or not, it would have been a very wise step to have taken before we embarked upon this scheme, with all the money that is to be spent upon it, to see whether we were getting a fair article in return for a reasonable price. The Minister of Health has been in office for over five months. From the time that he took office he has been urged again and again, from all quarters of the House, to take further powers for the Committee which was supposed to be watching prices, and doing nothing else. He has allowed five months to go by and to-day he says that he is going to bring in a Profiteering Bill. It is too late. He is going to begin on the assumption that the present prices are right.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Even if he goes back to that date, very few people would contend that that is a fair basis to take. It is not a fair basis. He ought to have had some investigation in order to see why it is he is going to take the prices of last January. I am afraid very much that when be tries to frame a Bill dealing with profiteering in relation to materials he will find that he has done it too late. I would not cast a vote against this proposal, because I have seen so many schemes that I am inclined to say to any that come along: 1160 "For Heaven's sake do your best, and get on with it." This is a matter of which time will be the true judge. I wonder what my hon. Friend opposite who spoke so eloquently of the scheme this afternoon will think of it in a year's time. I want to be perfectly fair. I say that, during the next two years of this scheme, you will find fewer houses built under it than under any scheme that has been introduced in this House, because I venture to think it is a very great mistake in any trade to ask the employers and men to promote a scheme, human nature being what it is, and to say they are to have a Committee to organise it, and to accept the figures which they put down as the price at which you are to carry it out. I do not wish to make accusations against any body of men, but I venture to say that if you asked any class or group of people to-day to work under a scheme which they were framing, I should not blame them if they were to put forward the very best terms so far as they themselves were concerned.
I do not want to be unduly critical of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, but I have seen a good many Ministers of Health, and I can say that nobody has boasted so much as he has done. He is the only man who has announced that he has solved the housing problem. I was wondering how he came to say that, because a constituent of his the other day sent me some little pamphlets of a previous scheme in which the Minister of Health was interested. It is called, "All about the £8 Cottages. By Councillor John Wheatley," and it is all explained in a speech in which the Under-Secretary of Health for Scotland may be interested, because I see his name is mentioned. It says:Councillors John Wheatley and J. S. Taylor replied to the critics of the Labor Party £8 Cottage Scheme, at the Metropole Theatre, on Sunday evening. Councillor John Kerr, who presided over an attendance below the average intimated that Baillie James Stewart was unable to speak owing to illness.We are glad to see the hon. Gentleman has so much recovered since then. [An HON. MEMBER: "When was that?"] This was March. 1914. [Ho N. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Will hon. Members wait till they have heard it? Because this £8 scheme was nothing to do with "before the War," or prices, or anything else. 1161 This is how the Minister of Health was going to build £8 houses:Councillor Wheatley said that owing to the housing propaganda greater interest than ever was being shown in the policy of the Labour party. It was now generally admitted that poverty was at the root of the housing problem, and that the people lived in bad houses because their wages were too small to permit of them paying for a goad house. This was largely due to the fact that profit and interest absorbed at least one-half of the amount paid in rent.I fancy I heard some echo of that in the speech this afternoon:He took it that the first principle of Socialism was the abolition of profit and interest. Every Socialist ought to subscribe to that, or get outside the Socialist movement.This was his solution for the £8 cottage:The only method by which they could establish Socialism was to provide their own capital free of interest.Then he suggested that they should either raid the tramway surplus and not pay any interest for it or go to the national Exchequer and get money free of interest, and so the right hon. Gentleman in those old days was to secure his cottage. Of course, it never eventuated, and, therefore, I hope my right hon. Friend will feel a little chastened for his recent experience. I can say this to him, as he knows, with perfect good will, that there have been a good many Ministers who have sat in his place, and, perhaps, not spoken so loudly or boasted so much, who had the same ideals, and, perhaps, worked just as hard as he has. If say to the right hon. Gentleman that he will get no further, or very little further with this scheme, not on account of the lack of money in this country, or the fact that the country does not desire to spend it, because my own view is that if you could put forward a reasonable scheme, you would hardly get a Member to vote against it, and if he did he would come off very badly in his constituency. But he has not solved the great difficulty, and that is the question of men. Until he gets back to the suggestion his own Chancellor of the Exchequer made, namely, to provide, on reasonable terms and with proper satisfaction to the building trade, a reasonable system of dilution, I say he will get very few houses built in this country. I hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will consider that very serious side of the present situation.
§ Mr. FRANKLIN
I would like to congratulate the Minister upon the housing proposition he has launched with high hopes, and to express the hope that he will be more successful than any of his predecessors. Before touching upon the financial aspects of the scheme, may I call to mind one who first launched a scheme of housing in this House, who started also with high hopes, and who was a good man striving against adversity? I refer to Mr. Hayes-Fisher, the last President of the Local Government Board, who, on the 28th October, 1918, presented the first of the building schemes to this House, and I do hope that, as we pass along, perhaps under a different ensign, with a different cargo, but bound for the same port, we will dip our ensign in respect and affection to the memory of a man who did his best.
I want to deal as shortly as I possibly can with the scheme, which I should like to divide into three parts. The first is getting the houses. Doubts have been expressed about this, and I do hope the Minister will accept houses from whomsoever they may come. Houses are the first consideration. The next consideration is how to pay for those houses; and the third consideration is how to arrange the finance so as to bring down the rents of those houses, and eventually reduce them to pre-War standards. The first and most important question we have to deal with is the question of money. Money or credit is the raw material of all enterprises, and the cheaper we can get money, the less will be the burden upon the nation. You cannot get capital by frightening people. If you attempt a scheme by which you give little security to capital, then the rates demanded by capital will be somewhat high, and, instead of paying, as you would now have to pay, some 4¾ per cent. for money, you would be paying 6 or 7 per cent. or whatever was necessary in order to induce people to forego various things, and to give you what we have always understood to be the stored-up product of labour of past days. The very moment that you create suspicion, capital remains either in its stocking or hank, and, in order to induce it to come forward, you have got to pay so much more.
For that reason, the first consideration in any scheme of this kind must be how you can best obtain the money at the lowest possible rate. I would beg 1163 the Minister to consider what took place in 1920, and not to repeat the mistake that was made then by allowing each municipal authority to compete, and to compete on higher and higher terms for the use of credit. In 1920, at the commencement of the scheme, money was offered at 5¼ per cent, but by allowing competition between the various authorities, drawing upon the one pool where money was obtainable, you drove up the cost of money, even for the big cities and municipalities, to 6½ per cent, which meant that instead of paying 5s. 3d., you paid 6s. 6d., or whatever it was. Therefore, I do press upon the Government to have only one borrower, and, if you have one borrower, I believe you will be able to raise money on some form of local government security somewhere between £4 13s. and £4 15s. per cent, Another figure I should like to give—because I shall have to deal with that afterwards, when we consider in what way we can reduce rates—is this: The amount required every year to enable you to pay 4i per cent. on money, and return the money at the end of 40 years, is £2 16s. ld. every half year, or £5 12s. 2d. each year. If you take your house at £500, and allow £20 as the cost of the land, you would have to find in interest and sinking fund for that amount £29 3s. 3d. If you take off the subsidy that it is proposed to give, then you get the sum of £20 3s. 3d. You will then have to supply the insurance of the house and the water, and deal with the question of rates.
Coming to this question of rates, the proposal seems to be that the assessment shall be something upon the pre-War basis, which I take it to mean somewhere about the pre-War assessment with the 40 per cent., or I would even give 50 per cent., increase upon the house. Now the houses with which we are dealing now and are supposed to cost £500, cost £200 before the War. On the whole basis of assessment of 6 per cent.—that was, a £12 house—taking 50 per cent. on the assessment makes it £18, and if you take the average of rates over the country at 15s. in the £, that gives you £13 10s. as the rates to be paid. If the local authority give you the £4 10s., that makes £9 that is to go in rates, the exact sum, by-the-by, you give as Government subsidy. Therefore, if you simply let the new houses at 1164 the rates as they have done in New York and, I believe, in old York in this country, you will then have the house reduced to something like £32 10s., that could be let at 12s. 6d. You have also to consider this point, that the £4 10s. represents roughly the amount that is paid for sinking fund to repay the loan in 40 years. and;f that £4 10s. has been paid by the local authorities, the local authorities would, at the end of the 40 years, and during the life of those houses, get the houses free. If, instead of paying this £4 10s., it were paid by the tenant, the tenant could become the tenant owner. The amount of £4 10s. is between 1s. 8½ and Is. 9d. a week. Therefore, if you make a calculation in this way, you have 12s. 6d. plus, let us say, 1s. 9d., making 14s. 3d., and this 14s. 3d. Will enable the tenant to become owner of his house at the end of 40 years.
If we turn to the rural housing question, we can, I think, have a more interesting operation. If you take the rural house at, say, £400, and then you *take the land that would be given with the house at, say, £20, the £420 will be represented by an annuity exactly the same as before, that is, £23 11s. 3d. It will enable you to pay interest at 4i per cent., and put aside a certain sum that will give you the return of the money. I am pleased to see that the Minister accords with the wishes of a good many of us and gives us an increase on the amount of subsidy for rural houses. It may be only 7 per cent. of the total houses, and may not amount to a large burden on the State, but it will amount to a large concession for the rural people, because if you take off this £I2 10s. from the £23 11s. 3d., and even if you add the water and insurance, and put aside £1 4s. for repairs, you would be able to come down to a sum of £13 a year. See what that means; £13 a year is 5s. a week, and if you pay, under the Agricultural Wages Act, wages on a 30s. basis, you will then carry out what, in many parts of the country, is a recognised basis for cottage or house—one day's labour, and one day's labour will get the agricultural labourer his house. The amount for sinking fund in that instance is 1s. 4½d., and, therefore, for 6s. 4½d. not only should the labourer be able to afford to pay an economic rent, but that amount would include the savings that would enable him to become the owner of his house in 1165 40 years. It would turn the tables on the landed interests at last. Instead of the labourer's cottage being tied to the farm, the farm would be tied to the labourer's cottage, and the labourer would retain it during the latter years of his life.
I have not dealt with the question of rates for this reason, that the people whom we propose to house are people who are already there. There is no extra charge for Poor Law. There is no extra cost for education. There should be something less for the health. Therefore, when you consider that you have only the question of main drainage, and possibly the road keeping, you will come to the point when you should not have more than one quarter the amount of rates that may be charged, and if the amount that is to be given by the rural authorities is fixed at £4 10s., surely that would cover the whole question of rates, and you would be able to let the agricultural labourer have his house at 5s. net, without any consideration of rates. In the 1919 Act we had the curious phenomenon of the giving of a subsidy that seemed to vanish as soon as the contracts came in, and it should be a lesson to us not to commute the sum that we give out in subsidy, and give it as a lump grant to the industry, but to use the subsidy to the reduction, as rent, so that gradually we may come to the position that we should come to with rents gradually sinking, until we come to the pre-War rate. The houses that you put up you would be able gradually to dilute. I am not referring now to the building trade, but you will be able to dilute the houses, gradually to increase their numbers, and then by the laws of supply and demand, you will get down your rate without any heroic action on the part of the Government.
I should like also to deal with one other matter with regard to finance. You have heard criticisms of this financial action that will entail an expenditure of £1,400,000,000. When you come to consider how this amount is made up, and see that it is made tip by adding the yearly grants that you give for subsidy, you see how utterly strange all this is to people who look upon these questions of finance from their actuarial value. You might just as well say that because we give £300,000,000 a year for education, therefore, in 25 years, we have doubled the National Debt, because the 1166 cost of education will be £7,500,000,000, as to say that £1,400,000,000 is the cost of the subsidy for this scheme. What really is the cost is the present value of the £23,156,000, which is the highest amount given. It is 17¾ years purchase upon a 41 per cent. basis, or 20 years purchase upon a 4¾ per cent. basis. Take the amount at 4 per cent., and you have about £460,000,000, the gift of the State in subsidies, and the amount of £230,000,000 taken from the local authorities. That amounts to £690,000,000, and is not in any way £1,400,000,000.
In 1918 Mr. Rowntree laid down the proposition that the difference between the pre-War cost and the after-War cost was a War charge, and should be paid by the Exchequer, but the difference between the pre-War house and the present price of the house is the difference between £200 and £500, and, therefore, if that theory is to be carried out, £300 perhaps, is the amount that the Treasury should pay. Three hundred pounds a house for 2,500,000 houses amounts to £750,000,000, therefore the provision of the subsidy, such as it is, is well within the figures. But look at the result of the Addison Housing Scheme. The subsidy, which began at £120, went up as far as £280 a house. This is an average, according to the Minister of Health's Report of August, 1923, of £242. That was the subsidy we paid in the first instance. Then we made an agreement with the various authorities that we would pay anything required above the penny rate, and that amount averaged, during 1920, 1921, 1922 and 1923, at £30 a house. On the houses you are paying £8,000,000 of loss, or subsidy, which makes it £46 for every house.
This scheme, I hope, will be accepted. It will require a certain amount of self-sacrifice. It will require self-sacrifice by the building trade. I would put this proposition. If ever you have a Socialist State you will have to depend upon the ability of the organisation and the self- sacrifice of the workers. You have to practice a little self-sacrifice now, if you want to give the houses to your fellows. It is not a question of making profit. It is not a question of making a profit for the big employer. It is a question of doing something to bring down the rents, to make life easier for our fellows. It is a sacrifice that we can ask, also, of the big municipalities, when we ask them to 1167 sacrifice their pride, so that there can be only one borrower, and the richer and more important city should not boast, possibly, that it gets its money easier than someone else. It is a sacrifice that must be made by the tenants whose rents are higher. It is a sacrifice that will be made by the owners of the houses and by the constructors of the houses; it is a sacrifice that will have to be made by the nation, but the sacrifice is worth while if we can solve this great question of housing.
§ Mr. RAYNES
In rising to address the Committee, my inexperience will give me the assurance that I shall receive a sympathetic hearing. I want to compliment the Minister of Health on his proposals, and on the way in which he put them before the Committee. The whole country to-day will be given a new hope and a new confidence. Hundreds of thousands of hearts will feel hope renewed on the opportunity of having a home to live in. I would not rise to speak on this occasion but for the fact that I am a building trades manager and one of the few Members in this House who have practical knowledge of that trade 'from the operatives' side and the side of the employer.
My experience is one of 30 years, 15 years as a working man and 15 years as an employer, in a branch of the building industry, and when I hear hon. Members talk about ea canny in the building trade I feel that they do not know much of what has happened in the building trade. Every inducement to encourage ca'canny in the building industry was given during the War period. When buildings were urgently required for national purposes the Coalition Government paid the builder a commission profit on the total cost of wages and material for the building, and if that system would not encourage ca'canny both on the part of the employers and the workman I do not know any system that would. You are suffering to-day from the results of that pernicious system, both from employers in the building industry and employés.
When I hear hon. Members opposite talk about the number of bricks a bricklayer should lay in a clay they prove nothing to me except their crass ignorance of the whole industry. I have worked on buildings where 70 bricks per day would 1168 be a good hard day's work and give ample satisfaction to the employer, and I have worked on buildings where 700 bricks a day would be a very easy business. When you talk of laying bricks you talk about an operation that varies with every class of building. The dilution of the building trade appears to be the one hope of hon. Members opposite and below the Gangway of a solution of the difficulty. If hon. Members opposite had any practical experience of the industry they would drop that idea immediately. It is impossible in any branch of the building industry to produce competent workmen under at least four years' training.
It has been suggested that the Minister of Health has changed his view with regard to dilution; it may be that the Minister of Health has been brought to appreciate the fact which I have just stated. It is more difficult in the building industry than probably any other industry in our country to train men in the industry after they have reached 23, 24 or 25 years. If any hon. Member opposite doubts that statement. I would suggest that he should climb a 100-feet scaffold and try to walk a single plank. To lay bricks properly you would not train a man under four years. He must be taken under 20 years to go on bricklaying at any corner on any class of building, and if he were over 20 years of age the man would be very exceptional who would be capable of being trained to take any corner on any class of building.
§ Mr. RAYNES
The only remedy—and this ought to have been taken four or five years ago—is to fill the industry with sufficient number of apprentices. There is no patent way of getting craftsmen. The only way is to train a man in his youth. Had the Government faced this difficulty in a proper way five years ago, we should have had to-day many thousands of additional craftsmen in the industry at, the business end of life. You can, by the help and sympathetic support of the men now in the industry, train men who have been labourers in the building industry up to 20 years of age. They can be given willingly a course of training in the crafts of the industry, and they are men who will be qualified to learn rapidly the particular craft to which they are 1169 going, and they will not suffer from the disability of other men who have never been on a building in their life.
But I am interested in the financial side of this business. I cannot go into the intricacies of the figures to which we have listened with such delight as the hon. Member for Central Hackney (Mr. Franklin), but there are financial aspects of the situation into which I can go. I have heard the terms "private enterprise" and "public enterprise," and "public authority" used in to-day's Debate, and have been surprised at the loose way in which these terms have been used. We have practically no, or very little indeed, public authority building in its proper meaning. What we have to-day is private enterprise acting alone and independently, and private enterprise subsidised by the State, and I have this fear—and here I wish to criticise in a friendly way one of the proposals of the Minister of Health—that it is possible with all these splendid proposals put before us to-day that we may play into the hands of some people who may, with the opportunity, become unscrupulous in their dealings with the Government.
What is the cure? I believe it is possible to use all the resources of private enterprise to the best advantage of the nation as a whole, but the Government must tackle in some way or other exorbitant prices in building material and unfair profits in the building of houses. As a member of a local authority of some importance, I was a short time ago brought up against this difficulty. We had to put up a building the lowest contract price for which was £46,000. We knew the price was too much, but the opinion of the Council was that we were in the hands of the builders and must allow them to put up that building. I took up the matter and strenuously opposed letting the contract at what we thought was an exorbitant price, and the result was that we actually got public enterprise at work without any help whatever from private enterprise. We set up a public works department and I had the honour of being chairman of the committee which ran that department, and that building was put up by direct labour employed by the corporation. The contractor's lowest estimate was £46,750, which would have been reduced by reductions in wages and cost of material during the progress of the work to 1170 £40,903 13s. 2d. and the actual cost to us was £28,341 17s. 4d. The experience of the Derby Corporation in connection with that work impelled them to go in for house-building by the same process. The result has been that whereas in July, 1919, we were paying for our houses a contract price of £873 each, which with increases of wages and higher cost of material worked out at from £1,060 to £1,200, by bringing in direct labour and, I admit, incidentally by a reduction in the cost of wages and material, we brought about a gradual reduction in the cost of houses until they could be built for £415 each. The con. tractors' price, when the contractors had the field to themselves, was reduced only to £715 by the falling costs, but immediately a contract had been let to contractors at £715 per house, the Corporation, by its direct labour department, entered into the business and built houses at £424 each.
§ Mr. A. HOPKINSON
Is the hon. Member's statement to the effect that the contractors' price was £700, and that the houses were built in the same period by the Corporation for £420?
§ Mr. RAYNES
If the hon. Member will allow me time; I will develop my argument. The contractors' prices, of their own volition, after the reduction in the costs of material and wages, came down to £715 per house for houses of the non-parlour type. Then we came in with our own works department, and commenced building the same houses to the same plan on an adjoining site under exactly similar conditions, and we built the houses for £424 each.
§ Mr. RAYNES
Yes. The contractor who was building houses at £715 each was invited to tender for a further lot and he tendered at £424, and he was building side by side two blocks of houses, one at £424 per house and the other at £715 per house—both exactly on the same plan. I submit very respectfully that in order to bring down costs to what should be their normal level, a normal level which will last for some years to come, the only way is to encourage by every means the setting up of direct labour departments. More than that, I believe that with the shortage 1171 and high prices of material it is the clear duty of the Government to open up as a Government speculation those brick-fields and clay deposits which are now lying idle, to make bricks and to re-open what are left of the war-time factories for the making of wood-work in standard parts, for the making of cement, for the burning of lime, and so forth. By producing these articles they will not only get the material which is so much required, but they will tend to reduce the cost enormously.
§ Sir W. LANE-MITCHELL
Tell us about labour. Where are we going to get labour? [HON. MEMBERS: "Maiden speech!"] I do not wish to make a big point, but I think the hon. Member should deal with that matter.
§ Mr. RAYNES
I said earlier in my speech that there was no royal road to securing skilled labour for the building industry. If necessary I will repeat that statement. You cannot pick up skilled labour in the gutter; you cannot manufacture it in three or six months or in three years. It will take at least four years to do so, and then you must have young men to start with. I heard it said by the Minister of Health that in the years prior to the War many thousands of bricklayers left our shores for America. To-day we have a surplus of engineers in this country, and some people are doing their best to induce those engineers to emigrate. In five years' time we may want those engineers here just as we want the bricklayers to-day, and if a 15-years' scheme and an assurance of steady and good employment result from the proposals of the Minister, is it not possible that many thousands of those bricklayers will come back to their native land and take work? I believe that, if there is a proper system of apprenticing lads to the trade—and there has not been a proper system for many years past—a system of training young labourers already in the industry, and the bringing back or inducing back to our shores of those skilled men who have left, we shall, in a very few years, largely solve the question of labour and get along with the programme which the Minister of Health has laid down.
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
I wish to say at the outset that I do not for a moment 1172 oppose this Resolution. I see my fellow-citizen the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. W. R. Smith) on the Government Bench. When I was Chief Magistrate of our native city, we saw all the misery brought about by large numbers of men being thrown out of their houses in the slums owing to a flood, a few years ago, and I shall certainly not do anything that would hamper giving better houses to our working people. But I have a great fear, although I will help the scheme if it be in my power, that this scheme will not do anything like what is hoped for it. It will not even approach providing the remedy for which the Minister of Health has designed it. Before I go on to one or two points which I have in mind, may I observe that I was glad to hear the Minister of Health say that the question of land or the cost of it, as I know full well from personal experience in my own native city, has never prevented the building of houses for our working people. When people make a great outcry about land being scarce and dear there is nothing in it, and people who put forward that scarcity or price of land argument only befog the argument and hurt their own case. If the land were a gift it would not affect the housing problem a pin. The Minister of Health has said something to-night which ought to go through the length and breadth of the country and settle the grievance based on the cost of building land, and that is, that the land for working people's houses does not account for more than 1½d. a week in the rent. It is a negligible amount, and the cost of land should in future be swept away as an argument.
I hope this following proviso will be insisted upon by the Minister. I saw as chief magistrate of my native city—an old city, with hideous mediæval slums—how wrong it was to build dwellings again in the middle of the city, and I would remind the Minister—though I am sure he has thought of it himself—that he should bring all the pressure he can to bear upon local authorities to build right in the fields outside the towns, to get away from their centres, away from the wharves, rivers and factories, otherwise you only make these slums over again. I would give preferences, if it were possible, to those authorities who build four or five miles outside the city gates, who 1173take the train lines out, who let the men, women and children get the fresh air, and who built new factory-cities, and, if possible, garden cities. I think that should be well borne in mind when bringing this scheme into operation.
Many hon. Members have spoken about the scarcity of building labour. Two or three days ago I had the privilege of addressing this House on the Finance Bill, and I took the opportunity of drawing the attention of the House to a most regrettable state of affairs in investigating the occupations of people who are unemployed. Out of a million people unemployed, no less than 400,000 of them are men or lads between 18 or 28, and there is a terrible point connected with it. We have been told by a man who knows what he is talking about, Mr. Cramond, the adviser to the Ministry of Labour, that most of these 400,000 men are without a trade. Take some of those men into the building trades, quite apart from the engineers to whom attention was drawn in the admirable speech of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Raynes) just now. Take some of those men, who must be under 20, or even if they are 28, and teach them as apprentices. Why leave them there without a trade? Surely the unions must see that they would help themselves, and the country, and the tradeless men, in a national necessity. Those men, who are now without a trade, probably owing to the fact that they served in the War, should be taught something. Here is an opportunity for us, as Members of the House of Commons, and for members of the trade unions, to benefit by the necessities of the building requirements and get these men not only put into work but taught something of lifelong use to them. There is no reason whatever why those men should not be taken into trade unions and given the training which they so lack.
I was very sorry to hear—I hope he did not mean it—the Minister of Health make an attack on capital. It is really very foolish. It injures his chances of success. After all, capital is no more than our saved earnings. If I earn money and do not spend or waste it, that becomes capital, and I lend it for wages to those who want it. Interest is the wage of saved earnings. Capital is no more than saved earnings, and if the Minister runs down 1174 capital and make use of expressions such as were quoted from the Minister of Health's speech by my hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), it is very foolish. If people are asked to supply capital free of interest, then, instead of saving capital as they now do they will spend what they earn, not save it. They certainly will not save it to let someone else have the use of it for nothing. Why should they? Human nature is not made in that way. Working people who have worked hard and saved a few pounds could spend that money on a holiday or something else, but if they save it and put some of it into housing bonds or into savings banks at a small rate of interest, they provide the life blood for building these houses. I think the right hon. Gentleman may have used that argument for the purpose of flattering his constituents, but he must do violence to his own intelligence if he thinks that such an argument does him credit in this House or anywhere else. If he wants to get down to logic chopping again, read what people in Russia have lately done. They have come over here to try to buy capital, to borrow capital, of us, and they are willing to pay us 7 to 10 per cent.—an outrageous price—for it. They will not get it even then. They are, in Russia, now hopeless and paralysed without capital. They come here begging for it. They have learnt their lesson in Russia, and find they have destroyed their power of production by destroying capital. The Minister of Health, if he will take my advice—and I tender it to him very humbly—is very foolish if he runs down capital. He will want it for these houses, and if he discourages investors or speaks ill of capital, he will find that those people who have saved any will button up their pockets and will say to him: "You must get your money elsewhere, as we are frightened of lending it to you."
I made some notes as the right hon. Gentleman went along with his speech, and I was astonished at one omission. He told-us how much we should have to pay over these 60 years in subsidies, and I believe the figure was quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) at £1,375,000,000, but the Minister of Health forgot to tell us that, in addition to having to find this £1,375,000,000 as subsidies over a long period, we must also put down £1,250,000,000 to build the houses. This is 1175 an additional sum and stupendous. That is a point that I think the Committee has not yet fully grasped. As a matter of fact, you have to put down £1,250,000,000 to build the 2,500,000 houses of £500 each, in 15 years, on top of the £1,375,000,900 which the State and the municipalities have to find as subsidies. Let us pause for a moment. Does the Minister think he is going to put forward this housing proposal, and at the end of a year or two find himself out of office, and leave us to flounder about to find a method of dealing with it? Where is he going to get his £1,250,000,000 with which to pay for building his 2½ million houses in 15 years? During last year, 1922–23, we saved £97,000,000 by our foreign trade, and somewhat more by our home trade. £97,000,000 was about as much as we invested abroad, and it was supposed that we were straining our resources by investing abroad this £97,000,000 as the result of the profits on our foreign trade. If we have to equip 300,000 extra population every year, that will require annually £160,000,000 additional saved capital before we can begin to repay War Debt. Where, then, are you going to get the £1,250,000,000 to build these houses in 15 years? It is something like, roughly, £100,000,000 a year beyond population-increase needs and sinking fund on War Debt, and if you, in addition to all that, go into the market—and I am perfectly certain I am right in saying this—year after year for 15 years and take about £100,000,000 more out of the pockets of investors—never mind how they may otherwise invest it—for the purpose of building houses, or anything else, you play havoc with the finances of the country's industries. They will be starved of capital.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
How this is to be dealt with I leave to the Minister of Health to explain. But it may be that these additional millions are required for the shoe or shipping industry or for the building industry. It is true, as my hon. Friend suggests, that the money will not go out of the country, but if industries want money they are competing with the Min- 1176 ister of Health, and he is competing with them, for the available capital surplus, and what is the result? You cannot get enough housing money from other Indus if it is required there, and put it to a different purpose, it is not there to take. Does the Minister intend to embark on inflation to finance his scheme? What would be the result of inflation? Why disaster of course. You would put up the price of money if you tried to borrow an extra £100,000,000 a year to such a height that you could not borrow for trade. I ask the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. E. Simon) who knows about cotton, what would happen in Manchester cotton finance if you have an annual drain of an extra £100,000,000 for housing schemes. I hope the Minister of Health may get the money. I wish him to get it. If I had the power I would help him to get it. But I doubt very much in view of the ordinary drain for industry whether he would have the power to get it. If he does go into the market to get it I say he will be doing damage to the rest of industry. He ought as I have said to be very careful in any case how he talks against capital. People who have taken housing bonds will not welcome his views if he speaks about getting money and not paying interest for it. He will not get his £100,000,000 a year from the savings of the investors if he talks like that.
I pass to another point in connection with the housing scheme. It is a point to be recognised, as I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health intends to leave it out of account, because he did not say anything about the other point—the £1,250,000,000 required to build the houses in addition to the money required for subsidies. But the point is this. Houses are built under this scheme. They are let at a rental, owing to the subsidy, at less than an economic rental value. In some municipalities, say, in the same area there are houses which are owned by their occupiers or are rented by the occupiers, and are being assessed on their economic value, that is to say, at something like the rental based on cost, or on the figure the occupier pays. What will happen? Take the houses which are now to be built by subsidy. Take a house which is built for £500, the economic rent of which is almost £42 a year, which 1177 includes rates, taxes, insurance, repairs, etc. For that house you have a subsidy of £13 10s. Did the Minister of Health clearly point out how you are going to assess that house for rates; on what basis, on an economic rental basis, or on the rental reduced by the subsidy? If he says these houses are to be assessed for rates on the rental under subsidy and not on the economic rental value, we have 2,500,000 houses being assessed at £13 10s. a year less than the economic value. Let me carry that further. Take the average amount of rate poundage all over the country, and I am not taking as the average that of Norwich, where it has been as much as 32s. in the Take an average low sate, throughout England, say, of i0s. in the £3. If we take that on the £13 10s. subsidy excused, you get £6 15s. per year. Call it £7 to make the argument easier. £7 a year of rates is excused each one of these houses; and the consequence is that every non-subsidised house, shop, factory in that area is not only paying its own rates, based in most, cases on roughly its economic rental value, but also part of the rate which has been excused on the subsidised houses. If that is reckoned on 2½ million houses, it works out at £17,500,000 per year—a year, not in one lump sum and finished with—but a year, and this burden on non-subsidised property is being paid neither by the rating authorities nor by the Imperial Exchequer under the scheme before us.
Let this House, and the country realise that, and let non-subsidised ratepayers in every municipality realise that this will be an extra burden on them of £17,500,000 per year, in addition to the rates and taxes they bear already. I think the Minister of Health has overlooked that little point, and I am bound to say from what I have heard—and I hope he will not resent it if I say that economics and finance are not the strong points of this Government—that that extra burden will have to be added to the, amount of money which he is asking the House to-day to give him by the Resolution. However, it may be considered unfair to take an extreme case. Suppose, then, we take a row of houses built and let under the subsidy arrangement on the one side, and more expensive types of houses built on the other side of a street, five and twenty years ago, and assessed for rates on their economic rent, because 1178 occupied by the owners, who may be work-people. Why in the name of reason are the subsidised people to be assessed at a lower relative rate than the others? They enjoy the same advantages in the community, lighting, draining, policing, the cleaning of the streets, and so on; yet the others have to have an additional burden on their shoulders—they pay their own rates and then, besides, a part of the rates on subsidised houses, assessed on non-economic rents.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
That does not apply. The houses, shops or factories to which I refer may be occupied by a small shopkeeper, by a greengrocer, by a man of business, by men who have bought their own houses to live in or shops to trade in and paid for them out of their savings 25 years ago. These are assessed on the economic value. Why should these people, this little shopkeeper, the resident doctor, or it may be the manufacturer, a small man or big man, have to pay on an assessment upon the economic value of their premises, and those on the other side of the road or in the next street, the subsidised houses, be assessed on the subsidised value and throw part of their rate-burden upon other shoulders? It is not a political matter, but one of pure honesty and fairness, and I think when the ordinary unsubsidised ratepayer who has occupied or owned his premises for many years realises what the effect of this subsidy means in respect to extra rates on him, he will have something to say about this proposal. I have said nothing to indicate in any way that I am opposed to this Resolution, and I shall support it if it goes to a Division. I hope the Minister will carefully consider the question of the non-economic assessment to which I have drawn attention. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has overlooked it, and whether-it has been included in the figures given in the White Paper.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
I am afraid the hon. Member who has just sat clown has somewhat drawn upon his imagination, because I have always understood that the question of assessment rested entirely with the local assessment committee.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
What is the good of talking like that If a man comes before those on the assessment committee and says, "I am paying a rental of £29" because it is a subsidised house; he has to be assessed on that amount, and he cannot be assessed on the £42 which may be the economic value. That is the law.
I submit that the matter rests entirely with the assessment committee. Suppose you are living in a house of your own for which you are not paying rent. You are assessed at a rate comparable with a similar house in that district. I think this matter is entirely foreign to the larger issue before us, and it is a matter for the local assessment committee. In the town with which I am acquainted I know they would only be too glad to get these additional houses in order to get any assessable value or any rates from them, because in the majority of cases these poor people are not paying rates at all, and their children are being educated.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
The point was not whether the municipalities would like to have these houses or not. Of course they want them. The point was how unfair it is to throw part of the rates upon other ratepayers in order to subsidise these houses in addition to the subsidy provided by the Exchequer and the local authorities.
§ 9.0 P.M.
I was pointing out that these people were enjoying the advantages of education and other communal services, and -were paying only a tithe of the rates they would pay if they went into the new houses. Surely, the local authority has no cause to complain in regard to what the Minister has proposed. With regard to the larger issue, I would like to join in the congratulations, which have been showered upon the Minister of Health from all sides, upon his speech and his proposals. It is easy to be cynical and have doubts and fears, but, I submit, that in what he has put before us, the labour of the last few months, has resulted in, what I would like to describe, as a great act of faith, and with good will and co-operation there is greater hope of achieving a solution of the housing problem than we have seen for a long time. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joyn-son-Hicks) said when they were in office 1180 they tried to come to terms with the building operatives and the trade with regard to a system of augmentation of labour, and they failed. We hope that where they failed the present Minister may succeed. He has got the employers and employed to come together and work out a scheme, and instead of this being received as a satisfactory co-partnership, it is looked upon by hon. Members opposite as an unholy alliance. This is the only way to get a solution of the problem. Does anyone suggest that this House by legislation can enforce such terms on the building industry as will give us the necessary augmentation of labour? I submit that the scheme which has been submitted to us may be in some respects rather sketchy and faulty, but it is a great achievement to have got the two sides to come together and express their good-will and their intention to do all they can to solve the problem. I hope nothing will be said in this Committee to make it more difficult for those who have undertaken to assist in a solution of this problem to bring it to a successful issue.
Can we wonder that there has been difficulty in apprenticeship in this trade? Up to quite recently this difficulty was believed to be due to some nefarious action on the part of trade unions, and this was given as the reason why the number of apprentices was so small. In the Report which has just been issued. I think it is made clear that this difficulty is not due to any restrictive action on the part of trade unions, but it is really due to reluctance on the part of apprentices and their parents, and this has kept the trade short of the necessary labour. We have been told that, according to the trade union rules, there could have been 56,000 apprentices, whereas, as a matter of fact, there are only 21,000, and this clearly shows that there are other reasons to account for the shortage than trade union hostility. It is due largely to the uncertainty of employment and lack of security for those who enter this trade. If the Minister's scheme can give that security and bring in the dilution of labour it will certainly do more than any other thing to give us the houses we require.
I agree that the Minister seems to have been very moderate in his estimate of the houses he is going to produce in the coming year, and I hope he has under- 1181 estimated the number. We find that during the boom year of the Addison period we had 90,000 houses produced. I think the figures, as compared with 1922, should not give us a lesser but a larger number. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Twickenham suggested that the need was not so great as had been indicated, but surely that statement is not in keeping with the actual facts of the case. Anyone in touch with the conditions existing in our great industrial towns must know that the need for houses is as great to-day as ever it was. In my own town with 120,000 inhabitants we have a waiting list of over 4,000, and over 2,000 of that number have had their names down for three years waiting for houses which have never materialised. The experience of the town I represent is the same as it is elsewhere, and there is absolutely no foundation for the statement that the need for these houses does not exist.
With regard to the price, I submit that, provided we can get the 2,500,000 houses during the next 15 years, the gain to the, community as a whole, even on the narrow ground of pounds, shillings and pence, will be worth the money we are spending. Reference has been made to the tremendous burden of tuberculosis in our large towns, and the tremendous cost of our health services resulting from neglect of housing. All these things would show a very great saving, and, above all, you would have greater contentment, and you would have a decent home life possible which is not known at the present time. Therefore, I say that no effort is too great and no sacrifice too much to make in order to remedy the present appalling state of things. It is a sacrifice which must be made on all hands. I agree with my hon. Friends on these benches that there does not seem to be, in the Minister's proposals, sufficient security that we are going to be protected against a rise in the price of materials, or even that we are going to get adequate labour. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will pursue his inquiries in both those directions, so that, before the Bill has passed through this House, we may have a reasonable guarantee that the labour will be forthcoming, and that we shall be protected against inflation of prices. Reference has already been made in the Building Trades Report to that protection which the builders seek as against the importa- 1182 tion of foreign goods. I think the Minister has said elsewhere, and I hope he will say here before the Debate closes, that he has set his face resolutely against the formation of any rings or protected combines in this country, and that we are going to be free, as municipalities and as private individuals, to import from elsewhere those goods which are essential for the building of houses.
There is one more important question still upon which I should like to appeal to the Minister, and that is the restrictive Clause which he has in his Resolution specifying that the types and sizes of houses must be those mentioned in Section 1 (2) of the Housing Act, 1923. The Minister of Health himself rather apologised for the insertion of that Clause when he was speaking, but I understood him to say that it had been forced upon him by the municipalities. I venture to suggest to him that he has yielded unnecessarily, and that, before this passes from our keeping, before the Bill is passed into law, he should open up negotiations with municipal associations and local authorities and see whether this is really an essential part of the bargain. I have some little knowledge of the Municipal Corporations Association and of local authorities, and I have heard nothing from any considerable section of them insisting upon this proviso as essential. It is true that, according to the correspondence, they have specified it as one of the matters which they desire the Minister to consider, but I do ask the Minister whether he has really put up a serious fight on this question, and Whether he will not renew his efforts to see that this, which will be a most restrictive Clause in the Resolution and in the Bill itself, should it become part of it, is not allowed to pass into law. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman) said earlier, we had a most eloquent speech from the benches opposite against that limitation when it was provided for in the 1923 Bill. Surely, if we are going to spend this huge of public money, we have a right, as custodians of the public purse, to see that the return we get for that expenditure is of a higher standard than that which was foreshadowed in the 1923 Act.
To allow millions of public money to be spent on putting up houses with only two bedrooms and only 550 superficial 1183 feet, is an abuse of public money, and, therefore, I appeal to the Minister in all seriousness to tackle this question. Otherwise, we shall have a most retrograde Measure placed on the Statute Book. I am aware that it is left to the local authorities to exercise their discretion, but, where there is such a large expenditure of public money, money which the local authorities are not providing, the House of Commons should have the major voice on the matter. I hope the Minister will reconsider this matter, and see whether, by calling a conference again of the municipal associations and local authorities, he cannot get them to waive this most restrictive Clause. With an area of 550 superficial feet and two bedrooms, you cannot get a house worthy of the name of a home. It is as bad as the old days, and to perpetuate that for the next 50 or 60 years, possibly in hundreds of thousands of cases, will be a reflection on the good sense and good government of the House of Commons. I believe that the Municipal Corporations Association and the local authorities will be willing to meet the Minister on this point, and I hope that, even before the Financial Resolution passes from this Committee, a modification may be possible, because I understand that, if it goes through in its present form to-morrow night, the hands of the Committee upstairs are tied so that they cannot make a modification within these Regulations. I appeal to the Minister, before it is too late, carefully to reconsider the matter, and to allow the Resolution to go through the House in an open form, so as to leave time for reconsideration and conference with the local authorities. Then, if they insist upon their bargain, it can be restored in Committee, but let us not tie the hands of this Committee or of the Committee upstairs by passing this Financial Resolution in this particular form, limiting the grants to houses of the type and size mentioned in Section 1 (2) of the Housing Act, 1923. The Minister will spoil an excellent Measure if he does not seek to modify it on those lines.
§ Mr. R. F. JACKSON
In rising to address the Committee for the first time, I know that I am assured of their indulgence. I am very happy 1184 in the thought that my first contribution to the Debates of the House should be upon this pressing and human question of the more adequate housing of our people. I would like the Committee to know that, for many years before coming to the House of Commons, I was actively engaged in the public administration, not only of the 1919 Act, but of the subsequent Acts, and while I may have held pretty definite views as to the correct method of financing our housing schemes, and as to the correct method of practically undertaking those schemes, I have been bound to feel so strongly the necessity for speedy work on this great problem that I have never allowed those doctrinaire views to interfere with my active work in housing. For instance, when it came to financing the Addison scheme, I, with others of my administrative colleagues, did a bit of tub-thumping at street corners and at works gates, in order to raise the finance through housing bonds and so on. Therefore, I think my work in administration entitles me to put forward some views of a very practical character. I had anticipated that the central feature that would emerge from this discussion would be the more adequate provision of labour power in our housing scheme, and I think I am not unjust in saying that, important as may be Members of Parliament—and we are all important, at least in our own estimation—what would be of much more importance in solving this housing problem would be the existence, not so much of 600 Members of Parliament, but of 600 efficient bricklayers. If that be so, why is this House, why is the Ministry so dis-inclined to afford to that industry just that measure of improvement in conditions which the industry is rightly asking? In addition to my municipal experience I am a building trade operative. I remember the bricklayers' lot in pre-War periods, when he was a very fortunate bricklayer who could earn on an average £1 a week. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman) has recently made three contributions in this House on this question, with all his sincerity, his ability and I think his purity of motive. He once wooed the constituency that I now represent, and at that time I admit it was a pleasure to sit at his feet as a political philosopher. I pay my regards to his political philosophy even to this 1185 day, but when he attempts to pose as a practical builder I am bound to part company with him. Speaking on this question of housing on the Adjournment for Easter he said:There is no suggestion of any change by offering a bonus, or by piece work, or oven by higher wages, which they say they are giving at Wembley to speed up this necessity of life. I do not know that there is any need to consider those questions in dealing with ordinary, that of museums or big architecture, etc. My interest is in building houses for the poorest of the people. In these circumstances I think we ought to demand on the one hand a limited amount of profit, as we thought we demanded during wartime—and this is a wartime measure—for those who are engaged in building, and also sonic special effort in speeding up on the part of those who are engaged in the actual work of construction. I do not want to ate the word dilution.' I shall he very eager to hear what criticisms hon. Members have to make afterwards." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April. 1924: col. 145S. Vol. 172.]I offer my criticism. I want to ask why, if it would add to the efficiency and increase the output if a system of piece work was imposed upon the bricklayers' operatives in the erection of houses, it will not also increase the efficiency and the output in the building of your magnificent Government buildings, museums, and the higher forms of architecture? I wish the right hon. Gentleman were here, because I want to put this to him. I want to imagine him in a much more affluent position than he is to-day, being in the position of erecting for himself a house somewhere in the vicinity of Walton Heath. What would he do? He would first of all, very rightly, engage an architect who would prepare specifications for the building. He would then insist that a clerk of the works should be engaged in order to see that the specifications were carried out. The right hon. Gentleman would do all that to ensure that he secured for himself a good building and one which would be as substantial in 60 years' time as it is to-day. His whole philosophy on this building question would simply lead to this, that the houses that the Government are to erect for the workpeople of the country should be jerry built houses, and that we are not having. I think the whole Labour party will support the Minister of Health in insisting that these houses that we are to build for the people shall be built not only under the best possible circumstances but also that they shall be of such a character that 1186 at the end of 60 years they will stand a real asset to the wealth of the community.
I want to deal with this innuendo which is being frequently made against the bricklaying operatives. I think it arose because, undoubtedly, in the earliest stages of the Addison scheme the output of the bricklayers was not what perhaps we expected it to be, and it was not high for this reason, that the bricklayers who were at work at that time were men in the main who had been through the great War. I have in mind two men who were working not far from me, one a man who ought never to have been at work. He had 14 wounds in his body, and the other was nearly as bad, yet those men wanted to help in the work of building houses for their fellows and the employers patriotically employed them. If there is an employer in the building trade sitting in this House to-night he will be bound to agree with me that the output of the bricklayer to-day is far nearer normality than it was in the early period of the operation of the Addison Act. Therefore I think the members of the Opposition are doing a distinct dis-service to this great work by issuing to the people of the country leaflets of this sort. Employers of labour are with me, and any man who is associated in the work of a public housing committee is with me, and I beg of those responsible for the tactics of the party opposite not to persist in such methods as these, because. I am assured that if you want to gain the hearty co-operation of the building industry that is not the way to do it.
There is one other point while I am dealing with the right hon. Gentleman's suggestions—that, of training. I should like to see many of those men who are really the backbone of the building industry, the builders' labourers, become bricklayers. What is the difficulty? The average all-round bricklayer's labourer is a very handy man, and I think we have succeeded in bringing his wages very near the level of those of the bricklayer. I shall not be satisfied till they equal the wages of the bricklayer. He is a very handy man, but without this guaranteed week for the bricklayer your average bricklayers' labourer finds himself much better off than the bricklayer. When the bricklayer is unemployed the bricklayer's labourer can often get a job while the bricklayer cannot. Therefore, it is most 1187 incumbent that you should give the bricklaying industry that guaranteed week for which they are asking. Again, that is a big factor in preventing boys coming in. There is not a Member in the House who would apprentice his son to the bricklaying industry. What are the conditions? A man has to be physically fit. He has to be prepared to rough all weathers. It is the one industry in the building trade which perhaps has to labour under the worst conditions. I want to submit those ideas to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme, because I know what tremendous influence he has with his party. I know the tremendous influence he carries in the country, and also in my constituency. Therefore I hope he will consider what I have ventured to put before the Committee to-night. I think we have a right when so much is expected of our own industry to ask what sacrifices are the possessing classes of this country prepared to make in this great work? In my own locality I ventured to submit to the wealthy people there that they might afford to our town council a loan for rehousing the slum dwellers at, say, 3 per cent. I was told that I ought not to make that suggestion to the monied people. If what I am saying will go beyond the four walls of this House, I would make my final appeal that the monied classes owe a real obligation to these houseless men, many of whom were ex-servicemen and therefore they should not look on their money so much as bringing additions to their income, but rather as a means, which is theirs alone, of helping the Government to get on with this great and courageous scheme of re-housing the people in a scientific manner.
§ Mrs. PHILIPSON
There is one point in this Debate that really appeals to me very strongly. I would like to ask the Minister of Health if he cannot give some reason, and give a true reason, why the building operatives have fixed an age limit which is really penalising the ex-servicemen? There are young ex-servicemen of 28 and 30, many of them married, who, at the ages of 17, 18 and 19 were fighting for their country. They have been unemployed for years and cannot get work. An hon. Member on the benches opposite mentioned that five years ago they should have been taken into the building trade. Here they have a scheme 1188 for 15 years' certain employment, and yet these men are to be debarred because the age limit is fixed at 20. I brought this up at the Committee the other day, and when I was challenged the other night I asked the representatives of the building operatives: "Is it not a fact that under this housing scheme these men are to be debarred?" The apprentices to be taken in are boys from school, and it is penalising ex-servicemen who fought for their country and are only too anxious to get something to do. It is penalising them in one of the things we want most of all—houses—and one into which they will put their whole heart and soul. I ask the Minister of Health if he will not give the true reason why the building operatives will not take those men into their trade.
§ Mr. E. SIMON
I want to say a few words from the point of view of the local authorities as one who has for the last few years taken an active part in the building of houses by local authorities. I think the local authorities will be compelled to continue to play a large part in this programme. I must confess that we have failed miserably in what we have tried to do in Manchester; we have not been able to build even as many houses as are required to meet the increasing population. The same is true, I think, of all other local authorities in the country. The reason why we have failed is that we have been up against, the problem of getting skilled labour. Bricklayers and plasterers have been the key question. Every single scheme has broken down on the same point. This scheme, so far as local authorities are concerned, must be judged on that point. Can it provide extra labour? If we get extra labour we shall require extra material. Can it provide both of those without allowing the cost to go up? We will welcome any scheme with both hands that can give us labour on these terms. There are two quite distinct proposals in Mr. Wheatley's scheme. The first is the increase of subsidies, the second the extension of subsidies to 15 years. Both of these are liable to increase the cost. The increased subsidy is given with the object of letting houses at lower rents, because I think I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say to-day that the houses now are being built for the rich. It arias some phrase to 1189 that effect which I could not understand. As regards Manchester, I resent that very much indeed. The houses in Manchester have been built for the working classes. We had a census only a few months ago. We had 3,000 houses finished; 48 per cent. were occupied by artisans, 48 per cent. by clerks, and 4 per cent. by Others. I do not think anybody will deny that clerks are members of the working classes, and that they deserve houses as much as anybody else. Ninety-six per cent. of these houses are occupied by the working classes, and we are continuing to build the same type of house under the Chamberlain Act. It is only labour that has stopped us. There is an unsatisfied demand by thousands and thousands of people of the same class for these houses.
This increased subsidy as to Manchester is not going to give us a single extra house to let. It is going to reduce rents by something like 1s. 6d. each. The "Manchester Guardian" referred this morning tothis outpouring of money in aid of rents.I want to make it quite clear that that has not been asked for by the building trade. There is nothing of it in the building trade Report. It has not been asked for by either the employers or employed in the building trade or by the local authorities. It is a perfectly spontaneous gift on the part of the Government for the purpose of reducing rents of houses for which there is a demand from the working classes, so as to create a, class of privileged tenants living at a rather lower rent. There is, however, a. danger that this subsidy may be partly absorbed by the building trade. That has been the history of previous subsidies. Even the relatively small contribution given by the right hon. Gentleman opposite last year had that effect, not as regards municipal houses, but as regards houses built to be sold. There was an advertisement offering 2s. for a bricklayer as against the standard rate of 1s. 7½d. The present value of the Chamberlain subsidy we are giving for houses for sale is £100; the Wheatley subsidy is to he no less than £240. If already 3d. above the standard rate is being offered on a £100 subsidy, there is a danger of demoralisation as regards material and labour from the immense increase in the subsidy For that reason T think we want to regard this increase, which is not going to get a single 1190 extra bricklayer or a single house, with a good deal of suspicion and to see that adequate safeguards are included in the Bill, to make sure that it does not go to the demoralisation of the building trade. Members of the building trade admit that by the Addison subsidy the trade was demoralised and they wish they had never seen it, despite the profits they made out of it at the time. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see there are adequate precautions in the Bill to avoid that sort of thing happening again.
Mr. Wheatley's second proposal is the extension of the subsidy for 15 years. That I take it is based on the building trade's Report. You really must have a long term programme if you are going to increase the amount of labour and materials available on reasonable and businesslike lines. If it is done on such lines it ought to mean not that the materials will go up in price, but that the over-head charges of the manufacturers will be lessened and prices will come down. They will be able to supply materials for a scheme of this sort, therefore, at lower prices. That can he done if there is a proper plan and good will on all sides, but if we endeavour to rush the scheme through too hastily it will naturally mean another boom and chaos in the trade. I think all sections in the House therefore will welcome the long period programme. The effect of this is more or less a guarantee against unemployment. I have the greatest sympathy with that. I think it ought to be done if possible. But we must not overlook this very unfortunate face that during the boom in 1920, when there was no unemployment and also when the building trade was suffering from the effects of contracts during the War, it took 5,000 hours to build an 18,000 brick house. After 18 months when there was a certain amount of unemployment the time came down to 2,000 more hours, or less than one-half. That was partly the result undoubtedly of unemployment. It is a very unfortunate thing that if you guarantee a trade altogether against unemployment and there is no other incentive to make people work above the standard rate, and if every man is paid at a fixed trade union rate whether he be a good man or otherwise, the tendency is for the output to go down. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is that wholly the fault 1191 of the operatives?"] Some employers may have profiteered in materials and they may have encouraged the men to slack. I want to deal with an aspect of the building trade report which is exceedingly serious in my opinion with regard to the future success of this scheme. The report was a very welcome one because of the spirit in which it is written, because the operatives have agreed to allow one apprentice to every three craftsmen. But there is one thing I deplore in that report, and that is that the output which has been taken as the basis of calculation is so low. It is calculated that to build an 18,000 brick house it should take a bricklayer 12 weeks to do his part of the work. An hon. Member said just now that people who spoke about the output of bricklayers showed nothing but crass ignorance. But the matter is so important that I must take the risk. I have discussed this question with very many people. I am not a builder myself, but I have talked with those who are. The output of a bricklayer who takes 12 weeks to build his portion of an 18,000 brick house would be equal to 273 bricks a clay. That is the average output for the whole period, and I am taking the figure from the building trade report. The report goes on to say that these houses are being built, in their opinion, at the lowest possible cost. It also says that although there have been fluctuations in output in. recent years, there is no serious reduction in output to be apprehended as, far as they know. But there is not a single word in the report suggesting that at any time either the operative or the employers may improve their methods or output. As they are asking for a guarantee for 15 years, I frankly say it is very deplorable that there is not a single suggestion that there should he an improvement in that respect.
I think the figure laid down in the Report is far too low. I base my statement on actual facts given me by people experienced in the trade who have been doing housing work in Manchester. I will give four illustrations, and I may at once explain that I shall give no names, because they have told me that this is a report of employers and employed who have agreed to the figures, and they sug- 1192 gest it might be made uncomfortable for them if they appeared to differ from the report. In the first case the contractor to whom I put the point said that the allowance of 12 weeks to a bricklayer for an 18,000-brick house was too much. It should be in his experience between six and seven weeks, and that would mean a rate of 500 bricks per -day. If payment by result were adopted the output would be increased by 20 or 25 per cent. without any undue pressure, and that would represent 600 bricks a day. Then we had a direct labour scheme in Manchester. The direct labour manager reports that the average number of bricks laid in the latter part of 1929 was not above 306 per day, whereas early in 1922, after a good deal of unemployment had supervened, the output was between 500 and 600, and in one case it reached 600. That is not a comparable figure with that which I gave before. But it emphasises this fact, that the increase from 1920 to 1922 was from 306 bricks to between 500 and 600 bricks. The third case is that of a speculative builder, a man who has built more houses than almost anybody else in Manchester. He is not building now, He says:The rate of output in cottage buildings in pre-war days averaged 800 to 1,000 bricks in a 10 hour day—bricklayer and labourer. I have known many men on cottage buildings 20 years ago to well and truly lay an average of from 1,000 to 1,250 bricks in a 10 hour working day.The fourth case is that of a very large contractor. This is not a case of house building, but a big job which he had to carry out during he War. It was straightforward building work, and he could only get an average of 300 bricks a day laid. Then he started a system of payment by results, and in the second week the rate of bricklaying went up from 300 to 1,200 bricks a day, and the whole of the job was finished at an average rate of 1,200 bricks a day, as a result of payment by result. He goes on to say:There is no reason why such a system could not be applied to housing schemes.That is the position. One gets the same kind of evidence wherever one speaks to employers.
§ Mr. SIMON
One statement which I have given was in connection with the 1193 direct labour scheme in Manchester and the evidence is available. I do feel that this scheme is an illustration of the danger of calling in a trade in connection with such a matter. There is temptation for the employers and the employed. They know that they have been called there to agree, and in this case they have agreed. They have agreed on an output which the trade unionists were willing to accept, and they naturally have accepted a low output. I do act say that they intend to stick to that. I gather that the whole subsidy is based on this building trade Report, and the figures given in that Report. If that he so, it ought not to be accepted by this House.
The precaution taken by the Minister of Health is, I think, a very good precaution. He says that if the price exceeds a certain figure, then we stop building. What does that mean? It means that, if for any reason the price becomes too high, he will bring about unemployment again in order to bring the price down. There are only two ways in which you can give incentive to men to do better. You can pay a flat rate, and if you pay a fiat rate you will get very flat-rate work. I heard an interesting story on that subject which was alleged to have been broadcast by the Leader of the House in an after-dinner speech. He told of a gentleman who employed two bricklayers, one of whom was only laying half the number of bricks that were laid by the other. He went to the man who was giving the low output, and said, "You see that fellow over there. He is doing twice as much work as you are." "Yes," replied the man in an aggrieved tone, "I have told him about it several times, and he will not change it." You will get that sort of thing so long as you pay on a flat rate. One method of dealing with the matter is the threat of employment. That is a method which none of us wishes to employ.
An alternative method is that of providing that if the man lays more bricks he gets more in proportion to what he does. That is a system of payment by result. We have payment by results in the cotton industry and in the engineering industry, and in all kinds of industries. I happen to be an engineer myself. The system works fairly well in the engineering trade, but in both the engineering and building trades the 1194 system has one very unsatisfactory feature, and that is that the worst employers fix a rate, and if a man earns too much they cut the rate. Employers have been very much blamed in the past for that, and I admit they are to be blamed for it. That has caused a quite undeserved ill-repute for the whole system of payment by results.
There are two conditions for any proper system of payment by result. One condition is, that the man must get his trade union rate minimum, whatever happens, and the other condition is that the rates of output must be fixed by some impartial committee in such a way that they cannot he cut by any individual employer. Something of that sort could be done quite easily as regards housebuilding. It might be done by district committees. Unless these conditions are observed, any form of payment by result falls to the ground.
It is difficult to say how much the out put could he increased by payment by results, but it could certainly be increased very substantially. If the men felt that if they did extra work they would be paid for it, they would certainly work harder. The success of this scheme is clearly going to depend upon getting extra labour and additional output from such labour as we have. From the point of view of the trade unions, it would be an enormous advantage to have some such system as this. They would be saved from having their rates cut; they would earn mare, and with the increased production it would not be necessary to get anything like the extra number of apprentices into the trade that will be necessary otherwise, and there will not be the danger 10 or 15 years hence, of which the Minister of Health made so light, that when the housing schemes are coming to an end you have your labour at an absolute maximum. That risk could be avoided by payment by result and a larger output from the existing Members of the trade.
The one thing I am anxious about, and which everybody connected with local authorities is anxious about, is to get this extra labour into the trade, and to get the work done at a moderate price. That is the real urgency of the problem that is before us. I have the greatest sympathy with the trade unions. I believe quite sincerely that in their interests as well as in the interests of the 1195 community as a whole, that the way I suggest is the best way of solving the problem, and I do appeal to the trade unions to give the matter serious consideration in conjunction with the employers in the trade. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is anxious to do all he possibly can, and I hope he will be successful in getting a scheme that will build the houses, but he can do very little, and nobody can do anything much in comparison with the service that would be. rendered by the trades unions if they would forget their ancient prejudice, forgive their employers for mistakes in the past, and adopt the system of payment by result. This would give us the labour we want almost at once, and could go a long way towards solving the housing problem in the next few years.
§ Mr. SHERWOOD
I speak with all humility as a new Member. I wish to speak as one who has tried to get the best out of the pre-Addison era, then out of the Addison scheme, and also the best out of the 1923 Act. I believe that the present proposal of the Minister of Health is much better than either of the other schemes. The failure of the Addison scheme was that the liability of the local authorities was limited to a penny rate. That in itself created a competition between local authorities to get the houses, willy nilly, at the expense of each other. That was the cause of the prices going up to such an extent that in my own town the price was £1,000 for an A3 type house.
The 1923 Act went to the other extreme. There the Ministry did not care how much the house cost because the Ministry's total contribution was £75 or thereabouts. The hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) referred to the cost of houses, and said that we must get the cost down. The way to get the cost down is by co-operation between the Ministry on the one hand and the focal authorities on the other. If the Ministry have to find £9 per annum per house, the local authorities by cutting down the price can reduce the £4 10s. which they are to pay. In that case, there would be co-operation, at any rate, as far as the administrative authorities are concerned, in the cutting down of the price of the houses. 1196 The right hon. Member on the Front Bench was very much concerned about the owner-occupier. I want to say that if we are to have the owner-occupier and this is where I do not like the Minister's scheme—then the owner-occupier should purchase his house through the local authority as built by the local authority. Let me give an illustration of what I mean. In 1922, in our city, we built 136 houses. Seventeen bricklayers on corporation work built 102 houses; that is six per man. Fifteen bricklayers in private enterprise built 34 houses. That was not the fault of the bricklayers, because they were very often the same men changed over. It was because of bad organisation, and it is not so much the question of how many bricks this man or that man lays in a year, but it is rather a question of organisation of labour, and if you get on to new housing especially, and have a regular sequence of labour, you can double the output even of the men in the trade to-day. We have seen men waiting with nothing to do. On municipal schemes we do not do it—at least, we do not do and I hope they do not do it in Manchester.
So far as subsidies are concerned, I regret paragraph 3. It does not mean you will get more houses. Our object should be to increase the aggregate number of houses, but what do you get? The man who goes to his local authority for a loan under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act, does not, by any means, get the advantage of the £75, and what I would like the Minister to do, in every case of a subsidy house, is to insist that the Ministry shall be satisfied that the price of the house of the owner-occupier compares with the house the local authority can build. Last year we sanctioned primary; certificates for houses that cost £700. We have built the same houses for under £500, or, rather, better houses, with more amenities, through the local authority. My contention is, that the whole of that £75 granted to the owner-occupier went into the' hands of the profiteer, and we have gone so far now that before we grant a primary certificate for a subsidy house, we have it valued.
There is just one matter on which the hon. Member, who has just sat down, will agree with me, and that is, that we have got to get beyond bricks and mortar, 1197 and, in spite of all that has been, said, we have to be building some concrete houses at present. I have had no objection from the building trades union in our area, and there are as good trade unionists in Wakefield as in Manchester We are even going further than that, and are building with a sort of novel material of the best English oak and stone slabs, and although we have done away, not only with the bricklayer and plasterer, enthusiastic trade unionists have taken no objection. As a matter of fact, they are working on houses practically side by side, and I do want to submit that, even in the building trades, we have got to explore every avenue. But do not lay it on to the bricklayer You cannot lay bricks by machinery, and if a man is to be paid, as the hon. Member suggests he should be paid, on a speed process, then God help your houses! I would not like to think I had got to build one anyway, and to talk about training a man to build houses with bricks after a short period of training is simply ridiculous. I am not satisfied with the steps that are being taken at the Ministry for controlling prices. In our area, in 1919, our building was costing us 17s. per square foot of floor space. In 1920, it went up to 20s. Last year we got down to 8s. 6d. Now we are paying 11s., and it is floor space that counts. We are able to build to-day on contract an A3 type house for £350, excluding land and sewers. It has electric light, bath and fence, and is all ready for the tenant to go into. For £400 we are building a B3 type of house with parlour, kitchen, scullery, three bedrooms and a bathroom, just keeping inside the 1923 Act with 949½ feet of floor space area, which is not a bad house for a working man.
I hope this Resolution will go through, not because the 1923 Act was bad, not even because the Addison scheme was bad, but because they were not quite good enough. I believe that by co-operation with the local authorities, the building trade operatives, the master builders and the public, we will get houses under this scheme, I believe they ought to get a move on to insist on the small builders in a given area pooling their resources. It is simply playing at building houses for the man who employs, perhaps, a single working bricklayer and himself. These people cannot take a big job. They 1198 ought by co-operative methods, or some other way, to pool their resources, in order to give co-operative construction of houses, so as to have a sequence of labour.
If I might be allowed to do so, I should like to congratulate the speaker who has just sat down on his contribution on this subject, and I hope we shall be able to hear his contributions in the future. I feel some sympathy with him, as I am, in a manner, a maiden speaker myself. I claim the rights and privileges, the fact being that I find it difficult to realise that any change has taken place. I find the same debates going on in the House of Commons as were going on when I was here before. I find, it is true, that usurpers have taken our places on the opposite benches, and that my old place is being occupied by a Member at another party. If he finds it as hard work as, I found it he is earning every penny of his very meagre salary. When I was on those benches with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. N Chamberlain) we tried to indicate our views on the inclusion of Scotland in au English Bill. As in many other things, we find that the same process takes place, with office, as often takes place with a. railway train. The people find themselves sick and faint when they are facing in one direction, and their faintness completely disappears if they turn round and take their seats on the opposite side. Possibly that feeling of nausea which overcame Scottish Members at the thought of being included in an English Bill has completely passed away when it is brought forward by lion. Members of their own party, and, consequently, the particular case for Scotland is only raised from the Front Bench, and we have to consider in June not merely the general case with regard to-this Bill, but also the particular case that arises, and, in particular, the case with regard to Scotland.
In the first place, I say that it is a, very extraordinary thing, after all the confessions of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, 'that they so meekly fall in with the practice we laid down only a year ago. The Minister of Health has eaten many of his words le-night. After all, the Government are in the process of being convinced by practice, and long may that process continue! They are modifying already. The Minister of Health comes down to 1199 explain that what he said about interest only refers to the happy state of society which he would wish to see. The proposals that he brings forward, he said, axe to buttress up the capitalist state of society. What would have been said in any part of this House if we had been told that the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) would be coming before us and pleading with us to pass a Resolution on the ground that he was—[An HON. MEMBER:"] They are only pulling your leg! "] Hut I would rather take the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health than the editor of a great organ of public opinion in Scotland. If we are to take all his contributions to the pages of "Forward" in the same sense that the hon. Member the editor suggests we should take his contributions in Debates in this House, then I say that the pages of that paper, which I sedulously read, will have, in my eyes, much less value than they have now.
There is another singular fact. The process of education has gone on more rapidly and with cinematographic speed in recent days. The Minister of Health got together a committee of both sides of the building trade, and this committee put out a report, and the Minister fell on its neck and blessed it, and said he would adopt this report. He went to the local authorities, and the local authorities tore the report into tatters, and the Minister of Health said: "I accept that," and be comes down to the House, not with a scrap of paper, but with an envelope full of scraps of paper, and asks us to give him a blank cheque. The essential features of the scheme are numerous and important. Take the 15 years' guarantee, for instance. The local authorities said: "We are not going to give you a 15 years' guarantee. We are not going to give you a guarantee at all." "All right," said the Minister, "I will agree to that." He is going to reconsider it in three years' time. The contribution is to be renewed every three years. Is that a guarantee? Would any hon. Member consider it a guarantee at all? What sort of guarantee is it? All we can say is that sooner or later the building industry will have a right to turn on him and indicate that in their opinion he has not carried out any of the proposals they brought forward. They 1200 put forward proposals to deal with the organisation of a statutory committee of the. building industry. The statutory committee, we were told, was to be given a status which would enable it to deal with anything arising within the industry, the expenses to be paid out of funds to be provided by Parliament. I do not find a single mention of this, and so I understand that a statutory committee has gone west, along with the other essential features of the scheme. The statutory committee, we are told by the Minister in his review, is now to be merely an advisory committee. An American philosopher mid it was good advice to run three planets of the same dimensions. The statutory committee has gone. This statutory committee seems to me to be the central part of the scheme, for to it was to be entrusted the absolute power to prohibit building material entering this country. The building committee came to an agreement on this basis, and the Minister of Health tears it up. Do we understand that the committee has sanctioned all these alterations? Was the letter from the London County Council submitted to this committee? What has happened to it? The fact that this committee considered it necessary before they would even try to instal the additional plant or extend work in any section of the trade that it should be safeguarded against the unrestricted use of foreign goods on houses built under this scheme seems to indicate that they attached considerable importance to this statutory committee, and if we are to understand now from the right hon. Gentleman that this is only an advisory committee, this seems to be another part of the scheme which is torn up. There are very many recommendations here which do not find any fulfilment in the Financial Resolution tabled by the Minister, and in particular in the portions relating to the housing schemes for Scotland. Scotland is dismissed in one page by this committee with the statement that further steps will be taken by the committee to deal with it, and I understand from the Secretary for Scotland to-day, in answer to a question from me, that no steps have been taken.
That merely refers to 7½, per cent. of the houses to be built under the scheme, and not only that, but 1201 when this scheme was under consideration the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Kirkwood) rent the air with declamations proclaiming that nothing but £12 a year, and that for 60 years, would go any distance towards satisfying the Borough of Dumbarton. Now it 40 years and not 60 years, and if he thinks that he can delude the Scottish Board of Health into regarding Dumbarton and Clydebank as a rural area he is much mistaken. No minor modifications even are proposed with regard to the Scottish scheme. We have a party here which recommends two different things. It is stated by the Minister that the question of railway freights is very important. In the English Report one finds that in the opinion of the Committee the freightage charges at present in operation should be considerably lowered, but in regard to the Scottish Committee it is stated that railway freightage is a matter as to which the Committee would desire to recommend that assistance should be afforded in the case of materials for housing schemes. However, that does not in any way affect the all embracing scheme of the Minister of Health and the Secretary for Scotland. They are willing to swallow both of these and leave it to be threshed out subsequently when the electors come round to find out under which thimble is the pea.
I am not bringing forward these facts as to the position in Scotland, regarding local authorities' schemes from the national or from the local point of view. I am simply showing that there we find the difficulties which have been emphasised all this afternoon; and especially do we find in Scotland that the shortage is a shortage of labour and to some extent of material, but that finance does not really enter into the question at the present moment. How are we justified in saying that? Because in Scotland at the present, moment a considerable number of houses remain to be built under the Addison scheme for which the State is paying far above anything now proposed by the Minister of Health. The Scottish Board of Health this summer will have to give their consent to the extension of the subsidy period not merely for the year allowed by Parliament beyond the time in the English scheme, but for an additional period of several months, owing to the bottle neck which exists in regard to the supply of 1202 skilled operatives, and in order that we may be able to complete these houses which are being built solely and entirely at the cost of the State with no other authority contributing one penny.
I will give you the figures. The four-fifths of a penny which was contributed has been expended long ago. We are now dealing with areas in which the four-fifths of a penny has been consumed, and where the State is bearing the whole of the loss upon all the houses that can be built. In October of last year there were 2,900 houses to be completed under the Addison scheme, and 1,700 houses were not begun
Sanctioned but not begun. They have still to be begun from the cutting of the soil. However, I think the Parliamentary Secretary to the Scottish Board of Health will not deny that there is a matter of several hundreds, possibly of 1,000 odd houses which have still to be completed.
§ Mr. JAMES STEWART (Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health, Scotland)
One hundred and thirty-six.
So that under the Addison scheme even the year's extension beyond the English lime has not sufficed to complete our houses, and with regard to 136 we will need to get a further extension beyond what, is contemplated in the extension already sanctioned by Parliament. A further point is that when the grant was given for slum clearances in Scotland, we called the local authorities together and asked them what was the utmost amount, of rehousing they could carry out in two years with the conditions of labour and material which existed in their areas. That was the utmost amount, remember, everything that the building trade of Scotland could turn out, and the reply was 6,000 houses. All these houses have been sanctioned and are being proceeded with, and so you find that the Addison houses are not yet completed, 1203 while we have a full programme under the slum clearance scheme of 6,000—limited by the supply of actual labour and materials—and, in addition, we have a number of houses to be constructed under the 1923 Act. In all, there were to be built, when we left office, between 17,000 and 18,000 houses for which we had provided, for which the financial obligation had been settled, and the bottleneck was labour. It was a programme which with the labour at our disposal was utterly impossible to complete within the time. It is easy to see why the hon. Member who spoke last referred scornfully to the builder who employed one bricklayer or the employer working with one or two bricklayers. Take the schemes carried out in the capital city of Edinburgh. Here are three schemes which were being carried out there on 6th September, 1923. In one of them, the number of houses under contract was 24, the number of bricklayers required to build the houses within the subsidy period was 12, and there were one foreman and one bricklayer on that contract. Another scheme of 48 houses needed 24 men to carry it through, and there were one foreman and one bricklayer working on that contract. There was another scheme of 36 houses, which required eight people to carry it through within the subsidy period, and there were one foreman and two bricklayers on it. There were 44 men needed to carry out that scheme in the subsidy period, and there were seven men working on it, and under this proposal of adding one apprentice to every three we should get two more men on that scheme, so that, instead of seven working on it, there would be nine, although 44 were needed. That is simply an example.
Everybody knows that the shortage of labour is very acute and that really the bottleneck is not the question of finance. As the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Sherwood), whose lucid exposition of the position I must compliment him upon, has said, the finance of this is a bonus gift, and it is supposed to go towards reducing the rent of the houses which are constructed under the scheme. It will not increase the houses to be produced by one single house. It is hoped that it will serve to bring down the rents under the scheme, but, as we already know, the cost 1204 of the houses has enormously risen. Since the mere rumour of this scheme was introduced, houses which were being tendered for at £386 in January have gone up to £389 in February, £416 in March, and £425 in April. All that the Minister can hope to do with his subsidy is to keep pace with the rise in the cost, and he has not yet laid a brick of his houses.
The prices of materials were fixed in January, and the hon. Member must not assume rashly that this is due to rises in the price of materials. The Minister has been watching that very carefully, and I know that, with the Minister's ruthlessness towards profiteering in any shape or form, he would be the first to pounce on any unfortunate profiteer he had found, to wring his neck, and serve up his body here on a platter, to show his keenness for the cause of housing in Great Britain. The hon. Member may talk, but "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off. If they like to come here, when the next annual Housing Bill is being discussed in this House, and show a scheme with anything like as good results as we have got, then they can talk, but not now. I quite agree with the Minister that this is not the revolutionary proposal that is put forward by certain hon. Members. What he has done is, roughly speaking, to double the 1923 subsidy. The lump sum value of our subsidy was £75, and this is £160. It is a very great reform, a revolutionary step, a wonderful advance, to double the subsidy given by a Conservative Government. Let me suggest that he might pass a one Clause Bill, saying "Any subsidy given by the Conservative Government is hereby doubled." He could bring up the Corn Production Act and double the subsidy there. If this is merely a proposal to double the subsidy, all one can say is that it is not a really practical step towards obtaining houses for the people of this country. The debate has shown that the question of labour is paramount in this matter, and let me point out even with regard to material—I mention it in passing—I am not at all convinced that the figures given in the report of the Building Trades Committee are correct. They put the output of bricks at 227,000,000 per annum for Scotland. The 1205 figures I got when I was at the Ministry were not more than 144,000,000 per annum. There is a discrepancy there which seems to require some explanation. The general position, as I said, remains, and you have got to see where the Min- ister is heading to. If he is going to build any more houses, what he has got to do is either to decrease the cost or increase the rent of the houses. I cannot see he is producing the effect of which he is talking.
Then, again, where does the right hon. Gentleman stand in regard to slum clearances? There were great powers given by the Act of 1923 with regard to slum clearances. That is a problem which has to be tackled separately. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to say a great deal—and theoretically one would agree with them—as to taking the population out of a crowded area and putting them into less crowded places. But there are people at Finweston who are living near the river, and want to live near the river, and they are not going to be shifted away by the wave of a wand of the hon. Member for the Gorbals Division or any- one else.
Fifteen or twenty years ago the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals was, perhaps, not taking the interest in public affairs that he is to-day. However that may be, we require special treatment for slum clearances. We were carrying on the slum clearance on a 50 to 50 basis. The present subsidy is on a 75 to 55 basis, but no one is going to build on a 50 to 50 basis if he can get the better terms, and how in this matter will we find ourselves in view of the Act of 1919 and the Act of 1923, and of the provisions under the subsidy pro- vided by this Financial Resolution?
It is necessary to consider the whole question from the point of view of the Minister who claims by his scheme to be about to absorb the whole output of the building industry. He is going to divert houses from one section to another. In doing so he will have to consider whether this will meet the necessitous portion of the population; whether it is going to benefit under any scheme which he is bringing forward, because of the rents that are charged for houses for 1206 slum clearances. In my own constituency we are building a lot of houses and letting them at 28s. per month, with rates. That is a long way below the 11s. 6d. per week on which the present housing scheme is estimated. As to the £500 house, and the 9s. per week rent, which the Prime Minister, a few months ago spoke about, that now, of course, has vanished into the limbo along with the other promises made by the Government.
Be that as it may the necessity for some long term scheme is essential, but I am not convinced that the present long term scheme is anything more than the merest delusion, nor do I believe that it will lead to any continuity of policy. After all no Parliament can bind its successors, and the present attempt to run an economic scheme by a political body shows that we are dealing with an omnipotent State which is only 3½ years old, and never gets any older. The life of a Parliament is 31 years and in the present attempt to get continuity you are dealing with an omnipotent baby which grows up to years old at the outside. This all-powerful baby is the real danger to the housing of this country and you cannot deal effectively with any housing scheme if you are going to have this omnipotent baby rolling over it in every direction as it is now doing.
You are not getting continuity under this scheme, and it will be necessary ultimately for Parliament to face the question of setting up some commission or trust, and entrusting it with a big sum of money and assigning to it the duty of dealing with the housing situation. If the Minister of Health can persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to lay before the House a Supplementary Estimate for a really large sum of money, that is the only way in which you will get Parliament out of this continual business of interfering with house building. If the right hon. Gentleman can bring forward proposals for a sum, say, of £10,000,000, £15,000,000 or £20,000,000 to be handed over to some sort of permanent body in order to put housing on a permanent basis, I will back him all the way. The natural loquacity of the Scot is proverbial, and I could go on producing arguments so cogent that they would persuade even hon. Members below the Gangway to vote against the Government. It has been suggested in this Memorandum that by this Financial 1207 Resolution you are putting private enterprise in the same position as State enterprise. It says that you are:Providing an increased contribution for houses which will be subject to special conditions governing the letting of the houses to occupying tenants.One can see that the proposals with regard to occupiers or the small builders are bound to prove utterly illusory. In this way you are cutting out an important section of the trade, and those who must bring in labour and train that labour. One condition is:
"That the houses are let for occupation to tenants who intend to reside in them; that they shall not he assigned or sublet by the tenants except with the consent of the local authority; that they shall not be told or otherwise disposed of except with the consent of the Minister or the Scottish Board of Health.
The right hon. Gentleman is sketching in this White Paper the provisions he intends to put into the Bill. We put down an Amendment to deal with this question, but it was ruled out of order because there was a danger of increasing the number of houses that were to be built. I will leave that to hon. Members below the Gangway. All I can say is that we shall give these proposals our closest and, I hope, not unsympathetic consideration, but we do consider that they do not grapple with the main difficulty of the present day in any adequate sense—that the provision of extra labour, either by the better use of the labour we have or by the reinforcement of the ranks of the skilled operatives in the building industry, is not adequately grappled with; and that, consequently, this Bill will not produce the extra houses. The throwing in of the extra money will, however, produce a rise in cost, and that rise in cost will knock out private enterprise as against collective enterprise, and to that extent will prejudice instead of helping the object we all have in mind, namely, the speedy provision of the number of houses required for the people of this country.
§ Mr. JAMES STEWART
I would like to compliment my compatriot, the hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Captain Elliot), on making his reappearance against us, even although it 1208 was, unfortunately, at the expense of one of my own party. [Hoc. MEMBERS: "No, a Communist."]
§ Mr. STEWART
The hon. and gallant Member made the Committee, during the time that he spoke, feel pleasure in hearing him once again. His somewhat caustic humour at the expense of the party on this side of the Committee has been most enjoyable, and not least so to us who were the recipients of it. He made several points in common with the points that were made by most of the other speakers. They have said that we cannot get on because of the lack of labour. They have said that we cannot get on because the men—the bricklayers seem to be the particular villains of a very villainous play—will not do the work.
§ Captain ELLIOT indicated dissent.
§ Mr. STEWART
The hon. and gallant Member did not, perhaps, emphasise it, but others have undoubtedly made the point that somehow or other the bricklayers will not produce the goods. Further than that, some of them, at least, have suggested that the finances of the country will not be able to bear this burden, and that., consequently, the housing schemes, as far as finance is concerned, will in all probability fail. I do not think there is any need for that feeling at all. I am sure that this country, which has borne even greater burdens at various stages in its career, will be able to bear this one, which is going to redeem us from a position in regard to housing in favour Of which not a Member of the House will say a word. My hon. Friend declared that so far as slum clearances were concerned in Scotland—and that mainly applies to the large towns and the industrial part of Lanarkshire—the people there must live near their work. I am certain it is not so. The schemes which have been promoted in Glasgow have not taken into account the fact that the workers must live near their work. They have gone out wherever they could find the ground, and they have gone a considerable distance away from the parts where the people they were dishousing were to be rehoused. Again, the Treasury have consented to increase the amount of money which was granted for slum clearance schemes. It was £30,000 1209 to begin with, it was then increased another £15,000, and now for the moment it stands at £45,000, and recently the Treasury have stated that the sum will be increased to the necessary amount required.
§ Mr. STEWART
In the meantime, yes. We propose to continue until we have got something better to put in its place. It was declared that under the recent scheme there is a considerable amount of house building being proposed in Scotland and a considerable amount being held up. Under the 1923 scheme the houses which are being built by private enterprise total 1,802, and the number completed on 30th April last is 73
§ Mr. STEWART
The houses under construction by local authorities number 1,007, and the number completed is 16. Under the slum clearance schemes, which began, I think, under the late Government, there are 1,267 under construction and 430 completed. Under the 1919 Act there have been completed 21,785, and there are under construction 2,989 out of the. total of 22,550 which have been allotted to Scotland as her share. That is never going to solve the housing position in Scotland. The number of houses which were required in 1917 was £35,000. Of that number 121,000 were required then, and to make up for the low standard of housing another 114,000 were required. You have tried various schemes to get on with that, and you are not making progress. Now—and this is where the Government, instead of meeting with the commendation it, ought to be meeting, is being held up to criticism, perhaps according to' party ideas quite fairly—we have taken a step which has not been taken by anyone else. We have appealed to the patriotic sense, to the sense of fair play, to the nation's requirements, to the people who are interested in industry, and I believe my countrymen who are engaged in these avocations, whether as workers or employers, recognising the necessity of dealing with this question, and of cutting out this cancer that is eating into the vitals of our nation, and will help to bring about 1210 disaster unless it is dealt with, are rising to the occasion, and. will give us of their best.
It has been suggested that they will hold up the work, and that they will not proceed. We have every evidence that can possibly be given and every pledge to prove that they will do this work. I am content to await the results, confidently believing that they will not fail us on this occasion. A great deal has been made of the cost; the fact that it is going to cost over £1,300,000,000 in connection with the subsidies. For about 23 years the subsidy is to be, between the State and the municipalities, £34,000,000. That is a tremendous amount of money, but not a greater burden than we can bear. It is not so much as we are bearing at this moment. Here I can appeal to the professional knowledge of the hon. Member for Kelvingrove—and I know he will agree with me—that we are losing more money from bad houses that produce bad health than it would cost us to go on at an even greater expense and build new houses that will tend towards abolishing the bad houses. The hon. Member for St. Alban's (Lieut.- Colonel Fremantle) stated in 1922, I think, that we were losing at a very low estimate—he said it was an under-estimate—£150,000,000 a year arising out of bad health; that tuberculosis alone was costing the country over £94,000,000 a year, and he has been backed up by the principal medical officer of health for the Ministry of Health and the medical officer of health for Manchester. Everyone of them is agreed that we are losing money steadily by the present position of affairs. If we want to abolish this, we must get at the cause of this tremendous expenditure.
In my own city we have a tremendous expenditure with regard to the Poor Law. We are spending in Glasgow at the moment on the maintenance of widows with young children over £143,000 per annum and, besides, we are spending £17,000 per annum on the maintenance of orphan children—t160,000 to maintain orphans, widows with young children. The average age of these widows is under 40 years of age, meaning, of course, that their husbands died at a time when they ought to have been maintaining their wives and children themselves. This, according to the evidence that we get, all arises from respiratory diseases, the 1211 thing that mainly again arises from bad housing. I do believe that every citizen in this country is entitled to give of his best and to devote his energies not to making party capital out of this—I do wish we could realise that this question transcends party—but in the hope that it will do good. I am certain that, if this scheme is adopted in the form in which it has been put forward to-night, and if it is proceeded with, at the end of three years, as the result of experience—whether the people with materials will give us goods, whether the workers will turn those goods into houses, and whether the financial provisions will work out as we think they will—at the end of three years, with that experience, applying ourselves to providing these houses as we desire to do, it is going to make things a bit better not merely for the people who will live in the houses, or the people you are dealing with, but for us who are in this House, as well as all those who are immediately concerned. I believe that will be done. This House need not worry about supervision. Let it get the scheme started, let it build the houses, and as years go on we will overtake this housing problem in a manner creditable to the House itself, at the same time meeting the needs of the people with whom we are dealing.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. N. Chamberlain.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.