§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 71A. [Progress, 3rd June. ]
§ [Mr. ENTWISTLE in the Chair.]
Question again proposed,
That it is expedient—
§ Mr. NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN
I think the Committee is to be congratulated upon the fact that during this Debate, in spite of some passages of a somewhat provocatory character in the opening speech of the Minister of Health, our proceedings have been conducted 1292 with complete good humour, with an anxious desire thoroughly to understand the proposals that have been put before us, and with an earnest wish, if possible, to see that they shall be effective in operation. I think that is because the whole Committee feels that this question is so serious and so pressing, that it has been with us so long, and that all efforts up to the present have made so little progress towards its solution, that it would be wrong—indeed it would be positively indecent—if we were to spend our time in hurling party gibes at one another, instead of combining to try to make it a workable scheme.
In the observations which I propose to make I do not intend to follow the example of the Minister of Health, but to address myself to his proposals in a serious spirit, and with the object of clearing up some points which to me are still obscure, at the same time pointing out some dangers which I think attach to the proposition he is making. Before I deal with the proposals, there are one or two passages in the speech of the Minister of Health which I do not think I can allow to pass without some comment. I hardly know whether to call them more irrelevant or more unfair, but I shall deal with them more in sorrow than in anger. I shall endeavour to point out to the Committee and to any others who may read what I say why I maintain that the part of his speech on which I comment was characterised by a partisan spirit and an unfairness altogether unworthy of the subject. The first passage to which I wish to draw attention was that in which he sought to belittle the operations of the Act which was passed last year. I feel that I must do so, because the Minister affected to be particularly generous in his statement. He said: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.What was it that the Minister was endeavouring to show? He said that, judging by the test of letting, he would be able to prove that the Act had been a complete failure. What was his method of proving that the Act had been a complete failure? He stated that the annual requirements of the country in new houses, to prevent conditions going worse 1293 than they are now, are 100,000 houses, and he went on to say: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 the country are orsening."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd June, 1924; col. 1102, Vol. 174.]I would point out that, in the first instance, the 17,000 odd houses to which he referred was the number of houses built or building in nine months, and not in 12 months. That does not show a great spirit of fairness. Is it a fair statement merely to take the houses built or building? I would ask the Committee to remember that the Minister was dealing with the first nine months of the operation of the Act. He was dealing only with the operations of the local authorities. It is well known that the operations of private enterprise in this matter have been very much more rapid than those of the local authorities. It is also a fact, and no one knows it better than the Minister of Health, that the limitation on local authorities has not been anything in the terms of the Act, but the plain, simple fact that they could not get labour to carry out the work they had under consideration.
I have before me a statement issued by the National Housing and Town Planning Council. The gentleman who writes the records of that council, which he is good enough to provide for a number of us, is a great admirer of the right hon. Gentleman. He describes his scheme asThe most comprehensive and most statesmanlike that has ever been put before any country by any citizen.He, therefore, cannot be said to be unduly prejudiced against the right hon. Gentleman, or to be unduly friendly to hon. Members on this side of the House. In this statement, that gentleman gives some attention to the Act of last year. He says:The experience gained will exercise a great influence upon the public mind. Judged from the point of view of actual building operations, the policy of the late Government has achieved a striking success.I would prefer to take as the test of success the actual building operations rather than the test of whether the houses are to be let or to be sold. If you get the maximum contribution in the pool of houses, no matter whether those 1294 houses are to be let or to be sold, it must lessen the tightness of houses generally. It must make more room, it must provide accommodation for more people, and it must, in some way or another, to some extent, benefit even the poorest of the poor. He gives figures which show that the number of houses entitled to the 1923 subsidy is stated to be 45,647 building or to be built by local authorities, and 87,909 built or to be built by private enterprise. In his particular statement, the Minister was dealing only with houses to be let. So I will leave out of account the houses which are being built by private enterprise. I would point out that if the Minister really wishes to be fair to the operations of the Act passed last year, at least he should take into consideration the number of houses the erection of which has been approved already by local authorities and by his Ministry, namely, 45,647, and not merely those that are actually being built, which come to a much smaller number.
I pass from that statement to the next, which is a more personal matter. The right hon. Gentleman gave an account of the processes of thought through which he said I had passed when I was constructing my Bill last year. He said:Having contemplated that situation, he said to himself, 'Let me 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.'"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd June. 1924; cols. 1102-1103, Vol. 174.][HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members behind the Minister cheer those words. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Presumably, they think that is an accurate description of what was in my mind when I framed the Housing Bill of last year. May I read to the Committee a few words from my speech on the Second Reading of the Housing Bill of last year, a speech which was read by the right hon. Gentleman to refresh his memory before he spoke yesterday, because he made a quotation from it. Dealing with this very point I used these words:Whatever subsidy we gave, we could not get more than a certain limited number of houses built in this period. We are limited 1295 by the capacity of the trade, and therefore this is the consideration which you must put before your mind—Who are to come first? Who are to be provided with houses first, since all cannot be provided with houses in the time which we are considering? Well, I must say that it seemed to me that those have the greatest claim upon our consideration who are living to-day under the worst circumstances."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th April, 1923; cols. 311-12, Vol. 163.]How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile it with his conscience that he should put into my mouth the words which I have read to the House, and that he should sanction the publication of those words in a leaflet which is to be sent all over the country, and sold to his admirers at a penny apiece—how does he reconcile it with his conscience as a man of honour, as a gentleman, to give such a complete travesty of the words which I used, and which he must have known I used when he made his statement?
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Wheatley)
Will the right hon. Gentleman, in order to refresh the memory of the Committee, read the passage from his speech that I quoted yesterday?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The passage that the right hon. Gentleman quoted from my speech has nothing to do with this point. I will read the passage:I am going to ask the House to regard this Bill from that point of view.".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd June, 1924; col. 1100, Vol. 174.]
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I mean the other passage, as to private enterprise turning from the more expensive to the less expensive houses.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I will read the passage: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 lees 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."—[OFFICIAI. REPORT, 24th April, 1923; col. 307, Vol. 163.]Does the right hon. Gentleman really seriously contend that that is any justification for the other passage which I have read to the House from the right hon. Gentleman's speech? I was speaking, in 1296 the passage which I have just read, of the operations of private enterprise apart from my Bill. In my speech on the Second Reading, I said, and I said it more than once, that I desired to benefit the people who were living under the worst possible conditions, and I pleaded with the House to have more consideration for those who were crowded together in one or two rooms rather than for those who were living under more comfortable conditions. The right hon. Gentleman was interrupted yesterday when he made the statement to which I have directed attention, by some hon. Member saying "Nonsense." He thereupon somewhat receded from the attitude he had taken up, and said that at all events that was the effect of the Bill even if it had not been the intention. That is a different point altogether, and I would like to say a word about it.
Last year when the Bill was brought in, there was a certain limitation put upon the area of the houses which made them eligible for the subsidy. I was pressed very hard from more than one quarter of the House to increase the limit, and to allow larger houses to be built under the subsidy. I said at the time that if you increased the area of the house one of two things would happen— either the house would be taken by a superior class of person than those for whom. I had been endeavouring to cater, or that if they still went into the houses they would be forced to sub-let, because they would not be able to afford the rent. What has happened? The first of the two alternatives. By increasing the area of the house you have encouraged a. certain class of person higher than those I had in mind —higher in income, I mean—to accept a house rather smaller than they would have liked, but they have accepted it in order to get the subsidy, and that is the reason why you have so many houses being built by private enterprise for sale to-day which you would not have got had you kept to the original dimensions of 850 superficial feet.
When the right hon. Gentleman reproaches me with the actual effect of the Act in producing a different class of house for a different class of people than those for whom he now desires to provide, he ought, at least, to remember that it was largely due to him and his friends that the conditions were so changed as to 1297 alter the idea that I originally had, and to bring about the very thing which I prophesied was bound to ensue.
I come to another passage in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, which was introduced, I am afraid, solely for the purpose of creating prejudice, for it seems to me to have very little relevance to the particular proposals which he is putting before us. Still I would like to make some comments on that passage in which he analysed the rents of houses, and suggested that, in the total cost of the house, only a small proportion was due to land and labour, and by far the greater part was due to interest on capital. First, I would point out that the total assumed in his calculation was £500, out of which £200 was labour, £280 material, and the remaining £20 for the cost of land. There was one item that he seems to have left out altogether. That was the cost of the development of the land. There are drainage and road-making which will probably put another £50 on the cost of the house. For some reason which I do not understand, that was left out of the calculation altogether. Let me come to the next point. The right hon. Gentleman said that the total cost of labour was 1s. 3d., out of which the bricklayers take 2½d.,and he suggests that if we can get, as we should no doubt desire, bricklayers to lay bricks for nothing, the only difference must be a sum of 2½d. from the rent.
I have tried to work out these figures at which he has arrived, and I make it that the 2½d is equivalent to a total cost of bricklayers' labour of £32 10s. per house. That does not agree with the figures which are given in the report of the building industry, for there I find in Appendix A, on page 29, that bricklayers are put down, at 12 weeks per man per house, at a total cost of £39. That is not a very large difference, I agree, but I am coming to something else. In a note at the bottom of the page it is stated that these costs are not, of course, costs of the various components of the total, because they have been averaged out between skilled and unskilled labour. Of course, that is obvious if you look at what it means, because £39 in 12 weeks gives £3 5s. per week, and I take it that a bricklayer's wage would be more in the neighbourhood of 75s. than 65s. Therefore, it is clear that he has seriously 1298 under-estimated the actual cost of bricklayers' wages in working out his calculation.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am only showing that the way in which the calculation was made was rather rough and ready, and that in the details there were considerable inaccuracies to which, I think, attention should be drawn.
But I come to a greater fallacy which the right hon. Gentleman introduced into his calculation. He calculated the cost at £500, £200 of which was labour, and interest upon the capital cost, he says, is twice the cost of all the constituent parts of it, 6s. 6d. per week, against 3s. 3d. for the rest. And he goes on to say, therefore, that if you built the house free of labour charges, if the workers worked for nothing, you could reduce the rent by only 1s. 3d. per week. But he surely forgot that if you reduce the cost of labour you reduce that part of the capital cost, and therefore you reduce the interest. That is an automatic reduction. If you took away the cost of labour, it at once cancels out that part of the interest that was due to the capital cost of labour. He has surely made the mistake there of under-estimating by one-third the amount of saving which he would have made by his imaginary conditions.
What was really the point of this calculation? If it mean anything, it means that no interest should have been charged on capital at all. Is that the right hon. Gentleman's policy—to go to the capitalist—in this case the local authority which has to raise the money—and ask him to supply, free of interest, the money that is necessary to build these houses? The right hon. Gentleman knows that he and his colleagues would not lend money free of interest even to the Russian Government; much less to a British employer or a British workman. I cannot see why, if it is the height of absurdity to suggest that the bricklayer should lay bricks for nothing, he should be asked, if he has saved up a little money, to forego interest on it if he lends it to somebody else. It is clear that this calculation was put in simply in order to create prejudice and to suggest to his friends and supporters in the country that the proper thing is to do something which he has no intention 1299 of doing. This will prove a boomerang, because if his friends take in the point of his argument, they will be wanting to know why he does not carry out that policy.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
They will want to know why he does not carry out the policy which his whole argument supports. Coming to the actual proposals, as far as I can gather them from the Financial Resolution, may I point out one consideration which I do not think has been fully appreciated, except by the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. E. Simon) who in his speech made some special allusion to it. That is that in the proposals before us there are two separate parts which are in no way connected with one another. First of all, there is the proposal to increase the subsidy in order to obtain houses to let instead of to sell, and, secondly, there is the proposal to augment the labour, and therefore the productive capacity of the building trade. Those two things have nothing to do with one another. It would be possible to provide an extra subsidy for increasing the number of houses to let at the expense of the number of houses to be sold without augmenting the labour, and equally it would be possible to augment the labour in the building industry without introducing any new proposals beyond those which were introduced last year. I want therefore, in examining the proposals, to take each of those two questions separately, and to deal with each on its merits as I find it.
Take first the question of the subsidy. What is really the difference between the proposal which we are considering now and that which occurs in the Act of last year? It is not in the numbers. The new proposals do not add a single new house. It is not in the type of the house or in the size of it. That is one of the astonishing things, when one remembers the debates of last year, and is a great tribute, I may say, to the Act which was passed last year against the will of the right hon. Gentleman, but which he now insists on prolonging for another fifteen years. It is not the cost of the house. There is no difference in the proposals between the cost of the house as under the 1923 Act and the cost of the house 1300 now, though I shall have something to say presently upon what I think will be the effect of these proposals upon the cost of the house. Therefore the one difference between the two proposals is that in the one case houses might be built either to let or to sell and in the other case houses can be built to let only. What are we asked to pay for the pleasure of transferring houses from the category of those which may be sold to the category of those which can only be let?
Experience shows that, contrary to what we thought when we introduced the Bill last year, in most cases no subsidy from the local authority was required at all to get the houses built. The subsidy sufficient for getting the houses built was then £75 per house. Under the present proposal a subsidy of £240 per house is contemplated, and the price therefore which we have to pay for the transference from one category to another is no less than £165 per house. I do not at the moment say whether it is worth it or not. I only want the Committee to see what it is we are being asked to pay, and what we are going to get for paying it. That £165 is the price per house that we are going to pay, in order to set up a privileged class of tenants, taken from a particular section of the community, who are to have this dole given to them by the State, paid for by the rest of the community, including the other men of their own class. Of course, there is a condition attached to the letting of these houses, and I want to devote a few minutes to that condition. It is a remarkable fact that the right hon. Gentleman in his speech yesterday devoted so little attention to this question of rents, and to the method in which he had calculated how those rents were to be arrived at. This is what he says:
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."—[0FFICIAL REPORT, 3rd June, 1924; col. 1118, Vol. 174.]Is that understood? Do hon. Members understand it? Rents are to be pre-War rents, plus 40 per cent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] That is what I thought hon. Members understood, but I am sorry to 1301 tell them that the Minister of Health misled them. Let me read to hon. Members what the memorandum says upon this subject. I sympathise with hon. Members, because it does rather tend to give one that impression.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
A good many more beside the hon. Member will need sympathy in this matter. Let me come to the position. The memorandum says:The rents to be charged for the houses shall not in the aggregate exceed the amount which would be payable if each house were let at the rent at present commonly charged in the area for pre-War working-class houses"—but the quotation does not stop there. It goes on:—except where the average deficit on the houses, after receipt of the Exchequer subsidy, would exceed the equivalent of £4 10s. a year for 40 years.That is one way of stating it. The Committee will see that the emphasis is laid upon the pre-War rent, plus 40 per cent., and that the expenditure is put at the end and in such a way as not to attract the major amount of attention. I would like to go back to 12th May, when a letter was written from the Ministry of Health to the representatives of the local authorities. It referred to the conference and gave the Minister's views on certain resolutions which had been passed by the conference. This is the way in which the Minister in that letter dealt with this same question of the rents:The aim of the present scheme is to secure rents for each locality equivalent to the rents now prevailing there for working-class houses built before the War. Until those rents can be reached, local authorities will charge such rents as will be remunerative, after allowance has been made for the total subsidies of £13 10s. a year for 40 years mentioned in paragraph 1.Hon. Members will see that in that draft, which came fresh from the mind of the Minister before he had had time to think how he would present this matter to the House of Commons, the emphasis was laid in exactly the opposite direction. The pre-War rent, plus 40 per cent, is to be an aim to be achieved in time, if it is possible to do so, but meanwhile the rent which is to be charged is to be such as will be remunerative to the local authority, after taking account of the subsidy from the Exchequer and the loss by the 1302 local authority of £4 10s. Therefore, it becomes very important to know what is the cost per house which the Minister had in his mind as enabling a remunerative rent to be reached at the level of pre-War rent plus 40 per cent. after the deduction of the subsidy.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Now we know what is our starting point. The question, therefore, is, what is going to happen? Suppose that these proposals are carried and that the cost of the house remains stationary at £475. To make it quite clear, I assume that the £475 is the all-in cost. Is that so? Not the cost of the Louse only? Let hon. Members be very careful. It is the all-in cost, land, development and everything. They can take it as equivalent to something like £425 as the cost of the house itself, and that is the last figure which we had of the cost of these houses in the month of April or May. Assume that the cost is to remain fixed at £475. Then you are to have two schemes running side by side. On the one hand you will have private enterprise entitled to a subsidy of £75 per house.
§ Mr. VIVIAN
What sized house? "house" is a very vague term. Can we get from the Minister what he is talking about? Is it a doll's house, or what sort of house?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I take it that the house is a non-parlour house, with three bedrooms. Is that right?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
It will be sufficient for my purpose if the Minister will say that the house calculated at £475, all-in, is the same house as that for which the figures have been published and given by him in answer to questions put to him from various parts of the House as to the cost of houses. Is it the same house?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am afraid that the Minister, too, is in need of sympathy, for he does not himself seem to know what is the type of house on which he has based the most fundamental part of his scheme. Let me, however, go on with my argument. I was saying that there would 1303 be two schemes running side by side. On the one side there would be private enterprise, with a subsidy of £75, going on building, if it can find people to buy, and on the other side the local authority building houses of the same type and the same size, but to let at a pre-War rent, plus 40 per cent. It is very difficult to prophesy exactly what would happen in those circumstances. I will not press the right hon. Gentleman to give me his opinion as to the results, because that might again embarrass him, and I do not wish to do that. I think it is possible that, on the one hand, it may kill private enterprise altogether. It depends really on what view is taken by those people who are at present buying houses under the Act of last year. If they think that the local authorities are likely to construct a really large number of the same kind of house at a rent far below the economic rent, then, of course, they will wait, and they will decline to buy any more houses, but will say, "We will get one of those municipal houses."
I do not see in these proposals or in the Memorandum any indication that the right hon. Gentleman proposes in any way to limit the discretion of the local authorities as to the class of tenant who might take the new houses. That is a point of importance. On the other hand, I think it is equally likely—I am not sure that it is not even more probable—that the people who are now buying those houses will say, "There is not going to be in any reasonable time a very large augmentation of the number of houses available. It would pay us better to buy a house even at an exorbitant price to-day and to get into it, rather than to wait indefinitely for the provision of a municipal house which perhaps may never come." If that should be so, there will be a scramble for labour and materials between the local authorities and private enterprise, and I venture to say that in that event private enterprise will win hands down, because private enterprise will be bound only by the capacity of its clients to pay the increased price of the house, whereas the local authority will at any rate desire to keep the rents as near as possible to the level which has been fixed by the right hon. Gentleman.
Is it likely that the price will remain stationary? I know that hon. Members 1304 opposite are placing great reliance upon a Bill which is to be laid before us presently for dealing with profiteering in materials. I think it is rather a pity that the word "profiteering" is used so freely. If the employer puts up his price it is profiteering, but if the union comes along for an advance in wages it is not profiteering; it is merely a proper exercise of their opportunities to gain for themselves a higher standard of living. I am not saying that it is wrong for them to ask for more money. I am suggesting only that the word "profiteering" is used rather too freely and loosely in these matters, and that it tends to obscure in the minds of hon. Members opposite the fact that the increasing cost may be due, not at all to profiteering, but to a legitimate and desirable increase of wages which may be paid in that industry or elsewhere. But the right hon. Gentleman says: "I have fixed all that. I have seen the manufacturers of building material, after seeing the employers in the building industry. They met me very fairly and they have agreed to limit their prices to what prevailed on 1st January, 1924." I wonder whether hon. Members opposite think that that is a tight guarantee? If they do, I would ask them to read again carefully the words that were used by the right hon. Gentleman when he was referring to this fixation of prices. He said:They are prepared to see 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 3rd June, 1924; col. 1113, Vol. 174.]Then I turned for further light to the Memorandum, and I saw there that in the event of the costs going up at any time, there is to be a full inquiry, and it adds:In any such inquiry regard would be had to all the circumstances and in particular to the question whether any increase in cost was due to causes within the control of persons engaged in the building industry or the manufacture and supply of building materials.How far is this inquiry to go? Is it to stop with the manufacturers of building materials, or is it to go beyond them to the people who supply the articles which 1305 are required in the production of these building materials? Let me give an instance. Supposing the miners get an increase of wages. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!" I hope the industry will be able to give it to them. Supposing that puts up the cost of coal. That is going to put up the cost of bricks. Is the inquiry to include an inquiry into the coal industry, or is it to stop at the bricks? Because if it stop at the bricks, then the brick manufacturer will be able to say: "I have only put up my costs sufficient to pay the extra cost of coal," and that will not help the right hon. Gentleman. The cost will have gone up just the same. I understand that the workers in the clay industry are asking for an increase in wages. If it be given, bricks, pipes, tiles, all these things will go up. I understand the workers in the foundry industry are asking for an increase in wages. If it be given, all these light castings about which we hear so much will go up in price, and all the inquiries in the world— if they stop short at inquiry into the state of the industries producing the materials— will not touch the matter at all. There are the things which are behind those industries. There has been an increase in dockers' wages. If that mean an increase in dock dues, it means an increase in the price of timber, and again an increase in prices as regards houses.
I read a few days ago in the "Daily Herald"—I hope hon. Members will accept its authority—a quotation from a committee of building material manufacturers. They said that out of 342 items used in the production of houses, 240 showed no advance in April compared with January, and of the 102 which did show an advance, 69 were items over the price of which the British manufacturer has no control, the price being governed entirely by import costs. There again, as far as these items are concerned which are not produced in this country but are imported from abroad, that is a matter over which the fixation of prices at those prevailing in January, 1924, will have no control whatever. You will not be able to stop them going up further, if they chance to do so. I should like to read the next paragraph in the "Daily 1306 Herald," because it seems to me to have a considerable bearing upon the case:The Committee state the organised brick manufacturers gave the Minister of Health on 19th February a definite assurance that they would not make any advance in prices which were not justified by in creased wages or other costs. They have loyally carried out this undertaking, and no instance is known of organised manufacturers having advanced prices unless the advance was warranted by increased wages or other cost,What has happened since 19th February? Prices have gone up. In March there was an increase of £27 in the price of a house, and in April a further increase of £9. Is it not perfectly clear that this pretence—I do not mean a deliberate pretence, because I think probably the right hon. Gentleman is deceiving himself, but I do not want the Committee to be deceived— that you can fix prices and keep them at a definite level is not going to be any protection? In my opinion the price of houses is definitely bound to rise under this scheme. I want hon. Members opposite to realise also that the right hon. Gentleman in these' proposals has introduced a new and very striking principle, which is quite different from the principle either in the Act of last year or in the previous Act in respect of rents.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Let me point out to the hon. Member what it is. I am not quite sure that he appreciates it.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Under the Addison scheme the liability of the local authority was fixed to a penny rate, and the rents were fixed, but the liability of the Exchequer was unlimited. Under the Act of last year the liability of the Exchequer was fixed, the rent was fixed, but the liability of the local authority was unlimited. Under the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman, the liability of the Exchequer is fixed, and the liability of the local authority is fixed, but it is the tenant who has to bear the unknown quantity, and it is the tenant who is going to suffer if the prices of these materials go up. Has the Committee properly appreciated that the whole theory of houses to let for the workers by the million at pre-War rents plus 40 per cent depends upon the cost of the 1307 house not exceeding £475 all in? The moment you get an increase in the cost of the house—and I think I have given reason to show that it is not only possible but probable— you are bound to get an increase in the rent. I commend the right hon. Gentleman for that policy. I think there is something to be said for it, but it is certainly not the policy I pursued last year, which was to keep the rents fixed, and let the local authorities bear the unknown quantity, in order that they might exercise due economy. He has introduced this new principle so that the tenant shall see what the effect upon him is of any increase in the cost either of material or of wages. If the effect of this principle be that the rent is going up, what is going to happen then? Either we are not going to get the houses at pre-War rents plus 40 per cent.—and in that case again a new class of persons will come in and take the houses—or else the local authority is going to stop building altogether, and in that case we get no houses at all. In either case, as it appears to me, the object of the right hon. Gentleman is going to be defeated, and I ask him therefore to give serious attention to the arguments I have used; and when the hon. Member who is going to reply addresses us this afternoon I hope he will be able to give us some assurance, which will relieve me from the anxiety that I feel upon this matter.
There are two other points which I wish to mention in connection with rents and cost of houses. Several speakers on the other side have protested that whatever the cost of this scheme may be, that ought not to deter us from supporting it, if it is going to give us the houses. That is a proposition which I think every one of us would accept. If we are certain that we are getting a sufficient number of houses at a reasonable cost, we must face the cost of that whatever it may be. But there is an aspect of this question which has not been touched on, and which I am going to put forward not as an argument against going on with the provision of houses, but as one which has a bearing upon the question of cost. I refer to the financing of this scheme by the local authorities. The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) pointed out yesterday that the actual financing of the houses was going to cost an enor- 1308 mous sum of money—something like £1,200,000,000—and he suggested that would be taking away capital otherwise required for the financing of industry. I do not think I go quite the whole way with the hon. Member on that point. I think the financing of industry is done from rather different sources than those which generally provide capital for the securities of municipal bodies or Government securities. No doubt they overlap. Still there is a special market which supplies capital for securities of this kind, and what I want to point out to the Committee is that you are going to have, year after year, the great local authorities of this country going upon that market with demands out of all proportion to any demands they have hitherto put forward.
That is bound to have an effect upon their credit. It is bound to have an effect upon the rate of interest at which they can raise money, and the increased interest which they will have to pay will come back upon the cost of the houses, and raise the rents to the tenants. I have calculated that if London provide something like one-tenth of the houses under this scheme in the first 10 years, it will have to finance 15,000 houses a year. The cost in London, of course, is much higher than in the rest of the country, and it may be taken at somewhere about £650 per house. This will mean that they will have to raise every year £9,750,000. That would be nothing in one year; but when the London County Council comes on the market for almost £10,000,000, year after year for 10 years, when that is taken along with the demands of the Government, who will have to meet some very heavy obligations of debts which are maturing in the next few years—when all these things are put together—they are going to have a serious effect upon the financing of this scheme, and one which somehow or another will have to be met by the right hon. Gentleman when he comes to deal with its administration.
I wish to say a few words upon the augmentation of labour. Having read the Committee's report, I confess I fail to find where they are going to get the extra labour required to provide 50,000 additional houses in the first year. It cannot be by means of apprentices. Apprentices will not be skilled men in the first year, but only raw youths. If we 1309 take the figures supplied by the building industry itself, they calculate that to provide 50,000 additional houses no lees than 34,000 additional craftsmen will be required in the first year. Where are these to come from? I do not find in the Committee's report any indication of the source from which they are to be drawn. I ask the hon. Member who is going to reply to throw some light on that problem, and to tell us where he is going to get the 34,000 additional craftsmen. The right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Scottish Board of Health told us last night that they were going on a new principle of promoting goodwill among the members of the industry. I am sure we all wish them success in that object, but I am bound to say we have not seen very much sign of it up to the present. In my own city of Birmingham there has been a desperate scarcity of skilled labour for the past two years. In spite of that, Birmingham has built more houses to let than any other city in the country, but it has been prevented from doing anything like what it would desire to do by the fact that it has not been able to get skilled labour, and in their efforts to produce more houses for the people they started to build them of concrete. They let two contracts for concrete houses, and the contractors started to build those houses without bricklayers, so that these houses might be got on with in addition to the ones which were already occupying all the bricklayers that they could scour the country to procure. What was the attitude of the Bricklayers' Union? They went to the contractors and told them they were breaking their rule. They told them that, unless the unskilled men were taken off and bricklayers put in to do this work, which did not require bricklayers to do it, they would remove every man from the contracts. They presented that ultimatum. Is that the spirit of good-will that we are to expect from the members of this trade, who see the people of their own class all crying out for houses, who see the opportunity of getting houses without over-tasking the available labour in the trade, who, nevertheless, for these selfish reasons, go down to the contractors, threaten them, and try to stop the building of houses altogether, in order that they may keep a monopoly for their own particular men?
1310 I hope the right hon. Gentleman will return to this question of dilution. I feel quite certain that he will never get the houses in his programme if he is going to depend solely upon the training of apprentices.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman told us he had given a written guarantee to the building industry, and that was a very important statement. When are we going to see the written guarantee that he has given to the industry? There was some question yesterday as to whether the terms of the agreement with the industry would allow men over 20 years of age to be admitted into the craft. Some hon. Members took one view, others took another view, and I think we are entitled to ask for definite information from the hon. Member as to whether the terms of the agreement with the industry will allow men over 20 to be taken in. For my part, I should attach very great importance to that question, and if the right hon. Gentleman has succeeded in obtaining the assent of the Bricklayers' Union, and the masons, to the admission of men over 20 years of age, that is, the bricklayers' labourers, to come in and take their places as bricklayers, then I think he has indeed done something for which credit is due to him, and which will make a material difference in the speed with which his programme is carried out.
I think it is obvious from the Debate that the idea of a 15 years' guarantee is a complete washout. What we have got is not a 15 years', but a three years' guarantee, and, personally, I think that is right. I think that there is a sufficient guarantee for the men engaged in the industry of practical employment for 15 years in the actual needs of the situation and in the realisation of those needs by every party in the State. I think that is a sufficient guarantee. I think that another kind of guarantee is wanted for those who are producing building materials. What they want is not so much a written guarantee on paper—for I do not think it would be worth the paper on which it was written—but a guarantee of continuity of policy, and if we could get continuity of policy, if we could get 1311 something in the nature of an agreement with the men that they would allow dilution, that they would work longer hours—
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Yes, for the bricklayers. There have been deputations of bricklayers to the Birmingham Committee, and I will quote the words in the Committee's Report:The men themselves want to work extra time. The house-building sub-committee have been assured of this by deputations of the bricklayers themselves, and there is similar evidence from almost every one of their building jobs. The union alone stand in the way. Only this week an official communication was received from the union complaining that men on one contract were working overtime, and that as a consequence other contractors were losing men, who left to work on jobs where the longer hours were in vogue.That is sufficient proof of what I say—that the men themselves desire to work longer hours in order to get the larger earnings which that would mean to them. We have not to-day before us the Bill in which the provisions contemplated by the right Gentleman are contained. We are only to-day considering the enabling Money Resolution. When that Bill comes, we shall consider it carefully, and we shall put down such Amendments as seem to us necessary to improve it. Speaking for myself, and for myself alone. I say that, feeling, as I do, convinced that the one thing we require above everything else is continuity of policy, being convinced that that continuity of policy can be arrived at only after a certain amount of trial and error, knowing that we shall never convince hon. Members opposite by argument, and that nothing but bitter experience will show them the truth of what we say, I, for my part, and speaking only for myself, feel that it would be in the best interests of the country that the right hon. Gentleman who is now in office should have his opportunity of putting his scheme into operation. If it fail, he perhaps will find conviction that he has been on the wrong lines. If it succeed, 1312 if I am wrong in the view that I have taken—and I see myself nothing but failure in front of it—then nobody would be better pleased than I should. At any rate we on this side will be quite as much open to conviction as hon. Members on the opposite side, for I believe that we are, as I give them credit for being, thoroughly desirous of seeing an end put to this age-long question, which affects the lives of so many of our fellow citizens.
§ Mr. VIVIAN
In taking part in this discussion, I should like first to say that it would be an advantage to all parties if we assumed that each party is just as anxious as any other to secure houses, and, with all that is at stake, address ourselves to the question as to the best and most practicable method of achieving that end. I, like the right hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. N. Chamberlain), who has just taken part in the Debate, feel very strongly that along the lines on which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health is proceeding we are not likely to secure the houses. At any rate, I would put to him these propositions: First of all, the whole of the available labour in the building trades to-day is fully employed for all practical purposes, and is inadequate to meet present needs. That is either true or untrue, and if it be true, it is a significant fact in connection with this additional programme. Secondly, I would assert that there is a complete demand already for practically all the important building material, and, indeed, that there is under-supply. Again, that is true or untrue, and if it be true, it is a significant fact in connection with this proposal. It seems to me to arise naturally from that that, unless the right hon. Gentleman can see his way to increase, and increase substantially, both the available labour and the available material, one thing is as certain as that the sun rises to-morrow morning, and that is that the whole of his subsidy will pass, not into the increase of houses, but into the inflation of the price of the building that is already going on.
To present that point of view to the right hon. Gentleman is not to cast a reflection upon him, it is not to show any ill-feeling towards him. In any business proposition, one who is concerned with a proposition naturally welcomes criticism 1313 that enables one to get down to the bedrock of truth, and I suggest to my right hon. Friend that those are his best friends in this connection who warn him, along these lines, as to the inevitable results which will follow unless he can secure a, substantial addition to material and to labour. I repeat that the subsidy will pass wholly into the inflation of the cost of building that is already going on. That means that you will get no addition of houses at all, that you will increase the burden upon those already striving to secure houses and, as a matter of fact, you will probably intensify the trouble for the poor. One of the claims that my right hon. Friend makes—and I do not deny his sincerity—is that he primarily stands for the poor. I do deny that he has any monopoly in that respect, but I put this to him, that if he achieves the result of inflating on a great scale the cost of building that is already going on, he is going to intensify the evil for the poor, because the building that is going on is, in a degree—not as great a degree as we would wish, I assure him—having its effect upon those who are badly housed.
I suppose I am not wrong in saying that the right hon. Gentleman is making the greatest demand for credit and money at the hands of the State for a civil purpose that any Minister has made in the history of our Parliamentary life, and, therefore, he ought to go out of his way to satisfy this Committee that there is a reasonable chance of his attaining his objective. We all agree with the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken when he said, in effect: "Show me that you can attain your objective, and I will not quarrel with this great Vote." I think I can speak for many of my hon. Friends here along the same lines. The whole point is as to whether the right hon. Gentleman will attain his objective, and unless he can show us, before his Housing Bill passes through, that he is more nearly on the track of a substantial increase in the volume of labour and of material, I frankly say that I not only have grave doubts, but I am absolutely satisfied that the Vote we are giving him will go to inflation and not to the increase of houses. I have an Amendment on the Paper which I probably shall not have the opportunity to move, but I want to say a word in regard to its prin- 1314 ciple, as emphasising that I desire to help the right hon. Gentleman in his task. I have suggested there that we should put a limit to the cost per super-foot beyond which this Committee will not consent to give subsidies.
Such a principle will bring in all interests, from the time the architect takes the thing in hand, and begins designing the house, right away to the builder, the material supplier and the operative. If you are able to bring all in under a limit of this sort, your architect will know perfectly well that it is no use putting in a lot of fallals, as it would bring it over the amount. The same with the material, and if the operative comes along and asks for an extra 3d. an hour, the builder will say: "You know perfectly well that will bring this group of houses out of the category which entitles them to the subsidy." I am put on the track of that principle, to a certain extent, by the Report which has been submitted to the right hon. Gentleman—and which, I gather, he substantially endorses—by the Committee of builders, operatives and merchants. I quote from the bottom paragraph on page 9:The Committee has given careful consideration to cost, and as a result of careful examination is of opinion that houses are being built to-day at the lowest possible cost.These are the vital words:In its judgment, taking the costs of labour and material as current on the 1st March last, houses from 850 to 950 feet super of contained area, based upon the Schedule as supplied by the Ministry of Health, should, tinder normal circumstances, not exceed in cost front X to Y per square foot.There is a footnote which tells us that that cost is "conveyed confidentially to the Ministry of Health." I want it on the Floor of the House. I have suggested in my Amendment 10s. 6d. per square foot super. If you take 950 feet, the biggest house referred to in this paragraph, and the largest house brought within the scope of the subsidy, 10s. 6d. is £498. It is the £500 house—that is pretty clear. It may be out of order on the Financial Resolution, and, if so, I hope we may put some such limit in the Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman considers 10s. 6d. not enough, let us make it 11s., or, if the evidence justifies it, 11s. 6d.; but, at any rate, let us have some figure beyond which we will not per- 1315 mit architects, merchants, builders, or operatives to demand from the public subsidies to enable them to inflate the burden which the public will have to bear. The only result, if you do not take that course, will be what we have experienced—what I have experienced—that of builders who are engaged on building subsidised houses going to the operatives on contracts that are not subsidised, and offering 2d., 3d., or 4d. an hour to leave the non-subsidised job and go to the subsidised job. The result will be inflation of both. That is the viciousness of this kind of thing. But if you put some such limitation as this per foot super—per house will not do—that will apply automatically. Such limit should be put on for the protection of those who are finding the subsidy, and for the protection of those who will live in the houses afterwards, and will suffer in rent if inflation is allowed to take place.
I will pass over one or two points, but I would like to make one reference to the paragraph in the right hon. Gentleman's speech dealing with the contribution to the total of rent by the different factors concerned. I certainly never expected to live to hear a Minister of the Crown put forward such rubbish. I say quite frankly, I can only assume he never intended it for the House of Commons, but for the platform. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is it untrue?"] As a sum in arithmetic it is correct; as a statement of economic truth, it is absolutely false. He took the cost of the land and the contributions of wages and material—and, by the way, in speaking of the building of a house, it is a mistake to speak of the labour in building as the only labour involved. [An HON. MEMBER: "He never said it was."] I do not say he said it. I am saying it is a mistake to assume that the labour in a building is building wages only. To keep the true perspective, we must take the labour throughout the whole process. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned £200 as the building wages, but, of the remaining £300, something between £150 and £175 is wages. At any rate, I can speak of one raw materal with which I am acquainted, where two-thirds to three-fourths of the prime cost is in wages, and the other is coal, and these two together make the total prime cost. Hon. Members will see that, in order to get the true proportion of wages, you 1316 must take the wages throughout the whole process.
The right hon. Gentleman, in referring to these different Factors that contribute towards rent, first took the laud, and spread the payment over 60 years. If you were to take wages and spread them over 60 years as well—[Interruption. ] If that is not so, we must be told what is meant. I am only out for the truth. I have no other end to serve, except to help my right hon. Friend and prevent him from getting into a muddle. [Interruption. ] What other object do hon. Members think I have? The only reading I can put into these figures is, that the cost of the land was to be spread over 60 years, the wages were to be spread over 60 years, and the material was to be spread over 60 years. Spread over 60 years in that way, it would amount to the infinitesimal sums the right hon. Gentleman gave. Why not spread it over 1,000 years? What it amounts to is this: The right hon. Gentleman, with all respect for propaganda, is denying the justification for paying a reward for capital. Is that right? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes!"] I thought so. I want my right hon. Friend to consult with his other right hon. Friends, who have been the heads and the chairmen and managers of building societies, industrial co-operative societies, and so on, which societies have hundreds of millions of money invested houses and property of that kind. In his speech the right hon. Gentleman said, in finishing up with this point: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.—Is that a true statement of the position? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes!"] Do hon. Members mean to tell me that an engine-driver—[Interruption.]
I must appeal to hon. Members not to interrupt. We have a lot of business to get through.
§ Mr. VIVIAN
The right hon. Gentleman referred to these savings as not being the result of labour, but of makings, and I was illustrating my point by giving the case of an engine-driver who has spent 1317 his savings of 20 or 30 years in order to invest in the Co-operative Building Society, of which the Colonial Minister was for many years the admirable chairman. Am I to understand that the £200, £300 or £500 that engine-driver has invested at 5 per cent. or 4½ per cent, in that admirable institution is not the result of his labour? If you take the whole of these great societies, with these hundreds of millions of capital—and they hold, to a very large extent, the small property of the country—I am sure that was not a fair presentation of the case. Then I would ask, Is that engine-driver, as compared with another engine-driver who does not abstain from—shall we say? —the consumption of sumptuary articles—is the engine-driver who saves up his £500, and puts it into the Co-operative Building Society, not entitled to some reward for the contribution he has made through that building society in the erection of a house, as compared with the other man, who refuses to exercise that sacrifice and discipline, and spends the margin which the other has saved—I do not say in any discreditable way—but, at any rate, he has not denied himself the pleasure and satisfaction which the other one has denied himself, in order to get a future satisfaction in his old age, and to make his contribution to his own house?
I have quite a number of other points, but I shall not detain the Committee any longer—[HON. MEMBERS "Go on!"]—except to say this: that I am going—and I say it quite sincerely—to do nothing that will make for the discouragement of that type of citizen. Believe me, that is the type of citizen that is going to keep this country going. It is not the type that continually leans on somebody else or the State. A nation of leaners sooner or later fails to be self-supporting and will have to make way for others. [Interruption. ] Finally, in regard to this particular Resolution before us, I say quite frankly I have very real doubts as to whether the scheme will function. I believe sincerely that it will result in inflation. I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman will get the houses on the scale that he estimates, unless he puts forward a very different policy in regard to the available labour and materials. He has, however, seen the executives of the unions. He has seen the master builders. He has seen the mer- 1318 chants. According to the reports that he and they have presented they believe they can deliver the goods. I assume that he, as our managing director for that purpose, believes that those goods can be delivered. I am not, therefore, going to stand in the way of his getting this Resolution. I wish him success. I hope he will succeed. We all want the houses, and I say that my doubt, therefore, will in no way interfere with my vote for giving a chance to the right hon. Gentleman to see what he can do to make a good job of it.
§ Mr. D. G. SOMERVILLE
Prior to criticising the Resolution before the House, I wish to make my position quite clear as regards the question of housing. It is the most important question before the country to-day. Unless something is done to deal with it—to settle this appalling question—there can be no real peace or contentment in industry. I am familiar with the condition of things in Glasgow and in some of the great Midland towns, and I think that if the House as a whole had seen the things I have seen they would not pass any more legislation until something very definite had been done about the housing programme. I only wish the right hon. Gentleman who put forward this Measure had had the courage of his convictions. I do not refer to his sneers about and against private enterprise. I refer to his wonderful scheme for giving a 15 years' contract to the building trade. It is really not a 15 years' contract, but a three years' contract, which can be cancelled at the option of the Government if, at the end of three years, it is found that prices are not reasonable or the houses are not being built at the rate they were promised. He can, I say, terminate the arrangement. But who is going to say what is a reasonable price? It is a very wide subject to discuss. The great point about the whole of this housing matter—one of the great points, at all events—is the cost of the houses.
The Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman, I understand, have based their working on a house at about £500. That figure includes the land. It is said to be £200 for the material, £280 for labour and profits, and £20 for land. It does not, I take it, include draining, roads, sewering, and other services. I want to know where these prices come 1319 from? I had a look at the "Builder" for 23rd May. I looked over some recent housing contracts that had been let. I endeavoured to take a number of representative contracts. I find that on 23rd of last month a 48-house contract was let at Croydon. The price for each of these houses was £664, exclusive of land, an excess of £164 over the figures of the right hon. Gentleman. I next noted that at Brandon in Warwickshire a contract was let for 12 houses at a price of £556 each, an excess of £56 on the figures of the right hon. Gentleman. At Liverpool there was a contract let for 54 six-roomed houses, the price being £625 each, or £125 in excess of the figures of the Minister of Health.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
They were six-roomed houses, the latter, and are to cost £625 each. You have, therefore, on a total of 114 houses only an excess over the estimate of the Minister of Health of £15,300. That does not include land, drainage, and the other services. Suppose you simply take £20 to cover the land, and get an average excess of £160 per house, that means, on a total of 2,500,000 houses under the programme another £400,000,000 to be found by the country. But the right hon. Gentleman suggests that prices are going to fall. How can that be? Builders' operatives are endeavouring to get their wages up ½d. per hour. That is going to put up the price of houses. Bricks have not remained at the January price. They have gone up on an average 2s. to 8s. per thousand—when you can get delivery—which is very difficult! Taking the Minister's estimate again of the whole capital cost of the scheme for providing 2,500,000 houses at £1,250,000,000, you have to add another £400,000,000 to it, which makes £1,650,000,000; you then have an expenditure of the subsidy of £1,375,000,000, giving a total capital expenditure over 15 years of over £3,000,000,000—pretty well half the total of the National Debt. Where is the money coming from? It sounds very simple, but the whole programme is unreal, unpractical, and ridiculous. We have not got the men to carry out the work. You cannot get them under the 1320 conditions. You have not got the materials at present. There are possibilities of getting the materials if the matter is properly handled.
Now I understand the whole of this agreement, the Financial Resolution before the Committee, and the Bill that is going to be put forward, is based on the Report prepared by various unions and the employers engaged in the industry. The Minister is relying upon his ability to get the houses on the undertaking of these people who have joined in this Report. But is it not the fact that the National Federation of Building Trade Workers, which includes the keymen, the bricklayers and the stonemasons, have decided at a mass meeting of their workers to withdraw from the arrangement which was entered into under this Report? They have sent a letter to Mr. Nicholls, the Chairman of the National House Building Committee, giving in their resignation so far as they are concerned as from the 3rd May. Is it not also a fact that this resignation has been confirmed and strengthened by another letter written by the union on 24th May? It may interest the Committee to know the reasons why they have refused to subscribe to this agreement. Their reasons were two. The first is because no wet time is to be allowed, and the second reason is—and this is interesting —that an opportunity is going to be given to take into the trade men of over 20 years old. There is a possibility of dilution of the trade, and on account of these two reasons they decline to carry out the agreement made with the Minister.
How are houses going to be built in these circumstances? I want also, now that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has come in, to give a direct contradiction to the Minister's statement made to the Committee when he said there were no builders' labourers who were prepared or anxious to become tradesmen. He said they did not exist. I say definitely from a practical knowledge of the trade that there are any number of men who are only too anxious to become tradesmen, but they have been absolutely discouraged by the unions. I have men who have come to me in connection with some of my contracts, and have said, "We would like to become tradesmen, but when we ask the unions. 1321 they have told us to get away to some other place"—and it was not in connection with the job either!
The statement has been made that 2,500,000 houses are required. I absolutely deny there is any such need. There are not 2,500,000 houses required. There is no such scarcity in this country. There are certain very well-defined areas, Glasgow and other towns in the North and South, where there is an enormous scarcity of houses. Let the trade and the Ministry concentrate on these particular areas, and build the houses. Let them be built, if necessary, by the State and then they can be let at a low rental to those who cannot afford to pay very much. Settle these particular areas where you have a shortage, and you will solve this problem to a very great extent. As to the rest of the country you might give a subsidy—not a yearly subsidy, but a lump sum subsidy of £150 or £200—and if you leave the matter to private enterprise they will build all the houses that the country needs, and let them at an economic rent which the working man could pay, and not sell them. The capital cost of houses to-day is so considerable that it is difficult to pay the rent; but if you give a lump sum subsidy and builders know what the price is to begin with they will be able to build a lot of houses, and in that way private enterprise will fill the Bill.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Mr. A. Greenwood)
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has ended upon a note which I think is appropriate to him, that is, the encouragement of private enterprise. The real purpose of the Act of the right. hon. Gentleman opposite last year was precisely that: to revive private enterprise as the medium through which the housing needs of the nation could be met. The party opposite has made a shibboleth of it. We have been accused in the past of shibboleths, but we never held them so stubbornly as hon. Gentlemen opposite who stand by private enterprise. Building by private industry has never satisfied our housing requirements and never could. I am not blaming private enterprise, but I am saying that the test of providing for the housing needs of the country is one which is utterly beyond private enterprise. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lady- 1322 wood (Mr. N. Chamberlain) believes in private enterprise, but the result of even the few months we have had of his efforts goes to show that it is not going to meet what we regard as the real problem. We are not saying there is no problem amongst the middle classes, but we are saying that a subsidised private industry concerned in building houses for sale is not solving the problem of the housing needs of the working people.
I do not admit that, if you empty one middle-class house, you thereby make another house for a working man's family. As a matter of fact, there is a movement from bigger to smaller houses just as there may be a movement from one and two-roomed cottages to four and five-roomed houses. The fact that, as far as regards the houses built under the right hon. Gentleman's scheme, two-thirds of them have been built for sale, is sufficient to condemn the Act which was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ladywood. The only effect of the continued operation of that Act would be to make the private building industry of this country masters of the situation, and that would be a position with which they could not successfully grapple. Our proposal is not to abolish the private builders or the privately owned building industry of this country, but to divert it to a, new purpose as the servant of the community in a big national effort to solve a national need.
The two main criticisms which have been brought against our proposals are those of finance and of labour. I am not quite sure to which of those criticisms hon. Members opposite attach the greatest importance, but they cannot attach equal importance to both of them. If the cost be so colossal as they have represented, then clearly the country will have got the houses for its money. If there is not the labour to produce the houses, there will not be this colossal expenditure falling upon the State and the local authorities. I should have preferred a pretty clear indication from hon. Members opposite as to which was their major argument, because they are trying to have it both ways. With regard to the question of costs, the building of 2,500,000 houses is bound to involve a considerable sum whoever builds them. But we have to keep a sense of perspective. If hon. 1323 Members will go back, and apply the same efforts to adding up our expenditure for 55 years before the War on our National Debt services as they have applied to totting up the figures given in the White Paper, I think that they would find for the same period as we propose to spend this money, there was in the 55 years before the War on a small National Debt as much money spent out of the Exchequer on the National Debt Services as we propose to spend to satisfy the housing needs of the country.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
If we are to continue for 55 years to pay £300,000,000 a year as interest on the National Debt services, then we are going to spend five times as much as we are asking should be spent on housing the people of this country. Hon. Members opposite have often pressed for a large expenditure upon our fighting Services, and to-day we are spending more than £100,000,000 a year on those Services. If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite choose to maintain that expenditure for 55 years, the total cost to the community is going to be several times as much as the amount we intend to find out of public funds for the housing of the people. My point is that we are committed, and have been committed in the past for a similar period of 55 years, to an expenditure far larger than we are now asking for these vital social services, and for which we are not now getting an equivalent return.
I put it to the Committee that a country which can find this staggering amount of money for its fighting Services can find means to provide houses in the necessary number for the people of this country. If it cannot, then this country is bankrupt, and we ought to say so. I do not believe that anybody in any quarter of the House dare say here or elsewhere that this country is unable to afford decent housing accommodation for the masses of the people. The proposal of £13 10s. represents the maximum sum over this period of years which we are asking for from the State and from local authorities. It might well be as a result of the triennial revision that the public expenditure would be reduced, in which case the colossal sums which were 1324 mentioned across the Floor of the House yesterday and to-day will not be needed.
One other point to which I wish to refer is the one raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ladywood and by the Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) about raising the capital for this expenditure. It is perfectly true that if you are to provide the houses you will need capital and we have never denied it. What is the alternative? Either the provision of capital with all the difficulties incidental to it or no houses. Whether the municipality or the private investor goes into the market to provide 1,000,000 houses they will need the capital for 1,000,000 houses.
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
We say there is not the money in the pool for you to take it Out. Let the hon. Member tell us how you are going to get the capital?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The nation has either got to find the capital or do without the houses. That is the price you have to pay for a century of neglect, and it is not the fault of the present Government. It is perfectly true that you would increase the demand for your capital, but through improved houses you improve the efficiency of the people, increase national income and your capacity for saving. I do not believe myself that the community will shrink from finding the necessary capital. I say nothing about the credit side of the balance sheet because with that we are all familiar, but whatever the cost might be, its effect on national wellbeing would be worth it. The hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Captain Elliot)—in an extraordinarily entertaining speech which I think we all enjoyed—referred to the subsidy, and said that we had merely doubled it. Others have said that as a consequence of our proposal there will be no more houses at all, but I do not accept that statement. The effect of increasing the subsidy will be, in the first to provide houses where houses are to-day not being provided. It is admitted that in certain parts of the country, and I believe Scotland is an example, the £6 subsidy was insufficient., and certainly it has been insufficient in the rural areas, where there are some of the worst slums in existence at the present time, and the effect of the subsidy will clearly be to place houses where they are not being built at the present time.
1325 In, so far as the increased subsidy induces local authorities to make more generous provision for the housing needs of their own people, to that extent it will operate on the industry which will build the houses, and be an additional inducement to that augmentation of labour and materials which hon. Members desire. In that way it will facilitate and increase the number of houses. That is not the only purpose of the increased subsidy, which is to provide houses to let at reasonable rents. There is a very hard fact about the history of wages in this country, and it is that the level of wages at any given time has never been sufficient to provide the working-class family with a house which the public conscience at that particular time regarded as necessary. In the vicious economic circle in which we live I do not see how you are likely to get wages at such a level that working people will be able, unassisted, to provide the decent houses which the community has a right to expect its citizens to live in. It is a social duty of the community as a whole to do what it can to enable its more unfortunate members to live in the houses demanded by the public conscience of the time.
There is an implication that this expenditure is extravagant, but I doubt whether there has ever been a scheme hedged round with more checks than the present scheme. Local authorities—and this was used as an argument against us—have power to stop building. Why did local authorities wish to preserve the right at any time to stop building? The argument which was advanced to us was that they wished to be in a position to stop building if prices were soaring. But that is a good thing. That will not diminish the number of houses, because, if prices are soaring, it means that either labour is short or materials are short, or both; and it would then be the proper thing, in the interests of public economy, for the local authorities to hold their hands for the time being.
The Government also is taking to itself power to stop—another means of checking rising expenditure and inflated prices. Further, we have had offered to us, with great cordiality and earnestness by the building industry, its knowledge and experience with a view to bringing down costs and cutting out unnecessary expenditure. We have in the background our 1326 Bill for dealing with prices, a Bill which will, I believe, exercise a salutary effect on those who would allow their private greed to outweigh their public spirit. The right, hon. Gentleman the Member for Ladywood does not believe much in this Prices Bill. He asks how far we will go. My answer is that I hope, when he sees the Bill, he will go as far as we do. But I would put this point to the right hon. Gentleman. What did he do? So far as I am aware, the only step taken by the right hon. Gentleman during his period of office was to set up the Mac-kinder Committee to watch prices.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I am not at all sure that that is quite accurate. Unless I am mistaken, certainly some commodities went up very substantially. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. [HON. MEMBERS: "What were they"?]
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The right hon. Gentleman did not take any steps of any kind to deal with this problem. It was not regarded as necessary, apparently. We are asked to-day what steps we are going to take to deal with a possible rise in prices, and the question is put with great force by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ladywood, who, during his period of office, took no steps whatever. I think, however, it will be found, when the Bill is introduced, that we have gone a long way to meet the desires of those hon. Members as regards dealing with extravagant rises in prices. There is, behind all that, a final check upon extravagance. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ladywood poked fun at my right hon. Friend because he had not fixed a rent which was immovable. It is perfectly true that, in so far as the Exchequer subsidy and the local grant do not cover the right economic rent, rents are to be raised. We have not done that by accident; we have done it deliberately, and for this reason, namely, to bring home to the people of this country that, notwithstanding every power we are taking and every effort we have made, the private industry has not played the game—to bring home to the mass of the people that the powers 1327 which a minority Government can exercise are insufficient. It is perfectly right that we should bring home to the people the fact, that steps have been taken and have failed, because the people then at least have the power to put it right, in a way that might not be quite to the taste of hon. Members opposite.
Let me say a word or two about the question of labour. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Lady-wood that, on the whole, this Debate has been a good-tempered Debate, but there has crept out in the speeches of some hon. Members an anti-trade union bias, which was not unexpected. We have been told that, unless there is a very substantial augmentation of labour, this scheme will fail. What did the right hon. Gentleman do? No single step did he take, not a single finger did he move, to increase the supply of labour. The problem was as insistent last year as it is this year—quite as insistent. At any rate, the right hon. Gentleman is not going to suggest that there was ever a labour surplus as regards houses last year. There was a shortage. Complaints were made last year about the labour shortage, and yet the Government of the day did nothing. It is quite true that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Twickenham (Sir W JoynsonHicks) was about to do something when he left office—so he told us after he had left it. But he did not in fact do anything. We have done something. We have done more for the augmentation of labour supply than any Government since the War. [HON. MEMBERS: "What have you done?"] You shall have the answer in a minute. Let me say this, that, in so far as there has been reluctance on the part of the building trade workers to co-operate in schemes of this kind, it is due very largely to the economic conditions under which they have lived and worked during the whole of their lifetime in an industry that is always open to great and wide fluctuations, and to Government schemes after the War which came to an untimely end. I am not surprised that Labour should look a little carefully at schemes of this kind.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
If my hon. Friend will wait, he will get his answer. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for 1328 Twickenham, in his speech yesterday, said he did not believe that we should stop prices rising by any efforts we could make. He said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd June. 1924; col. 1137, Vol. 174]The law of supply and demand is the god before whom the right hon. Gentleman worships. Why should any hon. Member opposite invoke supply and demand when it comes to defending the interests of capital, and deny the same right to the worker? And yet we have proposed to the workers that they should deprive themselves of a portion of their economic power, and they have agreed to do so. I hope hon. Members opposite will persuade their friends to do their patriotic bit in this great job, and forego some of the gains which come through the unfettered play of the law of supply and demand. The hon. Member who spoke last referred with an amazing ignorance to the question of certain letters which he said had been sent to Mr. Nicholls, the chairman of the National House-Building Committee. My hon. Friends on this side will realise how much he knows about trade union matters when he talks about a resolution passed at a mass meeting of the national trade union. He refers to two letters—letters which were in their nature semi-confidential, and which had to be taken in relation to negotiations which were taking place at the time within the building industry on certain proposals which were under discussion. It is true that those letters passed.
How my hon. Friend got hold of them I am not concerned to inquire, but at least he might have got hold of all the letters. Since those two letters were written, a ballot of the building trade unions has been taken, dealing, amongst other things, with the matters referred to in those letters.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Yes. That ballot gave to the trade unions power to negotiate and settle with the employers on the chief question referred to in that correspondence, and, following upon the result of that ballot, Mr. George Hicks, the general secretary of the Amalgamated 1329 Union of Building Trade Workers, sent this letter to the National House-building Committee. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the date?"] The 2nd June. This is the letter:Sir,—With further reference to my letters of the 3rd and 24th, may I beg to inform you that as the result of a ballot of the building trade unions on matters arising out of the present negotiations in the building industry it has been decided to refer for negotiation and settlement a number of questions, including that of payment for loss of time due to circumstances outside the control of the workers. As this question raises the problem of payment for wet time it becomes in the meantime a matter for discussion and settlement within the industry itself, and I trust that an amicable solution of this important question may be reached without undue delay. In these circumstances, I should be glad if you would regard my previous letters as withdrawn.There are people who desire to make helpful suggestions, and people who make mischievous speeches in this House, which can do nothing but make more difficult an already difficult problem. What good has the reference to these letters done? Has it done anything to inspire a little more confidence in the fair-mindedness of the House of Commons If these statements have done anything whatever, they have done something to justify the natural resentment of the bricklayers. It will not be hon. Members opposite who will get augmentation by tactics of that kind. If augmentation comes, as it will come, it will come because of the confidence we are willing to place on this side in the trade unionists of the building industry. All the building trade unions agreed to it. They have agreed, first, to a very considerable extension of their apprenticeship system. That is not a thing the importance of which anyone in this House should attempt to belittle. As the result of conditions due to the War, the number of skilled men in the trade has been considerably reduced. Large numbers of them have gone to America. If they are to be replaced, it is right that we should, as far as possible replace them by youths who have been fully and properly trained. I resent very much the implication that semi-skilled labour is good enough to build working-class houses. As part of any national scheme, you must make arrangements for the steady and regular recruitment of labour through the normal channels. That is 1330 the first step. The second step is the kind of step for which hon. Members opposite have been working. They asked that the door should be opened more widely to adult workers. That proposal has been made and agreed by the unions and the employers' associations.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
If the hon. Member had attended that meeting upstairs, as he might have had the advantage of doing, though, no doubt, he thought it unnecessary, ho would have heard the President of the Building Trades' Federation say quite explicitly, in answer to a question by the hon. Lady (Mrs. Philipson), who spoke yesterday, that "the age limit is not a bar, because we have deliberately made a provision whereby men can enter through the unskilled door. By entering the industry as unskilled men for a period, they can then, by a process of selection, be allowed to complete their training as skilled men." The proposal is, that you shall not take in, from the ranks of workers outside the industry, men to walk straight into the craftsman's job. It is that you should proceed by training and promotion within the industry, filling up the unskilled jobs from the men outside.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I have explained it as clearly as I can. It means that the building trade unions have made a bigger contribution than any other section of society to a solution of the problem.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I have tried to explain that the building trade unions and the employers are agreed on the introduction into the skilled ranks of the industry of men already within the industry capable and adaptable for training, with the object of bringing into the industry, for the lesser skilled jobs, men outside.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
It is very important that we should get clear in formation as to what is the exact arrangement that is being made about these people. I understood from the statement of the Minister yesterday that it formed the subject of a written agreement. Is 1331 it only the guarantee to the building industry that is written? Is there nothing on the other side written, because the Minister said he had given a written guarantee to the building industry? If there be a written guarantee or agreement, there must be some clause in it which deals with that particular point, and what we want is that the hon. Gentleman should read to us the clause in which the exact promise is stated.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The agreement to which my right hon. Friend referred is the agreement that is found in the table of the number of houses. We have no other agreement. Why should we have an agreement? What right have we to ask for an agreement on a question internal to the industry? The question of the method by which the industry will augment its labour to fulfil its undertaking to provide the houses is a matter for the industry itself.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
So far as I am aware, no limitation whatever. This is a matter for the industry itself. What hon. Members are trying to do now is to throw suspicion on the suggestion that there can be augmentation. The whole purpose of the questions that are being put now is to belittle the offer that has been made. The method that we have adopted consistently is a method of getting the best out of the industry, employers and men. What is the alternative of hon. Members opposite? Is it conscription? If it be not conscription is it going to be an avowed and deliberate attempt to break the trade unions, for, believe me, apart from co-operation and agreement with the trade unions, there is no other method than that of compulsion and pressure, and we have done our best through the method of co-operation in the hope of winning, as we have done, the sympathy and the whole-hearted cooperation of all people engaged in the building industry.
I want to refer to the right hon. Gentleman's plea for continuity of policy. On this side we agree. I believe half the difficulty we are in to-day is because the nation as yet has not settled down to a continuous policy of housing. But 1332 that continuous policy means more than was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. It means more than augmentation of labour and longer hours. It means that whatever Government follows this will do its best to carry out the long-term programme. There is still a long-term programme. The hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Captain Elliot) last night said the 15 years' programme had been scrapped and thrown overboard. The same thing has been said to-day.
§ Sir K. WOOD indicated ascent.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I see the hon. Member for West Woolwich nodding his head, notwithstanding the fact that he has an Amendment down, believing it was 15 years, to terminate it in three years. What did hon. Members is expect us to do? Did they expect us to come to the House with a 15 years' programme without any conditions of any kind whatever? Did they expect us to say that even if we let houses rise to the prices of Addison days we were still going to go on without any modification of our plans? We have come with a 15 years' programme capable, as is reasonable and business-like, of revision every three years. Who loses by that? No one, unless the building trade does not play the game, unless the building trade does not deliver the goods, unless people are desiring to exploit the national deed. Whose is the gain? The gain is the community's, quite obviously, because there is the maximum charge upon the Exchequer. But providing the scheme works, provided that labour is augmented, that the supply of materials is augmented, and that economies can be introduced, there will be ultimately, long before the end of the scheme, I hope, a reduction in the charges upon public funds, national and local. Therefore, we still claim that it is a, 15 years' scheme, and, if we are to get augmentation of labour, if we are to get a steady increasing supply of material, that long-term programme is fundamental. That is what we mean by continuity of policy. I do not believe that there is very much that divides Members in different sections of the House on this Financial Resolution. Much as some people may have said they dislike it, I cannot think that there is any Member of this House prepared to take the risk of casting his Vote against it. I prefer 1333 to believe that, just as we have had the whole-hearted and open-handed co-operation of the local authorities and the building industry, we shall get the same cooperation from the other parties in the House. We are desirous of lifting this problem above the ruck of party politics. There is in this country a majority of people who so desire. We have made our contribution to its solution. There may be ways of improving it. Let us hope it will be improved, but I would ask the House to show their earnest intention of putting this question on a basis which will mean that we have got, to use the right hon. Gentleman's term, continuity of policy.
Hon. Members opposite, as I understand, do not like sob-stuff. I am not ashamed of sob-stuff. That sob-stuff that wells up is an expression of very real feeling. This question, although it has been debated primarily as an economic question, is a great moral and social question that is going down to the very roots of our national life. The marvel to me is that the spirit of the people of this country has not been destroyed by the housing conditions under which many of them live. It has not been so destroyed. A few days ago I was in a bad slum not very far from here where there was some of the most dreadful housing imaginable; where families were living on landings without a single water-tap in their single apartments; where conditions were as bad as they could be. Yet the human side had not been broken. There was only, so far as I saw, one tragic manifestation of it in the not altogether successful attempts at rearing flowers in window-boxes. That is the proof that the people of this country who live under those conditions are worth saving yet, and I think we ought, without any disagreement on the question of finance, to agree that the House will devote its undivided attention to developing those shreds of spirit that still exist among the people and make the people living in those slums to-day worthy of the capital city of the greatest Empire the world has ever known.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Young)
I am now going to call Amendments. The first Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Trevelyan Thomson)—In paragraph (a) to leave out the words 1334 "of the type and size mentioned in Subsection (2) of Section One of the Housing, &c., Act, 1923," and to insert instead thereof the words "in accordance with approved schemes"—is out of order, because it extends the scope of the financial arrangements.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
On that point. May I respectfully suggest to you, that the words of the Amendment do not necessarily—do not at all—extend the finances of the Bill. The 1923 Act was preceded by a Financial Resolution which specified the grant to be given to houses of a certain type and size. When that Bill went upstairs to Committee, the Chairman of the Committee allowed a variation in the size provided in the Bill. That being so, I submit that a mere variation of the size of the houses does not increase the financial demands of the Bill, and, on that reasoning, I submit, with all respect, that this Amendment does not increase, any more than the Amendment last year increased, the financial claims of the Bill.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It may be quite true, as the hon. Gentleman says, that it would not necessarily increase the charge, but there is the possibility of an increase, and it is my duty to see that nothing is put into the Resolution which could in any way open up a possibility of an increase in the charge.
I bow to your ruling, of course. I am sorry the Bill has been so drafted by the Government that it is impossible for this Committee, and impossible for the Committee upstairs, to take into consideration those vital points as to the conditions under which this vast sum of money shall be granted. I submit that our deliberations upstairs will be very largely useless so far as the conditions—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I call on the hon. Member to move the second Amendment. I cannot allow him to discuss my ruling.
I beg to move, in line 4, after the word "houses," to insert the words "with not less than three bedrooms and coming within the limitations."
I am sorry. I am not discussing your ruling. I was accepting your ruling, as I always do, and I was expressing regret that the Government had so sub- 1335 mitted the Financial Resolution that it was necessary for you to give that ruling. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister, if he cannot see his way at once to accept this Amendment, to consider the desirability of withdrawing the Financial Resolution in its present, form, and submitting one of such a character that it will be possible for this House, and for the Committee upstairs, to enable houses to be built which will be worthy of the effort which the Minister has at heart. I do not know whether this Committee realises that, under the Financial Resolution which I am seeking to amend, it is possible to erect houses which the Minister himself described as brick boxes unworthy of the people of our country. The limits of the Act of 1923 are as low as 500 superficial feet, and to agree to a Financial Resolution for the building of 2,500,000 houses, and to sanction the expenditure of a huge sum of money for the erection of houses of only 500 superficial feet, is not worthy of the House, and is certainly not worthy of the Government. I appeal in all seriousness to the right hon. Gentleman carefully to consider, in the interests of his housing scheme, whether he should not withdraw this Financial Resolution, and allow another to be submitted which would enable an Amendment to be made by this House on the lines which he advocated most eloquently from those benches in 1923.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The Amendment the hon. Member is moving is of a very different character and deals with three bedrooms and three bedrooms only.
I was under the impression that a house of three bedrooms was of a higher standard than a house which had only two. I submit that it is very essential at a time like the present that we should not spend public money in putting up houses which are not going to be worthy of the name of homes. We already have in this country in every industrial town a large percentage of one-room and two- 1336 roomed houses. We have more houses with two bedrooms in the working-class districts of our towns than are necessary for years to come, and during the next 15 or 20 years, if we do not build a single further house with less than three bedrooms, we shall have a sufficiency of these houses of smaller size. I appeal to the Minister to see that public money is spent in putting up those houses which are most needed, houses which provide decent moral accommodation for the industrial workers of our large towns. In the town which I have the honour to represent over 70 per cent. of the working-class houses have two bedrooms or less. That is to say, there is not more than 30 per cent. which have proper accommodation for a family which is growing up. You must at least have three bedrooms where you have a family which is growing up. It was all very well in the early days, but we should not in the future provide for an increase of those smaller houses or houses which have an insufficiency of bedroom accommodation. The problem to-day in many of our towns is that you have the herding together of the sexes and you have no decent accommodation, and I am anxious that this public money should be spent in providing for the needs of those whose needs are greatest.
§ Mr. LINFIELD
I want to support this Amendment. I was rather surprised that the Minister should have made no provision for this class of house. I hope my hon. Friend will not resent a little bit of criticism, because I remember the criticism offered when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ladywood (Mr. N. Chamberlain) introduced his Bill last year, and I have in my hand some of the criticism which was showered upon him. I think it was not resented. Indeed, I think we always get the best from a free criticism of all the measures that come before this House. We had an excellent exhibition by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, who entered into this discussion without any heat, any bias or any party feeling. I hope my right hon. Friends will not consider it unfair criticism if I suggest that last year they themselves were pressing very strongly that this should be done. I have a quotation from a speech of the Minister of Health in which he referred to "houses that will never he homes, and to "houses that will very 1337 soon be slums." I want to save my right hon. Friends from perpetuating such a system as that. We are of opinion that the better class of house, we can get for the working-classes the better it will he for the country. It is solely on that account that we are proposing this Amendment to-day. The President of the Board of Trade last year criticised the proposal of the right hon. Member for Ladywood and called attention to the smallness of the houses. He warned the Government what would happen in the future.
I would remind the Minister of Health that there are about 3,000,000 people living in slums to-day. We do not want the slums perpetuated. I propose voting for this Money Resolution—as we all do on these benches—but I would like to warn hon. Members, in view of the fact that we were told just now, "no money, no houses," that it is quite possible to vote much money and to get few houses. While I am in full sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman wants to do, I suggest that he ought to be very careful not to put his name to a proposal likely to perpetuate slums in the future. I sincerely hope the Minister of Health will accept this Amendment in the spirit in which it is moved. We do not want to be tied up by this Money Resolution so that we cannot make the houses better. I am exceedingly surprised that there should be any objection whatever to the Amendment from this side of the House. I thought all would be quite ready to accept it.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I have no alternative, I am sorry to say, but to ask the Committee to reject this Amendment. If I were to deal with the Amendment on its merits, I do not think it would require much by way of reply. It deprives the local authorities altogether of any discretion in determining the kind of house to be erected in order to meet the requirements of their particular areas. An appeal has been made to me to make pro vision for three bedrooms within the scope of the Bill. That provision is made in the 950 feet houses and even in houses of less than 950 feet dimension. There is no proposal in the Amendment to increase the 950 feet, or in any way to interfere with the dimensions. Perhaps the House will allow me, in order to save time, to make 1338 a few observations on the general question of the size of houses. I stated yesterday that, in my negotiations with the local authorities, they insisted strongly on the provision in the 1923 Act on this point being maintained, and that they should be allowed to determine within the dimensions the kind of house that should be erected. When that proposal was made to me, I took steps to ascertain the size of the houses that were being erected since the 1923 Bill became an Act of Parliament, and I found that few, if any, houses of less than 700 feet had been built in England and Wales, and that the average dimension—I have not confirmed the figure I gave yesterday—was 870 feet.
Much play has been made with the criticism that was showered on the proposals of the right hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. N. Chamberlain) when he introduced his Bill. May I remind the Committee that the right hon. Gentleman has told us to-day that as a result of those criticisms the dimensions were increased by 100 feet. The principal objection put up by the local authorities is one which I think will fit in with the general scheme of Government policy. They said the object of our proposals was to provide houses for the working-classes and if we extended the size of the houses the money would be spent in subsidising the builders all over the country to build houses for people who could quite well afford to provide houses for themselves. In asking the Committee to vote this money, I think I am justified in appealing to it to support me in saying that the money, if it be the limit, and I am accepting it as the limit of our resources, shall be used entirely in providing houses for the people most in need of assistance in obtaining healthy housing accommodation.
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and negatived.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I beg to move, in line 6, to leave out the word "thirty-nine," and to insert instead thereof the. words "twenty-seven."
An hon. Member, in a characteristic speech just now, said that the Amendment indicated that my hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) wanted to reduce the programme from 15 years to three years. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite know that, speaking 1339 from that box some time ago, I said that I, on my own behalf, and I thought on behalf of my hon. Friends around me, would warmly approve a 15 years' programme, and would abide by it if it were produced in a reasonable form. We are moving this Amendment in order to get a clear statement as to what is the length of the programme referred to in this Money Resolution. Of course, if one uses the word "programme" in the sense in which it appears to have been used by the Parliamentary Secretary, as a sort of pious hope, I admit we have got a 15 years' programme, but, if one uses it in the sense that Parliament, by passing this Resolution, is committed in any way beyond the three years, that the Minister of Health is committed in any sense beyond three years, that the local authorities are committed in any sense beyond three years, or that the building trade is committed beyond three years, it seems to me to be an absolute misuse of an ordinary term of the English language.
We are always told now-a-days that we shall never get an increase of labour without a guarantee. In all these discussions, it has been said that the programme is a guarantee. I want to ask in relation to this Amendment—and it has never asked before—a question with regard to a specific point, and I think if I put the question exclusively it may conduce to a clear answer. The question is how much of the building trade agreement which dealt with the 15 year programme and dealt with the guarantees to be given under the 15 year programme, remains at the present day? It has already been pointed out the local authorities have refused to guarantee that they will give orders for a definite number of houses even during the first three years, let alone during the 15 years It has also been pointed out that the whole apprenticeship system proposed by the Committee in this Report was based on the proposal that it should be a condition of every contract for houses under the scheme that the contractor should employ this labour on the work. The local authorities have not given any undertaking or guarantee of that kind. Perhaps I ought to justify myself for cutting the period down to three years, because it may be said that even during the first three years there is no guaran- 1340 tee. The local authorities are not obliged to order houses, and, unless the Minister contradicts me, I assert the building trade is not obliged to provide those houses. There is no obligation on any side. There is no arrangement made between the parties as yet. There is no agreement; there is nothing which business men would regard as a contract.
I have taken three years, because that, at any rate, covers the only definite thing in the scheme before us, namely, that the Minister is obligated by this scheme during the course of three years to pay a subsidy of £9 on any house winch he may approve. The Minister may stop approving houses if the cost goes up, or if the requisite number of houses be not delivered. He may in such circumstances stop approving houses, but, so long as he does approve of houses during the first three years, that approval carries with it a subsidy of £9. That is the only thing we are doing under this Resolution—absolutely the only thing, so far as I can see. If we are doing anything else, I hope the Minister will tell us in what sense there is an obligation or, indeed, a programme in any concrete sense beyond those three years. I am quite prepared to admit that during the first three years the programme may offer a sufficient inducement to the building trade to produce the number of houses required, because, at any rate, during the first three years they are more or less assured that the local authorities will order the number of houses stated in the scheme. For instance, in 1925 the maximum number of houses that are to be built is 90,000, but the trade only guarantee 60,000. The trade knows that in 1925 90,000 houses will be ordered by the local authorities. Why? Because 85,000 of them are ordered already under the Chamberlain Act, in addition to the houses under construction, or completed. Your paper programme of 90,000 houses for next year is already on paper. Therefore, the building trade have got, more or less, a guarantee. Beyond that time, what guarantee have they got? The Minister of Health said yesterday that, while he could not give an absolute guarantee, the guarantee he could give was that if half the local authorities went on operating the Act that would take up the whole of the available supply of labour and material, but if over half the country prices go up to an extent which 1341 the Minister does not think desirable, he may stop building in that half of the country.
The Minister said that he could not give any definite figure as to how far prices must go up before he would stop building. Can he give any idea of what is in his mind? We have had an increase, apparently, in the last few months of from £385 to £500 a house, an increase of £115 a house or slightly less. I do not know whether those two figures are strictly comparable. Is that the kind of increase that would make the Minister stop building? What is the arrangement, if any, that has been made, and how far is this a definite programme? The right hon. Gentleman has told us that we ought to meet the building trade as we meet foreign envoys, with bunting and cheers, and that we ought to meet them at the railway station. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am quite ready to do so if I know exactly the business they have come on, and if I know exactly what the arrangement is. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. A. Greenwood) instead of handing out the bunting said he wanted the people to realise that private industry had not played the game. That is how the Minister of Health's colleague hands out the bunting. What is all this about? What is the actual proposal? How far are we really committing ourselves? If it is only a commitment for three years do let us say so. Let us, at least, in a housing scheme get away from anything which might even appear to be like eye-wash. I do not suggest that the Minister of Health intentionally is trying to throw dust in out eyes, but I do wish to be sure that this is not eye-wash, that it is not merely the substitution of one paper programme for another. If it is, do not let the House of Commons be a party to it. Let us say just what we mean, and only what we mean, and not hold out hopes which the building trade may find neither the Minister of Health nor any Member of this House really meant.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I would like to put a few questions to the Minister of Health, because I should not like my attitude to be misconceived. If the right hon. Gentleman has arrived at a 15 years' guarantee with the building trade I will support him. In this Resolution, all that 1342 I want is to have the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I am in some doubt, and probably the right hon. Gentleman is himself in doubt as to where he stands. I well remember that the first document that he produced in connection with this guarantee—"guarantee" was the word which he used yesterday—was the Report of the building industry. In that Report, on page 10, it is stated:The Committee is unanimously of opinion that the demand for such assurances"—that is, on the question of guarantee—is a reasonable one, and recommends that Parliament should be asked to sanction the expenditure required"—I want the Minister to pay attention to the following words—for a definite and continuous programme extending over 15 years for the erection of an inclusive total of up to, approximately, 2,500,000 houses upon a basis of cost to be agreed.The next document that we had was a letter which the Secretary to the Minister of Health wrote to the local authorities, and it seems to me that this letter very seriously affects the guarantee which the building trade has asked for. The letter is dated 12th May, 1924:The Minister understands that the representatives of the local authorities wish to have recorded his views on certain Resolutions framed by them and submitted to him, and he desires me to make the following comments on these Resolutions.The first comment is this—and the Committee will note the following statement in the light of what the trade has asked from the right hon. Gentleman:That in carrying out any building programme under the proposed legislation, the local authority should retain full power to fix the number of houses which it will build in any period, subject to the limitation of a maximum number by the Minister of Health, and also full power at its discretion to suspend building operations for any reason whatever, at any time, and that such suspension should not involve the imposition of any burden upon the rates, or other penalty.Therefore, it is fair to say that as far as the local authorities are concerned they are in no way parties to this guarantee, and they have taken the right, at any time, for any reason which shall be good to them, and no one else, to stop building operations. The next document was the Financial White Paper which was presented to the House a little time 1343 ago. In the White Paper we have this statement on the question of guarantee. Paragraph 13 says—and this is the conclusion which is apparently arrived at by the Minister of Health:It is proposed that the Exchequer contributions should be fixed in the first instance for houses built during the first three years only, and that before the end of that period the position should be reviewed and, after consultation with Associations of Local Authorities, that the contribution for houses built during the next period of three years should be reduced, if the cost of building and other conditions warrant a reduction.Certain words relating to Scotland follow, and the final words are:A similar review will be made every three years during the continuance of the scheme.Paragraph 10 of the same document says:In the event of non-compliance with any of the special conditions attached to houses in respect of which the increased Exchequer contribution is payable, the annual contribution may be discontinued or suitably reduced.We ought to be perfectly plain as to the exact position. I confess—it may be my stupidity—that I cannot reconcile these statements, because when we go back to what it is that the building trade asked for, it was not only that they should have a definite and continuous programme, but there was a second condition, which I should think they regard as equally important, namely, that it was to beupon a basis of cost to be agreed.The Minister of Health, and I am not complaining of it, has taken power to stop his Exchequer contributions if two-thirds of the houses guaranteed are not built, and, secondly, an equally important condition, that the cost of providing houses by the trade is reasonable. That is a very difficult condition to interpret. I do not know whether in the future we shall have considerable argument as to what is reasonable. At any rate, in this document the right hon. Gentleman is not fulfilling the undertaking which the trade asked for.
After the right hon. Gentleman received this document from the building trade, and after he had sent the letter to the local authorities agreeing that they should discontinue building houses at any time they liked, did he go back to the building trade, and have they agreed, in the light 1344 of the statement by the local authorities, and the statements in the White. Paper? Have they been put into the position of reviewing exactly what the Minister of Health has done, and the conclusions the local authorities have come to, and are they, notwithstanding these facts, in complete agreement with the Minister of Health on the proposals he is now making? If they are, and they like to call that a 15 years' guarantee, I have no objection as to the exact phrases which are used.
But in order that we may not be accused in this House of bad faith hereafter, it is very necessary, in the interests of the House, and of the right hon. Gentleman himself, that we should be perfectly clear as to the arrangements we are making to-day. If this arrangement is made in the full light of the facts, I desire honourably to fulfil, as far as one can, any arrangement that has been made with the trade. I regard it as a most important matter for the trade themselves that there should be an exact agreement between the Minister of Health and the trade, and that there should be no doubt hereafter as to the terms and conditions which have been agreed. The Minister of Health may say, "This is a 15 years' guarantee, and the trade are in agreement with me. I hope he will say that. Inasmuch as we are going to pass this Financial Resolution, I should like to know what exactly is the arrangement that the right hon. Gentleman has made with the trade on the other side.
I have read carefully and heard every statement made by the Minister of Health on this matter, and I do not understand what part of this building trade report he has accepted and what part he has refused. All that the Minister of Health has committed himself to, as far as this is concerned, is to call this a very valuable report. But nowhere in his speech or in any document have I seen what part of this report he agrees to and what part he refuses. Therefore I want him to tell us exactly what is the arrangement between himself and the trade and what he is going to give them and what they are going to give him.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
The Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) made an appeal to the Committee for us all to say exactly what we mean, and I think that the position is one about 1345 which there should not be the slightest doubt. I can imagine nothing more unfortunate than that an impression should be left on the minds of either the operatives or the manufacturers that this Committee was not intending to honour its pledge. The basis of the Government's agreement with the building industry is the delivery of so many houses per annum. The pledge of the Government, to the industry is for fifteen years up to the number of 2,500,000 houses. If they honour their side of the agreement, Parliament will honour its side of the agreement. I said in the course of my negotiations that when we reached this stage in the discussion I would ask Members of the House of Commons who were not prepared to give that 15 years' pledge to the building industry and to honour it after it had been given, to go into the opposite Lobby and indicate to the country that they do not intend in future to honour their pledge. But I want it to be clearly understood to-night that if the building industry will deliver these houses to the number laid down, and on the conditions of supply laid down, this country is prepared to accept these houses for 15 years. I do not need to say anything else. The Amendment, if adopted, would destroy the whole basis of our policy and we would withdraw the proposal. I hope that the Amendment will be withdrawn.
I am not going to be shouted down. I have 4,330 reasons in my majority for what I wish to say.
§ Mr. SUNLIGHT
I would like to have your ruling, Sir, as to whether, after Minister has replied upon the Amendment, a private Member can rise to continue the discussion. My particular reason for asking this is that I understand that, according to the agreement made last night, this matter has to be disposed of by a quarter past eight o'clock. I was hoping to be able to make a speech in the Debate, and if the hon. and gallant Member opposite were to detain the Committee that would not be possible.
I wish to put a point of great importance. There are three parties to this pledge. There are the 1346 building industry, the House of Commons and the local authorities. The building industry is committed, and this House is committed, and we are told that the local authorities reserve the right to suspend building operations for any reason whatever at any time, and that such suspension shall not involve the imposition of any burden on the rates. The building industry is therefore in the hands of the local authorities. If for any reasons the local authorities suspend building operations, these houses will not be delivered, and the guarantee of the Minister will not come into force. This would automatically bring about the failure of the delivery of houses, and therefore a failure of the pledge which the building industry had got, without any fault on the part of the building industry.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
If the hon. Member had followed my speech yesterday he would have heard me explain in reply to a question from the Front Bench opposite exactly what the position was. I stated that if half the local authorities who required houses were to apply during this year it would require all the available labour and material to meet their demands, that during the earlier years we would learn who the defaulting local authorities were, and that, having learned that, Section 4 of the Act of 1919, giving power to the Ministry of Health to go in and act in place of the defaulting local authorities would apply, and the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) rose in his place, with all his knowledge of the Ministry of Health and the activities of the local authorities, and asked if I was really suggesting that there was any danger of the local authorities not ordering as many houses as would fulfil the Parliamentary pledge. I told him that I had no doubt but that as we wanted a water-tight arrangement in this matter we had in the last resort the power that the State, which was giving the guarantee, could go in and build the houses.
May I ask where does the statement come in that such suspension should not involve the imposition of any burden upon the rates? The Section of the Housing Act gives the Minister power to go in and execute the work at the expense of the local authority, but now the local authority has obtained a pledge from the Minister that he will 1347 not take any steps which will involve the imposition of any burden on the rates.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
That is in the case of a local authority that has been doing its duty, but has been compelled to stop because of a rise in prices. I have been referring to local authorities who were not doing their duty, who were not building, and in that case the State would step in.
Who is to be the judge? I remember that the local authority in Plymouth were threatened by the then Under-Secretary to the Ministry of Health, during the operation of the Addison scheme, that the Ministry would step in and execute the work at the expense of the local authority. Who is to be the judge whether the local authority is unreasonably dropping building operations because it does not, want to build, or justifiably dropping them because of some rise in the cost of building?
§ Sir F. WISE
I would like to know whether this Financial Resolution has the full endorsement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as I have not seen him in his place, because I feel that if it has his approval it makes a great difference with respect to the Amendment before us. I feel that three years would be a sufficient commitment for this country to undertake at the present time. If you eliminate the subsidy entirely the actual amount of money that will have to be raised to build these houses is, on the average, £83,000,000 a year. That can only be raised out of the savings of the people. Last year, roughly, your savings were about £200,000,000 a year, and during that time the amount of money put into British securities was £65,000,000. I am most anxious that the Minister of Health should realise that the commitments which he is making carry this on for 15 years instead of carrying out the suggestion embodied in the Amendment of reducing the period to three years.
§ Lord E. PERCY
This raises a very vital question. The Minister has just made a most extraordinary statement. He has written a letter to the local authorities saying that he agrees to this proposition, that any local authority is to have full power at its discretion to 1348 suspend building operations for any reason whatever, at any time, and that such suspension should not involve the imposition of any burden upon the rates or other penalty, and now the Minister says that in order to carry out his pledge to the building trade he will be obliged if the local authorities, for reasons which he does not think good or the building trade does not think good, suspend building operations to an extent which interferes with the programme to go in and build for the local authorities, and charge it on the rates. With whom are we going to break faith? With the local authorities or the building industry? Here are two absolutely incompatible arrangements?
§ Mr. SEXTON
On a point of Order, or rather on a point of procedure. I was under the impression—perhaps I am wrong—that this two days' Debate was agreed to on certain conditions, and now we find repetition after repetition taking place.
Seeing that this Amendment deals with the period of years, is it in order to traverse the whole Debate again?
§ Lord E. PERCY
I have not been traversing the Debate, I only want to safeguard this Committee. I do not want to embarrass the Minister or the Committee in coming to a conclusion, but I do say that unless the Minister can, when he brings the Bill before the House on Second Reading, give a clear explanation of this inconsistency, it will become a question for every hon. Member who values his pledged word to think very carefully whether the Minister is asking him to do a thing which is honest or dishonest. I beg to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The next Amendment I propose to select is that which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Govan.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
I beg to move, in line 6, after the word "thirty-nine," to insert the words,and which are let at the rents which normally obtained for houses of that type on 1349 and prior to the fourth day of August, nineteen hundred and fourteen.8.0 P.M.
I have put down this Amendment to be definitely assured that certain things were unlikely to arise if the Housing Bill under this Financial Resolution were passed by this House. I move this Amendment in order to get an assurance from the Minister that the passing of this Resolution and the Bill based upon it is not going to stereotype or standardise, for the 15 years that the guarantee is to be given, the increased 40 per cent. on rents which are at present paid for houses of a particular type. If I get that assurance and am told that there is an early possibility of revising the increased rents that are paid, I shall be prepared to withdraw the Amendment. I move the Amendment in order that the public outside as well as ourselves may have an assurance of that kind.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
If I were to accept the Amendment, I would be actually going out of the way to charge a higher rent for the houses than the Government propose to charge. We do not propose to take comparable houses as the basis of our rents. We want to provide for the working class better houses than they are occupying to-day, at the same rents as they are paying for those inferior houses. The Amendment will defeat my object.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The right hon. Gentleman used the phrase, "paying the same rent as they are paying for inferior houses." Are we to take it that the rents which these people are to-day paying for the inferior houses, with the 40 per cent. increase added, are to be the rents charged for the houses built under this Financial Resolution? Will the Minister answer?
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Sir GEORGE McCRAE
I beg to move, in line 18, after the word "provision," to insert the words,in the absence of adequate arrangements for the necessary increase in the supply of labour and materials at reasonable prices.I hope that the Minister will accept this Amendment, because it is calculated to strengthen his hands. There can be no doubt that the crux of the housing question is in the supply of labour. The 1350 Minister told us yesterday that, compared with 1921, there was a deficiency in bricklayers to-day of 25,000. The number of bricklayers in 1914 was 73,000, and in 1924 it had fallen to 53,000, showing a shortage of 20,000. In 1914 the plasterers numbered 19,400, and in 1924 the total had fallen to 13,900. If we take Scotland alone, there are to-day 60,000 fewer men employed in the building trade than were employed in 1913, and at the beginning of this year there were actually 8,000 fewer men employed on horsing schemes in Scotland than were employed a year ago. We are all agreed that something must be done to augment the supply of labour. We have the proposals which have been made by the House Building Committee, but these are entirely inadequate, because the House Building Committee reports that, after effect has been given to them, only some 50,000 additional houses can be erected in the first year, having regard to the labour supply. The Report, to which I have referred, says that special provision was, however, to be given to applicants who have had previous experience of the trade, i.e., building trade labour. I ask the Minister specifically what assurance he has as to the number of men that we are likely to get from this source. Apprentices will not help us in the present difficulty. Have any figures been given to the Minister as to the number of men who are likely to be taken on by the trade from the source I have mentioned?
The consequence of all our difficulties is that we have had to restrict our housing schemes. I am sure that the Minister has made strenuous efforts to find a good housing policy. The provisions that he has presented to the House are a profound disappointment, not only to himself, but to all those who are interested in housing, because all the additional houses that can be got out of this scheme are, for the first year 50,000 and for the second year 70,000. The building committee estimate that there will be 50,000 the first year, then 60,000 and 70,000. What is the position? We have been talking about 200,000 new houses being required each year. We know that Scotland is included in this, and, if we deduct the figure applicable to England, we find that in Scotland under the Wheatley scheme we are to get for the three years only about 8,000 houses a year, or less than we were getting under the Addison 1351 scheme. There is one further point I wish to emphasise. Having regard to the supply of labour at present, I am sure that this increased subsidy will not give us any more houses and that, as under the Addison scheme, the subsidy will go simply in increased cost. With regard to material, I defy the Minister to have any system of control which can prevent prices going up, because the prices apply not only to houses, which are a small part of the building trade, but to all the other work connected with the building industry, apart from houses.
§ The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Mr. Clynes)
With the permission of the Committee, I rise to draw attention to an understanding that was reached yesterday. Members of all parties are always ready to observe the conditions of an arrangement made, particularly when, as in this case, there will be numerous opportunities later on of discussing the subjects covered by this Resolution. Yesterday, in announcing an extension of the time for the consideration of this Resolution, I stated that to-day would be given up to 8.15, and that instead of seeking a Division last night at 11 o'clock—
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
On a point of Order. We wish to break no arrangement. If the Minister of Health will be good enough to reply and accept the Amendment, there will be no more proposed. If be does not accept the Amendment, we will have a Division, and then he can get the Resolution.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I rose not without cause, but I am glad to observe the willingness which is just announced. It was universally accepted by the House that the decision on the Main Resolution would be taken to-day.
§ Mr. A. GREENWOOD
I am not at all sure that the Amendment adds anything to the Resolution. If hon. Members desire to make additional arrangements for the scheme coming to an end, there is no reason why that point should not be brought up on the Bill, but I can assure them that the Amendment will add nothing to the Financial Resolution
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
That it is expedient—
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.