Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
I make no apology to the House for again raising the question of housing, for I imagine that no apology is needed. Though the House has spent many weeks in discussing the question, the problem is not, as has been suggested, a disappearing one. In fact, from some of the answers that have been given by the Ministry of Health, and some of the official communications that have been issued, one rather gathers that they regard this matter with a certain complacency which, I am sure is not shared by the unfortunate victims of the housing shortage. During recent weeks we have spent considerable time in discussing the safeguarding of industries. It seems to me that if that time had been devoted to the safeguarding of the homes of our people it would have been more profitably spent. We cannot consider that all is well, although as the Minister suggests they are overtaking arrears, for it would seem that they are not doing anything substantial to meet the needs of the case. In fact I venture to suggest that the position to-day is no better, so far as the shortage of houses is concerned, than in 1919.
Under the various Housing Acts there have been erected 400,000 to 500,000 houses. It is a foolish idea that that has, or is likely, to do away with the shortage which existed in 1919. We were told by Government Departments that the shortage of houses was something then like half a million, but we want to remember that before the War the annual number of houses built, or required, to meet the needs of the growth of the population and the ordinary wastage was estimated at something like 80,000 or 90,000 houses. If that be correct then in the six years that have elapsed since the Armistice the requirement would seem to be from 480,000 to 540,000 houses to meet the shortage of half a million houses at the time 1839 of the Armistice, making a total altogether of over a million houses required to be erected since the Armistice. According to a recent answer given in the House of Commons the total number of houses erected on 1st December this year under various Housing Acts was 344,274. To that, of course, must be added those houses erected outside the Housing Acts. These, I understand, are estimated at between 150,000 and 160,000 making a total altogether of half a million houses which have been erected since the Armistice against the figure of a million which I gave just now required to meet the shortage and annual needs. I submit that it is not a paper shortage. Any one connected with or in touch with the actualities of the case in our large industrial areas, and also in the agricultural districts, knows there is a very great shortage indeed of houses.
I desire to give two illustrations, if I may, about the figures which were published recently to show that the complacent attitude of the Ministry that they were satisfactorily overcoming the arrears is not a view held by everybody. The other day the chief superintendent relieving officer of the Brentford Guardians, giving evidence before Judge Hargreaves, said:It was impossible for the Guardians to obtain accommodation for all their own employés. Many men previously in good work had to leave their employment and seek refuge with their families in the workhouse, for it was a perfectly hopeless quest to seek rooms in that district.It does not look as though arrears were being satisfactorily overtaken there. A member of the Islington Borough Council issued a challenge to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health. I do not know whether he has accepted it. He said:As a member of the Islington Borough Council, for a working class ward, I invite Mr. Chamberlain to accompany me on a visit to a few of the tenements in that ward and ascertain the number of families of five, nine and eleven persons living in two and three rooms.It does not look as though we have satisfactorily overtaken the arrears in the borough of Islington. Even in an aristocratic neighbourhood like Kensington we find, according to a report of the 1840 Kensington Housing Association on the present situation:It is a reproach to the Borough that a third of the population are living in one room or two rooms, and that the infant mortality rate for the crowded areas should be one of the highest in London.If we come nearer home, practically to our own doors, we find the Westminster Housing Association reporting on the present situation as follows:Close up to the Royal residences there are courts and ill-conditioned houses the equal of which it would be hard to beat in any district famed only for the poverty of its population. Within a few hundred yards of the House of Commons and the Palace there exist families housed in casual wards of the old workhouses who are faced once more with winter in a building where there is no means of warmth, no light, no ventilation and a complete absence of anything approaching decent sanitary conditions.These damning extracts show that things are by no means well in these parts of the country, and I am sure every one of us can substantiate and confirm these experiences in his own particular neighbourhood. In my own district there is the same terrible state of things. Originally we had a demand for 3,000 houses, and although we have not been neglectful, although we have built over 1,180 houses, that leaves a deficiency of nearly 2,000 on the original demand. We are building at the rate of 468 houses a year, as compared with 350 in pre-war times. That gives an excess of 136 houses a year towards wiping off the arrears. At that rate it will take no less than 15 years to extinguish the arrears.
I sometimes wonder whether we realise the terrible tragedy behind these homeless ones. Those of us who have comfortable houses of our own; some having two or three houses, can perhaps hardly realise the suffering entailed on those who have not a house to call their own. There are throughout the country hundreds of men, ex-service men, who have never had a house of their own since they returned from the war. They have married and have families, and have been compelled to bring up those families in one or two furnished rooms or two rooms in four-room houses. One cannot adequately express the tragedy behind that state of things. These young married couples have had no chance of beginning a decent family life, and those who are older and have larger families are suffering to an even greater extent, be- 1841 cause they are crowded together, two or three families living in four-room houses with limited bed room accommodation, and with no possibility of decent sleeping provision for their families as they grow up. This is a serious moral question as well as an economic question and we cannot regard the continuance of this state of things with complacency.
What satisfaction is it to those who have been waiting six years for a house to tell them that we are gradually overtaking the arrears? Will they have to wait another six years before they can get accommodation? What is it the Minister is doing? He has given us figures as to the numbers of houses. We find that for the 12 months ended 30th September 92,291 State-assisted houses have been erected and 67,000 houses without State assistance, and I understand the Ministry estimate that of this number 140,000 are houses not exceeding £26 a year rateable value. No doubt 140,000 houses a year are an improvement on any pre-war record, but is it a sufficient improvement? How long will it take—I see the Minister laughs, but this is a tragic matter for those who have to wait years upon years before getting a house of their own. Even if we manage to maintain this rate of 140,000 houses per annum, how long will it take before the shortage and the arrears are wiped off? I think it will be found that; 10 years will elapse before the appalling shortage is wiped off. As I said earlier, it is admitted that 90,000 houses are required each year for the normal requirements of the population and the normal wastage in houses, and that leaves 50,000 houses towards wiping off the arrears: and as the arrears amount to 500,000 houses it will be another 10 years before we can regard the position of things with equanimity. I am sure the Minister cannot be satisfied with that state of things, and I invite him to tell us what he proposes to do to expedite building, so that those who have been waiting patiently for so long may have an opportunity of getting a house.
The figures I have quoted have ignored the slum problem. That is a problem which is vexing all sections of society, and I know the Minister himself is concerned not least of all, but what are his proposals for dealing with the slum problem, a canker eating into our very vitals?
1842 Twenty years ago, when it. was my privilege first to enter local public life, I went in on the question of a slum clearance scheme, and I am sorry to have to confess that my experience has been that those slums are still in existence, though they have been condemned for 20 or 30 years. We seem to imagine that a house once built is a house for all time. That is very different from the attitude which the ordinary manufacturer or business man takes up as regards his business. Immediately his plant or machinery is out of date he scraps it and replaces it. Immediately something better and more modern is on the market, he replaces his antiquated machinery by new machinery; and the buildings in which the machinery is housed have to be kept up to date. When, however, we come to the houses in which live the men who have to mind the machines or to work the machines, any antiquated, dilapidated property will do for them. We seem to think that a house once put up will go on for all time. We ought to scrap our houses in the same way as a modern manufacturer scraps antiquated machinery and replaces it with the most modern.
In answer to a question the other day the Minister of Health stated that only 70 local authorities have submitted schemes for dealing with slum problems since 1919, that is, 70 out of some 1,500 or 1,600 local authorities. The schemes submitted by the 70 local authorities, and approved, condemned 10,463 houses, and yet at the first of October out of those condemned only 246 had actually been abolished—that is, that in the areas of 70 local authorities only, less than 10 per cent. of the houses had been pulled down, while the rest of the local authorities are apparently doing nothing in the matter. The fact is that slums are gaining ground in all our large towns. Years ago these slums were confined mostly to our congested areas but now they are growing up steadily in our suburbs, and also in districts where the houses used to be of a much better class. Therefore we cannot leave clearances to private enterprise or to the local authorities. Whatever views we happen to hold no one will suggest that private enterprise under any circumstances will solve the slum problem. As a matter of fact slums do not pay, and therefore private enterprise will not deal 1843 with them. Consequently local authorities are faced with this problem, and it is largely a question of finance.
I submit that the local authorities are quite unable to tackle these questions without more substantial assistance from the Government, and without that assistance they cannot deal in a wholehearted manner with these slums which are the breeding places of ill-health. Anyone who reads the reports of the medical officers in our large towns will find that the death-rate is three or four times larger than it ought to be, and the adult death rate is also very excessive. I have heard the Minister of Health state that the amount of preventable sickness which falls on the insurance fund runs into many millions a year, and this is due to bad housing. As King Edward VII once said,If preventable, why not prevent it?If many of these diseases are preventable, why should we not take drastic steps to prevent them?
It is my privilege to be a member of a local health authority, and we have placed before us appalling statistics about the ravages of tuberculosis. The report which has been presented to us this month shows a terrible increase, and the investigations which have been made into the housing conditions under which these affected persons live are really appalling. I have no doubt that the same state of things exists in other parts of the country. We have had 261 new cases within two years, and an analysis shows that in 18 per cent. only was there decent housing accommodation, where the affected person had a bedroom to himself. In 80 per cent. of the cases the patients had to sleep in small rooms, sometimes with one, two, three, four, and even five persons. Can you imagine any more serious breeding ground of ill-health than what is now occurring in these congested areas? In the face of figures like this, it is time that a great crusade is launched against slum property. The Minister of Health suggested that he had schemes in hand for dealing with slum property which he was afraid would arouse opposition, but I can assure him that he will have the support of all right-minded people who are interested in this problem if he will take up this question. Instead of prosecuting Communists the 1844 Government would be doing far better if they would prosecute slum owners, and attack this question in a statesmanlike way. I ask the Minister of Health if he is satisfied with the present condition of things, and what he proposes to do to deal with it? I would like to know how we can help him in his crusade against this terrible state of things.
I would like to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman with reference to town-planning. We know that many of the evils from which we are suffering today in regard to our large towns are due to the lack of foresight in the handling of things at an earlier date in regard to town-planning. Now it is incumbent on local authorities to plan for the future, and if they show foresight in this matter they can prevent the formation in the future of congested areas and shims. The Minister of Health said that only nine of the schemes put forward by hundreds of local authorities had been approved and eleven were awaiting confirmation, and a number of others were being considered. We want more than mere consideration of this question and we want the right hon. Gentleman to get on with it. and I hope he will do everything he can to speed up town-planning. Urgent as the urban problem is, the rural problem is even worse, and I would like the Minister of Health to tell us how many houses are being erected in rural England, how many are completed, and how many of those completed are let at rents which the agricultural labourer can afford to pay under the wages laid down by the Fair Wages Clause of the Act of 1924. I know that a large number of the buildings that have been erected in rural areas are in connection with watering places and holiday resorts, and these very much swell the numbers which are gradually overtaking the areas, but as a matter of fact they are of no service to the agricultural labourers.
I would like the Minister of Health to tell us what he is doing with the slum problem in the agricultural districts as well as in the urban districts. In many parishes these statistics show that a number of these houses stand condemned, and this goes on year after year and the deficiency is not met by the local authorities. I think these instances require drastic action on the part of the Minister. I hope the right hon. Gentle- 1845 man will give us some assurance that this matter is receiving his careful attention. I would also like to ask why is the Minister of Health behind his colleague in Scotland in getting more assistance from the Treasury for housing schemes? If, in Scotland, they are able to get an extra £40 per house, surely in rural England, where the housing conditions are quite as bad, and the difficulty is largely an economic one, we should also get this extra £40, in fact I claim it for the English rural districts.
I would like to refer to the Housing Act, 1924, which we were told from the front bench would be of very little service, and which they were very doubtful about passing. I am glad the Government are now working that Act, and they are doing it very successfully. Up to the 1st November, 90,000 houses had been authorised under the Act of 1924, and every one of those houses will help to serve the convenience of those who are in the greatest need of accommodation because those houses are let to the wage earners and those who cannot afford to buy their own house.
I would like to ask what is the Minister of Health doing to encourage schemes for the augmentation of labour which were adumbrated by his predecessor? I know that we sanctioned the expenditure of a large amount of money under the Act of 1924 to carry out a large programme of building extending over a period of 15 years. We were given an assurance that we should get an augmentation of labour in the building trade, and I would like to ask what the Minister is doing to encourage local authorities to form joint committees which were to be set up between employers and employed and in conjunction with local authorities and the health authorities? I know that in Manchester good work has been done on those lines to augment the number of apprentices, and this will make a large increase in the amount of skilled labour available in the building trade in that district. I would like to know how that plan is succeeding in other parts of the country, and whether the 100,000 apprentices which were foreshadowed as a result of the scheme are likely to materialise before the end of the year.
I would also like to ask whether it is not possible to do more to utilise some 1846 of the unemployed in the building of houses. Surely when we have over 1,000,000 unemployed and such a large number of slums which require reconstruction and demolition, it should not pass the wit of man to correlate these two factors. Is it not possible to pass some of the men from the trades which are now overcrowded, and employ some of the men who have not been employed for two or three years, and for a longer period than that in some instances? Is it not possible to pass more of those men into those trades where labour is so scarce? Surely it is possible to have some such scheme based on trade union conditions and devise a plan whereby this labour can be used to meet our social needs. It is not a question of getting men into a new trade in order to swell the profits of the capitalists; it is a question of a social need crying aloud for redress. These slum houses should be abolished and other houses should be put up in their places. Is it not possible so to arrange to draft these trained men into this service, permitting them to work for a municipality and to fill a common need, not to work for private gain, and therefore not coming into competition with existing workers. I submit that here there is a possibility which it should not pass the wit of man to be able to bring about. We have heard a great deal about the spirit of good-will and harmony which has brought about the Treaty of Locarno and the Irish Settlement. If we could have the same spirit of goodwill and hearty co-operation here at home, would it not be possible to utilise some of the 1,000,000 unemployed in order to provide the million houses required, and meet a real social need of our time.
§ Sir LESLIE SCOTT
The whole House will be glad that an opportunity should have arisen when the housing question can be discussed. I find myself in agreement with a great deal that the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) has just said, and I regard that as symptomatic of the attitude of the House today on the housing problem. To a great extent it is getting, outside the arena of party politics, and it is highly desirable that that should be the case. But, while expressing satisfaction that the problem should be lifted out of party politics, I am sure that hon. Members opposite will 1847 forgive me if I offer a few words of congratulation to the Conservative Minister of Health who has achieved so much as the result of his activities in 1923 and since the present Government came into power. The record of building achieved during the last 12 months, as we all know, has exceeded anything before achieved in the history of this country, and, having regard to the great difficulties of one kind or another that have existed, I feel certain that all parties in this House will not grudge a tribute of praise to the Minister who has done so much to contribute to that result.
The aspect of the case on which I desire to say a few words to-day is the slum problem as a whole. We have achieved a great deal no doubt during the recent year or two. We have solved the broad problem of the supply of housing accommodation in the country, though I entirely agree with the last speaker that we have not yet caught up, or anything like, to the point at which we ought to be and to which we must use every possible endeavour to attain as early as we can. In Liverpool, for instance, there are 10,000 houses less in proportion to the population than there were in 1914. That is in this year's report of the Medical Officer of Health for the city. It is a tragic fact, and I would urge, particularly upon the Opposition Party above the Gangway, the importance of doing everything in their power to facilitate the supply of labour for the building of houses. I do not want to discuss labour questions today. I do not think it necessary or convenient or expedient. But I do feel that the country as a whole is looking to the building industry and all engaged in it to do their very best to make up this tragic shortage that still exists.
I cannot help feeling this on the question of slum clearance. Although it was inevitable, having regard to the shortage existing in 1919 at the end of hostilities, that the energies of the local authorities and of the Government should have in the main been directed to the provision of houses where it is easiest to provide them, namely, on vacant land on the outskirts of our cities, and that on the principle that a bad roof is better than none, bad and insanitary houses should be left for the time being, six years have now passed since the end of the war, and 1848 the time has come when this slum problem as a problem somewhat separate from the main housing problem ought to be tackled in grim earnest. In Liverpool, in 1921, there were 11,000 families each living in one room. During 1923, over 500 families were added to the list of those living in one room, in spite of the fact that Liverpool has been in the van, in the foremost rank, among the great cities of this country in building additional houses since the war. That fact is not one that is limited to Liverpool. I agree that Liverpool, in many ways as regards the number of families living in one room and the intensity of over-crowding in parts of the city, is one of the worst towns still in this country. Yet that terrible phenomenon of modern civilised life in England is not limited to Liverpool, and is prevalent in many of our other great cities.
It is a problem which, as the hon. Member has rightly said, is vitally affecting the efficiency of the whole of our labouring population, and one which we cannot afford to leave as it is, without using every conceivable effort that either Parliament or the local authorities can possibly make in order to assist in its solution. It is the aim of a good many manufacturers, as the hon. Member has said, to keep their plant efficient and up-to-date, and it is not long since this House gave a concession to manufacturers in the Rating Bill with the express purpose of encouraging them to keep their machinery efficient and up-to-date. That argument is one which applies not only to the machine power of the country, but also to the man power of the country, and it is vitally necessary that we should, if needed, spend money as a national investment on relieving our cities of this slum problem which impairs so terribly the efficiency and health of every one of those of our population who live under such conditions. Since the War—to come back to my own city of Liverpool—we have built a very large number of houses on the outskirts of the city, and I think the Minister of Health will be glad to bear his testimony to the work done in Liverpool. But in regard to new houses in the centre of the city, where we have the slum problem to deal with, the story is very different, and I believe the figures from Liverpool are illustrative of urban districts generally. In the years 1900–11 we were rebuilding houses in the centre 1849 of the City in unhealthy areas cleared of insanitary dwellings, at the rate of 200 a year or thereabouts. During the last six years we have only, I believe, built in Liverpool at the rate of 27 houses a year. Why? Because, of course, the energies of the City were directed, and properly directed, to building houses where they could be built most quickly, namely, in the outskirts; but that leaves—
§ Sir L. SCOTT
I entirely agree. The position in many of our great cities, particularly in Liverpool, and particularly in my own division of Liverpool, is that it is vitally necessary that the workers should live in the centre of the city near their work. The dock labourers of Liverpool have to go every morning to the stand on the dockside for employment, under the system of employment which is, perhaps, inevitable, but which, at any rate, exists. They are employed, as we all know, by the half-day, and, if they are unemployed, they have to turn up again at the stand at mid-day. Men whose trade involves attendance at the line of docks in the early morning, and, in case of unemployment, at mid-day, cannot live six miles away on the outskirts of the city, with a long tram-ride, and when in. many cases they have work exposed to weather conditions, they cannot go several miles home in the evening with their clothes wet, and so on. The result is that it is essential that a large proportion of the workers in a city like Liverpool—and I believe the same or comparable reasons are true in the case of most of our great cities—it is essential that a large proportion of the population should be housed in the city itself, and not on its outskirts; and I believe that that fundamental fact goes to the root of the slum problem we are discussing.
I assume that the House is in agreement with the view I am submitting that a large proportion of the workers of each great city must be housed in more or less the centre of the city. A large number can be housed on the outskirts, I agree, but if you assume what I believe to be a fundamental fact, that a large proportion must be housed in the centre, you have got to find means of providing houses in the centre. In Liverpool the position as regards the slum problem to-day is appal- 1850 ling. I want, if I may, to quote from the current year's Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Liverpool, as illustrating the position that obtains there. After discussing the question of the danger of tuberculosis patients going back from the sanatorium to houses where they lived in crowded conditions, he proceeds to give a short summary of the insanitary property in Liverpool as it exists to-day. He says:There are at present existing within the City approximately 2,246 houses of the worst type"—that is to say, back-to-back houses and so on, which are absolutely unfit for anybody to live in for a week, and they have been living there for years. In addition to that, there are some 6,000 houses which are not back-to-back houses, but which, he saysare in such an insanitary condition in respect to structure and sanitary arrangements that they call for improvement.He gives various illustrations, and his expressionthey call for improvementis, indeed, a mild one. Over and above that he says, thatThere are whole series of streets … which … do not comply with the existing building requirements in respect to air space, angle of light and width of passageway. They are to a greater or lesser extent insanitary, and call for reconstruction.That is the statement of the Medical Officer of Health of one great town, and those details are characteristic of most of our great towns.
What are the practical difficulties in the way of progress with slum clearance? I venture to submit that they are, roughly speaking, two. In the first place, you have to re-house the displaced population, and that has been, in the years since the War, the greatest difficulty, because of the dearth of houses elsewhere, which has prevented its being possible for the local authority to find anywhere to put the displaced residents on the demolition of the houses in which they have been living. In the second place, there are the financial considerations—the cost of acquiring those parts of an unhealthy area which are not actually occupied by insanitary houses— that is to say, the blue districts in the plans for improvement schemes that are made; and, further, the cost of acquiring 1851 land elsewhere within the centre of the city to house the displaced residents during the period while their own area is under reconstruction. Of course, I am assuming that you get over a difficulty which always presents itself, namely, the difficulty of persuading the residents of the condemned area to move out and go where you want them to go, and then ultimately to come back where you want them to come. Britons never will be slaves, and you cannot compel people to do it, and that does present a very great practical difficulty. Then, assuming that you can get over that—and I think the London experience is that it can be got over to an extent up to something like 80 per cent. of the cases by persuasive measures— assuming that to be got over, you have the cost of acquiring the other site. Let me say a word or two on these two aspects.
If you are going to re-house on the cleared area anything like the density of population which you are displacing— which you must do if you are going to achieve your main object of housing a large proportion of the workers within the vicinity of their work, namely, in the centre of the city—you cannot put back small houses. The Act of 1924, and the Circular under the previous Act. aimed at 12 houses to the acre, which, in my opinion is much too low a number for practical purposes in a large city, much as we should like to attain to it. If you are only going to put up 12 or 24 houses to the acre, you are not going to re-house anything like the population you displace, because, on the basis of, say, 4½ persons to a house, it exists very often to an extent equivalent to 80 or even 100 houses to the acre in cases of serious over-overcrowding. If you cannot do that, what are you going to do? The only thing to do is to have large high tenement blocks—
§ Sir L. SCOTT
No. I would respectfully suggest to the hon. Member that he should visit some of the tenement blocks of the London County Council.
§ Sir L. SCOTT
They are very good buildings to live in. I have been over a good many of them. I do not say that 1852 they are as attractive as individual houses; they are not. I, for one, would prefer to live in a separate house rather than in a flat in a large block. I agree as to that, but what are you going to do? You have the fundamental facts that the residents in the unhealthy area are already in the centre of a great city, that their work is in that vicinity, and that they have got to be housed somehow or another within reach of their work. My answer is that you cannot do it by any other method than by building upwards.
§ Sir L. SCOTT
You must do it. and what, therefore, I say we should regard as the practical question is, how to make these large tenement blocks as much like real houses, with the conveniences of real houses, as we possibly can. That is the practical problem. My own view is that, in order to achieve the possibilty of re-housing the population within reach of their work, you must very often go to eight or nine storeys, or at any rate, very often, to five storeys. Now, when you get above five storeys, my own view is that a lift is essential; you cannot make women and children walk up eight or nine storeys. The moment van concede that— and in my view that is right—you have to consider the cost of a lift. I believe the addition of a lift automatically—without an attendant—adds fid. or 9d. to the rent of the tenants on the upper storeys.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman realise that it is the very congestion of these people which causes the land to be so dear?
§ Sir L. SCOTT
I do not think it is the value of the land that affects it. The cost of the land, even in the centre of the great cities, is small compared with the cost of the building. There is really no question about that, but I will ask the Minister when he replies to give roughly a few figures as to the typical proportion in the weekly rent which should be represented by the purchase price of the land.
That is one aspect of the problem— how you are going to re-house the population in sufficient numbers within the centre of the city. You have to face this problem of large tenement blocks. I have visited 1853 a great many of them and have examined the plans of a great number, and in Liverpool we are proposing to put up two large tenement blocks, one at the North end and one at the South, and my own view is that it is a good solution of the problem having regard to the limits within which you must work. If you have to re-house the population within that area there is no other way of doing it, and you must make these tenement flats as nice as you can—a balcony on each floor, doors opening on to the balcony and the office rooms of the house at the back so that the balcony does not overshadow any living rooms below, have the house facing the best aspect from the point of view of the sun, have sufficient space between the blocks and you can do a great deal to mitigate the evil we have seen in many old blocks of tenement dwellings. The difficulty of re-housing the population is to find a place to put them. We are proposing in Liverpool to adopt a system, which I believe to be the right one, of having something in the nature of a clearing house where you can invite the displaced residents to go temporarily and stay whilst the area is being demolished and rebuilt ready to receive them back. You can build your clearing houses in large tenement blocks of the right kind so that when the time has passed when they are needed as clearing houses for a succession of slum clearances they will then be available as permanent houses for accommodating the population in that area, and I believe that is the right principle. But—and here is a very big but—whilst under Section 46 of the Act of 1925, the old Section of the 1919 Act, the red portion, marked as an unhealthy and insanitary area on the plan, is acquired on a fair site basis of valuation, the cost of acquiring a new site altogether somewhere else for making the clearing station does not come within that basis of valuation at all, and there would be no ground for doing it, and the consequence is that the cost is almost prohibitive to local authorities in many cases, and although the cost of acquiring a place to house the displaced residents comes within the scheme as a whole, and therefore entitles the local authorities to a 50–50 grant over the whole scheme, I know as a fact that a great many local authorities have been prevented from embarking- 1854 on slum clearance schemes for the simple reason that the cost has been prohibitive. There is need for a re-consideration of the whole financial question of the cost in regard to slum clearances. I am alive to the necessity of avoiding any increase in public expenditure where it can be avoided, but this question of slum clearance seems to me to be essentially a national question up to a point, and although it may very properly be said that the cities are to blame for allowing the slum problem to assume the dimensions it has assumed, and in that sense it is a question of local responsibility, yet there must be found some way of getting on with this question of slum clearance. Either you must tempt local authorities by additional financial assistance or you must impose upon them greater responsibilities, and the Minister must have greater powers of seeing that those responsibilities are carried out. The broad fact is true to-day that we are not getting on fast enough with slum clearance, and somehow or other we must take steps which will accelerate a, solution of the problem.
In connection with it there are one or two suggestions that I can offer. I think there ought to be powers of compulsory acquisition, made rather more clear than they are to-day, for the purpose of acquiring sites elsewhere in connection with the re-housing of displaced residents from a certain area. I think possibly greater powers of town planning and road construction might be given than exist to-day in connection with large improvement schemes. Thirdly, particularly where you carry out road improvements in connection with schemes, there ought to be a provision for betterment. I have always held that in regard to any work incurred at public expense, whether local or national, where an appreciation of value results to neighbouring private owners it is right that those neighbouring private owners should make a contribution out of the windfall that they get towards the cost of the scheme incurred by the public authorities. I can see no answer to it. The only criticism on proposals of the kind that I have ever heard is the practical criticism of the difficulty of working out a scheme, but I do not for a moment concede that it is impossible to work out a satisfactory scheme in regard to 1855 the appreciation of property in the neighbourhood of an improvement scheme or along the roads made in connection with it. There is a small suggestion worth considering which the Liverpool City Council would like to see adopted, and that is that where working class houses are vacant, and have been vacant for an appreciable number of weeks, the local authority should have power compulsorily to hire them. That was a proposal put forward by the Ministry of Health (Miscellaneous provisions) Bill, 1920, which never got any further. A final suggestion is that the Minister should consider what practical proposals can be made towards expediting the problem, submit them to a conference of local authorities, see if they can contribute any further suggestions, really ascertain what the financial difficulties are and consider what can be done towards meeting them. In connection with it I think there are certain compulsory powers of acquisition which might be introduced, and the betterment proposals that I have suggested. I feel that the House ought to ask that the problem should be tackled with a view to the introduction of legislation next session on such lines as, after consultation with the local authorities, the Minister of Health may think likely to assist in a solution of the problem.
§ Mr. PALIN
I am not going to try to convert the Minister of Health, because he knows a great deal more than any of us as to the conditions that prevail. I do not accuse him of lack of will to remove the abominable conditions of housing which he inspected so recently as the last recess, but, like the President of the Board of Education, when he comes back to this House, I am afraid that it is a case of evil communications corrupting good manners. He finds that as soon as he requires to do anything, he is up against very powerful interests which are represented in the Government. The difficulty of the present Minister of Health is not, however, unprecedented in the history of this country. Whenever any Minister has really been desirous of securing better housing for the people, he has always been up against something that has prevented him doing it.
This lack of housing is a very serious matter from other aspects, than those 1856 mentioned by the previous speaker. It is lowering the standard of comfort of the working people of this country. I can remember the time in the West Riding of Yorkshire, when practically every family had its own house as an independent dwelling. To-day we are accepting as a natural order of things a condition under which three or four families live in one house. It would not be quite so bad if the houses had been constructed for the purpose of housing three or four families, but when the house has only been built to accommodate one family and three or four families are crowded into it, terrible conditions for health and morals arise. I have not seen any worse conditions in regard to housing than I once saw in Deptford, where houses constructed to house some of Queen Elizabeth's Admirals are now slums. Why they have stood so long I do not know. The great pity is that there was not power to destroy them many years ago.
§ Mr. PALIN
I should think not. There is some beautiful old panelling if you want some, and there is the figurehead of a ship over the door. I do not know whether that conduces towards making the houses any better. I hope the Minister of Health will not be tempted to build a lot of German barracks, as suggested by the last speaker. I am satisfied that the English system of housing, where a man has his house and the Englishman's house is really his castle, is very much superior to the German system of housing people in barracks, as in Berlin.
§ Sir L. SCOTT
Has the hon. Member seen the London County Council tenement dwelling in the Tabard Street area recently?
§ Mr. PALIN
Yes. I have seen nearly every type of dwelling in this country, or I have tried to do so. Where you have one storey running into the other, with all the social problems they involve, it lowers the English standard of comfort, and I do not want to see such buildings. I could suggest communal dining rooms, communal crèches and moving staircases in these barracks. One could suggest a great many things, but I do not think we ought to go on that plan at all. We want 1857 a decent house, where you can have some family life, and not a place where if you move across the floor the person down below calls attention to the extraordinary noise you are making. Not only would our health problems be very largely solved if we could get houses of the type I suggest, but the work of our police courts would be made very much lighter.
I do not think we ought to be concerned about the town dweller altogether, because in many quarters the town dweller is encroaching upon the rural areas. The invention of cheap motor cars has meant that the housing problems in districts adjacent to towns have been made worse for the rural worker. Until the worker can be properly housed, the Minister of Health should look into the question of preventing people from having more than one house and going into villages and buying up houses which are necessary for the agricultural workers.
Without any further Acts of Parliament, if the Minister would go full steam ahead and apply the Acts which are already on the Statute book, he could overtake the arrears within a much shorter period than he seems likely to do otherwise. It is not fresh laws that we require, but goodwill. Without good will we are going to do nothing. It is not a question as to whether it is Wheatley's Act or somebody else's Act. If the local authorities were given the straight tip that they were going to be backed up by the Minister in securing houses at the earliest possible moment, I am satisfied that in most cases the local authorities would be glad to go forward. It is because the local authorities are nervous as to what is going to happen in the future and they fear that their rates will be added to as in the case of education, that they are afraid to go forward with their housing schemes.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
The hon. Member who has just sat down has contributed valuable suggestions to the Debate. I entirely agree with him that we have got over most of our legislative difficulties in regard to housing and that the main thing that we want now is good will, I do not want to raise a party point, but there are many instances of people who are engaged in the industry who are not giving that good will or, at any rate, that good will is diluted by other motives of one kind or another. If every person in this House 1858 would use whatever influence he has with any section of the industry to prevail on these people to give their good will, primarily as a crusade for housing under existing conditions, I agree that we have sufficient powers at the present time to carry the housing problem through to a solution. There are one or two points which have been neglected, to which I would draw attention. I should like to call attention to the spacing and distribution of houses. The hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) has spoken of the necessity of housing people near their work. You must house people near their work. One often sees melancholy examples at the great London termini, especially at Liverpool Street, morning and evening, in the crowded congested state of the railways, where the ordinary worker thinks himself lucky if he only wastes two hours a day in travelling to and from his work:. Two hours a day wasted is enough to make one think. That is an intermediate stage out of which we must extricate ourselves.
Fine as are the proposals for residential and garden suburbs they are impossible as a solution of the problem because of the transport difficulty — apart from the question of the number of hours wasted to the worker and the employer and the effect upon the efficiency of industry. We are only at the beginning of our transport difficulties in the big cities. We are enlarging the arterial roads, but the number of motor cars coming into use is increasing at a rate out of all proportion to the rate of improvement in the roads, and we cannot go on interminably opening up arterial roads to keep pace with the increase in motors. The congestion on the railway lines is increasing, and we are approaching the limits of the capacity of the railway lines to deal with the passenger traffic. You can electrify them and thus make an improvement, but once electrification is complete you cannot go any further. Therefore we are living in a sort of enclosed area with bottle necks leading out of it, and while we may enlarge the bottle necks they will still be bottle necks.
We must consider the distribution of housing from a radical point of view, and needless to say that I do not use the word "radical" in a political sense because I do not think it has a political sense any 1859 longer. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) envisaged the erection of Babels and huge buildings of many stories, but that is an impossible and appalling proposition. What he states is true, however, that if you are going to house people close to their work in London or in any of the big cities you must build tenements. There are many people who prefer tenements to separate cottages because they involve less housework. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] Yes, we have had experience on the London County Council which shows that some people prefer tenements on this account, but it is true that other people prefer cottages. In any case the argument is sound that if you must house people near their work, you will have to build tenements in order to get any kind of decent rehousing in these crowded areas. In the case of Tabard Street I remember that when I was a medical student it was one of the worst of slums. But it has been swept away and buildings of five stories high have been built surrounding an open space of five acres, which will be grass-covered next year. You could not do better than that in such a London district. But my right hon. Friend is taking it for granted that the working people must remain in the towns. That is a point which I wish to drive home. The workers need not remain in the towns except in the case of certain industries. Some industries must remain by the riverside and in the city, but they are comparatively few. What does a factory require in order to be successful? It requires good communication, and these you can get in the country. It requires good import and export arrangements for its raw materials and goods, and these you can get as long as you have a proper site in the country. But much more than these things, it requires a good supply of efficient and contended labour, and that you cannot get in the country unless you make special provision for it.
We see factories being built all along the great main lines out of London; we see the melancholy spectacle of factories being moved out from London without any provision being made for the workers. I heard only yesterday of a model factory at Greenford in connection with which it 1860 is necessary to have a special train to bring the workers down from London every day. We ought to have some arrangement by legislation or by persuasion of the local authorities under which it would be incumbent on the local authorities concerned and upon those establishing these factories to show that proper provision as to housing is being made for the workers in the vicinity of the site. Even so the workers will not be contented unless provision is made for them in other respects, and that can only be done by having properly thought-out schemes. Here I make once again a claim upon which I have insisted for the past six years in this House. It is that the only ideal at which we ought to aim, the only solution of the problem in the long run, is the creation of new towns on properly selected sites, according to schemes well thought out beforehand. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister has again and again spoken in public of that solution. It is the solution of the garden city, and while some hon. Members may say that it is no solution of this problem, and while the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) the other day said something to that effect, I contend that, in the long run, it is the solution, and that we shall never approach a solution unless we have that ideal in view.
If hon. Members go down to Welwyn and other garden cities, where the idea is being put into practice, they will see how it is a solution of the problem. You have to persuade factories to move out to such places and if they do so, the workers will be delighted to move out. In the case of Welwyn. after five years it has a population of 3,500, and one of the biggest commercial concerns across the Atlantic—there is one American company and one Canadian company—namely, the Shredded Wheat Company, are going to establish their first European factory there. It is being opened next February. This company which has behind it some of the biggest financial names in America, decided that its first European factory should be in Great Britain and that it should be in a place which would be good for the workers and where the workers would be contented. Other factories may be encouraged to follow the same line, and I should like to see some scheme 1861 under which they could be encouraged in that way. I know that you cannot persuade many factories which are working well in London, to move, lock, stock, and barrel, into the country. It is too great a risk, but when new factories are being established, steps should be taken to point out the financial as well as the humanitarian advantages of establishing them in one of these recognised properly thought out towns.
In the course of 100 years most of the existing factories will come under reconstruction and it should be pointed out to those concerned that there is an advantage and a security to industry in reconstructing them in the country. They can get money for their sites in London and we have just discovered from the Treasury that the Trade Facilities Act is available for factories moving out in this way. I wish to see tie system of new and well planned towns being taken up now when these half million houses are being erected instead of having them erected without any idea of proper spacing or any idea of the relation of industry to housing. Let us start this new idea. We have the opportunity now. All round London arterial roads are being opened up, new lines of communication are being formed, and new junctions are being established, and we want to see the establishment of new communities. We want to revolt against the development of the suburb and to consider the proper distribution of housing in relation to the factories and to industry.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
I have been contrasting the placid atmosphere which pervades the House to-day with that which prevailed during the housing Debates of a year ago. I do not want to use the phrase "an air of unreality," but I feel in this Debate there is an absence of any righting spirit. It is partly due no doubt to Christmas-tide, but it is also partly due to the fact that this is a record year for building in this country. I am not going to say that hon. Members on these benches are satisfied with the rate of building. I do not suppose that the Minister himself is satisfied wth it, but it is true that under the operation of two Acts, and after three years of persistent effort—in which we played some little part last year—we are increasing the output of houses. The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough 1862 (Mr. T. Thomson), in his opening speech, referred to 140,000 houses as though that were the ultimate achievement of the building industry. I do not believe it for a moment. The thing that gives us comfort is not the number of houses which have been built this year, but that ever since the passage of the right hon. Gentleman's Act in 1923, the output of houses, particularly of State-aided houses, has been gradually and steadily increasing, and so far as I know there is no reason for believing that the output this year is the maximum that can be achieved.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Because we have got complete figures for those. I am not denying that there have been other houses in large numbers. I am merely arguing the point that, whether you take State-aided houses or other houses, there has been from 1923 onwards a steadily increasing output, and I think the building industry is deserving of congratulation, because the number of houses built this year, being a record as it is, with an industry that is not up to its pre-war strength, disposes, I think, of the wild charges that have been made of a deliberate policy of restriction of output on the part of the building industry. I do not wish to enter a controversial note, except just to remind the House that there were certain hard words used about the Wheatley Act of last year by hon. Members opposite, who foresaw in it a measure which was bound to be an utter failure. In looking through the Debates prior to this Debate, I found that several Members of His Majesty's present Government used words about the Wheatley Bill which subsequent events have disproved, and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has been the instrument for disproving the words used by his own colleagues last year. His own words last year were far more guarded than those of his other colleagues who then sat on the Front Opposition Bench
There is a feature of the housing programme this year to which I wish to draw attention, because it was one of the reasons for the supplementary Measure which was passed last year. It will be remembered that we extended the Act of 1923. and we took the view that that Act 1863 made ample provision for the building of houses under the auspices of private enterprise, and that what was needed was a Measure to stimulate the local authorities to undertake an increasing amount of building. That has been, in my view, one of the fortunate results of the Act of 1924. At the beginning of this year there were 20,000 houses under erection by local authorities and 30,000 by private enterprise in State-aided schemes. On the 1st November the number of local authority houses in course of construction was over 40,000—in other words, they had doubled in 10 months—and the number of houses under private enterprise schemes was only 33,000, as against 30,000 at the beginning of the year. If we consider the number of houses completed under both Acts we find that at the beginning of this year, of all the houses that had been built under the Acts of 1923 and 1924, 30 per cent. of them were houses built by local authorities. If one looks at the returns of completed houses on the 1st December, after 11 months' further effort, 35 per cent. of the completed houses were local authority houses, and in those 11 months of this year, while the number of houses completed by private enterprise under the scheme was about 2½ times what it was at the beginning of the year, the number of local authority houses completed on the 1st December was well over three times the number completed at the beginning of the year.
Those figures, in my judgment, justify the Act of 1924. There is, however, one question to which I would refer, where I think the right hon. Gentleman has been less than fortunate. I refer to the proposal to build houses by alternative methods, and particularly on the Weir plan. A year ago announcements were made which led large numbers of people to believe that Lord Weir was going to be the saviour of the nation and to provide those "homes for heroes" that had been promised some years before, and the right hon. Gentleman himself was caught under the spell of enthusiasm. Indeed, he did a good deal to rouse that enthusiasm in the hearts of other people, and in the Debate on the Address, almost exactly a year ago, on the 16th December, 1864 1924, the right hon. Gentleman said, in reference to alternative methods:Last week I paid a special visit to Glasgow in order to see for myself what was being done in this direction by Lord Weir and by others who are designing and building houses of different types, and I came back feeling very hopeful of the future after what I had seen."—[OFFICIAL RETORT, 16th December, 1924; col. 858. Vol. 179.]The right hon. Gentleman went on to say, and I think, laid himself open to a misapprehension that was not intended:Therefore, I have made an arrangement with Lord Weir under which he has undertaken to set aside a part of his factory for the production of a certain number of demonstration or experimental houses to be supplied, to local authorities, and in order that this thing may be done quickly and that local authorities may be ready to take these experimental houses, I have, with the concurrence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, set aside a sum of money from which I shall give a grant to any local authority that is taking these, experimental houses."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1924; col. 859, Vol. 179.1On the question of cost, he referred to Lord Weir again, and I was misled by that speech, because J thought he was offering a special bribe to Lord Weir, and not 10 other methods. But later in his speech he again reverted to Lord Weir, who was the great idol at the moment, and said:The cost must, to some extent, depend upon the quantity ordered, and Lord Weir has not, I believe, fixed yet the price at which he will be able to deliver.And again:I understand that Lord Weir has got what he calls a unit, factory in Scotland, which can be multiplied to any extent for England and Wales. There is, in fact, a number of factories which are, I think, it not derelict, at any rate unemployed at present, which could readily turn out the necessary parts to construct those houses. and it is his intention if the house is approved, and if the demand arises, to fit up similar unit factories in different parts of the country, and multiply the supply for all parts of the country as far as possible locally.Then the right hon. Gentleman let himself go, and went so far as—
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH: (Sir Kingsley Wood)
I think the hon. Gentleman ought to read the next paragraph, where my right hon. Friend said:I am not committed to approval of this particular type.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Neville Chamberlain)
Of course, if hon. Members take certain parts of a speech, and neglect other parts, it is always liable to misapprehension.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I am not complaining, but if the right hon. Gentleman persists in praising one type of house, and sings to the refrain of "Lord Weir, Lord Weir! "in his speeches, it is quite natural to conclude that he is giving a preference to that type of House, although we now know that is not so. But the right hon. Gentleman saw in these houses something which was going to bring us substantially nearer to the time when we could at last tackle in earnest the question of the slums. I have no doubt that because of the right hon. Gentleman's special subsidy, his speeches, the aid he got from the Press, the extraordinary capacity for self-advertisement of Lord Weir himself, a very large number of people in this country were deluded into the view that within a few months, or at most a year, they were going to be housed in Weir cottages, and everything was going to be quite all right. Unfortunately, it did not work out quite as quickly or quite as successfully as the right hon. Gentleman had expected. I think I am right in saying Chat his first reference to the progress of the special scheme and special subsidy for alternative methods was made in May, when he said:Of the £50,000 voted for the purpose of special grants for demonstration houses, £34,000 has been allocated, covering houses to be erected by 56 local authorities. According to the latest information, the work of construction has been started in the case of 10 local authorities; four of the houses have actually been completed."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th May, 1923; col. 2020, Vol. 183.]Then, on the 23rd July, 10 weeks later, although £34,000 had been provisionally allocated,no actual payments of subsidy for these experimental houses have yet been made."— [OFFICIAL REPORT. 23rd July, 1925; col. 2436, Vol. 186.]Coming to the present month, the right hon. Gentleman said in the House that £28,800 had been allocated, whereas in July it was £34,000. It may be that cer- 1866 tain provisional allocations had been withdrawn, but, apparently, the allocations had shrunk—£28,000 has been allocated in respect of grants for demonstration houses. The subsidy is not payable until the houses have been completed, and have been open to inspection to the public for one month. The actual payments made amount to £2,800. One-tenth of the amount has been allocated. Full particulars as to the state of all the schemes are not available, but, according to the latest information, 51 of the houses had been completed, and, apart from work on foundations, 48 had not Been commenced.One must say that that is not a large crop of Weir houses, and nothing like the crop we were led to anticipate from all the beatings of drums and trumpetings there were a year ago. Only last month the right hon. Gentleman informed the House that, including demonstration houses, the houses built under the assisted schemes, the Weir houses amounted to 23. That is in a year, and the whole object of the Weir house was that it was going to provide houses in next to no time. You merely had to deliver your order, and you got the goods within a few days. Yet here we are, a year after this great beating of drums in favour of alternative methods, and the most that Lord Weir, with his unit factories and his possibilities of developing them in this country, has been able to do to help the State, is to provide 23 houses. They are the costliest houses ever built with the aid of State money. I am not concerned to deny that there is a place for the alternative type of house. I believe there is. I am not at all sure that the Weir house is the best. That house, which is really a corrugated Army hut ironed out, is really not an improvement on the old Army hut. But there are at least a number of other types which do offer possibilities, and I hope they will be increasingly used.
The truth appears to be that what with Lord Weir's deliberate attempt to break Trade Unionism, on the one hand, and the rooted objection taken by local authorities to this house, on the other, the Weir house is a failure. It is more than a failure; it is a fraud, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared to admit it, and tell us what he is going to do about alternative methods in the future. My right hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), set up a Committee which examined 1867 new methods, and there will be on this side no opposition to any methods which will give good houses at reasonable cost. We have always taken that view in this House and outside. I myself have never opposed alternative methods of building. I do not believe that taking 20,000 little bits of baked clay and sticking them together is the last word in house-building. House-building will change, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do his best to destroy the antipathy against these houses created by the failure of the Weir method.
There is one further thing I would like to say. Reference has been made in the Debate to the question of 6lums. That is a question which, I know, lies very near the heart of the Minister of Health. To a sense this question cannot be treated quite independently of the general housing problem. It does present special difficulties—peculiar difficulties—and it is not quite so easy to deal with as normal building; but it is a question that ought to be considered in relation to the possibilities of developing new towns. I believe a certain minimum of people will always require to live near their work, and that their work must more or less determine where they live, and for them the best housing accommodation, of whatever kind it may be, should be provided. But there are large numbers of people to-day living in places for no real reason, and who could, if the thing were done on a large scale, be living elsewhere in some new towns, consciously and deliberately planned and established. That cannot be done in my view adequately under the present Housing Acts. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is not going to be embarrassed next year in this House by a Poor Law Reform Bill. That, apparently, is to be delayed. I hope, therefore, that he may, in its place, in order to keep his armour bright, have a Measure of a different kind, and I should like, to know whether His Majesty's Government intend next year to introduce any further housing legislation, whether they propose to deal in any way with the slum problem, whether they will consider it in relation to the larger questions of the distribution of population raised by the hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle), and whether, finally, the 1868 Government have any further plans which have not yet been disclosed for promoting and accelerating the supply of houses and for the adoption of new methods?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member who has just addressed the House has commented upon the absence of fight-ing spirit which has characterised this Debate. He, however, has devoted a considerable amount of his speech to what I may perhaps call the only really controversial topic connected with the housing question and I feel that in courtesy to him I must say a word or that. First of all, I feel it necessary to correct the impression he has given that when I made the statement about demonstration houses last year I insisted so much upon Lord Weir that he may easily be forgiven if he thought I meant the scheme to apply to Lord Weir and to Lord Weir only. These are the words I used;I am not committed to approval of this particular type to the exclusion of any other types. I think there will probably be a considerable number of houses submitted for public approval under new methods, but ultimately we shall perhaps get down to two or three types."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1924; col. 359, Vol. 179.]Really, if the hon. Gentleman closed his ears when I used these words and heard only the word "Weir," which perpetually reappears in his own speeches—and he has done more to advertise Lord Weir than anything I have said—I do not think he can make any complaint against me. I think the Prime Minister intends to make a speech this Afternoon about steel houses, and I do not want to say very much about that. But I agree in the main with what the hon. Member said, that the idea of demonstration houses has been a failure. But why has it been a failure? It has been a failure because the building industry has deliberately set itself against the adoption even of demonstration houses, and they have gone so far as to threaten any local authority which put up even a pair of I houses—so that people might see what it was which was being offered—that the whole labour would be taken off in houses of any other type.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the building trades have offered that opposition to all types of alternative methods, or is it not a fact that this has only arisen in the case of Weir houses?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Were not the hon. Gentleman's remarks devoted almost entirely to Weir houses? When I made my speech, it was the only type that was then approved by the Bradbury Committee, the reason being that they were in a much more advanced condition than other houses. Some demonstration houses have been erected by other firms and he will find that in these cases the firms have not been in the position to supply them in very large quantities at very low prices. I believe Lord Weir could have done that. I believe so still. I think if it had not been for the opposition of the trade unions and the building industry, and the employers as well, these demonstration houses would have been erected in a great number of places and I think that once people had seen the kind of thing they were they would have insisted upon having them.
Of course, I must admit that the natural inclination of people is to have the kind us house they are accustomed to, if it can be got, such as the brick house and the stone house or any other house which comes near in general appearance and design to those to which they are accustomed. Therefore, there is a natural unwillingness to adopt any new method unless the pressure is very strong, and the more houses we carry out by ordinary methods the weaker becomes the case for insisting on alternative methods. I say that perfectly frankly, and I know that is what is in the mind of local authorities. What they have said in effect is, "Why should we run the risk of having all the houses which are now being built stopped for the sake of the adoption of houses with which we are not certain the people will have anything to do?" That is a very natural disinclination on the part of the local authorities. One can hardly be surprised that the experiment has not been successful. But you must remember this—you cannot have it both ways. You cannot complain that we are not getting on fast enough with a solution of the housing problem, and at the same time prevent us from getting opportunities of demonstrating that there are other methods of construction which would enable us to get along faster. If we are not going to have new methods we must 1870 wait longer for the houses. If we want houses at once we had better try new methods.
The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson), introduced this subject in what I may call a rather dreary speech—it was rather temperamental than partisan — and no matter what happens, however fast we get along, and whatever progress we may make, he always will talk as though no advance whatsoever had been made from the old days when he first began to make the speeches such as we have heard this afternoon, Let me just try to cheer him up, if possible. May I, perhaps, pay a tribute to him? A great speech has been made by one of his leaders in which, among other things, there was an allusion to the housing problem. There was every kind of epithet applied to members of this party describing us as though we were highwaymen, and accompanied by the worst possible set of crooks, but the hon. Member opposite has not lent himself to any partisan denunciation of that kind. It is interesting to observe that the Chairman of the Housing Committee of the Liberal Party has not in this House thought it worth while to mention a single one of the reasons which according to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) are the source and origin of all our housing difficulties. I am not surprised, because, the hon. Member does know something about the subject and he is not, I am sure, actuated by partisan motives in regard to the housing question and looks upon the problem as a really pressing one which ought to be mitigated and not which is merely to be regarded as material for party purposes.
Here are. the average numbers of houses built in each year during the three five-year periods before the war. I am not taking a single year, but these are the averages for five years. In the period ending 1904, which I think one may call the peak period of housebuilding in this country, the average number per year was 116,370, of all kinds of houses. In the years 1905 to 1909, the next five-year period, the number of houses built was 102,706. Something, I think, must have happened about 1909.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
They apply to England and Wales. In the next five years, 1909 to 1914, the average was 60,648. If one compares with that the 159,000 odd houses that have been built this year, and if one bears in mind that that represents a gradually rising figure, which I quite agree with the hon. Member does not show any signs of flattening out now but is still going on rising, then I think the Mrs. Gummidge of the Liberal party must take heart for there is something cheerful about that.
Mr. T. THOMSON
Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to say how soon, at that rate, he will have wiped off the arrears of houses that still require to be built?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am disappointed. The hon. Member is still in the depths, and I am afraid I must leave him there. I want to say a few words about some of the other matters that have been raised. We do not want any fresh legislation now to get new houses. I think we are certainly getting them and getting them at an increasing rate, and we may be satisfied that we are on the right road, because we are certainly eating into the arrears at a. very considerable rate now. Every year, too, as some of the more remote places get their needs filled, there will be labour and materials released which will come to the assistance of some of the blacker and more difficult spots where there is a great amount of arrears to be made up.
We have had some discussion and some suggestions on the subject of the slums. There again the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough is a little unnecessarily gloomy. He said that only 70 authorities had put forward schemes. But at any rate we are making some progress, because I find that in the 24 years from 1890, when the Act was passed and a beginning was made, to 1914, only 43 local authorities put forward schemes at all. They put forward in those 24 years 71 schemes, but in the six years, 1919 to 1925, 71 local authorities have submitted 92 schemes of which 83 have been confirmed. We are moving faster now in this respect than in any other time in our history.
The hon. Member left out of account entirely another aspect. You do not only 1872 deal with houses in slums by means of slum clearance schemes, as there is also an enormous amount of repairs, alterations and renovations going on all the time. Under procedure, which is well known to hon. Members, under which owners can be called upon by local authorities to undertake repairs according to a schedule given to them, a very considerable amount of work is done in this way. I find, for instance, that in urban areas alone, in the last year for which complete figures are available, namely, 1923, 256,000 houses were made habitable after the service of statutory notices by local authorities. In addition to that, there were a numbur of houses which were made fit by the urban authorities themselves. To that we must add another 253,000 houses which were rendered fit, not in consequence of statutory notices, but in consequence of informal notices given to the owners by the local authority. Those who are familiar with the working of municipal affairs will know that a great deal of work is done in that sort of way without the actual issue of a statutory notice. When you put these figures together you find that in a single 12 months 512,987 houses have been put into habitable condition n consequence of this activity. This ought to enable the hon. Member to look a bit more cheerfully on the work that is being done in the slums. He asked me about the rural areas. Well, something of the same sort of thing is going on in rural areas. I find, for instance, that in the same year there were 49,530 more houses put into habitable conditions in rural areas under similar proceedings, so that there is quite a lot done in these respects.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) has gone in some detail info the difficulties of really finding a satisfactory solution of what is generally called slum property. We should bear in mind that there are two difficulties. There is, first of all, the overcrowding difficulty which is not the same thing as the insanitary condition due to the arrangement or to the condition of individual houses. It may react, and it does react, for the fact that you have got overcrowding means that the house is not kept in proper condition as more wear 1873 and tear takes place. Overcrowding really requires a different treatment from the treatment of insanitary condition of the houses themselves. Therefore, the first thing to do in dealing with slum areas is to relieve that overcrowding.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am talking about slums at the moment. Perhaps I may be allowed to continue on that subject. The first thing to do is to get more houses built somehow or other. That is what we are trying to do and in so far as we are successful we will relieve overcrowding. Then comes the question of the arrangement or the condition of the houses in the slums. There is a considerable amount of controversy and an amount of feeling in different parts of the country as to the kind of accommodation that is desirable or necessary in these crowded areas. It is Common ground that you cannot complete the solution of the housing problem merely by building new houses in the outskirts of a city. You must accept the position that there is a certain number of people who will not go out. They cannot go out. Either they will be too far away from their work, or they cannot afford the rent of new houses, or cannot afford the tram or omnibus fares that would enable them to travel to and from their work. How, then, are you going to deal with that question? My hon. and learned Friend says there is only one way.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
My hon. and learned Friend says there are alternative ways. I do not at the moment see any alternative but to contemplate to some extent the erection of flats, possibly what are called high flats, in some of these crowded areas to provide for the population who may desire them. I do not feel that I could refuse to assent 1874 to the erection of houses of that kind, although I might object personally to them as not being either the ideal or the proper thing. I do not feel that I could refuse to give my assent if I were asked by some great corporation, for if I refused that assent they might ask: "Can you tell us how to solve the problem] " Do not, however, let us imagine that the conditions which exist to-day are necessarily permanent. Do not let us imagine that it will always be the case that people who to-day live near their work will always desire to live near their work. Do not let us put ourselves in the position, if conditions change, so that it is impossible to make better arrangements in the future, and so find ourselves in the possession of huge blocks of barrack-like buildings which will not be needed owing to a different standard of living, and be a permanent burden upon the local authority.
My conclusion, therefore, in the matter is this that we cannot absolutely refuse to allow flats to be put up, and we must judge each case on its merits and the particular circumstances and conditions prevailing in the locality. We must be very careful that, while allowing a certain amount of progress to be made in that direction, we do not overdo it, or do more than seems to be absolutely required by the necessities of the case. I do not believe that that statement completes the problem with regard to the clearance of slums. We must remember that the problem of the slums is not only one of building, of brick and mortar, but that it is a social problem. No solution of the slum problem is possible unless we bear that in mind. You have to deal with people who have been living under these conditions, it may be, for a generation or two, and that some education is necessary in the case of some of these people to enable them to appreciate surroundings so different from those to which they have been accustomed. I think there are a great number of cases where building would make more rapid progress in ameliorating the conditions and raising the general standard of living amongst slum dwellers if local authorities had not merely the power compulsorily to acquire property but to hold it until such time as they were ready to reconstruct on lines properly thought out.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Yes, compulsory purchase. In such eases as I am thinking of where property has not got too bad, I think, after compulsory purchase, on terms which I agree would have to be carefully considered, compulsory purchase would enable the local authority, or its agents, to carry out alterations and repairs to those houses in that area that would make them far more tolerable and habitable than at present, and you would make a material improvement in the condition of the people living there during their life. If you have to wait until everything is cleared away and replaced by something better many of these people will be dead. By the time the slums are cleaved away new ones will have been created, and there will be a new problem, and a complicated one.
Now about the rural problem. I said at the time the Bill of 1923 was under discussion in this House—and I have repeated it more than once since—that there are two differences that seem to me to mark off the problem of the country from the one in the town. One is that in the town you have a constantly increasing population. You have a continuous pressure, somehow or another to be met by the provision of houses year after year. In the country, on the other hand, you have a comparatively stationary population, and your problem is not to build new houses for new people; but that there me in existence a number of houses in most villages which are not in a proper state, but which cannot be pulled down because there is nowhere for the occupants to go. The other difference between the cases is that, in the country the tenant does not pay an economic rent. The landowner or squire, in many cases, provides the house, and it is the custom of the country that the rent shall be merely nominal. But new houses would have to be placed on an economic basis—on an entirely different footing.
I have been rather surprised to find how much building is actually taking place in the country, and that under the Act of 1923–24 it is much more than I anticipated when the Act was under consideration. I can give the House some figures. I am speaking also of houses built under the 1876 1919 Act. Since 1919 the total number of houses built in rural districts has been 161,460. About 39,000 have been built by local authorities and 122,000 by private enterprise. I know some of these houses have been built on the edges of rural districts. But I think we may say that there have been built a considerably larger number of houses in rural areas in the last two years than had been the case for many years before. In the country, again, no doubt there are a number of houses which are not up to the modern standard either by reason of being too small, or not being fitted with what are commonly regarded as the ordinary necessaries of life. I believe a number of those houses could be rendered quite satisfactory for tenants by the expenditure of further labour and money upon them. This is not the time to talk about new legislation, but the question whether houses such as those could not be improved, so that they might be an addition to the stock of agricultural houses, is one which will have close attention from me, and one upon which I may possibly be able to devise something.
There is one question on which some misapprehension has arisen. One thing I am very anxious to do is to avoid any sudden break in he progress of this housing programme. Under the Act of 1924 I am bound, next October, to review the conditions of the subsidy, of the subsidy under both Acts. I have to consider what is likely to be the course of operations in the next two years in the light of what has taken place in the last two years, and, in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland, to issue a joint order varying the subsidy, cither in the amount or in the number of years for which it is granted. Apparently an impression, a mistaken impression, has arisen in some quarters that the Ministry of Health will not guarantee any subsidy on any house which is not completed by the 1st October next, when this revision takes place. It is quite obvious that, if that were so, there would be a gradual drying-up oil the placing of new contracts until we come to the 1st October, when there would be none in existence; because no one is going to accept a contract for new houses when he does not know what is to be the rate of the subsidy, or whether there is to be any subsidy. I want to take this opportu- 1877 nity of making it quite plain that any such proceeding as that is not and never has been contemplated by my Department. What I think I can say is this, that if any house has been started—and by started I do not mean that a piece of grass has been turned over on the site, but substantially started—by the 1st October, that house, if it is a house in a scheme already approved, will be eligible for the subsidy as it now exists. Further than that, of course, I could not go at this moment, because it is quite clear we have got to review the conditions at that date, according to law; but that will be my general policy.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
We have been extraordinarily successful in getting mobilised the forces of private enterprise. They are still acting like a rolling snowball, gathering up all the time more material and more labour. In congratulating the building industry, I would like to include the manufacturers of materials, who have increased supplies enormously. Anything which shook the confidence of the industry in continued progress would, I think, be a great misfortune at this juncture; and my hopes will be that we may continue to maintain that confidence and increase the resources of the industry, so that even if we do not solve the problem in the lifetime of the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough, at any rate we shall be able to bring some rays of sunshine to his death-bed.
§ Mr. VIANT
At the outset I want to congratulate the House on the atmosphere in which this question has been discussed this morning. I think that atmosphere is likely to be fruitful, and I hope nothing I shall say will cause any heat. I was very much interested in the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health in reference to the Weir houses and the attitude of the building industry towards them. He said the lack of speed with which Weir houses had been erected was due to the opposition put up by both workmen and employers in the industry. I do not think that it is quite correct. When the representatives of the building industry gave evidence before the special Committee set up to consider the conditions which should obtain in erecting Weir houses, they stated definitely that they 1878 had no antipathy towards new methods of construction. That has been the attitude taken up by the industry in general. The only opposition offered to any new form of construction has been offered to the Weir houses, on the ground that trade union conditions are not being observed in the erection of those houses. The industry were not claiming building trade conditions for the steel-work in the houses, but only asking that trade union conditions should be observed on those parts of the houses which are in keeping with the building industry. The rates obtaining in the engineering industry were accepted for the steel-work on those houses, but for the joinery—
§ Sir K. WOOD
I would like to point out to the hon. Member, that he is ignoring entirely the fact that this question was inquired into by a Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Bradbury and on which labour had an eminent representative, and that that Committee came to a unanimous conclusion. The Government are merely following the recommendations of that Committee.
§ Mr. VIANT
I am quite aware of the recommendations of that Committee, but they suggested the introduction of modes of payment into the industry which have not been accepted and would not be accepted by the industry. Piecework is not recognised in the building industry, and the Weir typo of house was to be used as a means of foisting piecework upon the industry. Those engaged in the building industry rightfully resented such an imposition. In days gone by piecework did obtain in the building industry, with the inevitable result that we had some exceedngly bad work carried out. Where we get piecework, and mass production under piecework conditions, we inevitably get shoddy work and not the best work. I think I am safe and in keeping with the facts in saying that the building industries, as such, have offered no opposition to new methods of construction, but rather oppose any new forms of payment suggested whether in the form of bonuses or piecework. As evidence that the building trade does not oppose new forms of construction I would point out that at the present time the building trade are engaged in erecting houses of the Braithwaite type and the Atholl type 1879 and these are being erected under trade union conditions. Only this year in the "Architects' Journal" for the 15th April, 1925, there appears a number of comparative results which show that the brick houses are considerably cheaper, if you take into account the same superficial area.
In this comparison a brick house costs £460 and the Braithwaite steel house £510. In the case of a Weir steel house a brick house of the same size costs £420 and a steel house £445. If you take the comparative cost per foot within the containing wall, a brick house costs 10s. 4½d. per foot square, and a Braithwaite steel house 11s. 6d., and the Weir steel house 13s. 2d. per foot. The question of slum clearances has been introduced into this Debate, and I think it will be interesting to the House to hear the opinions of the architects in respect to Weir steel houses, because they declare that the steel house district of to-day is the scrap-iron slum of to-morrow, and that is the view of the architects and not of the operatives. That is a consideration to be borne in mind, quite apart from the increased cost when we are comparing the brick house with the steel house.
§ Sir K. WOOD
That is not the opinion of the chairman of the Committee which considered this question.
§ Mr. VIANT
I know there were other important drawbacks, but what I have stated was the opinion of the architects and also of a preponderating number of local authorities, and the more the local authorities see of the steel houses the more they are convinced that they must inevitably mean an accumulation or increased development of slums.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
Mr. George Hicks said that there was a danger of these steel house districts becoming slums very quickly.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Certainly not. What he said was that it was a matter for discussion, and in each case they were satisfied that the experiment should be permitted.
§ Mr. VIANT
We are prepared to give every co-operation in the erection of these houses, provided the recognised standard of living is adopted. The only objection 1880 we have is that those responsible have attempted to use the erection of these houses in order to bring down the standard of living in the building industry. There is not a single Member of this House engaged in any profession or industry who would not resent the introduction of new methods which would tend to bring down the standard of living.
§ Mr. VIANT
Yes, they want safeguarding, and we are justified in asking that trade union conditions should be observed in the erection of these steel houses. We are anxious to get the greatest number of houses erected in the least amount of time. In fact we are all anxious to do that, and the Wheatley Act was drawn up for that purpose. That Act laid down ways and means whereby that object might be achieved. It provided for the augmentation of labour by increasing the number of apprentices, and it gave further powers of co-operation between employers and employed. What attention is the; Minister of Health giving to the working out of that scheme and to the augmentation of the number of apprentices? In my own district of Willesden the urban district council convened a conference of builders in the district, and at the most about half a dozen attended, and it was suggested by that local authority that the Wheatley Act should be put into operation, and they came to a decision that the operatives and the builders in the district should co-operate.
The reply of the builders was that they were already too busy with private work to take any part in the scheme. Therefore it was no fault of the operatives, but the fault of private enterprise that a scheme was not formulated for the Willesden district. That brings me to say that if we are going to meet the demand for building labour in this respect we shall have to invoke quit; a different spirit into this industry. I do not want to cavil now about private enterprise versus direct labour, but on 17th April, 1925, a speech was made by Mr. McLauchian, Deputy Borough Engineer of Yarmouth upon the merits of employment by direct labour and labour engaged under contractors. In that speech the deputy-engineer said:It happens that since the War a change has taken place and more and more direct 1881 labour has been engaged for the purpose of doing what has hitherto been done by private contractors.Then he goes on to point out the advantage that has accrued to the community in the erection of houses by public authorities and local councils who have engaged labour direct to deal with the housing problem. He quotes the experience of Newmarket, where £353 per house or a total of £7,060 was saved, and Clitheroe where houses for which the lowest tender was £1,255 and for which the Government agreed to pay not more than £950, were put up by direct labour for £700.
§ Mr. VIANT
It is the report for 1925. That is a saving of 79 per cent. of the direct labour price. Another type of house, for which the lowest tender was £492 10s. was put up by direct labour for £400, a saving of £92 10s., or 23 per cent. of the direct labour price. I hope that the House will excuse me for quoting at length from this journal, but it is an exceedingly interesting article, and I am desirous that there should be no mistake made in respect to the figures.At Middlesbrough"—I am sorry that the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) has gone, because this might have cheered him up—in the erection of 33 A3 houses in the Ackham Road Garden Colony, at an estimated cost of £390 each, the time taken was less than 300 days, or one house in less than 10 days. The number of men employed was never more than 40, and they were engaged by the Borough Sunrveyor's Department after consultation with the trade unions. The "Municipal Journal" of 2nd February, 1925, informs us that ' It is pleasing to note that every help and assistance has been given by the societies to further the carrying out of the work.' Middlesbrough's, experience effectively reputes the old slander of bricklayers' ca' canny. During the straightforward part of the work the bricklayers laid 1,000 bricks a day; in one day three of them each laid 1,100 bricks, and on many days there was an average from eight to nine hundred. The minimum has never been less than 700, except in building corners, facing up, and building in fireplaces fitments, which is essential at the completion of the work.This has taken place because there is an entirely different spirit invoked when you have direct labour as against contract work. In addition to that, the cost for supervision where direct labour is employed by your local authorities is 1882 in no way to be compared with that when the work is carried out by contract labour. I am convinced of that by my own experience, for the simple reason that there is a consciousness or psychology created among the operatives that they feel that what they are doing is in the interest of the community, which is an entirely different spirit from that which operates when they are employed by private contractors and they are being driven by the whip. That does not produce the best result. If the psychological atmosphere in a workshop or on a job is not such as it should be., you are not going to get the best result. Men do not give the best when they are being driven by the whip or being watched by a large number of supervisors.
But the Ministry of Health have not only these illustrations that I have already given. Where do you want a better experience of the results of direct labour than you have at Swansea. On the Townhill Estate and on the Mayhill Estate in Swanseathe men are given full time in wet weather, all public holidays with wages, and one week's summer holiday with wages. All buliding trade rates and conditions are fully observed. On the Townhill Estate 340 Houses have been built by direct labour as against 119 by contract, and on the May-hill Estate 75 houses and four shops have been completed and about 100 houses are in progress.Here are some comparisons of the cost:The figures available are for 1919–22. In 1919, the contract price for the 150 houses was £761 13s. 6d. each, and they were put up by direct labour for £922 5s. 4d. each, but this price included an increase in the cost of labour and material of £233 17s. 5d. per house …. In 1921. no contract prices were obtained, but on the 110 houses erected the saving between the sanctioned price and the actual price, allowing for a reduction in the cost of labour and materials of £113 9s. 6d. per house, was just under £1,000. In 1922, allowing for a reduction in costs of £5 6s. 9d. per house, the saving on 50 houses was approximately £1,250. The contract price quoted was £476 11s. 7d. per house for 119 houses, and, on the basis of 50 houses at this figure, the saving on the contract price would be £2,836 17s. 6d.This is evidence of the advantages of the employment of direct labour and of giving more and more power to the local authorities for erecting these houses. If an inducement can be offered to local authorities to engage more and more labour for these purposes, I want to sug- 1883 gest to the Ministry of Health that the 1924 Act making provision for the augmentation of labour might be carried out in consultation and agreement with the local authorities, because not only does that Act make provision for the augmentation of labour, but it also makes provision for the mobility of labour, so that as labour is used in one locality and the need there no longer exists it can. be transferred to other localities. If the spirit of the 1924 Act is entered into by the Ministry of Health and the local authorities throughout the country, there is no reason why we cannot attain the speed in the erection of houses that we desire, and, furthermore, give that sense of security and guarantee to the industry which is going to induce them to put their very best into it, because then the men will be conscious of the fact that the work that they are doing will really be performing a social service and the industry will be placed upon a social basis and not upon the individual basis on which it is worked at the present time.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Surely the hon. Member understands that these committees have been set up in almost every part of the country, and are in active work at the present time.
§ Mr. VIANT
The operative section of the building industry are in no way satisfied that we are getting the best results out of this Agreement. ,It is being stated to-day that there are not sufficient people engaged in this industry. Here is a provision made for augmenting the- amount of labour, but you are not getting the apprentices brought into the industry that the Agreement provides for. The operatives cannot bring in the apprentices; it is only the building employers themselves who can bring in the apprentices. Unless the builders themselves are prepared to make provision for the apprentices in their workshops and upon their jobs, the operatives cannot take the apprentices there, and the Building Trades Federation can provide evidence to show that the number of apprentices that would be in keeping with the Agreement are not being brought into the industry to-day. No blame is to be attached to the operatives for that. You have a definite increase in output all along the line, and the facilities for the 1884 type of work which has resulted as I have quoted should be increased. That can be done by the Ministry of Health giving more power and more inducement to local authorities oven to take apprentices for themselves. That can be done; why should it not be done? There is always an enormous amount of work, even after housing schemes have been shut down, to be done by the local authorities, and the apprenticeship can well be continued in that way. Private enterprise will not give inducements to those apprentices; it will not give the opportunities. Give the public local authorities those opportunities, and I am persuaded that you will get the labour required, and, in addition, you will get the speed in erecting brick houses which will give an economic value to the community that no Weir house can ever give. Furthermore, it will bring the possibilities of ultimately creating more slum areas, as the Weir house will do, down to a minimum.
§ Mr. ALBERY
I only intend to keep the House for a few minutes, because I believe it is desired that this Debate should proceed in another direction. I wanted particularly to draw the attention of the House and of the Parliamentary Secretary to a certain aspect of slum clearance which does not seem to be receiving adequate attention at the present time. I refer particularly to condemned houses. I myself have visited condemned houses in my own constituency, consisting very frequently of five living rooms of which only three are inhabited—and those three are not really fit for habitation—and of which two are totally uninhabitable in any circumstances whatever, In many cases these condemned houses could in certain circumstances be repaired, but, the moment they have been condemned by the local authority, there is naturally a reluctance on the part of landlords to repair them, and they very often go from bad to worse. It seems to me that, if it is not at present within the power of the Minister of Health to compel—or rather, shall I say, first to assist and then if necessary compel—local authorities to put the re-housing of these people Before all other re-housing schemes, then it is desirable that he should take such powers as soon as possible. I was very glad indeed to hear the Minister of 1885 Health suggest a short time ago that it would be desirable to obtain power or to give power to local authorities to purchase such, houses, so that they can put them in a better state of repair if the landlords are unable or unwilling to do so.
I believe this matter to be an extremely urgent one. The houses which I have in mind were in this condition last Christmas time, and some of them are in the same condition to-day. It is imperative that this state of affairs should not continue. I do not think it involves a very large matter; it is only a section of the slum difficulty—I am specially referring to those houses which have already been condemned. It seems to me that to leave children living in these houses at present is a very terrible thing to do, and I have no hesitation whatever in saying that they would be better off in The Unions than they are, living under the conditions in which some of them at present have to exist. I am not putting this forward in any unfriendly spirit towards the Ministry of Health. I think they have achieved a. very great deal, and I believe that when local authorities tome to them and put difficulties of this kind before them they always on all occasions do everything that is within their power to help the local authorities under I he present Housing Acts. All I want to say is that this condition of affairs does exist to-day in several towns and districts, and, if the Ministry have sufficient powers at present to remedy the matter, I hope they will use the necessary compulsion, if it must be compulsion, on the local authorities concerned to see that these matters are remedied. If they have not sufficient, powers, then I trust they will take them at a very early date.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I rise to take the Debate from England to the country called Scotland, and I suppose that in the housing question one ought not to apologise for raising the Scottish housing problem in this House. I think that, without claiming to be a Nationalist or narrowing one's view, one must at least admit that the Scottish housing problem is even more acute than the problem in England. I listened to the Minister of Health to-day detailing in his speech what had been accomplished in England, and pointing out that at least they were making some headway towards meeting 1886 the arrears in regard to housing. That may be true in England, and I will not dispute it, but, however much truth there may be in it in England, there is certainly no statement of fact that shows that Scotland is in the same ratio in relation to the progress that is necessary there. Therefore, the problem is even more acute in Scotland.
I want to deal, first of all, with the slum clearance problem, which has already been referred to in regard to England, and I want to refer to it so far as it relates to Glasgow and certain parts of Scotland. I listened to some speakers saying that we ought to go in for purchasing certain properties that are now under slums. Let me say to the Minister, if I may, that I hope he will not consider the policy of buying out the owners of slum dwellings. Whatever might be said for and against a policy of buying out people in industries or in certain places where it is necessary to buy out, whether it is relatively right or wrong to buy in such cases, I think that no one can defend the policy of buying out those who own slum property. I hope that the Secretary for Scotland, in whatever way he can, will set his face definitely against giving any compensation to the owners of slum property. It is well known, and I hope the Secretary for Scotland will apply himself to this essential problem at the first opportunity, that in questions of housing there is not only the question of new houses, but the question of old houses, and one of the essential problems is not only the rents of new houses, but also the rents of old houses.
I wish the right hon. Gentleman would apply himself to tackling the problem of insanitary houses, particularly in the City of Glasgow and, say, in places like Greenock and Port Glasgow. There you have large numbers of people dwelling in congested areas, badly housed in insanitary dwellings, and the owners of those houses are still being paid, and still demanding to be paid, not only the current rent, but the 40 per cent. and the further 7 per cent. of increase upon it. Whatever might be the justification for an increase of rent for other houses, there is certainly no justification for the increase being paid in regard to houses which are certified as unfit for human habitation. If I may refer particularly to Glasgow, 1887 the last figures, I have seen show that there are 13,000 insanitary dwellings in the City of Glasgow, and in almost every one of these cases, whether in Cow-caddens, Mile End or Gorbals, the owner is receiving an increase on the pre-War rent. I hope the Secretary for Scotland will use his power and his energy to see that the high rent for slum houses and unfit houses is put an end to at the very earliest moment.
I turn from that to the other point which has been raised, that tenement or flat dwellings ought to be erected because working people of necessity must be near their work. There may be something to be said for that view, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not start to build barracks, or great tenement dwellings, as has been proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Exchange Division (Sir L. Scott). I am, perhaps, one of the few Members who still live in a tenement dwelling. I have lived all my life in tenements, and if there is one thing I detest in Glasgow tenement life it is the fact that women and children have to climb stairs morning, noon and night. I spent a Saturday at Kelvin Grove, a fortnight ago, and it was possible to see the womenfolk who were doing their washing in the back climbing with their baskets full of clothes up three stairs and back again, running between the house and the wash-house, cooking food and at the same time trying to watch their children. It is conducive neither to good health, cleanliness, nor social decency to have more erections of that kind than we already have.
I want to challenge the Secretary for Scotland on his past proposals in dealing with slum property schemes. In Lanarkshire the county council some time ago approached him for permission to exceed the limit of two-apartment dwellings, what had been famously described as the but and ben houses. I thought the Scottish Housing Commission had ended the but and ben for ever, and had thrown such a glare of light on the problem of the two-apartment dwelling that no social reformer, no man or woman with a love of the common people, would ever drift back to the old thing again. But here we have, in 1926, a new Government, with a 1888 Prime Minister who tells us the Tory party of to-day is not the Tory party of old, and that they are out for social progress, and one of their earliest administrative acts is not to improve the housing of Scotland, but to go back upon every decent reform that has been held for years as essential to the welfare of the community. Here we have the Secretary for Scotland, instead of reducing the; number of these small houses, instead of clearing out the two-apartment dwelling, actually giving consent to increase these but and ben dwellings. No English Minister of Health has yet given permission for them to be built in this country. No English Member would tolerate this kind of home. What is the justification for building houses in Scotland which would not be tolerated in England? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reverse his decision and will see that no other county is given a licence to build these houses.
I want to turn to an aspect of the problem in the City of Glasgow. All along the line we have been discussing the Weir house, the steel house, and various other houses. If I had to choose between a steel house, with its bungalow type, its three or four apartments—and the largest steel house is a three-apartment dwelling—and the but and ben dwelling I would have the steel house. It may be criticised here and there but at least you have decency for the sexes, which you can never have in a two-apartment dwelling. Imagine a two-apartment dwelling where you have four or five in family. where you have the sexes mingled. No decency, no morality can go on. At least the steel house gives you a standard of morality that these two-apartment dwellings do not have. In the last Debate I raised the question of the number of idle persons in Glasgow. I see in yesterday's Glasgow evening papers a report of the Housing Committee to the Town Council, and the director, Mr. Brice, states that Glasgow had a break in its continuity of housing in July of this year. That break was caused by the action of the Scottish Board of Health in stopping housing because the alleged cost of the houses was too high. It may be that the price is too high but if it is, you have not to turn round and blame the building trade workman because he is not working at houses. If you stop the build- 1889 ing of houses for any action at all, no matter how good the action might be, it is you who are to blame for not having taken steps to see that the prices were not as high as they have been.
I always think a Member, if he can, ought to make some counter suggestion to those of his opponents. Glasgow, of all towns, has its housing problem. The death rate among children in Mile End is 150 or 160 out of every thousand. In my own division it is 135. One could calculate the single apartment dwellings. My alternative is that you must attract labour to the building of houses. It is a curious fact that in Glasgow every person, whether a building trade worker, a clerk or anything else, has a great desire to become an employé of the local government. Anyone who has been a member of a local authority will know that a town council can always attract to its ranks larger numbers of workmen than a private employer. To illustrate that paint in regard to housing, I would point out that recently, in connection with one scheme in Glasgow, work could not proceed because of the lack of plasterers. The contractor could not get the men. The Corporation of Glasgow undertook the work themselves, and at once they secured sufficient plasterers to finish the work.
My view is that the Glasgow Corporation knows its needs for the next 15 years. It knows how many houses it requires, and it ought to set up a work's department to tackle the job. It knows how many building trade workers it needs within the next 15 years, in order to satisfy the housing demand, and if it entered into the work and could give the building trade workers the same continuity that it gives to other corporation servants, it would be able to attract, without compulsion or anything else, building trade workers to undertake all the necessary work. The tragedy in Glasgow at the present time, apart from the shims, is that banks, public houses, etc., everything but housing, can secure a full quota of building trade workers. If one goes to any street in Glasgow, one can find banks, restaurants and other buildings of that kind supplied with ample workers, because the men are getting better conditions than they can get from private contractors on housing schemes.
1890 That cannot be met merely by attacking the building trade worker and calling him names. You must counteract that by some other method, and I suggest a method. I suggest that the Secretary for Scotland should use his power of persuasion with the Glasgow Corporation and get them to set down their needs for the next 15 years and work out a building plan so that there would be ample work for building trade operatives. Less than one-eighth of the total number of plasterers in Glasgow are employed on housing. The same remark applies to joiners and plumbers. Practically every building trade worker is engaged on luxury building, and not on building the homes which are required for the people.
I hope that the Secretary for Scotland will go back to Glasgow and to Scotland and see that some effective method is adopted for building homes. You cannot force steel dwellings upon the people. Whether he likes it or not, the people in the mass will not have steel homes. It cannot be said that demonstration houses have not been built in Glasgow. Weir houses have been built and can be seen. People know them and understand them, and all the will in the world will never convince the mass of the people in Glasgow that steel houses are the type of houses for them. You will have to adopt alternative methods for building homes that the people desire, and homes that they think they need. In regard to steel houses, they feel that they are being built for the poor, and that while they are considered good enough for the poor, they would not be tolerated by the well-to-do. So long as they feel that, they will never assist in encouraging the building of these steel houses, apart from trade questions altogether.
I understand that this Government may last for some time to come. If it does, the Secretary for Scotland will have ample opportunity to show his knowledge and talents and try to make Glasgow and Scotland a better place for housing. Apart from the question of party, I am sure that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough West (Mr. Trevelyan Thomson) was rather cheaply jibed at by the Minister of Health. I wish every hon. Member would apply himself in the same way that the hon. Member has done so far as social problems are concerned. My 1891 last word to the Secretary for Scotland is that he should go back to Glasgow and have a look, as he has often done, at the terrible social conditions in which the people are living. If he does so, he will allow nothing to stand in the way of see-ing this problem speedily and quickly solved.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
I desire to congratulate the Government on the result of their efforts in regard to housing. If I have some criticisms to make I hope they will accept those criticisms as constructive suggestions, and not as an endeavour to depreciate what they have done. A good deal has been said today about alternative methods. I should like to say a few words in regard to their latest suggestions in that direction. When last year the Minister of Health outlined his policy of demonstration houses, I suggested that the result he would obtain would not be what he thought. The reasons for my view were those he gave to us to-day, when he stated that the vested interests of the building trade unions had really defeated him in regard to alternative methods. In regard to the proposals made by the Prime Minister in Scotland, I venture, with great deference, to say that he will not achieve the result which he expects in that direction, because I do not believe that, so far, either the Labour Government or this Government have ever quite appreciated the extent of the difficulties, or that they have promulgated any policy on lines likely to overcome those difficulties.
I should like to put before the House some proposals and to give my reasons for those proposals. First, I think one view of the situation was put very well by the ex-Prime Minister in a speech which he made two years ago, when he said that the problem before the country was how to construct a house for £500 and to let it, including rates, at 10s. a week; but surely that is not the right way to state the problem. The problem is how to build for £300 a house as good as that which is now built for £500, and which can be let at an economic rent for 10s. a week. Although the Government have done a great deal in regard to housing, they should not flatter themselves that the housing problem is solved, so long as we are spending £10,000,000 a 1892 year of Government money in subsidising an industry for which there is a demand and for which the supply is not adequate.
I have never heard it said from a business point of view that a subsidy is required where there is an unlimited demand, and although we have achieved great results in that we have to-day a higher production of houses than ever before, we have to face the fact that all we have done up to the present is to give production an artificial stimulus on an uneconomic basis. The first thing we must do to solve the housing problem is to endeavour to get down to the economic basis, and allow houses to be built at prices which will enable them to be let at economic rents. I do not believe that can be done unless we stimulate alternative methods, and if we are to stimulate alternative methods it must be done in a practical way.
The hon. Member who has just sat down said very truly that however good a steel house might be, so long as it is an alternative type, different from a house of normal construction and different from the type of house occupied by those who can afford to pay more than the people to whom it is offered, those people will never accept it, because they think it is something cheap widen is being foisted on to them. That is one of the points which has to be met in dealing with the problem of alternative methods. The public should be the real judges of the houses which they themselves are to live in, and the only function of the Ministry is by help of its technical departments, such as the Scientific and Industrial Research Department and the National Physical Laboratory, to pass the materials, and once that is done it should be left to the manufacturers and the public to decide whether a certain type of house is to be taken up or otherwise. When we come to consider how far the Government can help in this solution, I think we may put it in this way: that the Government can help very largely in obtaining necessary credits in the form of guarantees to manufacturers on a large scale, but only if there is a public demand. That public demand can be stimulated if the suggestions made by the Unionist Housing Committee and the Rural Housing Committee were given more consideration by the Government.
1893 The effect of those proposals was that the reason why alternative methods were not being taken up was because an attempt had been made to foist on local authorities special types of houses and that the local authorities naturally and necessarily were averse to anything new. On these local authorities or on many of them there are vested interests. On the majority of them there are the local builders themselves who do not want the introduction of any alternative methods. Furthermore, surveyors and others who have to report on these matters are persons with fixed salaries who cannot afford to make mistakes. Therefore, you are endeavouring to keep the very worst type of organisation which could possibly exist for the purpose of developing any new idea in this respect. Supposing you utilised the existing Housing Acts, as has been suggested by the Unionist Housing Committee and manipulate your subsidies so as to obtain a stimulus, I think you could not only save a great deal of money as compared with the proposals made by the Prime Minister in Scotland, but at the same time you would provide a lever against the local authorities and against any action by building organisations whether of the masters or of the trade unions.
For example, supposing the Wheatley subsidy were capitalised, houses built by new methods could be sold on exactly the same lines as under the Chamberlain scheme, the result would be that houses could be sold to the public at very low prices—something approaching £200 for a non-parlour house and £250 for a parlour house. There would be a great public demand for these cheap houses. They would not have to pass through all the difficulties created by the vested interests on the local authorities and by organisations of the character I have mentioned and when large numbers of these houses had been put up, the persons on the local authorities other than the vested interests would say, "These houses are being put up at cheap prices without the £80 subsidy from the local rates; why cannot we have the same houses? " Instead of public opinion being hostile to the new methods you would arrive at a a position in, which there would be a demand for these houses on account of their cheapness. People having lived in the houses would find them satisfactory 1894 and if they were both satisfactory and cheap, public opinion would impress itself on the local authorities and many of our present difficulties would be removed.
There are criticisms which can be made against a proposal of this kind. One of the chief criticisms would be: "Why should you treat these new methods differently from the old methods? You would in fact allow the brickbuilding only a subsidy of £75, whereas in the other case you would allow a subsidy of £160, and to that extent you would be stimulating-unfair competition." That criticism can be answered very easily. If the Government really want to remove these housing subsidies of £10,000,000 a year, which is the position we want to arrive at, in view of the state of the national finances, at as early a date as possible, they must face facts as they are, and what they have to do is to obtain a lever to get building prices down. At the present time both the trade unions and the builders are allied together to get as much out of the Government and the public as they can, and they are going on doing that as long as they have the sole responsibility of supply and the opportunity. If the Government are going to get a lever against them, they can only do it by stimulating a method of production which automatically will obtain cheaper and cheaper houses as the rate of production is put up.
There is another criticism I have to make, with all deference to the Prime Minister's scheme as suggested for Scotland, and that is, that the alternative methods there suggested were not entirely tied down to mass production. Unless they are so tied down, no certain advantage can be obtained in the stimulation of quantity, because it is only if they are working under a system of mass production that increasing output will automatically reduce prices. Therefore, I do not think that subsidies of this character should be given indiscriminately to different types of alternative methods, because, unless those alternative methods are capable of mass production principles, no real advantage to the State can possibly come out of developing them.
A certain criticism that I have to that proposal for Scotland is that the amount of skilled labour was limited to 1.0 per cent. I am reliably informed by a high 1895 official that the Scottish Board was asked this question: "If a joiner is out of work, but is a skilled man, would he be allowed to work on these houses if the 10 per cent. of skilled labour had already been taken on?" The reply was that they were not allowed so to work. That may be a detail, but regulations of that kind are very detrimental, and any regulation which would in any way confine the amount of skilled labour is, I think, also short-sighted, because if you can so provide means of building that you can use skilled labour to do four times the amount of work that could be obtained in other ways, it is more economical to use skilled labour up to 40 per cent. and stimulate it with unskilled labour than it would be to confine output by limiting skilled labour too far and endeavouring to do that work with unskilled labour.
In conclusion, I would suggest that the Prime Minister might consider whether he could not evolve a scheme for assisting new alternative methods whereby those methods might be passed by Government and technical departments, and, when they were passed as satisfactory in a technical sense by those departments, whether he would not consider allowing the Wheatley subsidy to be capitalised and those houses to be sold to the public. The public would then be the judges, and when that has taken place, and when the stimulation given in this manner to alternative methods has developed the manufacture and supply of houses by alternative methods, I think he might very readily consider withdrawing the housing subsidy altogether. We should then obtain a position in which we have got a great competitor to the normal building trades, and then I think you would get a change of spirit in the minds of masters as well as of men in the building trade, because they would see they would have to adjust their prices and stop mulcting the public and the Government in the unfair method in which they are doing it at the present time.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not propose to follow my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Lieut. - Commander Burney) in some of the detailed and technical observations which he has made. I have never stood before this House as an expert on 1896 housing, and am quite sure that if I began to plunge into the mysteries of subsidies and their capitalisation, I should very soon be in deep water. But he did allude more than once in his speech to certain proposals which I put before the Scottish local authorities at Glasgow about six weeks ago, and it is on them that I should desire to offer a few observations to the House this afternoon. I do not think that any Scottish Member has risen in any quarter of the House to express satisfaction either with the condition of housing as a whole in that country, or with the steps that have hitherto been taken to grapple with a problem of very great gravity. I do not propose to speak long this afternoon, or to weary the House with figures. There is, however, one set of figures I wish to submit, because, to my mind, it presents with the greatest clearness the nature of the problem which has to be met, and shows, whether it be owing to the peculiar difficulties of local circumstances or whatever it may be, that there has been up to now a distinct absence of that progress in Scotland which has characterised building — although we should all like to see that progress greater and faster—in this country.
I want to compare the figures of building in Glasgow for the last 13 months with the figures for building in the City of Birmingham, and I take Birmingham because it is a city largely industrial, as Glasgow is, and very nearly of the same population. The population of Birmingham, as a matter of fact, is slightly less than that of Glasgow—something like 10 per cent.—and I think, to all intents and purposes, those two cities are very comparable. In the last 13 months, ended on the 30th November this year, there were built, under the Act of 1919, 170 houses in Glasgow and none in Birmingham. Under the 1923 Act, the Act of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health (Mr. Neville Chamberlain), there were built in Glasgow 426 houses and in Birmingham 2,550, or six times the number.
I do not know whether you would put to the credit side of Glasgow housing 486 houses—I use there the term " house " to mean a habitation for a family—which have been caused by the clearance of certain slums. It is only fair to mention there that these houses are no addition to the total number, but are merely replace- 1897 ments of houses that have been destroyed. Under the 1924 Act, which is commonly called the Wheatley Act, the Glasgow figure of buildings in those 13 months was 18 and the Birmingham figure 1,839, or a hundred times the number. The total, including the three-storey apartment houses, which I quoted as having replaced certain cleared slum areas, is 1,100 in Glasgow and 4,389 in Birmingham.
Now that is a situation which no people can contemplate with equanimity, and it was the development of that situation which we saw growing that made the Government decide to attempt the use of alternative methods, and to make an offer to the local authorities of Scotland, the offer to which I alluded at the beginning of my remarks and to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge alluded more than once.
I do not propose to say anything in answer to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), because I am insufficiently acquainted with the details of the subject of which he spoke. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will in due course reply, and will reply to any points that may be raised in the course of the Debate dealing with particular and technical questions. But it has always struck me, as one without intimate knowledge of these questions, that the one thing—there may be many others, but the principal thing—to aim at, the root of the whole matter, is to get more and more houses. The hon. Member for Gorbals was complaining, and complaining very properly, of rents, but in the absence of legislation dealing with the price that may be charged for a house, it seems to me, though I am no housing expert, that houses are like other things, and that when there is a shortage of them the tendency is to squeeze up the price, while the surest way of bringing down the price is to have more houses. That is true in nearly every other branch of business, and I imagine that that truth holds too in regard to houses. That is why I have always felt that whether or not it be that a particular house at a particular moment is adapted in its capacity and in its value for the poorest people whom you desire to keep out of the slums, the all important thing is to see the number increase, and I should have thought that 1898 for work of that kind the people of this country would have lent their hearts, their heads and their hands with no less zeal than they lent them to the State in the time of war for the purpose of feeding and arming their fellow-countrymen.
Now, for some reason or another, which I do not pretend to diagnose, it is quite evident that the offer I made in September in Glasgow has failed of its effect. I understand, from figures supplied to me by my right hon. Friend (Sir J. Gilmour), that, whereas I made an offer applying to 4,000 houses, the burghs have put in for less than a quarter of the number proposed. It ie true the counties have not yet been in a position to advise us. They have, I believe, another fortnight in which to make up their minds, but, whatever they do or suggest, it is impossible that they can take up three times as many house as all the towns put together. As time is the essence of the matter, in my view, I have decided that the offer has failed, and failed definitely. That being so, I have to announce that the £40 special subsidy scheme Lapses here and now.
But, of course, we cannot leave it like that. The local authorities have not seen their way to take up this offer, and we must proceed ourselves. We intend, therefore, to proceed forthwith with the erection of 2,000 houses by alternative methods. We propose, in the first place, to utilise the Scottish National Housing Company. We will finance the development, and we will take every step necessary to secure its accomplishment. I would say that that number of houses, not large in itself, is very small in proportion. It represents barely one in 50 of the estimated shortage to-day in Scotland. But I hope and believe that it will give that push to enterprise in Scotland, whether it be private enterprise, whether it be enterprise on the part of the local authorities, or by whomsoever it may be, that when they see the Government is in earnest, they, too, may do all that they can to implement the efforts of the Government, and to see that what is in the way of becoming a national scandal in Scotland shall come to an end.
I may add, for the information of my hon. Friends—if I may so call those who 1899 sit on the opposite benches [HON. MEM BERS: "Why not?"]—they were very interested the other evening, because a friend of mine, who is the head of the Unionist organisation in Scotland, had not had his houses considered when the subsidy was definitely offered in Scot- land. The reason for that, as my right hon. Friend explained, was solely a question of price, but, now that that offer of mine is no more, we hope very much that the Duke of Atholl, than whom there is no more public-spirited man, will help us with his advice—and we welcome, and more than welcome, any help we can get from any quarter in attempting to solve this problem in Scotland—and if he is able, on further investigation, to bring his houses down to a comparative and a competitive price, my right hon. Friend will be only too pleased if he can effect some business. I do not propose to stand between the House and the discussion any further, as I have made the statement to the House which I desired to make. My right hon. Friend—and I need hardly assure the House of the-, interest he has given to these matters, and he has a most anxious and most grave responsibility— wilt be glad, as far as he can, to answer any questions that may be put, and to deal with any point that may be raised.
§ Mr. STEWART
I should like to ask the Prime Minister if he can see his way to state the terms of the contract between the Government and the Scottish National Housing Company in connection with this particular object. I should like to get that information now, if the right hon. Gentleman can see his way to give it.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I think it would be more conveniently dealt with by my right hon. Friend, who will give the House all the information in his power. I am so anxious that the House should have the first opportunity of knowing what we propose to do that I have given it our views and our intentions in advance of thinking out many arrangements which will fee necessary. It was, as a matter of fact, only during the last 48 hours that I studied the question, and I and the Government came to the conclusion that it is useless to hope any more for the offer I made in 1900 September in Glasgow. My right hon. Friend will give all the information in his power.
§ Mr. STEWART
I want, on my own behalf, and, I hope, representing many others behind me, to express my thanks to the Prime Minister for the statement he has made to-day in regard to the housing conditions that obtain in Glasgow. I think that in drawing public attention to that he has done Scotland a service. The comparison he has made between Birmingham and Glasgow is illuminating, and ought to be for this House and the country generally am education as to what can be done. In Scotland we are being told, on the one hand, that the delay in housing is owing to the action of the Board of Health in holding up schemes for one reason after another. Then, on the contrary side, we are told by the officials and the representatives of the Government that it is owing to the action of the local authorities in not making proper provision. As a Glasgow-citizen, I am bound to say in great degree I agree with the statement I have just made. It has been stated by those who are in a position to know that the men connected with the building trade have given every facility to the Corporation to enable them to get on with housing, and yet, somehow or other, the matter still halts.
A few weeks ago. while in the interior of the municipal building, I met a little coterie of men who were discussing the situation. Two schemes of great importance to Glasgow, and Knightswood being carried out, one by the firm of Macdonald and the other by the firm of MacTaggart, were held up, the contract being finished. Bricklayers and joiners, to suit the necessities of the situation, had waived their rules. They have allowed apprentices to be taken on. The job was now finished. These young men who had worked for a year or two years on this scheme were now thrown on to the scrap-heap. The bricklayers' representative there was declaiming against the situation, and he said: "This is the response we have got for allowing our rules to be passed over for the time being. More than that, our men are now actually idle, because we allowed that scheme to be speeded up by allowing apprentices in." That which was true of the bricklayers was equally true 1901 of the joiners. All that the Corporation representative could say was that it was the Board of Health that was holding things up. Here we are, with an immense number, comparatively as far as the building trades are concerned, unemployed at the moment. Yet no schemes are prepared and nothing is being done.
The Prime Minister has pointed out the shortage that there is and the small number of houses that are being built next year in Glasgow. With a population of 1,100,000 and with an immediate requirement of 100,000 houses or something approximate to that figure, the number to be built is something like 1,000 or slightly in excess of 1,000. That is the position we are in. Wherever the blame lies, whether it be with the Corporation, the local authorities, county councils or the Board of Health, this sort of thing cannot be allowed to develop, and I am triad to hear to-day that an initial step has been taken by the Government. We shall learn later on whether it is on right or wrong lines, but at least it is the beginning of an acceptance by the Government of the responsibility for providing houses which local authorities in the meantime cannot provide.
I do not desire to take up the time of the House in dealing with this position. But what has been said to-day has been said over and over again in this House with regard to the housing situation as it applies to Scotland. The Minister of Health has dealt with some of our special difficulties. There is the question of transit and the question of travelling, and the question of living near the place of work. I am bound to say, with a knowledge of my own city and of its industries, that this problem does not appeal to me as it may appeal to others. In Glasgow we have men travelling morning and night, as we have in London, seven and eight miles regularly to and from their work. It is not the difficulty but, at the same time, it is a question that the Government, if it is not now considering it as it ought to be, should consider, that is, the question of housing in relation to the travelling facilities that are provided. You cannot hope to spread the people out and provide these better conditions which it has been the dream of every one of us for years past to provide, without at the same time taking into account the 1902 necessity of providing better facilities for travelling in the new areas which are to be created.
I should like to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, when he replies, to tell us something about the arrangements and the possibilities of arrangements in this direction. Another thing I should like him to deal with is the problem of tenement dwellings. It is easy for those of you who live in different conditions, and have never experienced the tenements, to talk glibly about the building of tenement houses so that the people may live nearer to their work. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has drawn the attention of the few Members who deigned to be present while that subject was under discussion to some of the difficulties that surround the tenements. We have in some parts of the City of Glasgow in these tenements 1,000 people and more living on one acre, and the children use the dark, cold stairway as their playground, or the dirty, filthy backyard which is littered with refuse, or else they have to face the dangers of the streets and the traffic. These are the conditions. I have no wish to enlarge on them or to make Members feel that we on this side of the House who have experienced these things want to make ourselves out to be better than any other people. I realise that my fellow-countrymen, if this can be brought home to them, would insist that it is a question that they, as well as I and others, want to see solved. The Prime Minister has given proof of his desire to see it solved.
With regard to this, cannot they consider the question of scattering us further out? I remember, when I was a member of the Glasgow Corporation and a member of the Housing Committee, speaking to Sir I). M. Stevenson, the Lord Provost of Glasgow. I was suggesting the building of cottage homes instead of tenements, and he said to me, "Stewart, you want to spread Glasgow out from here to Edinburgh." I took the trouble to get to know what size Glasgow would be if we had not more than 12 houses to the acre. I found to extend the suburbs of that city by only some three-quarters of a mile would give it houses at 12 to the acre. All that we want is the land. Glasgow has had a town-planning committee since 1909, since the Town Planning Act was passed, 1903 and yet the Government have not seen their way so far to give us powers in this direction.
I would beg of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Board of Health, in the interests of the ultimate well-being of our country and of the citizens who make up our country, as far as they possibly can to prevent tenements, and, above all, prevent the development of the room and kitchen house. We have already 113,000 room and kitchen houses out of a total of 235,000. Surely there is no man in this House desirous of continuing that kind of dwelling for the people. You have got to pay for it ultimately. In Glasgow we are spending on health administration more on the treatment of tuberculosis than Birmingham is spending on the whole of its health administration. It takes us a quarter of a million pounds, between the Government and the community, to deal with the effects of tuberculosis. At the moment we are building a sanatorium that will cost us £500,000, to house 400 people after they have been lucky enough to contract tuberculosis. We will spend over £2 per week per patient to cure them, and then we will send them back once more, with the foolishness that is characteristic of us in many respects, to the rooms and kitchens, and single apartments. In three months, in six months, in nine months they will be back again, and then at the end of five years, after all our money is spent, they will be dead, every one of them.
I beg of you, in so far as it lies in your power, not to erect these tenements. I know full well, and so does the Undersecretary, that unfortunately my countrymen and the people of my own class have their eyes fastened on the room and kitchen, not because they love it but because they are too poor to pay the rents of better. It was well said to-day that this is a social question—not a Socialist question, but a social question. There are hon. Members here who have all the advantages of culture and education and have the knowledge that comes from these things, who have had the advantages of a life that we cannot dream of. Sometimes some of us get glimpses of that life like glimpses of the moon, and we realise the advantages you have got in life compared with us. We do not ask for these 1904 things, we ask only that a beginning shall be made in improving the conditions that matter.
I recognise what is being done by the Ministry. I recognise the difficulties arising from the fact that the cost of erecting houses in Scotland is so much higher than in England. When I was in the position that the hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Captain Elliot) now occupies, I, like him, had to delay the building of houses because of the cost. As the subsidy increased, so did the price. The cormorants, the ravens, always exacted every penny that could be got out of the public purse. It is not the workers. The workers have no say in the matter. The charge has been made to-day that there is a combination of workers, of the building trades and of the material merchants. Not at all. The result is entirely due to the action of the building rings and the material merchants themselves. They never kept their word. The pledges that they made last year were not kept. I would beg of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary far Health to apply themselves more assiduously in dealing with a problem that if not solved may help to lead towards a revolution.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I want to thank the hon. Member who has just sat down for his speech. I should like to say further how much I do agree with him about the room-and-kitchen house. Our policy in Scotland ought to be to work steadily for the gradual, but ultimately complete abolition of the room-and-kitchen house, both in the burghs and in the counties. I agree with all he said about that, as I do agree with almost every word he said. I do not think it is possible to over-estimate the importance and the significance of the announcement that has just been made by the Prime Minister. I, myself, regard it as far the most striking and far the most helpful move in the sphere of social legislation that has been taken by any Government since the War. This, I think, is true, not so much because of its immediate extent and the immediate benefits that will ensue, considerable though these may be, but it is true because of all its implications, as a Measure of social policy.
1905 3.0 P.M
I want to consider the position in Scotland at the present time. We are getting every year about one-tenth of the houses we require per annum, certainly not more, probably less. This is a most appalling state of affairs and it has been causing, during the last three years, the gravest anxiety to all those who have the social welfare of Scotland at heart, to whatever party they happen to belong. You cannot consider that state of affairs without once inquiring what is the cause of it. Why do these conditions prevail in Scotland as against England? It is not the Government's fault; there is no question about that. The Prime Minister gave the figures of the houses that have been built in Birmingham as against Glasgow. They were almost incredible—4,389 in Birmingham as against 1,100 in Glasgow in proportion. What is the cause of it? Take Birmingham, for instance, and one finds that a large number of these houses have been built there under the Wheatley scheme. Far more have been built in Birmingham than have been built in Glasgow under this scheme, although Glasgow is the home of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettlestone (Mr. Wheatley so that one cannot ascribe it entirely to the lack of assiduity with which the Government has pursued the policy of the right hon. Member. It must be due to some local condition amongst other things.
I believe myself, although my view may be challenged, that it is primarily due to the organisation of the building industry itself in Scotland. The building industry there—and by the building industry I mean all those industries required for the construction and completion of a dwelling house—is organised very badly. It is organised on what I may call a horizontal basis as against a vertical basis. It is this horizontal stratification of the building industries in Scotland that I believe to be at the root of the whole trouble in the Scottish housing question. You have got each section of the building industry organised in a sort of water-tight compartment with no connection with any other section. The result is that, if one section of the building industry is held up for any reason or if there is a defect in one sec- 1906 tion, the construction not of one house or of 20 houses, but of thousands of houses is held up indefinitely.
The case of the plasterers is the classical example, but there are thousands of other examples of the way in which the housing industry is organised. Unless you get a large number of completely separate industries, each having no connection and no communication with each other, all working smoothly and moving forward at full speed, the construction of houses is interfered with over a large area. The result is that defection on the part of one single watertight compartment of the industry in the total construction of houses holds up thousands of houses. The second result is that no private contractor in Scotland can give the local authority, or the Government, any time limit in which he can complete the erection of houses, because he does not know whether the plasterers, or the plumbers, or somebody else, will not hold up matters for an indefinite time; therefore he is unable to contract to build houses in a specified time. We do not want the plaster, or the bath, or even the four walls of the house. What we want in any given time in Scotland is the whole house: nothing but the whole house complete is of any use. We are not getting it. We in Scotland are held up by both employers and the trade unions, by both sides, capitalist and worker. I do not believe we have any idea, that the contractors in any industry have any idea, of mass production in modern times.
The scheme announced by the Prime Minister seems to me to do three things. First of all, I think it is a genuine attempt on the part of the Government to substitute vertical for horizontal stratification in the building industry. That is a policy which might be well applied to other industries in this country at the present time. In the second place it is a big experiment on the part of the Government in mass production. We know nothing whatsoever in this country about mass production. You have to go to the United States to see it. We do not know the initial stages of how to set about organising the result in the mass production of a specified article; neither do the workers, nor the employers, really know the implication of the policy of mass production in an industry. I have 1907 already urged the Board of Trade to send a representative over to America to study their methods. I believe this move on the part of the Government to be of immense importance, because it is the initiation of mass production, at any rate, in one industry in this country, and if it is successful, I suppose it will be copied in many other industries.
The third thing is, I believe it to be an earnest of the attitude that the Government is taking up, and is likely to take up, towards the whole question of social reform in this country, whenever a real issue, one of vital importance to the people, is at stake. We heard a lot in this House yesterday about the lack of interest on the part of the Government in education and social reform. It appears to me that there is no justification for such a charge. This move on the part of the Government is a clear proof that when they are face to face with a. problem, clearly of vital importance, of immense, of tragic, importance to the country, they are prepared to spend money in the interests of social reform and to put out a greater expenditure than any Government which has preceded them.
There are two things I want to urge upon the Secretary of State for Scotland before I sit down. I hope that this scheme, this elementary mass production scheme, will not spread itself all over Scotland. I do not want to see that. Your whole reward in a matter of this sort is that the houses should be produced under a system of mass production. I represent a constituency in the extreme North of Scotland which can hardly expect to receive much attention from the company concerned. At the same time I admit that if this scheme is to be successful it must be a mass production scheme. It will stand or fall by that. I do urge the right hon. Gentleman to see that it is confined to mass production, that its activities are limited to a very small expanse of land, at any rate, in Scotland. The more narrowly this scheme can be confined, the more closely will it approximate the mass production, and the more successful will be its results. The second thing I hope is that the company which is set up under the auspices of the Government will be allowed the greatest latitude 1908 possible, always providing it is subject to the general supervision of the Government to see that it is carrying on properly. If you appoint a board of directors, as I think it is the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to do, I hope that he will give them, within the sphere of general supervision which he has every right to exercise, the maximum of latitude in the carrying out of the scheme he has in mind.
I want to say, if I may, that we Scottish Unionist Members at any rate, and I think I may also include some of my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches who sit for Scottish constituencies, have admired tremendous y daring the past 12 months the very courageous and determined fight which the Secretary of State for Scotland has made on behalf of the housing situation in Scotland. He has been threatened on all sides, and, if I may say so, he has been thwarted on all sides, by a combination of stubbornness and stupidity on the part of employers, employed, local authorities and everybody else such as must be almost unparalleled in our history. I think he has come through that fight with his flag flying, and with extraordinary credit to himself. When he found he was held up in every direction by everybody, by every local authority and every other authority, then, alone and unaided, and not in the least deterred by the somewhat discouraging reception which many of his colleagues had met with, he stormed the Treasury himself. He stormed it with a considerable measure of success, and got away with a good deal of booty. I hope he will get away with more still; but we must congratulate him on his first effort, which has been remarkably successful.
Before I sit down I must say a word on rural housing, because I represent a rural constituency, and I should not feel justified in speaking here on housing conditions in Scotland unless I put in a word for rural housing. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland knows as well as I do that there are not nearly enough houses in the country districts of Scotland. He knows that many farmers in Scotland were compelled through force of circumstances to buy their own farms and have now practically no capital available to-day. It is not the right hon. Gentleman's fault: if it is anybody's fault it is the fault of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 1909 Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who is not in his place, preferring to propagate outside his schemes for the further destruction of agriculture. But there is the position—that these men have been forced to buy their farms—very profitable farms they are—and now lack capital to expend on essentials, housing being the most important of those essentials.
Therefore I think the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland will, sooner or later, have to tackle the Treasury again. I agree that this would be a most injudicious moment for him to do so. He has already brought off one coup, and I do not think he could expect to bring off another at the moment. He must wait until the Chancellor of the Exchequer has simmered down, until the attention of the Chancellor has been attracted to other things, to Iraq, to Mosul, to education and other schemes, and then, When the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not looking, he must steal into the Treasury and get in a word for the rural housing situation in Scotland. I hope that further assault on the Treasury will also be successful. If it is, the right hon. Gentleman will go down to history not only as the first Secretary of State for Scotland, but also as the man who first of all, by initiating a policy of mass production in industry in this country, with all that that implies, took a great step forward in what I may perhaps call the second industrial revolution in this country, and secondly, built houses in Scotland when everybody else failed to build them and did their best to stop them from being built. If he achieves that he will have made a greater contribution than all his predecessors to the social welfare of his country.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I think I should begin by congratulating the Government upon appearing in such strength in this Debate, and I think it shows that our protest on the subject of unemployment, which is now under review, has had a good effect, because, from the Prime Minister downwards, the Government have been well represented all through this Debate, and the two Departments closely connected with this subject, the Ministry of Health and his understudy, and the Secretary of State for Scotland and his understudy, have all been present 1910 during this Debate. I think it is a little too early for me to compliment the Prime Minister or otherwise in regard to the offer which he (has just made. I do not want to pour cold water on it, because I do not quite understand it, and it will take us some time to find out how it is going to work. I welcome the offer, in fact I welcome anyone who is prepared to lend us any assistance in regard to this problem, and if the Prime Minister's proposal is going to be for the benefit of the people of Scotland, I shall be the very first to pay tribute to the Prime Minister.
I want to put the following questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I want to congratulate him upon being a Secretary for State, because he must remember that, although I am complimenting him I realise now that he has more power and authority, and that demands more attention to his business and it demands also that he will be prepared to do all he possibly can in the interests of Scotland, because he is the first man in the history of Britain to occupy the position he now occupies which is the highest position that a Scotsman can possibly occupy. I want to know if the houses which this company is going to build will be the property of the Government, or will the Government sell those houses? Will the Scottish National Housing Company retain the ownership and charge rents? I also want to know what rate of subsidy the company is getting. Those are one or two questions to which I would like a reply. As the right hon. Gentleman has now got greater powers as Secretary of State for Scotland, and as I have been negotiating with him during the last fortnight in regard to the affairs in my own constituency, I want to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has been using his good offices with Sir Robert McAlpine, and whether he has been successful in obtaining an assurance that no more evictions will take place on Sir Robert McAlpine's property in Clydebank.
I also want the Secretary of State for Scotland to exercise his influence with two other lords, Lord Aberconway, the Chairman of John Brown and Company, and Lord Invernairn, who is Chairman of Beardmore's, of Dalmuir, and also with the Duke of Atholl, whom the Prime Minister was so pleased to place on a 1911 pinnacle—I know the Duke very well— for the part he played in the social outlook of the people. I want to give the Duke, through you, an opportunity of proving that he is in earnest, because all that the Duke and those two lords have done in Clydebank is to take out of Clydebank. They have done nothing in Clydebank. We have innumerable in stances to show that the Scottish employer is not as good to his workmen as the English employer. Those two lords have given nothing to the town of Clyde-bank, not a public park, not a billiard room, no public library, nothing. They have done nothing but take out of Clyde-bank.
What do we find at the moment? Owing to the tremendous amount of unemployment—no town in the country has been heavier hit than Clydebank—the people are not able to pay rent, and they are being put out of their houses. They are living in tents. I gave the right hon. Gentleman a photograph that was published in the "Glasgow Citizen," which is not a revolutionary Socialist paper, showing the workers living in tents. Soldiers and young men can live that life, but families who have been brought up in industrial centres cannot live in tents in our inclement weather; it is killing them. Several have died. As I have stated, the Town Council of Clydebank are poor. We have no common good fund such as they have in Glasgow. Therefore, they have bought several railway carriages. Think of that. Here is a hardy, intelligent race—there are no better men and women in Britain—living in railway carriages and glad to get them. They have no homes. When the Author of the Christian faith was here, He said:The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.When He walked along by the side of the Sea of Galilee, He was odd, He was peculiar, but here are my people in their hundreds with nowhere to lay their heads. If this were in Turkey or Armenia, or some place in the Balkans, we should have hon. Members rising in their wrath and protesting about what the Turk was doing. But it is Britain that is doing it now. You have the Duke of Atholl coming before the Clydebank Town Council at the beginning of this week and 1912 advocating that they should build the Beardmore type of house. It is the same as the Atholl type. "Beardmore" and "Atholl" are synonymous terms.
He came before the Clydebank Town Council advocating that they should adopt his method of housing the working classes. But Clydebank are not able to pay anything; they have no money at all, and I want to appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I would appeal also to the Minister of Health, to use his influence with the Duke of Atholl. Here is a glorious opportunity for this great Duke to prove that he is in earnest to do something for Scotland, because he has never done anything yet for her. [Hon. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, I would say that if he were here; I can prove it. Hon. Members can use their influence along with me. I want the Secretary of Stats for Scotland to use his influence to get the Duke of Atholl to come forward now. He has plenty of money; they pay enough for him; he has just finished his negotiations spreading right out into the West Indies—the Duke and Lord Invernairn have just finished a right good financial deal out there, so that they are in a position to come forward—this is something that I know—and I want them to come forward and say to the people who work for them—and this embraces Lord Aberconway, of Clydebank, and Lord Invemairn, as well as she Duke of Atholl— I want them to come forward and say to their workpeople: "We will make you a present of a thousand houses."
Let them give us 1,000 houses. That will give them a beginning in mass production. They say they want an opportunity to get into mass production; here is their chance. They talk about suggestions; I am eternally giving them suggestions, if they will only take them. There are brains in every one of my suggestions; all my suggestions that Lord Invernairn ever adopted he had to come back and tell me were of great value to the firm. This is another if they like to take it. I hope they will take this seriously, because it is very serious for my people. In Dumbarton at the moment, apart from Clyde-bank, my people are living in wash-houses. You can go down and see conditions, not only in Glasgow but in the West of Scotland, of which the Ministers of the Crown have no conception. The 1913 Prime Minister told me himself that he took a prominent man of Glasgow—I do not want to mention his name—with him when he went there to see the slums in Glasgow, and the Prime Minister turned round and said, "This is damnable." You were all shocked when I said it was hellish, but he himself, when he was brought face to face with the actual conditions, said "This is damnable"; and the gentleman whom he had with him said, "I had no idea that conditions such as these existed in my native city."
I hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State for Scotland will do all that he can to tackle this problem. There is only one way in which it can be tackled, and that is that those who have the means will have to give up some of the means they have. Our people are not able to pay the rent. Further, it has got to be tackled just as we tackled the War. To me this problem of the shortage of houses is as great a menace to this country as ever the German military power was, and it has got to be handled in the same way. I am satisfied that if the same effort, the same energy, and the same determination were put forward to handle this housing business as were put forward at that time, the housing business would be cleared up in five years.
I want to say, before I sit down, just a little word in defence of Scotland or Glasgow as against your great Birmingham. The hon. Member for Eastern Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) said that the explanation why this great place, Birmingham, was so much better at getting on with housing than Glasgow, was because the Scottish people, including the capitalists as well as the workers, were not so capable of organising the industry as were the men in Birmingham.
They can give no guarantee in Scotland that they could go on, because there might be trouble with the plumbers or the joiners. They were all sub-divided. I want to inform my fellow-countryman that the same conditions, as far as that is concerned, appertain in Birmingham as do in Glasgow. There is the same division of labour—and personally I am up against the division of labour. I am inclined to think the Minister of Health knows the facts I am now going to state, but he sees the great lustre of Birmingham becoming dimmed in the immediate 1914 future and he is hanging on to this—any peg to hang his coat on—to keep the fame of Birmingham to the forefront. It was be himself who advertised the fact that Birmingham was leading the way in the building of houses and leaving Glasgow far behind. The reason is this, that the houses that are being built now all over Britain are built of brick. Up till after the War Scottish houses were built of stone, and again Englishmen, showing their lack of knowledge of Scottish affairs, made the subsidy on house building only for brick, and Scotland was placed at a disadvantage.
§ Captain ELLIOT (Parliamentary Undersecretary for Health, Scotland)
I do not wish to misrepresent the hon. Member, but surely he knows that the subsidy is given in Scotland for stone houses. In Scotland there are hundreds of stone houses that obtained the subsidy.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
That is perfectly true now. If I am stating what is not the fact, I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has corrected me, but really it was the opinion I had formed. But, apart from that, the real reason for us being behind is that we were not a brink-building country. It is only since the War that Scotland started to build houses with brick, and that is really the reason we have to come to England to get bricks, and that again is the reason why bricks can be produced in England cheaper than in Scotland. It was because the brick industry had never been developed in Scotland, and there are more bricklayers in Birmingham than there are in Glasgow. There are more men on the job. Again, the type of house that is being built now is an English type of house. Our people have got to get time. If we had been as long on the job as the English, there would be nothing for them to swagger about. I wanted to make that explanation to let the House understand that it is not for any want of anxiety on the part of Scots or Glaswegians to get over this difficulty, but that we have had greater difficulties to get over than they have here, and I hope they will use all their influence in the direction I have suggested, because I am certain if they do so my own constituency will benefit from my having risen here to-day.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I fully realise that it is far more important that the House should hear the Secretary for Scotland than that I should express my own views. Therefore I shall be extremely brief. I should like to join with the speakers who have preceded me in welcoming the pledge which the Prime Minister has given and the earnestness with which the Government intend to tackle the question of Scottish housing. Every Scotsman who is proud of his country, and of the part it has played in building up the Empire, must have been a little ashamed of the deep blot which has been cast upon Scottish civilisation by the conditions of housing in our country. We must welcome the efforts which the Government are now making, but, at the same time, I would like to put a few questions to the Secretary for Scotland, in addition to those put by the hon. Member for Clydebank (Mr. Kirkwood).
How will the scheme be financed? What rents will be charged? Will they be economic rents? If not, who will bear the loss on the letting of the houses? Will the burden fall upon the rates, or will it be borne by the Treasury? What type of house is to be built? Is it quite clear that it will be a working class house, or in rural districts will the houses built be suitable for farm servants and crofters? Will they be available for the assistants of agriculture in those districts? With respect to the organisation of the company, will this Scottish National Housing company be a, private company? The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) said he had information that the Government were going to appoint certain directors of the company. Are they going to contribute capital to the company?
Is the State going into the housing business itself in Scotland.' If so, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will give us some particulars of the organisation of this company because, although I welcome any bold scheme—I am not in the least putting this forward in a critical sense; I shall not be frightened even if some of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters call it Socialism—the only precedent I can think of for the Government entering upon that, is to be found in Russia. It may not be a bad 1916 scheme simply because of that fact. I do, however, want to know what actual organisation the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire spoke of housing in the rural districts. That is one of the most important aspects of housing in Scotland. The Royal Commission on Housing in Scotland is the most authoritative body that has sat. They reported in 191V that the prime cause of depopulation in Scotland was bad housing and that an improvement in housing conditions would be an important factor in stemming the drift of population to the towns. They said:We have a strong opinion that as a first step to a better social life, the provision of adequate housing is a primary necessity if we are to retain the workers in agriculture.Contrast that with the speech of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health, Scotland, during a visit which he was good enough to pay to my constituency in the Recess. He said:While we have this swarming mass of evil in the cities, it is hopeless to expect that the small towns and the countryside will get sufficient attention. We must first speed up housing in the cities.That is directly contrary to the Report of the Royal Commission on Housing in Scotland, and it shows an inadequate conception of the part which the countryside is able and anxious to play in tackling this great social problem with which our national economy is beset. If you put up houses in the country districts, not only do you supply something which is urgently required there, but you help to stem the migration of the population from the country into the towns and in that way help to some extent in dealing with the housing problem in the towns. The problem must be tackled as a whole. I, therefore, ask the Secretary for Scotland to tell us how far these schemes will be applicable to the country districts. Another important point on which I am not quite clear is: Does the scheme apply only to houses which are built of alternative materials, and, if so, what materials?
It would assist us very much in the rural districts if we were able to pay the subsidy not only upon the houses which are built anew, but upon houses which require enlargement or improvement. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary had a meeting at Inverness with the local authorities in the Highlands—a very 1917 helpful step, and one for which we are truly grateful. At that meeting the representative of the local authorities implored the hon. Gentleman to give assistance in cases of houses which are falling down. There are men whose houses are in complete dilapidation and in order to obtain the subsidy they have to knock down a perfectly good back wall so that the house may be built afresh and thus comply with the conditions That is one of the things which is of importance in connection with Scottish houses. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire referred to the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and suggested that had my right hon. Friend been here he could have discussed his agricultural proposals but I suggest that had he attempted to do so, or were I to attempt to do so, we should fall under the ban of Mr. Speaker. On every occasion when agriculture has been discussed in this House my right hon. Friend has never failed to be here and has never failed to make an important contribution to the Debate. I appeal to the Secretary for Scotland to give the fullest possible consideration to the question of rural housing in Scotland and to give us some assurance that this scheme will apply to Scottish rural districts.
§ The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Sir John Gilmour)
May I. at the outset, express my thanks to hon. Members in all parts of the House for the personal references made to the promotion which has accrued to the office that I hold. Those of my colleagues from Scotland who know the circumstances are well aware that this recognition of Scotland has been long wished, and with them I rejoice that it has been the part of this Government to grant it, and that it has been my very good fortune to hold that office. The question of what one's status may be is small and immaterial compared with the great realities of life, and I rejoice to think that the first words that I speak in this House after that alteration of status should be words directed to a problem which goes to the very root of the life of our people, and more particularly of our countrymen. The Prime Minister, to whom we in Scotland owe a debt of gratitude for his interest in this subject, has told the House to-day that the offer 1918 of the extra subsidy which he announced has now definitely been withdrawn.
In regard to that decision, come to within the last 48 hours, it must of necessity be clear to the House that it is impossible for me to go very fully into all the details of the alternative method. But one main point stands out— that, having submitted our proposals to the great municipal authorities of Scotland, it is clear that—for reasons best known to themselves, though many of them may be surmised by those who look on—they have refused the proposal: and, in regard to the councils whose replies have yet to be received, all that I have to say is that I should regret if there were anything in the minds of the counties in regard to the action which the Government has taken which would seem in. any measure to show them discourtesy. But it is dear that, however eager they might have been to accept the offer, in contradiction to the action of the great burghs, however much they might support it, their support would be inadequate to meet the terms of that offer. We have, therefore, thought it best to cut the knot, and, as the Prime Minister has said, it is clear that we could not leave the conditions where they were.
Therefore, we propose to invite the National Housing Company of Scotland, a company which, I may inform the hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), has been in existence for a number of years, a company which in the main has been confined to the production of houses at the naval centre of Rosyth, to cooperate with the Government in the carrying out of the details of this scheme. What are the main features of the-scheme? Several 'hon. Members to-day have spoken of mass production. That is an essential and fundamental part of the scheme. We will invite this company to proceed by these methods, and, while I wish to make it clear that these negotiations have yet to take place, I suggest that they will proceed by giving an order for 1,000 houses to the firm of Messrs. Weir, who can produce at an early stage these houses.
There is another fundamental part of this scheme, and that is rapidity of construction. Hon. Members on the other 1919 side of the House have put to me from time to time a variety of questions as to why the Atholl house was ruled out of the original proposal. It was ruled out on the question of price, and I have to repeat here that, if the Duke of Atholl and those who are working with him will come to the company and the Government with proposals to produce that type of house at a price which is within measurable distance of the Weir house or of the Cowieson house, they will also be considered, and then we shall be prepared to do business.
§ Mr. STEWART
Does that mean that all these houses are to be constructed under trade union conditions, applicable to each in the same way?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
These houses will be constructed under the conditions which have been approved by the Bradbury Committee. It is perfectly clear that these matters have been submitted to an impartial tribunal, the members of which are well known to this House and the general public. And the Government have repeatedly stated that they accept and intend to act on that report. I know very well the reasons which prompt such a question from hon. Members opposite, and do not let us delude ourselves by trying to hide the facts. I am not going to repeat a mass of figures, nor am I going over ground as to the respective progress of a city like Glasgow and a city like Birmingham. It is sufficient for me to know that, in spite of every effort and action on the part of successive Governments—both the Government of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) and this Government—to get the co-operation and assistance of the ordinary building trades of this country, for a variety of reasons, into which I have not time to go, the expansion and acceleration of production have failed; and you have the horrible spectacle to-day of at least 200 houses standing with the empty shell of brick, and for four months have been waiting for plasterers, while bricklayers are walking the streets idle. Those are conditions which are, to my mind, intolerable, and it is for this reason that we are going into alternative methods of construction. On the other hand, we will welcome the co-operation and the assist- 1920 ance of building trades' committees, representatives of the building trade, and the co-operation of local authorities of Scotland in expediting and improving ordinary methods of building.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
Will this National Housing Company of Scotland be in the form of a merchanting organisation, placing orders with various firms, or will it itself concentrate on one method?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
I have more or less indicated that there will be an order for 1,000 houses to Weir, and that there will be a distribution of the orders between Cowieson and Atholl, or Cowieson or Atholl alone.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
I am very anxious to see the employment of British material. A great deal has been said to-day about the production of houses other than the type of tenement buildings. I agree with those who have spoken on this subject that that must be kept within the narrowest possible limits, and the building under this alternative scheme is being mainly directed at the other type of house. Questions have been asked as to what we are going; to do under this scheme for rural areas. I think it must be apparent to the House that, with the limit of numbers to 2,000, with the maintenance of mass production, and with the main idea of producing these houses at a price which will bring within the range of possibility the paying of rents by those whom we wish to see occupy them, we must concentrate in this case on main centres; and therefore it is the intention of the Government to confine themselves certainly to not more than probably six centres.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Is it the Government's intention to evade in any town, burgh or county the building regulations which prevail there. Are you going to get through such regulations?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
I wish to say emphatically that we intend to build these houses, and that the Government, if they 1921 have not, in their opinion, got sufficient power to carry it to the end, will not hesitate to come to this House, nor do I doubt that I shall have the support not only of my colleagues in Scotland, but of every Member in this House.
I only wish to add, in conclusion, that those who may look with a critical eye upon this action of the Government will take care to study this matter before they commit themselves to any hostile attitude. The last thing that I should wish to do is to assume an attitude of dictation to any interests, nor do I think I am challenging the rights of the building industry as a whole. The facts of the case stand out—the lack of houses and the horrible conditions which spring from that lack of houses. We fire all agreed upon that. Then let us see that the houses are built. Anyone who stands against the building of these houses stands against the interests of his country, and will, I hope, be pilloried for all time.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, would he explain one point of difference between his speech and that of the Prime Minister? In his speech he said that the Duke of Atholl would come to him on behalf of the company, and the Prime Minister spoke of the Duke of Atholl as the adviser of the Government in this matter. Which of these is correct?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
No, I think it is perfectly simple. The Duke of Atholl, if ho is concerned in this, is concerned as the vendor of these houses.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Will the right hon. Gentleman make quite clear the answer to the question I have already put. I asked, where there are local building regulations—and you know as well us I do there are such regulations in Edinburgh, Glasgow and different towns—if what you are going to do does not comply with those regulations, are you going to come for powers to get through those regulations?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
Undoubtedly. I have so stated. I do not anticipate there will be any difficulty in that respect, but if there is we shall deal with it.
§ Mr. T. HENDERSON
Will the right hon. Gentleman say how ho will meet the charges that will be made by many people 1922 that this scheme is not another method of enforcing steel houses on; the working classes?
§ Mr. HARDIE
Seeing that this has been announced to the House with so short a time for discussion, will the right hon. Gentleman not give more time for a discussion of this matter?
§ It being Four of the clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.