HC Deb 15 May 1925 vol 183 cc2203-94

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I desire to say that some of the papers, apparently, have thought a great deal about this matter, and one has gone so far as to say that this is a Bill which may be described as a sweeping Bill to prevent profiteering. That may be so, and it is quite possible that the paper which published that statement knows a good deal more about profiteering than I do myself, but I desire to explain one or two of the provisions of the Bill which will enable the Departments concerned to find out for themselves whether there is any profiteering, because the Bill is so framed as to give them that opportunity. That being so, it seems to me that the House cannot refuse a Second Reading to this Bill,because it is so mild in character and temperament, and gives every facility to the authorities to find out whether there is any real profiteering.

In the first place, Clause I provides that, where the Board of Trade have any representations made to them by the Minister of Health, they have the power under this Bill to make all necessary inquiries. The reason, I presume, for providing in the Bill that the complaint shall be made to the Minister of Health, is that, the Minister of Health being responsible for the building of houses for the people, he would have the opportunity of receiving representations from any quarter as to whether in their opinion there was profiteering, and also from the Committee which the present Minister of Health set up to go into the prices of building materials. I am fortified in this view by a statement made in the interim Report of that Committee. wherein they say: We have reluctantly formed the opinion, judging by the response so far made to us, that our further investigations on the present basis will not be productive of any tangible results. If the Committee which has been set up by the Minister of Health are unable to get at the root and bottom of the whole principle of production, then they are justified in making that statement, but matters ought not to be allowed to go on long after they have made that statement without something more responsible being done. Then the Bill provides that the Board of Trade shall have the power to investigate prices, conditions of supply, costs and profits at all stages. Therefore, the investigation will be made right throughout the whole production of all costs and profits, and then the Department will be able to decide whether there is any real profiteering. Then, the Board of Trade, if satisfied that the increases are unreasonably high, will have the power to fix prices. The Board of Trade will go into the whole matter, and will be able to fix the prices at which in their opinion the materials can be bought, allowing, of course, the margin of profit which in their opinion is right. Then, if it is found that any one of the firms producing these materials is hampering in any way, the Board of Trade will have the further power to go into the matter, and to tell those people that they will not put up with any obstruction in the way of the reasonable supply and provision of the materials required for building purposes. Having gone so far as that, they then would say, "If you are not prepared to carry out the conclusion we have come to in connection with this matter, then we shall take it over ourselves and run the business on behalf of the necessities of the people in providing the materials which we require. That is not an unreasonable request to make. Surely, when they had had every facility of going into the matter, the Board of Trade should then take it over and provide the material that is required to carry on the work.

In Clause 2 it is provided that the Board of Trade may appoint an officer or other person authorised in writing to examine the books and documents for the purpose of a thorough investigation, and, having had such thorough investigation, and having come to a conclusion as to what the prices should be and informed the firm or companies concerned what the prices should be, then, if that firm should say they are unable to provide the necessary materials at those rates, what is then required is that the Board shall take it over and do it themselves. In that they will only be doing what was done before the War, and what, as the Minister of Health is aware, it is quite possible to do. When the Government themselves were endeavoring to provide housing accommodation for their munition workers at Well Hall, and the prices of the people who had to contract became so high, the Government eventually had to take it over and do it themselves. They did that work during the War, because they wanted to house the people and get the materials as reasonably as they possibly could, as in the case of the munitions which they required. If it is good to do this in time of war, surely it is good to do it in time of peace, because the question of housing accommodation is not settled yet by a long way, and probably never will be if it is going to be allowed to run on in this manner, without some probing by the Department which is concerned in the matter.

Further, after all the investigations are made and the matter is taken over, if there is any obstruction, the Board of Trade will have powers to take the people concerned to Court, and on summary conviction a fine can be imposed up to £100 or three months' imprisonment, or both, depending, of course, on the view the Court may take of the case that is put before them. Presumably that will be one of the things in this Bill on which we may meet with some opposition, but, surely, the Bill is no different from many other Measures which have been passed by this House. Invariably, when it is decided say that certain tradespeople shall provide so many ounces to the pound, if it is found by the inspectors that the weights are not correct, proceedings can be taken, and fines, and even imprisonment, imposed on conviction. We usually find in business that, after all, the Acts of Parliament which have been passed by this House, after a good deal of discussion and consideration, do not force business people to carry out all that is in those Acts. They often require a good deal of pressure to be put upon them; otherwise we should not require so many inspectors as we have to pay to go round and investigate and look at their weights and scales. With regard also to the commodities which they supply, there again we have to pay inspectors to go round to see that the commodities are up to standard, and frequently, in the East End districts, we find that they are not up to standard by a long way. Hence you have a number of prosecutions. Therefore, in regard to the prosecutions which have been provided for, we are not asking anything in this Bill that is different from what has been provided time and time again, although, as I have said, it is quite possible that it may meet with some opposition. I presume that, no matter what kind of Bill was brought into this House, there would be some opposition from some quarter or other. The Committee which has been set up in connection with this matter went on, after stating what I have already quoted, to say:— At our first meeting it was intimated to us by the Minister of Health, the right hon. Neville Chamberlain, that he hoped that the object he had in view in setting up the Committee would be achieved by publicity, but, if that were found not to be the case, he was fully prepared to go to Parliament and ask for powers. The right hon. Gentleman then went out of office, and the Labour Party came in, and this was presented to the Minister of Health of that day, who, eventually, having had the views of the Committee, decided to bring forward this Bill. This is the Bill which was brought forward by the late Minister of Health, and we bring it forward again to-day with every confidence, asking the House to give it a Second Reading, and thus afford an opportunity of going into the matter of these prices. I have been able to obtain certain prices up to date, and my authority, I may say, is the London County Council, of which I was a Member until March of this year. At the end of February, just a week before the election, I asked for particulars, and the particulars that I received from the Chairman of the Housing Committee were as follows: —

Stock bricks, in 1914, were 36s. 6d. per 1,000, and in 1925, 83s. 6d. Cement, in 1914, was 38s. per ton, and in 1925, 58s. Thames washed sand, in 1914, was 7s. per yard, and in 1925, 14s. 6d. These figures I obtained from the Chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

What kind of bricks were they?


They were stock bricks.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

Can the hon. Member give the figures for Fletton bricks?


No, I did not ask about Fletton bricks. Most of these stock bricks were used by the London County Council. Then, again, roofing tiles in 1914 were 30s. per 1,000, and in 1925 they were 90s. That I obtained from the manager of a firm of very great repute. With regard to light castings, we have it on the authority of the Ministry of Health a few days ago that light castings have increased during this year to an extent which puts 24s. extra on the cost of each house. No one appears to have satisfied themselves or to know whether there is any excess profit or profiteering in connection with these prices. They may be justified or they may not, but in a great many instances it will be found that the prices are 100 per cent. or more above the 1914 prices, while I think we can confidently state that the wages of the men have not increased to that extent in any of the departments. Therefore, it cannot be a question of wages. There must be other factors in connection with the matter. Into those other factors this Bill will give the opportunity of inquiring, and that is what we are very anxious for. If it can be shown that the prices are justified it would please the public much better than at present.

There appears to be some delay in supplying bricks. We have heard a good deal about the number of men who are unemployed, and if some extra pressure were brought to bear upon the brick makers they could provide a lot more work. I understand there is a very large number of bricks coming in from foreign parts. Germany and Belgium are supplying a large number. I do not desire to mention all the foreign countries that are supplying bricks, but a good deal of building material is being supplied. Possibly we should not be able to provide it ourselves, especially timber, but we have plenty of material from which we could make our own bricks. Only about a fortnight ago a builder who was building houses for the Poplar Borough Council wrote to our surveyor and told him he was unable to get his supply of bricks, which he had ordered months ago, and unless he got them in he would have to stop the job or have permission to purchase German- made bricks. He invited the Committee to go and see the German bricks, and he showed us a sample. We certainly had to come to the conclusion that it was a very good brick, but he stated that, owing to the demand, he would not be able to get them any cheaper than he was paying for the stock bricks which he had ordered from British firms. He also informed us that the Minister of Health had given authority to several other people to use German bricks, which were of good character and which they considered were suitable for their purpose. One would have thought the Minister of Health and his authorities would say, "Let us look round at home and see whether we cannot fillip up these undertakings and get them to get an extra move on and get bricks for ourselves without having to send abroad for them." A good deal of stirring up is certainly required. We have come to the conclusion that to pass this Bill would give the Minister of Health and the President of the Board of Trade the fullest opportunity of developing home industry, especially in bricks and probably in cement as well if they make up their minds to do it.


I beg to second the Motion.

I think I shall be justified in anticipating that opposition will be offered to the Bill on the ground that prices seem to remain somewhat stable and that the Bill is going to interfere with the ordinary business transactions of the builders' mer chants and those responsible for producing building material. The Bill is drawn up in the hope that it might at least be put into operation and bring into the industry that is responsible for providing building material something in the nature of a spirit of justice and fairness to the community. The argument which will in all probability be advanced, that prices during the last twelve months have remained stable, will overlook the fact that there have been what we feel to be unjustifiable increases since the Armistice. One might even go back before the days of the War. There one is compelled to admit that building material prices were on the upward trend, and in order to appreciate that fact one needs to consider the circumstances that obtained previous to the War in connection with the associations and the organisations which were responsible for the production of building material. I am comparatively a young man but it is well within my recollection when one could go out into the home counties and see a small man producing bricks, cement, and the things that are necessary for the erection of houses. But a considerable change has taken place since then, a change which compelled the Government, under the Profiteering Acts of 1919 and 1920, to set up a special Committee. I have been recently exploring some of their reports. We find that in respect to cement and mortar a sub-committee reported as follows: — Cement manufacturers have amalgamated themselves into two powerful producing companies, the Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers Limited, and the British Portland Cement Manufacturers Limited, which companies, through their respective directorates, are interlocked. These companies, it is estimated, are jointly responsible for 75 per cent. of the total cement production of the country. In order to fix minimum selling prices the majority of the manufacturers, including the two chief companies mentioned above, have associated themselves in the Cement Makers' Federation, the members of which control the production of 90 per cent. of the cement production of the country. Further, in the retail distribution of cement, the rebate allowed to the merchants by the manufacturers is governed by the Cement Makers' Federation while in the London area there is the Builders' Merchants Alliance, Limited. This latter body, in conjunction with the manufacturers, draws up and issues minimum retail price lists. A condition of membership is that the prices in the prepared schedules should be maintained by all the merchants in the alliance, but we are given to understand that no monetary or other penalties are imposed upon members to ensure the due observation of these prices. That is a quotation from Command Paper 1091, issued in 1920.

Again, I want to draw attention to the report of the Sub-Committee which was set up to consider and report on the continued increase in prices for light castings. To take but a single instance as indicating the successive increase, the following were the ruling prices paid by one large public body for four-inch cast iron pipes. In 1906 the price per ton was £4 14s. 8d.; in April, 1918, it was £14 1s.; in April, 1920, it had soared to £18 9s. 6d. and in December, 1920, it was £22 4s. 6d. The conclusions of the Profiteering Sub- Committee on pipes and castings were as follows: There is an effective combination of manufacturers of pipes and castings, namely, the Cast Iron Pipe Association, which fixes minimum prices and which comprises practically all manufacturers of cast iron pipes. In view of the fact that prices are fixed by an Association, the practice of submitting tenders has become, in fact, of no value as a protection to the ratepayer. The municipal authorities are more or less at the mercy of the Cast Iron Pipe Association, as they are unable to secure pipes of British manufacture except through members of the Association, and we are of opinion that the Association has it within its power to act unreasonably if so disposed. We suggest, therefore, that, as a safeguard to the ratepayer, the Board of Trade should have power to require the production of audited statements of costs of production, together with the latest balance sheets, etc. In this Bill we are asking that such powers even as recommended by the Sub-Committee shall be conferred upon the Board of Trade.

In the "Times" on the 13th February, 1925, there appeared the following: Builders' merchants take the view that the reported action of the National Light Castings Association, in advancing the price of metal stoves, rainwater pipes and other manufactures used in house construction, may be followed by increases in the cost of other building materials. The explanation given is that wages in the industries concerned are rising, but the upward movement of quotations cannot be completely separated from the prospect that house-building programmes will shortly be accelerated. Since 1920, when the prices of light castings rose to a level 300 to 400 per cent. above those obtained in 1914, there has been a tendency to scrutinize closely any advances ordered by the National Association. A sectional committee of the sub-committee on building materials, appointed by the Standing Committees on the Investigation of Prices and Trusts, reported in 1921 that the association covered 95 per cent. of the British output of light castings and fixed prices below which the castings manufactured by its members should not be sold in this country. It was stated that the minimum prices fixed by the association since the Armistice showed a profit which could not be considered as unreasonable, but the committee expressed the opinion that the powers of an association which wielded such monopolistic control over an industry were so open to abuse as to make it a menace to the community. We are asking that these powers may be conferred by this Bill in order that such abuses may not become the order of the day. We feel that there have already been considerable abuses in this connection that are in no way justifiable. It is not sufficient to say that wages have increased, hence the increase in prices is justifiable. In no instance have wages increased to such a degree as have the prices of the finished product. In the "Builder" of 3rd April, 1925—this will answer a question put by the hon. Member as to what are the prices of Felton Bricks. I find that the price in 1914 was £1 14s. and that the present price is £2 13s. 3d., an increase of I9s. 3d.


Can the hon. Member tell me how much the wages have been increased in the Peterborough area compared with pre-war. Is it not a fact that they are three times as much?


I think the hon. Member has overstated the wage advances by a considerable percentage. The increase in the prices for best stocks according to the "Builder" last month is £2 7s. above the pre-war price. The increase in the price of glazed bricks amounts to £10, compared with the price in 1914. Even if wages had been advanced by 300 per cent. that could not account for an enormous increase to that extent.


Are glazed bricks more than doubled in price to-day?


The hon. Member will have his opportunity later. Portland cement in 1914, according to the "Builder," cost £1 17s., and to-day it is £2 18s., an increase of £1 1s. Take timber. According to the "Builder," good, sound building timber, 4in. x 11in., cost £16 10s. per standard in 1914, and to-day it is £32 10s. per standard, an increase of £15 10s. per standard. Cut nails, £11 10s. per ton in 1914, to-day £20 10s. per ton, an increase of £9. Sheet lead, £22 15s per ton in 1914, compared with £47 10s,. at the present time, an increase of £24 15s. Raw linseed oil has advanced in price by 5.26 per cent. during the last month.

Turning to the latest report of the London Brick Company, I find that that company states that during 1914 the company increased its productive capacity up to 500,000,000 annually. The net profit of the firm was £232,519. If 500,000,000 bricks were produced, the profit is equal to 9s. per thousand. Not a bad profit ! Even assuming that wages had increased considerably, 9s. per thousand profit on bricks is not a profit, at least from my point of view, which is justified in the existing condition of affairs.


500 per cent.


300 per cent.


With respect to paint manufacturers' profits, I find from the report of Messrs. Pinchin, Johnson & Co., Ltd., manufacturers of paint, varnish, etc., that the dividend on the ordinary shares in 1920 was 15 per cent. In 1921 the dividend dropped to 7½ per cent., but in 1922 it went up to 15 per cent.; in 1923, 22½ per cent.; and last year the dividend amounted to 30 per cent.


Living on their losses.


We ask that this Bill shall receive the support of the House in order that investigations may be made to see whether these abnormal prices which obtain to-day for building materials are justified. If hon. Members and right hon. Members opposite are of opinion that these prices are really justified, why do they take exception to this Bill? We are only asking that investigation shall be made, and that the public in general shall be assured that there is at least some degree of honesty obtaining in the production of building materials. That is all this Bill will give.

Let me deal with timber. I happen to be intimately acquainted with the use of timber. Before coming to this house I was, on occasions, engaged in the purchase of timber. I have been looking at the report issued by the Committee set up to watch the prices of building materials, and to report. They had no power to go into the reasons for the increase in prices. They had only to report that certain increases had taken place. I find from the report that ordinary carcasing timber 7 x 2 and 7 x 2½ per standard in April. 1914, cost £11. In July, 1924, the price stood at £23 10s., and in August, 1924, it had again risen to £24 10s. per standard, an increase of £12 10s. For joinery timber 9 x 3 the price was £16 per standard in April, 1914. In July, 1924, it had risen to £34 per standard, an increase of £18. The price of ordinary common inch flooring in 1914 was 11s. per square. Today it is 24s. 6d. per square, or an increase of 12s. 6d.

The effect of this is that in the case of houses which are being erected to-day, in which 2½in. joists would have been used before the War, they are now using 2-inch timber. Some of the builders, trying to be a bit more decent and to impart the appearance of honesty in the construction of their houses, are prepared to spike a piece of ȕth stuff to that in the hope that that will strengthen it sufficiently to carry the flooring. Owing to the abnormal prices of timber, the ordinary stairs in houses which are being erected to-day are put in in ordinary common spruce, where they should be using yellow deal, with the inevitable result that immediately fires are lighted in the house, and drying takes place, people will become alarmed over the crackling of the timber, because as it dries, being wedged in its place, it will contract and split down the centre. These are devices which are being resorted to as the result of the unfair and unjust exploitation which is being carried on by builders' merchants and those who are responsible for the production of building materials.

One has only to look down the list of timbers for sale, or to go into the docks and inspect the timber, and there he will see in the catalogue of unsorted timber that one is led by the catalogue to believe that the custom with regard to unsorted timber which obtained in pre-War days still remains. In pre-War days, when you bought unsorted timber, you stood a chance of getting some exceedingly good timber from among the pile. But the unsorted timber to-day is a pile of timber that is not unsorted, but has been sorted to such an extent that it has become impossible to grade it at all. The so-called unsorted timber mentioned in the Government Committee's Report is timber that is of little or no value in building construction, and the only fit thing to do with it is to put the axe through it and burn it. But such are the devices which are being resorted to.

I hope that this Bill will have a Second Reading so that the Committee may be empowered to make all the necessary investigations, and take the necessary steps, if the prices are not justified, to see that the prices are brought down, and furthermore that steps shall be taken whereby reasonable prices shall be paid for houses which can be let eventually at a reasonable rent. Because behind this there is a far greater problem than appears on the surface. The abnormal rents which are being asked in many instances to-day for the new houses that are being erected have a reflex in the cost of other commodities. On every hand we are appealed to for a reduction in the cost of production, but if high rents are demanded, wages again must be sufficient to meet those rents, and if you complain, as so many manufacturers complain, that wages are high we must see that houses are built at a price that will enable reasonable rents to be asked. This will have its reflex in reducing the cost of production, and so this Bill will be among the ways and means of assisting the community as it were to approach, not only this one problem, but the other problems with which we are confronted. I hope that this Bill will receive a Second Reading, and help so to restore some degree of security to the minds of the general public that the prices which are being asked for building materials are at least justifiable, but that does not appear on the surface.


I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."

The arguments which have been advanced in support of this Bill appear to me to be arguments which might be advanced with regard to discrepancies in prices in any other trade in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear ! "] I am glad that my hon. Friends opposite concur with that, because my contention in opposing this Bill, is that I personally—and I know that many hon. Members on this side share my belief— consider this to be a purely Socialistic Bill. It is aimed at establishing a line of conduct with regard to the building trades which hon. Gentleman opposite would desire to put into vogue against every other industry [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear ! "] I am glad that hon. Members are frank enough to admit that. I know that this is the Bill of the late Minister of Health, who, unfortunately, is not in his place at the present time. But the hon. Member who moved this Bill was put up to move the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman.


I said so. You could have heard it if you were here.


I was here. I am very glad that the hon. Member agrees with that. The objection from Members on this side is not on the ground that prices today differ from what they were before the War. Our objection to this Bill is that it is an attempt to engender in the commercial system of this country State control and a form of Socialism, and so far as we on these benches are concerned, we shall fight this Bill to the utmost of our Power. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health will say on behalf of the Government that the strongest opposition of the Government will be given to the Bill. Certain remarks were made by the Seconder of the Motion, in what was a very excellent speech, which seemed merely to try to prove that there had been a big discrepancy in the prices charged for building materials between 1914 and the present day, in certain cases. May I suggest to him very forcibly that he never dwelt at all upon the fact that the major portion of the increased difference is the result of the demands of labour. [Laughter.] It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to laugh, but I am told, on very good authority by gentlemen who know quite as much about the building trade as right hon. and hon. Members opposite, that in certain cases in the building trade wages have actually been multiplied by three in the period between 1914 and the present time. Hon. Gentlemen laugh, but I am stating that as a fact. I have the very best information upon which I can positively rely, and it convinces me—it may not convince hon. Members opposite, because they do not like to be convinced about unpleasant facts—that there were wages paid in the brickfields before the War of 17s. a week. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame! "] It may be a shame, and I am not saying that it is not, but when you realise that those men are getting a minimum of 50s. to-day the difference does add a tremendous lot to the cost of industry in those brickfields.

What annoys me is to have quotations read in this House giving the profits for individual years. No disgust ought to be displayed by hon. Gentlemen opposite at the fact that a commercial concern pays 15 per cent. dividend. How many of these brick companies which have been quoted were not paying a penny piece in dividends for 10 years before the War? Hon. Members do not assess them over a period of years. I know from my own knowledge that there were certain companies which could not give away their bricks before the War. There were companies which could hardly carry on at any price. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because they had no demand for their output. What I suggest is that the only fair way in which to assess a company's financial progress is to take the dividends over a period of years and to allow for the period of bad trade as well as for the period of good trade.


What about wages on the same principle?


I understand the hon. Member is going to speak later and he will have his opportunity of saying that. These remarks are made about dividends as though it was entirely wrong for a capitalist to make a dividend at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"] Some hon. Members think that, and they even say "Hear, hear! "Therefore, they can understand that we on this side of the House, and the responsible people in the country who sent us here, can take no notice of such extraordinary arguments. There is another reason why I oppose this Bill. I oppose it, first of all, because it is a purely Socialistic Measure. I oppose it, secondly, because it will give so much control to Departments of the State. It seems to me that some of the Clauses of the Bill empower a State Department to come into the 12 N.office of a company and to investigate with a microscope every small detail of a man's business. You are never likely to get any brains in business if you are to have a business man frustrated at every move by a Government Department which compels him to account for every little action in his business career. I suggest that we are suffering from too much State officialdom at the present time. It would be far better if we could break away from State control much more than we have done. We want to encourage the individual. We had too much of this State manipulation during the War. We saw then quite well the very ill effect on the country generally of State control.

I would fight this Bill even if it were not a Socialistic measure. I would fight it on the ground that it brings into play again a tremendous number of extra officials and more Government supervision without a justifiable cause, and to my mind it would affect the individual enterprise of various people in a most adverse way. My third reason for opposing this Bill is that it is a very badly drafted Bill. Take the first Clause. Hon. Members opposite may be able to understand it, but it seems to me a most extraordinary way of starting to say— Where the Board of Trade receive a representation from the Minister of Health to the effect that the price of any article or class of articles in common use in connection with the building of houses for the working classes appears to the Minister to be excessive "… If I am going to buy anything the price always appears to me to be excessive, and if that is the right hon. Gentleman's idea of the justification of this Bill, that a price "appears" to the Minister in charge to be excessive, and that all the red tape and regulations under this Bill can be brought in because of that appearance, that one Clause damns the whole Bill. Finally, I cannot understand why the whole trend of the criticisms should be with regard to building rings. The right hon. Gentleman whose Bill this is went out of his way last Session, time after time, to pay the greatest compliment to rings of manufacturers in this country. I have a quotation here. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion should have kept in touch with his Leader on the matter. This is what the late Minister of Health said in this House on 3rd June, 1924, in speaking on housing: I have to acknowledge that they met me in what I regard as a very generous manner, and I want to state here, particularly in regard to the brick manufacturers, that I have been driven to the conclusion during the past few weeks that in a period when the nation has problems of this kind. it would be much easier to deal with a ring than to deal with unfettered private enterprise." [Interruption.] — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd June, 1924; col. 1112, Vol. 174.] I always notice that when hon. Members on the other side are touched at all they squeak. The quotation goes on: It is just the same condition as employers of experience recognise in dealing with their workers; it is easier to deal with a Trade Union that deal with a body of disorganised men. [HON. MEMBERS:" Hear, hear "]I notice that hon. Members agree with that. The quotation continues: My experience of the past few weeks was this. I started that period with a pledge from the Associated Brick Manufacturers that they would keep to their prices. They have kept their word in the letter and in the spirit." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd June, 1924; col. 1112, Vol. 174.] That is the body of men who, I suggest, are still keeping their word in the letter and in the spirit. The very firm of manufacturers mentioned to-day by the Seconder of the Motion as having made a certain dividend, have never altered their arrangement, I understand —their guaranteed arrangement with the Ministry of Health—one iota, although since that arrangement was made wages in that particular firm have gone up l7½ per cent. When you have engendered that spirit in private enterprise, when there is that desire to meet the proper demands of the State, it seems to be madness to bring forward a Bill which must cause tremendous uneasiness among those engaged in the manufacture of any of those articles. [Laughter. ] Hon. Members might listen to the argument first and laugh afterwards if they wish. However, straight a man may be, however keen he may be on paying proper wages and making only the ordinary common or garden profit, if you are going to subject him to useless restrictions and to requisitions for information, and if he realises that his profit may be considered too large by certain hon. Members opposite who always consider any profit too large, he is going to fail. This Bill is going to handicap such a man. Therefore I ask the House to give the utmost thought to this Amendment and to refuse the Bill a Second Reading.


I beg to second the Amendment. I listened with great interest to the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Second Reading. The hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. March) in the main was very careful to keep to generalities, but the Seconder came down to details and incidentally quoted with approval an implied compliment to the Minister of Health when he referred to the probable acceleration of the production of houses. I thank him for the compliment which he paid to the Minister, and I think it is entirely justified. He quoted certain pre-War figures and certain present-day figures, and gave the number of pounds or shillings of increase in each case. I was surprised that he did not work out the percentages, because you must realise that there has been a devaluation of money, and that any increase in a rate of payment for a service or a commodity, which is approximately the same as the general increase in prices is prima facie a reasonable increase unless there have been some peculiar changes affecting the cost of production in the particular industry concerned. With regard to Fletton bricks, I find that the percentage increase is 54 per cent., which is very much less than the general rise of commodity prices. The increase in cement, according to the hon. Member's own figures, is 56 per cent., again a very moderate increase. In fact, the price of both commodities, in the economic sense, is less than the pre-War price when you bear in mind that you are measuring with a £ sterling, which is not the same as the pre-War £. In other things we find increases substantially in excess of the general increase in commodity prices: such as timber, 94 per cent.; cut nails, 74 per cent.; sheet lead, 108 per cent.; and three other cases of timber, 123 per cent., 112 per cent. and 123 per cent., respectively. What is the curious characteristic of all the cases where the price has gone up more than the general rise in commodity prices? In all these cases the supplies are largely drawn from abroad. The bulk of the timber used in the building trade is drawn from abroad, and timber in particular has gone up by more than the general rise in commodity prices. Because timber supplied by foreigners has gone up by more than the rise in the general level, it is sought to impose restrictions on British brickmakers who, on the hon. Member's own figures, are not from any point of view engaged in profiteering. This Bill does not apply to the producers of timber in the neighbourhood of Riga—in Russia or in Germany.


Would the hon. Gentleman give the percentage increase in stocks?


The only figures I have worked out are the percentages in relation to the statistics which the hon. Member quoted. He did not give complete figures with regard to stocks, and I was not able to work out the percentages. In the case of raw linseed oil also for some mysterious reason the hon. Member only took the price changes in the last month and did not go back to 1914. So much for the particular and detailed arguments supplied by the Seconder. This Bill falls into three parts. The first is concerned with investigation. I am inclined to think that continued industrial vivisection is not healthy for any industry, and it is an intolerable nuisance to all concerned in the industry.


May I, with the permission of the hon. Member, intervene again just to say that the price of 36s. 6d. per thousand was paid by the London County Council for stocks in 1914 and at the present time the price is 83s. 6d. —more than 100 per cent. increase.


In the particular case which the hon. Member mentions the increase would appear to be more than the general rise but that appears to be a particular purchase made by a particular municipal authority and does not necessarily indicate the general price rise. I am suggesting that this constant industrial vivisection means that the people who should be engaged in devoting their minds to improving and increasing production are called upon to waste endless hours in endless arguments with the Minister of Health and his representatives, and I think the time of both will be wasted if such methods are persisted in indefinitely. If, from time to time, inquiries are desirable' I gather that there are already ample powers without the introduction of this new Bill. The next thing which is dealt with is requisition of supplies. This Bill applies to what "any person" may do. It refers to any person who unreasonably prevents the supply of materials, and "any person" may be an official of a trade union which is refusing to work piece work and by that refusal is restricting production. But there is no provision in the Bill that any penalty shall be inflicted on those persons who may do just as much harm, and in fact far more harm, than the most grossly profiteering building-materials merchant you could find. The last part of the Bill is a temporary proposal for the nationalisation of production. I have been all my life, or very nearly all my life, a convinced opponent of Social- ism in any form, and by Socialism I mean State Trading—except in those particular productions in connection with which the maintenance of law and order may render State interference necessary. [HON. MEMBERS: "And where there are no profits."] The making of war is a Socialistic undertaking. [Interruption. ]


I must ask hon. Members not to interrupt. It is not fair constantly to interrupt the hon. Member. Hon. Members have brought forward a proposition, and they must listen to the other side.


War-making, as I say, is a Socialistic undertaking. It is the action of the people collectively; if you do it individually it is called murder and certain consequences ensue. War has always been a Socialistic undertaking, and I shall have a few words to say as to what happens when the State enters on that Socialistic undertaking of war and the industrial consequences.


Will the hon. Member allow me to remind him that the most successful battles which Scotland had with England were conducted on the Scottish side by private enterprise?


I would point out to the hon. and learned Member who has interrupted me that the personal consequences to some of those individuals were disastrous. If he will take the opportunity of walking from this House to another place, he will see some pictures indicating the consequences. If anybody is going to do anything in this world, he must have a certain freedom of action. You will deter people if you are constantly interfering with them, whether it be the interference of a foreman with the workmen under him or of a Government Department with the employer or producer of any particular commodity, and the moment you start interfering for the purpose of dealing with high prices, you very frequently produce conditions which lead to shortage make your prices higher than ever.

I know that the much-abused law of supply and demand does not earn very much respect from the benches opposite, very largely, I think, because they do not understand it. [An HON. MEMBER: "And you do."] I do not know that I do, but I believe that I do. What is the law of supply and demand, as commonly stated? If things are scarce, the price goes up, and if they are plentiful, they are cheap, but that is only one aspect of it. The other aspect is that, if prices happen to be high, labour and capital and ability are attracted to the production of those commodities, and, if you leave people alone, they will shortly increase supplies to such an extent that the high prices which prevailed vanish.[An HON. MEMBER: Restricted output."]I agree that restricted output will produce shortage and, in due course, high prices. There may be times when your production of one particular commodity has got out of balance in relation to the production of other commodities, when all concerned have to reduce production because the world is incapable of absorbing that amount of that particular commodity, but that does not interfere in any way with the general argument.

There are certain cases, however, where the law of supply and demand may not operate freely, such as where manufacturers may have succeeded in cornering the supplies of a raw material. In that case new capital and new labour are debarred from entering the industry, and your law may fail to operate. There are very few cases, if any, in industrial history where that is, in fact, true. The other case is where you may have succeeded in cornering the supply of labour by successful trade union organisation of such a kind that you can make it impossible for new labour to enter an industry. I am perfectly willing to agree that, wherever you can bring forward proof that your raw materials have been cornered, or that your labour has been cornered, the community is entitled to take action to free itself from these shackles. There is no indication in this case that any such cornering has taken place, however. You cannot stand anywhere in this country where you cannot within five miles get the raw materials of bricks, and where you cannot get at least the greater part of the raw materials of cement. Anyone can buy cement-making machinery and brick-making machinery, and there is no possibility whatever in this country of making the manufacture of bricks or cement a trust. You may have in existence large rings in those businesses, but those large rings can only remain so long as they are efficient and sell their commodities at such prices that it is not worth while for new capital and new people to come into those industries.

I was saying, earlier, that war is Socialism in action. I saw the late War from three points of view: the point of view of the ordinary citizen, that is, the payer; the point of view of one who for a time was a temporary civil servant engaged in regulating the production of munitions of certain kinds; and the point of view of the consumer, as a junior subaltern in a certain technical branch of the Army. I was not impressed with the State as a trader. We had at the Ministry of Munitions the immense advantage, which you will not get in normal times, of a great moral enthusiasm, which led people to make sacrifices which no class of people will make in normal times—the suppression of self in the interests of the public service—which I would go so far as to say is undesirable in normal times. Therefore, you had your conditions entirely favourable. People were prepared to do anything if the Government asked them to do it, and even then you found the grossest waste and incompetence; you found the Ministry of Munitions growing and growing, until its initial efficiency was entirely gone: you found the Ministry with a staff which, in my opinion, was double what was necessary to do the job; and you found men of enterprise and initiative coming into that Department and being demoralised by the system of State control. With that experience, I do not want to see any more of it.

Then again, from the point of view of the user, I do not think that people who served in his Majesty's forces were particularly careful of communal property. I do not think they were as careful of communal property as they would have been of their own. I think there was a diversion of materials for unusual purposes, because it suited people's comfort or convenience, and if anyone suggested that they ought not to be quite so extravagant, the attitude was, "Oh, there is plenty more where that came from." There was an attitude of general extravagance in dealing with communal property. I even believe that myself and other hon. Members of this House are more generous in the use of the notepaper with which we are supplied free here than if we had to pay for all of it individually. If one finds this mental attitude with regard to collective property, if the whole history of mankind shows how difficult it. is to deal with it, what, in the long run, is your moral justification for attempting to socialise anything? We seem to have Bills or Resolutions of this kind fairly frequently, Bills or Motions the general principle of which brings in the whole case as between Individualism on the one side and Collectivism on the other. I think that for the whole of my life so far I have been an individualist. I was in some danger until 1 once bought a book called "Britain for the British," written by Robert Blatchford, and that carried me half-way towards being an individualist; and in the" Daily Mail Year Book," of 1907, I read an article by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. R. MacDonald) defining what Socialism was, and that completed my education. Ever since then I have been a convinced opponent of the State as trader, and this Bill has for its sole object the handing over to the State, at least in part, of the production of and trading in certain commodities.

The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill quoted war-time experience. May I, in conclusion, give one reason why the present circumstances are different? The State made war. The State, in making war, restricted the supply of materials, made it impossible for one to obtain materials and to increase the supply of certain commodities, and made it impossible to obtain the supply of labour and of capital. If the State, by its action in war-time, prohibits the law of supply and demand from operating, then the State must intervene to correct the ill which it has done, the ill which it necessarily had to do, but these conditions do not exist to-day. Labour is free, material is free, and capital is free. Therefore, the law of supply and demand can operate, high prices will produce plenty, and, if there are high prices, let them bring about their own remedy, and do not let the Government go meddling and interfering and making things worse than they are.


The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams), who has just sat down, has given us his views about Socialism, but I notice that both he and the mover of the rejection of the Bill talked about Socialism from one angle only. They might have remembered that, whatever views we, on these benches, may hold with regard to general legislation for the prohibition of undue profiteering at the expense of the community, in this particular Bill we are dealing with a question in which friends of the. hon. Members opposite have been quite ready to take what advantage could be obtained from social action by the State. During the whole of the period since the close of the War, during the time when this country has been endeavouring to deal with the great shortage of houses, we have spent through the State and municipalities millions and millions of public money, much of which, of course, has been to the profit of the citizens generally, who have used the houses erected, but a great part of which has gone to the building industry, and much of that in undue profits for those engaged in the industry.

Anyone who wants to deal with a great and burning social question like this, must realise there is a separate case, apart from all the other considerations, to be submitted to the House of Commons for protection to the general consuming public of things supplied by this industry, so long as that industry is directly subsidised by the social action of the State, and I think that effectively disposes of the arguments that have been put forward. On the other point made by the last speaker, there seems, on examination, to be a little difference in the ranks of Members opposite. There is a right hon. Gentleman who now sits on the Front Bench, who, if he is not absolutely convinced, was at one time almost convinced that Socialism was the only solution of the problems this country had to face. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, out of his own experience at the Ministry of Munitions during the War, wrote that the extraordinary results, the saving to the State, the increased efficiency, the impetus given to the development of scientific costing—all those facts nearly persuaded him that Socialism was the only remedy. I would not like to pass any comment upon the reasons which have been advanced since to lead him to change those views, and to sit once more, as he usually does, upon the Front Government Bench.

With regard to the particular problem which is dealt with in this Bill, I want to put one or two pointed questions to the Minister of Health, who, however his views may differ from ours, is, we recognise, an expert upon housing. When he brought in the Act, now known as the Chamberlain Act, of 1923, he appointed a Committee to watch the course of building prices, and, in setting up that Committee, he gave a certain message to the Committee that he would, if necessary, himself take full powers, not, perhaps, of the wide kind suggested in this Bill, but certainly what he regarded as full powers to deal with the position. In the Report of the Building Prices Committee, which is dated 29th May, 1924, the following passage occurs: At our first meeting it was intimated to us by the Minister of Health, the Right Hon. Neville Chamberlain, that he hoped that the object he had in view in setting up the Committee would be achieved by publicity, but if this were found not to be the case, he was fully prepared to go to Parliament and ask for powers, and we undertook that we would at once notify him if such a situation arose. Our function is at present limited to reporting on the basis of such information as may voluntarily be submitted to us, and, as a result of our experience "—

Twelve months after the Committee was set up— we feel bound to report that we find ourselves inadequately equipped to ascertain the facts in regard to the reasonableness of prices. I submit from the actual facts that have transpired since his message to the Committee in 1923, and the Committee's report in 1924, that he has a full case for coming to this House for additional powers to deal with the situation. The present position is that the Committee is sitting. [An HON. MEMBER: 0"And watching."] Yes, it watches; it makes certain inquiries; it does its best, but its position still is, that it has no adequate powers to obtain such information as we believe the Minister ought to have. They are unable to advise him to the extent they ought to be able to advise him, if they had the full power to obtain all the facts.

It would be presumption on my part to take up a long time in this Debate, but there are one or two special points with regard to building material prices to which I will draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention. First of all, there is the question of bricks. We are told to-day that one of the main reasons for the increase in cost is the policy of ca'canny on the part of bricklayers. As a matter of fact, I have had the privilege of reading the manuscript of a book which is about to be published under the nom-de-plumeof a master builder, whom I happen to know personally, and who is one of the largest housing contractors in this country. He says: The country's present output of bricks is about 4,000,000,000 per annum. The number of bricklayers is about 56,000, thus giving only 240 bricks per day for each bricklayer. That is not a workman's point of view,' but a master builder's. Many bricklayers are, of course, doing other work, such as setting stoves, laying drains, etc., but if you write down one-third of the men as engaged on other work, that leaves only 350 bricks per day available for each man. Therefore, we have to face not only the question of price in regard to bricks, but the question of production. I think if the right hon. Gentleman will examine the reports of his inter-departmental committee, to which I have referred, he will find that there are other records which show that, in regard to the brick industry, although it cannot be demonstrated that establishment charges and costs of producticn have gone up in the particular period, and although there has been in that period a large increase in production, there has been no corresponding reduction in price to the user of bricks. There is only one way, in our judgment, to deal with that, and that is to have powers in the hands of the Minister, conferred upon him by Parliament, to do two things—first of all, to warn the people concerned, on the information obtained, what is the position, and if they fail to meet the situation, then to go in and produce the bricks for yourselves, in order that we may house our population. Let us look at another question. One of the most important items used now in the erection of houses is cement, and perhaps there is no separate industry producing building materials which is more highly trustified in this country to-day than the producers of cement. What is the position there? Again, let me quote from this manuscript of the book which is to be published— Another commodity which has always failed to meet any intensive demand is cement and very similar conditions obtain in that, industry. The manufacture and supply is largely in the hands of one huge over capitalised 'combine,' and although the Trade Facilities Committee recently, after first declining to do so, have given some assistance to new works, the Government attitude "— That is, the present attitude— is mainly one of apathy towards increased production Let me support that statement about the real trouble with cement. I quote from the "Economist" of 11th April, from the Report of the 26th Ordinary General Meeting of the Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers. What did the Chairman say at that meeting? Their greatest difficulty they had to deal with was the high capitalisation of the company, and this, shareholders would realise, was a burden which the management had to carry, but for which they were not responsible. The company started with works which were obsolescent, paid too much for them, then in addition paid £200,000 for rotary kiln patents which afforded no protection against its competitors. Thus burdened it had the misfortune to encounter early a period of lean years … The over-capitalisation must have been obvious then "— The folly of private enterprise! but no reconstruction was proposed when such a policy was practicable, and these adverse factors were felt to-day, although with diminished force. Those of us who have had some experience in the purchase of cement for use in the building industry know that in consequence of that position they do control the supply and fix prices in a rigid way. What is more: I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that they have different schedules of prices, according to the position of the different people who use the cement in their trade, so that you get a differentiation of costs. The right hon. Gentleman, if he will allow me to give him the credit for it, is a straightforward, honest Protectionist, who never hides his light under a bushel in that respect. As a matter of fact in some of these cases, if it had not been for an opportunity for the free import of cement into this country, the position would have been even worse than it is to-day.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Neville Chamberlain)

I never run my theories to the death.


Let me put this point. I know a case where a large order was placed for cement. A price was quoted, and it was recognised that that price was not the lowest price. A much better price was obtained by getting the importation of a load from Belgian cement manufacturers, and by so doing it was demonstrated what would happen unless those concerned came to a better frame of mind.


Did they come down?


In that case, yes. But there are many other uncatalogued cases which are known. Let me refer to another point in which my right hon. Friend might pay some attention, and which has been dealt with by the Committee of which I have been a Member. I am now speaking of the operations of the body known as The Light Castings Association. There is an inquiry going on, about the increase of prices this year, and it would be wrong for me to make any comment at all on it, because such inquiry is at presentsub judice.But, briefly, I may say something with regard to what has happened before this year, and let me say that it demonstrates conclusively to my mind that this great combine operates in such a way as to give protection to the least efficient producer in the ring. You get a level price fixed which will secure a profit to the merchant who is absolutely inefficient. The public have to pay, and the State has to pay more in consequence. How does the right hon. Gentleman propose to deal with that unless he comes to Parliament and takes powers on the lines that are proposed in this Bill? The Committee that reported last year said that the 10 per cent was put upon prices of the commodities of the Light Castings Association, because, it was said, of disturbances in the Ruhr. Because of disturbances in the Ruhr the price of pig iron had gone up from somewhere in the neighbourhood of 95s. or 96s. per ton to 127s. 6d.

In the course of our investigations last year 1 think it was admitted by the representatives of the Association that when the effect of the disturbances in the Ruhr had passed away and the price of pig iron had fallen, they would have to take into account the re-fixing of prices for those commodities which have been increased in price. But what are the facts? Why, in a very few months after, the disturbances in the Ruhr had ceased, and the price of pig iron had dropped from 127s. 6d. per ton to 96s. per ton—round about the level, in some cases, at the time of the Occupation—there was no reduction in the price of the castings, and so far as I know no reconsideration of the situation. That is the kind of thing which can always be engineered by a ring or a trust of this kind which exercises a substantial monopoly in the production or distribution of any of these essentials of the life of the people. Moreover, there is another aspect of this question to which I would call attention. Last year at the time I was at the Board of Trade, I had a letter from Buenos Ayres—I thought I had it with me, but I will show it to the Minister if he desires—which dealt with this point. It stated that those concerned were interested to notice that at last the Government of this country was going to deal with the question of rings in the building industry, and that they had evidence, and could produce evidence, that the people in this country in the building materials trade were regularly supplying other countries with commodities required for housing at lower prices than charged in this country. In regard to several essential things required in the building industry there was charged 25 per cent. less for the goods delivered, say, in Alexandria, Egypt. carriage paid, than was charged in this country.


Can you say what they were?


Earthenware and similar materials. If I might put it to the right hon. Gentleman that is another evidence of the need of a Bill of this kind to deal with the situation. He shakes his head. Let me give him another case put to me by builders' merchants. I should like very much to be able to give him my authority, but because of the operations of the Association of Builders' Merchants it would be fatal to my informant to mention his name. He tells me that in many cases to-day in regard to the supply of earthenware, such as drain pipes and so on, many qualities of goods that used to be made available for certain cases of housing work are now scrapped as soon as made in order to keep up the price of the other articles. That has an effect not only upon the housing industry, but upon the agricultural industry, which had been in the habit of using a cheaper class of pipes produced in the kiln— (for you cannot guarantee a level quality of pipe made in one kiln) —for draining and other agricultural purposes.

There is another point I should like to make before I sit down. An hon. Member has said that last year the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) paid a kind and generous tribute to the rings operating in the building industry. I think if the hon. Member will read the whole of the text of that speech he will see that there was reason for the statement that was made. But there are many others who think that the generosity of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston went further than was necessary. He took the step in order to get some measure of agreement, and fixed as a level those prices operating on the 1st January, 1924. In regard to some of the commodities, many of us who have looked into the matter carefully say he was exceedingly generous to the manufacturers. Yet since then there have been one or two instances where the prices have been increased. I think and I hope that the great majority of the producers of building materials who were concerned in the agreement with the Minister of Health will desire to keep to their bargain, and to act quite honestly from that point of view; but the point of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor was this: "I make a bargain with the producers of building materials, but in order that we may be perfectly certain that we are going to secure the public interest in regard to the expenditure of public money, I must ask Parliament, on behalf of the State, to give us powers which will operate immediately, without undue delay, in regard to any abuses, either by a member of the trade who is a party to the agreement, or by anybody else concerned in the supply of building materials." I submit that this Measure is one which, if taken in the right spirit and worked in the public interest, will help very considerably to cheapen the cost of housing materials. and will help to secure for us that large increase of house production which is so essential to the interests and the life of the people.


I do not propose to keep the House very many minutes, but I think it will be convenient if I intervene now, to reply to the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed us, and to make quite clear what is the position of the Government in this matter. The Bill before the House is identical with that introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley). We much regret that he is not here to-day in order to justify the Bill, but we have the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. A. Greenwood) who, no doubt, will know his mind thoroughly, and will be able to answer one or two observations which I shall address to him as representing the right hon. Gentleman. I think it will be agreed that nobody has a greater interest in keeping down the price of houses and, incidentally, the prices of anything which affects the price of houses, than the individual who happens for the time being to be Minister of Health. We have pledged ourselves to a great increase in the production of houses. I have gone so far as to say that I think the existence of the Government depends upon our being able to bring about a considerable increase in the production of houses. That increase is inevitably bound up with the cost, because the rising cost, the constantly rising cost of houses, wrecked the Addison scheme, and put back the whole production of houses in this country for a considerable period of time.

Therefore, no one has a greater interest than I have in seeing that prices do not go up, and my examination of the Bill before the House is not governed by any theoretical considerations as to whether it is Socialism or is not Socialism, but is governed simply by the consideration whether this Bill is likely to achieve the purposes for which it is nominally designed. I think everybody will agree that the Bill is of a very drastic character. We are not in War time now. Conditions are absolutely different from what they were in War time. We are dealing with times which, I suppose, we must call normal, or sub-normal, and, indeed, this Bill is not confined to any particular period, but is destined to be a permanent part of our Statutes.

It begins by providing that the Minister of Health may make a prima facie representation to the President of the Board of Trade that, in his opinion, the price of any article required for the purpose of building houses is unreasonable. I dare say that different Ministers of Health may have different ideas as to what is reasonable or unreasonable. It is a curious thing, to my mind, that nothing is laid down in this Clause to give any sort of guidance or direction to the Minister of Health as to how he is to form his judgment. There is no provision for reference to any standard, there is no idea of setting up any body of experts who might help the Minister with their advice and practical knowledge; he is, apparently, to make up his own mind as best he can, according to the facts before him, and according also, possibly, to any preconceived notions he may have. After representations have been made to him the President of the Board of Trade may then descend upon any business which is concerned with the production or distribution of the article in question—it may be a manufacturer, it may be an importer, it may be a merchant, it may be a shop-keeper—and make an investigation, and for that purpose he is to have very considerable powers. He may call for books and examine witnesses; and from time to time throughout this Bill we find the statement that any person who is a little recalcitrant in this matter is to be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £100, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to both fine and imprisonment. They are heavy penalties. I am not saying they are too heavy, I am not arguing that, I am merely pointing out that they are heavy penalties.

That is not all. Supposing the Minister of Health has an idea as to the reasonableness of prices which does not commend itself to the trader or to the manufacturer whose business is being investigated. Supposing this trader or manufacturer says," If I am to accept the price which the President of the Board of Trade has fixed "—for he has the power to fix a price after his investigation—" I shall be ruined." At any rate, he may say "It is not worth my while to carry on business on those lines." It occurred to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston that there might be a closing down of the business and a consequent diminution in the supply of the articles. He thought of a way out, and in Clause 3 it is provided that in that case the Minister may come in and take possession of the business, may commandeer the stock, and may run the business as a State concern. Further, it is provided that when this commandeering takes place, no compensation is to be paid to the person whose business is taken from him for any loss of profits he may thereby suffer. That is rather a drastic proposal. What did the right hon. Gentleman say to the manufacturers of building materials in February, 1924? Addressing some of the manufacturers he said "We are giving stability to your industry to enable people to put capital into the business with confidence." A strange way of giving confidence to an industry—to tell people that if they choose this particular industry, for this does not apply to all industries, but only to one particular industry—




Does the hon. Member say the business is subsidised? Perhaps he will explain.


Surely this is an industry which is very largely concerned with the production of materials for the great housing project which is subsidised by the State. The State subsidy to housing is a direct help to the producers of building materials.


I would like to ask what is going to be the effect upon the man who has capital to invest, and who is considering into what industry he will put his money? He will say, "Here is a subsidised industry, in which I am liable to all these extraordinary visitations, and I may have to deal with the Minister of Health, who may have no knowledge of business. If he thinks my prices are too high, he can get the President of the Board of Trade to hold an investigation, and if he thinks the prices are too high, then the President can fix them, and he will not give me any compensation for loss of profits." In those circumstances I think I would rather put my money in an industry which is not subsidised. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said: I will try to avoid as far as possible bureaucratic control, and I want to put the control as far as possible on the industry itself. That was in February, but all the time he was plotting this little Bill, which was going to take the control out of the hands of the industry and put it into the hands of the bureaucracy. These powers are so drastic that they should not apply unless you are able to make out a very powerful case. You have to justify them by showing that the particular industry which you are going to single out in this particular way is so abusing its functions and powers that it requires special and exceptional treatment of this kind. What justification is there for any such treatment? I submit there is absolutely none.


It is not my habit to ask Ministers to give way, and I apologise for doing so now. There are just two points I want the right hon. Gentleman to answer before he sits down. Will he reply to the points put in regard to the findings of the Inter-Departmental Committee? The other question I would like the right hon. Gentleman to answer is with regard to the Light Castings Association, and I hope he will answer those two questions. His own Inter-Departmental Committee found last year that there is no longer justification for the maintenance of existing prices by the National Light Castings Association.


Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will have a little more patience. I shall come to that subject at a later stage. I was not proposing to sit down, but I seem to have given the hon. and gallant Gentleman the opportunity of making two speeches instead of one. I was saying that there was no evidence which justified an exceptional treatment of this industry. I observe that in Sub-section (4) of Clause 1 of this Bill there is this provision: Whenever it appears to the Board that an Order so made is ineffective to prevent the excessive charges which have been the subject of the representation, the Board may make an Order extending the first mentioned Order to all or any persons whose business is carried on in any specified area or so as to apply universally. I think this is the first time it has been proposed that the Board of Trade should make an order to comprise the universe. I am not going to deal with the case of timber, but with regard to other articles I would like to remind the House of a point which has already been touched upon by an hon. Member opposite. We have heard of an agreement being made by the late Minister of Health with the building material manufacturers, but when they found a Bill of this kind was contemplated, naturally they said that there must be some sort of indication of the lines upon which the right hon. Gentleman was going to proceed, and that there must be some assurance that prices above some sort of level will not be considered unreasonable, and therefore the right hon. Gentleman said he would take the prices ruling in January, 1924, and he laid down that those should be the reasonable prices.

On one side the manufacturers agreed that they would not alter those prices except in so far as alterations might be necessitated by increased or 1.0 P.M. decreased cost over which they had no control. On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman undertook to put a Clause in this Bill before it passed through Committee providing that in any investigation as to what were reasonable or unreasonable prices, any excess of the ruling prices in January, 1924, would not be considered unreasonable. The employers have carried out their part of the agreement in the letter and in the spirit, but where has that agreement been carried out in this Bill? I am astonished that no such Clause has been put in, because obviously that alters the whole position. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion for the Second Reading based his case largely upon the difference between the prices to-day and the prices in 1924, but after what I have said the House will see that in the opinion of the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) the basis we had to go on was the difference between the prices to-day and the prices in January, 1924.


We did not contemplate then adopting the gold standard.


I do not think we need consider that point. Let me pick out the prices in order that the House may see that the statement I made that prices have not altered to any great extent since January, 1924, is correct, in one or two cases where they have been affected by those changes in the cost to which I have referred. Take for example Fletton bricks. An hon. Member opposite spoke about glazed bricks, but they are not used in housebuilding. [An HON. MEMBER: "They ought to be."] Unfortunately, we are talking about what is, and not what ought to be, and glazed bricks are not used at all. The price for Fletton bricks in January, 1924, was 55s. 3d. per 1,000, and it is the same price now. Portland cement was 60s. per ton in January, 1924, and to-day the price ranges from 58s. to 63s. 6d. Timber was £24 10s. per standard in 1924 and it is £23 to-day. Therefore the price of timber is about the same. Lead was £40 per ton in 1924 and it is £45 to-day. That is one of the things that have gone up and that is due to world conditions and not to any conditions in this country. Cast-iron rain-water pipes were 2s. 4½d in 1924, and they are about the same to-day. Linseed oil was 4s. 3d. per gallon in 1924, and it is now 4s. 2d. Slates were £25 in 1924 and to-day they are £25 12s. 6d. That shows that there is practically no change since January, 1924. and that, therefore, if this Bill were carried in its present form, and if the Clause which the right hon. Gentleman promised to insert were inserted, there would be no case for these additional powers. To put on the Statute Book a Bill which so seriously threatens stability and confidence in an important industry of this kind is to take altogether unwarrantable risks in the circumstances of the case.

I have said, and I say it again, that the policy of the Government is quite clear and plain in this matter. It is essential for our purpose that the situation should not be exploited by any section of the community to the disadvantage of the whole. When we were in office in 1923; we expressed the opinion which has been quoted by the hon. Member, that the best safeguard against such exploitation was full publicity. We appointed a Committee, of which the hon. Gentleman himself is one of the most distinguished members, to watch prices, and not merely to watch them, as hon. Members opposite often say with derision, but to publish them; and the effect of the appointment of that Committee has been extraordinarily successful.

I do not know whether there are some hon. Members here who were not Members of the House in 1923, but those who were will recollect the prophecies that were freely made at that time as to how the whole of the subsidy was going to disappear in another ramp in prices, which was going to defeat completely the object we had in view. But it did not do so. On the contrary, prices remained extraordinarily steady, and I think one might almost say that it was only when the late Government came into office that they began to show signs of rising. In January, 1924, when they took office, the average cost of a non-parlour house was £386. In February it rose to £389, in March to £417, and I think one may say that it steadily rose until October, when it got to the peak, to £451. Of course, there was a change at about that time, and in November the price came down to £436. In December it was £440, and in January it was £438, while during the last three months it has been £439. There has been an extraordinary steadiness in the price since the present Government came into office, due, I think, entirely to the confidence which is felt in the present Government. I say again that, if we felt that any section of those concerned in the production of houses were exploiting a monopoly in such a way as to raise the prices of houses to an extravagant extent, we should feel it our duty, as well as our interest, to come down to this House and ask for powers to deal with what we should consider was an unsocial action. This Bill, however, is perfectly hopeless. It could not possibly have the effect. that it purports to have, while it might have a very serious effect in decreasing production, and, probably, therefore, afterwards increasing the prices of the materials which it is sought to control.


The right hon. Gentleman, towards the end of his speech; ventured to assert that the prophecies which were made from this corner in 1923, as to the effect of his Act of that year, had been falsified by the event. He gave some figures, but he did not give the real and relevant figures. If he will look back through the pages of the OFFICIAL. REPORT, and read the answers of himself or his representatives as to the average prices of non-parlour and parlour houses, and the rise in the average prices from the beginning of October, 1923, when that Act really began to take effect, to a date three or four months after, he will find that those prophecies were most amply fulfilled, and that practically every penny of the subsidy had been absorbed entirely by the various departments of the building trade.

My real point is that this House would absolutely stultify itself if it were to pass this Bill, and for this reason: We have adopted the plan of giving subsidies to the building industry in order to get more houses built. The whole essence of that plan, the whole theory upon which it is based, is the idea that houses are not being built in sufficient quantities because the price of houses is not sufficiently high to induce people to build them. Therefore, under these subsidy schemes, we raise the normal price which is offered for a house, in order to induce people to build more houses. In other words, the subsidy is deliberately intended to increase the cost of building in order to produce more houses. Having passed that by overwhelming majorities—I believe I am the only person in this House who has consistently opposed it time and again—having passed a Bill based on that principle by enormous majorities, is this House now going to stultify itself by passing a Bill to prevent that rise in prices from taking place? That is really the whole point of this Second Reading Debate.

This suggestion, which I have made again and again in this House, that any subsidy policy in relation to houses is based upon that principle of raising the prices of houses, so that builders may be induced to build more, has never yet been answered either in this House or outside. I only regret that I did not get the opportunity this afternoon of getting in before the right hon. Gentleman himself, because I might then, perhaps, have asked him to reply to that argument, which he has never attempted to do yet, a neglect on his part which has given rise to very considerable comment among his supporters behind him. That being the case, I would submit, particularly to my friends on the Labour Benches, that, having adopted this policy, rightly or wrongly—wrongly in my opinion, but rightly in the opinion of the whole of the rest of the House of Commons—at any rate do not let us prevent that policy from having its effect by preventing the rise in prices which is the whole object of that policy.


I should like straight away to take up the point that has been raised by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson). His logic is not so sound as, apparently, he imagines it to be. He says that, because we have introduced the policy of subsidising the building of houses in order to keep down costs, now, if we pass this particular Bill, we shall stultify ourselves by doing so. I want to submit to the hon. Member for Mossley that this Bill may do two things: it may alarm the people who are at present engaged in the production of materials for building, but it may also enable the State to get possession of those industries which are producing the necessary materials for building houses, because it is provided in the Bill itself that, if the existing brick manufacturers and other manufacturers fail to carry out their businesses on the State taking action, then the State may exercise its powers under the Bill and may take over the businesses and run them for the benefit of the community. Therefore, the objection of the hon. Member for Mossley falls to the ground, because this second alternative, by which the State can take over the businesses, would neutralise any alarm which capital might experience from the fact that the State was proposing to restrict its profits.


If the hon. Member would allow me to interrupt him, he announced at the beginning of his speech that he was going to refute my arguments. I will wait here until he does, but I hope he will begin soon.


Nature has endowed the hon. Member with hearing; if it has not treated him quite generously in understanding, that is not my fault. The Minister of Health wanted to know why it was that this particular industry had been selected for this experiment in the restriction of prices. As Minister of Health, he ought to know the reason, but as, apparently, he does not, I will tell him what it is. The. reason is to be found in the tragic position in which great masses of the people of this country find themselves in regard to housing accommodation. When you have, as you have to-day, millions of our people living three, four, five and six in a room, and living under these horrible conditions because they are unable to get better accommodation, it is time the State took every possible step it could in order to remedy these conditions. We have had it from the mouth of the Minister of Health himself that the high cost of building has restricted the production of houses. He said it was that fact which torpedoed the Addison Act and the Acts which followed it. If we can establish the point that unnecessarily high prices are prevailing in the building industry, that, as a consequence, the building of houses is being seriously restricted, and that, again as a consequence, our people are being compelled to live in conditions which are not fit for animals, then I say we have every justification for taking this step in regard to this industry, and restricting, so far as we possibly can, the cost of building materials. That is the reason why this industry has been selected as against any other industry.

I would like to go further, and say that an hon. Member who spoke earlier in the Debate was probably right when he assumed that, if we had this Bill on the Statute Book and operating effectively, it would only be a first step. We should use the effectiveness of this Measure as a demonstration to the people that, not only in regard to building materials, which are a necessary for the people, but in regard to other necessaries, we would take similar action in order that the necessities of the people might not be exploited for the sake of private profit. This Measure is undoubtedly a very important innovation, but I and, I think, the Labour party as a whole stand by the proposition that the people must have certain elementary necessities. They must be housed, they must have foodstuffs, they must have clothing, they must have footwear, and all these things, in our opinion, should he provided for the people of this country at the lowest possible price. If we find that there are either combines or trusts, or whatever other aggregations of capital may be mentioned, which are operating to extort from the people for their ordinary common necessaries unwarrantable prices, then I would say that the State is entitled to step in and prevent this exploitation from taking place.

The Minister of Health made a point about a promise which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) that in this Measure there should be inserted a Clause whereby the profits which were obtaining on 1st January, 1924, should be the basic line, and that profits not exceeding that figure should not be considered excessive. "Therefore," he said, "Why should this Bill be brought forward, because there is not the slightest possibility of this profit of 1924 being exceeded." If that really be the case, if he is convinced that his friends connected with the building supply industry are never going to make more profits than those which obtained in January, 1924, why should he be at all perturbed at the prospect of the Bill being put upon the Statute Book, because it is carefully provided that no action shall be taken unless, in the opinion of the Minister of Health, more than reasonable prices are being charged. You have it on the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston that the prices that were being charged in January, 1924, might be taken as being reasonable. We are not only concerned with the present. We are concerned with the future. We do not want in 12 months' or two years' time, or even a longer period than that, the building of houses to be impeded by the prevalence of excessive prices. Therefore, we are legislating not only for the present but for the future, and the House ought to be prepared to say that it is just and reasonable, because houses are so necessary, that no combination of persons should be allowed to get together and extort unreasonable profits from that common necessity, and if this Measure were passed there would be no danger of the trouble arising which the right hon. Gentleman spoke about just now because, having laid down that as a reasonable standard—and apparently the building material suppliers say they are satisfied with it —they could carry on their business, and they would be in no danger whatever of interference from the State.

This idea of controlling prices by the State is not a new one. We exercised a very considerable amount of control during the War in the interest of the people as a whole. We felt it was necessary that they should not be exploited by people who had it in their power to ex- ploit them. The Minister of Health said "that was in the days of the War. There is no war now." It depends on the point of view you take. There may not be an actual international war at present, but in my judgment, looking around from my experience in this House and elsewhere, there certainly is a war still going on in the country. It is a kind of economic war, a war between the employers and the capitalists and the great mass of the people who have to work for wages, and in that war the great mass of the people are being very badly worsted. They are being made to live in housing conditions and on wages which are a disgrace to civilisation. So I say, and most of my friends on this side say, there is a war of that kind, and in those circumstances, in view of the tremendous casualties which are being inflicted on the working classes, we are entitled even to-day to take legislative steps which may be said to be applicable only to war conditions, and because I believe that in regard to this question of housing the House of Commons, if it really represents the mind of the people, ought to be willing to take any and every step necessary in order to provide an abundant supply of houses for the people, a Measure like this, restricting the profits which can be made out of housing, is justifiable and is demanded by the great mass of the people, and I hope the House is going to pass it. If it does not pass it, we shall be able to go up and down the country on public platforms and tell the people who are crying out for houses, who come to us with stories about living 10 in a room, that when we tried to induce the House of Commons to put a bar upon the profits that are being made out of their necessity by those who supply the materials for building houses, the, House of Commons was not prepared to do it; and when we are able to say that truthfully, I am certain we shall be able to raise up a great deal of resentment which will find very full expression when the judgment, of the country is appealed to on the next occasion.


I rise with a certain amount of diffidence in a Debate of this sort, because I may say at once that companies of which I am a director are manufacturers of building material and possibly —I hope it may not be so—I may render myself liable to the awful penalties which are in this Bill. I hope I may not be sent down for three months, as I am told I may be if prices are not reduced below what they are at present, because hon. Members opposite are always saying these prices are too high. It is very difficult to analyze the minds of hon. Members opposite as to what is profiteering and what is a reasonable price. If you quote a company that is up-to-date and favorably situated compared with other companies, and is paying 15 per cent., they say that is profiteering. If you take another company, say the Associated Portland Cement. Combine about which one hears so much, which did not pay a dividend last year or the year before, they say, "Watered capital. ' So it seems that you may get put in prison for watered capital and you may get put in prison for keeping your factory up-to-date and making 15 per cent. This Bill is only necessary if the case of profiteering is proved, and as far as I have been able to gather from the Debate, no case has been made out for profiteering in building material. I am a member of the Industrial Council of the Clay Trade and President of the Clay Workers' Institute, and am interested in coal and clay concerns, and my influence in the direction of moderation in prices may be considerable. But I hold no brief for anyone who charges an unreasonable price for any material used for building houses, which under the appalling conditions we live in to-day are so necessary.

When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) launched his great housing scheme, which was going to bring about a new state of affairs, he approached three different classes of people. He approached the operatives and said, "We do not want you to take undue advantage of the shortage of housing." In fact he said, "We do not want you, because of State necessity. to immediately go forward with claims for increased wages. We want you to do your best." He went to the builders and said, "We do not want you, because of the State's necessity and because there is a subsidy, to endeavour to extract more profit out of the necessities of the State." They said, "We will meet you as far as we can, but it is these wicked people, the building material manufacturers who really are the key to the whole situation. You must go to them." He went to them, and I think all the speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston tend to show that he was met fairly. Indeed, he said on occasion that be was met generously by the manufacturers of building material. A pledge was given, and it is being adhered to to-day insofar as the Associations can insist on it being adhered to, that there should be no increase in the price of building material beyond the prices ruling on 1st January, 1924, unless there was an increase in wages or in coal or any other raw material. Further than that, a section of the building material trade have actually paid increased wages and have not increased the price of goods. The London Brick Company has been quoted. They are probably the biggest manufacturers of Fletton bricks. They have actually paid during the last year an increase in wages amounting to 17 per cent., and they have not increased the price of bricks.


Are they Members of the Joint Industrial Council?


I do not think they are. I believe they have an organisation of their own now. But you say they have made big profits. One hon. Member opposite suggested 30 per cent. As a matter of fact they have paid 15 per cent. They are a very up-to-date concern. Why should they not? Prices for Fletton bricks are not double what they were before the War. I will undertake to say that the wages paid in the Peterborough district to-day are from two and a-half to three times what they were before the War.


What are they now?


I should think the minimum figure in Peterborough to-day is something like 50s. That is probably understating it. In the brick trade before the War, there being no demand for bricks, trade was very depressed and wages were abominably low. The formation of associations governning the manufacture and price of bricks have, I believe, enabled workmen to have a better time in the building material trade than they had before the War, when they were scandalously paid. The point I was making is that there was no assurance given by the operatives in the building trade, the bricklayers plasterers and carpenters, that they would help the right hon. Member for Shettleston. Hon. Members talk about building bricks being too dear because they are 50, 60, 70 or, if you like, 100 per cent. above the pre-War price, but they say nothing about the increased cost of laying bricks.

I know something about buildings and about engineering bricks, and I can say that it costs three or four times as much to lay bricks as it did in pre-War days. If you were basing a price for carrying out a contract with engineering bricks, or on a housing scheme, you would have to allow three times more for labour costs for the. laying of the bricks. The right hon. Gentleman got no assurance from the operatives that they would do any more work, or that they would cease to make demands for increased wages. During the last year there was a slight increase in the building trade wages, and a demand was made for more. The whole history of this question shows that the building material manufacturers have been reasonable. As soon as they are not reasonable, and it can be proved that they are not reasonable, and that they are making unreasonable profits, spread over a period of years, any Minister of Health would be justified in coming forward and bringing in a Bill of this sort.


That is what the Bill says.


To-day, there is no evidence that the prices charged are unreasonable. There is no evidence that the manufacturers are not playing the game, and are not being honest with the consumer. It has been said that there is very little honesty among the manufacturers of building materials. They are probably as honest as any other manufacturers, and probably as honest as any workmen, or as honest as any trade union. Honesty is not confined to one particular class. It does not seem to be known properly by a good many Members opposite that the manufacturers of building materials only send a comparatively small proportion of their output to housing schemes, except in the case of bricks. Bricks are not everything that is used in the building of a house. A very small proportion of cement manufactured in this country is used for house building. Are you going to control the cement trade, because 10 or 15 per cent., or even 20 per cent., of the cement manufactured in this country goes for housing schemes?

Is it not a proof that the prices of cement are reasonable, that cement is exported from this country, and that many other building materials are exported? I happen to be interested as a director of a firm which beat the Germans in the South American market last year and this year in drainpipes for the City of Buenos Aires. We got large orders in the face of German competition, and in spite of the fact that in addition to ring prices the cost was plus the freight and plus the insurance. That is first-hand proof that the prices of that commodity, which is only used in this country to a certain extent in housing, are reasonable, and that the ring price is the world price. Our associations have always acted in a reasonable spirit. They have not acted in that way because they desire to be philanthropic. I would not like to give the House that idea of the associations. They have acted in that way because it is the business way, taking the long view. They know that if they charge unreasonable prices, eventually, supply and demand is bound to operate, just in the same way as during the Addison régime prices soared up under a sort of control of which hon. Members opposite would probably approve. There was a Department of Building Materials Supplies, which controlled building materials, and yet prices soared up. To-day they are not much more than half of what they were then. Dr. Addison resigned, and the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond), who became Minister of Health, said, "If cottages in this country are going to cost £1,000, we will have no more of them until the prices come down." Therefore, no housing schemes were put forward for a short period, stocks accumulated, prices came down, and everything was deflated, and to-day you can build a cottage at about half the price that you had to pay when Dr. Addison was Minister of Health under the Coalition Government.

Hon. Members say that there is a shortage of building materials. I am told that in Scotland stocks, of bricks in particular, are accumulating. I do not think there is really a shortage in England. The difficulty in regard to the heavy trades, including in particular the brick trade, is transport. There may be bricks available in one place but not in another. Generally speaking, I do not think there is any shortage. The bricks can certainly be manufactured in this country as fast as the bricklayers who exist at the present time can lay them. If any scheme is to be brought forward to increase the number of bricklayers either by upgrading or by modifying or doing away to some extent with the question of apprenticeship, there may be many more bricklayers, and the question of finding bricks may arise. At the present time, it does not arise.

It is rather striking, when we consider a Bill of this sort, that you can bring bricks from Fletton, buy them at the yard, and deliver them at the London station cheaper, or as cheaply, as they can be laid by bricklayers and labourers in the average house in London. You can get Fletton bricks to-day for 35s. per thousand in the yard. The price at King's Cross Station is 53s. 3d. I think that it takes about 50s. for a bricklayer and a bricklayer's labourer to lay those bricks. [HON. MEMBERS: "No !"] We will say that a bricklayer and a bricklayer's labourer in London lay 500 bricks in a day of eight hours, and we will put one labourer to one bricklayer. We will say that between them they get 3s. an hour, which is not over-estimating it. The bricklayer may have 1s. 9d. or 1s. 8d., and the labourer may have 1s. 3d. or 1s. 4d. an hour. If they work eight hours in a day they will receive 24s. for laying 500 bricks, or 48s. for laying 1,000 bricks, assuming that one bricklayer has one labourer.


That is an assumption.


It is an assumption which is generally carried out. I am interested in a firm employing bricklayers, and one bricklayer's labourer serves one bricklayer. This is a general test, and I have probably under-estimated the cost, because I do not think that the bricklayers to-day building houses lay 500 bricks. To my mind the number is more like 350 or 400. The point which I wish to make is that the prices of building materials are reasonable. I hold no brief for any unreasonable prices of any articles in connection with houses, and if it could be shown that there is any profiteering, not as understood by hon. Members opposite—because they would probably say that if you make 5 per cent. over a period of years you were profiteering, and that if you did not pay a dividend you had watered capital—but profiteering as it is generally understood by people of all shades in the country, then would be the time for the Minister to bring in a Measure. I was very glad to hear from him that he does not propose at the present time to bring in any such Measure, and that he does not think that there is any undue profiteering, and I hope that when there is any profiteering a Bill will be brought forward and put through.


What we are really discussing to-day is the suggestion that by arrangements either of purveyors of building materials, or of those associated in building, there is a lessening of the production of houses. So to a certain degree we are considering also the abuse of trusts as well as trading arrangements in reference to this vital problem, namely, the supply of houses. To my mind this Bill is shorn of its usefulness by the fact that it deals with only one single section of the subject. In connection with the supply of houses there is the question of the land itself, the vending of the land, its preparation and lay out. There is the question of the contractor, the employer of labour, and there is also the consideration of the employé. There is lastly the question of the manufacturer and vendor of the materials. I cannot see my way to support this Bill because it touches only one issue. It is only one small portion of the larger question containing also each of the three sections which I have specified which are a necessary and proper part.

There is another view to be considered. It has been said in the Debate to-day that there has been an increase of price in certain materials used in house building. But there is another aspect of the matter as to which nothing has been said. I wonder if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite know how much more we are paying in respect to other vital essentials in house building by reason of the fact that British manufacturers, after their long fight against foreign sweated labour and high home taxation, have left the field in some actions defeated, and that owing to the competition the supply of these articles is now entirely in the hands of foreign manufacturers. No one, either building expert or any Ministry of Health, has ever given British public a knowledge of the extra amount we are paying by reason of the fact that we are compelled to buy certain essentials for houses from foreign countries because our own manufacturers have been compelled to go out of business on account of foreign illegitimate competition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Such as? "] In such articles as 13, 14 and 15 oz. window glass, steel butts and hinges for cottage houses, cheap types of rim latches and furniture for cupboards and doors, oval and round wire nails for the fixing of floors and flooring joists. In the comparison between Scottish and French glue, owing to the driving out of the English makers of these goods, we are now paying to the foreigner prices which are higher than we should have had to pay had we encouraged our English makers to produce that which they could produce, aided by skilled employés.

The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) has advanced the argument that the law of supply and demand would re-adjust the position, and to a certain degree I am in agreement with him. But we have killed the craftsmen in these industries the men produced these articles, hence the years that would evolve before again we could operate even with good support. There is a splendid group of makers who can make English plate glass 3/16-inch, ¼-inch, 5/16-inch, and ⅜-inch, and those of us who had the privilege of visiting the Wembley Exhibition last year were able to see there some of the finest examples of plate glass in the world made in this country. But owing to foreign competition, we have killed the 13, 14 and 15 ounce ordinary plain cottage house glass-making industry in this country, and we have driven the craftsmen out of the country.

On the same point, namely, the higher prices of certain sections of building materials with regard to cottage houses and general housebuilding, we have to face to-day the fact that in the production of houses, the law of "Thou shalt, and thou shalt not," is not going to produce houses.

I am not a lawyer though I have a great respect for lawyers and have in one's family members of such profession. There is no law, and no legislation which will compel the production of houses in this country. I want to plead now, as I invariably plead, for a spirit of fair play in every section of British life dealing with this need. Something has been said as to there not being a real opportunity for any section of the community until houses are provided for the people. I entirely agree. In its common life this nation is built upon its home life. The strength of our nation is in its home life. 1 know fairly well every country in Europe—some of them fairly well, some of them very practically and some of them, perhaps, academically. But psychologically as a nation we are different from all other nations, and we cannot progress until that home life which is so vital to us is once more lifted to the high state in which it was centuries ago. I cannot see my way to support this Bill. It covers only one small phase of the problem. It does not touch the cheapening of materials which to-day are in the grip of foreign suppliers. I hope that the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, and introduced it fairly and reasonably, will see their way to withdraw it, so that we may get a comprehensive measure which will cover the whole of the phases of the problem. By common agreement rather than by legislation, by common agreement amongst purveyors of building materials, producers of building materials and contractors and employés and land owners, and by encouraging materials now purchased abroad to come from home markets. I hope we may so formulate our plans as to bring rapid dispatch to that which is so essential, namely, proper living accommodation for the working classes of the country.


I regret that the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Wragg) has left his place. I would not like the suggestion that there had been accusations of personal dishonesty against building contractors and material manufacturers from these benches to pass without some reply. I would assure the hon. Member that I do not think there is anyone on this side of the House who wishes to bring charges of that kind. I can quite understand, and I have a considerable amount of sympathy with, the attitude which the hon. Member adopted. It is extraordinarly difficult to tell where definite profit-making stops and where profiteering begins. We live under a system, and I think the hon. Member for Penrith (Mr. Dixey) in his usual staccato manner put the matter fairly. Unlimited piracy is the rule and the motto by which the system works. The man who can make large profits is not to be blamed, is not personally dishonest: 2.0 P.M. he is merely carrying out in a very efficient manner the method by which society is run at the present time. When we endeavour to place limits to undue profit-making, we are not saying that the people who make those profits are personally misbehaving themselves, but that the time has come when the system which is supported by hon. Gentlemen opposite should be restricted in the interests of the people of this country. The people have to be saved from the power of the strong head, or, what is more often the case, the power of the deep purse. The people must be protected from that as fully as they are protected from the man who has the stronger arm or body.

The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) said he was convinced by the "Daily Mail" that Socialism was not the best thing for the country. From some of the speeches to which I have listened, I should have thought that that was the source of his economic knowledge. I, too, have read the Daily Mail," and it helped very considerably, though not entirely, to make me begin to think that the present system was hopelessly inadequate and that we must find some better way of conducting our national life. The things that impressed me most in the "Daily Mail" were the things that probably Members of all parties have seen—the excellent sketches of Mr. Dilly and Mr. Daily. Since I have been in the House of Commons I have begun to realise the truth and the inner meaning of those sketches, why nothing ever is done Time after time I hear Members of the Labour party bringing forward Resolutions, Motions and private Bills containing, more or less perfectly, suggestions for alleviating grievances and troubles which everyone outside this House knows do exist. People in the country who vote for hon. Members opposite are just as ready to say that there is something seriously wrong with the provision of housing materials in this country as are the people who voted for us on this side of the House. There is no divergence of opinion amongst the masses of the people who suffer from private enterprise in the building industry of this country. But in the House of Commons there is always a Dilly or a Daily who rises from the benches opposite to explain that we are all suffering from delusions, that everything is quite all right, that undue profits are not being made, and things of that sort

Even if they admit that there may be some justice in the grievance which we bring forward, they then say, "Yes, you are quite right. There is a grievance, but your method of dealing with it. is a wrong method. One or two Classes in your Bill are badly drafted, and, therefore we cannot support you." I would not object to that; I would be prepared to submit to their superior wisdom when they said that our Bills were badly drafted, if they were ever prepared by any chance to propose any alternative method of dealing with these things. It is not sufficient excuse for the Conservative party, with its huge majority, to say that the Bills which we put forward are not good or fair or well drafted. It is their duty, if any single thing which they say in the country is what they mean, and if we in our ignorance are unable to draft a Bill, to bring forward alternative suggestions. The hon. Member for Reading and the Minister of Health and others have said, "You have not proved that there is any profiteering or any undue profit made in the provision of building material." I do not know how they can say that after having listened to the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill.

Let me add something to the volume of proof that has been placed before the House. Under the Profiteering Acts of 1919-20 we have committees specially appointed to consider the supply of building materials. I shall not weary the House with quotations from all the reports on different materials, but I will take one or two, picked almost at random. They convict the building industry of making very large profits. According to the Official Report Cement manufacturers have amalgamated themselves into two powerful producing companies, The Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers, Limited, and the British Portland Cement Manufacturers, Limited, which companies, through their respective directorates, are interlocked. These companies it is estimated are jointly responsible for 75 per cent. of the total cement production of the country. In order to fix minimum selling prices, the majority of the manufacturers have associated themselves in the Cement Makers' Federation, the members of which control the production of 90 per cent. of the cement produced in the country. We know how patriotic British capital made a huge profit during the War out of the cement industry, and how they were enabled to form this close trust and enabled at the same time to restrict the production of cement and to increase the prices charged to the consumer. We have also a report on pipes and castings by a Sub-committee of the Standing Committee on Trusts—not a Socialist or Labour Committee, but one appointed by a Government in which there was a Conservative majority. They report as follows on pipes and castings:

  1. "(a) There is an effective combination of manufacturers of pipes and castings, namely. the Cast Iron Pipe Association which fixes minimum prices and which comprises practically all manufacturers of cast iron pipes.
  2. (b) In view of the fact that prices are fixed by an association the practice of submitting tenders has become, in fact of no value as a protection to the ratepayer.
  3. (c) The municipal authorities are more or less at the mercy of the Cast Iron Pipe Association, as they are unable to secure pipes of British manufacture except through members of the Association; and we are of opinion that the Association has it within its power to act unreasonably if so disposed. We suggest therefore that as a safeguard to the ratepayer the Board of Trade should have power to require the production of audited statements of the costs of production, together with the latest balance sheets, etc."
Then we are told that we should not regard as unreasonable, profits of 6, 7 8 or 10 per cent. Here are the profits made in one form of pipe manufacturing. In 1920, 15 per cent.; 1921, 7½per cent.; 1922, 15 per cent.; 1923, 22½ per cent.; 1924, 30 per cent. I have also a quotation from the "Times "which is by no means a Labour newspaper, in which Colonel Levita, a member of the London County Council and a prominent supporter of the party opposite, says that the building programme of the council must largely depend on the prices of building materials, which have begun to rise. He says there is a feeling that some manufacturers, notwithstanding the lesson of the slump which followed the sudden determination to drop the Addison scheme, are ready to take advantage of any increase in the demand for their products. There is no reason to doubt that view, and the manufacturers would be very bad business men if they were not ready to take advantage. The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams), who has the habit of giving us little economic lectures, told us about the law of supply and demand. The Minister of Health said that since he had been Minister of Health, building materials had not risen but that the prices had risen when his predecessor was in office. That was the law of supply and demand about which the hon. Member for Reading tells us.

When houses are going to be built, when the industry has reason to think that the State is about to get on with the job instead of dishing out eye-wash, then the price of materials rises. When the industry knows that we are back again to the days of Dilly and Dally, and that they are going to have difficulty in disposing of their materials, then the price of materials falls. That is not to the credit of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health nor to the credit of the party who have placed him in that office. It may be said from the benches opposite that this Bill has certain elements of Socialism in it. There are many aspects of Socialism which are working and giving great satisfaction in this country to-day. Many of the best things in this country have Socialist ideas underlying them. I do not suggest that it is wrong of any business man to make as much profit as he can; it is no worse than for any working men to try to get as high wages as he can. You have a cat and dog system; you insist on supporting that system; you are in the majority and we cannot stop you. All we ask you to do is to protect the more helpless of the consumers from the uncontrolled rapacity of the system which you have created and which you support.

Captain HUDSON

I rise to oppose the Bill because, in my opinion, it is one of the worst Bills which we have had before this House for a very long time. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. J. Beckett) complained that practical proposals were often put forward from the other side of the House and that hon. Members on this side, while claiming to agree with those proposals, objected to them for various reasons such as that the Bill containing them was badly drafted or something of that kind. I think this Bill is a very good example of the proposals which come from the other side. We have been asked to take a broad view. In my opinion this Bill takes the narrowest view of the building situation of any Bill on the subject in recent times. It is designed to show that the housing shortage is caused, to a large extent, if not entirely, by profiteering in building materials. That is not the cause, although it may be to a small degree a contributory cause. If I may use the expression, this Bill is a class Measure. It says that the shortage is caused by profiteering, and it puts forward various proposals to stop that profiteering.


Where does it say that?

Captain HUDSON

I cannot give way to the hon. Member The whole idea of the Bill is to regulate building prices. During the last Election I was told by supporters of hon. Members opposite that the reason for the Election which caused the downfall of the late Government was that we on this side were afraid of this particular Bill. If this Bill is really an attempt. to find a solution of the problem, then all the various things which we know are stopping or hindering building should have been brought within its scope. This Bill is simple Socialism. It puts forward the idea that the State can run factories better than private individuals, and it would have been very interesting to have seen the fate of the Bill in the last Parliament had it come up for Second Reading. Roughly speaking, the idea behind it is that, if prices are considered too high, the State is to take over the manufacture of the article. In other words, it is conscription of the manufacturer, and if that principle is right—which I deny—then you should at the same time have conscription of labour. A corner in labour is far more serious than any corner in materials that has ever taken place. That was proved after the War, when every endeavour was made by the Government of the day to get the building trade unions to take in the ex-service men, and they would not do it. [HON. MEMBERS: "They did !" If they had done so, it would have been a gesture indicating their willingness to do all they could to make up the shortage. As there is nothing at all in the Bill on the question of labour, I say it is a class Measure.


Is the hon. Member aware that these men were thrown out by the masters on to the streets and that the masters would not employ them?

Captain HUDSON

I am not aware of anything of the kind. The Bill assumes that the high prices of building materials are the cause of the housing shortage. Supposing it is correct that we cannot get sufficient material because the price is too high to build houses—which I say is not right—the Government at present are doing all they can to find alternative ways of building houses and solving the housing difficulty. Are the trade unions helping? I think the report that we had the other day of the Committee which sat on the Weir houses is a very illuminating document, as showing how the trade unions are trying to help us to solve the housing difficulty. It is obviously to the advantage of the manufacturer to build as many houses as he possibly can. The more houses that are built, the more work he has to do, and in the long run the more profit he will get and the better his business will run, but at the present time, from what I can read in the newspapers, instead of helping us all they can to get the appalling shortage of houses remedied, the building trade unions are much more busy fighting each other and deciding whether or not certain sections shall secede. They seem to spend most of their energy doing that, and very little in trying to solve the housing difficulty. This Bill is not a genuine attempt to solve the problem, but rather a class Measure, because it makes no mention of labour whatever. I consider it is a thoroughly bad Bill, and I hope it will be thrown out by a very large majority.


The implication of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. J. Beckett), who spoke last on the other side, was that the difficulties in the way of the erection of working class houses were entirely due to the action of the working class people themselves. He stumbled on a great truth. This Bill, in attempting to persuade, not only this House but the population generally, that the cost of houses is due almost entirely to the excessive price of materials, is entirely wrong. If hon. Members would take the trouble to investigate reliable statistics, they would find that the bulk of the cost of building a house goes in labour. Reference was made to the London County Council and the chairman of its Housing Committee. That council, being greatly exercised in its mind, and believing that our evils were all due to the excessive cost of materials, caused an investigation to be made, and it published that information, which hon. Members opposite, as well as on this side, could have read. It shows that the labour on each house erected by the council in 1921 cost £475, and in 1923 the same labour cost only £235; I go further than that, and I submit that the cost of materials employed in the building trade is due almost entirely to labour, because the total materials employed in the construction of any building in their raw state are gifts of nature. The references which have been made by certain hon. Members opposite are rather staggering to me, because I have had the advantage of being trained in workshops and of working in the quarries and brick-fields. I may claim, therefore, to know something about building and building materials. Between 1914 and to-day, you had a fairly uniform curve of building prices, rising to a peak in 1920. Why your building material is costing more to-day is because you are paying more for labour. I am not complaining. For my part, I would gladly welcome the payment of half-a-crown an hour to every skilled operative in the building trade in London, and I am going to say this, that there is not a decent contractor in London who would not gladly pay his skilled operatives half-a-crown an hour if they would do an honest day's work. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is an honest day's work? "] In the language of the building trade, it is not what is described as "sweating your soul case out "; it is earning a fair day's wage.


How many bricks do you mean?


I do not want to be diverted, but I may answer the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Spencer) by saying that if it were a case of rubbed and gauged bricks, set in white lead and shellac to special design, 25 bricks a day would be a good day's work. If, at the other extremity, you were building a brick kiln, 3,000 bricks a day would not be a good day's work. When people talk about what a bricklayer can do, I very strongly deprecate it, because I fail to understand why that particular trade should be singled out. The bricklayer is no worse—perhaps he is no better, but he is certainly no worse—than other operatives in the building trade, and you ought not to talk about the number of bricks laid a day. It depends entirely upon the character of the work. In a three-brick wall, a man can lay twice as many as he could in the same time in building a half-brick wall. He cannot lay the same number of white glazed bricks in the same time as ordinary work; you cannot compare brickwork in foundations with parapet walls. So, one could go on talking about brickwork for hours. I hope, however, we may dismiss all this talk about what a bricklayer can do, because it depends entirely upon the work that he is called upon to do.

My objection to this Bill is this, that it is a subtle attack upon one of the oldest industries in the world, and it is fore-doomed to failure. People talk to-day mostly about the cost of bricks, but if hon. Members would think, they would see why bricks are costing more to-day than before the War. The clay is there, in mother earth — it costs nothing in its raw state—but you are paying the man who digs that clay twice the amount of wages. [An HON. MEMBER: "Question! "] There is nothing disgraceful about it, but he is not giving the same output; and the man who wheels that clay is not working so fast either, but he is being paid twice as much. When that clay goes to the pug mill, the same thing happens, and from the pug mill it is wheeled to the kiln. The man there is not packing the same number of bricks per hour that he did before the War; nor is the drawer, and so that operation goes right through until your brick is placed upon the wall in the building. When you find a condition of affairs like that, there must be some reason for it, because men are not naturally eager to try to injure their fellow-men.

What is the cause? The great evil of the building trade is an ever-haunting fear of unemployment. If we could remove that, it would at once accelerate output, increase production and the price of building would fall. That is admitted by the trade unions. I will quote from a report on the occasion when the Prime Minister met the Trades Union Council on 16th December, 1919. The Trades Union Council said they were fully prepared to undertake that the then rate of output should be greatly increased, provided that there were adequate safeguards against unemployment. Reference has been made by the Seconder of this Bill to the price of timber. I have to look at these things from a practical point of view. Why did he quote 11-inch by 4-inch timber? There is no such timber ever employed in the houses of the working-class.


I was quoting from the Government publication the result of the Committee set up for watching prices.


I quite appreciate what the hon. Member said, but it has no application to housing of the working classes, and, as I understood him to say he was in the building trade for some time in connection with timber, I would remind him that there is one price for 4-inch by 3-inch quarterings, another for 2-inch by 7-inch battens, 3-inch by 9-inch deals and 4-inch planks and over 6 inches of baulk timber. The hon. Member quoted planks. There is no need to use planks. Why quote the higher prices? The hon. Member might have gone a step further and quoted baulk timber. Why did he not give the price of 2-inch by 7-inch, 2-inch by 8-inch or 2-inch by 9-inch? That is the sizes of timber employed in the building trade for housing the working classes.


I was quoting those figures, because they were figures at the disposal of all Members of the House. I might have quoted other figures, but I quoted figures because any Member could substantiate them for himself.


Then I will supplement the figures given by the hon. Member, and I will quote the figures which are material. I am not interested in the prices of white glazed bricks or stock bricks. The hon. Member referred to stock bricks, but there are stock bricks and stock bricks. There are those which are known as shippers, and although I have been in the building trade for 40 years, I have never used those bricks; they are shipped abroad. I will confine my quotation to the timber actually used in houses for the working classes, because this Bill is supposed to be in the interest of the working classes. In 1914, the price was between £12 and £15 per standard, and to-day it is £24 to £26, but there is no red pine and yellow pine grown in this country. As the hon. Member knows, most of it is coming from America. Very little is shipped from the Baltic ports, but some is shipped from the Swedish and Norwegian ports. How does he propose that the Board of Trade shall exercise control over the Swedish and Canadian supplies? It cannot be done. The hon. Member made reference to trimmers, and said that builders used seven-eighths stuff on the sides. Does the House realise what these trimmers are? They are simply a piece of timber each side of a fireplace or the side of a staircase. They have very little reference, really, to the houses of the working classes, but it does not matter whether it is the working class or anyone else, you have got to trim your joists to get round your fireplace, and, in point of fact, I say it does not really matter whether you put seven-eighths on the side to carry the trimmer or not. The hon. Member has unintentionally rather misled the House.

There has been great play with the cost of cement, as though houses were built of cement. There is really a very small amount of Portland cement used. If you were in the West of England and you employed Portland cement for ordinary building you would be regarded as a madman. What is the matter with good hydraulic lime? Portland cement was only invented 102 years ago, and it had not come into general use when I first entered the building trade. Hydraulic limes were used by the Romans, and their work exists to-day. This talk of Portland cement used for housing the working classes is perfect nonsense. It is not even employed for factories having to carry 40 and 50 times the weight, and,. so far as the price of Portland cement is concerned, it has varied from 37s. a ton in November, 1914, to £3 3s. to-day. Your original materials cost nothing. It is the excessive cost of labour that has put some of the Portland cement manufacturers out of business. At Rochester to-day there are closed three works which two years ago could not produce Portland cement at 84s. a ton, and it is being produced in this country to-day at 60s. a ton at a profit. I am really astonished at some of the statements made in this House. I remember the last Minister of Health getting up and saying we ought to open the cement works at Faversham. There have been no cement works opened at Faversham for the last 20 years. The difficulties of the building trade need not be increased by exaggeration. All my life I have tried to foster good feeling between employer and employed, and I believe every man who has worked in the shops with the men is actuated by the same motive, because you cannot work with the skilled men in the building trade without having the very greatest respect and a very kind regard for them. These men have been told that the less work they do the more there will be to go round. That is wrong. It is only because they are beginning to realise that it is wrong that we are getting a better output to-day. If that output could be increased they could without difficulty command 2s. 6d. per hour. Personally, I encourage them to aim at that, for I do not believe a man ought to be satisfied with ls. 8½.d. per hour. But the man must give value for money in the building trade as in every other trade. This, however, is the most extraordinary Bill that I have ever read in my life. Anyone would suppose that the conditions of the building trade and the purchase of materials for the building trade followed a different line to that of other trades. This Bill is really an attack upon private enterprise. It is an attempt to fetter private enterprise in the building industry by official interference, and so soon as that comes about, so soon will the building trade be petrified. This is a Measure similar to some of those which have been introduced since I have been a Member of the House. Bills like this seek to make Government officials more powerful than the elected representatives of the people,. and more powerful than even Parliament itself. This Bill suggests that an official of the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Health shall have more power than any other man in the realm. I wonder whether hon. Members opposite realise that the provisions of this Bill are a revolution, that the Bill is contrary to the Constitution, that it is putting in the hands, or seeking to put into the hands, of some obscure officials at the Ministry of Health a power which was wrested from an unwilling king in the 13th century? Might I remind hon. Members of that most precious document in this Kingdom, Magna Charta? This enjoins that To none shall justice be sold; To none shall justice be delayed; To none shall justice be denied. You are seeking to do all three towards those engaged in manufacturing building materials by the provisions of this Bill. I experience great difficulty in speaking of this Bill in terms of moderation. It is an unwarrantable attack upon the liberty of the individual. It is astounding in its audacity. It is without any justification. Hon. Members opposite talk much about the working men. If I may say it to them without offence, they know nothing whatever either of the lives of the working people or their aspirations.

This Bill seeks to affect the creation of yet more officials. If hon. Members opposite were engaged in the building trade they would have enough of officials beginning with the local surveyor, the district surveyor, the sanitary inspector, the Medical Officer of Health and the Ministry of Health. Let me give an illustration of the plight of the applicant dealing with the individual who is put up as a sort of over-lord over his fellows. I was engaged in erecting a building known as the War Seal Foundation in the Fulham Road, next Chelsea. Football Ground, for men totally disabled in the War. I was and am the hon. surveyor and made the usual application to a Government Department for the necessary authority in the matter. I thought, considering its beneficent objects and aim, I would get the matter through in the winking of an eye. I met with this observation: "We cannot let this building rank for grant because on mid-winter day the tenants world not enjoy 40 degrees at sunshine." In other words, there are to be no houses unless the sun rises more than 40 degrees above the meridian. What the official said was perfectly logical and perfectly true. I could not deny it. But if I built a cottage in the middle of a field of a thousand acres, neither there would the occupants enjoy the sunshine when the sun was 40 degrees above the meridian. I absolutely decline to be responsible for the action of the Deity. As a matter of fact on mid-winter day the sun does not rise 40 degrees above the meridian in London. I came to the conclusion it was little use arguing with the official mind and the best thing to do was to do without the Government grant, and so we went on and finished the building. That is the type of man that we shall be confronted with if this Bill goes through.

I cannot but think that the good sense of this House will treat this Bill in the way it ought to be treated. I had intended to limit my observations to 10 minutes should I have the opportunity of speaking in this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] Well, perhaps with that encouragement I will go a little further, though I am not. a bit nervous. Let me say that this is a Bill which is quite honestly believed in by the promoters, though, unfortunately, they do not know anything about the subject. There was a rise of wages to 2s. 4d. an hour in 1920. Then as the men's cupidity was raised so was the output diminished. It is an undoubted fact that when wages rose, so output diminished; as wages failed so output increased. If it were left to some of my hon. Friends opposite, there would not be any work done at all. They believe that you can get something for nothing.


What about surveyor's fees?


I did not catch what the hon. Gentleman said. Perhaps he will repeat it? This is an attempt on the part of certain hon. Members opposite to make the State the sole owners of property. They do not believe in private enterprise. They do not believe in individual industry. I do. This is an attempt really to abolish private property; in the case of the business of supplying building materials to be able to dictate the terms they like. They want to create a sort of glorified Works De- partment for the whole Kingdom, with results as disastrous as those which attended the London County Council when they created a Works Department. This Bill is the advocacy of confiscation, nothing more and nothing less. It is an attempt to take from people rights which they have enjoyed for eight centuries. I have no use as a practical man in a practical business for the pretty prattle of those who never cease to foment discontent among the ignorant, who are as uninstructed as themselves, rather than do good to their fellow men. My friends regard this matter rather facetiously, but I regard it very seriously, because a man will fight for his home just as a dog will fight for his bone. Of the two essentials of human existence, the first is food and the second is shelter, and all these acts of hostility towards the building trade are only going to increase the trouble arising from the diminution of houses. In their heart of hearts, I believe, all Members want to increase the number of houses and to give people a chance to live decently. I would plead with hon. Gentleman opposite to inquire about the facts from reliable sources, to ask their friends who are engaged in the building industry and who can give them some information based upon facts and practice; and when they have done that, to join with Members on this side of the House to see whether we cannot do something to bring about a better condition of affairs in an industry which is second only in importance in the kingdom.


If bricklayers only laid bricks with the same rapidity with which the hon. Member opposite delivered his remarks the housing problem would very soon be solved. To those who have been watching this Debate from a detached standpoint, it has been very interesting. We have had speakers who have opposed the. Bill on the ground that it is Socialism, and we have had those who have supported it on the ground that it. is Socialism. There have been those who have spoken very ably from the point of view of the operatives and those who have spoken admittedly from the brief supplied by the building manufacturers. I shall attempt to speak solely from the point of view of those who are expecting above everything else to be supplied with housing accommodation at the earliest possible moment. If I were to hazard a criticism, very respectfully, of this Debate, it would be that speakers have attempted some without knowing a great deal of the subject, to go into questions which have been referred by this House to committees of investigation and on which those committees have presented reports. It is very difficult for those who are not practised controversialists to pick out the rights and the wrongs of the subject from speeches, and therefore the method that an inexperienced Member of the House such as I am would adopt, and the method I did, in fact, adopt, was to spend some hours in the Library attempting beforehand to get hold of the real facts as presented by the many committees which have been investigating these subjects.

When the Minister of Health was speaking I ventured, with much trepidation, to stop him at the moment when I thought he was going to sit down, in order to put to him one or two points which I regarded as the crux of the question and to invite him to give some answer to the House. In view of his statement that no evidence has been produced that there was any profiteering in house building, I asked him to say what was his answer to the findings of the Inter-Departmental Committee which he himself set up. It reported: There is no longer justification for the maintenance of existing prices by the National Light Castings Association. I listened very carefully to the rest of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, but he did not vouchsafe a reply to me, and I only regret that he is not here now, in order that I might press him for a reply. I hope I shall not be thought disrespectful either to the Minister or to the House if I compare his attitude with that of learned counsel in a case in one of the Courts about a month or two ago, in which the Judge kept asking him how he reconciled the evidence of one witness with the evidence of another witness with which it was in direct contradiction. Counsel said, "I am coming to that, my Lord." That was what the Minister of Health told me. A few minutes afterwards the Judge, very anxious to be enlightened on the point, again said to counsel, "Will you reconcile the evidence given by Witness A with the evidence of Witness B? "Again counsel said," I am coming to that, my Lord." "Well," said the Judge, "come to it now, Mr. Brown, will you? "If it had not been impertinent, I should have been prompted to say to the Minister of Health that he ought to come to it then, at that moment, because though he spoke for another 10 minutes he most carefully evaded the questions I ventured to address to him.

It has been said the way to solve this question of keeping down prices in the building industry is to trust to the goodwill of the building manufacturers and suppliers, and, if that should happen to fail, to bring the weapon of publicity to bear. I notice that the late Minister of Health, who, I regret to see, is not here to-day, set up in 1924 a committee of the building materials' manufacturers and suppliers. I have been reading their recommendations to the Minister. They say: The best way to keep prices down is to enlist our goodwill, and on no account control the industry. We enlisted the goodwill of the building material manufacturers and building material suppliers and we waited to see what would happen. Within a month the Stock Brick Manufacturers' Association had raised its prices by 4s. 6d. per 1,000, and many other increases have taken place. These manufacturers, who had asked us to trust to their goodwill, recommended the late Minister of Health to adopt one other method to keep down prices. They said that in order to encourage production for the home market they ought to be given protection from foreign competition. As the speaker who has just sat down said, some remarkable suggestions have been put forward in this Debate, but of all the suggestions, the most foolish is that of the building manufacturers, who say, "Protect us from foreign competition, and we will bring down prices for you.

I am not opposing this Bill, and if I see good in it. the taunt that it is a Socialistic measure will not weigh with me as a reason why I should oppose it. I am not going to oppose everything that comes forward because Members on the other side say that it is tainted with Socialism. I am sick and tired of the Commissions, Inquiries and Committees which have been set up week after week and month after month and report to the Minister in charge, who then carefully picks out the arguments they adduce which support his point of view and rejects and ignores all the others. It is constantly being said on this side of the House that during the War Socialistic measures were adopted. That is a valid argument because, after all, in spite of the great difficulties during the War, in some cases these measures of control by the community were successful. When hundreds and thousands of people are waiting for house accommodation it is useless to reject a Measure like this on the ground that it is tainted with Socialism. We must keep the prices of building materials down. They cannot be kept down simply by publicity, and there is no goodwill on the part of the manufacturers to keep down prices. Therefore we must do it by the passing of a Bill of this kind, and I shall certainly vote for the Second Reading in order to show that we are in earnest.


I rise with some diffidence to speak after the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for East Islington (Major Tasker), who is such a master of this subject. I am going to oppose this Bill, not, because it is in some way tainted with Socialism, because I hold that it is equally reprehensible that we should object. root and branch to the State or municipalities taking any part in the manufacture or distribution of things required by the community as for hon. Members opposite to be always opposing private enterprise, whatever its nature may be. To anyone who approaches this subject free from bias it seems to me obvious that there are some things which it is absolutely essential should be handled by private enterprise, and there are other things which lend themselves to be handled by the community with advantage.

I oppose this Bill, not because it goes too far, but because it does not go far enough. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear! "] Perhaps hon. Members opposite will be patient, and I shall be glad of their applause when I sit down. With regard to the cost of working-class dwellings, may I point out that less than one-third of that cost consists of materials, and by far the greater part consists of wages paid to building operatives. There is provision in this Bill to deal with any excessive charges for building materials, but there is no provision to deal with any combinations, or rings, or arrangements which are going to add to the cost of the houses in the form of labour.

The cost of materials is very plainly to be seen. It is so much per ton, or cwt., or thousand, but the cost of building operations in wages cannot be pointed to with the same facility because the question is not how much a week or how much a day or how much per hour the operatives are being paid, but the question is what output are we getting for a given amount of money? Earlier in the Debate the hon. Member who moved the rejection of this Bill stated that the present cost of labour in building operations was three times greater than it was before the War. The hon. Member was challenged for making that statement, but he said that he adhered to his figures, and that they were correct. I challenge any hon. Member to go into any building business, whether the owner belongs to the Socialist party, the Liberal party, or the Conservative party, and if he will make due inquiries or go even to the building trade unions he will find that they confirm that the cost of setting 1,000 bricks or a given amount of plastering or plumbing work is at least three times as great as it was in pre-War days.

There is no one in this House, whatever his views, who is in favour of the crying needs of this nation at the present time for housing accommodation being made the subject matter of profiteering by any person or class. Some hon. Members opposite seem unable to imagine any good coming from those who 3.0 P.M. sit on this side of the House. I do not want to be unfair, but it strikes me that that is their attitude, and they seem to think that we rejoice in seeing women and children going short of proper housing accommodation. I do not think there is one hon. Member in this House who is prepared to stand in the way of legislation to prevent the needs of the community being used as a means of undue personal gain.

That being so why have hon. Members brought in this Bill which provides for the community being able to override any attempt to charge extra for materials and leaves untouched the question of the undue cost of the additional two-thirds of the cost of houses. I believe hon. Members will not dispute that the late Conservative Government offered £250,000 to the building trade unions if they would only accept 50,000 ex-service men as dilutees in the building trade and the trade unions refused the offer. The building trade could do with far more than that number of additional men, and if this dilution had been agreed to there would have been no prospect of building operatives being short of work for the next 10 or 15 years.

We know that the housing shortage cannot be made good within the next 15 years, and what are these trade unions fearing? The very essence of a trade union is reasonable protection for its members, and no reasonable man can object to proper protection being given to them, but where there is a demand that cannot be satisfied for the next 15 years what justification is there for shutting the door in this way, and offering opposition to the erection of steel and concrete houses. This Bill, with very slight modifications, could be made to include the labour side of the question. Clause 3 provides for Orders empowering the Minister of Health to requisition stocks and out-put and carry on business where supply is unreasonably withheld. If the supply of labour is being unreasonably withheld why not have provisions to deal with it in the Bill.

I notice that there are penal Clauses providing that the chairman or director of a company may be liable to certain penalties. Let us put a similar provision in the Bill with regard to labour. Let us by all means get a supply of houses available at a proper price. The hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) spoke of the War being over, but he said there is still a war going on, and it is the war of the capitalists and the manufacturers of building materials who are seeking to exploit the needs of the people, but he ignores the part which is being played by the building trade unions. I ask, is it right that these people should be able to reap a harvest at the cost of the people who are poorer than themselves? Hon. Members opposite know that the state of things I am alluding to is quite true. They represent not only building trade unionists but the men, women and children of the country. We represent them equally with them, but they claim to represent them. How can they reconcile their attitude of complacency towards the building trade unions with these people being kept without their houses and with prices being kept so high?

The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) raised the question of the building subsidy, and said it had never been explained to him yet that the building subsidy had not been put on in order to make the cost of building high. With all respect to the hon. Member for Mossley, the people who build houses are not those who wish to retain them. They either sell them or let them, and the object of the subsidy is plainly that they may be able to sell them at a lower price or let them at less than an economic rent. [HON. MEMBERS: "They do not do it !"] I shall go into the Division Lobby, if there be a Division on this question, against the Bill, and I would urge upon hon. Members of the Socialist party that they should use their influence with the building trade unions, not in the interests of the manufacturers of building materials, but in the interests of the men, women and children of the working classes whom they claim to represent.


A great deal has been said to-day with regard, first, to the question of private enterprise versuspublic activity. I venture to state to hon. Members opposite that they do not believe in private enterprise at all; they never have believed in private enterprise. What they believe in, more or less, is co-operation with private control and private direction. It is suggested that we on this side object to private enterprise. I personally have never in my life objected to private enterprise, but I know that there would not be a rich man on the other side if we had had only private enterprise. It is because there has been co-operation with private direction and private control that people have been able to make riches under private enterprise. How many people have got rich on their own activities? Riches have been made out of co-operation—the co-operation of the whole of the workers under private direction and private control.

There has been a great deal apparently, but not in reality, of similarity between arguments, if not conditions. Hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side have been saying that all the evils with regard to the building trade lie at the door of the workers in restricting output. I do not know whether there may be a modicum of truth in that statement; there may be; but, if there is an element of truth in it at all, it has been more or less copied from those who have been organising industry. The limitations, I think, have been born in the camp of the employers. Limitations to-day with regard to trade are imposed far more by the employers themselves than by any section of organised labour. Those limitations, whether they come from employers or from organised labour, I say are wrong. Any one discussing that question in the abstract must admit that. When, however, hon. Gentlemen say that, for instance, the 15 per cent. or the 30 per cent. of which we have been speaking with regard to castings is the reward of private persons' endeavours and activities of brain, I ask, is it?

There was, perhaps, an element of truth in an argument of that description at the time when you had one man directing his industry. Then, if that man took no salary, and he could say at the end of a year that he had 15 or 20 per cent., and that that 15 or 20 per cent., compared with his competitors, gave him 5 or 10 per cent. more than they had been able to obtain, he might at that time have said that it was due to his special brain, that it was due to his foresight. But, with our large corporations, with sleeping partners, with directors of enterprises who are paid a salary, and a very good salary—I do not pretend that it is not justifiable—for their services, their direction, their skill, and their wonderful knowledge of the. undertaking, once you have granted that, there must inevitably follow the question, what share should money take as against the assets associated with the. industry? I venture to state that, if it were possible to find a standard by which we could judge the essential value of money, the money in a great corporation not earned by brains has no more right or claim to an extra 5 or 10 per cent. than have gilt-edged securities like Consols and securities of that kind. It is not money that has earned it, it is the brains of the persons who have been paid by large corporations, it is the directors who are associated with the industry. Therefore, if you have paid them, that is one side of the question; the other is whether money should have a further payment or not.

Without exception, Members on the other side of the House, in criticising this Bill, have never faced the issue. Not a single speech has faced the issue. What is the real purport of this Bill? It does not attempt to do any of the things which a good many hon. Members opposite have said it does. The only thing this Bill really says is that, assuming a condition does arise in which the Minister himself is satisfied that profiteering is going on, then, if he is so satisfied, he may do certain things. That is the whole crux of the question, and probably there is a difference of opinion between us whether it is desirable under any circumstances to institute proceedings of that character. There may be that issue between us and it is understandable if there is a distinction and a difference of opinion with regard to that point, but let us meet that point. Do we or do we not agree that if there is agreement on both sides of the House that profiteering is going on in building materials it is essential, in the interests of the community, that we shall bring in the Minister, who shall be invested with powers to say this must come to an end? If hon. Members opposite do not agree with that and say the Minister should not be invested with powers, that it is the right of the combination to go on increasing the burden upon the community, that is understandable, but we cannot accept that position, and therefore this Bill is brought in, not to say that it shall take place now, not even saying there is profiteering taking place, but only to say that if that position arises the Minister shall have powers.

I can understand even if that principle were accepted, hon. Members on the other side saying, "We accept that principle, but we object to the Minister having power to determine when that condition arises." Hon. Members opposite may say, "We would rather have a committee of business men to determine when profiteering has arisen and when the Minister or someone should intervene." That would be understandable. If the House as a whole did believe that it was possible for a committee under these circumstances to serve the community, I suggest that, instead of rejecting the Bill, they should give it a Second Reading and in Committee make such Amendments as are desirable in the interest of the community. But let us understand our respective positions. Are we to understand that the opposite side is totally opposed to the Bill in principle and that the difference between us is that the Government do not believe that the Minister or anyone else should be vested with the power to intervene at any time, but that what we term private enterprise—which I deny—should be left unfettered to do just as it likes, to impose what prices it likes and to leave the housing of the working classes in such a chaotic and parlous position that we shall never be able to overtake arrears?

Captain BOURNE

I do not want to enter into the vexed question of who is responsible for the high cost of building materials, but I want to explain to hon. Members opposite, and especially to the hon. Member who has just sat down, that I have the strongest objection to the Bill as it is drafted. Clause 1 proposes to give the Board of Trade power to investigate prices and conditions of supply at all stages in respect of such articles. I do not know if the promoters of the Bill quite realise what is the real significance of those words. Under the Clause as drafted the Board of Trade will not only have power to investigate into the cost of the clay, but into the cost of coal. They can go over a whole coal trade, they can say the price of coal is too high and wages and profits in the coal trade are too high. They can do the same with the railways, which have to transport the material to where it is wanted, and we do not know where on earth it is going to lead us to. Speaking from memory, the phrase "combinations of persons" has been used over and over again in our Statutes to signify trade unions or combinations of workmen. Does this mean that the Bill can interfere with trade unions? Does it mean that the Board of Trade could break an agreement entered into between a trade union and employers? The Bill is vague in its terms. No one knows what it means, and for that reason the House must refuse it a Second Reading.


I have been very interested in hearing some of the statements made to-day by those who pretend to know. My only authority for speaking on this subject is that I am an ex-brick layer's labourer. I used to carry the bricks and mortar on the ladder while the chap on top did the work. But I am rather surprised to find the kind of statement which has been made to-day regarding the position of the building trade workmen. I should like to find out where the wages I have heard of to-day are paid. I should like to know where 2s. 4d. an hour is paid to any section of building trade operatives. The wages and conditions of the building trade workers in London are regulated by the Wages and Conditions Council, and an agreement exists between the master builders and the workers as to the basis upon which those wages shall be fixed. They are based in exactly the same way as they are in nearly every other industry, upon the cost of living, with a recognition of the position of the industry. An hon. Member opposite said something about the building trade operative standing in the way of the dilution of industry. They did not do anything of the kind. They have an agreement with the employers in regard to apprenticeships. They have agreed with the master builders throughout the country, through the National Building Trades Federation and with the National Employers' Association, for the introduction of a sufficient number of apprentices on this condition, that the conditions of work shall not be made worse. Dilution is all very well if you can dilute downwards. We are willing to provide if we can, by co-operation with the employers, the necessary men required, but we are not going to agree to our standard of wages being brought down to what they are in the engineering, shipbuilding, and other trades. That is the bone of contention between us.

So far as the supply of materials are concerned, the main materials are bricks and cement in the building of ordinary working-class dwellings. What is the position in regard to these two industries? We have lately been able to agree with the employers that we should receive an increase of 5 per cent. Within a fortnight after the workmen got their 5 per cent. increase on a wage averaging two guineas, the employers put 10s. per 1,000 on the price of bricks. Is that going to be the game? Sixpence for the workman and 10s. for the boss? We do not say that the employer has not a right to a reasonable price for the goods he supplies, but that in consideration of the vital interests of the community we should have power to look into the matter. Surely hon. Members opposite can trust their own Minister. There are enough of them to be able to trust him. Surely they can trust their own Minister with the right of saying when prices are too high, and of saying that the matter shall be inquired into.

In the cement industry the employers did not adopt dilution. They are producing more cement with 25 per cent. less employés, because they are in a combine. It is wrong for the working man to make combines, but it is right for the people on the other side to make a combine. If the working men say, "We want more wages," the employers say, "No. We will make a combine. We will cut down the number of men required, and we will produce more by the co-ordination of our factories." Some of the cement factories are closed down to-day, at a time when we want cement more than we ever needed it before. As far as we are concerned, the principle of the Bill is one to which we can agree. It is one to which everyone should agree. I ask hon. Members opposite to amend it in Committee. They have the power to amend it. At any rate, they have the numbers, but I do not know whether they have the brains. [Interruption.] I can understand it. You understand it from your point of view, and I understand it from our point of view. I belong to a trade union mainly consisting of unskilled workers—the men who are making bricks and cement and carting the materials, the men who have most of the functions to perform in these preliminary operations. These men, we are told, are holding things back. What power have they to hold things back? Practically none.

We have to go down on our knees when we want another 6d. a week on our wages. The other people, the manufacturers, simply say, "Stand, and deliver. If you do not pay what we want, you cannot have the goods." They do not strike. They simply say that the goods will not be delivered. If we want to make a new road, a new park or recreation ground, and we require materials, we have to pay the price that is demanded, because we cannot get different prices. Every firm which we approach quotes practically the same price. I am a member of a highways and parks committee in my district, and when we get tenders and open them it is almost, a farce. The prices are practically the same. There are members of the London County Council who are Members of this House, and they know that the same thing is true. If they ask for tenders for materials necessary for carrying out public works in the building trade, practically speaking every tender is the same. The association arranges who is going to have the job.

Therefore a Bill of this kind is necessary. If this Bill is not good enough bring in one of your own. If we have no ideas surely you are bursting with them. The workman has to produce more than he has the opportunity of consuming. The bricklayer and the dock labourer never get more than they earn. Every man who has been a member of a public body, as I have been for a quarter of a century, knows the kind of thing we are up against. Yon talk about the bricklayer taking advantage of the situation when the fact is that fewer men are employed in the building trade and are producing more houses than were produced in the days before the War. Therefore if you want peace in industry do not start to tackle the working man, if you want to live up to the appeal of the Prime Minister. We are trying to do our best to get the workers to adopt a reasonable attitude wherever possible. [HON. Members: "Oh!"] When we hear these sneers against workers it is a very hard job for us to go to our trade union branches, where there are plenty of people who are disgruntled and discontented, and to convince them that you are in earnest when you appeal for peace. Therefore give us a Bill of this character to get the things which we want for the benefit of the whole community, and, if the workers have to make a sacrifice, to make the sacrifice as easy as possible for them.

Lieut.-Commander BURNEY

Whatever the merits of this Bill may be, the last two speeches from the Labour Benches would, I think, convince most people that it should not be supported. The speech of the last hon. Member has, I think, given, the whole case of the building trade operatives away, because he has said that they wish to retain the trade as a sheltered trade, and that it should not suffer the same degree of competition which other trades, such as engineering or shipbuilding, have to suffer. That means that those trades which have to compete in the open markets of the world are required by the supporters of the building trade operatives to support them as a sheltered trade. Consider the position in regard to materials. There is no protection in this country in the import of foreign materials, and, accordingly, if we are to believe in the advantages of Free Trade, as put forward from the Liberal Benches when they are full, and from the Labour Benches, we shall realise that what they say is correct, and that there is a great bar to any possible ring or combine inflating prices in the simple fact that imports can come into this country quite freely, and for that reason building materials are prevented from rising in price beyond the world's price.

But then again the building trade is a protected industry because you cannot import complete houses—at least, not yet: you may be able to do so soon— and it is for that reason protected. But the only portion which is protected is the portion which is put together on the site by the building trade operatives. Therefore if this Bill had been introduced to control wages in regard to the actual erection of houses, there would have been a great deal to be said for it. But to my mind the Bill is striking at the wrong side of the picture. It is striking at the materials, which are not protected in this country either by distance or by anything else. For that reason I cannot see that it is necessary. But let us go further and suppose that the Bill has passed. What would happen? The State might set up a great building organisation which would be inefficient, and if that were done the output of houses would necessarily be reduced. I go further and ask, is it not better to have a temporary shortage and temporary high prices in order to get prices down? If you consider the laws of supply and demand, there is no doubt whatever that prices can be brought down under real economic conditions only by allowing the shortage to pursue its proper course and allowing prices to rise. The result would be that many other persons and industries would start work in what they considered to be a paying proposition, production would increase, and prices would be reduced. To my mind that is absolutely fundamental in any form of business. If the Labour party endeavour to interfere with ordinary economic laws, they will meet with the defeat which always comes to any business man who interferes with economic laws. I am convinced that a man with the intelligence of the Leader of the Opposition knows these things perfectly well. For that reason this Bill can have been introduced for nothing but electioneering purposes.


Factory legislation !

Lieut.-Commander BURNEY

That is very different from this Bill. Factory legislation has been introduced, largely by the Conservative party, for ensuring that the conditions under which people work are improved, for improving the status of the workman. It has been one of the tenets of the great employer of labour that he gets better output and better results by having men working under good conditions and by having a happy and contented staff. That is very different from what we are now discussing. This Bill is an endeavour to interfere by legislation with the ordinary economic laws of supply and demand. For that reason it is foredoomed to failure. It is very easy for hon. Members to go on the platform at a public meeting and to say, "The Conservative party have prevented our bringing in a Bill to stop profiteering." That is the purpose and the reason for introducing this Bill. Hon. Members do not find it so easy to say that in the House of Commons, because persons who come to this House after having fought their way through elections find out something in regard to the truth of what is said. But at an ordinary public meeting anybody who has gone through elections with such frequency as we have done, knows that you can paint the picture pretty much as you like. This Bill is nothing but a move to provide ammunition throughout the country and it is necessary that the country should realise that this interference with economic laws, is not one which could possibly benefit either the people who wish to live in houses, the people who wish to buy houses, or the people who wish to build houses. For that reason I hope the Bill will be rejected by a considerable majority.


Almost all the speeches which have been delivered from the Conservative benches indicate the state of panic into which hon. Members have been thrown by the mere suggestion that there should be even this very moderate proposal involving intervention in industry. It is suggested that as a result of the operation of this Measure, a huge State bureaucracy would be inquiring into the accounts of almost every firm in the country and that there would be established what the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down has called a great building organisation. Those who take that view are not very complimentary to the people in the building materials industry. If their argument means anything it means that the Bill is justified. If it be true that this Bill will necessitate such an enormous amount of inquiry it means that the Minister will be convinced that there is ground for such inquiry. It is perfectly obvious that all these fears will not be realised if the people in the industry play the game. Honest men do not fear the law, then why all this out cry If the building materials trades to-day are so honest, so public-spirited, so devoted to the common weal, what have they to fear? Not even an inquiry into their books because I am sure, if they are so public spirited, they give their materials away or at least sell them at the lowest possible price.

The Bill gives the Minister of Health power to ask for an inquiry if he believes that there is a primâ faciecase. That is reasonable. Nothing could happen under this Bill until the right hon. Gentleman was so convinced. What then becomes of the fears of hon. Members opposite? The real fear in their minds, to which expression has been given several times to-day, is that the State is going to interfere. That comes well from hon. Gentlemen opposite whose Protectionist policy is a deliberate policy of diverting the economic development of this country through the instrumentality of the State. They do not object to State interference if it helps the people in whom they are interested, but they object to State interference if it appears likely to confine, to limit, to restrict the people in whom they are interested. Our purpose in proposing this limited measure of State interference is purely to protect the interests of the mass of the people who occupy houses. We have been told that this is a purely Socialistic Bill. I hope the hon. Member who said so does not really believe it. He can believe me when I say that if it were it would be very different. It is a compromise with the existing system, and it is an indication of the sound, practical statesmanship of the party which occupies these benches, that we should be prepared to accept the system which is with us to-day and try to make it work as it ought to work.

More than one speaker to-day has asked why should this particular industry be singled out. Are they inclined to think that if we took in all industries they would support us? If so, we shall be glad to oblige them. There is a Bill before the House now which would cover the whole of the industries so far as there are trusts and combinations. That is a bad argument, and they know it. There is a reason for choosing this particular industry, for, as one of my hon. Friends pointed out, this industry does to-day stand in a different relation towards the State from that of other industries. There is a shortage of houses, which has serious social consequences, and if the Government of the day is not able, for one reason or another, to tackle this problem of trusts and combinations throughout the whole of the industrial field, it is its imperative duty to deal with so urgent a problem as that of the building industry. Hon. Members opposite have a picture in their minds of an industrial system that does not exist. Their minds are filled with an idyllic vision of independent manufacturers working hard to operate the law of supply and demand in a public spirit. That is not true. The law of supply and demand, since it was formulated by political economists, has been very drastically amended in Committee, and that law to-day only has a very partial operation. If they mean that they want back the law of supply and demand, they must break up every combination that there is in this country. If they are not prepared to take that step and to deal with those organisations which have interfered with and limited the operation of that law, then I say they have got to help us further to modify that law in the interests of the people of this country.

Everybody knows that we are having to interfere with the law of supply and demand. The right hon. Gentleman himself undertook two years ago, and has undertaken again to-day, that, should the situation in his opinion warrant it, he would be prepared to interfere with the operation of the law of supply and demand, and he would be quite right. Where we are divided is that he believes that that situation does not exist to-day, and we believe that it does. There have been ample inquiries to show that to-day we have entered upon a new stage of our economic development, with more and more of the production of this country passing under the control of combinations—combinations formed for what purpose? Not, primarily, in the public interest. Do not let us pretend that all the large combinations in this country came together in a spirit of public service. They came together because they thought there was more to be made out of it that way than by the other way. If it be true that they came into existence for the purpose of improving their own profits, and if it be true, as I hold it to be true, that their very existence interferes with the operation of the law of supply and demand, there is a very strong case for some measure such as this, which would at least exercise a certain supervision over their operations.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, who regretted the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), dealt with the Bill. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the late Minister of Health is not here. I am sorry, however, that the present Minister of Health should have charged my right hon. Friend with having plotted a Bill behind the backs of the building materials industry. I say it is untrue. There is a suggestion that, at the very first meeting arranged between the then Minister of Health and the building materials industry, there was a Bill tucked away in the Ministry of Health. That is quite untrue. The right hon. Gentleman, in his analysis of the Bill, simply caricatured the first Clause. He referred to the first part: Where the Board of Trade receive a representation from the Minister of Health to the effect that the price of any articles or class of articles in common use in connection with the building of houses for the working classes appears to the Minister to be excessive, the Board shall have power to investigate prices and he attempted to make the term "appears to the Minister to be excessive "ridiculous. What other machinery could there be? Obviously, you must put the responsibility upon the Minister, and you must leave the Minister to determine what machinery he is going to utilize for the purpose of coming to his judgment. The Building Materials Committee already exists to watch over building prices, but with no powers to do anything else. But, at least it might be useful to the right hon. Gentleman, were this Bill passed into law. It might be his eyes and ears, the machinery through which he would be able to learn of prices which are prima facieexcessive. That is reasonable. That is the machinery which, if we had been fortunate enough to have passed this Bill, we should have used. There would be the right hon. Gentleman himself. He would have machinery, and if cases were reported to him of excessive prices, and, after consideration, he felt that the charge was upheld, he would ask for inquiry. Then the right hon. Gentleman went through the Bill, and referred to investigations with heavy penalties. Why not heavy penalties? It is a relative term. I would suggest, in view of the enormity of the crime, if proved, that the penalties are extremely moderate. But if the right hon. Gentleman will accept the Bill with a slight modification of the penalties, I have no doubt the promoters will be glad to accept that. Then he said they were to "take over and use." But only in certain circumstances, and the number of circumstances would depend upon the degree of greed and lack of public spirit in the building materials industry. The suggestion that we are going to take over, all over the country, a large number of brickyards, quarries, and what not, is, again, if I may say so, uncomplimentary to the people who are now engaged in those enterprises.

Then the right hon. Gentleman is hurt because there is to be no compensation given to those people for profits that they have not earned. What right have they to be compensated for profits they could not make? The Clause which deals with compensation is, if I may say so, perfectly reasonable. In answer to questions put this year with regard to the Light Cast- ings Association, the right hon. Gentleman quoted a number of prices, but if I am not mistaken, he carefully quoted one particular price of the Light Castings Association which showed no increase. But this question has been referred to them. There is a prima faciecase. What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do? If this Committee reports that the prices now being charged are excessive, is he coming to the House to ask for that power which he said he would ask for? Had he better not forestall them in that case and accept this Bill? If that report should prove to be unfavourable to the Light Castings Association, is he going to do nothing?

I submit that this House cannot afford to leave this question where it is. The Committee on Building Materials has been convinced that it has not sufficient powers to deal with this question; that the power of watching and praying which has been given to it is not adequate, and that in the absence of further powers and further machinery the evils which it knows to exist and which it feels unable to cope with will continue to exist. What is going to be the position of the right hon. Gentleman? Is he going to allow these people to carry on their trade with the knowledge proved to him that they are guilty of charging excessive prices? If not, then he must come to the House for a Bill, and I suggest that when he finds himself faced with that situation this Bill is the very minimum that he could offer to this House to deal with the situation with which he will be confronted. There has been talk this afternoon about the building trade workers. Apparently these workers are selfish, greedy people. Apparently the Building Materials Suppliers are men of public spirit.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

Nobody has said that.


That is the whole implication of the argument. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw ! "] If they are selfish, as it is implied trade unionists are— [An HON. MEMBER: "That was never stated! "] If they are not greedy, well, are they public spirited? One wants to know whether hon. Members believe these things, and whether those supplying building materials are acting with public spirit or in their own economic interests? Is it suggested that the Trusts Committee, that the Royal Commission on Food Prices and other committees that have proved profiteering on a large scale were wrong in saying that it was. profiteering? Hon. Members opposite must say which leg they are going to stand upon. [An HON. MEMBER "Both legs ! "] If they are going to accept—and I will accept it—that the building materials manufacturers of this country are anxious to carry on in the public service, they should welcome this Bill. If they are selfish, greedy profiteers, which appears to be thought by many hon. Members of those who are engaged in the building industry, again they should support this Bill. Whatever attitude they may adopt. towards us, it is clear that this Measure is needed. If the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health is not prepared to accept it, if he is not prepared to substitute a Measure of his own for it, then it means he is prepared to acquiesce in the existence of conditions which will make more and more for combination and more and more for trustification, and remove the determination of prices more and more out of the reach of the law of supply and demand.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

I only want to make clear one or two points for the benefit of the House in view of what the hon. Gentleman opposite has just said. He has taken the line of a dogmatic pedant. Either employers are criminals as a whole, or they are public-spirited as a whole. Either the working classes are criminal as a whole or they are public-spirited as a whole. I leave him to settle the latter with his party; but there is the practical point of view. We say there are black sheep in every flock, even in the trade union flock.


That is what this Bill is for.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

The hon. Member said we accuse trade unions and the labour movement of being criminals and shirkers. We do nothing of the sort.

What we say is that they are grossly misled by some of the leaders. We want to approach this question, I believe both sides do, from the really practical point of getting buildings erected at as low a cost as possible. From that point of view we are against profiteering in every possible way—and there are instances of profiteering—but I say this quite clearly from a considerable experience, that if we are going to take steps to stop profiteering we must take steps against unjust increases all round. I will make this offer. I am prepared to accept considerable proposals and powers on those lines if the hon. Member and his party are prepared to let equal steps be taken against undue increases, greater increases in the cost, not of labour-wages, but of labour-output, and to take steps so that if the labour-output cost has increased by more than materials they will propose a reduction of the remuneration of the workers.


I do not wish to trouble the House except to correct statements made earlier in the Debate by my hon. Friend the Member for the Hillsborough Division (Mr. A. V. Alexander). He was talking about light castings, and he told the House the tendency has been to increase prices. Members of that Association, when before the Committee of which, I believe, my hon. Friend was a member, offered to submit their books to the investigation of any independent firm of accountants, because it would prove that they were supplying the kind of light castings used in the building of houses for the working classes at actually less than cost price.


rose in place, and claimed to Move, "That the Question be now put."


I think the House is prepared to come to a decision.

Question put," That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 113; Noes, 232.

Division No.107.] AYES. [4.0p.m.
Adamson, W.M.(Staff., Cannock) Beckett, John(Gateshead) Cluse, W.S.
Alexander, A.V.(Sheffield, Hillsbro') Benn, Captain Wedgwood(Leith) Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.
Attlee, Clement Richard Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish- Compton, Joseph
Baker, J.(Wolverhampton, Bliston) Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Connolly, M.
Barker. G.(Monmouth, Abertillery) Broad, F.A. Cove, W.G.
Barnes, A. Bromley, J. Dalton, Hugh
Barr, J. Buchanan, G. Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)
Batey, Joseph Charleton, H.C. Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)
Day, Colonel Harry Lindley, F. W. Snell, Harry
Dennison, R. Lowth, T. Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip
Dunnico, H. Lunn, William Spencer, G. A. (Broxtowe)
Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.) MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J.R.(Aberavon) Stamford, T.W.
Garro-Jones, Captain G. M. Mackinder, W. Stephen, Campbell
Gillett,George M. MacLaren, Andrew Sutton, J. E.
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) March, S. Taylor, R. A.
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Maxton, James Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Montague, Frederick Thome, G. R.(Wolverhampton, E.)
Groves, T. Morris, R. H. Thome, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)
Grundy, T. W. Oliver, George Harold Thurtle, E.
Guest, Dr. L. Haden (Southwark, N.) Palin, John Henry Tinker, John Joseph
Hall, F.(York, W. R., Normarrton) Paling, W. Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C.P.
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Viant, S. P.
Hardie, George D. Ponsonby, Arthur Wallhead, Richard C.
Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon Potts, John S. Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen
Hastings, Sir Patrick Richardson, R.(Houghton le-Spring) Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Hayes, John Henry Riley, Ben Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney
Henderson, T. (Glasgow) Ritson, J. Whiteley, W.
Hirst, G. H. Robertson, J. (Lanark, Bothwell) Wignall, James
Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W. R., Elland) Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield) Saklatvala, Shapurji Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
John, William (Rhondda, West) Salter, Dr. Alfred Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown) Scrymgeour, E. Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston) Windsor, Walter
Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Shiels, Dr. Drummond Wright, W.
Kelly, W. T. Short, Alfred (Wednesbury) Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Kennedy, T. Sitch, Charles H.
Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Lansbury, George Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley) Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr.
Lee, F. Smith, Rennie (Penistone) Warne.
Albery, Irving James Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Cooper, A. Duff Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L.(Bootle)
Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l) Cope, Major William Heneage. Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.
Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby) Couper, J. B. Henn, Sir Sydney H.
Applin, Colonel R. V. K. Craig, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. C. (Antrim) Hennessy, Major J. R. G
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Henniker-Hughan, Vice-Adm. Sir A.
Atholl, Duchess of Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H. Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Crookshank, Col. C. de W.(Berwick) Hilton, Cecil
Balniel, Lord Crookshank, Cpt. H.(Lindsey, Gainsbro) Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.
Banks, Reginald Mitchell Cunliffe, Joseph Herbert Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Curzon, Captain Viscount Holland, Sir Arthur
Barnett, Major Richard W. Dalkeith, Earl of Homan, C. W. J
Beamish, Captain T. P. H. Davies, A. V. (Lancaster, Royton) Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W. Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.) Hopkins, J. W. W.
Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Dawson, Sir Philip Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)
Berry, Sir George Doyle, Sir N. Grattan Howard, Capt. Hon. D. (Cumb., N.)
Birchall, Major J. Dearman Drewe, C. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.)
Blundell, F. N. Eden, Captain Anthony Hume. Sir G. H.
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.) Huntingfield, Lord
Bowater, Sir T. Vansittart Everard, W. Lindsay Hurst, Gerald B.
Brass, Captain W. Fairfax, Captain J. G. Hutchison. G. A. Clark(Midl'n & P'bl's)
Brassey, Sir Leonard Falls, Sir Charles F. Jacob, A. E
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Fielden, E. B. Kennedy, A. R. (Preston).
Briggs, J. Harold Fleming, D. P. King, Captain Henry Douglas
Briscoe, Richard George Forestier-Walker, L. Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement
Brittain, Sir Harry Forrest, W. Knox. Sir Alfred
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Foxcroft, Captain C. T. Lane-Fox, Lieut.-Col. George R.
Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. J. Frece, Sir Walter de Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C.(Berks, Newb'y) Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Lister, Cunliffe-. Rt. Hon. Sir Philip
Buckingham, Sir H. Ganzoni, Sir John Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)
Bullock, Captain M. Gates, Percy Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)
Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton Looker, Herbert William
Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D. Gee, Captain R. Lucas-Tooth. Sir Hugh Vere
Burton, Colonel H.W. Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham Luce. Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman
Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Lumley, L. R.
Caine, Gordon Hall Glyn, Major R. G. C. Lynn. Sir R. J.
Campbell, E. T. Goff. Sir Park MacAndrew, Charles Glen
Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City) Gower, Sir Robert Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)
Cazalet, Captain Victor A. Grant, J. A. Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston) Gretton, Colonel John Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)
Cecil. Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.) Grotrian, H. Brent McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood) Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Macintyre, Ian
Charteris, Brigadier-General J. Gunston, Captain' D. W. McLean. Major A
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Hacking, Captain Douglas H. Macmillan, Captain H
Clarry, Reginald George Hammersley, S. S. Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm
Clayton, G. C. Hanbury, C. Macquisten, F. A.
Cobb, Sir Cyril Harrison, G. J. C. Makins, Brigadier-General E.
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Hartington, Marquess of Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn
Cockerill, Brigadier-General G, K. Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes) Margesson, Captain D.
Cohen, Major J. Brunel Haslam, Henry C. Marriott, Sir J. A. R.
Mason, Lieut.-Col. Glyn K. Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y) Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.
Meller, R. J. Roberts, E. H. G. (Filnt) Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden) Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford) Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.
Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham) Ropner, Major L. Tasker, Major R. Inigo
Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. Russell, Alexander West- (Tynemouth) Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Moore, Sir Newton J. Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham) Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Morden, Colonel Walter Grant Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney) Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.
Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive Sandeman, A. Stewart Wallace, Captain D. E.
Murchison, C. K. Sanders, Sir Robert A. Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Sanderson, Sir Frank Warrender, Sir Victor
Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby) Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)
Nicholson, O. (Westminster) Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mol. (Renfrew, W) Wells, S. R.
Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield) Shaw, Capt. W. W. (Wilts, Westb'y) Wheler, Major Granville C. H.
Nuttall, Ellis Sheffield, Sir Berkeley White, Lieut.-Colonel G. Dalrymple.
O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton) Shepperson, E W. Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)
Oman, Sir Charles William C. Simms, Dr. John M.(Co. Down) Winby, Colonel L. P.
Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings) Skelton, A. N. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple) Smith, R.W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.) Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome) Smith-Carington, Neville W. Wise, Sir Fredric
Phillpson, Mabel Smithers, Waldron Wolmer, Viscount
Pilditch, Sir Philip Somerville, A. A. (Windsor) Wood. Rt. Hon. E. (York, W.R., Ripon).
Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton Spender Clay, Colonel H. Wood, Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)
Price, Major C. W. M. Sprot, Sir Alexander Wragg, Herbert
Radlord, E. A. Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F.(Will'sden, E.) Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Reid, Capt. A. S. C. (Warrington) Stanley, Lord (Fylde)
Reid, D. D. (County Down) Steel, Major Samuel Strang TELLERS FOR THE NOES—.
Remer, J. R. Storry Deans, R. Mr. Dixey and Mr. Herbert.
Remnant, Sir James Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H. Williams.
Rentoul, G. S. Strickland, Sir Gerald.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Words added.

Second Reading put off for six months.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to. Standing Order No. 3.

Adjourned at Nine Minutes after Four o'Clock, until Monday next (18th May).