Motion made and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £182,381, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1926, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Scottish Board of Health, including Expenses in connection with the Administration of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1925, Grants and other Expenses in connection with Housing, Grants to Local Authorities, &c., Grants in respect of Benefits and Expenses of Administration under the National Health Insurance Act, 1924, and certain Grants in Aid.
§ The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Sir John Gilmour)
In presenting these Supplementary Estimates it may be of advantage to hon. Members if I make an introductory statement. Provision is made in the first four sub-heads of this Supplementary Estimate for payment of widows' and orphans' pensions. I should imagine that these items are not in any sense controversial. I will point out only that these expenses are incurred by other Government departments concerned in the administration of the Act. They will be charged against the Pensions (Scotland) Account. The Estimate makes provision for the necessary Appropriation-in-Aid. With regard to the other heads of the Estimate, "Advances towards the Erection of Steel Houses" in Scotland, I do not propose to speak at great length, nor to burden the Committee with a vast number of statistics; but perhaps I may be permitted to recall to the Committee the facts which have led the Government to take their present action.
When the present Government took over the control of affairs and had to consider the question of housing in this country, particularly as it affected the provision of houses for the wage earner, they were 1288 faced, as previous Governments had been faced, with many difficulties. In conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, various meetings took place between the Government Departments concerned and representatives of the building industry—representatives of both masters and men. The position in Scotland, as the House is aware from the speeches which have been made from time to time, and more particularly from the speeches of the Prime Minister, has given the Government very grave concern. It was because of the immense shortage and the still slow progress in solving this problem that, after repeated efforts, in conjunction and in consultation with the representatives of the trade and the representatives of the public authorities in Scotland, the Government were induced to offer to Scotland an extra and supplementary subsidy. Hon. Members are aware of the terms of the extra subsidy, as set out in publications which have been available to Members of the House for many months.
These proposals, submitted to the local authorities of Scotland, failed to procure what the Government considered a satisfactory response. The reasons for that lack of response are well known to those who have followed this problem. From time to time computations have been made as to the shortage of houses in Scotland, and whether we agree with the larger figures or the smaller figures, one thing is amply clear to anyone who knows the conditions which exist, not only in the larger cities of Scotland, but in the mining districts and the villages throughout the country. We are aware that there is a shortage of anything from 100,000 to 150,000 houses in Scotland, and that, apart from that, the ordinary lag year by year of something like 10,000 houses per year has in no measure been reduced.
I have looked into these figures from time to time, and I think I am not far wrong in saying that, while over a series of years there have been variations, all that has been done to meet this problem has been something like 6,000 houses per annum. Under these circumstances, being aware of the conditions in which many people were living, the Government were not content to leave the matter where it had arrived when it was found 1289 that the local authorities were not going to take advantage of the extra subsidy scheme, and they decided that they must proceed to deal with the problem in a more drastic fashion. Having come to that decision, the Government invited the Scottish National Housing Company to co-operate with them in solving the problem. That company, as hon. Members are aware, has for the last 10 years or so been operating in Scotland, has an efficient staff, and expert knowledge; and it was a great measure of satisfaction to the Government when it was found that the company was prepared to co-operate with them in this problem. The National Housing Company, for the development of this scheme, for the erection of 2,000 steel houses, has formed a second Scottish National Housing Company (Housing Trust) Limited. In so far as its capital is not obtained on loan from the Public Works Loans Board, it will be advanced by the Scottish Board of Health, and the houses which the company will erect include 1,000 houses which will be purchased from Messrs. Weir, 500 from Messrs. Cowieson, and 500 from the Atholl Steel Houses—
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
Has the company been instructed to examine all classes of steel houses that may be offered, or to select these particular types?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
As the hon. and gallant Member knows, there was a very large call for offers on the part of all the possible firms under the original Government scheme—the extra £40 subsidy. The conditions which were laid down under that scheme are materially the conditions laid down under the scheme with which we are proceeding now. It was from that list that, satisfying ourselves as to the capabilities of the various firms which offered—and it was an open offer to the whole of the country—these three firms have been selected.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
By the Scottish Board of Health and the Government, who are responsible for this scheme. The conditions under which the capital will be advanced to the company will provide that the contracts for the houses 1290 will embody the conditions which were intended to apply to the special £40 subsidy schemeeas set forth in the Board of Health Circular issued on 23rd November, 1925, to all local authorities in Scotland, subject to such modification as may be agreed. It will be a further condition that any income derived from the rents of the houses and any money raised by the sale of the houses, after meeting maintenance and management charges, as well as interest upon and repayment of instalments of loans obtained from the Public Works Loans Board, will be applied towards meeting interest charges and repayment of advances made from the Exchequer.
In other words, the Government are advancing the necessary capital, through the machinery of this Company, to carry out this scheme. This subsidiary Company is formed, and consists of some, I believe of most, of the directors of the original Company, with an added representative of the Treasury and the Scottish Board of Health. This will ensure that any profits which are made upon the transaction or any moneys which are received after meeting the charges which I have enumerated, will return to the Treasury.
I should like to say here that the Government have been constrained to take this action because of the attitude or the fears of certain local authorities in dealing with what perhaps is admittedly an experimental method of building. It is a method of building in steel construction which at one period seemed to commend itself to a large number of people not confined to any single party, and I should like to say that it was during the tenure of office of the right hon. Gentleman opposite that the first inspections of these steel houses were made. I remember being present on one occasion at an inspection of a, house produced by Lord Weir's firm, and I understood it was favourable to those Ministers as an experimental type, and as worthy of consideration by the people of the country. We have travelled some way since those days, and experimental houses of more than one of these steel types have been in existence and have been occupied by people who can speak for themselves. The evidence which comes to my Department from those who occupy these houses 1291 goes to show that they are satisfactory. Any minor defects which may have occurred in their construction are just such minor defects as do occur and will occur in any method of construction; but that, in the main, they compare favourably with existing types of houses is, I think, now proved beyond dispute.
I want also to say this. There appears to be in the minds of some the idea that this step which the Government are taking is a direct challenge to the building industry, to the rates of wages, and to the conditions of living which exist in these concerns. I want to say in the most emphatic manner, speaking not only on my own behalf but on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that this is neither intended nor believed to be a challenge of such a kind. Let me examine this problem a little closer. What is it that we are asking? Out of a possible output, a reasonable output, of something like 15,000 houses per annum in Scotland, is it to be said that the introduction of these methods, amounting to a few thousand, and limited as it is at the moment to 2,000, is in any measure a challenge to the building industry as a whole?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
I shall have something thing to say about the wages. I presume that the greater part of this Debate will turn upon a consideration of the terms, the wages, and the methods of one particular firm. We are well aware of the controversy which has gone on in the Press, and the statements which have been made both in this House and outside. I recall that, during the tenure of office of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, there was set up a Committee to inquire into alternative methods of building. I think I am not wrong in saying that, when Lord Weir's house was investigated by the Moir Committee, it was then stated clearly that this was recognised as a real contribution towards the housing problem, that it was worthy of the support of the Government, and that it appeared that it was a satisfactory solution, at any rate in a measure, of the problem which we had to face.
Lord Weir is a man who has devoted himself unreservedly to solving or helping to solve this housing problem in Scotland. His firm, and all his energies and the 1292 capital which the firm have at their disposal, have been devoted to the development of these experimental measures without stint, and, to say the least of it, it is ungenerous on the part of those who are his detractors to-day not to recognise that public service. As to the suitability of the Weir house, we have ample proof that houses that have been lived in for over a year have met with the commendation of those who have occupied them. There is this one question which I would ask hon. Members to answer. Do they consider it is better that the population should remain in the condition in which they are existing to-day, rather than that they should go into a steel house? That is a question which the people, in my judgment, will answer for themselves, what ever view hon. Members may take. Let me add, as to the conditions under which Lord Weir is going to erect these houses, that he is doing it after an inquiry, an impartial inquiry, by a Committee set up by the Government, which had upon it not only experts but also representatives of labour; and what he is doing is to employ men in the industry to which he belongs.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
This is not really a question of Scottish labour. It is, in my judgment, first of all a question of commonsense, and, in the second place, a question of a fair and reasonable solution.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
Am I to understand that Lord Weir undertakes to erect these houses by the labour of men of the class which he employs now, namely engineering labour; that he agrees to a collective system of bargaining about wages, and that he undertakes to recognise the A.E.U. or any recognised trade union body as a party to those negotiations?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
As I understand it, Lord Weir recognises collective bargaining, and is employing for this purpose mainly men who are unemployed in the engineering trade, and that he proposes to pay them the ordinary rates applicable to their trade. I also understand, and I think it will be found to be substantially true as time goes on, that while these rates are engineering rates and not what are understood to be building rates of wages, still the wages which the men occupied in the erection of these houses can earn are as good, and in many cases higher than they would get if they were being paid the ordinary building rate.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
The point on which I wish to be clear is this. In the fixing of rates, is Lord Weir prepared to recognise the trade union of which these men are members as a party to the determination of the wages?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
I understand Lord Weir is one of the federated employers and deals with these matters on the same conditions as others in that Federation. In any case—
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
It only shows how difficult it is for hon. Members to detach their minds from sectional questions in order to come down to the main question.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
What the Committee has to apply itself to is the problem of supplying houses to the people, and the methods by which that can be done. These other matters are, no doubt, subjects for proper negotiation by the firms concerned. I have never said, and I have no reason to believe, that Lord Weir is not prepared to negotiate, as other heads of firms are prepared to negotiate, in dealing with these matters.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
It is clear that the methods which Lord Weir has evolved, and which are entirely different from the ordinary building methods, do not imply the necessity—in our judgment or in the judgment of the committee which the Government set up—of applying building rates of wages to this form of construction.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The right hon. Gentleman made a statement just now which is tantamount to saying that Lord Weir is ready to make an agreement with other employers for collective bargaining. Can the Secretary for Scotland give us an assurance that Lord Weir is prepared to adopt collective bargaining with other people?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
We must leave to Lord Weir the negotiations which, quite properly, he must carry on with those concerned. The Government stand on the Report of the Committee, and are satisfied that that is a reasonable and fair solution of the problem. We propose to proceed with the erection of these houses. It is difficult to understand the factious opposition of certain hon. Members, because they are just as much concerned as the Government in finding a solution of this problem. I am anxious to co-operate in every manner—
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
—with those who represent the great building industry of this country. But I must remind hon. Members that during the past year, following on the experience of the Members of the late Government, we have been struggling persistently to keep down the rising price of houses which made it so difficult to let those houses to the people at reasonable rents. That struggle is due to many factors, but we desire in every way to co-operate with the building industry and to see an expansion of the supply of labour, particularly in those sections which are essential. The spectacle of so many houses in the great city of Glasgow semi-completed and awaiting the plasterer and the lather is one which reflects not on the Government but materially upon the great building industry, both masters and men, in that they have not got together to solve this problem.
1295 The setting up of these committees throughout the country is of little use unless they come into active operation. I have invited their co-operation and assistance from time to time. I am bound to say it has been a deep disappointment to me that move good has not come from that source. There may be just and legitimate causes of complaint, on the part of the building industry or of the trade unions, that the present arrangements with the local authorities are not satisfactory. That position has been put before me on more than one occasion, and I have recently drawn the attention of the local authorities to the fact that there is this criticism. I have pointed out that if progress is to be made, there must be a continuous policy and no gap between one great scheme and another. That, again, is a matter of which the industry alone, if they are in earnest about it, can find a solution. We, on the other hand, are quite confident that these alternative methods will commend themselves to the people of the country. They are in essence the erection of houses by mass production. Rapidity of construction and erection is an essential part of the scheme, and the money for which I am now asking is to provide for the scheme up to the end of the present financial year. Of course a further main Vote will come up for consideration. This sum is intended to provide for the erection of at least 1,200 houses at a very early date.
It may be of interest to the Committee if I say that, while we are awaiting Parliamentary sanction for the use of this money, preliminary steps have been taken, and sites have been acquired in the great cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dundee, and also in Greenock, Clydebank, and parts of Lanarkshire. These preliminary arrangements only await confirmation, in some cases, by the Dean of Guild Courts. But, in the main, by the 20th of this month we will be in a position to commence immediately the erection of these houses, and before very long we shall see them actually in being.
I should like to say just a few words as to the construction of these steel houses. Criticisms have been made from time to time upon them. As I said at the beginning, minor defects, no doubt, have shown themselves, as they will in all 1296 experimental work. These minor defects have been, and will be, remedied. At any rate, what is proved beyond dispute is that to the people who have been living in these houses in some cases for nearly a year, and in some cases for over a year, they have proved satisfactory. Not only in their lay-out and the facilities which they give, but, above all, in the results of the scientific tests which have been made as to heat and cold, they have proved entirely satisfactory. I would appeal to hon. Members to realise that the Government are earnestly seeking a solution of this problem. They do not believe that this proposal will, nor is it intended to, strike any adverse blow at the building industry, either trade unions or masters, in any sense or form. They believe that there is room, and more than room, not only for all the enterprise and energy of the building industry, but for these additional methods as well. There may be temporary methods; and in the course of years they may be replaced by others, but in my judgment the problem is so urgent and so clamant that no Government—
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
If it has been, is not that all the greater reason why we should deal with it as speedily as possible? It is because I, at least, feel that it is so clamant and so urgent that I cannot bear to let it remain where it is, that I with the co-operation of the Prime Minister and the whole-hearted support of the Government, commend this Vote to the Committee.
The Committee is facing to-day one of the most urgent and most important of our national problems. No one who has even looked at the reports on house building in Scotland, not since the War alone, but since before the War, can lay his hand on his heart this afternoon and say that he is satisfied with the present position. More than that, within the last half a dozen or more years it has been perfectly obvious that the reliance which the Government opposite placed upon private enterprise as being an efficient supplier of houses for the people has failed; that private enterprise has proved to be a broken reed, and that the last experience of an approach even to the public authorities has also failed. 1297 Thus we find that a Government, profoundly hostile in principle and practice to State activity and State intervention, comes before the Committee this afternoon and asks us to vote £200,000 to enable the Government themselves directly to build houses which nobody else can build. This is a magnificent demonstration of the falsity of the Government's position.
I want to say, so far as I am concerned, that I think in the position of housing, especially in Scotland, where we are not building more than one-tenth of the number of houses that we ought to build and probably not one-fifteenth of the houses that could be very promptly inhabited if they were built—I want to say quite clearly that I recognise the need of emergency measures and the need for urgent solutions. On that ground, and on that ground alone, would I ever vote or speak for the erection of steel houses. I do not know—it may be sentiment only—it may be that 50 years from now the steel houses will have settled as comfortably into the heart of the Scotsman as the brick house is beginning to settle, but to-day, do not let us mistake what is really happening, To-day, these houses, made by mass production, completed by machinery, turned out by the thousand, dull, drab—[HON, MEMBERS: "No!"]—dull, drab, ugly, are being dumped in our cities and our waysides in order to shelter workingclass men and women, because, owing to the failure of society, they cannot find means to get any other kind of more advantageous and better house. There is not a single Scotsman or Scotswomen who would take a steel house if it were put alongside a stone house or a brick house. Here, at this time, when we boast of our tremendous national wealth, it is a second class thing that is being offered our sons and our daughters of the working class in Scotland, in which to live. There it is. It is a temporary necessity. You cannot indulge too much on the quality of our houses; the necessity to-day is to get decent shelter under those conditions, and under those conditions only my hon. Friends and myself say, "Let us vote money for houses," and that is what we are going to do this afternoon.
What is the position of the Government in this respect? The Government have referred to the Scottish National Housing 1298 Company, which it approached, but now, as a matter of fact the Government is not using that Scottish National Housing Company at all. The Government have never consulted that Scottish National Housing Company. Not at all. Never. The Government have gone to certain directors of the Scottish National Housing Company. Their intention, apparently, was to use that company, but on second thoughts they decided not to use that company, and are creating a new company and the company that they are creating is not a company at all. I hold in my hands the articles of association of that new proposed company. There is no feature in that company that associates it in any way with a public company. It is not a public benefit company, it is a thing got together with five or six worthy gentlemen called directors who, as a matter of fact, are going to be used as a sub-committee of the Scottish Board of Health, to do work for which they are not responsible to any shareholders, but responsible to the Government alone. There is power to make shareholders. But we are now informed that the Government are going to supply all the capital. We are now informed that there are to be no subscriptions through outside sources. The meaning of this is that the Government have appointed a committee, consisting of a certain number of persons, whose names are attached to these articles of association. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read them!"] They are most admirable gentlemen. I am not saying they are not. I am only dealing with the nature of the company. I am going to say that this company has got no responsibility at all.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
The capital is £100,000. The point is, that, as far as I can make out, this company does not exist except as a body of nominal directors, gentlemen called directors, who, as a matter of fact, in relation to the capital, and in relation to the authority, are simply a sub-committee of a Government Department in Scotland; and that everything the company does is of the nature of the act of a Government subcommittee. For these things the Government themselves are responsible, and must be held responsible.
That is the situation. I am not at all averse to that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, 1299 hear!"] But what about hon. Members opposite? The proposal is to erect 2,000 steel houses, and, as I said, so impressed are we with the necessity of this immediate erection, that I doubt if there would have been a very serious Debate at all, if there had been no trouble about the conditions under which they are to be built. There would have been expressions of opinion, but no serious Debate. What is the position? The Government say that this company is going to do something or other. I will take the short way, and say that the Government are going to do something or other. This company has decided nothing. This company has not decided to place a thousand houses with Messrs. Weir, or to place half that number with the Atholl company. This company has not decided to place the other half of the remainder with Cowieson or any other firm. This company has decided nothing, and all that this House is asked to do actually by the Government is to vote £200,000, which is still to be spent, and which ought only to be spent in ways and under conditions in accordance with the expressed view of the House of Commons this afternoon. Let us be perfectly clear about that. Lord Weir has not got a contract for 1,000 houses, and to-night we are not voting for that contract going through.
Where is the trouble? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members may laugh. We understand their minds in this respect. The Secretary of State for Scotland made some remarks to which we did not object at all. The only remark he made that calls for reply it is far better not to talk about. I forget exactly his adjectives and his nouns, but he said that some of my hon. Friends may take mere pettifogging, non-national views of this question and of the responsibilities. Is the right hon. Gentleman so very sure about this? Some of my hon. Friends, especially those who come from the South-West of Scotland, are objecting to the particular distribution of these orders. Is he quite so sure they have no ground for the widespread suspicion that is about—nay more—the almost fervent conviction, that the Government are using Lord Weir in obedience to the opinions and the pressure of their own industrial supporters 1300 in the South-West of Scotland, to smash trade unionism. Will the right hon. Gentleman, supposing he resents that remark, deny that the suspicion is there? Will he deny that the fact is there? Will he deny that Lord Weir, after dinners and before dinners, at masters' organisations, and in public meeting, has declared again and again and again, not in relation to this, but in relation to general industry, that trade unionism ought to be smashed? Will he deny that? If he does, the reply is ready for him in the form of extracts from Lord Weir's speeches. Human nature is human nature, and if somebody, rightly or wrongly, fortunately or unfortunately, puts himself at the head of a movement like that, and commits himself to such statements as those, is it wise to mix up that movement with a great national scheme of housing such as this, with a scheme such as the Government are projecting to launch upon the country.
A question was put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) about fair wages. I want also to put a question, and it is this. Will any subsequent speaker, whoever is going to speak from the Government bench, tell the Committee whether Lord Weir has ever negotiated, or tried to negotiate, the rate of wages that he is now paying under his housing scheme? Perhaps we might get an answer to that question.
Now I come back to my point about the Government in relation to this. The Government are the contractors, not any company. The Government, being the contractors, are subject by a Resolution of this House to the Fair Wages Clause. Will someone explain to me how Lord Weir can fit himself into the Fair Wages Clause? The Fair Wages Clause presupposes negotiations. The spirit embodied in the Fair Wages Clause, strikes, in every phrase and in every expression, at the idea that any man, either employer or workman, can, of his own free will, decide what he has to pay for work done under Government contract. If the Government once lets any individual employer, even if he is paying, to begin with, 10 times the trade union rate, fixed without agreement and without collective bargaining, and without a contract that is accepted by representatives of the employés—it does not matter the 1301 figure, or the generosity, or the meanness of the man—if the Government allow him to do that, then they are doing violence, both to the letter and the spirit of the Fair Wages Clause. But they say, "We will apply the principles of the Bradbury Report." The Government are doing nothing of the kind. In those cases in the Bradbury Report where reference is made to wages, the reference is always couched in terms of agreed wages. On pages 16 and 18 of the Bradbury Report, two very specific references to wages will be seen, where in both cases the assumption, expressed in parenthesis, is that there is agreement.
There is another thing the Government must remember. I am assuming the Government are going to fulfil their obligations in the spirit, and not merely the letter. When the Government take the Bradbury Report and apply it to this case, will the Government remember that the situation which has now arisen is quite novel, and that when the Bradbury Committee sat, the Bradbury Committee had to consider the payment of wages by Lord Weir not in relation to a Government that, apparently, so far as I can make out quite honestly, is far more inclined to back him up than to stand rigidly by the Fair Wages Clause. The Bradbury Commission were never faced with that problem. They were faced with the question of what would be fair wages when paid on a contract let by a public authority which itself was enforcing a Fair Wages Clause. That was the whole position, and I am sure if the Prime Minister will bend his mind to this, and will look from the beginning to the end of the Bradbury Report, as I have done for the purpose of this Debate to refresh my memory, he will see that, from the beginning to the end of the Bradbury Report, the Report is drafted with the knowledge that there is this check upon wages paid by Lord Weir or anybody else making steel houses—the check that practically every local authority—and certainly every important local authority—in Scotland would only give a contract if the wages paid on the contract were, not only in amount, but in method of settlement, in accordance with the provisions of that Clause. All I say is, will the Government go back to that? Will the Government carry out the Bradbury Report in relation to circumstances which 1302 have arisen since Lord Bradbury signed his Report, and handed it over as a completed document?
There is another observation. I am trying to get peace in this matter. Why are 1,000 houses going to this place to which objection has been taken, and the other 1,000 are going in two halves to two places, to which no objection has been taken? Let us see what is the meaning of this. Is it because there is so much difference of pounds, shillings and pence? I am informed—I am in the hands of the Government; I do not know—but I have been informed that now there is not, that it is a very simple matter, that the difference is practically negligible, and that with a little bit of adjustment which is expected to be effective in the course of the operation, the difference will disappear altogether. Is it a real, substantial difference of price? If it is, then the Government are simply buying cheap houses produced under unsatisfactory conditions so far as labour is concerned. But look at the difference. There is a, firm to which great objection has been taken, not only by the building trade. Resolutions in batches are being sent in by other trade unions that are absolutely impartial and unconcerned with regard to this specific issue. There is a firm of reputation which has twice as many houses as the other two. In any event, that is a great handicap to the other two. It is perfectly well known that one is in competition with the specially favoured one, and I think we ought to have some very detailed and very accurate explanation why the distribution is made in that way. A firm which, I do not say has bad labour conditions, because I do not think the conditions are bad—I do not think my hon. Friends do—
§ Mr. MacDONALD
No, no; I used the plural, and not the singular. So far as I have seen the wages' sheets, the weekly sum paid is not worse. It certainly is not a great wage. It is not a glorious thing. It is not a thing to boast about, but, compared with others, you cannot say it is very much worse. I put it that way. Therefore, this firm with no 1303 security, but with this very well-founded suspicion that it is out to destroy the influence and the authority of the trade unions, receives special preference at the hands of the Government, even when the other two firms have been approved by the Government as being capable of producing houses to the extent required. There are agreements between the building operatives and engineers. There is the agreement of the Constructional Engineering Union, a joint agreement which runs over the whole of England, and an agreement which has also received the adhesion of a fair number of the Scottish people. There are all sorts of opportunities for the Government to start negotiations to bring themselves within the four corners of the Fair Wages Clause.
One thing more, and I do hope hon. Members opposite will take this from the point of view of men who want peace, but, to use our old Foreign Office expression, we also want security. I hope, also, taken from that point of view, they will not overlook this fact. I shall read an extract about which hon. Members may say, "Well, Lord Weir is an engineer. We have got a great revolution now in the production of houses. From being building affairs, they have become engineering affairs." It is a revolution which ought to be very, very carefully considered, in view of the limitations upon mass production in country places. However, that is an aside. The argument is, of course, "The slums—that is where mass production gives its maximum benefit." Of course it is, but come to my little village in the North of Scotland; I hope you will keep your mass production 500 miles away, because we do not want it and because if you tried it you could not make it succeed. I am simply saying, what everybody admits, that when you come to Glasgow and Edinburgh, where you have a mass population, of course you have your opportunity for mass production, but do keep your mechanical hand off these little villages where there are only 300 or 400 people, and where we prefer whitewashed walls, To the right hon. Gentleman, Lord Weir's mental process was this: "I am an engineer. I am producing houses. In the making of the doors in the factories there are the woodworking trade unions; in the making of baths and so on, there are other 1304 trade unions. Except when I am throttled by the light castings combination, and when I ask them for prices for baths, and they try to swindle me, I will go to Germany in order to show them that they have not a monopoly of this market. As a result, I get quotations much cheaper from the castings' companies." But when it comes to the mobilising of the articles, the right hon. Gentleman says, "I do not know about the amount of wages or about the standard of wages—oh, no; Lord Weir, who is a conservatively-minded engineer, when he asks a man to lay a floor, or hang a door, thinks of him as an engineer, and pays him engineer's wages. That is the explanation." Of course it is not. Mr. Barron, the Operatives' President, is reported in the verbatim report of the proceedings of a certain examination as having questioned Mr. Richmond, who is, I think, Lord Weir's Manager or agent; at any rate, he is his representative. This is what Mr. Baryon put to Mr. Richmond:We may take it that Lord Weir or his firm has fixed a rate without consultation with any person at all, without consultation with any organisation of operatives, and that any man accepting employment is bound to accept the conditions laid down by Lord Weir himself without negotiation. Following that us, because he has replied to it, I would like to ask this. Is it quite probable that it might have been that the engineering rate was considerably higher than the building rate at the moment? It has been in times past. Would the same circumstances have obtained? Would the firm of G. and J. Weir have decided to pay the engineering rate preferably to the building trade rate?To this Mr. Richmond replied: 'There would be no necessity to pay the engineering trade rate, because the building trade rate would have been sufficient to get the men.'That is the case, that is what is in the minds of my hon. Friends here, that is the gist of the controversy.
Every now and again it seemed to me that the right hon. Gentleman, as he went on in his speech, was going to say that the difference was so small that, as a matter of fact, Lord Weir was far better than he could be expected to be. If that be so, if he is anxious to do this, if the Government are anxious to get this scheme of theirs the freest and the fairest field, why do not they, their company, their 1305 agents and their sub-committee go and apply the Fair Wages Clause to Lord Weir? Get him to get his negotiations, his settlement, his agreement; get him to get his collective bargaining. We are told that now it is only a matter of amour-propre, only a matter of dignity. Give us the substance of collective bargaining, give us the letter and spirit of your Fair Wages Clause. I really do not like your steel houses, I do not like the idea, but nevertheless, as a practical man, I know that houses are required, that thousands of houses are required now. We must not be conservative even if our habits are good.
Give us the right conditions. Go and get every one of your 2,000 houses made under conditions that will leave no heart-burning, no strife and no enmity behind. Give us your 2,000 houses so that our people who build them can build them with their hearts as well as with their hands. I, therefore, appeal to the Government, and I appeal to the House, to put an end to this dispute in the way that I have indicated.
§ Mr. KIDD
There is no dispute between our friends opposite and those who sit behind the Government on the only thing that really matters, namely, the necessity for houses. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon has said, houses are wanted by thousands. Let us have those houses by any and every means at the earliest possible moment. I think I am right in saying that that simply stated fact properly interprets the whole policy of the Government in regard to these steel houses. The right hon. Gentleman has very rightly exercised his privilege by offering some criticism in regard to the ways and means adopted by the Government to provide these houses. For instance, he has raised the point that organised labour has not been consulted as it should have been in the matter of the wages of the workers engaged in the building of those houses. I have not followed Lord Weir's speeches very carefully, but I do not think that any great industrial captain in this country at the present time would ever dream of ignoring organised labour. Every great captain of industry frankly recognises the services done, not only to labour, but to industry generally by those organi sations.
1306 Am I not right in saying that it is agreed that the men engaged in the erection of these houses, on the one hand, are not builders, and, on the other hand, are not engineers, and that what we are dealing with here is something in the nature of a novelty, something rather like a new occupation? If, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite has indicated, 50 years hence Scotland may overcome its prejudice to the steel house, and you have engaged in the erection of steel houses large aggregations of men, then quite obviously you may have the development of a new union. Meantime, however, it seems to me that it is sufficient for us to know that the men who are really engaged in the erection of these houses have put forward no complaint with regard to wages and with regard to conditions.
I feel that because of the common mind which I have indicated, in all parts of the House, one should conduct this Debate in a thoroughly friendly spirit. But I do put forward the suggestion that there is really no point in the criticism that, on the one hand, the Builders' Union has not been consulted, and that, on the other hand, the Engineers' Union has not been consulted, because these unions do not apply to the men engaged in the erection of these houses. The time may come when they will have a union of their own. Meantime they have no complaint.
§ Mr. KIDD
I shall deal with that. There is, I submit, no union which can truly be said to be representative of the men engaged in the erection of these houses. These men have no trade union governing their present work. The Constructional Engineering Union referred to is a union which has nothing to do with the building of those houses. That union deals with big structures, in which you have a large amount of masonry, associated with heavy machinery. There is neither masonry nor machinery nor brickwork in the erection of those steel houses, and this particular union, which exists now, and to which it is suggested reference might be made by Lord Weir, cannot be said to be a union covering the men engaged in the erection of these houses.
§ Mr. R. MacDONALD
I apologise if I used language that indicated that. What I meant to say was that this was a type of an agreement that might be followed.
§ Mr. KIDD
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his fairness. I was rather referring to the interruption of the Member for Peebles (Mr. Westwood), who will now be corrected. I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman has suggested to the House that he has no admiration for steel houses. I do not suppose any Scotsman with any regard for the truth would declare himself as fond of them. If I had a choice of a house of stone, a house of brick or a house of steel, my preference would go out in that particular order. But the right hon. Gentleman almost tempted ate to go back to a very thorny topic when he referred to the failure of the building industry to supply the houses necessary. I would ask him at what point of our history building paralysis first began? I shall not pursue the topic, because I rather believe that you, Mr. Hope, would treat a back-bencher strictly in the matter. I rather suggest, however, that the explanation I hint at is the real explanation.
It is only fair to Lord Weir to say that no one had a stronger feeling against the steel house than I originally had. Now I have somewhat revised my views. There is a little village about 250 yards from my door and the prospect of steel houses being put up there dismayed me. It is an ideal village, a beautiful village of houses each built with two bedrooms, kitchen, parlour, pantry, scullery and all the rest. They were built by an old Tory laird as far back as 1866, before the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) came along with his land schemes. The very prospect of steel houses going up near that ideal village appalled me. Now those steel houses are up. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman I do not hesitate to admit my Toryism. I know he is as Tory as I am, but hesitates to express it. But I find now that these steel houses look uncommonly well. They are a great improvement on the houses from which many of the people occupying them have come. There is an urgent demand for these houses. We cannot satisfy all the applications and time and again I have been requested to use any influence I have to get houses for one after 1308 another. Thus the houses which previously I viewed with as much hostility as the right hon. Gentleman have largely destroyed my prejudice.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I have listened to the speeches which have been delivered here on this question of the housing of the people of Scotland, and I am in agreement with a good deal that has been said. I am also in disagreement with much that has been said. I do not agree with the idea that those nice little villages that we have in Scotland are all that can be desired. Distance—there is no doubt in this case—lends enchantment to the view. It is quite a different matter for the people who have to live in those houses. As our Leader has stated, there would have been absolutely no trouble to-day had it not been that the Government have seen fit, in its wisdom or otherwise, to introduce into this vexed question one of the worst type of employers of labour that we have in Scotland. He was up in the Gallery a few moments ago when the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) was accusing him of what he had said in after-dinner speeches. He was laughing very much as if he enjoyed it as a joke. I wish he had stayed a moment to hear me state what I wish to state on the Floor of the House of Commons, because I like to tell people to their face. Remember that it is the same Lord Weir that, with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Lloyd George) came down to the Clyde to get us to accept dilution of labour, so reducing our standard. That is why the building industry view with suspicion—and rightly so—anything which emanates from Lord Weir. Just as I told Lloyd George—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] Here is this Gentleman. What does he say? Lord Weir, on 20th October, 1921, called upon the Government to deal firmly with the trade unions. He said:Let the Government be under no illusion that they will alleviate the suffrage of any section of the community that is not already declaredly hostile to them. On the contrary. I profoundly believe that were they to declare, what they already know, that the power of trade unionism, used by the men who now control it, for purely political purposes,"—That is the man who was linked up with Lloyd George—has become a tyranny and a menace to the workers themselves, that it bids fair 1309 to ruin the industrial position, and with it the well-being of the people of this country, and, that recognising this, they have determined that the exercise of this power for evil ought to be curtailed and restricted, then I believe they would rally to their support"—That is the Government would rally to their support—and assistance to multitudes who are silently suffering at the moment, and look for a banner under which to struggle for their freedom.That is freedom from the tyranny of trade unionism!
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
To the Government—put to the Government by Lord Weir. I want hon. Members to bear in mind that so far as I am concerned, at any rate, that I view with some satisfaction the fact that the Prime Minister is prepared to go a long way in order to assist us out of this awful difficulty in which we find ourselves at the moment, I have that feeling. I hope the Prime Minister will not let me down. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am hoping so, but he will not be the first who has let me down. I hope that he will not let me down here. The Prime Minister has set out to assist us at this time, and I want to render all the assistance I can, to use all the power I have got, and all the influence I have, in the interests of the people to get houses.
I have no objection to steel houses, nor to brick houses, nor to wooden houses. I believe that these houses are much better than the houses that have been built in the villages of Scotland within the last 100 years. When our leader expressed the opinion he did, it was not the framework of the house he was speaking of; what he meant was a home. It does not matter whether it is the lowest shed that was ever raised on Scotland's plains. It is not the building. It is not the shed. It is the people that are in it! But to-day many people are not getting a chance, even of a shed, because those who control the matter have denied our people a home. There are no homes for tens of thousands of people in this country. They have to go into furnished lodgings. Even MacDonald—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order, order!"] Well, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon. What we are trying to do is 1310 to get these houses for the people, and get them now. The fact remains that the building industry has not yet marched with the great development that has gone on. They have not been able to give us the houses that we require. We require tens of thousands of houses. We have not got them. There is no denying the fact. I am not out to say who is to blame or who is not to blame, but the fact remains that the building industry has not lent itself to mass production. Along come the alternative schemes to turn houses out by mass production, and it is mass production that we require.
There would have been, as I have said, no trouble in the industry, or in this question of houses, had it not been for the fact that the Government have been able to get Lord Weir to negotiate or to come to terms with the building industry. They have not been able to do that. There is no use the Government or anybody else trying to gloss that over. Lord Weir has set out to reduce the building industry down to a certain level. I do not say that he is a tool in the hands of the Government. I do not believe it. I know him. I have followed him for 20 years. I know he is making the Government his tool. He is the power behind the Throne. There is no doubt about that. He does not come into schemes, into sugar beet, or many other things, for the fun of the thing. He is the one dominating influence behind the Government. The people who work in the building industry at the moment are not too well paid. The money paid for the building of houses to-day and the standard of life of the building industry is not too high. That being the case, no matter who builds the houses now, they have a right to the same conditions of labour that appertain at the moment, no matter whether it is engineers, or tailors, or anybody else, or as it is commonly called, unskilled labour—although we as engineers and Socialists do not know such a thing as unskilled labour. All labour is skilled. The only individuals who talk that way are those who do not labour—and we are not interested in them!
The Government, I hope, will seriously consider what they are up against because certainly we Socialists and we trade unionists mean to fight this to the very 1311 death. We must. That is what is being driven home in me at the moment. The Secretary for Scotland appears to be thinking of what is in front of the miners in May, thinking of the situation. As I see it as a member of the working classes it is a bread and butter question. Here is the Prime Minister, the head of a Government that has promised great things, and to whom the working classes of this country are looking forward to bring them out of the terrible state of affairs that exist at the moment. Many of our people are in a state of starvation. Here is this Government siding with a man whose whole history and efforts up to the present moment have been devoted to reducing the standard of life of the working classes. It is making us suspicious. Unless the Government can draw Lord Weir out we will have to vote against them here to-night. What this means, if I am able to understand it aright, is that the Government has the idea that the miners are threatened with a reduction of wages, that the whole of the working classes are threatened with a lowering of the standard of life; and it now appears to me that the Government is behind this idea of reducing the standard of life of the workers. Why otherwise would the Government back this man who is the only one who is demanding these conditions, conditions that no other employer of labour in this industry has demanded. Why? If I am stating the case too hardly, why is it that the Glasgow Corporation, which is not a Socialistic corporation, that the majority of the Glasgow Corporation, who are opposed to our views, and to us as Socialists and trade unionists, why, I ask, is it that the Glasgow Corporation turned down Lord Weir? Why is it that the Glasgow Corporation appealed to the Under-Secretary for Scotland, whom I am glad to see on the bench opposite, for he at any rate faces up to the House. Now I note the Secretary of State for Scotland has just resumed his seat. Behold, he cometh!
The Glasgow Corporation came to the decision that they could not take on the Weir scheme in spite of the fact—I do not need to elaborate it—of the power that the Weir combination has in this country. With all that power and all that influence brought to bear upon them, 1312 the Corporation turned it down. Then they were brought to book, by whom? By the Secretary of State for Scotland. The last time he spoke from the Treasury Box, following the Prime Minister, I said it was too soon to congratulate the Prime Minister on his offer, though I would be the first man on these benches to congratulate him if he had made any contribution which would assist us materially with solving the housing question in Scotland. Then the Secretary for Scotland got up and elaborated the details, and told us who was going to build these houses, that it was going to be Lord Weir's firm, and that they were to get special terms. Further than that, the Secretary of State for Scotland said: "We are going an with the job, and if necessary we are coming back to this House to get powers so that we can carry out the job no matter what opposition is raised." If he thinks he is going to "come the fly man" when it suits him, he never made a bigger mistake, because we are here to look after the interests of the people who are going to be affected. We are not against the idea of houses being built, but we are up against the idea of houses being built by methods which mean the lowering of the standard of life in that industry.
The Glasgow Corporation have a scheme which they call the Balshagray scheme. [HON. MEMBERS: "Circulate it!"] I can do more than circulate it. I can circulate you. Do not chaff me. It is all right for millionaires and jokers that have made fortunes out of supplying the British Army with Chinese ham during the War. We shall rear a hardy and intelligent army on that! In their anxiety, the Glasgow Corporation submitted this other scheme, this corporation which has been twitted by the Minister of Health, who told us about the wonderful houses which had been erected in Birmingham. He took jolly good care he did not stay in any of them. There are not worse houses in the country than those in Birmingham about which the Minister of Health boasted. There was another thing I did not tell the Minister of Health that day when he was boasting about Birmingham. The Birmingham employers pay higher wages, and got Scotsmen to go there Scotsmen went to these houses at Birmingham, but they were such 1313 scandalous houses that they refused to work on the job. Those are the houses that are being erected at the moment in Birmingham. The Glasgow Corporation set out with an ideal that was implanted in the people of this country after the War, when it was said we were to have a new style of houses, to have homes for the people. The day of the single end houses, the day of the colliery row, as we know it in different parts of Scotland, was to be a thing of the past, and nothing less than a three-apartment house was to be built. The Glasgow Corporation, in that spirit, went to the Department with the Balshagray scheme, and they were turned down because the Scottish Office said it was too dear. Those houses were of equal size with the Weir houses, the fittings were as good and they met all the demands; but the scheme was turned down because it was too dear. Yet they are £2 a year less than the Weir houses.
§ Captain ELLIOT (Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health, Scotland)
I am sure the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) does not wish to misrepresent the case. He may or may not have seen the statement that we went into the case with the financial representatives of the Corporation and that an agreed statement was issued—agreed to by the corporation—that the Balshagray houses were more expensive thar the Weir houses. That was agreed to by the corporation.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
This is a very serious matter, very serious for us in every way. I am astonished at the Parliamentary Under-Secretary saying that to me, when he knows quite well that I have the reply to it—that that was the initial cost. When the experts, who are not Socialists, went right into the matter and examined it, and analysed the whole thing, these experts at the job, men paid for the purpose, declared, and he knows it, that there was £2 difference, and that the Balshagray scheme—
§ Captain ELLIOT
I do not want to get into any dispute as to matters of fact with the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs. I was not referring to the first cost, it was to the rent, and to the rent alone that I was referring.[Interruption.] Excuse me; I am discussing the matter with the hon. Member for 1314 Dumbarton Burghs, and English Members have no right to interfere when two Scotsmen are thus engaged. I do not want to enter into a discussion, because it is not fair to the hon. Member to interrupt his speech. I only want to make it plain that when I was giving that figure I was quoting, not the first cost of the house but the rent, and it was on the rent that the experts of the corporation and of the Board of Health were agreed.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
Would it be a fact to state that the Balshagray scheme, which you are comparing with the Weir houses, is one which was turned down by the Board of Health because of its extraordinary cost?
§ Captain ELLIOT
I do not think it is fair to the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs to enter into a discussion of that now. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am perfectly willing to discuss these things later on, but I do not think it is fair to the hon. Member that we should interrupt his speech to discuss them across the. Floor in this way.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I can assure the Under-Secretary for Health that I do not require him to protect me in any way. The point I have made here the Parliamentary Under-Secretary has never refuted at any time that he has risen, and I will not elaborate the point any more. I want the Committee to keep these facts in mind, that we are prepared to accept steel houses—I know, at any rate, that I am—to accept any of the temporary methods of construction in order to get us out of this difficulty. The only thing on which I am in conflict with the Government is in their forcing on us Lord Weir's scheme. They could not have selected a worse individual, as far as the West of Scotland is concerned; and I want to say, also, that my English colleagues are embraced in this. This embraces the whole of the trade union movement of our country—there is to be no mistake about that. This is not to be isolated and treated as just simply a Scottish question. This is not a Scottish question. In my opinion, if this Government get away with this business of Lord Weir being allowed to engage labour as he likes, it will cut away from our feet as trade unionists all that we have ever fought for, it will cut at the very foundation of our organisations, 1315 will cut the very feet from under organised labour. That is what he has been fighting for for 20 years. His idea is to smash the trade union movement. He has elaborated it time and again in after-dinner speeches. He has written letters to the "Glasgow Herald" and to the London "Times"—I am glad to see him in his place up there—and he has made it clear that he believes that the trade union movement of this country is a menace. He knows perfectly well that when he brought Chinese into his works on the Clyde it was the first quarrel we had. He is the man who was responsible in the very first instance for causing trouble on the Clyde. He was the man who came to Parkhead Forge, along with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, in order to force on us dilution of labour. Now he has succeeded. There is no doubt about it. He is the man. I wish I could impeach him at the Bar of the House of Commons. I am taking this, the best opportunity that ever I got in my life. This man has lashed my trade from Dan to Beersheba. The Prime Minister—who everyone, on the average, thinks is an honest, kind, Christian, philanthropic Prime Minister—has linked himself up with a man who has whipped the engineers down from being the aristocrats of labour to below the men who sweep the streets—down below what is commonly called unskilled labour. He not only reduced the engineers' wages but he took away from them every right they had, and they were denied the rights of men. Those who worked in the machine shop or the fitting shop at Lord Weir's works could not leave the works without giving their number to a boy who was placed there for the purpose, and, no matter how urgent their demand to leave the works might be, they dare not leave without giving in their number. These are the conditions which prevail in the great British Empire, with Lord Weir at the head of them, and his aim and object is simply to reduce the building trade down to the level of slavery.
It is not only the building trade that will be affected, because this is only the beginning. You have to remember that in building a house you require over 1,000 articles, and I want to appeal to my fellow trade unionists, and to say to them 1316 that no matter what industry they represent it must be involved in the building of a house, and if Lord Weir gets his way all these other industries will be affected. Remember that this is only the bginning. I have watched the serpent at work before. You know what happened in the Garden of Eden. This is only the beginning, but it is the end if they accomplish it, and it will be more difficult for us to fight this thing unless we make a determined stand here to-night, and make it, clear to the Government that under no consideration are we going to be deprived of our rights, rights which our forefathers died for, the rights of trade unions and the right of collective bargaining.
We are not going to surrender those rights. We surrendered those rights during the War at invitation of Lord Weir and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in order to save our country, but the rules and regulations of our trade unions were not ours to sacrifice during the War any more than they are to-day. They are ours to defend, and I call upon every trade unionist within reach of my voice to stand as one man to-day and to declare that upon no consideration are they going to be hoodwinked one way or another into voting for terms such as these which would allow Lord Weir to carry on his abominable work. His name to us is worse than any German name ever was because no German would ever think of imposing such conditions as Lord Weir has imposed upon my fellow trade unionists. For those reasons, I hope the Government will consent to wipe out Lord Weir. Why not take on the Atholl houses in regard to which fair terms have been made and all the other alternative schemes? All I will say in conclusion is:If I'm designed you lordling's slaveBy nature's law designed.Why was an independent wishE'er planted in my mind?If not, why am I subject toHis cruelty or scorn?Or why has Lord Weir the powerTo make his fellows mourn?
§ Commander FANSHAWE
The hon. Member who has just sat down has been arguing on personal grounds, but I am afraid that I cannot follow him in that line of argument. His main argument appears to be that there is some danger 1317 of the trade unionists of this country being let down. It is true that we have heard the argument from certain hon. Members on the other side of the House that Lord Weir's workers were discontented, but I have not heard that from Cathcart from the workers themselves. But apart from this disagreement the Opposition do not seem to be at variance with the Government at all on this subject. There is no real evidence that the building trade unions in Scotland are opposed to this Measure, and if anyone looks carefully at the statistics for house building in Scotland they will at once see that there is plenty of room for the erection of steel houses, and stone and brick houses as well. In 1924 the Scottish Board of Health held an inquiry into the housing accommodation of Scotland, and it was found that there were 1,000,000 houses in existence and that 250,000 houses were wanted to make up the existing shortage, and also 10,000 houses a year to keep pace with the normal increase. Therefore, for over 15 years we should have to build more than 20,000 houses per annum in Scotland, whereas at the present time we are only getting about 6,000 houses built every year, leaving 14,000 more than are built at present for the building trade.
There is one foundation which we have not examined to-day and we have not gone down to the bedrock of the problem. We seem to have overlooked somewhat the great necessity of accommodation for many poor people in our industrial areas. In my own constituency we have some of the most beastly slums in Scotland, and I assert that we could have decency in these places at once if we could only quickly put up, not merely 2,000 steel houses, but 20,000 houses. It is our bounden duty to get those people out of their squalor and misery, and, therefore, I urge the Government to go ahead with their scheme. The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Kirkwood) has invited the Government to cut Lord Weir out of this scheme altogether. But if you do this, where are you going to get the houses from at once? You can only obtain the houses required by mass production such as is suggested by Lord Weir and you cannot get them in this way anywhere else. You cannot get mass production at the Atholl factories. We want 1318 more houses at once and where are we going to get them and get them quickly?
We do not want any more delay in this matter. We do not want to consider these personal differences of opinion with Lord Weir, and if hon. Members opposite have animosities against Lord Weir they should put them on one side. I believe the employés in Lord Weir's factory at Cathcart, when these steel houses are being manufactured, will receive better wages than their fellow workers in the building trade. Therefore, I appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite to put aside personal animosities and co-operate with us in this attempt to raise these poor people out of their misery. I believe that the steel house is a very good house. I speak as a naval officer of twenty-five years' service, and as one who has lived in a steel house for that length of time. It is true that it was a steel house afloat, but that is a more lively article than a steel house on shore. We were all very comfortable in our steel houses, and those who have inspected Weir steel houses and other steel houses I think will agree that if we can find suitable localities all over the country we should combine and put up these houses in very large numbers. If we do this not only shall we give these people decent accommodation in their homes, but they will also have a little bit of private ground and we shall not have what we find in our mining villages, that is, houses erected near a muddy footway with the children running under the wheels of motors.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
We are not objecting to steel houses, but to the conditions under which the Weir steel houses are produced.
§ Commander FANSHAWE
We are anxious to secure decent housing accommodation for these poor people and I think it is the duty of every hon. Member to urge the Government to increase their activities in this respect. There are in Scotland about one million houses and 12 per cent. of them are houses with one apartment only. About 40 per cent. have two apartments and 21 per cent. three apartments. No less than 8 per cent. of the population live in one-apartment. houses and 39 per cent. in two-apartment houses. Therefore every second person you meet across the border lives in a house with either one or two apartments. [An HON. MEMBER "You 1319 have created this state of things."] I do not care who created it, what I say is that our business now is to see that we do not perpetuate it. I ask hon. Members opposite to put aside their animosities and go forward with us in our endeavour to see that our people get the decent house accommodation which they deserve.
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
The spirit of the speech delivered by the hon. Member who has just sat down is very good, and it is very nice to feel that you have somebody else ready to co-operate with you, particularly if you get your own way. We have been asked by hon. Gentleman opposite to co-operate with them, and I understand that they are particularly anxious that more houses should be provided. We do not object to that, but you cannot provide these houses without labour, and what we are asking is that the labour conditions should be fair. I do not know Lord Weir personally, and I have not had the privilege of dining with him, but I understand he is very popular in the society to which he belongs. I also know some people who have had the pleasure of dining with him, and they tell me that he talks very nicely to them, and he has a very good reputation so far as that is concerned.
I do not doubt that he is quite anxious that houses should be provided, and is willing to do his share in the provision of those houses, but no one here will imagine, surely, that he is more anxious on that matter than the Duke of Atholl, nor will anyone who knows the circumstances and conditions suggest that the Atholl house is not as good as the Weir house; and, if the Duke of Atholl can agree with the trade union involved in this matter upon satisfactory conditions so far as the labour is concerned, what possible objection should Lord Weir have to doing the same thing? It may be said that he is actuated by the very best motives, but the proof of that, as we view the matter, would be his willingness to do what he is asked to do. If I had an opportunity of giving real expression to my views on this matter and of voting upon it, I would vote against the steel house, because I do not believe in the steel house; and I go further, and say I have no great liking for the brick house.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
I would have the same as the hon. and learned Member, namely, stone, and I have the same right to it as he has. It may be, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said, a question of sentiment, and I venture to say that I know the point of view of the ordinary Scottish working man very much better than the hon. and gallant Gentleman who preceded me in this Debate, whose point of view is not favourable even to a brick house. The sentiment of the Scottish people is in favour of the stone house, and there is any amount of stone in Scotland. We have agreed, however, that we are quite willing to meet the Government and co-operate with them on the question of providing houses, on condition that the Government see that those employers who are responsible for building these houses observe trade union conditions.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
It is no use my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary saying "Hear, hear!" to that, when, as a matter of fact, the provision in this case is the very opposite of that. It, must not be imagined for a moment that hon. Members on this side have any animosity against Lord Weir. I can give the names of employers who are as bad as he is in other industries, but this is not the place or the time to deal with the question from the Joint of view of personal likes or dislikes. We are not approaching this matter from the standpoint of Lord Weir's relations as an employer in Cathcart; all that we are claiming is that the conditions that are good enough for Lord Invernairn and the Duke of Atholl should be observed by Lord Weir. If that is done, this question of division or disagreement or lack of co-operation with the Government would pass away at once.
I would like to ascertain from the Government what they mean by 2,000 houses. No one is better acquainted than the Secretary of State for Scotland with the fact that a Royal Commission was appointed in 1912 to inquire into the housing conditions in Scotland. That Royal Commission was composed, as to a large majority, of men who believed as the majority in this House believe; they 1321 were Tories, not by sentiment, but by conviction, looking upon the ordinary members of the working class as having been created by a Being very different from that which created themselves. These gentlemen belonged to your own majority; they were not the Bradbury Commission, but awn infinitely superior Commission. They took five or six years to inquire into the actual conditions of housing in Scotland, and they recommended that, before Scotland would be fairly housed, something like 230,000 houses would require to be built. Now the Government come along with this paltry proposal of 2,000 houses—2,000 houses on an experimental basis, 2,000 steel houses; and they tell us they have the authority of everyone who has looked at these houses that they are the very best type of house in which to live, and that everyone is satisfied. The proof of the pudding is in the preeing of it, and I will believe in the steel house when the Tory gentlemen of England live in steel houses—when anyone on the other side can get up and say, "I have lived in a steel house." I know that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke before me has lived in a ship, but not as an ordinary sailor—
§ Mr. GRAHAM
I know all about that, but, if a steel house, or a steel cabin at sea, was so very beneficial to the hon. and gallant Gentleman from the point of view of health and otherwise, then there is no reason why he should not have built a steel house since he left the Navy, and then he would have been able to tell us just exactly what sort of house it was. It is no use telling me or anyone else on this side that the steel house is a good one, but you will not live in it. So far as we are concerned, we are accepting the steel house under protest. We do not look upon it as any other than a, temporary measure.
There is something that requires explanation in the attitude of the Government. We shall not solve the housing problem in Scotland by supporting this proposal for 2,000 houses. In the town where I live we could take 2,000 houses now, for that one town, and this number is being proposed for the whole country. In the Middle Ward of Lanark they will not take steel houses, and to attempt to 1322 force them to do so will only create trouble. You have already attempted to enforce your conditions on the Middle Ward of Lanark. The Middle Ward of Lanark has been compelled to accept the reasonable conditions laid down by the building trades union, and, let there be no mistake about it, the trade unionists of Scotland will support the builders in this matter—not because they are against the engineers, for the engineers have nothing to do with it. Even if the impression were created that the engineers were going to benefit by this proposal, people must not run away with the idea that the working classes generally in Scotland will have any hesitation in expressing their views favourably to the attitude of the building trade. At the New Year, the most representative conference of Scottish trade unionists and co-operators that can be held in Scotland met in Glasgow, and they decided against the steel house, and particularly against any attempt on the part of the Government to impose conditions similar to those which Lord Weir, evidently with their concurrence, is to be allowed to put into operation.
I noticed that a question was put a few days ago to the Minister of Health asking for the number of houses built in England and Wales during the last two years, and I find from the answer that during the years 1924 and 1925, up to the end of September, 1925, there were 268,517 houses built in England and Wales. During those two years a fight has been going on in Scotland, not between the building trade and the town and county councils, but between the town and county councils and the Scottish Board of Health. The Scottish Board of Health refused to allow houses to be built in Scotland except under conditions that were very much worse than in England. I may remind hon. Members at this point that when the Royal Commission made its Report in 1917, a statement was made that something like a half a million houses were required to supply the needs of England and Wales, which had a population of something like 40,000,000, while Scotland, with a population at that time of 5,000,000 or less, required a quarter of a million houses. Between 1917 and the present time there has been such a building boom in England as to warrant the paragraph—inspired, perhaps—which appeared in the Scottish Press, 1323 that there are now so many houses in England and Wales that the Government can safely withdraw the Rent Restriction Act and allow the free play of supply and demand in regard to housing.
During that period the country which was requiring the most houses has been deliberately starved, and the English Minister of Health is responsible for using public money, to which we contribute our share, in order to give conditions to the inhabitants of English towns and villages which are refused to the people of Scotland. I do not blame the Scottish Board of Health; they were the tools of the Minister of Health in England. There is more than one devil in this play; Lord Weir is not the only one. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has been a bitter and determined enemy of Scottish building every time he has had any opportunity to deal with the matter, and I accuse him here of being as largely involved in this matter as Lord Weir. The probabilities are that the family will make some profit out of it, just as the Weir family has intended to do. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland raising his eyebrows. There is something sinister in this matter.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
Is it in order for an hon. Member to accuse a Minister of the Crown of making profit out of houses in Scotland?
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is a matter the Committee must judge on its merits. It is not contrary to the technical rules of order.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
I can substantiate quite a lot, but I am not going to say it. I have said quite enough. I can substantiate the fact that building has been held up in Scotland, that the conditions of payment made it possible for higher wages to be paid to the building trades in England than in Scotland, that the Scottish Board of Health have intervened and prevented building being done, because the builders naturally claimed 1324 the same conditions in Scotland as applied in England, and everyone will agree that I have made good the point that the Scottish Department is only a subordinate department of the Ministry of Health. There is a good deal in this matter which would be interesting if we could get to know it. I know that 2,000 steel houses will not meet our needs. 100,000 houses will not do it. And you do not care for the people who are in the slums. It is you who put them there. They are in the slums, not because there are not houses, but, because they cannot pay the rent, and the rent of the steel house is to be as high as the brick house. You will not solve the slum problem—you do not intend to solve it and it, is no use members of the Government imagining that we are taking this thing in a light spirit. We are not.
We intend to fight this matter and it will take a long time for Lord Weir and those associated with him to break the spirit of the Scottish trade unionist and co-operator. It will take him a long time to break down the conditions that our fathers and ourselves have built up. If the Government are really sincere in their desire to get better housing in Scotland it is not worth their time and trouble to enter upon the policy in the spirit they are proposing to do. So far as I personally am concerned, I am willing to sink some of my convictions on the matter. I do not believe in the steel house, but I, and hon. Members on this side, are willing to meet and to co-operate with the Government to save any Division, even in this House to-night, if they will give us some assurance that they are really genuine and sincere in their desire to get rid of this difficult social problem. We do not want to accuse individual members of the Government or Lord Weir at all. Lord Weir counts for nothing in this matter. We want 2,000 houses. They can be provided by other firms if Lord Weir will not observe the conditions. If he will observe the conditions we do not object. All we are asking is that the conditions the Duke of Atholl is prepared to agree to should be laid down as conditions applying to every other employer who expects to secure any share of the subsidy that is to be voted here to-night.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
It is difficult to gather from the last speaker what his 1325 point of view is. At one moment he is denouncing the steel house and saying it is disgraceful and of no use. That may be one point of view, and that is intelligible. At the next moment he has not the least objection to the steel house as long as it conforms to the Atholl conditions.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will pay attention. I said I did not believe in the steel house, but I was willing to compromise, to co-operate, to sink my convictions for the purpose of assisting and co-operating with the Government on this experiment of theirs. But it does not follow, because I am willing to do that, that I have changed my view as to the steel house.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The steel house, then, cannot be so bad that such a terribly instantaneous slum is going to be created. My right hon. Friend, of course, upheld the stone house. The stone house, if you got it built of granite, might be all right, but I think one of the principal causes of the housing trouble has been that for generations we have built our houses far too substantially, and they have lasted for hundreds of years. What is the curse, of old towns like Edinburgh and Inverness? The houses were built centuries ago and they are as good as on the day they were built, and they are entirely out, of date. It is like the Royal Infirmary of Glasgow, which an American doctor said is a truly magnificent building. It will last a thousand years and he obsolete in 50. That is what is is wrong and always has been, with our housing in Scotland. I have seen magnificent buildings being pulled down to make way for shops or offices or tenants or some kind or another, and the whole capital sunk in them was wasted. I have the honour to have the first Weir house in my constituency. It is a very satisfactory building and one I should be very glad to live in, and when I am in a position to afford a second house in a country place it is a Weir house I am going to have. Many people are compelled to live in one roomed houses. When you look at the Weir house, it is comfortable, well fitted, up to date, with every sanitary convenience. It is a well-looking house from the outside. The only fault I have to find with it is that instead of using the splendid slates they make in the West Highlands they are using tiles. 1326 Unfortunately they do not make slates and tiles all of one size, and it is a great disaster to this industry in the West Highlands.
The whole ground of the charge against the Weir house is that the building is being handed over to an engineer's firm instead of a builder. I have no use for the building trade, either masters or men. All this clamour for houses has been going on all these years. It is a shocking state of affairs and the local authorities are not much better. They have made the most unholy mess of it. When you come to mass production and want a lot of houses you do not want to build as the ordinary house is built, stone by stone and brick by brick, but you want them put up by engineers. You buy in bulk and you know exactly what you are getting and you will have a thoroughly sound house. As long as the Engineers' Union is satisfied—
§ Mr. ROBERT YOUNG
The Engineers' Union has nothing to do with this controversy. We are not concerned at the moment with the building of these things inside the factory. We are concerned with the building of the houses, and the engineering union in that respect is not interested.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
If the houses can be put up by unskilled labour, neither the engineers' nor the builders' unions have anything to do with it. [HON. MEMBERS "Yes:"] The right hon. Gentleman said there is plenty of stone in Scotland. The stone is in the hearts of the men who stand in the way of thousands of people who are clamouring for houses, and hundreds and hundreds of young ex-soldiers who have got married and are living all these years with their mothers-in-law. You want houses that will last for 40 or 50 years. That is long enough for any house to last. We shall then be living under different circumstances. The Scottish people were educated to the abominable tenant system because the people were so lawless that they had to live in walled towns for safety. They got used to it, and many people would not now live under a cottage system. We want to get rid of it, 1327 and you will only get rid of it by getting a cheaper and more easily erected type of house on its own plot of ground. I saw it stated at one time that slums would be created if you put up economically erected houses. The real slums in this country are the houses of the wealthy of past generations. They are the ones that degenerate into slums. People are no further forward in Scotland in house building than they are in Russia in clothing. The Russian peasant wears a leather suit and cap that he inherited from his grandfather. It is handed down from one descendant to another.
It is not 2,000 houses we want but scores of thousands. We want them scattered all over the place and we want them to be on the system that a working man who inhabits a house of that kind shall pay the same rent that he pays normally, using the principle of the Town Tenants Act which has been extended to Ireland, and that it shall be used as a sinking fund, and in the course of a period of years the house becomes his own, and then he will take a great deal more care of it than if it is merely a rented house. To object to mass production of houses in a time of national stress like this because it infringes some principles of the trade union is a form of fanaticism. It is not common sense. Tailors might as well join together in saying, "There shall be no factory production with these long knives that cut 50 suits at a time. They must be cut by hand, and people shall go about without any clothes because we tailors insist on having the whole of the job." The whole thing is so manifestly wrong that it makes me ashamed of my fellow-Scotsmen, who used to be logical, that they can engage in anything so preposterous as to keep the present housing conditions in Scotland as a running sore for years and years. It is the very thing to provoke a spirit of revolution to keep people in these dreadful housing conditions.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Possibly it is only fair to give the people steel houses, so that if there is to be a revolution they may have some shelter from the bullets. I know Scotland and the Scottish working classes as well as any hon. Member 1328 opposite. I was bred among them, and I know many of them. Hundreds of my friends are scattered in all parts of Scotland, and I have many among the trade unionists.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I sincerely hope that, if that eventuality occurs, the hon. and learned Member will make a better case for me than he is making for the steel houses.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
If I had defended the hon. Member when he was tried for sedition during the War he would never have been put into confinement. He would have escaped.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Possibly these remarks might be relevant to the Vote for the Lord Advocate's salary, but I do not think they are relevant to this Vote.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I know that the feeling of the working classes all over Scotland is one of bitter disappointment that the housing problem has not been tackled up to now, and that all Governments have shirked it and have run away from the clamour of these trade unions, and of the employers, who are hand in glove with them in order to get a monopoly for a generation. Nothing has done more to establish good faith in Scotland in this Government than the fact that they are at last tackling the problem, and contributing a substantial number of houses. If they go on with this policy and put up 10 or 20 times the number of houses that are now proposed, which can only be done by mass production, they will have support and enthusiasm in Scotland from all classes, which they could not have achieved if they had sat still and let things drift in a hopeless fashion, as did previous Governments.
Mr. ROSSLYN MITCHELL
I hope that in the particular circumstances the Committee will allow me to say in my first sentence that I have never had at any time, and have not now, any association, either financial, professional, or social, with Lord Weir, or the Atholl Housing Company, or the Cowieson Company, or any association or society with which they are connected. I stand tonight and speak from these benches as a quite unrepentant supporter of the proposal that the Government have put before the House.
I should like to draw the attention of the House to the real basic fact that lies underneath this proposition. There are in Scotland 4,882,000 people. Of that number, there are 400,000 who live now in single-room houses. I do not mean by that houses which are occupied in single apartments; I mean houses which are self-contained single rooms. There are 1,950,000 people in Scotland living in two-apartment houses. That means that there are 2,350,000 people—almost one-half the population of Scotland—who have never known what it is to have a home of three apartments, who have never known what it is to live in a home with hot water supply, who have never known what it is to live in a home with a bath, and who have never known what it is to live in a house with lavatory privilege. There is the substantial human position.
Many of us on this side of the House know what life is in these conditions. We do not live in these conditions to-day. Many of us have seen the moment arrive when by some fortune, which we either merited or not, we have been able to leave these conditions, and we have felt ourselves, and all associated with us have felt themselves, filled with a thrill of hope at the prospect of the new quality of life which was to be the result of a three-roomed house, of a bath, continuous hot water, and lavatory privileges within the house. In Glasgow, out of 1,000,000 population, 600,000 people live in two-apartment or single-apartment houses. Here is great Glasgow, the pioneer of 1330 municipal enterprise, and yet in 1925 there were 600,000 of its people living under these dreadful conditions! Moreover—I still ask the Committee to give its attention to Glasgow—there are 13,600 houses in Glasgow, inhabited by families of British citizens, that have been condemned as unfit for human habitation, not by the standard of 1925, but by the lowest standard imposed by the terms of reasonable health being enjoyed by the people.
In these houses to-day, there are women and children living. This is not a man's problem. The man leaves the house in the morning, and he is out all day. He comes home to his evening meal, and he goes out again. The woman lives in the house two-thirds of her time. The children are in the house one half of the time. Children sleep in the house, and the sleep of a child is the base rock upon which it is going to build up its nerve and sinew its blood, and the marrow in its bones. There can be no sleep under such conditions. There can only be slow asphyxiation. Here is a grim tragedy, when 13,600 of these houses are condemned as unfit for human habitation, there are hundreds of people who are even begging for the opportunity to get into any one of them.
There are people living below the ground. There are people living in houses which they have to reach by mounting outside ladders, like a painter. There are people living in outhouses, people living in houses that are infested with rats, and they have to protect their children during sleep from rats. There are house: which I have seen in which the little children dare not lie down on the floor they have to sleep leaning against the wall, because of the vermin which are there. That is the problem.
There are hundreds who have not even shelter, and who have to go to the parks to sleep on banks, or who have to go into the prison cells night after night, or have to go to the railway sidings to sleep, not on the seats, lest they should be arrested, but under the seats, so that they may not be observed. There are people who rig up little trumpery jute bag tents for a covering for their heads. That is the problem. That is the tragedy. What is the use of talking about the Empire upon which the sun never sets, 1331 when you have in the very heart and bosom of that Empire houses on which the sun never rises—airless, sunless, light-less homes for British citizens? Not only have we the absolutely homeless person, but we have the slum dweller. When we come to the 1926 standard of house, it is an artisan problem, and yet we have the artisans of Glasgow, those highly skilled engineers, the product of whose skill and industry excites the admiration and envy of the world, having to live in these two-apartment, or single apartment houses. We need now, not two years hence, 120,000 houses to maintain even that standard. We need, if we take the new standard of 1925, 250,000 houses now. We cannot wait for bricklayers, plasterers, and joiners to adjust their differences. There are old folk living in these houses, and they cannot wait. There are young people who are married or who are about to be married who have no home. They cannot wait. There are little children passing through the most impressionable stage of their lives, between the ages of one and seven, and they cannot wait.
The whole honour and chivalry of the British race cannot wait. We must have 20,000 houses every year for 15 years. I wish the Prime Minister, instead of speaking about 2,000 houses and £200,000, had spoken about 200,000 houses, or £2,000,000. But I believe that this is just the first move, and that his heart is bigger than the figures represent. I rejoice as a life-long opponent of the traditions of the party opposite to see that they have allowed their hearts and their minds to be affected by the sorrows and anguish of their fellow-citizens.
Now we come to the problem and the efforts made to solve it. What has been done? In six years in Scotland we have managed, with the help of the Treasury, the local authorities, the masters, and the builders, to produce 36,000 houses. We are, therefore, 84,000 worse off now than we were five years ago, judged by the standard that. I set before you. We have lost 14,000 houses a year. The labour is represented in Scotland by 69,000 operatives, 63,000 of whom are engaged upon buildings for banks and theatres and cinemas and stone houses and other edifices. Only 6,000 out of 69,000 of the operatives who to-day are protesting are engaged in work which entitles them to say a word. 1332 Out of 69,000 only 6,000. The 63,000 have no interest in this proposition. They have not been working on the job. They have been working at their own job, a job which needs them still, and will need them for many years.
Materials? Every time a proposition is put before this House to increase building by existing and customary materials, the price goes up. It is £100 higher to-day for a house than it was two years ago. When the Coalition Government made a proposition the price went up twice, and the Minister of Health had to sacrifice, not only his proposals, but himself. When the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of Health held office in a former Conservative Government, he had to face the prospect of adding another £70 to the price of a house. The Minister of Health of the late Labour Government made a proposition in order to give an extra £9 a year, and it was all consumed in the interest upon the extra cost of building material. And here we are land-locked — labour, material, money. The local authorities cannot face, single-handed, these great housing schemes; they must have national support. It has been the policy of those who sit on the Labour Benches, as far as I have been able to understand it, to promote and propagate the idea that this was a national proposition which should be helped by national funds. Now it is offered to us and I am very sorry that it should receive such a chilly reception.
There is the question of time. It takes years to build houses on ordinary lines with ordinary materials and by ordinary craft labour. The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Kirkwood) knows that in his own constituency there are houses which have stood partly finished for over two years. I know areas, built up to a certain extent, that are losing thousands of pounds in interest and are not completed yet, and we do not know when they will be completed. They cannot be completed in time to meet this terrible need, and to restore those who are at present suffering so terribly. But if it is possible to conceive a scheme whereby a house, internally as good and externally adequate, can be made without trespassing on building material and building operatives, then you can fulfil the needs of the people for homes, and you can solve partially another distressing 1333 problem which faces men of high skill, who have been accustomed to work all their lives but are now spending year after year walking the streets, and are forbidden to apply their skill in this connection.
That has been done in three cases at least. I know of others, but. I confine myself to the three that are before this House—the Weir scheme, the Atholl scheme, and the Cowieson scheme. These schemes are totally different in idea. The Atholl scheme provides an iron and steel framework and steel walls, and then calls upon the building contractor to supply building craftsmen, the joiner and plumber and all the rest, to perform their craft work on the site. There is no standardisation outside the frame. The Weir house idea is to employ the operative, the building craftsman, at his craft, not on the site where he is liable to the fluctuations of weather, but to employ him in a factory of his own, under his own trade union conditions and under his own employers, where he would have continuous employment to produce the finished article of his craft, and make it the raw material of the housing contractor. That is a totally different conception.
I hope that this Debate will have at least one effect. I hope that it will have removed from the minds of the women of Scotland the unmitigated mischief which bas been caused by the reckless condemnation of this type of house as a house. To talk, as has been done, of this type of house as a dirty, insanitary, verminous, tin shanty and sardine tin, for it to be spoken of by men who have come from single ends as an insult to the poor—men who have tried to create in the minds of the women the idea that to live in one of these houses is to ostracise themselves socially from their fellows—that sort of talk has done irreparable injury. Whatever may be the consequence on the question of a trade union conflict, with which I am not here concerned, I hope that at least this Debate will have removed the pernicious influence that has been working all through Scotland during the past 12 months.
I would like to refer in the greatest friendship to words that were used by the honoured leader of my party. He begged that at least his village should be kept 1334 clear of modern methods of building. I happen to be interested in that village too, and for years I have admired it because it was one of the first villages in Scotland to adopt the pioneer method of building houses with concrete blocks. What is this modern method? I will not say what it is myself, but will ask right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to read the Moir Report., which is signed by building trade employers and building trade operatives' representatives, under the aegis of a Socialist Minister of Health. Hon. Members will find that that Report analyses, and boasts that it analyses, the question from a technical point of view. It says that there is nothing peculiarly novel in the idea. The idea has been carried out for years with succcess. It analyses every criticism, such, for instance, as the statement that the house is hot in summer and too cold in winter, or that it is insanitary or verminous. And in every case it decided in favour of the house.
But hon. Members need not take only-that Report. They can ask the town clerks of the local authorities which have put up the houses. What did they find as the result? Do not let our prejudice or our conservatism shut our eyes entirely to facts. Go to the Town Clerk of Stranraer or the Town Clerk of Newton Stewart, or the County Clerk of Lanarkshire or any of those who have put up these houses. Ask them, first, what is their view: second, what is the view of their tenants: and you will receive—as I could read to the house tonight—a unanimous and an enthusiastic report on behalf of the officials and the tenants in favour of these houses. Moreover, what was the decision of the Ministry of Health when it was occupied by a Socialist Minister, and Scotland was administered by a Socialist Under-Secretary? Did they not propose to the county of Lanark the erection of these houses? I have the OFFICIAL REPORT here, if My hon. Friend shakes his head. He may have forgotten.
In August, 1924, a Socialist Government was in power, or in office. If there be anything at all that makes me nervous of my position or at, all uncertain, it is the fact that hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House are so enthusiastic in their support of my statements. In August, 1924, the Minister of Health and the Under-Secretary for 1335 Scotland did propose that these houses should be erected. There was no protest. An order was given for the erection. There was no protest until the order was about to be executed. Then there came this: In Leeds and Manchester and Sheffield and Plymouth, and in Lanark, the local authorities were met by the following threat, "If you dare to put up, even for demonstration purposes, a house built in the Weir factory under the Weir conditions, we will"—I ask Trade Unionists to mark this—"draw off from the whole of your local authority area every man engaged in the building of houses, public or private." That was a terrible threat. Is it any wonder that the local authorities, faced with such a position, and not having tested the house, and having only been asked to put up demonstration houses, said, "We cannot proceed with this arrangement." So there are not many being built.
I will say a few words on the conditions. I have examined them personally with an absolutely unrestricted laissez passer to go through the whole of the houses and the factory, and to speak in confidence to any men. I will tell this House the result, because there has been so much innocent misunderstanding and so much innocent misrepresentation about the matter that we must face the facts.
§ 7.0 P.M.
Mr. R. MITCHELL
One sometimes finds on occasions like this on what a flimsy basis friendship is built. May I ask the House to allow me to tell them that I am interested in the quality of life of the people who make these houses; I am interested in the quality of life of the people who assemble them; and I am interested in the quality of life of the people who live in them. I will tell the House what one of the men said to me personally:This work is much less hard than my own job, which is that of a fitter. The pay is nearly double. I make £1 a day without any strain, and on Friday—that was the day before I spoke to him—I made 22s.Another fitter said:It is far easier than fitting, much cleaner and nicer. There is no fatigue, and I make 18s. to £1 a day.1336 A ship fitter said:It is very light work compared with the work in the yard. All the lifting is done by the crane.He used to make £3 a week, and now makes £4 9s. with less exertion. Two others say that it is the best job they ever had. One was indignant at being called a blackleg. Three labourers said it was a fine job—never less than £3 a week, no broken time, and one of them told me he knew a thousand men who would jump at the chance. An erector on the site erecting fireplaces said he could erect one and a-quarter of those a week at £4 15s.; he never had less than £6; it was a cushy job. When I said, "What do you think of the house?" he said "I wish to God I had one." There was an order given for joiners' craft workmanship in doors and surrounds. It was given to a Glasgow firm who wanted work for their joiners under joiners' trade union conditions. The operatives of the federation which is so antagonistic said, "If you make those doors, we will withdraw every man from your works." The result was that the proprietor of the business had to ask that the order be cancelled. Judged from the trade union standard, what happened? The Glasgow joiners lost an excellent job to express in doors and surrounds their craftsmanship to a minute part of an inch. The doors had to be got from somewhere, and so they were got from Canada, quite good doors, not because they wanted Canadian doors, but because the British joiners were not allowed to make the doors for these houses. I know my friends do not like this, I do not like it, but I am going to state it. I maintain that these houses—and I am backed by hundreds of women in my constituency who have personally inspected them—are beautiful houses, immeasurably superior to the houses at present occupied by the skilled artisans of Glasgow and Paisley.
I maintain that in appearance and internal arrangements they are a great advance on anything that we have had in the line of artisan houses in Glasgow. I maintain that they are better than many of the brick houses put up during the past few years. I maintain that the men employed in making the raw material which is their finished product are employed entirely under trade union conditions. I maintain that the assembling of these things in the shop is a new industry which bears no relationship to the building industry, 1337 which requires no building crafts. The question as to what union may eventually have to decide the terms is one which has to be decided when the factory starts going; not now.
I maintain that the protests that are made against these houses and against the Government's scheme do not represent the views of the people of Scotland. I maintain, further, that at this moment the people of Scotland are trembling with expectancy, not simply as to whether these houses are to be built or not, but whether they are to be the lucky ones who are going to get them. I believe there are men and women in Scotland to-night who are praying to God that their children may be among the lucky ones. If I support the Government on this occasion, it does not mean that I accept any other principle of the other side of the House. It means—I do not know what it may mean. It may mean that if we are not one in faith and doctrine we may be one in charity. It may mean nothing; it may mean much. But if I retarded by one day the hopes and dreams of men and women who are seeing their children grow up as I see mine, and seeing their bodies and minds developing as I see mine, it would be better that a millstone were hanged about my neck, and I was cast into the depths of the sea.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I cannot expect in the few words I want to say to earn the applause that my hon. Friend has just gained. He has, in a large proportion of his speech, made to this Committee a very powerful picture of the deplorable conditions that exist in Glasgow to-day, and have existed for fully 30 years. I am glad also that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has awakened, only when he had seen it for himself, to a realisation that these conditions are the facts, and not the wild vapourings of a small collection of hooligans sent down from that district. I am glad even now, four years late, that the Prime Minister is prepared to admit that the conditions are just as bad as any Glasgow Member ever painted them. I am glad to-night that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. R. Mitchell), who has not always been one of the strong protagonists of the people in the slums, has painted such a fine picture of the terrible conditions under which our men, women and children live. I was 1338 suspended by the votes of this House, by hon. Gentlemen opposite, for talking about the infants being done to death. They applaud the hon. Member to-night when he talks about the same thing for which they suspended me. If there be one thing more horrible than being penned in a single-apartment house or a two-apartment house, it is to be penned there inside those four bare wails, with all the horrors that my hon. Friend has so eloquently described, and not have a few coppers in your pocket to buy even the necessary food.
Our anxiety on these benches is to get men decent houses to live in, to get children decent homes to live in, to see that the person who is inside the house has got the wherewithal to provide all the other necessaries. We know—I know through bitter experience in years of struggle—that while a Weir in the initial stages of promoting and pioneering a new industry is prepared to give all the conditions that these poor fools so eloquently described to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley as obtaining today in Weir's works, Lord Weir and his type, given their own wills with their workers without some organisation to fight them, will drive them down to the barest level. My hon. Friend comes here to-night, and puts into the hands of our political opponents, our economic and industrial opponents, several arguments against this poor puny trade union weapon, because it is all too weak for the fight they have got to put up against the Weirs, aye, and against each one of you people as individuals. There are men on these benches who know that for standing up in their workshops, and denouncing the payment of 18s. a week to men to keep their families, men have not only been thrown out of their employment, but word has been sent round to every employer. "Do not employ this man. He is a wild agitator." Because he has asked for a shilling more to the wages of men who have 18s. or 17s.! I am not talking about past history, I am talking about fights I have been through myself with my fellow-workers. I have seen the poor devils who were building up this trade union organisation getting a miserable wage, because 18s. or 19s. was what we used to pay to them. I have been in a fight not two miles from 1339 my own home where we were fighting tooth and nail to get girls 6s. a week.
We built up something like a trade union organisation, and my hon. Friend says: "Never mind about your trade union conditions; that is a trivial, petty-fogging issue to raise in face of this great proposal the Prime Minister is bringing forward for 2,000 houses to meet the needs of one or one and a half million people." I think my hon. Friend said: "Do not raise these petty issues!" They are very petty issues to people who do not know the struggle to maintain even a wage that would keep body and soul together, but to the men who have been through it, men who have been scarred in these battles, and been driven from pillar to post by the employers of labour, they are the fundamental things that the Labour movement must stand for, and can never give way. I for one want to register my strongest protest against the Government surrendering the rights of this House to this one man, surrendering the principles of trade unionism and fair wages that have become embodied in the law and practice of this land. I do not know what the bribes have been. I do not know what the arguments have been. I want houses turned out by the million. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley said he wanted a Minister of Health in this country who would turn out houses by the million. At the street corners of Glasgow we have had to go round, and persuade the people that they have a Tight to demand better houses.
We have had to go round begging of them to realise that their present accommodation was not good enough for human beings, and that they should demand something better. All the time we were doing so, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite were telling the people, "This is only Socialist agitation. Your houses are all right. A room and a kitchen were good enough for your father and your grandfather, and should be good enough for you. If your houses are verminous and dirty, it is because your womenfolk are lazy and dirty." [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Do not tell me that is not the case. I know the arguments which we had to meet for 15 years. "Why give the workers baths? If you give them baths, they will keep 1340 the coal in the baths." We know all the things which were said by hon. Members opposite and their friends. They said that it was all exaggeration, and that there was no housing problem in the country. Now they come forward, and try to put me and others on these benches into a false position. They try to make the country believe that we are trying to prevent the people from getting decent houses. They could have given the people decent homes any time in the last 50 years, and it is because all this is so ingrained in the minds of the common people that we dare not trust one single employer in this country—not one of them. We know some of them are decent men in their own way, but such an impression has been created in the minds of the workers that no British worker who knows anything dare trust any British employer.
My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, with his long legal experience and his long experience of business and public affairs, is not so innocent as to try to make anyone on these benches believe, because Lord Weir may happen to be paying a wage this week on which a man can live, that next week or next month or six months hence—without the power of collective bargaining—the people engaged in erecting these houses will themselves on the income they get from Lord Weir be able to occupy the houses which they themselves have erected. Therefore, I propose to oppose this Vote with all my power, and I propose to carry my opposition to the most extreme limits allowed by the Rules of this House. I know perfectly well that hon. and right hon. Gentleman opposite will misrepresent my attitude in so far as they possibly can do so, but I have the firm conviction that not only do I want houses for the people to live in, but I want the people to have an assured income that will enable them to keep their houses decently.
§ Mr. RYE
After the very clear, moving and convincing speech of the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. R. Mitchell), I had hoped there would be no further objection to the Vote for these steel houses, and I, for one, am sorry that a violent attack should again have been made upon Lord Weir and his connection with this scheme. At all events we have progressed part of the way towards the erection of these houses since the Debate of 1341 last year. Then we were told that two things were wrong—that the houses were wrong and the man was wrong. To-night we have heard that the houses are exceptionally good, that they are giving satisfaction, and that they are required for the working class of this country. Once more we have been told that the man is bad—that he is a villain of the deepest dye. I put it to the Committee that we are not concerned at all with the man. Assuming Lord Weir to be all that certain Members of the Opposition have painted him; assuming him to be a villain as has been suggested—and I do nut believe it for a moment—what has that to do with the real issue, which is the provision of these houses? We are not concerned with a man. We are concerned with the masses. It is the duty of Parliament to see that the houses which are required in thousands are provided at the earliest possible opportunity.
I was pleased to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Paisley, which was not only a moving speech, but one which breathed a spirit of humanity—one which, if I may say so, reflected the greatest credit upon the hon. Member—and I compare it with the statement made in this House a year ago by a Member of the Opposition when he said that he believed the building of the Weir house was going to bring work to thousands of unemployed iron and steel workers, but asked if it would be better for the industrial life of the country that houses of this kind should be built if it was going to involve the degradation of the building industry of this country. What about the degradation of our unfortunate people who have to live under insanitary conditions? That is the degradation with which we are concerned—the degradation of the people who are living in filthy surroundings which cannot be good either for their health or their morals. That is the real issue. It is not a question of the trade unions, but a question of decency for the people of the country, and we are here to see that this fatal degradation of the people is not allowed to continue. How are we to get over it? We can only do so by an alternative method of housing. We cannot do it in the ordinary way by building brick and mortar houses which every one of us would desire, as against steel houses. We cannot do so, and, therefore, we must go to the people who have the organisation 1342 and the factories—such as Lord Weir—and get their assistance.
It has been suggested that some favour is being done to Lord Weir's firm, in as much as they are to be given a contract for 1,000 houses as against 500 to the Atholl company and 500 to another company. Does it not strike hon. Members who criticise the proposed contract that the reason for it is that Lord Weir's firm has the capacity and the organisation to turn out more houses than the others? If that be so, obviously we must give the contract to that firm. If it be suggested that we should abandon the Weir contract, the necessary result of that step will be that we shall not get the houses as soon as we otherwise would get them. I wish to refer to what has been said as to threats being put forward on behalf of the building unions. It was stated that if any corporation throughout the land offered to give a contract for the erection, even of demonstration houses of this type, the building unions would call out the men engaged on corporation work in that municipal area. In my own constituency of Loughborough the corporation have had the courage to construct a pair of demonstration houses of the Weir type. There has been no calling out of the men engaged on the municipal housing schemes. There has been no objection by the trade unions there, and the houses are now open for inspection. Everyone, of whatever social position, who has inspected these houses has come away satisfied with them. Everyone who has inspected the houses has expressed a desire to obtain such a house.
Earlier in the Debate an hon. Member opposite challenged Members on this side as to why we ourselves did not build steel houses and live in them. If the question arose, if it became necessary in order to obtain accommodation, I am satisfied that any Member on this side would be only too pleased to occupy a steel house. They are excellent houses, and there is no reason whatever why they should not be erected. I hold no brief for Lord Weir or his houses, but I hold a brief for the people of this country who need decent housing accommodation. As far as I am concerned, I will strive to my utmost to see that this accommodation is provided and that steel houses are put up in bulk and in 1343 volume at the earliest possible opportunity.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
When I hear expressions of sympathy with the poor in their housing conditions from hon. Members opposite, I am satisfied that they have been too long about expressing that sympathy. I am just as earnest and enthusiastic for the building of houses as any hon. Member, not because I know of people who live in bad houses, but because I myself have been a victim of bad housing conditions. I give way to none in demanding the building of houses, and I am prepared to accept alternative housing schemes as against brick or stone, but I cannot believe that Lord Weir is earnest about the housing of the people of Scotland when he builds a stone house for his motor car and a steel house for the chauffeur who drives the motor car.
Hon. Members opposite smile, but surely if a tin house or a steel house is good enough for a human being, it is good enough for a motor car; or are we to understand that a motor car is to be considered as of more value than human life? [HON. MEMBERS: "No"!] How then are we to explain the fact that there is a scarcity of housing in Scotland to-day because building operatives have been employed upon the building of garages and cinemas and structures other than houses for the working classes? I put a question the other day to the Secretary for Scotland regarding the housing conditions in my own constituency and particularly as to the number built in the Gala district of Midlothian. Although there has been Government housing schemes back to 1919–20 in that particular part of Scotland only 10 houses have been built under such schemes. The people have been repeatedly asking for more houses in that district and the Scottish Board of Health have repeatedly refused. An application was made by one borough for the erection of 60 houses, but the demand was whittled down to eight, and during the time the Conservative Government was in office in 1923 I appealed again and again that they should be built. Those eight houses are not completed even to-day. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about 1924?"] It was only in 1924, when we had a Labour Government, 1344 that we obtained permission to go on with the building of these houses. Until that time it had been absolutely impossible to get on with them, and the houses are not completed yet.
The builders are willing, but every little pettifogging reason is given by the Scottish Board of Health in order to keep back the building of houses in that district. We have a district council which absolutely refuses to give effect to the desires of the inhabitants, and what is the result? There are 130 houses of one room in this area, 630 houses of two rooms, and 397 houses of three apartments. These one-roomed houses and these two-roomed houses were provided by the class represented by hon. Members opposite because you consider one or two rooms quite good enough for my own class to live in.
I speak with a certain amount of feeling on this subject, and I am pleading for those who have been compelled to live under these conditions. When I was fighting an Election in 1922, I received a telegram from home stating that the flower of my flock had to be taken away to a sanatorium. This was not because I was an individual who took drink, not because I had wasted my substance in any form, not because I do not want better housing, not because I was not prepared to make any sacrifice in order to pay the rent for a three or four-roomed house, but because there was not such a house to be got. Can you wonder I speak with a great deal of feeling. I say that hon. Members opposite are not honest. [An HON. MEMBER: "Speak on!"] I am going to speak on, and if you will be quiet you will hear me much more easily. My hon. Friend probably has not been in the same position as I have myself, possibly he has not scene his kith and kin carried away from him because of the bad housing conditions that prevail. I speak with much feeling on this matter, and I demand on behalf of the people of Scotland better housing conditions.
It is not the building trade that is responsible for the situation. I am not going to vote to-night against the building of houses, but I am going to vote against the right of Lord Weir to dictate the conditions under which these houses shall be built. I have spent my time in building up the trade union organisation and for five years there has been a bar put up against me in the County of Fife 1345 because I have fought for my own class. I am not going to knuckle down to Lord Weir. I am not afraid of Lord Weir, or of the hosts opposite. I am prepared even to be misrepresented, so far as this particular fight is concerned. I am going to fight for more houses, and I am prepared to support the Government in their demand for more and more houses, but hon. Members opposite are cowards to take advantage of the housing shortage for the purpose of trying to destroy trade unionism.
§ Major KINDERSLEY
I do not want to detain the Committee for more than a few moments, but I should like to elucidate a statement, which fell from the Leader of the Opposition, on the subject of the company which has been formed to carry out the building of these houses. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, unfortunately, is not present at the moment, but I hope, whoever replies for the Government, will be able to answer the point I am going to raise. As I understood the right hon. Gentleman opposite, these houses are not to be built by the Scottish National Housing Company but by a subsidiary company, which has been formed for the purpose, and that there would be representatives on the Board of the Ministry of Health and the Scottish Board of Health.
He had the advantage of me because he was in possession of the articles of association of this company, which I have not seen, and, in reply to a question, he said that the capital of the company was to be £100,000. On this he built up a considerable case, the case that this company was merely a sub-Committee of the Government. I want to ask whether this capital is fully subscribed, and, if a loss is made on the contract entered into by this company who will bear that loss? Is it to be the company or the Government? If the company have to bear the loss, then the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has distinctly misled the Committee. As I understand it, this is a company formed to build these houses with a capital of £100,000. The Government make a contract with them, they have to deliver the houses, and, if there is a loss on the contract, it is to be borne by the company and not by the Government. I may be wrong, but, if not, then surely the Leader of the Opposition 1346 quite unintentionally misled the Committee in the statement that he made.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
It is a subsidiary company of the National Housing Company, and the capital is supplied by the Government either from the Loan Commissioners or through the Treasury. The management of it is under the directorship of members of the company, representatives of the Scottish Board of Health and the Treasury. The question of what money is made in any transaction, or should any loss occur, will be a matter for the Government and accounted for by the Government.
§ Mr. VIANT
I have listened very carefully to the charges made on the building industry, and one would imagine that each penson engaged in that industry was already provided with good housing accommodation. I should like to inform hon. Members that quite a large number of those who are operatives in the building industry are without adequate accommodation themselves, and they are quite as desirous as anyone that this housing problem should be tackled in an effective manner. It is unfair to charge the building industry with being responsible for the shortage of housing. We are paying the price to-day in the shortage of housing for the treatment meted out to the building industry in pre-War days when it was not an uncommon thing to have 14 per cent., 15 per cent., and 16 per cent. of unemployed in the building industry. The result has been—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think the hon. Member is speaking now of the building industry as a whole. I must remind him that this is a Scottish Vote.
§ The CHAIRMAN
If the hon. Member is going to argue the English aspect it would not be in order. If he confines his remarks to Scotland, he will be in order.
§ Mr. VIANT
I appreciate the point. The point I want to make is this, that from each of our large industrial centres in Scotland, when the impetus to the erection of houses in Scotland ceased some three years ago, quite a large number of building trade operatives 1347 migrated to Canada and America. The neglect of past Governments has contributed largely to the shortage of building operatives at the present time. Now I want to return to the Weir house. Listening to the Debate, one would imagine that there was some special merit attaching to the Weir type of house which no other house possesses. There is nothing exceptional in the Weir house. I am comparatively a young man, but I can remember building similar houses during the South African War. The only difference was this, that we had corrugated iron on the outside instead of steel. The bulk of the work, 95 per cent. of the work, on these houses is done by those engaged in the building trade industry. The major portion has to be done by carpenters. There are a hundred and one building establishments throughout the country who have the plant and the equipment that is necessary for the provision of these houses in Scotland, and very important offers have been made by builders to provide other houses. One builder has offered to provide, within four years, 10,000 houses of an alternative type, in which there would not be engaged more than 10 per cent. of skilled labour. That offer has not been entertained. That in itself is sufficient to cause those who are associated with the industry to feel that there is undoubtedly a preference being given to Lord Weir over other contractors.
The main opposition that is offered to the Weir house is on the ground that trade union conditions are not being observed. Those who are engaged in the building industry offer opposition to these houses, and they go so far as to make threats in connection with their erection. They make that threat by virtue of the fact that they are entitled to use all constitutional means in their power to safeguard their social and economic position. They would not be worthy of the name of members of trade unions if they were not prepared to put up the most strenuous opposition to such methods as are being adopted. The hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. R. Mitchell) drew attention to the fact that the contractors who were making the doors and as sub-contractors were prepared to supply various parts, were threatened with a withdrawal of labour. They are 1348 threatened on this ground, that they are becoming accessories in the sense that they are assisting Lord Weir to defeat the trade union object, which is to maintain decent standards of living and labour.
When the hon. Member for Paisley makes an appeal to this Committee that it is in the interest of men, women and children that these houses should be erected, and that those who are opposing them are to be blamed for such opposition, he forgets the fact that right through the whole of our trade union history we have always been charged with the same thing when we have been trying to obtain decent conditions of labour. So this is no singular accusation in this respect. Sentiment will cover a great deal. The Government of the day are the people who can alter the position. All that the building trades are asking for is decent conditions of labour, and I have yet to learn that even a Conservative Government has any right to violate the Fair Wages Clause as embodied in a Resolution passed by this House. The giving of this contract under these conditions is undoubtedly a violation of that Resolution.
There is another aspect of the business that has come to my knowledge, and it is this. There are many builders in Scotland as well as in England who would be prepared to give a guarantee to erect a far larger number of houses than are being asked for, if, at the same time, they were given the same privileges that are going to be given to Lord Weir in the erection of these houses. Quite an exceptional condition, I believe, has been granted. If I am wrong, the Secretary for Scotland will correct me, but I understand the ordinary rules observed in the trade are not to be observed, in so far that one-third of the price of the contract is to be given to Lord Weir when the order is passed. The second third is to be given when the parts are delivered on the site, and the other third is to be handed over immediately the contract is completed. These are exceptional conditions that have not been known before. All they have to do is to erect the houses. The question of defects then is not to be considered. There is always a proportion of the contract price held over until the representatives of the clients are satisfied that the contract has been carried out in a satisfactory manner. 1349 Here, again, I say there is a preference being given to Lord Weir that no other firm in this country has ever had before, and we are justified, even on those grounds, in opposing this grant of money.
These preferences, I fear, are becoming all too common. If a preference is to be shown to a contractor, I suggest that even if the Government feel that they are not in much sympathy with the building industry, even on preferential grounds they may be prepared to grant to the building industry trade union conditions in this contract. But it is not only the wages. The hours of labour, again, are different. Lord Weir is not working the hours of labour in his factory that are being observed in the building industry, and when it is argued by some that this is engineering work, I am afraid those people who argue on those grounds are not quite au fait with the kind of work that is being done. The only engineers who are engaged on these houses are those who are rolling the steel plates and those who are cutting the plates. The rest of the work is being done by those who are ordinarily engaged in the building industry. The building industry cannot be charged with demanding exceptional wages. The building industry has had serious cuts in wages by virtue of the fact that a common agreement exists that their wages are fixed by representative committees of the employers and operatives, and based upon the cost of living. From that point of view, it cannot be claimed that the building trade operatives because of the scarcity of labour are at any time seeking to squeeze the community, and get an undue share of wages from the community. That charge cannot be levied against the industry.
Therefore, I feel that the operatives—and the employers are with them—are perfectly entitled to ask that the trade union conditions as observed in the building industry shall be observed in this contract. A court of inquiry was set up. I agree to consider this question, but the court of inquiry was composed of those who were not in any sense of the word cognisant of the conditions that obtained in the industry. Lord Bradbury, Mr. Milne Watson, and Mr. Cramp formed the Committee, None of those were in any way conversant with the conditions of labour obtaining in the 1350 building industry or in the engineering industry, and they had to decide a technical issue, which, I submit, they were not able in any way to decide. They were not qualified without the necessary technical knowledge of the industry itself. It was an impossibility for them to give a decision which was in any sense of the word in keeping with the requirements of this industry.
This is no new type of house. It is on all fours with the type of Army hut we were making for the South African War and the last War. The merits of the house I have described here already. As a Member of this House I have strenuously opposed it, not because I am associated with the industry, but because it is uneconomic. We are not getting value for money. It is being foisted on the public, and, as a public representative, while I say there is an urgency for houses, and one has to agree that there is a need for them, and that latitude has to be given in this respect, that does not exonerate the Government from observing the trade union conditions. The building industry cannot be charged with being opposed to alternative types of houses. The building industry has always said right throughout, "We are not opposed to alternative types of houses. If the community want these types of houses they are entitled to have them." The industry, as an industry, has never attempted to interfere with the tastes or the desires of the community in this respect. It is erecting alternative types to-day. It is working on all alternative types except the Weir type. That, in itself, is evidence of the fact that the industry is quite impartial so far as alternative types are concerned, and is only concerned with the conditions of labour and the wages paid.
§ Major TASKER
I believe the last speaker would agree with me that conditions, bad as they are in England, are really worse in some parts of Scotland, and that the housing position is one which ought to be brought to an end. I have listened to this Debate, hoping to hear smile suggestion put forward as an alternative to the suggestion of the Government, but there is no alternative. We have tried in the South and the North, and the difficulties that we are experiencing here obtain in Scotland to a far greater degree: It is impossible to 1351 obtain the skilled mechanics to put up the ordinary house. The Government made certain overtures and offers on more generous terms to Scotland than to any of the municipalities in England, and they were unable to carry out their project, though they were perfectly willing to provide those houses, had labour been forthcoming. It was not. My hon. Friend spoke about the shortage of work, only he put it in another way—a certain percentage of men out of work in the building trade. It is always there, and always must be there. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] If my hon. Friend knows anything about it, he will know that certain trades cannot work in certain weather. That is quite obvious. But the greater proportion of unemployment in the building trade has always been among the unskilled operatives. We have had evidence this afternoon showing that unskilled operatives will enjoy even a greater wage than my hon. Friend suggests should be paid for unskilled work.
There is a certain resentment felt by those engaged in the building industry, and I observe, in passing, that whenever housing is discussed in this House, the people who seem most urgent are those who have never been engaged in the building trade. The only difference between the hon. Member who has just sat down and myself is that I have had a longer experience than he has, and it has extended over more than one trade. I submit that for the building trade to attempt to dictate to an engineering trade is impertinent. Why, the operatives cannot agree among themselves. Three of the trade unions have broken away from their organisation. The hon. Member would have us suppose that they are a kind of plaster saint. [An HON. MEMBER: "Like you!"] Like myself, I agree. I would not act professionally for 100 guineas if I thought I could get 200. My hon. Friend would not work for 2s. an hour if he thought he could get half-a-crown. If his ambitions lie in the same direction as mine, they would be in this direction, that every skilled operative in the building trade should not earn less or get less than half-a-crown an hour. These operatives are exploiting their labour. What is the use of pretending that they are not. There are 1352 agreed terms. They are violated, and when this House is informed that there was an agreement entered into between the operatives on the one side and the master builders on the other, I ask the utterer of that statement to refer to any trade union or any builder to see whether it is not a fact that, although an arrangement was entered into that a certain rate of wages should obtain for a certain definite period, that was not violated and a strike threatened, and an increase in wages given in August of last year of one halfpenny an hour and a further penny an hour in October.
It is trifling with the House to bring forward such statements. The people of Scotland are entitled to food and to shelter. Both are essential conditions of existence and what the building trade are trying to do is to deny them shelter. They cannot supply operatives themselves, and when alternative means are presented and the Government show their willingness to provide houses, we are met with a great opposition. There is no one on the other side of the Committee but knows that people are living in verminous conditions, and there are no decent men on that side or this side, or outside the House, who want to see people so crowded together. It is deplorable. I do not suppose there is a single social worker in this country who does not know the terrible conditions which exist to-day. I should have thought, that the people who come here representing labour would have been the very first to have acclaimed the intention of the Government and to have said: "We will help you all we can." Instead of that, we are told it is their intention not to vote against the houses but to vote against a condition which does not exist. I ask members who really are in earnest and who do desire houses to be provided, to reconsider their position, and to do all they can, not only to provide these 2,000 houses, but to encourage the Government to multiply those 2,000 by 100.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I am very glad that a vote is to be taken on this question and I do not want to give a silent vote. As one of the representatives for Dundee, I know that the Corporation there has made splendid progress in the erection of houses of various sizes, and at the present time they are negotiating with one firm which is making a practical 1353 offer which will probably be brought to a successful culmination for a larger supply of houses still. The position as regards this question, in the way we have had it put before us, is that Dundee Corporation turned down the idea of steel houses like some of the other large cities, and of course as the Secretary of State for Scotland has said, Dundee is one of the cities where the Government have been able to secure site facilities for the construction of some of these houses which they intend to proceed with.
It is not really the matter of the housing question in its wide national aspect that is being handled here to-day. The picture drawn, and very faithfully drawn by the Member for Paisley (Mr. R. Mitchell) was one that unquestionably gripped the heart and mind of every Member of the House, and of the whole nation, for it is known perfectly well that that unfortunately is a situation which has confronted us for many years. But when emphasis was laid on the slum conditions, the appalling circumstances and the picture of grief, agony and despair which prevailed in these sordid quarters, when this is looked upon in the light of what we are discussing to-day, every one of us, including the hon. Member for Paisley, will recognise quite frankly that there is no intention of making any change in those powerful conditions by which the country is beset. The matter of providing some houses of a certain size and constructed of a certain class of material does not at all determine the factors which have got to be dealt with outside of this question, which is a branch question and not a root question. The central point here to-day, as it has been emphasised to us by representatives of the Corporation in Dundee, is that undoubtedly a very determined effort is being made by Lord Weir to cut in upon working class conditions as regards trade unionism. Very striking evidence was given by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) and the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), which brought us face to face with the facts, and I should have thought when such evidence is presented to the Members on this side of the House that there could be no doubt whatever about the imperative duty of all who side for thorough-going and just labour conditions, that from the Front Bench to the back, and that every man 1354 and woman would be available for refusing to support the arrangements whereby the Government has been brought into hold-fast conditions by Lord Weir.
I have had it put to me by a Baronet connected with the constituency which I have the honour to represent that, unfortunately, Lord Weir has got far too strong a hold upon the Government not only on this question, but upon other questions. I get a message like that presented to me quite spontaneously, and I put it alongside the deliverances, such as we have had from our own side, from men who unquestionably do know. There is no one here who has challenged what they have put forward concerning the very determined line of action which his lordship has set his mind upon accomplishing. Now if we are to grip these things effectually, I hold that it is not sufficient to say, as the Leader of the Opposition said, that we are not being asked to authorise these arrangements, or the actual contract—and that we are only being asked to make the grant. But I should say if we are agreeing upon that, and if we are going to agree upon the grant, then our case is hopeless. I do not think there is any leadership in that, and I am exceedingly disappointed with that particular deliverance. I could not help noticing it gave very great satisfaction on the other side of the House. Dundee is in exactly the same predicament as Glasgow Town Council—as the representatives from the West emphasised—and a majority of the council are not those who represent the Labour party, and so in Dundee the majority of the council are not of the Labour party. There is only a minority, and yet that council decided to reject the steel houses.
One of the particular features of this very question is that it has raised friction, and intense feeling has prevailed throughout the Labour movement throughout the country. If we have the representatives of the local authorities in such communities as Glasgow and Dundee arriving at such decisions, then I should say we here, as representing the community Parliamentarily, must of necessity abide by the position that has been upheld by the local authority, and evidently with the approval of the community. There is a need for houses. That is one thing, but there is something which does strike one as rather farcical in present-day conditions, with the 1355 House as it is constituted to-day. The Press of the country certainly has been very active in giving the hon. Member for Paisley plenty of space to express his views, seeing that he is taking that particular line. We can quite understand it. That is important in itself. You find a Press that has had its journalistic operators in the country writing many, many years ago descriptive articles about the appalling conditions for the purpose of selling the paper. But why did we never have that particular Press, which is so keen in booming the hon. Member for Paisley, rousing the country and any Government that sits on those benches to tackle this question in the way we are supposed to believe they are going to do it to-day? It is, as the Americans say, "a frame-up"—very much of a frame-up. It is mass production for the mass.
It is pathetic for any thinking man to see in our thoroughfares, many years after the War, those miserable wooden huts with the touching spectacles of little bits of curtain attempting to indicate something like a home, until now things have got so well settled down that these are not considered to be a temporary provision. They are now considered to be so satisfactory that the people are abiding in them peaceably. They never set fire to them, but retain them, as apparently nothing else can be done. The next project is that the capitalist schemer with his mind very active, planning and scheming a series of capitalistic operations here and abroad, gets his hold upon the Government and says: "Now here is something whereby we can get in upon industry, something at the same time that will enable us to get a smash in upon trade unionism." We must not forget the anxiety of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) to get there. His contribution this afternoon has to be viewed from that standpoint. It is a cute device to come in at a point and prove a given purpose: that a body of people under poor circumstances and conditions are going to have this put forward as a thing which is going to give them their particular desire.
When that is done the Government comes along and fit into the situation with such a tremendous force, as determined 1356 to foist this upon the community, even though the community says they do not want it. It is something to know that a Conservative Government, a Government which, with its supporters over the country, has been adamantine about these things, has seen these appalling conditions and treated them as if they were but that which ought to be so far as any action was concerned—and it is something new to have these people, as representing the Conservative party, envisaged as an advance guard concerned about the people in the deplorable conditions depicted in Dundee, Glasgow and elsewhere. I have no hesitation in saying I do not believe it! There is nothing really to prove it. If it were a question of really considering the occupants of the houses, and not a question of the production of houses, or the mass production of material, if it were a question of considering the minds and souls of this important body of men, women and children, then I could understand that there would be a very peculiar situation in this House if any section were opposed to tackling the question.
It is not a question of certain roomed houses. We do not propose to dispense with one or two-roomed houses. The hon. Member for Paisley in his splendid deliverance, certainly gave us a remarkable flow of language and evidence of fair feeling; but we cannot forget, as has been pointed out, that some years ago he was not so very much concerned about this matter. Is this not rather a psychological study on the part of the hon. Member for Paisley? Does he not see here an opportunity for coming in at a particular time when the Government wishes to do this. He had done a very marked dis-service to-day to the organised labour movement. I speak of the movement. I am not talking of the party. But I do say that if this kind of thing develops within the ranks of the Labour party, and that references are to be made to trade unionism as a mere triviality, then we may recollect the hon. Member for Paisley in one of the committee rooms upstairs only last Session leading for the Government, for the Tory Government, in a Measure which was intended to work a remarkable scheme whereby they were going to govern the whole legal fraternity by means of a handful of men. The hon. Gentleman was attacked by members of 1357 his own party and he had to submit, and the Government that he represented made no further use of him.
I do not belong to the Labour party, but I say this—and I have always said so—the nearer that the Labour movement comes to the party on the Front Bench the greater their difficulties will become. It is not in theoretical deliverances by which we ought to be accepted. It is a question of how much we are to sacrifice our prospects, as they may be considered, individually and collectively. It is whether we are prepared to take our stand on given conditions, and realise that it is not only in the matter of these steel houses but in many questions which come before us in this House. Money, influence, and affluence grip those who happen to be in office, and are said to be in power, although when it comes to the push very often in these questions and in others they are not really in power; there are other forces behind. They may up in the gallery be speechless, but they can afford to smile, as the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs pointed out in relation to Lord Weir when he said that he was in the gallery smiling. Well he might! He knows that whatever takes place here, so far as he is concerned, he has got a grip on the Front Bench opposite; he also sees, which gives him still more satisfaction, the cleavage in the Labour party and the hesitancy as to whether or not they should go to the vote. If they fail to strike a blow as against the power of Lard Weir and all these financial interests, in striking off the shackles of the people; if the Labour party fails to do that; if they fail to go into the Lobby in one solid phalaryx, that will mean that they miss the opportunity of presenting to the country the spectacle that they stand solid in reality, even when confronted with difficulties such as those with which they are troubled to-day.
§ Mr. J. JONES
So far as we are concerned, we on this side of the House are interested in this housing question not merely from the standpoint of the pathos which has been introduced into the Debate this afternoon, and the speeches made with appealing tears asking us to sacrifice all our trade union principles and industrial solidarity. Some hon. Members have spoken about the possibilities of the housing question. I remember in 1886 a book was published by the late General Booth—" In Darkest 1358 England, and the Way Out"—which, of course, included Scotland! All over the picture which has been painted this afternoon we have had very glaring colours of the problem. We have had Tory Governments in office in succeeding years, and we have had Liberal Governments in office, but every party in office has always had the problem of housing the people still remaining. But the people have not been housed. They have been warehoused. I myself have lived in one of these desirable residences which the average workman has got to occupy in London, especially in the East End, where the walls are so thick that you can hear the woman next door changing her mind. Those of us who have not been able to undertake the responsibility of a larger house, because of the impossibility of meeting the rent, have been forced to crowd.
One of the questions not tackled this afternoon is how the people are to find the means to pay for the houses when we have built them. The poverty problem is at the bottom of the housing problem. The people are badly housed because they are poor, and from that aspect the housing problem will always be with us. I am a builder's labourer by profession. Some people say I am a Member of Parliament by accident. Builders' labourers have had a long struggle to establish something like decent conditions of work in the building trade. We are not proud of the fact that as labourers we are paid better than almost any other body of workers in the country at the present time, only sorry that our fellow workers in other trades are not so well fixed as we are; and we look upon this scheme of Lord Weir's as a sinister attempt to bring us down to the level of those trades that have been dragged down to the bottom. And the Government are going to subsidise it! It may be all right for the sentimental people outside who are so anxious about housing to say that we should give away everything. In London there are plenty of decent contractors in the building trade who would be quite prepared, if they got, the same terms as Lord Weir, to obey all the conditions the workers in the building industry want, and build houses of any kind, by alternative methods or otherwise.
Why has Lord Weir been picked out for special favour? What influence is at 1359 work? Cannot the same conditions be offered to all other contractors? Could not the Government come forward and say to all sections of the community who are willing to provide houses that if they are willing to do so the Government will be prepared to consider any schemes they may put forward, and will not give preferential treatment to anybody? Those of us associated with the building trade have been charged with being opposed to the building of houses. It is not true. The Government have a way out of all their difficulties in that connection, if they will do what they did in war time, and undertake the rationing of buildings. They could easily do it. By consultation with the building trade they could arrange for the rationing of buildings. Banks can be built, public-houses can be built or altered, workmen are employed wholesale on luxury work. Why should we not say, "A certain proportion of the men employed in the building industry, and a certain amount of work carried out by contractors, shall be for housing and housing only"—that is, if we made properly understood arrangements with the building trades, instead of trying to get behind them surreptitiously by schemes of this kind?
Are we going to see the houses come along? Can Lord Weir deliver the goods? Not if he gets the hostility of the organised workers of the country. However big he is, however much he may have behind him—all the influences behind the scenes—the building trade will not voluntarily surrender its position. We are not going to have our standard of wages and hours of labour interfered with. We have been told about skilled workers in the engineering trade and fancy rates of wages. Where are those rates paid? I dare to challenge any Member of this House to show me where a labourer is getting £6 a week helping to build houses for Lord Weir. I can understand mass production; I have worked under it in the engineering trade, and I know what it means. On the average, it means about 20 per cent. increase on the basic rates, if one is lucky, and when the first job comes out all right then the price is cut down on the second job. Whenever they find the men getting more than a certain amount, the price is cut down on the next job. It is a game 1360 of "beggar my neighbour," and we understand what is to be the end of it all, and therefore we say that on the eventual result the Government are deliberately subsidising sweating. If the country wants houses it can have them, and have the men who can build them, who are ready and anxious to do the work; but we are not going to stand idly by and see any attempt, direct or indirect, to reduce our standard of comfort and our standards of wages and hours. In so far as we on these benches are concerned, I hope the matter will go to a Division, now that we have been told what we have been told.
An hon. Member on the benches opposite said he had had great experience in the building trade. Some of us have also had experience of the building trade—have tramped the streets of London week after week, out of employment, only working when the weather was fine and we were lucky. Now the whirligig of time has brought its revenge and we are face to face with this problem. In the building trade a labourer gets 1s. 4d. an hour in London—a terrible lot of money; a lawyer would not sign a document for less than 6s. 8d.—and is expected to work for an hour, hail, rain or sun, for the purpose of producing profit for gentlemen like the hon. Member opposite. Yet we are supposed to be bleeding the community. I will undertake to say that, for every pint of blood we take from the community, he takes a barrelful, and does less for it. We are not asking for privileges, we are not asking for what Lord Weir has got, but only for a fair and square deal, asking that the building trade workmen shall be given a chance and not be attacked. You are not going to drag us down, without a struggle, to the level to which you have brought the engineers, or to which you have brought the iron and steel workers and the miners. We are going to stick to what we have got for all we are worth and help our fellow-workers to secure better conditions than they now enjoy.
§ Mr. STEWART
This Debate is similar to a number of Debates we have had in this House of late. It is only a few days ago, comparatively, since the Prime Minister informed us that he was going to take steps to provide houses for the people. To-day we understand exactly 1361 the position. We are to get 2,000 houses—500 from one contractor, 500 from another and 1,000 from Lord Weir. No one who has spoken on this side of the House has had it down that we are opposed to Lord Weir building houses. The whole quarrel between us and those who sit on the other benches is as to the conditions under which these houses are to be erected. I heard the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. R. Mitchell) say the wages were £6, and £3 a week. He did not tell us why it was there was such a wide difference as between £6 and £3 in the wages of men working under the same conditions; but the fact remains that if our proposals are accepted, as we think Lord Weir ought to accept them—other contractors having accepted them—we are going to save him money. We are not asking Lord Weir to pay £6 per week. All that is being asked is that he should conform to the building trade conditions and pay the building rates of wages. That is not neatly £6 a week and I think it is some where about £4 a week. I believe the reason why the workers are so much against Lord Weir's method of doing trade is on account of their bitter experience under him.
There are several well known works in Glasgow which are worked under a system of piecework with some form of bonus We have had this system carried out in the great sewing machine manufacturing concern known as Singers Company, which is one of the largest firms who employ labour in this country, and there the system of mass production goes on, and this kind of thing has caused the workers to look with suspicion on any form of mass production under the system which has been indicated by the hon. Member for Paisley, who did not make it quite clear. We on this side of the House have had an opportunity of judging of these conditions in the engineering trades quite apart from this work in connection with the Singer Sewing Machine Manufacturing Company, and we have had experience of the premium bonus system. Under it the men, after having produced more than the regulation quantity, find that their wages are cut down, and while under this system the employers exact the maximum power of the worker they have gradually 1362 reduced their wages down to the lowest basis of existence.
That is why we object so much not to Lord Weir's houses or the building of houses of steel, but to the conditions under which those houses are to be constructed. Some of us are old enough to have heard this story about the conditions under which people lived in this country many years ago. I remember when I was little more than a lad, 40 years ago, that the "Daily Telegraph," the "Daily Chronicle," the "Daily News" and G. R. Sims told us a great deal about how the poor lived. At that time many people made visits to discover the condition under which the poor lived, and there is nothing that has been said to-night that can send such a thrill of horror through anyone as the words that were uttered about the condition of the poor in the days I am alluding to. In the past we have had Royal Commissions inquiring into this question and we have had His late Majesty King Edward VII as Chairman of a Commission dealing with the housing question. Now we find ourselves 40 years after that time listening to the same story. For all these years the poor people have been living in the slums producing disease and misery and physical and mental degradation. You have known this all along, and it is no new story, but nevertheless you have allowed it to go on.
It may be that you are now becoming alive to the fact that this is a problem which, if it is not solved, will dissolve, and some day, as the result of this society itself may crumble under such an underground of rottenness. You are now going to give us 2,000 steel houses. The Under-Secretary for Health for Scotland is as much alive as I am to the problem that exists, but what are you going to do about it? You are going to give us 2,000 steel houses. Will that solve the question? No, it will not touch the quesion, and it is less than a drop in a bucket in the solution of this question. We are not against alternative schemes. We have heard a good deal about the wooden shacks which have been erected in Scotland. I know they are somewhat unpleasant to the sight, but nevertheless we have agreed to their construction. The log hut in the backwoods of Canada is not so ugly. We have had these wooden 1363 shacks elected in the City of Glasgow, and we have agreed to many forms of alternative houses. I have been anxious that wooden houses should be constructed, and I have no sympathy with the idea that all houses should be built either of brick, concrete or stone. I have seen wooden houses which from an architectural point of view are as beautiful as any houses built of stone or brick.
We have no desire to oppose any form of alternative houses that you can produce. The hon. Member for Paisley said that we on this side were not in favour of the Weir system of houses, but I would like to challenge him to produce any evidence to that effect, because we are not opposed to the Weir system at all. I do not think I am committing any breach of official confidence when I say that the first scheme of Weir houses was submitted to the Scottish Board of Health a good many years ago, and it was then decided that it ought to be turned down because the price was higher than the ordinary brick house, with even superior accommodation. As a result of our action on that occasion the price was reduced by something equivalent to £80 per house. That did not show hostility to the Weir houses. At that time we were trying to get houses just as we are to-day, and if the Weir house is cheaper to-day I for one am not prepared to give any credit for that reduction to the firm of G. and J. Weir. It is not really cheaper. I understand that to-day there are other firms who are making offers—I cannot speak with authority, but the statement is made, and perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman may be in a position to give fuller information with regard to the offers that are being made in this respect.
There is just one other point upon which I want to dwell. We have had a prolonged discussion to-day, and I think we have pretty well repeated from each side of the Committee each other's speeches. Not much can be said on the matter, but I think it has been demonstrated clearly and unmistakably that, as far as we are concerned, we are not frightened to face the position. It may appear that we are opposing a scheme that would alleviate the conditions. It is, however, well known to every one who has any connection 1364 with the city of Glasgow that I myself have spent some years of my life in advocating better and improved housing conditions, and that in the town council, of which I was for years a member, I have taken a prominent if not a leading part in advocating the improvement of housing. Therefore, it cannot be urged against either myself or my friends that we are against the building of houses for the people. We are just as alive to the necessity for it as anyone else. I would appeal to the Government to consider this matter in all its bearings, and to allow us to compel Lord Weir, or any other firm or individual who may desire to help to solve the housing problem, not to create such a state of affairs as would retard the very object that he or they or we may have in view.
Contemplate the prospects! It is easy enough to say front those benches that, despite every obstacle that can be thrown in your way, you will hew your way through it, that you will brook no opposition. Strong men and strong Governments have said that before, but men have always had to bow to circumstances, and, if you are wise, you will not precipitate a quarrel between the majority of the House of Commons and the workers of the country generally, for I am as certain as that I am standing at this Box that, if that quarrel is precipitated, the building trades will stop work. The sense of class solidarity that there is in the trade union movement would make them, even if the building trades were wrong, come to their side, just as you on your side flock to the support of your fellows even if you think they are making some mistake. Do you desire to do that? At the best you can only cause trouble. You may be able to build your houses, but, in building those houses, you will lose far more houses than you are going to build.
I do not think it is worth it. I desire the houses; you desire the houses; every Member of the House now says, and I believe them when they say so, that they are desirous of having houses; but for God's sake do not let us fritter away our efforts and cause disunity in the country over a matter that is capable of adjustment. All that Lord Weir or the firm of G. and J. Weir has to do is to do as the Duke of Atholl, Messrs. Beardmore, Messrs Cowieson, Messrs. Braithwaite, and all the other firms in the country have 1365 done—to agree that, so far as building houses is concerned, the building trade regulations, wages and conditions, will be observed. Then you can go ahead and build as many steel houses as the price will warrant and the community is prepared to accept. I hope that the Government will offer some compromise to-night.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I do not intend to take up more than a few moments of the time of the Committee, but I should not like to register a vote to-night upon this issue without explaining exactly why I hope to do so. Like the last speaker, I have not the faintest objection whatever to steel houses. I welcome steel houses, wooden houses, papier maché houses, any kind of houses other than the filthy, fetid dens in which hundreds of thousands of our people are compelled to live now. But when I heard this afternoon the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. R. Mitchell) eliciting Tory cheers, eliciting cheers from men, some of whom have spent years of their lives fighting against a better standard of housing, I was confirmed in the opinion I had previously held, that this proposal this afternoon is not so much a proposal to increase the number of available decent houses for the working class of this country, as a political stunt with an ulterior economic object.
If our suspicions are unjustified, perhaps the Under-Secretary for Health will be able to tell us, when he rises to reply to-night, how it is that a leader of his own party in Scotland, the Duke of Atholl—a man who cannot be accused of the slightest Bolshevik sympathies, who has no connection with trade unionism, about whom there is nothing of the bricklayer who only lays a brick a week, who is running the Beardmore industry, which has a bigger plant than Weir's, and who comes to terms with the building industry and says frankly, "I do not want to break rates of wages, I do not want to lower conditions, and I will come to terms"—how is it that this leading light of the Conservative party only gets 500 houses, while the gentleman who repeatedly says he is out to break trade unionism gets 1,000 houses? Let us go further than that. There is the Cowieson house. I have not the faintest idea what the Cowiesons are politically, but their house is said to be £8 cheaper than the 1366 Weir house. Why do Cowiesons not get the 1,000 and Weirs the 500?
Then, perhaps, the hon. and gallant Gentleman will tell us why it is, if it be the case, that an English firm of contractors, Messrs. Henry Boot and Company, who have offered at various times to build large numbers of houses in Scotland, and who, I understand, in their most recent offer, made on the 22nd December last, offered to build 10,000 houses in four years at a cost complete of £400 per house—why is it that the Government first of all refuse Messrs. Henry Boot and Company's offer on the ground that their offer was made too late for the subsidy, and subsequently have delayed and delayed and delayed, so that Messrs. Henry Boot and Company's offer has not yet been accepted? If these are the facts, if it be the case that Messrs. Cowieson have arranged with their workers, if they have agreed to recognise collective bargaining, if the Duke of Atholl has done it, if Messrs. Henry Boot and Company have done it, will the hon. and gallant Gentleman, when he replies to-night, spare us what might have been spared the Committee this afternoon—pathetic pictures of slum dwelling in Scotland, and figures as to the death rate, about which we are all agreed—will he spare us that, and tell us why it is that His Majesty's Government stands ranged solidly behind Lord Weir, the champion trade union smasher of Scotland?
I remember when first I entered public life I entered to fight on a town council for municipal houses. We had a scheme prepared, we had architects to draw plans, we had measurements, we had estimates. These cottages could then have been built at £200 each, and the party represented by hon. Members opposite in my locality fought strenuously day and night to beat us, and they did beat us. Eight or 10 years afterwards these same gentlemen are compelled to build these 200 houses. They have to build them, not at £200, but at £1,000 a house. Their delay, their hostility to decent working-class houses, cost our community no less than £160,000 on these 200 houses, and it is idle for hon. Members opposite to seek to make party capital out of our hostility to a further breaking of the conditions of the working classes by pretending outside that we are hostile to decent 1367 houses for the working classes. Since 1921, Lord Weir and others of his kidney, more powerful factors in public life than Lord Weir, have spent their time breaking the rates of wages and the living conditions of the people. I have in my pocket now quotations from them. One of their leaders says, "We will require to bring the workers down from the clouds in which they are living to earth again." They have succeeded.
I quite agree that the figures of the hon. Member for Paisley were correct, but Lord Weir is not going to start from the beginning paying 14s. or 16s. a week. He puts the best face upon it. If the Government means to stand as a fair wage Government, and a social reform Government, if it does not mean to get down to the level of the sweated employer, why does it not say to Lord Weir, "We will take your steel houses, but you must conform to what the Duke of Atholl has conformed, and what Cowieson's and Henry Boots and others have conformed to—the system of collective bargaining, which is the only ultimate safeguard the poor working classes have against being driven further and further down into the mire of starvation." If any hon. Members on this side of the Committee care to go to a Division to-night I am willing, for one, to register a vote not against steel houses, not against any kind of houses, but to protest in the most effective way I can against this further step, taken with the assent and encouragement of the Government, to lowering the conditions of the working classes.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. WRIGHT
This question is of such vital importance to the people of Scotland that I do not want to remain silent during the Debate. I am not going to attempt to depict the horrors of the present housing system. I am not going to emulate the example of the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. R. Mitchell). Overcrowding and adult men and women sleeping in the same room in my own constituency was described in this House in a maiden speech three years ago. We are all agreed that the conditions are very shocking. While in my judgment the housing conditions of Scotland are worse than they are in England and in Wales—I have lived in each of those countries—it has appeared in the Press quite 1368 recently that in England you have a family of seven persons living in a dis-used lamp cabin at a colliery. You have people living under canvas in a dis-used quarry. I have seen in Lincolnshire, the county of my birth, people who are living in dis-used railway carriages. The housing problem is a very old one. It goes back for forty years and very much longer. In the history of Molesworth, 80 years ago, conditions were described in London equal to anything in Scotland. Some of the most powerful statements made by Kingsley and Tennyson are based upon the horrible housing conditions that existed in England 80years ago. There is no need specially to dwell upon these aspects of the question.
In my judgment what is behind my colleagues here to-day, and the trade union movement throughout the country, in resisting the demands that are being put forward by the Government in support of Lord Weir and his schemes for housing, is the tradition and the memory of the very awful conditions of labour which have prevailed in days gone by. Those of us who in the early years of our life followed the calling of manual labourers have had on many occasions to remember the starvation conditions that prevailed and for 100 years the trade union movement, against untold difficulties, has striven to get away from those awful conditions. In every mining county in the country that is true, and in many other industries as well, and we do not forget these things. We know that men have suffered imprisonment, eviction and transportation. They have fought in season and out of season. They have fought for 10, 20 and 30 weeks together while their wives and children were starving, and they were compelled to go back, not because they believed they had not got a just cause, but because they could not resist any longer the starving conditions imposed upon them by the employers of labour. When those very employers themselves were paying 10 per cent., 20 per cent., 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. per annum they were driving down the conditions of labour, and it is the memory of these things that is behind the organised trade union movement to resist this break in the terms and conditions of employment and wages.
We are as anxious to have houses as anyone; we are all very anxious about it, but we cannot allow this to pass in 1369 silence, and I earnestly hope the Government will reconsider its decision. I have a very vivid recollection of the day when the Prime Minister at the close of last Session announced this change that was to take place. I do not forget that the Secretary for Scotland used words which at that time struck me as being something in the nature of a threat that this would be forced upon the people regardless of what the trade unionists might do. It is too late in the day to attempt to ignore the trade union movement. It cannot be done. At any rate I do not think it can be done successfully. Therefore I appeal to the Government that if all these other employers of labour can grant the conditions that labour is asking, an exception will not be made in the case of Lord Weir. Appeals have been made from time to time to us and to the trade union movement for a policy of peace and good will.
The Prime Minister has repeated that plea and so have other Cabinet Ministers, over and over again. Three years ago the Prime Minister of that day was appealing for a policy of tranquillity. Is all the tranquillity to come from one side? Are all the traditions of labour, which we have built up gradually during a hundred years, to be looked at as a matter of no consequence, as a mere trifle of no concern to the manual workers? It may have been a very small thing in the early days of Christianity to ask the early Christians to burn incense to the heathen gods, but it was a matter of vital importance, so far as Christianity was concerned, that they should maintain their principles. The maintenance of the principles of the trade union movement to-day and of the declared trade union standards is a matter of very vital importance.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
I rise for the purpose of expressing my sympathy with my colleagues representing Scottish constituencies in the fight they are making to-day. I have no doubt that Lord Weir in the long controversy over these houses has been put to a considerable amount of expense. He has attempted to foist his steel constructions upon all kinds of public bodies from one end of the country to the other. Happily, England and Wales have to a large extent succeeded in evading his blandishments. Now, it 1370 appears that because no public authority in England or Wales is prepared to accept these steel houses, he has persuaded the Government to assist him in making a last desperate throw to foist these steel things upon the people of Scotland.
Scotland is the last place where this type of house should be erected. I should have thought that a house of this type of construction might have stood a chance somewhere in the South of England, but in Scotland, where the traditional method of building houses has been to put up a wall of considerable thickness on account of the inclemency of the weather, to foist upon the people these things of tin and steel or steel and paper, passes my comprehension. I cannot understand how anyone with any idea of public economy can attempt it. I am opposed absolutely to the steel house. There have been many persons prepared to buy houses, but I do not know that Messrs. Weir have been able to persuade many private persons to put their money into the building of a steel house. I do not think the Government have expected to give a subsidy or have given a subsidy to any private persons for the purpose of building steel houses.
Why should the public authorities of Scotland have foisted upon them a type of construction which no private person with any sense whatever would accept for himself? The sound policy to adopt is this: What you will not do for yourself, why compel public authorities to do? Public authorities will be compelled afterwards to come to the public for the maintenance of these wretched places. The one single virtue about these steel houses is the comparative shortness of their life. I am told that the steel house may last 40 years. That, for a structure of this kind, is probably 30 years too long. I do not think the thing will last 40 years. I am in favour of getting whatever æsthetics we can in the construction of houses, and it is from that point of view that I most strongly oppose the erection of these steel things.
I cannot understand the energy with which the Government is pursuing this question. There are so many methods of constructing houses which do not bring one into conflict with the building trade unions. I live in a district where hundreds of good cottages are being built of concrete. They are built, as far as the 1371 walls are concerned, by men who previously have not been skilled in the erection of houses. They are built in accord with the building trade operatives. The men who are trained to do this type of work do very well, and the houses are satisfactory from every point of view. There is another type of house, the Tibbenham, Tudor style, which is probably the best-looking house of all the new types of house. I know nothing of the firm concerned with it, but I have seen their illustrations. I know something of the method of building the old black and white house in Cheshire. I know the length of life of the black and white Cheshire cottage. There are beautiful cottages in Cheshire built with good oak and with mud and wattle which have lasted for 300 years.
Why press these steel contraptions upon us? Why not utilise some of the national factories for turning out woodwork for the type of house I have mentioned, and get labourers to do the concrete work? The building trade operatives will put nothing in the way. These houses could be made æsthetic and lasting, and would be better from every point of view than these things which Lord Weir wishes to foist upon the people of Scotland, faced with the desperate condition in which they stand to-day so far as the housing of their people is concerned. I look with some alarm upon the haste with which a responsible Government will rush into the erection of these hideous things. [HON. MEMBERS: "18 months!"] Eighteen months, yes, but why all this desperate hurry to get these things done now? Why all this desperate hurry to foist these wretched steel things upon the country? Why not exercise the same energy in getting a better type of house?
If the Government want to deal with the housing problem, why have they not dealt with the profiteering in the building trade materials? Why have they not dealt with the brickmakers? Why have they not done something to control the brick-makers and others who have raised the prices of materials year after year? Why all this wonderful energy now to protect a man who deliberately states his intention of smashing building trade regulations? If hon. Members opposite think that we are likely to accept that point of view, they have made a very considerable mistake.
1372 I know something about the building trade, because I spent 20 years of my life in it. I know the conditions under which the building trade operatives live. I say that they are thoroughly justified in attempting now to preserve what advantage they have obtained in their trade. [Laughter.] Yes, I know. Hon. Members laugh. I have known the time when highly skilled men in the building trade have thought themselves lucky to get an average of 24s. per week. I say that they are thoroughly justified in attempting to avoid these new conditions so far as they can. In their attempt to preserve their standard of life, which they have won with so much difficulty, I am heartily behind them in the fight that they are making.
I regard this housing problem as capitalism's greatest failure. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite laugh. I understand that speeches have been made from this side of the House depicting the deplorable condition under which the people were living in the great industrial centres, and that when that kind of thing was said hon. Gentlemen opposite expressed sympathy, as they always do, with one eye on their constituencies; but when they come back from dinner later we get a revelation of their real mind and sentiments and spirits, for they laugh in the way that they did a moment ago at the remark which I made. This housing difficulty is capitalism's greatest failure, its outstanding failure.
§ Brigadier - General Sir HENRY CROFT
Is the hon. Member not aware that more houses were built during this last year than during any year in the history of this country?
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
You are building them because of the subsidy paid by the State. The State loses money in the building of uneconomic houses. That is what you have brought us to.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
Yes, and a million are wanted. We are getting on! The party opposite represent the agricultural interests, both in Scotland and in England. They are asking for special terms on top of those already given, for the building of cottages for their 1373 labourers. We know the type of house that the labourers have had to live in in the past, with their rotten leaky roofs—the thing that looks nice in pictures by B. W. Leader, whose wonderful landscapes never depict the rain coming through the thatch or the fungoids growing at the corners of the roofs. The failure of the party opposite is written all over the countryside. It is the same in the towns. The high death-rate is due to the failure of capitalism to deal with the housing question. Hon. Memhers may attempt to laugh it off, but the fact remains that they dare not get up and attempt to deny what I say, at any meeting in the great industrial centres where the victims of their policy have been condemned to spend a miserable existence. I hope we shall continue to fight inside and outside this House against this wage-smashing policy of Lord Weir and those who back him. I shall fight against steel houses for all that I am worth. I object to public authorities having foisted on them a type of house which is uneconomic in the extreme, which will put a burden on the authorities in the years to come—a type of house which has been rendered necessary only by the supineness of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Captain ELLIOT
After the whole-hearted and full-blooded denunciation of the last speaker, it is perhaps a little difficult to get back to the atmosphere in which I was urged by the junior Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) to conclude this Debate. I often wish that hon. Members from other nations would make themselves a little more acquainted with our Scottish conditions before exposing their ignorance before the whole House. It will make the Scottish Members so conceited that there will be no holding them thereafter. What the last speaker reproached us with was overhaste. He said, in effect, "Why this haste and hurry? Stop, look, listen!" Have we not spent enough time in talking about this question? Really, when an hon. Member opposite reproaches us with anything, I am willing to sit silent, except when he reproaches us with being too hasty in our action to remedy this evil. Then the hon. Member said, "You have not examined all the types of houses yet. There are other houses, mud and wattle, 1374 splendid houses, lasting for 300 years. Let us not be hasty. Let us examine the possibility of mud and wattle. There is a great deal to be said for mud and wattle."
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
Concrete is merely mud and water. You need not attempt to misrepresent me in the way that you are doing. I have no objection of course to the interplay of chaff between us, but I did not say, nor did I recommend, that houses should be built of mud and wattle in Scotland. I said that mud and wattle houses had lasted for 300years in Cheshire.
§ Captain ELLIOT
I apologise to the hon. Member, but I still think that he falls under my second condemnation, that of making a speech which would leave all my colleagues from Scotland, and particularly those who sit on the opposite side of the House, so conceited that there will be no holding them thereafter. He said; "We English have lived for hundreds of years in mud and wattle; splendid cottages."
§ Captain ELLIOT
I understand the hon. Member does not withdraw his words. If I am not to make a speech such as has been made from the benches opposite by the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. R. Mitchell), if I am not to keep a restraint upon myself in this Debate, if I am not to enliven it with an occasional joke, if I were to use all the words that come to my palate, I would be suspended from the House without a doubt. We are not going to indulge in mutual defamations across the Floor of the House. The conditions are difficult enough for us to consider them in a cool and reasonable temper. The problems before us are problems of the most tremendous importance to all sections of the community. The Debate was opened in temperate language by the Leader of the Opposition. It comes down to two claims, that Messrs. Weir have been favoured and that Messrs. Weir are engaged in an attack upon trade union conditions in this country. Let us examine those closely. The right hon. 1375 Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said that he could not understand why this large monopoly had been given to Lord Weir. Why should a contract of 1,000 houses be given to Lord Weir, 500 to Atholl, and 500 to Cowieson? The question was reiterated by several speakers on the other side of the Committee. Let us consider, first of all, that the Moir Committee, which was set up by the Labour Government itself, dealt primarily and wholly in its first Report with the Weir type alone. They said:We have given some attention to other alternative systems, but we are not yet in a position to submit a detailed expression of opinion in regard to them.The right hon. Gentleman's own Committee found that the other methods of construction were not sufficiently advanced even for them to make an interim report.
§ Captain ELLIOT
The Committee was appointed on 10th September and reported on 4th November, 1924. Surely the right hon. Gentleman knows that a lead once established like that is not a thing which disappears suddenly. As the processes are perpetuated, as the demonstrations are further carried out, as the methods are examined, those who have come after the firstcomer into the field are still in the position of having several months delay before arriving at the position in which the Weir houses were in when this Report was made.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
I think perhaps I would save time if I remind my hon. and gallant Friend that my objection to the distribution of the 1,000, 500 and 500 was not in respect of the type of house, but in respect of the disputed conditions under which the contract was to be carried out.
§ Captain ELLIOT
We understand that the right hon. Gentleman does not quarrel with the decision of the Government in allotting a larger number of Weir houses; that he recognises, as we recognise, that the development of the Weir houses had gone further, that the experiment had been tested more thoroughly, that many scores of those houses had been put up for demonstration purposes throughout, the land as against single units or not 1376 more than dozens of the other types, and that all those things made it urgently necessary, if the Government were to take advantage of the development and extension work already done, that they should give the greatest order to the firm which had most thoroughly worked out the production and construction of this new type. The right hon. Gentleman says, "But the conditions under which these houses are being erected are such that they should do away with the advantage which is got from the greater experiment which has been carried out in this way. These houses offend against certain canons of the social structure of this country. They do not fulfil trade union conditions. The maker does not pay trade union rates or observe trade union conditions." On account of that I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks Lord Weir should have some order or no order, but he thinks he should not have received this order for 1,000 against the other two. We must call evidence in support of our claim, which is that Lord Weir has observed trade union conditions and that he is paying trade union rates, that if he is not observing trade union rates and conditions he will not get the contracts of the National Housing Company.
I will take the right hon. Gentleman himself and an Act, which he and his Government put on the Statute Book. I take the conditions there quoted as the conditions to be observed by housing contractors under the Act of 1924. In Section 3, Sub-section (I), paragraph (d) you will find that a Fair Wages Clause, which complies with the requirements of any Resolution of the House of Commons applicable to contracts of Government Departments and for the time being enforced, shall be inserted in all contracts for the construction of the houses. The right hon. Gentleman says if we accept trade union conditions let us have that. We accept that. That Clause will go into the contract that we are drawing with Messrs. Weir. This is the right hon. Gentleman's own Clause, his own provision, his own stipulation. We are making the firm that is contracting with us conform with the contract as laid before that firm for signature. Surely that disposes of a great many of the objections which have been urged from the benches opposite.
1377 I have called a front bencher in evidence. It is not always, I understand, that the views of the Front Bench are taken as the pure, unadulterated milk of the word on both sides of the House. Let us call a back bencher, one who is supported by the mass of the party. Let us take the chairman of the party, the man democratically elected by the rank and file of the party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who is he?"] Mr. Cramp, the chairman of the party. [An HON. MEMBER: "He is not a back bencher at all!"] Like Mohammed's coffin, he is suspended between Heaven and earth. Which is Heaven and which is earth, I will leave to hon. Members occupying both benches to decide. I am taking him because he is not subject to any suggestion of a suspicion of pressure from the deluding claims of office which are supposed so to warp the minds of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen.
§ Captain ELLIOT
His bench is so far back that he has not yet got into Parliament. Let us see what he says. He says quite clearly that the whole position was laid before them in a Debate lasting for many days, where the representatives of all the trade unions gave evidence, and more particularly the trade unions concerned most closely with the building industry. He says there that it was put clearly before him and he states the case in a word as clearly as could be done by any hon. or right hon. Gentleman opposite:The operatives regard the Weir scheme as an attempt to undermine the Fair Wages Resolution of the House of Commons on which the Fair Wages Clauses of the local authorities are based, and to break down trade union rates and conditions which are at present thus safeguarded.On conditions of work, he says:Any system of payment by results or piecework is opposed by the operatives, as in their view it is not appropriate to the building industry and leads to bad and scamped work.That shows he was clearly seized of the issues which were to be discussed by the Court of which he was a member. He comes to this conclusion: 1378A comparison of this factory (a building trade factory) and of Messrs. Weir's factory at Cardonald leads us to the conclusion that Messrs. Weir's methods of manufacture are essentially different from the traditional methods of the building trade.He goes on to point out thatJust as in the development of many forms of mechanical engineering, the standardisation of house-parts by Messrs. Weir has reached a stage at which all that is required for the erection of the house is the assembly of standardised parts, prepared by mass production methods in the factory, of a character so simplified that there is no longer need to call for the skill of the craftsman.On the very point at issue, the question of payment by results—one of the points on which as the building trade representatives will agree, there is the most vital clash of opinion—this is what the chairman of the party went on to say:Furthermore, there can be no doubt that payment by results—a recognised feature in the engineering industry—is peculiarly appropriate to the methods both of manufacture and assembly, followed by Messrs. Weir in house construction, and we are convinced that such a system, worked out in conjunction with the men's trade unions, will, if put into operation by Messrs. Weir, result in advantage both to the firm and to the men employed.[HON. MEMBERS: "Do you accept that?"] Undoubtedly; Lord Weir is a member of the federation of engineering firms, and if in any way he has contravened the regulations produced by collective bargaining, or the principles of collective bargaining, or the system of hours and wages which has been produced by collective bargaining, then obviously he is not in a position to remain a member of that federation, and he is not in a position to comply with the Fair Wages Clause laid down in the Government contract. I have called a Front Bench witness; I have called the Chairman of the party. These are the men on whose recommendation and with whose agreement the Government is going forward with this experiment. It is useless to recapitulate the many arguments on one side and the other which have been used this evening, but I am glad it is recognised that all parties in the House are anxious to remove the scandal which hangs over us in regard to the housing conditions in Glasgow and in Scotland generally. The controversy has been raised as between two-roomed and three-roomed houses, and we have 1379 been subjected to many scarifications by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, for permitting the production of two-roomed houses at present in Lanarkshire and surrounding counties. Not one of these houses has less than three rooms. They conform to the regulations desired by hon. Members opposite, and yet in spite of that hon. Members opposite actually propose to go into the Division Lobby and vote against this provision of further money for housing in Scotland. I cannot believe that any Member for a Scottish constituency will carry that intention into effect until I see him passing the clerks at the turnstile, and recording his name against the proposal.
We regard the proposition which we are putting forward as a very moderate contribution towards the housing of the people of Scotland. We agree that 2,000 houses is a small contribution. There are already passed for construction something between 14,000 and 15,000 houses which we hope to finish this year, and of steel houses the number is from 1,000 to 1,200—and as many more as we can get. Not one in ten of the houses which it is proposed to build this year—which have been passed for this year—is of the steel method of construction. Ninety per cent. are to be built by the traditional methods. Only 10 per cent. are to be built by the new methods, and only half of that number are to be built by the particular method to which hon. and right hon. Members have taken exception this evening. Of the whole shortage of 100,000 to 150,000 houses, the suggested Government contribution does not amount to one in 50, and yet it is against the provision of one in 50 that hon. Members propose to go into the Lobby. It is against the provision of five per cent. of the year's construction that they propose to divide the Committee.
They say they will do their best to defeat or delay the proposal, in spite of the fact that we have a Fair Wages Clause in the contract as embodied in the Act placed on the Statute Book by their own Government; in spite of the fact that we have a, building trade report showing that it will be 15 years before they can catch up to the present shortage; in spite of the fact that we have the Moir Committee Report, signed not merely by capitalists, but by Messrs. Coppock and Hicks, representing the building trade 1380 operatives, stating that they would like to put on record their appreciation of the services Lord Weir has rendered to housing, and his personal endeavour to help in solving this national problem: and in spite of the recommendation of Messrs. Coppock and Hicks that local authorities and others concerned in housing schemes ought to be encouraged to undertake voluntarily the production of houses of this type in sufficient numbers to enable the scheme to be tested.
In spite of all these recommendations, in spite of the Report of the Building Trade Committee, in spite of the report of the Chairman of the Labour party. Mr. C. T. Cramp himself, who heard all the evidence which could be led on either side, hon. Gentlemen opposite still say they propose not merely to divide against the proposal, but to do their utmost to hang it up in the country when it comes to be put into operation. I cannot but believe that their bark is worse than their bite. I cannot believe that the Government will in fact encounter the opposition with which hon. Members have threatened us. Consider what it would mean. It would say to the building trade, "We shall go on building banks, and garages, and houses for the wealthy, piles of flats at Devonshire House, and palatial mansions on the outskirts of cities like Glasgow, but what we will not do is to build any more houses for the working class of this country." We have seen it in various ways before. In Mid-Lanark, that is what happened. The building of the great banks in Glasgow went on. The democratically elected local authority, in negotiation with the Scottish Under-Secretary for Health, under the aegis of the Socialist Government itself, placed an order with Messrs. Weir for houses under conditions which were not changed by Messrs. Weir between the time of the discussion and the placing of the order, and it was said that if these houses were to go on, work would be called off—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Is it not a fact that the democratically elected authority, through their clerk, Mr. White, made an offer that while all the parts were to be made in the factory under conditions of any kind, without objection being raised, the building trade conditions should apply to the work of erection on the site, and was not that offer rejected?
§ Captain ELLIOT
—and the local authority, a democratically elected authority, signed a contract with Messrs. Weir for the erection of houses under conditions which are exactly the same as those objected to by hon. Members opposite this afternoon. They signed that contract—I happen to know this—and then, and not till then, was labour suspended, and the labour was suspended on the houses which would take people out of the dreadful slums in Mid-Lanark. These houses were of brick and stone—that was the scheme that was held up. No pressure was brought to bear on the capitalist section of the community. No, where the pressure was brought to bear was on the working-class houses which were being erected by a democratically elected authority in Mid-Lanarkshire.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
If you inquire from the clerk to the Middle Ward his opinion of the steel houses that are being built, I think there would be a change at least in the picture you are attempting to paint to-night.
§ Captain ELLIOT
It is not my practice when I want to find out anything about a structure that is being built to make inquiries from the clerk of the local council of the area in which the contract is being carried out. I went to see these houses for myself no longer ago than Friday of last week. I inspected these houses, I spoke to the housewives, and it is because of the knowledge gained in this way that I am going to recommend the Committee to proceed forthwith to vote mormy for more houses of the same type. We have had many instances given from one side and the other during this Debate. May I give two which I saw for myself? I saw two cases of families which had moved into these houses from a one-roomed house and from a two roomed house. They had possessed no hot water, no bath, no lavatory accommodation, and in many cases did not possess outside conveniences. They moved into a house of three rooms, with a bath and conveniences of their own. A separation of the sexes was able to be carried out. You had one family with two grown-up girls and two grown-up sons the husband and the wife, who had been living in two rooms. There was another house which was full of children. There were seven children and the man and his wife, and up to that time 1382 they had been living in a single room at Benhar.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
I know the district the hon. and gallant Member is speaking of very well. His description is correct, but what I want to know is whether he visited the steel houses that are being built in Harthill, and what is the position now that the Middle Ward of Lanarkshire has cut off all connection with them. I should also like to ask him whether he has received a booklet from the Scottish Coalowners' Association showing the houses that have been built by the mineowners during the last 10 years—and not a single steel house amongst them?
§ Captain ELLIOT
I am always willing to give way to the hon. Member and to do my best to help Members in any way I can, but it is not possible for me to go down all the by-ways in this debate, and I am not going to be drawn into a discussion about about the booklet issued by the Scottish Coalowners' Association. At the same time I am delighted to hear the hon. Member, who is not always so friendly disposed towards booklets issued by the Coal-owners' Association, recommending it to the attention of Members of this House. It seems that the "Locarno spirit" is spreading. I did see the houses that are being built at Harthill, and I do not understand what the hon. Member means by saying that the Middle Ward has struck off all connection. I saw houses being built, and when I was there I was told that six new families were just going in, that the pressure was so great that, there was the greatest difficulty in apportioning the houses properly, and that many were actually taking in lodgers.
I think I have proved the case I set out to prove. I do not believe, in the face of the overwhelming weight of evidence, that hon. Members opposite can, as a party, go into the Lobby against this Vote. The only thing that remains is this underlying current of suspicion which has been referred to by so many hon. Members during the course of the discussion. It is the suspicion that this is an attempt to break the wages of the building trade. We say that there is no such intention in the mind of the Government; that the safeguards which 1383 were laid down by the Labour Government itself against an attempt to break wages will be embodied in any contract we enter into with any contractors under this scheme, be it Lord Weir or anybody else. These proposals are not 10 per cent. of the building programme we have sanctioned and authorised for brick houses this year, and they are not 2 per cent. of the total shortage that is needed over the whole of Scotland. When I spoke to the tenant of one of these houses as to what she thought of it, she used the highest encomium a Scottish woman can use about anything. She said: "We canna' complain." The only thing I have to say is that I think we have been too patient; we have waited too long, the delay has been too great, we have not pressed on with sufficient speed. If we delay now by one week, or even one day, in an attempt to speed up the programme, then, indeed, the housewives of Scotland would have cause to complain. It is our intention that they shall not have cause to complain again.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
Would the Committee mind if I occupied a minute or two? I will raise no new points, but with reference to this question of the Fair Wages Clause, I do not think it can be left where it is. I am delighted at the Moir Committee's Report. I am very proud, indeed, we were associated with it. It shows a "Locarno spirit" before Locarno, and if hon. Members would read the various reports in addition to the Moir Report that were drafted and signed in those days, they would discover in every one of them a very strong desire to pull together in order to produce houses. That is my desire now. It is quite true the Government now propose to embody that Clause of the 1924 Act in its contract with Messrs. Weir, the Duke of Atholl and the others. My hon. and gallant Friend knows perfectly well that that does not mean anything, Everybody who has dealt with the Fair Wages Clause knows that every now and again there are very intricate questions of interpretation, and again and again the matter has been raised in this House. It is no matter of party politics.
Ever since I have been in this House we have had points under this Clause that have had to be raised and discussed 1384 here. Why do I say that so far as the Weir houses are concerned, and only in respect of them, this Clause requires interpretation? I say it for a reason which, I believe, the hon. Member knows perfectly well. That Clause came before the Glasgow Town Council. It was not interpreted by the Glasgow Town Council or by a party committee or a party section of the town council. It was referred to the Glasgow Town Clerk, so that he might give a definition and interpretation in relation to the proposed contract, and he gave it as his opinion that the conditions under which the mobilisation of the Weir material took place were not in accordance with the 1924 Act.
§ Captain ELLIOT
I understand, and I think it is within the knowledge of my colleagues, that what the Clerk of the Glasgow Town Council was asked to interpret was the Fair Wages Clause in the Glasgow Corporation bye-laws, which he did, and the Glasgow Corporation subsequently modified their bye-laws, bringing them into what they considered was a closer co-relation with the Government Fair Wages Clause. But the Government Fair Wages Clause was never in dispute. The town clerk gave no opinion upon it. What the town clerk interpreted, very properly and rightly, was the question referred to him as to whether the proposed construction was within the terms of the bye-laws of the corporation. He gave his opinion, and there was no question of the Glasgow Corporaton asking for any opinion as to the meaning of the Fair Wages Clause.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
Neither my hon. and gallant Friend nor myself will have time to deal with this further. The standing orders of the Glasgow Town Council were subsequently strengthened in the direction of the 1924 Act. They contributed to the rejection of this particular form of contract, because it was outside their scope. There is this other point. The fact remains—and I do not think the hon. Gentleman will contradict it—that the conditions under which this particular part of the work is being done have never yet been co-related to the Fair Wages Clause. It is a new venture; it is a new experiment. Do not the Government think it worth while to try and get this settled, and get the relation 1385 established between them, not by saying, "This is our decision," but by agreement? There can be no interpretation of that Clause in relation to this specific point, except by agreement. Do not the Government think it worth while to employ all the influence they can command either of themselves or of others to get that settlement made, so that the work can be carried on without any continued dispute, whether it is a bark or a bite. I want neither the bark nor the bite.
The second point is this. My hon. Friend said Lord Weir is an engineer, has engineer employés, and is a member of The Masters' Fedeeation, and, therefore, his wages must be trade union wages under the Fair Wages Clause. He knows enough about trade union methods, and trade union contracts with employers, to know that what I am going to say is quite true. If you work under a trade union agreement, say on piece-work, your piece-work is specified in a schedule which is the subject of a signed agreement, and if he or I were to employ men under those conditions, and wished to vary it, we could not without going to the representative authority that had sanctioned the establishment of the rate. Where is Lord Weir's specification and list of prices? Is it really too much to ask that that should be put on paper and settled? If this is going to be an engineering affair, I do not know whether it will satisfy, but in any event let it be settled; and if it is going to be an engineering agreement, it must be an agreement with the engineering union. Is there such an agreement? Has any attempt been made to make such an agreement? I hope hon. Members will not go away and say we are holding up the contract. Nothing of the kind.
Everyone knows perfectly well that the questions I am now putting are touching the difficulties at every point, and that these questions ought to be answered. If any hon. Member of this House started business to-morrow and took on engineers as trade unionists, and was a member of the Masters' Federation, he would require to settle those points, or to ask how those points had been settled definitely and specifically before he engaged a single man. What is the objection? This is a new job, we all know. Why is it going to be kept in a position of the rates and 1386 all the conditions being dependent solely on one man's will—a good man or a bad man makes no difference to me. There is going to be a Report stage. I am certainly not going to vote against this to-night. I never intended to. I shall not vote against it. Between this and the Report stage there is surely time to get this matter straightened out, so that when this money finally leaves our control, it will leave our control on a guarantee that it will be spent as the House of Commons again and again have decided ever since 1886, I think it was, when under Lord Buxton the Fair Wages Resolution was carried. The money when it leaves our control will then be spent—and we shall have a guarantee that it will be spent—under conditions that the House of Commons again and again and again has imposed upon various Governments.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
May I ask one question, and it is a simple and plain question which will solve the whole problem? I want to ask if you are prepared to give a guarantee that Lord Weir will not get an order for the building of these houses unless he is prepared to comply with the building industries regulations? I do not wish to pass any strictures on him but just want to bring him into line with the Duke of Atholl and the rest of the competitors, and to get that guarantee of a Fair Wages Clause.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I should like to ask two or three questions of the Under-Secretary who, I hope, will be able to reply to them. I regret I was unable to be present at the beginning of his speech as I heard all the lebate and he rose just after I had left and I was a little late in getting back. There are one or two points which ought to be subjects of interest to certain Members from Scotland. I heard beautiful speeches, not for the first time, from a Member on these benches telling us how many of the slum people who will occupy these houses. Representing a constituency with one of the worst housing conditions in Scotland, I want to ask two or three questions.
It is said that the slum people are going to occupy these houses. The question I want to ask is what is the rent at which these steel houses are going to be let?
I have here the minutes of the Middle Ward of Lanarkshire which first negotiated the contract under the Labour Government 1387 in 1924. The price at which Lord Weir had offered to carry out the construction of the houses was £400, and after considerable negotiations, as the Secretary of State for Scotland will admit, that figure was reduced to £375 for the first hundred, with an option of the second hundred at £350. Taking the first figure of £375, which neither includes roads nor sewers or other works, and adding the ordinary charges that one would add, the net cost of the house will work out at something like £462. The rent of that, taking it at 60 years, which is the equivalent of a brick house, with all the reductions for subsidies, £9 under the Wheatley Act and £4 10s. from the local authorities, the rent is £24 1s. 8d.
I want to ask the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. R. Mitchell) how many of the slum-dwellers in Kelvingrove who work at the docks can pay £24 1s. 8d. and rates on the top of that on their earnings at the present time? It is a fanciful tale, this tale of steel dwellings for the working people. It is wrong. It is misleading; it is untrue, and it is unfair. I have lived in a tenement dwelling in Glasgow. My house is let under the Addison Act. The rent is £26 10s. Adding rates, it cost me in light, rates and coal, under the barest circumstances possible, £1 per week, and the average engineer labourer's wages in the engineering works of the constituency of the Under-Secretary for Health is 39s. 3d. per week. How can they pay it?
The Moir Committee, of which we have heard so much, and it was a neutral Committee accepted by both sides of the House, took the length of these houses at 40 years. Working it out. on that basis, the rent of the steel house is going to cost £27 10s. per annum and then you have rates. How can you get that from your slum-dweller? You can build houses from this to the end of time but unless you can bring up the income of the persons who are going to occupy them to the standard of the rents, you are adding insult to injury. Let me give an illustration of the rent collected in Glasgow and Lanark from the slum-dweller. Then rent of the slum-dwellers is much less than the rent for the steel houses. What do you find? The rent charged under the slum clearance scheme only amounts to 9s. or 10s. a week 1388 including rates and even with that much smaller rent the people are finding the greatest difficulty to meet that rent. I want to suggest to the Secretary of State for Scotland that one of the first problems he ought to face is this question of rent, that these houses are going to be let at. It is no use the hon. Member for Paisley arguing—and in this connection when I hear him argue for a scheme of payment by results, it makes me think about Satan rebuking sin. Of all the men of the party he has been a moralist and purist. I have often played cards for pennies and twopennies but he has always been an anti-gambler and on a high moral standard.
There are only two other such Members who come here, the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Serymgeour) and the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Barr), and both are quite sincere, but when the hon. Member for Paisley comes along to ask men to go on payment by results, he must remember that the man who enters on earning by payment by results is entering on a gamble as to the amount of wages he will be earning per week. When the hon. Member condemns gambling in private life, he ought not to encourage men to earn their income by gambling. I worked at it for years, and it is a deplorable thing when we hear so much about family life, for let me illustrate the effects. Here is an hon. Member who knows possibly more than anybody about payment by results. What is the effect? The woman never knows the man's income, or very seldom, and the result is, it does not make for harmony in home life.
My main purpose was to get an answer. [Interruption.] If I had been speaking with the hon. Member for Paisley backing me up, you would have been cheering. The question I want to ask the Under-Secretary is, what is the rent it is intended to charge for these houses? Is it to be a rent sufficient for a slum dweller? He tells us he is anxious about that! Is it to be a rent that the slum dweller can pay? That is the question I wish to impress upon the hon. Gentleman. If the rent is not within their ability to pay then the talk about the building trade holding up the slum dweller is not to the point. I should like the Under-Secretary just to tell us how it is proposed to work out what these houses are to pay?
§ Captain ELLIOT
I have been asked a number of questions to which I shall endeavour to reply. The right hon. Gentleman opposite again submitted to me a point as to the interpretation of our original scheme, and whether an interpretation was asked for on the part of the Government as to the Fair Wages Clause of the Glasgow Corporation. I have consulted my officials, and from all the information I can get I stick to what I originally said: that the interpretation was the interpretation of the Corporation by-laws, and not the interpretation of the Government Clause.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
Is the Government Clause stronger than the Glasgow Corporation by-laws, as interpreted?
§ Captain ELLIOT
It is a little difficult to quote offhand, not merely the Statutes of the Government, but the by-laws of great municipal authorities. I think, however, I may say the Corporation Clause went further than the Government Clause, and that it was subsequently modified so as to bring it more into co-relation to the Statute which the right hon. Gentleman's Government placed upon the Statute Book.
§ Captain ELLIOT
The other question which the right hon. Gentleman asked I think was in relation to piecework. All one can say as to that is, if we are to begin a discussion of piecework at all, has the right hon. Gentleman consulted the hon. Members behind him? Do we understand now that the Labour party is officially prepared to agree to piecework on these houses, and that he wants to discuss the rate at which piecework is to be paid?
§ Mr. MacDONALD
With all respect, that is evading the issue. Lord Weir works by piecework. Whatever may be said of that piecework, as to its merits or demerits, as a matter of fact it is not in accordance with the Fair Wages Clause because it is not the agreed piecework rate. All I asked my hon. Friend was, when he said that piecework was to be worked, is that piecework subjected to the terms necessary to bring it under the Fair Wages Clause?
§ Captain ELLIOT
My definition of the position does not exactly square with that of the right hon. Gentleman, and I hesitate to come into conflict with him. But my information is quite definitely that the suggestion is wrong; that piecework in the engineering is not fixed by the trade unions concerned; that piecework, on the contrary, is fixed in the individual shops, and is a matter of arrangement between the foremen and the men or their representatives. That is the general practice. However, on all these highly technical matters I do not wish to come into conflict with hon. and right hon. Members opposite. That is my information, that is what I understand. The only other point was one raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) who asked me repeatedly—
§ Captain ELLIOT
I understand the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) put a question to the Secretary of State for Scotland. Far be it from me to interfere between the hon. Member and the Secretary of State for Scotland. If it is supposed that, on a casual question, even from the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs, we are going to abandon the Moir Report, the Bradbury Report, the Chairman of the Labour party, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the whole of the Unionist party during this Debate, the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs is making a great mistake.
§ Captain ELLIOT
One last question was put to me by the hon. Member for Gorbals. This shall be my last word, for I am afraid we have taken up a great deal of the time of the House. The hon. Member asked what was the rent of these houses, what rents were to be paid, and poured scorn upon the suggested rents of houses in Mid-Lanark, which, he said, would work out at £22 or £28 a year, or some rent which was beyond the power of slum dwellers to pay. Let me give him only this personal information, which I derived no longer ago than last Friday by asking housewives in these houses what was the rent they were actually paying. They were actually paying for these 1391 houses rent of 5s. and 6s. per week, and that is a rent well within their power. All I can say as to the general question of the rent is that, of course, these houses will be let at rents comparable with those of similar houses in the vicinity in which the houses are built.
§ Question put, and agreed to.