Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £12,724,200, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Health, including Grants and other expenses in connection with Housing, certain Grants to Local Authorities, etc., Grants-in-Aid in respect of Benefits and Expenses of Administration under the National Health Insurance Acts, certain Expenses in connection with Widows', Orphans', and Old Age Contributory Pensions Acts, and other Services.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
When I gave notice to the Minister of Health that the Opposition desired to raise certain questions on this Vote this afternoon, he sent me a message, which of course we accept, that he would be unable to be present owing to a public engagement, which none of us desire him to forgo. He is receiving an honorary degree at Leeds University, and therefore we quite understand his absence. I propose on this Vote to refer to the important question of housing. This is a very suitable time to review the position, because the Government have now had some 12 months' experience, and the country has had also 12 months' experience of the Government. I do not hesitate to say that the present position of housing in this country can only be described as grave and disquieting. Those who live in the various localities and take a natural interest in the housing needs, are fairly well aware of their own positions, but I do not think that the country, and perhaps all Members of this Committee, appreciate the lamentable position in which the housing situation has been permitted to relapse in the last 12 months. Men of all 1618 parties and of none agree that in past years the Government, municipal authorities, building societies, public utility societies, and, not least, private enterprise, have made an unparalleled and unexampled effort to meet the housing situation, but I think we are all agreed upon the necessity of continuing our efforts under a well directed, financially sound and progressive policy, especially in the interests of the poor-paid workers, whose housing needs have still to be met. More than a year ago the Minister of Health said:The real test is: 'Is there a house for the person who wants it?'That is a rather severe test, but with that suggestion before me I propose to examine the present position. The unemployment among building trade workers furnishes an illuminating, though at the same time very disappointing, view of the situation. A year ago the Minister said there was no reason why a single operative in the building industry should be idle. According to the official returns, there are at this moment 32,000 more building operatives unemployed than there were at this time last year. On the 24th June, 1929, there were 67,742 insured persons recorded as unemployed in the building trade, and on 26th May, a few weeks ago, that figure stood at 101,066. If we examine the various trades in the building industry the figures are equally disappointing, and, I, think, disastrous. There are double the number of carpenters unemployed compared with a year ago, more than three times the number of brick-layers, and twice the number of plasterers; and if we look back a little farther, there are double the number of unemployed in the building trade compared with 1925. I do not hesitate to say that there has not been such a black record, nor anything approaching it, for many years.
The oracle to whom I have already referred, the Minister of Health, said the housing need was still sufficient to demand the employment of all the people within the industry. What do we find has been the result of 12 months of a Labour administration? The Government have by their policy and performance paralysed the building trade. They have checked the output of building, done nothing to reduce the cost of housing, and failed to make adequate or proper 1619 provision for the poorer paid members of the community, whose housing needs are the greatest.
Let us examine the latest figures of houses completed. In this connection I am dealing only with State-assisted houses. During the 12 months ended 31st of May last, compared with the position a year ago, there was a decrease of over 8,000 houses completed and ranking for subsidy, a very unfortunate and regrettable state of affairs. The figures for each quarter reveal exactly the same state of affairs. In the quarter ended 30th September, 1929—and it is hardly believable—the number of State-assisted houses completed was 56,975; in the next quarter, to 31st December, the number had fallen to 14,521. In the quarter ending 31st March, 1930 the figures had fallen to 10,571, a truly regrettable state of affairs. The official figures for each month show the same course of events.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Miss Lawrence)
Are these all the houses, or only the State-aided houses?
§ Sir K. WOOD
I have said three or four times that they are State-assisted. I shall deal with the houses which are not State-assisted in a few moments. In the month of March, 1929, 8,011 State-assisted houses were completed; in March this year the figure had fallen to 3,489. In the month of April, 1929, the number was 9,291, and in April this year 3,038. In May the number was 9,369 and in May of this year 4,377. The Parliamentary Secretary asked me whether I was referring simply to State-assisted houses. I am. I will not say yesterday but the day before I read the last debate on housing which took place under the Conservative Administration, and we were then told by the present Minister of Health that the Government had no concern with houses built by private enterprise. He went even further and said that it was not fair to include in the total for which the Government were taking credit the number of houses erected under the Chamberlain Act by private enterprise. My figures relate only to State-assisted houses. The position in London is equally serious. The figures in London show that for every five houses erected under the Conservative Administration two years ago, only one has been 1620 erected under the Labour Government of to-day. One can certainly say that, if house building has not come to a standstill in London as a whole, it has ended in many of the boroughs, and I include boroughs which are capable of providing sites and land for houses. Londoners will hardly credit my statement when I say that this year, apart from the efforts of the London County Council, only 521 State-assisted houses have been erected in London between June, 1929, and May, 1930. What about future prospects? I will deal now with the figures relating to houses under construction, and again I am dealing with State-assisted houses.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I think the hon. Member for Central Bristol had better think of something else, because his interruption will not give any satisfaction to the people in London who badly want houses. What are the figures for houses under construction? They are certainly very depressing. In March, 1929, there were 65,018 houses under construction. In March this year that figure had actually gone down to 28,177. In April, 1929, the number of houses under construction was 62,441, and in April, 1930, the figures were 30,888. All those figures have been given in answers to questions in this House. In May, 1929, the number of houses under construction was 68,522, and in May this year that number had gone down to 33,332. The figures for houses under construction to October, 1927, were 48,232, and the latest figures show the number to be 33,322 under construction.
I come to another equally important aspect of this question, a subject upon which we heard a great deal from our Labour critics during the last Administration. I refer to the question of rents. I want to call the attention of the Committee to the important question of housing costs and to what is revealed by the official figures. Those figures reveal a gradual and substantial reduction on the price and cost of houses under the previous Administration but that has been definitely arrested, and under the present Administration, so far as the great majority of workers are concerned, and quite apart from slum dwellers, not only has there been no general reduction in rent during the last year or 1621 any reduction in the cost of houses, but there is no prospect of any of the rents being materially reduced; and the Labour Government has not put forward any proposals which are likely to assist in this direction.
In March, 1926, the average price of a common parlour house was £448. In March, 1929, it was £336, a very considerable reduction. In March this year the figure was £338. The result is that the Administration which was returned to help the people to obtain cheaper houses is giving less assistance to those who need it the most. At the present time we ought seriously to consider the burden of the increasing charges which are affecting the national Exchequer. One of the first things which the Minister of Health did was to revert to the old proportion of the Wheatley subsidy for houses.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Palmer) cheers the statement that the housing subsidy has been increased. This has been done in times of stringency, and in this way the burdens of the nation have been added to by the Government. I do not think that a large number of people would complain if there were further charges on the Exchequer for a properly devised and well-conceived housing scheme. The present Government have added to the cost of housing, and what has been the result? More unemployment in the building trade, less housing, and no decrease in cost or rent relief to the workers of the country. But let me say this. There are three hopeful features in the present housing situation. I am glad to say, for instance, that, as regards the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, the figures show an improvement. They show that more authorities are recognising the value of the Act, and taking advantage of it. A few days ago we had returns in respect of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. On 31st March last, work was in progress on 771 houses in that month, and 253 houses had been completed. There is, therefore, some bright feature in the figures, and it shows a considerable improvement since March, 1929, when 594 houses were in course of construction and only 210 had been completed. I can understand Members of 1622 the Committee saying that it does not show a great advance in meeting the needs of rural housing, but the fact remains that it is the only Statute which is in existence to give assistance as far as this aspect of rural housing is concerned, and we have not heard a whisper or suggestion of anything from the present Government, apart from the slum proposals, as to how far they will render further assistance to rural housing.
What is the brightest spot? The most hopeful feature in the present situation is provided by the returns of houses erected by private enterprise without State assistance. The number of sum houses with a rateable value not exceeding £78, or £105 in the Metropolitan district, erected during the six months ended September last, was 39,298, and during the six months ended March last, 53,393—a very remarkable and welcome improvement. Those, I understand, are the latest figures, which the Minister of Health supplied in reply to a question by me. I hope that Members of the Committee opposite will see how much we owe to private enterprise in the housing conditions of this country, and I hope that they will not venture again to decry private enterprise in house building. The other hopeful and satisfactory feature is the great aid which the building societies have given. It is a very remarkable thing that in the returns which were furnished to me a week ago, the total amount which had been advanced on mortgage by the building societies of the country from 1901 to 1929 was the colossal sum of £607,000,000. If we examine the latest figures available, namely, for the years 1928 and 1929, we see an equally remarkable and satisfactory result. In 1928, the building societies advanced to people in order to become owners of their own homes more than £56,000,000. In 1929, the sum was increased to £74,000,000, and, as far as I can observe from the statements of the chairmen of the various building societies at their annual meetings which have recently been held, there is every reason for assenting to the view that in the present year another considerable contribution has been made by them.
Is it too much for me to say that these two great aids to national housing needs, private building and the great contribution 1623 of the building societies, have in no small measure this year saved the housing situation, and that but for these two remarkable features the year's record has been one of disappointment and a definite check in housing progress? What is the responsibility of the Government in this matter? In the first place, I would observe that their favourite excuses are world causes and not possessing a sufficient Parliamentary majority. I generally read, as I know a good many hon. Members read, each month or each quarter, the record of housing progress in other countries. I have not observed that in other countries there has been any check on housing progress, and I cannot think, therefore, that world causes are any explanation. I desire to repeat an interjection which the Parliamentary Secretary has just made, so that we may have it on record. She says that there has been no check. Then as to not possessing a Parliamentary majority, I would say, in connection with that very well-worn excuse, that everything the Government have asked for housing has been fully and freely given by this House. What have they done? In the first place, two things. The results, I agree, require another characterisation. What are the two Parliamentary steps they have taken? They have restored a portion only of the Wheatley subsidy. They have also introduced some slum legislation, but it was a remarkable thing that the Minister of Health was either not ready, or delayed the introduction of these, his main housing proposals until 27th March this year, and the Second Reading of the Bill was not taken until 7th April. No excuses about obstruction or matters of that kind apply, at any rate, to those proposals. As a matter of fact, they were not even suggested to the local authorities themselves when they were taken into consultation, as the Secretary of State for Scotland knows. They were not made to the local authorities themselves until practically only a few days before the Bill was brought into this House.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Whatever date they went to the local authorities, it makes no difference. The date which really matters is the date of the introduction of the proposals to this House which, I again assert, was 27th March, as far as the actual Bill was concerned, and 7th April when we had the Second heading—comparatively only a few weeks ago. What was the consequence? The loud boasts of the Minister of Health about his new legislation, his repeated hints of larger subsidies have undoubtedly led to the restriction of building by the local authorities, and, in the result, we find ourselves at this moment with housing restricted to slum clearance legislation not on the Statute Book, and I do not think I am putting it too high when I say that little further housing contribution or mitigation of unemployment in the building industry is likely this year. What has been the unfortunate and disastrous consequence of this kind of policy? Nearly 40,000 fewer people have obtained new housing accommodation in the year of the Labour Government than in the previous year. We are over 8,000 new houses the poorer.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The Labour Government have succeeded in depriving thousands of members of families in England and Wales of new houses which might have been in existence to-day. I say that in the year of the Labour Government—and I want to see whether my hon. Friend the Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) will agree with this—there have not been even sufficient State-assisted houses built to meet the ordinary growth of the population and to replace the wastage of old buildings, and, if it had not been for private enterprise, the housing shortage in the year of the Socialist Government would not have been reduced. An army of over 100,000 building operatives walk the streets looking for the work of building houses, which, certainly in many quarters, is still badly needed, rents have not been reduced, the slums still remain, and the re-planning of our town and country has made no adequate advance. It has been due to the weak, hesitating, doubtful policy of the Minister of Health.
1625 I very well remember the late Mr. Wheatley, from the back bench opposite, when the Minister of Health introduced his proposals which only restored the Wheatley subsidy in part, using words to this effect: "If people believe in a subsidy, if you think that subsidies are going to bring more houses, why is it that you are going to restore only half the amount that was inserted in my Bill? If you believe in subsidies, and say that there has been no building under the Chamberlain Act because the subsidy was stopped, why did you not restore it?" That is a half-hearted policy which gives no encouragement; and, being halfhearted it has the result that that kind of policy always brings with it. This has been a barren year. There have been a few more doles——
§ Sir K. WOOD
There has been the Act which broke the Government's pledges to widows in need; there is dearer coal for the consumer; there are heavier burdens on industry; nearly 2,000,000 of our fellow-citizens are registered as unemployed; and, for the houseless and the body housed, there is a policy without vision and a performance only distinguished by failure and lack of resolution and courage.
§ Mr. E. D. SIMON
We have listened to a very powerful attack on the administration of the Housing Acts by the present Government during the last 12 months, and I think that eveyone who studies the facts will agree that the situation is very serious. Personally, I think that the most serious aspect of the situation is the shower of "Noes" that have come from the Parliamentary Secretary. I really cannot understand the optimism with which she and the Minister, whose absence to-day I very much regret, regard the present housing situation. Of course, I do not think——
§ Miss LAWRENCE
My interjections were due to the fact that the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman included private enterprise at one period, and did not include it at another.
§ Mr. SIMON
I think that the hon. Lady was wrong. In my opinion, the right hon. Gentleman's figures, as far as I could understand them, were all correct, 1626 or certainly a very large proportion of them were correct. I believe the situation to be exceedingly serious, and I do not think that hon. Members opposite realise, and I am quite sure that the hon. Lady does not realise, quite how serious the position is. I want to deal with that one point. There are a good many other points in regard to the administration of housing with which one would like to deal, in particular the question whether the right tenants are getting the houses; but this one question of the number of houses that are being built and the amount of employment that is being given is so overwhelmingly more important that I want to confine myself to that one point.
I want to go back a little further than the right hon. Gentleman has gone, because the history of this matter for the last six years is extraordinarily interesting, and, I think, rather ominous from the point of view of the ability of the State to take the long view in regard to an important problem of this sort, and to give its assistance in an effective way. With the passing of the Chamberlain Act in 1923, the large-scale building by private enterprise of assisted houses was begun. I am not going to deal with unassisted houses this afternoon, because, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) has said, and as I think the Minister of Health has said on many occasions, the Government have no influence on the building of unassisted houses—
§ Sir K. WOOD
My point was that the Minister, when he was in Opposition, desired to exclude private enterprise, but I claim for the Conservative party that one of their great contributions to the housing situation was their revival of private enterprise in the building of houses in this country.
§ Mr. SIMON
I do not want to go into the question of private enterprise, and I am not differentiating between private enterprise and public enterprise, but between assisted schemes and unassisted schemes. The important question is as to what has been done by successive Governments by means of subsidies, which, after all, have been the effective driving force in this matter, to increase the building of houses. We had the Chamberlain Act of 1923, which got private enterprise going on assisted schemes on a large 1627 scale. The three following years, from 1924 to 1927, showed an extraordinarily successful development; and then, from 1927 to 1930, we had three most depressing years, just as depressing as the others were good. What has been the cause of that?
First of all, the Chamberlain Act of 1923 got private enterprise going with assisted schemes. Then, under the Act of 1924, we had, first of all, the subsidy to local authorities, and, secondly, the so-called bargain or treaty with the building trade. Mr. Wheatley looked ahead for 15 years and made arrangements which included a quasi guarantee that, if the building trade would so increase their numbers as to be able to build, as he wanted them to build, 225,000 houses a year, they would be guaranteed employment for 15 years on that basis. These three things—the Chamberlain subsidy, the Wheatley subsidy, and the treaty with the building trade—had a very remarkable effect indeed for three years. Measuring it by the number of houses built, and rounding off the figures very considerably, in 1924 there were 50,000 assisted houses built, in 1925, 100,000, in 1926, 150,000, and in 1927, 200,000. These three things taken together, therefore, increased the number of assisted houses built by 50,000 a year, from 50,000 to over 200,000. Actually, during the year ending on the 30th September, 1927, 212,000 assisted houses were finished, a very magnificent piece of building.
Then it was decided by right hon. Gentlemen on the Conservative benches to cut the subsidy, and then began the three bad years that followed, namely, from 1927 to 1930. I do not think that anyone can deny that that cut in the subsidy caused a sudden slump. Instead of 200,000 assisted houses being built, we had about 100,000. The year after that the figure was again about 100,000, or rather more, and it was again 100,000 in the year ending on the 30th September, 1929. The present Government had been in power at that time for six months. What happened after September of last year? The Chamberlain subsidy disappeared, we were left with only the Wheatley subsidy, and during the last six months we have been building assisted houses, not at the rate of 100,000 a year or of 200,000 a year, but of only 50,000 1628 a year. [Interruption.] That is an absolutely correct figure. It is no use the hon. Lady demurring. If she will look at the figures for the period from the 1st October to the 31st March, she will find that assisted houses have been built at the rate of rather less than 50,000 a year, as against the bargain with the building trade in 1924 to work up to 225,000 assisted houses a year for 15 years. It was the fault of hon. Members on the Conservative benches that the number fell from 200,000 to 100,000 for two years, but from last September the full responsibility is clearly on the present Government, and they are to-day building assisted houses at less than a quarter of the rate for which they bargained with the building trade in 1924, and which they actually built in the year ending 30th September, 1927. These are facts which cannot be denied.
That is as regards house-building. As regards employment, it moved, generally speaking, parallel with building. The actual number of people employed in the building and allied trades increased each year after 1924 as a result of the three causes of which I have spoken. Each year about 50,000 more men were employed in those trades, and in the year 1927 there were actually 150,000 more men employed in the building trades than there were in 1924. That, again, is a most remarkable achievement, showing how quickly people could be got into the trade, and how well the trade unions lived up to their bargain and allowed dilutees, or whatever they may be called—new people—to come into the trade. Since then, the number employed has fallen, not to the same extent as the figures for housing, but by about 30,000, and I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich is right when he says that it would have fallen a good deal more if it had not been for the remarkable rise in the amount of building by private enterprise which, fortunately, has taken place.
§ Mr. SIMON
Yes, unassisted. The other item of importance in this connection is that of costs. The A.3 house, in 1923, cost about £350. The Chamberlain subsidy put it up to £400, and the Wheatley subsidy to £450. The subsidies did undoubtedly have that effect; but 1629 gradually, as the building trade has expanded, the price has come down, and it is now about £350 or £340, the lowest that it has ever been since the War. Now, therefore, the present Government have a tremendous opportunity. The building trade has been built up until it is capable, as it has shown, of building 200,000 assisted houses a year; the cost of building these houses is down to the lowest figure that it has been since the War; and the Government have nothing to do except to go ahead and build houses.
One would have thought that the first thing that the Minister of Health would have said, under these conditions, would have been: "In 1927, 212,000 assisted houses were built; let me see if I can beat that record, and at least get up to the forecast of Mr. Wheatley in his White Paper of 1924, and build 225,000 assisted houses." We are at the present time building at the rate of rather under 50,000 assisted houses a year, and the most serious aspect of the matter, as it seems to me, is the attitude taken by the Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary. Instead of demanding emergency measures, they keep on hiding behind the unassisted private enterprise houses, and saying that, after all, a lot of houses are being built. In an answer which the Minister gave to me the other day, he tried to hide the figures in that way by taking credit for unassisted private enterprise houses. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, in replying, will take this matter into consideration, and will confine herself to the question of assisted houses, in regard to which alone the Government can have any influence. It she has not the figures at hand already, I hope she will take an opportunity of looking into them, and seeing whether it is not the case that less than 50,000 subsidised assisted houses a year have been built since the beginning of October last.
I do not want to say anything more, except that this is a very perturbing instance of the difficulties of State Socialism. Here is, I should say, the greatest experiment in State Socialism that this country has ever attempted, apart from the Post Office. It was attempted on imaginative and, I think, fairly businesslike lines by the Labour Government of 1924. It was carried on very successfully for three years, and 1630 then, this great machine having been built up, people having been attracted into the trade, and the supplies of building materials having been developed so as to enable a programme of 225,000 houses a year to be quite easily carried out, first of all hon. Members on the Conservative Benches let that programme slump to 100,000 a year, and then the present Government, to my astonishment and dismay, instead of immediately adopting emergency measures or anything that was necessary to get back to 200,000 a year, actually let it slump down to 50,000, and then try to hide behind unassisted private enterprise and refuse to face the real seriousness and the real difficulties of the situation.
I believe the Ministry of Health is such an overgrown organisation that no Minister can be expected to have very much time to think about these pressing problems—he has so many things to do. But this is far and away the most important task the right hon. Gentleman has to face, and I believe it has been extraordinarily and very seriously neglected during recent months. The Bill upstairs has its merits. There are one or two good ideas in it, and it will help in certain directions, but like most Bills introduced by the present Government it is excessively timid. I am convinced that it is not going to increase the building of assisted houses in any really substantial number, and, if hon. Members opposite examine it, I think they will say the same. It is not even going to look at the problem of increasing the 50,000 assisted houses up to 200,000. I beg the hon. Lady to take the matter into serious consideration. The Bill is very limited by the financial Resolution. Whenever we have moved Amendments to make it more effective, they have been rejected. The hon. Lady has misunderstood the figures and has not realised the position. I hope she will talk it over with the Minister and that, during the remaining stages of the Bill, some steps will be taken. I am sure Members on these benches—I should think Members all over the House—will support them in taking some measures to get back from this miserable figure of 50,000 to something approaching the goal that they set before them of 225,000 assisted houses a year.
I hope, before the debate ends, we are going to pass from a mere 1631 academic and more or less barren recital of how many houses were built one year and how many the next and to try to understand what accounts for these figures which were recited to us by the late Parliamentary Secretary. It is true that fewer houses have been built during the last year than for many years. Enough houses are not, being built to meet the needs of the people, but I beg Members on all sides of the Committee to realise that, in many districts where the need for housing is greatest, the houses that can be built under the present financial terms are already more than enough, and in those areas houses are standing empty. Does the hon. Gentleman who is now leaving the Chamber want to bring before the House proposals for forcing those local authorities to go on building houses in areas where there are already empty houses because the people cannot pay the rents, or will he genuinely co-operate with us in trying to get to the root of the difficulty, which is the rent problem. Already upstairs there is a Measure which will enable houses to be built cheaper than at present, and the most useful contribution that Members who are genuinely concerned to have more houses built could make is to assist us to get the Slum Clearance Bill on to the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment in order that local authorities will be able to go forward with building houses that people can afford to buy.
Some mention has been made of building prices. If hon. Members opposite, instead of obstructing the Consumers Council Bill, had widened it in order to include building material, there again they would have been not merely scoring cheap debating points but they would have been genuinely co-operating in an effort to get houses built at prices that people could afford to pay. It is one of the most distressing features of our national life in Scotland to see the effort that is being made by working class people to live in the houses that the party opposite want us to continue building. They make the effort on an ever increasing scale but they are forced to leave them, and they are being rejected from them, because they cannot pay the rent, and the central problem that I want to stress, and the main appeal that I want to address to the Minister and to those 1632 responsible in assisting him in his work, is to tackle the problem of rent. I know they are trying to do it in the Slum Clearance Bill, but there is also the problem of the rental of houses already built. Are we to suffer the cheap gibes from Members opposite about nothing being done to reduce rentals, or are we to give them the opportunity of voting in some way or other for a reduction of rentals of existing houses.
It is not my job to suggest ways in which that can be done, but I would beg the Minister to consider, especially for Scotland, the whole question of our local rating, because, whenever we attempt to get cheaper rents, we are told by local authorities that it can only be done by asking people who are very poor, and who are living in bad houses, to pay more rent, and I see no way out of the dilemma unless the Ministry is proposing to take housing right out of the schemes of the local authorities, to leave them with the roads and the thousand and one other things that they are carrying through, which are imposing as heavy a rating obligation as can be borne, and let us make housing a mater of national emergency. Let us make it a great national scheme, subsidised and financed completely from the State, and not impeded by Tory local authorities who hold back our schemes at the same time that their representatives in this place gibe at us for not carrying on the schemes.
I think the time is long overdue when our Government, in all its Departments, should call the bluff of Members opposite. Many of us are becoming very tired of being gibed about inadequate pensions and inadequate house building by these very people who for five years had every opportunity of doing those things and abused the opportunity. Furthermore, even while those gibes are being made, none know better than Members opposite that the real economic power lies in their hands still and in those of their friends and not in those of the Labour Government, and that it is thanks to their policy——
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Dunnico)
The hon. Member must confine her speech to the Vote before the Committee.
I apologise for following the example set me. I think it will be agreed that the right hon. Gentleman 1633 talked about pensions and mining and all the rest of it. I should have liked an opportunity to point out who was really responsible for these bad conditions.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The right hon. Gentleman did make a passing reference to these things, but before I could stop him put himself in order.
The central point of our house building is rent. It is no use going on building more houses at rentals that people cannot afford and I hope that, not only in the new Bill which is coming forward for houses to be built in the future, but for new houses at present up, the Ministry will bring forward some bold, encouraging scheme which will bring rents into some relationship with the wages that our people are earning and, if they do that, one of two things will happen, either substantial advantages will be given to our rack-rented people, or we will call the bluff of Members opposite and show exactly how much all this assumed concern for the people whose distress is largely of their making is worth.
§ Sir T. WALTERS
I entirely concur in the figures given by my hon. Friend, and also in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench. But surely there must be some fundamental reason for the drop in house building. There must be something quite apart from small changes in the subsidies, and even changes in the Government. I think the real reason why house building is slackening off is that, of the kind of house we have been laying ourselves out to build in the last few years, namely, houses of the standard, of the Tudor Walters Report, the supply has almost reached the demand. Of the three-bedroomed house, the large house, at a rent which only a workman earning very good wages can pay, I think we have really built almost as many as the country require. I think that is the principal reason why house building is slackening off. That brings us to another question which I think is now one of supreme importance. That is the provision of the cheap house, the housing of the slum dwellers, the casual workers and the poorly paid members of our community, who are unfortunately very large in number. I do not think it is any use attempting to stimulate, by subsidies or by any 1634 thing else, the building of the houses that we have been building for the last two years. They had a rent of 10s., 12s., 14s., 16s., a week. I was largely responsible for the standard of building set out in the Tudor Walters report. I believed after the War that we were going to have great prosperity, with increased wages and full employment, and that it was desirable to build houses adapted to the needs of highly paid workers, but the facts are very different from the imagination and it is obvious now that we must provide for other sections of our population who want to pay a rent of 5s. or 6s. a week or something of that kind, and to whom 10s., 12s., 14s., is an absolute impossibility. I think this problem must be faced, and I believe it is capable of solution. I am engaged myself at present in building a large number of houses which can be let on an economic basis of 6s. a week. That is getting somewhere near a solution of the problem.
§ Sir T. WALTERS
I will develop it at a later stage. I want to get at some point of view, at some principle on which I think the operations of the future can be carried forward. In the first place, if you are to build a cheap house you must take care that it is a good house. It must not be an insanitary house, and it must not be a hut or a hovel or something which is going to degenerate into a slum. If you want to build small houses cheaply, you must build them on a large scale; you must build them by mass production. You must organise and control the method of building and the supply of materials, and take care that you are not exploited in that connection. You must co-ordinate the activities of the various districts of the country. You do not want to build houses in districts where they are not needed, thereby diminishing the supply of materials and increasing the cost of houses built in districts where they are needed. You must survey the requirements of the whole country, and you must include in your purview slum clearance, the provision of cheap houses to replace slums, and the provision of rural houses at a rent which the rural workers can pay. You must make an exact survey of the whole situation.
1635 I will go back to the position immediately after the War. It was realised just before the end of the War that there would be a great shortage of houses after the War, and the Government of the day set up a commission of inquiry to survey the whole situation. The result of that inquiry was a report which advised the building of 1,000,000 houses. It set up the standard of houses. The recommendations of that report have now been carried out. You have obtained 1,000,000 houses of the standard required. Now you want to face the other situation, the new situation—slum clearance and cheap houses. I believe that if you had a co-ordinated scheme and brought under survey all the resources which the country possesses—even now in the ranks of the building trade there is a sufficient number of skilled men—it would be possible to build, in addition to the ordinary programme, say, 150,000 to 200,000 houses a year for the next five years of the kind which I have described, adapted to those whose wages are so low that they cannot pay a high rent. This eventually would be the best and indeed the only method of clearing the slums.
How is this to be done? We certainly do not want to wait for the appointment of another Royal Commission. We have all the information already available if only we will use it. The centre of the whole business is the Ministry of Health. I have very great respect for the staff and the efficiency of the Ministry of Health, but they have many and varied duties to perform. They have to solve all kinds of problems. I am absolutely satisfied that you will never deal efficiently with this problem of cheap houses and slum clearance until you have constituted a separate and definite department from the Ministry of Health—a proper National Housing Board—which can take this matter in hand and put some dynamic into it. The Bill which is now upstairs in Committee, though it contains many merits, has not an ounce of dynamic in it, nothing to make it operative to compel local authorities to do anything. It does not put local authorities into the way of doing anything. I am satisfied that just as you needed a board for the Port of London, an Electricity Board, and the setting up of a Colliery Board, you must have a National Housing Board with four or 1636 five men upon it who understand the question and will insist upon something being done.
I cannot see any reason why 100,000 men connected with the building trade should be out of work and be receiving the dole when there is this vast problem of useful, necessary, and urgent work waiting to be done. Why are we inventing schemes of unemployment. Why are we building ridiculous pavilions opposite the house in which I live in Hyde Park which are an eyesore to me and a nuisance to everybody? Why are we doing things like this? Why do we not build houses to rehouse the slum dwellers? I do not want to say anything too emphatic or to be too drastic or to condemn anyone, but it is almost a crime that the resources of this country which are now available should not be utilised for providing the houses which are so urgently needed. I believe that this can be done very cheaply. I do not know whether hon. Members have ever taken the trouble to inquire what rents are paid for slum dwellings, for cellar kitchens, for two rooms in a basement, and have also considered the value for commercial purposes of sites now covered by slums which ought to be cleared and set free for business purposes, and how much cheaper it is to build upon a large scale than upon a small scale. If any hon. Members came to my office I could show them figures in regard to the difference between a contract, say, for 10 houses and a contract for 2,000 houses which might stagger them. It is not that builders or builders' merchants are more greedy and avaricious than other people, but unless they can see their way to large schemes, continuous schemes, they cannot bring the cost of production down to the lowest basis. Schemes must be extended over a term of years. It is no use talking about one year. When the late Mr. Wheatley set out to solve the problem he went in for a 15 years' programme.
I should go in for a 20 years' programme. I believe that if a 20 years' programme was carefully laid down on the lines which I am suggesting and all the resources of the trade, and the materials were organised, that within that 20 years you could abolish every slum in the country. There need not be 1637 a single skilled workman in the building trade unemployed. I am certain that the timorous operations which are being pursued by the present Government will land nowhere, but will end in disaster. I do not want to condemn them too severely. I know their difficulties well. They are apprehensive that if they launch a bold scheme they will not be supported. I believe that they are as anxious as we are to get houses built. In many respects both the Ministry of Health and the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary have shown zeal and understanding. I feel satisfied that they would have the support of this House and the support of the country if they put forward a scheme on the lines I have suggested, and would not have need to be afraid to be the leaders in the attack. I implore them, before it is too late, to face this problem, to realise what are its difficulties and at the same time to realise that all these difficulties are capable of solution.
§ Mr. T. LEWIS
I think that the Minister in charge of this Vote has every reason to be satisfied in the main with the development of the debate. She need not pay too much attention to the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Woad). When I heard his remarks with regard to the housing policy of the Government, I thought that an election was pending. I always understood that the right hon. Member for West Woolwich was a very bold person, but I hardly thought that he could place the crimes of the late Government upon the shoulders of the present Government in an endeavour to make political capital. Those of us who have had considerable experience of local work know that the threatened withdrawal of the subsidy has had a very marked effect upon the policies of councils throughout the country. The reduction in the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich is largely due, I think, to the threatened reduction in the subsidy. We can congratulate the Government upon having partially restored the subsidy which, I believe, will have a marked effect upon building in the future.
There are many points in connection with housing which require the attention 1638 of the Government. If I were in the position of Minister of Health, I should accept the policy foreshadowed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir T. Walters) who is an undoubted authority upon housing. I should accept what he has put forward for a bold comprehensive national scheme of housing, because I think that the facts which have been given by him with regard to mass production are irrefutable. We know even in a small way that the amount of a tender for say 500 or 600 houses is far different from a tender for 400 houses. We should also have control of the building materials. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that building factors are not concerned with this matter. I believe that the people who control the materials have been important factors with regard to the cost of building. This fact may not have been the occasion for the whole of the high cost of building, but I believe that, the cost could be brought down enormously if we had a big national housing scheme, with control of building materials and direct employment of labour, thereby not leaving the matter to the ordinary contractors of this country. That is the direction in which the Government ought to proceed.
I think that from their speeches this afternoon, Members of the Liberal party are sincere in their attitude upon housing. We ought to accept that position, because if we could claim them as being in earnest in this matter we could say that we were not in a minority, at any rate, on this question. Unless we do something in regard to the housing problem, we are in for very serious times indeed. Even in a town like that from which I come, we find that, although we have built something like 3,000 houses, we have still 3,000 applicants on our waiting lists who cannot afford to pay the high, and sometimes excessive, rents they are being called upon to pay. I do not think that the need has been met with regard to houses let at rents about 10s. to 12s., but I am certain that the great demand is for the smaller type of houses for people who can afford to pay 5s. or 6s. a week. We are finding that people who have taken houses at 12s. or 13s. a week are gradually drifting back again to slum areas, because with wages 1639 somewhere in the region of £2 5s. or £2 10s. a week they cannot afford to pay 12s. or 15s. a week as rent.
I wish to ask the Minister whether the Government will consider the question of lower rents, even if it means larger subsidies, and also whether they will consider the question of the equalisation of rents. I understand that as a council we have no power to equalise rents. It is very unfair after you have built houses which cost £800 to £900, for which you have to charge a certain rent, if afterwards you can build houses of a similar type for £500 or £600, the persons occupying the former should still be saddled with rents based on a charge of £800 or £900. There ought to be some means of equalisation. I know that it would be difficult to charge more of those persons who are already paying a lower rent, but there ought to be some means taken, even, as I have already said, if it means more subsidies, to bring about equalisation in order to bring down rents to something like 9s. or 9s. 6d. The problem of rent is exceedingly important, and the Ministry will be well advised to give it serious attention. I know it may appear that we are, perhaps, unduly criticising. I know that our friends are at the Ministry, and I give them credit for knowing more about the particular problem on which they are engaged than we do. It does seem at times to those of us who are novices in some respects, although not novices in looking at the matter from the local point of view, that sufficient attention is not being paid to certain phases of the housing problem. If the Government are paying sufficient attention to those phases, then we are not getting the results. I wish particularly to refer to certain features of the housing problem that must be dealt with in connection with the building of new houses. I wish the Ministry would take some action in regard to the excessive rents of decontrolled houses. This is a very serious problem. When a house becomes decontrolled and it is a house worth, say, £500 or £600, it at once goes up in value by £100 to £150, and the rent goes up from, say, 8s. to 15s. and even £1. The Ministry would do well if they would take steps to deal with that matter. We have nothing but persistent 1640 refusals to deal with the question. Within a month or two months of the present Government taking office questions were raised respecting the rents of decontrolled houses. On the 24th July, 1929, a question was put to the Prime Minister, and he replied that he could not hold out any prospects of amending legislation during that year.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member cannot discuss on this Vote anything which involves legislation.
§ Mr. LEWIS
I merely mention that in passing, coupled with the hope that the Ministry of Health will take stock of the situation with regard to rents because it is a very important factor in the housing problem. Another feature which requires attention is the excessive rents which sub-tenants have to pay. All sorts of extortion are going on at the present time. I mention these facts as showing the urgent need of building smaller houses, which was referred to by the right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth, which might be let at 6s. a week. There is a case in my own district, and such cases could be multiplied by thousands, of a house the pre-War rent of which was 8s. a week, which is let at the present time for £2 8s. a week, and 19 people are living in the house. The charges in that house are 16s. 2d. for two rooms, 11s. 6d. for one room, 10s. for two rooms, and 10s. for another room. The Ministry must have in their possession a mass of information regarding the terrible overcrowding that is going on in connection with sub-letting. I obtained particulars regarding this overcrowding in my own town. I took particulars with regard to 4,307 houses. The number of houses where sub-letting took place was 1,795, while the number of sub-tenants was 2,866. That is in Southampton, which is sometimes supposed to be an up-to-date town. These particulars refer not merely to working-class wards, but even to portions of wards that are termed middle-class. The small middle-class 1641 houses are terribly overcrowded. There are cases of houses of a rental of £40 to £50 a year which have been turned into two and three flats at a rental of 30s. to £2 for each flat. Enormous profiteering and overcrowding is going on. In that town we have built 3,000 houses, but we have still 3,000 on our waiting list.
The facts which I have quoted give proof of the great amount of overcrowding that is going on, but we are told that nothing can be done. How is it that nothing can be done? I believe that if the Government would bring in a Bill——
§ Mr. LEWIS
The hon. Member need not bother about calling me to order. I am willing to obey the Chair. Another important matter is the letting of furnished rooms. Here, again, we have had a reply that nothing can be done. I do not understand why nothing can be done in these eases. We are told that the people who have any grievance can go to the County Court. People get short shrift at the County Court. Moreover, most people do not understand the business of going to the County Court. That is why I think that a fair rents court might be set up.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member must distinguish between Measures which require legislation and matters which lie within the administrative powers of the Ministry of Health. On this Vote only matters are in order which come under the administration of the Ministry of Health.
§ Mr. LEWIS
I understand that legislation cannot be referred to, but it is extremely difficult on a matter of this kind not to get involved in the question of legislation. Coming from meetings where matters are not so strict as they are here, one is inclined to lapse. Could not the Ministry take some steps in order to avoid this overcrowding and the flagrant over-charging for furnished rooms and lodgings? I should like to refer to slum clearance schemes. In the OFFICIAL REPORT of 25th June particulars are given of the number of slum clearance schemes confirmed during the period 1927, 1928 and 1929, and we find that from 1st April, 1929, to 31st March, 1930, no slum clearance schemes were confirmed.
§ Mr. LEWIS
That is due, to some extent, to the fact that legislation is pending. I presume that I am in order in making reference to legislation that is pending. I think the Ministry made a big mistake in advising local authorities not to proceed with their slum clearance schemes because a new Measure was to be introduced. The replies given on 25th June showed that 17 slum clearance schemes were confirmed in the previous year but no schemes were confirmed during the last 12 months. Surely the slum clearance schemes might have proceeded. I understand that the reason given is that on account of the Derby case the local authorities could not go on with their slum clearance schemes. The great bulk of the slum clearance schemes would not have been affected by the decision in the Derby case, and they might have been allowed to proceed. I raised the question recently in regard to my own borough, where we had five schemes that were held up. Of course, a reactionary council are quite willing to hold up a scheme when they are told by an official of the Ministry of Health: "I would not proceed with the scheme, because there is to be a new slum clearance Bill brought in." That means not merely delay for six months but probably for two years. If the Opposition adopt their usual tactics in regard to the Housing (No. 2) Bill, it will probably be another six months before that Measure gets through. It is quite possible that a delay of two years will have been caused by the action of the Ministry in holding up schemes, and I am at a loss to understand why they took that action and why in regard to cases that were not affected by the Derby decision, where the local authority were going to use the whole of the land for the purpose of building houses and for slum improvements, they did not allow those authorities to get along with their work. I hope that the result of to-day's debate will be a speeding up of housing, and I hope that the Government will take the serious advice of the right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth and have a national housing scheme on broad and big lines.
I sympathise with the hon. Member in the difficulty in avoiding reference to legislation. That is one of 1643 the difficulties which confronts us when in Supply we have to criticise the Government on any of their administrative actions. I am not certain that the right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir T. Walters) was strictly in order, because his suggested national housing scheme would require a certain amount of legislation. I listened with awe and respect and I feared to intervene knowing that with his greater experience he would hardly dare to presume upon his knowledge of the procedure of the House to tempt the Deputy-Chairman to call him to order.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir T. Walters) gave no indication that his scheme required legislation, and consequently I could not call him to order.
I am afraid that, under the present administrative powers of the Ministry of Health, it would not be possible to proceed with the remedy proposed by the right hon. Member. While it is difficult to avoid references to legislation, it is the duty of the Opposition to criticise the Government for their administration and for their lack of doing things which they might have done. Of all the failures of the Government I think their most colossal failure has been in regard to housing. When the present Government was formed and the Minister of Health took up his high position we did not forget that the right hon. Gentleman was not taking up that position as a novice. He was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health under the late Mr. Wheatley, who brought in the Wheatley Housing Act. Therefore, the present Minister of Health came to the Ministry with a very large knowledge of housing. He must have had a great deal to do with the formation of the Housing Bill of 1924 and he had something to do with the agreement that was made with the building trades at that time.
The right hon. Gentleman started from a very favourable position, really from a pedestal from which he could survey the land and proceed with a great scheme of housing. During his years in opposition he had many opportunities, which he exercised, of challenging the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) and the right hon. Member for 1644 West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) on their dealing with housing and the subsidy. He had taken a very active and special interest in the problem for five or six years before reaching office and naturally we expected that we should get a marked and definite progress in the building of houses, exceeding that which took place when we were in office and when we succeeded in establishing a record in house construction which has not so far been approached. Our actions never met with the approval of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, and naturally we expected that with his experience and power he would show us what could be done. What has been the result of the past 12 months? We have the shocking tale, so faithfully and truly recited by the right hon. Member for West Woolwich, showing how the number of houses has not increased but decreased; and how the number of unemployed in the building trade has increased. Rents have not decreased. Every bad thing that could possibly have happened has happened during the time the right hon. Member has been Minister of Health.
During the remarks of the right hon. Member for West Woolwich the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary, with a smile on her face, looked forward to the time when she would rise in her place and demolish the arguments of my right hon. Friend. We could see her straining at the leash, and we naturally expected that she was going to knoch his arguments flat. Then came the speech of the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) and the hon. Lady was a little troubled, especially when he told her that she did not understand the question of housing, and that the right hon. Member for West Woolwich was perfectly right. She began to look a little worried. When the right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth corroborated the statements, the smile departed from the face of the hon. Lady, and she will have to use her discretion, her tact and her courage, if she is to make a satisfactory answer for the present Government.
If the hon. Member likes to come up to Lanarkshire, we can show him what progress has been made in dealing with the housing problem. If we can have cheaper rents, we can employ the builders.
I suppose that, to a certain extent, the rents charged are an economic problem, but if we are going to have a subsidy to deal with rents, I should be immediately out of order, because it would mean legislation. I am afraid that I cannot follow the hon. Member for North Lanark (Miss Lee) in her very reasoned and legitimate suggestion. The Minister is to blame in this respect. During the last 12 months the late Lord Privy Seal has been most anxious under his schemes for assisting unemployment to help any local authority provided it dealt with unemployment and would produce some revenue in return. Why did not the Minister of Health go to the Lord Privy Seal and ask for some portion of the £85,000,000 which the House voted him for housing; for the encouragement of the building of houses which are so bady needed? He did nothing of the sort. Like all Ministers of Health, he had the high desire of handing his name down to posterity by a Bill; he was busy preparing a Slum Clearance Bill, which has been introduced and which is being considered by the Committee upstairs. Let me take this opportunity of saying that the opposition to this Bill is not for the purpose of opposing it—[Interruption]—but for the purpose of improving an extremely bad Bill. Although we have had very little luck so far certain changes have been made, and we hope that further changes will be made when the Bill is considered on Report stage. The right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth, who is one of the greatest authorities on housing in the country, has stated that this Slum Clearance Bill is no good at all, and will not help the problem in any way.
And this is all that the Minister of Health can do for housing after 12 months in office! The whole result—I was going to say is a scandal, but perhaps that is rather too strong a word—is extremely unfortunate, and should be a lesson to right hon. and hon. Members opposite that while it may be very amusing in opposition to criticise, the time comes when your chickens come home to roost. Hon. Members are now in the unhappy situation of finding that their chickens are coming home to roost, and they are not at all pleased with the birds. It is a long time since I saw such a deep gloom on the faces of hon. Members 1646 opposite. Apparently they are dissatisfied with the results of the last 12 months and ashamed of the work which the Minister of Health has done for housing. They will have to go back to their constituents and tell them that after 12 months in office the housing situation is worse than it was before. The only two good points in connection with this problem are the results of private enterprise, of which hon. Members opposite are so fond, and the work of utility societies. Hon. Members opposite will also have to take this further point into consideration. In a publication which I was reading the other day a reference was made to a meeting of the County Councils' Association, where this resoultion was passed last May:That the Chancellor of the Exchequer be informed of the councils agreement with the view that …. in default of a legislative moratorium the whole cost of any new legislation should be borne by the Exchequer.
I am reading the resolution passed by the County Councils' Association, in which they say that the whole cost should be borne by the Exchequer.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I do not rule that the hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies) is strictly outside the question of administration, but the resolution, as far as I understand it, refers to future legislation, and that is entirely outside the scope of this Vote.
I was simply using it as showing the trend of modern opinion in local authorities and to emphasise the point that the Government will find it more and more difficult to build houses in the future than in the past. Whether it means legislation or not I do not know; I am pointing out the trend of 1647 public opinion. One of the great difficulties at the present time of local authorities is that they have to pay a certain definite proportion of the cost, and in the depressed state of trade and industry, with their rateable value going down and with so many mills and factories out of work, it means that many local authorities are not prepared to build under housing schemes or slum clearance schemes because they cannot undertake this fresh financial responsibility. Although the record of the present Government is very bad I suggest that the outlook for the forthcoming months is worse still. The longer the present Government is in office the worse for the country. Fewer houses will be built, and the faces of hon. Members opposite will become longer and longer until eventually they will have to throw up the sponge. Their criticisms when in office were very brave, but their actions as a Government are very weak. They will have to say, "We find the trouble too great, it is beyond our capacity." What the country needs is a reversal to that Government which built the largest number of houses in one year in the history of the world. [Interruption.] In no year has the number of houses built by the last Conservative Government been exceeded, and the sooner a Conservative administration is returned the better for this House, for housing and for the country.
§ Mr. MUGGERIDGE
The speech of the hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies) is a conspicuous instance of the sort of thing of which the country is getting tired. We want to get down to the practical difficulties of this problem. The hon. Member was very unfair in one respect. He said that the present. Government were entirely responsible for the fact that housing has not gone ahead of the requirements of the population. The facts are that the Government are not in a position to build houses themselves they have to rely upon the municipalities. A scheme was adopted by the late Government. Originally it was a 15 years' scheme, but what encouragement was given by the late Government to that scheme when it proposed to reduce the subsidy?
§ Mr. MUGGERIDGE
It was suggested that the subsidy should be reduced below £7 10s., and it has been restored by the present Government to £7 10s.
§ Lord E. PERCY
The periodical review of the amount of the subsidy was part of the original 15 years' scheme.
§ Mr. MUGGERIDGE
I agree, but the review was to be dependent upon the progress made in the provision of houses under that scheme. The last Government took no stock of the fact that the progress made under the scheme was far short of the intention of the Act when originally passed, but by mere force of their position and power reduced the subsidy, in spite of the fact that the building under the scheme had not kept pace with the rate originally put into the scheme. The municipalities are the ones who have to carry out that scheme. There is no need for further legislation. That scheme stands to the credit of the late Mr. Wheatley as the one practical scheme for dealing with the problem of the housing of the working classes. Why has it been stopped? It has not been stopped entirely, of course, but it was discouraged originally by the late Government.
Let us remember that every attempt is made by speakers on the other side of the Committee to discredit the granting of loans to public bodies. We are told again and again that the national credit is being attacked by the Government. No municipality, with the market in that state, is likely to carry on a scheme involving a very large sum of money. For this reason municipalities have gone very slowly indeed with schemes under which they might have provided the houses required. I know, because I have been a member for 20 years of a body which has been very keen on meeting the requirements of that part of its population which cannot afford to buy houses. In Croydon you can find any number of houses at quite reasonable prices for purchase, but you cannot find houses for letting from one end of the borough to the other. The problem is the provision of houses that can be let. The body to which I have referred has endeavoured to provide schemes. It has built something like 3,000 houses for letting, the rents to include rates. There are Addison rents, rents when the subsidy was higher than it is 1649 now, and the rents of houses built when the cost of building was less than it is now.
Remember that there is nothing to be expected from a municipality except caution, and that throughout the country every attempt has been made to discourage public bodies from entering into large commitments during the past year. If no scheme has been added to the schemes that already exist, it is largely due to the fact that the pledging of public credit has been discredited to such a point that the Corporation, anxious as it is to do what is required, hesitates to take the first step. But you cannot blame the Government for that. The Government has encouraged every municipality by increasing the subsidy or by keeping it from the threatened fall—the subsidy of £7 10s. per house is there. The public authorities have not hesitated because of want of encouragement from the Government.
A fact which, more than any other, has caused hesitation among local authorities, is the tragic fact that rents, even under the present subsidy arrangements, cannot be fixed at a figure which the majority of would-be tenants can afford to pay. What happens? In a corporation such as that of which I am a member there are workmen employed who get what is called the standard rate of pay of their class. The rate is £2 17s. 10½d. for men working on the road. Houses cannot be produced to be let at rents, including rates, of less than 13s. 6d. or 14s. a week. To ask the man with a family to pay such a rent when he is earning only £2 17s. 10½d. a week is, of course, mocking him. A man cannot fulfil his duty as a parent and pay a rent of that kind. The problem presents itself to most of the corporations of the country in this way—how to produce houses for letting at rents that the bulk of the working classes can afford to pay. Can it be done?
My desire is not merely to put before this Committee facts which are known to everyone, but to make a suggestion which tackles what is the essential difficulty of the position. The difficulty is not even in the price of the house of to-day. It is possible to get a house for a working-class family for about £430. That is, of course, considerably more than the cost in pre War days. Judging by what 1650 has been done up, and down the country with housing schemes, it is possible to get at £430 a decent house in decent surroundings, with not more than 12 houses to the acre; in short, a development that no municipality need be ashamed, of and an estate where no working man need be ashamed to live. It may be said that that price is double the pre-War price. Business men have said as much to me, and that the wages of working men are considerably more than they were. Take the case of the workman with the £2 17s. 10½d. per week. His wages in pre-War days were in the neighbourhood of £1 8s. a week. The business man says, "If you have doubled the price of the house and doubled the wages of the workmen, the two things ought to put you in the same position as you were in before the War." But that statement overlooks what I consider to be the most patent difficulty and the root cause of mischief in relation to housing—the cost of money, not the cost of housing. The workman earns double the wages and the house costs twice as much, but the rate of interest, the capital charges, are also twice as much, and when you put twice as high capital charges on top of twice the capital cost, you have a cost of building which is four times what it was in pre-War days.
That is the snag. Is there a solution? Where can we find money the interest on which has not risen? What about the Post Office Savings Bank? It is supposed to be the bank of the working classes. and they still continue—I often wonder why—to use it. They get 2½ per cent. for their money. As far as I can see in the public accounts the balance left in the Post Office Savings Bank is passed into the hands of the Public Works Loans Commissioners. There, presumably, they mix it with other amounts of money which they receive, and they loan it, not at the rate at which it was acquired, but at something like 5½ per cent. to local bodies for public purposes generally. I do not think I exaggerate if I say that the floating balance in the Post Office Savings Banks is about £100,000,000 a year. This is working-class money receiving a low rate of interest. Why not take it and invest it in working-class houses? That would go far to solve the problem of the rents of working-class houses. I cannot see why money lent by 1651 the working classes should not be expressly earmarked for housing the working classes. That suggestion is the contribution I make to the debate. If people are suffering to-day the physical and moral consequences of overcrowding, it is due to the fact, not that houses cannot be built or materials bought at a reasonable price, but that for money more interest is being asked than can possibly be paid in rents by the working classes.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I have listened with great interest to the hon. Member who has just spoken, but I do not propose to follow him in his financial argument. I should prefer him to debate his suggestion with the Chancellor of the Exchequer privately, and as the hon. Member belongs to the Labour party his suggestion ought to carry some weight with the Chancellor. I am afraid, however, that the right hon. Gentleman will have some criticism of the suggestion to offer. I agree with the hon. Member that it is just as well in these debates to get down to the real position that we have to face. For myself I say that if the present Government brings in a Bill that is going to help to solve the housing problem, I shall support it. Some remarks have been made about the Housing Bill that is now before a Standing Committee. It has been suggested that that Bill is being obstructed. I refute the charge absolutely. The Bill is a very important Bill of many Clauses, and the few days that we have spent in discussing it have not by any means been wasted. On the contrary there has been a genuine attempt on the part of Members of my own party and of the Liberal party to secure Amendments that would strengthen and improve the Bill. The majority of the Amendments have been brought forward at the request of associations representing local authorities, and, as one who spent a good many years on a local authority and who served on housing committees and on committees dealing with slum clearances, I say that they are people who have a right to be consulted on this matter and whose views ought to be put before the Committee and before the House. They will have to administer the Measure; this is the stage at which Amendments must be brought forward, and therefore to say that these Amendments are obstruction is sheer nonsense. 1652 The fact of the matter is that the Bill is of such importance that it ought to have been——
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is quite entitled to refute a charge of obstruction, but he cannot go into the merits or demerits of the Bill.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I was not going to speak of the merits or demerits of the Bill, but merely to say that it would have been wiser of the Government to have introduced it earlier in the Session so as to have given a fair amount of time to the Committee proceedings. They have no right to seek to rush a Bill of such magnitude through Committee. Hon. Members opposite have already found out that in some cases this kind of thing does not work out very well for themselves and the way in which the Bill is drafted——
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
We may leave the matter there. In order to understand this question thoroughly it is necessary to go into the history of legislation on the housing problem. Before I became a Member of this House I heard the right hon. Gentleman who is at present Minister of Agriculture address a public meeting——
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is only entitled to discuss those matters for which the Ministry is responsible in its work and its administration. He is entitled to discuss whether or not the powers already possessed by the Ministry are being used wisely or unwisely but he cannot go into the merits of past legislation, nor can he anticipate future legislation. This Vote is purely administrative.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
Surely I am entitled to refer to the efforts of former Ministers to deal with this problem and to show why they failed, and also to deal with what the present Ministry are trying to do and to show why I consider that they will fail? I was only going to say that the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister of Agriculture on the occasion to which I refer mentioned the difficulties which he had encountered in dealing with this question and expressed his determination not to approve of any schemes which would create fresh slum 1653 property in this country. He was referring to the building of very cheap houses with inferior materials which would quickly become slum property. I agreed with the right hon. Gentleman but as time went on he found himself up against the problem of cost and the huge cost of housing under his scheme was the one thing that condemned it. The right hon. Gentleman soon realised that he had set himself a greater task than he could accomplish, and he then blamed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon. Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). But in a speech in this House on 21st October, 1920, he also said:I have had no help from organised labour in tine matter from start to finish …. The organised Labour party in this House. … has never given me any help."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st October, 1920; cols. 1200–1201, Vol. 133.]Now the right hon. Gentleman is a member of that party and is a Cabinet Minister, and I wonder what he has to say on the present position. Reference has been made to the late Mr. Wheatley and to the difficulties which he encountered in connection with the provision of houses for the people who need them. I remember a speech of the late Mr. Wheatley when he was Minister of Health, in which he said that in his negotiations he had not had great difficulty with those responsible for the supply of building materials, but that his greatest difficulty had been with organised labour. I am glad that that difficulty has been overcome. It has been overcome largely by negotiation and because those responsible for the conduct of the building trade unions realised that they would have to pull their weight with the rest of us if we were to provide the houses required. When hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite seek to lay the blame for the difficulties which were experienced in the early days, on a certain section of the community, I want them to bear in mind the words which I have quoted from two Labour Cabinet Ministers as to where the blame lay in those days. What has happened during the last few years? In the ten years, from 1919 to 1928, according to official figures, 1,200,000 houses have been built in England and Wales and of these 860,000 were built during the four and a half years of the late Government's term of office and under the administration of 1654 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood). That is their record and, whatever arguments are put forward, we cannot get away from the fact that while they were in office there was a great speeding up in the building of houses.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I have not time to go into the figures of the Chamberlain Act and the Wheatley Act, but. I think hon. Members opposite will find that the greater part of the building was done under the Chamberlain Act. [HON. MEMBERS "No!"] I agree that the problem which we have to face is that of providing houses at rents which the working-class can afford to pay, and by "working-class" I mean the lower-paid workers such as casual labourers and workers of that kind. I have come up against this problem in my duties as a local legislator. In the early days when housing committees were set up under the Ministry of Health and houses were being provided under the Addison scheme and the Wheatley scheme, the question first arose as to the people who were to be allowed to live in these housed.
The committees—which were not confined to numbers of any one political party—in the first burst of generosity, said they would let the houses to the men and women with the largest families and in the greatest need of accommodation. I myself said "Hear, hear" to that proposition but what happened afterwards? We found that many of these tenants were men such as casual labourers, perhaps without any very regular employment, earning very small wages and having big families to support. They could not keep up with the rents which the committees had to charge under the Addison Act and the Wheatley Act and indeed all the legislation passed by Parliament. The committees were not in a position to reduce the rents because of the conditions and terms imposed. Then they found that particular housing schemes were showing heavy arrears. They appointed new collectors in the hope of improving the situation but it was of no avail. Thus it came about that when 1655 applicants for houses came before one of these committees the first question asked was "What is your occupation?" and if the man was a policeman or a railwayman or in some regular occupation of that kind he got the house and the other poor fellow had to wait. It is "the other poor fellow" about whom I am concerned. I want to see that he shall get a house.
What is happening under the slum clearance schemes which have been approved by Parliament? I take it that I am at liberty to refer to administrative action under slum clearance Acts already on the Statute Book. I am not referring to the Measure which is at present under consideration in Committee. I have here a letter which indicates the existence of a rather serious state of affairs in this connection in the City of Hull. There they have a slum clearance scheme and it is suggested that instead of the people removed from the slum district being placed in the new houses they should be placed in older houses, and that the people who vacate those older houses should go into the new houses. It is suggested to the people in the older houses, which are not being condemned as slum houses, that they should make arrangements with their landlords so that those houses can be taken over by the Corporation. The Corporation then suggest that they will remove the people cleared from the slum area into those houses and that the people who vacate those houses should go into the new houses.
I do not regard that as a right or proper way of dealing with the question. It would be far better to provide the dispossessed people with houses on the sites which are being cleared, because, almost invariably, those sites are near where the people work and earn their living, and they object to having to go long distances to and from work. When these people are removed from slum houses it is far better that they should be given a fair chance with a reasonably-priced new house. In the case to which I refer it is suggested that the rent of the new houses should be equal to the rent of the house vacated plus 5 per cent. That is the suggestion of the Hull Housing Committee but instead of saying to the people who are now in the slum houses, "We will let you have a new house at the rent which you are now 1656 paying plus 5 per cent." they propose to put those people into other houses which are perhaps half worn-out now, with the idea of getting the other tenants into the new houses. That is simply because, owing to their experience in the past, the various authorities are anxious to get the best type of tenant into their own houses and they are saying to private enterprise, "You can have the rest."
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I do not know if the hon. Member can show that this mater is a part of the responsibility of the Ministry of Health in its administrative capacity?
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I think the Parliamentary Secretary will bear me out when I say that the Department has power over the local authorities in this matter where assistance has been rendered by the Department. I think the Ministry has to sanction all schemes of slum clearance, and is, to that extent, responsible for the methods employed in rehousing the people. I fear that the case which I have just quoted indicates what is going to be the practice throughout the country—namely, to move the people from the slum property into other old property, and to get the people from that property, who can afford to pay bigger rents, into the new houses. I agree that the Government have shown a lack of initiative on the question of housing. Since the War, each Minister of Health has attached his name to an Act of Parliament. We have had the Addison Act, the Wheatley Act, and the Chamberlain Act, and some of us who are keenly interested in this problem hoped that we should have the Greenwood Act. I am not going to say that the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister will not attach his name to the Measure which is known as the Housing (No. 2) Bill, but which is really a Slum Clearance Bill. I would have preferred a far bolder Measure——
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I put it in this way—that even as regards the Housing 1657 Acts now on the Statute Book, the Minister could have done more. There are local authorities to-day who have built houses under the schemes of the Government—houses to let at the rents mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir T. Walters). He mentioned a rent of 6s. a week for houses which he and his friends had been responsible for building. There are local authorities who have built houses to let at even less than 6s. a week. I have not seen the houses but I am told that they are of a good type. Local authorities are faced with the position that in many cases the cost of road and sewerage works connected with housing schemes is very high indeed—probably more than twice as high as in pre-War times. That is a great problem, but still we have local authorities which have carried out housing schemes, and placed a good class of house—not a large type, but a good, serviceable house—at the disposal of the people of their district, at a very low rent. It would be wise if the Minister circulated among the other local authorities particulars of these schemes, which are well known at the Ministry of Health. I have myself full particulars of one such scheme which has proved eminently successful and has provided the cheap house which we so much desire. I suggest that it would be a sensible thing to circulate particulars of these schemes, which could be copied to advantage by other local authorities. That is a practical suggestion which might be noted.
In conclusion, let me say that we want a little more drive behind the administrative machine. It is all very well to blame local authorities and say that they have not done their duty. The local authorities throughout the country, in the main, are very keen to help in this question of rehousing the people. It is to their advantage to do so, because they get an improved rateable value with new houses as compared with slum property, but they have many difficulties to face. In the depressed areas there is the tremendous difficulty of the very high rates, which in themselves are driving trade away and making it very difficult indeed for those councils to carry on. Although I know I may be ruled out of order, I will risk suggesting that a more 1658 generous contribution from the Ministry would encourage local authorities to carry on with some of this work. It is no use asking them to do something which they cannot do, and the districts that can afford it are those where they do not want small houses, but bigger houses.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
The only way to find out the rules of this House is to break them, and I have had a very good lesson from the Chair this afternoon, but the Chair has treated me very courteously, and I am much obliged to you, Mr. Young, and to your Deputy for your courtesy. What we want is more drive from the Minister, and, without speaking from a political point of view, I am keenly disappointed with the administration of the Ministry of Health during the last 12 months. I do not think it has satisfied hon. Members opposite, and I am certain that it has not satisfied the people of this country in any measure whatever.
I listened with interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), in which he purported to show that our activity as a Government in respect to building did not stand in such a good light as did the figures for the previous Government. I will leave it to the Minister in charge of the debate to answer that statement, but if it be true that the figures are not so good, it is only another way of saying that the Opposition have succeeded in all their various ways and methods of obstructing the progress that the Government have been attempting to make in regard to housing. It must be remembered that when we came into office a time limit had been placed upon the existing subsidy, and that being known to local authorities and the building trade, there was a spurt in housing towards the latter end of the lifetime of the previous Government, so that to compare those figures with the normal figures for the year is not at all fair.
One of the first things the Minister of Health had to do in respect to housing was to restore the confidence and understanding of those who were charged with the housing of the people, and as 1659 my hon. Friend the Member for Rom-ford (Mr. Muggeridge) said, money was an important factor, because unless there was a sufficient subsidy, it was impossible to build houses at a rent which the people could hope to pay. If it were true that we had not produced so many houses in this first year of office as corn-pared with the eleventh hour repentance of the late Government, there are explanations forthcoming, but we have done what is very important in this connection. We have restored the subsidy, and we have continued the rent restriction, which was another question that was overshadowing progress in regard to housing. The design of the late Government was to let loose—I use the words advisedly—all the sharks in the housing world, to remove that restriction, and to allow the rents to go up and make a corner, so to speak, in houses. That was dealt with. I am pleased to say that, as compared with what was spent on housing in 1929, we are proposing to spend under this Vote £705,000 more. It seems idle for any hon. or right hon. Member opposite to say that we are not taking essential steps to deal with the housing problem. I happen to be on Standing Committee a and I know that but for the obstruction there——
I accept your Ruling, so far as the reference to the Committee is concerned, and I come back to the activity of the Ministry of Health in regard to the Housing (No. 2) Bill, which makes definite and extensive provisions for housing. Those provisions—
No. I am talking about the activity of the Ministry of Health during this year, which has been criticised by the Opposition, and I say that the Ministry have been acting in the best possible way in regard to health. They have first restored a measure of confidence to the local authorities charged with housing, by continuing rent restriction, by restoring the subsidy, and by providing under this Vote a sum of £705,000 more than was provided last year. Further, knowing the difficulties of the housing problem in this country so 1660 intimately as they do, they have made provision for extensive clearance of slums and for rehousing the people under the provisions of this Vote. I take it that the slum clearance Bill is comprehended within the money proposed to be spent under this Vote, and because the work of the Ministry has been criticised to-day, I am bound to say that greater advance would have been made with that Measure——
§ The CHAIRMAN
I have already drawn the hon. Member's attention to the fact that he is not to refer to any Bill now in process of being passed by this House.
I acept your Ruling, and come back to administration. The Minister has had to survey the whole field with regard to health, whether it was houses which had fallen into disrepair, or houses for rent, or houses for sale, and in this connection our record for houses to let has been fairly good. We have produced 132,144 State-aided houses up to September last, and the private enterprise houses are now some 71,083. It is a point of criticism by the Opposition that we have bent our energies rather more to houses to let than to houses for sale, and that is why the Minister has had to survey the whole field and see what could be done for those who most needed adequate housing accommodation. The restoration of the subsidy and the provision under this Vote will effect a very good record for this Government by the close of this Session.
§ Miss RATHBONE
Speaker after speaker in this debate has laid stress on the importance of lower rents, and yet you, Mr. Young, have laid it down that we are to discuss nothing except the administration of the Ministry of Health under the present law. As has been shown in speech after speech, the powers of the Ministry of Health under the present law in reducing rents are relatively small. During all the preceding years when the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), who introduced this discussion, was himself in power at the Ministry of Health, he had precisely the same causes operating, leading to precisely the same failure to meet the housing problem, as we are seeing to-day with the Labour Government in power. That is, under my analysis of the situa 1661 tion, that we had first of all an economic situation which produced very high costs of building and wages that were tending progressively to fall, and we had, to begin with, a large gap between the capacity to pay of the great majority of would-be tenants and the cost of production of houses.
What has been wrong for the past 10 years is that the well-meaning and in many respects highly energetic and praiseworthy efforts of one Ministry after another—I do not care which party they represented—with all the local authorities assisting them, have been bent too much on the problem of how to produce houses and much too little on the distribution of houses. The problem of the production of houses, as the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) has shown, is enormously important; he has very justly criticised the action of the Ministry, who, in spite of the fact that building costs are now lower than at any time since the War, have done nothing to counteract the tremendous falling off in spite of these lower building costs. The strongest count in the indictment that has been made against the Ministry is that, faced with lower building costs and an enormous fall in the production of houses, they have not taken any strong action to counteract that process.
We are limited to discussing what the Ministry could have done under the present law. There is one thing they could have done that they have not done, and one thing about which the right hon. Member for West Woolwich has no right to criticise them, for he made the same mistake. They have passed their Housing Acts, spent a certain amount of public money, and have laid down elaborate Regulations as to how that money should be used in the production of houses, and, having done that, they have thrown the reins on the necks of the local authorities and allowed them to use these houses just as they pleased, and let them how they pleased to any sort of tenants they pleased. That is the root cause of the failure of the housing policy during the past 10 years. We have had the houses—I do not blame the Minister for that—but they have been highly rented houses, because they could not produce anything but highly rented houses. They have done nothing, however, to see that the scheme was so manipulated that the 1662 houses were used for the right sort of tenants. A number of hon. Members have laid stress upon the fact that what we wanted were houses which the lower wage earners could rent; and others have pointed out that if you put tenants with very small wages in the highly rented houses, it merely means that heavier and heavier arrears are piled up, the tenants fall into serious difficulties, and they have to be turned out.
The Ministry of Health should take a much firmer hold of the whole question of the allocation of houses to tenants and the manipulation of rents in such a way that the houses will meet the greatest need. I believe that that can be done. If one studies the statistics of the ability of tenants to pay, one finds that it is by no means invariably the case that the tenants in the slums are unable to pay reasonable rents. I have a curious analysis that has been taken of a certain very poor housing district in Ancoats; a door-to-door survey was made of about 200 houses in two or three streets, and it was found that very nearly 50 per cent. of the tenants could have afforded to pay over 19s. a week in rent. They could have afforded to pay an economic rent because their families were composed of two or three wage-earners. Similar instances will be found in any block of poor tenements. In the discussion that we have been having on the Housing Bill—I give this only as an illustration—some of us have pointed out to the Ministry the necessity of ensuring that the needs of those tenants who have dependent children should be met by means of rebates in rents according to the number of children——
§ The CHAIRMAN rose——
§ Miss RATHBONE
I am not going to refer to the present Housing Bill. My point is simply that what we have been arguing should be done in the future, can be done now under the present law. It has been in the power of the Ministry all these years to insist that the local authorities shall draw up such regulations as to make it possible to get in the houses the persons who need the houses, and to adjust the rent according to the capacity of those tenants to pay, by means of rebates according to the number of dependent children. That is one way in which they 1663 could ensure that the houses they put up, rented according to the standard rents that were actually fixed——
§ The CHAIRMAN
There is some doubt about this power, and I am afraid I must ask the hon. Member to give the authority by which the Minister can do it.
§ Miss RATHBONE
It is being done already in one or two schemes that have the sanction of the Ministry of Health. The best known scheme is that of Banbury. It has been done under a scheme, closely analogous to the scheme to which I am now allowed to allude in further detail, by which the local authority of Banbury have been required to show that the particular houses put up in connection with a clearance scheme produced an aggregate rental pool, and as long as that pool was forthcoming, they were allowed to charge a standard rent and grant rebates in diminution of that standard rent. That has been done under the present law, and my reason for alluding to the fact is that it is extremely important that local authorities all over the country should realise that they need not fix their eyes only on legislation which is not yet on the Statute Book, and which will only be able to be used to a limited extent, because it will have to be used in connection with slum clearance; but in regard to Wheatley, Addison and Chamberlain houses, it is still possible to make a much more scientific use of the existing houses if the local authorities will only take care that persons are not permitted to remain in them when they have no more need than you or I for a subsidy out of the rates and taxes. As houses become vacant, it should be possible to get into them tenants who really need them, and if they need special assistance, it should be given to them, not by a lowering of the standard rent, but by the system of rent rebates for children.
The moral I am anxious to drive home is that the Ministry of Health are riding for a fall if they think that they can solve the slum clearance problem, or the housing problem at all, or this problem of meeting the needs of the lower paid wage earners, simply by means of a subsidy flung at the heads of the local authority, the local authority being given freedom to use that subsidy as they please. It is perfectly clear that under the existing 1664 law, or under any law which we are likely to get in the next two years, the cloth is going to be cut very tightly, even if the Labour Ministry are in power, for the Chancellor of the Exchequer threw out a pledge in his Budget speech that, unless something unforeseen happened, he was not going to ask for heavier expenditure; so we have to make the most scientific use of any resources that are available for housing. The Ministry will not solve either the slum clearance problem or the problem of more houses under the existing Acts unless they cease to have this blind confidence in the economic sapience of the local authorities. The failure of the past has not been a failure mainly to put up houses. The whole house production effort has been a floe effort, though it is tailing off now, largely because of a general consciousness among the local authorities that there is no particular need; the failure has been in not scientifically distributing the houses that have been put up. It was the failure of the past as well as of the present Ministry.
Acts have been passed during the last 10 years, and will be passed in the next two months, that practically leave the whole of the real responsibility of the scientific distribution to local authorities, and then, when the local authorities fail to meet the need, you throw the blame on them and say, "What can we do with these Conservative boroughs?" But does not the hon. Lady, the Parliamentary Secretary, know what kind of boroughs with which she has to deal? Does she expect to change the political complexion of the boroughs, and if the boroughs are mainly representative of a rather slow-thinking and property-respecting type, why does she put such unbounded confidence in them? When we criticise any change, we are told that the Association of Municipal Corporations and the local authorities desire it. We are going to give the money to the local authorities and let them make their own plans, and then all the blame will be thrown on them when they do what everyone who has had experience in housing in the past finds—the great majority of them will act as ordinary property owners would act. They think that the best policy is to put up houses and then put the best tenants in them. They are proud of their schemes, and when 1665 foreigners or people from other towns visit their neighbourhoods, they show them their beautiful housing schemes, but nine-tenths of them will never ask whether they have not merely been a matter of pouring out million after million of pounds, and putting up houses, and then, simply from a want of scientific thinking and planning and the want of a strong hand at the helm at the Ministry of Health, allowing all these houses to go to persons who are not in need of them. I blame far more the party which was in power during the last seven years than the present party; they professed to be a party of economy, and yet they were responsible for this tremendous waste of public money. I greatly fear that history will repeat itself:"Plus ca change plus c'est la même chose."As long as you have Ministries governed by the same officials with the same narrow range of ideas, we shall not have any real alternative housing policy such as was promised in the days of the War, when we were assured of homes fit for heroes.
I am afraid I represent that slow-thinking property-respecting type referred to by the hon. Lady for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone), and I rejoice, because they have shown much more vision than hon. Members opposite, in matters of housing. I really am amazed at the cowardice of the back-benchers in not getting up to-day to taunt the Government. In my opinion, progress can only be secured by having the Opposition strong. Most of the great social reform Measures were passed by Tory Governments pushed by the Opposition. Today we have a most reactionary Government, but there is nobody pushing them, not even their own back benchers, and so I despair of getting a move on in regard to housing. Slum clearance is a question of housing, but it is a matter of education, too. The hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary came into power with tremendous promises to clear up everything in three weeks. That was the boast, and we ought never to let them forget it. According to her, it was all so simple and so beautifully easy—when it was only a question of talking about it; 1666 but now it is so difficult! I want to ask why the Government have not had some big scheme of town-planning?
§ Sir K. WOOD
On that point of Order. I would like to submit that there are a number of Measures dealing with town-planning already on the Statute Book, and consequently that it is perfectly fair criticism to ask why the Government have not encouraged local authorities to take advantage of them and to administer them.
§ The CHAIRMAN
If the Noble Lady will kindly make it plain that she is dealing with past legislation and not asking for further legislation, she will be in order.
I did hope that when the present Government came in they would push on with putting into force the legislation already passed by former reactionary Governments, as they now call them, but not one thing has been done. In Plymouth, building has been stopped and slum clearance has been stopped. In the last year of the Tory Government there were 17 slum clearance schemes submitted to the Ministry, but in the last year not a single one was brought forward. Hon. Members opposite claim to represent the down-and-outs and the down-trodden people, and yet not one of them has risen except to make the most mild criticism of the Government. The hon. Lady for North Lanark (Miss Lee) said they intended to call the Tory bluff. The tragedy is that the Socialist bluff has been called.
Does the hon. Member know of any way of getting houses 1667 which can be rented cheaply without increased taxation; and would her friends beside her, who are fighting so hard against an increase of 6d. on the Income Tax, be willing to give us the necessary money?
Bring in your schemes and let us examine them. I am dealing with your promises, not ours. When we brought in our Bills we had the Opposition of that day saying what they were going to do. The hon. Lady opposite said that when their Government came in no child should want for anything. Instead of progress, we have actually got reaction. Not a single slum clearance scheme has been put forward in the last year—and there is absolute quiet from hon. Members opposite!
Open-air nursery schools come into the question of slum clearance. We know that 2,000,000 children are living in—the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary need not look bored. I want her to listen. I had to listen to her for months—to her torrents of eloquence and her torrents of hate. What a case the Government could have made if they had come to the House showing that more than 2,000,000 children are living in insanitary homes. Between 40 and 50 per cent. of the children going to elementary schools are physically defective; but among those children who attended the open-air nursery schools between the ages of two and five, only 7 per cent. are found physically defective when they get into the elementary schools. Why has no plea been put forward for that side of the work? Why is there no great scheme for extending those schools?
§ Lord E. PERCY
Perhaps I may say that there are two types—there are nursery schools which are subsidised by the Board of Education and various types of day nurseries which are subsidised by the Ministry of Health. I submit that, using "nursery schools" as a generic 1668 term, it is quite justifiable criticism to complain of the absence of any provision for nursery schools.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understand the Ministry of Health are responsible for day nurseries, but not for nursery schools.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That being so, it is a question for the Ministry of Education Vote, and does not arise on this Vote.
I wish to ask why no provision is being made in the new Housing Bill for retaining sites for nursery schools. I deeply regret that I was not put on the Committee dealing with that Bill. There has been a real lack of vision in neglecting to secure spaces for open-air nursery schools. The hon. Lady herself knows how difficult it is, when once building is in progress, to get sites reserved for open-air nursery schools. I do hope it is not too late to insert the necessary Clause in the Bill which is in Committee.
§ The CHAIRMAN
At least two, if not three, hon. Members have been ruled out of order for referring to future legislation, and now the Noble Lady asks the Minister to introduce a Clause——
I wonder whether I am in order in asking the Parliamentary Secretary what she has done towards the prevention of maternal mortality. Does that come in? The pledge was given that the prevention of maternal mortality would be the immediate concern of the Labour Government, and we would like to hear whether anything has been done since they came into office. Every year 3,000 women die in childbirth. The figures are stationary. The Government ought to have tried to effect a reduction. Some of us have a suspicion that the money which might have gone towards this reform has been spent in other ways. We think it has probably gone in increased unemployment benefit to juveniles. If that be the case, there 1669 is lack of vision, because every mother knows that the greatest disaster that can happen to a family is that the mother should die. We have had two Committees reporting on this question and it is a pressing question, but I have never heard whether the present Government have done a single thing in the matter.
I am rather sorry for everybody who has to deal with the housing question, because it is so difficult and so complicated. It has been shown to-day that appalling profiteering is going on in the matter of sub-letting. [Interruption.] The Government cannot legislate against profiteering. [Interruption.] They cannot. The profiteers are on your side of the House as well as on my side of the House. You have said you could legislate, but you know you cannot, because you are up against something that no Government can conquer by legislation. In my own constituency we have had corporation houses built and two of the people who took them were the very Labour men who had been talking violently against single people having corporation houses. They both took advantage when they could. I do not say that with any intention of describing all hon. Members of the Labour party as being like that, but that sort of thing does go on and it is very difficult to deal with it. I hope the hon. Lady will not say that the Government have been held up by the Opposition. Why, hon. Members opposite do not know the meaning of opposition. If they had been in the last Government they would have seen what opposition was! They are babies! When I hear them crying about the opposition they have encountered I say to them, "Don't squeal, get on with the work." The hon. lady said: "Look at the Consumers Bill."
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not know whether the hon. Lady made that statement or not, but she had no right to make any reference to the Consumers Bill.
I am sorry I cannot go into that question, because it is an interesting point, but I do hope the hon. Lady will not try to fool the country. She cannot fool the House. Every Member in this House knows that the Opposition are not to blame for the slow progress. The simple fact is that hon. Members opposite talk very big when they are out of office, but when they get into office they act very small.
§ Mr. PYBUS
As I listened to the Noble Lady contending with the hon. Lady opposite over the credit for the work which has been done in the matter of housing, and the great progress which has been made, I felt if I went down to my division and said there had been considerable discussion, lasting many hours, as to who was to have the credit for the enormous progress made in housing, that my constituents would say there was very little for them to fight about. I am bound to say one does feel that the Parliamentary Secretary and the Treasury bench as a whole show a certain amount of complacency regarding the housing problem, as though it were made by the Almighty and entirely incurable. As far as I can gather, it is a form of original sin! These backward boroughs are incurable! The facts are that there are hundreds of thousands of building workers out of employment and hundreds of thousands of people who require houses. Then why is it that work cannot be put in hand? Why are the boroughs so reluctant to proceed? Is it through any lack of advocacy on the part of the Ministry, through any lack of explanation of the terms on which housing schemes can be carried out? If we find somebody who wants something very much and somebody else who is offering to provide it, but it is not accepted, then one is driven to the conclusion that there is something wrong with the offer.
Most of the great schemes for the provision of employment in this country are being diverted to work of a civil engineering character. Money is available for them and yet the Government find it extremely difficult, either through the Unemployment Grants Committee or otherwise, to get municipal authorities to go on with schemes. There was a case in which money provided by one of the Unemployment Committees was used to carry out work which was really the work 1671 of the Electricity Commission. A sum of no less than £10,000,000 was granted by the Unemployment Grants Committee towards the Ministry of Transport's scheme for the standardisation of frequency. If it is possible to divert such a large sum of money for one purpose, it should be possible to divert money for another purpose, and, as people are so reluctant to go on with the standard form of unemployment relief schemes, what could be better than to divert money which is being provided for certain centres towards housing schemes? I hope that statement is not out of order, but I wanted to get it in.
§ Mr. PYBUS
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will consider something of that sort. No doubt in the rural districts it is necessary that more enthusiasm and energy should be displayed by the county councils upon the housing question. I wish I could see a much greater enthusiasm on the Treasury Bench in dealing with housing, and in that respect I do not think the Members of the Opposition party have anything to be proud of. I know that nothing has been done in my own district to be proud of, and I hope that the Ministry of Health in the future will show some definite and real enthusiasm in regard to this question of housing.
§ The CHAIRMAN rose——
§ Lord E. PERCY
I intend to speak on this question, but I prefer to wait until I have heard the reply of the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I wish to observe the ordinary courtesies of debate, and I think it is extremely unusual for speeches to be made after the Minister has replied. I regret the absence of the Minister of Health, who is unable to be present because 1672 he is having conferred upon him to-day an honorary degree of Leeds University.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I communicated with the Minister of Health telling him that I was going to raise this question. The right hon. Gentleman telephoned to me on Friday to the effect that he had overlooked an important engagement at Leeds, and I suggested to him that the Parliamentary Secretary should reply to the debate.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I think it will be very disappointing to the House that the Minister of Health is unable to be present. We have been told that this is a bad year for housing, but that is not so. By every test that it is possible to apply it can be proved that this year is very much better than last year as far as housing results are concerned. The total number of houses built by local authorities is up, and so is the number built by private enterprise. The total number of houses built between March, 1928, and March, 1929, was 169,532 and no fewer than 201,812 houses have been built this year, i.e., up to March last. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) told us that the building programmes of local authorities and private enterprise had completely broken down, but what has happened is that a large number of houses have been transferred from the assisted class to the unassisted class.
I would like to explain to the Committee why this transfer took place. It will be remembered that not long ago there was a general consensus of opinion amongst hon. Members opposite that the subsidy should be discontinued. There is no controversy about that point and the reason which animated the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) as well as my right hon. Friend was that, however useful subsidies have been in the past, there was nothing to be gained by continuing them in the future. Hon. Gentlemen opposite contended that private enterprise would work quite as well without the subsidy as with it. That is exactly what has happened. Private enterprise continues to build houses without the subsidy at almost exactly the same rate as it had been doing with the subsidy. I will give the figures. In the half year ended 31st March, 1929, private enterprise had 1673 built 22,459 houses with the subsidy and 32,785 without the subsidy, making a total of 55,244 built by private enterprise. In the half year ended March, 1930, 53,983 houses in all were built by private enterprise of which only 590 houses received the subsidy. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston withdrew the subsidy from houses built by private enterprise, he announced that in his opinion private enterprise would build small houses as well without the subsidy as with it, and that forecast has proved to be absolutely true. Let me give the number of houses built. The number built for the year ended March, 1927, was 217,629; for 1927–28, 238,914; for 1928–29, 169,532; and for 1929–30, 201,812. The last 12 months is a better record than the preceding 12 months. I think I have now sufficiently exploded the extraordinary mare's nest which was discovered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich.
§ Miss RATHBONE
Is the Parliamentary Secretary prepared to state that the houses built by private enterprise without the subsidy are contributions in any real sense towards the provision of working class houses?
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I am not prepared to say that. The houses supplied by private enterprise are generally for persons just above the economic level of the poorer working classes, and consequently the only houses of importance in that connection are those houses which are let at fixed rents under the Wheatley or the Chamberlain Act.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
For the year ending March, 1927, 60,000 houses were provided by local authorities and for the year ending March, 1928, 91,000 were provided. In 1929, the total was 51,000, and for 1930, 55,000. The first reduction of the subsidy took place in 1927, and consequently the local authorities brought into that year all the work they possibly could. After September, 1927, there was a general slump. There were 26,084 houses finished in the month of September, 1927, by local authorities under the Wheatley Act; 5,067 in the month of 1674 October. That is to say, the houses were hurried on and then there was a great slump and, when we tame in, the local authorities, having made their plans, were working up for a minor boom to be followed by a minor slump in September, 1929. We were only able to restore the subsidy in July, 1929. We did have a small boom and a small slump. The figures went up to 8,670 in September and dropped to 6,234 in October.
I am not going to deal with this point without pointing out the enormous damage done to housing programmes by what was done in 1927 and in 1929. The local authorities for the last quarter seemed to have got over the shock that the right hon. Gentleman gave them. They are picking up nicely. I will give the figures for the first five months of 1928, 1929 and 1930 respectively. The number of houses finished shows a slight decrease from 20,411 in 1928 to 18,545 in 1929 and 17,986 in 1930, but the number of houses commenced in those months shows a quite satisfactory increase. The numbers commenced in the five months were 22,596 in 1928, 25,021 in 1929, and 26,222 in the first five months of 1930. So that, after having one boom and drop and then a smaller boom and drop, the local authorities are now coming forward with their work and getting into their regular stride. There was a discussion as to the figures for May, 1929, and May, 1930. The local authorities' figures are within a little the same. The figures for the local authorities under the Wheatley Act in May, 1929, were 4,134, and in May, 1930, 4,113. They have got over the shaking they received, and are going on.
The whole of the difference is that a large number of private enterprise houses got the subsidy that year, and therefore reached the number of assisted houses; and that—as I have explained—a large number of additional houses were built without subsidy in the following May. The hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) was a little wrong about the bargain with the building authority of my Friend the late Mr. Wheatley. The building trades did not care whether it was programme houses, subsidy houses, or what it was they were building. Their question was simply how many houses could be provided. That programme was based on the total number of houses 1675 built of all kinds, and that programme has been kept up quite satisfactorily. And though it is true that the private enterprise houses are not much good to the poorer workers, they are just as much good to the bricklayers and workers in the buliding trade as any other houses.
I now turn to the figures for unemployment. Unemployment in the building trade is bad, and worse than it was last year. Unemployment figures in May this year are just about what they were in March last year, but there are two points I wish to put which show that, bad as the figures are, the deductions to be drawn from them are not so alarming as they might seem. The figures for April and May the previous year were swollen by the fact that in February there was in the building trade very little work. In February, 1929, the figure of unemployment among bricklayers was no less than 28.7 on account of the great frost. Then, with the going of the frost the February work of 1929 was thrown into March and April and May. So that I do not think the trade is any worse off than it was in 1929, though unemployment is undoubtedly exceptionally high.
Another matter which gives me some reasons for hope for the future, and which is particularly interesting in itself is this: The Ministry of Labour publish month by month an analysis of a number of building plans submitted by representative urban authorities. Those plans represent this year more money than in the corresponding period last year, and represent also a good many more houses and fewer factories and shops. The total value of the plans submitted in the typical sample made was £7,461,000 last May and £8,310,000 this May. That is the total of the sample taken. Houses were 55 per cent. of the total of the sample in May last, and are now 70 per cent. The rest of the buildings have dropped very considerably, particularly the building of shops, warehouses and offices. So that, as far as that sample goes, it appears to show that the demand for houses is greater and that there is not so much demand with regard to shops, warehouses and factories. That sample, if it is an index to the country as a whole, is a very cheerful sign. I think I have now disposed 1676 of those points. [Interruption.] Of course, if hon. Members will not understand, they will not. There are more houses built this year than last.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
There are more houses built this year than last; there are more house built by the local authorities to rent for the working classes this year than last; the total number of houses building this year is more than last; the total number of houses built by private enterprise for sale or whatever they please is more than last year. Both classes are up, and the total is up for the year—ending in March in each case—and the only difference is that some of the private enterprise houses are not getting assistance. That is entirely different from the impression which the right hon. Gentleman gave.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
The right hon. Gentleman has made the most fantastic and absurd deductions from figures. The right hon. Gentleman has treated private enterprise houses, when they did get subsidies, as houses for the working classes; and when they had no subsidies as not so available. State-assisted houses have fallen by the fact that the subsidy has gone off. That makes no difference to the number of houses.
Now I turn to some other subjects raised in the debate. It is quite pathetic how many times Members stray irresistibly into forbidden things, things forbidden by all the authority of the Chair, into what we are going to do, into what we are going to do about the Bill upstairs, into what we are going to do about legislation——
§ The CHAIRMAN
We must keep to our Rules when talking, and the Minister must not in any way follow the example of other Members who have been called to order.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
All that I meant to say was that I regretted I could not follow them, and it was not due to any discourtesy or any feeling that the points they raised were not important but simply because the Chair would not allow them. It is significant how poor, except for these wild and strange figures, this debate has been. Members have uncommonly little to say against the administration of my right hon. Friend except these strange inferences given the figures of theirs. With regard to the rest, the whole of the debate has been an attempt to leap the hedges that the Chairman has very properly erected, and, if that is the worst to be said on the Ministry of Health Vote, I must say my right hon. Friend need not have been here. Any of us, the youngest of us, could have dealt with these points, and when they are seen in the OFFICIAL REPORT, a certain blush will come to the cheek of those who follow the right hon. Gentleman. I do not want to delay the other debate which is coming. I believe that it is the custom of all Ministers that I should have the privilege of winding up. I understand that courtesy is to be denied to me, a course which would not have been pursued with my right hon. Friend, but, when there is only a Parliamentary Secretary at the Box, then hon. Members opposite can break any custom of the House. There is one other point to which I must reply, namely, what was said about the absolute cessation of slum clearance schemes. It is quite true that we have advised local authorities to hold their hands until something happens to which I cannot refer. We are proposing a shortening of procedure, and we believe that the local authorities would gain more by waiting for this shortened procedure. I know they have been advised to hold their hands, and they will be much safer if they hold their hands until something has happened to which I cannot allude. As a matter of administration, I can say that we have advised local authorities to hold their hands for slum clearance until the new Housing Bill goes through the House. We have done so, first, because they will be safer, secondly, because the procedure will be quicker, and, thirdly, because they will be receiving more money. Those are good and sound reasons.
§ Lord E. PERCY rose——
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understand that some arrangement has been made with reference to another debate, and, that being so, we want to expedite matters. I hope, therefore, that the Noble Lord will be allowed to proceed.
§ Lord E. PERCY
The hon. Lady knows me well enough to know that it is certainly not likely that I should be discourteous to her on the ground that she is an Under-Secretary, but I would remind her that it has been the, I think, invariable custom of the House that on Votes of Supply the Minister has always replied to the criticisms of the Opposition fairly early in the debate, and the Minister then has the complete and unchallenged right of winding up at the end of the debate. I do not, in all my experience of the House, remember a case in which the Minister has refrained from replying to criticisms made early in the debate, and assumed the right to make one speech, and one speech only, and that at the end of the debate.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I would point out that it is very unusual to take a Supply Vote when the Minister is known to be absent, and when there is only one person present to reply.
§ Lord E. PERCY
That was what I was coming to. I was going to say that, although the hon. Lady has been placed in that position, all of us who have been Under-Secretaries have been placed equally in the position of having to speak twice on Supply days. In view of the fact that the hon. Lady has been placed in that position, I do not want to address myself in any controversial spirit to the very controversial speech which she has made. Hon. Members opposite have been, during this debate, very restive at criticisms from this side of the Committee; indeed, they have been absurdly restive when one thinks of the conduct of members of the Labour party in previous Parliaments, both upstairs in Committee and here in this Chamber. They must, however, remember that criticisms of this kind, and even partisan speeches 1679 on the Floor of the House or in Committee, serve a very useful purpose, and serve it very effectively. Their purpose is not only to throw odium upon ineffective government, but to clear out of the way outworn ideas; and the real characteristic of this debate has been that it has swept away once and for all an outworn idea to which hon. Members opposite have tied themselves for years past.
In debate after debate it has been said that the only way to get houses for the working classes, at rents which the working classes could pay, was by subsidies and more subsidies; and when we challenge the hon. Lady and the Government, and say to them: "Look at the result of your policy. You are building fewer subsidised houses; the production of subsidised houses has gone down since you came into office," the hon. Lady replies that the total number of houses, subsidised and unsubsidised, has increased. She says that the calculation of my right hon. Friend who was Minister of Health in the last Government was correct, and that the production of houses has not been lessened by taking away the subsidy, but, on the contrary, has tended to increase, and private enterprise has been able to get on with the building of houses without subsidy.
That is the hon. Lady's reply, and I am thankful for it. Of course, she tries to qualify it by saying that at any rate the production of assisted houses under the Wheatley Act has gone up, but I would remind her that the very table to which she has referred shows that in May, 1928, there were 32,244 houses under construction by the local authorities under the Wheatley Act; that in May, 1929, there were 34,071, and in May, 1930, there were 31,995. There were fewer assisted houses under construction last May under the Wheatley Act than there were in May of the year before. That is the measure of the real situation under the Wheatley Act. That, however, is comparatively unimportant. The important thing is that this debate has marked the final discarding by the present Government, if not by hon. Members on the back benches opposite, of their old Socialist superstition that the only way to build houses for the working classes crag by heavier and heavier subsidies. 1680 Having got away from that idea, let them never get back to it; let the Labour party get rid of that tin can which has been tied to their tails and with which they have gone clattering across politics for so many years past. That outworn idea having been got rid of, what is to be put in its place?
One most remarkable speech, among other remarkable speeches to-day, was that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir T. Walters). He tried to address himself to the problem of the future, and the special needs of the future, but even he did not say what I should like to say. Would it not strike any visitant from another planet to this House, or any man in the street visiting this House, as peculiar that, during the whole of this debate, we have been talking about subsidising the building of houses and encouraging local authorities, but we have not even mentioned the instrument by which the houses have to be produced—the building industry itself? What is the fact about housing which sticks out of the whole situation in this country? It is that, as compared with the United States, in spite of the higher wages in the United States, in spite of the higher cost of living there, the cost of building is not only relatively, but absolutely and positively, lower than it is in this country.
That is a scandal. How do you propose to build houses for the working classes when, with a lower standard of living, cheaper wages, and cheaper costs all round, you cannot in this country build even as cheaply as the United States That is the great question that is before us. It may be that, as the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) said, we should have various types of subsidy. It may be necessary to subsidise various types of houses. But we none of us regard that as an ideal. Even those who wish to see rents determined on the number of dependent children in the family dislike the process of inquiry into family circumstances in order to fix the rent that the family shall pay. That is not a kind of policy which is ideal for a country of free men and free women. We know that what we need to do is to get down the cost of building in relation to the general level of wages in this 1681 country, and it is, let us say so frankly, the inefficiency of the building industry—trade unions, employers, and the producers of building material—the inefficiency of the organisation of the whole industry as compared with its efficiency in the United States, that makes the greatest difficulty in satisfying the working-class demand for houses at cheap rents. That, however, is the one thing which the Ministry of Health under this Government, and even under our own Government, has never tackled.
Now is the time when it can be tackled, when the building industry has a council sitting composed of members representing the trade unions, the producers of building materials, and the builders themselves. That council has been considering the reorganisation of the building industry for a long period, and has not been getting on very fast. What have the Government done, and what are they doing, to help the industry on, to encourage it to reorganise, and to assist it in reorganising? What influence do hon. Members opposite propose to exert to see that, if the employers do their part, the trade unions will do theirs in a comprehensive organisation of the industry, to make it more efficient and to make its processes and methods cheaper? I know that this is a subject that is never talked about in housing debates. We talk about the local authorities, and the machinery of administration, but the only solution of a problem like the housing problem is not subsidies, but an industrial policy which will enable the State and the building industry to join together in a great campaign to build cheap houses. It can be done if the Government of the country will think first about the efficiency of the industry, and only second about the administration of the local authorities and about providing money for subsidies. That is the only true line of advance, and it is chiefly because we utterly despair of the present Government ever having a realist industrial policy of that kind that we are going to divide against this Vote.
§ Mr. J. JONES
After listening to the expert on building, I desire, as a bricklayer's labourer—retired—to indulge in a few observations. Firstly, I want to say that the local authorities have been handicapped all the way through, and, 1682 unfortunately for our friends on the opposite benches, they have been handicapped by the reactionary nature of their constitution. They have taken advantage of every excuse to prevent this Government from doing anything. The less the Government have done, the better they have liked them, and now they come along and say, "Give us more subsidies; give us more public money without our having to pay anything, and then everything in the garden will be lovely." That is one of the objects of hon. Gentlemen opposite—to let the State bear all the expense. [Interruption.] Some hon. Gentlemen opposite advance the argument that the local authorities could not be expected to find the money, and the money must be found by the State. Who are the State? Do not the local authorities form part of the State? I come from one of them, one of the poorest in the country, but we have always been willing to take our share of any financial responsibility in dealing with these problems of housing, unemployment, and the other matters which arise there-from.
What is the situation with regard to the building trade? We have a national Council of the Building Trade, representing the workers, the employers, and the people engaged in the production of the materials necessary for the building trade; and the same people who are talking about reducing the cost of producing houses are talking about Safeguarding in the matter of building materials. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] You cannot have it both ways. You may allow cheap Belgian bricks to come in, and you cannot say that you are going to have cheaper houses unless you introduce materials of a cheaper character. Really what the Noble Lord means is that the workers' wages must be brought down still more, and then we shall be able to have cheaper houses.
§ Lord E. PERCY
No. May I point out to the hon. Member that my whole analogy was with the United States, where wages are much higher and yet building costs are much lower?
§ Mr. JONES
And where rents are practically impossible. I have not travelled so far as the Noble Lord. When I was in America last I spent seven weeks in hospital. I discovered that for two rooms in Montreal they were paying 1683 28s. a week rent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Canada !"] I know it is Canada. It is worse in the United States. I am only giving an illustration under British rule. The Minister of Health has tried, to the best of his ability, to meet the building trade, both employers and employed. Trusts and combines have been created inside the trade itself, putting up the cost of material in every way they can, and asking the workers to back them to try to create a protective policy. What do they mean by reducing the cost of building? Can you reduce the cost of building by adopting a policy of protection against competition inside the industry? It is not merely a question of competition from foreign countries. It is trying to prevent competition inside our own country, and they have already got together. We have a cement combine and a steel combine working together to keep prices up and to put wages down. Only this last week a demand has been made upon the trade unionists representing labourers in the building trade for a penny an hour reduction, and the same people are sending out circulars to their customers asking for a 25 per cent. increase in prices. Is that the way you are going to get cheaper housing? Up go the profits of the employers in the building trade and down go the wages of the
§ workmen. It is a game we are not having anything of.
§ The Noble Lord's knowledge of building arises from the fact that he has lived in a big building all his life. I have been in a big building, too, but it was a prison. There is no fair and square deal for the workers. The employers' perpetual demand is for reduced wages, and at the same time they are asking for Safeguarding. If they want Protection, let them give us a guarantee that we are going to have a square deal. I am sorry if I have transgressed. I always do. I have broken the Rules so often that I have almost forgotten the possibility of keeping them. The workers in the building trade have suffered a reduction of 2½d. an hour in London during the past four years. Has the cost of building gone down? What have you gained, those of you who give them contracts? Have you gained the 2½d. an hour? It is always heads they win, and tails we lose. If there is going to be any understanding in connection with housing, there will have to be a fair and square deal, and the workers must get consideration.
§ Question put. "That a sum, not exceeding £12,724,100, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 148; Noes, 229.1687
|Division No. 392.]||AYES.||[7.28 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut-Colonel||Colfox, Major William Philip||Greene, W. P. Crawford|
|Albery, Irving James||Colman, N. C. D.||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l., W.)||Colville, Major D. J.||Gunston, Captain D. W.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wllfrid W.||Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)|
|Astor, Viscountess||Crichton-Stuart, Lord C.||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Hartington, Marquess of|
|Atkinson, C.||Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)||Haslam, Henry C.|
|Baillie-Hamilton, Hon. Charles W.||Cunliffe-Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley (Bewdley)||Dalrymple-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey||Herbert, Sir Dennis (Hertford)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford)||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller|
|Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet)||Davies, Dr. Vernon||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.|
|Balniel, Lord||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Berry, Sir George||Dawson, Sir Philip||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer|
|Bevan, S. J. (Holborn)||Duckworth, G. A. V.||Hurd, Percy A.|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Dugdale, Capt. T. L.||Hurst, Sir Gerald B.|
|Bird, Ernest Roy||Eden, Captain Anthony||Iveagh, Countess of|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Kindersley, Major G. M.|
|Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W.||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston s-M.)||King, Commodore Rt. Hon. Henry D.|
|Bracken, B.||Everard, W. Lindsay||Knox, Sir Alfred|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Ferguson, Sir John||Law, Sir Alfred (Derby, High Peak)|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Fermoy, Lord||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Fielden, E. B.||Llewellin, Major J. J.|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Ford, Sir P. J.||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hon. Godfrey|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Forestler-Walker, Sir L.||Lymington, Viscount|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth, S.)||Ganzoni, Sir John||Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham)|
|Chadwick, Capt. Sir Robert Burton||Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Makins, Brigadier-General E.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Moore, Sir Newton J. (Richmond)|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Gower, Sir Robert||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)|
|Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester)|
|Muirhead, A. J.||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.||Thomson, Sir F.|
|Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Salmon, Major I.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|O'Connor, T. J.||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert|
|Peake, Capt. Osbert||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Penny, Sir George||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)||Wells, Sydney R.|
|Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Windsor-CIive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Purbrick, R.||Smithers, Waldron||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Ramsbotham, H.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Withers, Sir John James|
|Remer, John R.||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)||Womersley, W. J.|
|Rentoul, Sir Gervals S.||Southby, Commander A. R. J.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Reynolds, Col. Sir James||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch't'sy)||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)||Stanley, Maj. Hon. O. (W'morland)||Captain Margesson and Captain|
|Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Wallace.|
|Ross, Major Ronald D.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral M. F.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||McGovern, J. (Glasgow, Shettleston)|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Gray, Milner||Maclean, Sir Donald (Cornwall, N.)|
|Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigie M.||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||MacNeill-Weir, L.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.)||McShane, John James|
|Arnott, John||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Groves, Thomas E.||Mander, Geoffrey le M.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Grundy, Thomas W.||March, S.|
|Ayles, Walter||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Markham, S. F.|
|Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Marley, J.|
|Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)||Hall, Capt. W. P. (Portsmouth, C.)||Marshall, Fred|
|Barnes, Alfred John||Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn)||Mathers, George|
|Barr, James||Harbord, A.||Matters, L. W.|
|Beckett, John (Camberwell, Peckham)||Hardie, George D.||Maxton, James|
|Bellamy, Albert||Harris, Percy A.||Messer, Fred|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Middleton, G.|
|Bennett, Capt. Sir E. N. (Cardiff C.)||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Mills, J. E.|
|Bennett, William (Battersea, South)||Haycock, A. W.||Montague, Frederick|
|Benson, G.||Hayes, John Henry||Morgan, Dr. H. B.|
|Bentham, Dr. Ethel||Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)||Morley, Ralph|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow)||Morris, Rhys Hopkins|
|Blindell, James||Herriotts, J.||Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South)|
|Bondfield, Rt. Hon. Margaret||Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)||Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Bowen, J. W.||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Mort, D. L.|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hoffman, P. C.||Mosley, Lady C. (Stoke-on-Trent)|
|Broad, Francis Alfred||Hopkin, Daniel||Mosley, Sir Oswald (Smethwick)|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)||Murnin, Hugh|
|Brooke, W.||Hunter, Dr. Joseph||Nathan, Major H. L.|
|Brothers, M.||Hutchison, Maj.-Gen. Sir R.||Naylor, T. E.|
|Grown, Ernest (Leith)||Isaacs, George||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (South Ayrshire)||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Noel Baker, P. J.|
|Brown, W. J. (Wolverhampton, West)||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Oldfield, J. R.|
|Burgess, F. G.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)|
|Burgin, Dr. E. L.||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Owen, Major G. (Carnarvon)|
|Buxton, C. R. (Yorks, W. R. Elland)||Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne)||Palin, John Henry|
|Cameron, A. G.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Palmer, E. T.|
|Cape, Thomas||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Perry, S. F.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Chater, Daniel||Kelly, W. T.||Picton-Turbervill, Edith|
|Cluse, W. S.||Kennedy, Thomas||Pole, Major D. G.|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour.||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Potts, John S.|
|Compton, Joseph||Kinley, J.||Price, M. P.|
|Cowan, D. M.||Lang, Gordon||Pybus, Percy John|
|Daggar, George||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson|
|Dallas, George||Lathan, G.||Raynes, W. R.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Law, A. (Rosendale)||Richards, R.|
|Davies, E. C. (Montgomery)||Lawrence, Susan||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge)||Riley, F. F. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Dickson, T.||Lawson, John James||Ritson, J.|
|Dukes, C.||Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)||Romeril, H. G.|
|Ede, James Chuter||Leach, W.||Rowson, Guy|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Lee, Frank (Derby, N. E.)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Edwards, E. (Morpeth)||Lee, Jennie (Lanark, Northern)||Samuel, H. W. (Swansea, West)|
|Elmley, Viscount||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Sanders, W. S.|
|Foot, Isaac||Lindley, Fred W.||Sandham, E.|
|Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||Logan, David Gilbert||Sawyer, G. F.|
|Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley)||Longbottom, A. W.||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Gill, T. H.||Lowth, Thomas||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Gillett, George M.||Lunn, William||Shield, George William|
|Glassey, A. E.||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Gossling, A. G.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Shillaker, J. F.|
|Gould, F.||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Sinkinson, George|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||McElwee, A.||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)|
|Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)||Thurtle, Ernest||Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)|
|Smith, Rennie (Penistone)||Tinker, John Joseph||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Smith, Tom (Pontefract)||Townend, A. E.||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Smith, W. R. (Norwich)||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Snell, Harry||Vaughan, D. J.||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip||Viant, S. P.||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Sorensen, R.||Walkden, A. G.||Wilson, J. (Oldham)|
|Stamford, Thomas W.||Walker, J.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Stephen, Campbell||Wallace, H. W.||Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)|
|Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)||Wallhead, Richard C.||Wright, W. (Rutherglen)|
|Strachey, E. J. St. Loe||Watkins, F. C.|
|Strauss, G. R.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Sullivan, J.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah||Mr. William Whiteley and Mr.|
|Sutton, J. E.||Wellock, Wilfred||Paling.|
|Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)||Welsh, James (Paisley)|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. T. Kennedy.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.