§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In rising to invite the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I may say that the area for housing discussion, as we all know, must be extremely wide, because it is a subject of immense range, and I think that the best service I can do the House in my opening speech is to state at once the exact results of the proposed new legislation. These results are as follow: The Slum Clearance Act, 1930, remains unaltered, that is to say, the State subsidy of £2 10s. per person removed from the slums remains, as well as the local subsidy of £4 10s. or whatever more or less may be necessary on the houses built to re house persons removed. The general subsidy under the 1924 (Wheatley) Act of £9 in the towns and £12 10s. in the rural districts comes to an end, and in its place is put a subsidy of £3 both for town and country districts—but a subsidy to be used for a specific purpose, that specific purpose being the housing of low wage earners who are at present in over-crowded conditions.
The Rural Housing Act, 1926, and the 1931 Act whereby rural houses are reconditioned, of course, remain unaffected. The 1923 Act is swept away, but the Act as we know has to a large extent ceased to be an operative Act today. The only other change of importance that is made in these legislative alterations is that the subsidy to private enterprise given by the Wheatley Act, that is to say the £9 subsidy for houses for letting purposes, is also brought to an end. Therefore under the new dispensation the local authorities of Scotland will be left with their full subsidy for slum clearance and with the subsidy of £3 to deal with low wage earners in overcrowded conditions. The rest of the Bill is in precisely the same terms as its English opposite number, namely, it provides for the State and the 386 local authority combining to give a guarantee for building society loans to be used for the purpose of encouraging and financing private enterprise in building.
The provisions of the Bill are simple. The Bill itself is short. In the observations I have to make it is not a question of detaining the House with an analysis of complicated provisions. The question to which I want to address myself, and to which I am sure the House wants to address itself, is how far are the new provisions fitted to deal with the Scottish problem. By the answer to that question this Bill must stand or fall in the estimate of Scotland. I submit to the House that it is admirably suited to meet the housing situation in Scotland today. I am determined not to repeat general observations which I made in the Estimates speech of last year, but I should like to recall to the House the general position with regard to housing in Scotland, and, in particular, the actual Scottish problem. We have got to recollect that between 1921 and 1931 the total Scottish population has not increased. I do not lay too much emphasis upon that, for reasons which are very familiar to all my Scottish colleagues, namely, that while the general population declined by some 40,000, there were increases in the great cities varying—I will not trouble the House with details— from rather over 3 per cent. to rather under 6 per cent., so that you still have increases in particular urban areas. But there was not that general increase in the Scottish population that in the same period there was in the English population, where there was an increase, if my memory serves me right, of something like 2,000,000.
Therefore, the main problem is not the problem of dealing with a rapidly increasing population. The main problem—I am not for a moment going to under-estimate it, and' I am sure my Scottish colleagues would not permit me to do so— is the problem of our slums and our over-crowded areas. It is very easily understood by those concerned. Scotland came into the period of industrial development a much poorer country than England, with a much lower housing standard. The sudden flood of wealth into Scotland during the nineteenth century was into a country where housing 387 standards, not through the fault of any particular persons but through the general fault of the country, were low, and it may be that now the nineteenth century houses are becoming elderly or old, many of them not of a good type. Further, we have the problem of over-crowding, and the overcrowding to which I refer is not overcrowding due to an actual shortage of houses. That is not what I am referring to at the moment, but rather the, crowding together of families owing to the low economic standard of the families, and their difficulty in paying the rents of the houses. This type of overcrowding is the twin of the slum in Scotland, and I myself no sooner got-into the office I now hold than I said in Scotland on more than one occasion, and I took the opportunity of repeating in this House, that, in my judgment, the distribution of effort in the matter of housing, between public enterprise and private enterprise was that slum clearance and the overcrowding I have described should be a matter for public enterprise, whereas we might in a country whose population is not growing leave to private enterprise the function of carrying on the work of meeting the ordinary housing requirements. If that is in any way a fair statement of the problem, then I venture to say that the Measure we bring before the House is one that is fitted to deal with the actual Scottish problem.
Take slum clearance. The work of slum clearance will go on unchecked. Of course, when I say "go on unchecked," it is a matter of importance to see how far it is going on at the present moment. The record of the Scottish local authorities with regard to slum clearance is one of which I think none of us has any reason to be: anything but proud. They have most zealously turned their attention to slum clearance. I do not propose to weary the House with a great number of figures, but I think it is important that the House should have clearly before it what has been done under the existing legislation, as an indication of what is likely to result under the new dispensation. What' is in fact the record of the Scottish local authorities in regard to slum clearance? It is that between 1923 and 31st December, 1932, 20,000 slum houses had been closed. I think the actual figure 388 is about 20,250. To replace these there have been built over 19,000 houses. I cannot give the House the number of slum houses closed since December, 1932, because we have not the returns for that period, but I can give the House a most important figure, namely, that the number of houses under construction or approved, for replacing slum houses under the 1930 Act, was, at the 1st January, 1933, 7,752, and the number approved, but not yet begun, was 2,469. That gives us, roughly, 10,000 houses under construction or approved for slum clearance.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Slum clearance alone. If you take the average of the figures I gave you just before, for the houses closed and the houses built to replace them, namely, 20,000 houses closed and 19,000 odd houses built, we may say with fair accuracy that, in view of the new 10,000 houses under construction or approved, another 10,000 slum houses are about to be closed. That is a very remarkable result in a time of great financial difficulty, and it is a very great tribute to the 1923 Act and to the 1930 Act. It shows that even at a time when the continuance of the full Wheatley subsidy of £9 might to some extent have deflected local authorities from the slum clearance problem— since the Wheatley subsidy is now most generous in its financial result — they had closed, up to 31st December, 1932, 20,000 slum houses and, up to that date, had built 19,000 odd replacement houses; and now, on 1st January this year, they have under construction nearly 8,000 houses, and approved and not begun nearly 2,500.
§ Mr. LOGAN
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman clear my mind on one point? He mentioned that on 1st January 1933, there were 7,250 houses under construction, and then he said that there were 2,469 not constructed. I am anxious to know, in regard to those approved and not constructed on 1st January, as to whether the subsidy holds good.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Certainly. The House will remember that I said clearly that the 1930 subsidy is not going to be affected at all. I emphasize those figures as a very striking effort on the part of local authorities to deal, under existing conditions, 389 with slum clearance. It is the best of all possible earnests of their being able to continue that work. As a matter of fact, the figures do not show the full present interest of the local authorities in the matter, because if I were to weary the House with detailed figures it would be seen that, in the two years 1931 and 1932, the increase of slum clearance work has been very large indeed. I am not going to weary the House with figures on that point. But there had been an enormous increase on the average for the previous years from 1923 to 1930. We may say that the local authorities are increasingly alive to the importance of the slum clearance problem.
Let me turn to the other side of local-authority housing, to which attention will be directed when the new Bill becomes law. The 1924 subsidy will, as I say, be reduced to £3, and its operation will be confined to houses for low-wage earners who are at present in over-crowded conditions.
§ Mr. SKELTON
No, not in slum houses but in overcrowded houses. I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. The actual slum houses will be dealt with by the Slum Clearance Act, but, over and above that, as all of us who are familiar with Scotland will know, there is a good deal of what I have called economic overcrowding in houses which are not actually slum houses. If we did nothing to deal with that form of over-crowding, which the Slum Clearance Act does not deal with, we should undoubtedly he turning aside and shutting our eyes to one important part of the Scottish problem. But we are not going to turn aside and shut our eyes, and it is for that reason that we are giving a definite subsidy for two years of £3 for the purpose of re housing the low-paid wage earners who are at present overcrowded but not actually in slum houses.
I want very frankly to give the House some estimate of the extent of economic overcrowding in Scotland today. It cannot be a complete estimate, because the complete census figures are not yet available in regard to inhabited houses and the number of persons therein, but the figures are available in regard to the big cities. In regard to Glasgow, 390 Edinburgh, Aberdeen and. Dundee, the four groups of figures show a great amount of overcrowding which takes place in houses of one, two and three apartments. The figures of overcrowding in the four great cities are as follow: The overcrowding in houses of one, two and three apartments— the standard of overcrowding adopted being that of the 1917 Commission of three persons or more to a room— amounts to a figure of some 40,000 houses. Let me be a little more detailed. In those 40,000 houses is the bulk of the slum problem. The census does not deal with the case of uninhabited houses, but no doubt, included in the 40,000 houses where there is over-crowding are a great many slums, though I have no means of saying what exact proportion they represent. We must take it that there are, in those 40,000 houses, a certain number of houses which are not slum houses or not uninhabitable houses. Our proposals will apply to the overcrowded population in such of those 40,000 houses as are not uninhabitable houses which can be dealt with by the Slum Clearance Act. It is in regard to those cases that the subsidy of £3 is given.
The House will want to know, because this is the most vital question that remains with regard to public enterprise in housing how far the £3 will be adequate in existing conditions. In general, a housing authority with a £3 subsidy is today some £83 better off than it was with a £9 subsidy in 1924, as a result in the fall of housing costs combined with the fall in the standard rate of interest. I do not want to leave it in that general way, but I want to give for discussion and consideration by the House the following figures as to the effect and value of a £3 subsidy. I am not going into the question of what is the actual price at which houses can be built. We already have very remarkable figures of the extent to which, in individual cases, the price of house construction has been reduced. I hope that it is a general rule that, where there is a low figure, there is no earthly reason why, as costs diminish, that minimum figure should not become the general figure.
I will first mention an all-in cost of £325. That is the first figure I will give. 391 We have examples—and I am talking of the three-roomed house—in Kilmarnock where the actual cost of construction has been £250, not including the land. It is actually a house with a sitting room, two bedrooms and what is called a kitchenette. That is what I mean by a three-roomed house. In another case, that of a flatted house in Glasgow, the price was £273. A flatted house is normally a construction containing four separate houses of two floors. The figure is down, in certain cases, to £273, excluding the land. In tenement houses, where you have under one roof a three-flatted building with probably 18 separate dwelling houses, the figure is actually down to a, lowest possible cost of something like £250, not including the land. I want the House, however, to put that figure a little higher, for certain technical reasons.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Yes. I do not think I am wrong in saying that we can fairly look forward to an all-in cost, for three-apartment houses, of £325. That is allowing a generous figure for the cost of the land itself.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I will give the details later. I take the owner's rates at 4s. I know that in Glasgow they are higher, but I take that figure as a sort of average. We calculate that the local authority may borrow at 3½ per cent., and the local authority's rate contribution, on these terms, is only £2 6s. 7d., whereas the present normal Wheatley rate contribution is, as the House knows, £4 10s. If the local authority borrow at 4 per cent. instead of 3½ per cent., the rate contribution rises to £4 4s. 10d., which, however, is still under the normal £4 10s. of the 1924 Act. It seems to us, therefore, that a £3 subsidy will be adequate for this purpose of providing houses for low-paid wage earners who are overcrowded.
The House will ask me what is the rent at which it is proposed that these houses should be let to low-paid wage earners. My answer is that, although the figure is not put in the Bill— the Bill leaves the matter in the hands of the Department of Health— the figure that we have in mind, and the figure that I 392 have used in the calculations I have just given to the House, is 6s. a week, exclusive of occupier's rates. I do not say that in certain circumstances we may not extend the 6s. to 6s. 6d., but I say definitely that in no normal case will the Department of Health give a £3 subsidy where the rent will be more than 6s., and in no case whatever where the rent is to be more than 6s. 6d. I say, therefore, that we are thereby doing our best to ensure the supply of houses the rent of which may fairly be said to be within the capacity of the low-paid wage earner who is at present overcrowded.
The House will next ask me what is meant by a low-paid wage earner. That is a very important question. I must not be taken in my answer to assume that, for all purposes of public discussion on the subject of wages, anything above the wage which we fix for this housing purpose as that of a low-paid wage earner is a high wage. No such implication must be drawn. But we have in our minds a figure which represents the wage of a low-paid wage earner. The question is not an easy one. I will tell the House how we have arrived at this provisional result. I shall have to ask the House to bear with me later when I describe the work done by our Consultative Council, which we asked last year to discuss the question of a means test, but I would say in parenthesis— the House will understand why in a moment— that they recommended that there should be a means test, based upon a scale according to the number of people in the family and so forth; but they said that the people who should get local authority houses of a rental of £26 were people, in the case of a single couple, that is to say, with one wage-earner, whose weekly income was not more than £3. They also went on to give us a scale, with which I will not weary the House now, showing how much extra should be allowed for children and so on. That represents the economic position of the normal person who is entitled to a subsidy house in the opinion of the Consultative Council.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Do I understand that this wage of £3 is not supposed to be only the wage of the individual head of the house, but the total income of the household?
No. I wanted to curtail my remarks, but I said that there was a scale. I said, I hope quite clearly, that where there was one wage-earner— a man and his wife— the £3 was the maximum figure which would entitle them to such a house. That is a very interesting figure. I had hoped that my hon. Friends opposite might have read the Report of the Consultative Council; that would have saved me a good deal of trouble in detailed argument; but I cannot, if I am to speak within any reasonable limits, answer with regard to all the details of the Consultative Council's Report. I may say, however, that we have from them a recommendation that, in the case of a couple with one wage-earner, the maximum wage which would entitled them to a subsidy house is £3. I thought that that was a very valuable and significant figure, as leading us towards the maximum wage which ought to entitle people to a low-paid wage earner's house at a rent of 6s. Although I do not say, and I do not think the House would wish me to say, that we have finally fixed this figure, or that it should be universal throughout Scotland, because the conditions differ in different districts, I do not think we should be far wrong in saying that a wage of about 40s. or under is the kind of wage that should entitle a man to get one of these special houses the rent of which is not to be more than 6s. a week.
That is a topic which I hope to hear discussed in the course of the Debate. It is to some extent a novel one, but I wish to impress upon the House the fact that, if we are going to provide specially low-rented houses, we have to make up our minds, broadly, what, for the purpose of housing, is a low wage. We must not, however, be taken— neither I nor my right hon. Friend nor the House must be taken— as meaning that for all purposes at all times any wage over £2 a week is a high wage. That kind of deduction or implication must not be allowed to be made. I would repeat, summarizing what I have been saying about the £3 subsidy, that it is to be confined to re housing low-paid wage-earners who are in over-crowded but not in slum conditions; that the rent of such houses will normally be restricted to 6s., and will not in any case be allowed to be above 6s. 6d.; and that the figure we have as enabling us to de- 394 cide who are the persons entitled to houses of this kind is a figure, in the case of a couple with one wage-earner, of some 40s. I will not weary the House with scales showing what the maximum figure would be; that is a matter for further discussion; I merely want to put before the House the broad idea.
I have dealt with the situation as regards public enterprise in housing when the new legislation is passed into law; I have shown the House the great activity which is at present being exercised by local authorities in regard to slum clearance; and I have indicated the importance which we attach to dealing with the low-paid wage-earners who are existing in overcrowded conditions, and the steps we have taken for that purpose; and in a moment I am going to pass to the rest of the question which concerns the future of private enterprise and the building society provisions. I should have said, and I say now, that our view that the 1924 subsidy should be confined to low-paid wage-earners who are in overcrowded conditions is the view expressed by the Economy Committee set up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year. That committee was composed of men with a very wide experience of local government in Scotland, and the importance of their recommendation with regard to continuing the subsidy for low-paid wage-earners in overcrowded conditions will not be challenged. [Interruption.] I hope that my hon. Friends will not continue to interrupt me from their seats, because that would make a long speech really intolerable.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I do not want to assume for a moment that my hon. Friend agrees to anything. I was merely saying that our view that a special subsidy provision should be made for low-paid wage-earners in overcrowded conditions was the view expressed by the Economy Committee— a committee whose attention was primarily devoted to furthering and pointing out the great importance of economy. They, with their attention concentrated upon economy, felt the necessity of some such provision. I turn to the question of private enterprise. I note, not without, if I may say so, a certain amount of amusement, that the main charge in the Amendment for the 395 rejection of the Bill which is shortly to be moved by my hon. Friends opposite is that private enterprise is going to be encouraged to take part in supplying houses. Surely that argues a very short memory. What about the 1924 Act introduced by the late Mr. Wheatley, who, I suppose, was one of the most formidable and powerful advocates of Socialist thought that has ever appeared in this House, and one who presented his Socialism, if I may say so, with a smaller proportion of water than is now prevalent? What was his view about private enterprise? His view was that so valuable would it be to get private enterprise to build houses, as we are attempting to do with the assistance of the building societies under this Bill, that he was going to give the private enterprise builder a subsidy of £9. We have removed that subsidy, and surely it does not lie in the mouths of those who supported the Wheatley Act of 1924 even to suggest that we are beginning the work of bringing private enterprise into the picture. Surely a subsidy of £9 given to private builders would seem to have been a more direct incentive— given, of course, for very real reasons— than the guarantee under this Bill. I cannot believe that when my hon. Friend speaks he will, in view of Mr. Wheatley's action with regard to private enterprise, attack us seriously because we hope to bring private enterprise into the work of the ordinary building of ordinary working-class houses in Scotland.
That is our hope and intention, and we propose to do it, as the House knows, in the following way. We propose that the loans from the building societies to those wishing to build houses for letting purposes should be guaranteed to the extent of between 70 and 90 per cent. by the local authority and by the State. The building societies have only recently begun to take an interest in Scottish building. Building societies in Scotland have not the long and important history which they enjoy in England. It is only within the last few years that English building societies have began to open branches in Scotland, and that the question of building houses in Scotland by the adoption of building society methods has really came to the front. The question has only become of primary importance since the fall in the rate of interest. 396 That is the new situation, and it is the situation which in England, as far as I understand English conditions, led my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health to give up, with complete justification, all subsidies except in regard to slum clearance.
Building societies and their activities in Scotland are rather more experimental than is the case in England, and therefore we leave the £3 subsidy. I have, however, a justifiable hope that we shall, through the provisions contained in Clause 3 of the Bill, get a considerable amount of house building executed through the agency of the building societies. It is hoped that there will be formed in the West and in the East of Scotland building corporations which will borrow money from building societies and undertake the building and the holding of houses to let. I cannot say more at present, but it is a real hope, and I have very little doubt that it will materialize. I am sure that many of my hon. Friends will wish to discuss the question as to the rent at which private enterprise may be able to let houses in Scotland. If the rent is high and sensibly above the rent charged for local authority houses it will be of no use to the workpeople of Scotland. As far as I have been able to make reasonable calculations on the subject, I believe that the House will agree that it will be possible for Clause 3 houses to be let at a reasonable rent. I have taken the figures in Glasgow where rates are high and the problem is difficult. I take the figure of £250 at which you may expect to get a three-apartment house. I put the owner's rates at a figure of 5s. 6d., and I allow £60 for the land on which the house is to be built, making the total £310. I borrow 90 per cent. of the money at 4 per cent. for 30 years, and I give a return of 5 per cent. on the balance of capital, namely, the 10 per cent. which the investor has himself to supply, and I arrive at a rent, exclusive of occupier's rates, of £30 a year, or 11s. 6d. a week.
I find on consulting the statistics of the Department of Health, that already municipal houses built in Glasgow under subsidies are in fact being let at that rent. I agree that it is a maximum rent. Therefore, taking all these factors into consideration, it is not unreasonable to hope and to expect that even in Glasgow, where the owner's rates are as high as 397 5s. 6d., you will be able to provide, under the building society scheme, three-apartment houses within the competence of working-class people to rent. When one comes to districts where the owner's rates are not as high you get a lower rent, but I have taken the Glasgow figure as applying to the most important district where the rates are high. Though I have the average figure for Scotland, I will not weary the House with the position further, except to say that where you can show an all-in cost of £300, and owner's rates of 4s. in the £ you will be able to rent a house for 10s. per week, or £26 17s. 6d. a year, which is the ordinary rent for existing municipal houses containing the same number of apartments. Therefore, there is every hope, at a time when housing costs are still falling, that it may be made possible for private enterprise effectually to re-enter the scene in Scotland.
The House may recollect—I have referred to it already— that last summer my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cattiness (Sir A. Sinclair), when he was at the Scottish Office, asked the consultative council of local authorities to consider the question of a means test for houses, and how many of the existing subsidised houses were occupied by persons who really had no right to them. The figure of such occupation must to some extent be provisional and experimental, but the figure they gave was between 5,000 and 10,000 houses. They made recommendations as to how to deal with the matter by the institution of a means test and so on. They also recommended that the institution of a means test should not be by legislation, but by administrative action. Only recently, as a result of that recommendation, the Department of Health, with the consent of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland issued a circular drawing the attention of the local authorities to the report of the consultative council and urging them to take in hand the steps necessary to apply a means test and to make available at least some of those 5,000 or 10,000 houses. I mention the matter in this connection for this reason. I have said already that the history of post-war housing in Scotland shows that private enterprise has not begun to function to the same extent as it has in England. Broadly speaking, the number of houses built by private enterprise in 398 England since the War constituted 67 per cent, of the total, whereas in Scotland it has only been 13 per cent.,
While we have hopes that Clause 3 of the Bill will resuscitate private enterprise — and I have given figures on which those hopes are based— it is of importance to realise that there is at present a pool of houses which varies, according to the Consultative Committee, between 5,000 and 10,000, some of which, if properly used, would be now available for the housing of the working classes. I say that because I am satisfied, that there is in a resuscitation of private enterprise in Scotland an element of experiment which does not exist in England. It is our duty to see that while that experiment is made in the most, favorable circumstances we shall not jeopardize the cause of the re housing of the people while the operation is in experimental stage. That is the consideration upon which I should wish to conclude my observations to the House. We have given the building societies a fair field. We have given them the work of financing the building of all houses which are not slum clearance houses and are not houses for the low-paid wage-earners, in overcrowded conditions. We have given them a fair field, and by our £3 subsidy and the existing provisions for slum clearance we have made it certain that, whatever may be the fate of the experiment of private enterprise in Scotland, the main; problems of the slum and of, Overcrowding due to low wage earning and, economic conditions will be fully tackled during the experimental staged.
In short, the provisions of the Scottish Housing Bill which have been approved by the Cabinet, and the Second Reading of which I now propose to the House, are a most admirable example; of the way in which the Cabinet and the Parliament responsible for the whole of the United Kingdom can have put before them for the different parts of the United Kingdom proposals which aptly fit the: situation of those different parts.: It is in that view that I commend the Bill to the House. I am satisfied that the interests of the local authorities, of the ratepayers and of the nation as a whole, demand that private enterprise should be got going again. It must be remembered that subsidies are a burden upon the taxpayer and the ratepayer, and that in so far as they are a 399 burden upon the ratepayer they are a burden upon the poorest household in the country, and that we shall get a real public advantage if we are able to restore private enterprise with regard to providing the ordinary houses required for the country. But we who realise the intensity of the slum problem and whose knowledge has been refreshed by the recent census figures as to the seriousness of the overcrowding in the Scottish cities, feel that we must also deal with the slums and overcrowding, and in this Bill I am satisfied that we have done so.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:this House declines to assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which substantially reduces the housing subsidies and, by discouraging municipal housing schemes and promoting the interests of private enterprise, will result in a return to bad pre-war conditions, nullify the density limit of twelve houses to the acre and other salutary restrictions imposed by the Housing Acts, reduce housing standards, and leave tenants unprotected against excessive demands for rent or interest upon loan.Looking at this Amendment, I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend on the speech that he has just delivered. He has made the very best of a bad job. I was interested in the reference he made to my right hon. Friend, Mr. Wheatley. With all due respect, I have to confess that I am sorry that Mr. Wheatley is not alive to be present to take part in this discussion today. He would have dealt with the matter, as he always did, in a peculiarly incisive style, and he would have said some very nice things about the proposal. Mr. Wheatley had the advantage; — if one may call it an advantage — of having lived in a colliery district. So have I. I have perhaps a little more experience of slums and overcrowding than any of my colleagues from any part of Scotland, with the possible exception of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hill head (Sir R. Home), who comes from an area full of slums— slums when the houses were new. I have lived in them, and I have had dreadful experience of them. I do not think that my hon. Friend can have other than theoretical experience of those particular houses in the slum area.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
I remember lodging in a house in a part of that area which you know, very well, I am quite sure. My bedfellow was a bit of a humorous Irishman, and I remember how he described the animals that sometimes infested our beds— namely, bugs. He said that the houses were built on bugs and were still being occupied; they were 50,000,000 strong with drummers and band boys! I do not know how many drummers and band boys there were.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
What the Government have proposed, shortly, is to hand over to private enterprise the functions of again building slums and endeavouring to make a profit out of them. There is not a single man or woman belonging to that occupation to which I belong myself who would have entered into any one of those houses of his or her own free accord. They were the only type of houses that were provided for them, and they had either to occupy those houses or do without them— not only without the houses but without work. The people who built the houses never lived in them. I am willing to accept any house that a builder himself will occupy, but if a slum dwelling, a one or two-apartment house, is not good enough for him it is not good enough for me, and if it is not good enough for me it is not good enough for anybody else, who, in the main, is just as good as I am—and I am as good as anyone here. I cannot speak very kindly or philosophically on this subject. I feel too much about it. I feel that there is too much theoretical experimenting in language on the question. There is a good old Scottish proverb which says: "The proof of the pudding is in the preening o' it." Only those who have lived under the conditions under which the vast majority of the members of the working classes in England and in Scotland are living today can see what overcrowding and slum dwellings really mean.
Before entering on the main points with which I want to deal, I wish to make some reference to certain of the state- 401 ments that were made by my hon. Friend in his opening speech. We on this side are in somewhat of a disadvantage in respect of the fact that we do not have the detailed information that is supplied to the Government. I am not making any complaint about that. On the other hand, it may be possible that I may make some statements that he, speaking for the Government, will be able to contradict in some respects. I will try, therefore, to be as correct as I possibly can. He referred to the building societies being more or less experimental in Scotland. I agree with him that they are. I do not anticipate that they will be very much of a success so far as the building of houses is concerned. I noticed, however, the fact that he anticipated that they would be able to supply a three-apartment house at a £30 rent. That is exclusive of rates.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I do not want to interrupt my hon. Friend, but that is in Glasgow. The rents in Hamilton will be higher.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
They will be higher in Hamilton than in Glasgow? They are higher in Hamilton now, at least in the area around; so that you may take it that the small towns round Glasgow are in pretty much the same position. You may take it that the industrial belt of Scotland, at least the Clyde area, which is inclusive of the county of Lanark shire and the county of Renfrew, has very much the same conditions, and that whatever the rents are in Glasgow they also apply in those areas.
§ Mr. SKELTON
That is not quite correct. When you get out into the more rural districts, then the cost of land of that particular type— £60—would be considerably less.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
Yes, but you find from the census returns that the rural and agricultural parishes are declining in population, and the ordinary law of supply and demand applies so far as houses are concerned.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
Hamilton, on the borders of Glasgow, is an industrial area. From the evidence that was submitted to the Royal Commission on Housing set up by an anti-Socialist and anti-Labour Gov- 402 ernment in 1911, I find that three rooms and a bathroom were provided for people living in Cambuslang, a locality with which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is well acquainted. He will be able to say whether the statements made to the Royal Commission were correct or not, but the evidence was given that a three-apartment house with a bathroom was provided for a rent of from £ l7 to 19 guineas. We are suggesting that the rent of such a house should be £20. It will not be less, and that means a very considerable increase on what the rents were in the districts surrounding Glasgow — just in the neighborhood of Glasgow— in 1911.
I want to make some reference to the fact that the assumption on which the hon. Member proposes to reduce the housing subsidy from £9 to £3 is that private enterprise can supply the demand for houses. The question I should like to put to hon. Members is whether that assumption is justified? I do not think it can be justified, and my reason for thinking it cannot be justified is that figures and evidence of all kinds have been given during the last 25 or 30 years to show that private enterprise, so far as the building of houses in Scotland is concerned, has practically passed out of existence. I am going to give some figures; they may be correct or they may not, but they are contained in a Government Blue Book, and, if they are not correct, the Department will be at fault and not myself.
According to the Statistical Abstract of the United Kingdom of 1913 and 1918 to 1931, the total number of houses built in England and Wales since 1920 was 1,861,294. Private enterprise built 794,791 — practically one-third of the total number of houses built in England and Wales. In Scotland the total number of houses built was 149,968; private enterprise, without State assistance, built 17,328, or only about one-third of the percentage of the houses built in England. The total houses built by private enterprise in Britain was 802,119 in 12 years. Scotland built 17,328, or only 2.15 per cent. Does anybody here expect that private enterprise, even assisted by the building societies, will come out unless it is going to make a profit? Does anybody here expect that there is going to be any real improvement in the conditions in Scotland so far as overcrowding and 403 slum clearance are concerned? I am not being deceived in any way by the suggestion that you are only dealing with the question of the private builder and that you are leaving the town councils and other local authorities to go on to deal with the question of slum clearance and overcrowding. That will come in good time. The alterations that the hon. Member probably has in mind will come later on, and, whatever is being done for slum clearance or the abolition of over-crowding, in all probability any number of obstructions will be put in the way of local authorities— at least the progressive local authorities— who endeavour to get power to carry out what they believe to be their duty in the provision of these houses.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I would remind the hon. Member that he must address the Chair.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
It is not out of disrespect if I have failed to do so. One sometimes forgets. I feel pretty strongly on this question, but I hope that it will not be necessary for you to rebuke me again for failing to direct my remarks towards yourself. There are some very interesting figures to be taken from the census returns. I have looked up the census returns for 1901 and compared them with the census returns for 1920 and I find that the number of houses built in England and Wales between 1901 and 1921 had increased by 1,320,079, or 19.6. In the same period the houses in Scotland increased from 986,334 to 1,109,444, an increase of only 12.4 per cent. The meaning of that figure is that from 1901 to 1921 there was practically no building being done in Scotland. There was a considerable number of unoccupied houses, but the policy pursued by the people who owned the houses was to raise the rents and to compel the people who were looking for houses to fill up the empty houses, with the result that at the beginning of the War there were practically no unoccupied houses in Scotland, even those described as slums in the industrial districts. I am speaking more particularly of the industrial districts because this is a problem which affects the industrial areas much more than the agricultural areas.
§ Mr. SKELTON
If my memory serves me aright, between 1901 and 1911 there 404 were 97,000 houses built in Scotland by private enterprise.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
There was nothing else but private enterprise. The figures that I have quoted are given in the census.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
There was a considerable number of unoccupied houses but those houses were practically wholly occupied during that particular period. This period of 20 years was one in which private enterprise had no competition. What was the result? Conditions became so indefensible that the Government in existence in 1910–11, prior to the War, had to set up a Royal Commission to inquire into the housing conditions in Scotland. What did they discover and what sort of a Commission was set up? The Commission that was set up was composed of 12 members—one Peer, one Baronet, one Knight, one lady— doubtful, from her report—one coal-master, one Government official, three other members of the middle-classes, one Socialist and one trade union official. They constituted the Royal Commission. They took evidence from 21 representatives of various Government Departments, 18 county district and town clerks, 35 doctors and medical officers of health. I suppose the doctors in this House, or most of them, will vote for the Government today and for the continuance of slum conditions. I do not understand how a doctor or a clergyman's son can be found upon the side of any such reactionary proposals and at the same time proclaim themselves believers in our common Christianity.
The Commission also took evidence from 67 sanitary inspectors and local authority officials, 43 members of county, town and parish councils, 13 coal owners, 44 landowners, factors, farmers and other representatives, 23 architects and builders, 11 building and co-operative housing representatives, nine house-owners and agents, four manufacturers, 34 doctors, clergymen and social workers, and 41 schoolmasters and miscellaneous. Those were the types of individuals who gave evidence from the middle-classes, and not 1 per cent. of them knew anything from practical experience of what slums and overcrowding means. On the other hand, there were 23 miners and 405 similar industrial workers who gave evidence, nine farm servants and crofters and 20 representatives of trades councils and other labour organisations. The total witnesses examined numbered 415, of whom 52 represented labour, or 12½ per cent. of the total. My object in reading out these figures is to draw attention to the fact that the Royal Commission made certain definite recommendations. They pointed out that at least 130,000 houses were immediately required and that over 200,000 houses were required if the housing was to be anything like decent. What is the difference between the percentage of persons living in overcrowded conditions today in Scotland as compared with what it was in 1911? The difference is not quite 5 per cent. in the over-crowded areas.
In the report of the Commission there was a statement that rents had increased and had been on the increase since 1871 and that in Glasgow prior to the War the average weekly rent per room had risen from 1s. 8¼. in 1871 to 2s. 1¾. in 1911. To that must be added the increase under the Rent Restrictions Act and the increase in the rates which the tenant is now called upon to pay. It would not be unfair to say that within living memory in the industrial areas in Scotland there has been an increase of, roughly, 100 per cent. in rent. There has been an increase of more than that in some cases. Turning back to my experience in a district which the right hon. and learned Member for Hill head (Sir R. Home) knows well we used to reckon 5d. per week for coal. The miner in those days did not always have a full breakfast table but he always had a good fire. You could always be sure that on a cold frosty winter night you would get a good fire in a miner's home. That cannot be said today. Rents are considerably higher, more than 100 per cent., in regard to houses even a considerable distance from Glasgow and in rural areas.
I would draw attention to the fact that there are something like 1,300,000 insured persons in Scotland and about 500,000 are idle and drawing unemployment benefit or Poor Law relief. What rent do the Government expect from them? I do not object, and no one on these benches objects, to the occupant of a house meeting his reasonable obliga- 406 tions to the landlord who provides the house, but there are conditions existing in our country today that make it absolutely necessary for everyone of right mind and good will to apply a very differ-attitude of mind towards this question than is proposed in the Government's Bill. What are these people getting in unemployment relief? They get 15s. 3d. a week, plus 2s. for any child they may have. If they send a child to a relative the 2s. allowance is taken off. The Employment Exchange know that 2s. is not sufficient to maintain a child. They know that anything from 5s. to 7s. is required, but they only give 2s., and they take it away in certain circumstances. Now the Government wants increased rent.
These people are living in slum houses. Two-thirds of the people are living in one and two-apartment houses. Time and again this House has declared that the one and two-apartment house is a slum. You have declared that nothing less than three-apartment houses should be provided. Anything less than a three-apartment house is, in our view, tending towards a slum or overcrowding. There can be no settlement until all the one and two-apartment houses are swept out of existence. I am pointing the view point, whatever hon. Members may think, and regardless of what may happen at election times, that the average man we meet every day who is living in these houses and is being called upon to pay rent for them, and also rates, is doing so at the expense of the stomachs of his children. That is a condition of things that cannot be justified either here or anywhere else. Only those who have lived under these conditions or are living under them now can speak with anything like knowledge of them.
We have no alternative but to describe the policy proposed by the Government as absolutely inhuman besides being reactionary. Twenty years ago there were 143,000 persons employed in the mining industry in Scotland. Only 52 per cent. of that number are employed now. The other 48 per cent. have passed out of existence as workers in the industry, but they are still in Scotland and are living under the conditions that I have described.
Wages have also fallen. The wages of miners in Scotland are now less than they were 40 years ago. While wages have 407 fallen rents have doubled and trebled; and with the increase in rent there has been no improvement in the housing conditions. In fact, they are worse. Houses built 100 years ago are still being occupied. I could take hon. Members to a number of streets in my own town and show them houses which are nothing less than slums, for which every penny is taken as rent by the landlord. I am not complaining about that, the landlord has to live; but these are the conditions in which our people have to live in Scotland, and there can be no settlement of the housing problem along the lines suggested in this Bill. There is no reason why houses should not be provided in the same way as water and gas. The Department of Health lays down the conditions under which houses can be built, and it is not possible for private enterprise, with the best will in the world, to provide dwellings which will enable a really healthy existence to be maintained. You have cut out private enterprise in the supply of water and gas, and the time has come when the Government should have the courage to face this problem in a really constructive and statesmanlike way, and lay it down that houses shall be built which are habitable, and enable the sexes to be separated. In that way, instead of reducing the number of houses, you would be setting out on the building of a great deal more.
At least 10 per cent. of the houses now occupied in Scotland, and indeed in Britain, are slums, and the Government would be better employed in the task of recreating Britain in the sense of sweeping out of existence everything which can be described as a slum area or an overcrowded dwelling, tending to the destruction of the health and morale of our people. They would render greater service to the community by such a policy than by attempting to carry the reactionary legislation contained in this proposal. I am not at all surprised that there is a strong and growing feeling in Scotland in favour of Home Rule. In this Bill we are following in the wake of England, as we do in almost every piece of legislation which is introduced; and it is in a retrograde rather than a progressive direction. We are not even putting ourselves in anything like an equal position. I submit that there is no justification for the Government bringing forward pro- 408 posals of this kind and I hope that the sons of the clergy and the doctors of the Tory party opposite will have the courage of their professed convictions and follow the Labour party into the Lobby against this Bill.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
In the first place, I desire to associate myself with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) in his congratulations to the Under-Secretary of State for his profoundly interesting and comprehensive survey of the housing situation in Scotland, and for his clear and concise explanation of the terms of the Bill. If the Government's housing policy seems to some of us less adequate than the Under-Secretary's explanation of it, it is not his fault, or not entirely his fault, and I hope that by the time the Bill has been through Scottish Grand Committee it will be a better Bill than it was when it was introduced. In the meantime there are at least one or two features of it which I am glad to say I can welcome.
Let me start with the first question which the Under-Secretary put to the House: How far is the Bill adapted to meet the conditions of the Scottish housing problem? What are the conditions of the Scottish housing problem? What are its dimensions? Although it involves giving a number of figures which one is always reluctant to do in debate, I ask the House to bear with me if I do so in considering the broad dimensions of the problem, and, particularly, because they suggest a not altogether disagreeable conclusion. What is likely to be the normal demand for houses in Scotland for the next 10 years? If we accept 100 years as the normal life of a Scottish house and go back 100 years we shall find that in order to meet the normal wastage of houses during the next 10 years, from 1933 to 1943, we shall require to build at the rate of 5,000 houses per year. That is to say, that 50,000 houses will be required. There are two other factors affecting the demand for houses to be considered. First, there are the increasing needs of the population. It is true that on the figures of the last Census there was actually a fall of 40,000 in the population of Scotland. We hope that will not be repeated, but, at any rate, we must accept the fact that there 409 will be no great increase in the population of Scotland during the next 10 years.
There are, however, two factors which lead to an increase in the demand for houses. One is the movement of the population inside the country. Although there was a reduction in the total population of Scotland according to the last Census, there was an increase in the burg Hal population of no less than 50,000. The other factor is that although the birth rate and the total number of the population are declining, the marriage rate remains constant, and has done so for some years. It means that the population has been split up into a greater number of households. For these two factors we must allow another 1,500 houses per year, making a total of 6,500 houses required to meet the normal wastage of houses and the increased needs of the population. In addition to that we have to meet the arrears, which were estimated by the local authorities in 1919 at 131,000 houses, a figure which closely corresponds to the estimate of the Royal Commission. If we add the 6,500 houses required each year since 1919 to meet what I have described as the normal wastage of houses and the increased needs of the population to the number of houses required to meet the arrears we get a total of 215,500 houses. Actually there have been built since 1919, 160,000 houses.
Therefore, the shortage which remains is 55,500 houses. If the present progress under the Housing Act is continued at the rate of 16,000 houses per year for six years it will give us 96,000 houses. The normal annual requirement is 6,500houses, that is 39,000 houses in the next six years, and we have 57,000 houses left to meet an estimated shortage of 55,000 houses. I am far from asking the House to consider these figures, which have been quoted before and furnished in reports, as absolutely accurate, but I say that they clearly show that we have reached a point when the housing problem in Scotland is manageable. What is disheartening is that while local authorities and the Department of Health have worked enthusiastically— and it has never worked more enthusiastically than under the direction of the Under-Secretary last year — to solve this problem, every advance they make only seems to lead to a point 410 when the goal of their ambition seems to recede before them. But that is not the real position. If we can maintain this effort for a few years more we shall break the back of the housing problem in Scotland.
The question which agitates me is whether this Bill provides for the maintenance of that effort at the pitch we reached this year, and that is a question to which I now propose to address myself. How are the Government proposing to organise this effort? If I understood the Under-Secretary of State aright, the principle on which the Government have decided to act is the concentration of effort, national and municipal, upon the provision of houses for the low-paid wage earners of Scotland, and to call in private enterprise to provide the normal housing needs, apart from those of the low wage earners.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
The slum dweller, presumably, is a low wage earner. I agree that the urgent need is to deal with the slum-dwellers 'and the low wage earners. Once that need is supplied the slums and overcrowding will be abolished. To effect this concentration of effort two expedients are to be employed. One is the encouragement of private enterprise, and that I welcome whole-heartedly. The other is the abolition or reduction of subsidies. That is equally sound in principle, but in my opinion is carried to dangerous lengths in this Bill. I agree with the Under-Secretary that the subsidy under the 1923 Act has outlived its usefulness and is now really only a source of profit to a few builders and householders whose circumstances are very far removed from those of the low wage earners. It is when we come to the reduction of the 1924 subsidy by two-thirds, the invitation to local authorities to build houses with a subsidy of £3, the houses to be let at rents substantially lower than those which they are now charging for houses which they are building with a subsidy of £9 and £12 10s., and the assignment to private enterprise of the whole of the field not covered by that £3 subsidy under the 1924 Act and the subsidies under the 1930 Act—when we come to these measures that the Government propose I part company with my hon. Friend.
411 I have been trying to ascertain how these proposals are regarded by those upon whom rests the main responsibility in Scotland for dealing with these housing problems. I inquired, naturally, first as to the situation in my own home town and constituency, where I know what a need there is for additional houses— young married couples living with their parents, young people waiting to get married because they cannot get houses, two families crowded into houses meant for one. I am told that this proposal means the stoppage of the housing efforts which our own council was contemplating. But we shall have other opportunities of going into the special problems presented by the rural areas and the small and large boroughs. I consulted people from all over Scotland, and with one exception and one half-hearted exception I have found nothing but condemnation for the proposals which are contained in this Bill.
I say to the Government, encourage private enterprise by all means. I welcome the encouragement afforded to the building societies, but I fear that the Government are putting an exaggerated estimate on the power of private enterprise to help them in this problem. The task to which the Under-Secretary attached so much importance was to deal with what he called economic overcrowding, the case of the low-paid wage earner. But that is precisely what private enterprise is unwilling to do. The Under-Secretary hopes that the £3 subsidy will enable local authorities to undertake that part of the scheme. At any rate it is quite clear that private enterprise is not going to deal with it.
§ Mr. SKELTON
We do not expect private enterprise to deal with it. That is why we leave that particular bit of work to the State and the local authorities.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I think the Bill is giving quite inadequate means to the local authorities to discharge that task. The Under-Secretary proposes that the rents for the houses which are to be built with the £3 subsidy shall be £15 10s. Between that rent and the £30 of the building societies there will be a great gap. At any rate, it is made quite clear that the houses which the building societies are expected to provide will be let at rents which will be beyond the 412 means of a great many of the low-paid wage earners. He hopes, no doubt, that as the building societies proceed with their operations they will be able to get prices down. But the building societies have never been able to deal with men who are earning what he suggests might be regarded as an average wage, the 60s. a week man. He said it was the 40s. a week man who would be eligible for the houses rented at £15 to £17. What is to happen to the 45s. and 50s. a week men? They are apparently to have no recourse but to the houses provided by the building societies— perhaps I should not say building societies, but rather private enterprise— which has never been able to deal with the man earning 40s. to 45s. a week. It is a task which private enterprise failed to perform even before the War. The hon. Member who spoke last cast a good deal of discredit on the Housing Commission of 1917. He represented the members as most disreputable people— professional men, landlords, and even a baronet. I am sorry he did so, because I was going to call the commission in evidence. I think it produced a most useful and valuable report. On this particular point of private enterprise the report stated:Private builders had for a long time prior to the War failed to provide in anything like adequate numbers the houses necessary for the working-class population.They referred toThe failure of commercial enterprise to keep pace with housing needs.And on page 387, paragraph 2,022, they said:The question of housing that section of the community which cannot, by reason of low wages or disability affecting their wage-earning capacity, pay an adequate rent, is one of the most important with which we have to deal. Who is to house them? It can only be the local authority.While the hon. Member who spoke last was addressing the House the Under-Secretary interrupted him. The hon. Member said that very few houses were built by private enterprise before the War, and the Under-Secretary said there was an immense output of houses in Scotland before the War. But the Royal Commission reported definitely:That it was impossible, as a commercial undertaking, to put up a house of three rooms and all ordinary accessories for the working classes "—413—"for the working classes" let it be noted, not for the low wage-earner—for some years prior to the War, cannot be gainsaid. There are various reasons put forward why this was so, but that it was so is admitted on all hands.I ask the House to consider in what way the position has altered since that report was made. In one way it has altered in favour of private enterprise. The building society movement has emerged. It took a long time to develop in Scotland, but five or six years ago, very largely because of the competition of some English societies that came into Scotland, the movement began to take root and develop a more vigorous life. But the building society exists to build houses, or to finance the building of houses, for sale and not for letting, and the working classes want houses to rent and not to buy. It may be that the building society will develop on the new lines which the Under-Secretary mentioned, but at any rate it is new ground.
I would like to put some questions to the Government on the point. The Under-Secretary spoke of some arrangements which he was making with building corporations which were going to build the houses, financed by the building societies. What are those arrangements? On what exactly do the Under-Secretary's hopes rest? What guarantee has he that the houses which are to be built with the assistance of the State guarantee are to be built to let and will not in fact be sold? What guarantee is there that the rents will be such as the working classes can pay? It seems to me that the £30 rent would be too high, according to the report of the Under-Secretary's Consultative Committee, even for the man with 60s. a week. The Under-Secretary said he was entitled to a subsidised house at a rent of £26. It is certainly going to be too high a rent for the man with 40s. to 60s. a week. What guarantee has the Under-Secretary that the density of the houses will not exceed 12 to the acre? What guarantee has he about the size and type of houses that will be built? There was nothing about which the Royal Commission was more emphatic in this report than the deterioration in the standards of houses in Scotland. The Royal Commission wanted to see the standards raised. We have raised them since the War. What safeguards are the Govern- 414 ment going to create in order to prevent the standards going back? When the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was Minister of Health in 1923 he brought in a Bill which laid down what the standards were to be. A fixed bath, for example, was considered one essential thing. That was proposed 10 years ago by a Conservative Minister of Health. Are we going to have that bath in every case in these new houses? I may be asking these questions in a rather too peremptory way, for I have every hope that the Secretary of State will be able to satisfy me in his reply. At any rate, I am sure that to all those who are interested in housing, whether they are able to speak with such feeling and sincerity as did my hon. Friend from personal experience, or whether they are merely taking what he would regard as a more detached interest in the problem from outside, one question to which importance is attached is the maintenance of those standards of housing which have been won since the War.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I do not wish to anticipate the answers to questions which are being put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I did not say that I was arranging for these building corporations. I said that it was hoped that such arrangements would be made but that the building societies of Scotland should take that action and not the Government.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
It seems to me that we are on thinner ice than I had supposed. I had hoped that the ground on which the Government were inviting us to tread, in bringing private enterprise into the field was a little firmer than it appears to be. At any rate, I hope that the Secretary of State when he replies will be able to tell us on what the hopes of the Under-Secretary are based.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I think I made it clear that my right hon. Friend at this moment is not in a position to do so. I said I hoped that building corporations would be formed, but that at the moment nothing more could be said. I do not think that the language which I used could be misinterpreted by the House.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I do not mean to suggest that the Under-Secretary was misleading the House. Perhaps my own hopes were misleading me. But the 415 Government are inviting us to consent to measures which will undoubtedly cripple or hamper or obstruct the operations of municipal housing and they tell us that as compensation for that they are bringing in private enterprise to do a great part of the work. Yet it seems that they do not know how far private enterprise is going to operate and that their hopes of coming to some understanding with private enterprise and of housing corporations being formed are vague. Apparently I am not going to get very satisfactory answers to those questions which I have put. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will, at any rate, give us an assurance that the housing standards of the people in those respects which I have enumerated, and in other respects as well, will be maintained. Provided that he is able to come to a satisfactory understanding with the building societies, I believe that their emergence is a hopeful factor. It is a factor on the credit side of the account as compared with the situation when the Royal Commission on Housing regretted the failure of private enterprise to deal with the housing of the working classes before the War.
What are the factors on the debit side? They are far more numerous and powerful. There is, first, the need for that class of house which private enterprise has conspicuously failed to provide. There is no dispute that that is a crying need. If there were any dispute about it, the "Statistics of Houses" returned by the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland— Command Paper 4208— would show how great is that need. Those figures show, for example, that from July, 1931, to September, 1932, whereas the rate of increase in the number of class B houses constructed was 4 per cent., the increase in the number of class C houses—the class with which we are concerned and with which the Under-Secretary is concerned—was only 1.5 per cent. That is the class with which we have to deal and that is the class of houses in regard to which the Under-Secretary agrees the building societies would be no help. We have to depend for them on the local authorities.
Then there is the point to which the hon. Member for Hamilton has just referred that, owing to unemployment and low wages, the number of low wage-earners unable to pay economic rents in 416 Scotland is increasing. Then there is the increase in building costs. I have here a list of building costs. Wages have enormously increased. The cost of bricks, of English cement, of Scottish cement, of battens, of doors and indeed of almost every accessory has enormously increased since before the War. About the only exceptions are sheet lead, copper, tin and baths. We are told about prices which are falling. Are they going to continue falling? If the Government make the effort which we want to see, if, instead of allowing the housing efforts to fall off they are going to increase it, housing prices will not go on falling. The Chancellor of the Exchequer hopes for a rise in prices. He says, and I agree, that it is necessary that we should have a rise in the level of wholesale prices. Are housing prices in those circumstances to continue falling? Instead of the sphere of private enterprise expanding in the future it is obviously going to contract. Therefore, I say that if private enterprise failed before the War, to deal with the problem of housing the working-classes— not only the low wage-earners but the working classes generally — then I say that, if you expect too much from private enterprise now, you will only make it the laughing stock of the Socialist party and bring your housing policy to disaster.
Now of course the Under-Secretary says that for the low wage-earners he is relying on the local authorities. How can they face the vast number of houses required for class C on the basis of a £3 subsidy? The Under-Secretary gave us figures based upon a house costing £325 with land and so forth. On the whole perhaps, taking Scotland all over, that is a fair average but it is not a fair average for those parts of Scotland where houses are really needed. The Under-Secretary thinks that with a contribution of £4 10s. per house from the rates it will be possible to let houses at rents of from £15 to £17 a year.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Less than £4 10s.— £3 18s. on the basis of 3½ per cent. and £4 4s. on the 4 per cent. basis.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
That is the contribution and the Under-Secretary thinks that on the average which has been mentioned, if the local authority make that contribution, rents of £15 to £17 will be possible. All I can say is that it will be 417 interesting in Committee to go into these questions in detail but in view of the figures which I have received from some of the most eminent authorities in Scotland and some of those most actively engaged in housing, I am unconvinced by the estimates which the Under-Secretary has given us. "But" the Government will say, "we have the 1930 Act and under it we shall deal with the worst of the problem." It is a good Act but it is complicated and difficult to work. The local authorities find it so. The Slum Clearance Act, however, is the best Act we have for its purpose and its provisions in regard to "improvement areas" will I have no doubt be most valuable. But for the abatement of over-crowding the subsidy under the 1924 Act is essential— the full subsidy and not one-third of it which is all that the Government are now offering. Even the Local Authorities Committee which the Under-Secretary quoted, that committee of ruthless economists say that the 1924 Act subsidy, though it should be withdrawn for other purposes, should be retained for persons displaced from unhealthy or overcrowded houses in so far as those are not dealt with under the 1930 Act. There is no other way of dealing with the problem of overcrowding unless you retain that subsidy.
To turn to the constructive aspect of the Minister's policy, what are the resources which he has released? He has withdrawn the 1923 subsidy, he has reduced the 1924 subsidy by two-thirds, he has brought in private enterprise. What use will he make of those resources in dealing with the slums? In the first place, does he intend to set up a committee of inquiry working on parallel lines with that of the Minister of Health in England to inquire into those three questions— a national housing board to focus effort upon the particular aspects of the problem which are considered most important; the reconditioning of houses in slum areas; and additional powers to deal with backward authorities? Most important, what action are the Government now going to take to utilise those resources to put more drive behind slum clearance in Scotland? The Under-Secretary gave us interesting figures as to what is being done now. We are told that in January of this year 10,000 houses were under construction or approved. By how much is that figure going to be in- 418 creased? Then, I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman how much money was provided last year for slum clearance and how much is going to be provided next year? It is important that the House should have some criterion of the increased effort which will come from the concentration of the national and municipal—
§ Mr. SKELTON
If I may intervene again, I would say that as much money will be provided as is needed. My right hon. Friend knows that schemes are put before the Department of Health and that there is no overriding control as to the amount of money used for slum clearance in Scotland.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
May we accept then, that as far as the Treasury is concerned they have given the Scottish Department of Health a free hand?
§ Mr. SKELTON
Yes, Sir. I say that because there was a slight misapprehension in an earlier Debate. The figure given in the earlier Debate or any figure which I may have given, would only be an estimate for the particular year, but if that figure is exceeded as a result of the actual operation then a Supplementary Estimate makes good.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am much obliged to the Under-Secretary, who has greatly cleared up the situation by his answer. But may I ask quite definitely— will every effort be made to get local authorities to redouble their efforts to deal with slum clearance? Will it be put to them by the Minister by means of circulars, by means of speeches in the country, that a great concentration is being made upon this problem, and will they be urged to redouble their efforts and to spend more money if necessary in order to clear up the slums in Scotland?
From the period when the decision is taken to accelerate slum clearance schemes there is bound to be a time lag. The Minister has to send instructions to the local authorities. The local authorities have to instruct their medical officers to make inspections and, in normal circumstances, it will be 18 months or two years before the people are actually cleared out of the slums. What is going to happen in the meantime? What use is going to be made of the resources now available to deal with the housing question in 419 Scotland? Obviously progress is going to slow down on ordinary housing schemes. What is to happen before the new slum clearance drive of the Government becomes effective? The Minister of Health is making provision in England for this transitional period. He has said that it will be his object, in consultation with the Committee when the Bill goes to Committee, to find reasonable provision which will allow bona fide schemes that were advanced to a reasonable degree to go through under the old subsidy régime. Will my right hon. Friend allow those schemes which were drawn up by the local authorities under Section 22 of the 1930 Act—their three-year programmed, which involved, of course, subsidies under the 1924 Act—to go through? That, at any rate, would enable the work to go on during the transitional period.
Now, therefore, seeing that it is generally agreed that it is the provision of houses to those low wage-earners which is the crux of the problem in Scotland, seeing that private enterprise has clearly failed, as is testified by the Royal Commission, to provide these houses even in the more favorable circumstances before the War, seeing that local authorities, whose powers were taxed to the utmost to provide these houses on a basis of a £9 subsidy, will obviously be unable to make the same progress on the basis of a £3 subsidy, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman what guarantee he offers to us that, instead of housing going ahead as a result of this Bill, it will not be slowed down? Let private enterprise be given all possible encouragement in the field in which it can effectively operate, but let the provision of houses for the low wage-earners be the task of the local authorities, and let it be realised that they cannot provide houses at uneconomic rents unless they are given adequate subsidies. Is this a Housing Bill or an Economy Bill? Economy has an important part to play, and certainly there are very Valuable suggestions for administrative economy in the report of the Lovat and Ray Committees. For example, the exchange of information about comparative costs of building, bringing pressure to bear on local authorities to reduce costs in certain cases, seeing that subsidy houses are not occu- 420 pied by people whose means are too great to entitle them to occupy them—all these administrative economies would be useful; but the nation wants now, not an Economy Bill, but a Housing Bill.
Just over a year ago I appealed in Edinburgh to the representatives of the local authorities from all over Scotland for a big housing effort. In what respect has the situation altered since then? Then we were still in the throes of the national crisis. The first consideration in those days was economy. Conversions of the War Loan were not yet effected, economy was then being demanded by all the leading economists and financial authorities, and money rates were comparatively high. Now unemployment is worse, and there are 30,000 men unemployed in the building trade alone. Now the Conversions have been effected, rates of interest are low, and there is an abundance of cheap money available for the purpose. Now economists are imploring the Government to give industry the stimulus which a bold programmed of house-building would afford it. The views of Mr. Maynard Keynes on housing are in favor with the Government at present. They were quoted in the Debate on the English Bill, and Mr. Maynard Keynes, speaking last week in London, said:The refusal to spend money on housing meant, in the case of a house of £350, the payment of £70 or £80 in unemployment benefit. He calculated that an expenditure of £30,000,000 on housing would probably increase the national income by £60,000,000 on account of its effect on many trades, save the Treasury £15,000,000 in doles, and increase income from taxes by £12,000,000.Only last week Mr. Maynard Keynes' views were being quoted in favour of the Government's policy, and even bank managers are demanding that the Government should give such 'an impetus to industrial revival as would be afforded by a bold housing policy. A year ago, in those adverse circumstances, I told the local authorities of Scotland that, although His Majesty's Government were committed to a policy of retrenchment, we had to discriminate between extravagance and investment, and that housing was the surest form of social investment; and I invited them to make a fresh start in dealing with the housing programme—not to relax but to redouble their efforts. The response was magnificent, surpassing our expectations. The Under-Secretary of State has dealt with 421 the response in slums, where alone 10,000 houses were under construction on 1st January, 1933. We surpassed the best year of our predecessors by 66 per cent. in the production of houses in that year.
Surely now is not the moment to chill it. Now is the moment to evoke it afresh and to go yet more swiftly ahead. I would appeal to the Government to recast this Bill. It was circulated before Christmas, and it was obviously drafted during the late autumn, when the Government were lying under a hailstorm of economy reports. Events move quickly nowadays, and this Bill is already out of date. There is abundance of cheap money, the Conversions are complete, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is looking to rising prices and wishes a stimulus to be given to industry; economists and bankers agree. Action is required, and here is the opportunity to give the signal for action for which the whole country is waiting. We redoubled our efforts last year. Let the Government yet increase them again. Let them, on the one hand, give a wide field to public enterprise and encourage it as far as they can to operate in that field in which public enterprise can operate effectively, and let them give to local authorities such subsidies as will enable them to grapple successfully with that problem of providing houses at necessarily uneconomic rents for the low wage earners.
I have shown by figures which I have quoted that at the present rate of building the Government could break the back of the housing problem in Scotland in six years. They ought to speed it up, and now, I say to the Government, is the opportunity for declaring a Five Years Plan for abolishing the slums and overcrowding in Scotland. If they did that, they would have the local authorities and the people of Scotland behind them.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. STEVENSON
In rising to address this House for the first time, I crave the indulgence which is usually given in such circumstances. Representing, as I do, a constituency which encloses within it a very large number of the lower wage earners and a very large number of unemployed, I whole-heartedly support this Bill. I do so because, as I understand its terms and its objects, it would have the effect of diverting as much public 422 money as is available for the purpose of supplying houses to the lower wage earners. The mere fact that the subsidy which has been paid in the past is being considerably curtailed does not and will not afford any excuse whatsoever for a reduction of the energy of public authorities in house building. But I see no reason why, at a time like this, if the return from money has been reduced for any reason whatever, and if houses can be built more cheaply than they were even last year, the National Exchequer and, what is perhaps more important, the local exchequer, should not derive an advantage from that fact.
I followed with interest the figures which we were given by the Under-Secretary of State. If I followed them correctly, no addition will be made to the cost to the local exchequer of building a house. Indeed, the local exchequer will be saved a sum of 5s. on building a house with the reduced subsidy. I think it is right that we should consider the special conditions which affect housing in Scotland. There is no doubt that at present houses cannot be built and let for the use of the lower wage earners without a subsidy, and the reason for that, I think, is not so much the actual cost of construction, but is rather due to the particular system of rating in Scotland. I want to deal with that question very shortly, because I am not sure that hon. Members opposite realise that the people who will gain the greatest advantage by a reduction of the local rates in Scotland are the very poorest themselves.
At present any person putting money into building a house and desiring to get a reasonable return for his money has to get by way of rent a sum which will enable him to pay the rates which are payable by the landlord in Scotland. If I may take an example, let me assume that the amount of money which a landlord requires to pay him interest on his capital at a reasonable rate, a sum for redemption of capital, and in addition a sum for annual repairs, is a figure of £20. The landlord has to pay rates, and, therefore, if he wants a £20 return, he has to ask from his tenant a sum which will pay his share of the rates in addition to that sum of £20. Landlord's rates in Glasgow just now are 5s. 6d. per £. He 423 cannot pay those rates out of the £20 and get an adequate return for his money. Let me, for the sake of convenience, take the rates as being 5s. instead of 5s. 6d. If he pays a rate of 5s. in the £, he has to get another £5 from his tenant, or £25, but he will be rated on the £25. He has therefore to add something more. The result is that he has to ask his tenant for £26 5s. The tenant, having paid that sum to his landlord has himself to pay tenant's rates on that sum. I think on an average you will find that of the total sum paid by a tenant in respect of rent and rates something between 75 and 85 per cent. goes to the local authority for rates.
That, I think, shows clearly the great difficulty there is in building just now in Scotland and obtaining an economic rent for properties which are let at a small figure. If it is accepted that we can build a small house and let it at a rent in Scotland of £30, the tenant has still to pay his occupier's rates, which, on a £30 house in Glasgow, amount approximately to £10. That is to say, the tenant will have to pay £40 in rent and rates. I desire to direct the attention of the Under-Secretary to that fact, and if he realises it I think he will see that the figure which he has suggested for the earnings of the low-wage earner is too small. It seems impossible to ask a man who is earning, say, £2 5s. or £2 10s. or even up to £3, to pay a sum in rent and occupier's rates of £40 a year. I suggest that he should raise the figure to a sum of at least £3. Even in the case of a man earning over £3, there would be the greatest difficulty in paying a rent of 15s. a week.
If we follow the tremendous effect that rates have on the rent payable by the working man, we shall see the great necessity for economy in the costs in housing, economy which will affect not only the Imperial, but the local exchequers. I am not suggesting that economy should be exercised so as to cut down the number of houses built for the low wage earners, but I am suggesting that those houses, in as abundant a supply as possible, should be provided at the smallest figure. I understand that in Glasgow not very far short of £200,000 —I think it is about £184,000— is collected out of the consolidated rates 424 towards housing every year, and we do not, of course, want that to increase any more than is necessary, because it will merely add a burden on the working man.
I notice that in the Bill the Government have a provision which enables them to watch very carefully the rent at which subsidy houses are to be let. I would suggest that the Government should watch as carefully the type of person to whom they are let. It is essential that houses which are built at public expense for the low wage-earner should be occupied by the low wage-earner only. One realises that it is very difficult to draw a hard-and-fast-line and say when whether or not a person ought to be an occupier. There are some people who may well fall within the definition of low wage-earner and who may gradually improve in their positions. Their incomes may reach a figure at which they ought to be able to supply houses for themselves. I would not suggest that immediately that happens they should be turned out of these houses, but when they get into a position when they are assured of a higher income, they should give place to those of their fellow-citizens who deserve the benefit of the subsidy houses. I know that a great many hon. Gentlemen opposite will object to that because they object to all types of means tests, but I should like them seriously to consider whether, if we are to examine carefully into the means of a citizen in order to say what he has to contribute to the taxation of the country and for the supply of houses for the poorer people, it is not fair that we should examine also into the means of the person who is to get the advantage of houses built by public money. It is essential that there should be some safeguard in that direction.
There have been suggestions that the reduced subsidy may have some serious effect in reducing the number of houses. May I suggest that the provisions with reference to the reduction of the subsidy might be curtailed, at least to this extend. In 1930 local authorities were called upon to produce schemes, not for one year, but for a series of years. A number of those schemes have been approved, and, relying upon that approval, the local authorities have built roads, put in sewers, and got out plans on the assumption that the old subsidy would be paid. If there is any suggestion that there may 425 be a hiatus before new schemes are got out, I would impress upon the Department that it would be a great advantage in Scotland if they could allow the schemes as already approved to be carried out under the old subsidy. It is always very unfortunate if a person, starting on a scheme by laying out and purchasing the land, and making the roads, has to upset his calculations and bring out another scheme.
I would like to say a word on the question of slums. The problem of slum areas and property is one of the most difficult with which a local authority has to deal; it is, further, one of the most important problems which ought to be tackled, and in which an interest should be taken by all citizens. Although it is suggested by hon. Members on the other side that we on this side know nothing about the conditions of slums because we did not happen to be brought up in them, I can tell them that there are a great number of us who have taken an interest in this matter and know a great deal about it. Everybody agrees that few things have a greater effect upon improving a man, physically, mentally and morally, than moving him from a slum area and putting him into better and more sanitary surroundings. We are whole-hearted in giving the Government all the power they require in order to tackle this problem vigorously. There is one matter in connection with it to which I should like to draw the attention of the House. A number of people look upon the slum as if it were a distinct area in a particular town, and that when we deal with the slum we mark out an area in a town, pull down the houses, and rebuild them. While that may be the situation in big industrial towns, I suggest that some local authorities should pay a little more attention to the single tenement which gets into an in sanitary condition and really becomes a slum by itself.
These should be carefully watched. As soon as they come to the slum condition, they should be closed. That would have two effects. It would warn and be an example to proprietors of property round about to do more for their property, and it would enable slum houses to be dealt with by compartments. The slum tenement could be demolished as soon as it was condemned. In dealing with an 426 area some other tenement might be found not very far away which was not actually in sanitary and in a position to be condemned as a slum, but which could be rejuvenated and have something done to it in order to prevent it deteriorating. Areas might be found, particularly in large towns, where the population is shifting, in which there are self-contained houses or flats with six or more rooms. When the population begins to move, the inhabitants who have been accustomed to live in that area migrate, and it is difficult to get other people to take on that property. The result is a tendency to put more than one family into a house. That is often the way in which slums have gradually been created. I suggest that the Secretary of State should consider whether, if such properties were available, a subsidy or a loan might be granted, as is provided for under the third Clause of this Bill, in order to enable such houses to be converted into a smaller number of compartments. It will not pay an ordinary private individual to do so because it can only be done at considerable expense. There is no use putting up temporary apartments or dividing up a house into two, because that leads to slum areas, but with a substantial expenditure such property might be usefully converted into houses which would be eminently suitable for the lower wage-earner.
The provisions of this Bill do not in any way affect the actual conditions of the houses which are to be built, nor is there any provision which alters the number of houses to be built in an area. All these matters stand exactly as they did before. The suggestion that the Bill will tend to create slums and diminish the standard of the houses which are to be built has no foundation whatever. I feel certain that if the provisions are carried out, if the Department will exercise as much influence as it can to encourage public authorities to carry out the provisions of the Bill, they will go a long way to provide the employment which is required so much in the dense areas of the industrial parts of the country, and do a great deal to mitigate the hardship under which the great majority of our low wage-earners are suffering.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Permit me at the outset to congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Calmative (Mr. Stevenson) on his maiden effort in this House. It is one of the peculiarities of the House that it should fall to my lot to congratulate him, because I did ever-thing I could, constitutionally, to keep him from coming here. After listening to him, I am quite sure that the next time he rises the House will give him the same patient and attentive hearing— if he gives us such a well-reasoned speech as we have had today. The subject is one in which he ought to be very well versed, on account of the constituency which he represents. I represented a ward of it in the Glasgow Town Council, and that ward had the highest death rate among children in the British Isles. In his constituency 145 children per 1,000 die in the first year, as against 45 per 1,000 in the Pollok Division of Glasgow. Therefore, I hope the hon. and learned Member for Camlachie will take a very keen interest in the housing question, because in that way he may help us Socialists to save the lives of little children in Camlachie.
Now I have a word to say to the right hon. and gallant Member for Cattiness (Sir A. Sinclair). He is one of the ablest exponents in this House, and it is because of his ability that I am quarrelling with him. If it were the case that he did not know, I would forgive him, but he knows and he has ability. All that was necessary was for him to take action, and yet he spoke here as though he had never had the power and the opportunity to put his ideas into operation. Six months ago I appealed to him to allow the local authority of Clydebank to do what he said he appealed to the local authorities in Edinburgh to do a year ago, that is, to get on with the housing. The local authority of Clydebank, which includes only four Labor members, the vast majority of its members being of his "kidney" in politics, unanimously agreed to proceed with a housing scheme. They went before the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and I used all the influence I had with him, but that proved to be very little, though we were trying to do what he had appealed to local authorities to do. What happened next? He received a deputation from individuals of the very type of those who are respon- 428 sible for the terrible housing conditions of the working class in Scotland, received a deputation from the house owners and factors—
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
— and because they protested against this proposal he turned a deaf ear to the local authority of Clydebank. In face of that he has the hardihood to stand in this House, before me, who knows all this, and say in a dramatic oration that housing is the surest form of investment. When we wanted to make that investment he turned us down. He used his ability to thwart us, just as the Government are thwarting the efforts of the working class to raise their standards. When he was in the Government he took the same line as the present Government and tried to suppress the idea which is in the minds of the working class to-day to raise their standard of life. So much for the Member for Cattiness.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
As the hon. Member has mentioned me, will he allow me to say that during the time I was responsible at the Scottish Office we increased the rate of house building in Scotland by 66 per cent. as compared with the rate of house building in the time of the Government which he supported? As regards the particular case of Clydebank it is true that in the circumstances that was not a good investment; but, taking Scotland as a whole, we increased the rate of building by 66 per cent.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
The only thing I can say is that it must have been because I represented Clydebank. The housing of the working class is a very serious problem. My old colleague, John Wheatley, devoted the best part of his life to creating in Scotland a spirit which called for better housing. That spirit had to be created, because those who had had the ear of the Scottish people before our day had been responsible for the idea that a two-apartment house was quite good enough for one of the working class, and that anyone who had a three-apartment house was extra well off. That is how we found Scotland, and John Wheatley spent the best part of his life in trying to change that outlook. We set out to create the idea in Scotland that the Scottish people ought to be as well housed as the English. The Under- 429 Secretary of State—I am sorry that he is not now in his place, but it is not his fault—made a reference to what John Wheatley did when Minister of Health. He said John Wheatley had given a subsidy of £9 per house to private enterprise, inferring that he was encouraging private enterprise as against the Socialist ideal.
I happened at that time to be John Wheatley's most intimate confidant in this House. His idea was that we were up against a shortage of houses, and he did not care who built the houses, as long as they were built up to the requisite standard and all the trade union stipulations were met. He did not care whether the houses were built by private enterprise, or by local authorities handing the building of them over to private enterprise, or building them themselves through works' departments. Further, he met the trade unions in the building industry, and also called together all the employers—the brick makers and all others engaged in the manufacture of materials for houses. I remember that he stated in this House that the materials for a house included about 1,000 articles. His idea was to get a guarantee from this House on behalf of the employers of labor and the operatives extending over a period of 15 years, by which time he expected to rebuild Britain. That was what he set out to do.
What do we find now? On a previous occasion when I spoke on this subject I fell foul of two men whom I have no desire to fall foul of now, but, just as I told the right hon. Member for Car Narvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) when I met him that every Act on the Statute Book with which he had had anything to do had the taint of slavery about it, so now I say that every Act put on the Statute Book by the present Government is designed to cast the responsibility off the Government and on to local authorities. The Government are doing that in the case of unemployment. Whether it is Old Nick who has implanted that spirit in them I do not know, but they have got it from somebody; that is the idea they are systematically following. We have always held that unemployment should be a national charge, but the present Government have thrown it on to the local authorities. In everything they do there is the same idea— that the Government should shed its responsibility and cast it somewhere else. The same 430 thing is happening in housing, though if ever there was a problem which required the whole power of the nation to cope with it it is the housing problem. This all-powerful Government, the most powerful Government we have ever had, does not face up to this problem.
After all, the housing problem is a poverty problem. It exists because the workers do not get the means of paying rent. The right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness referred to the Commission which had been mentioned by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham). That Commission, after having gone into the whole question of the housing of the working class in Scotland, expressed the opinion that the working class— not the unemployed, not the slum dwellers but the people of my class, the tradesmen class— could not afford to pay the rent of a three-apartment house. That is God's truth. They cannot afford it yet. That is the position we are up against. The problem is getting worse and worse, being aggravated by present day economic developments and the throwing of men out of employment; and yet in face of this position the Government have decided that this burden must be thrown upon the shoulders of the most heavily hit section of the community. They are leaving the burden to be borne by the local authorities. Those who are able to pay a decent rent; those who will pay a decent rent; those who are the best section of the people of this country, the back-bone of the British Empire— they are the folk who are to be handed away to private enterprise. They will rather do anything than be in debt. They will pay their rent, even supposing they have to starve. That is inherent in the Scottish people of the class who are going to be handed over to private enterprise to exploit. But in the case of the poor, who have nothing to fall back upon, who are right up against it, and who will not be able to pay rent, that harassment is to be handed on to the local authority. That is what the intelligence of this Government is going to do for us at this time when they are making no provision for enabling even the poorest of the poor to be able to meet the demands that are bound to be put on them by the local authority in order to get rent from them. The Government are relegating that problem to the local authority.
431 Apart from this scientific move, to which I have tried to draw the attention of this House, I want to protest with all my power against private enterprise coming in here. If ever there was a demonstration of failure, it is that of private enterprise with regard to the housing of the people in Scotland. Who built the houses in Scotland? Was it the local authorities or the Government? Is it Socialist ideas, which are permeating the folk at such a rate, that are responsible for the housing conditions, particularly in Scotland? Was it Socialism that built row after row of houses in Lanark shire with the coal kept below the bed, no conveniences, not even a water tap? It was private enterprise. It built them for slaves; built them for the men and the women who were the workers in the workshop of the world when Britain was the workshop of the world. When we did the world's work these were the men who did it, and that is how we house them. When they did the world's work they were housed in one and two-apartment houses. Private enterprise in Scotland left us this legacy.
Immediately after the War, in 1919, the then Coalition Government, the Government that was to win the peace, decided that three-quarters, that is 75 per cent., of the houses in Scotland were below par. They passed a Bill prohibiting houses of that size being built again. It required an Act of Parliament— Parliament had to intervene because the general intelligence of the people had risen higher than what private enterprise was prepared to meet. The result was that Dr. Addison, the then Minister of Health. introduced a Bill and carried it through this House with the object of securing that the smallest house that could be built in Britain was a three-apartment house with all modern conveniences. That meant that 75 per cent. of the houses in Scotland were out of date—all one-apartment and two-apartment houses. Of course, all the powers-that-be in this country then organised in order to get Dr. Addison removed, because a three-apartment house meant a three-apartment standard of life for the Scottish working class, as against a single-apartment standard of life, and they could not afford to give the working class in Scotland that standard of life and at the same 432 time pay, as they are still paying, £1,000,000 a day interest on the War Debt. We have to go on with that terrible weight which is lying like a load upon the people of this country.
So Addison was chased out of his job, and then those interested know who followed and what he introduced. He crushed all the finest ideas that we had been able to extract at that time from the Government. John Wheatley and I, when we arrived to interview his successor, then Alfred Mond, and later Lord Melchett, who has since passed away, it appeared to us as if Germany had won the War. Such a complete change ! There was no chance for the workers. We were turned down in no uncertain fashion. Now this Government, with all its undoubted power, is using that power to try to turn back the hands of time and put Scotland once again into the hands of private enterprise. I hope that this House will not permit such a tragedy to take place. If private enterprise had anything of a humanitarian or beneficial character to recommend it as far as the housing of the working classes in Scotland is concerned I would not care, but it has nothing to recommend it. It built all the tenements and slums.
Regarding the cutting off of the subsidy, I want to appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland, because Soot-land has a claim here on this House. I say so, and it is not simply because I know the terrible life that has to be lived in a tenement. I was born and bred in a tenement among the poorest of the poor. I know what it is to lie four and five in a bed. The Lord President of the Council, the Leader of the Tory party in this House and in the country, when he came to my city, was taken round and saw some of the housing conditions of Glasgow. When he came back to this House he gave us an extra £1 on the subsidy for Scotland because he had seen conditions of housing which he never believed existed in this country. They were so bad that the individual who took him round, a Glasgow man, said he himself, had he been told that housing conditions were so bad, would not have believed it. Yet in the midst of all that evidence the Government are going to cut down the subsidy from £9 to £3.
433 I want to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hill head (Sir R. Home). The Home Rulers who are out for cutting the painter, so far as Scotland is concerned, have a case— the housing conditions in Scotland are so much worse than in England. Let us in this House view this situation. Here is our country and, irrespective of our political views in this House, we stand by our country. Our country of Scotland is admitted to have bad housing by everyone who goes to see the actual conditions under which our womenfolk have to rear their families. People who go to see them are absolutely shocked with the conditions that prevail. It is all right for the boys and girls who come from the better type of house, from the four, five, six and eight-apartment house. I do not believe they know the struggles of the mothers of some of their playfellows. These mothers have a terrible struggle to enable their boys and girls to put up the appearance they do in contact with individuals in better circumstances. These mothers do it, however. What a better-looking type of man and woman these mothers would produce if they had better chances, if they were not huddled away in tenements and in slums as they are today! It would be better for the country. I agree with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Cattiness that it would be a sound investment; indeed, one of the best investments for this country would be to house the people well, just the same as feeding people well would be a sound investment. It is bad policy and business to keep the working class always on the verge of starvation. How do you expect to rear an Imperial race with conditions such as exist today?
I would like the Secretary of State for Scotland to remember, and to have before him, the fact that just before the War there were, in Glasgow alone, 25,000 unoccupied houses. All those houses are now occupied. They belong to individuals who had them as an investment. It paid them to invest their money in houses, and the rent which they got from the houses that were occupied had to maintain those 25,000 houses that were unoccupied. We can see how very much better off are those who own the houses than they were before the War. Another point that I wish to make before I leave this subject 434 is that before the War owners of property did all the internal repairs. You went to the factor and the factor was sometimes good enough to give you paper for papering the walls of the room, in addition to paint. A house usually consists of a room and a kitchen. That is the Glasgow house. The factor who was a decent one would allow you to get paper up to a certain price and if you wanted a better class of paper you had to pay extra for it. All that has gone. They do nothing like that now. That is why I wanted the Government to insert a Clause in this Bill which would have the effect of bringing down the rents of working-class houses. We have advocated that the time to do it is now, considering that everything else has been reduced—such as wages and interest on money.
The rents of working-class houses have not been reduced, but have had a 30 per cent. increase. The owners secured that in 1919, when 25 per cent. of the increase was to enable the property owners to do repairs that had not been done during the War. Repairs were stopped during the War because all endeavors were directed towards winning the War, and, as a result, a good deal of the property was in a bad way, so far as repairs were concerned. The owners did not carry out those repairs, and therefore they ought to be brought to book in regard to that 25 per cent. If a working man had done this, he would be charged before the court for fraud in regard to that 25 per cent. The right hon. and gallant Member for Cattiness can say what he likes, but the factors in the West of Scotland came down here time and time again. They were all-powerful over the Liberal party and the Tory party in this country. They not only came down at that time, as I told the people at Clyde-bank, but they have come down since then and they have got an increase for collecting the taxes. Instead of getting a reduction— and the right hon. and learned Member for Hill head backed them in this— they were granted an increase two years ago for collecting the taxes. While everybody was getting a reduction in wages and salaries. The factors for the houses in the West of Scotland were walking away with the swag. They received a 50 per cent. increase in their rents, and there has been no talk about their being brought to book.
435 I appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland to remember that in Scotland, when things were normal, and when the working class on the average were not so poor as they are today, for anybody belonging to you to be taking parish relief was the greatest disgrace that could fall upon a working-class family. In those days we had not so many people poor and up against it, and there was practically no such fight in Scotland facing able-bodied men as is taking place today. I have lived to see my race degraded and demoralized, so that today they are accepting parish relief just as if it were the right thing to have it or to be in receipt of benefit from the public assistance committee. They are the victims of circumstances. I have seen men who when they were paid off at Park head Forge refused to go and sign on at the Employment Exchange because they considered that that would be lowering to their dignity. I have seen those same men crushed until they have been glad to go to the Employment Exchange. I see those same men dependent upon the public assistance committee, all hope gone. Pope's line has it that:hope springs eternal in the human breast.In many thousands of instances in all the greatest industrial centers, not only in Scotland but all over England, hope is gone.
What does it mean? You see what is going to happen. I appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland to remember that the proportion of working-class wages that was asked in rent before the war was 10 per cent. on an average. Today the proportion is a quarter. The hon. Member for Hamilton well put it when he said, "Where is it coming from? The working-class are paying the rent out of their stomachs." That is one of the problems that we have to face in connection with housing. We take men and women and their families out of a single apartment, where it is a terrible thing to try to rear a family; but in the winter time they need only one fire, and they all get round it and are warm. There is only one room, and everything is there in that one room. All their goods and chattels are there. Maybe to us, those goods and chattels are not worth anything, but they are all that the people have got, and they are all in that com- 436 partment. We take the people out. All they are paying now is from 3s. to 4s. per week. We take them into our housing scheme and put them into a two-apartment or three-apartment house. They have no furniture. You do not get furniture for nothing. Their bed has been a hole in the wall. That is an arrangement that is cheap, because there is no bedstead to be bought. When we take them into the new houses they have to buy bedsteads. They have never required to buy them before, so that they have none.
I could go on for a long time talking about these things. Just as I invited the Secretary of State for Scotland to come with me, sailing from Broom law to Greenock so that he could see all our shipyards standing stark empty with nothing doing, so I could take him now, any time he wishes, to see the terrible homes of our folk. I could take him to the housing schemes and show him the struggle in which poor folk are engaged, trying to make ends meet. Three apartments mean three fires and three beds, things that they have not got. All that we are doing is to aggravate their difficulties. In such cases they could be given bedsteads. You can do something of this kind. Make it that that must be done in all the housing schemes. If that were done, it would tend to relieve the situation. The people are paying a quarter of their miserable wages in rent instead Of one-tenth, and yet we are supposed to be advancing by leaps and bounds. So we are, on paper, and in the imagination of some. Let us turn it from paper and make it practical.
Let us try to do something. Let this strong, powerful Government use that strength and its undoubted ability to ease the situation of the working-class. Do not turn the problems adrift for private enterprise to exploit and make a profit. Hon. Members will see the difference; when the municipalities or the local authorities take on a housing scheme there is no profit in it for them, and they put all the money into the scheme, but when private enterprise comes along it does not build, because houses are required or are going to be used. It is immaterial to private enterprise whether the houses are ever occupied. The job of private enterprise is to build them, because it is making a profit out of them, and it is only incidental that the houses are necessary to protect us from the in- 437 element weather. I appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland to reconsider this matter. I would say to him: "Take the Bill back, and for God's sake seek to encourage local authorities to go on with the building of houses for the working-class, but do not give the job away to private enterprise."
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
Our consideration of this Bill may be divided into two sections— first, the building of houses for slum clearance for the poorest people, and, secondly, the new start that we want to give to private enterprise. The last speaker seemed to make the matter more hopeless for Scotland than any other speaker. It appeared to be his view that, even when people were taken from one-apartment houses in the slums and given new three-roomed houses, we were not helping them very much. I come from a constituency where, I fear, we have had a very bad record for slums in the past. I am glad to say that it is now improving enormously. During the last year we have built in Dundee more houses for slum clearance than we have built since 1927, and we are using the Act of 1930 and doing good work. I have visited people who have been taken from one-roomed houses to three-roomed houses, and if my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirk-wood) would ever honor me by accompanying me on a visit to some of those people in Dundee, I think I might be able to show him that some people do find that they have had a better chance, and that their children are going to have a better chance, through the work that has been done.
As regards the question of slum clearance under the Act of 1930, I have been surprised that we have heard so little praise of that Act this afternoon. When it was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), it was heralded as an enormous move in the right direction. We were told that it was the greatest slum clearance Measure that we had ever had on the Statute Book. I have read a quotation from one of the right hon. Gentleman's speeches about it, in language such as has not been used by anyone this afternoon. Hon. Members seem to have forgotten what a great improvement the Act of 1930 was considered 438 to be. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, speaking as Minister of Health, used these words in describing the Act of 1930:All babies born in slums from now onwards will enjoy a dowry such as no State has ever conferred before."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th April, 1930; col. 1819, Vol. 237.]Today there has not been that praise of the Act of 1930. I listened to speaker after speaker pointing out, or trying to point out, to the House, that we are doing less for the slum population of Scotland. We are doing more, because we are asking the local authorities to bend all their energies to use all their efforts under that Act of 1930 to clear the slums of Scotland, and I believe that it can be done. We have also the £3 subsidy for houses for those who are on a low weekly wage. I am sorry that the right hon. and gallant Member for Cattiness (Sir A. Sinclair) is not now in his place. I listened with much interest to his speech, and I wondered if he was going to tell us very much about what he told the local authorities at the meeting about a year ago in Edinburgh to which he referred. On that occasion he urged that they should go on with the building of houses, and he did so with one very clear reference; he warned them that the subsidy would be cut. One might have imagined, from what we heard from him today, that he would never have been a party to such a thing. Could it be possible that, even in December, 1931, he was on tiptoe for a flight? To refresh my memory, I have referred to his actual words, to find out what he, who was then Secretary of State for Scotland, really thought about this problem. It was on the 29th December, 1931, that he met the local authorities in Edinburgh at the meeting to which he referred in his speech today, and he then made this statement:The present subsidy was generous, and he warned the local authorities that, when it became lower "—he did not seem to have much doubt about it, but he did not say that he was going to insist on its not becoming lower—when it became lower, the statutory obligation to provide houses would remain.Evidently he thought then that it would be possible for the local authorities to provide houses with a lower subsidy, and the Bill which is now before the House makes arrangements for doing it. He 439 did not refer to that in his speech, and my regret is great that he is not here at present, because no doubt there was some misunderstanding. Perhaps in Edinburgh he was speaking, as he told us today, whole-heartedly but conditionally. No doubt when he spoke at that time, although he did not refer to the conditions, he expected not to be in the place in which he was on the 29th December, 1931.
We all realise the appalling slums of our country. We who are Scottish know a good deal about them, and it is because we realise how appalling the slums are that we welcome this Bill, which I believe will be a drive to attack the slums and to get houses for those to whom our friends on the opposite benches so frequently refer as the poorest of the poor. I, for one, am glad that the money and the work of the authorities is to be focused on new houses for the poorest of the poor. I see by the census returns that in Dundee 13 per cent. of the population are in one-roomed houses, and 48 per cent. in two roomed houses. We want to get those people out of those houses by means of building under the Act of 1930.
I referred a minute ago to the building of houses with a reduced subsidy of £3, and also to the fact that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cattiness, who is now in his place, warned the local authorities, at the meeting in Edinburgh on the 29th December, 1931, to which he referred, that the subsidy was generous, and that, when it was reduced, the statutory obligation would still be on the local authorities to build houses. We are asked, can they build them with a £3 subsidy? I thought, when I listened to the right hon. and gallant Member's speech, that he thought they could not be built with a £3 subsidy, and that he wished the subsidy continued exactly as it was— that he wished that more money should be given, that the subsidy should be kept up, that money should not be spared in that direction. Evidently I was not correct. Or is it that my right hon. and gallant Friend has changed his mind —of course, we all may change our minds at any time— and does not now believe that the subsidy was generous and might have to be cut, with a statutory obligation on the local authorities to continue 440 building houses under the cut subsidy, as is provided in this Bill?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I said at the time that I hoped, and I still hope, that the obligation will rest upon the authorities in regard to the housing of the working classes in these districts; but I warned them that the rates of subsidy which they were then enjoying would not last for ever, and, therefore, I urged them to greater activities while they had these rates. I do not, however, think that the time has come for cutting that subsidy to one-third. I do not think that there is any inconsistency between the views that I expressed in December, January or February, a year ago, and those which I express now.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I quite understand. My right hon. and gallant Friend thought that the subsidy should be cut, but not as much as it is being cut. Therefore, we have the difference, not between £9 and £3, but, perhaps, between £4 10s. and £3. At any rate, his explanation has narrowed the difference between us. Formerly it was a clear £6, but now we are only divided from those who sit in front of us by the paltry sum of perhaps £1 or £1 10s. Coming to the subject of private enterprise, speaker after speaker this afternoon has seemed to consider that it is quite wrong at the present moment to give any assistance to private enterprise for the building of houses for the people.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs says "Hear, hear !" The Under-Secretary has already asked this afternoon why, since under the Wheatley Act of 1924 a subsidy was to be given to private enterprise for the building of houses, there is anything particularly wrong in advancing a small sum of money to private enterprise if they can build houses that are suitable for the people. I notice that under Clause 3 of the Bill, before they get this assistance, the Department has to approve of the proposals, and I think that that is a sufficient safeguard, for the Department is not likely to approve of proposals or assist in this matter unless the standard of housing is kept up, as we mean to keep it up. I do not suppose that the fact of the houses being built 441 by private enterprise will very much affect the persons who go into them, so long as the houses are up to the standard that we hope to have in this country.
There has also been a great attack on the two-roomed house. We have been told this afternoon that any two-roomed house is a slum. I challenge that statement. There must be still, and I know as a fact that there are, people in this country who require two-roomed houses. There are old couples to-day in Dundee who are asking for two-roomed houses; there may be two old maids who want to live together in a two-roomed house; and, if these people require two-roomed houses, and there are not too many people in such houses, why should they be told that they are living in a slum? We are told that private enterprise built the slums—
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
May I ask the junior Member for Dundee if she would like to be reduced to living in that type of house?
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
It depends entirely upon whom one is living with. We have been told that private enterprise built the slums, but it seems to me that many houses in the slums of Scotland which were built by private enterprise were not built as slums, but were built for the highest in the land. I need only mention the example of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, from the Castle to Holy rood. There you have magnificent houses which were built by private enterprise, though not as slums, and which are now out of date. At the present time we have modern schemes of sanitation, and we require more air and more light than were considered necessary in those days, but those houses, when they were built by private enterprise, were not slums. Private enterprise has decreased in Scotland as it did in England before the War, but I think that, if people will look back, they will find that private enterprise has been decreasing since about 1909 or 1910, when what was called the "People's Budget" was introduced, which stopped the building of these houses. There was the campaign in favour of the taxation of land values, which frightened off what we call the speculative builder, and ever since then we have been looking forward to the time when we should be able to lure back the private builder into supplying 442 the houses that he supplied in the past. I believe that that is now being done. He has no longer any fear of those who talked about land taxes in 1909 and he is going to get the chance to build for the people houses which will be approved by the Department and which can be let at rents that many people can afford.
We hear a great deal about the high rents of many slum houses, and in many cases those houses are so dark that artificial light is necessary all day, and the gas bill may amount to 2s. or 3s. a week. If those people can get new houses where they can have sufficient light, they will be spared that expense. Today we find in those houses people who are able and willing to pay a higher rent. Let us give them a chance by getting private enterprise to see if they can put up the houses. I have always realised that Members on this side were by far the most progressive in the House, and today I realise it again. Some hon. Members seem to be so frightened, so cautious, that they do not like to give this chance. We know that the helping of private enterprise is an experiment, but I would point out to hon. Members that that is an advantage; we want something new. We are going to direct local authorities to bend all their energies to the clearing of our slums, but, at the same time, we are going to help all those people who may be able still to provide houses, and there are plenty of people who are longing for the time when they will be able to pay an economic rent and, from a private landlord, rent a private house.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Mr. JAMES REID
I had intended to preface my remarks by an examination of the problem as it stands to-day, but the problem has been so clearly stated by the Under-Secretary, and by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) that not a word more is necessary. I accept the view of the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness that the minimum requirement of houses in Scotland to-day is round about 16,000 per annum. Where are those houses to come from? There are three possible sources, private enterprise, State-aided house building under the scheme of the present Bill, and State-aided house building under the 1930 Slum Clearance Act. I venture to take a slightly less rosy view of the prospects of 443 private enterprise than was taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh), and has been taken by some other speakers, for this reason. Up to date we have had various State-aided schemes of private enterprise, and I find that during recent years the largest number of houses which has been produced, even with aid from the State, is under 4,000 in any one year, and it does not seem that there is going to be such an enormous recrudescence of private enterprise building as will give any great assistance in filling the gap. The reason is almost entirely concerned with our Scottish system of rating, and I should like to say a few words about the matter without trespassing beyond the limits of debate.
In our system you have to include with the rent, owner's rates, and you have to pay over and above that, tenant's rates. In most areas today the rates, owner's plus tenant's, which are taken by the local authority amount to at least three-quarters of, and in some cases to more than, the total sum which goes to the landlord. For example, take a rate like that of Glasgow— which is very common over Scotland—of 5s. to the owner's rates, and 7s. to the tenant's rates. In round figures, it means that if the landlord gets 15s., 5s. goes as owner's rates and Vs. as tenant's rates, and that therefore the local authority receives 12s. which is very nearly as much as the landlord receives. If you take the landlord's net return after paying maintenance charges, repairs, etc., the result is that the local authority takes more out of the house than the landlord.
Compare that with the position in England. We were told by the Minister of Health that three-roomed houses could be built by private enterprise in England to be let at 8s. 2d. per week, and that in certain areas at least the rent, including rates, would not exceed 10s. 2d. That, no doubt, is optimistic. Look at the corresponding figure given to us today for Scotland. The rent which is to be charged upon houses built by private enterprise in Scotland is to be a minimum of 11s. 6d. as compared with 8s. 2d. in England. It is true that the total rates in England may slightly exceed the tenant's rates in Scotland, but the difference is immaterial. The result is that for a corresponding house in Scot- 444 land the tenant will have to pay at least three shillings a week more than is paid in England, when you take his payments of rent and rates combined. Of course, at the end of the day, under those schemes, however you readjust the burden of the rates, the whole has to come out of the tenant's pocket, because the landlord, if he is to build houses, must obtain a reasonable return for himself in order to make both ends meet. That is to say, Scottish rents, owing to our system of rating, must be at least 20 per cent. greater than the burden upon the English tenant in respect of a corresponding house. The Scottish tenant is, on the whole no more able, and possibly less able, to pay a large rent than the English tenant. Therefore from what is the extra three shillings a week to be made up? I fear that the result will be that private enterprise will not provide in Scotland for a certain class of intermediate wage-earners for which it can provide in England. I hope that we may find a considerable output of houses under private enterprise, but it will be unwise to rely upon any considerable output, at least during the next two or three years. It appears to me that the greater part of those 16,000 houses will have to be provided either under the present Bill or under the 1930 Act.
The present Bill— and I do not quarrel with it— only contemplates, according to the Financial Memorandum, the provision of 4,000 houses per annum. I agree that that is not a maximum. It is competent for the Scottish Office to authorise more than 4,000 houses per annum. They are not tied by the Financial Memorandum, but, nevertheless, I take it that that figure would not have been inserted in the Financial Memorandum if it had not been a fair estimate by those who advised the Scottish Office of the possibilities under the Act. Accordingly, it leaves something more than 10,000 houses which will have to be provided under the 1930 Act. Before I pass from that subject I wish to ask a question which puzzles me. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland stated in his opening remarks that under the subsidy under the Bill rents would be expected to be brought down to 6s. a week, and would not be allowed to exceed 6s. 6d. On the other hand, the rent of a corresponding house built by private enterprise is expected to be 445 11s. 6d. How are you to account for the difference of 5s.? If you take even 6s. 6d., the maximum which is to be permitted under the Bill, it will amount to £17 a year as near as may be, and if you take l1s. 6d. as the return to private enterprise, it will be £30 a year, leaving a difference of £13. The subsidy is only £3. The total which the local authority can or will provide is £4 10s., and the Under-Secretary of State told us that it might in certain cases be under £4. That only accounts for £7 of the £13. It puzzles me to see how it is possible to build under the Bill a house to be let at 5s. a week cheaper than can be done under private enterprise. I and many other hon. Members will be glad if the matter can be cleared up in the reply which will be given from the Front Bench later this evening.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I do not want to anticipate the reply, but, having looked up my figures again, I want to say that for the general purpose of this Debate all subsequent speakers have taken the Glasgow figure with regard to private enterprise which is necessarily a high one on account of the high rates. The figures with regard to the £3 subsidy were averages I wanted the House to have before it quite clearly, in view of the present Glasgow rates and building costs and so on, and the probable maximum cost of a building society house.
§ Mr. REID
I am obliged to my hon. Friend, but, on the other hand, I was careful to take into comparison the maximum rate under the Bill. I take it that the Scottish Office are not going to authorise a rent of more than 6s. 6d. even in Glasgow, and Glasgow is by no means the most highly rated place in Scotland, although it is high enough in all conscience. Accordingly, there is a difference of 5s. a week—the difference between 6s. 6d. and 11s. 6d. —to be accounted for in Glasgow merely by reason of this small subsidy. The £3 subsidy is on the small side, but I would not quarrel with it on this condition and on this condition only, that there is to be a real drive in the direction of the provision of more houses under the 1930 Act.
§ Mr. REID
I would acquiesce in a programmed of 4,000 houses under the Bill. Otherwise, I would not. Let us look at the slum clearance programme and see if we can reach 10,000 or 12,000 houses per annum under that Act. I notice from an answer given in the House in December last that from the passing of the Act up to the 30th of November—that is a period of two years at least—the total number of houses completed did not reach 4,000 houses. It was 3,950. The date of the reply was the 22nd December if the hon. Member desires to confirm it. It is true that there were being constructed at that time rather fewer than 7,000 houses. Today we are told that 7,700 houses are being constructed. But can we be satisfied— and I believe the House will be interested to hear whether the Secretary of State for Scotland is satisfied—that there will be a programmed of more than 10,000 houses in each of the next two or three years under the Slum Clearance Act. If he can assure us of that, I think that the House will be satisfied with the provisions of the present Bill, but unless we have that assurance, I fear that in certain quarters there may be—as I personally shall have—a certain amount of apprehension. I recognise that Scotland has been treated reasonably, and even generously, in being given a subsidy of £3 while none has been given in England. But, after all, these matters cannot be decided by a mere comparison between Scotland and England but must be decided upon the merits of each country. I think that £3 is the minimum amount with which Scotland can possibly proceed.
§ Mr. SKELTON
As my hon. Friend has asked a specific question as to whether we could hope for 10,000 slum clearance houses in a year, may I recall to him and to the House the figures of slum clearance houses approved and under construction at the beginning of this year? The figure, without any of the extra pressure and drive which he recognises and which we hope to apply if necessary, is just over 10,000.
§ Mr. SKELTON
It is all under the Slum Clearance Act with the addition of some survivals of the fifty-fifty schemes of 1923. It represents slum clearance, and therefore the need for his argument or mine is not of any importance. I am told now what I had forgotten, namely, that that figure comprises all houses under the 1930 Act with the exception of 700.
§ Mr. REID
If we could be clear that the figure means—we know that houses approved do not always go on straight away—that at present the output is at the rate of 10,000 per annum, and that the number will tend to increase, it would remove one's difficulty, but I confess to having a certain amount of doubt as to whether, under present arrangements, it is easy to increase that number. In order to build new houses all you need do is to spend more money and buy some more land and engage some more tradesmen—and there are sufficient unemployed—who are accustomed to that kind of work in order to enable houses to be increased considerably. But it is not so easy when you come to replacement houses, and for this reason. It is not a question of finance. The present grant under the 1930 Act is, in the opinion of all those with whom I have had the privilege of discussing the matter, ample; but the difficulty is the displacement of the people in the present slum houses. I venture to think that that matter has not received quite the consideration it deserves. We have been told from the other side of the House that anything except a brand-new three-roomed house is a slum. Hon. Members opposite must realise, just as we do, that there are very numerous people in the slums at present who can neither afford, nor do they desire, a brand-new three-roomed house. You may bring the rent down to the neighbourhood of £15 a year, but in many cases they cannot pay that. Further than this, they have very little furniture in a one or two-roomed house at present, and they cannot afford to buy more to furnish a three-roomed house. The result is that these people have to be driven into a three-roomed house and sometimes will not go; if they do go, you have all sorts of trouble with lodgers and with sub-letting, and the position is quite unsatisfactory.
I should very much like to see one or other of two things done. The first is 448 the provision of more two-roomed houses under the slum clearance scheme. I believe that there are numerous married couples, elderly people, and people with one or two very young children, who are very well suited by a two-roomed house, who do not in the least need a three-roomed house and do not want it. That is one aspect. The other plan, which is perhaps a better one, is to facilitate the transfer of the people from the present slums into—if you like—old-fashioned but nevertheless perfectly habitable houses which are getting near to the end of their useful life but have still 10 or 15 years to go before they are uninhabitable; to take the people who would like or can afford a proper house cut of those houses and put them in the new ones. I agree that that is a difficult thing to do, because naturally the private landlord does not want to exchange a good tenant for one who is, financially at least, less satisfactory. I should, however, have thought that if the Government devoted their attention to facilitating that double transfer, it would, in many areas at least, enable local authorities, whose present delay is not caused in any degree by lethargy or anything of that kind, to proceed much more quickly with the slum clearance schemes which they desire to undertake and complete at the earliest possible moment.
A few words have been said about the means test, and we have been told that the object of this legislation which we are now considering is to draw a distinction between the lower-paid wage-earner and the higher-paid wage-earner. If, however, this means test idea is to be really fruitful, it must be applied all round. You must start at the top with the Addison houses, and you must go down through the various classes until you come to the lowest-rental slum clearance house—which will, incidentally, have the same rent as the houses under the present scheme, but will impose a much greater cost on the local authority. That is another thing that puzzles me: how we are going to get the, rent under this Bill down to the typical slum clearance rent without nearly as much Government assistance? It does appear to me that you must not take your housing problem in compartments. The local authority ought to be able to deal with the whole of its houses as one unit, and not be limited to dealing with certain 449 houses as slum clearance houses and others as ordinary houses. If you are going to have a differentiation of rent, it should not depend upon where the tenant came from; it should depend on the tenant's means. It is quite wrong, because a tenant who may be reasonably well-off has chosen to live in a pig-sty and spend his money otherwise, that he should now get the benefit of a cheap house, whereas another man who has no greater income but has chosen to spend a larger portion of it on a good house in the past should have more difficulty in getting a good house now and have to pay more when he gets it.
If this drive for increased building and increased slum clearance is to be really effective, the whole of this question of rents must be reconsidered and built up anew. I should very much like to see provisions whereby a local authority is entitled to use any house that comes into its hands, no matter what scheme it was built under, and to take the first tenant that comes, consider his means, and fix the rent for him. That seems to me to be the only alternative to having a fixed scale of rents for all houses of the same class; but I think it introduces great unfairness and a great deal of ill-feeling when we find that a certain house is let to one man for £23—let us say—because he came from a decent house, and the next door house, the slum clearance house, is let for £16 to another man, although he is getting an exactly similar house.
I trust that I have not trespassed too long upon the time of the House, but if we are to have a permanent solution of this problem—it is not only a temporary problem, because every year 6,000 or 7,000 more houses are condemned and have to be replaced by 6,000 or 7,000 new houses—we must have a complete recasting of the present system of fixing rents. We must fix, for a person who can afford it, an economic rent; to a person who is not altogether a low wage-earner but still has a decent wage, we must give a certain amount of assistance, and to the lower wage-earner who is incapable of earning a good wage because of age, illness or some other reason we must give still more assistance. Taken as a whole, the financial assistance which is now being given by the Government under the various Acts at present in 450 operation, together with this Bill, is ample, but it should not be used in watertight compartments, as at present, but as part of one scheme—not as part of two or three schemes. That may be rather remote from the subject of the present Bill, but I welcome the present Bill as an instalment, if only a small one. I venture, however, to think that the Government must not let the matter stand on the present Bill, but that we should have next year—because one cannot expect it sooner—a more comprehensive system of reform under which all these Acts shall be gathered together and codified, and a single system of fixing rents and selecting tenants shall be introduced.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I am rather sorry that at the beginning of this Debate I did not happen to be in the House during the whole period that the Under-Secretary of State was making his statement. I did, however, hear a considerable portion of that speech, and I must say that to any person who is keen or interested in housing it was rather a disappointing one. I want to say, also, that if that statement had been made two or three months earlier the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) would probably have supported this Bill instead of dissenting from it, as he is doing at the moment. I am rather amused at the attitude that is taken up by the people who leave the camp and, after they get outside it, begin to throw stones at the people whom they have left and disclaim all responsibility for the policy that is being initiated by their late colleagues. The right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness is usually a fairly humble, although a very able man, and I should have expected on this occasion that he would have taken rather a back seat in the discussion on this Housing Bill, which, if we are to believe him, was formulated and put together in the later days of last autumn, when he was a Member of the Government. That is. what the right hon. and gallant Member states. He pleaded for the scrapping of the Measure. He said it was formulated in the later days of last autumn, and I take it he was a Member of the Government at that time. If it is true that he was a Member of the Government at that time, did he enter his dissent, like 451 his colleagues, against carrying this Measure in this House?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am sorry if I used a misleading expression. I meant all the time when these economy reports were being presented. At any rate, this is the point which I want to make clear, although I may have used a wrong expression, I had nothing whatever to do with the drafting of this Measure.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I wanted only to draw the attention of the hon. Member to that matter, because I think he is in a rather awkward position. Frequently, in the reviewing of public assistance cases, I meet people who are separated from their husbands or from their wives, and there is rather a difficulty in settling their cases. But I would also say that his case is rather a difficult one. I do not know if he is supporting the Government or condemning the Government; he certainly has not been divorced from it; is he separated from it? He is certainly being paid no alimony. I extend to him the offer which the separated member very often extends: "Here is a home, I am prepared to keep him; I am not prepared to pay for it, but here is a home in which I am prepared to keep him in comfort." I say to the hon. Member: "Here is a home; it is true that it is in the same single apartment, but at least it causes a complete cleavage between himself and those whom he is condemning and at whom he is at present throwing stones." He is in rather a badly compromising position to be associated with them and to be living with them on the same side of the House while he is condemning them. After all, he himself contributed to this position. What is the use of seeking the return of a strong National Government bent on economy and then, when that Government has been returned, dissenting from it, not on its measures of economy but on some little fiscal policy that does not matter a rap to the ordinary working man in the street? You differentiate in that, and if it is true that the position is different in regard to this Housing Bill to-day, then the man in the street will expect, if the economic position is more stable and more secure, that the right hon. and gallant Member will support the restoration of the cuts to the unem- 452 ployed and the abolition of all the other means tests and other Measures carried in this House during the period of economy. That policy is not to be carried out and adhered to by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. His statement of to-day is meaningless in its entirety if he dissents from the policy of economy carried out by the Government.
I disagree entirely with the reduction in the subsidy, but if I were a Member of the National Government I could point to the drastic reduction in the cost of houses now building and probably urge that, during a period of national capitalistic economy, it was essential to reduce the housing subsidy if it were essential to reduce the income of the unemployed man who is working on a basis of sheer starvation. Therefore, I cannot understand the position adopted by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I am bound to say that this is one more evidence to me of sheer Liberal humbug: of pioneering a policy of economy in office and when out of office disclaiming responsibility for the policy.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
The hon. Member not only fails to understand my position, but fails to understand the position of the Government. As I understand the Government's case, this is not an economy Bill but a Bill for increased housing, and it is from that standpoint that I spoke, and not from the standpoint of economy.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
Yes; this Housing Bill is similar to the policy that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman supported, saying, to my mind in a rather stupid way: "We will give you less money in order that you may be able to build more houses"; just as he said to the unemployed: "We will give you less income so that you may be able to set the wheels of industry going by buying more goods." That is similar to the policy the right hon. and gallant Gentleman adopted when in office.
Regarding the Bill, I think the hon. Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) put the matter in its proper light. She said that the question is divided into two parts, one relating to the reduced subsidy and the other that of private enterprise being given a chance to build houses.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I said that it was divided into two parts, the first being slum clearance and the reduced subsidy on the houses for the lower paid workers, and the second the introduction of private enterprise.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I may have put it wrongly. I do not want to be unfair. The two points in the Bill are the reduced subsidy and the attempt to give private enterprise an opportunity once more of returning to the building of houses. One thing is apparent to me. During the period when there is going to be a loss on house building the taxpayers have the privilege of bearing the loss, but when there is to be a profit the private enterprise man is to be taken back from his seclusion of 10 or 15 years and the Government are to say to him: "Now, my boy, there is going to be profit in the game. Come in and share the swag. The municipality has no right to take advantage of that position, therefore, you will be restored to your former position."
People talk about the problem in housing. There is no problem in housing. There is simply the question of how many houses are required to meet wastage, to deal with overcrowding and to cover the increase in the population. Add them together, take your statistics for the whole country, and decide how many houses are required annually. There is idle land, idle hands and idle money, and what you have to do is to get on with the job of house building. I have sympathy with the position of the dictator, although I am against the dictator because of a belief in something that is called democratic government, although I always fail to see where democracy comes in. The dictator gets on with the job. I would say: "There is the money, there is the land, and there is the labour. There is the number of houses that is required annually." I would then hand over the job to the man under the gallery and say: "It is your job to see that 20,000, 30,000 or 50,000 houses are provided annually." I would take the agitation about housing outside the range of politics. That is not being done. Almost every month we. have a discussion on housing, and we give our views from the angle of whatever interests are involved and according to our prejudices, for or against. We put our points of view in relation to housing.
454 A great deal has been said with regard to slum clearance and slum housing. With the best intention in the world there are many people who are considerably worse from the economic standpoint than some of the men in the slums. You are going to displace the people in the slums, and you have to rehouse them. Take the families who are overcrowded and who are living three, four or five persons in one single apartment and are incapable of paying the ordinary rent. In such a case the man goes to the municipality and says: "I want a house." He is asked the size of his family, and he says: "Five." He is an unemployed man. He is offered an intermediate house at 11s. or 12s. 6d. a week rent, according to the size of the family. Such a man cannot face the position. It may be that another man with £3 a week income and two of a family, from a slum, is being housed in an 8s. house. I would like to see the position established where we could deal with the position on the basis of income. The Under-Secretary said that there were from 5,000 to 10,000 people living in houses although their position did not justify subsidised houses being allocated to them.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
Occupied by persons whose income would not justify the municipality in giving them subsidised houses.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
Having family means. I know of one family in a subsidised house who have an income of £24 a week. I am not pleading for people of that description. I would hand them over to the speculative builder and let them build or purchase their house as best they could. If you are going to apply the means test as to who is not going into subsidised houses because of too high an income, what about applying the means test at the bottom of the social ladder and giving to people who live in overcrowded conditions the subsidised houses to which they are entitled, and not leave them to fail in getting a house of any shape or form? Suppose a man is living under overcrowded conditions and he has four or five children? Suppose he is living in one room, which is a fairly common experience in the Glasgow area. That man is deprived of the right 455 to get a sum-clearance house. At the other end of the social scale you have applied your means test, and you ought to see that that man is given a subsidised house at the earliest possible opportunity. That is not being done.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Let me make that clear. Over and above the slum clearance which is to be done under the 1930 Act, we intend the £3 subsidy to be applied to houses with a rental of not more than 6s., the kind of person to go into the houses being the low-paid wage-earners from overcrowded districts.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
An Amendment might be accepted in relation to that. I disagree entirely with the idea of fixing the income basis as low as 40s. The principle, however, is right. In regard to getting people into subsidised houses of a slum clearance nature, I wish the Under-Secretary could give us some figures showing us in the Glasgow area how many people are like the German prisoners of war from 1914 to 1918; having passed through the slum clearance houses, through the courts, back into rooms and back into slums because of their inability to pay the rents demanded. People come and say, time and again, "I am paying 4s. or 5s. a week. I am offered a slum-clearance house for 9s. or 10s. a week, and I cannot face it. Here is a family prepared to go into that house and prepared to exchange with us and give us the smaller house." I have had experience of single-apartment houses. I was brought up in one. I was not brought up under abject conditions of poverty or degrading conditions, but I was brought up in a single-apartment house. If I had two or three children and had to choose between a decent single-apartment house, or two-apartment house, and a decent meal or a three or four-apartment house with semi-starvation, I should prefer the smaller house with something in my inside to the better type house. The working classes want 456 houses. I say what has been said over and over again, that we are getting the right type of house but the wrong type of rent. Houses should be built. There is plenty of idle labour. The building trade never had such an army of unemployed as at the present moment.
Take the question of the difference between £3 and £9—you are not losing that difference. If you put an unemployed man who is drawing his money week by week, up to £2 for his family, into employment and he earns say £2 10s. or more per week, you are getting a return from him in a thousand ways. It is a narrow, selfish, conservative policy to say that the loss in actual money is the difference between £9 and £3. I was at the High Court in Glasgow some time ago and at a secret sitting of that Court the savagery of the failure to provide decent accommodation for the population was impressed upon me very forcibly. A man was charged with a heinous offence. It was proved that his wife, his stepdaughter and his two sons, were sleeping in a single apartment in one bed, and the stepdaughter had a child by her stepfather. I am not going to say that he was the only person to blame. We can have the utmost sympathy or contempt for the individual, but the State is to a large extent responsible for conditions which allow immorality of that nature to take place, and if I had my way not only would the man be in the dock but people like the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and the right hon. Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins), who are responsible for the housing conditions of the large masses of the people. The State is not free from responsibility.
The hon. Member said that nearly 10,000 slum houses are to be provided, and he threw out his chest in the good old English fashion, although he is a Scotsman, and took pride on the fact that we are going to build nearly 10,000 slum houses. They will not be all constructed this year. Many of them were started last year and are not yet finished, and, therefore, the figure may be 5,000, or to be liberal 6,500 houses out of the 10,000. That is not dealing with the situation. The right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness, who has some knowledge, I admit, of housing requirements, said that 5,000 houses per year were required, or 50,000 in ten years, to meet the wastage, and he suggested that 6,500 was the 457 normal increase. The arrears are 131,000 houses, according to the report of the Royal Commission, and if you add to that figure the amount required to meet the normal increase, 215,000 houses will be required in 13 years. At the present rate 116,000 will be built and we have therefore a deficit of 99,500 houses in 13 years. And we are told that the Government are getting on with the job! They are not. Take the year 1921. In Glasgow alone 12.78 per cent. of the population were living in single-apartment houses; in 1931, ten years later, the figure is 14.8 per cent. In 1921 49.75 per cent. of the population were living in two-apartment houses, but in 1931 there was a decrease of about 6 per cent.—the figure is 43.7 per cent. In 1921 20.04 of the population of Glasgow were living in three-apartment houses, now the figure is 23.7. Is that getting on with the job? In Scotland alone there are nearly 125,000 single-apartment houses and 397,000 two-apartment houses, while 2,000,000 are living in one or two apartment houses; and we are told that to provide 10,000 slum clearance houses is seriously tackling the job. Glasgow has 6,000 families, of six to 12 people living in one apartment; and 12,000 families of four or five persons living in single-apartment houses. The medical officer of health for Glasgow said:The 67 per cent. who live in one-apartment houses are living in very overcrowded conditions.We are not getting on with the job. Housing, apart from any other things upon which the Government have economised, is a business proposition. It shows good results in increased health, decreased local rates, and an increase in the child life of the country. The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stevenson) represents an area with a large infantile mortality. 160 children out of every 1,000 die before they reach the age of 12 months. In the area represented by, the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) 34 per 1,000 die before reaching the age of one year. Have not the working-class children a good right to a decent life? It should be the duty of every individual and the State to co-operate to drive this horrible scourge out of our midst and create a new Britain with decent housing conditions. After all, housing conditions are the result of the poverty of the people. The man who is not in a condition of poverty can select 458 his area and his house, but the man who is poor is compelled to accept what is offered by the authorities.
There are house factors in Glasgow who will not take an unemployed man as a tenant. I have gone to some of them. After they have said that they would not accept the man because he was unemployed, living in a room in overcrowded conditions, with tubercular children, I have gone to a house factor and said, "Will you take them into this house; here is a vacancy?" And they say, "No, we cannot take him. He is an unemployed man and he will not be many months in the house. He cannot pay a rent of 8s. or 9s. a week because the unemployment payment is too small to permit his living in decency and paying such a rent, and we would have to evict him." They refuse to give him a house in Christian Britain. That is private enterprise, which looks for security for the rents. But the individuals have not the rent to pay. The municipalities are beginning to do the same thing. The total of rent arrears is piling up in the case of the people who are unemployed. The municipalities are having to evict these people who under certain Acts have been placed in slum clearance houses.
The law prescribes a certain size of house, quite rightly, but the individual cannot keep the family going in sustenance and pay for rent, electric light, extra coal, gas and all the ordinary modern requirements, or purchase a few sticks of furniture on the instalment plan, and the consequence is that in six months he is in the court. His rent is 8s. or 9s. a week. The sheriff says, "I will give you a chance. You will pay 12s. a week, and so help to wipe out the arrears." The position becomes intolerable after a few months. The man has to go back to the court and an eviction order is issued. Then he is crushed into rooms. You removed him from a slum, which was a home of his own, and that was quite right, but you went round the vicious circle. You brought him from the slum to a slum clearance house with a high rent, and eventually he goes back to a slum or an overcrowded room, and his last condition is worse than his first. That is what you are doing.
Sometimes I feel I would rather not speak in this House, because it is all a wasted effort. Members on all sides may contribute their ideas, but a strong 459 Government, whether it be a combination of Tory and Liberal and National Labour, or a Labour Government kept in office by the party of the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), on condition that it does things which are degrading and wrong to the principles that Labour professes—they all wink and refuse to accept the suggestions which are contributed by Members for a better solution of the problems that surround us. You present your Bill. You have two days' talking in the House and Ministers walk in and out, and the result at the end of the discussion is that the Bill goes through; the machine is just as remorseless as any other part of the system. The machine compels adhesion to the Bill. The Government cracks a whip, and uses threats if necessary. There is no place in this House, under the party machine, for the man with an independent mind who is prepared to contribute his best to the solutions of the problems of the day, because the machine will not tolerate him. We have a dictatorship in this House under party principles and policy. The National Government has its machinery of dictatorship. In effect it says: "There is the Bill. The bankers have told us what we have to do. The Cabinet has told the Minister what he has to do. The Minister tells the Under-Secretary; the Under-Secretary tells the Members, and the Members apologise to their constituents for not being able to be men and for becoming human robots in the House."
The housing problem still awaits solution. The Government are only tampering with the problem and not attempting to solve it. Slumdom will go on and on and on, and in the end the slum tenant, the overcrowded tenant and the tenant to whom you have applied all your economies, will rise in revolt and will brush 'aside your Government, brush aside your system, brush aside your whole capitalist machine, and he will free himself from the entanglements of your horribly inadequate system.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. GUY
I think the House must be greatly indebted to the Under-Secretary for his most comprehensive speech, partly because he has stimulated a most interesting Debate, but also because he 460 clearly showed, as he did last summer when speaking on the Scottish Estimates, that he has a full grasp of this housing subject, and that he is able to envisage the problem in a true perspective. The Under-Secretary placed his finger on the main problem in this matter when he referred to slum clearance. He made it clear that the question of slum clearance and of overcrowding must be dealt with first, and that the rest of the housing problem turns upon the solution of that part of the problem.
We have heard to-day many scathing criticisms from hon. Members opposite, from the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), and the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), as to how little has been done to help the working classes to get suitable accommodation; but I think it is only right to point out that a great deal has been done since the War. I do not wish in any way to minimise the gravity of the problem as it remains. A tremendous lot still remains to be done. But it is only fair that we should pay a tribute to the efforts made, not by one Government and not by one local authority alone, but by all concerned, since the end of the War. In Edinburgh we have a very serious housing question. In my own constituency of Central Edinburgh the slum problem is as serious as it is anywhere in Scotland. We have heard a lot about the serious state of affairs in the West, but I could take some of my hon. Friends opposite to certain parts of Old Edinburgh where the housing conditions are a scandal and disgrace to civilisation. The Edinburgh Town Council has done a tremendous lot to clear up the worst part of the Old Town. From 1919 to 1932 they built no fewer than 7,048 houses, and of these 1,798 were built to accommodate people who had been dispossessed under slum clearance schemes.
In the Old Town the local authority has in operation now what I believe to be the largest improvement scheme in the whole country. That is the No. 2 St. Leonards Scheme. It includes 1,639 houses and was confirmed by the Department of Health in January, 1931. The cost is estimated at £850,000, which represents an annual rate burden of about 1d. in the £. I do not wish to weary the House with statistics, but I give those figures for the express purpose 461 of showing the size of that one important scheme. My criticism of that scheme is that it is too large, and although it was confirmed in January, 1931, up to May, 1932, only 160 houses have been cleared. A start has only been made with that scheme, and it will be a considerable time before it can be completed. I suggest to the Under-Secretary that he ought to encourage the local authorities of Edinburgh and elsewhere, instead of trying to tackle schemes which are too large, to concentrate upon the working of the 1930 Act which has not yet had a proper chance. The local authorities ought to select the worst houses and deal with them without bothering too much about acquiring shops and other property which may be in quite good condition. They ought to concentrate on the worst houses and have them demolished, and by proceeding in that way they would achieve more valuable results at a smaller cost.
Another point is the question of reconditioning. I have consulted a number of experts on this point and, as is so often the case, the experts are not unanimous. But I think that this is a question which might be gone into more fully. I think a good deal could be done in the reconditioning of existing slum property which has not yet deteriorated to the point of requiring demolition. There are houses, for instance, where the outside walls and roofs are sound, but which require certain conveniences such as a better water-supply or require new floors and windows and so forth. At a comparatively small cost such property could be put into a habitable condition. It may be that local authorities would require additional powers in order to carry out such schemes as that to any large extent, but if the existing powers are not sufficient then I think they should be given additional powers. It is possible that local authorities would require additional powers to purchase tenements for reconditioning. I could not follow the argument of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs when he objected to what he described as the underlying idea of this Measure, namely, that it gives too much power to the local authorities. As regards slum clearance, the local authorities have to carry out the work; the main responsibility is on their shoulders, and they ought to be given the fullest 462 possible powers and the way ought to be made easy for them to complete the work as quickly as possible.
Although slum clearance is the main point in the problem it is, as the Under-Secretary brought out so clearly, linked up with the other parts of the Government's comprehensive scheme. There is also the question of providing new houses. It is no good demolishing slum property if you cannot provide houses at about the same time, or, better still, in advance of requirements for those who are dispossessed from the slum property. Here the local authorities with the limited subsidy, only made possible by cheaper money and lower building costs, are asked to go on with the building of houses to be let at reasonable rentals to the lower wage earners. I was pleased to hear the Under-Secretary say that the rent, apart from rates was to be fixed at 6s. or at the outside 6s. 6d. per week. By my reckoning, when rates are added that figure would represent an all-in rental of about 9s. 6d. or 9s. 9d. a week in Edinburgh and that would be about the same as the rent paid by the tenants of corporation houses of about the same type.
The other contribution to the problem is the provision of houses by private enterprise and here I must confess I am not too optimistic about the number of houses which private enterprise may build and let at a reasonable rental within the next year or two. I hope that private enterprise will come forward and that with the help of the building societies a considerable number of houses will be built in Edinburgh and throughout Scotland but I see certain difficulties in the way. There is one difficulty in particular of which I think the Government are fully aware. The Under-Secretary gave us certain figures which showed that whereas the rents of the local authority houses are to be within the reach of the lower wage earner, the rents of the houses which, it is anticipated, private enterprise will build, will be considerably higher. There is a distinct gap between 6s. 6d. a week and 12s. a week or thereabouts and I do not see why the gap should be so large when the subsidy given to the local authorities is only £3. Perhaps the Secretary of State in his reply will clear up that point.
463 I have tried to get estimates as to what would be the economic rent—with building costs as they are and with cheap money—of houses built by. private enterprise. I assume that the building cost of a two-room and kitchen house would be about £300 which is a more conservative estimate than the £250 mentioned by the Under-Secretary. When we count in the interest on the money which is to be advanced by the building societies, and make provision for sinking fund for repayment over a period of years of the money advanced, and when we add on, not necessarily a sum for the purchase of land but an annual sum say of £l per house in respect of feud duty—because I think in most cases the land would be feud—and another sum in respect of repairs, management and insurance, then I think on the £300 building cost basis, the economic rent would be in the neighbourhood of £24 per annum or 9s. per week. That would be the rent of such a house, quite apart from rates.
I do not wish to go over the ground, which has been traversed by the hon. and learned Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stevenson) and the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. J. Reid), on the effect of the rating system in Scotland, but if the economic rent is £24, the all-in rental by the operation of both owners' and occupiers' rates, with rates as they are in Edinburgh—3s. in the £ owners' rates and 5s. occupiers' rates—would be about £34 per annum, or about 13s. a week. That estimate which I have worked out corresponds very closely to the estimate given by the Under-Secretary of State, and in my opinion that rental is too high for the lower or medium wage-earner. It is very difficult —it is rather dangerous—to try to assess what is a reasonable proportion of any worker's income to pay in rent, but I think most hon. Members will agree that any more than one-fifth of his wages is too high. A fifth is high enough, but if the Government tried to fix the all-in rental at not more than a fifth, they would be laying down a very valuable precedent for the future. They might be able to improve on that as time went on.
If you take a rental of 13s. a week, and you let that house to people who can afford it, you will exclude from that type of house all wage-earners with a wage of 464 less than £3 5s. a week. I do not think that that would be carrying out one of the aims of this Bill, namely, that of providing additional houses for the working classes, but this particular difficulty can be got over, in my opinion, in either of two ways. The first way, which would take some time and involve certain difficulties, would be by reforming our rating system, which I think has got to come sooner or later. The present system is illogical and unfair, but it would take some time before you got it reformed. It may be that there would have to be some kind of inquiry, departmental or otherwise, but if you could get the rating system reformed, so that there was only one set of rates and a definite distinction drawn between rent and rates, and so that the rent was fixed definitely before the rates were imposed, and no rates paid on rates, the result would be that the all-in rental paid by the tenant would be less than it is to-day.
Some critics say that if you reformed the rating system in that way, the inevitable result would be to put up the rate per £, so that the local authorities should get in the same amount of money, but I do not accept that criticism. It would be very difficult for a local authority to put up the rate per £ from 8s. to 14s. or 15s., and the indirect result would be a drive towards economy by the local authorities, supported by all the working classes and all the tenants, and a drive for the provision of more houses, more assessable subjects, to make up the leeway in the local authorities' income.
Another possible solution of this difficulty of getting a reasonable all-in rent for the occupiers of these new houses is that the Department of Health, as they propose to assess local authority houses, should also lay down a maximum assessed rental for private enterprise houses. In the case of the houses which I have estimated would have an economic rent of £24 per annum, I would suggest that the Department of Health should assess them at £16 per annum for rating, and then, when the rates were added, it would bring out an all-in rental of £32 per annum. That figure would be within the means of the average wage-earner.
I should like to say a word on the proposed means test for the occupiers of corporation houses, because that is a 465 very valuable point. If this means test were carried out—and I do not think there can be any logical objection to it, however unpopular any means test may be to those concerned—it would eliminate a certain number of occupiers of corporation houses to-day and thereby make it easier for the present occupiers of slum property to be accommodated in existing local authority houses.
A further point is that, as you have four parties concerned in the solution of this problem—the Government initiating the scheme, the local authorities building the local authority houses and clearing out the slum property, the building societies advancing the money for the private enterprise houses, and the contractors giving their skill in building these new houses—it would be wise if there were some co-ordinating authority which could work out the scheme and ensure its success. I thought the suggestion or the hint dropped by the Under-Secretary of State, that some housing corporation should be established, was very valuable. I do not know whether the suggestion is that it should be a private corporation or a public utility corporation, but, whatever the exact kind of housing corporation, I think the idea should not be left with the building societies, but should be considered by the Government themselves. It is a good idea, which should be adopted and put into operation, so that the whole of this question of the provision of a sufficient number of houses to make up the deficiency or the gap, and to make the scheme a success, should be in the hands of some body of experts who would look after the financing of the scheme and be in touch with the building societies, the local authorities, and the Government.
Before I conclude, I should like to refer to the meeting, to which the junior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) referred, held a year ago and addressed by the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair). I do not wish to deal with the point that she raised, but rather with the other point with which he dealt at that meeting, namely, the question of the wastage of houses. He raised an unfortunate misapprehension in the minds of many people interested in housing when he said that the annual wastage of houses in 466 Scotland amounted to 10,000 and that only 10,000 houses were being built, so that therefore no advance was being made. Many people could not understand how he arrived at his figures, but in his statement to-day he made it clear that that estimate was not accurate and that considerable progress had been made since the War in making up the leeway which existed then. The leeway remains, and I think that this Measure gives a bright hope for the solution of the slum and housing problem, not within a matter of 10 or 20 years, but within the reasonable compass of about five years.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. SKELTON
The House will probably find it convenient if I answer a question which was put by my hon. Friend who has just spoken and by the hon. Member for Sterling and Falkirk (Mr. J. Reid), with regard to the difficulty they had in reconciling the cost of the £3 subsidy house and the cost of the building society house. May I give the elements that make up the difference? In the case of the £3 subsidy house the loan is partly repayable over 40 years and partly over 60 years. That means a smaller annual charge. The local authority are calculated as borrowing at 3½ per cent. The building society loan will be 90 per cent. of the cost borrowed at 4 per cent., and it will have to be repaid over 30 years. Therefore, there is a larger annual charge. Then 10 per cent. of the cost is private capital, on which a return has to be given or interest paid or dividend earned, and that is taken at 5 per cent. These factors taken together make up the apparent incongruity to which both hon. Members referred.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. TRAIN
I was greatly interested to hear the solution of the problem of housing put forward by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) and the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham). Under the scheme which the hon. Member for Shettleston suggested, we are to hand this problem over to the Board of Health and take it out of polities altogether. There is the ground, he would say, there is the money, there are the builders; go on and build the houses. It is something new for the hon. Member to express himself in that way, but if that is the only solu- 467 tion he has, I am afraid that it will not find favour in this House. I always understood that the hon. Gentleman objected to too much Departmental work in connection with any of the work that has to be done in the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Hamilton suggested that houses should be supplied as water and gas is supplied. In Glasgow the water rate is 5d. in the £. In Lanarkshire adjoining it is 3s. in the £. When we say: "There is the money and materials, go on with the work," that is how the local authorities do it. Is not that what they have been doing with regard to housing during the last 12 years? Private enterprise in housing comes in for a great deal of criticism. It is true that private enterprise has its faults, but all the complaints I hear to-day are complaints about slum clearance and the building of houses by local authorities not going on quickly enough. What has been hindering them?
During the last 12 years we have had Various Acts of Parliament beginning with the Addison scheme, then going on to the Chamberlain scheme and the Wheatley scheme. Then we have had slum clearance schemes and rural housing schemes, and the Acts of 1930 and 1931. Then people complain that we are not getting on quickly enough. Every Act that is passed gives more money and more powers to local authorities, but they are not getting on quickly enough. I suggest that this Bill will bring back private enterprise and give them another chance and a fair deal, but it is giving them no favour. No subsidy is being paid to private enterprise, but the local authority is getting its £3. I venture to suggest that the £3 to-day is as good as the £9 in 1924, because we hear that the three-apartment house, about which we are talking to-day, can be built for less than £250 down to £225. In 1924 we gave £9 for a £500 house, and in 1919–21 the same house was being built for £1,000; yet we still went on paying the same subsidy.
The local authority is tired of paying the subsidy for houses for people who can pay an economic rent. In Lanarkshire the housing rate is 1s. in the £. There are some places very much higher than Glasgow, where it is 3¾d. The local authority is getting tired of adding to the rates to provide these people with 468 houses. They are very anxious to clear slums, and I suggest that the local authorities have enough to do in alum clearance and providing for those people who have small wages and are not able to pay an economic rent. Let the local authorities confine themselves to that. The building societies have lots of money and there is a lot of cheap money available. There is land and material and idle men. Why stand in the way of allowing those men a chance of doing something for housing? This Bill is an attempt to get everybody who can do anything for housing to do something. It is said that private enterprise is responsible for the slums, but they were built, like the houses built by local authorities, under regulations. There is the Dean of Guild Court in Glasgow and building committees in the counties laying down how houses should be built. That system is as old as the hills. You get it in the Old Testament, where you read that a man when he built a house was enjoined to put a parapet round the roof so that the blood of his neighbour should not be on his own head.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Those were the days when it was a case of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We are supposed to be away from those days now. We should now love one another.
§ Mr. TRAIN
Well, let us love one another, and we will do something to build houses for the working classes and make those who can, pay an economic rent. This House drove private enterprise out of house building by the legislation of 1909, when Form IV came in. Before that happened private enterprise built three-apartment houses not far from where the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) lives —I will show them to him one day—and they were let at less than 8s. a week.
§ Mr. TRAIN
After that we had the Addison scheme and all the others. Private enterprise is offering to build houses to-day through the building societies. It is quite true, as was said by an hon. Member during the discussion on the English Bill, that building societies have never built a house. No, they have lent the money and have collected it afterwards. I saw a report the other day, 469 coming from a very reliable source, which stated that over £1,000,000,000 has been spent on property in. England and Scotland—and it is all paying rates and taxes. That has been done by private enterprise, and it is not all slum property, though admittedly it is not all good property. This is a Bill to get rid of the bad property and extend the good. Some of the property we could recondition is not slum property. I have seen room-and-kitchen houses built under the 1924 Act—not the old room-and-kitchen houses, but houses with a good big living room and a bedroom, a kitchenette and bath, with hot and cold water, and a garden. The people clamoured to get them and thanked those local authorities which built them. They are not slums. Then we have other houses built 30 or 40 years ago, before there were the present-day conveniences. If 30 or 40 years ago we had built houses with bathrooms and lavatories, what would the Clyde have been like? God knows it was bad enough before we got our sewage purification scheme put through. We ought to be able to recondition some of those houses. During the discussion on the English Bill I heard an hon. Member talking about reconditioning as putting on a pailful of whitewash and a little green paint. Nothing of the kind. We are going to have two houses and a stair landing instead of three houses, and have a bathroom, kitchenette and all modern conveniences. In the area I represent in Glasgow there are a good many houses which can be made into good solid dwellings. There are bath rooms in the houses and the people who are in occupation at present do not want to move.
I notice that the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) said this Bill had received wholesale condemnation from the Glasgow Corporation. I had a letter from Glasgow this morning which showed that they approved of it. The Parliamentary Bills Committee considered this Bill and by a majority approved it—subject to certain amendments which I hope it will be possible for us to insert. They say "recondition." There are a lot of houses in Glasgow which are not slums. They are in places where the people like to live, and if they were reconditioned they would make splendid houses—as good as and probably better than new houses. Glasgow is in 470 favour of it, and they are level-headed men there, men with great experience. There is no wholesale condemnation of the Bill. The right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness said houses were wanted all over Scotland. I am on the committee set up by the late Labour Government in connection with rural housing. We passed houses in the constituency of the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness the other day, giving about £15 a year per house instead of £9. They got nearly all they asked—but they had waited until they got the big subsidy.
§ Mr. TRAIN
Because Caithness is a rural area, and Govan is not a rural area, nor is Clydebank. Others are anxious to speak and I said I would not exceed 10 minutes. I wish the Government the best of luck with this Bill. It is a real attempt to bring in everybody concerned with housing, in order to help us to get on with the provision of houses. It should lead to a great drive in slum clearance. Let all the Acts be put into operation— the rural housing legislation and the slum clearance Measures—and let the local authorities build the houses if possible, but let private enterprise also have a fair field.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. LEONARD
I am deeply indebted to the hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. Train) for the manner in which he has put his views before us, because his emphatic statements support my opinion as to the real intent of this Bill. I think it has two objects. One is to secure economy on behalf of the Exchequer, and the other is "to give private enterprise another chance," to use his own words. Seeing the opportunities it has had over many years and how it has brought us to the condition that we in Scotland are in to-day, I am going to think more than twice before I give private enterprise another chance. I see no justification for the view that all is well with housing in Scotland. I have a pretty fair knowledge of Scotland in general, and even in the smaller towns I see great opportunities for improvement—see a situation which it will take us many years to cope with; while as to Glasgow and the other three large towns which are regarded as the 471 big industrial centres of Scotland, the conditions there are deplorable.
I would like to fill in some details of the picture of unanimity in the Glasgow Corporation which was drawn by the hon. Member for Cathcart. I also have a copy of the letter from the Glasgow Corporation. It may be true that they passed a resolution in favour of this Bill, but only by 48 votes to 41, and a scrutiny of the individuals who make up the 48 would enlighten us considerably as to why they voted in favour of it. In the case of Clause 3 there was an even smaller majority, 47 voting in favour of it and 42 against. I have here particulars of the houses unfit for human habitation in my own Division of Glasgow, the St. Rollox Division, but I want to touch upon another aspect of the matter. I have also details of conditions created in the main by private enterprise in one Division of Glasgow. The houses unfit for human habitation in that Division total no less than 1,423 houses on front lands and 87 houses built in the backyards of other tenements. The details show that in some of the closes—that is, single entries—there are 25 houses. Many of them have 16, 18 and 19 houses, and there is actually one close with 36 houses up the one opening.
That conception of the requirements of the people is held to-day by those who talk nicely about the requirements of certain old people for two-apartment houses. I do not believe that it will be the old people or the maiden ladies referred to who will ultimately reside in the type of houses they are talking about. I have four foolscap pages here of houses which have been condemned and they are interspersed with houses that are not condemned but are occupied by people who require an escape from their conditions. The constituency of St. Rollox is representative of labouring classes, artisan classes, the clerical class and that ambiguous class called the middle class. None of them in my opinion have a field of movement with regard to housing requirements in the city of Glasgow to-day, and they are all desirous of having an opportunity of movement according to the circumstances in which they find themselves. I am not prepared to believe that the two years that is going to be given to the city of Glasgow to cope 472 with that problem is sufficient time for St. Rollox, never mind Glasgow itself.
There have been certain references-made to propaganda. I do not want to go into in detail with regard to the fear engendered in certain persons, but it is high time that something was done, so that the question of land and the desire for economy on the part of the Government may be brought into contact. I find from a reply given by the town clerk of Glasgow in May of last year that since the end of the War the city has paid to landowners in Glasgow for housing purposes alone no less than £1,080,139. If there is a desire to save money the Government should pay some attention to the manner in which the city of Glasgow is bled white by the people who own land in that city and endeavour to bring the price paid to them into some relation with the rates they pay for the land they hold.
Private enterprise has made us purchase land in Glasgow owing to the congestion, and I have here a full detailed statement of the land we have been forced to purchase because of housing conditions in order to give us open spaces and playgrounds. In the St. Rollox Division we have had to pay no less than £21,000 in order to provide open spaces so as to get a little air into the lungs of the people. That avenue might be pursued by the Government in a desire for economy as against what is being done at present. Reference has also been made to the tendency to give small houses to the people of Scotland. I do not believe the people of Scotland have any desire to have worse houses than the people of England, and I do not see why they should. I find from the report of the consultative committee, which has been referred to, that they deal with this suggestion that the people do not require better houses. They say:In some quarters it has been said that houses of five rooms are too big for working-class families. Those who make such a statement appear to overlook the fact that houses of this size have been generally provided for working classes in England.Such working-class houses as can be provided in England should, I think, be provided in Scotland. It may not coincide with the views of those who make their living by building houses, but it does closely approximate to the requirements of health as laid down by the medical 473 officers. I will not go into details as regards the long view as pictured in the last report of the Health Department of Scotland. I am sorry I could not take down the details given in the statement of the Under-Secretary, and therefore I must fall back on this authority for my figures. I find that the Housing Commission, in the report for 1917, spoke of 2,000,000 people in Scotland living in one and two-roomed houses, many of them living 12 to the room. The only thing I want to say in regard to this report is that it specifically stated that in 1917 there was an immediate need for 121,400 houses. I notice the report says that the output of completed houses for the year, namely 10,654, had been disappointing, but that progress towards a more satisfactory state of affairs was hoped for. Since 1919 schemes with aid have produced 128,007 houses, and without aid 14,269, according to the report. In 12 or 13 years, therefore, we have been able to produce 142,000 houses, whereas in 1917 there was an immediate need for 121,000 houses. Moreover, the report said that the normal requirements for the growing population was 13,184.
I look upon the action of municipal authorities as a more effective course against the operation of trusts than private enterprise can ever be, because private enterprise is subject to intimidation to a much greater extent than the local authorities. In the last report of the Department I notice that their attention has been drawn to the increase in costs, and in the price of building material. The Third Annual Report of the Department of Health for Scotland says:In the latter half of the year there was a rise in the price of glazed fireclay goods resulting in requests from plumbers for increases in contract prices. The attention of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Prices of Building Materials was drawn to the matter, but at the close of the year the Department had not been informed of the result of the Committee's enquiries.The price of bricks also came under review and this matter was also still under the consideration of the Committee. These things rather seem to be more attended to by municipal authorities carrying on building operations than by private enterprise. There is a definite statement on page 5 of the report that there is still a big task in front of the local authorities before the 474 housing problem can be regarded as Hearing a solution, as shown by the estimates submitted to them under the terms of Section 22 of the Act of 1930 in regard to the houses required to meet the needs of the area. They give a detailed statement, and taking into account the question of demolition, the normal growth of population and other factors, they put the number of houses required at 79,699. Then there follows a statement giving particulars of the programmes of the authorities for the years 1931–33. That total comes only to 54,986 houses. I do not like to make charges or impute motives, but I am inclined to think that the authorities elected to the municipal chamber show a tendency to put a brake on housing in so far as they are responsible for it. I want to give one last quotation from this report. It states:It will be seen that the local authorities proposed to erect 54,986 houses in the three years 1931–1933, or an average of over 18,000 per annum. As only 10,654 houses (including 2,339 by assisted private enterprise) were completed in 1931, it is apparent that if their programmes are to be fulfilled a very special effort will have to be made in 1932 and 1933. Towards the end of the year a special communication conveying the Government's decision not to cut the housing subsidies and their desire that housing should proceed as expeditiously as possible was addressed to those local authorities.If the thought was present that the cut which might be contemplated was going to stop the authorities from acting, then the actual cut which is to take place now is likely to have the effect of stopping them from going into those matters.
With regard to the references made to private enterprise, as it has been helped in the past it has looked after its interests reasonably well. I have here some details, which have not been contradicted, issued by a member of the Glasgow Housing authority. They deal with the Western Heritable Investment Corporation. In their desire to help the City of Glasgow they indulged in various schemes and built a total of 4,232 houses. I have in detail here the subsidies paid and the loans guaranteed. I find that the firm received £2,250,000 for houses that post £1,750,000 to build. Private enterprise has been looking after itself, notwithstanding the suggestions made that many of the activities of the municipal authorities have been responsible for the present position. I suggest, quite sincerely, that municipal building machinery is the only 475 check we have. Municipal machinery and municipal requirements call for a recognition of more factors than private enterprise will look at in determining requirements for housing.
There is, for example, the question of health. A municipal authority cannot dissociate housing from health. The City of Glasgow at the present time, simply because it has not the housing conditions of Birmingham, is actually paying £100,000 a year more than Birmingham for five types of disease, because of bad housing conditions, and because they cannot allow proper treatment to be given to those illnesses in the homes of the people. Here are we endeavouring to save a matter of £47,000 a year. We are going to spend £900,000 a year to give a few thousand men two weeks' hospitality at training camps for territorials, and we are trying to save £47,000 on the provision of houses for those men to live in, year in and year out.
The question of education has also to be taken into account in the matter of housing. A local authority must pay some consideration to educational conditions. I have already put before the House facts showing the effect that the housing conditions have had on the weight and the height of children and on the results of examinations in our schools. Those things hon. Members know very well for themselves already. I have here a report from Dr. Brown, who is in charge of the maternity and child welfare work in Glasgow. He makes some specific statements on this matter. He says:We are assured that the infant born in good housing conditions has a much better chance of healthy survival than one born in a slum area.It is no use our talking about the sanctity of child life unless we are going to apply the theories that we hold, and safeguard the health of the children. Dr. Brown says further:In Glasgow we have found by experience that a population removed from a slum clearance area, often showing an infant mortality rate between 120 and 130, when rehoused in an up-to-date housing scheme shows a fall in the infant mortality rate to round about 85 per 1,000 births. The infant mortality rates in our local slum clearance rehousing schemes very definitely point in this direction.Therefore, while I know that the promises made in regard to rehousing in the slums 476 are still to be attended to, I am rather inclined to think that the new areas will re-create those slum conditions, if the normal requirements of the people are allowed to sink down into the conditions that private enterprise places before them.
My last point deals with Glasgow again. The city of Glasgow has reported in favour of the Government's proposals, but I would like to give one or two details from the report of the housing director. The housing director is not prepared to accept the assumption upon which the Bill is based. For instance, on the reasonableness of stopping the subsidy on 30th June, 1935, he says:No assistance is to be thereafter provided for houses that may be thought necessary to abate overcrowding, outwith insanitary areas, or to meet the normal growth of the population.Let me give a further expression of opinion as to the effect of the reduced subsidy. The Director of Housing says:Working on a 4 per cent. basis, which the City Chamberlain informs me he considers too low, the reduced subsidy will mean that for every house provided by the local authority under the new terms, a certain amount will require annually to be provided out of the City rates. The loss at current rentals on houses built in flats averages about £4 per house, while in the case of houses built in tenements this average is reduced to about £3 per house. In other words, if the rates are not to be burdened, the constructional costs must be reduced by an average amount of £50 for a three-apartment house, and of £40 for a four-apartment house.The Director of Housing goes on to say:The present-day costs are taking into account the current rates of wages and prices of materials, as low as can reasonably be expected, so that unless a further cut in wages or prices of materials can be obtainedwhich he thinks is not the case—there is not much hope for lower building costs.Therefore, I propose to accept the guidance given by this individual in Glasgow, in so far as the incidence of this proposal is concerned, and I have no alternative but to oppose the proposal as made.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. JAMIES0N
The hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) has drawn a picture of the conditions of housing in his constituency. I understood him to say 477 that the numbers he gave were the numbers of condemned houses. I am glad to think that this Bill is not going in any way to stop the removal of those slum houses. That is a matter which is dealt with under the Housing Act of 1930, and the whole machinery of that Act remains in force. I was glad to hear from the Under-Secretary of the progress which he hoped would be made immediately in clearing out the slums from our cities. The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) said that the housing problem was not a problem at all—that we had the land, we had the money, and we had the labour, and all that was needed was a dictator to order the houses to be built. I would like to ask the hon. Member, if he were dictator, where the money would come from. Obviously, it must come either out of the pocket of the taxpayer or out of the pocket of the ratepayer. If it comes out of the pocket of the taxpayer, it would, with the existing burden of taxation, only mean more unemployment. If it comes out of the pocket of the ratepayer, it would simply mean that those who, through the mouths of hon. Members opposite, are complaining of the amounts that they have to pay at present for their houses, would be compelled to pay more in rates.
Moreover, where is the land to be got? If it is to be got on the outskirts of the big cities, that turns what the hon. Member says is not a problem of housing into a definite problem of transport. One of the great difficulties with regard to this problem of housing is that, if people are cleared out from the centres of the cities, they have to be brought to and from their work. We have many examples in Glasgow, where, in the case of some of the new schemes, the omnibus fare from the outskirts to the centre of the city is as much as 3d. each way, a sum which a working man cannot pay; nor, going a step above the working man, can many people in offices afford to go out to their homes for their mid-day meal?
That brings me at once to the first point which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider. It has already been referred to by the hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. Train). There are many properties which, owing to various economic questions, and largely owing to the increase in rates and to rent restriction, 478 have not been kept up to that pitch at which they ought to have been maintained; but many of those properties are far from being slums. I would urge the Government to consider whether a great deal more cannot be done in improving and reconditioning existing houses in the centres of the cities. An arrangement has been made, to which effect is given in Clause 3 of the Bill, with the building societies. That arrangement, as I understand it, only deals with loans to be given by the building societies for the acquisition or building of houses. Would it not be possible for the Government to make an arrangement with the building societies to lend money for improvement and reconditioning?
The problem is not an easy one. Many of these properties are bonded, and in many cases, owing to the causes to which I have already referred, they have fallen below the amount of the bond; and, naturally, before anyone, whether a building society or anyone else, would be prepared to lend money for reconditioning them, it would be necessary to provide that the money so lent should be a prior charge to the existing bond. That would require an alteration of the law. The problem, however, is so great that I would ask the Government to consider whether something cannot be done on these lines. I would also ask the Minister to consider one or two other points and figures which I will put before him. I welcome this Bill as an attempt to deal with the problem of the lowest paid wage-earner. It is to be done by local authorities with the aid of the subsidy. But, on the question of private enterprise providing houses for workers who are just a little more highly paid, I would like to be able to take the same optimistic view as the Under-Secretary.
No doubt, in pre-war days, or before the threat of the taxation of land values was raised, stone and lime was a favourite investment in Scotland. It has ceased to be so, and the reason is not far to seek. It is that, with the enormous rise in local rates, it is impossible, or has been up to the present impossible, and I still doubt whether it is possible, for private enterprise or the builder, who really is the investor, to erect houses and let them at rents which will be at the same time economic to him and within the capacity of working men to pay. The 479 rates in Glasgow in 1914–15 were 7s. and some odd pence in the £. They have now been nearly doubled, being something like 13s. in the £, on a system of valuation which is entirely different from the English system. If the English system of rateable values were introduced in Scotland, the rates in Glasgow would be something between 21s. and 24s. in the £. Reference has already been made in the course of this Debate to the extent to which these rates enter into what people have to pay for their houses. Approximately 85 per cent. of what the tenant has to pay represents rates, either owner's rates or occupier's rates. When one is faced with that state of affairs, it becomes pretty apparent that the cost of building would require to be very low if the investor is to be able to get an economic return.
It is a little difficult, when one gets a variety of size of houses, and a variety of number of houses in a tenement, to know whether one is comparing like with like, but the figures that have been given Co me, and I think they are authoritative, are for the cheapest kind of houses likely to be erected, namely, houses with two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom, in a tenement of eight houses. The figure that I have been given for the cost of construction, including, I think, roads and sewers, is £320. To that must be added an allowance for repairs, a small allowance for insurance and management, and a small sum for feu duty. Allowing for a 5 per cent. return to the investor, and a sinking fund of 4 per cent. over a period of 60 years to repay the capital, that would allow, apart from rates, such a house to be let at an annual rent of £23 10s. When, however, you come to add the rates, which must ultimately fall on the occupier if the investor is to get a 5 per cent. return for his money, you find that the £23 10s. is increased to something over £44, and the cheapest rent at which the investor could let the house would be 17s. 1d. per week, inclusive of rates, owner's and occupier's. That, of course, is a figure which is beyond the capacity of most working men.
When I turn to the building societies' scheme, I must admit that I have a little difficulty in following the Under-Secretary with regard to the matter. As I 480 understood it, he was only going to allow the investor 5 per cent. on the 10 per cent. which he would have to provide out of his own pocket. Surely, the hon. Gentleman does not expect that an investor is to incur the liability of 90 per cent. of the whole of the building to a building society in order to obtain for himself a 5 per cent. return on the other 10 per cent. Obviously, if the investor is to borrow from the building society, he is to get some return over and above the interest which he has to pay to the building society. Accordingly, the figure of l1s. 6d., it seems to me, would have to be very considerably increased.
I turn to the question of the subsidy houses. I should be glad if I could accept the figures given with regard to this matter. No doubt the subsidy of £9 under the Act of 1924, looking at present costs, is excessive, but upon the information which has been supplied to me the subsidy of £3 will not allow the local authority to build houses to let at a rent of 6s. a week, which, I think, was said to be exclusive of rates—it means something like 8s. or just over 8s. when rates are added—without placing an additional burden upon the rates. I have had a calculation made by the Director of Housing in Glasgow who says that if 3,000 houses are erected under the Act and let at current rents it will cost the Corporation something like £10,000 a year. At present the Corporation of Glasgow have to collect from the ratepayers something over £180,000 for housing. In Edinburgh, a smaller city, the figure is some £79,000. Surely, this is not a time to put an extra burden upon the ratepayers, because if you do so, you will put up the amount which tenants under existing leases have to pay, and you will further stifle the possibility of private enterprise operating.
There is only one other matter with which I want to deal. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) referred to the speech on the English Bill which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health. What was said applies equally, or perhaps in a greater degree, to the present Scottish Bill. In 1930, under the provisions, I think, of the Act of 1930, the local authorities were obliged by the Department of Health to take a long view of housing. 481 It was not simply a case of submitting plans for one year or two years. They were urged by the Department to make a general return as to what their housing plans would be for three years. Many of the local authorities, relying upon the existing scheme of subsidies, made their plans and bought land in order to erect houses. These plans have not actually been submitted to the Department of Health for approval, but the Department of Health have had before them the fact that the local authorities have planned these houses and have in many cases bought land upon which to erect them. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether he cannot extend the date in December, 1932, which limits the existing subsidy so as to include the houses which find a place in the general statements which the local authorities were obliged to make in 1930.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The speeches which have been delivered in this Debate this afternoon show at least a remarkable unanimity in appreciation of the manner in which the Under-Secretary has explained the Bill and submitted it to the House. While speakers may have differed from each other in their praise or their criticism of the Bill at least there has been none of that bitterness which sometimes we find displayed in the House when Measures of a strong controversial character come before the House. Probably that is due to the fact that it is a Scottish Bill and that no Englishman has dared to interfere. Otherwise, had there been a mere Sassenach interfering in our domestic quarrel, we might have had more unanimity among Scotsmen in order to get at the poor Englishmen who had dared to enter into our discussions. I am certain, however, that some of the Scottish Liberals or the old Liberals— not only old in age but old in vintage inasmuch that they are very rare nowadays—must have thought from the speeches which were being delivered that the ghost of Form IV arising from the old Finance Act of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was hovering somewhere over the Chamber to-night because several Members in trying to excuse the absence of private enterprise in the building of houses made very strong state- 482 ments as to the reasons for the abstention of private enterprise being due to the effect of the Lloyd George Budget, as it was called.
One or two hon. Members have actually suggested that in the Measure which we are discussing we ought to have included a new method of rating for Scotland. I submit to the particular Members who put forward that suggestion that if they had studied it correctly they would have realised that they would be putting another impost upon the shoulders of those very people for whom we are pleading to-day on the ground that they cannot pay the rents of the subsidised houses which they are being asked to take over. The hon. and learned Member for Maryhill (Mr. Jamieson) shakes his head. He was one of those who used that argument. It might readily be shown, if this were a Debate in which we could go into the matter thoroughly, that by changing the rating system of Scotland you would be asking tenants of property in Scotland to hand over a present to the property owners of the amount that they may be first asked to pay in the shape of increased rates to cover the owner's rates. After all, there is no property-owner in Scotland at the present time who has not in the past made allowances for the amount that he is likely to be charged in rates and has placed it upon the rent; and then the occupier, the tenant, has not merely paid the amount of rates that has been put upon his rent by the owner to cover that cost, but he has also paid occupier's rates upon the additional rates that have been put on. For the hon. and learned Member and his colleagues to suggest that this House should conform to a rating grant of that kind upon a nation which at the present time has practically 50 per cent. of its working population unemployed is, in my opinion, to suggest something which I am certain that the hon. and learned Member, if he had studied the matter as carefully as he has studied other matters, would not have thought of putting before the house this evening.
§ Mr. JAMIESON
The hon. Member has misunderstood me. What I said was that it was the gross amount of the rates which caused the difficulty. The question of the incidence of the rates and who should be assessed is a different matter 483 altogether, into which I did not go. That might be a fruitful source of discussion another time, but what I dealt with was the gross amount which was to be paid and which ultimately has to be paid by the tenant, which causes what hon. Members on the other side call the "excessive amount" of the rate.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I am glad the hon. and learned Member has put it in that way. Of course, as he knows, it is going on in Scotland at the present time, and it has even been suggested this afternoon in this House by hon. Members that there should be a change in the incidence of taxation or in the proportion of taxation. I, for one, as long as I am in this House, will do everything I possibly can to prevent any such thing being done. As I stated, I believe that this is simply another rating grant 'which has been given as a present to property-owners in Scotland, so that they will save hundreds of thousands of pounds and do nothing at all for those occupying the houses as tenant occupiers. I understand that the Under-Secretary is rather in doubt. He has left a rather wide margin in certain figures which he presented to the House regarding the supply of houses in Scotland by private enterprise. He left a margin of 5,000 to 10,000 in the number of houses that are to be left for private enterprise to build during the period during which they have to be built. I take it that this margin applies to the number of houses which he proposes to have put on: a certain number for some years; a certain number for the lower-paid artisan and a certain number to be left for private enterprise or building societies—not the actual, but the approximate number. It showed a rather wide difference in the estimate, and I wonder just why a closer statement of the figures required cannot be given.
§ Mr. SKELT0N
I am afraid that at the moment I was not very clear about that figure, but that figure of 5,000 to 10,000 is not the figure of the houses required to be built by private enterprise. It is the figure which the Consultative Council gives as the number of existing houses at present occupied by unsuitable people, and I said that in the experimental period ahead of us I hoped that some of that figure—between 5,000 and 10,000—would 484 be made available through the operation of a properly-worked means test for the use of the working-class people.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I take it, however, that the number laid down in that wide margin of 5,000 to 10,000 is the number which is believed to represent those houses which are occupied by people who can afford to pay an economic rent, and that, if a means test were imposed upon those people, they would be compelled to leave subsidised houses and look for houses for which they could pay an economic rent, which might happen to be vacant. If there are no houses vacant at the present time, then the hon. Member suggests that that is a field into which the private speculative builder could enter, or into which the building societies could enter, in order to provide those 5,000 or 10,000 houses to supply the individuals who could pay an economic rent. That is the suggestion that is made; I think, at any rate, that is the argument which the hon. Member meant to put forward.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Not exactly, but I do not want to interrupt again; my hon. Friend will see it all in the OFFICIAL REPORT in the morning. The point, however, was that that figure gave us the possibility of an extra pool of houses immediately available for working-class occupation, in so far as these were quitted by the present people occupying them. But in fact the recommendation of the committee and of our circular is that the three alternatives should be placed before these people: either purchase, or pay an economic rent, or go somewhere else.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Most of those people who are occupying those houses, who are expected to pay an economic rent, are what might be termed the lower middle class or the better-paid artisans, very few of whom could afford to buy the house. They must therefore look for a house at an economic rent; they must vacate the houses, the subsidised houses, which they are in, and the only thing that is left for them is to look for a house which will be provided for them, not by the corporation, not by the local authority, but by the building society or by the speculative 485 builder, the private builder. That is what I wanted to know. It has taken a long time to get round to it, but still, we have got there.
If, however, that is so, if it is the case that you want the speculative builder to come in there and build houses for those who can pay an economic rent, then why not do as you have been doing in the past: have the local authority provide those houses at an economic rent? The private builder has been out of business since the War. He had ceased to find a profit; he could not get a profit out of it. Now he sees his profits coming back again; he can make a profit out of it. Why? What are the reasons why he can make a profit out of his houses whereas he could not do so before? Because of the bigger shortage of houses, because of the fact that in Scotland there has not been the speeding-up of building that there ought to have been; because this Government and Governments in the past have allowed their building programmes to fall behind. Now there is a greater demand for houses, not merely subsidised houses, not merely lower working-class houses, but for slum properties and for rooms in slum property; because they cannot find accommodation in vacant houses. There is a demand all over Scotland now for those houses. There is a demand now that can be supplied at a profit by the speculative builder. The Government have thrown back to the speculative builder the place which before the War they had closed upon themselves. The purpose of this Measure is, evidently, to take away £6 of the subsidy at a time when by your own admission, by the statements contained in your own annual report of the Department of Health for Scotland, the third annual report, you have fallen behind in the provision of houses, fallen badly behind. Instead of there being any case for reducing the subsidy from £9 to £3, the subsidy ought to be continued and might very well be increased, in order to spur on the local authorities to overtake the arrears into which they have fallen.
The late Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) has criticised the Bill. It has been suggested by an hon. Member below the Gangway that his criticism came from the place which he now occupies, because he does not occupy 486 a place on the Front Government Bench, and that had he been on the Government Bench he would have been supporting the principle of the Bill and might well have been introducing a Bill of this character. The right hon. Member for Caithness knows quite well, as do those who sit with him, who consider themselves as beings apart from the National Government to-day, that they were carried in on the wave of enthusiasm that elected this Government. Although they came into this House as a result of the lies upon which the election was fought—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes, these very same individuals are opposing the Government upon whom they depended for the circulars issued at the election in order to get into the places that they now occupy. There is always opportunity for the sinner to reform, and perhaps, we shall see them with us in the Lobby to-night. If they are going to go against the Government on some definite issue, let them support us tonight. Here is a matter on which their social conscience ought to be stirred, the depriving of the people of Scotland of proper housing.
The hon. Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) spoke of the manner in which Dundee was solving its housing problem. I am glad to hear it. It requires solving Very badly. I can remember the ex-Tory Prime Minister, the present Lord President of the Council, coming here after he had visited the "Blue Mountains."
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The "Blue Mountains" have been levelled. It was high time. I am glad to hear that they have been demolished. I hope also that the "Scourin' Burn" has been demolished, with its slums. The Prime Minister knows that place. He knows how Dundee used to solve its slum problem.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Improving the "Scourin' Burn"? Dundee was held up because of it, and the town council decided to sweep the slum away. One morning they sent half a dozen men with a lorry, some steps, some hammers and chisels and a few enamelled plates. They used the hammers and the chisels and 487 took off the name "Scourin' Burn" and put up a new plate, "Brook Street"—and the slum was removed. The hon. Lady will no doubt remember the occasion when "Scourin' Burn" became "Brook Street."
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
That particular part has already been taken down under slum clearance, and more is coming down this year.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I am happy to know that because Dundee will then be a place worth visiting and in going up to the Bolgay Hill one will not have to go through a series of slums. The Government ought to realise the importance of this problem. The Prime Minister knows very well the conditions of Scottish housing and the conditions of the people in the houses. There is no need for me to point out the horrible conditions which prevail. The right hon. Gentleman has appealed on platforms in the past for improvements in housing because of its effect on the morale and character of the people. Why should he now allow Scottish housing to be held back by reducing the subsidy 1 In the past he was agree able to a subsidy. He approved of the Wheatley subsidy, and the subsidy in the Housing Acts passed by the last Labour Government—
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Why then is he not in favour of the £9 subsidy instead of reducing it to £3? You cannot reduce the subsidy and at the same time speed up building. We on this side of the House, and I hope some members of the Liberal party at least, are opposed to this retrograde policy. As far as we are concerned we demand the retention of the subsidy at its old figure. It is necessary to encourage local authorities in Scotland to go on with their work that it should be maintained at the present figure and those who believe we are right in our attitude will join us in the Lobby.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir Godfrey Collins)
The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) in his concluding sentences saw fit to attack my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for letting down the progress of 488 building in Scotland. The hon. Member was a little previous in that statement and made it without a knowledge of the facts. If he had known the number of houses under construction and approved as compared with a year ago he would not have given expression to such criticism. Let me give the House the exact position. On the 31st December, 1932, there were under construction in Scotland 19,732 houses, and in addition there were approved, but not begun, 11,045 houses, a total of 30,777.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
After all, a house is a house. They are not houses until they are commenced, and to couple the number of houses approved with the number under construction is to give a false impression.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I must leave that matter to the judgment of the House. If you have a certain number under construction and a certain number approved, that surely indicates very clearly the intention of the Government on the matter. When interrupted I was about to quote the figure for the previous year. There were under construction on 31st December, 1931, 13,616 houses, and approved but not begun 6,580, a total of 20,196. In other words, there were under construction on 31st December, 1932, and approved but not begun, 50 per cent. more houses in Scotland than there were a year before. That amply disproves the statement made, no doubt without knowledge, by the hon. Member. The Debate to-day has ranged over a wide area. From all quarters there has been expressed anxiety to. deal with slum clearance, a plea that modern housing conditions should not be lowered, and a determination that more houses should be erected in Scotland in future. Before I conclude I hope to satisfy every Member of the House that that is the policy of the Government.
We had from the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) a moving speech, delivered no doubt with motives which appeal to every Member of the House. He was afraid that the proposals of the Bill would not deliver the goods, but I think he will find out that the houses will be erected, and the people for whom he sincerely desires these houses will find that the houses will be forthcoming. It is only natural, when we are dealing with the 1924 Act, that 489 the name of the late Mr. Wheatley should often arise in the Debate. Some nine years ago Mr. Wheatley made a very able speech when moving the Financial Resolution for that Bill. He argued that for a house costing £500, at 5 per cent. rate of interest, the rent, excluding the rates, being 9s. 9d., the actual labour costs were only 3s. 2d. per week of the 9s. 9d., but the interest charges were as much as 6s. 6d. While I do not agree with his figures, I will take his basis for one moment for the purpose of my argument. With the fall in the rate of interest from 5 to 3½ per cent., as a direct result of Government policy, the interest charges, as submitted by the late Mr. Wheatley, would be reduced from 6s. 6d. to 4s. 6d., or 2s. per week per house. If the late Mr. Wheatley's figures were correct that shows the great value to the community of the sharp fall in the rate of interest, and the undoubted benefit which it will bring to householders who will occupy these new houses in the years to come.
We listened earlier in the Debate to a speech from my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), who was good enough to send me beforehand a statement of certain questions which he proposed to put to me. I will answer those questions specifically. He asked me, first, about the houses which are to be financed by the building societies. The guarantee is only to apply to houses to let. The rent, of course, will depend on the cost of the building and of the land but the rent which the building societies have in mind is a figure of from 8s. to 8s. 6d. per week. He went on to ask me as to density. As the House knows, density is a matter within the jurisdiction of the local authorities and if local authorities give guarantees they will, no doubt, see that the density is in accordance with the practice under previous State-aided schemes. The size and type will be within the discretion of the building society but the local authorities and the Scottish Department of Health will exercise their usual control in the matter of design and general lay-out.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
These are approximate figures. It is impossible to give 490 specific figures having regard to the varying costs which exist, not only as to building but as to land in Scotland. I think those replies deal with some of the main points raised by my hon. and gallant Friend. Then, I was asked several questions as to the policy of the Government about reconditioning. Questions have been addressed to me upon that point by the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Jamieson) and other hon. Members. Following the example of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health we propose to set up at once a departmental committee to consider the question of reconditioning and I hope in that matter to have the assistance of some of my hon. Friends in this House.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that it is possible to recondition these slums?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
That is a matter to be considered and after it has been considered it is a matter for the local authorities to decide.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I resent the suggestion that any member of a committee which this House authorises me to set up, would be influenced by private motives in any action which he took.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I made no such imputation. What I suggested by my interjection was that if there are any individuals who could give expert advice upon whether or not slum dwellings can be reconditioned, these are surely the dwellers in the slums.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I would leave that matter to the Departmental Committee. It is for them to decide who they will summon to give evidence before them. I would like to refer to the moving maiden speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stevenson). He made a powerful appeal for houses for the low wage earners. Let me assure him that one of the main objects of the Bill is to secure that in the immediate future, 491 houses for low wage earners at rents of about 6s. to 6s. 6d. per week shall be erected by the different local authorities. "We had an interesting and informed speech from the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. J. Reid), and I hope that, although there may be many other points which hon. Members have addressed to me this afternoon, if I do not answer them before I resume my seat, we shall have an opportunity of going minutely into the different points in the Standing Committee stage, which will shortly be set up.
The main criticism against the Bill has been that the £9 subsidy in the 1924 Act is to be reduced. Let the House observe that there is to be no reduction whatsoever in the subsidy for slum clearance, although, owing to the sharp fall in the rate of interest and the reduction in building costs, some reduction of the subsidy might well have been justified. The fact that no reduction is being made is a clear indication of the Government's policy that the slum problem in Scotland must be tackled with drive and enthusiasm.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
That is what the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) said when he was Secretary of State.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
If I may use words once quoted in this House, "the copious outpouring of Exchequer lubricant"— that is, a subsidy—will greatly assist this slum clearance in Scotland during the coming year. The Government realise that in the problem of slum clearance there must be no weakening of effort, but rather the order must be "Full steam ahead"; and if some local authorities refuse to co-operate with us in this effort, although I do not anticipate that any such course will follow, we have powers, and we shall not hesitate to use them, to achieve the object of Members of all parties in this House, the desire to eradicate slums from the great urban areas in Scotland. I am convinced that the local authorities are alive to this question and that they will bend their best efforts to cope with it.
The Opposition Amendment challenges the Government that by this Bill they are substantially reducing the housing subsidy and so discouraging municipal housing schemes. If one compares the 492 position of the municipalities in 1924 with their position under this Bill, the statement in the Amendment is contrary to the facts. Let me take the case of a three-apartment flatted house in 1924, the cost of which then was £500. The sinking fund and interest charges for such a house amounted to £29 a year, and the State provided a yearly subsidy of £9, so that the net cost to the municipality was £29, less £9; that is to say, £20. That was the position in 1924. What is the position of a similar house in 1933? The cost of such a house last year was £355. The yearly interest and sinking fund charges amounted to £17 17s. This Bill provides a subsidy of £3. Therefore, the annual charge for a house similar in size to one built in 1924 will be £17 17s. less £3, or £14 17s., compared with the corresponding yearly charge-of £20 in 1924.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I have taken an exact comparison of similar houses erected in 1924 and in 1932. These are actual facts. The figures were prepared for me by my technical advisers, and I submit that they are strictly accurate. They demolish entirely the arguments advanced by hon. Members opposite. I will go further. There is more inducement today to local authorities to build, even with the reduced subsidy, than there was in 1924. Hon. Members do not believe what I say, but they will do so with readiness when I quote a statement by a late colleague of theirs, Mr. Tom Johnston, who was Under-Secretary of State in the last Labour Government and who is an authority on building in Scotland. I will quote, from the "Forward" of the 30th December last year, what Mr. Johnston wrote on this Bill a fortnight after it had been published, when he had a full knowledge of the facts:As a matter of fact, without any subsidy at all the local authority in Scotland is better off in 1932 as against 1924 by no less a sum than £37 per house. If you add to that the value of the £3 subsidy under the new Bill, which is equal to a capital sum of £60 per house, you have the local authorities in Scotland actually £97 per house better off than they were in 1924.I might also be tempted to quote certain references to the operation of the subsidy in the Wheatley Act of 1924, for that Act provided for the subsidy being reviewed, 493 not after nine years as it has been reviewed, but every two years in the light of the expenses incurred or to be incurred by the local authorities. I suggest that the £9 in 1924 has fulfilled its purpose, and with the £3 subsidy under the present Bill, the local authorities are better off than they were when the late Mr. Wreatley passed his Act in 1924. "While speaking on that subject, I must publicly thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having recognised the peculiar conditions of Scotland and for having been willing to grant from the public purse a subsidy for the erection of houses in Scotland which has been denied for a similar purpose for England.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) says, "We have not got our proportion." England has got nothing; we have £3. The Amendment proceeds to refer to,A return to bad pre-War conditions, nullify the density limit of 12 houses to the acre … and reducing housing standards.I fear those words must have been inserted under a complete misapprehension of the intention and policy of His Majesty's Government. There will be no lowering of the general housing standards, including density, which have been in force in Scotland for many years. That is the definite policy of His Majesty's Government. Much has been said about subsidies, and fears have been raised that by the abolition or the restriction of subsidies houses will not be built. With the exception of subsidies for slum clearances, the day of subsidies for new houses in urban areas in Scotland is limited. Since 1918 the nation has expended many millions on the erection of dwelling houses within the economic reach of the industrial population. Without such subsidies many of the houses would not have been built, and employment would not have been secured for men in the building trade. To-day and in the future the building trade has a great service to perform to the community. I use the word "service" advisedly, because the men in the building trade erect houses for those in the engineering and other trades. The building and allied trades 494 are sheltered trades, sheltered from foreign competition.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
They do not experience, to the same extent as men engaged in trades which cater for the export markets, the full force of world competition and the fall in prices. They are in a more fortunate position. While we in this House realise that every import is paid for by the skill and labour of the men in the export trades, it may not be sufficiently realised by the men in the building and allied trades how dependent they are upon the labour of the men engaged in the export trades. It is for that reason that I make my appeal to them this evening. It rests with the building trade, after a certain time, to erect houses for the industrial classes without artificial aid or stimulus from the State. Building costs in Scotland have fallen during the last few years, but prices are still on the high side.
I come to the question of employment. There are vast possibilities of employment for masters and men in the building trade. The post-war outlook of the British population demands better houses.
What keeps men unemployed in the building trade on the one hand, and, on the other, causes the lack of suitable houses? Is it not the old story of price, price, price? The price is still above what the industrial classes in Scotland can afford to pay. Wages are one factor, but, as regards some of the articles made to-day and sold below pre-war prices, wages are 50 to 70 per cent. above prewar wages. The present cost of a three-apartment house in Scotland is about £355. I would confidently hope that that price would be substantially reduced so that we could get that house for round about £250. One argument that is advanced against lower prices is that the increased output of the commodity may cause unemployment in the long run. My answer is that, so far as the building trade is concerned, the saturation point is not even on the horizon.
There are vast possibilities for years ahead for masters and men if they would get together for profitable work. This is my appeal to them. Could not the masters and men in the building trade-get together with a view of solving this 495 great problem in our midst by a common effort? My services are at their disposal if they desire. Human ingenuity and human skill, with good will on both sides, could solve this problem and banish slums and overcrowding from our midst. The days of looking to the State for subsidies for new houses are numbered. My fellow countrymen throughout the world are noted for their thrift and for looking to themselves to solve their own troubles. Money is plentiful at low rates of interest. Masters and men are anxious to solve this problem. It cannot be satisfactory in the long run for an industry to depend upon public subsidies. Will they come together, therefore, in a common effort to solve this problem?
§ I commend this Bill to the favourable consideration of the House of Commons and my colleagues in Scotland, because I am convinced that it will go some way to solve the slum problem in our cities. It will erect houses for the first time since the War for low wage earners. It will bring in for the first time the valued aid of building societies in Scotland, which have done so much for building houses in Scotland. It will maintain the post-War standard of housing conditions in Scotland. It is for these reasons that I commend the Bill to the favourable consideration of the House of Commons.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 189; Noes, 36.497
|Division No. 36.]||AYES.||[10.55 p.m.|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. Leeds, W.)||Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Marsden, Commander Arthur|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Martin, Thomas B.|
|Albery, Irving James||Fermoy, Lord||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Fremantle, Sir Francis||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Ganzoni, Sir John||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Gillett, Sir George Masterman||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale|
|Atkinson, Cyril||Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M.||Goff, Sir Park||Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Moss, Captain H. J.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J.||Graham, Sir Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Muirhead, Major A. J.|
|Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell||Greene, William P. C.||Munro, Patrick|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Nail-Cain, Hon. Ronald|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Guy, J. C. Morrison||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.|
|Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn)||Harbord, Arthur||Normand, Wilfrid Guild|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Hartland, George A.||Nunn, William|
|Blindell, James||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||O'Donovan, Dr. William James|
|Bossom, A. C.||Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Ormiston, Thomas|
|Baulton, W. W.||Hepworth, Joseph||Palmer, Francis Noel|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Hopkinson, Austin||Pearson, William G.|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Hornby, Frank||Percy, Lord Eustace|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Home, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S||Perkins, Walter R. D.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y)||Horobin, Ian M.||Petherick, M.|
|Buchan, John||Horsbrugh, Florence||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilst'n)|
|Burnett, John George||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Potter, John|
|Caine, G. R. Hall-||Jamleson, Douglas||Procter, Major Henry Adam|
|Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan)||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.|
|Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Kerr, Hamilton W.||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R.||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Carver, Major William H.||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Ramsden, Sir Eugene|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Leckie, J. A.||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)|
|Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)|
|Clayton, Dr. George C.||Lees-Jones, John||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Remer, John R.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Levy, Thomas||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Robinson, John Roland|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Llewellin, Major John J||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Craven-Ellis, William||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Mabane, William||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G. (Partick)||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tside)|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||McCorquodale, M. S.||Salmon, Sir Isidore|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Salt, Edward W.|
|Drewe, Cedric||McKie, John Hamilton||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Duckworth, George A. V.||Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Scone, Lord|
|Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel||McLean, Major Sir Alan||Selley, Harry R.|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Eastwood, John Francis||Macmillan, Maurice Harold||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Elliston, Captain George Sampson||Magnay, Thomas||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Elmley, Viscount||Maitland, Adam||Somervell, Donald Bradley|
|Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Soper, Richard|
|Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.||Thompson, Luke||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|Spencer, Captain Richard A.||Thorp, Linton Theodore||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-|
|Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Stevenson, James||Touche, Gordon Cosmo||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Stewart, J. H. (Fife, E.)||Train, John||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Storey, Samuel||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)||Womersley, Waiter James|
|Stourton, Hon. John J.||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Strickland, Captain W. F.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hall)||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.||Sir Frederick Thomson and Commander Southby.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Grundy, Thomas W.||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Banfield, John William||Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||McGovern, John|
|Batey, Joseph||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notes., Mansfield)||Hicks, Ernest George||Maxton, James|
|Buchanan, George||Hirst, George Henry||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Cape, Thomas||Jenkins, Sir William||Price, Gabriel|
|Cove, William G.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Kirkwood, David||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Daggar, George||Lawson, John James||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Leonard, William|
|Edwards, Charles||Logan, David Gilbert||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Lunn, William||Mr. John and Mr. Groves.|
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.