§ 3.45 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Wedderburn)
I beg to move,That the draft of the Housing (Scotland) Acts (Continuation of Contributions) Order, 1938, proposed to be made by the Department of Health for Scotland, with the approval of the Treasury, under Section 33 of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1935, which was presented on the 3rd day of March, 1938, be approved.This Order is presented in accordance with the provisions of Section 33 of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1935, which authorises the present subsidies in respect of slum clearance and decrowding, to be paid on houses which are completed by 31st March, 1938, that is, by the day after to-morrow. An Order approved by this House is, however, necessary to provide statutory authority for the payment of the subsidies in respect of houses completed after that date. An Order made under that Section can continue subsidies at the existing rate, or it can reduce them, but no increase in the subsidies is possible without legislation. What this Order proposes to do is to continue the subsidy at the existing rate.
The House will, no doubt, be aware that the present rate for slum clearance subsidy in Scotland is, on a per capita basis, £2 10s., and £2 15s. in the case of rural areas. The subsidy, therefore, varies very much in accordance with the size of the family, that for a family of two persons being £5 and for a family of six persons, £15. The subsidy under the 1935 Act, however, is paid, not in respect of the number of persons concerned, but as a flat-rate subsidy for each house built, and amounts to £6 15s. per house. The House may ask what is the average in money under those two powers combined. I can give hon. Members information relating to the houses built last year. The average amount of subsidy for both decrowding and slum clearance amounted to slightly under £11 per house.
The Act of 1935 requires that, before a draft Order of this kind can be made, the Department of Health must consult with recognised associations representative of local authorities in Scotland. Those consultations began on 1st November last year, and a special sub- 1850 committee was appointed for that purpose by the associations representing local authorities in Scotland. During the discussions which took place it was generally recognised that an important consideration in any review of the subsidy was the level of building costs. My right hon. Friend and I have often explained to the House that in our view one of the main reasons for the high cost of building in Scotland, during the last 12 months or so, has been the overloading of the building industry in Scotland with more work than it is capable of performing. In England, where the building industry has not been subjected to the same strain, increases in building costs have been comparatively moderate. In Scotland, the increases in building costs have varied as between one district and another, and in some districts the increase has been very high indeed. It appears probable that the peak was reached at about the end of last year, and there are signs at the moment of a downward tendency, but the future of building costs in Scotland is very uncertain, and it was generally agreed with a sub-committee representative of the local authorities of Scotland that the best course would be to continue the existing subsidies without any modification for a temporary period, in order to enable the position to be generally reviewed during the next few months. Our intention is that the existing subsidies shall be prolonged until 31st December of this year. Between now and that date discussions with the sub-committee to which I have referred will continue, and the position will be examined with a view to seeing whether any adjustments are necessary. Those discussions will, of course, proceed on the assumption that any adjustment which may be found desirable must represent a fair distribution of the burden between the local authorities and the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Mathers
Are we to understand that, when the time arrives, the adjustment will only be in a downward direction?
No, Sir; the adjustment can only be in a downward direction if it is made on an Order of the kind that we are now discussing. The House will have seen that this draft Order is for a period, not of one year, but of three years. The reason for that is that 1851 we are advised that any Order made under Section 33 of the Act of 1935 must relate to the whole triennial period be fore the next review due to take place in 1941. But that will not in any way prejudice the examination of the position which will take place in the next few months. In the meantime the Order is necessary so that the subsidy may continue to be paid after the end of the present month.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Johnston
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has informed the House that the proposal he has just made is for a continuation of the existing rate of subsidy in Scotland for a period of three years. While that is technically so, in point of fact, as I hope to show in a moment, there has been happening in Scotland a progressive deterioration in the amount of subsidy given to the local authorities during the past two or three years, and what the Government are doing now is to perpetuate a position in Scotland which the local authorities almost unanimously declare to be an impossible one, and one in which they do not feel that they can develop a large-scale building programme. I want to direct the attention of the Government and the House to one or two facts, and to ask the Government one or two questions.
In the first place, am I right in saying that in Scotland during the last three years, 1935, 1936 and 1937, there has been a progressive diminution in the number of houses completed? In 1935, that number was over 18,000; in 1936 it was just over 16,000, and in 1937 just over 13,000. Side by side with that, we have an increase in the number alleged to be under construction. The numbers completed are falling, while the numbers on hand tend to rise. That is the first fact to which I would direct the attention of the House. The second is with regard to the question of costs. In 1935, the average cost of a three-apartment dwelling in Scotland was £284; in 1936 it was £331, and in 1937, £416. In the same three years respectively, the cost of a four-apartment house was £325, £377 and £460. The increase on a four-apartment dwelling is £135, and on a three-apartment dwelling £132. Thus, while the subsidy is stabilised, the costs are rising. The costs have risen by over 25 per cent. while the subsidy has re- 1852 mained static. The Government come forward to-day and propose that the subsidy shall continue as it is.
The Under-Secretary has ascribed this extraordinary rise in house-building costs to what he called overloading the industry—giving it too much work. What does this overloading mean? It means that the building employers and the suppliers of materials in Scotland have taken advantage of a shortage to raise prices against the Government. That is what this polite word "overloading" means. If you overload the industry, you give it more orders than it can execute or can find materials for, and, by reason of this impact of increasing demand upon the shortage of supply, those who are in control either of the organisation or of the materials have been able to hold up His Majesty's Government to ransom to the extent of an increase of over 25 per cent. in the cost of housing. The hon. Gentleman gave another figure. He said that the average subsidy per house received by local authorities in Scotland last year, taking the subsidy under the Act of 1930 plus the subsidy under the Act of 1935, was something under £11. Is that right?
§ Mr. Johnston
Then, £10 15s. The hon. Gentleman might have informed the House that in 1936 it was £12 6s. There has been a definite progressive deterioration in the subsidy for houses received by the local authorities. These are facts about which the Government should give an explanation before they get away with this Order. The figures that I have given do not apply to England. From 1935 until now the increased cost of the wholesale prices of building materials in England, as given by the Board of Trade index number, has been seven points, roughly 7 per cent. That is 7 per cent. increase in England and over 25 per cent. increase in Scotland. What does this mean to us? In Scotland we have a 50 per cent. higher maternal mortality than England; overcrowding is six times worse in Scotland than in England. The average of overcrowding in England is about 3.8 per cent., but in Scotland we have a total that is six times as great. We have one town, Coatbridge, with overcrowding which shows that 44 per cent. of the inhabitants are living in overcrowded conditions. There are four towns in Scot- 1853 land with over 40 per cent. of overcrowding; there are eight towns in Scotland with an overcrowding figure of between 30 and 40 per cent.; there are 21 towns with an overcrowding figure of between 25 and 30 per cent.; and 33 towns with an overcrowding figure of 25 per cent. Yet the average for England is only 3.8.
There are other factors to be considered. I shall say nothing about an unemployment figure which is 68 per cent. worse in Scotland than in England; I shall say nothing about our Poor Law relief figure, which is two and a-half times worse than that in England. But I am going to make a comment on the fact that, almost one-third of the people in Scotland are living more than two to a room, and that in our burghs we have 300,000 houses in which there is no separate water closet. In view of these facts, rising prices which are rising higher than in England, the value of the subsidy therefore deteriorating so far as the local authorities are concerned, the manifest inability of the local authorities to meet the position due to the extraordinary-overcrowding and other difficulties, while I do not blame the Secretary of State for this position at all—I am not foolish enough to do so—I do suggest that the right hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Johnston
I shall make my explanation as best I can. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State ought to go to His Majesty's Cabinet and lay down terms and conditions for the future government of Scotland, and if they are not accepted he and his friends ought to walk from the Front Bench. We have all been in this business; we have all had a share of responsibility. But the fact of the matter is that profiteering is being permitted in the building industry. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Someone says, "No." Let us take cement. Is it the case that the Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers, Limited, who paid only 8 per cent. dividend down to 1931, are now regularly paying 22½ per cent.? Is that true? Is it true that another Portland Cement Company is paying 25 per cent. dividend, and that ironfounders prices are up by 25 per cent.? Is it the case that the cement combine, on top of these profits, have intimated another 3s. increase in the price of cement? Is it the case that there is 1854 profiteering in earthenware pipes, that the price per yard for some qualities and lengths has gone up 50 per cent.? Is it the case that there is a differentiation between brick prices in Glasgow and in Edinburgh, that whereas facing bricks in Edinburgh cost 59s., Glasgow has to pay 101s.? I want an explanation of all these points.
I suggest that while we are not in a position on this side to vote against this Order, on the ground that we cannot take the responsibility for discontinuing the subsidy, we must make the most emphatic protest against the Government for permitting the continuance of profiteering in housebuilding materials in Scotland, permiting a continued and unexplained rise in such materials, permitting a depreciation in the value of the subsidy, and coming forward at the last moment of the last hour and saying, "Take it or leave it, we can do no more." On behalf of many of my hon. Friends I beg to express the greatest regret at the most alarming social difficulties that we have in Scotland. The position is getting worse rather than better, and while in England building is proceeding, in Scotland it is not. We have tried in every way, in Committee on the Rent Restrictions Bill and otherwise, to induce the Government to give an explanation of the differentiation in the position of the two countries. I hope that all parties to-day will unite to impress on the Government their discontent, their indignation at the position in which housing affairs in Scotland are still left.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
The rules of debate on this Order are very strict. I do not wish to detain the House very long, and indeed, within the limits of order the right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) has admirably covered the ground of criticism which I would wish to follow. We are faced in Scotland with an appalling need of new houses. Just under one-quarter of the working-class houses in Scotland are overcrowded. Yet, taking the last few years, as the right hon. Gentleman has just pointed out, the number of houses built is actually diminishing year by year. Slum clearance is held up, and so is the rehousing of the people who are now overcrowded. This is at a time when overcrowding is six times worse in Scotland than in England. Of course this is due very largely to the rise in housing costs. 1855 I must say that I do not think the Government have shown in the past sufficient appreciation of the importance of this factor in their housing policy, and of the causes which have given rise to it.
The Under-Secretary in his speech referred to the consultations which had been taking place between the Government and the local authorities, and I gathered that this question of the rising cost of houses was one of the principal questions discussed, and that the alarm which the local authorities have been expressing on that subject, both in public meetings of the Convention of Royal Burghs, the County Councils Association and so forth, was fully expressed in the conversations which they had with the Government. The Under-Secretary of State said that the principal cause of these rising housing costs was what he described as overloading, but I do not see how that can be a cause of the discrepancy between the rate at which the cost of house building is rising in Scotland compared with the rate at which it is rising in England. On the one hand, in Scotland we have fewer houses being built, but on the other hand we have the Hilling-ton Estate scheme, armament factories being constructed and various enterprises being carried out apart from housing, which are all calling for labour and supplies of building materials. But it is equally true that in England there are exactly similar enterprises going on. I do not see in that statement sufficient to account for the sharp rise that is going on in Scotland.
I remember that when the Rural Housing Bill was being discussed in this House in November the Under-Secretary of State gave us some very comforting assurances about the future cost of house building in Scotland. He said in November that the costs were unjustifiably high and that they were not justified by economic facts. He said further that there was then every reason to believe that the costs would not be maintained at their then height. But to-day he speaks in much more cautious language. To-day, far from the fall in prices to which he looked forward in November having happened, he speaks far more cautiously about the prospects. He tells us only that he sees some indication that prices may fall in future, and he says that there will have to be further consultations with the local authorities in 1856 a few months' time in the light of the price level as it then exists. November last was not the first time that we heard from the Government comforting assurances about the probable future course of prices for house building in Scotland. Yet these costs still continue to mount. I, therefore, join with the right hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk in pressing the Government to tell us what they are going to do to stop the steadily increasing costs.
Hon. Members will remember that housing conference held last December—there is another, I believe, to be held quite soon under the auspices of some of the local authorities in Scotland—at which the importance of this issue was so strongly pressed. They will have read the debates in the Convention of Royal Burghs. There is the strongest feeling on this subject, and I hope the Government will be able to give us some assurances on it before they ask us to pass this Order. I feel that a policy of merely continuing the subsidies at the present level is inadequate to deal with the housing needs of Scotland to-day. The Government ought to take steps to increase supplies of building material by taking off the tariffs, which not only force up the costs of these materials, but also give the manufacturers an opportunity of forming rings and driving up prices artificially. I would urge that their policy should include not only consideration for overcrowding, but also for building other kinds of houses: for instance, houses for young married couples.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman is asking the Government to bring in all kinds of legislation to deal with the housing question. He must remember that this Order is merely to continue the provisions of the present subsidy.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I am very sorry that I overstepped the mark in discussing this Order. I know the limits are very narrow. We realise that in this Debate the limits within which we can suggest an alternative policy are very narrow—we cannot, indeed, suggest one at all. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling that we cannot vote against this proposal, for what it is worth; but we must at least register our grave uneasiness at the failure of the Government to grapple with the housing problem.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen
I wish to join with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) and the Leader of the Liberal party in protesting against the inaction of the Government in connection with housing in Scotland. The limits of this Debate are very narrow indeed; but certainly the figures that were given by the right hon. Member for West Stirling are somewhat suggestive. He pointed to the fact that there had been this diminution in the number of houses completed in the last three years, and that there was a corresponding diminution in the average amount of subsidy paid. I wonder whether there is a certain amount of cause and effect in that connection. I would also draw attention to the statement of the Under-Secretary with regard to the difficulty experienced in getting building material and the rise in the cost of houses, and the explanation that it was due to overloading. It seems to me to be one of the reasons why the position in Scotland is so bad that we are so often ready to ride off on an insufficient explanation.
The difference between England and Scotland in regard to housing conditions is so great, and the difference in the steps that have been taken in those two countries to deal with housing conditions in recent years is such, as to necessitate action by the Government. They ought to get down to the question of finding a suitable remedy. It is no good simply talking about this overloading. I wonder if there is a greater percentage of increase in building in Scotland than in England in other matters than housing, and whether there is a greater proportion of the building labour in Scotland being applied to other things than housing than is the case in England. I question very much whether that is so. We have to take responsibility for housing conditions in Scotland. It has been due to failure on the part of the Government, and also on the part of Scottish representatives to see that the Government take the necessary steps. I feel that the Government do not realise the position. We are simply being left with the prospect of something happening by December. Surely this is a question which involves so much suffering by our people in Scotland that, in dealing with it, we should not be content simply to continue the subsidy for the time being and hope that something will 1858 happen in the future. The Government should give us a promise that they will do something a long time before December. The Under-Secretary was so limited in his statement that I wonder whether there is a real appreciation of the problem on the part of the Government.
In Glasgow we are to have a great Empire Exhibition; and if there has been overloading, I wonder how much of it is due to that exhibition. I see that £10,000,000 is being spent in connection with the exhibition. It is a very striking fact that all this money can be found for the provision of an exhibition, and that yet there can be no real forward policy in connection with housing in Scotland. In speaking with members of local authorities in Scotland I have found that they all take the view that the subsidies are inadequate. I wonder whether the Government are in agreement with the local authorities, and whether they realise that, until you have much greater subsidies, the housing position in Scotland will continue to be the despair of successive Governments.
I remember it being said that unemployment would break Government after Government until a solution was found. I wonder whether the housing position in Scotland is not such that the present Secretary of State for Scotland and his colleagues, unless they can bring forward better plans for dealing with this problem, will suffer greatly in their reputations. When I say that, I have an uneasy feeling, because I recognise that on various occasions both of them have spoken with great enthusiasm and with an apparent desire to see something material done to improve the position in Scotland. But there is the position in which we find ourselves, and all that is being offered is this Order to continue the present arrangements until the end of this year, when there will possibly be something more.
§ Mr. Stephen
It appears scarcely credible that it could be anything worse than we have at present. In the past, with the subsidies that have been given, the local authorities and the Government have gone into a position of haggling: the local authorities doing nothing in the hope of a bigger subsidy, and the Government then coming along and saying, "We will extend the subsidy for another period, but 1859 this is the last time, and you will have to get on with it." Because of the way that the local authorities and the Government have haggled, all those hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland have had to endure most terrible housing conditions. I hope that that is not to be allowed to continue. I see in this Order simply a repetition of this old system, of the two authorities trying to get off as cheaply as possible at the expense of one another.
I would like to see the Government produce a real plan to deal with the housing problem. I would recall to the House that the worst district in England is scarcely any worse than the best district in Scotland. Why we cannot get something done really passes comprehension. I hope that we shall get from the Minister, in reply to the discussion, some indication that the Government are really seized with the terrible situation, and that something drastic will be done. The statement which was made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary should draw up a great plan and insist upon getting Cabinet sanction for it ought to meet with a response from all Scottish Members. If not, the Scottish Members should, irrespective of party, decide upon the necessary steps to see that the question is dealt with adequately. It has gone on for so long that I hope we shall get some indication from the Government Bench to-day that the people in Scotland are to have some real hope in the immediate future of a great programme to provide them with the houses with which they ought to be provided.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I want to put a definite and direct question to the Minister, and I should like, if possible, to receive a quite definite and direct answer in reply. In a previous discussion upon the question, the Minister himself said that housing in Scotland was shocking and a scandal to civilisation, and outside, in the Lobby, he used much stronger language, and if there had been a policeman near by, he would probably have found himself in gaol. If he is quite convinced that housing in Scotland is a disgrace to civilisation, I would ask him whether this Order is adequate to deal in any way with this disgrace to civilisation. At the 1860 Housing Conference on Friday representatives of most of the local authorities in Scotland were in attendance. A large number of the Opposition Members of Parliament were present, but no Members from the Government side of the House thought it necessary to attend such an important conference.
It was the unanimous opinion at that conference that the present housing subsidy is quite inadequate, and that it makes the situation such that it is impossible for local authorities in Scotland to deal with the problems which confront them. The present subsidy makes it impossible for the local authorities to deal with overcrowding and slum clearance. I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he agrees with the unanimous decision of the local authorities that this Order is inadequate, or whether he is prepared to represent here, as against all the local authorities and the sound judgment of Scottish Members on this side of the House, that the Order is adequate. I challenge any Scottish Member opposite to get up and say that the Order is adequate, or to go to the local authorities and say that it is adequate. There is a chance for hon. Members opposite to gain fame, of a kind, if they will only get up and support this Order.
I am not well versed in the Procedure of this House, but it seems to me that it would not be a bad thing if we voted against this Order and defeated it. I realise the position in which it would leave local authorities, but I know also, that it would leave the Government in a very much worse position than the local authorities. It would bring about a situation where something really effective would have to be put into operation in order to meet the terrible situation. As the hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) has said, there is tragedy associated with it. If you go into the constituency of the Secretary of State, and into any of the constituencies in Scotland, you will see tragedy in street after street. You will see children being done to death because of the inadequacy of this Order, or of the subsidy which this Order represents. You can see children being done to death there day after day, and no hon. Member can deny that fact. What is the Secretary of State for Scotland going to do about it? Is he going to his own constituency and tell these people that this Order is adequate, 1861 or that they have to stay there because the Government are not prepared to put forward the natural and proper method of dealing with the terrible housing problem in Scotland?
Why should the Under-Secretary of State talk about overloading? Why have they not done something about it? We have been drawing attention all the time to the fact that there would be overloading in connection with armaments, but, according to the story we are told, the Government are doing something about it, checking prices and the rest of it. We beard from the Prime Minister, when he was talking about the meeting with the General Council, that armaments were so important that the Government were prepared to take over the control of the whole of industry from the point of view of ensuring that armaments would receive priority. Why is not house-building getting priority? Are not human beings who are living in overcrowded conditions and in slums of much greater importance than any armaments or anything else?
I ask the Secretary of State to face up to this problem. This Order will not solve any of the problems that concern the local authorities in Scotland. It is not going to stop the diminution of house building in Scotland or to assist in remedying overcrowding and in eliminating slums. It is necessary, if that task is to be undertaken, that a different kind of Order and a different method should be employed. I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is prepared to recommend this as an adequate means for dealing with the housing problem as it exists in Scotland at the present time? If he cannot straightforwardly and genuinely assert to local authorities that it is adequate, then he has no right to put such an Order into force. He ought to have come prepared with something much better and much more effective.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot
When I first read this Order I was rather depressed because, on reading the terms of it and comparing it with the terms of Section 33 of the 1935 Act, it looked as though this was to be the policy of the Government for some years to come. For that reason, I was very glad to hear the announcement made by the Under-Secretary of State to-day that the Order does not represent by any 1862 means the last word of the Government for a long time to come. He told us that the present subsidies are to be examined before 31st December of this year in consultation with the local authorities. He might, perhaps, have given us a little more information about the scope of these consultations. How wide is to be the consideration which the Government are going to give to this matter? Is it merely to be a question between the continuance of the present subsidies at the present rate and the possible reduction of those subsidies, or are the Government also going to consider, in consultation with the local authorities, the advisability of increasing and extending the subsidies, if they find that such a course is necessary? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State can give us a little more information upon that point? In proceeding by means of this Order, the Government are under two limitations: First, under the terms of the 1935 Act the Order would be the subsidy specified in that year, and, secondly, the Government are powerless, by Order, to extend in any way the range of the subsidies.
As to the adequacy of the subsidies, a great deal has been said by previous speakers, and it seems to be the unanimous opinion in the House, and among the local authorities in Scotland, that the overcrowding subsidy, which was fixed in 1935, when building prices were very much lower than they are at the present time, is by no means adequate in 1938. Also we have to be concerned with the question of the range of the subsidy. The present position is that we have a per capita subsidy under the Slum Clearance Act, and a subsidy per house for the relief of overcrowding. As the result of the recent legislation in Scotland, and particularly as the result of the 1933 Act, there is no subsidy payable for houses erected to meet the normal requirements of increasing populations.
It has been the experience of all of us who sit for industrial constituencies in Scotland that there is now a most acute shortage of houses for young married couples. Every hon. Member who represents the sort of constituency which I represent will bear me out in saying that. I will give two recent examples of people who came to see me on this subject. Only a short time ago a young man told me 1863 that he had been married for nearly four years. During the whole of that time he had only had one day's unemployment. He had been earning a good wage of over £3 a week, except for that one day, and during the whole of the four years he and his wife had either to live in lodgings or with his wife's parents. He told me that in his opinion his married life was in danger of being completely wrecked through the inability of his wife and himself to find a home of their own. Last week-end I had even a worse case than that brought to my notice by a young man who came to see me. He told me that for the last six years in the city of Dundee he had been endeavouring to obtain a house in which he could live with his wife and three young children, and he had been unsuccessful. At present he and his wife were living in lodgings, and the three children had to be boarded out.
§ Mr. Foot
I was only trying to point out the limitations of the Order, and, of course, I will not pursue the subject. I want to make the point that the situation is that we are dealing here only with two particular forms of subsidy—the slum clearance subsidy and the overcrowding subsidy. That is all that is done under our present legislation. It is perfectly clear that those two forms of subsidy by no means meet all the needs of the housing situation in Scotland, and I hope that these other needs, and particularly those which I have mentioned, will be borne in mind by the Secretary of State and by the Under-Secretary in the negotiations which they are to have with the local authorities before the end of this year.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Mathers
What is required from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland to-day is that he should show more courage and more strength in facing up to those who provide the money that is required to give a subsidy of this kind. The right hon. Gentleman bears an honoured Scottish name, a name that has been famed for valour. We remember Sir Walter Scott telling us about an occasionWhen gallant Cessford's life-blood dear,Reeked on dark Elliot's Border spear.1864 There is not very much indication of that sort of bloodthirsty valour about the right hon. Gentleman to-day, as he sits so calmly in this very quiet House, but it is a predominantly English Cabinet that he has to face up to in trying to improve things so far as these subsidies are concerned; and I would remind him of another notable ancestor of his, who, thinking of the English, said of himself:My name is little Jock Elliot, and wha daur meddle wi' me?What we want the right hon. Gentleman to do is to take a stand for Scotland in respect of these subsidies in order that they may be made more adequate than they are to meet the position, and to stand up to his colleagues in the way that "little Jock Elliot" did many years ago.
I represent the constituency which has shown the highest increase in house-building costs in Scotland, and I want to give an indication of how the subsidy is really inadequate to prevent very heavy rents being charged to the people who get houses built under these subsidy provisions. Many of those people have come from houses with very low rents, and it is a very acute hardship on them to have to stand up to the higher rents, even in the case of houses where the subsidy might be considered to be more adequate than we can consider the subsidy to be at present. I take the town of Bathgate as an example of how those costs have risen. Bathgate is a town which has built well over 600 houses under various Acts, and indeed there are 600 new houses now in occupation, but at the time of the Census, in spite of that big number of houses being built, Bathgate showed an overcrowded percentage of 28.19. The average cost per house in February, 1936, was £334. When it came to December of last year, the town council, having asked for tenders for 60 houses, were faced with tenders which brought the average price up from £334 to £546 per house, an increase of £212 in less than two years. In view of the very great increase in cost, the town council decided that they would not proceed with those 60 houses. At the same time they again invited tenders for houses, needing them as they did—on another site, it is true—and in February of this year they accepted tenders for those houses at an average cost of £491 per house.
I want to claim that that fall between December and February did not represent 1865 a fall in actual costs, and it certainly did not represent any cutting down of the quality of the houses or of the material that was to be put into them. It represented, in my judgment, what might be done by the right hon. Gentleman if he took the power to do it. I do not know that he has power administratively, and I must be careful not to get out of order by suggesting that he should take legislative powers to carry through what I am putting before him. The mere fact that the Bathgate Town Council showed themselves unwilling to proceed at a cost that they considered excessive was, in my judgment, the cause of the bringing down of those prices. The contractors, I claim, realised that they were not going to get the higher prices, and the next tenders that they made were £55 per house lower than they had been previously. Even that lower price will impose a very serious burden upon the housing pool, and it is almost certain to raise the rents of the houses to a considerable extent. In view of the equalisation of rents, it is not merely the people going into the newest of the houses, but all those with subsidised houses, who will subsequently suffer from the increase in costs.
The town council took the matter up at the time with the right hon. Gentleman, and his attitude towards the problem was that, instead of instituting a system of detailed Government control, he considered that increased production of materials was much more likely to afford a solution of the difficulty. I hope the right hon. Gentleman realises that, in respect of these costs, controlling as they do the prices that prevail, those people who carry through the production are not likely, if they can help it, to reduce prices, even when they have the increased quantities of material available. There is certainly plenty of demand, and we have had an indication from the right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) of how the prices have gone up, and it is obvious that very great profits are being made. I am hoping that we may look upon the continuance of this subsidy as a mere interlude while the right hon. Gentleman gets down to the matter more definitely, tackles it with more determination than he has shown up to the present, and brings forward a scheme that will enable us to get the houses in Scotland available to let at rents which the people who are anxiously 1866 waiting to occupy them may be able to pay.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Sir John Train
I wish to say a few words in regard to the subsidy, though I know it is very difficult to make a speech within the narrow bounds of this Order. What is the alternative to this subsidy? It is a larger subsidy, more money from the Government in order to help local authorities. Those of us who have had experience of all the Housing Acts during the last 20 years, with grants from the Government and contributions from the local authorities, remember well the Addison scheme, under which the local authority provided in England only a penny in the £ from the rates, the Government providing the balance. Scotland, because of the peculiar mode of rating her people, agreed to four-fifths of a penny, which was equal to a penny, being the difference between the net and the gross in the rating system. Money was poured out by the Government, and three-apartment houses, instead of costing £300, went up to £1,000, aye, and to £1,200. Still more money was poured out, but it did not bring more houses; it simply made the houses dear. Then we got so many other housing schemes—the Chamberlain scheme, the Wheatley scheme, slum clearance and overcrowding Acts, and so forth—but still Scotland remained as she was, in a pitiful condition with regard to housing. What the man in the street asks to-day is this: What is the matter with Scotland that she is not equal to England? England is solving her housing problem, but Scotland is not. I heard the right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston), the other day in Committee, saying that not one person in Scotland—which was probably an exaggeration—was building houses to let.
§ Sir J. Train
He also at the same meeting described the rating system of Scotland as abominable and thought that that lay at the root of the evil, but he could not suggest a cure. We are not allowed to suggest a cure to-night under this Order, though some of us might have something to say on that. But what I want to say most particularly is that an increase in the subsidy would not, in my view, provide more houses, and I do not see that the Government could do any- 1867 thing else at the moment. What is the alternative to passing this Motion that is before the House? It is to leave the local authorities without anything. The local authorities are to-day getting rather tired of putting their hands in their pockets and providing houses for the working classes, because, as we all know, many of the people who are getting these houses that are subsidised could very well provide houses for themselves under one of these owner-occupier systems, with the help of a building society; and if some of them were cleared out, there would be more houses for people who really need them.
There was another statement made by the right hon. Member for West Stirling, which rather staggered me. He said that bricks in Scotland are at 101s. per 1,000, in Glasgow. I happen to be a Glasgow builder, and have been during the last half-century, and I think that about half that price would be nearer the truth.
§ Sir J. Train
If the right hon. Gentleman is talking of very high quality bricks that are not used in house-building schemes, unless for a little ornament here and there, that is another matter, but the ordinary bricks used in housing schemes are about half the price mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Johnston
The exact kind of bricks to which I was referring were what are called "facing local selected bricks," in Glasgow, 101s.; free on rail in Edinburgh, 59s. 11d.
§ Mr. Johnston
I will give the hon. Member other figures if he wants them, and tell him that in other bricks there is a difference, but it is not anything like so substantial as in the case of the facing local selected bricks to which I have referred. The point which I was making was that an explanation was demanded as to why there should be such a difference in price between the East and the West of Scotland for bricks presumably of the same quality.
§ Sir J. Train
The right hon. Gentleman says "presumably." He takes it for 1868 granted that the bricks are of the same quality, but the quality of bricks to which he has referred is not that which is used in ordinary house building. If an order for bricks were placed to-morrow in Glasgow—where at present there are more bricks than bricklayers—bricks for house building could be got at half the price suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. I do not want any misapprehension to exist about this, and I do not want to say that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to mislead the House. But I want to make it clear that ordinary bricks for house building can be got in Glasgow to-day at half the price suggested by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. James Brown
Is the hon. Member not missing the point? It is not a question of the quality of the bricks but of the fact that, whatever the quality, there is a 50 per cent. difference in price between Glasgow and Edinburgh.
§ Sir J. Train
The right hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Brown) must remember that we are discussing housing, and houses as we know them round about Glasgow and the West of Scotland, in his constituency and mine, are built with these facing bricks. A few such bricks may be used here and there for ornamentation, but the houses are built with the ordinary common glazed brick which costs about 50s. a thousand at the present time. It is not only the cost of housing material, but the amount of labour required which brings about the necessity for the subsidy granted by the Government. This is a subject which we have all at heart and about which we are all worried. We all want to get a solution of the problem. But I do not see that a rejection of this Order would do any good. We must in this case support the Order and hope that in the near future there will be a big comprehensive scheme to grapple with the problem.
§ Mr. Johnston
Would the hon. Member be good enough to tell the Corporation of Dundee where they can get bricks at 50s. a thousand, because, if he can, it will mean a big saving to them?
§ Sir J. Train
It so happens that Dundee is a place which I know very well. I was once sent there by the Government in connection with housing 1869 under the Board of Health, and I found that they had to bring bricks from Belgium. Dundee is not a place where bricks are made, though they have some stone round about there. Transport is what raises the price of bricks in Dundee. The same applies to Aberdeen.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Brown
It has been remarked more than once during this Debate that this Order is within very narrow limits. I look upon those narrow limits as almost an insult to Scotland. Why should we not have had a proper Order on which we could have discussed what subsidy is necessary in order to have more house building in Scotland than there has been for some time past? I hope that English Members do not think that we are reflecting upon them when we compare the benefits which England seems to enjoy with the position in Scotland.
§ Mr. Brown
Hon. Members need not, because we love not England less but Scotland more. All we want is that Scotland should be raised to the same proud pre-eminence in this respect as England seems to enjoy to-day. I do not like to see the Secretary of State or the Solicitor-General for Scotland smiling at that remark. I would really like to make an indictment of them. I do not want to say things which are too hard, to one or other of them. But what we want is proper housing accommodation in Scotland, and we do not seem to be able to get it under the present Administration. Why should Scotland be considered inferior to England or to any other part of the world? Scotland ought to get the same conditions and facilities as any other part of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Cathcart (Sir J. Train) is quite right in his reminiscences. I remember the present Prime Minister saying that the more subsidy was given, the dearer houses became, and the hon. Member ought to know why that was so and why it is still so. I shall not pursue that point lest I might be ruled out of order, but I put this question: Why should the Scottish Members of the Government acquiesce in Scotland receiving inferior treatment to any other part of the Kingdom? Surely we all desire proper housing and wish to do everything we can to prevent the evils which accrue from inferior housing.
1870 As the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) has said there seems to be a sort of promise—although promises in these days do not seem to be of much account whether here or abroad—that this arrangement is to obtain only up to December next. If that is so, and if there is any real hope for better conditions in December, we will bear with this arrangement, with what patience we may and see what the Scottish Members of the Government—who ought to be as anxious for the well-being of our country as we are—are going to do. We shall see what they will be able to wrest from the present Administration, so that Scotland may have fair play. That is all we ask. Give us fair play and we will build the houses. Whatever restrictions there are at the moment, bricks can be got for Scotland as well as for any other part of the Kingdom, except possibly in the case of Dundee, which according to the hon. Member opposite, seems to be quite out of reach. We hope something will arise out of this Debate, and although no Division will be taken upon this Order, I hope that what has been said will be taken to heart in regard to the present position. I do not want to say anything harsh, but I think that position is due to slackness or inattention to the needs of Scotland, and I hope that Scottish needs will have more attention in the future than they seem to have had in the past.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Captain W. T. Shaw
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. J. Brown) is surely wrong in thinking that the subsidy in Scotland is lower than that in England. What I object to is that we do not seem to be making such good use of the subsidy in Scotland as they are making of it in England. I would like whoever is to reply for the Government to give us some better explanation than has yet been forthcoming of why the cost of housing in Scotland should be so much more than it is in England. The difference may be due to circumstances over which the Government have no control, or to inefficiency of Government legislation, though I can scarcely believe that that is the cause. It may be that the local authorities are less efficient and do not make such hard bargains, and I should like to have a comparison of the profits of builders and contractors in England with those of builders and contractors in Scotland.
1871 It may be that circumstances are different in Scotland and I can understand that to build houses in isolated burghs must be more expensive than building in large cities. I should like to know, for instance, how the cost of building a house in Glasgow compares with the cost of building a house in Birmingham. Is it the case that we are building more substantial houses in Scotland? There must be some explanation and we are entitled to have that explanation, of why costs in Scotland are so much greater than in England. We ought not to be put off by phrases about "overloading." It is most unsatisfactory that we should have to go on passing legislation and discussing these Orders, unless we feel that in Scotland we are getting full value for the money.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. McLean Watson
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) was very eloquent on certain characters in Scottish history or fiction who had borne the same name as the Secretary of State. I am not so much concerned about those individuals as about the Secretary of State himself. I wonder what he can do to improve the position of housing in Scotland? This Order, we know, is intended to keep things as they are only until the end of the year. The Under-Secretary in a very short and not very enlightening statement, told us that before the end of the year there will be discussions with the local authorities as to what the next arrangements are to be. I do not know whether the representatives of the Government expect that before that time, there will be such a revival of building Scotland that they will be able to afford to modify the subsidy. I shall be much surprised if, before the end of this year, the Government find themselves in that position. I venture to predict that before December the Government will be in an even bigger hole in regard to housing in Scotland than they are in at the moment.
It may be true that materials and labour in Scotland have been taken up with building other than the building of houses, but we are evidently going to have a great deal more wastage in that direction because of requirements on the part of the Government, and I cannot see any prospect of such a revival of 1872 house building in Scotland as will enable the Government to bring forward next year a proposal to reduce the subsidy. I dare say that the Secretary of State will, by now, have received a document which was sent to him on behalf of the local authorities in Scotland who met in Glasgow on Friday last. At that conference, a resolution was passed which embodied the views of the local authorities on the housing subsidy as it exists and on the steps that ought to be taken to revive the building of houses for the working-classes in Scotland.
In order to give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity of dealing with the views of the local authorities on this very important matter, may I briefly indicate the terms of the resolution? It was passed unanimously by a conference representative not only of the large burghs but the small burghs and the county councils as well. The resolution deals first with the need for making available to local authorities building materials in regular and sufficient quantities. Their first concern is in getting the necessary materials for the building of houses. Those responsible representatives of local authorities in Scotland also drew attention to the fact that building materials for some time past had been used in luxury building, and they demanded that there should be a control by Parliament over the materials at present being used in luxury buildings. I am not sure whether that conference would have looked upon the Empire Exhibition that is being built in Glasgow as luxury building, but undoubtedly the building of that exhibition has had an effect on the cost of building materials and on the labour that would be available for the building of houses.
The third point mentioned in the Resolution was:That immediate steps be taken by Parliament, in collaboration and co-operation with the building industry, for increasing, through the recognised machinery, the available labour for house construction.There has been a shortage of labour in Scotland for some time, and the local authorities in the very interesting discussion that took place in Glasgow last Friday expressed their concern both with regard to the materials and the labour available for house building in Scotland. The resolution then came to the most vital point, and perhaps the Secretary of State 1873 will tell us whether, in view of the expressed opinions of that conference, there is any prospect of his being able to come to the House next year with a proposal that a lower subsidy should be given for the building of houses in Scotland. The resolution proceeded to say:That there is an immediate necessity for reviewing the subsidies and increasing the subsidies available to local authorities of £6 15s. under the Housing Act, 1935, and the £2 10s. unit grant under the Housing Act, 1930, such increased subsidies to apply retrospectively.That was the demand of the conference. The other part of the resolution dealt with slum clearance and overcrowding. These are the vital matters affecting local authorities in Scotland, and I hope that the Secretary of State will not merely be content in getting the subsidy which at present operates in Scotland continued to the end of the year, but that we shall have an indication that when a new arrangement has to be made the alteration will not be in a downward direction.
On several occasions during the past year, and I think last year, I drew the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that certain local authorities have stopped building houses. I instanced Lochgelly as a case in point. By question and answer I have drawn attention to the fact that the Town Council of Lochgelly refused to go on with the building of houses, because they could not build three and four apartment houses at a cost which would enable them to let the houses at rents below 30s. a week—an absolutely impossible rent for any working man. Another case that I mentioned was that of the Burgh of Cowdenbeath, where the local authority, because of the shortage of building labour, was not able to go on with the building of houses. The cost of building materials and the shortage of labour have been the causes which have put a stop to house building in these two burghs. If the right hon. Gentleman or the Under-Secretary will examine the list of overcrowded burghs in Scotland and turn to the list that deals with small burghs he will find that the two burghs I have just mentioned stand at the top of the list with the highest percentage of overcrowding. There is urgent need for these two local authorities getting assistance to deal with overcrowding in their areas.
1874 The right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston), who so ably reviewed the situation in Scotland, drew attention to the position in some of the larger burghs, but here I am instancing two burghs which I represent, which stand at the top of the list of overcrowded small burghs, with 38 per cent. of overcrowded houses. Those two local authorities have the greatest difficulty in getting the labour and the materials necessary at a cost that will enable them to go on with their housing schemes. How much longer is this to go on? There is an urgent need for hundreds of houses to be built by both of these local authorities, but at the moment they are doing very little in that direction. They find that the subsidy is not sufficient to meet the costs that have been rising against them for some time.
The Under-Secretary seemed to take some satisfaction from the fact that during the present year there has been a reduction in the cost of materials. He seemed to think that if that went on, by the end of this year the situation would have been so improved that next year he could come forward with a proposal that there should be a reduced subsidy. We will see how we get on during this year. At the end of last year the Government had to confess that because of the shortage of labour and the continual rise in the cost of materials the position had become very desperate. I hope that we are going to have a period of reasonable prices which will enable the local authorities to go on with their work, because undoubtedly as a nation we in Scotland compare very badly with England. We shall have to go a long way before we are in the position of England, so far as the housing of the working classes is concerned. I hope that we shall get some satisfaction from the Secretary of State this afternoon, because I can assure hon. Members opposite that the position is serious.
So far as I know, no hon. Members opposite took the opportunity of being at the conference held in Glasgow last Friday, although I understand all the Scottish Members were invited. Had they been present they would have heard discussion first hand from the men who are up against difficulties as far as house building is concerned. One of the most interesting speakers was a representative of the County of Argyll.
§ Mr. Watson
No, but he did put forward one of the most eloquent appeals in the form of a most cordial invitation to everybody to go to that particular part of Argyllshire for their holidays. He was advertising it as a holiday resort. That representative was, however, no more satisfied than the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) is with the housing in that county. It was a most interesting and instructive conference, and I am sure that those who were present came away with the feeling that we in this House ought to do everything we possibly can not only to maintain the subsidy as it is to the end of this year, as we shall do if we pass this Order, but to insist that when a change is made it will be such as will enable the local authorities to go on with their work of getting rid of the slums and the overcrowding that exist in Scotland to-day.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Sir Murdoch MacDonald
I am sure that every Scottish Member must wish to have an Aladdin's lamp, and if he had he would produce for all the inhabitants of Scotland houses which would be really fit and decent to live in. That not being the case, we have to proceed as quickly and as well as we can to produce houses. I have been interested in listening to the various speeches, each of which dealt with some particular phase of the problem. I was more than usually interested in the phase of the Debate with regard to the cost of building. I heard the argument as to the cost of bricks between my right hon. Friend and one hon. Member who represents a Glasgow division. I personally regret that houses to-day are mainly built of bricks. I should like to see houses built of stone, not so much in the great cities, where it would be more difficult to use stone, but in the outer districts of Scotland. Brick, lime and timber form the main elements in the increased cost of building, together with the contractors' profit.
§ Sir M. MacDonald
It is a big and important element in the cost. In the last 12 months there has been a considerable increase in the price of houses in Scotland. If it be true, as has been alleged this afternoon, that some differentiation is 1876 occurring, by accident, of course, in favour of the south of the border as against the north of the border, I, as a Scottish Member, hope that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary will see to it that there is a fair balance of justice between the two parts of the country. If I understood aright, in the last 12 months the increase in the price of bricks has been £6 for a four-roomed house, which is a very large increase, but the increase in the price of timber has been £12 for that size of house. I cannot say that I followed the discussion between the right hon. Gentleman opposite and my hon. Friend as to the reason for the price being 59s. in the particular burgh and in another district over 100s.
§ Sir M. MacDonald
The difference between the two figures certainly deserves more explanation than has been given, but the increase in the cost of timber, £12, is double the increase in the cost of bricks. Most of the timber comes from the Baltic. If the information which my timber merchant friends have given to me is correct, this rise took place suddenly. Would it not be possible for the Board of Trade, seeing that we have a reciprocal trade agreement with northern Baltic ports, and seeing that the balance of trade is very much against us, to interfere in the matter and secure some arrangement whereby the price of timber could be reduced?
§ Sir M. MacDonald
I have the figures for Scotland, and I am not sure whether the increase is £12 in England or not. But I am sure that the price of timber has risen in England.
§ Sir M. MacDonald
I am sorry I cannot tell, but it is an increase of £12 per house as compared with the previous period. I think an arrangement should be come to with Russia, because being a Communist country she sells all her 1877 goods through one organisation. Perhaps the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) might assist in this matter.
§ Sir M. MacDonald
But if the hon. Member has any influence at all in Russia it would be a most desirable thing if this extraordinary increase in the price of timber could be reduced. After all, it is the poorer people in Scotland who are affected, not the well-to-do. Whether the increase is £12 or £20 they can afford to pay, but poor people cannot. I think it is desirable that these timber prices and brick prices should be carefully examined by the Board of Trade in order to see whether something cannot be done to avoid such a great increase as has recently taken place in timber prices.
§ Mr. Maxton
Is the hon. Member trying to submit that the blame for the increased cost of houses in Scotland is on the Russian Government?
§ Sir M. MacDonald
I am saying that the additional increase of £12 for timber is due to a sudden increase last year in the price of timber imported from abroad, and I assert, and I think I am right, that Russia is the largest exporter of timber, and that if we can get Russia to agree to a more reasonable price the other Baltic countries, Finland, Norway and Sweden, would follow suit, and as a consequence the cost of houses would be lower.
§ Mr. Gallacher
If the hon. Member can get his friends to eliminate the contractors' profits, I will get Russia to reduce the price of timber.
§ Sir M. MacDonald
That is an excellent offer and I hope the Government will take full advantage of it. Not being a contractor I do not know how they stand, but, obviously, the great competition that has taken place in Scotland has caused a considerable increase, and I have no doubt that their profits went up as well. How to break the ring is one of the things which the Secretary of State will have to consider, if there is such a ring, causing such extraordinary increases without the ordinary workmen getting an adequate or comparable increase in their wages.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gibson
I have listened with considerable interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Sir M. MacDonald), and if he will arrange that the contractors' profits shall vanish and the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) will arrange that the profits on timber vanish also, perhaps I can take my turn and use my influence, such as it is, with the makers of bricks, to see that their additional profit vanishes too.
§ Mr. Macquisten
Could not the hon. and learned Member and I arrange with the others that there should be no legal charges?
§ Mr. Gibson
I would suggest that that would be verging on a pactum illicitum. In the matter of timber houses I received from the Secretary of State some information with regard to the number of wooden houses erected in Scotland since 1918. There are four county councils and three town councils which have built such houses, and in view of the fact that we are in urgent need of houses, and in order to make the best use of the subsidy, I think we should extend our borders as to the sources from which we get houses. In Scotland I find that Aberdeenshire has built 18 wooden houses, South Ayrshire, two, and the Department of Health has recently approved tenders for 38 additional houses to be built in the County of Ayr. Perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us the districts in Ayrshire in which these 38 additional timber houses have been sanctioned. The Fife County Council have 12, the Lanarkshire County Council have 60, the Town Council of Edinburgh 141, and the Glasgow Corporation 368. These are temporary wooden houses made of reconstructed Army huts, and I am interested to know whether houses of this nature have qualified for the subsidy. The City of Dundee has 80 wooden houses, four permanent wooden houses and 76 temporary houses, made of reconstructed Army huts.
When we are thinking of houses we are apt to be a little prejudiced in Scotland because we have been accustomed to the very substantial houses built of stone, chiefly of sandstone. In latter days we have accustomed ourselves to brick houses, general of rough cast. I think we should extend our borders and make use of timber for the building of houses. We have to bear in mind that on the 1879 North American Continent no fewer than 100,000,000 people live in timber houses, many of them very elaborate, very expensive, a great many of them humble homes but yet very beautiful and cheap. One great advantage of the timber house is that it can be built rapidly and easily. My information is that in Hull two timber houses have been built in 11 days. That is surely an encouraging factor. These houses, I am told, are built of western red cedar, which is immune from dry rot, has the virtue of being vermin proof, and can be left exposed to the elements without any kind of preservative. These are surely qualities which should commend themselves to local authorities who are anxious to vary their housing programme in order to overtake arrears. Houses of this type are surely eminently suitable for rural areas where bricks and bricklayers may be rather difficult to obtain.
Again in Scotland we have many areas in which the underground working of coal mines causes very serious surface conditions. I have seen, when in the company of the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson), houses which are very much affected by underground workings, particularly in Cowdenbeath. In the case of timber houses, the effects of subsidence are not nearly as serious as they are in the case of ordinary brick houses or, worse still, concrete houses. Once the concrete wall of a house is ruptured, it is very difficult to repair it.
§ Mr. Gibson
I am inclined to agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) that it is impossible to repair a break in a concrete wall due to subsidence. The effect of subsidence on timber houses is very slight, as the timber "gives," and in that way it is able to compensate for the inequality of the surface caused by under-workings. I understand that very extensive arrangements are being made, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health in England, for the establishment of standard tests in connection with fire resistance, and the results of those tests will be available soon. The tests will also affect the question of roofing materials. Timber will very quickly be graded when the demand grows, and the grading of timber for use for building purposes is, of course, very important.
1880 With regard to costs, I understand that the fire insurance rate for a timber house works out at about 2s. 6d. per cent., which is not very far removed from the insurance rate for an ordinary stone house. I am informed that, even with timber at its present price, it is possible for the same amount of money to get a larger house than can be got by using other materials. With an increase in the number of timber houses constructed, the cost would very quickly fall, because the price of each house is lower when two houses are built than it is when one house is built. The use of timber for the building of houses lends itself to architectural effects that are not possible with either stone or brick. We look on the old timber frames of the Chester houses with admiration. In the old days, in the South of England, timber was the main part of the structure of the house, and bricks were merely put into the interstices between the solid oak wooden frames in order, as it were, to keep out the draught. The strength was in the wood. Nowadays, wood can be very quickly and very cheaply dressed for building purposes, and it can be put together economically, and certainly quickly, as is shown in the case of the houses to which I have referred. I suggest that the local authorities should not limit themselves to conservative types of houses, but should think of new means in order the more quickly to get over the very serious arrears in connection with housing, whih we all deplore, in the towns and cities of Scotland.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Macquisten
The hon. and learned Member for Greenock (Mr. Gibson) has made a very important contribution to the Debate. Housing in Scotland has been in a lamentable condition for many years—indeed since early history—and we have never been as well housed as the people in England. For military purposes, it was necessary in the past to crowd people together and to put walls round the towns, and people got into the habit of living in a congested way in tenements. Nothing is worse or more unhappy, especially for children, for people than living in tenements. The English have more space in their housing because England has been a peaceable country much longer than Scotland. In Scotland, there were the old tribal disputes, and people had to watch out for themselves; and the result was that the population 1881 got into a congested way of living. The attempts which we have made by the local authorities, since we took up the question of housing seriously, and since private enterprise dropped building houses after the coming of the Rent Restrictions Acts, have not given any concrete results in the matter of housing the working classes. The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) told the House that houses are being built for letting at rents which no working man can afford to pay and instanced a rent of 30s. per week. It is nonsensical to think that working men can pay the rents that are asked, when they reach such a figure. I think the rents that are being paid for houses both in England and Scotland are far too high. In Scotland there is a rating system which very much increases the rents, and in some places, rates are exacted even upon empty houses, so that owners pull the roofs off, and the number of houses available is diminished. All encouragement to build houses has been taken away.
I do not think the local authorities are the people who ought to build houses. There are far too many local authorities and they compete one against the other, so that the prices rise, as prices always rise when there are a great many customers Moreover, a subsidy is a stimulus to increase prices. How can we dispose of this problem of housing? Those hon. Members who were acquainted with the late Sir Tudor Walters will know that he built houses for various local authorities at about one-third less than the cost at which anybody else could build them. He was able to do that because he was in a position to make gigantic purchases. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Sir M. MacDonald) has referred to buying from Russia as buying from one seller. We ought to have in Scotland a housing commission, with an expert like the late Sir Tudor Walters, who was a wonderful and a great-hearted man, at the head of it, which could buy in bulk. I remember the late Sir Tudor Walters once told me how he managed to get materials so cheaply. For instance, if there was a brickworks which was choked up with bricks, he said, "I will take all of them if you will let me have them at such and such a price." In that way he was able to build houses at one-third less than the cost at which anybody else could build them.
§ Mr. R. Gibson
Does the hon. and learned Member advocate the nationalisation of house building in Scotland?
§ Mr. Macquisten
No. I am advocating that the Secretary of State for Scotland should consider having somebody like Sir Tudor Walters and a housing commission to make bulk purchases and build by mass production, in the same way as some local authorities buy coal direct from the mines. I have not the full history of the enterprise run by Sir Tudor Walters, but it was an extraordinarily successful one, and I think it was practically on a non-profit or very small profit-making basis. He had his own lawyers and his own surveyors, and all the people he employed were animated by the same spirit as he was in trying to do the best for the working classes.
§ Mr. Macquisten
No, not all of it, and in any event, he got bedrock prices. What is now required is something of the same kind, one commission to do the buying and to take over the whole of the business. Of course, such a commission would employ local people and local contractors, but there would be only one person buying the materials. The way in which Sir Tudor Walters handled the labour question was to give the workers three or four years steady work. They knew that they would not be unemployed when the particular job on which they were working was finished, and because of that, they gave of their best, because they, like all mankind, were looking for security. The Secretary of State for Scotland ought to consider some such system, because we shall never get enough houses built if we go on as at present, with innumerable small authorities competing. Recently, I was at Campbell-town, and I have never seen anything like some of the houses there. The rain comes through the roofs, and the people put down buckets to try to catch the rain as it comes through. But the local authority is building as fast as it can to rehouse those people. In other places people say that there is favouritism, that some people can get houses and others cannot, and although one does not know whether that is correct or not, it is a fact that there is grave dissatisfaction with the local authorities all over Scotland. The local authorities cannot do this job, for 1883 they have not the efficiency or the skill required, and I do not see how we can solve the housing problem until there is an expert and a centralised body to deal with it.
I would like now to refer to the question of wooden houses, which was dealt with by the hon. and learned Member for Greenock. The building of wooden houses is, of course, a very simple business. They can be put into sections at the forests, and the people can erect them themselves. In Argyllshire, the crofters would certainly be able to put up their own houses, and there are very few workmen who could not erect houses for themselves if they received the wooden sections. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) built a splendid house with his own hands, and if he has done it, I do not see why the working people could not do it. They would be able to do it if they received the sections.
There is no doubt about the lasting quality of wooden houses. I could show hon. Members in the town of Bergen in Norway, a country which is almost entirely wooden-housed, the great warehouses of the Hanseatic League, which are still sound and in full use. They are made of timber and are storeys high, and they were put up before the time of William Wallace. If wooden houses are properly constructed so that there is air below them, they will last as long as any other sort of houses, and certainly they would be very much better than the ordinary cheap brick houses that are being constructed in many places. As has already been pointed out, in areas where there is the possibility of subsidence, a wooden house can be so constructed and supported that nothing could happen to it. If a wooden house has a double wall, it is as warm as one could wish. Lord Austin once showed me some houses of elm wood which he had had constructed, and they were very satisfactory and beautiful to look at. If a really first-class architect designed the houses, and if the houses were constructed in sections and sent over from, say, Canada to this country, they could be consigned to the districts where the houses were required, and the people would have no difficulty in erecting them for themselves. There would be no more difficulty in doing that than there would be in erecting a sec- 1884 tional motor garage which many of us have done. It is a simple matter of having the sections and the necessary nuts and bolts, and up the house goes. The building of wooden houses would go a long way to solve both the labour problem and the problem of expense of housing materials.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Westwood
With reference to the point raised by the two hon. Members who have just spoken, it is all to the credit of the Department that they have, under the instructions of the Secretary of State, been taking action for the purpose of bringing together the local authorities to discuss this aspect of the question with the deliberate intention of trying to speed up housing in Scotland. I understand that last Wednesday there was a conference with the local authorities to discuss the aspect of the problem which we have been discussing to-day. It ought to be made clear by the Under-Secretary that the grants provided for in the Order before the House will be applicable, under adequate safeguards, to the building of suitable and acceptable wooden houses for the purpose of speeding up housing accommodation in Scotland. That point ought to be made clear because it has not up to the moment been made clear to the local authorities. Inquiries have been made, but the answers have been hedged round with far too many safeguards, and we ought to have a definite assurance to-day that inside reasonable limits every facility will be given for grants for houses of the kind discussed by the hon. and learned Member for Greenock (Mr. R. Gibson) and the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten).
The immediate subject before the House is the Order which continues the existing subsidies payable under the 1930 and 1935 Acts. It has been made clear by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) that we will not divide against the Order, but we are entitled to protest, as the local authorities are protesting, that on the very last day available this business is brought before the House. We know, on the statement made by the Under-Secretary, that unless the Order is approved tonight or to-morrow subsidies cannot be payable after 31st March. That leaves us far too little time to discuss a problem of this kind, and we on this side of the 1885 House and the local authorities are protesting against leaving it so late. It has been made clear by the Under-Secretary that the average payable under the subsidies which are now to be continued under the Order was £10 15s. per house last year. Knowing that these subsidies are inadequate under existing conditions, under the existing rating system, and under the existing costs of building, to enable local authorities to build houses to let at rents which the working class can pay, the local authorities were pressing for a review of the subsidies long before March.
As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson), no later than last Friday, there was reaffirmed by the local authorities of Scotland a demand for increased subsidies to meet the increased cost of building and the new demands that have been made upon the local authorities by the provisions of the 1935 Act. There were discussions before 1st November, 1937, we are told, but I am rather afraid that some of the local authorities will be perturbed to-morrow when they read the statement of the Under-Secretary. I admit that while technically this Order continues the subsidies for three years, it is really an interim Order to give the Government breathing time for discussions with a view to amending legislation; but we have been told that if any adjustments are necessary there must be a fair distribution between the local authorities and the Exchequer. I hope that the Under-Secretary will amplify that statement; otherwise some suspicion will be created in the minds of the local authorities.
I risked the assurance at the conference last Friday—not being there as a Member of Parliament, but being present as a member of a housing authority—that there was an intention on the part of the Government to consolidate the two housing subsidies contained in this Order and to bring about some form of uniformity in subsidies. Can we have some statement of what is in the mind of the Government in the negotiations that are being carried on with the local authorities, because they are rather afraid that if it is to be a fixed subsidy per house it will create all kinds of difficulties? They are claiming that the principle of the 1930 Act for the provision of a subsidy based on the units that are to be rehoused is 1886 preferable to a standardised subsidy of £6 15s., or even of £8 or £9 per house. They claim that a larger subsidy ought to be provided for the four-apartment than for a three-apartment house, and a still larger subsidy for the five-apartment house.
There are arguments in favour of the principle of the 1930 Act being applied to the 1935 Act, particularly in view of the standardisation of rents which is provided for in Section 47, Sub-section (5) of the 1935 Act, which carries along with it increased liabilities of local authorities where they are determined to give rebates to meet the financial needs of large families which have to occupy the larger houses. I would like to have some assurance as to what is in the mind of the Government. If we do not have it they will once again throw grit into the machinery that enables houses to be provided in Scotland, and very likely there will be a six months' hiatus in which the local authorities will be waiting, between now and December, for the new provisions which are being discussed with the local authorities.
No one wants to see a stay in house building in Scotland because of the conditions with which we are faced. Special reference was made by the Under-Secretary to the fact that in the discussions with the local authorities the level of building costs must be taken into consideration in fixing any new subsidies other than those which are provided for in this Order. I hope that in attempting to bring down the costs of building the Department will not try to reduce the standard of building. They have been trying it, and if necessary I can produce the evidence of unjustifiable attempts in that direction. I will give an illustration. Advanced local authorities which have been receiving the subsidies which this Order continues have been providing chromium plated fittings in place of the old brass fittings. The suggestion is seriously made by the Department in the interests of economy that they should revert to the old brass fittings.
§ Mr. Westwood
I am glad to say that there are those in administration who thought of her and refused to economise 1887 at her expense. It was even suggested that wood that was 3½ inches deep should be reduced to 3 inches. It would take as much labour to put it in, but it would economise at the expense of the standard of housing. It was suggested in another case that cornicing should be abandoned. The housing authority in that case yielded on the first occasion, but refused to do so on the second occasion. I hope that in seeking to reduce the cost of building the Department will not attempt to reduce the standard on the lines I have indicated.
The local authorities have been appealing for something better than the subsidies provided for in this Order. Are they justified in making that claim? I suggest that they are. Under the 1935 Act the local authorities who are carrying through their duties are standardising rent. It has not been an easy job for some of them. It has not been easy for some of the convenors of these authorities, and I speak with some knowledge because of the deputations that used to come to my house to try and keep back the standardisation of rents in the town for which I was convenor. Let me quote from a memorandum prepared by the treasurer of that burgh, in which he points out, dealing with the housing pool:'The pool has not yet felt the full impact of the relatively high costs for houses that are now building, plus the fact that by the giving of rebates, although rents have been standardised, there is no real increased rents going into the rent pool.The Memorandum goes on to state further that in the case of that housing authority they would require an average increased subsidy of £6 15s. per house for the purpose of enabling them to keep rents at the figure at which they were fixed, which was an average of £2 per house more than was being charged for houses of similar accommodation within that particular burgh. If they did not get the increased subsidy of an average of £6 15s. it will mean an increase on the £4 10s. rate charged under the 1930 Act and on the £3 5s. rate charge under the 1935 Act up to the average of £9 per house. If that has to take place it will stop the building of houses in Scotland. One local authority whose housing finance I know very well has a rate of from 6d. to 8d. in the £ for the purpose of providing houses under the 1930, the 1935 and other 1888 Housing Acts. They are willing to pay their existing rate charge of £4 10s. and £3 5s., the 50 per cent. charge in connection with the 1925 Act, and the four-fifths of a penny under the 1919 Act, but it will be impossible to get the average ratepayer to agree to increased rate subsidy, particularly in view of the fact that the Government are only continuing their existing rate subsidy under the provision now before us.
Let me strengthen the argument for an improvement as compared with the present position. On houses built under the Acts of 1930, 1933 and 1935 the all-in rate of grant has been tending to decrease as time goes on. The Under-Secretary has admitted that in 12 months there has been an average reduction of more than £1 per house. Let me give the figures for an authority about which I know the facts. In May, 1935, there were 412 houses completed which earned grant at an average rate of £11 12s. per house. In November, 1937, there were 1,148 houses, but the grant averages then worked out at only £10 6s. per house.
I asked the Secretary of State for a return of the number of houses approved for grant in 1936 under the 1930 Act, and I think the figure given was 13,000, whereas for 1937 it was only approximately 9,400. Those are the houses which were getting the larger grant, and as more and more houses are being built under the Act of 1935, getting the grant provided for in the Order before the House, fewer houses are being built under the Act of 1930 which are provided with a grant, if the full units are transferred to the house, of £12 10s. for a three-apartment house, £17 10s. for a four-apartment house and £22 10s. for a five-apartment house. With an ever-increasing number of houses getting grants under the Act of 1935 and an ever-decreasing number getting the grant under the 1930 Act, there is an average reduction in the grants payable by the Department.
Let me further fortify the arguments of the local authorities for improving conditions. Up to the 15th November, 1937, the average grant for houses built under the Act of 1930 by an authority which I have in mind was a fraction over £13 a house. For the half-year ended November, 1937, only 34 out of the 120 houses completed and occupied had been allocated to the Act of 1930. That illus- 1889 trates that with an increasing proportion of housing allocated to the Act of 1935 the income going into the housing pool is less and less, although greater and greater charges are falling upon the housing pool. There has been a big reduction in the rate of grant comparing the average of May, 1935, with the average for the year 1937. In one authority with whose finances I am acquainted the average difference has equalled £3 6s. 8d. per house.
With these facts before us I trust that in any revision to be brought about full consideration will be given to the claim of the local authorities that something better should be provided than is contained in the Order before us. This Order covers not only the supply of houses, but the provision of amenities, such as community centres, playing fields and halls. How is it possible to get local authorities to respend to the well-meant desire of the Department to provide community centres, halls, and the like, when the grant is not adequate even to provide houses. For the reasons I have given we on this side shall not oppose the Order now, but we shall watch very closely the new provisions which the Government bring in, and we say that they must provide something far better than is in this Order or they will encounter the bitterest opposition.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Elliot)
Perhaps it will be for the convenience of the House if I now answer some of the specific points put this afternoon. We have had a most interesting Debate, one from which the party atmosphere has been entirely absent. It is true to say that certain subjects have been raised which went a long way beyond the strict limits under which we have to conduct this Debate. It would be out of order for me to go into detail about possible new legislation. It was agreed by the right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) that to raise the subsidy would require new legislation, and it would be out of order to do more than make a passing reference to it at the present time.
In the first place, let me deal briefly with the point made by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood) that we are a little late in the day in bringing forward this Order. We could 1890 have brought forward our Scottish business earlier, but we held it over for the convenience of hon. Members in all parts of the House, and on the hon. Member's side in particular. Therefore, I think we are not to blame that this is the very last day on which it was possible to discuss this business.
I quite agree that that is only, in a way, a technical answer, because he says that we ought to have come to an agreement with the local authorities long before. I think he will, on consideration, see that many arguments which he advanced as to why the views of local authorities should prevail can more reasonably be dealt with in the discussions we are having with the local authorities, and that it would be a little discourteous of me on this occasion to give an indication of what it is in our minds to put to the local authorities. If I gave that information to him in his present capacity as a Member of Parliament, I am sure that in his other capacity, one prominent in local authority circles, he would greatly resent the discourtesy done to him by such a prior disclosure when we are engaged in discussions with the local authorities. When one is engaged in discussions with a body of people any suggestions one may have to put before them ought not to be disclosed previously to a different audience. However, that consideration does not dispense with the necessity for the Government to reply to some of the points which have been put forward to-day from the point of view of the House of Commons.
It is common knowledge that there is great disquietude in this House and in Scotland as to the housing situation, and we must bend every effort to solve that problem. As long as the position remains as it is none of us, Government or Opposition, local authorities or central department, can feel in the least at ease, and it will need to be considered here or elsewhere until a solution is found. Some of the points raised are not completely borne out by the information at my disposal. The right hon. Member for West Stirling said that local authorities felt that with the existing decline in the subsidy they were unable to develop large programmes. A local authority with which we are both familiar, that of Glasgow, has of recent years, and almost of recent days, developed some very large housing proposals; and, in fact, local authorities 1891 have schemes under way totalling some 37,000 houses, which is a programme far outwith the resources of the building industry of Scotland. It is not large plans but large execution of which we are short.
§ Mr. Elliot
Of course the hon. Member's mind turns to that kind of thing, but I refer to constructive rather than destructive execution. We have large programmes. Let me frankly pay this testimony to the local authorities, that they have not haggled, as was suggested by one hon. Member opposite. I think that the central authority when, under my predecessor, the late Sir Godfrey Collins, they brought forward the overcrowding subsidy, did not haggle with the local authorities, but brought forward generous proposals. Since that time the local authorities have gone ahead doing their utmost not to haggle but to submit large programmes, and the only thing with which we are not pleased is the tremendous lag in the completion of those programmes.
The right hon. Member for West Stirling rather objected to the word "overloading," and asked for some further definition of it. He said, "It is all very well to say the industry is overloaded, but it is not overloading at all, it is profiteering." I should not like to think that the two words were absolutely synonymous. When there is a tight situation, when labour and materials are liable to be diverted from one scheme to another, when people are competing for the resources available, we all know that contractors tend to quote higher prices—first of all, in some cases, actually to discourage a contract being given to them, and, secondly, to ensure themselves against the margins of risk, against loss of profit on the scheme, which inevitably arise when they do not know what labour they will get to finish it and in some cases do not know what materials they will get or to what delays they will be subject. Those considerations are what I mean by overloading rather than profiteering, which was in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman.
I have here a fairly extensive analysis of the causes of the rise of prices between 1892 1936 and 1938. It is under four main headings—(1) increased cost of materials, (2) increased standard rate of wages, (3) extra cost due to the larger superficial area of the houses now being built. This list deals, to some extent, with the point made by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood) that there had been pressure to lower the standard of housing. In fact, the standard has gone up, because whereas in 1935 the average area of a four-apartment house was about 840 square feet at the present day it is 920 square feet. The fourth heading is "Other items," including the extra cost of the improved finish of the houses, better fittings and architectural embellishments, and contractors' knowledge that they might find themselves bidding above the standard rates for labour, which, as we all know, has been a very active fact in some local authority schemes.
§ Mr. Elliot
I will give better than the percentages; in a few minutes I will give the figures of the actual increases in the cost of the houses due to these factors.
§ Mr. Johnston
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what is the position of those four factors as between Scotland and England, that is the high cost of materials, the larger superficial area and other items?
§ Mr. Elliot
I will come to that aspect of the matter in a moment. I agree that it is very important, when the right hon. Gentleman asks where the differential comes in, because it is the differential which really interests us all. In regard to contractors, I was saying that sometimes prices very much higher than the standard rates both for labour and materials are paid. Furthermore there is the danger of a longer period of completion, which is one of the uncertain factors into which I do not wish to go again. I just mention it to the right hon. Gentleman.
As to the rise of £126 per house, we worked out the cost of materials, and decided that it amounted to £30 on a house. The second item, the increase in the standard rates of wages, not including special rates, might amount to £6 per house. The cost due to the larger superficial area would amount to £20 or £25. 1893 The balance, in which is included the cost of improved finish, and the floating factors which have been mentioned such as the extra cost of labour and materials, and delay, would amount to something in the region of £65 per house. I could, of course, go further into this analysis now, but I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would wish me to do that, as I can see from his expression and can deduce from his speech that what he is concerned about is which of the factors apply specially to Scotland. I should say the last. The question of materials applies generally throughout the country and so does the question of standard rates of wages.
§ Mr. Elliot
The figure is approximately £12 more for timber, £6 more for bricks and £2 more for light castings. Fireclay goods £1, cement £1, and other miscellaneous items make up the balance of £8. That is how the £30 is made up. It is interesting to note that the question of cement, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling raised, does not amount to very much. I have given the figure as £1. The comparative prices show that in January, 1935, the price was 47s. for the best English port-land cement delivered in Glasgow, in January, 1936, it was 45s. and it was 48s. in January, 1938. There really is not much in the actual price of cement. The figures I have given show that it has little effect on the cost of houses.
§ Mr. Johnston
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the building trade employers have alleged the greatest profiteering, particularly in relation to the last 3s. a ton put on by the cement combine. They made that allegation before the Board of Trade Committee on prices.
§ Mr. Elliot
I am not going to argue the matter at the moment. If it comes to £1 out of £126, that still leaves a great deal to be accounted for.
§ Mr. Elliot
I am putting that sum down as the unaccounted-for balance and it comes to something between £60 and £70. The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk will know that very often delay can make 1894 a very great difference in the ultimate cost of carrying out a piece of work, not only a piece of housing work which you have let out on contract, but housing work which is done directly.
§ Mr. Westwood
Even when a contractor has to transfer a contract to another contractor it can also increase the cost per house.
§ Mr. Elliot
Those are all practical business matters with which we are acquainted in our experience. One of the results of the increased share which the Opposition have taken in local government means that there is first-hand knowledge of many business transactions and that they are able to sympathise with the difficulties of contractors who are putting forward schemes of work in this or some other connection. Again, I come back to overloading. This matter seems to me to present all the symptoms of an overloaded industry. The right hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. J. Brown) demanded fair play for Scotland. He asked why we should have inferior grants to those given in England. The reply is that you are not getting inferior grants to those in England. The grant in Scotland works out even to-day at £10 15s. while the corresponding English grant works out at something like £9. It is not a question of inferior grants but of asking why we cannot make as good use of the grants as they do south of the Border. That is the question to which we are always coming back.
We are a fairly hard-headed people and we like to feel that we are getting value for our money. We feel a little disconcerted when we do not get that value in regard to house building. I rather sympathise with the point of view put forward by the hon. Member for Cathcart (Sir J. Train) and the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) that merely increasing the subsidy would not by itself solve the problem. Under an overloaded industry our £60 or £70 problem would go up to an £80 problem, or even higher, and we should be in exactly the same position, except that a number of scandals would have arisen, either in the building industry or in some ancillary industry which this House would rightly demand to have examined. The difference between England and Scotland is the difference between an overloaded industry and one run at what you might 1895 call a normal load. The problem arises, which of course I cannot go into at any length, how you can get our industry working on a reasonable load.
We ought to be grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Greenock (Mr. Gibson) who drew attention to the possibility of alternative methods. As he said, scores of millions of people living upon as high a standard of living as any people in the world, the working class in North America, live in timber houses. They are all the more desirable since, with the conclusion of the exhibition, a good deal of joiners will become available. Hon. Members opposite asked whether the exhibition had not meant a great drain upon the building resources of this country, and was it not true to say that this had caused a hold up in house building? I do not think it is so, because the main shortage just now is in the key-men, that is, among bricklayers and to some extent among plasterers, as hon. Members will agree who are acquainted with these matters. For all that great exhibition only 13 bricklayers were engaged, but there were 1,000 joiners. The conclusion of the exhibition will release not a great additional number of bricklayers but a considerable number of skilled woodworkers, who are accustomed to an analogous class of work to housing. For that reason and from that point of view it is very desirable that local authorities and others should give attention to alternative methods, particularly to the timber house, as a possible source of relief.
§ Mr. Elliot
They might be cheaper, but I would not put that argument forward. I am dealing only with houses which are comparable in price, and which would be as lasting as brick houses. The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk asked me to satisfy the minds of local authorities as to whether such houses would be eligible for the full grant. They will be eligible for the full grant, if they comply with the conditions laid down by the Department of Health.
You come back to the question of speed and execution. Speed is essential and is desired by local authorities and the Central Department alike. The right hon. 1896 Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) asked whether the shortage of houses was due to the rise in cost. I have already told him the answer. The number of houses being built and approved but not yet begun is still as high as it has ever been, even during the trough of low prices. That shows that the rise in cost has not discouraged local authorities from going on with houses. I think he would agree that the figure of 37,000 houses under construction and approved but not begun is as high as we have ever had in Scotland and shows that it is not a matter of the planning of houses but of the delivery. He said that he hoped we should make a statement of what we were doing. We come back not only to alternative methods but to a greater supply of labour and materials to complete the houses which are being built by existing methods. Fundamentally we are all conservative when it comes to housing. We want houses built as our forefathers used to build them. Many people would not mind going into a timber house, but most people prefer a brick house. I go further than that and say that people in Scotland prefer stone houses. They regard brick as suitable for such things as factories but not as a material that human beings should get into.
I attach the greatest importance to getting houses built by the traditional methods as well as by alternative methods. I have been pressed to produce further supplies of materials, and the brick-makers have responded, but if they saw us drawing the attention of local authorities to timber houses and other alternative methods they would be uneasy lest they should be left in the lurch. We have no intention of doing that. We will take all the materials that the building industry in Scotland will produce, and I am sure that the brickmakers will not in any way regret having gone ahead and produced greater quantities of materials, even though we bring in timber and other houses, possibly at an increased cost, to assist us.
The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) asked whether he could have a plain answer to a plain question: Was the Order intended to solve the housing situation in Scotland? Of course not; the Order could not be regarded as one which solved the housing position in Scotland, 1897 but the Order, together with all the other steps which have been taken, and including the steps which we have yet not taken, will tackle, and I hope solve, the housing question of Scotland. With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), I do not deny that the responsibility for dealing with the situation comes back on the administration of the day. It may be that the roots of the situation go far back into the past; it may be that there are difficulties with labour organisations and other difficulties with which it is not for the Government to deal; but the fundamental responsibility falls on the Government, and anyone standing at this Box, as I do, must for the time being take that responsibility; and, in so far as the housing situation in Scotland is not satisfactory, I, so long as I am here, am responsible to this House, and shall be responsible until the situation improves. I was asked by the hon. Member for West Fife why, seeing that when it is a question of munitions employers and employed will meet together and pool privileges, make alterations in standing practices, and so on, I could not obtain by similar methods priority for house building. We have done these things, and have obtained priority for building through the organisations on both sides of the industry, and it is well known that improvements have been made and an additional head of labour has been procured; but of course there is not that sweep and drive which come when questions of peace arid war are under consideration.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The Prime Minister said that the Government were prepared to control industry in order to give priority to munitions, and I asked, why not control the building industry—the supply of materials and all the rest—and give priority to housing?
§ Mr. Elliot
I do not wish to be led away into an argument, but I can assure the hon. Member that that is not what the Prime Minister said. He said, in the first place, that it was very desirable to get the voluntary and willing co-operation of industry, and he was calling them together for that purpose. I did that with the building industry, and we got co-operation, but people sometimes feel that there is a greater urgency about things which cannot possibly bring them 1898 benefit, but can only avert disaster, than about things which are demonstrably and obviously going to bring the greatest benefits to their own people. I sometimes wish that we could get the same sense of urgency in dealing with problems of this nature that we can get for problems of peace and war. I do not, however, wish to under-estimate what has been done. There has been a considerable improvement in the labour situation so far as local authorities' building is concerned.
The hon. Member for West Fife asked whether we were worse off than in England, where so much labour is now engaged in armament factories and so on, as against housing. The answer is that we are better off than is the case in England; a far larger percentage of our building labour in Scotland is engaged on housing than is the case in England, and the proportion has gone up, though not as much as I should like to see, in recent months. On 4th December, 1936, there were 2,627 bricklayers employed on local authorities' building in Scotland; on 4th December, 1937, there were 3,383. Of joiners, 2,220 were employed in December, 1936, and 3,278 in December, 1937; while of plasterers there were 1,108 in 1936, and 1,497 in 1937. At any rate, therefore, the figures are moving in the right direction, and I wish to express my gratitude both to employers and to employed for their co-operation in solving the problems of the normal industry, as against the additional problems of alternative methods, which, of course, we are also trying to bring into play for the purpose of solving these difficulties. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) asked whether we were negotiating for a continuance or reduction of the subsidy, or whether there was any possibility of an increase. Clearly, we do not contemplate an increase by a further Order because the present Act does not envisage an increase, but I do not say that our minds are closed to the possibility of taking further steps to deal with the housing problem in Scotland. So far, however, as the Act is concerned, we could not give an increase without coming back to the House for further legislation.
§ Mr. Elliot
Having listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk, we may be perfectly sure that the discussions will not be limited merely to the continuance of the Act, but that the local authorities, at any rate, from their side of the table, will make sure that that aspect of the matter is not overlooked. The hon. Member for Dundee also mentioned, as other speakers have mentioned, the range of the subsidies, and that point emerged from another angle in the speech of the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk. He said that subsidies should be given for building houses for young married couples, and I heard a similar suggestion from the hon. Member for West Fife. But if we are to concentrate upon anything in Scotland now, we must concentrate on the most desperate problem, which, as the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and the hon. Member for Camlachie will agree, and as I can bear out from experience in my own constituency, is, first and foremost, to get rid of the terrible dens and slums which exist. Indeed, the hon. Member for Dundee himself will agree that no city can show worse examples of slums than Dundee. That is the reason why the slum clearance subsidy is directing the building industry just now rather to the clearing up of the slums. That is right, because, first and foremost, we want to concentrate to the utmost that we possibly can on getting rid of these desperate conditions. After that, we shall have to move on to other problems, but, when there is only so much labour available, we must take first things first, and, in this case, worst things first.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) mentioned that large increases of costs in his own division had been partially abolished by his local authority refusing to place orders at these high prices, and he suggested that I could put that method into operation all over the country. Really, however, I think it is better that that should be done by the local authorities themselves. I fear that, if I were to try to take powers to control supplies of building materials, and, still worse, to control labour, I might easily cause shortage and damage which would make the housing position very much worse even than it is at present. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Forfar (Captain Shaw) asked a question about the cost of housing in Scotland, and how 1900 it compared with England. I have dealt with that question in the figures I have given to the House.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) referred to the resolution which has been passed by the local authorities, but I would point out again that many of these things we have been able to do. We have fulfilled their demands on many points, as, for instance, that there should be a more adequate supply of materials. I do not think there is any complaint now of shortage of materials. The question of control of materials for luxury building I have already dealt with; you cannot control that side of the industry without controlling materials and labour for all building.
§ Mr. Watson
The representatives of the local authorities put that point particularly before the conference.
§ Mr. Elliot
I am not arguing at the moment with the local authorities. When I am in conference with the local authorities, I will argue with them, and when I am in conference with the hon. Member for Dunfermline I will argue with him, but I do not think he could give an example where housing has been held up on account of shortage of materials. As to the control of building materials, I reject that because I could not do it without carrying it to stages which would injure, and not help, the cause of housing in Scotland. As for the increase of labour, I have given figures showing that there has been a very marked increase on local authorities' schemes, while as to the necessity for reviewing the figures of the subsidy, that review is at present in progress with my Department. I have spoken already of the helpful speech of the hon. and learned Member for Greenock. I was glad to note that he drew testimony from an unusual source in such circumstances, namely, from the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten). He suggested that a commission was necessary, and we are using that method as well. The Special Areas Housing Association is a commission of that kind. We are carrying out tests and experiments with a central organisation for house building in Scotland, and we may see those improvements which the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire said would result from operations of that kind.
§ Mr. Elliot
Not precisely. It is not merely a question of bulk purchases. I am not so certain that having one single purchaser for the whole of Scotland doling out materials to the local authorities would give us so great a degree of economy or acceleration as the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire suggests. We have had experience of buying centrally and selling to the crofters, but the conditions in the agricultural counties of Scotland differ very much from those of the great industrial counties or towns. I quite realise the position in which I should be with the Treasury if I bought a great quantity of timber of a rather inferior kind at a very cheap price, and I can also see a good deal of difficulty with the local authorities in Scotland. We have to try this method, and others, and I assure the House that it is being tried out now.
§ Mr. Westwood
Would it not be possible to try to get some arrangement between housing authorities in each respective county for setting up a central buying agency to enable them to purchase far more cheaply than is the case, for instance, in Fife, where 27 housing authorities go into the market to buy materials. Would it not be possible at least to have some association between the Department and the housing authorities in their respective counties on the lines I suggested?
§ Mr. Elliot
I should be willing to consider that, but the people of Fife are hard, thrawn people, and I do not wish to bring forward proposals and be told afterwards that it is none of my business, and I can keep out of it.
§ Mr. Westwood
Lanarkshire people are just as hard-headed as those of Fife. Will the right hon. Gentleman try it there? We are sometimes wise in our generation, as we have been in connection with the utilisation of water.
§ Mr. Elliot
I can only say that, if the authorities came forward with a suggestion for pooling their buying, I should be very glad to consider it, but I think that these proposals are greeted with less suspicion if they come from local authorities to the central Department than if they go from the central Department to the local authorities.
1902 The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk brought forward several points with which I have dealt more or less. I will not elaborate an examination of them, but I will take them all into account and we will review them in the Department when we are carrying out the further examination which I promised we will undertake as soon as the Order is put through. We recognise that the situation is unsatisfactory and that, as long as it is unsatisfactory, the primary responsibility falls on the Government of the day, and more particularly on the Minister and the Department. I do not desire to shirk that responsibility, but I say that here and now we ought to pass this Order, and then we must continue to use every method we can, not shutting our minds to further legislation if necessary, to remove the standing reproach which we all feel rests on us as long as our people are housed as they are.
That the draft of the Housing (Scotland) Acts (Continuation of Contributions) Order, 1938, proposed to be made by the Department of Health for Scotland, with the approval of the Treasury, under Section 33 of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1935, which was presented on the 3rd day of March, 1938, be approved.