§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
I wish to raise on this, the last day on which we shall meet this year, a question which I am perfectly certain my Scottish colleagues agree with me in regarding as not an important one. I make no apology of raising with the Secretary of State for Scotland to-day the question of Scottish housing. In these days one is apt, and possibly quite rightly so, not to give the same care and attention to domestic problems that would be given in a normal peace-time Parliament. Issues of war and peace are always with us, and because of their importance they outweigh our domestic issues. I wish to say at the outset that I doubt very much, speaking for Scotland as a whole, whether there is any issue, even in some respects the gravest issue of the war, rivalling in importance to the Scottish people the question of the provision of housing accommodation. Let any hon. Member go where he likes in Scotland. Let him discuss, if he cares, international policy, the treatment of Germany—all things that may be terribly important, and issues which played a dominating part in the election which followed the last war. But whether it be an industrial city or a country district he will find that to the Scottish people the dominating issue, the most appealing issue, is the issue of the housing situation in that country
I want to say a word or two about the background of the problem. I may be accused of repeating what is known, but in this Debate we have to make an appeal, not merely to the Scottish Members but to the larger part of Britain, to understand our situation; to make them realise why we feel so deeply about it, why we feel so bitter about it, why we ask for special treatment. Broadly speaking, among Scottish Members there is no difference of opinion about the clamant need. In Glasgow alone the need now is for at least 100,000 houses. When one recognises that to-day in the city of Glasgow, more than half the population—one citizen out of every two—has no lavatory accommodation but what he shares with other people—usually with four or five other families—and no bathroom accommodation, the position can be understood. Most of the families in our great cities, except for those who have been fortunate enough to get into municipal houses, bring 2054 their children up to manhood without knowing the luxury and decency of having a bath at home. Consider our tenement dwellings; consider that in our cities, and in our towns and mining villages, and indeed in our agricultural areas, the single-apartment house abounds—one small place, without a lavatory, for a man to house his wife and family.
I am not going to quote a lot of cases to-day, but one of the things which remains in my mind is an experience of my brother during the last war. He was in the Navy. He had a single apartment for himself, his wife, and two children. When he was at sea, one child died, and in that little apartment his wife, for three days, was shifting the body from the bed to the floor, and from the floor to the table. The woman and the other child had to live with the dead body for three days. That was not in a slum; it was in a good district—God knows what happens in the slum districts.
I am serving on a Committee dealing with rents. When my colleagues were in the City of Glasgow I took them along a street called George Street, within three minutes' walk of our great City Chambers, to view our housing. One man who fought in the last war said that the horrors of that war were not any greater than the horrors of those housing conditions. That is the background, and it is growing steadily worse. Bear in mind, whatever may be said about the English problem and how we were able to grapple with it before 1939, that in Scotland our house-building, before 1939, was making little inroad. All that was being done was to keep up with what was passing out of use. There was little or no provision for modern needs. Five years of war have passed, with little or no new construction sanctioned, and the situation grows steadily worse. Every Member of Parliament ought to feel proud and happy when he goes to his Parliamentary division. I do not know if I am different from others, but when I walk down the streets of my division, I almost feel that the people are shrieking at me, wanting to know when they are going to get houses to live in.
The Secretary of State for Scotland must face the issue. It is not enough for him to say, "We are faced with a war, and with labour shortage." I say, frankly, to him that no man who ever occupied his office has received from the 2055 House of Commons or from his Scottish colleagues the indulgence, almost kindness, that he has received. He has been treated to hardly a harsh term or hostile word. It is not like the old days, when he and I both sat in Opposition, almost tearing Secretaries of State limb from limb, in a political sense. He is favoured as few men have been. One reads of such Members as the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) pleading with him to reconsider his decision not to fight his seat again, one reads of the benevolence shown by almost everyone in the Conservative Party about his future welfare; and one reads how the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan), in the Scottish Debate a year or so ago, was almost fulsome in his praise. Those of us who dare even to look the wrong way at him, are looked at askance by our Scottish colleagues. That will not save him, despite his popularity, despite even the backing of the Press—although that backing is not too sure now, because the "Glasgow Herald" the other day, in a leading article, made a powerful plea for something more than has been done for Scottish housing—despite all I say to him, and despite what my colleagues may say and feel, despite all our niceness to him. Indeed, if this situation goes on, it will not save any of us.
The situation is ghastly, and something has to be done. The Secretary of State answered a Question the other day by the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil), which I apologise to the hon. Member for using. His answer showed how lamentable the position is. The hon. Member for Greenock asked how many houses have been built and occupied out of a programme of several hundred which were sanctioned for the beginning of 1943. Since then the whole of 1943 and 1944 has gone. Not 300 houses have been built and occupied—250 is the total. That is the total production after all this time. It is true that he mentioned, what I feel terribly, the flying-bomb attack on London; but, at the worst, the flying-bomb attack began only a few months ago. The right hon. Gentleman may produce other houses, and I am not going to take part to-day in a miserable quarrel as to whether he is right or the local authorities are right. I am not going to be the arbiter. All I know is that Scot- 2056 land is not getting what it needs. If the local authorities are also to blame, the right hon. Gentleman must shoulder that responsibility, and come to the House and tell us. You get a situation in Glasgow, in which a miserable correspondence takes place about the right of two or three tradesmen to build a house. The Corporation writes letters to the Secretary of State for Scotland and there are consultations with other Ministries—a miserable correspondence without any relevance to the situation.
The Secretary of State for Scotland may say "What would you do?" Frankly, I am not too inclined to answer that question. After all, I am only a back bencher, I have never been entrusted with a trip abroad, but have only been entrusted with miserable committees, on which I am always having to fight. I once asked permission for my wife to go to Northern Ireland, and even that could not be granted. I do not know therefore that it is my responsibility, but I will try to answer the question if I may. What should be done? Two things need to be done now. One is to plan for the housing situation to-day, and the other is to plan to deal with it in the period immediately following the peace. What would I do now? I do not know if it is the job of the Secretary of State, but, first of all, I would say that priority No. 1 for labour, ranking with the most urgent public and Government work, should be house construction. As regards the transfer of boys, I say to the Secretary of State that I would put house-building in the same relation as the coalmines to the recruitment of labour. That is what I would make priority No. 1 now.
We are hearing a lot, and having deputations, about redundant workers in factories. Let me make this clear beyond a shadow of doubt. I would not make one shell more in this country than the country needs merely in order to keep men in work. Let us be frank about it. I would not keep a factory open merely to make shells. If redundant factories are being closed, even for a temporary period, even for a week, a month, or two months, during that period of redundancy transfers of labour ought to be made to the building of houses and articles required for the building of houses. If it is said that it is difficult, what happened to the difficulties in the war, the changes in shipbuilding and the transfer of men 2057 backwards and forwards every day? Surely it can be done here? If my information is correct—and it has been published in a West of Scotland newspaper—one factory, in three months, has had 4,000 workers declared redundant. I say to the Secretary of State that he should lay claim to whatever labour he can get from that source for the purpose of building houses.
One other factor is that, for good or ill, men are returning home from the Forces. I think immediately of housing, and I say that every key-man in house building ought to be brought back as soon as possible to this country. He is valuable, apart from his own production and labour, because I want to see a great intensification of apprentice labour in the industry.
I speak of Glasgow because I know it best. Glasgow gets sanction for 300 houses, and, within a week or two, is given sanction for 400 or 500 more. What is this idea of the miserable parcelling out of little numbers of houses like this? As a matter of fact, there ought to be no limit to what Glasgow should build, even during the war. The Secretary of State should say to Glasgow, "I am placing no limit on you. If you can get materials and men, go on and build as many as you like." That is what the situation should be, but the right hon. Gentleman merely parcels out the houses in small numbers, and what happens? In house building certain classes of the work come to an end sooner than others. One man's job ends quicker than another's. If the man knows that there are only 300 to be built he does not hurry. He knows what is coming. In house building, of all occupations, you ought to be saying to the non-employed that there is another job ready to take its place as soon as the one is finished, and, in addition to that, you should always have a constant stream of houses to be built, ready for the transfer of men from one place to another, as their work finishes. This miserable parcelling out is no help to the situation.
I would say to the Secretary of State that, apart from better organisation and greater mechanisation of the industry, the two over-riding things in house building are labour and materials. I am going to ask the right hon. Gentleman what is being done now in Scotland to provide a greater pool of materials than 2058 there is there now. Everyone knows in Scotland that the pre-1939 industry could not turn out the houses required, What is being done to increase the pool of materials? It is no use us discussing here how it is to be done unless we have some idea what is to be done to increase both the pool of labour and that of materials. What steps are being taken now by the right hon. Gentleman? Have there been any negotiations, and at what stage is he going to increase that pool? What effort is being made to release materials?
What I am about to say may anger people. I am as fond of the good things of life as ever a man could be, if I can get them. I have never got very many and I am envious of others who do. I see that shiploads of oranges are coming over. I am not against them coming over but with the Scottish housing situation as it is every available ton of shipping space should be used for the importation of timber for the building of houses.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The few oranges that working class children will get will make very little difference to them. As far as Scotland is concerned, the first thing to do is to get the material required for building houses. Nothing else can compare with that. I am not against temporary houses and I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works—whom I am pleased to see present at this Debate—helped to kill the Portal business. This was said to be a quick, easy way of getting houses and we thought that within a few weeks of the end of hostilities these houses would have been put up. None of us was very anxious about them, but the situation with regard to Scotland is becoming so serious that, although I do not want to see housing standards lowered, standards hardly matter. I would have taken on the Portal house, though not because I liked it. I knew that if it came to Scotland it would not be a temporary but a permanent house, but I had to accept it because the public made me, but even that is not to come now. We have been told that by the end of 12 months some of these houses might be built.
2059 The Glasgow Corporation are going to carry out an experiment for the building of what are called foam-slag houses. They have asked for permission to erect a small factory and that permission has now been granted. The building of that factory ought to be a matter of urgency. If it had been required for the making of shells it would have been built within a week. The same urgency in the building of this factory should be shown now. I do not mind even temporary houses. I see that the Glasgow Corporation have produced a memorandum in which it is stated that a committee is to consider what open spaces or parts of the town can be used in connection with the erection of temporary houses. I think that, in that connection, something more might be done.
Just before the war they had one of the most stupid and useless things in that city called an Empire Exhibition, which occupied Bellahouston Park for years. It was one of the greatest wastages of public money of which I have ever heard in spite of what has been said by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) and one or two others. It served little useful purpose. Surely to goodness if they could hand over one of the public parks for a stupid and useless venture like that, the same public park could be used in connection with the temporary housing of the people. The challenge to start building houses now is with the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am told that the war is in a serious stage, and I do not deny that fact. The war is with us and, like the river, it goes on. We cannot stop it, but some day a climax will be reached. But there is no man in Scotland who does not know that, if this housing position continues, its effect on the morale of the troops will be serious. The Government cannot afford to neglect it. The most pleading letters in one's postbag are from men in the Army pleading for homes in which to live after the war. I have sent one of the cruellest cases I have received to the Under-Secretary, who has acknowledged it with his usual courtesy. He is always courteous and so is the Secretary of State, and that is a thing which makes it difficult. In unessential things, they are kind; it is only when you ask for essentials that they say "No." This poor chap was in a military hospital, having lost an arm and a leg in Italy. 2060 He is the father of three children and they all live in a single apartment, three storeys up, in the City of Glasgow.
§ Mr. Buchanan
This man minus one leg and one arm has to live in a single apartment and has to go up three storeys. He is more a prisoner there, than he would be in the hands of the Japanese. That is the sort of thing to which men are coming back. Their morale is being undermined. You have to do something; you have to do more than you are doing. It is no good saying that the Minister of Labour or some other Minister is to blame. There is only one Minister to blame, if blame has to be allocated. There the right hon. Gentleman sits. He is our Parliamentary representative; under our Parliamentary constitution, he is answerable. It is not for us to say anything about others. If others are to blame, he has a constitutional duty to perform. He must undertake it and I hold him responsible in these dark days. It is hard for those of us who live in the great miserable parts of the city. We have read of a miserable ballet written about Gorbals and how we live produced at a West End theatre. May I in conclusion say this. We have our faults and we have our failures but to-day in France, in Burma, in Italy, these folks are there with the others. If Scotland is worth anything, if this House of Commons is worth anything, it will not be judged in the future years by our victories abroad or even in war. The permanent test will be how happy and how decent we make the home lives of our people.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I am sure that the House has listened, as it always does, with the greatest sympathy and attention to the case presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) because he speaks of that which he knows and of his own city and his own country. It is a city which is well known throughout the world, and which, in spite of its grime, and in spite of its dirt, and in spite of its black furious quarrels, is very dear to those of us who, like myself, were brought up there and spent nearly all our lives there. But the case which is put to-day is not, of course, a case purely about Glasgow or purely about the West 2061 of Scotland, and I and hon. Members from other parts of the country wish to put forward their claims. Therefore, I will do my best to limit what I have to say, although I do not think anyone could have wished the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals to be shorter, short as is the time before us.
Since the Minister of Works is here and the Under-Secretary, who has spent so much time in the work of building, both practically and in theory—I would like to put to him one or two figures about the relative position of Scotland. Of course, those who are presented with the immediate problem of bombed London must feel that that takes a precedence from which there can be no escape, that the immediate damage of the destroyed cities in England, and more particularly the capital, far transcends the need for housing in Glasgow and in Scotland generally. I would like the Minister simply to consider this single figure—if I can have his attention for a moment—that if we compare the worst position in England with the position in Scotland, it will be seen how infinitely worse is the Scottish position than even those parts of England which suffered under the industrial revolution and which are bywords for slums. Take the great city of Liverpool, or places which have laboured long under a heavy depression, such as the county of Durham. To take the simple test a overcrowding, in Liverpool 7.4 per cent. of the houses are overcrowded according to the English standard; the percentage in Glasgow is 30 per cent.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Yes, Sir, the last year for which we can get figures. Take the county of Durham, which is a colliery county, poor, and suffering very heavily from depression; the figure of overcrowding there is 12 per cent. The figure for the county of Lanark, similar in size and population and in industries, is 37 per cent.—three times as bad. That is the background from which we start, and I think that when a plea is being made that special attention should be given to the problem of Scottish housing, both in the allocation of labour and in the allocation of materials, we should say that even despite the great bomb damage in England, there are many ways in which the 2062 Scottish housing situation, even without so much bomb damage, compares still very unfavourably with the position of England as a whole.
There is, of course, a very serious war situation, and nobody would suggest at the moment that you could diminish the Fighting Forces. I do not suggest that a comb-out of the Fighting Forces should be made, for this reason, that since the war began, a house in Britain has been destroyed or seriously damaged every half minute from September, 1939, until now, counting in the "phoney" war, counting in the absence of blitz over many parts—every 30 seconds from the beginning of the war until now a house has been destroyed or gravely damaged and, what is more, every half minute that the war goes on, that average may go on too. We shall never build houses as fast as that, and the first business of the Government must be to advance the end of the war. Just before the war broke out I said—and I remember people quarrelling with me then—that if the war came, it would make grave inroads upon the standard of living of the people of this country. That prophecy did not receive any very favourable reception anywhere, either in my own party or in the party of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. But it is true, terribly true, and the first necessity is to do everything we can to shorten the period over which that enormous wastage and destruction are going on, because no scheme of building that we can possibly plan will compare with the rate of destruction that the war is able to inflict upon the social standards and the amenities of our people.
But, having said that, then one must say that the position in Scotland is not a position which can be allowed to remain where it is. This is the sixth winter of the war and this winter is at the turn of the year. You cannot build any more for this winter. What I am worrying about is next winter. What we live in next winter will be what we build next summer. That certainly means that we shall have a very big problem before us in the allocation of manpower and materials during that time. Like the hon. Member for Gorbals, I am certainly not going into an argument between one local authority and this House. Certainly I have no reason whatever to tolerate the proposals which the Glasgow Corporation has made for dealing with this problem, 2063 and I shall have no mercy upon them when it comes to be argued in the City of Glasgow or in meeting-places up and down the streets there. I think that the programme brought forward is paltry. I think that a programme of 5,000 houses a year with 30,000 suitable people clamouring for houses now, is a mockery to put before the people of this country. However, I think that the time for arguing that will be later, and in its proper place.
I say to the Secretary of State for Scotland that he has great administrative powers not merely over the recommendations of the normal programmes but over abnormal programmes. He has the Special Housing Association and it is supposed to be within its programme to build 100,000 houses. If it is a matter of persuasion and desire, if he has to ask, "Will you take some of these houses; will you give us sites on which to put them down?" people should not be asked to listen-in to a discussion of that nature. Glasgow has asked for 2,500 of these steel houses, yet there are 30,000 fit and suitable tenants for these houses, people with small families, newly married people. Ten thousand such houses would not be at all an unreasonable requisition to make in such case. Ten thousand houses would be something, and we show, at any rate, that the local authority were thinking big, thinking of something worth while. If the local authority does not make such an indent I think the Secretary of State must, and put those houses under the Special Housing Association, whether the local authority are concerned with the matter or not.
The hon. Member for Gorbals said, as was said by Members in the Debate on the English housing situation recently, that the question of the provision of steel houses had been killed by the suggestion that none would be provided until a certain number of months after the end of the war. The reason for that surely is that at the present moment there is an outpouring of shells and guns and steel plant of one kind and another, the potential of which will not become available till the end of the war and which cannot be used in any other way and which could be used for priority No. 1 which, as we all agree, is housing. Everything that can be got to reduce the terrible shortage of houses in Scotland should be used. Having been given the great weapon of the 2064 Special Housing Association it is the business of the Secretary of State to ensure that it is used to the full whether a local authority says, "Aye," or, "No." The hon. Member for Gorbals rightly said that people would look to us here to see whether we have made adequate provision. If we say that we have refrained because of the amour propre of a local authority they will at first break into roars of laughter which will turn into a storm of curses.
These Debates tend to turn on the question of the long-term position. I am not so anxious about that because, frankly, we cannot see the long-term position. Yet the necessity for preparing and servicing every site we can in Scotland is very strong. There is at present an actual surplus of labour available for servicing sites in Scotland, which is not all being used by local authorities. That is a reproach; it is very nearly a scandal. I suggest that under the auspices of the Special Housing Association it might be possible to arrange an auxiliary servicing programme which could be used to take up a temporary slack which will not last for ever but which will be available, for a short time, and to deal with any area in Scotland where servicing is required. Servicing should go on whatever happens. It should never be possible for the Secretary of State, or anyone else, to say that there is a man available in Scotland at the present moment not being used to trench and prepare a site for a house. Let us hope that we shall be able greatly to enlarge the head of material that can be turned to the task of erecting houses on these serviced sites as soon as we can rid our hands of the very heavy commitments and mortgages of the war.
The hon. Member for Gorbals also spoke of the labour position and of the necessity of dealing with this matter as though it were a war problem, with which we all agree, in matters such as the extension of skilled labour which could be utilised for the purposes of construction. In the last Debate on housing the hon. Member used the word, "dilution." On that, the Secretary of State, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works and right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite, are in the position of peculiar strength. They can bring forward proposals for dilution without the suspicion which would attach to them if 2065 they were put forward by Members of other parties. There is a long history of industrial quarrel in Scotland and such proposals are looked on with frowns and suspicions. I did my best, as Secretary of State, to enlarge the labour potential which could handle these programmes, but I did not succeed. Here is a chance.
I have seen from the Press that the Secretary of State brought forward proposals that some use might be made of the skilled labour which is available in Scotland to-day, to deal with this problem on an auxiliary, a part-time basis, as a war emergency. This method has been used in Russia, and elsewhere, where great damage has taken place. In Greenock it has been proposed that skilled craftsmen—and many workers in that town are skilled in crafts analogous to the building crafts—could be utilised for the purpose of additional housing and be allowed to utilise their skill in those functions. What has happened about that? I would like the Secretary of State to give us an answer. Is there any prospect of that experiment being carried to a successful conclusion? I read that stormy arguments have taken place between my right hon. Friend and some of the authorities. The Secretary of State, as I remember in the old days, when he sat on the opposite side of the House, has a very rough side to his tongue, like any true Scotsman, and his powers of invective are as powerful as those of any of his formidable colleagues from the Clyde. I have suffered under the lash of all of them, and I am well acquainted with his power. The Press says that there was a stormy debate. But what was the result of that stormy debate? Have any auxiliary staff at all been put on to the great task of housing in areas like Greenock which are not merely short of houses, but which have suffered a great deal of bomb damage?
In conclusion, I would first urge my right hon. Friend to use his utmost endeavours to press the claims of Scotland in every possible way both for labour, material and any share of prefabricated houses that may be obtained. Such houses might be obtained in Europe or America. For instance, the Kaiser shipyards in California, the first of which was built, incidentally, by British money, are surrounded by a township holding at one time 90,000 people, nearly all of whom were housed in prefabricated houses. 2066 Surely it might be possible to obtain a supply of prefabricated houses from there and elsewhere. Certainly, the need for prefabricated houses for the shipyards of Scotland, as well as other houses, is as great in Scotland as in any other part of the world where such houses have been erected.
Let me assure my right hon. Friend that he will have the unanimous and vociferous support of his colleagues in Scotland in any demand or request he makes upon the pool of labour or of material which is available. Secondly, I urge that we should not run a mile race as if it was a 100 yards race. This is the sixth winter of the war and next winter, whenever the conclusion of the war may be, will be the seventh under war conditions. A seven years war is a long war and you cannot run it on the basis of a sprint. Thirdly, I hope it will be possible for him to continue to press upon all concerned the present urgent need for some relaxation of the conditions under which the great peace-time organisation of labour was accustomed to operate and lastly, to say to local authorities that the House of Commons is deeply dissatisfied with the present position. In so far as local authorities can tackle it the House of Commons says "Go on, we put the responsibility on you." But also, you, the Secretary of State, must help and you must take a share in doing this yourself.
All these things are subject to the over-riding consideration of not weakening the Armed Forces or diminishing the number of men in the field—on this day of all, when we are told that girls have to be called up for service overseas. I will certainly be no party to calling up a girl of 21, sending her to France and bringing a soldier out of the line to weaken on balance the war effort, because every 30 seconds a house is being destroyed or seriously damaged since the war began. On all these grounds, our task is to make the utmost use of all available resources, and we look to the Secretary of State to see that a fair and adequate share is directed towards the country of which he is the Parliamentary representative.
§ 4.22 p.m.
Mr. McNeil (Greenock)
No one will differ from the burden of the argument 2067 that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has made, but I do not think we could accept his premise that you will necessarily lengthen the war by taking men from the Services. It is surely plain that we have reached a stage at which production of the essentials for making war is being impaired by the appalling housing conditions. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that next winter we should be in the seventh year of the war and that we could not continue sprinting for seven years. He might have added that we have been extremely fortunate in the matter of the weather in the last four winters, and extremely fortunate that we have not had epidemic conditions in any part of the country. If we did have them, in the gross overcrowding which we know in the West of Scotland it would be a dreadful blow at our war effort. When we plead that men should be withdrawn from the Forces for this essential job, we, too, are thinking of the most effective way of shortening the war.
Could the Secretary of State tell us how far the allotment of temporary houses which he made some five or six weeks ago to local authorities is affected by the later statements that we have had in relation to Portal houses? It is incomprehensible to me that the right hon. Gentleman should have made these allocations and that within five weeks another Member of the Government should tell us that the Portal houses are right out of the reckoning. It is difficult to understand how, in such a short time, such a big difference could have taken place. There are, I know, five other varieties of temporary houses. I hope we may be told when, and in what proportion, we must expect these temporary houses to be delivered to local authorities.
Secondly, can we be told how the servicing of sites is going along? My right hon. Friend last Spring stimulated some of us, and I hope local authorities too, with his enthusiasm for the grouping of sites and transferring the engineering potential released from the air fields on to these sites. My impression—I hope it is hopelessly wrong—is that relatively little is being done after a great deal of talking. If it is the fault of the local authorities, the House should be informed whose is the fault. As far as Members on this side can aid him in his approach 2068 to local authorities,I should not think he has any right to doubt the response. I hope I am wrong in my impression but I should like to hear factually the progress that has been made there.
Thirdly, can we be told a little about the attempts that have been made in temporary housing in my division and in Dumbartonshire? I believe from my own observation that it has been a complete failure. In my division 200 temporary houses were authorised some 15 months ago. So far, we have not got one house fit for occupation. It is very difficult to believe that this is a speedy way of solving our difficulties. I am told that the actual construction has been faulty and that makeshift repairs are now being attempted. I am also told that some non-ferrous pipes which were used have been a complete failure and have had to be replaced. Can we be told who was responsible for authorising the construction of these houses? I should like to be assured that the man who made such dreadful mistakes, is not the man who is authorising the other types of temporary houses with which I understand my right hon. Friend means to go ahead. I am not cavilling at any one person. I am only interested to ensure that a similar failing will not be repeated. To find after 17 months not a house fit for occupation makes it difficult to believe that this is a speedy method of creating temporary houses.
I now turn to the construction of permanent houses. I cannot overstress the importance of the confession which the Secretary of State makes in the figures that he gave us this week. It is not only that after 20 months only 167 houses are fit for occupation. It is worse than that. If I read the answer correctly, my right hon. Friend failed after 20 months to tell us what had happened about 58 houses of the first programme which do not yet seem to have been started. What has happened after 20 months that apparently tenders have not been made for 58 of these houses? Moreover, after nine months there are still 370 houses in the second programme not mentioned in the answer which my right hon. Friend gave.
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) in saying that I do not want to embarrass my right hon. Friend. I have frequently been in his debt and experienced a great deal of 2069 kindness from him, and I have publicly admitted my admiration for him, but no one can be spared in an examination of this kind. There is nothing more important than that we should have these houses. There are, therefore, few things more important than that this House or, at any rate, this part of it, should understand the explanation behind the appalling failure to build houses in Scotland in the last 20 months. There are really only four elements concerned-contractors, local authorities, material and labour. There is no reason to believe that contractors are lacking in the sense of having an organisation. If the local authorities are failing in their job, we must be told. We have not been told that there is any shortage of material that cannot be overcome.
We are, I expect, to be told once more that labour is short. The last time we debated this and I pressed my right hon. Friend, he said that the question I had asked should be addressed to the Minister of Labour. I protest that that is not so. When my right hon. Friend urged Scottish local authorities to go ahead with their allocations under the first emergency programme and under the second emergency programme which we have had this year, either he had seen that the necessary labour was being made available or he was perpetrating a cheap, cruel fraud on the people who are waiting for houses. I do not say that heatedly; I say it measuredly. When my right hon. Friend came to the House last year and told us that we were going to have an emergency programme of 1,000 houses, I repeat that he ought to have satisfied himself that the labour was available for the programme, or he was not behaving with the administrative honesty which is usually associated with him. At Question Time, he pointed to the flying bomb, but I submit that that is not a sufficient excuse. That was not visited upon us until June this year. In my absence, following a representation from my division, my wife wrote to the Ministry of Labour on this subject, and in a letter dated 9th November, the Ministry of Labour said they had taken no people off the labour engaged on maintenance for bomb repairs in London. There may be a reason why Greenock should have been singled out for extraordinary treatment, but I imagine that the position is no worse there than it is in Clydebank or any other part of 2070 Glasgow. I can understand the reluctance of the Ministry to transfer labour.
I ask my right hon. Friend to look again at some remarks I have made about the lag between the authorisation of a programme and the approval of tenders. I am certain—and I have already gone at some length into this subject—that this period, which is never less than three months, can be shortened. My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has, I know, done some work on this subject, and perhaps we can be told now at what stage the work is and what progress has been made in persuading local authorities to accept a standard plan. If a standard plan is accepted could we have a standard schedule? What saving in time would this mean? My own impression is that, if we got a standard plan, the Secretary of State should be prepared to allot all the work direct to the contracting capacity available at the time, and that price should be agreed upon later.
May I add my plea to those of the two hon. Gentlemen who have already spoken upon the utilisation of labour which is now being labelled redundant? I am delighted to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour here. I have already had an informal discussion on this subject with him. In my division women are being taken out of factories which we understood were being engaged on work of a high priority. They are now being directed outwith my division to work which I am prepared to discuss more fully and which, I am certain, is not of such a high priority. Why cannot these women be used to release male labour from marine engineering and from shipbuilding so that such labour could be turned onto house building? I know the difficulties and I sympathise with my right hon. Friend, but is he persuaded that no ancillary use can be made of this skilled and eager labour, labour which has already offered itself in such districts as my own, for this purpose?
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Erskine-Hill (Edinburgh, North)
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil), who are respected by the House for their sincerity, have painted a strong picture of the seriousness of the housing position. I do not think that they have exaggerated it in 2071 any way, because the situation in the east of Scotland is every bit as bad as that in the west. I could mention many cases in my own constituency of the same sort as the hon. Member for Gorbals put so forcibly. I have taken tea with a family of 14 people living in a two-roomed house, with no bathroom and with only the joint use with other tenants of lavatory accommodation. While we have a situation of that sort, how can we have family decencies and families growing up with the chances that every citizen ought to have? I would endorse what the hon. Member for Greenock has said, that the situation is of the first priority and, I believe, is more important than the problem of employment. History will repeat itself, and after the war, for a time at least, there will be employment. There will be maladjustments in the turning over from war-time to peace-time work, but, taking it by and large, the troubles of unemployment are not likely to reach us for several years after the war.
What is the growing problem now, and what is the problem that will become the most urgent We have ever had to face in peace time? It is the problem of what we are to do with our people when they come back from serving us so well abroad. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Works, whom we are all glad to see here, and who has taken on an extremely difficult job, in which we all wish him well, put the problem the other day in his speech in the Debate on the Gracious Speech. He then said:We have got to produce the largest number of dwellings of a reasonable standard, if not in time at any rate, in the shortest possible time; because in the face of this situation, I do not think we can 'kid ourselves' that we can solve this problem, with all the arrears we have to make up, in time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1944; Vol. 406, c. 815.]My right hon. Friend has taken on an extremely difficult job. He has not, by any means, exaggerated the position, and what the House expects of him is to see that steps are taken at once to solve this problem. Lord Kelvin used to say that you had first to measure a problem and that that was more or less easily done; the real trouble and difficulty arose when you came to solve it. I agree with my right hon. Friend who has just said that we must use every type of house and every type of building method. You 2072 must stop at nothing. You must be prepared even to do patchwork, when you would very much rather make a unified scheme. This House still has the duty of pressing upon the Secretary of State for Scotland that he should choose the type of house which will best help towards reaching a solution more quickly. Upon that matter, I would say that, like many other hon. Members, I paid a visit to Northolt the other day and I was very much taken with one class of house. I think my right hon. Friend's Ministry is to be congratulated both upon that exhibition and upon that extremely good publication called "Demonstration Houses." It shows how the houses that we saw differ in the time they take to build.
Time is much more of the essence of this problem than is finance at the moment. I would draw the attention of the House to the particular type of building which is called the Northolt Block. I think it is No. 7. The tables of figures which I have here set out the facts that it occupies 900 square feet and that it takes 900 building-labour-hours to put up. That is much less than any of the other houses. The house is strongly spoken of in this book, but it is regarded only as an example of those which are multiple-produced. Could not this form of house be made use of in order to cope with the acute shortage of labour which will face us at the end of the war? The cost of the house compares favourably with that of the others. I notice that the no-fines concrete house and the slag concrete house each has only 850 square feet, costs more and requires more than double the building labour hours to put up.
That is the type of house which the Secretary of State for Scotland ought to bear in mind. Hon. Members will recall that it is a two-storey building, with two flats. The bottom floor has three bedrooms and a dining sitting room and in the top floor there are four bedrooms and a dining sitting room. That sort of house will be exceedingly useful. I believe that is the sort of house which will be suitable for Scotland, and I ask the Secretary of State to give his full attention to adapting it. The House will remember that the Minister of Works told us on a recent occasion that there will be no pressed steel available for the Portal house till the end of the war. Will it be possible for us to have the steel framework for the houses 2073 I have described, and to start putting up some of them before the end of the war? We cannot leave this thing as though it were something which we can afford to leave. It is one of the most important war priorities. The struggle of this country will not be terminated by the end of the war with Germany. We shall have our difficulties and we must give priority in some way to this matter.
Something has been said about the Tarran house. I was not in the House when the Minister gave an answer to a Question on the subject and if it appeared in HANSARD I have missed it, and I apologise. I would like to ask the Minister whether the Tarran houses are being built in Scotland. I support what has been said about the urgency of the Tarran house. There are three economies—I use the word in its widest sense—which we all have to watch. There is the financial problem, which is the essence of the matter. Local authorities ought to know as soon as possible the extent of the subsidy they are to have and what the plans of the Government are. Free enterprise ought to know also. I am very hopeful that free enterprise, even in Scotland where conditions are more difficult than in this country, can still play a useful part, if given a chance. I expect that whoever is Secretary of State will give free enterprise a fair chance to co-operate in this urgent problem, which affects us all. It ought not to be a party matter at all. Just as when we are faced with a national emergency in war-time we all try to work together for the national good, so with the housing question. We should put it above party altogether. Those who are deeply interested in the national welfare should be willing to co-operate in every way to get forward with the solution of this problem.
I would like to say a word upon another important matter. Houses have been condemned much too often in the past, and demolished when they might more easily have been restored, have been made quite as good as new houses. I can give an example from my own experience. I had a small cottage on the farm which I have at home. It dated from the year 1715. Our factor told me it was thought to be in a very bad condition and that he was going to condemn it. I took the first steps to see what could be done to that house. With reasonable expenditure, it was made serviceable again. Then I was 2074 told by the local authority that it was a better house than any which had been built in recent years. I believe that too much demolition has been going on, and I would ask the Secretary of State to see that, at this juncture, no houses are condemned until the situation is such that everyone has a roof, or until no other way can be found.
I believe in a high standard. I liked the Portal house, not because I thought it was a particularly high standard of building but because there were gadgets in it which will make for the comfort of the housewife and the family. I should like to see that sort of gadget put into all the houses that are built. I think we shall have to face up to building flats, rather in the American way. The situation will be so grim that it will be a question, not of having just what everybody would like but of tackling the real problem. If larger blocks could be put up, there would be many conveniences which would more than make up for the loss of such benefits as there are in isolated houses. It would save an enormous amount of land and modern systems and arrangements could be made possible, such as the supply of hot water and heating facilities, all at a very moderate cost. I think they would commend themselves to the people of this country, many of whom prefer, particularly in cities, to live near their work. Considerable economies will be possible in connection not only with the building sites but the houses themselves.
Like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals, I am a back-bencher. We feel responsible for the situation. We realise that the House of Commons cannot, even if it wanted to, get away from its responsibility. We shall continue to press the present Secretary of State, and any Secretary of State, that justice should be done to the people of our country of Scotland, and that we shall let nothing go by until we have achieved comfortable houses for all.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
Any stranger listening to this Debate would wonder where he was, because every speaker on both sides of the House is desirous of seeing houses built in Scotland, and of bringing pressure to bear upon the Secretary of State, who after all is the prime mover in this matter, and who must, as stated, take his share of 2075 responsibility for any lack of houses. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) told the Secretary of State that he had great responsibility and great power. But the housing problem in Scotland is not of to-day's making. It was an acute problem when we had no labour problem. The only labour problem we had in those days was to get people work, and there was no scarcity of materials.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Does the hon. Member really wish to contend that? We have had this out before, but if he thinks there was no shortage of housing labour in Scotland before the war, then he will not find any confirmation of that from the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary who sits there.
§ Mr. Sloan
I was merely making a passing reference. There was certainly an abundance of labour and material, but no houses.
It is not long since we last had a Debate on housing. If we could produce houses in conformity with the number of Debates we have we should settle the housing problem in a very short time. During the last Debate we had the Secretary of State told us a sunshine story, which I hope he will not repeat, because in doing so he is merely, as the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) has already said, raising hopes in the minds of the people outside which will evidently not be justified. I remember the right hon. Gentleman opening the Debate by stating that overcrowding in Scotland was six times higher than in England; that infantile mortality was very much higher than in England, and that tuberculosis was gravely on the increase. He attributed at least a fair share of this to the state of housing in Scotland. He then went on to raise the hopes of the people of Scotland that this housing problem would be tackled in earnest.
Whatever else may accrue from the Debate this afternoon it has been abundantly proved that there is no prospect whatever, if things remain as they are, of the housing problem in Scotland being tackled. Local authorities are very anxious about the matter. They are perturbed about the position. They have lists of applicants on their books, and 2076 they are telling applicants, "Do not come near us, because we have no room for you." The burgh of Ayr has made it clear that there is no chance whatever of houses, and I think Glasgow Corporation has said that nobody with less than 10 years' residence in the city need make application for a house. That is a very serious position, a very serious problem indeed, and I hope the Secretary of State will be able to tell us something about the prospects of housing the people.
My own experience is general to every Member. I had a letter this morning from a man in Burma who is anxious about the position of his wife, who is dependent on relations to house her. Every Member is having the same experience. What reply can we give them? What answer can we make? One is afraid to sit down to write a letter because one does not know what answer to give to the people. Before I left Ayrshire at the beginning of this week I had a deputation of three women who were forced to go into a house that had been cleared. They still had to pay rent, and rates are again to be charged. Water is running down the walls, and when the Afton rises, the floor is flooded. They step out of the bedroom in the mornings into two or three inches of water on the floor of the house. What answer can I give to such people? They go to their local authority member, they come to Members of Parliament, and the difficulty is to know what kind of answer to give them. One does not know what to say. All one can say is that there is not the slightest prospect of providing them with a house for many years to come.
The Secretary of State must accept his responsibility in this matter. I am beginning very much to doubt this power of the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am beginning to doubt very much whether this present organisation of ours is any use at all, because we always come at the tail end. We have an English housing Debate in this House, and every principle is settled. Then we come on at the tail end and have a sort of rehash of what has taken place in the English Debate. But whether it be England or Scotland, this is a problem that must be faced. I am not at all convinced that we cannot find labour to build houses. If we want labour for anything connected with the war we get it. The Minister of 2077 Labour directs, and, willy nilly, people have to go and do the job. Housing ought now to become a first priority, and there should be the possibility of people being directed to house building by the Minister of Labour.
Like the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill), I have looked at the demonstration houses at Northolt, and I also paid attention to the house which he has already mentioned that can be erected in 900 man-hours. Surely here is a practical demonstration of what can be done in 900 man-hours. We must not under any circumstances allow our housing to be dealt with as it was formerly—to be unable, after the scheme has been undertaken, to get the workmen out of it or to get the people in. Some method must be adopted whereby the house building will be done very much more speedily and effectively, so that we shall be able to march a little way along this very wearisome road. I would like to draw the attention of the Secretary of State, and the Minister of Works also, to the present type of house that is on view. A mistake was made in the construction, and it was erected with an eight-feet instead of a 7ft. 6in. roof. Surely this mistake must have been an act of Providence. With all the difference in the cost that there can possibly be, consideration should be given to the raising of the roof by this extra six inches. If you go from one type of house to another, the difference is so great that I cannot understand why the Ministry persists in having the 7ft. 6in. roof as compared with the eight-feet roof.
The arguments that have been used are all very well, but, unless we are going to have some active progress, some determination behind this housing drive, by a nation which has spent £25,000,000,000 on war, and not scrupled to spend the few million pounds which are necessary to build houses, we cannot deal with the problem. A nation that has gone into so much research in order to produce the best implements of war, that has had no hesitation about scrapping instruments if they failed to meet the situation and to put the scientists, the back-room boys, on the job, should not hesitate to put the same amount of drive into housing. In Ayrshire, we are faced with a terrible position. I can see the difficulties of the large towns. I have no doubt that the cities, with their teeming millions, 2078 have serious housing problems. When one sees the horrible slums, one can understand the feelings of people coming from those areas; but let us not forget that the rural districts also have their problems, that the villages and small towns have their problems, that in the County of Ayr we have serious problems that we do not know how to solve unless there is to be a great drive forward in the erection of houses. I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to tell us what progress he intends to make and that he intends to give instructions to the local authorities as to how they shall proceed, and the result will be that many houses which are so badly needed will spring into existence.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
I always enjoy listening to people who know what they are talking about, and I think that that can be said of every hon. Member who has spoken in this Debate. Each of them impressed me with his profound knowledge of the chronic disease we are discussing this afternoon, a knowledge which is derived only from long experience and close contact with it. In dealing with the countryside I cannot hope to reach the same high standard, but, after having lived for over 20 years in my constituency, I know that we in the countryside have our terrific housing problem also. It is perhaps not so obvious as that of the towns; and the reason very often is that our cottages are camouflaged by the wonderful beauty around them—at any rate, in the part of the country where I happen to live. But it is no exaggeration to say that our problem is just as acute, and just as urgent, as that of the towns. In the two counties where my constituency lies, Perth and Kinross, there are scores of miserable hovels, I am ashamed to say, which are quite unfit for human habitation. Many of them are completely hidden, and it is only after close investigation that one discovers them at all. But they are a menace to the health of the people and an almost insuperable obstacle to agricultural expansion and to rural well-being. There is no need to attempt to over-paint the picture. Anyone who has read the excellent report of the Scottish Advisory Committee on Rural Housing will find, on page 42, the statement:No section of the population is compelled to live in such consistently bad housing con-conditions as farm servants.
§ Mr. Snadden
That was the report in 1937. If that was true in 1937, what the position is to-day can only be imagined, because we have had nothing done since the report was issued. There is before the Secretary of State the most prodigious task, both in town and country, which has ever confronted any Secretary of State for Scotland in our history. As the hon. Member said just now, the people are bitter. I know that in my constituency that is so. As a nation we have paid a stiff price in disease, bad health and rural de-population. It is often said that the deplorable conditions of our rural housing is due to the wilful neglect of the private owner. Here and there, I admit, that is true; but the main cause, undoubtedly, is the prolonged agricultural depression over the past half-century. You cannot have a live housing policy in a lifeless and hopeless countryside—which is what we have had. Everyone who knows the land will admit that, except in war, agriculture has never had the opportunity to prosper, never had the opportunity to achieve maximum efficiency; and until it gets that opportunity, it is no good talking about good efficiency. For half a century it has laboured under a policy of restriction. Cheap food has not meant the abolition of want, the abolition of unemployment, the abolition of malnutrition, or the abolition of bad housing. I do not think it would be difficult to argue that it has aggravated all four.
We are told—and I see that the Under-Secretary who deals with agricultural affairs is in his place—that the countryside after the war is to be given its opportunity. That means more cultivation. Cultivation means more labour, and, if we are to see the enormous expansion of the milk industry, which seems to be almost the only certain thing in the agricultural field at the moment, we shall need still more labour there, too. It is not only a case of replacing existing dwelling for rural workers, but also of building new dwellings to cope with the extra labour required after the war.
I will put, in the form of questions, one or two points which the right hon. Gentleman may care to answer when he comes to reply. First, what are the total rural 2080 housing needs in Scotland? I have never seen a figure quoted, and, if the right hon. Gentleman has that information, and will go a litle further, perhaps by publishing it and showing the county distribution, I shall be very much obliged. The second point I wish to make rather follows upon a remark of one of my hon. Friends on the other side. It is this: What is being done about sites? We know, in the country, that land is being acquired, but is that all? What about the servicing of the sites with roads, drainage and electricity where it is available? I do not know of anything in my constituency that is being done towards the servicing of these sites. I do not know whether that is the fault of the local authority or of the Department of Health, but I would like my right hon. Friend, if he can, to make available to the county councils the necessary labour to get on with the servicing of these sites.
My third question is in connection with the small country builder. In my part of the world, we are very anxious about him, because we believe his services will be vital to the solving of the housing problem in the rural areas. He has lost most of his labour, which has been directed into the army or elsewhere, and I would like an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that these small builders, who have a very big understanding of local conditions, are going to be given their opportunity to co-operate in this attack upon housing. With all the priorities in the hands of the State, what chance is the private builder to have?
My last point is in connection with the policy of the tied house, or, as some hon. Members may better understand it, the siting of farm cottages. I understand that it is Government policy as far as possible to build these cottages in existing villages. There are strong arguments in favour of this policy, and anyone who knows anything about agriculture will realise that the tied house has very great disadvantages. Although the landlord is responsible, the farmer really controls the house, and the worker does not like kicking up a fuss with the farmer because he thinks he may lose his job. Another reason is the lack of social amenities and educational facilities in rural areas. We know that, in England, the tied house system is fast disappearing, but I would like to throw out a word of caution. Scottish condi- 2081 tions are vastly different from English ones. Our farms are not as close up to the villages as is the case in England. They are strung out over great stretches of country, and we have a far more rigorous climate. Men do not like cycling, on a winter morning with snow on the ground, several miles to their work, and they do not like remaining wet all day. In the case of certain houses built in the county of Perth for agricultural workers there is difficulty in letting them. Workers do not like this business of travelling long distances to work. Sometimes in planning we tend to forget the feelings of those we plan for.
The most important argument of all in favour of caution in regard to the elimination of the tied house is that of the future of the agricultural worker. Anyone must know that, when children are reared upon a farm, they get to know many things about farm work. The small child, going out with his father, gets to know about cows and cultivation. He learns many other things, and these children are the future agricultural workers of Scotland. If you take them away and put them in the villages, even though they may gain certain other facilities, my experience is that they are lost to agriculture. So I throw out the warning to my right hon. Friend to be cautious in his policy about building cottages far away from the farms. Surely it should be possible for the local authorities to build these farm cottages on or near the farms where they are required.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman, when he replies, will give an assurance to those of us who live in the rural areas that these people, who have done a very good job in this war—a drab and not very spectacular job, but, nevertheless, a very sound job—are to receive the same treatment as the people who live in the towns and cities.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
I do not think it necessary to tell the Secretary of State for Scotland the effect of evil housing conditions, either in Glasgow or any part of the country, because he receives individual complaints, and the information conveyed in accumulation of those complaints, and by hon. Members in every part of the country, is supported by his Department's medical advisers. I think there are two elements in this 2082 Debate. There are those who demand speedy and effective action art once, and there are those who are acting in a little stage play, and are attempting to ride two horses at the same time.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) gave his case away in one little sentence. There are two points on which I would like to cross swords with him. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said, in regard to the neglect of housing in the past, that there was not the labour. There was a shortage of plasterers. If there was a shortage of labour then, what is the position now during a war? If there is a shortage during a period of peace, surely there must be a much more effective scheme for a period of war? But there were many houses constructed in Scotland that required no plasterers at all. They were the steel houses. I say that all the previous Secretaries of State have failed in their duty to solve this problem of housing, and also that the free enterprise and the private interests we hear so much about, are in the dock for all time as being responsible for that lamentable failure and are the cause of the present tremendous housing shortage in England and Scotland.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
As the hon. Member has challenged me, would he also say that the local authorities stand in the dock, including the Socialist majority on the Corporation of Glasgow, where housing failed as well? If so, that would include the hon. Member himself being placed in the dock, for the period before the war.
§ Mr. McGovern
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman can shift his responsibility on to somebody else, but I say this—I would have been prepared even to have forgiven the Labour Party majority on the Glasgow town council for any other failure, if they had gone ahead energetically to solve the housing problem, which strikes at the root of almost the whole of the evils of working class life to-day. However, I am not here to give advice. The only thing we can ask the Secretary of State for Scotland is, What information is he going to give to the House to-day? The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove said that he would not take away one single building trade worker if it would weaken the war effort. Surely, 2083 he is giving away the whole case for an immediate drive for the construction of houses. We are told now, or the public are made to believe, that the only person who is responsible is the Secretary of State for Scotland. All the parties and all Members are demanding house construction now, and he is said to be the only man standing in the way.
§ Mr. McGovern
I got it from the fact that various parties have been demanding immediate action in the construction of houses. I am not in this at all. The nation and the political parties have taken the view that it is more important to kill Germans and Japanese, than to save Britons. I do not hold that view. I think that housing is more important than war, and that war is only a consequence of the lack of decent conditions among people all over the world. Free enterprise and private interests over a long period of time, have given us this tremendously evil thing of slums and of bad houses, which are tumbling down in thousands in various cities because they are too bad to be propped up in a decent manner. Bugs and rats and all kinds of vermin are destroying the opportunities for people to live in decency.
It is no good members of the Tory Party coming here, as one Member said in this House, with faces like prostitutes at a christening, and trying to make us believe that they are the people who have been striving all the time for the improved housing of the people and that we have been standing in the way. Toryism is to be condemned in regard to housing as well as war, and every problem that humanity has thrown up at the moment. The Secretary of State for Scotland, if he is to be perfectly honest in his statement, has to show whether he is the man who is holding persons back in this country from constructing houses. Here is a letter from a doctor in my own area. The Secretary of State has placed one tubercular patient in an institution during the last week or two. This letter says that Miss Margaret Fisher, who has been suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, has been waiting for a bed for two months. Her sister died a year ago after waiting at home for six months. The doctor says the position is scandalous and that it is 2084 not an isolated case by any means. This is in my area—two members of one family in a small house. That is the result of Toryism, which had no concern for the people in the last century, and of people who lived by high rents and scandalous exploitation of the hovels that these people lived in.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
Is the hon. Member aware that, in Glasgow alone, there were 19,000 empty houses in 1914, whereas to-day there is a shortage of 100,000, and that that shortage is a result of private enterprise being put out of the market altogether?
§ Mr. McGovern
The opportunity for the State to go into housing only came when private enterprise could not make a profit out of it, and when people could not pay high rents. The landlords held the nation by the throat, and it then became the job of the nation to subsidise houses to enable people to live in decency. I could give a very long discourse this afternoon, if time permitted, on housing and the putting into the dock of people who are responsible for the present tragic state of affairs. But I intend, at this late hour, only to say to the Secretary of State for Scotland, that the people want houses to be constructed. If the local authorities are straining at the leash, why is he stopping them all from building houses? And why should he accept responsibility for all this? The hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) talked of some political fraud. He is about as great a political fraud, going about as a young man who does not put on the uniform that many of his constituents have to don. That is the kind of humbug to which the hon. Member's constituents have to listen.
I would ask, What kind of houses, and how many, are to be built within the next year? I know many in the Forces who have been five years in the field and will have to come back without a house to accommodate them. I would like to see the houses constructed and the end of talk. If there is a possibility of the houses being built, when are they to be begun and when will they be ready for occupation?
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Fildes (Dumfries)
Everybody who has anything to do with Scot- 2085 land and any knowledge of housing conditions, knows that there is a terrible shortage of houses. I am intervening in the Debate for one main reason. Our hope is the Secretary of State for Scotland. He has formed Committees and has all the information, and I have been disappointed beyond measure to find that it is not his intention to contest the next election. I would like to see him come back here to see the job through. He could put his time to no better use. I am convinced that, whatever he may do in other walks of life, if he could stand up in Scotland as the man who solved this question, the gratitude and appreciation of his own fellow countrymen would resound to his dying day. He should see this job through.
§ 5.29 p.m.
Major Lloyd (Renfrew, East)
As one who has rejoiced throughout the discussion in the high standard of clarity and purpose which all the speakers, save one, have been most careful to show, I would like to say how much I deplore the fact that the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) broke that high standard and indulged in an orgy of pure party venom. The Secretary of State for Scotland has appealed to those of us who are Members for Scottish constituencies to do our utmost to establish unity if we really want to get things done. Everyone of us has given lip service to and has a sincere appreciation of the truth of that remark. He also said, "Let us make up our minds upon subjects on which we will not enter into a welter of party politics." This is not a party political question, it has not been in the speeches from any quarter of the House, except in that of the hon. Member for Shettleston.
I think it is deplorable, this attempt to drag party politics into this quite terrific problem, with which all of us are so deeply concerned, and which we are determined, if we possibly can, by unity and pressure in every direction, to do something about in the immediate and more distant future. It is a tragedy that this great problem should have been besmirched by a speech of that character.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
Can my hon. and gallant Friend say whether what is really an age-long dispute in Scotland with regard to private and municipal enterprise there is dead, because I think it is just as much humbug to say it is dead if it is not?
I cannot see any reason whatever why any hon. Member should suggest it is a dispute between private enterprise and municipal enterprise. No one on this side has said it. All that there would be any dispute about, as far as I know, is why all those who can and will build houses should not be given an opportunity to do so. That is all we want—as many houses as we can get—and we want to employ every resource that we can possibly mobilise for that effort. Therefore, to suggest, from political prejudice, the ruling out of one particular agency for producing houses is, in my opinion, gravely to jeopardise the future housing problem in Scotland.
I am glad to hear the hon. Member say that, because that is my whole contention to-day. I feel rather strongly about this, and I have a feeling that this House is in danger of placing too heavy burdens upon the local authorities in connection with housing. I am becoming increasingly worried about it. We are giving them tremendous responsibilities and placing the heaviest possible burdens upon them, and there is a feeling that we have to some extent shifted the burden from our own shoulders on to theirs. If that is so, it is not "fair do's". We are in some danger, in my humble opinion, of breaking the backs of the local authorities over this problem and then of turning round and trying to blame them. We ought to use every agency that we can, not only because we want all the houses we can get, but because we do not want to put too heavy a burden upon the local authorities on whom, at the moment, all our legislation is concentrated.
Let us remember that all subsidised houses, I think I am right in saying this, are at present to be built for the working class—which has never been properly defined. We are now utilising, thank goodness, another agency. I want to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secre- 2087 tary of State for Scotland, who has not had too many bouquets this evening, upon the enthusiasm which he has put into developing, strengthening and encouraging the Special Housing Association. I set great hopes by that organisation, because I believe it can do a lot to build houses for the working classes. We have now agreed to a subsidy for the Special Housing Association, we have given it almost equal facilities with the local authorities, and I am glad that the Secretary of State is, as it were, a godfather to that organisation, because it will supplement the work of the local authorities.
I would urge my right hon. Friend to sympathise with my argument that we are in danger of breaking the back of the local authorities. With the best will in the world, with all the enthusiasm they can muster, they have no direct, special qualifications for this task. It is a vast undertaking and there is the temptation, to some of them at any rate, to recollect that they will be adding to the burden on their rates. I want to use all resources, all agencies. Let us encourage the Special Housing Association. I would like the Secretary of State to spare a moment or two in his reply to say what he is doing to facilitate the Special Housing Association to an even greater degree than in the past. I hope it will have compulsory powers, because, as far as I can understand it, it may ask permision of a local authority to put other houses in the area and, if difficulties are raised by the local authority, that area may not get those houses. I hope that the Secretary of State will ask us, if necessary, for still greater powers for the Special Housing Association, whose work for housing is of the greatest possible importance.
I do not see how the local authorities, the Special Housing Association, private enterprise and the Building Trade Association come into this picture at the present moment. I have a feeling that all the priorities for labour and materials are going elsewhere, and that would be a pity. We hear a lot from public platforms of equality of opportunity. Let us have it here too—equality of opportunity for all who are able to build houses. That is not a bad motto and I suggest that it be taken into consideration seriously by all who have to deal with this great 2088 problem. Equality of opportunity in priorities for labour; equality of opportunity for priority in materials; equality of opportunity in subsidies too, provided the subsidies are used in the right way for the benefit of the poorer classes of the community, who otherwise would not be able to pay the normal economic rents.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggesting that the Special Housing Association, which is a non-elected body, should have compulsory powers to override the decisions of an elected local authority?
I think my hon. Friend is trying to drive me further than I intended. I want to suggest that if there was any reason of prejudice, if, for instance, the Secretary of State were thoroughly dissatisfied with the reason given for refusing the Housing Association the right to build in any area, he should be empowered to authorise the Association to build there. That was really what I meant by compulsory power.
Another point I want to mention is in connection with the building trades organisation. They, I gather, feel rather strongly that during the temporary emergency and the great restriction of labour and materials all house-building operations could be expedited if competitive quotations were temporarily suspended and standardised schedules of prices were fixed by agreement with all concerned, not merely among themselves but with the local authorities and the Secretary of State in conference. It should not be difficult to reach agreement on a schedule of prices. If that were done, so the Building Trades Association believes, it would mean that many small builders would be able to participate in the housing programmes of local authorities and others to a degree which, at present, they fancy they may not, as they feel they may be ruled out by the big man being able to quote somewhat lower than the standard price. I understand they have asked the Secretary of State whether he will consider the proposal. I quite appreciate that it could not possibly be considered except in the light of complete agreement amongst all the parties, but it seems a reasonable proposal, at least for consideration, and I gather that they await a reply.
2089 I think we have had a helpful discussion to-day, and that we are fortunate in having a Secretary of State who is in such complete sympathy with all our points of view. He is doing his utmost with this terrific problem, and it would be unfair to rend him because progress is extremely slow. Further, I hope that because things are slow unscrupulous people will not bring party politics into the consideration of this problem of housing our people in Scotland.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
First I want to say how much I regret that the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) took advantage of this Debate to make such a vicious attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil). It was utterly unjustifiable that he should have used my hon. Friend's attack on the Secretary of State to make an attack upon my hon. Friend himself because he was not, at his age, in His Majesty's Forces——
§ Mr. McGovern
Surely in the Parliamentary arena I can compare one action with another. There is nothing wrong with that. In all probability the hon. Member himself has taken what I said to heart, because the same thing could have applied to himself.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Member said that my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock had perpetrated a fraud on the people of Greenock because he supported the war effort while he was not in uniform. I admit that the cap, fits me as it fits my hon. Friend, but we can have opinions about the war without being necessarily in uniform.
§ Mr. Fraser
It is something the hon. Member does not wish to understand. I know that my hon. Friend's constituents and my constituents would not be pleased if we gave up our responsibilities here in order to go into uniform. If we had been in other employment earlier in the war we would not have had any choice in the matter; we would have been in the Forces. However, let me pass from that and say how glad I was that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) said something on behalf of the local authorities on this matter of housing. It 2090 seems to be common form these days to apportion responsibility, and here let me say that I agreed with the hon. Member for Shettleston when he discussed apportioning responsibility. Local authorities are certainly not responsible for the deplorable housing conditions in Scotland. The local authorities, given the responsibility, labour, materials and sites, are quite able to do the job as well as the Secretary of State himself, should he assume complete responsibility. They are no less able to do it than the Special Housing Association. Members of local authorities in Scotland are just as much alive to the need for housing as any of us in this House. Indeed, they are more alive, because they are more closely associated with the needs of the people and the deplorable housing conditions in which many of them live.
I have talked over this matter with my local authorities. I discovered that in Hamilton sites for 2,000 houses have been approved. Our housing needs, before the war, were estimated at some 3,500. We are awaiting man-power and materials in order to go ahead with the job. I am sure that the local authorities are just as competent to do the work as the Special Housing Association, or any other centralised authority. I discovered that a similar situation existed in Lanarkshire, although I regret to say that there more sites have not been approved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock asked for an assurance that the allocations of temporary houses, made by the Secretary of State, would be honoured and not affected by the statement made the other day by the Minister of Works. I, also, would like the assurance from my right hon. Friend that the allocations made up to the present are only the first instalment of the programme. I say that not because I am particularly keen on temporary houses but because, like Other Members, I appreciate that we have to have them, that we cannot have permanent houses within the next five, six or ten years, and that we must do all in our power to get the greatest number of houses built at the earliest possible moment.
If I refer to conditions in a part of my constituency I do so only because I think they are applicable to vast industrial areas in the West of Scotland. I received some figures the other day concerning an indus- 2091 trial village in my division, in which there are 150 houses. Overcrowding in that village is deplorable. I asked a good friend of mine to take a census and he said it was ridiculous to do so by ordinary standards as the result would be 100 per cent. overcrowding. I then asked him to go into the matter on the basis of three units, adults, per apartment. He was able to tell me that there is still 75 per cent. overcrowding in that village. Of the 150 houses 84 are sub-let, most of them being two-apartment houses. That, surely, is the answer to those who argue that a temporary housing scheme is no solution to the problem of overcrowding. Much of the overcrowding in that village, as in any other village in the West of Scotland, is attributable to the large number of sub-lets. There are dilapidated houses, nearly 100 years old, in that village for which the local authorities are not responsible. We have been pestering the factor, the local authority, all responsible authorities, to make the houses more habitable, but nothing has been done yet. The other day when a deputation of house-holders went to the factor he made them an offer.
He offered to sell them the houses at £3 per house. Not one of the house-holders accepted the offer. That will give some idea of the state that they are in. The people go on paying rent for them though the water comes in at the top and at the bottom. They cannot be put into a fit state. It may be that something could be done to tide them over another winter, but something must be done to provide alternative accommodation at the earliest moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said something about taking men out of the Army. He said it was not only the labour and the skill of these people that we were losing. There are no apprentices being trained, and so long as these men remain in the Services, as long as the building trade personnel remains at its present low level, we cannot have apprentices trained. There are many building trade workers in the Forces and in war industries who could be released. I plead with the Secretary of State to make the necessary representations to the Minister of Labour to have these people used to the best advantage, not only because of their own skill and industry but because of the advantage that they can 2092 be to us in the years to come in the training of these young people. I cannot agree that only the Secretary of State is responsible in these matters. I think the Ministry of Labour and the Minister of Works come into it.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The constitutional practice, which I hope will continue, is to fix a Minister with responsibility. Once you vary that, you can never challenge any matter at all. It may be true that others come into it but the Parliamentary responsibility must always be fixed on one man, and that man is the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Fraser
I appreciate my hon. Friend's observation, but there is a tendency to ignore the responsibility of other Departments and to fix our attention on one. These Scottish Debates always trail behind the English Debates, when attention is properly focused on the responsibility of other Departments. It is not unfitting that we too should be fully aware of the responsibility of other Departments in these matters. The war hitherto has been used as an excuse for not going on with house building. I agree that it is a very legitimate excuse, but let it also be recognised that the war, and the fact of the part the people have played in it, should be used, not as an excuse for not having houses but rather as a reason for leaving no stone unturned to have houses provided as early as possible.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)
When the time comes for me to hand in my ticket I shall have to look back on many sins of omission and commission. But one which I think I can honestly say I am free from is lack of appreciation of the magnitude of the housing problem. I am glad to say, too, that outside bodies with whom we are in pretty close contact, and who know something about the administrative difficulties, appreciate the efforts we have been making in very difficult circumstances to prepare the way, when conditions are a little more favourable, for a great attack upon the horrible housing conditions in our country. Several hon. Members have said there ought to be no politics in this. I am happy to say that the Communist Party take that view too. They have sent me a letter of thanks. [An HON. MEMBER: "For what?"] They know 2093 the efforts that we have been making with the very limited opportunities at our hand to deal with the problem. The Scottish Labour Party executive and the local authorities say the same thing.
I agree with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) that this is a problem which the present generation has inherited. This generation did not create 400,000 houses without an internal water-closet. This generation inherited great responsibilities, though they inherited great opportunities too, and it must be remembered, in fairness to this generation, that we rebuilt about one-fifth of the housing in our country in the period between the two wars. Between 1919 and 1943 local authorities, with subsidy, built 241,535 houses. They built others without subsidies. The Special Housing Association have built houses and the first and second National Housing Companies built houses and, if you take four to a family, that means a million people rehoused by this generation. Since the war we have completed 35,000. They were started by local authorities before the war but they have been completed.
When I hear some people refer to the quality of the labour supply that we have now, I do not forget that many who have been building these houses are older men, that the young fellows are very largely away at the front, and that the number of men—I do not think this figure has ever been given publicly before, but I am authorised to give it—under 31 in the industry in the United Kingdom before the war was 200,000 out of roughly 1,000,000. That is, about one-fifth of the whole were under 31. The corresponding figure to-day is 7,000, or roughly one-fiftieth of the whole. The burden has been borne by these men, and the 35,000 houses they have completed are a tribute to their work. I pay a tribute also to the local authorities who, under great difficulties, have on the whole done a magnificent job. There is a job that nobody would have if it could be avoided, and that is the job of convener of a local housing committee.
Many points have been raised in the discussion to which I will not be able, in the time at my disposal, to reply adequately. So far as I cannot cover the ground, I propose to send letters to hon. Members dealing with the points they have put. When I said that 35,000 houses 2094 had been completed since the outbreak of war, that is only a part of the story.
§ It being Six o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Major A. S. L. Young.]
We have built 1,500 houses in one Glasgow area for the Air Ministry. Emergency houses, some of them not quite satisfactory, have been built to the number of 600. Hotels, hostels and camps have been converted into houses, and we have built some houses for the Ministry of Fuel and Power. Here are the facts about the labour force. Pre-War, there were in the building industry in Scotland 106,000 men. These are what are called skilled and unskilled. This figure included skilled, unskilled, navvies, labourers and workmen of all kinds. Of this number, 61,000 were scheduled as craftsmen and 45,000 as unskilled workmen. To-day we have fewer than one-third of the total, and this one-third is engaged in building of all kinds, aerodromes, camps and harbours; some of them on ship-fitting, and many of them on maintenance of existing fabrics. We have at the moment, according to the latest figures, only 3,100 engaged in building houses.
I have been asked repeatedly to-day what are the prospects of temporary housing. One hon. Member said that the Minister had killed the Portal house in the recent Debate. That is not so. As a matter of fact, my right hon. Friend is doing his best to increase the production of the temporary house; but it is true that one precise type of construction of temporary houses, that is the steel-shell house——
§ Mr. Johnston
May I draw attention to the fact that when the Portal house was first proposed and described as a steel house, hon. Members in all parts of this Chamber pressed the Government to vary 2095 the types of construction, and not to rely upon the steel-framed house? The Government, for war-time reasons, decided that, in view of the national emergency, it was better to postpone this particular steel-framed type—steel-shell type, rather—and to go ahead with other types. That is what is being done, but the temporary emergency house has not been killed.
§ Mr. Johnston
Certainly. The temporary houses are being proceeded with as rapidly as possible. We have to take the thing in two stages. We have, first of all, to get the land. It is no earthly use providing temporary houses unless you have the land to put them on. We have the land in Scotland. We now have land for about 90,000 houses. The next problem we have to face is——
§ Mr. Johnston
No. I think I can show the hon. Member that he is wrong. The next problem is to get the land serviced—to get drains, to put in a water supply, to make access roads, and other roads. It is no use coming along with prefabricated emergency houses, even if you have the land, unless that land is serviced.
§ Mr. Johnston
I do not know anything about Ayrshire at the moment, but I can get the figures about Ayrshire.
§ Mr. Johnston
Please let me continue. I did not interrupt my hon. Friend when he was speaking. We have land, as I say, capable of carrying 90,000 houses. The land that is serviced is capable of carrying only 9,000 houses. It is, there- 2096 fore, imperative that we get sufficient land serviced to carry the new types of temporary house, which I hope will be coming, first of all in a trickle and then in a stream, but beginning some time in the late spring. That is what I have to say about the servicing of the land. I beg hon. Members to believe me that the best information at my disposal shows that we have only land serviced at the moment for about 9,000——
§ Mr. Johnston
I think it is land which is completely serviced. We are doing our best to increase that figure. No doubt a large number of sites are in process of being serviced. If we have land for 90,000 and if we get the land serviced, and that means first of all technical skill, engineers, lay-out officers and so on, if we can get that, and can then get the temporary houses, the next stage is the allocation of these temporary houses. We invited the local authorities to tell us what they wanted of these temporary houses. We got their requests, and we allocated a proportion of their demands. We received 56,000 applications and we made a first allocation of 33,000. The types we hope to provide initially are what are called the Phœnix house, the Arcon house, and the Tarran house. Some hon. Members asked about the Tarran house. The Controller of Temporary Houses says that two representatives of Messrs. Tarran yesterday said that they have a factory in Dundee for the manufacture of their houses. The Minister of Works, I am further informed, is negotiating for factory space for the manufacture of two other types of temporary houses in other parts of Scotland—it may not be the Tarran house, but other types.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson
I take it from what my right hon. Friend has said that we can look upon it as a certainty that the Tarran house will be the first temporary house to be proceeded with?
§ Mr. Johnston
No, I think the Phoenix house will be an early starter too. That 2097 is a tubular steel scaffold frame, with a concrete cover. That is what is called the Phoenix type. I believe that will be an early starter in the race for the provision of temporary houses. We have then to face how many sites will be serviced. That is a difficult problem to answer. My endeavour is to secure that by the end of June next year the local authorities will at least have sites for over 20,000 temporary houses. If that be so then I hope, again I put it no higher than that, that by the summer of next year, we will have somewhere about 15,000 to 20,000 temporary houses erected in Scotland.
Does my right hon. Friend say he hopes that by mid-summer of 1945 to have 15,000 to 20,000 houses? Is that what he is saying?
§ Mr. Johnston
That is what I am saying as plainly as I can put it. I cannot put it more plainly.
We come to the question of what is called the permanent house. In the last two years we allocated 2,000 in two separate allocations of the so-called permanent houses. Recently, as some hon. Members have said, we have made further allocations on a small scale to Glasgow to enable them to keep their labour supplies in continuous employment.
§ Commander Galbraith
A very important point has been put by the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil). My right hon. Friend said, in reply to the hon. Member, that there would be 20,000 temporary houses by the summer of 1945. Just before that he had been speaking of sites. Is it quite clear that by the summer of next year we are going to have in Scotland 20,000 more houses?
§ Mr. Johnston
I was trying to explain that we must have sites serviced. We are endeavouring to have sites serviced, by the middle of the summer of 1945, to cover 20,000 houses. [Interruption.] I am talking about sites serviced. I cannot make myself any clearer.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I took the view that we were going to get 20,000 houses by the 2098 summer of next year. In his own interests, the right hon. Gentleman had better make it clear, because we were all going out of this House to-night thinking that at the end of next year Scotland would have 20,000 more houses than it has this year.
§ Mr. Johnston
That is wrong. I say that we have the land in local authority ownership now, and we must get it serviced. It is no use having allocations of temporary houses unless we can put them on serviced land. By the summer of next year we hope to have land available to accommodate 20,000 houses, and by next spring we shall have a trickle, growing gradually larger, of these temporary houses, which we can plant on these serviced sites. The precise date by which the Phoenix house or the Tarran house, or any other type of house, will be ready, I cannot say.
My right hon. Friend told us that he had sites serviced for 9,000 houses. What gain is there if you are going to use labour for servicing another 11,000, when presumably you might use the labour to erect 9,000 houses on the sites that we have?
§ Mr. Johnston
That is obviously a different type of labour altogether. The next point I must deal with is the effort we are making to speed up the necessary administrative arrangements. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) made, as I thought, some rather unnecessarily offensive remarks about our intentions. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend must listen to me now. My reply is that, so far from there having been any delay on the Greenock houses, on the first allocation, tenders for houses were submitted on 15th July, 1943, and were approved on the following day. The second tenders were submitted for approval on the 5th July, 1944, and were approved on the 14th July. On the question of saving administrative time, we have asked the local authorities to give their powers over to their housing committees. Secondly, we have arranged with the Incorporated Society of Architects for the production of standard plans which we will offer, though not compulsorily, to local authorities, and we hope, by these two means, to do something to abolish the time lag in the preliminary administrative arrangements for houses.
2099 Some hon. Members have asked about the Scottish Special Housing Association. This is a public utility corporation, operating without profit, on which all parties are represented, and proposing to build 100,000 houses. The local authorities knew about this fact and also that the 100,000 houses will be granted to the neediest areas, and that they will attract rates to the local authority, which will not be required to make a grant contribution. The local authorities are aware that, by and large, arrangements are in process with their concurrence and good will to get every aid and assistance that a centralised organisation, such as the Special Housing Association is, can give them.
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison
May I ask if it is a fact that there is obstruction by some authorities towards this Association? I have heard rumours of it.
§ Mr. Johnston
I do not know about the rumours, but there was only one authority in the whole of Scotland, and a small one at that, which said it did not want the Association.
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison
Will the right hon. Gentleman see that the electors are made aware of that fact?
§ Mr. Johnston
No, I do not say anything about it, because they may have made that decision under a complete misunderstanding, and it may quite well be that they may see fit to change their minds, and there is no reason why we should go about causing unnecessary ill feeling and trouble.
I was asked a question about Greenock by the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Col. Elliot). He asked if anything had happened about the efforts already made to get the use of the works department and the labour that was otherwise engaged on shipbuilding, sometimes at heavy overtime rates, in the port of Greenock. I do not know that the discussions were very animated. There were at first misunderstandings but, finally, I persuaded the Corporation of Greenock to listen to the Scottish Building Trade Operatives Federation. I will say this for the Federation. They went down to Greenock and told their men that it was quite within their permitted powers and the rules of their organisation for them to 2100 complete a scheme where the contractor had thrown in his hand. I do not know the precise nature of the arrangements entered into recently but I will get the facts and take some means of letting my right hon. and gallant Friend and others interested know. There is no trouble whatever between the building trade craftsmen's organisations and the producers of the Weir steel houses. I have them sitting round the table and agreeing. Rules and arrangements have been made and I have great hopes that we shall get 2,500 houses—and splendid houses they are—per annum out of that Weir organisation. There are other types in addition which I hope we shall be able to secure, but the inescapable fact, as the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) said, is the war, the shortage of labour. The labour is not there and it is no use blaming local authorities or anyone. The war situation has demanded that large drafts should be made upon the young men in the building trade industry and as long as the country wants that to be, so long must we be prepared to face the inevitable consequences, at a time like this, in house building.
I must apologise for the seeming inability to reply in detail to the many points, some of them interesting and some of them relevant, which have been raised here this afternoon. Rural housing, which my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) raised, has not been forgotten; it cannot be forgotten. But the whole housing problem is so appalling that it is going to require the good will of everybody and every interest—there is nothing that can be barred here—if we are going to meet within a reasonable time the great difficulties with which we are confronted. All I can say in conclusion is that there is no one at the Scottish Office but who is fully seized of the urgency of this problem. Tuberculosis is an appalling problem and my hon. Friend had better be made aware that there are as great difficulties there as there are in regard to the shortage of houses. We are willing to try everything in our power and within our competence to prepare the way and have everything ready whenever there is a labour allocation sufficient to allow the local authorities to start housing again. Private builders will be encouraged. No private building interest need be afraid. Every one can get a job, every skilled 2101 man, and the 200,000 dilutees who are being arranged for in consultation with the building industry. There are plans for 25,000 apprentices being trained.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay
How many are being trained in Scotland now? I understand it is to be 25,000 in three years.
§ Mr. Johnston
My hon. Friend can ask him later. I know that in Scotland we have 1,000 in training now.
§ Mr. Johnston
Everything and anything that can reasonably be done within the limits of our power, and with the labour situation as it is, is being done 2102 and will continue to be done by arrangement with the building trade industry. I am told that in the United Kingdom there are about 200,000 dilutees being arranged for and also that there are arrangements for the training of 25,000 apprentices. I know that already in Scotland the education authorities have arrangements made whereby 1,000 are undergoing tuition for the building trade industry.
§ Mr. Alfred Denville (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
Mr. Speaker, this is the season of good will. Can we extend to you, and to all those connected with the House, our good wishes for Christmas? May the New Year bring lasting peace and happiness.
§ Mr. Speaker
I wish all hon. Members a happy Christmas.
It being Half-past Six o'Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order, till Tuesday, 16th January, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of yesterday.