§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
There are three major interests, I think, in Scotland to-day. There is the general interest to end this war as speedily and successfully as possible; there is the interest as to housing conditions immediately after the war is over; and there is the interest as to employment after the war. I think I am right in saying that these are the three major interests—a house, a job and the successful ending of the war. As has been frequently stated here to-day, the Government have set themselves the target of 300,000 new long-term houses in the period between now and 1st October, 1947. Doubts have been expressed as to whether it will be possible to secure that number—whether it will be possible to get the skilled labour in time to do it. My own belief is that we shall not be able to do it, 'but we ought to aim at doing it, and we ought to take every possible step in our power to see that the 300,000 houses are secured in the two years. We have asked that, of the 300,000, 50,000 shall be allocated to Scotland. Our needs are overwhelming. Our overcrowding is six times the overcrowding in England. Our infant mortality is higher. Our tuberculosis rate is increasing, and housing conditions in many of our industrial areas—and, indeed, in many of our rural areas as well—are deplorable and desperate.
If we can get these 300,000 houses for Britain, and if we can get 50,000 for Scotland, or any other number, how are they to be allocated? This Bill says that the methods at present legal for allocating these houses are insufficient. The present statutory provisions are that houses can be supplied by local authorities to persons who have come from slum houses, and from overcrowded houses and also to agricultural workers, but the Government say, and all the housing advisers and local authorities in the country say, that that is not sufficient, and 260 that houses must be supplied for other classes besides these three. They say that we must have power to allocate houses for general needs. When the young fellow who wants to get married, comes back from the front, he cannot be condemned to celibacy for the rest of his natural life. That is an impossible position, and the local authorities must be empowered, to the maximum of their opportunities, to allocate houses for general needs. That is the first part of this Bill. We must widen the option under which local authorities may let houses in the first two-and-a-half years or so after the war and, indeed, before then if houses are built. These powers operate as from the passing of this Bill.
I further propose to urge local authorities to use the powers which they possess at present—their statutory powers—to provide at cost essential furnishings for these dwellings. There are some authorities who have used these powers. Glasgow, for example, provides bedsteads, spring mattresses, flock mattresses, bedding, including blankets and sheets, floor covering, chests of drawers, and so on, at cost price. Why not? The other day I had an interview with a deputation representing the Scottish Furniture Manufacturers Association, and they assured me that the normal addition to the cost of furniture that was put on sale under the hire purchase system was 120 per cent. Obviously, if we are to take slum clearance tenants, soldiers from the front, or overcrowded tenants, and simply give them the key to the door of a new house and tell them to go away and find furniture for themselves on the hire purchase system, then we shall condemn thousands upon thousands of these people to a life of misery and starvation. The power is now vested in local authorities to provide at cost price essential furnishings, and I propose to do everything in my power to urge local authorities to use that provision of the Act.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)
Is the right hon. Gentleman just making a declaration of his intentions in an administrative capacity? Is he suggesting that there is no provision made in this particular Bill?
§ Mr. Johnston
I said that it was already in the statutory provision. It has been there, I think, since 1925. [An 261 HON. MEMBER: "Does Scotland know that?"] No, but I am trying to make it known, and I am doing my best to see that the powers provided by Parliament are operated.
There is another point I would like to make. I am almost certain that the traditional methods of labour supply are quite inadequate to meet emergencies of this type. I was gratified some months ago to meet a deputation from workers engaged in a big shipyard at Greenock. They were building trade workers, joiners and so on, attached to the shipbuilding industry. They suggested that in their spare time—and they said there were thousands like them on the Clyde—they were prepared to do everything in their power to augment the labour supply. I urged these men to consider the question of incorporating themselves into a building guild. I regret to say that up to now that what I think are very reasonable conditions have not been accepted. The building trade unions, I think very reasonably, said that everybody who was employed in this building guild should have a union card and that before he was employed all other building trade labourers in the district should be fully employed.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
Are we to understand that these men are proposing to enter the building trade after their normal day's work? Can the Minister say what is the absentee rate in the industry in which they are at present employed?
§ Mr. Johnston
I cannot say off-hand. This was an official proposal put up by the building trade workers themselves and——
§ Mr. Johnston
I am saying that the men in the Greenock shipbuilding industry came to me with their Member of Parliament and said that they would do their best to augment the labour supply for building in their area, and I say that the Building Trade Federation for West Scotland assented to this proposal and offered to do everything they could to help, so great is the necessity of the time and the urgency of this housing problem.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to look at the history of the building guild that did operate? If he cares to have it, I will give him my own experience.
§ Mr. Johnston
It would be a pleasure to look at anything of that kind, but I am merely stating the facts as I know them, and as these men have put them forward. I say that the conditions which it was sought to impose upon the offer of their labour, were not unreasonable, and ought to have been more sympathetically examined. I beg, here and now, that they will be examined further still and that in view of the urgency of our problem, no step will be omitted which will enable us to augment the labour force at our disposal for house building.
We say that we must extend the options of the local authorities. Speed in erection is far too slow, even now. We got two separate allocations of 1,000 houses in Scotland. Of the first 1,000, I regret to say that we have, at this moment, only 290 roofed over. There is a variety of reasons for the delay. Of the second 1,000 that were allocated in March of this year we have, fortunately, been able to get tenders accepted for 873, and I am hoping that by the early part of August tenders will be accepted for the whole 1,000. When they will be erected with the present labour supply, is another matter. Questions were raised to-day, on the English Measure which the House has just been considering, about owner-occupancy. That does not arise in this Bill but we have asked our Housing Advisory Committee to report on how owner-occupancy might be stimulated. I would point out that for the first two years or so after the war, all building trade contractors, all building trade workers and labourers, will be fully employed on producing houses to let. No building trade contractor or operator need go idle.
We seek to short-circuit the delays that local authorities have experienced in acquiring land compulsorily. Up to now, delays of six months may take place. if we can abolish the public inquiry, the necessity to serve notices upon every individual interested in land ownership, we can save about three months in cases where there is objection to acquisition of 263 land. Where there is no objection, where acquisition takes place by concurrence and agreement, these questions do not arise. I am happy to be able to say that local authorities in Scotland own land, much of it serviced with drainage and water supply, sufficient for 56,000 houses. We are negotiating for land for another 13,000 to bring the total to 69,000, and I am hoping that by the end of this year local authorities will have sufficient land for 100,000 houses. Of course, the land is not equally distributed over all areas. Some areas are badly supplied and some are well supplied. In this Measure we are taking steps to develop our Special Housing Association, which is a non-profit making organisation appointed by the Government to assist local authorities in a provision of houses. They have had considerable experience already, and we are proposing now to extend their power and to entrust them with wider power than they have ever had so that between them and the local authorities we shall be able to do something wherever there is, unfortunately, a price ring against the public interest. There are areas where price rings have, unfortunately, become obvious.
§ Mr. Johnston
Yes, the contractors; they are operating against local authorities. We have invited other gentlemen to join the board of this Association and I am happy to say that men like Bailie Forman of Glasgow, Bailie Patterson of Ayr, and Councillor Robertson of Edinburgh have joined the board. The Lord Provost of Dundee will act as chairman of the board in place of Lord Traprain, who resigned some time ago and whose services were given very willingly, with considerable acceptance by the local authorities.
I should also like to thank Mr. McKinna, who gave his services for so long and so gratuitously in Lord Traprain's absence, and the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Welsh), who has unfortunately been laid aside by illness for some months and who took a very keen 264 interest in the affairs of the Housing Association. We have secured Mr. W. C. Davidson's appointment as full time deputy-chairman. He has been a member of the council of management since its inception. He has had a long experience in local government and housing. He is a trained surveyor and we hope that, between him and the Lord Provost of Dundee and the new blood that we are putting into the Association, it will be of very considerable importance in the future. Mr. Norman Campbell, former Town Clerk of Kilmarnock, will continue to act as general manager and secretary of the reconstituted Association. His duties and responsibilities, of course, will be increased. He has had a long experience of local government administration and has proved of great value during his five years as general manager. His administrative capacity and organising ability will 'be at the disposal of the Association.
As with England, so we have serious problems about subsidies and about rents. We have discussed the question of future subsidies with the local authorities and they have agreed with us that the present is an inopportune time to raise the question of how and to what extent the subsidies should be increased. Prices are indeterminate now and losses cannot be guessed. The local authorities are in entire concurrence with us that the question of subsidies must for the present remain in abeyance, with this proviso that, when they are fixed at some later date, they will be made retrospective until this date. These in brief are the principles of the Bill. It is a modest but a necessary Bill. If we are to have 50,000 houses, we must allocate them better, we must see that no land difficulties stand in the way and we must ensure that price rings are not raised against us. Other Measures will be brought forward in due course to deal with the housing difficulties, but this Measure is necessary. It will go some way to ease the position of local authorities. They all welcome it and I commend it wholeheartedly to the House.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
Will the allocation of houses be on a percentage basis according to the number of houses now required in each area, or will it be by some ad hoc method?
§ Mr. Johnston
I should like to look into that. There is something to be said, of course, for fixing a formula for allocation. On the other hand, it is exceedingly difficult to stick to a formula of that kind. It would be utterly impossible, for instance, to allocate houses to Clydebank or any area of that kind on the basis of a formula. No formula has yet been fixed and I am not sure it would be wise to fix one.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
Is the Housing Association that the right hon. Gentleman refers to, the organisation created by Mr. Baldwin for the purpose of erecting the first steel houses?
§ Mr. Johnston
No, that was another association. It is still in existence. I forget the name of it but my right hon. Friend will be able to give it later on. It was started about 1937 for the purpose of aiding local authorities in distressed areas to build houses when they could not do it out of their own resources.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)
In listening to my right hon. Friend I felt how much he and the Government must wish they were in the position of the small child who returned from church, where she had heard the first chapter of Genesis read. Laying out all her dolls on a table, she put a cloth over them and said, "God said, 'Let there be dollies' and there were dollies." She seized the cloth and the dollies appeared. If my right hon. Friend could by some magic word bring into view the houses which the people of Scotland so much need, how happy he and his Government would be. But, unfortunately, we all know that not good will, and not even money subsidies, will produce houses. Knowing, as we all do, the terrific need that there is for housing in the whole of Great Britain, and in particular in Scotland, we sympathise with the Government in their efforts, inadequate as both they and we know them to be. None of us who come from Scotland can overlook the grave shortage which existed even before the war, and which has been so greatly increasing during the war. I never go to my constituency and ask that people should come and give me their complaints but I have numbers of people who want me to find them a house. They come with tears in their eyes pointing out that the space that they have to 266 occupy cannot be called a house except by a misuse of words. Either it is insanitary or its position is such that the light of day never enters it, or it is grossly overcrowded, or the amenities of the house are not those which a human being should be asked to live in.
It is one of my griefs, which I am sure is shared by other Members, that we can do nothing at present really adequate to meet this terrific demand. Therefore we approach this Bill, as we do any other Bill dealing with housing, with that background which we shall never forget The Government cannot create houses by any magic wand, and even this Bill, important though it is, cannot do the impossible. Let us examine what the Bill proposes to do. In the first place, it seeks to remove a limitation on the local authorities taking part in a general housing programme. All those needing houses who came outside certain fixed categories have hitherto had to depend on the mercy of the speculative or other private builder to get a house. This Bill for the first time allows local authorities to build houses for other than the specified categories to which they have been limited.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
Is it true that no local authority in Scotland may under the present laws build a house without a subsidy?
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
At present no local authority can obtain a subsidy for building a house for anybody unless he belongs to certain specified categories and I do not think that under present conditions, with men coming home from the war, the House can take any exception to an alteration in that law. In the second place, the Bill seeks to get rid of some of the delay in acquiring land which is caused by the necessity for a public inquiry. Whatever may be the merits of a public inquiry in general, if present circumstances demand this accelerated procedure I do not think the House will care or dare to stand in the way of that provision. The Secretary of State told us that there was enough land in Scotland in the possession of local authorities to build 100,000 houses
§ Mr. Johnston
Fifty-six thousand houses up to now, with another 13,000 under immediate negotiation; and I hope that the land for 100,000 will be in the possession of the local authorities by the end of this year.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
As I understand it, that is independent of this Bill. However sufficient those 100,000 houses might be if they were distributed properly over the whole country, it is clear that, whereas there may be ample land for housing in certain parts of the country, there is not ample land in other parts. It is for that purpose mainly, as I understand it, that this Bill is required. The third main provision of the Bill relates to the possibility of building houses by the Scottish Housing Association. Those who know the facts will agree that the powers that this Bill seeks to confer are necessary in certain parts of the country to enable the houses to be built and to prevent local authorities being held up to ransom. These are the main features of the Bill, and I do not think the House will boggle at them in any way.
I would ask the Under-Secretary of State to clear up one difficulty in my mind about the numbers. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Health was speaking on the last Bill, he said, if I understood him aright, that the 100,000 houses for one year and the 300,000 altogether in two years were for all types of houses being built by the local authorities and by private enterprise, and applied to England, Wales and Scotland. As I read the Financial Memorandum to the English Bill, these figures apply only to England and Wales and only to those built by the local authorities. I should like that apparent discrepancy cleared up. It may be that one figure is for the finished article and the other for those in being. As I understood the Minister of Health's speech, it was at variance with the statements given in the Explanatory Memorandum to his own Bill. I gathered that it does not affect the Scottish position, which is, I understand, that we are to have in Scotland 50,000 out of the 300,000. In view of the much worse housing conditions in Scotland, which are a by-word, no one, I think, will grudge the larger proportion in Scotland.
There is another great question which does not arise directly under the Bill. That is the cost of building in Scotland. The notorious fact that a house in Scotland costs a great deal more to build than a house in England militates against getting forward with the programme in Scotland. This may not be the right occasion to discuss that point, but it is 268 one that has never been resolved and the Government really ought to tackle it. With regard to the question of building now, it was pointed out when the English Bill was under discussion that there was no English labour available for building new houses because it was all required for the current damage. The damage inflicted a year or two ago extended to Scotland, but the current damage is confined to England, and Southern England at that. Therefore, any labour that is available in Scotland should be free to build new houses, and I hope that we may get an assurance that even before the end of the war there may be a start on this programme of new building. I would like to say how much I support the right hon. Gentleman in the remarks he made about essential furniture. That is not precisely within the four corners of this Bill, but the efforts he has made in the past and is continuing to make to get that dealt with by the local authorities are worthy of all praise. I recognise the great value of this to those who go into a house with very little money and whom we do not want to throw on the mercy of the hire-purchase people. I believe that the Bill will have an easy, passage through the House. It is one that commends itself to me and those who sit with me on these benches. Though there may be points of detail about which questions will be raised I believe the House will have no hesitation in giving unanimous support to the Second Reading.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) is right in his forecast that the Bill will have an easy passage. We all recognise that it is, essentially, an emergency Measure—at least, I am supporting it on that understanding. If I were asked to support a system which extended the method of subsidy to all kinds of houses, local authority and private enterprise alike, I should oppose it, as a permanent Measure. Fortunately, we have been reminded of the experience we had at the end of the last war, when it was amply demonstrated that the extension of the subsidy to housing in general had the direct result of increasing the price of houses and reducing the output. With that experience in mind I declare that unless this were only a temporary Measure I would not be supporting it.
269 Incidentally, the Reports which we have had from the Central Advisory Committee have been very interesting. Three have already been produced and a fourth is coming. They are a striking tribute to the foresight of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy, who reconstituted the Central Advisory Council and who was responsible for the setting up of four sub-committees. They cover the whole area of Scottish housing. I hope that the extension of the subsidy to housing in general will be for as short a time as possible, because I want housing to be as cheap as can be. My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) made a very important point in the previous Debate, to which I should like to make reference. She said that an essential part of the Measure was the problem of cost, which involved the problem of the cost of production. It is somewhat regrettable that no representative of the Ministry of Works has been present to-day, except for a very short time, and that the hon. Lady who replied for the Ministry of Health had to say she was sorry she could not deal with costs as that was the business of her Noble Friend. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will not fob us off with the same story. We must consider the cost of production in relation to a Measure of this kind. We are being invited to pass a Bill which will involve this House and the taxpayers in the expenditure of great sums of money; what sums, no one knows, or what possible expenditure, as nobody has ventured to estimate it. This is an extraordinary situation.
I recognise that it is not possible, on 18th July, 1944, to lay down what costs may be next year, but it is only right and just that the Government should answer this day one or two questions addressed to them on this essential matter of costs. I would therefore ask my right hon. Friend to tell me what steps the Scottish Office are taking to consider, for example, the provision of housing material at reasonably cheap prices. What organisation is already set up in order to produce, in vast quantities, and factory made, the fittings for the houses? What has been done? I want to know. We ought to know. It is essential to speed up and cheapen the cost of production. Are the Government reflecting upon the present war-time conditions in respect of building labour? Are they quite satisfied that the 270 output during the war will be adequate in the post-war period? The cost of labour in total building costs is of enormous importance. I ask the Government whether they are considering that point. There are many people who believe that the basis of output upon which the present labour Regulations are constructed is wrong. I trust they will let us have an answer, so that we can see whether they are really considering that problem.
Have the Government considered, and what conclusions have they reached about, the prefabricated type of house? The Bill does not say that it relates necessarily to brick-and-mortar houses. There are forms of prefabricated houses which might do very well in some parts of Scotland. A previous speaker mentioned the possibility of timber houses; there are timber houses in my constituency of East Fife which have been up for a great number of years. The people in them are very happy, and the sanitary authorities have no complaint. What about alternative methods? Are they being considered? I invite my right hon. Friend to answer that question.
If I may refer again to her excellent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey seemed to indicate that one of the best ways to get houses built quickly in adequate numbers was to remove control. I recognise that some essential controls must be continued after the war, but my own view is that the sooner we can decontrol the materials and labour involved in house building the sooner shall we speed up building production in Scotland. I am satisfied that the sooner we release the central grip of Whitehall upon bricks, cement, timber and the other things that go to make a house, the more quickly shall we get the houses built. The sooner we can release the manacle grip upon labour, the sooner will the interprise of local authorities and of private persons be encouraged and houses be built.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Would the hon. Member say that that course of action would be a great success in Scotland, particularly as, in pre-war years, when there were no controls and everything was free, the housing record was deplorable?
There is always truth in what my hon. Friend says, and there 271 is truth in what he says now; but I think he will agree that there is truth in what I say. My contention is that the present method, by which the Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Labour—not the Secretary of State for Scotland—control the two vital elements in house building, is not suitable to the quick provision of houses in Scotland. That is my contention, and I say the sooner that that central Whitehall control is released, the sooner we shall get houses cheaply and quickly in Scotland.
May I say just one word about condemned houses, to which my right hon. Friend referred, and which were the subject of considerable discussion earlier? I can only give the House my own experiences in the part of the world I represent. I am, and I hope I always shall be, the last to do anything that seems to tend towards lowering the standard of housing, but I could describe conditions in the East of Fife—not in cities but the lovely rural East of Fife, conditions in which ploughmen are living, which would shock the House. Time after time ploughmen and their wives have approached me, and have approached the Department, seeking to leave their farm, not because of the farmer or the conditions of work, but because of the awful house in which the wife and family had to live. There were other houses near by. I think of one village not far from me, composed of just a few houses, nearly all of them technically condemned, but all better houses than some in which these men are living. I have appealed to the Department, I am glad to say successfully, to give the local authority power to re-open and improve some of these hitherto condemned houses, as a temporary emergency measure, to help these poor families to get better accommodation.
May I plead the case of my own people? I beg the House to stop theorising and face the facts of life. If I could take my hon. Friend over there to one ploughman's house in particular, of which I am now thinking, a shocking, appalling place, and then take him to look at the other house into which I have 272 been instrumental in getting him transferred, he would see that at least the other house is dry, at least it is clean, at least it keeps out the rain. It is technically condemned, but that man and his family thank God they have a better house to live in. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on giving his Department authority to make that special provision. So long as the shortage continues in Fife, I hope he will see that that special concession goes on; otherwise men and women will be condemned to live under conditions which are not justified at this time.
I have only one other word to say and that is in regard to the Special Housing Association. I would like the Under-Secretary, when he replies, to tell us a little more about this Association. One would like to know a good deal more about it. It was set up as a part of the Special Areas measures. I have never heard that it has done anything very spectacular. The fact that it is not profit-making does not necessarily commend itself to me at all. The criterion of that or any other body is: Does it do the job? Does it produce houses? I am not aware that it has done very much in that direction in the past. I must say that I do not think that the addition of these somewhat eminent members necessarily makes it a very admirable body in the view of the local authorities I represent. I ask, what contribution will that body make to our housing needs? I do not know the answer yet. We are being invited here to contribute large sums of money to that body, and I think we are entitled to know a good deal more about its works, its prospects, its background, its capacity, its technical equipment, than we know at the present time. If the Under-Secretary would deal with that in his reply I should be very happy.
I, gladly, on this occasion support the Second Reading of this Bill as a temporary Measure. I congratulate the Government on bringing it forward. It is an unfortunate necessity, and as such it has my support.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline)
The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) has spoken for one part of Fife. I want to speak for another part, Dunfermline Burghs. I welcome the Measure which is before the House as a first step to getting house-building restarted. It 273 has been stopped during the period of the war, and we all want to see it started as early as possible. We recognise that without a Measure of this kind we cannot get local authorities started to build houses for the working classes, as they are called. The hon. Member for East Fife has been telling us of housing conditions in the rural areas of Fife. I represent a group of burghs, and the conditions in some of them are just as bad as anything the hon. Member has in the East of Fife. There is a housing problem which is not confined to cities or the industrial areas. It is as widespread in the rural areas as in the urban areas.
I am pleased that the subsidy is to be extended and continued, because I do not see any possibility of houses being built for workers without the aid of a Government subsidy. I do not see how houses can at present be built and let at economic rents without a Government subsidy. I am pleased that in the Bill which is now before the House, apart from the sections who have previously enjoyed the subsidy, it is to be extended to the general housing position, that is so far as local authorities can erect houses. If the conditions in some parts of East Fife are as bad as my hon. Friend has described them, there were certainly opportunities before the war for providing better houses for agricultural workers, because in the Measure now before us, or in the Financial Memorandum, we are reminded that agricultural workers and persons in a similar economic position, could enjoy the subsidy prior to the war. A great deal more could have been done by private enterprise. As far as agricultural workers were concerned, private enterprise had its opportunity then, and there was no need for such conditions existing in East Fife or West Fife or anywhere else, if private enterprise had been as enterprising as we are sometimes led to believe it is. We are told that all private enterprise requires is opportunity and they are willing to take advantage of the opportunity. But the opportunity was there before the war, not only to build, but to recondition, agricultural houses.
§ Mr. Watson
I am perfectly willing to admit that a good deal was done. It is because I know that a good deal was done, that I am making reference to the 274 fact that, before the war, the housing position of the agricultural workers could have been improved.
In my constituency, I have raised this matter over and over again. There is one mining burgh where a considerable amount of damage has been done by underground workings, and housing conditions there have been very bad for years past. Recently when my right hon. Friend had some 2,000 houses to dispose of, we were fortunate enough in that burgh to get an allocation of 20 out of the last 1,000 up for allocation. I can assure my right hon. Friend that the erection of these 20 houses will be very welcome in that area. I hope that, before long, we may get an opportunity of a much bigger scheme, and I am certain that all the burghs in my constituency —I have one large burgh and three small burghs—will all be very anxious, as soon as opportunity offers, to get into the mortar tub and get houses built. We require houses in all the burghs, especially in the mining burgh of Cowdenbeath. The story my right hon. Friend told us to-day with regard to the 2,000 houses ought to act as a warning to us that we should get busy now before the end of the war to get the land prepared. He had to confess that very few of the first 1,000 houses have yet been completed. I think he said that over 800 of the first 1,000 had been begun. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] He said that tenders had been received for them only.
§ Mr. Watson
I am not clear what the position about the first 1,000 is. I do not know how many have been built, or whether any have been completed; how many have been roofed over, and how many others have been tendered for. I am not clear whether it is in connection with the first 1,000, or the second 1,000 that my right hon. Friend had to turn down the tenders that were received.
§ Mr. Watson
Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Under-,Secretary can tell us if the tenders for the second 1,000 are any more favourable for successful house-building than the tenders for the first 1,000 were. The hon. Member for East Fife referred to alternative building materials. It is possible that even the 275 permanent houses that we are looking forward to may have to be built of some materials other than brick and cement. I do not know whether the steel house is going to be any more popular after this war, than it was after the last war; but Lord Weir is busy constructing what is supposed to be the last word in steel houses, and perhaps that type may be considered for permanent houses. If it has all the qualities that are being advertised, there is no reason why it should not. If it is more quickly constructed than, and as durable as, a brick and cement house, there is no reason why the mere fact that it is a steel house should prejudice its consideration as a permanent house.
I express no opinion on it, because I have not seen the new house yet, although I hope to see it in the next few days. But I have no prejudice against it because of the materials. What would weigh with me mainly would be the speed with which permanent houses could be constructed. It is true that the building trades want to concentrate on permanent houses. That may be all very well, but there is such an urgent housing problem in Scotland that we cannot wait until the building trade workers can give us the number of permanent houses required, if they are to be of the ordinary type, built of brick and cement. Certainly there would be no chance of getting the 50,000 permanent houses that the Secretary of State seems to have made up his mind about, unless we accept, in addition, houses of another type of construction, whether timber or steel or something else. I said in the Debate on the Scottish Estimates that I would prefer to see all houses built of stone. I do not think that there is anything better than a good stone house, but stone-built houses are out of the question in present circumstances. They may be all right when we have plenty of time to build, and are looking for opportunities of using the labour that is available. At the moment, our problem is to get hundreds of thousands of houses as speedily as possible, with the labour and materials that are now available. My right hon. Friend's experience of the 2,000 houses that he allocated in Scotland some time ago, should be a warning to us not to expect very rapid progress if the houses are to be of the ordinary permanent type.
276 This Measure will get a speedy passage through the House, because we all want to see the local authorities armed with powers to go ahead and to have plans ready when the labour and the materials are available. It is unfortunate that we have not more time to discuss housing in Scotland; but I wish to welcome this Measure, which extends the provisions that are now confined to agricultural workers and to purposes connected with overcrowding and slum clearance, to general housing plans. We do not require to go to the slums, to the overcrowded areas, or to the agricultural areas to find an urgent need for new houses. I hope that, as speedily as the right hon. Gentleman can get his machinery to work, he will encourage the local authorities, by every means in his power, to go ahead with their plans, so that when the labour and materials are available, we shall not be long in getting the permanent houses that are required.
§ Captain W. T. Shaw (Forfar)
I welcome the Bill, but I regret to learn, from the statement of the Secretary of State for Scotland, that there are so few houses in prospect under the Bill. He mentioned that 800 out of the first 1,000 may be expected in the not distant future. As for the second 1,000, I am reminded of the text:In my Father's house are many mansions;… I go to prepare a place for you.I doubt whether many people now living will be able to live in this second 1,000 houses.
§ Captain Shaw
But the mansions in the skies are not habitable and steel houses are much better. I want mansions for people in my constituency now. I was particularly surprised when the right hon. Gentleman said that the labour was available. Yesterday, I asked a question about the hydro-electric power scheme, and pointed out that on 10th September, 1941, the Minister said that there would be neither the materials nor the labour available for it during the war. Yesterday he assured me that there would be plenty of labour and materials for these schemes during the war. I want to urge upon him that the housing problem in Scotland has a prior claim to all 277 the labour and materials that can be used, and that we want to get the houses before we allow ourselves to be attracted to larger schemes. We have got to solve this problem before we start on other schemes.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Nearly everybody in Scotland welcomes any proposal about housing. In fact, we are getting to the stage that we welcome almost any kind of Measure on these lines. I would say to the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) that I blame him for what he said about the ploughman's miserable place and the other thing. He should not brag about it. It is a shameful thing to say that all they can do in Scotland is to transfer one workman from a terribly bad condemned place to a slightly better place.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
My hon. Friend is doing me an injustice. I never said that it was the only thing they could do. I asked that these small but essential contributions to the needs of the time should be maintained.
§ Mr. Buchanan
It is a sad thing, a terribly sad thing, that, in Scotland, an hon. Member should be pleading in that way in 1944. What a sad commentary on our affairs that my hon. Friend should be pleading for a man to be transferred from a condemned cottage to another cottage only slightly better. The right hon. Gentleman for Edinburgh East (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), who opened the Debate from this side of the House, sometimes makes me wish that he knew certain parts of Scotland as well as some of us do. He said that bombs had destroyed houses in Southern England, while we were not in that position. I would say to him that, in certain parts of Scotland, from which some of us come, we are faced with the position that the houses are tumbling down without bombs. I have conducted a correspondence with the Minister—and the City of Glasgow has also done so—in which it has been pointed out that houses are being condemned almost month by month under the most difficult conditions, to be pulled down now. They are too dangerous to live in. That is the position now in our cities. It is urgent; it is almost desperate. The Government are being driven to certain measures and some of us wonder whether these are the proper measures to take.
278 The hon. Member for East Fife continued a practice which is growing up in Parliament, and which I think is quite wrong. I am surprised that a good Parliamentarian like my hon. Friend should continue it. He always condemns the Minister who is not here. It is becoming a regular method of argument to blame a Minister who is absent. If the Minister responsible be the Minister of Labour, as the hon. Member for East Fife said, the Secretary of State for Scotland must share his responsibility. It is no use trying to dodge it because he has friends here on the spot. It is not done and it is not decent. If my right hon. Friend had been sitting here and somebody else had been sitting on the other side when that record of the 800 houses not yet completed was mentioned, I venture to say that nobody Would have been so strong in his condemnation as my right hon. Friend. He would have poured criticism on it strongly. I say frankly that this idea, from Dumfriesshire, is being used as camouflage. If there are people who are tendering too high, deal with them, but do not make that an excuse for not providing houses when you have the Parliamentary powers. It is not fair. How sad to tell a thousand people in Scotland we are building a thousand houses for them—a miserable and mean number, it is true—and, then after all that, to give them the answer that even this number has never been completed yet. To say that the Secretary of State for Scotland is not to share that responsibility with another Minister, because we are supposed to be friendly, and all supposed to be kicking the ball the same way, is not fair.
I have no conception when the second thousand will be completed. But we have to sit here silent for fear that we may offend somebody. It is really a shame. We are discussing a Measure that makes for some kind of improvement in one or two aspects, and in the acquiring of land without a public inquiry. We are always told—and nobody knows this better than the Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland—that land was not the stumbling block. If it is not the stumbling block, there is not much in it. I welcome the provision for the more rapid acquisition of land. The facts are that the housing position in Scotland beggars description. In 1931–32–33, the Government did not build the houses, yet they had freedom in every 279 way. Just imagine, in Glasgow the highest total ever reached was round about 1929 or 1930, and the figure was something like 7,000 or 8,000 a year. Indeed, in the years before the war, the figure was as low as 3,000 houses. That was the position when there was freedom from control, and that is the position we are looking forward to now.
I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to stop appointing committees and delegating the matter to committees. I am sick to death of this position. Whenever we are up against a problem, the right hon. Gentleman appoints a committee. Committee members do not build houses. The Secretary of State has announced the names of two or three new members to-day. There have been members on that body for years, who have hardly ever attended a meeting, or bothered about the Scottish housing position. My right hon. Friend knows it, and I can name them if I am challenged. They are people, on this body, who are taking not the slightest interest in our Scottish housing position. I am sitting on an Inter-Departmental Committee, where my English colleagues, whatever may be their differences from us—and they are terribly marked—are at least in agreement about the needs of Scotland in regard to housing. In Scotland some of the houses beggar description. I want us to reach the stage when we shall stop theorising about Scotland and do something practical.
I say, in support of my hon. Friend, —and I ought to make this public declaration as an article of faith—that I am not going to be driven, as I was before the years of the war, into what I thought was a general conspiracy on the housing problem. This general conspiracy, as I saw it, was between the Government, the local authorities, the employers, and, if you like, the trades unions always keeping the housing problem as a sort of dripping roast. After the question of unemployment had been dragged in, they wanted to return to the question of housing, with the local authorities and the Government constantly afraid to face up to the position. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvin-grove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) tried for years—I do not know how long it took him—before he ultimately got a small 280 concession for the improvement of apprentices. That is the sort of situation with which we are faced. Human needs and desires are so strong to-day and so urgent and overwhelming that I refuse to agree to allow these people to live under conditions imposed by any particular section or interest that may come along.
I do not say that the last words in housing are stone and lime. From the wooden ships was evolved the iron ship, and after iron came the use of steel, and on Clydebank there was nothing in the old wooden ship which could equal the modern steel ship in design and capacity. If there could be evolution in regard to the ship, there can be evolution in housing. Whatever else the Scottish Office ought to do, they ought to go to the Cabinet now and say that something ought to be done. I say that to them with all seriousness as the position is so appalling. Housing has got to such a state in British politics that it stands out from almost every other domestic problem. The secretary of the Labour Party, in giving evidence in Edinburgh about housing in the City of Glasgow, said that conditions in the other towns were also shockingly bad, the only difference being that in Glasgow they leered at you. The right hon. Gentleman should go to the Cabinet and demand that extra measures should be taken to start house building now, and not merely in stone.
The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Fraser) put two or three questions in this House the other week about the closing down of certain steelworks in his district, and if a steelworks is closed down in Lanarkshire it affects other areas outwith that area. The men were worried. Why should not such firms supply the steel for the construction of houses? The great American Army who came here were accommodated with huts and equipment miles ahead of the accommodation provided for many of the people in the City of Glasgow, and, in fact, people in Clydebank would welcome such accommodation. Are not the requirements of the wives of our men in the Army as urgent as those of the men of the American Army? Hon. Members receive a terrible number of letters from men in the Army, often asking for compassionate leave because of the terrible conditions of their families at home. These men are not "funkers" or cowards, but they are worried about 281 their families. If we want to give them a decent morale, something more than this Measure should be contemplated. I only regard it as a piece of machinery. I almost express hatred of the conditions prevailing in my native country and I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, on this issue, to make it a first duty, in these most terrible and exceptional circumstances, to ask the War Cabinet to do something for Scotland, and that something should be done to get on with housing now and try to make Scotland a better country than many of us have known in the past.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
I feel that every Member of the House who has listened to the eloquent plea just made by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) will feel very much in agreement with him on this grievous subject. Every one of us is distressed at the housing conditions that exist in Scotland to-day. We get letters every day which distress us, and while I feel that everything possible should be done, I do indeed, even though it is only a little thing, welcome the Bill which is before us. I welcome the extension of the subsidy to these houses which are to meet the general need, and I welcome its extension to the Housing Association, and I wish that the right hon. Gentleman could have told us that it was also to be extended to private enterprise. I have said in this House before, that I do not think we shall ever cope with the housing situation in Scotland until we can get every agency that can build houses assisting with the job. I will only refer briefly to one set of remarks which fell from the hon. Member for Gorbals. He pointed out the desperate situation that existed in the production of houses in the years before the war, and the reason for that is not far to seek. There was only one agency for building houses—the local authorities. I say that the sooner we can reinforce them with other agencies, the better for the housing of the people of Scotland.
§ Mrs. Hardie (Glasgow, Springburn)
Will my hon. and gallant Friend allow me to interrupt? It is nonsense to say that private enterprise was not allowed to build houses before the war. No one prevented private enterprise from building houses.
§ Commander Galbraith
The economic conditions, the rating position and the Rent Restrictions Acts were absolute deterrents to the building of houses by private enterprise in Scotland. The hon. Lady knows how different the situation was in England from that existing in Scotland.
§ Commander Galbraith
I wish to refer to one point contained in Clause 2 of the Bill, which allows the Secretary of State discretion in the matter of holding a public inquiry where objections have been lodged, and that for a period of two years. It seems to me that in certain circumstances a public inquiry can be beneficial. However, before I go on with that point, I would like to refer to the Explanatory Memorandum which draws attention to the fact that similar power was given at the end of the last war. There is no comparison whatsoever between the position which existed then and the position that exists now. At that time the local authorities had no land whatsoever. To-day they have land which enables them, by the end of this year, to build 100,000 houses. My right hon. Friend told us that we were only to expect at the outside—if we got more, so much the better—50,000 houses in the first two years. So that we seem to have, in total, enough land for a four-years' programme, or something very near it. In these circurnstances I cannot understand why it should be necessary to do away with the local public inquiry which, according to the Minister of Health, would save from two to four months and, according to my right hon. Friend, a maximum of about six months. In this connection I would like to draw the attention of the House to the remarks made in the course of the Debate on the Town and Country Planning Bill by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, which I presume really are a statement of Government policy. This is what he said:I now come to the question of the public local inquiry. … It is absolutely essential to avoid unfairness or the appearance of highhanded action. … After all, people have a great deal of local patriotism. Are we not entitled to have some idea of what the local authority proposes to do with the land it is acquiring? Is there any Member in this House who really desires that a local authority shall 283 be in general empowered to acquire land, without disclosing publicly to anybody any of its intentions, merely by approaching the Minister and getting his consent? "[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1944; Vol. 401, c. 1687–8.]I feel that a public local inquiry serves a very useful purpose. It enables the people of the locality to be informed of what the local authority proposes to do. I know of cases where the intervention of outside persons has been much to the advantage of towns in Scotland and particularly my own city. I hope, therefore, that this public local inquiry will be held, save in exceptional cases where the Minister considers it is not absolutely essential or desirable. Where the local authority has land on which it can go ahead with the programme, then I believe that the public inquiry should be held.
Those are the only two points to which I wish to allude. However, I would like to ask my right hon. Friend who is to reply whether it is the intention of the Government to go ahead with legislation at a later date to provide a subsidy for private enterprise in the building of houses, as was promised by the Minister of Health in connection with the English Bill to-day. Is it the intention that we shall have a similar Bill for Scotland? Let me end by saying once more that I hope my right hon. Friend will use the local inquiry wherever possible.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
It will not have escaped the attention of the House that only my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) has so far spoken to the Bill. That, to me, is not without significance, because it seemed to me when I read this Bill that there was not so very much in it. It is a very small Measure. I am not going to suggest that the Government should have published some other kind of document that would miraculously produce ever so many houses for the people in a relatively short time, but it occurred to me, when my right hon. Friend was introducing this Measure, that he, too, had very little to say in commendation of it. A good part of his speech was devoted to dealing with the situation at large and to matters that fell outside the scope of this particular Bill. The very small points with which it deals of course commend themselves to all of us, or at least very nearly all of us; even my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals 284 (Mr. Buchanan) said that he appreciated and welcomed the little concession given in the Bill, and the little assistance it would give to the local authorities in the provision of new houses.
I wonder, however, how much encouragement the Bill will give to the local authorities. The Secretary of State told us that very soon now the local authorities will have acquired sufficient land for the erection of 100,000 houses. At the same time we are informed that in the first two years after we start building houses in Scotland we are expected to build something like 50,000 houses, so that we already have, or very soon shall have, land for twice as many houses as it is our intention to build in the first two years. That being so, if that acquired land is properly apportioned, there would not seem to be very much in the compulsory acquisition of land, that is, without public inquiry. It may be, of course, that the land required by the local authorities is not adequately or properly apportioned and that in some areas it will be very necessary to acquire land speedily and without resort to the public inquiry.
In the earlier Debate to-clay reference was made to the extent of the subsidy, and fear was expressed that if it were not sufficient the housing of the people at rates they could pay will become very near to impossible. Reference was also made to the fact that it has been our experience that the bigger the subsidy, generally speaking, the higher the cost of production. That being so, it would seem to me to be very unwise for the Secretary of State and the Government to take the advice of the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), who said that controls should all be removed at the earliest possible moment and that private enterprise should be allowed its head in order to get on with the building of houses.
We have read in one of these publications by the Central Advisory Committee that in 1921–22 the cost of building houses, on the average, dropped from £830 to £494 That was at the same time as the subsidy was removed. The subsidy of £240 per house was taken off and the cost of production fell, at the same time, by about £340. There must be a reason for that, and we ought to be told what is the reason. I am not suggesting for one moment that in the absence of a suitable 285 reply we should not have any subsidy. Obviously we must have a subsidy, but it must not be the means of putting public money into the possession of people engaged in private enterprise or building for local authorities. In my view private enterprise has always done very well out of house-building, whether it has engaged in it in a speculative manner or for local authorities. It seems to me, therefore, that the Secretary of State must continue to have some control, by some means or other, over costs, and he must see to it that in the period immediately following the war, when great efforts will be made to rehouse our people and provide accommodation for our returning Servicemen, building contractors, or any other section interested in house-building, will not be able to cash-in on the distressing needs of our people.
The Secretary of State made reference to the provision in the Bill for encouraging and assisting the special Housing Association. He told us of the good work they had done and how they had enabled him and the Government to break the "rings" in the building industry, to cut through the obstacles to building that were being placed before local authorities by contractors who joined together and imposed too high costs. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can tell us, when he replies, how the Association broke the ring. Where did they get labour and materials? Did they bring in contractors from other areas? We would like to know what happened. In the period immediately following the war it should be easy to get all our labour resources utilised for the purpose of house-building. We should not have all this playing about with prices, trying to get a contractor to build houses and then, if he is a member of the "ring" and his price is too big, getting another contractor to do the job. We cannot have efficiency in the industry so long as that sort of thing is tolerated. We shall have duplication and triplication of overheads. If a contractor stands idle because his price is too high his overheads have to be paid all that time, so that if he does re-engage in house-building somebody has to pay for the time when he was making no profit.
I do not know whether my experience is general, but I find that the Special Housing Association have been engaged in the production of an alternative type 286 of housing for local authorities. In Lanarkshire the Association built houses which stand out as something quite different. I am not objecting, but I wonder whether the Association will be used to get around local authorities' objections, or objections by this House, to houses that they would not want. I think particularly of the Portal house. I do not wish to condemn that house now, but since the Special Housing Association have, in the past, mainly built timber houses they may, in the immediate period after the war, have to revert to building steel houses in the absence of sufficient timber. That may be all very well, but I am one of those who are not very much taken up with steel houses. I am, perhaps, a bit old-fashioned, and maybe ought not to be. I can not only say that I have seen bad housing conditions, as so many Members have said, but I myself have lived in horrible housing conditions, and that does not make me any more ready to accept the Portal house, or any other type of steel house, as a substitute for a house, because it is only a substitute for a house. I have often heard Members say that they would be pleased to live in that sort of house. It is not true. I question whether there is one Member who would choose a Portal house for his own dwelling.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I certainly would not take a Portal house, but there are steel houses which I would prefer to the stone tenement I live in.
§ Mr. Fraser
I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. A steel house, or a Portal house, would probably be preferable to the housing conditions of many people, but the point is that many hon. Members when expatiating on the Portal house try to make us believe that it is a very enviable abode. It is not. It is only something that we have to put up with for the time being. I recall, however, that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) warned us in the last Debate on Scottish housing that the Portal house would not merely be a temporary house but would become a sort of semi-permanent house, because of the time it took to overcome our needs and the delay in house building during the war. I should hope that the Special Housing Association will not be used to hurry the production 287 of traditional type houses. I appreciate that, in the main, local authorities will be expected to use the subsidies to go ahead building the traditional type houses. They will not be timber or steel houses. They will be building houses of brick and lime. I should hope that the Special Housing Association will not be taking advantage of a very similar subsidy to provide something that the local authorities would not wish to provide.
I cannot take any objection to the Measure. All its provisions seem to me to be very necessary and, if I do not believe that the local authorities are waiting for this sort of provision, or will be enthused at the passage of the Bill, neither do I believe that the people who are so much in need of houses will be enthused. But I hope it will be the forerunner of other Measures to see that the total resources of the building trade are applied to the production of houses at the earliest moment.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I doubt whether the House fully appreciates the position before us in Scotland. I have heard no reference, for instance, to the very grave warning that the Secretary of State gave. He said he hoped we should get the figures that he mentioned, the 100,000 in the first postwar year and the 300,000 by the end of the second, but he did not believe we should—these small figures which the English Minister of Health was heavily criticised for bringing forward. The right hon. Gentleman spoke with all the authority of the Government in the presence of the Minister of Labour and the representative of the Office of Works. The Bill is a piece of machinery—not perhaps a very important piece—which says, "You have not been able to supply houses for the slum dwellers, you have not been able to supply houses for the agricultural workers, you have not been able to supply houses to supplement those which are overcrowded. We shall however give you, in addition, permission to supply houses for a class which has not yet been brought in." That is to say, there are not enough houses being produced, but the subsidy shall be extended to another class which has not yet been dealt with at all.For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?288 It is a piece of machinery of very shadowy benefit to its hypothetical beneficiaries. I am not sure whether it is a good thing to do. It is a tidy thing to do, but whether it will have the effect of restricting the provision of houses for the classes most urgently in need of them I should not like to say. We are all so very willing to provide houses in the abstract, yet, when concrete proposals are brought forward, we are all so terribly critical of them. The Secretary of State had only to mention that the shipyard workers had suggested building houses for themselves in their spare time for the benches to seethe with people getting up——
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
It may be nonsense, but it is the way the Russians, in their blitzed towns, are providing themselves with houses. The poet Burns was born in a house built by his father in his spare time. The idea that no one can do anything except by following out re cognised methods may be right or wrong.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
At any rate, there is at least one righteous man in the city, and the city was saved from destruction because there was one righteous man amongst them.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
That was because the righteous people were allowed to leave the city. We cannot get away from our cities. If people could leave Glasgow and go to places where there is plenty of accommodation, that is all very well. The Lord was not going to destroy the city if Lot was in it. He was willing to let Lot get out and then destroy it. Surely the hon. Member's knowledge is not so far at sea that he would suggest that the Lord would destroy the city if Lot had not been able to get away from it. We are cabined, cribbed and confined within the limits of Scottish housing conditions. Ninety-nine per cent. of the people have to go on living there. Every line ought to be tried. 289 We tried steel houses long ago. From every corner of the House there came criticism and the suggestion that this was not the way to approach the matter and it was not the right thing to do. They all preferred bricks and mortar, and the great experiment was brought to an end. If we had had 20 years' more experience of these methods we should have been far ahead with steel houses, and with stone and lime houses too. The steel house can always beat the first tender for a brick house, but not the second. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) gave figures for Glasgow. He said 7,000 houses were built in one year and it had fallen to 3,000 in the year before the war. But the year when 7,000 houses were built was the year when we were putting up steel houses. The situation was so serious that something had to be done about it and builders produced brick and mortar houses, Unless the problem is approached from several angles nothing will happen.
The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Fraser) said we ought to organise the whole thing and bring it forward in one general line of advance, everyone being employed all the time. It may be, but that is not the way that houses were produced in Scotland. The Secretary of State warned us that we shall not get enough labour and materials to build even the meagre numbers suggested here. More meagre figures were produced a quarter of a century ago, after the last war, when hundreds, not thousands, were produced in the first year and 20 or 30 houses in the whole of England, Scotland and Wales in the second year of the war. That may be a much nearer figure than this figure of 100,000, which is a paper figure, or the 300,000, which is another paper figure. When my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton says, "I have been reading the Paper put out by the Housing Committee and I find the price of houses fell in one year from £800 to £400, I wonder what was the reason for that and whether it was a sudden attack on building contractors' profits," I would point out that that was the year of deflation, the slump and the crash, when everything fell. Ask anybody in industry or any employed person whether there was not a terrific crash in those years, when the great slump hit Great Britain and unemployment went bounding up by a million at a time. Naturally, we 290 got a drop in the price of houses. But that is not the sort of drop to which we are looking forward. It is the sort of drop which the Government are pledged to the hilt against.
We cannot look forward to that to get us out of the difficulty. Unless we are willing to try everything and take new lines of approach, including the steel house and the Special Housing Association, we shall certainly not get out of the difficulty in which we are now. The hon. Member for Hamilton said he hoped the Special Housing Association would not be used for introducing special types of houses like steel houses. I hope that it will be so used. It has got to be so used. Somebody has got to take the initiative. From my experience of local authorities, that is the last thing that any housing committee would put through, and the last thing any corporation would pass even if the housing committee put it up. Of all cautious, conservative, reactionary bodies, commend me to great masses of men gathered together in publicly elected corporations. The convenor of a housing committee has a hundred people to fear if he brings forward a new proposal. If one is brought forward, it will be sent to one sub-committee after another, who will report on it and bring it back again, and all the time the housing shortage is going on.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I have seen great things done by small committees composed of people who were willing to take responsibility. I hope very much that the Special Housing Association will be able to go forward and take the responsibility for the steel house just as an earlier special organisation had the courage to do. It was turned down by every local authority, but it was put into action by this special organisation. There are many families in Scotland who are living in a great deal more comfort than if the steel house had not been there. If the experiment had not been stopped we would have been much further in housing in Scotland than we are to-day.
§ Mr. Fraser
Is my right hon. and gallant Friend arguing that even though the local authorities should object to the steel house being introduced into their areas, the Housing Association should be enabled 291 to go in and put them up in defiance of the local authorities?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Without a doubt; if the housing authority is not housing the people. One talks as if the purpose of the housing authority was to be merely a housing authority. Its purpose is to supply houses to the people. If the housing authority, say, of the Corporation of Glasgow is not building enough houses for the folk in Glasgow and is turning down steel houses, I hope very much that the Housing Association will come in and build houses for the constituents of the hon. Member for Gorbals and for my constituents. I should back them with both hands, and I would get the support of my constituents, because they are not existing simply for the greater glory of the Housing Committee of the Corporation of Glasgow. They have ideas of their own for the reason for their existence which go far beyond that, and what they want is a house to live in. If the local authority is not carrying out this primary duty, and another public body has been set up by this House for the purpose of carrying out that primary duty and is being supplied with material to do it in the shape of the steel house, then, if it is not done, we shall be going to the Secretary of State night and day to ask him why he is not exercising the power that has been granted to him for housing the people. Surely the hon. Member for Hamilton and the hon. Member for Gorbals would say that. We are all so willing to postpone decisions on this and that and hope that somebody else takes the decisions.
I read letters from the Secretary of the Building Trade Association, Mr. Coppack, with whom I have worked and for whom I have a great admiration, asking. "What is all this about alternative methods of housing? Why do not the Government put the programme before the building trade and let them do it? "The Government have put it before the building trade. There is this modest programme of 100,000 houses in the first year and 300,000 by the end of the second year, and yet the Minister, in commending the Bill, said that he did not believe he would get them. That is a "show-down" if you like. On that show-down there is a serious situation confronting the country as a whole, and 292 a terribly serious situation confronting Scotland. This piece of machinery, although it is useful, does not go anything like far enough to grapple with the situation which is before us, and it will not be grappled with merely by the subsidy. It will have to be grappled with by great measures of organisation, by an increase of labour and of material, and, it may be, by some pretty firm handling of vested interests of all kinds.
The hon. Member for Hamilton said that only he and one other Member had spoken to the Bill. I would remind him that on Second Reading it is allowed by Parliamentary practice not only to speak of everything that is in the Bill, but to speak of everything that is not in the Bill. For that reason I say that we must take this opportunity and every opportunity of driving home to the Secretary of State, and through him to the Government, that the measures which have been proposed for solving the housing situation in Scotland are not enough.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I leave England out of account. We have enough to do to remedy our own grievances in Scotland without remedying the grievances of England also. Of the 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 houses built in the years between the wars, far the greater number were built South of the Border. We in Scotland have not only the war shortage but the accumulated peace shortage to deal with, and the measures proposed are not enough. That ought to be the message of the House of Commons, and particularly of the Scottish Members, on the occasion of the Second Reading of a Scottish Housing Bill, to the Secretary of State and, through him, to the Government.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
I wonder whether the sort of speech to which we have just listened is the kind that has always been made in this House when the housing needs of Scotland have been brought to the front. If so, why do we find ourselves in such a deplorable condition in regard to housing? I welcome the Bill, so far as it goes—which is not very far. I am surprised that the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvin-grove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) was critical of extending the subsidy to general hous- 293 ing needs. It has been tragic that no provision has been made for people who did not come into the category of slum clearance cases or overcrowded cases and it has been very difficult to explain that situation to people who have been seeking houses. In my village, people have lived all their lifetime not in overcrowded places or in slum dwellings, but when houses have become vacant it has been difficult to explain to them that they could not have one, because they did not come into either of those categories. The very fact that the Bill will give local authorities the opportunity of providing for those people is a tremendous step forward, and to that extent I am sure we all welcome the Measure.
Some hard things have been said about housing in Scotland to-day and I do not think any Member is prepared to apologise for saying them, because the housing is in a very tragic state in Scotland. The surprising thing is that the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove, who had some responsibility in the matter—indeed, a great share, because he has occupied responsible offices under the Crown, having been both Secretary of State for Scotland and Minister of Health, during the period when we might have made a good deal of progress in housing—has been out-Heroding Herod. He went to the length of saying that we should badger the Secretary of State on this matter day and night. I wish hon. Members of this House had badgered him, when he was Secretary of State. The probability is that Scotland would now be in a much better position.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Can the hon. Member name any occasion when he badgered me once for extra steel houses?
§ Mr. Sloan
My local authority, of which I was a member, wrote the letters and brought the pressure to bear upon the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, or my local Labour Party or the trade union of 294 which I was a member, would write the letters and badger him; but that did not provide the necessary houses for the Scottish people.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Let me say, then, as a matter of interest, that not on one occasion did I ever receive a representation from the local authority in question, or from any trade union of which my hon. Friend was a member, asking for any steel housing programme, or backing me up in getting an extra ounce of labour into the building trades in Scotland.
§ Mr. Sloan
I am quite sure that the right hon. and gallant Member did not, because we did not approve of the steel houses. We examined them. I thought we were wise in our rejection. I am sure that at that time we turned down the steel house—but what is the good of all this back-biting? What we have to do is to see that we get houses in the future. It is true that houses cannot be built without materials and labour. An hon. Member said in a previous Debate that if we had all the money, all the materials and all the land, we could not get houses unless we had the labour. This matter of labour has been made a tremendous excuse in the problem of housing. We have been led to believe that there has not been building labour because we had not the man-power, and I believed that, until the Debate upon the Scottish Estimates the other day, when the Under-Secretary of State told us that in the building industry in Scotland before the war, we had 108,000 building operatives. The highest total of houses we ever built in Scotland was 250,000. The average over the years would be much nearer 15,000. The proportion of building trade workers engaged in house-building in Scotland was probably one in five or in six. The others were building public-houses and cinemas. The figure has been given and accepted of one building operator per house per annum so, out of 108,000 building operatives, only some 15,000 or 20,000 were engaged in building houses in the land where housing conditions are among the worst in Europe.
I was intrigued by the statement of the Secretary of State for Scotland about the generous Greenock shipyard workers coming forward and offering their services to form a guild to build houses in their 295 spare time. I am surprised that he made any such statement in public. I should very much like to know the record of those shipyard workers at their own job. I remember the shipyard workers in the Clyde demanding a 40-hour week. The Greenock workers are apparently willing to work their 45 or 48 hours, and then bring their tools and engage in the building trade in Scotland to house the people. What a hope. What an idea to promulgate, suggesting that the result will in any way help the building industry in the provision of houses in Scotland.
I am not critical of the attempt to short-circuit the acquisition of land. I know something of those difficulties in my local authority. Local authorities all over the country have had the same experience of the difficulty of securing sites and of countering the obstacles placed in their way by the people who hold the land. And if this proposal for the carrying out of a public inquiry will help in the acquisition of land, then it is all to the good and will help greatly in that provision of our houses.
I return to the question of building labour. Is building to be maintained under the Essential Work Order, or is there to be some method of control so that building workers will be compelled to stay in Scotland to build the houses required for the Scottish people? We see all the disastrous destruction that has taken place in England. We know that very many of these things that are being smashed now by bombs will have first priority to be rebuilt. I understand that a number of "pubs" have been bombed, and one of the first things to be done will be to build the "pubs," the cinemas, the churches, the banks. There will be a tremendous demand for building trade workers. Are they to be transferred from Scotland to England to rebuild England, before Scotland again has its share? The fact of the matter is that unless we do something very drastic in regard to the question of building, then we will not make the progress necessary.
I am not at all critical of the Housing Association. I cannot say I am very familiar with their operations or activities, but I know one thing; they have provided us with houses which we would not otherwise have had to-day, and if a stop had not been put to their operations we 296 would have a great many more houses. We had a scheme in the county of Ayr, laid out by the Housing Association, which would have been completed long ago if the war had not come about. It is quite true to say that the Housing Association would have provided us with houses which we have not got at the present time.
I do not know why the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) should be so insistent upon the cost of this scheme being laid down before we get started. That is obviously impossible. We do not know what the cost of building will be yet; it is quite certain it cannot be anything like what it was before the war. Standards have been raised, wages have gone up, and it is very unlikely—I hope it is very unlikely, I suppose it will be impossible—that wages will be reduced to anything like the standard at which they were before the war. Every increase in wages means an increase in building costs or cost of materials, which also has its reflection on building costs. Therefore it would be impossible to state even approximately the amount which would be required to house the people of Scotland at the present time. I think it is a wise thing not to name the subsidy. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health made a statement—I think she did it unwittingly—that if the cost of houses does not come down, the people will not be housed.
The people will not get the houses if they cost anything like the present figure. That is my view.
§ Mr. Sloan
That is the hon. Member's view, but is it mine? My view is this: We did not stop the war because of the cost. We did not stop improving and making implements of war—the best bombers that could be produced, experiments with the tank, the production of the very best equipment we could send to the Army. We did not count the cost at all. We did not say "No, we are not going to do that because it would cost 297 too much money." The people of Scotland must be housed, irrespective of the cost, or irrespective of what it may take to build houses.
It is true we must do the best that is possible to see that there is no such thing as exploitation, such as took place after the last war, when the cost of a three-apartment house was £1,200. It is also true, as proved in the Green Paper here, that the higher the subsidy the greater the cost of the house. While it is not possible to obviate subsidies, I hope we are not going to embark on a scheme of subsidies for private enterprise to build houses to let at profit. I hope we are not going to grant subsidies, as we did after the last war, to provide employers of labour with tied houses that were their own particular property, from which they could remove miners if they left their employment. I hope we are not going to embark on a scheme of that kind, but now that this question of housing has been ventilated in this House, now we have got this Bill, now that the Secretary of State knows that all sections of the House demand houses, I hope no time will be lost in providing houses for those people of ours who are in such dire need.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)
This Debate on housing, and the Second Reading of our short Scottish Bill, which after all is only an interim Bill dealing with our problem of housing, has re-emphasised the fact that, of all the social problems that we have to solve, in Scotland in particular, the outstanding one is that of providing decent housing for our people. The Bill, as I say, is a very short one, but it has provided an opportunity, rightly taken advantage of by hon. Members, to raise many points in connection with housing in Scotland. It has been pointed out by hon. Members that, with all the good will in the world, we cannot build houses unless we have the material and the labour which is necessary to deal with this great problem. It has also been emphasised that in Scotland there is a tremendous shortage of housing.
It was pointed out by the Secretary of State, in opening the Debate, and it has been emphasised by speaker after speaker, that we have a really grave shortage of housing in Scotland. The Committee of which I am chairman, which has given its advice to the Secretary of State for 298 Scotland, declared that our needs in Scotland were not less than 500,000 houses. Incidentally, one of its recommendations —and this seems to me to show that the legislation we are proposing is not just a shadowy legislation, as was suggested by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot)—was that local authorities should have the right to acquire more speedily the land necessary for housing. That recommendation is contained in this short Measure, Another of the recommendations of that Committee, whose recommendations were unanimous, was that the subsidy for our municipal houses in Scotland should be extended to provide for building for the general needs of the population. Those two recommendations are given effect to in the Bill.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Is this subsidy that is provided in the Bill to be a permanent measure, and not an emergency measure?
§ Mr. Westwood
I sincerely hope that if it is a matter of keeping down rents, and of building houses at rents which the working classes can pay, we shall not give up the subsidy. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) is not speaking for the 22 small burghs in Fife if he thinks that we can get on building houses for the people without subsidy.
I am simply asking a question I understood, and I am sure that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) understood, that this was a temporary, emergency arrangement. Now my right hon. Friend is suggesting that it is a full-time, permanent Measure.
§ Mr. Westwood
I am not suggesting anything of the kind. I am suggesting that it is an interim Measure, dealing with housing. I never suggested that it was a permanent Measure. It is an interim Measure, dealing with particular problems, especially with the acquisition of land. I was coming to that, if I had not been interrupted. One of the reasons why we need the power to get rid of the public inquiry is that, before the year is over, we hope to have the land on which to build 100,000 houses. The Secretary of State gave figures showing the amount of land already acquired and of land that it is hoped to acquire in the very near future, and he concluded by saying that it is hoped to have land on which to build 299 100,000 houses, but that the ownership of land by local authorities in Scotland is unbalanced. There are authorities which have no land to meet their requirements, and there is no reason why they should have to go through the cumbrous procedure which is laid down in order to meet their requirements. Consequently, we are giving power to these authorities to acquire land more speedily, so that all our local authorities in Scotland shall have a minimum of two or three years' land in hand, in order to get on with building as soon as we have the labour and the materials. That is one of the main purposes of the Measure. A question was asked about the figures for the first two years in Scotland. The Secretary of State made it clear that the total housing target for Britain is 100,000 houses for the first year, and 200,000 for the second year, a total of 300,000 houses for Great Britain in the first two years after the war. Out of that number, the share which has been allocated to us is 20,000 for the first year, and 30,000 for the second year.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
My right hon. Friend has not quite answered the conundrum which I put. In the Preamble to the English Bill, the figures of 100,000 and 200,000 are for the local authorities only, but the Minister spoke of the 300,000 covering the whole production of housing. I should like that point cleared up.
§ Mr. Westwood
I can speak only for Scotland. I have not the privilege of replying to an English Debate on an English Bill. The 50,000 houses which are our share hare to be allocated to the local authorities in accordance with the plans which are made. I hope that I have answered my right hon. Friend's point. Another point that was raised is, Why are the costs higher in Scotland than in England? There are various reasons. I think that in some instances our houses are more substantially built. In connection with the roofs of the houses and the holding of the strengths, about double or treble the amount of wood is used. Also, lath and plaster are used in Scotland, whereas in England a straight plaster is used on the wall, without any lathing. That is one of the reasons why. this House has always realised that we had to get a higher subsidy for housing in Scotland than in England.
300 The hon. Member for East Fife also raised the question of the cost of houses to-day. There are various reasons why the costs are higher. To start with, the younger men have been taken out of the industry and only the older men are left. Consequently, the output is far lower. Then there are the increases in wages. There is also the increased cost of materials. All these things increase the cost of building at present. It was a slip on the part of the hon. Member for East Fife when he mixed up 1944 and 1844. Listening to some of his remarks after that slip, I felt sure that he was preaching the economics of 1844 and not the economics of 1944. He suggested, and I think he has suggested again by his interjection, that we have not to consider permanently continuing the subsidy.
§ Mr. Westwood
I cannot go into that at the moment, because I have no knowledge of any negotiations in Scotland for extending the subsidy other than to local authorities, or for continuing the subsidy other than to local authorities. The Committee of which I am chairman is inquiring into ways of encouraging owner-occupiership—it may be by subsidy, it may be by assistance in other ways; I do not know. In that way it will be possible to make houses available for those who are to buy and occupy them.
§ Mr. Westwood
I cannot give a date when that Report will be available. They have had three or four meetings and they are energetically pursuing that particular matter with a view to bringing in their recommendations as speedily as possible.
It was likewise suggested by the hon. Member for East Fife that the sooner we got rid of controls the better. The hon. Member and the House must realise that no one asks for controls merely for the sake of control, but if the hon. Member is willing to go back to East Fife and argue, when people are in such desperate need for houses, or go to the Gorbals Division—from which I get a type of letter which, if one were not in earnest, would definitely make one so—and say that there must be no control, that all 301 the building workers have a right to go where they like in the first two years, sell their labour as they like and build pubs and cinemas rather than houses, I will be quite willing, as a Minister of the Crown, to follow him into his own constituency or any other for the purpose of putting the policy of the Government. [Interruption.] It is true that on one occasion the hon. Member did defeat me, but I am not sure that he could defeat me on the next. If we are to deal with this particular problem, we must have, for some period after the war, some control over labour, over materials and over costs, and I agree with what has been said by several hon. Members that no interests of any kind must be allowed to stand in the way of a solution of the housing problem in Scotland.
Several questions were asked about the Scottish Special Housing Association. Let me make it clear—and this is in answer to a question put by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton)—that there is no association between the Special Housing Association referred to in the Bill before the House and the Second Scottish National Housing Company that was formed for the purpose of building the Weir steel housse. That is a separate organisation altogether, set up for that particular purpose, and it has no association with the Scottish Housing Association referred to in the Bill.
I would like to give just a few facts about the Special Housing Association, for which we are asking special powers in the Bill. Since it was set up in November, 1937, for the purpose of building houses only in special areas and with alternative materials, it has twice had its powers extended, first, to deal with other than special areas, and second, to build even with ordinary materials. Now these powers are extended in this Bill. Since the Association was set up, it has made not a bad contribution to housing in Scotland. It has built 2,094 houses, of which 2,028 have been completed since the outbreak of war. Of this 2,028, 284 are emergency houses of temporary construction. In 1943, the Association resumed the building of 300 houses in Airdrie, Coatbridge, Johnstone, Kilmarnock and Motherwell, of which 26 have been completed and the remainder are nearing completion. Some 206 of the houses have been built in brick and 94 in poured cellu- 302 lar concrete. The Association are at present constructing 600 emergency houses, built according to the Ministry of Works standard hut system—reinforced frames and maycrete blocks. They are being built in the burghs of Clydebank and Greenock and in the counties of Dunbarton and Lanark for war workers living in unsatisfactory conditions. The Association has also completed, for the Ministry of Aircraft Production, 18 houses in Edinburgh, begun by private enterprise, work on which was suspended on the outbreak of war. I could go on giving more details of the work they have done, but that is an indication of the fine work the Association have been doing, and is a reason why, in this Bill we are asking Parliament to extend their powers.
The question was asked, how they will break the "ring." They can do it in several ways—by employing their own direct labour, by bringing in new contractors and also by a standard type of plan. After all, we wasted a tremendous amount of time in the past by having plans for different authorities, even for different sites in the same local authority area. I have known months wasted, when we had a splendid plan, through local authorities arguing on the height of a window or the width of a door and some other small, infinitesimal things that all tend towards delay. Thu Association can, by the methods that lie to hand, check the costs above the ordinary contractors who are to be used by the local authorities for the building of these houses, and I am perfectly sure that that is one of the effective ways in which we have been able to deal with the problem in Scotland arising from the mounting costs of houses.
The third point is the offer of the building trades' workers in the Greenock area to form themselves into a guild to give their contribution to the solution of the housing problem of Greenock, and it is really a terrible problem. I think there is only one town which has a greater problem, taking the size of the place, and that is Clydebank itself. These two places have the greatest problem of all so far as blitzed conditions are concerned. Here are the numbers of the volunteers in the trade—49 electricians, 58 joiners, 38 plumbers. They are engaged in the meantime on the building of ships, and it was not a question of an offer by miners or agricultural labourers to build 303 houses, but an offer by skilled craftsmen to give what services they can, and it is surely worth accepting, even it they only build 10 houses a year.
§ Mr. Westwood
There are seven carpenters and 19 labourers. Those are the trades and the numbers willing to give of their best, and I think we are entitled to take offers from any source from which they come to enable us to deal with this great problem.
The Bill is a very short Bill. It seeks to shorten the time for the acquisition of land, not so much necessary in the areas where we have got land for even a four or five years' housing programme, but for the many areas where they have no land. This will shorten the procedure and make it possible more speedily to take in hand the land necessary for a two or three years' housing programme. It will extend the subsidy to meet the general needs of the community instead of merely limiting it to those families who were overcrowded, and it will give these extended powers to the Special Housing Association. I sincerely hope that we are going to receive the unanimous support of the House for its Second Reading.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read at Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.— [Captain McEwen.] Committee To-morrow.