§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
rose to call attention to the question of the housing of the working classes, and in particular the overcrowding in Rosyth and its neighbourhood, and to move for a Return of the number of persons employed there by His Majesty's Government and of the housing provided by the Government for their accommodation.
§ The noble Marquess said: My Lords, the Motion which I have placed on the Paper has two parts to it. It deals generally with the housing question, upon which I shall have something to say, and it deals specifically with the condition of affairs at Rosyth to which my noble friend behind me has already alluded. Let me say, first, a word or two about the general position of the housing question. I do not believe that the Government or the country realise how serious the state of affairs really is. I think that the Government are living, if I may say so, in a fool's paradise in regard to the position of housing at this moment. In some respects it is almost impossible to exaggerate the gravity, not of the actual situation, but the situation as it may develop in the course of a very short time.
§ The real fact is that since the celebrated Budget, the "People's Budget," the process of building houses for the working classes has received a great setback. I must trouble your Lordships with a few figures to show what the state of things really is. If you take the seven years preceding 1906—that is, the last seven years of Unionist Administration—the average number of working class houses which were built every year was 135,000. Then if you take the seven 1079 years since the present Government have been in office, the average increase has only been 85,000. I presume, and I think I have a right to presume, that the 135,000 a year under the Unionist Administration was what was absolutely required in order to keep up with the proper supply of housing, to renew the old houses and to erect a sufficient number of new ones to meet the demand. Therefore every year since the present Government came into office there has been, on the average, a growing deficiency of housing accommodation. Deducting 85,000 from 135,000 gives you 50,000; and if you multiply that by seven—the seven years in question—you have a total deficiency of 350,000 as taking place since the present Government took office. That deficiency is an increasing evil, because, whereas there was an average of 85,000 over the whole period of the seven years, during the last three years, since the People's Budget, the deficiency has been still greater. Roughly speaking, only 60,000 houses have been built a year on the average since the People's Budget, so that if this process goes on the sum total of the deficiency will assume the most formidable proportions. The other figures which are available to us go to confirm all that I have said. A friend of mine, an hon. Member of the House of Commons, has put together certain figures showing the number of empty houses in forty of the principal municipal towns of this country. In 1901 there were 65,000 empty houses; that number had fallen in 1911 to 47,000; but in 1913, the last year for which figures are available, the number had fallen much faster, to 24,000.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I cannot give the total number. I am dealing with forty of the principal municipal towns. The figures, I need hardly say, do not include London. These 24,000 empty houses is almost insignificant, and very soon there will positively be a famine of houses in this country if the process proceeds. That is what I meant when I said that I did not believe that the Government or the country realised the seriousness of the situation in regard to the provision of houses at the present time. That, of course, was not foreseen by Mr. Lloyd George, who does not appear to look an 1080 inch beyond his nose. He thought, of course, that the People's Budget would increase building in this country. It did nothing of the kind. He was told by competent persons like the Surveyors Association and the Surveyors Institute that it would not, but he did not believe them. He went on with his Budget, and the result is what we see. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was faced with all these figures or a great many of them; of course, he ought to be aware of them; they are all available to the Departments of His Majesty's Government.
The Government have tried to meet this case in various ways. In the first place, they have said that unemployment in the building trade has diminished. That was their great argument. They said that as unemployment in the building trade had diminished it could not be true that building had fallen off. The figures they relied upon were very partial. There are as many as a million, or nearly a million, persons engaged in the building trade at this moment, and the Government's unemployment figures related to only 74,000 of them, so they were not to be relied on. But they forgot one very important circumstance—that though the unemployment returns of these 74,000 undoubtedly have diminished, yet there has been a great falling off in the number of persons engaged in the building trade altogether. There are 100,000 fewer persons engaged in the building trade now than there were at the time of the People's Budget, which, of course, entirely destroys any significance from the unemployment returns. Another argument was put forward by way of answer to the case which we submit. It was said that the reason for the falling off of building was that the price of building has increased. It is quite true that the price of building has increased. But the falling off began in 1910, whereas the increase of prices did not begin until 1912; so that that argument is not sufficient to account for the phenomenon. Lastly, it was said that one of the reasons for the falling off in building was the exaggerated price which it was alleged that landowners demanded for building land, which restricted building. The noble Lord who has just sat down, speaking to my noble friend's Motion, did not seem to think that there was any objection to the Government asking a high price for land, although the Chancellor of the Exchequer finds great fault with landowners who, he thinks, ask 1081 high prices. But as a matter of fact your Lordships need not waste any time over the argument, for it is of no value whatever. I quote the authority of Mr. John Burns, who said that if a generous landlord gave free sites for rural cottages it would not make a difference of a halfpenny a week in the rent of the cottages; so that the price of the land has nothing whatever to do with it.
This being the very serious state of things, I ask His Majesty's Government what they propose to do to meet the difficulty. How are they going to find a remedy for this great and serious growing evil? The figures I have given, of course, deal with housing generally. I know of no direct remedy which the Government are proposing so far as urban housing is concerned. As regards rural housing undoubtedly they have put something forward. There is the famous proposal of Mr. Runciman, the President of the Board of Agriculture, to build 120,000 cottages. That is undoubtedly a remedy which would to some extent, if it were feasible, mitigate the evil; but I beg your Lordships to observe what a very little way it goes. My noble friend who spoke just now, Lord Selborne, said that it had been asserted, and he did not criticise the assertion, that 120,000 corresponds to the present deficiency of rural accommodation in this country. I do not know how far that is the fact, but it may possibly be true. But that is the actual arrears, the actual deficiency. The want of houses is recurrent, as everybody knows. If you take it over a large average a very large number of cottages have to be renewed every year to meet the growing population, and also, of course, to make good the waste.
Now, what is the good of Mr. Runciman's 120,000 new cottages to meet the recurrent waste? He may make good the present arrears, but there is no proposal whatever to deal with the recurrent difficulty. His is not a real policy; it is an emergency policy, and it is not sufficient really to meet the difficulty. I think it is a bad policy because it is very difficult to see how the Government are going to carry it into effect. In the first place, it is extravagant. Everybody knows that a Government Department always builds dearer than anybody else; and, in the second place, how the Central Government are going to manage 120,000 cottages scattered all over England 1082 beats any possibility of imagination. But whether the plan is good or whether it is bad it is certainly an insufficient one and will not really meet the difficulty.
Then it is suggested, I believe, by the Government that local authorities should be stimulated to build. Personally I do not say that in certain cases it may not be right for local authorities to build. In particular I think with my noble friend that local authorities, like the Central Government, ought to build to house their own employees. Considering the great difficulties of the housing problem both in town and country, that the State itself, one of the largest employers, should not provide any houses at all is quite indefensible. And what my noble friend said of the Central Government is true of every local authority. They ought to be called upon to build, just like any landowner is called upon to build, in order to house their own employees. Efforts are being made now in one of the counties, in the one with which I am intimately associated, by the county council to build. I earnestly hope that the Government will do their utmost to support and help a county council which wishes to do its elementary duty, as I see it. But I do not believe that the local authorities are the proper persons to provide houses for the ordinary population; it is very uneconomic, and bad management and bad economy would be the result of any such policy.
The proper policy, of course, is to stimulate private enterprise. I do not know whether your Lordships have realised what private enterprise has done for the housing of the people up to now. Of the total housing of the population at present, 97 per cent. has been done by private enterprise and 90 per cent. by that very much abused person, the speculative builder. A good many people seem to think that the houses in the countryside are all provided by large owners of land. I believe that large landowners on the whole do their duty very well, but of course they do not provide anything like all the houses. Take the country all over, urban and rural. Ninety per cent. of the population are housed in houses built by the speculative builder. Now, you ought to do everything you can to favour the enterprise of the speculative builder. He is the person to help you. He knows how to build houses economically, and how to build 1083 them to suit the requirements of his customers. He is the man you ought to help. If you want to have a great housing policy, what you ought to do is to provide capital for private enterprise—not eleemosynary capital, but capital at the cheapest rate at which the State can offer it consistently with due security. By all means let all the precautions be taken which are necessary to absolutely secure the capital which the State advances. If that is done, then be open-handed so far as the State is concerned. Let cheap capital be provided and private enterprise will meet all your difficulties. Then with cheap capital you must have cheap plans. You must allow the invention and resources of private individuals to produce the most economical form of cottage to suit the people and to suit the exigencies of the situation. I need not say that that observation of mine has reference to by-laws. The Government ought to take every precaution that no unreasonable by-laws are allowed to interfere with the proper development of enterprise in cottage building.
I ought to take this opportunity of saying that so far as I am personally concerned in the efforts which I have made I have been very well treated by the Government, notably by the noble Earl opposite, Lord Beauchamp, who did everything he could to help forward an effort which we were making to assist private enterprise in the rural districts. But that policy, of which Lord Beauchamp's action is an example, ought to be extended, and no effort ought to be spared to help forward private enterprise both by giving freedom from unreasonable by-laws and by providing capital as cheap as it can reasonably be provided in order that the difficulty may be met.
I say the Government have no real policy to meet the housing difficulty. The Unionist Party have a policy. Bills have been introduced in the House of Commons, and a Bill was also introduced last year by myself into your Lordships' House to provide this cheap capital and to meet the difficulties to which I have called attention. But the Government themselves have no policy; and, so far from not having a policy for increasing housing, what policy they have got has aggravated the difficulty. The People's Budget was supposed to have done so much good. One of the things the People's Budget did was to make it very difficult to carry out the ordinary transactions of buying and selling the land 1084 necessary for building purposes. One of the wonderful proposals of that Budget was to double all the Stamp Duties necessary for these transactions. And then the difficulties, with which all your Lordships are familiar, of the Land Taxes were such that it has been calculated—I believe quite accurately—that the whole process of providing sites is half as dear again as it was before the People's Budget conferred these inestimable benefits upon the people! These are some examples of how the Government have aggravated the difficulty.
Now I come to the second part of my Motion, to a leading and glaring case of how the Government have increased the difficulty—namely, in the particular instance of the works at Rosyth. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, Lord Lucas, said just now that it was the policy of the Government—of all Departments of the Government—not to provide houses for those engaged in public works under their control. He said, "All we do is to give them a living wage, and leave them to provide their own houses." A more unsatisfactory answer I do not think you could possibly receive. How can a man having a few shillings a week more in his wages call into being a number of houses? The thing is, of course, perfectly absurd. The answer is absurd, and, not only that, it is not quite accurate. The actual thing the noble Lord said was quite accurate, but the spirit of it was not, because, as he knows, there is a certain Standing Order in the House of Commons, passed by the present Government, to the following effect—namely, that when there are contractors engaged by His Majesty's Government to put up public works, the Committee who arranges the contract—the House of Commons Committee—is called upon to see that proper provision is made for the workpeople. Then what becomes of the noble Lord's answer? The contractors are bound, of course, to give a fair wage. That is under the Wages Clause. The noble Lord says that as long as you give a fair wage you are not required to provide houses, but, as a matter of fact, although the Government insist upon the contractors giving a fair wage they also insist upon their providing houses—or the House of Commons has directed its Committee to see that that is so; so that the whole answer as to the policy of the Government vanishes into thin air.
I particularly avoided mentioning the case of contractors in any detail, because I knew that the noble Marquess was going to bring it up on this Motion and that my noble friend beside me would answer. It is perfectly obvious that to introduce a large contractor to carry out a certain bit of work, of which Rosyth is a very good example, and Tidworth was another, where you have a large army of workmen brought in with no accommodation for them at all, raises an entirely different problem from the problem of the housing of men who in almost every case are permanently employed, as in a factory, dockyard, or something of that sort.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not see that it raises a different problem so far as the men are concerned. After all, whether the men are going to be there for ten years or for life they have to live; and in the case of Farnborough they have to live there in making the aircraft, and in their case ii is just as important, or more important, that they should have houses if they are to be there permanently than if they are only employed for a time My argument remains true that the general principle which the noble Lord laid down is not followed by the Government. The general principle that all you had to do was to see after the wages and the houses would see after themselves is not the policy of the Government, because when they are dealing with the contractor they provide, first, that he must give good wages, and, secondly, they leave the Committee to see that he provides houses too.
I now turn to what the Government have done at Rosyth, and I want to point out to your Lordships how very serious has been the action at Rosyth and how very callous the Government have shown themselves to the necessities of the case. I am not going through it in the detail with which it was described in the House of Commons, because I do not want to weary your Lordships. I will assume that a great number of your Lordships have made yourselves acquainted with what passed in the House of Commons, and therefore I will summarise it. Now, there has been introduced into the works at Rosyth by the action of the Government a very large population. Some 3,820 employees already have been introduced, 1086 and the accommodation available for them is 2,400 houses, leaving a deficiency in the case of 1,400 employees. No effort has been made to house them. That is a tremendous number of persons without proper accommodation. The noble Lord shakes his head. He will have an opportunity of answering. The Government are making a slight effort and are going to arrange to have put up by the contractor accommodation for 600 men; but they are going, on the other hand, to introduce 200 more workmen. On balance, therefore, they will provide accommodation for 400 more. If you take that figure from the 1,400 which I mentioned, you get a net deficiency of 1,000; there are 1,000 persons not provided for at Rosyth. Now, that is a broad calculation, but that is not the whole of the case against the Government.
Although there is this accommodation, so far as it goes—as I have shown it is totally insufficient in amount—it is not good accommodation. As a matter of fact, a great deal of it is exceedingly bad, and it would not be endured in the case of an ordinary landlord. If a landowner in England were to house his workmen as the Government allow their workmen to be housed at Rosyth, why the Chancellor of the Exchequer would declaim upon every platform throughout the country as to our iniquity; and yet the Government without a blush do this very thing which they accuse us, very often very unfairly, of doing. They have not only done that, but the policy of the Government—I believe another Department of the Government—so far from stimulating private enterprise has actually stopped it, because of the insistence on a town planning scheme which has had the effect of putting an end to private enterprise which might have helped to meet the difficulty. And that is not the last of it, because of this very limited number of quarters which are provided for the population at Rosyth only 1,100 are married quarters; so that there is a balance of 2,700 employees who are either not provided for at all or are only provided for in single men's quarters. I leave your Lordships to imagine the condition of things which probably has taken place in Rosyth by having such a very limited number of married quarters. It is one of the things that has been referred to in the tearing propaganda of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—the difficulty 1087 which single men have to get married, and the awful effects upon morality which ensue. No doubt it is true. But the Government are the worst offenders here; they do not provide married quarters but allow this awful scandal to continue, yet they abuse us in the same breath. I hardly like in connection with this to go into the question of rent, but it is worth reminding your Lordships that this miserable accommodation for single men works out at about 3s. a week, the kind of rent which the much abused landowner asks for the whole of a cottage and a garden in the South of England; yet these employees of the Government for a single bed are expected to pay 3s. a week.
What is the sum total of the argument which I have ventured, I am afraid at too great length, to submit to your Lordships. There is an alarming deficiency of houses, a growing deficiency. Not only have the Government provided nothing but a futile remedy, but they have actually aggravated the position. They have aggravated the position by their general policy, their People's Budget, and the consequences of that Budget; and they have aggravated the position by their particular policy in such cases as my noble friend has brought before you to-night, and such cases as Rosyth which I am bringing before you at this moment. They have no remedy and they have aggravated the disorder. We, on the other hand, call your attention to the disorder. We have a policy, and we leave the country to decide between us.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for a Return of the number of persons employed at Rosyth by His Majesty's Government, and of the housing provided by the Government for their accommodation.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
My Lords, before any one speaks on behalf of the Government I think that we private Members might be allowed to make one or two independent remarks on the question that has been brought before you. I thought from the Motion on the Paper that we were going to deal mainly with Rosyth and only incidentally with the general question, but the noble Marquess has gone into the whole question of the housing of the 1088 working classes. We had a very interesting debate last year when the noble Marquess brought in a Bill; and to some extent I am in agreement with him as to the causes which have arrested the building of working class houses of late years. I think, also, that the statement that unemployment in the building trade has diminished does not touch this question of the provision of working class houses. I am quite ready to admit that there has been no diminution of employment in the building trade, but I do not care to go into the point which the noble Marquess made as to there being fewer people employed in that trade. I do not know where he obtained his figures for the last few years. I would point out that the last three years have been years of unexampled industrial activity in this country, and therefore a vast expenditure has been going on in the putting up of factories and other buildings and not in the erection of houses for the working classes. You can very well have great activity in the building trade, and yet a diminution in that section of the building trade which is employed in putting up houses for the working classes. There is no doubt that the figures show that there was a very great arrest in building cottages, especially in the first year after what has been described as the People's Budget; but if the noble Marquess had looked at the figures for two years beyond that year of arrest he would have seen that that arrest had itself been remedied and that there had been a revival. I think the houses dropped in the year after the Budget to about 40,000. The noble Marquess will correct me if I am wrong, but my impression is that there was a very serious drop—there ought to have been from 80,000 to 90,000 erected—to something like 40,000.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Lord is quite accurate. There was a very great drop immediately after the People's Budget, but there was then an apparent revival. It was really a delayed number of cottages which ought to have been put up the year after the People's Budget, but the average was what I have described. Then in the third year, of which the noble Lord has not taken notice, he will find that the normal amount, which is the average between those two years, became apparent; and if you take the three years together they were, as I described, 60,000.
There is nothing more deceptive than to take averages of years when you are dealing with the effect of a particular piece of legislation which came in in one year. I admit that the building of cottages for working people has been less active in the last four or five years than it had been before, and I agree with the noble Marquess in thinking that probably the Budget had something to do with it—first, in creating great apprehension and uneasiness; and, secondly, as he says, in creating difficulties as to the financing of the speculative builder. The speculative builder has experienced great difficulty. First, he has been made very apprehensive as to how much of his profit will be taken from him by some valuation of the enhanced value of the land, and there have also been great delays in passing through the new valuations. No doubt that is a thing which will have to be looked to if we want to facilitate these dealings in land which are essential to the speculative builder.
I entirely agree with the noble Marquess that it would be disastrous to supersede the speculative builder. The speculative builder is the man who really meets a varying demand in varying places; and he, looking to his own profit, is much quicker and keener to see where a demand exists, and where it exists to meet it rapidly, without any public organisation which is challenged by various Departments, the sanctioning of loans, and all sorts of things. I have no doubt that the noble Marquess's figures are right, and that the great mass of the houses occupied by ordinary men of small income, say those whose incomes are below the Income Tax limit, are provided by the speculative builder; and if we were to discourage him we should be as a community quite incapable of doing the work he has done for us. Then the noble Marquess wanted the State to finance the speculative builder. I think that would be dangerous. In fact, it would be reckless and impossible to so increase the liability of the State. The speculative builder gets financed by a bank or people in his own neighbourhood who can inquire into his circumstances, who know his character and responsibility and can watch him closely; and he is financed at a varying rate according to the bank rate of interest, say at 4, at 4½, or at 5 per cent. Is the State going to undertake the business of a bank and inquire 1090 into the character, responsibility, and so on, of every speculative builder? It would be Socialism run mad if we were to say that the State should find cheap money for these private speculators. I do not believe in the State lending money at what we should be told was a minimum safe rate, which would very soon become an eleemosynary rate. In fact, I have seen it indicated in Mr. Runciman's scheme that he was going to misapply trust money, because he was going to take money that the Government have in hand from the Insurance Fund and employ it at 3 per cent., when it was worth 3½ per cent. in Consols alone, in order to get a sham solvency for his 120,000 cottages. It is just as wrong to misapply trust money below its rate as in any other way. I hope we shall keep in the region of sound finance, and not get the State involved in financing these things.
I think the noble Marquess also made a great mistake in confusing the case of Rosyth, which is quite a different case, with the general question of housing for people who are in permanent employment. The case of Rosyth is the case of a contractor making railways and bringing navvies and other workpeople into the place. It is temporary employment. The whole population will not be on the spot for more than three or four years, and you do not house permanently people who will be here to-day and gone to-morrow. I suppose one of the most splendid instances of the organisation of a public work in the last few years has been that of the United States Government in connection with the construction of the Panama Canal. Does any one suppose that it was the duty of the American Government to build permanent houses for the men employed on the Panama Canal? No. What they did was this. They built long sheds—barracks—in order to house the people, quite a different type of housing from that to which we refer when we talk of permanent housing.
The noble Marquess thought that Lord Lucas had contradicted himself when he said, "Give a good living wage and the houses will be forthcoming." But Lord Salisbury himself said a little earlier that the speculative builder was the mainstay, that he was the man who provided 90 per cent. of the houses, and the man on whom he relied. The great mistake is not to see 1091 that, while you must rely on private enterprise for the great mass of the housing of the working class you must hope, with the help of economic forces, that wages will go up to such a point that every working man will be able to pay a fair economic rent for his house. Of course, we all see that there are cases where the obligation of housing falls, not as a philanthropic duty, but as an economic necessity, on the person employing the men. Take the Government with the Coastguard stations—though these, I believe, have nearly all been done away with. But take lighthouse keepers and people like that whom you employ in lonely places. You cannot rely on private enterprise there, and you are forced to house the people. The noble Marquess mentioned railways. I believe the railway companies, as a matter of fact, do build a large number of cottages for their permanent-way men. Take the owners of coal mines. The first thing the mine-owner does almost before he sinks the shaft is to build cottages, because he is bringing people on to a spot where there is no population and no town and therefore he has to house them. But for urban population you will do far better to rely, as the noble Marquess said in one part of his speech, on private enterprise.
I have been studying this winter the volume of the Census which goes into the question of overcrowding, and a very interesting volume it is. If you study it carefully you will see how varied and intricate are the social forces which are coupled with the question of overcrowding and housing. Now it is a very remarkable thing, but there has been no part of England where the growth of population has been greater than in Greater London—East Ham, Walthamstow, Willesden, Ealing, Tottenham, and so forth. If you examine the volume to which I have referred you will see that, in spite of the very rapid and enormous development of the population, the Census shows a comparatively small percentage of overcrowding. On the other hand, it is very remarkable that the most atrocious overcrowding in the country comes in districts where the population has not so greatly increased—for instance, in the counties of Northumberland and Durham, in the great towns along the Tyne and right through Durham, all a semi-urban population. There are other forces at work. You cannot make any formula.
1092 If the noble Marquess will allow me to say so, this is a question which should pre-eminently as far as possible be kept out of politics. We are in great danger of having this question in the white-hot furnace of politics. The more we keep it out the better, because it is an economic question which ought to be treated calmly. But the first of the two speeches we have heard to-day from the Front Bench opposite might have been on a Notice on the Paper "to call attention to Mr. Lloyd George's speeches, and to what a mischievous sort of man he is." If we can keep Mr. Lloyd George out of the matter we shall do better. We should confine ourselves strictly to this fact, that this is a very important and difficult question and one which I do not think when we come to particular instances can be well discussed across the floor of the House by quotations of not fully verified and tested statistics. I am very sorry that with this great housing question coming on we could not have had a proper public Commission of an impartial character appointed to go into it very carefully. We have had books, some of which I have read and some of which I am in the course of reading, on the land; but we see in them, no doubt with good intentions, a great want of balance of consideration to all sides of the evidence. I say this because I feel that this is a question which public opinion will require us to deal with, which sentiment requires us to deal with, and which our own feelings make us wish to deal with; but our common sense ought to make us deal with it carefully and critically. That is why I ventured to speak before any one replied on behalf of the Government, because I thought we private Members had a right to say a word or two on this very important question.
When the noble Marquess quoted the Standing Order about contractors he must have seen that that applies to provision for sheltering workmen on a temporary job, which has nothing to do with the question of permanent housing. I would remind the noble Marquess, as I did last year, that in the Royal Commission on which his father sat we had before us the great difficulty of dealing with this temporary, or possibly temporary, occupation. We had evidence before us from Cornwall as to the town of Camborne. We know that in Cornwall the vicissitudes of the mining trade have been such that 1093 some mining towns had such a precarious existence that no builder had ventured to put up houses because he did not see in the duration of the tenancies anything that would pay for the capital value of the house. Those are serious difficulties. The suggestion was put forward as to a modification of by-laws to allow of more temporary houses being put up. All these things must be dealt with individually with regard to the facts of the particular case. The noble Marquess talked of the rent of 3s. at Rosyth.
I have no doubt that that is something in the nature of the bothy system. The man gets the use of the fire and some other convenience. It is in the nature of semi-furnished lodgings. I am not discussing the merits; it is what the contractor charges. If you put up a house to house one hundred people and the building is to come down in three years you have to charge for that house something different from what you would for a house which you expected to be occupied and to last for one hundred years. It is not fair rhetorically to make a contrast between the rent paid for temporary accommodation and rent paid for permanent housing.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
No doubt there is justice in what the noble Lord says, but it is not a question of three years at Rosyth. Rosyth has been building for eight years now, and probably will be building for another eight years. Though it is quite true that a temporary building is sometimes more uneconomic than a permanent one, it does not cost so much to put up.
That is why I feel that these illustrations are not of very much value unless we look at all the facts and circumstances. The noble Marquess admits that some importance is due to the considerations that I have thrown out. All I say is that we cannot generalise and lay down something which will appeal to people's sense of justice and fairness on incomplete and inadequate details. I hope that we shall not depart from the principle that, wherever it is possible and wherever there are aggregations of population, we should rely upon private enterprise and the 1094 speculative builder. I differ from the noble Marquess in this, that I hope we shall never mix up public money with the financing of private commercial enterprise. The two things ought to be kept entirely apart. I agree with the noble Marquess that there has been an arrest in the building of workingmen's houses through various unexpected operations of the Budget. They were expected by some, but not generally.
No one knew how they would work out, and that is why I think these things should be inquired into in an impartial and dispassionate way and by the examining of witnesses. It is quite possible, whatever you may think of the merits of that Budget—and no doubt, like all human things, it is capable of amendment—to amend anything which is shown to have hampered trade and industry; but we shall not amend legislation by flinging all the mud we can at a statesman who is undoubtedly popular with the democratic masses; and the more you abuse him the more popular he will become with the masses. It is necessary for this House and for people interested in stability and order not to be very violent and aggressive themselves, and not to inflame controversy. For as the popular forces in the long run are likely to be stronger than yours, the more you inflame passion the more you are likely to suffer yourselves.
§ LORD WIMBORNE
My Lords, my task in replying to the noble Marquess is rendered much more easy by the speech to which we have just listened from my noble friend, who has dealt with a good many of the points on the general question raised by the noble Marquess. I would not like it to be thought that I at all resent the action of the noble Marquess in calling attention to this question and alluding to the state of affairs at Rosyth. On the contrary, I think that there should be a vigilant and robust public opinion with regard to housing generally and with regard to such housing as comes within the more immediate cognisance of a public Department. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has a very honourable record in this House for the interest he has taken in the housing question generally, and, though we do not 1095 always quite agree with his remedies and perhaps sometimes find his inducements a little Utopian, at the same time those who sit on this side of the House are quite free to acknowledge the assistance which he has rendered, and no doubt will render, in discussing this difficult and complicated problem. In the first place, the noble Marquess deplored the general decline in building. I am not in a position to criticise the figures presented by him to the House, because he did not tell us the exact source from which they were derived. But let us assume that they are substantially correct, and that of recent years there has been less activity in the building trade than there was at a previous time. The noble Marquess is inclined to attribute this decline which he alleges entirely, I think, to the adverse operation of the Budget.
§ LORD WIMBORNE
That was the only cause I heard him assign, but no doubt he will be prepared to admit there were other causes too. In that connection I think he would probably agree with me, from his experience of the conditions of housing in the rural districts—an experience which is probably identical with my own—that there is a very close connection between the question of housing and wages. I was very glad to hear Lord Selborne admit that it was desirable that the wages of those engaged in rural pursuits should be raised to enable them to pay an economic house rent, and the noble Marquess made a similar admission the other day. When the noble Marquess deplores the language of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and regrets that those of us who agree with him in politics generally do not correct or modify those observations, I must say that it was not until the Party to which we belong drew attention to the gross insufficiency of wages in the rural districts that the attention of the noble Earl and the noble Marquess was drawn to the matter—or, at any rate, it was not until then that they made the admissions to which I have just alluded.
Then Lord Salisbury says that our only plan for dealing with the difficulty is Mr. Runciman's false expedient of building 120,000 cottages, and he criticised that policy on two grounds. His first contention 1096 was that a Government Department is bound to build more expensively than is a private owner. I do not know that I should agree to that at all. A Government Department is often in a position to build cheaper than a private individual, especially when dealing with one class of property, because in that case the possibility of standardising doors, window-frames, and so on, the possibility of building them on one of several definitely recognised plans, should very materially cheapen the cost of erection and result in the Government Department being able to build cheaper than Lord Salisbury or any other member of your Lordships' House has been able to erect cottages in the past. The noble Marquess also says that the number is grossly insufficient and only makes up for the arrears at the present moment. I ventured to state in the House last year that that number was necessary. I do not know that there is any special ground for taking the number of 120,000. It seems generally agreed that at least 120,000 could be built without exceeding the demand that there would be for them, but there is no reason whatever why, if the policy is a successful one, it should not be continued and extended. There is nothing in our scheme to preclude us from going further if we find the original number insufficient.
Here I come again to the connection between wages and housing accommodation. If, generally speaking, throughout the country wages are sufficient, it is to be expected that private enterprise will be stimulated to some extent at any rate to meet the demand. And there, as my noble friend pointed out, the noble Marquess did seem to us to rather contradict himself. Although he seemed to think that we ought to rely on private enterprise to supply the great majority of the houses needed, when he came to the question how the additional accommodation is to be provided he seemed to avoid private enterprise altogether. He went so far as to say, in criticising Lord Lucas, that a better wage cannot call houses into existence. I quite admit that if it is merely a case of temporary accommodation the mere fact that a man is in a position to pay an economic rent might not have the effect of calling the accommodation into existence, but if it is a case of the permanent employee such as the noble Marquess was alluding to, it seems to me that if private enterprise is ever to be of any value in the erection of 1097 accommodation that is just where it will come in. If it is known that at least 1,000 people have to be provided for at, say, Farnborough, not only next year or for ten years but for all time, it seems to me that that is one of the cases where the speculative builder will come in and where private enterprise ought quickly to supply the demand. However, be that as it may, I do not propose at this hour to pursue the general question much further. I will confine myself to making one or two observations on the question of the housing at Rosyth, to which I understood the noble Marquess's attention would be principally directed.
I do not want to attribute to the noble Marquess any motive which is not his, but it may be that on examining the question of housing at Rosyth he felt it would be just as well to enlarge the terms of his Motion so as not to confine his attack exclusively to what has happened at Rosyth in the past and the condition there to-day. He may have felt that it was quite possible to very much exaggerate the bad conditions which he alleges exist at Rosyth. At any rate, I think it is possible to exaggerate them. In his summary the noble Marquess said that not only was the housing very inadequate but very bad and such as would have brought down the wrathful attack of the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon any private individual or firm. That I consider is going a good deal further than there is evidence to support. Take the question of overcrowding. I have looked-up the Reports that have been made at various times by various officials on the subject. In July, 1911, Mr. Dewar, the Medical Inspector of the Local Government Board of Scotland, alluded to the overcrowding, but he spoke of overcrowding in what he calls the "minor degree" being present. Statutory overcrowding such as would render a prosecution possible under the Public Health Acts does not exist, or has hardly existed, at all. In the same way Mr. Currie, who was the medical officer of health for the County of Fife, in his Report in 1912 said—While statutory overcrowding has been observed and dealt with from time to time it has been in general the exception.Your Lordships will therefore see that it is quite possible to greatly overstate the condition of affairs that has prevailed at Rosyth.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
Can the noble Lord tell us what the report is in 1914? The date he mentions was three years ago, and Rosyth was then hardly begun.
§ LORD WIMBORNE
I will give the whole chapter and verse if it interests the noble Earl. Before doing that I should like to ask, Is not the whole of the attack to which we have listened on the question of Rosyth rather judging the action taken in 1909 by the standards which only came into general acceptance as late as 1912? The noble Marquess alluded to the Standing Order of another place, Standing Order 184A, and pointed out how inconsistent with that Standing Order was the state of affairs at Rosyth.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Lord forgets that there is a fresh contract. It is quite true that the original contract was in 1909, and the Government, though they ought to have been aware of the fact, did not insert any housing provision in that contract. Then came the Standing Order; then came a fresh contract; and they did not then put it in.
§ LORD WIMBORNE
There has been some extension of the original contract, it is true, but as far as the great majority of the employment there is concerned it all comes under the original contract of February, 1909. But I say that it is not very fair—and I think the noble Marquess would be the last man to attempt to do so—to judge of the year 1909 by standards which only came into general acceptance in the year 1912. The noble Earl, Lord Camperdown, asks for chapter and verse of the exact state of affairs. The main contract was signed in February, 1909, and in that contract no clause was inserted compelling the contractor to provide accommodation for the people who would be employed by him—I emphasise "by him," because the men are not employed by the Admiralty direct but by the contractor. But the Admiralty did allot a certain area of land to the contractor for the express purpose of erecting thereon accommodation for his workmen. That is all that was done in 1909. With regard to the total number employed at Rosyth on the main contract, there are 3,901; on the subsidiary contract for caissons there are 182; and there are 144 men employed departmentally.
1099 Now let us see what took place. In the first place, what has the contractor done to house his workpeople? The contractor has built what is called a hut colony. I understand that these huts are inhabited by a ganger and his wife, and that there is what is called a lodging room on the other side of the main living room which accommodates from five to twenty-five people. This hut colony is said to be capable of accommodating 905 men. Then, what has private enterprise done to meet the demand for accommodation? The nearest town to the works is the town of Inverkeithing, and since the contract was let, indeed during the last six years, no less than 255 private houses have been erected within the burgh of Inverkeithing, and I understand there are 33 more in process of construction. Apart from that there have come into existence in Inverkeithing no less than five lodging houses which, with the one previously there, will make six, and these lodging-houses, which have rather grandiloquent names—White House Hotel, Naval Base Mansions, and so forth—accommodate between 1,500 and 1,600 people. This accommodation has been criticised by the noble Marquess. I think it was to this that he alluded when he said the accommodation was bad. Well, it is of the good common lodging-house order. It has been inspected; it is perfectly sanitary; it is perfectly good in that way. It is of a rather rough description, perhaps, but it is perfectly satisfactory from all sanitary points of view and from a standard of decency and general rough comfort, and it is the sort of accommodation these men want and demand. They get it at a very reasonable rate, which runs from fivepence to sixpence per night for a bed. They get the use of the furniture, such as it is; they buy their food and cook it on what is called the hot plate system; and, generally, the accommodation meets the very ordinary demand amongst the class of people engaged in this class of work.
Now I come to the net result. We have 1,506 people accommodated in the lodging-houses; we have 905 accommodated in the hut colony—a total of 2,411, or, with the extensions which are now nearly complete, 2,514. There is a balance, as the noble Lord said, of 1,400; and he seemed to assume that those people have nowhere to live at all. As a matter of fact, they are accommodated by the houses which I have described. There have been 255 new 1100 additional private houses erected by the burgh of Inverkeithing, and there are the thirty-three which are coming into existence. There are also all the pre-existing private houses and lodging-houses in the district. Then there is Dunfermline about four miles distance, and there are Inverkeithing, Jamestown, Limekilns, and even other places; and I have here some indication of the way in which these outside places are utilised by the working population. This is the Report of 1911 to which I alluded. I find that in Inverkeithing one hundred were in lodgings; elsewhere in Inverkeithing there were 400 people who were lodged; then at Dunfermline there were ten in lodging-houses and fourteen elsewhere—
§ LORD WIMBORNE
Therefore the district had the capacity to house them, and surely there is nothing surprising in the fact. Does the noble Marquess think that the town of Hatfield is incapable of housing any additional people who might be called there upon works of any kind? Every town can take a certain number; it it only a question of how many. Even on his own showing there are only 1,400 people unaccounted for in the lodging-houses and huts of the contractor, and that is not a great many considering the number of places within easy reach by train, and that the contractor has made arrangements for cheap tickets. As I have already said, the town of Inverkeithing during the last six years has built 255 additional houses. It is very easy to overstate the case, but I do not want it to be assumed from what I say that the housing accommodation at Rosyth is now and always has been perfectly satisfactory.
§ LORD WIMBORNE
I want to be perfectly fair in this matter. The Government and the Admiralty are well aware of the state of things, and they have taken steps to remedy it as far as possible. Before I go further I must say this with regard to the congestion alleged. The hut colony was ready about June, 1913; but as late as December last there were still one hundred places unoccupied and it was not until this February that the accommodation in the hut colony was completely 1101 filled up. Directly that occurred and the contractor recognised that he might have to estimate for still further men on the works, he at once made provision for the erection of quarters for the accommodation of three hundred more men. Consequently I say there really is no case for alleging that there is bad or serious overcrowding in the Rosyth district. But I admit that there has been a difficulty for married men to get suitable accommodation, and they have sometimes had to pay high rents in consequence of the competition there has been for housing accommodation in the district. It is with that in view that the Admiralty have made an arrangement with the contractor by which huts will be erected for the accommodation of two hundred families forthwith. That work is now in hand, and I am assured by my right hon. friend the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, who has been down to the spot on two occasions and taken a great personal interest in the matter, that that accommodation will be forthwith available.
With regard to the town planning scheme to which the noble Marquess alluded, he seemed to think that the action of the Admiralty had retarded and delayed the Town Council of Dunfermline in the task they had set themselves. I do not think he can bring that home to the Admiralty. It has been, and must always be, a long process to get a town planning scheme through, and necessarily it should be carefully considered. Anyhow, the Admiralty have had the advantage of the advice of their expert adviser, Mr. Raymond Unwin, and he is in communication with the Town Council of Dunfermline with a view to expediting that part of the town planning scheme which affects the Admiralty land. I understand that an area of 316 acres, which is Crown property, may be expected to be used for those purposes.
§ LORD WIMBORNE
Forthwith, I am told. The idea is that that part might be begun even before the Local Government Board have sanctioned the whole of the scheme. It is hoped to make a start on that at once. Those are the facts, and, as I say, they are not half so bad as has been made out. The greatest hardship 1102 has been on the married men, but we hope that the steps we have taken will very much mitigate that. We are also quite prepared to say that in any additional contracts that may be let the Admiralty will make it their business to see that suitable accommodation both for married and single men is provided by the contractors. The noble Marquess did not say much about the Return for which he asks in his Motion.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Perhaps I ought to apologise for not having done so, but I understand that it is covered by the pledge which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has to-day given to my noble friend Lord Selborne.
§ LORD WIMBORNE
If I may say so, it would not be quite satisfactory in the form in which the noble Marquess has put it. It would be wise, I think, to draw a distinction between those employed by contractors and those employed by the Government. As a matter of fact, there are few Government employees at Rosyth. But subject to that, and if the noble Marquess feels that the Return promised to Lord Selborne by Lord Lucas will cover his case, I think that will be satisfactory.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to confer with him as to the exact form.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I do not propose to continue this conversation much longer, but I desire before it closes to note one or two points which I venture to think have emerged during the debate. In the first place with regard to the deficiency of accommodation at Rosyth and Farnborough, I must say that I have rarely listened to a more inconclusive defence than that made by the two noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite. The noble Lord who spoke last pointed out that a great deal of extra accommodation was to be derived from lodging-houses in the neighbourhood of Rosyth, but I wonder whether his attention has been called to the description of some of these lodging-houses. It was stated during the debate in the House of Commons that in these places 961 persons were lodged in 314 rooms—that is more than three to a room—and on the same occasion 1103 a description of what I can only describe as the pestilential condition of these premises was given, and, so far as I am aware, not contradicted: it leaves one under a very unsatisfactory impression as to the manner in which this question has been dealt with on the spot. But I would like to put this to noble Lords opposite. Supposing Lord Linlithgow had opened a coal mine at Rosyth instead of selling it to the Government, and, employing a great number of operatives, had lodged them in the way His Majesty's Government have lodged their employees, is it not certain that there would have been a furious denunciation of Lord Linlithgow and that he would have been held up to obloquy as a typical Scottish landlord? I understand that, making allowances for all these extra sources of accommodation, there is still a deficiency of accommodation for something like 1,000 people, and I did not gather from what was said by the noble Lord opposite that very much had been done to make good that deficiency.
§ LORD WIMBORNE
What I said was that there were 1,400 people unaccounted for in the lodging-houses and hut colonies, but that there had been a great deal of private building in the last six years and there was a great deal of accommodation pre-existing in the district. And with regard to the future I said that the contractor had undertaken to provide for three hundred more men, and also accommodation for two hundred families forthwith.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
There must be accommodation existing for them somewhere; they could not have existed without a roof of some kind over their heads, and I do not see how the noble Lord can take credit for that. As to the general question, I submit to the House that it has been established beyond all doubt that we are suffering at this moment from what I can only describe as a house famine. It has also been established that the falling off in building has been due, I will not say entirely but mainly, to the taxes levied under what we generally refer to as the 1104 "People's Budget." Lord Lucas, I think, argued that other causes were at work, and Lord Sheffield said that there had been great activity in the building trade and that perhaps that had taken men away from the cottage building industry. But, my Lords, any one who will look at the figures spread over a period of years can, I venture to think, come to no other conclusion than that the uneasiness created by these taxes was the real cause that led to the abrupt and remarkable falling off that coincided with the introduction of that famous Budget. Let me mention one figure with which I have been supplied. I take the Report of the Registrar-General upon the Census of 1911, and I find in that Report that the proportion of houses in process of being built was very much less in that year than it had been at any previous Census—that is, since the year 1811. Only 5.3 houses were being built to every 1,000 inhabited houses, the usual proportion being something in the neighbourhood of nine or ten per thousand. Only once did the proportion fall as low as seven, and that was in the year 1861. Do not let us be told that during that long period of years there were no fluctuations in the building trade, and that upon this occasion this great falling off, this enormous gap that has been created, was not due to the main and predominant cause which operated at that particular time.
Another fact that has, I think, emerged from this discussion is this. I do not think that His Majesty's Government have anything which can properly be described as a building policy of their own. The supply of 120,000 cottages by the Department of Agriculture is not a building policy. That will not do more than make good the arrears which have been created, as we contend, by these taxes. You want to do a great deal more than that. The growth of housing accommodation ought to be regular, to progress year by year with every year that passes. Your 120,000 cottages will do nothing to meet that constantly increasing and recurring demand. And that is not all. Surely this policy of supplying cottages wholesale from a Department in Whitehall is attended by enormous difficulties. How are you going to decide the distribution of these 120,000 cottages? Are you going to put them down here and there according to the amount of pressure to which you are subjected from different parts of the 1105 country? And then consider the disastrous effect of these building operations upon private enterprise. After all, it cannot be said too often or too strongly that it is upon private enterprise that we have got to depend. My noble friend gave the figure, and a very remarkable figure it is. Ninety-seven per cent. of the houses which have been erected in recent years have been built by private enterprise. And upon that point what have members of the Government to say? Mr. Burns says—We"—I presume he means the Government of which the noble Lord is a member—"recognise that in England and Wales private enterprise has always been, and so far as can be foreseen will continue to be, the main source of the provision of houses for the working classes. It is only in those places where private enterprise has failed to provide such houses, or has failed to provide them for a certain class of workmen, that the local authority is required to step in.But unless I very much misunderstand the language of the President of the Board of Agriculture, he mistrusts the local authority just as much as he mistrusts the private builder. He made a speech not long ago in which he went so far as to say that he very much preferred that the deficient houses should be built by his Department rather than by the local authority, because he believed—I am almost sure I quote him correctly—that a labourer who held his cottage under the local authority "could not call his soul his own," or something of that kind. If you really are to discourage not only private enterprise but also the local authorities and to absorb everything into the bureaucratic Department in Whitehall, I doubt extremely whether you will ever get that increase of cottage accommodation which we all so much desire.
I think it was Lord Lucas who dwelt upon the connection between the housing problem and the question of agricultural wages. We all know that the two are intimately connected. But if you are going to wait until agricultural wages have been adjusted to the new and improved standard before you get private enterprise to come into the field at all you may wait for a very considerable time. Lord Lucas, indeed, told us the other evening—and we heard his statement with interest—that it was the intention of His Majesty's Government to proceed, I think he said, very cautiously and gradually in these matters. It will 1106 require a great deal more than a gradual increase of wages before you can put the agricultural labourer in the position of being able to pay a full economic rent for a suitable house built for him by a public Department or by a private individual.
I venture to say that it has been clearly shown by this debate that the real, main, and most substantial cause of all these troubles is the uneasiness—I think that was the word used by Lord Sheffield—which has been created in the public mind by the imposition of these famous taxes, which I believe up to the present moment have cost £2,200,000 to collect and have yielded, or are likely to yield, something like £600,000. That is probably the very worst business that has ever been done in any country by its responsible Government. One more observation only. We noted the appeal made by Lord Sheffield for an impartial Inquiry into these matters. That seemed to us a very reasonable and proper appeal. I am told that an appeal of the same kind was made in the other House of Parliament not many days ago, and that it was met by an announcement that there was to be a Departmental Inquiry by the Board of Trade into these questions. May I be forgiven for saying that when we ask for an impartial Inquiry we do not mean a Departmental Inquiry, but an independent Inquiry by a Committee or Commission capable of examining thoroughly and without prejudice into these most important facts.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (EARL BEAUCHAMP)
My Lords, I think it only right that some further words, however few, should come from these Benches, if only as an attempt to try and cheer up the gloomy outlook which the noble Marquess expressed as to the future. Indeed, he saw no light anywhere. He expressed the opinion first of all that His Majesty's Government had practically no building policy at all, and when he came to criticise it, such as it was, he found it wholly bad. I wish I could persuade him to take a more cheerful view of the outlook. He compared the action of His Majesty's Government at Rosyth with the criticisms which would have been made, and rightly made, of any neighbouring landlord who had developed a large coal mine in the district and omitted to provide his workmen with cottages. I 1107 think the criticism would have been thoroughly justified in a case of that kind, because you would have had a landlord drawing enormous sums of money, making large profits from the mine, and not providing his workmen with accommodation.
With regard to the matter under discussion I repeat to the noble Marquess, what I do not think he quite clearly apprehended, that the 1,400 men he mentioned find accommodation at the present time in 255 private houses which have been erected in the past six years. There are also a number of lodging-houses which were existing at Dunfermline before the contract was entered into, and also houses which were existing before the contract was entered into in a number of towns of which I think Dunfermline was the biggest, and which were enumerated by Lord Wimborne, and it was under those conditions that as late as December last in the huts there were considerably over 100 places unoccupied, though I think that applies more particularly perhaps to the ordnance works at the ordnance depot. In any case I think what your Lordships have heard from my noble friend behind me shows that the Admiralty, in regard to the further accommodation which it is proposed to make for the 300 men in the hut colony and the 200 further huts which are to be erected without delay, are fully alive to the importance of this question and are doing their best to improve the accommodation.
Let me say a few sentences with regard to the general question which was touched upon by the noble Marquess. He told us that there was no building policy on the part of His Majesty's Government, but somewhat later he referred to the policy of the minimum wage. It is acknowledged on both sides of the House that wages and housing are intimately connected, and we are firmly of opinion that by the institution of the minimum wage, even if it does not come as soon as we would wish, there will be a very large increase in the accommo- 1108 dation provided for workmen, not only in rural areas but in urban areas too. Surely the speculative builder will be encouraged by the knowledge, the minimum wage being instituted, that the labourer, especially perhaps the agricultural labourer, has more money to spend upon the rent which he may give for his house. And if the noble Marquess criticises the 120,000 cottages as being thoroughly insufficient, there are, I think, two further considerations to which we may point. One is that whenever a Government takes action of this kind it always stimulates private endeavour at the same time. ["Oh!"] Well, certainly from the moment that we began to talk upon the subject of a minimum wage for the agricultural labourer there has been a marked desire on the part of agricultural employers throughout the country to raise the wages of their employees. Another instance. From the time that we brought in the Allotments and Small Holdings Act we have every reason to believe that, quite apart from any compulsion which we put into that Act, agricultural employers and landlords generally recognised their obligation and were more inclined voluntarily to give allotments and small holdings. Therefore I repeat we have reason to believe that the building of 120,000 cottages, so far from stopping the erection of houses by the speculative builder and by the landlord, may even stimulate the supply; and that therefore we may not unreasonably look forward to a very considerable increase in accommodation from the combined policy of housing and wages which His Majesty's Government have put forward. In view of the fact that we are anxious as far as we can to give the figures asked for by the noble Marquess, I do not know that there is anything more that can very usefully be added to this discussion.
§ On Question, Motion agreed, to, and ordered accordingly.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.