§ THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK had given Notice to call attention to the continued shortage of housing accommodation for the working classes, and to the impossibility of meeting the deficiency unless there is a large increase in the labour available for the purpose of building houses, and to ask His Majesty's Government what steps they propose to take in this matter. The right rev. Prelate said: My Lords, about this time a year ago the House spent some days in discussing a housing measure introduced by the last Government, and amidst some difference of opinion which was then expressed there was general agreement at any rate on two matters. There was general agreement on the fact that it was urgently necessary that a very large number of new houses should be provided, and there was also agreement on the fact that it would be quite impossible to provide these houses unless there was a large increase in the amount of labour available.
§ Let me remind your Lordships of the problem which confronted us in this housing question a year ago. In the year 1919 local authorities were asked by the Ministry of Health to state how many houses were required to make good the existing deficiency. The returns showed that something like 1,000,000 houses were required in Great Britain. To that 225 number there must also be added 100,000 houses required each year to meet the ordinary loss of houses through age and the accommodation required through the pulling down of slum districts. The measure was intended to meet this need by providing for 2,500,000 houses in fifteen years, starting with the building of 90,000 houses in the year 1925 and gradually rising until the figure aimed at was 225,000 houses in the year 1934 and each year of the remaining years of the fifteen year period. It was recognised that this gigantic programme could not be undertaken unless the amount of labour was largely increased A report of the National Building Committee showed that there had been a very serious decrease in the number of skilled craftsmen available. In 1913 there were 429,000 craftsmen, but this number had fallen in 1924 to 367,000. There were 11,750 fewer bricklayers, 16,600 fewer masons and 4,000 fewer plasterers, and to build 225,000 houses in a year would mean a very large increase in the number of skilled craftsmen. The National Building Committee went on to make recommendations, to which I shall have to refer later, showing how this deficiency might be met.
I first of all ask how many houses have been built under the various State-aided measures and how many houses have been built during the last year. So far as I know, we shall have a satisfactory report as to the number of houses which have actually been built. I noticed in The Times a few days ago an article in which it was stated:—
Good progress in actual building is being made and in the first five months of this year over 35,000 houses were actually completed, in spite of the bad weather. During the present season much more rapid progress is being made.
It is possible that we may be told that between 90,000 and 100,000 houses may be completed this year. That would be a very satisfactory statement so far as it goes. There is no doubt that the Minister of Health has been working with the greatest energy in an attempt to solve this problem, and, if I may say so without impertinence, I feel that it is a national asset that the Minister of Health is a man who combines such enthusiasm with great practical knowledge of the problem.
§ There are two comments which I should like to make upon the present rate of 226 building. The first is that so far it has not appreciably reduced the overcrowding in various parts of our great towns. Hero and there, no doubt, a family has been moved out from the overcrowded districts, but so far it has been from the nature of the ease impossible to reduce to any large extent the overcrowding which is so prevalent in many of our great towns. The second comment that I make is much more fundamental. While the number of 90,000 houses is thoroughly satisfactory for the year 1925, the real question is whether there is such a supply of labour as to increase very largely the number of houses to be built in the ensuing years. If we go on building at the rate of 90,000 or even 100,000 houses a year we shall never solve the housing problem. At the end of this century the problem will still remain unsolved, for we shall be only meeting the ordinary wastage in houses without building sufficient houses to deal with the gigantic slum problems which await us.
I notice that the Secretary for Scotland, a day or two ago, stated that the position in Scotland was still very serious. He said:—
Whereas the estimate of the Scottish Royal Commission on Housing in 1917 the deficiency on the existing standard of housing was 121,430, that of the central Department at the end of 1924 was 150,000, and at the conclusion of six years, notwithstanding the strenuous efforts by Government Departments and local authorities, the situation is getting worse.
The real crux of the situation, therefore, is whether provision is being made for an increased supply of labour so that houses may be built in ever-increasing numbers during the ensuing years until they reach the figure of 225,000 in 1934. It is here that I have serious misgivings. From the inquiries that I have been able to make I find that work is already hindered through the shortage of labour and that apparently there are very small prospects of any large increase in the number of skilled craftsmen available.
§ Take, for instance, the case of London. In 1919 the London County Council resolved to build 29,000 within five years. By the end of last year it had built 9,000 houses. The reason given for the deficiency was the shortage of labour. In July of last year their housing committee recommended that 12,600 houses should be built annually for ten years. Progress 227 towards this result has been very slow. In one district that I know well I was told last year, not officially but on very good authority, that by the end of this year there would be 1,000 houses in position and occupied. I enquired a few days ago and I was told that probably there would be 500 houses ready at the end of the year. The difficulty is not a difficulty either of material or of money, but of labour. The London Housing League, which has been drawing attention to the importance of the labour situation, stated that 6,930 craftsmen would be required for the building of 8,600 houses, but that in February of this year, on the London County Council building estates, there were only 933 skilled craftsmen. That number has been raised this month, I believe, to 1,650, but 1,650 men working continuously making no allowance for any stoppage could succeed in building only 4,000 houses instead of the 12,000 that are required.
Only yesterday the housing committee reported to the London County Council that progress towards the completion of the large building programme already authorised by the Council was hindered by the scarcity of skilled labour, and I am told that in provincial towns the difficulty is just the same. Building schemes have been held up through lack of labour, and in some large towns there is very little prospect of gaining any substantial increase in the number of skilled craftsmen during the next few years. The same is true in the country districts. I noticed a letter in The Times a few days ago from an architect, who wrote:—
In the last month I have had three refusals by building contractors to tender for work on the ground that they were quite unable to obtain the necessary labour.
What methods are suggested to meet this deficiency? The National Building Committee made two suggestions. They rejected, rightly or wrongly—personally I am sorry that they did so—proposals For dilution, but they then suggested that it might be possible to supply the deficiency partly by transferring to the housing branch of the trade those who were engaged in other parts of it. They did not lay very much emphasis on this and they spoke with a certain amount of hesitation about it, but they did indicate that a certain amount of labour for housing might be obtained in this way.
§ I am anxious to ask the noble Lord who will reply whether everything that is possible in this direction has been done. Is it possible, for instance, to control still further the erection of buildings which might be regarded as unnecessary? A large number of business premises, cinemas, banks, and so on, have been erected and are being erected at the present time. Would it be at all possible to divert some of the labour from these works to the more pressing work required in housing? I am not recommending this and I am not supporting it; I am only asking a question about it. This may possibly be a sentimental solution of the problem, which would cause additional unemployment in various directions while it would not help those whom it was intended to help.
The other proposal that was made by this Committee was much more important. They suggested that the number of apprentices should be very largely increased in the ratio of one to every three craftsmen and that in this way a large number of trained men might be prepared to carry on the enlarged building scheme. This proposal was quite essential to the whole success of the scheme. The noble and learned Viscount who moved the Second Reading of the Housing Bill last year, said:—
The trade unions have satisfied us that there is a very large supply of labour which is capable of being brought to the aid of these building operations. They have agreed to enlarge the age at which apprentices may be taken and they have agreed to look for apprentices in an active fashion.
In the actual report they were most emphatic on this. They said:—
The National Federation of Building Trade Employers and the National Federation of Building Trade Operatives, however, have recognised the necessity for using all possible influence to ensure an adequate number of apprentices being taken by employers, and they recently appointed a National Joint Apprenticeship Committee to examine the situation and propose measures for its amelioration.
Now I am anxious to know if it is possible to state how many apprentices have been taken on under the scheme, how many apprentices have actually been registered during these last few months.
§ I know that at various places apprentice committees have been formed and that in some places they are doing excellent work. In others, however, I am told, these committees exist simply in 229 name and practically no apprentices have been enrolled. In London this proposal has not so far been carried out. The chairman of the housing committee of the London County Council said the scheme to secure additional skilled labour by an extension of the apprenticeship system is still in an embryonic condition as regards the London area, and I believe it is so elsewhere. It is difficult to know where the fault lies. Sometimes I am told that it is due to the parents, who do not care for their children to enter into the building trade. I am told, however, by the headmasters of schools and those connected with work in our clubs that there are a large number of boys who would gladly be apprenticed to the building trade. If I ask employers, I am told that the fault is due to the men, who are afraid of unemployment and therefore do not encourage the scheme. If I ask the men, I am told that the fault is really due to the big employers, who find it too much trouble to take apprentices and who prefer to have skilled workmen.
§ The point I want to make is that the whole success of our building programme depends upon securing a sufficient number of apprentices who can be trained into skilled workmen. Unless we gain these additional skilled craftsmen this scheme will never carry out what it was intended to do, and at the end of a few years we shall find that the housing problem is still as far from solution as it is at the present time. I know that we may be told that it is very early to judge as to the success of the housing programme, and that it is very early to judge as to whether there will be a sufficient supply of labour available; but I would point out that every year's delay causes the continuance of almost intolerable suffering.
§ I hesitate to quote actual cases of hardships because it might very easily be thought that I was exaggerating or making a simple appeal to sentiment. A few days ago this House was profoundly Moved as it listened to cases of real hardship among loyalists in Ireland. I believe this House would be not less moved if it realised the hardships that were being endured year after year by people living within a few hundred yards of this House. Let me give only three illustrations, taken out of a large number of cases sent to me by trained and experienced observers. One 230 is the case of a father and mother and five children all living and sleeping in one small room. The walls are verminous and all the children very sickly and suffering from rickets. The next is the case of a father and mother and six children in two small rooms. The walls are verminous, the boards of the floor in holes. The next is the case of a family of six in one room—the husband and wife, a girl of eleven and boys of thirteen, fifteen and seventeen all sleeping and living in one room.
THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK
In London. Those cases are not exceptional cases. I could give the House a very large number of cases of this kind. I will only remind your Lordships that the last Census shows that in London alone there are 900 cases of families of six and more living in one room—living, sleeping and feeding in one small room. Can you wonder that such conditions are detrimental to health and that the death rate in these overcrowded districts is far higher than you find it elsewhere? Can you wonder that these conditions bring to naught much of our educational efforts? How is it possible for a child to do its home lessons in a room so crowded? These conditions in many cases make decency almost impossible. They make home life simply a name and nothing more, and I believe that if these facts and conditions were thoroughly realised in the country there would be such an expression of public feeling that no trade interest, either of employers or unions, would be allowed to stand in the way of building a sufficiently large number of houses by any methods which may be necessary, so as to bring to an end speedily a condition of affairs which has too long been a national scandal.
THE LORD BISHOP OF MANCHESTER
My Lords, I am asking leave to say a few words in support of what has just fallen from the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, as I come from the north of England, where the conditions are no less bad than in the south, or in the neighbourhood of London. I think there is really considerable danger that in the great 231 urgency of supplying houses at the present time, we may overlook the necessity, long recognised, of pulling down a considerable number of existing house properties without replacing them at any rate in the area in which they now stand. A programme which aims merely at securing that there should be one house per family, while it would be the means of alleviating the present evil, will not get rid of some of the worst conditions, and there is a great danger that the evils which have long been recognised will be left out of sight, owing to our concentration of attention upon the present programme.
For example, to take only one instance—but it is certainly a typical case—there is one parish, in Ancoats, Manchester, where there are 9,000 people living in an area of a quarter of a square mile. The great majority of the houses in that area were condemned eight years ago. They are still standing, and there is apparently no prospect of their being removed It is impossible to build houses fast enough to make possible the removal of property which at any rate provides a roof. It is no wonder that tuberculosis is rampant in these places. I could add, if it were necessary or desirable, to the tale of hardship and horror which has been put before us by the Bishop of Southwark. It happens that I have heard lately of cases where these conditions obtained. In one case, a member of the family having died, several other members slept in the room where the corpse lay awaiting burial, and the family had their meals in the same room. Then there is the economic result on the rent charged for most inadequate rooms in that same area, and still more in areas close by. I have the case of furnished rooms, so-called, containing bed, table, a few chairs and a chest of drawers, all most decrepit. And the rent will be 12s. 6d. to 15s. a week for the one room. The first thing, therefore, that it seems to me necessary to insist upon in addition to what is being put before us and what is being accomplished by all these efforts—for which we are most grateful—is that merely to build the new houses on the supposition that all the existing house property can be regarded as a permanent asset will not do. We must recognise again that there is a considerable amount that needs to be cleared away before the people have a chance of a decent livelihood.
232 With regard to the provision of labour something, no doubt, must depend upon the social status of the industry, and here I have come across some rather alarming facts. It is not only that the total numbers engaged in the industry have been tending to decline, when we want to see them increase, but the social standing of the industry in many parts of the country seems to be dropping, and that means that it will be increasingly difficult to obtain recruits for it. I am informed on perfectly reliable authority that in Manchester and its neighbourhood at the present time it is a common thing to find numbers of men in the bricklaying and plastering trades waiting outside the time office for a part of their week's wages to be paid in advance—always, I think it will be admitted, a sure sign of a downhill tendency in the industry. Whenever that tendency begins to increase it means that there is coming a more hand-to-mouth standard of life among the people who show that tendency, and very often there is only about 10 per cent. of the week's wages left to be drawn at the week-end. That always means that the money is getting spent before it reaches the wife and mother of the family, who has to care for the children, and there is hardly anything with which to meet the household expenses.
The figures that are stated for the whole country are, I think, to this extent illusory, that they tend to conceal the fact that we are not meeting the need in the neighbourhood of the great towns where the need itself is greatest. The bulk of the houses are not being built, or at any rate not a sufficient number seem to be being built, in those neighbourhoods. In Manchester five years of certainly strenuous efforts have produced less than 5,000 houses up to date. The pace of building has been increased a good deal lately but not many more than 1,500 houses a year for the working classes can be expected, while of those 500 every year will be subsidy houses built for sale and they will not be capable of being taken by any of the poorer classes. So that it would seem that future progress depends largely on really raising the status of the industry and drawing into it a better class of men, especially in the bricklayers' and plasterers' departments, and a development of that apprenticeship to which allusion has already been made.
233 I need not say anything more to insist upon the effects either upon health or upon morale, but having made some study—not a very extensive or thorough one, I admit—of the connection of this question with other matters, I should like to point out that there is political health at stake also, for I think there is quite sufficient evidence to show that where you get really bitter disaffection towards the institutions of the country it is nearly always in districts where bad housing prevails. There are other causes of industrial unrest in abundance, but there is nothing which makes the settlement of industrial disputes so difficult as the embittered atmosphere due to housing conditions, which any of us with an ounce of imagination must see at once are of a kind to produce the most profound irritation and nervous fretfulness. There can be little hope of real political and social well-being becoming established in the country until we have genuinely solved this housing problem.
My Lords, the Question of the right rev. Prelate is drafted in terms that admit of a very wide discussion, and as this is obviously one of the most intricate and widely discussed problems of the day, I hope your Lordships will excuse me if I do not attempt to follow all the points raised by the previous speakers or to enlarge upon the merits or demerits of the schemes of successive Governments as compared with each other. I can only hope to indicate with the figures that have been supplied to me, the degree of success that has so far attended the sum total of all the various Government schemes. I can tell the right rev. Prelate at once that the Government intend to continue to base their policy on the Housing Acts of 1923 and 1924. They take the view that the full effects of those two Acts, taken in conjunction with the agreements and negotiations connected with them, have not really yet been properly felt: but up to the present they are working fairly satisfactorily, as the figures which I shall have to place before your Lordships will, I hope, show.
It is, of course, evident that mere figures can only be a very partial guide as evidence of how actual hardship and distress are being relieved, because not only is the distribution of the new houses a very important factor, as the 234 right rev. Prelate who spoke last has pointed out, but it is hard to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion as to the actual number of houses that really are required. Estimates that have been submitted from time to time by local authorities in the past have undoubtedly been coloured by a desire to reach ideal conditions and, also, considerable overlapping has occurred. However, I agree with the right rev. Prelate who spoke last that the figure of two and a half million houses, which the late Government calculated would be required within fifteen years, can be taken as a rough basis with which to compare the figures which the recent schemes have produced. Towards this figure houses built under the three principal Acts, the Addison, the Chamberlain, and the Wheatley Acts, that is to say, houses built with some form or other of State assistance, either by local authorities, public utility societies, or private individuals, number 307,689; under the two latter Acts there are either under construction or authorised another 183,033. In addition, there are a number of houses of working class type that have been erected privately without State assistance, the statistics of which are not really complete, but I understand I am safe in saying that since the War over half a million houses of the working class type have been built by all agencies.
I fully realise that this figure, though it may be satisfactory to statisticians, may be of small comfort to those who, like the right rev. Prelate, are brought into daily contact with the appalling conditions that he described. But the worst cases, as he said, are usually complicated by the problem of congestion and slum clearance, which, I think, lies outside the scope of this particular Question, although, of course, it is intimately connected with it. The Government would be glad to furnish information with regard to the progress of their schemes in this direction, but I will only say now that eighty-four schemes are in process of completion throughout the country, of which sixteen are in London. I think it will be of interest to the right rev. Prelate if I submit the more recent figures showing how the Government housing schemes are actually proceeding at the moment.
The year which ended on March 31 last was a record year as regards house build- 235 ing. During that period 136,689 houses were completed, about half of which were built with State subsidies and about half without; as a matter of fact, 67,669 were built with State assistance and 69,220 without. Of that total 117,817 may be classed as working-class houses. At present, under the Housing Acts, new houses are being completed—I think the right rev. Prelate gave the figure—at the rate of over 7,000 a month, and judged upon the basis of the results last year, during which 69,000 houses were built by unassisted private enterprise, the total for the year represents an annual output of 140,000 houses. I have the authority of the Minister for saying that we are now building more houses than are required to meet the annual growth of the population and are eating into the arrears. I hope that your Lordships' House will agree that these figures are not so black as, perhaps, the right rev. Prelate gave us to suppose they would be. A total of 140,000 houses a year in itself represents 2,000,000 in fifteen years, and it remains for me to try to show whether this rate can be maintained or improved.
It is obvious, of course, that this consideration depends on the two main conditions of the supply of materials and the supply of skilled labour. In reference to the first, there is no reason to suppose that the supply of the ordinary materials used in house construction will be interrupted. In addition, the Government are convinced that houses built by certain new methods can provide satisfactory accommodation and they are of opinion that these new methods deserve every encouragement. With this end in view special financial arrangments have been made for the erection of four different new types in various centres throughout the country. These houses will be open for inspection and the public will be able to judge for themselves as to their utility. In regard to what was said by the right rev. Prelate about the diversion of building labour to luxury building, I understand that under the Act of 1919 powers were given to Government authorities which lasted for two years but that was not found satisfactory. The powers were rarely used and, on the whole, it was found that more difficulty was created by their exercise than by not exercising them.
In regard to the supply of skilled labour, the right rev. Prelate laid particular stress on the importance of the 236 apprenticeship scheme which was started in 1924, and expressed some apprehension as to how that scheme is being adhered to. I need not remind your Lordships that the scheme was designed to provide for an additional supply of apprentices over and above the ordinary number which the building trade normally maintains, which normal figure, as he said, was considerably affected at that time by the War. The Committee which formulated the scheme at the request of the Minister reported in considerable detail on April 10, 1924, in a Report, Command Paper No. 2104. But the decision of the Minister to accept the proposals of the Building Industry Committee as they affect the conditions of contracts for the erection of houses by local authorities, with particular regard to the provision that the apprentices should be encouraged in the ratio of not less than one to three craftsmen employed on the work, was only communicated by circular on February 3 of this year and applies only to tenders asked for after that date. It is, therefore, really too early to form a conclusion as to the success of the scheme of apprenticeship and it has not been possible yet to obtain statistics as to the results, though by the end of the year I believe the Ministry hope to be in possession of much more detailed information.
In relation to what was said by the right rev. Prelate concerning the instances of failure to observe the conditions of these contracts, I can only say that the Ministry have not had any case brought to their notice of the direct evasion of responsibilities entered into by any of the parties to these agreements. The conditions, of course, vary enormously and the application of the new scheme of apprenticeship to those conditions can only be effected and its results appreciated gradually. But the Minister is making every effort to ensure the success of this scheme and although, as I have said, there are no statistics available, the evidence of competent observers goes to show that steady progress is being made with this apprenticeship scheme. If the right rev. Prelate can point to any specific case or evidence to the contrary I will undertake to bring it to the notice of the Minister.
May I conclude by saying that the Government is fully alive to the detrimental 237 effects of the hardships resulting from the shortage in houses? But it must be remembered that the question is only partially a political one; that attempts to adapt the ordinary laws of supply and demand and the established custom of the building industry must be conducted with circumspection and caution, otherwise, as has been proved before in dealing with this very question, the last state may be worse than the first. The progress as shown by the only really reliable index—the number of houses built and building—is at any rate in a more hopeful condition than it ever has been before, and the Government are resolved to continue to press forward with the two Acts which they are already operating, with the greatest possible energy.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, your Lordships have listened to three speeches, two of which were of a different type from the third. The two right rev. Prelates who have spoken both spoke with that deep feeling which comes from personal contact with a genuine evil. The Lord Bishop of Southwark addressed us with a full sense of contact with what he encounters in his daily life. It was a pleasure to me, to listen to the second right rev. Prelate, who has gained great, distinction in connection with social questions in this country and who, I hope, will also often address us as he has addressed us to-day. Now, the two right rev. Prelates dwelt on the case from the point of view of the evil which they observed—an evil which, they rightly said, called for as drastic a remedy as we could apply.
Then we had the speech of the noble Viscount opposite who told us what the Government and, indeed, successive Governments had been trying to do to remedy that evil. I listened with great pleasure to the speech of the noble Viscount because I thought it was a thoroughly business-like speech He gave us the facts as nearly as he could and he has left us to judge whether what is being done is enough to satisfy the standard which has been set up by the two right rev. Prelates. It is extremely difficult to judge of that. How fast you can go in dealing with this building difficulty is a question on which I should be very sorry to pronounce. I had to look into it in some detail because I was responsible for piloting the Housing Act of 238 1924 through your Lordships' House. We sifted the question in some detail. The programme then was, as the noble Viscount has said, to erect 2,500,000 houses within sixteen years. The noble Viscount told us what progress had been made in the accomplishment of that idea and I should like to spend a minute or two in examining his figures. First of all, adding together What has been done recently—not last year but in recent years—I gathered from him that out of the 2,500,000 required 307,000 houses odd had been built and 183,000 were being built.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
Yes. Then the noble Viscount added that 500,000 had been built by private enterprise.
I do not think I made myself clear. I said the total number of houses built under the Government scheme, together with the estimated number of houses built without Government assistance of the working-class type, amounted in all to over 500,000.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
Then what has been done by private persons must be very little, because if you add the 307,000 which are built under the schemes of the Act to the 183,000 which are not yet built but are being built, the total is very nearly 500,000.
I must explain one further thing, and that is that the statistics of the unassisted houses have been available only for the last two and a half years.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
Yes, but they have resulted in a very small total indeed from private enterprise, and that is what we rather feared. I will tell your Lordships why we feared it. No doubt private enterprise is always ready to build houses, but houses for the working classes are not the form of investment looked to by private enterprise. There is a large number of people in this country who do not belong to the working classes, but who belong to the lower middle class and who want a better type of house and are ready to pay for it. It is for them that private enterprise builds and those houses do not fall within the 2,500,000 required. I am 239 not surprised to gather from the official figures with which the noble Viscount has furnished us that within the category of working-class houses what has been provided by private enterprise does not amount to anything very great.
Then the noble Viscount did not tell us very distinctly within what period of construction the 500,000 fell, but I take it that it goes back to the time of the War when this agitation begun. That takes you back seven years, and the provision of 500,000 houses within seven years is not a very large provision when you have to get 2,500,000 in order to satisfy what is necessary. The 2,500,000 is a figure which dates from last year. It was Mr. Wheatley's figure, based upon taking into account what had been done by his predecessor in office under the Housing Act of 1923. Therefore it does seem that we have a very big problem to solve. In saying that I am not making reflections upon the exertions of successive Governments, because I think their task has been an exceedingly difficult one. The noble Viscount told us that at present about 140,000 houses are being built a year. I think that is a very respectable contribution to the solution of the problem if only it is kept up. The worst is that we are so much in the region of expectation and of hopes here, and our expectations and hopes almost always seem to fall short. We certainly have not realised anything approaching to them in the years that have passed. If it be really the case that the Government have solid reason for thinking they are to get 140,000 houses a year then they are doing very well. That will not give 2,500,000 within sixteen years, but they are giving a substantial contribution to-day.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I move about to a certain extent and I see everywhere, in small towns and villages, building going on now. I think there is a real improvement in the spirit in which the public are approaching this question. The difference between the Act of 1923 and that of 1924 was that the Act of 1924 looked to the local authorities rather than to private enterprise. Government assistance, at all events, was given preponderantly to the local authorities. 240 That was a good thing and I think the Government have wisely not repealed the Act of 1924. It is there for the local authorities to use, and I am bound to add that for the purposes of the large cities, for such places as the Bishop of Manchester alluded to and hardly less for such problems as the Bishop of Southwark dealt with, I think it is only the activities of the local authorities that will be adequate to the task which has to be faced.
Therefore I should be glad to know from the noble Marquess who leads the House, if he replies on this debate, to what extent the local authorities are not only being looked to but to what extent they are co-operating. They did take up these things very vigorously in the early period of the Act of 1924, and then things passed to the present Minister of Health who, I think, has shown great energy in the discharge of his duties, but what I would like to know is whether those energies have been directed to enlisting the assistance of the local authorities, to whom I am pretty sure we must look if we are to hope for anything like success in dealing on a sufficiently large scale with the problem that is before us. I can only say in conclusion that I think it is very satisfactory that this House should discuss these questions. I think we are under an obligation to the right rev. Prelate for having raised this matter. I hope that on subsequent occasions your Lordships will more and more discuss these social problems, because I think that more and more your Lordships are being looked to to take an increased interest in them.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, I have really very little to add to the very complete statement of figures which has been made already by my noble friend who spoke on behalf of the Government, but I may say in two or three sentences, in reply to the noble and learned Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, that he is quite right in his statement that there is no desire on the part of the present Government to repeal the Act of last year. We approach this subject absolutely impartially. We are deeply impressed—I was going to say as deeply impressed as the right rev. Prelates, but probably they are so intimately associated with the subject that they feel it even 241 more than we do—but we are as deeply impressed as possible with the overwhelming necessity of providing housing accommodation, and no question of whether we approve or disapprove of the particular provisions of the Act of last year is going to prevent us from working it for all it is worth. We believe that the Act which is associated with the name of my right hon. friend the present Minister of Health is a more effective Act than the Act of last year, but if local authorities wish to proceed under the Act of last year by all means let them do so. In the face of this great public necessity I need not tell your Lordships that no question of our former opinion as to which was the better Act will tempt us for a moment to interfere with the working of the Act of last year if it should appear to be appropriate in the opinion of the local authorities.
The noble and learned Viscount went through a good many figures and apparently was not impressed with the total of 500,000 houses which have been constructed since the War. He said that it was over a period of seven years. That is quite true. I wish the speed of house building had been more rapid. The important figure, however, is not what has been built in the past, but what is being built now, and therefore he was well advised to deal with the figure of 140,000 this year. I would remind your Lordships that this figure is larger than any for a single year. It is what is called, in the common jargon of the day, a "record," and that is satisfactory, but it is not only a record but, according to all the information at our disposal, it is already eating into the arrears. This large number of houses is sufficient to make good the annual increase in the population and also it is actually eating into the arrears now—not rapidly enough I agree, but it is tending to diminish the severity of the problem and that is a very important point.
The noble and learned Viscount asked what guarantee we have that this pace will be maintained. I was rather surprised at that question. I see no reason to doubt it. At any rate, so far as the Government are concerned, we are doing all we can not merely to continue this pace but to stimulate it still further, and we are imposing upon every contract under the. Housing Acts a condition that 242 for every three craftsmen there shall be an apprentice. This condition is made in every contract. Where local authorities are building direct it is laid down that this proportion of apprentices shall be added, so that already a beginning has been made towards increasing the number of building operatives. It is not possible to give the result of this plan because it has only just been brought into force, and no statistics are yet available. But at any rate that is one example of the efforts which His Majesty's Government are making. There are, of course, other examples. There are the methods of new construction. As your Lordships are aware the Minister of Health has been very interested in pushing forward experiments in new construction with a view to using them. I think I am correct in saying that at this moment there are 19,000 examples, of one sort or another, of houses that are being built under the new construction methods, that is, constructed otherwise than by bricks. Most of them are concrete. There, again, is an opportunity for increasing the pace at which houses may be built, and it is evident that if these methods of new construction are finally approved by the local authorities who are to use them, as we hope, then a much larger number of labourers will be available than at present, since a great many of these houses can be built with unskilled labour. That is another way by which we hope to increase the number of labourers. These two examples show that there is no reason to apprehend that the figure of 140,000 houses a year will be diminished—on the contrary. Speaking for myself, I earnestly hope it will be increased.
The noble and learned Viscount also asked whether local authorities were continuing to act under the Acts. I think the figures which I have here may be of interest. Under the Housing Acts, 1923 and 1924, apart from the houses completed, there were on July 1 under construction 62,000 houses; houses definitely arranged for, but not yet started, 55,000; authorised, but not yet arranged for, 65,000; in all a total authorised but not yet completed of 183,000 houses. No doubt most of these, probably nearly all, are being built through the agency of local authorities. I think that will probably be a sufficient answer to the questions of the noble and learned Viscount.