HL Deb 09 March 1926 vol 63 cc496-522

LORD SWANSEA had given Notice to call attention to the proposal of His Majesty's Government to finance a company formed for erecting houses in Scotland out of public funds, and to ask His Majesty's Government whether the object cannot be attained by private enterprise: and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion that stands in my name, and in doing so I ask for that indulgence and sympathy which your Lordships so kindly afford to those who for the first time address you in this House. I regret very much that on the first occasion of my doing so I should feel compelled to bring before your Lordships a Motion that is critical of the Government's proposal, but I believe that such a Motion can consistently be put from these Benches, and, therefore, I make no apology for bringing it before your Lordships for your serious consideration.

This subject arose in another place on a Supplementary Estimate for £200,000 for the purpose of erecting steel houses in Scotland. There have been three debates in another place, and practically the whole of the discussion was upon questions of rates of wages and whether engineering rates should be applied to the building trade. I do not propose to refer to those questions. I sincerely hope, as I am sure we all do, that those questions will be satisfactorily and amicably settled. But there are, in my opinion, far bigger questions involved than those concerning rates of wages and the matters that will come before the contractors who will have to carry out the work.

The question of principle that I wish to put before your Lordships' House was entirely lost in the discussions to which I have referred. There seems to be an impression—and in mentioning this Motion to many people I have found that they all take the same view—that the question of this loan of £200,000 to the Scottish Board of Health was limited to that £200,000, and that it was the equivalent of a capitalised subsidy for the purpose of helping the company to erect 2,000 houses in Scotland. It is true that £200,000 is mentioned and is voted, but that is on a Supplementary Vote, and it applies to the expenses of the company up to March 31. I wish to show your Lordships, from the wording of the Prime Ministers speech and of the speech for the Secretary for Scotland in another place, that considerably more money will be required, and that the Government is undertaking to finance, through the means of a company, the entire cost of carrying out this scheme. I do not myself see how that cost can come out at less than £900,000.

The way in which this matter arose is very shortly this. The Prime Minister went to Scotland on the occasion of his being made a freeman of Glasgow. Whilst he was there he made himself acquainted with the conditions of housing in Glasgow, and he was so appalled by what he saw that he offered on that occasion an extra subsidy of £40 for housing in Scotland. That offer brought no response. The offer was made in September, and on December 18 the Prime Minister said this in another place:— I have to announce that the £40 special subsidy scheme lapses here and now. But, of course, we cannot leave it like that. The local authorities have rot seen their way to take up this offer, and we must proceed ourselves. We intend, therefore, to proceed forthwith with the erection of 2,000 houses by alternative methods. We propose, in the first place, to utilise the Scottish National Housing Company. We will finance the development, and we will take every step necessary to secure its accomplishment. On January 26 the Prime Minister was speaking at Stirling, and in referring to this subject he said he had two objects in view. The first was to make a direct contribution to the house-building needs, and the second to demonstrate that steel houses were the only practicable means, at the moment, of increasing housing facilities until the building trade could catch up—not as a permanent type of house but as a special contribution to meet the temporary emergency. He added that it was a Scottish problem.

On February 11, when the matter came up again in another place, the Secretary for Scotland said they had decided that they must proceed to deal with the problem in a more drastic fashion. The National Housing Company, whom they had asked to co-operate with them was, he said, formed for the development of this scheme for the erection of 2,000 houses and it had formed a second company—the Housing Trust, Limited. He wont on to say:— The houses they will erect include 1,000 houses which will be purchased from Messrs. Weir, 500 from Messrs. Cowieson, and 500 from the Atholl Steel Houses. He went on to say, after referring to the loan and the profits to be returned:— The Government are advancing the necessary capital through the means of this company to carry out this scheme. Later in his speech he said— Rapidity of construction and erection is an essential part of the scheme, and the money for which I am now asking is to provide far the scheme up to the end of the present financial year. Of course a further main Vote will course up for consideration. This sum is intended to provide for the erection of at least 1,200 houses at a very early date. The Secretary for Scotland added that sites had been acquired.

The original Scottish National Housing Company was formed for the purpose of erecting houses at Rosyth for the Government employees. The arrangements that were made were that the Government was to supply nine-tenths of the capital money required to carry out the erection of these houses. The company was formed and it had a subscribed capital of £171,000, but only 12s. 6d. per £ of that was called up. The amount of money loaned to the company up to September, 1925, was £971,500. It is owing to that company's articles confining operations to Rosyth that it was necessary that a second Scottish Housing Company should be formed and that was what the Secretary of State for Scotland referred to as having recently been formed. Most of the directors of the original company were to be directors of the present company. The present company having been formed with a capital of £100,000, the Government are going to erect these 2,000 houses, half of which are given to one company and 25 per cent, each to two other companies. I wish to clear away doubt as to the amount of money which will eventually be required and so I have given private notice of a question to the noble Duke who will reply: Is the £200,000 the whole contribution which the Scottish Board of Health are seeking from the Treasury for the purpose of erecting 2,000 steel houses? and also: What is the estimated total cost of the scheme for 2,000 steel houses, including drainage, water supply and sites?

I am perfectly certain there is not a member of your Lordships' House who does not from the bottom of his heart wish to see the present condition of housing overcome. I am certain there is no Party which does not honestly wish to see this great difficulty remedied. But doctors who agree that a patient is ill may differ as to diagnosis and differ fundamentally as to the treatment which the patient should have. As to diagnosis, I have no doubt the position is due to three main causes. One is the suffocation of individual enterprise. The second is the uneconomic condition into which housing has now got, excessive rates, trade union restrictions, and extravagant methods of local authorities. Thirdly, housing is suffering from the aftermath of the War, the D.O.R.A. restrictions and suffering also from the "dole" or subsidies. As to the remedy, every Party has its remedy. The Liberal Party has one, I think, but I am not able to say what it is. The Socialist Party are very emphatic in their remedy, and that is nationalisation of houses. Apparently they want nationalisation, not only of houses but of other industries. Their idea seems to be to make the State the mother and the sons dependent on the mother. The mother is to run the house. I have always understood that the Conservative policy is the converse of that. The sons are to be self-reliant, self-supporting and able to run their own business.

The Socialist Party started their campaign with housing through the local authorities, and so the conditions under which they built have become uneconomic. I want to mention one set of figures to show the effect on private enterprise and the way it is being killed under the 1924 Act. The 1924 Act subsidises houses for renting only and gives no subsidy to houses for selling. The houses not exceeding £26 in rateable value completed in the year ended September 30 last were: Unassisted houses (these are workmen's houses not exceeding £26 rateable value) 47,533; private enterprise assisted houses, 60,201. That is, private enterprise erected 107,734 houses. The figures for local authorities are: State assisted houses, 32,090. Twill put it in percentages. Private enterprise, for the year ending September 30, 1925, provided 77 per cent, of the houses and local authorities provided 23 per cent. The difference between the working of private enterprise under the Chamberlain Act of 1923 and the Wheatley Act of 1924 is very strongly brought out by percentage figures. The full figures are too many to read, but under the 1923 Act private enterprise produced 75 per cent, and local authorities 25 per cent., while under the 1924 Act private enterprise provided 1¼ per cent, and local authorities 98¾ per cent. I mention these figures because I wish to show that private enterprise is by no means dead. Private enterprise is a little bit sick under the 1924 Act, but it is functioning well under the 1923 Act, and I am sure it can cope with this question.

I realise that this is an emergency measure. If I thought it was a remedy, or even a palliative, I would not venture to take up your Lordships' time, but I fear that it will have the opposite effect and that it will not produce the houses at all. In fact, it will have a tendency to stop house building, especially in certain districts. It is the thin end of the wedge in State housing. Once you get a wedge in you know that you cannot get it out and that you have got to drive it through to the other end. The Government, by financing this company and finding the capital to do the whole work, are doing it in Scotland in the face of the local authorities. They are acting in competition with the local authorities. I ask you to consider poor John Citizen there, who has to stand with his hands in his pockets to see the authorities blazing away at each other, he being in the position of having to pay for the ammunition for both sides and knowing that if one of them is hit he will have to pay for the funeral as well. If the Government are finding the whole capital, through whatever agency, it means entirely State housing. That is a precedent which I am sure we do not wish to see established. It is a very dangerous precedent and any other Government will not fail to take advantage of it.

The Government have done a large number of excellent things. One of the outstanding things is the establishment of the Bradbury Committee. That Committee lets the public know the proper values of articles and what prices it ought to pay. It brings public opinion to bear on important questions, and public, opinion is the strongest force in the land. It is public opinion which returned the Conservative Government with the record majority which it has, and the public wish to be protected from Socialist methods. They wish to see War restrictions, officialdom and bureaucracy swept away. And I am sure that the Government agree with public opinion that the problem must be solved by industry and not by "doles." What is the necessity for this subsidy for houses? Hero is an industry that is the only industry in the land having a demand in excess of the supply. That demand is a necessitous and urgent demand. There is no other industry in such a position as that, and yet the country is having to pay vast sums of money towards that industry. The Minister of Health announced, on December 21, in another place, that up to December, 12, 1925, an advance of over £42,000,000 had been paid by the Treasury in housing grants, and I believe that the figure now amounts to, £10,000,000 a year. The industry is in a sheltered position as well as having a demand exceeding the supply.

If we could get housing upon an economic basis there would be no shortage at all. I suggest that private enterprise is the best means of securing this end. We know that the speculative builder is a man who built houses far more cheaply than any other builder. He superintended his work and could not afford waste. He could do this work again. I submit that it is not fair that rates levied on builders' premises should be used in competition with the builders' trade. It would be equally unfair if the taxes paid by the builder were used in competition with his trade. Doles are dangerous things. It is the same as if you put a plant into a hothouse. You may get a bloom very quickly, but you kill its constitution and it will not stand the weather again. Housing does not require to be put into a hothouse.

The public wants brick houses. That may be prejudice, but there is more prejudice in the building trade than in any other, because it is the oldest trade. As people have lived since the time of the Egyptians in brick houses, they prefer them. The steel house is not an economic proposition. It is admitted to be a temporary house, proposed as a temporary measure, but it costs as much as, if not more than, a permanent house. I want to quote the Architects' Journal—of course I know that if mass production of cheap houses comes in there will be no more architects, but I take it that they would not publish figures without proof—which states that a brick house of the same capacity as the steel house costs £420 where the steel house costs £445. I know of good brick houses being built to-day in Hampshire for £350 for the house alone, exclusive of the site. There is one other point as regards house building. As your Lordships are well aware, mortgages enter very largely into the building of houses, especially the poorer class of houses. With a steel house, the life of which is from thirty to forty years, who is going to advance a mortgage? Accordingly, the very poor people who rely on mortgages and gradually pay for their houses will not be in a position to buy steel houses.

The Prime Minister says that this is a Scottish problem. He said this in his speech at Stirling, and quoted figures to show the different rate of progress in building in Birmingham and in Glasgow. He selected these Cities because they were very nearly the same size, Glasgow being 10 per cent, bigger than Birmingham. Under the Acts of 1923 and 1024, in the thirteen months ending November 30, 1925, Mr. Baldwin told us that in Birmingham 4,389 houses had been built, and in Glasgow, 544. Speaking in another place, he said:— For some reason or another, which I do not intend to diagnose, it is quite evident that the offer that I made in September in Glasgow has failed in its effect.… and he went on to say that he was taking the action which he then announced in order that what was in the way of being a national scandal in Scotland should come to an end.

I wanted to know what the problem in Glasgow really was, and so I wrote to the Lord Provost of Glasgow and asked him, since neither the Prime Minister nor the Secretary for Scotland could suggest any reason, what the trouble was. He wrote to me, and I have his permission to quote his letter, which is dated March 2. He wrote as follows:— The statement of the Secretary for Scotland that the great municipalities of Scotland had, for reasons best known to themselves, refused the proposal' to participate in Mr. Baldwin's subsidy scheme is not quite accurate. So far as Glasgow is concerned, the corporation had under consideration a report by their director of housing on the alternative houses included in the, Scottish Board of Health's list as eligible for the £40 special subsidy, and for your information I send you herewith a print of that report. The Housing Committee wore divided as to whether both Weir and Cowieson types should be adopted, and by a majority agreed to recommend to the corporation that 500 Cowieson houses only should be built. This recommendation the corporation approved of on December 10 last, and this was intimated to the Board. … As, however, the type of Cowieson house desired by the corporation, namely, four To each block similar to the Weir houses, was not one of the types submitted by Messrs. Cowieson to the Board within the time given to firms to submit offers, the Board intimated that it could not be considered, though it was pointed out to the Secretary for Scotland that the Board, having approved this firm for other types and having approved this type for another firm, the corporation did not think that they were making an unreasonable request. The other large municipalities also intimated their willingness to order houses of the special types approved by the Board in various quantities, but the offer was withdrawn before the county authorities had had an opportunity of responding, on the plea that even if they did intimate their willingness to participate the minimum number of orders required to make the scheme a success could not be reached. You will see from the report of the director of housing that difficulties with the building trades were likely to eventuate if Weir houses were ordered, and the housing committee in making their decision were partly influenced by this consideration and partly by a preference for the Cowieson house after inspection. The main reasons for the hold-up of housing in Scotland are the shortage of certain classes of workmen, more particularly plasterers, and the difficulty in getting tenders for building at prices which the Scottish Board of Health will approve. The fear that there might be a repetition of the soaring prices experienced under the 1919 Act has led the Board to resolutely refuse to sanction prices higher than arbitrary ones of their own making, and tenders have been returned to local authorities, not once but on occasion several times, with a request that they must be cut down. Glasgow has all along set herself a certain standard which is somewhat superior to that of the smaller authorities, and the Glasgow tenders have been judged by the Board in the light of those received elsewhere. Mr. Baldwin's comparison of Glasgow and Birmingham was hardly just—a particular period favourable to the latter and unfavourable to the former was taken, and no consideration given to the fact that the respective types of houses do not admit of comparison and that the shortage of workmen does not exist in England. … In conclusion, let me point out that Scotland does not ask the rest of the United Kingdom to contribute to her difficulty. This is not of our seeking, but is thrust upon us by the Government. It may interest you to know that when the 1923 subsidy was being discussed, Scotland asked for a higher subsidy on the plea that more substantial houses had to be erected owing to the rigour of the climate, but this was refused for exactly this reason, that England should not be asked to contribute to the more substantial buildings of their northern neighbour.

The report, which was sent with that letter and to which he refers, with regard to the price at which these houses are offered, gives the estimate for a Cowieson's house as £380, and for a Weir house as £357, or adding £18 and £34 respectively for extras, £398 for a Cowieson house and £391 for a Weir house. I submit, that if you add to that the cost of water supply, drainage and site you get a figure of approximately £470, and multiplying that by 2.000 you get a figure of £940,000. As to the types they mention:— The remaining types, namely. Messrs. Cowieson's, Limited, and Messrs. Weir, Limited, are both houses of a more or less temporary character … and on that account are not to be compared with types of a more reliable and permanent type of construction. No metal-plated house can, from the health point of view, he compared to a house erected with materials of an inherent porosity, and there is the additional objection that, in order to preserve the structure from corrosion, it will require to be frequently painted on the outside, while it will be impossible to treat the inner surface of the steel sheets after they are erected. The life of such structures might be estimated at thirty years; but as others have given an estimate of forty years, that life will be taken for the purposes of calculating the annual cost. I have had a little experience of living in a steel shelter myself, having lived off and on in a Nissen hut. They were temporary shelters, and very comfortable, and one was very glad to get them sometimes, but to ask you to put up a type of house that will cost £25 more than a brick house of the same capacity is not an economic proposition.

If it is an economic proposition for Birmingham to build houses, why should it not be so for Scotland? If it is not an economic proposition, and Birmingham and other authorities in England and Wales put their hands in their ratepayers' pockets for the deficit, why should not Scotland do the same I Is it fair that those who pay their local housing deficit in their local rates should also be asked to pay in their taxes to make good a deficit in Scotland? I wish to call your Lordships' attention to the words of a Scottish Member in another place, which throws a light on the matter which I think is interesting. In the course of his speech he said he was keen on Scottish rural housing, and he added:— I think the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland will, sooner or later, have to tackle the Treasury again. I agree that this would be a most injudicious moment for him to do so. He has already brought off one coup, and I do not think he could expect to bring off another at the moment. He must wait until the Chancellor of the Exchequer has simmered down, until the attention of the Chancellor has been attracted to other things, to Iraq, to Mosul, to education and other schemes, and then, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not looking, he must steal into the Treasury and get in a word for the rural housing situation in Scotland. I hope that further assault on the Treasury will also be successful. I am sure that noble Lords who represent Scotland will not agree with that, and do not regard it in that light. I do not think I need say who the hon. Member was, except that he represents an Aberdeen constituency.

I have often been struck with the pride that Scotsmen take in their own country. The proposal of the Government that they should go cap in hand to taxpayers in England and Wales must be hurtful to their feelings. I seriously suggest that they should inform the Government that they do not want to be put in such a position, and that they insist upon being allowed to provide the necessary funds out of their own pockets, and so relieve the already overburdened Treasury of the £200,000 voted for this purpose. I beg to move.


My Lords, the noble Lord has performed a useful service in going into this question in sufficient detail to show that he has explored it and tried to get the figures, but I am anticipating with some interest what the Government will have to say to him. In this case I do not think the Government could help themselves in the action they have taken. The noble Lord's Motion was directed specifically to the case of Scotland, and not without good reason. Scotland has been far behind England in the building of houses. We have two systems there. We have the system under the Chamberlain Act, and the other system under the Wheatley Act. In neither case has building gone on as quickly as it should, but in both it has gone on better south of the Border than north of the Border. What the reasons are for that it may not be easy to state, but I think the difficulty has been in the municipalities. I have observed the rapidity with which houses are rising in the villages and small towns, but I think that where building has gone on most slowly has been in the large cities, where houses are most wanted in slum areas.

There was no way in which the Government could get the work done except by taking some direct step, and the step they have taken is by organising this combination of persons, who are all their own selection, to carry out the work. Private enterprise and the municipalities between them have not been equal to the work, at any rate in Scotland. In that condition of things we may regret the necessity of going to people outside to do this work, but what alternative is there? The noble Lord spoke as if this present Government had lapsed into Socialism. No doubt the State has been for a long time past taking a very large share in enterprises which in the old days would have been municipal, but the State has been driven into it. The noble Lord speaks of Socialism, but Socialism is a spirit, not an abstract proposition. At all events, in the phase at which it is important it is a new spirit which has insisted upon levelling up conditions. That has brought the Government of the day into action, and whether the Government takes direct action or through a company like this, or through the municipalities, it is all the same thing—it is the new desire that there is everywhere to raise the level which has been operative.

In this case I do not think the Government have yielded in any very remarkable way. Mr. Chamberlain's old Act—the Act of 1923 I think it was—was a Socialist Act just as much as the one that followed. Mr. Wheatley's Act was, of course, a Socialist Act in the sense in which I have used the word, but there it was not the State but the municipalities that were called into play. Neither private enterprise nor the municipalities have been enough, and therefore the Government have to organise private enterprise for this purpose and to assist it. I do not myself see what else they could have done, and I shall be interested to hear the defence of their proceedings which we shall have from the noble Duke.


My Lords, I sympathise very much with that part of the noble Lord's speech in asking his Question in which he referred to private enterprise in connection with making good the shortage in houses. For my part I am convinced that until we see the end of Government interference, of subsidies, and of rent restrictions, the problem of the housing shortage will never be solved. I also agree with that part of his speech in which he regretted that one body had been selected to carry out this particular work in Scotland. I myself endeavoured through local companies, obtaining the services of a strong board of local directors, to undertake housing, either with or without subsidies, but the situation had become so mixed by these various handicaps on private enterprise that it was very difficult to get anything done. In the present emergency—and the emergency has arisen because of the hold-up in the building trade by the unions—I see no other way out except the policy of the Government. For if we have any considerable number of these steel houses built neither the trade unions, nor the local authorities, nor anyone else will be able to stay the further erection of these houses. I think everything depends on getting the Weir house, or its equivalent, built.

I entirely disagree with the noble Lord about the steel houses. You cannot compare England with Scotland in the matter of bricks. Bricks have been produced in England for centuries, but they have been a comparatively recent product in Scotland, and we know little or nothing about them. As it happens, for most of my life I have had to build a great number of houses, and I have experimented largely in cheap houses, and, for my part, I find that the steel house of Lord Weir is the most practical house to meet this emergency that I have yet seen for populous districts. I admit that in a country district I should not, unless I were obliged, put up a Weir house, but that would only be because I think I could provide a still cheaper house out of other material, and more suitable material, from the locality. But, if I found that a Weir house was as cheap as any other house, I would just as soon put it up as any other house I know. It is an excellent house. It is not a question of that house lasting forty years. Many cheap houses, as long as the timber framing is put up properly, still last for two or three centuries. They might even rival the roof of Westminister Hall. It is impossible, however, to say what the life of these steel houses will be. But, in any case, that is the only economic form of cheap house that we have. Of all these houses that I have seen, Lord Weir's house is much the best, and therefore I am entirely with the Government in their proposal to erect a thousand of these houses.

Where I am with the noble Lord is in the hope that private enterprise will be left to itself as soon as possible. The whole of this interference, from the days of Dr. Addison till now, has been a ghastly failure. It has prevented the community from getting its houses, it has saddled the country with an immense mass of debt, and the people who have been lodged in these houses are in many cases those who should not have had them at all. The people who ought to have been housed are most often the people who have been left out. I am only speaking for my own country. So far as Scotland is concerned, I think the immediate hope of progress lies in the action of the Government, but I trust it may be only the clearing of the way to give us private enterprise back again in providing for the housing of the people.


My Lords, I should like to say that I follow the noble Viscount who has just sat down in his wish that private enterprise shall as soon as possible be given opportunity, without control. But in the present state of matters I say with confidence, in spite of the speech which the noble Lord made in introducing the subject, in spite of the number of dangers which he presented to us, that there is no greater necessity than this, and there is no greater danger than that of leaving the matter in Scotland as it is now. Something drastic has got to be done, and I whole-heartedly support the scheme presented now by the Government. My only criticism would be that, instead of limiting the localities so strictly, as they have done, they should give more localities an allocation of this distribution of steel houses. The necessity is just as great, I am sorry to say, in the west of Fife as it is in the large towns which are being given an allocation of the present distribution, and in many other parts of Scotland.

To bring out this point, may I mention that in 1920 the local authority of Dun-fermline district under the County Council made a survey of the actual needs in houses at that time within its district The actual number which were considered necessary for immediate erection was 757. In the years which have followed, by private enterprise and by the enterprise of the County Council 565 houses have been erected. It is unnecessary for me to explain to your Lordships that, lie balance of about 200 does not complete the present necessity, which is very much larger than that balance of 200. It would only be necessary for me to give you illustrations from a report which was put in my hand only yesterday by the sanitary inspector of the district to make it clear to your Lord ships that in that district we have families living in two-roomed houses in sub-let rooms—and that is a state of matters which is dangerous in the extreme. It is a state of matters which must be tackled courageously, and I think therefore that the way in which the Government are proposing to tackle it is the only possible way to help us out of our particular difficulty.

There is another aspect of the matter which I should like to present to the Government. The last time I had the privilege of addressing your Lordships-was on the question of the reduction of Rosyth dockyard. The situation at Rosyth at the present moment is that there are now 340 houses vacant in Rosyth. It may seem rather a paradox to say, therefore, that the need of West Fife is as great as that of other parts of Scotland, but these houses were erected during the most expensive period of the War by the same company as the Government are now employing to erect steel houses. The rents charged for those houses make it impossible to secure tenants for them. The rent charged to Admiralty workers was in the neighbourhood of £26, but the rents charged to other than Admiralty workers averaged between £40 and £50 a year. Your Lordships will understand, therefore, that it is perfectly impossible to get tenants to rent those houses, although it is essential that the houses should be utilised. May I, therefore, make this practical suggestion to the Government—that to help in meeting the necessities of housing they should also bring down the rent of the houses at Rosyth to a level that can be paid by the people for whom we wish houses to be provided?

May I offer your Lordships a comparison of the rents of houses erected in Dunfermline Burgh and in the Dunfermline district within the last two yeans? In Dunfermline Burgh the rents vary from £31 for a five-roomed house down to £16 for a two-roomed house. In various parts of the Dunfermline district the rents vary between £24 for a four-roomed house to £16 for a two-roomed house. If it is impossible to allow a larger spreading of the allocation of these steel houses, which in itself would be provocative or an incentive to the locality to build more houses, I plead that the Government should meet it by making available the 340 or more houses in Rosyth at rents which people can afford to pay—something between £18 and £20 a. year. I would ask His Majesty's Government to consider this point of view, while giving my wholehearted support to the practical effort they are making to bring up the leeway in Scotland.


My Lords, I shall try at the outset to show how hopelessly Scotland is behind England in regard to housing. This matter has been raised already by the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the Opposition and by several other speakers. Scotsmen do not always get the worst of a bargain, but I think they have done so hitherto in regard to housing. And when the noble Lord who made this Motion asks: Why not leave it to private enterprise? I reply: If private enterprise will build houses, why have they not been built or even started during the last six years since the War?

In order to appreciate the reasons of the Government for undertaking the erection of 2,000 steel houses through the Scottish National Housing Company it is necessary to understand the housing situation in Scotland during the last six or seven years. The Royal Commission reported in 1917 that 121,430 houses were required to meet the immediate needs of the people of Scotland: to provide houses for the homeless, for those living in overcrowded conditions and for those occupying houses which were not then fit for habitation. A local authority's estimate of the shortage of houses in 1919 was also prepared. That estimate was corroborated two years later by the local authorities of Scotland, who estimated that the housing shortage at the end of 1910 was 131,101 houses.

In 1919 the first form of State assistance was offered to local authorities, under which the State bore the whole of the annual loss on the housing scheme to the extent that that was not met by the produce of a rate of four-fifths of a penny in the £. Then, at the end of 1919, a lump sum payment, varying according to the size of the house from £230 to £260 per house, was offered by the Government to private persons. In 1923 a new form of assistance was offered m the payment by the State to local authorities of an annual sum of £6 per house for a. period of twenty years, the local authorities being empowered at the same time to make lump sum payments of such amount as they chose to private enterprise. Assistance was offered in the same Act to local authorities to enable them to undertake schemes of slum clearance. This assistance took the form of an annual payment of 50 per cent, of the yearly deficit on the scheme. In 1924 a further measure of assistance was offered by the payment to local authorities of an annual sum of £9 per house— in certain county areas it was £12 10s per house—for a period of forty years. Houses under that scheme, however, are to be subject to certain special conditions, including the condition that they are Lo be built for letting. The local authorities can pass this annual sum, supplemented to such an extent as they think fit, to private persons building subject to special conditions.

Now I turn to the most important aspect of this situation. How many houses have been built as a result of all these schemes? What has been accomplished since 1919? Up to the end of January, 1926, only 37,004 houses had been completed, of which 25,365 were built by local authorities and public utility societies under the 1919 scheme; 2,324 by private enterprise under the 1919 scheme already referred to, and 1,199 by local authorities under the 1923 scheme; 5,041 by private enterprise under that scheme; 2,451 by local authorities under the slum clearance scheme; 606 by local authorities under the 1924 scheme; 4 by private enterprise under that scheme; and 14 steel houses have been erected by local authorities with the aid of the special grant given for the erection of a few houses of this type for demonstration purposes. During the past six years, therefore, houses have been erected with State assistance at the rate of slightly over 6,000 a year. Returns that have been received indicate that private enterprise is not functioning to any material extent in Scotland, only some 1,150 houses on the average having been erected each year from 1919 to 1924. During 1925 this number had risen somewhat—namely, to 1,852, of which, however, probably not more than 1,236 were of a type likely to be occupied by working-class persons.

How inadequate this rate of progress is I think the figures I am about to give will show. The housing shortage reported in 1919 has since been accumulating instead of being overtaken. It is estimated that it has now risen to 150,000 houses and that, in addition, probably some 10,000 houses per annum are required to meet the increase of population and to replace houses that have become uninhabitable through age or for other reasons. It is estimated, therefore, that during each of the next fifteen years an output of about 20,000 houses will be necessary if at the end of that time Scotland is to be regarded as an adequately housed country. It is encouraging certainly to record that during 1925 the number of houses completed under various schemes of State assistance by local authorities and private enterprise, although far short of the annual number necessary, showed a considerable increase over the numbers for 1924. The figures for 1924 were 4,384 completed, while for 1925 there were 8,201 completed. But even with this increase it would appear that mine 2,000 houses under construction at the beginning of the year 1925 were not completed by the end of the year. It is to be hoped that progress will be expedited during 1926 and that, a number of houses considerably in excess of the number erected during 1925 will be completed this year.

There is one very considerable reason, as has already been acknowledged by the noble Viscount, Lord Novar, for the shortage of housing in Scotland, and that is that houses hitherto in Scotland have always been built of stone. Now, on the other hand, local authorities have found stone too expensive and changed the method of building to brick. But when they turned round to obtain large numbers of bricks and bricklayers they found great difficulty in obtaining a sufficiency of them as compared with what is the case in England. That is one reason why the pace of building in Scotland has not advanced anything like so quickly as it has in England. The figures already given show that it is essential that, in addition to the provision of houses by the normal methods, an endeavour should be made to increase the supply of houses by special methods of construction. To this end the Government, in October last, offered a special subsidy of £40 a house—the Prime Minister made that offer at Glasgow—in addition to the subsidy under the Acts of 1923 and 1924, to local authorities erecting houses of special forms of construction approved by the Scottish Board of Health. This offer, however, was not acceptable to the local authorities, and the Government therefore resolved that they would erect 2,000 houses of the steel type through the agency of the Scottish National Housing Company, as announced in another place by the Prime Minister a short time ago.

The figures already given show that local authorities and private enterprise, with and without State assistance, are not at, present providing the houses in anything like the required numbers. The Government are therefore fully justified, I believe, in taking steps to augment the supply of houses so urgently required, and more especially by giving a demonstration on a sufficiently large scale of a new method of construction upon which local authorities and others apparently are unwilling to embark. In addition, the proposals of the Government will, to some extent, assist in relieving unemployment in certain trades which have been seriously affected by the prevailing industrial depression. For the purpose of carrying-out the proposed scheme a subsidiary company has been formed with a capital of £100,000. All the necessary monies will be provided from Government sources.

I shall come to the question of finance in one minute. Before I do so I shall discuss the types of houses to be built. Three types of steel construction have been selected for erection by His Majesty's Government, and 1,000 houses of the Weir type will be erected, 500 of the Cowieson type, and 500 of the Atholl type. The house will be of the single storey, double storey, and flatted type, and will have three and four apartments, with scullery, bath room, and all the necessary conveniences. In order to secure expedition in erection a time-limit will be imposed in the contract within which the houses must be completed. Further, to ensure that the already-inadequate pool of building trade labour will not lie unduly encroached upon, it will be a condition of the contract that not more than ten per cent. of the labour employed in the production and erection of the houses will be skilled building trades labour. If these conditions are not observed, the contractors themselves are liable to a penalty of £40 per house. The Fair Wages Clause provided for under the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1924—that is the Government Fair Wages Clause—will be inserted in all the contracts. As your Lordships are aware, the whole question of the rates of wages on this type of erection was fully considered by the Committee presided over by Lord Bradbury, and the Government have stated that they accept the findings of that Committee. This matter has been very fully discussed recently in another place and negotiations are still proceeding with a view to seeing whether an agreement cannot be reached with the various parties interested.

It has been decided to erect the houses in the areas of these local authorities—Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Greenock, Clydebank, Hamilton and the Middle Ward district of Lanarkshire. Work on the houses has already commenced in Glasgow, while the necessary road and sewer work is proceeding in Edinburgh. It is expected that work will soon begin in the other selected areas.

We have already had a fair experience of the steel type of house in Scotland and on all hands it is spoken of as a perfectly comfortable house, both in warm and cold weather. A recent deputation to the Secretary for Scotland, representative of the Glasgow branch of the National Council of Women of Great Britain, strongly urged that the scheme should be pushed on, and applications are already being received for the houses which are only being begun. I may say also that people have already lived in the Weir houses for over a year, and that in every case when they have been visited by the Under-Secretary for Health and others the occupants have always expressed the opinion that they were extremely satisfied with the houses—that they had no complaints to make but were very comfortable and happy. The other two types of house, the Atholl and the Cowieson, have not, been as fully tested as the Weir house, because they were not developed so early as were the Weir houses, but I have no doubt that they will prove equally satisfactory.

There can be no doubt that the scheme will prove a welcome addition to the houses required in the selected areas, and, as already stated, besides affording the opportunity of a large scale experiment with a new method of construction, it should to some extent assist in alleviating the problem of unemployment. One noble Lord mentioned the question of high rents being charged for the houses in the Rosyth area. I should like to say in regard to the new steel houses that a certain number of them in parts of Lanarkshire are at the present moment occupied by people who pay what is considered an economic rent of 5s. and 6s. a week. That is considered a good economic rent for the forty years' life given to the houses. As the noble Viscount Lord Novar, said, however, no one can tell what the life of these houses will be. They may last very much longer than the forty years. They will certainly last forty years. Another point that was made—I think it was by the noble Lord who moved this Motion—was that the steel houses were as expensive as brick houses. I would point out that although they are about the same price as brick houses at the present moment, the more steel houses that are built the cheaper they will become through mass production. The more hundreds or thousands of steel houses ordered the less each house will cost. They may come down in price to £250 to £300 a house if a sufficiently large number is ordered.

With regard to the finance of the new company, I have already stated that a subsidiary company has been formed with a capital of £100,000 for the purpose of carrying out the scheme. Further capital will, no doubt, be required as the scheme proceeds. The noble Lord asked for the exact cost of this scheme. I am sorry to say it is impossible at the present stage for the Scottish Office to compute what the total cost will be. Part of the money will be obtained on loan from the Public Works Loan Board and the remainder will be subscribed by the Treasury by way of share capital and loans. Any surplus, after paying the yearly loan charges, will be paid over to the Treasury in reduction of the advances from that Department. The rents of the houses will, of course, vary in different areas subject to the approval of the Scottish Board of Health. The company will also be, prepared to arrange for the sale of houses to tenants or others. I shall certainly take the opportunity of conveying to the Secretary for Scotland the point raised by Lord Elgin that there are 300 houses in Rosyth standing empty owing to differences about economic rents and I shall be very glad to let him know the result. I will not give all the particulars of the existing Scottish National Housing Company at Rosyth because I think the noble Lord who proposed the Motion already has the particulars. I should like to say, however, that in consequence of the curtailment of work at Rosyth dockyard owing to the economy schemes and the way in which the Admiralty are closing down there, no further building operations will be carried out by the company.

I want to say a word in comparison of England and Scottish building. House building in England appears to be proceeding much more rapidly than in Scotland, and the rate of progress in England is such as to suggest that arrears of houses are now being overtaken. As I have already said, that is not the case in Scotland. Arrears there are accumulating. A further point I want to make, and it seems to me an important point, is that it may be said that English authorities have been receiving a larger proportionate share of Government money for housing than the Scottish local, authorities. Therefore the special subsidy of £40 offered to Scottish local authorities, which has now been withdrawn, and the decision of the Government to provide 2,000 houses in Scotland, are fully warranted. I think I am right in saying that Scotland has only drawn subsidies for housing in the ratio of one compared to sixteen for England; that is to say, one-sixteenth part. Therefore I think morally the credit balance is on the side of Scotland in that respect. We are drawing on that credit balance in our new development in regard to these steel houses.

As to the number of houses completed on December 31, 1925, in England and Scotland respectively, under the 1923 and 1924 Act, these figures show the position. In England under those Acts 151,102 houses were completed, but in Scotland there were only 8,555. One reproach made against Scottish housing is the large proportion of one and two apartment houses. According to the 1921 Census Returns, 124,367, or 11˙76 per cent., of the houses in Scotland were of one apartment only, while 424,233, or 40˙11 per cent., were of two apartments only. That is to say, over half of the population of Scotland live in houses of only one or two rooms. These houses are not provided as a rule with sculleries, bathrooms or separate sanitary conveniences. As regards the population, 396,866, or 8˙1 per cent., were living in houses of only one room, while 1,919,082, or 39˙3 per cent., were living in houses of only two rooms. That is nearly half the population of Scotland were living in houses of only one or two rooms. In Glasgow over 66 per cent. of the houses were of one or two rooms and over 62 per cent. of the population were living in houses of one or two rooms. Comparing the persons living at a density of more than two per room between England and Scotland, the figure is 9˙6 per cent. of the total in England and Wales compared with 43˙3 per cent. in Scotland. I think this will show your Lordships how much worse housing conditions are in Scotland than in England and Wales.

The Conservative Government came into power for the purpose of improving the condition of the people of this country. The Prime Minister has frequently said that the most important means for improving this condition is to improve the terrible housing conditions in which the great majority of the people in the country still live. I think I have shown to-day by the figures I have given that far worse conditions prevail in the great industrial centres of Scotland than prevail in similar centres in England to-day. The Minister of Health himself, in another place, has given figures comparing Glasgow and Birmingham. He showed in those figures how much more satisfactorily the housing question was proceeding in Birmingham than in Glasgow. He took these two Cities because he considered they were very much the same size and had very much the same conditions. If the present Housing Acts are sufficient in England to stimulate local authorities and private individuals to build sufficiently, I have said enough to show conclusively that they are gravely insufficient to deal with Scottish housing. Were they sufficient His Majesty's Government, who are fully alive at this moment to the importance of economy, who are just as much alive to the importance of economy as the noble Lord who proposed this Motion, would never have embarked on this scheme, which they consider necessary. If private enterprise could deal with this sore, affecting and embittering the life of the people, it would have been left to private enterprise.

The truth is that not 2,000 new houses are required, but 20,000. If any of your Lordships doubt this, I say let them go to the poorer quarters of Glasgow, as the Prime Minister did not long ago, and see for themselves the housing conditions there. Let them read the speeches of hon. Members in another place who know Glasgow, not only Socialists but Conservatives, who have described the horrors of the present situation after seeing for themselves the condition in which many people of Glasgow live. Surely it is rather a petty and unworthy thing to say that a scheme which may eventually bring light and happiness to thousands of miserable homes should not be attempted by the Conservative Party because some think that it has a slight savour of Socialism about the way in which it is to be worked out. There, is no other way. If there were, we should take it. It was not to oppose such schemes as these that the Conservative Party was put into power by a great majority. It is our duty, on the other hand, to extend any schemes which will grapple with this terrible problem, so that in years to come there will be many who will say: "At any rate we have a comfortable home, even if it is of iron, and we have a roof over our heads and a chance of a decent life."


My Lords, after the admirable speech to which we have listened, I do not think anything further need be said in defence of the Government, but there is one point to which I would like to refer in the diagnosis which the noble Lord gave us. He referred, firstly, to the suffocation of individual enterprise; secondly, to uneconomic conditions in the building trade, which really is the same thing; and, thirdly, to the aftermath of war. I do not think he went quite far enough. There was a certain famous, I might say notorious, Budget in 1909, which perhaps had more to do than any of these things with the suffocation of private enterprise in the building trade. Another point I would like to mention is that the noble Lord referred to assisted schemes of municipalities rather as if they were private enterprise. I cannot regard a house which is built by a municipality with the help of a subsidy as really being built by private enterprise at all. The noble Lord quoted figures. I think he spoke of 47,000 unassisted houses and 61,000 assisted houses as compared with the 32,000 assisted houses of the local authorities, and I may be wrong, but I understood him to say that this amounted to 77 per cent. However, the point is a small one. But, whether houses are built by the Government direct or by municipalities with the assistance of subsidies, in neither case is it private enterprise.

The Government found themselves in the position that private enterprise had been required to build houses but had not done it. What are the Government to do? Are they to sit still and do nothing? I feel that there is no fetish about private enterprise. The Government had the courage to say: "We are a Conservative Government and we believe in private enterprise, but in this matter we are going to do what is best for the country; we are going to get houses and, if they have to be built by the Government, we shall build them." One noble Lord said that we Scotsmen were supposed to have pride in our country and did not want to come hat in hand to the Government and ask for this to be done out of public money. The fact is that, the ratio of public money that should be spent in Scotland upon housing is as 11 to 80 of the public money spent in England, and, in fact, nothing like that amount has been spent in Scotland. It is just because I am a Scotsman with pride in my country and because I am ashamed of the conditions that exist in Scotland that I welcome the action of the Government and say, More power to them in that which they are doing.


My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House, and I apologise for the great length at which I proposed this Motion, but I must say, in regard to the remark of the noble Duke that it was petty to bring in a question of economy where questions of health and happiness were concerned, that I quite agree that it would be so if it were done, in that way. What I did endeavour, I am afraid unsucessfully, to show the noble Duke was that, since private enterprise was flourishing in England and Wales, as he showed by his figures, and was an absolute failure in Scotland, some explanation was needed of that fact. The answer, no doubt, is that it is not an economic investment. As I have shown, in other places we have to put our hands in our pockets to pay for these houses, and in addition we have to subscribe in our taxes. With regard to the remark of the noble Lord who has just spoken concerning the ratio of 11 to 80 as between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, it must be remembered that the subsidy is dependent upon the number of houses built. Scotland accounts for a very small fraction of the subsidy because a very small number of houses have been built. If Scotland bad been keeping up with the rest of the Kingdom the proportion would have remained that suggested by the noble Lord. I do not wish to detain your Lordships any longer and I am quite ready to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before seven o'clock.