I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
The House will not, I suppose, desire me to-day to repeat the general review of this Bill which I gave a fortnight last Friday. I, therefore, will direct myself at once to the contents of this Bill, many of which were indicated in outline by me on the occasion of the Debate to which I have just referred. There is one proposal in the Bill which has given rise to some hostile criticism; that is the one in which we propose to make grants in aid of building by private persons or private builders. There seems to be an impression in sonic quarters that somehow or other the building of houses has been delayed by some control or other of the building trade. That is entirely inaccurate. There is no reason, apart from economic reasons, why men, if they were so disposed, should not build houses. There has been no control of the building trade, and I sincerely hope it will not be necessary to propose it. The position which at the end of the War made it out of the question for the private person to build houses as a business proposition was that the cost of building then was so great that he could not see a reasonable chance of his being able to get an economic return in the shape of a sufficient rent. That was the reason that prevented men building houses at the end of the War. That is still the reason.
At the end of the War men were naturally hesitant. Now, so far from there being any hesitancy as to there being work for the building trade, the state of affairs is exactly this contrary. There is an abundance of attractive and remunerative work of another kind. This new factor is added to the one which has existed throughout that it was not a paying proposition to build houses as a private speculation. I would remind the House that this phenomenon is not limited to this country. It exists, I believe, in every European country at present, and in most of them it is worse than here. Therefore, it was necessary for us, in proposing the Bill to Parliament earlier in the year. to make it a duty of some authority or other to see to the provision of houses. Notwithstanding all that has passed since then, I have still to find any critic who has ever suggested that, when we came to deal with housing, we should impose a public duty upon the unnamed private individual. Therefore, we have to make that provision of housing, which is a most urgent need, a public duty. It is true that it is a duty which might be discharged in one of three ways. The State itself could directly undertake the wholesale building of houses. That is a provision which was not submitted to Parliament, and I think anyone who has studied the matter five minutes will recognise why not. In the first place, it would have prevented business expansion and every form of legitimate and necessary enterprise, and the restoration of the normal working of trade. It would have meant, also, that you would inevitably have had to rely upon private agents for all manner of services, for the acquisition of sites, etc., and then, at the end, you would have found a very undesirable state of affairs—the State itself engaging in the business of a rent collector. Some of our critics have suggested we should have gone to that length. I do not think this House would have sanctioned it. For my part, I think it would have been very unfortunate if it had been proposed. Private building, for the reasons I have said, was not then, and is not now in a position to build, as a business proposition, to meet the existing need. Therefore we have had to look to the great local authorities, with State aid behind them, to meet the need. In the Housing Act many provisions are made to enable us to call to our assistance private enterprise.
Although I am not going over the arguments again, I wish to say that I still am satisfied that the great scheme which three-quarters of the local authorities have worked out and are engaged upon will abundantly justify the methods which were adopted. The actual delay, after the acquisition of land and the provision of plans, in building has had very disastrous results, and it is that difficulty which we are seeking to remove. The two main causes of delay are the high cost and the other attractions for men in the building trade. There is plenty of alternative work available. We must have the houses, and we must either have them by some agreement entered into with the building trade or by some system of control. I prefer to adopt the line of agreement, and, I think, before coming to the particular proposals of the Bill it is material to that proposal to observe how the present arrangements are working. In the first months of the scheme time has been spent in acquiring land and making the plans. During the past two months we have reached an agreement with the whole building trade. The Joint Industrial Council of that trade, to which we are immensely indebted, has set up a parallel organisation with ours as a result of which, in the great centres of the country, we have now formulated a programme, and the builders in the federation or builders in the locality who are not in the federation are being brought together on the understanding that they will share amongst them, in addition to whatever other work they have on hand, a minimum number of houses for the local authority as a part of the housing scheme. Several of my hon. Friends in this House are good enough regularly to help me in holding these conferences with federated builders and others concerned, and the latest agreement of all reached on Friday evening under this arrangement was with the federated builders in the City of Birmingham, where they have, at an agreed price, decided that, notwithstanding any other work, that they will complete 1,500 houses within a given time shared out among themselves.
This part of the programme is making good headway, but it is evident that, whilst there are many builders who can put in a precise tender, by none of these methods can you secure the aid of all who can help, and we want the aid of everybody at the present time. It is in order to bring in the assistance of those who cannot come in under the precise terms you must impose for the provision of publicly owned property, and all those who can help, that these additional proposals have been found necessary.
This House, I am sure, has no liking for proposals which mean the granting of public money to a private individual. That clearly is not generally acceptable to our practice, but the criticism which is sometimes made of this proposal is that it is a gift to a builder, and that he would be able to profiteer in the house thereafter on that account. It is a criticism based on a misunderstanding of the present position. If it paid a man to build houses now and he had a good market for them at a profit- able rate they would now be building them, but the fact is they are not, and the reason is that there is no market for them at the cost they would entail. This proposal is to enable a man to build a house of a satisfactory kind for which he will be able to find a market by virtue of the fact that he has been able to build it by these means at a less cost to himself than would otherwise be the case. It is clear that is essential if you are to bring him to our assistance to relieve the present great shortage of houses and to bring in the private individual and the private builder who are prepared to spend money upon building houses. The House will have noticed if hon. Members have seen the White Paper which I caused to be circulated the other day dealing with this matter that there is in that Paper some little departure from the proposals which I outlined to the House a few days ago. At that time, as far as we had examined the details of administration of such grants, we proposed that there should be a fixed sum per house, and that it should be a maximum of £150. Since then we have examined this proposal in great detail with the aid of those competent to advise us, and we have decided to propose that the subject should be dealt with on the lines indicated in the White Paper. It will there be seen that whilst the total sum devoted to the subsidy is to be limited to the amount mentioned by me some days ago, if you had a flat rate in the subsidy you are going to place a premium upon the provision of a certain type of house.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say why the White Paper was only available at the Vote Office a couple of hours ago, although the Bill itself was sent round on Saturday morning or Friday night? Why could not the Financial Paper have been sent round at the same time as the Bill
I passed the proof on Thursday evening last. I am sorry it has not been circulated sooner, and I regret that the delay has occurred. We tried to get it out on Friday. The proposals therein are that for a cottage containing a living room, a parlour and three or four bedrooms, and comprising not less than 920 feet superficial of floor area there will be a grant of £160. For the same type of house without a parlour £140, and for one with a bedroom less £130.
This fairly distributes the subsidy so as not unduly to give an advantage to any particular type of house, and it is so arranged that it will work out at an average of a little less than £150 per house. It is clearly desirable that some discrimination should be made, otherwise the whole subsidy may be used to provide a particular type of house. I suggest that the conditions attached ought to be made as simple as possible, otherwise it will be inoperative. The governing condition as to the number of houses per acre, which is simple and easily understood, is set out in the conditions. We have allowed in some cases even under the principal Act in urban areas up to as many as twenty houses per acre, although we have been very reluctant to go above twelve. It is clear that in this case you are dealing with land which has been already laid out. Therefore, much as we should like to limit the number to twelve houses per acre, you have to deal with facts as they are; and if we could, as I feel sure we shall, get a large number of houses under this scheme on partly developed land, it will be a vast improvement in our standards of housing; for we shall have a number not exceeding twenty to the acre rather than forty, or more closely packed together, as has been the ease in times past.
Then it is proposed that the construction should be in accordance with the local by-laws, but where we have relaxed local by-laws in respect of housing we have provided that those houses should have the advantage of such a relaxation as we are enabling local authorities themselves to have. They will, of course, be required to be houses well-constructed and properly finished; but I think it is clear that it will be quite unworkable in this form of building to have the detailed specifications, and so forth, which we require in the case of municipally-owned houses. Therefore we have left the subject of construction and lay-outs to the local authority, and we require them to give a certificate that the house is properly erected, fit for habitation, and has been completed in a proper and workmanlike manner.
It will be observed, and on this I dare say we shall be challenged, that we have made no conditions as to sale or rent. [An HON. MEMBER: "Or time?"] Yes, we have as to time. I think this is a fundamental issue which we may face without any pretence. If we are to say that we will give you so many pounds to help you to build a house that you cannot afford to build at the present price, and and when you have built them you are only to let it to this and that person at this or that rent, you will not get any houses in response to your appeal and the scheme will be abortive. The House will remember that on many occasions I have said that it seems to me essential that we should press for the restoration in the building industry of house building on a self-supporting economic basis as soon as possible, and it is on that account that we have been perhaps somewhat more exacting in our Regulations with respect to rents than some of my hon. Friends perhaps thought we were entitled to be. But we take this course only and solely because one sees that we must take a stand on this, that, allowing for the additional war cost which we hope will pass on, you ought to be able to get a rent for a house which is an economic return for the money spent on it. That is a vital necessity at the present time. I am quite sure, if we are to get any material number of houses under this scheme, that we cannot set out by prescribing rents in advance and prescribing time tenants, and so forth. Otherwise, the thing will be nugatory from the start. We must aim at getting house building on to a self-supporting basis. I have said many times at meetings of labour delegates and others that I think a man ought to have sufficient wages to enable him to pay an economic rent for the house in which he lives, and it is not right to set out to subsidise wages by subsidising rents.
I think that is sufficiently well understood. It depends upon the capital employed, upon the wear and tear of the house, and other things. Another important provision is that these houses must be begun within twelve months. There is a slight modification here, though a very small one, compared with what I said a few days ago. We contemplate that a certain number of houses may not be actually completed within the twelve months. I am afraid, if we were to say that everything must be finally settled and the house ready for occupation by a certain date twelve months hence, we should shut out a considerable number of houses which might otherwise be built in the summer months. Therefore, we have had to allow for a certain number of houses approaching completion, but not finally completed within the twelve months to a day, and consequently we propose to give three months' grace in respect of them, but to deduct one-twelfth of the subsidy in respect of each month beyond the twelve months. That is an equitable and simple way of dealing with the difficulty. The criticism is sometimes made, and I dare say it may be made to-day, that in view of the present high cost of building this subsidy is not enough. I find a great variety in the cost of building in the different areas, depending very much upon the proximity of the brickyards, the facilities for transport, and other circumstances of that kind. I may recall to the House some interesting figures given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) on Friday week, when he said that a number of houses had been built in his district, I think, for £520.
Living room, scullery, parlour, and three bedrooms. It is abnormally low, but taking the others, it will be seen that they are all below £600, and are mostly in the neighbourhood of £550 or thereabouts, so that the price is not extravagant compared with that mentioned by my right Friend.
These prices are for the actual building of the house, and do not include land, fences, drainage, and that kind of thing. The point is that in the same area the prices obtained by the local authorities are in the same region. The private builder can build more cheaply than the local authority. There is nothing either surprising or original in that observation. Clearly, he can build more cheaply than the local authority, because he has not to meet the same precise requirements as to details, specifications, and quantities; but as the Minister responsible for seeing that the local authorities build houses with public money, I have to make sure, as well as I can, that we get proper value for that money. You cannot, in the expenditure of public money, have the same lack of detail and careful specifications as a private individual will allow for himself. Therefore, it is inevitable that local authorities' houses are more expensive. I would, however, point out that the houses which are being built are a great improvement on our former standard of houses. That is very necessary, and we do not propose to depart from it. Taking the figures that I have given and allowing that the private builder can in any case build 25 per cent. cheaper than the local authority in any given area, I think it will be found that, with the subsidy, it will be quite possible for a large number of private builders in such areas to build houses, and they ill certainly be able to get rid of them as a commercial proposition. There is proof of that in the offers now coming to us. Since Friday week we have had a large number of offers, I am glad to say, from public utility societies and other kindred bodies to build a largely increased number of houses under this proposal, and I have no doubt that a very large number of very good and well-planned houses will be obtained by these means. The justification for this subsidy is to be found in the necessity of the time. I do not base it upon anything else. That is the justification. In consequence of the unforeseen high costs which local authorities have experienced and the attractive work of building in other directions, it was necessary to supplement the scheme by this proposal.
I have got the White Paper, and I would ask my right hon. Friend to explain paragraph b, which deals with the increased Grant for public utility societies. It. assumes 10,000 houses, and says the additional expenditure involved would be £100,000. This is only £10per house.
I have been dealing with building houses privately, which is referred to in the White Paper and also in the two first Clauses of the Bill. I now come to the point raised by my hon. Friend, which is the proposal relating to public utility societies. There have been already built a goodly number of houses by public utility societies on the experimental plan adopted in the early stages. Some of them have very big enterprises in front of them, but, they are nearly all, though not quite all, great employers of labour for great firms which must have the houses anyhow. They are iron companies, steel companies, engineering companies, and so forth. and they have frankly recognised that under the existing terms for public utility societies they will get very little or no return on their share of the capital. It was evident that, in order to bring in the aid of public utility societies and to make the best use of them, we must, at any rate for the first few years, improve the terms to them. In Clause 4 of the Bill, therefore, we have provided for additional assistance to public utility societies. I need not go over the general provisions affecting the societies, because the House no doubt is familiar with them. The basis of the existing scheme is that the Exchequer—the Public Works Loan Commissioners—find 75 per cent. of the. capital and 4 per cent towards the loan charges spread over the Whole scheme. Thus we find 30 per cent. of the loan charges of the whole of the capital involved in the scheme. That has not been enough except where necessity has driven a firm or induced public utility societies to build. It is proposed, as the result of discussion with those who are interested in public utility societies, that for the first seven years the grant to the loan charges shall be 50 per cent., and thereafter 30 per cent. as is the case in the existing scheme. The proposal is, therefore, that till 1927 we shall increase the grants for loan charges to public utility societies to 50 per cent., thereafter continuing it at 30 per cent.
Another proposal which I am sure is an essential part of the scheme, in view of the immense attractions for the building trade in other directions, is the provision in Clause 5 that the local authority shall have power to prohibit unessential building. I do trot think myself it will be found that a. very material percentage of building labour and materials is in fact employed on luxury building, but the social and political effect of people every day seeing masses of labour employed on buildings which are luxuries and unnecessary, while they themselves are wanting fresh houses, is a circumstance we must take account of. In some districts this kind of building has interfered with and is very materially interfering with house budding, and I have several cases in mind where a person who wants to put up an extravagant building at a large cost has offered 2d. and 3d. per hour more for building labour than the rate current in the district. We know of a ease where the number of bricklayers employed on one housing scheme went down from 162 to forty-two, simply because there was another building going on on adjacent land where they were giving 2d. more than the district rate, and if they had been unable to get labour at that they would have been prepared to go still higher. This kind of thing is socially and morally wrong, and I do not think myself it will have any support from responsible people in any section of the building trade. But the House will desire that n e shall avoid, and certainly I shall, as a result of war experience, avoid the setting up of a scheme, whereby everybody who desires a few bricks has to go to some Department or other for a licence. That was a thoroughly burdensome piece of administration, unsatisfactory to all concerned. We, therefore, propose in Clause 5, that where it appears to a local authority that the provision of dwelling accommodation within their area is or is likely to he delayed by a deficiency of labour or material arising out of the employment of labour or material in the construction of any works or dwellings, and that the construction of those works or dwellings is in the circumstances of the case of less public importance than the provision of dwelling accommodation, the authority may, by order, prohibit for such time and on such terms and subject to such conditions as the Minister may from time to time prescribe, and either in whole or in part, the construction of those works or buildings. It is provided also that any person aggrieved by an order made by a local authority under this Section may appeal to the Minister. We have to bear in mind the desirability that builders in every district should take upon themselves by agreeemnt a fair share of the housing programme, and to that extent it will be unnecessary to operate this Clause, and it will only be applied where the necessary housing accommodation cannot be secured by methods of agreement.
Another minor provision of a kindred character is in Clause 6, which prohibits the demolition, during this period of scarcity of houses, of existing dwelling-houses which the local authority deem are proper for dwelling-houses. It is proposed to prohibit the demolition of such houses to make room for buildings for other purposes. We have had before us a number of cases where good dwelling-houses have been acquired and pulled down, much to the anger of the local population, by people who wish to build theatres or cinemas. That should not he permitted during the period of scarcity, and we therefore provide that before that kind of thing can be done the consent of the local authority must be obtained, and pro tanto it should be insisted upon that before such dwellings are pulled down other satisfactory buildings shall be provided. Another minor provision of the Bill is contained in Clause 3, in that part which deals with schemes for the conversion of houses into flats. There is a provision in the existing Act whereby the Ministry itself may assist local authorties in such matters, but that Act does not provide what shall be done with the houses when they have been converted. It appears to the Ministry of Health, which is the body responsible, that these buildings should form part of the local housing scheme. We know the position of the local authority under the general finance scheme, and the limitation of their liability, but this Clause does directly what has been done in other cases by agreement. The House may be interested to have a few figures from London. We have found 2,700 empty houses, half of which were clearly suitable for conversion, while the other half were less satisfactory. It is interesting to observe that 842 have already been adapted and occupied by private enterprise. What surprised me more—and I have seen the figures given out by architects—has been the cost of the conversion of these unoccupied houses into decent fiats. Nothing has surprised me more than the slowness of private enterprise in taking hold of this excellent business proposition. The expenditure incurred up to the present, which will exhaust the money here asked for, represents in all about 600 flats, and it is perfectly clear that had acceded to the request of the local authorities they could have made a good profit out of the scheme and could have obtained much more rent than is allowed to be charged within the intentions of this Act I commend this matter to those interested in this subject as a good commercial proposition Many houses of this kind have been taken in hand by local authorities We have about 105 in one case and 196 in another. But we have limited our activities to these purposes in the summer months, during the transitional period, and we do not want to continue it any longer than can he avoided. I believe this provision will cover all that it is necessary for the Ministry to do.
Some time ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in agreement with myself, ap- pointed a Committee to go into the question of raising housing loans, and Mr. Goschen's Committee's Report was issued a few days ago. Here I would like to emphasise a remark which I made the other day, as to the power of localities to finance themselves. We have before us a number of instances of great municipalities which say that they are not able to raise more than a particular amount for housing. Practically I think one is entitled to be a little sceptical on that. There is plenty of money about for investment, and in proof of that all I would ask hon. Members to do is to look at the advertisement columns in the daily papers during the past few weeks, and they will see the number of new issues that are advertised. Our shops also tell us that there are plenty of people in the great centres of population who have money to spend in all kinds of extravagance, and I think it is very necessary that these people should be induced to invest their money in providing houses rather than in buying new hats. There is an orgy of extravagance in some parts of the country, and we ought to take a stand on this and say it is not right to expect the Chancellor of the Exchequer to raise money to help everybody out of what is supposed to be, but is not by any means, a bottomless purse. Therefore I think the proposal of this Committee, that we should do everything we can to help to make it easy for local authorities, by the issue of housing bonds, to finance their own housing schemes, should he supported. I believe that these bonds, if they were properly brought to the notice of the people, would constitute an attractive investment. Details of the proposals affecting bonds will he found in the Schedule of the Bill as well as in Clauses 7 and 8. It will be noticed that Clause 8 provides for the continuance in respect of these matters of the power to borrow money from foreign lenders, as provided under the Public Authorities and Bodies (Loans) Act, 1916; also it is provided that where the authorities join they may jointly issue local bonds. It is perfectly clear, certainly in the extra-Metropolitan area, that we ought to look for the co-operation of a great number of authorities in this matter. As a matter of fact, it is highly desirable in the extra-Metropolitan area that we should have comprehensive joint schemes for borrowing. There are many districts which constitute the dormitories of London and which in themselves are not of much credit to the Metropolis. It is clear that they ought to be helped to be as far as possible united in this effort. Therefore we provide that joint schemes for the floatation of these bonds shall be legal.
Following the example of many of the Northern cities, I think it will be found that many other places could attract the money of their citizens to this very desirable form of investment if a properly organised effort was made. Many cities and even small places in some parts of the country have no difficulty at all in financing their housing schemes. Somehow there has grown up a practice among people in the locality of lending their money to the municipality, and they do not find much difficulty in raising the necessary funds. But there are some districts, I am sorry to say, who immediately lean up. against the Minister of Health, in the first place, and ask him to lean upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, without making any very great effort themselves. I do hope, and I very respectfully ask, that Members of this House should do all they can to help in their different areas in making the campaign we propose to institute for the floatation of these local bonds a real success.
There is one other provision, which is an amplification of powers which we have found to be required, and which will be found in Clause 9. That provides that where a number of authorities or public utility societies desire that a tract of land should be taken for housing and other developments, the Minister of Health may take it on their behalf, they having to finance it and he acting merely as their agent. Experience shows that if housing is to be done with proper foresight, a. good many schemes of this character will have to be undertaken. It is clear that in many parts of the country no one authority will be prepared to undertake it. In London, of course, we have the advantage of a great authority in the London County Council. They have recently acquired a large tract of land on the north side of the Thames to the east of the City. There we have a great opportunity for good town-planning and for industrial development, with proper transport facilities, on a big scale. There are others in the earlier stages of development throughout the country. As to the kind of purpose it is proposed to serve here by acting in the name of a number of bodies, I may mention what is clearly a necessity, for example, in South Wales. There are some parts of South Wales to-day where the proper thing is to get a grouping of authorities and to have your residential quarters at the end of the valley, with road communications towards the collieries and so on, rather than perched in difficult positions on the hill sides at great cost. In that class of cash what is really wanted is a combination of the authorities or public utility socities that is prepared to develop for these purposes a sufficiently large tract of laud. It is in order to meet cases of that kind that this provision is made. I am glad to say that since the Debate we had the other day the building trade as a whole is co-operating most heartily with us in furthering the schemes of, the local authorities. From the indications which have been made, I feel certain that, if the House sanctions this scheme, it will represent a material supplement to our housing provision which we should not otherwise be able to obtain. Every useful supplement is clearly necessary. I feel confident that these provisions, in the necessities of the time, will represent a necessary and useful addition to our powers for dealing with the housing scarcity and as such I commend the Bill to the House.
Could the right hon. Gentleman say what rent a working man will be expected to pay for one of the houses such as he has suggested, the cost of the building of which, apart from the cost of land and drainage, would be between £300 and £600?
Mr. T. THOMSON:
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, arid to insert instead thereof the words
this House declines to proceed with a Bill embodying and continuing a policy of using public necessity as the opportunity for subsidising private interests, which permits the relaxation in favour of landowners and speculative builders of regulations enforced on local authorities, which lowers the standard of housing, and delays the operation of the Housing, Town Planning, etc., Act, 1919.
I am sure we all are most anxious to do everything we can to expedite the building of houses. I submit, with all respect to the greater experience of the right hen. Gentleman, that there is nothing in this Bill or in the course of proceedings he has outlined which cannot be done under the Act of July, 1919. The right hon. Gentleman referred at some length to the arrangements which have been made with the federated builders, whereby, instead of having the old-time system of competitive tendering, agreed prices are to be got out and the work in the different districts is to be allocated among tin builders in the federation. The right hon Gentleman said that was an arrangement which would considerably increase the number of houses and the speed with which they would be put up. That is what will be done and is being done under the Act we passed last July. The right hon. Gentleman further suggested that what might be possible for the large contractors was not equally applicable to the small man working by himself or perhaps with his son, because he had no staff to get out the specifications and therefore a subsidy might he desirable in that case. I submit that the system of agreed prices or arranging for a lump sum for all the houses that will be paid by the locality, is equally applicable to the small man and could be done under the Act we passed last July. The right hon. Gentleman also suggested that the builder could build cheaper if he had not to conform with all the detailed specifications required under the original Act. I submit that that case is also met in the original Act, because under Section 12 (3), the local authority may agree to take over from the builder, when he has built the house, that house at an agreed price, leaving the builder the same freedom which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested he can only get under the new subsidy provided in this Bill. There is nothing in this new Bill which cannot be done as satisfactorily, nay, more satisfactorily under the Act we passed in July of this year.
I ask the Government, why this change of policy? As lately as July of this year they turned down, without having carefully considered it, this question of a subsidy to private builders. In Committee upstairs the right hon. Gentleman was pressed again and again to grant to the private builder, on the same terms and conditions, the same grant as we are giving to the local authorities. He kept a stiff upper lip and refused absolutely, on grounds of public policy, to use public money to subsidise the private builder. I ask why, when only four months have elapsed and that Act has not had a. chance of getting into good working order, does the right hon. Gentleman come down to the House and ask it to reverse absolutely the principle it passed unanimously in July of this year? We are told that we are not getting the houses. The best answer to that is the speech of the Prime Minister on Saturday at Manchester, when he said that the Act had only been in force for four months, and that more had been done in that four months than under all the other Housing Acts, which was not a, bad record for an Act which was only four months old. Judging from some of the criticisms of that Act, you ought to be able to go into a shop to buy a house as you would a pocket-handkerchief and come out with a house under your arm. Builders know very well that if you want to build a house you cannot do it in three or four months. If a gentleman is putting up a private residence or a cottage for a gamekeeper or a lodge-keeper, he could not. get out the specifications and build the house within four months. Criticism such as that is absolutely absurd. It is in the case of the local authorities that you say the Act has failed, because the houses are not being put up. The Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil), in the Debate last month, attempted to cast derision on the Act because of the restrictions that were required and the conditions which had to be followed by the local authorities. He gave us an illustration. He said he had a letter from a. local surveyor, which stated that certain formalities had to be gone through. First, you had to get the site.
I beg tire Noble Lord's pardon. I should have said it was the clerk. He said that the site had to be approved, not merely by the local authority and not merely by the Minister of Health, but also by an authority under the Finance Act? Why? Because they are anxious that the local authorities should not be plundered in the acquisition of sites. The Noble Lord referred to the Treasury. We find that, in the cases that have come before them, no less than £60 an acre has been saved on all those schemes that have been submitted to the officials of the Valuation Department under the Finance Act. That means, if you take the whole of the land which is required to build the 500,000 houses which the scheme contemplates, that a sum of eat less than £3,000,000 would he saved. Is that not worth some consideration? I do not. mean to say that the Noble Lord would object to the saving of,£3,000,000 or that he suggested than any-one should get a penny more than is due to them or that he objected to getting laud at a reasonable price. he asked, "Why all these inquiries, first, by the Minister of Health and then by the Valuation Department?" My answer is, that if, by a little delay, you can save £3,000,000 of public money in acquiring this land, that delay will be worth making. Then the Noble Lord referred to the fact that plans have to be submitted, and also the lay-out showing the number of houses end the general features, then a separate estimate, including the cost of specifications and quantities. The implication was that there was nothing more ridiculous than a lay-out being required for workmen's houses. The whole foundation of the Act of July last was that we were to have a higher standard of comfort in the houses which the working classes were to occupy, and that we should no longer have too many houses built to the acre, with a number of miserable streets and dingy conditions. We want a proper lay-out, and that lay-out should provide for a limited number of houses, so that the houses could be worthy of the name and should 'let be the hovels we have bad in the past.
5.0 P. M.
The Noble Lord also said that tenders were also required. I do not know of a building operation W here tendering has not been required. I fear that the clerk to the local council must have been anxious to find fault unnecessarily with the details of the scheme. Any building society, before, it, advances money to a builder, would require the same particulars, and would make the same inquiries as are provided for in the; Act. Therefore, I submit there is nothing in the Act itself which has made for delay. The provisions in the Act. are absolutely sound, and are looked upon by housing reformers in the country as the Magna Charts of the new England we want to create. Anything which will delay, as this Bill does, the activities of these authorities, who are to acquire land and lay it out., with proper designs and plans to rebuild Eng- land, is a serious setback to the scheme of last July. No doubt there have been defects in administration, and delays, but did you ever hear of a works putting down machinery or a factory enlarging its plant, and because in the first few months they could not get the maximum of production, scrapping the plant and digging up the foundations, as you propose to tear up the foundation of your original Bill? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The right hon. Gentleman said the one material factor that had changed since the Bill was introduced was the increased shortage of labour available for the demand that exists. If you are going to subsidise the private builder you are going to draw from the local undertakings work which would otherwise go into their hands. The Act has not failed.
The Prime Minister, in November, apparently had some qualms of conscience as to this change of policy, which he suggested was not a change of policy, because he said the original Act provided for local authorities to prepare their plans and specifications and see what they could do. He suggested that four months had elapsed and local authorities were not able to do what was expected, and therefore they had to bring in private enterprise. But the original Bill passed last July made provision for the failure of the local authorities. It was not forgotten. It was provided for. It was not provided for by a subsidy. That was deliberately rejected by the Government. They provided that. where a local authority failed after the lapse of three months, the Minister of Health should step in and make good the default of the local authorities. Have the local authorities failed? When the right hon Gentleman spoke on this question in November he said he had not come down in order to apologise for the Act, and I am sorry he has come down today with this belated measure upsetting the original scheme. Local authorities have acquired sites for the whole 5,000,000 houses outlined by the Prime Minister, and house plans have been sent in for 70,000 houses, and they are coming in at an increasingly progressive rate. I think he said the rate for the second part of November as compared with the first had increased threefold, and if this Bill had not come in to jeopardise and to hinder the work they were doing—and it is hindering it—before the end of the year the full 100,000 house plans would be in, which would absorb all the labour available at the moment, and at the rate they are coining in house plans would be forthcoming which would take up the whole available supplies both of material and of labour.
I said just now I knew localities were holding out. I had a case only this weekend of a local authority which had plans and was prepared to go on with the scheme. But when they heard that the Government was going to give a subsidy of £150 to the private builder they said. "No, we will hold our hand. Why should we build if the private builder is going to be subsidised?" I am satisfied that there will be many other cases where local authorities who are not too anxious to get on with the work in some cases will make this an excuse for delay, and accordingly the whole district must suffer. I have been a member of a local authority for twenty years, and we have been striving all we know how to improve housing conditions, but we have been up against the private interests—the speculative builder and the property-owner—all the time. We have been defeated first on one line and then on another. When this great Act was brought in we thought, here at last was our salvation, and local authorities could sweep away the vested interests, rebuild their towns, and abolish slums. Now you are going back on the old plan. You are going to subsidise the jerrybuilder and the speculator. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] One hundred and fifty pounds is to be paid to anyone who is prepared to put up a house. [HON. MEMBERS: "Subject to conditions!"] It has to pass the local authority, but there has not been a house put up in this country in a town which has not had to pass the local authority. Every house that is being erected has had to conform to the by-laws of the local authority and to be approved by them. That is no protection for you. What have they given you in the past? They have given you 95 per cent. of your houses, and I am quite certain no one is going to claim credit for those 95 per cent. of houses which have been built in our industrial towns, because they are an absolute disgrace to civilisation. The ordinary industrial houses of our large towns are a scandal and a disgrace to a civilised community. You have miserable health conditions. You have a death-rate which has given you a C 3 population to run an A 1 Empire. In my own town we have a death-rate for the last year of 22.8 per 1,000—I am afraid very nearly the top of the tree—and the infantile mortality was 145 per 1,000. In ninety-six large towns of the country I find last year, for the first time in our history, the death-rate was higher than tie birth-rate. and that is a product of your private enterprise and the speculative builder. They have been a disastrous failure so far as the health of the community is concerned. Houses have been built for rent and for profit, and not in the true sense for the health of the community. Many of us have hailed this Bill as being a release from the old conditions, but we find instead that we are to go back to the old conditions.
I noticed that the hon. Gentleman (Sir T. Walters) was not altogether comfortable with regard to the subsidy. He suggested it was not a subsidy at all. I suppose the problem he put before himself was "When is a subsidy not a subsidy?"and the answer is, when it is paid to a private builder or a landlord. It is a subsidy, and it is quite unnecessary. The right hon. Gentleman (Colonel Pretyman) gave instances where a private builder was able to build houses for £500 each and sell them at a profit. In my own district houses are being built and have been sold since the Armistice at a profit. by private builders. What has happened there is now happening throughout the length and breadth of the country. Owing to the tremendous shortage of houses and owing to the money which many people have and do not know what to do with there is no difficulty at all in private builders building and selling houses at, a profit, provided they can get them built in the next few months, without the need of any subsidy whatever. The man who built for £800 in my district and sold at a profit will naturally gladly take £150 for some hundreds more houses. But why should he be subsidised when the market is such that he can build and sell at a profit without that subsidy?
I gave one or two instances where it is being done, and they could be multiplied throughout the country. You say there has been delay. In other trades and industries people have marked time to see how developments were going and whether prices were going to fall, and quite recently, not merely in house building, but in all other industries, there has been renewed activity. People have found it is no good waiting any longer, and prices were not going to fall any more and, therefore, builders have set to work to put up these houses. There will be no difficulay in selling all the houses which are built within the next six or nine months at an economic price without a subsidy. But even if it was not so, why should a subsidy be given to the private builder and the landlord? Where you have public money expended it should go for the use of the people and the locality itself and not for any private interest. It is going into the pockets of private individuals. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] A builder can build a house for £500 or £600. The £150 will go to the man who builds the house, and not to the tenant who is going to occupy it. Therefore, it is a direct subsidy, and you have no check whatever. You may argue that the houses otherwise will not be built. In. many cases they are being built, and in all those cases where they would be built it is a direct subsidy. Where you have public money expended it ought to go to the local authorities and not to the private individual. By bringing private individuals and speculative builders into competition with local authorities you will hold up their work. Do you think a builder is going to tender for your houses in a locality if instead he can build for himself and make a profit and get £150 in addition from the Government? If in many cases he can sell now at a profit without a subsidy, if you offer him £150, he will say, "No, I will not tender to the municipality. I will not enter into any agreement with the federated builders, because if I do I shall Dimply be working for un ordinary profit on my turnover, whereas if I wait till the Bill is passed I can get £150 and make my profit as well." Therefore builders will hesitate before they go on with the schemes which the local authorities have already in hand. You have spent months and months, and no one has worked harder than the right hon. Gentleman in doing spade work, preparing plans, and getting all arrangements made and contracts entered into with the local authorities, and now at the last minute you scrap the thing. A child who has a garden and wants to see how the plants are growing tears up the roots. That is not good for the plant, and it will not be good for the houses you lope to build. The builders will not go on and after the negotiations they have in hand if they find that by waiting a few more months until all the orders and restrictions which you will have to pass under this Bill have been approved, they will come along and take the £150, and the community will be the poorer because they have had to wait so long for the houses.
No, and we shall not get the houses until the various orders which will have to be tabled have been put before the House and laid on the Table, and the Regulations have been issued by tile Minister of Health, and all that takes time. The principal criticism of the Act of July last was that you had to have various Regulations from the Ministry of Health. You will have similar Regulations before you are able to give your £150, or if you do not, are you going to have a lower standard of houses than that which the municipality has aimed at? if so, I object even more strongly. You nave built up under the Act a scheme for the social rebuilding of England. You were going to sweep away the old conditions. Now we are told we have to scrap the thing because you want to subsidise private builders. That will be the effect. It will delay building. How can you expect the builder to tender to the local authority Row can you think. that he will agree to a price which will simply give him a small working profit when by waiting a few months he can get £150 subsidy as well as his working profit? I beg the house to reject the Bill, because it is undesirable to make the country's needs the excuse for subsidising private erterprise. It is most unfair to have a dual standard, a high standard for the municipality and a low standard for the private builder. You are going to allow him more houses to the acre; you are not imposing upon him the same restrictions and the same high standard as in the case of a municipality. We do not want to go back to the old standard. We want better ideals and better homes, and you will not get that under the scheme now produced. The House approved in July of a better scheme for rebuilding the country, and I hope it will reject a scheme which will inevitably hinder good work and set up a lower and inferior standard. Instead of expediting you delay by many months the building of the houses which were well under way under the 1919 Act, an Act passed on a sure sound policy, and not passed on a subsidy to private interests.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I am sure the Minister of Health realises that the Mover of the Amendment and myself have no desire to hamper him in carrying out his work. it is because we think that this measure is not really in the interests of the housing question that we are opposing it. It is not that we love this Bill less, but that we love his first Bill more, and that we think the effect of this measure will impede the great work to which he set his hand four months ago. We all approach this question with views that are coloured to some extent. Some of us believe very much in public enterprise; others do not believe in public enterprise at all, but believe very strongly in private enterprise. That perhaps cannot be avoided when this question is discussed. In the very interesting speech delivered on Saturday we were told that the future of this country was going to be divided on these lines; some of us are going to stand for the maintenance of the present fabric of society as it is, while others are out to destroy it. Whether that be so or not there can be no doubt that this housing question was approached four months ago as a great public enterprise, and the proposal put before the House to-clay is to place it back to some extent into the region of private enterprise. In the past the houses of this country e been provided by private enterprise, but there was very little doubt in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman and in the mind of the House that when this question was approached in the earlier part of the year it was approached as a great public enterprise. There are good reasons for taking that view. Hon. Members opposite are mislead by the fact that they are thinking of the. house simply as a house; that it is only a questions of producing a house, without thinking very much of the kind of house and the position of the house, The great growth of feeling during the past ten, fifteen, or twenty years along the line of housing reform has been in the direction of seeing the housing problem, not as the problem of the individual house, but as the pro- blem of houses planned in the best way, built in the best way, and put in the best position. These results have not been obtained in the past under the system of private enterprise, and in the very nature of things they cannot be obtained.
What has private enterprise meant in the solution of the housing problem? In the first place it meant the site. There has never been any consideration in the selection of the site for workmen's houses as to where it was, whether it was in the best position with the proper kind of aspect and the best sort of surroundings. The site was selected because it was the site that the landlord was most willing to dispose of the site that was in the nearest proximity to the town. After the question of site the cost was determined by the question of ripeness. The land was not parted with for building purposes until it bad acquired a certain value. If it laud arrived at a value of £500 or £600 the landlord thought it was ripe enough to be plucked. Then the land passed into the hands of the land jobber, who laid it out without any consideration as to the way in which one would desire the land to be laid out. His sole business—and I do not blame him, because the price that he had to pay for the land made it imperative—was to get the largest number of houses on she land without regard to whether they went north or south or east or west, or whether they had a satiny aspect. Then the land passed from the land jobber into the hands of the builder. Here, I think, the right hon. Gentleman is in a difficulty. I think he would rather not have had this Bill if the truth were known. It he had had more worldly wisdom he might have been better off. He went out to get land for the community and to get it in the cheapest, possible way. If he had been willing to pay more for his land, if he had not employed the services of the Valuation Department to get the land so cheaply, he might have been in a different position. Daring the past four months he has obtained 50,000 acres of land on which 500,000 houses can be built, and he has got that land for the community, ready to place it in the bands of the builder, at £180 per acre, or something like £9,000,000. I can speak from my own personal experience as a surveyor and architect for over twenty years. The average price to private enterprise for building land in the past has been more like £900 an acre than £180 an acre. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman has taken something like £40,000,000 out of the pockets of the landowners and the land jobbers of this country. Can he wonder if he has been put under pressure?
Let us look at facts as they are, without pretence. The real fact is that the whole pressure that has been behind this movement has been the pressure of landowners and land jobbers who have got land upon their hands which, under the conditions of the Housing Act, is not saleable. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] There is reasonable ground for saying that.
The Noble Lord says No. What is the If this Bill is not passed and if the main Bill goes forward and the schemes of the local authorities are carried out, what market is there for the undeveloped land in existing building estates? It is perfectly obvious that there is no market for it. I do not blame the owners of estates for being anxious to realise them. It is only natural.
That is not my point. I am inquiring into the reasons why this Bill is brought forward, and the reasons for the proposed subsidy. What is the object of the subsidy? Is it to get builders no build upon land which the right hon. Gentleman has been the means of procuring? Not at all! The object is to get buildings upon the land on building estates which have been lying partly developed. If there is any proof needed of that, here is a circular, sent probably to every hon. Member, by Messrs. Edward Evans and Sons, auctioneers and surveyors. It is a most interesting circular. It is suggested that under this Bill we are going to get a great number of houses built by tine speculative builder. The provisions of the Bill are that in the way of subsidies they are to be given from £120 up to £160. This circular is issued by a very large firm who appear to have a great deal of land on their hands and seem to be in touch with a great number of people who have land. They say that, in the first place, there must be no bedding by the municipal authorities above a certain class. They say that this Bill is no use at all if the local authorities go on building houses other than those of the very smallest kind. They point out very
frankly that there are some people who cannot afford to pay an economic rent, and they say that the State must stop building for these people. They add that there are plenty of working people who can afford to pay an economic rent, and they say the State must stop building for these people. If this Bill is to be any good at all, the right hon. Gentleman, according to this circular, must give instructions to the municipalities that they are not to go on building the larger houses, otherwise the subsidy will be of no use. The circular goes on to say:
If the State will confine their schemes to these smaller houses and leave the building of the larger working-class houses to private enterprise builders, offering them a subsidy of £20 for each one thousand cubic feet for a house from 10,000 to 15,000 cubic feet, which is a subsidy of from £200 to £300, we are quite sure that the shortage will be made up by them.
Subject to the giving of this subsidy of from £200 to £300, this firm say that they are prepared to set about completing their partially-developed estate forthwith. That is the statement made by an important firm as to the kind of terms which must be given if this measure is to be a success. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to give these terms? He is not prepared to say to the local authorities, "You need only build the smallest class of houses."He is not prepared to give a £200 or £300 subsidy. That being so, this offer is not a firm offer.
What will happen under this Bill is that you will not get the results that you expect. You will delay the local authorities from getting on, and you will lower the standard of housing. There is no doubt about that. The people of this country are not looking for houses as houses; they are looking for the improved standard of houses that was promised. I am speaking from my own experience. In Newcastle-on-Tyne during the last two or three days there has been a large and important conference which voted entirely against a subsidy, and the chairman of the conference, the leader of the Labour party in Newcastle-on-Tyne, speaking from his knowledge and experience of the working classes of this country, said that they were prepared to wait from two to six months, or even longer, in order to get an improved standard of housing. Hon. Members must have realised four months ago, when the last Bill was brought forward, that the plan must take time and cost money. It has been suggested that there are steps that might have been omitted, but if you take each step in detail, as the Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil) did, there is not one single step that could have been omitted without detriment to the scheme in charge of the Minister of Health.
If the House would have patience and the Minister have courage and fortitude and keep a stiff back against this pressure, I am quite sure that within the next six months he would be able to show through the local authorities such an advanced solution of the housing problem as will satisfy the whole country. But there must be time, and the way in which the scheme is going to be defeated is by setting up this dual standard. We were told by the Leader of the House in the Debate on Premium Bonds that you could not run two schemes of thrift—Premium Bonds and War Savings Associations together. The same thing is true about housing. You cannot run a low standard of housing, subsidising private builders and leaving them free of restrictions, with a higher standard of housing imposed upon the municipal authorities. That is the position which would be brought about by this Bill. You would have houses of an inferior class erected out of public money with the builder left free to get the biggest price and highest rent he can. On the other hand the local authority has to build houses of a higher standard which must cost more and has to be under restrictions as to the rent charged. This is bound to make the local authorities hold their hands to see how this other scheme goes on.
I appeal to the Minister of Health. In developing his proposals he said that when spending public money through a public' body you must demand a higher standard than was demanded in the case of these houses in private hands. That is the whole position. When this Bill is passed you will have local authorities tied to building houses of a superior character and under severe restrictions as to rent and other matters, and side by side you will have put up houses of a comparatively low standard on which there are no restrictions. Members of local authorities will say: "Why go on with this more expensive scheme? Wait and see what will happen under the new Bill." The result will be that after four or five months the housing situation will be worse than it is to-day.
I rise earlier than I had intended on account of the speeches which have just been delivered, the tone of which greatly regret. I had hoped that we had got rid of all those appeals to ignorant prejudice. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down must have lived in a part of the country quite different from anything in my experience. He says that landowners are in the habit of getting £900 per acre for the development of their estates as building estates. I cannot tell what may be the case in the district from which fie comes. In my Constituency I have inquired what was the average price of land bought. for the purpose of building, and I was told that it was £50 per acre, which includes both urban and rural sites.
I am speaking for my part of the country. In many cases land is given freely, and as far as rural districts are concerned—and my experience is mainly rural—the price of land is absolutely negligible. Anybody speaking without prejudice must know that that is so. The hon. Mover believes that there is no salvation anywhere outside a municipality. He thinks it absolutely fatal to encourage private industry in any respect. I take as an instance of the way in which his mind moves his statement that an examination of the prices of the land by a Treasury official has resulted in a saving of £60 per acre in the cases in which the matter was contested. How many cases was that? A perfectly insignificant number.
But the hon. Member said that there was a saving of £3,000,000 on the 500,000 houses. He must know perfectly well that in a vast number of cases the land does not cost £60 an acre, and the idea of saving £60 an acre is fantastic. If he does not know that he cannot have made any inquiries into the subject.
You should not assume that what happens in Middlesbrough is a proper criterion of what happens in the rest of England. Then he took me very much to task, and so did the hon. Gentleman opposite, because I objected, the excessive details of the requirements imposed on local authorities by the present Act. I do not dispute that each of those' requirements is in itself reasonable enough if you take them one by one and say, "Why should not that be done?"The point is that if you proceed in that way, in the bureaucratic way so dear to the hon. Gentleman, you do involve a very great increase in the cost of building. That is the fact. No one can put it more clearly than my hon. Friend. He says that local authorities cannot build as cheaply as the private builder, the same type of houses, of the same value. Everyone knows that that is so, and must be so, even in Middlesbrough. It certainly is so in other parts of the country. That is the whole point of my criticism—not that the things were individually wrong, but that taken in the aggregate they increased the cost of building. I was very much interested in the whole attitude of the hon. Gentleman. He did not attempt to meet the main point, that the cost of houses is such at present that there is no hope whatever that they will be let at an economic rent. Is his plan really and seriously that for all time in tic future there shall be a subsidy paid on every working-class house?
The figures have shown that in point of fact you cannot get an economic rent unless you are going to raise the rent of these houses to some- thing far above what any rural labourer can be asked to pay. You have got to deal with the facts as they have turned out on the experience of the scheme. The hon. Gentleman referred to the health statistics. No one feels more than I do the necessity of doing everything possible to improve the health statistics. It is a matter in which I have always taken the very greatest interest. Still it is hardly true, to say that the present statistics are ail due to housing. After all, there has been an enormous improvement in housing. The real proposition was that. private enterprise, strictly controlled by the public authority, does not produce perfectly healthy houses, and in many places, certainly in many of the manufacturing towns, the conditions are deplorable. But it is the old houses which are deplorable, and not the modern houses.
The municipalities can control them, and they do control them in the vast majority of cases. If they do not control them it is because they have failed in their duty. They have got ample power to decline to allow any houses to be built which are not thoroughly healthy and suitable. Many municipalities in towns other than that represented by the hon. Member are doing their duty. I recommend him to see that his municipality does its duty.
For my part I approve of the general principles of this Bill. I still doubt whether it is right to have a block grant for the builder. I see great objection to that, and I hope the Government will consider whether some better system cannot be devised. It does seem rather difficult to defend a proposal for giving the same grant to a builder, whatever the cost of a house may be. That seems wrong. The grant ought to bear comparison with the cost and size of the house, and I should have thought that some more elastic system would have been better. I regret still more that there is no provision for abolish- ing the. Increment Duty in respect of building land. Everything that we, who oppose it. said about it when it was being passed, has come absolutely true. It has produced no money, and it has interfered with the development of land. No doubt it served its constitutional purpose, of getting up a quarrel with the House of Lords, but, having served its purpose, it had better now be buried. I regret that there is no Clause in the Bill for the repeal of the duty. I am sure that nothing held up the building trade more than that tax during the years preceding the War. Do not think that this want of houses is merely the product of the War. It was already a very serious matter before the War. I do not propose to enter on a detailed criticism of the other provisions of the dill. I do not pretend to know exactly how the provisions as to public utility societies and the raising of loans will work out. I should like to have an assurance from the Government that they intend to grant. building material quite freely, and that there will be no attempt to hold it up.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions is discussing an arrangement whereby I hype it will be possible to liberate all the materials which are required within a short time. They will have to be, I think, subject to two conditions—the materials that have been ordered for housing shall be required to be used for those purposes, and, further, the price should be arranged so as to prevent profiteering.
I am glad to have, that. assurance. I recognise that the housing position is so serioas that we cannot afford any delay. It I have spoken rather severely in reply to tile speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Thomson) it is because I am so deeply cognisant of the urgency of this problem, particularly in the rural districts. I should like to bring the Member into relation with the actual facts of the case. Whole populations in these districts cannot marry, cannot be sure of their work, or cannot be sure of their freedom from day to day, until they have houses, and then to be told that we are doing Something wrong because it is against the principles of public policy to grant money to private owners, or that. it will interfere with some magnificent scheme of public ownership of private, houses by the working classes, is simply cruel when we are dealing with an urgent problem like this. The hon. Member will have no sympathy from those unhappy people whose lives and happiness depend upon the rapid provision of houses. I admit that the Government had no choice in the present condition of affairs but to press this Bill on with all speed; nevertheless, I regret the haste with which we have to consider it. The Bill was introduced only on Friday; it was circulated on Saturday, and the full proposals of the Government were circulated only to-day, and already we are being asked to form our judgment on Second Reading. That is unfortunate. There are many details in this measure which are of a highly technical kind. Personally, I should be glad to know what expert opinion on the one side or the other has to say on these things before expressing a final judgment on the Bill. May I say that the haste with which we have now to consider this Bill is due to the haste with which the previous measure of the Government was passed? [Dr. ADDISON dissented.] I am making the best excuse I can for the Government. If it was not due to that, it was due to insufficient consideration of the problem. I cannot help feeling that the problem was approached from the wrong end. You had two agencies which were, in fact, those supplying houses of this class. I do not accept the view that either of those agencies was under proper conditions an improper one. On the contrary, I believe that both would have done great work. One of them was private enterprise, which supplied 95 per cent. of the houses; the other was public enterprise, winch supplied 5 per cent. The right course would have been to have developed, under proper control and with proper security, the agency which supplied the greater part of the houses. To scrap the whole of them and turn entirely to public agencies and municipalities was an unsound policy. I admit that I have considerable misgiving as to the desirabilty of puble agencies in ths matter: I see great danger if you are going to have a vast number of houses owned by the municipalities. I see also that those who inhabit the houses will have bitter reason to complain of the bureaucratic control which will be established over their tenancies.
I have misgivings also as to the effect on private enterprise. I feel quite differently from the hon. Member opposite as to the effect of joining public and private enterprise. I am amazed that anyone should like an organisation in this country which will be entirely bureaucratic. People hate it when they come across it actually. There is no one so bitter against the coal control as the miners; no one so impatient, and quite rightly, of bureaucratic management as the employés of the Post Office. It is not that they like it when they have it, but they are persuaded by people, who ought to know better, who tell them that for some theoretical reason it is desirable to have public control. I am quite sure it is not. I say this to the Government, every step that their policy takes seems to me to be towards nationalisation in various forms. The Government protest against it. The Prime Minister goes to Manchester and says that the great issue is the nationalisation of private enterprise, yet every one of their measures is a step towards nationalisation. I am quite as strongly of opinion as anyone in this House that our industrial system needs thorough reorganisation, but I am also convinced that if that means State management it will be disastrous to this country. I am not talking of State ownership, which is a different matter. I am quite convinced that working men when they really understand what it means will be of my opinion. The Government take subject after subject—coal mines, railways, transport, and electricity—all steps towards nationalisation. I do not understand quite what the Government policy really is. I am not disposed to admit that it is a deep Machiavelian scheme to induce the Unionist party and the Coalition Members to accept nationalisation while protesting that they are really against it. That would be to attribute far too deep a policy to my right hon. Friend. On the contrary, I think that what they are suffering from is not Machiavelianism, but great sensitiveness to popular opinion. There is a great clamour, rightly, for housing. They introduced a Housing Bill entirely dictated by the doctrinaires and theorists who believed in municipal enterprise. Then came a difficulty. Municipalities were not able to produce these houses. The figures showed that there was no possibility of the original scheme of the Government being carried through on the lines indicated. There came a clamour from another side, that the Government ought to assist private enterprise. The Government immediately produced a Bill to assist private enterprise. That is what has happened. I can assure my right hon. Friend that it is producing a very unfortunate effect in the country.
Let the Government have a definite policy. I was almost going to say that it did not very much matter what the policy was, but that would be an exaggeration. Almost any policy is better than no policy. Any single plan is almost better than a vacillation between two or three different plans. I could not help feeling that there was a great deal of force in what was said by the hon. Member opposite, when he declared that here was a Government telling the House that as a matter of principle they would never consent to the granting of subsidies to private owners, and then they came clown and, under some pressure, they asked the House to consent to such a course. There was a certain dialectical force in that. What I say is, Do for Heaven's sake have definite opinions and principles and stick to them; and then I am satisfied that the difficulties which at present beset the Government will disappear.
I do not propose to follow the Noble Lord into the fascinating, but, if I may say so, rather disorderly, references with which he concluded his speech. I dare say, if I were to follow him on that topic, you, sir, would deal much more drastically with me because I am supposed, in this respect, to know a little better than my Noble Friend. I am very glad the Noble Lord largely withdrew the accusation which he levelled against my two hon. Friends with regard to this subject, because I am afraid, if he had not done so, I would have had to deal rather drastically with that point. Both of my hon. Friends have been distinguished in their public career, before they came into Parliament, for long and unselfish services in the public life of this country, and with regard to housing in particular. The position with regard to this Bill is one which is fraught with considerable difficulty. I think the Minister of Health would be well advised to consider the danger which threatens the Act which is now on the Statute Book. It is perfectly clear from the discussion that a large number of Members present do not regard that Act with too friendly feeling. I repeat what I said on a previous occasion—I regard that Act on the Statute Book as a very great Act, marking a very splendid advance in public opinion with regard to how the. matter of housing should be dealt with. I would say this to the Noble Lord, that it. was largely because of the failure of private enterprise with regard to housing that public opinion so strongly backed the Act which was passed by the Government recently. It was the growth of slums, and the packing of houses together under conditions which we all condemn, and the whole of the ghastly failure of housing under private interests, which made the case for the Act now on the Statute Book.
I may say that I do not intend to vote for the Amendment now before the House, and I hope it will not be pressed to a Division. I should profoundly regret, as the outcome of the passage of this Bill, which will, and shortly will, become an Act with necessary alterations, and I should regard it as a first-class public calamity if it were to be used as an instrument for really devitalising the great measure to which we look for a great improvement in housing. It is because I hope and believe that the very greatest care will be exercised by those responsible for this Bill when it becomes an Act, to see that the position is adequately safeguarded and is not used in that way that, as far as my small influence is concerned, I will give my assent and reluctant support to it. I do so because I quite agree with the Noble Lord that there is no use now arguing as to what might happen a year hence under the Housing Act. The problem is so urgent at present that something must be done, and I am not at all prepared to stand on economic grounds or to bold back from assisting the Goviernment—this Government or any other Government—in an attempt to grapple with the. problem. My hon. Friend who seconded the Amendment will, I hope, pardon me for saying that the trade union leader who said that the working classes were prepared to wait six months for houses, spoke, I am sure, very largely for himself. That is not the experience of those who know anything about the conditions under which people are now living, and I am certain it is an experience which cannot he maintained for a moment in face of the actual facts. What is going to be done about this Bill? First of all, I hope that the House will emphasise the temporary character of it in Committee, and will accept Amendments to that effect, and which will show that it is a temporary measure, brought in only to meet a situation which is dangerous to public order and a danger which is darkening and deepening every day.
Let me again urge a point which the Noble Lord pressed on my right hon. Friend, and that is the question of getting at materials. This measure will meet very largely with the same fate as the proposals under the existing Act, unless the Bill does get at the materials. Here it is that the situation becomes so unreal. Immediately you get out you are faced with the hard facts and with the unhappy families who are without homes. The hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Lorden), speaking on the occasion of the last Debate, and with very great knowledge as a builder, said
This cornering of material is a mistaken policy.
There is so much red tape and delay in getting materials through the Government channels. The builders say:
The Government have paid an enormous price and we cannot get our building material at a reasonable price, and we shall not be Able to do so all the time this is happening. The policy would be to take all this control off. Let us have fair competition amonest ourselves and the country will get al the houses very much cheaper."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1919, col. 1329. Vol. 121.]
My right hon. Friend has given us an answer which we have heard before, and has told us of an arrangement, but to what extent is that arrangement going to fructify? Months have gone by since we have had that sort of answer, and that kind of arrangement has been stated over and over again, and on goes the whole miserable business.
I am sure my right hon. Friend does not wish to misrepresent what I said. The arrangement to which I referred contemplated the release of material for which the Ministry had contracted, so that they could be obtainable in the ordinary trade way. As the Government paid for the material for housing, it is quite clear everyone requiring it would have to produce sufficient evidence that it was to be used for housing, and not for something else at an excessive profit. The proposal is, as I hope, that by 1st January, the whole of the control will be done away with and the material made available for housing purposes at proper prices through ordinary trade channels.
It ought to be so, and whether the right hon. Gentleman hopes it or not, it should be done., otherwise it may be February or March. We know what has happened. It ought to be 1st January, a definite date when this control which is paralysing and devitalising this problem, is certain to be relieved, and the men who are going to carry on this business shall have the opportunity of dealing with it in a business way. Let me suggest one or two rather minor points. Whoever is going to reply will perhaps tell the House what is expected will be ready for completion under the new scheme by the 1st March.
I would like to have the question quite clear. The right hon. Gentleman will not forget that now in the winter time, with frost and snow ahead of us, to talk about great production, especially in the laying of the foundations with brickwork, is a tall order. Let us at least have six months in which we can build.
I know that the Paymaster-General cannot, with all his capacity, control the weather, but I am going to press this matter, for after all, unless we can pin the Government down to dates, we have not got them at all. We have got one date already, 1st January, and let us see if we cannot get a little further. I will give my right hon. Fr end the Paymaster-General to the 1st of May.
I will say six months, or whatever date he selects as most fair for the Administration which he adorns. Shall we say the 1st May, and, if so, I ask how many houses does be think will be complete and ready for occupation for that date under a scheme of than Bill, and, further, how many houses will be completed and ready for occupation under the existing schemes under the Act now on the Statute Book? We shall be glad to know. Those are the only sort of checks this House has on the Executive with regard to bringing them up to their promises, and I want to make the matter as clear and definite as possible. There is one point which I hope my right hon. Friend will take considerable note of, and great care as far as he can. The builders in the case of these houses are going, as they must, to charge an economic rent, and it looks as if that would be anything from 15s. to 17s. 6d. a week and that, of course, is the trouble. Wages are high, but so also is the cost of everything you have to buy, and the relative proportion available for the rent of a house is comparatively just as little as when prices were low and wages were correspondingly low. There is not the slightest doubt that the class in the community we most wish to benefit will have the least opportunity of availing of these houses as they will go to the person who will give the highest rent, and the builder regards as the most suitable tenant. I admit ilea indirectly that will take off the pressure on the existing houses, and I do not at all agree that houses built in the last ten or fifteen years show no signs of improvement. Of course they do, and we are very thankful for it, only we want them to be better. My right hon. Friend will bear that in mind, and probably the Paymaster-General will have something to say on that when he replies. Here is another really important point. We all talk about the discharged soldier and sailor and his claims upon the community. It would be a very sorry return to him if these first few thousand houses are to be left solely to the economic competition and he is left out in the cold. Is it not possible that under the scheme of this Bill, other things being equal, the Ministry should see that these, men get the first chance? I think something of that kind ought to be done, otherwise we shall find that a very dangerous agitation will be very speedily started.
I wish to say how pleased we all are with regard to some of the Clauses in the Bill, notably the check on extravagant and luxurious building. It is quite easy to make too much of that, I know, but still, allowing for all reasonable deductions, no one can go throughout the country and fail to observe that many hundreds of thousands of pounds are being uselessly spent and much valuable labour is being deflected for extravagant purposes. I also welcome the prohibition of the demolition of existing houses. During this really urgent vital need, we must be careful that no houses which can reasonably be used for human habitation are destroyed and torn down. Hon. Members know, at least as well as I do, what their letter-bags tell them every day of the pitiable conditions in which many people find themselves. being fired out of houses and unable to get other houses. This sort of thing sometimes evokes a smile, but nobody who has any idea of the future of this country can fail to realise what a tremendously important thing it is, and every day adds to its seriousness. I hope these two provisions to which I have referred will be remorselessly enforced without any hesitation, and that the officials will know that the whole country is behind them in this matter. I hope and believe, when this measure is on the Statute. Book, that my right hon. Friend will exercise the greatest care to sec that in doing this minor good that great measure which is now on the Statute Book is net seriously interfered with.
Very little has been said in this Debate so far about rural cottages, and in my opinion that is really perhaps the most difficult part of the problem. Land may be easily obtained—in fact, obtained for nothing, or at a very low price, for the building of rural cottages, so that the price of the land, at any rate, I do not think any hon. Member opposite will say is a part of the problem. It is purely a question of the cost of building, and, unfortunately, in recent years that very estimable man, the rural builder, has been largely wiped out—the man who had a staff of from a dozen to twenty men, who thoroughly understood all kinds of rural building, where his men, were able to live under fairly cheap rural conditions; and the cost of building under those conditions and by such a roan was distinctly less than it was in a town. Now, unfortunately, there are very few of those men left, and if you want to build cottages in a rural area, in most, cases you have to go to a town builder, who has to pay full urban wages to people living under urban conditions, and who has not only to do that, but has to bring them out several miles every day to their work or to pay them the cost of travelling and lodging where their work is. That, of course, greatly adds to the cost of rural building. I happen to know at this moment of the case of a friend of my own who told me only yesterday that. he is building two pairs of cottages on a rural estate purely for the use of his agricultural tenants, and those are about four miles, I think, from the nearest town. There is no rural builder there, and he has to get that work done by an urban builder and by urban labour, and the lowest contract he has been able to obtain for the building of those houses is £1,475 for each pair. That would be practically £3,000 for two pairs of cottages. Let us just see where that brings us as far as rents are concerned. I rather regretted to hear my right hon. Friend say that in no case will he consider giving a subsidy to somebody who has begun building houses of this kind before the Act was introduced, as I think there is a case for people who have already begun to build houses under exactly these conditions, and who have not waited to be offered a subsidy; under proper safeguards they should not be deprived of assistance, and I hope my right hon. Friend will reconsider that question.
Take those houses, and supposing somebody wishes to build them now who could get a subsidy You would build a pair of houses for £1,500. You would get £300 towards it, and that would leave you £1,200 as the cost of the pair of cottages. Take even as low as 6 per cent. to cover the cost of building and repairs. I think that would be much too low to take for remuneration to a builder, but I do not think a rural landowner would desire more than a 6 per cent. return, to look at the matter from a business point of view. I do not mean to say that he would ever expect to get 6 per cent., but 6 per cent. on £1,200 is roughly 15s. a week rent; £32 is almost exactly 15s. a week rent for the two houses, so that would bring them to 7s. 6d. a piece. Then there would be the rates in addition, and they would probably amount to another 3s. or 4s., so that I do not think he could possibly put them at less than 10s., and no rural labourer could pay more than 3s. a week in a purely rural district under present conditions. That is the rent fixed by the Wages Board at the standard rent for an agricultural labourer, so that even with the £300 grant for the pair of cottages, that would leave a deficiency on the rent of the difference between 3s. and 10s., or 7s. a week, so that the gap is not filled up by this, and I am afraid that with the present rate of taxation it would be extraordinarily difficult for landowners to provide rural cottages even with the offer which is now made by my right hon. Friend. The House is very well aware that agricultural rents have not been raised, and oat of every sovereign of rent which an agricultural landowner received before the War he had 17s. 6d. to spend. Now anything from 6s. to 10s. may be taken away from him in tax, and the few shillings left will only go rather less than half as far as before the War. It is, therefore, very difficult for a rural landowner to find the money to build the cottages which are required. Still, I hope some will be able to do something with the assistance of this grant. I have also got a figure I can give to the House. There is a rural builder of the type I have referred to who built me a pair of cottages before the War, a pair of five-roomed cottages, for £350. Out of curiosity I inquired what he could build a pair for now, of similar quality, and his reply was £1,050. That is a lower figure than the £1,475, but that is an illustration of the difference between the cost of cottages built by a rural builder and by an urban one in a rural district. Therefore, I cannot press my right hon. Friend to give a larger subsidy to rural landowners than he would. give to builders, but I think it is only fair to state to the House the difficulty of the rural problem, and it will mean, of course, that a very large burden will be thrown on the local authorities in the rural districts where the houses cannot be provided by private enterprise.
In reference to what my Noble Friend beside me (Lord R. Cecil) said about the Increment Value Duty and the general taxation of that character. I think it is generally agreed now throughout the country that the cessation of building of workmen's dwellings before the War was mainly caused by the incidence of those duties, not so much by the heavy burden of the tax actually exacted, but from the uncertainty of their character and the impossibility of a builder making any calculation as to what might be demanded from him. That, still exists, and as I pointed out in the Debate we had last Friday week, I believe that under the law as it now stands the £150 grant, or whatever the grant may be under this new Bill, given to a builder would be calculated against him for Increment Value Duty. That is an impossible situation, and I do urge very strongly upon the Government—I do not know whether it can be done as part of this Bill or not—that a definite declaration should be made that those taxes in their incidence upon building are going to be repealed. That is what the country expects, and I do not think any- thing stands between us and that except a feeling that the present Prime Minister was the author of that legislation, and therefore in some sense it would be a slur upon him and his Acts if these taxes were repealed. I do not think we need feel that at all. At any rate, those of us who very bitterly opposed the Prime Minister when he was introducing that legislation feel that what has happened since has wiped out all bitterness on that score between us and him, and we merely look at this matter on its merits. I am quite certain the Prime Minister is quite a big enough man to be able to afford to disregard what might have passed them on a matter of great obscurity that was pressed upon him by individuals who had the most absolute belief in the soundness of the theories they were advancing, and who hypnotised him and many other people to such an extent that this great experiment was undertaken. It has now failed, and until it had been tried it was impossible to ascertain with absolutely certainty what. the result would be. I am not here to say we were right and the Prime Minister was wrong. The Prime Minister and those who advised had no doubt a genuine belief that this legislation was going to enure. for the good of the country. It has proved otherwise. I am sure now we all agree with the right lion Gentleman who spoke just now of the immensity of the crisis in which we find ourselves. Though this country was never in its history in such financial difficulties, and difficult and dangerous as it is for us now to borrow more money, the country is prepared to spend millions, and to borrow millions, in order to provide for these urgent housing needs. Surely if we are going to take a step like that, is it not childish, if I may say so, to allow a piece of legislation, however well ell designed, to stand between the country and housing? When the country knows that it ought to be swept away, we ought not to stand on our dignity in a matter of this kind. There need not be any recrimination on this matter, for we want the houses, and every obstacle that can be removed ought to be removed.
There is another obstacle. This Bill proposes that grants shall be given to all persons who build a house within twelve months, with three months' grace. If every private builder and every private person had absolute freedom, and if it were entirely his own responsibility whether he succeeded in building a house in twelve months or whether he did not, no one would find any particular fault with that provision. But is it so? The Government have told us that they hope on the 1st January to withdraw the control of building material. That is something. It. is the first step. But may I suggest that it is absolutely useless to withdraw the control of building material such as bricks, which are lying in millions on the brickyards, unless you can get them from the brickyards to the place where you are going to build your house? May I also remind my right hon. Friend that the railways are now State-controlled as well as the brickyards, and that you cannot get bricks from Fletton, let us say, to any other part of England unless you have got the control taken off the railway trucks? Everything that is wanted in the country is in the same position. I go down to the country at the week-end, where I have business matters to attend to, and I ask, "Has this or that been done?" and the reply is, "It has not been done, because we could not get the material." There is not a business man in this House who does not know it. What private individual is going to enter on a contract to spend £1,000 or £1,500 on building a pair of cottages, dependent upon a Government grant of £300, or thereabouts, its the only means to enable him to do it? He sets to work. He makes all his plans, and sees his way to building those cottages within twelve months. He orders his bricks, but they do not come? How is he to build his house if the bricks do not come How is he to control it? What means can that private individual take to bring those bricks to the place where he wants to build his house? That rests not with him, but with the Government control of the railways. Then what is to happen when the house is not completed within the twelve months, not through any lapse or fault whatever of the private individual, hut through various Government controls and difficulties which prevent his getting the material and going on with the work? Is he to get the £300 or is he not? Who is to decide? Is the Minister to be judge in his own case? Is there to be an arbitration? This bald provision of twelve months as it stands is useless. I quite agree that this should be a temporary provision. I quite agree that every inducement should be given, even to the point of a penalty for unnecessary delay, to build the house at the earliest possible moment; but there must be reason, and there must be some kind of safeguard that where a man undertakes a contract to build a house, where he does his very utmost to carry that contract through in the shortest possible time, and where he fails through no fault of his own, but through default of matters controlled by the Government, then the grant ought not to be withheld, and unless some provision of that kind is made I do not know who is going to take up contracts under this Bill.
There is one more matter only, and that also causes delay. It is a matter, again, with which the Government are concerned. It is a question in connection with the selection of sites. There is too much interference by officials from the Ministry of Health with the selection of sites of the local authority. I mentioned this, I think, in the recent Debate, but I feel I must repeat it, because it really is impossible for an official from London to go down to a local area and in a day's visit to become seised of all local conditions and requirements, and I agree with a great deal that has been said, although I do not at all agree with the tone of one or two hon. Gentlemen. I think they were out rather to make political capital than get houses built. I should like to say how much I appreciated the spirit in which my right hon. Friend opposite approached this question. He was quite willing to criticise, but it was helpful criticism, and not political criticism. At the same time, I do agree that we do not want to repeat the bad slum dwellings and the bad housing conditions, and we do want houses built on proper sites and of proper construction. But what I am afraid happens sometimes is that an official comes down from the Ministry of Health, and he has in the back of his mind that the Ministry of Health has to find the money, and the only thing he looks for, quite regardless of the town-planning of the district, is to find a site which has the greatest possible length of frontage to one or two existing main roads, in order that he may get the longest possible frontage, and avoid road-making and incidental expenses of that character. I quite agree that is a consideration, and ought not to be left out of sight for a moment. But it is not the only consideration, and when you are putting working-class dwellings on a site in a district, there must be regard to the town-planning of the district generally, and it is quite wrong that those houses should be put on sites which, under any reasonable town-planning scheme, would be reserved for a different class of dwelling, and which are not in that part of the area where the working classes themselves desire the houses to be built. When the local authority cannot get the sites which they have applied for, and are told that, unless they take the sites which are selected by an official from London, they will not get their money, or they will not get their help, which has happened in cases brought to my notice, there is delay, and then the local authority will be held up as defaulters, and told that they are not carrying out their scheme up to time, whereas the real fact is the Ministry of Health will insist on having their own way, and will not give due consideration to local opinion.
There is another ease which, I think, ought to be inquired into so far as I know. I do not like to press it too far, because I have not investigated it closely. But I do think there is a prima facie case for this House to express an opinion upon it. It is the case of the London County Council taking 3,000 acres of the very best agricultural land which can be found in the immediate neighbourhood at Ilford and Dagenham on the main line of the Great Eastern Railway, in order to provide for a town of 20,000 inhabitants. It seems to me that if the London County Council desire to create a new town they could not possibly have chosen a worse place than that, because it is on the Great Eastern, which is already more crowded than any line with suburban traffic. It is almost the very best land for a small agricultural produce, such as vegetables, which are brought to London by cart and do not involve railway congestion. The London markets, particularly the East of London, are largely supplied with vegetable and farm produce from that particular area of hand, and there are plenty of other areas of land on railways not so congested as the Great Eastern, which have nothing like the same agricultural value as that land has, and it does seem to me that it is a matter for the Minister very carefully to examine. The Board of Agriculture are very much affected by this, and I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Boscawen) has just come in. Under ordinary circumstances and in the future, on a matter like taking any land for housing purposes, a local inquiry has to be held. That has been abrogated for two years owing to the extreme urgency. I do, however, suggest that a matter of this magnitude, affecting, as it does, the daily lives and the daily living of hundreds of small cultivators, the food supply of London, the congestion of a great railway, and the taking of 3,000 acres of land, is a matter that my right hon. Friend would be well advised to inquire into, so that the matter might be thrashed out on its merits and all the various points considered. Therefore, I do hope that in this matter of the Dagenham site he will have an inquiry.
There is one more thing I desire to say, and that is on the general question. The real trouble at the back of the whole housing difficulty is that of finance. There has been very little said here tonight about the difficulty of finding money. There is a difficulty in finding money. There is a difficulty in finding money for anything now. I am quite sure no one in this House can have other than great disquietude when they look at the figures at which Government stock now stands, or can disregard the figure at which the exchange stands against us. All these things point to the increasing value of money and to the increasing difficulty in borrowing. It is all very well for us to pass here proposals which involve the expenditure of millions of money. That money has to be found by borrowing, and although the methods proposed by my right hon. Friend may be following the line of least resistance, I cannot feel absolutely confident that that money will be found. The present value of money is very high. Very high interest is being offered at the present time by various enterprises which are asking the public to find money. I very much doubt whether the temptation offered by the bonds winch my right hon. Friend is going to encourage municipalities to issue will be greater than the draw from these other great enterprises. I do, at any rate, hope that some money may be found. But the question of finance is one of real seriousness. I myself believe that we have come to this pitch, that if we borrow more money, if we increase the cost of production any further, either by raising wages or by any other means, it is really beyond our power to prevent a corresponding rise in prices. If we cannot prevent a corresponding rise in prices to meet any expenditure of the kind, then we have reached a point when that expenditure will not really serve the object which we intend it to serve; we have reached a very dangerous position in the financial situation of this country.
I entirely agree with what has been said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down as to the importance of avoiding all party conflict in this Debate. I agree also that the problem is far too urgent to admit of the introduction of old party issues, and that we must seek to face it in a broad and generous frame of mind. While I say that by way of introduction, I am quite sure also that the right. hon. Gentleman opposite will not consider that those of us who criticise and oppose his Bill in certain particulars do so from any destructive point of view. We on these benches are sincerely anxious to have the houses provided at the earliest possible moment. We want to co-operate with the Government towards that end. But we reserve the right to criticise a Bill of this kind when we think, as we do, that we could put forward a better solution. Before I come to the important proposal of the Bill dealing with the question of subsidy, let me deal very briefly with Clause 5, which proposes to regulate what has been commonly called luxury-building. According to a recent Report, about 60 per cent. of the work actually being done at the moment in the building trade is repair work. I gather from the proposals of Clause 5, as framed, that repair work will be excluded from its scope. I venture to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Government that no result could be more unfortunate. We have the testimony of many builders in the country at the moment to the fact that under the cover of so-called repair work a very great deal of structural work is being done. I have in mind one case disclosed by a representative committee that no less than £30,000 was being spent on a mansion house in the country in the name of repairs — work which, under a proper analysis, is really work of new construction. I hope that the meaning and application of this Clause will be greatly extended, and that we shall see a most drastic inquiry into the so-called repair work, in order to get the maximum preference for houses which are urgently required.
Dealing with the subsidy itself, I desire to criticise it from three points of yew. In the first place, we on these benches oppose it because we are quite opposed to the principle of giving grants of public money to private individuals. Until very recently that was the attitude and policy of the Government itself. When the Bills in the cases of England, Wales, and Scotland were under discussion in Committee upstairs, proposals were put forward by hon. Members to try and obtain grants of public money on substantially the lines which are now proposed. In the strongest possible terms these grants were resisted and opposed by Government representatives. Not only so, but in some. reports of the most influential Committees of recent times this principle has also been sternly resisted. Not very long ago an advisory housing panel of the Ministry of Reconstruction, in a report signed by Lord Salisbury, and by, amongst others, the hon. Member for the Exchange Division, stated: "A direct subsidy from the State to the private builder appears impossible."The report went on to urge one or two reasons in support of that view. There is a second consideration which leads us to oppose this proposal. Personally, to speak quite frankly, I am not in the least excited about its effect, because from all the evidence we can obtain, from builders in Scotland, England, and Wales, the amount is really inadequate, and will not have the effect of calling into the service of the State at this juncture the small builder, to whom presumably this appeal is addressed. What is the position to-day of the small builder? He has ceased, largely because of the War and other matters—pre-war conditions, I admit, as well—to build houses. He has betaken himself to a great mass of repair work of a highly profitable character. he is offered in this connection a subsidy, the maximum of which is £160 per house. The cost per house, according to the most favourable estimate mentioned yet in public debate, is £500—and this is a very favourable estimate indeed. Above that figure the cost per house ranges from £500 to £800. In the case of Scotland, according to the most recent report, the cost of working-class houses is placed at £850. Let us apply the subsidy of £160 to the house which is going to cost anything between £500 and £800 or £850, and we are bound, I think, to come to this conclusion, that even with the subsidy thrown in it will be hardly worth while on the part of the private builder, or the small man, or even the individual, to embark upon this enterprise when he has lying open and ready to his hands a great mass of repair work from one end of the country to the other.
But even if it did succeed in fetching a small amount of that assistance, we are bound to ask a further question as to whether the houses so provided would be available for the working classes. If I understand this bill aright, the object of the subsidy is to make an appeal for the erection of houses for the working classes. The phrase is definitely used. If, however, we take away the restrictions as regards rent, sale and these restrictions are removed by these proposals—then it follows that the houses erected, with the subsidy thrown in, must be let at rentals which are far beyond the reach of the average working-class home in this country. My contention, therefore, is that this proposal will not reach the working classes, for whom apparently it is especially designed. I want to be perfectly fair and just to the Government in my analysis of this ease. There is nothing destructive, I hope, in my observations, but I want to see if the indirect effect—for it seems to are it must be indirect rather than direct—will be to make available houses similar to those now occupied by the working classes, or the poor, or rather by the better-paid artisans; if so, I believe something might be said for this proposal.
Probably what the Government had in mind was that there might be a transfer from house to house, but in any case it cannot be reasonably contended that the houses provided will fall to the classes that the Government have specially in mind. The third objection is that I believe strongly, notwithstanding the safeguards which have been introduced into this Bill, that the effect will be to delay, and probably delay seriously, the activity of many local authorities in the country. I myself take a. hopeful view, in contradistinction to the Noble Lord opposite, of the activities of tie local authorities of Great Britain. But I am bound to admit that in many of these local authorities in this country there are reactionary majorities who are waiting for any excuse whatever to delay the housing scheme on which they ought to embark, and who, even now, are using the discussion of this subsidy in order to hold back their proposals.
Nothing could be more unfortunate than that which means more delay, and which means an analysis of the subsidy put forward, which means a debate on the part of the Local Government Board and the local authority, and a vast number of other people. To my mind the introduction of unnecessary, and as I believe, useless complications into the solution of this problem will defeat the very object which the Government have in view. Let me briefly deal with two difficulties, which have been seriously urged as a solution, or rather a partial solution, of the housing problem. I have read many speeches delivered on the opposite side which have suggested that there should be dilution of labour in the building trade. In pre-war times there were probably 800,000 men engaged in the building trade. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of that figure, but during the War approximately 200,000 men have been withdrawn from it. The conclus on of the experts is to the effect that we are attempting a task with 600,000 men which it requires at least 1,250,000 men to undertake. That is not an unreasonable proposition. From what. source can you draw men to the assistance of the building trade to-day? The first. Source suggested is that we should train discharged and disabled for this occupation. Let me say at once, as far as the disabled men of this country are concerned, and I think I may claim some personal experience in regard to them, this proposal is absolutely hopeless. In the first place the character of a great deal of building work is absolutely beyond the physical strength or the ability of a great many disabled men, and from almost every point of view it would not be desirable that they should be trained for a calling for which they are unfitted by physique, or in which they might break down with possibly serious results to themselves and those associated with them. The other reason is that a very large part of what is broadly and generally known as building trade operations in this country is highly seasonal in character. If we include painting and such like work we know perfectly well it is the common experience of men that they are unemployed for months during the year, and that is precisely the class of calling which is very properly ruled out by the Ministry of Labour as the responsible authority for training discharged and disabled men. Unless men can get the promise of definite and regular employment they are held not to be eligible for training purposes. Nothing could be worse than to train a man for an occupation in which he would not be able to earn an adequate living. Therefore, in this connection the training of discharged and disabled men may be ruled out.
Now I turn to the dilution of the rest of the trade by men who are physically fit. As regards tile higher class, the mason and hewing work, it is simply idle to propose dilution in a sphere like that, because work of that kind involves years of training and experience, and we should only pile up the cost and add to the unsatisfactory nature of housing schemes in England and Scotland by the introduction of unskilled, semi-skilled or imperfectly trained labour on hose lines. With regard to the labourer class, the problem of dilution hardly applies, because a man may become a labourer at very short notice and may be admitted to a union, and therefore we have already got all the dilution we can ever get. I think we may bring additional men to the building trade by embarking upon a steady solution of the apprenticeship problem. Men have been driven from the building trade because of the introduction, especially in Scotland, of machine-made stuff which took the place of the high-class character of the work they used to perform. Of course, we cannot go back on that, but there are many other spheres in which we can train men, but which we cannot do until we have addressed our minds to the whole problem of apprenticeship. The other consderation I wish to urge is control of the prices of building materials. I know on the other side of the House there is the strongest objection to any form of control.
Perhaps I should have said control of supplies and not prices. Hon. Members opposite are opposed to any sort of control, and they wish it to be removed. I cordially agree with their complaint because I am not a supporter of the extreme State system which was described by the Noble Lord in the course of his speech. Unless we take into account the regulations of the price of building materials we shall find that the cost of housing schemes is going to be forced up enormously against the community. I do not make that statement from the point of view of hon. Members associated with me, on these benches, and I prefer to take time public returns and statistics of the Government Departments themselves. For the purpose of illustration I shall try to work out briefly what the cost of the housing problem in Scot- land is likely to be, for there in some respects it is much more acute. According to a short statement published by the Scottish Local Government Board there were three ranges of prices, namely,.£500, £600, and £700 per house, and the cost was spread over three years. The scheme was to provide 65,000 houses at the high figure of £700 per house, and that estimate has now been abrogated in favour of £850. Taking 65,000 houses in Scotland at about £700 per house the cost in the aggregate was put at £45,000,000.
Now that is only the beginning of the question we have in hand North of the Tweed. According to the Report of the Royal Commission on housing in Scotland about 130,000 houses are urgently required, while about 250,000 are considered to be necessary. Taking the higher figure of 250,000, and calling it approximately four times the figure we have already discussed, we have not the slightest difficulty as regards Scotland alone in arriving at an expenditure of £160,000,000 or £180,000,000. Many of us are not unduly distressed by high figures of that kind. We have seen recently what has been accomplished for the parposes of destruction necessary perhaps in the course of the War, and we feel very strongly that if the people of this country resolve to do it a vast amount may be poured out in schemes of construction. Even these large sums will, I think, he forthcoming if we go about the business in a proper way. There is £160,000,000 or £170,000,000 required on a very elementary analysis of our own Scottish housing problem, and that is taking the figure per house at £150 less than the higher figure quoted by the Government Report. In that connection I think we are entitled to say that we ought to do everything we can to keep down the high cost of building materials.
According to common statement, and do not think what I am going to say will be disputed, the cost of many of the materials for housing within recent times has doubled and even trebled, and that is not during the course of the War, but within a period of a year or eighteen months of the present time. During the War the cost of building materials advanced as well, but since the War concluded in many cases the rise has been very great. In this connection we have the strong evidence of the Reconstruction Committee on Trusts, and they pointed out that the sources of supply of a very large amount of the building material of this country were in the hands of rings, combines or associations. They divided these materials into three classes: firstly, a class which they called uncontrolled, because it was not at the mercy of a combine or trust or association In the second place there was the class which was partially controlled, and, thirdly, the class which was fully controlled, and in the two last classes, the partially and the fully controlled, the Committee considered that the stock was more or less at the mercy of the associations or trusts, which they said comprised 50 per cent. or 60 per cent. of the building materials necessary for the immediate and urgent purposes of state housing.
During the course of the discussion on the Scottish Bill. we tried to secure the insertion of a Clause which would deal with the control of these trusts or combines or rings, and unfortunately that Clause was rejected largely on the ground that it was beyond the scope of the measure, and partly on the ground that as it was framed by us it would not effect the object we had in view. The Government replied that they intended to introduce legislation dealing with trusts in this country, and I have no doubt the Bill will be forthcoming. Here we are embarking upon great schemes of expenditure in housing in this country. We are taking estimates from one end of the country to the other. We have the Report of the Government Committee that from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. of the building materials are controlled by trusts and rings, and the Government Bill is not forthcoming, and when it is produced the position will be that we shall have incurred a great deal of expenditure, I believe quite unnecessarily, simply because we have not passed the Trusts Bill before the measures we are now discussing, and because we have not got all the powers which are considered to be the necessary foundation for the financial success of these housing schemes.
I trust the right. hon. Gentleman or whoever replies on behalf of the Government will make it perfectly clear that they are willing to go beyond the milder form of intervention in these matters which now exists, and that they are prepared to address their minds to the whole range of the supply of these building materials and get down the prices to a bedrock level. Unless that is done there cannot be the slightest doubt that the cost of these schemes will be far higher than it need be. I am not a defender, and I have never defended schemes which are uneconomic in their character. I believe the success of every scheme upon which the State embarks will never justify itself in the eyes of the people or the voters unless it is economically sound. We all recognise that you cannot talk of economic rents or economic conditions for housing at the present time, but surely we should also recognise that it is our plain business duty from every point of view to go as near as we possibly can to the economic solution, and I sincerely trust the Government will keep that in their mind.
The last speaker has alluded to the cost of materials. The cost of materials in the building trade is ruled entirely by the wages that are paid. Ninety-nine per cent. of builders' materials are manufactured. The only raw material to be obtained is the land upon which he puts his houses. Take the least manufactured article that is used in a builder's business—namely, sand. That has to be quarried, dug, sifted, and carted, and it becomes a manufactured article by the time you get it. If the hon. Member saw the price of sand to-day, he would realise the cause of the rise in the price of houses. The Mover of the Amendment suggested that we should have to start with all the restrictions afresh. I am pleased to see, with regard to the scheme now propounded, that the restrictions are very small indeed. They have been largely done away with. The Mover also suggested that the houses under this scheme would very likely end in slums. He stated that he had been twenty years a member of a local authority, and that they had a very high death-rate and a very heavy infant mortality. One wonders what he was doing during those twenty years.
I would like to offer a few criticisms on the scheme. I hope that they will not be considered destructive, because I mean them to be constructive as far as possible. I would like to be informed why in the White Paper that has been issued the basis of the payment, or subsidy, or grant, or whatever you like to call it, has been altered from cubic contents to superficial area of floors. I do not quite see why that has been done, and it is a great pity that they did not put those figures on the basis of cubic contents. Great emphasis has been placed upon the fact that this subsidy will encourage builders to come in. Probably it will not encourage them to that extent that some hope. It would have done if it had been done in the early part of the year. If this had been brought in when the other Bill became law. you would have had a great many houses built by this time. Another point with regard to this subsidy has been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Chelmsford Division (Mr. Pretyinan). He said that there were a lot of people who would like to take this subsidy and build cottages. I think you would get a great amount of building by owners who would like to put up cottages and bring down the rent to something like an economic rent. There is a great field before this Bill on those lines
I view with very grave concern the question- of the twelve months, and I hope in Committee something will be done to extend the period, because, however good the will of the builder may be, it is at the present day impossible to get the work done as it ought to be done in its proper sequence. Trucks are the bane of the builder's existence at the present time. He cannot get the materials to keep on his men with proper sequence. He cannot in many instances get sufficient material to prevent long waits. It is, therefore, a very serious problem how you are going to get these houses completed in twelve months. This Bill, I suppose, will not become an Act before 1st January. I am glad to hear that probably it will. Even then you will have January and February in which very little building can be done. It will, therefore, be March before you start, even if the Bill becomes law before 1st January, and you will only have ten months to carry out your operations. I do hope, therefore, that in Committee there will be some Amendment or some latitude introduced, or something done to extend that period.
When you have got your builders' materials and all the members employed, you have still the danger of Clause 5. That is another point which the Minister will have to take into consideration. It is not fair that the builder or the employé should be prejudiced with regard to his work on account of such a Clause. The hon. Member who lies just spoken said that there was nothing in the building trade in which wounded or disabled men, or those receiving pensions could join. I do not agree with him. Many of the higher works, such as carving, fibrous plastering, and those sort of things, are quite suitable for those men; but you are going to exclude them if you limit building in the way proposed. They will not be wanted, and that is one of the great difficulties that I see with retard to these limitations. You will not give these people an opportunity of coming in. Clause 5 is going further to damage the building trade. Workmen will not come into it unless they see that there is an opening. They are not so stupid that they will jump into a trade where there is not going to be continuous work, and you are going to do away entirely with the highly-skilled man.
The local authorities and the Minister of Health are the authorities to settle what work and what building is to be done other than workmen's dwellings. I take it that they are going to do that with some degree of discretion—at least, I hope so—and that there will be some better work and better class of building. It is also very desirable that we should have some middle-class houses. There is quite as much shortage of middle-class houses as workmen's houses, and it would be very unfair indeed if you did not give any opportunity for the building of middle-class houses as well as workmen's dwellings. Otherwise, what will happen? Instead of the middle-class people going to better houses of eight and ten rooms, they will come down and take these houses—they must do if they have nowhere else to go, and the bulk of the middle-class people are working people, although probably they do net work with their hands—and your shortage will remain and you will have to continue to subsidise the building of houses. I see another grave defect. It has always been the practice of English law that you should have as judges people who are not interested, but here, both in your Court of first instance, your local authority, and in your Court of Appeal, the Minister of Health, you have interested and biassed parties, parties rightly biassed because they want the houses. They will be biassed in favour of the houses, and there cannot he a fair consideration in accordance with English justice. That is one of the defects in the Bill, and I hope that it will be remedied. I would rather not see the local authority a judge, and I would certainly prefer not to see the Minister placed in that position. How can the Minister deal with the matter? Within the first three months of this Bill becoming law, on the average 5,000 cases per week will arise in the County of London alone. I think you should set up a special appeal tribunal, something of the same nature as the tribunal that has been set up by the Building Act, consisting of three people, two technical experts and a third man at the head of them, probably a lawyer. It has to be borne in mind that tills applies not only to new buildings, but to alterations or additions to existing works or buildings, and, if each one of these alterations are coining along, 5;000 cases per week is a very small estimate indeed. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will consider whether he cannot set up an impartial tribunal to deal with this matter. That would be more satisfactory to everyone concerned.
It has been said that there are not enough people in the building trade. I quite agree. And the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Chelmsford Division touched the spot when he pointed out that the Increment Value Duty is going to interfere with building under this scheme. It has a lot to do with the fact that there are very few people in the building trade at the present time. I have been in the building trade all my life and I know the facts; and many in my own employ, not the workmen particularly, but also the staff and people interested in building, went out of the trade at that time. Why is it that so much repair work needs to be done There is the waste of live years to be made up. Who are the greatest culprits in respect of repair work? The Government themselves. Their triennial contractors are full up to the hilt. They are taking men from everywhere and off every sort of building on purpose to put them on to Government repair work. The railings round the parks are being painted now. At the present time when we want to economise somewhere the Government might have stayed their hands with regard to a great many of these repairs. Many of them would not have hurt if they had been left for another year or two. They are the people who are largely employing men in the building trade I hope we shall pass this Bill. I suppose it will go to a Committee upstairs and there be amended.
The Bill is going to give us some houses, and the point is, as I advocated., both before and since I entered the House, to meet the great difficulty caused by the shortage of houses. You must get the houses, and you must pay for them. You have to pay high prices for them, and you must do that in the interests of the safety of the country. The country demands it, and is entitled to have it. I am only echoing what has been said all round this House that one of the most essential things to get rid of the existing unrest is the provision of a sufficient number of houses. But you want these houses not only for the working classes; you want them for the middle classes as well, and as the middle classes are going to find the bulk of the money, they are people who should have some consideration at the hands of the Government. Hon. Members opposite desire to limit the houses for the labouring classes. I was successful in getting a little Amendment into a Bill upstairs in regard to the conversion of houses into flats. I should like to see the first paragraph in this Bill amended by striking out the words "for the working classes," so that there may be some idea of putting up a better class of houses, or rather a class of larger houses. Three bedrooms are not always sufficient for families. Many families want more rooms, and I am hoping that the families of the future will be larger. May I go back for one minute to the question of a subsidy? That is dealt with under three heads, one of which is the superficial floor area. It is laid down that no Grant is to be made for houses with accommodation in excess of four bedrooms, or which has a, superficial floor area in excess of 1,250 feet. I agree it is necessary in these cases to have some limit, but I would suggest that the limit should be extended, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to extend it when the Bill goes upstairs. I sincerely hope that the Bill will be passed, and that the criticisms I have made in regard to it will be looked upon not as destructive, but as calculated to improve the Bill and to secure the provision of more houses.
May I point out that this is a question of some considerable importance to rural areas? I rather object, as other speakers have done, to the attitude taken up by the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, who have suggested that we on these benches do not really care whether the houses are good or bad, and that we are only interested in subsidising the building trade. That is an attitude which ought not to be adopted. I believe that every man in this House is equally anxious to deal with what is obviously a most alarming problem, and I do not think any special claim can be made by any one section to be more in earnest on this question than any other section. It is a mistake for any hon Members to make an accusation of that sort against any other section of the House. It has been suggested that private enterprise has done badly in this matter. We all know the disastrous conditions that now exist in our great cities. We know that those conditions are largely due to the neglect of supervision by the authorities in the past. But the constitution of the local authorities has changed. Their zeal and energy are quite different. The whole system under which we live for the supervision of building has entirely altered, and suppose we hand over entirely to the local authorities the whole question, what is going to happen I The work is not. done by individual members of the local authority. They merely deal with the private builders and supervise the work which is being done. It is a question whether the private builder shall do it under the supervision of the local authority or whether. the local authority shall do it itself. Where you are bound to employ the private builder to do the work it makes no difference how you start. But, as regards the result of the work, that is entirely a matter for proper supervision by the local authorities, and I hope that the Government will not allow themselves to weaken in any shape or form by sanctioning any inferior work. Many people say they have spent pleasant hours in wooden houses in other countries. Here, again, I hope the Minister will not weaken. I am riot satisfied myself that under our climatic conditions the wooden building is desirable. Then there is another point about the subsidy. There are many people who have taken on their own shoulders the burden of trying to add to the housing accommodation of the country, and I do not see why they should not also have a share of the subsidy.
But I want to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that his main difficulty is going to arise in rural areas. In the towns they have bigger resources and more labour, and it is easier to start to deal with the problem. But in the rural areas, the situation is very different and I would suggest that it might be possible to do something in the way of encouraging the adaptation of existing buildings. I have not yet come across any authority working in that direction. In the country now there are numbers of large houses which people do not require any longer, and it does seem to me that any enterprise which turns some of these big houses into tenements providing accommodation for a certain number of families would be of enormous advantage to the rural areas, and it might be well worth considering whether some sort of subsidy might not be granted in such cases. It is of no use being pedantic about the subsidy, we must have an immediate supply of houses, and the need is so urgent and so pressing that it is no use being bound by old-fashioned economic ideas. Then again, I want to suggest it is very essential that proper provision should be made for gardens. I do not believe there is anything like the difficulty in getting land which some hon. Members seem to think there is. Indeed the land difficulty is the one difficulty in this matter which hardly exists at all. At any rate in the areas that I know, it is the one question which does not cause any trouble, and therefore I hope the right hon. Gentleman will on every occasion insist that. there shall be proper garden accommodation for every house that is put up. We do not want any more of those dreary blocks of houses with no gardens and no amenities around them.
Another point I would like the right hon. Gentleman to consider, is the delay caused by the difficulty in getting the opinions of land valuers in cases where there is a dispute as to the price of the land to be acquired. Very often because of that difficulty, schemes are held up for a considerable time. If the land valuers are so full up with work as to be unable to deal with the cases at once, could not some arrangement be made which would avoid delay in commencing the work? After all the price is only a small question, and surely there ought not to be any trouble in getting a prompt definite opinion upon it. The last point with which I wish to deal is the question of local loans. The Report issued a few days ago recommended that these local loans should be trustee securities, but there is no such provision in the Bill, and I would like to know whether it has been definitely decided not. to insist on that provision. I do not see why the Minister of Health laid so much stress on the need for getting this money locally. I agree that if it can be done, so much the better. But surely it is a fallacy to pretend that by raising the loans locally you are drawing money from sources different from those from which it is drawn by the Government. It is the same money and the same people provide it, whether it. is invested in a local loan or a Government loan, and surely it would he much more satisfactory if the Government issued a big housing loan instead of pretending that it is the duty of the local authorities to raise the money locally. After all, the money is exactly the same, whatever the means by which it is raised, and although it may be all right for the Government to ask the people in the locality to do their best to raise the loan, it would, I think, be much better if they carried through the whole business themselves. It is absurd to talk about the extravagance of people shopping in town and suggesting that they had better put their money into local loans. Such talk does not show a correct appreciation of the enormous magnitude of this financial problem. If we can only solve the trouble about rent, and get over the other financial difficulty, then the remaining problems in connection with housing will practically solve themselves. I welcome this Bill in many ways, but I hope it will be improved very much in Committee, and at any rate I hope it will have the effect of greasing the wheels and making it easier to provide houses.
I look upon this measure merely as an emergency measure, and a very small contribution to a very great problem which will go on for many years and require many measures before it is solved. As such, however, I welcome it, and am prepared to vote for its Second Reading, in spite of some criticisms that have been levelled at it. Those criticisms we can very properly deal with in Committee. Some of them, undoubtedly, are not without great force. I would like, however, to refer to one which we have just heard from the hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Lorden), who, if I understood him rightly, suggested that the Clause against "luxury building" might stop the building of houses for the middle classes. As I read the Clause it could not have that effect, for it is only if the local authority consider that the provision of dwelling-house accommodation is being interfered with that they can intervene. If there is any other pars of the Clause that would have the effect of stopping building for the middle classes, I should certainly very strongly object to it, because wherever you build, whether for the middle classes or for artisan classes, it all relieves the pressure upon housing. All those classes have equal rights to houses according to their own standard, and whichever one you build for it relieves the pressure on the housing of the poorest and most unfortunate class. It is excessively difficult to build for them, under whatever scheme you may do so, but if you build for those who can afford to pay for houses it increases the total supply, and houses are vacated which become useful for those for whom it would be practically impossible to build directly.
I feel very strongly that an Amendment will be required in this Bill, or perhaps I should say in the Rules that are proposed to be issued under it, with regard to allowing twenty houses to the acre. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing this Bill, rather spoke, I thought, as if twenty was to be the outside number, and that only in exceptional cases. I do not read the Regulation in that way at all. We are told that the number of houses to the acre will be limited generally, as in the case of local authorities' schemes, but it goes on to say that it will not be allowed to exceed twenty to the acre in urban areas except in special circumstances; so that in cases which are not special it will be allowed to exceed twenty to the acre in urban areas. That, I think, is very objectionable. It goes on to say, "in special circumstances and with the express concurrence of the Minister," so that I take it that in urban areas the number may be allowed to exceed twenty to the acre without the circumstances being special and without the express concurrence of the Minister. If that is intended, I for one shall make a very strong effort to get that altered when we come to the Committee stage. I think that if there is one thing clearer than another it is that the modern plan of putting cottages widely spread over an area, with a garden to each cottage, has a most wonderful effect both on the happiness of life and on the health and well-being of the inhabitants. I would point out the low death-rate in all garden suburbs where the open order is adopted. The first garden city, at Letchworth, is able to show a death-rate of only 10 per 1,000, and an infantile mortality of only 30 per 1,000. That is not due to a low birth rate, because the birth-rate was 17½ per 1,000
I hope to speak chiefly on those parts of the subject in connection with which I have myself had experience, namely, with regard to public utility societies and with regard to the laying out and building of garden cities and garden suburbs, all of which are mentioned in this Bill and in the White Paper. With regard to public utility societies, I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, practically admitted that ordinary public utility societies were doing very little under the main Bill. Practically, he said that where public utility societies were coining in, as they were to a considerable extent, it was chiefly that employers of labour, needing houses for their employés, were forming public utility societies and finding the capital, knowing that they would get no direct return, or only very little, on that capital, but having the indirect advantage of obtaining housing accommodation for their employés, and so being able to get on with their work. That is quite honest business, and I have nothing to say against it, but it is not the work of public utility societies in the sense in which it was conceived by those who originally started them. I think it is not the best work that public utility societies can do, for that is to provide cottages at cost price for the inhabitants of the town, village or suburb generally, and not for the purpose of any one particular business enterprise. The old terms offered in the main Bill have therefore not been sufficient to induce the ordinary, or, as I may call it, the real public utility society to come in to any very great extent. I am very much afraid that the new terms which are offered will not materially affect the matter. The old terms were practically a gift to the public utility society of 30 per cent. of the cost. It was in the form of a rebate of 30 per cent. upon the annual charges. That 30 per cent. is no to be increased to 50 per cent. for the first seven years, and that, according to the White Paper, is calculated to amount to £100,000 a year on 10,000 houses, or £10 a house. Ten pounds a year for seven years is practically equivalent to something between £50 and £60 down, so that the extra inducement offered to public utility societies under this Bill is a matter of £50 or £60 per house. I am very much afraid that that will not induce the ordinary or real public utility society to come in at all, because it will not by any means meet the loss which the public utility society will be bound to incur in building houses and letting them to the public at the present time. I know that some societies have gone into the matter carefully, and have found that it is perfectly hopeless to do it with the 30 per cent., and I am convinced that the extra £30 or £60 will not nearly make up the difference. As the real public utility society makes no profit, but merely works at cost price, it cannot afford to take risks, much less build with the certainty of a loss. I am convinced, nevertheless, that these societies would do an immense work if the terms were made such as to attract them. They have great advantages over the local authorities, the main one being, I think, that they can work much more rapidly. We want the goods delivered; we want the houses in thousands, and I venture to think that we can get them by offering to public utility societies the same or at least as good terms as are being offered to local authorities.
On the question generally, I very much doubt whether this problem can be solved on the basis of divided responsibility. We have the local authority and the Ministry of Health dividing power, financial risk, and responsibility. The whole matter is divided at every point and in every Department, and the result is a great deal of friction and delay. I am bound to say that the local authorities in my district are loud in their complaints of the difficulties and obstacles that are put in their way by the Ministry of Health. I do not mean to suggest that those obstacles are put in their way wilfully; it is due to the amount of reference backwards and forwards, the amount of misunderstanding as to whether a plan has been approved or not, or as to what change exactly is wanted, to correspondence, and to visits, to uncertainty as to whether they can get the money or will have to raise it themselves, and as to what is going to happen after the first seven years. All of these cause serious and lamentable delays. It is nobody's fault in particular; it is the inevitable result of divided responsibility in a matter of this sort. From that I draw the conclusion that what we want is a great housing Department to do the work. I will develop that, but I want first of all to give another reason why I think that is necessary. I look upon this business of subsidies as entirely unsound. Whether they are subsidies given by the central State to the local authorities or to public utility societies or to the private builder, I regard them as entirely unsound in principle and bad in practice. But we are at present in a great crisis and great emergency. We must get the houses by hook or by crook almost, and therefore we have to resort to these subsidies, but I am sure that they are unsound, and that what we want is a great central Housing Department, not to compel other people to do the work or to bribe other people to do it, but to carry out treat experiments as to the best arid cheapest methods of housing, to see now far machinery and standardisation may be introduced, and so on, and to have great powers of building—to build themselves on a large scale, and to buy land and lay it out and develop garden cities and garden suburbs. My own experience over many years leads me to think that private enterprise will never do this properly, nor will it be done by voluntary associations, nor by the Government merely Con trolling and interfering and bribing. The Government Central Department must do the thing itself I do not believe for a moment that that will kill private enterprise in the building trade if, when you have built your houses, you let them at an economic rent. I am convinced that yon must come to that. You cannot go on for ever making a heavy loss and putting it upon the Income Tax, or some other source of revenue. I know that we cannot come to this economic rent at once, but only gradually. Still, is the ideal towards which we have to move, and until we do conic to that, and make the actual occupier of the house pay, the Central Government has to pay the less, and, to my mind, the best way of doing that would be for the Government to have a great central building Department for the purpose.
I repeat that this Bill is, to my mind, an emergency contribution to this problem. It is by no means the last Bill that we shall have on this subject. I look forward to many more, and I am convinced that the final solution will be that, as I have said, the house will have to be let at an economic rent, wages will have to be enough to pay that rent, and there will have to be a great central Department, not to destroy private enterprise, but to tackle that: part of the horsing problem, and particularly the town planning problem, which private enterprise will never be able to deal with. I would point out that, speaking roughly and subject to some exceptions, there is no part of the country, and there never has been in my lifetime, where the labouring classes—I do not mean the skilled artisans—have been decently housed by private enterprise. I see no evidence that private enterprise ever will do it. Voluntary association might when people are a little more educated, but I can see no evidence whatever that private enterprise will do it. Another thing that private enterprise never has done in my experience, and never will do, in my opinion, is the proper laying out of our towns. We get so far as to have rules and regulations about town-planning. That looks very well, but it amounts to this: You tell the people, "You shall not do it unless you do it so and so." They answer, "Then we will not do it at all." If you want it well done the State has got to take that up, and I am very glad that there is in this Bill a Clause which helps us on the road to the State taking a more active part in laying out our towns on garden cities and garden suburb lines. I hope we shall not spoil that contribution to the subject by admitting into this Bill provisions which will allow houses to be put twenty to the acre, and even more, as the Bill seems to propose, and that is the most serious blemish upon it.
I welcome the Bill. No one tikes a subsidy, but in the position in which we are it is far cheaper to do this if it is productive of building houses than what we are doing in regard to the rates. The State has to pay an enormous subsidy to the rates for the purpose of these buildings. Let us look at the position in regard to building at present. A building owner has no staff of his own, and has to go to a contractor. I believe the builders, when they were invited to tender, guarded themselves against every eventuality such as rises of wages or prices. A builder said to himself, "I cannot, if things become unreasonable and outrageous, say I will not continue this contract; I have to go on, no matter to what price the prices of the articles I require rise." It may well be that houses may be built at a price which will enable them to be let at a reasonable rent. I think it is much more likely to approximate to it than anything that has been done under the Housing Act. Further, there is a great number of workmen who have saved money, or could borrow it from building societies, who will avail themselves of this subsidy in order to build their own houses. I therefore hope there will be a great deal of money forthcoming from these private and comparatively small but untapped sources. Local authorities are in great difficulties, not because they are unwilling to go on with their contracts, but because of the question of finance. The rate of money is very high, and who is going to find it? I gather the Government fully appreciate the difficulty. They have put in a most useful provision that local authorities may borrow at 5½ per cent. I do not think they will get the money at that price. A few days ago you could buy 5 per Cent. War Bonds to be paid off in 1919 or 1920 for 97, so I doubt if they could borrow money at 5½ per cent. The Government realises the difficulty, and gives them notice to borrow money locally if they can, but I doubt if they can avail themselves of it, but I welcome the Bill calling for assistance from every possible source. Get the money if you can, but get on with what we are faced with, this shortage of houses.
Something has been said in regard to building material. I wanted to take advantage of Section 23 of the Housing Act, so I applied on 28th September to the Ministry of Health for a schedule of prices and for the general Regulations with a view to getting materials. I thought I could get them more reasonably than in the open market. I was referred to the Director of Building Materials, who ultimately wrote me that no Regulations had been issued. They were not issued until 12th November. The Bill was passed early in August, and Parliament provided £10,000,000 in order that. materials might be bought, so as to enable anyone to build at a reasonable rate. But it was worse than that. The only value of that Section was not that the builder should take advantage of it, but the building owner, whether a local authority or a private builder. What the building owner required was a schedule of prices issued by the Department, saying, "We can provide such-and-such materials at such-and-such cost." On that the architect will have put into his estimates bricks, cement, fireplaces, anything you like, "allow so much prime cost,"and the building owner would have made his arrangement with the Government. As it is, it is of no advantage to the local authority or the building owner. The only man who can possibly put money into his pocket over it is the builder. I ask the hon. Gentleman to see that in regard to this subsidy there is no mistake and no doubt, and to see that the whole terms upon which the subsidy is given appear in the Bill.
The White Paper contains conditions in regard to only twenty houses to the acre. I find no such condition in the Bill. A man may acquire a building plot which does not comply with this condition of twenty to the acre, and build a house on the faith of getting a Government subsidy and then find that he cannot get it. That would be a lamentable thing. I ask that these provisions should appear clearly in the Bill, in order that people may know the conditions under which they are building, and know that if they comply with the conditions they will get the subsidy. I cannot agree with the arguments of the opponents of the Bill. I do not find in it anything to encourage bad building. I think it goes further than anything that exists now to secure good building. Not only have you to build in accordance with the conditions prescribed by the Ministry of Health, but you have to get a certificate that the building has been done in a good and workmanlike manner. You cannot have anything very much better than that; I have always understood that if I were a building owner and employed a builder I only pay on the architect's certificate that the building was done in a good and workmanlike manner. I do not understand what more is required. The suggestions in regard to this being a bad class of house are unfounded. I protest against the notion that this subsidy should be given in respect of any house with fewer than three bedrooms. It seems to me to be absolutely essential in any house built now, in which public funds play any part, that there should be three bedrooms. There may be reasons which do not occur to me why it is right and proper that a subsidy should be offered for houses with fewer than three bedrooms; if so, I should like an explanation of the reasons for the provision in the Bill.