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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 13th March 1922.

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Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

That is a startling proposition, which opens up a great field of debate, but I think it would be rather out of order to discuss whether or not the enterprise of the citizens in the country produced the prosperity which we used to have before the War, or whether it was the Navy which was outside the country which produced that prosperity; but I will not be led away by the interruptions of the Noble Lady and will confine my remarks to the question before the Committee. Of course, it is all very well for anyone to get up and say it is very pleasant to have a large quantity of nice houses. It would be very pleasant if nobody had to work, and if everybody had £5 a week or whatever sum the trade unions thought was a sufficient amount to live upon, but we do not live in a world of that sort, and we have got to cut our coat according to our cloth. Let us consider for a moment what is the position in regard to housing. I am glad the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Thomson) is in his place, because he commenced his rather unbusinesslike speech, if he will allow me to say so, by stating that we had made promises to pay interest to people who had invested their savings in War stock and that when people suggested that that interest should be cut down the answer was that promises had been made, and I understood the hon. Member to say that he agreed with the people who objected to the interest being cut down, but he thought that because promises had been made to build houses the State should carry out those promises.

Let me point out to him that there was no promise with regard to War savings. It was a contract, which is a very different thing from a promise. There have been no contracts with regard to houses, and the only promises that I know of in regard to houses were made on election platforms. A promise on an election platform is a thing which is nearly always observed in the breach and not carried out.—[HON. MEMBERS: "By your side!"]—I can remember very distinct promises which were made on platforms during election time by hon. Members opposite. The Liberal party and what there was of the Labour party in those days said the sugar duty and the tea duty should be reduced, if not abolished, but when they got into the House they voted for their continuation and in one case for an increase. [HON. MEMBEBS: "Labour never did!"] The Liberal party, by getting in in 1906, greatly on the assumption that the tea and sugar duties should be reduced, did not reduce them, but kept them up, and I went into the Lobby with the Liberals for maintaining them, because I said they should be maintained, and therefore I voted with the Liberals on that occasion. We really must not pay attention to promises which are made on election platforms, therefore. Let us look at the business point of view for a moment, because after all it is necessary to find the money from somewhere. You cannot build houses unless you have got something to pay for the material and the labour which you are going to put into those houses. I think I am not exaggerating when I say that, taking it all round, an economic rent for the houses that have been put up would be something like £1 a week, but, as I think the hon. Member for Middlesbrough said, who can afford to pay £1 a week? I do not know who can. I do not think there is anybody who can. I think the ordinary person for whom the hon. Member always waxes so eloquent can afford to pay 8s. or 9s. for his house at the outside, and who is going to find the difference? It is all very well to say that does not matter, that the State must find it, but the State has not got any hole in the ground into which it can put its hand and bring up sovereigns, and that difference between 8s. or 9s. and £1 has to be found by the taxpayer, who has got more than enough to find at the present moment. Therefore, to say that you are again to go and put your hand into the pocket of the taxpayer in order to provide houses for which people cannot pay is to create a very dangerous doctrine, which can only result in ruin to the country.

After all, houses are necessary, but so are clothing, and food, and pure bread, according to an hon. Gentleman who spoke just now, and are we to find all that for everybody who wants it? Where are we going to end if we depart from the doctrine of private enterprise? There is no end to it, and therefore I say that we owe a debt of gratitude to the Minister of Health for his courage in opposing what, after all, is a very easy way of getting votes on a platform or in an election, but I think the public are beginning to understand that all these statements about heroes and houses and a world in which there is never going to be any unemployment, all of which were made by the present Prime Minister, are the sort of promises in which they cannot put any faith, and that the only way by which the country is to be restored to anything like its former prosperity is to get rid of all these absurd socialistic doctrines. The Noble Lady the Member for Plymouth says she is not a Socialist, but a Social Reformer. I have never been able to find out what difference there was between a Socialist and a Social Reformer. The only difference I can find out was that a Socialist had the courage to say straight out that he was a Socialist, that is to say, that he believed in some extraordinary manner that the State should run the whole thing, and the Social Reformer had not the courage to say that—