HC Deb 29 November 1922 vol 159 cc775-847

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Hacking.]


I wish to draw attention, on the Adjournment Motion, to the failure of the Government to propose legislation dealing with the question of housing. We heard during Question Time various answers by Ministers as to what it is proposed to do for the unemployed and as to the various methods of applying money for this purpose during the forthcoming year. I wish to call attention particularly to a difficulty in which local authorities find themselves when they attempt to deal with matters of his kind. The hon. Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) will remember that with myself, and other members of the Poplar Borough Council, he entered upon a campaign to raise money for building houses in Poplar and other places. As a result of that campaign, we in Poplar, poor as we are, produced between £50,000 and £60,000. We were told that money was to be ear-marked for the Borough of Poplar in order to extend the housing operations which had been commenced. We applied for that money to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond) on many occasions, but it has never materialised. It is in the coffers of the London County Council or some other central authority. One of the things which take the heart out of local administrators is the fact that they can never take the word of those in charge of central offices of this kind. Men who are irreproachable in charge of private businesses, in ordinary life, seem capable of all kinds of dodges and tricks when it comes to dealing with public affairs. We in Poplar feel very sick indeed that we should have put up that money and yet are now unable to make use of it. The late hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. W. Crooks) over and over again in this House and at the London County Council, called attention to some of the worst slums to be found anywhere in the metropolis. We want to get these slums away and we thought by subscribing to the housing fund we should be able to clear some of them away. I was mayor at the time we set up the Housing Committee, and we managed to get a Ministry of Health inquiry into the subject. By means of the Committee and the inquiry we condemned a number of slums in our area. That is two years ago and though we have made persistent and repeated applications to the Minister of Health, on each occasion we have been told there is no money available, although the hon. Member for Hastings helped to collect £50,000 to be spent in our own district. We finally came to an arrangement that one tiny area should be cleared. It has taken nearly two years to get permission to-start negotiating to buy the property which we want to improve off the face of the earth.


What is the total sum spent by the Poplar Borough Council on housing since 1919?


Probably between £100,000 and £150,000. I would remind the hon. Member that we had engaged to spend all that before he came upon the scene and with myself, got out of the pockets of the people this extra sum of money, which was to be spent in addition to what we were already spending. We must not have it go out that what we have spent has anything to do with the sum I am speaking of just now. The point I was making was that it has taken us nearly two years to get permission to buy the property. In the meantime the owner of the property has done his level beet to fob us off and now wants a sum considerably in excess of what we know we could have got the property for 10 years ago. It will in all probability take us another year before the time arrives when we will be able to tackle the matter. Hon. Members opposite often think that we on this side are rather bitter in our denunciations of landlordism. Our district, like every other district, suffers from ground landlordism. What is, I think, the most eligible site in the borough has lain vacant since long before the War. We have been done out of any rates from that land. It has been lying absolutely derelict. We want to buy. We were first asked over £6,000 for it. We then inquired what, it was valued at for the payment of duty, because the original owner had died, and we found that about one-third of that amount was what the owner's executors valued the land at when they had to pay duty upon it. We feel that the Minister of Health ought to have allowed us to get compulsory powers to acquire that land at the same value as that upon which the people who now own it paid duty. Our people should not be exploited because of the necessity which exists for providing houses. A further point was that our rates suffer. We were the most highly rated district in the metropolis. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]


We are not the highest!


I am glad to hear we are not the highest. Misery likes company. The hon. Members opposite who cheered have at the back of their minds that we are an extravagant set, and so on. One thing we do not do. We do not pay £8,000 a year for an ornamental chief, as you voted for yesterday, but our rates, and the rates of every district like ours, are conditioned by the poverty of our district. We are in a vicious circle. We have the slum areas, and they produce an unhealthy population. If you take the medical officer's report for our Borough of Poplar, you will find that in the part where I live the sickness rate is much less than it is for those parts where the slum areas exist. The slum areas not only produce deterioration in the people who live there, but they pull down the standard of life of the others, because they have to pay to maintain them. I want the House to face up to this, that it is not merely a question of giving a certain number of the population better houses, but that when yon clear a slum you raise the whole status of the district altogether. You give everybody a better chance. We have been for 30 years trying to get some of these slums dealt with. I have told the House already that the late Mr. Will Crooks came to this House time and time again, and to the County Council.

You say we are impatient. Is it impatience that makes me say that I am sick and tired of the soft words and the promises that are made from that Treasury Box dime after time? When I heard the representative of the Minister of Health to-day, I said to myself, "I have heard that sort of thing for the last 30 years," and I want to ask whether you will not make up your minds this time that this business of housing must be tackled, and tackled resolutely, first for the sake of the people who are in the slums, and next in order that the children who are in those slums may have a chance. No child born in a slum really has a fighting chance. It starts handicapped all through life, and you cannot get rid of that by your education. Look at the waste of the money you spend on education. You do not have to provide schools for the mentally deficient in St. George's, Hanover Square, but you do for Poplar, and Bethnal Green, and Canning Town, and those kind of districts, because the children there never have a chance. It would be economy for the nation to spend a big sum of money on this business of housing. It would be the finest expenditure that you could possibly enter upon. Further, you cannot expect that the people you do educate and who manage to get through are going to be fobbed off for ever with the kind of promises that you make.

The other day I came through Bethnal Green, the Brady Street area. I went through the district daily when I was a boy, and, except for one tiny patch, it is as it was when I was a boy, over 50 years ago, and men and women and children have been ruined, morally, spiritually and physically, all those years. The only place of any importance is the "pub." The only place for people to go to for light and comfort and company is the "pub." Little, miserable, narrow courts and alleys have existed there very nearly a century, and we are the richest country in the world. We spent millions in order to beat the Germans. Is it not worth spending millions to save the lives of these men, women and children 1 Is it not worth while that this country, of which we are all proud—because, much as you may think that I am a Little Englander, I am always proud to come back to England and feel that it is my country, where I was born, and that I belong to it—is it not worth our while, is it not worth while for those of you who are rich, to pour out your money for these, as you poured it out during the War? Is it not worth while making a great effort to give the people better homes, to give them better conditions, and at the same time to give work to those who are at present unemployed?


I desire to put before the House the case for the housing problem from this side, and to make one or two suggestions that may be of assistance to the Government. The other day we listened in this House to a discussion on the unemployment problem. The subject I we have under consideration to-night is not less important and is very closely allied with that problem, and it touches not only the unemployed, but also those who are actually in work and are housed—so-called—at the present time. I think I can do no better than put before the House some of the attempts made by the London County Council in their housing schemes, and how they were stopped by the last Government, and to ask that this Government should give some consideration to them. I propose also to show that this was not caused by any lack of funds, because we will be able to prove that, so far as the Council was concerned, they actually stopped because they had too much money. There is nothing in going into past history and reminding this House of how Members of the late Government made certain pledges at a certain time, which they have failed to redeem, but I suppose that one is right in reminding the present Government that they were in that Government and were responsible very much for the pledges that were made, and that the present Prime Minister and other Ministers on that Bench gave expression to pledges fully as strong as those given by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). It is, therefore, fair to assume that, as they have succeeded to office, they have also succeeded to the responsibility for the pledges they gave to the country at that time. The present Prime Minister himself in 1918 said: If we did not make every effort to improve the condition of the people, we should have a sullen, discontented, and perhaps angry nation, which would be fatal in the last degree to trade, industry, and credit. The present Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) in 1919 said: I am not afraid that he (the President of the Local Government Board) will go too far in. the matter of coercion in carrying out this Bill (the Housing Bill) or in carrying out the powers which we all, I think, wish to see extended. There is no more crying evil in our 60cial scheme than the present housing conditions, and no more legitimate cause of discontent among the people, whether in the urban or in the rural districts. The housing conditions have, in many districts, become quite intolerable. … The problem is urgent, and it can only be solved by bringing the action of the State and of the public utility societies to bear. Those gentlemen who made those speeches are now responsible Ministers of the Government, and they are in a position to-day very much to honour those pledges and to ask that this House shall give them authority so to do; but one is disconcerted somewhat, because I have here a report of a speech delivered by the Prime Minister, who paid me the compliment of coming into my constituency during the recent General Election. Among other things, he talked about the problem of housing, because it had to be done in a constituency like Camberwell, where the people want to know something about it, and he said: This is my idea. A national scheme of housing was perhaps necessary—indeed, probably necessary—after the war, but even all the efforts of those schemes did not product? anything like the number of houses per year that were produced before the War by private enterprise; and my idea is that if you are to get the best results you will only get them by making your scheme* aim at encouraging private enterprise, and not discouraging it.


Hear, hear!


I am glad to hear those cheers, because they must be rather embarrassing to the Prime Minister, for the promises and pledges given by both the present Prime Minister and the late Prime Minister were, on the accepted view of all parties in the House, that the problem was much too big and too important for private enterprise, and would have to be tackled as a part of the War charges of this nation, and met accordingly. Therefore, to come back and say that private enterprise is to be relied upon, when we have all around us evidences of its failure, and the fact that it took advantage of the necessities of the nation to exploit the nation, will not do. During the years of the War this House had to take steps to safeguard the country, not from the enemy without, but from the enemy within, who at the time of the nation's great distress and trouble were doing all they could to exploit the needs and necessities of the people. Equally then it was felt that some such defence would have to be put up against those who would exploit the nation's needs when it came to peace and to building houses for the heroes who were coming home. A very elaborate scheme was put before this House, and it is admitted now, on a conservative estimate, that at least 600,000 houses are due to be built in this country. The maximum number of houses built so far, in- cluding those built by private builders under Government subsidy, and including those in hand, amounts to 218,154.

One cannot do better—and it may be taken as typical—than to view the situation as we sec it in London at the present time. When the Prime Minister was speaking in the Old Kent Road, famous in song and history, within a very short distance from the place where he spoke, there is a congested area of insanitary dwellings with a crowded population, and ns I told this House a little time ago, this gives rise to conditions of life that are almost incomprehensible in a civilised country. At the risk of shocking the House, I am going to repeat the incident that I saw which I gave on that particular oocasion, of two little children, whose combined ages would not make, up 12 years, in the open, attempting sexual relationship, one with the other. That was the outcome of the housing conditions —children having to live under such conditions, and see sights and hear things they otherwise would never see and hear. They are the direct result. In a recent case in the Courts there were two young people who came up on the charge of incest, and the magistrate, before committing them, made very definite and strong comments on the housing conditions in this country which were conducive of that state of affairs.

It is not any good us trying to hide these things and to say they do not exist. They are bound to go on, and one wonders they are not more widespread, having regard to the awful conditions. I paid a visit to one of the schools in my constituency the other day, and I made a remark about a little child, who, I thought, looked rather poorly, on how well she had nevertheless been turned out, and the teacher said that that child came from a place where 20 people were living in three rooms—adult people, with adult sons and daughters almost, having to sleep with their parents and mixing up in a way that never ought to be tolerated in any society that calls itself a civilised society, and yet, on the mere plea of economy, the housing schemes are being turned down. It would have been a far greater economy to have spent money out of the National Exchequer to house our people well, and so help them to recover their morale. You cannot remedy these things by mere cash balances. I will go further. We would have done much better with the £90,000,000 we have spent in connection with Unemployment Insurance benefits if we had handed it over to local authorities and others, and if, further, we had paid men to keep in work rather than paid men to remain out of work. The Prime Minister interjected yesterday that he thought there was no difference between putting men on useless work and their doing no work at all. There is a tremendous difference, when it is a case of men gradually losing their morale, their skill as craftsmen and their independence by getting money for nothing. Everybody knows that if we gradually get into that position, there is bound to be a moral and spiritual deterioration. I have known men who have never been out of work for 20 or 30 years before, who have now got to a position that they do not care whether they get work or not. They did not start there; it is a condition that arises out of the situation.

In London the minimum need was found in a scheme that was presented to the Minister of Health in 1919, when it was shown that housing at least for 50,000 persons was needed to make up the normal requirements, without meeting any increase, and that requirements were being added to at the rate of 10,000 a year. In addition to that, there were in London at least 184,000 dwellings which were condemned as insanitary, and over and above that, 365,000 habitations that ought to be condemned and destroyed, but which just come within the ambit of the law. That was the condition of affairs in 1919. The London County Council submitted to the Ministry of Health a scheme in 1920 for building 29,000 houses to develop a suburb on the Becontree estate bordering on Romford, Dagenham and Ilford. A plant of £300,000 had to be laid down. The Ministry cut down the scheme to 3,000 houses, with this £300,000 plant super-imposed upon it. There is a waiting list of 23,000 persons who want housing accommodation, and that list was only open for a very few months, and does not, of course, represent the entire needs of people in this city for housing at the present time.

That is a pretty damaging indictment against the late Government, and against this Government if they perpetuate the system. The County Council then set out to raise the necessary funds. There were people who said it would be impossible to raise the money. I see the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) in his place, and he will be interested in this, because he was Chairman, and responsible in the first instance for supervising this scheme. As a matter of fact, the scheme was shut down, not because the money could not be got, but because they got too much money. Nearly £4,000,000 was subscribed within a very short time. There is at least £1,000,000, on which 6 per cent, interest is now being paid, lying idle. Yet we were prevented by the Minister of Health from going on with this particular scheme. It is surely fair to suggest it is time that we gave renewed and additional consideration to this position. I had a letter this morning from a man in Brixton Gaol. He is in prison with four other persons, because he with those men seized a disused building in Peckham for the purpose of giving a man, his wife and seven or eight children accommodation. Those men were brought before the Magistrate and condemned to six months' imprisonment. I say it is a crying scandal and disgrace to this country. Those men are to be applauded, so far as I can see, for endeavouring to do the things we ourselves ought to have done in discharging our obligations. I raised a question in the last Parliament with regard to some other men who were sentenced to imprisonment because they prevented an eviction from a house which was in such a filthy, insanitary condition that the people had to be evicted. Within 20 minutes' tram ride of this House of Commons, there are houses where there is no separate sanitary accommodation, no separate water accommodation, and where the rain comes through the roof. There are plenty of these places to which I could take hon. Members, if they would care to see them, within a very narrow radius of this House, and they are occupied for the most part by the families of men whom you were cheering in the streets of London a few years ago.

It is absurd to think that we can approach this housing problem from a purely economic point of view. It cannot be done, and we have no right to con-eider it from that point of view. We have to consider it from the point of view that our people have got to be housed adequately if we are going to do anything to hold our place among the nations of the world. Moreover, we shall be spending our money quite well if we put men into employment, for it will help to maintain their morale, and get flowing the current of commerce in this country. We may take it for granted that for a good while to come our ordinary foreign trade is going to 6uffer very badly, and probably has gone for some time. We have, therefore, to develop our position here, and we should be doing better to keep our men in good morale and good working efficiency, adding to the capital of the country at the same time by building these houses, and carrying out the schemes to which we have been pledged. County councils and borough councils are prepared and anxious to go on with their housing schemes, but all along the line they are finding themselves crippled by the Government Departments refusing to give them the necessary assistance, which must come, because the areas that need it most are those in the greatest poverty, and in point of fact the charges have been too heavily placed upon them. This surely ought to be regarded as a War charge, and met from the National Exchequer.

We might also have done something with regard to people who were profiting at the nation's expense some time ago ii we had adopted the same attitude as that which was taken up with regard to material for war supplies, and set up some sort of Committee which would haw gone into the question of costings, and found out how far they were exploiting the community. I suggest that that sort of thing has got to be done in this case. It is time that we gave an earnest to the country that we mean business. We had far better spend the money which we are paying in Unemployment Insurance by putting men to build houses. This afternoon we heard that those who lead in the ranks of the unemployed in this country are in the building trade. Hero, at a moment of the world's history when there-is so much work to be done, we never had so many people out of employment. That is not because of any lack of liquid capital. Calls for gilt-edged stock are over-subscribed again and again. We in the County Council, as I said, had no difficulty in raising our money, and could have got millions more if we had gone on. If people will not help in one way to provide healthy houses and re-organise the nation, there will have to be other means found to make them do so, and to see that they play their part in honouring the obligations to the men who fought and suffered. Now it is their turn to pay up, and help put these men in the position in which they ought to be. I hope the Prime Minister's statement that he is going to rely on private enterprise will be viewed in this House with considerable alarm. It is the poor man who wants his house built. At the present time it cannot be done perhaps on economic lines, but it must and ought, to be done, and the nation itself ought to pay for it.

That is our case, and a case which, I hope, is going to receive sympathetic consideration from the other side, and not be jeered out of court and treated as something impracticable. It can be done the moment this House says it shall be done, and if we cannot move private people to do it, the Government itself ought to carry it through. They could have done it had they not been in such a hurry so soon after the War to scrap the machinery of industries in the interests of private enterprise. We had all the plant and opportunities for doing the work. I am told by experts that we are now within 20 per cent, of being able to build houses and let them at an economic rent. I am told by those in a position to know that a house can be built now for £400 plus overhead charges. At the same time, there is not the slightest doubt that the moment we set about doing it, great capitalists will seize the opportunity to try to send up the cost of materials. The Government, therefore, will have to take steps to safeguard the interests of the community, check costings and books, and see that only a fair return is allowed on the money, and that the great need of the nation receives attention at the earliest possible moment.


As I have bees, referred to by both the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken, I think, perhaps, I ought to say something in reply. I do not by any means complain of those references, and I hope my hon. Friend—if he will allow me to call him so—the Member for Bow and Bromley did not refer particularly to me—


Hear, hear!


—when he spoke of the dodges of which people were capable in public affairs which they would never dream of perpetrating in private affaire. But I think that the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley is perfectly justified in raising this question from the point of view in Poplar, because of one circumstance which I should like to tell the House, and which does indicate the kind of position in which public men have been placed by the chops and changes in Government policy.

When the housing bond campaign in London was begun, several of the boroughs in London did not take part. In Poplar, I think I am right in saying, the vast majority of the people there who were supporters of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley, who was then Mayor, were strongly against that borough having anything to do with the housing bond campaign. The hon. Member, however, as mayor, took the line with all his supporters that, while he disagreed with the methods of the Government's policy, he intended to support the scheme, and he did support it throughout. He was, if I may say so modestly, of the very greatest assistance to me as chairman of the campaign. It is natural that, having put himself in that position, he should feel that he has been seriously let down —to use the slang phrase—by these chops and changes in Government policy. That being said, I think that the hon. Member rather misstated—quite unintentionally— the position of the case in regard to the money raised in Poplar. In the first place, the campaign to raise that money took place in the summer of 1920, but building in Poplar, as in the rest of London, and the, rest of the country, certainly did not begin a moment before the summer of 1919


As to when our building commenced I can only take the date before I left for Russia. It was in January.


January, 1919. Between January, 1919, and the summer of 1920–I am sorry to bother the House with these details—but great as was the energy of the authorities in Poplar at that time, I do not think they can have actually spent the borrowed money—


We have not spent it, but we borrowed it.


My recollection of the case is this, that when the campaign began there were many liabilities on their schemes in respect to which they were looking for help to the London County Council, and that the whole of that £60,000 was not to be spent entirely on new schemes. However, that fact is not important.


That is really my point.


I want to say this— and I hope the Government will make a not* of this fact—if any obstacle is being placed by the Government in the way of that money being spent in Poplar then, in view of the purpose for which it was raised, I think the Government ought to reconsider the question. Any such obstacle would be a distinct breach of pledge, a breach of honour which could not be defended for one single moment. But I think the hon. Member opposite will admit that that is hardly the state of the case. The Ministry of Health has refused authority to new schemes in Poplar, not because they are unwilling that Poplar should incur a capital liability of £60,000, but because they are unwilling to pledge the National Exchequer for any deficit which would accrue on those schemes for 60 years to come. I do not think that the fact that Poplar contributed this money can be held to obligate the National Exchequer to pay a deficit on housing schemes, no matter what that deficit may be. I think it is necessary to put that point quite clearly, because the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) made the same mistake. He said the London County Council had raised more than enough to carry on their schemes. That is perfectly true, but they have not raised money to pay the deficits. That is the thing that is holding up housing in London and in the country. No good can be gained by ignoring that fact, and stating the case as if the only thing necessary was for the local authority to raise a capital sum sufficient to build houses. That is only the beginning, and, incidentally, of course, none of that £4,000,000 was raised for the schemes of the London County Council. However, that is another matter.

Having dealt with these particular points about London, I should like to say something in general upon this problem. Both hon. Members opposite, especially the second hon. Member, have spoken of the pledges given by the late Government at the General Election of 1918. The hon. Gentleman painted a picture of the way in which these pledges had been departed from. I quite agree with that picture. I quite agree that the making of these pledges compared with the performance has been laments able. But I draw a somewhat different conclusion to the hon. Gentleman opposite. The conclusion that I draw is a distrust of very large statements of high intentions, and statements of the desperate need for houses such as we have heard this afternoon from the benches opposite—statements, though, with which we all sympathise. One distrusts a policy set on foot with the waving of flags and the beating of drums. Distrusting all that, one realises that it is much easier to have a policy than to find a practical means of carrying that policy out. Anyone who has had direct connection with any housing schemes under the assisted housing scheme of the late Government knows that in 1921, when the schemes were cut down, we were coming to an absolute deadlock. It was impossible, physically impossible, to go on much longer on that scale and to find the money. That was the practical experience of every administrator, to whatever political party or school he belonged. That was because the scheme was fundamentally on wrong lines. We differ as to where the wrongness might come in; but the question now before us is what other policy are we to have? It is no good reviving old schemes. That is, after all, behind most of the speeches we have heard from benches opposite. It is for the old schemes to go on, with certain new aspects like commandeering empty houses, controlling building materials, and so on. This I will deal with in a moment. If the old schemes are to go on, then I submit there is absolutely no hope along those lines.

In the first place we have only built, comparatively, very few houses, and we only had in hand very few houses by the time the scheme was cut down in 1921. During the period every local authority in the country had been working day and night to get housing schemes started, and during two years, comparatively, few schemes were started.

Why; Because you cannot put through the machinery of the local authorities more than a certain amount of business. That always seems to me to be the fundamental practical objection to those doctrines of State control which are put forward by hon. Members opposite. They ignore the fact that you cannot put more than a certain volume of business through a given number of local authorities, or a given number of organisations of any kind. That is precisely where every private company invariably breaks down when it tries to extend its activities into all sorts of channels. So the system of local government for the housing scheme broke down simply through congestion of business. Where you have congestion in local business, such as I have described, you get inefficiency and extravagance. That is the first thing to remember about the housing policy of the future. It has got to be a policy which enlists all agencies, and not merely the agency of local government. If you are going physically to put through the work of building 600,000 houses, it means that you have got to employ every agency, public or private, in this country. That is the first point in any new housing scheme.

What is the place of Government action in housing? I see opposite the hon. Member for one of the divisions of Glasgow who gave us a very interesting address the other day as to how impossible it was under the present social system to avoid unemployment and similar evils. Therefore, he said, we; must look to an entirely new social system. Now I am not going to deal with what we might possibly or conceivably do under a hypothetical social system such as no man has ever seen in operation in the world, except; in a limited way in Russia, which none of us wish to—


But you see the effect of the present social system in operation.


Precisely. You see the present system in operation in housing. But we cannot deal now with an entirely hypothetical system. I have to assume that we have to do something about housing in the next two or three years, and I am confining my remarks to what we are to do under the present system. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) suggests that-private enterprise has broken down and that the Government should take the lead in this matter of housing. He suggests that that would be the best solution of this question if you can only control the producer of building material. It is obvious that if you control prices you must control wages. I am not going to enter into any recrimination as to what was responsible for the high cost of building in the past. It is no good to enter into that. In the future if you are going to control prices, as you did during the War, you will have to control wages. In the second place under what conditions were those great War fortunes made to which hon. Members opposite have so often referred I They were made during the War. Profiteering took place during the War. [HON. MEMBERS: "And after."] Hon. Members talk about the War fortunes. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley mentioned the matter. But under what conditions were those fortunes made? Under conditions of purely private enterprise? On the contrary, under public control and fixed prices. The phenomena can be studied in many countries, in America, where the same system was put in force. It is perfectly obvious to anyone who will follow a logical line of thought for a moment that the first effect of any control of prices must be to increase the profit of a certain proportion of fortunate producers, because you have got to fix your price to bring in what the economists call the marginal producer. That is the producer under the worst conditions and with the lowest efficiency.


Hear, hear!

7.0 P.M.


I am glad to see that I have the approval of my instructor in economics, the right hon. Member for the Combined English Universities. I think it is true, admitting the profits made on building material since 1919, that large as those profits were in many cases, they were much lower on the average than the profits made by similar businesses under a system of Government control in the latter years of the War. I believe that can be fairly well proved. It must be remembered that while the independent committees appointed by the Government to examine into the charges of profiteering in building material found serious profiteering in one or two cases, their general conclusions did not bear out Any general or sweeping charge of very high and abnormal profits being made owing to the formation of rings. Therefore, I think the hon. Member for North Camberwell, in putting forward a scheme of Government control as the panacea for this housing question, is offering to the people of this country something which is as much Dead Sea fruit as were the promises of the Government in 1918. I hope hon. Members opposite will learn from that terrible example, and will be careful of offering as a panacea any scheme of that kind, which may break in their hands at a future day when they have the opportunity of trying it.

What, then, is the position of public authorities now? It is obvious that while they can build new houses up to a certain point, the main burden of building new houses must fall upon private enterprise. But, and this is quite enough for all the local authorities in this country, conversely, the only possibility and prospect of clearing slums is by the action of local authorities. If local authorities will concentrate on that they will find that the burden of work thrown upon them will be quite as much as they or their officials can bear. [An HON. MEMBER: "Give us a panacea!"] I am not dealing with panaceas. There is this point to be remembered about the slum clearance schemes: they can never be economic in the proper sense of the term.


The public authorities must stand the loss of clearance, while the other people make the profit.


I do not understand the hon. Gentleman. This is a question of local authorities building. The local authorities are not going to make a profit, therefore, this business has got to be financed either out of the rates or out of the taxes. Before the War, in London, our slum clearance schemes were financed out of rates. I think, however, that the Government will agree that it is impossible to expect local authorities to finance the amount of slum clearance work that ought to be done purely out of the rates. The question, then, is what sum of money are the Government prepared to place at the disposal of local authorities in order to assist them in slum clearance schemes? If I remember aright, the late Minister of Health, the right hon. Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond). stated that the Government were prepared to place either £1,000,000 or £500,000–I cannot remember which—at the disposal of local authorities for such schemes. I wish to ask the Government—though I know they have had such very short notice of this Debate that I cannot expect an answer now—how much money has actually been pledged in that way out of that total sum? Secondly, I want to ask them whether they are prepared to state afresh, on their own responsibility, what is the amount of money they are prepared to devote to this object in future?

I believe—and this is where I distrust so much the flag waving and drum beating schemes—that a comparatively small sum of money can, at present building prices, stimulate slum clearance schemes if it is properly distributed and allocated by the Minister of Health, to a far greater extent than most people have any idea. There is a tremendous local demand for such schemes at the present moment, and a very small grant from the Exchequer will stimulate them to an enormous degree. It is absolutely essential, however, if that money is to be spent to the best possible advantage, that in this case, at any rate—although we dislike giving discretion beyond a certain point to Ministers—that the Minister should have control over that money and should allocate it to local authorities according to his discretion and the knowledge of his Department where it is most needed. The one thing which will destroy any possibility of such a scheme being a success at all will be if hon. Members of this House feel obliged, in this House and out of it, to press for a certain amount of money each for their own constituencies, that every constituency shall have its quota of the £1,000,000, or whatever sum is placed at the disposal of the country. The first and last result of any such pressure of that kind is logrolling and inefficiency. If the House will exercise its self-restraint in the matter, a small sum, properly allocated according to the discretion of the Minister, will go an enormous way to stimulate this work.

Other points have been mentioned, such as the commandeering of empty houses. That is a matter which must depend very largely upon the report of the Rent Restrictions Act Committee, so I will say no more on that point. I say this in conclusion, that we do expect from the Government, not any flag waving and drum beating schemes, but a considered policy and the expenditure of a certain amount of money, especially on slum clearance. We expect the devising of a policy in regard to the building of new houses that will encourage private enterprise, while strengthening the powers of local authorities in regard to town planning and the arrangement of the areas in which private enterprise is to build those houses. That last is a large question, into which I cannot enter at the moment; but we do expect these things from the Government. I am glad that we are to have a reply on this Debate from the Solicitor-General who, I think, in almost the last speech he made in this House in the last Session of Parliament—I do not want to remind him now of any indiscretions of the past, but I am sure he does not regard this particular quotation as an indiscretion—made the strongest plea for a forward policy by the Government in he-using. Of that, without anticipating any specific promise from him to-night, we expect him in general words to give us an assurance.


The House will probably entirely agree with the Noble Lord who has just spoken, in his conclusion as to the need there is for an advanced policy on slum clearance, but I am afraid he was not so potent in regard to the building of those new houses which surely must precede the clearing of slums. How is it possible, when you have an existing shortage, to demolish other houses before you build new? The Noble Lord said that he suspected considerably the statements that were made from this side as to the desperate need. I am astonished at anyone who has connection with local government can suspect the desperate need which exists throughout the length and breadth of the country.


The hon. Gentleman must realise that what I said was that I distrusted speeches about our high intentions and desperate needs as a basis for solving the problem in practice. Of course, I am impressed by our desperate need.


I am grateful to the Noble Lord for correcting me, but I took his words down as he said them. I am sorry if I misunderstood him. His suspicions were not of the desperate need, but of the uses that were made of it. With regard to the need, the two previous speakers from this side of the House dealt authoritatively with the position in London. What they said with regard to London was equally true of the provinces. A return was made, under the Housing Act of 1919, by all the local authorities of the country. According to that official return, there was a need existing in 1919 of 800,000 houses. That, surely, is a desperate need. I know that figure was called in question by members of the late Government when they were anxious to write down their commitments, but I put it to the House that it must be very nearly that total.

During the period of the War all house building was stopped, and rightly so; we had to concentrate the whole of the energy of the nation on armaments, and there was no room left for the building of houses. Those who are acquainted with the building trade know that in previous years the average of new houses built over a considerable period has been something between 70,000 and 80,000 houses. If, therefore, you put a bar on the erection of all houses for a period of five years, you get at once a shortage, due to that cessation of building, of over 400,000 houses. We know, according to the Land Inquiry instituted by the late Prime Minister, that in 1913 there was a considerable shortage of houses owing to the lack of private enterprise to fill the bill in the earlier years. From this it is perfectly reasonable, to assume that the figures given by the local authorities of a shortage of over 800,000 houses in that year can be substantiated by a comparison with other sources. It has been suggested, when trying to demolish those figures, that the returns of population for the last decennial period show a decrease, and that therefore as many houses are not required now as before. A moment's examination, however, will show that that decrease was mainly one in the birthrate during the period of the War. During the last 10 years the marriage rate, which is surely the crux of the demand for houses, and the test of what you require in the way of new homes, was considerably above the average of any previous 10 years. If you take the Registrar-General's figures for the three years from 1919–1921, you find there over 1,000,000 marriages. That, in itself, is evidence of the need of, at any rate, 1,000,000 new homes. Therefore, I submit that although you may have a decrease in the net rate of the population, the effective demand for houses has not been decreased because the marriage rate during that 10 years shows a much greater increase than in previous periods.

I do not think the House will contest the need. In my own town of Middles-brough we required over 3,000 houses to make good the shortage, and we have been allowed to build only 600 or 700 houses. According to a house-to-house canvass of the whole town made last year, over 25 per cent, of the population are living in a state of overcrowding with two or more people in each room, and there are over 1,000 families who have not got a house of their own, and who have to share one small house with other families, and in some cases there are as many as five families living in one house. We are told that the Government must curtail their housing programme. I think it is unfortunate that at a time like this the House should be deprived of the services of a Minister of Health. It is unfortunate that we have no one on the Front Bench who directly represents the Minister of Health. I trust that the Government do not expect us to take that as an evidence of the importance which they attach to health and housing conditions.

We were told to-day that there are only 12,000 houses still to be sanctioned under the late Government's scheme. Is that really the whole contribution which the Government have to offer to this problem, which, as previous speakers have said, is not merely an economic but a moral problem? It is absolutely impossible for young children and healthy families to be brought up with a proper sense of morality and decency under the present overcrowded conditions which are characteristic of all our industrial towns. In many cases you have both sexes living and sleeping in the same room. In this way we are gradually piling up not only physical but moral ill-health, which will cost the country a good deal in the future. There has been no reference to any reform in that direction or any indication as to what the Government are prepared to do.

The Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord Eustace Percy) was very scathing about what local authorities could do, and he said that under the scheme of the late Government they produced very few houses, and he put that forward as evidence of their inability to handle the question. He told us that we can only get a limited amount of work done through the local machinery, and that you cannot depend upon local authorities. The analogy he drew between the work of public authorities and private enterprise will not hold good. Before the War the Admiralty and the War Office were not equal to the needs of our protection, but during the War they rose to the occasion and the same machinery proved equal to dealing with a problem which staggered humanity. If the existing machinery could be made to achieve this result when producing things to destroy, surely the same, machinery and enterprise could be used when local councils are dealing with the housing problem. There is absolutely no reason why they cannot enlarge their activities if they are given an opportunity. Hon. Members seem to think that in asking this I am ignoring private enterprise. May I point out that private enterprise is carrying out building under the Government schemes and you also have the competition of private enterprise. The State is not building the houses, but it is being done by private enterprise, and they are doing it with State assistance and the assistance of the local authorities, and that is considerable.

I do not think anyone suggests that the bureaucracy of the Minister of Health should be continued, and we can do this work very well with less red tape and oversight. We want more freedom and elasticity, and I suggest that local authorities should have a more free hand than they have had in the past, and should be allowed to work out their own salvation. How can private enterprise fulfil our needs? How can it provide the 500,000 houses which are still required in order to provide decent homes for the people? Why has private enterprise not done this work in the past? If private enterprise is the real solution of all these evils, why has it not built the houses we require since the War? If private enterprise can do this work better than the State or the local authorities without assistance, why have they not done it? They have had a free hand and there has been no restriction upon private enterprise during the last couple of years. They have had perfect freedom to buy and to build.

Up to quite recently £400 or £500 has been the lowest price at which a house can be built. Who is going to erect hundreds and thousands of workmen's cottages at a cost of from £400 to £500? Hon. Members know that such cottages cannot be let at an economic rent, and as long as things remain as they are it will be impossible for private enterprise to build these houses, because the inducement for them to do so is not sufficient. Take the cost at £400 or £500. A man wants a return on his money, and he does not want to wait 60 years. He wants a quick return and a profit on his money. I think experts in the building trade sitting opposite will agree that you require 8 per cent, interest on your £400 before you indulge in supplying workmen's houses. Let us take £400 at 8 per cent. You require a rent of 12s. 4d. a week to clear that cost without rates. Who is there to-day who is going to build houses on which he will have to get 12s. 4d. a week at the present time? It is not a sound business proposition in the way of private enterprise, and therefore I submit that private enterprise cannot supply the houses we require during the next few years.

In the second place, we cannot afford to wait. The social arid moral needs of the community demand that the houses shall be put up. What, therefore, is the solution? In so far as the State has caused the shortage by stopping building operations during the War, the State is responsible for the shortage, and it is perfectly reasonable that the State should regard this as a burden and duty left to it by the War, and in order that this abnormal shortage should be made good, there should be State assistance to make up for the shortage which now exists. How should that assistance be given? I would suggest to the Government that they should not proceed on the old lines of the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Health, but leave local authorities to work out their own salvation, and give them assistance by guaranteeing loans at a reasonable rate of interest which will enable them to build houses which they can let at an economic rent, and let the State bear the cost of the difference between what it charges local authorities and what it has to pay for the loans.

This cannot be done on a sound financial basis, and there must be a loss. I submit that the loss should not fall on the local authorities because the shortage is not due to any fault or negligence on their part, but it is the result of the War, and should be met nationally as a war charge. I suggest to the House that it would be a perfectly sound proposal that the Government should offer to local authorities to provide or guarantee £300 on every house that they built up to the 500,000 houses which are required to make good the shortage, and they should find that money at 3½ per cent, repayable over a period of 60 years. Then the local authorities should find the balance. I would not suggest that the whole of the money should be provided by the State because that would put a premium on extravagance. I would leave the local authorities to find the rest of the money and the less they have to pay for the erection of the houses the cheaper it will be to the local authorities, and this would be an inducement towards economy. They could borrow money locally at not more than 5 per cent. They would then get £300 from the Government at 3½ per cent, and £100 or £150 locally at 5 per cent., and then a rent of 6s. a week would clear them of their standing charges on these 500,000 houses. The only loss would be the difference between the 33 per cent, at which the State would lend or guarantee the loans and what would have to be paid, and I do not think the loss would be more than l½ per cent. In this way the State would secure an efficient remedy against disease, which is going up by leaps and bounds owing to the overcrowded conditions existing in our large towns.

To-day we are spending £2,000,000 a year in remedial measures for tuberculosis and we are also spending on health services some £40,000,000 a year. What is another £2,250,000 per annum to prevent the waste that is going on and to arrest disease which is so prevalent? I submit purely on the grounds of pounds, shillings and pence no money could be more wisely spent than in providing the difference between the economic rent of the local authority and the amount the State would have to pay by lending money at this cheap rate of interest. We cannot leave things as they are, and so far as new houses are concerned this would provide an effective and economic way out of the difficulty.

With regard to slums, private enterprise will never deal with that problem. It cannot be solved on economic lines. You must face this problem as a national responsibility. We have neglected our duty in this respect in the past, and instead of spending a beggarly £200,000 a year dealing with slums, ten times that amount would not deal adequately with the problem. The business man does not expect the same plant and machinery to supply his needs for 50 or 60 years and the old machinery is scrapped and pulled down and written off the balance sheet. The State must do the same with regard to the houses which are decrepit and worn out in the service of those who use them. We have to realise our responsibility for the slums and congested areas, as otherwise we shall reap the reward of neglect in ill-health and sickness. I appeal to the Government to at once tackle the question of providing more houses in order to prevent sickness and ill-health becoming rampant among us, and so as to ward off those moral dangers which will be laid to our charge as a community if we do not face our responsibilities.


The voice of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) is a different voice to that with which he spoke in the last Parliament. His ideas on housing have evidently received some very violent shocks. In the last Parliament the hon. Member dealt with the question on absolutely uneconomic lines; apparently he did not care what the cost was. That has been the whole difficulty of the problem in the past. It was the thing which caused the housing schemes of the late Government to fail. They ignored economic conditions. If they had allowed the matter to be dealt with by private enterprise, side by side with the local authorities, there would have been many thousand more houses to-day than there are. There is not the slightest doubt that the Prime Minister has intimated how this problem will have to be attacked. It will have to be attacked by the local authorities dealing with slums and by private enterprise which provided nearly all the houses before the War. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the slums as well!"] From 70,000 to 80,000 new houses are required year by year. The hon. Member has suggested that the Government should find a certain amount of money. I do not think much objection can be raised to the Government finding some of the money, and in the suggestion that they should provide a certain proportion of the capital required there is the germ of something good. But if you leave it to the local authorities entirely the scheme will fail. You will have to bring in private enterprise, and if you do that you can lend to private builders money in the same way as it is proposed to advance it to local authorities, and then there will be the advantage that the loan will provide an incentive to get the work done. There is no incentive to the local authorities to get it done, and that is why schemes have failed in the past.

I have taken part in much of the controversy in this House on the housing question, and I have said all through that more houses are required. I have also declared that we want them cheaper and more quickly than they have been produced up till the present. It is admitted that the Act which came into force in the middle of 1919, and which constituted a bribe to the local authorities, resulted in extravagant administration without securing the houses which one was entitled to expect would be provided. It has been suggested that at least 500,000 more houses are needed. It is a very great mistake to over-state your case. I believe if we could get 300,000 additional houses at the present time it would more than fill the bill. I have been on housing; committees and know something of how the lists of applicants for these new houses are made up. We have had it suggested that the London County Council has a waiting list of 23,000 applicants! But when you come to analyse the names what do you find? You discover that 50 per cent, are people who want to get out of their present houses into the subsidized Houses so as to reap the advantage of the subsidy which the Government have been giving to the local authority.


The London County Council have a regulation that in every instance ex-service men should have a first claim on the new houses.


That does not do away with my point. I was speaking of the applicants for new houses. I quite agree that the London County Council and other local authorities are looking into these things, but I repeat that when the lists come to be analysed it is found that a large proportion of the applicants merely want to leave their present houses in order to get the advantage of the subsidised, houses. I had a list before me not very long ago in a borough in which I am interested, and in that list I found that more than 50 per cent, of the applicants desired to get out of their present houses, which were not up to date but, still, were very good houses, and to enter into possession of the houses on which a subsidy had been paid. Every one of the houses put up under these schemes is an incubus to-day and the taxpayer is finding a sum ranging from £1 to 30s. per week in respect of each of the houses. That is a very serious thing.

Under the scheme private enterprise should have been brought in side by side with the local authority under, of course, proper supervision. I am not an advocate for bad houses. I like a nice house for myself and I believe in other people having nice houses. I say that by private enterprise only can you hope to get such houses on reasonable lines. If you start new socialistic schemes of community-owned houses, there are so many people grabbing for them that the scheme must result in failure.

In February, 1919, I was a member of a housing committee to which a certain firm of builders camp and said, "You want houses. We have the land, and we have the sewers and drains already laid, we have the plant and some of the material. We were building these houses before the War at £300 per house. We find we cannot build them to-day under £600. We cannot afford to put these houses up as we should have to ask such a largo rent, and we make this suggestion —that you or the Government or the local authority should provide £150 of the £600 and we will then put the houses up and allow five per cent, for a number of years on that £150 to be provided out of rent." They effered to build 600 houses by Christmas, 1919, and if that offer had been accepted it would have largely solved the housing problem in that particular borough. In company with the housing surveyor I saw Dr. Addison and submitted the scheme to him. He took two or three days to consider it and then turned it down, because he said the community must own the houses. In a later Bill which was passed by the House houses were allowed to be purchased. And I believe some houses have been purchased by the local authority for over £900, with the result that the taxpayers have to pay something like £l a week subsidy in respect of each house. If the Minister of Health at that time had had the broad vision to see that this was going to solve the problem, there is not the slightest doubt the houses would have been put up. It was a wicked thing to turn the scheme down and then to purchase houses at the taxpayers' expense, as has been done quite recently. We failed to get the houses. The Minister of Health was informed at the time that it would take at least two years before the local authority could provide them and, as a matter of fact, over two years elapsed before any number of houses were obtained. There were at that time in the neighbourhood of London miles and miles of streets which had been laid out prior to the War, but the Government would not use those schemes, preferring to go in for some elaborate scheme of its own. May I ask, are the houses that have been put up handsome houses? Are you satisfied with them? Many of them are what I would call mere bandboxes. A man, like myself, could not get into some of the rooms. In connection with the London County Council Roe-hampton Estate, if the cost of the roads and sewers is added to the cost of building, the cost of the houses works out in the neighbourhood of from £1,500 to £1,700 per house. I agree with the hon. Member who cries "Shame!"

Someone has been talking about building material. What is the trouble? They were paying 6d. per thousand for the clay with which to make bricks, and the British working man got a very large share of the money which the bricks cost. Did that working man give a fair day's work for his high wages? That is where your schemes largely broke down. It was a case of high cost and low production. I had the privilege of presiding over two Profiteering Committees with regard to building material. In the Vote Office will be found the Reports of those Committees. It was suggested that rings had been formed and that people were getting unfair rates of profit. I advise hon. Members opposite to read some of the Reports of the Committees on Profiteering. There they will learn that whilst 6d. per thousand was paid for the clay which was turned into bricks, bricks which pre War sold at 23s. per thousand increased in price to £4 or £5 per thousand. Where did the extra money go? It went in labour. I did not go into this inquiry for amusement. I myself was under the impression that profiteering was going on. But when I came up against this question of bricks I found where the money was going. If hon. Members will read these Reports they will inform their minds. We suggested in our Report that wherever an association of manufacturers controlled 60 per cent, of the output of a given industry, the Board of Trade should insist on their publishing, first, the wages they were paying, secondly, the amount of profit made, and thirdly, the amount of turnover. If that had been done there would have been no profiteering because public opinion would have been so adverse to anything of the kind, and it would have been possible to see at once whether and where profiteering was going on.

This Government has got to do something with regard to housing, but I hope it will be on practical lines. I take it that most of us are desirous that the people shall be properly housed. I will not deal with slums, because that matter has been dealt with otherwise, but we want to see that people have proper houses to live in. We want, however, to see that neither the builder nor those who are employed in the work have an unfair profit. There should be a reasonable profit to everyone and a fair wage. I have always stood for that all my life, and I stand for it to-day. But when you have a fair wage, it is only reasonable— (An HON. MEMBER: "What is a fair wage?"] That is a matter of opinion. I suppose it is as much as you can get and a little bit more. I say, however, that if a man produces sufficient he should have more. If a man produces a large quantity of work, I would increase his pay materially. But to-day, unfortunately, we bring everyone down to the plane of the slowest worker. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] When I was at work at the bench, we used to pat the man on the back who produced a good day's work and did his work well. We used to think a lot of him. To-day, unfortunately, in the shops, the man who produces the smallest amount and does not get the sack is usually considered to be the best man. That is a bad thing for the country. We do not want slaves, but we want people to do fair dues. That is all we want—a fair amount of production for a fair day's wage.

The housing scheme of the late Government was broken up more from that point of view than anything else. There was the uneconomic state of affairs when authorities were told, "Never mind what you spend; we will make up everything to you with the exception of a penny rate." That was bribery and corruption of the local authorities. I happened to be at a meeting when a man got up, who called himself a Labour man, and said, "What does it matter what we spend? It will not come out of the rates at all. It will not make any difference to us "— that was the borough council in question —"the Government will have to pay." Let us get away from that idea. We do not want either workmen or employers to make unfair profits. They are entitled to a fair wage and a fair profit, and if the hon. Member would include private enterprise as well as local authorities, I believe there is something in the scheme that he has adumbrated for a better housing policy than we have had before. I hope the Government will take in hand something in this way, but if they exclude private enterprise it is bound to fail.


I have listened to the remarks that have been made both by the hon. Member who spoke last and by the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), and am surprised that they have not supplied us with any idea whatever, as far as my intelligence can judge, as to how the problems can be solved. The hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Lorden) makes a charge against the workers that they accept wages which they have not really earned. When I was a boy I remember the same statement being made; but the hon. Member now says that when he worked in the shops the standard for the worker then was much higher than it is to-day. Both those statements cannot be true. At that time we were told that if the worker would only work as the German worker worked, long hours for little pay, then this country would be on the road to progress. To-day we have been told, not about Germany, but about the United States. We are invited to watch how the worker there works. It is said that the reason why he is paid such high wages is because he produces more, but, as a matter of fact, the worker in America is being accused at the moment of exactly the same crime as is alleged against the worker here.

Housing is not a new question in this House; it is almost as old as the oldest Member who is sitting on these benches. I can remember, as a lad, being in London in 1882 or thereabouts, and then a popular stunt was being worked by all the leading newspapers of London, which vied with one another in painting lurid pictures of how the poor lived. At that time it became a pastime on the part of the people of Belgravia, "whose hearts are pure and fair," to go down to Whitechapel and other places and see how the poor lived. To-day, 40 years have elapsed, and all that we are doing is still talking about what seems to be as much an eternal problem as unemployment. These are questions, seemingly, which do not admit of solution. You have had control of the government of this country—both in the Government itself and in our rural councils—throughout the length and breadth of our land. In every place, almost without exception, where government is, you have controlled the affairs, both local and those of the State, with the disastrous result that every Member of the House deplores to-day.

There is no one who will not say that the present state of affairs ought not any longer to be allowed to exist, and yet nothing is to be done, because it costs money. Let me point out that so far as the cost in money is concerned it is, as has been already said, costing us a tremendous amount. In Scotland we have a problem that is much more intensified than it is in England. We have there a system of housing which it is almost impossible for those who have not lived under the conditions to conceive can exist in a civilised State. You talk about there being two people, on the average, living in each house; but, in the city where for the time being I happen to have the honour of representing a constituency, there are more than three persons living under certain conditions in one room. We have 40,000 single apartments, with over 130,000 people occupying them—the population of a great city living in one-roomed houses with no conveniences of any kind whatever, living under the darkest and most dreary and dungeon-like conditions that can be conceived. The hon. and gallant Member for the Lanark Division of Lanarkshire (Captain Elliot) knows those conditions which obtain in our city.

Again, we have in Glasgow 112,000 room-and-kitchen houses, with a population of nearly 500,000 people. The second city of the Empire has over 60 per cent, of its people living either in single apartments or in two-roomed houses, many of them without even the family water-closet, and without the conveniences that hon. Members would consider to be absolutely necessary to even a modicum of decency. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Hutchison) here. In his district there are those conditions. Those conditions are such that it is impossible for us either to speak or to think with moderation about them. Little children are beginning life there and getting absolutely no chance, with the most disastrous results. I have sat as a Magistrate in the City of Glasgow, having to deal with the results of the housing conditions, to deal with the victims that those conditions have created, and I have had to pass sentence on them, while, if justice had been meted out to me and other members of the community, someone should have been sitting in judgment on us for permitting such conditions to exist.

In the City of Glasgow last year we spent nearly £800,000 on the health problem in order to deal with the bad conditions arising out of housing. A thousand people died from tuberculosis alone. They did not die in the well-to-do portions of the city. In one particular ward— Kelvinside—there was not a single case of tuberculosis; there was no death from tuberculosis in any of its forms; while in the constituency that I represent there were many deaths, and many continually contracting the disease. This year the Corporation of Glasgow is engaged in building a new sanatorium at a cost of over £300,000, to contain 200 or 300 beds. It has built a hospital which is now occupied by 440 patients. It has hundreds of cases in our Poor Law hospitals, all arising from tuberculosis. Our fever hospitals are crowded. There is not a patient within any one of those hospitals who is not costing over £2 per week to maintain, allowing nothing whatever for the rent of the building. And the State comes along and says to us: "We will give you 50/50 if you build these buildings. We will supply you with the money, not on loan at a cheap rate of interest, but will give you the money absolutely to build these buildings." This problem has been dealt with in Scotland, and a Report was made in 1917 by a Commission appointed by this House in 1913, which stated that there were then required in Scotland 121,000 houses. That Commission was not at all representative of Labour; it was made up of medical men and business men; and its Report is more damning than anything I or anyone on these benches could say with regard to the housing conditions that obtain.

8.0 P.M.

Nothing, however, is being done. We are going on allowing the people to fester and rot, rearing and perpetuating a C3 population, while there is wealth and skill and ingenuity and enterprise enough to build up and make our country what every one of us, regardless of the bench on which we sit, desires in their innermost soul. We desire to see a healthy people develop, with intelligence, with a higher standard of morality than we dream of at the present moment. That is an ideal that can be realised, if only the idea is given over that we are here merely as agitators seeking for our own self-glorification. It is not so. We have been through it all. I am not speaking in a boastful spirit when I say I began life in a slum in Glasgow. My first dawnings of memory go back to a slum tenement. The memories of these things dwell within us, and if nature has gifted us with powers and given us voice to speak for our people who are dumb, if it gives us the intelligence and the desire to alter things, we must give expression to it. We are here desirous of doing our little bit to make our land a place fit for heroes to live in. where heroes may be bred and where the children who are growing up shall never know the terribly degrading conditions that exist for hundreds of thousands of my fellow citizens in Glasgow and throughout the little country, but the great country as it is generally reckoned to be, of Scotland.


As a new Member I desire to confine my remarks to one point only, and to be very brief. I listened with the greatest possible sympathy and with sincere interest to the very eloquent speech of the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. J. Stewart). That is the spirit in which to deal with social questions of this kind, and, as one who was brought up at the feet of Lord Shaftesbury, I entirely agree with the sentiments which the hon. Member has expressed. I am not surprised to see so many hon. Members of extreme opinion returned for the great city of Glasgow. If I had to live in such houses, I doubt very much if I should be on those benches. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come over here!"] If these things cannot be altered, although I may not have many years to live, I may yet be over there. But it is because we on this side of the House are determined to face these social questions with resoluteness, that I am at present on this side of the House. I represent the best-housed population in Scotland, the South Division of Edinburgh, and I am quite sure from what I know of them that the electors there would like me, on the occasion of my maiden speech, to say that if that well-housed population can do anything to assist in getting better houses, we must throw our whole heart and soul into it and do whatever we can to support a resolute Government in doing a resolute action. The only point I presume to make is this. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on!"] No, it is the proper thing for a new Member to be short. I only come from Edinburgh and must not imitate the great city of Glasgow. I have been downstairs and have dug out an Act of Parliament which was passed 23 years ago, at the instigation of a well-known social reformer, the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain. It is called the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act. It was the idea of private enterprise, which has been mentioned opposite, which put me up to it, and I was working much on the same lines in my mind as the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson), and I said, Cannot something be done to lead out that old Act of Parliament, which has really, not been used to any extent? It is not a panacea, but it is a practical suggestion which I throw out to those who will have to deal with the housing question. Cannot we extend this Act and advance money on reasonable terms to private individuals, in order that they themselves may build houses? I inquired into this question nearly ten years ago for a particular purpose, and I found that the only city in the Kingdom which had used the Act was Dublin. [An HON. MEMBER: "It has been used in Wales."] Perhaps in Wales. I speak entirely without any recent knowledge. At any rate, Dublin took advantage of the Act, which gives local authorities the power to advance money to those who wish to buy their houses. I found that Dublin had been very active in this matter, I presume because they knew something of the Land Purchase Acts.

My suggestion is that we should encourage private enterprise. I was in Dundee on Saturday, and I found that houses were being built there of stone and lime, because we cannot build houses of brick in Scotland. They have five rooms and a kitchen, with necessary fences and roads, for £1,100, and smaller houses in proportion. Orders are being given today by private individuals for such houses, and the building trade is beginning again. I suggest that we should encourage further private enterprise, and if the Government could advance £450 for a house costing £500, and let the man pay the other £50, and let him have 12 or 14 years to pay it off with interest, and make it worth the while of the legal profession, charging the ordinary fees, to put such a scheme into operation, I believe you would find that all over the country there would be plenty of private people who would be willing to build houses on those terms. Plenty of money is still being subscribed for Savings Certificates. Why cannot we direct the people's savings into houses?


I am very glad this discussion has brought observations from hon. Members opposite to the extent that it has. They now agree with us on this side as to the absolute need for dealing with the housing problem. It is one of the greatest national necessities that we have to face. Their solution is that it must be dealt with by private enterprise. Our reply is that the present housing situation, with its abominable slums, is the creation of private enterprise, and private enterprise cannot get us out of the morass in which we are at present. This is a national need which has to be faced from a national point of view, and we believe, if the Government will see to it that national factories are set going for the making of bricks, doors, windows, and other necessary things for houses, and employ workmen at trade union rates for the building of houses, we shall soon overcome this difficulty. It was with us before the War, but the War has aggravated it. We had private enterprise before the War, and that did not settle it. That is why we have come to the very definite conclusion that we must have it dealt with on national lines. I come from the County of Durham, in which the medical officer of health reports that we have the worst housing conditions in the country. In a big industrial county like that, which has the third largest mining district in the whole of Great Britain, you will see the effect of bad housing on the physique of our people and on the health of our children. I have spent some time myself in dealing with the housing situation from the point of view of improving the health of our people, and reporting to the Minister of Health from time to time to see if we could not relieve the heavy sickness which is due to bad housing. At a practically new colliery in our county we have a large percentage of houses with only two rooms, with no through draught and with the old step ladder leading upstairs, and they are absolutely overcrowded. At one of our old collieries, the overcrowding which has been reported is extraordinarily serious. The sanitary conditions are in an awful state. We have at our largest colliery in the county some streets of houses containing no through draught, built on the one-storey system, the bedrooms overlooking the backyards of the others, and the overcrowding is exceedingly bad. In a good number of cases the people have beds in the pantries and no water, which has to be carried from the middle of the street. I am quite convinced that hon. Members opposite will agree with us that these conditions cannot be allowed to continue.

An hon. Member opposite said he rather expected we should deal with this in some two or three years' time. This matter must be dealt with now. The need is a crying one and we cannot afford to wait two or three years in order to please hon. Members opposite. There is a case in the county of a house consisting of two rooms. The upstairs is let to another family. In the downstair room there are four persons, a man, his wife and two children. There is no through draught and the house is in a deplorable condition and is unfit for human habitation. The man is waiting to undergo an operation. He will certainly not improve until he has been removed from this house. That is a report I have as the result of inquiries into the health conditions of our people who are receiving sick benefit under the National Health Insurance scheme. May I remind the House of a previous King's Speech which contained this sentence, The foundations of the national glory are set in the homes of the people. If there be any national glory to be reflected from some of the housing conditions that have been revealed in speeches from this side of the House to-day, then I am sorry for the national glory. If there is to be any reflection of national glory it ought to be from the homes of the people. We have heard to-day from hon. Members, of men, women and children who go to sanatoria and who are built up there and made quite well again through the treatment they have received, and these people have had to come back to the very houses where they contracted the disease. We are wasting money in that way rather than in spending money in building decent homes. The same King's Speech contained the words: All classes should work together in the reconstruction of this land, with goodwill for others. That is exactly what we stand for on these benches. We are out to work with goodwill for others. Our people have not had an opportunity in past years, and we are seeking that they should have an opportunity, so that they may develop their life and enjoy their life more than they do in these days in order that they may give more to life than they have had an opportunity of giving hitherto. Our plea is that the Government should tackle this national question in a national way, in order that we may remedy this tremendous difficulty and become a healthier and happier race.

Viscountess ASTOR

I am feeling very encouraged about this House, because it is quite evident that it takes a deep interest in housing. Although the late Government took an interest in housing, I cannot say I think the people behind them took a very great interest in it. Housing is one of the fundamental things of the country, and I should like to tell hon. Members opposite that not all the Members who sit on those benches are here to protect their interests. You do not need to be born in a slum to have a heart. There is no woman, certainly no mother, who knows of the conditions under which children are born and bred but who must be keen about housing schemes. If hon. Members on the opposite side of the House will use their heads as much as their hearts, and if hon. Members who sit on this side will use their hearts as well as their heads, I think we can get on very well. You must have a combination of head and heart. [Interruption.] I do not want interruptions from the other side, because I am pretty glib with my tongue, and I would rather get along without them.

The Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) has made a real contribution to the discussion to-day. Some hon. Members on the other side said that they did not understand what he was talking about. The Noble Lord said everything that I wanted to say, only I could not have said it in such a way. The Government has to face the question of slum clearances. It is absolutely essential that that should be done, and if hon. Members opposite will press for that, it will be all to the good. I hope they will look forward and not backward. One of the tragedies of the world is that people are always looking backward and raking up somebody's horrible past. We know perfectly well that if the ordinary man had been as interested in his home as in drink we should have had better housing to-day. I admit that the home has driven many a man to drink. I put the two together. [An HON MEMBER: "We are teetotallers in Scotland, and we are not responsible for the housing conditions!"] I am not surprised that there are teetotallers coming from Glasgow. We all know that these two things, drink and bad housing, go together.

I ask hon. Members to realise that this is not a Socialistic Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "We know it!"] Well then, face facts. Go and persuade the country that you are right, and you will get a Socialist Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "We shall!"] I think you are a long way from Tipperary yet. I want you to be practical. It is no good trying to impose Socialistic schemes on this Government, because you will not get them through. If housing reformers on that side of the House will combine with housing reformers on this side to press the Government to go as far as it can we may make progress. Let us work together, instead of hon. Members on the other side shaking their r's at hon. Members every time housing questions come up. [HON. MEMBERS: "Roll your r's"] I can hardly speak English since some of you come here from Scotland. I beg of you to realise that this Government is not going in for socialistic schemes, and I ask you to help us. The hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir S. Chapman) looks at this matter as I do. If we cannot get real housing reform and get the Government to take a deep interest in social reform we may not be here long ourselves.

I ask hon. Members opposite to realise that there are hundreds of men and women in the Unionist party who are just as earnest and just as courageous in regard to housing as they are, and these people were not; born in the slums. They feel as keen about it as hon. Members opposite. I hope the Government will be pressed on reasonable lines. What one hon. Member said about the children is perfectly true. I am looking forward to a sort of spiritual revival in the country, and I know that many men and women are ready for that revival, but how on earth can you preach to people living in the conditions under which they have to live? We know that it is absolutely impossible. I hope that, no matter how much the Government may have to economise in other things, they will allow nothing to stop them from progressive housing reform. I am all for private enterprise. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, it is generally the economic failures who are against it. [HON. MEMBERS: "We are not economic failures! "] I do not blame you, but you have to persuade the country, and I do wish you would take a more persuasive tone with us. If I wanted to get you on my side, I would not hit you in the eye two or three times.


That is what you are doing.

Viscountess ASTOR

Never, and nobody knows that better than you do. I beg every section of the House to urge the Government as much as they can to deal with this question of housing. I warn the Government that there are desperate people who are social reformers in their own party, and we cannot back a reactionary Government any more than we can back a Bolshevist Government.


What we have heard in connection with housing from the other side is very encouraging. We recognise that they appreciate the necessity for housing as well as we do. We have heard from the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) something about waving flags and beating drums. I hope this is not a question of waving flags and beating drums, nor yet beating the air. What we stand for are fundamental facts. We want the Government to understand that we are surprised and disappointed that they have not mentioned something about housing in the King's Speech. Everyone recognises the necessity there is for housing, and surely that ought to be one of the first things that the Government should have tackled. We should have got down to the bedrock bottom in regard to housing. It is little use of me to speak of the difficulties which prevail with regard to slum areas in places like Bow and Bromley and Poplar, where I live. We have had slums, as the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lans-bury) has said, scheduled for the last 20 years, but they have never been cleared. We want them cleared away, but it is very difficult for anybody, however good-intentioned they may be, to begin to clear away these slums until they build some new houses in which to put the people. That has been our great difficulty, not only in Poplar, but in other parts of the East and South-East of London. Where there is land to build new houses, it is a shame and disgrace to this Government and the last Government to have stopped the housing when the land is already purchased for the purpose of building these houses.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bo-wand Bromley said that we fought and worked hard with the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings to get our people to invest their money in the Housing Bonds. I went stumping along with the Noble Lord asking the people to invest their money. We knew that we could not build very many houses in Poplar, but we did recognise that there was land a little way out where buildings could go up which would enable us to clear out overcrowding and slums in our own district. Overcrowding is worse in Poplar than in the cases referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Rollax (Mr. J. Stewart), who spoke of three and four in one room. I could quote case after case in our own district of six children, a mother and father in one room, with a boy and girl the oldest of the family from 16 to 17 years of age, and all living and sleeping in one room, and it is continually the case of one of the children at least being ill in that same room. And I could tell of a ease of one of the children dying in one of these rooms, and having to be taken out to a shed, where a watch had to be kept to prevent the rats from gnawing the dead child's body before the funeral. Is that the kind of thing to encourage the British race or the British Empire?

We are not going to allow that kind of thing to continue any longer than we can possibly help. We hope to get, not merely the sympathy, but the support of people on the other side who are desirous of bringing these reforms about. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Lorden) say that 300,000 houses would immediately solve the problem. Yes, immediately. That is what they said in 1918 and 1919. We were going to have 500,000 houses immediately, and we have not built 200,000 houses yet. Now we have come down to 300,000. We shall be glad on these benches to see a start made to build even 300,000 houses immediately to house the people, and give them a chance of living such as they have never had up to the present. I want to re-echo what was said by the hon. Member for St. Rollox. We, who have been brought up amid these conditions in the slums, shall never forget them, and will never forgive those men who have forced us to live in those places. We are going to do our best to change it, and I trust that we shall have united effort from all to change these things as speedily as possible.


If this is the first time that I have intervened in this Debate, it is not through lack of interest in the subject that is under discussion, because I am one of the representatives of the City of Glasgow, which contains some of the worst slums that could be imagined, and from that point of view the people in my division believe sincerely in the necessity for houses. The hon. Member for St, Rollox (Mr. J. Stewart) drew no exaggerated picture so far as Glasgow is concerned. If I could let hon. Members of this House see the awful conditions which exist in that city, they would see that the matter can brook no delay, and it shall be my endeavour as long as I am on these benches to urge the Government, of which I am a humble supporter, to do everything possible to solve this housing problem, especially in the country to which I belong. The housing question has been neglected for this reason, that instead of the Government taking on the job the Government said to the municipalities, "You must solve the housing problem," and the municipalities said that it must be solved "by the Government. Between those two we have been put off so far as Scotland is concerned. I recognise the sincerity of my hon. Friends on the other side of the House, and I hope that we shall have their hearty co-operation with the Government rather than their criticism. This Government has only been in existence one short week and to ask them to produce at once a solution of the housing problem which, as the hon. Member opposite said, has engaged attention for 40 years, is to ask them to do something which is beyond human power. But I am sure that we will all work together to endeavour to get the Government to do everything possible to deal with this problem and improve the conditions of the people which are so deplorable.


As a new Member, naturally I feel some hesitation in addressing this House, but the circumstances around where I live are such in regard to housing that I feel bound to make some contribution to the Debate. I live in a district where new mines have been opened out during the last 10 years, within a radius of 10 or 15 miles, bringing to the district every year many thousands of working men. During the four years of War, and the four years since, only a very small number of houses have been built, though within the last 10 years these scores of thousands of working men have been coming into this district, and this makes the problem probably more acute than in many other parts of the country. The last census figures show that in the urban area where I live our population Increased 107 per cent. as compared with the previous figures. This will give some idea of the number of people who are coming into our district to live. This makes the housing problem in Doncaster and district extremely acute. We started just over three years ago as an urban council to build houses. We were prepared to give the Housing Act the fullest possible support. We had 400 applicants for houses at the time. We have built 300 houses, which is the utmost number that the Government would allow us to build, and in spite of these 300 we have at present 800 applicants upon our lists. We are getting worse and worse every week and every month.

We have had also during the last month or so a visitation of small-pox. Our medical officer of health, because of the alarming overcrowding, not only in the old houses, but in the new, told the Council that if they did not take steps to have this overcrowding abolished he would not be responsible for what might happen. We tried to take steps. We got a census of the number of people living in the houses, and it alarmed every member of the council. We gave instructions to our officials that in some of the worst cases they must ask these people to find fresh lodgings. In three weeks' time we had had such a number of pitiable cases brought to us from the people who had been asked to clear out that the council had to go back on their word. It was an utter impossibility for these people to find any other place in which to live. The Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) referred to the fact that because of the congestion of business the authorities had not been able to carry out the Housing Act as they ought to have done. I do not know how far that may be true with some authorities. I have in my mind a neighbouring authority, which I think never intended to carry out the Housing Act. They did not agree with the building of houses by municipalities and they built as little as possible. I know other authorities in the neighbourhood which did agree with municipal building and tried to put the Act into operation to the fullest possible extent.

We built 300 houses. At the time we wanted 1,100. To-day we want 2,000 houses. But we have still only 300. The only advance we have made on the 300 have been 18 houses about six months ago and 26 houses about a month ago, after we came down to the Ministry of Health as a special deputation. In order to secure the 26 we got six subsidised houses from the Ministry on condition that we built 20 ourselves. Fortunately we happened to be in the position of having some land given to us, with the streets and everything made, with officials whose heart was in the business, who did their best to get in tenders at a price which we could afford to pay. We received tenders at £310 per house, and we found it possible to build 20 houses which could be let at something like an economic rent. When we came as a deputation to London the people at the Ministry of Health could hardly believe that we had got such low tenders with such specifications as we submitted, and they candidly complimented us on the fact that they were the best things they had had up to that moment.

I hope that this Government is going to realise the urgency of the housing question. It has been suggested by one speaker that comparisons ought to be made between some of the houses being built and some that are already built. I do not know his district, but I invite him to come to my district and to compare the houses we have built with the houses that are being built by private enterprise. We are not far from such places as Conis-borough, Denaby, Cadeby and Sheffield. We have terrible slums in Doncaster. I could take hon. Members to my own authority's area, where houses have been built within the last 12 years by private enterprise. Any hon. Member can compare those houses with the houses built by the local authority. It has been said that there is a scramble for houses built by the municipalities. Certainly. There is a scramble in my district, where everyone who can get out of a private enterprise house into a local authority house tries to do so, because the local authority house is so much better.

Is it intended that if we get back to private enterprise we are to get back to such houses as have been constructed in the past—rows upon rows of monotonous dwellings, hundreds in a row instead of the semi-detached houses which we build, houses with hardly any amenities for the housewife who spends so much of her time in them? Compared with the local authority houses they are 50 years behind the times. We have found it possible to build houses of a decent character, and I hope that the Government, so far from repressing local authorities, will give them every facility to go on building. We have found that local authorities can build better than and as cheaply as private enterprise, and can give more attention to the amenities, and even to the look of the houses, to the aesthetic side. We hope that the Government will take these facts into consideration and will help local authorities to build as many houses as possible. We have found that when a possible tenant has the choice between a municipal house and the house of a private landlord, in 999 cases out of 1,000 he will plump for the municipal house. I appeal to the Government to consider the extreme urgency of the question and to allow us to get houses built in the immediate future.


The Government can hardly fail to be impressed with the character of this Debate. It has sprung up spontaneously, but immediately there has come a demand from all sections of the House that the Government should take the question into its earliest consideration and press it forward urgently. In no part of the House has there been any disposition to overlook the scandal of the housing conditions in town and in rural districts alike. I shall not labour that point. We all know that the conditions are intolerable and that they ought to have been remedied long ago. I think the Government is bound to do something to remedy the pitiable failure of its predecessor, though for that failure the members of the present Government, as individuals, are largely responsible. I express my regret, and I even tender my sympathy, to the Government that they have not a Minister of Health or anyone represent- ing the Ministry of Health here to express to the House the preliminary intentions which the Government may have formed. The failure of the Government housing scheme has been of an educational character. It has made some of us extremely sceptical about the possibilities of State action, for, when all is said and done, that scheme was undoubtedly pressed forward with sincerity, it was in the hands of a Minister who realised the urgency of the problem, who had his heart in the work and was doing his best to make the scheme a success. It was pressed forward in pursuance of electoral pledges of the most urgent character, and the disillusion about housing is one of the reasons why electoral promises to-day have depreciated to such an extent.

What did State action produce? It has produced up to date one-fifth of the houses we admittedly required. Each one of those houses on the average cost £1,150. Each of them entailed upon the taxpayer an annual loss of £55 and an eventual liability on the nation in the next 6C years which will run up to £600,000,000. You may say if you like that the Government ought to have controlled the cost of building material. There was a scheme for dealing with building materials—I am not acquainted with all the circumstances of it—but undoubtedly the Government did control building materials. Private individuals found it exceedingly difficult, and in some cases impossible, to get them, and yet on their building materials scheme the Government succeeded, with that fatality which dogs all State action, in making a loss of some £72,000. How they succeeded in doing that fairly beats me, but a study of the reports of the Auditor-General seems to show that wherever the Government interferes with trade or commerce, it does not matter what Department is involved or what action is taken, we generally find a loss at the end of the transaction I do not know what the explanation of that may be. These transactions, after all, are carried out, not by party politicians, but by civil servants, by men who are trying to make a success of their jobs, and it is no explanation to say that persons inspired by a different theory of the State would succeed better. I believe there are limitations to State action. At all events, the Government scheme broke down in abject and pitiable fashion, and therefore it is incumbent upon the new Government, at the earliest possible moment, to bring forward a practicable scheme which will avoid the faults of their predecessors and will do something to remedy the present state of affairs.

I am not going to say that this matter can be left merely to private enterprise. I agree that you must have State action or municipal action to clear away slums. You cannot leave that to private enterprise. There is no possible return in cash on that. There will be a return to the nation, but that return must be estimated in the improved health and the better chances of the people when they are living in better houses. You will not get a money dividend by the clearing away of the slums, but there again, State action is surely limited at the present time, because unless you can get houses built and unless you can satisfy the demand for the houses, it is no use clearing away the slums. Indeed you cannot do so. You cannot turn people out of bad houses merely because they are bad if there is no other place for them to go to. Therefore there must be some beginnings with an improved supply of houses before the State or the municipalities can really begin to clear away the slums. The two things must go hand in hand. From what the Prime Minister said, I imagine the Government is not going in for any large State scheme. I hope at least they will have a practical scheme for encouraging private enterprise. I want to see all agencies engaged in this work. Let us have the local authorities acting where they think they can act. I would give them a free hand, but I do not think they ought to have a monopoly. I think all agencies should be called in to help— public utility societies, building societies and private individuals. This is a problem which should be tackled on all sides and by all agencies. Private enterprise has been sneered at in some quarters. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is responsible for the present conditions."] Not entirely. After all, the cessation of building during the War has largely aggravated the difficulty, which was bad before the War. Certainly private enterprise before the War was supplying a large part, though I will not say the whole, of the housing needs of the country. I do not think it is true to say that the building societies and the co-operative societies, which were building fairly good houses up and down the country, were only creating slums. I do not think that is true in the least. [Interruption.] I think hon. Members know perfectly well what the circumstances were, and where they can obtain statistics relating to them.

I am quite certain there was a great deal of building going on, in the towns at all events, if not in the country, and I think it is not beyond the powers of the Government, while leaving the municipalities a free hand, while calling upon them and expecting them to clear away slums, at the same time to encourage private enterprise. They can give cheap loans and advance at cheap rates to public utility societies and to building societies. If they do that they may have to require a limit on the rates. I also think the Chancellor of the Exchequer might do a great deal if he would lighten the burden of taxation on housing. These two points might do a great deal to solve the housing problem in the country districts. We have heard a great deal about housing in towns to-night. There is also a real problem in the country districts and encouragement along the lines I have indicated would, I believe, enable the problem to be dealt with at all events in the country districts if not in the towns. The thing which is in my mind is this. The State wishes to encourage life insurance, it wishes to encourage thrift, and it does not tax the money which is devoted to life insurance. The State wants houses at the present moment—the need is urgent—but a good deal of the difficulty has been caused by the added burden of taxation, and if that burden were lightened along lines which are well understood, I believe that that would do a good deal to stimulate the private individuals and the public utility societies to grapple with the problem. I agree, of course, that if you do that, you have got to limit rents, and to give those advantages only to houses at a limited rental, but provided that is done I think a good deal of encouragement could be given along those lines.

I do not wish to drag in a question which is not immediately connected, but let us remember, when we are talking about the slums, that you will not wholly solve this problem unless you at the same time deal with the question referred to by I the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), because so long as you have the influence of the drink traffic in this country to the extent to which you have, you have an agency which makes for the manufacture of slums. Even though the State or private enterprise may provide perfectly good houses, we know quite well that there are cases in which good houses are degraded into slums by influences which we all deplore. I am not making any attack on one class or another. We all know that it is an evil which pervades all classes. I am dealing with the problem of housing, and I think that these questions of drink and housing are just interconnected. They act and inter-act. Bad housing makes drinking, and drinking, makes bad housing, and I wish there were some possible chance of the Government, in view of the need for better housing and to safeguard the homes of the people, dealing with that problem, while not neglecting the other. I join with all my heart in pressing upon the Government that this matter cannot be neglected. I think there is a unanimous demand. We may differ in the ways by which we hope the problem will be solved, but we are all united in feeling that it is a matter of immense social urgency, and we cannot press it too hard upon the attention of the Government in the hope that they will take the very earliest opportunity of dealing with it.

9.0 P.M.


I am sure the House is impressed by the urgent need there is in this country of ours for more houses, but while we are discussing here our different methods of how these houses shall be provided, I do not want us to forget the intolerable suffering that is being imposed upon a million of men, women and children in this country through the shortage of houses. The Government of 1918 told us—and it was quite a modest estimate—that we needed 500,000 houses. The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) told us to-night that in the last three years there have been a million marriages in this country. That should at once give us some conception of the immensity of the problem that confronts us at -the present time. I may be allowed to tell the House exactly what has come to me to-day from the constituency which I represent in the County of Northumberland. Owing to the shortage of houses in one of the mining districts there, there has been a coroner's inquest upon the body of a man who was found dead in a cave on the seashore. The coroner expressed very strong opinions about the case and said it was one of the worst in his memory. The police inspector mentioned that there were many other families living under the same conditions because they could not get houses. The Coroner asked him if he meant that this man was living in this state for six weeks, and the inspector again put in that evidence, that that was the reason why the man was dead. The Coroner then said that, to his mind, many thousands of people were living like wild beasts in this country.

I am told that this House of Commons, from the point of view of housing, is a better House of Commons than that which was here prior to the General Election. I am told that 100 Members on the other side have committed themselves by expressing themselves as favourable to a bold housing policy being carried out at the earliest possible moment by the Government. If they, along with the hon. Members in the other two sections in this House, bring that desire to bear upon the Government, one can hope that in a very few months we shall be seeing something on the way to meet the terrible need for houses in this country at the present time. We have been told often since we met in this House that people should not live in the past, but I am afraid that the people who are continually shouting "Private enterprise" are the people who live only in the past. There are things in this country facing us to-day that can be solved only by collective effort—private enterprise cannot solve them—and housing is one of them. Why should this halt in housing be called at the present time? I say this, that the only praiseworthy achievement that the last Government can point to is the houses they have erected for the people of this country. They have nothing else to show for the millions of pounds of the taxpayers' money which they have squandered in other directions. The only thing they can look to is these homes that they have provided for the people of this country, and in the face of all the slander and all the jeers that have been levelled against the houses provided by the local authorities, as chairman of a housing committee, as one whose life during the last three years has been occupied in trying to get houses for the people, I want to say that in she houses that we have erected under the Government schemes we are 100 years in advance of any thing that was provided by private enterprise. In those difficult times we had to build houses costing £1,000,and now we can build the same houses for £350. With all the advances we have made, with all the amenities that we are providing, as the hon. Member for Doneaster (Mr. Paling) expressed, with all the conveniences, with all the open spaces and gardens that are attached to the houses under our schemes, is there any hon. Member in this House anxious to do the best for the future generations of this country of ours who wants us to go back again to private enterprise, which, if they have it in their hands, would be outside the local authorities' direction, unless they have already got their housing and town planning schemes? Are we going back to the miserable effort and the miserable accomplishment that stands in our country to-day as the strongest condemnation of that glorious system of which hon. Members opposite always boast? I happened to be a miner before I was elected to this House, having been born and brought up in one of the ugly mining districts in which we have to be brought up, like being dragged through Hell to see if you have any virtues left in you. We are wonderful, taking into account the circumstances and conditions. I want to put in an appeal, on behalf of the mining communities in these ugly mining villages, for a collective national effort to provide houses in place of the present boxes, and to use the resources of this country for the purpose. Do not let us live in the past. Let us look to the future, and, looking to the future, we have got to have new ideas and new conceptions of how problems have to be tackled. It is because of that that I want to make this small contribution to the Debate, to see if I can help on the solution of this very vital point.


It is very pleasing to hear the expressions of sympathy and the heartfelt desires of Members in various parts of this House, and if sympathy would build houses, or if fancy phrases would solve our problems, then we would have no social difficulties at all. But when we get down to tackle the housing problem we find that we cannot solve it with sympathy or with phrases, that it is a hard business, and that right at the root of it there is the question of economics. When we come to do the actual work of erecting houses we have to choose between rival sets of principles, of which the two sides here are the public representatives. We have been advised by Members on the other side to be very choice in our language, and then perhaps some day we may convert them. We are not foolish; we never expect to convert Members on the other side. We are addressing our remarks over their heads to the people who have sent them here. We are asking those people to remember that if representation by Liberals or by Tories had been a solution for the social problems of Great Britain we would not to-day have any social problems at all.

I want to direct my remarks to the practical difficulties in the way of solving the housing problem, in order to show that no sympathy from the other side, and indeed no sympathy from any quarter, can be any substantial contribution. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Rollox (Mr. J. Stewart) gave a picture of the housing conditions in the city which here presents, a picture which was accepted in its entirety, and, indeed, described as one of moderation by the hon. Member for the Kelvin Grove Division of Glasgow (Mr. W. Hutchison). We have made various efforts in the. City of Glasgow to alter the conditions described by my hon. Friend. Like the other local authorities, we were invited by the late Government in 1919 to prepare for them a report of houses that were necessary in our city, and we did so through our responsible officials— not members of the Labour party, not Socialists or extremists. I would like to remind Members on the other side that we are not extremists at all. As a matter of fact, to get to this House I had to defeat an extremist in the City of Glasgow. I am one of the moderate representatives. We moderate people and we practical people in the City of Glasgow set about, under the direction of the Government, to remove those conditions which appear to be universally deplored in this House, and we made our returns to the late Government to the effect that we required immediately 57,000 new houses, with an additional 5,000 per annum to meet the natural decay of property, and the natural expansion of the population. We thought, like many other people, in our innocence, that the Government were in earnest.

We have learned since, on the very best authority, that the Government never intended us to get houses. There is at the head of the Local Government Board in Scotland, which, by the way, is the authority in Scotland responsible for the carrying out of the Government housing policy, a gentleman named Sir George McCrae. He will be known by reputation at least to many Members of this House. He is an honoured member of the Liberal party, one of its distinguished lights, one of those lovers of freedom, those men who want to raise us—by private enterprise of course, and at a substantial profit—to a higher plane. He opposed, in the recent, election, one of my colleagues on these benches. Sir George McCrae, as I said, was responsible for carrying out the housing policy. He has not the political astuteness of many people, and he therefore opens his mouth sometimes and discloses things that were never intended to be revealed. He made a speech in London, the date of which I can only give from memory, but it was reported, I believe, in the "Daily News" in June, 1920. In that speech he declared that it was never the intention of the Government to carry out that housing policy. He said in effect: Remember the times we were living in. Revolution was stalking over the land, and if we could lay the spectre of revolution by a few promises which were intended to be broken, surely we performed a national service. Sir George McCrae was only stating publicly, and in his political innocence, what was in the hearts of all the supporters of the late Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!" and "Hear, hear!"] It is not surprising that, acting under the auspices of a Government imbued with a dishonest spirit like that Government was, very little should be done in the way of providing houses.

As I have said, we require that enormous number of houses immediately. We have only succeeded in having erected in that city 1,500 new houses, and we have in the course of erection an additional 2,500. The reason for that was, in the main, the difficulties put in our w ay by the people who did not want those houses provided. When in the city council we prepared plans and sent them to the Government, we had almost incredible delays in having those plans passed. Objection would be taken to oriel windows, to the class of nails we were using; we were to have certain classes of timber, and those plans were again and again returned to the corporation, and months and months were lost that might have been used in the provision of houses. But then it was not only the delays for which the Government themselves were responsible and the difficulties they put in the way. It was the failure of the Government to remove the very serious difficulties that the principles of society of which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are the defenders put in the way of the provision of houses.

We require three main things in the provision of houses. We require land. We heard a great deal during the War as to this land of ours. We heard it was a land worth defending. Our men went from Glasgow and other places to defend it. They came back. Having won the battle they thought they had won the prize. They found—some of them, perhaps, to their astonishment—that, although they had saved the land from the Germans, the land had not become theirs; that it still belonged to someone else. In the division which I represent, the East End of the City, we had an excellent example of how private enterprise works, that sacred principle which you must not touch with a forty-foot pole and how it affects the erection of houses. We required to erect temporary houses, huts that is, for the men who had returned from the front. There was in my neighbourhood a piece of land about ten acres in extent owned by a man known as Lord Newlands. That land had stood in the valuation roll of the city for 40 years as having no value. That was the return made by Lord Newlands when that return was wanted for rating purposes. We thought there would be no difficulty at all about inducing Lord Newlands, who, I understand, is one of the very best specimens of landlordism—not the worst— whose private ownership of the whole area had been saved by the sacrifices of the men who now wanted housing accommodation—to put this waste land at the disposal of the local authorities. We counted without our private enterpriser! Immediately we wanted the land, Lord Newlands said: "You can have it on con dition that you pay me £714 per acre." We had to pay it. Then we only got a sort of backward portion of it. When we wanted a front portion facing the main street, Lord Newlands wanted for that £2,500 an acre, and we had that blessed Government of ours —I refer to 1915–that was so anxious to provide homes for heroes; we had that Government defending, not the ex-service men who required the huts, but Lord Newlands, who wanted to profiteer out of the waste land.

After having lost months and months again in negotiating for the purchase of the land and surmounting the difficulties put in our way by Sir George McCrae—I have no doubt, suggested by that blessed Government—having surmounted these, we got down to the question of building materials. Here again, we came up against the question of private ownership and private enterprise. You say we must get houses. Of course we must. "Our people must have healthier conditions, our little children must have opportunity to blossom forth, as we are a great people "—and all that nonsense, because when it comes to practical politics, it is only nonsense that we hear from the other side of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!" and "What about the Labour party?"] We wanted materials. We found that private enterprise existed not only in land but almost in perfection in the control of building materials. Hon. Members on the other side deplore anything in the nature of Government control. But they have no objection at all to control if it is trust control. They say that wages would have to be controlled under the system of control that we are advocating, as if wages were not controlled to-day! This is not a question of whether you are to have control. It is a question of who is to control. Whether you are to have control of the many by the few or of the few by the many. That is the question. When we got to the question of materials, we found that almost every possible thing required in the construction of houses was controlled by a trust or a combine. I have in my hand, placed there by one of my colleagues, a Report made by a Government Committee—and I believe the hon. Member who spoke from the other side was a member—a Report of a Profiteering Committee issued in May, 1919, to the Government. It shows that trusts existed in tiles, chimney-pots, earthenware, lead pipes, iron castings, wall-paper, glass, cement, boilers, and nearly everything required for the erection of a house. Here was control, not Government control, but control by private enterprise, control by a state of society that you say we must defend. Why did that control exist? For the express purpose of exploiting the national need for private profit.

Colonel Sir A. H0LBROOK

It was Government control of building material, not that of private individuals.


When an hon. Member gets up on the other side and states that a Report, dealing with building materials, is other than it is—a Report made to the Government showing how the resources of the nation had got into the hands of rings and profiteers—when he does not know that, then there is no sense at all left in the appeal made to us to try to convert the other side. I have had considerable experience of the operation of these building trusts. I know that one of them, called the Light Castings Association—I am speaking on the authority of one of its prominent members—was able within 18 months of its inception to increase the price of that particular material by over 60 per cent. We found for years in the City of Glasgow that we could not get competitive offers for the glazing required to be done by the corporation. We could invite any number, of firms to offer, and they would offer, but when we opened the tenders, by a wonderful coincidence, by a remarkable operation of glorious private enterprise, the offers to the corporation did not vary by a single penny. We are told that private enterprise has been impeded in the erection of houses by Governmental control. There was very little Government control at all on materials. What actually existed under Government policy was this. The Government established a Department called the Department of Building Material Supplies. That Department fixed a maximum price for building material, but it fixed it only for local authorities. Mark the difference. It did not fix it for private builders at all. It did not fix it for anything outside the erection of dwelling-houses. Reference has been made to the increase that took place in the price of bricks. If local authorities were paying 80s.for bricks, and the private enterpriser wanted to erect a cinema, he only required to offer 85s. a thousand for the bricks and the Government would let him have them. The result was that all over the West of Scotland we had picture-houses erected at almost every street corner, while people were dying in the slums for lack of adequate housing accomodation, and the Government, which pretended—


Why did not your local authorities stop it, if they had power to do so?


That is a very pertinent question. The Noble Lord is quite right. In the City of Glasgow the local authority attempted to stop it. They appointed a committee, which had every case brought before it and, to the credit of the city, Moderate and Labour members alike opposed the granting of permission for the erection of these cinemas. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Ah! But the Government had left a loophole. The Government never acts without leaving a way of escape for its friends. The Government, as the Noble Lord knows, in its policy, and in that particular Act, had provided a right of appeal by the private enterpriser to an outside body of which, in Glasgow, Sheriff Fyfe was the Chairman. That appeal court, in every single case, overturned the decision of the local authority. If the Government had been in earnest they would not have given any right of appeal to a private enterpriser on the question of whether or not houses, cinemas, or public houses, were to be erected. They would have laid it down that until the people possessed adequate housing accommodation, they could do with the number of picture-houses they then possessed.

The result of all that was this. We had actually to bring bricks from London to Glasgow to erect our Government houses. We had to get bricks from the London Brick Company, which cost us 105s. per thousand for transport from London to Glasgow. The bricks. were actually costing us more to carry from the brickworks to the building site than they were costing us at the brickworks when we went to purchase them. That all took place under the late Government. That was not the only difficulty. Reference has been made by an hon. Member, I believe on this side of the House, to the way in which the housing problem could be solved by reducing the rates a little. He suggested that if we could only reduce the rates a little the whole thing would disappear. What do we find in regard to that?


If the hon. Member is referring to me, that was not what I said.


There was so little in what the hon. Member said that I do not know if he said that. I want to point to another side to this question and to show how this operates in regard to the financial gang, the private enterprisers in finance, whom the Government and their representatives, with all their sentiments and their sympathies, are sent here to defend. In 1913, a house similar to those under the Government scheme could have been erected in Glasgow for £200. We had estimates for such houses at £200 each in 1913. In that year we could borrow the money at 3 per cent. That meant that in 1913 the financiers were getting £6 per annum in interest out of the houses erected in the City of Glasgow. In 1920, through the operation of private enterprise, the price had gone up to £1,100. Not only so, but the rate of interest had gone up from 3 per cent, to 6 per cent. That meant that, whereas in 1913 each house had to contribute £6 per annum in interest, in 1920 each house was expected to contribute £66 per annum in interest. It was compelled to contribute 11 times more in 1920 than it had to contribute in 1913. Hon. Members will see how successful private enterprise is! Private enterprise can put up the value of an investment by 11 time in about five years. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about 1913? Was it not successful then?"] Yes, it was doing very well in 1913, but in the interval we had a War. The boys had gone to the front, they had given their lives, they had shed their blood, and in many cases lost their limbs.


Also the boys on the other side.

Viscountess ASTOR

And on our side, too.


As the result of the War, these people were able, between 1913 and 1920, in seven years, to work out their levy. Hon. Members talk about a levy on capital being an injurious thing. Do they not see that the levy on the dwelling houses of the people has been increased 11 times between 1913 and 1920? We have been told, in the course of this discussion, that, of course, prices have come down. As I said the other night, private enterprise claims a great deal of credit for the fact that, by stopping the building of houses, the cost of erecting houses has been brought down until it is now only £400 per house. Let me remind hon. Members again that we have not got the houses. There is nothing very clever about it. You could bring down the price of clothes by an application of the same principle. The principle is merely this. You issue an Order in Council prohibiting people from getting clothes for the next IS months, and if you forced them to go naked for a year no doubt clothes would be cheaper at the end of that year. You have said to the people, "The only thing that can be done within the limits of the principles, of which we are defenders, is that you cannot get any houses at all." When it comes to the clearing of slums, private enterprise does not come in there. There is no profit there. You must not set the vile hand of nationalisation or socialisation to anything when there is a profit.


Do you make a profit on housing?


If there is no profit in a thing, then the State may have it. For instance, you do not want private enterprise in the Navy. No, it is "our" Navy, but "your" railways, "your" mines, "your" land, and "our" National Debt. I have never heard a single syllable from hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House opposing the nationalisation of Debt. When you come to the question of slums, it merely amounts to this, that you want private enterprise to go on making profit out of the needs of the people. Then, in the very necessity of its operation, it produces a certain number of slums, and you wish the local authorities, representing the ratepayers, to come in as the cleansing department of the capitalist system in regard to houses and to wipe out the slums which you have created, and upon which you have made a profit. We are not going to do anything of the kind.


You are going to do nothing.


The Noble Lord says we are going to do nothing. I would remind him that this is not the side of tranquillity.


What is your policy?


The Prime Minister made an appeal for a majority, and the basis of his appeal was that if he were returned to power he would do nothing. The Noble Lord is here as a supporter of the party which wants to do nothing.


What are you going to do?


On a point of Order. I would like to ask if an hon. Member is in order in interjecting remarks and interrupting while standing below the Bar.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)

It is not in order for an hon. Member to interrupt, when standing below the Bar.


I think it is quite reasonable that hon. Members opposite should ask what we would do if we stood in their place. We would do something. We do not agree with what has been said by some Members on the Liberal Benches who do not differ fundamentally one iota from hon. Gentlemen opposite. At any rate, we would do something very different. We are a growing force in the country because of the things we have been telling the people that we would do. If we had to deal with the land, the first thing we should do would be to hand it back to the British people, and no doubt hon. Members opposite would have the same objection to the British getting the land as they had to the Germans. I will confine myself to housing, and what, we would do is that we would grant the local authorities power to take over, for the purpose of building sites, any suitable land in their area at the price at which it stood in the valuation roll. That would not be asking very much. It would be merely asking that people should have a footing in their native land in the way of being provided with a site for a house, and no man, However good, virtuous, or influential, should be allowed to stand in the way of British people getting a site to provide them with housing accommodationin their native land.

With regard to building materials, we would proceed to produce homes for heroes on exactly the same lines that you produced shells during the War. When we found ourselves confronted with all these trusts who controlled building materials, we would apply, as you had to apply during the War, the principles of Socialism, which were the salvation of the State in 1916, and many hon. Members opposite paid tribute to Socialism during those terrible years of 1916 and 1917. If we were faced with the same conditions that faced the present Government, and if we had to find building materials, do you think we, as representing a freedom-loving British people, would lie down to a few people who controlled trusts and combines for building materials. We would proceed immediately, as you proceeded to provide shells, to produce light castings, cement and all the building materials required to build houses in those large national factories. In the production of those materials we should employ the million of people who are standing idle at the street corners, and whom you are paying money for doing nothing. We would set those people to producing goods.

In those large national factories we would produce raw materials at cost price. There would be no huge dividends for capitalists, no huge interests to pay to financiers. Our policy would not injure the nation but the small group who think they are the nation, and the small group who own the nation, and who exist as parasites on the nation. We would interfere with them, and we would get the materials for the construction of houses at cost price. The cost price would be the wages of the workers who produce the materials and nothing more, and any people who wished to share in the national wealth will also have to share in the national production, having got these materials cheaply, we would supply them at cost price to the local authorities.

We would also give the local authorities power to get land and materials cheaply, and we would introduce a system of financial control that would enable the State and local authorities to use the credit of the State and the local authorities to finance these schemes without the aid of private financiers at all. In that way we should deprive the people whom hon. Gentlemen opposite defend of the power to extract £66 per house from every family in the British Isles who require healthy housing accommodation. We would employ the 118,000 members of the building trades who are now walking about unemployed. We would do that and remove not merely unemployment, but also the terrible social conditions which were described by the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division.


I would like to direct the attention of the House to the question of the ex-service men. They were promised a good deal, and the municipal corporations have done their best for them under the schemes of the late Government. They have built houses which cost £1,200 and £l,300 each. In my constituency land had to be bought at £650 per acre which was previously let as grazing land, and it was purchased at over 200 years' purchase. My hon. Friends who belong to the Labour party have a different solution of this question to that which I advocate, and they are all out for nationalisation. The hon. Member for the Shettleston Division (Mr. Wheatley) said they would produce the building materials in the same way as shells were produced in 1917. During that year I visited some men in hospital tents. I had to go to Scotland, and I passed through Gretna Green, and there I discovered that the workers were getting £8, £9, and £10 a week. They had a cinema, public houses, and schools all built of brick. The poor soldier's wife meantime was only getting 12s. 6d. a week. If that is the outcome of a system of nationalisation I, for one, do not want it. If we build bouses under any scheme of State factories the same abuses will creep in. We must depend to a very large extent on private enterprise. Those men who fought with me are entitled to have homes. The hon. Member who spoke opposite referred to the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act of 1889. I know that Act well. I tried to get it applied in Bootle. It is a permissive Act, and only one or two corporations have adopted it. It has a fatal drawback, in that the money lent to anyone under it is charged for at 1 per cent, above the rate for local loans. An ex-service man cannot afford to pay 7 per cent, on the purchase price of his house. I would appeal to the Government to lend the money free of interest to the ex-service men, and let them make their bargains with the private builders. They will get houses at £300 or £400, and I will make the bargain for them if hon. Members on the Labour Benches cannot do so. Let the ex-soldier have his own house. Let him have a stake in the country for which he fought, and let the Government, instead of lending money to Austria, lend it to him, and leave him free to make his bargain with private enterprise. Thus the problem may be solved.

The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Thomas Inskip)

It is an unfortunate fact, as several hon. Members have said, this evening, that there is no one better equipped here to make a statement as to the policy of the Government in connection with this important question. The Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) was good enough to refer to the fact that on the last occasion almost upon which I addressed the House in the last Parliament, I ventured to make observations upon this question, and I very well remember that the then Minister of Health was good enough to characterise my few observations as a sentimental speech. Many hon. Members have addressed this House to-night from both sides, and everyone, I think, has spoken with the sympathy which everyone must feel for those who require houses and are unable to get them. It has been suggested by one hon. Member, and one only I believe, that mere expressions of sympathy are worse than useless. I do not take that view. I believe that if the matter is approached by all sections, by all parties, and by all Members of the House with the conviction that this question requires action and that steps must be taken by someone to provide houses, very soon a solution will be found. The evils which we deplore appear to me to be largely the result of the unawakened consciences of former generations on this question of housing, and to-day I believe happily there is no difference of opinion as to the profound nature of the problem and no quarrel as to its urgency.

The conditions of housing in our large cities can only be viewed by anyone aware of them with the most profound misgivings, and I believe, in spite of what one hon. Member has said as to our feelings on this side of the House, there is a universal desire for a change. That feeling is not peculiar to private Members or to individual Members. It is one which is shared as much by the Government as by the most sincere believer in housing reform. There is no difference as to the existence of the difficulty. There may be, and there are, differences as to the remedies which must be applied, but I think it is fair to say that if the State can help to solve the housing problem by a well-considered scheme, it can hinder the solution of the housing problem by an ill-considered scheme.

Hon. Members will not expect from me this evening a declaration of policy upon extended lines. In addition to the defects from which I suffer as spokesman of the Government in the unavoidable absence of the Minister of Health, it is obvious that the Government has not had an opportunity of giving that full consideration to the problem which the circumstances require. I can only hope to state the general position and the lines upon which the consideration which has so far been possible by the Government has been given. Is it not fresh in the minds of all hon. Members that a great experiment was made four years ago I It was launched with great energy by those responsible for it. The utmost enthusiasm was shown by all who took part in it. There was, I would almost say, reckless expenditure by the State and by the municipalities in the hope of solving this problem. The result of the enormous outlay of public money was, I think every man will agree, a comparatively inadequate return in houses. I do not stay to discuss the reasons for the failure if failure it were, although my hon. Friend the Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Lorden) gave reasons for thinking the responsibility for the failure was not all in one direction. I say nothing about that, or about any other cause for failure. But the fact is that after this immense expenditure of energy and money only something like 200,000 houses were produced and that justifies one in saying that the schemes did not meet the needs of the situation. The hon. Member for the Shettleston Division of Glasgow (Mr. Wheatley) suggested that there was never any intention of making that scheme a success. I beg leave to differ from him. I believe the opinion of every Member of the House, with the exception of the hon. Member, is that there was a determination on the part of everyone to make the scheme successful. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no."] There is little good in entering into very-much detail upon what has happened in the past. It is sufficient for me to state the facts which I have stated, that the outlay which has committed the State to an expenditure of something over £9,000,000 a year for many years has resulted in the provision of a large number of houses it is true, but a number which, having regard to the needs of the country, is comparatively small.

While the State scheme held the field, there was at the same time a comparative submergence of private enterprise. The Government scheme held the field, and private enterprise took a back place. The Government's scheme has not solved the problem. The fact was that the late Government found it necessary to limit that scheme somewhere about June of last year, with the result that the total number of houses that will be provided under the schemes is just over 215,000, which, with another 3,000 dwellings that have been provided by the conversion of huts and hostels, will make something like 220,000 dwellings. I have called this a comparative failure, but from one point of view it is a tremendous result. The present position of these schemes is that 188,069 houses have actually been completed, or had been completed on 1st November. Of the 176,000 houses to which the local authority and public utility schemes were limited, 11,382 have not yet been begun, and work is proceeding on 18,847, so that there are something over 30,000 houses upon which work still remains to be done.

The question in which the House is so closely interested is, what is to be the future? We have listened to a number of eloquent speeches, full of information as to the sorrowful conditions which prevail in many of our cities, and I, for one, am not going to shut my eyes to the fact that hon. Members opposite who speak upon this question speak from a sorrowful experience which others of us do not possess. None of us have doubted the truth of those stories; none of us have attempted to deny the urgency of the problem. What we have looked for is assistance as to the lines upon which the Government should deal with the problem. The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) informed us that, if he and his party were returned to power, they would do something. The hon. Member in time will learn that man cannot live by promises alone, and that he must descend a little more closely to earth and put his proposals into a little more practical form before this problem will be solved. The hon. Member's suggestions were limited to the proposal, in the first place, that land should be acquired at the value at which it stood on the valuation roll, and secondly, that State factories should be established at which every form of material should be made by the State, even though that involved the destruction of private enterprise. The only comment I would make upon these two suggestions is that while the revolution—I do not mean a civil revolution, but the industrial revolution—that would be involved in their adoption was being carried out, the people would still be waiting for the houses to be built; and the urgency of this problem is the serious matter which deserves our consideration. I think the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Whiteley) made the same proposal, namely, that national factories should be established to provide materials in order to erect houses. The establishment of national factories, at any rate, is not a solution which this Government can adopt, and I do not believe it to be a measure which would assist in the rapid solution of this urgent question.

10.0 P.M.

We have had a number of other and, I venture to think, more practical suggestions from other hon. Members. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. C. Roberts) suggested that a system of lighter taxation upon houses and financial assistance for the encouragement of private enterprise would assist in solving the problem. The hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir S. Chapman), in a most interesting maiden speech, suggested that the use of the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act would help to solve the problem. These, of course, are all proposals which deserve and will secure consideration at the earliest possible moment. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) made yet another proposal, and it is one that has occupied considerable attention in this long-drawn-out discussion. He suggested that the large sum— I think he stated it to amount to £90,000,000–at present expended in Unemployment Benefit, should be devoted to paying wages to persons in the building trade, who might provide the necessary houses. I think that a moment's reflection will show how impossible of adoption any such proposal is. The money that corresponds to that £90,000,000 would be diverted from the Unemployment Insurance Scheme, and it would involve the practical abandonment of the operation of the Unemployment Insurance Acts for the benefit of a small section of the community. We cannot solve the housing question by scrapping the machinery of the Unemployment Insurance Acts, and, therefore, I feel bound to set aside that proposal.

The hon. Member then made another suggestion, the full import of which I was not able to gather. His suggestion was that, inasmuch as there is a great deal of money in the country—as can be seen by the fact that gilt-edged securities are subscribed for with great avidity by the wealthy classes—if people will not put their money into housing schemes the money should be taken. I was not able to gather whether the hon. Member suggested that the money should be seized and no interest paid upon it, or in what precise way the money should be used. If it is, as I hear an hon. Member suggest, our old friend the capital levy, this is not the time or the place to discuss it.

So far as I am aware, those are the proposals which have been laid before the House this evening, with one exception. The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson has made an elaborate calculation which, I am sure, he will forgive me for saying was much too elaborate for me to follow or to examine with my limited opportunities this evening. As I understood it, the hon. Member suggested that a very large sum could be borrowed by the Government and devoted to assisting municipalities to provide money on easy terms in order to build the necessary houses; and he estimated, upon his calculation, that the cost would be something like £2,500,000 or £3,000,000 a year to the State. I am not for a moment going to suggest that the hon. Member ever speaks on this question without thought and consideration, for I know how much his sympathy is enlisted and how much thought he has given to the matter. I can only say that his proposal will be considered and examined by those who will have greater opportunities and more time to examine it than I have been able to give this evening. I am bound to say that the only' statement the Government can make at present is that houses can, in their opinion, be more advantageously provided by those whose business it is to build houses than by the State. The Government is most anxious that private enterprise, which when all is said and done has provided large numbers of houses in the past, should be encouraged to develop its great resources. The consideration which the Government will give to this problem is along those lines. They will consider whether any action on the part of the Government, including possibly the extension of existing provisions under which private builders can borrow money at reasonable rates, will assist in that direction.

There are already signs of revival in private enterprise in building. Local authorities are showing a readiness to undertake building without State aid. Thirty-five local authorities have already undertaken to build houses without State assistance, and another 60 local authorities are considering proceeding on those lines, and although such measures as these are necessarily in their infancy at present I think it is a hopeful indication that there are resources which have not yet been developed and that encouragement along these lines will serve now to develop them.

One thing is quite certain in the view of the Government. It is that the continuation of the present system, under which the liability of the local authorities is fixed at a penny rate while the Government contribution is unlimited, cannot be contemplated. It has already involved the State in a charge of £9,000,000 a year, extending over a long period. Whether any scheme under which the Government is to provide financial assistance will offer better hope still remains for consideration by the Government. I ought to say a word about the cost of building. The failure of the scheme, if failure it was, was largely due to the enormous cost of building. It is satisfactory to report that the cost of building has fallen very considerably since the decision of the late Government last June. The last tenders which have been received for three-roomed houses are at a figure of £297. I will not say that is a figure which is the economic level at which it is possible that private enterprise can build houses without any assistance, but, at any rate, it begins to approach an economic level. The Government are hopeful, if their present decision is adhered to, and they are able still further to encourage private enterprise, that a movement in the same direction will be experienced.

A great deal has been said, naturally, to-night about the clearance of slum areas. I cannot help thinking that this question of the slums buiks, from one point of view, more largely in the minds of hon. Members even than the provision of new houses. I do not mean to say that the two are not intimately connected. They are. But what has made such a grave impression on hon. Members opposite and on this side of the House is the existence of the festering sores, as one hon. Member described them, in the midst of the city. The industrial revolution of the last 100 years allowed slums to grow up while men were so busy with other schemes, and with the collection of wealth, that the duty of the State and of the individual in connection with housing was forgotten. The conscience is awakened, but the facts remain, and these slums in our cities are in existence to-day. [Interruption.]


The hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Kirkwood) must really cease his habit of continually interrupting speakers. It is impossible to have proper debate.


I wish to correct—


I will listen to the hon. Member if he will address the Chair in a proper way.


The correction I wish to make is that I do not come from Glasgow. I represent Dumbarton and Clyde Bank.


I hope for the credit of Dumbarton and Clyde Bank the hon. Member will restrain himself more.


The difficulty is that until houses are provided in numbers adequate to house the population in a slum area little progress will be made in dealing with the area. Our first duty in dealing with a slum area is to erect new houses, which will put the local authority in a position to demolish the worst part of the unhealthy area and so make progress throughout the whole of the slum. The acquisition of the property is, of course, a necessary step. One hon. Member suggested that there was some impediment placed by the Ministry of Health in the acquisition of these areas in order that the necessary clearance might be effected. If there has been any such impediment, I am quite sure there is no desire on the part of the Ministry of Health really to delay the acquisition of the areas. The statutory powers that are given are most drastic. I do not think those who know these areas would admit for a moment that they receive the compensation under the Acts of Parliament to which they think they are entitled, and the desire of the Ministry of Health is to give all possible assistance to local authorities as soon as what are called clearing houses are provided to clear these areas and to put into force the drastic powers which are permissible under the Act of Parliament.


That is exactly what the Ministry of Health has not allowed us to do at Poplar.


The hon. Member, of course, will not expect me to deal with a specific case of which I have received no notice and no information, and if the facts warrant the criticism which the hon. Member has passed upon them, no doubt the attention which he has called to them will be salutary. He will not take it from me that the facts he has stated, and the inferences he has drawn from the facts, are admitted. The desire of this Government is to carry out and extend the policy initiated by the late Minister of Health, which will assist local authorities in first of all providing the clearing houses into which to put the population—and hon. Members know how difficult it is to get people out even of these distressfully miserable houses—they will do everything to enforce the powers which local authorities have to acquire some area and to clear it. In that way the area or areas will be further improved or possibly sold for other purposes and houses erected on some other convenient site. One hon. Member suggested that private enterprise left the question of slum clearances because there was no profit in it. I do not for a moment believe that that is the reason. The reason why private enterprise is not able to deal with the clearance of slum areas is that private enterprise is not able to enforce its will either upon the owners of the property or upon the persons who live in the property. It is necessary, therefore, for the State in this connection to intervene and come to the assistance of private enterprise, whether carried on by private persons or municipalities, before anything can be achieved.

It will encourage the House to know that there has been considerable response by local authorities to the assistance which the Government is prepared to give. The Government has undertaken to provide a sum which for the moment is not to exceed £200,000 every year towards the deficiency of local authorities in the matter of slum areas. In London considerable schemes have been proposed by the London County Council, including the Brady Street area, which will involve a loss of not less than £100,000 a year, upon the undertaking of the Government to contribute £50,000 a year towards the loss.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

For how long is that loss to continue?


It is for a period of 60 years, in which it is necessary to provide the interest and the sinking fund.


How much of this will go to compensate the people who make money out of these wretched slums?


I am not able to give, and my hon. Friend will not expect me to be able to give, the figures upon such short notice. Whether the money that goes to the property owners is considerable or not, the great thing is to get on with the clearances of these slums, and the steps which the Government are taking in providing financial assistance and in encouraging the local, authorities to put into operation their powers has induced the local authorities to make a start. In addition to the London County Council, 56 local authorities have undertaken schemes or are in actual negotiation for schemes of the same character. Hon. Members will understand that the real first cost of this clearance of slum areas is involved in the provision of the clearing houses which have to be built. It is the outlay upon these which really involves the loss. When the clearing houses have been built, a particular area can be taken, the property can be developed, if it is suitable, for business premises, possibly at a figure which will enable the local authority to make a profit, and with the sum realised to extend and develop the clearance of another slum area. So, by a happy accumulation of work, schemes will progress once they have been set on foot by the provision jointly between the Government and the local authorities of the loss which is involved. That is a considerable start. I will not say for the moment that it is so great a step that any of us can feel happy in thinking that the whole problem is solved, but it is a considerable start and the first step towards complete satisfaction. I am not sure that in connection with the subject of slum clearance I can say anything more.

Upon the whole problem I am only able to say that the Government are giving it the close and careful consideration which it demands. The question of housing reform strikes very deeply into the nation's life, but its solution depends at least as much upon the resources and energy of private persons as upon the State. Put the power of the initiative of the State as high as you like, in the end you have to realise that the resources of the State are limited. I know that some hon. Members think that they are unlimited. They are not. They have been already pledged to an extent which, perhaps, few people realise in connection with the efforts which have been already made on this great question. Lest we may procure for ourselves an advance even in this great matter by the destruction of the wealth upon which the prosperity of the country ultimately depends, and upon which the increase of employment depends, we must be very cautious as to the amount which the State can provide, even for so good an object as housing, and if it be the fact that private enterprise, and the great resources of private persons and municipalities can do as successfully as the State, and more economically than the State, the work of providing houses, then we shall achieve our purpose, and we shall not further mortgage our limited resources. It is in this hope that the Government are considering the question. In spite of what hon. Members say the Government will give the most sympathetic consideration to every single proposal made from these benches in this Debate. They are considering every proposal, but they will proceed upon the lines of private enterprise which with the assistance and encouragement and good will of the State may be able to solve the problem. If all parties co-operate with head and heart I am sure that we may, in the course of a short time, hope to see happier conditions in our big cities.