§ [Mr. BOWERMAN in the Chair.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £812,422, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1923, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Scottish
§ that that has been done, I venture to express the hope that the Amendment, with which my right hon. Friend opposite concluded his speech, may be withdrawn, and we may get this Vote.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £155,853, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes. 21; Noes, 101.2367
|Division No. 232.]||AYES||[8.12 p.m.|
|Amman, Charles George||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West)|
|Banton, George||Kennedy, Thomas||Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. D.|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Wignall, James|
|Edwards, G. (Norfolk, South)||Raffan, Peter Wilson||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Stourbridge)|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)||Robertson, John|
|Hayward, Evan||Sexton, James||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Irving, Dan||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)||Mr. Hogge and Major Mackenzie Wood.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Gilbert, James Daniel||Peel, Col. Hon. S. (Uxbridge, Mddx.)|
|Ainsworth, Captain Charles||Glyn, Major Ralph||Pratt, John William|
|Armstrong, Henry Bruce||Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)||Rae, Sir Henry N.|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Greenwood, William (Stockport]||Renwick, Sir George|
|Barrand, A. R.||Gregory, Holman||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)|
|Bellairs, Commander Car[...]yon W.||Gro[...]g, Colonel Sir James William||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Hailwood, Augustine||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Bird, Sir William B. M. (Chichester)||Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton)||Robinson, Sir T. (Lanes., Stretford)|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Henderson, Lt.-Col. V. L. (Tradeston)||Rodger, A. K.|
|Breese, Major Charles E.||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Scott, A M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)|
|Briggs, Harold||Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Shaw, William T. (Forfar)|
|Broad, Thomas Tucker||Hinds, John||Simm, M. T.|
|Brown, Major D. C.||Hood, Sir Joseph||Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander|
|Bruton, Sir James||Hopkins, John W. W.||Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)|
|Buchanan, Lieut.-Colonel A. L. H.||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Sturrock, J. Leng|
|Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.||Jodrell, Neville Paul||Sugden, W. H.|
|Cheyne, Sir William Watson||Johnstone, Joseph||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Clough, Sir Robert||Kidd, James||Taylor, J.|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Lorden, John William||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Coote, Colin Reith (Isle of Ely)||Lort-Williams, J.||Thorpe, Captain John Henry|
|Cope, Major William||Loseby, Captain C. E.||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Cowan, Sir H. (Aberdeen and Kinc.)||Lyle, C. E. Leonard||Wallace, J.|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Mackinder, Sir H. J. (Camlachie)||Walton, J. (York, W. R., Don Valley)|
|Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||McLaren, Robert (Lanark, Northern)||Ward, Col. J. (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|Dockrell, Sir Maurice||Mallalieu, Frederick William||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Edge, Captain Sir William||Mitchell, Sir William Lane||Wills, Lt.-Col. Sir Gilbert Alan H.|
|Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Wise, Frederick|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Morrison, Hugh||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Fell, Sir Arthur||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Wood, Major Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Flannery, Sir James Fortescue||Murray, Rt. Hon. C. D. (Edinburgh)||Worsfold, T. Cato|
|Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot||Neal, Arthur|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Gardiner, James||Nicholson, Brig.-Gen. J. (Westminster)||Mr. McCurdy and Lieut. Colonel|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Sir J. Gilmour.|
Original Question put, and agreed to.
Board of Health, including Grants and other Expenses in connection with Housing, Grants to local Authorities, etc., sundry contributions and Grants in respect of Benefits and Expenses of Administration under the National Health Insurance Acts, 1911 to 1921, certain Grants-in-Aid, and certain Special Services arising out of the War."— [NOTE: £900,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Mr. MUNRO
I propose to say a very few words in regard to this Vote. I cannot claim for one moment that we have solved the problem of housing, or have made good the shortage of houses that 2369 existed in Scotland. We can, however, at least claim that something material has been done to alleviate the deplorable conditions that prevail. Let me remind the Committee in a sentence or two the position of matters before the War. The Royal Commission on Housing stated that the pre-War needs of Scotland were 235,900—that is the additional number required to bring housing in Scotland up to a satisfactory standard. This, no doubt, was an ideal which it became our business to strive to attain. Undoubtedly the Royal Commission set up a very high standard to reach which must be the work of years. I want the Committee to survey with me for a moment what has been already accomplished in the few years in which the Government has been dealing with this matter.
To-day 25,550 houses have been built, are building, or planned, and if we add to that figure the houses building under the private builders' subsidy, estimated at 2,400, and 400 under the special crofters' scheme, we get a total of 28,350. The Committee may be interested to know the progress that has been made since December 1920 At the end of that month the houses completed numbered 927. At the end of December, 1921, they numbered 5,287. At the end of June, 1922, they numbered 10,253. That is to say, the numbers in 1922 were double the largely increased number of 1921. This cannot be described as a large contribution to the housing needs of the country, but having regard to the conditions which have prevailed, the shortage of labour, the high prices of material, the difficulty of transport, and so on, we may, I think, congratulate ourselves what under these exceptional conditions has been achieved. I hope that future achievements will be in line with what has been done in the past. Apart from the question of the actual shortage of houses, there is also the quality and condition of the existing houses to be considered.
Slums are a standing reproach to us all. Many houses to-day, as we know only too well, are quite unfit for human habitation. In some cases where closing orders have been made by the authorities the orders have not been put into force but have been suspended, for the simple reason that families occupying these houses would otherwise have to be turned into the street. When for financial 2370 reasons we called a halt in the operations of the housing programme, £30,000 per year was allocated to Scotland to enable something to be done in the direction of clearing the slum areas, and re-housing those who were dispossessed by reason of that operation. The Scottish Board of Health have been in communication and consultation with the local authorities as to the beet method of utilising this annual grant, which is an additional contribution to the housing problem. The object of these conferences was to frame schemes under which the money could be expended to the best advantage and made to go as far as possible. Only if the local authorities had lent a hand could this satisfactory thing be accomplished. We can only deal in this way effectively with what after all, I would remind the Committee, is the particular and imperative duty of these local authorities. It is proposed that after schemes for this purpose have been approved by the Scottish Board of Health, the local authorities should have a free hand, and that they should be untrammelled by any inspectors or representatives of the central authority—that they should carry out their schemes in their own way once approval has been granted by the Scottish Board of Health. It is proposed in this matter to shake off all this and allow the local authorities, once the scheme has been approved, to carry it out according to their own discretion. The contribution of the State is supplemented by the contribution of the local authorities. The sum which is allotted to Scotland is certainly not large, and if distributed over the whole of Scotland would soon be frittered away without any substantial results being obtained. I am sure that those interested in this matter in Scotland will lend a hand in carrying out the scheme of the Board of Health. The Glasgow Corporation already has formulated a comprehensive scheme for the clearance of slums and the rehousing of the people who will be dispossessed. This has been done on the understanding that the corporation will participate in the Government grant.
The first instalment for rehousing in Glasgow is estimated to be £350,000. The land has been approved by the Scottish Board, and an annual grant will be made to Glasgow. A solution of that problem is vital to the well-being 2371 of the community. If the local authorities are prepared to provide a reasonable part of the expenditure required, the Board of Health will be able to approve a scheme involving £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 sterling. This, coupled with the houses provided under the subsidised scheme, will materially add to the decency, comfort and contentment of our more humbly circumstanced population. That is all I propose to say in opening this Debate, and the point which will be raised in the course of the discussion will be dealt with either by myself or the Parliamentary Secretary (Mr. Pratt) after speeches have been made by Scottish Members.
I have listened with interest to the statement made by the Secretary for Scotland. If my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) feels that he is entitled to speak before me, because he is sitting on the Front Bench, I am quite willing to give way to him. The Secretary for Scotland has always taken a very deep and sympathetic interest in the question of Scottish housing, but I wish his statement to-night had been a little more elaborate. He has not said very much on the general question of housing in Scotland, and I cannot forget at the present time that all Scottish Members in this House at the last election gave very definite pledges on the question of housing in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman referred in his speech to the Royal Commission, and he rightly said that, not the ideal, but the minimum requirement for Scotland, according to the Commission, was 236,000 houses. I am not aware that that estimate has been seriously criticised, and we must regard the shortage which has naturally arisen since that time as something which should be added to that number.
What I did miss from the speech of my right hon. Friend was any declaration of policy with regard to the future. According to the right hon. Gentleman's figures 28,550 houses are to be built in order to complete the present programme. What I should like to know from the Secretary for Scotland is what the Government propose to do when that programme has been completed. I was one of those hon. Members who supported the Government when they called a halt in regard to the housing scheme last year, because I 2372 thought it was a policy of futility to place further contracts on the market when there was such a shortage of labour, and when the cost of building materials was so high. In this respect I think we ought to thank the present Minister of Health for taking such a prominent part in regard to this matter, and for deciding that the policy of his predecessor was wrong. It was stated, when the policy of the Government was reversed, that it did not mean any real alteration in the housing policy, except that a halt was being made on account of the extremely high prices. The Secretary for Scotland, in a speech made in this House in reply to some observations of my own, said:Moreover, there is no scrapping of the housing programme, and no refusal to resume it when financial considerations are more favourable. All we propose to do, as I have said. before, is to mark time, and call a halt in approving tenders until sufficient progress has been made in regard to the houses now under construction.I supported the Secretary for Scotland in the policy which he announced from the Treasury Bench, but the right hon. Gentleman has possibly left it until a later stage in this Debate to make some announcement of the future policy in regard to housing when the present programme has been completed. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the conditions to which he looked forward at that time have now, to a very large extent, been fulfilled. He has referred to the fact that last year there was a scarcity of labour in the building trade, but that difficulty has now been removed. There is no longer a scarcity of labour, in fact, there is actually unemployment in the building trade to-day. The right hon. Gentleman's other requirements have also been fulfilled, because prices both of material and of labour have been very much reduced. In 1920, when the Government decided upon this housing scheme, prices were excessively high both for labour and raw material. Since 1920, however, there has been a reduction in prices of over 50 per cent., and houses which then were costing something in the region of £1,200 can to-day be built for about £500. I think these figures are approximately correct.
Since the right hon. Gentleman made his statement last year, when the Government decided to call a halt in their housing policy, prices have been reduced by 40 per cent. The question I wish to put 2373 now with the utmost respect is how the new position in the price of labour and raw materials is going to affect the programme of the Government in regard to housing in Scotland, I am sure that my right hon. Friend realises the urgent and pressing importance of this subject. He has mentioned Glasgow and what is to be done for the slum areas there. What are the requirements of Glasgow? I believe that Glasgow demands as a minimum something like 57,000 houses. How many are provided under the Government scheme? Somewhere about 5,000. If my information is inaccurate, my right hon. Friend will no doubt correct me at a later stage. It is my belief at present, in regard to the figures for Glasgow, that the houses to be supplied do not represent 10 per cent, of what is demanded by the City Corporation. I remember very well interviewing my right hon. Friend with a deputation from Glasgow on this very question, and I feel sure that the case which was put to him with regard to housing on that occasion in Glasgow was irresistible. He will admit that some further consideration must be given to the requirements of that great city.
It is not only Glasgow that I can speak for in this matter. I can speak also for my own constituency, for Dumfermline, for Cowdenbeath and for Lochgelly where the housing requirements are of a most pressing and urgent character at the present time. There we have only a very limited programme of work, but it is now being held up and in the case which I put before the Scottish Board of Health recently with regard to Lochgelly we found ourselves up against a blank wall. It is my belief that this is really a national question. From the point of view of political economy, I always have been and will be an individualist, but when we consider this housing question and the abnormal circumstances arising out of the War, especially in regard to our own country, I feel it is far more important to keep in view the national point of view so far as the health of the population is concerned. Let me state in a word what I mean.
I am in favour all the time of a Conservative policy in finance, and I urgently support all measures which make for economy. But I want real economy. I heard of a case the other day in which a family were extremely anxious to have a three-apartment house and were prepared 2374 to pay for it, because the daughter in the family was suffering from tuberculosis and the parents were desirous that the unfortunate girl should have a room to herself where she might be relatively segregated in the family. It was quite impossible, however, to find a three-apartment house and they had to take a two-apartment house. What will be the result? It is impossible to segregate the girl under these conditions, and the chances are that other members of the family may be affected by the same disease and you will have charges made upon the State for treatment in sanatoria which will altogether outweigh the additional expense of providing suitable housing accommodation. I think these are considerations which ought to weigh with my right hon. Friend, and no effort should be spared to urge upon the Cabinet, who, after all, have got responsibility in this matter, the extremely pressing need of Scotland, so far as housing is concerned.
While I am speaking on this subject I cannot but refer to one part of Scotland which I know intimately. In connection with my own constituency there is in Dumfermline a district called Bungalow City. The word bungalow conjures up a beautiful picture of a low, charming, rambling dwelling, surrounded by shrubs and trees and flowers, with scarlet runners creeping up the wall and clustering round a rustic porch. These conditions are not fulfilled in Bungalow City, which is a district entirely composed of corrugated iron dwellings, mean, sordid, and comfortless erections, in which the employés of the Admiralty are housed. I know my right hon. Friend has not the sole responsibility for the housing conditions there, but the Ministry of Health has a certain measure of responsibility, and I wish he would exercise the functions of his great office and have these dwellings replaced by buildings in which men can live in decency and in comfort.
Since I have had the pleasure of speaking first on this Vote, I am not going to abuse the privilege. I only want to refer to one other matter before I resume my seat. In connection with housing in Scotland certain provision has been made at Stornoway for the supply of building materials to crofters there by the Board of Agriculture under powers duly vested in that Department. I am informed this 2375 depot established at Stornoway for the sole purpose of supplying building materials at cost price to crofters —a policy I support—is not confining its operations to crofters, but is selling these materials to all and sundry. I am against all kinds of Government trading, but this is a particularly vicious case so far as my information goes. There is a firm in Stornoway which is in the building material trade, and has up till now supplied its various clients, at I suppose reasonable rates, with the goods they require. My information is that now this Government depot established at Stornoway is cutting the trade entirely away from this private firm and is supplying to all-comers any building materials they want, sometimes under cost price. If that information is correct, I respectfully protest against this usurpation by the Government of the rights of private trading firms. In this case, whether it is the Scottish Office itself or the Board of Agriculture, my protest is equally strong. I will not detain the House further except to say that I hope my right hon. Friend will realise that his statement is incomplete, that the housing question in Scotland cannot remain where he has left it, and that some strong effort must be made by him and his officials to remove the stigma and blot of bad housing from Scotland.
I have listened to the very interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bungalow City. I am glad he happened to catch your eye first. He has put his case with a great deal of ability. We hear much about the privilege which certain Members have in regard to speaking, but I would be the last man to take any offence with regard to the question of priority. There is one thing that the Scottish Members have some right to complain about on an occasion of this kind, and that is, although we offer very adequate housing accommodation to English, Welsh, and Irish M.P.'s, we are left in the position of presenting this spectacle to the public—
That is a very pertinent question, but at the present moment there are very few other than Scottish Members present to take part in the Debate.
I know, but my hon. Friend has done his duty like some of the rest of us, and he ought to be content with that. The point I was putting was that, although we provide adequate accommodation for our colleagues, they do not come to see the way in which we run our own country. I have put down an Amendment to reduce this Vote for some of the reasons stated by my hon. Friend, and for others which I shall advance before I sit down. This question of housing in Scotland is one in regard to which even my hon. Friend, who usually supports the Government—is, as a matter of fact, a supporter of the Government—will admit that the Government did make definite promises, with which he associated himself, and with which we all associated ourselves; and if there is one part of the United Kingdom which is worse off in regard to housing conditions than another, it is Scotland. I remember that Sir George McCrae, who was my predecessor in representing East Edinburgh, and who is now one of the most respected and most efficient officials in the Scottish Office, made a pilgrimage through Scotland delivering speeches on the housing question: and I used to cut out those references in order that some day one might bring them forward as efforts on the part of an efficient official in connection with the actual housing conditions which, unfortunately, obtain not only in our crowded urban areas in Scotland, but in many of our rural districts. I see my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Dr. Murray) in his place to-night, as he always is when any Scottish, or even British, business is being considered. I remember spending what I thought might-be a holiday in his constituency, and being impressed with the fact, beyond all others, that in an island where there was ample fresh air and abundant sea people were housed in conditions in which (animals would not be housed in many respects. The problem, therefore, is one not only of our urban but of our rural areas.
The problem to which we are asked to address ourselves is whether the Government, represented by the Scottish Office, and at the present moment by my hon. Friend who presides over the Board of Health in the Scottish Office, are satisfied 2377 that they are making their promises effective. Are we satisfied that they are making sufficient progress in dealing with the housing problem? If not, we are entitled, as we always are in the House of Commons, to take the effective means of deciding that problem in our Division Lobbies. Briefly, what is the problem? My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Wallace) has stated quite succinctly and briefly certain of the reasons, but he did not state the figures of the problem, and I think that they ought to be as often as possible put on record. The Government, under schemes submitted by local authorities and approved by my hon. Friend who presides over the Board of Health, agreed that it was necessary to build 115,057 houses in Scotland. That was the figure that was to make up the shortage, and, as my hon. Friend pointed out, is at any rate 120,000 short of what the Royal Commission said was necessary—and that Royal Commission hold its inquiry before the War. Even the maximum suggested by the Royal Commission, therefore, was not touched by what the Government promised.
Now let us see what has been achieved. Up to 31st December, 1921, the tenders for houses that were approved by the Board of Health in Scotland were 21,344. That is less than one-fifth of the requirements, and that was the position on 31st December, 1921. Moreover, those houses were not then built; let that be borne in mind. That means that the needs in Scotland were only met to the extent of about one in four, or 25 per cent. The marvellous thing about that was that the increase during the year was so slight. From December, 1920, to December, 1921, the increase only represented 3,054 houses. That, practically, was the achievement of one year. Anybody, certainly any Scottish Member who is listening to me at the moment, will agree that that was a mere drop in the bucket so far as the housing necessities of Scotland were concerned. There may be reasons, but we shall all agree that it was a mere drop in the bucket. The number of houses completed and ready for occupation in Scotland is now given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland as 5,287. As a matter of fact-although I do not make any particular point of it— those 5,287 houses include, as my hon. 2378 Friend will agree at once, a number of houses which have been acquired by local authorities, which did require reconstruction, but which did not require to be built; so that the figure of 5,287 does not really represent an actual building programme, although it does represent housing accommodation.
What does this mean? It means in brief—I am quite willing to be challenged on the subject if I am wrong—that, as a result of two years' achievement by the Board of Health in Scotland, they have succeeded in providing 5,287 houses towards the New Jerusalem. There are 5,287 homes for heroes in Scotland, and we have just ceased discussing the lamentable failure of the Secretary for Scotland, through the Board of Agriculture, even to provide land for the men in Scotland who fought in the War. Now that we come to the question of housing, we find that two years' achievement amounts to the miserable figure of 5,287. See what that means. It means that, according to the Government's own statements—not our statements, not the statements of the Board's critics, but their own statements —there are 126,614 families living to-day in inadequate housing accommodation or in overcrowded conditions in Scotland. That is a simple sum in subtraction with regard to what the Government promised and what the Government have done. To impress it a little more upon the imagination of my colleagues who are present, if you take, as I think will be agreed is quite fair, four as an average for each family requiring housing accommodation in Scotland, that represents one-ninth of the total population of Scotland. Therefore, after two years, this Government, which promised us this housing accommodation, which we have been led to believe is the Government that cannot be replaced in any possible way, and that, if we are deprived of its guidance in national affairs, we shall go to red ruin—this great Government, with all those qualities, can provide 5,000 houses and allow one-ninth of the people whose votes they filched at the General Election to remain unhoused. The Secretary for Scotland goes on his way rejoicing. The President of the Ministry of Health, who intervenes so seldom in our Debates, to our unmitigated regret, seems to regard that as something which we ought to put up with because it has come from a Government of this kind. What are the reasons given 2379 by the Government for this state of affairs? In the first place it was the reason of economy. It certainly does not lie in my mouth to complain about economy in any national object. The others were mentioned by my hon. Friend, but he did not give the figures which I have here which will amplify and emphasise his argument. The other was the shortage and the high prices of materials and the shortage and the cost of labour. Those things were supposed to make a great difference to the housing problem.
What is the position now? On the first I think we are all agreed. Apart altogether from any desire that any of us have to see any social reform accomplished, there is a primary thing which we are more concerned in, and that is the financial stability and recontruction of our own financial affairs, and until that is achieved the Government have a case in trying to economise. I make the Government a present of that, because I could not do otherwise. But with regard to the other two points this has happened. The supply of materials has increased and prices have fallen, the supply of labour has greatly increased and the wage rates have fallen. If you want any evidence of that you will get it in the pages of your own Report. There were employed in January, 1921, 7,206 men on building, which had increased to 14,318 in December. The number had doubled in the year. If that is so it is equally true, from what we know of the amount of unemployment in the country, that there is available labour for building, and therefore, with materials and wages reduced, it is possible for the Scottish Office to resume the housing programme which they suspended a year ago. They may not be able to do it to the same extent. They have got to face their task. I have tried to put it into a matter of six questions to my hon. Friend. I should like him to tell us what are now the prices of the various types of houses as compared with January, 1921. My hon. Friend gave us some figures, which I accept from him, but it would be an advantage to us to know if the Department has accumulated these facts and what was the difference in those prices. I should also like to ask him how many men are now employed on house building I have the figures from 2380 the Report here—14,000 in 1921. This is July, 1922. How many men are now employed? Third, how many men are still unemployed in the building trade? That is an essential fact for us to know in order to judge fairly of the position of the Government in this matter. Fourth, have any recent tenders been received by the Ministry of Health in Scotland, and, if so, what are the prices? Fifth, do those prices indicate that houses can now be built without any substantial charge either to the Treasury or to the local rates? That is a very important point to get to know. We cannot get the facts.
The Scottish Board of Health are accumulating from time to time the prices of materials. They are also accumulating from time to time the number of men who are unemployed in the building trade. They are also receiving tenders for the building of houses in schemes. Can they tell us from those facts whether prices for the building of houses has reached such a figure that you can have the housing shortage met without any substantial charge either to the Treasury or to the local rate—that is whether we can do without a Govern-men subsidy? If we can, how many houses can be built on that basis? My last question would be, are there any facilities now given to local authorities to obtain loans at easy rates? The rate of interest has fallen considerably, and although I am not any extra in financial questions, I have sense enough to know that that is so. Money is cheaper, and the Government Department ought to meet the local authorities in the matter of loans and, if they can, easy loans, so that houses can be built on an economic basis. I have tried in these few remarks to put the case without controversy. I have tried to put it purely as a business problem, because those of us who have been brought up in. Scotland, and who are Scotsmen in sentiment as well as everything else, are anxious about the housing condition of the people in our own country, and we want a solution rather than the satisfaction of scoring any party advantage.
There is a last point I want to make. I want to deal with the £30,000 that was 2381 given for the clearance of slum areas. I tried to follow what the Secretary of Scotland said about that. His speech, unfortunately, was very short. I do not complain of his absence now because he has sat in the Committee all day and is entitled to a little rest at this precise moment. I am not quite clear as to how far that amount is available, and the purposes for which it is to be used. On pages 109–10 of the Report, this subject is dealt with in a statement with regard to the grant for the improvement of insanitary areas. I notice on the top of page 110 there are particulars of a scheme for Edinburgh. There are two schemes, one is for the Edinburgh improvement scheme and the other for a Dumfries improvement scheme. I will leave the Dumfries scheme to the hon. Member for Dumfries if and when he turns up in the discussion, and I will deal with Edinburgh, which city I have the honour to represent, and will ask a few questions about that improvement scheme.
It is a typical case, and there are hon. Members present who represent areas in which the same conditions prevail. They will notice that this scheme covers areas in the Cowgate and Grassmarket districts of Edinburgh and contemplate the acquisition of properties comprising 502 dwelling-houses and 47 shops. The cost of the scheme is estimated at, approximately, £255,000. I draw attention to the cost for this reason, that the amount available for the whole of Scotland is £30,000 per year. Here we have—I am making no complaint, but only giving an illustration—a little patchwork of a slum area improvement, dealing only with 500 dwelling-houses, which in Scotland will not mean more than 20 tenements, and the cost is going to be eight times the annual sum allocated for the whole of Scotland. We must protest against the inadequacy of the provision for dealing with slum areas in Scotland. It may be that it does not express the intention of the Government, but at the same time we must recognise how absolutely impossible it must be in Scotland for many years to come to deal with slum areas until a proper financial provision is made. I hope some answers may be forthcoming to the questions I have put.
In a Bill which has been introduced into this House there is a proposal to 2382 alter the constitution of the Board in Scotland. While that will not affect the present membership, because there are many members to-day whose time has not yet run out, it is rather important to those of us who are still to remain in the representation of Scotland that the new constitution of that Board should be safeguarded as far as possible, and I hope that in any reply that may be made to-night some indication may be given that, at any rate, the distinctly housing side of reform in Scotland, which includes national health insurance, which is in itself a product of bad housing, shall be adequately safeguarded. I have tried to put the case quite impartially, and I hope fairly. It is information we want and progress we want in housing in Scotland. I would rather see a few more extra thousand tenants better housed in Scotland than attempt to secure any party advantage over the Government.
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
We are all agreed as to the present deplorable condition of housing in Scotland, and how little has been done to alleviate those conditions. At the same time, I feel impressed with the fact that the Government were quite justified in suspending the housing schemes. The costs have gone up beyond all proportions, and I look with the greatest misgivings to the ultimate issue of the financial problems involved in the housing scheme that we have in existence in Scotland. It is true that somewhere about 236,000 houses were set forth by the Housing Commission as being required to meet the want for housing accommodation in Scotland, and the Government themselves outlined a programme for Scotland of 115,000 houses. At the present time the total number of houses built under housing schemes, by private parties and plane approved, which does not mean that the houses are built, is less than 30,000. I know of housing schemes in my own county and constituency where the ultimate outlook fills me with the greatest possible misgivings. I can visualise a very admirable housing scheme in my own constituency, carried out on well-thought-out plans, with good houses, but the cost has been quite beyond what any reasonable man would contemplate for the erection of houses for the working classes. On these houses there is an annual loss of at least £50,000. That is to say, that the difference between the economic rent and 2383 the rent now being paid by the tenants amounts to a loss on each cottage to not less than £50 per year. How in the face of that could we expect the Government to go on with housing schemes? Wages have fallen, and I know from representations made to me that the tenants living in that particular housing area have the greatest possible difficulty in paying the modified rents.
If the Government contemplate resuming house-building operations they ought to review the position from an entirely new angle. When they begin to resume the consideration of house-building schemes in Scotland, they should try, as far as possible, to divest themselves from State-controlled schemes, and should give greater freedom to the local authorities. I am not very much in favour of subsidies or grants in aid, but I do think that during this pressing problem it would be far better if the Government would give special encouragement to municipal authorities and private enterprise by granting subsidies or grants in aid rather than continuing the State control of housing schemes. Wages have fallen, costs have come down, the cost of erecting houses is now far more moderate than it was a year or two ago, but the moment the Government commences again to control housing schemes, and to control the raw materials that are required, prices will go up. I therefore urge the Government to give consideration as soon as possible to the question of divesting themselves of control of house building in Scotland and seek to work up some other solution of the problem.
What the Government ought to do is to lay down a programme whereby so many houses may be provided each year for a number of years to come, invite local authorities and private builders to make application for grants in aid towards the required number, let the Government insist upon certain fundamental conditions as to the requirements of the houses to be erected, and leave it to the local authorities to work out their own scheme in their own way, and leave the whole responsibility on them. The sooner the Government can divest themselves of responsibility for providing houses, the better for the provision of houses in Scotland. I look with the greatest apprehension to the Government resuming their 2384 house-building operations. While the low cost of building is in their favour just now, I believe that fuller advantage would be obtained by municipalities and private enterprise than by the Government.
Therefore I would urge that the Government should review the whole situation, the whole scheme of house building in Scotland from another angle, and not endeavour to resume the old practice and the old scheme which increased the cost enormously, produced uneconomic houses, and involved the State in enormous liability which it is difficult to get rid of. The State will ultimately have to cancel that liability in some way. The only way I can think of is to wipe it all out as a bad debt, hand over the existing houses to the local authorities and let them make the best of it. I have studied housing in Scotland for many years. I have some experience on housing committees, I know the conditions of my own constituency, and the whole matter fills me with the greatest apprehension, because I feel that, as the years roll on, these housing schemes, which are in existence to-day, will be a source of weakness and grave financial liability which it will be difficult to discharge. The sooner we can relieve the State from that liability the better, and the earlier that we put the responsibility on local authorities and private builders, the better for housing conditions in Scotland.
Mr. J. ROBERTSON
Earlier in the discussion a Scottish Member complained about the short time allotted for the discussion of Scottish Estimates. One remedy for that probably is that we should discuss these Estimates in a Parliament of our own in Scotland, but if I pursued that subject I might come in conflict with the Chair. What I deplore most in a discussion like this to-night is the small attendance of Members on these benches, irrespective of party.
Never mind the Labour party. I said irrespective of party. Hon. Members are always looking for faults in the Labour party. If they would look for faults in their own party they would find them more readily. I have seen these benches crowded on far 2385 less important questions than housing. To me housing is one of the most important questions that can be discussed. I have seen these benches crowded when War was being discussed, but more people die because of bad housing than are killed on the battlefield. I am afraid that, in discussing this question of bad housing, we are apt to lose sight of the problem by putting forward what has been done. I am not inclined to blame any party for the bad conditions of housing, nor am I inclined to blame the Coalition Government because they have not created a new heaven and a new earth since 1918. I have said before that bad housing exists very largely because of the low ideal on the part of those who provide the houses and the low ideal on the part of the people who are compelled to live in the houses. The most hopeful sign at present for improved housing in Scotland, or anywhere else, is not the number of houses that have been erected, but the public opinion that has been created in favour of better housing and against allowing the bad old conditions that existed in the years that are past and gone.
I am bound, however, to contrast what the Government can do when it wants houses for war purposes compared with what it has done when it wants houses for other purposes. During the War we wanted houses for munition workers. Inside of six months, in the area from which I come, there were 700 houses erected for munition workers, and in the three years we have been able to erect only 600 houses under the housing scheme. I do not think that the two things compare very favourably. But I am inclined to think from my observation that the conditions are worse in 1922, after all that has been done, than they were in 1918. I want to say that because if one reads in the "OFFICIAL REPORT"—a very excellent report—or listens to, the speeches about the number of houses that have been erected one gets an entirely different impression. I spent ten days during my last vacation living among my own people, going from house to house in the mining villages, and, knowing the housing conditions as I do in the part of the country from which I come for over 30 years, I say that the housing conditions in the West of Scotland, and in the County of Lanark are worse to-day than ever I remember at any time during that period. 2386 I am glad to see the hon. Member for North Lanark (Mr. McLaren) in his place.
In a previous discussion on this question I pointed out what had happened in existing conditions during an epidemic. It is very difficult sometimes to believe what a single apartment is in Scotland. It is the only apartment they have. Within a mile of the door of the hon. Member for North Lanark (Mr. R. McLaren) during the influenza epidemic there were, at one time, five dead bodies in a single room.
I have made inquiries with reference to that, and I find that the hon. Member's statement is absolutely incorrect.
I am not going to dispute it. I prefer to take the Register of Deaths rather than any other statement. I can produce the proof. It is no uncommon thing to find one dead body, at least, in the room where children live, eat and sleep. No one should endeavour to minimise the bad housing conditions that exist in the West of Scotland. During my visits I found, in one case, as many as 11 persons living in one room. I found that the people are rack-rented. Houses that were condemned as unfit for human habitation, and would have been scrapped but for the housing shortage, are being let at much too high a rental. I am now speaking of an area with which I am well acquainted.
The present needs of Lanarkshire are that we want over 5,000 houses. We have got 400. For every house built there are at least seven applications, and for each of the houses likely to be built within a short period there will be the same number of applications. Those are figures which I have obtained from the secretary for the Middle Ward. Our council sot their faces against the taking in of lodgers in the new houses. We had to break away from that principle, and because of the bad housing accommodation, the new county council houses are about as overcrowded now as ever the miners' houses were. There are 1,605 overcrowded houses in that area alone. Three thousand closing orders have been obtained, but the houses cannot be closed, because if that were done the people would have nowhere to go. In that area, 2387 which is largely a mining area, the public authorities state that it is almost impossible, in many cases, for them to put the Public Health Act into operation. It has to be entirely suspended because of the housing conditions.
I have been in consultation with those responsible, who have done a great deal in that area to get on with the housing scheme. We ought to take into consideration what they suggest would be the best and quickest method of relieving the insanitary and congested conditions to which I have referred. I was glad the hon. Member for East Renfrew (Mr. Johnstone) pointed out that the local authorities want more power than they possess at present. The present proceedings are cumbersome; they are expensive, and they cause delay. Plans have to be gone over; every little petty dispute has to be submitted to the Board of Health; and instead of getting on with the houses which are so greatly required considerable delay takes place. My purpose in rising was especially to refer to the area from which I come. That area is only a sample of the districts of industrial Scotland. I did not rise to blame the Government. I have spoken as I have because, now that the national conscience has been awakened in favour of improved housing, it is from our places in this House that we shall be able to keep that conscience alive, until we see springing up, throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain, that class of house which at present forms just a little patch here and there of the improved housing. I believe that if that can be done—not by a miracle, but by pushing this matter on constantly and by continually keeping this high ideal before our people and ourselves—then we shall soon get rid of the bad insanitary conditions which have existed for so long.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. John Robertson) with a great deal of interest. He will remember that he and I spoke on the question of housing very much in the same strain many times long before the War. The condition of Lanark is not a new one. The miners' houses in 1914 were bad, and the lapse of time has made them worse. The hon. Member for Both-well, before he became a Member of this 2388 House—I had done so also—raised his voice in favour of better housing in Scotland. We looked forward to the time when the Report of the Royal Commission would be submitted to the House. Whenever we brought forward any proposals for better housing in Scotland, with Government assistance, we were met with the reply, "Wait until the Royal Commission's Report is submitted, and then we will consider it." I think that Report was submitted in 1916. It revealed a condition of things in Scotland that even Scotsmen had never half realised until that time. It is a full Report, and it contains information about the condition of the towns in Scotland which show that some of them are very much worse than others.
In the matter of this Report we are much further advanced than England. England has no such Report and we do not know the condition of her various towns and cities. I think Scotsmen in this House have made a mistake in saying that the conditions in Scotland are very much worse than in England. When England has had such an exhaustive report on her housing conditions, then—I speak from my own observation—I am certain that Scotland will prove to be very much better—however bad her conditions are—compared with those in London and many other English towns. In Scotland we have a different system of building than in England; we have not built only for a time, we have built for posterity. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) spoke about the conditions in Edinburgh, and I recognised that he did not say as much as he might have done. Many of the houses in Edinburgh were built hundreds of years ago. They are about 11 storeys high, and some of them have no outlet at all. I went with the medical officer of Edinburgh on a visit of inspection, and I saw a bedroom in which a boy who was suffering from tuberculosis was lying. The distance from the window to the wall on the opposite side was no greater than about three feet. That condition of things, of course, is very prevalent in the Cowgate, the Canongate, and the High Street. It has long been the opinion of those in authority that a big clearance of some of those slum areas is required. It would have been done long before this but for the reason that the City cannot afford it.
2389 The same thing exists in connection with the City of Glasgow. Glasgow has made very great clearances about the Salt-market and some of the other places, under a city improvement scheme. It has tackled the problem and has taken the burden on its own shoulders. There are still many areas in Glasgow which require to be cleared. Glasgow, with the large expenditure of the past and the burden still upon it, cannot go further in clearing slum areas without some assistance. I welcome the promise, even of £30,000 a year, for the clearance of slum areas. I welcome also the statement of the Secretary for Scotland that Glasgow has formulated a clearance and housing scheme to cost £350,000, with the assistance of the small contribution that it will get from the Government. I would never ask the Government to pay the whole cost of clearance or housing schemes. That would take responsibility from the local authority. The burden ought to be borne partly by the local authority and partly by the State. Those who have complained that the Coalition Government have not fulfilled their promises would do well to cast their minds back to the period before the Coalition came into power and before they initiated their housing scheme.
The first Housing Bill was introduced about 1893. That gave local authorities power to go on with housing schemes, and they had to repay the cost of building and of land in 30 years. No Government assistance was given, and the burden fell on the local authorities. If local authorities did not tackle the housing question at that time it was because they could not afford it. The next Act amended that scheme and gave local authorities an extension of time for the repayment of loans on houses to 60 years and on land to 80 years. Again there was no Government assistance, and the local authorities had to bear the burden. If the War had not intervened, local authorities, with that extended time allowed for repayment, were prepared to go on with their large housing schemes. But the War intervened and upset all arrangements. That is what I would ask some hon. Members on the other side to remember. I am sorry that the Government housing scheme has broken down. In my town of Clydebank I looked forward to a great housing scheme. For a large number of years we have had a population of nearly 20,000 who travel 2390 between Clydebank and Glasgow and the Vale of Leven. They could not find houses in Clydebank, and they travelled to Glasgow, the Vale of Leven, and other places to get houses. Before 1914 the local authority was prepared to go on with a housing scheme. But the War prevented that being done. The local authority looked then to the Government to help them in the provision of houses. They have done so, so far, but I regret that the number of houses sanctioned is not up to expectations. Another part of my constituency is the borough of Dumbarton. The Commission Report made out a very bad case against Dumbarton. It is a very old town, and many of the houses, like those at Edinburgh, date back 100 or 200 years, and are not in a state of sanitary repair or, in many cases, fit for habitation. Dumbarton ought to have had a larger number of houses than it got. We did get some. But if the slums are to be removed and houses put up in their place, the burden to be borne ought to have more consideration from the Scottish Board of Health than it has received in the past, although I admit that, so far as Sir George McCrae is concerned, he gave Dumbarton a share of the surplus that was at his disposal.
In regard to cost, there is no doubt that the large number of schemes which were embarked on all over the country increased the cost of houses very much. There was competition between builders for the supply of houses in the various area, and an increased demand for materials. Wages, too, went up. The difficulty was augmented largely by the Building Material Supply Committee of the Government. In this House I called the attention of the late Minister of Health to the injustice of Scotland having to depend for building material on the Building Material Supplies Committee in England. It raised the cost of the building material supplied to Scotland. The building scheme of the Government in Scotland was not the system of building to which we have been accustomed in Scotland. We have been accustomed to building with stone, but all the new houses had to be built of brick and roughcast. Altogether, the scheme was different, and in cases where the material had to be brought from England and the cost of transit was as much as the cost of the material itself, the necessary expenditure rose. Bricks rose in price 2391 to over £5 10s. a thousand, a figure which was out of all proportion to the previous cost. Wages rose from something like 10½d. an hour in 1914 to 2s. 3d. and 2s. 6d. an hour. All these things largely increased the cost of building. I am sorry to say that, in spite of the increased wage, the men did not give the same return. It did not matter what you said to them, for they knew that all they had to do was to get a job elsewhere. That was not good either for the masters or the men. I am glad to say that the trouble is being remedied, and that the men now are realising that in their own interests they should give a better day's work for a better day's wage. The cost of bricks has been reduced from 110s. per thousand to something like 50s. per thousand, and wages in the building trade have gone down by Is. an hour. That has largely reduced the cost of building, and I am sorry that the Government have not seized the opportunity, now that there is a chance of better production at a cheaper cost, of going on with a further supply of houses. Their idea may be that the cost is going to be reduced still further, but I do not think there can be much hope of that. I should be sorry to see wages coming down any lower than they are at the present time. A man requires all the pay he has just now to keep himself in comfort, and I do not think there is much hope of any considerable reduction of wages in the future. I hope there will be a reduction in building materials. If the statements made by some of my hon. Friends on the other side of the House—which, to a certain extent, I can substantiate—are correct, namely, that building materials have in many cases been controlled by rings, there is hope that these rings will be broken by the competition to get orders. Before this, it did not matter what the price was, the supplies had to be given, and the rings could make any prices they liked. I hope the Government will look ahead now, and go on with an extended housing scheme at the reduced cost. I do not think the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) was exactly fair to the Government. He made the statement that the houses completed numbered 5,000. I took him to mean that only 5,000 houses had been completed in Scotland up to the present time, but that is not the case. The num- 2392 ber of houses completed up to the present time is 11,000, and others are in course of completion. I am sure the hon. Member for East Edinburgh had no intention of misstating the facts, but that was the impression which he conveyed to me. He may have meant that 5,000 was the number completed up to the end of last year, and that would be correct. But he should have brought his statement up to date, and showed what the Government had actually done up to the present time. We should be enabled to judge the performances of the Government on the actual facts. I am not going to vote for the Amendment because, with all the mistakes which the Government have made, they have done much better than any Government which preceded them, and the other Governments could have carried out these brilliant schemes, under much more favourable conditions, with regard to the National Debt, with regard to the industry, and with regard to the money which they had at their command.
§ Mr. GIDEON MURRAY
We always listen with very great respect to the hon. Member, who has just spoken, when he deals with matters of housing, or, indeed, any question connected with local government in Scotland. The Committee has listened to his speech to-night with the greatest interest. I, personally, listened with particular interest to that portion of it which dealt with the history of housing in Scotland. The hon. Member described how before the War the Government which then existed did nothing to assist housing in Scotland. Then came the time after the War, when the Coalition Government came into power, and proceeded to take such steps as they believed were adequate to assist housing in our country. So soon as the housing schemes were adumbrated in this House, I took exception to them on the ground that they were conceived in the spirit of Socialism, and took no account whatsoever of private enterprise. They handed over entirely to the local authorities the work of producing the very large number of houses required in Scotland.
We have heard from the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) numerous figures, into which I do not wish to enter, but I may remind the Committee that the number of houses which the Royal Commission considered neces- 2393 sary to house the people of Scotland was something like 250,000. I would also remind the Committee of the figure of 121,000 houses at which the local authorities in Scotland in 1919 fixed the requirement. I further remind the Committee once more of the figure of 21,000 which is the final figure those local authorities have produced. I listened with amazement to the speech of the hon. Member for Renfrew (Mr. Johnstone) when he urged the Government this evening that in future schemes for housing they should take into account not only the local authorities, but private enterprise. I remember the same hon. Member disclaiming in favour of the local authorities and against private enterprise having anything to do with the creation of houses in Scotland. Those of us who urged the Government not to leave out private enterprise and who did so from the first moment when they produced their scheme, are glad that at last salvation has been found by hon. Members like the hon. Member for Renfrew. We hope that the salvation may spread to the minds of other hon. Members who still keep on urging the Government to confine their efforts to Socialistic and municipal enterprise. I represent a constituency which contains some of the worst slums in Glasgow.
§ Mr. G. MURRAY;
I agree that private enterprise has had a great deal to do with the creation of slums, but the day has come when the Government and the people of this country must realise that we have to take these questions in hand and sweep away these slums. I ask hon. Members on the Labour Benches whether it is not better to treat the whole question from a practical point of view, from the point of view of the conditions which exist and will continue to exist, than to treat it merely from the point of view of theory. Is it not better to meet it in a practical way than to meet it from the point of view of the policy which has been pursued by the Government up to the present and has produced 21,000 houses out of a requirement of 121,000 houses? I know very well that economy must govern the position to-day, but Scotland must be better housed, and I feel quite sure that every reasonable and every practical proposal that may be brought forward in this House to meet the awful conditions which 2394 exist, especially in some of the slum areas in the great cities in Scotland, will receive favourable consideration. I hope that, notwithstanding the financial conditions which prevail to-day, the Secretary for Scotland and the President of the Board of Health in Scotland will not relax their efforts or their investigations into schemes and possibilities of improving the housing in Scotland.
Mr. R. McLAREN
The question of housing has been an urgent one for many years, A mistake was made in 1909, we all admit, and from that year on till October, 1918, very few houses indeed have been erected in the country. The result, to my own knowledge, was that from 1909, especially in some parts of Scotland, the quarry industry, because houses were not being built, got into a very bad state, and until 1918 very few quarries were working. I am sorry the right hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. J. Robertson) has left his place, because I wished to call attention to one or two of his remarks this evening on this subject. He spoke of some houses in Lanarkshire—I believe in my own district —that had been condemned as unfit for habitation, but which were still occupied owing to the housing scarcity. I expected him to say that these houses were owned by colliery owners of the district, but if he were here I would tell him that these houses are owned by a private party, who still insists on the people living in them. He also stated that in some parts of Lanarkshire, for every house that is built there are seven applications, but he forgot to say that probably more than half of the applications are from parties who are already in houses and want bigger houses than they at present possess. He also failed to say that many of the men to-day who are in the houses built by the corporations and the county councils will very likely have to leave them very soon because they are utterly unwilling to pay the present high rents, as work has become very scarce, and many of them are out of employment.
One would think, from the remarks of my right hon. Friend, that the only places in Scotland where there was overcrowding were his district and my district, but it is a very common thing in Scotland, and there is far too much overcrowding, and we can only hope that sufficient houses will be built in course 2395 of time to do away with this very serious state of affairs. I agree with his remarks that the local authorities, in connection with housing schemes, are far too much hampered. In my own town, before houses could be started at all, I know, for a fact, that the men who had charge had to run to and from Edinburgh with the plans, and so forth, and that months elapsed before any start could be made with the building. If anything could be done whereby local authorities could be given more power and be less under the control of the Board of Health in the matter of housing, I think it would be a good thing.
I am one of those who supported the Government heartily when they brought in the modification of their housing scheme, and I will tell the Committee why. In that housing scheme we found that the prices for houses were very high indeed. Material was high, wages were high, and there was no prospect whatever of the houses becoming any cheaper, and in my own district houses that could normally be built with stone for a few hundred pounds cost over £1,000 to build. From the day on which the scheme was modified the prices began to come down, not only of the material, but of the wages of the men, and to-day we find that houses are very much cheaper than they were. We see constantly in the newspapers that people are talking about cheap houses, but when we come to get specifications in from the builders we find that they are not just as cheap as some people imagine, nor, I fear, will they be cheap for some time to come. All the same, it is a fact that at the present moment houses ought to be very much cheaper than they are, because material has come down in price. Another good result has ensued from the cheapening of houses. We in Scotland were entirely opposed to having the models given to us on the system of the English houses. We have a system of our own in Scotland, and we build good, substantial houses. We do not believe altogether in brick houses, and during the time the controversy was on I took the matter up very seriously with the Board of Health on the question of building houses with stone, where it was impossible to get brick. I am glad to say that when it was brought to the 2396 notice of the Board of Health that in some parts of Scotland, where the price of brick was so very high and where they could get cheaper material in the district by using sandstone or whinstone for building houses, besides giving employment to a number of men locally, the Board at once acquiesced, and we had many houses built with stone. The people there to-day, I am sure, are very glad that they did not get the houses built with brick.
The question has been raised in my own district as to how long these houses will last, and it is a fact, borne out by the Board of Health themselves, that the houses to-day, both those built and those that will be built, will cost Scotland £50 a year for 60 years. I am bound to say that if houses deteriorate at the rate they have since they were built, there will be no houses there 60 years hence. One good result will be, that by having a modification of the scheme, there will be a chance for private enterprise, and I am quite sure the hon. Member for the St. Rollox division (Mr. G. Murray) will be glad of that. I entirely agree that it is a great mistake to municipalise anything we ought to do for ourselves in the way of private enterprise. The whole success of this country has been to leave things to be done by private enterprise, and seeing that it is now left for people to build their own houses, because they cannot get them built under the Government scheme, many builders will construct private houses, which will be built of good substantial stone, which we most require in Scotland. The climate of Scotland is entirely different from that of England, and we require a good stone house with a good stone wall to keep ourselves warm in winter time. Brick houses cannot very well do that, and I am told by people who live in these houses in my own district, which is very high and cold, that they could scarcely keep themselves warm with fires on a winter night.
I think the Government would be well advised if they could give us some idea, now that costs have come down, as to what the price for building houses is likely to be within the next few months. I have heard that it is in contemplation that the houses already built shall be sold for half-price. I can assure the Committee that, so far as the houses in my own district and those about me are con- 2397 cerned, I would not give £500 to £600 each for them. They are not worth above £300 to-day, although they cost £l,100. In view of the fact that it is going to cost £50 a year for 60 years before the money is cleared off, I suggest to the Government that they ought to make a present of these houses to anyone who will take them, provided that they will take over the burdens and pay all the taxation, including the feu duties. I think that by and by we shall have to face the loss, and it would not be a very bad plan if that were done.
There can be no doubt that sometimes local authorities, because they were so anxious to get houses built, did not consider the schemes at all well. I have brought a case before the Board of Health. In the County of Lanark, about five miles from where I live, a scheme was drawn up by the county council to build 20 houses. I took occasion to call the attention of the Board of Health to the fact that in that district the mining was almost exhausted. In spite of my representation, the county council went on with the scheme, and the building of the houses, I believe, is completed. What I said has turned out to be quite true. All the collieries in that district have been stopped, and I believe that out of the 20 houses, seven only are occupied, and those by men who otherwise would scarcely have got them, and the suggestion has been that they should be let to men who own motor cars in the town five miles away, and who could motor in and out. I think it is a good thing to have houses built where they are required, but I do not see why any local authority should build houses where they should know, by making inquiries, that the houses would not be required. The Lanark County Council have built these houses in spite of the protestations, not only of myself, but of others in the district. I trust the Board of Health will take up a matter such as that, make full inquiry, and satisfy themselves on the best evidence they can get as to whether houses to be built are actually required, because it will save the money of the ratepayers, and, at the same time, do a good turn to the Government who supply money, and things will be. better in the future.
I do not intend to vote for the Amendment. but shall support the Government 2398 in this respect. While I recognise that we want more houses for the people, I think that, on the whole, with a little patience and leaving it to private enterprise, in some way things will, by and by, right themselves. It is quite true the slum question is a very serious question, and must be tackled, but the question I put again is, whether or not it is a wise thing to force matters? Is it not far better, under the circumstances, to ca' canny, as the saying is, in the hope that something may be done as soon as possible, seeing that things are righting themselves in the matter of price? The hon. Member for St. Rollox referred to the Glasgow municipal enterprise in bricks. I should be glad to hear what is being done by the municipal people with their brickworks. Seeing that bricks are so cheap, I wonder whether it is wise on the part of these people to purchase brickworks to build houses when it can be done, I think, very much more cheaply by private enterprise.
Mr. W. GRAHAM
I propose to confine myself briefly to one point, with perhaps some reference to what was said by my hon. Friend on this side. The largest Scottish municipalities are very keenly interested in this departure of policy on the part of the Government in slum clearances. As I understand the proposition, we shall have in future an annual sum of £200,000 set aside, in the case of England and £30,000 in the case of Scotland, for application to this scheme. In the case of Scotland, there are, I think, one or two difficulties which the Government itself would probably desire to clear up to-night. When this matter was last discussed in the House it was suggested and, I think, not disputed on the other side, that the limit of liability on the part of Scottish ratepayers in this matter is the product of a rate of four-fifths of a penny in the £, and that if any larger contribution was to be expected from the ratepayers in the future, that could only be obtained under the Clause in the Economy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which gives the Scottish Board of Health this power. If that be the situation, and if this other legislation is not to be taken until the Autumn Session, it is quite clear that there will be at least some delay before there can be expected from Scottish ratepayers, as a contribution to the clearance of these slum areas. anything in excess of the pro- 2399 duct of a rate of four-fifths of a penny in the £, and I want to ask the Government to-night, before we leave this problem of Scottish housing, whether anything can be done, under existing legislation, to hasten the policy on which they themselves have embarked? I think it is true to say that many of the Scottish municipalities are in some doubt still regarding this departure, because, of course, they are familiar with the recent theory that the limit of their liability would be the product of a rate of four-fifths of a penny in the £. They foresee the larger call, but I am inclined to agree that, at the moment, this may prove to be a policy of economy. I think, in the time of falling rates to which we look forward in Scotland, it would be very sound investment for municipalities to do more in the way of slum clearances than in the past. It comes to this, that if they do not so invest their money, or raise a rate for that purpose, they are really raising the rates in another direction, for the public health assessment will be larger in having to deal with the ill-health to which these congested district conditions give rise.
The only other point about which I am going to ask some information from the Government was really raised in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Rollox (Mr. G. Murray), when he denounced the municipal enterprise referred to in the Annual Report of the Scottish Board of Health. The Board, dealing with housing conditions, expressed the hope that at the earliest possible moment we shall be able to get back to private enterprise in the provision of houses in Scotland. In the time at my disposal I dare not start arguing the question as between public enterprise and private enterprise; it is much too large a question. I do, however, beg hon. Members from all parts of Scotland to have regard to the proportions of this problem, as we now see it. Let us frankly ask ourselves whether, if private enterprise enters even to a much larger extent than any of us have reason to believe it will enter at the present time, we can get rid of a very large amount of public enterprise in this matter.
The actual position here, as we were reminded by the Secretary for Scotland, is that the Royal Commission recommended 236,000 houses for Scotland. That Commission went on to say that 2400 130,000 of that total number were urgently required. I do not agree that the standard laid down by the Royal Commission was, on the whole, extravagant or even a very high standard. By many practical people in Scottish housing it was regarded as a moderate and a reasonable standard; but at all events they said that 130,000 houses were urgently required. I agree entirely that we required to revise the general policy in recent years. The Government set out in an effort to build houses when prices for everything were very high, and unfortunately, as many of us regard it, they did not take steps so to regulate prices or so to restrict the powers of the rings and trusts which supplied Scottish building material as would have given the solution of the housing problem in Scotland a fair chance. Whatever may have happened in that respect, the policy is now altered, and under the schemes which have so far been approved we stand to get in the aggregate, some day in the future, about 28,000 houses—I have stated, I think, the case accurately— against the 130,000 "urgent" houses of the 236,000 which the Royal Commission regarded as required.
The idea or suggestion in the Annual Report of the Scottish Board of Health was that private enterprise would enter the field. I am entitled to claim—if I may be forgiven this remark -some knowledge of the Scottish building trade, directly and indirectly, over a fair period of years. There are really two classes of people in the Scottish building industry. There are the large contractors, who probably will be busily engaged for years on public and other contracts of a large and important character, and there are the smaller builders who were to a large extent in the past the people who provided house property in Scotland. I do not think, on the whole, that the large contractors are going to look to the provision of house property as an investment, although, of course, they might undertake the provision of some of it on terms of contracts which might be arranged between them and any other party who entered the field. We shall thus have in Scotland to rely upon the smaller builders. What is the attitude of the smaller builders in Scotland to this problem? The small builder knows perfectly well that because of the complete interruption of a large part of his work during the War period he will 2401 be busily engaged in future on repair work and jobbing work and to some extent on luxury enterprises to which a good deal of attention has been devoted in recent years. I have discussed this problem with many small builders, and a very large number of them say that they are compelled to direct their activity to that repair work and minor luxury work, and certainly not to the provision of house property as a speculation upon which they hope to get anything resembling a fair return. Even if we make a large deduction from what the small builders say, it is quite clear that only a limited amount of the house property urgently required in Scotland will be forthcoming from that source, and therefore we must have a considerable amount of enterprise on the part of local authorities and on the part of the State itself. Accordingly it is idle to argue the question of public or private enterprise at the present stage.
For myself, I say, if private enterprise can enter the field, good and well, but, failing that, in the interests of the urgent provision of Scottish housing we shall have to rely more on the municipalities and public effort. I want to know, in the first place, is there a limit to the liability of the Scottish ratepayers for these slum clearance schemes; and, in the second place, I want to know what is the attitude of the Government towards that passage in the Annual Report of the Scottish Board of Health dealing with the hope of a return to private enterprise with regard to housing in Scotland.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
There are many things I should like to refer to, but some of them have already been touched upon, and no doubt the President of the Scottish Board of Health will answer the questions which have been put. We should be interested to know whether, in view of the fall in cost, the suspension of the Government's housing scheme will be terminated. When the housing policy for Scotland was altered it was stated that it was not an abandonment of the policy, but a suspension. Conditions have now changed, the need of houses is nearly as great, but prices are much lower, and it would be interesting to know whether the Government contemplate any resumption on a large scale of their earlier plans relating to housing.
2402 My second question is, would the Government spokesman tell us how far the private builder has fulfilled the hopes entertained, and how far he has filled the gaps left owing to the suspension of the Government's original plan? The sum of £30,000 has been put aside to assist in clearing Scottish slum areas, but that is quite inadequate, and it is almost useless expenditure until you have built houses for the people who will be dispossessed in the slums. My final question is this. We know from answers given by the Prime Minister that a Committee is to be set up to deal with the position created by the Rent Restrictions Act. I cannot now make any suggestions for the amendment of that Act, but this is a question which interests my constituents very much, and I should be very grateful if the Chairman of the Scottish Board of Health could tell us whether there is to be a Scottish branch of that Committee, or is Scotland to be covered by the English Committee. I should also like to know when they are likely to report and will their Report be published? These are matters which greatly interest householders in Scotland, and I shall be glad if I can receive answers from the Government on these points.
Sir A. SPROT
I should like to begin by making a small suggestion in the direction of economy. We have here three books, I am not sure this is relevant to the Debate, but we are assembled here as Scottish Members, and perhaps the Secretary for Scotland will pass my suggestion on to the Stationery Office or to any other Department to which it may be proper. When we are dealing with Scottish Votes, why should we not have them all in one book instead of having to consult three books'? That is a very modest suggestion. I am sorry I missed some of the previous speeches with regard to miners' houses. I am to some extent interested in Lanarkshire, and I venture to say there is nothing to be said against the housing conditions that prevail there.
Sir A. SPROT
In the Lower Ward. I quite agree that in other parts of the county things are not so satisfactory.
Sir A. SPROT
To the Lower Ward. It is possible to have good miners' houses, 2403 and if the hon. Gentleman will come into Fife I will show him some examples. On the Wemyss Estate the problem has been successfully studied and they have a very excellent class of miners' houses.
Sir A. SPROT
I did not intend to say anything to provoke discussion on the part of the hon. Member. I am quite at one with him in the desire to see the houses for miners as good as they are for other people. We landowners do provide houses for the labourers on our estates, and if that were the rule, all those interested in mining would also provide suitable houses for the people who have to work in the mines. The same should be the case with other trades and enterprises. If the owners of all such concerns were compelled to provide houses for the workers in the same way as the ordinary country landowner has to provide for his ploughman, then we should arrive at some solution of the housing problem. That leads me to this point. It was noted in the discussions which we had on the Scottish Housing Bill that little or nothing was going to be done for housing in the country districts. That has proved to be the case. As hon. Members will be aware, in Fife there are a good many burghs—some 28 or 29—and some of them are in my constituency. In these burghs there are housing schemes, but not one single house has been provided under the Housing Act in the landward part of my constituency, and that notwithstanding the fact that we who live in the landward part have to contribute, through the Income Tax and other taxes, to the expense of these housing schemes. That is a point which I think ought to be considered.
When I came in, I heard an hon. Member discoursing on the subject of bricks, and he stated, very truly, that under the housing scheme the bricks had to be provided by a commission, the result being that the bricks were sent up to Scotland from England. I think that was entirely wrong. I have watched the housing schemes progressing in my neighbourhood. Whenever I drive to the railway station I pass a housing scheme, and I could not help noticing the very slow manner in which the building progressed. On one 2404 occasion I asked the reason, and was told that the houses were being built of concrete, but that the delay arose from there not being any bricks available—not for outside purposes, but for partitions. There was a brickworks within three miles of that place, but, I presume, the bricks had to be obtained through some bureaucratic arrangement from England, and therefore the delay was occasioned. I should like to ask, as a definite question to the Secretary for Scotland, or whoever is going to reply on this matter, what is the actual position as regards the houses which have not been commenced or sanctioned at the present time? Are they going to be proceeded with under these housing schemes or are they not? I have some knowledge of a locality in which negotiations are still going on for the purchase of land for a housing scheme in Scotland, although I understood that, owing to the pressure of financial conditions in our country, the housing schemes had been brought to an end. I should like to be told what is the actual position with regard to the balance of those houses which have not been sanctioned or have not been commenced at the present time. Is the scheme to go on or is it not to go on?
I turn from that to the recommendations of the Geddes Report. The recommendation with regard to housing was perfectly plain. It was that you must sell the houses as soon as you possibly can, and the information given in the Geddes Report was to the effect that the cost of houses built under the housing scheme was £1,100 per house. That corresponds exactly with certain of the houses which were erected in my own constituency, and that figure is correct. Then the Report says that the loan charges per annum are £75. That is the sum which has to be paid for the loan of the money with which these houses were built. Towards this the net rents provide £16, leaving a deficiency of £59, and from that may be deducted £4, which is the local contribution at four-fifths of a penny in the pound. That leaves the taxpayer to pay £55 per annum for each of the houses which have been erected. All I have to say is that the sooner those houses are sold the better. Many of them are erected in watering places like St. Andrews, Anstruther, and other places all round the coast. Those houses would sell very well, and might let, pos- 2405 sibly, for a great deal more than the estimated rent which they produce at the present time. But the longer they remain in the possession of the local authority, the more they are going to cost. A new house does not cost very much to repair. When it has been in existence for a year or two slates come off and water pipes and drainage require repair and one thing and another, and dampness appears here and there; and these houses are going to cost a great deal more to the community as time goes on. The best thing you can do is to sell them at once, as recommended by the Geddes Committee. Cut your loss. Sell them for what they will fetch, and do not compete with the ordinary builder in the future. Allow private enterprise to have its full scope, and then we shall soon get back as far as we are able to a proper supply of houses.
Mr. PRATT (Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health, Scotland)
We have had a most interesting discussion on this very great question of housing, and I think one has felt running through the whole of it how serious the difficulties are if we are to carry through to a successful conclusion the earlier hopes of the Government in this matter. The questions which have been put to me are so numerous and the time left at my disposal is so short, that I had better take them right away, giving what replies I can, and if I have a few moments to spare, I can make a few observations myself before I sit down. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Wallace) put a question as to the programme of the Board of Health. I cannot add anything to what the President has already said. I can only remind my hon Friend that the 28,000 houses, which are in various stages of construction and preparation, will not be completed at least until the end of next year, and meantime the Board are seeking to get into immediate touch with the local authorities in regard to slum clearances, which the grant of £30,000 enables them to do. The hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) put a question on the point whether our activities in this respect would be necessarily held up until a certain Measure to which he referred had been passed. I am glad to reassure him that we can be getting on with this work. There is nothing to prevent us going for- 2406 ward and making our arrangements with the local authorities to carry on this work of slum clearance. If the Bill becomes law it will certainly make the path easier, but we are not held up until that Measure becomes law. The hon. Member for Dunfermline has made a complaint as to the proceedings of the Building Supply Depot at Stornoway. I cannot give him very much information on this point because it does not arise on this Vote. It should have been raised on the Vote we were discussing earlier in the day. I cannot doubt that there is some misunderstanding in the matter, or he has been misinformed.
The Secretary for Scotland is in his place, and I am sure that if he refers to his officials he will find that he has some information of a very important character which he can give to the Committee.
My right hon. Friend may be able to deal with the matter, but I am sorry that I am not in a position to make any reference to it. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) put a series of questions to me. He asked me what, approximately, are the prices of houses to-day as compared with the prices two years ago. The three-apartment house in 1920–21 cost, approximately, £1,000 on the average. During the present year that sum has been reduced to £600, a reduction of 40 per cent. Quite recently, within the last week or two, the Board have approved plans for this type of house, and the price has been reduced to £487. The next question was as to the number of men employed on house-building operations at the present time. The number is, approximately, 11,000. The next question was as to the number of men in the building trade in Scotland who are unemployed. A statement which I have in my possession gives the list of unemployed building trade operatives as 8,967. I notice that in this list the number of plasterers unemployed is 66. That means that there is very little unemployment among the plasterers. Other work is often held up and other men unemployed through the shortage of plasterers. Much of this labour is immobile. Another question was as to the facilities now given to local authorities for loans at easy rates. These authorities can go to the Public Works Loans Board and can obtain loans at the present time at 5½ 2407 per cent., including sinking fund and ordinary loans at 5 per cent. interest.
Several hon. Members have asked, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew (Mr. Johnstone), for greater freedom for local authorities in the future. It has been generally agreed tonight that the Government and the municipalities will have to bear part of this burden, despite what was said by the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. G. Murray) in favour of private enterprise. I believe everything should be done to encourage private enterprise, but those of us who are acquainted with housing conditions in Scotland, and looking at the matter with much experience behind us, cannot doubt that both the local authorities and the State will still have some part to play in the future. One other thing was made quite clear, during the discussion, that while the State and the local authorities will still have some considerable part to play, the arrangements will have to be very different from the schemes under which we have been working during the last few years. There will be a general consensus of opinion that if greater freedom is to be given to local authorities, as is desired, they will in future have to bear a larger part of the burden. In regard to the proposition that we have been discussing to-day as to the slum clearances—and that includes the re-housing of those who are dispossessed—the Committee will be glad to learn that the Board of Health will give a much freer hand to the local authorities than has been the case under the schemes of the last two years.
The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) gave some figures which were rather out of date. He said that the result of two years' work was only the building of some 5,000 houses. He took, I think, to the end of last year. If he were present now he would desire that the correct figures to date should be stated. There is, including local authority houses and houses built by public utility societies, and the private subsidy houses, a total up to the end of June of 11,776 of these houses which were occupied. In addition there were 300 for occupancy at the end of June. So there were actually more than 12,000 houses either occupied or immediately to be occupied. There are some 9,000 others in various stages of construction. and there are still arrange- 2408 ments to be made for building between 6,000 and 7,000 houses.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) made a strong point in regard to the Rent Restrictions Act and he inquired as to the Committee which is shortly to be set up to inquire into the present position of the Act. I cannot give my hon. and gallant Friend the terms of reference but I can assure him that on that Committee there will be two Scottish representatives.
I understand that the Committee is not yet complete, and the number is not yet fixed, but my right hon. Friend assures me that there will be a complete representation of all Scottish interests and the Scottish point of view in this matter.
§ Captain BENN
Can the hon. Gentleman give me any idea as to when their labours will be completed and their report presented?
No, but I think I can assure the hon. Member that the proceedings will go forward with all expedition. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Fife (Sir A. Sprot) asked me whether certain other houses were to be proceeded with. If they come within the total of the 28,000, they will be proceeded with, but the Government will not go any further in the meantime, and I am informed that there are still very few of the houses that are to be built that do come within the limit; but up to the limit of the 28,000, including the private subsidy, we will go forward.
Mr. J. ROBERTSON
How will the £30,000 be applied between the different slum districts and insanitary areas?
If the hon. Gentleman had been present when the Secretary for Scotland was speaking, he would have heard him refer to a scheme already under consideration in Glasgow. Other schemes are being considered in Edinburgh and Dundee. I shall be pleased to give the hon. Member the details in regard to these as they proceed.
Mr. W. GRAHAM
I think my hon. Friend behind me desires to find out whether any portion of this money will be applied in other than urban areas in Scotland. Will it be applicable to the rural areas, in which, unfortunately, 2409 there are slums no less than in the great cities?
I am not quite sure. What we have to do is to take the areas which are the worst, the industrial and mining areas, and use there the funds which are at our disposal.
§ Question put, and agreed to.