The Seanad will remember that the President expressed the desire that facilities should be given to the Housing Bill; in other words, that we should, if possible, get through the Second Stage and the Committee Stage this week. To meet his views the Second Stage was put down for to-day. Unfortunately, owing to his unforeseen illness, the President is not able to be here to-day. It is not at all certain that he will be here to-morrow. What I have arranged with one of his representatives, subject to the consent of the Seanad, is that we should dispose of the Second Stage to-day, and then later on in the day, when I have heard what are the chances of his being able to attend this week, we can before we adjourn fix the date for the Committee Stage. I do not see any reason why we should not go on with the Second Stage to-day, because any observations that Senators make will appear in the Official Report, and the President can deal with them when they arise on the Committee Stage.
HOUSING (BUILDING FACILITIES) BILL, 1924—SECOND STAGE.
At the outset I must say that I regret extremely the President is not able to be present to-day, and the circumstances that have prevented him from being present. I would very much prefer that the President should be present to hear the remarks which I propose to make on the Bill, because he is fully acquainted with the circumstances which I propose to deal with.
I was anxious to accommodate you. I thought that would be your feeling. If there had been any certainty that the President would be here to-morrow we could have put off the Second Stage of the Bill, but I am afraid there is no possibility of that.
That is all right. The President, when introducing this Bill in the Dáil, intimated that the proposals were made with a view to alleviating unemployment, so far as that was possible, and to provide houses for the working classes at prices which it is hoped they will be able to pay. Having these objects in view, it is proposed under the Bill that a sum of £300,000 shall be provided for the purpose of making grants or giving subsidies to private persons or speculators in order to encourage them to build houses or reconstruct existing dwellings. Out of the £300,000 a sum of £250,000 is provided for the purpose of giving subsidies to private persons or speculators to encourage them to build houses, and a sum of £50,000 is to be used for the purpose of giving subsidies to persons who own existing dwellings for the purpose of reconstructing those dwellings so that they will be made habitable for the people. The principle underlying the Bill is a departure from the usual procedure with regard to the erection of what is known as working-class dwellings. Two years ago the Government provided £1,000,000 as a housing grant. The local authorities in the country were given grants from this £1,000,000 to enable them to build houses. The proportion of the grant so given was two-thirds of the cost up to £500. In other words, for a house that would cost £750 the Government under that scheme made a grant to the local authority of £500. When introducing this Bill the President, as a reason for departing from the previous practice, made statements to the effect that the local authorities did not avail themselves to the fullest extent of the provisions of the million grant scheme. That was the reason he gave why a departure should be made. In the Dáil on the Second Stage of the Bill the President said:
"We did associate local authorities for the last two years in connection with the provision of housing, and I must say that when I first approached the Provisional Government with an application for £1,000,000 for housing, I did so confident that there would be a real earnest attempt made at using that money within 12 months. Now, at the end of two years, or almost two years, it is regrettable to have to confess that only about 700 houses have been completed; 1,000 are in progress of being built, and 300 have not yet been commenced. That was during a period when we offered £500 for every house that was constructed. I would like Deputies to take notice that there was a real maximum effort on our part, and we were actually paying people for the love of all the necessary issue involved to take up this thing, and after two years we can only boast of 700 houses being completed."
That statement may be true. But, underlying that statement there is the insinuation that the local authorities neglected their duty sadly with respect to this most important question. I cannot speak with authority on behalf of the local bodies, but I can speak with authority as far as the local authority of the Municipality of Dublin is concerned. During that period I have been a member of the Housing Committee of the Dublin Corporation, and I state here emphatically, without fear of contradiction, and with a full knowledge of the importance and the consequences of what I am about to state, that the reason the Corporation of Dublin did not avail itself to the fullest extent of the provisions of this million grant scheme, was because of the fact that the martinets of the Local Government Department, in continuance of the policy that they have adopted for the past ten years, deliberately set themselves to prevent the Dublin Corporation availing themselves to the fullest extent of their full share of this grant. The Dublin Corporation, immediately this grant was announced by the Minister, availed themselves of the opportunity to push forward housing in the City of Dublin. We prepared our plans, and we submitted them to the Local Government Department. The usual policy of delay was adopted by the Local Government Department.
On more than one occasion the Housing Committee sent deputations to the Local Government Department. I was on two or three of these deputations to beg the Department to relax their efforts to prevent the Dublin Corporation from building houses. We found that there had been a change in the Local Government Department as far as the name is concerned. As far as the policy was concerned, however, there was no change, and the same people were in the saddle. For ten years the people in the Local Government Department have deliberately set themselves out to prevent the Municipality of Dublin from building houses for the working class people. I have in my hand at the moment documents to prove up to the hilt the statements I am making. I say that the Local Government Department has continued to put obstacles in the way of the Dublin Corporation building houses. On one occasion we went to the Local Government Ministry when it had been finding fault with the plans prepared and submitted by the Corporation. They said: "We have plans prepared." We said: "Give us your plans and we will adopt them." We adopted plans prepared by the architects and engineers of the Local Government Department, and said we would proceed to build the houses. Senators will hardly believe me when I say that when we submitted to the Local Government Department their own plans, prepared by their own officials, they held us up and said: "You must alter the plans." We had to alter their plans, and that meant another delay of a few months. All these delays meant that the people in the city were being condemned to live under the horrible conditions that we know of. I think if the Government are going to depart from the former practice of giving assistance or grants to local authorities to enable them to build houses for the working people, before instituting a new system or scheme, the least they ought to do is to get a just reason for doing so. It is not fair to saddle the responsibility on the local authorities for not availing to the fullest extent of the grant of £1,000,000, and allege that as a reason why a change should be made when, as a matter of fact, the Local Government Department are wholly responsible for what has happened.
During the two years that the scheme was in operation the Dublin Corporation built, or have almost completed, 717 houses. Plans have been prepared and estimates secured for 197 more houses. The plans have been approved by the Local Government Department, and everything in connection with the scheme approved of. Sanction has been given for the first section of the scheme at Marino, embracing the building of 230 houses, which are to be completed within 12 months from the date of the signing of the contract. For five months we have been pressing the Local Government Department for sanction to proceed with the second part of the scheme. The contractor is prepared to proceed with the work at the same price as the other houses, and to have them completed within 12 months. Despite the fact that these 197 houses at Marino are portion of the scheme, under which the Corporation is entitled to receive their portion of the £1,000,000 grant, amounting to £400,000, and although the roads are made and the sewers laid, we have met with no success as far as getting sanction from the Local Government Board to proceed, is concerned. Under these circumstances, I respectfully suggest that if a change is going to be made, it should not be made on the basis that the local authorities have failed in their duty. If there is any reason why a change should be made, the correct reason should be given. The change is certainly not due to the neglect of duty by the local authorities. As far as the Dublin Corporation is concerned, it has not neglected its duty. Perhaps it is a little out of place to do so, but I think it is justifiable to mention another matter at this stage. The Local Government Department have demanded that an Inquiry should be held into the performance of their duties by the members of the Dublin Corporation. I wish the Government would institute an inquiry into the performance of its duties by the Local Government Department. I would prepare the indictment. I would not run away from the charges I make. I will prove up to the hilt the manner in which the Local Government Department acted towards local authorities in connection with the building of houses.
The idea in the Bill is to get houses speedily erected at a cost that will not be prohibitive. In order to accomplish that it is proposed by the Bill that subsidies should be given to private persons to encourage them to build houses. In his statement in the Dáil the President said that under the Bill within twelve months he would get 3,000 houses. I sincerely hope he will. Nobody will be more pleased if he does than I will be. Like the Scotchman, "I hae ma doubts." I have a recollection that a few years ago the British Ministry endeavoured to solve the housing problem on a similar system to this. They offered a subsidy of £260 per house—a free grant of £260 per house to anyone who would erect a house in Dublin. That was in operation for two or three years, but what was the result? In the Dublin area there were 70 houses built under this grant and fifteen houses outside the city area. For nearly three years there was a free grant of £260 to any person or combination of persons who would build a house. The President expects to get 3,000 houses built under this Bill, with a £300,000 grant. There has been a good deal of criticism about the local authorities. I am prepared to bring any member of the Seanad around the city of Dublin, and I am prepared to show him houses that were built under the British grant of £260, and I am prepared to show him the houses built by the Dublin Corporation under the million grant, and he need not be an expert in building to see the difference between the two. A good deal of talk has gone on in connection with the cost of building houses, and the Government, before this Bill was introduced, sent a circular letter to every Trade Union in the building industry and to the Employers' Associations in the same industry suggesting that they should meet with a view to reducing the cost of building. We did meet, but we met on a demand of a reduction of fourpence an hour, amounting to about 16/- a week to every artisan in the building industry.
The employers are quite prepared to co-operate on that basis, and to reduce the cost of living at the expense of the stomachs of those engaged in the building industry. That was their contribution, and Mr. Good in the Dáil during the debate on this Bill was very generous. He said that he would gladly do anything that would bring down wages in the building industry, and I quite believe he would. That was his contribution. With regard to the cost of these houses, there has been a good deal of misrepresentation. I have seen on several occasions statements in the public Press to the effect that houses can be built in other places much cheaper than they can be built in this country, and I have seen comparisons made with regard to the prices which the erection of a house in Dublin costs and other places. I have been sometimes amazed when I saw these figures that have been quoted. I suggest that there is no use in making comparisons unless you make fair ones. A house could be built for £250, or for £250,000. When you compare the price of a house you must take into consideration in the first place the design of the house. In the second place you must take into consideration the materials used in construction, and in the third place you must consider the workmanship. I heard statements made regarding how well they are able to do it in England in comparison with this country. Last week I noticed in a Dublin morning paper a statement made by the Minister for Health in the British Government in reply to a query in regard to the number and cost of houses under the 1921 Act of Great Britain. He stated that there were 63,000 houses built under that Act at an average all-in cost of £1,040.
I suggest that under all the circumstances, and with all the handicaps we have here, we have done better than that. Houses are being erected at the moment by the Dublin Corporation on the Fairbrothers' Fields area, and I think they will compare favourably with any working-class dwellings built in this country or in Great Britain, and the actual cost of these houses has been between £670 and £680. If you allow the cost of acquisition of the site, I suggest that we are well within the limit of that prevailing on the other side, where the people are held up as a great example in house building. I am using these arguments because of the fact that I do not think that it is fair or just that the local authorities should be blamed when they are not responsible. If the previous method of building is to be departed from, it is not fair to use arguments that are not correct. During the course of the debates in the Dáil there was a good deal of discussion regarding the cost and the amount of output from the building operatives in this country. Deputy Good was very anxious on several occasions in asking for an increase in output. I had an opportunity a few weeks ago of meeting the Master Builders' Association of Dublin, when we discussed this question, and the spokesman of that Association stated in the presence of the delegates of the building operatives, that the employers were very pleased at the output in the past few years.
When we come to the question of output, we must consider other things than the amount of work that ought to be done. It is all very well for the theory men, the gentlemen who sit in offices with their feet cocked up to the fire, to work out in detail to half a brick, the amount of bricks which a bricklayer should lay in a day. That is all very well, but I suggest that there are other considerations, and you cannot work it out to a nicety like that. For instance, take a building operative who is living in a filthy slum in Dublin, and who is housed in a single room with his wife, and, perhaps, four or five children, in a putrid atmosphere. How can you expect a reasonable output from a man who is living under such conditions? The theory men can work out what he ought to lay, but everyone will admit that a man condemned to live in a filthy Dublin room, and in a putrid atmosphere, is not physically fit to have his output measured in half bricks. When a man is at work proper, there are other considerations to be taken into account. During the months of November, December and January last, it rained most of the time. On several occasions then I went to Marino to see how the work of the housing scheme of the Dublin Corporation was progressing, I entered the field through which the workmen had to go, and before I got one hundred yards I was up to my knees in mud. The unfortunate artisans and labourers were there at ten minutes to eight in the morning. They have to plough through that sea of mud, and a gentleman in his office can measure their output up to half a brick in theory. Then they say the cost of building is prohibitive, and that we do not get sufficient output.
I suggest to the Government that the methods proposed under this Bill will never solve this problem. It is merely tinkering with it. The only way this problem can be solved is not by giving subsidies to speculative builders, but by setting up a national housing authority. There will have to be, sooner or later, a housing authority set up in this country that will deal with this question in the manner in which it will have to be dealt with. Tinkering with it under the methods of this Bill will not solve it. The houses that will be built under the provisions of this Bill will be built by speculative builders for the purpose of selling them. I suggest, although everybody is entitled to proper housing, that three per cent. of the working-classes will not be able to get houses under the proposals of this Bill. It is proposed in this Bill to give a subsidy of £100 to a builder or private person who will erect a five-roomed house on plans to be approved by the Minister. In addition to that, the local authority may make a further grant of £100. In addition to that, the local authority has power to grant a loan equivalent to the grants under the provisions of this Bill. I suggest, with the knowledge I have of the building trade, that the houses under the provisions of this Bill will be built for the purpose of sale, and not three per cent. of the people who are most in need of houses, will be in a position to purchase those houses. The people who will build those houses will be speculative builders, men who have not a very large amount of capital, and if they build three, four, five or six houses under this Bill, their capital is invested in those houses, and they cannot build any others until those houses are sold. The person who builds those houses must have £400 to build them with. There is an important departure in this Bill also. It is in Section 8, where the Government propose to take powers to limit the cost of building material. Section 8 proposes that:—
"The Minister may at any time if he thinks fit, order a local inquiry into the cost (including the wholesale and retail prices, the transport, handling and overhead charges, and the margin of profit) in Saorstát Eireann or any particular part or parts thereof of any materials or appliances used in the building of houses, and if he is satisfied, after the holding of such local inquiry, that the cost of such materials or appliances in that area is excessive and restrictive of output of building work, the Minister may by order prescribe the maximum amount of the wholesale price or of the retail price which may be charged for such materials or appliances in that area or the maximum amount of profit and of transport, handling and overhead charges which may be included in the wholesale or the retail price charged for such materials or appliances in that area, and may at any time and from time to time by order continue, vary or revoke all or any prices or amounts prescribed by him or an appeal from him under this Section."
This gives power to the Ministry practically to control the price of building material. Statements have been made to the effect that there is profiteering in building materials. It certainly does seem a strange thing that nearly all the standard articles required for building purposes, when applied for to the builders' providers in this city, are quoted at the same price. Very seldom is there a difference of even a halfpenny or a penny in the article. I will not go so far as to say that there is profiteering, but it is strange. In London bricks are sold at £2 10s. 0d. per thousand; in Dublin you have to pay for inferior bricks £4 5s. 0d. per thousand. Undoubtedly, there must be profiteering there.
If you go through the items required to build a house, on the average the materials required can be purchased from £20 to £25 cheaper per house. The Dublin Corporation, a couple of years ago, in an endeavour to keep the industry going and to cheapen the cost of building of those houses, entered into a contract with the only company who manufactured bricks in this city, for a million bricks, and the price was reduced in consequence. We entered into a further contract for three million bricks, and got a further reduction. We made it a condition of our contract that contractors who got contracts for building houses under the Corporation scheme, had to take a certain proportion of the bricks. A most extraordinary thing happened. One of the contractors, who was compelled to buy a certain proportion of the bricks required out of the three million contract bricks, when he had exhausted his quota, did not buy any more from the Corporation. He could buy bricks cheaper per thousand than the Dublin Corporation could, buying them in three million lots.
That is an extraordinary thing, but, nevertheless, it is true. So that there must be profiteering somewhere. Under Section 8 the Minister has power to institute an inquiry into the cost of building materials, and if he is satisfied that there is profiteering he has power to purchase supplies or to manufacture them. I am delighted to see that Section in the Bill, but I am not at all satisfied that the Ministry will take full advantage of their powers, because I have a sad recollection of being a member of a Commission that was set up by the Government to inquire into prices, and that Commission was composed of representatives of the employers—Deputy Hewat was one of the members, the wife of a Cabinet Minister was a member, as were several important and influential people in the city. Two or three representatives of Labour were on it also, and though the Commission was not in a position to do its duty to the public properly because of the insufficient powers they had, they were unanimous in one thing, were perfectly satisfied, from all inquiries they made and the information before them, that with regard to a certain commodity, pretty freely consumed, there was room for a considerable reduction in the price.
The Committee unanimously recommended that the Government should reduce the price of porter and stout. That recommendation was made nine months ago. I understand that the Ministry of Industry and Commerce took some action in the matter in so far as they sent a note to the licensed traders asking them to come to see them, and they begged their pardon and asked them could they see their way to reduce their prices. Like good and true men, the publicans said "No." So that I suggest unless the Government means business there is no use in fooling themselves by putting a clause into the Bill that gives them power to do certain things, if they are not prepared to carry it out. If they do not I suggest they should not put it in. I have made a statement that is common knowledge, from the facts presented and the present wholesale prices, that the price of porter and stout should have been reduced many months ago, and that the Government had not the courage to tackle these people and compel them to do what they ought to do in the interests of the public, and I suggest that if they do not intend to carry out the provisions of this Section there is no use in introducing it into the Bill.
I would be very pleased if the estimate of the President is realised, that 3,000 houses will be built under this Bill, but I do not believe they will. I have some little knowledge of the building industry, and I am perfectly certain that they will not. I want to suggest that when changes are made they ought to be made for good and sufficient reasons, and not reasons that are not correct. With all the talk we have heard about the lack of energy on the part of local authorities and the prohibitive cost of houses that are built by them, I am not in agreement. As I said before, when you are making comparisons, you have to compare two similar objects, and I suggest that the comparison that appeals to me when I hear people comparing the cost of houses, is something like this: Say that a gentleman bought a suit made by a high-class tailor, of the best material, which costs him £10, and that the same sized man bought a suit of ready-made shoddy, which cost him 35s. You have two suits that fit the same man; one costs £10 and the other 35s. Now, this is the same comparison as when you compare a house built for £250 and a house built for £870. One is a well-built house, well-designed, with the best materials and workmanship; the other is a shoddy, jerry-built house, badly designed, with bad materials and defective work. There is the same comparison as between the two suits. I hope when people are comparing the cost of houses built by local authorities, that the people who have endeavoured to deal with this problem will get fair play.
From my experience and knowledge of him, I believe that the President is sincerely anxious to do what is right. I have been associated with him in a small way for close on 20 years, and I know that he has been at all times most sincere and anxious to help to solve this terrible problem. But I am not at all satisfied that the President is able to go into these matters as fully as he ought to. I am perfectly satisfied that the arguments that he uses are not based on correct information supplied to him. I remember last year the President making a statement to the effect that owing to the lack of skilled labour in the building trade it was impossible to get a greater output than 200 houses per year in the city of Dublin. It was a very serious statement, and the men in the building industry took the matter up. We interviewed the President, and before doing so, we prepared for his information a chart, in which we showed the total number in each of the skilled trades in Dublin who were employed on housing schemes in Dublin during every week of the twelve months, and the total number of men in each trade who are unemployed during each week of the twelve months, and we proved conclusively to him that there were more than twice the number of men in each of the skilled trades, on an average, unemployed during the period, than the men who were engaged in building, and that, notwithstanding that, nearly 400 houses were built in the city during that twelve months; so that it is hardly fair that the President should be placed in a position such as that on information supplied to him that is not correct, and I am perfectly satisfied that most of the information supplied to him in connection with the lack of duty on the part of local authorities, has been based on wrong information. I say that the people who are responsible for the fact that the local authorities did not take full advantage of the last grant of £1,000,000 for housing, are the Local Government Department themselves.
The Bill makes another new departure. It proposes, in addition to the grants, or subsidies, that will be given by the State and by the local authority, there shall be a remission of rates for a period of 19 years. Five per cent. of the total rates will be paid in the first year, and an addition of five per cent. in each succeeding year, until the 19th year. So that in reality those who build under the provisions of this Bill will get a grant of £100 from the State, £100 from the local authority, plus a remission of rates for a period of 19 years, amounting on a valuation of £10, with the present rate, to another £100, and in reality there will be a subsidy of £300. I want to call attention to the fact that in the Schedule it is provided that a person is compelled to sell or let houses built under this Bill, at a certain figure up to the 25th June, 1926. I respectfully suggest that that period will have to be extended, because if not, I am afraid there will be a good deal of fraud, as people will be compelled to pay more for the houses than is laid down in the Bill, and I suggest that if people are paying rents, and are compelled to buy houses at present, irrespective of their value, it is levying blackmail on them as far as the rents and the purchase price of the houses are concerned.
I fear I shall not be able to deal with this matter with the intimate knowledge of detail and with the wealth of illustration of the last Senator, but there are certain aspects of the Bill which make me somewhat uneasy, and I felt it my duty to table certain amendments which expressed my anxieties. I should like to know from the Government, broadly, what is their policy with regard to this serious and important question of housing. I think we all feel its gravity, and what the effect of a lack of houses means on the moral and general betterment of the people. I should like to know from the Government if they think they could solve this problem by State schemes, or whether they merely regard these State schemes as in interregnum and are going to make an honest effort to get back to the basis of private enterprise. If private enterprise is their policy how is it going to be attained? Because there are certain features of this Bill which are the very negation of private enterprise, and calculated to deter any honest effort on the part of private capital to enter into building work. There are distinctly what I call socialistic tendencies in this measure and regarding, as I do—I have no doubt there are Senators who do not agree with me—Socialism as the greatest enemy of the State, I feel it would be necessary for us to examine these tendencies very closely, and, if necessary to amend them. I refer first to the power to fix prices. One is not talking in the realm of abstraction on this subject.
We have got recent experience of efforts at fixing prices during the war. We know it is an exceedingly complicated and difficult matter, and that it invariably tends to keep up prices. You simply cannot fix prices at one end of the scale and go to the retailer and say, "Your prices are too high; therefore we will fix you at so much." You have got to go right down to the wholesaler, the manufacturer, and the supplier of raw material; you will have to set up a retail costings investigation, you will have to investigate things all along the scale to be just, and I presume you intend to be just, and to fix exceedingly elaborate schedules. The effect would be to call into being a large number of Government officials, and necessarily a large amount of Government interference. We know what Government interference means when we come to try to attract capital to business. It was found during the war in the baking trade when you investigated the costs that they vary from a sum of 10s. up to a sum of 35s., as the cost of turning a sack of flour into bread, and when you investigated further it was found, of course, that the more efficient and better managed business could do it at a much lower cost, and the more old-fashioned business at a higher cost.
The Government were in the dilemma that if they fixed the price too low they would drive out of business a large number of legitimate and deserving people, and if they fixed it too high they would be adding to the gains of those so-called profiteers. That is a practical aspect of the problem, as showing the difficulty, and in the end a price was fixed which had the effect of raising the cost of living. This power to manufacture is more disquieting. Senator Farren feels that it is not going to be used. I devoutly hope it is not going to be used, but I am afraid the harm is already done. You propose to take this power by legislation, and the mere effect of taking this power is going to frighten enterprise and deter capital. Say what you will, capital is able to look after itself, will look after itself, and cannot be blamed for looking after itself, and if we are looking after ourselves it should be our interest to encourage capital, from whatever quarter, to come to our shores and develop our business. I say this power to manufacture is the very way to discourage capital, and to make still more remote the day when private enterprise is going to come to our assistance in this matter of building. I was tempted to put down an amendment to Sec-It reads: "All materials and appli-it reads: "All materials and appliances purchased or manufactured by the Minister under this Section shall be sold by the Minister to persons at certain prices."
How these people who have that mentality about business, are going to manufacture, I fail to understand. You are going into business with the determination to sell at a fixed price. The demand is for legislation to sell at certain prices, whatever the market value, and my amendment was going on to suggest that the public shall be compelled to buy, but I thought the Chairman would rule it out as frivolous. That is the natural consequence; if you say a thing shall be sold at a certain price you must also create a buyer, and you see the absurdity of the whole idea. In this Section we see this delightful reference to the net cost of manufacturing in a Government establishment. I had the honour of dealing with this question of Government accountancy some time ago, and I hope I persuaded you that from the point of view of correct cost there is no Government accounting machinery. If you attempt to arrive at the net cost of manufacturing in Government establishments you will have to recast your whole Government accountancy.
It is absolutely necessary if you are going to bring Government enterprise into competition with private enterprise, and you must be prepared when you are going to undersell people to undersell them at true cost, and not at a fancy cost. As to the allocation of grants, I should like to know from the Government how they propose to allocate the grants if the scheme is a welcome one. According to Senator Farren there are great inducements to resell at a substantial gain. Is there any scheme whereby the areas most requiring this assistance are going to get it, or is it a case of first come first served, because it is highly desirable that these figures should be apportioned fairly both on the rural and the urban areas. I agree with Senator Farren that there is danger in giving this power to sell within two years. I think the Government should reserve some lien on this property if it can be sold, as apparently it can be sold, at such great advantage, and I feel it will be sold at a substantial profit, for private enterprise is not going within two years to saturate the market with houses, and as a consequence of some of the features of this Bill, I think that the scarcity of houses is bound to continue.
I should also like to know how the Government propose to get the money.
Is the money to come from borrowing or from revenue? This interference with the local authorities appears to be very objectionable. You set up a local authority, autonomous, with responsibility, and although it is only permissive, you give them these temptations to add to an already oppressive rate. In fact, you go further and extend their borrowing powers beyond the statutory limit. I know that the housing difficulty is one that might require special measures, but this power given to the local authorities is a very dangerous one. This is really a point I wish to drive home. You are faced with the fact that a large number of these local authorities are obsolescent. The date for their tenure of office has long since passed. As I said on the Collection of Rates Bill, they have been used and largely recruited for other than bona fide local administration. They came into being in a time of war, and there were certain very peculiar features about their personnel. They will shortly have to face an election, and it does seem undesirable to give those people these very far-reaching powers, which will add very considerably to local burdens. I would suggest as an amendment that in any district where the rates are more than double the pre-war rates that these powers ought not to be allowed until after the new Councils have been elected.
I think we might ask ourselves can this demand really be met by the free play of economic forces? The answer, I say, largely rests with Labour itself. On this question of labour costs and prices, I think we have got to regard facts as somewhat ominous. The prices of three leading lines of building material in which so much profiteering is alleged, that is cement, timber and bricks, have not doubled. They are less than double. I do not know what the rates of wages are within those trades, but the first two, cement and timber, are trades which are subject to international and foreign competition. You will find that all along where foreign competition can operate prices will come down. When you come to the labour aspect of the matter we find that, speaking generally, with regard to the skilled trades there has been an increase of, roughly, two and a half times in the hourly rate. The increase in the unskilled trades is higher. Further there has been a 12 per cent. decrease in the number of hours worked. Whatever may be said with regard to the increase in rates, if labour is genuinely anxious to help forward this housing scheme I would suggest that they might contribute materially by an increase in the number of hours worked. This attitude of labour seems to be in the nature of class selfishness. If you look at the rates in occupations where foreign competition applies you will find that there have been very considerable reductions. If you take the iron and steel trades, where foreign competition comes in, or the coal mining industry, you will find that the reductions have been substantially below, almost down to pre-war standard, unfortunately. In agriculture, in the same way, there has been foreign competition, and the rates of wages are down to pre-war standard. But in these pivotal trades, transport and building, where foreign competition is not felt or only indirectly felt we have these abnormally high rates maintained, far above the rates of the cost of living. For that reason I suggest that when we use the word "profiteer" it applies to more people than the capitalist.
There is another source, and a somewhat valuable source, that the Government might really seriously consider tapping, to deal with this housing question. As the Seanad will recollect, under the Act dealing with malicious injuries, an attempt was made to allow decrees for reinstatement to be diverted to housing schemes. The Government only met that partially. They only allowed it in respect to partial reinstatement. The matter has not got far enough to measure the extent of that advantage, but it would be enormously increased if the Government would allow that change to take place in relation to full reinstatement. That is that a person who had his house burned, and who is entitled in equity to have it reinstated as it was, should be allowed, if he wished, to divert the full amount of the reinstatement to housing schemes. I calculate that might bring into operation possibly a sum of £1,000,000 for housing schemes. It would really go a long way to deal with the worst features of this evil. There are certain further matters I should like to deal with in detail on the Committee Stage.
This question is one on which I think there has been more speeches made than on any other subject of public importance. At the same time, one might add, it is the subject upon which the least progress has been made. Consequently, I am not going to make any lengthy contribution to this discussion. Senator Sir J. Keane asked an extraordinary question. He wanted to know when the Government was going to get back to the principle of private enterprise. In other words, when was private enterprise going to get a chance. I should like to ask the Senator, why has the Government come into the matter at all? Is it not because of the absolute failure of private enterprise? What is there to prevent private enterprise now from going on with the building of houses and selling them at any price, so long as there is no Government or local authority grant? Is it not because there has been an absolute failure on the part of private enterprise to supply this all-important public requirement that the Government has to come in and actually bribe the private builders to go on with this work? It is an extraordinary thing to have a statement of that kind made. The Senator reiterates the charge that one of the causes of the break-down in building has been due to labour, and makes certain comparisons with regard to foreign manufactured material. I think he suggested that if wages here were as low as in Great Britain that materials could be got very much cheaper. The fact remains that we are importing practically the whole of our building materials. As to particular items, I find that Portland cement in July, 1914, cost £1 17s. 0d. per ton. A year ago—there has been no reduction since, I understand—it was £3 5s. 3d., very nearly double. Grey stone lime was £1 8s. 0d. in 1914, and is £2 11s. 3d. at present, or less than a year ago, at all events. The best stock bricks in 1914, cost £1 16s. 6d. per thousand; they now cost £4 2s. 0d.
Would the Senator give me his authority for that, because my information is different?
These are taken from the regular journal in which these things are quoted. They are quotations of March, 1923.
They are down since then.
I understand that there is no appreciable reduction in most of these materials. £1 16s. 6d. for bricks in 1914 and £4 2s. 0d. now represents more than 200 per cent. of an increase. Rainwater pipes were 11¾d. a yard in 1914, and 1s. 11d. in March, 1923. There are numerous other items such as slates, which were £11 13s. 0d. a thousand in 1914, and £28 10s. 0d. in 1923. These prices show that the cost of labour, as far as these materials are concerned, must, in the main, be put on the workers on the other side of the Channel. The Senator objects to any inquiry as to prices, but I think we must assume that if there is an inquiry of that kind that justice is going to be done, and that a reasonable profit at all events will be allowed. Unfortunately, employers here do not believe in a reasonable profit. They are generally out to get rich quick, and have not sufficient faith or patience to work at a reasonable profit. They would very much rather, as we know, adopt that policy anywhere else than in Ireland. I do not know if it is that they have not sufficient faith in the stability of the State, but it is a notorious fact that our industries have been very largely ruined because of that disposition on the part of employers. Our seaside resorts are deserted because of the extravagant charges that are made by hotel keepers. There has been a spirit of impatience and a desire to amass a fortune in a short period that has not been manifest elsewhere.
It is for that reason I think that the Government found it necessary to have this very restricted form of control. It is only a very restricted form. It is only to be made locally, and evidently with the object of ascertaining whether charges for materials in any one particular district are higher than in any other. If the charges generally are too high the Government can do nothing. It is really a gesture made to meet a certain demand in this direction, and I believe, unfortunately, it will not be in the least effective. It is quite true that the Bill falls short, inasmuch as it does not make it incumbent that houses shall be built where most required. The Bill falls short in many respects, because it means that houses can only be built in small numbers everywhere. The result will be that no large order can be given for materials. Consequently the prices paid will be very much higher than if there was a huge scheme, for which large orders could be given for all kinds of material, which could be had at a lower price than will be the case when buying small consignments. The Government has not faced this matter as I think it should be faced. After all, if there was a danger of a shortage of water, or of some other commodity that would have a vital effect on the well-being of the people, the Government would insist that someone should start and provide water mains, and do the other work necessary, or they would do it themselves. Housing is one of the greatest social requirements, one of the greatest social evils from which we suffer. For that reason I agree with Senator Farren that a national housing authority would be the better way of meeting the case. It is quite obvious that it is only by State action that the evil can be remedied even in a small way, seeing that private enterprise, for which Senator Sir John Keane pleads, has so hopelessly and lamentably failed to deal with the question.
I agree with what the last Senator has said about this question, that it, perhaps to a greater extent than any other social problem, has occupied attention in recent years. I have not sufficient knowledge of the subject to speak on it with authority. Arising out of what we have heard in the debate, it would be a pity if the Seanad were to assume that private enterprise has failed in the sense that has been alleged by Senator O'Farrell. In one sense it has failed, as houses have not been built. I suggest that if it had not been for a great deal of the legislation, for which I think the last Premier but two, in Great Britain, was largely responsible, a great many more houses would have been built. It is because the prospect of getting a reasonable profit on house building has been very much impaired by legislation that the building enterprise has practically dried up. An immense number of houses were built in what I might call the old days, not by professional builders, but by people who had saved money and wanted to invest it. They found that the building of houses was not a bad form of investment. In those days we did not hear anything like so much as we do now about the housing question. The building of houses is such an enormous thing that I do not believe the State can undertake it, except with most disastrous results. It is a problem which, unless the community as a whole helps, will never be put right. I believe Section 9 contains some dangerous elements that might very easily tend to make the situation far worse than it is. It is bad enough now, and probably, and naturally so, productive of more discontent, hardship and misery than almost any other question with which we have to deal.