While not actively opposing the Second Reading of this Bill, I must say that I cannot give it the whole-hearted support I should like. This Bill differs in some respects from last year's measure, under which, unfortunately, the number of houses built in urban areas was very few. This Bill is different from that of last year inasmuch as it proposes to wipe out the restrictions placed on the selling and letting prices of houses built under it. It is probable that under this Bill a large number of houses will be built, but the question as to who will occupy those houses is another matter. From my knowledge of the building industry, I feel certain that if a large number of houses are not built in the urban areas under this Bill they never will be built. Under this Bill the private or speculative builder can get a subsidy of £150 from the State and the local authority towards the building of every house. In addition, the houses, if let or sold, will carry reduced rates for a period of twenty years. I am afraid if we do not get houses built in sufficient numbers under this Bill, with all those advantages, that we shall never get them built. I am also satisfied that the people who are most in need of houses will not be housed under this Bill. However, so long as anybody who is in need of a house is being housed, good work is being done, and every house built, no matter under what conditions, will in some small way help to solve the housing problem. We can only hope that when all the people who can afford to pay the rents which will be demanded, or to buy the houses which will be built under this Bill are provided for, the unfortunate people living in the slums will then be attended to.
It may be said that it will be mostly artisans and people of that class who will inhabit those houses. I feel satisfied that not five per cent. of the artisans in any of our cities will ever be in a position out of their own earnings to pay the rents which will be demanded, or to purchase one of these houses under present conditions. During the debate in the Dáil on this Bill, Deputy Wilson said that ten per cent. of a man's earnings or wages was a fair figure to put down for rent. I would be prepared to accept that, or a little less or more. From one-sixth to one-eighth of a man's wages is the amount generally allowed for rent. I doubt if any artisan will ever have sufficient wages to pay the rents of one of the houses that will be built under this Bill. Some people may say that the subsidy is being given for the purpose of providing houses for the working classes. Other people complain that an economic rent is not being paid. I maintain that so long as wages are kept at their present level and rents are as high as at present, the State is really subsidising the employers. If the workers have to pay an economic rent, the wages will have to be very much increased in order to enable them to pay the rents that will be charged for these houses.
A particular section that was in last year's Act has been left out of this Bill. That was a section dealing with powers that were taken regarding the purchase price of materials and the acquisition of materials. On the second reading of this Bill in the Dáil the President stated that there was no necessity for that section nor for using the powers that it conferred, and stated that he did not think it necessary to insert it in this Bill. I hope there will not be necessity to regret the step that has been taken regarding the question of price or the supply of materials.
I support this Bill for two reasons. In the first place, I want to see houses put up—I do not care under what conditions—and in the second place, because the effect of the Bill will be to provide much-needed employment in the building industry. For some years I have been listening to theoretical experts—I do not know whether that is the correct term or not, but it strikes me that it is the correct one to apply to people who have been talking about houses within the last few years— preaching from the house-tops that it was want of skilled labour that was responsible for the small building output in this country. I want to say— and I defy contradiction in this—that there is sufficient skilled and unskilled labour available in Dublin to build more houses than were ever built in any year in this country. At the moment there are between 500 and 600 carpenters and joiners unemployed in the city, as well as thousands of unskilled labourers. If these men were at work they could produce houses. We are always being told by the theoretical experts that it was want of skilled labour during the last twelve months that held back the building industry, when, as a matter of fact, skilled labour was not fully employed. The one redeeming feature that I see about this Bill is that there is great hope that in the coming year all the available skilled labour, and I hope most of the unskilled labour, will be employed in the erection of houses. In some way that will help to solve the problem of unemployment. I sincerely hope, when the people who will get houses under this Bill have been catered for, that a serious effort will be made to house the poor people in the slums, who can never hope to be able to inhabit the houses that will be built under this Bill, owing to the rents that will be charged.