"By the aid of, and as a result of, the Government's generous financial assistance." Presumably that means a subsidy. What is the subsidy? There is a State subsidy of £100, and a municipal subsidy of £40. That applies to Belfast, but whether it applies to the other municipal areas in Northern Ireland I cannot say. From my information the Northern Ireland houses are not as satisfactory—they are not as good—as the houses that are being built in the Free State, and they will be slums at an earlier date than the houses here will be. The Ministers in Northern Ireland are complimenting themselves upon the prospect that within a year from now in the cities —by the cities, I presume, is meant Belfast and Derry, but taking Belfast alone, the problem as it exists there was not nearly as serious at any time as the Dublin problem— the supply of houses will be equal to the demand for houses, and that there will be no need for a further subsidy. They are offering a sum of £400,000 to be spent between March, 1929, and March, 1930, for the purpose of hurrying on the building of working class houses. We are contenting ourselves under this Bill with a sum of £200,000, though our problem is much more serious than the problem as it exists in Northern Ireland.
Now, on the question as to the provision of long term loans for housing purposes as applicable to urban districts and the smaller towns, Ministers have told us, in explanation of their policy, that they refuse to agree to the granting of long term loans while we have the present costs of building and the present rates that are being charged for money. It is said that to do so would place a burden upon the ratepayer or the taxpayer and the purchaser of houses, or the tenants of houses in future years, that would be beyond their ability to bear. Therefore, they tell us that we must wait until money terms are easier and building costs come down further before the Local Loans Fund will be made available for housing in urban districts. If I may comment upon that, there has been, if not an actual encouragement, a fairly general consent to local authorities burdening themselves excessively by borrowing from the banks for a fifteen years' repayment period, and how that can be reconciled with a refusal to burden the purchaser or the tenant or the local authority for a very much smaller sum for a longer period, I cannot see. We are told that the opinion—this is the Minister's statement on the Second Reading of the Bill in the Dáil—of the Executive Council is, that the continuance of the present scale, or even an extended scale, of subsidy would not solve the housing problem. "An extended scale or the continuance of the old scale would prevent the coming about of a drastic reduction in building costs." Further, he said, "Steadily, under the influence of the Government's policy, building costs have been coming down." I think it is a fair inference to say that the claim made by the Government in justification of their past policy has been to go slow on house building so as to force down building costs. Building costs have come down as a result of the Government's housing policy, and "we will continue to go slow, because we must bring about a further reduction in building costs."
I do not know whether that was intended by the Minister, but it is a fair and a reasonable deduction from the statements Ministers make in defence of what I might call a go-slow housing policy. Now, what justification there is for saying that an extension or an intensification of house building would raise building costs in this country I do not know. One would imagine that, in respect to building materials, this country determines prices. That surely is not so. There may be a local ring for the purpose of holding up prices occasionally, but, speaking generally, it is certainly not true to assert that the demand for building materials in Ireland determines their price in a world market. But, presumably, there is a fixed conviction in the minds of Ministers that the policy they have been pursuing, which has resulted in providing something less than 10,000 houses in the towns of the Free State in seven years, has brought down building costs, and that the erection of another 10,000 houses in the next seven years will continue to bring down building costs further. In the meantime, those 70,000 persons are going to be condemned to continue to live in one-roomed tenements in the City of Dublin.
I have said that the determination of the Ministry, presumably, is to abolish the State subsidy for house building, except possibly in respect to the re-habitation of slum dwellers. I am not sure whether I ought to make that exception, but it is the deduction I draw from certain statements made by the Minister, and I hope that he will either confirm or correct what I am saying. I want to know whether the statement of policy in regard to the future is the final decision of the Ministry which will determine their housing policy and whether they are really asking us to assume that the housing of the working classes can become within any reasonable time what is called an economic proposition? I do not think that there is any reason to believe that the price of money—of credit—is likely to come down to a pre-war level for a very long time. I do not know whether it is assumed that wages will come down to pre-war level, and I do not know whether there is any intention to adopt any other method of cheapening the cost of building working-class houses. We from these benches, and our colleagues in the Dáil and outside, have advocated and urged that the building of working-class houses should be taken up as a distinct and separate function from the ordinary building operations of the ordinary building contractor.
I want to direct attention to certain rather important facts which ought to be borne in mind by anyone who is thinking of this problem. People speak of the building contractors. One would imagine that where they are speaking of building contractors or building operatives in relation to house building, they are dealing with the largest proportion of those engaged in the industry. From inquiries that I have made I have come to the conclusion that, not more than 25 per cent. of the operatives in the building industry, are ever engaged upon house building. I take from the Census of Production Returns relating to building and construction, certain figures which go far to confirm that estimate. Out of a total gross output in 1926 of the businesses engaged in building construction, the total work done on buildings was value for £2,324,000, of which the building of working-class dwellings absorbed £475,525, or, say, 20 per cent. The output of the building contractors was, therefore, only 20 per cent. in respect to working class houses. That is an important consideration that ought to be borne in mind when one is considering this problem, either in relation to builders as employers, or the worker-builders as wage-earners.
I urge for consideration the proposition that the building of working-class houses is going to be facilitated and cheapened if there is construction on a much wider scale than anything that we have known up to now.
Somebody in the course of the discussions in the Dáil—I think it was the Minister himself—said they were encouraged to give larger subsidies to local authorities and public utility societies as against the private contractor, because of the fact that they were more likely to build in larger numbers than the private contractors, and that it was obvious that a cheaper house could be produced per house if ten were being built instead of one, or if a hundred were being built instead of ten. That was the reason, amongst others, for encouraging the public authority and the public utility society as against the private contractor. I carry that argument a considerable stage further, and urge that if instead of dealing with a hundred houses one were to think in terms of 20,000 houses over a period of years, building four or five or six thousand houses per year, one would be able to purchase ahead, to manufacture ahead, and to plan ahead, and generally to produce a cheaper house whether by mass production or by farming-out your contract to the private builder. The larger scale construction would lead to better organisation on the job, steadier employment and no tailing-off at the end of a job, with the resulting loss that that undoubtedly involves. There you would find one means of cheapening costs without having to assume that the wage level of the people engaged in the trade was to be cut for the purpose of securing that cheaper cost. You would get a lower price level per unit without anything in the nature of lower wages for the worker.
The Minister was rather insistent upon what he called facing facts and getting down to realities. There are some facts that I am going to ask the Seanad, and particularly the Minister, to take note of. One of those facts is that, as far as Dublin is concerned, the people whom you are going to ask to occupy the newly-built houses under this scheme, whether 3-roomed or 4-roomed, are in a very large proportion unskilled or semi-skilled workers with casual labour. In the Occupational Census Returns, one finds that there are round about 32,000 persons out of a total of 94,000 occupied persons who are in the class of unskilled or semi-skilled workers. It is probably within the mark to say that half of those are earning casual wages. If you think of 16,000 casual workers out of the class of unskilled or semi-skilled labour—I say that is a generous estimate, and the number is probably a great many more, but I am trying to be within the mark in everything that I am saying on this —what are you thinking of as to the fund out of which they are going to pay the rents required for these new houses when you say they are to be built no longer out of a State subsidy and are to become an economic proposition? Will anybody say that it is not too generous or too high an estimate to presume that the workers' average earnings in that period would be at the rate of 50/- a week? I think that if you were to go to a very large proportion of those casual workers and offer them 50/- a week all the year round, they would think that they were coming to affluence. But I am assuming now for the purpose of this argument that the wages of these men average 50/- a week or £130 a year. Take even a house which, after all expenses have been met, costs £300 all in. The subsidy is £60. That leaves the tenant, if he is a purchasing tenant, to pay the sum of £240 for his house.
On the basis of the present charges made by the Dublin Corporation for houses recently built, the tenant would be required to pay about 10/- per week for his house. That is a steady charge upon him. It means 20 per cent. of what I assume to be the average earnings of that man. It is based upon an earning of 50/- per week, though the probabilities are that his earnings would be much less than 50/- per week. But the 10/- per week has to be paid, nevertheless. I think in the cost of living returns that were compiled in 1922 or 1923 the sum then given as the average amount being paid out of income for rent was about 6 per cent. on incomes of £3 a week. When we speak of 20 per cent. of the income being paid in rent we are thinking in terms of 10/- per week out of earnings of the kind I have mentioned. That is the position as it affects probably one-fifth of the body of workers in the city of Dublin. In the country towns, where the average earnings are much less than 50/- per week, you will not cut down the cost of building to anything like the extent that would warrant an economic rent if the house subsidies are to be cut down.
Again, to come down to realities, what are those realities? One might say a considerable rise in the cost of materials and of administration since 1914, because that is generally the base year. A rise in the cost of material, labour and credit, and the greatest of these is credit. Take a £400 house. The State and local subsidies amount to, let us assume, £100, or half the cost of the labour going into the building of that house. That leaves £300 to be paid for in a period of 40 years. From an examination of certain tables officially provided some years ago to a Commission on which I sat, these are my deductions: A five per cent. annuity loan would cost over a forty year period for that £300 a total of £699 6s. 0d., that is to say the tenant purchaser for his £300 has to pay £699 6s. 0d. Let us assume for the moment that the original cost of £300 is to be met by 40 equal annual instalments of £7 10s. 0d. each, no interest being charged. The amount to be paid weekly in each case of the constituent elements of the house would be—half the cost of wages—the other half being paid out of a subsidy— 1/- per week (the total cost of wages, assuming that the subsidy was not paid, would be 2/- per week); materials 1/4 per week, profit and expenses of administration 7d. per week. But for the payment of the usurer, the man who provides the money, the weekly charge to be paid by the tenant is 3/10 per week.
So that assuming the whole of the wages were being paid for without any subsidy the usurer would be charging the tenant occupier as much as the whole of the building costs taken altogether. These are the main causes of the problem. That is, the service that is being paid for in this method of financing is one of the realities the Minister asks us to come down to. This problem is not going to be easily solved. It is not going to be solved by any action our Government may take, or anybody in this country, but if we could reduce the rate from 5 per cent. to 4 per cent. the tenant would be saved 1/- per week for 40 years; that is as much as if the labour costs were reduced by 25 per cent. The workers in the building industry cannot regulate the rate of interest, nor can the employers in the building industry, nor the house tenants. My point is that it is a social liability, a burden which is abnormal, and which cannot be regulated by any of the individual agents. The abnormal costs of house building due to high rates of interest should properly be borne by the whole social organisation as represented by the national Exchequer.
If it is ever to be dealt with satisfactorily, it can only be done by State action, and probably by international action, but failing any action to regulate the rate of money-lending charges, surely what is abnormal ought to be borne by the community as a whole, and not thrown upon the individual employer, the individual worker, the individual tenant or house purchaser? So that it is fundamentally a point of disagreement when the Minister comes along and says that it is his purpose and the purpose of the Government gradually to adjust their policy—the policy of State subsidies—and throw any liability that may be required to bridge the difference between the workman's ability to pay and the economic charge upon the local authorities. These are two ideas that have been talked so much about in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and are now talked about in this country. The idea of de-rating land cannot be reconciled with the idea of throwing the burden of bridging the difference of house building charges as compared with the ability of labour to pay an economic rent on the local authority. These two ideas are irreconcilable, and are not deserving of the consideration the Government appears to have given to them. I ask the Seanad and the Government to give some consideration to the effect of what I still call the "Go slow" policy with regard to housing upon the next generation of workers in the cities and overcrowded towns.
Complaints are frequently heard about the lethargy of workmen. Occasionally I have travelled in crowded boats and railway carriages at night and tried to sleep. I do not know what other people's experience might be, but the lethargy that such a crowded condition produced upon me would make it impossible for me to do any active work with any spirit if it were to be a continued experience. If we are asked to assume that for the next 20 years it shall be the normal condition of the families of the workers that they shall be reared in overcrowded conditions, then that lethargy is inevitable as a result of sleeping for seven or eight or nine hours in crowded rooms. Apart from any moral effects, the economic effect is bad, and ought to be taken into account in considering the cost of this problem to the community. I agree with my colleagues in their denunciation of this policy of three-roomed houses. I think I am right in saying that the Minister indicated it was not his intention to permit any considerable number of three-roomed houses to be built as a matter of general policy. I would like to have made quite clear what is the intention of the Government in this scheme in regard to the proportion of houses which shall be three-roomed houses, especially in Dublin. A much larger number of three-room houses than I imagined have been built already in the City of Dublin. I urge the Minister and the Seanad to give consideration to the plea that this problem of house-building for the working classes ought to be considered on a much broader level, a much broader plan, and dealt with as a national problem and not one that can be thrown upon the local authorities. The tendency to throw the solution of this problem on small local authorities throughout the country is fatal to any expectation of its being solved in respect of those districts. In regard to the City of Dublin, where the problem is probably at its worst, the proposal steadily to reduce the subsidies in the hope that you can build houses at such a price as to make it an economic proposition would mean that the workman would have to pay 15/-, 18/- or 19/- per week for a house where he now pays 9/-, 10/- or 11/- per week out of his 50/- per week. That will have no result except to make new slums by the adoption of the policy of sub-letting small rooms. I ask the Minister to take into account the problem from the point of view of the workmen. The vast proportion of the workmen who have to be catered for are casual labourers in receipt of small wages. However high they may appear to be paid from day to day or week to week, when employed on the average over the year their earnings are so small that it is impossible for the workers to pay high rents.