§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ * MR. MACKARNESS (Berkshire, Newbury)
said the Bill of which he de- 132 sired to move the Second Reading was not in any sense a revolutionary measure. It was a Bill designed merely to extend and develop the policy which had been approved by both Parties for the housing of the working classes in the rural districts. This matter had been the concern of the legislature for a great many years. During the last fifty years thirty-five measures had been passed with the object of improving the condition of the rural population of the country in this regard. The last three Acts had been passed by the Unionist Party—;the Act of 1890, which was a consolidating Act, an amending Act in 1900, and a further amending Act in 1903. The Act of 1890 was still the principal Act relating to the subject. It was a long Act consisting of several parts, but Part 3 was the part which related mainly to the question of housing in rural districts. The object of the Bill he now asked the House to read a second time was to repeal Part 3 of the Act of 1890 and to substitute for it provisions which the promoters believed would carry out the object of that portion of the Act of 1890 in a more expeditious, simple, and less expensive manner. The object of Part 3 of the Act of 1890 was to enable the local authority of the district to obtain land either by agreement or by compulsory purchase for the purpose of erecting upon it houses or cottages for the benefit of the workers in that part of the country. The evil which it was intended to remedy was well known and generally admitted. The dearth of cottages in many parts of the country, with the consequent overcrowding, disease, and immorality, and the exodus of the rural populations to the towns, were matters with which everybody who took an interest in this subject were familiar. In the report of the Labour Commission of 1894 there was a sentence in the Report of Mr. Little, the senior assistant commissioner to the Labour Commission, which put the case in a nutshell. He cited the late Mr. Little because he was an authority upon this subject whom every one recognised. In the course of his Report Mr. Little said—;It is impossible to read Reports of assistant Commissioners without the painful feeling that too commonly the agricultural labourer lives under conditions which are both physically and morally unwholesome and offensive. The least satisfactory of the circumstances affecting the 133 life of the labourers is the condition of the dwellings in which a considerable number of them are compelled to live.Those words were written twelve years ago or more and it could not be said that any great improvement had taken place since. When the Act of 1900 was before the House the hon. Member for the Ilkeston Division stated, as a result of his inquiries into the condition of 4,179 cottages and 298 villages in England that 22½ per cent. were unfit for habitation; 47 per cent. showed insufficient accommodation for the people of the locality; In 27 per cent. the water supply was bad; in 75 per cent. there were only two bedrooms with six or seven persons in each, and that 66 per cent, were without fireplaces. That was in 1900. Since then Mr. Rider Haggard had published his illuminating and interesting work on rural life in England, and nobody could read the book without seeing that Mr. Rider Haggard had been struck by the same set of facts. They had only to read the very first chapter on Wiltshire to see that the people to whom Mr. Haggard spoke in Wiltshire complained of the lack of labour and attributed it to the dearth of cottages. They found the striking fact that the farmer picked out as being specially successful, Mr. Dibden, was a farmer who had twenty-two excellent cottages on his farm. He never lacked labourers and those labourers were, in the opinion of Mr. Rider Haggard, of a particularly thriving and virile character. He had himself been furnished by the courtesy of the Secretary of the Rural Housing Association with notes of the Reports of inspections which were at that time being made in the Erpingham district of Norfolk, and the Reports of the condition of the cottages in the villages there were something quite terrible to read. And that was a state of things which he was afraid was not uncommon in many parts of the country: a country which boasted of itself as the head of a great Empire, and claimed to have established such a high state of civilisation that it did not hesitate, when it thought other countries erred in this regard, to offer them advice in very frank terms. It was not unfair, therefore, to ask the House to look at home in this matter. The legislation passed by the Unionist Party, in its endeavour to remedy this state of things, was no doubt excellent legislation, but unfortunately, 134 owing to reasons which probably could not be foreseen, it had proved to be almost inoperative. Mr. Gerald Balfour, who then occupied the position of the President of the Local Government Board, told the House in March last year that as a result of that legislation only thirty-two cottages had been built by local authorities in England and Wales, and that as fourteen of those cottages had been built in one county, the Act had been practically inoperative over the greater part of England. In the case of the Penshurst scheme, owing to the cumbrous machinery of the Act, the expense, the intervention of the numerous authorities brought in under the Act, and the lack of motive power where the authorities were slack, it took five years to carry out a scheme to build six cottages. Authorities wore not only apathetic but unwilling to embark in schemes which under the present law might prove un-remunerative. The promoters of this Bill wanted to make the Act more simple. Experience shewed that to avoid the danger of loss on building, loans must be procured for longer periods, and at easier rates. The promoters wanted to make it possible for rural councils to borrow money for the purposes of building cottages, for a maximum period of eighty years at a rate of interest of 2½ per cent.,or such other rate as shall in the judgment of the Commissioners of the Treasury, be necessary in order to enable the loan to be made without loss to the Exchequer.They did not blame rural district councils for not embarking on a scheme which in their opinion would result in a financial loss, and therefore they wanted to set up a state of things under which the rural district councils could build cottages without financial risk. They also wanted to make the labourer able to pay a higher rent for these cottages, and they proposed to do that in this way. Under former Acts the rural district council could only give with the cottage half an acre of garden of the annual value of £3. This Bill proposed to allow the rural district council not only to build the cottage, but to give three acres of land with it, at an annual value of £10. The result of that would be that the labourer who took the cottage would have a source of income in the land accommodation which would enable him to pay a higher rent. Everybody agreed that 135 the system of small holdings was one to be aimed at, and by this Bill they had tried to combine the building of cottages with the giving of small holdings. This would not only enable the labourer to pay a higher rent, but would encourage domestic family life by keeping the sons at home to assist their parents instead of going to the towns, and to that extent it would revive rural life—;a thing which all desired to do. They had also to deal with the case of an apathetic rural district council who were unwilling to build. In order to deal with that subject they had given power to any four householders in or near the area affected by the dearth of cottages to go themselves to the medical officer and call attention to the insufficient housing accommodation, and then to make a representation to the rural district council. The rural district council were given the further facility of adopting Part 3 of the Act of 1890 without the sanction of the county council, and having been stimulated in their action by the four householders he had mentioned they could go to the county council if they were obliged to acquire land compulsorily. The provisions of the Local Government Act of 1894 were adapted to this measure, and by the simplest method possible the county council had power to hold an inquiry and put into force the clause of the Lands Clauses Act and take the land compulsorily. There was also power given to the rural district council compulsorily to hire land. That was a new power, but it was given because they thought there were cases in which rural district councils would be willing to hire land as involving a less risk than purchasing it. It might be said that more motive power was required to see that the rural district council, when it adopted the Act, if it adopted it, carried it into execution, because it was quite possible that a rural district council, although stimulated by four householders, might refuse to adopt the Act or, having adopted it, refuse to carry it out. In order to meet that they had given the parish councils power to go to the Local Government Board and represent the case to them, leaving it to the Local Government Board upon receiving such representation either to compel, by means of a mandamus, the rural district council to carry out its duties, or if they thought 136 it would not carry out its duty, to transfer the whole of its powers to the county council. It was not easy, therefore, to imagine a breakdown of the machinery of this Bill except in two cases—;either that the Local Government Board having obtained a mandamus, the rural district council committed a contempt of Court or, what was more possible, that upon the transference of these powers to the county council the county council refused to act. There were some supplementary clauses also drafted to promote the main object of the Bill, which was to give facilities to the rural district councils to give better houses to the workers in the country. Any four householders or the parish council might call upon the district council to alter by-laws so as to provide against the unwholesomeness or insufficiency of existing houses and the Local Government Board wore to frame model bylaws for such districts. Railway and tram companies wore authorised, under certain conditions, only to be modified by the rural district council, or the Local Government Board, to purchase or hire land for the purpose of erecting houses for the working classes. Powers were also given to universities and ecclesiastical corporations and charity trustees, with the consent of the Charity Commissioners, to sell their lands for the purpose of houses being erected on them for the working classes, or they might themselves erect such houses on their lands. Such were the main provisions of the Bill. It was a moderate and honest attempt to stimulate rural local authorities to face this serious problem of lack of housing accommodation for our workers. The Bill would make it easier for them to deal with the question by facilitating the acquisition of land for the purpose, and by minimising the risk to them of burdening the rates by so doing. It would give the individual householders the right to take the initiative in stirring up their councils. More than all, it would give a real opportunity for the creation of small holdings along with the cottages, by which it was hoped not only that the cottages would be remunerative property to the rural councils, but that the people of the country would be induced to remain in their own country homes and that those who had gone in despair to the less healthy towns might be drawn back. Those were objects which were dear to every social 137 reformer, and every lover of his country, without distinction of politics; and he would therefore appeal to hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House and of all shades of opinion to support the Bill. He did not doubt but that there were features in it which might be open to amendment or criticism. That was the case with every measure. But it would do something to ameliorate the miserable conditions under which so many of our countrymen had to spend their lives. It would do something to reduce the discomfort, the disease, and, he feared, the condition of immorality which must grow out of those conditions. It was sometimes said that our people in the country did not feel these things, because they did not agitate for or avail themselves of legal reforms; but he was convinced that that was a mistake. The truth was, they often could not assert their rights or oven their wrongs without the risk of bringing upon themselves even worse evils than those they had to tolerate. They were, many of thorn, in such a condition of dependence upon their employers that to act in any way that was distasteful to those employers might lead to the loss of such poor homes as they had without the possibility of obtaining any other, except the workhouse. It was their helplessness, not their apathy, which kept them quiet, and that was all the more reason why the legislature should come to their aid, and he appealed to that great popular representative Assembly to see that that aid was not delayed a moment longer than was necessary.
§ * MR. WINFREY (Norfolk, S.W.)
said that next to the problem of how to get the people back to the land was undoubtedly the problem of how to provide decent cottage homes for those who desired to stay in the rural districts and cultivate the soil. He was persuaded from a very close study of this question during the last twenty-five years that the rural depopulation, while in the main due to the divorcement of the labourer from the soil, was also due in no small degree to the shrinking of decent housing accommodation and the conditions under which the labourer had to live. Cottages had fallen into disrepair and decay, and not anything like an equal number had taken their place. Thirty-eight years ago, when he was a lad of ten, he walked a mile and a half every morning to the village school. 138 Naturally every cottage on the wayside was a land-mark. To day he could point to at least eight sites where cottages stood and where families had been reared. The cottages were gone, the land upon which they stood and the gardens which had been theirs had been thrown into the adjoining fields, and only one new cottage had appeared in thirty-eight years in that mile and a half. That statement was true of scores of districts. When they asked why this was, they were told it did not pay the private landowner in the rural district to build cottages, although he thought the landowner too often forgot that it might improve the letting value of his land. But they had to face facts as they were. Up to the present, legislation on the subject had not been a success, and they were bound in the interests of country life, and indeed of the country generally, to make another attempt to assist the workers who desired to live by the cultivation of the soil. To show the House how great was this need he would like to take hon. Members in fancy to a hamlet in his constituency as an object lesson. But first of all he would say that as far as his experience went the need for better and more houses was often in those districts where the land was of good quality, like that in the neighbourhood of Spalding, where they had succeeded to a limited extent, at any rate, in getting allotments and small holdings for the labouring population. Such a hamlet was Nordelph, in the parish of Upwell, on the borders of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. Ton years ago they discovered a land hunger there. First of all they got the acre allotments for almost every man in the hamlet. Then more land was asked for. Some five years ago he was able to purchase fifty acres of land in that hamlet at £40 an acre and he offered it in small holdings. He met the applicants in the village club-room, which was crowded to suffocation. Of course he was able to meet the demands only of a very few, but the result was that the attention of the county council was called to the matter and they purchased a farm of 120 acres in the hamlet, and this had now been in occupation for two years. But nothing had been done during that time by private enterprise or public authorities to supply bettor homes for the people in the hamlet. Last Saturday 139 he spent the day inspecting the cottages there. A large drain, which drained the Fens, passed through the hamlet, and there was a bridge over the drain. He took the seventy cottages within a quarter of a mile of the bridge and found that only twelve of these cottages had five rooms, forty-three had four rooms of a sort, five had three rooms, and ten only two rooms, so that of the seventy cottages fifty-eight had less than five rooms. There were three empty cottages with two rooms each. He took what he thought were the ten worst cases and visited the cottages. The first occupier was a man who had some five acres of land and was living in a house of four rooms, two being bedrooms, one upstairs and the other downstairs. He was a widower with three sons, aged twenty-two, twenty, and fifteen, all at home helping their father on the land, and three daughters, aged eighteen, thirteen, and eleven. The father and the three boys occupied the bedroom upstairs, which was a fair-sized room over the two living rooms. The girls occupied a bedroom on the ground floor, 13 feet long, 7 feet wide, and 6 feet 3 inches high, with a cubic space of 569 feet. All three girls slept on a 4 feet 6 inches bedstead in this room. There were two daughters out at service, and when they came home for their holiday they had to sleep on a couch in the kitchen. This was a well-to-do family willing to pay a decent rent for a cottage. He believed the urban council bye-laws provided that all bedrooms should have a cubic space of 400 feet per person. In prisons 500 foot per person was provided, and in barracks 600 feet Yet here were three growing girls occupying a room of only 569 cubic feet space. He went on to another case—;one of his tenants—;who used to live in an old mill converted into a house, where he had lived 32 years, but the owner wanted it and the tenant had to seek another house. As he was a tenant of land he did not want to go into another village, and the only house he could find was one of two rooms, the sitting-room being 11 feet by 10 by 6 feet 3 inches, and the staircase loading to the single bedroom 1 foot 9 inches in width. The bedroom in which he and his wife slept was 12 feet 9 inches long, 11 feet wide, and 6 feet high. There was a 140 window 2 feet square, and the cubic space of the room was 846 feet. The only pantry in the house was 36 inches wide and 16 inches deep, and he was not surprised, therefore, to see some loaves of bread under a chest of drawers. There was one privy to two houses. He went into other cases, all of which were very bad, and he regretted to say that two of the houses belonged to a county magistrate, who had been raised to the bench for services rendered. One was a four-roomed cottage with no garden. A family had resided here for thirteen years. There were four sons at home, aged twenty-one, eighteen, sixteen, and thirteen, and three daughters, aged ten, eight, and five. There were three married daughters away, and three children had died in infancy. The four sons occupied one room 12 feet by 7, and 6 feet high, the cubic space being 540 feet—;not sufficient for one person. The three girls slept in the other bedroom with their father and mother, and there was no staircase to the room, which had to be entered by means of a ladder. The house next door was, he thought, the very worst case. It was the same size as the other house, and in it were ten people, including two sons aged fifteen and ten, five daughters aged twenty-two, nineteen, seven, six, and two and a-half, and an illegitimate baby of the eldest daughter which was one and a-half years old. There were two bedrooms, the larger being 12 feet by 12 by 6. He would show how the family schemed to sleep. They had two beds in the largest bedroom, and in the first the father and mother slept with their youngest child two and a-half years old. In the other bed in the same room the two boys of fifteen and ten and the girl of six slept. In the back bedroom the two girls aged twenty-two and nineteen, with the illegitimate baby slept. The occupant's wife, a very clean, respectable woman, told him that her husband and boys had plenty of work and earned good money, but they could not get another house in the parish, and if they went to another parish they feared they would not be so well provided. As to the sanitary arrangements of these two houses, it was true they had separate privies, but they were within five feet of the front door, and within ten feet of the front door of the houses opposite. There was an ashpit at the side of the privy and 141 a soft water tank two feet from the ashpit. There was no cesspool to any of the cottages, and they had either to throw their slops into the street or into the drain at the back of the house. Whenever they exhausted the supply from the soft water tanks they had to drink the water from the drain. That was the state of things that was going on in his constituency at the present moment, and to show that it was not particular to the hamlet in question he should like to read an extract from the medical officer's recent Report for this rural district, as follows—;Nine cases of overcrowding have been dealt with. There still remains much to be done in this direction. Many houses, especially in the Fen district, are quite unfit for human habitation, but, as I have before pointed out, it is impossible at present to deal with any but the more glaring cases. Many of these houses are much too small, are badly lighted, damp, and have very imperfect roofs. Every year such houses necessarily become more dilapidated, especially when they belong to small owners as so many do.In sending him this Report the medical officer said—;Overcrowding, especially, is in a great measure accountable for the immorality and illegitimacy so prevalent in rural districts.So much for the demand for better houses. Why had past legislation been ineffectual? There were two chief causes. The first was the difficulty of obtaining land at a fair market price, and the second was the rate of interest asked by the Government for the money loaned, the period of repayment being so short there was a proper feeling on the part of local authorities that they would be wrong in putting on the ratepayers an increased burden at a time when they could not afford it. He knew that some would say, and perhaps with truth, that there had not been sufficient propelling force behind past legislation, and, further, that rural district councils were unsympathetic. That might be so to a limited extent, but it was not always so. He had known cases whore local authorities had been ready to take action, but the difficulties he had mentioned were too much for them. There was a case in Lincolnshire a year or two ago in the parish of Donington, where the rural district council agreed to build cottages under the present Act of Parliament. The county council gave its sanction, and it was not until they came 142 to deal with the landowners that the scheme fell through, as there was not a landowner in that agricultural parish who would sell land at less than £200 an acre, and then in no case would he sell the whole field. Donington was a parish he knew very well. It was rich in charity land, and he suggested that if this Bill went to Grand Committee the question should be carefully considered whether it would not be wise to extend the Allotment Extension Act of 1882 to the housing question, for if it were wise that working-men should have charity land for allotment purposes it was also wise that they should build houses upon it. He would now come to one or two instances in which dear money had created a difficulty. A few days ago he wrote to the Clerk of the Rural District Council of East Elloe as to why they had failed to build cottages in the parish of Whaplode. The reply he had received was as follows—;The medical officer for the district reported that the cottages were overcrowded in the parish of Whaplode, and after considerable discussion it was decided to build four cottages in that parish as an experiment, the council being very much divided upon the point whether the cottages could be built to let at a reasonable rent, and pay their way. The council, however, decided that the expenses must be borne by the parish of Whaplode alone, and not by the whole of the district. An application was made to the Holland County Council for leave to adopt the Act, and to raise a loan to carry out the experiment. The Holland County Council thereupon referred the matter to the Whaplode Parish Council, informing that council that the building could not be done without great risk of loss to the parish. The parish council was, like the other council, divided in their opinion, but they decided to oppose the application of the district council, and so it came about that the Holland County Council never gave permission for the loan to be raised. It appears to me that it Parliament authorises a public body to carry out certain works, power ought to be given to borrow the money without reference to any other public body.This came before the rural district council, and in order to show that farmers were not unsympathetic in regard to this question, he would like to road an extract from the speeches of two farmers who resided in that parish. One of them said—;Whenever new houses had been built there had been a rush of tenants for them, and for some new houses which had been put on the fruit farms the owners could have had three, or four, or five tenants for each, although they were in an out of the way place. If good houses were provided people would come and live there. There was a very short supply of 143 houses in the district; the day had gone by for the old order of farming, and now people went in more for market gardening, and consequently needed twice the labour they used to. He knew plenty of people who would have remained in Whaplode hut for the want of houses, and they were losing their very best labour because of the absence of decent houses.At the same meeting another farmer said—;It would be a great advantage to the farmers because it would mean that they would be able to get a better class of working-men.He would now refer to the parish of Moulton, which had a population of 2,017, and an area of 12,000 acres. The clerk of that parish wrote—;We had great need of decent cottages. The parish council are unanimously desirous of petitioning the district council to carry out the Act of 1890. This is a district council which has already adopted Part 3 of the Act. There are tenants in view, each of them willing to give £7 for a new cottage with three bedrooms, and a garden twenty poles in extent. There are some large farmers and potato growers who are ratepayers in the parish, supporting a scheme for building six cottages, if it could be done without appreciable charge on the rates. The land is in a good situation, and would be suitable if it could be bad at a fair price. Upon the parish council ascertaining the rate of interest which would be charged on the loan (and which they knew would stop the rural district council from taking action) the parish council unanimously passed a Resolution declining to approach the district council, as it was impossible to build cottages which would pay their way upon money borrowed at 4¼ per cent, interest involving a rate of £4 17s. 6d. per £100 for fifty years, including the repayment of the capital sum. The Resolution they adopted proceeded: "If a loan could be negotiated at 3 or 3¼ per cent. cottages might be built to pay their way. It would be useless to apply to the district council to put in force the Housing of the Working Classes Acts until the Lord's Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury granted easier terms for the loan of money for periods of forty or fifty years.' As to the need of houses, I have known of men earning 18s. per week unable to marry owing to lack of houses. In one case an applicant offered a furniture dealer who had cottage property a half year's rent in advance, and an order for furniture with cash down if he would provide him with a house. The farmers in village districts will not oppose a good Bill offering little risk of loss to the rates.He asked the careful attention of the Government to that important feature of this Bill. The Treasury Minute of 1904 laid down that if money was borrowed for twenty years they had to pay 3½ per cent., for thirty years 3¾ per cent. for forty years 4 per cent., and for fifty years 4¼ per cent. That rate of interest was 144 much too high. In Belgium the Government loaned to workmen's associated out of the funds of the National Savings Bank money at 3 per cent. to build houses. The funds of the National Savings Bank were used for housing purposes in this way. The Belgian Government had loaned to workmen's associations £2,500,000 sterling, i.e. 10 per cent. of the saving banks' funds, and they had not lost a single penny. If the Government of this country were to do the same they would at once place £16,000,000 at the disposal of town and country districts to deal with the housing problem, and he ventured to think that it would be the best-spent money that the House of Commons ever went in for. His hon. friend who moved the Second Reading of the Bill had dealt very well will all the important features of the measure. It contained a very important provision that four householders should be able to put the machinery into motion. It was an extremely important provision that when they took land by compulsion they would not have to pay an extra 10 per cent. on the cost. That would enable them to get over a great many difficulties. There was a very valuable provision in Section 11 which provided that the parish committees should have power to build and afterwards to have the management of those houses. He thought it was a very valuable provision that they would be able to alter the building by-laws as provided under this Bill. With respect to the provision for lending money to others for building cottages, he thought they might very well add small holdings associations which were properly registered, and if they did he could assure them of a number of applications from such associations in his district. He trusted that the facts which he had placed before the House would assist hon. Members in coming to a decision to support the Second Reading of this measure, and he hoped that the Government would give them facilities for getting on with this work at the earliest possible moment.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—;(Mr. Mackarness.)
§ MR. ABEL SMITH (Hertfordshire, Hertford)
congratulated the mover and seconder of this Bill upon the very 145 moderate tone which they had adopted. He agreed that the question of housing in the rural districts had a great deal to do with the state of things which they all deplored. Many bad cases of insufficient house accommodation had been mentioned, but he thought it would be generally admitted that in many parts of the country there had been a marked improvement in the provision of housing for the working classes during recent years. He knew of a late owner of property who had been a Member of this House and who during a period of forty years had built upwards of 80 cottages, which he ventured to say would compare favourably with any labourers' cottages in the country. At the present time he was the owner of those cottages, and he was carrying on the same policy as far as he was able. He knew there were in some districts a number of very bad cases. Even within thirty or thirty-five miles from the House of Commons he believed he could produce almost as bad cases as those which had been mentioned in the debate. The speeches which had been delivered by the mover and seconder only proved what a very complicated question this was, and what careful attention it required before the House proceeded to deal with it. The case in Norfolk to which reference had been made proved how powerless the district councils and local authorities were, owing either to their fault or to their misfortune, to deal with very Lad cases. If it were possible to deal with the cases in those districts, the county councils concerned already had some power under the present law, and he thought they ought to have taken some steps to bring about a bettor state of affairs. Perhaps he might claim some authority to make a few remarks on this question, because he had had practical experience from two points of view, viz., as an owner of cottages in rural districts, and as a member and chairman of a rural district council, which position he had occupied for several years. Nobody who had had such experience could deny that the housing problem was one of the most important questions with which Parliament had to deal. He thought they ought to remember that, however bad the condition of affairs with regard to housing might be in certain rural districts, still even in places which hon. Members had mentioned they were really nothing like so bad as the conditions 146 under which the population lived in some parts of our great urban districts. The cases of overcrowding which had been mentioned, however detrimental they might be, as he knew they were, to the health and the morality of the people, were nothing like so bad as the cases of which they had read, and which, unfortunately, were so common in all our great centres of population. He did not think that was any reason at all why the House should not deal in a practical way with the bad state of housing which undoubtedly existed in some of the rural districts. He was sure the promoters would admit that this was a very long and complicated measure. Clause 7 occupied nearly three pages of the Bill. Although he had very great sympathy with the object of the promoters, he was not prepared to say that he fully agreed with all the provisions of the measure. The procedure which this Bill proposed to substitute for that of the Act of 1890 was fairly long and complicated, and would require a great deal of consideration before they could properly decide whether it was the best way of dealing with the question. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion had referred to the difficulty which would arise if a county council when appealed to should refuse to act, and he had admitted that in such a case affairs would come to a deadlock. That was a point which ought to be very carefully considered by any Committee to which the Bill might be referred. It would be generally agreed, in view of the cases which had been mentioned showing the housing conditions in some parts of the country, that an amendment of the law was necessary. They must also know that a great deal more could be done if rural district councils would enforce the present law more vigorously than they did at present. But it should be remembered that these local authorities were not very strong bodies either financially or otherwise, and that in a great many cases it was almost impossible for them to put Clause 3 of the Housing of the Working Class Act into force without the prospect of imposing a heavy burden upon the ratepayers of the district. Where that was the case it could hardly be expected that a local authority would be very urgent in putting that part of the Act in force. A great 147 deal had been done under another part of the Act of 1890 by rural district councils in improving the condition of cottages in their districts. He was connected with a council which, in a great many cases, had served notices on the owners of insanitary cottages, and, after a little difficulty and delay perhaps, they had been able to force the owners to put the cottages in proper repair. In some cases the cottages had been practically rebuilt and reroofed, and made fairly satisfactory. As to the proposal in the Bill to allow rural district councils to attach as much as three acres of land to each cottage, he was entirely in favour of increasing the number of small holdings, but he very much doubted whether this was the proper way of doing it. He had made some attempts himself in that direction, and had received very little encouragement from the men themselves. He found there was very little desire on the part of the labourers to have more land than they had at present. His experience was that, whore a man had a good large garden, and perhaps an allotment as well, he had as much land as he cared about having. He knew there was a strong feeling in favour of small holdings where special conditions prevailed, and where fruit-growing and industries of that sort could be profitably carried on. He thought that if rural district councils were to try, while improving housing accommodation, to provide small holdings as well, their action would be rather impeded. In his opinion the councils would be wiser to confine themselves, in the first instance, at any rate, to the providing of better house accommodation where it was very bad. A great obstacle in this matter had been the difficulty of providing anything like decent houses at rents which ordinary working men could pay. It was very important in dealing with this matter to remember that in the greater part of the country cottages were not let at economic rents. He believed the custom was increasing of providing a man with a house as part of his wages, and not asking him to pay rent at all. In the immense majority of cases, he believed that the ordinary working man in the rural districts paid something between £3 and £5 a year for his cottage. However cheaply, according to modern ideas, these cottages might be built, it was almost impossible 148 for a local authority to build and let them at that rate without imposing a considerable burden on the ratepayers of the district. It would be absolutely useless for a rural district council to provide cottages to be let at rents considerably higher than £5 a year in order to make ends meet. He thought the real principle involved in this matter was that they ought to regard proper cottage accommodation as part of the equipment of any property or estate. It ought to be recognised as the primary duty of the man who received rent to provide proper accommodation for the labourers who worked on the land. It was absolutely necessary, before the rural district councils entered upon any building operations under the Act of 1890, or any amending Act passed in the future, that they should have more power than they had at present to make representations, and to bring pressure to bear upon landowners, large or small, to provide proper cottage accommodation for those who worked on their land. Difficulty arose when a man owning an estate, large or small, was absolutely unable, owing to his financial position, to build new cottages, and to provide proper accommodation for his labourers. In those cases he thought the rural district council or some local authority should have such powers as were proposed in this Bill. He had no intention of opposing the Second Heading of the measure, because he thought a case for it had been made out. He suggested that the Bill after Second Reading should be referred to a Select Committee, in order that the complicated matters involved, and especially the financial question, might be carefully considered. It was impossible at the present period of the session to hope that the measure would become law this year, but if it were examined by a Select Committee, the measure might be brought forward in another year in a form which would be generally accepted by both sides of the House, and which would have the effect of improving housing in the rural districts throughout the country.
§ * MR. BRODIE (Surrey, Reigate)
said it was with real regret that he relinquished his membership of the rapidly diminishing band of new Members who had not yet addressed the House. He felt 149 somewhat of a deserter in descending into the silver stream of speech, but he comforted himself with the reflection that in decreasing their numbers he added to the distinction of his late companions on the sublime heights of golden silence. At the same time he felt constrained to claim the indulgence which the House had so generously accorded to many new Members in order to address it on a subject which he had most deeply at heart. He believed that he had the sympathy of the great majority of hon. Members in giving a general support to this Bill. There were, however, some points of detail which seemed to be open to criticism, and if certain Amendments were accepted in Committee he had no doubt that they would render the measure more efficient, while it would still meet with the approval of the great majority of the Members of the House. It seemed to him that as regards initial stages the alterations in procedure were altogether to the good. They had the advantage of either householders or the parish council being empowered to act. If the rural council accepted such suggestions, and decided to put their powers into force, and if they obtained the necessary land and the necessary loan, all would apparently go as merrily as a marriage bell; but when it came to the question of obtaining land compulsorily where land was not otherwise obtainable, he had to confess that the Bill was complicated in its arrangements. He referred to the section by which, when powers of compulsion were needed, the rural district council was obliged to appeal to the county council to put in force these compulsory powers, with an appeal to the Local Government Board. There was no reason why the rural district council should not have a right to go at once to the Local Government Board. The same argument applied to Section 8 in connection with the compulsory hiring of lands. Why was it necessary to introduce the county council at all? The hon. Member for Hertford had some doubts in his mind as to the use of three acres of land for housing purposes, saying they were insufficient for small holdings. But these three acres of land referred to had nothing to do with small holdings. There were many rural districts and parishes whore it might be desirable to provide three acres of land with the cottages, and where 150 this could be done on reasonable terms what objection could there be to the rural district council having the right to do it? Then the hon. Gentleman opposite was very anxious about the burden which was to be placed on the rates by this measure. But he would point out that under Clause 12 of the Bill the district council had the power to let or lease the land which it had acquired. That was a very valuable provision, for it enabled the district council to inaugurate a scheme for house-building in connection with or in conjunction with local builders, building societies, and those persons who could not obtain land compulsorily, with a minimum of contingent risk to the ratepayer. Then Section 19 seemed to remove all objections which might be made to it by landowners. The poor landowner would now have such facilities for building through his opportunity of obtaining loans, that it would not be necessary for the district councils to take action at all. As to Part II., which dealt with appeals in default, he considered that this was the really weak spot in the Bill. Surely the machinery in regard to appeals in default should be much simpler than that which was foreshadowed. The Bill did not sufficiently facilitate action. When a rural district council failed to take action upon a request duly made, the parish council could appeal to the Local Government Board, which then made an inquiry, and might, if satisfied that a case for action existed, either act by mandamus or hand over the rights of the rural district council to the county council. He had no animus against the county councils, but they were already fully occupied, and to bring them in in a case of this sort was quite unnecessary. It would apparently be possible for the county council to do nothing, and there would be no further appeal. It was necessary that the housing question should be dealt with in country districts at once and practically. The question was just as acute in those districts as it was in the towns. Little had been done under the Act of 1890, owing to the complication of the procedure. He hoped the Bill would be referred to a Committee, so that its provisions might be threshed out and might form the basis of legislation, if not this year, at any rate next year. A measure of this character 151 constituted an important part of the devolutionary legislation which was the greatest boon that that House could confer on the country.
§ MR. VIVIAN (Birkenhead)
said he wished to support this Bill. He heartily approved of the efforts of those who had brought it in and of those who desired to improve the housing of the people in the rural districts. He desired, however, to make one criticism, and he understood from the promoters that they were not unwilling in Committee practically to meet his objection. The Bill gave power to tramway and railway companies to take advantage of the measure. He did not desire to cast any reflection on tramway or railway companies, or to suggest that they would abuse the power, but he thought it was undesirable that huge corporations of this sort should be privileged to borrow money cheaply, to some extent at any rate, at the expense of the public as a whole in order to house their employees. There were economic objections to that. He saw no reason why wealthy corporations should have the aid of the House to borrow money at something below the market rate. But that was not the strongest objection. His strongest objection was a social one. He thought it undesirable that huge corporations of this sort, who occasionally had disputes with their employees, should have it in their power to turn their employees out of their houses. It was quite natural that in such a warfare those corporations should take advantage of the opportunity, but he suggested that the House should not deliberately take steps to strengthen the power of one side in a struggle of that sort by enabling them to borrow money for the erection of houses for their employees. He believed the promoters were not unwilling to meet him on that point, and he had very little doubt they would get over the difficulty. With regard to the main question he felt that a satisfactory Small Holdings Act and a satisfactory Rural Housing Act were two of the most important Acts that the House could pass for the benefit of the agricultural districts of the country, and the more they could perfect such Acts the further they would get towards solving the double problem of retaining 152 a larger proportion of the population in the rural districts and of giving that population chances which were of vital importance from the point of view of character and stamina, not only of healthier physical conditions but of economic independence, which was nearly as important. No individual could be independent so long as he was economically dependent on other persons. That was one of the grounds of his opposition to this clause. The Bill made it possible to provide healthy housing accommodation for the agricultural labourers independently of the landlords or farmers who employed them. With regard to the economic aspect, he thought that it was quite possible, with two satisfactory Acts of the kind he had indicated, to prove that money could be invested in the enterprise of supplying houses for the rural districts, if that housing was combined with satisfactory arrangements for the provision of small holdings. It was possible to show that that could be done on a sound business basis, and it was important they should not extend philanthropic aid too far in this direction, otherwise they were bound to be limited in their operations. He believed that with the facilities that the Bill would give to industrial and provident societies to make experiments in this direction, in the course of a few years they would be able to show more small holdings and healthier housing accommodation for workers connected with villages, and he believed it would be possible to achieve that end without placing any financial burden upon the public. He held that this was one of the healthy ways in which they could solve a number of social problems. Some proposals which had been put before the House were mere plasters for the sore, and did not get at the root Problem in such a healthy way as to set at work influences which would inevitably and automatically solve the difficulty. This kind of proposal put within the reach of the workman himself the mean of working out his own redemption. He hoped that the Bill would go through with the hearty support of every Member, and that it would be amended in Committee in the way he had suggested. Properly amended, he believed that no better Bill would have gone through the House, and that they would have done a great deal to improve the economic position of the workers. Large numbers 153 had left the country and come to London, because there had been no hope of their being able to say they possessed themselves or that they were able to think and work out their own lives according to their innate powers. It was because he believed the Bill would inspire such a hope that he heartily supported the Second Reading.
§ * MR. SILCOCK (Somersetshire, Wells)
also desired to support the Second Reading of the Bill. He had, he said, had practical experience of the working of the existing Acts in an urban area and was also acquainted with the difficulty which existed in rural districts as to the application of the Acts. As chairman of a housing committee, he had seen the effects of clearing a slum district. He had seen how the habits of the people who formerly lived in an overcrowded area changed, and the work had been most beneficial upon the habits and the health of the people. He remembered seeing a chart prepared by the medical officer of health as to the state of a district before and after a scheme had been carried out. Before the scheme was carried out the chart was covered with black spots, indicating cases of consumption, but that same chart, after the clearance had been effected and the new dwellings built, showed very few black spots, proving that the disease had been almost stamped out of the area by building proper houses for the people. Suggestions had been made by hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House that overcrowding was not as bad in the rural districts as in the urban districts, but if hon. Members would only examine the figures given at the last census in regard to rural districts, they would find that rural overcrowding was a very serious matter. He knew that in one rural district, in the constituency which he had the honour to represent there were 227 cottages of only two rooms, and in those cottages two of the families numbered seven; in six cases the family numbered six; in eight, five, and in twelve four. These figures showed that there was certainly overcrowding. Taking the figures from the same district in regard to three-roomed cottages, of which there were 367, he found that in one of these at the time of the census 154 there was a family of twelve—;obviously a case of overcrowding of a very serious nature. In four of those cottages were families of ten; in two, families of nine, and in three families of eight. Thus he found that in one rural district there were between 600 and 700 people living under conditions which might properly be described as overcrowded. He supported the Bill because it did something to stimulate the action of local authorities. We had had Housing Acts in existence for some time, and mention had already been made of the fact that they had not been taken advantage of. All who had had experience knew that it was difficult to induce local authorities to take action under the existing Acts, but the provision made by this Bill under which four ratepayers might appeal to the Local Government Board would be a very valuable one in case the authority was not disposed to move in the matter. He thought it would be found that one reason why authorities had been slow to move in this matter was that they feared that it would involve a very heavy charge upon the rates, and authorities were slow to inflict any additional charge of that character. This was undoubtedly so under the existing Acts, and under a scheme of which he himself had experience, it had been found impossible to build without a charge upon the rates, because they were not permitted to have a loan for what they regarded, and he believed the House now regarded, as a reasonable period. If the loan could be extended over something like sixty years, then the authority would have a much better chance of building without making a heavy charge upon the rates of the district. There was another clause in the Bill which would be of great benefit to small authorities. That was Clause 12, under which permission would be given to a local authority to acquire land, and then to lease it to builders, or companies, or societies who might be willing to erect houses. Under that clause the authority would not incur any very serious financial responsibility, for they simply acquired the land, and, in many cases, there were individuals, companies, or societies who would be willing to build, if only it was possible for them to acquire land. The Bill would meet such cases. The Bill would also meet the financial difficulty in another 155 way. Although it might not be possible to erect a cottage and let it at such a rent as would repay the interest, still, if there was a fair area of land allotted to the cottage, the cottage and the land together might be let at such a rent that the authority need not lose money upon the whole transaction. If the Bill was carried through and this was allowed to be done it would induce many local authorities to take the matter up. There was another valuable clause in the Bill, and that was the one giving power to the Local Government Board to alter by-laws affecting these workmen's houses. Members of local authorities had found that even the Local Government Board was not always disposed to alter these by-laws, and, speaking from personal experience, he had found that the cost of housing was materially increased by the conditions laid down by the Local Government Board—;conditions which did not always appear to be necessary. All who had had experience in these housing schemes would agree that one very good effect was that when better houses were erected in a district the whole standard of building in a district was raised. He supported the Second Reading.
§ MR. LYELL (Dorsetshire, E.)
said he desired cordially to support the Second Reading of this Bill, because he thought that if passed it would do a great deal of good. He believed it was far more a Small Holdings Bill than a Housing of the Working Classes Bill, and therefore would create a condition of things that many desired to see. If a man had three acres, and the temptation was to give him as much as possible, he could work that piece of land in his spare time. The proper cultivation of three acres of land would occupy the greater portion of a man's time, and he would become, what many wished to see, a small holder first, and a labourer afterwards. This Bill, in his opinion, did not solve the problem of housing at all. That question would not be solved until it was tackled from an economic point of view. The question of housing was determined by two factors—;the cost of building a house and the rent that could be paid for it. The rents in rural districts, as they all knew, were extremely low, and as the hon. Member for Hertford had pointed out, in some cases 156 the house was given as part of the wages. That, in his opinion, was a thoroughly vicious system. He understood that the hon. Member proposed to encourage that system still further, but he ventured to differ absolutely from him. He believed it ought to be got rid of. It had a strong taint of truck about it, and until that system was got rid of and the wages of the labourers were raised to such an extent that they could pay an economic rent this problem of housing would not be solved. Let them fix the economic rent on the basis of the cost of the house, and when that was done compel the labourer to pay that rent, and compel his master to pay him such wages as would enable him to do so. At the present time the question was approached from the wrong point of view, namely, that the labourer could not pay a proper rent because his wages were too low. From that point of view he could not see that this Bill was going to solve the problem of housing the labourers in the rural districts, but he welcomed it, because he thought it went a long way to solve the problem of the provision of small holdings.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT (Down, N.)
said there were many hon. Members on both sides of the House who would welcome this Bill because, as one hon. Member had said, it was a real remedy and not a mere plaster, as most so-called remedies were. As had been said, it was a matter of vital importance to better the condition of our country population. It was increasingly hard, as every Member for a county division knew, to keep the country population from the temptations and excitement of town life. If the pure and simple life of the country, by which alone the physique of our people could be preserved, was to be brought back, it could only be done by improving the conditions of life in the country. The old argument of leaving this housing question to private enterprise was now happily seldom advanced. Private enterprise might act in the housing of the large populations of towns, but it failed entirely in the country, and there was nowhere where it had failed more utterly than in Ireland. The Bill did not apply to Ireland, but he hoped some assurance would be given by the Government in their reply that similar legislation would be extended to Ireland, where it was 157 needed by the labourers even more acutely than in England and Scotland. If he could get some promise from the Government that legislation of this character, too long delayed, would he promoted for the benefit of Ireland, he would most earnestly support this Bill and all similar legislation.
§ * MR. W. H. LEVER (Cheshire, Wirral)
said all were agreed that there was no question so interesting at the present moment as this question of the housing of the working classes. But while in great sympathy with this measure he would like to inquire whether if the thirty-three Bills passed in the last fifty years had produced no result, was it certain that this Bill would carry things much further? The building by-laws which Parliament had imposed had restricted building operations, for many of the by-laws, while necessary for congested districts, were not applicable to rural districts, and he suggested there should be some relief given to rural districts in that respect. The Bill would enable rural district councils themselves to build houses, and it was proposed that money should be borrowed at 2½ per cent., if approved of by the Local Government Board, notwithstanding that it was admitted that that was a rate of interest at which the Government themselves could not borrow. That was to say, that the money should be lent at a loss. The immediate effect of housebuilding by local authorities under those conditions would be that the houses so built would enter into direct competition with those built by building societies and private builders.
§ * MR. MACKARNESS
said that if the hon. Member read the section of the Bill he would find that loss by the Government was provided against.
§ * MR. W. H. LEVER
said if 2½ per cent. was approved by the Local Government Board the money would be provided at that rate. If it was not the intention to advance the money at a rate of interest of which the Local Government Board approved he failed to see the object of introducing the figure.
§ * MR. MACKARNESS
The words of the section are—;Any loan by the Public Works Loan Commissioners for the purposes aforesaid shall 158 bear interest at the rate of 2½ per centum per annum, or such other rate as may, in the judgment of the Commissioners of the Treasury, be necessary in order to enable the loan to be made without loss to the Exchequer.
§ * MR. W. H. LEVER
said that in that case it was a little misleading to put in any figure at all. It had certainly misled him and no doubt it had misled others as well. But whatever the rate of borrowing might be, the local authority would enter into direct competition with individual builders and societies and would be doing something which would distinctly discourage the building of houses by those builders and building societies, because those societies would feel that they were competing against their own local authority, and if in that competition they were successful the effect would be that they themselves would have to share in the loss that would fall upon the rates. Another aspect had been referred to by the hon. Member for Birkenhead, and that was that if employers in any district could throw the burden of providing houses for their people on the local authority it would be to their advantage; but he did not think that a local authority should make such a provision to satisfy a demand, and in rural districts the landowner should provide for housing as part of the equipment of his land. He believed the remedy for this state of things was much easier than people thought. The housing question must be dealt with. They could not go on allowing the people to live in the way in which they were living at the present time on the land. It destroyed health and increased the death rate, and we should not retain our position as a great nation unless that condition of things was remedied. The great difficulty in the housing problem both in town and country was the land question. The small builder found the greatest difficulty in getting a small quantity of land. He might buy wholesale, but that was beyond the means of his capital and the needs of the district, and the acquisition of land for two or three cottages was surrounded with difficulties; the freeholder was not disposed to cut off a small piece of his property from his estate in order that two or three cottages might be built, and fees and costs were out of all proportion to the builder's requirements. Then, 159 again, land might only be worth £50 an acre, as agricultural land, but if a small portion of that land was required to build cottages upon, it became immediately worth £20 a year in the shape of ground rents. If, however, the Bill were so amended in Committee that a local authority should have increased facilities for acquiring land and leasing it in small quantities to suit the requirements of builders, that would go a long way towards removing difficulties. Powers might be given to advance money on mortgage at a low rate of interest, and the money advanced, taking the form of ground-rent, would encourage building mid there would not be competition with individual builders or holding up of land for speculative purposes. A man in a village having saved £50, and desiring to build himself a house, might go to his district or parish council, get a strip of land upon which he proposed to put up a cottage at a cost of £200. He would be able to get an advance of, say, half the cost of building his cottage and to raise by mortgage in the ordinary way a further amount. The building of such a house in the district by the man himself would stimulate the building of houses on a sound basis, and it was in the reach of all. Such a system would have this increased advantage over the system of building by the local authorities, that whereas, if the local authority built the houses themselves and the houses became vacant no rents would be received for them, and a sinking fund had to be provided to pay for the cost of building them; in the other case they would be in the position that without finding money for the building they would have increased the rateable value of the district. These cottages with their one acre of ground would probably be rated at £10 per annum each, and the local authority would have people in them able to pay the rates. So that the rates on those cottages would be a great source of revenue to the district. While supporting the Second Reading of the Bill, he hoped that in Committee close investigation would be given to the policy of giving increased powers to the local authority to acquire land, and to make mortgage advances for building, but not to conduct the building of the houses.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
said this Bill had been supported 160 from the point of view of the utilisation of land for small holdings as well as from the point of view of housing. The question of the utilisation of land for small holdings was a question of only partial interest. It was much more applicable to certain districts than to the whole of the country. The question of good and cheap houses was one of universal interest and of very real importance. He imagined it would cost a great deal of money, if this Bill was carried out, to remedy the evils from which the country suffered, and if the Local Government Board found a difficulty in assenting to the local authority finding all the money required it might assist thorn in new ways. Work done by local authorities was apt to be more expensive on the whole than work done by private enterprise. Such work could only compete with the work done by individuals if it were done as cheaply and as efficiently, or more efficiently. The greater portion of the work done by local authorities was apt to be done on a costly basis. This was an aspect of the question which the Local Government Board would do well to investigate. They might provide expert advice for local authorities interested in this subject. There was one study in which he had taken a very great interest, and that was the question of silk culture, and he had noticed that in Germany experts were provided by the Government to give advice to communities and individuals who embarked in that industry. If it was decided to give local authorities larger powers, then it certainly would be desirable for the Local Government Board to provide them with expert advisers. The Local Government Board might also do a great deal of good by engaging in enterprises and exhibitions which would act as object lessons to those who proposed to put the provisions of the Bill into operation. He thought, for instance, the exhibition at Letchworth was an excellent thing. Although it did not produce a cheap house it produced a good house. The main question in a matter of this kind was that the material should be satisfactory, and he thought the Local Government Board might bring the attention of local authorities to suitable plans and the use of materials which were best for those plans. A great deal depended upon railway communications and transport facilities, but local authorities or individuals did not sufficiently 161 appreciate the fact that of the great majority of the materials which could be used in the construction of cheap buildings, those were usually best and cheapest which were to be found in the neighbourhood. Some hon. Members had drawn attention to the fact that it was necessary to avoid a charge upon the rates. That was one of the reasons why it was necessary to give consideration to the points which he had just raised. It was necessary to avoid a heavy charge upon the rates, but he did not think that that charge could be avoided if the system of building in England was adopted for this purpose. It was interesting to note the difference between the building systems of England and Scotland where it was not difficult to get a cheap house. If the local authorities were to do their work with the utmost advantage and to carry out the objects of this Bill, they would be glad of all the help the Local Government Board could give them.
§ * MR. WEDGWOOD (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
said that all were desirous of alleviating the great misery of the working classes in this regard, and how great that misery was was shown by the speech of the hon. Member for North West Norfolk. How far did this Bill take them, however, in that direction? He considered that no Bill, however excellent, would induce local authorities to put any extra charge on the present rates. When the provisions of this Bill were carried out, who was ultimately going to get the benefit? The present difficulty arose from the fact that the rural landowners of this country would not invest their money in putting up new cottages, because they found those cottages could not pay. The idea of this Bill was that the State should take up the duty of the landlord and put up these cottages, ultimately for the benefit of the landlord. They all admitted that the evil was very great, and it required a remedy; they did want more houses; but he thought that if the State had to come in and do the work which the landlord ought to have done, then the landlords should be made to pay for it. He asked that if there was any charge on the rates for building these houses, that charge should be put on to a special rate to be based on the unimproved value of the land in that district or Parish. The landlord got the benefit of 162 these buildings because, if these houses were put up so as to provide cheaper houses for the labouring classes, the labouring classes would receive a lower wage, of which the landlord ultimately got the benefit. Secondly, supposing one could double the number of houses in any particular parish, it was obvious that the value of the land would immediately go up. Because, if the number of the houses and the population were doubled, although they might not double the value of the land, the value of the land would certainly be improved. As the value of the land was improved the State might come in under this Bill and recoup itself by the means which he had suggested. The State could not recover for itself the benefit conferred by its expenditure until it was able to tax land values. They could not hope to get anything but a temporary palliative for this permanent evil so long as the State allowed others to reap the benefit of its efforts.
§ * CAPTAIN HERVEY (Bury St. Edmunds)
said he could not for a moment admit that the statement made by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme was accurate. Noticing that this Bill was coming before the House to-day and having some experience of the rural districts he had looked up a few figures in order to put before the House the state of things on an estate near his own constituency. Some of the cottages on that estate were let at rentals of as high as £5 per annum, and some as low as 50s.; that was when they were not given free. The average rental of these cottages for the past three years was £420, and the average annual cost of repairs done to them during the same period was £640, and the landowner paid all rates. He would like to know where the advantage to the landlord came in there. It was perfectly well known in the rural districts that if a labourer owned one of these small cottages he had it for a certain time and then he mortgaged it. He did very little repairs to it, and when it was in so tumble-down a condition that he could no longer live in it, lie was only too glad to get some landlord to take it off his hands to spend money in putting it into repair and let it back to him at the rent common in the district. And good landlords did take 163 over these properties and let them back to these men, and the majority of the rural landlords of England were good landlords. He had also had some little experience of the opinions of rural authorities as to the building of cottages. The chairman of the parish council of his district came to him one day and said he thought it would be a good thing if the council were to build houses for the labouring classes themselves. He agreed with the chairman of the parish council that it would be a good thing if they could make it a financial success, and he suggested that he had better go and consult with the council and see whether that could be done. A short time afterwards that gentleman came back to him and said they had discussed the matter, and had found that it was absolutely impossible to build cottages that could be let advantageously at anything like the rents at which cottages were now being let in the district. He himself took a great interest in this matter, and should like to see it taken out of the sphere of Party politics. He did not like to see a Bill of this kind treated on the basis of a landlords' and tenants' Bill; he should like to see it dealt with on national lines. There was another small point raised: the question of three acres round the cottage. In some parts of the country that might be an advantage, it depended upon the value of the land for market garden purposes; but his experience was that if they had a small garden allotment round the house that was all the labourers wanted. They liked to grow their vegetables and fruit and things of that sort, but they did not want more. He had noticed that when they had obtained an allotment and at the same time had a garden round the house they often gave up the allotment, and the allotment had to be taken up by a person who probably had a farm besides. He had had the experience of building a pair of cottages which he thought would be suitable to the needs of working-men. They were not ornamental cottages, but they were substantially built and in such a manner that they would not require much repair for many years to come. They were cottages with three bedrooms, a kitchen and living room and usual offices, and fireplaces in two of the bedrooms. The actual cost of those cottages was £620 the pair, and they had since 164 cost £72 for digging a well and for fencing and stocking the gardens. They were let at £4 10s. apiece, £9 per annum the two. That was not exactly what might be termed a financial success, but it gave some idea of what one expected to find when they went into the question of housing the working classes from the financial point of view. It was suggested in this Bill that local authorities should have power to acquire land and to lease it, but if they were going to do that, why not lease the land from the landlord who in many cases would be only too glad to lease it? Why always go for the landlords in this way? He hoped to see this, matter dealt with on national lines.
§ MR. STRAUSS (Berkshire, Abingdon)
said that the promoters of the Bill did not for a moment claim that it was a perfect Bill, but only that it was an honest attempt to deal with this grievance, and that it was a Bill upon which the collective wisdom of the House could be brought to bear. The House would lay themselves open to a very serious charge if they did not deal with this question. He knew of many villages where there was not sufficient cottage accommodation. He knew of men who had to walk eight miles to their work. He knew of cases where farmers could not employ the amount of labour they otherwise would because they could not get cottage accommodation. He received only the other day a letter from the vicar of a parish in North Berkshire in which he said that, so far as that district was concerned, there were four farms without a cottage upon them, that the labourers had to seek cottages where they could and that the cottages themselves were very bad. This was only one instance of many in various parts of the country. Anyone who had had any experience of village life knew there were many cottages not fit for human habitation, and that if the unfortunate occupants were turned out they would not be able to find a house to live in except the workhouse. It was, he thought, to their credit that they would put up with any inconvenience rather than go to the workhouse. If the Bill was to be of any practical use the conditions and terms for borrowing money must not be too stringent or too onerous, and the powers of the rural district 165 council must necessarily be great. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds had said there were plenty of good landlords, and he quite agreed with him, but, unfortunately, there were many landlords who had not the means to build these cottages, and they could not expect the tenant farmers to go in for building operations in the present uncertain and, to his mind, rather unsatisfactory state of land tenure in this country. They ran quite enough risk already in sinking their capital in other people's land in ordinary farming operations. Rates and taxes were very high in many rural districts. He had some personal experience, and realised that they must be careful that the conditions for borrowing money were such as could be easily complied with, and that the other terms for erecting cottages could also be carried out, otherwise there would be a difficulty in putting this measure into operation. It was, after all, a national question, and he would say that if a loss did arise from the operations of the Bill it should be borne, at least to some extent, by the Exchequer. He was afraid the question of rating and taxing lay at the bottom of many of our rural problems. Farming and rural industries generally already bore very great burdens, and unless they recognised this question as being a national one and looked to the National Exchequer for some relief he did not think they would make much progress. He considered that this question had got far beyond the stage for tampering and tinkering. It called for some organised attempt to settle the people on the land away from the degrading influences and temptations of our big cities.
§ MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
said the House had heard many opinions of this Bill, and most interesting speeches had been delivered on both sides. He did not propose to go deeply into the subject, but rather to touch on one or two of the faults of the Bill. All must be in favour of its general principles. One of the most interesting contributions to the debate had been that of the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds, but he should like to correct some of the figures the hon. and gallant Member had given. He himself had built cottages within ten miles of the hon. and gallant Member's projects, and they had fulfilled everyone 166 of the qualifications mentioned; but, instead of costing £620, they only cost £306.
§ MR. COURTENAY WARNER
said that his were also. Although they were not exactly the same specifications they fulfilled all the conditions stated by the hon. and gallant Member. Certainly so far as general description went they were identical, though no doubt those referred to by the hon. and gallant Member were more expensive and were better built, but he hoped his would last as long. Of course, what was wanted was not an expensive cottage, and what it was hoped to get as a result of this Bill was not a cottage which was perfectly ideal, but a cottage that was fit to live in. It was scarcely true to say that there was as bad housing accommodation in the towns as in the country. There was more overcrowding in the towns, but he ventured to say there was no house in any town in which it was impossible to stand up in the bedroom. That was a very common thing in the poor districts in the country. Any Bill that would tend to do something to prevent such places being used as habitations would be doing a great humanitarian work He wished to find fault with one or two things in the Bill. Reading through the long processes that would have to take place for the acquisition of land under Clause 7 one was reminded of a certain Act that was passed by, he believed, a Conservative Government a good many years ago, giving compulsory powers of acquiring allotments. That Act had, he believed, been put into force on one occasion only, and that was in Norfolk, on land which was very poor and worth nothing like £20 an acre. When the local authority had got possession of the land they found it had cost them £60 an acre. The process suggested in Clause 7 was almost identical with that under the Act he had mentioned. What was required was some drastic process, if the land were really wanted for public purposes, whereby there should be a simple reference to a public department which should value the land and give the order for making it over. The good landlord was only too willing to give a piece of land 167 on which people could live. But they had to deal with bad landlords, who constituted the difficulty, though even worse, perhaps, were the impecunious landlords who had no power to deal with their properties because they were tied up. What they had to do was to take such land from the owner's hands for the public advantage. Clause 7 would have to be drastically altered in Committee if the purchase of land for the public good was to be made simple and inexpensive. There was no doubt that the housing question in the rural districts was one of the great problems of the day. It was one of the great causes of the difficulties in agriculture, because in many places the farmer could not obtain an adequate supply of labour, and he believed that in nine cases out of ten the supply had been reduced and kept down by the want of decent houses in which workmen could live. Many other troubles were brought about by bad housing in the rural districts, and anything that could be done to help to remedy the evil ought to be done. The Bill was no doubt an attempt to do something in that direction, but what was really necessary was to make the compulsory powers of acquiring land, whether by local authorities or anybody else so long as it was for the public benefit of the neighbourhood, very much better and cheaper than anything mentioned in the Bill. He was glad that the Bill had been introduced, because it opened up this very important subject, and he hoped something very drastic would be done to help the housing of the working classes.
§ MR. WALTER LONG (Dublin, S.)
said he desired to say very few words. First, he wished to support the suggestion that the Bill, after the Second Reading, should be referred to a Select Committee. If it were dealt with by the Committee of the Whole House or referred to one of the Grand Committees it would have no possible chance of passing into law this session, but if referred to a Select Committee, they would at least have its careful examination by an expert Committee, which, he hoped, might lead to some conclusion another session. Those who had brought in this Bill were entitled to the thanks of the House, for although the measure contained many weak points and required con- 168 siderable amendment, it had given rise to a valuable discussion and brought the question of rural housing somewhat nearer to a solution. The hon. mover of the Second Reading had said with truth that the great bulk of legislation dealing with this subject had proceeded from Conservative Governments. The hon. Gentleman had proceeded to point out that the last measure which sought to deal with the question had had practically no effect, and that his object was to remedy that and to do in rural districts what had already been done to some extent in urban districts. He would mention one matter in which the Bill would have to be amended. The promoters and the draftsman of the measure had fallen into the common misuse of the terms "rural district" and "rural authority." As a matter of fact, a great many districts in the country properly described as urban for local government purposes were really rural in character, and as they required legislation of this kind as much as rural districts, it would be necessary, by some alteration of terms, to bring them within the scope of the Bill. He might claim to have had some personal experience of the subject of rural housing in his own part of the country, besides the advantage of ten years' service at the Local Government Board, and he knew of no subject as to which there were so many fallacies. One hon. Gentleman to-day had had the hardihood to say that one of the difficulties in the way of rural housing was that rural by-laws with respect to building were too strict, and that for that the Local Government Board was to blame. As a matter of fact, the building by-laws were of the most moderate character, and at any rate, if they were excessive, the fault lay not with the Local Government Board, but with the local authority. He could say that during the ten years he was responsible for the Department the only alterations required in rural by-laws were in the direction of securing that the cottages were fit for human habitation. Moreover, in the great majority of the 670 unions of the country there were no by-laws of any sort or kind in force. In his judgment they might pass as many Acts as they liked conferring powers upon local authorities to obtain land on easier terms and to build, but those Acts would not be effective until they made a much 169 wider change. He was aware that it was a favourite belief of supporters of the Government that the majority of landowners, or, at any rate, a large number of them, were very great sinners. [MINISTERIAL cries of "No."] At all events, they said so, and he would give them the credit of saying what they thought. It had been conceded, however, by some hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House with great generosity and nothing else than truth, that the great bulk of the landowners in this country had done their duty, and the fact had been placed on record by a most interesting inquiry held throughout the country by one of the leading newspapers, which did not favour the political opinions of the Opposition, or of the bulk of the landowning class, that the evil did not arise from neglect of their duties on the part of the landlords. Notwithstanding these facts, the suggestion had been made that even though a resident landlord had provided the cottages necessary to his estate, he should be specially rated in order to make up for the shortcomings of a neighbouring proprietor who was probably an absentee. During the quarter of a century he had sat in the House he had heard many amazing suggestions, but he had never heard one more astonishing or more unjust than that. The difficulty that had to be faced was one of pounds, shillings, and pence. That difficulty would always face them when they approached the question of housing in the rural districts. The question in the urban districts was totally different. There were difficulties in regard to the land question in urban districts, but in 99 per cent. of the rural districts a man who would spend his capital in providing cottages at the normal rents of the locality would find no difficulty in getting land upon which to build them. He had built a good many cottages in his time, and he should say that both £300 and £600, the sums which had been mentioned to-day, were wide of the mark. He should say that a mean of the two figures was much nearer the actual sum. It would not return on an average more 1s. or 1s. 6d. a week in rent. In districts where wages did not reach £1 a week no more than 1s. or 1s. 6d. could be got per week for rent, and at the outside 2s. He would put it at 2s., and the cost of the cottage at £400. It had been 170 suggested that three acres of land should be added to the cottage in order to obtain more rent. But in his experience these allotments were not at all popular, because the labourers thought they would get a better return from their labour by selling it to an employer than by spending it on an allotment. It would be found all over the country that tenants were giving up their allotments. He did not say there were not plenty of labourers who were glad to have allotments as a convenience for providing vegetables for home consumption, but where rent was to be paid for allotments they were given up, because it was not found profitable to cultivate them. Until the pounds, shillings, and pence question was approached in a practical form they would do little to solve the question, and the Bill did not touch the real difficulty. It proposed to retain the district council area as that over which the cost was to be spread. Unless they largely extended the area they would never have the spending power to enable this work to be done. In the areas where the difficulty was most acute, the rural district areas, the rateable value was the least, poverty was the greatest, and the spending power of the union authority was practically nil. One of the difficulties in regard to the improving of housing accommodation was that local authorities pointed to the fact that very often a rate of 1s. in the pound produced a mere trifle, and that they would have to double or treble their present rate in order to do anything substantial. Therefore, he thought that for the success of operations under the Bill a larger area than the area of the district council authority was necessary. They had done everything to encourage individuals and local societies to do this work, and yet in many rural districts the accommodation for labourers was bad in quality and insufficient in quantity. If that were the case, it was necessary that legislation should be introduced to get rid of an evil which operated against the manhood of the nation. The Bill was a step in the right direction, but it would not meet the difficulty, because the local authorities had not the means of doing the work. In Committee he would move that the area for the incidence of any expenditure in connection with this work should be the county area and not the district area. Until this matter had been 171 dealt with they could not feel they had discharged their duty to the country. He did not believe the Bill was a real solution of the difficulty, but the House were indebted to its promoters for having provided an opportunity for a practical and useful discussion.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. JOHN-BURNS,) Battersea
said they had had an earnest, kindly, useful, and practical discussion on one of the most serious problems that could engage the attention of Parliament, and it had been absolutely free from Party recriminations. As President of the Local Government Board, he wished to associate himself with every practical suggestion that had been made, and every kindly sentiment that had been expressed. They were all agreed, generally speaking, that the dearth of labour in many rural districts was due to the deficiency of house accommodation. If it was due to a deficiency of cottages, that indicated that private enterprise had failed, or had not met its obligations, and if that were true it was an argument and justification for municipal duty and perhaps Imperial responsibility. It should be remembered that scarcity of work in the rural districts had driven large numbers of bricklayers into the towns, where they displaced their fellow-workmen in the building trades. By encouraging the building of cottages in the rural districts, they would give better accommodation in the country, diminish unemployment in the towns, and improve the physique of the working classes. If they could by private enterprise, municipal activity, or Imperial help, or a combination of all three, build 100,000 cottages in the next five years in rural or semi-rural areas, the expenditure of money on that work would do more good than nine-tenths of the foolish, and often pauperising, palliatives which were suggested for the benefit of workmen in all sorts and conditions of life. It was with those views in his mind that he asked to be allowed to say a few words upon this problem. Some hon. Members had said that these cottages meant a great deal to the rural population. So they did, but they meant a great deal more to the dispossessed town population, who lost their employment in consequence of the migration of people from the country. "Back to the land" was very desirable, 172 but in his judgment it was equally important to prevent those who were on the land from leaving it, and he did not care how that was accomplished, whether by private enterprise, public activity, small holdings, or anything else. He would rather devote his energies for the next ten years to inducing people to stay on the land than exhaust some of his energies in futile efforts trying to get a small number back to the land. Better than an Act of Parliament was a genial spirit of co-operation among individuals and corporate bodies in an attempt to solve this problem. He had nothing but praise for the way in which some landlords had discharged their obligations to their labourers. Those landlords who had not similarly discharged their obligations to their retainers would get more pleasure out of life by imitating the better of their class than by wasting money in less elevating pursuits and on buildings not so creditable to their intelligence. The need for more houses had been made plain. More houses were wanted, but not more owners, and he trusted that the House would agree with him that they should put on one side the idea of helping the average labourer to become his own houseowner. He could not afford it. He would rather advise him to increase his bread bill than to dream of becoming a houseowner. This Bill went a long way towards providing the local means of getting more and better cottages in rural areas, but with the local apathy and indifference which now existed to such a painful extent nothing near the amount of good the promoters suggested would be done by the Bill. One pound of disposition in a district council was worth a ton of Bills, and those housing reformers who blamed the Local Government Board for discouraging housing enterprise did not really know the facts. Speaking on behalf of the Board, he wished to say that they had nothing but praise for individuals who had done their best in this matter, and nothing but admiration for those small districts and rural authorities which had shown such energy and persistence in trying to solve this problem. For some other public bodies and their action in this matter he had nothing but dispraise and blame. He was positively convinced that without a large alteration in the personnel of local bodies there would not be much done. Without making insinuations or charges, he would 173 say that there were members of every public body who almost religiously did what they could to frustrate every attempt to act in default of private enterprise, and who, when private enterprise proposed to do anything, fastened on every regulation and used all their ingenuity to frustrate its plans. The Local Government Board had made up its mind, and the staff were determined, that, so far as regulations and facilities were concerned, they would do their best to help the lame dogs over the stile. He had been criticised—;but he did not mind that, for responsibility meant criticism, and both meant duty—;because he had co-operated with Lord Hylton in regard to his Bill to simplify building by-laws in exclusively rural districts. He would appeal to the House to allow Lord Hylton's measure, supplemented by Local Government Board suggestions, to go through this year, for he believed the time had arrived to try new experiments and even encourage reasonable risks for worthy purposes. But even if that Bill were passed, he believed they would have to work in the face of a lack of sympathy from rural authorities. In fifteen years live rural district councils had built only forty-four houses. He was extremely anxious when he took office to ascertain the facts with regard to the disposition of the local authorities upon this question, and three months ago he issued a circular to them. He was absolutely staggered at the small amount of interest taken and at the relative apathy and positive indifference shown by rural authorities on the subject. The figures were so humiliating that perhaps the House would pardon him for not referring to them beyond saying that they were almost microscopic in their result. It might be said that three months was not a sufficient time to judge, but he was sorry to say he saw no sign of suggestions coming in, but if they could be stimulated in any way to go more rapidly in the direction which they all so much desired he should be only too pleased to help them still further, and he would be willing to make an ample apology if the experience of twelve months did not confirm the view he had formed after throe months experience. Some of the promoters of the Bill had said that the power of making by-laws should perhaps be taken 174 out of the hands of the local authorities. Out of 660 of these rural authorities 420 had by-laws which the Local Government Board had sanctioned, and 226 had none at all, and he thought it was safe to assume that those rural authorities who had not taken the trouble to make by-laws, would want something more than a Second Reading speech in the House of Commons to stimulate them into procuring land to build cottages. The impulse must come from men of influence and kindly disposition in their own areas. They should do as Mr. George Cadbury had done at Bournville, as the owner of Port Sunlight had done, as Lord Manners and Lord Hertford and others had done in their districts; and he would only be doing his duty to the brother of the hon. Member for North Down, if he said that hon. Members might do worse with their surplus cash than follow the example of Mr. George Cadbury, Mr. Lever, and Mr. Corbett. He did not hold out a great deal of hope of those individuals being able to influence local authorities as quickly as he would like after finding, as he did, at the end of three months that only twelve out of 660 local authorities had submitted fresh by-laws in answer to the Local Government Board's Circular of January last. Having said that he would come to what was really the root of this question. The ex-President of the Local Government Board had said that this Bill technically had some disadvantages, but that the question at the bottom of the problem was land. Land was at the bottom of houses in more respects than the foundations. This was not the occasion to go into that particular matter, but he was glad that the ex-President of the Local Government Board agreed with him that land was at the bottom of the housing question. He did not want to do the right hon. Gentleman injustice, or to misinterpret him; the kindly speech which he had delivered disarmed anything of that kind.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said he made no suggestion; he simply took up the suggestion of the ex-President of the Local Government Board that land was at the bottom of the question. Why 175 was land difficult to get? The reason was not always a money reason. In too many cases the dislike of landlords to having near them people of the type whom the cottages would house was a difficulty. He was not making that as a general or sweeping statement. The wisdom and the accuracy of the suggestion was demonstrated by the fact that all landlords did not do in this regard what the best landlords did. The inference was that some landlords did give facilities for building and were reasonable in the sale of land. A landlord sometimes did not object to his poorer neighbours standingBetwixt the wind and his nobilityto the extent that other landlords did. If there was any desire on the part of some landlords for privileged and splendid isolation, if they had any mistaken pride or fear of the new tenants being an inconvenience for social or other reasons, then he appealed to them to dismiss all such mistaken sentiments from their minds and to live up to the level of the best of the class to which they belonged. He hoped the appeal would not be made in vain. Others objected because they feared that the new tenants might be potential paupers and that the increase of cottage accommodation might some day be followed by high rates. That was a feeling which ought not to prevail to the extent it now did. In view of the increased facilities for communication by means of trains, tramcars, and bicycles and the increased mobility of labour, he thought building, whether by private enterprise or local authorities, was not now attended by the same risks as there were thirty or forty years ago, when districts were cut off and isolated one from another. Moreover, the increasing intelligence of all classes of workmen had induced them to walk or ride further for better accommodation than their predecessors of twenty, thirty, or forty years ago. He would only add that if some landlords were to extend the area of the building generosity which they had displayed towards those immediately dependent on them to their external neighbours, even if they were to charge for the accommodation in relation to the cost of the buildings, he thought they would not regret having done so.
He came next to the serious point which was really the only objection they 176 all had to the Bill—;and that was finance. The question of finance was, perhaps, the chief stumbling-block in the way of providing cheap houses in rural districts. It had been said that the Treasury and the Public Works Loans Commissioners ought to supply cheaper money. He was sorry to say he was not altogether responsible for this part of the matter. The Treasury alone were responsible for the rate of interest charged and the period of the loan, and they could not, he was instructed, see their way to alter their decision. He would, however, do his best to persuade the Public Works Loans Commissioners, the Treasury, and any other public or semi-public body concerned to listen with more sympathetic ears to the plea for cheaper money. If he were to see an Ecclesiastical Commissioner he would make the same suggestion, for he thought the Ecclesiastical Commissioners did their work in towns exceedingly well. It was only right that they should have that said of them. There was one aspect of this question which had not been mentioned by any speaker to-day. He thought some local authorities were unduly apprehensive that if they embarked on house-building it would lead to a higher rate. In many cases that was an exaggerated fear, and certainly local authorities had not hitherto committed themselves very seriously. In fifteen years only five rural authorities had built forty-four cottages. So far as he knew, none of these cottages were empty. There was very little financial risk about that. He would respectfully submit to them and to the House that perhaps a more costly alternative to a slightly higher rate for housing would be still higher rates entailed by overcrowding and the physical and moral deterioration which overcrowding produced. It had also been said that wages did not admit of higher rents. Some wages did not, but oven in those cases he believed that it would be safer for the poorest labourer in the rural areas to run the risk of having to pay a little more rent—;the difference between profit and loss on the outlay either by private individuals or public authorities, amounting perhaps to 1s. 6d., 1s. 9d., or 2s. a week—;than that he should allow his children to labour under the physical and moral disabilities which attended improper housing. He believed if workmen would take that risk, wages would respond to the desire for 177 better environments. He was delighted that the Labour Members on both sides of the House agreed with that view. It seemed to him that there was plenty of scope in some of the rural areas for fathers to spend less money on beer in order that a higher standard of accommodation might be provided for their families. In these days of over-professionalised sport, when 20,000 or 30,000 men could be got to pay 6d. or 9d. a week for the pleasure of beholding gladiatorial combats of which the loafing spectator knew very little, excepting the excitement of looking on at the game, it seemed to him that workmen, skilled and unskilled, might sacrifice something of their so-called "sport" for the improvement of the mental and physical condition of their children. He did not hesitate to say, unpopular though it might be, that it might pay them to act on that suggestion, and he ventured to commend it to their respectful consideration. The ex-President of the Local Government Board and other speakers had said that housing was a national question. He agreed that in many aspects it was a national question. It was undoubtedly true that from the point of view of physical deterioration, housing was a national question. He thought physical deterioration had been grossly exaggerated in recent years, but if improved accommodation would make a man of 5 feet 7 inches in height the father of a son of 5 feet 9 inches or 10 inches fifteen or twenty years hence, he had no objection, though it must be borne in mind that length of timber was not the only consideration. If the urban centres considered that they had to choose between an indefinite increase of the existing evils or a subsidy to rural areas, he thought the House would do well on some other occasion to consider that aspect of the problem. It involved some national scheme. It meant an Imperial grant or subsidy, or an agreement between the Imperial and the local authorities. Such a scheme meant money, and the question was who should 178 pay. Should it be the rural authority or the urban authority? That brought him to the practical point of this afternoon's work. There was unanimity of aim and kinship of desire; there was substantfal agreement on both sides of the House that something had to be done. There were, however, practical difficulties in the way, and he would say to the promoters of the Bill perfectly frankly what they were. The Government would offer no objection to the Second Heading of the Bill, and under other conditions they would have been pleased to give facilities for its going to the ordinary Committee, but he should only in present circumstances—;Keep the word of promise to the ear,And break it to the hope,if he were to accept the Bill as it was with all the alterations that must be made in it, and hold out the prospect of getting it passed this year. The Government could net give facilities for passing it this session, but if the promoters would accept the suggestion which had been made from both sides of the House that it should go to a Select Committee with the object of the Government's using the Bill as the nucleus of a better Bill next year the Government would not be indisposed to accept their responsibilities in that particular regard. He hoped the promoters would allow that to be done. There was no need to have an army of witnesses and a volume of evidence. A dozen men from their own departments could give them the information that was required, and the practical suggestions which had been made by hon. Gentlemen who had taken part in the debate would also receive ample consideration. It was his intention to do something departmentally in the course of the next year or two on this subject. He believed that they would be compelled to take this Bill, Lord Hylton's Bill, and probably some Bill next year of which this might be the nucleus, and by combination of the three, and by codification of the housing laws, reduce the housing 179 problem, both urban and rural, to a condition which would be satisfactory. His only reason for refusing on behalf of the Government to adopt this Bill as a Government measure was that if they did so they should be obliged to break their pledges in regard to other matters.
§ MR. ROWLANDS (Kent, Dartford)
, on behalf of the promoters of the Bill, said that in view of the sympathetic speech of the President of the Local Government Board they felt that they had attained all they could possibly hope for this session. They had elicited from all parts of the House sympathetic speeches, and an indication that something must be done on this serious question. They most readily accepted the proposal that the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
said the President of the Local Government Board had referred to the liberality shown by the owner of Port Sunlight, but he should remember that country gentlemen were not all in that gentleman's position. He thought that in their humble way they were endeavouring to fulfil their obligations. The great difficulty they were placed in was that they had not always sufficient money to erect buildings and carry out other improvements which they desired to make on their property. He agreed with what the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had said, that it would be better to ask for more rent for better accommodation and thus at a small sacrifice meet the difficulty.
§ * MR. BYLES (Salford, N.)
said he was very unwilling to inflict himself upon the House as a representative f an urban constituency on this question, but, as the President of the Local Government Board had stated, this was a matter which deeply affected not only the country but the town population. One 180 hon. Member who had spoken in the debate had stated that a poor landlord had to let his cottages to the labourers at a very low rent. Of course that merely meant that the labourer was being paid partly by means of money payment and partly by having his cottage at what might be said to be half rent. That was, as a matter of fact, only a kind of evasion of the Truck Act. So long as an agricultural labourer was living in a cottage which was owned by his employer he was under the power of double pressure—;the power of the employer and the power of the landlord. What was at the bottom of all these questions? It was the possession of land. This was a rich country and nature was abundantly generous in its response to labour. There were other animals in this island besides man, none of whom had any difficulty in finding a home for themselves. There was not the smallest insect, not a bird which did not find a home for itself, because it had access to the resources of nature. The difficulty in regard to the housing problem had arisen solely from the fact that the people had been divorced from the land.
§ MR. EUGENE WASON (Clackmannan, and Kinross)
said that this Bill did not apply to Scotland, and he asked the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board whether, if it were passed, it should be in Committee made applicable to Scotland.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said that in this, or in any other Parliament, it would be impossible to ignore the claims of Scotland; and he should say that with the consent of his right hon. friend the Lord-Advocate the Bill would be extended to Scotland.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.