§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. JOHN BURNS,) Battersea
The pleasing task falls to my lot of moving the Government Housing and Town Planning Bill this afternoon, and in so doing I cordially commend to, and cheerfully expect, the generous support of Parliament for this useful, beneficent, 948 and, I may add, universally welcomed measure. The topic of housing has always been congenial to the House of Commons, mainly because the House of Commons is recruited from the class of people who, in their own domestic environment, are more fortunately situated than the great bulk of their fellows, and not being "cribbed, cabined, confined" in their domestic environment, they have always shown great interest and sympathy in the housing 949 of the working classes. In fact, at this moment, it is safe to say that some of the best advocates and pioneers of housing reform in any country in the world can be found within the walls of Parliament—in Members of this House itself, and to anyone who knows this subject I am perfectly justified in saying that in bringing this Bill to the House of Commons we are appealing to those who sympathise with the material matters embodied therein. The object of the Bill is to provide a domestic condition for the people in which their physical health, their morals, their character, and their whole social condition can be improved by what we hope to secure in this Bill. The Bill aims in broad outlines at, and hopes to secure, the home healthy, the house beautiful, the town pleasant, the city dignified, and the suburb salubrious. It seeks, and hopes to secure, more homes, better houses, prettier streets, so that the character of a great people, in towns and cities and in villages, can be still further improved and strengthened by the conditions under which they live, and I look to the hon. Baronet opposite to help me in that result. On its housing side the Bill seeks to abolish, reconstruct, and prevent the slum. It asks—at least, I do for it—the House of Commons to do something to efface the ghettos of meanness and the Alsatias of squalor that can be found in many parts of the United Kingdom. It hopes to take effective steps to put down many of the unpleasant features of our purely industrial towns. It hopes to render model dwellings similar to those that are so prevalent in Germany less frequent in the future than now. I believe that model dwellings, like model men, are too often jerrybuilt structures, unsuited to purely British conditions, and ought not to be extended or added to. The Bill seeks to diminish what have been called bye-law streets, with little law and much monotony. It hopes to get rid of the regulation roads that are so regular that they lack that line of beauty which Hogarth said was in a curve. It seeks to improve the health of the people by raising the character of the house and the home, and by extended inspection, supervision, direction, and guidance of central control 950 to help local authorities to do more than they now do. The need for this Bill I must justify by a few facts and I trust not many figures. Increasingly the British people are becoming more and more a town people; what is more, they are becoming more and more a great town people. Thirty-five per cent. of our population live in towns of over 100,000 in size, and in the short space of sixty years—for sixty years is relatively a short space in the life of a nation—we have seen this, that where sixty years ago 75 per cent. of the people lived in rural areas, only 25 per cent. now so live, and 75 per cent. live in urban centres, as against 25 per cent. sixty years ago. Again, out of eighty-four county boroughs and urban districts of 50,000 and over, we see that this has resulted, that forty-two of those eighty-four have 5 per cent. of their population overcrowded, twenty have 10 per cent., fourteen have 10 to 15 per cent., one from 20 to 25 per cent., and five from 30 to 35 per cent., and we have this condition of overcrowding as a consequence of the growth of certain industries in certain areas—mainly in our mining centres. The county of Durham for example has twenty-eight per cent.; Sunderland, thirty; Newcastle, thirty; Tynemouth, twenty; Northumberland, thirty-two; South Shields, thirty-two; and Gateshead, thirty-four. That is a condition of things for which neither Parliament, the municipalities, nor the industries themselves are wholly to blame, because, however good our housing legislation may be, the sudden rush of the population attracted by higher wages and urban prosperity to towns like Coventry and the others I have mentioned, is carried out so rapidly that in many cases it is impossible, for either individuals or local authorities, to anticipate the demand and wholly to meet it. But we think that that condition of things is such that we must take accelerated steps to rectify it, and without giving further figures with regard to the towns, I can only say that, bad though the overcrowding is in the towns, in the country, in some respects, all things considered, it is relatively as bad. In that admirable little Report issued by Mr. Rew on "On the Decline of Rural 951 Population," we find that thirty-one counties complain of the shortage of cottages; that the country is, in some respects, worse than the town; and that, owing to the lack of transit facilities, the shortage of cottages really impose on the rural population disproportionate evils as compared with an overcrowded town centre where there are transit facilities. As this Bill is introduced mainly to meet the rural difficulties it is only fair that I should justify it on the rural side. We find that there are seventy-eight villages, with 4,179 cottages, which have 25 per cent. of these cottages "bad," or "extremely bad"; 60 per cent. have no fireplace, the absence of which is a more serious thing from the point of view of ventilation than that of getting rid of smoke. Of 122 rural areas, fifty-four are deficient in cottages; 240 villages, with 10,000 dwellings, have 50 per cent. bad; whilst in thirty villages there is gross overcrowding. In rural, and semi-rural areas where new industries have sprung up, the tendency is to get relatively worse and worse. The Estates Gazette, which cannot be accused of being an ardent supporter of housing reform, said a month or two ago that—One great obstacle in the way of the general adoption of small holdings is the difficulty of finding housing accommodation in the country for those who desire to go 'back to the land' in the humble fashion, and it has been said practically with full truth that there is not a spare cottage in England.It is possible to give instances where whole families are so crowded in small cottages, bad in structure, and insanitary in condition, that if you were to describe them as happening in either Liverpool or Glasgow, or in a London slum, it might be said that it was impossible and intolerable. I have not the least doubt that hon. Members who represent rural constituencies will be able to quote numerous illustrations of the general truth of what I have now said. Now, in this conjunction it is as well that we should remember that bad as that rural accommodation is, and bad as it is in our towns and cities, we still maintain preeminence in domestic architecture, and, generally, in superior accommodation for our working classes. This is not an argument for not doing anything to improve the present condition of affairs, 952 but an argument for doing still more and going still further. It is interesting, for example, to know that in England, taking the country as a whole, 3.6 per cent. of the population live in one room; in London, 14 per cent.; in Edinburgh, 17 per cent.; in Glasgow, 26 per cent.; in Dublin, 36 per cent.; while in Paris it is 26 per cent.; and in Berlin, 50 per cent. So that from these figures we can deduce that, bad though we are, the "other fellow" is infinitely worse. Dr. Arthur Shadwell, who has dealt most thoroughly and scientifically with this subject, says that whereas—In England the industrial classes live in separate houses or cottages; in Germany they live in barracks; in America in larger houses shared by more than one family. We have nothing to compare in England to the house famine which prevails in Germany.That is a condition of things which I hope other countries will remove as soon as possible, and I believe that the changes which our Bill will effect will stimulate them in this direction. How does this inferiority of some other countries as compared with Great Britain reflect itself in the health of the people? In Berlin, with 2,000,000 of people living in 26,000 houses, there are 290 per acre, as against 62 in London per acre, and 77 people per house as against 8 in London. This reflects itself in the death rate, for while the death rate in Berlin ranges from 18 to 20 per 1,000, it ranges in London from 14 to 16. In every aspect of physical life we find that London, notwithstanding its drawbacks owing to its small houses and fewer people per acre, is, in all the diseases that are due to congestion of population and density per house or per room, such as infant mortality, scarlet fever, diphtheria, typhus, and, above all, tuberculosis, a long way ahead as compared with towns and cities in foreign countries. It is only right when we are asking the House to support this Bill not only for the personal convenience of the people who live in the houses, but from a consideration of their health, that I should give some facts in order to prove the difference in the matter of certain diseases between the ordinary cottage, not particularly good, and the back-to-back houses which too frequently prevail, which the Local Government Board disapprove and which we ought to get rid of as 953 quickly as we can. Taking the general population with the general death-rate, we find that the general death-rate in back-to-back houses is 135 as against 100 in the ordinary cottage; in zymotic diseases it is 155 as against 100; and in diarrhœa it is 182 as against 100. In stable dwellings, which I trust we may soon get rid of, the proportion is still higher than that. In London wherever you find density per room there you find infant mortality; wherever you find overcrowding it produces disease to an extent that we ought to terminate. The proof of that is to be found in the deaths resulting from consumption. Thus I find that where in the general population 711 persons died of consumption in the least crowded portions, 1,400 died in the most crowded portions. In Glasgow the conditions are even worse than that, mainly due to the fact that we find, according to the Secretary for Scotland, that 54 per cent. of the Glasgow people are living more than two in a room. Now, these are the general conditions which we hope to modify and ultimately to abolish. I may say further that in the last ten years there has been an enormous progress in the ideals, theories, and achievements in housing and town-planning. There is for example, the great housing experiment at Bournville. If we could reproduce that experiment a hundred or a thousand times all over the kingdom it would not be unprofitable to the community, it would damnify the interest of nobody, and its effect on the individual so benefited would reflect itself in a distinct boon to the State. No one can go to Port Sunlight, or Earswick, or Hull, or Wolverhampton where the son, I think, of a distinguished Member of this House, Sir Richard Paget, has undertaken a great garden city scheme, and other places without recognising the enormous progress which has been made during the last ten years, in connexion with the schemes which have been undertaken by municipalities, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and other Corporations, and by private individuals, nearly all of which are in their plan and execution superior to anything I have seen in any other country in the world. Now I mention that to point the moral that under existing laws, bye-laws 954 and regulations, given the inclination, given the imagination, given the means and the breadth of view, it is possible to do in exceptional instances what our Bill seeks to help other districts less favourably situated to do over a wide area. What a few public-spirited owners, municipalities, corporations, companies, have done without loss to themselves and gain to their tenants—on the contrary, it has been economically profitable for them to do it—this Bill will enable a number of other people and associations to accomplish. In a word, the Bill provides: first, the medium of agreement, which, I believe, will prevail in 95 per cent. of the cases; then, failing agreement, conference; and, as the last resource, compulsion, imposed by the central body, which will do its best to pursue the line of least resistance in carrying out its work. With the permission of the House, may I ask hon. Members who are often in London to realise how this is done. They have only to take a motor car or any other vehicle, and go to places like Balham, Millbank, Boundary Street, Tooting, Ealing, Hampstead, and Northfield to see how modified schemes of housing and town-planning, accompanied by schemes of transit, tram, train, and tube are progressing. On the Millbank estate, which is near to the House, and where the plan is completed with the Tate Gallery as the central attraction, and hospitals and model dwellings round it, they can see from 5,000 to 6,000 people housed under a housing scheme under town-planning conditions, which, if it had been done in Paris, Vienna or Berlin, we should want to go and see and write a Report upon. They can see at Ealing or at the Hampstead Garden City suburb, and other places I have mentioned, examples of what prescience, outlook, and the development of estates according to a coherent and progressive plan are capable of doing. I think that the House and public opinion are rather tired of the intolerable meanness and squalor which we can see is the result of unregulated plans and uncontrolled building operations, and I believe that when this Bill has been in operation for two or three years the attention which we are now giving to it will be justified. 955 On the town-planning side of the Bill I want to say a word or two, because although generally approved of in its broader outline, it has been criticised in some minor details. I think that we cannot allow our towns to grow up in the way in which they are growing up. Take London, for instance. We find twelve parishes in the inner ring of London with a diminishing population, and we have that diminishing population resulting in this fact, that 13,000 families are, so to speak, exported from the centre to the outer ring, and except for the London Building Act and the increasing public interest in this subject you cannot have 13,000 families taken from the centre to the outside in a big city like this without disastrous consequences in the future, unless there is something like prescience and planning in the method of their distribution. What we have attempted is really a town-planning scheme, which is the second part of this Bill, and will enable us to get together the various interests that are affected—for instance, the local landowners, the railway companies, the canal companies, the public authority, the officials of the public authority—and get them to turn together towards one outlook with one scheme, instead of mutually fighting each other to each other's detriment. We think also that in conjunction with such schemes the trustees of national antiquarian or artistic societies might co-operate with those more materially inclined in helping to improve the scheme. It frequently happens that you will have a large owner who takes a broad and generous view in the development of his own estate, frustrated and prevented from making the adjoining land as pleasant in its amenities as it ought to be made, because there is intervening some smaller owner who lacks the breadth of view, has not neighbourly instincts, will not co-operate, and stands between the corporation with big views and the large landowner who would be willing to schedule 500 or 1,000 acres of land in order to prevent the dead ends, the mean streets, and the ugly blank walls that you now see. That is mainly because there is no way now of bringing them together; but we think the ratepayer, the authority, and the 956 owner ought to have the means of remedying a state of things which has so long gone on uncorrected. Let me, if I may, ask any Member of the House to see what is happening to the River Wandle near Wandsworth Common. As it approaches the River Thames, instead of being made what it should be, as it would be made in Germany, at Berlin, or Dusseldorf, or elsewhere, an attraction to the district, an amenity which would add to the rents in the neighbourhood, and the attractiveness of the whole place, it becomes a dirty stream, too often only the auxiliary of dust-shoots and other abominations of an ugly and very often of an intolerable description. If in Berlin they can make their canals attractive, I do not see the reason why the Regent's Canal and many other canals in and about the big towns here should not, in conjunction with the development of parks, open spaces, and recreation grounds, be made attractive to the districts through which they pass. How has this been done? I want, if I may, to take two instances. Let us take Bournville for the poor and Bournemouth for the rich. Let us take Chelsea for the classes and Tooting for the masses. What do you find? You find in those four instances that your public-spirited corporations and public-spirited landowners have been at work, and I venture to say that if you take Bournville and Bournemouth, Chelsea and Tooting, or towns like Eastbourne, you will find very much done without damage to anybody of what we hope to make universal by this Bill. And, may I say in this conjunction, that the Local Government Board is very grateful to one great landowner of this country, and that is the Duke of Sutherland, for enabling them to complete the federation of the Pottery-towns by the useful and splendid gift of something like 800 acres of his Trentham Park Estate. By our Bill we provide facilities by means of which every other Duke can go and do likewise, and in the event of anyone being in the mood to follow his Grace's example we shall be only too pleased to accept his gift on precisely the same terms. I come from that portion of my observations to the need for town-planning, from the point of view of the area of land absorbed every year. May I give the House a figure in 957 regard to house-building in London? In twenty-five years there have been half-a-million houses built in Greater London. Will anyone say that if we had had twenty-five years ago something like an elementary town-planning scheme we should have the Edmontons, the Tottenhams, the West Hams, the Bermondseys and the Rotherhithes, as they now are? Certainly not. While half-a-million of houses have been added to Greater London—increasing London—in twenty-five years there have been in that period 7,500 streets, and twenty-three squares, measuring nearly 1,400 miles in length, made, and all this has been done in a more or less unconscious and blind way. Its effect upon the population is already beginning to reveal itself, and I believe that in the next twenty-five years these new buildings, houses, squares, and streets should bear some relation to schools, parks, public buildings, railways, canals, and other physical conditions prevailing in big centres. In the County of London at this moment, notwithstanding that there is a demand for house accommodation, we are confronted with the singular fact that there are 50,000 empty houses. Notwithstanding all this building and the claim there is for the right houses in the right places at the right rents, for the proper and decent people of London, we have 50,000 empty houses in the County of London. Why? Here is the fact. The houses we have built in London ten, twenty, or forty or fifty years ago, with a housing and town-planning scheme of a most simple character, ought never to have been allowed to be built. People say, why are these houses empty? You have only to go down any street to find the reason. Take streets in Balham or Highbury, if on one side of the street you find no basements, you will not find a house empty, but on the other side, where there are half or full basements, you will find ten or twenty of them to let. I think the time has arrived when the building of basement or half-basement houses ought to be abolished. I do not wonder that in certain parts of London rich people cannot get servants. Why should people be interred in dark and often damp basements? They make the servants disagreeable, and they 958 prevent that sanitation, light, and cleanliness which are so absolutely desirable, especially for people who are monotonously employed, and frequently confined day after day in the same unpleasant monotonous work. If there is one thing that Lord Cadogan deserves credit for it is for the way in which he reconstructed modern Chelsea. I want to go from that, if I may, to the effect of housing and town-planning, not in London, but in the country, and I would ask the special attention of the country Members to these figures. In fifteen years 500,000 acres of land have been abstracted from the agricultural domain for houses, buildings, factories, workshops, and railways. In fifteen years as much land has been converted into houses and industrial concerns as is the acreage of our potato crop for the whole of the United Kingdom. Why do give that comparative figure? I give it to show that if we go on in the next fifteen years abstracting another half a million of acres from the agricultural domain, and we go on rearing in green fields slums, in many respects, considering their situation, more squalid than those which are found in Liverpool, London, and Glasgow, posterity will blame us for not taking this matter in hand in a scientific spirit. Every two and a half years there is a county of London converted into urban life from rural conditions and agricultural land. It represents an enormous amount of building land which we have no right to allow to go unregulated. Some hon. Members may say: But is it right that we should undertake this work? Let us see what other countries have done. No one can go to Paris, or Vienna, or Dusseldorf—to Paris especially, or even to smaller towns and cities, and see the way in which there has been a coherent plan and prescience in town expansion, without being struck with the necessity of our being able to do a similar thing here. Everyone admires Paris, but what has happened to Paris in 150 years? Voltaire wrote 150 years ago—[An HON. MEMBER: The Revolution.] The Revolution had nothing to do with building houses, though it pulled some down. Voltaire, writing 150 years ago, said—The centre of Paris is obscure, confined, and hideous. It represents a period of the most 959 shameful barbarism. There are only two fountains in good taste.Why does Paris present so different a picture to-day? It is because, slowly but surely, town planning schemes have evolved themselves, and regulation has taken the place of the squalor, chaos, and hideousness Voltaire described Paris to be 150 years ago. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London may say that this can only be done with great injustice to vested interests. That is not the case. Let him take heart of grace. Let hon. Members who motor go along the Buckingham Palace Road.
§ *Mr. JOHN BURNS
The hon. Baronet is archaic even in matters of traction. Hon. Members who motor or ride from this House towards Chelsea along the Buckingham Palace Road will see what I believe will prove to be, when complete, the handsomest railway station in London, the new Victoria Station. Along the western side of Victoria Station is a red brick and Portland stone wall which is beautifully panelled, and is a credit to the railway company and a delight to the passer-by. How was that done? There was no vandalism, no exhibition of that predatory instinct which is supposed to exist. No. There was a brief conference between the County Council, the local authority, and the railway directors, and the result is that instead of there being a plain, ugly gas factory wall, a nuisance to everybody, and an eyesore to all, there is this beautifully finished panelled wall. There are hundreds of places round London where yon will have the local authority, property owners, vested interests, and railway companies co-operating in such a way as will allow the local authority to purchase, sell, or exchange land for the benefit and convenience of the whole community, and nobody will be damnified. With regard to town-planning no one knows better than the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London that the County Council could not have made the enormous transformation that has been made in London 960 during the last fifteen or twenty years without the powers given them by the London Building Act. That Act ought to be extended universally throughout the United Kingdom to every local authority, and this Bill is the first step in that direction.
Now coming from generalities to particulars we have to defend this Bill by saying that a complaint has been made for years past as to want of houses in rural districts. The existing Housing Acts enable local authorities to provide houses for the working classes, either in the shape of lodging houses or separate dwellings with half an acre of land attached to them, but Part III. of the existing legislation is adoptive only, and can only be adopted in rural districts with the consent of the county council. The Act has only been adopted in nine or ten rural districts. That is something the country ought to be ashamed of, and I am ashamed of it to this extent, and we seek to rectify it by the superior powers we give in this Bill. We were asked to do this by the Housing Committee, who made a number of recommendations, three-fourths of which are embodied in this Bill. Several of their recommendations, however, deal with sanitary matters, and were germane to public health rather than housing, and those we hope to carry out in another way. I was asked to do by this Bill that which I cannot do, to supersede all the existing rural district councils as sanitary authorities and to hand over their powers to a larger and superior body, with a wider area. This Bill will not supersede rural district councils. We think it is better to give them free powers, to remove the obstacles in their way, to increase facilities, to make the financial terms better, and, in case of default, to provide for enforcement by the county council or the Local Government Board. But this Bill, is by no means limited to the rural districts. In the interests of better housing we feel we ought when giving better conditions to the rural districts to take the urban councils by the hand and give them also increased facilities. We propose to make Part III. of the Housing Act universally applicable without adoption, so that it will be in force in all urban areas and in rural areas it will be possible to build new 961 cottages and houses without having to go to the county council for consent. We also think they should have power to acquire land compulsorily for the purpose of housing, not by provisional order or Act of Parliament, but on terms similar to those sanctioned in the Small Holdings Act of 1907. We think an order framed by the local authority, and confirmed by the Local Government Board, ought not to be required to run the risk of a provisional order Bill. If, however, the order was objected to, a local inquiry under the Local Government Board would be held. We also propose that there should be a single arbitrator to settle disputes, and there should be no additional allowance as compensation for compulsory purchase. We think that in the matter of finance we go further even than the Select Committee on several points. We propose that the Public Works Loans Commissioners shall be empowered to lend money for housing purposes for eighty years at a limited rate of interest, which is not to vary with the duration of the loan. We may express the advantage of that in this way. I am now going to take an actual case under the existing conditions, and show what will happen if the Bill passes. A rural authority ask for and receive sanction to spend £1,500 on land for the erection of ten cottages to be let at 2s. 6d. a week, or £6 10s. a year. Assuming that the money is obtained from the Public Works Loans Commissioners who can now lend up to fifty years only at 4¼ per cent., the result is that on this land there would be a deficiency Of £16 16s., or a rate of nearly a 1d. in the £. That is under present conditions. Under the new conditions of the Bill, with the increased loan period and reckoning interest at 3¼ per cent., the deficiency will be only 11s. 3d. per annum. In other words, the scheme becomes practically self-supporting. Or to put it in another way, the difference between the old and new conditions is represented, in round figures, by the rent of three cottages out of ten. We think that that is such an improvement that we ask the House to sanction it. The next point is that the Bill empowers the Attorney-General to intervene with regard to housing charities and trusts. I do not want to 962 give instances, but it frequently happens that when benevolent donors have left money for this purpose, three, four, or five years often elapse before anything is done. Without in any way interfering with the object of the trust we think that public opinion through a Government Department should be able to set the Attorney-General in motion in order to put an end to these dilatory proceedings which sometimes frustrated or delayed the intentions of the donor. We also seek power to compel every county council to appoint a medical officer of health and further, we ask that default powers shall be given to the Local Government Board over the rural authority and the county council, and that there shall be a limit of time for carrying out any work prescribed. If the work is not carried out, the Local Government Board will in some cases direct the county council to carry it out, and if they do not do so, will by means of a mandamus force them to take action. We think, where there is default in carrying out improvement schemes under Part I., or where the local authority fail to carry out a reconstruction scheme under Part II., the Local Government Board may make an order requiring the local authority to remedy the default. All these orders we make enforceable by mandamus. Another useful reform has reference to the keeping of houses reasonably fit for human habitation. There is under the Act of 1890 an implied condition when a landlord lets a tenement that it is reasonably fit for habitation at the beginning of the contract, but there is no power to make him keep it reasonably fit during the whole period of occupation, and I think that ought to be done. There is under the existing law no guarantee and no power to require the tenement to be kept "reasonably fit" during the whole period, and that is what ought to be done. As regards closing and demolition orders which under the Bill will be made by the local authority we are enabled to dispense with appeals to Quarter Sessions. The owner will have instead an appeal to the Local Government Board. But not only do we extend this implied condition but we make it applicable to a wider class of tenements. In the section which we amend, "letting for habitation by persons of the working classes" 963 means let at, a rent not exceeding in London £20 a year, in Liverpool £13, in Manchester and Birmingham £10, and elsewhere £ a year. We propose in the Bill to double this. Thus we lift the rateable value in London from £20 to £40, and similarly elsewhere we just double it. The effect of that is that we bring in a class of houses in big towns and cities which have been converted into tenement houses, which were not contemplated as having to be occupied in that way when the other Housing Bills were passed. We think that this proposal as to keeping houses "reasonably fit" during occupation will not only do a great deal of good to the health of the tenant, but we believe that it will help the landlord in many respects. There is one thing it will do—and Members of the House of Commons can see an example of it within half a mile from this House—it will prevent our seeing, after the next four or five years, what we are now seeing, if this Bill becomes law. Very frequently you will find an owner with three or four houses in one street unoccupied, for three or four years. They are untidy, and, in many cases, unfit for occupation; the tenants have probably moved out, or have been turned out. The effect of this is that not only do these empty houses present an unsightly appearance, but the fact of their being left in a dilapidated condition for many years prejudices the owners of adjoining property. I was speaking the other night to a retired inspector of police and he quoted the instance of a celebrated street. "What dire events from trivial causes spring." You will pardon me for not naming the street, because I believe that when you apply to any part of London an objectionable term, or call it a mean street, the tendency is for that to be stereotyped in the public mind, and the district or street is still further prejudiced. This particular street, if I were to mention it, would be known to many, and the inspector told me that the reason of its being converted from a street where there was, a number of very decent people living, was that for nearly ten years six houses were allowed to become untidy and in disrepair; they were not occupied for nearly ten years, and adjoining property was affected, with 964 the result that for something like fifteen or twenty years the street was allowed to fall into a bad condition, because of the bad example of the six houses. I do not think that should be allowed to go on. We seek in our Bill to prevent that condition of things.
I come from the housing portion to my last point, namely, the method under which town planning will be adopted and administered. The town planning portion of the Bill will enable the local authority to make a scheme as regards any land likely to be used for building purposes. We place no limit on the amount of land to be so included in the scheme. We depend upon the local authority itself. The scheme would schedule the land, and regard would be paid to the sanitary conditions and amenities, to convenience in the laying out of spaces, parks, and recreation grounds, and to the water supply for houses. The Bill would enable the Local Government Board to authorise borough, urban, and rural councils to prepare town planning schemes in or about the neighbourhood of their areas, and if the Local Government Board are satisfied, the local authority itself, or in conjunction with other local authorities, may make a scheme, and if that scheme is not made, the Local Government Board, failing local action, can call upon the local authority to prepare a scheme. When the local authority has determined to apply for a town planning scheme, they will serve notice on the local landowners and other people affected. An inquiry will be held at which the owners and the local authority, the ratepayers, the artist, the architect, and the engineer, will have power to make representations. I believe, as I said before, that in nine-tenths of the cases by agreement these town planning schemes can be brought about. An exchange of land could be arranged; intervening or recalcitrant owners, who with their four or five acres prevent the development of 500 or 1,000 acres, would have notice served upon them for the compulsory purchase of their land or property on fair and reasonable terms. The request for such a town planning scheme when the inquiry has been held, would mean the publication of a notice of the scheme; it means the 965 preparation of plans and estimates, the hearing of objections, and representations by landowners, ratepayers, neighbours, and others. The scheme would enable donors in the neighbourhood to add to the town plan scheme by gifts, or local authorities themselves could help in many ways the details of which I need not go into. The main object of the Bill as regards town planning is, as I have already described, to secure agreement, by conference, by coordinating the varying and conflicting interests, and, in the case of an objectionable owner, to buy him out or exchange his land for some other piece or to make arrangements which will be suitable to everybody.
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR (Liverpool, East Toxteth)
May I ask a question on one point? Does the town planning scheme provide that the local authority must buy up the whole of the land?
§ *MR. JOHN BURNS
No, not necessarily—not for the carrying out of this part of the Bill. In the housing portion of the Bill I have not been persuaded yet, and frankly, if one looks to recent experience, I am not inclined to be persuaded, to adopt the suggestion made by several people that we should have Housing and Town Planning Commissioners to carry out this work. My view is that it would be rather dangerous for Parliament to transfer any of its duties to ad hoc Commissioners of any kind. In my judgment Commissioners are not so susceptible to Questions in Parliament as would be Inspectors under the Local Government Board. Experience under the Crofters Act and of the Irish Land Commissioners convinces me of that. I would rather have housing and town planning schemes enforced and carried out by Inspectors of the Local Government Board, or of any other Department, than by Commissioners. But in lieu of Commissioners we intend to have the equivalent number of Inspectors, and, as "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," and as, in our judgment, the Inspectors will do the work better than Commissioners, it seems to me that the House of Commons may reasonably accept the substitution of Inspectors 966 for Commissioners. I would also like to intimate to the House that I propose to reorganise the Housing and the Public Health Departments of the Local Government Board. There has been an activity in this direction already with which I am afraid hon. Members are not crediting the Department. When I tell the House of Commons, as I now do, that, within the last two years, without any fuss, with no lime-light or obtrusive advertising, 100 housing schemes have been sanctioned by the Local Government Board it seems to me that that fact in itself is an ample defence of what we have been modestly and energetically trying to do. Therefore, we propose Inspectors instead of Commissioners. We intend to readjust and reorganise the Housing and Public Health Departments of the Local Government Board. We intend, moreover, when this Bill is through, to introdue a measure for the consolidation of all the Housing of the Working Classes Acts that have been passed. We would do that this session if it were possible. I intend to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and I have reason to believe he will assent—to enable the Local Government Board to publish a monthly Local Government Board journal that shall deal, amongst other of the many subjects which fall within our province, with housing, infant mortality, public health, sanitary and kindred questions, just as we have the Labour Gazette for the Board of Trade, and the Agricultural Gazette which deals with the agricultural interest. Beyond that, if this Bill gets through, and the Housing Acts are codified, if we have Inspectors appointed, and if we have our journal as guide, philosopher and friend, for housing experts and local authorities throughout the country, we believe that the Bill, with the administrative and other reforms I have indicated, will be a substantial contribution to the housing problem. I will give the House, if I may, a brief summary of what this Bill does: As regards housing we put Part III. of the Act of 1890 in force wherever it has not already been adopted. We provide for cheaper money and enable the Public Works Loan Commissioners to lend for periods up to eighty years. The powers 967 of acquiring land are assimilated to those sanctioned by Parliament in the Small Holdings Act of last session. The Local Government Board are empowered on complaint by certain authorities or by four inhabitant householders to enforce the provisions of Part III. in case of default by the local authority. The procedure under the Act of 1890 with respect to closing and demolition orders is simplified so that, subject to an appeal to the Local Government Board, an order may be issued by the local authority without the necessity of going to justices. And then there is the important provisions to which I have already alluded with respect to the implied conditions that a tenement shall be maintained in such a state as to be reasonably fit for human habitation. And in order to strengthen the powers of supervision by county councils in sanitary matters we provide for the appointment of a medical officer of health in every county. As regards town planning the Bill provides for the making of schemes by a local authority and the approval of such schemes by the Local Government Board; for the compulsory purchase of land where necessary; and enables the Local Government Board themselves to initiate town planning schemes in default of the local authority.
In conclusion, may I say that the criticism which has been directed to this Bill has been mainly on points of detail that can be dealt with in Committee. This Bill is neither the Alpha nor the Omega of housing reform. It is capable of amendment and of some improvement, and, where I am asked to take passengers on board, subject to reasonable quarantine and practical examination and supervision, I am not indisposed to accept either reasonable Amendments or practical suggestions. I may say that this Bill in all its main features goes far beyond the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Newbury, except in one particular. In its main features it goes beyond the recommendations of the Select Committee that considered the Bill of 1906. To this is to be added the administrative changes I have indicated and a number of other points which were not mentioned in the Committee's Report or in the Bill to which I have referred. With the codification of the Housing Acts and with the suggestions of improved administration I sincerely 968 trust the House to-day will give me the Second Reading of the Housing and Town Planning Bill. I sincerely appeal to the House of Commons. This is not a party matter. It is one in which partisanship of any kind ought not to find any place, as we are all of us interested in the development of our towns and cities; above all, in the improvement of the housing accommodation of our poorer classes, on whose behalf mainly this Bill has been framed and is now projected. I ask the House with cheery confidence to give me the Second Reading of our Bill to-night, and let us get into Committee as soon as we possibly can, so that by the joint co-operation of all we can end this session by the Government's being allowed to keep its pledge, which on their behalf I made last year, in adding to the Statute-book a contribution of which in the years to come it will be truly said that, "We builded better than we knew, the conscious stone to beauty grew."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. WALTER LONG (Dublin, S.)
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and the House that it is due to no want of appreciation on my part of the racy eloquence to which we have so often listened with pleasure if I suggest to him that the greater part of his speech, which was devoted to an historical survey of this question and was in his best oratorical style, might, I think with great advantage, have accompanied the Bill in the form of a memorandum if the Government intend to insist upon that economy of time which they desire to enforce in discussing this question. There is an Amendment on the Paper by two or three hon. Gentlemen opposite which opens up a question altogether apart from that dealt with in this Bill to which in his speech no reference has been made by the President of the Local Government Board. And yet, although it has taken him upwards of one and three-quarter hours to tell us what the history of this Bill is and what the Bill itself is, we are asked under modern conditions to discuss the Bill itself, 969 and, I presume, to discuss the Amendment which opens up a much narrower issue, in a period of time which is all too short for our purpose. Therefore, while I make no suggestion that on our part there will be offered to this Bill any opposition of a controversial or partisan character, or any opposition other than of a practical kind, limited to making the Bill do what the President of the Local Government Board desires that it should do, I humbly suggest, that, appreciative as we are of the eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman, it would have been better in the interests of the shortness of debate and of the House if he had given us the historical part in the form of a Memorandum and confined his remarks to telling us what the Bill is going to do. The right hon. Gentleman began by stating what are the aspirations of the Government. He spent much more time in telling us what are their aspirations than in telling us how those aspirations are to be realised, and I would remind him that this House has often been witness to the old tag that a certain place is paved with good intentions. It is very much more important for us to be shown how this Bill is going to carry out the objects which not alone the Government, but every Member of this House has at heart, as innumerable debates have testified, than in expatiating upon those difficulties of which we all know something, and the existence of which I believe is disputed by nobody who has taken the smallest trouble to study this question. The right hon. Gentleman told us that in proportion the condition of the housing in country districts is even worse than it is in the urban district that the overcrowding, the insanitary conditions, the closeness of habitations one to another, and the general conditions under which people are called upon to live are in some cases worse in the rural districts than in the urban districts. I believe there is, with certain limitations, a great deal of truth in that description of the President of the Local Government Board, but although I have given my best attention to this Bill and have endeavoured to study it closely, and have approached it in a perfectly friendly manner, I doubt if there is in the Bill one clause or one 970 new power which will deal with this practical difficulty in the rural districts, and I will briefly say why, before I come to examine more closely two or three of its details. What is the condition in the rural districts? It is totally different from that in the urban districts. In the urban districts your habitations grow up as a matter of course in answer to the demand and proceed pari passu with the growth of local industries. In the rural districts in almost every case the provision of habitations for the working classes is very much the work of the local owners of property and local occupiers, with a few limited exceptions. Why is it that the description of the President of the Local Government Board is an accurate one? It is because every man knows notwithstanding the experiments that have been made in cheap cottage building, that, try how hard you may—and there are many of us who can testify from our own personal experience that we have striven hard to put up decent cottages at moderate rents—you cannot build decent cottages and secure a rent which a man can pay and which will give you a proper return upon your outlay. What is the proposal here that is going to deal with this rural case? The hon. Member for Chippenham and his colleagues have given us an enormous amount of very valuable information and, to my personal knowledge, have devoted an immense amount of unselfish labour and industry to the elucidation of this problem. Their Report tells us that, under the existing law, district councils cannot put the Act into force without reference to the county councils. Why is this the case? It is, the county councils tell you, because of the difficulty of the cost. There are two questions which are really not touched in this Bill. I say this in no hostile spirit to the Government and their proposals, and I hope that, without in any way injuring the structure of the Bill, in its progress through Committee we may be able to alter it so as to make it really effective. If you are going to make it effective, there are two things which the House must do. One is to face the unpopularity and difficulty of widening the area. Secondly, they must put their superior power—something more than their superior power 971 —their trust, in the main local authority, the county council. At the conclusion of the President of the Local Government Board's remarks, he took credit to himself for the fact that he is not going to work through commissioners. He is going to work through inspectors. Last night the Chief Secretary said that for once he felt a happy man. For once I feel almost a proud and respectable man. The President of the Local Government Board has confirmed by his own action the Amendments that I moved when we were discussing the Bill of the First Commissioner of Works in regard to the land, and what better proof could I have of the value of my suggestions than the fact that the President of the Local Government Board has adopted them now? I congratulate him. I am not going to dwell upon legislation by compartments because I do not want to make a controversial speech. I want to address myself to business. Whatever may be your method of action—I think it far better to have inspectors if you are going to centralise, than independent commissioners—however eloquent you may be here about the duty of local authorities to do this, that, and the other, however much we may dwell in pathetic accents upon the sufferings of the poor and the necessity of better accommodation, all our oratory and all our work is thrown away unless we approach the real practical part of the difficulty and help these people to help themselves. The Government are making certain efforts in that direction, but they are not going far enough. They propose to leave it still with the district council. In nine villages out of ten it will be found that the local landowners who occupy anything over 1,000 acres of land do their best to provide the necessary cottage accommodation proportionately to their property, and they do that at a loss except insofar—and I admit this is a large outweighing of the financial loss—as they provide for the necessary labour on their estate, in a way which is decent to the people and creditable to themselves. But when you have got beyond that what do you find? You find cottages owned by non-resident people, many of them poor people. There are cases where not only are cottages in- 972 sanitary and unsafe of habitation, but you cannot find their owners. You are absolutely powerless to deal with them, and if you do deal with them who is to pay the cost? The very men in that narrow, limited, and poor area, who have done their duty and have provided the cottages that they themselves ought to provide and for which they are responsible. So long as you limit your area in this way, so long as you make the cost of this work fall upon a small and very often a poor area, I believe you can provide no machinery that will really enable you to deal with that difficulty. I know this is unpopular. I know it is very difficult. I know that you will arouse numerous interests against you. I have had my own experience. At the same time, if you are really going to tackle this question of the provision of decent cottages in country districts you must make your powers stronger than they are at present. I cannot find in this Bill that there is any power under which you can get hold of the owner of cottage property such as I have described, the man who shirks all the duties appertaining to his position, who not only does not repair his cottages, but is an absentee, who is very difficult to find and who leaves them unoccupied in such a condition that if children play about them or if tramps take refuge in them the walls may fall upon them. I want to make one protest in no carping spirit, but I think it is a protest that ought to be made. We are few in numbers and we have to interest ourselves in a great variety of subjects if we are to secure their proper, or hon. Gentlemen opposite may sometimes think, their improper debate, and it is very difficult adequately to consider all these Bills. It has been my business for many years now to have to read Bills, to try and master them, and I can safely say that never yet have I had to read a Bill which has given me such infinite labour, which has left me with so appalling a headache, and even after the labour and with the headache such a minimum of practical information as to what the Bill proposes to do. I will only read, to prove my case, a part of one clause. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that Clauses 1 and 2 of Part I are really 973 the operative and creative clauses of the Bill. The first sub-section of Clause 2 provides that—(1) A local authority may be authorised to purchase land compulsorily for the purposes of Part III. of the principal Act, by means of an order submitted to the Local Government Board and confirmed by the Board, and Subsections (1), (3), and (5) of Section 26, Subsection (3) of Section 43, and Part I. of the First Schedule of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1907, shall apply for the purpose, with the substitution of the local authority under the Act for the Council, and of the Local Government Board for the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries.What all that means to the man in the street, to the poor clerks of district councils, or to the members of district councils, heaven only knows. On these occasions it is customary to fall foul of the draughtsman. It must not be forgotten that the draughtsman does his best with the instructions he receives from the Ministers, but I think for confusion this is about the worst case that has ever come before Parliament during my experience. I protest against the Govemment's hurling at our heads this enormous mass of undigested material which they ask unfortunate private Members to digest; and when we find ourselves in a difficulty we shall be told: "You have not read the Bill." Now I have read the Bill, and I have read some of its clauses several times, and I am not quite sure that I know what they mean. Subject to limitations, I agree that the criticisms I have made are not destructive of the Second Reading of the Bill, and can be remedied in Committee. The measure is one which deserves and requires general consideration, but it is not a Bill which ought to be allowed to go to a Committee after a few hours' debate. The two objections which I have already raised are confirmed by the Report of the Committee over which the hon. Baronet opposite presided. On Page 37 of that Report it is pointed out that the transfer in this particular case ought to be from the rural district council to the county council. I will not repeat my arguments on this point. I have already told the House that unless you make your transfer complete the procedure adopted by the Bill is mistaken, and I hope the Government will see their way to make the change I have suggested. What after all 974 are these district councils? I should be the last man in the world to throw stones at them. I have been brought into close contact with their work, both officially and privately, and I know that during the last thirty years there has been an enormous improvement in the work done by these small local bodies, and there has also been a marked improvement in the qualification, status, and character of their officials, although there is much room for improvement yet. The improvement which has taken place is due to education and general knowledge on the subject of local government. I know of a small place of 10,000 inhabitants, within twenty miles of Charing Cross, where one of the officials constantly made reports to the local authority condemning the housing accommodation in that area. Those reports were received with considerable disfavour, but this official continued making the reports until he found it was being made too hot for him, and at last he gave in. His conduct met with so much approval that subsequently his salary was raised. This kind of thing is continually going on around us, and it is essential to widen your area, get rid of these small local interests, and place the controlling Power in the hands of the larger body. In that way you can deal not only with sanitation but with the difficulties in regard to housing. Then there is Clause 11 about which the President of the Local Government Board especially prides himself as being the one which is going to be the most effective. I think this clause will be completely altered in its passage through Committee. What does it do? Practically it lays down that the Local Government Board through their inspectors are to be the controlling authority. How? They have power to transfer their duties to the county council. If they do not do their duty then it is the duty of the Local Government Board to compel the county council to compel the local authority to do its duty. Since the story of "The House that Jack Built" there has never been such an astounding method of getting work done by local authorities. I do not share the view that county councils have failed to act or that they have prevented local authorities from acting. It is impossible for any county council to force a small local 975 authority to act when it is able to show that the expense would ruin it. You must give the county councils freedom to act and place upon them the responsibility for the expenditure. You want to find out what is necessary for local needs and separate it from general requirements. You want to separate the direct and the indirect benefits arising from this expenditure, to separate the purely local and the national, and make your contribution out of the Imperial Exchequer, making the local authority pay a certain proportion of the expense, and throwing the remainder of the expenditure over the whole county. Clause 11 is cumbersome and roundabout, and I think it will be firmly resisted by local authorities. I know there is a power of mandamus taken, but what is our history in regard to that? How many of these cases have been successful in the past? How often has this power been put into force? Local authorities will not submit to it. Are you going to send a whole county council to prison because they refuse to build cottages or set out allotments? What is the alternative? It is for the Local Government Board to do the work themselves. Are you going to obtain contracts for local works of this kind yourselves. You cannot drive local authorities in this way. You can give them powers and machinery, but you cannot drive them, and the only result of attempting to drive them will be that you will have both local authorities against you. As for the power given to the county council to appoint a medical officer of health, that official, instead of asking for information from clerks and surveyors, should have the power to step in and make his reports himself, and you can only do that by taking a wider area and facing the difficulties which will occur. The proposal to substitute the system of the First Commissioner of Works for the Provisional Order system will have to be carefully considered in Committee. It is a very great change to take land in this way. It is a very different thing to take land under the two parts of this Bill for housing or town planning, and to take them compulsorily for the much more limited purpose of the Small Holdings Act. It certainly means a very great 976 change in the methods which Parliament has hitherto sanctioned for the taking of land compulsorily, and it will require in Committee much more consideration than it is possible to give it now. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has introduced the principle of betterment. When you come to give practical effect to it by translating it into the language of a statute you find how difficult it is to carry out. I am sorry it has been introduced here, because I think it will lead to considerable discussion, and I am not at all sure that it is required for any purpose to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred in his speech. The town planning part of the Bill contains quite a new proposal. It is a very interesting one, and one which undoubtedly deserves the attention of the House. The proposal adds very considerably to the interest and importance of the Bill. All I have to say about it at present is that I think some of the criticism which I have ventured to address to the House with respect to other parts of the Bill applies also to this. The leading powers under the town planning part will require careful consideration, in regard not so much to the actual powers conferred as to the language and phraseology in which they are conferred. The language is in some cases, I think, doubtful and too vague, and in Committee we shall be able to consider it. I am quite sure that the desire of the right hon. Gentleman is to do what is fair and just to all concerned in the town planning part, and if I say no more about it myself, it is for this reason. My right hon. friend the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, has taken a deep interest, in this question; he has great personal knowledge upon it, far more than I have, and he will later on take the opportunity to say something on this particular subject. I do not, therefore, wish to take up the time of the House by saving anything more, for I am convinced that he will deal with the subject better than I could do. I have only sought to point out the practical difficulties and the questions which require and must receive the attention of Parliament before we part with this Bill. I rather regret that there is so much centralisation, and the 977 turning of responsibility from the local to the central authority. I heartily hope that in the progress of the Bill through Committee the combined efforts of all parties will succeed in solving a problem which, at all events for some time, has puzzled us, and in the solution of which much will be found which will lead to the comfort and happiness of our people.
§ *SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)
said he had for many years taken a particular interest in the question of housing. The Bill which the hon. Member for the Newbury Division of Berkshire had the good fortune to get through a Second Reading of the House of Commons was one which was introduced by himself in the last Parliament, and, therefore, it would be improper if he did not utter a few words with reference to the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman had laid before the House. He associated himself strongly with the words which had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman opposite in condemnation of the course pursued in the management of the Bill. In the twenty years he had been in Parliament he had never known a Bill of this magnitude, which really had in it in regard to town planning original matter, introduced in the peculiar manner in which this measure had been brought before the House. What were the facts? The right hon. Gentleman gave them no opportunity on the First Reading of listening to a statement in regard to the Bill; he, as it were, threw it at the House, and the first word of explanation which they had heard was to-day on the Second Reading. It was worthy of better treatment than that. The offence had been aggravated by the suspension of the eleven o'clock rule that day. Surely on such a question they might, have been allowed two days' discussion, but the Bill was to be forced through the Second Reading at a single sitting of the Chamber. He thought that was not the way in which public business ought to be conducted. What did the Bill propose to do? Like all the Housing Acts on the Statute-book it had two objects. First of all they sought to make the existing houses better and more fit for human habitation, or, if houses could not be made fit for 978 human habitation, to abolish them, and have them replaced by others. In the second place they sought by some means or other to enable new houses to be put up where there was need for them. These were two very laudable objects, and they were the objects aimed at by every Bill introduced since 1889, and yet not one of those Bills had practically succeeded in the rural districts or had any great success in the towns. Why had that been the case? It was because none of them had approached the matter on the right lines. This Bill had run into the old rut, and it would be very difficult for the right hon. Gentleman or anyone to get it out of that rut. He was sorry to say that it had not been a productive rut in the past, and he would have been glad to see a more original Bill brought forward by the present President of the Local Government Board. Past measures had not succeeded because local authorities had failed very often to do their duty. The question of the expense had always been held up as a reason for not taking action. The influence of the holders of property was against the movement, and the consequence was that the people were left very much as they were—living under unhealthy conditions—because movement on the part of the local authorities would not be popular among the class from whom they were elected. The expense to the rates was always dangled before the ratepayers. He did not see that in this measure they would have much improvement, because, in the first place, no local authority could act unless its officers reported the defects. In a town of say 20,000 inhabitants or a large rural district of 10,000 or 15,000 inhabitants the local authority depended for all their information upon the sanitary inspector and the medical officer of health. These two officers held their posts by yearly tenure, and the consequence was that, if they were active in exposing the bad condition of local habitations, when they came up for election next year they were dropped, and they were succeeded as a rule by less active and enthusiastic officers who overlooked these things, and the people went on being housed under conditions which were good for neither health nor morality. He did not think that the 979 grant of the powers in Part III. of the Bill would enable them to get over that preliminary difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman proposed that if the local authorities did not act a mandamus should be applied for. The process of proceeding by mandamus had been tried again and again in connection with various matters where local authorities were concerned, and experience showed that it was ineffective. He feared that this measure did not contain sufficient driving force to improve the conditions. These points were before the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Housing, and they suggested in their admirable Report that the county council which covered a larger area than the urban or rural council, should have power to carry out the improvements which the lesser authorities had failed to effect. That recommendation was made because the Committee knew that the county council would not only have more money, but would have officers on whom they could rely to do their duty. The county council sanitary officers were whole-time officers, who had security of tenure and were not afraid to do their duty in the way of pointing out bad property in any particular area. He, therefore, regretted very much that the President of the Local Government Board had not introduced into this Bill the first recommendation of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman might have got over the difficulty in a way which would have avoided any odium falling on the Local Government Board for interfering with the duties of the local authorities, if he had put a simple clause in the Bill providing that no sanitary officer, or medical officer of health, could be dismissed except with the approval of the Local Government Board. Then these officers would be able to urge the local authorities to do their duty, because they would be more secure in their positions. He was sorry that the members of his own profession had been put in an invidious position in connection with this matter by the conditions of their appointment in many places. They had never failed yet to do their duty in exposing the lamentable conditions under which so many people lived in the large towns and also in the country. He hoped 980 the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to accept an Amendment in the direction of giving to local medical officers that security of tenure which would enable them to act without fear in condemning insanitary property. The right hon. Gentleman had certainly simplified the procedure in regard to the acquisition of land for the erection of cottages. He did not know that the method of procedure adopted under the Small Holdings Act would after all make the purchase of land very much cheaper. He hoped it would, but he was very doubtful about it. If land could be got more cheaply so much the better for the good housing. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman for putting in the Bill the provision with respect to loans which he himself put in the original Bill. That would not do very much unless the Government went a step further and reduced the rate of interest. He thought it ought to be lowered to 2½ per cent., so that public money might be spent for the public benefit. The right hon. Gentleman had quoted a case with which he was familiar, namely, Linton, Cambridgeshire. In that parish there were two great landlords holding between them 3,300 acres. Each of them ought, in accordance with the usual requirements considered necessary in that part of the country, to have had more cottages on their properties than they had. The case was investigated and it was found that ten cottages were not only unfit for human habitation, but that it was not worth anybody's while to repair them. Seven of the cottages were seriously overcrowded. One cottage with two bedrooms, both on the ground floor, contained eleven persons. In two cottages there were four males and five females, all sleeping in one bedroom, only divided by a canvas partition. That was not an unusual condition of affairs in many rural districts. When he was President of the Land Law Reform Association they had a census taken of all the rural districts of the country, and they found all over England such conditions prevalent, which ought not on considerations of public health and general well-being to be allowed to exist under the law. All these things not only degraded the 981 people, but when allowed to go on cost a great deal to remedy. What happened in this particular case of Linton? The local council determined to try and remedy this scandalous state of things and the medical officer of health insisted that at least ten new cottages should be erected. The estimated cost of the cottages was £300 a pair, and with the land, £1,675. But a penny rate in that locality only brought in £24 a year, and when the council considered the loan and looked into the matter to see how they could do as recommended by the medical officer of health they found that they would lose a sum about equal to a penny rate every year in connection with these cottages and so nothing was done. Everybody knew that in these poor rural districts such a proposal would be a most unpopular thing. Sometimes members of councils failed to be returned over an increase of a penny or even a halfpenny in the rates. Over and over again useful reforms of the conditions under which the people lived in the rural districts were prevented by the outcry against the increase of the rates. The ratepayers said that they did not care to be rated to provide houses for other people. On the other hand the rates of wages were so low that the people had not money to pay adequate rents for their cottages. He thought it ought to be the duty of the landowners to provide a cottage for every fifty or sixty acres of land on their estates. He knew that it was hopeless to ask for that, because the landowners could not do it under present economic conditions. Therefore, somebody else must step in. Of course, the President of the Local Government Board would say that if public money were to be given for this purpose it would be a dole to the landowners; but after all it would be a blessing to the nation, if it brought about an increased amount of health and vigour to the rural population. For the last thirty years they had been advocating the question of allotments. He had watched the rural exodus which had been going on for many years past, and one of the great causes of it, he was assured, was the want of houses for the rural population. Bad houses did not prevent people staying in the towns, 982 but they did prevent people staying in the country. Young men when they wanted to marry could not get houses to live in. A friend had made the suggestion more than once in public that if the land tax which at present went into the Imperial Exchequer were applied to this purpose, nearly every rural parish in England would have money enough to put up decent cottages for the rural labourers. He thought that that would be rather a revolutionary procedure, and he was sure that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer would not look upon it with much sympathy, and he was afraid that the recently appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer would not like to have the land tax ear-marked for that purpose. But if the land tax could not be so applied, why should there not be a grant from the national Exchequer for the purpose? Last year they made a grant for small holdings and why not for the erection of houses which would restore prosperity and renewed health to the rural districts? Having taken a special interest in the rural aspect of this very important question, he had thought it desirable to make these remarks on this particular branch of the subject. He fervently hoped that the President of the Local Government Board would look into the position of the county council as the controlling authority. He had no objection to the Local Government Board having greater power. It had a staff of the best Civil servants in the Kingdom; but the Department was enormously overburdened with work and every Act of Parliament put more work upon it. The right hon. Gentleman was going to have a special Department for dealing with housing, and he hoped also to institute one for public health. If the right hon. Gentleman was going to be the presiding authority in regard to housing and to see the work well done, he would need a large number of inspectors. He had better leave the work in connection with public health to the county councils, which would do it more cheaply. He asked the right hon. Gentleman, in conclusion, to give security and protection to the medical officers of health who had very difficult and sometimes disagreeable functions to discharge in 983 the execution of their duty and on whom as experts must rest the beginning of any effective action for the better housing of the people.
§ *MR. JOWETT (Bradford, W.)
said he had no very considerable experience with regard to housing in the rural districts, but he had had some as to the housing difficulties in large centres of population and he wanted to draw the attention of the House to that side of the question. He thought all would admit that it was too late in the day to endeavour to prove the need for housing reform. The statistics as to overcrowding were well known and well understood. All who had investigated the interiors of houses in the towns had found conditions which were recognised generally as intolerable, and which ought not to exist, and they all hoped to see something done to remedy them. A great many Acts of Parliament had been passed with a view to altering these conditions. The Act of 1890 was a most remarkable and valuable measure registering a substantial advance on all previous legislation; yet the condition of affairs had remained practically untouched, so far as many of the large towns were concerned. His contention was that the Bill now before the House would not touch vitally the problems of housing in the large towns. It failed to recognise the difficulties with which large towns had to contend. What were those difficulties? First and foremost it meant money. That was the trouble—money. Some time ago, the Government now in office carried through the House the Labourers (Ireland) Bill. He was present when the hon. and learned Member for Waterford spoke on the Second Reading of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman approached the subject in, to his mind, a business-like fashion, and he asked himself what were the requirements of Ireland in respect to housing. He put them under three heads: first, cheap money; secondly, grants in-aid; and thirdly, cheap transfer of land. When the Act of Parliament to which he referred was passed the House granted no less than 4¼ millions of cheap money at 3½ per cent. including interest and sinking fund, and an annual grant of £50,000 a year, £28,000 of 984 which came from the British Treasury, the other £22,000 being the interest on some Irish funds. No less than 25,000 cottages were to be built out of that money. The Chief Secretary, he believed, estimated that 30,000 would be built. He believed it was a fact that only 20,000 houses had been built throughout England during the whole time that housing legislation had been on the Statute book. He wished to know why England, Scotland, and Wales were to be treated differently from Ireland in this matter. The need was great. There was no town in the three kingdoms to which he had referred where there was not ample necessity for all the encouragement which the State could give in this regard. The condition of Glasgow and Edinburgh was a disgrace to civilisation and nothing could or would be done until the Government treated the other parts of the kingdom as they had treated Ireland and assisted the local authorities and enabled them to do their work under conditions that did not expose them to serious financial difficulties. He despaired of any substantial improvement being made until the question of the provision of means by the State was boldly and fearlessly dealt with. With reference to the housing legislation that had been in operation: in what other way could it be said to be defective and to what extent could it be made more effective if this Bill was carried into law? He had always thought with respect to the main Housing Act of 1890 that the chief difficulty had not been such as had been provided for in this Bill. It was true that this Bill provided for greater expedition, and to that extent it was good. But that was not the reason for the comparative failure of the Act of 1890. That Act had been continually rendered ineffective through the compensation conditions, and if the right hon. Gentleman, in this Bill, had endeavoured to make those conditions more fair to the local authorities, he might have been able to expedite the business. It was true that in Part I. of the Act of 1890 the local authority was supposed to be able to take into consideration the state of repair in fixing the price of the property which they proposed to acquire, but in practice the deduction that ought to be made 985 could not be made, and if this Bill set out in greater detail the deductions that could be made in acquiring such property it would be far better. Again, where the property to be acquired was bare land or buildings, there had been a continual tendency to treat the land as if it had value as a site for commercial premises. An amending law ought to make that point clear. It should provide that when property was required within an area the land to be purchased should not be treated as land having a commercial site value, but as land on which dwelling-houses now stood, the full benefit of which could not possibly accrue as a commercial speculation unless somebody—and the public authority only could do such a thing—swept the whole land clear, and thus made it of commerical value, in which case the difference between the value of the land as a site for houses and its value as a site for warehouses or other purposes ought to belong to the community. He thought Clause 2, where it provided for inspection, was a step in the right direction, but it was self-evident that it should be a house-to-house inspection; an inspection which should not leave so much to the local authorities as would be the case if this Bill passed into law in its present form. The Bill required more definite instructions to be put in before it was possible to get the value of the inspection to which he referred. The closing order and the demolition order were both good, but he would like to know why the right hon. Gentleman, when he put the clause which determined that a dwelling under a certain rent when let was supposed to be in a reasonable condition of repair—why, instead of naming the rent in the Bill, he referred to some other Act. The same fault ran all through the Bill. It was claimed that the Bill by removing the necessity on the part of local authorities to adopt Part III. of the Act of 1890 considerably improved the position with regard to housing. This, however, was merely a small change in procedure. It only saved the necessity of passing a formal Resolution. Many local authorities had adopted the Housing of the Working Classes Act, and yet built very few houses. It was not only the formal adoption of the Act that was 986 wanted. They wanted to see more houses built, a little more money spent, and less of the make-believe formalities. So far as the town planning part of the Bill was concerned it was self-evident that if the local authorities were bound to schedule land as building land, they were going to suffer financially. The landlords when called upon to sell their property to the local authorities would prove by the decision of the local authorities that it was building land they were disposing of, and would demand a higher price accordingly. The right hon. Gentleman would surely not carry this Bill through without amending that clause so as to prevent any contingency such as that. He would also like to ask the right hon. Gentleman specially in view of his own record and previous associations why he had made no provision for purchasing the land on terms such as he was sure the right hon. Gentleman in his heart of hearts must favour. Why had he not, for instance, put into operation the same principle as had been put into operation in the Licensing Bill, namely, that the assessment, whatever it was, should be taken as a guide in fixing the purchasing price? If such a system was good enough for the Licensing Bill surely it was good enough for this Bill, and if the right hon. Gentleman would amend the Bill in that direction he would do something of a most important character to relieve the tension of the difficulty with regard to land that the local authorities felt at the present time. In conclusion he would like to say that the Bill was built upon the assumption, the unfounded assumption in his opinion, that the Local Government Board was a great reforming agency in the State. It was not. The experience that one had in endeavouring to give effect to housing legislation was this, that, after one had fought for years to convert his fellow citizens, after he had struggled to get resolutions passed through city or county councils, then he had to start and deal with the Local Government Board, and fight them, and yet it seemed to be assumed that the Ethiopian was to change its skin and the leopard its spots, and that now after all the Local Government Board was to be the instigator of housing reform in this country. 987 What was this Local Government Board? What was its reputation? Its reputation was well known throughout the municipal life of the country. It was one of delay and obstruction, and he objected altogether to the assumption of the Bill that the Local Government Board was to be a sort of reforming agency and a kind of pacemaker, so to speak, that was to lead on the local authorities. He thought that there was work for the Local Government Board to do.
§ *MR. JOWETT
Yes; but he would like to see it do it, it had not yet done it. He was democratic enough to be somewhat jealous of the representative principle, and there were some things he would not trust even to the bureaucratic Local Government Board to-day. The Local Government Board as a central agency ought always to set a standard for local authorities, they could do that and he was sure that the right hon. Gentleman himself would want them to do it. That could be done in other ways than those indicated by this Bill. For instance, why should not the Local Government Board have definite information, not merely the information contemplated by this Bill, which, as he had said a few moments ago, was indefinite. There should be a house to house visitation made necessary and compulsory. The Local Government Board should as the central authority in the national interest, desire generally, as he was sure the right hon. Gentleman did desire, to approximate the conditions of the whole country to the best parts of the country. In pursuit of that object let the right hon. Gentleman call definitely for the number of cellar dwellings in every city, and in the area of every authority, the number of back-to-back houses, the number of persons residing in each separate house, and the number of houses let in lodgings. Let the Board also formulate some scheme for getting the respective death rates in each of the different kinds of property, and after all this information had been received let the Local Government Board, if they thought the death rates were not what 988 they ought to be, at once send down an inspector and hold a public inquiry and bring the force of publicity to bear upon the local authority.
§ *MR. JOWETT
was very glad that that would be so, but the Bill did not say so. So far as he and his friends were concerned they would go into the lobby in favour of the Second Reading of the Bill, but they would have liked to have seen it go further than it did. He did not think the Bill marked such a great advance on the whole position as the 1890 Act did. The public had a right to expect from the right hon. Gentleman something more than that he should merely copy the slow pace which had been our record in times past. The Labour Party thought that this Bill ought to go much further, and it would therefore be their duty as far as they could to make every effort to strengthen its provisions and make it better than it now was.
§ *SIR J. DICKSON-POYNDER (Wiltshire, Chippenham)
said the Bill which his right hon. friend had explained to the House that afternoon happily dealt, as he most truly said, with a subject which might be characterised as nonparty and non-controversial, though none the less for that he ventured to say it I was one of supreme importance and urgency. It was generally admitted on both sides of the House that decent and adequate house accommodation with proper sanitary conditions of life went more to the root of the moral well-being and social contentment of the people, and, he might add, to the commercial efficiency of the nation, than any other branch of reform that could be introduced for discussion into the House. He thought all were equally anxious to improve the conditions of living of the working class community, and to improve them by establishing a more effective State machinery than at present prevailed. He was at the outset anxious as far as he was concerned to impress upon his right hon. friend that whatever comments he might find himself obliged to make on the Bill, he 989 would not make them in anything like a factious spirit. He had no wish to impede or embarrass its progress now or at any subsequent stage, because there was nobody in the House more anxious than he to see a social and sanitary Bill. His sole object was to improve its provisions and to do what little he could along with friends of his to make it adaptable to the local authorities who would have to administer it. This, he gathered, from his right hon. friend's speech was what he wished himself. The problem dealt with a branch of local government which, as everyone knew, was extremely technical and complicated, and its solution or unravelling was made none the more easy from the fact that there were so many people in the country who were so closely concerned and intimately connected with its administration that it readily lent itself to a variety of divergent opinions. Then again the whole conditions varied. The towns required separate treatment from the country districts, and even the conditions and the habits of the people within the rural districts differed so considerably in various parts of England that they often wanted a different administration to suit the habits of the people. Before speaking of the provisions of the Bill he would say one word with regard to the point so emphatically alluded to by his right hon. friend opposite, and to re-echo what he had said in regard to the drafting of the Bill. He certainly could not congratulate the President of the Local Government Board on either the coherence or the lucidity of his Bill. He deprecated most strongly the continuance at this period of our civilisation of the practice of introducing measures which were Bills by reference. He thought the time had really come when a Bill by reference should be looked upon as a penal offence. They certainly had reference in excelso here, and he defied any ordinary rural district councillor or the clerk of a district council to make sense of some of the important clauses of the Bill. How on earth were these unfortunate people to be expected to understand the meaning of such clauses as 2 and 4, one of which his right hon. friend read out, but did not attempt to elucidate, 990 and neither should he? These people would have to probe into the hidden recesses of half a dozen Acts of Parliament, and he did not know how many obscure clauses in those Acts of Parliament. Surely the officials of the Local Government Board might have been instructed by his right hon. friend to draw up clauses embodying the meaning of these various Acts and applying them to the Bill in an intelligible form. He still hoped that this would be done before the Bill emerged from this House. It was one of the most important of the recommendations of the Select Committee over which he had the honour to preside, that by simplification and codification the present law should be made more intelligible. This Bill dealt with two definite and distinct branches of housing. There was first of all the town planning portion which was quite separate and by itself, and there was the rural portion. There had also been somewhat incoherently interspersed at different stages of the Bill some valuable and important Amendments of the existing Housing and Sanitary Acts. With the leave of the House he would say a few words under each of these heads. The proposal of the Bill was to establish a system of town planning which would, he ventured to believe, revolutionise the whole method of city extension throughout the country, and he believed that it would lay the foundations of one of the greatest reforms in our city and town life. The existing system of allowing indiscriminate extension in compliance with antiquated bye-laws variously interpreted by different local authorities had produced in nearly every town both an uneven and an intensely unsatisfactory development utterly at variance with modern ideas of the comfort, health, and convenience of the community. This measure would, he hoped, establish the principle that every house that was, built on the outskirts of a town, and every road that was constructed could only be done so on a properly considered and well-ordered plan suitable to and in accord with the whole plan of the town. Every inquiry had laid stress, especially in recent days the London Traffic Commission, on the importance of a measure in that direction. He would remind the House that it 991 not only referred to the more modern methods of building houses, but was also closely related to the importance of adequate arteries out of the town, to allow for road transport, which was inseparable, in our modern conditions, from proper housing. He very much regretted that the Government had not already established for the Metropolis a London Traffic Board, which would have had jurisdiction over this matter. But he hoped it only meant postponement, and that they might have, in the days to come, a board that would be able to work with the officials of the Local Government Board in close harmony, with a view to the proper extension of Greater London for transport and housing purposes. The Bill proposed that the local authority might obtain the consent of the Local Government Board to make such plans. That, he thought, was unnecessarily putting the cart before the horse. He would much rather see the local authorities instructed to draw out in all cases their own schemes for town extension. Of course, they should be guided in these schemes by very definite instructions, carefully thought out and entrusted to them by the Local Government Board, as regarded both population and regulations. Every local authority should have full initiative, subject to confirmation by the Local Government Board, and every large town should be compelled to have a skeleton scheme for its own wide extension. He would like to see, what was not definitely in the Bill so far as he could observe, private owners and utility societies have similar powers—subject, of course, to similar conditions—to submit schemes to the local authorities, and wherever differences arose between the owner or utility society on the one hand, and the local authority on the other, then they might have as a Court of Appeal or reference, the Local Government Board, to settle any questions that might be in dispute. It was necessary to give those powers in the Bill, of course, and he hoped they would be given. The Local Government Board in these instances should have wide discretionary powers in regard to the regulations they might impose upon these varied bodies or parties. Take, for instance, an owner—and he hoped 992 there might be many—or take one of the utility societies alluded to by his right hon. friend, desirous of developing one end of a town on similar lines to those that they saw being developed at Hampstead, Bournville, and other places. To do this on an economic basis, the bye-laws controlling roads and pathways and sewers must be substantially modified, so that loss in rent by the reduced number of houses per acre might be made up in the reduced capital outlay connected with roads, and by modifications due to changes in construction. Therefore, all these particular developments must be treated on their merits. It would be impossible, he thought, to introduce a cast-iron system of bye-laws to meet all cases. But the Housing Department of the Local Government Board should have no difficulty, with its full discretionary powers, in guiding those particular societies where they were dealing with property on similar lines to those which they had seen attempted in Bournville. There was one other clause of the Bill which was not quite sufficiently clear (he referred to Clause 45) but it had been elucidated by his right hon. friend, and therefore he took it it would be dealt with in Committee. It was very important that the extent of land around a town should be taken into account in planning a scheme. Clause 45 dealt with this. In town planning the scheme, if it was to be of permanent use, must take into account a very considerable area on the outskirts of the town. It was of no use looking to a few houses to be built here or there with a short road; they had to look to an indefinite future, and the town planning scheme must be laid out on that basis. He was glad to see in the Bill that the fact of a large area exceeding the limits of one local authority was met by arranging for a Joint Committee of the local authorities concerned who would have power to go into the matter together. He welcomed the provision in the Bill to give the local authority compulsory powers to purchase. Without such powers, a single individual of arbitrary character might make useless and abortive any scheme of the kind which the Bill desired to lay down. There was one other point not in the Bill, but which he would venture 993 to ask his right hon. friend to consider favourably in Committee—a point which he was sure that many hon. friends on that side of the House considered most important, and which, he might say, was carried in a resolution by 320 representatives of local authorities who met in London to discuss the provisions of this Bill—and that was with regard to laying down a limit to the number of houses to be built per acre. He was not prepared to go to the low limit proposed by some of his hon. friends. It would be impossible to cut the number down to ten or twelve houses, although in some instances, such as those of Hampstead and elsewhere, ten or twelve houses to the acre had been built. If there was to be a limit it must be a generous limit, and if such a provision were included in the Bill it would be all the more necessary to recast and relax existing bye-laws as to reconstruction, sewerage, and pathways in order to comply with these new conditions. On examination of the death rate of those particular localities where one found forty or fifty houses packed to the acre, there was invariably a much higher death rate in those areas than in those localities where the houses were less closely packed. That was a sufficient ground on which to ask his right hon. friend to insert in the Bill some limit to the abnormal number of houses put on a single acre. He would venture to suggest the following points, which he thought were worthy of consideration when they got into Committee. First of all, that initial powers should be given to the local authorities to lay down comprehensive plans in large areas around their towns. Secondly, power should be granted to landowners and societies to submit plans of their properties to local authorities. Thirdly, that a limit of the number of houses per acre be imposed, and that new bye-laws be adopted for that limit. Fourthly, that the Local Government Board be the confirming authority in all schemes, and to act when necessary as a Court of Appeal or reference where any disputes might arise between the local authority and landowners or utility societies. He now passed to the other branch of the Bill. He was afraid he must say that that seemed to be the weakest part of the measure, 994 although he hoped that a vigorous Committee upstairs would be able "to lick" it into some sort of shape. He confessed, however, from a close scrutiny of the measure, that the Committee would have an uncommonly difficult task, made all the more difficult by the unintelligible manner in which the Bill was drafted. How on earth they were going to draft it, in view of the peculiar phraseology of his right hon. friend, he had not been able to discover. Anybody who examined the Bill closely would see where his right hon. friend had spent most of his life. He would recommend his right hon. friend to spend his next holiday in one of the rural counties, and deny himself for once in his life the yearly pleasure of a trip to Germany. If his right hon. friend had done that last year he was quite certain he would never have confronted them with this Bill, which he was afraid he must criticise in many of its clauses as a highly Germanised bureaucratic measure, unsuited to English rural life. He thought nearly everybody on that side of the House who knew English rural life agreed with the comment which he had made. The Bill was much too centralised, as had been already observed by everyone who had spoken in the debate. The main governing body of the county had been practically ignored—the county council. He supposed his right hon. friend had done this because he had not liked to grasp the nettle firmly, by transferring the public health and housing powers from the rural district council to the county council, while at the same time he had been bound to recognise, from the reports of his own medical officers, and from a mass of evidence given before the Select Committee and other inquiries, that the rural district councils had not been successful in the administration of the Housing and Public Health Acts. He was afraid at one time that it would be of no good for him to argue in favour of transferring housing and public health from the district councils to the county councils, but he was rather encouraged to do so by the debate as far as it had gone, and especially by his right hon. friend's speech from the Front Opposition Bench, in which he so emphatically argued in favour of this transfer. The longer he considered the matter the 995 more he became convinced of the necessity, if they were to have housing reform, of the transfer of these duties of the district councils to the county councils. He advanced this argument on the ground of efficiency and economy. Of course, if his right hon. friend told him that public opinion was not yet ripe for the whole transfer, well then it was of no use his delaying the House with a long argument in that direction. But as regarded the administration of the Housing and Public Health Acts by rural district councils the evidence was really overwhelming. If the witnesses who appeared before the Select Committee were not sufficient, he would refer the House to the reports of the medical officers of health under the Local Government Board. They described the conditions of rural England, north, south east, and west, as both deplorable and disgraceful; and they emphasised in their reports that those conditions were attributable in large measure to the negligence, and in some instances, the intentional negligence, of the rural district councils in the administration of these Acts of Parliament. If these conditions could be made public, if the outside world could know the condition of affairs in some country villages, he believed public Opinion would become so strong that it would be prepared for any change, however radical in its character. The first and most important way to improve this position was to definitely put in the Bill an instruction that there should be a periodical survey and inspection of all houses under a specified rateable value, under the supervision of the county authority. Having made that survey there should be a register available to the public. It might be made every five years. Some people might be alarmed by the expense attached to this. He did not believe it would be anything so great as was anticipated. In Liverpool they had had something in the nature of a survey and kept a house-to-house register. A member of the Housing Committee of the Liverpool Corporation speaking at a conference on the subject the other day, said that to carry that out only involved an additional expenditure of £100. Eyen if that were below the estimate the matter was of such grave importance that it was worth asking 996 the State to help the local authorities in carrying out the work. The register would show the state of repair of the house, the water supply, the number of occupants, and many other important items. This was not merely a belated recommendation of the Committee, but a very definite recommendation of the Royal Commission on Labour presided over by the late Duke of Devonshire, which added that it considered it was the only way to get a permanent reform in the direction of better housing of small cottage property. It was already enforced in many Continental countries—in France, Germany and Belgium.
§ *Sin J. DICKSON-POYNDER
If the right hon. Gentleman says at present we have a survey of all cottage property in our country villages and a register kept as to their condition I should very much like to see it.
§ *MR. JOHN BURNS
There is a sanitary inspector's book in every urban or rural district. Here is a specimen all laid out and tabulated on the lines suggested by the hon. Baronet, that is, the next house, the occupier, area, children, conveniences, gulleys and so forth, and that is printed in practically every sanitary inspector's book.
§ *SIR J. DICKSON-POYNDER
said it might be printed in every sanitary inspector's book, but they knew very well that it was not carried out in the country districts. He wanted to see it put in an Act of Parliament and carried out by responsible officers in both urban and rural districts. It would do much to prevent this state of affairs in future and would be very remedial in its immediate effects. If the ordinary every-day work of sanitation and housing was to be left with the rural district council and their staff, if the part-time medical officer and the inspector of nuisances with his varied other duties were to be left untouched as they were in the Bill, the control over these officers, if it was to be of any use for housing, must be both effective and strict. They must be close at hand, continuous, and well-informed as to local conditions. How could the 997 Local Government Board in London, however it might be reformed within itself, fulfil these demands? It would never have enough officials available to undertake the petty details of village life. It would require a Territorial Army in Whitehall to undertake the task, an army ready mobilised at a minute's notice to go in all directions to remote corners of our country districts, and when these gentlemen arrived there they would be totally ignorant of the local conditions. Surely the obvious authority for this kind of work was the county council. A medical officer was to be appointed for the county, he was glad to see, but he saw no duties defined which he was to carry out. If rural district councils and their staffs were to be left unreformed, the sanitary and housing powers of the county council should be defined and strengthened. Each county council should have a statutory sanitary and housing Committee which in its turn should administer the sanitary staff under the medical officer of health. His right hon. friend had left the administration of Part III of the Housing Act in the hands of the rural district council. He had not even given concurrent powers to the county council for the purchase of land and the building of houses. He believed they would rarely, if ever, get a rural district council to be able to build cottages under Part III. The area was so small and the whole conditions surrounding the district council were so primitive that they were not a proper body to be asked to undertake that difficult and technical work. The county council with its larger staff and its larger rateable area was a far better body and one far more likely to carry it out on an economic basis. He welcomed the financial aid which the Bill gave, but thought that still further help might be given, especially if the administration was ultimately to fall into the hands of the county council. It should be clearly defined how much help should be given in the way of loans to local authorities on easy terms, and he thought also a proportion of financial help might be given on easy terms to utility societies. England, in view of the gravity of the problem, should at least be granted as good terms as had 998 already been granted to Ireland. The county councils were no longer to be the default authority under the Housing Acts under the Bill. They were to have practically all their existing powers removed from them, and these were to go direct to the Local Government Board, though, of course, there was a provision which directed that the Local Government Board might order the county council to do its dirty work if it did not feel inclined to do it itself. As regarded the Public Health Act, the existing powers of default remained in the hands of the county council. In all matters in relation to sewage, sanitation, and overcrowding, the county council was the default authority over the district councils. This was an absurd anomaly, because housing and public health were really one and the same. Anybody conversant with the way they did their work in country districts would realise what fearful confusion and ineptitude such anomalies would lead to. He had no hope, knowing the Local Government Board and the district councils, that this necessary work would undergo any great change for the better under these particular proposals. It was impossible to contemplate that the Local Government Board would send inspectors all over the country. He was sorry that the medical officer of health and the inspector of nuisances had been left untouched as they were at present. It was necessary to have elective control over them. That was one of the chief reasons that had influenced the Committee to propose the transfer of powers from the district to the county council. The part-time medical officer of health was a private practitioner in the district, and human nature being what it was, it was impossible to ask him to undertake the invidious and odious work of inspecting and condemning his neighbours' houses. The inspector of nuisances, with five or six other duties attached to him, was rather induced to regard the first and most important duty of sanitation as one of the lesser duties under his hands. Of course if they were to have efficient medical officers of health devoting their exclusive time to the work and also to have sanitary inspectors devoting their 999 whole time to the work, the cost to the ratepayer would be immense. But if they removed these in smaller districts and had a centralised system under the county authority, the whole work would be done far more efficiently by detached, disinterested officials who could afford to be better paid whilst direct economy would be effected. His only hope of real housing and sanitary reform was to give its administration to the broad and larger authority. The whole tendency of modern times was towards concentration. His right hon. friend took a somewhat paradoxical view of this. He suffered from the same malady apparently as the Secretary for Scotland in his wholesome distrust of county councils. In that respect he took a totally different view from the Commissioner of Works who in last years Small Holdings Bill gave the whole control to the county council. There again they had a most curious anomaly. In that measure they had the administration of the allotments taken out of the hands of district councils and placed in the hands of parish councils under the county councils. His right hon. friend placed housing in the hands of district councils. Consequently they would have one authority building and administering the house, and another authority administering the allotments. This was bound to produce great confusion in country districts. All this pointed to the advisability of the county authority having the whole of this work under its own jurisdiction. He would just like briefly to summarise some of the points which he had indicated as being susceptible of improvement. In the first place, he wished to secure as generous terms from the Treasury in regard to public loans for building as were granted to Ireland so that local authorities might have the benefit up to the full amount of the security, and public utility societies up to 75 per cent. Secondly, the county councils should be the default and controlling authorities over rural and district councils. In the third place, the county councils should, have concurrent powers with the rural district councils to administer Part III of the Housing Act. He thought that each county council should appoint a statutory Housing and Sanitary Committee, and a periodical survey should 1000 be made under the direction of the county councils of all property below a specified rateable value, and a register should be kept in the county hall. And lastly, he thought there should be established by the Local Government Board a definite department consisting of officers whose sole and exclusive duty would be the general control of housing and town planning, and to act where necessary as a Court of Appeal in differences which might arise in the administration of these Acts throughout the country.
§ *MR. JOHN BURNS
There is a department of the Local Government Board already dealing with that subject under one of the most competent of the Assistant Secretaries of State.
§ *SIR J. DICKSON-POYNDER
said he would like to see a sufficiently large department capable of controlling all this work. He felt sure that his right hon. friend, whom he knew had the true interests of housing at heart, would meet these proposals in a favourable and considerate spirit, when brought before the Committee. At present the Bill was weak in many provisions, but he had no doubt Amendments would be accepted which would strengthen it, and tend to make it a really useful and workable Bill. He felt sure that this measure with the above Amendments would lay the foundation of housing and sanitary reform compatible with the scientific principles of local government.
§ *EARL WINTERTON (Sussex Horsham)
said he could not agree that this measure would accomplish all that the President of the Local Government Board had claimed for it, and he would not be at all surprised if the right hon. Gentleman found that, his cygnet turned out to be a gosling when he brought his Bill before the Committee. It was very regrettable that the Bill which contained a nucleus of almost three Bills should only have one day given to it for discussion in the House. There was an earnest determination to deal with this matter and discuss it, but the measure was very cumbersome, and if only one day was given to it and a part of the night it simply meant that a great proportion of these proposals could not be 1001 adequately discussed. Following the bad precedent of recent sessions the Committee stage would probably be taken in the small hours of the morning in July and August, and many of the most important principles would receive scarcely any attention at all. To the objects aimed at in this measure he was very far from being hostile. He took a great interest in the subject both as the chairman of a housing association and as one who owned working class property in town and in the country. He thought a somewhat dangerous part of the Bill was that dealing with the future relations between the Local Government Board and the local councils, and it was obvious that the whole of the first part of the Bill was devoted to the process of "gingering up" the local authorities. It seemed to be the impression that it was necessary to do something to make local authorities fulfil their obligations. What were the obligations of local authorities? Surely they were simply and solely to look after the interests of the persons and the voters who lived within their area. The truth was that the majority of district councils were only too anxious to carry out their obligations, but they felt that they could not make provision for building houses for the working classes without doing serious damage to the interest of those living in their district and very largely raising the rates. Hon Members opposite seemed to confuse the two kinds of obligations which a local council had. Their first obligation was towards those living in their district whose interests they had to safeguard by preventing the rates being unnecessarily raised by undertaking speculative building schemes. Was it meant that local bodies had failed to fulfil their obligations to the country as a whole? That was altogether a different matter. If they had been unable to carry out building schemes the only cure for that was to put the whole question on an entirely different basis and make an Imperial grant. In a former debate the right hon. Gentleman stated that the House would do well to consider the question of an Imperial grant or subsidy under some agreement with the local authority in regard to housing. That was the root of the whole matter, because they could 1002 not blame local authorities for not carrying out what had been called their obligations in this respect. The only way to enable them to fulfil those obligations was to make them a grant. It was a good thing to give them cheaper loans, but that was not a solution of the problem; and in spite of all that had been said upon this point the Bill did nothing to solve what was the most serious side of the problem, viz., that it was financially impossible for many local councils to do what was asked of them without imposing heavy burdens upon the ratepayers. He agreed with the hon. Member for Bradford that despite the right hon. Gentleman's great abilities, and his great personality, neither he nor any other living person could without a great deal of change make this Department efficient. The past record of the Local Government Board had led them to believe that it was unfitted to be entrusted with the wide and sweeping duties proposed under this Bill. With the main principles dealing with housing he agreed. Good landlords were anxious that the law should be strengthened, but some of the clauses of this measure were very drastic and unnecessary. For instance, Clause 13 provided compensation by landlords to persons who had had to be removed in consequence of an Order for the demolition of the property having been given. That was one of the points on which it was difficult to get an impartial discussion in the House. There were many hon. Members on the other side who thought that when a house was closed by order of the local authority compensation ought to be paid to all the persons removed from it. If past experience showed that that was necessary he did not think that hon. Members on the opposition side of the House would object to it. There were other clauses which would require careful revision in Committee. Clause 14 said—Where a closing order in respect of any dwelling-house has remained operative for a period of three months, the local authority shall take into consideration the question of the demolition of the dwelling-house.…A case might arise where a dwelling house, although unfit for human habitation, might be adapted for use as a warehouse, stable, or something else. The clause as 1003 it stood was exceedingly arbitrary and harsh, and it appeared to him that every sort of obstacle was put in the way of a landlord who was anxious to adapt his house to some purpose other than that of a dwelling house. A great many of the clauses in regard to the closing of houses seemed to be unnecessarily harsh. As to the last part of the Bill, in regard to town planning, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman's somewhat rosy predictions would turn out to be true. He did not quite gather from the right hon. Gentleman what connection the River Wandle and the Regent's Canal had to do with that part of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman drew a comparison between the Regent's Canal at Regent's Park and the beauty and cleanliness of German rivers generally. He failed to see how this part of the Bill would improve the amenities of the Regent's Canal. If they were to be improved, it seemed to him that the work should be done by the London County Council.
§ *MR. JOHN BURNS
Will the noble Lord allow me to explain? I gave two or three instances, and amongst them the River Wandle. In the event of a local authority determining on a town-planning scheme, they will be able to take the river or the canal as a central and attractive feature of the town instead of having the dead ending of streets on the banks of the stream. A river or a canal is too often used by the inhabitants in the neighbourhood as a place for the deposit of refuse. In these town-planning schemes houses might be put parallel with the river or canal, and instead of the river or canal being offensive it might be made a beautiful attraction to the town.
§ *EARL WINTERTON
said the example of the Regent's Canal which the right hon. Gentleman gave as an example had very little to do with the Bill. If Regent's Park could be improved at the present moment the blame for its not having been improved lay with the London County Council. He ventured to say that the right hon. Gentleman had failed in his high standard of civic patriotism in not having years before now having something done to it. A large portion of the speech of the right hon. 1004 Gentleman dealing with the town planning part of the Bill was rather visionary. Everybody was anxious to see the salubrious suburbs of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke, but there were many difficulties in the way, and the question would not be solved by the use of eloquent language in this House. On both sides of the House they were all anxious to see the extension of garden suburbs planned in proper fashion, and it was pleasing to find the Government attempting to do something in that direction to protect the interests of posterity after they had made several other attempts in the way of mortgaging posterity. In the town planning part of the Bill there were dangerous provisions. In particular, he thought, the provision which referred to compensation for betterment required careful consideration. So far as he knew, that provision had never been adopted in this country. It had certainly never before been suggested in connection with a Bill of this kind. He wished to bring to the notice of the House an instance where compensation for betterment would have a very unfair effect upon the owners of property. He had in his mind a certain seaside place where an attempt was made twenty years ago to form a seaside resort. Several plots of land were put up to auction, and the houses erected were of a bad class. The result was that the properties in the outskirts of the town which were bought by a certain speculator had decreased very much in value, and now they were not worth what he gave for them. At the time he bought there was reason to suppose that they would increase in value. There might be a town-planning scheme brought forward which might be a complete failure. Land in the outskirts at the time the scheme was brought out might be largely increased in value, but when it was found that the scheme was not a success there might actually be a decrease in value. Under the Bill as it stood the man who had paid money as betterment compensation would not get a penny of it back, though he had his land decreased in value. There were cases in rural districts where land from the agricultural point of view very seriously decreased in value—unless used for 1005 market-gardening—by being near a town, and especially when near a health or summer resort, because people trespassed on the land. There might be many cases in which a town-planning scheme at first greatly increased the value of land all around and betterment compensation might in respect of that increase be paid, but eventually it might be found that the land had decreased in value. The clause dealing with betterment required more discussion than it could receive that day in the inadequate time at their disposal. If the Government should be unable to give another day to the Second Reading of the Bill, he hoped the provisions of the measure would receive full discussion in Committee.
§ *MR. ADKINS (Lancashire, Middleton)
expressed hearty approval of the intentions of the Government and of some aspects of the way in which they proposed to carry them out in this Bill. He welcomed the town-planning proposals, but there was one comment which he wished to make with respect to the Bill as it stood. In connection with schemes it was not enough to say that parish or district councils were to have a voice. They ought to give the county council also a voice. The county council should have an opportunity of being heard on schemes, because they were a rating authority, and they had important duties to perform in relation to public health and the pollution of rivers. Everybody knew that when they were dealing with a planning scheme which might extend some miles beyond the boundaries of a large town they were at once faced by important problems in regard to roads and other matters. The County Councils Association, for whom he spoke on this occasion, had passed a resolution setting forth that for any town-planning scheme which affected any area which a county council administered the concurrence of the county council should be requested subject to an appeal to the Local Government Board, and that they should be invited to send representatives to any committee for drafting such a scheme. He hoped that view would commend itself to the Government. Subject to that very obvious suggestion he desired most heartily to support the town- 1006 planning scheme in this Bill. Another important part of the Bill was that with reference to the appointment of county officers of health. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman for putting into the Bill a provision that every county council should appoint medical officers of health. In years gone by some of them had spent a great deal of time and trouble in inducing their own county councils to appoint a medical officer of health; and seven more had been appointed within the past twelve months. The County Councils Association had passed a resolution welcoming the proposal made in the Bill in regard to medical officers of health and giving it their hearty support. They approved of the laudable zeal of the right hon. Gentleman in promoting sanitary reform by compelling every county council to appoint a medical officer of health. But the resolution went on to say that by subsection (2) of Clause 57 the Local Government Board might by order prescribe the duties of the medical officers of health appointed by the county council. Now surely it was a comparative novelty in administration that the duties of an officer appointed and paid entirely by the local authority should have his duties dictated and altered from time to time by a Government Department. The proper principle was for the Legislature to lay down clearly what were the duties of the local authorities, and then the latter should see that those duties were carried out by means of the medical officers of health. Any alteration in them should be made only by means of subsequent legislation. Everyone knew the great authority exercised by the Local Government Board and what enormous value it had been in standardizing local efforts and checking local abuses; but this was an extension of the powers of the Department which must be met with opposition as a retrograde step in the construction of the edifice of Local Government. Lastly, he desired to put before the House briefly the views of the county councils in regard to that part of the Bill which dealt with the problems of housing. When the Bill was pointed it was considered by a largely-attended meeting of the Housing Committee of the County Councils Association, and that committee brought forward resolutions before the Executive Committee, by 1007 whom they were unanimously approved. He might say at once that although he had great sympathy with the alternative suggestions made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the hon. Member for Chippenham, that the county council should be the sole authority for the purposes of housing, he saw great practical difficulties in the way at the present time. It would be very difficult to induce a county council to rate itself throughout its whole area for housing puposes in a restricted portion of that area. At the same time, he might ask his right hon. friend for a much more sympathetic treatment of the county councils in this matter of housing than he had given in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech suggested to his mind and to those of hon. Gentlemen opposite, that it was the fault of the county councils that housing schemes were not more frequently adopted. If that was the right hon. Gentleman's intention, it was not warranted. Under the existing Act there was no power given to county councils to press rural district councils to do it or to order them to do it. How could the county councils give them permission which was never asked, or compel the minor local authorities to act when they had no powers to do so? From a Return presented to Parliament in July, 1906, it appeared that forty-five county councils had received no applications from rural district councils to put in force Part III. of the existing Act, and there had been only two resolutions passed by parish councils that the rural district council had been in default. Now that this Bill was before the House it was desirable that the general position of the county councils should be brought under the purview of his right hon. friend and of the House. What were the facts of rural government? There were many matters in which the district authority acted first and naturally, and on which there was an appeal to the county council, but on which the county council had no power of definite and spontaneous intervention. They were most anxious that his right hon. friend's object should be carried out. They who had not had the advantage of the right hon. Gentleman's training in local government in London 1008 but only in a humbler sphere, thought, indeed they knew, that they could only carry out these matters if there was given to the largest and most representative authority of the county council power to act as a defaulting authority and also power to intervene where they chose. As the Bill stood it, provided that every rural and urban district council might be the authority, under Part III. of the Act. It surely should provide that any inhabitant of the district instead of appealing to the Local Government Board under expensive and difficult machinery should appeal first to the county council, and if the county council interposed undue delay or failed to give relief then the Local Government Board, as the final authority, was in the strongest position to enforce what was wanted of the rural district or urban district council. In addition to that the county council should be given power to intervene of their own motion and see that a housing scheme was carried out in any area in which the rural district or urban district council was slow or unwilling to act. That would make the machinery more a reality than the plan suggested by the Bill. It was idle to look on one local authority as one to be encouraged and petted, and on another as one to be ignored, and only allowed to do disagreeable work and so incur odium, which any Government Department would naturally shrink from doing itself. All local authorities popularly elected ought equally to be encouraged to do their duty and no slur ought to be passed on them when dealing with matters of this kind. The County Councils Association said that this Bill was far too centralised in character. Might he say that in other countries history showed that they had a central authority at work and that they gradually developed local self-government. In this country we had local self-government and then had gradually developed centralised authority from it. From that he deduced the argument that it was unwise and not in accordance with the habits and genius of our race to try to solve this problem of housing by officialism unless local government had failed. In this matter the local authorities had never been 1009 given a chance. What the County Councils Association asked the Government was that in this new legislation the county councils should be given a real chance, and then if they did not properly exercise their powers the case for final and less democratic methods would be overwhelming. Accordingly the County Councils Association made these suggestions. First, that housing schemes should be carried out by the county councils either on their own initiative, or on appeal against any authority on the ground of default in carrying out proceedings under the Act, or on the order of the Local Government Board if the county council made default in acting. They desired to see a clause inserted in the Bill analogous to Section 16 of the Local Government Act, 1894, empowering any parish council or parish meeting or any four inhabitant householders of a parish to appeal to the county council in cases of default by any rural district council to carry out their duties as regards housing. They also considered that an appeal to the Local Government Board should not lie, nor should the Local Government Board have power to intervene unless the council of the county in which the matter had arisen had either refused to act or had interposed undue delay in acting. He was sure that every Member who knew how difficult it was to carry out the improvements necessary because of the burden on the ratepayers would ask that the Local Government Board should give them as good treatment as was given to Ireland. Although they could not so easily awaken the emotion of Parliament as Ireland, they were as deserving of support from the public exchequer. Next he asked his right hon. friend to include in the Bill some proposal by which certain defaulting powers under Part II. should be exercised by the county councils over urban districts of less than 10,000 inhabitants and over rural districts. He hoped the Government would feel that a proposal of this kind was only made with the object of raising the standard of public health of the country. It could not be pointed out too often that when they were dealing with small areas and small populations it was almost impossible for the medical officer of the local authority to be supported by public 1010 opinion as he ought to be, because of the power of strong sectional interests, and when they gave superior authority to the county council, which was local in origin but in area so wide that no local interest could dominate it, they were far more likely to have the standard of public health raised to a proper height. He would point out to his right hon. friend that there was in the Bill a great chance of assisting the solution of the problem of public health and housing by strengthening and amplifying the powers of the county councils. He felt himself that the lesson which the ordinary geography of the English comities taught was this: The small unit of the parish or the moderate sized unit of the district was one in which detailed work must be done, but in the county area and in the county council they had machinery ready to their hands for all kinds of appeals in all kinds of disputes between the smaller authorities and individual citizens. Considering how much his right hon. friend's Department was overworked, asall Government Departments must be with the constant growth of the business of the Government, was it not most unwise to put aside or in any way despise the appellate jurisdiction which the county councils furnished? That was precisely the kind of local work into which party and partisanship came less than in any other kind. When they were trying to alter the laws of the country in this House they were trying to alter them in accordance with their special political principles, and when they tried to carry out the law in the county, the work was done now by one party and now by another, but when Englishmen were called upon to act in a semi-judicial capacity and to decide between the individual on the one side and the minor authority on the other, then it was that their prejudice had less influence upon them and partisanship carried less weight. After a measure had been passed by strong party politics in the proper sphere they found over and over again that when county councils had to decide things in any sense of the word as a Court of Appeal their decision had commanded respect and assent, and it would be useful to the Local Government Board if they gave 1011 more scope to the county councils in matters of that kind. He had detained the House longer than he wished to, but he had tried to argue the question from the point of view of some experience and in the hope that he might in a slight degree help his right hon. friend and assist the Bill to become law. He hoped, however, that any want of sympathy with the county councils that his right hon. friend had would disappear as he knew them better, and that he would try to enlist all kinds of local authorities to help him in the great work of local housing. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that those who criticised the Bill on the lines that he did were all anxious that the House should promptly assist the cause of rural housing which was the cause of everyone who desired good government.
§ *SIR FRANCIS POWELL (Wigan)
said that this subject was so familiar to him that he could not feel any surprise that the President of the Local Government Board should have introduced this Bill after the Report of the Committee of last year, and after the full investigation which he had evidently made independently of the inquiries of that Committee. As an old sanitarian he could not but feel great satisfaction with the statement which the right hon. Gentleman was able to make as to the improvement in our urban districts. It was indeed a wondrous change which had been accomplished in the City of Liverpool, and it was of a most extraordinary character in such a city as Manchester where large areas of filthy and detrimental to health property had been cleared, and in their place buildings of a wholesome character erected for the working classes. The same observation applied to Leeds, and also to Bradford. One of the most curious circumstances in connection with the latter place was that a large number of good working men's dwellings were empty. It was a most perplexing circumstance, and a difficulty which they ought to consider in certain cases. The improvement in our towns, however, was great, but it was disappointing to find that the same remark could not be made with reference to our rural districts. 1012 When they were engaged in this work on the Sanitary Commission nearly forty years ago, they found the same experience, and their difficulties even in these days were not so much in towns, great as they were, but in the rural districts and in some of the smaller towns where the population seemed to have sunk into a condition of an almost hopeless character. One of the difficulties in these districts was that they might have houses admirable in construction, well-cared for, and kept in a manner which was a credit to the tenant, but where owing to the crowded character of the particular neighbourhood it was impossible for the inhabitants to have the advantage of fresh air, sun, and light, which was so necessary to a healthy condition, particularly amongst young people. As to the compulsory character of this Bill, he pointed out that the Small Holdings Act of last year provided that before the Act was put into operation the authority should ascertain the extent to which there was a demand or would be a demand and if land were available for building. That presupposed a local opinion, and he must confess that unless local opinions went with and supported a movement of this kind the result could not be satisfactory and must necessarily end in disappointment. The question of how much power should be given to the central authority was one of great difficulty. Sir H. Fowler in 1894, when President of the Local Government Board, deprecated again and again, with exceeding energy and great fervour, the accumulation of authority which was being forced by Parliament upon that Department. But the Government of to-day took a totally different view, and the right hon. Gentleman who was now the President was greedy of power, he was sure with the best desire to serve the public, but at the same time the contrast was somewhat remarkable, and one to which he thought attention ought to be directed in such a debate as the present. As to the sanitary authority he felt great satisfaction that they should not have on that occasion a commission of three, and he hoped that in their future legislation they would have no more of such commissions. They were dangerous he believed, because they tended towards 1013 too much centralisation, and they were dangerous also because they could not be practically under the control of Parliament as a Government Department was. That objection appeared to him to be absolutely fatal, and he hoped they would hear no more of these proposals in future legislation. As regarded the operations of the Bill and the machinery, he believed that the central authority would find great difficulty. They would require an army of inspectors if the work was to be well done; because, although they might have a limited number of chief inspectors, as they probably would be called, they must have a large number of subordinates who obeyed their orders, and he believed that they would find that the creation of a hierarchy of that kind was full of great difficulties and might be found to be almost impossible. He thought the enormous power given by the Bill to the central authority was too great, and that the House could not properly sanction it. A provision in the second schedule gave power to supersede Acts of Parliament, and when the attention of the House was directed to that he did not think it could possibly pass. Any scheme which the Department sanctioned became equivalent to the law of the land, and it was provided that they could suspend as far as necessary in addition to statutory enactments, bye-laws and regulations, and other provisions in force in the area. That power was, so far as he knew, entirely without precedent, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would bear in mind his promise to consider any suggestion for the improvement of the Bill which was consistent with its main object and purpose. He might make observations of a corresponding character in regard to the power of the local authority, but at any rate this power of the central authority ought to be safeguarded by provisional order or by the submission to the House of some minute which would be open to discussion so that the matter might be fairly debated. The central, as well as the local authority, should be more checked than was proposed by this Bill. Every clause of the Bill which could give and did give powers to local authorities should 1014 be carefully considered. They would be found to be of a peremptory character. Many of the provisions now in use enabled the person affected by any order to appeal to some tribunal easily accessible and of a cheap character. He believed those provisions were highly salutary and apt to check the tyranny of smaller officialism. They would not cause delay, and would add much to the solidarity of the work of this class of legislation. He desired also to call attention to the power it was proposed to give to convert any property held by a corporation to the purposes of housing the working classes. A similar proposal was made and carried into law last year to enable the education authority to appropriate land, with, of course, the consent of the Local Government Board. In two consecutive years powers had been given to a localauthority to appropriate any property of which they had command for the purposes of public health or education. Those were wide and far-reaching powers, the granting of which ought to be carefully guided, and the execution of which ought to be not less carefully watched. The making of a statute like this depended greatly on public opinion, and he was certain that if it was proceeded with in too severe and arbitrary a way all the work the Government were doing would be undone and they would fail in their undertaking. He had had some experience in the extension of towns, and nothing astonished him more than the extension of a town or the entire cessation of that extension. Towns which one thought would have extended did not for some reason or other, and others where there was practically no reason for any extension extended enormously. He therefore thought that the greatest care must be exercised with regard to town planning. As regarded the medical officers his hon. friend below the gangway was very doubtful of their position, but he personally would like to hear the opinion of the experts including his right hon. friend on this subject. This provision was granted to Scotland a few years ago, and they rejoiced at the movement. But he was quite sure very great care would have to be exercised in the appointment. In conclusion, he 1015 would only express his somewhat strong opinion that this work should be pursued cautiously, and patience exercised. A great task lay before the Government, but they must foster public opinion in the matter, and encourage it to walk in the right direction. By acting with public opinion they would advance with certainty on the path of progress, and find their reward in the existence of healthy and prosperous populations.
§ SIR J. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)
said he had listened with great pleasure to the hon. Baronet, who was a man of long experience, and had brought to the consideration of this question a breadth of view which was an example to the whole House. He desired to address himself to only one point of the Bill. It was nearly twenty years ago that he tried to induce Mr. Ritchie to provide that medical officers of health should be independent, and allowed to take no private practice. He emphasised the evils that attended upon medical officers of health taking private practice, and gave his experience as a member of a rural sanitary authority twenty-five years ago, under a system by which authorities in Mid Cheshire combined in the appointment of a medical officer, paying him £800 a year with the condition that he should take no private practice. That arrangement was attended with the most gratifying results. He hoped he would be more successful with the President of the Local Government Board than he was with Mr. Ritchie twenty years ago in his effort to make this condition of service obligatory.
§ MR. ABEL SMITH (Hertfordshire, Hertford)
associated himself with what had been said with regard to the medical officers of health's not being allowed to take private practice. In his own district several urban authorities combined together to pay a medical officer for the whole of the districts, and he devoted his whole time to his duty. Although this Bill had been greatly criticised the criticisms to which it had been subjected had all come from hon. Members who earnestly desired to improve the measure. The theme of those criticisms seemed to be that there was too much "Local 1016 Government Board" running through the measure. The Bill was a mass of details dealing with different parts of that most important question, the housing of the working classes. All would acknowledge that there were most important questions to be dealt with, and everyone hoped that the Bill would result in effecting one of the most important reforms that they desired to see brought about. He desired to criticise the Bill in that somewhat uncontroversial spirit, and he would confine himself to the rural aspect of the question, the importance of which could not be exaggerated. He thought that no one would deny that there was a necessity for reforming the housing of the rural districts, though he could hardly go so fir as the President of the Local Government Board, when he said that the condition of the rural districts was practically as bad as that in London and in some of the great urban centres. So far at any rate as overcrowding was concerned things were infinitely worse in London and other great cities. If any one read the Report of the Select Committee, of which he had the honour of being a Member, he would see that there was much to be desired in the housing arrangements in many of the rural districts. There were many rural districts in which the houses were overcrowded. The average rural house certainly had only two bed rooms, while some were still remaining which had only one bedroom. Only a very limited number of modern houses had three bedrooms. Even the water supply was very inadequate, and it was a most important matter from the sanitary point of view, as well as from the point of view of the occupier, that there should be a good supply. He knew that in many cases the conditions were altogether detrimental to public health. The duty of looking after the housing of rural districts was thrown on the rural district councils by the Act of 1890, and he thought there was no doubt, at any rate in most cases, that these rural sanitary authorities had found it quite impossible to carry it out. It was quite impossible at all events for them to carry out the duties under Part III. of the Act, because it would come as a very heavy burden on the rates, and if there 1017 was one thing which a rural district council would not do, it was to follow a policy which required that the rates of the rural district should be largely increased. There was an incident mentioned in the Report of the Select Committee which occurred in the rural district of Maldon, in Essex, where they built some houses, with the result that a burden of no less than 2s. 9d. a week fell on each house, and had to be found by the ratepayers of the district. There were poor rural districts with a low rateable value, and where the burden of the rate was already very heavy. Therefore, it was not surprising, he thought, that Part III of the Act had not been put in force in very many cases. There was no doubt that the difficulty in regard to this matter was very largely one of finance, and it arose to a very large extent from the high rate of interest hitherto charged by the Public Works Loans Commissioners. If they charged 4 per cent. interest as well as requiring a sinking fund, it made it about 4¾ per cent., so that it was not probable that very much would be done. However cheaply they built, and however cheaply they bought the land, there must be a deficit to be met out of the rate. The case which had occurred in Lancashire had already been mentioned by the hon. Baronet opposite. There, after long negotiation on the part of the district council and the county council for the improving of the housing, the whole thing came to a stand owing to the high rate of interest that was proposed to be charged. Another fact in connection with this matter was brought out very clearly by the Report of the Select Committee, and that was the, low rate of agricultural wages in these poor districts. The low rate of wages made an economic rent for a decent house almost impossible. He was afraid that unless a stronger measure than this was passed there was not much prospect of a change for the better, or of much being done in this sort of districts. Of course the difficulty about the low wages applied chiefly to the agricultural labourers, and did not apply to workmen who were earning higher wages, and wished to live in rural districts if they were within a reasonable distance of their work 1018 in the neighbouring town. The question was, did the Bill help very much towards the solution of this most important question? He was glad to note that Clause 1 simplified to a very great extent, the procedure for the adoption of Part III, but it still left the work to be done by the rural district councils, and he was convinced, like his hon. friend opposite, the very able chairman of the Select Committee, that not much advance would be made until concurrent powers were given to the county council. He would correct a mistake made by an hon. Member who had spoken that day. There seemed to be an impression that the Select Committee recommended that the housing powers should be taken away entirely from the rural district council, and given to the county council. That was not their suggestion. Their suggestion was that concurrent powers should be given to the county council. Clause 2 gave new powers to the Local Government Board. That clause had been very sharply criticised, and he thought that it would be much better if the appeal, where the the district council failed to carry out their duty, were in the first instance to the county council, the superior local authority, and then, if nothing was done, further appeal to the central authority might be given. The hon. Member who spoke in behalf of the County Councils Association had said it was a great mistake and against the genius of British local government to give extended control to the central authority. They would never make any advance in enlightened local government unless Parliament thoroughly trusted and strengthened the hands of popularly elected authorities, especially the county councils. He was glad to note, too, that Clause 2 made the acquisition of land easy. Clause 3 made some improvement with regard to the rate at which money could be borrowed. He thought the clause wanted a little, further explanation. He did not know how low a rate was to be charged. He supposed it would be a matter to be decided by the Treasury, but be would like to see the principle established—he thought it was recommended by the Committee—that the Treasury should sanction the lowest rate possible without 1019 loss being incurred by the Exchequer. That would make a very great difference to local authorities in putting into operation Part III. of the previous Act. Having had some practical experience of the matter, and having given great attention to it, especially when he was a member of the Select Committee, he was confirmed in the view that this was really a landowners' question. He thought municipal ownership of houses in country districts was not a good system and ought to be a last resort. There was no doubt, he thought, that the principle ought to be established that the man who received the rents and profits of a certain amount of cultivated land should be responsible for providing proper accommodation for those who worked on it, and without whose labour it could not be cultivated. One witness before the Select Committee suggested that there ought to be one cottage to every 50 acres of arable land. He did not think that proportion was far wrong, though no doubt it would vary. The question was how the principle could be established and carried out. The only suggestion he had heard made was that some part of the interest should be paid out of the rates. He suggested in the Report of the Select Committee that they might have special housing districts analogous to the special drainage districts under the Public Health Act, so that those who failed to provide proper accommodation for their work-people would have a special rate thrown upon them. The case of Linton had already been mentioned. That was a very good example, especially as one of the two largest owners in the district was one of the Cambridge authorities. On the proportion of one cottage to 50 acres, they ought to have had twenty-six cottages, but they only had two, though they had undertaken to build more cottages; and the other large landowner, a private individual, had only twenty cottages on his estate, instead of forty as he ought to have on the same proportion. He hoped the President of the Local Government Board would give consideration to that point. It was one of great importance indeed. He hoped the Bill would be amended in Committee in many ways, and that it 1020 would be strengthened and made one more likely to carry out the reform which he knew the President of the Local Government Board was anxious to effect. He was perfectly certain that if the right hon. Gentleman would proceed in Committee to strengthen the Bill, he would receive a great deal of support from that side of the House.
§ *MR. VIVIAN (Birkenhead)
expressed gratitude to the President of the Local Government Board for having for the first time included in a Housing Bill the principle of town planning. That, at any rate, marked an advance in the matter of housing reform. He regretted that there was not more enthusiasm displayed in regard to the Bill in the House, because he felt it was one of the most important measures that had been brought in. They frequently discussed effects, and attempted to provide remedies—in the case of the Licensing Bill and the Children Bill, for instance. Here they had a Bill which dealt with causes, and the more they got at causes the more likely they were to be on the right track. He would like to draw the attention of the House to the very close connection between housing reform and such matters as the health of the people and their industrial efficiency—their efficiency in every sense of the word. Some striking figures had been brought out by a committee in Glasgow. Over 72,000 children had been examined, and it has found that a child at a certain age brought up in one room attained a height of 46 inches; in two rooms, 48 inches; in three rooms, 50 inches; and in four rooms, 51 inches. This showed a difference of 5 inches between the child brought up in the best conditions and the child brought up in the worst conditions. Regarding weight, the child brought up in one room weighed 52.6 lbs. while the child brought up in four rooms weighed 64 lbs., showing an increase of 12 lbs. in weight. This difference indicated that the unhealthy conditions under which large numbers of people lived must very seriously affect the future of a very large proportion of the population. These conditions must also have their effect upon the intellectual capacity of these people and also upon their morals. The physical side of it they 1021 could measure, the intellectual and moral side they could not, but the influence was as surely there. If they allowed their imagination free play on points of this sort they could see how serious the question really was. In connection with another inquiry it was brought out very clearly that there was a close connection between the tendency to intemperance and this question of housing. The Report showed that the conditions of housing accompanied the tendency to drunkenness. The one accompanied the other. That being so, this Bill, which attempted at any rate to deal with these conditions and would give great masses of the people opportunity to live healthy lives, was in his opinion of greater importance than those measures about which they felt more enthusiastic but which dealt only with effects instead of causes. It was necesary to make sure that the inspection of houses was placed in the hands of some authority that would see it was efficiently carried out. He was not sure that the Bill was strong enough on that point. He was not going to quarrel about the authority, but he wanted to feel sure that when they had carried the Bill into law they had placed the matter in the right hands. He was satisfied that the rural districts had not carried out this duty satisfactorily. When they realised that the property to be inspected was largely owned by the people who appointed, dismissed, and controlled the officers who inspected the property, it was easy to see that it was not in human nature to expect efficiency. He knew the analogy was not complete, but they might take a lesson from the experience of the factory and workshop law. The responsibility for carrying out the factory law was at first in the hands of the local authorities, without control or driving force from headquarters. Later on it was strengthened, but while the administration of the Factory Act was largely taken away from the local interested parties, and placed in the hands of a central authority, the administration of the Workshops Act was placed in the hands of the locality. So that they had those two things running parallel, and the experience was that the local administration of the Workshops Act was a failure, whereas the Factory Act was a decided success, and no one 1022 would think now of going back to the old days. He asked the right hon. Gentleman when the Bill got upstairs to view sympathetically and in a friendly way suggestions for the strengthening of this side of the measure. It could not be expected that medical officers would do their duty under such circumstances. It was also necessary to have a committee at headquarters to see that the work was thoroughly carried out. Again, he did not quarrel with the name that was given it. Some people did not like the word "commission," some preferred inspectors, and others preferred a building committee. It was immaterial to him so long as the men were efficient, and understood their work. One did not want inefficient officers doing this work. It was no use having a superior clerk for this kind of thing. The work of superintending and carrying out all the things provided for in this Bill was really one of the biggest things that any Government officer could undertake. He pleaded for something in the nature of a central authority or a committee acting under the President of the Local Government Board to act as a stimulating body. He thought the area of the county council was better than that of the rural district council for housing purposes. It was not merely inspection which he wished to be removed from the narrow local interest of the district, but the whole question of dealing with housing. It must be obvious to anyone who knew anything at all about building that, if they took an extremely small area, nothing could be done economically. They wanted a sufficiently wide area to make sure that they would be able to afford efficient men to carry out the work. In a very small area the work to be done would be so small that they could not command the right ability in the district, and it would be badly done if it was done at all. He regarded town planning as an important part of the Bill, and he would ask the right hon. Gentleman to help them upstairs in strengthening this side of the Bill, more particularly in the direction of seeing that public utility schemes had some chance of going ahead. He thought he was entitled to make this claim seeing the honourable position these schemes 1023 had occupied up to date. Were it not for schemes of this kind he questioned very much whether they would be discussing town planning at all. The enthusiasm that had been worked up on this question, the interest in it, and the information they had obtained had been more due to the action of enlightened employers in such schemes as Port Sunlight, Bournville, and, later on, Letchworth, Hampstead, Ealing and elsewhere than to any other influence. One was surely entitled to ask that under this Bill schemes of this kind should be given encouragement in the future to go forward with a view to still widening their influence and increasing their sphere of operations. He believed the right hon. Gentleman was of opinion that the Bill provided for this, but he did not see it. He felt that the Bill had rather an invertebrate character. It was difficult to get hold of the structure of the thing, and if they could shape it a little upstairs with a view to getting it into some form which would enable them to grasp the full meaning from beginning to end, he believed it would be a considerable improvement. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to enable them to put in such clauses as would give these public utility schemes an opportunity to go forward. Take the case of a new district on the outskirts of a big city. The first people to arrive there were those who sought out the district for their own advantage. There was no great population at first, and the people who went there were principally builders, land agents, and architects, and so on, and of course they promoted their own interests. Before the public had arrived much of the mischief had been done. In connection with this Town Planning Bill the idea was to anticipate that period, and as far as was possible prevent the evil arising. In carrying out that work public utility schemes would afford some good example, if under this Bill they were given encouragement. Wherever they had a public utility scheme going on, as in the case of Hampstead, they were stimulating public opinion without which no Bill of this sort in the long run could be efficiently carried out. Consequently they must have examples to get the public 1024 mind up to the standard in order to carry the whole thing through. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would help them in their efforts to get a clause or clauses inserted that would create at headquarters something in the nature of a Court of Appeal for such schemes as these. In connection with the Hampstead scheme they had a special Act, and that was what made the scheme possible; but for that Act they would have had to spend nearly £12,000 more in making roads, and they would have had an ugly monotonous community. Consequently they had saved nearly £12,000, and they would have one of the most charming estates in the whole country. Of course, they could not expect every small utility scheme to spend £500 or £600 obtaining an Act of Parliament, and, consequently, they wanted some machinery which would give them automatically what that special Act of Parliament had given to Hampstead.
§ *MR. JOHN BURNS
said that the proposals in the Bill with regard to town planning would obviate the expense of getting a special Act of Parliament.
§ *MR. VIVIAN
said this was not clear to him. They might take it that the right hon. Gentleman intended the Bill to carry out that idea, and would see that it did so. Then with regard to bye-laws, he thought it was monstrous the way some of those bye-laws were applied in connection with schemes of this sort. Many of them were drawn up to prevent land sweating, and to deal with circumstances under which a land speculator would put forty or fifty houses to the acre. Hon. Members were accustomed to provisions dealing with the width of roads, and one of the objects of the bye-laws was to secure a fairly good current of air through thickly-populated localities. In such schemes as the Hampstead, instead of allowing the erection of forty or fifty houses to the acre they only allowed about eight or ten. Consequently they not only had good private gardens, but devoted to the public good land in the shape of wide tree-planted thoroughfares for all time, and he thought it was wasteful and unfair in such cases as that to put upon the utility schemes such a heavy expense 1025 for macadamising the whole roadway. In return for reducing the houses to eight or ten to the acre and making provisions for wide avenues with trees instead of so much macadam he thought there should be some elastic machinery which would enable such schemes to have an appeal from the local authority, and if it was shown that the public interest was served by such schemes the central authority should have power to pass them. He asked the President of the Local Government Board to see what he could do in regard to points of that sort. He was not quite sure in reference to town planning that the provision was sufficient to deal with development of towns in entirely rural districts. Take the case of Letch-worth, for example, which was an absolutely rural district. Would it apply in that case? He hoped it would be possible to get into the Bill some provision along the line of the German system of zones. He did not like the word "zone"; "district" was a better word, because zone implied rather an equal arrangement. They knew that the pressure in regard to the development of a city was not equal. He knew one German town where they had a zone of low-priced land running almost into the centre of the town, and consequently the economic pressure was different from that of other districts. They ought to try and limit the number of houses to the acre in the towns. They could not expect to apply that rule rigidly at once, but they might give the power to the towns creating those districts. Where land had not yet reached the building stage, or had not reached a high economic value, they should make some provision for limiting the number of houses to the acre. He hoped that, before the Bill became law, something in that direction would be done. With regard to public money, he did not take the view that they should make unlimited calls upon the public exchequer for this purpose. Here and there they had a serious condition of affairs to deal with, and in the Report of the Select Committee they recommended that under these circumstances the Local Government Board should have power to make grants. If these other things were dealt with he thought 1026 it would be possible to carry out housing reform without making any very great draft upon the ratepayers or the taxpayers. He thought they might very well have national credit placed at the disposal of this movement. Money should be advanced for this purpose at the lowest rate at which the public could borrow. The Select Committee recommended an advance of 75 per cent. instead of 50 per cent. for public utility schemes. It might be said that the public had no right to advance such a large proportion on house property, and that the margin, in the public interest, was not sufficient. He would point out that two-thirds was the proportion which trustees were allowed to invest on mortgage, and he thought that the State might with perfect safety at least be allowed to go as far as a body of trustees under the law. A concession of that kind would make a great deal of difference in connection with these schemes. He welcomed the Bill, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not take the observations he had made in any bad spirit, because his only desire was to assist the Government in making it the best measure possible. If they all worked together in that spirit, he thought they would be able to succeed in the long run in passing a Bill which would probably do more good than any other measure which the Government had yet brought in.
§ *MR. GUINNESS (Bury St. Edmunds)
said that previous speakers in the debate had dealt chiefly with the rural aspect of the housing question. He would like to say a word or two on the effect of the Bill on the housing question in London. As chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council, he took a great interest in the question, and the Bill as it stood, though it certainly contained valuable provisions, was yet, from the point of view of that body, rather disappointing. He welcomed the proposal to facilitate the granting of closing orders. The law at present was so cumbrous that demolition orders were extremely difficult to get. Under Clause 14 of this Bill it would still be necessary to prove that the condition of the buildings would be injurious to 1027 public health before a demolition order could be obtained. The President of the Local Government Board in opening the debate referred to a certain street with a very bad reputation, which was started on its downward course owing to the fact that there were in it six derelict houses in a bad condition. As he read this Bill it would probably offer no remedy in such a case, as it might have been impossible to prove that those houses were dangerous to public health. This clause, therefore, would require strengthening if the number of demolitions was to be increased. In the seven years ending 1905 there were only 748 demolitions, being an average of a little over 100 a year. That clearly showed that some strengthening of the law was needed in order that it might be possible to close a house if it was a public nuisance. The part he referred to was line 29 of Clause 14. The obligation laid on the landlord under Clause 27 to keep his premises in repair and fit for habitation would certainly do a great deal to prevent the creation of fresh slums in London. The London County Council had been urging for further legislation to discourage slum lands, and to prevent speculators buying up slums. Clause 11 gave the Local Government Board power to compel local authorities to embark on these schemes. But there was no provision for these schemes being self-supporting. Unless some limit were placed upon the action of the board the clause must be drafted in a different form, because at the present time the Local Government Board showed considerable disregard as to the heavy burden thrown upon the rates. Where a Government Department had power to coerce local authorities there ought to be a Treasury grant in aid of the expense. If this clause passed as it stood, the Local Government Board would be able to insist on local authorities carrying out schemes which would involve heavy losses. Where Government Departments had power to force local authorities to undertake certain duties, the universal precedent had been that the Treasury had given a grant-in-aid of the particular service involved. In the 1028 cases of education and poor relief, and even in the case of small holdings, where the central authority insisted on the local authority putting their powers in force, if the scheme was to cost money, a contribution was made by the Treasury. That provision ought certainly to be added to this clause unless the Local Government Board was to be restricted in its action to those cases where a self-supporting scheme could be planned. Another point which caused him considerable disappointment was that the Bill did not amend the law about rehousing. Under the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, where a clearance was made in London, it was necessary that at least as many of the working classes should be rehoused as those displaced, and that they should be rehoused either on the actual area or in the vicinity. Under this provision the rates had lost £512,000 in writing down the value of land for housing purposes. The clearance schemes had been increased in cost in the case of the London County Council by no less than one-third owing to this liability. And it was not only under the Act of 1890 that this evil had resulted. It occurred also under the Act of 1903 in connection with street improvements under statutory powers, the local authority having to provide accommodation for a number not exceeding those displaced. Under that provision, £307,000 had been lost, and the County Council had had no value returned whatever. It had been necessary to wipe off the losses so as to make the schemes appear self-supporting. With the £800,000 which would have been saved if rehousing on cheap sites had been allowed an additional 17,000 persons might have been accommodated on a self-supporting basis on the outskirts of London. The ratepayers had not had an opportunity of learning from year to year the very great cost entailed by the present provisions, owing to the necessity for closing the accounts of the various clearance and improvement schemes and the writing down in consequence of the sites to such a value as would enable the housing to become self-supporting. He was quite sure that if they had had such an opportunity a strong public 1029 opinion would have grown up which would have prevented the continuance of the present system. The present law was based upon the fallacy that local authorities could rehouse the people whom they had displaced, but experience of the London County Council had disproved that theory. They had diplaced 29,000 people, and they had only been able to rehouse 1,700, being 5.85 per cent. The explanation of that was that in the majority of the clearance schemes they were displacing those who lived below the poverty line, and it was impossible to provide new accommodation at a rent which they could afford to pay. He hoped the President of the Local Government Board would be able to give some help in the direction of giving local authorities more discretion where re-housing was necessary, so that valuable sites might be disposed of for commercial purposes. He noticed that there were five Amendments down advocating the valuation and taxation of the site apart from the buildings upon it. If that were carried out, it would be absolutely certain that one, and perhaps the greatest, result would be to drive the population out into the suburbs. There was an enormous amount of the area of London now covered with housing property which would certainly be demolished if rates were charged on the site as apart from the buildings. He construed those Amendments as an admission that it was desirable to move the working-classes as far as possible into the healthier surroundings of the suburbs. If that was the case, surely it would be much better for this Bill to do away with the present obligation of wasting money on rehousing in the central area, where the conditions never could be healthy, and where it was said that people had to be put on shelves. Another omission from the Bill was a provision to free the local authorities from the obligation of making up the deficiency in the poor rates and land tax on land which they were developing in connection with housing. The present law was particularly unjust because the London County Council had had to pay the deficiency, and had got nothing back. When an area was cleared the buildings were taken off the valuation list, and therefore the central authority 1030 did not get any of the rates which it had contributed in this direction. It was only the local authority which suffered in this way, and in view of the great improvement which these rehousing schemes made the local authority ought not to be treated less favourably than private enterprise. He hoped the President of the Local Government Board would be able to do something in that direction, so that the local authority might be freed from this unjust charge. He believed if something of the kind had been done before, it would have been possible to provide accommodation at lower rents. At the present time there was a large amount of accommodation being provided, not only in London, but in all the large towns, for people who could afford to pay 12s. a week, but the speculative builder apparently did not find it worth while to cater for those who could only afford to pay 7s. or 8s. a week, and every 1d. which had to be used by the local authority in writing down the value and in meeting the deficiency in the poor rate naturally decreased the amount available for housing schemes on a self-supporting basis. At the present time there was a limit to the amount of money which could be spent on housing, not only on financial considerations, but having regard to public opinion. Therefore, he asked the Local Government Board to do all they could to ensure that every penny that was raised for capital expenditure on housing should go to provide accommodation, and should not be spent in those unremunerative directions he had mentioned.
§ *MR. MACKARNESS (Berkshire, Newbury)
said that this Bill arose out of a Bill introduced in 1906 dealing entirely with rural housing. He was a member of the Select Committee which was appointed to report on that Bill and consider that aspect of the question, and he might be excused for confining himself in his remarks to that side of the problem. The present Bill had been criticised very severely in regard to its framework and language, but he thought, as a member of the legal profession, he might cordially thank his right hon. friend, because the Bill was evidently drawn by a lawyer in order 1031 to give abundant work to his own profession. In the course of the debate on the Second Reading of the 1906 Bill, the need for preventing the chronic migration of the rural population to the towns was admitted. It was recognised that that exodus was a great evil, and that one cause of it was the unsatisfactory housing conditions that existed in most of the rural parts of the country. It was also agreed that the failure of former Housing Acts had been due to the reluctance or inability of local authorities entrusted with their administration to act, and that that failure was due again to the want of a provision of cheap money which would enable the local authorities to undertake housing without serious risk to the local rates. In regard to the slackness or inability of the local authorities to act, the Select Committee recommended that there should be a special Housing Department of the Local Government Board, with expert officials appointed not to supersede, as his right hon. friend said, the local authorities, but to supervise and stimulate them—a very different thing. That recommendation of the Committee had been entirely thrown over by this Bill, and that, he thought, was a great blot upon it. The right hon. Gentleman said that there already existed a Housing Department at the Local Government Board, and that he was going to send down inspectors to do what the Committee recommended. If that were so, what was the objection to defining the Department and setting up inspectors in the Bill itself, and so securing that the work would be done in the way suggested by the Committee? It was all very well to say that the work would be carried out so long as his right hon. friend was at the Local Government Board, but his right hon. friend would not be there for ever, and the whole machinery which was now thought sufficient might under less sympathetic administration be found wanting. He suggested, therefore, that something should be put in the Bill to provide for the erection of a real Housing Department at the Board of Trade operated by expert officials. His right hon. friend had practically recognised the necessity of this by saying in his speech on the Bill of 1032 1906 that this was a great national question, and ought to be treated by the Government as such. A second recommendation of the Select Committee was that money should be advanced from the national Exchequer to the local authorities for the purpose of building houses upon such terms as would make absolutely sure that there would be no serious risk run in regard to the local rates. Everybody recognised that that had been the real stumbling block in the way of carrying out the housing schemes in the past. Evidence was brought before the Committee to show that the terms on which money had hitherto been advanced by the Public Works Loans Commissioners were not satisfactory. The rates of interest varied in ten years from 2¾ per cent. to as high as 4¼ per cent. The only explanation of that was that given by an official witness to the effect that it was not desired to encourage local authorities to borrow public money. That, however, was the very antithesis of the policy which ought to be pursued. Money for this purpose should, in conformity with the recommendations of the Select Committee, be advanced at a rate not higher than 2½ per cent. That was sanctioned in an Irish Bill read a second time a few weeks ago. The rate of interest paid by the Post Office to the working classes who deposited their savings in the Post Office Savings Bank was only 2½ per cent. And he could not conceive what would be juster than that the Government should advance to the local authorities out of the £150,000,000 at present in the Savings Bank, sums for housing purposes of the working classes at the same rate of interest as they gave to the depositors. He urged his right hon. friend not to allow this Bill to turn out such a failure as former Acts had been in regard to the building of cottages and houses simply from the lack of sufficient financial aid. The question of money was at the bottom of the whole thing; and he was quite sure that to whatever body the housing problem was entrusted, unless it was treated financially as a great national question, there would be the same kind of failure in the future as in the past. There were two other points which he ventured to bring to the attention of 1033 the President of the Local Government Board. A special feature of the Bill of 1906, ignored in the present Bill, was that every cottager might be given a certain amount of land beyond the limit provided for under the existing law, extending, in proper cases, to three acres. It was believed that by giving this larger amount of land, the cottagers would be able to pay a higher rent. Another vital suggestion made by the Select Committee on the Bill of 1906 was that the price at which land was taken compulsorily for housing purposes should be made to bear some sort of proportion to the rateable value. The local authorities should not be obliged to rate the land at one price, and to buy it at another. On these points he thought that the Bill was susceptible of improvement. He hoped the President of the Local Government Board would accept the criticisms which had been offered as directed simply to the object of improving the Bill, and preventing it becoming the dead-letter which the legislation of former Governments had been.
§ *MR. LYTTELTON (St. George's, Hanover Square)
I desire to approach this Bill as my hon. friends on this side of the House have done, in a friendly and non-controversial spirit. I myself most firmly believe that if any measure can be contrived so that substantial progress in the great cause of housing can be made it would do more for the good of this country than any other conceivable legislation. I have to say little with regard to that which by courtesy is called the first part of the Bill. I am bound to say that at Easter-time the combination of a north-east wind and the contemplation of this extraordinary mass of confused clauses, presenting no unity of idea and reflecting nothing but confusion of substance and obscurity of form—I confess that that combination was not conducive during the vacation to a calm examination of the clauses of this Bill. I have listened to nearly all the speeches and the arguments after the explanation of the President of the Local Government Board, and the argument of every single Member who followed him has been almost entirely upon one line. I think that every speaker has said, agreeing with the Select Committee, that the county council should be the authority that should dispose of these 1034 matters. I think every speaker has pointed out that whether it be for purposes of economy in administration, whether it be for purposes of obtaining ability of personnel, or whether it be to the authority and to the permanent tenure of the officers of the county councils, as compared with district councils, the county councils should be the authority, and not the district councils, for the purpose of administration under this Act. I think the argument of my hon. friend the Member for Chippenham, and of several other most able speakers whom I heard, made that so plain and obvious that I do not propose to spend time upon that which has been so well argued or to diminish the effect of such arguments. But I did look, in regard to the first part of this Bill, for some guidance or direction by legislation towards that goal which the experience of eighteen years of the Act of 1890 has largely shown to be the right one. That experience has been largely gained for us—I speak in no offensive sense—by the disasters of the London County Council in some of the efforts, laudable and praiseworthy efforts, that they made to solve this question, under the procedure of Part I. of the 1890 Act, a procedure by which large districts were cleared of insanitary houses, and under which the poor people who lived in them never got proper housing accommodation—schemes under which expensive buildings were put up only suitable to quite a different class of people from those displaced. The clearing of insanitary areas did not provide rehousing for the people displaced, and brought the whole proceedings into discredit by the enormous cost put on the ratepayers. The Housing Committee of Birmingham, whose work I have personally examined, did not clear large areas or involve the ratepayer in this heavy cost. They proceeded under the second part of the Act, and compelledand persuaded, and sometimes coaxed, the owners of property themselves to put it into sanitary order. They pulled down a building here and there in order to give light and air in a court, but that was practically the only expense that came on the ratepayer at all. I think, moreover, some 1,300 or 1,400 houses were repaired and restored and placed in a sanitary condition at the cost of the owners. Was that done at a 1035 cost comparable to that which was spent in Liverpool or London? Not in the least. I have a very moderate estimate, which is probably very much under the fact, which shows that the cost was £56 per head of the rehoused population in London, whereas in Birmingham it cost 15s. or a little over £1 per head, to be liberal, in order to rehouse and put the houses into a sanitary condition.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRE-TARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. MASTERMAN,) West Ham, N.
The cost to the local authority and the ratepayers?
§ *MR. LYTTELTON
The cost to the local authority and the ratepayers—the entire cost—was 15s. per head. I do not think the observations of the hon. Member for Bradford, to which I listened with great interest, would commend themselves to the House at large. I understand that his proposition was that the houses in in-sanitary areas should be pulled down enbloc, without compensation to the owners. That might be his view, but I do not think he believed he could persuade the House to adopt it, but that he put it forward as a counsel of perfection. I will not say more about the first part of the Bill, but I will invite the House to give a few moments' attention to the second part, the town-planning part of the measure, to which I desire—though, of course many, many improvements must be made in it, in regard to which I desire to guard myself—to give a most cordial welcome. We cannot hope to do much more than not to repeat the mistakes of the past, but what is really advisable on the part of any authority dealing with this question is bringing in the zones that lie outside the great towns. Deplorable and lamentable mistakes have been made in the past. The motto of those who are dealing with this subject should be to encourage what I may call an imaginative foresight. I cannot claim it for myself, but there are those who have spent years upon this question, when they see a town and the districts around it, with an instinct which belongs to genius, conceive the idea of how the town will shape itself in the future. Take their advice, take their counsel at the earliest possible stage. I am told by a great authority that in pulling down 1036 houses that have been built upon haphazard plans and in laying out new streets for public improvements, the ratepayers of this country have had a burden of no less than £30,000,000 placed upon them, almost all of it due to the failure to perceive the physical destinies of towns. Lay out on a definite, well-ordered plan your main roads, then lay out the plans you have for the public buildings grouped round the central market-place, then your smaller roads, and so arrange for your town, and the ratepayers of the future will not be put to the deplorable expense of remedying the confused blundering of the past. On the contrary, instead of groaning from constant inroads and invasions made upon their pockets, let us see that they shall have a seemly and well-ordered plan in which they themselves recognise the prudence and forethought of their forefathers, in which they will have themselves a seemly pride. But may I most earnestly beg the right hon. Gentleman to divorce these plans for the future from all suspicion of aggression upon those who own land? If they have given that study of the subject which I have given to it, I think they will find that in many cases the large landowners have been the best friends of this movement. It would be deplorable if the House were to follow the example of the hon. Member for Bradford who advised the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board not to schedule as building land zones which were taken over for building houses, but to schedule them as agricultural land. That is a most remarkable suggestion, and I hope the hon. Member will forgive me for saying, even from one of the most advanced creed. We have heard from those benches before that Socialistic reform is based upon compulsory purchase at a fair price for existing interests, but if land is bought for building houses upon it, what is it other than building land, and if it is building land why on earth should not building land price be paid for it? I do not think I need spend further time upon it, but the local authority would not be justified in taking this land unless they thought it was ripe for town-planning—in other words, ripe for building—and it is obvious that it would be reasonable, just, and 1037 fair that it should be paid for as such. May I say that from experience I have had in co-operation with my hon. friend the Member for Birkenhead, from whom I have learned many things in this matter, and I should like to say so publicly, that what we found and what is found all over the country is that nothing can be more disastrous from every point of view than the rigid bye-laws which exist at the present day? What is the effect of prescribing with hidebound rigour forty and sixty feet roads, and insisting in all cases on channelling, curbing, macadam, and so on? Wide roads are necessary no doubt when they are main roads passing through a town, but absolutely unnecessary for a village of four or five cottages. In certain places these provision afford in an ugly manner light and air; but light and air could be given in a better way, by open spaces, by tennis grounds and cricket grounds if you like. If you make your buildings follow the contour of the land, and have boulevards with trees in the broad roads, if you have nice grass borders on the common roads, you will have all the elements of a cheerful existence, or many of the elements that are giving to our tenants at Hampstead the greatest pleasure and pride. That is what you have to do. You have a model for it in the Act of Parliament which we passed at Hampstead for this purpose. May I suggest also with regard to the numerous proposals for appeal to the Local Government Board and the refusal of the schemes by the Local Government Board, that an inquiry in the locality among all the public-spirited men in the locality, including those who know the history of the place and who are familiar with the conditions, should be the first step? Assisting at such an inquiry should be one of the trained experts whom the right hon. Gentleman proposes to appoint; and will the right hon. Gentleman enjoin such a president to be tactful, and make the people of the locality think the suggestions which he might make came not from him, but from the local people who are there? There is a way of doing that which is persuasive and at once gets local feeling enlisted on the side of your plan rather than against it. I do not intend to convey 1038 to the House by making that suggestion that the most valuable evidence would not be gleaned from the locality itself, and the suggestion of the President of the Local Government Board should be supported on this. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that the order of things should be agreement, conference, compulsion. That is the right order, with as little compulsion as you can put into effect. I believe it would scarcely ever be required. The right hon. Gentleman may correct me, but I remember when it was put to the landlords of London that it would be a good thing to open the squares to the public use.
§ *MR. LYTTELTON
Yes, and not a bad number for one year. I believe if this thing is put as it ought to be as a great public movement for the country the landowners will be found most ready to second the scheme. A few cases will arise where you have a small and obstructive owner, and only in those cases will you have to put into force your compulsory powers.
§ *MR. LYTTELTON
The hon. Baronet says cut their throats. Certainly not. Full compensation will be given or land of a similar character quite near will be exchanged. I do not think such conditions as those can be described by even so stalwart a supporter of property as my hon. friend as cutting throats. The last word I have to say is, Do not turn back the opinion which is rapidly advancing; and do not spoil it by undue haste. There is in this country at present very little experience indeed with regard to town planning, and if the population do not follow it so quickly as they ought, and if towns are not consequently being laid out in such a fashion, I am perfectly certain we should do right if we paused a little to allow private experiments which are now going on to ripen. Experiments are being made at Bournville, Port Sunlight 1039 Hampstead, Green Street, Ealing—almost all the available talent in this delightful but new subject is employed in stimulating this movement and devoting itself to this purpose. At the present moment you have ten or twelve schemes laid out on business lines, but not on competitive lines, which have made much progress and improvement. They have learned much during the few years that they have been in existence, and they have taught the public at their own private cost. Nothing could be more desirable than that these experiments should go on at the private expense. What would be most desirable at the present moment would be to encourage a continuance of these private schemes, to watch them and derive all lessons you possibly could from what is going on under them, and to put a stop order, as it were, on the towns that are growing up in so haphazard a manner, naturally in the zones just outside the towns which are devastated by the jerry-builder. At any rate, you should prescribe a minimum on the lines of new progress, but do not bind yourself too tightly. Let experience be gained before you attempt to take into your hands that which, once launched, would be a gigantic scheme, and one for which the skilled talent in the country at the present moment is not adequate. This Bill will require the most drastic amendment; in fact, the first part ought to be re-cast, and put into a more intelligible form. The second part of the Bill contains the germ of a magnificent reform. Every class in this kingdom should accept it; share in this task, which will eventually redound to the well-being of the country.
§ MR. MASTERMAN
May I entirely reciprocate the most friendly spirit which the right hon. Gentleman opposite has displayed his criticisms of this Bill? Having done that, may I express also what I believe to be the opinion of everybody who has followed this debate, namely, that such a discussion on a social subject, of a large social reform, under the conditions which it has been carried on to-day, is an exceedingly pleasant interlude in the play of party politics? I have listened to every speech in the debate, and I can honestly say that I do not think any speech has been delivered in 1040 any spirit but that of a desire to improve the Bill. Although I do not agree with some of the lurid pictures drawn of the first part of the Bill, yet I do think the general welcome given to the measure, and especially to the most revolutionary part of it, is a great encouragement to those who, like myself, have been anxious about this subject for so many years. Before I deal to the best of my ability, with the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman and those of my hon. friends on this side of the House one word on the last point the right hon. Gentleman made in this debate. He welcomed, he said, that part of the Bill which deals with town planning. No Member of this House has a better right to deal with that point, because the right hon. Gentleman was associated with a company which has been most successful in town planning in the scheme of the Hampstead Garden City. Of that company the right hon. Gentleman was the chairman, and to a large extent the guiding spirit. He will agree with me that there is nothing in the wording of the Bill in the least degree incompatible with an expression of the desirable relations between central and local authority which should be read into its clauses. He gives advice which I am sure my right hon. friend will follow in the administration of this Bill as to the desirability of conference before agreement and compulsion only as a last resort. On one proposition he placed before the House I should join issue with him. He appealed for delay on this question. Undue haste may lead to experiments not altogether desirable, but, as he himself indicated, we cannot delay in connection with the development of our towns. Not a day passes but the process is continuing, and it is better for us to go forward, even if it means some failures, than to allow future generations to bring the reproach against us which we bring, especially when we represent such districts as I represent, against our ancestors. I see no reason why my own district should not have been developed very largely like the Hampstead garden suburb is now. It is a district where, if anything is to be done for the benefit of the people, large demolitions will have to be carried 1041 out. Anything the tendency of which makes for delay in this and all social reforms would be deplorable. I venture respectfully to say that they press for development even if, undercertain conditions, we may have some risk of failure. The right hon. Gentleman has repeatedly declared that we have had only eight or nine experiments, nearly all successful, carried out through the enterprise and charity of companies or by the generosity of private individuals. Let me remind the House of what indeed the majority of the present Members know, that in this particular question of town planning we are not limited to the experience of this little island. We are to follow at a long interval and very slowly, not the example of Germany, but practically the example of the greater part of the civilised world, including Sweden and Norway and countries whose social experiments are not so advanced as those of large empires. Almost every civilised country is far in advance of us in connection with this question. The least we may demand, a demand which should be welcome in all quarters of the House, is that we should bring our level of civic development, controlled by the State as a whole, up to the level of other countries of Europe. Leaving the question of town planning, let me deal with one or two other criticisms of the Bill. There is first the criticism made again and again in the debate of the extra-ordinary wording of the measure: "Confusion of substance," the right hon. Gentleman summed it up in, "combined with obscurity of form." I think—and I do not imagine that anyone responsible for this measure will deny it—that you have here an example of legislation by reference carried almost to breaking point. Like my right hon. friend, I have spent—before I had the advantage of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin refers to as the experts which Government officials are able to obtain—many perplexed and not altogether enjoyable hours in trying to hunt allusions from one Act to another through the greater part of the legislation of the nineteenth century. In connection with that, let me just remind the House that very definitely, if possible in this session and if not in, the immediate future, a complete consolidation of the whole of 1042 the Housing Acts of this country has been promised. I am not sure we are not doing better to follow the admirable precedent of the Small Holdings Bill of last year and to make our amendments first, even if it means some severe mental study, and then to bring in a Consolidation Bill so as to allow for the rural district councils' capacity for understanding this Bill and the whole of the housing legislation. The hon. Member for Chippenham—to whom personally I must express my gratitude, not only for his admirable speech and criticism to-day, if I may say so, but also for that memorable text-book on rural housing for which the Committee over which he presided is responsible, and which was familiar to me before I had any particular conception that I should be defending this Bill—takes, besides certain criticisms to the whole system upon which the Bill is developed, objection to what he calls the bureaucratic Germanism by which it is directed—the continual bringing in of what bears a name of opprobium when it is called the Local Government Board, and a name of honour when it is called a Central Authority. Those friends of mine who carried on the debates on the Small Holdings Bill of last session, and those familiar with that Bill, will have noticed how much this measure depends upon the same system, and they will agree with me when I say that the whole of our emphasis was just to endeavour to bring in as far as possible, compatible with a certain amount of initiative and responsibility of the local authority, the final driving force of the central body. Indeed, we received many severe criticisms from the hon. Member for Middleton for the emphasis we laid upon this fundamental necessity in dealing with rural reform. In every question—I think I am right in saying—dealt with in all these sixty-eight complicated clauses, there is no single suggestion of bringing in the central authority to do the work or to compel any other authority to do it unless that work is not being done, and unless there are complaints from some minor authority, or from some medical officer, or from ratepayers in any locality, that obviously, for some reason or another, the sanitary housing laws are not being carried out and some proportion of the 1043 population are suffering. It seems to me that even the most ardent advocate of local authority——
§ SIR J. DICKSON-POYNDER
Can my hon. friend show me a clause where the county council, as the central authority, are called in to do the work if the rural district council fail to do it, before the Local Government Board is applied to to do the work?
§ MR. MASTERMAN
That is not my point at the present moment. I am not dealing with what the local authority shall be—whether the rural district council or the county council. That is a very interesting controversy which will perhaps occupy the Committee in considerable debate. The criticism made by my hon. friend and re-echoed by certain hon. Gentleman during the debate was that this Bill was far too much inclined to drag in the Local Government Board for the purpose of these particular duties. The Local Government Board only comes in as the final Court of Appeal; and, if I may repeat the argument used again and again in the debates on the Small Holdings Act, only comes in as responsible to this House and its Members. Through its introduction, any Member, by asking Questions or by the ordinary machinery of Government responsibility, may obtain some means of control or information as to whether these laws are being carried out, which he would not be able to obtain if the laws were entirely in the hands of the local authorities. The hon. Member for Chippenham made a point of one of the recommendations of the Select Committee over which he presided. I must honestly confess that, having read the evidence, I do not think it entirely tears out the recommendation that the powers which the rural district councils possess in connection with rural housing should be taken from them and given to the county councils. I agree, and I think the House will agree, that that is a point essentially to be fought out in Committee; but there is one particular statement which may be made in connection with it. The hon. Member for Chippenham and my hon. friend the Member for Middleton both emphasised—and they had a right to emphasise—the comparative failure of the rural district councils 1044 to take action under Part III. of the Housing Act. Both these hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Newbury and many other speakers proceeded to pass from that impeachment to a very elaborate statement, which was justified, that under the old housing legislation, which we intend to alter, it was practically impossible not only for rural district councils, but any council under any condition to carry out Part III. of that Act. Therefore, if you say that money is too expensive or that land cannot be acquired and cottages built in the country at reasonable cost, it is not fair to impeach especially the rural district councils, when it is evident that had the power been in the hands of some other council they would have had to meet exactly the same difficulty. There are many criticisms as to there being no general summary available for Members who are not specialists in housing legislation of what the operations of this Bill will be. I should like, in connection with the various criticisms which have been advanced, to try and bring before the House not in the consecutive clauses of the Bill, but in some general form, what are the changes which the Bill designs. I join completely in unison with the hon. Members for Birkenhead, and St. George's, Hanover Square, in saving what, indeed, many of us have been saying nearly all our lives, that this is the most vital of all the social problems the House is considering. The difficulties arise from a certain special reason. That special reason, as the President of the Local Government Board told us, is the transference of our people from a rural to an urban life—a change which certainly is without parallel in the whole course of civilisation. That transference has made three broad problems. There is first the problem of the deserted village—the problem which has been specially explained by those who have spoken in the debate—the problem of villagers where no houses are being built, because it does not pay people to build, and where the houses which are built are largely being allowed to fall into ruin and decay. There is, secondly, the problem of the developing town, in two forms—the town in the conditions which have developed even within a very 1045 few years in the creation of slum areas or houses which are a menace to human life and welfare, and the town as it is developing at the present moment round the outskirts as the great manufactures call more and more of the rural population from the villages into the great cities. I would ask the House to consider this Bill, as indeed every housing Bill should be considered, in connection with its clauses, under these three divisions, and then I think the misty, obscure, and various other epitheted clauses, which go to make up Part I., may perhaps be found to possess some slight guiding trail of light. Let me come, first of all, to the village, and let me emphasise again what I think Members will discover if they take some trouble to compare this Bill with the Report of the hon. Member for Chippenham, that reading the Small Holdings Act, which in part was the result of the recommendations of that Report, and this Bill together, a very large amount of that Report is being carried out by the two together. We first of all recommend that the rural district council, which remains the local housing authority, shall not be required to adopt the Act, which in practice means that they shall not be restrained from adopting the Act by the veto of the county council. It is perfectly true, and it is a legitimate argument to state, that that veto has not been much used, but there is much evidence to show that the suggestion of the veto's being used and the possibility of its being used, has prevented the stirring up of the more active members of the rural district councils into action in this matter. That was the recommendation of the Report, and to that the Bill supplements the recommendation which now has been criticised by the hon. Member for Chippenham, but which in substance must demand some action. That is that in the event of default in such action, in the Bill as it stands, the Local Government Board can either entrust the power to act to the county council or can compel the rural district council to act. Secondly, and, believe me, this is a not unimportant element, we have a far easier method of acquiring land for houses. I was surprised, with some slight knowledge of rural England and also of the housing problem, in 1046 noticing in the Report of the Select Committee what a very large position this inability to acquire land occupied in the regions where no action has been taken. Members of the Committee who are present will bear me out in that statement. In sixty-two of 100 rural district councils giving Returns they were stopped from taking further action by the fact that no land could be acquired without the threat of compulsion, and that the threat of compulsion had altogether broken down owing to the dolorous collapse of the few demands that had been made to put that compulsion into force. There is no more doleful record in the history of the Act, which I agree was a great charter of social reform—the Act of 1890—than the discrepancy between the hopes, as you read them in the debates, expressed by Mr. Ritchie, who was in charge of the Bill, and others, of the power of acquiring land on easy terms for the first possessor of houses in town and country, and the actual experience, through the machinery of the Act, of the unfortunate councils, who, inspired by such hopes, endeavoured to obtain the land by compulsion. The case will be familiar to many in the House. Years of delay, cost piled on cost, and even at the end, after the delay had been overcome and the cost had been met, the result of the arbitration giving the local authority the land at perhaps twice or three times the value at which it was being sold, or, if they were hiring it, at which it was being hired, to private persons. In this state of conditions, and stimulated also by the very strong recommendation of the Rural Housing Committee, this Bill proposes to bring into effect the method of the Small Holdings Act which will be very familiar to all those who engaged in the debates last year. It may be that even under these conditions too much compensation will be given, that there will be delay, and that the costs will be piled up, but at least we have, to a large extent, eliminated the greater part of the cost—the lawyers' fees, of which I think everyone will approve except interested parties, and we have knocked out altogether the expensive and dilatory method of requiring a provisional order if the acquisition of the land is resisted, which may land the council into an expenditure 1047 of £10,000 or £20,000, and we knock out, except by the demand of the Local Government Board, the appearance before the arbitrator, who finally decides what the cost shall be, both of the lawyer and of one who has no more friends than the lawyer, the expert witness. Having got over that difficulty—and I believe if this is satisfactory it will be not so much that the Bill will obtain so many of these compulsory acquisitions of land, as the knowledge that the menace of compulsion is behind will make for more satisfactory treatment of land acquired under a free system—having obtained our land under these conditions, the next necessity is the building of the houses upon it, and there also I entirely agree with the criticism which has come from every quarter of the House as to the possibility of building for the agricultural labourer cottages at rents which are equal in amount to the rent now charged for his cottage, and as to the provision of cheap money for rural housing. I would ask the House to remember that the rents now charged in rural districts are really a form of wages, which are given to the agricultural labourer, and that it would be an exceedingly questionable policy either to give grants from the Imperial Exchequer or to lend money below the market value at which the State can lend in order to build cottages which can be let at a price similar to that of the cottages around it. It would simply mean a subsidy to wages, and not in any degree a permanent advantage. That difficulty has faced every Committee that has had to deal with the problem. The hon. Member for Bradford instanced the example of Ireland. There are a good many violations of normal political economy in Ireland which have not yet crossed St. George's Channel, and the evidence of this Committee, the protests which were made in this House, when some of these Irish Labourers Acts were debated, and the evidence which has been obtained from Ireland in the Report of the Dudley Commission, all go to prove that this broad result is being produced in Ireland at the present time—that we are giving a subsidy not merely to labourers, but generally to the rural areas 1048 of Ireland. I do not in the least degree object to such a thing, only let us see what we are doing when we do it, and do not let us declare in light-hearted fashion that it is necessary for this House, however difficult the condition of rural housing may be, to take what is a short cut, that may be not a very sane cut, to solve the problem by giving a subsidy to the farmers and landlords of the rural districts of England. The Bill does all that can be done short of that, I think. If not, please let us have frequent criticism of what it does in Committee. It knocks down the rate, which has often been up to 4 and 4½ per cent., at which money can be borrowed from the Public Works Loans Commissioners to the lowest rate possible. That lowest rate now is 3½ per cent. for money lent at twenty years and 3¾ per cent. for fifty years. But that rate depends almost entirely upon the condition of public credit, and it is a little difficult to see how, with the conditions under which money has to be borrowed at the present time for Irish land purchase, it is possible to imagine that we may demand large subsidies in aid of loan flotation which Ireland is desiring in vain. We give the lowest rate, we have extended the loan period from fifty to eighty years, and we have also inserted a provision that there shall be no increase of interest for the increase in the time of the loan, and we have also agreed in Clause 29, partly in response to the demand which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin, that the payment in the rural district shall be a general rate spread over the whole district, unless otherwise decided by the central authority, instead of its being limited to the particular parish in which the rural housing is carried On. I have had worked out for me what may be regarded as a typical case. Taking the cottage at £150, and allowing for the necessary cost of rates, rent, and repairs, and taking the lowest period now available for money, namely, eighty years, we knock down the rent which can be charged from 3s. 9d. or 3s. 10d. per week to about 3s. 1d., that is, we knock 9d. off the rents in rural districts. For the ordinary agricultural labourer earning 15s. a week it is, I agree, impossible to find any unsatisfied demand. 1049 for cottages at 3s. 1d. a week. But there are in the villages other classes who demand good cottages at a cheap price, and we hope that those who are able under the Small Holdings Act to cultivate a small piece of land may thereby be able to pay the extra shilling of rent for improved cottages. Under some of the small holding schemes, I have visited cases where those engaged on them producing produce and getting profit are able to pay much more than 3s. 1d. for the cottages erected by the local authority.
§ MR. MASTERMAN
There was another typical instance at Winslow, about nine miles from Salisbury, where labourers' cottages had been built at considerably more than this price, and they were asking for more cottages to be built for them, and they were even prepared to pay 4s. and 5s. per week for them. A point has been raised with regard to the question, not of building, but of putting in decent repair and making habitable those cottages already built. This Bill, by Clause 13, provides that the local authority may itself make the closing order, subject to an appeal by the owner to the Local Government Board. The slum problem is the same in the town as in the village. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, referred to Part II., and used rather hard words about the London County County who have no power to put that part of the Act into force. The right hon. Gentleman asked the Government why they did not take advantage of the experience which had been obtained under the working of Part II. in Birmingham in developing and enlarging that most beneficent system adopted there. An alteration of Part II. is demanded just as much by those very town reformers in 1050 Birmingham, and they regard some such alteration as we propose as a necessity for the continuance of their work. They declare that their work is being hampered by the fact that the local authority have to go to the justices of the peace for a closing order, and often the justices show a good deal of sympathy with those who have taken refuge in slum property by refusing to make the order. In any case the local authority has to do this work, and after they have made up their mind to apply for a closing order the magistrates often refuse to grant it. In accordance with the demand of these authorities the Bill provides that the local authority may itself make the order subject to an appeal to the central authority, and the decision of the central authority shall be final. That is a very considerable improvement in the methods adopted under Part II. The Bill proceeds to make another change almost revolutionary in character. Under the old Housing Acts it is only in regard to cottages under £8 a year that the obligation is placed upon the landlord to see that if they are let they must be let in a proper condition fit for human habitation. The Bill raises the limit of value to £16 a year for the country and £40 in London. The cottages must be not only in a fit condition when let, but must be maintained and kept in a fit condition during the time of the tenancy. Failing this the local authority may first of all require the landlord to put his property into a proper state of repair, and if he is too long about it the local authority may do the work themselves and charge the landlord with the cost. If this provision is carried out honestly by local authorities it will remove what is, after all, the chief difficulty in regard to Part II. The ultimate resort is, of course, the closing order followed by demolition. The old prejudice against the closing order is that the poor people have nowhere to go, the only result being that they go into the neighbouring slums or wander out of the village disgusted. If the provision we propose is carried out there will be no menace of the closing order and no reduction of one single cottage either in town or country, but there will simply be a perpetual responsibility laid upon those who are letting that property to keep it in decent repair. On this point a 1051 prominent Member of this House once said—If every slum owner were hanged at the door of his slum I might think it was a harsh exercise of the criminal law, but I should not weep my eyes out over his destiny.Those were the words of the Leader of the Opposition. I may observe that we do not propose to carry out the revolutionary methods indicated in those words, although we recognise that such men as the right hon. Gentleman referred to often help to create the slum. We lay upon the slum landlord the responsibility for seeing that his property is carefully looked after and the tenants will be compelled to maintain some reasonable and decent standard of life. It is perfectly possible for every slum landlord to see that his property is kept in a proper state of repair. It is said that as Part I. of the Housing Act of 1890 has failed in its operation it is a mistake to encourage the local authorities to continue in the matter. I agree that there has been a very large financial loss in connection with the operations of Part I. of the Act, but I believe that this loss may be in part reduced by the simplification of procedure and the removal of costly legal expenses suggested in this Bill. There are slum areas in this country where the mortality is higher than the mortality of the battlefield. Those areas must be broken up, the inhabitants scattered, and the whole district raised to some better method of life. There is a recent example in Liverpool which throws a far less burden than the more obvious and glaring examples of some of the London slums. In regard to the suburbs, this Bill makes a great advance which all parties in this House will welcome. We propose to try to save for posterity the development areas of the towns. The Bill proposes to do that in the fashion the right hon. Gentleman opposite desires. In the main we are agreed in this matter. We leave the local authority to schedule the land which, in the future, it thinks it will want for the development of the growing town. Building land is defined as any land likely to be used for building purposes. Building land is sometimes held to include parks, open spaces, and playgrounds, and any kind of land is held to be in 1052 effect building land which is desirable for a growing town.
§ MR. MASTERMAN
I do not in the least imagine that the definition will be accepted by the right hon. Gentleman, but I think he will find it is the right one, not so much that they call acquire the land and build upon it—say the cricket ground on which the right hon. Gentleman and my right hon. friend disport themselves on certain occasions—but that it is land which they may acquire under the Act, because, being land in the neighbourhood of a growing town, it is land which may be acquired by the local authority to be used if it should be required for the development of the town, with the sanction of the Local Government Board. It can be acquired by the simplified method of procedure which we have adopted in the Schedule under the clauses of the Small Holdings Act. Under that method cheaper money is provided for the buildings required, and I think the question of public utility will be met in a fashion satisfactory to all parties. The question was raised that in buying land there would inevitably be speculation and holding up against the local authority, which would mean the giving of a far greater price than it would otherwise bring under other conditions. But it is necessary to explain, I think, that the local authority can buy land in any part of the scheduled area, and that there is no kind of necessity laid upon them to perform the dismal operation which is now being done under the Small Holdings Act of indicating the exact piece of land they wish to acquire. It should be remembered that this is not an Assessment and Valuation Bill. An Assessment and Valuation Bill, has been promised by the Government, and that answer should be satisfactory, I think, to hon. Members who desire to see valuation put on a sound basis. It will be impossible to deal with this question of holding up land against the local authority until you have that Bill before the House. The charge has been made that this procedure is complicated. This Bill, as I think rightly, has not 1053 swept away the succession of Acts built up, and the authorities built up in past years, but has tried to build on the experience which these Acts and these authorities have given as to failure where there has been failure, not railing against the local authorities where their position has been impossible, but seeing if there cannot be found a way of driving through or getting round obstacles which have been placed in the front of those great reforms. It has been complained that there is no finality about the Bill, and nearly all the criticism advanced to-night has been that fruitful, and not fatal criticism, which demands more in the Bill than it gives. Does any one imagine, or make any kind of assertion, that in any Housing Act ever produced in this country finality can be reached? In the migration which has taken place from the rural to the urban areas, and, as some of us hope to see, from the urban back to the rural areas, we have no kind of appreciation of more than a few years ahead of what those changes will demand. We ask the clearest criticism, the clearest sympathy, and the clearest co-operation in the Committee to which this Bill will shortly be referred, recognising that in the immediate past housing legislation has been non-party legislation, and we ask that all parties in the House will co-operate in making this measure what we intend it to be—a large and generous social reform.
§ MR. HART-DAVIES (Hackney, N.)
moved an Amendment declaring that no measure dealing with the housing question could be carried out satisfactorily which did not, as a preliminary, provide for the valuation of land apart from buildings, and until power was given to the local authorities to purchase land compulsorily at such ascertained value. He said there was one aspect of this question which had hardly received the attention it deserved, and that was that the result of any reform in connection with land was that the price of land was raised; and, as far as he could see, this Bill would have exactly the same effect. As the result of Irish land legislation he believed the price of land in Ireland had gone up considerably, and he was quite sure that one of the effects of the Small Holdings Act would be to 1054 send up the price of agricultural land in England. It did not matter what reforms or improvements they contrived, they all ended in raising the price of land. A short time ago the Great Eastern Railway Company ran all-night trains to Walthamstow; the experiment did not pay the railway company, and the only effect was to put up the price of land and houses in Walthamstow. Under Section 45 provision was made for the laying out of open spaces and recreation grounds, but laudable as the object was, the effect would be to raise the value of land in the neighbourhood, and in that way the local authority would be raising the price of land against itself. He was surprised to find that under Section 50 the local authority could not buy land unless it was included in the limited area of a town planning scheme. That was a kind of advertisement for land, and the local authority would ultimately have to pay the piper. He held that they ought first to have a proper system of land valuation. He was sorry to say that the Scottish Valuation Bill was leading a rather precarious existence, but he had no doubt that it would eventually get through, and then they would have a Valuation Bill for England. He assured the right hon. Gentleman that if local bodies had power to tax land, or to take it up on the valuation which such a measure as he suggested would provide, all the operations of this Bill would be materially simplified and made easier and less expensive. Human nature being what it was, it was only natural that men should attempt to hold up land. He had held up land himself on the outskirts of a growing city, and, what was even worse, he had actually bought land with a view to holding it up. That was in his unregenerate days before he became a land reformer. He did not want to put an obstacle in the way of the Bill, but he felt obliged to point out the great blot upon it.
§ MR. WEDGWOOD (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
seconded the Amendment. It seemed to him that the measure now before the House was a somewhat dangerous piece of tinkering with a much wider question than the Government were prepared to deal with. It was only a small part of 1055 the whole land and housing question. If the State or a municipality went into the market as a purchaser, under present conditions the price of land would be forced up. Since the passing of the Small Holdings Act the Member for South West Norfolk, a champion supporter of the measure, had stated that in the small holdings acres of land had risen by 15 per cent. on the previous value. The result would be the raising of land values generally, and sooner, rather, than later. This Bill, though in rather a different way, proceeded to spend the money of the State on the purchase of land for building purposes. He was not opposed to the nationalisation of land, though he preferred the nationalisation of rent. But, if the land of this country was to be nationalised, care should be taken that they were just, not only to the owners of the land, but to the community that paid the price for it. What was the basis on which land was purchased? It was rather difficult to say, but if hon. Members looked at the Bill they would find that land was to be bought on the same principles as under the Small Holdings Act, and under all the complications of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act of 1848. That Act was designed by landlords for landlords, and it had extorted extravagant sums from the pockets of railway companies and of the public as compensation for the compulsory purchase of land. So much was it recognised that the purchase clauses in last year's Small Holdings Act were impracticable, that the Attorney-General himself said it was pre-eminently a hiring Act and not a purchase Act. He recognised that the purchase clauses in the Act were strangled by the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, and with great trouble they passed Amendments in Committee which were sent up to another place basing the purchase price on the rateable value of the land. Those Amendments, however, were rejected by the House of Lords. He would give two examples of the sort of thing which took place under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act. The London County Council purchased a large area of land on the south side of the river for the erection of a county hall. Amongst other places taken was Messrs. Holloway's 1056 factory. That firm was paid the full prospective value of the land; the full value of the buildings, as though they were new; and the extra 10 per cent. But they claimed also £80,000 for the trouble of shifting their factory, although the change did not affect their business in the least. So well founded was their claim under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act that the valuer employed by the London County Council said that they had better give Messrs. Holloway £20,000, which was done, and so they got £20,000 for nothing. The other case was in Cumberland where a certain amount of meadow land was let for £2 per acre, and the rest of the ground to be acquired was wild moorland, winch probably would not have fetched more than £10 an acre in the open market. The land was wanted for a reservoir for the Manchester Water Works, and the landlord, his agent, and his lawyer put their heads together, and came to the conclusion that they would charge, not only for the meadow land and the grazing land, but for the view—the scenery! They said "Here are the hills, and here is a valley; this is a most suitable site for a reservoir," and under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act they were able to extract payment from Manchester for a reservoir. In fact, Manchester paid far more than the framers of the Act of 1848 ever intended or dreamt of. It was owing to the decision in that case that in every future case of purchase under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act landowners would be able to extract more money than ever from railway companies and the public. It was under that Act of 1848 that this Radical Government proposed to purchase land for the housing of the people. If that were done, and if the State started business on that basis, there could be only one result—failure. As it was necessary to have this purchase of land for the building of houses, it seemed to him that what was wanted was the abolition of the present tax upon houses. Our ancestors fifty or sixty years ago took off the tax on food, and food became cheaper, and at present the tax on food stuffs with the exception of sugar, was practically nil. On the houses of 1057 the working classes, however, which were as much a necessity, and indeed a far greater necessity than many untaxed articles, the rents were taxed by means of rates. The rates were a tax upon the houses of the people of this country of from 25 to 50 per cent. What was wanted was to take that tax off the rent and transfer the rates to land values, thus freeing the houses from taxation. Then they would get good and cheap houses, and at the same time they would force land into the market, and get it provided at cheaper rates than at present. He had a great authority for his statement. When last year they were in Drury Lane Theatre, getting up a land and housing reform demonstration, and were drawing up a resolution to pass at the meeting, his hon. friend the Member for one of the divisions of Northamptonshire was raising an objection to the introduction of land values into that Resolution, as he thought it raised too much of a controversial, question, and he remembered the hon. Baronet the Member for Northwich standing up in that Committee and saying that the Prime Minister had told him only a day or two before that land reform without reform of rating would be a mockery. Their late Leader was dead, and instead of a real land reform they had a mockery before the House. If they could only get from the Government a Valuation Bill for England as they had had a Valuation Bill for Scotland, if they could only have those two Bills passed into law giving a separate valuation of land apart from buildings, they would then have, not only the basis on which purchase could be absolutely placed, but a guide to compulsory purchase. He begged to second the Amendment.
To leave out all after the word 'That' and insert the words 'this House is of opinion that no measure dealing with the housing question can be carried out satisfactorily which does not as a preliminary provide for the valuation of land apart from buildings, and until power is given to the local authorities to purchase land compulsorily at such ascertained value."—(Mr. Hart-Davies.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."1058
THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr, ASQUITH,) Fifeshire, E.
I do not gather from the speeches of my two hon. friends that they have any objection to the main principles of the Bill, and I think that they would be sorry if any action of theirs prevented its being submitted to consideration in Committee. They have raised a question of very great importance to which the Government attach as much importance as themselves. I do not agree that the Bill proposes to apply in the case of housing the provisions of the Lands Clauses Act of 1845. It applies to the compulsory acquisition of land the provisions, substantially modified, of the Small Holdings Act of last year. But I do not want to go into points of detail; I wish to assure my hon. friends and the House that the Government are quite as alive as my hon. friends are to the necessity for accompanying this by legislation for a proper system and method of valuation. But all cannot be included in one Bill. I have pledged the Government, and I hope at an early date my right hon. friend will introduce a Valuation Bill which will have two objects in view; first, to simplify and methodise and make as far as possible uniform a system of valuation throughout the whole length and breadth of England and Wales; and, in the next place, to provide for what almost all of my hon. friends regard as equally important, a separate valuation for site and buildings. No Valuation Bill is or can be adequate to meet the necessities of the case that does not carry out both of these objects. I hope my hon. friends will accept this assurance, given on the responsibility of the Government, and withdraw the Amendment.
§ MR. HART-DAVIES
said that after the satisfactory assurance from the Prime Minister he desired to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ MR. ROWLANDS (Kent, Dartford)
was understood to say that as a member of the Select Committee he had some experience 1059 on this subject, and he wished to have an expression of opinion from the President of the Local Government Board. The Parliamentary Secretary had pointed out what was being done to get cheap money for rural districts, but so far as he could see that did not meet the case. He knew that the parliamentary Secretary raised the point that there was to be cheaper money, and he thought he reduced to that extent the cost of rent per cottage in rural districts by 9d. a week, but then he had to admit that the rent would be 3s. 1d. or 3s. a week. He took the hon. Gentleman's word that he had gone thoroughly through the evidence taken before the Select Committee, but it was put before them that it was quite impossible in certain cases for the labourer to pay anything like 3s. a week, and it was the whole crux of the Bill how they were going to deal with these men. The Parliamentary Secretary went on to deal with cases where they got small holdings, and where men could pay the economic rents, but there was a large area of the country where it was impossible for the men to pay extra rent, as in places where they grew fruit. The Committee, of which his hon. friend the Member for Chippenham was chairman, had to consider what they should do in districts like that. They had to recommend in those districts a larger amount of garden land. This Bill allowed only half an acre, and he hoped when the Bill went into Committee they would reconsider that point. He believed that if a larger portion of land was allowed to the cottage, not enough to call it an allotment or a small holding, but for a garden on which the tenants could raise a portion of their rental, it would be most successful.
§ *MR. BRODIE (Surrey, Reigate)
merely wished to add one word to what had been said by the hon. Member for Dartford. He felt that it would improve the Bill if power were given to build cottages with larger gardens than half an acre. Greater elasticity was required. He could not agree with the hon. Member for Chippenham that in all cases the county council should be considered the best authority for dealing with this Bill. The Parlia- 1060 mentary Secretary had referred to a Return which the Local Government Board had made in response to an appeal he had made. In that Return it was clearly shown that in many cases where the district councils had attempted to put into force Part III of the Act of 1890, they had been crushed by the county councils. In some cases the county council were the best authorities, but in other cases the rural district council should be made use of. He believed they would greatly assist the working of the Act by giving greater power to the parish councils which had now the duty put upon them of supplying allotments. He hoped the Government would see their way to giving the parish councils power to build cottages with land up to five acres.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said the Parliamentary Secretary had stated that he had listened to every speech that had been made on this Bill. He himself had listened to a great many of them, and although the general tone of them, no doubt, was in favour of the Bill they all suggested that it wanted drastic Amendments. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme had said it was a dangerous piece of tinkering, and that it was a mockery to put it before the House. He did not consider that a speech of that kind was in favour of the Bill.
§ MR. MASTERMAN
said that what he said was that every suggestion was in favour of amending the Bill, and not made in any spirit of obstruction.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
pointed out that I if, as according to one hon. Member, the Bill was a mockery it would, of course, have to be amended, and he himself would be willing to amend the Bill by leaving out all the words after "whereas." By such an Amendment the Bill, in his opinion, would be very much improved. The President of the Local Government Board had made a speech of sincere enthusiasm, and really seemed to think he was going to regenerate humanity. He was going to find vast sums of money at a low rate of interest, with which he was going to reconstruct all the bad buildings that had been erected during the last 100 years. If 1061 he thought the right hon. Gentleman could do such a thing as that, he would vote with him for the Bill, but because he did not think it was possible he should oppose it. If the Bill became law and became a success, and the right hon. Gentleman found large sums to reconstruct the houses, what was to become of the people inhabiting those houses during the time of the reconstruction? The right hon. Gentleman said the reason why so many houses were empty was because they were unsuitable, owing to their having a basement. The houses in Mayfair and Belgravia also had basements: did the right hon. Gentleman propose to reconstruct those too?
§ SIR F. BANBURY
thought the project of the President of the Local Government Board was impossible unless we were to have the millennium, which we were not going to have ["Oh"]—certainly not with the Party opposite in power. This was a bureaucratic measure of the very worst type. He had marked a great number of clauses in the Bill of which he would have liked to have had some explanation. Under the Bill the Local Government Board could say to the county council in Surrey: "There are four people who have come to us and told us you are not doing your duty." The hon. Gentleman said they must be ratepayers, but he saw the words were "inhabited householders"; there was no necessity for them to be ratepayers.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said that on the initiative of four people who need not be ratepayers the Local Government Board could build 1,000 cottages in Surrey against the wish of the Surrey County Council and compel the ratepayers in Surrey to pay for them. That was a bureaucratic system pushed to an extreme, and one which he was certain the people of England would not approve. What was the real reason why many cottages in the country were bad? There were two reasons. One was that the cottager could not afford to pay more than 1s. or 1s. 6d. a week rent. His wages were not higher because the 1062 farmer could not afford to pay him more, and the farmer could not afford to pay him more because agriculture was depressed. How were they going to remedy that? The ratepayers would lose on the building speculation which would be entered into under the Bill. His right hon. friend said that he hoped the mistakes made in the past with respect to town planning would not be made in the future, and that better provision would be taken to develop the towns in a proper manner. But who knew in what direction a town was going to develop? If hon. Gentlemen had the gift of prophecy they could make enormous fortunes for themselves and the ratepayers, too, but they had not that gift, and they were not going to make fortunes either for themselves or the ratepayers. There were many people who had tried to make fortunes by building houses in the directions in which they thought towns were going to develop, but very few of them had been successful. If the right hon. Gentleman had been a bank director, he would have known that when people borrowed money for building speculations they were very seldom successful. Lawyers were always going in for building speculations, and there were often failures of solicitors due to the fact that they had made advances for such purposes. He wanted to know how the President of the Local Government Board or any other President could go into building speculation and make it successful when it could not be done by others? The real reason there was this difficulty about housing was that people built houses very often in the wrong places. That could not be altered by the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman's inspectors and officers would be just as ignorant as to the direction in which towns were going to extend as people who had built houses in the past. He himself believed that the only effect the Bill would have, if it was not a dead letter, would be to drive more capital out of the country. How would the right hon. Gentleman obtain money for the purposes of the Bill? Who was going to lend the money when they would be met with the knowledge that the land had been taken away from somebody else at less than its value? He did not think the House had realised 1063 the effect of the Bill. They had been carried away by the eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman and the natural desire that everybody should live in good houses. They could not force the millennium by Act of Parliament. There were many reasons why the houses of the working classes were bad. In many cases it was impossible to make the people keep the houses clean. That difficulty had to be met, and it was part of the fallibility of human nature which could not be got over by an Act of Parliament. He regretted very much that the Government had not allowed them to have a discussion of the Bill up to eight o'clock to-morrow night. He thought it might easily have been done. It was an extremely important Bill, and it was quite impossible for anyone, even the most practised speaker, to deal with all its provisions in the time at his disposal. He thought they ought to have had a chance of giving expression to their views. He was obliged to get up and say what he had said, because he would not have liked the House to consider that the Bill was received with approval on all sides. He quite recognised the good faith of the right hon. Gentleman, and believed he was absolutely sincere in his desire to do something for the good of the country—a desire they all shared—but he did not believe he was going to do any good under this Bill. Many of its propositions would involve the municipalities in larger expenditure and increase their debts. That was a great mistake, and he had hoped that it would not have been made at this moment. The municipalities should be encouraged not to extend their capital liabilities and not to increase their expenditure, but this Bill would encourage them in both directions, and when they had done so they would have houses which they could not let at remunerative rents. He would have liked to divide against the Bill, but he was afraid there were not enough on that side of the House and perhaps they had better not divide, though he would be perfectly willing to do so if anybody would go with him.