§ Order for second reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. John Burns)
The Bill that we ask the second reading of to-day is the Government's Housing and Town Planning Bill, which was read a second time on May 12th of last year. After the Bill received its second reading, it was committed to the Grand Committee upstairs. This Bill was most favourably received both in this House on the second reading and in the country both before and since, and for 23 days it stood upstairs the ordeal of criticism and improvement. After the 23 days upstairs, the Bill was reported to the House of Commons on 3rd December last, but the Government considered, mainly in deference to the general view that was then expressed, and because of the demands made upon its time for other measures that had an equal claim, that it was impracticable to pass such an important Bill last Session; and the Prime Minister promised that, as the Bill was not passed last year, it should be re-introduced as early as possible in the Session of 1909. This has now been done, and, I submit, in extension of the Prime Minister's promise, that the new Bill which we submit to-day is almost an exact reproduction of last year's Bill, except those Amendments which were added in the Committee, with a few deletions, which were effected on the initiative of the Government and generally approved by the Committee upstairs. The promise that we gave in Grand Committee has been kept so far as it is possible for a Minister to keep a promise made under the peculiar conditions that some of the promises which I gave were accorded to the Committee. But since the Bill has been printed not a single exception has been taken to any of the Amend- 734 ments left by the Government, and, so far as I can gather up to this moment, there is no suggestion that the Government has not loyally kept the promise made to the Committee at its last meeting. What are the differences between the Bill this year and that which left the Committee? There are some minor verbal Amendments, some clauses have been rearranged, and the promises made to the Members of the Committee, as I have said, have been kept. The points which are raised to-day, so far as the Notice Paper is concerned, are points that in no sense touch or affect the principle of the Bill. The one that most affects the Bill—but not the principle—is the Motion down in the name of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyne, which, with all respect to him, I trust he will not press. I put it to him whether he would have this Bill plus his Amendment, or his Amendment without the Bill, or would he rather have his Amendment than the Bill? If he presses his Amendment I do not think the House of Commons is inclined to abandon a Bill of this importance, so long before the House, and to which the Government are pledged since 1906, and which, in its main features, has been received by all sections of the House with more or less approval, and with practically little serious criticism.
That brings me now to what this Bill, amended, improved, and enlarged, seeks to secure. The main and essential feature of the Bill is that Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, which enables local authorities to provide new houses for the working classes, and which is now only adoptive, shall be put in force throughout the country. That is an important, a serious and necessary, and, I believe, a practical step that housing reformers have been asking for for some years. Beyond that the Bill gives increased facilities for the acquisition of land for housing the working classes on small holdings terms. Such conditions under which land can be acquired for small 735 holdings have been so recently before both Houses of Parliament, and have secured, I believe, the cordial assent of both branches of Parliament; and it is, at any rate, equally necessary that the acquisition of land for what is equally necessary for the improvement of the country—namely, land for the housing of the working classes should be under similar conditions—that it is not necessary for me to labour those conditions at any length. The third improvement is that the provisions in this Bill enable loans to be obtained through the Public Works Loans Commissioners for periods up to 80 years, with the minimum rate of interest possible, and I think desirable. The fourth provision is that the new Bill, when it becomes an Act, will not only be better enforced by improved machinery than the existing Acts now are, but existing Acts embodied in this Bill; and at the end of the Session the whole of the Housing Acts, consolidated into one intelligible, and practical working measure, will, I trust, enable the housing of the working classes to be secured by machinery that will act more easily, more promptly, and more efficiently, and at less cost than now prevails.
The fifth point is that this Bill strengthens and simplifies the present law as regards closing orders, and the demolition of insanitary property unfit for human habitation. The sixth point of the Bill is that it extends, in Clauses 14 and 15, to houses of a higher rental value than at present, an implied condition in the contract for letting that the houses are fit for human habitation. It is not only that we should be content with the present law which says that when a landlord lets a house or tenement to an intending occupant that at the time of entry for occupation the house shall be fit for human habitation. What we want is to maintain that house in a condition fit for human habitation so long as human beings reside therein. Small though that point is, if vigorously enforced, which we believe under the machinery of this Bill it will be, that small but necessary point will, I trust, create a revolution in the minor conditions of the house, especially in our large towns and cities.
Clause 15 throws upon the landlord the responsibility of keeping the house reasonably fit. Now all these various objects are secured and achieved by the process of machinery set forth in this Bill. So far as the House is concerned this Bill is a dis- 736 tinct advance on the existing law. These proposals are moderate, reasonable, practical, and nothing has given the Government greater pleasure than the general way in which they have been accepted, so far as the House is concerned. I cordially commend that portion of the Bill to the House.
The next portion of the Bill is that portion which deals with town planning. This is a new departure in the legislation of this country. I regret that it has come so late. No one can go through the East End of London, or to places like Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow, and see the effect, both on the physique, morale, happiness, and comfort of men, women, and children, through lack of some such condition as this 100, or at least 50, years ago, but will come to one definite conclusion, that, late though it is, it is better late than never, and that the House of Commons should not lose this opportunity of giving to communities, especially growing and industrial communities, the opportunity of consciously shaping their own development in a better way than has occurred in the past. I have lately been spending week ends in visiting thirty or forty unemployed works in the East End of London, particularly in close proximity to open spaces, and if Members who do not know the East End of London had been with me, I could have pointed out in a practical way how, even close to places like West Ham Park, Hainault Forest, the western portion of Epping Forest and Hackney Marshes, and by the River Lea and other places, if we had had this Bill 40 or 50 years ago, the amenities of these parks and open spaces could have been enormously added to by maintaining a balance between them and the houses built in their neighbourhood. It is not fair or just to our poor that in many cases you build, as you do, close by a river or a canal, which might be made a pleasurable and healthy amenity by the adoption of a proper system of laying out roadways; it is not fair, I say, that streets should be put the wrong way on, that roads should be formed at the wrong angle, that they should be placed where the sun rarely reaches, but where the wind does always, or where ventilation is denied them, and where the line of greatest resistance is pursued in neglecting those natural and physical opportunities which, under the Town Planning Bill, could be profitably exploited for the whole community—to the benefit not only of the present genera- 737 tion, but particularly of children who are cursed, many of them, in their habitations and environment. This portion of the Bill has met with a favourable reception. It has had a little criticism, but I trust that before June the measure, the town planning portion of it particularly, will be on the Statute Book. I come to one or two portions of the measure which have been rather misunderstood or unintentionally misrepresented. If town planning is to be a success, as we all agree it should be, it is essential that the central body should have more control than it now has. I can understand some hon. Members saying that what has prevented town planning in the past has been where special, personal, or local interests have been so anxious to satisfy prejudices or selfish objects that it has been impossible for local owners, with a local authority of limited views, sometimes consisting not always of the most disinterested personnel, to come to the agreement that would be arrived at if the central authority intervened. And it is universally admitted on both sides of the House that for this purpose the Local Government Board ought to have more power to intervene, first by way of local inquiry, secondly by making surveys and investigations, separating the goats from the sheep, and seeing that the community do not suffer because litigious owners or prejudiced councillors happen to be at loggerheads, not about the interests of the locality as a whole, but about some pettifogging local or personal grievance which is very often allowed to stand in the way of a good owner developing his property, or of public-spirited companies doing the right thing—the local authorities being influenced, as alone they ought to be influenced, for the benefit of the community they serve. We think that the Local Government Board, as the central authority, ought to exercise a wider control, and for this control the Department has taken no more power than is essential for the proper purposes of this Bill.
Some of the powers of this Bill have been misunderstood, others have been exaggerated, and one or two are suspected on minor details'. May I say to all who do not agree with me as to the proposals of this Bill, whether as to parks or open spaces, roads or other points of detail, that they will find the Local Government Board as amenable and susceptible to reason and advice in the Committee of this House as they were in Grand Committee upstairs. It would be ridiculous if, on minor points in a Bill like this, we 738 should be suspected of dragging in proposals, as has been represented, to grab commons, to filch open spaces, to appropriate parks, and, generally speaking, not to rest content until the houses of West Ham and Poplar are in the middle of Kensington Gardens or in the centre of Wimbledon Common. Yet, that is the kind of representation we receive. As a matter of fact, the people who make that kind of suggestion in the newspapers forget that the Local Government Board is pre-eminently a body more concerned in regard to parks and open spaces than any other person or authority could be in this country. First, it has the care of the public health, and no town or city can possess health without open spaces and pleasant environment. Last year alone, the Local Government Board, which is suspected in some quarters of having designs to build on every common, on every open space or commonable piece of land, sanctioned £300,000 for the purchase of additional parks and open spaces. When it is suggested that we have fell designs on commons, my answer is: that out of £230,000 spent out of the unemployed fund last winter, £130,000 was expended in adding to parks and open spaces, and beautifying those which already existed. To suggest that we want to filch commons and run away with parks and open spaces is absurd. What differences there are between my Department and one or two hon. Members are open to consideration and adjustment. Of course, I do not hope to please every Member whose mind is filled with open spaces, but I do say that there is nothing in these proposals but what one can come to an agreement upon.
I now come to the third portion of the Bill. That is the portion which deals with the medical officers of health. It is a very important part of the measure. We have sixty-two county councils in the country, and, up to recently, only half of them have had medical officers. I do not think that this country, which, for the last hundred years, has led the world in public sanitation, should remain longer under the reproach of not having in every county of England and Wales a whole-time medical officer. And we have decided that every county council shall have a whole-time medical officer, devoting all his abilities and services to public health and sanitation. Bearing in mind the special provisions of this Bill, we also say that this in itself, especially when the terms and conditions under which the medical officer serves are to be approved by the Local 739 Government Board, should give some satisfaction to the members of a useful and honourable profession, which has a right to be protected against, at times, the capricious local interference which prevents them from doing their duty to the body politic as well as they otherwise ought to be allowed to do it. It is complained that this Bill has too much legislation by reference in it. We have disposed of that argument by circulating a lengthy Memorandum on Friday last. It consists of some 32 pages, and reproduces in relation to this Bill the substantive Amendments and quotations from other Acts, and I think that when we supplement our Memorandum by the consolidation of this Bill with other Bills the House will then have a workable and practical housing measure. We set out in the various schedules at the end of the Bill, as explained by the Memorandum, all the substantive enactments that have been substituted for the reference clauses in the original Bill; and as' to the various points that have been taken and the advice that has been offered to us by our legal critics on both sides of the House, we have combined in the Memorandum and in the schedules, and, I trust, in the consolidating Bill also, common-sense with legal precision. There are one or two other things to which I must refer before I sit down. The first is with regard to underground dwellings. We are taking steps to abolish underground and cellar dwellings altogether. Personal and public opinion in the last few years has moved rapidly, and the proposals of the Bill practically terminates underground and cellar dwellings for human habitation for the future. We are also seeking to obtain power to prohibit back-to-back dwellings. ["Oh."] I notice that one Member of the House says "Oh." That confirms the fact, perhaps, that representations as to back-to-back houses have only been received from one district, I do not believe that back-to-back houses ought to exist at all. So far as this Bill is concerned no back-to-back houses are to be allowed in future. And we are supported in that proposal, T see in a little handbill, entitled "Fresh Air and Ventilation," published by the National Association for the Prevention of Consumption and other forms of Tuberculosis. I find in that leaflet they say that "back-to-back houses and cellar tenements are unfit for human habitation." And that is our view, and no injustice is done to any community or to any owner 740 or to any interest when, if this Bill be passed, we say that no more back-to-back houses shall be allowed in future. If we wanted arguments against back-to-back houses I should like, if time permitted, to read one of the most remarkable little books I ever read dealing with the state of the poorer classes in great towns. This little book is the substance of a speech delivered in the House of Commons by Mr. Robert A. Slaney, a relative of the late Colonel Kenyon-Slaney. If one only had time to read this little book, which was Published in 1840, particularly with that part dealing with the consequences and the effects of back-to-back houses, I think we should carry the House with us. We are against back-to-back houses.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must ask the hon. Member for Sleaford not to carry on a conversation. This is a debate, not a conversazione.
§ Mr. BURNS
I can only say that in one town where back-to-back houses prevail we have this very remarkable result: Whereas the average age at death of the gentlemen and the professional classes was 44, amongst the tradesmen it was 27, and amongst operative labourers and their families it was 19; that is, 44 as against 19. My medical advisers advise me that the back-to-back houses were responsible in the day of this report for a death-rat o of 43 per 1,000 over the town as a whole, and an infant mortality of 570 per 1,000 of children under five years of age. It is represented to me on the responsibility of Dr. Tatham, Dr. Niven and Dr. Sykes, and other well-known medical men, that where all causes are responsible for 27 per 1,000 of deaths it is 38, and not 27, in back-to-back houses; infectious diseases were 4.5 in through ventilated houses and 8.7 in back-to-back houses; consumption stood at 2.8 in through ventilated houses and 5.2 in back-to-back houses. In the ordinary houses occupied by the labouring classes in regard to lung complaints the percentage was 6.6 741 in through ventilated houses and 9.2 in back-to-back houses. Where the children die from diarrhœa it is 1.4 in through ventilated houses and 3.4 in back-to-back houses. In a town that has recently expressed its desire to be allowed to continue these back-to-back houses, I find this very suggestive comment made by one of the best authorities on housing (Mr. Dewsnup) in one of the best books on the subject recently written. He says, speaking of Leeds back-to-back houses:—Newly built the houses may look attractive, but what will be their condition after years of wear and tear. More than a probability that the conclusion of Manchester will be re-justified.England is not so destitute of land upon which to house its poor that they should be housed in working class tenements without a backyard in which to chop the wood and put the coal, and in which the children can play whilst the mother is able to keep a friendly eye on them through the washhouse window, and at the same time continue to carry on her domestic duties. All this is impossible in back-to-back houses, where the children have only got a stuffy room for a playground; and in the days of rapid traction you have no right to relegate children to play in a small front garden, or in the road or street, when the community is rich enough to provide the humblest garden in the majority of cases, and some measure of a backyard in which the youngsters can play whilst the domestic duties in the house are being carried out. This can be done better in through ventilated houses with a backyard and a garden than is possible in the case of back-to-back houses.
We shall probably be told that there are one or two details with regard to town planning that are more arbitrary than they should be, that they will want amending, and that there are other details we shall have to consider. On all these points I am quite convinced we shall be able to meet hon. Members when this Bill reaches the proper stage. We are extremely anxious that this Bill should go through the second reading before the Easter holidays, and I have contented myself on this occasion with giving a brief outline of the salient features of this Bill, which has been before the House so long, and which has been so favourably received by the country generally. I appeal to hon. Members who have put down instructions, nearly all of which, I think, are out of order, to recognise the reasonable and susceptible mood of the Local 742 Government Board with regard to this Bill. I ask them to do what I intend to do with regard to the passage of this Bill, to proceed along the line of least resistance, and before this session is out I hope hon. Members in all parts of the House will be gratified by the satisfaction which, I am sure, they will all feel of having contributed upstairs and in Committee, and through the various subsequent stages of this Bill in the production of a useful, if a humble, measure affecting the life of the people, the effect of which they will be able to gauge better 30 or 40 years hence than at the present moment. Whether that be so or not, this Bill and its future, and everything it contains, I commend to the consideration of the House, and I trust as soon as is consistent with reasonable discussion of its terms on the second reading, we shall be able to commit this Bill to a Committee of the whole House, and add to the Statute Book a measure in regard to which I thank every hon. Member of the House, from whatever part he may come, for the kindly assistance rendered to the Government in producing this Bill up to its present stage.
§ Mr. LYTTELTON
The Unionist party were the authors of the measure of 1890, and it is natural that during the years that have elapsed since that time some improvement of the legislation should have become necessary. I have never disguised the very great importance which I attach to this subject. I said at the time when we were considering temperance legislation that more good to temperance and morals can be done by measures of this kind than all the temperance legislation which it is in the power of a Government to bring forward. Even with regard to legislation I sometimes think it is almost a mockery to speak of education when the little children in the houses of the poor are living under the conditions which the right hon. Gentleman has represented, and which we all know to be true. I think I can say, speaking for my hon. Friends on this side, that our attitude towards the general outline of this Bill will naturally be sympathetic. There are details upon which we have extremely strong convictions, and there are some points upon which I confess I hold very grave doubts, but with regard to other matters I can promise that our attitude will be one of general sympathy so far as the second reading is concerned. My view has not been in any way dissipated by the genial speech we have just heard, or by the promise. 743 which is more valuable still, of the right hon. Gentleman's susceptibility to the persuasive discipline which will, no doubt, be applied to him in the future. I have had some practical experience of housing and town planning, but I am obliged to state, as the Under-Secretary said on a previous occasion, that this Bill strains the principle of legislation by reference almost to the breaking point. In its ingenious concealment of what it intends, and its mysterious references to archaic matters which are difficult and laborious to find, I must say that I can find no other fit parallel than the works of Mr. Meredith and Mr. Henry James, if I may with respect to these distinguished authors compare anything they have written to an Act of Parliament. I have given a good deal of time to the consideration of this measure, and I certainly think that the adoption of the principle of part III. of the Act of 1890 is sound. I think the principle of that bundle of clauses at the beginning which deals with legal matters of some complexity is also sound. I refer to the freeing of the channels of liberality for the benefit of housing schemes. I will only mention the Mortmain Acts, the Settled Land Acts, and the machinery of charities, and the stimulus which is given to public credit by way of loans on liberal terms at low rates repayable over a long period. All those seem to me to be quite sound. I also think that in the main due regard has been had to the authority and initiative of county councils. That was an improvement effected by the persuasive discipline of the Grand Committee. I can give a most unqualified and whole-hearted approval to the. institution of a statutory committee on each county council to deal with public health; and above all, I think more important still is the appointment by every county council of a medical officer, whose whole time shall be engaged in this most important matter, and who will not have, as at present occasionally, a most awkward conflict between duty and interest when he has to consider a question of condemning property which may be owned by lucrative patients of his own.
Then I come to the town planning part of the Bill, the principle of which also I think is sound. I could show conclusively, if time permitted, that millions of money might have been saved to this country had that foresight with regard to town-planning which it is proposed to initiate by this Bill been exercised in years past. 744 It is a lamentable fact that millions of pounds have been expended in this country in acquiring and pulling down expensive property which has been erected hap hazard, and which those responsible for the development of towns have had to remove to enable that development to take place. It is absolutely right also that the mistakes our forefathers made, and which are being made to-day in the suburbs, in placing a great number of houses to the acre, should be prevented in future, and that houses should be built, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, having regard to the site, air, and open space for gardening and for the children. Nothing could be better or more wholesome. Having considered this matter for a long time, if certain matters upon which I will touch presently are adjusted to our satisfaction, I do not think that owners of property near large towns need apprehend any loss at all in this regard. The principle of town planning will extend the market for building. Instead of landowners being almost forced, as they are at present, to sell small parcels of land upon which houses are packed at immense inconvenience and great unsightliness, the tendency of this legislation ought to be to extend the zones in the suburbs, to spread the building operations, and therefore to bring much more land into profitable occupation, and by that means to create a larger area upon which the profits of building may be made to recoup the landlords for the lesser number of houses which they will be permitted to place upon the acre. At present a landowner who wishes to do well by his property outside a town, is often deterred from letting builders come upon it because he is horrified at the deteriorating effect it will have upon the property that he sells, and also upon that which he does not sell. Nothing can be more disastrous to property than the erection of hideous insanitary houses, both to the land they occupy and to the land adjacent. The principle of this Bill is to substitute a smaller but a far safer property for the owner, and it will prevent disagreeable and speculative building.
I hope that the Government, and especially the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, will remember that in these matters of town-planning private enterprise has been the schoolmistress of the State. I do not think that that will be denied by anybody who has studied the admirable experiments which have been made throughout 745 the country, and whose reputation now is well known. These private experiments have proved to demonstration the absurdity of cast-iron bye-laws. I welcome nothing more in the whole of the Bill than the power given in reference to this point; perhaps I should like to give it to some other authority than the Local Government Board, but I welcome that power at any rate in competent hands. At present the way of securing light, air, sunlight, and healthiness to these urban communities is by prescribing a uniform width of macadamised channels and roads, whether those roads are wanted or not. Roughly speaking, you want one broad road from north to south, and another from east to west, through communities of this kind; and it would be lamentable, from the point of view of comfort and sightliness, if you insisted that each road should be 40 or 60 feet wide, should not be allowed to have trees or grass at the sides, and should, in fact, be without those features which have made garden cities so popular throughout the country. I claim also that existing private experiments have shown that commercial stability is perfectly consistent with regard being had to beauty, to historical conditions, and to local associations; and if they are further encouraged many other lessons will be taught to municipalities and to the Government by private undertakers, who are now well acquainted with their business, and ought to be encouraged to continue it. Their very mistakes are a great advantage to the Government in bringing forward this Bill, because they have had to be made good out of the pockets of private enterprise instead of at the expense of the ratepayers or taxpayers.
Such being an outline of the principles of the Bill which I view with sympathy, I trust hon. Members will bear with me while I point out certain matters in regard to which I have grave doubts, and others which I think are altogether wrong. First, I notice there is still a general power left to the Local Government Board on certain occasions to go against and to coerce the opinion of the county council. I think that that is a mistake. I remember hearing a very important speech in one of the local government debates in which an hon. Member of this House pointed out with convincing force the immense labours and heavy personal cost at which local government duties are undertaken by county councillors. I think that sometimes you may go past the opinion of district or urban councils; but if, for instance, a 746 county council, representing the whole county, with its local knowledge and experience and knowing the danger and unpopularity of a charge upon the rates, thinks that a certain housing or town planning scheme is not desirable, my belief is that if the Local Government Board were to override that opinion, any plan that they might adopt under such circumstances would be pursued under such a weight of unpopularity that it would not only fail itself, but also bring into discredit the otherwise beneficent provisions of the Bill. I hope the Government will consider that point.
Then there is a provision which I think is sufficiently important to be regarded not as a detail, but as worthy of mention on second reading. I refer to the provision for a general register. That is a very expensive matter. A register of the circumstances of every householder in a district may take years, or at any rate many months, to compile. The population is migratory; if you ascertain in June the number of families, the number of rooms, their cubic space, and all the other particulars, the whole situation may have altered in November, and you may have to go over the whole business again. Considering the cost and the fact that under section 16 you have the duty of inspecting houses for the purpose of ascertaining whether they are insanitary, I very much doubt whether it would not be wiser to cut out the general register from the Bill. If you really deem it desirable on other grounds, it might be inserted in another Bill, but I doubt whether it would be worth while to encounter the unpopularity which would be caused by the heavy and often futile cost of such a measure by encumbering the present Bill with the provision. I would also invite the opinion of the House as to whether it would not be wise to substitute the Local Government Board for the justices as the appellate body in the matter of demolition orders and the like. A matter upon which I personally feel strongly is the provision for compensation for landowners whose land is compulsorily acquired. I am aware that the general view of hon. Members opposite is that we on this side regard the compulsory acquisition of land as an occasion for exaggerated and extravagant claims, and there are one or two stock instances which they always trot out. They may be right or they may be wrong, but they never mention the large number of cases which are settled with satisfaction and justice to all concerned. Let me point out what the 747 provisions for compensation are in this Bill. I am dealing only with the principle of the matter. I think the arbitrator ought to be independent and unbiassed, and I think we ought to see—though I am not so sure of the assent of the right hon. Gentleman opposite—that if he is to err in the matter at all, he should err in the matter of liberality towards the dispossessed and invaded landowner. That is my own opinion, and it is generally acted upon. I think it is just. I will give an illustration in order to make quite clear the effect of the provisions of this Bill with regard to compensation to the landowner, whose land is compulsorily acquired for the purposes of this Bill. He may be a landlord who is fond of his property, and who has attractive designs for it. He may have laid it out in a way which the President of the Board of Trade would approve of. Were it laid out as a cricket ground, I am perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman would say that it had been laid out in the most admirable manner. He may have a wish to lay it out as a golf course, or as a place of recreation for children, or any other human object. It is not very agreeable to a man with this design, and who has arranged all the rest of his property in relation and in reference to the scheme he has prepared if the local authority should come and say, "We want this for a housing site." That could be done under the compulsory clause in this Bill. Every just man would say that the landowner—and I think it is right that he should give way to the public interest if it exists—has a right to be treated with liberality, and certainly to have his case adjudicated upon by a tribunal in every respect unbiassed. Now, what do the provisions of the Bill give him in such a case? It gives him an arbitrator appointed by the Local Government Board, whose credit is involved in this going through well, and he is paid on a scale fixed by the Local Government Board. There are many cases in which the Local Government Board are the authority who are responsible for the whole scheme, and who may be differing from the county council, say in regard to the expense that will be necessary to bring it effectually through.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Masterman)
Are you referring to housing?
§ Mr. LYTTELTON
I am referring to housing. The town planning tribunal of arbitration has a number of elaborate provisions differing from those in the first part of the Bill. You have one tribunal for the compulsory taking of land, and another contribunal constituted in the second part of the Bill to decide what the landlord is to obtain if his interest is injuriously affected. That seems to me to be an unnecessary complication. Let me go on to where I was when I was interrupted. I was saying that the landlord has the right to an impartial tribunal. The tribunal proposed is to be appointed by the Local Government Board, and paid on a scale fixed by the Local Government Board. He is not allowed to have counsel before the arbitrator, and he is not allowed, except by consent of the arbitrator, to have even a skilled valuer to represent what the value of the land is. The functions of the arbitrator are prescribed by the Bill. He is not allowed to give the customary 10 per cent, above the value, as I understand, on any site at all in respect of compulsory purchase. In other words, the landlord may have paid a considerable sum of money for the property, and it may be taken away. He is to receive compensation for it, and then he must find a means of re-investment. That being so, surely he is entitled to something above the bald value of the property. I think myself, with some experience of human nature, that if property is to be taken away under such circumstances as I have described, it would only be fair that the value should be ascertained by an impartial tribunal, and that the owner should have such assistance of skilled men and counsel as the necessities of the case demand. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that when the Bill is in the Committee Stage the discipline he may receive on this point will pass peaceful persuasion at any rate if he will not give way upon it.
There is but one point more to which I wish to refer. There are other points to be raised by Amendments of which notice has been given, and I leave all these to the hon. Members in whose names they stand. But this point I consider more important than any I have ventured to bring before the House. I see no provision in the Bill for an addition to the staff of the Local Government Board, for the purpose of working this Bill. I can assure the Government that unless they 749 make provision, and substantial provision, for that addition, this Bill, so excellent in its principles and intentions as it is in many respects, will be wholly unworkable. I feel certain of that. I will tell the House why. I have been engaged more than two years in dealing with one of those subjects, and I have had great assistance from Members of this House. We all know who have had practical cognisance of these matters that the subject is somewhat in its infancy. There are few in the country who know much about town planning. If you had twenty schemes to organise, I doubt whether you would be able to get the expert advice necessary before they could be put forward in even the most elementary stage. That is my opinion. But there are certain architects and surveyors who have very keen and adequate knowledge upon this important matter. I hope the Local Government Board will go slowly and steadily at first, and that the local authorities will do so also in this matter. I do trust that the Local Government Board, upon whom such enormous and, as I think, undue responsibilities are cast by the Bill will give the House an assurance that they will equip themselves sufficiently, and be really a guide to the country in this matter. If they do, I am quite certain that no objection will be raised by myself and those on this side of the House on the score of economy, because it is the worst and falsest economy—economy which would cost the country ultimately thousands and millions of pounds—if the immense powers which are contained in the Bill, and from which we hope so much, are administered by overworked and inefficient officials. I trust that the Government will fulfil the promise made by the right hon. Gentleman, that, while in the Committee stage, if the Bill is given a second reading, they will consider the suggestions which we make from this side of the House.
§ Sir WALTER FOSTER
I cordially agree with the remarks which fell from the right hon. Gentleman opposite on the second reading of this Bill. For many years I have pointed out that such powers as are proposed were an absolute necessity, and that there should be a larger staff at the Local Government Board. Under this new system of town planning, which, I think, was wrongly incorporated in this Bill, and especially so far as regards the powers the Local Government 750 Board are to have in connection with housing, I think it will be absolutely essential, if we are to make any progress, to have a larger staff than the President of the Local Government Board at present commands. I think if we look back at the recent legislation in connection with small holdings we will see how unwise too economic administration is in connection with success. If the Small Holdings Act had been carried out by a larger staff in connection with its coming into operation we would not have had to face the difficulties which we have now to encounter. My right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board will find in a year or two that he has not sufficient power in the Local Government Board as regards staff to grapple with the large amount of work that he undertakes by this Bill. I congratulate my right hon. friend on the manner in which he moved the second reading of the Bill. I think the discipline he has had upstairs during the 23 days of Committee has been of advantage. T never found the right hon. Gentleman appear to greater advantage than to-day, and I am conceited enough to say that there are those amongst us who may congratulate themselves in believing that the mill he went through with them upstairs has brought him into the exceedingly good frame of mind which he has exhibited to the House to-day. I hope the Bill will be brought to a successful conclusion in this House, and in another place.
I have in the first place to refer to one or two things in connection with the Bill which seem to me points that must be attended to in the Committee stage. I gathered from the President of the Local Government Board that the great question of the enclosure of commons will be attended to in a liberal spirit. We do not want—and I am sure there is no idea in the Local Government Board—to do away with open spaces, or to encroach upon commons. I hope that my right hon. Friends who are taking an interest in that question will be thoroughly satisfied with the action of the Government and the Committee. With reference to another point I totally disagree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I had some share of responsibility in putting in clause 30 about the census. I helped to put it in for several reasons. All the Housing Acts which have been passed have been failures—most colossal and 751 lamentable failures in connection with modern legislation. Housing Act after Housing Act has been passed through the House of Commons since 1885, but because there has been no power in the case of reluctant authorities to compel them to do their duty they have failed. We hope to have stronger powers in this new Bill, and I think the census will be an important power in connection with the education of public opinion. We shall have in each locality a record of the condition of houses. That record will be open to public inspection, and it will be of inestimable value to the county council medical officer, and the county council committee when they inquire into those things. They cannot have this knowledge of localities unless it is put on record. I think the local authorities are recalcitrant on account of the expenditure, but they are always kicking against expense and additions to the rates. I believe that in this case it is an unwise economy.
§ Mr. LYTTELTON
Section 16 of the Bill not only gives power but makes it the duty of the local authority to inspect for the purpose of ascertaining whether buildings are in a habitable and sanitary condition.
§ Sir WALTER FOSTER
That is a power which has never been carried out. I believe this will have an educational influence far beyond anything that has been done. Although the local authorities may object both in towns and rural districts to carry out this power we ought to insist from these benches to have it retained. It may be unpopular, but it will have a great effect in improving the housing of the people. Why have all the other Acts been failures? They have been failures for two reasons. In localities you have public opinion against the expenditure of public money in the housing of the people. It would increase the rates. I should be very glad if there were some means of getting money from the Government for the housing of the people in these various localities. Unfortunately I do not see any prospect of that, but possibly when the Budget comes there may be some attempt to deal with the taxation of land values. It ought to be one of the first charges on the land that there should be proper accommodation for people who work on the land. In addition to the increase of the rates, one of the causes of reluctance to deal with this question is local influence. On nearly all the small 752 local authorities are people who are the owners of houses. In small towns the representatives of the ratepayers are not only the owners of property, but very often they are the employers of workmen. I hope that this Bill will give the county councils power to intervene where a district council is unable or unwilling to do its duty. That would create a certain amount of force, and it would give the authorities power to interfere not only with the district council but with an unwilling county council. I do not think that the mandamus power of the Local Government Board is a very potent weapon. It has, as a rule, nearly always broken in the hands of those who have tried to use it. But we have in the Bill a certain amount of control in administrative power to force the authorities to do their duty. With reference to all these questions, at the very root of them the only power by which we can compel the local authorities to do their duty is the ground of public health. One of the wise things in this Bill is that the Local Government Board has decided that there must be a medical officer of health in every county. Bad housing increases the death rate, and the medical officer of health will be always anxious to bring about a better state of things in order that the record of his work may appear good in the eyes of the public. I think that his appointment is one of the best things which can be done. A hon. Gentleman opposite once sent me when I was at the Local Government Board a report—a medical report—of his county council. It was exceedingly well drawn up. It was drawn up by a lay committee, for the county council had no medical officer. He used, I am sorry to say, my commendation of that report as an argument against the appointment of a medical officer. I do not think that was a fair use to make of my commendation. Under this Bill county medical experts, assisted by sanitary inspectors, will be able to look not only after rural localities, but after neglected urban parts of the country, and they will be able from time to time to improve all the black spots in every county which ought to have the attention of a medical officer of health. These medical officers are to be given a position of security, which every officer of health ought to have. The Bill gives them the right of not being dismissed except with the consent of the Local Government Board. They are to have the position of being whole-time 753 officers. One of the great difficulties in this country on this question has been the system of allowing medical officers of health for small areas to receive £10, £20, or £30, a year, and be appointed annually by small local authorities. They have very responsible work to do, and if these men could be given a security of tenure much good would result. Take a case in point. You have a small town, say, of 10,000 inhabitants. It has an urban district council. A medical officer of health is appointed at a salary of £25 or £30 a year. Ho does what he can to improve the sanitary condition of the district, but at the end of 12 months he is dropped. Why? Because he has been a little too zealous. I know, that the right hon. Gentleman knows, cases where these men after 12 months' active service in connection with the housing of the people are not reappointed by the district councils, and are dropped because they did their best to bring about a better state of things in the poorer districts. That is a scandal which ought to be removed. It can be removed if the Local Government Board would give the right of appeal on the part of these medical officers to itself. Even in watering places of 15,000 or 20,000 inhabitants men are dismissed for being too active in looking after the housing of the poorer classes. These men should be made independent in their very difficult and serious duties, so that they may look thoroughly after the habitations of the poor people. It should be our duty to improve the health of the people throughout the length and breadth of the land, not only in the counties, but in the urban districts, and it is because I believe this Bill will tend to improve the health of the people that T give it my hearty support, and I hope that the House will be able to make it still stronger than it is.
Mr. LANE-FOX proposed to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and add the words "this House, while recognising the need for the improvement in the housing of the people, declines to make the cost of this national service a further charge upon the local rates," instead thereof. He said: The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, in one of his usually breezy and generous speeches, urged us to recognise the reasonable, tolerant, and susceptible method of the Local Government Board, and he also said he hoped in the course of the discussion to gratify Members in all quarters of the House on the
various objections they had to make. One point with which the right hon. Baronet who has just spoken has dealt with, not very conclusively, as I hope to show, is what he described as the reluctance of local authorities to do their duty, and the right hon. Gentleman said the great object of this Bill was to be able to force reluctant authorities to do their duty. My experience of those reluctant authorities is. if you can provide a fair amount for the portion of the cost of the duties they have to perform their reluctance would vanish, and, further, my experience is—and I feel sure it will be largely shared—if the country wishes to have better conditions of housing, if the country is prepared to pay for it, it can get it. But as long as you have the present conditions by which 82. per cent, of the local burden is paid by rateable property and only 18 per cent, paid by other property, while other rateable property pays only 18½ of the Imperial taxation, so that the other 82 per cent. goes free, so long as conditions of that kind exist you cannot expect the local authority will show themselves vigorous in carrying out the duties Parliament has thrust upon them, and for which. Parliament provides no means for paying. The right hon. Gentleman knows well enough I do not wish to do anything to hurt his Bill. I have been sitting on the Committee upstairs in connection with this Bill for a long time, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit that I certainly did some small share in helping this Bill to pass through Committee. Therefore, he will not consider the Amendment I move as moved in any spirit hostile to the Bill. But if we do not take this opportunity of raising particular objections to matters which become more and more oppressive, especially for those who represent agricultural Constituencies, where the grievance is most felt, then our chance will have gone. I am not going to discuss the unfairness of the rating system. We had an excellent debate in this House, in which the whole of that grievance was brought forward and was admitted. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said:—
I do not think anyone can defend our present system of rating.
and allusion was made to remarkable figures I have just quoted, which were produced before the Royal Commission on Local Taxation, by which it was shown that 82 per cent, of property is exempted from its share of contribution to local taxation. I am perfectly convinced that
unless the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to meet in some way the situation which exists he will find this Bill is simply and solely a dead letter, that nothing more will be done under it than under previous Bills, and that a measure which all of us without exception, though we may differ as to detail, wish largely to be successful, he will find it has turned out an absolutely hopeless failure. Parliament has no right to go on piling on these burdens so manifestly unfair, and which have constantly been admitted as unfair. I am going to be perfectly frank. I consider all Governments have been to blame. I am not going to defend the passing of the Education Act of 1902 in this particular. I think it is the worst instance of piling on the burdens of unfair local taxation ever put upon the Statute Book, but since then we have the Provision of Meals Bill for school children and the Medical Inspection of School Children. The Board of Education is insisting on new regulations for our schools once more which are bound to be costly, and in regard to which they provide no means of carrying them out. All sorts of work has been heaped upon the local authorities, and numerous duties have been thrown upon them in connection with inspection. Amongst these I need only mention the Fertilisers and Feeding Stuffs Bill, the lights on vehicles, the milk supply, and various other demands which have have been made upon the local authorities, besides the demands of the Lunacy Commissioners and other Departments of the Government. The apparent plan of Parliament is to inflict its vicarious philanthropy upon other bodies and to leave them to undergo the unpopularity of providing the money. Local government is becoming absolutely hateful and odious to the feelings of some of the very best men men in the country. Extravagances are heaped up and are thrown from one party to another, and are becoming intolerable to people who realise that they cannot do their duty without engaging in expenditure which falls oppressively and heavily upon certain classes, and certain classes only, of the community. Many of those measures, in one instance certainly, are carried out by bodies the majority of whom are not ratepayers at all. The majority of the council in Durham (?) do not pay any rates at all. How can there be anything but a strong sense of injustice on the part of those who pay rates as long as that condition of things exists? With regard to the
quinquennial valuation, personally I voted against it. This particular provision is unnecessary, costly, and hard and fast, and will not work well. I will not deal with the costliness of other parts of the measure. I now come to the real and important question of the rural districts. May I point out that there is no use in appealing to the fetish of the Liberal party, the taxation of land values, in this connection, because the districts that most want houses are the poorest districts in the rural parts, where the people are in some cases living in a state of poverty—of the direst poverty—and where the taxation of land values would be of very little use indeed. We do not know what the Government's view is in regard to these rural districts, but it certainly will not get any assistance from the fetish of the taxation of land values. Now with regard to the question of the actual cost of building cottages. It is admitted by the Select Committee that the building cannot be paid for under the present condition unless where houses can be erected by money, borrowed in a way which is very rare. If the House will allow me, I will quote one sentence from the Report of the Select Committee:—
At the outset the Committee have reluctantly to make the observation, based on general experience throughout the country, that however cheaply cottages may be built they cannot be elected in the ordinary rural districts (where no industry exists creating a high rate of wages, but which is solely dependent on agriculture) so as to cover interest and sinking fund and the usual annual outgoings within the rent-paying capacity of the labourer.
Mr. Wilson Fox, whose loss every one will sincerely deplore, and whose practical work in this matter it will be impossible to replace, put the statement before us by which he estimated that cottages could be built for £150. If it was even possible to borrow the money at 2 per cent., still it would be necessary to charge rent of 2s. 6d. a week to make that cottage pay its way. Well, of course, everybody knows 2 per cent, is an absolutely impossible figure at which we could hope to borrow money from the Treasury to pay interest and for the sinking fund. Then we come to the question whether it is possible to build the cottage for £150. The hon. Baronet opposite seems to think so. I know, as far as the North of England is concerned, in my own part of the world in Yorkshire, it would be absolutely impossible to build a cottage for £150 by any local authority. I have had some very small private experience. Many Members of this House have had much more, but my experience is you will not build a
single cottage for less than £300, and that one can build a pair or a row for £200 each. You cannot build a cottage, provide proper water supply and drainage and the necessary garden and give the necessary three bedrooms, you cannot really build a cottage that is suitable and of a kind in which we would desire to see working men live, and at the same time lay out the land in a satisfactory state for such a sum as £150. I think if hon. Members will consult those who actually had practical experience they will find that, to a large extent, that view is borne out. We know that the local authorities are not likely to be able to build cheaper than private individuals unless they build on a very large scale, and building on a large scale, under present conditions of rating, will be absolutely and entirely impossible. The Treasury will lend the money at the minimum rate laid down, but we have never been able to get the President of the Local Government Board to tell us what the scale will be and what the rate of interest will be. He frankly told us he did not know. He told us he went to the Treasury and did his best, wrestling with the beasts of Ephesus, and was checked. We do not wish him to repeat that experience. Of course, there might have been further wrestlings, and he may have succeeded, but the evidence given before the Select Committee was the Commissioners would only quote 4¼ per cent, as a minimum rate.
§ Mr. LANE-FOX
I refer the hon. Member to the Report. They will only quote 4¼ per cent, as their minimum, which rate of interest, with the sinking fund, would mean about £5 5s. per £100 on a fifty years' loan. At that rate if you are to have a cottage, which is going to cost £200, it is perfectly obvious that you will require a rent at the rate of £10 per cottage, and that will amount to 4s. a week. Everybody knows that the average agricultural labourer will not be able to pay 4s. a week; he can only pay 2s. Therefore, out of the rates you will have to give another 2s. a week, which by another simple arithmetical process would give about £5 a year. Take the average village in the average agricultural district, where cottages are most wanted, the valuation would be about £4,000. If cottages are a little cheaper you can build them for £150, but still there would be Is. a week, which would have to come out of the rates, but if the cottage is going to cost £200 you will have to find £5 a year, 758 and it will practically come to this, that every penny rate on an ordinary valuation of £4,000 will bring in about £17. That means that for every penny of the rates you will only have to build three and a half cottages, and if you build 21 cottages you will have to have sixpence on the rates. Of course these figures may be varied in different villages, but the fact remains that a large amount would have to go on the rates.
§ Mr. BURNS
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, who is, of course, the architect of his own speech and the builder of his own hypotheses. He is building his speech on the hypothesis that the rate of interest is £5. The Treasury rate of interest is fixed by the Treasury Minute, and that says that the money will be issued at the lowest rate of interest at which they can get the money—not 5 per cent.
§ Mr. LANE-FOX
Yes, that is so; but I should be glad if he could give us the amount which it will be. I would point out that unless money can be lent at 2 per cent, and the cottages can be built for £150, there will be still a larger rent than 2s. a week, which, I say, is all the agricultural labourer will be able to pay, and there will still be a call upon the rates by reason of the measure. It is merely a matter of arithmetic. The right hon. Gentleman may, by wrestling with the beasts, be able to get money cheaper, but I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will be able to make any scheme pay under this Bill, and that will be the difficulty in those rural districts. I know that these expenses may be charged to special expenses but, if that is so, it is very unfair that certain districts which have done their best to provide houses should be rated in favour of those where the same amount of trouble and expense has not been incurred. Moreover, you will be enacting a premium on bad landlords who have not done their duty at the expense of good landlords who have. If this charge for special expenditure is put upon particular districts it will be impossible, I think, for the Bill to be administered as generously and thoroughly as we should like to see it. I know there are some hon. Members who think that this question of rates is only a question for landlords, but everybody knows that in large parts of the country there are a number of men farming their own land and upon whom the rates will fall heavily. The Government take power to force this question upon districts under a very unfair 759 system. If they wish to force this question on the country or any particular district, they ought to do it upon a fair system of payment. If it is felt that certain classes are not paying their proportion, that will be the difficulty in regard to the non-fulfilment of this Bill, and it is only by removing the: difficulty which will arise under such circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman, or anybody else, can get this question of housing settled. If the right hon. Gentleman would only adopt the suggestion which was made by the Prime Minister in February last year of grants in aid under the full control of his Department, then in the more necessitous districts he might get some more satisfactory results. I hope very much that this Bill may succeed, and that a great part of its provisions will be passed in the form in which they are, but at the same time it seems to me that I have no option except to move this Amendment in order to take another opportunity of drawing attention to this great grievance, which is a serious burden upon my Constituents and upon those who live in a great part of the country. I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name.
§ Mr. HICKS BEACH
I rise to second the Amendment which the hon. Gentleman has moved, and I hope the House gives him the credit that he has moved this in no hostile spirit to the provision of further workmen's dwellings. I hope they will give me that credit, too, because I have not had an opportunity of taking so keen and active a part as my hon. Friend has done in reference to this question upstairs on the Select Committee and on the Bill in Committee last year, but I can assure the House, that I fully realise what a great problem remains to be solved in regard to this question of providing suitable and fitting accommodation for the working class people in our country districts and in the towns. I should not attempt to speak against a Bill for providing dwellings for the working classes if I thought the Bill which was introduced by the Government was likely to be successful in attaining that object, but it is because I feel that in the rural districts this Kill will be a dead letter that I rise to second the Amendment of my hon. Friend. Before I go into details I wish to emphasise most strongly what has been said by my hon. Friend below me, that no machinery is really provided in this Bill for carrying it out. In the first place, it is 760 surely absolutely essential if this Bill is to be carried out, that a largely additional staff should be appointed. In the case of the Small Holdings Bill, Small Holdings Commissioners were appointed, and it is surely essential to see that there is some additional staff provided for carrying this Act out. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing this Bill, and the hon. Gentleman opposite, who made a very good speech, avoided the really effective part of the scheme. How are they going to carry it out, and how is the money to be found for this additional accommodation?
I suppose the right hon. Gentleman has some solid ground for thinking that cottages can be built in country districts and rents raised from them sufficient to pay for the money expended, but I agree with my hon. Friend that it will cost £300 to build a single cottage and £400 to build a pair. I happen to have built a pair of simple labourers' cottages lately. They were perfectly simple, but I hope they are, as they were intended to be, good cottages, containing three bedrooms, two rooms downstairs, and an out-house outside. The actual carpentering and building work and plastering and putting on the roofs of these cottages cost £410 for the pair. But I think people make a mistake in their calculations when they think they can build cottages for £400 a pair. They cannot, and I think they forget very important features in regard to the building of cottages, which are essential to make them complete. For instance, on this pair of cottages I had to spend £18 for two privies at the back, £21 for building a wall at the back and levelling the soil and making two rain-water tanks, and then there was the ordinary fence around the garden, so that the total additional cost, quite apart from the actual building, amounted to £80, which brings up the cost of the two cottages to £490. I do not think that cottages can be built cheaper to make them really good, sound, and efficient houses, likely to last for a good many years. I have heard that cheaper cottages can be built, and I have seen cottages that have been built for less, but in the ordinary course, in a few years, a large sum has to be spent upon them to keep them in repair. On the whole, throughout this country I do not think you can build a pair of cottages for much less than £500.
It is quite true, as the President of the Local Government Board has said, that the rates of interest charged by the Treasury vary from 2¾ to 4¼ per cent. The 761 Report says that the Treasury express themselves as unable to modify this rates of interest on the ground that the rates of interest on loans out of the Local Loans Fund are determined with regard to the solvency of the borrower, and this consideration in the present state of the money market only enables the Commissioners to quote 4¼ as their minimum, and with a sinking fund means about £5 5s. in £100 on a 50 years' loan. It has been the habit of the Treasury in those circumstances to increase the rate of interest, and it has been urged that if you increase the length of the loan you ought to decrease the rate of interest; but the lowest rate at which these loans were ever granted is 2¾, and it would be quite impossible for the Government in the present state of the money market to grant a loan at anything like that rate, as that was in 1898, when the price of Consols and all stocks was very high. It would be quite impossible for the Government in the present state of the money market to grant a loan at anything like that rate of interest. The conclusion that we are forced to is that any local authority which is going to borrow money in order to build cottages and hopes to pay off the loan within, say, 80 years, and to pay interest on the loan, and to provide a certain sum for keeping the cottages in repair, must charge at least 5 per cent. It is impossible for an agricultural labourer to pay more than 2s. a week for his cottage, and that, on £500, means that the actual rents received will amount to £10 4s., whereas the local authority to recoup its expenditure ought to be getting an income of £25. That means to say, therefore, that there is a loss on the rates of £15 a year on every pair of cottages built. That is the problem we have really to face. This Bill is going to be a dead letter in the rural districts, because I do not believe any rural district authority will incur the onus of building cottages when they know it will mean a large addition to the rates of the district.
I also think this Bill is a mistake because it will be really creating a premium on the bad landlord. Who are the people who will have to pay the rates? Take two parishes in a rural district. The owner of one of them has kept his property in good order and has provided good housing accommodation. The owner of the next parish derives his total income from the land, and he has been entirely unable, out of that, to improve the condition of the cottages in the way he would like. It may 762 be a case like that, or it may be the case of a bad landlord who has not taken the trouble to do anything. The rate will fall on the ratepayers of the rural district, which will include the neighbouring landlords who will have kept up their cottages well, and who will have the rateable value of their property increased owing to the increased value of their cottages. They will have to pay the rates for building these cottages on the property of the landlord who has let his cottages go to ruin. That, I think, is obviously unfair. It is also bound to have a deterrent effect on private building. People in the past have been willing to spend money derived from other sources on the improvement of their estate, because they take a pride in their estate, and wish to see the people living on it housed in a respectable manner. When you ask them to pay out of the rates for putting up other people's cottages their reply is surely bound to be: "If I have to pay for So-and-So's cottages I shall take jolly good care he pays for mine." Therefore any additional cottages which are put up on that estate will, I am afraid, be put upon the ratepayers of the district. That, I think, is an effect which ought not to be encouraged in a Bill introduced by a responsible Government. On this ground alone the Bill is bound to be a dead letter in the country districts.
I should like to express my strong condemnation of the appearance again in a Government Bill of these powers of ginger coercion. It is all very well for hon. Members to say the power of the Local Government Board to coerce county councils or district councils is only put in as a matter of form; but what is the use of putting it into a Bill if it is not meant to be adopted some time or another? I can only, as a representative of ratepayers, again express my strong disapproval that any Government Department having the power of forcing a local authority elected by the people to carry out a scheme which is going to involve ratepayers in large additional expense. I feel most strongly that if the Government is going to take any steps to carry out the duty which the local authority declined to do the Government are the people who ought to pay for the scheme being carried out, and it ought to be paid off through the taxes, and not the rates. This question of local taxation has been referred to before this Session, and the method of the Government of showing sympathy with what they admit to be a real grievance is a very extraordinary one.
763 Here we have a Government bringing in a Bill which is, to my mind, bound to increase this difficulty and the burden of the rates in the country. It is a burden, because, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted, the rates are not borne in a proper proportion according to the capacity to bear them. Yet they have introduced this Bill, which is bound to increase that burden, and only the other day they issued a circular from the Board of Education which, when it is carried into effect, will also mean an enormous increase of the burden upon the rates. In my own county the expense under the new education code has been worked out by the county council, and they are of opinion that the additional cost involved by creating an additional number of teachers will amount to 2¼d. in the £ in the education rate alone. In Norfolk I am told there is an increase of 2d. This is a very funny method of showing their sympathy with the burdens of local taxation. I should like again to express the hope that if they wished the local authorities to carry out this duty of providing housing accommodation either in the country or the town, they can only do it either by giving a grant out of the Treasury to local authorities to make up their deficiency on these houses or else relieving the local authorities of some of the burdens and duties which they are now forced to carry out.
I know the Treasury do not favour the principle of giving a grant to a local authority to make up a deficiency in their expenditure. That is not a very sound thing to do from the Treasury point of view. Therefore I am again forced to this conclusion, that if you really want a local authority to carry out these housing duties you must relieve them of some of the burdens they now have to undergo. County councils are already overburdened with work, and from that point of view you ought to relieve them of some of their present duties, and you ought also, until you have carried out an absolutely radical reform in the whole incidence of the rates, to relieve the local authority of some of the heavy expenditure which they are now forced to carry out, in most cases very much against their will.
§ Sir JOHN DICKSON-POYNDER
The hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded this Amendment have made allusion to the subject of the debate which took place in the earlier part of the Session, which dealt with the apportionment of local and Im- 764 perial taxation. With almost all they said on that subject I entirely agree, and I think that opinion is shared by most Members of the House. We desire at the earliest possible date to see those services which are specifically national services recognised as such and paid for by the State, as distinguished from services which are local in character. I do not consider that the services which are embodied in this Bill can be characterised under the heading of State services. It can hardly be said that the building of a group of cottages in a remote country district should come from the security of the State and be considered as national services. The whole burden of the hon. Gentleman's speeches was that the whole expense of these operations, apart from housing, all of which are to be made compulsory under the Bill instead of optional, was to come upon the localities. That is not contemplated by the Bill. The Bill is merely giving greater facilities to part III. schemes. It extends the period of loan redemption to 80 years, and it lays down that the interest to be paid shall be at the lowest possible rate. It is contemplated that in many instances cottages will be able to be built upon an economic basis under these reformed proposals. We do not contemplate that cottage building operations are going to take place in country districts unless they can be undertaken upon an economic basis. Of course, it is perfectly futile to build these cottages if there is going to be a large charge upon the rates. It will only mean that you are going to put a bonus into the pockets of the employer at the cost of the ratepayer. It is only the security that is being asked, which should undoubtedly be upon the rates and not upon the State.
Anyone listening to these two speeches would think that this Bill was confined to part III. of the Housing Act. This Bill is a very large and comprehensive one, and it consists of something like 73 clauses, and, although this is an important improvement on the existing law, these improvements dealing with part III. by no means exhaust the Bill, and it is not in my judgment by any means the most important portion of the Bill.
The hon. Gentlemen went into an elaborate argument as to the impossibility of building these cottages upon an economic basis. I believe myself it will be found as time proceeds that they can be built upon an economic basis. They did not take into account or mention the fact that, in addition to the house, there is to be a 765 very considerable parcel of land, and it is to be hoped that sufficient rent can thus be charged in most parts of England to enable adequate interest to be paid on the capital.
I pass to the general aspect of the Bill, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having fully carried out his undertaking and given us a Bill this year practically identical in substance with the Bill which emerged from the Committee Stage at the end of last Session. I can only hope the very shortest time will be taken in carrying this Bill through the necessary subsequent stages.
There are a few changes here and there which would be found to improve the Bill, but they are comparatively few and insignificant, and, speaking for myself, I shall be quite content to leave it where I find it. I shall do all I can to see it pass through the House at the earliest possible date. The Bill, of course, may not be in anybody's opinion an ideal Bill, a measure which does not realise all the ideals some of us would like to have seen, but that can never be attained in modern legislation. I will say that the Bill to-day presents a marked improvement upon the Bill which my right hon. Friend originally introduced at the commencement of last Session, and there are now many provisions in the Bill which will, when administered throughout, I believe, go a long way towards improving the health and the sanitary condition of the houses inhabited by the working classes. It is not necessary for me to travel over the ground that was travelled last year in the second reading debate, but I may be allowed to point out some of what appear to me to be the most conspicuous of those improvements which have been added to the Bill. In the first place, I was one of those, with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who complained that the Bill was not very intelligible in form. I think it has undergone a very marked improvement in that respect. Many of the clauses that were in the very worst form last year have now been redrafted, and should be quite intelligible to the local authorities, who have to administer them hereafter. We have the memorandum which my right hon. Friend has now circulated in the House, and I think the Bill ought to present a much more intelligible form than when originally introduced.
One of the chief objections to the Bill last year was that the Local Government Board was brought in to interfere with the local authority at too early a stage.
766 Many of us complained it took a form too bureaucratic. That to a very large extent has now been removed. The county councils have been introduced to take their proper place in the chain of local administration, so that where the district councils fail to do their duty the county councils will come in as a direct default authority, and then, standing in the background, comes the Local Government Board to undertake that in case either of those authorities, the county council or the district council, are too complacent or negligent of their duty, they can step in and insist on the work being done. I think it will be found in the majority of cases that the power devolved upon the county council of default authority over the district councils will be carried out within the county boundary without having resort to the Local Government Board. In those rare instances, I hope they will be rare, where the county council does not do its duty the Local Government Board stands with a whip to administer and see that the work is done.
Let me express my satisfaction that whilst this coherent change has now been established, whilst the county council has been given its proper position as the default authority, still, at the same time, all through the Bill the Local Government Board is given new and very direct and strong powers of direction and of authority. I believe that will go a long way towards improving public health conditions throughout the country. Let me add a word to what was said by my right hon. Friend opposite if the Local Government Board is to do the work we contemplate in this measure. I am quite convinced myself that there must be in the Local Government Board some definite department, consisting of a staff of officials whose duties will be exclusively confined to matters dealing with this legislation. The duties that now devolve on the Local Government Board in connection with this Bill will be largely increased to what has hitherto been the case. As well as that they will be highly technical in character. Not only will the housing and public health duties be constantly under their attention all over the country, but it may be anticipated that there will be cases where part III. will be put into operation, and where the Local Government Board must have technical skilled officials to see that those part III. schemes are carried out on the best and most economic basis. In addition to that, as was most clearly pointed out by my right hon.
767 Friend opposite, there is to a certain extent the experimental duty of town planning to be administered and undertaken by the Local Government Board. It will require the constant attention of very skilled officials to undertake this work, and I cannot conceive any Department in the State where a skilled staff of officials, devoting their time exclusively to this particular work, will be more necessary than will be the case under this Bill in dealing with public health and town planning. I venture to impress upon my right hon. Friend that he should establish in the Local Government Board a special department, or, if he does not like the word "department," a special staff of officials, "whose work will be confined exclusively to the operations of this Bill.
As to this housing problem, many of us who have given a good many years' study to the subject, have always been impressed by the fact that the condition, both in the towns and country districts, is not due to the fact that there has been any lack of legislation, but has been due to the fact almost exclusively that those who had to administer this legislation have not done so properly. It is not merely the local authority that has neglected its work. I venture to say that the Local Government Board itself cannot escape blame in this matter. Had the Public Health and Housing Acts been properly administered in days gone by by local authorities, or where local authorities neglected to do so, had the Local Government Board insisted that they should, half the extravagant and wasteful legislation and schemes that have had to be carried out throughout the country might have been averted. This Bill, if properly administered by the local authorities and sternly watched over by the Local Government Board, will, I believe, prove to be a great economy by anticipating and checking many of those extravagances and a great deal of that expenditure that has hitherto had to be spent on housing operations.
I should like to say a word with regard to the medical officers of health. I think that is one of the most important provisions in the Bill, as has already been said, and I am glad to feel that the Bill in its revised form establishes those officers in much more favourable terms than in the original form. In the first place, the medical officer of health, instead of being dependent upon the mere guidance of the Local Government Board, has now under the Bill power to go all over the 768 county area and to inspect wherever he desires, exactly on identical lines with the medical officer of health in the district. This will give a very great incentive to the exposure of bad conditions in many of our country districts. The Bill originally proposed that the local medical officer of health might complain to the county medical officer, whereupon action might be taken. I am afraid if that had been left to the local officer in many instances very little would have been done in the country districts. Now power has been given to the county officer, and I believe a great deal will be done which otherwise would not be done under the original proposal. If we connect with that proposal this second one that there is to be a committee of public health and housing attached to each county council we have then a regular established system supervising public health and housing in our counties which I am sure will go further than anything else to improve those conditions.
I wish to say a word upon the register, because I feel myself, to a certain extent, together with other Members, responsible for the inclusion of this proposal in the Bill. I am very glad to see that it remains as it was passed in Committee upstairs, and I hope it will remain untouched, as it is now. I gather there is a good deal of objection to this periodical survey taking place by the different authorities in the country. There is a good deal of apprehension that such a proposal will lead to unnecessary expense, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite said he believed it would be somewhat futile in its character. I believe that there is nothing in the whole measure which will ultimately produce more real housing reform and public health reform than this register when it has been established in the country. We may have attempts made to make this survey optional or to modify it in its scope on the part of the local authorities instead of compulsory. I hope that the Committee of the House will stand fast to the register being what it is now—compulsory upon all local authorities.
We have many instances in our legislation to-day of "may," and I should like to see a good many of those "mays" turned into "shalls." It would be most profitable to social reform if a considerable portion of the session was devoted to taking existing Acts of Parliament and converting the "mays" into "shalls." I think this is a conspicuous case where you should have "shall" and not "may," because undoubtedly, if it is allowed to a 769 local authority to exercise this or not as it wishes, those areas where the worst conditions of housing to-day exist will be probably the very areas in which the local Authority will refrain from undertaking the register. As so many Members wish to address the House, I do not feel justified in attempting any lengthy defence of the register, but all I would say is, I am quite confident, on closer inspection, that the cost will be nothing like so great as many people apprehend. It looks at first sight to be a novel proposal, but, as a matter of fact, if only local authorities and the Local Government Board had carried out the existing laws in the past there would have been a survey in existence already. All I ask is that the law as it stands to-day should be properly administered, and should be put down in concrete form in a register, so that the local authorities -and the public should know exactly what is taking place in their own localities with regard to housing.
With regard to town planning, I think an alteration will probably have to be made in the clauses which deal with the limitation of houses per acre if the town planning part of the Bill is to be successful. There should be a very appreciable limitation of houses as compared with the number that can be erected under the existing bye-laws, and if the limitation is to be carried out successfully there must be no possible loophole by which the owner of property can come in upon a local authority and claim a large compensation for the difference between the houses as limited under the town planning scheme and the number he could put up under existing bye-laws. If such powers of compensation were allowed, or if a loophole were left in the Bill by which they could enforce compensation, it would make a great difference, because I believe that it is conceivable now to put something like 53 houses on an acre, and if the number were limited to 20 by the local authority, and you are to have owners asking for compensation owing to this reduction, it would make the schemes so extravagant to the ratepayers that it would be impossible to carry them out. I hope it will be made clear in the Bill or in the schedules of the Bill that no such compensation in any circumstances would be payable to the owner of the property.
Whatever its imperfections may be, I believe that if this Bill were properly administered by the local authorities, and 770 strictly looked after by a department of the Local Government Board under the President over a period of years, it would be the means of carrying out great reforms. At present in this country we have a perfectly ridiculous paradox. We have our public institutions, our schools and our workhouses, and our prisons, all most strictly regulated under the most sanitary, and comfortable conditions. Yet the private homes of many of our people are in a most insanitary condition, and are practically uninhabitable. We want to establish once for all a system and machinery which can easily remove this ridiculous anomaly, and make it difficult, and I hope impossible, for the cruel misery and distress, which to-day are such familiar conditions among many of our fellow-countrymen, to continue to exist, and will make the conditions of their lives more in consonance with the higher civilisation in which we are living.
§ Mr. F. W. JOWETT
The Hon. Baronet who has just sat down is more optimistic regarding the effect of this Bill, if passed, than I am able to confess myself to be. As far as I can see in the 73 clauses which comprise this Bill and its six schedules, there are, naturally, many provisions which in certain points of detail are an improvement on previous legislation. But I cannot see how the difficulties that have been made manifest in all previous legislation on the housing question can be said to be in any way solved by the Bill now under consideration. These difficulties are practically twofold. There is first the difficulty which all local authorities have felt for many years past of raising the necessary means to carry out housing schemes successfully, and there is also the further difficulty that the terms upon which housing property for clearance schemes can be acquired are so onerous that localities and municipalities quail before them, and frequently refuse to act in consequence. I would like the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board to point out in what part of this Bill there are to be found any powers whatever which are likely to make it easier for local authorities to carry out schemes of housing the people than it has been previously, so far as finding funds for the purpose is concerned. I would also like him to point out any clause which makes it to any material extent easier to acquire the land and property requisite for carrying out the provisions of this Bill 771 than it has been previously. If he is unable to point out changes of this character then I say that the chief purpose of this Bill fails, because it does not alter to any material extent the position of affairs as it exists at present.
I am glad to admit, as I am sure many of my Friends will admit, that there are some clauses in this Bill on points of detail which are valuable, and the most important one, in my opinion, is precisely the one that was forced upon the Committee, I am sorry to say, so far as I remember, against the wish of the President of the Local Government Board himself, and that is clause 30. I hope that no Amendment will be carried to militate against the efficiency of that clause. I agree with what has been said as to the exaggeration—I believe it to be an exaggeration—as to the cost which the carrying out of this clause is likely to put on local authorities. It does not appear to me to be so formidable as some Members of this House seem to expect, but even though the cost may be higher than I for one would expect it to be I would still point out that a very substantial per contra is to be found in the increased health of the community and in decreased expenditure in other matters in which the authorities are concerned. But if this survey were carried out and maintained then more important than all, to my mind, there would be this result. The mere fact of the register being in existence showing all these facts with regard to the sanitary conditions of property in the localities would act as a spur. It would display things which could not be ignored, and the display of those points and the consequent action arising from the knowledge so obtained would produce considerable benefits to the community. In support of clause 30, and in answer to the objections that have been taken to it, I may mention that a Royal Commission presided over by the Duke of Devonshire recommended that such a register should be kept, and also that a Select Committee on Rural Housing has declared itself to be of the same opinion.
There are some points which, it appears to me, should be remedied in Committee if possible Clause 53 has a vague reference to land likely to be used for building purposes—that is to say, in making out any scheme for town planning the reference to the land to be scheduled is that it is likely to be used for building purposes. The result, if those words are in- 772 corporated in the clause, would be this, that if an owner is dispossessed and asked to sell to the community any land which; has been described in a public document as land likely to be used for building purposes, he will want to sell it as building land, and not as land under a different form, under which it ought to be sold, so as to be perfectly fair to the community. In other words, he will seek to get the prospective value, whilst in reality he is only entitled to the value of the land as it then exists and for the purpose to which it is then applied. Also, it appears to me, that a change should be made in the Bill to allow land which has been compulsorily acquired to be kept. As I understand the position of the Bill at present, if land has been compulsorily acquired and is not used for the purpose for which it has been acquired, it must be sold. That, to my mind, should be remedied. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board should offer no objection, because I believe that on a previous occasion he supported this when he was in opposition. A further objection I have to the Bill as it now stands is to those clauses which deal with public utility societies. A provision which this Bill contains—which will enable public authorities to advance two-thirds of the cost to companies to carry out housing schemes with a philanthropic five per cent, object in view—is not to my mind one that is fair from the public standpoint. The proper thing seems to me to be that some means should be found of securing for the local authorities permanent power over those schemes to make it perfectly certain that the purpose for which public money is being advanced should be adhered to throughout, and not allowed to lapse after a few years. If, for instance a change were made in the Bill which would compel the local authority to retain the land itself, and then allow the public utility societies to build on that land publicly owned, it might then be permissible, and I myself would offer no objection to two-thirds of the cost of the building being advanced to the public utility society, because the public authority, holding permanently the land itself, could insist that the purposes for which the money was originally advanced should be strictly adhered to, and not allowed to lapse from any change in the direction of affairs, or any change in the views of those who happened to be managing the concern. So far as one's 773 own information and experience goes in regard to the new ventures under the guidance and management of the public utility societies, the number of houses for the working classes are not very materially increased by them. For the most part the houses which have been built are houses which members of the working classes cannot possibly inhabit. I know that can be said to a certain extent in regard to schemes carried out by municipal authorities. It is often said with regard to municipal schemes of housing reforms, but it cannot be said with the same truth with regard to these schemes carried out municipally as it can be said in regard to the schemes carried out by public utility societies. For, after all, municipal authorities, in carrying out housing schemes, do attempt to build houses for the working classes. They may, and probably do, build a rather superior type of working-class house. But note the result of their action. It is this: That there is a general move up among the workers. Those who have been inhabiting the poorer type of house go into the municipal house. But they still belong to the working classes. I wish to say that so far as I can see public utility societies, and the class of houses they are erecting—at Letchworth, Hampstead, and elsewhere—are catering for a different class altogether, between whom and all workers there is a gap which is not, and will not, be actually and in effect bridged by this Bill, or by any proposals which are now under consideration. In conclusion, I want again to refer to what seems to me to be the crux of this question. We are wanting to increase the number of working-class houses available for the people. Do the proposals of this Bill promise to increase them to any material extent? If it be true, as I said at the outset, and as I apprehend the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken from above the Gangway themselves feel, that the localities will not, in the present state of the rating system, and with the present burdens which they have had put on them up till now, accept further financial responsibility. If this be true, then you might have 73 good clauses dealing with little detailed things which are all right in themselves, but the position is not, will not, and cannot be effectively altered, and no great change can attend it. I want to 774 know—I am sorry that the benches near me above the Gangway are not occupied while I am asking for this information—but I want to know why it is that the working classes of England are not treated in the same way as the working classes in Ireland? I have no need to protest against the treatment of the Irish. I want them to get more good things if they can get them. I have no objection to them getting houses supported by public money, but I want to know why the English people are not treated in the same way?
Since this Parliament met we have decided to set apart, and the Treasury to advance, £4,500,000 at 2¾ per cent.—at 3¼ to include repayment—in order to build from 25,000 to 30,000 labourers' cottages in Ireland. Every year there is a certain sum of public money which goes to assist the work of building cottages for the labouring classes in Ireland. Last week we were engaged in a stupendous business which was to involve expenditure on the Treasury of £30,000,000 in order to transfer Irish land from one set of owners to another. Why, then, cannot the housing conditions of this country be remedied so far as they are defective—and everybody knows they are defective—by a little of the same kind of support that is being given to Ireland? I suppose there is something like £175,000,000 of money in the Post Office Savings Bank. I do not contend that this by any means belongs exclusively to the working classes, but a very large part has been deposited by them in small amounts—2½ per cent, is what they get for it. Cannot that money be allowed at a modest price to finance housing schemes in this country. I see no reason against it except this: That political economy only runs on this side of the Channel. In Ireland political economy does not count. [An HON. MEMBER: "And under this Government."] Yes, and under this Government. Yes, and I would further remind the House that the 1903 Act which committed the country to a policy of land transference was an Act passed by the late Government. We on these benches want equality of treatment. We want to see more houses built, not merely more clauses such as are spread over these 42 pages, and which deal with little points "that will not affect the general question. We want the houses built. They cannot be built, and will not be built unless the Government do something to assist the 775 localities—to provide the money required on terms which will enable them to use it for providing houses at rents which the people can pay.
§ Mr. W. H. COWAN
When I gave notice of the Amendment standing in my name, I had intended to call the attention of the House to a feature in this Bill which has caused very considerable alarm in quarters which are certainly not unsympathetic to the proper object of the Bill. The policy of the preservation of our commons and open spaces for the use of the people for recreation and enjoyment is in no way a party question, and numbers as many friends and earnest supporters among hon. Members opposite as on this side of the House. I had intended to raise the whole question, and to show, as I think I should have shown, conclusively, that under this Bill, commons and open spaces of all sorts are placed absolutely at the mercy of a Government Department. This is contrary to the policy of Parliament for the last 40 years. The present position is this: Up to this time the commons and open spaces have been so protected that they cannot be taken away unless by a public process, which renders it exceedingly difficult to deprive the people of their great inheritance. Certain small concessions have been made by the Board of Agriculture. But in almost every case it has been absolutely essential that the provisional orders so granted should be confirmed by this House, and in the last resort it is this House, and only this House, which has a right to say whether or not a particular piece of common land or an open space dedicated to the use of the public should be diverted to any other use. Under this Bill the Local Government Board, a single Government Department, will have the right to issue orders which will require no confirmation by this House, and would not come before this House for consideration or discussion. Thus those concerned would be deprived of any opportunity of even expressing an opinion upon the expediency or otherwise of the proposal.
I had intended to go somewhat fully into this question, and to anticipate any possible objection that this was not so. Alarm has been caused to many of the open space societies, on whose behalf I speak—the Commons Preservation Society, the Metropolitan Parks and Gardens Society, the Society for the Protection of Places of Historic Interest and Natural Beauty, etc. 776 I was prepared to deal with the suggestion that these societies were unduly alarmed, and I should have begun by replying that these societies have kept a watch over these matters, both in the metropolis and throughout England, for many years, and therefore that their opinions and their statements were entitled to be treated with very great respect. I should have gone a step further, and have been prepared to say that these societies have taken the highest legal advice, and been prepared to give the House particulars of that advice—advice from which the right hon. Gentleman himself would have seen that we were on sound ground in the assertions we make. But I am disarmed to a very large extent by the quite unexpected conciliatory attitude of the right hon. Gentleman, Because what is the history of this matter? When this Bill was introduced into the House of Commons last year it contained two clauses which obviously and admittedly struck at commons. It gave local authorities, with the consent of the Local Government Board not only a general but an express right to take for housing purposes portions of commons and open spaces. Acting on the suggestion of the Open Spaces Societies, I put down an Amendment which would have effectively nullified this nefarious purpose. What did the right hon. Gentleman do? He was approached before the Amendment was put upon the Paper, and before the clauses to which that Amendment expressly applied were reached. The right hon. Gentleman declined to negotiate. He refused to accept any proposal—and many were put before him. When he came to the clauses in the Bill he elected to postpone them until the end of the discussion. When the end of the Committee stage was reached, and when all the other clauses were disposed of what did he then do? He withdrew those clauses, and thereby deprived me and many other Members of an opportunity of raising the whole question of the effect of this Bill on the security of common lands in England. The Amendment in itself was not restricted to the clause which it purported to amend. It was an Amendment applicable to the whole of the Bill, for it commenced with the words "Nothing in this Act." It is not difficult to understand why the right hon. Gentleman pursued the course which he did, in the light of subsequent events. The right hon. Gentleman has printed at the head of this Bill a memorandum saying that it is the same Bill as was dealt with in Grand Com- 777 mittee save for a few alterations which he has introduced to meet promises made in Committee. That is perfectly true, but those who have acted with me on this question imagined that the withdrawal of the clauses in these circumstances, without giving us any opportunity of raising the question which we desired to have debated, implied a promise that when the Bill was re-introduced it would contain nothing which would have the effect of placing these open spaces at the mercy of the Local Government Board. But now we find that the Bill as re-introduced contains everything to which we objected, with the single exception of these two clauses, and we object again, and, naturally, more strongly than ever. Again we entered into negotiations with the right hon. Gentleman. The Commons Preservation Society, through their secretary, sent the right hon. Gentleman a letter calling his attention to the position at considerable length and with considerable courtesy, and giving him notice of the Amendment which I proposed, in the name of the society, to put on the paper. The right hon. Gentleman did not deign to do more than send a mere acknowledgment of that letter, and from that day to this we have heard nothing from him. Therefore, I have a right to say that while I am disarmed by the right hon. Gentleman's conciliatory attitude I am also considerably surprised by it. The right hon. Gentleman says that he is going to be as amenable to the Committee as he was susceptible in Committee upstairs. I should like him to be more amenable in Committee than he was susceptible last year upstairs, because after our arguments he merely withdrew those two clauses and retained all the objectionable elements of the Bill. I want to be assured on this occasion that there will be a withdrawal of everything in the Bill which threatens our open spaces and common lands. I hope and trust that the right hon. Gentleman will give us such an assurance before the conclusion of this debate on the second reading of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that the Local Government Board is the Ministry of Public Health. On the New Forest (Sale of Lands for Public Purposes) Bill, the President of the Local Government Board said:—There was one phase in the Bill which provided that land was only to be taken when immediately required 'in the interests of the public health of the locality.' He agreed that Lyndhurst was in an unfortunate position right in the heart of the New Forest, 778 and was entitled to reasonable consideration in regard to everything appertaining to public health. He could, however, give the hon. Gentleman cases in which the local authorities had interpreted 'the interests of public health' very widely indeed, and he would suggest that the Bill should make it clear that the narrowest interpretation was to be given to this phrase.The Ministry of Public Health should not be allowed any more than a local authority to stretch too far their powers and interfere with common rights in regard to the question of housing. If you put houses on a common under this Bill, and allowed one acre to each cottage as the measure proposes, you would withdraw hundreds of acres from the use of thousands and thousands of people, and I say this would be a most reactionary and undemocratic proceeding, because you would be preferring the interests of the few to the interests of the many. It is undemocratic to prefer the interests of the few to the interests of the many, even if the few be of the same class as the many. The alarm which has been felt because of certain objects of this Bill is entirely justified. I have here the answer of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board which he gave to an hon. Member opposite last Session. The hon. Member askedWhether clause 7 of the Housing, Town Planning etc., Bill proposes to enable local authorities, or any other bodies corporate, with the consent of the Local Government Board, to appropriate for building purposes common lands, recreation grounds, disused burial grounds, village greens, fuel allotments, open spaces, or other land vested in them and acquired by gift or purchase on the definite condition, and trust that it should be permanently dedicated to the public use and enjoyment; and whether in framing the clause, consideration was given to its deterrent effect upon persons who may be contemplating making gifts of land to local authorities or subscribing towards the acquisition of open spaces.The reply was:—The answer to the first portion of the question may be taken as generally in he affirmative.The same hon. Member put a further question:—Are we to understand that if these clauses become law, the London County Council, with the sanction of the Local Government Board, would be able to build on Battersea Park.and the answer was:—Yes, I believe that it would be so.Here we have the Parliamentary Secretary threatening Battersea Park, the special preserve of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman asks us to have confidence in him. We have regarded him in the past as a friend of the people. In 1902, in this House, the right hon. Gentleman said that the history of commons preservation 779 during the last 40 or 50 years was nothing more nor less than the history of a long struggle against a surrender by local authorities of public common rights over scores of thousands of acres. We want the right hon. Gentleman and his Department to protect the common lands of England from these aggressions. While we have great confidence in him, yet we do not know what his successors might do. Nor do we know what he himself might do under the strong pressure of an impecunious local authority anxious to have a housing scheme financed on the most economical lines. It might be that the right hon. Gentleman would prefer economy to other considerations. We do know that in the past he strongly opposed the alienation of common lands by local authorities, or in the interests of local authorities, merely on the ground of economy. I quote from the same speech, which he made in 1902:—He agreed that Lyndhurst should be charged a reasonable sum for the land taken from the forest, but Lyndhurst should not be allowed to link up with other districts for the purpose of establishing a joint sewage farm by appropriating land from the forest simply because it was public land and could be secured very cheaply.We want the President of the Local Government Board to protect our common lands from encroachments. We have confidence in the Local Government Board, and we have special confidence in the right hon. Gentleman, but we are not prepared to give him a blank cheque. I may trust a man up to a point. I trust the right hon. Gentleman to a much greater extent than I would trust many men, but I and those who are acting with me, the Open Spaces Societies and other bodies, will not trust either the right hon. Gentleman or any other individual on the question of giving powers to use the common lands of England for building and other improper uses. Therefore, we have a right to ask, and it is our duty to ask, what the right hon. Gentleman really means. The Open Spaces Societies recognise that there are cases of an exceptional character where it may be in the interests of a housing scheme that some small portion of an open space should be utilised, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say that this shall only be done where another piece of land, the equivalent of that which is taken, is restored for the public use. What I desire to know is whether the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to insert in the Bill a clause which will give absolute protection 780 to commons and open spaces, subject only to the provision as to exchanges. I am prepared, on behalf of the Open Spaces Societies, to welcome such a proposal from the right hon. Gentleman, and I sincerely hope that he will make this alteration in a most valuable and useful Bill, of which I am a sincere and warm supporter so far as its legitimate objects are concerned. I urge the right hon. Gentleman, now he has gone so far, to dispose of this question once for all, and allay the alarm which, no doubt unwittingly, was caused by giving an assurance which will meet the views of not one or two Members of this House, as the right hon. Gentleman said, but of 30 or 40 Members who have put down Amendments identical with my own, and of the movers of other Amendments in regard to open spaces.
§ Mr. GEORGE CAVE
I think a very clear distinction is to be drawn between the housing and town planning parts of this Bill. With regard to the housing part, I am extremely glad that the Government have had the courage to take up the matter, and to devote to that particular question a substantial part of this session. I have always believed that a great deal of the misery, vice and intemperance we see in this country is due to bad housing, that is, to bad conditions at home, and I would never be a party to opposing any proposal which I thought would have the effect of remedying some of those conditions. As regards the housing part, I think many good provisions are contained in the present proposals. I am very glad we have been promised that this Bill will be considered in a Committee of the whole House. I know it was considered upstairs last year, but with all respect to the Members of that Committee, I do not think the Bill came to us in a satisfactory condition. There are in this Bill many clauses which require the consideration of the whole House. May I just say here how entirely I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, in regard to what he said respecting the clauses relating to the medical officers and the housing committee. I think that proposal will be of the greatest possible use. Many of us in this quarter of the House have long contended that the appointment of a medical officer should be made compulsory, and I am very glad that we have before us a proposal which has a chance of becoming law in that direction. I also think the Financial Clauses of the Bill will be of great use in promoting the building of working class 781 dwellings. With regard to the housing part I have one or two criticisms to make. I sympathise with the hon. Member for Guildford because the opportunity for his attack upon this Bill has been taken from him by the assurances given by the right hon. Gentleman. I hope we shall see those assurances take the form of a definite provision protecting public commons and open spaces. Generally speaking, local authorities are to be trusted in most matters, but I have seen so many contests between local authorities and the general public, in which the local authority has often been held to be wrong, that I do think public rights, such as common rights, highway rights, and rights of open spaces ought not to be left to the judgment of local authorities, but ought to be protected by express provision in an Act of Parliament.
The hon. Member below the Gangway said quite truly that Acts of Parliament are no use unless we have more houses built. Is it not a fact that the real difficulty inmost places is not any reluctance on the part of local authorities to use the provisions of the Statute, but want of funds and the risk of loss which most local authorities hesitate to face. I sympathise to some extent with what the hon. Member said that in this matter Ireland is treated very much better than England. I do not for a moment say that Irish Acts have not gone much too far, and I do not suggest that we should follow what I believe to be a bad example, but the House will remember in the Small Holdings Act, under pressure from the Committee upstairs, the Government consented to a provision under which if a small holdings scheme resulted in a loss a proportion of that loss is borne by the Treasury. I think if some proposal of that kind were made and accepted to the effect that a local authority going into a scheme for housing approved by the central authority, should, if they made a loss, receive consideration from the Exchequer. I think that would be a real encouragement to local authorities to put their powers into force. I hope in Committee a proposal of that kind will be made by the Government.
I want to make one minor criticism upon clause 15 of the Bill. I do not object to clause 14 under which the letting of a dwelling for occupation by members of the working class shall imply a condition that the house is at the commencement of the holding in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation, but Clause 15 provides 782 that the house during the holding shall be kept by the landlord in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation. I think that proposal requires some further consideration. I do not know whether the undertaking is to be deemed to be given to the tenant or the local authority. I suppose from the wording of the Bill it is to devolve upon the tenant, and I am afraid that means a good deal of litigation. The effect of the clause is that if the tenant misuses the house, if he damages it so as, by his own conduct, to render it unfit for human habitation, the person liable to repair that damage is not the tenant who causes it, but the landlord who owns the house. If so, that is a matter which requires consideration because the Bill, as it stands, involves a certain amount of injustice. The effect of this clause is that a closing or demolition order may, as the Bill stands, be made not by a court as under the present law but by a Government Department, and no provision is made for hearing the owner of the house before such an order is made. I fear that the result will be to increase officialism, and the power of Government Departments to impose burdens on individuals without them having a proper opportunity of being heard on their defence. For myself I prefer the existing law, which gives to the owner the right to be heard before a court, generally a court of summary jurisdiction, and which empowers the court to make the order for the closing of the house, or the pulling down of any property.
I have one other observation to make upon the housing clauses, and it is in regard to clause 30, which provides for the keeping of a register of houses. In regard to this provision I want to reserve my opinion upon the general question, although, as at present advised, I am disposed to think that it would impose a heavy burden upon the authorities, and one which we are hardly justified in asking them to undertake. In any case, under the clause as it stands, the register is to be kept in rural districts by the county council, and I do not understand why. If this register is to be kept at all it should be compiled and kept by the district council which knows most about the locality, and I do not think the county council ought to bear the heavy burden and expense which this provision will throw upon them. I do not wish to criticise further the housing clauses, and I will leave any further criticisms I may desire to make until we reach the Committee stage.
783 I want to say something of rather a different character about the town-planning portion of the Bill. Anybody who has studied those clauses must realise what a maze of provisions they contain. They are very difficult to follow and understand, and they must lead to a great deal of dispute and litigation. More than that: I think those clauses contain provisions which show a total want of regard not only for private but for public interests. I do not think the assurance given by the President of the Local Government Board on the subject of open spaces is quite adequate to meet the case. Will the House just look for a moment at these clauses. To begin with, the town-planning powers can be exercised under Clause 53: "With the general object of securing proper sanitary conditions, amenity, and convenience in connection with the laying out and the use of the land." Therefore, it may often be a mere question of taste—a question between the judgment and taste of the private owner to lay out the land in one way and the taste of the local authority, who might think the land ought to be laid out in a different way. Where that state of things arises, a scheme may be made under sub-clause 3 involving the pulling down of buildings already built. That may be a very great hardship to a man who may have had a house there for years.
§ Mr. CAVE
If the owner himself thinks so, I have no complaint; but, if the authority thinks so, and the owner does not, the will of the authority will prevail, and a house which the owner desires to occupy for the rest of his life may, against his will, be pulled down. That I think a very serious power to give the local authority. Sub-clause 7 also deals, amongst other things, with existing open spaces, roads, streets, parks, pleasure or recreation grounds, and those may be altered and varied at the discretion of the local authority. See how far that goes. Under clause 54, by schedule 4 the scheme for town planning may deal with a number of things which hitherto have not been within the discretion of any local authority. The very first sub-section of the fourth schedule includes: "Streets, roads, and other ways, and stopping up or diversion of existing highways." We have a very old law upon the subject 784 of the stopping up of highways under which no highway can be diverted without a number of consents being obtained, including that of the parish council and the district council, and a reference to quarter sessions, at which reference any member of the public may object, and any member may claim to have it determined by a jury whether the highway should be stopped or not. The greatest precautions are taken before a highway can be stopped up, but under this Bill in its present form, at the mere will of the local authority, confirmed by a Government Department, any number of public highways may be closed. Schedule IV. also comprises "buildings, structures, and erections; open spaces, private and public; extinction or variation of private rights of way and other easements"; and they may go as far as the "suspension of statutory enactments, bye-laws, regulations, or other provisions in force in the area." These words are found in the schedule, and in clause 54 again it says that the scheme may provide for "suspending, so far as necessary, for the proper carrying out of the scheme, any statutory enactments, bye-laws, regulations, or other provisions, under whatever authority made, which are in operation in the area included in the scheme." That is a power which I do not think should be given to any local authority. Under sub-section 3 of the same clause the responsible authority need not even be the authority in whose area the property is situated. It may, if the scheme so provides, be a neighbouring authority. To put a possible case, you might under this Bill empower the London County Council to enforce a scheme in the county of Surrey, a scheme wholly objected to by the inhabitants of the parishes affected, and yet there would be no appeal whatever if once the scheme came into force. I think this clause goes absolutely too far. See how far owners or persons liable to be affected are protected by the Bill. I do not find in the provisions anything compelling the local authority or the Board to give notice to the owners, to hold public inquiries, or to hear anybody at all. In clause 55 it stated that the Local Government Board may make regulations regarding notices and inquiries, but in a matter so important as this I do not think we ought to rely upon a Government Department, without the directions of Parliament, to deal with this matter. In the Small Hold- 785 ings Act the House took care that these provisions as to notices, inquiries, and so on should appear in the Bill itself or in a schedule to the Bill, and I trust that before this measure passes through Committee we shall have before the House the proposed regulations, so that if necessary we may propose Amendments to protect those who should be protected in regard to these matters. Under clause 56 a scheme may be put into force by the authority without the order of any court, and an owner if he does not comply with the scheme is liable to be dealt with forcibly by the local authority instead of the authority having to go, as I think it ought, to a Court of Summary Jurisdiction for an order. But that is a matter for Committee.
My last point is in reference to the very unfair provisions with regard to compensation. Under clause 57, if an owner thinks that his property may be diminished in value he must make a claim within a certain time after the approval of the scheme. He may not know how the scheme will affect his property, but he is to look forward and make his claims within a very short time. The amount is then determined in anticipation of the event, but he cannot get payment of the compensation until such time as the loss is actually incurred. That is an entirely new provision in legislation of this kind. No Act has hitherto provided that you must foresee your loss at the moment but be unable to obtain compensation until the loss actually occurs. Then see how the Bill deals with the opposite event, where the owner may gain by a scheme. In that case the Bill provides that the authority shall make a claim at once; the claim is determined, and, if it is decided that a gain will occur in future there is no provision that it shall not be paid until the gain actually occurs, but the owner has to pay the amount at once which it is decided he may gain by reason of the scheme. Anything more grossly unfair I cannot imagine. The tribunal to adjudicate under this clause is a new tribunal—the Local Government Board itself. What inquiries are to be held, or what hearing is to be given to the owners or to persons affected, the Bill does not say. I suppose the Board will make its own procedure and go as it pleases in the matter. It is perfectly absurd when you have to deal with questions of compensation to have totally different tribunals pursuing different courses of procedure.
786 Then I have done my best, but I cannot understand clause 58. It is a tangle of provisions, every one intended to cut down compensation in some way or other. In the first part we have to assume that bye-laws operate in a district which, in fact do not operate. Under the second, part you have to do the same. Under Subsection 3, if I read it rightly, the right to compensation goes altogether in certain cases, because it states: "A person whose property is injuriously affected by the operation of a town-planning scheme shall not be entitled to obtain in respect of any matter or thing for which he would' under any other enactment be entitled to obtain compensation, any greater compensation than he would have obtained if the scheme had not been made." Where a man would be entitled to compensation under the Land Clauses Act, under this provision he would have no compensation at all. He cannot get it under that Act, because it does not apply, and he cannot get it under this Bill because he can have no more advantage than he would have if the scheme had not been made. I think that that will require to be seriously dealt with. Then we come to clause 60, which gives the Local Government Board power to force these schemes upon the local authority. I think if you are going to give this new power, at all events until you see whether it is used properly, you should leave it to the local authority elected by the people of the locality to use it or not, and not at the very beginning show your distrust of the local authority by inserting a provision to enable, the Local Government Board to put pressure upon them. The whole of these town planning clauses not only want recasting, but are in such a form that it is very difficult indeed to see how they can be put into a fair and practicable shape. I think time would be saved and injustice might be avoided if the Government would leave out altogether for the present year the town planning part of the Bill. I am not at all averse to some provision enabling local authorities to look forward and lay down lines of building for the future, but T think these clauses as framed will lead to many disputes, inflict a great deal of injustice, and if pressed do much more harm than they are likely, to do good. I shall not vote against the second reading of the Bill, because I think some of its clauses are good, but I shall not vote for the Bill in the end if it contains the town planning clauses in their present form.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD Mr. Masterman)
I wish with the leave of the House to reply to various criticisms which have been made in the course of the debate. Before doing so, I should like in the name of my right hon. Friend and myself, to thank the House for the tone and temper which have marked the discussion, and for the very kindly and friendly fashion in which speakers in all quarters have received this particular attempt at social reform. I said in the name of ourselves, but it would perhaps be more correct if I said in the name of a Committee of the House. When we presented the Bill last year it was a Bill framed by the Government with such information and advice as they possessed, but it is now presented as the work of the House acting through a Committee, which gave careful and particular attention, not only to every clause, but to every line, during 22 days of most exhaustive criticism. There is a general impression outside on the part of those who are unfamiliar with the working of the Committee that the Bill was very much knocked about in Committee. I have even seen it stated that not one single clause remained the same at the end as it was at the beginning. That is a delusion. Forty out of the sixty-one clauses passed without any amendment at all, and most of the debate in Committee was concentrated upon one or two of the other clauses. We should have welcomed—I speak with all sincerity—the presence on that Committee of the hon. and learned Member for Kingston. We had the benefit of his presence in the Committee on the Small Holdings Bill, and I think by general admission he never makes a point without its being a real point which requires to be seriously considered. But if he thinks that the town planning part of this Bill passed without the most careful legal examination he is under a misapprehension. By far the greater amount of the debate in Committee concentrated itself upon the town planning part of the Bill, and especially upon the compensation clauses. The clause which he has just read to the House, and which I think he will find does not bear the interpretation he puts upon it, was promoted by no less a revolutionary person than the hon. member for Bury St. Edmunds. To a very large extent Amendments—I admit improving Amendments—were introduced by Members op- 788 posite, and were freely adopted by the Committee, which never responded to the Party Whip from one day to another. Indeed, in the Committee we saw all the advantages as well as the deficiencies of government by free discussion. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend who speaks for the Opposition in this matter spoke so warmly about the Bill in its present form. He spoke even more profoundly than I think he did last year in regard to the Bill before it passed through Committee. I expected no less from the chairman of the garden suburb, and I did not think he would agree—I hoped he would not agree—with the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that it is desirable that there should be any delay in the advancement of at least some broad and comprehensive ideas as to town planning. I believe it will probably be long before we see the lessons we have learned in the garden suburb being universally adopted by the local authorities, or even by private owners in this country. He has shown, and everyone knows that in this particular question we cannot hang up things by delaying them. Every day we see to our misery—I do not think that word is too strong to use in this connection—how different things might have been but for delay having been the motto of our action in the past. We are now slowly following the example of every one of the European countries. The measures we are taking in the matter of town planning are far less drastic than the measures which other countries have found it necessary to give to their towns in order that in the future posterity may not reproach the present for the way in which it has allowed town development. The right hon. Gentleman referred in more sympathetic accents than last year to the terminology of the Bill, and to the legislation by reference. He did us the high compliment of comparing our phraseology to that of two of the greatest living novelists. It would have been easier for us, if animated by advanced Radical enthusiasm, in framing this Bill to have swept away all the past legislation and commenced de novo. It is only the natural conservatism of my right hon. Friend which has led him definitely to build up on the past, and to refer all through to what has been done in the various housing and public health Bills. I think if my right hon. Friend will refer to the various other measures which were introduced by Conservative Governments in 1890, 1900, and 1903, he will see that this 789 difficult jargon and terminology is more advanced in those Bills than in this Bill which we are now presenting to the House.
If I may I shall refer in a word to one of the objections made in the most kindly and friendly fashion by the right hon. Gentleman. He deplored the very stringent coercive power left to the Local Government Board in dealing with the -county councils. If he examines the Bill he will find it is reduced to almost a minimum. We have considerable power over the smaller authorities, and we give more power to the county councils to exercise default power over the smaller sanitary districts, but we take very few powers indeed to exercise default powers over the great county councils, and where we do so it is almost entirely in the case of a specific refusal to carry out work which has been put upon them. Everyone in the House recognises the great difficulty of proceeding by mandamus in these matters, and the great desirability of letting the local authorities do their work as far as possible in their own fashion.
One of the improvements the Bill makes is the offer of other avenues than those of compulsion. It transfers the power, if necessary, of one local authority to another, and it makes provision that deliberate hostility between the central and the local authority should be no longer possible. To a very considerable extent those who represent the county councils in this matter will be prepared to acknowledge that we are not acting unwisely in offering them the transfer of powers if the smaller sanitary authorities refuse to carry out their duties. I can inform the House that the steering of the right course between all the authorities and reformers has been a matter of extraordinary difficulty. Almost every day my right hon. Friend has been dealing with deputations on this subject for the last nine months. It is impossible to satisfy all. The House will agree that we have gone far in every possible method of conciliation to satisfy those who felt they required concessions consistent with the main object of our policy, which is to endeavour to provide a larger supply of habitable houses for the working classes, to endeavour to see that the houses supplied are in a fit state for habitation by the working classes, and to endeavour to see that the surroundings in which the houses are situated are something better than those of the houses which have been growing up in the outskirts of the big towns up to the present moment.
790 We clearly recognise that there is much to be said as to the machinery of the Bill. In the fight against slums in the towns we flatter ourselves that some facts justify us in saying that we are fighting a winning battle at present, though it is not a battle which is proceeding as quickly as we desire; but in fighting against slums in the country at present we are fighting a losing battle. The country districts, with some exceptions, are getting worse and worse in connection with housing. Houses are falling to pieces, and in many cases no houses are being built at all. The situation is at a deadlock. Some have expressed a desire to know whether these powers are required. The right hon. Gentleman and others have criticised generally the question of registration and survey. I have no remarks at present to make about that except that it was carried in the Committee against the advice of the Government by Members voting from both sides of the House. Therefore, although there is much to be said one way or another, I do not feel that on the second reading debate it is my special function to offer any reply to the criticism on that subject. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the transfer from the local justices to the Local Government Board of the powers in connection with the default. In regard to action of the local authority declaring a house unfit for habitation, it was a difficult thing for some districts to get the justices to act, and we think that the question whether a house is fit or unfit for habitation is one which an inspector of the Local Government Board ought to be able to deal with.
As to compensation, I heard from sundry interruptions during the debate that there is considerable scepticism whether we are not giving far too great compensation to landlords. In Committee we had some considerable criticism in connection with the incorporation of the Lands Clauses Act and other measures to safeguard the interests of private persons, and it was urged that we were going far too far in this matter. As to how far we are going, I would say that we have merely adopted the method which was approved by both Houses of Parliament in the Small Holdings and Allotments Act. If the method is suitable for purchasing large tracts of land for small holdings by local authorities, is it to be criticised if it is to be used for the purpose of small tracts of land which will be required for the building of house property? From the evidence given before the Committee in 791 1906 it appears there is very great difficulty thrown upon rural housing, first by the difficulty of getting land at all, although land is abundant all round, and then by the difficulty, when the land is got if it is to be taken by compulsion, arising out of the fact that the expense in which the unfortunate village is involved is sometimes almost as much as the value of the land. I do not wish to emphasise that here. It has all been put in public documents. I think it has been shown that 60 out of 100 local authorities who were circularised gave as their reason for the fact that no building was going on that it was impossible to get land.
Then as to the provision for an addition to the staff of the Local Government Board, I should be a singularly remarkable Member of the Administration if I were to offer any opposition to such ideas. The idea of every Minister is the aggrandisement of his own Department. My right hon. Friend recognises that if this Bill passes the central authority will require expert advice which must be able to place at the disposal of the local bodies, and I have no doubt that the assurance he makes to the Committee will be carried out and that a very considerable increase—an increase adequate to the necessities of the situation—will be provided when this Bill becomes law.
I pass from the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman to the Amendment which was moved by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash, one of our most faithful Members of Committee upstairs. I rather gathered from the tone of his speech that this Amendment was less designed as a hostile Amendment to the Bill than as giving an opportunity for raising at every convenient season the relation between local and national expenditure. I may, therefore, perhaps hope that having raised the question he will not consider it necessary to go to a Division, which would make it appear that he is hostile to the second reading of the Bill. We have all expressed sympathy again and again with the demand of the rural ratepayer for relief, but there is, as has been pointed out, considerably more of a case to be made out for other branches of local expenditure, especially those mentioned by the Local Taxation Committee. We make no new demand on local expenditure which has not been made in the Housing Acts in the past. We certainly give default powers, but these default powers were given in the Act of 1903. We do earnestly hope that in 792 the great bulk of these housing operations, which we trust will take place in the villages, they may be found to work on a self-supporting basis. The right hon. Gentleman told us some figures, which were rather alarming, as to the possibility of building under a scheme. I think the figures were unduly pessimistic. I offered some figures last year, and stated that it was not 4¼ but 3¼ which was the price charged by the Public Works Loans Commissioners. We offered every consideration to the extension of the time for repayment the sinking fund. The local authority will be able to obtain money as cheaply as it can be obtained in England for any public purpose. The figures which I have worked out show if you can get a cottage at anything like £150, which is their lowest estimate, you will be able to build at a remunerative rate if you charge rent of 3s. a week. That is high for the agricultural labourer, and in many cases it may be impossible, but it will meet in many cases, as it has met in the past, an unsatisfied demand for public property. What is, Mr. Speaker, the hon. Gentleman and his Friends asking us to do? Is it to readjust the incidence of local finance? That is outside the powers of this Bill. Is it to give a definite grant from the Treasury to all such housing schemes? If the hon. Gentleman will study the realities of national finance he will be forced to the conclusion that the time does not exist at present for such a demand. I think there is a distinction between giving ground from the taxes and letting a certain amount on loan fall upon the rates. If it falls upon the land it will fall no more than it does at the present time. The labourer under that system will receive the full remuneration and then pay an economic rent. It seems to me that anything which may prevent the change which will produce that result should be carefully looked at by the House before it is decided upon. The rural labourer is in a different position from the small holder. The rural labourer is deliberately receiving part of his wages in kind, but the small holder receives the wages of his labour. I am hoping that our most sanguine views with respect to this Bill will be realised. We are providing for these cottages something like an acre of land, and hope that in some five or ten years hence this House may agree that there is a marked improvement in this problem. We are told that we are indirectly and secretly endeavouring not to fulfil the pledges and agreements that we made in 793 Committee. I can assure hon. Members that there is no suggestion of truth in that idea. The hon. Member for Guildford objects to clause 2.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
Clause 2 is taken solidly out of the Small Holdings Act, and it merely substitutes Orders after inquiries by the Local Government Board for the Provisional Orders of this House.
I am surprised that these vigorous attacks are made on the Small Holdings Act. It seems to me far more likely that if there is anything in them they apply more to the provisions of the Small Holdings Act than to the comparatively small plots of ground required in the villages for the building of 10 or 20 cottages. My right hon. Friend has declared that we have no wish to force our position on the House in this matter; and words will be set down by the Government which we hope will satisfy hon. Members who have made themselves guardians of this most important public trust.
§ Mr. W. P. BYLES
I understand that the words will protect the common land by the voice of Parliament.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
The hon. Member will be able to raise a discussion on the question later on. Whatever words are inserted will be fully satisfactory to the various societies, but I cannot at present say what the words will be. This clause will enable the local authority actually for the first time to war for the clearing of some of the worst slum districts in their areas. I do not think the landlord who is really trying to perform the conditions of their contracts need fear any substantial injustice. The hon. Gentleman objects to what he regards the increased officialism of the Local Government Board. The Local Government Board have no wish to exercise vexatious powers. They can come in and co-operate, and under certain conditions they may come into coerce, but I think unless there is grave and flagrant dereliction of the public duty laid upon the local authority by statute, and that only after the most elaborate machinery of inquiry and representation, and every kind of safeguard, they will not, do so. He rather assumed, I think, that under the Town Planning Bill that the local landlords would be placed entirely at the mercy of the local authority. That is not so. Every scheme that is made by the local authority, or, as we hope will frequently be the case, adopted by the local autho- 794 rity, every portion of land in the hands of private owners must come before the central authority, the Local Government Board, for confirmation, and representations may be made. I think he was wrong in stating that. Under the fifth schedule there is a very definite statute of procedure, which includes the hearing of all objections and representations from persons affected. Representations may be made at any stage of the proceedings in this matter. I agree as fully as the right hon. Gentleman that though I would very greatly deplore the abandonment of what will be a second year, that we must proceed carefully, tentatively, and cautiously under the schedule.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I will not dispute the point of law with the hon. Member, but there will be such a procedure, and any other would be a breach of faith between the Government and the House of Commons. The hon. Member drew attention to what he called unfair compensation—that, through the imposition of the town planning scheme upon the land which is near the town, the town planning scheme means the diminution in value of any particular area the landlord may claim compensation, but is not to get it unless the loss actually occurs. If it means an increase, he is to pay compensation at once. The words referring to loss actually occurring were put in by the Committee against the wish of the Government. The Government desired to put those two parties to the treaty upon a footing of perfect equality. Whatever advantage the landlord is to have against the local authority, if there is decrease, must be upon the same terms as the local authority has against the landlord, and I regret that there should be appearance of a difference, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman called attention to what at first sight seemed an unfairness. He asserted that the whole clauses dealing with town planning are vague and mystic, and, I think he said, difficult to understand. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke first will agree with me that vagueness and mistiness is a necessity. We searched the 795 statutes of other countries, and in every other country you will find some vagueness and mistiness as to amenity, as to the limit in which the Act should operate, as to the various evidence that should be surveyed by the town planning scheme, but there is no vagueness or mistiness in connection with the compensation, and I think we shall be able to show that vagueness and mistiness are very far removed from the compensation clauses. Each different scheme will have to be dealt with more in special than general regulations. And these are the only possible methods in which this town planning can be carried out. There is no one who is not conscious of the vagueness of the present system. I should be almost afraid to state to the House the figures given me as to the millions of pounds that have been thrown away during the past 20 or 30 years owing to the necessary operations in adjustments of conditions arising out of the boundaries of towns, which would never have occurred if such a Bill as this had been passed. I could show the House maps, especially of seaside towns, almost looking like the scrawlings of lunatics. Road after road would be found leading down a blind alley. At enormous expense the town had to come to Parliament later, with all its costly procedure, and to produce plans before the Parliamentary Committee in order that they might be permitted to carry out the work of driving these roads through those blind alleys. I submit to the House that if there is any charge that can be made against us or any other Government, it is not that of proceeding too speedily, but that we had not proceeded many years ago. I ask the House once again to realise the very broadest outlines which this measure proposes, and I do this because I think the natural modesty of the Local Government Board and those associated with it has very often allowed people to rather emphasise and criticise some points which this Bill presents, as any Bill with such classes must present that has to deal with the important social reform which it seeks to accomplish. First of all it gives cheaper and clearer power for the acquisition of land, for the building of cottages, especially in the country, and as I have submitted, the lack of such facilities has been very largely felt. Secondly, it offers money as cheap as possible without giving a subvention to building, which in practice would be a subvention to wages. It extends the terms of the repayment 796 with the largest possible elaboration of the terms for sinking fund, and with permission for the local authority to use public utility societies, and for the central authority to advance money to public utility societies on more liberal terms than ever they had before. Thirdly, it lays an obligation upon owners of working-class property, after the Act is passed, to let the houses and maintain them in the future in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation, and if that is not done, after repeated refusal the local authorities may step in and see that those houses are put reasonably fit for habitation, and a charge is made on the rent of the house. Fourthly, it gives us quicker and more efficient methods of compelling sanitary inspection by many rural authorities. Anyone who is familiar with the realities of rural life will see that that is necessary, and there is a transference of powers to the authority which desires to exercise them which allows them to demolish houses which are so injurious to health as to be unfit for human habitation. Fifthly, we take special powers—and it is the only special powers we do take—to make inquiry from the central authority in congested areas, if we think for some special reason the housing authority there is in need of a stimulus. In the sixth suggestion, which has been welcomed by every speaker, we build up in county councils a public health, housing, and sanitary body, first by making it compulsory to have a medical officer of health, who will give the whole of his time to the duties of his office; and, secondly, by a public health and housing committee being given statutory recognition in every county council; and, thirdly, by giving the power to any county council which desires to do so, and which has the energy and self sacrifice to do so, to build under Part III, Then, coming from the country to the town, we have this great and most hopeful scheme for allowing each urban community in close association and agreement with the central authority, which may be able to give advice in future to say that its development shall be controlled in a manner which is desirable and satisfactory to the community as a whole, with the safeguarding of parks and open spaces, with the regulation of buildings, including the number of buildings per acre, and with a clause, which I know will be dear to the hearts of some of my hon. Friends below the Gangway, and I will not say less dear to myself, for ensuring that this development shall not be made in some rigorous, 797 centralised, wheel-like fashion, but that each town shall bring into consultation those who are interested in the past history of the town and in the various places of historical interest or natural beauty, which should be given some central position or permanent preservation in the life of the growing town. It is impossible for anyone to declare that an Act such as this, setting out to accomplish such things, is an Act which this Parliament or any other Parliament should not welcome. We make no apology, even in the midst of the noise of other interests, for calling the attention of this House to the permanent realities of the life of the poor. We have heard a great deal lately in the last few months of the defence of an Englishman's home; here we are concerned with the preliminary requirement that the Englishman should have a home to defend. The majority of those for whose welfare this Act is designed have at present no home. We ask for provisions to remedy a condition which is not only a formidable barrier to all social progress, but which is a scandal to civilisation as at present constituted.
§ Mr. WALTER GUINNESS
The Parliamentary Secretary of the Local Government Board has taken credit to his Department for the moderation and generosity with which they have made the proposed Amendments which were put forward by the Committee. As I had the advantage of sitting on that very interesting Committee I should be the last to deny that the hon. Member and the President of the Local Government Board met us with every consideration, and gave our Amendments the best possible treatment that they could, but it seems to me that these Standing Committees always suffer from the defects of their qualities. They are largely composed of enthusiasts, who take a very extreme view of the matter which is before the Committee, and in this particular case the Standing Committee on several occasions went beyond the views of the Government itself. I think that the Bill as it now stands is in many respects worse than when it went to the Committee last Session. I need only mention one particular instance, the clause for the compulsory survey of working-class accommodation, which was inserted by the Committee against the advice of the Government. As the Bill now stands, although it certainly contains provisions which will be of value if they pass, to the cause of housing, it also embodies principles so new to our legislation and so dangerous in their methods that I believe they will de- 798 feat the objects of the Bill. I recognise that in London there is certainly a very great necessity for certain amendments, and two very valuable provisions are contained in the Bill. The first is that for facilitating the granting of closing and demolition orders, and I agree that the Local Government Board will be better as the tribunal for deciding these matters, because they are the central Department, and acquire a large amount of technical knowledge, and experience in' the past has shown that magistrates in London have not given these demolition orders. The fact that no demolition orders have been granted in London during the: last few years I think shows the necessity for this change very clearly. Then I think it is also most necessary that increased responsibility, as this Bill proposes, should be thrown upon the landlord to keep his dwellings in repair. Undoubtedly there are other small Amendments in the Bill which I think would do a great deal to smooth out certain difficulties that have cropped up in the administration of the Housing Act of 1890 and the measures amending it; but much as I appreciate these valuable concessions I think if we pass this Bill as it stands the cost will certainly be excessive, and I think it will cause the country to drift towards a system under which the whole provision for the housing of the working classes would have to be taken over by the local authorities. The great difficulty under which private enterprise now suffers is the cost of providing this accommodation, and this Bill will enormously increase the burden, not only on the ratepayers, and therefore indirectly upon the builder of houses, but also on the builder himself directly. The Standing Committee treated the whole question of cost with absolute indifference.
And, it being a Quarter past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further proceeding was postponed, without Question put.