§ Postponed Proceeding on Amendment to Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," resumed.
§ Which Amendment was, to leave out all the words after the word, "That," in order to insert 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."—[Mr. Lane-Fox.]
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Mr. WALTER GUINNESS
At the interruption of business, at a quarter past eight of the clock, I was urging the opinion that the quinquennial survey was both cumbersome and useless. This survey is to be compiled on the information of the owners themselves, and it is obvious that the owners will not be in a position to provide very accurate information on the various subjects in regard to which it will be demanded under clause 30. Besides this information from the owners, the local authorities will have to get verification by their own inspectors. The right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, estimated this cost at no less than £500,000 every five years. I think it is quite obvious that this money could be spent to far better purpose in providing houses instead of merely getting this information about houses. This quinquennial survey will be useless, because it will always be out of date. It will be very strongly resented, and I think that will do away with any advantage that might be anticipated. I think women will strongly object to a register being kept at the Town Hall in which their ages will be entered, and which may be inspected by anyone. I do not see that any considerable advantage is to be expected from this provision. The right hon. Member for the Ilkeston Division stated that the chief object of this was to encourage local authorities to carry out their duties. Well, already they have the duty laid upon them of inspecting working class accommodation in their districts, and what expectation is there that they will carry out this duty better in future than in the past? In London it is cast upon the borough council—the very body 850 who in the past have been criticised for their slackness in administering their powers. I think this provision will throw a great cost on the ratepayers, and give no. benefit.
There is another part of the Bill which is even more dangerous from this point of view—I mean the clause which empowers the Local Government Board to compel local authorities to initiate a scheme of housing under part III.—that is to say, to provide accommodation apart altogether from any rehousing obligation to which they may be subject, owing to demolition of working-class property. The principle of re-housing has for many years been recognised, and the Housing Act of 1890 only incorporates the provisions of previous enactments, and, in the case of parts I. and II., laid on local authorities the duty of providing accommodation equivalent to that destroyed for the clearance of slums and other public improvements. Private Bill legislation has long recognised this principle, which was only put in the form of a general Statute in the Act of 1903. But it is now proposed to substitute for this definite and easily-measured obligation of providing rehousing accommodation a power to enable the Local Government Board to insist on accommodation being provided for any number of the working class, quite apart from the cost that may be thrown on the ratepayers. What can the Local Government Board know of the necessities of any 'district in regard to working class accommodation? I am quite sure that in the case of London the local authorities know now very much more of the needs of a district than can possibly be in the knowledge of the Local Government Board, and therefore I do not think there is a case for the transference of those responsibilities from the local authorities to the Local Government Board. It is important to remember that there is a great distinction between housing and rehousing. Rehousing cannot possibly discourage the solution of the housing difficulty by private enterprise. In London during the last sixty years as many as 23,000 rooms have been provided for the working classes by municipal activity. No doubt that has done much to relieve congestion amongst certain classes; but, large as that number is, it is only 7 per cent, of the total accommodation provided of nil sorts. It shows that private enterprise has done far more for meeting the housing difficulty than any action of local authorities. If a larger number of rooms are- 851 provided by public authorities, it is quite certain that in future they will check private enterprise. A standing order of the London Council—and it is to the credit of the Progressives that they laid it down—is that the building of a house is not to be undertaken if it can be shown that there is any risk of it being thrown as a burden on the rates. If the Local Government Board is to have the power of initiating housing schemes regardless of financial consequences, private enterprise will be ruled out altogether. Although private enterprise has to pay a higher rate of interest, it has an advantage over municipal interest because it is not hampered by the same restrictions which check the housing operations of public bodies; but when public bodies no longer even aim at their schemes being self-supporting, private enterprise will find itself in a totally different position. There will be no check on municipal housing schemes; and the representative of the municipality will preserve himself from the indignant protests of the ratepayers by saying that he has only initiated these schemes owing to the compulsion of the Local Government Board.
I cannot think how a private builder will think it worth his while to invest in bricks and mortar. Private enterprise will be driven out of the field altogether when it is found that the municipalities pay the rents of the few out of the rates of the many, and it will be quite impossible for private builders to put up working-class dwellings at all. In country districts the position will be equally bad. In many country districts housing is provided at a loss. The nominal rents which are paid by agricultural labourers are often barely sufficient to pay for the repairs of the cottages; and a large amount of housing is provided in lieu of wages. I am quite certain that if the rural ratepayer finds that he pays for housing out of the rates he will not be willing to build cottages as at present and the local authorities will have to bear the whole cost of the housing. I should like also to say a word as to the effect of the town-planning provisions of the Bill in discouraging the provision of houses by private enterprise. I think that Members on every side of this House are agreed as to the urgency of providing some means of regulating the growth of towns and preventing the shapeless development which too often they take at the present time. But the town-planning provisions of this scheme are so widely 852 drawn that I think it very probable they may do more harm than good. Under these provisions Parliament would abrogate the whole of its control over the regulation of building, and would transfer this control to the Local Government Board. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board told us to-night that the justification of this was that in foreign countries the provisions in legislation of this kind were equally misty and nebulous. As far as I know, the only country that has gone so far on this part is Germany. The hon. Member shakes his head. Then I do not know what country he is alluding to, but in Germany they will put up with far more bureaucratic measures than this country is ripe for. I think it is not at all desirable that the Local Government Board should be given powers to dispose of such matters of vital moment by general provision. These matters have hitherto been kept within the control of Parliament, and if the House will recognise the unparalleled scope and importance of the measures to be handed over to the Local Government Board it will think twice before it gives this power to a Department. Under the Bill the Local Government Board are to have unlimited power over regulating building and the allocation of buildings. They will be able to say in one street—You can only have houses with stone facings, while in back streets you must only have houses with bricks; in one street you can have shops, in another you must have houses without shops.
§ Mr. BURNS dissented.
§ Mr. WALTER GUINNESS
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Perhaps he has not that intention, but there is nothing in the Bill to prevent a future President of the Local Government Board using his powers in that direction and very much hampering the erection of most useful buildings. He has also to provide in the regulations as to open spaces, both private and public, and there is not a word as to the compensation that is to be paid for these open spaces. There is nothing to prevent the Local Government Board laying down by these regulations that private owners must lay out an enormous proportion of their land in open spaces, and that they are to have no compensation for these lands which would be devoted to the public interest. They are also to be able to lay down regulations as to the time during which large schemes are to take effect. It is laid down in the schedule, and also under clause 56 the 853 local authorities are able to step in and do the work of private individuals if they think that delay in the work has prejudiced the operations of the scheme. Under that provision private owners may have to make roads and to put up dwellings or buildings not according to their own convenience, not according to business considerations, but to suit the convenience of the local authorities. I think these matters ought not to be settled by the local authorities, but ought to be kept for the control of Parliament.
I think far less objection could be taken to them if it was provided Parliament should see these provisions before they became law. The right hon. Gentleman would not hear of this in Committee. There was a proposal that these provisions should lie 40 days before both Houses of Parliament, and should only take effect if neither House presented an address against them, but the right hon. Gentleman only conceded that they should be brought under the provisions of the Rules Publication Act. That Act is perfectly useless. All it provides is that 40 days' notice should be given so that the local authorities interested should be able to present a petition against the provision, and should be ensured consideration of the matters they put forward. As soon as the 40 days are up the Local Government Board, without any modification of these rules whatever, can bring them into force, and there is no provision made whatever for Parliamentary control over these provisions. The Local Government Board may, I think, very much hamper building by these general regulations which they are to be empowered to make, and which I have shown will not be effectually controlled by this House, or in any way whatever.
But I think the more dangerous provision of this Bill is the provision about betterment, because that provision, if it has the sense in which I read it, will make it impossible for the private owner to develop his land. Hitherto the development charges have been imposed where it has been found that the value of "the owner's property has been enhanced by public expenditure. The precedents which immediately come to one's mind are the provisions of the Housing Act of 1890 for betterment charges in the case of the demolition of obstructive buildings, and also the provisions in the Private Bill legislation in force in London, and I think also in Manchester. Where a street is widened and where one side is knocked down and it 854 confers a very large advantage upon the owners on the other side of the street, it is only fair that they should contribute something towards the cost which has been borne by the local authority. But under a town planning scheme the increase of value which takes place—not owing to the expenditure of public money at all, but owing to the expenditure of the private owner for the development of his own land—is to be tapped for betterment charges. There may be cases where, owing to the nearness of open spaces provided by public money, private owners under a town planning scheme ought to contribute something to local expenditure; but such cases are not the only ones which Clause 57 apparently contemplates, as under it betterment charges would be levied everywhere, because it lays down that where, by the operation of a town planning scheme, property is, or will be, increased in value, then betterment charges will be made. Ordinary development can only take place in future under the operation of a town planning scheme, and therefore ordinary development will apparently be brought under the action of this betterment clause; that is to say, a builder will have to pay betterment charges upon the result of his enterprise and the expenditure of his own capital. This question of betterment was carefully considered by a Committee of the House of Lords presided over by Lord Halsbury in 1894, and they reported that the effect of public work in raising the value of private property was very difficult to assess, and in view of these difficulties they recommended "that in default of acquiescence by the person on whom the notice is served, in the amount of the charge, this amount shall be decided by arbitration, unless the said person claims to go before a jury, and the decision shall be taken with as little delay as possible." In these local Acts which this Committee were considering, the most elaborate provisions were laid down for the assessment of this betterment. The usual system is for property to be valued before the improvement, and again seven years afterwards, and for the owner to be charged half the increased value, and if he does not like to pay the principal at the time he may elect to pay a betterment rate of 3 per cent, on the outstanding principal which he has not paid. If it is necessary to have this power of appeal and these elaborate provisions under these private Acts, surely this same power of appeal ought to be conceded under this Town Planning Bill, which will be far wider in 855 its operation, and will probably produce far more difficult questions. I think the betterment ought to be limited to those cases, as in the past, where the improvement in value has resulted from the expenditure of public money, and I am quite certain that if this Bill is not to cause endless friction an appeal ought to be given to some independent tribunal. There will bf, a great deal of public indignation caused among certain classes by the provisions of the Local Government Board, and if that public opinion is to be allayed, and if this Bill is to work smoothly, we ought to prevent any sense of injustice by giving an appeal.
I cannot help feeling there is little hope of this improvement in the Bill being put in by the Committee of this House, because, although the right hon. Gentleman met us in a very conciliatory spirit in some respects on the Committee, he showed a most extraordinary reluctance to submit to any curtailment of the legislative or judicial powers of the Local Government Board. I believe the Bill in its present form will only work injustice and confusion, and will do a good deal to hamper the action of local authorities in developing their districts. I hope if these necessary amendments, which will only serve to prevent friction in the action of this Bill, cannot be inserted in this House, they will be inserted in another place.
§ Mr. EUGENE WASON
From beginning to end, and I have sat here since the debate opened, there has not been a single syllable said with reference to Scotland. I really was surprised that neither from the President of the Local Government Board, a man bearing the honoured name that he does, which is well known all through Scotland, nor from the Parliamentary Secretary have we had one syllable with reference to Scotland. I was a member of the Committee to whom this Bill was referred, as were also the hon. Members for Leith Burghs and Kilmarnock.
I do think we ought to have fair treatment in this House and elsewhere with reference to measures brought before this Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Local Government Board, when he introduced the Bill, referred us to a memorandum which had been carefully prepared so that those who run might read the Bill. I took the trouble to read it when I came down to the House. I find the only reference so far as 856 Scotland is concerned is Clause 52, which is a pretty way to treat Scotland. I think we ought to have something in the nature of the declarations that have been made so far as extending the Bill is concerned in the same way towards Scotland. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ayrshire whether he would justify the separate treatment given to Scotland under Clause 52 as against that given to England. I hope he does not. This is a point which I think is well worthy of the attention of the House. The appeal so far as Scotland is concerned is the High Court. I say that is not fair, and that we ought to have equality with England, and that the Local Government Board of Scotland ought to have the same rights as the Local Government Board of England.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's (Hanover Square), in a speech made the other evening, stated that if this Bill was to work properly it would be necessary that the English Local Government Board should be strengthened. I think that is right, and I am quite certain if there is a Board in Scotland that requires to be strengthened and requires to be invigorated, and I hope it will be reinvigorated under the new President who recently left this House, it is the Local Government Board. I complain as a Scottish Member that during the whole course of this debate, from no person on the Treasury Bench or no person in the House, has a single reference been made that this Bill applies to Scotland. I should be failing in my duty if I did not rise to make my protest and to see that in this' measure Scotland should not be left in the lurch and that it should enjoy at least equal rights and privileges with our English brethren. I believe it is a good Bill, and that if it is worked well and properly it will do untold good both to Scotland and to England.
§ Viscount MORPETH
The President of the Local Government Board made a serious statement, but one which did not surprise me. Those who criticised this Bill are, I believe, supporters of the main principle. We recognise it is an important reform, and we at no time deny that there is not a serious dearth of houses, both as to their quantity and even more as to their quality.
We welcome the promise he has made that he would consider in a conciliatory spirit any suggestions we are able to make, but I feel bound to point out that this is not the first Housing Bill. There 857 have been many Housing Bills in the past, equally well intentioned, and as we have heard, they have been lamentable failures—not as was suggested, because the Local Government Board neglected its duties, but because local authorities were not able to face the vast expenditure that is bound up in this question of re-housing. The Parliamentary Secretary has just told us, as an orthodox economist, he does not desire to aid the rates by charity rents. He holds the singularly optimistic view that this housing scheme will pay for itself. He has pointed out quite truly, so far as this Bill affects the question, that economies can be effected on it, and local authorities will be able to build more cheaply than in the past owing to the conditions of rates of interest, time of repayment, and the like, but he must be singularly optimistic if he thinks the schemes will be self-supporting. We heard the same claim made by some right hon. Gentlemen when the Small Holdings Act was brought into this House. Already we see that that measure is to a large extent hung-up, not because of the ineptitude or ill-will of the local authorities, but owing to the difficulty of financing the measure. Already it has been pointed out this afternoon we are near the breaking point. This is a reforming Parliament, but its reforms largely take the shape of imposing fresh duties and largely increased expenditure on the county councils and the local authorities of the country. It is comparatively easy to be a reformer when the burden and the expense are put on the shoulders of other people. I need not enumerate the large number of measures passed throwing extra expense on the local authorities. What will be the effect of this? In my opinion you have already almost reached the point beyond which you cannot go further. There are signs not so much in the rural districts as in poor urban districts, that we are on the verge of a strike on the part of the local authorities. The very district which the hon. Gentleman, the Parliamentary Secretary, represents, was a pioneer in this movement. It very nearly reached that point at which it threw up its duties in disgust. I do not say for a moment that the strike will take the form of a formal strike, and that the local authorities will defy the Government. It will be more in sorrow than in anger, and they will say they are simply unable to continue to carry out the work which Parliament has thrown upon them. There is also another aspect of this question. Suppose 858 that the local authority is in default in not carrying out this measure as the Government desire to see it carried out, the Local Government Board has power to compel it. But the Local Government Board does not itself carry out the duty, and imposes the obligation of carrying out its will on the body elected by the people. The local authority is a body elected like this House, and has to proceed very carefully for fear of the anger of the electorate. Many instances will be found of the local authority being reluctant to carry out some special work because of the vast expenditure which forces it, and if they are compelled to carry it out by the Local Government Board they will find themselves between the devil and the deep sea. After the conciliatory speech of the President, I will not stop to say which of these alternatives the Local Government Board represents, but I am very certain that all those engaged in local administration act continually in the fear that if they go too fast for the public opinion of the district they will be driven out at the next election. The officials of the Local Government Board do not suffer from that fear, and for that reason it is undesirable that the large and extensive powers given under this Bill should be given to the Local Government Board to force the pace in the local districts. The Local Government Board has taken steps in this Bill to free itself; not only to take complete power to control the action of local authorities in a matter which entails such vast expenditure and delicate consideration in the localities, but it has actually taken power in this Bill to free itself from all control by Parliament—that is, to set itself above the Statutes passed by the Houses of Parliament. This is the most incredible claim that has ever been made, so far as I know, in this country. I do not suppose that Magna Charta, or the Bill of Rights will be closely bound up with housing. None the less, the President of the Local Government Board, if he were so disposed, takes power to override these ancient laws and important statutes. There is no power that I know of—unless it is the power that the Shah has lately assumed for himself in Persia—equal to that which the right hon. Gentleman claims. Of course, I know that all capable persons are friends of autocracy—if they are the autocrats. But I am thankful to say that in this country, and especially among local authorities, there is still a healthy distaste for this form of Government.
859 My hon. Friend, the Member for Barkston Ash, pointed out what I think is a dilemma. It is quite true, as the hon. Gentleman said, that this cannot be claimed as a national service. That I admit, but he pointed out, I think perfectly truly—I think it ought to be pointed out in every debate—a measure of this kind, with the burden and expense that is to be thrown upon local authorities, is one which they cannot bear and which the electorate which returns them will not stand. And it is for the Government of the day who bring in measures of this kind, which they sincerely desire to be effective and which all parties in this House, I believe, are quite desirous of seeing effective, to devise some method by which these measures can be financed and can be made operative without this intolerable strain. Either the measure falls still-born, or it is carried through with an amount of friction, and an amount of ginger, and an amount of goading, which will work very badly for local government in this country.
So much for the general principle. I should like to say a good deal on one or two points of which, although they may be called details as compared to the general principles, are yet, I think, of very great importance. I quite admit that in this matter the President of the Local Government Board has had an extraordinarily difficult task. He had to pick his way between a conflicting and varying body of claims of every sort of local authority, large and small, and he had to hold the balance between the Local Government Board and local authorities. I think he let it dip rather too much in his own favour. Still, I admit that it was an extraordinarily difficult task. I will also frankly admit that I think in the course of last year that in the course of discussions that took place in the Grand Committee the Bill was very greatly improved. And although, in my opinion, there are still some points of local administration and adjustments of local administration which leave a good deal to be desired, yet, looking at the Bill as a Bill, I think the right hon. Gentleman may fairly claim that he did attempt to meet a good many of our points, and that he has, in fact, succeeded in his object. Yet I should like to point out one or two particulars in which I think he has failed to meet that difficulty, and consequently we still have much friction, and difficulty in the future. One instance, as the Parliamentary Secretary told us, was that the default powers had been reduced to a mini- 860 mum, and I should like to call his attention to a particular instance in Clause 10, I think. But in any case it is an instance in which the Local Government Board take power to act, in default, to order the county council to act, as the county council itself is in default—to some other authority. At the same time it is very undesirable that a local body should be made responsible for the default of another, and it is very undesirable that it should be carried out in that manner. After a great deal of discussion as to who the authority was to be which was to carry out these duties, they came to a compromise which, I believe, on the whole was fairly satisfactory—the primary duty was put on the district council, with power of supervision and control in the county council. The Government then put in a clause, under pressure, I admit, by which the county council if they considered that the smaller authorities were not doing their duty, as sometimes happens, might take over the administration of the whole matter and carry out these housing problems themselves. But they put at the end of the clause a condition which makes the clause absolutely a dead letter. They put in the condition that the charge was to be made a county charge, and not a charge on the special district benefited. I would point out how different that is from the provision made where the charge is in respect of a new school for the parish, and is divided between the district that benefits and the whole county. With regard to education you are bound to have a school for every parish, whereas in respect to housings nine-tenths of the county may be sufficiently supplied with cottages, and only a small part of the county may not have done its duty. If the charge is not on the one small area, it will be found that no county council will burden the whole county area for the sake of a small district. As regards Clause 17, I think everyone has welcomed that clause, which makes it incumbent on every county to appoint a medical officer of health. But here, again, it seems to me that the Government has introduced a very dangerous proviso. Having laid it down that the county council is to be the supreme sanitary authority of the county, and that it is to have a medical officer, it then proceeds to make the medical officer independent of the county. It declares that a medical officer cannot be dismissed except with the consent of the Local Government Board. Why is the medical officer to be the only officer who is to be 861 given this independent position? Why are not the other officers of the county, however important their duties may be, dismissible, while the medical officer alone is to be exempted from the proviso. I would remind the House that in the discussion which has taken place on the revision of the poor law, it has been pointed out that the system under which Poor Law officers were independent of the local authority was that they were only removable with the consent of the Local Government Board. That has acted in an unsatisfactory manner, and it has in fact been impossible very often to get rid of officers who had not committed any special fault, but were simply incompetent. It is proposed by the Report of the Poor Law Commission that that should be altered, but here the President of the Local Government Board, a much more important official, is to be given this power which will make it impossible for the county councils to deal with their own servant. One hon. Member has asserted that local authorities are so corrupt that they cannot be trusted to deal either honestly or honourably with their servant, and that if he were to report adversely with regard to certain property he would promptly lose his place. If they are so corrupt and incapable in regard to the primary rules of honesty they are not fit to be trusted with the administration of this Bill, and this proviso to make the medical officer irremovable except with the consent of the Local Government Board ought not to be accepted. The clause dealing with the keeping of the register has given rise to a good deal of apprehension as to the cost it is likely to inflict, but I think that apprehension has been much exaggerated. The hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Wiltshire showed how the system had been in force in his county and had not caused very great expense. Not only are the main points set forth in clause 30 made obligatory, but since 1890 they have teen part of the law of the land because it has been part of the duty of the medical officer to draw attention to any insanitary property. Obviously, if the medical officer is to make a report worth having, and know which property is sanitary and which is unsanitary, he must go round to all the houses in his district, and, surely, it is not putting a very great extra burden upon him to say he shall keep a register of that property. Even if it does cause some expense and trouble the record is well worth making and keeping. It may 862 be rather too full, as set out in clause 30, and it may be modified in Committee in some particulars. "With regard to other requirements it is desirable we should have full knowledge, especially with regard to the water supply. The President of the Local Government Board must know that the water supply in a vast number of villages is a disgrace to the country. If we have this register and this record we shall know what the real state of affairs is, and we shall not have all this exaggeration which appears in the newspapers, and the names of those who are making money out of insanitary property will be disclosed. Drastic measures should be taken against the owners of insanitary property which should be ruthlessly closed, and it is along that line rather than along the lines of ambitious schemes of rehousing which are always carried out at a maximum of expense by local authorities. It is along these lines we ought to proceed in conjunction with those useful societies now springing up for improving housing. We should cooperate with the voluntary system represented by the garden cities now being built rather than incur any very great expense. If the right hon. Gentleman hopes to see any large scheme of building under this Act, I am afraid he will be disappointed, because if it is attempted there will be so much reaction on the part of the already overburdened ratepayer that the Act will be of no benefit at all. If we proceed carefully along the lines I have indicated, and if the right hon. gentleman will make some such concessions as those which I have set forth, which will make this Act work more smoothly in practice in country districts, I think he will put a useful measure on the Statute Book.
§ Mr. A. H. SCOTT
I agree with the Noble Lord opposite and those responsible for the Amendment in some of the observations they have made in reference to the ever-increasing cost placed upon local authorities by measures passed in this House in connection with different matters. The House has recently put heavy charges on local authorities: but strange to say this Bill has the unanimous support of alt the municipalities in the country. I think the President of the Local Government Board will bear me out that they have shown great anxiety to have this measure. It will give them increased power to deal with insanitary property and to make provision for the extension of their towns—power which they have required for many 863 years. But there are three clauses in the Bill to which the municipalities are strongly opposed. The Noble Lord follows the usual idea of Members of this House that one. clause in the Bill is excellent; it will cost money, but it is worth it; while at the same time he is pleading for no increase in the rates. If clause 30 is necessary, let this House be responsible for the cost. The town clerk of Liverpool has made a careful estimate of what it would cost to furnish such a report in regard to that city, and he puts the amount at £9,000. The usual advocates of economy and efficiency would tell you that that tax is only a halfpenny on the rates. But it is the continued halfpenny. Municipalities have not realised and do not believe that that clause will be of the slightest benefit to them when they have acquired the information. Every municipality of any size has carefully made investigations into its insanitary property. They do not require to visit it every five years; they want to visit some of their property every month or every few months. The result is that in every large municipality all this information is already collected. There are other two clauses in which the Local Government Board take increased powers to influence local authorities. Local authorities object very strongly to the continual overlooking of the Local Government Board, and they are entitled so to object. One-third of the members of local authorities come before the constituents every year—or that would be the case if Parliament would only pass a measure doing away with aldermen. In municipal administration the argument cannot be used that the government of the city is out of accord with popular feeling or that the ruling body has not the people behind it. The financial arrangements in large towns are just as honestly conducted as financial matters in this House; in fact they are more closely watched and discussed by the representatives of the people than are financial matters in Parliament. We pass millions with just a vote being put to the House. Every detail of municipal administration comes before the people, and the people themselves are responsible for it. If you could get the city treasurer of one of the large corporations to look into your Imperial finance—your expenditure on armaments—he would condemn the finance of the country. Mistakes are made by municipalities, but they are made as they are made by us in this House. There is no reason why a check 864 should be put upon them by a gentleman who is not elected. The municipalities have every confidence in the present President of the Local Government Board, but they know that he is not going to hold that office for ever, and the result may be that his place will be filled by a man who is altogether out of sympathy with municipal life. We, in representing municipalities, therefore, in considering this Bill have to look ahead. We are anxious that Parliament should impose no further restrictions upon them, that it should not keep giving powers to the Local Government Board to interfere with their administration, and that full power should be given to the local authorities to carry out the object of the Bill in the beat possible way. If the local authorities are trusted, they will do their best to administer this most useful measure.
§ Mr. W. R. ADKINS
I agree with the hon. Member for Leeds that the efficacy of this Bill, which I hope Members in all parts of the House desire to see a success, must be greatly hampered by the entire absence of help from the Exchequer in any form. The arguments of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade were able and weighty as to the difficulty of giving help from the taxes, but for all that those who work on local authorities know quite well that this Bill will not do half the good we want it to do if there is to be no help at all from a central fund towards carrying out the work in many places where the needs are greatest. It is impossible to arrange for housing on a system that will pay for itself, and no amount of pressure from headquarters without financial aid will have the completely successful result which we all desire to see. You will have the greatest difficulty in its present form, particularly in urban districts, in having the Survey Clause carried out. Between the local authorities who are to carry out the Bill, and the Local Government Board which is to exercise various kinds of control, great difficulties will arise The Local Government Beard no doubt with the best of reasons and intentions, takes up an entirely novel position.
Under clause 10 the Local Government Board may order the county council to do work which under the Bill it is intended that the district council should do. The local authorities know what their statutory powers are, but they are to have these varied not by Parliament, but by an 865 Administrative Department. That is entirely out of harmony with the whole system of local government in this country.
Then there is in the Bill a provision by which the Local Government Board is to define the duties of the medical officers of health. Surely to allow a department to alter the duties of an official whom it does not appoint is to put a Government Department in the place of Parliament itself and to hand over to a Government Department those powers of legislation which Parliament ought to keep to itself. Again, as I have always been taught, no less by speakers from this side of the House than anywhere else, one method of our scheme of local government is that when there is a difference between a popularly elected authority and a Government Department, not upon a matter of administration, but on a matter of interpretation of an Act of Parliament, you ought to go to the recognised judicial authority to say what is the true interpretation, otherwise you are going to give to the Government Department dispensing powers as to what is the meaning of the Act of Parliament. Although it might affect but a small matter, such as in this proposal, still it is the same dispensing powers which in previous years had such an effect on Constitutional proceedings. We do not ask that the Local Government Board should have to go to a court of law on questions of fact, or of administration, but in proper time some of us will move in Committee an Amendment providing that the Local Government Board's decision should only be final on questions involving what is the meaning of the statute when so determined in the High Courts of Justice; and that on the application of one of the parties direct a case may be stated on a question of law. I hope the House follows the distinction between a question of fact and a question of the meaning of an Act of Parliament. I submit it is not fair and would not conduce to good administration that when a Government Department takes one view, and a local authority takes another, that particular Government Department should be the judge, and should enforce its own point of view as if it was an independent party to the dispute. These are some of the points in which I submit to the House this Bill in its present form unnecessarily disturbs the ordinary procedure of local government. Reference has already been made to the fact that in regard to town planning the Local Government Board take power to 866 suspend statutory enactments. That is a point open to precisely the same objection. I hope the House will hesitate long, when it comes to these matters in Committee, before allowing any Government Department to suspend statutory enactments, even with the best of intentions. I do not propose to vote, at this stage, against the second reading of the Bill, or in favour of any Amendment. I am perfectly convinced that every one of those matters I have mentioned, if remedied, will not lessen the efficiency, but will rather increase its efficiency exceedingly. We were told by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board that this Bill is not now so much a Government Bill as a Bill of the House, and as it is to go to a Committee of the whole House, the House will have an opportunity of dealing with these matters, and I am quite certain that those who represent local authorities in this country will not appeal in vain to the House of Commons to preserve to those local authorities the powers of self-government which they possess. We were told by the Parliamentary Secretary that the Local Government Board were only going to coerce Local Authorities in cases of gross dereliction of the duty laid upon them by statute. If he spoke for the Government, and that statement is adhered to, there will be no more friction from the point of view of the local authorities. If that statement is not adhered to it will place upon many of us the very unpleasant duty of deciding on the third reading—admirable is this Bill and excellent as are its provisions—whether we can conscientiously vote for it if it still retains the blots upon it which would mar that principle of self-government which is necessary to local government in all its aspects.
§ Mr. MITCHELL-THOMSON
I agree cordially with the observations of the hon. Member who has just spoken. I have no intention of prolonging the debate at this stage, particularly as it is somewhat of an academic character, and I will not descend into particulars that should more properly be reserved for Committee. That brings me to the remarks of the hon. Member for Clackmannan. He pointed out that so far as the consideration of this Bill Scotland has received a very small share either of appreciation or consideration. I do not know that I altogether agree with the hon. Gentleman as to that, and I warmly welcome the fact that now we have an extension of the earlier Acts 867 to Scotland. If it comes to be a question for the consideration of the people of Scotland, I do not know that some blame does not deserve to be attached to the parties who originally instituted the Scottish Committee system, which, I think, is partly responsible for the fact that the Bill did not attract so large an attendance of Scotch Members as it deserved. It is impossible for hon. Members to give their attention to other measures on the Scottish Committee, and also to a complicated measure of this sort. Therefore, so far as the application clause, 52, went, I think there were a number of members of the Committee to whom the Clause was more than a little unintelligible. I am not going to add to the hours of this day by academic observations, but I only make this one point, because I think it is important; I take this case out of many which are typical. Under Clause 53, subsection 2, the Local Government Board may authorise a local authority to prepare such a town planning scheme "with reference to any land within or in the neighbourhood of their area." I will ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider that proposal, not only from the point of view of the relations between local authorities and the Local Government Board, but with regard to the relations likely to arise between the authorities inter se what is to happen when you have one local authority preparing a scheme in regard to land in the area of another local authority, more especially when one authority is a county council and the other is a borough council. I think that is a ease when friction will arise. I notice that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who is very astute in detecting anything affecting the London County Council, has inserted a provision exempting that body. If that is done with regard to the London County Council what about the other county councils of the country? lean assure the hon. Gentleman that there are many county councils certainly in Scotland and also in England who feel very great disquietude in regard to this clause. It is not only from the point of view of the county councils that there is reason for a little anxiety. If you have a little strip of land lying outside the area, say, of a borough which is likely to be scheduled, I doubt very much whether it will receive from the county all the energy in effective administration which it might deserve to 868 receive in the ordinary course of events. There is a great danger that if it is scheduled it will not receive that attention, and even if it is likely to be scheduled the county are likely to wait and see how events go before they go in for any particularly energetic development. The Board, at the present moment, are entitled in a case of divided responsibility like that either to entrust the work to one authority or to divide it between two and summon a joint body. I have no objection, and I think the county council authorities would have little objection, to a division of the work or to the summoning of a joint body, but the first plan, the delegation of this power to one authority, especially if the authority is a borough council, is open to the very gravest objection unless the county council is found to be acting in default, because if you do permit the Local Government Board to entrust to the council of a borough the power to regulate the area under the control of a county council, you are in fact giving to the borough council that extension of areas which it ha always been and is now the sole prerogative of Parliament to give. When a borough council wants an extension now, it has to come to Parliament. Under this Bill it is proposed that the Local Government Board shall give it the extension so far as this portion of the area is concerned. This points the way to a whole series of objections of detail which will certainly deserve and receive sympathetic and careful treatment from the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. H. C. BRODIE
I made my first speech in this House in connection with the Rural Housing Bill some three years ago, and it is a source of great pleasure and. satisfaction to me to feel that the efforts of the President of the Local Government Board and of many members with whom I have worked, are at last reaching fruition. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and the Government and the Committee which sat last Session on the Bill which they have produced. While I sympathise to a great degree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Barkston Ash, I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary and the hon. Baronet the Member for Chippenham that in view of the favourable terms which have been allowed in regard to loans and the acquisition of land, there is every ground for hoping that cottages will be 869 built under this Bill upon an economic or paying basis. But I cannot subscribe to the doctrine of the hon. Baronet that the building of cottages or the housing question is really a local matter. In my opinion housing is a national question; the object of proper housing is to secure a healthy race, and just as for years past we have combined for our defence on a national basis, and much more recently have united to extend national succour to the most needy aged poor, we should feel that we may well combine to secure a minimum standard of national housing.
In view of the national character of this work, and of what has recently been done for housing in Ireland, I would venture to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that at least a small sum of money might be secured from the Exchequer. It would not need the tenth part of the cost of a "Dreadnought" to pay the expense of the admirable proposal of a national survey of housing conditions. If that were done it would greatly lighten the burden laid upon local authorities. I have no objection to the powers conferred on the
§ county councils for building, but I submit that similar concurrent powers should be conferred on parish councils, which in many cases would and could build houses economically. There is an opportunity in this Bill of inserting some provision for security of tenure in the case of small holdings, and giving to the magistrates who hear cases of eviction power to receive evidence and to decide upon a period of grace before the eviction order takes effect. A provision of that sort would enormously enhance the value of this Bill, which, I believe, is one of the most valuable measures of social reform.
§ Mr. BURNS rose in his place and claimed to move "That the question be now put."
§ Question put: "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question."
§ The House divided. Ayes, 128; Noes, 20.871
|Division No. 51.]||AYES.||[12.45 a.m.|
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Haworth, Arthur A.||Roberts, S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Acland, Francis Dyke||Hedges, A. Paget||Robinson, S.|
|Adkins, W. Ryland D.||Henry, Charles S.||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Agnew, George William||Higham, John Sharp||Rogers, F. E. Newman|
|Allen, A. Acland (Christchurch).||Hobart, Sir Robert||Rose, Charles Day|
|Balfour, Robert (Lanark)||Hobhouse, Charles E. H.||Rowlands, J.|
|Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight)||Holland, Sir William Henry||Scott, A. H. (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Barlow, Percy (Bedford)||Horniman, Emslie John||Seddon, J.|
|Beale, W. P.||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Seely, Colonel|
|Beauchamp, E.||Hudson, Walter||Shackleton, David James|
|Bennett, E. N.||Illingworth, Percy H.||Silcock, Thomas Ball|
|Bowerman, C. W.||Jenkins, J.||Strachey, Sir Edward|
|Bramsdon, T. A.||Kilbride, Denis||Straus, B. S. (Mile End)|
|Bright, J. A.||Lamont, Norman||Strauss, E. A. (Abingdon)|
|Brodie, H. C.||Levy, Sir Maurice||Summerbell, T.|
|Brooke, Stopford||Lupton, Arnold||Tennant, Sir Edward (Salisbury)|
|Brunner, J. F. L. (Lancs., Leigh)||Lyell, Charles Henry||Tennant, H. J. (Berwickshire)|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||Thompson, J. W. H. (Somerset, E.)|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||MacVeagh, Jeremiah (Down, S.)||Toulmin, George|
|Causton, Rt. Hon. Richard Knight||M'Micking, Major G.||Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander|
|Cleland, J. W.||Maddison, Frederick||Verney, F. W.|
|Clough, William||Markham, Arthur Basil||Vivian, Henry|
|Corbett, C. H. (Sussex, E. Grinstead)||Masterman, C. F. G.||Walters, John Tudor|
|Cowan, W. H.||Micklem, Nathaniel||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)||Mond, A.||Waring, Walter|
|Davies, Timothy (Fulham)||Montagu, Hon. E. S.||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Dewar, Arthur (Edinburgh, S.)||Montgomery, H. G.||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P.||Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Morrell, Philip||Watt, Henry A.|
|Edwards, A. Clement (Denbigh)||Murray, Capt. Hon. A. C. (Kincard.)||Whitbread, S. Howard|
|Edwards, Sir Francis (Radnor)||Newnes, F. (Notts, Bassetlaw)||White, Sir George (Norfolk)|
|Elibank, Master of||Nicholls, George||White, J. Dundas (Dumbartonshire)|
|Essex, R. W.||Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncaster)||White, Sir Luke (York, E.R.)|
|Everett, R. Lacey||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Falconer, J.||Parker, James (Halifax)||Wilkie, Alexander|
|Ferens, T. R.||Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)||Williams, J. (Glamorgan)|
|Fuller, John Michael F.||Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)||Williams, W. Llewellyn (Carmarthen)|
|Gladstone. Rt. Hon. Herbert John||Priestley, Arthur (Grantham)||Wilson, Hon. G. G. (Hull, W.)|
|Griffith, Ellis J.||Priestley, W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)||Wilson, Henry J. (York, W.R.)|
|Haldane, Rt. Hon. Richard B.||Radford, G. H.||Wilson, P. W. (St. Pancras, S.)|
|Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarboro')|
|Hardy, George A. (Suffolk)||Richards, Thomas (W. Montmouth)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.— Mr. Joseph Pease and Mr. Herbert Lewis.|
|Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Worcester)||Ridsdale, E. A.|
|Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth)||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|Acland-Hood, Rt. Hon. Sir Alex. F.||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Starkey, John R.|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Forster, Henry William||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Gibbs, G. A. (Bristol, West)||Thomson, W. Mitchell- (Lanark)|
|Bignold, Sir Arthur||Gretton, John||Valentia, Viscount|
|Bridgeman, W. Clive||Guinness, W. E. (Bury St. Edmunds)|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. Alfred||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Lane-Fox and Mr. Hicks Beach.|
|Dalrymple, Viscount||Morpeth, Viscount|
|Dickson, Rt. Hon. C. Scott-||Stanier, Beville|
Resolution agreed to.
§ Main question put and agreed to. Bill read a second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for this day.—[Mr. Burns.]