§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not quite follow what the hon. Member means by drawing attention to it. The Bill itself draws attention to it by putting it in italics.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
No. It is not a Money Bill. It is a Bill containing Money Clauses, 1414 but of course when the Committee stage is reached Clauses 11 and 12 cannot be proceeded with unless a Resolution of this House has been agreed to authorising those Money Clauses being maintained.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
The Bill, of which I have the honour to move the Second Reading, deals with a matter of the very greatest importance to the people of this country. There can be really no social reform which does not begin with the home life. It is a question of national health and national character. We spent a great part of last Session discussing a very big measure concerning national health with a view to doing something to cure the evils of ill-health. In dealing with housing we go a step further back; we go to the causes of ill-health. It is important to deal not merely with the results of ill-health, but also to deal with its causes. It is not only a question of physical health. It involves the whole question of mental and moral character. We cannot hope to bring up a great Imperial race in horrible slums, where no light and air can circulate, in insanitary surroundings, in places where children brought into the world have nothing to look at except what is squalid, horrible, and dirty. From the point of view of health and character it is all-important that we should take every possible step to see that our working classes are properly housed. It has been said, "Show me a man's surroundings and I will show you the man." If you look at the houses and the surroundings in which so many of our people are forced to dwell, it will explain a great deal of the ill-health, the misery, the poverty, the labour unrest and other troubles of the present day. Sir William Lever has calculated that there are 200,000 deaths every year through one cause only—overcrowding. There are two problems that I propose to deal with very shortly—the urban housing problem and the rural housing problem. Notwithstanding all that has been done, in nearly all our big towns we still have vast slum areas, places with appalling death rates, of 40 or 50 per 1,000, with a vast amount of sickness and tremendous infant mortality, and it is absolutely necessary to do something to put a stop to it.
Take, for example, London. The London County Council are going to clear 1415 a big area, called the Tabard Street area, in South London. When I say going to clear, I mean that at the present moment they are just awaiting the formal sanction of the Local Government Board. The area is fifteen acres. The death rate is 36 per 1,000. There is a tremendous death rate from phthisis and other tubercular diseases. There are back-to-back houses and narrow courts, sometimes approached by little alleys not more than 3 ft. across, and there is a condition of affairs which is a disgrace to civilisation and ought to be blotted out. Take Liverpool. A great deal of splendid work has been done in clearing away slum quarters in Liverpool, thanks largely to the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Kirk-dale (Mr. Kyffin-Taylor), who is unfortunately not able to be present owing to ill-health, and who, as chairman of the Liverpool Housing Committee, has done magnificent work in clearing away slums. Let me take another case, a remarkable one. The worst housing conditions exist at the present time probably in South Wales. I was reading the other day an article in the "Daily News," which has had a Commissioner investigating the housing conditions in South Wales. He says:—The real problem in Glamorgan is not that of the minimum wage, but that of the housing conditions of the miners.and he proceeds to give certain death rates to show the condition of affairs in South Wales. Take the garden city of Letchworth. They have a death rate there of only 4.8 per 1,000 and an infantile death rate of 54.05. In Poplar which is perhaps not the healthiest part of London it is only 15.6 and the infantile death rate is 118, while in Penydarren, a mining town on the mountain side in South Wales there is a general death rate of 19.7 or four more than Poplar, and an infantile mortality of 193.
I have got here one or two extracts showing the condition of housing in South Wales. Take Dowlais: I quote the following from a local account:—In 1910, a house-to-house visitation of the district of Dowlais showed that the number of houses with two rooms only was fifty-eight, and figures have been supplied by the medical officer of health showing that in such hovels the modern sanitary system is unknown. There women and children are huddled together in defiance of every moral and physical law. In the house with three small rooms downstairs and three attics, there lived no fewer than eighteen persons the occupier, two lodgers, a husband and wife, and three children; another husband and wife, and mother; and a third husband and wife, and five children, and so forth.1416 Then the account goes on to mention—At Tondu, near Maesteg, the home of the famous Vernon Hartshorn, the conditions are as bad as, if not worse, than even those in the Merthyr district. Two-roomed houses abound, and they are overcrowded to an almost incredible degree. About 15 per cent, of the houses rented in Tondu were such that if a man and woman and one child were put in each room to live and sleep, there would be five unhappy persons without any shelter at all.From the urban point of view the sooner we find some means of getting rid of these appalling conditions of housing, the better it will be for the moral and physical health of the people. I pass to the rural problem, which is the most baffling one. It amounts to this, that there is a positive dearth of housing accommodation in many of our villages, and nobody will build. They will not build because it does not pay. The landowners cannot build without loss, and you cannot expect them to build at a heavy loss. If you are going to compel a man to make a loss on his own estate, how are you going to do it? Take the local authorities: they have the power to build and acquire land without any difficulty by compulsory purchase. But if they build there is a huge loss, and that loss falls upon the rates. The condition of affairs in the country districts has been made distinctly worse in the last few years by the Housing and Town Planning Act. I am not going to blame the Housing and Town Planning Act generally, but I say, in one respect, it has made the condition of affairs worse, as everybody knows. There are increased powers to close insanitary houses. What happens? The Act is put in force; insanitary houses are closed, no new houses are built, the people are turned out into the streets, and there is no shelter in which they can live. It may interest the President of the Local Government Board to know that altogether, under the Housing and Town Planning Act, only 116 cottages have been built by local authorities, and in the last three years 1,344 houses have been closed. I will give to the House one or two examples. Take, for instance, the Hungerford rural district, in Berkshire. There some houses were closed. What happened. This is the report from the "Newbury Weekly News":—A cottage was considered unfit for habitation, and the sanitary inspector served notice on the owner to put it in repair. The landlord was only receiving a nominal rent, and sooner than go to the expense of doing the place up he closed it, with the result that the man and his wife and four children had to leave. Another cottage could not be found for them, and for the past three or four weeks they have been living in a sheep house. This, in turn, has been declared unfit for habitation, and the man and his wife look like being homeless this Christmas. So, in trying to remedy an evil, a greater one has been caused. The only way of solving the difficulty seems to be for the various local 1417 authorities to make provision under the Housing of the Working Classes Act, This was urged upon the Hungerford District Council by their sanitary inspector, but they would not entertain the proposal for a moment, presumably on the grounds of economy.There you have the whole difficulty. You close insanitary houses, and you cannot afford to build new houses. The result is that these poor people are turned out and they have nowhere else to go. Let me give the House another example in Bedfordshire, at a place called Eaton Bray. I quote from "The Luton Eeporter" of 26th August last:—The whole council was appointed as a committee to carry the Housing and Town Planning Act into effect. Captain Gilliat stated that if they carried it out the rates, which were 6s. in the pound, would go up to 12s. in the pound. The surveyor—This is not a landowner—was of opinion that it certainly would be a serious matter to carry out the Act in some of the villages in the council's area. It would ruin everyone.I will give another example, at Heathersett, in Norfolk, I take it from "The Eastern Daily Press." This particular place wished to go in for a building scheme. They had an inquiry held by the Local Government Board, as they were going to borrow £1,500. At the inquiry evidence was produced to show that there was overcrowding, and that there was nowhere for young married couples to live. It was shown that the operation of the right hon. Gentleman's Act, by closing insanitary dwellings, had made matters worse. The evidence of the inspector was:—If we build, we build at a loss, unless we let for £9 a year; but the people here cannot possibly pay more than £7 a year.What is the cause of the difficulty? It has been caused by the requirements of the Local Government Board and the bylaws which added so largely to the cost. I will sum up the whole matter from the rural point of view by quoting an extract from a letter written by a clergyman to the Local Government Board on 3rd August last year. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman remembers this letter, or whether any attention was paid to it. The letter is from the Rev. C. A. Wills, formerly curate at Pelton, near Chester-le-Street, in the county of Durham. He says:—There are certain houses in Pelton which are an absolute disgrace to the nation, and consequently the infant mortality has been appalling, and no doubt is still. These houses, Sir, are not fit for a prize dog. I got so sick, sometimes, of burying infants—indeed, very often batches of twos and threes at a time—from these awful hovels that I could stand it no longer, and I had to leave the place. What good is there in preaching the gospel—and we clergy are paid for doing so—whilst this holocaust is going on from day to day.1418 [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It appears from the cheers on the other side that I have succeeded in showing that the state of affairs as regards housing in our towns and country districts requires very drastic treatment. How is it that we have come to this deadlock? Of course, I know that there have been housing reformers and housing Acts for years. From the days of Lord Shaftesbury, who forced the Liberal Government at that time, and in days when there was objection to any kind of interference to pass the first Housing Act, down to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, there have been housing reformers in office and in this House, and housing Acts have been passed. I will quote the right hon. Gentleman a sentence, not drawn from anybody on this side of the House, but from his colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the Housing Act. In dealing with the excessive sickness Clause of the National Insurance Act, whereby he proposed a certain remedy—in my belief, an absolutely inefficient remedy—for this evil, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, speaking of the Housing Acts:—Most of them are mummies. They are not exercised, there is no life in them, they are pure dust, and they only have one form and feature of life. There is none of the spirit and the soul in any of these powers.That is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks of the existing Housing Acts administered as they are at present. What is the reason? Some people blame the local authorities. I am quite prepared to admit that there may be, and I think there are, some local authorities who neglect their duty; there are some local authorities where there are vested interests which prevent the Housing Acts being carried out; but I make no general charge. Speaking generally, I say this: I believe myself all the authorities are anxious and willing to carry out this duty, but the difficulty is the cumbrous forms they have to go through, and also the great difficulty in expense—the cost. But we come to the central authority—the Local Government Board. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not think that in any remarks I am going to make about the conduct of his Department that I am making any personal reflections on himself. I have had the honour of having to consult him many times in regard to housing schemes in London, and I wish to place this on record, that I have always found him personally most sympathetic and most anxious to help me; but, as a matter of fact, from the 1419 housing point of view the Local Government Board is the most inefficient body that ever was known. The red tape and the delays are perfectly appalling, and it is a veritable circumlocution office. Let me give an example. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the London County Council is clearing this terrible area called the Tabard Street area. Let me give the history of that up to the present time. We came forward with a thoroughly comprehensive scheme, and we carried it through the council on 8th November, 1910. The next step was a Local Government Board inquiry. We had to wait until the middle of April, 1911, before the Local Government Board could spare us an inspector to carry out the inquiry. The inquiry lasted three days. Then we waited until the middle of August before we got any answer from the Local Government Board as to the result of that inquiry. When we got the answer it was to this effect: That they found our case proved; that the place ought to be cleared; but they suggested certain minor alterations in the scheme, chiefly concerned with the rehousing, which is the second stage, as the clearance necessarily comes first. We could not deal with it at once, as they delayed their answer until the London County Council was on summer holidays. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] After all, even the hon. Member takes holidays, this House does, and everybody else does. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not in August."] The Local Government Board delayed their answer until the middle of August, when the council was not sitting. No sooner did the council meet in November than we replied to the Local Government Board, and we accepted every single one of their suggestions. That was the first week in November. From that day to this we have never got their formal sanction. People come to me, and they say, "Why are you not getting on with the Tabard Street scheme, and why do you let the slum go festering on?" My answer is that until the Local Government Board approve of the plan we cannot, and we have not got their formal sanction. There is a case of a willing authority, anxious to do their duty, anxious to spend a very large sum.
§ The PRESIDENT Of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Burns)
I understand it was sanctioned on the 12th of this month.
I do not know. I was present at the housing committee of the London County Council the day before yesterday. I asked the question had we got the final sanction, and the answer was, "No," so that the day before yesterday we had not got it. In any case it is four months since we accepted every one of the suggestions made by the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman brought in the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909, one formal object of which was to make housing operations easier, cheaper, and quicker than they had been before. The result of this Act has been, so far as this particular scheme goes, to delay it, and nothing else. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman how. Under the old Acts, before the Housing and Town Planning Act, in the case of a slum clearance scheme, what you had to do was to come to this House and get a Provisional Order Bill. If we had the old Act, we should have come to this House last Session, and we should have got our Provisional Order not later than last December, but in order to accelerate the right hon. Gentleman substituted the sanction of the Local Government Board for the Provisional Order Bill. Instead of accelerating the matter it delays it several months. The result is that the well-intentioned legislation of the right hon. Gentleman is made of no effect by the delays and the blunders of the Housing Department of his own particular Board. I venture to say it is clear from this that we must take some steps to speed up the action of the Local Government Board, and we want to give them further power. We find this difficulty, that when they do wish to act vigorously they have not got the power to do so. Here, again, let me quote the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If a local authority refuses to do this work, and is guilty of culpable negligence what has the Local Government Board to do. All they can do is by mandamus, and ultimately by that to put all the members of the council in prison. It seems so ridiculous that it is never carried out, and this is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks about the mandamus. Speaking in this House in the same speech as that from which I have already quoted on the excessive sickness Clause of the Insurance Act, and referring to the Housing Acts, he said:—It is not because the Local Government Board has neglected its duty. It is purely because they are armed with the clumsiest, rustiest weapon in the whole armoury of British law. The mandamus is a perfectly worthless weapon.1421 In our Bill we propose to arm the right hon. Gentleman with a brand new up-to-date weapon instead of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer regards as this worthless and rusty weapon. We propose therefore the power of acting in default. If the right hon. Gentleman would do me the honour of looking at Clause 3 of the Bill I have introduced, he will find that instead of a mandamus in a case where a local authority is culpably negligent of its duty, the Local Government Board shall have the power after application to Court, and not by purely administrative act, to act in their default and to charge the expense to the local authority. I do not think that that particular weapon would very often be used. I quite agree it would not be necessary to use it. The fact that you had that weapon would compel the local authorities, and at all events, it has proved to have been effective in the case of default by the education authorities, and I see no reason whatever, if the right hon. Gentleman really wants to do something, why with this weapon he could not compel those local authorities who do not do their duty now to do their duty by the use of this weapon. We go further than merely substituting a defaulters' Clause for the present mandamus. We propose to set up a new Housing Department subject to the Local Government Board; a Housing Commission of experts in housing, one of them to be a man who is an expert in questions of urban housing, another to be an expert in rural housing, and a third to be a medical officer of health. These will be people who will not be living up in the Local Government Board, but will be going about the country seeing what is to be done, consulting the local authorities, pointing out Where slums ought to be removed and where there is a deficiency of housing accommodation in country districts, and urging the carrying out of housing and building schemes. I think these housing Commissioners would be of the greatest value and would speed up this work, which has fallen so lamentably behind in recent years. Clause 1 sets up the Housing Commissioners, and in Clause 2 we give them very special powers. We say that where the local medical officer;of health has failed to represent an area as insanitary— such failures do occur sometimes, although I agree that, as a rule, there is no finer body of men than the local medical officers of health—the Housing Commissioners may do his duty for him. We also give them a power, which I am sure will be 1422 welcomed by the right hon. Gentleman, for the more effective carrying out of the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909. We say that they shall have the right to take action under that Act in cases where it is impossible to get action taken either by the local council or by four resident householders. I will quote another of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues. The Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Master-man), who was, I believe, one of the authors of the Town Planning Act, said that there was the utmost difficulty in getting public-spirited ratepayers to take the initiative, to bear the obloquy, and to be responsible for the expense of a Local Government Board inquiry. We propose that in future the Housing Commissioners shall be able to do it, and in that way there will be an opportunity of carrying out the Housing and Town Planning Act more effectively.
We hold, however, that even these administrative changes, important though they are, do not go sufficiently far. We contend that housing is a matter of national importance, that it ought not to be left entirely to the responsibility of the local authorities, and that local authorities and local ratepayers ought not to bear the entire expense. We propose boldly, therefore, State aid for housing, to spread the burden over the broader shoulders of the taxpayers. That is absolutely necessary and important, because in no other way can you get this housing work carried out. There is abundant reason for this. As things stand now, if the whole burden is placed on the local ratepayers, poor districts have to bear the entire expense, while the richer districts get off scot-free. Let us see what we are spending money on for national purposes now. In connection with the Road Board we are spending £1,000,000 a year on straightening roads. I do not doubt that that is a very important and very useful matter. But is it not far more important to provide proper housing for the working classes? Would it not be much better to spend the money, instead of on straightening roads, in giving decent accommodation to working people? The Insurance Act of last year provides for the expenditure of £1,000,000 a year on sanatoria. What is the object of sanatoria? To cure tubercular diseases. Is it not far more important to stamp out the breeding places of these diseases? If you spent £1,000,000 a year in getting rid of slums you would do far more good than by merely trying to 1423 cure the disease after it has been contracted. I can give examples to show that the slums are the real breeding places of these diseases. A few years ago the London County Council cleared a big area, known as the Boundary Street area, in Bethnal Green. The average death rate from tubercular diseases at that time in the whole of London was 2.69, but in the Boundary Street area it was 8.5, or nearly four times as great. Take another case—Grotto Place, an area we hope to clear when we get the sanction of the Local Government Board. The average death rate from phthisis in London is 1.44; in Grotto Place it is 6.10, or nearly five times as great. It would be far more useful to spend money in stamping out the breeding places of these diseases than to come in at a later stage and try to cure the victims. Therefore we propose State aid both for clearances and for house building in the country. We can see no other way of meeting the difficulty.
Hon. Members may ask why there should be State aid for slum clearances. Because it is necessary to stamp out these horrible areas, and at present the cost is so great that no local authority can indulge in a slum clearance scheme except very occasionally indeed. The results that have followed slum clearance schemes have been marvellous. In the Boundary Street area the total death rate before the clearance was forty per 1,000; in the new buildings which have been erected on that area it is only eleven per 1,000. Is not that enormous decrease worth even the enormous cost? Then there is the decrease in criminality. Liverpool cleared two very bad areas—the Hornby Street and the Adlington Street areas. The total number of convictions for crime on the Hornby Street area in the year before the clearance was 266; last year it was only 128. In the Adlington Street area the decrease is even greater, the figures being 264 before the clearance, and last year only 42. It is most desirable to clear these areas and get such results as those, but it is very hard that the whole cost should fall on the local ratepayers. As long as that condition continues it will be practically impossible to deal with the question with any degree of rapidity. I want to see the work speeded up, and I say that in such cases where expensive schemes are undertaken there should be power to give a certain amount of State aid towards the cost. That applies also 1424 to the building of cottages in rural districts. Where there is a house hunger and it is quite impossible to build cottages except at a rent which the people cannot pay, unless you are to incur a big loss, you can meet the difficulty only by State aid. We have an example in the Labourers (Ireland) Act. There you have a process of cheap State loans and Government Grants, and what has been the result? Up to 31st May, 1911, 34,370 cottages had been built, and power and money were taken last year to build 6,000 more. The result is, as the Chief Secretary has told us, a great improvement in the condition of the Irish people. They are paying now for decent cottages smaller rents than they used to pay for wretched mud hovels a few years ago. The system works out in this way: the ratepayers contribute 6–33rds of the cost, the State ll–33rds, and the tenant 16–33rds.
I know that it will be said that State aid towards housing and building, whether in Ireland or in England, is simply subsidising rents out of public money. But that is done now out of the rates to a large extent—and must be. All we propose is to come to the assistance of the ratepayers and "speed up" the process by devoting a little public money to help the ratepayer to provide these houses where they are urgently needed. I know people say that a better plan would be a general rise in wages. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I agree. That would be the best solution. But are we going to wait until that takes place, and allow the people to live in these insanitary houses? I say that something must be done at once. Practically nothing is being done now, and that is our reason for bringing in a Bill of this sort at the present time. The Defaulter Clause, Housing Commissioners, and State Aid, are the three principal points of this Bill.
One or two other Clauses I would very briefly refer to. We are trying—and when I say "we," I mean that the promoters base what they are suggesting on practical experience—we have one Member backing the Bill who has been for several years chairman of the Liverpool Housing Committee, and another Member who has been chairman of the London Housing Committee—we are trying in various ways to cheapen, assist, and smooth the operations of the present Act. Let me give examples. We are trying to make the slum clearance schemes under Part I. cheaper and easier by Clauses 9 and 7. 1425 By Clause 9 we endeavour to arrange that evidence shall be received as to overcrowding which will prevent the slum owner getting more than he ought in the case of a clearance scheme. That was always intended under the Act of 1890. It has not worked well in practice. We propose in Clause 7 to cheapen the process of slum-clearing by enacting that where there are opportunities for cheap travel rehousing may take place to a considerable extent, not on the site, but in the suburbs. It will be much better for the people socially, and at the same time relieve us of the fearful cost of attempting to rehouse the working classes in central parts where land is very expensive. With regard to Part II.—that is of the principal Act—which deals with the demolition and the closing of insanitary houses, we propose by Clause 8 greatly to facilitate that process. I am told that Clause 8 is likely to meet with strong opposition from the other side of the House because it provides, in the case of the demolition of insanitary houses, that there may be, under certain conditions, compensation given to the owner. People have said that is a Clause for giving more money to the slum owner. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] To hon. Members who cheer that I can only say that I do not wish to be rude, but they have no practical experience.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH - BOSCAWEN
No, I do not say I have; but I have consulted the best experts upon this, and I can tell hon. Members that this particular Clause is in the Liverpool Act of 1864, and has proved most beneficial. Experts of the London County Council assure me that it would be of great assistance in London. What does it provide? At present, when you deal with a slum area you can only proceed as a rule under Clause1—a wholesale and expensive process. In some cases—small areas—you can proceed under Part II., but here you are frequently blocked by the fact that if you pull a man's house down you leave him control of the site, and there is nothing to prevent him building again, and so spoiling the effectiveness of your efforts. All we here propose is that if a man is willing to enter into a contract never to build again on the site without the consent of the local authority he may be given compensation.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
The answer to that is that you would demolish his house—which is insanitary—and take away the site without compensation, which, I say, is confiscation. If you are going to make confiscation a part of housing reform you will make it so unpopular that it will not work at all. If you pay small compensation, as I suggest, you will be able, in very many cases, to proceed under Part II. of the original Act, instead of Part I.; and in that case, so far from there being an extra burden placed upon the public purse, you will be saving hundreds of thousands of pounds. With regard to Part III. of the original Act—that part that deals with voluntary housing—we provide under Clause 4 that in cases where land is bought for housing the working classes it need not all be devoted to that: the local authority may provide some other houses of a superior character. This is most desirable in every way. I can imagine nothing worse socially or more uneconomical that the massing of the working classes into one district, and letting the better classes live elsewhere. You will make your housing schemes so much better if you give the local authority some such discretion as I have suggested. Clause 15 deals with a slightly different subject—an amendment of the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act, 1899. By this Act the local authority may advance 80 per cent, of the purchase money. That Act unfortunately has been largely a dead letter. The reason is that the working man who wanted to buy a house had to find too much in cash himself. In the case of a £300 house it meant £60—with legal expenses say £70. We think the local authority might advance up to 90 per cent., and we therefore amend the Act in that direction, believing that by so doing it would be far more useful than at present. I think I have shown that there is great necessity for dealing with this question: I think I have shown that as regards the present law and its administration we are at a deadlock, and therefore I think something ought to be done. We put forward this Bill in all humbleness; we do not say it is a perfect Bill, but we say it is an honest attempt to try and deal with a great national question. We do not want to make a party question of it; we will welcome help and criticism from every quarter. We put it forward in that spirit, 1427 and we hope the House will give it a Second Reading so that we may be able to make a move forward in dealing with one of the most important questions affecting the future of the people, and so obtain increased powers to help us to get rid of some of those horrible conditions of housing which are a blot upon our civilisation.
§ Mr. CHARLES BATHURST
I desire to second the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill from the rural standpoint. I think the House will agree with me when I say that no person claiming to be a patriot can approve the existence of slums or can express or feel any sympathy with slum owners. But the rural problem is not mainly connected with slums. There are, unfortunately, slums existing in some of our villages, but they are scarce; the more serious problem of the rural districts is the fact that under the existing Housing Acts cottages are being in many places closed and in others demolished without any provision being made for the population, which in these localities is already overcrowded. I do not want to pretend that this is a rural Bill; I do not consider that it is. In fact, I go so far as to say to my hon. Friend and to the right hon. Gentleman opposite that I do not believe that any Bill will be really effective to deal with the problem in our rural districts that does not dissociate altogether the urban from the rural problem and deal with it by quite independent means. We have got now a Consolidation Act, which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board was responsible for passing through this House three years ago, and this is merely an amending Bill to that Act. We cannot reasonably be said to be suggesting anything of a very revolutionary character if we want as a result of that Bill to have immediate action taken to remove existing difficulties in our system of social economy.
There are three parts of this Bill which I most strongly support and which justify me in my opinion in seconding the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill. One of these is the setting up of a housing department of the Local Government Board which shall be superintended and supervised by not merely an urban housing expert but also by a rural housing expert, and last, but not least, by a gentleman possessing the qualifications of a county medical officer. I lay stress upon 1428 the word "county," although I am not quite sure whether my hon. Friend has in his mind the appointment of one having the experience of a county medical officer. The advantage of a county medical officer is that he has knowledge both of urban and rural conditions.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
I did not think that was so. I accept the correction. I was under the impression the word "county" was not inserted in the text of the Bill. The second point sought to be conveyed by the Bill from the rural standpoint is that it does something towards removing the undoubted dead-lock that already exists on account of the reluctance, and in many cases the inability, of the rural district councils to act, and the third is the Clause which deals with the relaxation of bylaws with the approval of the Local Government Board where these by-laws are clearly standing in the way of improvement in the housing conditions. I, for one, very much regret that this task is allotted to the rural district councils and not, as recommended by the Select Committee on Rural Housing in 1906, to the county councils, because the rural district councils unfortunately have not that detachment which is so necessary if this matter is going to be dealt with from the purely disinterested point of view nor the necessary machinery which alone can enable this work to be carried out, not merely with efficiency, but the greatest possible economy. We have got to deal with the problem as it stands to-day, and the deadlock, even in our rural districts, has become so serious that something must be done by way of amending the existing Acts and in order to provide much greater elasticity in the mode of their administration. One difficulty in rural districts today is that the closing order may be made under pressure by rural district councils, followed logically by a demolition order, and nothing whatever be done to provide the houses necessary to replace those that have been removed. The result is that the housing conditions in many villages are considerably worse than they were prior to the passing of the Housing and Town Planning Act, and they are not only worse off for this Act, but because, as the last Census will show, the population of our villages, not, I am afraid, due to any improvements in the conditions of agriculture, has in the last few years substantially increased, and 1429 has increased for various reasons, not the least of which being that professional men, clerks and others, prefer if they can find decent accommodation to go outside the towns in order to obtain the house they require in healthier atmosphere.
Another reason is that factories are being set up to a greater extent outside the crowded urban areas than formerly, largely owing to the supposed improved sanitation and healthy conditions in the country districts, and largely owing to the serious burden of the rates in many of our overcrowded urban areas. Just take the last case, the case of a factory put up without any warning in a purely rural district. What happens? There is no obligation thrown upon those who put it up to provide the necessary accommodation for the working classes whom they employ. The result is that overcrowding at once takes place. The agricultural labourers, who can only afford to pay low rents, are driven out of the best of the cottages in favour of those who can pay higher rents, or they adopt that pernicious system of taking in lodgers, thereby seriously aggravating the social evils which previously existed. Lately the Local Government Board has issued a White Paper, to one part of which my hon. Friend has referred. That Paper shows that, excluding the Chester-le-Street improvement of fifty cottages, for which a loan of £11.960 was granted, since the passing of the Act only eight rural district councils have borrowed money for building and reconstruction purposes under Part III. of the principal Act. As my hon. Friend has already stated, as a result only sixty-six cottages have been provided since the passing of the Act. Whereas 1,689 cottages have been compulsorily closed in the rural districts, only 116 have been built to take their place. On the face of these figures it necessarily follows that the overcrowding problem has not been solved by the Act of 1909—at any rate in the light of its mode of administration. Why is it that the district councils are not moving in this matter? First of all, I may ask why pressure is not being put upon district councils, as provided by the Act of 1909, to force them to move? In the first place, householders are expected to be the persons to create the agitation. Anyone who knows the conditions prevailing in country villages cannot fail to realise the odium that would be cast upon those who are suffering from overcrowding and are sufficiently appreciative of the bad conditions to make a move in the 1430 matter if the duty is thrown upon them to take action in such a matter as this. The pressure must necessarily come from outside, and it seems to me that in this Bill that pressure can be usefully applied through the Housing Commissioners provided for in Clause 1 of this Bill.
We hear a good deal of abuse of the landlord in this connection. The landlord undoubtedly in some cases is the stumbling block to remedying this condition of things in rural districts, but, although this is so in some cases, they are comparatively few. As was pointed out by the Select Committee which reported in 1906, the main objector is the tenant and not the landlord, and, as they further pointed out, it is not the larger landlord who presumably has money and the means to remedy these defects, but it is the smaller owner, whose very existence depends upon the income derived from his little investments in cottage property. How can you deal with persons like that unless you are prepared to put the machinery in motion from outside, and unless you are prepared not to commit an act of robbery or depredation, but give fair compensation to those whose property is taken away from them? There is undoubtedly, however bad may be the conditions of housing in our villages, a natural reluctance on the part of the cottager to leave his home. Unfortunately there is a great lack of knowledge of hygiene and the value to cottagers and their families of the existence of sanitary conditions, and until we get a much greater practical education in our rural districts which will enable the people to realise the true value of a healthy home, and, further, until we are able to educate our women to maintain a higher sanitary condition of their homes in the way they should be maintained, I am afraid you are not going to get any larger degree of activity in those matters on the part of the occupants of cottages which ought to be condemned. This all points to pressure being put upon the authorities from the outside and provision being made out of public funds to end the deadlock which undoubtedly exists in the present administration.
We know that there is one great contrast between the housing conditions in the towns and the country. In the towns—at any rate in the large urban centres—cottage property is what I suppose financiers would call a remunerative proposition, and in those areas it is much easier for the responsible local authority to come down 1431 upon the owners of such property and insist upon their condition being ameliorated or the premises being destroyed. On the other hand, in the country districts we know that cottage property is not economically a remunerative property, and the answer which many persons make when that reason is given for assistance from the public funds is that what you want to do is to level up the wages. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] I quite agree. I think in many parts of agricultural England to-day it would be possible to level up the wages, but in other parts it would not be possible without doing infinite damage to a struggling industry. We have not got any means in existence at the present time for compulsorily levelling up wages. I want on this matter to be perfectly fair, and I wish to make a free admission with regard to the uneconomic problem. A cottage in a rural district is not so uneconomic as some people imagine, largely owing to the fact that we pay our country labourers what appears to be a small wage when part of the remuneration consists either in the annual value of the cottage or part of that annual value. I, for one, should like to see that system abolished by Act of Parliament. I should like, in order to give a greater self-respect to the workmen, to make it perfectly clear what is the true amount which is being paid as remuneration for his labour. But, even allowing for that, I think we have to admit that cottage property in country districts is not economically remunerative.
One further admission I want to make. I think the rural problem is rendered much more difficult by the existence of an impediment which I am going to point out. Cottages in agricultural districts are often tied to farms, with the result that in many cases until the farm happens to become vacant and falls back into the hands of the owner he has little or no knowledge of the condition of that cottage, and no pressure is put upon him by the occupant to remedy any defects. I know this is a difficult matter, and this particular Bill does not deal with it, but I hope the time is coming when that system will be done away with. I think it is possible, and many landowners have found it possible, to make the cottage tenant an occupier under the owner of the cottage, it being made a condition that that cottage could only be occupied on that farm so long as the occupant works upon the farm. 1432 I only mention these facts because I want to put the position of the agricultural labourer perfectly fairly before the House. I do not think you are going to have the true position of housing in rural districts made clear until you have dealt with these two anomalies. There is another matter affecting the so-called economic value of cottage property. The Select Committee on Rural Housing laid stress upon the fact that no cottage in a rural district could be regarded as an economic proposition by itself, but there must always be taken into account the land or garden attached to the cottage. Personally, I lay very great stress upon that, and I hope the Local Government Board will lay stress upon it, as is being done in Ireland with very great advantage. Although a cottage taken by itself may be very far from being a sound economic proposition, once you have a garden of sufficient size—assuming there is knowledge as to its cultivation on the part of the occupant—you make that cottage, if not entirely, very nearly a remunerative property, even when you take as the basis the capital cost of the cottage itself.
May I be allowed to say that, having served for many years as a Poor Law guardian in a country district, I do not remember a single case of a man having a large enough garden and having the knowledge how to cultivate that garden, who, however bad temporarily may be the condition of his employment or the health conditions of his family, has either gone into the workhouse, except in an advanced age, or has even received outdoor relief. I think there are many who would be prepared to bear similar witness as to the enormous value of a garden attached to a cottage in a country district, not merely to make the cottage an economic proposition, but to save the public funds, by the avoidance of Poor Law relief. There is under the Irish Labourers Act—or, at any rate, under the Regulations of the Irish Local Government Board—a minimum area provided for. There must be at least half an acre to every cottage provided by a local authority. That, in my opinion, is far too much, especially, as in Ireland, most of those half-acres are not satisfactorily cultivated, and in many cases remain as grass land. What we do want is to provide just enough land in order to afford an alternative occupation to the occupant, and in order to help to meet the necessities of the daily life of the cottage without detracting from the value of the man's daily work in his ordinary occupation.
1433 There is one unfortunate necessity under the Act of 1909, and that is that closing orders must in all cases be served, not merely upon the person who appears to be owner, but upon all persons who are beneficially interested in the property. I have reason for knowing that in my own county of Gloucester this has stood very much in the way of putting the existing machinery into operation. A case was brought to my notice last Saturday by the county medical officer of health in Gloucester of an old lady who was the tenant for life of cottage property which was in an insanitary condition. There were twenty-five persons who were interested under a deed of settlement of that property, and those twenty-five persons were scattered all over the world mainly in our Colonies. It has already taken eight months to attempt to trace those persons and serve closing orders upon them, and the task is not yet completed. I think that in such a case as that it ought to be possible to rest satisfied with a closing order served upon the person who is receiving the rents and profits of the property without anything further. There is another objection to the existing system. You have no half-way house between a closing order and a demolition order. If a closing order is not attended to, there is nothing further you can do but to pull down the cottage. I venture to say in many cases where the Act is being put into operation to-day a large number of cottages which may be in an undesirable sanitary condition, and which may have certain defects which could be repaired, are, although otherwise structurally good, being pulled down, involving a great waste of labour and a great waste of property. In those cases it seems to me the local authority ought to have the power, just as a railway company has the power to-day, to acquire that property compulsorily, in lieu of serving an order for its demolition.
The main criticism of this Bill, I understand, is going to be levelled at the proposed Grant-in-Aid from the Exchequer. You are never going to afford a stimulus to the activities of local authorities except through the medium of a Grant-in-Aid, such as we know is already given in Ireland. I do not want to suggest that the conditions in rural England are as bad as the worst conditions prevailing in Ireland, although at the rate at which those conditions are being improved in Ireland I think it would be very rash for anyone to say 1434 that within the next four or five years the Irish conditions will not be considerably better than those which prevail in a large number of our country villages. Let us see what has taken place in Ireland. Since the Labourers Act of 1906 was passed all but two out of 213 rural district councils have already put the Act into operation and obtained loans out of this Exchequer Fund in order to build new houses. Since 1906—during four years—12,560 have been provided in Ireland. There is an average every year of 3,000 being provided, and last year no less than 5,000 were provided as a direct result of the stimulus given to the rural district councils by this Government aid. The Government aid amounts in that case to 36 per cent., the remaining 64 per cent, being borne by the local rates. Not only would this proposed Grant afford a stimulus to speed up the activities of the local authorities, but I think we may reasonably say it would be true national economy and tend to save a large expenditure of public money which is going on at the present time to cure those very evils which find their root in insanitary houses. This is a national question. It has been treated as a national question in Ireland. Why should it not be so treated in this country? We spend out of the public funds enormous sums to-day, not merely upon our Poor Law, but upon infirmaries, hospitals, and on lunatic asylums, which are very largely filled as the result of the overcrowding that goes on in workmen's cottages, and we are faced at present with a large and increasing expenditure upon the medical treatment of our school children. I venture to say, without fear of contradiction, that no more alarming document has ever been put forward by any public Department than the last report of the Medical Inspection of School Children, by Sir George Newman, the medical officer of the Board of Education. This House, and the country generally, have taken too little interest in that report. They have considered too little the causes which underlie the lamentable condition of the majority of our school children—even in our country districts. May I just shortly refer to this report. We find that no less than 10 per cent, of the children in our elementary schools are suffering from defective vision; 6 to 8 per cent, suffered from the disease in that form which are largely traceable to lack of ventilation and proper sanitation; and 40 per cent, are suffering from extensive and injurious diseases of the teeth; from 30 1435 to 40 per cent., and sometimes more, suffer from unclean heads and bodies, a condition largely due to the dirtiness and unwholesome conditions of their surroundings, and 1 per cent. from tuberculosis in a readily recognisable form. If 1 per cent. suffered form the disease in that form we may assume that at least five times that number are suffering from it in a form not yet come thus to be recognised. In addition to that we learn that a very considerable percentage are suffering from mal-nutrition and anæmia, not necessarily due to insufficient food but to impaired or very low vitality. The hon. Member opposite (Dr. Chapple) is immensely interested in this subject of tuberculosis. I think he will admit that a very large proportion—I will not say the majority—of the cases of tuberculosis in this country are not due, as some scientific men seem to think, to the existence of the germs of this disease in large quantities in milk or other sources of infection, but are due to the predisposition and therefore susceptibility to disease resulting from impaired or low vitality of those who suffer from it. The medical officer of the Board of Education winds up his report with these words:—It is to the gradual improvement of the home that local education authorities should primarily look for relief for the special difficulties which confront them through the malnutrition of the child.Sir George Newman does not trace this largely spread condition of amæmia and malnutrition to lack of food; he traces it to the abnormally unhealthy conditions of the home. The Local Government Board have also lately published their medical officer's Report, and I think it is somewhat significant of the ineffective housing machinery of the Department that, whereas there are 480 pages in that Report, seventy-two of which consist of the actual text of the Report and the remainder of various appendices, only one page is devoted to the housing work of the Department. What does that page tell us? It says that in the course of the next few years the house-to-house inspection necessarily preliminary to the effective administration of the Act will be carried out. It draws attention to the fact that in the year 1910 Regulations were issued by the Board pointing out the importance of the appointment by local authorities of district inspectors in order to obtain a complete survey of the houses within their own districts. We are not going to see 1436 that survey completed, even on the showing of the right hon. Gentleman or his chief medical adviser, for the next few years. Why cannot it be speeded up? Why cannot we have a complete report as to the housing conditions of every sanitary area in the country? How are the local authorities to do the work expected of them? I know of one reason why the work cannot be carried out, and that is that the sanitary inspectors of local authorities are already overburdened with other duties. In my own district the sanitary inspector of the district council has not only to carry out the ordinary sanitary work, but he is also road surveyor and rate collector; he has to supervise the isolation hospital, and a drainage scheme, and has other duties which make it utterly impossible for him, on his own admission, to carry out the duties now thrown upon him in connection with the inspection of the district in order to find out housing defects.
During the course of the Insurance Bill through this House stress was laid by the Government on the amount of rheumatism which was supposed to detract from the value of the agricultural labourer's life, and it was assumed that the rheumatism was mainly traceable to the man having to work in all weathers in the field. I venture to suggest to this House that the rheumatism, with its subsequent ills, exists very largely owing to the damp condition of the cottages in which these labourers live. I think a very small proportion of the rheumatism from which the agricultural labourer suffers is contracted through active work in the field. Curiously enough, under the existing conditions, the Housing Acts are the least desirable channel through which houses can be built in country districts. As Alderman Thompson has pointed out—and I would take this opportunity of commending the excellent work he has done in pointing out the conditions of housing in rural districts—really the most effective way of obtaining an amelioration of those conditions is to proceed through the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908, under which cottages can be provided under much more simple machinery as an annexe to allotments. Loans can be obtained either by district or parish councils, or, through Section (24) of the Act, by the county council in default of the more local authority. That is the simplest way of getting new cottages in the country districts where overcrowding is taking place. With regard to the by- 1437 laws, it is suggested that the Board should be given power to relax them in cases where the Board deem such relaxation to be justifiable. Not only are the by-laws very unreasonable in providing for a certain cubic space in every room regardless of the conditions of ventilation in that room by windows that open and fireplaces, but also in the absurd provision laid down for a certain width of roadway before you can put up any cottage at all. In my own district the by-laws necessitated the formation of a road, 40ft. in width, before the houses could be put up on only one side of it, on the side of a hill, the road being properly metalled. Such modifications ought to be allowed in every case to suit the special needs of the locality.
May I ask the House whether they really consider, as has been frequently stated in the past, that the agricultural labourer, under existing conditions, can properly be called the backbone of the nation? When you find—I am sorry to say that even in my own Constituency I know cases such as I am about to describe—when you find houses where windows will not open; where there are no means of alternative ventilation, even through a flue; where the walls, even in comparatively dry weather, are exceedingly damp; where the doors, through lack of repair, offer no protection against the east wind; where you find, owing to defective guttering or unrepaired roofs, a perpetual damp in the ceiling, and where finally you find a whole family, and possibly a lodger, including the adult members of the family, sleeping together in one room in a condition of promiscuous indecency, how can you reasonably say that where such conditions exist you are providing a valuable asset to build up the manhood of a nation, or that you are justifying the enormous expenditure which is going on to-day to remove the many defects that are traceable to these conditions. We boast in this country of our civilisation, but I venture to say that we ought to hesitate to make any such boast until we cease to rest content with mere palliatives and cures, and get down to the bedrock cause of the bulk of the nation's ills, and do all in our power to remedy it.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I beg to move, as an Amendment, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months." 1438 I feel sure the House is very much indebted to the two hon. Members who have introduced this Bill. Not only did the Mover give us some most striking examples of the evils that arise from overcrowding which exist to-day, but he also made admission that the series of Bills for the better housing of the working classes that we have had have all been futile before he added another to it. I also wish to recognise that the Seconder concluded his speech with that sincerity which always marks his utterances, and which is obvious in every sentence which he speaks. But it is not for that that I am particularly grateful to the two hon. Members. It is because they have given us this Bill. We have been waiting for this Bill for years, and now to-day we have the first fruits of Tory democracy in such a Bill as this. It is a bad Bill, a Bill rich in its badness, and a Bill which has sprung from such an extraordinary origin that I think it is worth while calling the attention of the House to it. The arguments which are behind this Bill were the arguments used by the early Fabians about thirty years ago at the street corners. The recommendations of this Bill are the same crude, ill-thought out, economically unsound recommendations that were made in those days. Socialism has cast them off, and they have been taken up by the Tory party and reproduced in this Bill. Let me go a little into details. The Bill opens with a section appointing the usual new department. More jobs, political jobs, of course, more fat salaries for the cadet members of the landed families. The Bill says that a new department is to be set up in the Local Government Board—in the Local Government Board, although the Local Government Board cannot manage the business that it has at present.
This new department is to be composed at the top of three Housing Commissioners. Of course, there is the inevitable provision that a duly qualified medical practitioner is to be one of the commissioners. It seems to be inevitable that if you are introducing a Bill into this House you must accompany it by a duly qualified medical practitioner. Besides that, we have the usual two sociological experts. These three people are to be appointed at a sufficient salary, and to be called commissioners. I think the hon. Members might have avoided the word "commissioners," seeing how much commissioners have been thrown in our teeth during the last few years. It is a fresh move on the part of the Conservative party 1439 to introduce more commissioners into the Government of this country. Let me suggest to them that it is not sufficient to appoint three commissioners only. As soon as they are appointed they will require gingering in due course by the appointment of six additional commissioners, as in the case of the Small Holdings Commissioners. This will be an expansible body; you are not limiting the jobs to three, nor do you limit it to the three people in this Bill. A new department means a whole new series from top to bottom of principal clerks, senior clerks, junior clerks, and all the rest of it. All these jobs will be created by a party which has been suggesting that we were corrupt politically, because we were creating so many jobs, yet the best they can do is to offer us a Bill like this, making more jobs. These new commissioners are apparently to go round on a sort of fishing inquiry to see to what extent there is likely to arise in the district of any local authority any need for improvement schemes. They will not have to go far. They will find need for them in every locality. The best they can offer us now is three commissioners to go round and take over the powers from the local authority in the matter. The commissioners are to state to the local authority if any, and what, steps should be taken to satisfy the need.
We come on to Clause 2, which gives beautifully the whole interference with the local authority that is to be put into the hands of the new autocracy. The Housing Commissioners may at any time make representations to the local authority. You observe it is not the Local Government Board, but it is the autocratic Housing Commissioners themselves, without any Order from the Board or anybody to exercise a check upon them. I hope the hon. Members have consulted the county councils upon this question. If the local authority does not do what it is told, action may be taken upon the report of the Housing Commissioner, and the action that is to be taken is that the work is to be carried out by the Local Government Board, of course over the head of the local authority, and instead of issuing a mandamus—a far more difficult form even than the mandamus to put into force—the Local Government Board are to levy local rates through their own officials in the locality against the will of the local authority. Of all the wild schemes of bringing 1440 pressure to bear on a local authority this must be the wildest. Is the hon. Member aware that at present the Local Government Board and the Board of Education have satisfactory means, if they like to use them, of bringing pressure to bear on local authorities by withholding Grants? Here you are proposing that you should not only levy a rate, but actually make the rate, and say what is to be assessed upon. All I can say is, let them try and see what the local authorities will say. That is the scheme that the drafters of this Bill have devised for carrying out the autocratic decree of the three Housing Commissioners—sociological experts. If the medical officers of health, to whom I am glad to say the Mover of the Bill did full justice when he said they were a fine body of public servants, knowing the conditions intimately, have been unable to put previous Housing Acts into effect, I do not think you will find your three roving commissioners will do it much better. At present we have the county council medical officer of health acting as a roving commissioner already. In my county of Staffordshire the medical officer of health has examined from house to house in two parishes, and has issued a very startling report, even more startling than the figures given by the Mover of the Bill. He is now going from house to house and inspecting my own Constituency, and I cannot help thinking that the medical officer of health for the county, who is not connected with property owners, who is entirely independent, is a better person than the three roving commissioners to make these reports.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
Absolutely independent. He is the servant of the county council, but he is independent of the parish which he is inspecting and on which he is reporting to the Local Government Board, and he cannot be dismissed by them. If all that machinery for making your housing Acts work has failed, is it not about time that we dropped this series of Housing Acts—1890, 1892, 1893, 1899, 1903, 1906, and 1909? How many more do you want before you will be convinced that it is impossible in this way to get decent housing for the people of the country? Then we pass on from that particular dodge to deal with overcrowding to the next dodge. Clause 4 provides the sort of bait which has been 1441 thrown out to catch the Labour party, and a very useful little bit of bait it is, but it is so very small that I hardly think they will be caught by it. If a local authority propose to acquire land exceeding ten acres for the purpose of exercising their powers under Part III.—I cannot remember exactly how many times it is that local authorities have sought to exercise their powers under Part III., but it is not many—if they are of opinion that it is desirable to acquire more land than is needed the Local Government Board may authorise them to do so with certain strict qualifications.
This power has been asked for by the Land Nationalisation Society, by the Labour party, and by a large part of the Liberal party, for many years past. We have always urged that the local authority should not be bound to resell at once at slaughter prices all surplus land they happened to buy in making any new scheme. But any purchase under ten acres is not affected at all, and the large majority of purchases are under ten acres. Then if they are over ten acres all you are permitted to do is to acquire one-third, so if you bought twelve acres you might be allowed to buy sixteen in all—four more than you actually needed at once for improvement schemes under Part III. You must not use these four acres for anything you like to use them for. They must be dealt with in accordance with a town planning scheme, and it is only so that you can get the authority of the Local Government Board for it. I hardly think that will be exactly the power which the local authorities have been asking for, which they have a right to claim, and which the Land Nationalisation Society and Mr. Hyder have been pressing for for many years. There is no reason why a local authority should not hold as much land as it likes, and there is no reason why you should make these very strict and carefully drawn qualifications to limit their powers. In Clause 5, too, you are increasing the power of the local authorities to buy and to job. It seems to me it is inevitable whenever the Tory party take up this question of the land that they should deal with it from the point of view of seeing how it is possible to secure the maximum of compensation for the owner, the maximum amount of interference with everybody, and the minimum result to the community as a whole. We have a scheme under Clause 8 later on for compensating these owners of property. I think it was the right hon. Gentleman 1442 (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) who said, after he had gone over to the other side on Home Rule in the 'nineties, that a man who owned bad houses should be treated like a man who owned bad meat, and should have his property destroyed for him, and here you are proposing for the first time not to carry out the demolition orders which you are allowed at present to carry out by law, but to pay compensation to the owners of the houses you are proposing to destroy, if they promise not to put up new houses on the site of the land. You can at present destroy the property when it is in an insanitary, rotten condition without having to pay them for it.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
So you could if this Clause passed. It only says if you like to give them compensation on the condition that they will not build again you can do so. It does not take away from any power which exists at present at all.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I beg the hon. and gallant Gentleman's pardon, it does. It enables them to get higher compensation. You say the local authority has the option of paying, therefore the property is of more value than it otherwise would be, and the owner will not let it be pulled down because he will now have by Act of Parliament an opportunity of getting compensation which he had not before. I come to Clause 6. For the purpose of carrying out any particular improvement the local authority may relax any by-laws. I am thankful that there is at least one Clause in the Bill of which I can heartily approve. There is one good thing in the Bill in respect that you are proposing to pass a Clause which will enable local authorities, with the consent of the Local Government Board, to smash up previous Acts. You are enabling the Government to untie the knots which you yourself have tied in previous Acts. I am not at all certain that if that one Clause had been brought in by itself it would not have passed through the House with acclamation, because it would undo many of the rotten Acts which were passed in bygone days. Clause 7 is one which I cannot commend. Sub-section (1) runs to fifteen lines, in which there are few commas and one fullstop. I think it is the best sentence I have ever seen in any Bill, and, with the permission of the House, I would like to read it. It says:—(1) Notwithstanding anything in Section eleven or in Section forty of the 1443 principal Act, or in Section three of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1903, and the Schedule thereto, wherever facilities for cheap travel enable persons of the working class to live at some distance from their place of employment, and the local authority or the undertakers, as the case may be, are prepared to provide the new accommodation required to replace that destroyed by the operation of an improvement scheme or a reconstruction scheme or an undertaking under those enactments in outlying and suburban districts to which such facilities for cheap travel give access, the Local Government Board shall regard the requirements of the said enactments with respect to the replacing of the accommodation so destroyed as having been complied with to the extent to which accommodation is so provided.That is not bad, but I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Griffith-Boscawen), who, I presume, drafted the Bill, to say who are the people described as the working class who are to have cheap travel provided for them to enable them to live at some distance from their place of employment? I wish to know who the working classes in this country are. I hope we are not putting people into their different castes and providing legislation for them. Why do you not make the working Classes wear a distinctive uniform, so that you can pick them out at once? It is always legislation made by the good, kind people on the top for the working classes, as if the working classes could not be trusted to legislate for themselves.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
Clause 9 is really most interesting. The whole difficulty in the way of housing of the working classes under the Acts passed between 1890 and 1909 has been the difficulty of dealing with the compensation question, and each Act that has dealt with it has done so in a different way and by different machinery to see what compensation should be paid to the owners of rotten property. If you trace out the schemes by which compensation is to be awarded, they all with one accord come back to the Lands Clauses Act of 1845. If there is one principle rooted in the Conservative party it is that there must be no scheme that gets away from that Act, and consequently we see different schemes introduced so that compensation 1444 shall be paid, though not on so excessive a scale as in the case of railway companies. Clause 9 of this Bill is another modifying link in the chain to give the victim a chance of breathing a little more freely, if he cannot get away. The difficulty of hon. Members opposite in devising schemes whereby plunder can be got out of the people is that a general valuation of all land and property in the whole country is being made, so that it becomes increasingly difficult to invent reasons why a special class should be treated as a special case which ought to have special legislation accorded to them.
You would have thought that, in introducing a new Housing Bill and fixing what compensation is to be paid to the landlords, some regard, possibly a passing notice, would be had to this general valuation, and that the arbitrator would at least be asked to look at it, if not to take it as a basis. They have taken the old scheme of basing compensation on rental. In the old Acts passed on the question of the housing of the working classes it struck the promoters that it was rather unfair to give additional compensation where people were huddled together, ten families in a house, or where the landlords got additional rents owing to the immoral character of the inhabitants, and they decided not to take the full rental as the basis, but only the rental that would have been got if the property had been used in an ordinary and decent manner. Hon. Members who introduce this Bill have inserted Clause 9. It is a long Clause, and I do not think anybody who reads it will understand it. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but can they get up and put their hands on their hearts and say, "I understand it"? In any case, I have studied the principal Act, and all reference to it, and so far as I can make out this Clause does make it a little easier. It throws the onus of proof on the owners, and so far that is a slight improvement on the existing state of affairs. But why not take the valuation and have done with? Why have this special class of arbitrators? I think a new vested interest is going to be set up under this Bill—a class of arbitrators for the valuation of land. You have at present one system of arbitration of lands taken by railway companies, another system in the case of the compulsory appropriation of land by the State, a third system for the work in connection with small holdings, and now you have a fourth 1445 system in this Bill. I suppose it is within the wit of man to invent a few more systems of arbitration to decide what compensation is to be given to landlords. I tell you there is one straightforward way and that is to go to the new Doomsday Book and get it out of that. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where and when?"] It will be ready a good deal sooner than this Bill will be passed.
I come now to the real kernel of this Bill—Clauses 11 and 12. These are the Clauses under which the money is to be found. It is to be found by the ordinary taxpayer, and where is it to go? Part of it into the pocket of the Housing Commissioners and their Department, and the rest of it is to go as a subsidy for the building of cottages in the country and letting those cottages at charity rents. You are going to provide half of the cost of building the cottages. What will be the result of providing the local authorities with the half of the cost? The result will be that local builders will be unable to compete with the local authorities.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
Up to half the cost, and I think that that will be taken full advantage of. I do not know why hon. Members introduce the Bill unless they want full advantage taken of it. The local authorities building houses at half-price would prevent anyone else from building them, and this would destroy private enterprise altogether. You will have the parish council employing the parish architect and the parish clerk of works, and building their own cottages and letting them at charity rents, all out of the money of the taxpayer. Hon. Members opposite are anxious to perpetuate the system of allowing labourers to live in cottages at 1s. a week. The Seconder of this measure pointed out, quite rightly, that it was an iniquitous system, yet here in this Bill you are proposing to perpetuate that state of affairs.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
The hon. Member for South-West Ham thinks that cottages 1446 let at charity rents are good for the working classes. Let me tell him that this system of charity rents is one safe way of driving down wages in this country.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
It not only affects the people who live in these cottages, but it affects the whole of labour, whether living in these cottages or not. If you provide these people with the opportunities of getting houses so cheaply as that they will be able to undercut the wages of other people and drive down wages, so that it would not only ruin the particular people in those houses, but the whole of labour. Surely hon. Members opposite, if they do not know anything about political economy, have heard something of the economic history of the country, and they know of the system under which wages were assisted out of the Poor Law. The old Poor Law was repealed as long ago as 1835, and the main ground of the appeal was because of the iniquitous system which was introduced by good and well-meaning people, like themselves. They found that wages were no longer adequate to support the agricultural labourer; they found that the price of food was rising and that the agricultural labourer was starving; and the parsons and magistrates devised the system which allowed the wages of the agricultural labourer to vary with the number of his family and the price offered, and they were thereby enabled to pay wages out of rates. Here you are proposing, seventy or eighty years later, to do exactly the same thing, to assist wages out of the rates and taxes; and the result can only be ruin to the working classes.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
This measure shows up Tory finance and economics in its very best method. Section 15 has nothing whatever to do with the rest of the Bill, but deals with an Act of Parliament passed in 1899—the Small Dwellings Acquisition 1447 Act. I think that that Act of Parliament must have been a private Members' Act. I never heard of it before, but I have read it with great interest since. It is quite a long Act, and it allows all local authorities, without any limitation, to advance money to people who want to own their own houses. I understand that the raison d'être behind it is to set tip a large mass of widows and orphans to protect landed property, for the local authority is to be allowed to advance money to anyone who wants to live in his own house. I need hardly add that that Act has never been acted upon. It has actually been a dead letter, because no local authority in its senses would turn itself into a sort of mortgage bank even for the benefit of hon. Members opposite. I can imagine the first-rate amount of jobbery that such an Act would set up if it were acted upon, if every local authority were allowed to lend money to Tom, Dick, and Harry at fancy rates of interest in order that they might own their own houses.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
This preposterous Act, that was never acted upon, only allowed the local authority to advance up to four-fifths of the value of the ownership. That is more than an ordinary bank or private person would advance, but still it is not so bad as it might be. Hon. Members opposite now propose that 90 per cent. should be lent. The original Act only allowed a man to be assisted to purchase his own house; hon. Members opposite now propose to extend it to a shop as well. I do not know what the definition of a shop is. It is not given, but I presume it covers a certain number of trades. I ask hon. Members on what ground do they justify the financing of some trades and not of other trades. How do they justify the financing of a small shopkeeper, a small smith, or a small painter, and not the financing of other trades equally important to mankind, the people engaged in which are just as anxious for assistance as are the small shopkeepers whom we find brought in here? If there is to be any assistance out of the pocket of the taxpayer for the benefit of a particular trade in this country, it should be made from headquarters and should be 1448 done universally, and not be a matter of pure option to the local authorities or pure chance as to which local authority a man is under. You might have shopkeepers assisted by one local authority and not by another. To propose such assistance as this is perfectly ridiculous.
On page 8 of the Bill an even more beautiful example of Tory finance is given. The original Bill says that the man who borrowed the money had to repay the interest and capital within thirty years. In the amended Bill it merely says instead that the annual or half-yearly payment shall not exceed by more than 20 per cent, the net rental value of the house for the period in respect of which such payment is made. What does it mean? If the net rental value is low, the actual repayment, the actual 20 per cent, must be less than the interest on the capital sum advanced, so that instead of getting a man out of debt it is quite possible that a man may be getting deeper and deeper into debt. That is particularly the case where you buy your land as highly valued. In such a case naturally the price paid is a high one, yet the annual value of the premises is low. In such a case it is inevitable that the man, so far as paying off his debt to the State, would either run into bankruptcy or insist on having the loan written off in the long run, and written off without being repaid to the State at all.
Just think of a financier coming forward and proposing to do away with the only check upon exaggerated and extraordinary loans, by putting into the Bill such a provision as that which it contains. Under Sub-section (c) of Clause 15 you find the real limit of modern Tory finance. Under the Sub-section the rate of interest is determined at 3 per cent., which the borrower has got to pay. When Sir Michael Hicks-Beach was Chancellor of the Exchequer, when there was some sort of a check on the wildness of Tariff Reform finance, and when the 1899 Bill went through this House, you could not get a provision like this inserted. What was provided for under that measure was that the local authority should charge to the individual 10s. per cent, more than it cost them to borrow the money. So that they borrowed at 3½ per cent, from the Public Works Loan Commissioners and charged the individual 4 per cent, for the money. That does not accord with the views of hon. Members of the Conservative party in the present day. There is something sound about the former provision, 1449 but they make a new scheme. The Government rate of interest to the local authority is 3½ per cent., and the local authority would lose half per cent. This is called business—Tory democracy and Tariff Reform finance. That is not the worst of it. This is only to lend money, so far as local authorities have power to lend money, to people who want to own the houses they live in. But the promoters of the Bill have made a new change which was even more interesting from the point of view of sound finance. Under the Sub-section I think you will find that the local authority has power to accept the transfer of other people's mortgages and letting those people have the money at charity rates of interest. What a system of jobbery that would lead to! A man who has borrowed at 4½ per cent, from a building society would have a chance to get his mortgages at 3 per cent., and he would ask the local authority to let him have the money on his mortgage, and he would pay off the building society.
Can you imagine anything which would tend more to make every local authority a sort of lending bank than that they should be enabled to take up mortgages in this way? Such a proposal could only come from Tory democrats. I have dealt, I think, fairly and most conscientiously with all the details of this preposterous Bill, and I trust with an economic accuracy which would do justice to the treasurer of the Charity Organisation Society. The measure appears to me to combine the maximum of officious interference with everybody, the apotheosis of centralisation and bureaucracy, finance that is thoroughly unsound, and political economy that would be condemned in a girls' high school. But I do not think that is the worst that can be said about the Bill. I should like to hand this Bill down as a type of the sloppy Fabian legislation of the mid-Victorian era. There my interest in it ceases. My opposition to it is not an opposition to fallacious popularity-hunting detail. It seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong with the Bill. It appears to be a Bill for satisfying the consciences of the intellectual and refined classes rather than for satisfying the just claims of the workers. Have we not had enough of the kind attentions of the rich intellectuals to the placing and ordering of the lives of the lower orders? Would it not be as well now to cease our well-meant efforts to stable and groom them properly and give them a little justice 1450 instead? Let them get their higher wages, and they will look after their own homes without your interference.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
I do not think the hon. Member has been reading his speech. He is entitled, of course, to read passages.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
How can it be thought that I am reading my speech? It strikes me as a Bill for the better caging of the animals at the Zoo—just the sort of thing that kind and thoughtful keepers would introduce. But it is rather absurd to talk now of repainting the cage. They are breaking the cage, and coming out after you. This Bill, even this type of Bill, is out of date. Will nothing but an operation for cataract enable you to see the world as it is now? They are not asking you for the comforts of the kept serf; they mean to get the wherewithal to be comfortable in their own way. Very kindly and sympathetic speeches have been made by the Mover and Seconder—such speeches as have been almost of common form at meetings of the Christian Social Union or at the annual gathering of the League of Poor Brave Things at any time during the last six years. They bubble over with sympathy and sentiment, and the cry is to have "something done"; and when it comes from priests and mission workers one accepts it at its full face value. After all, devoted priests and mission workers, ministers and district visitors, do go in and out of the fœtid dens that we call houses, they do speak kindly to the child whose head is full of vermin; they do try to cheer the bullied drudge that is called a wife; they do know the smell of the place where the worker may enjoy his out-of-work leisure. They are so near to the horrors that any scheme, any plan, may be begged for.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
I wish to remind the hon. Gentleman that I have been in a great many slums in London, Liverpool, and various parts of the country, and his references to my hon. Friend and myself are absolutely untrue.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
Does the hon. Member know as much about the slums as parish priests and missionaries, ministers and district visitors? [An HON. MEMBER: "More than you do."] I am not speaking 1451 about what I know. I am referring to people who are in constant contact with these horrors, and who are among the people gasping for anything which can drive them out of the pit. That does not refer to Members of this House, who are entitled not only to look at the immediate need, but to ask for something which will permanently improve the conditions of affairs, acting not as a palliative, but going to the root of the evil. Hon. Members say they want better houses for the working classes. If you really are bent on legislating to get better houses there is only one sound way of doing it. The question is how much you want it, because the way involves a sacrifice, not a sacrifice out of working men's pockets, but a sacrifice of a few upper-class privileges. If you really want to see cheap and good, houses to the extent of making such a sacrifice, you must do as you did in 1840. When you wanted cheap and good bread, you took off the Bread Tax. Will you now take off the House Tax? At present, where the rates amount to 10s. in the £ that equals a 50 per cent, tax on every new house. Take off that tax, remove the rate from the house, and then see whether you do not get cheap and good houses. Go further, and do not only take off the rate from the house, but put a stop to the privilege which people at present enjoy of keeping back land which is wanted for building. Stop that privilege by putting a substantial tax and a substantial rate upon the value which they ask for their land, and which they keep back until the building trade is willing to buy. In that way you would break down the land monopoly, you would let houses be built freely, and you would encourage building throughout the length and breadth of the country, instead of spasmodically here and there dealing with a particular slum area. The Mover of this Bill said, and said rightly, that when a slum was cleared and decent buildings put up the death rate went down, and the infantile death rate particularly, and that the criminal records changed for the better. Yes, but does he not know that when you clear a slum area the people are merely driven into other districts where there are worse slums, so that we do not do away with overcrowding. The whole problem can only be tackled when you allow free expansion of enterprise. We want to put a stop to those bad laws of the past which strangled building, and are 1452 strangling building enterprise to-day, and which were made by landlords for the benefit of landlords.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
I beg to second the Amendment. In doing so I would like to, if I may, pay a tribute to the tone of the Mover and Seconder. I can assure them that in opposing this measure we feel as keenly as they do the evils of overcrowding. We recognise how prevalent those evils are alike in country and in town, and all the disadvantages that flow from them, but the question before the House to-day is not whether those evils exist. It is admitted on all hands that they do exist, and the question is whether this measure is the right way to deal with them. Our opposition to this measure is based upon this fact, that instead of laying down any principle, or proceeding on sound lines, it rather goes on the principle of tinkering with Acts which have been failures, of increasing the number of officials, and in giving half a million of doles which, instead of helping towards the solution of the problem, will probably rather hinder it. It may be said that this Bill does not apply to Scotland. I agree, but I would remind the Mover that what he himself referred to as the principal Act does apply to Scotland, and in Scotland the evils of overcrowding, as clearly shown by statistics, are far greater than in England. Then, again, Scotland has to contribute, according to this Bill, towards the salaries of the Commissioners and towards the half-million annual dole without receiving even the shadow of its prospective benefits.
Our abjection to this Bill is really based on principle. We say you will not be able to deal with the housing problem unless you deal with those evils which have brought the housing problem about. Underlying the speeches from hon. Members on the other side has been the suggestion that the only way to solve the housing problem is to do it on an uneconomic basis. There are many on this side who believe that the problem can be solved in a business way and on a perfectly sound economic basis if we set rid of the evils which at present prevent what I may call its natural solution. In the first place, whenever you want to build houses, whether in the country or the town, you come up against the difficulty of getting land at a fair price to build them upon. Some time ago I went rather fully into this question and gave a good many instances in which I compared the rating 1453 value with the price which was asked when the land was wanted for various public purposes. There was one case in Northumberland in which some agricultural land was wanted for a school. That land was being rated at an annual value of 27s., and the price when it was taken for a school was, I believe, £700. I could give even more striking instances than that, but that is the first difficulty, the difficulty of getting the land. So much has to be paid for the land that when the house is built it is impossible for people to afford the price. We want to get land at something like a fair price. There are many of us who believe that the best way to do that is to adopt as the standard of rating the market value of the land, and to rate the land according to its market value, whether it is used or not. If that were done there would soon be a great deal more land available for building houses as well as for other purposes, and with the increase in the available supply the rents and the price would come down to a natural level, and would give, so to speak, the foundation for building houses. Again, as soon as a house is built, you are faced with the rating difficulty. Up goes the rent, because the house is taken into account in the rating. We want good and healthy houses for our poorer classes, who suffer so much through the want of them; but the better you build the higher the rate, and the more your efforts are penalised. Surely the fundamental thing is to remove both those difficulties, to unrate the house, and cause the rate to be placed on the market value of the land, whether it is used or not.
I was much impressed with what the Mover and the Seconder said about the condition of the rural districts. Anyone who knows them knows that the conditions are at least as bad and probably worse than the conditions in the towns. We talk of congested areas. The theory is that a congested area is an area where there is much people and little land. The fact is that a congested area is an area where there are few people and much land, but the people cannot get at it. We want to enable them to get at it, and we say that the root of the housing problem lies in enabling the land to be obtained at a fair price, and to have free trade in building. Of all the trades we have the building trade is probably the most languishing, because the houses are penalised by a load of taxation in a way in which nothing else is. There is no trade in which the load of taxation is so heavy. We would 1454 appeal to hon. Gentlemen on the other side as well as to hon. Gentlemen on this side to give whatever aid they can to remove those taxes on the buildings, which is one of the most active causes of overcrowding. Of course the wages difficulty arises. It may be said that the difficulty is low wages. One way to make low ages go further is to facilitate building in the way I have suggested. The other way is, and they can both be done at the same time, to increase the opportunities for labour. The rating problem, like the housing problem, has its root in the land problem. I was very pleased to hear what the Seconder of the Motion said about the desirability of giving the rural labourer a small piece of land in order to lighten his domestic responsibilities, and to help him. I would like that every man who wants to use land should have access to it on fair terms wherever he can get it. That seems to me to be the way to relieve the labour situation. The same conditions that check our housing also check the development of our factories and workshops and various industries. You find the same fundamental difficulty of getting the land, and there again, when you build, the more wholesome and more healthy your factory, the higher the assessment and the heavier the rate, and British industries are penalised. As Sir Henry Campbell-Bannermann said in one of his last speeches, the present system of rating operates as a hostile tariff on our industries. That is a tariff which we would seek to remove as soon as we possibly can.
The same thing applies to agriculture. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. C. Bathurst), who speaks with great knowledge of agriculture, knows as other Members know, that this is the case. Suppose a man reclaims a bit of moorland and develops a farm. As soon as he puts up farm buildings or makes various other improvements, they come within the scope of the rate-collector's ambit, and he is rated on them. British agriculture has never yet had a fair chance. I believe that in this country, if those who work the soil could get access to it on fair terms, and a free course could be given to agricultural as well as to industrial improvements and to the building of houses, British agriculture would develop in a way it has never yet done. Proposals of this character have already received recognition from hon. Members on the 1455 other side. For instance, I may quote the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil) who, in opposing the land Clauses of the Finance Act, said:—I quite agree that a large number of hon. Gentleman of Conservative opinion have pledged themselves to the taxation of land values, but what for? As a substitute for our existing system of rating, which is a perfectly easy and rational proposition.That is the easy and rational proposition which is made from these benches to-day. That is the true line of solution. I do not say it will do everything; many other things are necessary; but we go on the simple principle of first things first. This Bill would tend rather in the opposite direction. Take, for instance, the Grant of £500,000 annually towards the better housing of the people. How much of that is to go in the purchase of land at its present high price? The way to bring rents and prices down to what they should be is to increase the available supply. You will do that only by saying that the people who hold the land without using it shall be rated on its market value nevertheless. But if you say to those who are now holding up the land, "We will exploit the taxpayer in order to get you the price that you ask," the result will be that, while you may secure that particular piece of land, you will strengthen the hands of those who are holding back land all over the country, and ultimately, instead of helping, you will hinder the getting of land on fair terms. From all these points of view it seems to me that this measure is most undesirable. It does not help forward the solution; it postpones it. It turns men's minds from what the real solution is, and I believe that in practical working it would make that real solution more difficult of realisation than before. I have pleasure in seconding the Amendment.
§ Mr. WALTER GUINNESS
The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Dundas White) took the point that this Bill would add to the number of officials. As a matter of fact, it does not increase the staff of the Local Government Board except by three Housing Commissioners.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I was coming to that. There are three Housing Commissioners as new officials, and the rest of the change would be in the nature of a co-ordination and reorganisation of the existing staff, by withdrawing men who are now engaged partly in housing work and partly in other work, so that they could become specialists 1456 and devote their whole attention to this very important matter. The criticism of adding to the number of officials comes rather strangely from the supporters of a Government who under two Acts alone have added something like 6,000 to the number of State officials. One hardly knows whether the opposition, so far as it has been developed, can be taken seriously at all, because it amounts to an attitude of doing nothing whatever to solve the housing difficulty. What is the solution of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood)? It is that we should wait for the new Doomsday Book, that when we have the new Doomsday Book we are to wait until the Government takes up the question of local rating, and that then, if the Government adopts, his rather exotic views on the subject, we may hope for a certain alleviation of the present difficulty of getting land, and also that rents may be reduced.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
This criticism cannot be taken seriously, because it applies to both sides equally, and to every existing attempt to solve the housing problem. The hon. Member apparently asserts that it is a crime for anybody on this side to talk about the working classes. I do not know what he meant. He went on throughout the rest of his speech to talk about the working classes, and generated a considerable amount of heat in so doing. He apparently assumed also that nobody on this side is to be allowed to deal with this question because they do not go into the slums. When, in an interruption, he was asked whether he spent his life in the slums he said it was irrelevant. The people who live in the slums, the ministers of religion about whom he spoke, do not sit in this House. How are we to have legislation if nobody who does not live in the slums is to be allowed to have anything to do with it?
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
If the hon. Member will do me the honour to read my speech to-morrow, he will see that his remarks are entirely irrelevant.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I am in the recollection of Members who heard the hon. Member's speech. What he said was entirely irrelevant in this connection, because the Bill has been brought forward by those who in various ways are responsible for the administration of the Housing Acts, who have gone down into these 1457 districts where the difficulty is felt, who, having appeared before Local Government Board arbitrators, know the practical difficulties in the way of getting the work carried through at the present time, and who, I think, are in quite as good a position to talk about this matter as the hon. Member who is so indignant at their doing so. It seems to me that a matter of this kind must be dealt with by those who have experience of it. This Bill has not been drafted by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley alone. He has had the advantage of the assistance of experts who are not in this House.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I shall be very glad to give the hon. Member the names privately. I am not in a position to give them publicly, because it is quite possible that the gentlemen who have very kindly assisted us do not want to be quoted in public. Gentlemen who have had to act ought to be consulted in this matter, just as much as visionary theorists who talk about housing but have had no practical experience. I may mention that Alderman Thompson, whose books perhaps the hon. Member has read, and who is the chairman of the National Housing and Town Planning Council, has sent out a circular—a copy of which no doubt the hon. Member has received—in favour of this Bill receiving a Second Reading, so that its details may be considered in Committee. The hon. Member thinks that there is danger of land being held up. He apparently objects to that, and thinks there ought to be compulsory powers to take it over. There are at the present time compulsory powers under Part III. to take overland. Under the Town Planning Act it is possible to acquire land compulsorily, and to make no addition whatever on account of compulsory expropriation. The hon. Member is also of opinion that the effect of most of our housing legislation is to destroy slums and to drive the population into other slums. Perhaps he has not looked at the figures of the clearance schemes of the Liverpool Council? Perhaps he is not aware that in the case of Liverpool 75 per cent, of those who have been dishoused by clearance schemes, have gone back into the new accommodation provided by the city 1458 council? I think that the case of towns differs very much from the rural case.
Undoubtedly there is a call at the present time for further legislation—legislation which would not have been advisable twenty years ago, when the house famine was greater. At that time, if people were turned out of their houses, there was nowhere for them to go. Since then, private enterprise and increased transit facilities have done very much to solve the pressure in London. I quite agree with one point made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, that we must rely upon private enterprise in this matter in the case of Greater London. In the London districts dealt with in the annual return of the London County Council I find that, in 1910, out of 25,000 new rooms provided for the working classes, only 1,800 were supplied by the local authorities. Therefore we must look to private enterprise to get us out of this difficulty of overcrowding. At present private enterprise is supplying more than 92 per cent, of the new working class accommodation. But just because we must rely upon private enterprise I think it would be most ill-advised to take up the attitude of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, who, while he professes to look with horror on any public action which will use public money to solve this question, does his best to make it difficult for private enterprise to do so, and accuses hon. Members on this side of the House of trying to find out some new way of getting plunder out of the public fund. That is not the way to encourage private enterprise. On this point of public plunder the hon. Member admits, I think, that neither he nor anybody else can understand Clause 9. If that is the case it shows that he either has not read it— —
§ Mr. GUINNESS
No, the Clause I am dealing with, Clause 9. The Clause the hon. Member was dealing with was one about compensation. Clause 9 puts the burden of proof that there is no overcrowding on the owner. It clearly shows that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-undcr-Lyme, has had no practical experience of the great difficulty of these clearances when he says that he is unable to understand this point. Anybody who has had any dealings with the arbitrators knows it is very difficult indeed to get an arbitrator to take this sort of 1459 evidence—to listen at all to evidence of rents in the neighbourhoods where there is no overcrowding. Under the present law he says: "I am empowered to deal with this particular house; if you show me that there is overcrowding in this house I will consider it. I am not concerned in the least with the house in the next street and I will not accept that evidence." That case arises frequently. The object of this Clause is to compel the arbitrator to accept this class of evidence, and it puts the burden of proof on the interested party to show that, where he is getting a higher rent than the typical cases that you take without overcrowding, that that higher rent is not due to overcrowding. I cannot understand what the hon. Gentleman meant by saying that a Clause of that kind was brought forward to enable hon. Members on this side of the House to get more plunder out of the public purse. I think an assertion of that kind is one which is not proper for an hon. Member to bring forward in this House unless he is prepared to substantiate it.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I never made any such statement whatever about Clause 9. I was talking about Clause 8, and the whole system whereby you base compensation to be paid to the landlords on the isolated case and not on the general valution that has been made. Of course, I made no charge against any Member of this House, or any individual landlord. My charge was against the system which allows excessive compensation to be paid by virtue of the Land Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
We are trying to improve the system of compensation, and I should have thought that the hon. Member would have recognised that half a loaf is better than no bread.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
In the case of large centres of population we also attach very great importance to Clause 7, which will compel or encourage the Local Government Board, where facilities for cheap travelling exist, to accept housing accommodation away from the site of the clearance. I think that is a most valuable provision in the Bill. At present it is expensive, it is prohibitive, to close central sites, and it is most important to get these clearances of insanitary areas adopted by 1460 the local authorities. When I was chairman of the London County Council Housing Committee we had various schemes of this kind brought up. In every case I found that the Finance Committee, quite reasonably, felt that the cost of rehousing on the central sites was so enormous that they were not justified in taking the matter up. The central authority in London has, owing to this necessity of rehousing on expensive sites in the middle of the Metropolis, had to spend £811,000 in writing down to housing value insanitary areas, and has also had to spend £306,000 owing to the necessity for writing down to housing value the land which was acquired for putting up working-class dwellings in connection with the clearances. I think it is high time that some latitude should be given in this respect.
Where increased transit facilities make it possible for the working classes to get further out, I think that local money should rather be spent in putting up some accommodation in the outer districts than in facing the very wasteful writing down of expensive sites in the centre of towns. It is important to remember that any violent means which are taken against those interested in this class of property will only react against the efficiency of the work, because the sense of public justice revolts at punishing individuals for what in the past has undoubtedly been due to public default. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme also objected to the defaulting powers which were to be given to the Local Government Board. He seemed to have overlooked the fact that such powers can only be put into force after application to the Court. There is a great deal of justification to be found for these powers from the experience of other legislation. It has been found that a mandamus is practically useless in these cases, and as long ago as 1904, in the Educational Local Authorities Act, the Board of Education was empowered to go over the heads of the local authorities and to empower the managers of schools to do the work themselves and afterwards recover the money from the local authorities. In the case of the Labourers (Ireland) Acts the district councils when in default can have the matter taken out of their hands and carried out by an official appointed by the Local Government Board, and, of course, under the Small Holdings Act of 1907 the Commissioners have power to do the work themselves and to recover the cost from the defaulting authorities. I think, with these pre- 1461 cedents, there is no danger in entrusting these defaulting powers to the Local Government Board, especially with the additional safeguards of the Courts.
We believe that this matter of housing is a national service, and as a corollary to those default powers there must be a Treasury Grant. There is a Treasury Grant in most of those cases where the central authority has power to coerce the localities. There is a national Grant in the case of education and Poor Law and in the case of small holdings and many others of those recent instances where the powers of the central authority have been increased. If you subsidise housing from the rates, surely there is no reason why you should not do so from the taxes. I do not for one moment grudge the spending of money in Ireland, but I mention it because it is well that the House should realise how far we have gone an that direction. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of this Bill mentioned the amount of money that has been paid out in Ireland under the Act of 1906. May I give the figures of the earlier Acts from 1883 to 1906? Under these Acts cottages have been built on an average cost of £150, and weekly rents have been charged for those cottages that have varied from 9d. to 1s. 6d. Well, of course, these are quite an uneconomic rent. Two-thirds of the cost of those cottages has fallen either upon the rates or upon Government subsidies. Only £47,000 a year is being brought in rents from those cottages built before 1906 from the occupiers, whereas the rates have borne £63,000 a year and the Government subsidy £41,000. I am not justifying these figures. I think there is a great deal to be said from the point of view of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme—that it is uneconomic; but I think our present position is more economic where the whole community has to bear enormous cost owing to lack of suitable houses. Large sums of money under the Insurance Act are to be spent putting up sanatoria for tuberculosis which you could have obviated to a very large extent by putting up proper housing accommodation within the means of the working classes.
In Ireland State credit up to now has advanced £9,000,000, most of it at 2½ per cent. In England I have not the latest figures, but in the Report of the Public Works Loan Commission of 1907 I see that public credit had only been used to the extent 1462 of £945,000—not £9,000,000, but £945,000—for housing loans, and most of that at a very much higher rate of interest—namely, £3 13s. 7d., as against 2¾ per cent. charged in Ireland. The House will realise how important a matter this is when they consider that the reduction of the rate of interest by half per cent. would enable you to spend 13 per cent. more in putting up accommodation for the same annual charge. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme is alarmed lest the proposals of this Bill will squeeze out private enterprise. I do not think it will, because private enterprise must always have an enormous advantage over the work of local authorities. It is not compelled to pay off its loan capital in a short period. Private enterprise can leave its capital outstanding, whereas most of the housing in this country is done on short loans which have to be paid off at a certain definite time. Besides that you have your stringent Local Government Board Regulations which makes it necessary for local authorities to put up more solid buildings than private enterprise finds it necessary to do. In rural districts private enterprise has already been knocked out. That is largely due to the activities of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer who has so alarmed the owners of estates in the country districts that something like half of them are up for sale. If people are trying to sell their estates you cannot expect them to sink any more money in them by putting up accommodation for the working classes. As has been pointed out the landowner is very often in the habit of charging an uneconomic rent for housing and a portion of the wages is taken in payment of house rent. I quite agree with what is said as to the viciousness of this system. Local authorities cannot change it, and the business of this House is to try and make it possible for them to get out of this difficulty, and the only solution brought forward is to enable them to put up houses on loans in competition with those supplied by private enterprise.
In many cases local authorities have to compete with private enterprise, supplying cottages at as low a rent as 1s. 6d. a week. According to Alderman Thompson, taking the market rate of interest and allowing for rates and taxes, repairs, and incidentals, the economic rent is from 2s. to 2s. 9d. a week for every £100 expended, so that if you have a cottage built for £200 1463 the economic rent is from 4s. to 5s. 6d. You must have some way to bridge over the difference between the actual rent charged for existing cottages in many villages, and that at which the local authorities could possibly let those they put up, and I think a very strong case indeed has been made out for a subsidy of public money in this direction. I quite agree that it is uneconomical to pay wages in the form of rent, but it is well to remind the House that as a matter of fact the housing difficulty has been found to be in its worst form where wages are highest. I believe there is no part of England where housing conditions are worse than in the centre of the tinplate industry in Wales. I believe that at Llanelly adult tinplate workers can earn as much as £5 a week, and it is common knowledge that the housing conditions there are deplorable. So that where wages are high you often find the housing conditions are very bad. Our proposal is intended not only to meet the difficulty of the agricultural labourer earning low wages, but also the case of the highly paid artisan who is not able to find proper housing accommodation.
I wish to say a word about Clause 6, which proposes that there should be a power vested in the Local Government Board of relaxing by-laws where this is found to be necessary. This power is contained in Clause 55 of the Housing and Town Planning Act in connection with the town planning scheme, in which case the Local Government Board may suspend by-laws. I think it is a far greater case for suspending the by-laws in the case of the houses of the working classes, because the working man, as a rule, cannot afford the luxury of these extravagant by-laws. The man who pays the rent has to pay for the wide roads and other unnecessary luxuries involved in our by-laws. The pioneers of the garden city movement have shown the absurdity of many of those by-laws, and certainly one, if not more, private Act has obtained the consent of the House to the modification of these by-laws. In this way it has been shown that it is possible to reduce the cost on roads and sewers without any decrease in efficiency, and with an increase in the amenities of the houses. The model by-laws actually encourage overcrowding, because they lay down regulations as to paving and as to the width of the roads, with no consideration whatever of the expected traffic, with the result that 1464 to get back the enormous cost and outlay which the owner has to face in connection with laying out the roads he has to crowd his houses on to the acre to a far greater extent than is either healthy or necessary. The model by-laws actually allow as many as fifty-six houses to be crowded on an acre. Where roads are only used to give access to cottages it is not necessary to have them as wide as is provided for in the by-laws. It is not necessary to have expensive paving, and it is far pleasanter to the people who live in the houses to look upon grass verges. A modification of this kind does not prejudge the question as to whether a road in the future may be used as a through thoroughfare, and if you keep your houses wide apart it is possible to widen the roads if necessary at some future time.
Some of the by-laws are very unreasonable in dealing with the dimensions of the rooms. It is suggested that if they had more cubic space and less height, this would effect a saving in the cost of building without any disadvantage whatever. I remember, in the case of the London County estate at White Hart Lane, we had to work under the by-laws of three different authorities, and our cost of building was very much increased in the case of one authority owing to an unnecessary restriction as to the thickness of the party walls. If the other two authorities found that a party wall half the thickness was sufficient, I think that is a strong justification for giving powers of this kind to the Local Government Board so that they could suspend the by-laws where necessary. I would like to see this Bill amended in Committee to allow the Local Government Board to give some latitude to private individuals and to housing companies, because the present by-laws give no power whatever of discrimination between the jerry-builder and the public-spirited reformer, and are quite ineffective in controlling the former, whereas they hamper and harass the latter. This Bill is chiefly made up of details which want amendment in the existing law, and obviously it is not a matter which can be satisfactorily dealt with in a Second Reading Debate. It is a Bill full of useful and practical amendments which have been found necessary by those administering the Housing Acts, both in the towns and in the country. I know that various showy reforms were suggested to the hon. Member for Dudley for incorporation in this Bill, but he refused to overweight this 1465 measure and rejected them because, with his practical knowledge of housing, he thought they were inadvisable. I would urge the House, even if hon. Members object to certain small details, to give the Bill a Second Reading, and let it go to a Committee upstairs, where it may have the benefit of housing experts who sit on both sides of the House.
§ Mr. SUTTON
We have heard some very interesting speeches from both sides of the House, and, as the last speaker has said, we might give the Bill a Second Reading. I can assure him that I for one am going to vote in favour of the Second Reading. I think we are all agreed that there is great need for an improvement of the housing of the working classes in this country. I think, after the picture which the Mover and Seconder of this measure have put before the House, it seems really a disgrace in a civilised country like ours that we should have the conditions existing which they have pictured to us this afternoon. Many of us believe that the housing problem is of such a difficult character that it is an impossibility, under existing conditions, to solve the problem without at least it being taken up nationally. In Ireland you make Grants for the housing of the tenants, and I contend that it is an impossibility either in the urban or the agricultural districts to house the working classes as they ought to be housed without some assistance, and it is no disgrace to make national Grants for subsidising, or at least helping, the municipalities to do something in this direction. Therefore this afternoon, while I am in disagreement with my colleagues on this matter, we have decided to leave it an open question for each Member of the Labour party to vote as he thinks best. Many of us believe that the Bill is a bad one, and some of us think there are good points in this measure and that Amendments ought to be moved in Committee. It is perfectly true that the Opposition are asking for three commissioners to be appointed in connection with this Bill, and it is also true that the Opposition recently have been scouring the country, pointing out that the Government are finding jobs. While they are advocating this, I would ask them to remember that in the future they themselves are advocating jobs by asking that three commissioners should be appointed in connection with this Bill. It will mean a larger number than three. I hope, therefore, when hon. Gentlemen opposite are crying out about jobs being 1466 given in connection with the Labour Exchanges, they will remember that.
I would like to give a few instances of how the housing question affects the great city with which I am connected. Within half a mile radius we have practically 1,996 houses, with 9,264 persons living in them. It was ascertained by the local authority some little time ago that 1,619 houses are occupied by one family, 377 by one family and a lodger, 128 by one family and lodgers, 167 by two families, seven by five families, and four by six families, so you see the houses there are very much overcrowded. The death rate in that district amounts to nearly 30 per 1,000. The houses contain four, five, and, in some cases, six rooms. Some of them are what are termed "farmed" houses. A person takes three or four of the larger houses and lets them to a number of families. He is the tenant of the house, and he makes a certain amount of money out of the families. The district is overcrowded, and there are many living in these houses who ought not to live in them. Altogether, on one acre of land in this district there are 137 persons. I believe the House will agree that that is altogether too many. The quality of the people is such that 575 of them are in receipt of 20s. per week, and the local authority, in attempting to pull down what is practically slum property, are in a very difficult position indeed. They must either build tenements on the same land, and it will be seen the area is already overcrowded, and we believe that tenements are not liked by the tenants, or they must go outside the city and build cottages there. There is a difficulty in going a distance away from the area where the people at present live. Some hundreds of them work within a half-mile of this slum area, and they are unable to pay tram fares to go outside the city. Moreover, if they go outside the city it means the raising of rents on account of having to build property outside.
The municipality is in a very difficult position indeed; in fact, the small housing schemes which they have put into operation already cost nearly £16,000 per annum, and that has to come out of the rates. It has already cost them £53 per person and £193 per house for the demolition of slum property alone. Therefore, as they have a loss equal to nine-tenths of a penny on the rates, the municipality is very reluctant to continue this housing scheme, and the only thing in my mind is 1467 to do as you have done in Ireland and make a Grant of money to help people to live in decent houses. That can only be done by a National Grant, and I do not believe half a million is going to do very much. It is only an infinitesimal amount to be distributed among the different industrial and urban areas. I believe if a housing scheme is going to benefit the working classes of this country at all, something far more than half a million of money will have to be granted from the Treasury. I therefore hope the House will pass the Second Reading of this Bill, which I believe can be amended in Committee. I know the party opposite said all over the country that the Act of 1899 was going to benefit the working classes, who would be able to purchase their own houses. I do not believe we have had one solitary applicant in the city of Manchester for the building of his own house. It is impossible to do it. We are anxious that great housing schemes should be put into operation, but we know that until we get a Grant of at least £2,000,000 to the municipalities of this country nothing can really be done of a practical character. I have very great pleasure in supporting the Motion, and trust that the Second Reading will be carried.
§ Mr. H. W. FORSTER
Everybody who takes any interest in the real merits of the housing question will rejoice that the fortune of the ballot has enabled my hon. Friend to bring forward this Bill, a Bill which promises to do something and to take some step forward in the direction of a reform we all require to see carried out in a Session which otherwise is going to be devoted to purely destructive legislation. The case for this Bill has been so ably put before the House by my hon. Friends, and the attack which has been made upon it has failed so signally, that there is little need at all for me to detain the House for more than a few moments while I state very briefly the view which we who sit upon this bench take in reference to it. The speeches of my hon. Friends were speeches of men who know at first hand the real difficulties, not of the people who live in the houses or of the landlords who own the land, but of the public bodies who are endeavouring to cure the evils which everybody admits. When we meet face to face those who are responsible for carrying out the work which which we all desire to see carried out, and when we listen to the difficulties 1468 against which they have to contend, we are driven to the conclusion that, whether we like all the proposals of this Bill or not, here, at any rate, is something which offers a chance of providing a remedy for evils which everybody admits, and I think the House of Commons will be glad to give this Bill a Second Reading in order that we may come to close quarters with the details of it. One of the proposals which the Bill contains—a proposal which I understand gives considerable alarm to some hon. Members who sit opposite—is that there should be contributed out of the funds of the State a Grant in aid of the local authority. Personally, I see no objection in principle to such a Grant being made, provided that the service for which the Grant is given partakes of the nature of a national service, and I do not think that anyone who listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Dudley, if he had formed no previous opinion on the point, could have any doubt in his mind whether or not the housing question is one which requires such a Grant.
One of the hon. Members who spoke reminded the House of the immense sums of money set apart under the Insurance Act for the cure of disease, and asked whether it would not be better to spend the money for prevention rather than cure. No doubt in certain aspects the housing question has a national character, and, being national in character, provided cause can be shown for the necessity, surely it is a fitting subject towards which the State Grant might be made. Therefore, providing proper safeguards are introduced into the Bill to prevent the abuse or misuse of the money contributed by the State—and I am not arguing whether the safeguards in the present Bill are sufficient or not—I, for one, have no objection in principle towards the contribution by the State of such funds as this Bill proposes to set aside. What is there to object to in the power given to the State to assist local authorities who are anxious to carry out the heavy responsibilities and duties placed upon them? That power has not been successfully attacked in any speech to which I have had the opportunity of listening this afternoon. For instance, how can anybody quarrel with the power which the Bill gives to the State to step in and compel local authorities to take proper action when they refuse or neglect to do so? An hon. Gentleman reminded us of what took place 1469 on the Insurance Act while it was in Committee in connection with the excessive sickness Clause, and I remember that nearly every speaker then expressed himself strongly in favour of giving some authority to the Local Government Board to carry on the work where the local authority either refused or neglected to take action. It is in especial reference to the housing question this power was to be exercised under the provisions of the Insurance Act. I do not think any special attack on this Bill can be made in connection with that part of it.
The third proposal of the Bill, which has excited comment and even a certain amount of ridicule on the part of the hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection, was the creation of the Housing Commission. What was the foundation of the argument upon which my hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading based his claim to establish the commission? It was that under the present administration of the Local Government Board action is so slow that it is absolutely essential, if anything is to be done, and done quickly, that additional officers should be placed at the disposal of the President of the Board. I offer no opinion of my own as to whether or not the present staff which the right hon. Gentleman has at his command is capable of carrying out this work under existing conditions. What I do say is, whether you are going to have a new body of commissioners or going to constitute commissioners out of your present staff, something ought, to be done to make it possible for willing local authorities to carry out their duties more quickly than they now can. What is the reason for the long delay which has occurred—a delay to which my hon. Friend has made reference and which has prevented the London County Council from starting work it is anxious and willing to do, but which has been hung up for months.
The hon. Gentleman and his Friends take exception to the creation of these commissioners under the Local Government Board. Is that a sufficient reason for voting against the Second Reading of this Bill? I submit it is not an argument against this Bill at all. Every one of the proposals made by the hon. Gentleman can be inserted in this Bill by Amendments moved in Committee. It may be an argument showing the desirability of extending the Bill, but I do not think it entitles hon. Members to seek to persuade the House to vote against the measure. 1470 There is one broad fact left on my mind in connection with this housing problem, and that is the better the houses the better the people who live in them. Experience gained in Liverpool and London, and in other places, without exception, where slum areas have been cleared, and where better houses have been built, where the same population comes back to inhabit the houses, you find the number of convictions for crime per thousand constantly decreasing, and you find an improvement, moral and social, in the people. When we know the evils of slum life, when we know the large extent to which slums exist, the House of Commons ought to be glad to have an opportunity of taking some steps—although it may shock some old-established ideas long and honourably entertained—to remove these evils.
There is one peculiarity of the housing problem which has not been touched upon in the Debate so far—a peculiarity which exists in certain parts of London—and that is the enormous number of houses already vacant in heavily congested areas. You have long streets, in which you find an enormous number of empty houses. You will see all round the fringe of London where London is stretching out into the country, in the same parish in which new houses are being built large numbers of older houses always standing empty. It is a very easy problem to state, but it is a very difficult one to solve. You have the natural desire of people to go into a new house. They leave the old house and go into the new one. The old houses are left standing empty, and the rentals gradually shrink, and you cannot blame the owner of the premises, when he finds that, if he ceases to take the same continual and meticulous interest in keeping them in repair. Gradually the class of house sinks; the class of tenant sinks. People become careless, and gradually you form new areas in which overcrowding takes place. That is a problem you cannot leave outside when you are dealing with the problem of housing as a whole. I do not offer any solution, but it is a problem which requires attention, not only in the interests of the people who live in the locality, but on the part of and in the interest of the local authorities themselves. The assessable value of these houses decreases in the same ratio as their rents, and the whole neighbourhood suffers on that account. Do not let us lose sight of what we are voting for when we 1471 vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. We are voting for assistance to be given to willing authorities; we are voting in favour of compulsion being applied to defaulting authorities; we are voting in favour of the use of public money for this purpose, under proper and sufficient safeguards. These are the broad issues which are raised by this Bill, and I cannot believe that any man who takes any real interest in the subject can do otherwise than vote in favour of the Second Reading. Undoubtedly the problems involved are numerous, varied and difficult, but I do not think the House of Commons will do well to allow itself to be influenced either by the number, complexity or difficulty of the problems with which this Bill is concerned. It seems to me that all those who take any genuine interest in improving the conditions under which our people live their daily lives could do no better work than to come to grips with the problems with which this Bill seeks to deal, and endeavour to secure better, fairer, more economic and more healthy—I do not think anyone could ask for anything more valuable than that—more healthy homes for the working classes of our community.
§ Mr. BOOTH
If the hon. Gentleman feels himself on sound ground now, I do not think he will be able to when I have concluded my remarks. I object to this Bill first of all on the ground of economy. I am not one of those who can airily grant half a million of money merely because the object is a good one. We could easily make a Grant of half a million of money for hospitals, or for the welfare of the blind, or for the welfare of orphans, and I should not think that if the party opposite voted against such a Grant that they would think it fair if we went through the constituencies saying that they had no sympathy with the blind, the hospitals, or the orphans. I claim that we may legitimately object to this £500,000 being, as I consider it, frittered away in the manner which this measure proposes without laying ourselves open to the charge that we 1472 have no sympathy with the housing problem. My own opinion is very clear. It is that this measure will not contribute one iota to the solution of the problem that hon. Members have been seeking. I do not quarrel with the remarks of those who have stated the problem seriously. I do not at all object to their earnest and sincere desire to seek some solution, but I am firmly convinced that this Bill does not touch the subject. It is the old idea of a dole. Directly you get a social problem that taxes the brain, industry, energy, and loyalty too much, one immediately looks to the State for advice and to the State for money.
What is the foundation principle of this measure? Lack of confidence in the public authorities of the country. Big and little alike, county and parish, they are all to be swept away. Their powers are to be taken away at the bidding of three Commissioners. I am not at all sure that these three men could cover the ground in their lifetime. Apparently the Bill contemplates that they shall act together. One is to be a doctor, one an urban expert, and the other a rural expert. Surely the idea of having three distinct characters as Commissioners means that we are to have the combined wisdom of these three. They are to look after 2,000 medical officers of health. I say that if we undermine the immense and right powers of medical officers of the country, we shall be making a retrograde step. That is one of my principal objections to this measure. The only hope we have is that the independent medical men in the various districts are strong-minded enough and loyal enough to the ideals of their profession that they will state what is required. But if we remove the responsibility from them and put it on to three State officials who come from Downing Street or Whitehall, I think we shall be taking a step backward. What was the whole contention, of the Seconder of the Second Reading? He summed it up in one phrase, which was a delightful phrase. He said that what he wanted was pressure from outside. That is to me the most melancholy and pessimistic utterance I have heard since I have been a Member of this House. When we lose faith in the manhood of this country and the ability and determination of the men in their own localities to grapple with the evil, and when we come to rely on State intervention and State prodding, then is our doom as a nation sealed. The way to deal with the problem is not by a bastard 1473 Socialistic measure such as this. There are two courses open. One is the drastic reform of the position of land-owning and of rating and taxation. No one can quite conceive what would be the effect upon the congested districts of this country if property were freed from intolerable burdens, and if the increment due to the action of the community was restored to the community. I will not enlarge upon that, because there have been several Debates upon it, and the point was dealt with by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood).
What is the alternative course? State Socialism of an independent and clear character. I am not half as much afraid of downright Socialism, such as one expects from the hon. Member (Mr. Snowden), as from the Socialism of this Tory party of social reform. Reference has been made to a pamphlet by William Thompson, of Richmond. He points out that one great necessity in this housing matter is that the tenant should be secure against eviction through religious and political views. I can quite see that if the State boldly tackles this problem in the way an out-and-out Socialist would ask and puts up buildings, sees they are only let at a fair rent, and protects those inside from persecution from despots, that is a feasible and workable scheme. At any rate, it is a solution which would appeal to some. But the third course, the course adopted by this measure, is mere tinkering with the problem. I represent a borough which sadly needs better houses, and I looked to this measure with a great deal of eagerness, and with a desire to see in it some message of hope for my Constituents, but I have found none. I do not consider that this would lead to the erection of one single house in the whole borough of Pontefract. What does it amount to? It is a dole, I estimate, of about two pence a head to our Constituents. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bonar Law) has told us that the working man does not want charity but work. I am not quite so sure that I understand what is the meaning of that occult aphorism, but at the same time I would very much prefer open assistance from the State, repeated and regular, that a man can rely on, to the spasmodic intervention of a threepenny-bit once a year, such as this Bill provides.
The appointment of these commissioners and their staff, no doubt, brings great joy to the party opposite, because they know 1474 that by persecuting Ministers they are pretty sure to get two out of the three appointed Conservatives, including the Chairman, who will probably get a little extra and they will not only have the joy of seeing two of their bosom friends selected as commissioners, but they will be able to denounce the third appointment as a party job. It may be that the appointment of these three commissioners will be welcomed by the champions of public service and of purity and freedom from corruption, but at the same time I should like to ask how much will be left when their salaries and expenses are paid to grapple with the housing problem. There is only £500,000 to begin with. The Insurance Act, bad as it is, gives two-pence a week, and I want to ask hon. Gentlemen opposite whether they are not producing a pill for an earthquake. I really protest against these measures which tinker in this tiny way. I know what it means. It not only means more commissioners being appointed if ever the unfortunate day should come when we change places, but they will probably add greatly to the Grant, that is if there is a surplus from a Tariff Reform Budget, which I greatly doubt. Where is that going to stop? It is simply a system of doles, and I appeal to Members on both sides to withstand the temptation of being able to go to their constituents and boast that they have got some little bit of State money to come their way. It began, of course, with the Agricultural Rates Act and things of that kind.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I voted for old age pensions on the Third Reading. I approved of them. I was inviting the hon. Member to explain the consistency of his denunciation of doles with the support which he and his party gave to old age pensions.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I am a new Member of this House. I am afraid if I speak of performances before I came the right hon. Gentleman will get very uneasy. I do not care to go into the question of consistency. I do not think there is very much in politics on any side, and I am perfectly certain, with the record before our eyes of the party 1475 opposite on the Insurance, Act I shall never believe in their consistency till the day I die. I am very glad I have been saved a considerable amount of the time I should have otherwise occupied on account of the very breezy criticism which the Bill received from the hon. Member (Mr. Wedgwood). At the same time he did not emphasise, as I should prefer to do, this point of the money. No attempt has been made by the Mover to justify the handling of half a million of money in the way this Bill does. I think he ought to have done so He knows very well that this Bill cannot live a day in Committee. A private Member, of course, cannot propose the voting away of public funds, and we cannot proceed with certain of these important, Clauses in Committee without a Money Resolution in the House. For that reason I am going to suggest, if the Second Reading should be carried, we must at any rate send it to a Committee of the whole House, and I hope I shall have the support of all parties when I move that. The Mover did not think it worth while to justify the taking of £500,000 from the public Exchequer on such a wild-goose chase as this Bill. I think he ought to have done. He made great play of the fact that he has had some experience in London as chairman of the housing committee. No one appreciates the public service and the public spirit of the hon. Gentleman more than I do. At the same time, I have no confidence whatever in the housing committee of the London County Council or in the Tory majority which ruled it. The hon. Member who spoke after him referred to some mysterious finance committee which is really controlling the spirit of the administration of London, and I ask him whether he considers that he is in a business-like position in standing there, on behalf of the most wealthy city in the world, pleading for a paltry dole from the Exchequer?
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
No. The hon. Member is misrepresenting me. If he reads the Bill he will find that Grants will be made on the recommendation of the Housing Commissioners according to circumstances. Whether a Grant should 1476 come to London or not will depend entirely on the circumstances of the ease.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I do not want to misrepresent the hon. Member. His illustrations and arguments were nearly all drawn from London. In London I found the rates were about one-third of what they were in the rural parish which I represent on the county council. There the housing problem is acute. I pay very heavy rates indeed. My rates are 10s. 8d. in the £. I should have been greatly desirous of seeing a Bill introduced which would have brought some assistance, to this rural parish, but as a London ratepayer I repudiate the arguments which I have listened to to-day. I am ready to pay my share. I assure hon. Members that if they wish to tackle the housing question, or the police problem, provincial cities will be ready to take advantage of the schemes they propose. I think the position of London in this matter is unworthy of the greatest city in the greatest Empire of modern times. When hon. Members opposite produce cases where there has been an alteration in the death rate, I would remind them of what took place in the district in which I lived, namely Chancery Avenue. The rookery which existed there has been demolished. [Laughter]. Hon. Members who laugh will forgive me when I say that the reason I was there was that I was spending the whole of my time in working among the poor of London. I well remember making a special report for some members of the first London County Council on this question. I took the trouble to go over the dwellings built in Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue. There were rookeries in the neighbourhood of the Seven Dials which were swept away. It is perfectly true that the death rate in the new dwellings is less than was the case before, because none of the original people afterwards lived on the spot. In my survey of the dwellings occupied by several hundred tenants I failed to find a single resident who lived on the spot before the demolition took place.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
The hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting me again. The figures I gave had reference to Liverpool, where 75 per cent. of the 1477 original people who were dispossessed have been replaced on the same spot.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BOOTH
If what I said was a misrepresentation I withdraw it, but I meant it as a compliment to the hon. Member. What I want hon. Members to see is that great cities like London, or even Liverpool—and I have no doubt the hon. Member is as proud of Liverpool as I am of old Pontefract—ought not to come cap in hand for a small part of this dole. I reckon that this dole will be 2d. per head per annum, and I ask whether a little trumpery Bill like this is worthy of the great and eloquent speeches with which hon. Members have favoured the House. I do not think it is worthy of the position. I should like to have some defence of the financial part of the measure. If hon. Members came asking £50,000,000, one, of course, would be aghast, but we would see that that would be a contribution to the solution of the housing problem, but when they ask £500,000, that is no solution whatever. I would be obliged if any Bill of this kind went to a Division to vote against it if it dealt with the position in such a manner as this. I cannot understand how the members of the Labour party, with their huge programme, and with the heavy task they have undertaken, can admit principles like these to be incorporated in the legislation of the country. They hope to do a great deal in the way of social reform by some of the measures they propose, and while they have more faith than I have in some of their schemes, I must say they have no more sincere admirer than myself of their motives. If they wish to tackle the question of monopolies, how can they do it by rearing up obstacles in the way of providing compensation to vested interests. I do not wish to treat large interests badly, but we are devoting this money to compensate people for having property so bad that it has to be condemned. I say we are introducing here a principle which I for my part cannot possibly support. I do urge in the interest of the working classes that hon. Members should think twice before they give their sanction to such an atrocious principle. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) referred to the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act of 1899 which has been inoperative. He seemed to think that it was a private Member's Act. I do not think that was so. I believe it was a measure of the Conservative party brought in by the right hon. 1478 Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain). The party opposite were in power for five or six years after the passing of their own Act, and I find that not a single transaction has taken place under it.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I will accept the correction. It is so small a number that it does not affect my argument. I wish to point out why the Acts which have been passed, whether by a Liberal Government or a Conservative Government, have all been inoperative. It is because we are going in advance of the local people or undermining their powers. This is another instance where you are undermining the local authorities and making medical officers of health so disgusted with the legislation that they will not take the responsibility of enforcing it. It seems to me that, this will be another inoperative Act, if passed. I apologise for saying that under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act there had not been a transaction, but there have been so few that we may regard the Act as a dead letter. I would appeal to the House not to throw away public funds in this manner. My experience last Session was that one-half of it was spent by hon. Members in asking for doles and Grants to their constituencies and different sets of people, and that the other half was spent in refusing to pay these Grants. In listening to the financial discussions last Session it seemed to me that everyone was inclined to ask Grants from the State and that nobody was inclined to pay. We are at the beginning of this Session, and everybody is wanting money, and very soon hon. Gentlemen opposite will be turning round and blaming us for increasing expenditure on officials and in other ways. Hon. Members will not advance the solution of the housing problem by bringing in semi-Socialistic measures of this kind. They may imitate the intentions of the philosophic Socialists, but they cannot counterfeit their ability.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) is the last man in the world to rebuke anyone in regard to asking for doles, because I understand that he devoted the whole of the Recess and a large part of last Session to persuading working men that Parliament is going to subsidise their wages to the tune of 9d. for 4d.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The contradiction has made matters rather worse, because apparently the hon. Member has been going about the country abusing his own conscience by telling the people to support something in which he really does not believe.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I think that has made the matter worse still, but I am perfectly willing to leave it there. The reason I support the Second Reading of this Bill is that it contains, in my judgment, two good principles. One is that we are to have set up here in the centre an authority to see that things are done in regard to housing, and the other is that we are to have national money to help do them. A good deal of objection is taken to the proposal to buy out the owner of slum property. I should have thought everyone acquainted with housing schemes and questions affecting housing was quite aware that up to the present we have had to do that. No one has yet proposed that we should take away from the slum owner his property without compensating him for it. I will vote for a Bill to that effect if the hon. Member for Pontefract will bring one in, but I doubt very much whether the President of the Local Government Board would support such a measure. I am perfectly willing to support a Bill with that object, or I will support an Amendment to this Bill to the same effect. I am not one of those who are going to refuse to do anything because I cannot get my own way altogether. Hon. Members above the Gangway were continually telling me last year that I was such a person. I am glad this afternoon to stand in the other light. I regard housing as much more important than insurance. I look upon the provision of proper dwellings for the people as much more important than merely insuring against the results of living in insanitary dwellings. If this is only a small Bill, let the Government take it up and make it 1480 a big Bill. Speaking for a district which badly needs housing, I wish Parliament would carry out the proposition of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) to raise the money and then re-house the people under decent conditions. Get the money in the manner he suggests, and let it be spent, not by private people, but by the municipalities. If it is good enough that sanitation and education should be matters of municipal concern, this also should be. I hold very strongly that in this and every other country the home is the foundation of life. It is of the greatest importance to see that children, women and men are living in decent homes first of all. I believe that that is the most important thing in life, and it is because I believe that, not because I agree with all the details of this Bill, that quite cheerfully I shall go into the Lobby in support of the Second Reading.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I should like to say that we do appreciate the principle and spirit in which the hon. Member for Bow-and-Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) has met us upon this occasion. We do not ask hon. Members opposite to agree with all our proposals, but we do ask them to-day to join us in a common effort to get forward with this housing problem. I listened very carefully to the speeches of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) and the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) and I could not discover from the speech of the former any reason which should really prevent their voting for the Second Reading of the Bill. All the objections he found to it—and they were numerous, although I think many of them were self-contradictory—could be dealt with by Amendments in the Committee stage, if the Chairman did not rule them out of order. Most of the criticisms of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme were self-contradictory. In the first place, he said that the Bill allowed local authorities too much power. He said what jobbery there would be if the local authorities had power to buy up land and you did not safeguard and overlook their operations. In the next breath he told us that the appointment of the Housing Commissioners would be an interference with the elementary rights of self-Government by local authorities. The hon. Member for Pontefract started his speech by objecting that we were going to fritter away half a million, and then he asked us, at the end of his speech, to spend fifty millions.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I am in the recollection of the House. I could not help feeling that the hon. Member for New-castle-under-Lyme regarded it as something like an insult on our part that we dared to bring forward this proposal at all.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The hon. Member dissembled his love. Certainly his speech was an exceedingly violent one, and I think I may say a party speech designed to make party capital out of his objections to our proposal. All I have to say is that we have brought forward our proposal dealing with the housing question; let us see the proposal of those who object to this Bill. We have made our suggestion; let them make theirs. At this time, when all parties are agreed that the need for a housing Bill for the country and towns is pressing in the extreme, when all parties are agreed that nine-tenths of the country's poverty and crime is caused at the present moment by bad housing, it is not enough to meet the proposal with a blank negative. We want alternative suggestions, and we have yet to hear from hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House any concrete facts or proposals to deal with the housing problem. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme has, of course, a pet theory about land values, which, I think, lay at the back of his speech.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The unrating of houses or the rating of land. I do not know whether the hon. Member makes himself responsible for a leaflet issued by the Midland Land Values League. If he does, and if he believes what that leaflet states, I can quite understand why he thinks that his is the better alternative. I will read out a few of the hundred reasons put forward by that league. The first is that—It will encourage art.Then—Diminish accidents to workmen, lessen bankruptcy, make wages genuine, abolish child labour, abolish food adulteration, diminish gambling, stop street noises, no worry.If the hon. Members for Pontefract and Newcastle-under-Lyme really believe that by unrating houses or rating land, which- 1482 ever they choose to call it, they will produce the millennium, then all we can say is the sooner they set to work the better. Meanwhile we do ask them to allow us to go forward with our proposal in order to do what we can to mitigate the evils, about which we all agree, and therefore we ask them to give us the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. BURNS
Not for the first time in the history of the world do we witness the spectacle of revolution coquetting with reaction. We have witnessed it in a speech that has been so admirably delivered, and which is significant from some points of view. With that and the other speeches I have a right to deal, as housing is under my charge at the Local Government Board. It would be superfluous on my part if I were to inform the House, which has been very indulgent, of the responsibility that as President of the Board I have, particularly in relation to housing, and it would be a mere commonplace if I were to claim sympathy with housing reform or to follow that up by saying that in a short time we had done our best to secure its advancement. The House will readily recognise that we have done a great deal in that direction. I am grateful to everybody who spoke this afternoon, and to all reformers outside, for the steps they are taking to give increased prominence to this social problem. I have a right to say that whilst I agree with nearly all the aims and many of the ideals of housing reformers, I do ask the House on this matter to be very careful about following the advice of gentlemen who have hearts of gold and heads of quicksilver, because it is so generous to be philanthropic with other people's money, and it is so easy to ask for a dole of half-a-million to-day, to be followed by a million next year, and a million and a-hatf the year following. But this Bill has not been advanced on its merits so much as it has been advanced as a medium of making what I think was a totally unjustifiable attack on the Housing Department of the Local Government Board. In these days when economic fledglings from East End settlements think that the last word on housing reform is said when they have delivered a speech, after they have motored through a London slum in a taxi-cab, when we find speeches made attacking a Department, then, so far as the particular case instanced on which the charge against my Department was made, I have a right to speak and to say that you have no right 1483 with the Housing Act only two years old, before its roots have been in the ground long, to pull up those roots to see how far and how fast it has grown. That suggestion was made by the hon. Member who moved this Bill, and who made an attack which was as ungenerous as it was unjustified, and poor compensation to myself, who for the Tottenham, Rotherhithe, Tabard Street, and Grotto Place schemes have done everything within my power to accelerate the speed of housing reform in London, and have lost no opportunity of helping the hon. Member and the committee over which he presides.
If it were necessary to occupy the time of the House with details, I could refute the hon. Gentleman's unintentional misrepresentations, and I think that I should carry the House with me in my reply. But I have to refer to other matters more important than petty details of a scheme which gave us great trouble, which was very expensive, and which was for nearly two years in course of preparation by the county council itself before it came to me, and since it did come to me I was compelled, in the interests both of the neighbourhood and of the prospective tenants, not to allow a scheme of such vast financial magnitude to be rushed through without necessary and proper examination. As it has been said by the hon. Member and others that the Local Government Board has done nothing in the last six years with regard to housing loans and schemes, and much has been said by hon. Members about what has been done in Ireland, where £7,500,000 has been spent on housing, may I point out that that was done under totally different conditions from anything that exists in England or Wales. Mud huts that were a disgrace to civilisation had to be cleared away at all costs, because tuberculosis was prevailing in Ireland to a most alarming extent—to three times the proportion that prevailed in Great Britain. In addition, the progress made in Ireland was made in twenty-nine years, and the annual expenditure in England and Wales since I have been President of the Local Government Board has been at the same ratio year by year over the same number of years. Considering that we have only had two years to tune up the local authorities and medical officers to do the work, it is not a slight accomplishment to have carried the local authorities without subsidy from taxes or rates, and without any charity rents, to spend as 1484 much per annum as in the celebrated Irish instance which has been referred to.
It has been said that nothing has been done with regard to rural housing. I regret and deplore the inactivity of local authorities, urban and rural. But, as a rule, the charge against me is that, with autocratic celerity, I am continually urging local authorities to do their duty. The two charges cannot be made against the same office or the same Minister. It is equally untrue to say that nothing has been done with regard to rural housing. In the twenty years from 1890 to 1909, before the Act for which I was responsible was passed, only eight rural district councils took action with regard to housing in rural areas. During the last two years, or, rather, the last fifteen or sixteen months, because they did not realise at once what their powers were, thirty-five rural councils have taken action. That is very important comparative progress. That is with regard to houses under Part III. I now come to a more important part of rural housing. Here I want to deal with a gross misrepresentation, with regard to making houses fit for human habitation. The rural district councils in fifteen months issued 7,000 notices for the repair of houses. There enormous progress undoubtedly has also been made. When the hon. Member says that nothing has been done for rural housing, I can only say that, apart from repair work and the provision of new houses, within the last three years there have been 13,000 representations made to rural district councils. Of that number 9,000 were in the last year. For closing, demolition, and repairs, over 20,000 separate actions have been taken in the rural areas under this Act in the last, eighteen months or two years. So much for the suggestion that nothing has been done. The next point made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley and supported by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wilton, was to the effect that it was perfectly true that some new houses, comparatively insignificant in number, have been built in the rural areas. "But what," they say, "is the good of them when you have closed 1,344 houses?" That is not the fact. The real fact is that 1,344 closing orders were issued. Of these, instead of the property being demolished, as was suggested, demolition orders have only been made in 126 cases. In most of the other cases, the houses have been put into a condition of habitable repair. The 126 have been demolished. In 1485 the light of facts like those we have no right to allow a Department to be unduly criticised, whose officers have been overworked, which has used its new powers to the best of its ability, and to such an extent that I have been accused by Noble Lords of usurping judicial functions, and of going further in a direction than I ought to have gone in the severity with which we have applied this particular Act.
I turn from criticisms of the Local Government Board to the two main principles of this Bill. It is suggested that everything is going to be best in this best of all possible housing worlds if the Local Government Board is set on one side and three Housing Commissioners appointed. I venture to make the prediction that before five years are over you will find strong resentment growing up in all quarters of the House and the country against the Imperial Parliament allowing local authorities—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—to be interfered with and superseded by ad hoc commissioners, who have neither the knowledge nor the experience of the Department, and who are without the supervision of the Department and the House of Commons. [An HON. MEMBER: "They will be under the Department."] No, if that hon. Member knew the difference between having a Local Government Inspector to deal with who was always under your eye, and a Housing Commissioner who travelled about the country thinking he was a peripatetic authority and independent as well, he would agree with me that you had rather have the inspector you know than the Housing Commissioner you wot not of. I know both. What does it all mean? Liverpool has been referred to. Statistics have been quoted about Liverpool that were not at all relevant to the objects of this Bill. The Mover spoke about certain conditions in Liverpool. Liverpool Corporation honoured me by asking me to open several blocks of the very houses on the spot to which the hon. Member referred. Look at the fact. He said that 75 per cent. of the people dispossessed have been rehoused on this spot. He had no right to assume that the numbers of criminals had dropped down so largely; for 25 per cent. of the criminal element was not rehoused on the same spot, but went elsewhere—and if you doubt me ask a policeman.
Why did not the hon. Member give credit where credit is due. What has Dr. Hope, one of the finest medical officers in 1486 this kingdom, done in Liverpool, in co-operation with my Department, in fifteen years, where he was confronted with tremendous difficulties. He has reduced the death rate from scarlet fever from 48 per 100,000 of population to 24; typhus fever from 7 to 1; typhoid fever from 28 to 8; phthisis from 213 to 150; and all this without these commissioners. Why? Because he knows his Liverpool, and he is working in conjunction with the committee who knows it equally well. You want to supersede this brilliant and devoted medical officer by some gentleman from London who knows as much about Liverpool as a dog does about his parents. It is impossible and absurd. The hon. Gentleman goes further, and here the right hon. Gentleman opposite who has spoken made one very small error, but it is sufficient for me to point a moral and adorn a tale. In eulogising the necessity for housing he spoke about the effect it had on character. Liverpool in the past ten years has reduced its phthisis 25 per cent., and its infant mortality 28 per cent. It is not housing alone that is responsible for that. If you could decasualise Liverpool's dock labour and give the men more regular employment—and I am glad to say we are helping them where we can—you would find more improvement by decasualisation of labour than by a sixpenny subsidy to labourers for cottages.
Decasualisation would do much more for regular labour than would be effected by the 6d. a week, for it would enable the labourer to have 3s. or 4s. a week more to pay for rent. Phthisis, as I said, has diminished 25 per cent. and infant mortality 28 per cent. Why? Because excessive drinking has dropped 53 and alcoholic mortality 59 per cent., and it is preposterous to say that a Bill like this—this wooden nutmeg, without size, substance, or smell—will, together with the application of this sixpenny or ninepenny skin-blister to local authorities and landlords for building houses ever solve and dispose of the enormous problem of Liverpool. I pass from these commissioners. The Committee in 1906 would not have them; the Housing Committee in 1909 would not have them, and I warn the House of Commons that, so far as I am concerned, the day the commissioners come into my Department, that day I walk out, and I will tell the House why. The only way Parliament can act is through the local authorities. We have got 25,000 1487 local authorities, large and small, in England and Wales. Increasingly the local authorities are suspicious of commissioners, and we find the more you supervise them the more they mistrust you, the more they suspect you, and the more they are jealous of you; and the result is that the extent to which they are over-inspected by independent housing commissioners is the measure in which they neglect their duties which they would do cheerfully and efficiently without the interference of those commissioners. Then it is said that we must have a Housing and Town Planning Department. I know where that proposal comes from, because 999 men out of every 1,000 now, who do not want to be firemen or policemen, want to be Housing Commissioners. There is not money enough to go round, and the offices are not large enough to contain the self-elected persons who, without information and experience, bring forward their proposals for curing all the ills that flesh is heir to. I know these housing inspectors and Commissioners and I am not enamoured with them.
The next serious point is the granting of £500,000 per annum. In the first place, this Grant ought not to be set up on the motion of a private Member who has obtained the fortunate chance of the ballot, and it should only be done by a responsible Minister who is willing to grant the money for this or other purposes. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, certainly this year, has not got the money. I have not his authority for saying that £500,000, which will be like a snowball and an annually recurring charge, or any other sum, larger or smaller, can be voted for this purpose. But let us assume that I have a purse like Fortunatus, and I could give half a million, what would be the good of it to deal with this problem? There are no less than 1,250,000 men in the United Kingdom engaged in the building trade, and over £100,000,000 in wages or profits are taken by masters and men. What is the good of half a million, which is less than half of 1 per cent., on an industry that employs so many men and so much capital?
§ Mr. BURNS
The hon. Member for South-West Ham said give us a bit more. Where is it to come from? From dear sugar? [An HON. MEMBER: "NO, from the Income Tax."] This has to be 1488 given at once, and it will have to come from the heavier taxation upon the charwoman and the poor workers in South-West Ham on purpose to give subsidies to those working on high wages in the tinplate industry or to engineers or colliers getting from 5s. to 10s. per day. It is a monstrous proposition, and unjust to the very poor. Besides that it is bad finance, just as ethically it is unjust to those who have to find the money. Let me deal with this proposal to raid the Treasury? Who is in favour of it? The 1906 Special Committee on Housing were against it, and the Housing and Town Planning Committee unanimously rejected it in 1909, and why? Because they did not believe in charging such rents. They thought it was a vicious principle, and when the hon. Member who moved this Bill spoke about the way in which the London County Council had worked in housing the poor, may I point out to him. because he is one of a party in the London County Council himself, that when the Progressive party, from 1889 up to 1906, proposed that public money without any subsidy from the State, without a charge on either rates or taxes, should be used to build houses to cover the cost of erection maintenance and repair, the rents to cover all outgoings, hon. Members of his party said, "Oh, this is competition with private enterprise and it will prevent houses from being built." Yet the London County Council has now got nearly 100,000 tenants in all its houses and tenements.
§ Mr. BURNS
Yes, "actually in," but when the programme is completed I admit you have diminished the volume of housing reform to be done. I will take the hon. Member's figure. There are about 50,000 tenants now actually in. All this has been done through the rents of the tenants themselves. I am glad to say that for the eighteen years I was chairman of the Labour party on the London County Council we all of us took the line that charity rents through rates or taxes were nothing less than a bonus to employers in aid of low wages, and would be used and exploited by unscrupulous employers of labour to that particular end. Let us assume the Grant is passed. Its allocation will always be invidious. I would confront the House with this fact. At this moment—it is a startling figure, but it is true—there are half a million empty houses in 1489 the United Kingdom, and there are 60,000 empty houses in London alone.
§ Mr. BURNS
I have got what I thought was the most reliable figures from the most reliable source. The people for many reasons are going from those houses to the suburbs, where there are more houses at this moment than there are tenants. From whom is this subsidy out of the Imperial taxes to be drawn? It is to be drawn from the inner circle where the houses are empty, from the outer circle where they are not quite so empty, and from the outer circumference where the supply of houses exceeds the tenants. And to help whom? To help towns like Coventry, where the population is rapidly increasing, where trade is prosperous, and where there are hardly any men out of employment. The owners of empty houses in Clapham, Rotherhithe, Tooting, and Mitcham are to be taxed to provide a subsidy for Coventry, which is booming in trade and which is growing because it is prosperous, when the employers there out of the increment they receive by their better trade and better prosperity might pay for the houses in higher wages to their workpeople. My chief objection to a Grant is this. At this moment co-partnership and co-operative associations are extending their influence from the urban areas to the rural districts. I went down to Byfleet the other day, and I found a generous band of a few men had got £32,000 together and had put up near a golf course a co-operative village as cheap as it is beautiful. The rents cover the cost of erection, maintenance, and repair, and they have not come either to the rates or to the taxes for them. That is spreading in many ways throughout the country, as the next two years will disclose. Give a Grant in favour of some housing schemes, and you will discourage benevolent enterprise of this description. You will discourage industrial co-partnership, that is, I am glad to say, covering the home counties with places like Ealing and Hampstead Garden City. The result is that all over the country people who otherwise would act on their own initiative and would find money for a useful public purpose like this at the lowest possible rates of interest induced by a love of their less fortunate countrymen, will wait until the Grant comes, and the effect will be disastrous upon all aspects of our housing problem. Let us deal with this in a practical and concrete 1490 form. Take the Irish conditions. A house, if the tenant paid for it himself, would cost from 2s. 3d. to 2s. 6d. per week. The tenant pays 1s. 2d. or 1s. 3d.; from 7d. to 9d. is paid by the State, and from 4d. to 5d. is contributed from the local rates. It is unfair to the local taxpayer that he should be taxed for a special section of privileged tenants whose housing conditions he can never hope to share. It is not fair to the taxpayer who may be worse off than the privileged tenant that he should be asked to contribute 7d. or 9d. per week, and I put it to my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley that the difference between the State paying nothing for a house in the East End of London and paying 9d. per week—the most that would be given under this Bill—is not going to make the half of one per cent. difference in the building of houses and tenement dwellings. It will not touch in a practical form either rural or urban housing; it will do more harm than good; it will be an assistance to landlords and a bonus in favour of low wages, and it is not necessary in towns and cities and rural districts where they are building on economic lines. Thirty-six councils in two years have done more work under the Housing and Town Planning Act than was done during twenty years under a Conservative Government.
What steps have been taken by legislation in the past, and what lesson should we draw from it. Do hon. Members remember the election of 1895 when every hoarding was placarded with the virtues of the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act. We were told there were to be "bowers of bliss," and the multi-coloured posters showed the British workman living in his "bower of bliss" purchased by State money on easy terms. What was done under that particular Act. In twelve years the London County Council have advanced eighteen loans and two borough councils have advanced between them thirty-three loans, or, in all, fifty-one cases in twelve years, representing less than £10,000 for fifty-one houses. Let us still further expose the nakedness of the land. In England and Wales, in twelve years, 922 houses were built—and remember that 100,000 houses are built every year—and £210,000 was spent on them. One district alone, Ilford, has had 40 per cent. of the total number of the houses all through England and Wales, and about 45 per cent. of the money. It is an interesting fact, which hon. Members must 1491 bear in mind, that of the 119 men at Ilford who under this Act have redeemed their houses, 25, or 20 per cent. of them, have had to sell again, because they have had to move to follow their work and their industry. What is the good of this as a contribution to housing? Hon. Members forget the mobility of labour in this country. We do not want more landlords; we want more houses. We want more houses of a better type. When we realise that in the Hearts of Oak Society, of which I am proud to be a member, more than half the members, in order to follow their work, move every year, what is the good of our passing measures such as this, which are based upon the permanency, and not the mobility, of labour, which I always like to see, because it is much better that men should follow their work than—in the language of a Poor Law Commissioner—that they should be tied to the spot, draw nutrition, propagate, and rot. The worst of this kind of legislation is that it anchors men to where they should not be stationed. It is more houses we want, and not more landlords, and we certainly do not want subsidies of this kind.
I am going to do my best to advise the House as to what action it should take upon this Bill. In the first place, this Bill cannot get much more forward, because a proposal to pay £500,000 under an amending Bill can only be made by a responsible Minister. That is not the case to-day, and this Bill cannot get any further. There is another thing. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in deference to all sections of the House, has set up a Committee, which I hope may soon report, to revise, overhaul, and recommend what subventions should be made from the Imperial Exchequer to local authorities. The work of such a Committee would include the question whether there should or should not be a subsidy for housing in rural or urban areas, and whether it should take the Irish form or perhaps a better form, if subsidies are good at all, for water supply, for drainage, or for exempting certain houses below a certain rental value from the rates altogether, the central authority making some contribution to the local authority. Whether that be so or not, the way in which these things ought to be done is on the initiation of a responsible Minister. What right have we, before Sections 60 and 63 of the National Insurance Act come into operation, which give 1492 a much-needed stimulus, it is said, to housing, to prejudge that question, or the Committee's Report, or the defects of the Housing Act, by passing this Bill? The Committee may decide in favour of block Grants to a locality, having regard to its low rateable value or its sanitary necessities. It may deal with the tenant who is making payments to a sinking fund and many other aspects of this problem. That is a matter for the Committee and not for the House. I regard this Bill as a symbol on the part of the House of Commons that something further should be done in the direction of housing reform. I construe it, with the criticism of my Department, as due not to any desire to supersede it, but with a desire to strengthen its power and authority, and when I come for more inspectors, not Housing Commissioners, I can rely on the House to give me support and efficient officials under our control, whom we may ask for in a few months' time. This Bill is nothing more or less than an expression of the desire for housing reform, on sound, economic, and just lines, to proceed quicker in every department than it has done in the last few years. I will ask the House to do no more to-day than give a Second Reading to this Bill, because if they do any more without the authority and the responsibility of a Minister who can provide the finance, this Bill will be a delusion and a snare, and the Government are not prepared to finance a Bill of this kind unless they have the control and distribution of the finance on sounder lines than are outlined in this Bill. I appeal to the House to give the Bill a Second Reading, and to keep it within its control. If it does not do that the mere defects of the Bill and the lack of financial authority which it conspicuously displays will prevent it from going a single step further.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The conclusion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, which differed so much from the earlier part, has made it unnecessary to occupy more than the minute which is possible. The right hon. Gentleman began in a very amusing way by talking of the union between reaction and revolution. He has given us an example of union in one person, which is even more remarkable. I am sure I understand thoroughly the right hon. Gentleman's whole attitude. I say this without offence to him. He remembers, we are all fond of quoting it, the saying of Louis XIV., "L'état, c'est moi!" His attitude, equally sincere;, is "Social reform, that's 1493 me!" and that accounts for his whole attitude. He was very interesting in his crusade against new Commissioners. The right hon. Gentleman has plenty of courage, and I would not suggest for a moment that he made that speech in the absence, through illness, of an important colleague, but I would suggest that he should send him a specially marked copy of it, for I am sure he would appreciate it.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House."—[Mr. Booth.]
§ The House divided: Ayes, 129; Noes, 158.1495
|Division No. 46.]||AYES.||[5.1 p.m.|
|Abraham, William (Dublin Harbour)||Glanville, H. J.||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas|
|Addison, Dr. C.||Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford||Murray, Capt. Hon. A. C.|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Greenwood, Granville G. (Peterborough)||Neilson, Francis|
|Allen, Rt. Hon. Charles P. (Stroud)||Greenwood, Hamar (Sunderland)||Norton, Captain Cecil W.|
|Bagot, Lieut.-Col. J.||Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.)||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)|
|Baker, Harold T. (Accrington)||Hackett, John||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Baker, Joseph A. (Finsbury, E.)||Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds.)||O'Doherty, Philip|
|Balfour, Sir Robert (Lanark)||Hayden, John Patrick||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Hayward, Evan||O'Sullivan, Timothy|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Devon, Barnstaple)||Higham, John Sharp||Palmer, Godfrey Mark|
|Barton, W.||Hinds, John||Parker, James (Halifax)|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H.||Phillips, John (Longford, S.)|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Holmes, Daniel Turner||Pointer, Joseph|
|Benn, W. W. (T. Hamlets, St. George)||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Illingworth, Percy H.||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)|
|Boland, John Pius||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. Sir Rufus||Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)|
|Brocklehurst, W. B.||Jones, Sir D. Brynmor (Swansea)||Radford, G. H.|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil)||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Byles, Sir William Pollard||Joyce, Michael||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|Cameron, Robert||Keating, M.||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Kellaway, Frederick George||Roche, Augustine (Louth)|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Kilbride, Denis||Rose, Sir Charles Day|
|Chapple, Dr. W. A.||King, J. (Somerset, N.)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Clough, William||Lamb, Ernest Henry||Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.|
|Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Tradeston)|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Lewis, John Herbert||Sheehy, David|
|Cotton, William Francis||Low, Sir F. (Norwich)||Simon, Sir John Allsebrook|
|Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)||Lyell, Charles Henry||Seames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Crawshay-Williams, Eliot||Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs)||Spicer, Sir Albert|
|Crumley, Patrick||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Verney, Sir Harry|
|Dawes, J. A.||M'Callum, John M.||Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Wardle, George J.|
|Dillon, John||M'Laren, Hon. H D. (Leics.)||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay|
|Donelan, Captain A.||M'Laren, Hon. F.W.S. (Lincs., Spalding)||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Doris, W.||M'Laren, Walter S. B. (Ches., Crewe)||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Duffy, William J.||Marshall, Arthur Harold||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Edwards, John Hugh (Glamorgan, Mid)||Meagher, Michael||Williamson, Sir A.|
|Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.)||Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)||Wilson, W. T (Westhoughton)|
|Essex, Richard Walter||Menzies, Sir Walter||Young, W. (Perthshire, E.)|
|Esslemont, George Birnie||Millar, James Duncan||Younger, Sir George|
|Ffrench, Peter||Montagu, Hon. E. S.|
|Flavin, Michael Joseph||Mooney, John J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Booth and Mr. Wedgwood.|
|France, G. A.||Morgan, George Hay|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Bennett-Goldney, Francis||Cave, George|
|Aitken, Sir William Max||Beresford, Lord Charles||Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major William||Bethell, Sir John Henry||Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry|
|Archer-Shee, Major M.||Bird, A.||Collins, Stephen (Lambeth)|
|Ashley, W. W.||Boyton, J.||Craik, Sir Henry|
|Astor, Waldorf||Brace, William||Creft, H. P.|
|Baird, J. L.||Bridgeman, Clive||Crooks, William|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Buckmaster, Stanley O.||Dalrymple, Viscount|
|Baring, Maj. Hon. Guy V. (Winchester)||Burn, Col. C. R.||Denniss, E. R. B.|
|Barnston, Harry||Butcher, John George||Dickson, Rt. Hon. C. S|
|Beach, Hon. Michael Hugh Hicks||Campbell, Capt. Duncan F. (Ayr, N.)||Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M.|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Finlay, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Cassel, Felix||Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes|
|Benn, Ion Hamilton (Greenwich)||Castlereagh, Viscount||Fletcher, John Samuel (Hampstead)|
|Forster, Henry William||Lonsdale, Sir John Brownlee||Sanders, Robert A.|
|Gastrell, Major W. Houghton||Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Sanderson, Lancelot|
|Gilhooly, James||Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)||Sandys, G. J. (Somerset, Wells)|
|Gilmour, Capt. John||Lyttelton, Hon. J. C. (Droitwich)||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Glazebrook, Capt. Philip K.||MacCaw, Wm J. MacGeagh||Sherwell, Arthur James|
|Goldman, C. S.||Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)|
|Goldstone, Frank||Mackinder, H. J.||Smith, Rt. Hon. F. E. (L'pool, Walton)|
|Gordon, Hon. John Edward (Brighton)||Macmaster, Donald||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Greene, W. R.||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine)||Smith, H. B. L. (Northampton)|
|Guinness, Hon. Walter Edward||Magnus, Sir Philip||Snowden, Philip|
|Gwynne, R. S. (Sussex, Eastbourne)||Malcolm, Ian||Steel-Maltland, A. D|
|Haddock, George Bahr||Mallaby-Deeley, Harry||Sutton, John E.|
|Hall, Fred (Dulwich)||Martin, Joseph||Swift, Rigby|
|Hall, Marshall (E. Toxteth)||Mills, Hon. Charles Thomas||Sykes, Mark (Hull, Central)|
|Hambro, Angus Valdemar||Morrell, Philip||Terrell, Gorge (Wilts., N.W.)|
|Hamilton, Marquess of (Londonderry)||Morrison-Bell, Capt. E. F. (Ashburton)||Terrell, H. (Gloucester)|
|Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C. (Honiton)||Thomas, J. H. (Derby)|
|Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil)||Mount, William Arthur||Thompson, Robert (Belfast, North)|
|Harris, Henry Percy||Newman, John R. P.||Thomson, W. Mitchell- (Down, N.)|
|Healy, Maurice (Cork)||Newton, Harry Kottingham||Thorne, William (West Ham)|
|Healy, Timothy Michael (Cork, East)||Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)||Thynne, Lord Alexander|
|Helmsley, Viscount||Nield, Herbert||Touche, George Alexander|
|Henderson, Arthur (Durham)||O'Brien, William (Cork)||Tullibardine, Marquess of|
|Henry, Sir Charles S.||O'Grady, James||Ward, Arnold (Herts, Watford)|
|Hewins, William Albert Samuel||Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.||Watt, Henry A.|
|Hill, Sir Clement L. (Shrewsbury)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||White, Major G. D. (Lancs., Southport)|
|Hoare, S. J. G.||Paget, Almeric Hugh||Whyte, A. F. (Perth)|
|Hodge, John||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)||Wiles, Thomas|
|Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Peto, Basil Edward||Winterton, Earl|
|Ingleby, Holcombe||Pollock, Ernest Murray||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Jessel, Captain H. M.||Pretyman, Ernest George||Wood, John (Stalybridge)|
|Jones, W. S. Glyn- (Stepney)||Rawson, Col. Richard H.||Worthington-Evans, L.|
|Jowett, F. W.||Remnant, James Farquharson||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Joynson-Hicks, William||Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)||Wyndham, Rt. Hon. George|
|Kerry, Earl of||Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)||Yate, Col. C. E.|
|Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Roberts, S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Lansbury, George||Ronaldshay, Earl of|
|Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle)||Rothschild, Lionel de||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Sir A. Griffith-Boscawen and Mr. C. Bathurst.|
|Lewisham, Viscount||Salter, Arthur Clavell|
|Locker-Lampson, O. (Ramsey)||Samuel, Sir Harry (Norwood)|
Bill committed to a Standing Committee.