§ Order for Second Heading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Runciman)
It may be for the convenience of the House that when the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill is taken I should give some further explanation of the policy of the Government so far as it is expressed in this Bill. The Bill itself by no means covers the whole subject of housing, and it has been strictly limited in its extent. There will be further proposals with regard to urban housing which will probably be brought forward by the President of the Local Government Board on a future occasion. For the present we are dealing purely with the agricultural districts and with those cottagers and others who are in the direct employment of the State for whom provision can be made under the provisions of this Bill if it be passed this Session, and it will enable the Government employés, particularly at Crombie and Rosyth, where the problem is pressing, to be properly housed by the time their presence is required there in large numbers. I shall say nothing in detail with regard to the Rosyth proposals except that the second, third and fourth Clauses of the Bill are asking for the carrying out of a complete scheme of housing which we hope before long to have at Rosyth. Without these three Clauses it will be impossible for the Government to carry through their negotiations with the public utility societies, who are now actively considering the problem of making proposals in the near future which the Government hope to take advantage of, or, failing that, to provide for the work being done by the Office of Works. The only thing which I need say at this stage with regard to that is that the Government could not leave this question entirely in the hands of public utility societies in Rosyth, and we must have some means of dealing with the problem if the proposals of the public utility societies are unsatisfactory or fall through. The Admiralty are arranging for the erection of some 3,000 houses. It 810 is impossible to say how much they are to cost, but they will involve something near £1,000,000, including the cost of sewers, roads, and other necessary improvements. The second, third, and fourth Clauses are for Rosyth, and even if the first Clause of the Bill proves so contentious as not to be capable of being passed this Session, I hope the House will agree to these Clauses going through in order that the Rosyth problem may be dealt with in the coming winter, so that provision for the housing of these people may be made immediately their presence is required in this great naval centre.
In the agricultural districts of England the problem is somewhat different. In the first place, the old means of erecting houses and the old sources from which the funds came appear to have been dried up. Private landowners, who in many parts of England have done their housing admirably and well, are not all in the financial position that will enable them to construct houses either large enough in number or quality to provide for a solution of this problem. There is no question that the agricultural depression of 1886 had a great deal to do with depriving private landowners of funds that might otherwise have been devoted to this purpose. Even within the last two or three years certainly efforts have been made by private landowners to rehouse the labourers on their estates and to provide additional cottages, and I have come across many instances of schemes being accepted by landowners in their own districts, and they have diverted capital from other purposes to the erection of cottages. Some have applied for assistance under the Settled Lands Act and other Acts, but on the whole the progress made in private building in recent years has been totally inadequate, and anyone who knows anything of country districts knows that however much may have been done by opulent and benevolent landlords there are great stretches in our country districts where the landlords are either unwilling, or, what is more probable, incapable, through lack of funds, to erect the necessary cottages. The only alternative left is for the local authorities to supply the deficiency. If the local authorities had been building cottages under the powers which they now possess with rapidity there would have been no necessity whatever for these proposals, and I can imagine no better way 811 of dealing with the problem than for the local authorities to provide the deficiency.
If you take the local authorities as they stand now, I think it will be found, either because of their views or their constitution, or their fear of the unknown, or the neglect of their duties, that they have in many districts been quite incapable of dealing with the problem. We have found, for instance, that in many parts of England the subject of housing has never been raised at any council meetings; the subject when it is raised sometimes meets with rather brusque treatment; and again and again in these discussions the shortage of cottages has been denied by members of the council. There are many cases where the members of the councils fear a burden on the rates, and in others they suggest that if there is any burden it falls over the whole area which their council works, and does not fall purely on the parish which is benefited. This again is one of the reasons why they are not prepared to embark on schemes themselves. It is often said at these council meetings by councillors that they fear, if the demand is supplied in one district, it will spring up in another, which, by the way, is probably the best evidence of the shortage and insufficiency of cottage accommodation. Then it is often urged that local authorities by building kill private enterprise, and this argument is used at meetings in many parts of the country with considerable effect. Last of all, but in a very few cases the complaint is made that land for cottages is unobtainable. I should like to say that, on the whole, that is the obstacle which looms least either with the local authorities or others who wish to put up cottages, but it undoubtedly does not exist in large areas of England, and there are some counties where it is absolutely impossible to buy the freehold sites, or obtain sites on long enough leases for the purpose of the housing of agricultural labourers and others in these districts.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Yes, Dorset. As the hon. Gentleman wished me to mention a county, I did so, but that is not the only one. There are others as well. I need not go into the reasons. I am now merely stating the fact, and the fact is that it is impossible to get the necessary land for cottage building. Then, it may 812 be asked why do not we insert compulsory Clauses in this Bill. We have deliberately kept them out, because we wish to keep the area of the Bill to the smallest possible dimensions for the purposes of controversy. We have kept out compulsory Clauses, in order, first of all, that we may exhaust the possibilities of voluntary purchase. We were anxious at the same time to prevent any undue debate arising on the Bill, which is certainly of narrower dimensions than the whole housing problem. If that be the state of things, it is undoubtedly the case that by no means can we succeed in building a sufficient number of houses in agricultural England except by State assistance, and the whole question is whether that State assistance should be given to local authorities or to the State itself in a central form or to individuals, whether it should be worked on an economic basis or on an uneconomic basis, and whether there should be a definite grant-in-aid, in aid of rates, or whether other national means should be used for increasing the number of available cottages.
That the shortage is great and requires some national action, I think no one will deny, for both the county medical officers and the rural district council medical officers, in a very large number of areas in England, I should think the vast majority, declare that it is impossible for them to carry out their closing orders which they regard as necessary, sometimes in few instances, and sometimes in many, because of the shortage of cottages, and because it is impossible for the people who are living in these uninhabitable houses, as they frequently call them, to find a roof to put over their heads, if they are turned out of their present premises That is undoubtedly the case more in the rural areas than anywhere else. It applies not only to those who occupy cottages at the present time, but to those who might wish to occupy them. The marriage for young couples, for instance, is undoubtedly impeded. The diocesan societies all over the country, and all those organisations which take an interest in the social welfare of the agricultural labourer, and the smaller farmers, and the small holders, as well as public officials, declare that undoubtedly the marriage of young couples in country districts is prevented by the shortage of cottages, or that in many districts, where marriage does take place, it leads to overcrowding, this overcrowding in some cases 813 being very serious. There is another, and an agricultural side, even to that social problem. By the mere shortage of cottages, and by the driving of young people out of agricultural districts into the towns, we are actually creating a shortage of agricultural labourers, which is certainly one of the most serious problems with which Parliament and this country are faced.
There are, I believe, three good ways of dealing with this problem on public lines, and only three ways in which public money can be devoted to the assistance of its solution without using public money for private benefit. In the first place, there are means by which we can help the local authorities. The Housing and Town Planning Act gives facilities to the local authorities which they never possessed before. There are also powers given to the Public Works Loan Commissioners to lend to public utility societies, and there are also arrangements made for lending half of the value of the land and buildings to private owners who enter into restrictive covenants. But when all this is done, I am afraid that there still remain very large gaps which we shall have to fill. The facilities which are given to public utility societies can undoubtedly be increased without enabling them to compete unduly with the local authorities, and for my own part I think that both the county councils and the rural district councils might and ought to take greater advantage of the facilities which are now given them. It is a startling fact that over the last few years, since the Act was passed in 1910, only £300,000 loans have been sanctioned by the Local Government Board for building in rural districts, and the total number of houses this would provide would run to something under 1,500 houses. This does not apply to the agricultural districts entirely, for as everyone knows a very large number of these cottages are not in the agricultural districts, but are in the mining districts. I take one instance which I know well in my own part of the country. In the Chester-le-Street district I believe loans have been sanctioned for the building of forty houses. Everyone of those houses will be occupied by the industrial classes, and they will not touch the agricultural problem in the least—indeed, the term "rural districts" is quite a misnomer in many parts of England. It really means an area in which there is some agricultural land, but where there may also be 814 other large industries, and where certainly the agricultural problem is not so aggressive, though it may occasionally by the mere proximity of these other industries be landed with a shortage of cottages. Of the whole of these 1,500, I think it would be an exaggeration to say that more than some hundreds of them were for agricultural labourers, or those who are dependent upon the industry of agriculture for their livelihood. That is the work of the last five years. It is a pleasure to see that the amount of loans is going up, although very slowly, but, as everyone knows, you cannot deal with this problem by way of hundreds—you will have to run into thousands of cottages in order to have any appreciable effect on the present shortage.
Then there are the public utility societies. A certain number of them have been started in many parts of the country and have done admirable work. One cannot praise too highly the excellent and disinterested management of those who have run these societies in the agricultural districts. I say nothing about the urban districts, for of them I have no direct experience, but in the agricultural districts the cast of running these societies has been kept down to a minimum, and, if I may quote one of many smaller societies—the Rural Housing Organisation—I will venture to say that, for its operations, it is managed for a smaller salary charge than any similar society in the United Kingdom. It has done excellent work in the solution of some business problems which are by no means the least important part of the rural housing question. These societies have taken advantage, to some extent, of the loans which may be borrowed from the Public Works Loan Commissioners, but the terms on which they can borrow necessitate the raising of one-third of the capital by themselves, and even then the rate of interest is by no means as favourable as the terms given to county councils and rural district councils. I do not think it would be right to put them on exactly the same terms. Public authorities should certainly always have the benefit of the difference, but that difference can be reduced, and the Government propose that, so far as public utility societies are concerned, there should be advances to-them, not of two-thirds of their capital expenditure on these schemes, but of nine-tenths of their capital expenditure, and the loans are to be for a minimum period of forty years and a maximum period of 815 sixty years. After communication with the Treasury we have arranged interest on terms which will place public utility societies at no disadvantage as compared with their present terms, while the increase in the amount which they can borrow will help many of these societies to extend their operations in country districts in a way which has never been possible before.
I may point out again that, even under these arrangements, they will not be placed on the same level as the local authority, and the local authorities will have no reason to complain of the additional advantages given to the societies, because they can borrow the whole of their capital expenditure, while the society will only be allowed to borrow nine-tenths. The rate of interest will also give the local authorities an advantage over the societies, but even then I hope that the advantage which must come from the working of these societies by private enthusiasm and organisation, assisted by the private experience of the members, will be sufficient to ensure them springing up all over England. I am told by those who have been in close touch with the organisations that this is a prospect by no means impossible. If we are to give these facilities to public utility societies, it is obvious that their rules must be subject to approval by a central authority, and the first consideration in every one of these rules undoubtedly must be the maintenance of the tenant's interest. It is necessary, I think, for that purpose that the tenants should be given security of tenure—subject, of course, to their treating the property well and paying the rent regularly. There should be no sinking fund charge, and every tenant should be a member of the society, and therefore have an inducement to keep up his corporate interest in the property. Further than that, these societies should in no case have salaried directors. We do not wish them to be used for the purpose merely of drawing fees. We think, too, that the tenants must be shareholders in the society. They may have only a small interest, to the extent, it may be, of a single pound, or even a single shilling, but, at any rate, they should have some corporate connection with the society, and the societies, however beneficial their object may be, should be run for the benefit of their members.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I will do that at a later stage, but I may point out that, owing to the longer period over which the loan will extend, it will add considerably to the possibility of the societies extending their operations in the country districts. But we cannot be sure that the local authorities and the public utility societies even then will be able to do all that is required, and we propose that, in order that all the gaps may be filled, and that the full force of public opinion in this country may be exerted over local authorities which fail to do their duty, and if public utility societies are not forthcoming, then the central authority should do it. One of the objections that has been taken to the Bill is that it is proposed that the Board of Agriculture should be that central authority. It has been suggested that the Board of Agriculture had better spend its time in attending to other matters, but I can imagine nothing more germane to the problem of the country districts than the proper housing of those who work there. Indeed, there are strong Departmental reasons for the Board dealing with this rural problem. In the first place it is by no means new work for the Board. It already has to deal with rural housing under the Lands Improvement Act, the Settled Lands Act, and the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, and one disappointment felt—perhaps unconsciously—by many interested in small holdings is that the provision of small holdings has so seldom been accompanied by the provision of small houses.
The staff which deals with small holdings and with allotments is obviously the staff which is best fitted for dealing with the subject of cottages. There is not the least doubt about it that the problem of the housing of the agricultural labourer in country districts is tied up, not only the question of his house but also with the question of his garden. He must of necessity, in the normal case, have a garden in which he can grow produce for the benefit of his family, thereby adding to his income and enabling him the better to pay his rent. He must also have time to work in the garden, and the necessity for that is being felt all over the country at the present time. The transfer of this portion of the work from the Local Government Board to the Board of Agriculture has another good reason behind it, and it is this: That the Local Government Board has never pretended and does not wish to 817 be a building department. The Local Government Board is a supervising department, and has duties to a very great extent which would scarcely be compatible with the Board becoming a building Board. The Board of Agriculture itself has not previously been an authority which could erect houses, but the Office of Woods, which is really a branch of the Board of Agriculture, although not so by Statute Law or in name, is itself a large landowner with large experience of building cottages all over the country, and, as I said the other night, on the Motion for Adjournment, the cottages which have been put up by the Office of Woods in the last year compare favourably with the cottages put up in any part of the country by any person whatsoever. The staff available for the purpose of the Crown Lands Estates is available for this work when undertaken by the Board of Agriculture.
I regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand Division (Mr. Long) is not here to-day, because yesterday or the day before, at a non-party gathering, he went out of his way to express strong disapproval of the Board of Agriculture having any extension of its duties in this direction. I am sure the House would be glad to hear his reasons for that. I observe that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) is here. I am glad to think that so long ago as 1913 he welcomed these increased activities on the part of the Board of Agriculture, and, in a speech at Swindon, he stated that he thought the Board of Agriculture should be provided with larger funds, that it should encourage public utility societies, and so on. That is not at all incompatible with the proposals I have been laying before the House this morning. It will be impossible for the central authority to carry on this work without having the local support in the country. I am assured already that we shall have a great deal of local assistance which will be of great use to us, not only on the purely business side, but in providing us with constant means of tapping local feeling, and of enlisting for the benefit of any of these proposals the whole of the local enthusiasm of those interested in their own local housing.
The county committees have already been set up by the Rural Organisation Society in some six or eight counties. Those county committees are composed of men of all parties. I notice in Westmoreland, 818 for instance, that there are two Conservative Members from that part of the world who are competent members of the committee, as well as Radicals who oppose them on every possible occasion. The executive is composed of practical men versed in the business. They have a knowledge of their county; they know how to acquire local knowledge in regard to personnel in any part of their county. We already assist them in some parts of the country. We shall have the full assistance of these county committees in carrying out this work. I hope in particular to have their advice in the selection of areas and sites on which building operations should be undertaken, and on all matters where local knowledge would be of the highest possible value to the central authority. It has been asked why we should use the term "agricultural districts" in the Bill. The explanation is a very simple one. The term "rural districts" would have covered a good deal more than was intended by the promoters of the Bill. The great rural districts very often include large industrial areas, and those large industrial areas can at present be dealt with under the ordinary law. For instance, we have never contemplated building large villages for new colliery companies. Those who start great concerns of that kind have a duty to their employés which certainly includes that of housing.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Yes, but where the agricultural landlord does not do his duty we do not propose to let the labourer suffer. We believe also that it would be impossible to embark on any change of this kind if it were merely confined to rural districts, as they are known, for the reason that a large number of questions would arise which would end in conflict between the rural districts which work under the Board of Agriculture and those which used to work under the Local Government Board. It has been thought advisable, therefore, that it should be left as far as possible to the discretion of the Department as to how far they would define "agricultural districts." I defy anybody in the House to find a definition of "agricultural districts" which would be absolutely watertight and satisfy the lawyers. In these circumstances we think you must use the personal equation in order to know what area you can best cover. The only thing necessary is that 819 in covering that area there should be no benefit given on any ground except the benefit of the inhabitants as a whole.
I should like to refer to some of the criticisms which have been offered on these proposals, very largely through the public Press. In the first place, it is said that we are by these means apt to discourage local authorities. I cannot imagine how it would be possible that the local authorities should be placed at any disadvantage. They will receive better terms than are given to public utility societies, and they have powers under the Housing and Town Planning Act of which they have not taken full advantage up to the present. I believe that the hon. Member for Dudley (Sir A. Griffith-Boscawen), who has taken a very active part in this controversy in the past, stated in the Press quite recently that one of the grounds for condemning this Bill was that it brushed aside the local authorities. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] It does not brush aside local authorities in the least. May I point out that the hon. Member has laid himself open to criticism on that very point, for I notice that in Clause 3 of the Bill for which he was responsible he not only took powers which were as wide as ours, but even went so far as to ask for powers to make and levy a local rate and to administer housing in an area through the central department. If there is to be any brushing aside of local authorities, nothing could be more drastic than that.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
May I be allowed to explain that my Clause 3 only operated where a local authority had been declared by the High Court to be in default, The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman provides that without even any suggestion the Board of Agriculture can go down and build houses without even consulting the local authority.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The Board of Agriculture is not so anxious to embark on housing schemes that it is likely to go down into a district where the local authority are doing their duty. The sole object of this proposal is to fill the gaps which local authorities themselves have left, and are still leaving, owing to their lack of interest in these proposals. We have never sought power to make or levy a rate, or to take over the whole of the powers of the local authorities. Certainly if brushing them aside is one of the objections to this Bill, it is also an objection to 820 the Bill for which the hon. Gentleman was responsible. I believe objection was also taken to the Bill by him on the ground that it would lead to what he called bribery in country districts. Let me again compare these proposals with those in his Bill. He is not in a position to throw stones. I notice that one of the suggestions in his Bill was that where a local authority was letting houses below their economic value, and were charging rents which were not up to an economic rent, that the deficiency should be made good by the State, that, indeed, four-fifths of the deficiency should be made good by the State—a direct bribe to local authorities to let cottages below their real value. No suggestion of the kind has ever been made by us, and we have given the fullest possible assurances that the cottages will be let on an economic basis.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Its binds the Government. I agree it may not bind our successors, but I am perfectly sure that hon. Gentlemen of such high standing will not easily be led into this difficulty. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to proceed. I am only answering criticisms that have been made openly. The suggestion is that there will be bribery in the country districts. How can that arise? It might arise by the allocation of cottages to districts where they might be regarded as a great favour. The best safeguard against that is that we intend to proceed in whatever district there is a shortage, that we shall take the advice of the county committees, who are above suspicion, and that in the selection of areas and sites we hope to act on their advice. Secondly, there can be no bribery to the tenants, because the rents will be economic rents, and all agricultural districts will be treated alike. This compares favourably with the proposal of the hon. Gentleman, and I was a little surprised that he of all people should have suggested that there was more likelihood of bribery than under his own proposal. His third objection was that it would lead to the creation of a horde of officials. I have looked into his 821 Bill again to see how he avoided this, and I notice that again and again in his own Bill there are provisions for an increase of officials. In Clause 1 he suggests a special Department being set up of the Local Government Board, to be called the Housing Department, apparently not a Department already in existence, but a new Department, which obviously means more officials. I do not know how he can carry out Clause 3 without increasing the number of officials. Indeed, if the objection lies against the Bill which I am moving it lies more against the Bill of the hon. Member. The last objection was that the sum named in the Bill was totally inadequate. But does he really think, first of all that having dealt with this scheme under the present Bill you are going to see the end of it at £3,000,000? There are good Treasury reasons for not making the amount too large at present. There is no reason in the world why the sum should not be extended. But the hon. Member himself in his Bill only asked for £500,000 a year. Why should this sum of £3,000,000 not be repeated just as regularly as the £500,000 of the hon. Member? The hon. Member also knows, having some practical knowledge of this question, that it is physically impossible to embark on a gigantic scheme of building cottages all at once. You cannot do it all at once. There is not the necessary labour, the necessary organisation, and the necessary material for embarking on a gigantic scheme all at once. We shall have made great progress throughout the next year if we are able to spend the whole of the £3,000,000 for which we are asking in this Bill.
I should like to say one or two words on the subject of economic rent. I notice that objection has been made in one or two quarters to the efforts made by us during the last year or year and a half to get hold, if we can, of cheaper methods of cottage construction. It has always been taken for granted that if a cottage is to be built cheaply it must of necessity be ugly and nasty. I do not believe that is true at all. I believe you can apply business ability to the building of cottages just as to the construction of anything else. I hear men in various parts of the country state the absolute contrary, and that it is impossible to erect four-roomed cottages an adequate size—three bedrooms and a living room for anything less than £250. Not only is £250 a figure which need not be reached under good management, but it is a figure which has been almost halved in some 822 parts of the country. I know that cannot be done everywhere, but there are some districts where you can get material cheaply and where it is possible without a great deal of cartage to get it on to the site. If I am challenged as to an instance the best I can give is in Somersetshire, where the Rural Housing Organisation Society have succeeded in building cottages, of this minimum type I agree but still up to the standard, including all their cost, fencing, water supply, drains and land—for under £120 apiece—under £240 for the pair. I observe that some hon. Members on the other side express some surprise at that. I must confess that I was surprised, but the accounts will bear scrutiny. It was true that it was done a year or two ago, and when the figures were given to me I asked a question which any ordinary business man would ask.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I think an eighth of an acre, which is a garden large enough for those who live in the cottages. It is about as large a garden as they can work in their spare time. What I asked was, is it not true that both the cost of labour and of material has gone up since they were built, and I think that in most parts of England it is true. I was assured that a new contract had been entered into by the society's officials for a further nine pairs of cottages at exactly the same price and by exactly the same builders. Really, in face of evidence of that kind I cannot despair of getting the cost of cottages down to a much lower figure in many districts of England. It is true that we cannot expect the same economy in those districts where they have to build much heavier cottages, or where you have to cart your material over a long distance.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
Does the figure that the right hon. Gentleman gives include necessary works, such as drainage, the approach to the cottages, and water supply?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
It includes the whole thing. They have succeeded in building them. It is a very remarkable achievement, and I am told it has also been equalled—not brought down to perhaps exactly the same figure, but in the neighbourhood of the same figure—in many parts of England and that without using ugly material. Somerset cottages are quite good to look at. They are well 823 proportioned and well designed, and some of the cheapest cottages have been put up not only in England, but in Wales, where they have used blue slate, and they have adapted the design of the cottages to their local material so well as to make them an addition to the beauty of the neighbourhood rather than a disfigurement of it. Indeed, I should be the last to suggest that we ought to put up cottages anywhere in England which would disfigure the country districts. I believe they ought to be just as proud of their outside appearance as they are of their inside condition. If cottages can be put up at much lower figures than has been generally experienced in the past, we are much nearer the possibility of the attainment of paying an economic rent. In these instances, 3s. 6d. rent will certainly cover the interest and sinking fund, and will provide the necessary fund for repairs in future. Three shillings and sixpence would be quite impossible for many districts were it not that they can receive assistance from their garden. That is why in many cases where they can make use of a garden it ought to be provided, but there must be in some districts cottages where a garden is not attached, and that is why, a few days ago, when the hon. Member (Mr. C. Bathurst) asked me a question on the subject, I was not prepared to commit myself to say that whenever a cottage was put up there should always be a garden attached. There must be some exceptions. In many cases old people do not wish to work their garden, and in some cases men do not care to give their spare time to the working of a garden, and in those cases we ought not to be bound down, but the normal case ought to be the provision of a garden large enough for a man to work.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
No, that is true, but there is no reason why you should not provide yourself with a sufficient variety to meet the variety of local conditions. All I desired to do in answering the hon. Member's question was not to tie myself down to a hard and fast rule that we should never build a cottage without providing a garden. Still, there will be many districts where the payment of the rent would be almost impossible without a garden. Where that is the case, there is no doubt about it, there must be relief given by higher wages. The evil of an uneconomic 824 rent is not only a disadvantage to the labourer, but it has been a disadvantage to the landowners and to local authorities as well. Landowners have felt that they could not embark on a commercial scheme of cottage building if they foresaw at once that they certainly would not get anything like even 3¼ per cent. on their money, and local authorities themselves have been hampered through the local custom of letting cottages below their true economic value. The Bill itself cannot deal with the subject of wages, for that would be outside its purview, but we cannot hope to solve the cottage problem in rural England unless there is a considerable impetus given to the present tendency of wages to rise.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
My hon. Friend I know is particularly interested in rating, and so far as I am concerned anything I can do will be in the direction of relieving all these improvements from new rates. I think, really, to put new rates on greatly improved cottages—to increase, for instance, the assessable value of a good cottage which is a substitute for a had one—is a topsy-turvy way of rating. I have said so more than once. In what direction are we to look for reducing the expenditure itself in providing one of the greatest benefits which can be conferred on the cottage occupants? In the first place, we have been endeavouring to take advantage of the experience of other people all over the country. Two Committees, over which Mr. Christopher Turner presided, accumulated a large amount of information, and pointed out a large number of instances which we could well use as models. They also gave many hints as to the ways in which we could reduce the costs. The investigation recently organised by "Country Life" made a considerable contribution to the solving of this difficult problem. I think that by giving guidance to local builders, as has been done in Somerset, we map hope to induce them to take more interest in the economic building of cottages. I think we might be well advised in not wiping off local builders by putting before them a long specification. We can almost get all that we require without putting before them thirty folio pages of conditions. The local builder is afraid of a long bundle of sheets of paper, and in 825 many cases good work has been got out of the local builders without laying down elaborate conditions, and without these surreptitious clerical aids. In some instances the only contract between the builders and those who paid for the cottages is on half a sheet of note-paper. I think something must be done by way of standardising the cost of fittings. There is not much to be made out of these. I do not think local considerations should play a large part in the selection of fittings. So far as windows, doors, and ironmongery are concerned, a great deal can be done by standardising the articles used. I am told by those engaged in the business that if you buy a thousand stoves you can have the enormous advantage of a considerable discount on the price for such an order. The same thing applies to other articles. If you give these benefits, not only to the builders of cottages built directly under the Board of Agriculture, but also to the public utility societies, whose aid we are seeking, you will be able to lessen the costs. If by these schemes, aided by national finance and better business management, we can add to the number of cottages in our country districts, I think we shall be conferring the greatest boon on agricultural labourers which they have received in our generation.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Mr. H. W. FORSTER
In the earlier part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech he repeated clearly and apparently with conviction most of the arguments which have been brought forward by my hon. Friends during the past three years when they have introduced Bills dealing with the housing problem. While listening to the earlier part of his speech he almost made me regret that he was not the Minister selected by the Government to lead the party in the Debates which took place on those Bills. He showed in the earlier portion of his speech, and, indeed, in the later portion also, a far more complete grasp of the reality of the problem and of the urgency of the needs than the other right hon. Gentlemen who have handled our Bills. The President of the Board of Agriculture says that this is only a little Bill which does not profess to cover the whole field of the housing problem, and that you must wait for some dim and distant future until the President of the Local Government Board has made up his mind as to what he is going to do before you deal with the problem of 826 housing as a whole. The President of the Board of Agriculture invites us to proceed with this Bill, small though he admits it to be. I should have thought, after the speeches which have been made by Members of the Government and their supporters in the country, that the Government had made up their minds exactly what it intended to do with reference to the whole housing problem, not only in the country districts, but in the towns as well. The country has a right to know what the proposals of the Government are, and I can only suppose that, as is obviously the case, further reflection and detailed examination of the problem has led to a change of view on the part of the Government in connection with country housing, and also that further examination of the difficulties of the problem in the towns has led them to postpone the introduction of their measure. The right hon. Gentleman indicated to us, in very brief outline, the course which he proposes to take to ascertain where there is a shortage of houses in the rural districts. We are not going to work through the-Local Government Board. We are not going to use any part of the network of machinery which at present covers the whole face of the country. We are not going to have anything to do with these means of obtaining information. We are going to trust entirely to a new body of people who are not yet called into existence, or who are brought into existence only to a very small extent. We are apparently going to depend on the recommendations of the county committees for information.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I am afraid I have misled the hon. Gentleman and the House. I did not suggest that we are not working in harmony with the Local Government Board in the matter of obtaining information. It is essential that we should do so, and we shall not fail to take advantage of all the knowledge which local bodies in the various districts, and the Local Government Board, are able to give with respect to the selection of districts and sites, and we hope that the advice given will help us in the provision of buildings.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I hope the Board of Agriculture, or whatever Government Department is charged with this business in future, are not going to wait until the county committees are established all over the country before they get to work. I am very glad to know—at least so I gather from the right hon. Gentleman—that the 827 ridiculous proposal which was made by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer as recently as October last has been abandoned. The House will remember that both of these light hon. Gentlemen in dealing with the question of rural housing said it was absolutely necessary that there should be conducted a complete survey of the country, and that the survey ought, and most properly might, be undertaken by the Small Holdings Commission. I think no one who realises the facts of the case ever supposed that that was anything but a highly ridiculous proposal. I am very glad to know that that has been abandoned. I would desire some fuller information as to the policy of the Government in carrying out the provisions of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman does not intend to work through the local authorities. He does not propose to assist them, though both the Chancellor of the Exchequer at Swindon and he himself this afternoon admitted that the local authorities would probably do the work better and more economically than a separate Department. The President of the Board of Agriculture has said that he intends to work this through the medium of the public utility societies. I am very glad to know, and I say it without reserve, that these public utility societies are to be encouraged, and that the Government are going to make use of their services. I believe them to be admirable and excellent institutions which are doing good work all through the country, and I hope that a very large development of them will take place. But is that the only method which the Government propose to employ?
I turn again from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to the speeches of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer last autumn. They pointed to the shortness of houses in rural districts as being from 110,000 to 120,000. I think that the right hon. Gentleman asked one of my hon. Friends behind me the other day where he had got the figure 125,000 cottages. I notice that power is taken in the Bill for the Government to build themselves. I dislike frankly the idea of the Government undertaking speculative building operations, because I do not believe that they can do it well. I do not believe that it will be a good thing for the Government or for the country districts. I would infinitely rather that they would encourage and assist the local authorities as well as the utility companies; and I can- 828 not see why we should not encourage and assist private individuals as well. I do not stand alone in this view. I read an interesting book the other day which has been published by one who is regarded by hon. Gentlemen opposite as a great authority on these matters. I will just read two short extracts. He says:—Personally, I have no faith in the capacity of any public authority, be it Government, municipal corporation, county council, or district council, to build economically, nor do I think that cottages scattered all over the country in groups of small villages here and there can be managed satisfactorily and economically by Government officials. The whole instinct and tradition and the inevitable formality and red-tape of a Government Department are almost enough to make business men tear their hair.That is a very emphatic declaration on the part of the author against building by a central authority. He goes on, on the next page:—If cottages can be supplied it is far better that the Government should provide loans at a low rate to enable private individuals, societies, and so on, to erect them than that a Government Department should build them and attempt to manage scores of thousands of cottages scattered all over the country.
§ Mr. FORSTER
The authority is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Spen Valley (Sir T. Whittaker), whose name carries considerable weight with hon. Gentlemen opposite. I should have been better pleased if we had had some further information from the right hon. Gentleman as to the extent to which it is proposed by the Board of Agriculture to use the new powers that are to be given. The right hon. Gentleman said he knew that criticism had been directed against the proposal to make the Board of Agriculture the speculative building Department of the Government. I cannot see that anything which he said in his reply seemed to touch the point. He said it is quite true that the Board of Agriculture had some relations with building questions because of the duties imposed upon them, but those duties do not themselves involve any question of building. The right hon. Gentleman admits that there is no staff in his Department.
§ Mr. FORSTER
Then I will give the results of an examination which I have made as to the staff of the Board of Agriculture, and the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong when I say that there is no adequate or sufficient staff under the Board of Agriculture capable of carrying out the work of speculative building.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
You said no staff. I have already admitted that the staff is inadequate, and will have to be increased, but we certainly have the nucleus already, not only at the Board of Agriculture, but at the Office of Woods.
§ Mr. FORSTER
That, is what I am corning to. I have looked into the personnel of the right hon. Gentleman's Department when I heard that that Department is to be made the Building Department of the Government, and I found an immense array of no doubt extremely capable gentlemen, commissioners, secretaries and inspectors, veterinary inspectors, an entomologist, a chief inspector of female typewriters, and no fewer than twenty charwomen, but I did not find anyone who could be supposed to have even a remote acquaintance with the speculative building trade. Then I looked again, and I found here the nucleus of the building staff which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to create. On subsequent examination I found that, included in all this great array, there was one building assistant, no doubt of great capacity, but the salary I find is small, as it starts at £100 a year and rises to no greater sum than £155. That is the nucleus of the new staff. Then the right hon. Gentleman says, "I have got a most capable staff in the Office of Woods." It is not proposed to make the Office of Woods the building authority. It is proposed to make the Board of Agriculture. Are we now to understand that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture is really the head of that Department? Is the staff of the Office of Woods and Forests under the right hon. Gentleman's control? Surely not. If it is desired to make use of the staff which is at the disposal of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, I submit, with great deference, that he ought to be made the speculative builder, and not the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The Department of the right hon. Gentleman has some valuable work, and, if I may say so without appearance of flattery, I think everyone has been glad to recognise that fact since the right hon. Gentleman has been head of the Department. I do not think it is fair to the Department to put this enormous burden of new work upon it. The right hon. Gentleman admits that he will need a host of new officials, a new and totally different kind of staff, and I do not think this is the proper or practical Department to be selected for this work. The right hon. 830 Gentleman said that it was necessary that the Government should take the powers which are provided by this Bill, because the local authorities and private enterprise and other sources had dried up. I do not think that a fair description at all. Other sources have not dried up. Other sources have not been able to overtake the shortage in building cottages, a shortage which has occurred during the last five years. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I do not say that there was no shortage, but what I do say is that the extent to which that shortage has arisen during the last five years—
§ Mr. FORSTER
In rural areas. You have only to look at the figures. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer put the shortage in rural areas at 120,000. The President of the Board of Agriculture quarrelled with one of my hon. Friends because he had put the figure 5,000 higher. It has come out in the Debates we had upon this question that the extent to which the provision of small houses has fallen short of the average exceeds 120,000 in the last five years.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I think I am right in saying in rural districts. The view which the President of the Board of Agriculture takes with regard to the drying up of sources of supply is rather different from that taken by his right hon. Friend, who sits next to him; because the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Herbert Samuel), when discussing the question in March pointed with triumph to the fact that the local authorities were becoming exceedingly active in the provision of houses; and he also pointed with pride to the figure of, I think it was 1,500 small houses that they had built in the course of the preceding twelve months. If the President of the Board of Agriculture will confer with his right hon. Friend near him he may find some reason to modify the view which he has expressed in that matter. If the Government had really given some earnest consideration to this question, and if the views which the right hon. Gentleman expressed earlier in his speech as to the 831 desirability of assisting public authorities and so forth, had governed the action of the party opposite in their treatment of Bills which were brought forward by my hon. Friends behind me, we might already have gone a long way in the direction of overtaking the shortage of which they now make complaint. The reason that was given to us was that it was improper, that it was undesirable, and I think they said almost wrong, that we should use public money and public credit to assist local authorities. All I can say is that if it is wrong to use public money and public credit for the assistance of local authorities I cannot see why they are to be used for the assistance of anybody else.
§ The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Herbert Samuel)
No one has said that.
§ Mr. FORSTER
No one has said that it was improper to use public money for the assistance of local authorities? Look at the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
We have attacked the use of public money to subsidise local authorities to let cottages below their proper value. That is not proposed in this Bill.
§ Mr. FORSTER
The question was whether it was proper to use public money for the provision of houses where houses were wanted. The right hon. Gentleman and his Friends said that it was a proposal which might involve a subsidy of perhaps twopence a week, and that made it so intolerable to economists that the Government would have nothing to do with it. If the Government had been in earnest, if they had not been merely endeavouring to make capital out of this, they would have come to us, as we propose to do with them, to-day, and they would have said, "Although we do not agree with everything that your Bill contains, we shall see whether or not something can be made out of it, and whether or not we cannot give the country an opportunity of getting increased housing accommodation such as it needs." Then I come to the second part of the Bill, which is obviously the only part of the Bill which the Government hope to pass. Having made the President of the Board of Agriculture a speculative 832 builder, they make provision for giving two Departments power to house their employés. Why two Departments? Why give similar powers to different Departments? I should have thought that in a matter of this kind one would have sufficed. But, having given power to two Departments, why did the Government proceed to set so severe a limit upon their activities? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will clear up the point which I wish to make. The Bill declares that it is intended to make provision with respect to the housing of persons employed by Government Departments where sufficient dwelling accommodation is not available, and the wording of Clause 2 restricts that power very considerably. It restricts it to the provision of houses, buildings, and so forth, for the convenience of persons employed by Government Departments on Government work. It seems to me that narrows the sphere within which those powers can be exercised very materially. When we asked the right hon. Gentleman a day or two ago whether it was proposed to house postmen and other persons employed by the Government under Clause 2 of the Bill he said "Yes."
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
These men are provided for under Clause 1, so I am advised. That is the reason Clause 1 is drawn so.
§ Mr. FORSTER
Then I am right. The second Clause relates solely to the provision of accommodation of persons employed by or on behalf of Government Departments on Government works. What does the expression "Government works" mean? When we suggested, as we understood from the Prime Minister, that this Clause was urgently needed in order to enable the Government to cope with the problem of housing at Rosyth, I understood him to mean that under this provision you were going to do something to bring to an end the grave scandal which exists there at the present time. When we suggested that to the right hon. Gentleman he said, "Oh, no, that has nothing to do with this Bill, that is an Admiralty matter. What is intended by this Bill is to begin the building of houses, which will be needed in the future when the works are finished." How do you bring an operation of that kind under the Clause which says that these powers are only to be exercised for the provision of houses for people employed on Government works? I may be very dense, but I should have understood 833 the expression "employed on Government works" to mean employment during the course of the carrying out of the works, and not the housing of workpeople when the works are finished. I think we want some further explanation of that matter, and I hope whoever speaks for the Front Bench will provide it. I entirely agree it is desirable that the Government should have power to provide in certain cases houses for those whom they employ. When you have built the houses and let them at economic rents, are you going to make it obligatory on the part of the employés to inhabit them? We have heard a great deal of the evils of the tied cottage and we have had reams of papers in denunciation on the part of Gentlemen opposite of so "deplorable a system." Are the Government going to spread the evil they denounce with such ferocity? I think we are entitled to know something about that from the Government. How far will the Bill carry us? Of course it is only a beginning. The right hon. Gentleman says you cannot expect to start a scheme for the provision of something like 120,000 cottages all at once and that nobody would expect any single authority to start so tremendous an undertaking. You will probably be able to provide for about 15,000 cottages out of a shortage which you put at about 120,000. That is a modest beginning at very considerable cost. How is the balance going to be made up? I think it is pertinent to inquire what is going to be the effect upon the provision of cottages by the local authorities and private enterprise when this Bill has become law. When our Bill was under discussion it was said it was going to kill private enterprise, but what about the effect of this Bill? I was interested to see an answer given to the hon. Member for Wiltshire a couple of days ago with reference to the provision of cottages by the Office of Woods in the Forest of Dean. My hon. Friend asked, as there is an admitted shortage of cottages, is the Office of Woods going to build? The right hon. Gentleman says they have the power to do so, and are they going to exercise it? What was the answer: "I am waiting to see what local enterprise and private enterprise are going to do before I do anything."
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Negotiations have been proceeding some time. They have taken advantage of some of our offers, and 834 they will be building there shortly on land at its agricultural value.
§ Mr. FORSTER
Land at its fair value. I presume the right hon. Gentleman would not claim that he would take advantage of any powers that the Legislature might have given him to ask an unfair value. If it is a fair value it is immaterial whether it is agricultural value or not. I will only say in conclusion that the whole House realises, and I think the right hon. Gentleman realises and the Prime Minister practically admitted, that this Bill has been introduced so late in the Session that it is practically useless to hope that it will be pressed in its entirety. The Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman have expressed the hope that what we may call the second part of the Bill—Clauses 2, 3 and 4—might be saved and that time might suffice for the passage of that part of the Bill into law. I cannot tell, of course, whether the time left to us will suffice for that or not, but I am quite confident that the time will not suffice for more. And with the hope that we may be able to do something in the direction of giving the Government powers to house their own employés, and so on, I am prepared, at any rate, to assent to the Second Beading. But if the Government really wish to promote the building of cottages, instead of merely talking about it, the best thing they can do is to restore the feeling of confidence and security amongst those who had carried on this work with advantage to the community, if not with profit to themselves, till the policy of the party opposite almost dragged them to ruin.
§ Sir RICHARD WINFREY
I have listened with considerable interest to the speech of the hon. Gentleman, and I was very glad to hear that the Opposition are going to agree to the Second Reading of this Bill. I altogether dispute the statement which he has made that this shortage of cottages has arisen in rural cottages during the last five years. That really is not a statement of the facts of the case. The shortage in the rural districts has been going on growing and increasing for many years. I represent a large agricultural constituency which I have known intimately now for more than twenty years, and we have many villages and parishes in that constituency where no cottages whatever have been built during those twenty years. At a local inquiry that was held in my Constituency the other day it 835 was admitted that, while cottages had gone into decay during the last twenty years, there actually had not been a single cottage built; so that this shortage is, in my judgment, in no way due to the legislation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but has been a growing evil which has extended over a long period of years. The hon. Gentleman has criticised the President of the Board of Agriculture with regard to the staff at his disposal to carry out the Clauses of this Bill. So far as I know, it is true that the Board of Agriculture has not a staff at its disposal at the present moment; but there is a small and efficient staff at the Office of Woods and Forests, which, I believe, is entirely at the disposal of the President of the Board of Agriculture. The hon. Gentleman opposite seemed to be unaware that about six years ago an Act of Parliament was passed giving the President of the Board of Agriculture entire control over the agricultural portion of the Crown lands. The administration of the Office of Woods and Forests is now divided into three departments; town lands are managed by one Commissioner, forests are managed by another, but the agricultural portions of the Crown estates are entirely managed by the President of the Board of Agriculture. He has a staff at his disposal. I have come across that staff in connection with the erection of houses down at Ring-land, where an association of which I am chairman have leased 1,000 acres of Crown land. The President of the Board of Agriculture has built twenty cottages for us for the small holders, and they are excellent in every respect. This staff has built twenty houses in that particular district, and thirty more in the Moulton district in South Lincolnshire. Therefore to my knowledge within the last three or four years they have erected something like fifty houses on their own lands. I believe that the staff which has done that is a very capable staff and could be enlarged, so that there is no reason why the President of the Board of Agriculture should not be able to carry out this work.
The difficulty with which this Bill will meet is that when landowners are prepared either to sell land at a fair price, or even to give it, the President of the Board of Agriculture should be in a position to deal with it and erect houses upon it. I have had a small experience in that direction. A constituent of mine at Christmas time 836 wanted to give the President of the Board of Agriculture a Christmas box of five acres of good arable land for cottage building. I believe that at last the President has been able to accept it in his capacity as Commissioner of Crown lands. But there have been a good many legal difficulties in the matter, and it has only been after considerable effort that he has been able to accept that free gift of land worth £80 per acre in the open market. I hope that very shortly houses will be erected on that land. I believe that if the Bill passes in its entirety there will be landowners in many parts of the country who will place at the disposal of the President of the Board of Agriculture land for the purpose of cottage building. Therefore, I have naturally great pleasure in supporting the Second Reading.
With regard to the assistance to be given to public utility societies, although I listened very attentively, I did not hear the President say the actual rate of interest proposed to be charged. I understood him to say that we would have nine-tenths of the money lent to us, which is a great improvement upon two-thirds. Here again I have had experience as chairman of a rural co-partnership housing society. About three years ago we formed a little society, and erected eight houses as a trial. What has happened? We were able to borrow only two-thirds of the money from the Public Works Loans Commissioners, and they lent it for only forty years; so that there is a considerable sinking fund, and, so far as I can see, those of us who found the other one-third of the money will not get any interest or any return whatsoever. If we had been able to borrow, as this Bill permits, nine-tenths of the money, we should have been able to build more houses, because our own money would have gone further, and if the period of the loan had been extended over sixty years, the sinking fund would have been much smaller, and consequently the rent of the houses would have helped not only to pay the interest and the sinking fund, but probably to provide a dividend of 3 per cent. or 3½ per cent. upon the money which we ourselves had provided. On this point I should like to press the President of the Board of Agriculture a little further. I think he ought to see that we get this money as cheaply as local authorities. Local authorities can borrow the whole, and they have no difficulty in getting it over a period of sixty years. According 837 to the President's statement to-day, the maximum is to be sixty years, and the minimum forty. Therefore we shall be in the hands of the Public Works Loans Commissioners as to whether the loan is over forty, forty-five, fifty, fifty-five or sixty years. I do not think the public utility societies ought to be placed in that position. So long as the houses are inspected by the appointed inspectors, and are found to be perfectly sound and good houses, I think we ought to have the money over a period of sixty years. I do not see why we should be in a worse position in that respect than local authorities.
Something was said by the President with regard to the slowness of local authorities to put the Housing Acts into operation. My experience is that a great deal of that slowness is due to the fact that rural district councils cannot get land at fair market prices. That is true in my own area. In many cases where the rural district councils have held an inquiry and decided to build, the local landowners—not always large landowners; very often the small landowners are the worst—put up their prices, and ask more than the fair agricultural value. Then the rural district council have a meeting and say, "The price is prohibitive; we cannot proceed." and perhaps two or three months elapse before a further inquiry is held. No provision is made for that difficulty in this Bill, but I feel that that is one of the difficulties with which local authorities are faced at the present time. The administration of the Small Holdings Act has been a considerable success—I think an unqualified success. But the county councils have not erected a sufficient number of cottages under its provisions. I think the Bill now before the House may materially assist in that direction. I see no reason why, if the county councils themselves are not prepared to build, when they buy an estate in a particular district, they should not, under the provisions of this Bill, with the co-operation of the Board of Agriculture, erect houses for the small holders. I have been very disappointed with the small percentage of houses erected under the Small Holdings Act. I have one particular instance in my division. The first speech I made in this House in 1907 was on the housing question. I then spoke about a particular hamlet in my Constituency where there was a shortage of houses, and the houses were very insanitary. Since then the county council have purchased two farms for small holdings in that par- 838 ticular parish, but they have not erected a single house for the small holders. They are letting the land to the men who are living in these insanitary cottages, but have done nothing to assist in that direction. It seems to me that if, under this Bill the county councils can hand over a sufficient quantity of land it would be possible for the President of the Board of Agriculture to build under its provisions. Altogether I very heartily welcome this Bill. I am sorry to hear that there may be some doubt about our getting all of it. So far as I am concerned, Clause 1 appeals most to me as an agricultural Member. I do hope that a strenuous effort will be made to carry the Bill, and I venture to appeal for the assistance of agricultural Members to get it in its entirety.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I think we may congratulate ourselves on the fact that this proposal has been brought forward in language which very much differs from that which has been used outside the House in claiming urgency for rural housing. I must confess that that language seemed to me totally disproportionate to the fact, and I gather from the way in which the President of the Board of Agriculture has introduced this measure that he would agree with me on that point. Every agriculturist would admit that there is a shortage of cottages in agricultural areas, and it is, I understand, to agricultural areas that the President confines his remarks and his proposals. We must remember that if in an agricultural area you want to turn pasture into arable land, you have to increase the number of cottages before you can do so. I suppose all of us, from the point of view of employment and of wages, would wish to increase the arable area; therefore the building of cottages on arable areas is a necessary preliminary to converting pasture into arable land. I think that it is the duty of the landlords of agricultural land, so far as they possibly can, to equip their farms with an adequate supply of cottages. It is part of the equipment of a farm. The reason why they are justified economically in charging a low rent for these cottages is simply this, that the existence of those cottages and the equipment of the farm in every adequate respect enables them to let the farm itself at a better rate. Emerging out of that fact there comes this, that an enormous part of the demand for cottages in rural districts is not for a cottage, but for an eighteenpenny cottage with a large garden attached, and if you 839 once put these cottages at an economic rent a very large part of the shortage will cease. That is a point which ought to be borne in mind by those who say that the shortage is enormously great.
Shortage, no doubt, does exist. I have some figures, drawn from something like 1,700,000 acres in nearly every county in England which shows this rather remarkable fact: That on that area which is purely agricultural—I am speaking of cottages which were built for agricultural labourers and were intended for the agricultural development of the country—out of 22,000 cottages there are 1,000 which are at the present time occupied by employés of the Government and of the public authorities of the country. If you follow those statistics you will come to some such conclusion as this, that there are at the present time something like 40,000 cottages built for agricultural purposes occupied, not by agricultural labourers, but by men employed by the Government and by public authorities. In the latter part of this Bill the Government recognises its duty to supply cottages for persons who are in their permanent employment. Every one of those men who are employed by the Government and who are occupying these agricultural cottages are in their permanent employment. If it can be at all considered the duty of the landlord to house the men on his estate it must be the duty of the Government to house their employés, and of other public authorities to do the same!
I notice that the hon. Member who has just sat down practically supported me in that argument. It is one to which very great weight ought to be attached. Here is a thing which the Government can do, now and at once: they can set to work and house the labourer who now fills up the agricultural cottages, and that will diminish the agricultural shortage. I think that is their first and paramount duty. If this sum of money is to be lent I think that it ought also to be lent to those public authorities who, too, are filling up agricultural cottages. The aggregate number of these cottages is at a very moderate estimate, something like 40,000. I again have to thank the hon. Member who has just spoken for support on this point. County councils are now amongst the biggest landlords in the country. What are they doing to house the agricultural labourer on their estates? Hardly anything at all! A great part of the agricul- 840 tural shortage of cottages can in no sense be laid to the blame of the agricultural landlords, but is due to the occupation by the tenants of these bodies, who are doing nothing to house the labourers on their estates. Something was said, I think by the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench, about tied cottages. Hon. Members opposite to me say that these proposed cottages would all be tied cottages. Well, after all, the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister lives in a tied house. The Chancellor of the Exchequer lives in a tied house, and nobody says that he does not retain his independence. If there is anything in such a view as that, that because a man lives in a house which is attached to the office which ho fills he lives in a tied house, let us call these houses official residences. Instead of there being any obliquy about their being occupied it would be regarded as an honour and a distinction.
After all, the great point is that the Government ought to take up, not only in the second Clause but in the first Clause, what is their paramount duty, and that is, I take it, to house their employés and so reduce the shortage of agricultural cottages, and let those cottages free for the purpose for which they were originally built. But while I do feel that, and that if the Bill took that form, it would have my hearty support, I feel a great deal of reluctance in voting this sum of money without that information having been given to the House as to where the shortage occurs, what the areas are that are to be satisfied, and how much money is to be devoted to each of these areas. To hand over to the Government a large sum of money, especially at this late date of the Session, seems to me to be an unbusinesslike proceeding, and whilst I would not stand in the way of money being spent on housing, if it is spent at once, and after information had been obtained, I do not object to voting in the dark without knowing what the districts are where it is to be spent, and the specific purpose for which it is to be spent. If the President of the Board of Agriculture, to whom, if I may be allowed respectfully to say so, we agriculturists feel we owe a debt of gratitude for past services, would consent to change that first portion of his Bill, to satisfy what I think the landlords of this country feel would be a just demand, and to use this money, first for the purpose of putting the Government's own house in order, and the house 841 of the public authorities of this country, it would receive my hearty support. I may venture to remind the right hon. Gentleman, without in any sense reflecting upon him, he is, in this matter, very largely in the hands of the landlords of this country, because if the landlords of this country choose to issue notices to quit to all persons in Government employment, and in the employment of public authorities who now occupy those agricultural cottages, the right hon. Gentleman would have to give way, and I venture to ask him whether he would not do so now not only as a matter of convenience, but as a matter of policy.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Mr. GEORGE ROBERTS
I have taken part in several Debates on housing Bills, many of them emanating from the opposite side of the House. This afternoon I am going to attempt to approach this Bill in the same spirit as I have approached those introduced by other Members of the House. Several of these Bills contained points that are very strongly objected to. Nevertheless the great urgency of the problem has compelled me to regard the provision of houses as one of paramount importance. Therefore I have been prepared to accept somewhat objectionable proposals in order to achieve the purpose I have at heart. I regret first of all that this Bill is so modest in its character and scope. There is no need for the Government to make further inquiries, because we have all been talking of the scarcity of houses for many years past. Nevertheless I presume we have to be thankful that some contribution is to be made towards the solution of this problem. I heard with grave apprehension this afternoon the suggestion that the first Clause of the Bill might not be proceeded with. If that is destroyed very little of the Bill remains. I would not venture even to oppose a housing scheme for Rosyth, although in the course of the observations I have to offer I shall have to traverse the argument of hon. Gentlemen opposite, because I deny that it is in the interest of the State or the general labourer that the employer should have to provide houses for his employés. I venture on behalf of those with whom I am associated to request the Government to proceed with this measure. Everybody knows there is real scarcity of houses in rural parts. Nobody will stand up here and claim that there is any immediate prospect of private enterprise or activity adequately dealing with this 842 question. I remember in the Debates that arose on the Bill introduced by the hon. and gallant Member for Dudley that I never shared the economical objections advanced against that Bill from this side of the House. I am not yet convinced that the Government are, even in this scheme, offering houses at a rental that the agricultural labourers are able to pay. I believe in practice something will eventuate such as that contemplated by the Bills introduced by the other side of the House—that is some form of aid will be found inevitable, if the extension is to meet the wants of people needing cottages in rural parts. We do most strongly urge upon the Government to proceed with the whole Bill as it now stands. Perhaps it is cheap to say we are prepared to make the necessary sacrifice of time and endeavour in order to accomplish this purpose, but the Government will have laid themselves open to this accusation amongst the agricultural population, that they have merely introduced this Bill to raise hopes of some relief in the rural parts. If these hopes are to be dashed by the withdrawal of that Clause, the Government will lay themselves open to the charge that this is mere window-dressing, and that it is intended as a cry for a General Election. I do not go so far as to say that is their purpose; I would rather say they are really anxious to cope with this housing difficulty. They must be aware of the fact that immediately that a Bill of this character is introduced it is canvassed through the country and counted on, and hopes are built upon it, and people will say that the Government might have carried through the measure and might have accomplished this end if they applied themselves as thoroughly to it as they might have done. I agree with the criticism from the other side of the House that the Government have been very negligent in this matter. I feel they might have accepted the overtures from the other side of the House, and that they might have co-operated in making the measures submitted from the other side more in accord with their own Bill. I want the House to believe that I do not care if the Conservative party are able to claim a share of the credit with the Liberal party in the provision of these houses, and that has always been my attitude.
It has been alleged that this shortage of houses, which is now acknowledged, is mainly attributable to the provisions of 843 the Budget of 1909. I have been in this House sufficiently long to be aware of the fact that political parties attempt to make capital out of one another. I do not quarrel with that attempt, but I say from my personal experience that the shortage of houses in rural parts cannot be dated back five years, but perhaps ten times five years. At any rate throughout the whole of my existence I am able conscientiously to declare that in the part of the country from which I come there has always been a dearth during my lifetime of cottages, and that members of my own family have been unable to settle down in the place of their birth because of the impossibility of getting cottages. This dearth I know has been accentuated by the activity of certain local authorities, owing to the high sanitary standard which this House has imposed upon them, and houses that would have remained for human habitation are now closed, and to that extent the problem has been aggravated. Nevertheless the scarcity has existed over many years, and we have now to admit that neither private enterprise nor the activities of local authorities are adequate to deal with this problem. I gather from several Amendments which appear on the Paper, and from the speeches which have been delivered in this Debate, that the view is very strongly entertained that employers, either private or public, should have imposed upon them the duty of providing housing accommodation for those in their service. In a case like Rosyth, where the Government are embarking upon a great defensive purpose, bringing immediately large masses of people and great quantities of labour to the district, it may be said that the Government has placed upon it the duty of providing housing accommodation because of the peculiar character and urgency of this question. Nevertheless I feel that the tied-house system is one which ought to be discouraged in these days. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Prothero), in a very interesting speech which he has just delivered, attempted to make some analogy between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer living in Downing Street and an agricultural labourer living in a rural cottage. There is no analogy whatever.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I did not do that. I drew an analogy between a Government employé. I said nothing about tied cottages as regards agricultural labourers.
§ Mr. G. ROBERTS
Of course, I unreservedly accept the hon. Member's explanation. Even if I take the case of the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer and a postal employé, there is no analogy whatever. I strongly object to public servants or agricultural labourers being segregated as a class. I do not want it said, "This row of cottages is for postal servants, and this row is for corporation road sweepers." We want the people to mingle together as citizens. Under such a system we might get rows of cottages exclusively occupied by Conservatives and others occupied by Liberals and Socialists. I submit that that is not a view which ought to be entertained by this House. What we want to achieve is to increase the general supply of cottages so as to enable all workers to get one where-ever they may desire it at a rent proportionate to the income they receive. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture made a reference to the wages question in the rural parts, and I wish to repeat that in my opinion even the provisions of this Bill are not going to overcome that difficulty. I agree that low wages in rural parts are a great contributory cause to the dearth of houses, and I recognise in the words of one of the Amendments that the Government ought in every case to pay its employés such a wage as would enable them to pay an economic rent for a decent cottage, with a reasonable amount of land attached thereto. For these reasons I hope we shall hear less in this House of the necessity of employers, either public or private, providing housing accommodation for those in their service.
There is no doubt whatever that it would militate against the liberty of these people. However well-intentioned hon. Members may be, there is no denying that in agricultural parts of the country the labourer is deprived of a great amount of his liberty because of the fact that he is tied to a certain cottage. I am not going to make sweeping charges against employers, but I am aware of cases where intimidation has been exercised against a man, and he has been compelled to act in a way which he otherwise would not have done because those dependent upon him were in danger of being ejected from the cottage in which he lived. I do not want that sort of thing perpetuated, and I think this House ought to seek to increase the general supply of houses so that a workman may be able to secure a house suitable for his 845 purposes, and may be able to select one without regard to the class of people residing there. We have to consider here the question of the State versus Private Enterprise, and, in my opinion, the State or public authorities generally can do this work as well as any form of private enterprise. Certainly a State Department is able to purchase materials at a much lower rate than that generally available to the builders of the country, and anybody who knows anything about speculative building knows that the erection of working-class cottages is invariably carried on under the most economic circumstances. As a rule the speculative builder is not a man of large resources, and often he borrows money for the erection of these cottages. Although I do not accept the figures given by the President of the Board of Agriculture to-day, I say that a large and comprehensive building scheme financed on the lines proposed in this Bill will produce a result startling to a degree. I believe it is possible to build decent houses at a much lower figure than is the case at the present time. My colleagues are a bit doubtful as to the wisdom of advancing this money even to public utility societies, because we feel that public money ought only to be advanced definitely to public authorities. We are anxious that houses built with public funds should remain under the control and in the possession of public authorities only. I know that is a Committee point, and my hon. Friends will put down such Amendments to the Bill as they contemplate will remove the objections which we entertain to it.
I want to say candidly that if I were faced with the contingency of accepting the Bill even with that provision in it, or losing it, from our desire to get rid of this difficulty, and in the same spirit as that which has been expressed by hon. Members opposite, I would accept this Bill because of the extreme urgency of the problem. I want to see something done in the rural parts of the country in the way of providing decent cottages with a reasonable amount of land attached thereto, and I trust that the Government really intend to proceed with this Bill. If an arrangement has already been come to between the two Front Benches, I feel I am compelled to enter a protest against it. I take it that it is the intention of the Government to carry this Bill through in its entirety. Year after year we have had Housing Bills submitted to this House, 846 and the Government have objected to them because they have not accorded with their views. In my opinion they ought to have provided facilities for those Bills, and exercised the power they undoubtedly have of adjusting those Bills to their own views, and because of the fact that they have neglected to do this, they have now been compelled at a late stage of the Session to introduce a Bill, and the reason I have just mentioned cannot be accepted on these benches, or by others equally concerned with this great problem, as the valid reason why this Bill should not be proceeded with. Therefore, I venture to suggest, though the speeches have indicated this morning that the first Clause of the Bill may be dropped, that if the Government intend to proceed we are prepared to make sacrifices on our part in order to facilitate its passage, at the same time holding ourselves free to submit Amendments in the Committee stage, but always with the purpose of facilitating and improving the Bill, and certainly not with any intention to injure it.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
I heartily congratulate the Government on their very tardy conversion—I do not know whether it is a death-bed repentance—to the cause of housing reform. Years and years from these benches we have brought in Bills and endeavoured to do something, and we have received absolutely no encouragement from the Government. The hon. Member has just said—I am bound to say that he has always supported the Bills brought in from this side—that our proposals have been destroyed by the Government. It may be that our proposals were not perfect, but may I remind the Government and the House that we brought them forward in no party spirit, but as a basis for discussion, and, if the Government had really been in earnest in housing reforms, they would have adopted our Bills and amended them and made them better Bills than they were. The Government chose merely to destroy our measures year after year, and apparently set no store whatever upon altering legislation for the benefit of the housing of the people. The position of the Government, in fact, was altogether extraordinary. Only two years ago the right hon. Gentleman, who is now President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Burns) and who was then President of the Local Government Board, said that not a single other Housing Act was necessary. 847 What has brought about this extraordinary conversion of the Government? They now come forward with a Bill—I think it is a very inadequate Bill, as I will show presently—and we are grateful that they have amended their ways so far that they now see some legislation is wanted. It is not only the case that the Government declared that no more housing legislation was wanted, and it is not only the case that they destroyed our attempts, but they themselves have largely created the present housing difficulty. It is quite true, as the hon. Member says, that there was a housing difficulty before what is generally known as the People's Budget, but since the People's Budget, and owing to the method in which the affairs of the country have been conducted in the last two years, the housing difficulty has been greatly accentuated, and the difficulty with which the Government has got to deal now is largely of their own creation.
It is idle to pretend that the People's Budget did not seriously affect housing or that it did not largely create the shortage which exists at the present time. The very Report of the Secret Land Inquiry says so in so many words. It says that there is no doubt that the Finance Act of 1909–10 seriously checked the building of houses, and the figures which have been so often quoted in this House are quite eloquent on this point. In 1905–6, which was the last year of the Unionist Government, the number of additional small houses of under £20 annual value was 112,000. In 1909–10, after several years of Liberal Government, that number had fallen to 87,000. That was the year before the Budget. The year after the Budget, 1910–11, they had fallen to 10,000—a most extraordinary falling off, and, though there have been some improvements since, in the year 1912–13, which is the last year for which we have figures, the number was only 47,000. If you take the number of small houses built on the average since the Budget up to the present time and compare it with the average before the Budget, you find that there has been a shortage created since the Budget, and, I hold, in consequence of the Budget, of no less than 210,000. That is one of the chief difficulties with which we have got to deal now, and the shortage is largely the creation of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman who brought in this Bill, in a very interesting speech, deplored the fact that landowners of the 848 country could not build houses. He said that their resources had been dried up. Who has dried up those resources? The Government, largely, by their land taxes. If you impose every kind of additional burden upon landowners, they have not got the money to build cottages. It is not merely the landowners, but you destroy the speculative builder, so far as the building of small houses is concerned.
Let me put another point. By the general depreciation of securities, which is largely due to what is commonly known as "Lloyd Georgian finance," everybody who wants to borrow money has to pay more for it than they did before. The result of this policy has been to dry up the resources of landowners, to frighten the building trade, to make it all the more difficult to borrow money, and to make it absolutely the case that you have to pay more for the money you do borrow. Consequently, you have got to pay more rent for the cottages when they are built. The result has been a shortage of cottages, and higher rents all over the country. I do not want to put my case too high, and I admit that there was a housing problem before the Budget, and that there always has been a housing problem, but I say that it has been enormously accentuated by the action of the Government. It is not only by the Budget that they have done this. In every sort of way the Government have been most careless on this housing question, and they appear to have set themselves the task to create a housing problem wherever they could. Take the working of the Housing and Town Planning Act, passed by the present Government. Under that Act a great deal of trouble was taken to do what is in itself a perfectly proper thing, to close insanitary houses, but there has been no corresponding attempt made to replace those houses. The right hon. Gentleman says, "Oh, we have repaired so many houses," but repairing houses does not take the place of houses destroyed. If you take the figures given in a Government Return published a short time ago, you will find that no less than 43,000 houses up to 13th March, 1913, since the passing of the Housing and Town Planning Act, have been either closed or pulled down, and during the same period loans have been granted for the erection of only 6,000 houses. By the Budget you have created a shortage of 210,000 houses, and by the Housing and Town Planning Act you have created a further shortage 849 of 36,000 houses. You have, in fact, been largely responsible for the difficulty with which you are dealing at the present time.
The Government have been in every way most careless in their housing operations. The right hon. Gentleman asks us to do something at all events by this Bill to deal with the difficulty at Rosyth. I quite agree that the difficulty at Rosyth, and I think at Crombie and Farnborough and elsewhere ought to be dealt with, but why does this difficulty exist? It is because the Government are utterly careless about the housing of their own employés. This Bill has really been brought in under a misapprehension. We certainly thought that when the right hon. Gentleman asked for urgency he was going to deal with the present difficulty at Rosyth, which is concerned with the housing of the navvies who have been dumped down there by thousands, and this Government, which cares so much about housing, never took the slightest trouble to see that they were housed at all. We know that this Bill does not deal with the navvy question. It deals with the erection of the houses for the permanent population that may grow up later on. As far as that goes, I entirely support that part of the Bill. But it is frightfully belated. Why was it not done before? Why have the Government only just arrived at the conclusion that it is their duty to house their employés? Why have the Liberal Members all over the country been talking about landowners not housing their labourers, while they themselves have been most careless and have taken no trouble to house the navvies? Why is it that at a place like Coulsdon only unmarried postmen can be employed? Surely a nice state of affairs for a Government only to employ unmarried men! The Government have been grossly careless. While they have talked about housing on the platform they have created housing difficulties in every village and town in the country. However, I am relieved to find that this tardy or death-bed conversion has taken place, and I therefore, on general principles, welcome the introduction of this Housing Bill.
But what is this Bill? I regret to say it is a very small measure. It does not go very far. It does not come quite up to the glorious promises of the Swindon speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We are not going to clear the slums by this Bill. We are not going to build 120,000 cottages. It is a very small measure; and 850 as regards Rosyth, although it is very belated, we do not object to it. But why is it that the question of the slums in the towns is left out altogether? That is not in accordance wth the great land policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman gave an interview to the "Daily News" two years ago—on 13th May, 1912—and he then said:—We must clear out the slums, whether in city, village or mining district. We cannot tolerate slums any longer.That was two years ago. They are still tolerating slums, and they have not put anything in the Bill to deal with them. They appear to be prepared to tolerate them a good deal longer. I have here a little document. It is entitled—What Liberal Land Reform means for you.For you! It says this:—As for slums, you will have no more of these pest-houses and plague pits to poison the life of the people.But as far as this Bill goes we shall still have pest-houses and plague pits. The whole thing is summed up, after all the glorious promises that have been made, in this way:—This is not the work of mere babblers and braggarts.Of course not!So when this Government promise you fair wages, fair rent, decent houses, healthy conditions, security and independence, you may depend upon it they mean to put it through.When are they going to put it through? Not in this Bill, for in it there is nothing about pest-houses and plague pits. I suppose it will be after the General Election. They want to keep the plague pits till then, so that they may tell the people—if they get in—that they will take them out of these places. Having regard to the seriousness of the question, and the wonderful promises that have been made, I say this is the most ridiculous little measure that was ever brought into the House of Commons. Let me turn to what I may call the agricultural part of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman brings in a Bill to enable the Board of Agriculture to build, either directly or through public utility societies, a certain number of cottages But how many? We are told that 120,000 are wanted, and at Swindon the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he was going to build them at once. He said the question was so urgent that it was impossible to wait. What are you going to build under this Bill? I do not know what is the actual price per cottage which the right hon. Gentleman anticipates, but I venture to say, at the very outside, he will 851 not build more than 16,000 or 17,000 cottages. The right hon. Gentleman says, "We may do more later." But why does he not propose something more equal to the emergency at the present time? That is not my chief objection to this part of the Bill. I say, first of all, it is inadequate. I say further it is entirely on the wrong lines. I admit, as the hon. Member who spoke last said, we must do something to deal with this shortage in agricultural districts. But if you search for every possible way I venture to assert you could not find a worse way of doing it than by a central Government Department. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman this question: Why is the Board of Agriculture going to do it and not the Local Government Board? It is a new departure for the Board of Agriculture. Let me take you back to the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909—your own Bill. Look at Clause 10. It is too long for me to read it, but you will find that under it the Local Government Board is to be the authority in all cases to say whether there is proper housing. Why on earth is the Local Government Board to be superseded and another Government Department to be put in its place? It is to be brushed entirely on one side, and the Board of Agriculture, at its own sweet will, is to decide when and what cottages shall be built.
Why are the local authorities left out? I know the right hon. Gentleman tried to make out that they were not left out. But I say they are left out altogether, and, under this Bill, the Board of Agriculture can sweep down on any place without consulting any local authority or without being invited by any local authority, and can erect cottages and act entirely over the heads of the local authority. That will destroy the plant of local government which has been so sedulously nursed in this country, with great advantage, for many years. I am sure the Government themselves do not entirely approve of this. They do not agree among themselves. I do not see the Postmaster-General in his place, but I want to know how the President of the Board of Agriculture reconciles this Bill with the views expressed by the Postmaster-General to his own constituents at Bristol a few weeks ago. This is what the right hon. Gentleman said:—He complained of the shortage of houses in the present day. It was, he said, within the power of the Government to put an end to it, and they were determined to do so. He thought, however, that that could 852 not be done by a central department in London, acting all over the country, and taking no advantage of the system of local government which had gradually grown up here. Nationalism meant centralisation, and centralisation meant bureaucracy, which is not good for the country.How on earth do the Cabinet reconcile their Bill with the views of their colleague, the Postmaster-General? But that is not all. I propose to quote not merely the opinion of a Member of the Cabinet, but also the opinion of a housing reformer, a Liberal in politics, a man who knows as much about housing as perhaps anybody in this country—I mean Councillor Harold Shawcross, of Rochdale, who, speaking at a conference on housing, said:—They were all agreed that local authorities would have to build. With regard to the Government proposal to build 100,000 cottages all over the country, he did not think that would be found sufficient, and he thought it would be far better to get the work done by district council rather than to have it done wholesale by a central body.Every person who has studied this question and who is interested in local government will say that it is absolutely wrong to supersede local authorities by a central department, and that the proper way is to work through local authorities, as we proposed in the Unionist Bill. The right hon. Gentleman tried to make out that in the Bill which I ventured to introduce to this House I committed myself to working through a central department, because I said that in cases where the local authority has been declared by the Courts to be in default the central department should step in. That is absolutely different from the proposals of the Government. Their proposal is to give a roving commission, without consulting the local authorities in any way whatsoever, to a central department. The proper functions of a central authority is to interfere where local authorities will not or are unable to do their work. We have heard something about the objections to the Bill I brought in upon other scores. The right hon. Gentleman says that that Bill is wrong because we propose uneconomic rents, and that in cases where it was impossible to get the people living in the locality to pay economic rents part of the deficit, which now falls upon local rates, should fall upon the State. The right hon. Gentleman says, with some sort of feeling of greater virtue, "There are to be no uneconomic rents under my Bill." I may remark, by the way, that there is nothing in the Bill about that. We only have the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and we do not know in the least what the next Liberal Government might not do under the Bill.
853 I put this to the right hon. Gentleman: This is a Bill to house agricultural labourers. The sole justification for the introduction of the Board of Agriculture is the housing of agricultural labourers. I venture to tell the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure I am right, that if he charges only economic rents he will not house one single agricultural labourer all over the country. What you may do is to house in agricultural districts people who work in the towns, who are drawing higher wages and are living in the country districts and go to their work on bicycles every day, but you will not house a single agricultural labourer, for the simple reason that it is impossible to do so under present conditions, as they cannot afford to pay economic rents. What is the right hon. Gentleman's remedy? Under this wonderful plan of those who are not braggarts and babblers, they are to raise the wages of the agricultural labourers. How soon is he going to do that? Are you going to raise the wages in the twinkling of an eye, or by the time your 16,000 cottages have been erected? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] How are you going to do it? I entirely agree that the raising of wages is the best and ultimate solution of the housing problem. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I have never dissented from that view. If the right hon. Gentleman, who studied my Bill so closely, would only study it more closely, he would find it contained a Clause that any Grant-in-Aid would gradually diminish and ultimately cease if the economic conditions changed in the locality so that economic rents could be paid in the future. Let us look at the proposal of the Government. The farmer is to pay more wages to the agricultural labourer. The farmer is to compensate himself by paying less rent to the landlord for his farm, but the landlord is to get more rent from the labourers for his cottages. That is exactly as you were, plus a horde of officials to carry it out. Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that if there does come, as I hope there will come shortly, a rise in agricultural wages, it is all to go in rent? I would far sooner see any increase in the wages of these poor people go in better food, better clothes, and so on, and the very last thing in which I would like to see it go, and in which it is likely to go, is rent.
To suggest that the whole difficulty is one of rent, is to show a very partial acquaintance with the subject. Some of the best paid trades are the worst housed. 854 Take the case of miners; they are not badly paid compared with other trades, yet the housing conditions of miners are probably worse than those of any other class. While I want to see a rise in wages, I certainly do not think it is going to be the solution; at any rate, not the immediate solution of the housing difficulty. People have to live somewhere, and in decent conditions, and the only way to secure that in places where economic rents cannot be paid, and you will be driven to it ultimately, is to give some Grant-in-Aid as a temporary measure, as was proposed in the Unionist Bill. The right hon. Gentleman says that we should be subsidising low wages. We can only judge by experience. This policy has been carried out in Ireland, and so successful has it been that in the present Session a Bill is before this House asking for another £1,000,000 to further carry out the policy of housing labourers in Ireland. It is rather curious to see it introduced at a time when we are told that the financial relations between England and Ireland have been finally settled, and that a further £1,000,000 should be demanded from the British taxpayer. At all events, under this policy agricultural labourers all over Ireland have been housed, with a large Grant-in-Aid, and 36 per cent. is an absolute gift towards the housing of these people. Has it lowered wages in Ireland?
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
As the hon. Member says, the exact opposite is the case. Wages have gone up in Ireland, and there has been an absolute transformation in the conditions under which those people live. What is the position which some of my hon. Friends and I take up with regard to this Bill? We think it is a very poor, inadequate measure having regard to the facts of the situation, and we think it is a very poor fulfilment of the promises the Government have made in the country. As regards the action of the Government in housing their own employés we certainly shall offer no opposition whatever, but we do object very strongly to the plan of housing by a central department. We think that is wrong from a local government point of view, and that it contains the seeds of every kind of political corruption. The right, hon. Gentleman says there will be no corruption. Cannot we imagine an eloquent, persuasive Minister belonging 855 to that side, with a policy by which he wishes to divert the attention of the people from other things, going down into a constituency and saying, "Vote for my friend So-and-so," possibly a Minister who has lost his seat and cannot get another—and saying, "If you will vote for my friend, you will have forty, fifty, sixty, or a hundred cottages immediately erected." I wish to deprive any Government, Liberal or Conservative, of such a temptation. I think the Bill is on the wrong lines, and that you ought to work through the system of local government which has grown up in this country. I shall certainly oppose the plan of central building, but at the same time I welcome the fact that the Government have at last attempted to deal with the housing question, which, to my mind, is the most important social problem of the present day.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
I agree with the last words which have fallen from the hon. Member of satisfaction that the housing question should be dealt with. But I must admit a sense of profound disappointment that the Bill is little more than something in the nature of a dole towards housing, and while this is a great economic difficulty, there seems to have been little or no attempt to analyse the causes of the difficulty. The hon. Member spoke of his satisfaction at the way in which the Government had been converted to views along the lines of his own Bill, and I felt very considerable regret that after all the talk there has been in the country against the policy of doles, a policy of which I thoroughly disapprove, we should attempt to solve this question, not by going to the root of the evil but by raising fresh money from the taxpayers, many of them badly housed already, to give in doles for this new housing scheme. I represent a division of the City of Glasgow where the housing is almost worse than anywhere else in Scotland, and these poor people are to be rated and taxed in order to give doles for housing on a system which will not really go to the root of the evil at all, and which in fact does not seem designed to go to the root of the evil because it does not remove the causes of the present had housing. Indeed, I was rather disappointed that my right hon. Friend minimised one point which lies at the very root of the difficulty, namely, the difficulty of getting land to build the houses upon at a fair price. The hon. Gentleman said that many landlords are poor 856 and have not the money to build houses on their estates. I entirely agree. But in those circumstances, when the houses are wanted, why should not these landowners let other people have the land to build upon it at a fair price? That point was alluded to in my right hon. Friend's speech, but he seemed to suggest that it was a very small difficulty that occurred only in a very few places. I will put it to him that if he will study the latest Report of the Local Government Board, showing the prices for land for housing under certain recent housing schemes, he will see that this is a very grave difficulty indeed. The hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Winfrey) who has a great personal knowledge of this question—and I quote him the more readily because I know that to a great extent he does not agree with me—even said that the rural district councils in the parts with which he was familiar had the greatest difficulty in getting land at a reasonable price.
There is another matter which seems also to have been forgotten. The great case of Government employés who should be housed, and whose housing, I agree, has been scandalous, is the case of Rosyth. Rosyth is one of the cases in which the Government themselves have been up against this very difficulty. This site for a naval base was acquired in 1903 and 1904. Certain properties were taken which were being rated on an aggregate rental, which I suppose we may take as their fair value, of £1,700 a year, but when the Admiralty wanted them for the purposes of national defence it had to pay £139,000, or rather more than eighty years' purchase of what was for other purposes being taken as their fair value. That is the very difficulty that the Admiralty themselves were up against, and owing to the Admiralty works there the land round about has gone up in value, and when it is wanted for housing these very people this difficulty will be even greater than it was before, and we shall not have the same means of getting the land. The Admiralty had certain compulsory powers of taking it, but where are the compulsory powers of taking it for houses? I mention that as one of the difficulties. Let me give another case of the difficulty of obtaining land for Government employés. One of the recent Admiralty works which has been put up has been on the other side of Scotland in connection with a torpedo depot. There they wanted land, and what had they to 857 pay for it? It is one of the most overcrowded centres of Scotland. They took land which was being treated as having an annual value of £11 2s. a year, and they had to pay more than £27,000 for it, and yet Ave are told that there is no difficulty whatever in obtaining land at a fair price for housing. I comend these two cases to my right hon. Friend. This difficulty of obtaining land to build upon is a fundamental difficulty. We want to get it at a fair value, and I think the fair value would be the valuation made under the Finance Act. I should like to say, first and foremost, that in any Housing Bill where land was required for the housing of the people the public authorities should be able to obtain it at what has been put down as its market value for other purposes. If you have to pay so much for the land it has to be put on to the rent, and the result is that the whole cost of the cottage accommodation is higher than it otherwise would be. This is at the very root of the problem, and I urge that something to this effect should be put into the Bill.
Then comes this other question. As soon as these houses are put up they are rated, and if a comparatively small rate makes a very considerable difference in the land the question is whether or not cottages can be built on the site at a rent that poor people can afford to give. If that cottage is rated and if the rate is very heavy compared with the value of the property, it may very likely make the difference between the cottage being built or not, because it makes the difference whether it will pay to build the cottage or whether it will not. That consideration, like the other, does not merely refer to the select class of Government employés. It does not refer merely to certain people in certain counties. It refers to all counties and to all town districts as well. We must do something to frank cottages as far as we can. That difficulty was recognised by my right hon. Friend but the solution of that difficulty was to be put off to a more convenient season while the dole was to be given now. With reference to the distribution of Grants-in-Aid, reform is to be put off, and the difficulty in the meantime is to be met by a dole. It seems to me, therefore, an objection to what is being done. I fully admit the truth of what was said on the other side in regard to the great importance of raising wages. In that is to be found part of the solution of the housing problem. But how are we to raise wages? There is only one way, and 858 that is by increasing the opportunities for earning a living wage, and the first step—[An HON. MEMBER: "A minimum wage!"] You may say a minimum wage, but if people cannot get employment, what then? That is the difficulty of the minimum wage proposal, and if the hon. Member will look at what John Stuart Mill says about it, he will see that he couples it with a guarantee of employment. He would not have talked of a minimum wage unless it was accompanied by a guarantee of employment.
After all, the rate of wages depends upon the competition in the market. You cannot compel anyone to employ anyone else under conditions which will not pay. The important first step is to open up natural opportunities, to open up the country. Every acre of land held up from use is forcing down wages, and while seeking to develop the land by the erection of buildings, we wish also to develop it in other ways. One way is to put a stop to the unproductive holding up of land, and if owners do hold it up, they should pay according to the value. If they were obliged to do so, then land would soon be made available for earning a living by agriculture and in other ways. We sincerely hope that the hon. Baronet opposite will give us his hearty support when we seek to realise the ideals which he has advocated. I have mentioned these cases, but, over and above all that, I very much distrust this system of Grants-in-Aid for building, After all, the discussion so far seems to have turned on the question as to how this dole should be distributed. One view has been put forward by the Government, and my hon. Friend who spoke for the Labour party has expressed a strong view against making public utility companies agencies in this matter. I must say that it seems to me a strong order when you find public utility companies working in the way they have done. I do not know what security they are going to give, and I should prefer to see some people representing the local authority doing the work.
If there is to be a Grant, I rather sympathise with what has been said by the hon. Baronet as to whether this will solve the problem. I say that in the first place the money will not go very far, and we will have fresh applications to the House for more money, with the result that reform will be put further off. One of the objections to palliative proposals is that they really put reform in the background. What 859 is the result on ordinary private enterprise of subsidising companies? Ordinary private enterprise is simply atrophied. How can you expect ordinary people with capital to go into the housing business when they know it will not be dealt with, as it should be, on a business footing? How can you expect them to put money into buildings when they know that they will be undercut by other people who have subsidised capital? You may build houses and improve conditions here and there, but I very much doubt whether you will not in the long run do as much injury as you do in the way of help by making it difficult for other people to come in. We should recognise that this is not a matter of charity. It must be done on a business basis, and the first thing the Government ought to do is to improve conditions, so far as they can, by removing the difficulty as to land, and by enabling land to be obtained at fair prices. They should free the houses of rates and taxes, so far as possible, and in other ways make it easier and more economic to build, not only for Government Departments, not only by public utility companies, but also to build for those who are engaged in the general industries throughout the country by people without whose capital, knowledge, and work I am afraid our housing schemes will be in vain. These things, to my mind, ought to be considered, because we ought really to put first things first. I hope that in connection with this Bill, in its subsequent stages, steps may be taken to give effect to the improvements which I have indicated.
§ Sir RANDOLF BAKER
The hon. Member (Mr. Dundas White) is one of the small and gradually lessening number in this House who, whenever any topic in regard to land is brought forward, always go back to their own pet remedies. I do not propose to be led away from the question now before the House by any of the arguments which do not properly apply to it. This is one of the few occasions on which we have had the opportunity of discussing the difficult problem of housing. I think the hon. Member has made as instructive a speech on this Bill as could well be made, and I have no doubt he will vote for it if there is a Division from the same motives as always actuate the supporters of the Government. For my part, I do not intend to divide against the Bill, because I am anxious to see something done in regard to housing at Rosyth and other places 860 where Government workers are employed, and also because I welcome most heartily this conversion at last of the Government to the fact that the housing problem is one which it is most needful to deal with in this country. For years we have been pressing this on the Government, and we have had the same answer from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman has found it suitable to be absent on this occasion. Some of his previous remarks might be quoted in a rather unkindly way. For years he has put his foot down on housing reform. I could give many quotations showing how he has opposed proposals which have been brought forward. On 15th March, 1912, he said:—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 to he interfered with and superseded by an ad hoc Commission.3.0 P.M.
Is that not what you are going to do now? Are you not going to deal with this matter largely through a central authority in London? This Government, which is so fond of talking of the rights of the people and of popular government, is the one that is bringing that authority into operation, if this Bill becomes law. The first is the insurance committees and the various committees which you set up in the county. The second will be these public utility bodies which are to have the power over housing. Neither of these bodies, which in the case of the insurance committees have concurrent large powers through the local authorities, is in any way elected popularly or responsible to popular control. The public utility societies have done most excellent work. But by setting up alongside and overlapping the local authorities, the elected bodies, you are going to give powers to these people when it is not desirable that a non-elected body should have. I support the Bill because it is doing something. But I have got this root objection to the whole Government policy: You are interfering with the only form of housing, which you are going to get done in future by private enterprise, in which a good economic rent can be paid. It seems that the Board of Agriculture is going to charge an economic rent in every case. That does not touch the fringe of the problem in the low-paid districts. I do not believe that for years in such a district are you 861 going to get the genuinine hard-up agricultural labourer assisted by this policy of the Government.
You are beginning at the wrong end. You are not helping the men who are worse off. The one justification for local authorities or Parliament expending money on the housing scheme is to help those people who are not able to help themselves. What about the man who, even if he has a minimum wage, is not in permanent employment? What is he going to do with the increased house rent? What is going to happen to the casual workers, of whom we have some in every village, who cannot afford high rents and who very often have some of the largest families in the village? You want by your housing scheme to help the children of this class by giving them an opportunity of being brought up in conditions which will raise them out of this class of life. The Government is going to do nothing for this class. That is the fundamental objection. In addition this is a very small Bill. The Government admit that themselves. The right hon. Gentleman compared it to the Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley and myself introduced in the last three years. He said, "Your Bill is going to do much less. We are taking £3,000,000, and you only took £1,000,000 or £500,000, which was going to be used for rural purposes." But he omitted from his comparison the slight difference between income and capital. You are proposing a capital expenditure of £3,000,000; we are proposing an income expenditure not exceeding £500,000 to make up the deficiency in the cost of building these houses. The difference is that our Bill provides for a capital expenditure of £15,000,000, and your Bill provides for £3,000,000. Yet the right hon. Gentleman says that his Bill will do much more than ours would have done. The right hon. Gentleman should take the trouble to understand our suggestions, and look more carefully into our Bill before repeating some of the accusations which he made to-day. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here, because I want a definite answer to the question which I am about to ask, and if I do not get an answer I shall be obliged to put down a question on the subject.
He said that in certain counties it was impossible to obtain land for building cottages. I asked what counties, and he promptly said Dorset, I presume to get a small score off me. I want to know in what parishes in the county of Dorset has 862 it been impossible during the last two years to purchase land for building cottages where they have been required? I want to know the parishes definitely, so that I may inquire, because I happen to know a very large number of parishes in the county of Dorset in which there has been land sold by public auction during the last few years, and I have heard of no case in the county in which it has been impossible to procure land for the purpose of cottage building. I mean to press the right hon. Gentleman further on this point. I think that we shall have considerable discussion on this Bill when it gets into Committee. For my part I welcome the fact that the Government have done something. I think that in reality the credit is due largely not to the Government at all but to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, and the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin, who by calling attention generally to the housing problem, and to the Rosyth problem in particular, aroused the force of public opinion which has compelled the Government to act. Another reason is that they dare not face the electors in the not very distant future with the admission that for eight years they have done nothing whatever to solve this problem. For that reason they have brought forward this little measure. It makes me think of one of the big newspapers, which produced on the front page an advertisement consisting of one small word with the rest of the page blank. This Bill is very like one small word in the middle of a blank page.
§ Mr. CECIL HARMSWORTH
The main objection of the hon. Member who has just spoken is that this is a very little Bill. It is a very little Bill, although it does tackle two very great problems. It deals with the case of Rosyth, and similar cases where Government employés are gathered together in large numbers, and it makes a beginning of a solution of the problem of rural housing. Though I am far from wishing to detract from the credit due to the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin in regard to Rosyth, I think that the chief credit for bringing home to the Admiralty the importance of this matter is due to the Edinburgh Garden City Association. To my certain knowledge they have been at work on this problem for at least five years. My right hon. Friend beneath me (Dr. Macnamara) may explain, if he wishes to do so, why 863 the Admiralty did not take their advice a great many years ago. However, if I may say so in his presence, better late than never. Whatever happens to this Bill as a whole, we understand from the other side that the Clauses relating to Rosyth will go through without very serious opposition. The hon. Baronet and the Member for Dudley have both been associated with a Bill which I should like to describe as a very little Bill, though I am prepared to admit that the Bill contains some very admirable Clauses, which I think would deserve a place in an omnibus Housing Bill. But their Bill is a very little Bill. They talk about clearing slums and about our death-bed repentance. Is not their repentance what I would describe as a post-mortem repentance as far as their party is concerned? I do not remember when the other side were in power, hearing from them of any great housing scheme—I do not want to go into that however—but I do say that their Bill is a little Bill. They provided £500,000 a year for Parts I., II., and III. of the main Act of 1890. You can spend that sum, as we all know, in the neighbourhood of London, and it would be engulfed. You could spend a similar sum every year in London, and the whole of the money for that purpose would be absorbed in one city.
§ Sir R. BAKER
That is to make up the loss, only a portion of the loss. It only deals with loss, and not with capital expenditure.
§ Mr. C. HARMSWORTH
Does it not stand to reason that if Grants-in-Aid were available, that the people responsible would so adjust their expenditure as to receive the largest amount that could be obtained? I think that is quite clear. We have heard something about the difficulty of furnishing agricultural labourers with cottages at an economic rent. I believe that to be a very pressing difficulty, and my right hon. Friend's Committee, of which I am a Member, is now discussing the question of cottages in rural districts. I regret to say that we do not see how cottages can be let at less than 3s. or 3s. 6d. per week, and I might even put the amount higher as the minimum for decent accommodation. That problem, I think, must be met on economic lines. Nor could we favour the principle of State subsidised rents, to extend even to four-fifths in certain cases.
§ Mr. C. HARMSWORTH
Yes, but skilful local authorities would take care to get the very fullest proportion of the State Grants which are available. Does the Front Opposition Bench really commit itself to that policy? I remember well the names of Gentlemen on that bench who backed the Unionist Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand Division (Mr. Long) has closely associated himself with it. What I think hon. Members opposite have to make up their minds to is whether they are actually going to commit themselves, as a great political party, to a system of State subsidised rents. It would apply not only in the country. Do hon. Gentlemen suppose that the principle would remain there? I suggest that if they are going to subsidise rents in rural areas it would be found immediately that demands from the urban areas would become of so overwhelming a character that we would have a form of what has come to be known as Lloyd-Georgian finance that would eclipse all that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has had to deal with. It has been said that the agricultural labourer occupies a peculiar position in the community. I think he does, and there is no one more anxious than I am to see him furnished with a decent cottage; but I see no reason why you should subsidise the rents of rural cottages any more than that you should subsidise the rents in back streets of London. Contemplate the Budget that a Unionist Chancellor of the Exchequer would be obliged to introduce into this House five or six years after the principle of subsidised State rents had become universal over the United Kingdom!
Nor do I believe that agriculture stands in any need of subsidised rents. I am well aware that a great number of landlords are expected to house all sorts of people who have no particular relations with their estate. I think that is a very considerable hardship, and I think it reflects very great credit on the landowners of this country that they have been willing to discharge a duty that ought to have fallen on local authorities or on the State. In these days of agricultural prices rising, and showing no disposition to cease rising, I think that agriculture as an industry is perfectly able to house its own employés. I believe equally that in most parts of the country agriculture is now in a position to pay a reasonable living wage, enabling the 865 labourer to pay the rent of his own cottage. I have myself toyed with the idea of State subsidised rents, but the more I contemplate it the more I am appalled by the possible economic results, and by its possible disastrous effects on the Exchequer of this country. It is said that this Bill is going to have disadvantageous results, and that it overrides the local authorities. I am informed that that is not so. I think that the drafting of the first Clause is, if I may say so from the point of view of a layman, unduly obscure, but I am informed that Clause 1 does permit the Board of Agriculture to make any necessary arrangement it likes with local authorities. I am not quite sure whether in practice the Board of Agriculture will do that. A very interesting suggestion has been made, and has been referred to with great favour by the rural district councils, that they should be assisted in their housing operations by public utility societies.
I do not know whether right hon. Gentlemen have had their attention directed to this proposal, which has been warmly received by the Association of Rural District Councils, and I believe, after examination, is well thought of by the Local Government Board. In my judgment, speaking solely for myself, I think we shall want all these agencies if we are to make a great change in housing. We shall want the local authority, we shall want the private owner of land, and we shall want the public utility society; and I imagine that the Government have turned their attention to public utility societies because those societies have unquestionably, of all the public agencies, achieved the greatest triumphs in the matter of housing, whether in the country or in towns. The Rural Housing Organisation Society has built, as the President of the Board of Agriculture has pointed out, the cheapest and best cottages that I personally have seen. I do not think it at all probable that it will be possible to build cottages at the price the right hon. Gentleman stated very generally in the country. Where you get exceptional circumstances, and especially when you get exceptional men to control the operations, you are likely to achieve more in the way of economy than by any other means. There can be no doubt, in my judgment, that what has been done by the Rural Housing Organisation Society and the Welsh Housing Organisation, which has also achieved some very remarkable results, 866 shows that what they have done should be possible in many parts of the country, and that the rural cottage is a feasible thing at a considerably less figure than that usually mentioned in this connection. Every country cottage, I think, should have a garden. The solution of the problem that has vexed public men for a long time as to how the agricultural labourer lives on his wages at all—for there is and must be a solution—is to be found very largely in the fact of the existence of a garden or allotment. It is said we are only making a start of about 15,000 cottages. I think it would be a very good start. I can imagine nothing more disadvantageous than either for a Government Department or public agencies of any kind to break loose over England, Scotland and Wales, and build vast numbers of cottages at once. They would certainly make tremendous mistakes as to the areas where the cottages are required, and they would almost certainly build an immense number of cottages faulty in design and inconvenient, and they would, in fact, run the risk of shipwrecking the whole scheme. I should be perfectly satisfied, as far as I am concerned, if these fifteen or sixteen thousand cottages are built within the next two or three years, when the people living in them will have had experience, and will be able to bring that knowledge and experience to the attention of Parliament.
There has been some suggestion that this scheme will lead to a good deal of corruption—that is to say, that Members of this House will be subjected to pressure. That is a danger we must safeguard ourselves against by every possible means. I am sure I speak for every Member of the House when I say that nothing is further from the desire of any Member of Parliament than that he should be the bestower of any kind of patronage within the confines of his constituency. I think Members of Parliament have very wisely divested themselves of anything of the kind, so that our constituents can no longer look to us to assist them. Nothing could be more disadvantageous than that pressure should be brought, or should be capable of being brought, by Members of Parliament in regard to the allocation of cottages. I think we shall find that provided against with the Bill and that using to a large extent public utility societies will safeguard us against that danger. Those societies, so far as I am familiar with them, are conducted by men of all political parties—I know one of 867 which the Noble Lord the Member for South Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) is chairman, and people of all political parties serve on the committee, and I never heard that any political or party question has ever arisen in connection with those societies. I think it would be possible to have county committees, similar to those established by the Rural Housing Organisation Society, which would stand as it were as buffers between Members of Parliament and candidates for Parliament and the distribution of those houses. The subject is a very big one, and it will no doubt receive an immense amount of discussion, and I think it lends itself to a great deal of discussion, not at all obstructive discussion, and Members will especially want to deal with this comparatively novel principle of favouring the public utility society. I am convinced, after very careful examination of this Bill, that it deserves the support of all Members of this House who are really interested in this question. There is nothing in the scheme that I know of or am able to observe that would prevent hon. Members opposite dovetailing into this system any uneconomic system they favour when they come into office and control affairs from this Treasury Bench. I see no reason, and I am familiar with the views of some hon. Members opposite on this question, why they should not afford us a measure of support in bringing this Bill to the Statute Book before this present Session of Parliament ends. I deprecate altogether suggestions that have been thrown out from both Front Benches that it may be necessary to cut this Bill into two and pass what I may call the Rosyth Section with universal approval and hang up the second part indefinitely. I trust that will not be necessary, and speaking quite impartially I see no reason whatever, except it may be a sense of irritation in the minds of hon. Members opposite at the somewhat brusque treatment their own Bill received, why they should not help us to pass both parts of this Bill.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I should like to associate myself with many of the objections which have been urged against this Bill by my hon. Friends on this side. I have, for instance, the greatest dislike to the idea of housing by a central authority. H that means that the central authority is to go interfering with the area of the local authority, and set it on one 868 side and treat it as of no account, then I think this scheme must be opposed by everybody who hopes that before long the people of this country may find their best expression in the members whom they send to local authorities. Unless sufficient guarantee is given that the central housing authority will not use its powers for electioneering purposes, then if this Bill leads to nothing else it will inevitably lead to corruption and, at all events, if not to corruption, to grave suspicion of corruption. If this guarantee is not given I do rot envy the task of any future President of the Board of Agriculture. If a Liberal President sanctions the building of houses in the constituency of one of his supporters he will be liable to all sorts of accusations; while if a Conservative President sanctions the building of houses near any large estate, I can imagine the criticisms that will be levelled at him from the other side of the House for giving doles to landlords. I believe that your housing schemes and social reforms will have no chance of success if they have to swim against the stream of the ill-will of local authorities and the general suspicion and dislike of corruption which undoubtedly exists in this country.
The hon Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts) complained that the Housing Bill of my hon. Friend the member for Dudley (Sir A. Griffith-Boscawen) did not meet with a more favourable reception at the hands of the Government simply because it did not meet the Government's own point of view. I cannot help thinking that one of the reasons why housing reform has not made greater progress in this country is that we are far too apt to insist on our own point of view, and on our own point of view alone. We ought to try and see if we cannot vivify, stimulate, and combine all the forces of progress in this country. For instance, I should like to give the local authorities, at all events, the "first cut" in this question of housing reform. They should have nothing to interfere with them. But there is no doubt a vast reservoir of good will in this country of which we have not yet made as great use as we might. If this question of rural regeneration is going to be dealt with, we cannot do better than get men and women of good will to form themselves into associations in order to tackle the problem. If we could get together in every county an association of men and women representing landowners, labourers, farmers, religious denominations of all kinds—
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
Not necessarily, but elected bodies would naturally have a large representation. If we could get together such associations we could do a great deal more than we have done. We might take a leaf out of the Belgian book. Belgium has tackled this problem of rural depopulation more successfully than probably any other country in Europe. A great part of that success is due to the Housing Act of 1909, under which local associations are formed and encouraged by cheap credit to erect houses and let or sell them to the working classes. It is very remarkable that in Germany housing reformers and social reformers generally are making a very strong move to settle more closely the rural areas. They are not recommending that the State, or even that local authorities, should operate, but that associations should be formed to act in co-operation with the State. I am glad to think that the Government have at last followed the example of Germany and Belgium, and are now coming forward with proposals to operate through public utility societies. There are in several counties a great number of these societies already in existence. No doubt they could be improved, strengthened, and made more representative. If they are to work successfully they ought to have a large representation of local authorities, in order to prevent jealousy and overlapping.
There is no doubt the county associations should be extended gradually throughout the whole of England, but it will not be worth while for anybody to take the trouble to extend those associations if their operations are to be set aside by a central authority, who might "chip in" at certain times merely for electioneering purposes. I hope that in Committee the President of the Board of Agriculture will give guarantees that there shall be no fear of that, that some buffer shall be formed against corruption, and that a free hand shall be given to public utility societies and local authorities. If he satisfies us on those points I, for one, shall have great difficulty in opposing the Bill. No doubt it is a small Bill. If we are to get down to the bottom of this problem of the housing of agricultural labourers, I am afraid that we shall have to fall back on State Grants. Meantime, this Bill will lead to the erection of an 870 enormous number of cottages. That being so, I, for one, could not possibly take the responsibility of delaying its progress. We have our points of difference and our points of agreement, and I cannot help thinking that the time has now arrived when we ought to minimise as much as possible our points of difference and combine on those points on which we all agree.
§ Mr. ANEURIN WILLIAMS
I am one of those who have regretted for some years past the attitude of the Government towards the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Dudley and others. I have thought that it would have been infinitely better to try and make the best of that Bill. I certainly recognise that it had valuable possibilities in it, although it had a certain number of grave defects. But I am not going over that ground now; I merely touch upon it because I hope that it will in some way commend what I am going to say, and perhaps justify me in making an appeal to hon. Members opposite not to deal with this measure in a partisan spirit, even though they feel that their own measure may have been so treated, but to rise superior to that feeling, recognise the enormous national importance of this subject, and at last let us get something done. I welcome this Bill on the very ground which has been made a charge against it by some speakers, namely, that it institutes a central authority for dealing with this housing question. I am a, little surprised at the unqualified criticism of this proposal, because, after all, the proposal of the hon. Member for Dudley and his Friends involved the creation of a central authority with very great powers. It is true that it was not to have power itself to build, but it was to be a central mainspring in dealing with the question. I think you must have that. I do not think it is at all to be assumed that the Board of Agriculture will rashly attempt to build unnecessarily in this district and in that. Surely it is more reasonable to suppose that they will use all their influence to stimulate building by the local authorities and by the utility societies, and that they will themselves only use their power to build in the last resort. I demur altogether to the suggestion that the local authorities the suggestion that the local authorities are left out of this Bill. The local authorities will retain to the full the large powers which they have of dealing with this question at the present time—powers, 871 one of the most important of which is the right to borrow the whole cost of building from the central Government. They have had these great powers. I am afraid we must admit that they have shown no great zeal in the use of them. I think it is extremely difficult to force local authorities to carry out powers if they do not desire to do so. You may, of course, go to the Courts and have them declared in default by a sort of "put-them-in-the-dock" Clause, but I do not think that that is a really effective way of dealing with the matter. It is calculated to create a great deal of friction and had feeling. To me it seems very much better to give the central authorities power to say, "We have put all the pressure we can upon you; if you do not choose to act, we shall act ourselves."
I have some personal experience of the authorised societies. I would be the last to decry their utility. But as a matter of fact you must not expect too much of them. To belong to one of these authorised societies and to work it with success involves giving a great deal of time, and possibly money, with very little return, and it is not everywhere that you can find people who can make these sacrifices. Therefore I say it is not possible to leave the whole solution of this question either to the local authorities or to the authorised societies, or to the two combined. If we only go on at the rate at which we have been going on in the last few years it may be 1,000 years before we have really overtaken the housing requirements of the country. There is certainly quite enough work for all who can take part in it, whether local authorities, the authorised societies referred to in this Bill, the ordinary building societies or co-operative societies that have done so much, or even the poor speculative builder. Especially I think it is valuable to have these powers, in the hands of a central society, in reserve and in the hands of men whose whole career and whole professional pride consist in getting successful results out of the departments entrusted to them. There is another criticism which has been passed upon this Bill. It practically amounted to this, that we ought to have proceeded by means of the reform of the rating system, and then, as I take it, this Bill would have been unnecessary. The housing question, as I understand my hon. Friend's suggestion, would solve itself if only you dealt 872 with the rating question. I do not believe, however important the rating question—and I am one of those who think it immensely important—that it will by itself altogether solve the housing problem, even in the towns; and I am perfectly certain that it will do nothing of the sort in agricultural districts. I am not sure that it would help very much in agricultural districts.
If you take the rents off the buildings you have to put them on the ground; you must get them somewhere. I am not very sure, in places where you can get land at agricultural value, that you are going to reduce it very much by taking the rates off the buildings and putting them on to the land: it would not, I think, mean very much in regard to getting a supply of land. I quite agree that it is unreasonable when you are making great sacrifices, and there is a great outcry as to scarcity of cottages, at the same time to be taxing cottages. It is something like the old days when you taxed bread and then complained of the dearness of bread. Nevertheless, I do not think that you are going to be able to wait until you have solved all your rating question before dealing with this housing question. I believe even those who advocate very drastic reform in our rating system—and I am not sure that I do not agree with them in that drastic reform—believe that it can only be brought about gradually, and must take a long time. They must agree that we cannot afford to spend all these years bringing about an improvement in the housing conditions.
Meanwhile let us get people into decent houses. That, to my mind, is of infinitely more importance than the particular way in which you do it. When you get people into decent houses, coupled with security of tenure, you will have vastly improved their independence and widened their outlook upon life, and those other reforms that are needed will not be put back, but rather put forward, and put very much forward in the process. I was sorry to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley speak of this measure as a most ridiculous little measure. I really think that on further consideration he will see that a measure which will lead to the building of 25,000 cottages, at the very least—and that immediately—is not to be described as a ridiculous little measure. At any rate, it is vastly more than any Government, in my lifetime at any rate, has done towards 873 the solution of this question. My hon. Friend also spoke of the considerable cost. That, if I may venture to say so without offence, shows confusion of ideas. Where does the cost come in? To spend money on capital account is not to lose that money. It is very misleading to speak of it as cost. You are spending this money in producing cottages, and you will have the cottages, the bricks and the mortar, and the gardens as an asset, and you will have, incidentally, the immense social advantage that will come from them. To my mind it is a most excellent beginning, and I have no doubt that it will be followed—and very rapidly—on a much larger scale. My own experience of this housing question has been not so much in purely agricultural places, nor yet in very big cities, but in smaller centres of an urban character. Nevertheless, I think that I may be able to say a few things from that experience which will be useful in this discussion.
I feel very strongly that our Labour Friends are entirely wrong in their idea that you ought to exclude the public utility societies, or, as they are called in this Bill, authorised societies. I should like to know who is going to fill the gap? You would not get what you want done by the local authorities in a great many districts. In some districts you will, but not in all districts. Then has the central authority to step in in all those places? I should have thought that we would agree that if the central authority is to act that it has not to act except in the last resort! There will be plenty for it to do even in that case; but if you are going to say that there shall be no public utility society involved, and that you are not to lend money to them, then I am very much afraid the central authority will have to step in in a very large number of cases indeed. I believe that nearly all the local authorities will desire the help of these public utility societies to do the work. After all, they will stand between the public purse and the possibility of loss, because before the public can suffer any loss the whole capital of the authorised society must be lost. They will relieve the central authority and the local authorities of a vast amount of detailed administration. In this matter I am very happy to be in full agreement with the view expressed by my hon. Friend, the Member for Luton Division. I also hope the President of the Board of Agriculture will not 874 by any means give up the idea of lending to these public utility societies nine-tenths of the capital. It is suggested that that is a large amount, and it is asked where is the security? If you have got a perfectly good cottage in a district where there is a demand for them—and all these things have to be inquired into before the loan can be made—you have ample security, even though you have only one-tenth margin, and each year the society has to repay a part of the capital, so that although you only begin with the one-tenth margin your margin rapidly increases, and your security is ample. The increase in the proportion of capital lent makes much more difference in the number of cottages which will be built than appears at first sight.
If a society has £200 of its own money and can borrow two-thirds of the capital, then three cottages may be built, but if it can borrow nine-tenths of the capital, it can build ten cottages and you thus get ten cottages instead of three by advancing the larger amount of capital. The President introduced several new points in his statement that are not in the Bill. He gave a definition, or some sort of explanation, of what he meant by an agricultural district. I was sorry to hear that. I had hoped that what was meant was any place within the area of a rural district council where the housing needs are often on a much larger scale than in a purely agricultural district. I have in mind a place which was once a large village, but which is now turned into a sort of semi-suburban area, where the needs are very great. There the Board is not to be able to help if this definition is to be taken into account. I know another somewhat similar place which is a parish of about 4,000 acres, the greater part of which is agricultural, but in the centre of which an industrial town is growing up. There again the needs for additional houses are very great indeed. Therefore, I hope it is still not too late for the President of the Board of Agriculture to see if the definition of an agricultural district cannot be somewhat widened. Then again he proposes to make the shareholding in these authorised societies compulsory. That amounts to this: That if a man applies to become a tenant in one of these cottages he is told he cannot be admitted, unless he becomes a shareholder. I believe that is absolutely impracticable and undesirable. The President of the Board of Agriculture himself, 875 when his attention was called to it, immediately saw the necessity of cutting it down to this, that you would require a man to pay a shilling and make himself responsible to pay up the share gradually later on. I doubt the desirability and practicability of even so little as this. You cannot do that amongst the needy and people who move from place to place. Moreover, I think you will make the financial foundation of your public utility society very doubtful indeed, because you may leave that society with a number of cottages empty upon its hands because people refuse to take up shares and to go in. I think that point requires serious consideration. Equally, I think the proposal not to have any paid directors is serious. I admit, on the face of it, it seems a very desirable thing. I am a director of two or three of these societies, and I am not paid. I am quite content to work on them, but we want to see these societies largely working men's societies, and if you are to have working men as directors you must allow some small fees just as in the co-operative stores, where the working men who manage them have some fees, and it is found to be highly desirable that they should have. Then the President spoke of the minimum type of cottages with a living room and three bedrooms. I admit that where you can have three bedrooms it is a very good thing, but I do not think that we ought to insist that every cottage should have three bedrooms. There are the old people without children and other people who have never had any. Young people for the first nine or ten years of their married life do not need three bedrooms, Lastly, you have widows living by themselves. Therefore, although the three-bedroom type is the one most necessary to build at present, I think it is rather misleading to speak of it as a minimum type. A good deal has been said as to the desirability of the rent being an economic rent, and it is said that if you let these cottages at an economic rent, no single agricultural labourer will be able to take them. I very much doubt that. My impression is that there are many agricultural labourers of the superior class getting better wages, and some of those would be glad to take the better cottages, and to pay an economic rent.
I am perfectly sure in every part of the country where you would put up decent 876 cottages and offer them at an economic rent, you will find certain people to move out of the inferior cottages and to take the better ones which you put up. Therefore, although you may not directly benefit the very poorest of the people by putting up these cottages at an economic rent, you do indirectly benefit them: though they cannot afford to move into the new cottages, you will provide a better supply for that class of people, because they will move into the cottages left vacant by those who take the new ones. In respect to the matter of economic rents, I wish to emphasise the enormous importance of the rate of interest. If your interest is put up 1 per cent. on a cottage costing £200 to build, it means an increase in the rent of 10d. per week. That is the effect of a 1 per cent. increase in the rate of interest. With the general rise of interest which has taken place in the world in the last few years, there has been a slackening in the operations of the speculative builder. The investment no longer pays him at the rate of interest until the rents have gone up in proportion. I only want to deal with one other point.
A very serious charge has been made in regard to Rosyth here to-day. The words used were, "The scandal still existing in Rosyth." I see present on the Government Bench the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty, and I hope he will not allow that statement to go out to-day without some direct contradiction. Two or three months ago we dealt with this question, and we certainly understood that temporary arrangements would be made to abolish this scandal and to relieve the pressure, I believe that has been done, and I hope we shall have some positive statement refuting the phrase which was used in regard to that. I do not think we can exaggerate the importance of this housing question. To put it in a nutshell: if you have got an industrial population decently housed, as we hope to have them some day, you must not have too many houses crowded together on the ground. You may have ten or twelve to the acre, and with such accommodation you could bring your death-rate down to one-half what it is at present. That is the experience in Letchworth and the garden suburbs, and there is no kind of doubt that if you could do that you could bring the death-rate down by one-half what it is now, and produce a vast improvement in the material and moral conditions of our people.
§ Mr. WALTER LONG
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has made a very eloquent appeal to us. I can assure him that in deciding upon the course we are going to take, which has already been announced to the House, we are not actuated by any of the reasons which the hon. Gentleman appears to think might possibly move us. The hon. Member who has just spoken and some other hon. Gentlemen opposite have expressed a fear that we might take some hostile action in consequence of the treatment we have received on previous occasions at the hands of His Majesty's Government. When the hon. Member has been longer in the House he will find that that is not the kind of action which we take up in Opposition. We do not oppose measures which we think are good because the Government oppose some of our measures, and the hon. Member need have no fear that in our attitude towards this Bill we shall be quite benevolent. Although I know the reason none the less I regret the absence on this occasion of the two Members of the Government who are specially responsible for this Bill, because I cannot say what I have to say without making a reference to them, which, although-it is not of a personal character, I would much prefer to make in their presence.
I understand the absence of Cabinet Ministers on certain occasions, but I think we have some reason to complain of the constant repetition of this practice on the part of some Members of His Majesty's Government. This is a specially grave moment, as every hon. Member knows, but this is not the first time it has happened, and it really is not fair, either to the Opposition or the House, and, in my judgment, it is not courteous either to the House or the Opposition. I understand that the President of the Board of Agriculture was good enough to give me some excellent advice as to my conduct on certain occasions. If the right hon. Gentleman had been present I would have thanked him very warmly for the interest he takes in my public career, and I would have told him that after a close observations of his actions in Committee and in the House, although I consider them worthy of emulation, I think it would be better for him to bestow more time on his own actions and less upon mine. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to call attention to a speech I made at a non-political gathering the other day, and he appeared to think that it was 878 a speech which I ought not to have made on that occasion. The best answer I can give to him is to say that it was a non-political organisation, and there were Members present who were not supporters of my party. Not only was I paid the great compliment of being unanimously elected president of the association, after I had made this outrageous oration, but the proposition electing me was moved by a supporter of the President of the Board of Agriculture, and so I do not think that I need take his criticism very severely to heart.
The hon. Member who preceded me (Mr. A. Williams), like the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. C. B. Harmsworth), addressed himself to this subject with the advantage of great practical knowledge and experience in connection with different branches of the work connected with housing, and he gave us good reasons for welcoming this debate. They made an appeal to us to which I have already referred, but let me say as plainly as I can that it is asking the Opposition to strain their powers of digestion to a very great extent when we are asked to believe that this question of the housing of the working classes is the nearest one to the hearts of the Government, that they are overwhelmed with the sufferings of the houseless people, that they are horrified at the conditions of the dwellings in which they now live, that this question lies at the root of all social reform, and that until we get good houses under a benevolent scheme the condition of the people of this country will be deplorable. This is what we are asked to believe—and when? Not in the months of March or April with the whole of the Session before us, and not even in the month of June, but at the end of July when, by common agreement on that side as well as on this, there is already more work for this House to do than it can possibly do decently and properly if it is to adjourn at any reasonable period. Therefore, to ask us to believe that the Government are quite sincere in this matter is to ask me, at all events, to swallow more than I can manage. The truth of the matter is that the Government have found themselves in this matter as well as in others in a hole. They have gone on laying down all sorts of admirable principles. The President of the Local Government Board interrupted my hon. Friend and told him that there had been no objections urged on that side of the House on principle to the advancement of 879 public money for building purposes. There is quotation after quotation to be produced from the speeches of the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Burns) when he was President of the Local Government Board. I remember a speech which he made in this House—I am quoting from memory, but I will answer for it that it is substantially accurate—and in which he said the Government regarded this principle of advancing public money for this purpose as a vicious principle with which they would have nothing to do. Then, subsequently to that, we had a speech by the Postmaster-General, who has great practical knowledge of the question. Speaking as a man who knows the difficulties of housing and the practical side of the question, he declared that the worst thing you could do would be to centralise and place in the hands of the Government of the day the duty of providing houses for the working-classes. This was the policy of the hon. Gentleman opposite. What happened? We saw the other day—I do not know whether it was authentic or not—a paragraph in the newspapers which said that what is called the land campaign of the Government had been found by Government experts who had looked into it to have fallen very flat. I do not know whether it is true or whether the statement has been made without authority, but, if my information is correct, the statement itself is certainly quite accurate. Being in this hole the Government have had to change their policy and their front, and they have had to take up a totally different line. Now we are asked to believe that is the most virtuous thing which we were told a few months ago was the most vicious thing. Under these circumstances, it is a little bit hard to expect the Opposition to pay all the court to the Government which their supporters think ought to be paid to them in consequence of the line they are now taking.
The hon. Gentleman appealed to us not to be unduly critical in considering this Bill. There is one aspect in this Bill in regard to which I, for my part, cannot speak too strongly, and I do not mean to mince my words. I speak now, not as a critic of housing schemes, but in the first place as an agriculturist, and in the second place as one who has had the honour to be President of the Board of Agriculture. I say that never have you done a worse thing in the interests of the Board of Agriculture than when you made up your mind to 880 turn it into a building department to provide houses for the working classes. It is work for which the Board of Agriculture, and I speak with full knowledge of that Department, is not in any way prepared. I do not know how you stretch the constitution of that Department so as to make it possible to take on these duties, but I suppose that an Act of Parliament can do anything, and therefore an Act of Parliament can authorise the Board of Agriculture to do anything that Parliament likes. I look at it not from the point of view of the efficient provision of houses, but I am thinking of the Department. When I was at that Department it was impossible to conceal from oneself the fact that there was practically nothing open to the head of the Department to do which could be regarded as popular, or likely to attract votes.
What was our duty? It was to drastically apply to Acts of Parliament when they were sufficient, and when they were not sufficient to amend them in order to clear this country of disease. We were singularly successful. Do not let the House think for a moment I am going by some sort of innuendo—I do not indulge in that kind of attack—to lay blame on the present President of the Board of Agriculture. I share with my hon. Friends behind me the views they have expressed of the care, trouble, devotion, skill and knowledge he has brought to bear upon his duty already. But nobody can deny that to-day we do not stand in the same position of security that we stood in when I was at the Board of Agriculture in regard to diseases of animals. There was one other duty—an unpopular one—it was our business to hold with absolute equality the scales of justice as between owner, occupier and cultivator of the land, and the proof that we did so is, I think, to be found in the fact that since we altered the law that law has stood with very slight amendment, and to-day there is not in the agricultural world any serious demand for any great alteration. That is the kind of work we were doing. You will say it was not attractive. Possibly so. You will say it does not give much scope for the abilities of the Minister. That may be true. But it was sufficient for us in those days. Days have changed; people have changed, and it may not now be sufficient for more ambitious people. But I doubt whether you are going to do credit either to the Minister or to the work of 881 administration when you take him out of this special field and give him an opportunity to compete with his fellows on that bench in vote-catching throughout the country, by enabling him to carry out the work which you are laying upon him here. It is not so much that I am afraid of this vote-catching process, as that I am afraid you are bringing the Board of Agriculture into a position in the country which will make it much more difficult to administer their old duties in the future than it has been in the past. It was difficult enough then.
The hon. Member for Luton (Mr. C. Harmsworth) admitted frankly, with a candour that did him great credit, that under this Bill you are running grave risks of corruption. You may just as well call these things by their proper name. I hold that view as strongly as any man can hold it, and I would say to the hon. Gentleman, if he were in his place, that if he really holds the view he should aid us in taking steps to prevent it. There is only one way in which we are going to prevent it, and that is by reverting to the sound old principle of giving the central authority power to spur on, if you like, power to control and direct to a large extent within certain limits, if you think it necessary, and power, above all, to give Grants to local authorities, but no power to interfere with local authorities in the actual discharge of work of this kind. Let the House remember what is our experience in this respect. Under the old law dealing with various matters, such as sanitary questions and the Poor Law, the Local Government Board was in possession of what is known as the power of mandamus. It was a power to compel a local authority to do its work, and to put the members in prison if they failed, and then, as an ultimate resort, it had power to do the work itself. Will the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board tell us now how often in the more than fifty years that have elapsed since that law was passed, the Local Government Board have ventured to embark upon bricks and mortar, and to do the work that had to be done itself instead of calling upon the local authorities to do it? We know the central Department avoided this work, because they knew perfectly well that if they tried to do it it would be neither so economically nor so efficiently done, and so they have left it to the local authority.
Yet with this knowledge in your possession, with all the experience of the 882 past ranged up against you, with proposals such as have been made times out of number in this House giving you an opening to assist local authorities to do the work, you are deliberately coming down here, abandoning all the principles you have hitherto laid down, abandoning all the views that up to within the last few-days have been expressed from the Treasury Bench and the benches behind it, and you are deliberately going to call on one of the great public Departments to forsake its ordinary duties and enter into full competition with private enterprise in building houses. It is most inconvenient to conduct this Debate in the absence of the two Ministers who are really responsible for the Bill, and who alone can answer my questions. Here is the first question I put. I have asked you what is your policy. Have you abandoned all the views expressed by your leaders, and by the heads of these Departments within recent weeks and months, and have you taken up an entirely new policy? Do we understand that to be the case? If the answer is in the affirmative, and I imagine no other answer can be given, how do you deal with the extraordinary state of things you yourselves propose to bring into existence? There is an Act which you passed yourselves, which the President of the Board of Trade himself passed, which is referred to in every leaflet issued by Radical associations as one of the best Acts of Parliament ever passed, an Act of Parliament which speaker after speaker on that side since it was passed has cited as having done more good in regard to housing than any other Act that has been passed—the Housing and Town Planning Act. What does that Act do? It lays upon the Local Government Board, quite properly, the duty of keeping local authorities up to the mark, or urging them to step in and make provision for the housing of the working classes, and gives them compulsory power to act over the heads of the local authority.
Do you deliberately propose to have the Local Government Board, acting under the Housing and Town Planning Act, urging local authorities to provide houses, and calling their attention to the measure, if not forcing them to carry it out, and at the same time to have another Department which is to go into the same area and to build houses out of public funds in competition with the local authorities? That is an inconceivable state of things. I am not going to talk about the injustice or the improvidence of it, nor refer to it as a state 883 of things which nobody in his senses would try to defend, but I will say it is a state of things which will not and cannot work. What is going to happen if this Bill passes as it stands? The Board of Agriculture will be approached. That is where the corruption will come in. By corruption I do not mean that people are going to be paid, and that money is going to stick to the palms of their hands, or anything of that kind. I mean that political corruption will happen. It must. You cannot prevent it. If this Bill passes, I presume that the Board of Agriculture, through its inspectors, will visit certain areas and make up their mind that building is to be carried on here or there. Let any man who has sat in this House for a few years ask himself what will be the inevitable consequence. A Member will go to the Minister and say that the Board are spending public money in building cottages in districts which favour the Opposition, and he will say, "You have no right to do this; you must come and build these houses in our part of the world. You are building them in a constituency of a Tory Member of Parliament." The Minister will say, "That is so, but they are badly wanted there." It may be the Member will say, "But I want votes, I do not want cottages. You have got to build those cottages in my Constituency."
Will any man who has sat any length of time in this House contend that I am painting an exaggerated picture? We know it is not corruption in the sense that a Member is dishonest, but it is the fact that the pressure of his constituents will be so hard on him when they know that public money is going, and this work is to be done, that if you go on with legislation of this kind you will revive all the worst forms of corruption which took place when Members of Parliament held their seats by securing employment to the people in those areas, or Grants-in-Aid, or various other boons. You are taking a step to-day for the first time which is of the gravest possible kind. You are going to prostitute one of your great Departments. You are going to run the grave risk of what I call, I believe accurately, political corruption, and you are going to have two Departments of the State doing the same work in the same way, but by different methods, in the same area, one conflicting with the other. If the hon. Member (Mr. Harmsworth) and his Friends really mean what they say when they tell us they want to remove all those 884 chances and risks of corruption there is only one way in which it can be done, and that is to radically change Clause 1. Take out the Board of Agriculture and put the work in the hands of the Local Government Board. They are the right authority, if you are going to have any central authority at all. Do not lay upon them the odious and almost impossible task for a public Department of building the cottages themselves, but enable them to assist the local authorities on certain well-defined lines and clear principles, and also private individuals, and such societies as that of which my hon. Friend (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) is chairman. Use them as much as you like. They are non-political; they are, as a rule, composed of practical men who give their time and thought to these questions and are out for no advantage for themselves and for no political purpose of any kind. By all means use them as much as you like, and enable local authorities to overcome the difficulties which, for the moment, are insurmountable, but if you really mean to avoid risks of the kind of corruption which I have in my mind, you will abandon this insane proposal to establish a Government Department such as this as a Government building department, and you will return to the wiser and more prudent proposals to vote money as liberally as you are doing here, so that the central authority can use it, not for spending themselves, but for giving assistance to local authorities and enabling them to do it.
But if you are determined not to do this, if you are so attracted by the idea of a central authority for building, I ask the Government at the eleventh hour to consider whether they had not better make a much bolder stroke and alter the Bill—I will not suggest the precise alteration which would be required—and contemplate the establishment of a real Works Department. At present all the work of building which is done by the Government is done in the most hopeless way that work of that kind could be done. Go to your practical people. Go to your architects, your engineers, your great building firms, and your great contracting firms, and ask them what they think of the way in which the Govenment now does its building. Go and watch barracks being erected. See what a time it takes to put them up, and when they are finished. You have now in this country barracks which have been years building, and there is no accommodation for officers, and, what is much worse, 885 no accommodation for the wives of married soldiers. It is an absolute scandal. That is not an unfair example of your Government building operations. Although you have all this experience, although there must be on that side of the House many an hon. Member who knows that what I am saying of the results of Governments acting as building contractors and so on is as I have described, you are deliberately going now to start on a new venture altogether. You have experience against you. You have your own views on the subject against you. You have to eat every word you said on this subject for eight years, and you will find some of them very indigestible indeed. You are doing all this with, I think, the certainty of failure before you. I venture to say that those who hold the view expressed by the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. C. Harmsworth) if they wish to avoid the risks of corruption, they can only do it in one way, and that is by abandoning this proposal. The President of the Board of Agriculture, interrupting an hon. Member while speaking, said that he hoped to get an economic rent for these cottages. I have already said that the Government are introducing this measure very late in the day. It is almost a scandal—I think it is a scandal—that the Government should bring in this Bill and ask us to read it a second time on a Friday afternoon at the end of the Session. I know they will say that the time is sufficient because we can sit until twelve o'clock tonight if we wish. That is not my idea of giving a decent discussion to the subject.
I am going to refer to one branch of the subject which opens up such a wide field for discussion that it would occupy a day itself. So far, it has only been dealt in a few sentences by the President of the Board of Agriculture, namely, the economic aspect of the case. He told us that you are going to build these cottages at a cost which will enable them to be let at 3s. to 4s. a week. [An HON. MEMBER: "3s. 6d."] Well, 3s. 6d. We ought to know what the Government mean. What is to be their policy? If it is to be a rent of 3s. 6d., where are you going to get an agricultural labourer in a position to pay 3s. 6d.? The answer may be that their wages are going to be raised. I pass by a ludicrous statement of that kind, for everybody knows that, however much you may desire to raise wages, there is no more difficult thing to do. You cannot do it by a stroke of the pen. We have been told quite accurately 886 that there is a great shortage of housing accommodation for the wage-earning classes, and, above all, for agricultural labourers with wives and families. What are you going to do if your statement is correct, bald and incomplete as it is? You propose to build cottages to be let at an economic rent of 3s. 6d., and that is to be accompanied by a simultaneous rise in wages. The people who will benefit by this are the unmarried labourers who will get the increase of wages, but will not have to pay rents. As to the very men, the salt of the earth, you want to keep in the agricultural districts, the people who are really the sufferers under the present system, how are they to benefit? You say here that you are going to add 4s. a week to their wages, and charge 3s. 6d. for rent. Do you tell the labourers in the country that what you propose is to increase wages and enable them to pay an economic rent, with the result that they will benefit only to the extent of 6d. per week? No; that is what is dragged out of Ministers here, but in your literature and in your platform speeches you say that you are going to give them 20s. a week. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] But you are also going to charge him 3s. 6d. or 4s. rent.
§ Mr. LONG
Of course it is not extra. Take a man who is earning 16s. He is now paying 1s. 6d. a week and you are going to raise his wages to 20s. and raise his rent to 3s. 6d. or 4s. If this is your policy, then I say that if you have no time to have the whole of this policy explained and defined here it is not unreasonable to ask Members of the Front Bench and their supporters to limit their statements in the country to "such an addition to wages as will enable a man to pay 3s. 6d. for a cottage, for which he now pays 1s. or 1s. 6d." If you make that clear, your wages policy and your building policy will not attract the votes which you hope to get. My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks made our attitude perfectly clear. We have no intention of voting against this Bill or unduly prolonging discussion. The hon. Gentleman who preceded me raised a very big question. He referred to the use in Clause 1 of the words "an agricultural district." The President of the Board of Agriculture explained that by these very loose words—"agricultural district" is a term which does not express anything—the intention of the Government was practically to enable the Board of Agriculture to operate where it 887 desires. The hon. Gentleman was afraid that it would prevent operations in desirable districts, but if you limit the action of the Board of Agriculture as he suggests to rural districts, then it is obvious that in many parts of the country there are agricultural tracts in which cottages are badly required coming within the area of the urban district from which the operation of this Bill would exclude them. Therefore I think the hon. Gentleman wrong and the Government right on this point. None the less we are getting on excessively dangerous ground, because we are giving to a central department most enormous powers of selection and decision for themselves. There are some other words in the Bill to which the President of the Local Government Board referred, "other works or buildings." I do not know whether there is any Minister here who can tell me what that means. We ought to know. I understand "cottages, gardens, and the appurtenances of cottages," but what does "other works or buildings" mean? Does it mean that the Government are taking power to erect schools and churches?
§ Mr. LONG
Does it mean farm buildings? Let us know what the Bill means. I am only asking for information. The introduction of these very loose words will enable the Government to erect any buildings they like—reading-rooms, chapels schools, or anything. I am giving two instances of what I think may be the actual meaning of the words, and I differ from the hon. Gentleman opposite as to that, in the first place. In the second place, there is nobody on that bench who can tell me what is the exact meaning of these words. What is the problem before us? If we ask for time to consider it we shall be told that we can sit until nine or ten o'clock to-night; or if we ask for time to consider the whole Bill properly in Committee—for this is an important Bill raising very great issues—the answer will be that we are trying to prevent the passage of the Bill. I warn hon. Gentlemen in advance that we shall have a very complete answer if they attempt to charge us with undue prolongation of the discussion of this measure. We are quite willing to help it forward to-day, and to assist in placing it on the Statute Book. I agree with the hon. Member for Norwich that the reasons 888 which govern him to-day governed me on other occasions. We on this side regard this question of the provision of having accommodation for the working classes as one of the greatest of all. We believe that it lies at the root of social reform, and, therefore, rather than imperil the work that is being done we will limit rather than extend our criticisms upon this Bill. But in return for that I think we are entitled to ask that the Government shall give as much time as they possibly can out of the limited amount at their disposal in order that no part of this Bill may be burked. I hope it is not too late for the Government to reconsider their position as to principle, and I hope it is not too late to reconstitute or alter the Bill so as to take away those actual powers from the central Department. I object to the Board of Agriculture themselves going out and building. I want the money, and I want the work done through societies and through local bodies, and I do not want the central Department to go down to the country to build.
Hon. Members opposite are very fond of talking here or elsewhere of their devotion to the principle of local self-government. They are never tired of saying that the localities ought to have the right to manage their own affairs. Yet what has happened? There has never been such a record as that of hon. Gentlemen opposite in regard to this very question. Old age pensions were not left to the local authorities; insurance was not left in the hands of local bodies—it was put into the hands of Commissioners; and the other day we had before us a subject of local taxation, and how did the Government propose to deal with it? First of all, by taking away from the local authorities powers which they have exercised for many years and transferring them to a central authority. And now that you come to the House with this proposal as to housing, which has rested with the local authorities, you are not going to trust them any longer, and the work is to be done by a Department of the Government. This is the destruction of local government, and it is, I believe, the opening up of a chapter of corruption. I am quite confident that hon. Gentlemen opposite will some day find, if this Bill passes, that I am not using exaggerated language when I say that it will open the doors to a great amount of political corruption. This work is urgently needed in the country, and rather than continue to do nothing, though we do not 889 approve of its principles or details, we are prepared to do our best to forward this measure, because we consider it a step in the right direction, and do not wish to oppose efforts to deal with what we regard as one of the greatest questions.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to insert instead thereof the words,
this House, while welcoming another attempt to remedy the housing of the working classes, does not expect any valuable results from a Bill which does not put an end to a taxation of houses or break down the land monopoly; further, it views with some suspicion the conferring on a Government Department the power to allocate large sums of money to be spent in favoured localities.I venture to think that if the right hon. Gentleman had finished his speech halfway through I might have secured from him support for my Amendment. I am glad the House had the opportunity of listening to the right hon. Gentleman, because he certainly put before the House views which I feel very strongly in a way, I cannot hope to emulate. I knew that the right hon. Gentleman before he concluded his speech would have to cease abusing this measure and to drop the sound arguments with which he began, and end by blessing the measure and advocating and urging that his party should support it through the remaining stages. I knew that, because, after all, what do we see? This is a Bill which the Liberal Government have been opposing for three years when it was introduced by hon. Members opposite, but directly it is introduced on this side it becomes the essence of all that is good and true. Honestly, strongly as I am opposed to the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Dudley (Sir A. Griffith-Boscawen) year after year, I would sooner have that Bill than the one before us, because it is a more liberal Bill than this. After all, that Bill of the hon. Gentleman opposite did consult the local authorities, and an elected body was to decide whether building was to go on. It was thoroughly unsound, as I believe, because it contained a scheme which is always dear to the heart of the landlord party of providing houses for agricultural labourers below cost price, so that he could do with smaller wages. We are assured by hon. Members on this side that the Government is not going to do that, but the Government does not 890 put it in the Bill that it is not going to do that. The Bill hands over a blank cheque to the Board of Agriculture, saying, "Here is three millions; spend it as you like on building asylums for the deserving poor, or on town planning, or on the building of cottages." It does not merely place in the hands of the central authority the power to select favoured localities where the houses are to be built, but it goes beyond that. As we learned from the speech of the President of the Board of Agriculture, there are to be county committees, non-elected bodies, which are to select the localities which are to be favoured by the new building policy.
There is nothing to prevent the landlord interest getting on the county committees and getting as much money as they can, and, as the right hon. Gentleman remarked, Members of Parliament would be quite justified in getting money spent for particular localities. What localities would they be? They would not be those localities in which the landlords had done their duty, and had endeavoured to see that people lived in decent surroundings, but houses would be provided at what would be an artificial price in localities where the landlords had not done their duty, and where the houses were insufficient there. You would get the public money squandered. After all, how is the money to be spent? It is not only a question of giving the Board of Agriculture a blank cheque for £3,000,000 and allowing county committees of unelected persons to distribute the money. How is the money to be spent? Apparently it is not to be spent by the local authorities or even by the central authority in employing builders; it is going to be spent principally by public utility societies. They are to have advances at an artificially low rate of interest up to 90 per cent. of the cost of the buildings. And this is a measure coming from a Government which conceives itself to be thoroughly sound economically! How are these societies formed? We know how perfectly easy it is to form a public utility society. The builder, interested in getting the building; the local solicitor, who wants to arrange the purchase of land; the agents, who will collect the money; the people who are interested in supply of the materials—they all form public utility societies, and they are to have unlimited credit up to 90 per cent. of the cost of the buildings.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
Can the hon. Gentleman name one society formed in that way? I do not believe there is one.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I do not know whether the present societies are so formed, but I am sure that when they can get terms like these from the Government they will spring up all over the country—landowners, solicitors, and architects—and although the Government may say that there will be no fees for the directors they will look after themselves in other ways. I do not think that this is an admirable improvement on the Bill of hon. Members opposite. If we are to have these vast Grants of public money we had better have a Works Department and do all the building ourselves. Perhaps we may in time get rid of private enterprise altogether, suppress it, and convert the country into a servile State where the Departments at Westminster do everything. That is not my idea of progress.
That is not all. When you have your houses built in favoured localities, the question then arises, who is to have the advantage of living in these superior artificially cheap houses? There will be competition for them, and the local societies or local big wigs, or the men who pull the strings, will be able to put their friends into the houses. An ordinary man will have about as much chance of getting equal justice in the matter as he has of getting on to the parish council. The Noble Lord opposite said that on these county committees there would be agricultural labourers. The only agricultural labourer who gets on will be the man who will do what be is told. There will be favouritism not only as to the districts where houses are built, but also as to the individuals who get the houses. When this scheme was first adumbrated by the President of the Board of Agriculture it had features which do not appear in the blank cheque which the House is asked to draw. Not only were these houses to be built, but they were to have from one to two acres of land attached, so that the men who occupied them would be in a position to fight the landlord and hold their own. If these people had enough land with their cottages they would be able to hold out against the farmers and to secure larger wages. All that has been eliminated. They no longer talk about two acres, and about the independence of the agricultural labourer. No! they are going to give him enough land, and enough damp garden to keep 892 him out of the public-house, but not enough—one-eighth of an acre for one or two cottages—to make him independent. It is only enough to enable him to eke out his miserably low wage. Another thing said by the President of the Board of Agriculture in his speeches in the City—though not repeated here—was that there was to be exemption from rates in respect of the cottages, so that they would be low-priced indeed, and within the reach of the agricultural labourer. That has all gone! The land is to be cut down to a minimum, the rates are still to be piled upon the cottages, the agricultural labourer is to be kept a serf, and money is to be provided for agricultural landlords! Houses are to be built for his workmen, and I am not at all sure that cowsheds are not to be built for his cows, and on exactly the same ground. Two-legged or four-legged cattle—it is all the same: they have got to be housed in the interests of agriculture, and the State is to find the money for housing.
That is not our view of the housing problem. We do not believe in the State building houses for the people. We believe in the people building houses for themselves. They will do it if they can get land on cheaper and easier terms. They will do it if they get wages sufficient to enable them to live in decent houses. The only way to do that is to break through the land monopoly. Hon. Members may not like it, but it is true! Do you think that by minimum wage laws and things of that sort you can raise wages? You cannot! The only way to raise wages is to increase the demand for labour. You want to get rid of the opposition offered to taking your rates off the houses and to make the rates payable on the value of the land, whether it is a garden or a 200-acre farm. If you continue to make your rates payable on houses these houses will remain outside the wretched pockets of the agricultural labourer. If instead you base your rates upon the selling value of land, then we shall see emigration from this country, and it will not only be the emigration of the agricultural labourer but the emigration of the landlords!
§ Amendment not seconded.
§ Mr. CLOUGH
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put"; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question. Debate resumed.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
May I ask the President of the Board of Agriculture 893 whether he intends to keep this Bill on the floor of the House or send it to Grand Committee? There are a very large number of Members who desire to take part in the discussion, and under circumstances with which the House is familiar it is impossible to ask Members now to listen to discussions upon this Bill. If we discuss it in the House the discussion must come on after eleven o'clock, and there are details, or rather principles, of the Bill of vast importance. It will be very-unfair indeed to ask the Opposition, or indeed hon. Members opposite, to discuss this Bill after eleven o'clock, and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will accede to my appeal to send the Bill to Grand Committee.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I can only speak by the permission of the House. The decision we arrived at is that we must take it on the floor of the House.
§ Question put, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 214; Noes, 87.895
|Division No. 200.]||AYES.||[5.0 p.m.|
|Abraham, William (Dublin, Harbour)||Essiemont, George Birnie||M'Micking, Major Gilbert|
|Acland, Francis Dyke||Falconer, James||Marks, Sir George Croydon|
|Adamson, William||Ftrench, Peter||Meagher, Michael|
|Agar-Robartes, Hon. T. C. R.||Field, William||Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)|
|Alden, Percy||Flavin, Michael Joseph||Meehan, Patrick J. (Queen's Co., Leix)|
|Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire)||George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd||Millar, James Duncan|
|Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry||Ginnell, L.||Molloy, Michael|
|Baker, Harold T. (Accrington)||Gladstone, W. G. C||Molteno, Percy Alport|
|Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.)||Glanville, Harold James||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Greig, Colonel J. W.||Mooney, John J.|
|Barnes, George N.||Hackett, John||Morgan, George Hay|
|Barran, Sir John N. (Hawick Burghs)||Hancock, John George||Morrell, Philip|
|Beale, Sir William Phipson||Hardie, J. Keir||Morison, Hector|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds)||Muldoon, John|
|Benn, W. W. (T. Hamlets, St. George)||Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth)||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry||Murray, Captain Hon. Arthur C.|
|Boland, John Pius||Hayden, John Patrick||Neilson, Francis|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Hayward, Evan||Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)|
|Bowerman, Charles W.||Hazleton, Richard||Nolan, Joseph|
|Brady, Patrick Joseph||Hemmerde, Edward George||Norman, Sir Henry|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Herbert, General Sir Ivor (Mon., S.)||Nugent, Sir Walter Richard|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Hewart, Gordon||Nuttall, Harry|
|Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North)||Higham, John Sharp||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)|
|Byles, Sir William Pollard||Hinds, John||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H.||O'Doherty, Philip|
|Cawley, Sir Frederick (Prestwich)||Holmes, Daniel Turner||O'Donnell, Thomas|
|Cawley, Harold T. (Lancs, Heywood)||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||O'Malley, William|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Hudson, Walter||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||O'Shee, James John|
|Chapple, Dr. William Allen||Jones, Rt. Hon. Sir D. Brynmor (Sw'nsea)||Outhwaite, R. L.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil)||Palmer, Godfrey Mark|
|Clancy, John Joseph||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Parker, James (Halifax)|
|Clough, William||Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)||Parry, Thomas H.|
|Collins, Godfrey P. (Greenock)||Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney)||Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)|
|Collins, Sir Stephen (Lambeth)||Joyce, Michael||Pearce, William (Limehouse)|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Kellaway, Frederick George||Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)|
|Cowan, W. H.||Kelly, Edward||Phillips, John (Longford, S.)|
|Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)||Kennedy, Vincent Paul||Pirie, Duncan V.|
|Crooks, William||Kenyon, Barnet||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.|
|Crumley, Patrick||Kilbride, Denis||Pratt, J. W.|
|Cullinan, John||King, Joseph||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)|
|Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirkcaldy)||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G. (Devon, s. Molton)||Primrose, Hon. Neil James|
|Davies, Timothy (Lincs, Louth)||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Pringle, William M. R.|
|Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardiganshire)||Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)||Radford, G. H.|
|Dawes, James Arthur||Leach, Charles||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Delany, William||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shields)|
|Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)|
|Dewar, Sir J. A.||Low, Sir Frederick (Norwich)||Redmond, William (Clare, E.)|
|Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Willoughby H.||Lundon, Thomas||Redmond, William Archer (Tyrone, E.)|
|Dillon, John||Lyell, Charles Henry||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)|
|Donelan, Captain A.||Lynch, Arthur Alfred||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|Doris, William||Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)||Roberts, George H. (Norwich)|
|Huffy, William J.||Maclean, Donald||Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)|
|Duncan, C (Barrow-in-Furness)||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Robertson, John M. (Tyneside)|
|Elverston, Sir Harold||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.)||M'Callum, Sir John M.||Roche, Augustine (Louth)|
|Esmonde, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.)||McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Roe, Sir Thomas|
|Rowlands, James||Sutherland, John E.||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)||White, Sir Luke (Yorks, E. R.)|
|Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.||Taylor, Thomas (Bolton)||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)||Tennant, Rt. Hon. Harold John||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Thorns, G. R. (Wolverhampton)||Whyte, Alexander F. (Perth)|
|Scanian, Thomas||Thorne, William (West Ham)||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N. W.)|
|Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)||Verney, Sir Harry||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Sheehy, David||Walters, Sir John Tudor||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook||Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Smith, Albert (Lancs, Clitheroe)||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)||Yeo, Alfred William|
|Smith, H. B. Lees (Northampton)||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay||Young, William (Perthshire, East)|
|Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Soames, Arthur Wellesley||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Spear, Sir John Ward||Watt, Henry A.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.|
|Spicer, Rt. Hon. Sir Albert||Webb, H.||Illingworth and Mr. Gulland.|
|Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Greene, Walter Raymond||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major William||Guinness, Hon. Rupert (Essex, S. E.)||Rees, Sir J. D.|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Guinness, Hon. W. E. (Bury S. Edmunds)||Ronaldshay, Earl of|
|Bathurst, Charles (Wilts, Wilton)||Haddock, George Bahr||Royds, Edmund|
|Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish-||Hall, D. B. (Isle of Wight)||Samuel, Sir Harry (Norwood)|
|Beresford, Lord Charles||Hall, Frederick (Dulwich)||Sanders, Robert Arthur|
|Bowden, G. R. Harland||Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham)||Sanderson, Lancelot|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Harris, Leverton (Worcester, East)||Sharman-Crawford, Colonel R. G.|
|Bull, Sir William James||Hewins, William Albert Samuel||Stanley, Major Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Burn, Colonel C. R.||Hodge, John||Sykes, Alan John (Ches., Knutsford)|
|Butcher, John George||Horne, E.||Talbot, Lord Edmund|
|Campbell, Captain Duncan F. (Ayr, N.)||Hunt, Rowland||Thomas-Stanford, Charles|
|Campion, W. R.||Jessel, Captain H. M.||Thomson, W. Mitchell- (Down, North)|
|Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Jowett, Frederick William||Thynne, Lord Alexander|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Oxford University)||Kerry, Earl of||Tobin, Alfred Aspinall|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Tryon, George Clement|
|Croft, H. P.||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle)||Valentia, Viscount|
|Dalrymple, Viscount||Lawson, Hon. H. (T. H'mts., Mile End)||Watson, Hon. W.|
|Denniss, E. R. B.||Locker-Lampson, O. (Ramsey)||Weigall, Captain A. G.|
|Dickson, Rt. Hon. C. Scott||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Willoughby, Major Hon. Claud|
|Du Cros, Arthur Philip||Mackinder, Halford J.||Wilson, A. Stanley (Yorks, E. R.)|
|Duncannon, Viscount||M'Neill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)||Wilson, Maj. Sir M. (Bethnal Green, S. W.)|
|Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M.||Malcolm, Ian||Wolmer, Vincent|
|Faile, Bertram Godfray||Mills, Hon. Charles Thomas||Wood, John (Stalybridge)|
|Fell, Arthur||Morrison-Bell, Capt. E. F. (Ashburton)||Worthington Evans, L.|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C. (Honiton)||Yate, Colonel Charles Edward|
|Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Nield, Herbert|
|Fletcher, John Samuel||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Lord|
|Gilmour, Captain John||Peto, Basil Edward||Robert Cecil and Mr. Hills.|
|Grant, J. A.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.