HC Deb 04 May 1914 vol 62 cc63-5

Take the Acts of Parliament dealing with housing. I am told by an hon. Friend of mine, who is a great authority on this subject, that five millions of the people of this country are living in slums. That has a very disastrous effect upon the future of the race. Why are these slums not cleared out? It is not that there are not plenty of Acts of Parliament; it is because the expense is prohibitive. I will give one or two illustrations. Take Glasgow, where they cleared out a slum property, but after they had put a valuation on the land the net loss came to £600,000. There was the famous Tabard Street case in London, where the loss was £389,000. The result is that the local authorities cannot face the enormous liabilities which are involved.


Who had all this?


I agree that it is not altogether a question of rates, and that there are questions of compensation and increased powers. But even when these are embodied in an Act of Parliament, there would still be a margin of loss to the municipalities to face for the first few years, at any rate, and that would involve a certain addition to the rates, especially when you consider that in every well thought-out housing scheme you must have provision for transit—taking men to and from their work. Therefore, for the first few years it is a problem for the rates. In dealing with this question it is of no use pressing the local authorities too deeply until we deal first of all with the great question of rating in the localities. When we are contemplating projects for cleansing this country from the pollution of slums, a readjustment of burdens of local taxation is an essential preliminary.

Education is another problem. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education, put before the House of Commons very clearly a scheme, which the Education Department has in mind, for readjusting the burdens of the education rate, and for making further advances on the road to an improved educational system.

But all that, of course, involves further assistance to the local authorities. Until this pressure upon the nerve centre of local government which paralyses its activity has been relieved, it is impossible to expect that the necessary energy and enterprise would be restored to our system of local self-government. It may be suggested that this is a specially inconvenient time to deal with this question, but every Session is an inconvenient time for dealing with an inconvenient question, and the recent history of dealing with this subject shows how dangerous it is to put off attempting to solve the problem in order to wait until you know that the time will be easier and more comfortable to deal with it. The late Government had that experience. In 1896 they had their Commission, and in 1901 they had their Report. It was a very able Report by a very distinguished body of men. The late Government did not deal with it, although they were in office for four and a half years, for they had a great war on their hands at the time. When the war was over they had the financial liabilities which followed. I am not complaining at all that they did not find it convenient to introduce fresh legislation for the purpose of dealing with local taxation. Then when we came into power we had to prepare the way for old age pensions, and when we got old age pensions we had to pay for them. Then came the conflict with the House of Lords, and now there is another conflict. If we wait to deal with this subject until the whole flood of political controversy rolls past we may wait for ever, and that is why I think that this Session is no more inconvenient, even if it is no less inconvenient, than any other Session I can see in prospect for dealing with this particular problem. Delay means that the nation is suffering incalculable damage, because the services which are essential to its life and to its progress are being starved and crippled.