§ GOVERNMENT PROGRAMME.
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PRESIDENT Of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Hayes Fisher)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
The word "armistice" is on every lip and almost in every thought. Whether the armistice comes in a few days or a few weeks or a few months, when it comes it will probably be the precursor of peace. Following closely upon peace will be the necessity for a very large policy of reconstruction, and in all the volumes we have discussed there is no chapter of greater importance to our race, both nationally and Imperially, than that which deals with housing reform. Housing is the very hinge of all social reform. I will give two illustrations of that. I am constantly asking my Department, and sometimes asking this House, to develop a large policy of child welfare. By means of schemes of the local authorities we take great care of the mothers before, as well as after, the birth of the child, and we take great care of the child; but however well the mother may have been cared for before the birth of the child, she goes hack to her old surroundings, and before the year is over the mother may have escaped and the child may be dead, largely owing to the fact that it is brought up in most insanitary surroundings in a most unhealthy home. The House is constantly urging upon the Government to spend more money in combating tuberculosis. There, again, we take men from houses into which the sunlight does not penetrate, and in which they have very little fresh air. They contract pulmonary disease, and go to a sanatorium. They are kept there and cared for, and the results show that, with proper care and good surroundings, a man may live to the ordinary age of life. But, again, he goes back to unhealthy and insanitary surroundings, where there is no proper air or ventilation, and no supply of sunshine, and he dies an early death, very often having infected some members of his family before he dies. One might give any number of illustrations to show the truth of what I say, that housing, after all, is the very hinge of all social reform.
1140 This, I admit, is a little Bill, but little Bills are very often successful in saving much life; and this little Bill is only an instalment of the whole Government programme. I unfolded that programme in May, when we discussed the Estimates of the Local Government Board. It will again be brought before the House of Commons in a much larger Bill than this, which will deal with the whole financial aspect of the problem, and will provide many other methods by which we may link up the State with local authorities and public utility societies, and I hope also, to a certain extent, with private enterprise.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
Can my right hon. Friend inform the House when the larger Bill will be introduced?
§ Mr. FISHER
That will depend very much upon the life of the Session and upon whether or not we have a General Election. This problem, after all, must be approached from every possible point of view. The State must do its share, and local authorities, public utility societies, and private enterprise will, I have no doubt, do theirs; and we must neglect no part of the problem Parts I., II., and III. of the great Housing Act of 1890 must all be employed. New houses must be built, old houses must be reconstructed and repaired, and slums must gradually be swept away. This is a small portion of the Government's programme of meeting this question, but not an unimportant one. Clause 1 meets the desire of the County Councils Association that county councils themselves should be given the opportunity, and, indeed, encouraged, to build houses for their employés. As it reads, it appears only to substitute a term of eighty years for a term of thirty years, but it really does more than that, because in it will be incorporated the Government's offer of beneficial terms if they will enter upon the policy of housing their employés. Hitherto the county councils, whilst they have had the power to build houses for their employés, have had very little encouragement to do it, because the moment they did it they would have to repay any loan which they raised for the purpose under the Act of 1888, which was the only Act under which they could raise the loan, in instalments spread over thirty years. This Bill will enable county councils to raise loans for housing their employés, and the repayments will be spread over eighty years, and they will 1141 have exactly the terms which have been offered by the Treasury to local authorities. The terms are these: The Treasury will expect the county council, if it can, to raise its own loan, but if it cannot raise a loan on reasonable terms the Treasury will give them facilities for raising their loans. A county council wishing to house its own employés will select some site, will call in its architect, and will prepare a balance-sheet. On the one side it will show the estimated cost of putting up the houses, and on the other side the estimated rents which it is likely to get for the first seven years after the houses are built and let. County councils have a very good opportunity of estimating what rents they will be able to get. They know exactly what they pay their employés and what their prospects are, and they know the kind of proportion of wages or income which they ought to give in order to be properly and adequately housed. The rents will be fixed in consultation between the county councils and the Local Government Board. It will be very expensive to put up houses for some time after the War, and we fully expect that there will be an annual deficit. It may be a 1s., or 2s., or 3s. Whatever the deficit is the Treasury is willing to meet 75 per cent. of it in each year, the remaining £5 per cent. falling upon the rates.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. FISHER
For the first seven years. At the end of the seven years the houses will be valued by an independent valuer as between a willing purchaser and a willing seller, and the Treasury will pay 75 per cent. of the difference between the value of the houses at that period and the instalments of the outstanding loan.
§ Mr. FISHER
I have already said that the arrangement is a Treasury arrangement, and is part of the larger measure which the Treasury, at the proper time, will introduce to the House.
§ Mr. FISHER
After all, is it not desirable that county councils should house their own employés? I think it is very desirable, and, if they did, a considerable portion of the housing problem would be solved in every county. Are the county councils likely to do it? I think they are. The County Councils Association have asked for this power, and some counties, Huntingdonshire and the East Riding of Yorkshire and Devonshire, and some others, have already given undertakings to us that they will certainly avail themselves of this Bill if it becomes an Act. I have had many opportunities of meeting people in connection with local government, and, I think, it is very likely indeed that county councils will use this power, provided they get good terms. The difficulty will be much more a fiscal difficulty after the War. That is Clause 1 of the Bill, which enables county councils to provide schemes by which they may house their own employés upon terms granted by the Treasury to other authorities and extended by the Treasury to county councils. I come to Clause 9, and to understand that Clause one must know that the county councils are not housing authorities and that the housing authorities in a geographical area of the county are county boroughs and borough, urban and rural district councils. It is not proposed that county councils shall be primarily the housing authority, but that where it appears to the Local Government Board that the smaller authorities, as I may call them, which are now the housing authorities are not taking adequate means to provide housing for the population of the area, although it is highly desirable that houses should be provided in that area, that in such a case the Local Government Board will be able to call in the county council and say to that body: "The local authority has failed to provide houses which ought to be provided, and therefore we ask you, the larger body, to undertake the provision of those houses, and we give you the power to put the rates upon the local authority which has failed to carry out its duty."
§ Sir EDWARD CARSON
After all that inquiry, and when the necessity has been demonstrated to the Local Government Board, will the county council be bound to carry out that housing?
§ Mr. FISHER
I know that there are some people who desire to force and coerce them to do so, but I do not ask for that power in this Bill. I have had correspondence with Sheffield, Birmingham, and other centres, and have had inspectors constantly in communication with local authorities, and I have got no reason to think that those authorities are going to fail in their duty as regards housing. For my own part, I do believe in the policy of persuasion before you try a policy of coercion. You ought not to try a policy of coercion of local authorities until you are quite certain that a policy of persuasion is going to fail. We must remember there is a new stimulus in the enormous new electorate for local authorities. I am certain of this, that the new electorate, and especially women, will have at heart housing and other social problems; and if local authorities do not do their duty as to housing, I am quite certain that the newly enfranchised electors will soon turn them out and put in other representatives much more likely to act in unison with the times. I have a very great deal of confidence that the local bodies are going to perform their share of the great building programme of the country, and I have very little expectations that there are going to be many local authorities who will prove themselves to be recalcitrant. On behalf of the Government, I can assure the House, as I said when addressing the local authorities, that if they do not move on they will very soon have to move off; and if local authorities, after we have pressed them and sent inspectors, are unwilling to do what we think it is their duty to do, then undoubtedly we shall have no hesitation in coming forward and compelling those authorities to do what is their duty.
§ Mr. FISHER
Very likely it will be by another Bill. Some people seem to think that it is very easy to compel local authorities to build houses; but even with such power they may easily find means by which they can delay operations and cause a very great deal of inconvenience. In all probability particular members would resign, and leave the matter to some others, which would delay it still further. I have spent a very great deal of time on this question and in conferring 1144 with the local authorities, and I am confident that we shall do ill to the cause of house-building if we exchange for a policy of peaceful persuasion a policy of coercion. Let us try persuasion first on the local authorities, and if it fails let us resort to coercion. The local authorities have something to say for themselves, they may point out, "You do not know the neighbourhood as well as we do, and we may happen to know that factories in the neighbourhood are about to close down." Therefore, it is obvious that it would be unjust to compel the housing authority to undertake a housing programme unless somebody like the Local Government Board had satisfied itself, after due inquiry, that more houses ought to be built in the particular neighbourhood concerned, and that they were justified in imposing some rate on the community. Those are the two Clauses in a little Bill which I believe is a very useful Bill, and one which will undoubtedly lead, under the first Clause, to a good many houses being put up for the employés of the county council. The second Clause is already having its effect, that I know, and I think it will stimulate the various borough and rural and urban councils to get to work at once in providing sites and making other preparations for putting up houses, because they will see that if they do not undertake those duties, the county councils will be called in by the Local Government Board to take away those duties from them and to perform them, while at the same time the rate for the houses will be put on the authority of the area which has failed to discharge its duty. The Bill will do something to solve the housing problem, and I commend it to the House as an instalment of the whole of the housing problem of the Government. I believe it will have a very considerable practical effect on the local authorities, who are now considering what part they are going to play in the housing problem.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
I desire, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to ask for your ruling on a point of Order. This Bill appears on its face to extend the period of repayment of loans, and the right hon. Gentleman has now-explained that by some means of which he has given us no details, the effect of this Bill will be to burden the Treasury, and therefore the taxpayer, with three-fourths of certain debts, which may amount to very considerable sums. Under these circumstances, may I ask whether, in your 1145 opinion, this measure can be proceeded with without a Financial Resolution to impose that burden on the taxpayer?
This Bill stands by itself. If any proposal is made that affects the Treasury, that no doubt will mean when it comes on that a Financial Resolution will be necessary, but it does not appear that any authority of that kind is required by the Bill, and therefore I cannot rule that a Financial Resolution is required.
Can your rule as to whether in the Bill as it stands there will be that liability on the Treasury, and, therefore on the taxpayer?
§ Mr. D. MASON
Is it not the case that this arrangement referred to by the right hon. Gentleman of continued liability cannot take effect without a Financial Resolution coming before this House? I gather from your ruling that that arrangement, such as it is, amounted to nothing.
§ Mr. FISHER
The Bill undoubtedly only gives power to the county council where they raise money for housing their own employés to spread the loan over eighty instead of thirty years. When I was speaking as to whether there would be adequate encouragement to the county councils to undertake this operation, I said that the Treasury had promised, so far as they could promise, to give to the county councils the terms which they had entered into with other local authorities. That could not possibly take place unless it was embodied in a Bill, and when it came to be embodied in a Bill then this House would have the fullest opportunity of considering whether or not that should be sanctioned.
§ Mr. JOWETT
The right hon. Gentleman has introduced this Bill in a speech which would have honoured a far more ambitious effort of legislation. The Bill itself, as we gather from the substance of his speech, apart from its trimmings, is a very modest and restricted Bill. It is modest and restricted, notwithstanding that the need for State action in regard to housing is most pressing and urgent. What is the situation? In the seventy largest towns in the United Kingdom 1146 during the ten years preceding the War, only half the number of houses were built in the second half of that period that were built in the first half. Those seventy towns cover a population of 13,000,000, and if the decrease in the provision of accommodation had fallen to that extent in the five years preceding the War, then during the War there must have been an enormous intensification of the need for housing in this country, for the figure that I have given shows that even before the War the provision of houses was lagging behind the necessities of an increasing population, but since the War began practically no dwelling houses have been built. The parties represented in this House have never apparently been strong enough—at least, those sections of the parties that were interested in the housing problem have never been strong enough—to press the Government to take adequate action to meet the need for housing in this country. I am speaking now of the need in England, Wales and Scotland. The position has been different with regard to the sister isle of Ireland, for there a strongly-entrenched and united party has insisted on action, with the result that between 1906 and 1910 £4,250,000 were spent out of the British Treasury on the housing of the rural population of Ireland, but nothing was done for this country but to pass Acts of Parliament which were devoid of the means of carrying themselves into effect. There was no money provided in those Acts, and it was as useless to carry those Acts, as ineffective, as it would be to endeavour to drive motors without petrol.
The situation therefore now, having regard to the decrease of provision of houses before the War and the absolute cessation of building throughout the four years of the War, is that in the large towns in this country offers of reward have been given for the privilege of occupying and becoming the tenant of an ordinary dwelling-house. Day after day in the Glasgow newspapers there are to be found long strings of advertisements offering from £3 to £10 for information or possession of a dwelling-house of from three to five rooms. An hon. Friend behind me says that is the case in Ireland as well, and it is certainly so to a limited extent in the towns of England and Wales. What has been brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman to deal with this situation, a situation so acute that it is having its effect on the health of the 1147 people? This dearth of houses is translating itself into a higher death-rate, and, in face of all this need, here comes the Minister with a pettifogging, mean. Bill like this, which consists merely of two operative provisions. One is to enable county councils to provide houses for their own employés, and the other is to enable the Local Government Board to persuade the county councils to undertake the duty of providing houses for local authorities that, in the opinion of the Local Government Board, which has not a good record in regard to housing, have not provided adequate housing accommodation. I want to say for the party to which I belong that, although we cannot, of course, oppose even these moderate provisions, still we are profoundly dissatisfied. This question will not wait for solution without danger to the State. When this War finishes there will be the Rent Restriction Act removed, there will be the return of millions of men from the front, and, unless we start now, the position of affairs will be such as to be a disgrace to this Parliament and to the country as a whole. The party to which I belong seeks action now, and its belief is that the Government should act now without delay. The lines upon which we feel that the Government ought to proceed to act are altogether different from those which the right hon. Gentleman has sketched to-day.
We believe it is the duty of the Government, as the custodian of the welfare of the population of these Islands, to estimate, after due inquiry, the need for houses in every county of the United Kingdom We believe that at least it will be necessary to build a million houses to provide for the needs of the country. Each county should be called upon to provide its quota of that million houses, or whatever the figure is found to be, and if the county, within a time that shall be specified, does not provide its quota, then the Government itself shall step in and see to it that the houses are built. It is the duty of the Government not to leave to 1,800 separate local authorities the work of providing the necessary funds and raising loans. What an insane idea is to propose that 1,800 different local authorities should compete for loans! The Government itself should provide the money requisite for the whole of the building operations that are to be carried out. With regard to assistance, 1148 we claim that it is not sufficient to promise to pay, in so far as a promise has been made, 75 per cent. of the deficiency during the first seven years, even if after that an estimate is made of the value of the houses and 75 per cent. of the balance between their selling value and their cost is to be met. Our view is that the enhanced cost due to war conditions ought to be made a national charge. It is not local but national conditions that have made the change. Building expenses will be higher because of the War, and how can we rightly expect localities to pay the extra? The nation should pay the extra amount. The right hon. Gentleman has said nothing about the very great difficulty of the provision of land on reasonable terms. No housing Bill will meet the requirements of the case unless public authorities, county councils, municipal authorities, whichever authorities are entrusted with the building of houses, are empowered to schedule sites required for that purpose, and provision is also made that an easy and expeditious method shall be adopted of acquiring those sites, without all the legal delays and expenses that can now be interposed. With respect to price, the old method of allowing landlords to make such good profits and to get such good prices for land should be done away with. The price of the land should be fixed, and should be based on the rateable value of the land. If a landlord escapes paying his rates, and the charges that should belong to the land, by undervaluing it, then he ought to be called upon to sell it at that price. Those are the kind of provisions which the Labour party wish to see enacted, and, above all, we wish action to be taken now, and we protest against the very mean and stingy scope and character of this Bill, and call upon the Government to produce something better and larger.
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
I beg to move, as an Amendment, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words,this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Housing Bill, on the ground that it is totally inadequate to meet the shortage of houses existing at the present time, and does not embody the two principles, (1) that any additional cost in providing houses that is due to war conditions should be regarded as a war charge and should be borne by the Exchequer, and (2) that if the local authorities fail to discharge their responsibilities within a fixed period, the houses should be built by the State and transferred to the local authorities.1149 The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has voiced the opinion of the Labour party in regard to this Bill, but I am inclined to think that what he has said will find its echo in those who are interested in housing among all parties in this House, and that we feel that the Bill, the Second Reading of which has been moved this afternoon, is really inadequate to meet the situation. I moved my Motion so that the matter may be adequately discussed this afternoon. I apologise for not letting the right hon. Gentleman know earlier that I was going to take this action, but not knowing till Thursday that the Bill was going to be taken, I had no opportunity of consulting any of my friends until to-day. But I do feel that this question of housing is of most urgent importance, and I think the House has some right to complain of the way in which the Government has dealt with it. It was in March that a very interesting Note was issued to the local authorities by the right hon. Gentleman saying what the indentions of the Local Government Board were, and the proposals contained in that Note laid down principles upon which housing was to be dealt with by the Government. There was no opportunity for this House to discuss those principles, and yet, as the right hon. Gentleman has told us this afternoon, he has been to conference after conference with regard to the local authorities committing the Government to the principles contained in that Note, and committing this House to an expenditure which, I expect, he may feel will come to anything between £100,000,000 and £200,000,000. It is not the actual commitment that I am complaining about, but I do think that, before the Government commits this House to an expenditure like that, this House should have the opportunity of saying whether they consider the principles are wise which are suggested, and, secondly, whether they are prepared to vote for that amount.
I believe that in this housing policy the right hon. Gentleman is himself not against what will be said this afternoon. I cannot help feeling that the difficulty the Government are in is a difficulty with the Treasury, and, if that is so, it is far better for us to express our views with regard to the matter. The reason why I say I think it is a Treasury difficulty is because the right hon. Gentleman, in reply to a deputation that waited on him the other day, representative of all parties in this House, 1150 on the Housing question, said that he had had constant conferences with the Treasury, that he had submited scheme afer scheme—alternative scheme after alternative scheme—and the result is, I suppose, the scheme that has been outlined in the Note of March, and further spoken of to-day. It seems to me that the important point with regard to housing is for us to fix upon principles on which we want to act. We want clearly to see whether we can get an agreement on those suggested principles, some of which my hon. Friend the Member for West Bradford (Mr. Jowett) has just put before the House, and I want to suggest that the first principle we must accept at this time is that if you are to get the houses provided that are necessary at present, any additional cost of providing the houses due to war conditions, and of a temporary nature, should be regarded as war charges and be borne by the Exchequer. This is a matter, I believe, of enormous importance.
We know the difficulty of building houses before the War. We know the shortage that there was before the War; but do we recognise that the result of the War has been to double the cost of building at the present time? Do we realise that if we take a very cheap type of house, say, a house that cost £200 before the War—and it was not many places where you could build that—but take a house costing £200, the land probably cost £20 for that house, the development expenses—cost of roads and that kind of thing—another £20, so that the cost of that house would be £240? Do we realise that that type of house to-day would cost £460? The cost of the building would be doubled, the land would probably be the same, and the development charges would be doubled, and what we have to meet to-day is this fact, that if you are merely going to build houses on an economic basis, you will have to be prepared to double the rents you charge. Now that is an impossible thing at the present time, and all those who have gone into this question recognise that for a fixed period, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, there will have to be special arrangements made, but I believe he will find that in backward areas it will be impossible to get the local authorities to build, and to build quickly, unless you are prepared for these additional charges to be a war charge on the Exchequer. To confirm my argument, I want to suggest that this is what the Government 1151 Committee on Reconstruction suggested, and this is what the Scottish Housing Committee suggested. They recognised that this, for a period, must be an exceptional charge, and now in that Note of which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken which went out in March that principle is not recognised, but the principle of meeting 75 per cent. of the loss. I want to say, in passing, that that way of meeting the difficulty means that you are not going to get the houses built with the speed that is necessary, because if you are only going to meet 75 per cent. of the loss it means that the local authorities will delay in building the houses, so that the actual loss with which they will be faced shall be as small a sum as possible. There are other objections to the 75 per cent. with which I could deal, but I will not for the moment, because I do not desire to delay the House. The second principle is that this subsidy—this war charge—that will be necessary must only be for a fixed period. At the end of five or seven years you must get housing on to a purely economic basis, or otherwise you are going to have difficulty with wages.
The next principle is that the duty of providing the houses must be thrown on the local authorities. From the figures I have mentioned, it is impossible to expect that the private builder will be able to meet this deficit, and therefore you must throw the duty upon the local authorities. But, having thrown the duty upon the local authorities, you want to treat them as liberally as you can. You must lend them the capital if necessary. You must let them have the benefit of the reduction of the rate of interest if the rate of interest goes down. You must make your financial arrangements such as to encourage the local authority to build economically. You must—and this I think is enormously important—you must insist, if you treat the local authorities liberally, on their initiating and getting ready their schemes by a certain date. The 75 per cent. proposal of the right hon. Gentleman will tend, in my opinion, to make the authorities delay in getting to work. The shortage of houses is so great that it is of enormous importance that the building should begin as soon as possible, and, in order to do that, there must be, it seems to me, a certain date by which the schemes must be sanctioned and the work begun. If the local authorities, after having been treated in this generous manner by the 1152 Department concerned, say that they cannot, or will not, build the houses, then I feel that the principle that we have to adopt is the principle suggested by my hon. Friend, namely, that the State must have power to build the houses and to hand them over to the local authorities.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not like compulsion, and we shall all sympathise with him in that dislike, but what we have to recognise is that you have made great steps in the way of compelling people to do other things. You have compelled them to fight. You have compelled them to plough up land, and if you compel a people to plough up land, it seems to me that it is a much smaller thing to compel an authority to provide the houses that are necessary in order to house the people who are going to work on the land. Whilst I do not like compulsion, and whilst I hope that it will be used only in very few cases, I believe it is necessary for the Government to have this power behind them, so that when the soldiers come back, and after they have been here some time, they will not find that they are obliged to live in houses in the way in which my hon. Friend has described to us this afternoon. I believe that those who have been in correspondence with the soldiers in France, as to what they feel the most necessary point of reconstruction, will tell you that there is no question in which the soldiers are more interested and more insistent upon than this question of houses, and I do think it is the duty of this House, and the duty of the Government, to take the most effective steps for seeing that with the least possible delay the necessary houses are provided. It will not be an easy task. There are all the difficulties that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned, but there is no duty that is more insistent upon us than to see that proper houses are provided, and provided quickly, and the reason I make this Motion is because I feel that this Bill is totally inadequate to meet the problem with which the country is faced.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
I beg to second the Amendment.
This small Bill may be as essential as the right hon. Gentleman who introduced it said, but it is ancillary to the main policy of the Government in this matter. It is as an ancillary Bill that I venture to think that the House should now in the main judge it. At the same time, although the House may be dissatisfied with the main policy of the Government in regard to 1153 Housing, I, for one, should be sorry to see this small Bill lost, and therefore I would like to take the exceedingly illogical position of hoping to see this Bill through, whilst deprecating to-day a discussion on the main policy of the Government, in the hope that we shall have at an early date an opportunity adequately to discuss that policy. I gather from the nod of the right hon. Gentleman beneath me (Mr. Hayes Fisher) that it is his view that the House should have an early day for a discussion of that policy?
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
That is a matter for the Leader of the House, who has control of the time of the House, and I can make no promise until I have seen my right hon. Friend. Personally, however, there is nothing I should desire more than to have the fullest possible opportunity of discussing this matter, which is of national importance—of discussing the whole Government policy in regard to housing.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I think that intervention will be satisfactory to the House, and perhaps shorten the Debate; but it is in the highest degree important that we should have a real opportunity of fully discussing the Government policy. The reason it is so important is not only that it is urgent we should get forward with the necessary measures, but because the position is being greatly complicated by the progress of the measures that the right hon. Gentleman has taken, is taking, and intends to go on taking, without any definite expression of opinion from this House as to whether these measures are right or wrong. I cannot help feeling that the fact that the Local Government Board has been asking the local housing authorities in the country to make inquiries, to prepare plans, and to make returns, on the footing of the Circular of March last, makes it very difficult for this House now to turn round and say "We will not have that method which you have proposed." The longer the position continues the less possible will it be in practice for this House to make Amendments in the procedure that has been adopted by the Local Government Board. For that reason I venture to think that this House ought to deal with it at the very earliest possible date.
My hon. Friend the Mover of this Amendment, said that the right hon. Gentleman had committed the nation and this House to an expenditure of 1154 something like from £100,000,000 to £200,000,000. I could almost wish that he had, because in that case, if the House were or had been definitely committed to finding the money from the National Exchequer, one of the gravest objections to the plans adopted by the Local Government Board could be got over. It is just because there is such uncertainty at the present time in the minds of the local authorities as to what is going to be done in the ultimate resort by the Treasury in regard to finding the money that I fear the backward local authorities will not do anything like what they ought to do in the matter of preparation forthwith. Therefore it is that I, for one, would have welcomed it had that question been really decided; how far it is from being decided the Board's Circular of March, paragraph 5, shows. Here the Local Government Board states:—Their Lordships of the Treasury expressly ask that it should be quite clear that the precise date at which the execution of any scheme approved by the Board can be financed must depend upon circumstances which cannot at the present time be foreseen, and that the financial position may be such that it may be necessary to give precedence to more urgent eases even to the exclusion for the time being of those less urgent.That is the basis of the March Circular, and it is clear that the Treasury is not in any sense whatever committed to any definite promise to expend the money for this emergency housing problem. That, I venture to think, is the most important aspect of the whole matter. If the housing problem is as grave, as urgent, and as importunate in its demands as we know it to be, the essential thing is that the nation should decide forthwith that somehow or other the necessary capital shall be found, as if it were an actual war expenditure for fighting purposes, in order that the emergency problem should be solved. It is, of course, essential to distinguish between the emergency problem of supplying the grave deficiency of houses, immediately at the end of the war from the permanent housing problem upon which different views may possibly be held in different sections of the House. The emergency problem, I submit, should be faced purely as an emergency problem of getting the houses built; of considering only what is the way in which we shall get them built the most quickly, at a reasonable cost, having regard to the existing price of labour and material. That is the problem we have to solve, and that problem should 1155 be solved without reference to any semi-constitutional questions involved in the consideration of the permanent problem. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing his little Bill, said he was strongly opposed to coercion and in favour of persuasion. Persuading 658 rural district councils to prepare the plans and get the houses built ready for the returning soldiers! I forget what is the total number of housing authorities.
§ Mr. FISHER
My hon. Friend knows perfectly well that the Government will not permit local authorities to build during the War, and he must not put into my mouth, such an absurdity as that. I suggested that the local authorities could have their houses built and ready for soldiers who may return in a few months!
§ Mr. SCOTT
I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have considered the point of view that it is fairly obvious (if there is the possibility, which I hope is a probability—of the Germans surrendering at an early date) that it was desirable to get ready immediately. I do not expect the houses to be built in a fortnight, but I hope for the surrender as early as possible. The essence of the matter is that these emergency houses have got to be built in a very short time, and this is a very little Bill. The powers which the right hon. Gentleman asks for have to be exercised within twelve months after the termination of the present War. It is from that point of view that the matter is to be dealt with; it is purely an emergency problem; and we have to resort, if necessary, and to the extent it is necessary, to compulsion. Just for a moment consider what are the actual figures of the shortage of houses in order from that side to see how the problem stands! Various Committees have reported upon the shortage. There is the housing plan of the Ministry of Reconstruction. There is the Committee appointed by my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board. With these, I think, the figure has been agreed upon. I doubt whether my right hon. Friend will question the figure. It is half a million to be built as quickly as possible, and, if possible, within a year after the termination of the War. The number is really 520,000 to be built in twelve months. A fifty-hour week means 200 houses per week. That figure gives 1156 one an idea of the tremendous size of the problem. If we build houses at anything like that rate is it not obvious that persuasion, advice, and requests ought to be unusually strong, and that we must have some method of insisting upon the houses being built if the local housing authorities should make demur? That is the kernel of the problem.
In the Report of the Royal Commission for Scotland, eighteen months ago, it was estimated that 121,000 houses were urgently needed to remedy the then existing overcrowding, and to supply the place of houses unfit for, and which could not be make fit for, human habitation. If 121,000 houses were needed in Scotland eighteen months ago, I suggest that 520,000 houses is a very low estimate of what is needed to-day in England. There is this observation to be made about that: During the War the people in the country districts have certainly come to be quite dissatisfied with the houses with which they were perfectly satisfied before the War. That feeling, I believe, is very general. I for one am glad of it. It is a good sign; it is a very general fact; and also that houses which before the War would have been treated as fit for human habitation—a large percentage, I believe, of which are still unfit—will be practically rejected after the War. More than that, if people who have been left at home in England have become discontented with their houses, what attraction will these houses be to the returning soldiers who are asked to go and take up life upon the land? The problem of getting as many of our returning soldiers as we can to take up work for a livelihood in agriculture, horticulture, or forestry in England, will be absolutely unsolved, and we shall do nothing, or practically nothing, in the way of achievement in this direction, in order to bring about what will be a very great blessing to this country if it can be achieved, unless we ensure for the returning soldiers the certainty of reasonable housing—not perhaps with the houses ready when the returning soldiers are actually demobilising, but the preparations made so that the soldiers returning can count upon their houses as a certainty within a reasonable length of time. You will not get the soldiers on the land unless you do that. The policy of getting soldiers to take up life in agriculture is one of the policies most dear, not only to Members of this House, but to the nation at large. This housing question 1157 is at the very root of it. In the main policy upon which this little Bill hinges there are some eight radical defects which I hope the Board may see their way to cure before they bring the matter before this House. (1) There is no definite promise by the Treasury of capital. (2) There is no compulsion on local authorities in case of default. (3) There is no definite and short time limit for the preparation of plans and the making of returns. (4) The district councils, and certainly the rural councils, are not the bodies most likely to make the best returns. (5) There are no means provided for a real and effective checking of the returns made by the district councils or the rural councils. (6) There is no incentive to economy either in construction or management under the proposals made by the Board. (7) There is no incentive to the local authorities to build; and, lastly, there is no incentive to the local authorities to take the earliest steps possible to get an economic rent. That applies mainly to the town. In the country I recognise that existing prices alter the position, and it is quite impossible to expect an economic rent for those cottages for some years to come. I have been responsible for putting forward a proposal in regard to housing by which that difficulty might have been got over, namely, letting the houses at less than the economic rent for the first year, and then raising the rent by 1s. a week each year until you get up to an economic rent, and expecting co-operation in that policy from the agricultural wages board. In rural districts I believe that is the only way in which the board can get the rents of labourers' cottages up to an economic level without a perfectly hopeless dislocation of the agricultural position by a sudden rise of wages.
These eight points I submit are definite defects in the Government scheme as at present proposed. I believe some of them can be remedied, and I think the best remedy is to make the county council the housing authority for the purpose of emergency housing. I do not, however, propose to discuss that point to-day, because we must observe some measure of moderation in discussing the wider aspects of the question in relation to this small Bill. I should like to say that a section of the Advisory Council of the Ministry of Reconstruction, of which I had the honour to be chairman, had to deal with getting soldiers on the land after the War, and we have recently had evidence from the returns 1158 made by district councils, and that evidence certainly was to the effect that whilst some district councils make good returns, a considerable number make utterly inadequate returns. Either they will not do it or they do not appreciate the necessity for considering the housing problem thoroughly, with the result that we were given evidence from competent judges officially connected with the matter that in their opinion a very large addition ought to be made to the figures returned by the district councils in answer to the Local Government Board's circular of March last. If the district councils which are the existing housing authorities are to remain the housing authorities, the only thing to do is to give the county council power of supervision over the returns, and make the county councils responsible definitely for getting the returns and making the necessary preparations if the present housing authorities make default for more than a very limited number of weeks from now.
They have had since March last to go into the matter, and I think if they were given another four weeks from now, and the county councils were then called upon to act in default, that we should be well within the mark as regards justice to the district councils. It would be a very important step forward, which would give us some chance of getting the returns made rapidly. That would have to be done forthwith, and I can see no reason for giving them more than another four weeks. Those are my objections to the main plan of the Local Government Board in this matter. I recognise, as we all do, the anxiety of the President of the Local Government Board to solve this emergency housing problem, but he has been hampered by the Treasury refusal, which perhaps was in some ways more natural then than it would be now. I hope that he will take this House into his confidence, so that we can discuss the whole matter on broad lines, so as to make absolutely certain that the failure of individual authorities here and there throughout the country will not absolutely ruin our chances of getting the houses built.
This small Bill has two main Clauses, the housing of county council employés Clause, and the Clause enabling county councils to provide houses in certain cases. Upon the first Clause I do not want to say anything now, but I would like to say a word or two upon the second Clause. That Clause is very similar to 1159 the provisions of Section 10 of the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1909. It differs from that Section in a few minor details, some of which are improvements, and some of which, I submit, are the opposite. It differs from Section 10 of that Act in allowing the Local Government Board to act on its own initiative and to dispense with the local inquiries, and to act, without waiting for an actual default by the local authorities, if the local authority has not taken adequate steps, and those are all improvements.
On the other hand, there is no time limit fixed in the Bill, and this in my opinion is a grave defect. Instead of the powers to compel county councils contained in Section 10 of the Act of 1909, there is substituted merely the opportunity for persuasion. I think in this small Bill we ought to insist upon a four weeks or six weeks' limit for the present housing authorities to send in their returns, and then make the county council responsible, giving the county council a very definite limit of time; and then, if the county council fails, the Local Government Board itself should build, after ascertaining what is the local position, and ultimately hand over those houses to the local authority to manage with the rest of the houses built by the local authority, either to the county council or the district council. Unless we get effective default provisions on those lines, this second Clause will be almost a dead letter. I do not propose to go into the Division Lobby against the Government on this proposal, because this measure is a step in the right direction, although I agree that it is really three steps forward and one backward.
§ Sir WILLIAM COLLINS
I listened with great interest to the opening remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board in introducing this Bill, and also to the subsequent remarks which he made, which must be taken along with his speech on the Local Government Board Estimates in May last. I am sure no one who heard those two speeches can fail to believe the right hon. Gentleman has a real and sincere interest in the housing question, and that he is anxious to do all in his power to forward a solution of that great problem. He is offering to-day a Bill which has been described by the Mover and Seconder of this Motion as an 1160 unambitious and small Bill, but which is an instalment of the general housing policy which the Government has undertaken. No doubt the President of the local Government Board is anxious during his incumbency of office to add this additional Statute to the housing Statutes already passed. It is somewhat remarkable to reflect that the first housing Statute was passed in 1851. I believe prior to that date there was an Act which dated from Elizabeth, which precluded further building of houses in London and Westminster, because it was then considered that a population of 500,000 was more than adequate in those spacious times. Since 1851, notably the Act of 1890, has given a great impetus forward to the housing problem. I think there has often been a great lack of motive power in regard to this question in the local authorities, and perhaps sometimes in the central authorities. The historic and classic Royal Commission of 1884 reported that many of those whose duty it was to see a better state of things existed were precisely those whose interest it was to see that things remained as they were. I hope that reproach is no longer true.
We have heard that the Local Government Board is itself a threatened institution, and that the present President may be the last of his line. We have heard that a Ministry of Health is on the road, and we have recently been informed that this Department may undergo a change of name and be called a Ministry of Health and Local Government. Whatever form the new proposal may take, I think the housing question will always be the bond between the health service and local government, and, however much you centralise your health administration in a Ministry at Whitehall, there must be a close association between local government and any adequate solution of the housing problem. I have carefully studied this Bill which is described as being of limited dimensions dealing only with the improved financial assistance given to local authorities for housing their employés, and, in the second Clause authorising the intervention of county councils when the local authorities are in default. I notice that in the speeh of the President of the Local Government Board in unfolding the Government plan in May last and also on this Bill there is nothing said in 1161 regard to operations under what is called Part I. of the Housing Act, and I cannot help thinking that any further solution of the housing question must be incomplete and inadequate unless in addition to the provision of these 500,000 houses greater provisions are made for clearing away slum areas and rookeries, which at present unfortunately exist. Back-to-back houses and single-roomed tenements still abound I regret to say in the larger towns of this country, and, as has been said, as long as there are rookeries there will be rooks. I remember the Royal Commission of 1884 entered into an interesting argument—how far the pig made the sty or the sty made the pig. There is certainly a pre-established harmony between the most unfortunate and degraded of the population and the houses they inhabit, and unless some scheme provides for removal of these tenements and the reconstruction of the slum areas I am afraid no great success will be achieved. I notice, for instance, that the London County Council, whose chairman I once was, and chairman of its housing committee, who in twenty-five years cleared away many acres of slums, at a cost of £2,000,000, complains that the Government was dealing only with assistance to schemes under Part III. and no assistance was afforded to the not less essential work of clearing away slum areas and the cost of building upon those areas.
I think public money might properly be applied in meeting the great margin there is between the commercial value of land and the rehousing on the cleared sites. We have recently learnt to speak of education as a national service locally administered. I cannot help thinking that housing might also be properly described as a national service locally administered. You cannot supersede or do away with the local administration, and I do think greater subventions of public funds and a more complete Housing Bill than that now before us are certainly required. During the life of the present Government we have had an Education Bill, a large and comprehensive measure. We have had the Treasury supporting education in this country by large and generous Grants, and I cannot help thinking that if a similar energy were applied to housing we might look before the termination of the present Parliament for a far more thorough and comprehensive scheme than that contained in the right hon. Gentleman's little Bill, 1162 and the Treasury, as it has done with education, might give far more liberal and substantial Grants in the matter of housing.
§ Sir JAMES BOYTON
The right hon. Gentleman, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, pleaded that it was such a little one that it might very well be accepted. There is no pleasing everybody, and sometimes there is no pleasing some people. I am one of the latter class—not at all satisfied by even this small instalment. Instead of a Housing Bill, it is a concession to a very small section of the community. He is actually going to give privileges and advantages to the employés of county councils and other municipal bodies. However worthy that particular section of the community may be, I hold they are not entitled to any more privileges than the working class when you speak of the working class as a whole. Who are these privileged persons? First, they are paid out of the rates; consequently, they have distinctive superannuation and pension funds, and if they are not satisfied with their lot they are very free to strike and to give trouble locally, and also, to use a general term thoroughly understood, to pull the legs of their masters, the borough, county, and district councillors of their respective neighbourhoods. I cannot see why the right hon. Gentleman wants to begin by giving a special advantage to any privileged set. The hon. and learned Gentleman who seconded the Amendment said there were eight cardinal defects. He omitted a great many. I think he might have continued ad lib, almost with his list. The local authorities are now to be given eighty years in which to repay their loan. A sinking fund spread over eighty years is a remarkable increase upon the old time thirty years, and another point might have been added to the long list of the hon. and learned Gentleman. Not a word is said, no hope is held out of what the right hon. Gentleman is going to do with private enterprise. Everything is to be left for State aid. These privileged bodies, the county councils, are to have security against loss for seven years. Nothing is said about an economical rent being charged. There is no doubt that this privileged section of the community are receiving an economical rate, and they take good care that they get it. And yet they are to be housed at an uneconomical rent. You begin by giving great concessions to a privileged class already well 1163 able to look after itself, and then you give the authorities special privileges in the matter of sinking fund. You are going to give them, I believe, special privileges in the matter of borrowing. All these advantages, and not a word about what you are going to do for private enterprise!
Are you going to lend money for private enterprise at the same rate as you would for local bodies? Are you going to give them the same benefits of sinking fund spread over eighty years? What are you going to do when you come here and indicate that it is a small measure? It is a very effective wedge for future legislation. If those who moved and seconded this Amendment twit you with not bringing a larger scheme, and tell how the State will have to go in for these larger measures, it is impossible for people who are going to pay out of the rates for your schemes, and who will be largely employed in erecting your houses, to appreciate the extent to which they are to give their time and labour for carrying out your scheme. You will not get a journeyman builder or carpenter to work on piecework at anything but trade union rates, or to increase his output. Remember he is a ratepayer, and do you think the bricklayers and carpenters are going to house the municipal employés? When you touch this subject you touch the biggest industry there is, the building trade. By what has been done in this House in the past ten years you have practically destroyed the building trade. You complain bitterly of the dearth of houses for the working classes, but you have killed the goose that laid the golden egg. You have killed the building trade as a class. I am not alluding to the right hon. Gentleman now, but as a rule, you have disturbed the people who provide houses, and now you come here in a state of panic and say there are 500,000 houses less. It may be true, and some scheme is called for. In the meantime you will impose on localities more than a penny rate but not a word of hope is held out to the turner and bricklayer, the carpenter, the master-men or the journeymen, no hope is given to them of getting local employment. Are you going to turn them off to the big munition areas where there has been a big segregation of population? You are not going to give them an opportunity of getting their own work. How are you going to find work for this big and important trade, probably, in fact, as I have 1164 said the largest trade, by sending them to the various quarters of the country where you have now a superabundance of population, who soon after the War must clear out? You are going to build on a wholesale scale and neglect the retail side. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to think a little of the retailer and not so much of the wholesaler in the person of the State. There is much to be done and no one knows it better than I do. I have had the honour of being engaged in work given me by the nomination of the right hon. Gentleman on some Committees set up to deal with this scheme, and whenever I go seriously to the root of the matter I find the feeling of the majority of the people who sit on committees, and I think the feeling of this House generally, is that there should be some huge scheme of State aid, or rate aid, and that local authorities should be given facilities that are denied to many public utility companies in existence, and the many large traders occupying different sections of the country who would be only too glad to see if they could not coalesce with the Government in supplying what is undoubtedly a very great need, but without a ray of hope, or an indication of how you are going to help these men to do so.
The speech just made by the hon. Gentleman directs the attention of the House to an aspect of the housing supply question too often left out of sight, and as we are making a survey of the housing conditions of the past we should certainly be ignoring the most ample of all builders, the private builder, if we devoted our attention purely to the local authorities or the State. What we have to consider is not the interest of the private builder nor the interest of the landowners from whom the land has often been bought on speculative terms by the private builder. What we have to consider is the most efficient way in which we can provide the requisite housing accommodation for those who stand badly in need of it at present, and whose need will be more pronounced when the Army is demobilised. If it were possible to rely purely on private enterprise for all the houses we require, I have no doubt my right hon. Friend would not have thought it necessary to introduce his Bill, nor would it have been necessary for the various Committees to sit who during the past two years have been considering this question. There are many objections to the methods which have been adopted in the past for 1165 the housing of our people, and one of the things that strikes anyone who turns his eye on the houses that are built—I say nothing as to the feelings of those who occupy those houses—is the tendency to run up houses in all great industrial districts of one kind and that by no means the most beautiful or efficient, and as some people believe by no means the best from the point of view of health or economy. Whatever private enterprise may have done in the past, it has certainly failed most signally to keep pace with the requirements of the last ten years.
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down says this House is largely to blame. If I were to discuss that I should go back to questions of taxation with which we have all been familiar in the past, and I do not propose to do so this afternoon. But I am prepared to tackle the question as I now find it, and the fact remains that the shortage of houses is as great as, if not greater than, has been stated by the President of the Local Government Board. And those acquainted with industrial districts know that from whatever source—there may have been lack of energy or enterprise—or unsuitable buildings in the past—the shortage is so pronounced that everybody is agreed it cannot continue if people are to live in contentment and take part in industries in the big centres of population and in the country districts. As the problem is so insistent, I think the Local Government Board should try to ascertain in what direction it could most efficiently provide the requisite houses for the people. Private enterprise, for reasons we need not discuss, has for the time being become exhausted. I do not believe it is permanent, and I cannot believe the efficient organisation of co-operative societies, building societies and utility societies has been fully exploited. I think their time will come. But it has been truly said again and again, we have to deal with emergency circumstances for which emergency measures must be taken. How serious it is was emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Jowett). He knows the West Riding of Yorkshire as well as any man in the country, but the conditions he had in mind are equally pressing in nearly every one of the industrial districts of England. Whatever may be said of the efficiency of that kind of housing and the need it supplies, the fact remains that large numbers 1166 of houses built are neither good for the men themselves nor for the moral or domestic training of the community.
Apart altogether from our great towns, where there is a miscellaneous demand, the number of houses that is required is increasing at an alarming rate. It is not only due to the increase of population but, to a large extent, to the fact that houses have been growing out of date with great rapidity. Repairs have not been kept up, and anybody who knows anything about the management of houses knows that where you have a rapidly moving population the tendency to destruction is far greater than in a stationary population, and this makes the necessity for action more urgent than ever before. The Local Government Board, in making a survey of the needs of the community, has naturally thought, in the first place, of utilising the building organisations of the localities, and I have no doubt that they have also anticipated the necessity for State action. For my own part, I believe the proper order in which to have relied for houses would have been, in the first place, the old sources of supply, and if that were ineffective we must turn to securing new resources, and that is the co-operative societies—to a large extent the co-operative societies—and the local utility societies of various grades. For my own part, I prefer the bigger ones to the smaller ones. Last of all, I believe the need is so urgent that we must turn to the State itself. But in every one of these directions you must place the housing problem on a sound financial footing, or you will never be able to meet the difficulties of the problem in the future, when they will be greater than they are even at present.
I do not anticipate, nor do I think anyone who knows anything of the building trade anticipates, that private enterprise is going to do much for us. It is possible that a certain number of big employing concerns may in the industrial areas put up a large number of houses for their own people, and I think they should be encouraged to do so, but I do not believe that they should be subsidised. I think those who put up houses for their employés are embarking on a thoroughly sound business proposition, and it is possible for them to do the work in the interests of themselves and their employés without a subsidy, but where they break down, and I fear that they break down in a large number of areas, it is absolutely 1167 necessary to use the local authorities. The local authorities take a good deal of stirring, and I am afraid that in a very large number of instances the reason my right hon. Friend is not provided with their building schemes is that their energy where it exists at all has been exhausted upon other projects. They are not providing their programmes even at a reasonable rate of speed. How that is to be dealt with remains to be seen. I do not believe that it is possible for the Local Government Board to persuade the local authorities to keep pace with the demand. Something a good deal more drastic than that will be necessary. What, then, is to be done in the way of compulsion where persuasion is not possible? The Local Government Board, I understand, is at present rather against pressing the local authorities unduly. If the local authorities are not going to do it without pressure, and we still recognise the necessity for the supply of houses, we are driven to the belief that the only way in which it can be done is by State action. For my own part, I do not like State action—I think it has been most inefficient and very expensive, but the need is so great at the present time that I place the necessity for houses in the very forefront; and I regard the means by which they are to be obtained as of somewhat secondary importance.
The need is so great that I believe all the organisation which we have set up during the war ought to be carefully scrutinised and sifted to see whether out of it we cannot derive some efficient machinery for filling a gap which neither the local authorities nor industrial organisations nor private enterprise can fill. It was with that in my mind that I was inclined to support the Resolution which has been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for York. I anticipate that my hon. Friend is not going to divide against this Bill, for even this Bill, small as it is, I am sure ought to be welcomed as an instalment. If the President of the Board of Trade had said that this was the last word to be said by the Government on the subject of housing, I need hardly tell him that we should have been much inclined to challenge a Division on the Bill itself; but I understand that he has further schemes which he will lay before the House in the process of the general discussion. Why should we not have those larger schemes at once? It was, 1168 I think, as far back as the month of May that my right hon. Friend made a public reference to the necessities of the case, and outlined measures far wider than those now defined in this Bill. It is a long time since May. The discussions with the Treasury ought to have proceeded more rapidly, and we ought to have had moved at this stage a Bill far more far-reaching in effect than the proposals for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible. I understand that the Treasury is naturally reluctant to undertake obligations which will necessitate borrowing when the War is over. That is very natural; and anyone who knows the money market will be well aware that, once the War is over, borrowing for national or local authority purposes will be expensive. I question very much whether the lending public will not be induced to lend its money much more extensively for industrial than for public enterprises. Might it not be better that money which has to be borrowed for those housing purposes should be borrowed at the present time as part of the War Loan rather than leave it over for a post-war experiment in the money market?
The Treasury, in my opinion, would have been well advised to have taken the view that on the basis of a carefully prepared Budget, they had far better embark now on such borrowing as may be necessary to cover the requirements of housing rather than wait until the War is over, when undoubtedly borrowing will be difficult, and it may be in some directions so harmful to the industrial money market as to be deplored not only by the Treasury but by others who are interested in national finance. The total amount that is necessary is not large if you compare it with war expenditure, but it is gigantic if you compare with peace expenditure. The whole spirit and scale of expenditure have been extended during the War; and, if we can get any advantage out of the feeling that the people now have that tens of millions of pounds are of no more importance than hundreds of thousands of pounds before the war, let us turn it to account in our housing problem. I hope, therefore, that the Treasury will be prepared to realise that they had far better deal with the problem at the present moment from their own point of view. Then, if one goes further and considers the major need which we are all now discussing, it will never do to have to postpone these housing schemes until some 1169 obscure financial difficulties of the future have been dealt with. The necessity is so great that unless the schemes are put forward now, unless the financial plans are worked out now, and unless the methods by which the houses are to be supplied are settled now, we shall find when the War is over that there will be an enormous demand for houses in all industrial as well as rural districts, that no local authority can supply. Unless the problem is approached in that spirit, I believe there will be far more profound social unrest and dissatisfaction owing to the shortage of houses than from any other conceivable cause. It is because of that I urge my right hon. Friend to pursue his object more rapidly in the future than in the past, and to give the House the opportunity of knowing at the earliest possible date what are his fuller schemes.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I hope my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I say that the speech to which we have just listened would have come more suitably from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Cleveland Division of Yorkshire (Mr. H. Samuel). That is not the sort of Liberal doctrine which we really want to have from our leaders. We have before us a Bill to-day which embodies within a very small scope two very important principles. The first is that the State should undertake the building trade of this country, and the second is that it should undertake that building trade on unsound, uneconomic lines. These are two propositions each of which ought to be debated in this House thoroughly. We have only had one speech in the House to-day amid all this chorus of praise directing attention to this vital question, whether you are going to make the building trade a socialised national trade or whether you are going to keep it a private trade. You cannot do both. Up to now only one per cent. of the houses in this country have been built by the State or by national enterprise. Now you are coming forward with a scheme for spending £500,000, not on an economic basis, but on a basis against which private enterprise cannot possibly cope. It is not a question whether this is fair or just to the private builder. This is a question for the whole community. If some houses are built at charity rents everybody else in the community will feel that he has been unjustly treated. Either his house rents will come down or he will 1170 force the State and the local authority to raise the rents of their houses. I can imagine the sort of jobbery that will go on under this scheme. The town council and the borough council will become hotbeds of jobbery. If it be possible to get a house at 5s. a week when by going to the open market it is 8s. a week and there is a 3s. difference held out by the President of the Local Government Board, we can imagine the amount of jobbery that there will be to get one of the cheap State houses instead of one of the ordinary houses. We ought to realise that if the building of houses in this country is going to be a State business in future then the State must undertake the building of all houses and not only of some. If it undertakes some only the private building trade must cease, because it cannot build houses in competition with a State concern working on non-financial lines.
I do not know where the old ideas of sound economics have got to in this matter. We seem to think that the pocket of the taxpayer is absolutely bottomless, that the consumer does not matter, that all that we have to do whenever we are short of anything is to say that the State must make it. Did not the right hon. Gentleman say that it would involve a large additional number of inspectors to go down and "ginger up" borough and county councils? All these State enterprises mean more public officials to live and fatten on the body politic. The right hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken if he imagines that the people of this country want any more of this unsound financing that we have had during the War, or that they want any more of these innumerable bodies of permanent officials at from £300 to £400 a year, who are making a fortune out of inspecting their fellow creatures. The country is tired of hotels and of public departments occupying hotels. We want to get back on a sound basis of finance. The first Clause of this Bill authorises the Treasury to advance money to local authorities for building houses for their own workpeople on a cheaper basis than they can manage at present. It extends the period of repayment from thirty to eighty years. When the period was fixed at thirty it was fixed at thirty years for good, sound financial reasons. Thirty years was held to be not an uneconomic basis. The country has worked on a thirty year basis, and it wants stronger arguments than the right hon. Gentleman has put before us 1171 to-day to persuade me that it is sound finance to lend money to these bodies on an eighty years basis.
But that is a matter of detail. The real thing I want the House to see is that this money is to be spent in building houses, to be spent by public authorities in building houses for themselves, for the servants of those public authorities. It merely means that if they are to build houses for their own servants, and if they are to build these houses on the basis of the State taking three-quarters of the loss, then, obviously, they will be able to get the labour of their servants at a cheaper rate of wage than at the present time. If you allow local authorities to let houses to their servants at charity rents it merely means that the wages of these public servants are lower than they ought to be, and lower than they otherwise would be. To do that is merely to put money into the pockets of the local authorities. The State is to be milked for the benefit of the local authorities in order that they may provide houses at charity rents for their servants. In this House, before the War, such a proposition would never have been tolerated for five minutes. The second Clause of the Bill authorises the Local Government Board and the county councils to take the place of the minor local authorities if the minor local authorities do not put the Building Act into force. I am inclined to think that the Clause will be ineffective as it stands. There is nothing in it at all. But if you were to have the county council taking the place of the minor local authority and building themselves houses, can those of us who have had experience of county councils imagine that the work is going to be done willingly or well? Anybody who knows the county councils in this country at present knows that they are even more reluctant to take over the work of the urban district councils and the parish councils than we are reluctant to take over the work of the county councils. They are most loth to interfere. In nearly every case that has come before my county council the local authority—the urban district council—has made such an admirable case for its action, or want of action, that the county council has given way. I do not think that the second Clause will be either much advantage or much disadvantage to the Bill or to the housing cause.
1172 Hon. Members who have been in this House many years must by now be aware that it is the habit of every Government to talk at large on Second Readings about the evils of the housing problem, and year after year to introduce a fresh Bill to deal with it. Bills on housing are more innumerable than any other form of legislation, and all are equally inoperative. It is this desire of the State to "ginger up" the local authorities in order to make them take up a business which it does not pay private people to take up that is bound to fail. I cannot understand why, after we have had these constant successions of failures in the way of Housing Bills, the Government cannot, for one moment, get back to sound economics and consider what it is, principally, that prevents houses being built in this country. There are two difficulties in the way, one is that the rates on houses are a crushing burden. As long as you have a rate of 12s. 6d. in the £ it is impossible to get houses built, and impossible to get people to pay the rents which are necessary in order to pay the rates. You are penalising the building industry by this extraordinarily heavy burden of rates and, at the same time, by exempting from rates all unoccupied, unused building land, you are giving to owners of building land, which is wanted for building, an enormous bonus and a power to stand out for a very high price for their land. You penalise the building by putting rates on the house, and you give a bonus to the man who keeps his land idle. It is perfectly well known to every Member that the solution of the housing difficulty in this country lies in taking a perfectly straightforward economic step in changing the basis of rating, so that the houses are no longer penalised and landowners are prevented from holding up land which is wanted for building. Everyone knows it, and everyone shirks the problem, because he is terribly afraid of touching vested interests in the land. I warn the Government that if they go before the country at the next election with the cry of "See what we are doing for housing!" they will find that the people of this country are being better educated than to stand that sort of thing much longer. As the last of the individualists in this House, I wish to say that I think that this subject cannot be discussed too much or too often. Hon. Members have got it into their heads that economics have been banished to Saturn, that the War has 1173 altered the laws of supply and demand, and that the State has a bottomless purse. All these are fallacies that have got to be cleared out of the minds of legislators and politicians. The problem, if it is to be solved at all must be solved on economic lines. It cannot be solved by giving a bonus to part of one industry, by giving a subvention to part of the building industry. That will merely strangle the rest of the budding trade. It cannot be solved by giving a subvention to the whole of the trade, because that means that you merely have a bigger price demanded by the men who own the land, and that the whole community is to pay the bonus. The only way of dealing with it is to treat it as a national economic question. The way to increase the supply of food, the supply of boots, or the supply of capital, is to take the taxes off the food and the boots and the capital. If you do that, you will get a larger supply and a cheaper article. In exactly the same way, if you take the tax off houses, you will in crease the supply of houses and reduce the price.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I will not follow the hon. Member who has just sat down, and who evidently speaks for the speculative builder, nor will I follow the Early Victorian arguments by which he supported his speech. I wish to assure my right hon. Friend (Mr. Hayes Fisher), though he is not present, that in I criticise his Bill I by no means criticise him personally, because I know how sincere and honest he is, and one can only regard him as a good man struggling against adversity, and think that if the Treasury had been more generous we should have had a bolder, wider, and more comprehensive scheme. I cannot help thinking that the Government does not really realise the deep feeling there is in the country as regards this matter of housing. If there is one feeling which is dearest to the hearts of the people at the present moment it is an ardent longing to show gratitude to our splendid soldiers who, at this moment, are winning a new hope for humanity, and the people of this country are determined that reconstruction shall not be a meaningless phrase, and on behalf of our soldiers they mean to have an adequate standard of life and housing conditions which shall not lower the health and morality of the people, but strengthen their physical and moral welfare; and if the political parties, whether Liberal or Conservative, 1174 in the near future cannot get an adequate standard of life and decent housing for the people, it will be all the worse for the political parties. While we have been squabbling in this House before the War and laying down our Early Victorian economics, as the hon. Member (Colonel Wedgwood) has just done, vested interests have been driving the people into a corner and depriving their children of any kind of playgrounds except the gutter, the alley and the court, and have been killing off their children by the thousands. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Rowntree) and the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott) have criticised this Bill. I took the opportunity in May of criticising the Government's housing proposals and I will not repeat my criticism. I associate myself with the hon. Member for York in thinking that the Government's housing proposals, though they may be accepted and worked loyally by the more active and forward municipalities, will do nothing to urge the backward authorities to prompt action.
The point of criticism I want to make is from the standpoint of the town planner. There was an article the other day in the "Times" which said that there were a great number of people going about the country who wanted to town-plan everything they saw. Personally I am one of those people who want to town-plan everything I see. What is the alternative? To go back to the old lines, which was to crowd as many houses as possible into an area, to extract every single penny from every single inch of ground, and which had no other idea of town planning than to put a public-house at every corner. Nothing will content us in the future but to approach this matter in an entirely new spirit. We want to see adequate transport facilities, and main roads of such a character that traffic can be borne in a swift and easy manner, so that people can be brought out into the air and the sun to those areas of which the wealthy classes have had the monopoly. We want to see conditions whereby every working man can have a plot of ground to cultivate and a house and surroundings where he can bring up his family in decent, healthy conditions. My complaint against this Bill is that it does nothing to promote any broad, comprehensive view as to the necessities of town planning. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman intends to limit the number of houses per acre, but that 1175 will not be enough. What we want is that the housing schemes in future shall provide for an adequate supply of main roads, facilities for churches and institutions, playgrounds for children, football and cricket grounds for the grown-up people, that the amenities of the country shall be preserved as far as possible, and that factories and houses shall not be jumbled up as they have been in the past. This Bill does not bring that about. The Housing Panel recommended that the Local Government Board should take the initiative and insist that local authorities should provide a simplified preparatory scheme of town planning. That is an urgent necessity, and I hope there will be a means of introducing it as an Amendment.
Another matter which is urgently heeded is that the Local Government Board should be able to take the initiative in regard to a unified scheme. One of the great difficulties in getting a broad and comprehensive housing scheme on broad and comprehensive lines is the jealousy and the quarrels of the different local authorities. Take the Doncaster district, where there has been enormous development. Thousands of houses have been built, and I am informed so far that there has been no success at-all in getting any unified action to get a proper town-planning scheme. All the attempts have hitherto broken down. It is a most urgent matter that the Local Government Board should be able to take the initiative and insist upon local authorities getting together and submitting a preparatory scheme. This Bill has also been criticised, and I think very rightly, inasmuch as the Local Government Board does not take power to see that the work is carried out. I know perfectly well what will happen. There will be great delay in the rural districts, and unless we do something the county councils will be asked to step in when it is too late. If I had my way I would transfer from the rural districts to the county councils the whole duty of housing. I have a very deep scepticism as to the value of the rural district councils and the small urban district councils as the proper instruments for housing. Vested interests are too strong. A great many of them are already interested in housing themselves, and do not want to reduce the rest of their houses by making other housing provision, while the farmers, who are also strong in the rural councils, do not want any addition 1176 to their rates. It is not without some experience that I speak, because in the county where I live there is, I am sorry to say, great rural depopulation, and one of the reasons is the bareness of the housing provision, which is driving the people away. Then the rural district council says there is no need for more houses because the houses are empty. They are empty because they are too bad to live in. You will never get a move on in regard to rural housing unless you make the county council the housing authority. My friends and I hope to be able to get certain Amendments inserted in this Bill If the Government really meant business in this matter, they would have brought a more comprehensive scheme forward, and I am sure that if the Prime Minister wants to win the next election, and I suppose he does, it will go very hard with him unless he shows more sincerity than he has done up to now in this matter of housing.
Many of us feel that this has been in some respects a rather unsatisfactory discussion, because the House has endeavoured to combine a discussion, the large discussion of the housing problem, with the particular measure now before us. The result has been that the details of this measure, whatever its merits or demerits may be, have been very largely lost in the larger and wider questions to which many speeches have been devoted. The speech to which I listened with the most interest was that of the hon. Member for Marylebone (Sir J. Boyton), because he addressed himself in a practical way to the details of this Bill. He showed an amount of broad sympathy with the Bill, and at the same time he addressed a number of pertinent questions to the Minister in charge of the Bill which I am sure the House has aright to have answered. He asked why it was that the employés of the county councils were alone to be selected for Government aid in this matter, and to be put in the place of a sort of privileged class as far as housing is concerned. I suppose the right hon. Gentleman would answer that the reason for that is that it would be easier to get county councils to do something for their own employés than for people in general, so far as housing is concerned. I am not sure that that is necessary. These people, as a rule, are well paid and well provided for in regard to pensions and 1177 other matters at the present time. While one does not want to quarrel with the proposals of this Bill, even so far as those people are concerned, at least we ought to have an assurance that this Bill is only the beginning of the larger and wider scheme which is necessary if this problem is to be faced. The hon. Gentleman also asked about the finances of the Bill and about the extension of the period of the repayment of the loan from thirty to eighty years. Is that to be done? And is the Government going to adopt a fixed policy in reference: to any other measures which may be taken in regard to housing? These are practical questions which I am sure the House would like to have answered.
I see that an Irish Minister (Mr. Samuels) has just come in, and there are one or two points that I would like to raise on which he may be able to enlighten me. My first observation is that this Bill does not apply to Ireland. I hardly know whether to approve of that or to object to it. We would like a good deal more information about this Bill than the right hon. Gentleman has given us. We know that the Chief Secretary for Ireland promised only last week in this House that the Government is considering certain proposals dealing with Irish housing. These promises so far have been very vague. We do not know whether they are going to eventuate in the near future or whether they are going to be put off. If there is anything in this Bill, small as it is, that can be of advantage to us in Ireland, we claim it, because a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Jowett) referred to housing in Ireland. What has been done in Ireland has been in connection with the housing of agricultural labourers. He said that the money for that—£4,000,000—was paid out of the British Exchequer, and seemed to think that it was paid by the British taxpayer. That is not so. It, was paid by the Irish taxpayer, and there is nothing of which we on these Irish Benches are prouder than the success of these Acts for the housing of agricultural labourers. If there was any possibility along satisfactory lines—of course, the circumstances are different—of having the principles of those Acts applied to England we would be very glad. But the Irish Labourers Acts have not touched more than the fringe of the urban housing problem, 1178 because outside some of the country towns, where agricultural labourers have obtained houses, large urban centres have not been affected at all, and there is no part of the United Kingdom where a greater necessity exists for increased proposals for the provision of houses than in Ireland.
I find myself in the same position as the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment we are now considering. I agree that it is a great pity that the Government did not take the bold course of coming down here and telling the House what are their general proposals on the whole housing question, and attempting to give effect to its proposals, rather than come here with a small Bill which, though it may be better than no Bill at all, is still wholly inadequate in the present circumstances. In considering this Bill, what we have to ask is: Does it give a sufficient inducement to county councils to build under its provisions? That really depends upon something that is not in the Bill at all—the undertaking of the Government to pay 75 per cent. of the deficit that would be incurred by the county councils in the operation of this Act. It is not possible for the Local Government Board, I suppose, to give us an estimate, because the conditions are altogether too vague, but undoubtedly the deficit will be reduced to some extent by the extension of the period of repayment of loans from thirty to eighty years. I would like the President of the Local Government Board to tell me whether there is any connection in that particular between Clause 1 and Clause 2 of the Bill? The county councils are to have a period of eighty years for the repayment of the loans under Clause 1, for the building of houses for their own employés. What is the period of the loan to be under Clause 3 where they are compelled to take up the work of other defaulting local authorities and carry out housing schemes in their stead? I do not think that that is clear. It certainly must not be the case that county councils are to have more favourable terms for loans connected with their own employés than for loans connected with people in general. If the inducements under Clause 1 to county councils to provide housing accommodation under this Bill are sufficient, the Bill might really be a much more important and much broader Bill than the House has so far been led to consider it, because if you take Clause 1, at least so far as the drafting is concerned, it would be very 1179 easy to bring in people under that Clause who would be entitled to have houses provided for them by the county council.
The Clause refers to persons in the employment of or paid by the county council. Under its terms it seems to me that it would be possible for anybody in the district to qualify by getting some nominal sum paid by the county council, and almost everybody might qualify under that. Therefore, if there was sufficient inducement to build there might be a great deal more accommodation provided under this Bill than would appear on the surface. If houses under Clause 1 are provided by the council for employés and these employés cease to be in the employment of the council, are they to be evicted from these houses? Are these houses to be confined permanently to employés of the county council? If through any reason the occupiers who rent these houses get other employment in the district, are they to be turned out of the houses. We have had some difficulty in that connection in Ireland with regard to labourers cottages, as to whether, if a man ceases to be regarded as a labourer, he should immediately give up his labourers cottages. I hope that the Irish Minister who is present will tell us something of the intention of the Irish Government on this subject, and not leave us in the dark while a beginning is made for England as to what is proposed to be done with regard to Ireland.
§ Major HILLS
This Bill is the first stage in the right hon. Gentleman's housing policy. Although it is a small Bill the policy is a big one. Therefore it behoves us in the first steps that we take to see that we go in the right direction, for if mistakes are made now the consequences may be very serious later on. On the whole, I support my right hon. Friend's Bill, but I have certain suggestions to make which I hope will commend themselves to his better judgment. I do not want to deal at all with Clause 1. Clause 2 is the real point of the Bill. It enables the Local Government Board to empower the county council to build where the small local authority is in default. Therefore the Bill presumes that there will be a certain amount of default. Who are the local authorities who, it is assumed, will not build? I think that it is fair to assume that they are the small local authorities. The Bill assumes that the small rural district council will, for 1180 various reasons, not build, and I think that it stands to reason that a rural district council is placed in a very great difficulty. Let the House consider its position. Its personnel is small; the War has depleted it. Its clerk is now almost entirely engaged in connection with food questions. Its surveyor is entirely engaged on fuel distribution. It is almost impossible that a small district council should find time to investigate thoroughly the housing requirements of its districts and meet those requirements by building. I assume, therefore, that the small rural district councils are in default.
The right hon. Gentleman has told us that the country is 300,000 houses short. I think that it is safe to assume that 100,000 of these houses are required in the rural districts. How many of those 100,000 are provided for already? How many of these small district councils have expressed the intention of building to meet this deficiency? I am told that the total amount of promises that have been received is not more than 20,000. Therefore, this Bill has got to bridge the gap between these 20,000 and the 100,000. Clause 2 provides that where the Local Government Board considers that the local authority is in default it can empower the county council to build. I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that it would be better to give the Local Government Board power to compel the local authority to build in the first place. I quite know all the objections that exist to compulsion, but here we are not dealing with the question of compulsion. We are distributing the duty among the council. At present it is the duty of nobody. The local authority may or may not provide houses, and the really important thing is that we should put on some people's shoulders the duty of providing houses. So the first point on which I think the Bill could be amended is that Clause 2 should definitely empower the Local Government Board to call on the existing authority to provide houses. I know that that entails an Amendment of Section 14 of the Act of 1909. Under that Act the Local Government Board cannot move unless it is stirred up by four householders. I think that I am right in saying that that machinery has not done all that was expected of it, that it has proved a cumbersome practice, and that it has not been very widely utilised. That being so, if minor authorities are called upon to build these houses, then they must be in 1181 default before you call in the county council. It is quite clear that you ought to give them a chance of carrying out the building. Suppose they fail, then the Clause provides that the county council may be authorised to carry out the work. I do not think that is going half far enough.
Let the House consider the exact position of putting this under the county council, when the rural district council fail, and the county council are called upon. It would simply mean that nobody would be responsible for housing in that county. One authority might fail to do it, and the second authority is authorised to do it, but you do not lay on any one body the duty of seeing the population housed. I do not see that you will get any real advance on the housing question until we recognise and enforce that duty. We must be able to say that it is somebody's business to see that houses are built. With all the objections, which I fully recognise, against coercion, yet I think in these cases you have to lay down a definite duty, and make that duty clear, and I think that could be achieved without the employment of coercion, because as soon as the county council knows it is its duty to provide houses in certain places I do not think they would at all object to do so. There is another point which I think ought to be made clear, that where a rural district authority is in default, and the county council comes in, the cost of the scheme should be charged to the area of the defaulting urban district. I do not know that it is clear, and of course it ought to be entirely clear, that no local authority can gain by its default, and can charge the cost of its own housing scheme on the county rate. I do not wish to discuss the general question, but I do want to say this, that I have sometimes criticised the right hon. Gentleman and his Department. I am perfectly certain that on the housing question the right hon. Gentleman wants to go nearly as far as the most advanced Member of this House, and if I may say so with great respect, if he does he will find the House will back him up. I believe that if the right hon. Gentleman laid on the Table of this House all his scheme, and told us frankly all his difficulties, I am certain he would give us a lead that we would follow, and go very far in regard to this great question.
§ Mr. ANEURIN WILLIAMS
I think the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill must have realised long before this that this small measure 1182 has lead to the discussion of an enormous question. Although the measure is absolutely inadequate if regarded as anything like a solution of the housing question, yet I am sure it is not intended as that, but is intended to deal with only a small fringe of the subject, and I hope we may take it as a small promise of very much bigger things that we may expect in a very short time. At the beginning of this War this House set aside a certain amount of money to be used for housing, but unfortunately it was only to be used in the event of there being unemployment. It is no good going back upon that now. I at the time urged that we should go on with housing even during the War, but now that we seem to be coming to the end of the War, I think it not too much to ask that we should have from the right hon. Gentleman without further delay a full statement of the proposals that he has in store for us, and that we should have a full opportunity of discussing that statement. There is one thing in this Bill I like very much, and it is that it seems to me to recognise the principle that it is part of the duty of a public body to provide houses for its own employés. I wish that were fully recognised by all our public Departments, by the Post Office and other great Departments, for I am quite sure that would go a long way towards helping the supply of houses. There is one thing not in the Bill which I should like to see, and very much hope to see in the right hon. Gentleman's complete scheme when he brings it before us, and that is the principle that with all these new cottages there should be a piece of land for each, save under very exceptional circumstances. I am convinced that in the great majority of cases it will be possible to put gardens with the new cottages that we are going to build—both those mentioned in this Bill and those which will come under the bigger scheme that we are expecting. Where cottages are built in the country, it is very evident that these gardens could be provided. But, in the case of towns, the cottages need not be built in the centre of them, but on the outskirts, and by the adoption of that plan there would almost always be a possibility of providing gardens with the cottages.
It is said sometimes that land is too dear. I should like to say that in my own belief land is dearer because you allow 1183 an almost unlimited number of cottages to be built upon it, and if the principle were recognised as it was in the time of Queen Elizabeth—although, unfortunately, the law then was not sufficiently carried out—that each cottage should have its piece of land, it must have the effect that land would not go up to such an excessive figure as it has done, because people would not give the excessive price for it that they do now when they knew that they had to put land with the cottages. Buyers can now give an excessive price for land because only small morsels of it have to be devoted to each cottage built, but if each new cottage had to have a substantial piece of land they could not do so. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, spoke, as he often does, of the injury which is done by putting our rates upon the houses rather than upon land values. To a certain extent I agree very thoroughly with him, and I hope that is a matter which the Government will take into account in their housing policy. I think there can be no doubt that our present system of rating is a tax upon house room and that is a tax upon the first decency of life. To my mind a tax upon house room is as injurious and bad in principle as a tax upon bread. I am quite sure we should get rid of that. We have got somehow to alter our system so that it will no longer penalise cottage building by heavily taxing the buildings. It is exactly as if we were taxing bread on the one hand, and, on the other hand, crying out the necessity for having more bread.
If we were beginning again it would be perfectly simple to put the tax upon the land values, and leave the buildings entirely free. The difficulty is that we have got into a wrong system, and the further difficulty is to know how we are going to make a right and better system. I hope, as we have a Coalition Government, that it will take that great question in hand. I do not believe that it is an insoluble problem at all, and I believe it is one of those problems which would be very much better solved by all parties recognising the evils of present conditions, and trying together to do something in regard to a question that cannot be solved by any one party. We have a Coalition Government now for carrying on the War, and I hope that we shall have a Coalition Government for the work of reconstruction after 1184 the War is over, for I am convinced that no one party is going to be strong enough to discharge that task. Should we have a Coalition Government for reconstruction, I can see no more important task they could take in hand than this matter of the housing of the people of the country. In regard to housing, two of the most important points are the problem of taking the rates off the new buildings that are put up and the problem of giving a garden to each cottage. If the right hon. Gentleman can do that his name will go down as one of the greatest benefactors this country has had. I very sincerely hope that both as regards this little Bill and with regard to his bigger scheme, the right hon. Gentleman will give these two aspects of the question his very best consideration and will be able to bring before us some kind of solution, at any rate of the question of putting a garden to each cottage, and eventually, perhaps, of the more difficult problem which the hon. and gallant Gentleman raised.
§ Sir W. RUTHERFORD
To my mind there are three reasons for the present lamentable shortage of housing accommodation for the people. These three reasons are cumulative, and have the effect of practically stopping all the existing methods of giving the continual supply of houses that are needed. One of the most important reasons, as several Members pointed out, is the crushing incidence of the rates. There are places, which many of us know, where the rates are over 10s. in the £, and when that has to come out of the pocket eventually—it does not matter how it is raised actually—of the person who occupies the house and is obliged to be provided for in the economic question of building houses at all, it must be obvious that it is a very serious detriment to the building of further houses, because every house built immediately becomes liable to these heavy rates. The second reason which has been operative in the last seven or eight years—I will not go into any detail, because it would ill become me in a Debate like this to refer to a subject which we considered day and night for months—the second reason is the incidence of those very stupid land taxes, which undoubtedly, although in themselves not a very serious burden, have yet had the effect of alarming all people who lent money upon mortgages of house property all over the country, so that it 1185 became impossible for people and firms who were building houses to finance their operations in the same way that they did before those Acts were passed. It undermined public confidence in the ownership of property of that description, and it has had the effect for the time being of putting a stop to building. But we have had a further and more crushing reason for this shortage of houses arising out of this War. The trouble is that at present it would he impossible to build a house to let in competition with existing dwellings at twice the rent. When you have bricks in certain localities at £4 10s. per 1,000 instead of 26s. 6d., when you have wood similarly advanced, when you have practically every item that goes to build a house gone to an outrageous price compared with what it was before the War, and when you have a Statute which prevents the owner of the houses which are in existence from getting a higher rent than they got before the War, it is simply impossible to build houses. You have therefore these three cumulative reasons, every one of which I believe to be operative, which have brought about a very important shortage of houses, which has been estimated variously at from 300,000 to 500,000.
How is it proposed to do anything whatever to put an end to that shortage? I have read the Bill through from one end to the other and I cannot find that it makes the smallest contribution towards putting an end to the shortage of, say, 400,000 houses. It consists of two Clauses—the first merely relates to county councils for the purpose of making dwellings, not for the working classes but simply for their own employés. I cannot imagine anything more vicious in principle. In the old days, before we passed some Acts which have put a stop to it, employers were very fond of getting hold of their servants and making them buy their tea or bread, or whatever it might be, at their employers' shops. It is the same kind of idea in houses. If an employer is to be allowed to get hold of his employés by the throat, so to speak, and say, "I have you in my house; if you do not agree to my terms I will give you notice to quit or will evict you," it is a vicious principle. It has been very pertinently asked, supposing a man goes out of the employment of the county council, is he to be immediately evicted? But I have a stronger question to put. Supposing the unfortunate man dies and his dwelling is wanted for someone 1186 who is to come in the council's employ in his place, are the widow and children to be thrown into the street immediately? I know that where large employers building new works have gone into the country—a very good thing to do—they have often found it necessary to put up a number of houses for their employés. But where they have acted upon a really proper principle they have given every facility to those employés to acquire the houses from them. That does not apply in the case of a county council. There is no physical necessity whatever for a county council, employing people who have to work in their district, where there is accommodation or where accommodation can easily be increased, putting up houses for their employés.
Then they are, forsooth, to have eighty years in which to repay the money instead of thirty. The London County Council already has sixty in its local Acts, and the present position is that, say, at Liverpool, on whose housing committee I was in 1895 and for seven or eight years afterwards, and saw a good deal of the inside working of these matters, we are only allowed thirty years. That is the rule all over the country except in London. This has been a very great grievance with many of the county councils who have been putting up houses to replace slums, which is quite a different thing from anything mentioned in this Bill. They have wanted to get a much higher number of years than thirty. So far as this may be an indication that the Local Government Board is going to listen to reason on this important point, I will give way to it, but I object strongly to the whole Clause. I object to county councils borrowing money in order to house their servants. I see the difficulties which are bound to rise from doing so, and if they are going to house their servants at uneconomic rentals, which is the corollary of the Bill, there is a further evil to deal with of the most serious character.
I make no apology for telling the House what I consider to be the economic fallacy and crime at the bottom of the Bill and of Bills of a similar character. The evil is this. The county council selects, we will say, a slum in the middle of a city. It pulls it down and puts up decent accommodation. In some cases the dispossessed and in other cases the general public are invited to take the dwellings when they are completed, and they are usually let at an uneconomic rent. It does not apply so 1187 largely in London because the London County Council has had the sense to insist upon economic rents being paid. But it exists in other places. I do not believe in any of the evils which have been pointed out by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Wedgwood). I am not going to talk about county councillors being bribed and putting their friends and relations into houses at uneconomic rents. That is an unnecessary insult to the public life of the country. But I will point out the economic difficulty at the bottom of the proceedings as a pure matter of finance. Immediately the county council lets tenements at 3s. 6d. a week for which they ought to charge 6s., to pay rent, repairs, and interest, this state of affairs arises. Experience goes to show that the private owners all round are absolutely precluded from improving their property because they cannot compete with the county council. A private owner or a public utility company cannot buy a piece of land and build houses and let them at an uneconomic rent. If they do it means bankruptcy. If a county council does it, it means not only a charge on the rates but something very much more serious. I have seen it in my native city, and I have protested against it, and I will go on protesting as long as I have a tongue. It was Jeremy Bentham who said, "If you break an economic law the economic law will sooner or later come and hit you on the back of the head." That was his illustration of the kind of difficulty you get into if you do a thing which on the face of it is not economic.
The second Clause says, if the Local Government Board is dissatisfied with what a local authority is doing, it can ask the county council to take the place of the smaller authority. Suppose the county council does not so build, there is not a word in the Bill to say who else is to do it. If my right hon. Friend really has, as I believe he has, the idea at heart of doing something to solve the housing question, we should be doing him the best service by throwing the Bill out. If a Bill had been brought forward to give every one of our soldiers after the War a house on an uneconomic basis, and the country was going to pay the difference, I could have understood and would have voted for it. But if we are going to pamper county council employés, if we are going to get into all sorts of difficulties, if you are going to make an impasse between public authorities 1188 without providing any means of getting out of the difficulty—that is all these two Clauses consist of—I consider that a whole day has been thrown clean away. That is one of the most important subjects that could possibly be brought before the House, and this Bill is an insult to our intelligence. It does practically nothing to meet the difficulties that face us, but will create two or three further and more serious difficulties. If there is anyone who will be willing to vote against the Bill, I will go with him and we will make two anyway.
§ 7.0 P.M.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
Anyone who has heard this Debate will, I am sure, be convinced that the vast majority of the House are deeply disappointed with the Bill that the Government has produced. There has been a vast amount of talk about the housing problem, and an enormous amount of sympathy has been expressed with those who are desirous of and need to have houses. We have heard the speech which the right hon. Gentleman made upon the Local Government Estimates, and of some larger proposals which may possibly be formulated at some future time. When we come to ask the simple, plain, straightforward question, What does the Government propose to do today? the answer is this Bill which we are discussing. The Bill has been so severely criticised as regards its two main Clauses that it seems unnecessary to add very much. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Jowett) said it was a small, inadequate, and pettifogging measure. With that I entirely agree, but I go a step further, and I say that the Bill does not seem to me to be an honest measure, and for this reason: What is the basis of the whole finance of the Bill? We have been told by the right hon. Gentleman that at the back of it is a plan whereby during the first seven years three-fourths of the loss is to be paid by the Treasury, or, in other words, by the taxpayer, and when the house comes to be valued at the end of the seven years I understand that the same proportion of the capital loss is also to be paid. That seems to me finance run mad. We have not been told how much it will cost the taxpayer; we have no estimate of the amount of this subsidy that is to be given to the county councils; and, above all, there is no mention of it whatever in the Bill. I take this opportunity of saying that when a proposal of that sort is made it ought to be put into the measure 1189 which is introduced. It is entirely contrary to the whole spirit and constitution of this House that a financial arrangement made between a Government Department and the Treasury should be announced to the House and not embodied in the Bill, and perhaps next year we should be told that the House would have to pass that, because the Government had undertaken an honourable obligation. I maintain that it is the right of the House of Commons, when it passes a Bill of this character, to know what the whole financial provisions are. I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman not to go further with this Bill until he is prepared honestly to put that proposal in the Bill, so that we may know how the Treasury and how the taxpayers are to be affected.
Having made my protest on that point, I would like to point out a further difficulty which has already been glanced at. This Bill proposes to subsidise on a lavish scale, we do not know at what rate, building for certain municipal employés. How can we possibly justify subsidising building for one class which is to be financed at the expense of the taxpayers, who include all the other classes? The housing problem we have to face is not merely a housing problem as to municipal employés, but a housing problem for the people generally, and yet the people generally—that is the taxpayers—are to be asked at a loss to themselves to find money for the financing of housing for a particular privileged class. Various practical difficulties have been pointed out by the hon. Member who spoke last, and I venture to suggest that those practical difficulties will be found to increase. You will have a steady increase of the privileged classes and the difficulties will grow as you go along. Not only is that so, but we have also to consider the question of whether this subsidy will really assist in housing generally. Suppose, for instance, in a locality that you subsidise housing, what will be the effect on housing generally in that locality? You enable the county council to build houses at what would be a loss if the money were not subscribed by the taxpayer. What happens to public utility companies, to private enterprise, and every other form of industry which might enter on building? It immediately becomes impossible in the commercial sense for them to do anything, and the result, and a very dangerous result may be, is that by financing one particular class of building 1190 you may in the long run do a great deal to check and hinder the development of building as a whole. Knowing, as we all do, the great need for the improved housing of our people, we recognise that we want to encourage housing in every possible way, whether by Government enterprise or by municipal enterprise, or by co-operative enterprise, or by public utility companies, or by private effort. We want them all and we want to attract as much capital as we possibly can to the building of houses. I venture to think that any particular system which goes along the lines of a particular subsidy may be damaging, and will certainly be far less useful than a system which really tries to deal with the evils which prevent the development of housing, and which have prevented it.
I know that a right hon. Friend of mine who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench and other hon. and right hon. Members have spoken of this as an emergency measure, and have told us that we are dealing with an emergency. I agree that we are dealing with an emergency, but simply because the emergency is great is not a reason why we should throw overboard all economic principles, but it is rather a reason why we should seek to base ourselves on the soundest possible system. In time of stress and in time of war, when the price of food goes up enormously, it becomes all the more important that duties should be taken off food in order that it may be made as cheap as possible. With the present house famine it becomes all the more important that we should go back to some fundamental principles. I suggest that in order to solve the housing question it is of the first importance to enable people to obtain sites for building on fair terms, and to stop the rating and taxation of houses. Whether we act in ordinary times or in times of emergency, and whether the building authority is the county council or co-operative enterprise, or private enterprise, the first thing that we need for the building of houses is to secure a site on something like fair terms. Around almost all our centres and in many country districts we find land which might be used for building rated and taxed at perhaps 30s. or 40s. When we try to get that land for building we find that the price at 5 per cent. would represent not 30s. or 40s., but £20 or £30. That is the difficulty we have to face all over the country. I would ask my right hon. Friend is he not aware of that difficulty? 1191 It has been the subject of record again and again. This Bill does nothing to deal with that difficulty. It only applies the old machinery under the Housing of the Working Classes Act and the Lands Clauses. Everyone who has had experience of the Lands Clauses machinery knows how inadequate it is, and it has been reported against by a recent Committee which was appointed "to consider the Acquisition and Valuation of Land for Public Purposes." That Committee has made various proposals of a sweeping and fundamental character to enable local authorities to get land to build upon the more easily. I would ask my right hon. Friend why has he not endeavoured to embody some of the recommendations of that Committee in this Bill? Some reference has been made to the Royal Commission on Housing in Scotland. May I remind my right hon. Friend that that Royal Commission has recommendedThat in arbitrations as to the amount that should be paid for land taken compulsorily by local authorities, that the valuations under the Finance Acts, 1909–10, be held as primâ facie evidence of the value, but that it should be open to either party to adduce proof of their inaccuracy, or of a change of circumstances since the date of the valuation.I maintain that in order to obtain the necessary sites for building the first step ought to be to follow the recommendations of that Royal Commission on Housing, and to make it the rule that the valuation of the full site value of the land under the Finance Act should be the basis of the purchase price If my right hon. Friend does not like that, I suggest another course. In acquiring this land it should be at twenty years purchase of the amount on which it is being rated. It is of the utmost importance, if we are to have lane for building purposes, that we should acquire it on fair terms The right hon. Gentleman can easily do this in yet another way. He could bring in a small Bill to amend our rating system in a way that has already been adopted throughout Australia and in New Zealand. I know that in many places they value land on the basis of land value, but the right hon. Gentleman could make a provision that the value for rating purposes on any land shall not be less than 5 per cent. of its selling value. Bring that principle into the system of valuation for rating, and I believe you will have solved the problem of the difficulty of sites. We come to the further matter that as soon as houses are built they are rated and taxed. Reference 1192 has been made to the fact that houses have been allowed to go down for want repair owing to war conditions. What will happen under the present system when those houses are repaired. When there is a bow window perhaps added, or an additional story, up will go the valuation. That is entirely wrong. We want, as far as we possibly can, to encourage capital being invested in housing. I believe that can be done on sound financial lines, but if it is to be done, those who build the houses must be entitled to reap the benefit of those houses, and those houses ought as far as possible to be unrated and un-taxed. I put it to my right hon. Friend that if he will try to legislate along these lines instead of giving a subsidy here and a dole there, and if he will try to remedy the general conditions which to-day check building, then he will have-made fundamental reforms which will be of the greatest possible use, both generally and still more in the present emergency. But I would ask him not to overlook these considerations, because if he does he will only land us in further difficulties.
The nation is under a very great financial strain, and just now we have to provide money for a great many purposes. We must be very careful in providing money for the housing of the people, that we are not merely pouring money into the pockets of the landlords—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or anybody else!"]—and strengthening the land monopoly. This public expenditure ought to be for the public good along sound lines, and we do not want private profit to be made out of the public in their present extremity. Indeed, I venture to say that wherever land is purchased for housing that purchase ought to be regarded as a case for fair compensation and not as an opportunity for profiteering. There has been far too much profiteering over the War and over the conditions that have arisen from the War, and we must take care that when we make Grants towards housing, of whatever character they may be, they are not absorbed and swallowed up by paying excessive prices for the land and by the uneconomic development of building. I wish that it could have been possible for me to say something more in support of the Bill. It seems to me to proceed really upon wrong lines, and what I regret about the Bill proceeding on wrong lines is this, that by every Bill you 1193 have on wrong lines you divert public attention from the true nature of the remedy. It is not merely that the public are asking for bread and you are giving them a atone, it is that there is a demand and a need for housing that people are talking about all over the country, and that we hear of a Government Housing Bill, and then all that energy goes out in a miserable affair like this. People feel that nothing has been done, and a great many people feel that nothing can be done. I speak in this House with a profound conviction that a great deal can be done. I am not one of those who regard the means of housing as secondary. The means we take are very important, because if we take wrong means we may defeat our own ends. Nor am I one of those who think that housing must only be regarded as a kind of unpleasant duty to be enforced on unwilling local authorities by a beneficent President of the Local Government Board. Under just conditions, I feel sure that the housing of the people would readjust itself like any other need would do. If land could be got on fair terms for houses, if houses were unrated and untaxed, then building would go on, and the need of the people for housing accommodation would be solved in the way that other needs are solved, not un-economically, but by the orderly development of economic forces. It may, of course, be necessary to do something in the present emergency, but whatever the Government and the right hon. Gentleman do, these fundamental conditions for the better housing of the people ought not to be overlooked.
§ Mr. CURRIE
The Noble Lord who spoke a few hours ago made a most attractive speech, and if towards the end of it he verged upon idealism, we all recognise that it is an idealism in the practicability of which he is a convinced believer. But in the earlier and more immediately practical part of his speech he used very strong language, with which I have no hesitation in associating myself. The right hon. Gentleman, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, told us that this housing question was that on which practically all social life hinged. That is very grave language to use, and in using it the right hon. Gentleman must recognise that he invites equally grave scrutiny of his Bill from every point of view. If we are to make use of county councils in this matter—and I quite agree that it should be done—they must be armed with proper powers, and with the powers with which 1194 they are armed in this Bill I have no quarrel whatever, but my first impression of the Bill was most disappointing. It seems to me a meagre, thin, starveling, so to speak, and it takes some effort to remember that the right hon. Gentleman tells us that it is only a first instalment. I know he is the last Minister in the Cabinet to wish to shirk his proper task, but, at the same time, I am glad to think that this Bill does not apply to Scotland, because, if it did, I should have some difficulty in going to Scotland and speaking in favour of it. The Prime Minister many years ago talked of the worst class of property in this country as "crevices reeking with disease and death," and Lord Beaconsfield, writing about fifty years ago, used practically the same language. I think the words he used were "gutters of abomination" and "pools of stagnant filth." That is unpleasant language to listen to, but, unfortunately, it is only too true. To the criticism that has been made of the Bill I wish to add another point. I wish very much that more drastic powers were taken both by the Treasury and county councils and town councils to deal with the worst class of property. I think that in any properly stated balance-sheet of assets and liabilities the worst class of property should be entered not as property at all, not as an asset, but as a liability. I have no sympathy with confiscating a man's property, but where I find a man in possession of a diseased house I see no reason why he should be treated in any other way than that in which for many years the legislature has treated a man found in possession of a diseased leg of mutton or other food. Property of that kind I would confiscate without a farthing of compensation of any kind. Instead of offering the owner of such property compensation I should be more inclined to advocate that he should compensate me, the ordinary taxpayer. I would object to the money of the ordinary taxpayer being used by this Bill or by any Bill in such a way as to improve the property of such a man. I would rather take his property from him and thereafter, having taken it from him, the State could make up its mind as to what it would do with it. I would not leave it with him, and I would refuse him a single farthing of compensation.
The hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. L. Scott) made eight practical suggestions, 1195 and to these I should like to be allowed to add five others. In the first place, I would seize the worst class of property without compensation. In the second place, I would require every county council or local authority called on to touch this matter at all to publish a specific schedule of properties within its jurisdiction. In the third place, I would compel such local authorities to publish lists of the individual persons who are owners of the worst class of property. In the fourth place, I would require under, this Bill a declaration by every man elected to office in a county council or employed by a county council as to what property he holds within his jurisdiction. I see no earthly reason why that step should be resented by any man who has nothing to conceal. Fifthly, I think there is much common sense in the suggestion made by the hon. Member for North-West Durham (Mr. A. Williams) that a specific limit should be put to the amount of the number of houses that can be built on an acre, because it is beyond doubt that excessive building of that kind has done a great deal to raise the value of property, and by so doing to multiply all our difficulties. A great many criticisms have been made of the Bill from what those who uttered the criticisms described as the economic view. I think the right hon. Gentleman is driven to ask the House and the country to underwrite, not a financial liability which can be stated in a round number of millions, but an open position. The position is not that he requires £100,000,000 or £200,000,000 with which to build houses. The position is that he requires to build houses, and whatever amount of money is required that is the liability with which the House is asked to saddle itself and the country. It seems to me that the edge of almost all these so-called economic criticisms would be turned if the right hon. Gentleman had felt himself at liberty to disclose fully instead of partially what his real housing policy is. It seems to me that most of these criticisms proceeded from the assumption that this is not merely a first instalment but an earnest and token of the right hon. Gentleman's whole policy. Disappointing as I think the Bill is, I quite approve of county councils having these powers, and I see no breach of proper economic principle in saying that a Gevernment Department should house its own servants 1196 properly. I hope the Second Reading of the Bill will be carried without a Division, and I hope very much that, encouraged as I think the right hon. Gentleman must feel himself by the criticisms that have been made—because they are not criticisms that he is doing too much or that he is doing anything wrong, but that he is not doing enough—he will improve the Bill in Committee almost out of recognition.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I think the whole Debate has shown, after all, not an unfriendly tone towards this Bill. It can only be described as an ancillary measure to a larger policy, and a most unambitious measure. It is part of a larger scheme, and I for one should be only too glad if my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would provide a day for the discussion of the whole of the Government programme as regards housing. I should welcome it, because then I should be able to show what the local authorities are willing to do, what public utility societies may be expected to do after the recent terms which have been offered to them by the Government, what groups of employers, large colliery owners, factory owners, land owners, and people of that kind may be expected to do, and to a certain extent what schemes are on foot to help private enterprise to come once more on the scene; and I should be able to show, I hope, that we have in our minds, as I said in my opening speech, not only the provision of new houses, but the possibility of reconstructing some of the old houses, by a policy which will at all events expedite the repairing of houses and the removal of those slum areas of which my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Sir W. Collins) has spoken with his great knowledge as former chairman of the London County Council. But when I introduced the Bill this afternoon I confess that I had no intimation and no knowledge that the whole of this question was going to be raised, and I think I have some little reason to complain, as I gave notice of this Bill something like a fortnight ago—in fact, my hon. Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool and my hon. Friend the Member for York only gave me notice as I sat on the Bench at Question-time to-day that they were going to raise the whole of this subject. I did not even know it would be in order to raise it on the Second Reading of a Bill of such small limits, and I think it was certainly a little 1197 unfair to me, and it has not provided the House with that full opportunity of discussing the whole question which might have been provided if the hon. Members had put down their Notice on the Paper, which is much the more usual method, and shown the House that they intended to raise a full Debate on the whole question.
So far as I am concerned, I have raised this question on two occasions—once in May of this year, when introducing my Estimate I gave it the first place in my speech. It was not my fault, but hon. Gentlemen here wanted on that occasion to discuss the question as to whether or not those who were called up under the Military Service Act should be able to avail themselves of professional assistance. The Debate turned on that point most of the evening, although later in the evening there was a Debate on the housing question, and I have been amazed that so little interest appears to have been taken in this House that never on a single occasion, although there have been many on which the question could have been raised; has the question been raised, and to the best of my knowledge the Leader of the House has never been asked for a day for this question. I have been wanting a day to discuss this question. As President of the Local Government Board it is my duty—and certainly it has been my privilege—to knock at the door of the Treasury, and knock very loudly, and I should have been only too glad if I had had the Chancellor of the Exchequer here, in order that he might be informed of the very earnest wish of the House that this great housing policy should be set on foot after the War, and that he should be able to find the money for that policy.
At the same time, I must remind the House of the condition of this country in regard to the War in March last. Was it not natural that any Chancellor of the Exchequer should say to any President of the Local Government Board, "You must be very careful how far you commit the Treasury to finding £100,000,000, or anything to that extent, after the War"? When we were all indulging in the most gloomy forebodings in March last, when undoubtedly we were in deadly peril, it was only natural that a Chancellor of the Exchequer should look into the future and say, "However much I may desire to find money for this great housing policy of yours, I must really be warned by the fact that we are not yet out of the awful wood in which we are entangled, and it may not 1198 be possible for me to obtain money at any reasonable rate. Therefore, I ought not to encourage you to go about the country and make any too definite promise of what the Government in the future may do." We may well now be thankful that our position to-day is very different from what it was in March last, and if we should have a Debate, as I hope we shall have a Debate, on the whole of this great housing policy, and if, as a result of that Debate, it is found that the State really is obliged to come forward, and, as an emergency policy, find money to subsidise the first 300,000 or 400,000 houses after the War—if that is absolutely a necessary policy, I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to take a far more cheerful view of the probable position in which any Chancellor of the Exchequer will be after peace is declared than he was in March last. My right hon. Friend has told me quite recently that, so far as he is concerned, he quite recognises that one of the first objects which ought to be dear to the heart of any Chancellor of the Exchequer or any member of the Government is the finding of the money for this great housing question.
Complaint has bees made that the Bill sets up a privileged class—that the county council employés practically will have part of their rent paid for them by the State. That is quite true, but let me remind the House that all the housing authorities are to have exactly the same privilege given to them by the State. Any housing authority that is able to show that it is very short of houses, that houses are required, that private enterprise is not likely to supply them, will be able to avail itself of exactly the same terms as the county council. Therefore, there will be a far larger privileged class than merely the employés of county councils. I admit that everybody who lives in a house for which he does not pay the full economic rent, and where a large portion of the economic rent is found out of taxes, is subsidised by the State as regards his rent. I admit it, but that is an emergency policy. Personally, I hold the view that, in the long run, it is not a sound economic policy to subsidise either food, or wages, or rent, or anything of that kind for men and women who are fully employed at good wages. Of course, our scheme of life ought to be so arranged that the wages and salaries of those who are engaged in work are such that they will be able to pay out of their own money a decent weekly rent for a 1199 decent house. That is the right policy. But everyone who has examined this comes to exactly the same conclusion that I have, namely, that it is quite impossible, after the War, to expect to build these houses and let them at an economic rent. My hon. Friend the Member for Maryledone (Sir J. Boyton), with whom I have crossed swords on a former occasion, still thinks that private enterprise is going to build these houses. I have a passage here from a speech made by the hon. Member on the 2nd May last, he said:If some system could be devised whereby he could have 80 per cent. advanced to him at 5 per cent interest, it would to a very large extent help materially to make up the admitted shortage in the houses required."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1918, col. 1812, Vol. 105.]I do not believe my hon. Friend really now would repeat that to the House.
§ Mr. FISHER
Then I will promise my hon. Friend that I will submit his proposition to an important body of private builders, and I will ask them whether, if the State were to advance them money for a period of eighty years at 5 per cent., they would undertake to build houses—mind you, that they must build houses under regulations as regards the number to the acre, and the kind of houses—and that they would build those houses to a very considerable number. I promise my hon. Friend to put that proposition to them. I cannot say I have met with any very favourable response at present from builders. I will give the House another figure as regards the probability of private builders coming on to the ground and building these houses, after the War, unless they are subsidised. There are 1,806 local authorities to whom I have addressed a variety of questions; 1,676 have answered my questions. Of these, 1,379 say that houses are needed in their district. Of these, again, 1,036 have expressed their willingness to build, and many of them are selecting their sites, choosing their architects, putting out their designs for the consideration of my Department, and generally are proceeding to put their willingness into practice. Of the 1,806 local authorities, only three definitely say they believe that private enterprise is going to come on to the ground again and find these houses. Is it likely that private enterprise, which, of course, and most naturally and properly, is looking for a profit, when 1200 it does not know what rates it will have to give for its money, or what labour and materials it can get, is coming forward, without any form of subsidy from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and is immediately going to buy land, make its plans, put out its designs and build houses for the working-classes, when everyone of us who has looked into this question has discovered that you cannot expect, with the prices of materials, labour, and money, for several years after the War to get an economic rent even out of the well-paid working man?
Then I put this: what form of subsidy does private enterprise expect to get? I have said again and again—and some of my friends are very angry with me for saying it—but I say with the greatest possible respect to private builders, who have built 95 per cent. of the working-class houses in the past, that in my knowledge—and I have sat twenty-nine years in the House of Commons—I do not know any House of Commons likely to provide a subsidy of something like 33½ per cent. to private builders. The whole scheme of the Government postulates loss, and it says to the local authorities, "You will not be able to charge an economic rent for your houses. You will probably be 2s., 2s. 6d. or as much as 3s. a week short, and possibly, in a few cases, more than that, and therefore we cannot expect you to build all these houses—in some cases 10,000 and 12,000 houses—and to put the whole of the deficit on the rates. As an emergency policy, and to start the whole thing, the State will come forward and bear 75 per cent. of the deficit, and the 25 per cent. will remain with you." That is the Treasury scheme. The hon. Member for York and the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool do not like this scheme of the Treasury, which enters into a partnership with the local authority by which the Treasury bears 75 per cent. of the loss, and the local authority 25 per cent. They prefer another scheme, that the Treasury shall put down a sum of money estimated to be the difference between the cost before the War and the cost at the time the houses are erected. I will give an illustration of that. The hon. Member for York said a house which cost £200 to build before the War would cost £460 to build now. Therefore, he said, the proper plan is for the Treasury to pay £260 for each house as a subsidy to the local authority. Let the House think out that plan from 1201 the point of view of the Treasury. After all, what is the Treasury? It is only the taxpayer. What inducement will there be to the local authority in that case to be in any way economical? They would say, "We are going to make the contract. It does not matter to us. The cost of that house was £200 before the War; any difference between the cost before the War and the cost of the house now—
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
The right hon. Gentleman, I think, has missed out this point, that we recognise that at the end of five or seven years there must be a settlement, and that probably the cost of building by that time would be 30 or 40 per cent. higher than the pre-war cost, and that, of course, has to be taken into account.
§ Mr. FISHER
As I understand it, the Treasury is at once to find a lump sum representing the estimated difference between the cost previous to the War and the cost at which the house could be built, and will be built a year after.
§ Mr. FISHER
I say there would be no inducement to economy in the locality at all. If the Treasury were to make a separate bargain with all the 1,800 authorities who is to form an estimate of the enhanced price due to the War? I do not know if it can be ascertained. The price of labour and material were going up constantly before the War. Would they have been arrested in 1914 if there had been no war? I do not believe it. I believe those figures would have gone up. I say that is not a position which the Treasury could be expected to take up. In any case, all these different schemes have been put before the Treasury. The Treasury, after all, is the protector of the taxpayer, and the Treasury says, "We will bear 75 per cent. loss if you, the local authority, will bear 25 per cent. It will give some ground for thinking that you will exercise some economy in your share of the bargain." An hon. Member says that our scheme does not make for economy. I think it does. If the local authority has to bear 25 per cent., it will be rather careful what contracts it makes, and at what terms it lets its houses. The number of 300,000 houses and also the number of 500,000 have been mentioned. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Reconstruction, and I and others, came to the conclusion 1202 that, after all, the safest figure to give was 300,000, not because we estimate that not more than 300,000 will be required, but because we do not believe it will be possible in any circumstances to build in the first year after the War one house more than 300,000. The labour required will have to be spread over all the other building operations, and the material will be most difficult to get; in fact, I am quite sure that the local authorities are going to be ready to build before, in a very great many cases, materials are ready for them. I believe the greatest difficulty that will have to be faced is the difficulty of securing materials. I think houses must be built. Local authorities must be made to do their duty. I agree thus far with my hon. Friends. Where I differ from many of them is, as I said in my earlier speech, that from the different communications I have received from local authorities I do not believe that they are in the main at all unwilling to undertake their share of the duty of re-housing. At present only 125 local authorities out of 1,806 have expressed their unwillingness to build, or to undertake any building operations.
What is really delaying the local authorities is largely the fact that they are still a little bit hopeful that they may get some terms better than the terms offered by the Government. I welcome this Debate, yet I am not at all sure from it, and by reason of the things that have been from time to time said here and elsewhere, that this Debate will be helpful to the President of the Local Government Board in hastening the operations of the local authorities, because undoubtedly in some quarters it has been indicated that if only pressure is put upon the Government, the Government will have to give way, and will offer better terms to these various local authorities. During the last month or two I have been busy going about the country endeavouring to persuade local authorities that the offer of the Government is final, and that if they want to avail themselves of it, they had better prepare their plans, get their land, select their architects, and submit their plans to the Local Government Board, so that they may get to work as speedily as possible and carry out their share of these operations. This Debate may possibly lead them to suppose that the Government are willing to be squeezed, and that still better terms are to be got out of the 1203 Government. Therefore, I hope that before long my right hon. Friend will offer the House an opportunity of discussing the whole programme—that is, the Government programme—of housing in all its essentials, and that the House of Commons will make up its mind what it wants, and what it expects the Government to do in the way of subsidy; how far it is willing to assist private enterprise—if it thinks it can assist it—and public utility societies, to get the principle fixed and the question settled, and then to say to the local authorities: "These are our terms, you will get no better. The soldiers may be coming back sooner than we expect; get on with your plans and your work, for in one or two years we shall expect you to have built 300,000 dwelling-houses." If they are told that, I, for my part, with my knowledge of the great shortage of houses in this country, can only accept that as an instalment; and I hope that this House will set itself to work and lay down its House of Commons programme. I believe that in that vast programme it will be helping to rebuild the nation.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. A. Samuels)
I intervene for only one moment to answer a question or two put to me by the hon. Member for North Galway (Mr. Hazleton) as to what is the attitude of the Irish Government in regard to this particular Bill. In regard to the general subject, of course we have had the assurance of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary that the extensive scheme which has been more or less outlined by my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, and which is one which will be regarded in Ireland with great interest, will certainly, so far as it may be, be applied to Ireland. Serious as may be the case in other parts of the United Kingdom, there can be no question but that the condition of the housing of the town population of Ireland is one of even greater seriousness. The first Section of this Bill, as my hon. Friend knows, deals with the question of the borrowing powers of county councils in connection with the housing of their employés. In Ireland the county council has not that authority at all. The Housing of the Working Classes Acts and the Labourers Dwellings Acts are not operated by the county councils in Ireland but by rural district councils and by the urban district councils, of one of the most prominent 1204 of which my hon. Friend opposite is a member. The first Section of the Bill is not applicable to Irish conditions; that is the view the Irish Government take. I may remark, in passing, as to that part of the Clause which extends powers to borrow for eighty years, that clearly is taken from one of our own Irish Acts, in the passing of which—I refer to the Act of 1908—the hon. Member for North Dublin was so honourably associated, and which is known in Ireland as Clancy's Act. Then, as to Section 2 of the Act—
§ Mr. SAMUELS
That is a matter we shall very carefully watch. It may be said that this financial provision is not exactly in the Bill, but hon. Members may be quite sure that we shall watch keenly the arrangements made for England and take care that Ireland shall not suffer. Referring to Clause 2—the power to authorise county councils to provide houses in certain cases where urban sanitary authorities in a county do not exercise their powers adequately—there is no case at present for the application of this Clause to Ireland, because the rural bodies, as I think my hon. Friend himself suggested, discharge their duties well, and certainly in respect to the housing of the rural population in Ireland the housing has been far ahead of anything here. It must be remembered, too, that the definition of an agricultural labourer in the Irish Labourers Dwellings Acts is very wide, and one which extends to very many others than those actually who are engaged in definitely agricultural pursuits, so that a wide class comes within the benefits of the Acts. In regard to the housing of people dwelling in the urban sanitary areas situate in counties, in many districts there is undoubtedly a great deal to be desired. I admit that at once. The fault, however, is not that of the authorities; it is not their deficiency, but a deficiency of money combined with war conditions. All I can say, in conclusion, is that I assure my hon. Friends opposite that, so far as the Irish Government can keep open eyes to watch this matter, those eyes shall not be closed.
From the speech of the President of the Local Government Board it is perfectly obvious that the 1205 greater matter, that this great question of housing, will soon be considered by the House. It is perfectly obvious to those of us who listened to this Debate to-day that a great deal of it was very far removed from the matter of the small Bill that is before us. The county councils want this Bill because they like the idea of the patronage involved. They want to house their employés in the best way they can at the expense of the taxpayer—not the ratepayer. I was very glad to learn from the President of the Local Government Board towards the end of his speech winding up the Debate that these powers are not to be confined to the county councils, but will be extended under Acts, or by this Act, to smaller authorities—to the urban district and rural district councils, and that they too can build houses into which they can put their inspectors, matrons, and other officials equally with the county councils. I rise, however, for one purpose. He may not have meant it, but undoubtedly the President of the Local Government Board in this Bill, and through his speech, has cast a slur upon these smaller local authorities, and that slur has been cast not alone by him, but also by more than one speaker; in fact, by nearly every speaker to whom I have listened. They have held up these smaller authorities—that is, the urban and rural district councils—as authorities who will not do their work, and who must be gingered up and made to perform it. I dare say the House imagines that this particular Bill we have been discussing was only drafted the other day—something that has only come to the mind of the President of the Local Government Board quite recently. The House will be surprised to know that this Bill was drafted more than a year ago. It was considered by the President, and I suppose by the officials, more than a year ago. The draft of this Bill was actually sent to the Association of Urban District Councils, of which I have had the honour to be the vice-president more than a year. It may be interesting to the House if I give a couple of extracts showing what this Association of Urban District Councils thought of this Bill more than a year ago. In the document I hold in my hand they say—following a draft copy of the Bill sent to them by the President of the Local Government Board—and the date is 20th October, 1917: 1206Your letter of the 11th inst. enclosing draft of a proposed Housing Bill conferring further powers on the county councils was submitted to and considered by the executive council of this association at their meeting on Thursday.The executive council note that the powers of Clause 2 are limited to a period of twelve months from the termination of the present War, except for the purposes of amending an existing Order. But they are not aware of any reasons which are supposed to justify the conferring as a war measure of further powers on county councils in the event of possible default by district councils.The executive council respectfully submit that there has been no default by the urban district councils which would justify the grant of these further powers to the county councils, and in this respect they crave leave to refer to the Annual Reports of the Local Government Board in regard to housing and town planning since the passing of the Act of 1909.It appears from the table published in the Report for the year ending the 31st March, 1914, (the last before the War), that in that year the Board received seventy-nine applications from the councils of county boroughs, municipal boroughs, and urban district councils, and sanctioned loans for £565,860 for the erection of 2,465 houses. Of these applications—forty-five out of seventy-nine—for a total of £285,354, and the erection of 1,258 came from the urban district councils. Then again, the Report just issued for the year 1916–17 states (page 25) that the restriction on boroughs which the Treasury found necessary to impose has made it impossible to sanction loans in respect of many schemes before the Board, and during the year the Board were only able to sanction borrowing by eleven local authorities of sums amounting to £58,531 for the purposes of Part III. of the Act of 1890.The Association winds up by telling the President of the Local Government Board this:The executive council feel, therefore, that on consideration the Local Government Board will realise that this is not the time to introduce controversial legislation between the county and district councils which has for its object the conferring of greater powers upon the county councils at the expense of the urban authorities, when no case of default can be proved or, so far as the executive council know is suggested against them, and when they have been prevented by the War from exercising the powers of Part III. of the Act of 1890 to the extent they would otherwise have done.8.0 P.M.
I really appeal to the President of the Local Government Board to remove this slur upon urban district councils. They do not deserve it. They feel this is only one more and another of those Bills which are making for constant quarrels, and are a constant source of irritation between the lesser and the greater authorities, between the urban and rural district councils and the county councils. I may tell the President that in the division I represent this problem is very acute, and something ought to be done to allay the feelings which exist. 1207 If ginger has to be applied to these smaller local authorities let the dose be administered by the President himself and do not let an underling county council administer the dose, because that will not remove but accentuate the feeling which has grown up.
§ Mr. FIELD
I want to say two or three words in support of this Bill, and I hope its financial provisions will be extended particularly to such cities as Dublin, where the lack of housing accommodation has proved to be a public scandal. I wish to reinforce what has been said by my colleague from Ireland, and I trust whatever legislation is passed for England we shall also get the benefit of it in Ireland. I have been asked to take part in this Debate because probably Dublin is one of the most glaring examples of the need of the housing reform in the three Kingdoms. This is not a question of the want of desire on the part of local authorities, but it is a question of money. We are not going to-night into the question of the principles which have caused this Bill to be brought in. It is really a question of what help is going to be afforded by the State.
Undoubtedly the taxation of land values ought to accompany these proposals and unless this is done the evil will not be remedied as soon or as fully as it otherwise would be. There is no reason why the houses should pay all the taxation. This question of housing is one of those things which almost threatens the supremacy of the Empire, because the working man is the greatest asset of the nation, and unless you have work and progress you practically have no empire. This is not a party question, but an economic one which affects the very root and prosperity of the Empire. Those in charge of this Bill must not think that we are criticising in a hostile spirit, but we are doing it with the idea of making the Bill better. We want it to apply to all parts of the three Kingdoms for the benefit of the community at large.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill said he hoped to see it the forerunner of a vast housing scheme. I suppose he is looking forward to the day when everybody will live in a sort of charity house provided largely by the State, and all this because the right hon. Gentleman said that private enterprise cannot provide the houses which are required and therefore it is necessary for the local authorities to provide them and 1208 for the State to subsidise the rents by 2s. or 2s. 6d. per week. No doubt private enterprise cannot do all that is required, but I want to direct attention to what the President of the Local Government Board does as regards the provision of houses in the constituency that I have the honour to represent (Hanley). All the evils of the housing problem are represented in that borough. The bad housing conditions result in very high infantile mortality. What happens if anybody tries to solve the problem by building houses? Immediately a house is erected the assessor comes and levies a rate of 13s. in the £1. That is the encouragement that is given to the building of houses in Hanley. Not only is the house rated at 13s. in the £1 but the builder or owner will have to pay another 5s. in the £1 under Schedule A, the result being that there is an assessment of something like 18s. in the £1, all of which has to be passed on to the tenant, or if it had to be paid by the builder it would make him bankrupt.
There is really a bigger penalty for building a house than for getting drunk, because in the latter case a man is fined once and purges his offence, but you bring up the builder every six months and fine him, and yet the right hon. Gentleman says private enterprise cannot provide the houses and he has to bring in a vast housing scheme and provide a subsidy out of the Treasury. You ought to take off those taxes which rightly belong to the Treasury and which cause the rent to be raised above what a man can afford to pay. If you want lower rents why not have such national services as education, poor relief, police, the keeping up of main roads and the cost of asylums taken off the taxation of houses and placed where they might be more rightly levied. That would go a long way towards lowering rents and you would not need subsidies. The Local Government Board creates the evil which it pretends to set to work and try and remedy by a scheme which in the end will certainly not solve the problem because it leaves the cause of the evil untouched.
The Member for the Tradeston Division (Mr. Dundas White) said, if you want cheap houses, the first thing is to be able to get the land free from the speculative price. In the borough of Stoke there are some 4,000 acres rated as agricultural land paying £200 a year, and that land is not available because the owner wishes to hold on to it for another ten years in the hope that when the President of the Local 1209 Government Board spends his hundreds of thousands of pounds the price of that land will go up; and so that land is held up and it cannot be bought only at a speculative price. Even when you have got the land, along come the rating authorities and place a heavy burden upon it. The first obvious thing to do is to take the rates off the houses and put them where they rightly belong—that is, on to the value of the land—and this will bring unused land into the market, and then you will get cheaper houses. The Member for Tradeston mentioned the fact that this system of taxing the land has been adopted in Australia. Mr. Hughes, the Premier of Australia, is in this country on a mission, and he mght tell the people here how they manage their affairs in this respect, because Mr. Hughes was one of the foremost advocates of this system of taxation and his party came into power on a most drastic proposal for the taxation of land values.
In New South Wales virtually the whole of the rates have been taken off improvements and placed on the value of the land. The city of Sydney now raises the whole of its rates from land values alone. The people there saw that the withholding of land from use was the cause of housing difficulty, and by taking the rates off the houses and by placing them on the land they brought the land into use, and they set to work with wonderful results. Never in the history of Australia or any other country has building progressed as it did after the initiation of this reform. I would suggest, as Mr. Hughes is in this country, that the President of the Local Government Board should confer with him on this matter as to how the monopoly of the land has been dealt with in Australia by this system of rating and taxing. If the right hon. Gentleman will introduce, even in a small measure a reform on those lines, then I think he will find that private enterprise will have a chance, and there will be no more need to subsidise the building of houses by the State and there will be no need to subsidise other commodities. There will only be one thing left, and it is to see that the workers who create the work get a wage which enables them to acquire houses instead of having subsidies from the State.
§ Mr. WATT
I shall not delay the passing of this measure more than one half-minute. I rise simply to protest 1210 against the exclusion of Scotland. The housing question is an enormous one, and of vital importance to the country. It is even of greater importance to Scotland than to England, for the shortage of houses in Scotland is greater. We are told that there are something like 400,000 houses wanted in England. In Scotland the shortage is 250,000, which, according to the population, is an even greater one. And yet this measure is not to be applied to Scotland. My hon. and learned Friend reminds me that Scotland is to contribute to the burdens of this measure. I protest against that, and I propose to join with my Friends the Members for Ireland in taking some action in Committee. We have had the presence of the English Members dealing with the English question and of the Irish Members dealing with the Irish question, but the Scottish Members on the Front Bench are conspicuous by their absence. I understand that the Scottish Secretary is still in Scotland speaking at War Savings meetings. He is always suggesting economies in this House, but he seldom gives us any encouragement. I would urge upon the Government that Scotland is entitled to the advantages given in this Bill, invisible though they be to the ordinary Member. If the Government have considered this question thoroughly, as we must presume they have done, they must have come to the conclusion that this is not a complete measure as long as Scotland is not to have the same advantages as England.
§ Mr. BYRNE
On all occasions when a Bill is brought in which taxes and overtaxes the people you will always find that Ireland is asked to contribute its share. I do not think there is any part of Great Britain and Ireland where the housing conditions are so bad as they are in the city of Dublin We have as many as sixteen families living in a tenement house 1211 in my own division I think that is a matter which ought to be seen to at once. I think that the Government ought to deal fairly with these matters, and that any Bill which is for the benefit of England should also be for the benefit of Ireland and Scotland. I notice there is no such word in the Bill as the exclusion of Wales. Some day, when Scotland and Ireland are able to boast of a Scottish or Irish Prime Minister with a very powerful Press behind him, then you will find that Ireland and Scotland will get fair play, but not until then. I do not know what the difference is between Scotland and Wales. I do not know how they compare with Ireland. The conditions in Ireland are far worse than they are in Wales. I hope the Government will in the Committee stage include Ireland in this Bill, where, as I have said before, the housing conditions are horrible.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Towyn Jones.]