§ The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Dr. Addison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
I think there is no dispute in any quarter that this matter is of the utmost importance, from the point of view not only of the physical well-being of our people, but of our social stability and industrial content. We are dealing just now with an actual shortage of houses, and with what I may further describe as a concealed shortage. The number of houses erected for the working classes annually was 80,000, and we have now a war arrear of, say, 350,000 houses of this class which would have been built had it not been for the War. But we have a much more serious shortage even than that. There is no one familiar with the life of many of our cities and villages who is not well acquainted with the large number of houses which are not fit for habitation for families. We have in our villages up and down the country large numbers of cottages, some built a long time ago, in a very dilapidated and unsatisfactory condition. When the families are large there are not sufficient facilities either for sleeping accommodation or in any other direction. What is the case in our villages is much more the case in many of our cities. Our information on this subject, considering the amount of public attention the matter has received, is singularly incomplete. A Return, which is the best I could find, was provided by local authorities in 1914, and although it only covers about a quarter of the houses of the working-class type it showed that there were 70,000 quite unfit for habitation, and a further 300,000 which were seriously defective. That is to say, in a survey which did not pretend to include all the existing houses in 1914, there were found to be no fewer than 370,000 either entirely unfit or seriously defective. That condition has to be dealt with along with any actual shortage due 1714 to arrears of building during the War. There is, therefore, a double aspect of this housing question, because people will continue to live in a large number of these dwellings until something better is provided in the locality. Apart from that, there is everywhere, in the outskirts of every town and in many of our villages, an urgent demand for new houses. I see that there are about 3,000,000 people who live in what is described as an overcrowded condition—that is to say, more than two in a room; and in the area covered by the London County Council their Return tells us that there were 750,000 living in this condition. There is a problem big enough to deal with, entirely apart from the great undertaking of the provision of new houses on open ground.
I should like to examine a little closer this question of bad house and slum property. We heard during the recent evidence before the Commission on the miners' demand, voiced almost every day, a loud complaint as to the condition of the housing, and what applies to miners I have no doubt applies in many other cases. I remember some time ago I was down in South Wales, and I saw some of the houses there. They were built a long time, perhaps 100 years ago. They had very thick walls—were mere hovels, and it would be a difficult and laborious business even to pull them down. The fact is that, till other houses are built, people will continue, for various reasons, from lack of other accommodation and from habit, to live in those kinds of places. We can speak in general terms of these things.
I have here, however, an analysis of an East London street, a typical slum street developed in the ordinary way as a slum develops. As a rule, these tenement houses were built for tradesmen, or fairly well-to-do people in the locality, fifty years ago or so. Then the fashion changed or the people left. Gradually they came to be let out in tenements. I will take four or five houses next door to one another in this street. The first house was let out in six tenements, thirty-one people living in it. There was one water-closet for the whole lot and one water tap down in the back area. The next-door house was also let out in six tenements, and twenty-nine people lived in it, with the same accommodation. The next house had twenty-seven; the next, thirty-eight; the next, thirty-six. This is not an exaggerated case. You find scores 1715 of these streets in London and all large cities. There were 129 houses and they contained 733 people, let out in 168 different lettings.
§ Dr. ADDISON
Yes; it is Essex Street, Shoreditch. That is a typical case, and there are many others which have developed in exactly the same way. I think it is impossible to exaggerate the social ill-effects and industrial ill-effects, as well as the physical ill-effects of the continuance of conditions of this kind. As the House is only too well aware, it is not my habit, nor have I the wish, to use the big brush, and I will confine myself to a practical application of the effects of this kind of thing in two or three directions. I have a report from the medical officer of health of 438 persons suffering from tuberculosis. It was found in 352 cases that all these consumptive patients had to share the bed or bedroom with other people. In the vast majority of cases not only were one or more persons sleeping in the same bed, but there were other beds in the same room, in some instances four other beds in the same room. It is quite clear that it is futile, and a waste of money, to try and deal with the spread of tubercle while things like this prevail. I could give plenty more instances. Wherever we turn we find that this state of overcrowding is reflected in the expenditure of our Poor Law, in the expenditure on tubercle, and many other expenditures. I have examined the expenditure of the Poor Law during the last few years, and I see that between 1889 and 1913 there was an increase from £8,000,000 to £15,000,000 a year. This increase of expenditure was not due, to any material extent, to an increase in out-door relief; it was due in the main to the better provision for medical services, especially institutional services, and for indoor maintenance connected therewith. These were the main reasons for the increase. We are, however, in the case of tubercle, under the Insurance Act, able to know precisely what we spend on one particular complaint, and I find that between July, 1912, and March, 1919, we spent nearly £8,500,000 in treating tubercle alone. It is difficult to compute what these housing conditions do cost us in terms of public expenditure, but these two items of expenditure alone show that they are costing us many millions 1716 every year It is very difficult to deal with this question, because, in the first place, at the present time if an authority closes a house the only result is to send the people into the neighbouring houses, and the result is that closing orders are not made under the Act. Then large numbers of people have lived all their lives in these areas, and it is quite clear that the people living in these unsatisfactory dwellings are, in the vast majority of cases, in the receipt of weekly wages for regular work. They are not ne'er-do-wells, but are, the vast majority, people who have lived all their lives there and are in regular work.
It is very significant that when we come to examine the distribution of factory workers in a city like London we find that in 1907, of the 500,000 people employed in the factories in London 346,000 dwelt in the inner zone, only 168,000 in the middle zone, and only 35,000 in the outer zone. Practically three-quarters of the people employed in factories in London dwelt near their work. They were there for other reasons—for lack of transport, because of the cost of living, or the time they had to go to work —from one reason or another they lived there, and felt they had to continue living there. So it is quite clear that until we have got a vastly improved system of transport and a much greater factory development outside our cities, this problem will be urgent and acute in our great centres of population. Therefore, we have to deal with this slum question, or bad housing question, as a part of our housing scheme. No scheme that solely centres on building houses upon the ground will suffice to deal with the evil as it at present exists. What are the powers and duties of local authorities at the present time? There are 1,800 of these authorities, or more, and they can issue an order closing a house which is unfit for habitation. Under existing circumstances any authority is very averse from doing that. It is an extraordinary thing that, although they are authorised to issue closing orders there is no penalty on the landlord for re-letting the house after the closing order has been applied.
§ Dr. ADDISON
In Section 21 of this Bill we deal with that. The next thing is with regard to the large number of houses that are not so bad that they ought to be demolished, but are still very unsatis- 1717 factory. What can the local authority do? Under the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1909, they can require the owner to put his property in a condition, "in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation." In regard to the street I have just described, no one would pretend that these houses were in a state "reasonably fit for human habitation." The standards, of course, improve, and what might have been regarded as "fit for human habitation" fifty years ago is not so regarded to-day, but, as a matter of fact, the power of the authority in respect of making anybody keep his property of this kind in a proper condition or to do it themselves is very limited. At all events, the result is what we see to-day. In 1914 there was a return of nearly 400,000 houses thoroughly unsatisfactory, so that it is quite clear that the present powers are wholly inadequate to deal with it. Again, there is no power to require the owner to adjust or fit the house to bring it up to a reasonable standard. It is perfectly evident that it is by no means the fault of the owners of this property that it is in this condition, especially in the case of the freeholder. These places have been let on leases and are then sub-let and sub-let again, and so on, and the freeholder may be in the position of seeing his property gradually degenerate into a slum and have no power whatever to step in and do anything to alter it.
These are reasons why so little has been achieved up to the present. There is another reason—the cost of acquisition. Where the authority has condemned an area and requires, to pull the place down the cost is so enormous under the present Statutes that it is almost prohibitive. It is evident that no solution of the question can be achieved unless we can make the cost of closing in some way reasonably commensurate with the value of the land.
Another obstacle to rapid progress is our existing procedure. It seems to me on examining the different Acts of Parliament which have been passed on this question that at various times in Committee and otherwise the House has had before it some grievance or hardship which may have occurred in some place or another, and they have accordingly placed provision in the Statute to safeguard it, and the accumulated result of all these elaborate safeguards is to make the procedure extremely cumbrous and dilatory, apart from being very expensive. None of us wants to inflict hardship upon anybody, but at the 1718 same time if the House will read what I propose to issue afterwards in the form of a White Paper as a summary of the exising procedure on what we call Part 1 and Part 2 schemes, that is, unsatisfactory houses, they will see how cumbrous and difficult it is. The result is that it takes months to get a scheme through. It is twenty-eight year since the Act of 1890 was passed authorising this kind of thing. During these twenty-eight years there have only been thirty-two completed rehousing schemes under the Act in the whole country. During the ten years before the War there were only eight schemes completed. I am talking about unsatisfactory condemned areas. Of these condemned area schemes there were only eight completed schemes in the ten years before the War, and seven schemes which were started have not been completed yet. In some cases I know it is due to the War.
We propose in the Bill, in Section 5, to make it the duty of a local authority where a case appears, to undertake a survey and to provide a scheme for dealing with what rehousing is necessary. At the present time we cannot require the local authority to do this unless complaints are made and established through the Local Government Board from ratepayers, supported by a recommendation of the Medical Officer of Health. We have sufficient information now to know that many areas ought certainly to be dealt with and we propose therefore in Section 5 to make it the duty of the authority in these circumstances to prepare a scheme. It is also proposed in the same Section that where an authority fails to prepare a scheme or to carry it out the Local Government Board may itself prepare a scheme and carry it out. I shall have something to say on this general power later on in respect of new housing.
The next important proposal in the Bill connected with this side of the problem is contained in Clause 8, which deals with the cost of acquisition in these cases. If the House will look at that Clause they will see that we do not propose to pay for the houses that have been condemned. The examples to which I have referred sufficiently show by contrast what will be involved in this Clause. We propose that the compensation to be paid for the land, including any buildings thereon, shall be the value at the time the valuation is made of the land as: a site cleared of buildings and available for development in accordance with the requirements of the building 1719 by-laws for the time being in force in the district. You must remember that the areas I am speaking of are places where the houses have been condemned as unfit for habitation. We provide also that to whatever extent we require the land for rehousing, the basis of value shall be the value of the land as required for that purpose. In many cases it will not be necessary to require the whole of the land for rehousing, in which case the first part of the Clause will apply. I will give illustrations which show as far as we can reckon what will be the effect of this Clause. In the Boundary Street area bought by the London County Council the compensation paid is £220,000. It is calculated that the value of the site clear of buildings available for development in accordance with the requirements of the building by-laws under this Clause would be £115,000. The difference would be £105,000. The amount paid before for buildings and various interests upon it make up the difference. I think we have to proceed on this basis, that if this property is condemned as being so bad that it cannot even be patched up and must be pulled down and cleared out of the way, we ought not to be required to pay anything for it. That is the basis of the Clause.
We propose to relieve the London County Council of certain obligations which appear to be not altogether reasonable in regard to rehousing on the site, and that is contained in the Bill, because with improved systems of transport it is clearly desirable that we should not necessarily want to put the same number of people on the same site again. We want to improve our transport system so that people can more readily get further out. This part of the question is intimately concerned with our transport proposals, and until we can get a common transport authority we shall not be able to deal with the congested areas problem in any satisfactory way. In Section 11 there is a very important proposal which I believe will go far to help us to deal successfully with this problem. It is proposed that the housing purposes shall include power to acquire any houses or other buildings on the land proposed to be acquired, and to acquire any estate or interest in any houses which might be made suitable for the working classes, and that the local authority shall have power to alter, enlarge, repair, and improve any such houses or buildings. That is to say, any 1720 authority can, if they think it necessary, acquire any of these unsatisfactory houses or buildings and bring them into proper condition to be suitable dwellings. We are none of us in favour of what some housing authorities are wont to describe as slum patching, but that is no reason why vast numbers of houses which can be made perfectly decent and put into good condition should not be put into habitable condition. I should like to see a wide extension of this power in many parts of our great cities.
In some parts of the country—for example, in London—some time ago you could see roads in certain derelict districts where there were numbers of quite good houses which had come down in the world so far as the fashion of the neighbourhoods was concerned, and these houses might well be adapted and made into useful dwellings. We further adopt the Clause proposed in the Bill of the hon. Member for Dudley (Sir A. Griffith-Boscawen) in Section 14 of the Bill. It often happens that land where such buildings are situated comes into the market not at the particular moment when the local authority may require it, but before. This Clause will enable them to acquire such land in advance of the preparation and execution of an actual scheme of reconstruction. Apart from the authority being authorised to acquire and alter any unsatisfactory houses, in Section 19 of the Bill there is another important provision which I believe should go far to assist owners and to assist generally in the solution of this overcrowding and unsatisfactory house question in many districts. Clause 19 deals with by-laws respecting houses divided into separate tenements. It is provided that power should be conferred upon the authorities, and, failing their exercising it, that the Local Government Board itself should have power to exercise it to make by-laws, prescribing what is required in an ordinary reasonable habitation in regard to water supply, cooking, and so forth. It often happens that the leaseholder might be quite willing to alter and adapt a house in this way, but the conditions under which they hold it prohibit its being altered. We provide in this Clause that in these cases where such alterations are approved, and likely to be required for the housing of the working classes, power is taken to set aside the covenants that are restrictive of such alteration.
1721 Clause 20, which deals with the owner's side of the same question, will, I believe, be almost as useful in some districts as Clause 19. There we deal with the freeholder whose property is gradually deteriorating under his eyes, but he has no power to take possession or make alterations. Under this Bill if that property deteriorates down to a condition in which it has to be condemned, then it is liable to acquisition under the terms of Clause 8, which would be a serious damage to the freeholder, so we give him power, when he makes a case under Section 20, to re-enter and take possession of property of such a kind for the purpose of carrying out a reconstruction scheme. This is an expensive business, though in this particular respect, so far as acquisition goes, under the new terms it will not be as expensive as it was in former times. Therefore we propose that our financial assistance, to which I will refer in detail, shall extend not only to the provision of new houses on cleared ground, but to schemes undertaken in slum areas or with regard to unsatisfactory houses. Under Section 15 the local authority may give assistance to a housing trust or a public utility society. Under Section 16 the Local Government Board itself may do so direct.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I will come to that. Another less striking but almost equally necessary one of the series of proposals contained in this Bill and the Schedules is the alteration in procedure. I will not go into details; they will be set out in the White Paper which I propose to issue, and are not perhaps fitted for a Second Reading speech, but I believe that the alterations in procedure will be found to be just as important as some of the Clauses to which I have referred.
§ Dr. ADDISON
They will be put into the Bill. These are the proposals for dealing with unsatisfactory houses and the slum question. I now come to the proposals for dealing with new houses on open ground. I think it well that I should tell the House quite frankly what the position is. I confess at once that when we had examined the various applications which were lodged with the Local Government Board during the War 1722 and had them sifted—it was not till the end of January that the process was thoroughly completed—I was extremely disappointed with the meagre result. I think it much better that we should frankly report progress, so that not only the House but everyone outside may know what kind of progress has been made, and even if the Department itself has to come under the harrow, let it be so, and if it makes us do our work better, all the better. The position mainly arose from the fact that during the War the authorities have not had the necessary staff for preparing schemes, all being occupied in war work of one sort or another like the rest of us; and the architects, surveyors, engineers and other necessary persons all being otherwise employed, the result was when we came to the end of the War there was a mere handful of schemes in any forward condition. On the 21st January schemes had been submitted by 108 authorities for the acquisition of sites for houses, and fifty-two authorities had submitted schemes respecting the building of houses. Those were all the schemes that were submitted at the end of the War in a forward condition. When we had the schemes examined it was quite clear that some of them, which were put forward in other conditions when prices were very different from what they are now, required revision. The result was a further winnowing down, reducing the number still further.
On 6th February we were able to issue the new financial terms and since then things have been improving rapidly, but it required two months at least for the local authorities and ourselves to collect the necessary staff to get the men back from the Army, etc., and it was not until the beginning of March that things showed any material sign of movement. I propose to issue a statement to-morrow showing the position on the 8th March, a month after the new financial terms had been issued and our housing staff had been collected and to issue regularly a weekly report. I may say, as showing some sign of movement, that there were 418 schemes for sites on the 8th March, and during the following four weeks the numbers came in as follows: forty-one, eighty-one, sixty-five, eighty-eight. During the last four weeks we have had 275 new applications. All these schemes, so far as we can ascertain, cover sites which would provide houses to the extent of 1723 about 100.000 when the schemes have been completed. The site applications which have been submitted up to the present comprise 4,620 acres, and the number of houses of which drawings, specifications and all the rest of it have been submitted up to the moment is only 6,909. That is the position, and I am glad to say, now that the machinery is beginning to work both locally and centrally, the last four weeks have, shown a marked increase of progress. What is now only a trickle we want to become a stream of applications in the next few weeks.
In the first place, with respect to new building, the Bill proposes a new duty for authorities. We propose under the first Section of the Bill that it shall be the duty of authorities to make a survey of the housing needs of their district. It has not been up to the present the duty on any authority to examine into the needs of a district. It will be noticed in the first Clause that we put in a very short time for the submission of the first scheme. We required the authority to consider the needs of the area, and within three months of the passing of this Act and thereafter, as occasion may require, to prepare and submit to the Local Government Board a scheme. I recognise that a complete building scheme, complete in every detail, will, of course, take a lot of time, but it will be seen that this survey shall specify the approximate number and the nature of houses to be provided and the approximate quantity of land, and the time within which this scheme or any part of it shall be carried into effect. It will be seen that it is not a detailed scheme. You want a good general idea of what the needs of the area are.
An important member of the London County Council made some rather serious criticism of the Bill and of myself the other day, and complained of this time limit. We have made it short because, in the first place, every authority has already at its disposal a vast mass of information. We want to get a good general idea as a working basis, and that can be provided within a short time. In the case of the London County Council, of which Mr. Hill complains, if he will refer to the reports of the county council itself on 23rd July and 15th October last, he will see that there was a detailed statement of the needs of London with respect to bad 1724 houses, and we know that a very important scheme has already been provided. There is a vast mass of information already at our disposal. I do not suppose that this Bill, even on the most sanguine estimate, will became law in a week or two from the publication of the text of this Bill. It may be two or three months by the time it gets on the Statute Book. I hope that it will be shorter, but there, will be three months after that. Everybody knows that we have intended to push on with a great housing scheme for several months. It was talked of from one end of the country to another. I see no reason whatever for supposing that this time limit, for what you require, is anything too short, and unless we can get it at an early date precious time will be lost. There is a very important provision here, which, I believe, many authorities will welcome and which clearly will be necessary. It is provided in Sub-section 5 of the first Section, that joint schemes may be required or prepared in various cases. Many of our great cities have to build in the region of another authority and in many cases a number of authorities are concerned. In the case of Greater London, I am glad to say there have been some very hopeful conferences of the authorities within fifteen miles of Charing Cross, with the idea, if we can secure it, of having a comprehensive scheme for the whole area. It is perfectly clear that in many of the cases it will be desirable that you should have joint schemes. We therefore propose to take the powers prescribed in this Clause.
It will be noticed that we propose to take power to deal with the approval of a site. Up to the present it has been necessary to consider the site, the laying out, the plans of the houses and all that sort of thing, and finally the complete scheme. We propose to do away with that necessity, and to have authority to sanction the site, and secondly, the general laying out of the site, and thirdly, the provision of the houses, so that an authority, without waiting for the complete details of the whole scheme, can have the site sanctioned and can go ahead on that and prepare the land. [An HON. MEMBER: "Irrespective of cost?"] I will deal with cost in its proper place. The question as to the site is whether it is a proper site to acquire and suitable land for the purpose, and the question, of course, of cost comes in as well as suitability. I would like to assure my hon. Friend that, 1725 as far as I am concerned, I have no intention of proceeding irrespective of cost anywhere. We are proposing to set up a costing Department, and have already got a staff, and that I hope will enable us to go into the costs of building and the expenditure of this money in the most precise and accurate manner; because it is quite clear that unless the State is equipped with some reliable, scientific, capable system of check we may find ourselves wasting public money. Where a scheme has been prepared and an emergency scheme has been sanctioned the Bill prescribes that it shall be the duty of the authority in a time specified to carry it out. I think myself that is a vital proposal. Further, it is prescribed in the third Clause of the Bill that where an authority fails to carry out its obligations the Board may transfer the obligation to the County Council. There are 1,805 authorities, and in this matter it is no good pretending. There are some only too keen to get along, and numbers of them are very keen to do BE just now, I am glad to say. But still there are some that are backward who ought not to be so, and who are not very anxious to press on for some reason or other. It is therefore proposed that where an authority, say a rural district council, does not carry out its obligations, we may transfer to the county council the power to act in its place. The Clause reads:where the Local Government Board are satisfied a local authority have failed… or for any other reason it is desirable that any such obligation should be performed by the county council.What we have in mind there is the provision of houses on what is called cottage gardens—that is, the smallholding scheme under the Board of Agriculture. The county council is the small-holdings authority, and in connection with these small half-acre plots which are scattered over different counties it is desirable that there should not be divided responsibility, and that you should not have the rural district council providing the house and the county council providing the site; therefore this provision is inserted.
In the fourth Clause of the Bill we come to a proposal which I dare say may be criticised, but which, I believe, is essential. It is provided there that where an authority defaults the Local Government Board itself shall be empowered either to prepare a scheme or to carry it out as the case may be. I raise 1726 this point now because it was referred to the other day at the proceedings of the London County Council, and I think it is much better that we should face this proposal straight out and see what it is. I was accused there of wanting to assume the powers of an Oriental potentate. I certainly do not look the part. We seek power where a local authority defaults, either to prepare a scheme or build the houses ourselves, and if that were the conduct of an Oriental potentate I dare say we should have leas trouble in the East. Let us come to the proceedings of the Industrial Conference the other day, and what did they say? In the Report signed by both employers and employed, page 9 contains the following:In order to meet the present crisis, the committee recommend that the Government should without delay proceed with a comprehensive housing programme… The committee urge that where the local authorities fail to utilise their powers to provide suitable housing accommodation the Local Government Board should take the necessary steps for the erection of suitable houses in the area of the authority, and special powers, if necessary, to compel authorities to act in accordance with the housing needs of the district.That is exactly what is in the Bill. Let me say this: The local authorities are only too anxious to get on with the work. I have had many conferences with them on this Bill, and we have always got on very happily together, without any difficulty or conflict. But many of them fully recognise that it is in the highest national interest that this power should be taken in the event of an authority failing to do its duty. There is no affront to the authorities in making this proposal. Where people do not do their duty in all walks of life we impose special conditions. I would like to ask the critics who described this power as that of an Oriental potentate what is going to happen? Here we are prepared to find millions of money to assist in building houses, and in a certain area which shows that a certain need exists, if the authority responsible for dealing with that area is not disposed to try to meet those needs, what are we going to do? Are we to stand by and do nothing, because that is the alternative? It is clear that the only thing we can do under such circumstances is to invite somebody else to step in to do the work. We propose that it may be the county council or it may be the central Government Department. Serious duties are imposed on the authorities under all these Clauses, and I am sure, willing as they are, it will require a great 1727 augmentation of their staff and a great acceleration of their proceedings, and immense energy and enthusiasm, to deal with them. It is, therefore, all the more incumbent upon us that we should do everything we can to help. I come now to that side of the question.
There is, in the first place, the acquisition of land. It is not my business to-day to deal with the details of the Acquisition of Land Bill, but I should like to draw the attention of the House to one very important feature of this matter which is covered by our existing proposal, and that is as to the procedure on the acquisition of land, and the cost. Apart from the price of the land, the present prolonged and dilatory proceedings are often exceedingly expensive. Let me give some illustrations which occurred in some of the years before the War. In 1912 the rural district council of Erpingham purchased twelve acres of land for houses. The price awarded by the arbitrator was £382, while the costs incurred in acquiring that land were £193 additional, making a total of £575. The cost per acre, so far as the award was concerned, was £31 3s. 7d., and the total cost, after the expenses were added, was £46 17s. per acre, so that the costs increased the price of the land by £15 per acre. The following year there was a case where the costs increased the price by £80 on an acre, and in the year after £23 by legal and other costs alone. In one of the cases I personally analysed the costs. The amount paid for surrendering the premises was £6, and the legal expenses £165. There were three rival claimants, and the proceedings were carried out under Section 76 of the Land Clauses Act, and the costs had to be paid by the local authority. The whole of that, I am glad to say, except the decision by the tribunal, is done away with under the Acquisition of Land Bill. Whatever Members may think as to the cost of land as between a willing seller and a willing buyer the provisions of the Act, so far as they relate to coats in respect of land acquired for housing, will mean an immense saving. The next proposal enables authorities to alter their procedure, but I will not refer to that further now as it will be set out at length in the White Paper. In Clause 9 we are taking power which, perhaps, some of my hon. Friends will think too drastic, but which I believe is essential. If 1728 hon. Members will refer to Clause 9, they will find that when the purchase of a site is settled, after giving fourteen days' notice, before the compensation has been awarded and the other proceedings gone through, the local authority may enter upon the land and begin operations. The object of that is clear. You can deal with compensation and other matters afterwards. What we want to do is to get along with building the houses, and therefore, if the site is a proper one and has been properly sanctioned, there is no reason why they should not be authorised to enter in and get along with the business. A difficulty which we have found in some areas —and some of the schemes now before us have met it—is that which attaches to the provision of water. At the present time the position is that the proceedings with regard to acquiring water for housing schemes have to be taken under the various Clauses of the Public Health Acts, and it has been held that a Provisional Order cannot be made under the Public Health Acts except with consent. This means in many cases delay, difficulty, and expense, and therefore we provide in Clause 13 of the Bill that similar powers relating to the acquisition of the necessary land shall relate to the acquisition of the necessary water. These should be and will be, I hope, material helps, but the greatest help the Government is giving is the financial help, and the scheme of assistance has been published already and may be found in the Library. In the first place, unlike the scheme that was suggested last year, it relates, as I said before, to the provision of new houses or to the dealing with unsatisfactory houses or slums. The whole of the housing operations under this emergency scheme are entitled to benefit under our financial proposals. In brief, what it comes to is that when the scheme is approved the Government undertakes to finance it for a provisional period—we estimate seven years—during which time an annual subsidy will be made on the basis that the charge falling upon the authority of the area will not exceed the produce of a 1d. rate. At the end of that time it is to be hoped that housing will not have reverted to the pre-war cost, but that, at all events, the cost will have got nearer, let us hope, to the pre-war level; and there will then be a revaluation or resettlement of the amount, and if as a result of the examination it appears that the future annual 1729 charges to be borne by the local authorities are likely to exceed the produce of a 1d. rate, the annual subsidy for the remainder of the loan would be fixed at a sum calculated to cover this excess. That depends clearly upon the rent which you are paying.
§ Dr. ADDISON
The machinery for fixing the rents is at the present time a matter for examination, and I am discussing it with the local authorities. I have clearly got to set up machinery for satisfying ourselves, and also the local authority, that a fair rent is charged for the house in comparison, let us say, with existing accommodation of a like character, and other standards which we shall have to prescribe. I am not prepared at this moment to set up the precise machinery without working it out in consultation with the local authorities, but as soon as I can I will certainly announce it.
§ Dr. ADDISON
Oh, yes; in two or three weeks—a long time before this Bill has left this House. It is clear that in the first place you cannot expect these houses in many districts to bring in a rent which will cover the cost of construction. Our contribution is based on this, that the loss by the local authorities in respect of charges, sinking fund, and all the rest of it, after they have deducted the rents, shall not exceed a penny rate. That is the basis of the scheme for a provisional period of seven years.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
Can the right hon. Gentleman say that after the seven years the idea was that even then it should not exceed a penny rate?
§ Dr. ADDISON
That is so. At the end of seven years, when we revise the local case in view of the experience as to rents, cost of building, and so forth, then we fix the subsidy for the remainder of the term of the loan, and we take the seven years' period in the first place because we do not know what the requirements will be in a few years' time. It is very necessary that we should aim at the end of that time at houses being let at an economic rent. Otherwise you will kill private building altogether.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I would recommend my hon. Friend, before he sets out to kill private building, to find out how many houses for the working classes have been built by private builders. He will learn that nineteen out of every twenty houses of a decent kind occupied by the working classes before the War were built by private enterprise. Therefore I think he should be careful before he finally decides on that line of policy. However, whether they are built by private enterprise or not, you ought to arrange it so that when you have got rid of the artificial inflation of the cost, caused by the War, at the end of that time the rent received ought to pay for the charges on the house.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
May I ask whether any special provisions have been made to deal with the special difficulties of the rural rents?
§ Dr. ADDISON
No; I am speaking now of the machinery for determining the rents. I am not aiming at charity rents, because I was trying, if I had not been interrupted, to lead up to this point, that whether the State builds or the private individual builds, you must aim, when you have got rid of war inflation, at the rent received being a proper charge on the house, otherwise you will ruin building on a self-sufficing basis. That means that we cannot undertake under any circumstances to subsidise a rent that is lower than what ought properly to be charged. That would be ruinous to the whole future of housing in this country. Nor ought we under this scheme to subsidise low wages by allowing too low rents to be paid. There has been some misunderstanding as to this 1d., and I must refer to it, although it might be more happy for me if I had not got to. I see that my predecessor in office, writing in the "Weekly Dispatch" a week or so ago, says that, whereas under the Treasury Grants promised in 1918, the London County Council could have built 55,000 houses, which would have accommodated a quarter of a million of the working classes, and could have let them at rents which would have involved the ratepayers in no more than 1d. rate, the 1d. rate under the new Government scheme will not enable the 1731 county council to build as many as 15,000 new houses. I hope that is not going to be the line the London County Council is going to take, because it is an entire misunderstanding of the whole thing. What we say, with the qualifications which I have described, is that we have to meet the loss above the proceeds of a 1d. rate, and the question is, Can the County Council of London afford 1d. rate? That is really the only question, because under the proposals of last year, when it was suggested that 75 per cent. of the loss should be borne by the State, it so happens, taking this particular figure here given, that there is no material difference between the two schemes. If the London County Council, bearing 25 per cent. of the loss and the State 75 per cent., were to build 55,000 houses, the county council, on the Estimate which the Chairman brought down carefully framed and based on 5s. a week subsidy per house, would find about £178,750 and the Treasury £536,000. Under our scheme, where we pay the excess of 1d. rate, the county council would find £180,000. or £1,250 more, and the Treasury would find £535,000, or an equivalent amount less. There is really no difference between the two. I do not think it is unreasonable to ask authorities to bear the cost up to 1d. rate, and I think that London has no ground of complaint. If the House will recollect the statement as to the needs of London that I referred to in the earlier part of my speech—of 55,000 houses, and I think that is about the right figure—let the County council deal with it, and they will find at the end of the time that they will be out of pocket practically the same amount of money as they would have been under the proposals previously made that they should bear a quarter of the cost. There is no material difference. The proposals as they stand at present are no obstacle to any authority which requires to spend more than would be equivalent to the produce of a penny rate.
Practically, from one end of the country to the other, authorities have welcomed these financial proposals, as well they may, because, in the first place, they are definite. It was a complaint last year, when it was suggested that we would call upon the authorities to pay one quarter, that they did not know how much a quarter would mean—whether a penny, twopenny, or threepenny rate. This is 1732 absolutely definite. The limit, subject to the qualifications I have mentioned, is a penny rate, and the definiteness of the scheme has been welcomed, without any exaggeration, by authorities throughout the whole country. I am very surprised, and I am really very disappointed, that a great authority like the London County Council should be cavilling at having to spend a penny rate when the housing needs of London are so great.
Another important means of help, I am sure, is contained in Clause 18 of the Bill. There we authorise, so far as these schemes are concerned, the relaxation of local by-laws. I am sure any hon. Member who knows anything about housing, especially in rural districts, will welcome that. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) gave us a most valuable and comprehensive report on the by-law question. It is clear that if you had to put the whole thing into a Bill, we should have had a Bill much bigger than this dealing with by-laws alone. Therefore, we have to take a comprehensive power of this kind with reference to the schemes sanctioned in these proposals, and to prescribe that they can go ahead, notwithstanding any by-law to the contrary. I believe it will enormously assist proceedings, and sweep away a good many embarrassments from many districts. It was suggested to me by authorities that we ought to prescribe in the Bill that the local authorities themselves, in order to make expeditious progress, should be able to alter their own procedure. The Department investigated that matter, and we believe that they already possess powers to expedite their own procedure, and to give authority to housing and other committees to a sufficient degree; but, if that is not the case, we shall be perfectly willing to consider any necessary amendment of the existing law to enable them to do so, because it is quite clear that we want, in this emergency programme, not to have to wait for another Report, and so on, while three or four months are spent in doing something which is quite obvious, and to which everybody agrees, and which, if we had the more expeditious procedure, could be settled in a week. I think it is very desirable that a power of that kind should be taken so far as required, and I am advised that, under the existing Statutes, authorities have sufficient power in that direction.
1733 Everyone will agree that, especially in the new areas, it is very necessary to plan these houses in a proper, far-sighted manner, that town planning has come to stay, and that we ought to encourage in the preparation of these schemes the use of the best talent that the country can provide, especially with regard to some of the very big ones, which I know are now in the course of preparation. I see that the Housing and Town Planning Council, which is a very important body, and has done invaluable work for many years, is criticising the Bill because I have not made town planning compulsory. I shall be glad to hear what the House has to say on that subject. We spent a long time over it, and I will say quite frankly why we did not make it compulsory. There have been a number of town-planning schemes accepted, but there is a serious danger attaching to some of them under the present law. It may happen that a considerable area has been brought under a town-planning scheme, and an owner may hesitate about, or be averse to, undertaking any buildings or alterations on that area lest they should not eventually fit into the town-planning scheme. The result, I believe, is that in some cases, instead of encouraging building in that way, they have had a sterilising effect and rather hindered development. I am sure we ought to be very, very careful before we make town planning compulsory, and see that we do not provide something which has an effect which may be quite indirect and quite unlooked for, but which may be very injurious to the development of housing. We have tried, to meet that by the Sections of this Bill which deal with town planning, and we have tried to avoid some of the delays which at the present time occur.
I may say that we propose also to issue in the White Paper a statement showing the existing procedure of town planning. I think hon. Members will agree when they see it that it would be difficult to imagine more complicated procedure, and it seems to me it is quite unnecessary. For example, in the town-planning provisions as they stand at present there are six separate occasions on which each owner concerned can state his case. It may be necessary to provide a second one, but an average man, when he gets this case up, can state it quite well once, and does not want it stated six times over. There are eight separate occasions on which you 1734 have to publish notices of the scheme itself, and wait for a corresponding number of days or weeks, as the case may be, after each publication. All that means delay, and we have endeavoured in the Schedule to get rid of what we think is safe to get rid of, and to provide particularly that an owner shall not be embarrassed in undertaking building on his property, where it is made the subject of a town-planning scheme. We also provide that an authority may undertake, on its own motion, so to say, to prepare schemes. Up to the present it has been necessary for the authority, after various proceedings, which I will not enumerate, to get permission to prepare a scheme. You would think that a responsible authority ought to be in a position to know whether it was desirable to prepare a scheme or not, and, therefore, we authorise them to prepare one on their own account.
§ Dr. ADDISON
No, there must be an inquiry. Another very important source of assistance, I believe, will be the public utility societies. A large number of employers, I am glad to say, and corporations of different kinds, and, I hope, the co-operative societies, in response to some inquiry which has been made, are pro-poising to form public utility societies. There will be a White Paper issued, and we will set out in that document what a public utility society is, and to what conditions they have to conform, and so forth. I do not need, I think, to trouble the House with the technical details of the constitution, rules, etc., of public utility societies. They are all set out in the White Paper. But it is quite clear that a number of big firms and owners, joining with quite a small number of tenants, can promote a public utility society and rank for financial assistance under our scheme.
§ Dr. ADDISON
No scheme would be approved which did not recognise the amenities. Certainly they will be part of the scheme. There is a case before the Department now of a large firm which is proposing to build at least 6,000 houses under proper town-planning arrangements as a public utility society, and there are others coming along. It is provided that, where a scheme is approved, the Treasury 1735 may find 75 per cent. of the capital. The society will be required to find 25 per cent. Forty per cent. of the loan charges are met also. I believe that some societies, as some Members of the House have been good enough to tell me, do not think that contribution towards the annual loan charges is high enough. But it is a substantial contribution, and I would remind the House that in the vast number of cases which have come before us at present, where great firms, or corporations, or corporate societies, propose to build houses, it is because they are necessary for the development of an industry or undertaking, and therefore we do not look to their being made a profit-making investment so long as they get some reasonable return for their expenditure. We increase the dividend that can be earned by a public utility society from 5 to 6 per cent.
There is also an Act on our Statute Book of which I, for one, I am sorry to say, knew little, and, in fact, I believe I had never heard until I came to deal with this subject, and that is called the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act. In some few areas it has been put to great use—in the area represented by the hon. Member for West Ham and in others. It empowers local authorities to advance to occupying tenants in their area money to enable them to purchase for occupation houses not exceeding £400 in value. They advance 80 per cent. of the sum. It is proposed to extend the limit, and to advance up to 85 per cent. The present Act limits the amount advanced to £300 in the case of freeholds, and £240 in the case of leaseholds with ninety-nine years to run. We propose to remove that limit altogether, and simply to raise it to the higher limit of £500, and the apportionment that may be advanced to 85 per cent., whatever that may amount to. There are some districts where they have this method of housing which has produced good results and has enabled a large number of people to secure their own dwellings.
It certainly behoves us as a State Department to put our house in order and to do what we can to assist the authorities upon whom we are placing these enormous responsibilities. As I explained to the House a few minutes ago, we have, in the first place, started to approve of schemes in stages—first as to the site, then its laying out, and then the house. 1736 We are invoking the aid of architects, surveyors, engineers, and other skilled persons. It is quite clear that we have got to improvise for this undertaking a sort of war emergency organisation, because this is a great emergency arising out of the War. Therefore it is that I have got Sir James Carmichael and a number of experts to come in and join us in creating a central organisation for dealing with this matter. Equally necessary, I believe, is it that we should give effect, as we are doing, to the recommendations made some eighteen months ago by a Reconstruction Committee presided over by Lord Salisbury. In order to decentralise some of our work as much as with safety can properly be done, we propose appointing a number of housing commissioners to help forward the schemes. In connection with the preparation of these plans and this organisation I should like, if I may, to acknowledge the great help this Department has had from several Members of the House, and particularly—as I happen to see him in his place—the Committee presided over by my hon. Friend (Sir Tudor Walters). We have divided the country into eleven districts and appointed housing commissioners and staffs, and have already got premises. The idea is that instead of the authorities having to refer everything to a central Department we shall have most of that trouble delegated to an authority on the spot, having the power, to discuss matters and settle on the spot. I believe that that will save an immense amount of time. I should like to say here that there is no sort of suggestion that this decentralised machinery is put up for the purpose of interposing a sort of buffer state between the local authority and the central Department of State. That is not so at all. The whole idea of this organisation is that we shall have people on the spot who will help by their advice, assistance, and experience the local authorities which desire help in the preparation of their schemes and the settlement of the hundred and one details which enter into every housing scheme. This will save a great amount of time and considerable vexation of spirit.
The Ministry of Munitions have undertaken to assist us, and the authorities in the regard to the provision of material. There has been a great deal of somewhat uninformed criticism in some directions as to bricks and such like matters. The fact is, that during the War nearly all the 1737 brickyards in the country were either shut down or were derelict. In November a list was prepared of the names of the brickyards in the country and the names of those employed there normally and who were in the Army, the object being to get these men demobilised as quickly as we could. This process has been largely completed now.
§ Dr. ADDISON
Largely. A number of brickyards required new machinery. Brickyards, as everybody knows, which are of importance in their locality, and were fully made use of in pre-war times, were rather out of date. It is hoped, so I am informed by the Ministry, that they will be able to provide 3,000,000,000 bricks during 1919, and at least 5,000,000,000 next year. We shall certainly require more next year. The total output of our brickyards was something under 4,000,000,000, and we shall nearly get up, let us hope, next year to the pre-war output. Seeing there are three or four months arrears to be made up that will be a fairly good result.
Will the right hon. Gentleman assist in getting the foreman of the brickworks in my Constituency released?
§ Dr. ADDISON
All I can say to that is that three months ago every brickyard in the country was asked to send in the names and addresses of every man they wanted. We had no end of trouble to get that list. So far as I know every person concerned has been demobilised. I cannot undertake to look into individual cases; but perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will send me details.
§ Dr. ADDISON
We have a special organisation to deal with these cases, and it is very important to get these men out.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I think it does, but we do not anticipate a shortage of cement. Another detail that may be mentioned is the suggestion to use Army huts as another auxiliary. I think these are not altogether so attractive as at first sight might appear to be. The Disposal Board of the Ministry of Munitions has erected some of them as model houses in fifteen different towns, and there they will be open for inspection by local authorities and other persons. It is suggested that you might save from £250 to £300 by putting up a hut instead of a house, the former to be used as a temporary dwelling. That is an inside figure. It is a great deal less than it would cost to build a house. But the life of a wooden dwelling is very much shorter than the life of a brick house. [An HON. MEMBER: "Twenty years."] It is estimated by the generous-minded that we should allow twenty years as its life. If, however, you are to provide a sinking fund I think I would not advise the Treasury that it would be safe to provide for so long a period as that. The sinking fund period had better be ten years. That, then, adds very much to the cost of the house. For instance, here is the actual case. The economic rent of huts of the kind at Woolwich is 15s. a week on a ten years' sinking fund basis. They are let for 5s. 6d., but there were so many complaints from tenants about the cold during the winter that there has been an additional allowance of 2a. 6d. a week for coal. These huts are all very well in the summer time, but when it gets cold during six months or so of the year, they are not quite so sunny as on a bright day. So that if you take the shorter sinking fund period and so erect these huts for dwelling-houses there would not be a substantial difference between the two. Still, to obtain accommodation quickly, we shall do what we wisely can do. I am quite sure, however, it would be a mistake to be very enthusiastic in what might become, in this important matter of the provision of houses, a source of trouble to us in the future. We do not want anybody, as regards the housing needs of their district, to rest content when they have provided Army huts. That is a danger to be remembered of being satisfied with this temporary provision! Whilst, however, we desire to make the best use we can of these buildings, there are some distinct limitations to their utility.
Finally, there is the proposal to keep the House and the country informed of our 1739 doings, and what is happening in respect to housing. I think, on the whole, that is the right way of doing the thing. We shall put all our cards on the table.
§ Dr. ADDISON
The week-to-week progress of the scheme will then be seen, and it will also be seen whether a case has or has not been kept a long time in the Department. I fully expect that my hon. friend and myself will come under the harrow some time, at all events in this House, because it will be found that week after week goes by and some particular scheme has not received sanction. A regular system of publicity will be beneficial in this and other ways. It will be well compensated, too, by the stimulus which that publicity will provide for all concerned. We intend to expedite our procedure in the Housing Department and deal with this undertaking as expeditiously as we can. In respect to these regular statements or reports of progress, we hope the first will appear on Wednesday. We will also keep the public informed as to the various schemes, and they will see who has put them forward, what is the authority, and the like. The publication of these details, we trust, will be a source of great encouragement to those far-sighted authorities who are taking long views as to the requirements of the district, and putting forward proposals in consonance therewith. We trust also that the publication will be a stimulus to those whose names are conspicuously absent from the list week by week. I believe that frank and full knowledge of the progress we are making in this great enterprise is very essential to ultimate success. Whilst we take these drastic powers in the Bill, I should like to say that so far as our experience goes, first in the main that those who have land and who have been asked for it by local authorities all over the country have shown a very ready disposition to make land available for houses, and in a large number of cases there is no question of any difficulty arising in this respect. Similarly, local authorities, in the vast majority of cases, are actively at work, and we need the help of them all. We need the help of the professions and the trades concerned, and if we are to meet the requirements of housing in a relatively short time, we certainly need the good will and co-operation 1740 of all sections of the building trade. I hope some arrangement will be made whereby there will be no limitation whatever on any form of output, if we are to make adequate progress with housing. There is no question in the social sphere which is more important, urgent, and more deserving of the good will and co-operation of all sections of the community.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
The exposition of the Bill which we have just listened to has been a lengthy one, but the interest shown by the attendance of such a large number of hon. Members indicates that the subject is one on which there is an intense interest not only in this House, but in the country. This is the real Health Bill, and the Bill which was sent upstairs was the Diseases Bill. This is the sort of thing for which the country has been waiting for a long time, because unless this vital problem is dealt with promptly and effectively, the social conditions of this country will go from the very serious condition in which they are now to one of which we should shudder to think. Is there any doubt at all in the minds of any hon. Member present that of all the social questions with which we had to deal at the last General Election this subject easily takes first place. A tremendous interest was taken in the work of the Coal Commission; but what was it that really influenced people the most? I am well within the mark when I say that it was the revelations in connection with the housing conditions under which thousands and tens of thousands of miners lived. I am sure that was one of the most potent forces in influencing the minds of the Commissioners, and the country generally, in dealing with that question. The urgency and the need of this problem has been demonstrated in the statesmanlike speech to which we have listened, but there are one or two points which I would like to emphasise. We know that the natural cessation of building has had a great deal to do with the present shortage and this has been due to the War. During the last four years emigration has ceased and the population has increased, and therefore we have a far larger population upon whom this question of the lack of housing is pressing, and I am afraid it is more serious than many of us contemplate.
My right hon. Friend dealt with the question of diseases, and referred to tuberculosis, and the other vast array of human ills of which overcrowding is one of the main causes. There is also another cause 1741 which I know the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. When the War is over, and even now, when the men are streaming back from all parts of the globe, there is a certain portion of them who are naturally carriers of diseases which must have a most harmful effect upon our community, and diseases which have been to a large extent, up to the present, foreign to this country. If these men are going to come back into the awful conditions indicated, the consequences will be very serious. To what really does it all amount? Something must be done, and it must be done at once, and I am very much afraid that the prospects of swift action are not nearly as good as I should like to see them.
First of all take the great Department which is going to have charge of this subject—namely, the Local Government Board. Owing to the introduction of the Health Bill, that great Department must undergo a complete reorganisation. We all know what that means. It means disorganisation to a large extent, and that men do not know what their job is, or is likely to be, for a long time. That is a matter which we must bear in mind. I hope my right hon. Friend will not allow any official difficulties to stand in the way of getting the right men on this job as soon as possible. The questions which are related to this problem have been mentioned. This is a woman's question, and my right hon. Friend not very long ago set up a Committee, of which Lady Emmott was the President, and they made a long series of recommendations. Those of us who are married men know what it is to go house hunting, or to find excuses for not doing it. I hope that in the work that lies before my right hon. Friend he will not forget the recommendations that that Committee has embodied, and I hope he will make full and complete use of them.
Turning for a moment to what after all is perhaps the most vital part of the question, I will now allude to the acquisition of the land and the cost of it. I frankly say that I am disappointed with the provisions in the Bill, because we must look forward to a time when this great system of new housing will be on an economical basis, or it ought to be, because otherwise you are going to make the houses of the country as much a charge on the State as the Navy or the Army. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] Evidently my hon. Friend thinks that is necessary. All I have to say is that if you set out to do that it will be serious. 1742 My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Colonel Thorne) said he was delighted at the prospect of killing private enterprise. If you are going to do that, you will kill a lot of other things which are vital to the progress and development of the State unless the be-all and end-all of your system is Departmental bureaucracy of which the War has already shown this country has had quite enough.
I do not think that anyone, be he a large or a small landowner, has any right to obtain any additional price for land except the pre-war price, and the country will call seriously to account any Government which deals with the cost of land for this purpose on any other basis. I warn the Government on this point, and I have no doubt attention will be forcibly drawn to it. We have to look forward to the creation of two classes of tenants, the State tenant and the tenant of the ordinary private owner. I know it is quite easy to create difficulties or to imagine them, but I dare say in the practical working those difficulties may not be nearly so hard as they seem. With regard to the State tenants, I think the whole country will be delighted if preference is given, as it should be, to soldiers and sailors. I am sure that view will be emphasised not only in the House but in the country for they have earned the right if anybody has to. have a decent home, and they should have the first claim on the new scheme which my right hon. Friend has been expounding.
With regard to the building laws, we have the Acts of 1875, 1890, and 1909. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will be rendering very great service if he would have all those Acts codified and have it done very quickly. I think we need very much a codification of all the Acts which relate to the building laws. I am sure we shall all very strongly approve of the powers which the Local Government Board is taking in order to deal with local authorities, of which there are a very large number. Many of them will do nothing unless they are driven to it. What the cause of that is we do not completely know, but, first of all, we do know that they have been afraid of the cost. In the second place—I do not like saying it, but it is; perfectly true—in the absence of a healthy public opinion maintained at a high level, vested interests dominate a large amount of municipal government, and the only way, since you cannot keep them up to the 240 lbs. pressure to the square inch, is to have a strong driving 1743 pressure from the central authority. We welcome, and, indeed, as far as I am concerned, I would gladly help to strengthen, these Clauses which the right hon. Gentleman has in the Bill giving power to deal with authorities which are not doing their job. An authority which is doing its work only wants encouraging, but an authority which is not doing its work and which has no good and sound reasons for not doing it ought to have no mercy shown to it. I would like to say a word or two with regard to private enterprise. I feel very strongly indeed that that is the only part of our social reconstruction scheme where we can get the work done at once. It is only waiting its opportunity. Let my right hon. Friend use all his power to see that the great building firms which can get to work get a chance of getting the raw material. There are miles of roads, as my hon. Friend the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Sir J. Tudor Walters) knows, with the drains and pavements there, just waiting for the raw material with which to build the houses. It is no good waiting until some larger but rather distant State-aided scheme comes along. Here are the men on the spot, and they can do something—not all, or the major part, but at least something. Let us use what means we have at once. If a man is in danger of drowning, the first thing to do is to throw him any rope which is handy rather than wait for a lifebelt which may be 300 yards away. The problem is urgent, and I think this ought to be done, and done now. It will not wait. We are face to face with the greatest difficulties. We have temporarily settled some of them, but does anybody doubt that they will occur again? and before the winter is on us. One of the great difficulties of the future will be unrest, and one of the best ways of mitigating it is to let people see that we are in earnest on this question. If they do not see that, they will say, "It is only another Government promise. If Parliament cannot deal with this question, why we must take some other means." I would therefore urge the right hon. Gentleman and the Government, with all the power that I have, to grasp the seriousness of this question and the immense advantage which will accrue in moral force, by which alone they can deal with these matters. Physical force is no use in handling these matters; it is moral force which you want, 1744 and you will only get your moral force if you grapple with these problems immediately and do not wait until State schemes take shape. You will then not only have done something with regard to housing, but you will have done something to steady this country and the ship of State in the stormy sea which lies before us.
§ Mr. J. DAVISON
I rise for the first time to address the House, and, as I am endowed by nature with a superabundance of modesty and timidity, I trust that the House will accord to me the indulgence usually extended to Members who address it for the first time. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill was a very interesting one indeed, and I have come to the conclusion that he recognises that housing, along with hygiene, is a science, a science which, in the words of a great sanatarian, aims at rendering growth more perfect, decay less rapid, life more vigorous, and death more remote. That is an ideal which everyone of us will strive to attain. It constitutes, therefore, part of the policy of the Government in reconstruction that the scientific development of our national life should be on a humane and civilised basis. The provisions of the Bill afford a golden opportunity for putting into practical operation the sentiments expressed in the fine statements of eminent statesmen during the past few years. But the urgent necessity of the Bill also constitutes a damaging indictment and condemnation of the policy of the two orthodox political parties which alone have held the reins of government and administrative power in this country during the many years that the housing problem has been under consideration. For many years, and quite recently, the working classes have been lectured upon the folly of the restriction on output. It may be perfectly true that we are guilty of that folly, but that folly pales into insignificance compared with the folly of successive Governments in this country in restricting their output of housing accommodation. Nothing has been so disastrous to the national well-being as the policy pursued by the Governments of the two political parties of this country. It has inflicted untold suffering, disease, and death upon vast sections of the population. It is a policy which was condemned by the Prime Minister just before the General Election that took place last December. It is a policy which he told the country was responsible for the loss 1745 of one million A1 men in the hour of the nation's greatest need. It is a policy, further, which will not bear investigation under any circumstances whatever.
The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Sir D. Maclean), both belong to a political party which is responsible in the highest degree for the shortage of houses that exists at this present moment. I think I shall have to discard the notes which I have prepared, and speak as though I were addressing the men that I am used to addressing. From 1907–8 to 1912–13 the provision of new houses of a rental of less than £20 per annum decreased under the beneficent rule of a Liberal Government by 135,000 compared with the previous six years. I want the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down to take note of that. [HON. MEMBERS "Hear, hear!"] It also applies to the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who say "Hear, hear!" They have been equally great sinners in this respect. I listened with very great interest to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the conditions existing in some of the places in London. There are over 3,500,000 people in the country covered by the present Bill who have less than half a room each, and there are over 7,500,000 who have less than one room each. I want those people who live in houses of from six to ten rooms and over to reflect what that means. There are nearly 1,500,000 people in the country to-day who are living in one-room tenements, over 2,000,000 in two-room tenements, over 4,000,000 in three-room tenements, and over 8,000,000 in four-room tenements. The total number of people living in tenements of from one to five rooms in England and Wales today is 23,311,000, and the total number of rooms in those tenements is exactly 21,020,000. You have, therefore, two-thirds of the total population of England and Wales who have not even one room each. I respectfully suggest to those people who are advocating the policy of 100,000 houses, or who are advocating, as I see the Liberal Federation are doing by a leaflet, the immediate provision of 400,000 houses, that it will take over 500,000 houses of five rooms each to supply the deficiency and provide one room for every head of the population. There are in the other section of the population, the other third of England and Wales, slightly over 11,000,000 people. 1746 They live in tenements of from six to ten rooms and over. The rooms number 17,000,000, so that that section of the population has a room and a half per head at its disposal. Those are facts taken from the Census of 1911—they cannot be disputed—the very time there was in power the Government with which the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down was associated
I want the House to realise in a much more potent form what these statistics mean with reference to the health of the population of these Islands, as referred to by the Minister for Health. In the first Section to which I have referred (the 23,311,000) are skilled artisans, miners, agricultural labourers, and unskilled and casual labourers. In the second Section of the population are doctors and the middle and upper classes. The infantile mortality among the children of skilled artisans is from 100 to 130 per thousand. That among miners is 160 per thousand, while among the unskilled and casual labourers it ranges from 150 to 250 per thousand. As for the agricultural labourers, no doubt modified by the tremendous amount of fresh air they are able to obtain, it is ninety-seven per thousand. Contrast that with the conditions obtaining in the third section of the population. Doctors' babies, according to the President of the Local Government Board in 1913, die at the rate of forty per thousand, while the infantile mortality of the middle and upper classes is seventy-seven per thousand. It is strange that in a highly civilised country like Great Britain you cannot secure for the whole of the population, in view of the necessity for maintaining the strength of its manhood and womanhood, especially at the present time, conditions such as are accorded to the medical fraternity. These are some of the things that strike me as being due not entirely, perhaps, but largely to bad housing conditions. I claim on behalf of the Labour party that the main contributory cause of that high infantile mortality is bad housing.
During my investigaitons as a sanitary inspector in one of the largest industrial centres of Great Britain I came across housing conditions that outraged all sense of decency and intelligence and which were a reflection not only upon good government but upon civilisation. I have heard in this House to-day about 1747 some of the housing conditions existing in London. But this does not apply entirely to London. It applies to the whole country where industry is prevalent. It is found among the miners and the iron and steel workers, and it is to be found in the Midlands to-day in a degree never contemplated by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I have myself seen back-to-back houses with one living and two bedrooms, each of the rooms less than 10 feet square, occupied by seven adults and one child. Consider what that means to future generations. Consider the health, or rather lack of health, which must obtain under conditions of that character. I have seen one living room less than 11 feet square occupied by a farther, mother, and six children, a boy of seventeen and a girl of fifteen being among the children. What kind of strong, healthy, virile race can you expect to rear under conditions of that kind? I have seen twenty back-to-back houses, of from one to three rooms each, sheltering 136 people with one common yard and lavatory accommodation composed of four foul privies. Let hon. and right hon. Gentlemen imagine the conditions which obtain in that yard on a hot summer's day! These are some of the things I observed during my peregrinations as a sanitary inspector, and I say quite frankly with regard to this Bill that unless the Government are prepared to take in hand this housing question— unless they are prepared to house the people under decent and humane conditions they have no right to call upon men to defend the country when there is danger of a foreign invasion. Surely that policy will be subscribed to by every Member of this House. If we are going to rear a strong, healthy, virile race, we must take the responsibility of housing the people of these islands. Just as we asked them to take their responsibility, and as they nobly and loyally responded, in that dark hour of the nation's history which came upon us in the autumn of 1914, so we must ask the Government to take the responsibility of seeing that these people are decently housed.
I do not rely entirely on the statistics I have produced or entirely on the programme of the Labour party. The Labour party says without hesitation that what we require to meet the urgent necessity of the time is a million new houses and not 400,000, because we have not only 1748 to make up the leeway of the War period and of the years before the War to which I have referred, but we have also to make provision for the demolition of insanitary and unhealthy dwellings which at present exist. I am not relying upon that entirely. The Prime Minister, in the autumn of 1913, conducted a campaign on the part of the Government of which he was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the right hon. Gentleman had no hesitation at Swindon in that year in telling his audience that not only were the Government prepared to take an inventory of all bad housing conditions then existing, but that they were prepared to go further, and when they bad found out actually what the shortage was they would build the houses themselves. Again at Middlesbrough, in the autumn of 1913, the present Prime Minister reiterated that statement, which was endorsed by the Prime Minister of that day. What the Labour party say is this, that if the Prime Minister of to-day, in spite of the vested prejudices and vested interests connected with this House, is prepared to put into practical operation the policy he advocated in 1913, then he will find no more loyal supporters than the Members on the Labour Benches. I will go farther than that. We say that unless such a policy is adopted, unless the people of this country are housed in decency and in comfort, the Labour party will take all the means at its disposal to endeavour to obtain a reversal of the verdict of the election of last December. If we care to do so, we can do it most effectively by a method which I would be the last man to advocate. But let me remind hon. and right hon. Gentlemen that the Labour party do not intend to tolerate a perpetuation of the conditions of housing that have existed in this country during the last twenty years. That is not said as a threat. [A laugh.]
§ Mr. DAVISON
I welcome opposition of that character, because it only shows to me that some hon. and right hon. Members opposite, connected as they probably are with the building industry, are not sincere in their advocacy of the housing of the working classes. I say I have produced to the House statistics which justify the statement I have made, that neither of the parties connected with past Governments has been able to house the people of this country in decently humane conditions. 1749 These are the reasons that actuated me in intervening in this Debate. Let me say quite frankly I am not concerned with the financial aspect of this problem. You did not hesitate to call upon the men to preserve this country from invasion. They protected your property and you did not consider for the moment whether it was going to cost a penny rate or a pound rate. They responded nobly to the appeal then made to them, and to-day they have a right to come to the Government which is in power and to say, "We responded to the appeal you made to us, now we demand that the Government shall do its duty by housing the people of this country in a decent way."
§ Mr. KIDD
In the first place, we want to get rid of these insanitary dwellings, of which the last speaker spoke so eloquently, and, in the second place, we want to make the provision necessary to supply the lack of houses. There is no doubt that but for the famine in houses, insanitary dwellings would have disappeared to a much larger extent by the exercise of the powers of the local authorities. We can sympathise with the difficulties which the local authorities have had to face in the last few years. But if we are sincere in our attempt to grapple with the housing problem, we must discover the cause of the existing famine in houses and get rid of it, because unless we remove the cause of that famine the housing problem must remain, and at times it will certainly be more acute. It will always be there and we are, therefore, up against this alternative: You must either remove the cause of the famine or you must frankly face the view put forward by the hon. Member opposite—as I think a wrong view—that the supply of houses should not be left to private enterprise, but should be the function of the Government. When we come to consider the cause of the famine I am glad that we have in power a Coalition Government whose only interest is the national interest, because that Government, having no interest but the national interest in view, will have little difficulty in discovering that cause in the legislation of 1910. I refer to the Finance Act of 1909–10. Previously to that Act house property investment was one of the most attractive investments to tens of thousands of our people. I have also had some acquaintance with house property, although perhaps not quite in the same way as the last speaker has had. Anyone who has had acquaintance with house property knows that prior to the 1750 legislation to which I have referred house property was our most attractive home investment, and that for many reasons. I say it with all respect, but to tens of thousands of our people a transaction on the Stock Exchange seems to suggest gambling. They avoid such transactions, but they are always ready to invest their money in dwelling-houses. They found in a house a visible investment. But investing in house property was attractive to them for a better and national reason. I do not wish to suggest that any particular form of property should have any particular favour from any Government, but if you could conceive of any particular investment being entitled to favour, then it was the investment represented by house property. To begin with, the property supplied the primary need of our people in the way of housing. Secondly, the wages paid for the erection of the property went to our own people round about; and thirdly, those wages in turn were distributed among the local shopkeepers. The property itself was put up under public sanction and public supervision, and once erected from the assessments derived from the property were maintained our education and various forms of local government. Therefore property, so far from being attacked, should have received all the favour which the Government could show any investment.
I am aware, of course, that this legislation was directed against the wicked landowner. Speaking as one who is not a landowner, but who, on the other hand, is not a captain of industry, and speaking strictly as one who can take a detached impartial view of both, it has always seemed to me strange that the land-owning classes should be so attacked. One has only to witness the excellent co-operation between landlord and tenant and the prosperity attending that co-operation to wish, as I should particularly wish were I a Labour man, that that spirit should be carried more into the labour conditions of our country. However that may be, the peculiar feature about that legislation was that it missed its mark. It was directed against the wicked landowner. It missed him and struck instead the admittedly inoffensive proprietor. Take, for instance, the case of a man who built a house in 1909, which cost him £1,000. The cost of replacing that house to-day would be £2,000, not because of any increase in the value of the site of the house, but simply and solely, under the inspiration, perhaps, of my hon. Friend 1751 opposite, because wages have risen and the cost of material has risen. Supposing a man wishes to sell the old house and build an exact copy in another place where the site value and the ground rent are the same. He will have to pay £2,000 for his new house, but he will not have the wherewithal to build it from the proceeds of the sale of the old house, because out of the proceeds of the sale he will have to contribute £200 or £300 to the Exchequer in the name of the taxation of land values. He will doubtless remember when he signs his cheque that he is very lucky to get off with that £200, because if some of the authors of this taxation had had their way he would be contributing five times as much—that is, £1,000—the difference between the price and the original cost of the building. On that statement alone we are justified in gravely doubting the sincerity of the man who pretends to justify it and at the same time pretends to be interested in this housing question. Therefore I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to amend Schedule 4 of the Bill by adding to it such an item as will repeal the obnoxious legislation to which I have referred. Once he has done so, he will have lifted the blight which rests upon property at the present moment Immediately that blight has been lifted, he will find no difficulty in getting his houses. By all means let the Government act in this emergency case, but the right hon. Gentleman will find that private enterprise, with the blight lifted, is reaching out to meet the Government effort, and the two combined should readily supply the houses instantly needed now. He could not do this at a better time.
I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that this measure was only complementary to another great measure introduced for Second Reading the other day. Those of us who are deeply interested, not in any party sense, in the housing question must have listened with pleasure to the exposition by the Minister-designate of the Ways and Communications Bill. We listened not merely with the pleasure which attends the audience of a great speech, on a great occasion, on a great topic, but rather with the pleasure born of the consciousness that at last the Government had found a Minister who had been able to diagnose the cause of the congestion in housing. I understand that the explanation of those 1752 who advocate the taxation of land values is to be found in the common belief that congestion in housing is caused by ground values. It never has been, it is not now, it never can be. [A laugh.] If the authors of that legislation and the hon. Gentleman opposite who is good enough to smile audibly had taken the trouble to read the history of housing conditions in this country they would agree with me. One hundred years ago our housing conditions were bad. They are bad to-day. At that time land for house property was given off at a nominal rate. I speak as a Scotsman, and one representing a mining constituency, and as one who is in intimate contact with mining people and is well qualified to speak as to the mining conditions in my own country one hundred years ago. [Laughter.] I do not mean to suggest that I am so very much older than my looks indicate. I was speaking from historical information, necessarily acquired with comparative accuracy by one who found it necessary in his professional calling. Speaking from that information, I can say that at that time, when land in Scotland was given off sometimes for one penny, Scots—that is one-twelfth of a penny, I may say to my English Friends—sometimes for a fat hen, sometimes for a white dove, the congestion in houses was greater and more deplorable than it is to-day and for a very obvious reason. Take the case of the miner. He had to be near his work. The cause of congestion then is the cause of congestion now, namely, the lack of transport. Therefore we listened, despite the excellent criticism offered to the Ways and Communications Bill, with infinite pleasure to the Minister who introduced it, because we realised that he had diagnosed the real cause of the congestion in housing and all that that congestion implies, and that he further indicated that he has determination and strength of character and was ready to have that cause of congestion removed. Therefore, if the blight be lifted from housing now, the problem will settle itself by the local authorities taking advantage of Part III. of the present Bill.
If speaking as a young Member and for the first time it will not be disrespectful for me to offer some suggestions to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, might I point out that, while we are very gratified to find the Amendments he applies to the Housing Act of 1899, he might carry his Amendments still further? In the first place, the house which the 1753 individual may buy with the assistance of the local authority is, under the principal Act of 1899, the house which he at present occupies. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that there is not the slightest occasion to impose any such restriction on the choice of a man who wants to get a house with the assistance of the local authority. Again, with regard to the amount which may be supplied by the local authority, while we appreciate the advance made from £300 to £500, might I further suggest, looking at the change in value of building materials, that the right hon. Gentleman should consider whether he could not raise that amount to £750. I suggest that for this reason: my hon. friends opposite know that in many a mining village there are a number of grown-up sons in the home, and the money put into the house is substantial and that money, as a rule, is pooled. For these men one wants a house with ample accommodation. I therefore suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should increase the sum to £750. The third Amendment I would suggest is, perhaps, in the opinion of the Minister in charge of the Bill, the most vital. I observe that he still calls for a margin of 15 per cent. in respect of the money advanced. Might I suggest that he is taking a wrong view with regard to the margin. He should not treat this as a margin for security. The house ought to be regarded as the security, and any margin asked for should not be in the nature of a real security, but simply as a test of good faith and bona fides of the applicant. We have an excellent precedent to guide us in this matter. Before I arrived here I believe there had been slight differences of opinion with regard to Irish legislation, but there was one subject of Irish legislation upon which all Irish Members were agreed. I refer to the great measure which reflects the generous nature, the rare imagination, and the gifted intellect of the late Mr. Wyndham. Under that measure the Irish tenantry were allowed to redeem their land. No margin of security was asked for then. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to apply that to this Bill. This is a measure which really appeals to the imagination of our people, and it will be an improvement if he abandons the margin he calls for and simply stipulates for such a margin as I indicate—a margin only as a test of good faith.
1754 I was glad to hear the Leader of the Opposition refer to our soldiers. I also would make an appeal for them. These men who left our shores as youths return as grown-up men. In large numbers they are seeking independent homes. We cannot offer these men hovels. We want them to have the homes which they desire. If each soldier is supported in the way I indicate, and has the home which he and his wife may wish, we may look forward to a generation far removed from the weakling type who plays at being a rebel. Reference has been made to the Mining Report and all the disclosures there. The pity about the disclosures is that they too often state the truth. At the same time I am not sure that every justice was done to the mine-owners. Many a time the mine-owner may have been up against a very awkward dilemma. With a vanishing coalfield he may have been up against this alternative, either to close the mine and increase unemployment or to retain unsatisfactory homes. If the right hon. Gentleman will extend Part III. in the way I indicate, if he will enable any miner who wants it to have a suitable home, a home in the real British sense, a home which is really the Englishman's castle, a home reflecting the taste of the occupants of the home, as every home should do, the miner for the first time in his life will realise freedom of contract. At present his work depends on his home, and the house, to a certain extent, depends on his work. We talk glibly about freedom of contract. The miner, in many cases, has never known it, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman so to amend his measure that the miner may know it now. Many of us envy the great opportunity which is afforded to the right hon. Gentleman. We ask him to appeal not to cupidity but to imagination. We ask him to abandon the gospel of sops. The workers are tired of that. I appeal to him to believe that the virtues of self-respect and independence are not the privilege of a class, but are the common and great inheritance of a great people. And I ask him to agree with me that these same virtues are to-day, as they have always been and always will be, the one and only guarantee of the abiding greatness of our nation.
§ Major MORGAN
I find myself in a far more pleasant place than I am usually in, but I feel a great deal more embarrassed in rising for the first time to address this House. I am prompted to do so if only to 1755 re-echo the last sentence which fell from the right hon. Gentleman (Dr. Addison). He referred to this question, and I agree with him entirely coming from the district I do, as the one question in our domestic affairs that will not brook delay. Indeed, we cannot afford to lose a day. I have been to my Constituents during the weekend. We are presumably an eager House of Commons, fresh from the constituencies, but I was told by those who are worried by house-hunting that the house-hunters in our district cannot understand the delay that is taking place, and describe us in not very complimentary terms as the Weary Willies of Westminster. The word "overcrowded" is nothing like the proper word to apply to my district, and I am speaking of pre-war conditions. Hundreds of men were being conveyed into the district by rail, which has entailed two hours or more extra fag and toil per day, to say nothing of the difficulty of having to live outside the district. The housing census that is now being taken with regard to the Rhondda Valley is not complete and up-to-date, but from the last which was taken the population was about 180,000 and the houses available for dwellings were about 30,000 in number, out of which there were 500 in which two occupiers were compelled to live. The number of occupants was six per house. The adjoining local authorities are somewhat in the same condition. Our neighbouring authority, where there is a population of about 75,000, with fewer than 7,000 houses available for dwellings, reports overcrowding in 800 cases, and though it is a young district, they have over 200 houses condemned since 1915, and nothing has been able to be done during the War. I may be told that ours is not a suitable district, and that geographically it is difficult. But though, physically, we have not a great deal of land, as some districts have, even the land that is there is not available, because of the exorbitant price that is being charged by the landowners. If the prices were reduced, as has been suggested, by the Land Acquisition Bill, within a very short time, limited as is our land, the Rhondda Valley Urban District Council could build over 1,000 houses, and relieve the congestion at once. As a representative of the working men of that district, I welcome the principle that some authority is now going to be made responsible for providing houses. Our district has been left to its 1756 own resources. We have not a very large number of wealthy men there, and private enterprise has entirely failed, up to the present at any rate, to provide for the dwellings of the people, and you may often argue that capital is being provided to sink the shaft, to equip the mine, to do everything that is necessary with regard to the carrying out of the industry, but nothing is set apart for building houses for the workmen. Buildings are immediately set up to house and protect the machinery, stores, horses, and everything else that is required in the form of equipment, but nothing whatever is done by the colliery owner and the shareholders with regard to protecting and providing for the human machinery. The housing question is the chief cause of the industrial unrest. People have been herded together, and that is the reason why there is so much unrest in our district at present. I also recognise that there is going to be some real effort to deal with the question of the land.
One of our leading coalowners in giving evidence before the Commission vilified and slandered the Welsh miners' wives, and described them as unthrifty and unclean as a class. I repudiate that statement with all the intensity I can. He made the comparison that their habits and conditions were not so good as those of the French women. I have seen the French mining districts. I have been there before the War and I have been there since, and with regard to the particular village which was under consideration I regret to have to say that, though the ravages of war have taken place in some of the colliery villages in France, they were far better off than the villages which the coalowner in question referred to. Given the same conditions, given the same land, and given the same freedom, I should always be prepared to back a Welsh miner's wife against anyone else in the world. With very small wages and under very hard conditions indeed they have saved their money and been able to teach their children and give them an education which would equip them for a higher stage in life. I will conclude by saying that improved housing in combination with transit facilities will be a great boon in our district. The relief in our industrial conditions will make our homes brighter and sweeter, and will bring about a better era. If you want contented workmen, do not in any way weaken the provisions of this Bill. If anything, let it be made wider than it 1757 is now. Then you will have a virile, contented race of workmen in our districts, able to compete and hold their own with any body of workmen in the world.
§ Mr. GILBERT
With the exception of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, I am the only London Member who has thus far spoken in this Debate in support of this Bill. I followed with very close attention the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I quite agree with him on the broad lines of the necessity for a great deal of rehousing in London. I would like to point out to him and to the House that I do not think he put before the House what I believe to be one of the causes of the very bad housing conditions in London. I am a member of the London County Council. I think if Members of this House will look at the record of the London County Council since that body has been in existence they will agree that, at any rate in the first years of its existence, it did a very great deal in regard to housing and rehousing in London. It is quite true that during recent years—I regret it personally very much, for I belong to the minority party in the Council—that they have not done as much in clearing slum areas and in rehousing as I should myself have liked to see done. I think one of our difficulties in London as regards housing is due to the special leasehold system which applies to London. What happens in London is this. You have a great many houses, workmen's houses as well as larger houses, that are let on leases for anything from seventy to ninety-nine years. The leaseholder, for the last ten or fifteen years of his lease, practically endeavours to spend as little money as he possibly can upon the house, for the reason that any money that he spends goes to the ground landlord when the reversion falls in. I think it will be found that in a great many districts of London the existence of this awful slum property and derelict house property is due to the leasehold system. I believe that but for this leasehold system in London to-day many of the larger houses, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, would be turned into flats. The leaseholder would be able to spend either his own money or money borrowed at a reasonable rate of interest and turn them into flats, and if that was the case a good deal could be done to help to solve the housing problem in London. Coming back to the Bill, may I say that I 1758 am going to vote for the Second Reading, but I do want to put to the right hon. Gentleman, from the London point of view, one or two matters which I think call for special consideration. Clause 1 of the Bill refers to the local authority within the meaning of Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act. Owing to our special form of local government in London, I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that in all London areas we have two local authorities which under this Clause can deal with the housing question. In Central London we have the London County Council, and in local London we have the borough councils. Under Part III of the existing Housing Act both of these are local authorities within that Act. I want the right hon. Gentleman to consider, between now and the Committee stage, whether he will define which is the local authority under this Bill. If he does not do that, I think it will be found that in London we shall have certain of the borough councils who will be very keen to do something under this Act, and there will be the central authority, the London County Council, also anxious to do something under the Act. I am not defining which local authority should act, but the effect may be that the inhabitants of one particular district may have the penny rate spent by the borough council as the local authority, and they may also have the penny rate spent by the central local authority. I know that the right hon. Gentleman may tell me that there can be joint schemes and that this may not occur, but I think he knows the peculiarities of local government in London, and that certain authorities are very anxious to act entirely on their own responsibility, without consultation with the central authority. Therefore, we hope that in London, at any rate, it will be found possible to lay down some definition as to which authority is to carry out housing schemes, so that the ratepayers of different parts of London will not have to pay twice over.
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board specially referred to the action of the London County Council as regards the penny rate. I am sorry to join issue with him, but I do not think he put it quite in the right way. I do not think he will find that the London County Council—either the majority or the minority—in any way object to paying the penny rate, but 1759 what we do object to, and what I have been asked specially to put to him, is the way in which this penny rate will have to be found. We think that it will inflict a very great hardship on the county of London. London is a very highly assessed district. A penny rate in London brings in £180,000, and if, before we can get any help from the Treasury or the Local Government Board, we have to lose the amount of a penny rate, namely, £180,000, it has been estimated by the London County Council's expert authorities that we must spend a capital sum of from £6,000,000 to £7,000,000. I am not entitled to speak for the majority of the London County Council, but the right hon. Gentleman does know that when the Housing Bill was being discussed last year the Memorandum then issued by the Local Government Board proposed that 25 per cent. of the loss should be borne by the local authority and 75 per cent. should be borne by the Treasury. The London County Council at a meeting last year accepted that proposal, and on that basis they brought up and passed a scheme involving an expenditure of a capital sum of £3,500,000, spread over seven years. Under this Bill it seems to me that, if the President is going to insist on the penny rate, we shall not get any relief at all until we have spent a very much larger capital sum than that which was agreed to last year, and that puts the council in a very difficult position. Any small local authority which has not the same rateable area as the London County Council, and whose penny rate does not bring in anything like the same amount, directly they lose, say, £500 or £1,000 on a penny rate, will immediately get from the Treasury or the Government help with their housing scheme. The county council ask, in regard to this penny rate, that there should be some Amendment, because it is considered that it acts very unfairly to London. It means that, if this provision is insisted upon, we cannot, with the material and labour now available, spend the necessary capital sum for something like six or seven years, or probably longer, and therefore the ratepayers in London will be charged with the proportion of the penny rate that has already been spent without any relief from the Treasury or the Government, while authorities who are spending much smaller sums of money will immediately get relief. We think that, from the point of view of London in 1760 regard to housing, this is a matter which the President might well reconsider, and we hope that he will do so between now and the Report stage
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to Clause 8, and, speaking for myself personally, I am rather sorry that he has not drafted that Clause much more stringently. He gave in his speech to-day a figure with regard to Boundary Street, where the council paid for the site and the clearance of the slum area a sum of £220,000, and he stated that the estimated value on the basis laid down in Clause 8 would be £115,000.
§ Dr. ADDISON
That was the value with unrestricted user. The value with restricted user in respect to housing would be less.
§ Mr. GILBERT
I quite agree. What I wanted to put to the right hon. Gentleman was that I think it would be fairer to the slum owner, and particularly to the local authority, to take the value of a slum area at the absolute housing value only. If that had been done in Boundary Street, instead of £115,000, the figure as it is given to me would have been £70,000. If Boundary Street had been simply dealt with as a housing area, the value, instead of the £220,000 which the London County Council had to pay, would have been only £70,000. My reason for urging that the housing value only should be taken is this. I think that in a great many of these slum areas, particularly in London, the reason that nothing is done to the property and it is allowed to become derelict is that the owners are waiting for the improved value which they may get owing to that area being done away with from a housing point of view altogether and used for warehouses, factories, and buildings of that kind. I personally think that the slum owner who allows his property to get into the condition of some of the slums which we know in London is not entitled to have that extra value given to him, because he has neglected his property. In the constituency which I represent in this House there is an area which is now being dealt with by the London Country Council. I refer to the Tabard Street area, which is probably known to some hon. Members. There we have paid £181,000 for clearance, and on the basis mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman to-day, as I understand Clause 8, we should have got that land for 1761 £124,000. Had it been dealt with entirely as a housing area we should only have had to pay £69,500.
As I understand Clause 8, if you do not amend it by making it apply to housing value entirely, any particular slum area which is used for warehouses or factories or even for roads does not come under the housing value, and the county council or the local authority which is acquiring that area will have to pay the top value for that area. I have always urged in my public life in London that I could never understand why this House or local authorities should pay slum owners the top rack-rent value for their property. If it is a small shopkeeper in London who sells bad food or a street costermonger who sells bad food they are treated in quite a different way. Not only is the bad food taken away from the offender but he is prosecuted and fined, and in some cases imprisoned. It seems to me, that there has always been a great deal of difference in the treatment of a slum owner by paying him the rack rent value of his property for doing the thing for which we imprison the costermonger or the small shopkeeper. I would urge these views upon the President and ask that he should consider between now and the Committee stage the question as to how the site value of slum areas should be dealt with. The Government are not giving Grants under this Bill for acquiring slum areas.
§ Dr. ADDISON
Oh, yes. Part I. of the scheme covers acquisition in all schemes in connection therewith.
§ Mr. GILBERT
I am much obliged. I understood in Clause 8 that we only got a Grant for rebuilding the houses and not for the acquisition of the site. It is very difficult for a non-lawyer to understand the Bill, and I should like to endorse the hope of the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) that one of the effects of this Bill will be that we should consolidate all the Acts relating to housing so that we can understand exactly what is the meaning of the Housing Acts. One point has been mentioned which I hope will be taken into account under this Bill and that is its effect upon the public utility societies. As I understand the Bill, the net result will be that under any scheme public utility societies will get about one-third of their cost in building houses. I am advised that they will get something from 30 per cent. to one-third if you take all the Grants into consideration. We in London have a good 1762 deal to be grateful for to some of the big housing societies which have done so much. We have the Peabody trustees, the Guinness trustees and the Sutton trustees, who have done a great deal in various parts of London. I think the effect of this Clause will be in respect of these societies to enable them to further extend their work, and to do a great deal more on the lines they have so successfully done up to now.
I should like to know whether the Local Government Board have in their possession or propose to have a model or plan of standard buildings or standard cottages for the local authorities to carry out under this Act. I think it would be of very great interest if they could have standard plans for a single cottage with three, four, or five rooms, or standard plans of block dwellings for big centres like London. I think it would be of great interest if they could publish them in some form so as to let the public see the kind of buildings which they propose should be built for the working people. I am hopeful that if they have such plans that they will be a great improvement on anything we have as regards single cottages or block dwellings. I think everyone will agree that we want, in connection with any future dwellings, to provide all the labour-saving conveniences that can be obtained. The future houses for the working women must be built on quite different lines, whether they are cottage dwellings or block dwellings. In London we have built some block dwellings which are a very great improvement on anything that has been built in previous years; but even these, I think, want a very great deal of improvement. It is a very great hardship for a working woman, with children, who probably has to go out to work, that she should have to mount, perhaps, five nights of stairs to get to her rooms at the top of block dwellings. I hope that the President or the section of his Department that is dealing with this matter will be able to show us in some way or other the kind of building they propose should be built.
I hope they will provide the dwellings with proper bathrooms, with a proper service of hot and cold water, and, so far as the sculleries are concerned, there should be a great many labour-saving appliances. Glasgow has adopted a great many of them in their municipal dwellings, and I believe the working classes are entitled to have their new dwellings 1763 built with all the possible labour-saving devices. I hope before this Debate is finished that we shall have from the President or from the Parliamentary Secretary some statement as to whether they have any plans on the lines indicated, whether they can be put on exhibition, whether they have models which can also be put on exhibition, and, if so, perhaps suggestions of improvements in the plans or the models might be made. I am very pleased that this Bill has been introduced. I know how keenly we want housing in London and the immediate districts of London. We do want everything that the Government can do in order to ginger up the local authorities and in order to make them carry out broad housing schemes. It is very necessary that these houses should be built as soon as possible, because not only myself but every Member of this House is pledged to housing up to the hilt. I think our constituents to whom we gave those pledges want to see something done and done quickly. I hope the President will be able to get this Bill through as quickly as he got through his Health Bill and that this will mark a new era for the working classes of this country.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Rising at this early period of the Debate I do not intend to move the Amendment standing in my name, because it would narrow the discussion to that particular point. When I am dealing with this Bill I feel that I am dealing with a particularly old friend. Since I have been in the House we have had eight housing and town-planning Bills, some of which have and some of which have not found their way on to the Statute Book. Unfortunately, those which have found their way on to the Statute Book have become dead letters. I think of all these Bills this is probably the worst. These Bills have all been heralded with the usual amount of profession of interest in the housing of the working classes. We have always the same picture of the horrors of the present situation, but none of these pictures are bad enough when we consider the effects upon the future of our present housing conditions. We have the same profession of interest and the same good intention of putting it all right by Act of Parliament. For instance, we have had some references to-day to the famous Bill of 1899. That Bill has been on the Statute Book for twenty years, and when last I asked about it I 1764 think there had been fifty houses built under it. Many of the other Bills have never produced any result at all. The Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909, which was so widely heralded, has had this effect, that I think the number of cases in which it has been used may be numbered on the fingers of both hands. All these Bills suffer from the same fault. They are all designed by a bureaucracy in order, by the exercise of further powers by that bureaucracy, to put the whole of the housing of the working classes right. Bills are required because at election time one does promise that so much will be done for the housing of the people. Promises are thrown out, and then the Prime Minister, or whoever it may be, turns to my right hon. Friend at the Local Government Board or the Ministry of Health, or some other Department, and says, "Get a Bill out to do all this." My right hon. Friend does not know how to get a Bill out, so he turns to his permanent officials and asks them for a Bill. They have plenty of Bills of this sort in the pigeon-holes of the Local Government Board. Therefore we have a Bill for gingering up the local authorities. The second part of the Bill is to effect reform in regard to the purchase of land. There is a panic for radical reform of the system under which the land on which slums stand is paid for.
We have heard a great deal about the means of cheapening the purchase of land which is at present used for slum property and how under this Bill it will be procurable at rather less than half the price that has been paid in the past. The number of cases in which slum property has been pulled down under Parts I. and II. of the Act of 1890 are extremely few. I think they are less than ten. During the last twenty-nine years that that Act has been in operation Parts I. and II. have been put into operation in connection with slum property about a dozen times at the outside. Now we are going to alter all this by making it so much cheaper to get land. Is the right hon. Gentleman sure that it will make it much easier? My impression is that you will find it more difficult to get medical officers or inspectors to condemn property if the owners of that property are not to get any compensation. I can quite imagine that will be very difficult for the inspector. He will be met by the proprietor or the owner of the slum houses, almost with tears in his eyes, who will say, "If you condemn my property I shall lose 1765 £200." The inspector being a kind-hearted man, will say, "If you will put up a new banister there or re-do the stairs, or put a fresh window sash in there, we will pass it this time." Therefore, the slum property will not be condemned, and the result will be that instead of this wonderful, well-advertised cheapening of the land, so far as slum property is concerned you will get less condemnation of houses which ought to be condemned, and you will have fewer reconstruction schemes in consequence.
The question of purchasing land which is now used for slum property is a very small question compared with the building which it is proposed to do under Part III of the Bill. Under Part III. of the Bill we are to have all these hundreds of thousands of houses built. What does my right hon. Friend's Department do? His Department says, "We have always had difficulty under Part III. with the local authorities. They will not budge. The London County Council have brought schemes and the other county councils and the big borough councils have brought forward schemes but they have all fallen through on account of the expense. But we have to do something now, because the housing conditions are really too serious, and we shall have a revolution if something is not done. Therefore we will throw on to the taxpayer the whole expense and then the local authorities will move." That is what my right hon. Friend has done. He says, "We will make a show of getting something out of the local authorities. We will commit them to a penny rate, and unless they are willing to adopt a penny rate they will get nothing out of the Exchequer and there will be no housing scheme for that locality." Naturally, every local authority will agree to a penny rate, and having regard to a penny rate they can then put their hands into our pockets. There seems to be an idea that the pocket of the public is an absolutely bottomless treasury into which anyone can delve to any extent without anyone being a penny the worse. Of course, it means that if public money is spent in that way everybody in the country suffers from the rise in prices and the increase in unemployment.
For instance, if I have to spend money on Income Tax, which I would naturally spend in buying pots or pans or useful things about the house, I shall not be able to buy those useful articles, Consequently, people will not be employed in the 1766 pottery trade and the hardware trades in Wolverhampton making things which I do want and cannot buy, and therefore there is unemployment created. So this habit of considering the pocket of the public as absolutely bottomless, and that the local authorities can take as much as they like out of the public treasury leads to unemployment and decreases the productive capacity of the country. This is a new device even in Housing Bills. This is the first in which a local authority is to do all the spending with no incentive whatever to economy, and in which the public are to pay the money without any check as to the way in which the local authorities spend the money. Does the House really understand that, if the local authority find the penny rate, after that their responsibility ceases, but they will have the closing of all the building contracts, the inspection of the work, the fixing of the prices at which the houses are let, and the settling of everything that affects the finances of the operation? Whether the scheme is financially sound or unsound does not affect the local authority in the least. It merely affects the purse of the public which has no control over the financial operations. I cannot think that a scheme such as that would produce satisfactory results. The Bill should not be passed in that form through the House.
The Bill brought in last year had the merit, at any rate, that the local authority should be responsible for a percentage of the loss; I think it was 25 per cent. This time they are not responsible for any of the loss, beyond a penny rate. It is a question not only of the cost of the building, but also the initial expense on the purchase of the land. Although the right hon. Gentleman takes credit for the new system of acquiring slum land, he has not mentioned that, when it comes to acquiring land for new houses, this new Bill is no advance on any of the proposals that have been made in this House by Governments during the past ten or fifteen years. You still have the system of purchase, of compensation that is to be paid to the landlord, who is compulsorily turned out of his land, all working back to the 1846 Land Clauses Consolidation Act, with the exception that the 10 per cent. on compulsion is knocked off. He is still able to get compensation for severance, for the possible value that the land might have acquired in time to come, for disturbance of business, for all 1767 the hundred and one other items which are invariably brought forward in the case of arbitration, all swelling the sum total of the cost which has to be paid. Here you are at once burdening your scheme unnecessarily and unjustly with large sums for compensating people who have no right to be paid a pennypiece more than the pre-war value of the land.
We all know that the value of the land which you are going to acquire has gone up tremendously since the War began. A great deal of the housing required will be in connection with new factories that have sprung up all over the country. Land that was purely agricultural before has gone up to ten times its pre-war value. It has developed from agricultural land to building land. Under this scheme the Government are going to pay not the agricultural rent, not even probably the present building rent, but a rent far higher, at a rate, indeed, comparable with the prices paid for land by railway companies under Acts of Parliament in the past. I do not believe that it is possible to get any reasonable system of acquiring land at a really fair price until you introduce into the legislation of this country some system which says that the landlord should fix his own value for his land everywhere, and pay taxes on that value, and, to prevent him from putting too low a value on it, it should provide that if the public want that land for any purpose they should have power to acquire it at that value. Then you would undoubtedly get a fair value for the land. Until you have some such system as that it is impossible to devise schemes such as enable the public to acquire land, or indeed acquire anything else in this way at a fair price which should fairly compensate the owner of that property.
This Bill sets out to reconstruct the whole of the housing problem in England. It will be a far more operative Bill than any we have had in the past, because the local authorities will work the Bill and are under no liability for expense. But it has the disastrous effect, simply because it is more operative of destroying the entire private building trade throughout the country. Before the War a mere fraction of the houses, about 5 per cent., were built by public authorities. Now at one sweep you are taking on the building of houses, probably for everybody with less than £1,000 a year; the houses of every- 1768 body else will be built by the State. This absolutely destroys the private builder, because when the public authorities have carte blanche from the Treasury as to the expenditure they incur, the price they pay for land, and even the rents they charge, I think the right hon. Gentleman will find it very difficult to prevent charity rents being paid, and it would be very difficult to screw up your rents to an economically sound figure. Unless that is done, it is absolutely impossible for the private builder to compete. The right hon. Gentleman says that there will be very few houses until prices of building come down. Is he very sure that with our present method of conducting the affairs of this country the prices ever will come down? Does he realise that if you stamp out the private building trade for two or three years it can never revive? I submit very seriously that surely he should realise that this is not necessary, merely to carry out a lot of election promises, and then, to say, "See what we can do if a Bill like this is brought forward." The full results of the Bill should be considered in the Cabinet, if there is a Cabinet, and it should make up its mind what it is going to do about the future of the building trade in this country. If a Bill of this kind goes through there is no future for private building in this country. Building must become a Government monopoly, and, if so, the Government must tackle the whole of the land question at the same time. You cannot deal with houses separately from the land on which they are built. Is that what the Government want to do?
Personally, I should hate to hand this over to a bureaucracy. I do not think that the present Government is capable of running a rag-shop, let alone the housing of the country. The alternative seems to, me to be perfectly plain—to stick to the doctrines of Free Trade. Houses are not being built now, because the cost of labour and material is very high indeed, and because the rents of houses are artificially kept down by Acts of Parliament. You cannot go on indefinitely interfering with economic laws by Acts of Parliament. The fatal way in which these economic laws, when you strike them down in front, come up again and hit you on the back of the head, has never been more painfully obvious than on this question of keeping rents down artificially and thereby stopping the building of houses. I would submit to the House that there is 1769 a perfectly simple way of encouraging the building of houses and getting houses built cheaply enough for people to live in them, and yet have them let at economically sound rents. At the present time every house that is built has to face taxes. In the district from which I come they are over 60 per cent., because the rates in that district are over 12s. in the £. When you have rates of 12s. in the £ that means that every house that is built has to pay a tax of 60 per cent. on its value. If you tax anything that is made by man to the tune of 60 per cent., you will be certain of two results. In the first place, there will be a very small production of the things that are so taxed, and, in the second place, those that are so produced will be let at a very high price indeed.
It is perfectly obvious to everybody that if you tax all the boots that come into this country, every pair of boots we wear, whether made in this country or elsewhere, will cost us more. If you tax wheat the bread will cost us more in exactly the same way. If you tax houses your houses will cost you more. If you put 60 per cent. or 50 per cent., or even as in some happy localities, only 25 per cent. tax on the houses, every one of these houses will cost you 60, 50, or 25 per cent. more than they would under a simple, straightforward, economic system without any taxation. Personally I always protested in this House against considering as sacrosanct and as absolutely irremovable, like the laws of Medes and Persians, our present rating system, which puts a penalising tax on every house that is built, with the result that the rents of houses are not only from 25 per cent. to 60 per cent. higher than they ought to be, but, as long as these rates are on your houses and improvements, you will not get more houses built or more improvements made. If you want to encourage building houses, take the tax off houses, increase the supply, increase competition, thereby bringing down the prices. If at the same time you take the rates off the houses, and you transfer your rating assessment from the full value of the land and buildings together on to the unimproved value of the land alone, whether built on or not, then, without adding a penny piece to the expense of property, if you untax the houses, thereby making them cheaper, and put the tax on to the land, and thereby make it cheaper—[laughter]—I have put it in juxtaposition like that in order to show the striking difference between the two.
1770 I know that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Pretyman) does not believe that; he thinks that taxing land makes it dear, but he knows better. The real difference is that if you tax houses they are made dearer, because they are produced by labour out of land. Boots are produced by labour, but land itself is not produced by anybody else. It is there already, and whether you tax it or not makes no difference whatever in the supply of land. In fact, the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite knows perfectly well that if you tax land values you make land cheaper, because you increase the amount of land that is brought on the market. If every landlord is putting his land on the market, land will be cheaper and landlords will be discouraged from holding it up on the chance of a future rise in price. If you tax it still further they would give it away. We do not press for that, but we say, change your insane system of rating, take the rates off the houses and raise the same amount as you raise at present, but on land values. In that way you will discourage the holding up of land and thereby make land cheaper, and you will encourage the production of houses and thereby make houses cheaper. In that way, without drawing upon the bottomless purse of the public, you will develop the housing of the country and private enterprise with its hundreds of varieties of ways in which it must inevitably beat the enterprise of bureaucracy will come into play and will provide the opportunity for a healthy, moral, and sane race throughout the country.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I do not propose to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken into details on the valuation of land and the taxation of land values in place of local rates or taxes. I think if he had been present to hear a very admirable speech delivered earlier—
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
—he would have learned something of the result of the experiment which was tried in 1909–10.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not allege for one moment that I am responsible for any single one of those taxes levied in the Budget of 1909–10. He is responsible for them himself. They were all altered.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
We were both in the House when that legislation was brought forward, and the hon. Member was an advocate of the Bill and I was an opponent. Therefore he must take credit for the Bill, and I must take credit for opposing, whichever has most credit in the eyes of the country. In view of the results, I think there is no doubt that I can claim more credit for opposing it than he can for having advocated it.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Because, after all, we cannot live on theories, and we have to judge by results. As a fact, private enterprise in the building industry, which my hon. Friend has been at such pains to defend, has been simply driven out of existence by that particular legislation. That has been already testified to by hon. Members in this Debate who approached this subject entirely without any prejudice or partisanship from the days when that Ball was under discussion, and have simply judged by results and from practical experience in their contact with the problems. Their verdict, and I think the verdict of every thinking man who has come into contact with the subject, is adverse.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I think, if anything, that was much worse, but the only advantage it had was that it was impossible to collect it. But the harm that is done by that kind of legislation is not in the actual money extracted but in the sense of insecurity which it creates. Lord Justice Moulton, in a case which arose out of this particular Act dealing with "Increment Value Duty, said,Increment on the site value of the land where the value of the site has not altered represents apparently a difference of opinion of two sets of Government valuers as to the value of the owner's total interest in the estate.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
That obviously is not a tax on land values; that is a case where there is no increased value.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Yes; but there has been an increase in the interest created in the land. That is the chimera of hon. Members opposite. They tried to separate the land from interests which are inseparably connected with it. An hon. 1772 Gentleman opposite on the Labour Benches made a very interesting speech. He was finding fault with the Government which preceded the War Government, and stated that in the six years 1908–13 the number of houses built was 135,000 less than in the previous six years. It is quite obvious, of course, what the reason was. I do not desire, however, in that respect to throw any stones. I think that one of the greatest happinesses is that all those party controversies are laid aside, and I am bound to say, after twenty-five years' experience in this House, that I rejoice in the atmosphere here now. Everybody can say what he really thinks without being tied by any party allegiance to this or that particular shobboleth. In this matter I believe that the House is perfectly unanimous in its desire to solve this most difficult problem at the earliest possible moment in the best manner. I think I gather from the interesting speech of my right hon. Friend the President that the intention of the Government is that private enterprise should as far as possible be encouraged to resume its operations.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I am coming to that. At the present moment private enterprise is dead as far as building houses for the working classes is concerned. There was probably slight trouble before the legislation to which I have referred, but that legislation enormously aggravated the trouble. Then came the War, which was the greatest stroke of all. As a result private enterprise is non-existent, and it is perfectly clear that it is incapable of dealing with the present situation, which must be tackled immediately. Therefore, however much my hon. Friend opposite is an advocate of private enterprise, and although I am bound to accept his statement on that, I should not have thought so, and I am also an advocate of it, I do not think either my hon. Friend or I would get up and suggest that private enterprise is capable of dealing with this question. He says, "Leave it to Free Trade," but how long will it take Free Trade to operate before these crying needs will be supplied? Although private enterprise may do a great deal eventually in providing houses, yet I am perfectly clear that private enterprise cannot deal with some areas —for instance, slum-area property where the question is most urgent, and must 1773 be dealt with at once, and can only be dealt with by public action. The hon. Member of the Labour party quoted a speech by the Prime Minister promising that the Government would provide the houses, and that hon. Member rather seemed to think that the Prime Minister was not fulfilling his pledge. What is this Bill but a fulfilment of it? My hon. Friend (Colonel Wedgwood) says that it is another useless and hopeless Housing Bill. I should be rather disposed to agree with him if this Bill stood by itself. Housing depends on other factors of vital importance. We always laboured before under the old conditions in only being able to deal with one Bill of importance at one time, and one big Bill almost sufficed for a Session under the old system of party. Now for the first time we are in a period when the House has the opportunity of preparing a great machine for regenerating the country in many social directions.
There are five Bills, all of which, with one exception, will probably be before the House before we separate. I regard those five Bills as five cog-wheels in that great machine. Without the other four this Housing Bill, I should agree with my hon. Friend, would be of very little more value than the others which have preceded it. For instance, you cannot have anything more intimately and immediately connected with the question of housing then that of transport. If there is one part of these proposals which appeals to me as one who has taken a great interest in this question it is that houses shall be provided in semi-rural conditions with good garden plots and with good transport access to the work in which the man is engaged, so that he can do his work in the factory while his family can live in fresh air under semi-rural conditions and in a properly constructed house, and where, when he gets home at night, he will find not only a healthy family, but healthy occupation outside where they can go and work together in the garden. As one who knows what it means I say that that will do more than any other part of this legislation. That could not be done in a Housing Bill alone. Obviously it would be no use building houses which would necessitate a man going three or four miles to his work unless there was proper transport. That is why I welcome the Transport Bill and also the unity of 1774 authority which is created by that Bill. The Acquisition of Land Bill is obviously a necessary part of this housing legislation, and so is the Land Settlement Bill, as to which I would like to put one point. I think that on the whole those Bills are admirably drawn to avoid overlapping, but I am not at all sure that there is not overlapping between the Land Settlement Bill and the Housing Bill in the matter of the provision of a particular class of house to which I have referred. Where you are to provide a house with half an acre or an acre of land in the immediate neighbourhood of a town, I am not quite clear who has to provide that house— whether it is the county council under the Land Settlement Bill or the local authority under the Housing Bill. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will make that clear, so that there shall be no danger of overlapping. There is a fifth Bill which has not yet been mentioned to-day, and which I think is almost equally important with the other four, and that will be the Finance Bill, because, after all, however much we may realise the vital urgency of this work being carried out, it cannot be done without good finance and without money. I cannot share the rather careless and happy-go-lucky attitude of the hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Labour party, when he said he did not care about finance. I think finance is as important to the Labour party as to any other section of this House, because, although you may nominally draw your taxation from the pockets of the employer class, if any suffering follows from it is will not be so much the employer class as the employed class which will feel it. Therefore, I think the Labour party have as much interest in sound finance and in making money go as far as it will go as any other party in the House, and I hardly think my hon. Friend really expressed the feelings of the Labour party when he said he did not care about finance. If something like half a million houses are to be provided, it involves the expenditure and the borrowing of a very large sum of money, and I venture to think that the financial arrangements under which that borrowing is to take place, and that money is to be raised, are matters of the highest importance in the success of this measure. If I might comment on an expression which was used by my right hon. Friend in introducing this Bill, he blamed, 1775 or rather tended to blame, the local authorities because of the very small number of schemes proposed by them up to the 1st January.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I am glad the right hon. Member put it that way, because I did not blame, but I stated facts and gave, as I thought, reasons for them.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I want to give another reason. I think the impression which the right hon. Gentleman made upon the House was that the local authorities had not been hurrying up as much as they might have done, because up to the 1st January only eight effective schemes had been presented. He went on to say that on 6th February he had announced that the contribution of the local authorities was to be limited to a 1d. rate, and he then mentioned that from that date onwards these schemes began to flow in with very great rapidity. I suggest to him that that was the reason and no other. It was not that the local authorities were not anxious to deal with the question, but that with the limited resources at their disposal, and with the insecurity they felt in having an unlimited possible contribution, they waited until they could get something more definite and know exactly where they were financially before they sent in their schemes, and I think that throws a little light on the importance of finance in this question. It is no doubt a point of very great importance, but I feel that there is a certain danger in limiting the expenditure of the local authorities to a 1d. rate, because it was suggested opposite that they have no interest in economy after they have spent their penny rate if they are then to have the full responsibility and power of spending as much as they like of the country's money. That is a defect in the Bill. I do not say it is not a necessary defect, but it is a defect, and I should much have preferred that some part of the responsibility in case of extravagance should fall upon the local authorities. If that cannot be done without creating undue delay and congestion, I hope the machinery devised by the Local Government Board will be such as will provide a real check upon unnecessary expenditure and extravagance in plans and in general housing schemes.
I should like to say one or two words about the position of the speculative builder. The speculative building trade has really been responsible for housing the 1776 working classes up to within the last few years, and the system was rather an interesting one. They did not do it alone, but had a very useful partner in the working classes themselves, and the process was this. There was about £25,000,000, roughly, invested in the speculative building trade, and that money was always going steadily forward like a steam roller, taking up land and building houses upon it as it went, and leaving behind it houses which were purchased by the working classes themselves out of their own thrift and savings, and to my mind the process was wholly beneficent from every point of view. It had this great advantage—and I hope the House will mark this—that that £25,000,000 of capital reproduced itself perpetually. It was a comparatively small sum for the very great results which were obtained from it, but practically that twenty-five millions was sufficient to provide, with the buttress of working-class thrift behind it, for the general housing requirements of our working-class population. If the State undertakes housing, what does it intend to do in this regard? I cannot make that out from the Bill. I noticed with very great pleasure that in Part III. of the Bill provision is made for simplifying the purchase of houses by occupying owners, but I am not clear whether the Bill intends to encourage the sale to small working-class investors of houses erected by the local authority under this Bill. If they do not, what does it mean? It means that instead of twenty-five millions of capital constantly being renewed from behind and moving forward as a beneficent force ahead without constant addition, it will all become fixed capital, and another twenty-five millions, or whatever sum it may be, will have to be found annually, and you will eventually get a vast burden of proprietorship thrown upon the local authorities, which will become the biggest landlords in the country. I am not sure that that is a desirable consummation at all. To the extent to which local authorities and the Government have become owners of working-class houses up to now we have already had, within the last year or so, instances of rent strikes and of trouble where people think that, because the Government provide them with houses, they ought to have them at uneconomic rents. There was a case at Coventry and a case at Woolwich, and I can from my own experience at the Admiralty speak of a case which occurred 1777 at Rosyth, where those who were in Government employment residing in Government houses thought they ought to have those houses at a rent very much below not only the war cost but below what is estimated to be the normal cost of construction. Therefore, I think there is a great economic safeguard in the working classes of this country not being all arrayed, as occupiers, against one great landlord, the State. It is greatly in the interests of the country as a whole that the working classes themselves should own a large proportion of-the houses which they occupy. From the very widest point of view, and apart from the pleasure and advantage of feeling that your house is your castle and that you cannot be turned out of it, I believe it is enormously to the interests of the country that the working classes should be owners as well as occupiers of the dwellings which they inhabit.
I have only one more point to which I wish to refer, and that is to rural housing. The difficulties there are certainly greater than in the case of urban districts, and I am sure that when a rural landowner like myself hears the obviously true and heartrending descriptions of the slum conditions in towns, all we can say is that we wish you well in your efforts to get rid of them, and it seems, to my mind, quite intolerable that the owner of slum property of that description should receive heavy compensation because his slum property is taken away from him. I fully agree that owners of property of that description should have only the value of the land and not the value of the slum property, which is a disgrace to the country. I am sure everybody must realise the absolute truth and justice of the statement that the health of the people depends upon better housing. The figures that were quoted, if accurate, are very interesting. In some of these slum areas in towns the infantile mortality goes up as high as 160 or nearly 200 per thousand, whereas in the agricultural labouring districts it is only 97. The hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Labour Benches and gave those figures put that difference down wholly to country air, but I think I may venture to claim that some of it is due to rural landlords, who have, at any rate so far as their means allowed, in a great many cases provided houses; and they are about the only class who have made it a rule to provide houses for the men working on the property which they own. It is a tradition 1778 of the best type of rural owner that the claims of the estate, including housing, come before the claims of the owner, and though perhaps the Labour party may not all realise that, I tell them that it is a fact. I do not say it is so in all cases. There are neglected properties in country districts, as in towns, and you will find, I dare say, in a great many cases overcrowding and very bad conditions in some rural villages, but, generally speaking, I believe the record of the rural owner, particularly of the rural large owner, in the matter of housing, can claim comparison with that of any other class in the community. But there is a very interesting point in regard to that, and that is the question of the tied house, which is a very difficult question. Everybody would generally agree that it is much better that a worker should be independent, that his house should have nothing to do with his work, and that he should be free to work for any employer he likes. That is quite right in theory, but when you come to practice, and when you have a large farm of 400 or 500 acres or more; with buildings containing valuable stock, and work which must be done on the spot: and where a man may be required to attend to animals at any moment of the day or night, in the case of illness or other trouble, it is absolutely necessary that that man should be immediately adjoining his work. It is not only an employers' question. When a labourer applies for a situation, or desires to accept a situation, on such a farm as that, he practically invariably makes the condition, "Are you going to find me a good house, and let me see it before I take the job?" Supposing he wishes to leave. Take a stockman living in a cottage adjoining a farm. He has come under these conditions, and he desires to leave that employ or for any reason he and the employer agree to separate. Another stockman has to be got. He will make the same conditions. Is it really suggested that it is wrong that the man who leaves the charge of these animals should also have to leave the house which has been specially erected by the owner of the farm to enable these animals to be cared for?
It not only applies to the agricultural labourer. I will even go as high as the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer lives in a tied house, and I think it would be considered rather a tall order if, when there was a change of Government and a new Chancellor of the Exchequer was appointed, 1779 the outgoing Chancellor of the Exchequer should say, "No, as an employé of the nation, I have no right to be turned out of my house; let the next Chancellor of the Exchequer find one somewhere else." I think the difficulty of the new Chancellor of the Exchequer in finding a new house would be less than the difficulty of the farmer in being able to get Ms stock looked after if he could not put the man in a house adjoining the farm. Therefore, there are two sides to the question. I do not merely put that forward as a difficulty without suggesting a solution. In my view, in rural districts what is necessary is this: So far as tied houses are absolutely necessary for what are called confined labourers on the farms, they ought to be provided by the landlords, and they must be tied. But it is not every labourer who needs to live in a tied house, and there ought to be also in the villages a proportion of houses which are not tied, and which may be built either by public utility societies, arranged by the owners, the local authorities, or anyone else, and which should be available to the labourer who is free to work for any employer he likes. But I do protest against a cry— which, I agree, is justified on broad sentiment, but which is not justified by the circumstances—that there should be no tied houses in the rural areas.
There must be tied houses within the limits I have suggested, and I think when it comes to a question between the local authority and the landowner, I might refer' to one other point, namely, that the landowner in the rural aeras has not only been expected to provide, and actually has provided, for the requirements of his tenants and his own labourers, but also has been expected to provide for the requirements of the local authorities, if ever a house is wanted for a roadman, a policeman, or a postman— a postman particularly. I suggest that the State, before finding fault—not that fault has been found to-day; I am in no sense saying this to my right hon. Friend, who has found fault with nobody—but in the past we have had stones thrown at landowners by the State, which has, to my mind, very seriously failed in doing a manifest duty in providing houses for its own employés. I think the very first step you should take under the powers of this Bill is that every public authority should regard it as a public duty, which should be strictly enforced, to provide the houses 1780 required for their own employés, and, when they have done that, they will be in a stronger position to find fault with other people who have not done it.
If I may speak as a landowner, I believe I am only expressing the opinion and views of all the landowners in the country when I say that they desire to give every possible facility for the acquisition of land for this purpose. My right hon. Friend has already borne testimony that that is the spirit in which this Bill is being met. I must not be accused of any lukewarm-ness if I just utter this caution: We have heard a great deal—and it is very necessary—about gingering up and pressing local authorities. I think there must be some little caution in examining the proposals of local authorities for new houses, because we have so much expenditure before us in this country, not only in this Bill, but in so many other vital directions, that we clearly must regard every penny we have to spend, and put it to its best and most useful purpose, and not concentrate on this Bill as if it were the only expenditure we have to meet, and lavish money over it. In that matter I divide the question of replacing slums from the question of new houses. I do not think you can apply too much ginger to local authorities to do away with slums and replace them, but when you come to the question of providing new houses I think there are two things you will have to remember. You will have to consider the case of a large, overgrown town with a big working-class population, where a scheme is absolutely essential, and where you may apply what ginger you like. You have also to consider the possible case—and I think it is one which will occur—of a local authority which is desirous of attracting people into its district, which thinks its district a very healthy one, and that a good housing scheme will add to its attraction. I do not think we can afford that. Although it may be very desirable in itself, I do not think, in our present financial position, we can afford to build more houses than are actually required for the existing inhabitants of any district under this scheme; and I do suggest to my right hon. Friend, while he presses for all that is absolutely necessary, he should keep his weather-eye open as to any proposals which are unnecessary from the point of view of finance, which I regard as really vital to the scheme. I press much more for tenderness with regard to finance than with regard to land. I do not think 1781 any land taken for this purpose will be grudged by any landowner. I do not think land can be possibly put to better use than by building good houses, with plenty of air, and on the lines which have been suggested. I certainly, for one, shall support this Bill, not only as it stands by itself, but as part of this great scheme of reconstruction, and I only hope that, as the result of the enormous labour which will have to be bestowed upon it before it can come to fruition, many of us will be able to live to see that we shall no longer be open to the reproach of having millions of our population living in conditions under which one never can expect them to be capable or honourable citizens of this or any other country.
§ Mr. PEMBERTON BILLING
I was not present in the House when the various Bills were passed to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, but I must say that I think both the late Liberal and the late Conservative Governments can take very small credit to themselves for the little they did in the past. Having said that, I do not propose to waste the time of the House by indulging in any recriminations. The hon. Member tells us that he considers the rural landlords compare very favourably with the owners of other slum property. It is not a very good character, then.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I did not say so. I hate interruption, but when the hon. Gentleman misquotes I think I am bound to interrupt him. I said nothing of the kind. I said I thought the rural landlord compared very well with any other landlord in the country. I said nothing about slum property in that connection.
§ Mr. BILLING
The hon. Gentleman makes the position even easier. A man can only speak from his experience. My experience and intimate knowledge of the people of one of the most beautiful parts of England, Hertfordshire, is that the rural property there does not even compare favourably with the slums. I can take the hon. Member to hundreds of houses owned—and I say it advisedly—owned by the lords of the land, standing under the very shadow of some of the most historic castles, in which I would not, and no man who had any respect for anything he bred would, keep pigs. I can show him there property in which two and three families are living in comparatively two or three rooms with no sanitary conveniences whatever, no water. 1782 Generally, I would suggest that rural property and the conditions under which the agricultural labouring workers live is-possibly the greater disgrace, because there is less excuse for it. I am going to ask the President of the Local Government Board to give that matter his very serious consideration, and not to feel that by simply removing some of the ulcers which we see in the large cities that the task is complete—it is so far as rural property is concerned.
There is one point I should like the Secretary of the Local Government Board to clear up when he replies. That is, who are the working classes? They are constantly referred to. Why, I possibly represent the working classes here as much as any other hon. Member, being returned—I may say without fear of contradiction—by their vote. While I have their interests deeply at heart, one must not allow one's opinions or one's thought to go in the direction of any particular class. I submit that there are classes in this country which to-day are even in a more precarious and unfortunate position than those who actually draw a weekly wage. Those who are frequently referred to as the "genteel poor" have been the real sufferers during this War; people whose income, in some cases, is somewhere about £50 or £60 a year. They number thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. They just managed to keep alive before the War and can scarcely manage that now. They have no union with which to bring pressure upon the Government. To a very large extent they are finding themselves homeless every day. Is it proposed that this housing scheme shall make provision according to social distinction or wage-earning capacity? That is a point I think might be cleared up. You are coming to the different qualifications for entering into these new houses. What is the most important is whether or not it is to be a question of rent. Are we going by those who pay rent? I submit to the Government, with all respect, that unless this scheme is economically sound it is bound to breed confusion and make it worse confounded. The hon. Member behind me made a point which the House appreciated. That was that the public purse is not a bottomless pit. We can borrow money, but the mere borrowing of money is only borrowing husbanded labour. If that is dissipated the time will come when you get to the end of it, and you are simply piling up a 1783 far greater debt for the future. You are building your houses to-day out of money you hope to earn to-morrow. Possibly, we are obliged to do that. If so, we are obliged to incur the debt. We must remember, however, that a day of reckoning will come. The smaller the debt, the smaller the interest and the capital which we shall have to return. We all know, however, that the Government must take a hand in this game.
If we are going to abolish slum property, private enterprise cannot do it. I would submit to the President of the Local Government Board a very simple proposal whereby a number of these local authorities might, get out of the present position, if not at a profit, without a very great loss. In every town and city there are areas of slum property. It has been suggested that this property should be acquired without compensation to the owners. I heartily agree with that. If in the first instance the Government were to lend the municipal authorities the money to capitalise this slum property as a first investment at a price commensurate with the rent obtained—not the inflated rents which now obtain in slum areas by the use to which the owners put property, and in many cases the tenants themselves by letting and sub-letting—but a reasonable pre-war rent. Let them, I say, buy this property up, pull down the buildings thereon, and offer the sites for sale for the erection of business premises. They will, I think, find that they will clear sufficient on the transaction, if properly done, to go a long way towards buying land on the outskirts necessary for development. I quite fail to see why each town or city should not take advantage of its own slum property. The scheme is a simple one. I am opposed to building more than are absolutely necessary of these large tenement houses. We are going to have? a new transport system. Let us take advantage of it. Let us get the workers out of the city.
There is another point. The Government, I think, ought to dwell upon it. They are paying the piper to a considerable extent. They are spending the people's money. They have a right to call the tune. Too much latitude ought not to be allowed to the various schemes of the local authorities. I have seen some schemes put forward by local authorities. In the case of some of the houses they proposed to build the roofs they propose to 1784 put on were likely to cost more to construct than a six-roomed house without such a roof. How much money is to be allowed to be spent on making these homes artistic? The first thing to do is to make the home comfortable, sanitary, and sound. We can make it artistic afterwards; that is another matter. We cannot afford to spend very much on that aspect to-day. It is far better to have two sound homes not so artistic, housing two happy families, than to have one artistic home housing one happy family, with another family outside altogether. To a very large extent some of these local authorities feel that anything in excess of a 1d. rate will be supplied by the Government. They will find out what that rate can supply and then go pretty freely after that. I submit that the better way is that the. Local Government Board should say to the authority concerned, "How much can you raise by your 1d. rate?" Having discovered that, they should say, "On the top of your local expenditure we are prepared to give you permission to spend such-and-such a sum."
The question of how many houses an authority should build seems a very simple matter. There is not a town or an authority where there is not at least 25 per cent. of working-class property which is not fit to live in. Let an inspector appointed by the Local Government Board go round with the local surveyor and agree with him what property is and what is not fit for human habitation. In the case of such houses as, in there opinion, should be pulled down the local authority should be given permission to build one house in the place of one demolished. That, in my opinion, will be as big a building proposition as any local authority will be able to undertake in the near future. I should like to see them do a very great deal more. But the Act provides that they shall have three months from the passing of the Bill. What does that mean? It means that this Bill may manage to get through the Committee stage in a month or six weeks—and there is hardly a Clause in this Bill which will not need fiercely debating, principally from the point of view of strengthening— because it is a Bill where there is a great deal more of "may" than "must." I want to see a good deal more commitments of the Local Government Board to do these things, and not to take power to do them. I want this House to give them instructions to carry them out. I am afraid that will be the difficulty in regard to some of these Clauses. All that is to take six 1785 weeks, and then there is the Report stage and the Third Reading, and I submit it will be some time in June before this measure becomes law. Then we have July, August, and September, and there is very little hope of this Utopia being commenced this year. I know this to my own cost. In January I started out to build eight houses, and we have had only eleven fine days, and there is no reason why the same sort of thing should not happen again. Perhaps my interest has taken a more practical form than some hon. Members, and I have watched very carefully the cost of these buildings. I suggest that unless some new method of building is introduced, and if you have to rely upon the old system, especially in the winter time, there will be very little work done on these new schemes within the next twelve months.
I would like to see that Clause altered. There is hardly a local authority which has not had it dinned into it that we were going to have a housing scheme, and I submit that there is hardly a local authority that has not a scheme of some kind on the stocks. It is not generally appreciaated that the present housing conditions are the real, and in fact the only, reason for social unrest. If a man is comfortably housed, and has the wherewithal which goes to keep that home together you will not find much social unrest there. In my own Constituency and town, I could take hon. Members to 100 houses which if I had to live in them I should not only be a Bolshevik, but I should be a leader of Bolshevists. It may be said that a man who has nothing is always in favour of a new house, but surely hon. Members know the conditions under which the working classes are living, and they did not get to this House without making a careful canvass of the various slums in order to get votes. No doubt they went from house to house, and in some of these houses went into the kitchen and saw five or six children sprawling all over the floor, and the mother trying to get the dinner ready in these hopeless domestic conditions. We want in this House more attention paid to abolishing the drudgery from the life of the poor working woman, and that would be something worth doing.
For three months I have been discussing this matter to the exclusion of almost every other subject, and, of course, I came up against all forms of criticism. Some of of them say, "What is the good of giving the working man a bath, because he only 1786 puts his coals in it." Of course, I know that is the rather fatuous argument that one hears on various sides, and they say it is no use trying to provide for these people what are called luxuries. A working woman said to me yesterday, while I was showing her over a house, "You know we want the baths more than you do, because we have to do the dirty work, so that you men can go clean. Therefore it is more necessary for us to have oaths than it is for you." That is a perfectly sound argument. The Government should lay down one simple rule that no plan for any house or any tenement will be passed unless a bath is provided and unless some system of hot water is provided for the house. That is one of the most essential things.
No doubt the Government will say that these are mere details and trivial matters which will be dealt with by the Committee, but I would remind hon. Members that the position of an hon. Member here is rather difficult on the Second Reading. In the past we could always rely on putting down Amendments during the Committee stage upon matters in which we were interested, but now we do not know who may be appointed to the Committee upstairs, and therefore the Second Reading is the only chance we have of putting forward any constructive suggestion, because the Third Reading is purely formal. I know that dealing with these Bills in Grand Committee has its advantages as well as its-disadvantages, but I would prefer to see a Bill of this kind in Committee of the Whole House, although I fear that that course would mean many weeks' delay. I request the President of the Local Government Board to alter that three months to one month, and let us get on with the work.
What is it that is required in these schemes? First of all, you simply want a general lay-out of the type of buildings required, and the quantity surveyor's report. Now, is there any town in the country that could not do that easily in a month's time? If a council or local, authority could not do this at their ordinary meetings, why cannot they meet every night for a few weeks, instead of once a week for seven weeks. Let the council sit every night until they have settled this housing proposition. Would a board of directors who were going to rebuild a village say, "Very well, we will have a board meeting every week 1787 for three months, and then submit a tender for the work?" Not at all. If it was necessary to have a dozen meetings to decide upon what sort of tender they would have they would meet every day and get on with it, and there is nothing to prevent any municipal body having a meeting every day until the scheme is complete, and submitting that scheme, and with it the approximate amount that they can raise by a penny rate, and the methods which they propose to employ in building. It is for the Government to lay down that not more than eight houses, and six where that is possible, shall be built to the acre, and not for the municipal authorities, with all the vested interests that they represent, to make up their minds whether they will have eight or ten houses to the acre. An hon. Member, opposite said that the landowners were only too anxious to let them have their land. I am sure that the working classes are only too anxious to get it, though not at any price other than that which it is worth, and there is very little land around the small towns and villages of our country worth more than £50 per acre. It would be quite simple to say, "We will give you the average rental for the past ten years, plus 10 per cent." I know how extraordinarily the value of land close to me rose when it became likely that it would be brought into a housing scheme. Last year it was agricultural land at a rental of 36s. per acre per year, and of the value of about £40 per acre. Now that it is likely to be employed in a building scheme it has risen to the neighbourhood of £350 or £400. We must admit that the majority of members of local bodies have local interests. They are either owners of land or the friends of owners, or local tradesmen who know that it is more than the Squire's custom is worth to vote that his land shall be taken at £200 per acre when he wants £400. That is where the Government can save the country money, if only they will assess the value of the land on some very simple system. They might, for instance, say that the owner shall sell at the valuation under the Finance Act of 1910, when the majority of owners assessed their own property for taxation. The Government, however, must lay down the price and not leave it to the local authorities. When local authorities start dealing, they generally pay more than the private individual.
1788 I therefore submit that if the Government will assess the value of the land it will be something like half the amount that it would be if it were left to the local authorities. In that way we shall get the same benefit, the amount of debt which we pile up in connection with the scheme will be half, the amount of interest which the working people will have to pay in rent will be half, and the nearer will be the time when we shall be able to write off our liability. It is most essential that the Government should put into the Bill what the rents are going to be. It will not be easy, but the necessity must be faced. What proportion of a man's earnings is it fair that he should pay in rent? I am not in any way cavilling at the increase in prices, but whereas three months ago labourers were receiving 9d. per hour to-day they are receiving 1s. 3d. I am glad that they should be receiving a good wage, but surely a man who is receiving 1s. 3d. per hour can afford to pay a better rent than a man receiving 9d. per hour. Let the Government call a meeting of the Labour party and ask them what in their opinion is a fair proportion of a working man's money to be paid in rent. If it is 15 or 20 per cent. then it can be laid down that a workman's rent shall be based on the wages that he receives. It is the only possible way of doing it. All wages are mounting up. Take the case of a five-roomed house. Before the War it cost from £250 to £300. To-day it costs nearly £700. At least half of that is represented by labour. You pay twice as much to labour for building it, and you certainly must ask an increased rent from labour for occupying it. If men receive more money for building houses, then if this is going to be an economic scheme, they must pay some proportion of that increase back for occupying them.
The secret of the whole thing lies in the cost of essential materials. Bricks, cement, sand, shingle, timber, and all the essentials of building have doubled in price in the last three months. Before the War cement was 16s. per ton. I paid £2 5s. in January, and to-day I am paying nearly £5 5s. for it. Hon. Members say, "Let the private builder come in?" How can he possibly come in? He does not know where he stands. He does not know what is going to happen to labour or materials from day to day. If he knew that the rents to be paid were to be based upon the wages earned and that the material would not be made the sub- 1789 ject of profiteering, he would know where he stood, and if labour went up 15 per cent. he would say, "That is all right; a proportion is coming back in rent." There are two things which are essential to good workmanship. One is a comfortable home and the other is nourishing food. A comfortable home means the abolition of domestic inconveniences, and that means a more or less costly house. If you are going to get good workmanship you must have the working classes living in conditions which are congenial to their development, and the only possible way is to build these houses on an economic basis. They must be built upon an economic basis for more than one reason. Private individuals put enthusiasm, inititative, and imagination into their work, but it is woefully absent in all Government and municipal undertakings. That is one reason, but what is much more important is that if you make n great loss on this scheme you will practically perpetuate one of the gravest mistakes that the Government have made. I know that I shall not have the support of hon. Members behind me, but I refer to the payment of the unemployment benefit. I would sooner have put all the working classes digging a hole on Monday and filling it up on Tuesday than I would have given them money for walking about doing nothing. There is nothing more calculated to deteriorate the working man than to pay him for doing nothing. You will have the same thing again if you face this problem in this way. At all municipal elections it will be a question as to who will pander most to the working classes in connection with the housing problem. Men will vie with each other in the promises which they make to the electors as to how they will use the new powers that the Government have given them. One will promise baths, another incubators, and a third probably perambulators. There is one view put forward which appealed to me more than anything else. The right hon. Gentleman wants to make the working classes the owners of their homes. That is most essential. It is the crux of the whole social problem to give men something that is their very own—to give them a private possession. That will do more to solve the social difficulty than anything else. It will do more to put down social disturbances. You may hear two men talking on their way home about 1790 Bolshevism. One man is very much in favour of it; the other is a little bit nervous as to whether or not the Government is strong enough to deal with it. Follow them home. You will find the former living in some small tenement, and probably out of work, while the latter, a man in the same social scale, has probably just paid a £50 deposit into his building society, and is consequently very nervous as to the strength of the Government. There is nothing like interest in the house one lives in and in the land on which it is built to stabilise the industries of this country, to stabilise general social conditions. I make a special appeal to the Government to lay it down that the municipal authorities, when acquiring this land, shall do everything they can to encourage immediate building. If there are builders who are willing to build four or five houses as a private speculation, give them the land to build on, only tying them down to charging a plain, economic rent or a fair selling price. Let the man build, and let the people who move in gradually become the owners.
There is some danger here. This is a very wide Bill. Although it does not say very much as to what the Government will do it gives extraordinary powers as to what it may do. Before the Bill passes into law I would appeal to hon. Members, and especially those who go on the Standing Committee, to watch very closely what is going to be done. We Members of the House of Commons will be giving the Local Government Board, as our agents, instructions as to what they are to do. Let us not, as the Prime Minister once said, give them a blank cheque. We have seen the result of giving blank cheques in this House. Therefore I suggest the whole Bill must be most carefully reviewed. We should lay down exactly what the local government authorities shall do. They ought not to be given carte blanche.I am almost in favour of standardisation. Hon. Members will say, "Surely you do not want to cover this country with houses all alike." Yet the President of the Local Government Board himself not very long ago said that the only objection to using Army huts to solve the problem was that their life was not long enough and that they were not warm enough in the winter. Can one imagine anything more really ugly than an Army hut or anything more like it than another Army hut? Yet the Government admit that if they were 1791 better constructed there would be no objection to using them in this connection. The question of uniformity apparently does not constitute any serious objection. It must be obvious to the House that standardisation is a good thing. In regard to motor cars Mr. Ford, the American, has taught what can be done by standardising them, and I submit it would be possible in this country to standardise every door and every wondow frame, to make them by the hundreds of thousands in Government factories and thus get rid of a good many difficulties. The local authorities might be given a month in which to prepare their initial scheme, and then something may be done before the winter; otherwise next year will find us very much where we are now, and the Local Government Board will still be seriously considering a number of schemes submitted to them. Explicit instructions should be given to local governing authorities as to what they are to do. That would assist enormously. It would be perfectly simple for the Government to draw up a form for each municipal authority to fill in. Some questions such as these might appear on the form: How many houses have you in your district which are not fit for human habitation? How many applications have you received for houses from new tenants? Is there any land in your district which you can acquire, and what is its value based on the last ten years' rental? These are questions which the local governing authorities could reply to at once, and they would form a nucleus of a sound, sensible economic scheme. I submit that idea to the Government, with great respect, for their consideration.
I also make an appeal to them to take steps immediately to control the price of building essentials. They have told us that coal is an essential, and that they propose more or less to nationalise it. But what is the good of having coal if you have no fireplace to put it in? You cannot have a fireplace until you have built your house, and you cannot build your house until you get the cement. Therefore cement is of far greater national importance than coal, because you have to get it first. I do not know whether the cement works throughout the country are working in a corner. I do not know how much higher prices are going. But I do submit that the 1792 Government should take steps immediately to control the price of the article. There is only one other suggestion I wish to touch upon and that is a suggestion by the President of the Local Government Board that the large building concerns, should turn themselves into Public Utility Societies. My experience of large business concerns is that it would be most unfortunate if large building companies turned themselves into philanthropists and became Public Utility Societies working on a 6 per cent. basis. I think this housing question could be quickly settled if the Government would make up their minds what they want done. The Government is to be the paymaster, financing the schemes out of the public purse. Let them lay down the type of house which shall be built and the methods which shall be employed, and let them give the local governing authorities, an irreducible minimum time in which to do the work, taking power as an alternative to do it themselves. There are munition factories standing idle from which men are being discharged day by day and week by week. At Question Time to-day we were told that the Government did not know what to do with the unemployment existing in the country. That unemployment is being caused by men being dismissed from munition factories. Why cannot we make the essentials of houses in the munition factories to-day? Iron bedsteads will be wanted in thousands; they could be produced at these factories in large quantities and most economically; also windows, doors, and various other essentials. That is a matter which might receive the Government's consideration. Finally, I would appeal that, whatever happens, we should stand by a type of house, no matter what it may be, which can be erected quickly, and which will enable us within the next six months, before winter is on us again, to make some show of dealing with the present position, because if next winter finds us where last winter found us the social state of this country will be far more serious than it is to-day.
§ Sir PETER GRIGGS
As a new Member, I have listened with great interest to the speech of the President of the Local Government Board in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, and I would congratulate him on bringing in a bold Bill to deal with a very serious situation and a burning question. We want a speeding-up in this matter. We have been 1793 told to-day that two or three months will elapse before this Bill comes back to the House again. The summer will then have gone. I was asked by a newspaper representative how many houses we were going to have put up before September, and I said that if we were to go along at the present rate it would be very few. Until this Bill is passed very few local authorities will go ahead and hardly any private enterprise will carry on. We have already lost one week. This Bill should have gone forward last week, but on the suggestion made from the other side it was put off. A week now is of essential importance. With regard to the cost, I hope there will be no payment by commission on the cost price. That has proved a very bad system in many cases. I have known cases where it has been a scandal. I have known the case of boys being taken off the land, where they were earning 15s. a week, and put to building. They were set to sweep up the floor of an aerodrome, and when they had done it the foreman came along and kicked the rubbish and told them to sweep it up again. That is only one case out of several I know. If that is what is going to happen by the payment of commission on the cost, I would say let us do away with that scandalous system. The question has been raised of the necessity of giving full facilities to intending occupiers to buy their houses by gradual payments spread over fifteen or twenty years. That is a very good system, and can be done by way of the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act or through the building societies. I have recently had letters from many building societies asking that they should be enabled to carry on their work which they have done so well in the past. The Small Dwellings Acquisition Act would prove a very useful measure if it were more widely known. I speak with some knowledge of the Act because I moved its adoption some 20 years ago in a certain town. That town has lent over £100,000 to enable 400 or 500 people to buy their houses on very moderate terms, and that town has been the most successful of any. When the other day I found that there was no mention of that Act in the last circular sent out by the Local Government Board and that it was not mentioned at the meeting of the local authorities, I spoke to the President of the Local Government Board, and I am very glad to see it is included in this Bill. I would respectfully suggest that there should be some 1794 amendment of the amount to be found by the purchaser. How many men are going to find £100 or £75? I have been the means of thousands buying their houses by a payment of £25 in cash. If this Bill is not amended and if you cannot get a house for less than £500—it will be a very small house for that money—that will mean men finding £75. That is not giving full facilities, which ought to be given.
There should also be some small amendments on the Small Holdings Acquisition Act in other respects. If the amount was put at 90 per cent. instead of 85 per cent., that would mean that men would have to pay £50, and it would enable many more to purchase than if the amount were £75. Success depends on giving full facilities to the people to buy. If you deal with the matter in that way they will take an interest in their houses. We want pleasant garden suburbs, but unless you give the people some interest the dwellings will soon go back. I have seen one suburb where they have a pleasant garden suburb, but a little way off they have worked back again almost into slums, so much so that the name of the road has had to be changed and the people turned out. If you have modified rents and if the full economic rent is not able to be paid, the property will go back and the place will certainly not be so pleasant looking. I am now creating a large garden suburb. We have only left off during the War. This uncertainty stops all private enterprise. Where I have had a thousand men building on one estate, we have not a hundred all told to-day. If you will let them know as quickly as possible what is going to be done by this Housing Bill—if you let them know that we are not going to provide houses for the middle classes, I have no doubt private enterprise will soon pick up work in that direction. The Finance Act of 1909, which was thought so much of at that time, killed private enterprise. In normal times, in 1907 and 1908, we were building throughout the country 70,000 houses, but two years afterwards through that legislation it dropped to less than one-seventh of that number. The uncertainty and the Undeveloped Land Tax killed private enterprise as far as houses are concerned. Let us go on the line of hurrying this along. If we are not careful we shall have nothing done this year. Another 1795 point local authorities are afraid of is that they may build houses which will be filled up by people coming from outside districts. They say they are not going to do that. That wants to be defined in some way. If we do not move faster than we are doing at present very great discontent will be created. Scores come to my offices daily. Thousands of people come with piteous tales. I had a letter to-day from a soldier whose family live in three different houses, one room here and one room there. That is what is occurring to our soldiers who are coming home. This question ought to have been tackled earlier. It was there long before the election. We have been in existence for three months, and have got no forrader. That is causing discontent which will not be allayed until the country sees that we are tackling this in a true and proper spirit. Let us have that speeding-up Bill which is wanted so badly.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel POWNALL
I hope, as a new Member, I shall receive the usual indulgence which is given on these occasions. I had rather a unique experience during the War. I began by commandeering a workhouse. I spent a good many months in it, and ended up as a Member of the House of Commons. Between workhouse and Westminster, owing to many moves of my battalion, we occupied some fourteen houses—a war record which is, I hope, unique. No one can have had that experience without realising the inadequacy of our present housing system. My own Constituency, which is between five and ten miles from central London, is vitally interested in this Housing Bill. We had a large number of large houses built some fifty to sixty years ago of a rateable value of £80 to £150. Fifteen or twenty years ago there was no difficulty whatever in letting them. Now, for a variety of reasons, partly difficulties with regard to domestics, partly increased taxation, and partly owing to those who can afford it preferring to go further out, and have no trams and motor' buses, a large number of these houses are empty, and yet there is a great demand for flats at about £40 to £50 a year. I was recently in a house the rateable value of which is £140. It had been absolutely un-lettable for some years past. It has now been transformed into three or four flats, each with six or seven rooms, which let very readily at £2 12s. 6d. to £3 3s. 1796 apiece. I suggest that this Act might be amended so that it should apply not only to the working classes but also to what I might call the lower middle, or the middle classes, who have been very hard hit by the War, and who are at present no one's friends. If this Bill could be extended to apply to the houses of which I speak, it would be, in East Lewisham at all events, a very great help to the housing problem, and I think the necessary powers ought to be taken in order that ground landlords, who are liable to prove selfish, should be gingered up and that the necessary accommodation should be provided for flats.
As regards finance, in my own borough the produce of a penny rate is £4,400. Therefore it would have suited them better, unless the total deficiency is £17,600 per annum, to carry on the scheme of last year, and it is rather hard at this late date, when the local authorities have quite clearly understood that they were only going to have to pay a quarter of the expense, to saddle upon them the whole of the first penny, especially as in the case of my own part of the world it is estimated that nothing will be received until £264,000 has been spent on capital account. With things as they are at present, the difficulty of material and labour, it will be some time before £264,000 can be spent, and I think the President of the Local Government Board might reconsider the point and see if he cannot help the local authorities in that way. I also think, from the national standpoint, it would be as well if, at all events, some small percentage of the cost over and above the penny rate was borne by the local authorities. It is the only way to give them full, direct responsibility for the money they spend. It would be practically impossible otherwise for the central authority to check expenditure, as the local authorities will feel that, once it has spent a penny rate, the more it can spend the better it will be for its own district at the expense of the country as a whole. I should have liked to see a small percentage, much less than 25 per cent.—5 per cent. or 10 per cent. or something of that sort, would bring home to our local administration the responsibility which will accrue to them should they embark on any extravagant schemes. There is no such check at present as far as I can see.
My third paint is with regard to the great overcrowding at present in central London and the overcentralisation we are 1797 suffering from in London. I have been connected with Greater London affairs for some fifteen years or more, and the trouble, with the boroughs where there is overcrowding, is that there is no space on which to build. The boroughs where there is no overcrowding have no extra population and do not see why they should be bothered with the Bill. The boroughs further out, outside the London area, fail to see why they should be taxed for the extra expenses of these houses, such as draining and water, while the plums, from the rating point of view, go to the centre of London. There are all these drawbacks to building, from the local point of view, outside central London. In the London County Council central area there are only four boroughs where there is any possibility of building houses; all the other boroughs are practically full up. Therefore it is necessary to go far outside of London to build the majority of these houses which the Local Government Board have said are necessary. I have here particulars from three areas outside London, about ten miles off, showing their views with regard to the housing question. In one case, ten miles south of London, they say there is no need of new houses because they will be occupied by people from other districts. In a district ten miles in the other direction they say there is sufficient accommodation for those working in the district, and ten miles west they say that any additional accommodation would be for persons engaged outside the district. In my opinion the best way to encourage the local authorities to provide housing accommodation would be to adopt some policy of encouraging manufacturers to place their industries in these districts outside of London. One of the greatest inconveniences in London is the difficulty that people have in reaching their work. Before I was in the Army I travelled for sixteen or seventeen years into London in that way, and most of the people have to travel three-quarters of an hour or more to reach or return from their work. If we encourage the manufacturers to set up their factories outside of London it would save the people having to travel these long journeys, and would also encourage the local authorities to set up houses for the accommodation of the working people. If we had these facttories further out we would accomplish two or three very important things. We would make the local authorities build far more houses suitable 1798 for the working classes and would help to solve the problem of housing which we are dealing with at the present time. I have visited Bournville and Port Sunlight and have seen the housing problem largely dealt with on those lines. It is no use dealing with housing alone, you must also have facilities for industry which will employ the people in the district. The President of the Local Government Board, in the course of his speech, likened himself to an Oriental potentate, I have heard that in Gwalour the authorities there are solving the question of industry and housing on the same lines. I venture to suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman is to be like an Oriental potentate he will be at least as enlightened as a Maharaja of Gwalour.
§ Captain ORMSBY-GORE
The last speaker has referred to the President of the Local Government Board likening himself to an Oriental potentate. I am not in the least afraid of the President of the Local Government Board going too far in this matter, this all-important matter of housing, and acting as an Oriental potentate in pushing forward this Bill. I am not afraid that the Local Government Board will be too energetic in view of the fact that when we look back for the last thirty years we find that it could have been much more energetic in the administration of the Housing Acts which are on the Statute Book. I am not afraid that he will go too far in the matter of coercion in carrying out this Bill or in carrying out the powers which we all, I think, wish to see extended. There is no more crying evil in our social scheme than the present housing conditions, and no more legitimate cause of discontent among the people, whether in the urban or in the rural districts. The housing conditions have in many districts become quite intolerable. During the last General Election one thing that struck me was that the women electors who had just been enfranchised, the people who have to remain in the homes by day while the men are out at their work, were all agreed upon the present intolerable condition of the present state of affairs. And they were quite right whether from the point of view of the health and welfare or the moral welfare, or the social and intellectual progress of the people of this country. We can never get at the root of our difficulties until we are able to give the people a home which will be something worth having. That is the essence 1799 of patriotism, pride in the home, pride in the locality. But we have allowed things to go from bad to worse, and the housing problem will now have to be dealt with. It is a mistake to think that it has arisen only during the War, although it has become very much worse. I have been looking up some figures which show that before the War the work done in housing had been decreasing. The number of men engaged in the building trade in 1901 was 1,042,000; in 1911 it had declined by at least 100,000 men. During the last ten years housing has been steadily going down, although the population has increased by over 3,000,000. The number of houses actually built in 1901 was 61,000, and in 1911 it had fallen to 48,000, and it must be remembered that the houses being built were mainly the larger houses, while the houses for the working wage-earning population were fewer and fewer. During that period the local authorities were becoming slower and slower in the exercise of their powers under the principal Act of 1890. The average building by local authorities between the time the Act was passed in 1890 and the beginning of the War was only 1,000 houses a year; an absolutely infinitesimal number. It was not half the number of houses that were built by the co-operative building societies, who built 38,000 working men's houses in the period that the local authorities built 18,000. All honour to the co-operative building societies and dishonour in some ways to the local authorities. We want to get at the root of this question. We have to find out (1) what are the two causes that have been operating against the local authorities building houses under the powers which they possess under the old Act, and which they will possess under this Bill, and (2) what are the causes that have prevented the private builders who did build thirty years ago houses for working men from building houses in more recent years. In regard to the second the explanation is easy. There has been every reason why the private builder should not invest money in buildings or in improving cottage property. He is held up to universal obloquy in the first place. He is attacked on every conceivable opportunity and, moreover, it is a very unprofitable form of investment. When the tradesman saved a certain amount of money out of the profits of his shop he used to invest it in local property, but under the influence, not 1800 merely of legislation but of the things that have been said in connection with the legislation by politicians, the local tradesmen have not invested in house property but have invested their money in other forms of savings. Therefore we have had a steadily declining amount invested by private individuals in providing this particular class of houses.
I quite agree that it is no use crying over spilt milk. The problem is urgent, and it can only be solved by bringing the action of the State and of the public utility societies to bear. By public utility societies I include the co-operative building societies and the other societies which work for a strictly limited dividend and not for speculative building. These two classes of authority are the only two which we can look to in the next seven or eight years to help us to grapple with this gigantic housing problem. I saw an estimate the other day compiled by some very distinguished actuaries which showed that the capital value of cottage property in this country had deteriorated by about 200,000,000 sterling in the last ten years. That is the selling value. At the present moment to restore the cottage property in this country to anything like a state in which we can feel satisfied that the families of the country are going to be properly brought up will require a very large expenditure of money. I am quite satisfied that with encouragement, with the tightening up of sanitary inspection and inspection by the medical officers of health, you will bring property owners to a sense of their responsibility in the property they own privately if you give them a chance of getting the material and the labour to make the repairs. But we have to face two things. We have to face the necessity of the surgeon's knife in regard to slum property in our great towns and the necessity of building an exceptionally large number of quite new pattern houses, preferably in rural districts away from the congested centres of the towns. When the right hon. Gentleman says that he is terrified at being an Oriental despot, I hope that in regard to the former, namely, the slum property, he will acquire the destructive reputation of a Tamerlane, and in regard to building he will acquire the building mania of a Shah abbas. I I think it is very necessary that the Local Government Board should be thoroughly energetic in this matter.
I want to deal with certain specific points in regard to which this Bill should 1801 be extended and improved. First, in regard to town planning. In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman said this afternoon, I think town planning should be made compulsory on the borough and urban authorities where there is a concentration of people exceeding 10,000. That is to say, wherever you have a town exceeding 10,000 inhabitants a town-planning scheme should be embarked upon, and at the same time all the complicated, hampering restrictions which were part of the 1909 Act—which I venture to say is one of the worst drafted Acts which ever passed this House—should be done away with. We must realise that if we are going to get the young new towns of this country and the smaller boroughs extended and developed on clean and healthy lines, it can only be done by real effort and by town planning being made as universal as possible. You want town planning applied not merely in rural districts but in the urban districts, and I think there are many ways in which the objects referred to by the right hon. Gentleman could be got round by legislation. Take what has happened under the 1909 Act. We have 1,805 separate housing authorities in England and Wales; far too many. Out of all these housing authorities only eighty-nine local authorities have adopted town-planning schemes. An absolutely insignificant number. That shows that the Act is not properly worked. That is one point in which I think the Bill needs to be improved. The next thing is that you should allow the local authorities to acquire land ahead of their immediate requirements. I do not say put in compulsory powers to acquire vast estates.
I will give an instance. During the War the town of Wrexham, which I represented in the last Parliament, was offered on very favourable terms a considerable estate running right up to the edge of that borough. I came with the local borough council to the Local Government Board and asked them to sanction a loan to the borough of Wrexham, for the purchase of that estate, but the Local Government Board said that they were debarred by Statute from sanctioning that loan. That they could only sanction a loan for sufficient land upon which were to be erected 400 houses which were absolutely and urgently necessary. You want to allow the Local Government Board to sanction sales by private treaty, by private owners, to a 1802 local authority, of estates which can gradually be developed as occasion requires by the local authority. That is an urgent requirement. It may mean, of course, that some local authorities will require a considerable amount of land, perhaps some hundreds of acres in excess of their immediate requirements, but it will operate most beneficially in the interest of the borough and of the community as a whole.
Another point is in connection with the by-laws. I do not think that the provisions of the Bill are sufficiently drastic in overriding some of the hampering restrictions of by-laws that are now applied by many local authorities. I know of so many cases where the trouble and interference and the sending backwards and forwards of plans under the by-law system has broken the heart of men who have been anxious to do good work. The by-law evil is a great evil; it is anti-progressive; it places enormous powers in the hands of the local surveyors. They become little autocrats demanding this, that or the other style of plans and restricting the use of materials. We were told this afternoon there was a shortage of bricks, but that there was plenty of cement. Anybody who has been in the Western States or Western Canada knows that a concrete building is a building that can be made thoroughly comfortable and serviceable in a climate that is far worse than ours. I know of cases where the restrictive influence of by-laws hampers all initiative in finding better and cheaper material for building and making new houses. I should like to see the local by-law system swept away altogether, and the Local Government Board empowered to impose a universal standard. An appeal should be allowed by a private builder, not as is sometimes suggested to Quarter Sessions or a bench of magistrates, but an appeal to the Local Government Board against by-laws that are restrictive. By-laws are unequally applied, and unequal in their incidence.
I next come to the question of the condemnation of insanitary houses. One knows all over the country, particularly in rural districts, of houses that ought to be condemned by the local medical officer of health, and the local sanitary authorities long before now, and they are not condemned for one reason or another. Either the house belongs to some poor person who cannot afford to pay for repairs—
§ Captain ORMSBY-GORE
I served on a rural district council, and I know of particular cases where the houses ought to have been condemned, but they were not condemned because they belonged to a poor owner, and it was thought a shame to put upon him the burden of putting them into repair. I dare say that the hon. Member can quote cases of the other kind. In both cases in the interest of the State the local medical officer of health or the local sanitary authorities should be overridden by some superior authority, who should insist that the property is put into a proper state of repair or else pulled down altogether. You will never get progress as long as you have this inequality in favour either of the rich owner or of the poor owner, as long as you get some local medical officers of health putting powers into force strictly and others who do not do so. I hope that the Local Government Board will take power under this Bill to carry out inspection over the head of the local authority where it can be shown that there is failure of the local authority in regard to the condemnation of these dens in which people ought not to be allowed to live. I have here a recent Report of a Committee appointed by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries as to wages and conditions of employment in agriculture. The conditions in some of the rural districts particularly are perfectly appalling.
For instance, they quote cases in Oxfordshire where, in a given area—an area of about a thousand cottages—there were over seventy cottages with only one bedroom with more than a man and a wife living in that bedroom. Very often there were five and six children living in a bedroom. One case is given in which you have got boys and girls of fifteen and sixteen sleeping in the same room with their parents. That sort of thing cannot be tolerated any longer. The local authority that permits that sort of thing to go on in its area ought to be coerced by the Local Government Board. It should be the duty of the local authorities to provide for the housing of their own employés in every case. In many cases they have a considerable number of employés. It is often said that a landlord ought to provide cottages not 1804 only for the people he employs but all the cottages for farmers on his estate. There is a large number of local authorities in this country who do not provide a single house for their employés, but expect that accommodation to be provided by private persons. It should be provided in the Bill that local authorities should provide cottages for their employés.
In regard to the preparation of joint schemes I have in mind the conditions in my own Constituency. It consists of the borough of Stafford and the rural district surrounding it. The borough of Stafford is one building authority. Surrounding it are three separate rural district councils. If you are going to get a solution of the present overcrowding that exists in the borough of Stafford you will require a joint scheme between the Stafford borough authority and the rural districts around it. What we want in this country is to have the largest number of children and families possible brought up, not in congested areas in the centre of towns, but in the sight of green trees and out in the rural district where they can get the amenities of which they are fond, and among which they are proud to live. To do that you must insist that the urban authorities work in with the rural authorities. It is in the interests, I maintain, of the rural authorities. What, according to this Report from which I have quoted, is the situation in Stafford? The situation is this, that the industrial workers in the borough, who are earning high wages in the engineering trade, are going out on bicycles and taking agricultural labourers' cottages in the villages around, with the result that the agricultural labourer, who has not been accustomed to pay the high rent which the industrial worker is ready to pay, is being driven out altogether, and the farmers cannot find accommodation for their labour, and agriculture is suffering, and the whole district is in a state of discontent. The report says,The report of the state of affairs in regard to housing in Staffordshire discloses a deficiency of cottages throughout the county which is largely attributable to the competition of workers in other industries, such as mines and factories. The description of the labourers cottages is not at all satisfactory. Generally speaking, the accommodation is quite insufficient, no sink or scullery or proper water supply.If there is one set of authorities which I hope the Local Government Board will succeed in gingering up it is the six hundred rural authorities, especially in 1805 regard to sanitation and insistence on proper sanitary conditions being provided in rural houses. Let me take the question of the competition between town and country for rural houses. The present system, whereby a rural labourer is given a cottage at a charity rent, means that where there is competition between the agricultural labourer and the industrial labourer the agricultural labourer is squeezed out altogether. What is the main conclusion of the Report from which I have quoted? It is that throughout England and Wales the shortage of accommodation of cottages in the rural districts is due to the fact that nothing like an economic rent is paid by the agricultural labourer for his house. What does that mean? It means that the landlord of the agricultural labourers' cottage is subsidising the farmer by the difference between the rent paid and the economic rent that the agricultural labourer ought to pay for his cottage. Charity rent is another form of truck and is a subsidy by the employer of cheap labour, and if an industry cannot afford to pay a fair rent to the people engaged in that industry that industry has got to go or to be improved till it can do so.
I am glad that the Government have brought forward this Bill, which is, I think, a courageous Bill, and I wish they had brought it forward a little sooner. Every day's delay in the passing of this Bill increases the discontent which is real in the country owing to the long dealing with this housing question. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, talked about it being a long time in Committee. I hope not. He would have been well advised if he had produced the Bill before the Public Health Bill or any other Bill. What is the use of spending money on public health, or on this, that, or the other, as long as the housing conditions remain as we know they are to-day in town and country? It is simply a sheer waste of money till you have got to the root of the evil. The root of the trouble to-day is the bad housing conditions of the people of the country. Thousands of houses ought to be condemned but are not, and they must be. We have got to replace them with new houses. Before the War there was a declining amount of labour and capital invested in building and engaged in that trade. We have got to change that and undo that tendency. Further, during the War the building in- 1806 dustry stopped, and wherever you divert a great trade it takes a lot to get it back. It is absoluely essential that we should realise that this is one of the most difficult and biggest problems we have got to face, and that unless it is solved, and quickly, by acting more vigorously, energetically and keenly, not only will the Government not receive the support which it did at the last election if it goes to another election, but history will say that the first and most important measure of reconstruction, which is housing, was not treated as being as important as other measures but was put in the second place. This is the most important measure of the Session. I hope the Government will realise it, and that they can rely on a large number of Members on all sides of the House seeing that this Bill is made effective, and that the work is done, and that the people of this country will see the houses going up, and nothing else will satisfy them.
§ Mr. T. GRIFFITHS
I desire to congratulate the President of the Local Government Board on having the honour of again introducing this Housing Bill. When I spoke on the Health Bill I pointed out that the keynote of the Bill was life, and in this Bill you are going to give life more abundantly to the people of this country. What I like about this Bill is the compulsory Clauses it contains. The Bills we have had introduced in the past were permissive Bills, and the right hon. Gentleman stated that some of the local authorities were backward in putting those Acts into operation. But both the Board of Trade and the Local Government Board obstructed those Acts quite as much as local authorities, because they always held inquiries, and it was not the working classes who opposed the Acts being put into operation, but the slum owners and the rack renters who sat on our local authorities in different parts of the country. An hon. Member dealt with the question of economic rents, and stated that the labourer who used to get 9d. per hour is to-day paid 1s. 3d. per hour, and that, therefore, he would be able and in a better position to pay a higher rent on his 1s. 3d. than he would when he received 9d. That reminded me of a story that I heard one time of an old lady in Wales who used to keep a little shop in the village. She went to market one day to buy some eggs, and when she brought them home another old lady went to purchase them and asked, "What did you pay for the eggs in the 1807 market to-day?" "A shilling a dozen," said the old woman. "Well, how are you selling them at a penny each? You don't get any profit at all." "Oh," she said, "it doesn't matter; I am handling the money, anyhow." I want to point out to the hon. Member that the labourer is simply handling the 15d., and if you gave him the offer of going back to the 9d., with pre-war prices and pre-war purchasing power, he would be more satisfied with that than with the 15d. and present conditions.
I want to ask the fight hon. Gentleman what he is going to do in reference to authorities who have put schemes into operation. We will take my own town. We have been a very progressive town, and we have put the Housing Acts into operation for a large number of years. I am talking about the towns of Neath and Briton Ferry. We have a majority of Labour members on each of the councils, and therefore we have been able to force the Acts there. We have built houses, and some of them are let at rents of 5s. a week; others are let at 5s. 6d. a week, and others at 6s. 6d. The cost of building houses to-day will be double what it was in pre-war times. How are you going to deal with the man who will have to pay, probably, double the rent under the new housing scheme compared with the man who is to-day paying his 5s.? Unless the Government is going to do something in order to meet the requirements of that man, then these houses will be occupied by the best artisans, and the object that you have got in view in providing better houses and better conditions for the lowest paid men in the country will not be achieved. I want you to consider that point by the time the Bill reaches Committee. In my town we borrowed the money from the Government at 3½ per cent., but we are not going to get money at that rate to-day. We are going to repay that money in sixty years, and all these houses will become the property of the ratepayers of the town at the end of sixty years. Under this Act I would suggest, in order to meet the economic rent you could charge on the new houses, that you should start a loan as soon as you possibly can, and ask the profiteers who have made so much money during the War whether they will lend the money at 3½ per cent. in order to enable these people to get the rents as low as possible. I suggest that as a way out of the difficulty, so that you will be 1808 able to borrow your money quite cheaply, and not impose high rents on the lowest paid working men. There is one point more that I want to bring before the House, and that is the question of the land, which is going to be an important matter for the Government to deal with. It looks all right in this Bill, but it is going to be a very important matter so far as getting these houses built cheaply is concerned. Take my own case. I have a house, and I pay £3 10s. 6d. ground rent yearly to the landlord. The house has been built thirty years, and I have paid something over £100 in ground rent to that landlord. I saw in the paper before I left home last week-end, that this ground rent is now going to be sold, and they will probably want twenty-five years' purchase for that land, which will mean that it will cost me another £100 if I am going to buy that, in order to get the freehold property. That will be over £200 that I shall have paid that landlord for that land, and he never put a brick or a stone down to build on that land at all. I say it is atrocious and wicked, and something will have to be done in order to meet cases of that kind, because we must point out to the landlords that they have their obligations to the people as well as their privileges. I hope that in Committee we shall have drastic Clauses in order to deal with cases of that kind. One of my hon. Friends pointed out that this housing question causes more unrest among the working classes than anything else. Some blame the men, but let me just read to you a letter that a woman sent to one of the South Wales papers last week. She says,It is all very well for comfortably-placed men and women to run down the miners because they threaten to strike. These people do not realise that we are not out so much for money as for a better standard of living. Money is of no use to us if we are always to live in such filthy hovels as you see everywhere in this district. Miners have as much right as any other human beings to be housed as human beings, and until they are found convenient and comfortable homes to bring up their families, they are bound to be discontented and reckless.That is from a woman, so that you see the fight is not only among the men. Then I took this out of a Sunday paper. It is a picture of Bob Smillie in the centre, and the Duke of Hamilton is there with his house, and then there is a picture of miners' homes in South Wales. Here we find that the Duke of Hamilton has got forty rooms to live in. In Newport last week I saw a case in the paper where one 1809 man, and a wife, and eight children lived in one cellar in Newport and they were prosecuted because they would not remove from that cellar. I say that the time has arrived when it must be made impossible for one man to have a country house, a house at the seaside, and another house in town, with thirty and forty rooms, while ten people have to live in one room. We must put an end to this kind of thing. You have the power in your hands. The Gentlemen from that side are supporting you, the Labour party are going to support you, and I am going to attempt to tell you, in the words of Goldsmith:Ye friends to truth, ye statesmen who survey,The rich man's joys increase, the poor's decay,'Tis yours to judge how wide the limits standBetween a splendid and a happy land.
§ Sir JOHN BETHELL
The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing this Bill, reviewed the housing accommodation of this country. He informed the House that local authorities had made a survey, and found 400,000 in an unsatisfactory condition. I think, if anything, that this figure is rather under the mark. Take East London, for instance. What do you find? Narrow streets, mean houses, insanitary dwellings, and serious overcrowding. In the rural districts the conditions are almost as bad. There are houses in the rural parts of Essex where I must say the home of the cottager is very different from the home of the squire. Conditions being what they are, is it to be wondered at that the people leave the rural districts for the towns? How is it proposed to deal with these insanitary dwellings? I do not see that in Clause 8 you are giving the local authorities any greater powers to deal with slum-owners. The local authority can serve a notice on the owner specifying the work that is required to be done, and if it is not carried out application can be made for a closing order. The owner, acting under clever advice, puts the house in a sanitary condition, and nothing can be done. What is wanted is that the whole of these dwellings should be cleared and the people moved to the outer districts. I see by the terms of the Bill that if the owner does not carry out the repairs and put the house in a sanitary condition, you can acquire the house at the value of the land—a very proper provision. But how are we to deal with a man who knows the law as well as the town clerk and the medical officer, and patches up 1810 this kind of dwelling? Greater power must be given to the local authorities before we can bring about the drastic change which is required.
Then with regard to the new schemes. They will have to be very carefully examined. I have seen an estimate that 300,000 new houses are required. It is probably under the mark, but it is not an easy problem to solve. Many Members labour under the delusion that houses can be built within the course of this year. I venture to say that no new house will be occupied during this year. Material is scarce. You cannot make bricks in a short time. All the brickfields are derelict. The bricks you make in the Midlands are not fit for outside work. It will be a long time before these new houses can be erected. Local authorities can prepare their schemes, and, in doing so, every house should have a bathroom with ample space for a garden. Certainly in rural districts no house should be without its allotment. One weak feature in the Bill is the question of the financial proposals. It is proposed to raise £300,000,000. The local authorities will be empowered to borrow this large sum of money repayable over a period of eighty years. It is impossible, in the present state of the money market, for local authorities to go to banks, insurance companies, and other financial institutions, to obtain this money. The Government are offering to-day 5¼ per cent. on War Bonds, and a man with money to invest puts it in that class of security, and if he wants to realise he can get his money at a few hours' notice. But if you lend money for a period of eighty years to a local authority and you want to realise your security, you will have considerable difficulty in finding anyone to take over your loan. No; the only course the Government can adopt in regard to finance, which is one of the most important parts of the Bill, is that you should issue National Housing Bonds at 4 per cent interest, free of Income Tax. You will then get your money without difficulty. If you do otherwise you will not meet with success. No bank or insurance company in the City of London or anywhere else will lend money to any local authority repayable in eighty years. It is the duty of these institutions to keep their assets in a liquid state, to be able to realise them in a moment of crisis, or to repay to their customers, and the money that is left with them the banks must be prepared to pay out on demand.
1811 I hope the President of the Local Government Board will not overlook this question. I trust he will bring it to the notice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and induce that right hon. Gentleman to adopt some form of borrowing similar to our borrowing for the War. If we could borrow for the War we can borrow for housing. If that course is adopted the local authorities will be able to go forward much more readily than they will be able to do if you adopt the other course of borrowing from banks and institutions. I have pleasure in heartily supporting the general principles of the Bill. I hope it will be fortified and amended so that we may proceed. There is another point which is not within the scope of the Bill. In some areas the ground landlord or the owner of property in the district—I have one case in my mind—inserts, or has inserted, a condition when he sold the land that no house should be built of less value than £1,000. I know one district where, under this condition, you cannot build a cottage of less value than £500. A Clause should be inserted in the Bill giving the Local Government Board power, after due inquiry, to waive or modify that stipulation so as to allow cottages to be built in these areas.
§ Sir WILLIAM SEAGER
I listened this afternoon to the speech of the President of the Local Government Board in introducing this Bill with very great pleasure. I feel sure any small alterations that may be necessary in the Bill can be brought about when it goes to Committee. The Debate has followed much the usual course on the part of other hon. Members; but there is one point which I wish hon. Members to give especial attention to: that is the question of the land necessary for the building of these houses. I speak with some knowledge of local conditions in my own city, where the corporation have already brought in a big housing scheme, but they are finding considerable difficulty in getting the land necessary to carry out their scheme. Local landlords are not so willing to part with their land at what is commonly known as a fair price between seller and buyer.
I would like to give the House a concrete case. In a part of the city which I know well there is a garden with a house which has been there for some considerable time. The garden is about two acres in extent and is used as a florist's market 1812 garden and let probably for £20 or £30 a year and they are now asking the corporation for that piece of land which is required for public purposes a matter of £3,000 per acre. What I contend is that the value of that land has not been increased by anything the landlord has done, but by the toiling masses of the people who live in that neighbourhood, who have worked hard and continuously and have extended the city boundaries so that the land has become increasingly valuable, and to-day the landlord is reaping the benefit of what the people have done who have lived and worked in the city.
There was one point which the hon. Member made, and that is the provision by the State of these houses. I do hope that some method will be devised by which the workers can acquire the property when in a position to do so. I know many cases where workers have by thrifty habits and careful economy acquired the ownership of their own house. That is a very praiseworthy thing to accomplish, and I have known cases of working men owning two, three, and even four houses in their own locality. That is a form of thrift which I hope will be kept in mind by the President of the Local Government Board when he comes to deal with this question.
Much has been said about material, and the amount of work that will be necessary to bring in these schemes, but I wish to urge the President to get this Bill through as quickly as possible. I do not see why any delay should occur. The urgent need of houses is apparent to everybody, but we must be reasonable in the way we go about this question. I think it would be calamitous to carry some of the suggestions which have been made in regard to slum property. Let us first provide suitable dwellings on the outskirts of our large towns and cities before tackling the slums, because those slum dwellings, bad as they are, are much better than no houses at all.
My hon. Friend opposite called attention to a case in my own city where a man and his wife and three or four children were housed in a loft over a stable. The case was brought to my notice by one of my sons, and I immediately took the matter in hand, and I found that this man had been ejected from a house in which he lived as part tenant. The super-tenant of the house had got into arrears, and he was the sufferer for the other man's wrong- 1813 doing. The vicar of the parish, having this loft empty, said to the man, "Until you can get a house you can use this loft as a dwelling," and he made himself quite comfortable. It was the urgent need of the man that drove him to this, and as a consequence of calling attention to this case we were able to get the man back to his house.
I hope there will be no panic in carrying out these big and benevolent schemes. The right hon. Gentleman told us of the need and the method he intended to employ, but I beg of him and all associated with him to do what they are going to do quickly. We are all persuaded of the need of the houses for the workers of this country and nobody will begrudge that which they have worked to procure. There is no doubt that the building of houses by the Local Government Board will interfere very largely with building by private individuals, but I am very hopeful that as the supply of houses becomes more prolific and overtakes the shortage that the private speculative builder will come into operation again. The worker of the future will play a far more important part in industrial and political affairs than ever he did in the past, and it is up to us to see that he has the chance to have a full, prosperous, clean, and happy life. The conditions that have been brought to light by hon. Members to-day are a disgrace to our civilisation, and we must see that everything is done to sweep away these monstrosities from our social and economic life. The passing of the nation from war to peace gives us a splendid opportunity of building a new Britain, and I feel, with many who have spoken, that when these houses are built they should in the first case be given to those who have fought our battles and have made great sacrifices for the country to which they belong. Bad and inadequate housing affects the health of the people, and, if we want a healthy and prosperous people we must give them decent houses in which to dwell.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
This is essentially a Bill of two characters—a Bill dealing with an emergency problem and a Bill dealing with the permanent question of housing for the future—and I, for one, welcome it because, in my humble judgment, taken as a whole, it will satisfy both requirements. There are certain criticisms 1814 to be made, as there are of every Bill. It would be an odd Bill that did not get improvement in its passage through this House. The Bill deals strongly and efficiently with the emergency problem, and it contains sound provisions of a permanent character. The emergency problem, as I think, has been under-rated even by the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill. As long ago as the autumn of 1917 the Housing Panel of the Reconstruction Committee, of which the hon. and gallant Member for Durham (Major J. W. Hills) was a member, and over which Lord Salisbury presided, thought that if the War ended in 1917 300,000 houses would be wanted in the next year. I attached a reservation to that Report, estimating that the rural need was greatly under-estimated, and that the figure even then was nearer 500,000, and to-day I have no doubt that the need is well over 500,000 houses merely for the emergency problem, without dealing at all with the question of slum areas and insanitary dwellings generally. The Bill as a whole has, to my mind, two great merits over all previous housing legislation—one that it imposes a definite duty upon housing authorities to provide additional houses as and when wanted, and the other that it provides the only remedy which, in my judgment, is any use at all, namely, default provisions under which the Local Government Board can itself act. In the past resort has been had to the Courts for a mandamus against local authorities. Proposals of that kind are ludicrously useless and impossible in practice. The only remedy for the practice of one authority to act is to bring in another authority. This Bill proposes that, in the first place, the duty should be on the existing housing authority—the rural district councils. I would rather it had been the county councils and the Parish Reconstruction Committee took that view strongly. I believe it to be a sound one, because the rural district councils are rather notorious for an anxiety to avoid increasing the local rates. There is no question to-day that the practical measures taken for carrying out the underlying scheme of this Bill have gone so far on the way of asking the existing local authorities to prepare plans that we must accept the position and the proposal that they should have a very limited time to do that, that in the event of their failure the county council should be called 1815 upon to act, and that in the event of the failure of the county council the Local Government Board itself should act—that proposal appears to be one which will actually bring about the building of the houses which are so urgently required to meet the emergency of the situation. These two main merits of the Bill will be of use, of course, not merely for the emergency problem, but as a permanent means of dealing with the housing difficulty.
As regards the financial proposals of the Bill, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make it his duty to circulate, as a White Paper, the detailed financial proposals before we get into Committee. We have had the circular of the 6th February and broadly speaking, that will, no doubt, achieve its object more or less; the fact that the local authorities have responded to it is good evidence that it is a sound proposal. The essential thing, as it seems to me, is that you must find out of the National Exchequer such portion of the expense of providing the new houses for emergency purposes as may be strictly and properly regarded as a war burden. That extra amount ought not to be put on the individual local authority; it is a national burden. The difficulty is to ascertain exactly how much it amounts to. In the first scheme we proposed that there should be a capital advance in the first instance, and of that capital advance a portion should ultimately become a grant out and out, the proportion being ascertained by a comparison between the cost of building the houses—measured by quantities—and the cost that the houses would have involved if built at some date hereafter, when conditions had resumed their normal level. Under the Circular of the 6th February the proposal is that the difference between the annual expenditure incurred by the local authority and the annual revenue arising out of the houses should be met by the National Exchequer. It is not quite the same proposal, as it puts upon the Local Government Board the extremely difficult duty of making sure that the local authority has not spent too much on the building, that it has not been extravagant or reckless, that it is managing efficiently, and that it is charging all the economic rent that can be obtained.
Each of those three duties is very difficult to fulfil. I hope that the right 1816 hon. Gentleman, in his terms, when he does lay them before the House before the Bill goes into Committee, may be able very much to strengthen the financial provisions for the purpose of ensuring a financial motive operating on the local authority to build cheaply and economically, to manage well and to get the economic rent. Those three essentials this House ought to insist upon, for this reason, among others, that we shall never get the housing problem in this country satisfactorily solved, particularly the rural problem, which is fundamentally different from the urban problem, unless we can get an economic rent paid for the houses. By "economic rent"—which is a phrase that has come into use in a connection we all know—we mean a rent which is, having regard to the current value of money, a reasonable rate of interest on the total expenditure, plus maintenance, repairs, insurance, management, and everything else.
Having said that, I would point out that in paragraph 4, clause f of the circular, there is nothing said about due economy in construction. I would call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to that and ask him to consider it. I would ask him how he is going to make sure that the best rents obtainable are, in fact, obtained? As to rural conditions and economic rents, I for one am profoundly convinced that we shall never satisfy any classes of the agricultural community in the long run till we get to a position where the agricultural labourer is paying a really economic rent for his house. The present position is ten times worse than it was before the War. It is worse for two reasons; first, the enormous additional cost of building, which makes it impossible to-day, in most districts, to build a cottage for an agricultural labour and let it at an economic rent of anything about 10s. 6d. or 11s.; and, secondly, the temporary difficulty of the Rents Restrictions Act. At the present time you have numbers of cottages in the country let at 1s. and 1s. 6d. A new cottage is going to be built which cannot be let at an economic rent at less than 10s. 6d. How are you going to get over that difficulty? The Agricultural Wages Board has dealt with the question in two ways. In regard to tied cottages the Board has said that a cottage which is free from defects, that is to say, sanitary, with good water supply, 1817 and so on, should be treated as an allowance under the Corn Production Act and valued at 3s.—which was a compromise in that the men's view was that the cottage was worth 1s. and the farmers' view was that it was worth 7s.—and it has adopted as its policy that wages ought gradually to be brought up to a level which will enable an economic rent to be paid.
I sympathise very much with the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. T. Griffiths), who said that the labourer is not going to gain very much because he is given so much more in wages in order that he may pay the money out in more rent. Nevertheless, it is a great advantage to the community as a whole, including the agricultural population, that cottages should be rented at an economic rent, for this reason: In the past, in the countryside, practically no cottages were built by private enterprise; some were built by the landlords, but none were built by builders. Until we get to a position where we shall have builders who will build the cottages, we shall not get the automatic supply we want to see. As a permanent solution of the housing problem I hope we shall not get into the position of the local authorities or the State always having to provide cottages for the community at large. It would be infinitely better that the community at large should find its natural supply from ordinary economic motives supplied by the builders, and unless we can get into the position where wages are enough to pay the rent we shall never get out of the vicious circle in which we are. The labourer will never be free unless he is really paying the rent for his own cottage, and there will never be the supply we want to see. Just before the War 42 per cent. of the cottages in the countryside were occupied by Government officials, local authority officials, railway officials, or various persons of the kind who were not agricultural labourers, and it is vital that there should be a regular and a large supply; and, looked at from the point of view of soldiers coming back for land settlement, it is the one thing that the soldier wants—a good house or cottage. What is the way in which we can get an economic rent for agricultural cottages? I believe there is only one solution, and it is the solution which the present Food Controller, Mr. Edward Strutt, and I put forward at the end of 1916: it is that in order to bridge over the 1818 interval between the present time, when the agricultural labourer pays a very low rent, and the time when he can pay the new economic rent, all the new houses should be let at a rent which is stated on the rent card as a rent which year by year will increase. Supposing in the first year they are let at 3s. 6d., being worth 10s. 6d. The Government pays the difference of 7s. The next year they are let at 4s. 6d., the next year at 5s. 6d., the next year at 6s. 6d., and so on, raising it year by year. The reason I suggest that as the right solution is that the one thing farmers cannot stand is a large sudden rise of wages.
A gradual process like that will allow farmers to become adjusted to the situation, and although the main problem in this Bill is the urban problem we shall never get out of the real difficulty unless the particular difficulty of the economic rent of rural cottages is met in this Bill. We shall never get another chance, and it must be put into this Bill. There is no other system which will get over it except a gradually increasing scale.
Another point in the Bill that I want to say a word about is the compulsory Clause about the acquisition of land. We shall have an opportunity of discussing the whole subject on the Land Acquisition (Compensation) Bill, but I hope that we may have a general Debate upon the whole subject. I recognise that it is appropriate in a special Bill of this kind to insert acquisition clauses. which are special to the particular subject but the general subject, and the acquisition of land when there is a national reason for compulsory purchase should be dealt with by itself in a Bill where that subject alone is dealt with, and dealt with for all purposes, and we should only have in the Housing Bill, or the Transport Bill, or the Land Settlement Bill those provisions which belong to this particular subject and are special to it. The general principle should be that there should be power to obtain land compulsorily whenever it is in the national interest to do so. No man holding land is entitled to keep it one minute after it has been shown that, for reasons of public interest, it should be transferred to someone else. But you cannot give him less than the fair value of that land in the market as between a willing buyer to a willing seller. If these two 1819 principles were carried out we should solve a large part of this problem. In regard to town planning I want to make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman that he should go a good deal further. The Town Planning Act of 1909 is to a considerable extent a dead letter. The section enabling the Local Government Board to apply for a mandamus has never been availed of, and in my opinion never will. During the present year the French Parliament has been considering this town-planning subject, and I have here the French proposals and I venture to commend them to the consideration of His Majesty's Government. The principle of the existing Acts and of this Bill is one of leaving to the local authorities whether or not in their discretion they should introduce a town-planning scheme. There is no absolute duty laid upon the town. But I think it ought to be the fundamental duty of every town to plan ahead so that the future growth of the town may be provided for. The right hon. Gentleman does not propose that, and the reason he gave was that an individual in a town who owned land and intended to build might be deterred from doing so because a town-planning scheme might be forced upon him. I venture to submit that that is exactly the reverse of what would happen. Such a landowner or builder would be able to go to the town hall and see what the town-planning proposals were, and would be able to proceed with the work. That is really the true answer to the difficulty. The French proposals are that every town of 10,000 inhabitants and upwards must have a town-planning scheme for the laying-out and the beautifying and extension of the town. The size of the roads, the squares, and the parks, and the public gardens, playing fields and land reserved for woodlands and provisions is to be made for future development. That obligation is laid also upon towns of over 5,000 and under 10,000 inhabitants which, during the last ten years, that is, between the last two quinquennial censuses, have increased in population 10 per cent. That obligation is laid not only upon towns but also upon watering places which have an influx of population of more than 50 per cent. It is also laid upon the industrial concerns in connection with industrial development in a large number of towns. I submit that if some 1820 thing of the kind were done here we should have a future in which the hideous, haphazard and monstrous growths of grey-brown dull towns would be rendered impossible. Here and now we ought to deal with this town-planning question on big and bold lines. To carry it out the French Parliament are proposing—I am not sure whether it has passed into law, but it has been agreed to by both Houses—that they should have local committees advising a central department, and that in addition they should have available a central committee with some executive powers in regard to the regulations to be applied to the different towns and a sort of advisory council on which the different departments, the local authorities, the fine arts, the architects, and artists are represented. They draw up regulations which can be applied, with modifications, to the different localities in France so as to suit the local genius, so to speak, of development. If we had something on these lines we should, I submit, make a great step forward towards the beautification of the surroundings and the comfort of all those whose lot it is to dwell in the towns of this country; we should do something towards bringing a little of the fresh air, the beauty and the sunshine of the countryside into the towns, and we shall save our towns from wicked and hideous monstrosities which disfigure so many of them and nearly all the industrial towns. I support this Bill very strongly.
Motion made, and Question,
That the Debate be now adjourned"—[Colonel Royds]—put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.