§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [7th April], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel ROYDS
We all recognise the serious situation that has arisen with regard to housing and the need for a comprehensive scheme for providing further houses and improving the state of existing houses. We welcome the Government Bill as an earnest of their intention to deal with this matter. What we want is to provide as many suitable houses as possible, and as quickly as possible; and we have to consider whether the Government scheme is likely to bring that about, or in what respects we can improve it. I should like the House to understand my first point, namely, that the people on whom the Government are pinning their faith to provide the houses in the future are the people who have not provided them in the past. The people who provided the houses in the past have been the speculative builders. Mr. Burns, in his Local Government Report of 1914–15, stated that, out of over 5,500,000 working-class houses in this country, only 15,000 of such houses had been built by local authorities. Under this Bill you are practically entrusting this gigantic building scheme in the future to those people who, in spite of the encouragement they have received from Housing Acts, have only built 15,000 houses, and are doing little or nothing—nothing, I may say—to encourage and assist the people who provided the 5,500,000 houses. That is the situation, to put it plainly. You have also in the local authorities a body of persons who cannot be said to be enthusiastic about building schemes. You have a body who have no staff to deal with such schemes, who, for the most part, have no land, and who have little or no experience. You have also to bear in mind that in many localities there is a strong sentiment against the provision of houses by municipal authorities. That also was drawn attention to by Mr. Burns in his last Report. On the other hand, you have in the people who provided the houses in the past a body of men all over the country, in every town, in every 1890 village, ready, under certain conditions, to begin building as soon as materials are available. They have the land already in some cases laid out. They have roads made up. They have the building equipment, and, more than all, they have the practical knowledge of dealing with such matters. They have catered for the public in the past, and they are ready to cater for the public in the future.
I think, and I feel sure the House thinks—that it is too great a risk to entrust these local authorities, and to endeavour to compel them, to provide all these houses, unless, at the same time, those who provided houses in the past are encouraged and given some assistance to proceed simultaneously to build. I do not think we are justified, or that we should be doing our duty to the country, if we ignored totally all those persons who have done the building in the past, and entrusted that building to an entirely new body of persons, who, notwithstanding the fact that Housing Act after Housing Act has been passed to encourage them to build, had only, up to two or three years ago, provided 15,000 houses. Of course, the private speculative builder can build houses very much cheaper. There is no doubt about that at all. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, and also the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal party, both spoke on this question of private enterprise, and they both said how necessary it was. I only want to point out there is nothing in the Bill to encourage it, except with regard to public utility societies and housing trusts, and in that connection neither public utility societies nor housing trusts have provided more than a very limited number of houses. They have provided a few thousand. I am not saying anything against public utility societies. I think the provisions in the Bill in their favour are very beneficial indeed, and I hope these societies will be made use of very much more in the future than in the past. But the fact remains that public utility societies have not provided houses in the past any more than have the local authorities.
The next point to which I should like to draw the attention of the House is this. A great deal has been said about an economic rent. It seems to be supposed that houses cannot be built unless an economic rent can be paid or ensured in some sort of way. It has never been exactly explained what an economic rent is, 1891 but I suppose what is meant is the net rent likely to be got for a house after all expenses, and which is about equivalent at the present time to 5 per cent or 6 per cent. It seems to have been supposed, and the Debate appears to have proceeded on the assumption, that houses have not been built in the past unless an economic rent could be assured. That is not the case.
Houses in the past have been built in the main by owners either for their own occupation or for their employés or for sale. The economic rent has very little to do with the matter at all. Take, first of all, houses in rural districts. If an owner of an estate provides a mansion for himself and lays out £10,000 or £20,000 on it he does not consider, in doing that, whether he is going to get £600 or £1,200 rent for the house. He knows perfectly well that if he let the house he will probably only get £200 or £300 a year. He has at the back of his mind the idea that he will have first of all the comfort of living in the house, and if he sells the house he might get the money he laid out on it, or perhaps the greater part of it; but he never builds it with the idea of letting it at a so-called economic rent.
Then take the farm. The owner builds farm buildings costing, say, £4,000. When lie comes to let that farm it never enters the head of the owner or his agent to say to the tenant, before he comes to consider the question of the rent of the land, "I must receive an economic rent for the cost of these buildings, say, 4 or 5 per cent. on £4,000." Then take the cottage, the building of which costs, say, £250. Does the owner of the property who builds that cottage say, "I will not build that cottage unless I am going to get £12 10s. a year rent"? He knows perfectly well that he is only going to get £5 or £6 a year. That is the situation in the country districts. Buildings, except in a very few instances are never built to return an economic rent. Come to the towns. The speculative builder has built 90 per cent. of the houses in the country. He builds houses, not to let, but to sell. If he does not sell the houses, and for a few years relies on the rents, the chances are that he fails. He can only go on if he sells the house. When you come to consider who owns the cottage property of this country, then the point will be 1892 quite clear. The value of cottage property of £20 a year in this country, before the War was put at about £900,000,000. From £650,000,000 to £700,000,000 of that property belonged to persons whose total possessions did not exceed £5,000. Therefore, it is quite clear that the working classes themselves have in the past found the money to build their houses, and actually they owned by far the greater portion of the cottage property of the country at the present time. The speculative builder builds the house and is anxious to find a purchaser. As soon as he does, that purchaser does not get 5 or 6 per cent., or an economic return for the house. He is anxious to secure a home and is content with less. If this War has brought anything home to people's minds, it must be the advantage of having a house belonging to themselves, and, if possible, a garden attached.
House property in this country has never been built to give what is generally called an economic return. The economic return for houses is more like 2½ per cent. It is on that basis that house property has been built, and will be built in future, and I do not think, if proper arrangements are made, there will be very much difficulty about it, though at the present time there is a very abnormal situation. It may seem strange that the owner of house property is satisfied with the 2½ per cent. return on his cottage property, but, when you come to consider it, the bulk of money which is put into the property comes out of the savings banks, and 2½ per cent. is the return you get from the savings banks. We cannot get people out of their habits. They invest their money in the savings banks, because it is a very convenient method of putting it in and drawing it out, and they know that their capital cannot deteriorate. Not-withstanding all the attractions of the War Loan, with its 5 per cent., there has been a greater addition to the deposits in the Post Office during the War than at any previous time. They are satisfied with the 2½ per cent. on their house or home, as everyone in every walk of life is satisfied, because it affords them a home. They can see their property, and they think that their capital is safe, though they know very well that they will only get a very small annual return, if calculated on the basis of an ordinary investment.
At the present time the working classes in this country have, I think, probably more money to invest than they ever had 1893 before, and there is a greater probability of their investing in house property if it is made easy for them to do so than it has ever been in the past. Therefore, the position of the speculative builder becomes comparatively easy, because he builds to sell. He builds a few houses and then sells them, and, if he gets his money back, goes on building again. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford explained last night that houses have been built on a comparatively small floating balance. He put it at something like £25,000,000. The floating balance is continually moving on to new houses, and as they are built they are paid for by the sale or the mortgage of the houses. This has been stopped owing to the speculative builder not being able to get that supply of capital or floating balance in recent years. It began to be suspended before the War, and has come to a complete stop during the War, and all that is required is for some arrangement to be made to provide a floating balance again, so that the system may be restarted. I know that houses cannot be built for anything like the cost before the War, but everyone is paying double for everything else—clothes farming stock, dead or alive—everything. They do not hesitate to pay. Why should they hesitate to pay for houses which they need now more urgently than ever before? There are thousands of people stumping the country anxious to buy houses who cannot buy them. There is a tremendous demand for houses at the present time. You only want to see private enterprise of the speculative builders going, and those people will do in the future what they have done in the past.
The Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott) dealt with this question of economic rent last night. Though I generally agree with my hon. Friend's views on agricultural and rural matters, I cannot agree with him in this matter. I have explained that cottages have never been built in the past at what the House understands by an economic rent, and he was urging that cottages never will be built in rural districts unless a higher economic rent, as he calls it, was paid. The great advantage of people having houses in a village to-day is that they have got a home for themselves, there for all time. When agricultural labourers are getting old, from fifty to sixty years of age, are they to be turned out of the old home because they cannot pay these high economic rents? These cottages are let at 1894 a very moderate return, only the same return that almost all house property is let at, and these people are able to remain in their cottages. The last thing a man wishes is to be turned out of the home in which he has lived and where he has worked all his life. That is one of the main reasons why any proposal to have so-called economic rents in rural districts is out of the question. A most admirable leading article in this morning's "Times" referred to this very subject. In the course of the article it is said:Surely other considerations besides annual return on rigid economic lines influence building in this country.Of course they do. All those considerations which I have mentioned. That is the view I have always held strongly. I want it to be made clear to the House, because I understand the suggestion in this Bill to the local authorities is that if they build houses, they should either lease them or let them. If they do, they will be in exactly the same position as the speculative builder. They will make a heavy annual loss. They will never be able to get an economic return. That is, the cost of the building, repairs, etc. If, therefore, they do build houses, I hope that arrangements will be made whereby they can follow the practice of the speculative builder, and sell those houses. At present, people desire to buy them at the earliest possible opportunity. By that means, and that means only, will a very serious and continuing loss on the building of these houses by local authorities be avoided. Then we have to consider—having satisfied the House, I hope, on those two points—how private enterprise can be encouraged to come in and assist in this great building scheme, because everyone must agree that private enterprise must be encouraged. But there is nothing in the Bill to encourage it. Private enterprise is severely handicapped by the land taxes of the 1909–10 Budget. I will not go into detail about them now. I have done so so often in this House that I am sure the House does not wish me to do it again to-day. They were dealt with yesterday. I would only remind the House that those taxes have shown themselves not to be a fiscal instrument. They have not met the expectations of those who passed them, and builders and experts in the matter are unanimously against them and in favour of having them repealed. I have here a report to which the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill referred yesterday. 1895 It is the Report of the Committee which sat under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for the Brightside division of Sheffield (Sir J. Tudor Walters), and on the basis of it I gather this Bill was largely framed. The Report tells us that there was a consensus of opinion amongst the builders and land valuers that the Land Taxes had seriously retarded the carrying on of their business. Evidence was given that these duties had arrested the development of building estates, had led to a diminution or withdrawal of financial facilities, and had also retarded investment in house property. I do not think I could find words which would convey my opinion better, or even as well, as those, and therefore I will leave it at that.
There is one personal matter I must mention. I raised this question on the Finance Bill in June, 1918, when I moved an Amendment that the Land Taxes should be repealed, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in the course of his reply, stated that housing was to be one of the first problems that would have to be undertaken by the Government when the War was over and the question of repeal of the Land Taxes must, whatever Government was in power, be seriously taken into consideration in connection with the war problems when they began to deal with them. They would first have to deal with the problem of housing on its merits and without any regard to old controversies. I assume that the Leader of the House still maintains that position. What is the first remedy I have to suggest? Private enterprise is severely handicapped as compared with the local authorities and others in regard to these Land Taxes. In fact, these taxes do apply to land or property owned or developed by public utility societies and housing trusts, and, in my opinion, it is very necessary, in the interest of these societies as well as in the interests of individual builders, that these taxes should be repealed; otherwise they will be a bar to the development of land not only by individuals, but by the societies.
The second remedy I propose is this. Under Part III. of this Bill the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act is improved. That is an exceedingly useful Act which ought to be more used than it has been. It empowers the local authority to lend money on mortgage to owners of small houses up to the value of £400. This Bill increases the amount to £500, and 85 1896 per cent. of the value of the house may be lent. That is a great assistance to private enterprise, because it will enable houses built to be sold. The suggestion I have to make is that a sum of money should be provided to enable these houses to be built so that they may be sold. What the builder wants is a floating sum of money to be advanced to him by instalments at a reasonable rate of interest while building is in progress. If you give him an advance up to 85 per cent. of the value of the house you will get the house built, and it will not be necessary for the local authorities to find the whole of the purchase money. They will be able to advance to the builder 85 per cent. of the value. He will be able to sell the houses, and with the proceeds he will pay the local authority back. Thus there will be no loss to the local authority and it will not have any houses left on its hands. A recommendation to that effect was made in the Report of my hon. Friend's Committee, where it is stated that witnesses who represented local authorities, public utility societies, workmen, builders, and property owners laid great stress on the financial side of the question. It was the opinion of many of them that the former methods of obtaining money for building purposes, largely discontinued during the War, were not likely to be resumed, and that for any adequate housing scheme to be carried out by the local authority or by private enterprise State loans would be a necessary condition. That Report is based on the opinion of the best experts dealing with this matter in England, who were called before the Committee, and the Committee advised that concessions in the nature of what I recommend should be made. Already, under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act, advances are made to private owners to the extent of 85 per cent. of the value of the property when the house is finished. Why should you not advance the money while building is going on in order to secure the erection of houses? I can see no possible objection to that. It would involve only a small alteration of Part III. of the Bill, but it would make an enormous difference to the housing position, and that, coupled with the abolition of the Land Taxes, would, in my opinion, start private enterprise. I am not alone in holding that opinion. It is the view entertained by the builders of this country. We cannot take the risk of imposing on the local authorities 1897 the sole duty of providing these houses. They have never provided them in the past, and they are not likely to provide them in the future to anything like the extent required. We must therefore invoke the aid of those persons who have provided houses in the past, and who are ready and willing to build them in the future.
Every village and every town is thinking of building a war memorial. What we have to do is to get houses built in this country as quickly as we possibly can, by some means or other, and, in my opinion, if a suggestion were made that private enterprise is going to be looked to to provide houses, a hint might well be given by the Government to the owners of land that they should as their war memorial build a cottage in the village here or there. I am quite sure that thousands would be glad to do so, and if they cannot afford to build cottages, I am quite certain, so strong is the desire of everybody to contribute something in the nature of a thank-offering, if they were given this hint, thousands of people would be only too glad to come forward and help build these cottages, to which soldiers and sailors and the most deserving of the inhabitants of the village or town should have a prior claim. A very large number of estates in this country are settled and the owners have no power to give land for cottages as a war memorial. But I suggest that in this Bill there should be a provision inserted—and, inasmuch as this is emergency legislation, it would be a quite reasonable provision—giving a landowner power to present a site for a cottage for the purposes of a war memorial, and I am sure no one would be more pleased that that should be done than the owners of the estates themselves. I hope the Government will take into consideration the few suggestions that I have made, because we cannot run the risk of ignoring or totally disregarding the habits of the people and the methods under which houses have been built in the past. If we are going to support a brand new scheme to put this duty on the local authority, which in the past has totally failed to provide houses, we are not justified in doing that without at the same time invoking the aid of those who have to the best of their abilities built houses for us in the past.
§ Sir TUDOR WALTERS
I must just say a few words on this Second Reading Debate, although the condition of my throat 1898 will make it a far from pleasant task and will compel me to limit my observations very much more than I otherwise would have done. The subject-matter of this Bill to which we are invited to give a Second Reading is part of the great reconstruction policy of the Government. It sounds a little dreary and dull to talk of such details as bricks and mortar, sites and prices, but at the back of these details there is a profoundly interesting human problem. The provision of the houses and the policy involved have to do with the health, happiness, and moral welfare of the vast majority not only of the men and women but of the children of these Islands. Therefore I venture to suggest that on a Second Reading Debate like this we ought to try and take a broad and sympathetic as well as a humane view of this great question. It would be quite easy to scatter huge sums of money, to give millions in doles and to advance millions in loans, but unless the policy under which this is done is a sagacious and clear-sighted policy, we might as a result of the expenditure of this money find ourselves, in very few years hence, in possession of the same dull and dreary streets, with the same monotonous surroundings, and we might in fact have a repetition of the rapid degeneration of our districts into slum properties. Therefore I invite the House to consider clearly and definitely what it is we want to do, and what is the real policy upon which we ought to embark. I suggest that this is a great opportunity for a commencement of the rebuilding of industrial England. Out of this terrible War some great opportunities are rising, and if we commence to do things on a scale and in a spirit which has never suggested itself before, I think, before making a beginning, before attempting to make up the shortage of houses, we ought to have clearly before us a broad, comprehensive, clear-sighted policy for rebuilding the industrial England of the future.
I suggest that the first thing we have to talk about is what is the standard of housing we are contemplating. When we come to consider many of the details of the Bill it will be found there is very good reason for putting this first, because it must be remembered that this Bill is not something that has been discovered in the course of the last week or two. For the last two years close and careful attention and systematic and laborious investigation have been given to the matter, and recom- 1899 mendations have been made and policies have been indicated, so that the Bill only collects together the work that has been done and puts before us the machinery for carrying out a definite and considered policy. Therefore, I suggest that what we have to consider first is the standard of the housing at which we are aiming. Do not let us have any mistake about that. Do not let the local authorities set to work to emulate the jerry builder. Do not let us have the old mean streets, the old crowded districts, and the poor standards of housing. If the local authorities do not build all the hundreds of thousands of houses which some people expect them to—I do not expect them to do it; I do not think the local authorities are going to provide the great majority of the houses, although it is obvious the local authorities must step in and fill the present breach—let the local authorities, when they do begin, set up an adequate and considered standard of housing. Do not let us set to work to fill up all the little bits of spaces in the centre of our towns with badly planned small houses. Let us go right out into the suburbs of our towns and cities; let us have belts of new housing schemes round our towns, planned and laid out on lines that are spacious and generous in their conception and in their execution. If you take the population into the outskirts of the town, it is really not so expensive to build as in the centre. As I go through the crowded districts in London and in Lancashire the thought that comes to me is, "How costly this has been!" How costly in piling brick on brick and house on house, with streets all crowded together in a narrow compass. How much cheaper and healthier it would be if the population had been spread out on the outskirts of the town or city. With the reorganisation of transport, with the proper facilities for getting backwards and forwards, life would become a much simpler, happier and more livable thing than it is to-day. Therefore, I am most anxious that this great housing Department which is being set up, with its Housing Commissioners and its technical advisers, should have a clear and definite policy in which there is some imagination and vision, so that we shall have the right kind of planning and the right kind of housing. I am not sure that we ought not to commence our new programme of planning houses by hanging a few of the old architects and certainly a few of the old builders.
§ Sir T. WALTERS
The House will remember the advertisement of a famous firm of soap manufacturers,Why does a woman look old sooner than a man?It is libellous to suggest that is true, but if it is true I would suggest the real reason is because the houses in which women live and do their work are so badly planned and deficient in all modern conveniences. I want this Housing Department, its commissioners and its staffs, to take care that the houses planned in the future are planned with due regard to comfort, convenience, and the saving of labour. I do not know why so many women are willing to do so much unnecessary work in the house. I am sure that men would have struck against it at once. I would suggest, in passing, that the Department should insist that every authority which has a committee to carry out a housing scheme should put two or three intelligent women on that committee, so that women may have a voice in the approval and consideration of the plans adopted for building in their locality. I do not want to labour this point of standard, but I want to impress most definitely upon the Local Government Board and the Housing Department that they must not carry out their housing scheme in a stop-gap or haphazard manner, but that it must be a well-considered, far-sighted, bold scheme, so that all over the country we may have something that means harmony and beauty as well as convenience. I do not mind much about beauty. We are not going to spend huge sums of money in ornamentation. Some of the ugliest things cost the most money, and some of the most beautiful buildings are cheap. The beauty of an industrial village does not consist in elaborate ornamentation, but in the harmony and proportion of the lay-out, in the symmetry, plainness and suitability of the buildings to the district in which they are found, and in building with materials of colours that harmonise with the surroundings, all giving some intelligent conception of the district in which you are building, and showing that you understand the proper use of local materials and their proper adaptation to local conditions. I suggest, as a result of some experience, that a good, well-planned and well laid-out suburb with convenient houses can be built more economically 1901 than the crowded dwellings in the town or city, with their expensive street making and all the rest of it.
This is not a question, great and important as it is, that we should approach without any financial anxiety. To say that money does not matter, is to talk sheer nonsense. The whole social system must be based on some reasonable financial scheme. One of our statesmen of the past said that it was very desirable a man should have his head among the stars, but it was necessary at the same time that his feet should be on the pavement. Although I want these great ideals and desire that our houses should be things of beauty and attractive. I want the Housing policy to be carried out with a due regard to expenditure, to making both ends meet and to making it rest on some sound financial basis. I think I can show in a moment or two that the policy which is recommended by the Committee over which I had the honour to preside and the policy which is embodied in the Bill have a due regard to financial considerations, as well as to considerations of beauty and utility. Where does the financial difficulty arise? Why is it a question of doing anything at the present moment that is not based entirely on economic grounds? The answer lies in a nutshell. I suppose there would be no question at all about paying the increased rent that would have to be paid upon the building of a house now if it were at all to be expected that the increased cost of building at present was going to be a permanent increase, and that the cost was always going to remain at the high figure at which it stands to-day. To take one example, if it were perfectly clear that a house that formerly cost £200 and now costs £500 was always going to cost £500, you would have to face the music at once and say, "Yes, there is this enormous increase in cost. The matter must be put on an economic basis, therefore, we must double your rent." That is not the true position. The true position is that immediately building operations are commenced now the whole building industry is paralysed. There are the difficulties of obtaining materials, which all tend to inflate the prices to the modest proportion that is obtaining. Therefore, owing to the urgent social necessity of houses being built immediately, you are asking somebody to spend to-day £500 on building a house which, if he waited for five years, he would be able to build for £350, or £400 at the outside. 1902 That is to say, a house which cost £200 before the War will cost £600 now, and five years hence will be worth £400. Therefore if people are to build now, whether they be local authorities or public utility societies or private speculators, they are building on a wasting asset. They are spending £600 for something which is really only worth £400 when it comes to normal conditions.
§ Sir T. WALTERS
I do suggest that the cost of building will considerably decrease as compared with the present cost, within the next five or six years. [An HON. MEMBER: "The cost of labour?"] Yes, I will tell you why I think that labour will really be cheaper in its productive state. One of the great difficulties that meets those brave men who have come back from the Front in regard to resuming their old occupation is getting into running again. A man's productive capacity after passing two or three years in the Army is not what it was when he left his trade, and not what it will be when he has been at it again for another twelve months. There are the difficulties of organising and collecting your staff together. A builder is working now, not with his old organised, disciplined, and trained staff, but with a miscellaneous staff of men collected from all quarters of the earth. Therefore, assuming that the increased rate of wages we are paying to-day should continue, or even be increased in the next five or six years, I believe that when organisation has taken place output will be stimulated and increased and that your labour will really be cheaper—I think this is the proper way to talk about it—in proportion than it is to-day. If you had watched some of the building operations during the War, owing to defective organisation or to the fact that the State was the paymaster, you would have realised how difficult it has been for workmen of the best type to escape from the contamination that has resulted from the badly organised manner in which Government building has been carried on. That, however, is beside my point. If I am wrong, of course my argument falls to the ground, but the conclusion to which I have come is that building operations now are carried 1903 on at a fictitious price, and that it costs at least £150 more per house to build now than it will do in four or five years' time. Therefore, of necessity, the Government must step in to provide for this wasting asset.
It is perfectly clear that local authorities cannot spend money on building at what is an unsuitable time from a business standpoint. They cannot build economically and bear the whole loss themselves. The public utility societies cannot build houses now on which they would certainly lose money in a few years' time, simply because the need of the community asks for it now. That is the reason why local authorities, public utility societies, and I think other forms of private enterprise should have some subsidy under present conditions. That is the basic principle of the financial side of the Local Government Board's scheme. They say to a public utility society, "If you will build houses now and within the next two years, while the demand is urgent and insistent, and it is not to your financial advantage to do it, we will give one-third of the expenditure." What the Government is doing is to present those who build with 30 per cent. of the cost. We are doing that because a house which costs £600 will only be worth £400 in four or five years' time. That is not a subsidy at all; it is only to provide against a wasting asset and taking care that the waste of capital which is incurred by one person for the benefit of another person, namely, the organised community, should be borne by the person who receives the benefit, namely, the organised community or, in other words, the State. That, to my mind, is the entire justification of the system of subsidies or grants. The same argument applies to local authorities. I am assuming an economic rent stated in plain English and adapted to the peculiarities of the situation in which we find ourselves. An economic rent is a fair interest upon the expenditure upon the house less the subsidy. Therefore, the business of the public utility society is to charge a fair rent upon the cost of the house less the subsidy. The subsidy must not go. to the shareholders in the public utility society. It must go to the tenant. The local authority in like manner does not charge a rent on the entire cost of the house. It charges a rent on the cost of the house less the Government Grant. The benefit of the Government Grant goes to 1904 the tenant. See what an important indirect effect that has because the rents of the existing houses which were built before the War will all be regulated in the future by the rent which is charged for the new houses, and if you were to charge for the new houses a rent based upon their full cost in these abnormal times up would jump the rent of the old houses. But if you keep the rent of the new houses down to cost less subsidy the old houses will only go up to that same figure. You will relieve the tenants of these houses of literally millions of money per annum.
Therefore, I think the policy outlined in the Bill on the financial side is sound. It says, "As far as the local authorities are concerned we will find you the money to build and you shall pay the proceeds of a penny rate and we will pay all the rest." I know that is open to criticism from the standpoint of possible extravagance on the part of the local authorities. But this offer is only for a very limited period. It is only for two years, or three at the outside, and the building is all to be carried out under the supervision and control of the Housing Department. Then the Department says to the public utility society, "We give you this 20 per cent." I think the logic of facts is inexorable, and they must go on with the private builder as well. But the private builder must take his part in the great scheme for the whole of England that I have been trying to suggest. The private builder must not go and build just what houses he likes to build and get the State to help him. When the Government has made its complete housing survey and has got all its commissioners appointed, the scheme of town planning and the housing scheme in each district in the country ought to be carefully prepared. Many of them are already prepared, and then it is the business of the commissioner, if he is worth his salt—he has got his district to deal with, and he knows how many thousand houses are wanted—in consultation with the various local authorities to agree with them how many they should build. He is in consultation also with those who are forming public utility societies. He can apportion to them their share of the housing needs of the district, and then he takes the private builder. The private builder is not a criminal. He has performed a very useful work in the past, and if he has built a poor standard of houses it is because the public taste was low and poor. He has only built what people wanted. He does 1905 not love jerry-built houses. He wants a fair trade profit, and if the standard of taste is ripe for a good, well-designed house, the builder will do it, and the local builder and the landowner will all be taken into consultation and will all supply their portion of the housing provision needed for each particular district. I think the private builder should certainly have financial assistance and the local authorities should be very desirous of purchasing houses built by the local builder at a fair and reasonable price.
I have a financial scheme which would have got these houses built quickly and would really have been better than the Government scheme. I put the problem to myself in this way. We are short of 500,000 houses, owing to the War and the pre-war shortage. We want 100,000 houses every year to provide for increased population. In the next five years we shall therefore want a total of 1,000,000 houses. Supposing I wanted to get that million houses really built quickly and regularly during that five years—and I am asking people to do it at a time when building is abnormally expensive, when they are building on a wasting market—what inducement do I offer? This is the inducement I should have offered. I should have said, "I am going to get out my plans for my million houses. I know exactly the districts in which I am going to have them, and I know the types and the plans, and to any man who will come along and provide me with the houses I want and let them at a rent I agree with him I will make a present of £100 a house, whether it be local authority, public utility society, or private builder." You would in that way have got the houses and you would have lost less money than you will now lose by building either through your local authorities or public utility societies.
§ Sir T. WALTERS
Yes. The economic rent I should have charged would be an agreed interest on the expenditure less, the gift of £100 a house. The tenant would have got all the benefit of the £100 and the man who built the house would only have made the ordinary trade profit. The tenant would have got all the benefit of the subsidy, you would have had your houses at once, you would have had competition for houses, and you would have had rents kept down not only by the 1906 subsidy but by the competition. But that scheme did not commend itself to the authorities. Therefore I pass it by. The basic idea of the proposal was to organise all your resources for house-building. For the purpose of munitions you had not only the great works, but the small engineers, and everyone you could get. You put them on good wages and got all you wanted. If you mobilised your resources for house-building in the same way, you would have got your million houses at a less cost than any other way. I believe the financial principles of the Bill are sound, but they want a good deal of alteration in Committee. I am sure we shall have to put the terms to the local authorities in a more definite position, with less risk of loss and some more inducement to economic expenditure. Taking the principles in themselves as sound, it seems to me that in Committee we can put in the necessary safeguards and give the necessary extension and amplification. The same with the public utility societies. I believe the main principles in the Government scheme are good, but you want some revision as far as the private builder is concerned, and I am certain the hon. Member who spoke last put his finger on one of the weak spots. We cannot get the supply of houses we want unless we bring in private enterprise. Therefore I am certain we must have some well-considered method by which, with definitely approved schemes of building, financial assistance can be given to the builder. There is no real practical difficulty in getting builders, either as individuals or in groups, to submit their schemes to the local district commissioners and the professional advisers of the Department, agreed rents being fixed during the period while financial assistance lasts. I hope we shall not be narrow minded. We do not want the shibboleths of any party. We do not want to be the slaves of any pedantic doctrines of the old Manchester school of politics. We do not want to be tied up by any opinion that we must get an economic rent. It is equally shallow and equally narrow to run to the other extreme and say we will not have any private enterprise at all—we will have nothing but municipalisation of the whole scheme. Every intelligent man in these times is a sort of combined Socialist and individualist. You must take the doctrines of both sides and apply the physic in just the proportion that the disease calls for. I 1907 am certain that in this matter of houses we must have all the methods. We must not be afraid either of socialistic or of individualistic methods. We must combine all the activities of local authorities, public utility societies, and private builders.
I will now pass on to finance, and I will end on practically the same note on which I commenced. I do not want us to allow this supremely important question of housing to become a mere question for officials of the Local Government Board, for architects, builders, sanitary inspectors, and landowners. I want it to be a great, supreme, human question in Which all the people take an interest. I want the House of Commons to be interested. I am, sure the people of the country are interested. I want us to feel that in providing houses for the people we are engaged upon a great and supremely splendid task. I have sometimes stood, as other hon. Members have stood, amidst the ruins of the great cities of the ancient world, and in imagination I have tried to reconstruct those beautiful squares with their columns and their splendid architecture. I have been impressed with the manner in which the people who lived in those ancient cities loved them, with the local patriotism displayed and how they thought it a great thing to adorn and make splendid the city in which they lived. I wish we could catch something of that spirit in rebuilding our houses. Let us feel that it is a great and worthy task to make England beautiful and attractive and to make the dwellings of the poor things of beauty. I could go a step further than the cities of the ancient world and I could stand in some great cathedral of the Middle Ages and try to catch something of the spirit of those great men who designed it, and think of the reverent hands that laid the stone and bricks of the buildings. If the same spirit could be exhibited in building the humble dwellings of the poor we could build a great temple to humanity and our reverence would not be less acceptable to the Divine Being who is worshipped in those great temples.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
There is no subject which touches the interests of our people so deeply or so nearly as the subject now before the House. May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down upon his very eloquent and moving speech, and especially on his exordium in which he endeavoured to catch the spirit in 1908 which the great cathedrals were built and apply that spirit of the past to the provision of dwellings in the present. So far as I am concerned, I propose to deal very briefly with the matter—as I can see there are a lot of speakers. My subject is the simple question of rural housing. I will leave the industrial districts to others. I congratulate the Government upon this attempt to endeavour to deal solidly with matters which have been neglected far too long. In the rural districts the housing question is as acute as it is in the towns. You cannot get a house in the villages. I happened to be in our village only last Sunday. Two soldiers were there who had been married of late; during the War. Neither of them could get a house. Both were living with their parents. That is not the kind which we want for our soldiers who have fought our battles. In another part of my Constituency in Devonshire—it is rather an expensive constituency—there was a very good landowner who built some excellent cottages. These cottages have been bought by private owners and two cottages knocked into one, but the tenants, until the Rent Act, could be turned out. That, again, shows the real famine in the houses in our rural districts.
There is one thing, however, why I am anxious to increase the housing supply in the country districts, and that is to give the agricultural labourers a chance under the Wages Bill. We cannot get a permanent solution of the housing difficulty in the country districts with rents at a shilling or eighteenpence a week. That is quite impossible. Agricultural wages have been increased. I hope that the agricultural labourer will get a wage to enable him to pay an economic rent, for I am quite certain that is the only solution. Whilst the Wages Board have increased the wages of the agricultural labourer by the decisions which have been given within the last twelve months, the labourer still is not in quite such a firm position as he would be if he had the alternative of another house to go to. The employer—I do not say many will—can refuse to pay. The labourer will have to quit the house and cannot find another. Therefore, that labourer is not in such a free position as he would be were another house available for him. I feel that keenly, because we recognise how much has been due to the agricultural labourer during the last few years.
1909 I want to come to the machinery of the Bill, and I will deal very briefly with it as regards the building of houses in rural districts. Local authorities in the country districts have not excited any great feeling of enthusiasm. We have recently had county council, district council, and parish council elections in the country. All I can say is that In Devonshire no dog has barked. Hardly a contest has taken place. There is very little interest indeed in these local elections. I wish there was more, because there is an enormous amount that could be done by the local authority. Instead of that, everybody seems to want to come to the Imperial Parliament and to superimpose himself upon it. Let me come to the rural district councils, which, as I understand it, will be the authority under this Bill. There are, according to the President of the Local Government Board, yesterday, something like 1,800 local authorities. Can we really believe that the rural district council will become an efficient housing authority in the next few years? I cannot for a moment believe it. At the present time the rural district councils are in great difficulties with their roads. They cannot even attend to them. Where are they to find the staff, the surveyors, architects, and so on, to render plans to the Government for the building of cottages in rural districts? I am gravely doubtful as to whether the rural district councils and those smaller councils will prove to be efficient building authorities. You may impose the duty upon them. You may pass the most symmetrical Act of Parliament. For all that, unless the authority has a staff, the capacity, and the intention, these houses will not be built. More than that, I am afraid if they are built by some local authorities that I know they will be built very expensively. There will not be that incentive to economy which we should have.
Finance, which an hon. Member behind me yesterday rather scoffed at, after all, is the essence of the whole problem. We do not want to build houses at a price for which the tenants cannot pay the rent, after making allowance for the subsidy which has been referred to by my hon. Friend who has just sat down. Here, again, is the problem which we are coming practically up against. How do you propose to fix the rents for these houses in the rural districts? It is a problem which will go to the root of the whole housing 1910 problem in the districts, because, as my hon. Friend who has just sat down said, by the rent which you fix for these new houses, according to that scale, the whole rents for other property will rise or fall. Another point which I want to hear about from my hon. and gallant Friend opposite, whom I know takes so sincere an interest in housing is, Do you propose to-burden the new houses with the whole cost of the rates? That is a very important matter. Assuming that a house costs £500 or £600, as it will probably when built to-day, do you propose that that house shall be rated at its full annual value, based upon the present cost of building? That is a practical question which I should very much like to have answered, because these houses are so necessary that I want to make them as cheap and as easy to be built as possible and be let at as low rents as possible to the tenants who desire to occupy them. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will be able to give me some information about this. It is a question which goes right down to the root of the matter, because it will cost something like 5s. or 6s. per week for houses in some districts if the full rateable value is to be charged.
Let us take the question of responsibility. I am rather afraid there are too many authorities, especially in the rural districts. There is the rural district council. I am extremely dubious about it being a good local building authority. Secondly, as I understand it, there will be commissioners. I understand that five out of the eleven commissioners have been appointed, and that they are Army-engineer officers.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Well, I understand five have been engineer officers. I hope that these commissioners will be men who are skilled in their business. Highly as we regard the great services that Army officers have given, if they are most efficient men they certainly should have the preference; if they are not, I would rather pension them, because I am quite certain that these commissioners, if they are experienced men, will exercise a great influence upon building operations, especially in the rural districts, where public opinion is not so powerful as it is in the towns. Then, of course, the scheme comes to the Local Government Board. Has the Board really given full attention 1911 to all the difficulties that must arise? When plans from the rural district councils come to the Board they will come, I suspect, often in a very crude form. How is the Board really going to deal with them? Is it not possible to have some power in the district or board to deal with the matter? Take Clause 1, Sub-section (2), paragraph (c). In this we are told that the rural council has to provide the Local Government Board with this information:Time within which the scheme of any part thereof is to be carried into effect.How is it possible for a rural district council to tell the Local Government Board when it will be able to carry its scheme into effect? It will depend upon a hundred circumstances. It will depend largely as to whether or not they can acquire the material. The matter of bricks and a hundred and one points is of vital importance. I have here the Report of the Committee presided over by the hon. Gentleman (Sir Tudor Walters), and to me it is an astonishing one. Hon. Members ought to read it and see the enormous amount of material that will be required for building 300,000 houses—that is the statement here. It is perfectly fabulous. There is something like 23,000,000 square ft. of glass required; nearly 2,000,000 windows; 3,700,000 doors and frames, and of nails something like 4,500 tons. There are screws and thousands of things which I really had no idea went into a house at all. Can the authorities rely that they will have a regular supply of these things? Take the question of timber. Where is the timber coming from? Have the Ministry made provision for getting it for these houses? I assume some will come from abroad—from Canada, Sweden, and so on. Are we perfectly sure that those who have to send us this timber from abroad will not put up the price against the Government and the local authorities? I feel rather keenly and strongly that in such a matter as this the Government should take early steps to protect the building, whether it be by the local authorities or private building, against excessive prices for the materials. We have got, I understand, a Ministry of Supply dealing with this matter. What steps are being taken, or will be taken, to prevent profiteering in this housing material? To my mind it is really a serious matter because to-day, as I understand it, the control of bricks has been taken off. The price of bricks before the 1912 War was 24s. per thousand. To-day it is between 55s. and 80s. Each house requires from 17,000 to 20,000 bricks. I should like my hon. and gallant Friend to tell us when he replies what steps are being taken, if not by the Local Government Board, by the Ministry of Supply, to prevent building materials being put up in price against the Government and against the local authorities.
The public utility societies, to my mind, have in the past and will, I believe, in the future perform a work of enormous national value in regard to housing. Is the Government really treating these public utility societies with quite the same liberality as it should do in order to encourage them? The President of the Local Government Board said yesterday that he was prepared to allow them to increase their dividends from 5 per cent. to 6 per cent. With the present financial provisions adumbrated in the memorandum circulated by the Board, it is quite impossible for these public utility societies to get anything like 5 per cent., or even 4 per cent. A gentleman who is very competent in this matter has supplied me with some figures. In the case of a public utility society the subsidy would be an amount equal to 40 per cent. of the annual charges on the total capital raised in respect of the approved scheme. This has been worked out. Taking the house to be let at a weekly rental of 9s. 6d., exclusive of rates—if you include rates it would be 14s. or 15s.— taking that house at £600, the Government proportion is £450, and the society's portion £150. The loan charges on £450, which is the Government's portion, at 6 per cent., would be £27 a year. The repairs, management, insurance, and bad debts would amount to £6 3s. 6d., and the total would be £33 3s. 6d., and the rent £24 14s., leaving a loss of £8 9s. 6d. The Government Grant would be 40 per cent. of the £27 and interest on the £450, making £10s. 16s. Therefore, the disposable balance would be £2 6s. 6d., or just a little more than 1 per cent. interest. I would ask my hon. Friend to persuade the Treasury to be a little more liberal in regard to these public utility societies, because if I take the case of a house of 7s. 6d. a week there is actually a loss.
I have great faith in these societies, because I believe they will be far more economical than the public authorities. Government building up to the present has not been economical. You may go down to Chepstow, and there you will find 1913 that the cost of houses has gone up enormously. We do want these houses, and I certainly would not rule out the private builder but give every encouragement to private enterprise, and do anything to get the houses. Having made these criticisms in no hostile spirit, I wish every success to the Government measure, but I do hope we shall get some more satisfactory arrangement in regard to the provision of houses in rural districts.
§ Sir MARTIN CONWAY
I feel I am particularly in need of the indulgence of the House if the true definition of a bore is a man who will persist in talking about what interests him alone when he ought to be talking about what interests other people. It seems to me that the circumstances in which I am placed incline me to his category. I have not previously intruded upon the deliberations of this House, being conscious that as a representative of a very small constituency, I had small claim to request the attention of the House when there were so many new Members representing vast constituencies and having enormous majorities. Many of those new Members have confessed to the somewhat rash promises which they made to their constituents during the process of their election, and some of them told us that they had been parties to a kind of general promise of a new heaven and a new earth. They did not stand alone in that respect, for there had been a promise held out in the newspapers ever since the beginning of the War that after the end of the War we were to have an entirely new and happy country,Where the rich man loved the poor man,And the poor man loved the great,and so forth. As we look around, I think we can scarcely say that the millennium has exactly arrived. We have authentic information of its approach, but we do not yet see it. This Bill is the first definite introduction of a measure which appears to me to have any reality in it as tending to produce the happier conditions to which we are all looking forward. But this new world which we have been promised is not one that can be enacted by Acts of Parliament brought into existence in this way, but it must exist in the minds of men. We have been told, and we have learned from childhood upwards, that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, and until that new world comes into existence in the minds and hearts of men it cannot come into existence in any material sense. 1914 All an Act of Parliament can do is to register advances already made in. the-minds of men.
There was a good deal said in the earlier Debate about the needs of the labouring and wage-earning classes getting more of the good things of this world. A better share of the good things of this world is what we all wish the great masses of the-people to possess, but when it comes down to the point of discussing what the good things of this world were, I was surprised to find that in the minds of the bulk of hon. Members the good things of this world consisted in higher wages and shorter hours of labour. Really, neither higher wages or shorter hours of labour in themselves are a good thing for this world and money is no good unless you know how to spend it, and time is no good except to those who know how to use it. If you give people good houses you are giving them at any rats one of the good things of this world, but I look to this Bill as a very small instalment indeed of those good things. The character of our people within my own lifetime has visibly and completely changed in many important, respects, and we have become very much more a social people than we were. We have become very much less individualist people than we were. It is remarkable that at a time when this socialistic spirit is spreading in the masses of our people, and I think rightly spreading, that the first measure of a definite kind should be one of so strongly an individualistic character for providing an enormous number of houses, for nothing is more individualistic as a private or a separate house.
What is the reason for this? What is at the back of this desire for better housing? It is nothing less than our unfortunate British climate which we want to shut out. It is the British climate that is at the bottom of all this. If a miner came out of the mine near the Bay of Naples the circumstances of his life would be totally different, and he would not be asking for houses of this description so much, because almost any kind of a house would do in a climate which did not drive you indoors, and which was not so much subject to wind, rain, snow, and fog as the British climate provides. I am not saying one word against the necessity of improved housing, but it seems to me that the provision of cottages and residential houses is a very small part of the housing that the modern world 1915 requires. I know in the town near where I live, when I pass through the streets after working hours, I find them absolutely crowded with people walking up and down for the purpose of social intercourse, and they have nowhere else to go. Now, twenty-five years ago they had no such habit; but now that habit has grown, and the people of almost all parts of England, and certainly those of the South of England, have taken to the habit of walking up and down the streets in great numbers, and for hours together, for the purpose of social intercourse. Nothing is being done to house that social intercourse.
This Housing Bill considers really only the final exit of the family from the day's work and their refuge for the night in a home that will protect them from the climate. Nothing is done and nothing is said about what seems to me to be a far more important question than housing, and' I mean the housing of the social life of the people in their multitudes. I think it has been stated that the increase of wages to the miners will amount to something like £40,000,000 a year. Incidentally, I doubt whether that is the amount of the increase; but, assuming it is, I hope it will have some effect in adding to their comfort. Give me that £40,000,000 a year to spend for them and I can do a great deal better. The hon. Member on the Front Bench opposite, to whose interesting speech we listened with so much wrapt attention, spoke of the great cities of antiquity and of their provision for the glory as well as the comfort and entertainment of their populations. I should like to take a deputation of miners to the city of Rome and show them the baths of Caracalla. Why not erect in every mining centre something of the same kind? For £40,000,000 one could cover the country wtih these things. Why not have, not the holes in which the English people bathe, but magnificent warm pools, as I have seen them in some foreign resorts, with floating chess boards and card tables, where people can disport themselves in nice warm water in comfortable surroundings. Adjacent to that let us have a large comfortable room or hall from which the British climate is excluded, with a beautiful floor, where it would be possible to dance, and where I would have a band playing, not once a week, but four hours a day. I would have a picture gallery, and a restaurant, or canteen if you like, where 1916 men and their families could feed or drink a cup of tea or even a glass of wine together. I would have a crêche where children could be left while their parents enjoyed themselves. I would have a great library attached where they could read. I would have a cinema which should show, not ridiculous pictures, though now and again I would give a turn to Charlie Chaplin, but the kingdoms of the world and the glories of them, and I would have a great big human house for housing, not the individual family, but great assemblages and corporations of men. If you came out of a mine and found that sort of thing waiting for you, mining would not be such an abominable occupation. If after six hours in the mine, men found that they were provided with twelve hours' comfort in such a place it might possibly, to some extent, compensate them for the inconveniences of their work.
We have listened to wonderful experts on this question of building. I cannot pretend to have that intimate acquaintance with local conditions of building, and so forth, which have been shown by so many hon. Members, but at the same time I do claim that I have some personal experience of cottage building. The local authority where I live told me that twelve cottages were wanted in the parish, and so I set out to build two at the cost of something like £750. When they had cost £1,500 I stopped, and wondered whether I had not better wait for the present Bill, but it did give me some idea of the nature of the problem. The trouble was that I attempted too considerable an artistic invention. At the same time I do hope that when the country blossoms out with these 500,000 cottages a very serious effort will be made to prevent them being 500,000 eyesores. The hon. Member for the Falls Division of Belfast (Mr. Devlin) the other day accused the countrymen of Shakespeare, Milton, Tennyson, Chaucer, and all the great poets, and the country of the builders of our great cathedrals, of lacking in imagination. In the past we have not lacked imagination. Whether that accusation is true at the present moment or not, it is not true of the past. There are abundant proofs at the present time of the widespread imagination of our people in the past. It is not merely that in the past we built cottages, but we built the best houses that exist in the world from the time of Henry VIII., or indeed earlier, down to the end of the eighteenth century. We not merely 1917 built the finest big houses, but we built the most beautiful cottages that you will find anywhere in the world. Anyone who is familiar with the type of design in England from North to South and from East to West and who goes abroad and motors over foreign countries and sees their cottages will realise how immeasurably better, generation after generation, have been our cottage builders than those of any other country in the world.
If the Government would place at my disposal a sufficient number of motor cars I could take hon. Members down to the county of Kent and show them over 150 cottages which were built in the fifteenth century which to-day are as strong and as sound and as well constructed and as wisely planned as any cottages of any country in the world. We have a splendid tradition of cottage building, and that tradition is mainly based upon local taste and the local habits of the people. Every part of the country has its own type of cottage, every part of the country uses its own materials, or did use them, in its own way. When I hear of 8,000,000,000 bricks being provided for the purpose of building all over England, I shiver with horror at the appalling prospect of these brick cottages being put down in stone, cobble, and timber-building countries. I hope whoever is charged in the different parts of the country with oversight, will see that the local system of building is adhered to, that the local materials are used, and that the local style is followed.
We must, however, not merely build houses and great institutions, which are equally wanted, but we must enthuse into the texture of our people once more that which they formerly had, namely, a better notion of the art of living. We talk of the art of architecture and of the art of painting, but the highest of all arts is the art of living, and that is an art which has been very largely lost by the people of our country and particularly by the people of our manufacturing centres. They have lost all notion of the art of living, and how to use the ordinary materials of their everyday life in a manner that is in itself delightful and that is in itself pleasant. We can only introduce and cultivate that art of living by seeing that the surroundings of life in our towns—the country will mainly look after itself—are as beautiful as it is possible to make them, and that is not the business of the individual, but of the social unit, the social organism, the 1918 municipality, the Government, or whatever it may be. If municipalities put themselves into the hands of committees of taste, as they are always liable to do, you never arrive at any good result. It was once my evil misfortune to be on a committee that was instructed to criticise designs for a public building. They were abominably bad designs and that most of us recognised, but when the committee got to work upon them they made them infinitely worse. Taste does not reside in any committee. It resides in the single human head, and there only. I do trust, therefore, whoever is chosen in different parts of the country to look after these cottages, that they will not be merely the design of a royal engineer or of a surveyor, but also of a man of known good taste, who may be trusted to look after the great interests of the public in this matter of art.
§ Mr. CAIRNS
I am sure we are much obliged to my hon. Friend on the left (Sir M. Conway) for his lecture. Shakespeare once said, "Thrice is he arm'd that hath his quarrel just." We are on the side of justice, and justice is on our side. I come from a mining community, and in one of our villages there -are forty-four one-roomed houses. And there is a mixed company in those houses. There are 2,120 two-roomed houses, and 4,181 three-roomed houses. Sometimes in a one-roomed house we have a father who meets with an accident in the coal-pit and he is laid on a bed in the kitchen. That room is more dangerous to the man's life than the accident. The family are there in that one room, the mother and perhaps two or three children—and the air becomes vitiated on account of the shortness of space and the lack of ventilation. The way hon. Members have been speaking reminds me of the character of Rip Van Winkle. They seem to have been asleep. They talk about Naples and Rome and do not know their own country. These homes in our mining villages are the hotbeds of fever, and sometimes the fever bred there gets into the castle and the palace. It sometimes reaches the least expected places. We spend through our insurance committees large sums of money for the purpose of sending tuberculosis cases to sanatoria. Would it not be far better, instead of spending the money on sanatoria, to spend the money in building better homes for the people?
1919 We want to get at the cause and not merely at the effect of these things. In the days of Queen Elizabeth every ton of coal that we produced in the county of Northumberland was taxed Is. for the purpose of making a promenade on the Thames. In 1348 we first started to sink pits in the county of Northumberland, and some of the houses that our people live in now probably were built then. It does not follow that the oldest houses are the worst or that the newest are the best. I can go with reverence into a cathedral just as much as the hon. Gentleman opposite, who clasps his hands and looks to heaven and wishes for the spirit that was in the men who built the cathedrals to be transferred to the House. In some of the houses that our people live in there are children from five to ten years of age, and adults and children are crowded into one bed. This is in civilised Britain, in the richest country in the world. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Prime Minister wanted money, I was one of the men who went to cinemas and gave lectures and speeches, and when they wanted recruits I was one of the men who went to the cinemas and the street corners recruiting. Our men have gone to the extent of 400,000. The Prime Minister said that the men were coming back to a land worthy for heroes to live in. Is a house of one room worthy for a hero to live in? Is a house of two rooms worthy for a hero to live in? Our men never asked for exemption. They went to the battlefields and fought like every other hero belonging to this country. It is said that there is a shortage. There is no shortage. There is a plenitude of everything. Brick works have been standing idle for four years, and with a little bit of encouragement called money and a little touch of sympathy, the brick works can be set at work again this week, and thousands of millions of bricks can be manufactured for 300,000 houses and a million houses. Men are asking me every day when we are going to commence building. I congratulate the President of the Local Government Board and his doughty lieutenant for engineering this Bill. It is going to be the Magna Charta of housing, and woe to the men who stand up against it.
When I was first married I got what was called a colliery house. There were eighty-four persons who had to go to one w.c. I was born in a house with one room and a 1920 garret and there were seven of us. I had two sisters, who had each twelve children in two rooms downstairs, and they were never summoned for any immorality or wrong-doing. That is how the miner and his family have to live. I want to say on behalf of my class that in the year 1872–3 there was an inflation in the selling price of coal. Owing to the Franco-Prussian War, they were not producing coal in France and Germany, and prices of coal were inflated and our wages were inflated. Our mothers and wives bought better furniture, but the better furniture only exposed the old antiquated place they were living in. The men got a bit more money, and they thought they would join a building society for the purpose of building houses. But coal is a fluctuating thing, and the prices rise and fall and the men's wages rise and fall accordingly. Thousands of our men joined building societies in 1873–4 and bought their own houses at the price of £300, £400, and £500. But in 1875–6–7 prices declined and they lost their houses. The money which they had earned by hard and dangerous work in the coalpit they lost on account of the prices going back. The working classes to-day have a different taste from that of our grandfathers. Our grandfathers and grandmothers may have been more moral than we are, but the schoolmaster has been abroad since 1870, and our people have been taught to have better taste. They believe in better food. They believe in better homes. One hon. Member last night said he had built many houses for his workmen on a sort of co-operative movement between himself and his workmen. I stand here as president of the Northumberland Aged Miners' Homes. We have built 200 houses for our workpeople when they become sixty years of age, and we allow them to live there rent free. There is only one reason why we have not 400 houses, and that is because we have not got plenty of money.
In the county of Northumberland we are looking forward to this Bill becoming law. I should like to direct the attention of the President of the Local Government Board to the fact that there is one company there which bought an estate of 150 acres for £5,000, and when they were asked for an acre of land they asked £500 per acre, although they only paid £5,000 for 150 acres. I want the President of the Local Government Board to get to the bottom of that. The chief cause why the Northumberland workmen, in 1875 and 1876, lost 1921 their houses was not the price of bricks, because bricks were 30s. a thousand, but it was the cost of land. It was because of the exorbitant price of land. It is no use landlords in this House talking about generosity. We do not want their generosity; we do not want their charity. We are only out for justice. A lot of this land has been stolen in the past. We do not want to steal it. We want to pay a fair price for it, and we do not want to call upon heaven nor upon the other place to help us. We want a municipal Moses to lead us out of slumdom into the sweet fields of Britain. We want to get away into the country, where the birds are singing, where the trees are waving, where the grass is emerald, and where the air is pure and sweet. That is where we want to be. I do not want to be considered unkind, and I do not want to expose anybody, and if I had a horse and I could buy him the best corn and put him in the best stable, I would do it; but I have seen stables not far from here and I have seen stables the country, stables with mahogany stalls, much better, much cleaner, and with better atmospheric conditions than the homes of the poor. I have seen piggeries built better than the homes of the poor. I have seen dog kennels better than the homes of the poor. Some time ago we had a man ill at one of our collieries, and the doctor said that if he had been taken away to the Royal Victoria Infirmary at Newcastle, or some other place of the kind, he would have got better, but the home surroundings were so bad and the air so vitiated that he died. I was never anything but a workman. There are two classes of workmen—there are workmen who work with their brain, like the Prime Minister or the Minister for War, and there are workmen who work with their hands. There is plenty of material, of land, and of everything to make this new Britain and to have in the country houses with beautiful gardens, fine children, happy old men, and contented old women. We always said that Britain would win the War. If Britain and her Allies could win a War like this of such gigantic proportions, and provide the men, munitions, and money to do so, then surely we can build all the houses that are necessary to house the people of this country of ours.
§ Sir PHILIP PILDITCH
In rising to offer some friendly criticism of this Bill, I do not intend to spend any time dealing 1922 with the extent of the problem or of the evil effects arising therefrom, or as to the necessity of dealing with it at once, because on those fundamentals there is now no difference of opinion. The last three eloquent speeches we have heard approached the subject from what I may call the ideal point of view. I propose to offer a few words of criticism of the methods adopted by the Bill for meeting the admitted evil. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, in his speech introducing the Bill, said that the problem that the Bill disclosed is distinctly a two-fold one. First of all, we have to make up the deficiency in working-men's houses caused by the War, and variously estimated at from 300,000 to 500,000 houses. Secondly, there is the problem of remedying the unsatisfactory character of much of the housing accommodation already in existence. Those two problems are so distinct and so different in character and magnitude, and affect such different classes of the community, as to justify, in my opinion, a different principle in the way in which they are looked at and dealt with. The first of these is an admitted emergency, and must undoubtedly be met and overcome at once, because, for all its size, the provision of new houses which are wanted is an admitted problem. The other problem, the inter-related problem of defective accommodation, unhealthy surroundings, and overcrowding, is a problem which is infinitely greater, and which it will take decades to overcome, and which, indeed, will never be entirely overcome until the economic condition of the masses, and the standard of living and of happiness of great sections of them, have been improved. That cannot be looked for except as the result of a long period of educational and social training, coupled with economic prosperity, throughout the country. Again, the first of these problems will in effect deal with the housing of one section of the working classes only, that is to say, with the aristocrat of the working classes, the skilled and highly-paid artisan, because it is only that class of man who will have the chance, even with the subsidy which the local authority or the State proposes to supply, of occupying the new houses which it is proposed to build. The second part of the problem is with the lowest classes of all, the least efficient and the worst paid, and in fact with those we have been in the habit of calling the submerged tenth.
1923 I wish to address myself to the difference in principle between those two parts of the problem and the difference which, therefore, I imagine should govern the methods, and particularly the financial methods, to be adopted. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the methods adopted must be mandatory and compulsory, and that there must be local and national financial aid in both parts of the question. What I would desire to urge is this, that the financial aid to be given by the State should be better defined if it be possible in both cases, and, secondly, in the case of the emergency provision of new houses that it should be limited to the meeting of that emergency. There are two points incidental to each part of the problem to which I will refer before I deal with the financial question. The first is, that I note a period is to be allowed for the preparation of schemes by every local authority in the country. The right hon. Gentlman in his speech, I think, said that the schemes would only be called for where a case appeared, but I see no qualification of that kind in the Bill, and I take it that every authority must make a survey and produce a scheme within three months of the passing of the Bill, and that that applies to both parts of the problem equally. There is a point where I fancy a marked difference between the two parts of the problem leaps to the light at once. It might be possible in the case of the provision of new houses to do this in three months, but even there I am exceedingly doubtful about it. It is certain that the local authorities would have in many cases no easy task to ascertain to what extent present needs are likely to be permanent. That will be especially so in districts like my own Constituency of Spelthorne, in Middlesex, the rural parts of which have in a great many instances been utilised for munition purposes. The ultimate destination of the factories, and HE on, is not known, and cannot be, until it is certain how far new industries may be Btarted. Whether three months will suffice or not in the case of the provision of new houses, I am strongly of opinion that not three months, nor twelve months, will suffice to make the necessary survey of the existing housing accommodation and its defects, quite apart from the schemes necessary to remedy those defects. The right hon. Gentleman referred to a survey already made, by 1924 which he found that there were 70,000 quite unfit houses and 300,000 seriously unfit, and that refers to one quarter of the area of working-class houses alone. If those houses are typical, that shows that there are 1,500,000 defective houses. I think the House will be disappointed if it looks for the gigantic problem so disclosed to be surveyed and even the worst cases set out in schemes in less than a much longer period than that which the right hon. Gentleman indicates in his Bill. In this connection I should like to welcome Clause 11 (b) permitting local authorities to adapt existing houses into flats for the use of artisans. I look upon that as most important among the Clauses of the Bill from the point of view of the urban and suburban housing problem. In the case, for instance, of a large number of existing residences round central London, it would afford useful housing accommodation and prevent that area falling into the decay into which parts of it are rapidly falling. I hope that this means of utilising existing buildings in urban areas will be put by the right hon. Gentleman's Department into the forefront of the Government policy and exhausted before cutting up open green areas in the vicinity of London. I hope also it will not be thought necessary by the Board to provide many cottages alone as workmen's dwellings on the outskirts of London, as, if we do, the amenities of the Home Counties might be destroyed to the great loss of the working classes themselves. Combined dwellings and allotments for those who can use them will, I trust, be an integral part of the policy which will be pushed forward by those in charge of the Bill.
Let me say a word or two with regard to the financial provisions of the Bill, upon which, of course, depends the success whether of the effort to produce the new buildings wanted or the much bigger problem of dealing with the deficiencies of the existing housing accommodation throughout the country. The financial scheme of the Bill is that the whole of the undetermined liability to loss, less a rate of Id. in the £ is to fall upon the State. These financial provisions are printed in italics in the Bill and that, of course, gives automatic warning of the expenditure of national money. But I fail to find either in the Bill or in any estimate to what extent we are likely to be involved or the limits within which such losses may be put by the State. I understand that 1925 the right hon. Gentleman promised, when he spoke yesterday, that a White Paper would be published in which many of these things, would be stated. With all deference, may I say I think it is a very great pity that the White Paper could not have been published with the valuable information it would contain before this Debate took place. My effort to grasp the meaning of the Bill would have been much facilitated if the contents of the two circulars, one to public utility societies and the other to local authorities, could have formed part of the Bill, or if they had been published in some way by which Members could have obtained them. One of those circulars, that to the local authorities, was not published as a Parliamentary Paper at all. I had considerable difficulty, first of all, in learning that it existed, and secondly, in getting hold of it. I do think it is a pity also that this Bill could not have been published as a complete Bill in itself, that is a codified Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman had only followed the example of those who prepared the Bill of 1890, which was a codified Bill, including all the previous legislation, in a simple, comprehensive, understandable measure, it would I think have been a very great benefit to many people, and certainly to myself. I said a moment ago that there were no financial estimates either in the Bill or in Government publications.
Of course the right hon. Gentleman will point to the extreme difficulties of getting such an estimate, and those difficulties must be admitted, but I am not quite sure that they will give much consolation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is trying to bring the finance of the nation back to somewhat more normal lines. The Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out a few days ago that in effect Budgets were largely made by the House itself on such occasions as this, before he had any opportunity of influencing the matter from the financial point of view. My suggestions with regard to the question of finance are these. I think that, in the first place, it would be desirable that the financial provisions binding the State and the local authorities to subsidise the production of new houses—and now I am limiting myself entirely to that first aspect of the question, that emergency' aspect of producing the new houses, the necessity of which has been created by the War and partly by legislation which just preceded the War— should be either limited definitely to a certain number of years or to a certain 1926 amount, at the end of which number of years or of the expenditure of which amount, when the present emergency is grappled with, the whole of this part of the problem might be re-examined. I know the right hon. Gentleman referred to a period of seven years in his speech, after which this would be revised, and the whole results of the seven years' operations would be gone into and we should see where we stood. I did not follow exactly what was meant to happen at the end of the seven years, whether what was going to be revised then was simply the financial operations that had taken place during that period or whether a definite term of seven years was put after which it was not expected that the emergency operations should continue. I dare say the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us a little more about that particular point when he replies.
The House will appreciate not only the magnitude but the implications of the enterprise that it is embarking upon in this matter. The passing of this Bill means the disappearance of the use of capital and business enterprise in the provision of houses for the working classes. Several hon. Members speaking from the other side of the House to-day have suggested that in some way private enterprise might still run side by side with the means provided by this Bill, but personally I do not see how it is possible that that can take place unless the Bill is entirely altered. Private enterprise will, for good or ill, not enter the field again while the provisions of this Act remain in force, although under one Clause, I think it is Clause 14, the authority may lease any land that they might have taken to a private individual for the purpose of building houses for the working classes. As there is in the Bill no provision permitting the authorities to make grants, in the first place, or even to make loans, and certainly not to undertake any part of the losses to private individuals acting under this Clause, these private individuals will not build in competition with the Local Government Board on the chance of making subsidies out of the assumed inexhaustible financial powers of the State. Private enterprise is and must be dead during the existence of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman referred in his speech to the hope that private enterprise would rise again, but if he really means that to happen he will have to keep something in the Bill to keep it tem- 1927 porarily alive at any rats during the seven years period, and I hope that on consideration he will find it possible to do so. This Bill represents—and I admit that it is bound to be done in this particular way or something very much like it for the emergency part of the problem—a complete revolution in our way of providing houses. It is ancient history that 95 per cent. of the houses of the working classes were produced by private enterprise before the War, and I am not going to defend for a moment the way in which some hideous working-class districts have been built up during even late years by private enterprise. That has not been entirely the fault of private enterprise. It has been partly the fault of the various authorities of the country, partly the fault of the electorate who did not take, the trouble to elect authorities who would use the powers they had got, and partly the fault of the Legislature which did not give the local authorities sufficient power, and certainly no power at all to look after the amenities of housing. They gave certain powers with regard to by-laws, but no far-reaching powers which would enable them to exercise an influence over the kind of houses that were produced for the working classes. But to my mind the danger is that the State, by embarking, if there be no limit, upon a scheme of supplying working-class dwellings to meet an admitted emergency, may engage itself in the liability permanently to subsidise one section, the best-off section, of one class of the community. That is the danger I see upon the first part of the Bill, unless the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to make it quite clear that this is an emergency business, and to provide for the emergence of private enterprise in some shape or form after the emergency is met.
Just one point on the question of economic rents, which was dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman yesterday. I was glad to see in the note to the local authorities, and to hear in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, that rents should approximate as nearly as possible to the economic level. I believe myself that there are some sections of the working-class population whom circumstances 'may even now permit to pay something near an economic rent, even for new houses; but if the local authorities are led to believe that it must necessarily follow that rents must be fixed at less than the economic figure, and rate and State aid is relied upon, 1928 then the country will be faced with great dissatisfaction amongst those sections of the population who occupy the old house and pay an economic rent for those old houses. I think that is a point which the right hon. Gentleman would do well to bear in mind, because there is no doubt that he will be setting up, by the provision of the new houses, a privileged class of some kind. The right hon. Gentleman sitting on the Front Opposition Bench yesterday suggested that that privilege might be given to soldiers, but it will never be given to returned soldiers per se. These new houses will all be occupied by the éliteof the working classes, by those who are best able to pay for them. There will he competition for the new houses of a sort, just as there has been in the past, and we shall find, as is perhaps quite right, that the skilled artisans will be the men who will occupy the new houses to be built under this Bill. I should like to say one word to the more direct representatives of the working classes in the Labour party here. The great trouble we have been in and are in now is partly due to the heavy rise in the cost of building, and I would here like to ask Labour to do its share. I know from the evidence of my own experience of a lifetime that the reduction in the output of labour engaged in building has had a material influence is the rise in the cost of building, and consequently in the rents that have had to be paid. The case of the bricklayers is, of course, a classic one. The bricklayers not so very long ago laid 900 bricks a day, but now the output, for one reason or another, is reduced to something between 300 and 400 a day. See what that means on the cost of building. Nobody will grudge the fall in output caused by the reduction in the hours of labour, but the fall in output is not altogether due to that. It is largely due, not to mere selfishness or indifference-alone, but also to the mistaken belief that reduction in the output per hour or per day benefits other workers. I think we are entitled, if public funds are to be given to subsidise housing for the working classes, to ask labour to revise its standpoint on this matter and to take a reasonable share of the burden.
One more point, and that is as to the financing of the second great part of this enormous problem. I have been speaking of the first or emergency part, dealing with the provision of the new houses now necessary, but as to the clearing of the 1929 slums and the provision of houses to take their places, that is quite a different matter. The problem is much larger, and in fact it is a gigantic one, as the figures quoted by the right hon. Gentleman the other day show. It is a result of failure on the part of the nation long before our time to recognise, as social changes slowly took place, what their effect would be, and the present and future generations, I realise, must shoulder the burdens if a healthy population is to be produced. It is quite different in another respect from the emergency problem. It refers to the poorest class of the community, those least able to help themselves, and those mostly in need of assistance of ail kinds, and it certainly will not be cured without the co-operation of many factors—educational and economic as well as housing—for a long period of time. I believe that nothing really substantial will be done in this branch of the subject until the full extent of the situation and of the financial effort necessary is ascertained and the nation faces the problem in all its aspects. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will complete his survey of the whole field and come to the House again with the whole problem disclosed before we enter upon unknown gigantic liabilities in a piecemeal way. At present, the Bill, while fairly clear in the matter of the provision of the emergency houses, is rather nebulous as to the way in which the bigger problem is to be attacked. The provisions for reducing the cost of acquiring slums and for improving the procedure will, no doubt, be something, but it will fail to cure the evil unletes enormous sums of public money are spent, and in connection with this I think it would be idle to suggest that a penny rate will touch the fringe of the question. I do not criticise the right hon. Gentleman for that, for such a widespread and deep-seated evil, so dependent for its existence on many different causes, is not going to be remedied in a hurry; but, having got a real estimate of its extent, let us face it on broad principles, with the full recognition of the long continued effort it will entail in many fields of national endeavour.
§ Mr. BOTTOMLEY
If I intervene for a few moments in this Debate, it is because I represent a large cosmopolitan constituency, some areas of which are deeply interested in, and will be profoundly affected by, the provisions of this Bill. I have listened to a great many of 1930 the speeches which have been delivered, and which certainly cover an enormous quantity of ground. Some of them, if I may say so with respect, have been more in the nature of Committee criticisms than of Second Reading discussion, and some of them have been, I might almost say, Third Reading speeches, or jubilation speeches, on the great moral object which this measure is supposed to attain. One distinguished hon. Member told us that he obtained much of his inspiration in connection with this measure in sojourning in the ruins of the ancient cities and in meditating in the cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Another hon. Member took us up into such realms of imagination as to make us wonder really whether this Bill has its proper name, and whether it really is not a measure for the introduction of the millennium. We were told that we had to get rid of the British climate—a point which the right hon. Gentleman apparently overlooked in drafting the measure. We were told that every house ought to have a Roman bath attached to it, with floating chess-boards and packs of cards to pass away the time, with reading rooms, libraries, Jazz bands, and Charlie Chaplin cinemas, and a variety of other things.
I have stood at times, like my right hon. Friend, in the old cathedrals of the world, in those meditations which come to all of us in these circumstances, but I put all these reflections for one moment on one side, and I look upon this Bill as one dealing with, several aspects of the great scheme of social reconstruction with which the right hon. Gentleman is concerned, and, put shortly, it seems to me that the essence of the Bill is this. It being universally admitted that the housing problem is one of the greatest problems with which we have to deal, and all the old permissive powers which existed before this measure, and all the private enterprise, for which the hon. Gentleman behind me pleaded just now, having absolutely failed, the word "shall" has to take the place of the word "may" in connection with this housing problem, and in future, whether this Bill be the best means or not of doing it, the local authorities, compelled and assisted by the Government, shall take this great problem in hand. That being so, I am not at all alarmed by the argument that it may mean the death of private enterprise. Private enterprise in connection with the housing question stands tried and hopelessly condemned. [An HON. MEMBER:" 1931 "No."] Real private enterprise, such as the provision of decent homes for the workers by the proprietors of large estates and large works, will never be killed by any Bill; but, so far as the speculative builder is concerned—well, I will not even say, "Peace to his memory." I hope this Bill means the end of him.
I therefore approach the subject in the spirit that this measure is directed especially to health, the view being that it is quite useless to introduce legislation dealing with physical disease whilst you leave rampant and untouched the state of things which is creating and promoting that disease at the very root, that is, in the homes of the people. And it is equally useless to look to any of those bodies on whom the responsibility has rested in the past. I refer incidentally to the London County Council. That body has had a special plea put forward in this House, I think, for a farthing rebate off the penny rate, which it will be their duty to contribute to the cost of this scheme, because the rateable value of London is so great. I take it the answer of the right hon. Gentleman is that you have not to consider the rateable value of any area, but you have to consider the needs of that area, and when I find the London County Council even now by its own scheme has only allocated three and a half millions of money for the housing problem of London, which means building at the outside some 7,000 houses, and its own memorandum considered there are at least 25,000 houses in a bad and uninhabitable condition, then I say those facts alone justify the right hon. Gentleman in practically taking the measure out of their hands.
There are one or two aspects of the matter with which I shall venture to deal very shortly. There is, first of all the question of what is called the economic rent. That word "economic" crops up in almost every speech of every student of public affairs. It is a cold and hollow, and even meaningless word. You cannot get an economic rent out of building houses for the working classes in the existing condition of things. I do not share the optimism of the hon. Gentleman opposite, that even in five or six years time labour will become so much cheaper, or production so much greater, as to make it possible for us to look for any better prospect of economic rent than we have to-day. The housing of the workers of 1932 this country is a part of national insurance, just as much as is the provision of the Ministry of Health, and there has-never been—it has been admitted, I think, in this Debate—any desire on the part of even the speculative builder to build houses for the working-classes-except that he could sell them the moment he built them. He knew they would not last long enough, for one thing, to get an economic rent, and, in addition, he know that the houses had been run up in a reckless manner. Therefore, we have to face. this fact, that you cannot expect to get any return for your capital in the ordinary sense in respect of this class of property at present. The men who own it to-day are rarely ever heard of. Their agents and collectors are the only people the tenants know of. I could quote hundreds of cases of my own knowledge where the tenants have pleaded to be allowed to have even a little distemper provided for them to do their own cleaning of houses, and they have never been able to find out who their landlord is. I could give pictures from my own Constituency and other parts of the country—to which, in some other capacity outside the House, I have sent commissioners during the past six months —so appalling as to startle the soul and spirit of this House. Nothing which the right hon. Gentleman told us about Essex Street, Shoreditch, is comparable with the condition of affairs which has been brought to my notice. I do not want to harrow the feelings of the House, but I could give the name of a street in which you can find to-day in one case a dead child and a child born yesterday, and in the same room, a father dying, two other children in the hands of the doctor, and five other children living. That is not very far from Shoreditch. Throughout the whole of the country one can find pictures just as bad.
Whilst this condition of things exists, I say, do not let us waste our time about economic rent. These things are far too distant. Let us be practical, and realise that everyone in this House is pledged, and certainly the Government is pledged, to the constituencies to get rid of slum-land once and for ever, and to make this country fit for heroes to live in. Whatever the cost may be, I am going to be unorthodox enough to say that it is not going to worry me for a moment. There will be plenty of money. The Prime Minister will be back, I hope, next week, and he is going to bring us £10,000,000,000 1933 from Germany. That is common ground. How can we spend the money better than in rebuilding the ruined homes of England? Apart from that, if we can find £6,000,000, £7,000,000, and £8,000,000 a day for the War for several years—and we should have gone on doing it for a long time, if ultimately, owing to efforts not entirely those of politicians, the War had not come to an end—if we can do that, we can find a few hundred millions, and when the Budget comes on I hope to have the privilege of endeavouring to indicate to the Chancellor of the Exchequer where he can find some new resources of revenue which he dare not touch at present, and which are always kept hidden from his eyes, so that we can find all the money that is necessary, and which it is our bounden duty to find. Therefore, I say, so far as the cost is concerned, that does not trouble me.
There is one other question. This is a practical criticism. Under this Bill, power is taken to acquire any land necessary for the purpose, and all kinds of machinery are to be set up for ascertaining the value. Amongst other things, I observe a continuance of the system, which, I hope, will come to a close on the return of the Lord Chief Justice from America, and on the resumption by him of his judicial duties. I see that the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls, and some eminent civil engineer, or someone, are to be the authority for choosing the valuers, or something of that kind. I say, just in passing, that I do not think the Lord Chief Justice who is making his full contribution to extra-judicial functions, should have to discharge this duty, and I do not think the Master of the Bolls, with all his eminence—I am not quite sure who he is at the moment, but I know who he will be after Easter—I do not think by his calling, training, and temperament, he is the man to interfere in a matter of this kind. But it is not so much the machinery as the principle of valuation. What do you want a new valuation authority for? I sat in this House in 1909, and I watched many Members literally shout themselves hoarse when the measure was passed which set up a wonderful machinery for valuing the land of this country, and, whatever the faults of that machinery were, it has this advantage: the valuation was made for the purpose of taxation, and therefore it follows that the object was to put the highest value for taxation purposes consisently with the marketability. What 1934 that machinery cost to the nation is common knowledge, but when the War commenced it had almost completed its labours, and you have in existence to-day the most comprehensive valuation of every piece of land in the country. Why not take it and act upon it? Why have a post-war valuation? All land, I think I may say, has appreciated enormously in value since the War. If you subsidise bread, if you give an artificial price to wheat, oats, barley, and all the rest of it, and give an enhanced value to any kind of industry, land naturally rises in sympathy, and if the right hon. Gentleman throws over the valuation made under the 1909 Act, and sets up a new authority, I am absolutely certain the valuation made by that authority will exceed by some millions the one at present in existence. That is not the way to begin the financial part of the scheme. No post-war valuation should be on slum dwellings. It is, to my mind, straining things to an absolutely unjustifiable extent to say to a man, "You have so far neglected your duty that we have brought in mandatory powers to put things right, but we will forgive you and connive at your misdeeds to the extent of throwing over the existing valuation and making a new valuation on a post-war basis for your benefit." There is only one reason—I speak subject to correction, I do not say from the Law Officers of the Crown, because they are not here, I am my own lawyer—why that cannot be easily overcome. The valuation made under the 1909 Act is a secret valuation. It cannot be published, I suppose, without Parliamentary enactment, but three lines put into this Bill in Committee would easily overcome that. Whether it is made public or not, there is no reason why this valuation should not be made available to whatever authorities require it for the purpose of arriving at a decision.
I am not now going through the Report I have at my side, showing the appalling nature of the evil with which we have to deal. It is the most blasphemous comment upon all our protestations of the War, that we were fighting for a better world, for the freedom of the peoples, for the little nations, and all the rest of it, that we should, I believe, be the worst country in Europe from the point of view of the character of the dwellings of the working classes and the lower strata of workers in this Kingdom. I remember very well, during a recruiting speech which I was making in the early days of the War, that 1935 a poor, half-starved, pinched-looking workman, with a scarf round his neck, waited to speak to me after the meeting. When I saw him, he said "I have been listening to you and your appeal for recruits, and all the rest of it. Will you answer me this question?" Then he said, "I am living in a room with my wife and five children. We have not a pane of glass in the windows. They are stuffed up with paper and rags. The floor is tumbling to pieces, rain comes through the roof, the staircase is creaking and dangerous. Other families, equally situated, are all around us in the building. We have not sufficient food to keep our bodies and souls together. Now, tell me, sir, what difference it makes to me whether the Kaiser is to rule over England or the present King I hope I am not less ready than the average Member of Parliament in dealing with a conundrum put to him on the public platform, but I confess I had to give up that problem, and I am almost ashamed to say that the reflection went through my mind that whatever the other disadvantages, under the German system of municipal government that man's room would not be allowed to remain as it was for a single day. I say, we must face the facts, and we must emerge from the War with the determination to make this country a purer, cleaner, and a better place to live in. I very heartily and sincerely congratulate the right hon. Gen-tkman on the earnestness and the alacrity with which he has set himself to work, at least to redeem some of the principal pledges which brought the Government into office.
§ Major BIRCHALL
I rise with a little trepidation to address the House for the first time as a Member. It would be quite impossible, as the hon. Member for Hackney has said, to exaggerate the importance of this subject, and I hope I shall not be making any undue demand on the attention or patience of the House in the few remarks I shall make. Although it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the question of housing, I think it will foe agreed that the problem does not stand alone, and that if housing is to be successful it is absolutely necessary that it should be combined with a Transport Bill, such as we have already had introduced; and, furthermore, that the Health Bill, which has been introduced, will be utterly incomplete without the Housing Bill. So, we may regard the three great subjects of 1936 housing, health, and transport as the great triple alliance, upon which this Government is at present depending, for the welfare of the country. While the three subjects of housing, health, and transport are intermingled so closely and so necessarily, there is yet another great social subject which is bound up with them. It is not, perhaps, so obvious, but still quite as important. It is education. I think sometimes, when I have seen our Education Acts which have been passed again and again, that we have not really gone to the root of the matter, and that we have tried to educate children and their brains without paying due respect to their bodies and health. A great deal of the educational problem is not so much what children learn in the school but what conditions they live under when they are at home. If, by this Bill, we can improve the homes of the children, we shall be doing a very great deal for education itself. The great bugbear of educationists is the child, who is not actually mentally deficient, but who is not quite all there, and who is not capable of appreciating the character of the education given in the ordinary elementary school. A great deal of that partial feeble-mindedness is due to the conditions under which the child lives at home, and unless we remove the conditions we shall do; very little towards educating such a child. When we remember not only the worst conditions that have been described again and again, but even the drab monotony of the better houses in which the poor live, we shall find a reason for the condition of these children who come to school. If the house in which the people live has its duties towards the school, the school has its duties towards the home. It is not much good putting up these houses, which we hope will be put up, unless the people are taught how to make these houses into homes. There is all the difference is the world between a house and a home. The house may be the most beautiful architectural building in the world, but it may be absolutely useless as a real home unless people are educated and know how to make a home of it. Therefore, the education of the people, and especially of the girls, in home-making is a part of this great social problem which we must never forget, and which will assume more and more importance.
But the question, to my mind, is very much one of the conditions of the country. If we look back, the history of this housing problem is one full of discouragement. 1937 We have had enthusiasm again and again, and yet we have nothing but failure to look back upon. Those who look back even to the year 1890, when the first Housing of the Working Classes Act was passed—by the way, is it not rather a pity that we cannot find a better title for this Ball, and that we should be now reduced to calling it: "The Housing, Town-Planning, etc., Bill." Would not the "Provision of Homes Bill" or some title of that sort be better, more explicit, shorter and more intelligible. But let that pass. If we look back on the history of the Housing Bills we shall see that every ten years there has been enthusiasm for housing. In 1890 there was the first Act. In 1899 there was an Amending Act, extending the first Act. In 1909 there was a further extension; and here, in 1919, apparently, we are further extending the Act again.
Is there anything in the condition of the country to-day which leads us to hope, after what we have been doing for the last thirty years and what has proved, on the whole, a gigantic failure, that we shall do better now than in the past. Mere enthusiasm will not do. We have got that, I am sure, in this new House of Commons; but that is not sufficient. I remember very well, in 1900, that the then Prince of Wales went down to open the Boundary Street area. There was a great flourish of trumpets when the London County Council opened that area. They cleared a slum area of fifteen acres and turned out 5,719 people; they rebuilt the district, and rehoused 5,524 people, When the inquiry was made, however, only eleven of the old inhabitants had returned to the new premises. The whole of the others came from outside. The rest of those who had been turned out went into slums in the surrounding areas and made them worse. A more utter failure than, the Boundary Street area scheme it would be difficult to find. Is it at all likely that we are going to do any better in the future? There was, at one time, a great outcry in favour of model dwellings. I could take hon. Members to some so-called model dwellings, some two or three miles away, which are a model of everything that is bad. I could show them a building six storeys high round four sides of a square. There is a very small courtyard in the centre, and yet in that courtyard there is another huge block of builidngs six storeys high. Into some of those rooms in the 1938 centre block never a ray of sunlight comes from one year's end to another; yet children are living in hundreds in that centre block, and they have to drag from the bottom to the top of a public stairway, which is never closed at night and is, naturally, in a most disgusting condition in the day. Attempts at closing have been made, and on one occasion, I think, the magistrate at Worship Street was taken down there and shown the place, but instead of closing the area he closed one room, and it is as bad to-day as it was twenty years ago, Twenty years ago I was acting as a voluntary sanitary inspector in Bethnal Green. A fortnight ago I went back there—I had not been back there since—and I found, to my horror, that the condition of that borough was almost as bad to-day as it was twenty years ago. Practically nothing has been done—I think one area has been cleared—to improve the housing. I think every Member of the House would have been pleased to see, a few weeks ago, that the Queen visited that district. I am sure her influence and her sympathy will go a very long way towards arousing public interest in the matter. We cannot neglect it. The history of the last thirty years has been a history of failure. Are we going to do any better?
In conclusion, I want to suggest a few reasons why I think we can look forward to something better in the future, to something not based on mere enthusiasm. In the first place, there is the effect of the War. I think the War has given a new sense of proportion and value when we set the private individual interests against the interests of the State or nation. It has often been maintained that individual interests must give way when they are contrary to the interests of the State. We have gone a step further than that now, and I think we see now that not only is the individual responsible for not being a nuisance to his neighbour, but that as far as possible the individual owner has the duty of helping and assisting and being a benefit to his neighbour. May I give the House an instance of what I mean? During the recent War those tenants or owners who failed to farm their land satisfactorily could be dispossessed and others put in the place. That is exactly an instance of what I mean. The same thing refers to housing. Those who are incapable of using their land to the best advantage have no right to be there. 1939 These views, while they may have been held for many years by some people, are now held very generally. It amounts to this, that the country as a whole has come round at last to the great Christian ideal that property, power and talents of all kinds are given us as a trust to be used for the good of other people But that must apply all round. If the landlord who abuses his trust is not only to be pilloried but to be punished, the workman who abuses has trust must also be pilloried and punished, and the man who holds up his land to the disadvantage of the community is no worse than the worker who in building indulges in the practice of ca'canny, or limits the output, and in that way is not using his powers to the best of his ability. That is one of the lessons that we have learned during the War.
The second lesson which the War, with all its death and destruction, has taught us, is the value of life. We have learned that the greatest asset of the country is the lives of the people, and we have seen where in one street 3 per cent. of the children only die under one year of age, and in a street less than a mile away 15 per cent. of the children die under one year of age. In the great majority of cases that is preventable. If it is preventable then, in God's name, let us prevent it, and let us preserve the lives of the country, the greatest asset of the country! A policeman or protector of property is in evidence in every town in the country. How many times do we see the protector of child life, who should be just as common or more common? Then we have learned that national interests must always take preference as against private interests, we have learned the value of child life, and we have learned the value of home life. Anyone who has been in France or with our men abroad would agree with me that the one thing our soldiers wanted and appreciated was a letter from home. They cannot be very proud of some of the homes to which some of these soldiers come back. I have in Bethnal Green watched the hovels to which some of these men come back, and I have renewed the vow that if I could do anything to improve that terrible state of affairs I would do so. The home life of the country is, perhaps, one of the most important assets the country has got, and there are not wanting prophets who, dur- 1940 ing the last few years, have said that the home life of England was suffering and disintegrating. It may be partly due to the fact that the houses which formed the homes were unfit to live in, were such as no man could be expected to remain in, and everything was done in those homes to drive men away instead of keeping them there. When the soldiers come back they will want a better home than when they went away, and they will get it if this Bill passes.
I have just enumerated what I believed to be advantages which we have over those who in the past tried to solve this problem. There is another. The vote has been given to women. In my Constituency in Leeds this question is the one above all others about which the women are keen. They are determined that something shall be done to improve the dwellings of the people. If there be opposition in the country—there is not much in this House—to this Bill, we shall want the help of the women to carry it through. There are three changes made by the Bill itself. For the first time we have not to say to the local authorities, "You may do this," but we say, "You must do it.'' That is a long step. We are going also to subsidise local authorities.and help them with their expenses. District councils are very cautious bodies as a rule, especially those in the country, and as long as future expenditure was unknown they refused to embark on it. Now that they have been told that they shall not spend more than a penny rate, I believe that they will act gladly. They believe in the limited liability principle and will act accordingly. Lastly, the Government has decided to bring in what is an absolutely essential concomitant of the Housing Bill, that is a Transport Bill. It may be that other projects have failed because they were not accompanied by transport facilities, but to-day we may go forward with more hope than we ever had before in this matter.
There are two or three practical suggestions, some of which have been made before. In the first place, the problem is urgent. There is no hope of getting our first houses for six months or perhaps more. What are we to do meanwhile? Every day more and more men are coming home demanding houses. Every week the houses in existence are getting worse and requiring more repairs. I can speak from experience because I have houses which I would like to put into repair if only I 1941 could get some other accommodation for the tenants. But that is impossible. I would ask the Government if they could distribute these huts? I believe if they were distributed throughout the towns and villages of the country they would go a long way temporarily to solve the problem. It is said that they will cost £250 each. That may be so, to turn a hut into a perfect dwelling, but if for temporary purposes they can be loaned to local authorities they might solve the immediate problem which is before the country, of national over-crowding. With regard to country houses, houses for agricultural labourers, it is perfectly certain that we shall do no good unless those houses in some way or other are earmarked for the use of the country; otherwise the sole result is to attract the weekender or others to live there. In my opinion, the agricultural labourer will not be able to pay more than 6s. or 7s. a week, and the cheapest, house which we are likely to be able to build will cost 12s. a week. So that there will be a considerable loss on the house. But do not let us mind that. You cannot expect to get an economic rent at the present moment and you must regard it as a national insurance and pay for it in that way.
Let us also be quite sure that at any rate in the country every house has a good garden. We have heard a great deal of allotments. The only objection I have to them is that a man has to go to them and he may have to go half a mile. It is very much better if the allotment comes to the man. Let allotments belong to the house and they will be better used, and, especially in the country where land is comparatively cheap, there should be no more than four houses to the acre. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this Bill. I believe that we are giving by this measure a very real chance to the children of the country. I believe that we are taking a very great step towards the re-discovery of the home life of the country, and going a very long way towards the reconstruction which everyone of us desires, and we can all unite in wishing that the foundation stone of this measure which was laid yesterday and today may be well and truly laid.
§ Mr. SEXTON
Before entering upon the merits or demerits of the Bill, I must refer to a question which was raised by the last two speakers. They appealed to the working classes 1942 to prevent any limitation of the output which in their opinion increases the cost of building. I join issue with both, of them here. There is no one, more than, a responsible trade union leader, who deplores any hanging back on the part of workmen, but I must respectfully enter a protest against hon. Members in this. House and out of it taking every opportunity to endeavour to saddle all the evils of industrial life on the back of the workman on the assumption that he is not working fairly. The initial responsibility, if there is any limitation, must begin not with the workman, but with the employer. The limitation of output, if there is any, goes farther back than the workman. I am old enough to remember the time when an employer said to his workman, "Now, my lad, you go on and do your best; put out as much as you can, and the more you earn the more you will have." The workman took him at his word, and he went on and increased the output, but he was earning big wages, and the employer looked upon the big wages, and he envied the big wages. The result was that the employer cut down the tariff and expected the workman to produce the same output at 25 or 30 per cent. less wages. That was the beginning of the trouble. From that day to this workmen look with suspicion and distrust upon any suggestion coming from the same quarter. So if there is any sin it is not original with the workman. The original sin rests upon the shoulders of the man who started the job. I hope we have got over that. I hope we shall give the country a chance to get on her feet again, and that all these things will be wiped away—that all these lines of demarcation and trivial matters will disappear, and that there will be increased production as far as possible, which will be reciprocated, I trust, by employers in the country generally.
I wanted to say that before I dealt with the general principles of this Bill, which I may say is heartily welcomed by the Labour party. I look upon this Bill—and I want to give even the devil his due—aa another attempt on the part of the responsible heads of the Government to "deliver the goods" as promised. We have got a Ministry of Health Bill—an excellent measure—we have a Ways and Communications Bill—another excellent measure— and now we have this Bill. I think there is proof that the responsible heads of the Government are anxious to get their Bill through, and it will not be the fault of 1943 those who sit on this side of the House if they do not. But I am not sure about the material behind the right hon. Gentlemen. I am not sure whether they will succeed in getting their Bills through in the form in which they were originally introduced. My one complaint, however, is as to the delay. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill deplored the delay. I remember the Prime Minister telling us at the beginning of the Session not to be impatient, as the Government were going on with this Bill, and had already given an order for a considerable number of windows and doors. We were told last night by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill, "I can assure the hon. Member we are getting on, and we have given an order for 5,000 million bricks." But they have not yet commenced to build. We have got the bricks, doors, and windows, but unless the right hon. Gentleman intends to build castles in the air we must have something more substantial. We want the land upon which to put the bricks, doors, and windows. That is the fly in the ointment. The land Clause of the Bill constitutes the fly in the ointment with which the right hon. Gentleman deludes himself and the House generally. If I have any quarrel with the Bill at all it is in that regard. It leaves the evil of land monopoly untouched. I give the right hon. Gentleman credit for one thing, and that is when he gets hold of the land he absolutely abolishes the horrible leasehold system, which is a cause of the existence of slums.
What I am myself most concerned about are the congested areas in our big cities and towns. How are you going, in view of the high prices of land, to limit the number of houses per acre? It cannot be done. I repeat that the leasehold system has created the slums, because property-owners, having to pay big prices for the land, and having a lease on it for only a limited period exact during that period the highest possible rents and at the same time allow the property to deteriorate. This Bill, in Clause 8, lays it down that the compensation to be paid for the land, including any building 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 by-laws for the time being in force in the district. That means that the buildings are to be ignored, and only 1944 the existing value or market value of the land is to be paid for the purchase. But it is the putting of the building on the land that increases its value. I have been bombarded in the same way as other hon. Members, with letters, and documents from various vested interests calling attention to certain points laid down by the Prime Minister in his Bristol speech. These points are: (1), I am more concerned and afraid of vested prejudices than I am of vested interests; (2), take no man's property from him; (3), pay him full value for what he has got; (4), you cannot build a nation on dishonesty; and (5), security must be given for all invested capital. I subscribe and endorse every one of these sentences. They were sent to me by the Property Owners' Association asking me, when the time came when real property was attacked, to bear them in mind. I am going to do that, but in a quite different way from that intended by these gentlemen. I contend that this Bill under Clause 8 does everyone of these things that these gentlemen are afraid are not going to be done. A man who builds a house creates something. He puts it on the land and adds to the value of the land. The man who owns the land creates nothing. He sits tight, and watches the community and the builder put up the houses on the land, and at the end of seventy-five years he comes along and pinches the houses. If that is not morally dishonest, I do not know what is.
I want to deplore, if I may, what I hope is a temporary degeneracy of the Prime Minister. I say I hope it is only temporary. I am one of those who, seventeen or eighteen years ago, sat at his feet, and in this very House, as a temporary colleague of his, I was a member of a Committee appointed to endeavour to settle the terrible Penrhyn Quarry dispute. I have beard the mountains of North Wales resound with his pristine, vigorous eloquence. I do not believe, as other people do, that he has lost all his idealism. I believe his aberration is only temporary, and when he is convinced of the fickleness of the jade he is attempting to woo at present he will return to his old love with all his accustomed ardour. In this matter I "sigh for the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still." I know something about this question. We have in Liverpool made heroic attempts to get over these difficulties, and we have been face to face with insurmountable difficulties. We have yet in 1945 Liverpool, in spite of all our efforts, culs-de-sac rejoicing in such euphonious titles as Rose Hill, the Lovers' Walk, Drinkwater Gardens, Paradise Street, and the rest of them. The only sign of horticulture or agriculture in some of these places is a decayed cabbage leaf. We have the Drinkwater right enough, for there is a common tap in the middle of the cul-de-sac where all the community drink, and as for Rose Hill, we have the stench pipes running up besides the windows. We have, too, cellar dwellings in Liverpool. I know something about them. I have lived in them. Men have to when they are employed at the docks. They are the only dwellings they can obtain very often, and there they have to live, in a fœtid atmosphere, with no backyard, with wet clothes hanging over their heads, with the whole place reeking of soapsuds from Monday morning till Saturday night, and yet for these places they have to pay a rent of many shillings a week. In Liverpool we get eighty houses to the acre, not twelve, and ground rents are paid to the ground landlord, ranging from 30s. to £4 per house. Behind the very walls of the Art Gallery at Liverpool, behind the very frame of a celebrated picture by Holman Hunt, a slaughter of the innocents is going on every day of every week, in filthy slums built on land owned by a Noble Lord in another place, who put up his rents 25 per cent. only last week. Does anyone wonder that the iron enters the soul of the working man when he thinks of these things?
Let me put this concrete case. We had in Liverpool at one time a place called Kirkdale Gaol. That was built out of bricks made from the clay dug from a field opposite, of which the annual value was about £3 per acre. I understood that the erection of the gaol increased the value of that to £2,000 per acre. A short lease was given on that valuation to a man who was to dig the clay out of which to make the bricks to build the gaol. The bricks were made, the gaol was built, and a big quarry was left. Word was sent round to the manufacturers in the surrounding districts to come and dump all the rubbish into that quarry and for every load dumped 6d. was charged by the landlord. When it was filled up the land was sold to the jerry builder to build houses at a valuation of £2,000 per acre. Mark the sequel! The gaol in due course was pulled down. I remember as a boy seeing them put up the scaffold on which they hanged the men 1946 outside at the time when public executions took place. The bricks from the scaffold, and the bell which they used to toll at executions, were used for the purpose of a chapel which was built and which was attended by the land jobber and the jerry builder, who joined lustily in singing the Doxology—Praise God from whom all blessings flow.What was the result? Eventually we had to apply to the Local Government Board for £7,000 to erect an infectious diseases hospital to accommodate the victims of this horrible iniquitous thing. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that while we welcome this Bill and support its principle it is time that he took his courage in both hands, and that the Government did so too. It is said that this is purely an experimental stage, but I hope the experimental stage is over. The experiment proves the necessity of doing away with the system which is responsible for the evils that have been mentioned in the House to-night. I am not blaming the landlord. He is a creature of circumstances. If I were a landlord I should probably do the same thing he has done. I am not blaming the men. Some of them are the best fellows I have ever met. One of them in particular is a personal friend of mine, and I hope always will be. I do not blame the men, but the system which allows an individual to do this kind of thing. The system certainly wants changing. I have touched upon one or two points in order that the right hon. Gentleman may see that we are as anxious as he is in this matter. When the Prime Minister talks about vested prejudices, I should like it to be conveyed to him that if there are prejudices existing they are at least well-founded and that there is some justification for their existence. The President told us last night that it might be possible to put tramways down which would convey the men to the suburbs. There is not a rail laid on the tramway system that does not run up the value of the land alongside it. May I give another instance? I am a member of the Liverpool Tramways Committee. We applied to the local landlord for a small strip of land, not wider than this House and not a quarter of a mile long, in order to lay a double track, with a junction. The price we had to pay was, I think, £7,000. How can you expect to house people under a system of this character? You cannot repeat Port Sunlight. The philanthropy of Lord Leverhulme and Sir 1947 W. P. Hartley has made it impossible to extend that system beyond the garden suburb. Every garden city enhances the value of the surrounding land, and that is how the vicious circle runs. While I welcome the Bill as a good instalment, I do say we have further to go than this Bill. It is true that patriotism does not end with war. The sons from the baronial hall and from the slums have fought together and died together to save this land, and I hope that the same spirit which animated them will animate us in order that we may save the position when the War is over.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Major Astor)
It is with considerable regret that I intervene just now in the Debate, because I know there are many Members who desire to speak and whose views we should have liked to hear. Unfortunately, we have only until 8.15 to get the Second Reading of the Bill, and I am certain the House will agree that however desirable it may be to have a full discussion now, we have had a full day and a-half of Debate, and we are particularly anxious to get the Second Reading to-day in order to set up the Committee on the Bill. We have already had to postpone the Second Reading. Probably the House will agree that we should get the Second Reading now, and it is only for that reason that I rise to clear up some of the points raised. May I say how much I regret we did not hear my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture (Sir A. Boscawen) who was to have taken part in the Debate. We who are interested in housing know how much he has done in preparing the ground for a Housing Bill. Indeed several Clauses in this Bill were taken absolutely en bloc out of the Boscawen Bill. Housing reformers owe a great deal to him for all the preliminary work he has done in the past. I, therefore, regret we have not had an opportunity of hearing his views this afternoon. My task is a very pleasant one. I was asked to wind up the Debate and deal with the criticisms. It is pleasant, because it is mainly one of clearing up a few doubtful points, inasmuch as hardly any criticism has been levelled at our proposals. In fact, I am absolutely amazed not only at the warmth of the reception accorded to our Bill, but at the quarters from which that warm reception has arrived. From almost 1948 every quarter hon. Members have got up and with almost the same voice they have blessed our proposals. The fact of the matter is that the War has made us face facts, and one very nasty fact we are up against, each one of us in our own constituencies, is that the conditions of our housing are a disgrace to a civilised country. We have just been through an election, and during that election all of us, whatever party we represented, asked the electors to return us in order that we should be able to build a new England—the sort of country for which the men who had fought gave up their lives, the sort of country they wanted their children to live in—a very different country with very different conditions from those they had known. We had a vision before us. In the past many have been criticised for being too idealistic and visionary. This Bill and the other measures of transport, land acquisition, and land settlement are going to be instruments which will enable us to convert that vision into a practical reality.
I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the President on the second success he has had with big measures. He seems to have a peculiar aptitude for dealing in a non-controversial manner with what would normally be considered most controversial politics. The Bill we are now considering proposes to deal with the homes of the people. If the vision many of us had before us and the vision for which our men have laid down their lives is to be converted into a reality, then our children—no, not our children, but our contemporaries, will have an opportunity of living in very different homes than those in which our forefathers, our fathers, and we ourselves had to live. The question of the homes of the people is essentially a woman's question. We all of us experienced the great interest which during the election the women electors took in the problem of housing. After all, they understand as no man can possibly understand the problems of home and what maternity in less than half of one room means. The wild animal, when she gives birth to her young, seeks privacy and seclusion, but many women in this civilised and wealthy country have been deprived of that privilege of privacy and seclusion to which they were entitled. The women of England also know the difficulty of rearing a healthy family in crowded surroundings. They know, too, the awful havoc upon the morality of young girls which is wrought by the 1949 housing conditions and overcrowding, the huddling of men and women, boys and girls all together in inadequate housing accommodation. We are very apt to talk of the problem of our fallen sisters. Is there any man or woman who faces the problem of our fallen sisters who is prepared to say how much responsibility is due to the woman and how much responsibility is due to the circumstances and conditions in which she has had to live? There are very few women who are born bad, and if we are honest we must realise that we all of us, individually and collectively, have a grave responsibility for the bad housing conditions, because bad housing is a real factor in the production of immorality. The way in which to assist our fallen sister is not to provide her with rescue homes, but to provide her with a decent, clean, healthy home in which she can live.
The main point which has worried some hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate has centred round finance. They wanted to know what the cost would be and whether we were going to be economical. Around finance hangs the question of the rents, and the attitude which the biggest authority, the London County Council, may take up, and around finance hangs also the future of the building trade. We are all agreed that it is absolutely essential that we should not be wasteful or extravagant. The War has cost so much that no one, whatever he wanted to do, would be justified in anything like extravagance. My right hon. Friend is the last man to spend 1d. unnecessarily, because he wants to get more money for the development of his health services. The more economically and the more wisely he can spend the money allocated and earmarked for housing, the more he will have to devote to the development of those health services which are so essential. Let me deal with finance under two headingls—first, the expenditure in building, and, secondly, economy in the management of the houses after they have been built. My right hon. Friend has already set about reorganising the Local Government Board. He has set up a special Housing Department. He has selected the best Civil servants to assist him in the administration and in framing this Bill and in dealing with Amendments, which will be put down. He has brought in the best experts he could from outside. He has also appointed eleven Housing 1950 Commissioners. We believe they are going to assist enormously. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lambert) talked. of the crude plans which small local authorities were apt to put forward. We hope these Housing Commissioners will assist the local authorities in preparing their plans—not interfere with them, but assisting them—so that when the plans come up to the Local Government Board, instead of being what he calls crude they will be ready for approval. These Housing Commissioners will have on their staff architects, surveyors, and other experts to advise the local authorities in the preparation of their plans. We want the houses to be economical, but we also want them to be good. We want them to have all modern conveniences. We fully realise the importance of good sanitation and all modern methods. We are doing all we can for the local authorities. I have here a copy of a manual prepared for their guidance and assistance, when they are preparing the layouts and their site and town planning Our object is not to be bureaucratic, not to interfere, but to have available expert assistance for local authorities when they want it. We are setting up a special system of costing. We are trying to get standard specifications. We are going to scrutinise every penny, and by careful scrutiny and scanning from the centre we shall be able to see in any particular locality if the local authorities are extravagant, and we shall be able to compare the cost and the plans of one area with those submitted by another authority, and we believe in that way we shall be able to effect real economy and to prevent anything like extravagance in the erection of houses.
Economy in management depends very largely on the rents which are charged for the houses that are going to be put up. The amount which the State will have to contribute will depend very largely upon the rents which are charged. I want to explain as clearly as I can, in order that the House may understand, the way in which we propose to deal with this question of rents. There are two extremes. There is, first of all, the pre-war rent of this type of house, and at the other extreme there is the rent which would have to be based on the present cost of setting up the houses. In between there are two other rents. There is the rent, a little higher than the pre-war rent, which is fixed by the Rent Restriction Act. Below 1951 the top rent is what I may describe as the economic rent of 1927. Our problem during the seven years from 1921 to 1927 is to get rents gradually up, so that in 1927 they will be economic rents. Various committees have looked into this. They are unanimous in saying it is not in the interests of any class or section of the community to have charity rents. They are all agreed that we want as soon as possible to encourage private building. The way to develop and encourage private building is to have an economic rent as soon as possible. I believe there has been a considerable amount of misunderstanding with regard to the future of private building. We do not contemplate that the 1,800 local authorities will set up a staff of builders, carpenters, architects, and surveyors. We shall ask the local authorities to use the present builders. We want to use all the present builders and their staff. We do not want them to come in as speculative builders but as contractors. We want to use every builder we can. The limiting factor is not going to be bricks, as some hon. Members appear to think. So far as we can see, it is going to be shortage of skilled labour. Men in the building trade have been killed during the War, and men have not entered the building trade. We earnestly hope that hon. Members opposite will assist us in increasing the amount of skilled labour which will be available.
So our proposal is so to fix rents that we shall arrive at what we all desire, namely, an economic rent in 1927. We shall first of all carefully scrutinise the rents charged by local authorities in 1921, and we shall be able to check the rents charged in one area by those normally charged at present in that area, and also by those which are being asked in the other areas, so that soon we shall get a very fair idea what the correct rent ought to be. We propose to adjust the State subsidy towards meeting the deficit at two periods—at the beginning and at the end of what we call the provisional period. In 1921 we shall prepare a balance-sheet. We shall make an estimate of the rents and the various outgoings, and if, with the produce of the 1d. rate, there is a deficit which cannot be met in 1921 by the rents, we shall meet it by a State subsidy, which will be a fixed amount during that period of seven years—the provisional period. If rents go up 1952 during these seven years, the local authority and the ratepayers will get the advantage through a reduction of the 1d. rate. Similarly in 1927 we shall have a final adjustment. We shall calculate the amount coming in from an economic rent in that year, and we shall see what the produce of the 1d. rate is, and if there is any deficit we propose to meet it with a State subsidy, and the State subsidy which we fix in 1927 will be a fixed amount for the remaining period of the loan. If rents go up, the 1d. rate will go down. If rents go down, the deficit will have to be met from the rates, but the State subsidy will be fixed in 1927 for the rest of the period of the loan. It is rather difficult to understand, and I hope I have made the position clear. Summing up, our policy and proposals are these: We want in 1927 to have an economic rent for these houses, because we all agree that charity rents are bad. Secondly, we want the increase during the seven years 1921–27 to be gradual, so that we arrive at the end of the period at what will be then an economic rent. In rural areas we want the same principle to be aimed at, namely, an economic rent, and we want the fixing of rents in rural areas to be settled in co-operation with the Wages Board. Lastly, the State subsidy which we fix in 1927 will be a fixed amount calculated to meet the difference between the cost of building now and the cost of building in 1927, when we hope conditions will be normal. That is our policy, and we hope everyone will assist us in carrying it out. After all, housing is a national problem. We are going to work through the local authorities. We do not want to be bureaucratic and run it all from Whitehall. This housing question, if it is to be dealt with satisfactorily must be dealt with by the local authorities, the elected representatives of the people, as well as by a Government Department, and we want every man and woman to assist us through public opinion, in carrying out the policy I have sketched.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Has any estimate been made of the administrative cost of the system of State subsidies?
§ Major ASTOR
I am afraid I cannot give any figure. The total cost will depend partly on the cost of building houses—I do not know what the cost will be—and partly on the number of houses which are put up and again we do not quite know what the total will be. I had rather 1953 not be pressed to give any figure because it would only be a guess, but we are going to make every effort to be as economical as possible in the machinery which we must set up and we believe we shall be able to effect considerable economies by decentralisation and by the excellent advice which the Housing Commissioners will be able to afford us.
I come next to the question of London. We want the help of the London County Council and the London authorities just in the same way as we want help from all the other local authorities throughout the country. What is the charge at the present time levelled against the Local Government Board by some members of the London County Council? Their first charge is that we have broken faith with them in view of the offer made to them over a year ago. It is quite true that on behalf of the Government my right hon. Friend's predecessor did make an offer to the local authorities which was not accepted by the overwhelming majority of those local authorities. Because it was not acceptable it was withdrawn. The present plan was put forward and has been generally accepted by the local authorities. The London County Council has not incurred any cost under the previous proposal. It has not lost anything by the alteration, the change in the nature of the financial offer put before them. The second point the London County Council makes is that the second offer means a greater burden upon the rates of London. That may be, but even of this I have my doubts, because it depends upon the number of houses put up. At all events, we propose to treat London, the authority of London, exactly on the same terms as we propose to treat all the other authorities. We think it a fair offer that London should bear the same burden as every other authority in the country. Why did we make a change? Because the previous offer was inadequate. It was before the country for eight or ten months, and I am not giving anything away when I say that when my right hon. Friend went to the Local Government Board there were hardly any schemes either for houses or for sites. During the last fortnight we have approved as many schemes for sites as were approved by the Local Government Board during the whole of last year. At the present rate we shall in six weeks have approved of as many schemes for houses at the end of next fortnight, 1954 working as rapidly as we are doing, and assuming the schemes are submitted as rapidly as they are now being submitted, as were approved in the whole of last year under the previous offer.
It is no good telling us, as a Noble Peer has done recently, that under the previous offer 150,000 houses would have been put up. We do not want 150,000 houses. Our own estimate, our own figures, inadequate as we believe they are, are for 400,000 houses here and now. So what is the good of telling us that the local authorities under the previous offer were prepared to put up 150,000 houses?
Let us look at some of the special points in connection with London, because there are special points. The first point is that before the War the population in the London County Council area was diminishing. The people to an increasing extent were removing outside the London County Council area. I hope they will continue to do so.
§ Major ASTOR
So that a large section of working-class dwellings would require to be put up in the neighbouring areas. That involves that particular local authority in some considerable expense. They require to look after the education of the children of the people who go there. The larger the number of people that leave the London County Council area the greater does the burden tend to be on the neighbouring authorities. We should encourage this principle of housing the people of London outside the London County Council area. Lately, in returning by aeroplane from a trip to Paris we saw, as we came over, that in the South of England the sun was shining, and we saw the bright countryside. As we approached London, I saw a mist ahead. The nearer London we got the thicker the mist became. When we got to London it was a thick fog. What we want to do is to encourage the people of London not to live and sleep in the fog, but to go out into the fresh air outside London. What an argument it is to tell us that because the produce of a 1d. rate in London would amount to £180,000 that, therefore, it is unfair to expect the London County Council to spend that amount! But what we do not yet know is this: What are the needs of London? The London County Council tells us that they want to spend £3,500,000. What, how- 1955 ever, we want to know is an estimate of their necessity, not what they desire to spend, or think ought to be spent. What are the housing needs of the people—quite a different proposal! We also find fault with the proposal of the London County Council to undertake a certain expenditure over a period of seven years. We are asking other authorities to put up the houses in the next two or three years. Why should not the people of London have their houses provided in the next two or three years? Next, there are three alternative authorities that can deal with the housing problem of London. First of all, there are the Metropolitan borough councils. Secondly, there is the London County Council. Thirdly, there is what I may call the authorities connected with Greater London. As far as possible we want to have the needs of London dealt with as a co-ordinated whole. What we say to the London County Council—what I say now is—we want to know what you propose to do to meet the needs of London. I refuse to believe that the greatest authority in England will not give my right hon. Friend the same response as other authorities have given. I refuse to believe that the London County Council will not meet their housing obligations in the same way as other authorities in the rest of the country. I believe, and sincerely hope, that we shall get that assistance in London that I know we are going to get from the authorities in the rest of the country.
I think I have dealt with the main points raised in the Debate, though there are many others I should have liked to deal with had there been time. I will only, however, say one thing—I will not deal with the matter in detail—in relation to the criticism of hon. Members as to the basis on which we propose to acquire land. I hope they will realise that the basis on which the land is acquired is really dealt with in the Land Acquisition Act. Clause 8 of this Bill really only deals with slum property. I hope they will bear this in mind—for I have not time to go into it now—and study the basis set up in Clause 8 in connection with the proposals made in Sections (2) and (4), I think, of the Land Acquisition Act.
Hon. Members during the Debate have referred to the high cost involved in our proposals. I have tried to explain to the House the steps which we propose to prevent anything like 1956 waste. It is no good, however, for me to say that this housing scheme which we have put forward is not going to be expensive—is not going to involve the expenditure of money. We are going to deal with this housing problem adequately. We want the assistance of every authority. We want to decentralise as far as possible, for that is the whole essence of democratic government. When we talk of expense and cost let us realise that everything is comparative, and let us measure the cost of our housing proposals by the cost of Bolshevism to the country and the cost of revolution. The money we propose to spend on housing is an insurance against Bolshevism and revolution. What is the cost to the country of industrial unrest and strikes? You have only to realise the conditions under which many men and women live to realise that unrest is fully justified. You have to measure also the cost to the community of having thousands of C 3 men and women. When we realise what these people have done during the War, in spite of so many of them being C 3 men and women, we ask is there any limit to what the people of this country could do if they were an A 1 people?
Insanitary and unhealthy surroundings and the problem of venereal disease cause and help to make C3 men and women, and I regret to say C3 children. Have you ever tried to realise the cost and the loss to the community of the girl who has been driven from slums and by surroundings on to the streets, and who, after infecting a number of men, has been driven into hospital? If we can only assess values truly, if we can only assess the value to this country of an A1 population and assess the loss of having C3 men and women and children, I believe the House will agree that our housing proposals are cheap, that the best way of arriving at national solvency and happiness and contentment is to sweep away the slums which are a disgrace to this country, and I sincerely hope that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will not only allow us to have the Second Reading now, but that they will support us in Committee in opposing all attempts to weaken the fundamental proposals of this Bill. If they do that we shall be doing a great deal to make a new and better country for the great people that live in it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.