HC Deb 12 December 1919 vol 122 cc1790-804

  1. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Act the Minister of Health (in this Act referred to as "the Minister") may, in accordance with schemes made by him with the approval of the Treasury, make grants out of moneys provided by Parliament to any persons or bodies of persons constructing houses.
  2. (2) Grants under -this section shall be made only in respect of houses—
    1. (a) which comply with the conditions prescribed by the Minister and are in material accordance with the conditions as to the number of houses per acre and the standards of structural stability and sanitation approved by the Minister in the case of any scheme carried out by a local authority under section one of the Housing, Town Planning, etc., Act, 1919;
    2. (b) which are certified by the local authority of the area in which the houses are situate, or on appeal by the Minister, to have beep completed in a proper and workmanlike manner;

(c) the construction of which is begun within twelve months after the passing of this Act and which are completed within that period or such further period not exceeding four months as the Minister may in any special case allow: Provided that a proportionate reduction of the grant shall be made in respect of any house which is not completed within the said period of twelve months unless the Minister is satisfied that the failure to complete the house within that period is due to circumstances over which the person constructing the house had no control.

Any person aggrieved by the refusal of a local authority to grant a certificate under this subsection in respect of any house may appeal to the Minister, and if the Minister is satisfied that the house has been completed in a proper and workmanlike manner he shall certify accordingly.

(3) In so far as the provisions of any building by-laws are inconsistent with the conditions, prescribed by the Minister under this section, those provisions shall not apply to any houses which comply with those conditions: Provided that, as regards the administrative county of London, the Minister shall not prescribe any conditions inconsistent with the provisions of any building by-laws in force in the county except after consultation with the London County Council on the general question of the relaxation of such provisions in connection with housing schemes. In this Act the expression "building bylaws" has the same meaning as in Part I. of the Housing, Town Planning, etc., Act, 1919. (4) In this Act the expression "local authority" means the local authority within the meaning of Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir J. HOPE

I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "constructing," to insert the words "or enlarging."

The effect of this would be to enable subsidies to be given for the purpose of enlarging as well as of constructing houses. I would point out that the details of how this money is to be given will entirely rest with the Ministry of Health. I move this addition in the interests of rural housing. It is a well known fact that many of the rural houses, especially in Scotland, consist of two and even one room, and even if there are three rooms there is no scullery. Under the principal Act it is laid down that all new houses should have at least three apartments, and that there should be a scullery, coal cellar, and bathroom. I suggest that if a subsidy is granted to assist in the enlarging of houses it will be a real economy. At the present moment it costs practically as much to put in, as an addition to a house, scullery and bathroom as in pre-war times it cost to build a completely new house. I especially put in the word "enlarging"; at first I thought of "reconstructing," but that was open to the obvious objection that it might include repairs. I do not suggest that any assistance should be given for repairs, of coarse, but I do suggest that where an old house can be enlarged by the addition of bathroom and scullery, and brought up to the modern standard which we believe in now, it would be an economy to allow a subsidy to be granted for this purpose. It cannot be an objection that it would take away money from creating new houses, because the decision as to what amount is to be granted for enlarging and what for new construction would entirely be left to the discretion of the Ministry of Health in the Regulations which they may issue. In both the English and Scottish Housing Acts there is a danger that rural housing will not be adequately dealt with, and even this Bill as it stands will not materially assist the problem of housing in rural districts. I think that this Amendment, which would only refer to new apartments being added to existing houses, would materially help the problem.

Lieut.-Colonel BUCHANAN

I beg to second the Amendment.


I hope the Government will not accept this Amendment, because every one of the arguments which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has put forward in favour of it, seems to me to be directly against any reason for accepting it. This Bill is a purely temporary measure designed to construct as many new houses as possible. Of course, if tins Amendment were passed, the obvious temptation would be to those who are in possession of old houses to take advantage of this provision, instead of building new houses, which would defeat the object of this Bill, which is to get new houses. I cannot imagine a more destructive Amendment.


My hon. and gallant Friend said, in the course of his remarks, that it would make no difference so far as the expenditure of money is concerned, but I think that is the whole point. Whatever money would be spent in these operations of en-larging—a very elastic term, by the way—would be taken from the fund, which is a very limited one, available for new houses. The whole object of this measure is, during a temporary period, to assist in the addition of new houses throughout the country, and I trust the hon. and gallant Gentleman, on reflection, will consider it wiser to withdraw the Amendment.


Really I do not think the answer of the hon. Gentleman is at all satisfactory. He says the object of this Bill is the construction of new houses. Surely that is a mere pedantic way of looking at it. The object is to increase the housing accommodation of the country, and if that can be done by enlarging houses, which are too small, or by adapting other buildings, it is as great an advantage to the country as building new houses.


There are many old houses vastly better than the new, or anything that is likely to be put up for many a year to come, and some of these old houses, by an enlargement, which might only mean the addition of an approach, could be made suitable for flats. I certainly think that, having regard to everything that is going on, to exclude these from the purview of the Bill would be a mistake. Speaking for the district I have the honour to represent, very considerable alteration is going on there in the old houses of a quite solid type, well built and with many years of life in them. I certainly think these are the houses fit to Adapt for working classes, and I certainly think we ought not to exclude from the purview of this Bill the possibility of dealing with them.


I would like to support what the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Pratt) has said. Anyone who knows anything about building is fully aware that in any reconstruction of a house, considerably more time is taken to do the work than to do similar work in connection with a new house, and that means, therefore, that labour will be, absorbed where it ought not to be absorbed. There is something more. This would be a direct encouragement to people with very old houses to make application to the Ministry of Health for assistance in the reconstruction of houses that ought to have been knocked down a considerable time ago.

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS

I really cannot understand why the Minister of Health resists this Amendment, because it would involve no compalsion, but would still require schemes to be made in accordance with the directions of the Ministry. I think the hon. Gentleman is looking at the matter with undue misgiving. He surely could provide, in framing these schemes, that no abuse of this discretion could be possible, and that some subvention for enlarging houses should only be given in those cases where it is really in the public interest. I do hope he will reconsider the matter.

Lieut.-Commander WILLIAMS

So far as I can see, it is quite obvious that you have only a limited amount of money for housing. The main object, as I understand it, is to provide the largest possible amount of really first-class housing accommodation for the working classes. It is surely better to enlarge and reconstruct two or three bad houses so that they are thoroughly sound, healthy houses, and to spend a definite amount of money on the reconstruction, than to build one new house. I hope the Minister will seriously consider this. We want to reorganise and reconstitute the whole of the housing problem in this country. If it can be done by improving existing houses, and making them more habitable and better, surely that is the most economical way of spending money in a district, and it ought to be possible for the Minister to allow it.


I think my hon. Friends have really lost sight of the object of the Bill as a whole. I could not possibly accept this Amendment. We want this Bill to provide additional houses. That is the governing object. Under the existing Housing Act, so tar as the local authorities are concerned, they are able to obtain assistance financially for taking over, reconstructing and adapting houses. But, so far as this Bill is concerned, it would be a direct encouragement to private individuals all over the country to make applications for patching up houses which, if they are worth it as commercial propositions, should not be in need of patching up. There are a large number of unsatisfactory houses in London which have been empty for a long time, and relatively a small proportion of them in many districts are really good houses, and we meant additional good houses. I would ask the House to keep to the principal purpose of the Bill, which would be deflected enormously if anything of this kind were put in.


I hope my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Amendment will insist on going to a Division, because I cannot help thinking that the few remarks by the right hon. Gentleman to which we have just listened showed a de- plorable inability to realise what is in the minds of those who support this Amendment. He says that we want to have additional good houses. We all want that. We want them as rapidly as possible. It is only because we think that, under this Amendment, we are doing something to facilitate that work that I for one hope my hon. Friend will press it to a Division. The right hon. Gentleman, as I understood him, said it has always been for the local authority to reconstruct houses. With all respect to him, this does not meet the case that has been pressed. I urge very strongly that he should reconsider his point of view on this ground: that we should not get these houses really built if we are to adhere to pedantic bureaucracy.


I do not want to support pedantic bureaucracy—whatever that may mean. All I want is to get additional good houses. That is not bureaucracy, but common sense.

Division No. 154.] AYES. [12.30 p.m.
Buchanan, Lieut.-Col. A. L. H. Guinness, Lt.-Col. Hon. W. E.(B. St. E.) Moles, Thomas
Burden, Colonel Rowland Hambro, Angus Valdemar Nicholson, W. (Petersfield)
Burn, Captain C. R. (Torquay) Hickman, Brig.-Gen. Thomas E. Sassoon, Sir Philip A. G. D.
Burn, T. H. (Belfast) Lister, Sir R. Ashton Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)
Dixon, Captain H. Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green) Wood, Major Hon. E. (Ripon)
Dockrell, Sir M. Lorden, John William
Du Pre, Colonel W. B. M'Guffin, Samuel TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Sir
Glyn, Major R. M'Laren, R. (Lanark, N.) J. Hope and Dr. Murray.
Acland, Ht. Hon, Francis Dyke Hallas, E. Handles, Sir John Scurrah
Adamson, Rt. Hon. William Hanna, G. B. Rees, Sir J. D.
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Harris, Sir H. P. (Paddington, S.) Rees, Captain J. Tudor
Allen, Col. William James Hartshorn, V. Roberts, F. O. (West Bromwich)
Baldwin, Stanley Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.) Robinson, T. Stretford, Lancs.)
Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.) Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon Rose, Frank H.
Bird, Altred Hirst, G. H. Roundell, Lt.-Colonel R. F.
Brace, Rt. Hon. William Hogge, J. M. Simm. M. T
Bruton, Sir J. Hunter, General Sir A. (Lancaster) Sitch, C. H.
Campbell, J. G. D Jameson, Major J. G. Spencer, George A.
Cape, Tom Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander Spoor, B. G.
Carter, W. (Mansfield) Kenyon, Barnet Stanley, Col. Hon. G. (Preston)
Casey, T. W. Lambert, Ht. Hon. G. Sugden, Lieut. W. H.
Cowan, Sir H. (Aberdeen and Kinc.) Lawson. John Swan, J. E. C.
Doyle, N. Grattan Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Hunt'don) Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)
Edwards, C. (Bedwellty) Macdonald, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Stirling) Taylor, J. (Dumbarton)
Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon) Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Midlothian) Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Edwards, J. H. (Glam., Neath) McMicking, Major Gilbert Tryon, Major George Clement
Elliot, Captain W. E. (Lanark) Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I. Walters, Sir John Tudor
Eyres-Mansell, Commander Macquisten, F. A. Wardle, George J.
Falcon, Captain M. Magnus, Sir Philip Waring, Major Walter
Fell, Sir Arthur Mallalieu, Frederick William Whitla, Sir William
Gardiner, J. (Perth) Matthews, David Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir M. (Bethnal Gn.)
Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham Mitchell, William Lane- Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Gilbert, James Daniel Morris, Richard Wilson-Fox, Henry
Gilmour, Lt.-Colonel John Murray, Lt.-Col. Hon. A. C. (Aberdeen) Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, W.)
Glanville, Harald James Neal, Arthur Wood, Sir J. (Stalybridge and Hyde)
Graham, W. (Edinburgh) Nicholl, Com. Sir Edward Wood, Major S. Hill- (High Peak)
Green, J. F. (Leicester) Nicholson, R. (Doncaster)
Griggs, Sir Peter Pratt, John William TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Lard E.
Grundy, T. W. Raeburn, Sir William Talbot and Mr, Dudley Ward.
Hacking, Colonel D. H.

I do not think that my right hon. Friend is quite entitled to deny the charge of pedantic bureaucracy in view of past history. It is entirely optional for him, under Clause I, to make what schemes he likes. All we want to give him is optional power which, in the opinion of many hon. Members, will help him in, the task he has in hand.

Captain DIXON

I desire to support this for the following reasons. You very often get into a district like, say, Pottinger, where the houses are very close to the large works. One of the essential things is that the men should be as close as possible to their work. I, therefore, think that it is a most desirable thing, if you have houses close to works, which can be improved, that power should be given to improve them.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 21; Noes, 90.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (2, a), after the word "acre," to insert the words "minimum floor area."

The right hon. Gentleman was good enough yesterday to accept an amended Amendment to Sub-section (a) of Clause 1 requiring that the conditions for subsidised houses should be somewhat similar to those provided for in the Manual. The words inserted were "standards of structural stability and sanitation." It seems to me that those words might be construed to refer simply to the strength of the walls, and not have regard to the floor area and the cubic capacity which, of course, is the test as to the value of the rooms and the houses. If the right hon. Gentleman will put in the words "minimum floor area" that will meet my point. In the White Paper I notice the minimum superficial area may be 700 feet, whereas if you take the manual the smallest superficial area is 1,000 square feet, and that shows a very great difference between the two standards. The standard of 700 feet superficial area gives the floor space of 16 feet by 21 feet as compared with a floor area on the two floors of 20 feet by 25 feet, which is the minimum provided in the Manual.

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is most anxious that no inferior standard of house building should be permitted in the case of these subsidised houses. I submit, with all respect, that in a matter of this sort, seeing that the House has no control over the White Paper, it is important that we should decide the issue and say plainly and emphatically that the standard of houses to be subsidised shall not be of a lower standard than those provided in the Manual. In the Manual a bathroom is required for all urban houses, but, according to the White Paper, no reference is made to the bathroom at all. There was an Amendment moved in Committee dealing with this point, and I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he would see that a bathroom was provided. It is in Order that we should have the same high standard of comfort, amenity, and health in these subsidised houses as we have provided under the earlier schemes of the local authorities that I move this Amendment.


I raised this point as to the inadequacy of the floor space when the Bill was in Committee, because I think 700 ft. is totally inadequate for these cottages. The condition is that there shall be two bedrooms, and it was very strongly urged that no houses should be erected unless they had three bedrooms. I think we should have at least three bedrooms, and it is hardly worth while subsidising a house that has not got three bedrooms. I have not found myself in agreement with the Mover of this Amendment as a rule, because he has generally been opposite to my views on this subject, and consequently I am delighted now to think he has come round to my way of thinking. It is obvious that the floor space provided under the subsidy is not sufficient, and the 1,250 ft. maximum is not sufficient. We might just as well have the rooms a little larger, and you might provide that when you get over that they shall not have the subsidy. This is not going to put any expense either upon the Government or the taxpayer, but it is going to make all the difference in the comfort of the house, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to increase that 1,250 ft, maximum to at least 1,500 ft. The minimum of 700 ft. is not enough for three rooms, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to accept my suggestion.


I took great pains during the Committee stage to meet my hon. Friend's views on this point. To put all these details into the Bill would be of no value. Taking the figures put in the White Paper I find that the figure of 920 ft. for a house with a living room, parlour, and three bedrooms was deliberately arranged so that it would be capable of providing the space for the different rooms set out on page 29 of the Ministry of Health Manual, and rooms of that size can be included in that floor space. The total of 920 ft. was inserted in order that it might be possible to do this. I think that does comply with what is wanted, and I have no intention whatever of going below that figure, which is the maximum. I do not think it is quite fair to alter this now, because I took a great deal of trouble to meet the point. I will, however, undertake that in the circular of conditions to be issued that where it is possible, and where the water supply is available in urban areas there shall be bathrooms. There is no intention of doing anything else, and we shall keep up the standard, but we must have a minimum. I have no intention of letting the scheme down in any way whatever, and I trust that we shall all do our duty in this respect.

A good many of the complaints which have been made are to the effect that the standards we have adopted are too high. I do ask the House not to saddle the Bill with detailed provisions of this kind. The figures in the White Paper were deliberately designed in order to provide the accommodation for this number of rooms. My hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Lorden) said that he did not want any houses with less than three bedrooms. I agree that the vast majority of houses certainly ought to have three bedrooms, and that is why we have made that our common standard, but we have allowed five per cent. of houses with two bedrooms, and I must adhere to that, because there are old people and so on who do not want three bedrooms, and you must have a small percentage with only two. There are a number of people who want only a small house, and we must include them in our survey of what is required. We want to keep up our standard, and I have no intention whatever of assenting to a large number of small houses, but we must have power to consider the needs of the locality and the inhabitants of the area. Everybody is not young, nor has everybody a growing family. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will accept this explanation and withdraw his Amendment.


The right lion. Gentleman has not dealt with the question of raising the maximum.


The hon. Member has exhausted his right to speak.

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the speech that he has made. I am sure that he is well advised to leave himself as much elasticity as possible in framing these Regulations. I was rather alarmed to hear the speeches of certain lion. Members upon the subject of tenement buildings. You cannot avoid having tenement buildings in London. It is obviously ideal that people should live in the country, but there are a certain number of people who, for vocational reasons, are bound to live near their work. There are people who simply cannot stand continual travelling, and, if they go into the country, they have to come back and live in London. They have a right to be provided for. They cannot all have large tenements. In many cases they earn extremely low wages, and there are single people or married people without families. At the present time, owing to the demolition of a large amount of accommodation for factory and other industrial purposes, there is a very small supply of these small tenements. I quite agree that in principle it is more desirable to provide big tenements, but you have people who cannot pay the rent of the larger tenements, and others who, owing to their work, have not the time to keep them clean. It would therefore be a great mistake to put in any regulation about floor space or the number of rooms which would prevent the Ministry using their own discretion. You cannot have economical and cheap tenement buildings unless you are allowed a small number of these other sized dwellings. Very often you cannot, on a particular shaped site, fit in three and four room tenements, and unless you are going to have an inordinate proportion of your building represented by staircases, you must in exceptional cases be allowed to have a small proportion of this other type of dwelling. I therefore hope that the Minister of Health will resist all these invitations to tie his hand, and will insist upon having proper discretion left to the Ministry to deal with the matter.


As far as I can gather, the Amendment is being opposed on grounds not really relevant to it. Something was said about bathrooms. I think that my hon. Friend would have been better advised to have left that out. The Amendment does not raise the question of bathrooms at all. Some opposition was offered to the Amendment on the ground that it would exclude houses with two bedrooms. I understand that the local authorities may provide houses with two bedrooms at the present time, and this Amendment would not prevent them doing so, nor would it prevent the private builder putting up houses with two bedrooms. All it says is that if a private builder puts up a house it shall not have less floor area than the house of a public authority. That would be the sole effect of the Amendment, and I cannot understand why it should be resisted. It is not a small detail. It is not anything that can be described as metrieulous, like a scullery sink, or anything of that kind. It is a general provision. We have determined what shall be the total amount of ground occupied by each house, and this is a general provision laying down the floor area of the house. That area may be so arranged that there are two rooms, or it may be arranged, in ally other way. The Amendment prevents any house being erected under a subsidy with a less amount of floor area than must be provided in a house erected by a public authority, and, if it be resisted, it must convey the impression that it is the intention to allow houses to be erected under this subsidy with a less floor area than the houses erected by a public authority. If that be the intention, it would be better to express it. If it be not the intention, it would be a sound thing to put into the Bill something that would remove the suspicion and want of confidence which does exist with regard to this measure. The right hon. Gentleman has resisted any Amendment which would have had the effect of reducing that suspicion.


I have remodelled the whole Clause to meet your point.


This very material point is not dealt with in this Clause. Its omission makes it possible for the house erected under this subsidy to have a less floor area than that erected by a public authority.


May I support what has been said? Anyone reading the Subsection as it stands, would say, "Here are three things insisted upon." With regard to three standards, these subsidised houses have to come up to the same level as the local authority houses. Those standards are number per acre, structural stability, and sanitation. There are four things important with regard to a house. Those three and minimum floor area. We all agree that the Minister does not want these houses to fall to any lower standard than the houses to be built by the local authority. What, then, is the reason why he cannot accept this Amendment? If you put in these three definite things that have been put in, and you omit the other thing which is really of major ruling importance, namely, the floor area, it must be assumed, and I think it would be read by any lawyer to assume, that you are not going to insist upon a high standard in regard to that fourth important thing as you are in regard to the other three things. We all agree that floor area does matter, and I cannot see why it should not be stated that these subsidised houses should reach the same standard with regard to floor area as the other houses.

Rear-Admiral ADAIR

I wish to support what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness) as to the necessity for small tenements. There are thousands of people, single women and widowers without children, who can afford to pay no more than for one room with a scullery attached, such as is supplied in numerous tenements in London by the Guinness Trust and also by the Sam Lewis Trust. These tenements are most excellent; they are sanitary and healthy. The death rate in the Guinness Trust houses in 1918 was remarkably low, much lower than the average death rate in London, and the same may be said in relation to similar tenements in my own Constituency in Glasgow.


While I agree it is necessary to have these small tenements, we must remember that suitable accommodation must also be provided for families in which there are four or five children.


I think the hon. Members who set so much store by two-bedroom houses do not realise that this Amendment does not deal with that particular phase of the question, but is simply confined to the point that all subsidised houses must conform to the same standard as the houses which are being put up by local authorities. If you are going to say to the private builder you will give him a subsidy and allow him to put up houses which in the matter of floor-space area are on a lower standard than the houses which local authorities are permitted to put up, and which you would not allow the local authorities to put up, then I say you will be adopting a principle which is entirely wrong. With regard to what has been said about the need for small tenements we all agree, but that is not the Amendment before the House, and I hope that the Government will agree to accept this proposal and not let it go forth that they are giving subsidies to private builders for putting up houses of a lower standard than they allow local authorities to erect.

1.0 P.M.


I want to know what would be the effect of this Amendment. Is there any provision at the present moment in the right hon. Gentleman's Housing Manual under which, with his approval, two-roomed tenements or one-roomed tenements such as are desired by my hon. and gallant Friend (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness) can be put up? I confess I feel great difficulty in voting for an Amendment which, in the case of this subsidy would allow private builders more latitude than is given to local authorities.


The Manual which I have here is for the guidance of the authorities. It lays down the standard as to floor area, and it has been issued merely for the purposes of guidance. It is laid down without a minimum, and, of course, we have allowed local authorities in various cases to make departures within reasonable limits from this standard. We examine all schemes in the light of the standard, and there is no intention of laying down a minimum which cannot be departed from.


Would it be agreeable to the right hon. Gentleman if the word "minimum" were left out from the Amendment, so that it will read that the floor area for subsidised houses shall be the same as the general standard laid down in the Manual? This would put the question of area, structure, and conditions on the same basis in all cases of subsidised houses.


No; I cannot agree to that, because the Manual is not an Act of Parliament; it is a document which we have issued simply for the general guidance of the authorities.

Lieut.-Colonel WEIGALL

And equally applicable to all.


Yes. But I cannot treat it as something which has statutory effect. It is simply issued for the guidance of the local authorities.


Is the right hon. Gentleman not prepared to accept the same standard for all?

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: In Sub-section (2, c), after the word "refusal" ["any person aggrieved by the refusal "], insert the words "or neglect."—[Dr. Addisort.]


An Amendment has been handed in to add the words "and which are self-contained." I do not propose to call upon the hon. Member to move that, because we have already decided the principle. The Amendment seems to be unnecessary, and it also is indifferent grammar.

Further Amendments made: In Sub-section (3), leave out the word "to" ["shall not apply to any houses"], and insert instead thereof the words "in respect of."

Leave out Sub-section (4). — [Dr. Addison.]