HC Deb 22 July 1919 vol 118 cc1301-4

During a. period of two years from the passing of this Act, the money which may be advanced by the Public Works Loan Commissioners to any private person for the purpose of constructing Douses for the working classes on the security of a mortgage of any land or dwellings solely may, if the Commissioners think fit and if the houses are constructed in accordance with plans approved by the Local Government Board, exceed the amount specified in Sub-section (2) of Section sixty-seven of the principal Act, but shall not exceed seventy-five per centum of the value of the estate or interest in such land or dwellings proposed to be mortgaged, and advances may be made by instalments from time to time as the building of the houses on the land mortgaged progresses, so that the total of the advances do not at any time exceed the amount last mentioned, and a mortgage may accordingly be made to secure advances so to be made from time to time.

Lords Amendment: After the word "solely" ["land or dwellings solely may"], Insert the words shall in the case of persons being members of a building -societies incorporated under the Building Societies Acts, 1874 to 1894, be advanced upon the most favourable terms the Treasury by regulation may permit, and in any case.


I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment. This is an Amendment which was dismissed at considerable length in their Lords-nips House, and it was put in quite frankly from the point of view that it would be desirable to evoke some expression of opinion from the Government on the point. The matter involved is this. Building societies, as is well known, have, in some cases, accumulated very large sums, and it is very desirable, if it can be achieved, that these, funds may be used now to assist in building. We all desire to do that if we can, I am sure. But the Bill, as it left this House, did not provide for a scheme apart from a housing trust or forming a public utility society, whereby building societies as such could be assisted financially. Of course, it would not be within the powers of their Lordships House to insert words providing financial assistance. It would have been necessary for me, had I been able to do so, to ask the House to insert appropriate words now, but I am afraid I am not able to ask the House at this stage to do so. The matter is exceedingly difficult. It is not possible, it seems to me, to help these societies within the four corners of the Bill, as it stands, except they form public utility societies or housing trusts. The proposal is a very ingenious one—it was brought forward by Earl Stanhope—and con- sisted in providing a considerable share of capital by the Public Works Loan Commissioners or the Treasury, and taking no interest for ten years, but thereafter repaying over a period. After fifteen years the purchaser of the house would begin to repay a portion which had been advanced out of public funds by paying 5 per cent, for a period. During the first fifteen years the repayment to the building society would be at 10 per cent, per annum. It is an ingenious scheme, and one which, if we could make it fit in with what the House has sanctioned at present, I should be glad to meet; but I am afraid it raises exceedingly difficult questions involving practically a subsidy to a private individual, and that is a very difficult matter, as the House knows. Although we have been doing our best to work out a scheme which would really achieve what their Lordships would desire, I have not been able to arrive at one which I believe the House would accept at the present time.


I should just like to say a word or two with regard to the position of building societies. I say at once, quite frankly, that I am connected with a large building society in the City of London, which has for its main object assisting private individuals to become the owners of the house they occupy. At the present time we are advancing money to the occupiers of 2,000 houses per annum on the purchase of the houses that they either dwell in or intend to dwell in. I am not moving in this matter at all with a view of getting business for building societies, because at the present moment they have other opportunities of lending their money. They have many other facilities for investing their money in Government securities, which pay them quite as high a rate of interest as they could hope to get from the other borrowers. I look at it from the broad point of view; not at all from the point of view of profit-making for the building societies. It is a very great pity indeed that something like between 25,000,000 and £30,000,000 which has been accumulated by the building societies of this country should have to be diverted to purposes for which it was never intended—large capital sums have been acquired entirely to provide working men and women with houses in various towns throughout the country. It seems to me it would be well if some scheme could be devised whereby a greater use might be made of the organisation of these building societies, with their unrivalled facilities for obtaining accurate, or as nearly accurate as may be to finite minds, estimates of the values of the various residential properties, mostly of the working - class or better working - class kind. From a national point of view it seems to me that we ought to avail ourselves of every possible opportunity of encouraging building societies to assist people more and more to purchase the very houses that we are proposing to erect under the Housing of the Working Classes Act. In that way we should to a considerable extent limit the amount of money required from time to time from the Government itself, and as these houses were sold from time to time, Government money, or the money of the local authorities, would be released, and would be enabled to be used to erect other blocks of property. From a national point of view I know nothing which is more calculated to create a law-abiding, stable working-class population than getting hold of the houses in which they live. The same argument has been applied in regard to the small-holdings question this evening. There is no doubt whatever—although it may be looked upon as sentiment—it is a very sane, solid opinion that people have of love for the house in which they live, and which belongs to them.

In Yorkshire we call them house-proud people, because if ever you want to find real, nicely kept and clean and good-conditioned houses you will find they belong as a rule to the people who live in them. I hope, with all due respect to the difficulties which my right hon. Friend in charge of the Bill has put before the House, that some method will be devised whereby some provision shall be put in helping working people to become the owners of their houses. In that way you will bring about one of the best working-class populations you can have in this or any other country.


I hope my right hon. Friend will not leave the matter where we are bound to leave it to-night. This Amendment was introduced in the other House on behalf of Lord Grey, who has had great experience in the city of Newcastle, and I believe the scheme he advocated was submitted to him by a building society. These societies have built many thousands of houses in the past, and one hopes that they will continue to do so in the future. There is a fear if nothing is done speedily that the active work of building societies will not continue. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to confer at the earliest possible date with representative working-men building societies with a view to producing a short Bill as an amending Bill to the Acts of 1874 and 1894, giving them some measure of assistance, in order that the measure of assistance the State is giving to local authorities and public utility societies may not put the working-men building societies at a disadvantage. Those two classes of societies are receiving considerable State assistance, and I hope he will look into the matter and produce, perhaps in the autumn, something to meet this question. I feel that the work of the building societies in the past should be fully recognised, and they should be encouraged to go on in the work they have done with the help and encouragement of this House.


In the Constituency of Gainsborough, which I represent, we have built a good many houses, and we have many building societies, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman very seriously and earnestly if he can set! his way to give to building societies the same amount of support which he is giving to the local authorities. In that town a great many working men have built their own houses through the building society, and this tends to encourage a great deal of thrift and saving. I quite understand that it is very urgent to press forward with this Bill, and I would like to facilitate its-progress as much as possible, but I do urge the right hon. Gentleman to try and aid these societies in some kind of way.

Question put, and agreed to.