§ Where a local authority have under Section four of the principal Act passed a resolution that an area is an unhealthy area and that an improvement scheme ought to be made in respect of such area, or have under Section thirty-nine of the principal Act passed a resolution directing a scheme to be prepared for the improvement of an area, the local authority may, with the consent of and subject to any conditions imposed by the Local Government Board, acquire by agreement any lands included within the area not withstanding that the scheme may not at the time of acquisition have been made by the local authority or confirmed or sanctioned by the Local Government Board; and the acquisition of such lands shall be deemed to be a purpose for which the local authority may borrow money under and subject to the provisions of Part I., or as the case may be, Part II. of the principal Act.
§ Mr. N. CHAMBERLAIN
I beg to move, after the word "agreement" ["acquire by agreement any lands"], to insert the words, "or compulsorily."
I think, in order to justify the Amendment, I must make reference to another Amendment immediately following. The object is to do something for the people who will be condemned to live in the slums for a very considerable period after the passing of the Act. I think there is a real danger that in talking about these new houses which are to be built on the outskirts of cities, people may be led into thinking the slums are going to be cleared away in a very much shorter time than will in fact be possible. We have, before we can clear away any slums, to overtake the present shortage of houses. That will be a task which will probably consume a very much longer period than may be present to the minds of many people in the country. There is also the consideration that large numbers of people do not wish to leave the places in which they have been living for years, where they are conveniently situated near to their work, and above all, they do not wish to pay the increased rent that will have to be charged for these new houses. In order to deal with the slums, there is Part I. and Part II. of the principal Act, but neither of these parts have in the past led to very great activities on the part of local authorities. Under Part I. procedure is lengthy and extremely expensive. Part II. has been made impossible during the War because you could not put a demolition order upon a house when the alternative was to put 963 the tenant into the street, because there was no new house for him to go to. We might just as well face the fact that the slum houses will be with us whether we like them or not for a good many years to come, and it will be well for us to see if we can do something to improve them during the transition period.
My Amendment contemplates a procedure of this kind. In Clause 13 the Government have laid it down that a local authority, after passing a resolution that an area is unhealthy, may acquire the land comprised within that area by agreement, notwithstanding the fact that they have not made any scheme which has been sanctioned or confirmed by the Local Government Board. I cannot think that that Clause by itself is going to lead to very much. If the local authority passes a resolution that an area is unhealthy, and then tries to acquire the land by agreement, they may agree with some of the owners, but others may stand out, and there is nothing to limit the price which the owners may ask. What I desire to see done is that the local authority should have power to acquire this land compulsorily, and should be able to assess compensation under the terms of Clause 9. If a subsequent Amendment which I wish to move is accepted, it would give the local authorities power to acquire by agreement—and I hope this will be by agreement—the houses existing upon this land and having acquired these houses, I then desire that the local authority, having substituted itself as the landlord for the existing landlord, should see what can be done to improve the conditions in that particular area. A great deal can be done without the expenditure of any great sum of money. Anyone who lives in a large town must know of many small houses where the landlord has not carried out the repairs which he should have done, where the houses are leaky, the walls are damp, the sanitary condition insufficient, the water supply inadequate, and many other things are required which the local authority has power to demand that the landlord shall do, but which in practice are only done very slowly, very partially, and by degrees.
If the local authority were substituted as the landlord in one of these areas, and had acquired the greater part of the houses upon it, it could then carry out at its own expense—which would be compara- 964 tively small—improvements which would materially alter the conditions of life in that area. Having made the houses comparatively decent and reasonably fit for human habitation, that area could go on for another ten or twelve years, and at the end of that time the local authority would have prepared its proper town-planning scheme, and would be ready to carry it out, while the new houses in the meantime would be available for these people to go to, when the slum houses were pulled down. I am certain this is a policy which is worth the attention of the Government and the House. Do not let us be led away to concentrate all our thoughts upon building new houses. The problem is too big to be dealt with at once. Inevitably a long time must elapse before anything very material can be done. In the meantime, is it not better to try to improve the conditions of life for these people who still have to go on living in the slums? It is as the first step to carrying out a policy of that kind that I move this Amendment.
§ Sir T. WALTERS
I beg to second the Amendment, formally, in order that I may speak on it. I am very much in agreement with the arguments of the hon. Member, but before that policy is decided upon by the Government I would like to express the hope that we shall not take any step which would hinder or retard our desires. We have two types of houses that the housing reformers are anxious to deal with. There is that type which ought to be condemned as slum houses, but it is rather difficult to persuade local authorities to embark at once upon large schemes respecting another class of property, which, in the interests of modern housing, it is almost equally desirous to deal with, and that is areas in which the houses are not absolutely slums, and are not insanitary within the meaning of the Public Health Act, but which are undesirable places of residence—properties that are very much out of date and very much below any reasonable standard for the housing of the working classes. I have in mind a class of house of which large numbers exist in industrial quarters, with a considerable density of population, where the internal arrangements are antiquated and very primitive, and where it is really impossible to obtain any high standard of decency, comfort or health.
I am very anxious that under the provisions of this particular Clause local authorities should be stimulated to secure 965 by agreement properties which you would not be justified in absolutely condemning as insanitary, and purchasing them under the very drastic, and properly drastic, provisions of this Bill—properties which still provide some kind of dwelling and would pass muster for a number of years, and which the local authorities would hesitate to condemn because they would say that they still have some reasonable period of life, and that it would be a great hardship upon the owners to condemn them at once as, insanitary and pay for them on the scale of compensation provided. I want the local authority, while they are clearing out slum areas, to look about them and see whether they can, by agreement on reasonable terms, purchase these houses as being below the standard of modern comfort, and pay for them at a fair price. Having done so, they could pull down the houses and sell the areas for the development of factory sites, and the price they would obtain for that site would enable them to cover the cost they would incur by purchasing the houses by agreement on fair terms. In that way you would have two methods of dealing with dwellings, first, the clearance of slums under the definite policy provided by this Bill, and you would have in addition a vigorous policy under which the local authority could acquire by agreement houses below the standard of modern conditions, and clear the houses away, sell the sites for factories, and build better modern houses up to our present standard of comfort, convenience, and health in the suburbs of the town. I hesitate before accepting this Amendment lest by inserting the words "or compulsorily" we do something which would cause local authorities to hesitate to embark upon the kind of scheme which we—the hon. Member and myself—desire they should embark upon, but to schedule areas and definitely acquire by compulsory powers means in many cases that local authorities would hesitate lest they should inflict what they would consider injustice upon those owning dwellings not absolutely slum areas. Still, it is desirable, in addition to dealing with absolutely insanitary slum areas, in pursuance of a considered, well thought out policy, to get rid of houses that are below the standard of human habitation that is now required. I hope that the Minister in charge of the Bill, if he sees his way to accept this—of which, person-ally, I shall be glad—will consider the advisability of pursuing the policy which 966 I have just been indicating of acquiring by agreement the class of house I have described. In this way I hope and believe that the tendency will be to raise the standard of housing generally, and to do it in a way involving the minimum of cost and maximum effect.
§ Major ASTOR
Unfortunately, this, again, is a manuscript Amendment. If I had had a copy I should have considered it more fully, but I have tried to understand the hon. Member's intentions. We have discussed, as I understand, two Amendments. The first is an Amendment to Clause 13, giving local authorities the power of acquiring compulsorily land in anticipation of need, and the next is giving local authorities power to acquire houses which might be condemned as slums, and to repair them and make them habitable. It would be very difficult for us to authorise a local authority to acquire land compulsorily unless it were part of a scheme. If a local authority wanted to acquire land as part of a scheme, then it should submit the scheme and if it were sound we should grant its request, but it is very difficult to accept an Amendment authorising local authorities to acquire compulsorily land which is not part of a definite scheme. That is my difficulty in accepting that part of the Amendment. As regards the second Amendment which was explained by the Mover, the houses in question are either houses which are too bad to be repaired and ought not to be acquired, or else they are houses which may be repaired and made habitable for a limited time, short or long. The houses which should be demolished cannot be dealt with here, and the houses which can be repaired can be dealt with, in our opinion, either under Clause 12 or Clause 27. Clause 12 of the Bill gives the local authority powerto acquire any estate or interest in any houses which might be made suitable as houses for the working classes together with any lands occupied with such houses, and the local authority shall have power to alter, enlarge, repair, and improve any such houses or buildings.
§ Major ASTOR
No; I believe the point which my hon. Friend has in mind would be met by the Clause as drawn in the Bill.
§ Major ASTOR
We are amending Part III. to include this, giving the right to acquire houses which may be adapted, and the first object of my hon. Friend is met by the Clause as drafted, unless, of course, it was decided to deal with this problem under Clause 27, under which the houses may be acquired by the local authority and repaired and adapted and made suitable, or else the owner is to make it suitable under Clause 27. It is because of that I cannot accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend. I only regret that his Amendment was not on the Paper and that I did not have a copy of it sooner, as I should have been able to deal with it in more detail.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not think there is any use in moving the next Amendment after the way in which my hon. Friend has met us. Not having been on the Committee dealing with this Bill, I realise that I have not a good chance of making my points on Report, especially as my Amendments were only manuscript, although I tried to meet that by informing the hon. Member for Woolwich as to what it was we desired, but evidently it did not get to the ear of the Minister in time. I do not feel at all satisfied that the Minister has really understood the objects of these Amendments. I think, however, that I will not move my further Amendment now, but I hope that the matter will be raised on some future occasion when there will be a better opportunity of explaining it.