HC Deb 26 May 1919 vol 116 cc873-83

The powers conferred upon a tenant for life by the Settled Land Act, 1882, shall include the following further powers:

  1. (a) A power to sell or grant for such consideration in money, or otherwise as the person exercising the power may think fit, or for a nominal consideration or gratuitously any part or parts of the settled land, either in fee simple or for a term of years absolute or determinate for the purpose of the erection thereon of dwellings for the working classes, or the provision of gardens to be held in connection therewith. Provided that no more than two acres shall be granted as a site for such dwellings or gardens in any one parish without payment of the full consideration in money for the same;
  2. (b) A power, where money is required for the provision of dwellings available for the working classes, to raise the money on mortgage of the settled land or of any part thereof by conveyance of the fee simple or other the estate, subject to the settlement or by creation of a term of years in the settled land or any part thereof or otherwise, and the money so raised shall be capital money for that purpose and may be paid or applied accordingly.—[Lieut. -Colonel Royds.]

Brought up, and read the first time.

Lieut.-Colonel ROYDS

I beg to move, The the Clause be read a second time. 4.0 P.M.

Various Acts of Parliament have been passed enabling tenants for life and limited owners to give or grant an acre or less from settled estates for special purposes, such as sites for chapels, schoolmasters' houses, extension of churchyards, and so forth. It is also not a novel proposal to introduce in a Housing Bill Amendments to the Settled Lands Act. Amendments have been introduced in the Housing Acts of 1885, 1890, and 1909. The Clause that I now bring forward for the consideration of the House is a further Amendment of the Settled Lands Act. The only previous Amendment to which I need refer is in the Housing Act. of 1890, which empowers a limited owner or tenant for life to sell land for the provision of dwellings for the working classes at the price which such land is worth for that purpose, although it might be worth a good deal more for other purposes. I think the time and circumstances demand that we should carry that power a little further. Instead, therefore, of a tenant for life only being able to sell land for the purpose of the provision of working-class dwellings at less than the land is worth, I propose that he shall have the power, but shall be under no obligation, to give any part of a settled estate not exceeding two acres in any one parish for the purpose of the provision of dwellings for the working classes. I might be asked to whom would he give the land? He will, of course, give the land to anyone who will build houses. The object of the Bill is to provide houses, and if anyone will build houses on land which is given either by the owner or by a limited owner of land, such as this Clause would empower a limited owner to give, it is well worth while giving him the power, and this would, at any rate, if it were acted on, provide a certain number. It might provide a considerable number. Of course, the owner is not under any obligation. It is purely a permissive Act, and he need not act on it unless he wishes; but I know quite a number of owners who wish to have this power.

The Bill provides mainly for the provision of houses by local authorities, but, side by side with that, we are looking to private enterprise also to do its share, and I cannot help hoping that the greater number of the homes of England will be provided by private enterprise and will be real homes and will not be houses erected by municipal authorities. I am sure that among many of the working classes there is a very strong feeling against the provision of houses by municipal authorities, and I do not think any stone ought to be left unturned or any effort avoided which would in any way encourage the provision of more houses by private enterprise I was staying this week-end with a lady, and I told her of this Clause that I proposed to introduce. I only mention this because I am sure there are thousands of people holding the view she expressed. She said at once, "I shall be only too pleased to provide £1,200 or £l,400 if the owner will give the land, a couple of acres or so, to build cottages in the village in which I was born." We all hail from some village or town. The owner of the land in the village is not necessarily by any means a rich man. There are a number of people who come from the village who have made money, find as a thank offering for having been preserved from all the perils of war which threatened us would be only too pleased in this emergency to build a house or two if the land was provided and a free conveyance given. I think there ought to be a sort of central bureau formed to get the names of those who are willing to give land and those willing to build houses on it. This is a thoroughly practical proposal, and I have no doubt whatever that very considerable use could be made of it. In such an emergency as this we are not justified in leaving any source untapped in order to secure the provision of real homes for the working classes.

Under the Bill considerable assistance is going to be given to public utility societies and housing trusts. What a tremendous help it would be to them if the owner of land was willing voluntarily to convey free of charge a couple of acres for the purpose, and what an advantage it would be in many cases to the owner of the land to have those houses provided in his village and at someone else's expense. I do not look upon this altogether from a philanthropic point of view. I approach it also from a business point of view. As a matter of business it would be well worth the owner's while to give an acre, or if necessary two, in order that someone else might provide houses in his neighbourhood, and I do not see why it should be even a bad proposition for the person who provided houses, whether it was a public utility society, a housing trust, or a private individual. I do not believe at all in the cost of houses going down very suddenly. Eighty per cent. of the cost of building houses now goes in wages. I am including, of course, the cost of construction and the cost of providing materials. I do not see very much prospect of wages going down in the near future, and I do not see how the cost of houses is going down, and if it is not going down rents and the value of the houses must go up. I do not think, therefore, even as a business proposition, certainly if the land was given by someone else, it would be at all a bad investment. But we cannot measure the importance of providing homes for the people from the purely economic aspect. Our returning soldiers are looking to see these houses springing up. The whole future of the country really lies in the satisfactory housing of the working classes. I do not think that can be satisfactorily solved by mere municipal building. I should like to quote a few words spoken some years ago by Canon, Barnett. He was one of the pioneers in housing and was not only a great and good man, but a thoroughly human and practical man. He said: Municipal building is too easy and too cheap a remedy. The evil is too great" to be met by a vote of millions. The solution of the housing problem lies in the sense of fellowship. If English people felt deeply for their neighbours, they would have the will and they would find a way of preventing the evils which are destroying and degrading human beings. This is one of the ways in which I think houses may be provided. I understand there is no opposition on the part of the Government, and that they rather welcome the Clause. I suggest that owners should select the best sites they have, facing south—cheerful houses. They should select the sites and offer them. What an immense amount of trouble is saved. How few people care to go to an owner and ask if he will sell a site for a pair of cottages. In many cases he cannot give it because his land is entailed. I propose to remove that, and to give power to offer it. If he offers the site with a free conveyance I cannot bring myself to believe that there will not be thousands of people who will be only too ready to make their thank offering in the shape of a cottage or a pair of cottages or more.

There is one suggestion I would make which I think will help in solving this problem of providing houses by private enter- prise, and which I hope the Government will seriously entertain. I would ask them to exempt all houses for the working classes which are built by private enterprise from rates for a period of five years. It is a very small thing to ask. No concessions whatever have been made in the Bill in favour of private enterprise. No doles and no Grants are being given. On the other hand, if a private owner builds a house, he will not only have to be rated on it, but it will also have to bear the loss falling on the rates in consequence of municipal building. If he provides private houses, he is saving the Government from considerable expenditure. I do not think any proposal could be made which would more help private enterprise than that houses built by private enterprise in the course of the next five years should be exempted from rating. It would be a good business arrangement for the Government to make in every sense of the word, and I hope they will give serious consideration to it, and will introduce legislation dealing with it. If this Clause is accepted, I cannot help thinking that all persons who take advantage of it, and all owners who give land without having to give it under the powers of the Clause, will never regret having taken such a step. They will have been contributing to the solution of this problem in the only way in which it can really be satisfactorily solved, by providing homes for the people by private enterprise. It would be a slur and a disgrace really to this rich country that any considerable number of the working classes should have to be housed by the municipal authorities instead of having real English homes of their own.


I beg to second the Motion.

I should like to add my testimony to that of my hon. and gallant Friend as to the value of this Clause. I am informed that the Government intend to accept it, at any rate in principle. I thank them very much for doing so, because I am certain it will be a, very considerable inducement to the building of houses, especially in country districts, where it is private enterprise which will do a very large portion of it.


This is a Clause to enable a person who is a life owner of land to give some of it for the purpose of building houses. I am always glad of gifts in aid of housing, and with certain verbal alterations which would put the Clause into somewhat better shape, I shall be prepared to accept it. Substantially I should like to alter the wording of the first part of the Clause by leaving out the words down to "determinable," and inserting the words "power to make a grant in fee simple or absolutely, or a lease for any term of years for a nominal price or rent, or for less than the best price or rent which can be obtained." This would enable a person, not with standing the covenants on which the land was held, to give these small plots of land for the purpose of housing. I should also propose to add at the end of the Section, "with the sanction of the Court" in the case of larger proposals.


I consider this new Clause is entirely against the general rules of law. It enables a tenant for life to give away land without consulting in any way the interests of those who are coming after him. Under the present Settled Land Acts, if a tenant for life does sell land, he has to sell it for a consideration, and the consideration has to be invested for the benefit of those who come after him. This Clause would enable the tenant for life to absolutely ignore those who come after him, and to give away land that belongs to them, which seems quite contrary to the principles of English law. I am very much surprised my hon. and gallant Friends who have moved and seconded this Amendment, and who are always ready to observe the rules applying to landed property, should have moved a Clause of this kind. I agree with most of what they have said as to the necessity, the wisdom, and the desirability of providing houses, but I do not see how this Clause assists that in any way. If a man is the absolute owner of land he can give it away or do what he likes with it, but if he is the tenant for life there are other people's interests as well as his to be considered, and I cannot see why he should be empowered to give away those interests. For that reason I shall strongly oppose this Clause, and I hope the Government will not accept it.


What I want is something which we have been fighting for in Committee. As a representative of a mining district, I know that we have an evil in force there which I might call the tied-house system. I am against any land being sold, and I am against any house being sold. There are houses in the colliery districts, and men have to go to them against their will. If you get employment in the colliery you have to live in the colliery house. This Clause will open the door to the perpetuation of the tied-houses system, and I hope the President of the Local Government Board will not accept it. Our men are crying out against it. I am against utility societies having land. I think the land ought not to be sold. The land of this country will not increase——


I am afraid the hon. Member must have misinterpreted the meaning of this proposal. This is a proposal whereby a person who is not in the ordinary way able to part with land of which he is the tenant for life will be able to give a certain amount of the land for the purpose of housing, but it shall not be more than two acres in extent. I am proposing to add "without the consent of the Court," in order to safeguard the point that has been raised by the hon. Member (Sir F. Lowe). It is not a question of selling houses; it is a question of somebody being able to give away land.


I am not in favour of land being sold or given away, because I want the local authorities to keep it. I am afraid it will get into the hands of employers who are the owners of collieries or other works, and they will use the houses against the worker. Therefore, I hope the House will not accept this Amendment.


I do not know whether any assurance from me will assist my hon. Friend, but I do most emphatically assure him that this Clause, with the Amendments which are suggested by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, are entirely harmless from his point of view. Indeed, they are very advantageous to local authorities, who may be themselves the owner of land some of which this Clause proposes to enable the owner for life to give for housing.


If the local authority will get the land it is all right.


I do not quite see the point of the proviso that "No more than two acres shall be granted in any one parish." I can understand if that means that not more than two acres are to be granted by any one tenant for life in one parish, but there may be a great number of tenants for life living in one parish, and this Clause would limit the land to be given to only two acres per parish.


The two acres is not all the land which any parish can get. The two acres refers to what an owner may do with the land in his possession in any one parish.


If that is so, the proviso does not carry out what is intended. If the Clause is carried at present and any one parish had received a gift of two acres that would preclude any other owner in the same parish from giving any more land. The Clause says that only two acres in a parish can be so given, and it does not stipulate that that is the full amount that can be given by one owner.


The intention is that where there is a settled estate the life owner of that estate shall not grant more than two acres, but that is not carried out. You wish to protect the reversionary interest against the tenant for life, giving away more than two acres; but if such a person has property in two parishes you do not restrict him to two acres; he could give two acres in each parish, which would mean four acres in all. The amount of land given would, of course, be multiplied by the number of parishes in which the estate is situated. This is only a question of a drafting Amendment, but it ought to be looked into before the Bill passes.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a second time.

Amendments made: Leave out the word "Act" ["The Settled Land Act"], and insert the word "Acts."

After "1882" insert "1890."—[Dr. Addison.]

In paragraph (a) leave out the words, sell or grant for such consideration in money, or otherwise as the person exercising the power may think fit, or for a nominal consideration or gratuitously any part or parts of the settled land, either in fee simple or for a term of years absolute or determinable. and insert instead thereof the words, make a grant in fee simple, or absolutely, or a lease for any term of years, for a nominal price or rent, or for less than the best price or rent which can be obtained.

Leave out the words "consideration in money," and insert instead thereof the words "price or rent."

Leave out the word "same" ["money for the same"] and insert instead thereof the word ''excess."—[Dr. Addition.]


I beg to move, at the end of paragraph (a), to insert the words, except under an Order of the Court. The proviso will then read: "Provided that no more than two acres shall be granted as a site for such dwellings or gardens in any one parish without payment of the full price or rent for the excess, except under an Order of the Court." I will deal at a later stage with the point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. McNeill) about more than one owner in one parish giving land.


I gather, with regard to the point raised by the hon. Member (Mr. McNeill), that the right hon. Gentleman is favourable to the idea of this restriction to not more than two acres in one parish being removed. I am not quite sure what he means when he says that he hopes to deal with it at a later stage. There is no further stage of this Bill in this House, and I should like him to give us a clear statement that in another place he will urge that some such Amendments that have been suggested shall be inserted.


The point was that not more than two acres could be given in any one parish, although you might have a considerable number of owners in that parish who would give two acres. That is a point which will be set right. I would not like to pledge myself to the words which will set the matter right, because I am advised that the point would not arise; but if the point does arise, and if the position is such under the Clause that not more than two acres can be given in any one parish, although a number of persons would give two acres, I will see that it is put right.


This Amendment does not deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University. I venture to suggest that his point and mine would be covered if the right hon. Gentleman would consent to leave out the words "in any one parish" and insert in their stead "by any one owner." That restricts each individual owner to two acres on his own property, whether in one parish or in another. If the right hon. Gentleman will make that Amendment, it would simplify the matter.


The suggestion made by the hon. Member would have the effect of limiting the application of the Clause. We do not want to restrict an owner to giving two acres. If he owns land in twenty parishes we want him to be able to give land in all of them if necessary.


That is the reason why the words "in any one parish" are put in.


I have no wish to restrict him.


A good many owners own whole parishes, and would be restricted if we did not have words of this kind.


The Government tell me, possibly by inadvertence, that the object of the Government Amendment is to limit the power of a tenant for life in a settled state, and if a tenant for life in a settled estate wishes to dispose of more than two acres he must go to the Court for power. If that is the object it is not carried out by this as it stands, but it would be carried out by the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Augustine (Mr. McNeill). I agree that it would limit the power of the tenant for life, and I understand that the Government wish to do that, and that if the tenant for life of a settled estate wishes to give away more than two acres belonging to the tenant in tail he must get the leave of the Court. If, on the other hand, the tenant for life owns land in different parishes, and may give away as much as he likes, then it would be carried out by this proposal.

Lieut.-Colonel ROYDS

May I explain my point. The Clause, as drafted and amended, would enable the tenant for life to give two acres in any parish in which he had land, but it would limit it to two acres unless the Court authorised him to give more. I was a little surprised to hear the hon. Member (Mr. Rawlinson), who is so learned in the law, say that the land did not belong to the tenant for life but to the tenant in tail. I cannot agree with that. The land belongs to the tenant for life as long as he lives, and then to the tenant in tail. One is the tenant in possession and the other the tenant in remainder. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham reprimanded me for moving a Clause which he says is giving away the property of someone else, but the tenant for life is giving away something which belongs to him more than to anyone else. A tenant for life is already allowed to give away an acre of land which in the public interest he should give, and certainly in no circumstances is it more necessary that he should have that power than for the purposes of housing at the present time. As far as I know all owners of land in this country are most desirous that where necessary they should have that power

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, added to the Bill.


The Clause standing in the name of the hon. Member for East Newcastle (Major Barnes) would come on as an amendment to Clause 10. The Clause standing in the name of the hon. Member for the Waterloo Division of Lancashire (Mr. Buckley) will come on as an amendment to Clause 9. The Amendments standing in the name of the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson) both extend the scope of the Bill.