HC Deb 27 May 1919 vol 116 cc1170-82

(b) The value of the whole of the said land shall next be ascertained on the basis of its value as a cleared site subject to the requirements of the scheme as to the provision to be made for the rehousing of persons of the working-classes on the land or any part thereof.

(d) The amount by which the compensation payable for the respective interests in the land to which Section eight of this Act applies, as ascertained in accordance with the principle laid down in that Section is to be reduced, shall be a fraction thereof equal to the amount arrived at under paragraph (c) when divided by the amount arrived at under paragraph (a)."


I beg to move, in paragraph (b), after the words "working-classes," to insert the words or the laying out of open spaces. This is to bring the Schedule into accord with the provisions of the Bill as amended in the Clause dealing with the acquisition of land in slum areas.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In paragraph (d), leave out the word "eight" and insert instead thereof the word "nine."— [Dr. Addison.]

Enactment to be amended. Nature of Amendment.
"years previous to the date of the claim except there has been an" absolute conveyance on sale within twenty years and more than "ten years previous to the claim when the title shall commence with" such conveyance. Provided that the local authority shall not be "prevented if they think fit from requiring at their own expense "any further abstract or evidence of title respecting any lands" included in any such award as aforesaid in addition to the title "hereinbefore mentioned."

I beg to move, after "paragraph (8)," to insert:

"Paragraph (9) The words '(subject to the provisions concerning an appeal hereinafter contained)' shall be omitted."

These arc Amendments in the Schedule consequent on alterations in the Clauses.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made, after "Paragraph (10)," insert:

"Paragraph (12) The words from 'The local authority, or any person interested' to the end of the paragraph shall be omitted.
Paragraph (14) For the words 'such statement and abstract as aforesaid' there shall be substituted the words a statement in writing by any person claiming any right to, or interest in, the lands and an abstract of title on which the same is founded." —[Dr. Addison.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


At such a stage as this, on many Bills of less importance, which have not been of a particularly controversial character, it is the custom to tender some words of congratulation to the Minister in charge. On this occasion, I am quite certain that not only for the hon. Members who are now present, but for the whole House, we can offer to the Minister in charge words of heartfelt congratulation on the success which he has achieved in piloting this very intricate and, in some senses, controversial Bill to so successful a conclusion as this. His long and honourable medical career, combined with his genuine sentiments of social interest, linked up with that particular personal knowledge of how the poor live, and his Parliamentary gifts, have peculiarly qualified him for taking charge of such a measure as this. I will only just deal, as briefly as possible, with two or three points of the measure. First of all, I am delighted to find that the town-planning side of the Bill has been very considerably strengthened. In the second place, it is matter of satisfaction to see that a Clause dealing with the power to acquire water rights is in the Bill. I do not know whether that will strengthen the Bill or not, but, at all events, it is perfectly clear that, outside the areas of the great water supplies, there are large tracts of the country which need additional housing as sorely as the most crowded areas of our great cities, and, unless you have an adequate water-supply, your housing, however well the houses may be built, however splendid the plan, will fall short of meeting the real requirements of the case, and I sincerely trust that, in other matters which are before the Committees upstairs at the present moment, the model which has been adopted here of power to take water for this very necessary purpose will not only be followed but, if possible, bettered to some extent.

I am sorry to touch upon a point which is rather controversial, and that is the question of how you are going to get the land, and at what price you are going to get it. I hope, Mr. Speaker, I may have your indulgence if I go for one moment beyond the limits, strictly, of this discussion. There are, at the very moment, at least two great measures which are based upon land acquisition before Committees at the same time, and the Land Acquisition Bill is, of course the basis of these measures. Very few Members can find time to attend those Committees. I tried to attend three Committees upstairs to-day. I looked in, but it is a hopeless business. Really it has become very painful to us. I am sure we all want to legislate swiftly, but I am sure we want to legislate carefully. I do hope that we shall find some method of bettering that position as soon as possible, because it is really getting very serious. On this question of the acquisition of land, let me say once again—I am tired of saying it, but I am going on saying it—the price at which you can buy the land is the basis of how these measures are going to work, and the country will not stand the burden, which the present measure seeks to impose on communities and on public utility societies, of buying land at a market price which largely represents the blood value of the War. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!" and "Hear, hear!"]That is my opinion—[An HON. MEMBER: "It is not mine!"]—and, if possible, we can get some measure of agreement even in our differences.

There is one other point I would urge upon my right hon. Friend, and it is this: We all agree that of all citizens of this country who most deserve the benefits of this measure, it is the men who have fought for us on land, in the air, and on the sea.

I do not think anybody realises the unfortunate position in which a very large proportion of these are at present placed. I have here a return sent a few days ago by a body calling itself the War Rents Relief. They made investigations inside the London area. The secretary asked for information from discharged and demobilised soldiers. He analysed the replies. I have seen this official. He is a responsible man accustomed to deal with public matters very carefully. The analysis reveals this of the first 990 letters: Persons who have their furniture stored, and are forced now to live in furnished rooms, 196; where the furniture is stored and they are compelled to live with parents or relatives, 208; where the home was given up when the husband enlisted and has now returned and more accommodation is required, 241; where the wife and children are living in the country and the husband is compelled to lodge in town, as he cannot get a house, 101; where the parties have just been married, or desire to, and cannot get a house, 47. The Report give instances of empty rooms and houses, some of which are in Government occupancy, or houses out of repair, or houses or rooms simply used for storage —226. Cases where bonuses are demanded, or exorbitant sums asked for furniture or fixtures number thirty-five. And so on through the list. That is the state of affairs with regard to demobilised and discharged soldiers. Really, as I said earlier, we have not, even the best-informed of us anything like an adequate grasp of the urgency of the housing problem.

I do hope most sincerely that the necessary drive which is essential in getting things done will not be left only to the Local Government Board, the Minister, and the officials. There are those who think that the State can do all these things, and that all has been done when you create a Department and appoint officials. They think things are then going to be done. But the whole thing is not done. Nothing is accomplished without a profound sense of individual responsibility. I hope that in every effort that is being made, I do not care what it is, whether through the public utility societies or any others, that there will be a real sense of civic responsibility, for every assistance that can be given is required to deal with this urgent problem. I hope the public will not get it into their minds that simply because we have got the Third Reading of this Bill that the thing is done. It is scarcely begun! The duty lies not only upon the Local Government Board, and those appointed throughout the country. Every individual man and woman who has any power or influence should exert it, no-matter how small it is. If that sense of unity is apparent in our minds then this great matter—I do not hesitate to use the word "great," for it is so—will bring forth much fruit in the immediate future. We may then perhaps in some very small way be able to realise the duty we owe to those who have fought, bled, and died for us, so that in some slight measure this debt may be repaid.


I should like to add my congratulations to those of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean) at the passing of this great measure through the House of Commons. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman has he made up his mind as to exactly what he means by the working classes who are going to come under this Bill. In the title there occurs the words "Housing of the working classes." My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fulham put down an Amendment on this point, but it was ruled out of order by Mr. Speaker on the ground that if you limited the existing definition of working classes you would be putting a charge upon the Exchequer. That seems to me to be a very important ruling, because surely it carries with it that the local authorities will have to obey the existing definition of the working classes, and if they go outside those definitions they will be placing a charge upon the Treasury which has not been sanctioned by this House. The difficulty I am in is that there are three definitions of working classes in existing Acts of Parliament. There is one in the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882. In that it says: That the term working men's dwellings 'means buildings suitable for the habitation of persons employed in manual labour and their families. If the local authorities go on that definition, anyone not engaged in manual labour will be cut out of the benefits of this Act. The second definition is given in the Settled Land Act of 1890, and it says: The expression 'working classes' includes all classes of persons who earn their livelihood by wages or salaries.

Lieut.-Colonel ROYDS

That refers only to the powers under the Settled Lands Act.


I am aware of that. The third definition occurs in the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1903, and there it says: The expression 'working class' includes mechanics, artisans, labourers, and others working for wages, but working at some trade or handicraft without employing others, except members of their own family, and persons other than domestic servants whose income in any case does not exceed an average of 30s. a week. If the local authorities chose the last definition, any person who employs anyone outside his own family will be cut out Take a local shoemaker. He might employ someone outside his own family, and he might not be earning £6 per week, but it seems to me he would be cut out of this Act. A man in charge of a laundry employing two or three girls for washing would not come under the benefits of this Act. I merely mention this point in order that when the right hon. Gentleman gets up to reply he may tell us what he has in his mind in regard to what he wants the local authorities to consider as the working classes, because, after all, I look upon a man who is earning a living with a moderate income, whether engaged in manual labour or not, as just as much a member of the working classes as a miner or an artisan. A bank clerk is just as much a member of the working classes, and I might go through several categories of employment in the same way; in fact, I think a Member of Parliament, who only has £400 a year, with Income Tax deducted, is just as much a member of the working classes as an artisan getting from £6 to £7 per week. Quite seriously, I hope my right hon. Friend will give some indication to the local authorities as to what is the proper definition of the working classes. We do not want vast sections of working people to be cut out by the definition, and thus to be deprived of the benefits of this legislation.


I wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend on having reached the last stage of this Bill in this House. But I would remind him it is absolutely necessary that the Act should become a living force, and to achieve that two or three things are necessary. I agree with the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) that, in the first place, it ought to be made perfectly clear that the land should be had for the building of workmen's houses on reasonable terms. I voted last night in favour of that Amendment because I felt that the attitude of the Government in the two or three Bills now before this House is not quite satisfactory. We want to have a clear indication from the Government that in the acquisition of land there shall be a distinct understanding that while the price paid is fair to the landowner, it is also necessary, for the sake of the people, that that price at which the land is purchased shall be most reasonable. In the second place, I wish to impress upon the President of the Local Government Board the enormous importance of occupiers owning their own houses. No sacrifice of money on the part of the State will go unrewarded if we can get every man and every woman in this land to own the house in which he or she lives. It is not only good for the State that they should acquire an interest in affairs far removed from the ordinary legislative enactment, but it instils in them a psychological condition which it is most desirable to develop. I can remember my father instituting a building society of working men many years ago, and now in my native town there is a larger proportion of occupying owners than in practically any other town in this Kingdom. The result is not only an independence on the part of the working men, but a loyalty to all that is good for the State, and if we can achieve that result in every other town in this country all will be well. It is not enough to consider pounds, shillings, and pence. We have to consider the moral, physical, and mental advancement of the people. If we can increase the number of tenant-owners we have gone a long way to achieve that which we all desire to achieve—a real interest in the State.

Lieut.-Colonel ROYDS

I was in very general agreement with almost everything the Leader of the Opposition said, except on the subject of land. I was particularly interested in what he said about water, because, especially in our country villages, it is the lack of proper water supply that accounts for the short supply of houses. The Bill does not go nearly as far as I should like to see it go, because it only applies to houses which are provided under the scheme of the Bill, and does not apply to existing houses nor to any houses which may be built in the future by private enterprise, and all those houses will be short of water in future, as they are now, wherever there is a shortage of water, as at present, and I hope some further measure will be introduced which will remedy that, because, whether it is the private agency, public utility society, or the local bodies, they all ought to be enlisted in this housing scheme, and they cannot all be enlisted if the water supply is limited to houses erected by local authorities.

But I really think the Leader of the Opposition seemed to lead the House to suppose that the price of land was one of the greatest difficulties in the solution of the housing problem. Nothing of the sort is the case. I do not think anyone studied the housing problem more closely than Mr. Burns. In the very last Report he issued he said that the land question had little or nothing to do with the difficulties of the housing problem, and he further said if all the land in rural districts had been given instead of sold for housing purposes the rents would only have been diminished by ½d. a week. It is really misleading to say land stands in the way. It has not stood in the way; it never does, and certainly in the future it will not, because there is the Land Acquisition Bill under which land can be taken compulsorily and entered upon at fourteen days' notice and the price fixed by a panel of valuers appointed and paid by the Government and the price they fix is final. What can be more satisfactory? Everyone wants the owner of land to have its value and no more and no less. That is exactly what these two Bills give. That is all that anyone asks. Certainly I do not, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman wants any owner of land to have sixpence less than what it is worth. The owners of the class of land which you are taking for this purpose is very largely owned by small people. It lies round towns and villages. It is a great mistake to think that it is the large owners who-own this land that you are taking for housing purposes. The bulk of these owners are small people. I am pleading, for the small people, and I am pleading for fairness for all. I think that the big owner and the small owner should be treated on exactly the same basis. We-have no right to take away any man's. property, and say that because the land is acquired for housing purposes and urgently needed, and because our men have fought for the land it ought to be acquired at less than its value. Many of the men who own the land have been fighting for us, just as much as the men who want the land. The only thing that we can possibly do is to appoint an impartial tribunal, which should give that land to those who want it, and those who want it should be entitled to take it at the price impartially fixed. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having got this Bill so successfully through Committee and the House, and I sincerely hope that it will be a means of providing not only houses but real homes for the people of this country.


On behalf of my colleagues and myself, I desire to thank the right hon. Gentleman opposite and others who have spoken so warmly of us in regard to the measure. The test of the measure is to come. The possibilities within it are enormous. The powers are very drastic. They may be exercised rapidly and by unusual efforts, and the times certainly demand it. One feature of my right hon. Friend's speech which I would ask the House to remember was the statement that the Local Government Board will not by this measure, or by any other, provide a house. What is wanted is the drive and influence of every citizen, who knows the importance of this subject, from one end of the country to the other, to be exerted in favour of the rapid progress of action under the Act. I can see, from the cases which have come before us, that it is a fact, notwithstanding all that has been said, that for various reasons, on account of the price, nervousness, hesitation to proceed, and a sort of paralysis which I am afraid has smitten many people just now, there is in connection with the acquisition of sites great delay in many parts of the country. I believe that this points to the great importance of some of the provisions of this Bill, which, when sites have been approved, enable us to authorise the local authority, after fourteen days notice, to go in and take possession and begin to lay out streets and dig holes for concrete, and get on with the work, leaving the details of valuation and compensation to be determined afterwards. The figures which my right hon. Friend gave were dreadful enough, but I know of many others which amply confirm them, and represent what has happened in many parts of the country.

I would like, if I may, to take advantage of what my right hon. Friend has said, to draw attention to a part of work in which no body of men has a greater opportunity of helping us than those who are Members of Parliament. We are circulating to Members lists of local authorities and others within their area who have submitted schemes, and those who have not also appear in the list, and I am sure that from every quarter of the House we can, regardless of party, look for the help of all Members in seeing, so far as they can at least, that the local authorities in their area make as rapid progress as possible. There is no doubt that this Bill casts a great duty upon the local authorities of this country in connection with making provision for a great national emergency which will provide a test of our system of local government such as we have never had before, and in view of the fact that we have at present more than 1,800 housing authorities in this country the question whether our system of local government is well and wisely planned or not will largely be tested by the operations of this Act.

We have in this Bill some very unique and unusual provisions which authorise the Ministry to act the part of and in place of the authority At the same time it is coupled with provisions which give an altogether unprecedented measure of aid to local authorities in carrying out the duties which the Acts casts upon them. It is right that it should, and I think the House will expect me, if I am a Minister, to exercise that right and discharge that duty, and in the case of those who are neglecting this urgent national duty not to hesitate to call upon others to operate, if necessary, on their behalf. The time has come for rapidity of action above all things, of course sane and sensible action. At the same time the figures which my right hon. Friend gave, the figures which come to anyone of us, show that one of the most fruitful causes of social uneasiness and discontent at the present time is the miserable housing conditions in which so many of our people live. This measure provides quite new methods for dealing with slum areas, and for reconstructing and assisting other people to reconstruct unsatisfactory houses with the idea of making the best of what houses there are that are worth reconstructing. While we have to recognise that in existing factory conditions, existing conditions of work and the existing lamentable shortage of transit, it will be necessary for many years to come for large numbers of people to live near their work in great centres of population, we must recognise that those Clauses of the Bill which deal with that aspect of the question, strong as they are, are all needed for dealing with the different parts of the problem.

The House will not expect me to deal with any detailed points of criticism, but I would like to take the opportunity of replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson) who, with so many others whom I see near him, helped us so much in Committee. It was, I believe, an unusual experience for Ministers in Committee, for this was a Bill wherein the Minister sought to take powers which were described by a critic outside—quite inappropriately, with regard to me, as the House all recognises— as those of an Oriental potentate. In the Committee the difficulty was to restrain Members from forcing more powers on me rather than there being suspicion of those we sought to take—rather an unusual experience in Committee ! The reason I did not put a definition of the working classes into the Bill was because I found myself unable satisfactorily to provide one, and that is the plain truth of it. The definition of the working classes in the Acts to which my hon. Friend referred were there included for the purposes of those Acts. They were not general definitions. In one case, for instance, in the last he quoted, it related to persons who were displaced in the demolition of condemned houses. It did not go outside that, and they were that class of persons for whom new or other houses had to be provided. But even there—the House will recollect the words— it was persons who worked for weekly wages, amongst others, who were included in the definition. That is a very wide definition. It would certainly include a bank clerk, I should think, as well as a large number of clerks. The definition in the other Act was wider still, and included salaries. That would include the hon. Gentleman and myself amongst the working classes, and I certainly think it ought to. But the reason why we did not put in a definition in this Bill was simply because I did not find it possible to frame a definition that was good enough. I think that was sound policy. We had a number of people, very eminent people, amongst them Mr. Hobhouse, who tried their best to frame it and gave it up.

This is the policy I propose to adopt. What is the type of house which we are going to encourage and assist under this scheme? The type, of course, under the scheme is fairly general, and such a type of house as you would expect to include in the scheme. Having provided this type of house, we must expect the public authorities and public utility societies to secure that they are let to the persons for whom they are intended. The persons for whom they are intended are the persons whose housing needs emerge in that locality. Because the first principle of the Bill proceeds from this, that the local authority is called upon to provide a scheme, which scheme must be designed to meet the housing needs of their locality. It all arises out of that, and begins from that scheme. When we approve the scheme, then it becomes binding on the authority. So the House will sec that the whole scheme is related, from the first Clause of the Bill to the needs of the locality, that is, the people who live there, and not people who may want to take a country cottage or anything like that. We must expect local authorities and others to see to it, or else assure ourselves, in framing a scheme, that the scheme is designed to meet the needs of the locality for people who want to or can in habit this type of house generally. Then, after the scheme is sanctioned, we proceed from that beginning. I think a practical working application, relating to the type of house you are going to provide, rather than trying to frame some arbitrary definition of the working classes, which will break down within a month—I am perfectly certain of that, whatever the definition is, once you try to work it—is the right line of proceeding.

I came to this decision because after having tried to frame a definition, and having employed a number of people to try to frame one for me, I found it impossible to get a definition that would form a working basis for this act.

In conclusion, may I thank again my right hon. Friend and others who have been so kind in their expressions to myself and to others connected with this Bill. I believe that potentially it is a. great measure of social reform. Worked in the spirit of the Bill, there is no doubt about it, it will transform the face of our country from one end of it to the other.

Bill accordingly read the third time, and passed.