§ Considered in Committee.—[Progress, 10th November.]
§ [MR. WHITLEY in the Chair.]
Question again proposed,
That, for the purpose of any Act of the present Session to amend the Law relating to Housing of the People, Public Health and Local Government, and for purposes in connection therewith, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of giants under Section 1 of The Housing (Additional Powers) Act, 1919, in respect of houses completed within two years of the passing of that Act or such further period not exceeding four months as the Minister of Health may in any special case allow, and in respect of houses provided with the approval of the Minister of Health by local authorities for persons employed by them."—[Dr. Addison.]
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Major O'NEILL
On a point of Order. I have an Amendment down to this Financial Resolution, and I want to ask whether it is in order. The object of it is to provide that this subsidy to private builders may be granted in the rural districts of Ireland. At present the subsidy is granted in the rural districts of England, but it cannot be granted in Ireland, and, unless an Amendment of this kind be made in the Financial Resolution, it will be impossible to discuss the matter in Committee on the Bill.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid that the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member is not in order. It is an extension and not a restriction of the Money Resolution. I am not able to give a verdict on the question whether the point can be covered in Committee on the Bill, not knowing exactly what is the proposal.
§ Major O'NEILL
I do not think it necessarily follows that the acceptance of this Amendment would mean an extension of the amount of money granted I understand that there is the specific amount of £15,000,000 allocated to these grants, and there might be a considerable balance available for the purpose which I have at heart. The Amendment therefore might involve no further charge.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That would be a matter to be dealt with by the Chairman of the Committee before which the Bill goes.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The Amendment handed in by the hon. Member is what we call a reasoned Amendment. That is not in order in a Committee of this kind. It is equivalent to a negative of the whole Resolution, and the hon. Member will carry out his purpose by voting against the Resolution as a whole.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I do not intend to move the Amendment which stands in my name—to leave out the words, "and in respect of houses provided with the approval of the Minister of Health by local authorities for persons employed by them"—because, if I were to do so, I am afraid that it would limit the discussion. I hope, therefore, to leave that duty to my right hon. Friend, the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), whose name with mine is down on the Paper. This Resolution excites very wide, deep and wholly exceptional interest. My position with regard to it is not identical with that of many hon. Members whom I see sitting opposite. I would remind them that on the Second Reading of the Bill I took a line of rather general support of the measure, subject to cautious reservations and safeguards. To-day we are dealing with the finance of the Bill, and I propose to draw the attention of the Committee to the White Paper with which we have been furnished. No. 1, the estimate of the Exchequer expenditure, dealing with Clauses 2 and 6, by no means gives any idea of what the cost of this legislation is likely to be. The real cost is wrapped up in the remaining Clauses of the Bill.
I would ask Members to remind themselves of the White Paper, Part 2, so as to have in their minds some indication of what are the proposals. I do not propose to go through them in detail, but, taking by way of example Clause 4, it enables the local authority carrying out a scheme under the Housing Acts at the same time to construct sewage and other works consequent on the housing scheme. It might be necessary in the case of such housing scheme being outside the boundaries of the authority financing it to execute sewage and other works of a similar category on a scale larger than 1553 might be immediately necessary for the houses proposed to be set up. Therefore, borrowing powers are given in connection with those large works, although they may be outside the boundaries of the authority building the houses. Then it also gives a very remarkable authority. It gives power to raise money and to capitalise the interest on exceptional charges which would be running in an area from which no revenue would be produced to meet them. Under normal circumstances, that would be regarded as pretty rickety finance. All the other clauses which are indicated in the White Paper and several other clauses of the Bill necessarily impose large charges, although under the Bill they are not mandatory charges. I do not think that there is one obligatory charge on the local authority. They are optional charges. Of course, once they start a building scheme them are consequential statutory obligations which they must undertake.
I am not going to attempt to debate—it would be entirely out of Order—the actual merits of the Bill on the Motion before the Committee, but I do affirm that the fact that borrowing powers are set up here in addition to the borrowing powers already held by local authorities will have a very seriously detrimental effect upon the efforts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to raise further money from the nation by way of funding his debt, and his effort will have a correspondingly depressing effort upon the local authorities in their endeavours to raise money for their local purposes. It is undoubtedly the duty of the Committee of this House to get before them a survey of every legislative proposal, not only as it affects the Exchequer, but also as it affects the local rates, because, after all, you are dealing with the same person. The taxpayer is the ratepayer. I am quite conscious that to branch out too widely into a discussion of that kind would be to try your patience perhaps a little too much; but I do ask you, in view of the very great and general interest which is taken in this topic, to allow me, founding myself upon the actual White Papers produced by the Government, to draw the attention of the Committee to a broad general point which I suggest to be of the utmost financial national importance at the present time. I would ask the attention of the Committee to Command Paper 1016, which was referred to in some little detail by my 1554 right hon. Friend the Minister of Health when he introduced the Bill. I shall confine what I have to say with regard to that paper to a few general broad statements, which I hope will not weary, though I am afraid they will try, the Committee.
What was the actual position with regard to the total raised by these local authorities from rates in 1914? There will be found on page 5 a sum of £71,276,158. In 1919 they raised £84,500,000, and the White Paper goes on to state that they are not able to bring that figure down to date for the current year ending 31st March with regard to the whole of the authorities in England and Wales. But in this paper they have very efficiently produced an estimate founded on figures furnished to them by 18 typical local authorities, which bring the position right down to the current half year of local finance. Let me give two or three examples of what that extraordinarily dangerous, indeed menacing increase of rates amounts to. Taking the Metropolitan Borough of Islington. In 1919 the rate was 8s. 3d. in the £.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
May I ask whether it is in order on this Resolution to go into such details on questions of rates, which do not come and could not be made to come within the scope of the Resolution?
§ The CHAIRMAN
This Resolution is supported by a White Paper issued by the Government—not, by the way, the White Paper the right hon. Gentleman is just now quoting from, but one which proceeds to deal with a number of causes and their effect on the rates under the heading of Memorandum on the Financial Provisions. I understand that what the right hon. Gentleman is doing is to give certain illustrations to support his claim that, in addition to the charge on the Exchequer, a statement ought to be supplied of the effects of the Bill upon the rates. If he keeps to that course I think it is within the Resolution as supported by the White Paper.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
That is the point I was very shortly coming to. Take the county borough of Halifax, with which you, Sir, have some acquaintance. The rate there was 11s. 4d. in 1919 and to-day it is 19s. 9d. Warrington was 9s. 4d., today it is 21s. Taking the whole of that as disclosed there it shows an increase between 1919 and 1921 of no less than 73 per 1555 cent. Applying that to the broad national figures to which I have alluded, assuming that that 73 per cent. is fairly representative of England and Wales as a whole— there, may be some exaggeration but not much—this is the result, that the total revenue raised from the rates in the current year will be, instead of £84,500,000 as in 1919, £146,185,000. In addition to that the total expenditure from the Exchequer and all the rates in 1919 was £194,360,000. Applying that 73 per cent. of increase, that amounts to no less a sum for this year than £310,976,000 spent by local authorities. Those are staggering figures, because they show that there is over £100,000,000 more spent by local authorities this year than the total Imperial Exchequer of this country in 1914. There is an increased expenditure of well over 100 per cent. in local authorities' rates and all these permanent charges to which I have referred since 1914. This is the point I wish more especially to urge upon the Leader of the House and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. These remarkable increases are not stopping. There must be much greater increases in the immediate future. I am suggesting that the time has now arrived—and this Resolution is not an unfit opportunity for suggesting it—when this House should exercise the same check, by way of a Money Resolution, over increased charges on the citizen in his capacity of ratepayer as it does over the Executive when they propose to raise taxes from him as a taxpayer. The whole question of local and Imperial finance has become so absolutely interdependent, the grants have become mixed up in such a way that only very expert accountants and expert municipal authorities can really disentangle them, and they find it difficult. I suggest that it would be much to the national advantage if, in connection with this Bill, an estimate was made as to what will be the general cost to the ratepayer of the new powers which are sought to be given to him, which although in some respects not mandatory are nevertheless substantially so. The local authorities cannot really refuse. Some are backward and some are forward, but all, at any rate, make an attempt.
That is the main point I sought to lay before the Committee and I suggest to the Government that they should consult Mr. Speaker, and I am sure you, Sir, unless I 1556 very much mistake the feeling of the Committee, would be able to convey to Mr. Speaker an almost unanimous expression of opinion that the time has arrived when in Bills which are laid before the House for its consideration in the future there should be either italicised or in some other way clearly marked all those Clauses where charges fall upon the local authority as well as when they fall on the Exchequer. Whether it might follow the usual machinery of a Money Resolution or not, I am not particular. All I am asking for is that, since these charges amount to such menacing proportions and the whole of local and Imperial finance has now become so inextricably mixed up, insofar as we possibly can, this House, before it gives the Government any authority to lay any fresh charges upon local authorities, should at any rate know what it is committing the country to. I am not pressing it one inch more than that to-day. I am not discussing the merits at all. I am only taking this opportunity, as far as I have been able to observe with the general assent of the Committee, to press a most useful reform upon the Government which would help local authorities very much and would certainly assist the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Standing Order 71 has always been construed by the Speaker up to now as only dealing with the question of taxes. At the same time you, Sir, will recollect that the House of Lords has no power to deal with questions of rates, and if on the Report Stage of a Bill in this House any new charge is inserted which deals with the question of any increase of rate, Mr. Speaker always refuses to put that question, and that proposal has to go back again to the Committee before he, on the Report stage, will deal with it, showing thereby that there is, notwithstanding the interpretation of Standing Order 71, more than a suspicion in the mind of this House, as carried out by Mr. Speaker in actual practice, that the Committee should have very definite control over charges on the rates, as it has over charges on the taxes. I do not move my Amendment because I hope it will be moved at a later stage, and I hope, the question now being left open, there will be a general discussion and the Leader of the House and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to measure the real feeling of the Committee on the matters I have laid before them.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)
The right hon. Gentleman has appealed to me in this matter, and pressed me to express the general view of the Government on the question which in an indirect way is raised by this Financial Resolution. First of all, as regards his suggestion, I recognise in the fullest way the necessity of something of that kind being done. I entirely agree that the Government cannot look upon expenditure from the rates as anything other that, in effect having an influence upon the whole finances of the country. It all comes out of the same pocket, and it is therefore essential that whatever control can be exercised by this House on expenditure from the rates should be exercised just as much as on general Government expenditure. As a matter of fact, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself have discussed this before the right hon. Gentleman made his speech. I do not think I need say to the Committee that the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed with me. Perhaps it would be making an exaggerated claim, in view of the attacks which are constantly made on us, if I included the whole of the Government. At all events nobody says that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is responsible under extraordinarily difficult circumstances for finding the money for carrying on the work of this country, must not have a keener interest than anybody else in controlling expenditure.
As the Committee knows, it was with this feeling that, at the time I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, I was led, with the consent of the Prime Minister, to lay down that not only should there be a Financial Resolution, but in every case an explanatory memorandum should be laid before the House of Commons so that the House might have an opportunity for discussion. If we can exercise some control over expenditure on the rates we ought to do so. But I would utter a word of warning. Do not let us try and give an impression that the House of Commons can really control expenditure on the rates. I have had twenty years' experience of local government in London, and it is well known that before the War, the same party was never in power both in the London County Council and in the House of Commons, and that was for reasons primarily concerned with the subject we are now discussing. We cannot control the 1558 rates, and it would be a great mistake to give the ratepayers the impression that they can get any real protection from the House of Commons. The protection must come from themselves, and I believe that the last municipal elections showed that these people are realising that the responsibility is their own, and that the control they exercise on the men selected to govern will have a practical effect upon the rates. As regards this proposal, we would like to get something of this kind, and if no better suggestion can be raised—of course we shall be glad to consider any suggestions—we will set up a Select Committee to consider in what way we can effectually exercise some control on the expenditure by the rates in the ease of Bills introduced into this House. If that commend itself to the House, we shall quickly adopt it.
As regards the general Resolution, let me say at once that we are prepared to accept the Amendment which stands in the name of my right hon. Friend (Sir D. Maclean). My right hon. Friend (Dr. Addison) has asked me to say a few words to the Committee on this subject. Quite apart from any criticism of the Bill, there is no doubt that it is an unusual, and I think myself an undesirable, course to introduce so complicated a Bill as this in an Autumn Session. I hope that such a practice will not become permanent. It is only called for by the special pressure of business and, therefore, I think as a rule it is not right to introduce, in an Autumn Session, any business which can quite well be left over until the next Session. I would, however, point out that it is not the fault of the Minister of Health that we have been compelled to adopt this mode of procedure. As a matter of fact, the Bill was accepted by the Cabinet last July, and therefore the responsibility is ours. It was due to the pressure of other business. That does not alter the fact that, so far as possible, we should not try to get Members of the House together in an Autumn Session to press forward what may well wait until a later Session. That is the view of my right hon. Friend quite as much as myself. Let us consider how that will affect the special Resolution which we are now discussing. The Bill is a very complicated one.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
My right hon. Friend says it is six Bills in one, but that is not quite the case. Many of its provisions are absolutely necessary, but that does not alter what I said before. My right hon. Friend (the Minister of Health) realises everything which I have said to the Committee now, and realises also what is the sense of the Committee in regard to the matter. I would like to point out to the Committee that the conditions under which we are now carrying on our work are very different to those to which we were accustomed before the War. Then—I was in the Government, although I did not occupy so high a position—we relied upon our party to back us in whatever we proposed. During the much longer time I was in Opposition I found that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) took precisely the same view, and I think I may say of him as well as of ourselves that the more completely he was wrong, the more thoroughly he could rely upon his party to back him. We are not now in that position. We are told that there is no House of Commons at all. That really is not so. We have all found that it is precisely because there is so large a majority in this House that hon. Members have the right—and they feel they can do it without the consequences which come to an ordinary party—to make their views felt, and the Government have a right to pay due regard to what is the feeling of the House of Commons.
I dare say I shall be told in some newspapers to-morrow that the Government have "climbed down." We have never climbed down, and we do not intend to climb down now. My right hon. Friend spoke of the Clauses in this Bill with which he is quite prepared to say that he would not ask the Committee to proceed. There are thirteen of these Clauses. It is true that that is a very large number. I went over them with him. Some of them seemed to me they were not absolutely necessary just now, and he agreed that he would press forward only the things which he considered essential. Some of these provisions seemed to me to be useful, and we are content to leave it to the Standing Committee or to this House to consider their merits. Some of the Clauses we would like to go through, and therefore what I propose is this: We are willing to deal with the House of Commons fairly. We are not 1560 trying to exercise undue authority, and we desire that each of these Clauses should be considered on its merits. We would therefore like the Bill to go to the Standing Committee as it appears, and we will not attempt to use the authority of the Government to upset the decisions of the Committee upstairs, unless they cut out something that we consider absolutely vital, and there are some provisions in the Bill which we do consider vital.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
This is a very important point. Would my right hon. Friend testify what provisions the Government consider to be vital? It must have a great effect upon the voting on this matter.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The Second Reading of the Bill has been carried, and the Government do consider that parts of the Bill are essential. I have said that, when it goes upstairs, we will not override the decision of the Committee, except on a point which we consider absolutely vital, and even then the House of Commons will have an opportunity of dealing with it on the Report stage. I will go further. Just because, in our view, the present is not a suitable time for a measure of this kind, I will say that if there be any serious opposition upstairs to any provisions which we do not consider vital, we will not press them in Standing Committee. I ask hon. Members to realise what I say. We do not, we will not, attempt to exercise an over-riding authority of the decisions of the Committee upstairs.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I want to ask the Leader of the House one question. The opponents of the Bill are not satisfied with the present composition of the Committee. Would the right hon. Gentleman allow those who are opposed to the Bill as it stands to represent to him privately afterwards their view, that there might be on the Committee something approaching to a fair equality of view?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I did not know what the composition of the Committee was, but if it is in my power to alter the Committee so as to make it possible that the views expressed are properly represented, I shall be glad to do so. We will not press any parts of the Bill which are not necessary, and we will not ask the House on Report to reverse the decisions 1561 which have come from the Committee. I do not think it is possible for us to meet more completely the wishes of the House than I have done.
The House must not think that the Government does not realise how serious is the financial position of the country. There are two mistakes made in regard to that, not by the Government only, but by the public outside. One mistake is to assume that financial difficulties are due to bad management. That may be so in some instances, but I can assure the Committee that the Government will welcome any real assistance in cutting down expenditure in any direction. The assumption to which I allude is that by good management you can get rid of these difficulties. That is quite impossible. When I myself was Chancellor of the Exchequer during the War I pointed out over and over again to the House that the real financial difficulties of this country would come after the War was over. Everyone looked forward with just the same view as I did, and do not let anyone imagine that the expenditure of large amounts of money on unproductive and destructive work can have taken place, without leaving an effect which will be very bad for trade and industry in this country for a very long time to come.
The other error, which I think is of a similar nature, is that people who are feeling how great is the financial stress are inclined to look at every proposal which means the spending of more money as in itself bad. An hon. Member has put forward the analogy of a private individual. It has been said that when a private individual with a certain income has reached the limit of that income, he does without what he might otherwise have liked to have had. But that is not a right analogy. The right analogy is between the State and a going business. At certain times it is absolutely necessary for people who are running a going business to get credit, and that means borrowing.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
My hon. Friend is in business, and I will guarantee that he he has done this hundreds of times.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I do not take that view. I wrote last night to some 1562 friends not to borrow money to increase trading. I considered that they were overweighted, and could not afford to take the risk of borrowing money at the present time; they ought to shorten sail. I do not think that the State in these times is justified in involving itself in increased undisclosed outlays, however good the objects may be.
§ Mr. G. LOCKER-LAMPSON
Are we to understand that the House will be able to discuss this question on the Resolution when my right hon. Friend has done speaking?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The point I am making is this: In an ordinary business, take that of a shipowner, the time comes—I am afraid that it is coming very soon now—when he can hardly run ships so as to pay expenses. The question arises, whether he will lay them up or continue to run them. Supposing a shipowner finds that something ought to be done to a ship, obviously—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I have been getting increasingly anxious as to the course of the discussion. The Committee will observe that I took a very broad view at the outset, considering that this is a very unusual Bill, in allowing an unusual width to the discussion, but I am afraid that we might enter into a new Budget discussion if we continue on these lines. I hope that hon. Members will be content not to take advantage of my liberality in the matter to follow on the lines of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am very unwilling to claim any special privilege. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] If it is the wish of the Committee, I will finish what I have got to say. Obviously, if it is going seriously to damage the working value of the ship to leave it as it is, he will, if he can get credit, spend what is necessary to repair it. In my view, the state is in exactly the same position. You cannot possibly say you can spend no money on anything new, without doing 1563 the greatest damage. Just as an ordinary business man, when times are bad, should not spend a penny which is not absolutely necessary, so, in the same way the State should not spend a penny which it thinks is not going to give a return, and a return immediately. If hon. Members will look on this Bill in Committee in that spirit, if they will turn down, as I myself would, any expenditure which, taking the financial condition into account, they think is not wise, they will do precisely what the Government would like them to do under this Bill.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
My right hon. Friend, who is one of the most adroit Leaders of the House to whom I have ever listened, has made a speech on this Resolution which touches very much on the merits of the Bill. I congratulate him on the fact that the Government have at last taken some notice of the House of Commons, and the general expression of opinion last week that this Bill, at any rate, in its present form, was going to produce more misery than happiness My right hon. Friend has said that more than once during the War, he said that the real financial difficulties of this country would only come when the War was over, but that was an unfortunate lapse, because I remember being faced at the General Election with an enormous number of promises. We were to have all sorts of things—new houses, railways, transports. Still if the Government have abandoned that I am quite content and will not go back upon it, but my right hon. Friend says that the Government will welcome suggestions for reducing public expenditure. My suggestion is— and I will not engage in any polemics—that this Resolution and the Bill should be withdrawn. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!" and "No!"] Thirteen Clauses, I believe, are to be withdrawn. Withdraw all of it, and let us come to this Bill fresh next year. Then my right, hon. Friend will have had the advantage of the Select Committee, which he is going to set up, to find out whether we can really state in a Resolution what would be the exact charge that would be imposed.
I propose to argue against it, that if the Government go on this way they will, in my judgment, obstruct the greatest social reform that we can accomplish 1564 to-day which is to reduce public expenditure. Therefore, when my right hon. Friend criticises the suggestion that I made the other day in the public Press, that the Government, like a private individual, must cut their gown according to their cloth, I say that my analogy is absolutely accurate and that the Government must do the same as a private individual and, if it has overspent in the past, must save in the future. My right hon. Friend will forgive me if I say that there have been no signs of Government saving up to now. I am glad to see some signs of repentance at last. This Bill came before the Cabinet last July. They were quite prepared to incur that expenditure then. I do not wish the Government any harm. I want to support any Government in this country that will be economical. We must have a drastic cutting down of public expenditure before this country can resume its old prosperity. If we pass this Bill now I do not know what Clauses the Government are going to abandon. It is a most unusual procedure to withdraw 13 Clauses and to say that when Amendments are made they will not proceed to reverse the decision to which the Committee has come.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Does not this show that the Bill and the Resolution ought to be withdrawn? We all know what happens in Committee upstairs. There is a solid phalanx of Government administrators and their secretaries—
§ Mr. LAMBERT
If it had not been for that somewhat unholy coalition last week, the Government might have been a little more amenable than they are now. I do not care what part of the Bill passes—it will increase public expenditure.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Then what is the need of the resolution? If this were an ordinary party Debate I would ask leave to move to report Progress to know where we are, but it is not. I want to help on business. If we are told by the Minister and my right hon. Friend that this Bill will not increase public 1565 expenditure, my objection would be largely withdrawn; but I cannot imagine any Clause in this Bill that will not increase public expenditure. Take the housing Clause—that there should be an extension of the time for the completion of the building programme of the Government. This Clause authorises payment of grants up to the 24th December, 1921. It would be far better to discuss that point next Session in order to see exactly how this housing programme is going to work. My own impression is that this housing policy of the Government is thoroughly unsound. You have got into a vicious circle of building houses that will cost the Government something like from £1,000 to £1,200 apiece. If houses are being built by local authorities at £1,200 apiece there must be waste. There is no reason for six times the pre-War cost. Far better if the whole of this housing were postponed until next Session in order to have three or four months more of experience of the housing programme of the Government. I am very suspicious of this policy, and this Clause, if carried, will postpone for another year the application of private enterprise to building.
I do not believe that you will ever get housing back to where we had it in pre-War days until private enterprise can be again engaged. You are at present making it impossible for any private person to build houses. No private person can compete with the Government and the rates in a building programme. You have got into a vicious circle whereby there is a limited amount of material for building, while you have got an unlimited demand caused by the Government and the local authorities. I want the prices of houses to come down. A reduction of public expenditure is the first social reform that this House can carry out. I want to ask another question. Are there any provisions which the Government will regard as vital which will increase the rates? [HON. MEMBERS: "We do not know."] Somebody ought to know. I have here a letter which has appeared in the Press from the Mayor of Chester. He says:The high rating is leading to the old evils of overcrowding. It maks decent homes for the people impossible. The higher the rates, the worse the people will be housed.1566What is the good of making the schools and the hospitals better if the houses are worse?That is a sound doctrine. There has been a kind of view that the more public money you can spend the greater public benefactor you will be. We have to get back to the old principles of public economy of men like Mr. Gladstone, Sir Michael Hicks Beach, Lord Goschen and Sir Wm. Harcourt. They were not entirely fools when they curtailed public expenditure. If you increase the rates you will add largely to the volume of unemployment. If you take heavy rates and taxes from any person in the community he has not that capital with which to engage in enterprise which will give employment. The ex-soldiers and ex-sailors are calling out for employment, and you, by increasing the rates and the taxes, are directly aggravating the problem. That is an economic fact which cannot be gainsaid. I ask the Government in all sincerity to deal with the House of Commons fairly, and if they deal with it fairly, they will withdraw this Resolution and bring it up next Session, and let us have more experience of the housing programme of the Government, when we shall be able to find out more exactly than we know now the true financial position of the country.
§ Major HAMILTON
I listened with great interest to the Leader of the House when he told us what action the Government proposed to take. I do not know where we are. Now that we have got back to humble back-bench Members endeavouring to discuss this Resolution, I find that the Leader of the House has promised to accept the Amendment which was not moved, but which is on the Paper in the name of the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean). That Amendment is to leave out all the words:and in respect of houses provided with the approval of the Minister of Health by local authorities for persons employed by them.What difference does that make? We were assured by the Minister of Health that this Financial Resolution was only carrying forward money which was granted for building purposes, and whether that money was expended on building premises for persons employed by the local authorities or in building houses for the working classes generally made no difference whatever. Now the Leader of the House tells us that he is going to 1567 accept an Amendment which, financially, has no effect whatever upon the Financial Resolution. The words in the Resolution which we are going to omit are quite unnecessary. I am glad to see that the Minister of Health, by nodding his head, agrees with me, and I suppose they are only put in the Resolution really to tempt me to talk about it. The Leader of the House also said that the Cabinet considered this Bill last July, and decided that it was necessary. The position both as regards national finance and local finance last July was very different from what it is to-day, and the opponents of this Bill, of whom I am one, feel that not only the Clauses that are clearly defined in this Resolution cause extra expenditure, but that the Local Government and other Clauses will, in some way or other, increase expenditure or tempt local authorities to further expenditure. The Minister of Health on the Second Reading said:I am willing and anxious to join with hon. Members, in Committee or elsewhere, in a scrutiny of this Bill, so that we do not allow any liabilities to be incurred which the public necessities do not warrant."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th Nov., 1920, col. 1130, vol. 134.]We now have an assurance from the Leader of the House that 13 Clauses can he dropped out of the Bill immediately, but we are not told which are the Clauses. How can we continue to discuss a Financial Resolution to a Bill which was introduced by the Minister of Health in a speech of which the very first words were that he was going to drop the chief proposal of the whole Bill, that of setting up hospitals by the ratepayers, and now, when we get to the Financial Resolution, we are told that the Government is prepared to drop 13 out of the 26 Clauses, while as regards the remaining 13 Clauses, unless they are of vital importance, they will be bound by the decision of the Committee upstairs. I hope the Leader of the House will take into consideration the plea made by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lambert), and withdraw this Bill temporarily. Many of us feel that there are a great many points in the Bill which are of great importance, much too important to be hidden away in the back pages of an omnibus Bill of this kind. These matters could be easily brought in, in a short Bill, explained by the 1568 Minister, and I am sure they would receive the cordial approval of the House, and be carried at once. The feeling which I have in opposing this Bill and the Financial Resolution is that the whole country is looking to this House to control more immediately the expenditure of the Government. The London Municipal Societies only the other day, appoached the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Minister of Health, and the Minister of Education, and amongst other things they said:The schemes both in the Education Act, 1918, and all the Health Acts should be reconsidered and adapted to the present state of national and local finance, as it is quite impossible to provide for the enormous additional expenditure which will be involved in carrying them out in their present form.What are we doing by this Financial Resolution? The Government have not been able to expend the money which this House has already authorised under the Ministry of Health Acts, and the Minister of Health now says, "We have not been able to spend all the money that has been voted up to date, and we want your authority to spend it in the near future." We do not want to give them that authority. We agree with the London Municipal Societies with respect to these Ministry of Health Acts, the objects of which we consider excellent, and which, I believe, ultimately would be of great benefit to the country. When we passed these Acts the House felt they would be of great benefit, but now we have a chance of compelling the Government to give us an opportunity of reconsidering these Acts, and of seeing whether, in the financial position of the country to-day, and especially of local finance, it would not be wise to curtail some of the expenditure and not carry it forward. I will read part of a letter which appeared in to-day's "Times." I quote it because I notice that the Minister of Health on the Second Reading said that everyone in this House who had knowledge of, and was connected with local government, was in favour of the Bill.
§ Major HAMILTON
The right hon. Gentleman said so, and I am going to say why I disagree with him. He referred especially to my hon. and learned Friend the ex-Member for the Middleton Division (Sir Ryland Adkins), who is at 1569 present absent from the House, and who spoke in favour of the Bill, and the hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle), chairman of the London County Council Housing Committee. The letter is from the chairman of the Somerset County Council. I will quote two paragraphs:Is it desirable that the Government should be constantly exerting pressure upon local bodies, not only to perform their statutory duties to the fullest extent, but to exercise all their statutory powers? Ought not local authorities to be free to economise in non-essential matters?I think that is sound common sense.Lastly, ought not more precautions to be taken against Parliament passing new measures of social reform without due consideration or knowledge of the local burdens involved in their administration.If we pass this Financial Resolution we send this Bill, with its 26 Clauses, up to Committee, and, although we have the assurance of the Leader of the House that he is prepared to drop 13 Clauses and to reconsider the other 13, this Bill will come back in some form or other on Report, and we shall have lost nearly all control over it. Take Clause 1. I did not understand the right hon. Member for Peebles on the Second Reading. I do not think he could have studied the Bill then as much as he has done since, for, so far as I could understand him, he was in favour of the Bill. He supported it because he said there were a large number of cottages in his beautiful constituency, which I happen to know very well, which are only occupied for a short time in the year, and this Clause would give power to the Government to take these cottages and convert them. Under Clause 1, if large houses and valuable property in constituencies like Peebles are seized by the local authorities and converted for the use of the working classes, that cost will come first out of the rates; but when the cost, together with the other building expenditure, has amounted to one penny rate, the balance will be paid by the Exchequer. I do not know whether this Financial Resolution ought to be passed in view of that argument. As I understand the Housing Acts, there is no doubt that if the cost of expenditure on housing exceeds a penny rate, the balance is bound to fall by guarantee upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and, therefore, upon the taxes of the country. My right hon. Friend the Member for 1570 Peebles was referring to small houses which are taken as week-end cottages or as shooting boxes in the district adjoining his constituency, which are only occupied for a few weeks in the summer months, and under this Clause the local authority could take them over. Would the right hon. Gentleman put a working man and his family to live in a cottage the rent of which, together with the land, would be from £75 to £125 a year? No working man could afford to pay that rent, but the balance would have to be paid, and beyond a penny rate the balance would come back upon the Exchequer.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
That was not what I said. The hon. Member seems to have been as casual a student of my speech as he suggests I have been of the Bill.
§ Major HAMILTON
I am extremely sorry if I have in any way misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman, but I may say I took the trouble this morning to reread his speech. [HON. MEMHERS: "Read it!"] Unfortunately, I have not the copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT here. The hon. Member for Moss Side (Lieut.-Colonel Hurst) told us of the taking over of houses in his constituency. I happen to know that part of the world. Those houses which have been seized, and in which working-class ex-service men and their families are living, several families in the same house, are large houses. If we pass this Resolution and allow that type of house to be taken and converted, then the people who get them will not be able to pay a fair rent, and there will be a charge on the Exchequer. Therefore, I hope that we shall reject this Resolution. Clause 9 provides that paragraphs 3 and 4 of Section 2 of the Public Health Act of 1875 are to have no further effect. Those two paragraphs made it necessary for any local authority undertaking building work to have it checked by their surveyor and financially checked. Those safeguards are now swept away. What is going to happen? Local authorities will undertake expenditure on houses, and the adaptation of large houses, or those beautiful small cottages in a Division like Peebles, for the working classes without any estimate being laid before them by the surveyor. A heavy charge will fall on the ratepayer, and upwards of a penny rate will come back on the Exchequer, in spite of the fact that this 1571 Financial Resolution does not give any authority for any such additional expenditure. I fail to know where we are. We are informed that this Amendment, which is accepted, is of no value, and that the Government are prepared to drop thirteen Clauses of the Bill and take the decision of the Committee on the other thirteen Clauses, unless some vital point is affected though we are not told what the vital points are. How can we continue to discuss a Financial Resolution of this importance on an omnibus Bill. I add my weak plea to my right hon. Friend's powerful plea to the Minister to drop the Bill and withdraw the Resolution. The Minister of Health has, I am sure, a great anxiety to try and do good, but he has got a sort of epidemic of legislation. He is suffering from some sort of disease, and he must check himself, or the House must check him. As he has agreed that the chief proposal in his Bill was no good, and that thirteen Clauses are to be dropped, and that the remaining thirteen can be altered, does he not think it would be wiser to take his courage in both hands and withdraw the Resolution and introduce such Clauses as are thought necessary in a separate Bill at a later date.
§ Mr. WILLIAM GRAHAM
I should have hesitated to intervene in this Debate but for the feeling which appears to be prevalent that under almost any circumstances Labour either in this House or in the country will support heavy expenditure. I desire to make it as clear as I possibly can that there is probably no force in this country which in its own plain and humble way more fully appreciates the dangers of heavy expenditure and severe taxation than we do. We have only to remember the vast expenditure of the War, the weight of taxation, and the steady increase of local assessment at the present time to appreciate the effect which expenditure is having on employment, to mention only one of the problems. While we keep those things quite clearly in mind I do hope we are not going to close our eyes to the essential facts of this discussion. I confess I find it quite impossible to understand the strong protests which this Bill has occasioned. We on these Benches have fought, with perhaps indifferent success, against vast expenditure on all manner of enterprises in different parts of the world, and we sought to curtail the outlay of public Departments 1572 where we believed that to be necessary, and we have looked in vain to the other side of this House for any support on those occasions. It is only now by some curious set of circumstances that we find strenuous and almost violent opposition directed against a Bill which is promoted by the Minister of Health. Our broad contention is if we are going to reduce expenditure at the present time let us reduce it first of all in the foreign policy which the Government is pursuing, and in the second place in that vast area over which this House exercises so little control, and not in a sphere which many of us believe to be absolutely necessary if post-War reconstruction is to be worthy of the name.
The head and front of the opposition to this Bill is undeniably its possibility of increasing local rates. I think, apart from certain questions of policy, that is the undoubted ground of objection. May I respectfully ask hon. Members opposite who do not share our views on municipal matters to look to the actual facts of the local rating in this country as they are well known to anyone who has had any experience in local authorities. The increases which have taken place in local expenditure between 1914 and 1918 are due almost entirely to war conditions. The two leading causes are the great increases which were necessary in the salaries and in the wages of the staffs of local authorities in this country and, in the second place, to the extraordinary sums which local authorities have had to pay for materials which they acquired for any enterprise in which they engage. On the point of municipal salaries, I say, as a plain matter of industrial investigation, that it is true that in pre-War time we seriously underpaid a very large number of our professional advisers to the local authorities, and we certainly underpaid our manual and other workers. Everybody knows that public-spirited men gave their services in a professional capacity year after year to those local authorities, and that in many cases those men could have easily commanded far larger sums in the outside market. They remained because of superannuation and because of a certain interest in the work and a certain sense of public duty. Every industrial investigator knows that municipal manual workers were underpaid. There was a tendency to keep down the rates, and 1573 there was largely the absence of any organisation and the failure to combine, till comparatively recent times, on the part of those men in order to improve their position. Those are the two essential causes of the great increase in local assessment within recent times. No definite steps of a practical character have been taken to reduce the price of the commodities which municipalities require to buy. Everybody knows perfectly well that the price is automatically raised against a public body in nine cases out of ten, and there is hardly a local authority in this country which has not been disadvantageously placed by reason of the operation of trusts and rings and syndicates and combines in the supply of building and other materials.
If all these things are so, then let us face the facts of the situation and do not let us concentrate undue and unfair blame on a public Department which is entrusted with the great cause of social reform. Surely it is far better business to look at the facts of local assessment than to reject the Bill. I admit certain facts weaken it, and I frankly agree that the Bill attempts too much within too narrow a compass. For example, I admit that hospitals are so difficult in this country as regards their position, finance, and the rest of it that they would be well worthy of a Bill of their own or of some great public effort. I admit the criticism of some parts of the Bill just as I believe that other parts are essential. On the question of local assessment it is perfectly plain that in recent years we have, so to speak, stabilised valuation. We have had the Rent Restriction Acts, which have tended to keep rents more or less stationary; and, though I agree all that is necessary, the fact must be remembered at a time like this, especially when the actual rent is taken as the basis of the valuation for local assessment. I think the English valuation system is not so good as ours, from many points of view, but the problem is one which is worthy of very serious consideration in the consideration of local rating. Although Commission after Commission has reported on the relation of Imperial to local taxation, nothing, or practically nothing, has been done up to the present. We are faced now with post-War circumstances, in which almost everybody argues that we are placing undue burdens on the 1574 locality, and that we are not leaving to the National Exchequer things which the National Exchequer ought properly to pay. Finally I have not the least hesitation in saying that we will require to make up our minds at a very early date what additional powers, if any, we are going to confer on the local authorities in regard to revenue-producing enterprises. After all, that has been admitted, and trams, electric light, and so forth, are carried on by permission of this House under municipalities. If the local authorities are not to sacrifice a very necessary part of their enterprise, the chances are that in future we shall require to give their enterprises much freer play than in the past and a much fairer chance, and that has a very important bearing upon local rating and upon a Bill of this kind.
In conclusion, there is only one point I am going to press. Let us suppose this Bill is withdrawn and the Financial Resolution rejected, hon. Members will not be relieved of the duty of looking at what follows. Supposing we upstairs delete the Clause which refers to additional powers to deal with the provision of houses, and with causes which are interrupting or hindering the provision of dwellings at the present time. Everybody knows that the additional powers are urgently required. Houses are not being provided, and I am here to say, as one who has had some years of experience of local authorities, that we require this provision if we are going to get a chance locally to deal with this very important problem. This attitude of hostility towards quite minor methods of social reform is making the position very difficult indeed for those of us who in the country and elsewhere have done our very best to maintain the constitutionalist movement. You make our task difficult, you increase the lack of respect for this assembly, and you confer additional power on the men of direct action outside who are saying that that is their only hope.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I beg to move, to leave out the wordsand in respect of houses provided with the approval of the Minister of Health by local authorities for persons employed by them.The hon. Member who has just sat down omitted, I think, to read the whole of 1575 the Financial Resolution. If he had read it, he would have seen that what the Resolution proposed to do wasto authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of grants under Section 1 of The Housing (Additional Powers) Act, 1919, in respect of houses completed within two years of the passing of that Act or such further period not exceeding four months as the Minister of Health may in any special case allow.If he had read that Act, as I have, he would have found that it authorised the expenditure of, I think, £15,000,000, which had to be expended within a year of the passing of the Act, which was, I believe, the end of December last year, but the Minister had power to extend that by four months. Therefore, supposing we do not pass this Financial Resolution, the position with regard to the finding of money for housing would be this, that up to the end of next April there would be plenty of money for houses, and towards the end of next April, when we shall know what the financial position of the country as a whole will be for the financial year ending March, 1922, we shall be able to consider whether or not we are able to give any further money for the provision of houses. I venture to point out that that is entirely consistent with the old traditional practice of the House of Commons when dealing with finance. It has always been the practice of the House of Commons that the finance of one year shall be dealt with in that year, and that you should not take power to raise money which is not spent in that year and then carry it over to other years. That has never been sanctioned at all. I see my right hon. Friend, if I may so call him, who is an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Asquith) on the Bench opposite, and I think he will agree with m[...] when I say that that has been the invariable custom and practice of the House of Commons, and therefore all we are doing, if we reject this Financial Resolution, is not in any kind of way to hamper or hinder the provision of money for building houses, but merely to restore the ordinary safeguards over finance which have always been maintained up to the present time.
It was said that this Amendment, which stands on the Paper in the name of the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) and myself, was superfluous, but I do not think that is quite so. The 1576 result of the Amendment, if carried, would be that municipalities might not build houses for their own employés. We have always heard, when agriculture has been talked about, that tied houses were a bad thing, and did not give that freedom which was necessary to the agricultural labour. If there is anything in that argument—and I do not myself think there is very much—it certainly is a strong argument against this proposal. It does not seem to me that there is any reason whatever why the employés of a municipality should be put in possession of a, house built out of the rates. Where are you going to draw the limit? The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said that professional advisers of municipalities in the past had not been sufficiently remunerated, and that they could have got other work. I venture to doubt it. I have no doubt they said so, but if they could have got more remunerative work, I am quite certain they would have taken it. My experience of life is that anybody who is in a salaried position always says he is badly paid and could probably do better elsewhere, and that if you say: "Go, and do better elsewhere," in 99 cases out of 100 he does not do better elsewhere, but does worse. That certainly, I should say, applies to the higher grades of municipal employés. Are we to build a suitable house for a town clerk, who is probably getting £1,500 a year, or something of that sort, out of the pockets of the ratepayers, aided by the taxpayers, many of whom are in nothing like so good a position as a town clerk?
I should like very shortly to deal with one or two points which the Leader of the House made. He said we must not think we are going to get decreased expenditure merely by good management, and that we must not think that the expenditure has been so high because there has been want of good management. I do not disagree with that. Then he goes on to say that, taking the case of a business firm, would not such a firm enter into extended operations and take up large commitments if it could borrow money in order to do it? I distinctly differ from him. There are some firms who have done that, and they have generally ended in the Bankruptcy Court. The usual custom of a business firm who want to take up an enterprise which will cost, 1577 say, £50,000, if they are prudent, will be to say, "We can provide £20,000 out of our own resources, and we will borrow £30,000 at the bank." But if you have to borrow practically the whole of that, or a very large proportion of it, at the bank, the majority of careful people would say, "That is making my commitments too large, and if anything happens, a financial crisis, a war, or anything of that sort, I shall not be able to repay that loan." I venture to say that it is by careful methods of that sort that the great commercial houses of to-day have been a success, and it applies more so to the Government at the present moment, when credit is not very easy to get. We have been told that this Bill will go to a Committee upstairs and that the Government will listen to what the Committee upstairs say. The composition of the Committee upstairs, so far as I know, is somewhere about 50 members, to whom 15 are added, making 65 in all, or it is 60, with 15 added—I am not sure which. I see one hon. Member, the hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Lorden), who made a speech on the Second Reading of the Bill which everyone in the House listened to and thought was one of the best speeches made during the course of that debate. He is an expert on a very important part of the matters dealt with in the Bill, but he has not been put on the Committee. We want hon. Members on the Committee who will give their time to investigating what is going on up there and who know something about the Amendments which will be proposed.
§ Sir S. ROBERTS
Since the Leader of the House spoke, I have authorised the discharge of six of the old Members of the Committee and substituted in their places six others (who are understood to represent the opponents of the Bill). My hon. Friend (Mr. Lorden) is one of them.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not desire to cast any aspersion on the Committee of Selection, over which my hon. Friend so ably presides. I am certain they did their best, but what really did happen was—
§ Sir S. ROBERTS
I was not there personally. The Committee was formed in a great hurry, at a moment's notice, and I was not there; but the right hon. Baronet knows that the extra 15 members are allotted in proportion to the parties in the House.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That is exactly what I thought. The Chairman of the Committee was not there, and the Committee was called in a great hurry. What was the object of calling the Committee in a great hurry? Why was it put down to be taken next Tuesday, before the selected Members had actually been added? It was because at that time the Government wanted to get it through in a hurry. Of these 65 Members, how many will attend even for a Bill of this sort? Hon. Members are in many cases on two Committees at the same time. I generally am myself. If we get 40 Members there on an average, we shall be very lucky, and here is a great Bill, 13 Clauses of which are to be withdrawn, which was introduced in an Autumn Session, when the Leader of the House says that Autumn Sessions should not be used for this purpose, which is to be sent upstairs, where it will be adjudicated upon by about 40 Members out of a House containing 630 Members, excluding the Sinn Fein Members. It was never intended that Bills of this importance should be sent to Grand Committee, and especially Bills in regard to which the Government say they are prepared to accept very important and vital Amendments. The duty of the House is quite clear. I am very much obliged to the Leader of the House for saying that for the future the Government will pay some attention to the feelings of the Members of this House, and they have done so at the present moment. We are now within about five weeks of Christmas, and I presume we shall come back some time about the middle of February. Except the reform of the House of Lords, I do not think there is anything important to do next year.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That had better be left alone. It would be quite enough to do next Session if we devoted our time to the five or six Bills into which this one could be divided, and to the consideration of the reform of the House of Lords. I earnestly hope the Government will also consent to the withdrawal of the Financial Resolution.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Resolution," put, and negatived.
§ Original Question, as amended, again proposed.1579
Mr. T. THOMSON
Whatever may be the measure of agreement in the House with regard to the announcement we have heard, I am quite certain that those in the country connected with local government in industrial areas will be grievously disappointed. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!" and "Hear, hear!"] I am convinced that those who are responsible for local government in the country will hear with great dismay and disappointment that half of this small health measure is to be jettisoned, and the ratepayers, who are responsible for sending their representatives to local authorities, are quite well able to look after themselves without the self-appointed champions in this House. I submit that a great deal of what we have heard in the House to-day and in previous times is a serious reflection on local government. We must remember that none of these expenses, to which members are objecting as taxpayers, can be incurred unless the ratepayers' representatives are willing, and I submit, with respect, that the ratepayers are as well able to look after themselves by curtailing the action of their representatives on local councils as Members of this House are. Taking the country throughout, you will find that the rates have gone up 100 per cent. since 1914, but if we recollect that the purchasing value of £1 to-day is only 8s. 6d., as compared with 20s. in 1914, surely it is not unreasonable to expect that, just in the same way as you have to pay twice as much for your own living, the local authority will have to pay twice as much for its own service, even if it wants to get no greater return. Therefore, it is beside the mark to charge local authorities with extravagance by saying their rates have doubled since 1914. Can this House cast aspersions on local authorities? What control has this House exercised over its finances? Have the national expenses only gone up 100 per cent. since 1914? If you refer to the returns of the Treasury, you will find that this House, which is so zealous about expenditure when national health is concerned, is responsible for an increase sixfold since 1914, and yet this House is seeking to control the expenditure of local authorities which have only increased theirs twofold. We are all anxious for national economy, but when we waste the nation's substances on madcap adventures in Asia and Mesopotamia, and on bloated armaments and poison 1580 gas, I submit it is time that some protest is made against this cry for economy when a few thousands, and it may be a few millions, are required for the building up of the health and strength of those who live in our industrial centres. It is not a real economy, because you will only pile up your expenses in years to come, and your poor rate or sickness rate will be ten times greater if you do not adopt these small measures of health reform in the Bill.
Reference has been made to the matter of dealing with this in the Autumn Session. The right hon. Gentleman has been pressed by representatives of local authorities in industrial areas for months past to bring in several of the powers which are foreshadowed in these Clauses. It is not the fault of the Minister, and it is not the fault of the municipalities, that other matters dealing with Russia and Mesopotamia, and dealing with matters which do nothing to help the health and well-being of the country as a whole, have crowded out some of these matters which some of us think of real and vital importance. I submit that when the question comes to be considered as to what control this House should have over the expenditure of the ratepayers, the ratepayers and their local authorities should have something to say. There is no doubt sound finance in this House when expenditure is required, that not only have you legislation in a Bill, but also financial resolutions supporting the proposals. But surely the comparison does not hold good with regard to the ratepayers. We in this House pass a Bill authorising certain expenditure, and it is left to the councils to say whether they will incur that expenditure. I am sure local authorities will look askance at any attempt to dictate to them what their chosen representatives on their local authorities shall do.
The real point about which I rose was to ask the Minister a question with regard to the conditions under which his grant to these houses is to be made. We know when the previous measure was before the House that it was contended that the conditions under which the subsidy was granted should be on all-fours with the conditions which had to be complied with when the municipality built these houses. When the previous measure dealing with the subsidy was before the House some 1581 of us, including the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) and the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson) moved Amendments in Committee and again on Report in order that the grant of the subsidy to private builders should not be given except under conditions comparable with those of municipalities. The Minister resisted these Amendments, and suggested that we should trust him to see that the standard of construction was not modified and to see that he got a good house. Amendments were put down specifying that the Orders of the Minister should come before the House before they were ratified, and that was resisted because of the exigencies of the time and the stress and the hurry with which the measure was brought in. In answer to a question put by an hon. Member in this House a few days ago, the right hon. Gentleman stated that the subsidy would be applicable to houses constructed with corrugated roofs. I submit that it is not sound finance to grant a loan for sixty years and public money for the construction of houses which have corrugated roofs. I contend that no local authority would submit plans or sanction plans for their housing schemes under the 1919 Act which provided for such miserable construction as that of a building with a corrugated roof. Therefore I hope the Minister will see that, so far as the extended period is concerned, these houses which are to have the subsidy shall conform in every way with regard to stability, structure and comfort to those conditions which are applicable to municipal houses, and I hope he will, at any rate, see that the authorities responsible for making the grants will take care that in future we do not grant £260, or whatever the proportion may be, for houses of a flimsy character which have corrugated roofs and could not last the sixty years.
Therefore, I hope in Committee the right hon. Gentleman will accept words which will make it quite clear that the same standard is required for a house which has a subsidy as that required for a house provided by municipalities. When we were discussing this before, the Paymaster-General said that surely we can trust them to look after this matter. But it is not a question of trusting a Minister; it is a question of the Department. I suggest that we should require, when granting this public money, that 1582 Orders shall be laid on the Table of this House, and that this public money shall not be spent on such flimsy construction as that of houses with corrugated roofs. With regard to the hon. and gallant Member who so belittled the value of Clause 1, and suggested that this would moan an increased charge on the rates, and twitted the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) about not having understood the Bill, I venture to say the hon. and gallant Member has misread entirely the 1919 Act and the Amending Act, because houses which are to be commandeered, and may be altered at the expense of the owner, so as to put them into sanitary condition, do not come within the province of assisted schemes under the 1919 Act, and do not come under the provisions of a penny rate to be borne by the taxpayer, so that there is no fear that there will be any charge either on the ratepayer or on the taxpayer if these empty cottages, which exist in hundreds of thousands of cases, are commandeered and used to relieve to some extent the tremendous problem of overcrowding in our industrial centres. Notwithstanding what the Loader of the House has said, I do hope when this Bill gets into Committee he will not jettison these Clauses, but will do everything that makes for the health of the people, for real economy exists in the well-being of the people, and not in mere pounds, shillings and pence measured by rates and taxes.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I should think that none of us who opposed this Bill on Second Reading wished to suggest in any way that the Government should climb down. What we claim the result of our action has been—not I think for the first time—is that the authority of the House over finance is beginning to re-assert itself, and I think that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would be the last to deny that the present House of Commons has a perfect right to object when a proposition is brought forward which involves a huge charge either on the local authorities or on the State. That being so, so far as I am personally concerned, I am not disposed to proceed much further with my opposition to the Bill at this stage. It will come into Committee upstairs, and there the real point will appear. While I do not press the Minister of Health when he replies to say what Clauses he is going to drop, 1583 yet it would be of great advantage to the consideration of this Resolution if he will indicate to us what are these Clauses. Recognising, as I do, that he is willing to withdraw 13 Clauses upstairs, I am not sure that any further opposition at this stage will be useful. Many hon. Members, of course, will not agree with me, but my opposition to the Bill is based not so much on the whole Bill, as on a certain portion of it. Six separate Bills should have embodied the proposals of this Bill. That being so, the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman to drop 13 Clauses puts a very different complexion upon the Bill. The composition of the Committee is now rather more clearly equal than it was at the commencement of this Debate, which again puts rather a different complexion upon matters.
§ Mr. G. LOCKER-LAMPSON
My Noble Friend opposite (Earl Winterton) has rather too much faith in the Government upstairs. I feel it is very important, before we go to a Division upon this Resolution, that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health should tell us rather more about these 13 Clauses. I listened very carefully to the Leader of the House, and I am left absolutely in a vague state of mind as to what is really going to take place. Are we definitely to understand that 13 Clauses of this Bill are going to be dropped? That is one point. I should be very glad to be made clear upon that when the right hon. Gentleman replies. Secondly, I think we ought not to go into Committee upstairs until we plainly know what are the 13 Clauses which are going to be dropped by the right hon. Gentleman. This seems to me to be all-important. Possibly the 13 Clauses dropped by the right hon. Gentleman will still leave in the Bill some vitally important Clauses about which there may be differing opinions. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) said he thought the local authorities and the ratepayers would be bitterly disappointed by the speech of the Leader of the House. I venture to think that a profound sigh of relief will go up from every local authority when they discover that some of these enormous burdens are not going to be placed upon their shoulders. I agree with the Noble Lord opposite that the situation has somewhat altered. I 1584 shall certainly vote against this Resolution unless the Minister of Health is able to tell us, when replying, which are, more or less, the 13 Clauses which he proposes to drop, and whether he is really going to drop 13 Clauses out of the Bill.
Coming to the Resolution before us, to my mind it is an entirely different proposition from that made a year ago. We were then going to have 100,000 houses, with a £160 subsidy per house. The right hon. Gentleman is now increasing this subsidy to £260 per house, which means that instead of 100,000 houses, on that basis, there will only be 60,000 houses. That is a different proposition altogether. I should like to remind the House, if hon. Members have not already noticed it, that it is really rather a farce bringing forward this Resolution at all, because, as a matter of fact, months ago the Minister of Health began by giving £260 per house, and on 20th May last he issued a document from the Ministry of Health saying he had decided to give £260 per house instead of the £160, and that this money would be payable in respect of all houses which were commenced on or after 1st April.
I hope, therefore, hon. Members do not delude themselves into thinking that at last we are getting a certain amount of Parliamentary control over this particular question of finance in relation to the Ministry of Health, because this is really an Indemnity Bill. We are really being asked to-day to vote for a Resolution for money which has already been spent by the Minister of Health. However, the question is: Is this subsidy really necessary? Is it really necessary to turn this £160 into £260 per house? To my mind, the difficulty up to the present, and the reason the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman has failed, is not owing to want of private enterprise in putting up houses, but very largely owing to the want of labour; largely owing to the fact that builders have not been able to get sufficient labour to put up houses. Therefore the £260 per house will not really add to the facilities in the future any more than the £160 has done in the past. I do not speak here with any actual special knowledge, not being a builder, but I am assured that in the past speculative builders have been quite content with a profit of £100 per house. Under this propsal of the right hon. Gentleman 1585 the average profit to the speculative and other builder will very likely be no less than £300 per house. In fact, it seems to me that this subsidy is merely going to add to the profits of the builder.
On Saturday last a very interesting prospectus was published in the "Times." It was issued by the Standard Housing Co., Limited. This prospectus stated that a profit of £300 per house would admit of a dividend of 15 per cent. on the preference shares and no less than 45 per cent. on the ordinary shares. The company is issuing £224,000 worth of preference shares at 15 per cent.; on 300 houses that means a profit of £112 per house. They are also issuing 1,650,000 ordinary shares, and on 300 houses, which is the number they propose to build the first year, that means £238 profit per house. That makes up a profit of £350 per house for every one of these houses. That is not all. In a separate advertisement by the same company on the same page of the "Times" is given a further inducement—they do not quite like actually to put it inside the prospectus—and this is what they say:Furthermore, they anticipate a further profit of from £300 to £500 per house on construction.This is the company which is going to receive all this subsidy from the Government!They sell their houses at about the same price as that ruling for a similar kind of house, and at the same time they are, of course, entitled to the £260 Government subsidy on each house. In short, the directors of the Standard Housing Co. estimate that in selling in competition with brick houses they can ensure a minimum profit of £760 per house.…I have no idea as to whether that is or is not possible. It may be quite impossible. [An HON. MEMBER: "Quite impossible!"] No doubt this inducement is being held out to the shareholders, and I do think, before we give this money Resolution, the right hon. Gentleman ought to be perfectly plain as to whether it is really necessary to turn this £160 subsidy into £260. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will make it clear what he is going to drop, and also if he is going to drop those portions voted against by a very large proportion of the party of the Coalitionist Government.
§ Mr. SEDDON
We have listened this afternoon to a very unusual proposal 1586 which will possibly set up a new procedure. I am not at all afraid of things here that are new, but I am quite convinced that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House in his week-end conversations must have definite evidence that there were objections to an omnibus Bill like this being put forward. If ever there were reasons for listening to a Debate and the arguments advanced last week against proceeding with this Bill, I think it will be found in the confusion of thought of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough. He said that the spirit of regret would be evidenced by every local authority if this Bill was dropped. He certainly has overlooked the omnibus character of the Bill. There is in this Bill six items each of which ought to have been first-class measures. In regard to one in particular, that dealing with hospitals, I am convinced that the working-class districts have no desire that the sick and the maimed shall be thrown upon the rates of highly-rated districts while richer districts will be able to evade their responsibility. Therefore I am convinced of this, that when the position of this Bill is properly understood it will be appreciated even by the local authorities whom the hon. Member seems to think he is speaking for at the present time.
On this Financial Resolution we are adopting a very dangerous procedure. The right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) called attention to what I think has been the universal practice. So far as my knowledge of the House goes—and I think it goes back to the great days of Mr. Gladstone—whatever a Government Department received as a grant from the Treasury was for a year. If that Department did not expend the money or any portion was left, it reverted to the Treasury. I think that was a very, very wise proposal because you may have, during a space of 12 months, a set of circumstances wholly different to the circumstances existing when the grant was made. We are going to accept this as a new principle. There is five and a half millions involved in the raid that is going to be made upon the balance that is in any Department. The right hon. Gentleman says it is not going to cost anything. That is simply playing with the House. It is going to cost five and a half millions of money which otherwise would have gone back to the Treasury. If you are 1587 going to permit this principle it may be only £5,500,000 now, but I can conceive some spendthrift Department next year or the year after taking this as a precedent not for £5,500,000, but for a much larger amount, and then we may be told that the House of Commons in 1920 agreed to the principle that when a Department had not spent the money voted to it, they had a right to carry over the money. I entirely object to that principle. We have been told by the Leader of the House that the Government are willing to drop 13 Clauses of this Bill, but I want to know which they are. My opinion of this Bill is that it is like the curate's egg, good in parts. I want to know whether the parts I disagree with are going to remain in the Bill or not. If the 13 Clauses do not leave out those which I do not approve of, then I am going to fight this Bill upstairs, and if other hon. Members are not satisfied the fight will go on in Committee. For these reasons I think the Minister is in very great danger of losing his Bill altogether.
This Bill contains at least six important and vital questions which ought to be threshed out to the utmost limit. I have been three Sessions in this House, and I have witnessed legislation that has been put through, and Heaven knows, whatever amount of discussion is given to Bills in this House, we still leave a lot of work for the lawyers to do. If you rush Bills through nastily you increase the work of the lawyers, and the worries and responsibilities of those who come under those particular Acts. I have just returned from the country, and I found almost a queue of people waiting for explanations in regard to the Bill we passed last year. I had to admit to them that if the lawyers could not unravel that measure it was quite beyond my capacity, and one lady said to me, "What is the use of sending Members to Parliament if they do not understand the Acts which they place upon the Statute Book." I am in favour of all the humanitarian principles contained in this Bill, but I object to them being rushed through. The question of the hospitals is one that demands a most minute examination. The future of our workhouses and infirmaries is another great question, and so is the question of those suffering from temporary mental derangement. All 1588 those questions require great consideration, and I join with my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), not because of his fundamental principles, but as a Member of Parliament who, when legislation goes through, desires that it will be the best to which we can put our hands. To send a measure dealing with six first-class questions upstairs to a Committee at the fag-end of the Session is doing something which is sure to end disastrously for the Bill itself.
§ Viscountess ASTOR
I hope the Government will go on with this Bill, and not drop the Financial Clauses. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) said that, as the Government were going to give up 13 Clauses, he was willing to withdraw his opposition. I do not like the look of that, because one of the Noble Lord's reasons for opposing this measure is on account of its socialistic tendency. What does that mean? Does it mean that some of the less forward spirits in the Coalition are going to put some of their more reactionary Friends on the Committee, and that, when this Bill gets upstairs, the things which a great many of us care about so much, such as hospitals, housing, shell-shock cases, will be dropped? Are those who are afraid of socialistic tendencies going to get their way, and are the progressive Clauses of this Bill, which a great many people welcome, going to be left out? It is all very well to talk about economy, but there are certain things we cannot afford to economise with, and one is the health of the people. If we drop the Financial Clauses, it means that the hospitals, for a long time, will be far worse off than they are now. There are thousands of women throughout the country who are waiting for admission to hospitals, and if these proposals are not proceeded with, they will have to continue to wait. There are thousands of hospitals not doing well, and they need the immediate help of these Financial Clauses.
§ Mr. SEDDON
The Minister of Health has already stated that he has got £1,000,000 from the King Edward's Fund.
§ Viscountess ASTOR
Yes, and he will need a great deal more. If this Bill is dropped, those who are suffering from shell-shock—and the great majority of 1589 them are heroes—will have to wait indefinitely, and I suppose never will get the treatment which might prevent them from going to a lunatic asylum. With regard to what is being done in reference to housing, after all, it may be a socialistic tendency, but it is a very mild thing. Large houses are being held up for higher rent, while working people are living in dozens in two rooms, and this Bill simply gives them a chance of taking over those houses. I am not speaking as a Socialist or a Labour representative, but as an ordinary woman who has seen the condition of women as far as the need for hospitals go, and seen the poor people in their houses.
I would remind the House that when the Housing Bill went through Committee upstairs, although complaints were made, no other party put forward any practical suggestions, and it is only when this question comes before the House that hon. Members begin to complain. I hope the Minister of Health will be very careful. If he does drop some of these Clauses, I hope it will not be the progressive ones, and I trust he will not be tempted to do this by the cry for economy. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not let the health of the nation suffer in any way, as it is bound to do if certain Clauses are not kept in this Bill. Throughout the country, I believe, that if this question is fairly put to the people, a great majority of men and women who are looking forward to that better land and a better state of things, would be found to be in favour of this measure. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see that some of the more progressive Members will be put upon the Committee upstairs.
§ Dr. ADDISON
We have had on this Bill what I might almost call a Second Eeading Debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) dealt with the question of the rates, and he asked if I could arrange that an estimate should be presented to this House, showing what the expenditure falling upon the rates was in regard to the provisions of this Bill, and he suggested that the general question relating to matters of expenditure of local authorities might be further examined by a Committee. But this is nothing like so simple a proposition as it seems. I will give the House one consideration 1590 as an example. Some of the most considerable expenditure of local authorities is the result of Private Bills which they promote in this House, which authorise them to set up tramway undertakings, reservoirs and so on, over which expenditure no Department has any control, and this would involve the expenditure of millions which are the result of private Bill legislation in this House. That is only one explanation of the difficulty in regard to any suggestions for the control of possible expenditure in respect of the rates. As far as I am concerned, being concerned very much with local authorities' expenditure, if it were possible to frame such an estimate and devise a system consistent with the local government system whereby we could have such estimates, then I think it would be all to the good, and greatly to the advantage of the Department over which I preside. It is, however, a very difficult matter, and it will need a great deal of ingenuity and care before we can do it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) inquired what the increase of the rates would be. He will find that 90 per cent. or more of the increase in the rates is due to circumstances over which the Ministry of Health has no manner of control. At the present time the local authorities have practical autonomy in respect of how they spend their current revenue. They raise the money and spend it as they like within, at any rate, very wide limits. We have power in regard to services for which we make grants, such as the Poor Law, and so on, but the vast body of local authority expenditure is under the control neither of this House nor of any Government Department. Therefore the responsibility does not rest on the Ministry of Health. The bulk of the increased expenditure is due to the same facts as are responsible for our own expenditure of more money. The local authorities, for instance, have to spend twice as much and even more in wages as they did formerly. They have to pay more for coal and all materials which they require. I am sorry my right hon. Friend did not pursue his investigations a little further. The paper he had in his hand shows quite clearly that as regards the services in respect of which the Ministry of Health has autho- 1591 rity and in respect of which we have to approve the expenditure, the total increase of rates out of the 11s. quoted is only 4¾d. It is only fair to preserve a sense of proportion in this matter. The oratorical manner of my right hon. Friend seemed to carry with it a suggestion that the increase was due to the Government or to the House, but we must not forget that it is due to causes which make ordinary people spend much more money than formerly. I will not pursue this fascinating topic any further. I will only say that the more we discuss and examine it the better it will be for the country.
I come now to the Resolution, and will reply first to the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). We have decided to drop Clause 6, but there is the point of authorising the carrying over to next year of the unexpended portion of the £15,000,000 already granted by Parliament. The right hon. Baronet asked why we need do that now. My answer is that at the present time about 24,000 houses are contracted for under that subsidy, and the bulk of them are in various stages of construction. A large number of people have entered into contracts to build houses, but it is perfectly clear it will be quite impossible to carry out building schemes in a business-like way unless people can be certain that the subsidy will not be stopped in a fort night's time. People have to make their contracts, arrange for their materials, and see how far they can go, and it is only right they should be assured of getting the subsidy.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Would it not be possible to do this next March? Cannot you come down to the House and say, "There are a certain number of houses which are being built now and are not yet finished, and we shall require a subsidy for them. Will the House grant the money?"
§ Dr. ADDISON
I am quite sure nobody would build on those terms. Builders have to get their plans passed by the local authority and they have to get a certificate from the authority. It is only on the strength of that that they go ahead, and it must be made clear to them that they will receive the money to which they are entitled.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Suppose a man informs the Ministry of Health he is prepared to build houses and starts upon the foundations; cannot the Ministry of Health keep the money before the 1st April and hold it for him, and when the 1st of April comes cannot it get another Bill authorising the subsidy?
§ Dr. ADDISON
Yes; it is allocated in respect of houses already approved, and which I hope will be completed by next April. After all, this is a part of the housing scheme which many hon. Members were most enthusiastic about. It is the part which enables private persons to build houses or cottages on their own land. If they can get the plans approved they get the subsidy. These houses were deliberately kept free of the Rent Restrictions Act. The whole intention and purpose is that people should be encouraged to build houses on their own account. They were to build them as they liked, to charge what rent they liked, and sell them for what they liked.
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
Could not the local authorities go in and take them over after three months, if unoccupied, under Clause 1? Will you make this point very clear?
§ Dr. ADDISON
No. They are excluded from that Act. The sole object is to encourage people to do the best they can in the matter of building on their land. These are the only houses to which the subsidy scheme relates, and this is the only part of the housing scheme under which private enterprise can operate in a practical fashion. I think if hon. Members will only examine it they will see it is a part of the housing scheme with which they have more sympathy than with any other. One hon. Member made very disparaging remarks both about myself and the subsidy, but I cannot see what that had to do with the question before the House. As Clause 6 is to be dropped, Clause 2 is the only Clause to which the Financial Resolution applies. The Noble Lord (Earl Winterton), who led the Opposition to this Bill with great ability, welcomed the sugges- 1593 tion that a number of these Clauses might be dropped in Committee. It has been suggested that it is too late this Session to deal with a Bill like this. I would remind the House that this Bill was prepared last summer—last July—and it is owing to circumstances over which none of us have control that it could not be brought in until November. It was very unfortunate. I do not think it is desirable now to enter upon a long recital of the Clauses to be dropped, as it would only lead to lengthy discussion. I would suggest to my hon. Friend that the practical course to take will be at the opening of the Committee stage to make this statement [An HON. MEMBER: "No, we should be voting in the dark!"] As far as I am concerned, I have no objection to stating our intentions now, but I repeat that I think the Committee stage would afford a better opportunity. The Bill will come back to the House on Report, and if the House is not satisfied with what has been done in Committee it will then have its opportunity to discuss that. If it is not going to prolong the proceedings to-night, I am perfectly prepared to mention them now. At all events, it will enable me to take up one challenge of my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Lambert), who said that there were no provisions in the Bill which promoted economy. That was a statement so wide and sweeping that it tempted mo to think that he had not read the Bill. I would mention the following Clauses, all of which make for economy, both in the raising of money and in regard to local administration. I think that, as my right hon. Friend said, the Committee upstairs, when it has the Clauses in front of it, will not want to throw them out; but, if the Committee is so minded, we shall not press them, because they are not vital now. These Clauses are 7, 8, 15—[HON. MEMBERS: "Clause 6 has also gone"]—I am now speaking of the Clauses which will bring about a saving of cost in respect of local government—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I find a great deal of difficulty in hearing the right hon. Gentleman and in following what is proceeding, but, in view of the fact that I cannot allow a detailed discussion on the merits of these various Clauses, I think the Committee will agree that the right hon. Gentleman should be permitted to state, in amplification of what has 1594 already been stated by the Leader of the House, the numbers of the Clauses which it is not proposed to press if the Committee upstairs should be against them. That, I take it, is the information which this Committee wishes to have, but we shall not enter into any Debate as to the merits of those Clauses.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I will mention, in response to the inquiries of hon. Members, the Clauses which we do not wish to press upon the Committee upstairs, and which we shall withdraw if they are averse from proceeding with them. In the first place, I would mention that group of Clauses which would lead to economy in local government. They are Clauses 7, 8, 15, 16, 19 and 23. All these are useful Clauses, although none of them are vital just now; and they are all economical Clauses. Notwithstanding that, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton said that there were none in the Bill. Then there are certain other Clauses which I could not describe under that heading, and with which we certainly shall not proceed if the Committee do not wish it. Clause 9 is a useful Clause, but it is not vital, as I will explain when we get to the Committee stage. Similarly, Clauses 12 and 13 are not urgent Clauses. Clause 17 is one which has been asked for by local authorities, but if it is strenuously objected to we shall not proceed with it. Clause 20 is not an urgent Clause, and I think it may fairly be said that it is not appropriate to an Autumn Session. Clause 22 can be postponed, because we have another year in which to operate the Sections in question; and Clause 25 also can be postponed. I may say that there has been no more misunderstood Clause in the Bill than Clause 25, and I think that, if the Committee does wish to drop it, a good many local authorities will object.
I have mentioned 13 Clauses, in addition to Clause 6, all of which we are prepared to drop if the Committee considers that that should be done, in view of the fact that this is an Autumn Session, of which only four or five weeks remain. I frankly say that they are not as urgent as other parts of the Bill. The first five Clauses, which relate to housing, are urgent, although, as I have said, in the case of Clauses 1 and 3 we are most anxious to accept Amendments. Similarly, it is urgent that we should 1595 make some provision with regard to hospitals on the lines suggested in Clause 11, in an amended form, and the same applies to the proposals contained in Clause 10, with added safeguards. Having regard to the fact that we are so near to the end of the Session, it is evident that we ought to cut out of the Bill anything which is really not urgent, and, from what I have just said, it will be seen that we are most sincerely anxious to meet the wishes of the House of Commons in this matter. If the Committee, on reflection, wishes to take the course suggested, there will be only one Clause in the Bill which could impose any additional expenditure on the rates, namely, the Clause relating to hospitals. We have no desire to force upon the Committee or upon the House at this stage of the Session proposals which are not really critical and urgent. I think the general course of the discussion has shown that it will be very mistaken to cut short the payment of the subsidy for privately erected houses at this stage, when so many people are embarking their money and their enterprise in providing them. My right hon. Friend made the remark, for which I confess I do not think any apology is needed, that there are some kinds of expenditure which it is an extravagance to forego; and, looking at the return which we have got from the increased health expenditure of 4¾d. —that is all it is—which falls upon the rates for the current year, it is undeniable that it is an excellent national investment. It was a commonplace during the War that the C3 population, which everybody talked about, was the result of want of care during infancy and childhood, and of children being brought up in bad conditions, and we all promised ourselves that, once the War was over, we would try and make these things better. The increase in expenditure out of the rates in respect of these services last year was 4¾d. With every regard for preventing extravagance, I am certain that the last form of national expenditure that we should forego is that which is designed to promote and improve the health of the people. I think that the provision for better housing is one such form of expenditure, and I sincerely hope that the Committee will now give us the Resolution.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
The Committee are very much indebted to you, Mr. Whitley, for the liberty which you have allowed in this Debate, and a very useful discussion has ensued. From what you have just said, I understand that you do not desire that there should be any further discussion now on the merits of the Bill, and I desire simply to refer to what, I think, the Committee as a whole considers to be a very important point which has been raised, namely, the Parliamentary check which we hope will be imposed in the future upon the rates as well as upon the taxes, by the provision of information with regard to what the charge is likely to be. The Leader of the House, as he always does, met the suggestion in the frankest and most friendly spirit. May I suggest to him that the sooner that Select Committee is set up the better? If it enters upon its work within the next few days, its Report will be speedily in his hands, and will be available for the consideration of Mr. Speaker and of yourself as Chairman of Ways and Means. Those of us who have more than a cursory knowledge of the rules of procedure know that nothing really effective can be done without an alteration in the Standing Order, and that would naturally come next Session. No more legislation connected with rates is at all likely to be passed during this Autumn Session, but I am certain that the sooner it is done the more effective it will be, because it will enable us, as is usual, at the very start of the new Session to make what alteration may be necessary in the Standing Order, and to carry out what, I think, will be a very useful Parliamentary improvement.
As the Government has ostensibly met the critics of this Bill, I think it is well just to point out why, after the right hon. Gentleman's speech, some of us are still dissatisfied. I had hoped that the Government's second thoughts might make it possible for us to support this Financial Resolution; but, although I do not propose to go one by one into the Clauses which the Minister of Health is going to keep and those which he is going to drop, I may summarise by saying that, in my opinion and in that of a great many of his critics, he is keeping the most objectionable Clauses. The right hon. Gentleman made an astounding statement this afternoon. He said that Clause 1 was not to be made applicable to people who built houses 1597 under the Government subsidy. In other words, they may profiteer in rent, and they may keep their houses unoccupied as much as they like, and they are not to be made amenable to this new provision. They are also to be free from the operation of the Rent Restriction Act. I think that is the most astounding piece of information that we have had on this Bill. If I built a house with my own money before the War, I am restricted as to rent, and I am liable to have the house taken from me. Apparently, I am put in a far worse position than the man who did not use his own enterprise to build a house, but who comes to the Government. My neighbour builds a house with public money at my expense as a taxpayer, and he is under no limitation as to rent, with no possibility of his house beng commandeered.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. and gallant Member is entering into the merits of the Clause. That will be appropriate to the Committee stage when we get there.
§ 7.0 P.M.
I thank you, Sir, for drawing my attention to the fact that this is a Financial Resolution. My point is that the Bill is still disastrous from the financial point of view, because it will mean more and more demands on the taxpayer. The right hon. Gentleman told us originally that he hoped we were going to get an economical rent eventually, and that after seven years local authorities would have to level up their rents. He has apparently thrown that over. Each time he comes to the House he asks for a further financial concession as against private enterprise, and there is no doubt he is going to succeed by these new financial proposals, which will have to be borne by those who would otherwise be building houses, in completely destroying private enterprise. He made a point about the C3 population and their surroundings, but he is will worsen their surroundings, because he is not getting these houses built by this socialistic State scheme, and he is making it quite impossible for those who wish to build houses to do what is wanted. The right hon. Gentleman is engaged in a rake's progress. Each year he says he is going to solve the housing question, and then he comes forward with wilder proposals, one after another. If my hon.
1598 Friend goes to a Division I shall certainly support him.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
The Government, as they are too much accustomed to do, are following a very slipshod procedure, instead of a very well recognised procedure which is open to them. The well recognised procedure, in view of what the Government are doing in dropping a large part of their Bill, is to commit the Bill pro forma to a Committee of the whole House, to strike out the various Clauses, to reprint it, and then to send it up to a Standing Committee and let it be reconsidered in its new shape. That would be a far more workmanlike proceeding. At present, as each Clause comes up, the Government will have to vote against the Question that the Clause stand part of the Bill. All sorts of third courses may be suggested. They say, as though it were quite easy to determine, that they are willing to withdraw these Clauses if the Committee so desires. That may mean anything or nothing— how many of the Committee, which Members of the Committee, what sort of a majority of the Committee? Obviously, if a majority is resolutely voting against a Clause it does not rest with the Government; but if it is only a minority, it is different. It is a matter of procedure, but it is not a workmanlike procedure. The proper way is to commit the Bill pro forma which is a recognised Parliamentary procedure, and then to bring it up in a new shape.
In the second place I want to protest against the doctrine which appeared in the speech of the Minister of Health, and also in the speech of the Leader of the House on another matter, that it is enough to justify expenditure to say that it is wise and is required. That is true if the country is rich, but it is not true in the present state of our finances. We must make a real sacrifice for economy. We are told that the worse form of economy is that which makes a C3 population. We must have a C3 population at this moment in order to save our finances. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Of course you must. Hon. Members do not realise the gravity of the financial position, and its immense reaction on the industrial life of the population. They do not understand that bad finance means unemployment and that bad finance will bring down the industrial and commercial life of the 1599 population. Otherwise you will make your population Z123 before you finish. I do earnestly protest against the bringing up of this old doctrine that spending money is the truest form of economy. In our own private life we all know what that ends in; and that it ends in the bank ruptcy court. When a person tells you he is in debt and that it is true economy to spend money we know where he is going; and it is the same with the Government. There is only one way of economising, and that is by cutting down expenditure root and branch. You must give up your expenditure, whether you think it wise or foolish. There must be a new mind in the Ministry of Health and, I am afraid, in the Leadership of the House. There must be real economy in not spending money. I shall certainly vote against this Resolution if it goes to a Division, on the ground that I put forward the other day on the Second Reading of the Bill, that until the House of Commons defeats the Government on a financial proposal we do not know where we are.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Whatever our views may be, they are as strongly felt as those of my Noble Friend (Earl Winterton), and I hope the Committee will think that the time has come for a decision on this matter. The Noble Lord told us that we were adopting a wrong procedure. All I have done is to adopt a simple procedure, and I am quite sure that the procedure he suggests would take much more time. As to its being normal, I have been twenty years in the House, and I do not ever remember it having been adopted. With regard to the second part of his speech, I suggest to him that it is a disadvantage to make a speech after a debate of which he has heard nothing. The result of that is that he has made a statement which is the very reverse of the Government view. He assumes that we take the view that it is enough to say that if expenditure was wise, it was justified. Those hon. Members who were present earlier in the Debate will know that I expressly said that, in the view of the Government and, I hoped, of the Committee, it was not enough, in the present state of our finances, to say that expenditure was wise. It would only take place if we could convince the House, or the Committee, that it was necessary, taking into 1600 account the existing financial position of the country.
As far as the Financial Resolution is concerned it deals only with the continuance of the subsidy to the houses which are being privately built. I cannot understand how my hon. Friends can vote against or oppose that. I quite admit that one of the real evils of the present position—it is more than an evil, it is a curse—is that house-building has passed out of private enterprise. We shall never be right until that is ended. It may be that the conditions of the War have made it impossible to trust private enterprise to build houses. That was our view, but at all events this is the only part of our proposal which does encourage private enterprise, and opens the door to the renewal of the ordinary building of houses. I am very, far from being provocative in any way; I am only appealing to the House to come to a decision. At the opening I made it quite plain that the Government are always ready to listen, and be influenced by the views of Members of this House. We are in that position, and we shall continue to be in it on the assumption that the great majority of this House is not, like my Noble Friend, opposed to the Government, but is supporting it. I have taken that course, because I believe that hon. Members are exercising their influence on the merits of the proposal, without any desire to add to the difficulties of the Government. That is why I make this appeal, and I hope hon. Members will now let us come to a decision.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I hope the Government will not adopt the policy of the Noble Lord, and I desire to protest against that policy. I agree entirely that expenditure must be scrutinised and curtailed. On the other hand, if we are going to let this House of Commons say that it does not matter whether or not we have a C3 population, then a very serious state of affairs will arise for the House of Commons. How many Members on that side of the Committee, who have criticised this Bill, got in on the back of the Prime Minister's statement about a C 3 population? We did not hear anything during the election about its being unwise to spend money on hospitals. They said nothing during the election about housing being wasteful expenditure. Is anyone going to suggest that 1601 the housing difficulty to-day is not part of the War expenditure?
§ Mr. THOMAS
Let the hon. Baronet go and tell the industrial population—not the City—that it has nothing to do with the War. Let him go to the East End of London, where 10 and 12 people are living in one or two rooms. During the War you scrapped the builders. [HON. MEMBERS: "Keep to the Resolution!"] The remarkable thing is that it is all in the Bill and the Bill is being opposed on this ground. If it is the opinion of the Noble Lord and of many others who cheer him that it does not matter if we have a C 3 population or not—
§ Mr. WILSON-FOX
I cannot allow the Debate to conclude with such a complete misrepresentation of the views which many of us hold in this quarter of the House with regard to the Financial Resolution. Because we are opposed to bad finance it cannot possibly be said that we are opposed to measures that make for the health and well-being of the population. In my judgment, and I agree with the right hon. Member for South Molton, economy is almost the most important thing with which the Government can deal to-day. If we continue this wasteful dribbling out of public money, sometimes in small sums and sometimes in largo sums, then, as the Noble Lord says, so far from having a C 3 population we shall inevitably have a D 4 population, because that is the result of economic laws which none of us can prevent. The Bill is very wide, and I think the whole course of the Debate has shown that the view just expressed by the Leader of the House, that the decision is now absolutely confined within the four corners of the Financial Resolution, when all through the Debate has gone, not on the letter of the Resolution, but on the spirit of it, is ideally misrepresenting the position. I maintain that we must assert the principle of economy at every possible opportunity and avoid all new expenditure unless it can be shown to be abso- 1602 lutely necessary, until we know more about the finances of the country than we do to-day and until we are more certain that the measures which are proposed to achieve the object we all have at heart are better adapted to the purpose than can be expected when the material of six first-class Bills is crowded into one.
Original Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That, for the purpose of any Act of the present Session to amend the Law relating to Housing of the People, Public Health, and Local Government, and for purposes in connection therewith, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of grants under Section 1 of the Housing (Additional Powers), Act, 1919, in respect of houses completed within two years of the passing of that Act or such further period not exceeding four months as the Minister of Health may in any special case allow.
Resolution to be reported To-morrow.