Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the '31st day of March, 1924, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Health; including Grants and other Expenses in connection with Housing, Grants to Local Authorities, Public Utility Companies, &c., sundry Contributions and Grants in respect of Benefits and Expenses of Administration under the National Health Insurance Acts, 1911 to 1922, certain Grants-in-Aid, and certain Special Services arising out of the War.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Wheatley)
I propose formally to submit this Estimate and to deal with any questions that hon. Members may wish to raise after I have heard their observations.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
Surely this is a most unusual procedure. Will not the Minister first explain the Estimates that he is bringing forward and the reasons for them?
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
If that be the desire of hon. Members, I shall have great pleasure in doing so. There is, first of all, money required to make good a loss which is sustained through public utility societies selling their properties and repaying to the Department money earlier than was anticipated. The loss occurs in this way. The Department advanced money to housing societies when the rate of interest was, say, 6 per cent. The houses are sold by the societies and the 1825 grants repaid at a time when the rate of interest is, say, 4 per cent. There is no real loss except in expectation, but it is necessary to provide for it, and under this Estimate we propose to do so. Money is required to meet the expenses arising under the Housing Act, 1923. The obligation on the Department does not become due at the time the houses are built but usually about a year afterwards, or, at any rate, some time afterwards, and a sum of £20,000 will be sufficient to meet the obligation for this financial year. Part of the money is required for the erection of additional cottages at the Pap worth and Preston Hall settlements. At these settlements we provide for ex-service men who are suffering from tuberculosis, and the total amount proposed to be spent is £20,000, but the amount required this year is only £2,500. These are the main purposes for which the Supplementary Estimate is submitted.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I submit the total. I hope the hon. Member does not want me to occupy the time of the Committee in going into the highways and byways of these questions unless hon. Members are interested in them?
§ Sir K. WOOD
I do not want to press the right hon. Gentleman unduly, but this is a very serious question dealing with grants for unemployment schemes. and I see he has only down an additional £10. I do not know if he has any other explanation to give?
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
May I ask, in order to save the right hon. Gentleman's time and patience, questions on these four grants separately. May I ask first about F.2? He talked about loss of interest which will have to be made good by the Public Works Loan Commissioners. How is that loss of interest arrived at? Do I understand that money has been borrowed by public utility authorities at per cent. and has been paid back at a less rate of interest?, Does it not seem that the Government ought not to make any loss on those loans, because it could redeem debt at a higher price than the 1826 two or three per cent. which causes this loss? It seems to me that we ought to have some explanation why that loss is incurred and by what means it is incurred.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
The hon. Member may understand that the Loans Commissioners advanced money, as they did in these cases, when the rate of interest was comparatively high. The societies are not entitled to repay the money earlier than the date anticipated when the loan was made. But they find it convenient to sell the property, and having sold the property to return to the Loans Commissioners the money borrowed. The Loans Commissioners have then to find another investment for the money that has been repaid. As the rate of interest has fallen, they cannot find an investment at the rate at which they loaned the money to the public utility societies, and the difference represented in this Supplementary Estimate is the difference between the money that they would have received in interest had the property not been sold and the interest had continued to be paid at the higher rate, and the revenue they would get from the investment at a lower rate.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I understand what the right hon. Gentleman says, but when the Loans Commissioners borrowed the money to lend to these public utility societies they must have created some securities. Why have not steps been taken so that the Loans Commissioners could redeem those securities at a certain rate, so that they need not go into the market to buy securities yielding a less rate of interest, thereby putting the country to this loss? There seems to be some ineptitude in regard to this matter.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
The hon. Member is now raising a very large question of policy as to the administration of the Department, which is far beyond the particular question raised by the Supplementary Estimate.
§ Sir K. WOOD
On a point of Order. Is that so? May I call attention to the Supplementary Estimate? The revised Estimate is for £100,000, whereas the original Estimate was for £40,000. This represents an additional sum of £00,000, or about two and a half times the original Estimate. Therefore, I put it to you, Mr. Young, that, having regard to the very 1827 large additional sum now required, it is open to the Committee to discuss the larger question.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member has called my attention to the very large sum in excess of the original Estimate. Under these circumstances, I am bound to allow a pretty wide discussion.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
It is almost a new service. If the original Estimate of £40,000 had only been exceeded by a small sum, it would have been a different matter. I do not want to badger the Minister of Health, but here we have a Supplementary Estimate of two and a half times the original Estimate. Therefore a question of policy does arise, and I think we ought to press upon the Minister of Health that he should take steps to revise the method by which these repayments are carried out, so that the country will not lose these large sums of money, such as are shown by this revised Estimate. T would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will give us a considered reply as to his intentions in the future, in view of the £60,000 extra service now called for.
§ Mr. LINFIELD
May I call attention to the administration of this Act which is preventing utility societies from building houses. I should like to assure the Minister that I do not think his Department is at fault. I think the blame rests with the Treasury. If he will allow me, I will give a concrete case, without actually mentioning names, which will show up the matter very clearly. A certain public utility society made terms with the Ministry of Health for an advance of money for the purpose of erecting a number of houses. The terms were completed and agreed to by the Minister of Health, and the society erected their houses, a considerable number, and received the moneys from the Treasury. Then they proceeded to sell the houses, but when they had sold the houses and wanted to repay the money they had borrowed the Treasury demanded something like £100 per house in excess of the original loan advanced. It appeared that the Treasury had borrowed the money for a long term of years at a high rate of interest—I am not sure whether the term was 40, 50 or 60 years for which the Treasury had borrowed the money—and they pointed out that as the interest which they could 1828 get on the repaid money would be lower, there would be a loss. The public utility society was face to face with bankruptcy, in view of the demand for £100 in excess on each house. They would have lost all their money. There were one or two if not three actions at law, because the company had signed contracts to convey the property, and the Treasury would not release. It is only fair to say that all along the Ministry of Health were quite anxious to forward this movement and to get a move on. If the custom to which I have referred were persisted in, building societies and public utility societies all over the country would be prevented from going on with building because of the difficulties in which they might be placed. I understand that it came as bombshell to the Ministry of Health when the Treasury declined to receive back the money which it had previously advanced, except on the payment of £100 per house more than the original advance.
I should like also to call attention to the question of a subsidy for small property. This may seem a small matter, but it affects building all over the country. There are large, well-built properties all over the country that. could be converted into cottages. [HON. MEMBERS "Stables!"] Some stables were turned into flats for well-to-do people in London. It is quite possible to get better houses than we get now under certain building schemes by converting property. I hope the Minister will render assistance in cases of that kind. If poor people could buy houses and turn them into cottages, and own them, it would be a good thing. I want to assist them to do so, and I hops the Minister will consider whether it is possible to so revise his conditions that grants can he afforded in cases of this kind.
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY
I want to take this opportunity of tendering to the Minister of Health my good wishes on the first occasion on which he has addressed the House other than in answering questions. I sympathise with him that his first appearance should be connected with a thing so superficially dark as this Supplementary Estimate. The way in which he presented it seemed to indicate that he found it almost too much for his 1829 patience to bear. Nevertheless, the Supplementary Estimate is rather an important one, because this is the first time that Parliament has actually voted any money for subsidies under the 1923 Act. Therefore it does give this Committee an opportunity of putting some questions to the Minister as to the working of that Act. As regards Subhead F. 2, I think the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down answers very largely the questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel).
§ Lord E. PERCY
I gather that it does not answer my hon. Friend's point. Perhaps it would be more fruitful if I allow the Minister to deal with that matter. The difficulty of public utility societies, which has been mentioned, was a difficulty which led to the provision being made in the Housing Act, and I was under the impression that public utility societies were being met in that way by the Treasury, and that that was the reason for this very largely-increased Estimate. If we have this very largely-increased Estimate, and yet public utility societies are not being given by the Treasury the facilities which they ought to have—
§ Mr. LINFIELD
I believe it is being done now, but it, is not fully known by the public utility societies.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I entirely absolve the Treasury or any other Department from the charge of wilfully withholding from public utility societies facilities which this House gave them, and if there is a lack of information on the subject, I think the Minister of Health might, with advantage, conduct a little propaganda, with the assistance of the Garden Cities' and Town Planning Association, which has taken a very great interest in starting these public utility societies. Certainly this £100,000 is very much in excess of what I anticipated would be the case, and very much in excess of what I think my hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) anticipated. Perhaps we may have an explanation from the Minister as to the reason why this very large excess has been incurred. There are not so many public utility societies in the country. It was assumed when the Estimate was originally made that these societies would be selling the 1830 great majority of their houses. 1 am, therefore, rather puzzled as to why this large additional sum is required.
The chief thing that I want to say relates to F.1, on the subject of the working of the Housing Act, 1923. I am not going to ask the Minister to justify the working of that Act, because he has not been, except for a very short lime, responsible for its working, but there is one particular point to which I should like to call attention. At this moment it causes me a good deal of anxiety, and I should like to ask the Minister for some assurance on the subject. As is known to the Committee, up to 1st January last the Ministry of Health had approved just over 85,000 houses for subsidy, partly to be built by the local authorities and partly by private enterprise. That 85,000 was an estimate. It was an estimate first of all by the local authorities as to the number of houses which they expected they would he able to get built by the end of the 1924 building scheme. That, I think, was the date to which the Ministry asked the local authorities to work. In the second elate, it was estimated by the Ministry of Health, because the Ministry cut down these estimates of the local authorities to a considerable degree in order to be well within the probability, and that. we might not have a mere paper window-dressing scheme. While, of course, these estimates are all matters of opinion, yet I think the figures show that up to the end of last year the number of houses authorised did bear a very definite relationship to the capacity of the building industry. By the end of the year, roughly just over 44,000 houses had been included actually in contracts or direct labour schemes, or in undertakings actually given by the local authorities to particular builders. Up to that time, taking the country as a whole and the aggregate of the local authorities, you could say that the houses authorised by the Ministry, on the estimate of local authorities, did actually become the subject of contract in about two months after the estimate was approved, that therefore the local authorities were finding that they were able to get the houses taken up by the private builders in two to three months' time, and the difference as between the estimate and the definite undertaking or contract was reasonably small. Does that continue to be the case' 1831 I think since the last figures were published nearly two months have elapsed. Are local authorities still finding builders who are prepared to take on the building of houses against the undertakings by the local authorities? I ask that question for this reason. The Prime Minister in his statement at the beginning of this Parliament on the housing question assured us that no delay was taking place, that, pending the formulation of the Government's own housing proposals, the proceedings under the Act of 1922 were being rapidly pressed on, and I have no doubt that that is the intention of the right hon. Gentleman. I have no doubt that he desires to press on the building of houses under the 1923 scheme. But he is entering into new negotiations with various parties, which it would be out of order to discuss on this Supplementary Estimate, and there are in the air many rumours as to the Government being prepared to increase the amount of the subsidy and to lengthen the subsidy. Where an atmosphere of new proposals is created, I am afraid that builders will wait before undertaking the building of more houses to see what the Government's new scheme is, and these negotiations must necessarily take some time. We should be unreasonable if we expected the Government to bring forward the results of their negotiations immediately.
Have we already experienced during the last few months the effects of private enterprise and the local authorities waiting for the Government's new proposals before coming forward with offers to build and take the subsidy, or has the number of houses and undertakings of new contracts been kept up during those two months to the rate of progress which was the case in the last two or three months of last year? I hope the Minister will be able to give us an assurance that the adumbration of new proposals is not holding up the progress of building under the 1923 Act. Then I think it is due to the Committee that the Minister should give some estimate of Sub-Head G. (8) in regard to the unemployment, grant. I confess I do not quite understand the reason for the increased Estimate, or the reason why, the Estimate having to be increased, it is merely a token. I hope the Minister will be able to explain.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I should like to put a few questions to the Minister of Health, but before doing so I should like to make this general observation. As I understand it, these Supplementary Estimates are presented to-day on the responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman, Therefore I take it that he has carefully examined the amounts and necessities of the requirements mentioned under these subheadings, and is satisfied that all that ought to be done can be done with the amount of money for which he is asking. I regard that as a matter of some importance, because some of my criticism of these Estimates is directed by way of a question as to whether he is meeting the necessities of the various services mentioned in these Estimates. I want to say a. word in connection with F (2), and the important question of public utility societies. As you have ruled, Mr. Chairman, that it is now open to the Committee to go a little wider than is ordinarily the case, owing to the fact that the revised Estimates so much exceed the original Estimates, I want to put it to the Minister whether, in connection with housing generally, he is prepared to go on encouraging the activities of these societies? I hope he is in favour of encouraging every activity and organisar tion which can help in connection with housing.
A few days ago I asked him—and I hope he did not think it was an impertinent question—whether, having regard to certain speeches he had made up and down the, country in days gone by, he was prepared to encourage private enterprise in connection with building, and I was glad that he gave, perhaps a reluctant assent, but nevertheless, an assent to that. I asked whether, in connection with public utility societies, he is to do all he can to assist them in their work. I think, for one reason or another, they have some ground for a good many of the grievances which they have communicated to many Members of this House. I believe that up to about March, 1922, the actual number of houses completed by the public utility societies of the country amounted to nearly 4,000, and a year later the number was 4,517. Therefore their efforts ought. not to be discouraged. I think their path ought to be made easy, especially in the direction of the Treasury, to enable them to carry on what I believe is an excellent work. I understand the amount 1833 of subsidy actually paid to these societies is about £107,000. Secondly, is the Minister satisfied that the figures now appearing before the Committee are accurate, because I have some regard to the important speech which the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) has made. I am not quite clear whether the Minister of Health has given a proper explanation. No doubt he will consider that and again direct his attention to it.
F (5) is a very important Vote indeed, because it is a revised Estimate of £20,000 for additional grants for the housing schemes under the Act of 1923. Again I put to him the question, because I want to have an opportunity of questioning him later, whether that sum of £20,000 is a fair, reasonable estimate and whether he thinks he will be able to secure sufficient progress in housing under the Act of 1923 with this additional sum? I do not want him to come to the House later and say he has not asked a sufficient sum of money. I should like to put a few further questions to the Minister. He may remember that a few days ago the Prime Minister made what I think was a most extraordinary statement. He said that those houses under the 1923 Act were only occupied—I believe that was the effect of his words—by about 10 per cent. of the class who ought to live in them. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Gentlemen opposite then as to-day assented to that statement. I do not know whether they have any special knowledge of the position or what particular class of individual they think ought to occupy those houses. I, for instance, have heard—there is no need to mention names—of Members of Parliament occupying those houses.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Does he think, because I do not think so, that a Member of Parliament does not come within the definition of working classes under the Act of 1923? I have heard, at any rate, of one Minister in the new Government applying to occupy one of these Council Houses. Does he think that, because a Minister has a certain salary, he is not entitled to come within the description of working class?
§ Mr. F. MONTAGUE
Does the hon. Gentleman understand that the point was the difference between houses built for sale. and houses built to be let?
§ Sir K. WOOD
if the hon. Gentleman will refer to the Prime Minister's speech, he will observe no such distinction was made by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister made the point that under the old scheme the right people were not occupying the houses. If the hon. Member will refer to the OFFICIAL REPORT I think he will see that what I have said is correct. What I want to put to the Minister of Health, having regard to the operations of the Housing Act, 1923, is, whether his experience of the working of the Act confirms the statement made by the Prime Minister? The Act itself is very wide so far as she definition is concerned. No attempt is made at a definition of working classes. Therefore I would like to know: Does the right hon. Gentleman, in view of his experience of the administration of the scheme, confirm that statement of the Prime Minister? Is any distinction going to be made in the utilisation of this money such as has been indicated by the Prime Minister the other day?
I remember when this matter was discussed in the House before, Mr. Speaker Lower said that he was just as much entitled to be regarded as one of the working classes as any other person, and he thought a bit more so. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Agreed!"] My own view is that the needs of housing to-day are just as grievous among what, for want of a better title, you may call the lower middle classes of this country, as among any other class, It is impossible to differentiate between the needs of different classes in the country to-day. Therefore I hope the Minister of Health has got some justification for that extraordinary statement, because it created a great deal of anxiety among a great many people who are paying taxes for these houses. The total cost of housing schemes to-day is £190,000,000. Therefore a large number of people who have contributed towards these schemes want to know whether they are going to he treated fairly in the matter.
The next point to which I would refer is F. 6, "Grants towards the erecture of cottages for tuberculous ex-service men at village settlements." The Minister of 1835 Health, no doubt after considerable investigation and reflection, has put down a revised Estimate of £2,500 for these men. I know no class of men who deserve greater consideration at this time. Has the Minister satisfied himself that this is a sufficient sum? I remember sitting on a Departmental Committee which had referred to it, what was to be done for tuberculous ex-service men of the country. Under the chairmanship of Sir Montague Barlow we spent many weeks investigating this matter, and we came to the conclusion that, at any rate, it was not sufficient simply to place a number of these men, I believe in Preston Hall, as my right hon. Friend indicates to-day, but that a much wider scheme was necessary. I can feel quite consistent on this matter, because I have been raising it constantly in this House, irrespective of what Government was in power, and I would ask the Minister of Health whether he is satisfied, now that we are going to have a new ideal administration in the government of this country, that the sum of £2,500 is going to meet the needs of this very large body of deserving men? I doubt very much if it will. Is the right hon. Gentleman, having investigated the facts, prepared to say on his own responsibility that he is making adequate provision for these men. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why did not you do it? "] That is no reply to any criticism made, especially by one who has made it consistently, irrespective of what Government was in power. That is no answer to the tuberculous ex-service men.
Does the Minister of Health think that this is an adequate sum, because there is not the slightest reason, if he does not think this sum sufficient, why he should not go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and say, "I cannot meet my proper responsibilities to the ex-service men of the country, especially after all I have told them, unless you give me permission to spend a proper sum." In this matter he has personal responsibility as a Minister, and in this matter there is not any question of differentiation of parties. He may be satisfied that 22,500 is sufficient for the erection of cottages for tuberculous ex-service men in this country. If so, I hope that he is right, but I am very doubtful whether he is. When I sat on this Committee I remember 1836 that the sum mentioned was higher. On page 21 there is this note:Amount required for the year ending 31st March, 1924, for grants to meet the cast of erection of 50 cottages for tuberculous ex-service men at village settlements. The grants will be subject to conditions approved by the Treasury and will not exceed £20,000.I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that he has accepted this Office of Minister of Health and is responsible to this House and the country in respect of these men. Does he think that this provision and the other provision made for tuberculous ex-service men is sufficient? He ought to say to this Committee exactly where he stands, and whether he thinks that this is a sufficient sum or not. For many years I have made claims in respect of the unfortunate condition of these men, and I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that if he has to deal with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and if he does not do something in respect of making a reasonable grant of money on behalf of these tuberculous men, they will go back probably to miserable homes, and will endeavour, perhaps, to do a little work. My experience is, that in the majority of cases after a few weeks they break down and go again to get some kind of sanatorium treatment.
The present system in relation to these men and others is most wasteful and extravagant. I doubt whether we are not throwing a great deal of money away on various forms of treatment which are now adopted. Therefore, J would urge the right hon. Gentleman to point out to anybody who resists him—because I understand that resistance is being made to various demands which are now being made on the Exchequer—that we are wasting a great sum through not giving adequate treatment to ex-service men and other people who are suffering from this very dreadful disease, tuberculosis. Therefore I ask- him whether he is satisfied that sufficient provision is being made. I understand that we shall have an opportunity of discussing 0.8 when the right hon. Gentleman makes a further statement in that. connection, because I do not understand, in view of all the schemes which the, Labour party have proposed, how a sum of £10 could be put down in this respect. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has a. satisfactory explanation, but it will be 1837 more convenient to discuss that when the matter comes before the Committee. Meanwhile I appeal to all members of the Committee to support me in the questions which I have put to the Minister of Health, and to place on him responsibility in all these important matters.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
I desire to call attention to an important matter in reference to this housing question. 1 hold in my hand a letter which is addressed to the local authority of a northern town, in which the Minister sanctions the granting of a subsidy on houses erected on 23 acres with a density of thirty, thirty-five and forty to the acre. I cannot think that this letter has been sent out with his personal knowledge and consent. It is dated Ministry of Health, Whitehall, 13th February, 1924, and it is addressed to the Town Clerk at the Municipal Buildings, West Hartlepool. It says:I am directed by the Minister of Health to refer to your letter of the 6th instant, and to state that he approves of the proposals of your Council to differentiate as regards the amount of the subsidy payable in individual cases. As already pointed out, the Minister proposes to leave the question of density to the discretion of the council. He considers, however, that a density as high as thirty-five or forty houses to the acre is one which should only be allowed in very exceptional circumstances. It is understood that the Council's houses are limited to small vacant sites in streets already constructed, where the lay out does not readily lend itself to a reduction in density.This is signed by a permanent official, but I do not think I should be in order in going into the question of who signed it. I submit that there can be no circumstances, however exceptional, which can justify the crowding together of 35 or 40 houses on an acre, and I am certain that my hon. Friends above the Gangway will agree with me. I am not raising this matter in any spirit of partisanship, because I am anxious only that the Act should be administered in the spirit in which it is passed by the House, and which the right hon. Gentleman himself would desire. Therefore, I am only doing my duty in asking the Minister at the first available opportunity whether this is the considered policy of the Government, and of himself? I may refer now to the minutes which were submitted by the West Hartlepool Committee. They propose a scale of grant, and it is that scale 1838 which has been approved by the Ministry. I am reading now from the minutes of 5th February. They recommend that subsidies be offered in accordance with the following scale:Density not exceeding—
This is the scale which was submitted to the Minister and which is referred to in the letter I have read. For any house to be built under such conditions is most undesirable, but for such houses to be built with State subsidies is an act which, I am sure, will not commend itself to the House. I would remind the right hon Gentleman that when this question was discussed in Committee, at the time the 1923 Act was being considered, a number of us were very anxious that any Regulations governing the issue of this subsidy should not be left entirely to the Minister, but should be approved by the House. If that had been done it would have been impossible for anything of this sort to have happened. When the matter came down to the Floor of the House on Third Reading, it was my privilege to move an Amendment to the Bill, that no State subsidy should be authorised unless there were not more than 12 houses to the acre. I have turned up the Division list, and I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman voted for that Amendment. Therefore, I am sure that he is in absolute sympathy with a much lower scale of density than has been sanctioned by his Department.
£ 20 to the acre 100 per house 35 to the acre 70 per house 40 to the acre 60 per house Density exceeding— 40 to the acre 50 per house
I want to press the matter further, because I find that in an answer which he gave to me on 14th February, he admitted that under the last Government instructions were sent out to local authorities that it was unnecessary for them to submit the question of density to the Minister; the question of density was a matter which was to be left entirely to the local authority, and the Ministry was taking no action in the matter. I pressed my right hon. Friend further as to whether that was his policy. At the end of his answer he said, "It is not my intention to modify this policy." I hope that the Minister can see his way to modify a 1839 policy which leaves the local authority entirely untrammelled to put as many houses as it likes on a site. I know that we shall be told that this question of administration is one in which the local authority should have free play. If a local authority desires to erect further slums—that is what the houses will be in a few years' time with from 30 to 40 to the acre—at any rate, let them do it at their own expense. I hope that, although the circumstances may be exceptional, the Minister will see his way in future to refuse to make this grant even in the most exceptional circumstances.
When we pressed the matter in Committee upstairs, his predecessor in office said that, according to the Circular which he had issued, 12, or at the most 20, houses to the acre were all that it was desirable should be erected. His predecessor said that it was not to be taken as understood that 20 should be erected, but that the total should not exceed 20. Yet we are now having the question raised of 35 and 40 to the acre. If it is not possible to cancel the letter which has already gone out, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see that where State money is used there will he a decency of surroundings and of amenities by allowing for a lesser number of houses to the acre, or that he will cancel his predecessor's Order, which leaves entirely to the local authority discretion as to the number of houses to the acre. We are entitled to press for that, because the Housing Act stipulates in Sub-section 2 (1), that local authorities may, in accordance with the proposals submitted by them to the Minister and approved by him, promote certain building schemes. I ask the Minister to take back the power which his predecessor had of saying whether he will grant subsidies under conditions as to density. The ease I have quoted shows that a local authority is not to be trusted in a matter of this sort. I am all for giving freedom to local authorities, within certain bounds, but where State money is spent it is right that the State should say "within certain limitations and provisions you may exercise your discretion." Local authorities have exceeded their discretion when they attempt overcrowding of the sort I have described.
§ Mr. EGAN
I suggest to the Minister that probably the best way out of the difficulty would be to discourage altogether the building of houses for sale. An hon. Member opposite asked, who are the people occupying the houses? It is not the people who need them. Need I remind him that the late Government insisted on the erection of municipal houses to be let at 10s. or 12s. a week apart from rates, which meant that the gross rent asked was 18s. to 22s. a week.
§ Sir K. WOOD
There was a special arbitration tribunal set up to deal with any case where there was any difference concerning rent, irrespective of the Government, and they came to their own decision absolutely free and unfettered.
§ Mr. EGAN
I agree with that to some extent, because I happen to have been before a tribunal, and I was fortunate enough to get a lower rent than that which had been demanded. But that is not the general case, for municipalities almost everywhere are more inclined to take the Ministry suggestion than to deal with the position of the people who are wanting the houses. Let me put this case to the hon. Gentleman opposite who interrupted, and he will perhaps see who get the houses. On Monday of this week I was present at a town council meeting at which the housing committee secured a majority in favour of taking land that was bought for the housing of the working classes under the original housing scheme of Dr. Addison, and it was laid down that the houses must be sold and not let unless it was impossible to get purchasers. The figures for six-roomed houses were as follow:—180 houses at a cost of £610 to the purchaser;220 houses at a cost of £620 to the purchaser;and it was further proposed to build on the land 50 houses to cost £920, which would he outside the subsidy.There is a big strike going on outside the House because men are trying to get a wage of 12s. a day. I ask hon. Member:, how are such men, who really need houses the most, to get into dwellings such as I have described? The rentals proposed for the three sets of houses mentioned were as follows:
1841 The rates were to come on top of those figures. Are the people who really need houses likely to get them at such rentals The municipality will advance 90 per cent. of the purchase money, but that presupposes that the purchaser will pay £60 or £70 before he can enter into negotiations. He then has to pay the loan back in 2O years and has to pay interest on it at a point above the bank rate from the moment of purchase. That means that it is a sheer impossibility for any man to consider any one of these houses unless he is assured of a permanent and well paid position and knows that he will receive his salary even in the event of a breakdown in health. When the Minister is bringing before the House his plan for the building of houses he should discourage altogether the building of houses for sale. In providing these houses for people who apparently have money to purchase them, it has been further suggested that they might be paid a bonus of £75, the capitalised figure of the £120 subsidy, to come in and purchase. That is preferential treatment as against the man who has lived in a house for 20 years, whose landlord has given him notice to leave, and has threatened that he will sell the house over his tenant's head. I have in my pocket letters from my constituency begging that the Minister will intervene to stop the notices that have been issued by the County Courts for possession of houses. So far the prices that have been demanded under the housing schemes of the late Minister have been prohibitive for the majority of the people who needed the houses most.
s. d. £ "15 0 a week for the 610 house 15 3 a week for the 620 house" 27 0 a week for the 920 house.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Member has been referring, by way of illustration, to houses which are to be erected in the future. The Prime Minister's statement, to which I alluded, referred to houses already occupied. Of all the houses erected by the Government under past schemes probably 95 or 96 per cent. have been erected for letting only and not for sale.
§ Mr. EGAN
That is right. It is only under the last Ministry that this pernicious system sprang up. When the new housing scheme of the late Minister of Health was adopted, what they said to the municipalities was: "You have land; if you can get a purchaser, get rid of it, and if you do build houses, build them for sale." In my opinion, and I hope, 1842 in the opinion of this House, that is altogether contrary to what has been said in every constituency from every platform and by Members both on this side and the other side of the Committee ever since housing schemes were first contemplated. I hope a free hand will not be left to the municipalities in the housing of the people, because, if that is done, they will put up the old-fashioned terraces of houses for the working classes. The houses of which I have been speaking are to be semi-detached and to have land around them, but apparently they are not going to become the homes of the men who need them. If hon. Gentlemen opposite wish me to do so, I can tell them something about the people who need these houses. I could tell them stories that would make their hearts bleed, because, as chairman of the housing committee, it was my duty for three years to go through the applications, and I know that the people who are in real need could not possibly think of going into these houses on account of the heavy liabilities which they would incur.
I may make a confession to this House. The first houses that were built under my chairmanship were given to men who had been at the War. They were unskilled men—because those were mainly the men who went out to fight—and they were all men with families of not less than four children. When these men came back into the industrial market a slump in employment set in. Most of them were forced out of work and they found it impossible to keep up the payment, even of the cheap rents which we charged, because we got leave from the tribunal to let the houses at 7s., 8s. and 9s., because of the peculiar circumstances and the special claims of these men. The fortunes of war have decreed that these men should now be in such poverty that there are sums of £20 and £30 due on many of the houses. Yet these are men who fought, and we have to be generous to them, so we have allowed them to remain in the houses in consideration of the trials through which they have passed. Men of that type are to be found in every town in this country, wanting houses, and the municipalities dare not let them into the houses because, owing to their situation in life, they cannot pay the rentals of 12s, 14s. and 16s. a week which are demanded. I appeal to the Minister when he brings 1843 in his housing scheme to end this tendency towards building houses for sale. Otherwise, all hope will be killed of making the scheme a benefit to those who require it most. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will assist in seeing that the men who went out to fight, who have wives and children and who are now living in one or two rooms, should be enabled to get houses, as the Prime Minister indicated, on terms as reasonable as can possibly be arranged and for the lowest rents that can be fixed, having regard to the present condition of employment.
§ Captain BOWYER
I desire to put some questions to the Minister on the same lines as those indicated by the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood). There is always this satisfaction when one raises a question dealing with ex-service men in this House, that one can feel certain of being above party politics. If I may offer an apology to the Minister, I wish to say, with shame, that I was not present when he made his statement, and I am, therefore, in the difficulty that I do not know whether the sum contained in the Estimate, in respect of village settlements, only refers to the colony at Preston Hall or whether it also refers to the colony at Papworth and the East Lancashire Tuberculosis Colony, Barrowmore Hall.
§ Captain BOWYER
My hon. Friend submitted to the Minister that the provision of 50 cottages is not sufficient, and if only £2,500 is included in the Estimate, it means that this year no greater sum than £50 per cottage is going to be spent. There is no need to dwell upon the necessity for attention to the needs of tuberculous ex-service men. There are scores of hundreds of them who have not got that isolation, without which they form a danger to their neighbours and the country and without which they do not receive adequate treatment. There was no original Estimate at all this year, nor any grant towards providing cottages for these tuberculous ex-service men, and my first question is, When did the grant towards this very deserving purpose cease, because I understand that in the years up to 1844 1922 there was a grant? So important is this question that I should like to show the Minister the urgency of the need to have a larger grant to provide more cottages at Pap-worth, Preston Hall and the East Lancashire Tuberculosis Colony, Barrow-more Hall, near Chester. There are hon. Members in the Committee who were with me on the Select Committee which sat in the months of June, July and August, 1922, and heard, for weeks and weeks, evidence on the whole question of the training and treatment of disabled ex-service men. Mr. Maclachlan, of the Ministry of Health, gave very valuable evidence on the question of tuberculous ex-service men, and not only did he tell the Committee of the needs of Papworth and Preston Hall, but also the needs of the East Lancashire Colony. The Pap-worth institution was provided largely out of voluntary funds and grants amounting to £38,880, including a special grant of £4,560 towards the provision of special facilities for training, were made by the Government. Mr. Maclachian pointed out to the Committee that at Papworth in August, 1922, more than 200 patients were in the institution, and in the year 1921, out of a total of 273 patients admitted no less than 222 were ex-service men. The evidence goes on:A scheme for a village settlement has been inaugurated and is being developed in connection with the colony. Twenty-eight cottages have recently been erected by the Cambridgeshire County Council under the assisted housing scheme of the Government, and including these there are now 50 cottages in the settlement for the accommodation of ex-patients and their families, there ex-patients earning wages in industries in connection with the colony.There are fifty cottages at Papworth. As Mr. Maclachlan showed later on in his evidence, there is need for many more there, and when we come to Preston Hall the evidence is stronger still along the line of persuading the Ministry of the absolute need of better provision for these men. At. Preston Hall, it is true, grants amounting to over £43,000 have been made by the Government, but no less than 500 acres of land have been acquired and are available for the development of the colony. What sort of addition to the 500 acres will the provision of 50 cottages be, more especially as I infer from the Estimate that in this financial year, until this Supplementary Esti- 1845 mate was presented, no provision had been made for additional cottages at Preston Hall? The report of the evidence goes on:With the aid of the building subsidy 33 cottages have recently been erected on the estate"—and I draw the Minister's attention specially to these words—to form the nucleus of a settlement for patients after the completion of their course of treatment and training.The same evidence, only stronger still, could be quoted in regard to the colony at Barrowmore Hall near Chester. In regard to it Mr. Maclachlan says:The scheme contemplates the provision at a later date of a village settlement to he run in connection with the institution.I ask the Minister whether Mr. Maclachlan's hope, expressed in 1922, has been borne out and what steps the Ministry have taken to provide for these three colonies. Mr. Maclachlan pointed out to us on that Committee that the question of the steps to be taken for the reintroduction to employment of tuberculous ex-service men, especially on the land, was considered by the inter-Departmental Committee on Tuberculosis and Sanatoria for Soldiers in 1919, and that in their Report that Committee recommended an extension of the facilities available for the training of ex-service men. As a result of the recommendation of the Committee which I have just quoted, a special training scheme was initiated by the Ministry of Health at the request of the Ministry of Pensions, and in consultation with them, for the provision of not less than one thousand additional places in existing sanatoria where ex-service men would receive a definite course of vocational training combined with treatment. I ask the Minister how far have the plans, arrangements and actions of his Ministry developed upon the lines which were outlined at that date. It was agreed then with the Treasury that the Government should find the whole capital cost of providing the necessary accommodation. At a later date, apparently, the Ministry of Pensions, together with the Ministry of Health, decided to reduce the scope of the scheme to 410 places instead of 1,000. I am sorry; nay, I am ashamed, because, of course, hon. Members opposite may say 1846 to me what they said to my lion. Friend the Member for West Wool wich, namely, that the party which I support was in power then, but that really is no answer, because, this being above party politics, let us, whatever mistakes have been made in the past, at least see that justice le done now. I would like to ask the Minister' not to go back upon the original scheme of providing 1,000 extra places at these colonies for tuberculous ex-service men, and not to cut down that number to 410.
There are two other questions which I would like to address to the Minister May I ask whether, in this matter, in view of the fact that it is the Ministry of Labour, I think, which deals chiefly with the treatment and training of ex-service men and of ex-service tuberculous men, the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Labour are working in the closest possible co-operation in the matter, because I am certain that unless that happens there must be overlapping, and there cannot be the same benefit derived from the point of view of the ex-service men who are there. There is another point. In so many eases an ex-service man, unless he can prove that his disability was caused by his war service, cannot to-day avail himself of any of the institutions or colonies which are set up to deal with disabled ex-service men. Can any man who to-day is an ex-service man, because he served in the late War, and who to-day is suffering from tuberculosis, apply to be taken into one of these colonies? I attach great importance to that question, because it seems to me that, whatever may be the opinion of the medical authorities as to that man's position to-day, and as to questions about his disability being caused or not being caused by his war service, it is of great importance, not only from the point of view of the man himself, but from the point of view of the neighbours who live round him, that such a man should be entitled to claim admission to one of these tuberculosis colonies. I am sure the Minister will agree that that is right and just, and I submit that all I have said does go very strongly to prove that the provision by the Minister in this Supplementary Estimate of £2,500 as part cost for the erection of only 50 cottages is utterly inadequate, in view of the great need there is throughout the country that 1847 these tuberculous ex-service men should have far better and far more pressing treatment provided for them.
§ Mr. E. D. SIMON
I want to support the matter brought forward by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson), who raised the question of the Circular under which the Ministry of Health has given permission for certain houses to be erected on the basis of 40 houses to the acre. The one thing that has been done by the housing schemes since the War, by both the Addison and the Chamberlain schemes—which have been successful, of course, to the extent of building 200,000 houses—has been to set a new standard of working class houses, and that has been done, as I think, with the consent of every party in this House. The most important thing in that standard has been building those houses at, about 10 or 12 to the acre, instead of anything from 15 to 30, or even 40 or more to the acre. It seems to me that if we are going to let down that standard now it would be a most disastrous thing, because, after all, it is not worth while, even from the financial point of view, to do so. The only argument for it is that financially you can build houses a bit more cheaply if you crowd them together.
I have had to make the calculations rather hurriedly, but I think they are correct, and they show that if you take land at £400 to the acre, which is the most expensive land ever used—we have had to pay it in Manchester—and if you build houses 20 to the acre, that is equivalent to 5d. a week in rent; if you build them at 40 to the acre, it is 2½d. a week in rent, so that even with the most expensive land, the saving on building 40 to the acre instead of 20 to the acre is only 2½d. a week on the rent, and if you take land at £200 the saving comes down to 1¼d. a week on the rent. It is not worth while doing anything of that sort, and I hope that nothing of that sort will he done. These are the days of town-planning. One of the few big movements in the last 15 years which are really improving the country is the movement towards town-planning. Most of our great cities have town plans now, and they have generally taken 12 or 16 houses to the acre as the absolute maximum. The maximum we allow anywhere in Manchester is 16 houses to the acre. I 1848 am all in favour of the minimum being left to the discretion of the local authorities, but I think it is the duty of the Government to lay down a maximum standard, and to allow the local authorities to adopt it or to go on and do better if they can, but I think that 16 houses to the acre should be taken under all normal conditions as the maximum number of houses that can be built I trust the right hon. Gentleman will withdraw the Circular and substitute the maximum of 16 houses to the acre.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I am not going to indulge in any captious criticism of the Government, especially as it is a young Government, but I feel bound to say a few words to support the protest made by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) against this last Circular of the Ministry of Health. I hope I may be allowed to have the right to protest, because when the last Housing Bill was upstairs in Committee in the last Parliament, I supported hon. Members opposite in their effort to maintain and uphold the standard of housing, and I must say that I am surprised that when those hon. Members change places, the atmosphere of that side of the House has a very reactionary effect on the Ministry of Health. An hon. Member on the Labour Benches said the best way out of it would be to prevent the building of houses by private enterprise, but I really cannot see that we need go such a round about way as that. I submit that the best way in which to solve this difficulty is for the Minister of Health to withdraw his Circular. It is indeed disappointing to find that the Labour Government went in with such vast professions, and that one of their first acts is to authorise a Circular which will bring back the old, vicious system of overcrowding the people in houses. The Prime Minister said he wished to bring the land and the towns together, but you cannot bring the land and the towns together, as far as the people are concerned, if you entirely obliterate the land by crowding the houses on top of it. If my hon. Friend goes to a Division I will certainly support him.
I would like to say a few words as to the necessity for further provision for tuberculous ex-soldiers. I do not wish to make the point that provision is now being asked for only 50, but I would like 1849 the Minister to consider the need for further provision. It is really a waste of money to give an expensive cure in a sanatorium to an ex-soldier, to teach him a trade, and then to send him back to overcrowded, unhealthy home conditions. We cannot honestly say that we are doing our duty by the tuberculous ex-soldiers unless we help societies which are trying to build houses, so that these tuberculous ex-soldiers, instead of drifting back to ill-health, may carry on their employment in healthy surroundings. I would wish also to ask the Minister of Health why there should be any distinction between tuberculous ex-soldiers and ex-soldiers of a high disability. There are thousands and thousands of ex-soldiers in our towns at, the present moment who are ekeing out. miserable, idle, and unhappy existences, but who, if they were brought out into the country in healthy surroundings, would be able to do very good work for the community. I am connected with a society which is trying to solve this problem. We are housing men who cannot live in towns out in the country. We have great difficulty in finding houses, and I would like to know why the Government should not help a society like this, which is doing what it can for the ex-soldiers, and not drawing any distinction as to whether they are tuberculous men or whether their disability is due to wounds, shell-shock, or anything else.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I labour under a difficulty here in the fact that I am defending the policy of my predecessor, [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I can assure the Committee that had there been a tenth part of the sympathy for ex-service men and others among the party opposite 12 months ago—[HON, MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"]—that we evidently have to-day, my task would be much easier in the months that lie before me. If I may take the points that have been raised in the order in which they have been raised, let me return to the question of the sum wanted for dealing with the position created by the public utility societies.
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
Before the right hon. Gentleman proceeds with that question, will he excuse me for interrupting, and give us what was the capital sum involved which required a loss of £100,000 to be made up?
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I am sorry I have not that information by me, but if the hon. Member will communicate his request to me I will find it later. The position was this. The late Government wanted to encourage the sale of these houses, and gave special terms to public utility societies under the Act of 1923. This resulted in a larger sale of the houses than was anticipated, and consequently the need for the sum I am asking from the Committee to-day. I have already explained the principle that operates. If it were an ordinary trading transaction, and the money were advanced at a certain rate of interest and were repaid before the time that both parties anticipated, then a premium would be expected from the party to whom the loan was granted in order to make good the loss that had been incurred by the lender through being deprived of an investment made when the rate of interest was high; but in this case, in order to encourage the public utility societies, of which my hon. Friends were such eloquent defenders when the Bill was before the House, the Government wiped out the request. for a premium and allowed them to repay at their convenience the loans at par. Consequently, the Government is involved in the loss, or the possible loss, of the sum that is mentioned here. T might state that the amount wanted here does not at all represent the assistance to be given to the public utility societies. It is a sum merely to cover the estimated loss on the return of the money prematurely on the houses that have been sold, and it does not at all make provision for the assistance to be given to them in the future.
May I turn to the present position under the 1923 Act as raised by the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy)? Perhaps he will permit me, at the outset, to thank him for the kind personal remarks that he made when offering his observations. The Noble Lord was desirous of obtaining information regarding the exact position of housing under the 1923 Act, and I have no doubt the object is to show that if the present Government would just keep quiet, and allow that Act to operate, it would do probably more to solve the housing problem than will be done by interference on the part of the Government. Prior to the departure from 1851 power of the party opposite, a speech was made from this bench which seemed to indicate to the public that things were going gloriously in the. matter of housing. Indeed, figures were given which seemed to prove that all the house shortage in this country would be removed immediately. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The figures certainly seemed to indicate that, and that we would be in a position in the very near future to turn our attention to that class of people who have housing accommodation of an insanitary character. I want to put the case for the 1923 Act even higher than it has been put by the promoters of that Act. I want to give figures quite up to date, and to give full credit. At the present moment, approvals have been given by the Ministry of Health for 98,349 houses. Would not that figure taken by itself indicate that we were doing well in the provision of houses for the people? Let me give a brief analysis of these figures, to show exactly what is being done. Of these approvals, 63,870 have been given to private enterprise, and 34,479 to local authorities. But what does the giving of approvals to private enterprise mean? Merely that a local authority comes to the Ministry of Health and says, "We believe that we could place certificates with private builders for the erection of 10.000 houses." As the House knows, 10,000 houses are wanted in a locality. They say, "Very good"—
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY
Surely that is not the case. Surely the Ministry of Health call for estimates from the local authority of what they think can be built by the end of the 1924 building season, and confine their approval to that number.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I am not going to accuse the Noble Lord or his associates with having got up a figure for window-dressing, but I am merely stating facts. It may be they were able to satisfy the Ministry of Health. It may be that they honestly believed they were going to erect 10,000 houses by private enterprise, but I am stating a fact. The fact is they give 10.000 approvals, and that 10,000 appears as part of the 98,349. If I might give another illustration from something which frequently happens, it is like giving out tickets for a charity concert, say, to 1852 the number of 100, and counting as sold the number given to a member of the Committee in the hope that he will dispose of them. The number of certificates issued to private builders differs very, very substantially from the number of approvals received by the local authorities. Let me remind the Committee again that the number taken out was 63,870, but the number actually issued to this date is only 33,044. So that, roughly speaking, out of the number of approvals received by the local authorities, only about one-half have been issued. [An HON. MEMBER: "In what period?"] From the passing of the Act to the period in which I am speaking. The number of approvals received by local authorities is 34,479, for erection by themselves, but the number of plans approved is just about half that number, namely, 18,687.
Let me return to the question of the number of houses being built by private enterprise in the light of it being a substantial contribution to the problem with which we are faced. A great deal has been said from the other side as to who are the members of the working-class, and who should be assisted with houses. It does not lie with me to lay down an exact definition of the phrase "the working-class," but I am laying down this as a fairly safe and wise policy to pursue: that a nation faced with the difficulty which confronts us to-day, with a limited amount of money to spend in the provision of houses, should spend that money in assisting those who are most in need of help. I think that is a perfectly sound policy. Certain men come along and say, "I want to spend £800 or £900 in purchasing a house, and I want you to give State assistance to the extent of £100." I reply, "I would like very much to do so, and assist all the middle-class, and, indeed, the upper class of this country, to get the necessaries of life, but, in the meantime, I am handicapped by the amount of my resources, and if I have to choose between helping a man who is earning less than £3 per week to get healthy accommodation, and helping another man who can afford to invest £800 or £900 in a house, then I want to help the poorer man." I have to tell the more fortunate person, "As a patriotic citizen, you must get along with the 1853 resources you have until the country is in a more prosperous condition to come to your help."
When I examined the figures of the houses being built by private enterprise for the purpose of letting, I got something which was somewhat alarming, and I want to remind the Committee that the housing problem to-day is not in the provision of houses for sale. When I began to discuss this question publicly, I remember how I used to be attacked for having encroached on the field of legitimate private enterprise. What are we being asked to do now? To extend public enterprise far beyond the needs of the working-classes into the region of the middle-class. I am going to stand up for private enterprise now, and say that the provision of houses for the middle-class is something which, in the meantime, the nation may quite well leave to private enterprise unsubsidised. Private enterprise is something which should be ashamed to ask for a subsidy, because private enterprise subsidised is a confession of the failure of private enterprise. When we get down to the number of houses which private enterprise has built, we find, as far as we can ascertain the facts—and, as the Noble Lord knows, we cannot get accurate information, and I am not pretending to give it—but, as far we can ascertain the facts, apart from a comparatively small number of houses that are being erected for colliery companies and other employers, practically all the houses being erected by private enterprise, are being helped by the State and getting the subsidy, and probably only about 20,000 houses for which contracts have been fixed up at this moment are to be let after they have been completed. I submit that that is not something to boast about, but I think it is well that the country should have the facts of the problem with which I have to deal. I have summarised the details here, and they work out like this. The total number of houses on which work has been actually started, including the whole of them, is only 22,607. The number actually completed is only 4,608. The hon. Member for 'West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) was not quite sure that the £20,000 would serve my purpose for the present financial year. I am very sorry it will.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
The late Minister of Health stated, in the course of the discus- 1854 sion of the figures from that bench, that one house in five under the last Government scheme was being erected in rural England. Can he say whether that was so or not; and, if so, whether the "rural England" meant is that contiguous to towns, or purely rural England?
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I am very sorry I cannot give the hon. Member the information in the detailed manner in which he desires it. If I may turn from that, I think that the position in regard to housing. when we remember the terrible shortage of houses in this country, the fearfully low standard of housing, the expansion that is occurring in our population, and the depreciation of existing property, for a nation to rest satisfied with that is to do something which certainly is not right.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
The right hon. Member has given the number of 4,000 odd houses built with the subsidy in the last 12 months. Will he now give the number built without any subsidy?
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I view the housing problem from the point of view of the class who, in the competitive system of fixing wages, do not receive wages that would enable them to build an economic house. From that point of view, I am quite satisfied the houses erected without subsidy were not built for the working-class, because they were houses running into four figures.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I have not the number. In regard to the grants for cottages for tuberculous ex-service men, I would now like to make a few remarks. Here, again, I am being pressed to show what I have done, and I have been only three weeks in office. During the three weeks which I have been in office my time has been so occupied by housing and other problems, to which no doubt reference will be made on a future occasion, that I have not even had time to visit the colonies in whose support I am asking a grant from the Committee this evening.
My position is briefly this: that these two colonies have been run, as has already been pointed out, for ex-service men who are capable of doing light work. Fifty cottages have been erected at Papworth, provided by a committee of the 1855 County Council under this scheme. and at Preston Hall 41 cottages have been put up by private enterprise with the help of subsidies given to the builders. The sum I am asking for now is the amount required between now and 31st March out of a. total of £20,000 to erect 50 additional cottages distributed equally between these two centres. The question as to what I intend to do in the future is one which I think the Committee will not expect me seriously to go into at the moment. One can hardly be expected to take up grave controversial questions, especially of this kind, at a moment's notice. If I can induce this House to adopt a policy which will give a standard of housing accommodation that will strike at the root of tuberculosis, I will do well. If I may turn now to other questions which have been raised, I will deal with that portion of the grant which is marked for the relief of unemployrnent.—[G. 8.]
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves these two items, F. 5 and F. 6, is he going to make any reply to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson)?
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I am very sorry that I have overlooked it for the moment. It is a very important question. The Committee will remember it raised a question of a proposal made by the West Hartlepool Town Council to erect houses according to a scale, in some cases running into a density of 30 or 40 to the acre. There is a good deal of misunderstanding about this matter. What happened? The question here is in regard to single vacant sites. Say there was a corner site that would hold a house within the Regulations. The question we had to face was: Would we compel the local authority to keep that site vacant or allow it to exercise its discretion and put down an additional house? That is the position. On the general question the Committee may take my assurance—that where in my position as Minister of Health schemes have to receive my approval—that in the case of housing schemes I imagine that no local authority will ever insult me by asking me to approve of a scheme in which the density is 40 to the acre, or even 30 to the acre. I find in the 1856 correspondence—and I say this in justification of my predecessor—that in July of last year the West Hartlepool Town Council submitted a scheme in which it was proposed to erect 34 houses to the acre. The scheme was rejected by the Ministry of Health, which reduced the density to 21. A further communication has gone out, I understand, from my Department to the West Hartlepool Authority making our position quite plain. Generally speaking, I have been appealed to to say that the number of houses to the acre shall not exceed 16. I will not pledge myself, but I will assure the hon. Member who asked me that, he will find me most sympathetic to the limitation of the density in housing schemes that I approve during the time I am at the Ministry of Health.
Mr. T. THOMSON
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the scheme submitted by the West Hartlepool Town Council—the minutes of which I have—there is no question as to an isolated site? It is a scheme of houses for subsidy and for houses erected to a certain density. According to the scale, as the density goes up the subsidy goes down. There is no reference whatever to isolated houses. Might I also ask the Minister a further point, as to whether he would take upon himself the right to refuse a subsidy if he thought the density was greater than ought to be allowed in the interests of public health?
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
With the greatest pleasure and readiness I give the hon. Member the assurance that such a scheme would never receive my approval.
I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman has not quite met, the point. Is it a fact that this was not a scheme for isolated blocks? Was it, in fact, a general scheme? Is it a fact that the density was as described by my hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough, and that it met with the approval of the Minister?
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
It was quite up to the West Hartlepool authority to submit a proposal to the Ministry of Health in which they suggested that for a certain density of housing they would give a reduced subsidy. I believe that the record which the hon. Member for Middlesbrough has in his possession and which he was good enough to submit to 1857 me indicated that they had no objection to lay down a scale, and that when that particular proposal came before the Ministry of Health they expected they would receive approval. As a matter of fact, my information is that they have not received approval, except in the isolated cases to which I have referred. I do not know that I can give the House any more information.
Mr. T. THOMSON
I am extremely sorry, but this is a most important point. The letter quite distinctly said that there was approval.
"I am directed by the Minister of Health to refer to your letter of the 6th instant and to state that he approved of the proposals of your council to differentiate as regards the amount of subsidy payable in individual cases—."
As already pointed out, the Minister proposes to leave the question of density to the discretion of the council.No question of withholding the power to reduce the latter. The Town Clerk of West Hartlepool advised his committee that there was no need to submit the proposals to the Ministry—He considers, however, that a density as high as:35 or 40 houses to the acre is one which should only be allowed in very exceptional circumstances. It is understood that the council proposals are limited to the small vacant sites on streets already constructed, where the lay-out does not lend itself to a reduction in density.I read the full letter out at the beginning. I ask the Minister whether under any circumstances whatever State money should be used for the erection of houses at 35 to 40 to the acre?
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I think the reading of the letter has minimised the importance of the error—if it was an error. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Unless in an exceptional case such as I have suggested, where you have a vacant site or a single house, and where it would be absurd to refuse permission to put up additional houses—except, I say, in a case like that, I would not consider giving permission for the erection of houses of the density suggested in that letter. You can take it from me that that will be the policy prevailing at the Minis- 1858 try of Health during the time that the hon. Member is good enough to keep me in office.
I turn to that part of the Estimate which deals with the relief of unemployrnent. Here again I have the initial difficulty as in the first section when I was dealing with a legacy which I have inherited. In this case, I am appearing here as an agent for other Departments. I leave the other Departments, with one exception, to defend their own policy. My vote is for £10. The older Parliamentary hands know well enough that that amount is merely put in to enable the House to criticise and condemn if they so desire the changes in the policy between the time that the matter was originally before the House and the submission of this Supplementary Estimate. Changes have taken place. The total amount wanted here is £730,000 and, as I have said, it is for the purposes of other Departments to the extent of about one-half. I want £335,400 for the purposes of the Ministry of Health, which sum is to be used in the giving of loans to boards of guardians and distressed local authorities.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I think the right hon. Gentleman is making a slight, mistake. He is now talking about No. 2 (page 24) when he should restrict himself to item G.8.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
On a point of Order. I for one have sat through practically the whole course of the Debate and I did not know that we were discussing these unclassified services. [HON. MEMBERS: "We are not."]
§ Mr. G. BALFOUR
I do not think hon. Members on this side of the House can leave this question of housing exactly where it has been left by the Minister of Health. If my memory serves me rightly, that Act was passed in June last. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will challenge me if I say anything with which he seriously disagrees, but if he takes the month of June. 1924, which was the institution of a new policy fur the precision of houses in this country, he will agree with me that the first month or two was necessarily absorbed in the submission to the Department of plans and proposals, 1859 and therefore it would take us up to August last before any Government could make any provision under the Act of 1923.
If we take the delay which must occu[...] before the final approval is given, and the arrangement of the financial scheme, and if we consider the number of houses provided and in course of construction and the schemes approved, then I think the statement made by the late Minister of Health was amply justified when he asserted that houses were being provided at a. greater rate than we have known since 1909. What the Minister of Health has said is simply deceiving the country, and drawing a red herring across the path, because the late Government have fulfilled the fullest expectations which were held out when the 1923 Act was passed. The Minister of Health knows that he has fallen heir to a very active building programme, the credit for which he is going to claim for the present Government, whereas it really belongs to my right hon. Friend the late Minister of Health, who introduced the Bill of 1923. The whole tenor of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman undoubtedly are producing a false impression upon this House and throughout the country.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
This is a Supplementary Estimate for public utility works, put in hand by municipalities, statutory bodies, and public utility companies for non-revenue earning relief works, for which they get 50 per cent. of the interest not exceeding 50 years. I want to know where is the Supplementary Estimate for the revenue earning works. Perhaps some hon. Member on the Front Bench will tell me, or shall I find it in the next Vote but one. In the King's Speech there was a very timely undertaking to give these people who put up relief works rather more assistance than in the past. We are now told that:Your assent will he invited to an extension of the contribution towards the cost of public utility work, whether promoted by local authorities, or by statutory corporations.Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether this token Vote of £10 means that the undertaking in the King's Speech of the late Government will be carried out, namely, that a more generous scale of help will be given to 1860 municipalities who have lent their aid with great patriotism. Year by year the difficulty of providing relief work becomes more onerous, but the municipalities are now saying that if you do similar work in the Overseas Dominions, for that part of the work which is done here they can get 75 per cent. of the interest and, surely, they are entitled, considering the pressure put upon them, and the onerous character of the burden they are bearing, to more than they have been getting in the past. I again put my two questions. (1) Where can I find the Supplementary Estimate for revenue--producing work in the 65 per cent. wages scale, and (2) is there any intention of carrying out the suggestion of the late Government on a scale rather more generous than in the past.
§ Lord E. PERCY
The Minister of Health said that, presumably, my previous question was designed to prove something; but it was not so designed and it does not prove anything. My object was to get information, and the Minister did not give me that information. I asked the right hon. Gentleman for an assurance that during the last seven or eight weeks the work of local authorities in placing contracts and undertakings by private builders did not show any signs of slackening off, owing to the possibility of a new scheme. That assurance is not given, and I gather from his figures that there has been during January, and up to the first few days of this month, a very distinct slackening in private building and contracts placed by local authorities.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I have already pointed out that local authorities have been given more work than they are able to place.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I am not talking about the increase in the number of certificates from 85,000 to 90,000, but I am speaking about the number of houses in actual contracts, or in undertakings given by local authorities, and they were 44,000 at the end of last year. I gather now from the figures that they are rather more than 50,000 to-day. It is not the Minister's fault, but I want to know what the local authorities are doing with these certificates, because I gather that they have been able to build very much fewer houses than the total he has approved last year.
§ Mr. S. ROBERTS
The Minister of Health, at the commencement of his last speech, seemed rather to resent the fact that a certain amount of enquiry and mild criticism had come from this side of the House. I would point out to him that although, possibly, he may be bearing the responsibility for Estimates not prepared by himself, but by the right hon. Gentleman sitting below me (Mr. N. Chamberlain), yet there are other hon. Members in this House, and the rights of private Members must not be interfered with by a change over of the Government. When we remember that there are only 20 days in which the private Member has an opportunity of discussing the details of these Estimates, and we only discuss questions of principle at the request of the Front Opposition Bench, I would point out that the Supplementary Estimates give us our only chance of enquiring about those matters in which we are so deeply interested. It must not be thought that private Members are in any way debarred from criticising Supplementary Estimates to any reasonable extent.
The right hon. Gentleman said he did not know the total capital amount which had been repaid, but I think it would be interesting to know the number of houses that have been sold. Personally, I think that this gradual sale of a, large number of houses to people who are going to live in them is one of the best signs in a very unsatisfactory phase of housing in this country, because the more people who become owners of their own houses, the more stability we shall get. I know that stability is not what many hon. Members opposite desire, but if a man is able to purchase and live in his own house, he very often becomes a much better citizen than he otherwise would. It is not the well-to-do man, or the man whom hon. Members opposite would call the middle class, who the chiefly the purchasers of these houses.
It is not necessary for the purchaser of these houses to possess £500 or £600, because in the majority of these cases they have only been able to find a small proportion of the purchase money which they have saved. There are many schemes whereby a man, by the help of this 1862 subsidy, can purchase his house, and pay the amount off by instalments over a considerable period of years. It does not need a man with a large income to pay the instalments which are frequently only a few shilling per week more than the ordinary rent, but all the time he is paying the instalments he is gradually acquiring the house, and at the end of the period he will own the whole of the house and live in it, and leave it to those who come after him. The Minister of Health seemed to think that these houses of which I am speaking were of a better type, and were going to people who could well afford to provide for themselves. I do not think that is true, but even if it is true to a certain extent, those people who are purchasing houses are leaving behind the houses which they previously occupied for someone else to live in.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
My experience is that I should prefer a second, third or even a fourth-hand house to some of the new houses I have gone into. As a rule the second-hand house has stood the test of time, and is very often an infinitely better house than many of the new ones. Every one of these new houses eases the pressure in regard to other houses, and so we gradually get along towards some equilibrium in the law of supply and demand, and in this way we do something to meet the shortage of houses. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about slum clearances!"] I do not want to be drawn off my argument on to the question of slums, although I may say that that is a matter which I have put into my election address. I might also say that I was chairman of an important health committee for six years, and I took the very deepest possible interest in that subject. Therefore I am not speaking about things of which I have no knowledge, because I have had a great deal of knowledge and experience of the working of a large local authority.
I think the figures which the right hon. Gentleman gave with reference to certificates which have been issued under the late housing schemes are, on the whole, very satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman says the plans which have been passed only amount to about half the certificates which have been issued, but is not that rather a natural consequence, 1863 because the certificates must be issued before the plans are drawn, and there are many things that have to be done before the houses are actually built? The right hon. Gentleman will find, when he begins to work cut his own housing scheme, that it goes a very great deal slower than he expects, and that the difficulties others have had to face will be the same difficulties, and that the new heaven and earth that he and his party have promised to produce in this country will be as long coming as the millennium for which we have all looked for so many generations. I think it is very important that we should have the number of houses that have been sold, the capital repaid to the Ministry of Health, and the amount of money.
§ 7.0 P.M.
In reference to G. 8 I should like to ask the Minister one or two questions. G. 8, page 22, is the Vote which promised grants to be made for unemployment work especially put in hand by various local authorities and statutory bodies. The point is this. What is the definition which is given by the authorities of those words "revenue - producing undertakings"? I am myself interested in a dock undertaking in the sense that my constituency has a large dock undertaking. This dock undertaking must be considered as a revenue-producing undertaking, or not. They wish to put in hand a big breakwater. The breakwater can produce no revenue whatever, yet the sum which they are willing to spend on the breakwater can only be assisted by a subvention from the Government on the basis of the authority being a revenue-producing authority. I think in work of that kind a definition of what is a revenue-producing undertaking might be given. I submit that a statutory dock authority is not properly regarded as a revenue-producing undertaking. Much more is it like a local authority. It is true it levies rates, but it does not levy rates for profit, it only levies rates for the purpose of paying interest on the loans it raises, and if the aggregate of the rates is in excess of those needs, then the aggregate has to be used in the reduction of those rates. Therefore I think there is strong ground for alleging that such an undertaking must not be regarded as a revenue-producing undertaking but put in the same class as the local authority of a. non-revenue-producing 1864 authority. One might argue, I think, well, that a dock is more like a highway. If you go outside the dock to the highways of the sea there is no question of revenue producing there, and I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to revise the decision of the late Cabinet, submit it again to discussion with a view to giving a larger measure of assistance which will enable this particular case, and others perhaps, to put in hand work which will create employment.
§ Mr. AUSTIN HOPKINSON
There is not the least doubt that the falling off in applications for subsidy, to which the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) referred, has actually occurred. That falling off is due in the main to very practical considerations indeed. At the present time the building trade unions have put in for a rise of 2d. per hour in their wages. Necessarily, anyone engaged in building houses must take that situation into account. In my own district, for example, a property owner is in possession of some very bad slum property, and for many years has been anxious to get rid of that property, and put the tenants in proper houses. That property owner last year submitted to my council a plan for 26 houses of good working-class type which were to be occupied by inhabitants of the slum which he was going to pull down. Naturally, our council passed those houses with the greatest goodwill in the world. They were excellent houses. The property owner himself was prepared to start building as soon as the frosty season is over this year, say the middle of next month. But he is confronted with the fact that, owing very largely to announcements made by the right hon. Gentleman himself, the cost of building during the coming summer is likely to be anything from 20 to 30 per cent. above what it was last year. That is the situation, and that is very largely the reason why private enterprise is not applying for subsidies at the present time. There is another reason, although not, perhaps, so cogent a one. A number of persons who wish to build houses applied to my own council to help them to get the subsidy. Circulars issued by the Ministry of Health limit the grants of subsidy to certain circumstances. For instance, the local authority has to assure the Ministry of Health that the houses in question would not he built 1865 without the subsidy. I venture to say that of all the thousands of houses for which local authorities have claimed subsidies on behalf of private builders, the vast majority would be built if there were no subsidy. My own experience as chairman of a local authority is that we cannot honestly, in the vast proportion of cases that come before us, say that these houses would not be built without the subsidy. That is merely a subsidiary reason for the state of affairs to which the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings has called attention.
The real trouble now is the announcement of the right hon. Gentleman that this Government are going vigorously into the housing question. Whenever I have any money to spare, which is not often in these days, I always start building houses. I have been headed off in all my plans this year. I have been obliged to abandon any hope of getting anything done this year because I cannot afford to pay the exaggerated rate of wages and the exaggerated prices which building trade merchants will demand if the Government is going to have a really progressive scheme such as that adumbrated by the right hon. Gentleman himself. Last year the number of houses built by private enterprise was probably greater than the number of houses which has been built in any year since 1909. All over the country houses have, been going up. I opposed the 1923 Act, although I could not get a seconder for rejection on the Third Reading, because I knew what would happen and what actually has happened, that the mere giving of that subsidy has undoubtedly led to a decrease in the number of houses built. We had a building boom last year, and that boom would have reached its acme this year. But now it has been stopped. For, so long as certain trades are subsidised at the expense of others, so long will the products of those trades be excessively dear. In my own district, owing entirely to Government action, a skilled engineer is receiving shillings a week less than the building trade unskilled labourer. What is worse than that we poor engineers (such as yourself and myself, Mr. Young) are the people who are being rated and taxed to pay those excessive wages to the least deserving trade in the country at the present time.
§ Mr. PERCY HARRIS
Like the Hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. S. Roberts) I have had practical experience of the difficulty of finding houses, not in rural areas but in the County of London, where every expedient has been used to encourage building in every form. I have no objection to the doctrine of the hon. Member for Hereford that it is very nice to own your own house. We have found in London that there are plenty of houses to be bought if you have the money. The difficulty is to find houses to lease, and that is what is happening at the present time under the subsidies to private enterprise. Owing to the long period of trade depression and unemployment there are very few working men meantime in the County of London who are able to put any considerable sum of money down. You are not going to solve, at any rate in London, nor, I think, in other great industrial centres, by private enterprise at the present time, because builders will not build houses to lease. I quite appreciate the difficulty of the Minister of Health. Only being a few weeks in office, it is difficult for him to get control of the whole policy of the Department. I remember when I was on the Grand Committee with him in the last Parliament how we voted together to put in the Bill of the then Minister for Health the right hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. N. Chamberlain) a definite figure as to the maximum number of houses to he allowed by private enterprise to he put on the acre. No one was more eloquent in appeal or more consistent in conduct, and he supported the Amendment to secure that purpose. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that these houses, more than 30 of which are built to the acre, are going to be sold at a profit, and the point is, whether public money should be used to subsidise the building of this number of houses to the acre.
The local authorities are watching the Minister's action very closely. There are good local authorities—there are some very good, progressive authorities—but, unfortunately, they do not all reach the same standard, and there are some very reactionery ones. I am a, member of a great local authority in London, and I have noticed a tendency within the last few months to attempt experiments in building down to a very bad standard. If they see any 1867 laxity in the right hon. Gentleman's administration, every pressure will be brought to bear upon him to allow the building, with the assistance of public money, of houses of an unsatisfactory standard. I happened to be at a committee this morning where the question was seriously considered of putting up tenements with only one lavatory to three or four tenancies I hone that if that proposal ever reaches the Minister he will turn it down. His first action is going to set the standard throughout the country. Is he going to encourage the ideals he put forward with enthusiasm before he was in a position of responsibility, or is he going, in the panic that there is at the present time, to allow the building of houses which ultimately will be regarded as slums That, really, is the issue he has to face. I think the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) was wise to press the Minister on this point. As I understand the right hon. Gentleman's concluding words, these particular houses which have been sanctioned were quite exceptional, and I hope he will make that clear. I hope that in any Circular he may issue he will emphasise the fact that the policy of the Ministry of Health is not to allow more than 16 houses to the acre.
In conclusion, I want to refer to the question raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn). Grants are going to be made in respect of unemployment schemes of a revenue-producing character. There are many estates belonging to local authorities which are now ripe for development, and I want to know from the Minister whether he is going to give any grants towards the development, in advance of the houses, of roads and sewers. There are many estates on which, if a subsidy could be obtained, such work would be put in hand at once, effecting an enormous saving of time, and also a large absorption of unemployed labour of an unskilled character—just the kind of labour for which we want to find employment. I hope the Minister will give a lead to the country in that direction. It is far better to construct roads and develop housing estates than to go on building miles and miles of roads for fast motor traffic. I put that forward as a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman, because, if he could say that under this heading he is pre- 1868 pared to sanction grants of that character, much useful work would be immediately put in hand.
§ Mr. JAMES STEWART (Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health, Scotland)
With reference to what was said by the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Percy Harris), as to the Minister of Health and his ideals with regard to housing, I can assure the hon. Member that the Minister and those who are behind him still retain those ideals to the fullest extent; but circumstances occasionally arise, as in the present case, where we have inherited schemes that have been developed and permitted to be built by the late Ministry of Health, and in such circumstances we cannot, without doing injury, prevent those schemes from being proceeded with. Where plans have been submitted and tenders accepted, and the approval of the Ministry of Health has been signified, we feel that we must of necessity allow these schemes to go on, but on the understanding that we will not, when we are absolutely in control and entirely responsible for these schemes, permit anything in the nature of 30 or 40 or even a much less number of houses to be built to the acre. I can assure the hon. Member, therefore, that we are still standing by our, ideals, and will see that, so far as we are responsible, effect is given to them. The hon. and gallant Member for Leith raised a question that is particularly applicable to Scotland, with regard to docks. These docks are a revenue-producing—
On that point of Order. Is it not a fact that the meagre sum that Scotland gets is obtained under Sub-head G.8 of this Vote?
§ Sir K. WOOD
Is not the matter in relation to Scotland dealt with in the Vote for the Scottish Board of Health, and is not the particular matter in question included under Sub-head F.6 of that Vote?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understand that the Under-Secretary is replying to the 1869 hon. and gallant Member for Leith on Sub-head G.8 in relation to unemployment relief, and not in relation to housing.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
May I point out that the Vote for the office of the Secretary for Scotland—Class II, Vote 34—includes:Grants in respect of Unemployment Schemes: Original Estimate £120,000, Revised Estimate £120,010; Additional sum required £10,and that there is a footnote stating thatThe additional provision is required for grants to local authorities, statutory bodies, and public utility companies, in respect of approved loan schemes, equivalent to 50 per cent. of interest at an approved rate for a period not exceeding 15 years…Is not that the identical Vote in relation to Scotland, so that, consequently, any question regarding docks in Scotland can only be raised on that Vote?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I did not raise any question relating to Scotland, and perhaps I may have a reply on the matter that I did raise?
§ Mr. STEWART
I thought it would save time to reply in that way. I am not yet quite fully acquainted with the Orders of the House, With regard to the question raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara), namely, the question of the period during which the local authorities can pay their half of the interest on the loan, last year a change was made by the Government, and in consequence of that change the period has now been extended from five years to 15 years, so far as these local authorities and public schemes are concerned. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the schemes that are included in this Vote. I have to reply that the 60 per cent. wages schemes are not included in this Vote, because there was enough money in the original Vote, and, therefore, a Supplementary Estimate was not required. With regard to the Dominions, it is true that the Dominions are getting a 75 per cent. grant, as against the 50 per cent, or 60 per cent. given to this country; but, while the Dominions are 1870 getting that 75 per cent., they are getting it for a shorter period. They are getting it for five years only, while here it is given for 15 years, so that as a matter of fact, even with 75 per cent. as against 50 per cent. or 60 per cent., they are getting here rather better terms than in the Dominions. I hope that this reply will satisfy the right hon. Gentleman, and that he will take it that everything is being done that can be done in this direction.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I hope the Government will reconsider that. It does not give any additional assistance to the municipalities who put this work in hand. They have been very patriotic, and have gone out of their way to try to find emergency work year after year for these four successive winters, and I think we ought to encourage them not to be weary in well-doing. A great part of this work is work that they would not have put in hand otherwise, and I think they are entitled to ask—and in the King's Speech of the late Government they were promilsed—rather more generous assistance. It would be good policy, too, because, if these schemes dry up, what becomes of the work-finding policy of the Government of the Labour party? The Labour party say that work should be the main objective rather than money relief. I ask them to help those who put work in hand under great difficulties, and with the result of increasing their own rate charges, by giving them rather more generous assistance in regard to the payment of interest. I hope that the Minister of Health, who has charge of this particular matter—that is to say, the revenue-earning works which are put in hand—will not have said his last word as to 50 per cent. of interest for 15 years being the only assistance which he can give to these authorities.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am very interested in this Sub-head G.8, because it seems to me to denote a new departure on the part of the present Government, and a departure which comes very strangely from the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health. The note says that this is for grants to local authorities, statutory bodies, and public utility companies. This is the hated thing, private enterprise. The Minister of Health, in the first Estimate he brings before 1871 Parliament, shows the cloven hoof. I must confess that, having had him as a constituent in the past, I am greatly surprised at this fall from grace on his part; and let me remark also, in regard to the Under-Secretary, with whom I have had pleasant associations in the past, that I am delighted to hear that his migration to the Government Bench has not destroyed any of his ideals. If, however, it had been any other Ministry, I can well imagine the scorn and contempt and derision that he would have heaped upon any such profession of ideals from them, or on any suggestion that they were in any way bound by circumstances. I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman, whom I congratulate on the fact, recognises the circumstances. I always believed that he would, but here we have—
§ Mr. PRINGLE
This is not an inheritance; it is a new departure. If my hon. Friend, instead of making interruptions based on ignorance, would pay some attention to the Vote, and endeavour to square it with the principles which he enunciates on the platform, he would be making the protest that I am making.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
This is no inheritance. This is the first time there has been a grant to public utility companies. I have looked up the Estimates for last year, and in the principal Estimate the reference is only to local authorities and statutory bodies. Here, for the first time, in a Socialist Government, we find the public utility company included. It. is, therefore, a Socialist Government that has brought in the public utility company, and the hon. Member, who is a vigilant guardian of the temple of the faith, leaves it to an individualist—to one altogether outside the temple, outside the pale—to show this disastrous derogation from Socialist principles on the part of those whom he supports. I think it is most regrettable. Not all the red flag of Poplar will wipe this away. [Interruption.] It is the right hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary for Scotland on the Front Bench with whom I am concerned. I have no doubt 1872 of the fidelity of the uncorrupted Gentlemen on the back benches. I am willing to allow that they are incorruptible, but the Front Bench has fallen from grace. [Interruption.] I regret that my facetious remarks should have aroused this indignation.
But I desire to deal with the other question on which we have had extenuating circumstances put forward by the Under-Secretary. In dealing with this question of density to the acre he said it was purely a matter of inheritance from their predecessors. It is nothing of the kind. The letter to which attention was called by my hon. Friend. the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) is a letter of 15th February. It relates not to schemes that were taken in hand before the present Government come into power but to schemes submitted for the first time for their approval on 6th February, so that there are no inherited circumstances to justify this decision. Furthermore, my hon Friend gave the Minister of Health an opportunity of making a new departure. On 14th February he put a question in these terms.To ask the Minister of Health whether his Ministry has intimated to any local authority that there is no need for it to secure the Minister's sanction as to the maximum density of houses qualified to receive State assistance under the Housing, etc., Act, 1923; and, if so, whether the policy is to be Continued in the future in view of the provisions of Sub-section (1) of Section two of the Housing, etc., Act, 1923.This is the reply of the Minister of Health:Local authorities, generally, have been notified that they will not be required to submit for approval details of their housing schemes under the Act of 1923. In a Circular issued in August"—this, of course, is the work of their predecessors—they were informed that it was not proposed to prescribe a maximum density, and that it was considered that a discretion might properly be exercised by them in this matter in view of the particular circumstances of their district.That was their predecessors, the people whom you used to attack only a. few months ago. They are the villains of the piece, supporting private enterprise and setting up a low standard of housing. That was the thing against which speeches were made when the Housing Bill was going through, as the Noble Lord will 1873 very well remember. The provision in the Bill which was most keenly attacked was that relating to the density of houses. My hon. Friend attacked it, and he was strenuously supported by the Minister of Health, so he has an opportunity now to modify it. It, goes on:The opinion was expressed, however, that a density of approximately 12 houses to the acre represented a desirable standard"—that is a pious opinion, like the Mond Order—and that, as a general rule, a local authority should not approve the building of more than 20 houses on any one acre. It is not my intention to modify this policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1924; col. 1043, Vol. 169.]He has the opportunity to modify it if he likes. He is not bound by the inheritance in any way. He has an absolutely free hand. He might carry out by administrative action now the policy he advocated as a private Member, both in Committee and on the Floor of the House, and he declines to do it. He declined to do it in answer to that question of 14th February, and he declines to do it now. He says in individual cases it may be done. I am surprised even that he should allow that, because this is a question of giving public money for the building of houses. It may be desirable or undesirable to have the sites filled up, but I hold that it should be left to the people who have the land to build on it, and whose interest it is to build on it, and a subsidy should not be given which in effect is of benefit to a particular land-lord. But in a case oof that kind, when exceptional circumstances are to be pleaded, the Minister himself should insist on these exceptional circumstances being brought before the Ministry.
There is nothing in the scale which was presented by the hon. Member for West Hartlepool to indicate that there were exceptional circumstances at all. It simply gave the basis on which a subsidy was to be paid. It said where the density exceeded 20 but did not exceed 25 it was £90. If it was under 20 it was £100. Where the density was 25 and did not exceed 30, £80; where it was 30 but not 35, £70; 35 but not 40, £60; and then we have a provision that a subsidy of public money is even to be given where the density may be over 40, and to any extent over 40, and in that case it might be £50. 1874 Where you get a density as large as that the Ministry should insist upon the exceptional circumstances being disclosed to the Ministry itself. I make this suggestion to the Minister of Health, that when any less scale is placed before the Ministry a demand should be made for the exceptional circumstances which are to justify such a great relaxation of the standard of housing. I largely agree with the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) about the Bill of the late Government. There were great claims made in connection with it that it was going to do a world of good and that a large number of houses were to be built. I believe an infinitesimal addition has been made to the number of houses which have actually been built. I believe a large number of people had made up their minds to build houses before the Chamberlain scheme was announced and they simply held their hand until the scheme was in operation so that they might get £100 of public money and so make a larger profit. on the building of their houses. That was the case largely all over the country. I have known cases of the kind myself, and I believe every other Member of the, House knows of similar instances. Consequently, the quotation of numbers of houses built does not prove that the Act has been a success. You cannot show how many of these houses would have been built altogether without any expenditure of public money. I believe there is a good deal in the hon. Member's view that had the Act not been brought into operation at all we should probably have had building, and I think there is a good deal of force in his suggestion that the announcement of the proposals now made by the Government is going to have a similar effect to those which resulted from the announcement of the Addison scheme, and we are going to have higher prices and no real contribution to the solution of the housing problem.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
May I appeal to the Committee, now that we have discussed this question at such length, and we have so much business to get through, to allow me to get this Vote, which, I submit, has been adequately discussed.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Will the right hon. Gentleman not consider the suggestion I have made that when there is a scheme where the density is exceptional he should 1875 make a special inquiry and have the circumstances disclosed by the authorities?
Mr. T. THOMSON
I want to have it quite clear because, in answer to a question since the matter was before the House, the Minister says the thing can be left to the discretion of local authorities to act reasonably in the matter. The question I put in the earlier discussion was, that where a local authority was so unreasonable as to grant a subsidy on houses of 35 to 40 to the acre, what steps was the Ministry going to take to restrain it? The written answer he gave me, circulated to-day, makes no reference to using the power at all, but simply relies on the discretion of the local authority. Before we leave this matter I should like him to say definitely how he is going to exercise this power, seeing that he has told local authorities that there is no obligation on their part to submit the density per acre for houses which are to qualify for subsidy. That is left entirely to their discretion. How is he going to control them?
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I can only repeat what I have said, that where a subsidy is to be given, and my approval is required, I will see that no subsidy is given for a density such as that to which the hon. Member refers.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I do not propose to pursue the matter which has been raised by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle), who, having taken part in putting the Socialist party in power, and knowing full well that he has to maintain them there, at any rate for the time being, delights himself in saying the nastiest things he can about them—
§ Viscount WOLMER
—every night, and with a great deal of display of knowledge of Parliamentary lore and procedure to show his independence. I do not propose to follow him in that line at all.
§ Viscount WOLMER
In regard to his concluding remarks about the Unionist 1876 housing policy, I could not help being somewhat amused at his claim that the number of houses built or building must be regarded as no criterion of the success of the scheme of the late Government. I suppose by a parity of reckoning the People's Budget of 1909, which reduced the number of houses built by about 50 per cent., can be claimed as a serious and great contribution towards the housing problem. I have risen for a more practical purpose, to ask the Minister for an expression of policy in regard to a matter which affects my constituency, and I am sure those of many other hon. Members. In my constituency the shortage of houses is as acute as in any. There are a great number of men who have been willing to build houses for themselves under the terms provided in the Housing Act, 1923. A great many of these are very small men indeed. Many of them are working men who are not at all accustomed to dealing with Government Departments or of dealing with local authorities. They had a few pounds which they had saved, and by means of the subsidy which they hoped to get under the terms of the Act they saw their way to put up buildings which would be their own. I have had several cases brought to my notice of working men who, having read in the newspapers last year the terms of the Act, as passed by Parliament, took what they thought to be the correct step which would put them right for getting the housing subsidy. A number of these men have been refused the subsidy by the Ministry of Health, and I have been engaged recently in correspondence with the Ministry of Health on the point, taking a test case, because I knew that if I could gain my point in one case I should be able to gain my point in a number of other cases. I have received from the Ministry of Health the most courteous letters and evidently a great deal of trouble had been taken in the matter. There are several cases in which, there is no shadow of doubt, the men perfectly genuinely thought that they were fulfilling the conditions laid down by the Housing Act, and that they had obtained the sanction of the local authority before they commenced to build their houses. The Ministry of Health has stated that where the local authority approved the building of a house before building was commenced, although the local housing schemes had not been approved by the Ministry of Health but 1877 where the schemes were subsequently approved, the houses would be eligible for the subsidy.
In the cases I am mentioning, these men went to their local authority. They saw the town clerk or the clerk of the district council and got the plans approved. They were under the impression that they had the sanction of their local authority which would make them eligible for the subsidy under the housing scheme. They did not fill up the right form, and did not get the formal sanction which the Ministry of Health now requires. Technically, these men are on the wrong side of the law, but I want to ask the Minister to deal with men in the position I have described in a humane manner and not in a manner which is frequently associated with Government Departments. I know that it is very difficult for a Government Department to be humane. It is very difficult for a Government Department to make an exception to a rule. A Government Department has to stick to a principle or formula, and it is very difficult for the Department to deviate from it. That is one of the reasons why I am not a Socialist. The right hon. Gentleman is a Socialist, and glories in the name of Socialist, and it is up to him to show that a Government Department controlled by a Socialist is capable of dealing with human beings as though they were human beings themselves. In cases where he is satisfied, if I bring them to his notice, that the circumstances are genuine and that the man in question was genuinely trying to build a house for himself under the terms of the 1923 Act, and that he was that type of man to whom the 1923 Act was intended to apply, I ask that he should not stand strictly on formula, when the applicants really are entitled to the subsidy.
I am not making this request on behalf of professional builders who, of course, must be expected to know exactly the steps they ought to have taken, and I am not making a request on behalf of people who are building houses as a speculation and trying to sell them at a profit. That is a perfectly legitimate occupation, but the man who follows it must be expected to carry out the rules strictly. I am appealing for those working men who have put their savings into the building of houses and who believed that they were complying with the conditions of 1878 the 1923 Act, but now find that owing to a technical error on their part, due solely to the fact that they had no experience of dealing with Government Departments or local authorities, they are not eligible for the subsidy. Will the right hon. Gentleman look at such cases in a kindly manner and meet them in a sympathetic spirit, as I am sure he would do if he had to deal with them in a private capacity. If he would give me that assurance it would be of great assistance and encouragement to me and to the men I represent, and I believe it would also assist other hon. Members who have had similar cases brought to their notice. I could show the right hon. Gentleman cases where the men went to the town clerk or to the clerk of the district council and got approval in writing, and sometimes they got approval verbally. That approval is not denied, but as the correct forms were not filled in the men are not eligible for the subsidy. If the right hon. Gentleman will deal with these cases in what I may call a humane spirit, he will have vindicated in these circumstances the Socialist party as capable of dealing with these matters in a humane fashion.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
I was going to bring to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman exactly the same matter that has been brought forward by the noble Lord who has just spoken. It is a matter of the administration, and I think the right hon. Gentleman's Department has acted somewhat harshly, if not wrongly. In April or May of last year his Department issued a very strong appeal to the local authorities to get on with the work of building, explaining that if they undertook to guarantee certain schemes it probably would be made right for them if the Bill passed at a later date. In a district of Cambridge of which I am about to speak considerable dissatisfaction has been caused. In the Chesterton rural district certain people started building in villages, with the full knowledge of the rural sanitary authority and with the full approval of the authority, but the authority did not give any undertaking as to the cost. Consequently, the buildings were begun during the summer. In due course, after the August circular, the list was sent in for approval by the Ministry of Health, but the Ministry of Health rejected all those buildings that had been 1879 started before August. The Chesterton rural authority are exceedingly upset about this because, owing to their not having given an undertaking, the people were losing the subsidy to which they would naturally be entitled.
The rural district authority assure me in writing that not one of these buildings would have been begun or thought of if it had not been for the subsidy, and that the men began the work with the approval of the rural district authority and with their full knowledge. I cannot admit the statement of the Noble Lord that there is no law on our side in regard to this matter. I do not expect an answer from the Minister of Health now, because I do not suppose he has the facts in his mind. I hope that he will look into the matter and that he will see his way to meet it in a fair way. Justice would be done if he acceded to the request of the Chesterton rural authority. The present situation has caused much dissatisfaction, and it does not give encouragement to local authorities or private individuals to make as much use as they possibly can of their opportunities for building. I hope my right hon.. Friend will give me an assurance that he will look into the matter.
§ Question put., and agreed to.