HC Deb 06 December 1926 vol 200 cc1695-701

I beg to move, in page 2, line 2, at the end, to insert, the words: (a) specifying the proof to be required by the local authority of the financial inability of the owner of a dwelling-house to carry out the proposed works except he is assisted under this Act. In moving this Amendment, I should like to stress the point that I do not see how it is possible to justify the expenditure of public money in the case of those owners of rural cottages who have sufficient resources to enable them to do the work themselves. If property of this kind, owned by people of substance who have the necessary resources to put it into a proper state of repair, has fallen into a bad state of repair, the proper remedy is not a subsidy from State funds and local rates, but the enforcement of the existing law. I am quite sure that, if the Minister of Health would insist upon the more effective carrying out of the existing provisions of the law in the rural areas, a great deal of the property which is now in a relatively bad state of disrepair would very soon be improved, and I suggest that no good reason has yet been advanced for proposing to put this burden on the ratepayer and the taxpayer.

When this matter was discussed in Committee, the right hon. Gentleman, in replying to this Amendment, suggested that he had some difficulty in arriving at what test should be employed to determine whether or not the individual owner was in a position to carry out the repairs without assistance from the State and the rates, and he asked, "What is to be the test? Is it to be the test of whether he is able to borrow money to enable him to carry out the repairs?" He rejected that test, and suggested that the test which he himself would desire to employ in this matter would be whether or not the work would be done without the grant. It seems to me that the test which the right hon. Gentleman rejected is really the proper test to apply in a matter of this kind. If the use of public money can be defended in the case of people whose resources are very limited, that there can be no defence for the expenditure of public money in a case where the individual owner can borrow the money in order to carry out the necessary repairs, and I cannot understand why the Government resist this Amendment. I should have thought that, from the point of view of economy at any rate, a Government, which had found it necessary to attack the funds used in ministering to the well-being of sick workmen, and which had found it necessary in the name of economy to attack the position of the unemployed workman, would have been the last Government to resist an Amendment of this kind, and it comes with a particularly bad grace from the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the fact that a day or two ago he moved in this House a Resolution for the purpose of bringing about a reduction in the subsidy for the erection of new houses. The right hon. Gentleman is cutting down that expenditure on the erection of new houses, which are even more needed on the countryside than the patching up of existing dwellings. I should have thought the argument of economy would have appealed to this Government, and they would have been unable to resist an Amendment which seeks to ensure that no property shall be repaired at the public expense when the owner has the means to enable him to carry out the law.

I should like to urge a further consideration. This seems to me to be a very vicious principle with regard to housing legislation and an alteration of the existing law. In our great urban areas there is a very considerable amount of property inhabited by working-class occupiers which belongs to small owners, and which is really in a very bad state of repair. As a member of a local authority, I have had some little knowledge of the difficulties with which local authorities are faced in a strict enforcement of existing legislation designed to protect the tenants, and secure that the property is maintained in a state fit for human habitation. We continually come across cases where property is owned by people of very limited means who are not really in a financial position to execute repairs. I do not think any Member of the House of Commons would dare to come before the House and ask that a Bill should be passed to enable those urban property owners to put their property into a proper state of repair, and I fail to see why the right hon. Gentleman should resist my Amendment, because it seems to me so very clear that as good a case can be made out for the owners of urban property as for the owners of rural property, and if he is going to give this assistance to rural property owners, and particularly to those who are in a position to repair their properties and to make them reasonably fit for human habitation, I fail to see how he could resist the same kind of treatment being given to small and needy property owners who happen to own urban property instead of rural. Therefore, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept this Amendment, both in the interest of economy and on the ground of the unfairness of the present proposal as between rural and urban owners. The proposal actually to impose charges upon rates and taxes to help property owned by people who are in the position to do it out of their own resources seems to me absolutely indefensible in a Government which has refused to consider a subsidy in the case of the mining industry, and which refuses to give the same facilities to property owners in the towns.


I beg to second the Amendment.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Neville Chamberlain)

The hon. Member has argued on two assumptions, both of which I think are inaccurate. The first is, that the property, which is the subject of the operation of the Bill, is not in what he calls a proper state of repair. A proper state of repair may be a matter of opinion. If he means by that, in such a state of disrepair that it would be condemned by the local medical officer of health, that is an assumption which he has no right to make, and if the property is not in that state of disrepair, but is merely out of date and lacking something which it might properly have to-day, there is no power by which the owner can be compelled to make the alterations that he will make when he has the facilities given him which are offered by the Bill The other assumption is that this is a Bill for the benefit of the owners of house property. The way you look at the Bill as a whole, and upon this Amendment in particular, must largely be governed by whether you are more anxious to help the agricultural worker, or to punish the owner. [HON. MEMBERS: "This is giving him something!"] It is giving the agricultural worker something. HON. MEMBERS: "And the owners!"] That is just where I differ from hon. Members opposite. There may be some remote indirect advantage to the owners 20 years hence, but no one can say that a Bill that gives only the possibility of getting 3 per cent. on such part of the money as he expends on the property himself—money for which he would have to pay 5 per cent. himself—is putting money into the pockets of the owner. What would be the result if this Amendment were accepted? How would an owner satisfy the local authorities of his financial inability to carry out the work? I ask any reasonable Member opposite to put himself in the position of an owner. Is he likely to come forward and undertake to improve his cottages if he has first to undergo an examination of this kind about his private affairs? In all probability in many cases he could not satisfy the local authority that he was financially unable, and that he could not borrow the money to carry out the alterations. The question is, how are we to persuade the owner to carry out these alterations, which are for the benefit of the man who is going to occupy the house? It is certainly contrary to the whole purpose of the Bill; indeed, it would wreck the operation of the Bill if I were to accept the Amendment, and I hope the House will reject it.


The right hon. Gentleman sets up a standard for people of his class, and for owners of property, which he is not prepared to recognise for members of the working classes. Owners of property are going to get something out of the Bill in order to make them put it into proper repair and fit for human beings to live in, and they have to have a grant out of the public purse or they will not do what is their ordinary common duty. When we ask that they should give some proof of their need of this public money, the right hon. Gentleman says, "How can you expect owners of property to give the local authorities an account of what their finances are?" I wish you applied that standard to members of the working class when their financial need is great, but in nearly every case where a member of the working class wants help from a public authority, or from State funds, he has to give to some committee of inquiry a full description of the whole of his income, and if he does not do it, he does note get the assistance. It is one standard for members of the working class, and another for members of his own class—the property-owning class. "How could you expect members of my class to state what their finances are?" and he openly admits that in a good many cases the local council would come to the conclusion that their financial ability was such that they could afford to do it without dipping their hand into the public purse. He says, "If that be so, you would not get the houses altered." He admits, by implication, that the financial ability already exists and that because they do not desire to make the alterations they condemn these people to continue to live in houses that are practically unfit for human habitation. We are often accused of preaching class war. If we ever sit on the seats opposite, and we shall, and we are guilty of practising class war half as much as the right hon. Gentleman and his supporters, hon. Members opposite may have some reason to criticise us. When the workers ask for some-

thing, hon. Members opposite have always made the point that it will destroy the moral of the workers, their manhood, and all the rest of it, to grant their request, but no such accusation is made by hon. Members opposite when members of their own class are going to get public money. Then, they wish to avoid the question as to whether or not their class are able to find the money themselves. They must have the money if they make application for it, and that is an end of it.

This is a Bill in order to house rural workers who, to judge from the speeches of hon. Members opposite, are the flower of the countryside and so forth. According to this Bill, they are living in a state of misery and destitution, and the houses are so bad that they are not fit for habitation, in order to compel the people who are responsible for the condition of those cottages to put them into a proper condition and do their duty, the Minister of Health has to give them a bribe out of the public purse, and when we ask that some examination should be applied to them just as an examination is applied to the working classes when they ask for anything and when they apply for public assistance, the right hon. Gentleman asks, "How can you expect members of my class to give particulars?" We shall have great pleasure in going into the Lobby in support of this Amendment.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 77; Noes, 195.

Division No. 529.] AYES. [3.53 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Dunnico, H. Macmillan, Captain H.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Gillett, George M. MacNeill-Weir, L.
Ammon, Charles George Gosling, Harry March, S.
Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bliston) Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Maxton, James
Baker, Walter Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Montague, Frederick
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)
Barnes, A. Groves, T. Naylor, T. E.
Barr, J. Grundy, T. W. Oliver, George Harold
Batey, Joseph Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Paling, W.
Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith) Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Ponsonby, Arthur
Bondfield, Margaret Hardie, George D. Potts, John S.
Bromley, J. Hayes, John Henry Riley, Ben
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute) Hirst, G. H. Salter, Dr. Alfred
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Scurr, John
Cape, Thomas Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield) Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Charleton, H. C. John, William (Rhondda, West) Smith, H. B. Lees- (Keighley)
Cluse, W. S. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Cove, W. G. Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip
Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities) Kelly, W. T. Stamford, T. W.
Dalton, Hugh Kennedy, T. Stephen, Campbell
Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale) Lansbury, George Taylor, R. A.
Day, Colonel Harry Lunn, William Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)
Duncan, C. MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R.(Aberavon) Thurtle, Ernest
Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P. Williams, T. (York, Don Valley) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Viant, S. P. Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe) Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr.
Welsh, J. C. Windsor, Walter Charles Edwards.
Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J. Wright, W.
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Ganzoni, Sir John Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.
Albery, Irving James Garro-Jones, Captain G. M. Morrison-Bell, Sir Arther Clive
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Gates, Percy Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M.S. Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Ormsby-Gore, Hon, William
Applin, Colonel R. V. K. Goff, Sir Park Owen, Major G.
Apsley, Lora Gower, Sir Robert Penny, Frederick George
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Grant, Sir J. A. Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)
Barrett, Major Sir Richard Greene, W. P. Crawford Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W. Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Assheton
Bennett, A. J. Grotrian, H. Brent Ramsden, E.
Berry, Sir George Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Reid, Capt. Cunningham (Warrington)
Betterton, Henry B. Gunston, Captain D. W. Remnant, Sir James
Boothby, R. J. G. Hacking, Captain Douglas H. Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.) Rice, Sir Frederick
Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland) Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)
Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W. Hammersley, S. S. Roberts, Sir Samuel (Hereford)
Brass, Captain W. Harrison, G. J. C. Ropner, Major L.
Brassey, Sir Leonard Haslam, Henry C. Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A.
Briant, Frank Hawke, John Anthony Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Briggs, J. Harold Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M. Rye, F. G.
Brittain, Sir Harry Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Broun-Lindsay, Major H. Hennessy, Major J. R. G. Sandeman, A. Stewart
Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'i'd., Hexham) Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford) Sanderson, Sir Frank
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y) Herbert, S. (York, N. R., Scar. & Wh'by) Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustav D
Buckingham, Sir H. Hills, Major John Waller Shaw, Capt. Walter (Wilts, Westb'y)
Bullock, Captain M. Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G. Sheffield, Sir Berkeley
Burman, J. B. Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone) Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)
Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.) Skelton, A. N.
Cautley, Sir Henry S. Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities) Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kine'dine, C.)
Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City) Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.) Smithers, Waldron
Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth, S.) Hudson, R. S. (Cumb'l'nd, Whiteh'n) Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Cazalet, Captain Victor A. Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis Sprot, Sir Alexander
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood) Hunting field, Lord Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F.(Will'sden, E.)
Charteris, Brigadier-General J. Hurd, Percy A. Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)
Churchman, Sir Arthur C. Hurst, Gerald B. Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.
Clayton, G. C. Hutchison, G. A. Clark (Midl'n & P'bl's) Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Cobb, Sir Cyril Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose) Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l) Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)
Cope, Major William Jacob, A. E. Thomas, Sir Robert John (Anglesey)
Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Cunliffe, Sir Herbert Kennedy, A. R. (Preston) Tinne, J. A.
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) King, Captain Henry Douglas Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Davies, sir Thomas (Cirencester) Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Davies, Dr. Vernon Knox, Sir Alfred Turton, Sir Edmund Russborough
Davison, Sir W, H. (Kensington, S.) Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley) Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.
Dawson, Sir Philip Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green) Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Dixey, A. C. Looker, Herbert William Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)
Drewe, C. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere Wells, S. R.
Eden, Captain Anthony Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)
Edmondson, Major A. J. MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)
Elliot, Major Walter E. Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Windsor- Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Elveden, Viscount McLean, Major A. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.) Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm Wise, Sir Fredric
Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith McNeill, Rt. Hon Ronald John Wolmer, Viscount
Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South) Macquisten, F. A. Womersley, W, J.
Everard, W. Lindsay Mac Robert, Alexander M. Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)
Fairfax, Captain J. G. Makins, Brigadier-General E. Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'ge & Hyde)
Falle, Sir Bertram G. Malone, Major P. B. Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.)
Fanshawe, Commander G. D. Margesson, Captain D. Wood, Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)
Fenby, T. D. Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Woodcock, Colonel H. C.
Forestier-Walker, Sir L. Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark) Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Forrest, W. Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden) Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Foster, Sir Harry S. Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)
Fraser, Captain Ian Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Frece, Sir Walter de Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr) Captain Viscount Curzon and
Captain Lord Stanley.