HC Deb 07 April 1930 vol 237 cc1801-60

Order for Second Reading read.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The Bill is a stage in the efforts of the nation to deal with a very vital problem which has been the subject in times past of many official inquiries, of much anxious thought, and of a good deal of legislation, but a problem which, nevertheless, has not yet satisfactorily been solved. Over 70 years ago John Bright said that: The nation in every country dwells ird the cottage. That is as true to-day as it was then. We have been accustomed to hear that the Englishman's home is his castle, I hope not literally, but at least metaphorically. It was the place where he had a secure refuge and where he was free from invasion. But the home is a good deal more than that. The Englishman's home is the nursery of personal and civic virtues; it is the institution of the whole of us, which, in its intimate day by day life, shapes the destinies of our people.

The housing problem, therefore, is not merely a problem of bricks and mortar; it is one of providing proper conditions of life for a community which deserves it. I am not against the pig sty for the pig. I am against the hovel and the pig sty for human beings, who, whether they like it or not, have cast upon them the responsibilities of citizenship. We are all familiar how in every town and indeed in every village there are decaying houses, dark and damp, houses with rotting floor boards and peeling walls, houses huddled together as though for very shame, houses teeming with people who are citizens or potential citizens of this country living often hidden away from the gaze of the passerby by more respectable buildings. It is the fact that they have been hidden away so long that has kept the problem with us. The marvel is that so much good comes out of such unpromising surroundings. The people who inhabit the slums are much like the people who occupy the benches in this House. It is true that among the slum dwellers there are shiftless people. There are shiftless people in Mayfair, whose shiftlessness never comes to the public eye because they are too well looked after by other people. There are people in the slums who ultimately are unable any longer to resist the influence of the slums and they merge into the depths of their environment, but there is a large proportion of slum dwellers who throughout the whole of their lives put up a very gallant fight to maintain as well as they can the decencies of family life.

Let me give two illustrations from the reports of medical officers of health, because we have been told no often that it is the slum tenant that makes the slum. The medical officer of health for the city of Hull, dealing with some tenments which have been built there, says: It is very gratifying to note that although the tenants of the flats already erected have all been drawn from the demolished slum houses, they have proved that they are quite worthy of the more modern accommodation now placed at their disposal, and that, in this case at any rate, it is not 'the tenants who make the slums'. In the city of Wakefield, which I recently visited, and where there are slums as appalling as in any city in this country, the medical officer of health describes how slum dwellers were taken to a new estate: At the end of 1925, 24 of the de-housed families had been accommodated in new houses at Portobello, and I am glad to say that most of them are proving satisfactory tenants. We were warned that the tenants turned out of the slum houses would soon make slums of the municipal houses, and certainly we expected a good deal of trouble with many of them. Our expectations have fortunately not been realised. The inspectors, who regularly go round the new houses, seldom have to find fault with their condition, and report that the people are responding wonderfully to their new and better environment. That, I think, is a true picture and proves that the majority of the people who are condemned, through no fault of their own. to unsatisfactory housing conditions, are. broadly speaking, a pretty fair sample of the nation, with the qualities of the nation and the defects of the nation. At the end of the War, in a little country town, I saw a miserable cottage that ought to have been destroyed. In the window of that cottage there was displayed, proudly, five cards, showing that some woman there had sent five men to the War. Across three of the cards was drawn a black mark, which showed that three of the men had lost their lives. I have wondered many times since what kind of houses the remaining two are occupying. They were the people to whom we offered homes at the end of the War. By the common consent of all political parties, we were to provide homes for heroes. But there are other classes of heroes besides war heroes, and my heart goes out particularly to those extraordinarily courageous women who are fighting year after year against the dirt and filth of slum environment, bringing up their families, looking after the breadwinner, often enough having to deal with sick children, who ought never to have been sick had there been better housing. For them also something needs to be done and needs to be done urgently.

I am prepared to admit, as we all must admit, that very considerable progress has been made. For near 100 years, from the days of Chadwick, Shaftesbury and other pioneers down to to-day, an enormous amount has been done and the foundations of a system of legislation dealing with houses has been on the Statute Book for a long time. In post-War years I think we can claim to have done as much as any other nation. Many of my predecessors, more distinguished than I, have helped to build up a housing code, and figures of housing achievement which no one would desire to belittle, but the truth is that to-day the people who need help most have received the least assistance. In spite of the enormous number of houses that have been built since the War the problem has in many respects become more complex and more serious.

The problem of the present time, as I see it, is this: we have by the building societies, the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act and similar provisions, done a great deal, although much still remains to be done, for those who are able and desire to own the houses in which they live. We have provision whereby local authorities may provide houses to let. They have powers which enable them effectively to deal with what I may call the normal problem, and I hope that both those activities will be steadily pursued. This Bill will, I trust, do something to enable local authorities to feel a greater sense of security in building under the Act of 1924, but these two methods alone, with the best will in the world, cannot cover the whole ground and cope successfully with the whole problem.

There are two different asp sets of the question which to-day cry aloud for more effective treatment; two diseases which are growing steadily worse. The first is the desecration of the countryside. the unorganised, sporadic development that is taking place, and the uglification of our towns and villages by purblind people. That is a problem which needs early treatment. It. raises not merely the question of town planning or regional planning, but of national planning, in order to make the wisest use of our resources. That is a matter for separate legislation, which I hope it may be my privilege to introduce.

4.0 p.m.

The second problem is the problem of bad and overcrowded houses and districts, what we call the slum problem. That is a problem which has never been effectively tackled. It is a problem which is becoming more difficult of solution year by year, partly because of the progressive decay of old slums and partly because of the deterioration in recent years of more and more property to the slum level; in other words, the creation of new slums. Our progress in the matter of slum clearance has been deplorably slow. In the 30 years before 1919, 75 schemes were confirmed. In the 10 years since then, 121 schemes have been confirmed, of which 43 have been completed. The number of houses and other buildings in confirmed schemes is approximately 15,000. The number of persons whom it is desired to re-house is about 74,000. The number of houses that are to be built is 12,000. The number of houses that have already been demolished is between 8,000 and 9,000, and the number that have been actually completed during the 10 years just closed is only 9,743—a tragically small contribution to the solution of a problem which has become more serious within the last 10 years. It is, obviously, shortsighted of the nation to spend money on health services and to condemn people to live under conditions which create disease with which the health services are brought into existence to deal.

I do not want to weary the House with examples, but let me give the kind of area and the conditions of the area where attempts have been made to clear the slums. I will take an area in Exeter where there was a density of population of 388 persons per acre, where 78 houses per acre were packed together, and, at the inquiry which was held, the town clerk said that the area was rat-infested, the houses were mostly of lath and plaster construction, many being without sanitary conveniences, and the general conditions were worse now than when the area was represented in March, 1920. The chairman of the housing committee said that the death rate for the area was nearly double that of the city as a whole, while the tuberculosis death rate was nearly three times that of the city as a whole. At Keighley, 30 years ago, the medical officer of health put his finger on an area and condemned it as containing houses unfit for human habitation. At a recent inquiry those houses still existed, and the medical officer described the general conditions as dirt and dilapidation, absence of sunlight, no larders (food kept under the bed), no washhouses, 50 tub closets (all a nuisance); some houses built as early as the year 1802.

If you go to a bigger centre of poulation, and take a place like Stepney, the toll of diseases attributed primarily to housing conditions is almost incredible. In the area of Stepney (Limehouse Fields) Improvement Scheme, the infantile mortality rate for 1924 was 161 per thousand, as compared with 74 for the whole borough. The number of deaths under five years of age was 55 per cent. of the total deaths in the area, as compared with 21 per cent. of the total deaths in the whole borough. The infectious diseases notified rate for the area, excluding tuberculosis, was 19 per thousand, as compared with 4.6 for the whole borough. The tuberculosis rate for the area was 2.87 per thousand, as compared with 1.06 for the whole borough.

I could give many other illustrations. I conclude with one further illustration from Nottingham, an area which is less than half-a-mile from the centre of the city. It is described as a "notorious slum," containing narrow alleys from three to eight feet wide, some streets only 12 feet wide in places and 131 back-to-back houses. In the main the buildings were from 100 to 200 years old, and quite worn out. It is not surprising that in an area like that the death rate was 49.5 per thousand, as against 12.5 for the city of Nottingham as a whole; nor is it surprising that the infantile death rate in that area was more than double what it was for the city as a whole. I grieve to say that this is one of the schemes which has been held up as a result of the Derby judgment, following upon which a writ was served, on behalf of one of the owners, asking for a declaration that the scheme and amending scheme were void.

I give those as illustrations of the conditions of slum life, and now I wish to ask why it is that, so far, we have been unsuccessful in dealing with this problem? In the first place, I think it is quite clearly due to the complicated law and procedure at the present time. For consider what has to be done to get a slum clearance scheme through and completed. The first step is taken by the medical officer of health, who makes a representation. Following upon that, the local authority may make a declaration that the area is an unhealthy area. In some cases it has taken the local authority 30 years to make up its mind. The local authority then, with magnificent dignity and in a leisurely manner, prepares a scheme for the improvement of the area, the scheme is advertised, notices of it are served on the owner, the lessees and the tenants. Then the local authority presents a petition to the Minister praying that an order may be made confirming the scheme. The Minister then holds an inquiry, not always a very speedy process, and after that he may confirm the scheme either as it stands or with modifications. After all this time has elapsed, and this complicated procedure has come to an end, the local authority is then at the very beginning of a slum clearance scheme, and not at the end. It will then proceed to purchase the property, either voluntarily or by compulsion, and proceed with the work of actual slum clearance.

It is obvious that machinery of that kind is too cumbersome to be effective. But, apart from that, difficulties have recently arisen from a decision of the Courts in what is known as the Derby case—.Rex v. Minister of Health ex parte Davis. It was held that the scheme which had been made by the Derby Corporation was bad, and the Minister was prohibited from confirming it. The scheme dealt with a very small area, 1½ acres, in the very heart of the City of Derby. The land was quite unsuitable for working-class dwellings, and it was the intention of the Corporation, after clearing the land and demolishing the insanitary houses, to sell the site in the open market, and a scheme was adopted to empower the local authority to sell, lease or otherwise dispose of the land, or to appropriate it for any purpose approved by the Minister. But in the Courts the scheme was held to be invalid because the insertion in the scheme of a general power of selling or leasing land unconditionally went beyond the Statute, and the scheme was defective in not providing for the rearrangement' of streets and houses. The practice of confirming schemes on these lines has been followed by the Department for more than half a century, and had received. as everybody thought, the approval of Parliament. It had given rise to no complaint, and was the obviously practical way of ensuring the removal of unhealthy conditions. But the effect of this decision—indeed, there is another case now pending in the Courts—has been in many parts of the country to hold up further progress. That, I may say, is one of the matters to be dealt with in the Bill.

That is the first obstacle to any successful attack on the problem of the slum—the problem of the existing law and procedure under it. The second is the existing grant and all that it involves. It is quite clear, I think, that a grant of 50 per cent. of the estimated net annual loss is inadequate, because it places too heavy a burden upon our local authorities. In the first place, because the net estimated annual loss is, as to half, borne by the Treasury, there is followed inevitably a system of excessive control at every stage in the procedure of a local authority to clear a slum and maintain new houses subsequently. Every purchase of land or proposal to build, every contract for sale and disposal of land subsequently, all arrangements as to rent, have been subject hitherto to the approval of the Minister of Health. This meticulous and detailed supervision is both a discouragement to local authorities and an inevitable source of delay.

The third reason why. I think, particularly in recent years, we have not made very rapid progress is that local authorities have had in the forefront of their minds what I may call normal housing requirements, and their energies have gone in that direction. But the time has now arrived when in building under the Act of 1924 they should deal in a generous way with the problem of the slum, and Lo deal with this problem it is clear that we must eliminate unnecessary procedure, that we must secure more direct and less cumbrous arrangements, that we must give the local authorities greater freedom and that we must give them also greater financial assistance. It is important, in addition, to tighten up, in some respects, the existing law, in order to make it more effective, and it is equally important to enable local authorities to stop the degradation of new districts towards the slum level. That is, broadly, what is proposed in the Bill.

I may be asked, indeed on more than one occasion I have already Peen asked, what about the policy of reconditioning? I believe that reconditioning of individual cottages has a useful but limited part to play in the solution of this problem, but there are too many bad houses that cannot be made good houses for reconditioning ever to be anything approaching a complete policy on this question. I would remind the House that we have on the Statute Book an Act which was designed for this very object. I refer to the Housing (Rural Workers) Act passed by the late Government. It was claimed by those who submitted the Bill to Parliament that there were many old houses which could be put into a good condition at moderate expense, and other buildings which might readily be converted into dwelling-houses if only adequate assistance were provided. In moving the Second Reading of that Bill, the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain), after referring to the invasion of the country by town dwellers, used these words: If, therefore, it were possible to provide a certain amount of new building to take care, as the Americans say, of the town dwellers and at the same time to bring up to modern standards the existing old houses in the villages, then I think one might say that the rural housing problem would he solved."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1926; col. 2840, Vol. 198.] I have taken the trouble to find out what I said in the reply on that occasion. I said: When everything is done that can be done to improve existing houses, we shall still be left with the major problem. I do not believe that more than a minority of the houses are likely to be put into a reasonable state of habitation in accordance with modern standards, and, therefore, there is a grave need for new houses."—{OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1926; col. 2852, Vol. 198.] It is a melancholy satisfaction that the history of the last three years has proved who was the better prophet. Very little assistance was given under that Act. Grants under that Act could be made up to £100 for each dwelling or up to two-thirds of the cost of the work, and loans might be made up to 90 per cent. of the value of the improved house. What has it produced? I can give the figures up to the end of December last when the Act had been running for three or four years. The total number of dwellings in respect of which grants or loans had been made or promised was 2,510, and the number of applications still under consideration was 396. One or two local authorities have tried to make effective use of the Act, but most of them have not done so, and they have not done so because they do not believe in it as a policy. In this I am fortified by the Association of Municipal Corporations, who had a conference on the 27th November last, discussed this matter at some length, and came to this conclusion: To sum up, we cannot advise that reconditioning should not be allowed in view of the experience of such Cities as Birmingham and Bristol, and we are of opinion that, when exercised, reconditioning should be dealt with by the local authority. But generally we consider that reconditioning as a policy is open to grave objections and we recommend that it be not encouraged. We do not consider that further legislative powers in respect of reconditioning should be asked for. The right hon. Member for Edgbaston will remember that, because he was in the chair at the meeting. Local authorities already have power's for reconditioning, and, within the limits of the possibilities of reconditioning, I hope that they will be used. The Bill introduces what I may call rational reconditioning on a large scale, in a way which I will attempt to show presently, but I am convinced that any concentration on reconditioning as a policy is bound to fail. The Bill deals with the problems I have outlined, but before coming to the Bill—

Lieut.-Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL

We want to know the Bill.


I know hon. Members opposite never like being talked to about principles, but before explaining how the principles at which I have arrived are applied in the Bill I would remind the House that though the slum problem looms largest in the Bill and occupies the most prominent place in it, this is a general housing Measure containing provisions which I hope will assist the solution of the more general problem. For a Measure of this kind the Bill is fairly straightforward and intelligible. At any rate, it seeks, so far as slum clearance and allied problems are concerned, to provide a coherent and complete code. In making an attack and an ordered attack, upon slum conditions in our towns and villages, it is clear that the local authority must have in mind three broad classes of cases. There is first, the area which we call in the Bill "the clearance area;" an area which is so bad that complete clearance is the only satisfactory remedy.

There is, secondly, the area which though it may be pretty bad is still worth saving, and, if you do not save it, it will get worse; an area which can be opened up and made decently habitable. That is an area which in the Bill we call an "improvement area." Thirdly, there is the problem of the individual bad house which happens to fall outside either the clearance area or the improvement area but which ought to be repaired or demolished. Part I of the Bill deals with clearance areas and improvement areas. Part II deals with the problem of the individual house. Part I replaces and extends a number of provisions in the Consolidated Act of 1929, and deals with measures to be taken for the clearance and improvement of unhealthy areas. I have already explained the difficult and complex procedure which at present obtains in regard to slums, and the difficulty created by the Derby case. The first part of the Bill deals with those two questions. It does away with what is called "a scheme," and it separates the procedure for the declaration and clearance of an area from the procedure for dealing with an area when it has been cleared.

That is one of the difficulties in the Derby case. My submission is that while the landlord is perfectly entitled to know the procedure by which he is to be dispossessed, while he is entitled to know what is being done with the area, if it is to be used for rehousing or as an open space because that affects his compensation, it is no business of his what the local authority does with the property after it has been obtained, and, therefore, I think a distinction must be drawn between the acquisition of an area and the subsequent use to which it is put. In order to get over the difficulty created by the Derby decision local authorities are in this part of the Bill given a general power of disposing of the land on a cleared area.


This is rather an important matter. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether this new procedure will be retrospective and will affect schemes which are not yet completed?


I have been into that question, and if it had been practicable to make it retrospective I should have been glad to have done so. I think that under the new procedure delay will be almost negligible in the case of schemes which have been held up because of the Derby case. Now as to clearance areas. Clause I defines it and prescribes the procedure of a local authority in declaring an area to be a clearance area. An area may be cleared in one of two ways under the Bill. It may be cleared, first, by requiring the owners to demolish the buildings themselves, or, secondly, by the local authority purchasing the area and then arranging for demolition. The method of requiring the owners to demolish is a new one, and is frankly designed to enable local authorities, where they wish to do so, to secure the removal of a bad slum without being obliged to incur enormous capital expenditure on purchase and clearance.

If it is right to require an owner, as we shall under the Bill, to demolish a single house there is no reason why all the owners in an area should not be called upon to demolish all the houses in a clearance area. This is a method which meets with the approval of local authorities. If a local authority wishes to proceed by this method it will make a clearance order which must be confirmed by the Minister of Health. If objections are taken, as they may be in certain cases, then, of course, there must be a public inquiry. But after order has become operative it will then be the duty of the owners to demolish the buildings, and, if they fail to do so, the local authority is empowered to enter and demolish and recover the cost. The cleared site will then remain with the owners, and they can do what they like with it, subject of course to the local by-laws and to any town planning scheme which may be put forward. They have been robbed of nothing which was worth anything, and they still have their land. What could be fairer?

The other method is one whereby local authorities will purchase the site and buildings, although the buildings in a clearance area will have no great value, and themselves undertake the removal of the buildings on the site. The procedure proposed now is somewhat more expeditious and simpler than under the present law, because it does away with the need for a formal scheme and entitles a local authority to buy the area by agreement or by compulsion. Where they are unable to buy by agreement they may make a compulsory purchase order, of which due notice, of course, must be given to all owners, and the order must be confirmed by the Minister, who must hold an inquiry if there are objections. When the local authorities have bought the land they must proceed to demolish the buildings and site and appropriate the land for some purpose for which they have statutory powers, or dispose of it in some other way. In some cases, of course, they may wish to re-house on the site or to retain it as an open space. I come now to the Clauses 5 and 6 of the Bill.


I should be glad if the Minister would further explain the provisions of the Bill on the subject of clearance areas. I understand that in the case of a clearance urea it is proposed that all the buildings in the area shall be demolished. but in Clause 2 the Bill says: Where as respects any area declared by them to be a clearance area a local authority determine to order any buildings in the area to be demolished,… That seems to suggest cases where some buildings are to be left. Would the Minister clear up that point?


It is quite clear in the Bill that a clearance area is a clearance area, and that everything is cleared, but I will look into those particular words. It may be that an area may be proceeded with by pieces and not by complete demolition of all buildings at one time. With regard to the improvement area, the Bill contains a new development of the methods available to local authorities for dealing with unsatisfactory housing conditions. There are in all towns, and in practically all villages, aggregations of houses in varying degrees of bad condition. Large numbers of them are bad, some worse than others; generally badly arranged and generally overcrowded. Often these are areas of considerable size. The houses are not all so far gone that they need be destroyed; not so far gone as to justify a wholesale clearance of the area. It is an area where, if the worst are dealt with, if air and sunshine are let in and roads are made, it could be made reasonably healthy. That is what is proposed in these two Clauses; only, of course, it is essential that if you cream off, either from houses that have been destroyed to make more open spaces for roads, or from the overcrowded houses into new houses, that surplus population, you cannot be sure that that area will not become a semi-slum very shortly.

It is clear that if public money is to be devoted to tidying up and purifying an area of this kind, it must not be allowed to relapse again into its previous condition. Therefore, we propose that where areas are dealt with in this way, local authorities shall have their bylaws to prevent any relapse into the old conditions which have been destroyed by the operation of the slum clearance scheme. The object of this, of course, is to get the local authority not to deal with this problem in a sporadic fashion, but to look at it broadly and ahead, and to take deteriorating areas, mark them off, deal with them in a proper order of priority, and tidy them up as and when they can, making it clear that once they are tidied up they are never going to become as bad as they were before.

It is clear that in the case of both clearance areas and improvement areas it is essential to the scheme that there should be the provision of houses, that indeed the provision of houses should go on whilst the other process is taking place. In the case of the improvement area, which I regard as being the only scientific form of reconditioning, there is a dual responsibility. The useless houses, the condemned houses go; the local authority drives its streets through where it thinks it needs them and opens out areas which it thinks need more air than they at present have. Then it says to the landlord—to whom better could it say it?—"You must put this house into repair, and you must keep it in repair, and you must not overcrowd it any more." That is real conditioning, because the responsibility for reconditioning of the individual cottage falls where it ought to fall, on the landlord, and the general responsibility for furbishing up the area as a whole falls on the local authorities.


I see that the local authorities are permitted to purchase such areas as they think necessary for opening up, but apparently a local authority is not to be allowed to purchase houses which require to be put and kept in repair. Would the Minister say why corporations alone are allowed to put pressure on the owners of the old houses to keep them in repair, and why the local authorities should not be given at any rate permission to buy?


I have already explained that under the existing law local authorities, if they like, can buy houses. But what you are dealing with now is not a method of increasing the number of houses held by the local authority in an improvement area; what you are trying to do is to tone up an area, and the local authority's job in an improvement area is not to buy cottages which it does not want. It buys them only because it wishes to pull them down and to open up an area.

It is necessary at this point that I should say something about the vexed question of compensation, which is dealt with in Clause 9. I would remind the House that in 1919, by general acclamation, the present basis of compensation was settled. It has operated for nearly 11 years. Local authorities and property owners have become accustomed to it. Indeed prices have become adjusted to it. It would need overpowering arguments for me, of all Ministers of Health, to go back on the settlement of 1919. I do not believe that there is a great case for it. I would not willingly take any step which would add substantially to the cost of slum clearance. If we were to make a substantial alteration in the law with regard to compensation we would add substantially to the cost of slum clearance. As the law stands, when a house is condemned it is worth nothing. That is right. When meat is condemned it is worth nothing either. I have never heard of any powerful agitation for the compensation of butchers who expose rotten meat for sale to the public. A condemned house, condemned by responsible people, as unfit for human habitation, is a house which obviously is worth nothing. The site is worth something in almost all cases, and the landlord is entitled to that.

But the law, as laid down by other Members of this House than myself 11 years ago, made a reduction in the compensation in cases where an area was to be used for working class houses or open spaces, and ever since that time compensation has been dealt with on that basis, and the sales of property that have taken place have presumably been carried out with that knowledge. It seems right, therefore, that we should keep this broad principle of site value. I saw this morning for the first time a letter in one of the newspapers from the Secretary of the Property Owners' Protection Association: The Bill re-enacts Section 46 of the existing Housing Act, which has been condemned in no uncertain terms by the late Minister of Health. A consequence of this is that the provisions for compensation of owners of sound property within unhealthy areas are deliberately unjust. I say deliberately, because ample evidence has been placed before successive Ministers of Health that Section 46 of the Housing Act of 1925 has occasioned grievous hardship and injustice to thousands of comparative poor people. My reply to that would be that if the proof is so ample why did not my predecessors act upon it? It is very reasonable to suggest that the late Government, whose supporters to-day are showing a great deal of interest in the problem, had four and a-half years, a good deal of which time was wasted, during which, if this was a burning injustice, they might have removed it.


They built houses first.


There is what is called, "sound property" For which no payment is made. What hind of property is some of this "sound property"? In another place, in a recent Debate, reference was made to a case where a freehold property, "in sound and satisfactory condition," cost £735. They received site value for it. I have been able to trace what this property was. The houses were of two floors, three rooms on each floor, with a W.C. in the yard. They were old, worn-out, dilapidated and almost dangerous. The walls were badly bulged and defective, and generally speaking the houses were badly maintained. They were apparently erected in 1853 and were purchased on the terms of Section 46 for £250. In the face of the report of an inquiry which says that, how can anyone say that this was property "in sound and satisfactory condition"? Is this what people mean when they talk of good property?

I have a Liverpool case of a similar kind where the property owners declared that the property was in quite good condition and objected to its being closed. The corporation evidence disproved that statement almost entirely. One famous case of so-called injustice is a case in London, not of a freeholder, but of a leaseholder, which was heard in Westminster by an official arbitrator as recently as December, 1928. This man got nothing for his property, and that is regarded as an injustice. When I look into the case I find that the facts are as follows. He leased 39 small houses in London in September, 1919, after the area in which they are situated had been marked by the borough council medical officer as an unhealthy area—marked down for demolition at site value. He did this within a few days, almost, of the passage into law of the Act of 1919 which established this basis of compensation. The man who acts with the knowledge that the area has been condemned, and with the knowledge of a new law in front of him, has no case upon which he can go to the public and say that he has been hardly treated. If time per- mitted I could give details of the condition of every one of these 39 houses, and if I had been medical officer of health I should have condemned them myself.

If this is what "perfectly good property" means, then in the case of a clearance area there will be no perfectly good property. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] There is no use in hon. Members asking foolish questions like that. I say there will not be, and we have it in the Bill that there will not be. A clearance area is an area which has to be cleared, because the buildings in themselves are bad, or because those buildings are injurious to the health of the neighbourhood; and it is no more meritorious to own a building which is dangerous to somebody else's tenants than it is to own a building which is dangerous to one's own tenants. I think it is clear that while, conceivably, there may be here and there a hard case, there are hundreds of thousands of hard oases of slum tenants with whom I am more concerned. As regards compensation, I believe that the House, on reflection, will agree that it would be a mistake to depart from the present basis. There are cases which ought to be helped, and a local authority will be enabled to make reasonable allowances to displaced persons in aid of removal expenses, and to make grants, if they so desire, towards any loss which in their opinion has been sustained by any person, by reason of the disturbance of his trade or business consequent upon his having to leave his premises. That provision, I think it will be admitted, is reasonable.

Then, with regard to the individual house, there will be cases in many towns, indeed, I imagine, in all towns, of individual houses or very small groups of houses, which will be outside a clearance scheme and outside an improvement scheme. These are dealt with in Clauses 16 and 17, and the general idea of the alterations which are being made is to simplify and shorten the procedure for dealing with such houses. Unfortunately, nowadays, when a local authority desires to deal with an individual house the procedure is such that, if the landlord chooses, it may be 18 months before anything can be done. That procedure, as I say, will he shortened and, in this case, it is provided that the tribunal of appeal shall be the County Court instead of the Minister.

The Bill contemplates that individual houses which are unfit for human habitation should be divided into their two proper categories, namely, those which can be made fit, and those which cannot be made fit. In regard to houses which fall into the first class—those which can be made fit—local authorities have the duty imposed upon them of requiring the owner to carry out the work necessary to make the house fit. If the owner defaults, then the local authority itself may do the work and recover the cost. In Clause 40 of the Bill local authorities are given power, in suitable cases, to advance money to owners undertaking repairs, because there may be cases where repairs are urgently needed, and in which the owner is, at the time, unable to meet the charge. An advance of that kind would, of course be a help. If however the house is unfit and cannot at a reasonable expense be made fit, then the local authority may make an order and enforce the demolition of the house. Here, again, as in the case of the clearance and improvement areas, it is not contemplated that local authorities should proceed with the demolition of unfit houses, unless new houses or alternative accommodation of some other kind is made available.

The third part of the Bill deals with a more general question, namely, that of housing programmes. I have felt for some time that one of the weaknesses of our housing administration has been the fact that the local authorities have, as it were, just lived from year to year. They have never really visualised their problems, and have never developed a coherent policy for carrying out the work which lies before them. Part III of the Bill provides that, in the case of every borough and urban district with over 20,000 population, the authority shall this year, and in every fifth year, submit a programme of the housing work which they propose to undertake during that quinquennial period. That will include all their housing work—not merely under this Measure, but under the other Acts of Parliament as well. I believe that the effect of that provision will be to give us a continuity of effort and a definite scientific programme such as we have not enjoyed before.

I now come to the financial aspect of the Bill. In Clause 23, we propose to make a very substantial change in the basis of Exchequer assistance for rehousing purposes. At present the local authority, as I have explained, receives its one-half of the estimated net annual loss, and this, as I have pointed out. means an enormous amount of supervision and in itself is not adequate. Therefore. we propose a new grant on a unit basis. The grant will be in aid of the activities of the local authorities—the expenses of the local authorities—in dealing with clearance areas, in dealing with improvement areas, and in dealing with the demolition of individual houses. The persons rehoused in any of these three ways, under any of these three schemes, will be eligible in respect of the grant which is a grant per person—per man, woman, and child. All babies born in slums from now onwards will enjoy a dowery such as no State has ever conferred before. They will be able to make a contribution which will enable the local authority to remove them into the housing condition to which they are entitled. The grant will be an annual grant payable for 40 years. The association of local authorities with whom this matter has been discussed, agreed to that basis and it has been fixed, so that the proportion of the cost of the scheme borne by the local authorities shall be diminished and the rate charged, therefore, proportionately reduced.

After consultation with the local authorities, we have arrived at the figure of 45s. per year for 40 years, per person rehoused under this Bill, as the amount of the grant. In the case of a family of five that would mean a grant of £11 5s. per year for 40 years. In two cases the amount of the grant is increased. In the case of persons displaced from houses and rehoused in agricultural parishes the amount of the grant will be increased to 50s. per person for 40 years.

5.0 p.m.

There is another exception which we have had to take into account. There are one or two places—they are not numerous, and London is the outstanding case—where the conditions are such that a considerable amount of rehousing must take place on the site where the people have lived before. Much as I would prefer to see our population spreading out rather than rising heavenward in their dwellings, one has to face the fact that, for a limited number of our people, who must live, or who passionately desire to live in the centres of very large cities, tenement provision must be made. It happens that tenement provision is expensive and that almost invariably, indeed, I may say, invariably, when a local authority has to rehouse people on the site, in tenements—by which I mean something more than three storeys—they have to do so on land which is tremendously expensive. It was felt. therefore that we should provide for the limited number of cases in which the local authorities can prove to the Minister that they must rehouse on the site, that it must be done in tenements, and that the land is expensive. In these cases, we propose to give an additional 25s. per person for 40 years, or, in all, an amount of £3 10s. The number of houses required to be built for the accommodation of the persons to be displaced, and on which the grant will be paid, will, of course, depend on their size and type. They cannot all be alike; some will have to be much larger than others. They will be fixed beforehand on the submission of proposals, and must be approved by the Minister. That, I think, will enable us to avoid some of the dangers to which reference has been made in the Press.

As to the rents, the special conditions are similar to those applicable to houses built under the Act of 1924. The object of conditions as regards rent is to secure that the whole of the Exchequer subsidy, and the equivalent at least of £3 15s. per year from the local rates, should be applied in reduction of rent. That principle is being followed in this Bill, and the local authorities will make an estimate of annual expenses to be incurred under the Bill. It will calculate the annual equivalent of those expenses over 60 years; it will calculate the annual equivalent for 60 years of the Exchequer grant and the local authority's contributions, and it will subtract these grants from its own expenditure, and that will give the local authority the aggregate rent which it can charge for the year.


Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate why these equivalents are calculated on the basis of 60 years, when the contributions are to be made for a period of 40 years?


The life of a house is at least 60 years, and we are bound to make the calculation of the expenses and the grants on the same basis. Clearly one ought, in estimating rents to be charged, to have regard to the minimum life of the house. Within the limits of the aggregate rents to be obtained for all the houses under the Bill, the local authority will be given complete freedom. It must not draw in rents any more than the aggregate which I have described. Within these limits, it may differentiate rents. A local authority will be able to charge such reasonable rents as it thinks fit, and to differentiate according to the ability of the tenants to pay. I have left the precise method by which they shall work to the local authorities themselves. They will no doubt do it in different ways. Some authorities, I imagine, will have one nominal standard of rent for all houses, and make abatements in special cases. Some authorities will make allowances, taking account of the number of children. Others will probably build rather different houses on different sites, but the local authority will be free to determine the way in which it shall make the rent burden rest more easily upon the occupants of the houses.


Will the local authority be free to provide an inferior house?


I would not say an inferior house. I am not quite sure what an inferior house means. If the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that you might get down to rock bottom houses by providing something which is really too inferior to be reasonable, then the answer is "Certainly not." Of course, we have in municipal houses a differentiation between the parlour house and the non-parlour house, and differentiation for size and amenity of that kind will, of course,, obtain under this Bill.


My point was whether they would be empowered to provide a house inferior to the minimum standard in existence at present?


Oh, no. I will come to smaller houses presently, but there is no intention of degrading the standard; as a matter of fact, provision is made for building under this Bill houses of a larger size than can be built under the law at present.


Is the right hon. Gentleman going to depart from the standard in the Tudor Walters report?


I hope that we shall improve on it. If we take a fairly normal case, I think that it will be clear that a local authority will be able to let a substantial proportion of its houses at a good deal less than the rent that can be obtained at present. I estimate that it would be possible in the normal ease—I do not say in every case—to let half of the houses built under this Bill, on a broad average, at least 2s. per week less than the rents at present charged for houses under the existing scheme. That will make it possible to accommodate displaced persons, as to one half of them, at any rate, in houses where the rent would be as low as 5s. a week plus rates, and as to the other half in houses at rent of 7s. per week plus rates. That, I think, will mean a substantial relief to the hard-pressed slum dweller. It is clear, of course, that a grant of this kind cannot be made permanent.

It will be within the recollection of the House that when the 1924 Act was passing through, it was intended that the grant under that Measure should be reviewed every three years. Unfortunately, by what I cannot help thinking was a profound mistake on the part of the Liberal party at that time, the Conservative party secured an amendment to reduce the period of review to two years, at which it has since stood in law. I think that it is quite clear that experience proves that any scheme of this kind ought to run for three-year periods. Therefore, it is proposed in the Bill, both in Clause 25 and in Clause 36, which deals with the Act of 1924, that the review of Exchequer grants under the Wheatley scheme and under this scheme shall take place at intervals of three years; the first revision will, therefore, take place after October, 1933. That means that the present Wheatley grant, which was stabilised last year for a further year, will be stabilised for a, further three years, and that the grants under the present Bill will have a preliminary three years' run, and thereafter both the grants will be reconsidered side by side. The following Clause is one which enables local authorities to enter into arrangements with public utility societies and similar bodies.

I come to Part IV of the Bill, which deals with rural houses. The object of this part of the Bill is to secure more energetic and more comprehensive treatment of the rural housing problem. I know that there are rural district councils up and dawn the country which have done extraordinarily good work, but there are a good many others, owing, it may be, to apathy, or to fear of the cost, have done much less than they should have done. Some of them, no doubt, besides lacking resources, lack the requisite knowledge and experience on the part of their officials to deal with housing problems. I considered whether it would be possible to make the county council the housing authority, but that seemed to bring in its train a good many difficulties, and would, I think, have proved to be impracticable. It is, however, quite clear that the county council ought now to have wider responsibilities in regard to housing than has hitherto been the case. Therefore, we are providing in the Bill that every county council must keep its eye on the housing conditions and needs of each rural district in its area, and keep its eye on the steps that the rural areas are taking to deal with bad housing conditions.

Each rural district council this year is being required to forward to the county council information with regard to its housing conditions and needs, and to do that every time the county council asks it to do so. That will mean that the county council will constantly have before it both the needs and the proposals of these minor local authorities, and power is given to the county council to come in and take part in the actual work. The Bill, however, goes further than that. Where a rural district council builds houses specifically for agricultural workers or people of substantially the same economic class, the county council will be required to make a contribution of £1 per year for 40 years. That will spread some portion of the charge over the county for the provision of agricultural workers' cottages. This is not a subsidy in relief of rent, but a subsidy to the rural district council in relief of rates. Instead of the rural district-council, with its present depleted resources, having to meet the £3 15s., it will be required to meet only £2 15s., and a charge of £1 will fall upon the county. In this part of the Bill, we are dealing with default powers as they affect rural district councils and county councils. Provision is made for the exercise of default powers by the county council where the rural district council does not do its work, and for the exercise of default powers where the county council does not do its work.

I need not refer in detail to the Clauses in Part V of the Bill, because I have touched upon most of them already. One or two I must refer to. Clause 39 deals with the provision for aged persons of houses of a smaller size than those for which special assistance car he given today. I feel myself that this is an experiment well worth trying, for two reasons. In the first place, it will be within the knowledge of many Members of this House that old age pensioners are occupying houses which they have occupied for a quarter of a century, notwithstanding the fact that they are now grandparents and that their children have gone out to homes of their own; and anything which would take those aged people into other cottages would do something to relieve the congestion in the big towns. It would make available family houses for family needs, and, not only so, but it is only justice to the aged people to provide them with houses which will be easier for the aged to live in comfortably than the houses which they at present occupy.

We can here produce the minimum requirement with regard to size. If so be that I receive an old age pension myself, and live to that age, my requirements will be modest. A room in which to live and a room in which to sleep will be all that one requires, and so long as these cottages, these aged workers' homes, are owned by the local authorities, and the grant is payable on condition that only aged people live in them, we can dispense with the present minimum conditions and build smaller dwellings for them. Of course, that will mean smaller costs; in fact, what we are doing is to, pay here two-thirds of the contribution paid under the 1924 Act, and the subsidy in this case, therefore, will be £5 per year for 40 years.

Later Clauses in the Bill, Clauses 45 and onwards, deal with the default powers for authorities other than the rural district councils arid the county councils, and really replace a mass of very confused legislation which has become tangled in the course of time, powers which I think it is necessary that the Minister of Health should enjoy. I will not explain any more of the details of the Bill, and I now come to an end.

I hope the Bill will commend itself to the House, and I hope that it will be speedily—I emphasise the word—passed into law. I hope that the local authorities, with whom I have endeavoured to work during recent months in the closest harmony and co-operation, will receive this Bill, when it is on the Statute Book, with both hands and extract from it 100 per cent. of what value it contains. I hope they will now, with a new Measure in their hands, pursue to the very end, with real vigour, with zeal, and with determination, the final conquest of the slums. I believe they will, and I believe they will have behind them the active support of a large body of public opinion. Now that, by common consent of all sections of opinion in this country, a definite, concerted attack is being made on the slum problem, I think we should agree that there must be no truce until the very end and until the slums have been completely destroyed. It is a struggle which from now onwards will, I hope, be waged ceaselessly and relentlessly, until the last hovel sinks into the earth and the last overcrowded family has a decent home. When that day comes, whatever it may have cost in treasure, the nation will have rid itself of a gigantic burden of disease, of misery, of degradation, and will have done what it ought to have done before, and laid truly one of the essential foundations of a civilised society—the home of the people.


I am sure the House has listened with the deepest interest to the very exhaustive, lengthy, and lucid explanation which the right hon. Gentleman has given of his Bill. He has treated the subject with an absence of party passion which I, for one, warmly welcome, because, although on remedies there must no doubt be differences of opinion in this House, yet as to the urgency of the problem, the extent of it, and the necessity for finding some remedy, all Members of the House are agreed. The subject inevitably must make the strongest appeal to the sympathies of anybody who has ever entered a slum and observed the squalor, the gloom, the discomfort, the injury to health which exist there, and I would like to associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the wonderful spirit which is exhibited by many of the slum dwellers, that often excites admiration, when I have seen with what patience, with what courage, with what inexhaustible good humour they put up with conditions which to most of us must seem absolutely intolerable.

Of course, we, in this generation, did not make the slums. They are an unhappy legacy which has been left to us from a time when the principles of public health were not understood, and when standards were very different from what they are to-day. I think perhaps it is fair to our ancestors to say that probably they were very much better when they were built than they appear to us to-day. Our atmosphere has not got any cleaner as time has gone on, and, of course, the fabric of these houses, in the long period of years that has elapsed since they were erected, has, continually decayed and gone from bad to worse. But to-day public opinion, the public conscience, is awake to the evil of the slums more acutely than it ever has been before, and it is really an extraordinary thing to think that, with this public awareness of all the evils of the slums, of all the damage and injuries, physical and moral, which they are doing to a large section of the population to-day, we have only to step a few yards from any one of our great, broad, clean, handsome streets, with their fine buildings on either side, to find ourselves in one of these terrible warrens, where men, women, boys, and girls are all herded together in darkness and in stagnant air, without the possibility of leading a clean and wholesome life.

Certainly the fact that these things exist, that they have been known to exist ever since the War, and that they have not been put right, is the most eloquent testimony that you could have to the extraordinary difficulties of the problem which the right hon. Gentleman is attempting to solve. Certainly it has not been for want of trying. Act after Act has been passed giving fresh powers to local authorities and giving them further and further financial assistance to attack this crying evil, yet the slums are still there. There is hardly one of our larger industrial cities in which there are not great areas crying aloud for improvement. The right hon. Gentleman said that a good deal had been done, but he pointed, and very justly, to the figures of the actual slum clearance schemes that have been put into operation since the year 1919. I agree that, whether you take the number of houses dealt with or the number of persons whose conditions have been improved by these schemes, it appears to be lamentably, terribly small.

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not mention also the other kind of work which has been done to improve the slums, namely, the improvement of individual houses, because that really has made, in a much less spectacular way, a far larger contribution towards the improvement of slum conditions. I think I am right in saying that every year something like half-a-million houses are put into repair on the representation of the local authorities, and if I take the one town which I have had under close observation for many years, I can certainly say with confidence that the conditions there are far better than they used to be when I was a boy.

Of course, as I think the right hon. Gentleman recognised, the worst feature of the slums is the overcrowding. If there were no overcrowding, the difficulties of the slum problem would be cut in half, and it is the recognition of that fact which has, since the War, caused the local authorities to concentrate, and I think rightly concentrate, nearly all their attention upon the provision of new houses. Their efforts have been remarkably successful, and very large numbers of new houses have been built, but I think it is only in the last year or possibly two years that I have felt that the local authorities have been sufficiently relieved from the grinding pressure to build new houses to enable them to turn their eyes towards the problem of the slums with any prospect of success. It has to be remembered that when you begin to deal with the slums you are adding to the problem of providing new houses, because you are pulling dawn houses and increasing the number that will have to be built. I believe I was personally responsible for an estimate, which has since been widely adopted, that something like 100,000 houses were required every year in order to provide for the annual increase of the population and for the replacement of houses which went out of use. I think that estimate is too high, I do not believe that so many are necessary, but I wanted to be on the safe side. Supposing we take the number at 70,000 or 80,000 houses a year; that makes a rather formidable hole in the number of new souses provided since the War, and leaves a very much smaller number available for overtaking the accumulation of arrears than is sometimes realised.

But, as I say, I believe the time has now come when we are ripe for further legislation upon this subject. If we offer local authorities terms which they will consider fair and reasonable, I believe it is possible for them now, at any rate, to tackle this problem more seriously than they have been able to do in the last 10 years, and I hope we may anticipate that some improvement will shortly take place. I think it is a matter of common knowledge that if the late Government had been in office for another period, we should have introduced a housing and town planning Bill to deal with this subject, and I am very glad that my successor has given early attention to it.

I have given careful study to this Bill, and, in considering it here, I shall try to follow the example of the right hon. Gentleman and deal with it in no party spirit. That does not mean that I am not to point out what I consider to be its faults, but I do not wish to press my criticism to any unfair point, and my observations will he made with a sincere desire to improve the Bill and to make it more fair, as I think, and more practicable. My impressions of it are that I am partly relieved and partly disappointed. I am relieved, because there is nothing in it which ought to make anybody's hair stand on end. It is not the sort of Bill we should have had if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) had been Minister of Health. There is nothing revolutionary about it; and, indeed, that brings me very near to the reasons for my disappointment. One did hope that with a new Government and a new Minister, who had spent a good deal of the last 4½ years in opposing very vehemently any housing proposals that were put forward by the late Government, we should have had some new ideas in this Bill. But I have searched it through and through, and I cannot find any spark of originality about it. A very great part of it, nearly half of it, is not much more than a restatement, with some modifications, of existing legislation, and there are certainly some very notable omissions, I am sorry to see.

The most important provision is the alteration of the subsidy. So far as the change in the method of subsidy is concerned, I approve of the plan of getting away from the percentage contribution. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, a percentage contribution means that you must have a constant and meticulous examination of all the expenditure in order to make sure that undue demands are not being made on the Exchequer, and I think our experience of the Acts of 1923 and 1924 shows that the plan of making definite contributions from the Exchequer is one which conduces to efficiency in work and also good economy in working. In so far as the increase of subsidy is calculated to reduce the liabilities of the local authorities, I approve of that also. It does not seem unreasonable to endeavour to assimilate the proportionate shares of the Exchequer and the local authorities in the expense of slum clearance to those which prevail in the case of new houses subsidised by the State, but in so far as the new subsidy is to go to making differentiated rents I foresee very considerable difficulties, if indeed those differentiated rents are not made impossible by increased costs of building. I may have a little more to say upon that when I come to the Clauses which deal with it. I regret very much, also, that there is no provision for the town planning of built-up areas. That is a feature which should be associated with any legislation dealing with housing in built-up areas. It has been long called for, and it was always understood that it was to be associated with a Bill of this kind, and I regret very much that the right hon. Gentleman seems to have thought it was not necessary to include it in this Measure. Another point to which undoubtedly a great deal of attention will be given is what I consider to be the unnecessarily harsh and unjust provisions with regard to the compensation of owners whose property is taken.

With these general remarks I would like to make some observations on particular Clauses. The first four Clauses deal with what are now to be called clearance areas. First, I would call attention to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman was not quite accurate when he described these areas as areas in which all the dwelling-houses were in a bad condition. If he will read his own definition in Clause I he will see that there is an alternative to the condition of the dwelling-houses, and that alternative is a narrowness or bad arrangement of the streets by which the area is made dangerous or injurious to health. Although I am not suggesting that it is likely there would be an area in which the streets were so narrow and badly arranged that the health of the inhabitants was seriously affected while all the buildings were nevertheless sound, yet the House will agree that it is quite possible that some of the buildings may be sound even though many of them may be bad.

That is my first criticism upon the Clauses dealing with clearance areas; that whether the local authority adopts either alternative, the alternative that the owners must demolish the buildings, or that the local authority shall purchase the area arid demolish the buildings themselves, no distinction is to be made between any of the buildings in the area, even those which are not dwelling-houses at all. It is possible, indeed I think it follows inevitably from the Bill as drafted, that in one of these clearance areas every building, it may be a church, or a hall, or a shop, in addition to the dwelling-houses, will have to be demolished by the owners at their own expense and without compensation. If I am not giving the correct account of the meaning of the Clause, no doubt we shall have some interpretation of it later, but that is how I read it, and if that be so, that is what I call being excessively harsh and unjust towards the owners whose property is to be demolished.

The right hon. Gentleman said that in the case of an individual house which has been condemned as unfit for human habitation, it is already necessary for the owner to demolish it at his own expense, and asked why that should not be the case with a whole area. I should agree if every building and every house in the area had been condemned as unfit for human habitation, but my point is that these areas may, in fact must, contain many dwellings which are not in that condition, and that no distinction is made between the owners of these houses and the others. We may very well have cases where houses have already been the subject of orders by the local authority compelling the owners to spend considerable sums of money in putting them into good condition, and in spite of that, and although the neighbours of these owners may have spent nothing on their houses, all are to be treated exactly alike. Once an area has been declared to be a clearance area, the property is to be pulled down at the owner's own expense, and he is to receive nothing. I say, again, that is very unjust, and I do not think it can possibly be allowed to stand in the Bill.

When we come to the case of local authorities purchasing areas, there, again, we find that all houses are to be purchased by the local authority at site values. In the existing procedure a distinction is made between two kinds of property in a slum improvement scheme. In the jargon of the local authorities and the Ministry of Health, there are blue properties and pink properties. The pink properties are those to be taken at site value, and the blue properties those which had been brought into the scheme not because they were bad in themselves but in order to secure the efficiency of the scheme, and those houses are to be bought at market values. That distinction has now been swept away. In a clearance area every house, whether it would have been blue or pink under the existing legislation, is to be treated just the same, and all are to be taken at site value. Another point to which I would like to call attention is in the case where a local authority has purchased the land in a clearance area. Under Clause 4, Sub-section (1, a), it is provided that they shall, as soon as may be, demolish the buildings thereon. That is very different from the procedure under which the owners are ordered to demolish the buildings themselves, because where the owners have to do it they must do it within six weeks of the time that the building is required to be vacated. One of the things which have given rise to criticism and a sense of injustice on the part of the owners in Section 46 of the present Act under which, in some cases, local authorities, having bought the property at its site value, and without having paid anything for the buildings, instead of demolishing those buildings have kept them in their own hands, and made a profit out of them. What does that mean? I know what the views of local authorities have been on this point in the past. They have not. deliberately entered upon a scheme to snake a profit by buying for nothing something from which they might be able to collect revenue, because that has been merely incidental. What has happened is that, after having bought the area, they have found themselves unable to find places for all the people who were displaced, and they have had to leave the people living where they were, and the local authority has drawn the rents.

What is there in this Bill to prevent that kind of thing happening again? It seems to me that the Minister of Health has only aggravated, by this Bill, the sense of injustice in that respect. I would like to make this one further observation on that point, that although the right hon. Gentleman says that the owners are left with the site in their hands, and have nothing to complain of, the House will appreciate that they are not in the same position as the local authority that purchases the buildings, because the local authority has compulsorily purchased the whole of the site, and there is very often a great difference in value between the aggregate value of a number of smallholdings and the value of the whole site. The owners are by no means in as good a position as the local authority which can buy the whole site, as a commercial and not as a housing site. I have no objection to the local authority having power to do that, and I approve of the provision which will cancel the Derby judgment. The suggestion made by the Minister of Health that the owner has nothing of which to complain, and is very well off when he has got the site, does not put him in a position which is anything like comparable to the position of the local authority.

I want to say a few words about Clause 6, which deals with the treatment of improvement areas. In regard to these proposals I prefer to proceed rather by way of question than actual criticism, because I am not quite sure that I fully understand what is the effect of this Clause. Everything depends upon how these improvement areas are going to be used. Certain things will be done. First of all, the local authority must serve notices in the case of dwelling houses which are unfit for human habitation "requiring the execution of all necessary repairs thereto, or the demolition thereof." That can be done anywhere in areas which are not improvement areas at all, and there appears to be no difference in this respect between the houses in an improvement area and. those without the area.

There are two other important proposals. There is power to purchase land for opening out the area. I think we shall want to know a good deal more about this power of purchasing land for opening out areas when we reach the Committee stage. Does it mean land within the area only, or does it comprise land without the area? Does it include the case of a new street which is brought up to the edge of the area? We should like some further information as to what is meant by those words, and it will be necessary in Committee to define them rather more closely. Power is taken under Clause 6 to make and enforce under Sections 6 and 7 of the Housing Act, 1925. … by-laws satisfactory to the Minister for preventing and abating over-crowding in the area. What is really intended under that provision? We want more information upon that point. As I understood the explanation which was given by the Minister of Health, each of those houses is to be the subject of a by-law which will regulate the number of persons who are to occupy those houses. Each house is to have a sort of ticket showing how many people may inhabit it, and I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is to have any powers which are necessary to prevent those areas falling back into the condition they were in before being declared an improvement area. If that is a correct interpretation, then this is a very interesting development, but why make a distinction between improvement areas and new housing areas? It is just as important that a new housing area laid out and built upon by the local authority should not be allowed to fall into a condition of slums, and if it is a good thing to pass bylaws in respect of improvement areas and lay down that each house should have a certain number of residents ascribed to it, and that no more should be allowed to occupy that house, why does that provision apply in improvement areas and not in the new housing areas? If you are going to provide that not more than a certain number of people shall inhabit these houses, where are the other people to be accommodated? Clause 5 (1, iii) provides that the authority shall satisfy the Minister that the size of the area is such that the housing conditions therein can be remedied effectively within a reasonable period and that accommodation available for the persons of the working classes who will be displaced by the steps which the authority propose to take for the improvement of the area exists, or can be provided by the authority in advance of the displacements which will from time to time become necessary as those steps are taken. That means that they must not declare it an improvement area until they can build enough new houses for the accommodation of the surplus population. I do not think that proposal is going to get us much further. When some hon. Members opposite rise to speak in this Debate, we may have more enlightenment as to what is meant by Sub-section (1) of Clause 6. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has missed a great opportunity in respect of the amendment of these improvement areas. I have always contended that there is something else which is of absolutely first-class importance in dealing with housing accommodation of this class besides the mere provision of bricks and mortar, or even the prevention of overcrowding. An enormous amount depends upon the management of the property. One of the difficulties in these areas in our existing towns is that there is a great multiplicity of owners. Each individual owns, perhaps, one, two, or six houses, adjoining one another, and you cannot get a proper standard of management as long as you have this multiplicity of owners.

6.0 p.m.

The Minister of Health said something about reconditioning, and that reconditioning could never be a complete policy. I never heard anyone suggest that, but I do suggest that reconditioning may be a very valuable adjunct to any provision dealing with housing. It is a provision which can be put into operation rapidly over wide areas, and it takes over the temporary accommodation of people while more permanent accommodation is being provided. I have always accompanied any suggestions which I made for reconditioning with what I consider is absolutely essential, namely, that it should be accompanied by a proper system of management. There is nothing in the provisions for these improvement areas which is likely to improve the present state of management. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was fortified in his views upon reconditioning by the Association of Municipal Corporations. I was present at the meeting when that association passed a resolution on this subject. It is quite true that I was in the chair, and as chairman I did not think it necessary to take part in the discussion, but I know that the Association of Municipal Corporations said that if reconditioning was to be done, the local authority ought to do it. Under Clause 6 reconditioning is to be done by individual owners to individual houses only. Therefore, there is no hope under this scheme of any sort of standardisation of the management of property on a proper basis. There was a great opportunity here for the right hon. Gentleman to have provided, either that the local authority should purchase these properties, recondition them, and manage them itself, or that some public utility society might undertake the duty. I should be quite content, myself, to see the management handed over to a body which was not an elected body, but something in the nature of a commission which should be responsible for the management of these small houses. That is an idea which, apparently, if it has occurred to the right hon. Gentleman at all, has not been thought by him to be of sufficient importance for serious consideration. I regret that that should be so, but this is not my Bill, and I suppose I must not complain because the Bill does not contain some ideas which seem to me to be more important than they do to the author of the Bill.

Now I come to Part II, which contains provisions with respect to the repair or demolition of individual insanitary houses. The word "Departmental" is written all over this part of the Bill. It is merely a series of minor modifications which experience has shown to be desirable in existing legislation, and certainly there is nothing there which need arouse any agitated feelings in any part of the House. On the whole, I think that the modifications are improvements. We get rid of the old closing order, except so far as underground rooms are concerned, and the owner of a house which is the subject of representation has to make his own proposals—which, of course, is pretty well what he does now—for its improvement, and, if they are not satisfactory, he has to demolish the house. I am not going to enter into any detailed examination or criticism of the Clauses in Part II, but I come to Part III, which contains the kernel of the Bill, namely, the Clauses which deal with the Exchequer contributions that are to be paid, and the conditions which are to accompany them.

I have already said that I approve of the plan of getting away from a percentage contribution to a definite sum, but I confess that I am puzzled by the particular proposal which appears in the Bill—the proposal, that is to say, to attach the subsidy to the person and not to the house. I did not think that the right hon. Gentleman, in his account, gave us any clear or intelligible reason why this particular plan has been adopted. After all, the local authority which is going to build houses for these people is not going to be limited in any way as to the number of persons who may occupy the house. That, I suppose, will vary as much in the future as it has in the past, and as it does to-day, and, consequently, the actual contribution from the Exchequer which is to be contributed to any particular house depends, not on the house, but on the number of people who happen to occupy it.

If a house is occupied by three persons, then the amount of the contribution is. £6 15s. If the same house is occupied by five persons, the amount of the contribution is £11 5s. What is the reason for forcing the local authorities, in fixing the rents, to enter into these elaborate calculations, which, as I understand, they will have to do in order to translate the subsidy per person into a subsidy per house? After all, the rent is paid on the house, and not according to the number of persons who occupy the house, and, therefore, sooner or later, the local authorities have got to make that calculation and translate the subsidy per person into subsidy per house. I suppose that, in order to do that, they will have to take an average number of persons per house. Why should this complication be introduced? Why should it not have been said straight away that a given subsidy per house would be the Exchequer contribution in this case, as it is in the case of the Acts of 1923 and 1924?

A number of questions arise in connection with this subsidy. The local authority has a very difficult and thankless task before it when it attempts to fix differential rents for similar classes of houses. The right hon. Gentleman said that there would be different kinds of houses, and that, of course, we understand; but it is equally the case that, if the intention of the Bill is to be carried out, two houses identically similar in all respects are to be let at different rents. Are those different rents to be attached to the houses, or are they to be attached to the dispossessed persons who have come out of the slums? If they are attached to the houses, what happens when the slum dwellers go? They will not live there for ever. At some time or another, the man who has come out of a slum will, for some reason or another, migrate, but, ex hypothesi, everyone who has been dispossessed has been provided with a house, so there can be no more to come nut of the slums to occupy the houses, and. in such a case the local authority will have to find a tenant who has not come out of a slum.

Is that tenant to pay the reduced rent or not? If not, where is the difference going? Is it going into the pocket of the local authority? I should like to hear what the answer to these questions is. If the rent is to be reduced, we want to know why the person who has not come out of a slum at all is to be favoured in this particular way. Taking it the other way round, is the rent to be attached to the person? If so, is he to carry a reduced rent with him when be leaves this house and goes to some other house, and how is that to be adjusted? Moreover, if the ground on which the rent is reduced is not that he is a dispossessed person, but that he is a person who is unable to pay a higher rent, is the local authority then going to keep a constant supervision over his income? In the case of a man who goes into a house having stated that his circumstances are such that he cannot pay the rent which his neighbour is paying in a similar house, suppose that after a little time his income increases. Is he going to have the benefit of this extra subsidy by way of reduced rent, which is going to be paid for partly by the taxpayers and partly by the ratepayers in his locality? That, again, is going to give rise to difficulties.

It is quite possible that, after all, none of these difficulties are going to arise, for the simple reason that this miserable 2s. a week, which is all that the right hon. Gentleman anticipates is going to be given, may disappear altogether if building costs go up. What is to be the connection between subsidies and building costs? We know that, whenever we have put up the subsidy, the cost of building has risen, and that the only time when the cost has come down has been when the subsidy has come down. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rings have raised the prices."] Never mind why it is; the fact remains that there is this correlation between the two, and the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has reversed the decision of the last House, further to reduce the subsidy on the 1924 houses, has had the effect Which we all thought it would have—it has stopped the fall which was steadily taking place and has been steadily taking place for some time. Therefore, without going so, far as to prophesy what the result of the increased subsidy will be, I would say that it is at least very conceivable that the hope of obtaining a reduction of 2s. a week in the rent may disappear if the costs go up.

There is one other point which I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman, and it is one which has evidently occurred also to the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston. Under the Acts of 1923 and 1924, the subsidies from the Exchequer were indeed to go to the local authorities, but they were accompanied by conditions which de- finitely laid down certain standard's for the houses. I may have overlooked it, but I do not see anything in the Bill to say that the local authority which receives the subsidy provided under the Bill is to maintain the same standards as are laid down in the Acts of 1923 and 1924, and I should very much like to know if there is any such provision, and, if so, in which Clause it is contained. Although I entirely acquit the right hon. Gentleman of any intention to reduce standards, it is just as well that we should know what the Bill does say and what it does not say, and, if there is any omission of something which ought to be in it, we should have an opportunity of putting it in in Committee.

Part IV of the Bill deals with rural housing, and the right hon. Gentleman is sanguine enough to think that it is going to lead to a great revival of the building of new houses in the agricultural districts. Well, agricultural districts are rather slow to move. The right hon. Gentleman himself has quoted figures to show that, although you may give them opportunities, they do not always take them. Personally, I am not very sanguine that the provisions of Part IV are going to produce any very large number of houses in agricultural districts. There, again, it is very difficult indeed to say what the actual amount of the contribution is, because it is not a contribution per house, but a contribution per person, and, therefore, the amount which is going to be paid by the Exchequer in respect of any particular house is extremely difficult to estimate.

The county councils are to have a hand in housing. I must say that I listened with some amusement to what the right hon. Gentleman said on this subject, because I remember that when, in the Local Government Bill of 1929, it was proposed to put new duties upon county councils, the right hon. Gentleman suggested that the county councils were so terribly overworked already that they could not possibly take on anything more. Now they have the new duties under the Local Government Act, 1929, and that is not enough for them, so the right hon. Gentleman is going to give them further responsibilities with regard to housing. I am sure that they will welcome very heartily, as they always do, the extension of their burdens, and will be delighted to see that they are to have the privilege of contributing £1 a year for 40 years in respect of every agricultural cottage. Whether that £1 is really going to make a substantial difference to the rural district councils, whether it is going to be sufficient to induce the rural district councils to produce agricultural houses, remains to be seen. I confess that, personally, I am very sceptical, but still I wish the right hon. Gentleman every success.

Part V is headed "General and Miscellaneous," and it is very miscellaneous. Clause 34 is an attempt on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to mitigate the provisions of Clause 9. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, was hardly up to his general standard when he suggested that, if we really thought that the provisions of Section 46 of the present Act were unfair, we should have removed them during our term of office. That is the sort of party score which really, I think, does not attract very much approval in this House, because everyone knows what were my personal views on this Section. I expressed them years ago, when I was chairman of a committee that went into the matter. Everyone knows that I have not changed those views, and that the Housing Bill was only postponed owing to exigencies of time and the necessity for the introduction of the Local Government Bill of 1929.

Section 46, I think, is unfair in two ways. In the first place, there is what is known as the reduction factor. The reduction factor says, not only that shall nothing be paid for the buildings, but that even the site value itself shall be reduced according to the use to which the site is put by the buyer. I do not know of any other example of a provision under which the price to be paid for an article is to depend, not on the intrinsic value of the article, but on the use to which the buyer may put it. I cannot and never have been able to see any justice or equity in that provision. It is one which certainly ought to be removed, and I must decline altogether to accept the view of the right hot. Gentleman that, because a wrong and an unjust thing has been on the Statute Book since the year 1919, that is reason for keeping it there for ever. That is a view which I should have thought anyone on the opposite benches would be the last to put forward, and it is certainly one which I, for my part, cannot accept.

There is a further unfairness about Section 46. The provision that nothing shall be paid for a house that is so bad in itself that it is totally unfit for human habitation is one with which I do not believe that anyone quarrels. Property owners themselves have never claimed that money should be paid for houses of that kind. I think that hon. Members who laugh have not read the documents that have been published by property owners, because in every one I have seen it is always specifically stated that property owners do not ask that a house that is definitely unfit for human habitation should be paid for. What they say is that in all these schemes there are houses which are not unfit for human habitation but which, nevertheless, are treated as though they were. That is a point to which I am bound to draw attention. I have suggested that it may be, in fact it is well known, that there are cases of people who have spent money in trying to put their houses into proper order and have, nevertheless, been treated just the same as those who have not spent a penny. That is not equitable and it is not just. Nor is it just to say that, where a trade is carried on in one of these areas, the trader should have his premises demolished and no compensation paid to him for them, because undoubtedly he has a goodwill arising out of the area, which he cannot carry with him to some other place. The right hon. Gentleman has gone some way to recognise the justice of that contention in Clause 34, but he has not laid down any rules for the guidance of local authorities in assessing what the compensation for disturbance shall be, and he has left it, indeed, entirely to their discretion whether they shall pay compensation at all. I do not think that is going far enough. The Bill should lay down at least conditions under which compensation must be paid, and should give some sort of direction as to the manner in which they should be assessed.

Clause 39, which permits a limited number of small houses to be built for aged persons, is one that is of great value. I approve of it. My only regret is that it is limited to aged persons. Precisely the same argument, it seems to me, applies in the case, let us say, of two spinsters who live together, neither of whom intends to marry. I do not see why this provision, if it is good at all, should be confined entirely to the case of aged persons. I always sympathise very much with young couples who cannot be married because they cannot find any accommodation over their head. I do not see why it should not be possible to lay down just as strict conditions as to the tenure of the house in the case of a young married couple as it is in the case of aged persons. While certainly this is a matter that will have to be watched so that there shall not be abuse, so that the house shall not be occupied by more persons than was intended, a provision of this kind which would enable more houses to be built with the same amount of material and the same amount of labour and would free a certain number of houses for people with families is of value and it should be extended a little further. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about bachelors?"] I do not exclude bachelors. Clause 40 empowers local authorities to advance money to persons in order to repair their houses. Again, that is a provision to which I certainly take no exception. At the same time, I do not think it would be wise to attach too much importance to it, because the persons to whom money can safely be lent in those circumstances in order to repair their houses are probably very limited in number and, although this may occasionally assist towards putting houses in repair which would otherwise not be repaired, it cannot produce anything like the same result that the more extended use of the principle of reconditioning might have done.

The default powers Clauses, I think, might just as well have been left out, because the right hon. Gentleman knows very well that, however good an appearance they make in the Bill, he will find it extraordinarily difficult to put them into operation if the case should ever arise. That is the experience of all Ministers of Health. Clause 47, in these days when we talk about the new despotism, seems perhaps worthy of being called attention to because, under it, where the Minister on his own initiative and without appeal has chosen to transfer to himself powers which normally belong to a local authority, he is after- words, by (Sub-section (4), enabled by order to vest in and transfer to the local authority any debts or liabilities that he may have incurred. Clause 48 gives him the power if, to his satisfaction, it is shown that the local authorities have failed to perform any of their duties under the Act, to withhold the whole of any contribution which he has undertaken to make to them. That sounds hardly a punishment fit for the crime. In the first place, he is to be the sole judge whether the local authority has failed in any of its duties and, if he can bring home the smallest dereliction of duty, he has power to withdraw the whole contribution on the faith of which the local authority has undertaken the liability. Those are Clauses to which, perhaps, we may give some attention in Committee. The Bill is not all we hoped for. It contains very little that is new. It will, I think, produce some effect, but not anything very great. Such as it is, however, we on this side will vote for the Second Reading, and we will use such abilities as we possess in the later stages to try to make it a little better and a little more practicable than we think it to be.


I hope the House will give me that indulgence which is given in a very generous measure to those who, like myself, address it for the first time. I hesitate to intervene in the Debate, because I feel that it is so much a question for those who have had long experience and have made a very close study of the subject. If there is anything which is to me more intimidating than an expert, it is a housing expert. But I venture to speak simply because there are one or two things I should like to say about the problem as it affects the rural areas. Before I come to that, there is another point I should like to mention. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) said the provision of houses for aged persons might be made to include spinsters who do not intend to marry. I think that is rather a gamble and, in any event, they would be aged persons before they either came to that resolution, or certainly before they meant to keep it. The Bill has probably been awaited with greater expectation and higher hopes than almost any other Measure, not only by every party but in the country outside as well and, if it has not fulfilled all those expectations, at least the critics cannot say it is not a, bold and a very enterprising Measure. We on these benches would like to congratulate the Minister of Health because we feel that he has come to close grips with the problem. He leas launched a new crusade against the slums, and I only hope that it will achieve its purpose rather more speedily than some other modern crusades are likely to do. He has found a very ingenious and a very effective form of subsidy, which is the most baffling and the most vital fact in the slum problem. lie has undoubtedly found a way to assist the man with the heaviest burden and the most slender means of support.

Of all the Bills that have been before the House I think that this is the most evenly balanced. Past legislation has always laid the greater emphasis on the problem of the towns than on the problem of the countryside, but now the rural areas have been brought into greater prominence, and I think that hon. Members who represent, as I do, an agricultural constituency, will rejoice if only for that. I think it is not possible to over-emphasise the problem of housing in the towns, but. we can and do under-emphasise the gravity of the problem in the rural areas. There is no doubt that the claim of the agricultural areas to special consideration has been recognised in this Bill, and it was recognised by the Labour Government in 1924. But it seems to me that the Government do not attach the same importance in this Bill to the problem as they did in 1924. I say that because, although the subsidy is increased in the rural areas, they do not have the same relative advantage over the towns,, as they did under the other Act. If they had, the subsidy would be not 50s. but 66s. If the 1924 Act was on a just basis, clearly the provisions of this Bill are inadequate, unless there is some explanation that is not apparent on the surface. If that relative advantage was justifiable in 1924, then it is certain v equally justifiable to-day, because circumstances in the agricultural parishes have not changed, and the workers condition is certainly no better now than it was then. His wages are lower; he is still, in fact, the lowest paid worker in any industry.

At the present time agricultural wages all over the country average about 32s. 6d. a week, and out of these meagre resources the labourer has to find food and clothing for his family. After he has done that, there is very little margin for rent. If his family is large, he is in a worse plight and more to be pitied than his neighbour who is unemployed and receiving benefit. It is true that the rent of the old dilapidated cottage where he now lives is comparatively small, but it is as much as he can afford. If he wishes to improve his lot and move to a house where he has a reasonable chance at least of bringing up his children under healthy conditions, the rent of the new house is quite prohibitive to him. Therefore, it is not a question of choice but of necessity. He has to remain where he is. However diligent, however skilled he may be, there is no prospect under present conditions of an improvement in his circumstances, and unless a very generous measure of assistance is given to him, he is doomed to go on living in a house which is very often no better than a hovel.

I have been severely reprimanded for referring to bad houses in the countryside as slums. I maintain that if overcrowding make slums, then it is correct to call them slums. It is argued that the mortality rate is higher as a result of densely overcrowded areas than of actual overcrowding in houses, and it is not unnatural for people to suppose that the countryside has at least this advantage over the towns—that if you cannot breathe good air inside the cottage, you can at least inhale it outside. This may be true in the case of a man who spends the better part of the day in the fields, but the wife whose duties keep her more or less a prisoner in her very wretched quarters in a poor cottage must suffer. This is borne out by a report which was made some years ago in my constituency, Anglesey, where it was shown that the death rate from tuberculosis among women was the highest but one on the list for the whole of the administrative counties in England and Wales; and yet the death rate of the men came only 22nd on that very black list. There can be only one explanation of that, and that is bad housing. The greater risk to health is for the woman who spends the greater part of her life in these squalid, dark, ill-ventilated cottages, and, of course, what applies to the woman also applies to young children. I think that that must account for the fact that in 1927 the infant mortality rate in the Island of Anglesey was equivalent to 93 per thousand, which, when compared with even the largest cities, is an alarmingly high rate.

These are the conditions which prevail in one of the healthiest counties you can find. It is known as a health resort. The inhabitants of Manchester and Liverpool come down there to renew their strength and to recruit their vigour. They come down to this island where the infant mortality is so high and the death rate from tuberculosis has reached almost a peak point. I stress these points because I feel that there is plenty of evidence of the appalling conditions in the towns—the limelight has been concentrated there—but the attention of the public is not drawn so frequently or so fully to similar conditions in the country. After all, most of us who live in the great cities have only to walk a few hundred yards from our homes to see the appalling conditions under which our fellow-citizens live, but you may go for miles in the country and never know that that very quaint, attractive cottage which you admire is not a house fit for human beings to live in. If we want to preserve the beauties and the amenities of rural Britain, we should find the means either to recondition or to rid ourselves altogether of these cottages. I am sorry to say that some of the worst examples of this kind may be found in North Wales, and I should like to quote from a report which was made on the position with regard to housing conditions in my constituency in 1918—one of the latest reports which has been made. It has reference to the cottages in the countryside. It says: It will be readily understood that the size of these cottages leads to overcrowding—it even leads to abuses, such as a case recently discovered in a village where a boy of 15, and twins, girl and boy, aged five, were sleeping in one bed in a cupboard a yard wide, five feet high, and about 10 feet long. There was no ventilation except from the door. Again I quote: In his Report the Relieving Officer of a certain village mentioned the death of a resident of that village and said that seven persons had died from phthisis in the same house. It was found that there were seven persons occupying three beds in the same room in that house. The report goes on to say: the consequence of this state of affairs may be imagined. Privacy and decency are out of the question. What little that can be obtained is only at the expense of light and ventilation already insufficient. I hope that the House will forgive me for dwelling so much upon the housing conditions in my constituency, but I do so only because I know those conditions best. If one looks at the Reports that are made in other rural areas, one finds very much the same state of things in England and Wales—damp, narrow, littered-up cottages, with often only an earth floor, the roofs old and defective, and the slates loose, so that sometimes the water comes pouring in and stands in pools on the floor. It is really no exaggeration to say that in many of these cottages you need not look through your window to see the stars, and you need not go outside to get wet.

It is not only a question of reconditioning; it is a question of a shortage of houses in the countryside. It is true that numbers of houses have been built, but in the main they have not been occupied by agricultural labourers, or, indeed, by workers of what the Bill calls "the like economic condition." The building has really been on a comparatively small scale, partly because, as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister has already pointed out, the rural district councils have not been in a position to face the extra expense which a housing scheme would impose upon them, and in some cases it must be said because they lack drive and initiative. There is no doubt that here the provisions of the Bill will come to their assistance. Their burden will be lightened, and the rate will be levelled out more equally over the counties.

I think that many people will welcome the provisions which impose new duties and obligations upon the county councils. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston said that all agricultural counties, or most of them—I am not sure which he said—are slow to move. I would like to point out that Anglesey was the pioneer in this matter of the Rural Workers' Act, so that all agricultural counties are not slow to move. It is a very remarkable thing. Anglesey has not a large population. It is very small in area, and yet there are only four counties in the whole of England and Wales which can claim to have made better use of this particular Act. May I say also that the power of the Ministry to intervene with a, recalcitrant county council is an old and a dead-letter provision. It was simply there for show before. I think that it has only been used a very few times. I know of a case where a backward landlord failed to demolish a row of insanitary houses, and the sea came in and did it for him. I hope that the Minister will be as ruthless and as discriminating in the use of his powers. I would, indeed, urge upon him the necessity of speeding up and accelerating building programmes in the rural areas. The shortage of houses there has a very important bearing upon the problem in the towns.

To-day there is very little inducement for a vigorous and intelligent labourer to remain in the countryside. His natural instinct is to go to the town. He is attracted there by higher wages and better prospects, and as for housing conditions, he probably feels that nothing could be worse than his own cottage at home. So that in a sense, the depopulation of the countryside is still going on not in large numbers, but a slow drift is still perceptible, and in the towns and industrial areas there is overcrowding and unemployment. Those who are competent to judge feel that this is the time and this is the opportunity to adjust the balance between the towns and the countryside. This is the time to encourage as many men as is possible to return to the land. We on these benches are convinced that this aspect will have to be considered in the very near future if there. is to be any permanent solution of abnormal unemployment, and when any schemes of that nature are put forward by the Government the shortage of houses in the-country side will become an even greater and more menacing problem. I hope that I have not abused the privilege that it is the generous custom of this House to grant to maiden speakers. I should like, in conclusion, to say that we on these benches welcome this Bill because we feel that it is the largest potential scheme for unemployment that has yet been put forward. We also welcome it because it. promises to give a chance to the poorest and most heavily burdened worker to live in decent, health- giving surroundings. The housing of the people is not a problem of comfort but of life, arid by life I mean life in its fullest sense.

Countess of IVEAGH

It gives me particular pleasure that my opportunity to take part in this Debate comes at this moment, since upon me falls the privilege of congratulating the hon. Lady who has just sat down upon her maiden speech. She has made her fellow women Members realise the great addition she will be to their number, which is all too small. She has further vindicated a principle which is often decried but which nevertheless is a great force in our human affairs. I refer to the hereditary principle. The right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Bill and the late Minister of Health both referred to the amount of legislation that there has been on this subject. If legislation can cure an evil this evil ought to have been cured. Nearly 80 years ago, Lord Shaftesbury piloted through Parliament an Act to deal with the deplorable housing conditions in our great cities. That Act was followed by other Acts, all trying to remedy the failures of previous legislation. Royal Coin-mission followed Royal Commission, Select Committees followed Select Committees and legislation followed legislation, and yet in these last few weeks words have been used in Parliament in regard to this problem very similar to those which were used 60 or 70 years ago. Housing conditions have been described as deplorable, terrible, shocking, and disgraceful, and social workers tend to become discouraged at the rate of progress that is made in tackling this great problem. It would seem that the progress has been mainly in the matter of sanitation rather than in the matter of housing and the abatement of overcrowding. In sanitation we have made great improvements. Seventy years ago London had no adequate drainage and no proper water supply. The Thames was the great sewer of London, and up to 1857 the Southwark Water Committee derived its water supply from the foulest part of the river, close to Hungerford Bridge. When we complain of the ventilation and atmosphere of this House we might reflect upon the state of affairs which existed when the Thames was the great sewer of London, when its tidal waters received the drainage of all the cities on its banks, and the noxious wastes from manufactories were all turned into the river, creating a nuisance which became intolerable. That has been dealt but although we have made progress in regard to sanitation we still have much over-crowding, many insanitary slum areas, courts where the sun never penetrates, basement dwellings, damp and often flooded, and houses with steep staircases, with no conveniences and no water, except on the ground floor. I know of a woman suffering from heart disease who has to carry every drop of water up several flights of stairs, and where children have to perform the duty of carrying up heavy buckets of water, which is harder physical labour under infinitely worse conditions than anything that has been alleged to take place on canal boats. I am specially interested in the housing problem as it affects the great cities and as to how far this Bill will help to deal with the poorest people in the worst districts. Those are people who must be rehoused on or near the sites where they now live. They cannot go very far away from their work. They cannot afford the rents on the new housing estates, and even if they had lower rents on those estates they could not afford the travelling expenses. Their work very often starts early in the morning, and there is perhaps not only the breadwinner concerned but a couple of children who are just beginning to work.

In cases of this kind, when we are demolishing and rebuilding in a great area like London, where we do not count the slums by the acre but by the square mile, under this Bill it will first be necessary to obtain possession of vacant sites in order to erect dwellings. Therefore, in view of the fact that progress in such areas must consequently he slow, I think that reconditioning should not he ruled out altogether. The problem is of such magnitude that no means ought to be neglected in seeking to deal with it. There are numerous examples where bad houses have been changed from being dwellings almost intolerable for human habitation into tolerable dwellings. I should like to see a scheme in the Bill whereby reconditioning can go on at the same time as demolition and rebuilding, so that there may be more hope of dealing with a larger number of people in the most crowded parts of our larger cities.

The question of differential rents seems to me to be one of very great difficulty. The new type of house—no doubt some person of fertile imagination will invent a name—will be inhabited by persons who have been dispossessed of their dwellings in the slums. These persons will enjoy a rent which will be lower usually than rents for precisely the same type of house elsewhere. That person or that family will not inhabit the house for ever. A time must arrive when these houses for which a lower rent will be charged than for houses under previous Housing Acts will have to be inhabited by persons who, in the opinion of the local authority, are persons who should he given the advantage of a lower rent. There seems to be no possible way of deciding that question other than a "means inquiry" such as has so often been objected to from the benches opposite. When we are dealing with a problem so urgent and so great, I should like to see every obstacle removed which stands in the way of providing the largest number of dwellings for the poorest of the population, and for that reason I regret that there is nothing in the Bill which will help the ground landlord to obtain vacant possession of property for the purpose of housing development. I happen to be associated with a housing trust—the Guinness Trust—which earns a dividend of 3 per cent., and the whole of the dividend is devoted to rebuilding. As the dividend accumulates it is possible for the trust to build flats to accommodate something like 160 families every three years—a fairly substantial contribution towards alleviating the housing problem. For the past 16 years, however, owing first to the War and then to the Rent Restrictions Act we have not been able to proceed as we would have liked. We have only been able to obtain possession of two sites and to house on each of those sites, 160 families. We have acquired other sites but we have not been able to obtain vacant possession, although there may be on those sites persons living who may be deemed suitable for houses already built on housing estates under previous Acts, but they cannot be made to move and, consequently, those sites are not vacant and building cannot be developed. We have only been able to rehouse about half the number of people that we would have been able to house otherwise. It is provided in the deeds of the trust that the fiats are to be for the lowest wage earners, and when the economic position of a tenant has improved it has been the custom of the trust to give notice to the tenant in order that someone else whose economic position comes within the terms of the trust might occupy the fiat. That, however, can no longer he done under the Rent Restrictions Act.

Then there are the injustices which remain under the Bill. In a clearance area, when by reason of the narrowness or badness of the streets the local authorities order that the whole place should be demolished, there may be, as there must be, certain buildings which cannot be described as unfit for human habitation, buildings on which the owners may have spent money to comply with the bylaws. It is a definite injustice in such cases that those persons should receive no compensation except for the mere site value. The question of compensation also arises in connection with the small trader, the small business man, the small shopkeeper. In such a case his livelihood is at stake. He may have with pains and expense built up his business. It seems to me that in that case the person should have compensation as a right and not according to whether the local authority is or is not in a generous mood.

7.0 p.m.

To many social workers who have looked forward anxiously to further legislation on this great problem it is something of a disappointment that the Bill contains nothing that is really new. We want a great national effort; something in which you will not only have the local authorities, but also the public utility companies, and all kinds of philanthropic effort, together with private enterprise. I do not believe that we can succeed until we get that whole-hearted co-operation, and, unless we do get it, there must be many thousands of people living in the slums in our great cities who will remain there, and we shall have slums in the future as we have had them in the past.


I beg that indulgence which the House has never failed to grant to a maiden speech; and I need it especially, because I come into this House and find a certain family reputation already established which my halting speech must not entirely disgrace. I am happy that in this situation I have the particular sympathy of the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) who, if I may be permitted to say so, made such a delightful, and equally effective first contribution towards the discussions in this Chamber. I believe that this Bill will be welcomed throughout the country as a great stride forward in the work of providing good homes for our people. It is everywhere admitted that the greater part of our housing efforts since the War has been to accommodate the better-off working-class families. We have hardly started to build houses and flats for scores of thousands of very poor families whose need for good houses is the most urgent and the most pitiful. Many of these families have striven to get out of their slum or semi-slum dwellings. They have gone in search of new houses which are being provided, and it is not due to their want of effort that they are not decently housed. It is because, when they have applied for these new houses, they have found that they could not afford to live in them, that the rents were too high, that the wages they were being paid held out no hope of enabling them to pay those rents regularly.

Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, when the Labour party criticised their policy of reducing subsidies used to say that this reduction would have no effect on rents, that rents would not rise, but that they would be maintained at the level then existing. Surely it is time we realised that the key which is going to open new houses for these people is not the policy of maintaining rents as they are to-day, but the policy of bringing down rents within the possibility of the wages which the poorest of these people are receiving. Therefore, the very specific statement—both in the financial statement attached to the Bill and in the speech of my right hon. Friend this afternoon—that this Bill would allow houses to be provided at rents definitely lower than those for which houses are provided under the 1924 Act will be a message of great hope to many people. It is a vital and essential part of these proposals, and I hope that the Minister and the authorities concerned will press it as far as they possibly can, because, without lower rents, the objects of the Bill will be defeated. It would indeed be a cruel hardship to pull down slums which do provide some shelter in order to build in their places other shelters which those same families could not afford.

We have had foreshadowed a great defence and a great fight on behalf of landowners. We, on this side, shall equally put up a fight for the tenants or would-be tenants. What are the facts of some actual experiences to-day, some of the conditions against which poor working families, for instance, in the East End of London have to contend? I can speak with some authority—here I would whisper to the hon. Lady that I am not one of those people whom she dislikes so much, a housing expert—for a constituency in the East End of London which I have the honour to represent on the London County Council.

I would quote to the House one particular case, not an extreme case, but a case representative of scores with which I have been trying to deal in the last few months. It is a case in which the parents are young. They have three small children, three little girls. That family of five live in one room so small that it can contain only one single bed, a table, and a few chairs. The parents sleep in the bed and the three little girls sleep on the floor. Naturally, that house, containing that room, having been built 60 or 70 years ago, has its floor out of repair. There are spaces under the door and up the side of the door, and the three little girls sleeping on the floor do so in a continual draught. There used to be four little girls, but one died of pneumonia contracted under these conditions. These parents live in mortal terror that more of their children will be taken away in the same way. They came to us and asked if we could find them alternative accommodation. It was absolutely hopeless, because the man, the father, earning £2 15s. a week, cannot afford to pay the 17s. 6d. per week for three rooms which is required for a flat built under the 1924 scheme.

It is true that that is not the only accommodation available in that part of London, but I want to point out to the House that where parents have not long taken on the responsibility of parenthood and there are two or three very young children, those families are largely dependent on the effort of the local authorities for these houses. There are other houses in the district, houses owned by landlords and by buxom landladies, where there are rooms which have been let at rents which such families could afford to pay, but if the father or the mother of that family goes to these people the first question asked of them is this: "Have you any children? How many children have you got?" And if they answer "two," or "three young children," then, politely sometimes, but always firmly, the door is closed in their face. Landlords and landladies are not very willing, if they can help it, to be bothered with young children in their houses, so I would emphasise that many of these families whom we are trying to help are almost entirely dependent on local authorities for their hopes of re-housing; and the houses to be built must be built near to their work.

The London County Council houses at Becontree and at Beckenham, where the rents are lower, are of no use to these families, for the father, after paying a lower rent of 12s. or 13s. or 14s. a week has to go to Stepney to work and his fares cost him 5s., 6s. or 7s. a week on top of the rent he is paying. I give that as a typical case of what is happening to-day in Stepney, and of some of the tragic conditions to which the Minister has already referred. I would beg of this House, when considering its attitude on this Bill, to have in mind not only average cases but extreme cases as well. As a matter of fact, these parents I have talked about were lucky in being able to keep their room, lucky, compared with others, to be able to keep their children with them.

I had come to me not many months ago a good woman who was living with her husband and five young children in two rooms in Limehouse. The rooms were insanitary and generally condemned. The sanitary inspector had arrived and presented an order for the ejectment of the tenants and the parents had spent many weeks going round the districts trying to get alternative accommodation, either from the borough council, or rooms possessed by some private person. But they met with no success. Landlords and landladies would not listen to their case when they heard that they had five young children. The father, who is a carter and his own master, was only earning £3 a week, out of which he could not possibly afford to pay a rental of 24s. a week, which be would have had to pay for a four-roomed council flat. We tried to get alternative accommodation. We wrote to the magistrate and got him to postpone the putting into force of the order of ejectment. But the time came when he could not stay execution any longer, and the order was to take effect on the third week from the final sitting of the court where the case was heard. Those last three weeks were equally useless in finding accommodation for the family. So, on the night before the ejectment order was to operate. the mother went to a friend and got her to take one child. She next went to a second acquaintance and got her to take the second child. She then went to a third friend and found accommodation for her third child in another part of London; and, when she had distributed her five children in five different parts of London, then she and her husband went to live in a small shed at the back of the stable where the man kept this cart and horses.

I know four cases where that experience has fallen to families within that small area of Limehouse during the last 18 months. Some of our political opponents accuse us of wanting to smash up family life; but family life is being very effectively broken up under the present social system, not merely in cases where families are split up and distributed in different parts, but also in cases where families are crowded together, seven, eight or nine people sometimes, in one insanitary room. The Minister of Health is going to do something effective by this Bill to save family life, to preserve it, to restore it, by creating conditions in which the poorest of working-class parents can keep their own children and bring them up with loving care amidst the surroundings of their own comfortable home. He will receive the blessings of countless poor people. He ought to receive the blessings of the whole State as well. He may well be proud of the work he is doing to-day the good effects of which will not be con- fined to this generation alone but will be reflected in the lifetime of our children and our children's children.


The House this afternoon has had a very unusual privilege. One hesitates to use the much overworked adjective, "unique" to describe it, but I think the occasion is without parallel that the House should have listened in the course of one Debate to two maiden speeches both of them delivered in the presence of parents who occupy or have occupied the position of Prime Minister. May I be permitted, not as a very old Member of this House but obviously older than either of the two hon. Members to whose maiden speeches we have just listened, to tender my congratulations and to say, as was said on a classic occasion, that these maiden speeches are each of them such as might rejoice a parent's heart.

The hon. Member who has just sat down related with telling eloquence one of those distressing experiences which is so common of late to all who have any contact or association with the working classes in the East End of London. We all agree that slums ought to go. We are all agreed that we will do all we can to hasten their abolition. As regards the past it is a case of building in baste and, as regards the present, of repenting not indeed at leisure but under the stress of urgent anxiety to remedy the errors of the past.

We are all painfully familiar with the problem of the slums. In my Division, it so happens that, although we have overcrowding difficulties, circumstances of discomfort and gloom, which are only relieved by the courage with which many of the dwellers in such houses face the difficulties with which they have to contend, we have not a scheduled slum area, but we have plenty of places where we want the conditions remedied as soon as possible. If our need were greater we should perhaps have received assistance sooner. That is one of the reasons for which I welcome this Bill. The improvement Clauses may enable such cases as I have in mind to receive attention from the local authority which in this case is the London County Council. It will be able to come to the assistance of the borough council and co-operate with it in its necessary work.

It may be asked, why we have not got on faster. As far as London is concerned, hon. Members will realise that the London County Council has never been deterred by mere considerations of cost. More money has been devoted to housing than it has been possible to spend. Nor has it been because the London County Council has been rather preoccupied with the provision of new houses than in dealing with the older areas. The work of prevention and cure, so far as London is concerned, has gone on side by side; the clearance of slum areas, and the building of new estates has been proceeded with concurrently.

Our difficulties, our obstacles, in the way of speedy clearances have been the necessity for providing new houses before clearance can be begun; the difficulty of securing suitable rehousing sites nearer the clearance area—and a, clearance area is nearly always overcrowded—the difficulty of rehousing the poorest class of tenants at a rent which they can afford to pay; and the difficulty with which this Bill deals, the necessity for constant consultation and approval, step by step, by the Ministry of Health of all actions taken by the local authority. That has involved delay, and when we have a reply from the Government bench I hope we shall have some assurance that the new provisions in the Bill will really curtail the delays which have taken place and which have been obstacles to really getting on rapidly with the job. Delay has perhaps been the greatest of our handicaps. Those are largely administrative difficulties.

There are, of course, the practical difficulties as well. There are economic considerations, and perhaps the greatest is the difficulty under the head of absence from or distance from work. There is the reluctance on the part of the tenant to remove on account of a reasonable attachment to the locality to which he is accustomed and in which he may have local associations and even a personal pride. There is the economic question of the tradesmen of whom they are customers and, above all, there is the ever-present question of the cost of the daily journey to and from work. There is an economic question of another kind which is apt to come in, and that is the distance from the centre of employment, which is felt by some people as a reason which may reflect in their opportunities of obtaining employment, if employment ceases, or if they should have to seek work in another direction. There is also the question of education. Parents are reluctant to interrupt the education of their children at a particular school where the child is making progress. All these questions, practical and sentimental, weigh in the balance and make progress difficult.

We were recently reminded by the late Secretary of State for Air of the old saying, "transportation is civilisation," and I suppose there is no aspect of the question of civilisation on which transportation plays so big a part. I have no doubt that the Minister of Health, in considering this problem from the standpoint of traffic, will consult his colleague the Minister of Transport in regard to those plans which he is preparing for reorganising the transport system of London. Anything which will help to bring the worker resident outside nearer to his work and consequently widen the scope of residence will all tend to relieve the present difficulty. Let the right hon. Gentleman "step on the gas," now that the Minister of Transport has abolished the speed limit, and get on with the job as fast as possible, regardless of any other consideration.

The Bill breaks fresh ground in freeing the local authority from that close contact with the Ministry which has existed in the past. One of its difficulties is that its finance is rather vague. I welcome the willingness which I take to exist under the Bill to allow owners to deal with the clearance and redisposal of their sites. That may enable some of the largest sites which are in an insanitary condition, and wherewith action is prevented by the operation of the Rent Restrictions Act to be dealt with. I hope to hear that the Bill will enable owners in cases of that kind to deal with their property where they are at present prevented by the operation of the Rent Restrictions Act. The improvement Clauses will, to a certain extent, mitigate the hardship and injustice of the old Act, which required the local authority to deal with the whole area. They will be able to deal with the improvement areas under the improvement Clauses without touching the rest. I particularly welcome Clause 26, which deals with public utility societies, and here I re-echo the remark of the hon. Member for Southend (Countess of Iveagh) inviting the Minister to take advantage of all co-operation which may be offered, not only from public utility societies, but from private enterprise, particularly in the direction of reconditioning in which so much progress has been made already.

Before I sit down I should like to ask the Minister of Health one or two questions which arise from the point of view of the London County Connell which, of course, will be the local authority for London. He is well aware that the London County Council has a number of important clearance schemes in operation. Some are nearly completed, some have only just been started. Altogether there are about 20, and I should say, taking a mean through the whole, that they were about half way through. What is the Government going to do with regard to them? Will the Government regard them as coming within the provisions of the Bill? From an earlier remark of the right hon. Gentleman I gather that they would not be considered as coming within the Pill. On the other hand, if it is possible, will he consider including all schemes which may have been approved by the Ministry of Health within a certain period, say five years, or, alternatively, should all schemes on which a local authority has already entered be resubmitted to the Ministry? And will the Ministry in any event cooperate by applying the provisions of this Bill?

It being half-past Seven of the Clock, and, leave having been given to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10, further Proceeding was postponed, without Question put.