HC Deb 07 April 1930 vol 237 cc1864-917

Postponed Proceeding resumed on Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Question again proposed.


When the Debate was interrupted, I was putting a few questions to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health as to the attitude of the Government towards local authorities. My first question was, Will the Government include within the provisions of the Bill all schemes which have been approved by the Ministry of Health within a certain period of time? Alternatively, are all the schemes which a local authority has entered into to be re-submitted to the Ministry? Will the Minister extend the benefits of the provisions of the Bill to expediting procedure under schemes which have already been commenced? I should also like to ask a question as to the effect of paragraph 5 of the first Schedule and to know if a scheme which is re-submitted to the Minister for approval, and re-approved by him, may be proceeded with, even though it is now affected by the Derby judgment.

I have dealt with the Bill particularly from the point of view of London and in so far as it helps us to a solution of our very difficult problems in the Metropolis we shall welcome it. We shall make it our business, as far as possible, to improve it where it needs improvement and perhaps assist the Minister to remedy some of those defects in it to which attention has been drawn. We hope to stop some of the gaps which remain and, perhaps, by criticism in the Committee stage to make the Bill a better Bill than it is now. In conclusion, may I say that we all welcome an opportunity for cooperating in solving this difficult problem and, if I may again refer to the speech of the Noble Lady the Member for Southend, I also hope that the Minister will see his way to take some steps in the direction of securing the co-operation not only of the local authorities and the public utility societies but also of private enterprise which has done and is doing a great deal of valuable work in remedying our difficulties. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman by means of this Bill will provide an additional opportunity for useful co-operation in a cause which we all desire to help.


Speaking as a representative of the borough of Islington which is one of the most congested areas in London, I need hardly say how heartily I welcome this excellent Bill. It will abolish slums, and it will also absorb large numbers of the unemployed, not in work merely for work's sake, but in work of real national importance. However as I read the Bill it occurs to me that there are many grave difficulties which will have to be overcome before its main Clauses can be put into operation. I say so because when I have criticised my borough council for lassitude in the matter of building houses for the masses of the people—and I have frequently done so—they have replied in these terms, "If you can fine us alternative sites we shall be pleased to build upon them" and I have had to admit that that was a, cogent and sensible reply. Sub-section (1) of Clause I of the Bill contains the following proviso: Provided that before passing any such resolution"— that is, a resolution in favour of the clearance of an area— the authority shall satisfy themselves—that accommodation available for the persons of the working classes who will be displaced by the clearance 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 the demolition of buildings in the area, or in different parts thereof, proceeds. A pertinent question is whether or not alternative sites exist in the central Metropolitan boroughs. Everybody who has studied the question knows that there are no alternative sites there within the recognised limits of present legislation and administration. In a humble way I have been trying for years to study this problem as it affects London, and I have been forced to the conclusion that the only method of dealing with it is that adopted during the War by the military authorities, namely, by utilising some of our open spaces in a limited and temporary manner. During the War, the military authorities had no compunction in seizing many of our large parks and open spaces, building hutments on them, using them for anti-aircraft gun emplacements, and storing various kinds of war material on them. The perfectly legitimate excuse given for this action was the existence of a national emergency. In 1926, when the regrettable General Strike took place, the Conservative Government commandeered Hyde Park as a central milk depot, and gave as their reason the existence of a, national emergency.

I do not wish to quarrel with hon. Members opposite or to stir up strife, and I mention these facts only to elicit sympathy for the modest solution of this problem which I humbly present to the Ministry. If the Great War was a national emergency, if the General Strike was a national emergency, then I claim that the salvation of child life from slumdom is, equally, a national emergency and I want to see it dealt with, not in a leisurely manner but at the first possible opportunity. I regard the salvation of child life as of even more importance than killing the enemy in France. The London parks are owned, either by the London County Council or by the Crown. I make my first appeal to the generous heart of the First Commissioner of Works, and I ask him whether, as a contribution to the solution of this almost insoluble problem of finding alternative sites in London, he in his kindness and consideration and in association with all the other thoughtful and imaginative actions he has taken in making the Royal Parks more suitable for our children, will consider the proposition of earmarking say 5 per cent. of Regent's Park for a maximum period of two years to the Ministry of Health in order that temporary dwellings may be put up there while slum clearance is taking place.

If the Ministry and the Government following up this generous and Christian gesture approached the London County Council, and asked that body to fall in with that line of operations, I am perfectly certain the Government would meet with a generous and a ready response from the London County Council—that is, of course, assuming that the First Commissioner of Works extended his generosity to others of the Royal Parks, not including Hyde Park, St. James' Park and Kensington Gardens all of which are unsuitable for such a purpose. In my investigations concerning the parks and open spaces in London I have discovered that, in and around London, are something like 6,000 acres of park land and open spaces, and of the 6,000 acres at least 2,000 acres are available and would be suitable for such a temporary measure as I suggest. Assuming that we enlisted the goodwill of the First Commissioner of Works and the London County Council, that would provide, on a basis of 5 per cent., 100 acres of open land upon which temporary dwellings could be erected while these schemes of slum clearance were being put into operation.

The reason why I appeal to the Ministry to consider this proposition is because it would not be enough to leave it to the London County Council. The rival claims of the Metropolitan boroughs, most of which are suffering from congestion and overcrowding would necessitate a quota system—I hope not such an unpopular quota system as that which we have been discussing within the past few weeks, but a quota system which would spread out the allotted space among the most necessitous of the metropolitan boroughs. For instance in the case of Regent's Park the 10 acres or so which would be allotted there, might be divided between the borough of Islington and the borough of St. Pancras, both of which have very congested areas. The reason why I mention a time limit of two years is because I want to emphasise the emergency aspect of the problem. If we regard the problem of slum clearance as one to be solved as quickly as possible, then the inducements held out in this way for its solution must be of a temporary nature, and must be withdrawn after a given time so that the maximum of activity may be reached within the allotted time.

I anticipate that some hon. Members may criticise this suggestion and hurl at my head the accusation that the effect of this proposal would be to deprive many hundreds of working lads from the central districts of London of their opportunities for playing cricket and football on Saturday afternoons. That suggestion, I submit, would be entirely untrue, because large tracts of these open spaces are not used for games at all at present. They are, in fact, not used for any purpose whatever; and, in any case, it is surely the irony of the situation, that the very lads who enjoy these amenities in the parks come from homes, many of which, when this Bill becomes an Act, will be condemned as unfit for human habitation. We allow these poor lads to play games in the park un one afternoon a week and we condemn them to live permanently in slums. We allow them to breathe God's fresh air on Saturday afternoons and the devil's foul gloom during the rest of the week. In addition to the parks there are other open spaces such as market places. There is the Metropolitan Cattle Market, known as the Caledonian Market—an area of 50 acres which is only used on three days of the week, and on the other four days is a barren desert on which one sees no human being. Surely it would be possible for the Government to claim five acres of such a market which might be used in the way I have suggested.

8.0 p.m.

Then there is Pentonville Prison. I mention that, because a few weeks ago I asked the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary whether it would not be possible to demolish that prison and use the site for working-class houses, and I am glad to say that the right hon. Gentleman readily agreed that it would be a desirable thing to do, but in reply to subsequent questions he advised me that the difficulty of finding alternative accommodation for the prisoners was holding up the scheme. I sincerely hope that that difficulty may be rapidly removed in order that we may proceed to deal with the more urgent difficulty which I have already described. What is the idea which I have in mind in relation to these clearance areas? It is this: if the scheme were adopted, within a few months of the Bill becoming an Act, 100 acres would be available on which hundreds of dwellings—hutments, if you please—could be built, which would house as many hundreds of families. I predict that inside two years the back of the slum problem in London would be broken, and, if I am challenged as being too optimistic, I would reply that, provided, the emphasis is laid in the Metropolitan area on large block dwellings in place of the crumbling two and three-storied broken-down houses that now exist, there would be erected on these clearance areas dwellings that would house twice or three times as many families as now occupy them. At the same time, a great deal of valuable space would be saved, so that, after the first two years—and even a less period—the back of the problem would be broken, because as the area became developed, larger numbers of families could be housed upon them.

This brings me to the second part of my speech. I hope that the Minister, in addition to the 70s. temptation or in- ducement that he offers to the local authorities to build block dwellings, will also bring some greater pressure to bear, for I am convinced that if people will live in the middle of cities, they are far better off in large handsome block dwellings than in tumble-down tenements. I advance that point for this important reason. The Minister stated that he regarded this problem as not merely a problem of bricks and mortar; nor do I. I regard it as a problem of great social importance, for one of the curses of the masses of the people in their home life to-day is that in large numbers of cases they have no privacy; they are living in dwellings which are not self-contained, and they are exposed to the persecution, the pettiness, and the intolerance of landlords and of chief tenants, who live on the premises, and who often make their life a burden. Only last Friday night I sat in my constituency, as I do every Friday, and a man whom I knew well came to me and showed me a notice to quit. He told me that he and his wife were childless. They decided to adopt a child from the Child Adoption Society, and on the previous Wednesday his wife brought home a child with pride and happiness. Within 48 hours of the baby having entered the house, the landlord, who lives on the premises, sent them a notice to quit.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. M. MacDonald), who made such a splendid maiden speech, emphasised this point in regard to the unpopularity of parents with young children. It is not unpopularity; they are simply excluded altogether from houses. It is one of the most intolerable positions that could exist in any civilised country. I wish that the Minister could have put a Clause in this Bill which would have ended the tyranny that prevents parents with young children from having a right to a decent home. We have been hearing a lot about birth control in the House lately. I do not wish to be controversial on that point, but I want to say that those interested people who are mostly responsible for effective birth control in this country are not the societies who are honourably attempting in a proper and scientific manner to carry out this work, but the landlords and chief tenants who are debarring parents with young children from having homes and who, in fact, are actually preventing them from having children, even though they desire them. That is a monstrous intolerance which no decent country can possibly stand.

Another point has exercised me very greatly. I have looked round London for years, and have been appalled by the immense amount of valuable space that is completely wasted by unnecessary brick walls. I tried to get from the London County Council an estimate of the amount of space occupied and covered in London by brick walls, fences, iron railings and other impedimenta. I was unable to get any information at all, for nobody knew. I was, therefore, forced to make some investigations myself In one street in my constituency—not a poverty-stricken street—this is what I discovered. There were 100 houses on either side, with gardens 60 feet by 20 feet, surrounded on three sides by a wall nine inches thick and six feet high. A simple calculation shows that on both sides of that particular street there were 16,000 feet of brick wall, nine inches thick and six feet high. It is obviously impossible to visualise the amount of space in London which is occupied by such unnecessary things, and there must be hundreds of acres of valuable land in London which are covered by unnecessary brick walls and other impedimenta. If it were possible to clear that space, it would provide gardens, trees, and all kinds of valuable open space which would improve the health of the city generally.

No one who has travelled into London by Liverpool Street station, and has seen from Ilford inwards those miles of slums and backyards that abut on to the railway, where there is as much brick wall as there is open space, can contemplate such a scene without horror and deep regret. Those brick walls are the chief creators of slums; they deny people light and sunshine, they deny them fresh air and health, and they promote every kind of squalor, darkness and dirt. I only hope and pray that it, is possible in the new developments that are visualised in the Bill to lay emphasis on big block dwellings, which would economise pace and thereby promote open spaces around the houses, and abolish all the little individualistic backyards in favour of something in the nature of open spaces. There is at least one area in London, at Maida Vale, which I know well, where either the landlord or the tenant or both have been wise enough to put this new idea into operation.

They are streets round about Maida Vale, and running along these streets at the back of the houses are huge common gardens. The result is that the whole length of a street, at the back, is one beautiful lawn on which there are dozens of tennis courts. Nobody quarrels, no neighbour is jealous of his friends, they all enjoy the garden, and the children play there. If each of these houses had its own brick wall, fence or hedge, there would not be one tennis lawn in the whole of the street. I hope that we may look on this Bill with sufficient imagination to break away from the old individualistic theories of the past; and I hope I may say without offence. to my friends opposite that, if they will put into operation this enlightened Socialism, sharing all good things in common—if you do not share them, there are no good things at all—if they will only adopt that method, many of our terrible problems of the slums will be abolished.


I should like to express agreement with the suggestion which has been made by the hon. Member for North Islington (Mr. R. S. Young). If the suggestion he made were adopted, a valuable contribution would be made to the solution of the housing problem, particularly in the large towns. I think that there will be no disagreement at all on any side of the House in deploring the terrible conditions which exist to-day in the slums. It is necessary that this matter should be drastically dealt with, and I am inclined to agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) that the Minister for Health has not made the most of his opportunities with regard to this question in the Bill which is now before us. I can asure him and the House that any criticisms which I may make are made in the most helpful spirit. For some years I represented an East End of London constituency in this Rouse, and prior to that time I did a certain amount of social work in different parts of the East End. No one is more impressed than I am of the urgent necessity which exists for this matter to be dealt with. The first criticism which I would make is that there is no provision in this Bill to make it compulsory on the part of local authorities to provide suitable alternative accommodation for persona who are being displaced by a clearance operation. That is a defect in the Bill. It is true that Clause 1 provides that before passing the resolution declaring an area to be a clearance area, the local authority shall satisfy itself that accommodation available for the persons of the working classes who will be displaced by the clearance of the area exists, or can be provided by the authority in advance of the displacements. It is also provided by Clause 7 that the Minister can require a local authority, before acting on a resolution declaring any area to be a clearance area, to undertake to carry out rehousing operations within such period as the Minister may consider reasonable. Apart from these provisions, there is not one word in the Bill which makes it compulsory on the part of the local authority, prior to putting into operation a slum clearance scheme, to find alternative accommodation. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that she should take this matter into close consideration.

The Minister of Health made a declaration regarding the basis of compensation which is to be paid to the owners of properties which are acquired by local authorities under slum clearance schemes. I suggest that Members on all sides of the House will regret the declaration which he has made. There can be no doubt—in fact, it is admitted—that many local authorities realise that they cannot carry out a slum clearance scheme without encompassing the ruin of a large number—and I use these words advisedly—of some of the most meritorious people we have in this country, the thrifty working man who has saved money and invested it in bricks and mortar. I notice that one or two hon. Members opposite are smiling at my words, but when the right hon. Gentleman said there were no houses in a slum area or an area which would be subject to a clearance scheme which were sound, he was stating something which is not in accordance with the facts.


The Minister corrected that and said that no houses could be cleared unless they were either themselves unfit for habitation or by reason of their bad arrangement dangerous or injurious to health.


I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for that explanation, but I would suggest that even there the Minister was wrong, because there can be no doubt at all that there is in every slum area a number of houses which in themselves are perfectly sound and fit for habitation, and which can only be said to be unsound and injurious to health on account of their particular environment. That matter was dealt with by the Departmental Committee which was set up in 1921, and perhaps the House will forgive me if I read some of their conclusions. Paragraph 24 reads as follows: We have received evidence, however, that, favourable as the clause appears on the face of it"— that is, Section 9 of the Housing Act, 1919, which was re-enacted in the Consolidating Act of 1925— the practice is going to be extremely difficult. Owing to the inequity of paying nothing for buildings, which in themselves might be unexceptionable, but which happen to be within an unhealthy area, it is suggested that the local authority will be deterred from representing areas as unhealthy. I think the hon. Lady will agree that the suggestion made in that paragraph has been borne out by the facts, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston said during the last Parliament that a number of authorities were deterred from carrying out slum clearance schemes on account of the injustices involved. The Departmental Committee went on to say—and I think I am right in saying that this was a unanimous Report: Moreover, the task of the local authority and the Minister of Health, in deciding upon the use to which the land shall be put in future, will be rendered extremely difficult by the fact that upon that use will depend the compensation payable to the owner. The owner of a property in an area allotted for commercial purposes will receive compensation on a scale entirely different from that payable to an owner whose property lies in an area destined for housing, even though the character and condition of the two properties be nearly identical. The next paragraph goes on to say: The impression left upon our minds, after conversation with witnesses in the various towns, is that none of them like the pro- cedure under Section 9. Its drastic provisions are considered likely to lead to such inequality and injustice as between individuals as to encounter violent opposition, followed by possible failure to sustain a case when brought before the Courts. The Committee also reported: A great difficulty arises in respect of leasehold property. The compensation is in all cases to be calculated upon the basis of the value of the cleared site. The lease-holder's interest in such a site is in many cases nil. On the other hand, the compensation, whatever it may be, is paid to the ground landlord. I do not wish to be misunderstood. I hold no brief at all for the house owner who unreasonably, deliberately, or through neglect allows his property to get into such a state of disrepair as to be a source of danger to its occupants or the neighbourhood. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, in my opinion, a number of houses exist which are in such a shocking condition that even site value is too much compensation to pay to their owners, and that there should be deducted from that site value the net cost of clearing the buildings which encumber it at present, but I suggest that it is manifestly unfair, unjust, and monstrous that, so far as compensation is concerned, there should be no differentiation at all between the bad owner, the man who flagrantly neglects his property, and the individual who takes a pride in his property, keeps it in a sound and sanitary condition, and in fact fulfils all his obligations to the community.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston stated—and I am sure the hon. Lady who represents the Ministry of Health will agree that statement was true—that the great majority of houses which are situate in working-class districts belong to what might be known as the small owners. The majority of those houses have been purchased by working men—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] All I can say is that my experience—I am not a housing expert, but I have had some knowledge of some of the districts in London and other great towns, and I do not wish to exaggerate—teaches me that a very large proportion indeed of these houses belong to what one might term the little man, the working man, who by means of thrift has saved a. little money, which he has invested in bricks and mortar. I notice that the hon. Lady shakes her head in disagreement with me, but she will, I am sure, concede this, that there is a large number of houses, situate in these areas to which the remarks which I have made apply. I would like to quote a statement made a short time ago by a well-known member of the Institute of British Architects, as follows: Large numbers of the dwelling houses in these areas are kept in good and sanitary repair by the owners, and have been admitted by medical officers, sanitary inspectors, and others to be hi themselves quite fit for human habitation, The owners are largely citizens who, by extreme thrift, have saved a little money and have invested their life's savings (aided by building and similar societies) in what has hitherto been the goal of small investors, viz., the purchase of one or more houses. These people are often well advanced in years and unable to restart the work by which they effected their savings. Under this Clause"— that is, Section 46 of the Housing Act, 1925as now administered, their life's savings are not only confiscated, but in many eases they are left with mortgage debts to building societies or other creditors. which they can never meet. I do not think that is an exaggerated statement. I think it is admitted on all sides—and, indeed, it must be admitted—that it is not right to deprive the owner of a house, provided he has kept that house in satisfactory repair and condition, of the value of that house and give him at the most simply site value, in other words, to treat him in exactly the same way as the owner who flagrantly neglects his property. The Minister of Health mentioned as a circumstance which he applauded, and which we on this side of the House certainly applaud, that a large number of individuals are endeavouring nowadays to become the owners of their own homes.


Not in the slums.


The last speaker mentioned that people like to live in a neighbourhood to which they have become accustomed. I assure hon. Members opposite that in most districts there is a feeling of what is known as "local patriotism." People who have been born and bred in a district hays an affection for it and dislike leaving it. I do not think any hon. Member will dispute that fact.


I will, for one.


The hon. Member will forgive me for saying it, and I do not mean it offensively, but he would dispute any statement made from this side of the House. I do not wish to repeat myself, but I say that it is unfair to deprive people who have purchased their houses and maintained them properly of the fruits of their savings, and I can assure the House that if the Minister wishes loyal co-operation with him on the part of local authorities in carrying out the provisions of the Bill when passed he will have to alter the provisions of Section 9 so that fair and reasonable compensation can be paid to the owners of what one might term sound houses which are situate in areas the subject of a clearance scheme. The Minister of Health gave one the impression that he considered it just and fair to pay at the most site value to the owners of houses cleared by a local authority. I join issue with him. We know very well that for other purposes the site value is not taken as representing the value of the property. I could quote to the House a number of cases where a Government Department, shortly before the making of a clearance scheme, has valued the houses at their full market value and death duties have been paid on that basis.

I could give the House instances of where owners of houses have been called upon by local authorities to put houses into a satisfactory and sanitary condition and afterwards the houses have been passed by the medical officer of health as being in all respects fit for habitation, and within a short time afterwards the property has been declared to be within a slum area and only site value has been received by the unfortunate owner. Let me quote one case. I am sure the hon. Lady would like to have the particulars. It is the case of a Mr. Walter Henry Batterbee, who owned several houses in New George Street, Hull. After scheduling the property for demolition the corporation served notices on Batterbee requiring him to redrain some of the property and put it in perfect sanitary order and condition, and this he did, at a cost of over £100. I am informed that the property was passed by the medical officer of health and the sanitary inspector as being in good order and condition.


When was this?


I think it was about two years ago.


Where was it?


In Hull. The New George Street scheme was sanctioned and the property was cleared by the local authority and no compensation at all was paid for the buildings. Although there was a mortgage for £700 on the property only, the sum of £400 was paid for the site value. The property was not applied to the purposes of a housing scheme, but the corporation allowed Mr. Batterbee to remain in possession. He still lives there and pays a rent to the corporation of £130 a year, and is left with the mortgage liability of £300.


He must be getting something out of it.


I hope hon. Members will treat this matter seriously. As I have said before, I hold no brief for the man who neglects his duty. Property has its rights and its duties, and I suggest to some hon. Members opposite that it ill-becomes them to sneer and laugh at one who is endeavouring, as I am now, to plead the case of the man who has worked hard all his life and invested his savings in bricks and mortar and is properly maintaining his property. The Minister of Health said that in this country every man's home was regarded as his castle. I can assure some hon. Members opposite who are tempted to laugh at some of the remarks I am making—


We are not laughing at the hon. Member at all, but at the humorous remarks of the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones).


You always laugh at me.


I at once accept that explanation, and I hope that what I have said will impress hon. Members opposite and also the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary. The Minister stated that the basis of compensation had been fixed some years ago, and in the deliberate opinion of the Legislature it had been decided that at the most site value should be paid. I join issue with the right hon. Gentleman. When the Housing Act of 1919 was passed it was not anticipated that the Section would operate as it has operated. It was understood that the words which appeared in Section 9, and were repeated in Section 47, would be sufficient to ensure that it would be only those properties which were in an unsatisfactory condition which would come within what I term the confiscatory provisions. It was subsequently held by the Ministry of Health, and I believe also by one of His Majesty's Judges, that the Section applied to houses which were not in themselves insanitary and unfit for habitation but which might be held to be so on account of their environment. By Section 9 of this Bill the Minister of Health is making the matter far worse. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) the owner of any property, whatever its condition, comprised in any slum clearance scheme will get at the most its site value. He was not exaggerating when he said these provisions might apply to a church.


I am sorry to interrupt, but may I correct a misapprehension? A property like a church, or any other perfectly good property, would not be in the area, it would be in land surrounded by the area and would come under Clause 3. If it were perfectly good property, neither insanitary in itself nor so congested as to be dangerous to health, it would be what is known technically as a "blue patch," that is to say, land surrounded by the area, and in the case of perfectly good land surrounded by the clearance area compensation is provided at its market value. Under Clause 3 an area contains nothing but bad houses or houses which by their crowded condition must be regarded as injurious to health; but anything which is not injurious to health in one sense or another will be land surrounded by the area.


I do not agree. It seems to me that the view which the hon. Lady has just expressed is not borne out by the Bill. I think she will agree that in the past many houses have been taken by local authorities simply upon the payment of the site value when those houses were fit for human habitation, and perfectly sound and satisfactory to live in. If what the hon. Lady has stated is the intention of the Bill, then I hope that the wording of the Clause which deals with this question will be amended in Committee. I can conceive of a small part of a clearance area where there are say no less than 20 houses fit for habitation. Does the Parliamentary Secretary suggest that under this particular Bill each one of those houses will be land surrounded by an insanitary area. We know that in some of our quaint old towns there are narrow streets such as have been described, and it might be suggested that they did not provide a proper access for air. The houses in such streets might be in a perfect condition, but I suggest that it would not be fair to the owners to deprive them of their property by paying them site value only for the simple reason that they were in that position. I would point out that in that particular street. there might be houses in a shocking tumbledown condition upon which the owners have not spent a penny for many years, and yet the owners of those houses are to be treated in precisely the same way.

I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister of Health will be unable, in debate, to give any justification for a proposal of that kind. With regard to what is known as the reduction factor, it is proposed to perpetuate the existing law that there shall be a deduction made from the bare site value which would otherwise have been paid to the owner of the property which is taken over in respect of that particular area. It seems to me that there can be no justification at all for depriving the owner of property of money to which he would otherwise be entitled. I lay down as a general proposition, which I think will receive the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House, that when a local improvement is effected, the cost, should not fall upon one part, but upon the whole of the district.

It seems to me that the operation of this reduction factor may hi given cases be extraordinarily anomalous. Let me put this case to the House. Assume that there is a district in which there are a certain number of houses in a good state of repair, and it is proposed that part of that district shall be used for open spaces or for the erection of workmen's houses. Let us assume that there is another part of the same district where a majority of the houses are in a shocking state, and it is proposed that that particular section is to be used for commercial purposes. The operation of this Bill would mean that the owners of the district where the houses are sound would have a reduction made in their compensation, whereas the owners of the dilapidated site would receive the full site value attributable to the land being sold for commercial purposes. That is surely not equitable.

There is only one other thing to which I wish to refer, and it is dealt with under Clause 4 of this Bill. Hon. Members will recollect that only site value at the most is to be paid to the owners of this property, but, if the local authority wishes to sell that particular property, it has to sell it for the best price which can be obtained. In other words, the owner of the property is to be deprived of everything except the bare value, while the opportunity of re-selling it is placed in the hands of the local authority. I submit that Cause 9 is unfair in principle, and I hope that when this Measure comes to the Committee stage the Minister of Health will see his way to do something more for the thrifty persons who have invested their savings in this kind of property, and see that they are treated more fairly.


I was under the impression that the object of this Bill, and the purpose we have in mind, is to get some cheaper houses. Slum clearances which we are talking about in the same Bill and in the same breath involve two different propositions. I am in favour of dealing very drastically with the slums. After providing the new type of houses under such a scheme as that which is provided in this Bill, I should be in favour of wiping out all the slums by pulling down all these slum buildings and getting rid of them in that way. I am more concerned about getting cheaper houses, and that is the demand all over the country. I think we ought to address ourselves seriously to that question. We have had considerable experience during the last 10 years in building houses by local authorities and otherwise, and the first thing we ought to do is to examine that experience and see what lesson we can learn from it.

It is quite obvious that a large proportion of the houses which have been built in the past have cost so much money that the rents are far more than the ordinary worker is able to pay. It is also obvious that a large proportion of those houses are not worth the money which they have cost, because they were built at a time when the cost of building was very high. Many of those houses were built under schemes which were not well considered, and they ought to be let at a much lower rent. It is worth considering whether it would not pay us better to wipe out a considerable amount of the capital value at the expense of the Treasury in order to get those houses down to a reasonable rent.

How are you going to carry out the new building programme? I profoundly congratulate the Minister of Health on the bold effort that he is making in the present Bill, but I am greatly concerned at the absence of any organisation in the Bill (which will indeed produce those houses—of any dynamic that will get things done. It is not only a question of money for providing the necessary houses; it is a question of organisation, and, very largely, a question of brains. An admixture of brains with a smaller amount of money will effect more rapid and desirable results than a large amount of money in the absence of brains. I should like to look with careful scrutiny at what is to be the method of getting people to work, of getting local authorities organised, and of getting building schemes actually carried out. I should look, first of all, at the type of house to be built. Are we going to build to the standard of the Tudor Walters report—a very famous document, of which I always like to remind people, and Which is my one title to immortality? Are we going to build according to that standard, or are we going to vary the standard? Are we going to build two-bedroom houses, three-bedroom houses, Or four-bedroom houses? Are we going to build of bricks and slates, or are we going to use concrete, or some new form of construction?

A great many experiments have been tried during the last 10 years, and think it is worth while looking carefully into the results of those various experiments, in order to see which is the best, the cheapest, the soundest and the most com- fortable house to build. I should not disregard any of the results of those experiments, but should examine them all with careful scrutiny. If we decided that the bulk of the houses were to be three-bedroom non-parlour houses, then the design would need careful looking into. In the case of the type of house providing that accommodation, a difference of from £50 to £100 per house may result from different planning or the carrying out of the work under different organisations in various parts of the country, and, before the local authorities try new experiments of their own, I should like the Ministry of Health to collect the information from the various centres, so that, instead of experiments being tried over again, the local authorities might have at their disposal the best results that have so far been obtained.

Then I am very much afraid that these generous sums of money which are to be provided by the taxpayer and the ratepayer will be an incentive to some of my friends connected with the building trade to exercise still further their ingenuity in obtaining what they call a fair profit on the transaction. Suppose that, incited thereto by this Bill when it becomes an Act, a very large number of local authorities at once invite tenders and embark upon building schemes; and suppose that the first scheme is in excess of the material available, and of the labour that can be secured. What will be the result? Why, at once all the costs of material will rise by leaps and bounds, and those who provide materials will themselves absorb the bulk of the increased subsidy, leaving the unfortunate tenant in the same position as before.

The same thing applies in relation to labour. If you put out more tenders and place more contracts than the labour market can carry out, you have various districts competing one against another, and offering higher wages to get the jobs done. That will be very nice for the men who get the wages, but when you consider that all these wages have to be paid at the expense of the tenants who are going to live in the houses, it will be seen that it is not fair that any one body of men should get wages in excess of the market value as against other work-people.

Then there is the question of money—of the loans that have to be obtained. New loans will have to be floated. Are all these several local authorities to be putting loans on the market from time to time and competing one against another? Many of them have no expert advice and no particular knowledge of finance, and you will soon have the rates for money and corporation stock rising considerably. I should prefer, myself, to see one great national housing loan that could be floated under the most favourable conditions, and comprise the money needed for the schemes of each of these local authorities. These are matters which need very serious consideration. I believe that we shall have to go as far as rationing our building programme, that we shall have to exercise some control over prices, and, indeed, some control over labour too. I think that, the sooner we face the necessities of the case and get a really good practical organisation, the better will be our prospects of obtaining cheap housing.

Again, I notice that under the provisions of the Bill every matter of difficulty has to be referred to the Minister of Health. It is obvious that he cannot deal with these varied and multitudinous questions which will arise, and they will have to be delegated to someone. I worked for many years with the very efficient men at the Ministry of Health, and no better body of officials is employed by the State. But they are not infallible; they are not omniscient: they are not able to deal with every question that arises. They have not the knowledge or experience, and they have not. the authority. I think that the Minister of Health, if he is to discharge his functions under this Bill, will have to delegate the work to some proper and efficient and competent body.

The work of all these local authorities ought to be co-ordinated. It is too vast to be left merely to happy chance. Besides, there is this difficulty, that very often it is the enthusiastic local authorities who provide the largest number of houses with the least labour, and the supine local authorities are often those in whose districts the demand for houses is urgent. Therefore, some need restraining, and some need stimulating. Besides, there is the grave danger, if, without rationing and without control. local authorities can provide houses according to the nature of their enthusiasm, that, in various districts where good cheap houses are supplied, people will be attracted from other parts of the country, and that will lead again to overcrowding. This can easily be checked by supervision and by rationing, but not by leaving the matter to mere chalice and haphazard. Under those conditions you would have not only overcrowding, but a serious additional charge for unemployment.

Particularly is this the case with respect to tenement building. I should strongly deprecate any considerable policy of building tenement dwellings in the centres of our large cities. I know that there is a certain number of people engaged in occupations in a city like London who must live near their work, but I should discourage people in every possible way from continuing to live in tenements in London. [An HON. MEMBER: "Call them flats."] Call them flats if you like. I thought that it might seem to be offensive to talk about them like that. I should be very reluctant to permit any considerable number of people to be housed in flats in London whose work made it possible for them to live in the suburbs and on the outskirts. I have heard it remarked more than once that the magnificent and vigorous policy of the London County Council in this direction has in fact tended to draw people to London from other districts where the same facilities were not provided. All this simply means that housing is now a great national question. It is not merely a local authorities' question. It is not a matter for this district or that. Although the Minister of Health has wisely decided to operate largely through the local authorities, and to give them as much discretion as possible, we cannot conceal from ourselves that the final responsibility rests upon the nation, and the organisation of the whole of it must depend upon a great Government Department.

I see the Minister of Health in his place. I might have been more restrained in some of my observations if I had noticed him before. I think I suggested that he, or at any rate, his officials, are not entirely omniscient. That is a phrase that ought to be withdrawn. At any rate, I am certain it is not possible for him, even with his great capacity, even voracity for work and his power of getting through it adequately, to deal with the administration of these great far- reaching proposals that are contained in his excellent Bill. I believe to make the Measure really effective, to get the houses really built, he should arrange some system of control of prices as I saw suggested in an article in the "Times" this morning. He should have some kind of formally constituted advisory authority to whom he could delegate a great deal of his work. I believe if under the Ministry of Health there was an advisory board consisting of five men, one with a knowledge of design and construction, another with a knowledge of labour conditions, another with experience and knowledge of materials, another with a knowledge of finance, you would have a body which would speed up in every direction, and would co-ordinate the activities of the different Departments that carry out this work and that we should very soon see results which would be of great benefit to the nation.

9.0 p.m.

I congratulate the Minister most heartily upon the audacity of his scheme. I am not sure that I am entirely wedded to his particular financial methods. Perhaps that is because I do not entirely understand them. I have never been quite able to see how it would be possible to arrange a scheme of family allowances which would meet the varying costs and needs of different housing schemes. I should have thought, at any rate as regards slum clearance, it ought to have some relation to the actual costs of the scheme in question. I should have thought that the family allowance, though an excellent arrangement in itself if it produces more money, would have been better ararnged on same sort of proportion to the cost of the new housing scheme. However, I do not care about that. I do not care what the method is. I do not care how ingenious the financial basis is if only all the money that is produced from that basis really inures to the benefit of the tenant. What I object to is any scheme of subsidy which could readily be diverted into the pockets of other interested persons. Even the right hon. Gentleman's scheme will meet with precisely the same result as those of his predecessors unless he adopts a really effective organisation for the control of prices and for co-ordination of the operations of various local authorities. Then he will have a chance of getting value for his money. I trust that nothing I have said will be taken as any form of captious criticism. I am profoundly anxious to render what small assistance I can in making this an effective Bill, because I believe there is no problem so urgent as that of slum clearance and re-housing. On the effective carrying out of such a scheme depends the physical and moral welfare of a vast portion of the population and of millions yet unborn.


I should like to make some little contribution from my long experience. The time has long gone by when it could be said, as it was said by innumerable people, "When in doubt put your money into bricks and mortar." The builders' job is not to build houses to rent. His job is to build houses to sell. Even if he has large resources, the time would come when they would be exhausted, and he could build no more to rent. In addition to that, even when he tries to build on a large scale and borrows money from building societies—I have nothing but praise for building societies which come to the aid of people, but they are very well paid for it. Generally speaking, a builder, or a private person, has to pay over a long term of years on the average 50 per cent. of the original capital that it took to build the house. Thirdly, the time has gone by for workers' ownership of houses. The mobility of workers to-day demands that a man should not have the ownership of the house he lives in as a millstone round his neck.

In my own Division, the most beautiful Division in the country, there is a mining belt across the middle of it, and I am informed that 50 per cent. of the miners there own their own houses and their own freehold. God bless them! Ownership is a very sweet thing to enjoy. With the difficulties of unemployment which face them there, these men are at their wits end to know what to do, tied up as they are. I have known miners in comparatively early life begin buying their houses, and the continual effort to wipe off the capital, say in 15 or 20 years, has been an intolerable burden and one which ought not to be put upon any working-class family. When at last they wipe off the debt there is a kind of jubilee at the house. Often a man, a railwayman for instance, is ordered to another position 100 miles away, and he has to begin all over again. I maintain that the worker in these days—it may be a revolutionary idea—ought to have a house without having to find the capital. He wants what the farmer wants, security of tenure, without having to be burdened with this intolerable millstone. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir T. Walters) has been responsible through his agencies for erecting perhaps more workers' houses in this country than any local authority, and I join him in pointing out a grave omission from this Bill—price control—although I look at it from a somewhat different standpoint.

We have been told—I have heard it over and over again in this House—that under competition you get low prices. Competition does not guarantee low prices at all. Bad trade does, and that is why we have had low prices during the last few years. Under competition prices can soar as they do under any other system. I will give a few illustrations of the jump in prices from 1914 to 1920. Let no man think that I am so foolish as to believe that there was no justification for a rise in prices from 1914 to 1920. There was justification, but will anybody who knows this business justify the increases which I am going to recite. Bricks, per thousand—these are London prices—jumped from £1 14s. to £3 14s. 6d.; cement per ton from £1 17s. 6d. to £4 7s. 6d.; slates, per thousand, from £11 13s. to £36 10s., tiles, per thousand, from £2 10s. 6d. to £6 15s.; timber, per standard, from £15 to £47 2s. 6d.; yellow deaf, per standard, from £22 to £61 5s.

Take the case of Portland cement. Here is a report of the Standing Committee of the Board of Trade issued. in July, 1929. I am going to give the House the argument which was made why the British mark should not be put upon cement. The idea was opposed by the National Federation of Building Trade Employers, and this is what they said: The members of their Federation used very much more British cement than foreign, but they were apprehensive that the effect of an order might be to force them to restrict their purchases to British cement, with the result that the price would be increased and the position as to price made less favourable than at present. Builders actually in the position of appealing to be saved from manufacturers and the tyrants at the head! The Monmouthshire County Council, with which I have the honour to be connected, had a great scheme under which they received a Government grant of 75 per cent. They required large quantities of cement, but only one price was quoted. It was 64s. 9d. Whether the cement had to come from the Medway 200 miles away or from a local works only a dozen miles away 64s. 9d. was the chorus all round the country. They required a tremendous number of pipes in connection with this State-aided scheme, and I will give the prices of tenders: 6-inch, is. 9¾d., is. 9¾d., is. 9¾d. and is. 9¾d; 10-inch, 4s. 10¾d., 4s. lO¾d., 4s. 10¾d., and 4s. lO¾d.; 12-inch, 8s. l¾d., 8s. 1¾d., 8s. l¾d. and 8s. l¾d.

Those are the standard prices and show the wonderful way in which these great syndicates operate matters. Those are the standard prices according to the law of supply and demand in which hon. Gentlemen opposite on both sides of the Gangway believe, as they believe in the Gospel. The law of supply and demand is in accordance with how much they can profiteer. They have a sliding scale of percentages. In March, 1926, they took off 20 per cent.; in August of the same year, when, I admit, coal was dear, 12½ per cent.; in July of the next year, 20 per cent.; in March, 1928, when trade was getting worse, they took off 25 per cent.; in May of the same year, when trade was a bit worse, they took off 32½ per cent.; and again in the same year they took off 42½ per cent., and the price remained at that figure in January last. Let this House wait until all these schemes over the country are coming to fruition! All the materials which I have listed, and many more, cement and pipes, will go up and up. The prices will go soaring as high as ever the country and the Government, and, ultimately, the poor wretched tenants, can be forced to pay.

I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth say, last autumn, in a discussion on a similar subject in this House, that the associations with which he is connected had tried to build almost in every way that was possible with the idea of providing cheap and good houses. One thing which he said struck me very forcibly. He said that they had built houses in many cases without profit. I asked him about this afterwards, and he said—he will correct me if I am wrong—that what he meant was that in many cases they had set themselves out as a kind of public utility company to make no profit out of the building of the houses. I honour him for that. I regard a capitalist who does that without profit as a blackleg capitalist. I praised him for having the courage to break away from the faith that he holds. I wondered how he had done it, and then I remembered, in a flash. I knew that it was his Methodism that brought him to this splendid state of mind. "God bless Sir Tudor," thought I, but, as luck would have it, at that moment there crossed the Floor of the House the late Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, and realised that the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) was also a. Methodist. That is the worst of mixing up politics and religion. The House will agree with me that, knowing the political reputation and experience of the right hon. Member for West Woolwich, while I might say, "God bless Sir Tudor!" I would have to say, "God do the other thing!" to the other Methodist. Therefore, I had to withdraw my good intentions, and leave the matter there.

This Bill is very long overdue. The late Lord Shaftesbury prepared and piloted through this House in 1851, nearly 80 years ago, the first two Housing Acts on the Statute Book. One was for improving the condition of common lodging-houses and the other for increasing the number of workpeople's dwellings. The cost was to be met by the rent, and it was stipulated that any excess should be defrayed out of the rates. The local authority was empowered to buy or rent vacant land and to build suitable houses upon it for the working classes, or to convert existing buildings into good working-class tenements ands—the House will be interested to know this—" if necessary, to supply the dwellings with furniture." I commend that fact to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and suggest that they might consider even that, seeing that it was a policy passed by this Parliament 80 years ago. In giving evidence some 33 years later before the Royal Commission appointed to inquire as to why the Acts of Parliament had not matured and worked, Lord Shaftesbury sorrowfully admitted that the local authorities had not given his mire a trial. He said to the Commissioners: If you were to look at the terms of my Act you would see that it meets everything that is required at the present moment. The other day, we had references to the late Earl Balfour. I commend to the attention of hon. and right hon. Members opposite the words that were used by Earl Balfour (then Mr. Balfour), standing at the Treasury Box in this House, some 30 years ago. He said: Punish the slum owner, by all means. If the owner of every insanitary dwelling was hanged on his own doorpost, I would not weep my eyes out. That was what Mr. Balfour said. Even the right hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), whom the late Minister of Health desired this afternoon to say some revolutionary things, could hardly have said anything more revolutionary than the former leader of the Conservative party. Mr. Walter Long, who was President of the Board of Trade in 1902, said: The owner of slum property who allowed that property to get into a disgraceful condition and imperilled the lives of those who lived there, was entitled to neither consideration nor sympathy. I commend the opinions of these leaders of a former generation to the present generation of Conservatives in this House. No compensation! We have had visualised in this House by several speakers the long, hard and rugged road that the Minister and the Government will have to climb in this first attack, in my experience here, upon this great evil. As one who has been concerned with the building of houses and with advising owners what to do when houses fall into dilapidation, I beg the House to cut the word "recondition" out of their vocabulary. You cannot recondition a slum. When you recondition property in a slum you are fastening something about the necks of the poor tenants for 50 or 100 years. Sometimes I deplore the fact that houses are built so substantially, and that they last far too long. I sometimes wish that they would tumble to the ground after half a century. In South Wales where I was brought up, people established ironworks and erected little hovels where their workmen were to dwell, and those houses are as strong to-day as they were when they were built—almost like the buildings the Romans erected. I would make short work of compensation if I had power as a dictator in this country. I would put on one side of the scale the slum owner or the owner of the slum site on which the slum stands, the owner who has probably been drawing revenue out of the people for half a century, and whose predecessors have been drawing revenue for another half century—

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

Possibly the owner may be a widow.


On every reform that has been introduced into this House the Conservatives have always brought out the poor widow. How much profit has come from this slum property? It very often happens that slum property is extremely lucrative. I would put into the other side of the scale the loss of life, the loss of health and happiness and the misery for which the owner of the slum property and the owner of the site has been responsible.


And the widow.


Many women have been made widows there. The Birmingham Education Committee kept the measurements and the weights, of children who lived in the ordinary areas of the city, not slum areas necessarily, and the weights and measurements of children of 12 years of age in Bournville, and in those few years, not a generation, the children in Bournville at 12 years of age were several inches taller and several pounds heavier than those who lived in Birmingham City. Although this bill does not get at the slum landlord as I want to get at him, I hope that the Budget will do the trick. I congratulate the Government and the Minister of Health and all who are connected with him on this glorious piece of Christianity, namely, the grant per person. It takes some courage to talk about Christianity in this House. We have hope now that there will be homes not only for heroes but also homes for heroines, as the Minister of Health pointed out, and, what is far more important, homes for children who have up to the present been ready for the slaughter of the slums.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. M. MacDonald), in a maiden speech, told how difficult it was far people with children to obtain decent houses. I know one man with six children who managed to get a house. He was asked how many children he had, and he said that he had six but that they were all in the cemetery. On the following week, he got the house all right and when the agent called, sure enough, there was the man with his wife and six children in the house. "I thought you told me they were all dead," he said. "Oh, no," replied the man, "I said they were in the cemetery. They were playing there." There are many of us on this side of the House, at any rate, who have visited time and time again these places of which we are speaking, and we have seen the pathetic attempts made to make slum dwellings into homes—the crinkled pink paper round the mantel-piece, the cheap little prints on the walls, the struggling geranium in the jam-pot, and the little bit of whiting around the slum-dwelling door. Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home. These heroines have been trying to provide homes for their children in places which ought to be a disgrace to Christian England. If I may quote Russell Lowell The time is ripe, and rotten-ripe for change; Then let it come: I have no dread of what Is called for by the instinct of mankind"; home-making is one of the most precious instincts that this House will do well to foster. Moody, the American, known to a former generation, when he was over here many years ago, saw our country and he told the people that the home was founded before the church. "You in Britain," said he, "stand more in need of homes than of churches."

My last word is this: We on this side are very often jeered at because we talk of a now heaven and a new earth in Britain. We are very proud of that derision. I want to congratulate the Government and the Minister on this piece of work to bring to England a bit of heaven. I am glad that this Govern- meat has recognised the truth that a man's life consisteth, not in the things that he possesseth, and just as He whom we all serve and recognise, came to give life, and to give life abundantly, I am glad that the Government are doing it literally. I, as a Member of this party, am a proud man this day to be able to congratulate the Government on introducing this splendid Measure which will bring life and happiness, and a little bit of Heaven to this England of ours.


I should like very much to congratulate the Minister of Health upon the introduction of this Bill. I will not attempt to do so on the lines of the last speaker. To my mind, the existence of the slums is the greatest cause of crime, immorality and sickness that we have in England, and anything which can be done to cure this evil will be welcomed not only by Members on the other side, but by all decent-thinking Members on all sides of the House. I repudiate with the greatest warmth the insinuation which the last speaker made against the good faith of those who speak on this side in support of it. Having said that, I may say I rose to draw the attention of the House, as was my duty, to a point in the Bill which is a serious one and which, if it does not attract the attention of the House, will attract attention, at any rate, amongst large numbers of people outside. I approach the point with some difficulty, because it is the subject matter of an important case before the court of law, in regard to which the court has reserved judgment, and also because it is the subject of a Government inquiry now being held, of which I happen to be a member.

The House will pardon me if I draw attention to this question, not from the point of view of advocacy, but in order that the House may consider the position. I draw attention to the first and second Schedules to the Bill, and the point arises with regard to the delegated powers which are there given. The House will notice in each of these Schedules that the local authority has to do certain things as a preliminary to clearance orders, and compulsory purchase orders. The Minister orders an inquiry, and there is this provision in paragraph 6 of the second Schedule: An Order when confirmed by the Minister shall become operative and have effect as if enacted in this Act; and the con- firmation by the Minister shall be conclusive evidence that the requirements of this Act have been complied with and that the Order has been duly made and is within the powers of this Act. The question of the advisability of having Clauses of this kind in Acts of Parliament is now being considered, and the House will understand that such a Clause makes it impossible for any Court of Justice to consider whether an order has been made within the powers of the Act or not. In fact, I think the Minister of Health will agree with me that supporters of the Clause may even go as far as to say that it does not matter one penny whether any of the preliminary provisions have been carried out or not as long as an order is made. That is conclusive evidence of the fact that all the preliminary requirements have been met, and no possible Court of Justice can take any kind of action on the question. Whether that is advisable or not, I am not here to discuss. My duty is simply to draw attention to this matter.

There is another matter which I should also like to bring before the House. The Minister may order an inquiry. These inquiries are conducted by inspectors on the spot. The report is sent to the Minister, and no one sees it. It is quite private, and he naturally and properly acts upon it. It has been suggested that it is only right and proper that people whose property is to be taken away from them or dealt with in accordance with an order should have an opportunity of at least seeing the report and putting their case before the Minister. I express no opinion as to whether that argument is right or wrong, but the suggestion is made. It is suggested that before the Minister makes an order for slum clearance, the man whose property is to be dealt with should have an opportunity of putting his views before the Minister, or, at any rate, some person who takes responsibility from him. The right hon. Gentleman said that a man dispossessed is entitled to know the procedure by which he is being dispossessed, and it has been suggested that he should know not only the procedure but the grounds on which it is adopted. That is one aspect of the matter which the House should consider.

On the other side, it may be said that there must be finality in this matter; that it would never do, after an Order has been made by the Minister and the property sold to someone else, that years afterwards somebody should come forward and be able to criticise in the Court the actual making of the Order, and the validity of the Order. Again, it may be said that possibly the Minister ought to lay the Order on the Table of the House so that, if necessary, a prayer might be presented in the ordinary way praying that it should not be made absolute; that somebody at some time should be able to criticise it. It is not for ma in any way, owing to the position in which I find myself, to reflect or argue upon either side, but I thought it my duty to bring the matter to the notice of the House because, undoubtedly, questions will arise in Committee and in another place on the matter. Therefore, hon. Members should certainly consider it. There has been a. considerable amount of agitation in the Press about this particular point, and a very important judge has written a book in which the whole of this sort of procedure is challenged. I suggest that if the House adopts this Clause without altering it, it should be on the understanding that it is without prejudice to any questions which arise as to the validity and desirability of the practice generally. Having drawn the matter to the attention of the House, I think I have fulfilled my duty.


I am glad of this opportunity of addressing the House this evening, because of the special interest which my constituents have in a Bill of this description. No Bill introduced into this Assembly has received such a warm welcome as this Measure. In fact, outside a few minor points of criticism, hon. Members opposite have really been in great difficulty to find anything really worth criticising. The right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) was. reduced for argument to introducing the case of two spinsters living together who wanted a small house on the same terms. That was his "widow's mite." After the reception the Bill has had there will be little difficulty in persuading even the Conservative party to support it. If prizes were to be given to the Member representing the constituency with the largest number of slums and the most overcrowding, I should get second prize, because the district I represent is the second in the country so far as overcrowding is concerned. Recently, searching investigations have been made into the conditions in Salford, and particularly in my own part, South Salford, by students from the Manchester University. Although they have not secured the whole of the facts, they have certainly done useful work in drawing attention to the horrible conditions of the people in that district.

They published a pamphlet, to which there is a foreword by the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. E. D. Simon) who has done remarkably well himself in Manchester on the housing problem. He tells us in that foreword: If the general public had more firsthand knowledge of the degrading conditions under which tens of thousands of our fellow-citizens are living, they would make so strong a demand for the ending of the slum scandal that no Government could afford to ignore it. Listening to the Debate to-day I am convinced that there are quite a number of people in this House who do not know anything at all of the slum problem. The reason I have such a great interest in this Bill is because I am a product of the slums. I lived there, if I may introduce a personal note, for illustration only, for nearly 20 years in a small house with a family of 13, two rooms up and two rooms down, each room six feet by four feet. I can never erase from my memory the horrible souldeadening condition which that brought on me, and it was because of those early struggles in the slums in the constituency I now represent that I made up my mind that whatever influence I had should be used politically to get rid of slumdom at the earliest opportunity. Here are a few facts concerning overcrowding and slumdom in by own constituency. In one case they found an attic and kitchen, let unfurnished at 12s. 6d. per week; five sons living in the attic, mother and father in the kitchen, where rats and beetles swarmed over the bed at night.

These are facts which the House should know, and which the whole country should know. It is about time we ceased to smother these things up. In another case, a tenement house—and this is a point that I regret I do not find in the Bill, and I think something should be done to deal with the question of farmed houses—a tenement house with eight rooms, each let furnished at 10s. per week, except the attic, which is let at 14s. per week. It houses parents and two girls and a boy all over 10. There are 24 people in the house altogether, and the rent being received by the "farmer" of the House is four guineas per week. In another case, two rooms up and two rooms down, there were mother, her sister and brother, two daughters and three boys under 10. These cases can be multiplied at least through half the South Salford district. These investigators quote another case. They say: Some houses have only a cold water tap in the yard. In those houses in which rooms are let separately this one tap serves for several families, and as the stairs are narrow and winding the upper floor dwellers have to carry water under awkward circumstances. In one house the front door has to be bolstered; there is no door to one occupied attic, the bricks under the window are rotting, and the scullery paving is dangerous. In another house the attic roof has three large gaps to the tiles, and the walls emit bugs. In the whole country, with the exception of one part of Liverpool, I do not think there is a place where these conditions could be equalled. In addition to quoting concrete cases, the investigators give a point or two as to what people said to them during the investigations. In one house there was a couple who had been brought up in Ancoats. Most hon. Members have heard of Ancoats before. The name has been used in the speeches of social and housing reformers for the last 50 years in every town in which they have made a speech. Most Manchester people know how vile that neighbourhood is. This couple, however, stated that they were longing to return for the sake of the "better position and more air." Several people stated in reply to questions that if they lived on a corporation estate travelling expenses would be too high. One, however, maintained that the money saved on vermin killer would save the additional cost of tram fares. In another case a householder declared that she did not like to use beetle killer because otherwise she had to shovel the insects up in shoals. These are facts and not romance.

I would like to see some of the fine ladies who talk in this House and other places about what they call the miserable sum of 2s. a week, go to these districts. I have seen industrial disputes in Manchester for a shilling a week. I have seen a 13 weeks' lock-out for the sake of a shilling a week. It is easy for those who are well circumstanced and comfortably placed in a decent home to talk to other people about the "miserable sum" of 2s., but let there be an application by a trade union for an increase of 2s. in wages, and it is no longer a miserable sum. I have here a document bearing the signature of the Town Clerk of Salford. I mention that fact to convince the House that there is no political prejudice in the document. These are facts that were ascertained for this discussion. The document states that there is one street with 237 houses in it, and there are 1,396 people living in that street, or an average of 5.92 per house. In other streets there are the following figures: 155 houses and 1,106 people; 231 houses and 1,060 people; 139 houses and 704 people; 64 houses and 447 people. In other words there are 35 streets which have been investigated. They cover an acreage of 44 acres. The number of houses is 2,375, and the population is 12,034. In other words 5.06 is the average population per house. I suggest that it is humanly impossible for these people to live a decent existence under such conditions.

I am enthusastic about this Bill. I think it is the best thing that the present Government have done. The Bill deals with fundamentals; it goes to the root of things. It will do more to assist the authorities to deal with housing and overcrowding in my district than anything that has hitherto been done. Our problem is an extremely difficult one. First of all we have no land on which to build. We are bound in on every side by other local authorities—Eccles, Prestwich, Stretford, and the River Irwell and Manchester. Anyone who knows the River Irwell needs no further comment from me. It is a place where they go salmon fishing, as can be judged by the tins found there. We are absolutely without land on which to build. It is true that our City Fathers, in the good old days of roast beef and prosperity, did manage, although they did not look after the working-class population, to build one of the finest racecourses in England. It takes up a tremendous amount of land. In fact it is the only really open space. We have also found room for a dirt track. But no one has ever been able to find land for housing. The Chairman of the Public Health Committee, who is by no means a supporter of the present Government, said: The housing problem was exceedingly complex. Its complexity arose, in the first place, from Salford being, with one exception, the most overcrowded area, in population in the whole country. Later, he said: The medical officer has certified that if all the people who desire to live in Salford were properly housed they would require 4,000 houses. They could not have 4,000 houses in Salford. They would have to go outside. This meant building a practically new town elsewhere, and within the jurisdiction of some other authority. He stated also: Eleven thousand people who earn their living in Salford reside outside, but, on the other hand, 34,000 people who earn their living in Manchester and other districts reside in the city of Salford. I would like the Minister of Health to suggest to local authorities in and around this Lancashire district the advisability of not being so parochial and narrow when they are letting houses, but to take into consideration the circumstances of such a place as Salford. I welcome this Bill on general lines. For the first time it will enable working folk to get a house at a rent which they can afford to pay. That has been a great difficulty in the past. In Manchester I have been a member of the local authority, with the hon. Member for Withington, for the last 11 or 12 years. There, irrespective of political party, everything possible has been done to build houses for the people. It did not matter whether the chairman was Conservative or Labour; there has been a really united effort to build homes for the people. But the difficulty has always been that when you have built the houses, if working folk took them they were compelled to take in lodgers in order to be able to pay the rent, and as soon as the inspector learned that this was done, he turned them out of the houses.

This Bill will, for the first time, assist those who are most in need of assistance. I am certain that no one living do the conditions that I have described earlier in my speech can he expected to get anything out of the spiritual side of life. What I marvelled at during the War was the rapidity with which dwellers in these areas rushed to the Colours. The only thing they had to defend in most cases was a place such as I saw recently, where 11 people were living in two rooms. In that case, the corpse of a baby was put on the table at which they ordinarily had their meals, and beds were used as chairs at meal times. It is an amazing thing to find such a love for this country among people who have to exist in those circumstances.

I welcome the Bill because in it an effort is being made for the first time to provide houses at rents which working folk can afford to pay. If I were asked what legislation passed in the last 20 years I regarded as most beneficial to the working people of this country, I should, without hesitation, say that it was the National Health Insurance Acts. When the first National Health Insurance Act was introduced it was scoffed at; the term "9d. for 4d." was used in regard to it and all that, but I regard it as one of the finest things that ever happened for the working-class community. But because of this overcrowding and the poverty of the people who live under these conditions, they are compelled to make an almost daily "trek" from the slum to the surgery, and although the National Health Insurance Acts have been very beneficial, legislation of that kind is of no use unless we can get to the root of the problem.

This Measure will be economical in the end. In the area of which I have spoken, out of every thousand children born, 97 die before the age of 12 months, and, out of every thousand people resident in that area, 27 die every year from consumption. Only four miles away, where there are open spaces, decent houses, good wages, and good food, we find that only 25 children out of every thousand die before reaching the age of 12, while only two out of every thousand of the people resident there die from consumption each year. Obviously, if we can get at the root of the matter, and I believe this Bill will do so, the more we spend on schemes of the kind which we are now discussing, the less shall we have to spend on institutions and on treating the people for the diseases which they contract in these over-crowded areas. That is why I am very proud to support this Bill with all my heart and soul, knowing this problem as I do, having lived the kind of life which has been described here this evening, and believing that this is the greatest step forward yet taken in the direction of dealing with the problem of the slums and overcrowding.


I am grateful for this opportunity of making a few observations on this vital question of housing for two reasons. The first is a personal reason, and I hope I shall be forgiven for mentioning it. Some 30 years ago I was living in the East End of London, in Bethnal Green, and the appalling conditions of the people, some in so-called model dwellings and others in the worst slums, so impressed me that I was impelled to undertake a political career in the hope that some day or other I might be able to do something to help these people to secure better conditions and to remove from them some of that appalling handicap which prevented them from living decent lives. That was 30 years ago, and very little has been done during that long period. All parties have tried and all parties have wished to do something, but, for various reasons, very little has been done.

The second reason why I particularly value this opportunity of speaking on the subject is that I happen to be one of the representatives of the city of Leeds, which has been much in the limelight in connection with the question of slum clearances. Not only is the question a very vital one there at present, but all hon. Members may not realise the fact that in the past, the city of Leeds has probably done more than any other city in the country in connection with improvements and slum clearance. At one period before the War 66 acres of slums were cleared there, and since the War some 12,000 new houses have been built. I think Leeds can claim that, in spite of the difficulties of this problem, it has made very serious efforts to improve the conditions in its own area.

10.0 p.m.

The problem in a nutshell is that of providing decent houses at a low rent on the spot. Everybody admits that the house must be a decent house. The low rent is a difficulty, and there are some who do not recognise the necessity of building the house on the spot where the people want to live, and not four or five miles away, necessitating a long and expensive tram ride to and from the daily work. This is not a new problem. I remember that, before the War, the "Spectator" initiated a competition for people who would build decent houses for £150 each. I entered for that competition and I built six houses at £150 each. They are decent houses to-day and people have been living happily in them ever since, at rents of about 2s. 6d. a week. That condition of things represents a sort of El Dorado which we can hardly hope to reach again in this period, but what I have said shows that the problem has been exercising the minds of thinking people for a long time.

What is the main cause of slums? Some people say that the slum is the fault of the people who live in it. I entirely repudiate that view of the matter. Recent inquiries in a certain fixed area showed that only about 5 per cent. of the people living in that slum area could be described as the sort, of people who would create a slum wherever they were living. The remaining 95 per cent. were people who 'would definitely appreciate better surroundings, and who would live under decent conditions if given the opportunity. We have to face the fact, however, that in all slums there are people who ought not to be there, who need not be there, and who are there from choice. There are not very many such people but there are some. Only a short time ago I was in a house in which a family of man, wife and eight children were living in two rooms. They were sleeping in one room, in three beds, and four of the children were grown up. Most of the elder children were at work and the wages coming into that house amounted to £5 10s. per week. They were paying a rent of 4s. 6d. a week inclusive. There is something wrong in a condition of affairs under which people, having £5 10s. per week, live in a couple of rooms rented at 4s. 6d. per week. Of course, I know that under the law dealing with overcrowding they could have been moved into a more expensive and more suitable house, but it is exceedingly difficult to do anything in such cases, although eventually these people were moved. I merely mention that case as an example of the sort of thing which complicates this problem.

We are dealing, however, with the cases of the 95 per cent. of people who are suffering from poverty and who are living in these slums, not because they wish to be there, or for any other reason except poverty. Can we reduce our problem to figures? My opinion is that we have to produce a house at not more than 6s. 6d. a week inclusive. If we can do that, I believe that the vast number of people who live in the slums will be able to pay that rent for a decent house. We are approaching that figure. In the City of Leeds the most recent experiment is to put up four-roomed flats of two storeys, so that each flat has a separate entrance, at 5s. a week plus rates of 3s. making a total of 8s. 8d. That is too much. Somehow or other, 2s. has to be knocked off in order to reduce it somewhere about the limit of 6s. 6d. We are approaching it, however, and great advance has been made in the last few years in the cost of accommodation. I believe that the City of Carlisle has produced an even less expensive tenement in order to provide the economic house.

This Bill proposes to provide a cheaper house by means of increased subsidies. It also contains an interesting proposal—one of the few novelties of the Bill—for smaller houses for aged people. I desire to make what I hope may be a constructive suggestion in reference to this. In the 1909 Act, the further building of back-to-back houses was prohibited. The city of Leeds has an unenviable notoriety for its back-to-back houses. There are 75,000 in the city, and of these, some 40,000 are decent habitable dwellings, recently erected—that is to say, in the last 25 to 30 years—and they are exceedingly popular with the people who live in them. I would not say a word—no one could say a word—in defence of the old back-to-back house, which was an abomination; there were whole streets of houses with one room up and one room down, with a common closet at the end of the street, and very often a living room over the top of these common closets, and the whole thing insanitary, disgusting and uninhabitable. These must be swept away, and they are being gradually swept away, but the new back-to-back houses are a different proposition altogether. They are far cheaper to build, and they have been put up in blocks of six, eight, and so on, all self-contained with closets in the basement.

The objection to these back-to-back houses is that some of them have only one aspect, and either have no sun at all, or have the sun always. My proposal is that, as an experiment, local authorities, if they desire, should be allowed to build back-to-back houses in blocks of four, and not more than four. The advantage of building in blocks of four is that every house has two aspects and cross ventilation. There would be air space all round the houses, with a garden to each, and every house would have its own sanitary arrangements. These could be built at infinitely less cost than the ordinary through house. There would be two ordinary bedrooms and a room in the attic, besides a living room and a scullery.

Something might be done in that way to provide a cheap decent house, and one that would be very much appreciated by those who live in them. I would like to make another suggestion. I am convinced that in many cases the limit of 12 houses to the acre is impracticable and unnecessary. I have in mind many cases where there are large open spaces adjoining a housing site. Why should not at least 24 houses be put on a acre where a large open space immediately adjoins the site? I plead for elasticity in this matter, and for allowing the local authority to deal with each site on its merits. In some cases 12 or 18 houses would be enough and in other cases 24 or even more.

The last remark which I want to make is in reference to profiteering on the part of those who sub-let houses or furnished rooms. In my division I came across the other day a house of two rooms, one up and one down, which a woman had taken at 5s. 9d. a week, inclusive. She proceeded to let the upstairs room to a family consisting of man, wife and four children, two of whom were consumptive, at 8s. a week. She had provided, it is true, a bed, table and chair, but that is a small case of profiteering. The most pathetic part of the business was that the tenants of the room implored the woman not to say anything about it, as it was the only accommodation they could get, and they were afraid that they would lose it if anything was said about it. I shall vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, because I believe that it has real elements of improvement, and if it is amended in Committee satisfactorily, it may provide a partial solution of our problems. It will be a costly matter, but I believe that if the expenditure is carefully and economically made, not only will it be justifiable, but in the end it will prove a really satisfactory investment for the people of the country.


The introduction of this Bill not only gives satisfaction and pleasure to those who sit on these benches, and who, like myself, represent large industrial constituencies, but, what is more important, it will be a real message of hope and encouragement to very large numbers of our constituents, who for altogether too long have had to endure conditions which are absolutely intolerable and degrading. I was surprised to hear the very weak apology which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) gave for the Government of which he was a distinguished member in not introducing a Measure to deal with this evil. He said that the question was ripe for treatment. I submit that the question is no only ripe, but over-ripe and rotten ripe for treatment, and that the Bill will really result in reforming an evil, attention to which has been long overdue. The right hon. Gentleman says that they all desired to deal with it.

It reminds me of the story of two Irishmen who set out one night to shoot their landlord. They got behind a hedge, and waited for him with their rifles loaded, but he did not seem to come. By and by, one said to his comrade, "Pat, he is late to-night, isn't he?" The other said, "Yes, I hope nothing has happened to him." That seems to illustrate the attitude of the right hon. Member for Edgbaston and the late Government in regard to this important question. The lame excuse that he submitted to the House was that they were so busily occupied in introducing the Local Government Bill, or, in other words, they were so preoccupied in devising means for making large grants at the ratepayers' and taxpayers' expense to assist big companies making fabulous profits, that they had no time left to deal with people living in slums in our large industrial centres. I think the need for a Measure of this character will not be disputed in any part of the House.

Various speakers have dealt with this question from a national aspect, and I would like to give some figures and facts relating to the actual conditions in the city in which my own constituency is situated. In the City of Bristol we have very many large and noble buildings, of which we are justifiably proud, but our pleasure in possessing them can never be unalloyed while within the shadows of those buildings exist some of the most foetid slums and most wretched hovels that are to be found in any part of the country—exist also, I would like to say, under the shadow of Christian edifices.

In the City of Bristol we have no fewer than 10,000 houses which our medical officer of health and our housing inspectors agree to be absolutely unfit for human habitation, and we have 789 families living as families in one room each; that is to say, they have only one small room each for all the purposes of what is understood as domestic life. We have 2,494 families who have only two room each in which, I will not call it to live, but to exist, and 751 families in three rooms each. There is one house in my constituency which used to be occupied by one famiy, but to-day there are 11 families living or existing in that one house, with two rooms to each of the families, and conditions which ought not to be tolerated for a single day by any civilised community. There is one street in which every house is occupied by five families.

During the Autumn Recess, in company with the medical officer of health and housing inspectors for the city of Bristol, I made a tour of some of these slum quarters, and I would like to tell the House some of the conditions that we there saw. The hon. Member for South Salford (Mr. Toole) has spoken about the conditions prevailing in his constituency, and they are typical of what prevails in the city of Bristol also. We went into one place, and the medical officer of health, calling my attention to the state of affairs, said to me, "In this room, Mr. Alpass, you would not put your dog to live, would you?" That gives the House some idea of the conditions prevailing in that city at the 'present time. Another place we went into was occupied by one family. There were two rooms, and in the bedroom there were two bedsteads, close together, with hardly room for anyone to get inside the room. I inquired of the mother of the family who slept there, and she replied that the mother, father, two sons, and one daughter, all five of them, slept in the same room, in those two beds, with no partition or anything to separate them.

Those are the conditions Which prevail, and I hail the introduction of this Bill, because I feel that for the first time in the history of the legislation dealing with this question we have a Measure which goes to the root of the evil. This morning I discussed the Bill with the chairman and the secretary of the housing committee and with our housing inspector. The chairman of the housing committee of Bristol has had a long experience in administering or helping to administer housing Acts, and he gave me his assurance, after having studied the Bill, that in his opinion it will enable local authorities who are prepared to work it in the spirit in which it has been framed to make a real contribution towards solving this terrible social evil.

The root problem is the provision of houses at rents which it is within the competence of people to pay. I have here some figures which have been got out by our Housing Committee. They show what has been possible under the Wheatley Act, and what will be possible under this Bill, assuming that the houses cost £450. Some hon. Members may consider that too high an estimate, but that is the estimated cost of some of the houses we shall have to erect. Assuming that the houses cost, all in, £450, under the Wheatley Act we had to charge an inclusive rent of 11s. 4d. Under this Bill we shall be able to build houses exactly similar in design and in accommodation and let them at an inclusive rent of 9s. 3d. The right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) spoke about "a miserable 2s. a week." If he had to provide all the requirements of himself and his family out of the wages on which many of these people have to exist in the slums, he would not refer to a reduction of 2s. in rent as a miserable sum. I suggest that a reduction of a week will make all the difference between the possibility of these people being able to leave the slums or having to stay there; while if the houses cost less than I have suggested, the rents charged will be lower still.

May I refer briefly to one or two features of the Bill which are especially pleasing to me? For the first time, it makes it possible for local authorities to provide houses at rents within the power of slum people to pay. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir B. Wood) shakes his head, but I remember what he said at the time when he proposed to cut down the subsidy. I discussed that question with the Chairman of the Bristol Housing Committee, a man whose practical experience will compare with anybody else's experience in the Kingdom, and he told me that one essential condition necessary to make real progress in the provision of houses was continuity of policy. I would like to remind the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich that reducing the subsidy was the means of frustrating many schemes which were then contemplated, and that reduction crippled the progress in housing that would otherwise have been made. That is the opinion of the Chairman of the Bristol Housing Committee.

There is another Clause in the Bill which I would like to commend despite what has been said from the opposite benches. I am glad to note that the Bill contains a provision that there is to be no dispossession of tenants in slum areas until the authorities are satisfied that satisfactory alternative accommodation has been provided. That is an exceedingly important matter so far as my own constituents are concerned. Another Clause in the Bill which I wish to support is that which deals with improvements. I have been shown houses in my own Division, the owners of which have been served with repair notices as long ago as 1920. I saw those houses last autumn, and not a single penny has been spent in repairing them since 1920. In Clause 14 I am glad to see that it is going to be made obligatory on the local authority to see that orders for house repairs are carried out within a reasonable time, not being less than 21 days. I have here a paragraph from a report prepared by our chief housing inspector relating to 24 houses in one part of my Division where the order for repairs was served, and nothing has been done, and those houses are now in such a state that they are only fit to be demolished. I regard this provision as being extremely important.

I know there are other hon. Members who are deeply interested in this very important question, and I would like to conclude by expressing my great gratification at being here to-night to listen to the introduction of a Bill the passage of which will be speedy and the opera- tion of which will, I trust, be earnest, thorough and sincere. If local authorities will put the provisions of this Bill into operation in the spirit in which it has been introduced, I am convinced that the evils under which the people, who have been condemned to live in the slums for so long, will soon be removed. This stain and blot on our civilisation will then be eliminated, and for the first time the children who have been handicapped from the start of their lives will be given a fair chance and an opportunity of growing up as well-developed citizens and a credit to any civilised community.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

I join in the general feeling of the House that this Bill is a long overdue Measure, and one which would have been brought in whichever party was in office, and which, therefore, above all, calls for that Council of State which the Prime Minister has so cordially asked all parties in the House to combine to grant him. We who sit in this part of the House want to combine in providing our side of that Council of State, and, therefore, we support without any hesitation the earnest desire of those in all quarters of the House for the extermination, or the reduction to a minimum, of this difficulty of slum houses and slum areas. We welcome the action of the Government in bringing forward this Measure. We recognise that it is a Measure very largely in continuity with preceding housing policy; we recognise that it embodies the results of the work of successive Parliaments on this problem; and, therefore, we want to seize it from that point of view.

Hon. Members of different parties have spoken fervently of the abuse represented by slums and of the terrors of overcrowding, but, much as I have appreciated and sympathised with the speeches that we have heard in this Debate, I cannot help feeling that many of them may be, if I may say so, the amateur utterances of those who have come face to face with this problem for the first time. It is a phase through which, I think, we have all passed or are passing, but many of the speeches that we have heard have not dealt with the real problem that is before us, and, therefore, while very useful in supporting that public opinion and sympathy on which this whole Measure and move- ment must be based, they do not help us to come into actual contact with the problem and its difficulties. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will know what I mean.

We recognise the terrors, the horrors, of the slum problem all the more because we have been brought face to face with it. I have the honour of speaking for the whole body of medical officers of health, who are referred to by hon. Members in every quarter of the House as being the bedrock upon which they have based their speeches. As a past President of the Society of Medical Officers of Health, and as one who did, perhaps, as much as anyone before the War as a medical officer of health in bringing before my colleagues in that profession the necessity of dealing with this housing problem, I speak on their behalf, though without any direct mandate, when I say that we wish the greatest possible measure of support to be given to this Bill in general, and, at the same time, the most meticulous criticism of its details in Committee. Therefore, I support most strongly the line taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) in asking the House to give the Bill an undisputed Second Reading, while reserving to ourselves the right, as it is our duty and responsibility as Members of Parliament, to criticise its details most meticulously in Committee.

With regard to vital statistics, which have been referred to again and again this evening, I hope I may be allowed to put in a caveat. Vital statistics were recommended to me by a former Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health as worthy of study because by them you could prove any thesis that you wanted to prove. It is in that kind of way that I criticise the statistics which have been brought forward to-night. It is perfectly useless to compare the vital statistics of one particular slum area of a community with those of the area surrounding it. Let us be quite frank with the problem. Unless we are, we shall not be able to deal with it. The individuals who compose the community living in the slums have all our sympathy and our compassion, but we must recognise quite clearly that they are not the people whom we should choose, if we had the choice, to have as our fathers and mothers. Why do people live in the slums? It is for bad fortune of one sort or another. It is very often a case of mental deficiency and heredity. It is poverty of one sort or another. They are failures in life, as compared with all those who succeed and manage to get into rather better circumstances. They have our compassion and our sympathy, and we wish to help them, but essentially the great majority of them are people who have come down in the world.


I entirely repudiate that, as far as my constituency is concerned.


Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggest that the slum dweller is a mental degenerate?

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

Notice what I said. They include the mental degenerates. We must recognise that the people who come down to the slums would not live in them if they could help it, and the people who can help it are, naturally enough, the better and more successful members of the community. Success depends either upon heredity or ability or opportunity.


On a point of Order. I wish to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman a question.


The hon. Member must not ask a question on a point of Order.


I only wish to ask if the expression of opinion that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has given is that of the medical officers of health?

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

I am glad to answer the question. I am only saying this is the general opinion that I have formed, and I believe I shall be endorsed in it by medical officers of health. I learnt my public health in the urban constituency of Leeds, and I have no doubt that what I am saying is true, that as a general rule people do not live in slums from choice, but because they cannot help it, and they cannot help it as a general rule, because they are less able to cope with the conditions of this world than their better favoured friends who can live further outside. We want to help them, and that, is one of the difficulties of this slum problem. I should dispute the suggestion 0f the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston that slums are not made in our day. I regret to say that I think they are made in our day. If you look at the real, natural history of housing communities generally, you will find all along the line that houses which have been fashionable at one time have, by degrees, become less fashionable. The five-storey house built for the gentry or aristocracy after a time have come down in the world and have been divided into three or five tenements, and have become slum houses. If one goes to Bethnal Green—I know that there are so-called model dwellings in Bethnal Green—one will see that houses built 150 years ago for the gentry living outside the City of London are now slum houses, and I have not the least doubt that in the same way houses now considered fashionable will one day become slum houses, unless we can adopt means of prevention. Slum areas are not, thank Heaven! what they used to be 200 years ago. We have paved streets, pavements, and drains which did not obtain in those days. Therefore, we want an historical perception in dealing with this question of slums.

One of the greatest merits of this Bil is its continuity, that it is really preserving a general continuity in regard to housing Measures which are gradually getting to work. Many accusations have been brought against previous Ministries because they have not dealt with the slum problem. Those of us who have studied the slum problem and the housing problem knew that it was impossible to deal with the slum problem until we had a sufficient surplus of new houses. That, of course, was impossible until we had had a very large measure of fresh building. We now have that very considerable measure of fresh building. Medical officers of health generally throughout the country recognise that there has been an improvement. We look forward to the result of the census of next year which will tell us exactly the state of overcrowding as compared with 1921. We shall have very definite data on which to proceed. Meanwhile, all reports of medical officers go to show that there is an improvement in housing accommodation, although there has been a great change in the transposition and disposition of population. There has been a great gravitation towards Greater London, which has made the position in London more difficult. A greater gravitation to other big centres of population like Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds has also made the position more difficult. Hon. Members know well that we cannot expect an El Dorado even from this Measure unless we have a surplus of houses coming into the market.

This Bill is supposed to deal with both problems. It is supposed to enable us to close houses and to demolish slum areas, and at the same time to build houses. I hope that it will do so. We medical officers of health have been working for a very long time on this question of the closure and demolition of houses. The right hon. Member for Edgbaston did right to remind the House, and the Minister of Health will endorse it, that the greater part of this work of closing, demolishing and repairing bad property has gone on under the Public Health Act of 1875 and the Housing Acts and is constantly going on to the tune of 600,000 houses per annum, which have been repaired and improved. I have worked for 13 years as a medical officer of health and I realise that the procedure is incomplete unless you have got to the stage when the owners refuse or are not in a position to comply with the demand for repairs. Then, the local authority have the right and duty to close the houses, and if the owner does not comply with the order, they can demolish the houses.

Closing and demolishing orders have, unfortunately, been a dead letter since 1914, and the result is that, in a report of a recent year from the medical officers of health in England and Wales, of 2,500, houses recommended for closing and domolition, only 500 were demolished. That was because there was not a sufficient supply of new houses. Consequently, no Measure, not even this Measure for demolishing slums or clearing slums will be of any good unless it is going to help to provide new houses in which to house the persons removed from the slum areas. It is from that point of view that we must examine this Bill. The clearance of slum areas has been regretfully slow in the past because of the shortage of housing accommodation. The Minister of Health, in his opening speech, which I appreciated so warmly, regretted the fact that there had been such slow progress in clearing slum areas. I do not think that he was entirely fair from the scientific point of view. The reason for the clearances being so slow, is, in the first place, short- age of houses. He did not mention that one very material reason for the delay in clearing slum areas is the Rent Restrictions Act.

The Rent Restrictions Act has not been mentioned in the Debate. The Minister of Health does not wish us to mention it, because it is a difficult subject to deal with. The right hon. Member for Edgbaston did not deal with it while he was in office. I frequently asked him to deal with it, but he did not do so because it raises so many difficult questions. The present Minister of Health does not deal with the subject in this Bill, but those of us who look at the housing question and understand it, know perfectly well that the Rent Restrictions Act is one of the things that is impeding the clearance of slum areas. If hon. Members want proof of that statement, they have only to go to the professional and non-political body who are responsible for deciding these questions. I refer to the Surveyors' Institution, who look at this question simply from the interest of the property, whether private or public. They have recognised, as most of us know who have had to deal with property, that the obstructions introduced by persons who are protected, but who were not intended to be protected, by the Rent Restrictions Act, are holding up property from development. That is one of the reasons why we have not had slum areas dealt with hitherto.

The third point, which has been mentioned by the Minister, was in regard to decisions. The fourth point is the question of injustices. I speak again as a medical officer of health. I have no sympathy with those who own house property or who have bought house property in clear recognition of the understanding arrived at by the 1919 Act with regard to compensation. Hon. Members who laugh cannot have looked into the difficulties as I had to look into them as chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council when we were trying to deal with slum areas—and we did deal with them to a large extent. I would remind hon. Members who laugh at my experience as a medical officer of health, that I have also had experience of this subject as chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council for two years after the War, when we laid down the main lines of action in that very difficult period. We went ahead there with the Tabard Street area, and it was one of the most wonderful pieces of clearance ever done, replacing the slums by tenement buildings which are recognised as a good contribution to the housing problem.

A very great difficulty has always been that where there is a recognised injustice under the law the local authorities will not face it. It may be an unduly tender feeling for the owners or to something else, but I ask hon. Members to recognise the fact that all local authorities recognise that, where you have an injustice of that sort, it is a definite obstacle to the clearance and the action of the law.

I do hold with those who want to give increased compensation to persons who, with open eyes, have definitely put their heads into the noose of the slum area. Everybody who has had to deal with these areas knows that there are hard cases. Looking at the theory of it, I ask the House to realise that while there is a certain definite bad asset, recognised by law since the 1875 Public Health Act, in the case of an insanitary dwelling, it was not until the recent housing Acts were passed that it was recognised also that it was a bad asset to have a good building inside an insanitary area. Surely that can be set right under the appropriate valuing surveys by a definite loading factor. You load the valuation with a certain factor because of the amount of displacement that is needed. There is a certain big loading factor that you make for insanitary property. Although I think that should operate, it should be a much smaller loading factor if you have a good sanitary building inside an insanitary area. That should be recognised. It may be a different factor for an insanitary area, 5, 10 or 20 per cent., according to the particular insanitariness of the area, but, if you can get the value properly adjusted so as to give satisfaction from the point of view of justice, you will get local authorities to go ahead much more quickly.

Medical officers of health will welcome certain parts of this Bill. In Clause 17 there is a very valuable power which enables part of a house to be closed without closing the house altogether. There are also valuable provisions in the im- provement Clause, which is really the only novelty in the Bill. The provision for the aged should he extended, as the right hon. Member for Edgbaston has suggested. The method of subsidy is also a valuable feature. It attacks overcrowding, which is really the greatest difficulty of the problem. No Measure yet has really tackled the problem of overcrowding, and, although there will he great difficulties in practice, I think the Bill will enable us to focus attention on the most overcrowded houses and the most overcrowded areas. Local authorities have power to differentiate in the matter of rentals. I am glad this power has not been laid down in the Statute, but is to be left to the local authorities.

The question of overcrowding and slums must be looked at from a long point of view, and I am certain that 50 and 100 years hence people will say that this Bill, by itself, is only toying with the subject. It is proposing to replace individuals locally in the areas from which you are hoping to turn them out. That is a proposal that bas constantly been brought forward and pressed by the inhabitants themselves, as we know on the London County Council; and if you are combining that with the actual necessities of the case it is impossible to meet the requirements. You must envisage the future. A question which has not been mentioned so far is decentralisation, and if you are proposing a subsidy to remove individuals from slum areas it would be more satisfactory to propose a subsidy to remove factories together with the workers from slum areas. You have a factory moved into the country, with no provision for the workers. The workers move to the country, with no provision for their factories. The real solution is to move the people with the factories, but in order to do that, you must have your town planning provisions, which have been promised but not yet envisaged. In this Bill you are putting the cart before the horse, and it will be useless without your town planning Bill.

Ordered. "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir C. Hennessy.)

Debate to be resumed to-morrow.