§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [7th April], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
I am very glad to have another opportunity of joining in a housing Debate, and the presence of my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture reminds me that I had the privilege of endeavouring to help him in some of his schemes. I also had the pleasure of serving in a similar capacity with Lord Melchett, and I, at one time, served with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir T. Walters) as a member of the London Housing Board. Finally, I had the great pleasure and privilege of, I hope, helping in some small way my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain), and therefore I feel that I have had some varied experiences in connection with housing affairs.
I wish, at once, to congratulate the Minister of Health on his speech yesterday, and on his lucid and explicit explanation of the Measure. I know that some hon. Members regard me as a critic of the Minister of Health, hut I want to pay him a tribute this afternoon. I believe that few Ministers have grown more in wisdom and understanding during the last nine or 10 months than the right hon. Gentleman. I was very gratified at his references yesterday and on other recent occasions to the work of his predecessor in office. It was not always so, but I am glad that at last the right hon. Gentleman recognises that this country during the last five years has had, to use his own words, a very creditable record, and that we have built 1,500,000 houses.
That tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston, though rather belated, nevertheless comes with special satisfaction to me at this time. The views of the Minister have certainly improved, in my opinion, on many of the housing matters which arise in connection with this Bill. I remember the 2000 days when the right hon. Gentleman. referred to the present standard of housing accommodation in this country as "boxes for the people." I am glad to note that to-day he is perfectly satisfied with the standard which exists and that he has ignored the demand of the National Federation of Building Trade Operatives, who recently asked him for a much higher standard. In Let, I think one of his best efforts was when he explained to the House the superiority of the standard of housing in this country, as compared with that, for instance, of Vienna, for which some hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to have an affection. I am also glad to note that in this Measure he is introducing a proposal for small houses for aged people, and I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, when she replies, will explain whether it is possible for that principle to be extended to middle-aged couples and others, who would, I think, be equally entitled. If we once concede the principle that aged people should have small houses, that principle can easily be extended—if it is desired to do so—to other people who are similarly circumstanced.
Then I am glad to think ti at the right hon. Gentleman has brushed to one side that proposal which used to come from many quarters of the House, and which was made occasionally by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, that the first thing to be done in bringing about a great housing reform, was to have a great housing survey. I am glad to note that the right hon. Gentleman has firmly refused to foster that idea. He probably thinks, with a good many of us who have resisted this proposal in days gone by, that the local authorities of the country are much better employed in building houses.
I am also glad to note that there is nothing in the Bill to prevent the Rural Housing Act from operating in those places where the local authorities desire to put it in force. I remember the days when the right hon. Gentleman the Minister, before he knew as, much as he knows now, referred to that, Measure as "a great robbery from the public funds," but that Act apparently is to be permitted to continue its nefarious career. But I think that one of the most illuminating statements made by the right 2001 hon. Gentleman—again this is a matter which remains untouched in this Bill—was the explanation which he gave recently to the House as to the respective merits of building by direct labour and building by contract. I know that before he became Minister of Health the right hon. Gentleman thought that there was something to be gained, from the financial point of view, in respect of houses built by direct labour. I am glad to see from recent statements to the House that the right hon. Gentleman has been able to correct that impression.
§ Sir K. WOOD
If any hon. Member wants to refer to the Minister's statement, it will be found that on 6th February the right hon. Gentleman was able to show by figures which he gave for 1927, 1928 and 1929 as regards both parlour and non-parlour houses, that the houses built by direct labour were considerably more costly than those built by contract. The last tribute which I desire to pay to the Minister is this. In connection with housing finance, which is, of course, a very important element in this scheme, he no longer thinks that "whether the country can afford a thing depends on how much the country wants it, "because I notice that the other day he said that, on the one hand, he had to coax money out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and on the other hand he had to try to satisfy the demands of the local authorities. I welcome all these new views of the Minister of Health and I am glad indeed that he has found salvation in respect of many of these questions.
My chief criticism of this Measure is largely a financial criticism. I notice that in these proposals the Government again come forward with a new and increased subsidy. True, it is dressed in a new form; but I think my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture will agree with me when I say that these increased subsidies have been the rocks on which most of these housing schemes have foundered. In this case, if we take the grant of 45s. per person rehoused, on an average of five persons per house, the amount of the increased subsidy will be £11 5s. instead of what we call the Wheatley subsidy of £7 10s.
2002 I notice that it was said constantly in the course of yesterday's Debate that this was the first time that proposals had been presented to this House to enable poor persons to obtain houses at rents which they could afford to pay. That statement, of course, is not doing justice to the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley). I remember very well when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston brought in his proposals, and the main object of those proposals was that the rents should be such as the poorer paid members of the community could afford to pay. There is a great similarity between his scheme and the present scheme. I remember that, in those days, the present Prime Minister said of the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston. that they were probably the biggest piece of constructive organisation that had ever been attempted; and I notice that the Minister of Health, outside this House, has said that this is the biggest Housing Bill of modern times.
I have often thought that the most sensible observation that was made on the Wheatley Act was made by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is well that honour should be paid to him in this connection, because he turned out to be a true prophet. Writing at the time when the right hon. Member for Shettleston introduced his housing proposals, he said:The housing scheme of the Government is based upon the assumption that prices will remain at their present levels If they rise and the cost of houses is thereby increased, the financial basis of the scheme will be upset, and it will probably collapse, with terrible consequences.What in fact did happen? Under the Wheatley Act the subsidy was increased to £160, or more than double the subsidy that was given under the Act of my right hon. Friend, and the average price per house went up from £386 in one month by £52; in October of that year it was £451, and it remained at that, as I consider, excessive cost until December, 1926. A reduction in the subsidy then followed, initiated by my right hon. Friend, and at that moment prices began to fall, until they dropped to £399. No wonder that the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. E. D. Simon), who, I believe. 2003 is Chairman of the Liberal Housing Committee, said at that time:Mr. Wheatley's subsidy was a vicious thing,and that the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) said:The result of the scheme had been to raise the cost of house building.In the result, as we all know, the rents of what we call the Wheatley houses, notwithstanding the very considerable increase in the subsidy, are no lower at this moment than the rents of what we call the Chamberlain houses. [Interruption.] I invite anybody who doubts that statement to put a question next week to the Minister of Health in an endeavour to elicit some facts on that aspect of the matter. With that experience before us, what is going to be the position in connection with this scheme, if history repeats itself, as it has so constantly done in connection with housing matters? Who is going to get the benefit of this increased subsidy? The House is, in this Bill, reversing the policy of my right hon. Friend and reverting to what I call the Wheatley policy, and it is indeed a very vital question, because, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in relation to the Wheatley scheme, so I will say in relation to this scheme, that itis based upon the assumption that prices will remain at their present level. If they rise and the cost of houses is thereby increased, the financial basis of the scheme will be upset, and it will probably collapse, with terrible consequences.Are the Government satisfied that even the present cost of houses is reasonable? The right hon. Gentleman who spoke yesterday from the Liberal benches, who has had great practical experience, and who has made a considerable contribution to the housing problem in this country, said only the other day—I wish he had repeated it yesterday—that he did not believe in any form of State subsidy, and that he saw no reason why workmen's houses built for men receiving fair wages should not be let at a rent within their power to pay. He added this:The cost of building is still ridiculously high.That may be said to be simply an opinion of an individual Member of this House, however eminent, but that opinion is very widely shared. Take two authorita- 2004 tive organs of very different views indeed. I observed, only a few weeks ago, in the Commercial Review of the "Times," that they said:The building industry was less active, and may experience a grave depression unless costs are reduced, for the increase in building prices over 1914 is absurdly out of proportion to the general increase in prices.Take the views also of the official organ of the Labour party, the "Daily Herald." They said, on Tuesday, 11th March, in a leading article in relation to this Bill:Slum clearance is one of the most urgent tasks any Government could tackle … There is, however, one aspect of the matter on which the public, which has to find the money, has a right to assurance; that is, that steps will be taken to guarantee that it shall not be exploited. Mr. Greenwood intends, we believe, to go a long way to prevent profiteering in the land involved …. It is equally important to prevent profiteering in regard to the buildings themselves.In an article which appeared on the same day from their Industrial Correspondent, this was said:Low rent is essential for the people who are to be transferred, but this is declared to be impossible unless prices fall. Bricks cost to-day as much as in 1924, and other materials are also said to be unduly high, with a danger of going higher …. Improvements in manufacture have been widely introduced, but practically no benefit of them has been pawed on to the customer. When this is put to the manufacturers, however, they shelter behind a pledge given to them by Mr. Wheatley as Minister of Health in 1924. That pledge dealt with the 15 years' programme laid down in the Act, and in a general way assured the manufacturer of the maintenance of the 1924 standards or their equivalent. The manufacturers interpret that to mean that they are entitled to pocket the benefits of reorganisation, amalgamations, improved machinery, and so on.The article, which I am not able to read in full, but which is well worth perusal, also says:It is notorious that leading firms are making big profits, and while there is general anxiety to patronise British firms, they may find that patronage stopped unless they are content with moderate returns.That is from the official organ of the Labour party. What is the position? The progressive reduction in the cost of house building which had been going steadily on under the responsibility and guidance of my right hon. Friend has been stopped by the Government, and as 2005 far as I can see under this Bill nothing is being proposed by the Government not only to bring about a reduction in building costs, but to take any step to prevent a rise such as we have seen in the past has always occurred when the subsidy has been increased in the way in which it is being increased in this Bill. It is a serious matter for the slum dweller, because if he is to get 2s. reduction in rent, which is all that the right hon. Gentleman apparently is promising under this Bill, it all depends, in the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether the level of building costs is going to remain as it is at present.
But another thing may equally follow. It is not only a question of what is going to happen in regard to the cost of new houses, but in regard to the position of house-building generally under the 1924 Act, and I am bound to put this question to the right hon. Gentleman and to his colleagues: Where does the Socialist party stand in this connection? I will say this for the right hon. Member for Shettleston, taking the view that he did, that he accompanied his proposals by what was called, I think, a Building Materials Bill, of which the late Attorney-General, Sir Patrick Hastings, a good authority on Socialism, said that itlaid down real Socialism for the first time in this country.There are no such proposals contained in this Bill. There is not even a section which might have been added incorporating the proposals of the right hon. Member for Shettleston, and I am the more surprised that nothing is being done in this connection by the party opposite, because after their experience of what has happened since 1924, and after what the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself pointed out as the real basis upon which the proposals depended, when they went to the country at the last General Election they put, not in "Labour and the Nation," which one may regard as generally discarded by hon. Members opposite, but in their election manifesto itself:The Labour party …. would take steps to prevent the profiteering in food and in building materials.One would have thought that if that was seriously intended, after nine months' deliberation upon these proposals by the right hon. Gentleman—because he has taken nine or 10 months to bring them in 2006 —we should have had some proposals of the nature of those of the right hon. Member for Shettleston, or some explanation from the Government as to how they propose to deal with this situation and what steps they propose to take against a repetition of what has so constantly happened in the housing history of this country. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman saying, "Well, if this thing happens again, I shall at once bring in the Building Materials Bill of the right hon. Member for Shettleston. If prices go up £50 or £100, I shall deal with these scoundrels." That would be too late. Everybody knows that if they brought in a Bill of this kind, it would take a considerable time, and even if it was on the Statute Book, it would be much too late; building prices would have risen, and there would be no effectual remedy to deal with the situation. Therefore, I think we are entitled to an explanation from the Government—and so are their followers, because I take it that every one of them advocated these proposals at the last General Election—as to where the Government stand upon what may be a very serious situation.
It is accurate to say if building prices rise by £100 per house—and that has happened before—the whole of the financial structure of this Bill will have gone. There is little lower rents for the slum dwellers of the country even if they go up—50, and the financial basis of these proposals will, I am afraid, be seriously disturbed. I hope that the Government will give us some further explanation of the exact proposals for the actual administration of this scheme in regard to rents. It is a very novel proposal in some respects and a difficult one, and I am afraid that in many oases it will prove to be unjust to have differential rents for houses administered by local authorities. As I understand it, it will be possible under this scheme to have on the housing estate of a local authority, two tenants occupying exactly the same type of house, and one paying a considerably higher rent than the other. Preference is going to be given to people who at present live in what are called slums.
We desire that everything that is humanly possible should be done to improve their conditions, but I want to put this to hon. Members, especially to those wtho at the first view of this Bill may be 2007 rather deceived in its proposals: Is this going to be the position, that you wili find a labourer, prdbably from the financial point of view in as bad or even a worse position than a man who lives in the slums, paying a higher rent than the man who has been removed from the slums into a new house? I cannot conceive a more unjust proposal than that.
If the Government really believe—and this Bill must mean that they do believe it—that the payment of a higher subsidy can bring about lower rents, why has not the original Wheatley subsidy been restored? I remember very well that when the right hon. Gentleman introduced what he called the stop-gap housing Measure, he did not restore the Wheatley subsidy in its entirety. He restored only the reduced Wheatley subsidy, and, when he was asked why he had not restored the complete subsidy, he "This is only a stop-gap Measure; please wait for my final and bigger proposals." If it is the belief of the right hon. Gentleman and his supporters that lower rents can be achieved by increased subsidies, why has he not restored the complete Wheatley subsidy, in order by that means to get lower rents not only for the people who live in the slums, but also for the people who are equally entitled from their social and financial position to receive consideration from the State, namely, the labourer, and very many other people who are in just as bad a financial position as the dweller in the slums?
I await further information about how these proposals are going to work, because we have had no explanation as to the exact meaning and terms of Clause 23. I can conceive the grossest injustice arising from these proposals, and I want to know what answer is going to be given when the labourer, who has had great difficulty, and who is earning, perhaps—like the labourers are in my constituency by the action of the Government—£2 3s. 10d. a week says, "I am just as much entitled to go into a house with a lower rent as my friend who comes from the slums. I do not grudge him a better house, but why are not my wife and family entitled as much as he is to receive that increased accommodation and better facilities? "I want to know what answer will be given.
2008 The Government are embarking on a very perilous course indeed whet they adopt the principle of differential rents. Are they going from time to time to inquire from a man what his income and circumstances are? The Government will place a man in one of these new houses and say that he is entitled to pay this lower rent. Are they going to send somebody down every month, some inspector, to ask the very questions which we were told in the discussions on the Widows' Pensions Act it was an instil: to put to people in this country? Are the Government going to ask him what his means are? How will this thing work? I am afraid that the more it is examined, the more the difficulties will present themselves. It is true that the Government are throwing the onus in this matter, all the difficulties and dangers, upon the local authorities. It is art easy way to say, "It is true there may be this trouble; let the local authorities get on with the job, and do what they can with it." I think that that is a very unfair burden to place upon the local authorities, and I have the greatest apprehension as to what will happen in various localities in regard to these proposals.
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has realised the necessity of doing, in the interests of better housing and the housing of the poorer people, something with reference to the Rent Restrictions Act. It is quite a mistake to think that, if they amend the Rent Restrictions Act, they will only amend it in favour of the so-called rich man or the rich landlord. The right hon. Gentleman has had 10 months to consider the matter, and some proposals might have been incorporated in this Bill to deal with that Act. I read a tragic account of an inquest held a few weeks ago into a death in an overcrowded Finsbury tenement. It was a distressing case, which brought to one's mind the necessity of something being done, and the difficulties of many owners of property. The newspaper account said:Dr. Waldo, at the City Coroner's Court yesterday, resumed his inquest on the body of a child, aged one year and eight months. the son of Mrs. N. The mother had previously said that a fire occurred when she was out in a room which she occupied with her three infants, and two other children were also burnt. She had no fireguard as she could not afford one. The inquiry had 2009 been adjourned in order that the jury might inspect the tenements, which they did yesterday morning. Dr. Waldo—a very well-known and esteemed coroner in London—said that the tenement comprised six small rooms, and was occupied by 23 men, women and children. One of the tenements complained of rats.Mr. S. the Secretary of the Companysaid that the company were most unwilling landlords of the property when the fire occurred. Owing to the Rent Restrictions Act they could not get rid of the tenants. They acquired the site several years ago with the intention of pulling down the houses and erecting warehouses and garages, and they were prepared to proceed with the scheme immediately they could empty the existing tenements.Dr. Waldo put this question, which naturally arises in the minds of everybody:Where are these poor people to go? I suppose they will go and crowd the next district.Mr. S.said that he understood the Housing Committee of the London County Council had offered to provide alternative aaccommodation for the families in the tenements provided his company paid £100 per family. As there were 47 families, the company would have to pay £4,700. He explained that out of £600 a year which his company received in rents, they spent something like £500 in repairs, rates and taxes, and they also paid £400 a year ground rent. Dr. Waldo said that he could well understand that the company were unwilling landlords.That gives a striking illustration of the difficulties and the conditions. We are unhappily familiar with the conditions, and we want to find a remedy. There is no doubt that many aspects of the Rent Restrictions Act are unduly interfering with new housing. I was surprised at the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman yesterday, and his failure to deal with what we call Section 46, which undoubtedly has held up many slum clearances. Again and again, when it was my privilege to serve under my right hon. Friend, cases were brought to my attention where slum clearance was being held up by the local authorities because of the injustice of the operation of this Section.
I hope that the spokesman of the Government who may reply will tell me why it is wrong to give compensation under the English Bill, and yet under the Scottish Bill, where similar proposals are being made, compensation of 2010 a considerable character amounting to several thousands of pounds a year, is to be permitted. The principle of compensation and financial provision is being adopted under the Scottish proposal, and yet we are told that it is wrong and wicked to do the same thing in this country. Even the proposal which has been made, which permits a local authority to give some sort of compensation to a dispossessed tenant for the goodwill of his business and the like, is a thoroughly unfair and unsatisfactory proposal.
There is the case of the small man with a small business, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Alpass), who spoke yesterday, will find on inquiry at Bristol cases of this kind. It is true that such a man has only made small earnings week by week in some bad slum area, but his place is not in bad repair, and he has to go. That man is in a most serious position and in a number of cases local authorities have said "No, sooner than do an act of injustice of that kind we will not go on with slum clearance." What does the right hon. Gentleman pro-[...] pose? One would nave thought that some proposal would have been made that the man could, as a right, be entitled to claim compensation on some fixed principle. But under the proposals of this Bill that unfortunate man is left at the mercy of the local authorities who may or may not put this provision into operation. If they do, then the man must go cap in hand to the local authority and say "Please give me something for my business." If they say "Yes, here is £10," and he replies that that is not fair, then the local authority can say, "Take it or leave it." The man has no right to any arbitration and is entirely in the hands of the local authority. That is unfair.
Both for the poor tenant and for the landlord who has kept a decent house there should be a provision, by right, of some sort of reasonable compensation. The Bill tries to do nothing for the man who, at any rate, has behaved decently in connection with his property in the slums—and that there are slums one may see even within a short distance of this House. To such owners the Government say, "There is no provision for you," and to the tenant of a business they say, 2011 "We will put you in the hands of the local authority." I repeat, that is not a fair way of dealing with this problem. I am disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman has not, as he promised two or three months ago, brought forward proposals in connection with regional and town planning. There has been ample time for him to complete his plans. He has had five years in Opposition and nine or 10 months in office. There will be regret up and down the country when it is learned that he has not taken this step.
I hope that the House will not think that I have been unduly critical of these proposals. If the right hon. Gentleman can make this scheme work we shall be gratified. We will hope that prices will not rise. We shall have to wait and see if his anticipations prove correct. The success of the Bill will depend, in the first place, on whether local authorities are willing to operate it. It is of no use putting in default Clauses. These Clauses are just so much waste paper. The success of the Measure will depend on the willing assistance of the local authority and great responsibilities and difficulties are being placed upon them. In the second place. the success of the Bill will depend on whether building prices are going to remain as they are. The right hon. Gentleman has deliberately gone away from his own proposals in not providing means for dealing with profiteering. He has rejected the policy of the Conservative party, which bought about a reduction in building costs. He has rejected his own policy as announced at the last General Election, and we shall have to see whether, in the face of all these difficulties, this scheme will prove to be that great housing effort which has been so much heralded up and down the country. If he does succeed, there will be general satisfaction, for no one desires to see any of the distressing conditions that exist to-day continued if they can be removed. I must say, however, that I look with particular apprehension upon some of the proposals in this Measure.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House has only himself to blame if certain Members do not take his remarks too seriously. He devoted a considerable portion of his speech, as he usually does, to assuring 2012 us that rising subsidies and rising prices go together, and that if you want prices to fall you should abolish the subsidy. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that, when he and his colleagues revised the subsidy on the last occasion, they allowed it to remain higher in Scotland than in England. It is notorious that the housing conditions in Scotland are worse than they arc in England. Prices are higher in Scotland than they are in England. One would have expected therefore that this glorious remedy of abolishing the subsidy and reducing the prices of building materials would have been applied to Scotland. But it is the other way round. When the subsidy was reduced, the prices went higher. In view of that practice, how are we to treat seriously the speech of the right hon. Gentleman?
Then he laments, I suppose quite seriously, the absence of any proposals in this Bill for dealing with profiteering in building materials. He admits profiteering goes on, but not a word of condemnation falls from his lips. He has no blame to lay on those responsible for profiteering. I can remember well, when I brought in the Bill to deal with profiteering in building materials, that I did not have the support of the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that, if I were in the proud position to put that Bill before the House to-day, I would still have the same stern, relentless opposition to what would be called interference with the right of private enterprise. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the benefits that might have accrued if the Government had abolished the Rent Restrictions Act.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
Yes, in order to enable owners of houses to put up rents. That is what the right hon. Gentleman really means by amending. It does not mean that the Act should be amended to allow landlords to reduce rents. They do not require legislation to do that. Landlords are perfectly free in that respect. If the tenants were as free to reduce rents we should soon have wholesale reductions. The right hon. Gentleman, in the spirit of the profiteer, says that because there has been a war, because this nation has been plunged into the payment of £7,000,000,000 or £8,000,000,000, these landlords ought to be en titled to charge 2013 more to-day than would have been charged if there had not been any war. Yet he asks us to treat him seriously when he says that he wants to help the Government. He spoke about the terrible consequences that would follow the passing of the 1924 Act. At least, 300,000 houses for letting purposes are being erected in this country as a result of that Act. Surely, the people who require to rent houses are the people who deserve national assistance rather than those who can afford to buy; and, if that is one of the terrible consequences of the Act of 1924, then, with pride, I can claim that I have not been the least benefactor of the people of this country.
Yesterday the Minister for Health, in his opening remarks, said he wanted to approach this question in a non-party spirit. When I hear gentlemen on the other side of the House approach questions in a non-party spirit, I am always suspicious. Such Members are in the same position as the man outside, who says, "I have no politics." If you go into the history of that man's public actions, you will find that he has been a crusted Tory from the first day on which he could express himself up to that moment. Never by any accident has that man, who has no politics voted for a Labour or a Socialist candidate. As an old friend outside says, "When the Tories have nothing to fear, the workers have nothing to cheer."
When I heard the right hon. Gentleman say, "There is no sound reason here for Conservative Members of this House opposing this Measure," I immediately, if my Friends on the Front Bench will forgive me, grew suspicious of the value of the Measure, because it is utterly impossible to dissociate parties and class from a consideration of the problems of the slum. These slum problems have their roots down in the class distinctions of this country. Slum houses are only aged working-class houses, and you are not reasonably entitled to expect that when the local authorities make their return of these clearances and improvements, and have put the scheme into operation, you will have solved the slum problem. We shall only be at the beginning, because next year, and the following year, and the year after that, will come tumbling into 2014 slumdom the mature working-class houses of to-day. The improvement area of one year will be the clearance area of another year.
Slumdom is inherent in the working-class dwellings of this country. The narrow streets, the damp condition of the houses, the general sanitary defects of those dwellings, are all a standing evidence that in the industrial development of this country we have come through an age of barbarism. We cannot leave out of account the fact that nearly every industrial centre in this oountry has its tens and hundreds of thousands of houses that are potential slums. It is no use approaching this question as if there were a given number of slums and that when we had dealt with them the problem was solved and we could turn to the next problem. It is a recurring factor and it will go on as long as we set aside for a particular section of the community an inferior quality of housing accommodation.
To say that we ought to approach this problem in a non-party and non-class spirit is—I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) is expressing it too strongly when he says it is quite nonsensical. I must confess that I cannot soar to those dizzy heights of tolerance that would enable one to free himself from party bias and class passions on an occasion like this. Perhaps it is due to the fact that I got my lessons in slum life at my mother's knee, and perhaps if those on the other side of the House, particularly, and some on this side as well, had become acquainted with the slum problem in the slums, we should hear very little about the non-party and non-class character of the problem with which we have to deal.
I wish the Government had made an estimate of how many houses are likely one day to be slums, because until we know that we shall not know the magnitude of the problem. It is easy to give us an estimate of the present number of slums, and probably easy to give us an estimate of how many slums we shall have during the next 10 years, but it would be useful information if we could have an estimate of the total number of slums that will have to be dealt with before slumdom is eradicated from the path of the working class population. 2015 Having said that, I will come to the Bill, but more with friendly than with hostile criticism. I am not going to blame the Minister of Health for not having introduced a Measure that would entirely satisfy me. I am afraid I am getting accustomed to having to submit to short rations of my Socialism from the present Government, and I should be no more severe in criticising my old colleague than I should be in criticising one of another Department; but I must confess that after reading the Bill and listening most carefully to the Minister's very lucid explanation of it that there are points about it which I still fail completely to understand. It may seem a simple question to ask, and it may indicate my inability to read a Measure, but I would like to know under which Clause or part of the Bill houses are to be built.
After all, it is a Housing Bill, and one of the first things we should know is what provision is being made for the building of houses. I have looked through the Bill as carefully as one can in a single reading—which was all that my time would allow me to give to it—and I am yet asking myself under which Clause the houses are to be built. I am not asking that question in any criticism of the drafting of the Bill, but for this purpose. Whenever we pass a Measure giving a subsidy to working-class dwellings, we are accustomed to lay down certain conditions attaching to the receipt of the subsidy. For instance, under the Act of 1924 certain minimum dimensions were specified, and no subsidy would be paid for a smaller house. Again, I think, there cannot be more than 12 houses to the acre, because we wanted to guard ourselves against density of population.
When this Bill goes into Committee and has, I hope, the sympathetic consideration of Members in all parts of the House, I am anxious that it shall be realised that we are dealing with a class of people who are entitled to receive from Parliament the utmost protection which it can bestow. I do not want to leave it in the hands of a local authority—if such a local authority exists in this country—to take public money and to use it in a way that prevents even a shilling of it going into the pockets 2016 of the workers for whom it is intended. I want to tie local authorities down to the size of the house, to the number of houses per acre, to the conditions of letting, and to give all the other protections it is possible for the worker to get; but I cannot do this until I know under which Clause the houses are to be built, and I press my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to give me that information at their earliest convenience
Coming to the Bill, and taking Clause 1, I find that before an area. can he declared a clearance area the local authority must satisfy itself that, alternative accommodation exists for the people who are to be displaced; but there is nothing in that about the building of houses. To begin with, what is alternatfve accommodation? No standard of alternative accommodation has been laid down by this House. All that is asked is that a local authority is to satisfy itself that that alternative accommodation, wherever it may be, is in existence, or that they will be able to provide it. If I were a lawyer I should say that that does not necessarily mean that they will have to build houses.
Somehow or other, when we are dealing with the slum dweller we always deal with him as if he were an inferior type of humanity. Yesterday afternoon the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) revealed that mentality in the course of his speech. He said it was very important, if we were to achieve success with the Bill, to introduce "an atmosphere" into the new building scheme, and that we should have the people properly looked after. In other words, we are to treat them as we treat the Crown Colonies, as a section of humanity not fit for self-government, but to be taken by their superiors and coaxed and led to that higher plane where they may be allowed to run loose for themselves. That mentality governs this House, even though it may be subconscious, and therefore I ask the House to look carefully at every line and every word that deals with the provision of alternative accommodation for the working class. In Clause 1 there is nothing to indicate that the local authorities must build houses. Again we return to this, that the measure of progress from slumdom is the number of new houses we build. 2017 I am left quite untouched by the expectations of the Government in regard to what are called their improvement areas. I have served for a dozen years with a large local authority and I know that this Measure is not a volume of working-class emancipation. It is a collection of existing law, with certain modifications, to the extent, probably, of four-fifths or nine-tenths. There are hon. Members who think that every line of this Measure takes our people nearer to the promised land. With all that is said about "declaring clearance areas" and "steps to be taken," when we come to put it into operation, and when we have the other class protected by the type of mind represented by the right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House, it will be fought line by line and word by word. I have known us to be two years in the City of Glasgow trying to get a house closed that was declared by the medical officer of health to be unfit for human habitation. The same considerations apply to an improvement scheme. We have been working on those lines for years and years in this country and making little progress. Glasgow did it extensively under an Act of Parliament that went through this House in 1866, taking the old houses and scraping them and painting them and labelling them and putting on them, "so many animals there and so many animals here."
We have been doing that for half-a-century, but still we have the problem of slumdom, and we shall have it after this Bill has become an Act of Parliament, because as long as we try to patch things up we are bound to fail. First of all, we must get it out of our minds that we are dealing with animals. We are dealing with human beings, we are dealing with people with souls, with people who have to be appealed to, whose character is moulded by environment, just as our own characters are moulded by environment, and can we think that with putty and paint and labels and caretakers we are going to get that superior British race which we all want to see? That is all nonsense.
The point I wish to emphasise is that neither under Clause 1, which deals with clearance areas, nor under Clause 2 is any provision made for the building of houses. The only Clauses which deal 2018 with housing are Clauses 23 and 24, but there is very little in those two Clauses to indicate that houses will be built under this Act. Obviously, the houses have to be built, if they are not built under this Act, under the Act of 1924. If that is so, I think we should know now, because it makes a tremendous difference, for the result will be that you will be building under one Act and letting under another. The financial basis of the 1924 Act is vastly different from the financial basis of the 1923 Act. Apart from the question of which subsidy you will be offering, there will be considerable trouble to the local authorities if they are to have all this confusion from the outset.
I come to the question of the rents, and the procedure for fixing rents, which seems to me very complicated. Anything which gives trouble to the local authorities is bound to impede the operation of this Bill. In fixing the rent the local authority has to take the whole aggregate rents of the scheme into account. I want to draw the attention of the House to what, I consider, is rather a, curious mixture. The grant may be any sum. Take a case in which you may have four persons living in one house, two being consumptives. You will require different rooms for the phthisis cases, and it is one of the conditions of this legislation that we shall bring the local authority and the medical authority into closer co-operation, and the medical officer will be able to prescribe medicine in future for poor phthisis cases. The total amount of the subsidy in that case would be £9. Let me take another instance where there are three persons. In that case, the total would be £6 15s. If you take the case of parents with six children the sum would be eight times £2 5s., or £18 a year as a subsidy. You have to deduct the subsidy from the aggregate rent, and also a sum equal to £3 15s. per house, which has to be recovered from the rates.
There are two principles in operation in fixing the amount of the subsidy. So far as it is a subsidy from the State it is per person, and, when it is a subsidy from the rates, it is per house. Here, again, you are bound to have a considerable amount of confusion when you come to fix the rents. I would like to ask how long the reduced rents are to be in operation. Suppose that you take out of 2019 the slums next year a family consisting of parents with six children. In that case, you get a subsidy of £18 a year on a house for 40 years, and, if you capitalise that, it comes to a sum round about £720. You get that sum from the State in that particular instance. Suppose that after a few years the man leaves the house and the children disappear. In that case, the subsidy goes on for 40 years and the rent for 60 years. What will happen in a case like that? Does the hereditary principle apply to any extent? Suppose that you have a family of four or five, and some of them get married and leave the house, and the eldest son decides to keep on the house. Hon. Members know quite well that you cannot put that son out of the house, because he will be the inheritor of a slum house under the Act of 1930. As that man walks up and down the street—he may be a man earning double the wages of people who do not live in subsidised houses—people may ask how he got possession of the house, and his only reply would be, "My dear Sir, I am the grandson of a slum dweller."
I want to do everything that is humanly desirable for the slum dweller, but I do not want to confer privileges upon him merely because he lives in the slums, and I am not going to say that a man living in the slums is entitled to more consideration than the man who keeps his family out of the slums. I do not want to be harsh, but a close investigation would show that in many cases the people living in slums are in receipt of as good wages as those living outside the slums. I do not wish to go to the other extreme, and I do not say that people should be rewarded for living in slums. We should not reward them or punish them for living in slums, but we ought to help them out of the slums.
Under this Bill you are giving subsidies which will extend over 40 years, but who can foresee the future of the children living in the slums over a period of 40 years? Had I continued to live under the conditions of my early life I should have been entitled to the benefits of this Bill, because my people lived in a slum, and under this Bill a grateful country would have given me the benefits of the reduced rents that are only to be given to slum dwellers. I do not think it is 2020 a wise thing to reward people for living in lowly conditions. I want to know whether the rents are to be revised annually. I notice that the State grant has to be revised annually or pren-nially but is the rent to be revised every year?
The conditions under which the inhabitants live may have vasty changed during those years, and I want to know who are to have these houses as time goes on. I suppose that the houses will be built under the Act of 1924 by the local authorities. After they have been built, is the slum-dweller to have priority in these houses? There is another section of the working class who wculd like to have a voice in this matter. It seems to me that the slum-dwellers are to get all the houses, and the other people will not get them until they pass through the slums. In other words, on der this Bill, we are laying down that, in order to get a house, you must, first of all, pass through the slums. I do not think that the slum dweller should have priority. I want the slum dwellers to be provided for generously, but I do not want other sections of the working class to be penalised in the process of putting the slum-dwellers into more healthy surroundings.
For these reasons, I sincerely hope that the Government will give very close attention to the contents of this Bill. I hope they will welcome examination and criticism of this Measure until the last line of it has left the House. I hope that, as far as possible, the Government will leave the decisions upon this Bill to a free vote of the House. If this is not a party question, then the party Whips should not dictate the policy. I think, with the spirit that prevails in the House on this question, we shall be able to mould this Bill into a Measure that will be a really substantial contribution for clearing out those plague spots of this country which we all so very much deplore.
§ Mr. E. D. SIMON
I think that the most extraordinary feature of this Debate has been, in the first place, the really extraordinary amount of agreement on all sides of the House, agreement as to the size of the effort being: made in this country; and, secondly, the complete failure of that gigantic effort to do anything whatever to help those who live in the slums. I think, also, that there is almost complete agreement that the 2021 worst feature of the slums to-day is not the quality of the houses, but the overcrowding, and that the only remedy is the building of a large number of new houses at rents which the slum dwellers can afford to pay. There would not have been complete agreement on these points a short time ago, but now we are all agreed as to what we want to do. although not as to how me want to do it. Perhaps the most extraordinary point in regard to agreement is that, so far as I have heard, not one Member of the House has raised the question of the cost which will fall on the Exchequer. No one has protested that the working of the Bill is going to be expensive, and that shows that in all quarters of the House we are going to tackle this problem in a candid manner.
We have, under the various Bills, including that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), built 1,500,000 houses, but we have failed to deal with the people with whom we want to deal, and with whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston said he was going to deal in his Bill of 1924. The reason for that, again, is pretty well agreed. It is because all the houses, including those built under the 1924 Act, have been too expensive for these people to be able to pay the rents. In the case of most of them the rent is from 12s. to 20s. a week. Although among the slum dwellers are included a good many people who can pay such rents, the bulk of them, and especially those with children, cannot pay more than from 7s. to 10s. gross rent, and we have not built houses of that kind under the right hon. Gentleman's Bill.
We have been subsidising the wrong people. I will give one instance. I visited a Midland town the other day, and saw there a house built under the Wheatley Act—a very comfortable parlour house, in which were living a foreman and his wife and two adult children. The sum of £8 was coming into that house every week, and they were receiving a subsidy of something over 4s. a week. Then I went to a condemned area in the same town, and I found there a woman living in a house of the kind that is usual in slums, although it had three bedrooms. Her husband was a railwayman earning 53s. a week, and two 2022 of the children were earning 26s. a week together, so that nearly £4 a week was coming into the house. There were nine children, or, in other words, a family of 11. The children were well cared for and, on the whole, fairly healthy. The wife was one of those mothers who can bring off a wonderful job of that sort. These people were living in a, slum at a rent of 5s. 6d., with no subsidy of any sort, but on the contrary, were paying a little extra on their rates in order to subsidise the other people who were living in Wheatley houses.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) talked about the hypothetical case under this new Bill where complete equality of treatment in every case would not be obtained, but I should like to know whether he or anyone else can suggest a worse case of inequality and unfairness than the one which I have just mentioned. We have been subsidising the wrong people, and I think that the test of this new Bill or of any Bill is a double one. In the first place, is it going to enable us to build large numbers of houses at rents of from 7s. to 10s.; and, secondly, is it going to enable or induce the local authorities to get the people who really need help into those houses?
Of course, local authorities—I myself have been a member of one for many years—always pass resolutions saying that they will give preference to large families, and then, in practice, they do not do anything of the sort. I have made inquiries in a number of towns, and I have found that generally speaking the average number per family in municipal houses is about 4½ persons. I regret to say that in Manchester, where we have built 12,000 houses, the average size of the family is 3.9 persons, or much below the average size over the whole country.
Turning to what the voluntary societies have done, there is a large number of voluntary societies all over the country, building, not many houses, because they cannot afford it, but from 20 to 100 houses. People are very anxious to buy these houses, and that shows what can be done in giving the maximum relief to slum conditions. I have made inquiries of about 10 of these societies, and I find that the size of the families in their houses varies from six up to about eight, 2023 or, in other words, while the average in municipal houses is about 4½ in these voluntary houses, which are let at rather lower rents, the average is about 6½. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that the real problem of the slums is to get these 2,000,000 people out of the alums and into decent houses, and one of the reasons why the municipalities have failed is that they are not taking the larger families, but only the small ones. That, of course, is partly, and indeed mainly, because the larger families cannot afford the rents. I think it is true to say that every employed working man in an urban area, when he has no children and no dependants, can afford the rent of a decent house. The whole trouble is when there are two, three or more children. No unskilled worker in the country with three or more childen, and with a wage of 60s. or less, can afford to-day the rent of a Wheatley or any other new house. That is the problem of the slums—how to get these large families, the poorer large families, out of the slums into decent houses; and it is by its success in solving that problem that this Bill will in the long run be judged.
So far there is, as I have said, agreement on almost everything, but when we come to the remedy we find a sharp division into two camps, the one represented by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich, and the other, I think, broadly, by all progressive thought in the country. [Interruption.] The Conservative policy is perfectly clear. It is a policy of laissez faire, of leaving things alone, of leaving them to private enterprise, when prices will come down and private enterprise will then provide the houses that are necessary. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich, who is perhaps the chief spokesman in this House, always ignores the facts and figures when he is making his speeches. He has never even attempted to indicate at what cost it will be necessary to build houses in order that they may let at a gross rent of 10s., which is what we want, and still less to let at a gross rent of 7s. As a matter of fact, for a house to let at 10s. to-day, it would have to be built at a cost of £150, and I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is optimistic enough to believe that that 2024 can be done. In fact he knows perfectly well, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that to-day you cannot build houses to let at the necessary rents without subsidies.
It is perfectly true that, when a Bill is brought in which gives a subsidy, it stimulates building suddenly, and inevitably there is an increased demand, and almost inevitably a rise in prices. There is a Committee on Prices of Building Materials, and I hope the Government will see that that Committee watches the position very closely for the next few months. We have heard a rumour that the Government would bring in a Bill to prevent profiteering in building materials, but were net confident that it would receive support from these benches, and that has been confirmed this afternoon, because, when the Minister of Health was asked why they did not bring in a Bill of this sort, he said, "We should never get a Second Reading."
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTER of HEALTH (Miss Lawrence)
I must correct the hon. Gentleman on that point. What the Minister said to me in that aside was that the Profiteering Bill of 1924 never got a Second Reading. He was not expressing any pessimism with regard to the possible action of hon. Members opposite in this Parliament.
§ Mr. SIMON
May I say, on this question of prices, that the right hon. Gentleman, when he says than prices will go up, ignores the complete difference in conditions as compared wi:h those obtaining in 1924. At that time he was anxious. I think, to build 200,000 houses a year, but 2025 neither the labour nor the building materials existed for the building of such a number. He gave a subsidy, and the result was that each year about 50,000 more men were attracted into the building trade. There are to-day about 150,000 more men in the building trade than there were in 1924, and that was the best thing that was done by the right hon. Gentleman's Bill; but the tragedy is that to-day there are 150,000 unemployed. The position is totally different. Two years ago we built 250,000 houses in one year, but now I venture to say we are not building at half that rate, and we have 150,000 unemployed. The Minister of Health has the advantage of the position prepared for him by the Act of 1924, and all that he has to do is to bring in a Bill which will give employment to those 150,000 people who to-day are out of employment. Conditions are quite different, and there is every reason to suppose that that could be done without any substantial or serious rise in cost. If the Bill does have that effect, it will do more to reduce unemployment than anything which the Lord Privy Seal has been able to do during the last 10 months. It ought to be quite easy to raise the rate of building from 100,000 or 120,000 houses a year to 200,000, and to give employment to an additional 100,000 men.
There has been a report, which I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston has not read, entitled "A Policy for the Slums." It appeared some months ago, having been prepared by a non-party committee of about 30 experts connected with housing, under the National Housing and Town Planning Council. They came to the conclusion that the problem of curing the slums depends on houses being built to let at rents of 10s. and 7s. Houses to let at 10s. can be provided by any economical municipality, and are being built in considerable numbers, but the 7s. house cannot, and this committee, after six months' observation, came to the unanimous conclusion that the right way to provide a 7s. house wasz by a system of children's rent rebates. That is a method the object of which is to ensure that the extra rebate shall only be given to those families who need it, and at the time when they need it. 2026 When they have three or four or more children, they should have a rebate, according to this proposal, of 1s. per child, and as soon as the child begins to earn they would cease to get the rebate. That, I think, gets over all the difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman was raising.
A proposal of that sort is quite practicable under this Bill, which, as I think very wisely, leaves to local authorities complete freedom to adopt any scheme that they like. There would be a pool of rents. No rent would be above the Wheatley rent, but the additional grant under this Bill would be pooled. It can be given to any scheme which has been accepted by a local authority. They can, if they like, knock 1s. a week off each house—in other words, they can have a fiat rate—or, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the rent of half the houses might be the Wheatley rent, and the rent of the other half might be 2s. less. Or they might have a certain number of Wheatley rents with a children's rent allowance scheme. The scheme would be perfectly automatic in its working. There would be so much for every dependent child, while that child remains dependent.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will read this report; I shall be very glad to send him a copy of it. I think he will find that it will solve all the difficulties that he was raising as to how a scheme of that sort could be fairly administered so as to give help to those who need it. [Interruption.] They can put on a wage limit or not as they like, and that, I venture to say, is one of the good points of the scheme. The Government subsidy of 45s. a year amounts to 9d. per week for each individual. The five years' programme which local authorities in future will have to provide, and the freedom which is left to local authorities, are two very good features of the Bill, but the feature of the Bill on which I want to congratulate the Government, because it is a courageous thing to introduce, is the freedom of local authorities to have differential rents. If you are going to meet the needs of the poorest people with the 7s. house, you are up against this difficulty, that they want, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the same house as a, richer family wants. 2027 You want the same house for 7s. Under the Wheatley Act all you can do is to let all your houses at 7s., which would be disastrous from the Exchequer point of view. The only economic way I have ever yet seen worked out to confine that extra help to those who really need it, is by some system of children's rebates, or, broadly, on some system of differential rating. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having put that into his Bill. It is difficult to say exactly how it will work out. It seems to come practically to this, that for the second child you will get a rebate of 6d., and for each child beyond that a rebate of 9d. a week. It is a very interesting experiment, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having introduced it, but I am not sure how it will work because the second part of Clause 23 says:Provided that the number of persons to be taken into account in calculating such contribution shall not exceed the number of persons of the working classes for whom accommodation has, with the approval of the Minister, been rendered available by the authority in new houses.Everything depends on how that is worked by the Minister. It leaves the whole thing in the hands of the Minister to do exactly what he likes. If he chooses to say, when a thousand people are cleared out of a slum, "You must build one house for each five persons," then you have to build 200 houses. For every house you get five 9d. grants. The grant thus becomes a grant per house and not a grant per person. I hope the hon. Lady will answer this. Supposing you close an individual house in which there are parents and five young children and build a house to take them, can you give seven grants to that individual house, that is, 5s. 3d. rebate, or can you only have five rebates and pass it over somewhere else? I understand the hon. Lady says you can have seven rebates. I am glad to hear it, because that is a real system of children's rebates. If you can have seven rebates it will knock 3s. 6d. off the weekly grant. If you can only have five it will only knock 1s. 3d. and you cannot do very much.
I come to the next novel point in the Bill—the improvement areas. We have heard a good deal of praise about the improvement area, and it is again an in- 2028 teresting idea, but I have been trying to understand how it would wok out in Manchester, the town I know best. You have there something like 50,000 houses, each very much like the others. They are all houses that should go [...] the next 20 years. There is no bath and no gardens, but they cannot be condemned. Under the Bill you could take out an improvement area of, say, 1,000 houses and in a year or two make the area much better, and, above all, abolish overcrowding, but if you did that it would be a very anomalous thing to do. You would have an area with no overcrowding, but you would have another 49,000 houses all round in which you would ha ve the same disastrous overcrowding that you have today. Why pick out one arm and bring it straight up to a high level? Why not do the sensible thing and take the worst houses in the 50,000 and get, the tenants out into new houses? Could the whole 50,000 houses be declared an improvement area? There is nothing in the Bill about the size of the improvement areas except that in London they must not be less than 10 houses. Should they be 10 or 1,000, or can we call a whole city an improvement area?
There is a point in the financial memorandum that causes me a little uneasiness, on page 3, where the cost to the Exchequer is worked out. The assumption is there made that 100,000 persons are to be displaced each year.
§ Mr. SIMON
It is, I hope, a very serious under-statement of what the Government intend to do. The difficulty is that the local authority looks at the Bill and wonders how many houses the Government expected to build. That is the only place where any number is mentioned, and it indicates the building of 20,000 houses a year. I hope it is intended to build five times as many as that. The policy of the Liberal party is to build 200,000 houses a year. This nonparty committee also recommends 200,000 houses a year, of which 100,000 should be subsidy houses. It makes it look as if it is only going to cost £220,000. I hope it will cost four or five times as much. If you translate this into terms of Manchester, it would mean about 400 houses a year. I ask the hon. Lady to consider what this means. We have had 2029 the Bill welcomed as a great and audacious experiment. Most speakers opposite, with the exception of the last, have assamed that it will mean a great and early clearance of slums. Will it? Manchester is to-day letting its A3 houses, and the lowest rent they have is 13s. 5d. Under this Bill half of these houses, if they are built under the Bill, will still be let at 13s. 5d., and the other half will be let at 11s. 5d. If this financial memorandum indicates the scope the Government have in mind, all it will do for Manchester is to enable us to build 200 houses for people cleared from the slums at 11s. 5d. instead of 13s. 5d. If you make it 1,000 instead of 200, that is far too expensive to be any good. I should like to know if there is any way in which it is possible to induce the authorities who are building expensive houses to build houses more cheaply. The cheapest to-day are rented at 13s. 5d., including rates, of course. What we want are rents of 10s. and 7s., including rates. If you reduce the rent in Manchester by 2s. that will be almost nothing. I hope the hon. Lady will not think I have been unduly critical. I have tried to be constructive. I feel a shade of disappointment. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on introducing differential rates, which is the key to the slum problem, but the limitation of the grant to clearance areas, and what may be quite small improvement areas. means that the Bill will not go very far in dealing with the difficulty in some cities, and something has to be done to stimulate municipalities not to put in the best tenants, that is those with the smallest families and the largest incomes. but to get the larger families into houses. I hope the hon. Lady will bear those two things in mind. Broadly speaking, I congratulate the Government on the Bill, and I am sure that we on these benches will do everything in our power to help to make it as effective as possible.
§ Mr. CAMERON
I rise with a considerable amount of shyness to address the House for the first time. Notwithstanding the fact that the Bill has been criticised from both sides of the House, and that it has been pointed out by the late Minister of Health that there is nothing original in it, it has to be remembered that this House has had a 2030 continuous life of over 600 years and this is the first occasion on which a Bill has been introduced with the specific object of dealing principally, if not entirely, with slum clearance. After many years of earnest endeavour in the direction of trying to persuade the people to demand decent housing, I welcome the Bill, because I feel sure that slum clearance transcends in importance any of the domestic problems with which the House is called upon to deal from time to time. Wherever people foregather, and whatever phase of national life is discussed, this problem is almost certain to arise. To me that is a good sign. It is a sign that there is a change in the social conscience of the people, that our people are recognising that it is morally wrong for so many of our fellow-citizens to be condemned to live under the present deplorable conditions. It is not only a matter of the existence of slums being morally wrong. We recognise that it is a disgrace to civilisation. It is certainly greatly the result of the old, mean, illconceived ideas of past generations. In years gone by anything was considered good enough to house certain classes.
We have been told quite recently that even if we provide better houses for these people, the vast majority of them have no desire to leave the slums and that, if they are put into better houses, they will soon reduce them to the state of those they have left. I do not believe it, because experience has proved the contrary. Wherever people have been shifted from slum areas they have risen to the better houses into which they are put. When we hear that story we must remember that 95 per cent. of these poor people are not living in slums from choice. They are there because they are the victims of circumstances, and they would all gladly move away to better and more healthy surroundings, but they cannot. The poverty in which you find them, with hardly the means to keep body and soul together, makes the provision of decent housing accommodation an economic impossibility. They simply cannot pay what is deemed to be an economic rent. That is why the Government is compelled to come in and do something to assist them. For various other reasons it is our moral and bounden duty to do so. It should have been done long ago, but better late than never. 2031 We know quite well that bad housing is the principal cause of ill health and high mortality. Medical officers of health in various parts of the country have reported that the rate of premature deaths is higher in slum areas than in other areas where people are comparatively well housed. While it is true that there is a higher percentage of premature deaths in the slums, this is not the only disaster which befalls the people who live there. It is computed that for every premature death there are 10 cases of sickness, which, while not perhaps proving fatal, so seriously affects the lives of many as to render them of little value to themselves or to the community, and, instead of these poor people being an asset to the country, they become a burden to their relatives and to the State. A policy which perpetuates such conditions ought not to be tolerated in an enlightened community.
I want to say a few words in regard to a question which was raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Withington (Mr. Simon). We know well that if we are to be successful in the policy which is enunciated in this Bill, the question of rent must be fully considered. It is an economic question for these people. Our suggestion, and the suggestion which comes from the report which was held up by the hon. Member for Withington, is that an allowance must be made to these people in accordance with the size of their income and the size of the family. If that is not done, the success of any slum clearance policy cannot be what we desire it to be. There are various authorities who have already agreed that where they remove tenants from slum areas and they go into houses built under the 1924 subsidy scheme, a difference in rent shall be allowed according to the circumstances of the people removed. I believe that this sort of thing obtains in Glasgow and in one or two other towns. There are also certain housing companies which deal with the tenants according to their income and the size of their families. It is not a new principle to ask for rent allowances on behalf of these poor people who have not sufficient wages to enable them to secure decent accoanmodation.
Already the Ministry of Health makes provision of milk for necessitous preg- 2032 nant and nursing mothers, and for babies, in order to promote and to protect the health of mothers and babies. The Board of Education makes maintenance allowances to children based upon the size of the family and income of the family. What is good as resiards food and education could quite well be applied to housing. Those who come under the Income Tax assessment know that the Inland Revenue Commissioners make allowances in respect of families. It is not a matter of £2 5s. per annum per child; it is a great deal more. An allowance is made for the first child on the basis of so much in the £, and so much per head is allowed for every other child. As the principle is already in operation, although in a different way, we have no fear as to the result of its application to this Measure for housing those who are taken awa3 from the slums. We hope that the Bill will receive an easy and a rapid passage through this House, and that it will become an Act of Parliament at an early date, so that the work of providing houses for those who are to be removed from the slums in order to permit of their clearance can be proceeded with as soon as possible.
That brings me to the question of compensation. We have heard already the voice of protest. Protest has been made, no doubt, on behalf of those most keenly interested in slum property. One is bound to ask at this stage, what is the justification for the difference in the basis of compensation for property whether it be buildings, food, goods or materials of any kind whatever? What is the reason for the condemnation of certain house property? The reason is that it has become injurious to health and a menace to the health of the community as a whole, and, consequently, being unfit for human habitation, is to be removed. I would treat the slum property owner, the person who owns property which is totally uninhabitable, in the same way as I would treat the vendor of bad food, whether it be milk, meat, fruit or fish, who is liable to have his goods confiscated and destroyed and also liable to a heavy monetary penalty, and, in addition, may run the risk of being imprisoned for the offence. We must not take too much notice of those who protest against the confiscation of property. They have held 2033 that property far too long in its present state, and the sooner it is cleared away the better. I would not give a moment's consideration to the question of compensation for persons who held property which was disease-breeding and injurious to health, any more than I would to persons whose property was taken from them for having half poisoned the people.
I should like to touch upon the, possible increase in the cost of building suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood). There is no doubt—and I am now speaking as one who understands something about builders' quantities and builders' costs—that while wages have come down during the past few years, the cost of materials has increased. There is no ring amongst builders as is generally understood, but there are rings amongst builders' suppliers and builders' merchants. I will give an illustration. Some 16 or 17 months ago it was possible to buy the best British Portland cement at 40s. a ton. Within three or four months of that time a ring was formed embracing all the great manufacturers of cement in addition to the principal distributors of building materials. What happened? The price went up to 46s. There was no justification for a 16 per cent. rise in the cost of that commodity, because wages had come down during that period, and the cost of the component parts of Portland cement had not increased. Notwithstanding the fact that we are paying heavy prices for the commonest bricks, which are used extensively in the building of cottages and houses such as we have been discussing this afternoon and which we discussed yesterday, it is possible to put on rail, at the source of production, these bricks at less than £1 per thousand. When we purchase them in London and environs we have to pay anything up to 62s. 6d. per thousand. Where has gone the extra 42s. 6d.? Assuming that 10s. per thousand goes in rail charges and another 7s. 6d. per thousand in transport charges across London, where has the remaining 25s. gone? Such a profit on an expenditure of 37s. 6d. is too high.
I appeal to the Minister of Health to get machinery in motion as speedily as possible—I am sure he will if he can—in order to curb the rapaciousness of the manufacturers and distributors of building materials. These are the per- 2034 sons who make your building costs high. These are the persons who have given rise to the idea that builders are persons who are generally digging gold mines or finding diamonds. It is not as true as all that. I know that some builders have made fabulous profits, but, as far as this class of work is concerned, there is the keenest competition among the contractors who do this class of work, and there is very little margin in it. If you want to cheapen the cost of houses, get at the source of production of material. In addition, get at the source of distribution of these materials. Curb the price of the raw materials and you will very soon reduce the cost of building generally. I would go further. Convinced Socialist that I am, I would have no compunction in dealing with these profiteers when they are dealing with materials which are so necessary for the housing of the poorest section of the community. If they do not sell the materials at a reasonable price, why should not the State open out its own brickfields and its own cement manufacturing plant, and manufacture in regions which might be mapped out and distribute from the source of manufacture direct to the sites where houses are to be built? It is the practical thing to do. It is the business thing to do. It is what other countries have done, and we can do it equally as successfully as they have done it. I do not know whether this matter will be taken up, but I recommend it as one way of getting over the difficulty. If the State finds itself being exploited by individuals—and we know they have done it before time and again—in this moment of crisis, it is the duty of the State to try to defend itself.
As far as the operatives in the building industry are concerned, although I am not now one of them, I want to say a word for them. I have been associated with them for many years. I have helped to organise them and to bring them up to the standard which they enjoy to-day. Whatever building operations are necessary in rehousing the poorest of our people, I sincerely hope that they will give of their best. I have never known them to fail when appealed to in the right way, and I am sure that they will respond if the right appeal is made to them. At the same time, I sincerely hope that the Minister will see that conditions 2035 of labour are observed in keeping with the standard which the organised men in the industry expect. If be does that, I think that everything will work very smoothly, and that everything will be done to provide as quickly as possible all the housing which is required.
I apologise for having taken up so much time, but this being the first occasion on which I have addressed this House—though I have been in the habit of speaking for 35 years—I feel a little out of the usual atmosphere to-night. I again thank the Minister of Health. He has my gratitude, and I am sure that he has the gratitude of the Division which I have the honour to represent. As an illustration of the position there, it was reported to me two days ago in Widnes, the principal town in that county division, that there are hundreds of houses with two and three bedrooms, and there are from eight to 24 persons living in each house. The medical officer of health, one of the most able medical officers, points out that to-day there are twice the number of houses carrying two to three families compared with the year 1919, and that to-day, housing shortage is worse than it was in 1919, notwith-standing the efforts of the late Government and previous Governments.
I am hoping and praying that something substantial will come out of this Bill. It is not a perfect Bill—there was never a perfect Bill brought to this House—hut it is a Bill that can be made to bring benefits to the poorest people. As a craftsman and a technician, with close upon 40 years' experience in this industry, and as one who has been privileged to study and admire buildings of all schools of architecture, ancient and modern, in almost every country in the world, I have felt the thrill of excitement that comes to one who feels the spirit of the architecture and the craftsmanship expressed in those buildings. Where do we find that expression? Where do we find the finest and the most beautiful artistic craftsmanship put into building work to-day? Not in the homes of the workers. When friends have come from other lands, I have taken a considerable amount of craft pride in showing them some of our most beautiful productions, both of the old school and the more modern school, and I have taken them to sites which 25 to 30 years ago 2036 were covered with the worst slums in East Central London, in West Central London, in South West London and in parts of West London. On those sites to-day there are some of the most beautiful buildings to be found in London, owned and controlled by the banking combines, insurance companies, the great stores, luxurious hotels, cinemas, theatres, and dancing schools. There we find the best craftsmanship and some of the finest specimens of architecture.
I hope that we shall do something in the direction of getting better design for the houses of the working classes—it does not need to be ornate—and better planning than anything we have done before. When one walks through our beautiful streets—it seems an irony, but times without number, on a Sunday or on holidays one finds the poorest people coming from the slums to see the beauty of London and to look at the architecture. They are wonderfully proud of the magnificence of some of our streets and buildings, and then they go back again into the slums. It is marvellous that they are so patient, so good, clean and courageous. I have often thought when I have looked at the two extremes, and thought of the grandeur and the greatness that was Rome and Greece, I have thought, too, of the men who made all that possible and how they lived in back streets and underground. Those nations, in due course, fell because to a great extent they commenced building at the wrong end. When the day arrives that we are able to take our friends and show them, with pride, the productions of our architects and craftsmen, and we can at the same time feel that we need not be ashamed to show them where our poorest people live, we shall have won the respect of other nations, and we shall have done our duty to our own people at home.
§ Sir PHILIP PILDITCH
I can assure the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Cameron) that he has made a favourable impression by the sincerity and depth of feeling that he has shown on the subject of slums. He stated that he was not accustomed to our atmosphere, but he very soon became accustomed to it and delivered his speech in approved fashion. I congratulate him, and I am sure that the House will be glade hear him on subsequent occasions. I do not quite 2037 understand his objection in regard to compensation. No one wishes to compensate highly the person who owns bad property. It is only in those few cases where there happens to be decent property in a poor district where the area is condemned for clearance that we want fair play to be shown to the owner. I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate the justice of a claim like that. I am glad that in the hon. Member's speech with respect to the slum dweller there was no echo of the unfortunate part of the remarkable speech made by the right hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley). The right hon. Gentleman was very powerful in his comments on the Bill, particularly when dealing with the question of the change in the method by which slum clearances are to be financed. That struck me as being very much on the same lines as the remarks of the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) yesterday, but in the absence of the right hon. Member for Shettleston I will not deal with that point. There are other points in his speech worthy of comment. I congratulate the hon. Member for Widnes on the fact that he did not associate himself with the statement of the right hon. Member for Shettleston that the question of the slums could not be dissociated from class and party. Whatever the origin of the slums may have been, it would be a sad thing for this House, when we are going to deal with them, that we should impart a feeling of class and party to our discussions. I dissociate myself from the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman for Shettleston in regard to that matter.
I am not going to say anything about the magnitude or urgency of the problem with which we are confronted. That will be dealt with fully by other speakers. It is admitted in all quarters of the House, and no one realises it more fully than we do on this side, that the matter is very urgent. I congratulate the Minister of Health on the opportunity that has fallen to him of handling this second big portion of the housing problem. It is a peculiar coincidence that on the 7th and 8th April, 1919, exactly 11 years ago, the first post-War Housing Bill was brought in by the right hon. Member who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. I remember the occasion 2038 well, because history has repeated itself. On that occasion, as on this occasion, I spent a lot of time trying to catch the eye of your predecessor and with about the same success that I tried to catch your eye yesterday, Mr. Speaker. On the second day I got in at a time when the House was pleasantly quiet, just as I have done to-day. On that occasion many hopes were raised. It was thought that that Housing Bill of 1919 was going to cure the housing problem. It has not done so. There have been four Acts since. Those Acts have cured very largely the first half of the problem. They have resulted in the provision of new houses for what we may call the elite of the working classes, but they have not touched the really poor man, the class of people who live in the slums. Attempts were made by Bills in 1923, 1924, 1925 and 1926 to handle the slum problem as well as the question of providing houses for those who are able to pay something approaching an economic rent, but much progress has not been made, and the Minister's figures are eloquent on that fact.
Will this Bill provide the necessary impetus to put forward slum destruction and the taking of people out of the slums in a way which the other Bills have not done? The Minister yesterday mentioned three or four causes of the slow progress that has been made during the last 11 years. The complication of law and procedure is one of the causes, and he thinks that the Bill will do something in that respect. The local authorities have been taken up with the new housing problem, and that has been another cause of delay. In addition, the old fifty-fifty system has necessitated a good deal of control of the local authorities by the central authority, and that has been a contributory cause of delay. All these causes taken together do not represent a small percentage of the real root cause which has prevented a rapid dealing with the slum problem, and that is the cost of the clearances and the fact that the ordinary dweller in the slums is unable to pay an economic rent, or an economic rent even aided by the subsidy. That, again, is an element of cost.
I was a member of the London County Council for 12 years, and I remember that in 1904 it was suggested that we should deal with a big area in the East end of London. I was not on the coun- 2039 cil at the time, but I went there some years afterwards. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will remember the occasion because she was on the London County Council at the same time that I was a member. That slum clearance has been continuing on and off ever since, but when War broke out it was interfered with and the work is not yet finished. It has cost between £230,000 and £240,000 in clearance and about £135,000 in new buildings. The problem was of handling a slum in which 4,500 people lived, and this House put upon the local body the responsibility of housing 3,500 of these people on the site, which was all that could be housed on the site. As a matter of fact, the slum is not yet cleared nor is the work finished. I agree that so far as the question of delay is concerned circumstances existed then which do no longer exist, but I want to draw the attention of the House to the enormous and necessary cost of a matter of this kind. A sum of nearly £400,000 has been expended in handling quite a small area. The House can imagine that in dealing with an expenditure of that kind that time and delay are necessary. You cannot spend sums of that description in a hurry.
I want the House to consider how much the Bill is going to help to accelerate building, conditions being as I have described in regard to the enormous question of cost. Will the change from a fifty-fifty allowance on the part of the State under the old system to the new method, which I gather only means an increase to about 60 per cent. of the allowance on the part of the State, or 65 per cent. at the most, operate to accelerate the clearance of slums and the building of new houses? The question of the right hon. Member for Shettleston, as to how the building of new houses is to be obtained as between the conditions of this Bill and his Bill was very pertinent. It is difficult to reconcile the two Bills: and I hope we shall hear something from the Parliamentary Secretary when she deals with the matter. I think the Minister has made a mistake in not admitting the other element with which he deals in his Bill to a much greater share in the Bill itself. He has confined himself too much to clearance, and not given a fair share to what he describes as the improvement Clauses. He will not 2040 get anything like the rapid progress he desires from clearance alone, for the reasons I have indicated, and I do not think he should leave any source out of consideration which would enable him to accelerate the placing of slum dwellers in conditions which are better than they live in to-day.
Another point has already been mentioned by the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. wood). So long as the right hon. Gentleman does not tackle Clause 46 of the old Act fairly and sincerely his failure will result in great delays in regard to the clearance of slums. You cannot get a local authority to be an instrument of unfairness and injustice. I have seen it operate over and over again. I know of a case at the moment where a number of small dwellings and workshops and business premises, perfectly sound, are in the middle of what is undoubtedly a slum area, but the local authority will not handle that question. They know that if they do on the basis of this Bill they will inflict very severe injustice on many of their fellow citizens. The right hon. Gentleman has introduced into his Bill one little point which is all to the good. It is that which gives a local authority, if it cares, the option of giving something in respect of business goodwill. In doing that, the Minister of Health has given the whole case away. He is bound to go further. Having admitted that there may be an element of justice in a case of this kind he cannot stop there. It will do him no good, and no local authority is going to proceed in these cases by making a small ex gratia allowance for goodwill when you are going to take away his building and reduce the cost of the site, because it happens to be in an area of this description. The Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister of Health must realise that in Committee this matter will have to be dealt with.
I should like to point out the illogicality of the position of the Minister in this matter. If hon. Members will look at Schedule 3, Part 1, they will see that it provides for compensation on a low basis for clearance schemes. Part 2 of Schedule 3 provides—and this is something to be said in favour of the proposals—for a higher basis of compensation to be applied to improvement 2041 schemes. Why should a man who has a sound house or business premises under Part 2 receive the favourable consideration which Part 2 gives but if the same premises come under Part 1 be mulct in much more unfavourable conditions. The whole thing is illogical, and the Government will have to meet that point or the same delays will take place as have taken place in the past.
Then the Minister has failed to do himself justice by the way in which he is dealing with what he calls improvement areas. He was good enough to answer a question I put to him in the middle of his speech yesterday. I should like to carry that point a little further. The Bill admits that a slum may be of a character which does not demand clearance, but is a border-line case, which may be treated under the Clauses dealing with improvement schemes. That is an admission which I accept as likely to assist to a certain extent in the clearance of slums, and when I looked at Clauses 5 and 6 of the Bill, which purport to deal with this matter, I was at first under the impression that the Minister had made a move in the right direction. Looking into it a little more carefully I find that he has gone back and that the position he has taken up in these Clauses is an absolutely retrograde position.
Under the old Act it was possible, where an area was bad but not bad enough to be treated with the severity of a clearance area, for the local authority to obtain 50 per cent. of any loss brought about by carrying out the scheme from the central authority. That has entirely gone. It went partially when the two cases were decided to which the Minister referred yesterday, but the right hon. Gentleman has completed the destruction of any power of dealing with these areas by what has been described as reconditioning. He is repealing the Section in the Act of 1923 which permits a local authority to give assistance in a case of that kind, and so far as Clauses 5 and 6 are concerned all he does is to say that the local authority may insist upon an owner repairing any houses that need repair, or they may buy up such areas as are required for the purpose of opening up for giving light and air.
2042 What is the use of giving the local authority the right to buy up areas for the purpose of giving light and air and not giving them assistance to buy up the houses fronting these areas? I can take the Parliamentary Secretary to a, good many places where there are streets of houses; the front houses being in quite a decent condition and quite capable of being repaired and maintained, but where the back gardens have been filled with tenement dwellings of a very flimsy description blocking out light and air, and themselves creating a slum. This Bill gives the local authority the right to buy these tenements at the back for the purpose of pulling them down and giving light and air to the district, but it does not give the local authority power to purchase the frontage houses, which alone make it worth while to acquire the back-land and tenements for the purpose of giving light and air.
The result of these two Clauses and the unwillingness to give local authorities more assistance to carry out what the Minister describes as improvement schemes will tend to delay the clearance of slums and the re-housing of the people in the slums. There is a provision in the Bill by which the Minister takes power only to give assistance to local authorities who provide new houses. Nothing whatever is done to help those who undertake schemes under the improvement clauses of the Bill; and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister of Health will take into consideration the possibility of assisting these elements in the Bill. If they do not do so I am satisfied that they will not get the progress which they and the rest of the House desire.
§ 7.0 p.m
§ Dr. MARION PHILLIPS
Those hon. Members who have been dealing with the question of compensation may, I think, be left to the vote of this House. Nothing has given more hope to those who care about the question of slum clearance than the proposals in the Bill dealing with the subject of compensation. I want to say a word, and I will be extremely brief, on the slum problem as we known it in the North East area. In the North East of England we have a more severe problem of housing than perhaps in any other quarter. In prac- 2043 tically all the towns of Tyneside and Wearside overcrowding is. more than 30 per cent., and we have at the same time poverty and unemployment so great that to move the population from the one, two, and three-roomed tenements into decent houses is to-day a matter of the gravest difficulty. In Sunderland, which I know, of course, best, the Corporation has some 2,000 houses. It has a waiting list of 1,200 people, and the rents of these houses vary from an inclusive rent of 12s. a week to one of 19s. The number of rooms in the houses varies from three to five, and, although we have the shockingly low standard of the three-roomed house even in the case of corporation houses, the present inclusive rent is as high as 10s. even in the special re-housing scheme. In general, the rent is over 12s. In two small schemes of slum clearance the difficulties of getting the people to move to new houses has been extremely great, not because the people are satisfied with what they have, but because they cannot afford the new rent, and, for another reason, they have no furniture to put into the new houses. That is a difficulty which this Bill still leaves us to face, but, if we can have some improvement in the rentals, we have at least a beginning.
A great deal of stress is laid by some speakers on the fact that many men and women cling to their old homes in the slums, that they like to live there, and that nothing will persuade them to go to a new place. It is quite true that parochial patriotism exists but it is only among a very small number of people. Give them a chance of a rent that they can contemplate paying with anything like regularity, and you will have little trouble on the other points. I might give the particular experience of the town I represent on that point In one small clearance scheme the re-housing was to take place on an estata that was about one and a-half miles away, and the rents were just over 10s. The people were living in rooms, and the cost was from 2s. to 8s. to each of them. They would not move. Some of them got gradually shifted into surrounding rooms and people from there who were a little better off went on to the other place. Finally, the Corporation had to buy up an old building and turn it into tenements for 2044 those who remained and let them have them at cheap rents. Now, in a town where there is a housing short age to-day of something like 5,000 homes, where there are some 3,000 houses in the most desperate need of repairs to make them at all possible to live in, where there is a waiting list of 1,200 and where there have only been built 2,000 Wheatley and other houses, this Bill must be welcomed as a possible chance of salvation for a very great population that 1ms stood for several generations a very hard existence.
I am quite sure that, as far as the North East is concerned, for the other towns as well as for Sunderland, we can promise a very hearty welcome to the proposals for slum clearance and rebuilding on the lines the Government have laid down. I would add this one word. I very strongly agree with the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. E. D. Simon), who is so great an expert on these questions, that it is a very good thing to have left the local authorities discretion as to the way in which they arrange the differential rerts. But I hope the Minister of Health will have some suggestions to make, some proposals to put forward, worked out by a strong Committee that has a wide experience of these matters, for the smaller authorities who are not, like Manchester, so able to draw up their own schemes for themselves. At, the same time, they will need to give equally sound advice for cheaper building to some of these smaller authorities. Our building is costing us far too much. In comparison with other towns, it is too high, and we suggest that the Ministry of Health should not only go on and take further powers, which will be essential, in regard to building materials, but that it should lead the local authorities, with the help of the best among those authorities, towards the solution of this question of the best way of arranging the differential rents and the best way of getting this reduction in building cost. I am very glad to be able to welcome this Bill.
§ Sir ROBERT NEWMAN
I so seldom address this House that, although I cannot claim this to be a maiden speech, I almost feel that I can claim the indulgence of its Members. I only rise on this occasion because of the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman in moving the Second Reading of the Bill when he made 2045 a very direct reference to the appalling condition of housing in the City of Exeter, which I have the honour to represent in Parliament. I am not going to criticise the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, because I think they are quite justified. The conditions of some of the housing in Exeter is appalling. For that reason, ever since I have been a Member of this House, I have consistently supported every Minister who has brought forward a Housing Bill. I supported most consistently the Addison scheme, also the Wheatley scheme, the Chamberlain scheme, and now I hope to support the Greenwood scheme—always in the hope that something will be done to clear away the slums.
Unfortunately, Exeter is not the only place with a monopoly of bad slums. My experience of slums is simply this, that, when you are inspecting one slum, you think it is the worst in the country until you go to the next town, and then you change your mind. I know there are difficulties in getting over all these housing problems. In the very attractive maiden speech delivered last evening by an hon. Member, she said that one of her fears was the expert, the housing expert. I rather agree with her. They are very often people who know more and more about less and less. At the same time, these difficulties have to be faced.
I agree with the remarks uttered by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) yesterday, when he said that we have to face facts. As far as my knowledge of housing is concerned we shall have to face one fact and that is, that, if we are going to house decently people who are only earning very low wages, we have to keep out of our minds the way in which many of us have approached this question. We must not look at it merely from the point of view of pounds, shillings and pence, but from the point of view of the human being. In my own neighbourhood, there are a great many men earning on an average only 40s. or 50s. a week, and some of them even lower than that. How can they possibly pay 12s. a week for rent? Tt means practically a quarter of their earnings. I do not say that they do not pay it, but, if they do, it means that they must restrict their expenditure on their wives and families in a way that they 2046 ought not to be called upon to do. As long as we have at the back of our minds the fact that we must have a housing scheme which is going to prove economic from the point of view of pounds, shillings and pence, we shall be disappointed. I know you can bring forward a scheme that will build houses and pay an economic rent, but we must look at it from another point of view.
Although I hold no brief whatever for the owner of the slum property who extracts for it a high rent, yet at the same time there is somebody more to blame than he, and that is the community who have allowed the people to go on without any houses at all. It is no use blaming the slum owner, who says, "Here is a house; it is a bad house, but after all it is a house," when, whenever you bring up a scheme before the local council, the whole question is whether it will pay or not. Very often houses are erected, but at a rent that no working man on a low wage can pay.
In conclusion, we shall have to face this Bill and all other legislation with regard to housing by dismissing from our minds any idea that we are going, as far as the low-wage earners are concerned, to provide decent houses for them to live in which will at the same time prove to be a good financial investment. We have to remember an old saying but a very true one, that we most of us know the price of everything but we do not know its value. We know what it costs to build a house, but we do not always recognise the value of a good home. That is a thing which is difficult to value, but, in my opinion, the money we save in keeping up bad houses is false economy. We have to find the money in other ways, and it is better for the State to find a little more money for the decent housing of the people than to economise in that respect and to have to spend the taxpayers' money in sanitary, health or other services. There is also a higher consideration. This is something more than a physical question; it is a spiritual question, because, in these bad homes, in these wretched hovels, you not only sap the strength of the people, but you do what is almost worse, you drive the very soul out of the nation, and once a nation loses its soul it loses its most precious possession.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
We have had a very long, a very interesting, and, on the 2047 whole, a very encouraging Debate. The House has made it clear that it proposes to give a Second Reading without a Division to this Bill, and I can imagine nothing more encouraging to my right hon. Friend. We have had a long discussion, not too long, when we consider the importance of the subject which we have been discussing. The Debate has been ornamented by the maiden speeches of three Members. Two of them made their debut under particularly fortunate circumstances. It was not only that the House was pleased to hear them, but they had a better audience than the House, for each had listening to them the one person in all the world to whom their success was most precious.
This House in this long Debate has touched upon an enormous number of points. I will begin by taking some points—I will not say unimportant points but isolated points—not connected with the main structure of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) expressed the fear that paragraph 8 of the Financial Memorandum limited the amount. I assure the House that it does not limit the amount. There is nothing approaching an estimate in the Financial Resolution, because in this, as in all other Housing Bills, the amount depends on the success of the scheme. Where there is no estimate, the Treasury finds it convenient to take a unit, and this time they take a unit of 100,000 persons to show what the cost may be. They might as well have taken a unit of 10 or a unit of 1,000, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not have had the slightest objection if a unit of 1,000,000 had been taken for this purpose.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
My hopes are very large. I think they were right in choosing 100,000 as a convenient unit on which to calculate, for I hope that we shall be calculating on very large numbers indeed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) and other speakers raised the question of reconditioning. Their idea is that the local authority should take over bad property where it can be repaired, and recondition it and use it. 2048 We are definitely against that policy. The local authorities, as my right hon. Friend the Minister has remarked, have said that they have no desire to see that policy extended. The contention of hon. Members opposite is that where private ownership is making a bad thing out of property of this kind, public enterprise should take it over, but were private enterprise is doing well, then the local authorities should let it alone. Well, the defenders of private enterprise cannot have it both ways. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston is prepared to advance the theory that the State shoed take the rough with the smooth, and nationalise all building, and become the universal landlord, I should find the suggestion attractive, but the idea that the local authority is to take over:he thin part of the property while private enterprise is to keep the thick part of it is quite absurd. There are similarly factory owners on whom a very heavy obligation is placed—an obligation which it is difficult for the poorer of them to meet—and we deal mercilessly with the black sheep, and we do so with the full approval of the respectable men in the industry. Property has its duties as well as its rights; hut as long as a landlord keeps property he ought to keep that property in good order, and as a matter of fact he could do a little more for house property because the local authority may lend the landlord money for repairs. So much for reconditioning.
Two interesting questions were raised by the hon. Member for Withington. He asked what was the meaning of an improvement area, and he asked whether Manchester, for example, could make the whole of Manchester an improvement area? The answer is that that is just what we do not want. We do not want a local authority to make an improvement area so vast in extent that they will not deal with it in a reasonable time. We desire that they shall take, first one improvement area, and then another, that they shall clean up one area, and then go on to others. We do not want them to go over the whole town picking out which properties they will repair, because, if local authorities do that they will pick out the best tenants. We want them to take a whole improvement area 2049 and deal with that area in the best way, and rehouse the people whom they displace in the process of cleaning that area. We desire that the local authorities, in dealing with the crowded areas of which the hon. Member spoke, should take, first this piece and then that piece, and deal with each piece and pass on to the next. The hon. Member also spoke of the high prices of houses in Manchester. I should be the last person to wish, and I am sure no one would wish, to coerce so great a city as Manchester, but we hold up before it the example of the cheaper house. In round figures, the cost of a house in Manchester, all in, is £500 instead of £400; but it looks to me that in re-housing its slum tenants, Manchester will find that it must either reduce the cost, or pay more from the rates. As to which course is taken, that is really a city problem for Manchester to meet.
In regard to the question of subsidy, there, the hon. Member for Withington has anticipated me. We have had trotted out in this Debate the old worn-out stalking-horse of an argument that subsidies increase prices—a statement which we have heard over and over again in these Debates without the faintest shadow of evidence to support it. I have pointed out to the House, until I am weary of doing so, that the Addison houses went down in cost before the subsidy was taken off, and I have pointed out, when we talk about prices in the case of Scottish and English houses, that both went down together. But I have an even more interesting conundrum than that to put to hon. Gentlemen opposite. We took the subsidy off private enterprise houses altogether in September last, and we left the public enterprise houses with a subsidy of 馣7 10s. If there was anything in this argument about the subsidy, the cost of private enterprise houses should have rushed down, and public enterprise houses, under the baleful influence of the subsidy, should have remained high in cost. Not a bit of it. The two sets of houses have remained at the same price, and as nearly as possible steady; and about half of the houses were houses built with subsidy. No, hon. Members opposite must look at proved facts in these matters, and, in regard to the question of houses, demand governs price. If you force up the demand, either the de- 2050 mind of the public or the demand of the local authorities, beyond what the trade will bear at any moment, undoubtedly you will get fancy prices.
The question of what the trade can bear was a great question debated in connection with the Wheatley Act of 1924, and many were the prophets who told my right hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) that he had altogether overestimated the capacity of the trade to build and that he could never get his programme of houses. The chief of the tribe of Balaam on that occasion is no longer with us. He has gone to another and a higher place in this building, but the House will remember how he explained that those proposals would be beyond the capacity of the trade. Yet the trade found itself able to furnish a vast number of houses. These were by no means all houses to let, but were houses for middle-class people. One remembers how during the last Election or the Election preceding that, the walls were placarded with triumphant announcements to the effect that "800,000 houses have been supplied under a Conservative Government." We objected then, because the implication was that those were houses for workers, but that figure was perfectly justified as an estimate of what the trade could do.
What the trade has done it will not be called upon to do again, but it is all the same to the trade whether they build 10–roomed houses or three-roomed houses, and what has happened in these past years is that the demand for houses, of what we call the middle-class type—I will not say has reached saturation point, but is within reach of saturation point. Those great towns like Hendon and Mitcham which we have seen develop have been built for people above the status of the weekly wage-earner, but the end of that occupation for the building trade is in sight. It is coming to an end, and, unless we supply that trade with some other occupation, unless we turn the energies of the trade on to new houses we may find, in two or three years, as much unemployment in the building trade as in any other trade in the country. They have increased their personnel to meet the demand, and in this Bill we are substituting a demand for little houses in place of the demand for larger houses, that demand being nearly satisfied. If that be so, we have no cause to fear pro- 2051 fiteering. There is the further question of notice, and this is of the essence of the bargain, because the trade is extremely elastic if sufficient notice is given. Therefore, we ask the urban authorities for a five years' programme. If it were the duty of my right hon. Friend the Minister to say, "Go slow "; if every local authority were inclined to overbuild, then we could warn the trade and we could, if necessary, though I do not think it will be necessary, rather moderate the activities of the local authorities.
One of the main questions on which this Debate is turned has been that of compensation. A great many speakers have dealt with this question, and I begin my remarks upon it by dealing with one objection which is subsidiary to the main question. It is said that local authorities have sometimes acquired slum property, giving the owners site value for it, and have kept the property and pocketed the rents. There are two cases to be considered in that connection. There is one case where it is necessary and legitimate to do so. That is the case where a local authority purchases a big slum property which is very much crowded, and performs the operation known as "decanting"—clearing a corner of it and building tenements or houses, and then going on with the clearance. In that case, it may be quite necessary to keep the slum property occupied until the operation can be finished.
There is another case. After the War local authorities were extraordinarily hopeful about housing, and about the clearance of slums, and schemes were undertaken. Then, owing to circumstances which arose, they went slow with their slum schemes and those who were my colleagues on the. London County Council know what inevitably happened for several years after the money crisis. Those circumstances are not likely to occur again, but we have inserted provisos in the Bill, to ensure that purchase, clearance and rehousing shall go hand in hand. They will not go too fast if they are kept to the conditions in the Bill
I come to the question of the landlords who are to be dispossessed. People talk as if there were or would be two classes of property geographically included in what we call slums. It is not true. There are three classes which are distinct by 2052 statute. There are first the houses which are only fit to be pulled down. There are secondly houses which by their situation, being crowded together, are injurious to health. These two conditions are set out in Clause 1 of the Bill. Thirdly, if you go through any district, you will see in it patches of good property which is neither bad in itself nor is the cause of danver to the inhabitants near by. Thme are the properties which on a plan are called blue property, and the others are called pink. Under the existing w the pink properties, the owners of houses which are bad in themselves or which by their crowded arrangements are dangerous, are given site value only: the others are given market value. There is a deduction from site value in certain circumstances, but broadly the two first classes get site value and the others market value.
Nothing in all that is changed in the Bill. The right hon. Member for Edgbaston was in error when he said that if you had a slum area, you would be bound to pull down churches, shops, halls, and perfectly good buildings, and I think the error arose from the slight change of description in this Bill, and from a misunderstanding—I can give it no other name, and it surmised me more than I can say—of the term "area." People visualise an area as something hound by four boundaries, east, north. south, and west, and think that everything within that area is in the clearance area. It is not so. In such a case the good property, the property not injurious to health in any way, would not be within the area at all; it would be, in the language of Clause 3, "land which is surrounded by the clearance area." If you look at Clause 3, you will see that power is given to purchase land surrounded by a clearance area, just as it is given to purchase land adjoining a clearance area. The idea that there could be a block of perfectly good property not injurious to health in that area is negatived by the words of Clause 1, which says "the dwelling-house, in that area." This does not mean some of the houses in the area, it means al the houses in the area have got to be either bad in themselves or injurious by reason of their crowded condition. Others are outside the clearance area. 2053 I want to point out what happens in practice and how meticulous the Minister is in picking out every spot of property in a slum for which market value can be paid. I have here the Eugene Street scheme of the City of Bristoi. It was a pretty bad slum. The council's chief housing inspector said that even if every house were put into a sanitary condition, the area would still be unhealthy, and the town clerk said that the condition of the property was appalling. The Minister picked out four patches in the middle of that slum, of houses which were neither bad in themselves nor injurious to their surroundings, and market value was paid. I do not think anybody would want to see a worse slum than Hickman's Folly. The houses were all worn out and insanitary, the arrangements defective, the streets narrow, the external ventilation defective, the foundations were saturated with water, and so on. I need not give all the disgusting details. But when the Minister came to look at it, he picked out in the middle of that slum, one of the worst that I know, seven houses for market value.
Here I have a little list of what the Minister has done in a number of slum districts. I am giving this to show that the blue patches are picked out now; and indeed the local authorities complain that we are too generous. In Ossulton Street there are 312 properties submitted for site value and 12 for market value: the Minister made 59 site value properties market value properties. Here is another London area. Out of 260 properties, the Minister picks out 45 to have full market value. Here is a Ramsgate scheme, with 87 properties scheduled as site value by the local authorities, and the Minister makes 22 of them market value properties. Here is Wakefield, with 162 properties scheduled as site value by the local authority, and the Minister makes them, pay market value for 34. Wallasey, with 101 scheduled by the local authority, had 17 carefully picked out by the Minister.
Perfectly sound property gets market value; for property which is in itself unfit for human habitation, nobody would give more than site value. There remain the houses which by reason of their bad environment, bad arrangement of streets, and so on, are injurious to health. That is what the battle centres 2054 round. What the property owners are asking is that you should take every house in a crowded court and say that if this house were removed into an open field, it would be worth patching, and you have to pay compensation on that hypothetical basis. Every such collection of houses injurious to health consists of properties so crowded together as to injure the health of the inhabitants, properties which collectively are in the nature of a public nuisance and which, because they are a public nuisance, are collectively yielding far more profits than anyone ought to have. They are yielding a good deal. We have a little green book circulated in the House with a preface by the Bishop of London, which gives a rent of £18s. a week for a house with six rooms and two basements. He gives other rents, and anyone can parellel the sort of rents paid for slum property, and those rents are increasing with the increasing house-hunger of the inhabitants and with the escape of houses from the Rent Restrictions Act.
This case was before Parliament in 1919, and Parliament, with no dissentient, but with one or two proposed amendments, turned that down. Parliament said unanimously that under conditions which increased mortality and so on the owners were lucky if they got site value. Some think now that those people are lucky enough if they are not called upon to make restitution of their illicit profits. That was in 1919. Hon. Members may think that dates are irrelevant, but they are not irrelevant when you are dealing with real property. Parliament in 1919 depreciated the value of every bit of property of that nature. Since then there has been a great deal of buying and selling. Sellers have sold at a disadvantage, and in the case of properties inherited, the heirs have received damaged goods.
It is urged by two or three Members that under the law as it stands the local authorities are deterred from purchasing slum property. We have spoken a good deal of the slowness of slum clearaniee, but it is 10 times as fast as it was before the Act of 1919 was passed. There were confirmed, from 1922 to 1927 inclusive, 138 schemes. I know the rate of progress has been slow, but they were confirmed, and in the seven years immediately preceding the War there were only 13 2055 schemes confirmed. The rate of progress since that Act has been passed has been 10 times as fast. But let us see what the local authorities themselves have to say on the question. There was held in November, 1929, a conference by the Association of Municipal Corporations on housing and slum clearance. It was a very important conference indeed, so important that the right hon. Member for Edgbaston was in the chair. A great number of local authorities considered a report of their housing committee. They dealt with the difficulties of slum clearance, they said that the slowness of procedure made it very difficult for them, and they said—and this will surprise no one who knows local authorities—that they wanted more money to be spent. We are giving them that, and giving it to their satisfaction. They went on to this question of compensation, and the clauses I am going to read were unanimously accepted. Everyone who wants to approach this question seriously should ponder what these local authorities said, which was:We have considered the question (of compensation) further, particularly in the light of the criticism that the Section works harshly towards the owners of the property concerned. On this point we cannot but recall that the property has been condemned because the conditions existing in the area, and being due to the state of the property itself, are injurious to health. It must also be noted that since the present terms of compensation were embodied in the Statute the reduced value thereby placed on insanitary areas has become well known, and transfers of property have taken place on that basis of value. To alter that basis now would add a very large sum—a gift from the public—to the now recognised value of slum property. We think it not unimportant to add that we know of no modification that can be devised in the terms of Section 46 in favour of the property owner that would not add a considerable and unfair burden upon the community.That is what they say. On the main question, if these people who are doing the job said they were deterred from making improvements, it would mean that our work would not go on. We should take their opinion as valuable evidence, but not a word, not a hint, not a murmur of warning to the Minister to stand fast. Amateur spokesmen for local authorities may say they are deterred, hut the local authorities are made of much sterner stuff than that. They are 2056 not deterred by this. They say so. What they are deterred by is the difficulty of administration, slowness of procedure, and want of money.
I pass to what is, after all, the heart and kernel of the Bill, the question of the subsidy per person and the differential rents. It is the really I hopeful part of the Bill. People have asked in the course of this Debate, why a subsidy per person? Now the Wheatley Net has fulfilled all the hopes of the promoters. It has produced a programme of houses, and up to the expectation of its author, and its usefulness continues We want to leave the Wheatley Act untouched, and we shall use all the very considerable powers which the Statute gives us to induce the local authorities to make full use of it. The Wheatley houses, and the Wheatley Act have been a success.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
The progress of the clearance of the slum areas has not been at all comparable to the progress of the Wheatley houses. The reason why, in the first place, we give a subsidy per person is to link up the rehousing of the displaced with the destruction of bad property. You do nothing whatever for a slum dweller if you merely destroy the slum, and you do not do very much for him if you simply do nothing but build houses. If we go wrong in this matter, we can waste in a most pitiful way an enormous amount of public money without benefit to a human creature. I alluded to that little green pamphlet of the Paddington Housing Association. In that are given heart-rending particulars of one area, the Clarendon Street area. How did it get into that condition? I am old enough to know that. Clarendon Street used to be a decent street of middle-class houses. The local authority had a large clearance in the neighbourhood. They got rid of a very well-known rookery, and they did not care twopence what happened to the people. The people went out in bodies and emigrated into Clarendon Street and the neighbourhood, and, when the local authority had finished the clearance, they had only shifted the site of the slum Unless you have replacement and clearance together, you have done nothing. We say that clearance is to be bound up with rehous- 2057 ing, and it must be rehousing available for the person at a rent according to the person's capabilities. You displace so many persons, and, as you have to provide accommodation for them, you get a subsidy per person. I now am conscious that I am repeating to a great extent what the hon. Member for Withington said.
Who are the people in the slums? They are all very unfortunate people indeed, but their misfortunes are of very different kinds. At one end are the people with good steady wages and small families, who are in the slums because they have nowhere else to go. These are the people whom I know in London and Greater London, and who write to me weekly imploring me to use what they call my influence with the London County Council to get them of the council houses. They do not ask for lower rent. They ask me to get them on the council's waiting list, and to use what influence they suppose a Minister has in pushing their claim.
At the other end are the very poor people with very large families. There was a famous case in Poplar, when everybody threw up their hands in the last Parliament because the Poplar Board of Guardians had given a man and his Family more relief than a man would had earned in full wages. The reason given was that he was a docker with 11 children. What earthly good is a house at a Wheatley rent to a dock labourer with 11 children? What are you going to do with him? Any sort of flat subsidy we can pay per house or per person which would cover that case of desperate need, would be wildly and absolutely extravagant in dealing with a man at the other end who is quite able to pay the ordinary assisted rent. There is not any way out of it except by differential rents.
What we say in this Bill is this, and I want to explain it once more because there has been some misunderstanding. If a local authority displaces 500 people, and builds 100 houses, let us see how it will work. We shall give the authority £1,125 a year for 40 years They will have to subscribe from the rates at least the equivalent of £375 per house for 40 years. This on a 60 years basis is £1,340 a year. The annual cost of the estate, let us say, the management and everything 2058 else, is £2,800. You deduct £1,340 from the £2,800, and that leaves £1,460, which is the rent which the local authorities will get from the 100 houses. What rent is each tenant going to pay? Exactly what the local authority choose to fix within that limit. They can, and I think that they generally will, make a rent abatement for children, and, as the hon. Member for Withington says, a rent abatement for children answers all the absurd questions as to what happens when the children grow up. As the children grow up, the rent abatement will drop. They can also make an abatement for pure poverty if they will, and people say, what will happen when people become richer? The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Cameron) answered that. He said, what about the Income Tax abatements? You get abatements for Income Tax if you are poor, and if you have children, and, as your children grow up, or if you become rich, the Income Tax abatements stop. So can the rent abatements stop.
I come to the point dealt with by the right hon. Member for Shettleston. These houses are not subject to maximum or minimum standards, and slum replacement houses never have been subject to the conditions of the 1923 Act. There has never been any maximum or minimum standard for houses for replacement of slum areas. Under the Bill, you can have for the distressful man with 11 children a larger and bigger house than usual at a lower rent than usual, and you can deal in that way with every other class of tenant. I want to say a word as to the reason why we did not put children's allowances directly in the Statute. It is difficult to put it into the Statute, because not only the number, but the age and the sex of the children may be different. The children are not the only people living in the slums. There are a great many children living there, but in some of the very worst areas there are very few children. I am afraid that I connect that with another deplorable fact, that in the slums it is very likely that there are not so many children living because so many have died. Who lives in these places besides children? Take the lone person; take the widow or the spinster, keeping herself either with a pension or without. What does the local authority do for her? The Wheatley house would be no good for her if she got it. What 2059 she wants is a bed-sittingroom and a scullery. There is nothing to prevent the widow and lone person under this Bill getting a bed-sittingroom, and the modest accommodation she wants with assistance for her rent as much as is necessary.
The accommodation of people from the slums is not a simple task. The local authorities are the people who will get into touch with it, and they will see the difficulties and know them far better than we can do. We are asking the local authorities for programmes, and we are giving them a great deal of money. I will give the capital annuity values of the various subsidies. The capital value over 40 years of the Chamberlain subsidy is £70; the Wheatley subsidy £124; the first Greenwood subsidy £195, counting five persons to a house; rural areas subsidy £215; and the highest subsidy £301. That is a great deal of money. For the rest, we rely on the schemes of the local authorities and the Minister's approval of the houses. In return for the money we ask for programmes, and we have great powers of enforcement.
I ask Members to look away from the objections to details to the main part of the Bill. We have had during this Debate heartrending accounts of our slums. We have not up to now done anything worth mentioning for the people in overcrowded districts. We need a new line of attack. We need a new principle. We are giving more money, and we are sweeping away grievances. The kernel and heart of the Bill is the subsidy per person and the differential rents. We are allowing local authorities to consider human needs. We are writing on the Statute Book of England the good old Socialist doctrine of each according to his needs. It is a hopeful departure, and I have great pleasure in being allowed to take part in it.