HC Deb 08 July 1930 vol 241 cc362-85

Amendments made: In page 62, column 3, line 22, leave out the word "and."

In column 3, line 22, at the end, insert the words "and one hundred and twenty-eight."—[Miss Lawrence.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."


One observation to be made in connection with the Third Reading is that the Government can make no complaint about the progress of this Bill. In the Committee stage no less than 61 Clauses have been passed since 1st May, and from information which has been given to me I know that on certain occasions the Minister has had to thank members of this party and of the Liberal party for forming a quorum in order that the proceedings might be carried on. Therefore, I hope to hear on no future occasion, as we have heard in the past, that any obstacle has been placed in the way of this Bill. Whatever its success or failure may be, that, of course, is no concern of either of the Opposition parties. Whatever the progress may be, I think that the right hon. Gentleman will have to face considerable difficulties, especially in the immediate future, owing to his own delay in the introduction of the Measure. It was not introduced until 27th March, and the Second Reading was not taken until 7th April, many months after the Government took office, and as a result there is little prospect of any mitigation of unemployment in the building industry this year. Had the Government had their proposals ready, or made a better arrangement of their business, there would have been a much better prospect of relieving unemployment and of making progress—if there is any to be made under this Bill.

I do not think anyone will deny that there is a necessity for steps to be taken by the Government to deal with the housing situation generally, when we know that there are some 100,000 building operatives walking the streets, which is 32,000 more than there were a year ago. So far as the Conservative Opposition are concerned, the Government can have this Bill; we shall not divide on the Third Reading, but I do not think there are many hon. Members who will be satisfied with the Bill. I think it will only be members of the Treasury Bench who will be able to express any real satisfaction. I notice already that many supporters of the Government, so far from accepting the Government's policy in connection with this Measure, are saying that the Slum Clearance Bill will not build houses in any large numbers, and they are demanding—I do not know what happened to their demands at their meeting to-day—that a housing board should be immediately set up by Parliament, and with the widest powers.


What is the right hon. Member's authority for that statement?


I will readily give my authority. The hon. Gentleman who proposed that is taking a very active part in regard to unemployment. I refer to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan). He had an article in a newspaper this week, saying that one of his proposals was the very one that I have mentioned. Let there be no mistake about that. The Minister of Health will no doubt deal with his own supporters. So far as this Bill is concerned, both the Conservative and Liberal Oppositions have done their best to improve it. We have prevented areas being allowed to continue derelict, and they are not to be built upon except subject to proper restrictions and conditions. We have also in a very important connection strengthened the provision that local authorities must be satisfied with the accommodation that is available when these clearances are made.

The real success or failure of this Bill will depend, as many other Housing Bills before it have depended, upon its financial provisions, and whether the granting of more and more subsidies will achieve what the Government desire. The right hon. Gentleman must have largely altered his own opinion on the value of subsidies. Only a year ago he was prophesying that if my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) took away the subsidy under the Act of 1923, house building would cease.


indicated dissent.


The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head.


He cannot shake yours.


Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman of what he said. He said that my right hon. Friend in abolishing the subsidy under the Act of 1923 was actually murdering his own child. Yet we were told in a debate of a week ago that, although the 1923 subsidy was abolished, private enterprise continues to build houses, without subsidy, at almost exactly the same rate as it had been doing with the subsidy. Those are the words of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. The question to which I would address myself, and it is the vital question in connection with this Bill, is, will the increased subsidy which is being given in the Bill bring about houses at lower rents for the poorer paid members of the community The increased subsidy is really the only proposal, and it is what one would expect from a Socialist Government, because all their solutions in the end finish with the question as to whether or not money will solve the problem.

I would remind the House that this Bill is designed only to deal with the slum dwellers. The Minister of Health is making no proposal in relation to the Wheatley Act. Therefore the proposal that we are considering to-night is one to deal with a certain section of the community. So far as the larger body of poorly paid workers are concerned they have to rest, as the right hon. Gentleman repeatedly stated in the Committee stage, on the 1924 subsidy. We know that so far as they are concerned, notwithstanding the increased subsidy given under the Wheatley Act, the rents of the Wheatley houses are no lower than the rents of the Chamberlain houses, for which a smaller subsidy was given. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] If any hon. Member challenges that statement, I would advise him to address a question to the Minister of Health on the subject next week. Taking the average of houses up and down the country, the rents of the Wheatley houses, notwithstanding the larger subsidy, are no less than the rents of the Chamberlain houses, with a less subsidy. Therefore, so far as the great mass of the poorer paid workers are concerned, hon. Members opposite have to face this position, that the Government during the past 12 months have done nothing for them, and the right hon. Gentleman has no proposition in relation to them so far as the future is concerned. Hon. Members may say to me that there is this Bill, which is designed to produce houses at such rents as the poorer paid members of the community can afford to pay.

I say, with deliberation, that the whole of these proposals depend upon whether or not the cost of houses remain at the present price. If, as has always been the experience before whenever an increased subsidy has been brought in, the price of houses rises, we will say by £50, the whole advantage of this Bill will disappear so far as the poorer paid workers are concerned. Hon. Members opposite have repeatedly admitted that. They have said that in connection with all their proposals. They said in their election manifesto that an increased subsidy should always be accompanied by provisions against profiteering. It is an amazing thing that we find no Clause in this Bill which in any way follows up the undertaking which was given by the Labour party at the election that they would not only deal with profiteering in food but with profiteering in building materials. This Bill comes forward with a proposal for an increased subsidy but not accompanied by what the Labour party has always said was necessary, namely, provision against profiteering.


Would you support such a Bill?


Do not ask silly questions. Supporters of the Government think that they can ride off by asking whether the Opposition would support a hypothetical Measure which the Government have no intention of introducing. That is obviously an impossible position. There is a very great danger in the suggestion which the Minister for Health has again enunciated this afternoon that he is going to introduce for the first time in this country what may be called differential rents. He suggests, and so has the Parliamentary Secretary on many occasions, the proposition that there will be one class of the community occupying exactly the same type of house, and paying a different rent, to another section. It is placing a most unfair burden upon the local authorities. I know what it would mean in the end, if it were possible and capable of being carried out, which I do not think it will be. The local authorities would have to adopt a test, which I have always undertood hon. Members opposite strenuously resisted. Local authorities would have to inquire into the means of the occupants of each house.

If you are going to have differential rents, and going to permit people to pay lower rents than others for similar houses, you are bound, if you want to be fair and endeavour to meet the most difficult claim on equitable lines, to adopt the method of asking local authorities to inquire into the circumstances of those people. That is putting a burden upon local authorities which was resisted again and again under the widows' pensions scheme, and has been resisted very successfully in regard to the maintenance scheme in the Education Bill. I do not think you will find many local authorities prepared to adopt that very distasteful method. In the end, the local authorities will take the easy course, and they generally reduce, to the extent that the subsidy gives them, the rents of all classes of houses.


Hear, hear.


The hon. Gentleman who comes from a naval portion of the country is an optimist; otherwise, I am sure he would not cheer. If you, in fact, used that subsidy in the reduction of rents, it would be a paltry reduction of the very smallest order indeed. You have only to make a small calculation to see that that would be so.


Would it be a reduction?


You have only to apply it to a town like Plymouth to find out, what the increased subsidy would give to Plymouth and to apply the principle of giving the benefit of that subsidy over the whole of the houses and tenants of Plymouth, to come to the conclusion that, provided the cost of building did not go up, the advantage to tenants could be reckoned in pennies, twopences or threepences. Is that all this Bill means? Is that the only result after many months of consideration that the Labour party brings to the people of this country? Is that all they promised? The hon. Gentleman can observe my words, and the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston, who has had as much experience as any Member of this House. They can recall our words later on. I am not surprised that this Bill has been received practically without enthusiasm. It shows a sort of half-heartedness in dealing with the problem.

10.0 p.m.

We regret that it was not possible this afternoon to discuss the question of compensation under Clause 46. I wanted to say on that question that this Bill, apart altogether from the question of landlords and people who are owners of property, hits the small shopkeepers, who are put into a most unfair and unjust position. At the present time, under the right hon. Gentleman's proposals, unless they are amended in another place, the local authorities can deal with the small shop keeper exactly as they think fit. He has no right to go to the local authorities and say, "I am not going to be disturbed from the business that I have built up," when it is going to be taken from him. He is left under the right hon. Gentleman's proposals entirely in the hands of the local authorities. If they like, they can give him a gift or a tip or a dole, or whatever you like to call it. They may not do so. That is the most unfair position in which to place the small shopkeeper of the country. In very many cases he has put a good deal of his lifework and endeavour into the business with which he is concerned. I regret very much indeed that his case has been left out of consideration.

The man who owns property in a clearance area, who himself has done nothing wrong and has undertaken all that the local authority has required him to do in his house, but whose house is condemned because of the bad arrangements of the streets and matters of that kind is also put in an unfair position under these proposals. I would not for a moment defend a man who was making a profit, out of disgraceful and discreditable property. But the man who has kept his property in decent repair and obeyed all the orders of the local authority, and whose property is condemned entirely owing to the circumstances I have mentioned, is in a different category, and I had hoped, would be put in a different legal position altogether, to that of the bad slum owner. I say that that is a great blot on the Bill both with regard to the shopkeeper and the owner.

It is very difficult for me to understand why these proposals have taken nearly a year to be designed and prepared. I venture to suggest, and I think I should have the agreement of most Members of the House on all sides, that they honestly show little originality or foresight and few people expect them to accomplish much. A small number of houses may be built, as a consequence of it, but, like the unemployed, the slum dweller has received mere promises rather than performance from this Government, and the Bill is likely to make little or no impression upon the national housing situation.


We have had from the right hon. Gentleman a typical speech, amusing and irrelevant, with echoes and re-echoes of speeches that I seem to have heard in the dim and distant past, echoes indeed of his leader. I venture to say that some of his statements are in direct conflict with what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) said this afternoon. I regret that in the interests of Conservative unity the right hon. Gentleman was not here to hear the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) who has devoted so much time to a terrific attack upon the principle of differential rents which the right hon. Gentleman for Edgbaston urged us was essential to deal with this problem in a, satisfactory manner. It is not for me to heal the breaches in the ranks of the Opposition, and I prefer to deal with what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the Bill and about the general housing situation. If I felt about this Bill as the right hon. Gentleman says he feels, I should go into the Lobby against it. He has told us that this Bill is going to do nothing, or next to nothing, and that it is going to make the situation even worse than it is at the present moment. We have been told that we have adopted a mistaken line of policy, that it is not original, and that there is nothing in it. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich were the statesman we hope he is, he would divide against this Bill. It is rather significant that on the Second Reading of the Bill, and on the Financial Resolution, nobody dared to go into the Lobby against this Measure.

We have just heard the right hon. Gentleman say that he does not propose to divide against the Third Reading. Am I to understand that it is the policy of the Conservative party to support Measures like this which they say are no use, or is it that the right hon. Gentle- man in his heart knows that this is a good Bill, but he dare not mention that fact. The right hon. Gentleman has complained about the delay in the introduction of this Bill. What constructive proposal was put forward during 4½ years of the late Government's tenure of office to deal with-the problem of housing? How did the late Government grapple with the problem of the slums By leaving it alone. The late Government made two attempts to assist at the solution of this problem, one by reducing the housing subsidy, and the other by a proposal to recondition rural cottages. Under that policy, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston has admitted, there has not been a conspicuous success. Under these circumstances it is not for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich to turn round and complain that I have taken seven months to frame a Measure, when for 4½ years this problem remained without a single proposal emanating from the ranks of the Government which enjoyed a stupendous majority, a majority which they did not understand how to use.

We have been told by the right hon. Gentleman that my hon. Friends on this side of the House are not satisfied with this Bill. I welcome the interest taken by the right hon. Gentleman opposite in the affairs of our party, and I can assure him that his interest is so recent and his ignorance so abyssmal, that on this matter he happens to be wrong. I do not want to go into the question of subsidies, because the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's speech is that no public money should be spent on slum clearances at all. Is that the attitude that Members of the Conservative party are taking up? If that be so, if they feel in their bones that the expenditure of public money upon housing is a mistake and raises prices and indirectly raises rents, it is their duty to divide against proposals to spend public money for that purpose.

There has been no Minister of Health since the War who has not realised that one element in the solution of this problem was the provision of public money. It may be true that the subsidy to private builders has exhausted its usefulness. I will take the right hon. Gentleman's word for that, because he knows more about it than I do. All that has happened has proved that the subsidy given to the private builder was a waste of public money, because building by private enterprise has taken place on the same scale since the subsidy came to an end. Far be it from me to assist in unnecessarily maintaining higher prices and profits for the private builder.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich uttered a final wail about compensation. I thought we might have had a, good deal more opposition from hon. Members opposite on the question of compensation for the slum landlords, but that opposition has not been real, and hon. Members have never dared to challenge the principle of the Act of 1919. I know they would have liked to have done, but they have not done so. If the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that more public money should be devoted to the payment of compensation to slum landlords, what becomes of his theory that the expenditure of public money for this purpose is wrong? The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. It is undoubtedly true to-day that any additional expenditure of money on the payment of compensation would be a waste of our public resources. I am glad to think that, although we have had during the course of the debates on this Bill improvements made in minor particulars, the principle of the Bill still remains, and we have not given away the principle accepted in 1919 by the party opposite. We have not departed from the principle accepted by all parties 11 years ago.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich said that there is no proposal in this Measure to deal with the Wheatley Act. Why should there be? The Wheatley Act is still on the Statute Book, and the existing subsidy would have been reduced last October but for the change of Government. That Act still continues in force. That was not the problem with which we have to deal. We are dealing with a new problem. Some six years ago the Housing Bill of 1924 was passed through this House. I remember the promises which were made then about that Bill by those who are sitting on the benches opposite. I remember the present Lord Brentford saying that that Bill would never produce a, single house, but it has produced over 260,000 houses owned by public authori- ties,and let at reasonable rents to the citizens who come under those local authorities.


What rents?


They are the lowest rents in our city.


May I say that I was privileged to be connected with the Act of 1924. It is a magnificent memorial to a short lived Government, and a magnificent memorial to one who has departed this life since the present Bill was introduced. It is a Bill which has provided houses to let, which is continuing to provide houses to let, and which still has a great future before it.

That did not complete the problem. This is not an alternative to the Act of 1924; it is complementary to the Act of 1924. It is to deal specifically now with a problem which hitherto we have ignored, a problem which cannot be dealt with merely by putting up more houses, but which can only be dealt with by the double policy of the destruction and reform of the areas on the one hand, and new building on the other; and the two things have to be linked together. I can imagine new building going on and still the foulest of our slums remaining in existence, and it seems to me essential, at the stage at which we have arrived, that we should make a deliberate and definite attempt at the demolition of these areas parallel with rebuilding for the people who have been displaced. That we are providing under this Bill.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich, while willing to wound, is afraid to strike. He is not prepared to vote against the Bill, but he does not think that it is very much good. Let me tell him that, so far as I know, with possibly two exceptions, all the persons in this country who call themselves housing reformers, and all the people with experience in local government disagree, with the right hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) may be one of the two. I am not so sure that he and the right hon. Gentleman see eye to eye, but it is not for me to resolve their difficulties. The point is that, speaking generally, people interested in housing in this country—bodies like the National Housing and Town Planning Council, the large local authorities in this country, the organisations of local authorities in this country—have welcomed this Bill. I say that they have as much interest in this problem as anybody in this House, and I say that they are in as good a position to judge of the value of this Bill as anybody in this House; and few criticisms in principle have come from them. I have welcomed all the critioisms that have come from them, but in almost every case such criticisms as there have been have been criticisms of detail and not of principle. It is because of that general body of disinterested public opinion outside this House which is favourable to the Bill that I believe that the Bill has a good deal rosier future than hon. Members opposite care to think is likely to be the case.

It is easier to build new houses on prairie land than it is to carry out the double duty of building new houses and destroying the hovels that exist to-day. Therefore, although I will do what I can to promote activity under the Wheatley Act, I am not going to pretend that the slums which have been in the making for 400 years are going to be destroyed in four months. I do say, however, that in this Bill we have the first comprehensive Measure designed to deal with this problem in a new and more effective way. I believe that the local authorities mean to work the Bill to the fullest extent. I hope that they will. I would appeal to them, because this is a problem that concerns the whole of our people, to make the maximum use of the Measure which, with me, they helped to work out: but I would also appeal, beyond them, to the intelligent public of this country. I am bound to admit that all local authorities are not progressive bodies. I am bound to admit that local authorities, like political parties, are not all equally good, or are not all equally bad; but behind the local authorities, who have, or I hope shortly will have, these new powers, lies a developing public opinion which is unhappy at the thought that a substantial proportion of our people are living under conditions which we could not defend before any human tribunal. It is to them that we have a right to appeal beyond Parliament and beyond the local authorities.

I think all of us in all parties ought to appeal to public opinion to make this Bill, in which all parties have co-operated, a real success. I have no personal feeling in this matter. I do not mind by whose name the Bill is called, but I care profoundly that Parliament in 1930, having realised more completely and clearly than ever before the seriousness of this problem, should put on the Statute Book legislation which they can whole-heartedly ask the people of the country to support. I am not saying it is a perfect Bill. No perfect Measure ever emanated from human institutions, and I have seen so many bad Bills that I should hardly believe it if I saw a perfect one. But it is at least an honest attempt to deal with a serious problem. I believe all parties in the House recognise it as such, and I believe those who are interested in housing outside the House recognise it as such and I, therefore, with confidence call on Members inside the House and the public outside, when the Bill is on the Statute Book, to make it the success which the seriousness of the problem demands for, unless we deal with those people who are housed in the worst conditions, we shall still have a canker at the heart of our people. The real position of this country in the eyes of the world does not depend upon the best circumstanced people. It depends upon how decently we treat the people whose circumstances are the worst, and amongst the worst housed people are some of our best citizens. We are entitled to ask that this Bill, once it is on the Statute Book, shall be given an opportunity of carrying out its possibilities.


I am sure that Members in all parts of the House will sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman's last words and that everyone of us, when the Bill is on the Statute Book, will do everything he possibly can to make it a success. I cannot help, however, agreeing with very great regret with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) in believing that this is a timid and half-hearted Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has compared it with the Wheatley Act of 1924. The contrast between the two seems almost startling. Members of my party considered the Bill of 1924 too courageous. We thought it went too far, and the bulk of our Amendments were to reduce the amount of the subsidy, and what was done. They were limiting Amendments. On this Bill our Amendments have been exactly the opposite. The Bill is so limited that we have moved Amendments endeavouring to make it more effective—a complete contrast to our attitude in 1924. The sole reason being the greater timidity of the Bill as compared with the courage of the 1924 Bill.

What is the problem this Bill has to deal with? The right hon. Gentleman has said it is a double problem, first of all to sweep away the slums and, secondly, to build a large number of houses to be let at low rents, and clearly the second is the important thing. If we can build, as Mr. Wheatley wanted, 225,000 houses a year to be let at really low rents, the pulling down of the slum houses is a very easy job to be got on with as quickly as possible. It is a depressing thing that the rate of building these new houses has slowed down in a most alarming manner in the last two or three years. We had an opportunity of discussing the matter a few days ago, and the right hon. Gentleman expressed himself as satisfied with the present rate of building. Since then I have received from the Ministry of Health figures which are quite conclusive on the matter. If you take the boom year which resulted from the Chamberlain Act and the Wheatley Act, the year ending September, 1927, there ware very nearly 100,000 houses built to let under the Wheatley Act. In the last eight months we have been building houses to let at just over half the rate at which they were built during the boom year. If you take the total building in the boom year, we built over 270,000 houses. In the last six months ending 31st March, which is the latest period for which figures are available, we built almost exactly 150,000 houses, or only 60 per cent. of the houses built during that boom year. The depressing thing is that the right hon. Gentleman seems to be satisfied with the rate of building. These are his own figures and cannot be controverted. The hon. Lady shakes her head. I obtained them in answer to questions only a few days ago! 50 per cent. of the houses to let and 60 per cent. of the total houses. If we were now building houses at the same rate as we did in that year we should be employing something approaching 200,000 more men in the building trade than we are employing now. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to deny those figures. They were taken from direct answers given during the last few days by the Ministry of Health.

Will this new Bill remedy that side of the problem? Will it succeed in getting new houses built? The valuable feature of the new Bill—I do not know whether the right. hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich said that the Bill was no use; if he did I do not agree with him—is that it is a step in the right direction and a Bill for which we should vote. In many ways it is on the right lines. Our only regret is that it does not go further. The subsidy, if it does not put up the price of building, is 1s. a week more than the Wheatley subsidy. In many towns the family house—the three bedroom non-parlour house—is being let at not less than 13s. 6d. It is being let at this figure in Manchester. If the Greenwood houses are built and there is simply a flat rate reduction of 1s., it will mean that you are going to get them at 12s. 6d. That is not going to clear the slums. It is that fact which shows the timidity of this Bill. When we on these benches pressed for an Amendment to insist on differential rents so that there should be an accumulation and that some pressure could be brought to bear by this Measure to force the local authorities to let houses at really low rents, again timidity came in. He says that he cannot interfere with local authorities, and that if Manchester likes to let Greenwood houses at 11s. 6d. he must leave them to do so. I am a believer in local authorities, but I think in a case of this sort that one ought not to let the more backward authorities waste the opportunities which are provided by the Bill to a moderate extent of giving differential rents and so getting some of the poor families, and especially the children, away from the slum dwellings. There is another limit to the Bill. The grant is only available to persons living in clearance areas or improvement areas. Altogether, judging by speeches which the right hon. Gentleman has made, not more than probably one-tenth of the working-class live in any great centre, and that is why it is impossible for the Bill to meet the tremendous need for approximately doubling the rate of building which is going on to-day.

These are the reasons why I deplore the timidity of this Bill. I hope that when the Bill is on the Statute Book all of us will, as the right hon. Gentle-man has said, do all that we can to help, but the person who really can make a difference to the Measure is the right hon. Gentleman himself. I hope that when it comes to administration he will show energy, vigour, and determination to get cheap houses built under the Measure in contrast to the lack of vigour which he has shown in bringing the matter before the House.


I want to trespass for a few minutes on the time of the House in order to deal with the question of rural houses, and to mention one or two points in connection with that subject. Rural housing is dealt with in Part 4 of the Bill and we have a definition of an agricultural parish in Clause 57. In Part 4 the principle of preferential treatment to rural districts is maintained, and I take no exception to the Bill in that respect. As regards the question of rural district councils and possible control by county councils, I cannot share the apprehensions of rural district councils that they will be bullied by county councils. I welcome the Clause which gives the possibility of agreement between rural district councils and county councils whereby rural district councils are provided with greater opportunities and facilities to improve the housing conditions in rural districts. It is unnecessary to say much about the serious condition of housing in many rural districts, and if it were not for a very definite anomaly in the Bill I should not have taken part in this discussion. But the housing conditions being as serious as they are in some rural areas, and the lack of houses being so serious, it is necessary to point out the anomaly which slips into the Bill under the definition of an agricultural parish in Clause 57. It was acknowledged by the Minister of Health in Committee that this anomaly exists; and the result is that there are several parishes in this country—I know of two in my own particular rural district—which will not get the grant because they do not come under the definition of an agricultural parish as laid down in Clause 57. I hope it may be possible for the House to have some assurance that steps will be taken to remedy this defect.

The definition of an agricultural parish in Clause 57 is wrong. The date of October, 1929, is taken and that means there are many parishes in England which will not get the grant at present. That is absolutely wrong. Surely it is possible to find some words to ante-date the definition in the Bill and make it possible for these parishes to receive the grant. The Minister said that if the definition was altered there would be residential quarters which would get a grant to which they are not entitled and that it would include too many parishes. If there are too many parishes in England which deserve the grant an attempt should be made to remedy the defect in the Bill which, although a small one, is going to have a serious effect on agricultural workers, who deserve better housing conditions than anybody else but who are not going to get them owing to this defect in drafting. I hope I shall have an answer from the Government on these points.


I welcome this Bill. The hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon), has said that the Wheatley Act went too far, whilst this Bill does not go far enough. This Measure is not intended to supersede the Wheatley Act; it is complementary. It is to perform a work in addition to that which is being done under the Wheatley Act. Another thing which is apparent by this debate is the perversity of the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Withington has truly said that in the case of the Wheatley Act he and his party were trying to restrain us from going too far, but in this Bill he would like us to go further. Reference has been made to the measure of discontent on this side of the House. For myself and for those associated with me, I would say that we would have been not less pleased if it had been possible to have carried the provisions of the Bill even further than they have gone. What the House of Commons must face is the fact that the Bill is the first real attempt in this House to clear away that blot in English history of our slum dwellings. I hope that the Bill will perform the twofold purpose of clearing the slum areas and producing houses at a rent that people can afford to pay.

Another thing which I think is a compliment to what will be known as the Greenwood Act is the fact that every speaker from the Opposition side has at tempted to level down the subsidy provisions of this Bill to former Acts, such as the Act of the last Government. I am pleased to find that the Minister has not yielded to such subtle suggestions. I want the financial provisions of the subsidy in this Bill to stand out in distinction from the provisions of the Wheatley Act and the Chamberlain Act, and to show that this Government, contrary to the view of the hon. Member for Withington, is under this Bill at least going further than we have gone in any other Act in building houses at a rent which people may hope to pay. I support the Third Reading.


I agree with much that other speakers have said about the timidity of this Bill, but I think it would be unjust to the Minister to forget that, after all, he has been limited by the financial resources that were placed at his disposal by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Those of us who criticise the meagre provisions of the Bill must remember that difficulty. I shall confine the very few remarks that I have time to make to suggesting ways in which it appears to me that the value of this Bill will depend on the kind of use that is made of it. The Minister has just told us that local authorities are warm admirers of the Bill. The Minister and the local authorities appear to have formed a kind of mutual admiration society, for we have observed that whenever we have made a criticism of any provision of the Bill, the reply has been, "We must trust the local authorities." The Minister has persistently refused to lay any commands on the local authorities. May we at least entreat him to make his wishes clear, to give a clear lead to the local authorities? The amount of the financial assistance available is so small, as the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) has said, that unless very careful and scientific use is made of it it will do very little.

I would suggest three or four ways in which waste can be avoided. First of all, may we trust that the Minister will strictly discourage the local authorities from undertaking any unnecessary building upon central and expensive sites? Great pressure is put on every local authority to rehouse its slum dwellers in situ because the people do not like to move far from their former homes, but in nine cases out of ten, I think that is an unnecessary and extravagant policy, and should only be permitted where a very strong case has been made out for it. Then the instructions issued under this Measure should make clear, what was only made clear to us after hours of discussion in Committee, namely, that it is not essential for local authorities to give a preference to slum dwellers merely because they are slum dwellers. Unfortunately, the Clauses of the Bill have been so drafted as to give very strong countenance to the view that the Bill is intended for the exclusive purpose of dishousing people and then rehousing the same people who have lived in the slums in certain houses. We now know that that is not necessary. As was said in the Committee, "there is no compulsion on a local authority to offer accommodation for a single one of those displaced persons in a single one of the new houses." That was the statement of the hon. Member for Withington, and the Attorney-General said, "that was his view of the Clause in question." I fear, however, that the Bill will not be so understood by the local authorities unless the instructions sent out, to them make it perfectly clear.

There is, thirdly, the point which we have been discussing already. Since the Minister has refused to forbid local authorities to spend money in spreading out the subsidy thinly over all the houses I hope that at least consideration will be given to the one and only economic way of children rent rebates. Fourth and lastly, may I point out that we have been reminded by the Minister that this Measure is not superseding, but supplementary. Let it remain supplementary in the sense that every single action taken under it shall have the object not of superseding, but of supplementing the use that can be made of the Wheatley Act. Let it be used in such a way as to dovetail into the Wheatley Act. The figures which have been put before the House by the hon. Member for Withington as to the falling-off of housing under the Wheatley Act are, I think, regretted by us all, but it is not surprising that when a new Measure is known to be on the tapis local authorities should open their mouths to see what is going to drop into them and should hesitate before using to full advantage what they have already got.

When this Measure is on the Statute Book local authorities will have no excuse for concentrating only on this Measure, and it is to be hoped that it will act as a stimulus to the Wheatley scheme. What local authorities have to do is to push on with this Measure and to make the utmost use of it, but never to forget that they cannot claim a grant under this Measure which is not balanced by a person displaced from the slums. Displacing people from the slums, because of the difficult negotiations which have to go on with property owners and others, is bound to be a slow process. Therefore action under this Measure is bound to be limited, but if it is supplemented by abundant action under the Wheatley Act so that the two dovetail into one another, then I believe the two will make a comprehensive whole. It should be made clear to the local authorities that the differential rents which are permitted tinder this Measure are not after all confined to this Measure. We know that it is possible, even under the Wheatley Act to establish children's rent rebates and in that way to secure a more economical use of the existing subsidies which will enable local authorities to benefit not merely slum population but all those people who are living whether in pre-War houses or in Wheatley houses at present and are paying rents grossly in excess of their real ability to pay.


I am sorry to cut short this debate, but I understand that the discussion on this Bill must finish at 11 o'clock, and therefore I must necessarily be brief and I am sorry if my intervention at this stage should prevent other Members who had intended to speak from taking part in the debate. I want to reply to two or three things that have been said in this debate. The complaint was made that the definition of rural parishes must cut out a great many districts that deserve assistance. This raises an old question. Agricultural parishes ask for special help on the ground of their special problems, and when they get it, others that are little better ask for some special help, and so the process and demands go on; and if we yielded them, the real rural parishes would again ask for special help. The definition takes in all the districts which are purely rural and where the rating resources of the authority are exceptionally low. That matter has been discussed over and over again, and I am afraid that we cannot hold out any hope of a further widening of the definition. I want to come to the speech of the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) He speaks as if all State-aided houses are for letting, and he repeated it again to-night.


I said that in 1927, 100,000 Wheatley houses were built, and at the present time they are being built at the rate of less than 50,000 a year.


But under the Wheatley Act there are subsidies for private enterprise, and private enterprise receives subsidies under that Act, and private enterprise houses were built for sale and not for letting under that Act. Every local authority and every man in private enterprise rushed to build houses before September, 1927. As a result, the figures for 1927 were very high. Then local authorities and private enterprise alike slumped in the months after September, 1927. The total number of houses built by private enterprise and others were 109,000 in 1924, 159,000 in 1925, 197,000 in 1926, 273,000 in 1927. They then dropped in 1928 to 166,000 and they went up in 1929 to 203,000. If we take the most recent figures for housing begun under local authorities, we have very many more houses commenced in the first five months of 1930 than we have had for years. In 1928 there were 22,000, in 1929, 25,000, and this year, 26,000. Following the slump, the local authorities are now taking up with the building, which is going on extremely satisfactorily.


This is an important matter. The hon. Lady is dealing with the question of the rate of building for the six months ended 31st March. The total house-building was 75,000 houses, or at the rate of 150,000 a year, which was substantially lower than any of the figures she has given.


The hon. Member is lumping private enterprise and local authorities together. I have not got the private enterprise houses after March last.


Are not the figures for the six months ending 31st March?


The houses provided by local authorities in the year ending 31st March show that the figures have gone up in the year. The numbers finished in the first five months went down, but the numbers commenced in the first five months by local authorities have risen considerably. They have begun many more houses than was the case last year, and very many more than in the year before for the same period, but they have not finished quite so many.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

Does that refer to houses begun or schemes begun?


Houses begun.


Is it not the case that during the 12 months ended 31st May, 1930, the number of completed houses ranking for subsidy was 99,124 and the corresponding number during the previous 12 months was 107,439, showing a decrease of 8,000?


The hon. Gentleman is raising the old story. Private enterprise has built more houses of all kinds but fewer houses have got the subsidy. The subsidy was taken away from private houses last September, and, of course, the number of State-aided houses is affected. Private enterprise houses have gone up and the number of local authority houses have also gone up. The mere fact that private enterprise houses ceased to receive the subsidy is the reason why the figure referred to has gone down. I am ashamed to waste more time over it. The hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) sympathised with us, but he did so last time. He says that this time we shall come to a bad end, but he said that last time. He is like the very affectionate or despondent aunt or uncle who hopes the child will turn out right, but very much doubts it when he remembers its parents.


I never said anything of the kind last time.


I have been looking it up. The hon. Member said we should never get the labour, or he was very doubtful whether we should. He has mixed his sympathy with exactly those very fears that we should come to a terrible end.


I do not remember saying anything of the sort.


His speeches were very kind speeches hoping against hope, but they were very depressing speeches to listen to. The right hon. Member for Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) said he hoped that we should recall his words three or four years hence. In 1924 he said of the Wheatley, Act that the author of it would get no further, or very little further, with his scheme, not on account of the lack of money in the country or because the country did not desire to spend it, but because the Government had not solved the great difficulty of the men.


As the hon. Lady has referred to me perhaps I may say that the Wheatley Act did not meet its purpose as announced by its author, and that was to build houses to let for the poorer-paid workers. The Wheatley Act has been a complete failure, and is today so far as that is concerned.


What the right hon. Member said last time was that it would be a complete failure because we could not get enough bricklayers to lay the bricks; and another hon. Member of this House, who has since been exalted to another place, also took the same view. I turn from these objections to ask the House to consider this Bill as a whole, and to consider it in the perspective of the housing policy of the Labour party. It is six years almost to the day since we had that Labour Government in office. My right hon. Friend the present Minister of Health was then Parliamentary Secretary. Speaking at this Box he ventured on a prophecy among the chorus of prophecies that went up from the other side. He said he prophesied that the Wheatley Act would open a new era in the history of housing. Can anybody deny that it has? It is the only Act which has provided, in any quantity, houses to let, and the best monument of that short-lived Labour Government and of the statesman whose loss we all deplore is to be found in the number of little houses and homes for the workers which have sprung up all over the country.

We are now going forward to complete the structure raised by the right hon. Gentleman who has passed away. We go forward now to attack the slum question. We give to local authorities far greater freedom than they have ever possessed,, and we give them very large additional subsidies; and I desire to remark, after having consulted the local authorities, that they are satisfied with the subsidy. We set the local authorities free to deal with that old inveterate evil of the slums. For more than 50 years they have increased infantile mortality, increased tuberculosis, heightened the death rate and sapped the vitality of our people. That is the scheme we have undertaken, and my last words on this matter before we leave the Bill is to repeat the prophecy made by my right hon. Friend when he stood in this place and in my position in 1924—a prophecy so abundantly justified—that with this Bill we are opening a new era in the housing of the people.