HC Deb 08 July 1930 vol 241 cc269-91

The dimension of houses built for re-housing purposes under this Act shall not be less than the minimum requirements laid down by section two of the Housing, &c., Act, 1923.—[Mr. Jowett.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


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

So far as I can gather, there is nothing in this Bill requiring a minimum size for the houses to be built under it. That is a most unfortunate omission in a Bill of this kind, which bases the State subsidy on the number of persons to be accommodated and not on the house itself. It is an inducement to local authorities to economise on the size of the houses they put up. The Clause I am proposing seeks to put into operation the same provision as is contained in the Act of 1923. Under that Measure a self-contained house of two storeys must not have a superficial area of less than 620 superficial feet, and a self-contained tenement must not have less than 550 superficial feet. As far as I can estimate, a single-storey house with 620 superficial feet would allow of there being only three rooms of 14 feet square, with the necessary pantry and accommodation for other purposes. If an extra bedroom has to be included, as will necessarily be the case with a family of five, there must be a skimping of the size of the rooms beyond what is desirable or sanitary. That will be still more the case with tenement dwellings.

I dare say the Minister will reply that this can be done by regulations; that the Ministry will have to sanction any scheme, and that one consideration to be taken into account will be that the accommodation is reasonable and fair. I have a very lively recollection of stirring debates, in which the late Mr. Wheatley took a prominent part, when he fought very hard for a statutory requirement on this particular point. It was a very stiff struggle before he could get these requirements put into the 1923 Act. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will always insist that the space shall be sufficient, but we do not know who may be his successor, and I think conditions ought to be inserted in the Bill. If the Clause be included as it exists in the 1923 Act it will not allow of a sub-division for a single person or for couples or for aged people living together. If that be the only objection, my right hon. Friend can easily substitute some scale based on a superficial area requirement per room. That would meet the case. I hope he will respond to this appeal and see that the Bill is not passed without a stipulation such as I have described.


I beg to second the Motion.

I would appeal to the Minister to look at this matter not merely according to the standards of to-day, but to remember that the machinery now being created is long-dated machinery which will operate over a period of 40 years. He should think of the air space requirements throughout the whole of the next 40 years. He will, I am sure admit, as all must admit who have been in many of the houses now being built, that the air space often falls short of what is desirable. Once the evil has been done it cannot easily be undone. However desirable increased air space may be, there is no machinery in existence which will enable local authorities to provide the improvement which many of them agree to be necessary. Now that we are making a beginning in dealing with the worst class of property in existence we should realise that it is not desirable to set up a low standard, and should go in for a much higher one than has existed hitherto. The Department must have impressed upon the Minister the absolute necessity above all other things—even above the need of adequate food—of adequate air space for the people who will inhabit these houses. We are dealing now with people who do not get adequate air space to keep themselves physically fit outside the confines of their homes, we are dealing with people who by their very economic circumstances are fixed and tied, spending the greater part of their lives inside these homes, and it is absolutely necessary to guarantee to them adequate air space.


I think all Members of the House will be in sympathy with the general desire of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Bradford (Mr. Jowett), but most of what he said had reference rather to the dimensions of individual rooms than to the size of the house. There might be a minimum standard of superficial area for the house and yet lack of air space per room if there were too many rooms in the house. We have to distinguish two sets of cases. In the Acts of 1923 and 1924 we were concerned only with a general housing shortage, and had to have regard to the circumstances of normal families requiring two or three bedrooms; and it was with that in mind that the minimum and maximum requirements were laid down under those Acts. Neither the 1923 nor the 1924 Acts really permitted of provision being made for exceptionally large families, because they both dealt with normal families. In our re-housing schemes there never has been any such requirement. The general theory has been that in such cases we must have regard to the particular circumstances, and always the houses to be constructed have had to be of a type and size approved by the Minister.

In dealing with the problem of the slums we need to get rid of both minimum and maximum requirements. We need to be in a position to build much larger houses where there are very large families, and we ought not to require a minimum which is a family minimum where the people who are to occupy the house do not constitute what we should call a normal family. It must be remembered that, in the case of very poor people, every additional room in a house which is not required means an unnecessary addition to their rent. When no additional bedrooms for children are required we make provision for smaller houses which will mean lower rents, more conveniences and less household work. On the one hand we must have regard to small families, to childless people, and to two women living together; and on the other hand to the requirements of very large families. To impose either minimum or maximum conditions would inter- fere with the discretion of a local authority to provide the right kind of accommodation for the people for whom the new houses are designed.


Why not specify so much space per room?


Local authorities already have their by-laws dealing with that point, and it would be descending to very considerable detail to specify in an Act of Parliament the space per room, because that should depend upon the use to which the room is to be put and the number of persons who will occupy it.


We have had an interesting, illuminating and entertaining speech from the right hon. Gentleman. Socialism is at last pleading for smaller houses. I remember the days, before the right hon. Gentleman had the experience and knowledge that he has to-day, when he sat on this side of the House and made the Chamber ring with his denunciation of expressions of opinion such as he has so boldly enunciated this afternoon. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) or myself said a word about the necessity of building decent small houses for small families, we were denounced as cruel, heartless, murderous, immoral. [Interruption.] What I say is true. I believe it was the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who used to spread himself on this question. We were told that we were building rabbit hutches, and that we were not looking after the needs of the people. To-day, we have had a decent, sensible commonsense statement upon the position by the right hon. Gentleman, and we welcome it. Whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Bradford (Mr. Jowett) can be so complacent as I am about the matter, I do not know. He has a right to be resentful. What he said in his speech this afternoon the Labour party has been asking for the last 50 years. No one can blame him. He has stuck to his principles in all that he has said on public platforms and at the street corners, and the Minister of Health will certainly have to go to various parts of the country and, I hope, retract publicly all that he has said on this matter.

I desire to thank the right hon. Gentleman who moved this now Clause. He has had considerable experience in connec- tion with housing affairs. I remember the experience that he had when he was First Commissioner of Works, and had to administer the housing estate in my Division. I want to thank him also because in endeavouring to obtain minimum requirements for housing, which the Seconder said should last for all time in this country, he has fixed upon the Housing Act of 1923. What a tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston! I wish he was here this afternoon. In seeking for minimum requirements for housing hon. Members opposite have fixed upon the Conservative Government's Act of 1923. They have abandoned all other Acts and have fixed upon the Act of my right hon. Friend I should think the Liberal party are green with envy at the position in which the Conservative party finds itself this afternoon. If you want a fine standard for housing accommodation in this country, look to the Act of 1923, the Conservative party Act! I thank the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of my party for the unexpected tribute which he has offered to us this afternoon.


The House will welcome the right hon. Gentleman in his new role as leader of the Independent Labour party. I think we shall have to change the initials of the I.L.P. I understood that the initials meant, "I like plenty," but they will not be able to make that their motto after the speech of the Minister of Health. Whether he was bound to turn down the new Clause or not is another matter, but I am sure that housing reformers throughout the country will read with dismay the defence he made for turning down the Clause. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) may be complacent about it, but he knows well enough that there are plenty of housing reformers outside the Labour party, people connected with his own party, who have fought to bring home to the conscience of the country the fact that the housing problem is concerned with the relation of four words one to the other—person, room, family, dwelling, and that the highest standard should be reckoned as every family a dwelling and every adult person a room. Instead of defending his action in turning down the Clause on the ground that "We have never done this in regard to slum clearance," the right hon. Gentleman pleaded the necessity in many cases for small houses. I did not expect in 1930 to hear that from the Government Front Bench. I remember very well the right hon. Gentleman's late chief, the late Member for Shettleston, making the speech about rabbit hutches, and I remember that statement being repeated on thousands of Labour platforms, in condemnation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain). We are entitled to express our surprise, somewhat vehemently, at the action of the right hon. Gentleman, and that he should defend himself on such reactionary grounds. I think the right hon. Gentleman will live to regret that speech more than anything he has done in the last 12 months.


I am not, surprised that the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) has made his protest. I remember the pressure that had to be brought to bear in past years in order to secure the requisite amount of cubic space per person. I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman saying that, as this is merely a slum clearance scheme and we have to house the very poor, we ought to be content with a lower standard.


No. He did not say that.


It was tantamount to that. I should be glad to hear that I am wrong. If the right hon. Gentleman says that the standard is to be maintained, I shall be satisfied. Under the old system the local authorities had to get the approval of the Minister of Health to any proposals to build new houses or tenements of a lower standard. Now, as I understand it, they are to have a free hand. There is an idea, I think it is a wrong idea, that we ought to build down to a standard of house the rent of which the very poor can pay. In the London County Council some ingenious people have been trying to devise a house for the underpaid worker at a rent which he can pay, but we were able to turn it down largely because of the existence of the Act of 1923. I have paid my tribute to the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) on many occasions. He has his faults and he has his virtues. He is a housing enthusiast, but he makes mistakes. Sometimes he keeps bad company and sometimes he goes wrong, but he has done good work. I have a great opinion of the present Minister of Health. We want to keep him straight.

In this Clause we ought to have it made clear that some standard will be required. It is not a mere matter for the local authority, because we are partners in this matter. We are subsidising these houses out of State funds and we ought to have some say as to the kind of house that is to be built under this Bill, otherwise we may have this Bill, which is supposed to be a Housing Bill to deal with slums, used to lower the general standard of housing throughout the country. We know that there are local authorities who are faced with the need of providing houses and with the difficulty of finding money out of the rates, and there is a constant temptation to build cheaper houses. I am convinced that the local authorities ought not to attempt to build poor stuff to meet the needs of the poor. That would perpetrate slums. Therefore, we ought to have a lead from the Minister of Health as to his intentions. What standard does he require? It would be a very bad thing for the country if the purpose of this Bill is to provide a lower standard than that provided in the Act of 1023. I hope that the position will be made clear by the Parliamentary Secretary and that her reply will clear the air.


I agree with the last speaker that it is essential that this Bill should make it crystal clear that the standard of building must not be lowered. Anyone who knows anything about the local authorities to-day, and knows their difficulties in regard to housing the population that are on their lists waiting for houses, will know that not merely is the problem urgent and difficult, but that its very urgency and difficulty almost compel the local authorities, willy-nilly, to reduce the standard of housing. The very difficulty of the problem tends to tempt them in that direction. I can speak of my own town where, instead of our being able to reduce the number of people who are on the lists waiting for houses, as the years go by, notwithstanding the efforts of the housing committee, the lists are lengthened. No fewer than 3,400 families are to-day on that list, which increases as the years go by. The urgency and difficulty of the problem tend to tempt the town council to build an inferior type of house. I hope, therefore, that now that the Minister is bringing forward this Bill for the purpose of helping to solve this great problem, he will make it quite clear by accepting this new Clause that the standard of housing for our people, even under the very serious difficulties of to-day, shall not be reduced. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies she will meet my right hon. Friend in that respect.


The Acts of 1923 and 1924 gave subsidies for family houses and fixed a minimum and maximum standard in respect of those houses. For instance, in respect of two-storied houses the minimum was to be 620 and the maxi mum 950 superficial feet. It was the clean intention of Parliament that the local authorities should build family houses. We are dealing with something quite different now. We are taking a slum, demolishing the houses and rehousing every single person. We are providing new housing accommodation for all the displaced people. Who are the displaced people? I have been looking at the figures with regard to the slums, and it would surprise hon. Members to know that in some slums you have very few children or families, but an enormous proportion of lone persons. In other slums you have children and enormous families. Supposing you are desirous of providing accommodation for lone persons who are displaced. Yon certainly do not want a two storied house, with a minimum of 620 feet and a maximum of 950 feet. You do not want self-contained flats, but a one storied house, with a minimum of 520 feet. For the lone person, what you want is a bed-sitting room and a scullery. If there are two spinsters living together, you want a couple of rooms. You want a different class of accommodation for the family, you want a family house.


What accommodation does the hon. Lady demand?


What accommodation do I demand for a spinster?


For yourself?


I have lived in the utmost comfort and luxury in a bed-sitting room.


How many feet square?


The point is this. The conditions asked for in the new Clause would mean that in some eases we should have to provide a family house for a household that consisted of only one or two elderly persons and in other cases, those of very large families, we should be providing accommodation that was altogether inadequate.


When we discussed this question of re-housing in Committee was it not made quite clear by the Minister of Health that it was not a question of taking people out of the slums and placing them in new houses, but of doing this by a process of a chain of circumstances—taking them from the slums and putting them into some intermediate accommodation and then from that accommodation into the new houses? We are anxious that the new houses, whoever their tenants are, shall not be of a lower standard than that referred to in the 1923 Act.


I want to deal particularly with the question of displacing lone persons. Are you to provide only accommodation which is not suitable for lone people? We have got to provide for all sorts of people. Under the scheme of assisted rents you can provide unusually large houses at unusually cheap rates for the unusually large family, but this maximum in the Wheatley Act does not provide for the exceptional case—for such a case as I knew at Poplar of a dock labourer with 11 children. We want to make the new houses consist either of a single room or two rooms, for the tiny household of one or two adults, or to be a large house suitable for the enormous family. When hon. Members speak about the size of room, I would like to point out that the new Clause does not alter the size of rooms; it only alters the sizes of houses. If you come down to the size of rooms, what a long Schedule you would have to put in the Bill in order to determine the size of each room according to its occupation!


Does not Clause 44 give power to make exceptions under the Housing Act, 1923, with regard to aged persons in certain cases?


You have got an exemption from the Wheatley Act, and that is something quite different. Single-room tenements which are allowed under the slum clearance schemes would not be allowed under the Wheatley Act. What London does in its blocks of tenements is that here and there in the building you have one-roomed tenements for the single person and two or three-roomed tenements for the small family. There is a multitude of devices applying to slum clearance which are not applicable to Wheatley houses. In slum clearance, when you pull down the houses, you must provide adequate alternative accommodation for the population according to their circumstances; that is why we are taking out both the minimum and the maximum. We are giving the local authorities power, subject only to the fact that it satisfies the Minister of Health as to the type and size.


I am very much alarmed at the speeches we have just heard. Instead of being engaged in a vast proposal for the housing of the working classes and their families, we are making provision to house elderly spinsters and other lone persons. If weare going to set our standard of requirements on that basis, we shall be failing to carry out our promises. I quite appreciate the difficulties with which the Minister is confronted in attempting to transfer the particular Section from the 1923 Act to this Bill. These dimensions in the 192:3 Act were for the purpose of securing a subsidy. You had to have a certain superficial area in order to secure a subsidy. That we should admit the notion of making a lower standard than 600 superficial feet for a family is absolutely appalling. In the report published some years ago an attempt was made to set up a reasonable standard of housing, and we should be very careful before departing from that standard. I do not want to encumber this Bill by a long and detailed Schedule as to the size of rooms and the like, but I do not think we can safely leave the whole question where it is. Some people always fancy that you cannot get a cheap house without having a nasty house. The whole programme of cheap houses means for them putting people into tiny rooms and building houses in the poorest possible fashion. I want cheap houses of a good standard of accommodation and workmanship.

This House will not be satisfied unless it has some assurance from the Minister of Health that provision will be inserted in the Bill to preserve a reasonable standard of size for the family house and a reasonable minimum of air space in the rooms. I suggest respectfully that it is begging the question to talk about one-roomed tenements in a block of flats as in any way affecting the issue. In a block of flats one-roomed or two-roomed tenements for various tenants come under a different category. If the Minister of Health is going to allow the local authorities either in London or elsewhere to build tiny little cramped houses of a less superficial area than 600 feet, then the last stage will be worse than the first. I do not feel inclined to accept the exact wording of the Clause, but I shall be compelled to vote for it unless the Minister of Health gives a more satisfactory assurance and explains away some of the sophistries of the hon. Lady, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. I am not satisfied, and the country will not be satisfied, if any theory is going abroad that we are trying to lower the standard of housing and build pitiful little houses for people to live in.


Although this is not the first time I have addressed this House, it is such a long time ago that I feel I ought to ask the indulgence that is always generously accorded to those who address it for the first time. I am interested in the question of the provision of small houses for aged people. The Mover of this new Clause, while he was very anxious to improve the general standard of houses with regard to superficial feet, did not suggest that he was against the principle of providing small houses for aged people, either men or spinsters. I do not wish to prevent local authorities who desire to do so from providing small houses for aged people to be let at a very small rent. In Durham we have a voluntary organisation which provides small houses for aged people free of rent. What we do as a voluntary organisation, I feel can be done by the local authority. Of course, you will not be able to let them free of rent, but you will be able to let them at very low rents, and by so doing you will perform a useful social service.

We have in Durham 1;700 houses for 3,000 aged people. These are very small in superficial feet, below the normal required under the 1923 Act. They are down to the very minimum, 500 square feet, but these houses are admittedly adequate for their purpose and are splendid little dwellings. Every visitor who has been to Durham and examined them has admired them and said how splendid they were for the purpose for which they were erected. The councils can do this work of providing small houses for aged people, and I am very anxious that the Clause in the Bill dealing with the provision of these houses shall remain in. I am sure the House will do the wise thing in passing Clause 44, the purpose of which was to provide small houses, because it is a social benefit, and will be of enormous value. I think I shall rest content if I see that done.


What about the new Clause?

5.0 p.m.


I understand that the Mover of it and those who supported it have not the slightest intention to interfere with the principle of Clause 44. I want to see a general improvement in the standard of tenements. If you carry out the provisions of this Bill, the development will be beneficial, and you will find it a very excellent thing because you will be providing small cottages for the aged people who need them, and that will keep the old people out of institutions. A small cottage in the country for the old people will be much better than a cubicle in an institution.

Lieut. - Colonel FREMANTLE

I think that we should have the contents of this Bill made clear. When the Conservative party were in power the Minister of Health opposed this proposal again and again, quite regardless of the implications and without any regard to a sense of proportion. Now the right hon. Gentleman is taking the opposite role. One of the most difficult points of criticism raised against the scheme for small tenements or buildings has not yet been mentioned. I have always been foremost amongst those demanding better provision for the aged people, and what we propose releases a large amount of accommodation which would otherwise be occupied for less important purposes. There is a good deal to be said in favour of small tenements. It is a fact that many people prefer smaller rooms, as long as they are healthy and sufficient for the needs of the family, because smaller rooms can be furnished and kept clean more easily. Hon. Members speak on this question forgetting altogether the views of the housewife. On this point I have been face to face with a definite proposition. A large employer of labour who desired to assist his employés to get out of their old houses built for them a large row of new houses. That employer was quite unable to persuade most of his employés to move into the new houses, and when he inquired what was the reason for this, it was found that the employés were of the opinion that the new houses were too large, that they did not want to have extra staircases and landings to clean, and there was much less space to be kept clean in their old houses.

When the Conservative party were dealing with this question we were face to face with the bitter opposition of the whole of the Labour party on the ground of insufficiency of accommodation, and they refused to allow us to make provision for exceptional cases. It is proposed to provide smaller houses with two or three rooms for the old couples, and for the young couples with only one child. How are you going to prevent those small houses being used for larger families? The Government have always to reckon with that difficulty, and that is an experience which has been borne out by the speech of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Herriotts). Are you going to prevent the newly-married couples from living in those houses? Are you going to turn them out when their families increase? And if you have no power to deal with this problem, how are you going to prevent those tenements becoming overcrowded?

We ought to have from the Minister of Health a clear defence of the position which he has taken up. Probably the right hon. Gentleman will raise the defence that provision is made under the by-laws dealing with housing, but we know that no by-laws can be devised that will prevent overcrowding, which is the worst feature of the housing position to-day. It is overcrowding in the slum areas that makes the slum, and how are you going to stop that? If you devise a system of by-laws, how are you going to enforce them? The Minister of Health cannot ride off on this issue as easily as the Parliamentary Secretary has tried to do. This is a very serious problem and in spending this large amount of money to provide small houses, the right hon. Gentleman should envisage the people living in those houses 40 years hence, with slums probably growing up in those areas, and people saying, "Those are the houses which were built under the Greenwood subsidy."


No one can complain of the moderate speech which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Bradford (Mr. Jewett), and instead of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) complaining because the Government have copied the Act of 1923, I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to take that as a compliment. We have adopted the words of the 1923 Act because we did not wish to embarrass the Government, and we did not wish to put forward anything which could be called an extravagant standard. I know speeches were made in the 1923 debate denouncing that standard, because we desired to have a higher and a better standard. We have taken this course because we wanted to make the task of the Minister of Health much easier, and we did not wish to embarrass him by setting up a standard which might be thought to be too high. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich can take whatever consolation he likes from the fact that we have copied the 1923 Act, but I would like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that even that standard was denounced by himself and other members of the Conservative party, and it was got through only after a good deal of opposition from the Labour party because we thought a higher standard ought to be adopted.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that this scheme differs from the Chamberlain scheme because it shuts down the slum clearance area and transports the whole of the population into another area. When you do that, you must make accommodation not for one type of family, but for every type of family. Let me remind the House that we are spending State money to pro- vide for these people, and by far the overwhelming proportion of them consists of men, women, and children. Let me take for example, the City of Glasgow. There the overwhelming mass of the people to be provided for are people with families. You have to provide for old people, but once you adopt a standard in the House of Commons, it does not become the standard for a section but for every particular family regardless of exceptions. When you are talking about this problem, you ought to take into account whether you are dealing with people in a village or a town, and whether there is within that town or village already enough of that class of accommodation for all the people living there. What is the position in Glasgow? Nobody can deny that Glasgow and other big cities and towns have built small dwellings in abundance in the past, and that there is enough of them now for every requirement for the type of person who requires a small dwelling. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] An hon. Member says "No," but we do not want to set up a fixed standard, because some person might be offered a house, and might refuse it because it was too large.

The Labour party are in favour of making the accommodation slightly larger, because most of the houses which have been provided are too small for the general mass of the people. We know what has been the attitude of the local authorities in the past. We know that the rates play a more important part than human considerations. Every member of a local authority knows that at election times when the cry for reduced rates comes along human considerations are swept aside. Hon. Members are well aware of that fact, and that is the reason why we ought to set up a standard which no local authority ought to be allowed to set aside. Upon local authorities where the Labour party is in control we have no need for this new Clause, because Labour councillors will always see that the standards are kept up. I am more concerned for those districts where there is not a Labour majority, and I think they should have as good a standard as a Labour majority would give them. The argument is often put forward that you should not touch a slum area because there are a few aged people there. My own view is that we should make the standard as high as possible. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give way on this new Clause.

Major GLYN

I think that the House, and especially those Members who did not have the benefit of being on the Committee which considered this Bill, owe a debt of gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Bradford (Mr. Jowett) for having introduced this Clause. When the 1923 Bill was going through, the present Minister and many of his friends said a good deal with regard to the inadequacy of the standard that was laid down in that Bill, but on the present Bill we have hitherto heard nothing about the standard, which now seems suddenly to have appeared in a most surprising manner. Those Members who were not on the Committee always assumed—at any rate I did—that under Clause 44 there would be no departure from a certain standard. I imagine that that standard existed throughout the whole Bill, and, therefore, it comes as a great shock to me when the Minister of Health apparently takes the retrograde step of doing away with what we then thought was a sufficient and proper standard, but which he at that time did not think sufficient. It seems to me that if we allow this Bill to go on to the Statute Book it will be pointed out that what was considered necessary in 1923 is not considered necessary in 1930, whereas we know that, if a slum area is to be cleared, the most modern kind of buildings is necessary.

In earlier years I represented a Glasgow constituency, and the experience that I had there, in association with Mr. Peter Fyfe, who was a very enlightened sanitary inspector, proved to me conclusively that, if you put people in mean rooms of small dimensions, you do not help them to become clean, healthy citizens. The meaner the surroundings, the more difficult it is for the family to rise superior to them. None of us want to condemn people to remain in slum conditions, but we want the help of hon. Members opposite, and, indeed, of all local authorities and all housing advisers and societies throughout the country, to sweep away the great evil that, if you give a slum person a decent room, and if they have any spare accommodation, they will take in lodgers, often at a very high price, so that what was intended to be adequate accommodation for one family as far as children are concerned is turned into slum conditions again. There are many who feel the desirability of having well-proportioned rooms of decent size, with proper air space and so on, but whose feelings have been devastated by the fact that we find overcrowded conditions in some of the most modern buildings. I am certain that the Minister is aware of that fact, and realises that a slum can be re-created under the most modern conditions. If local regulations are not properly carried out, and any number of people are allowed to live in the place, what is, from the building point of view, a most suitable edifice, will become a most hideous slum. In spite of that, I feel that it is essential that there should be in every Bill a minimum standard of what is necessary. Such a standard was laid down in 1923, and I am amazed that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are able to accept this Amendment, which, after all, does not ask for anything more than that which we thought necessary in 1923, and which the right hon. Gentleman then thought insufficient.


We have listened to a very eloquent speech from the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), who put the case in favour of a high standard of housing as forcibly and probably as well as it could be put. But, like many Members on the other side of the House, he overlooked the foundations of this Bill, namely, the financial Clauses. The whole point is at what rent a given standard of house can be let, and, if you want to let a house of a good standard at a low rent, you have to have a corresponding subsidy. The subsidy under this Bill is fixed, and we on these benches moved an Amendment which sought to make it rather more generous. What has been brought out more than anything else in this discussion is the fact that this Bill is not a great Bill for building another 100,000 working-class houses to be let at low rents. That is the Bill that is wanted, but it is not this Bill. Hon. Members opposite have not yet understood that unfortunate fact—


Surely, the late Mr. Wheatley put that ease very strongly.


Perhaps some hon. Members understand it, but I am not quite sure that they all do. The right hon. Gentleman, like others on those benches, certainly recognises the main point that this is not a Bill for building large numbers of family houses, but is a Slum Clearance Bill, and, indeed, rather a tentative Slum Clearance Bill; but, even so, I was deeply perturbed at the speeches of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, because the stress of those speeches seemed to emphasise the importance of building smaller houses. I think I am correct in saying that in Slum Clearance Bills in the past there has not been any minimum standard laid down. In the Bills of 1923 and 1024, which were Bills for the building of new houses, there was a minimum standard, but in Slum Clearance Bills there has not been a minimum standard, and it has always been recognised that a certain flexibility is necessary. Even the London County Council has built smaller houses for slum clearance purposes. Therefore, it seems to me quite clear that we could not, without asking for disaster, accept this Amendment in the form in which it has been moved. I think that it would cause very serious difficulties in that form, and, therefore. I hope that the House will not accept it, but I wish again to say how perturbed we have been by the speeches of the Minister. I have felt hitherto that it was safe to leave this question of the standard in slum clearance houses in the hands of the Minister, who, as I understand, has complete discretion in the matter. After his speech, however, I feel uncertain about that. I hope that he will reassure us, and that, if his reassurance is not satisfactory, hon. Members opposite, when it comes to administration, will see that the Bill is administered in such a way as not to let down what is, after all, the main object of post-War housing, namely, the new standard of housing which has been adopted.


As far as I could understand it, the defence offered by the Parliamentary Secretary in rejecting this Amendment was the need for some elasticity in the size of the houses which would be provided for rehousing the people in slum clearance schemes, because there would be all sorts and sizes of families, from one to nine or 10. That is a common-sense point that we can all understand, and I see the difficulty of accepting this Amendment, which rather standardises the type of house to be built for slum clearance purposes at one particular size which would not fit the means of all persons coming from the slums. Surely, however, the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, while they make that point, realise the anxiety that we feel at the fact that there is no minimum standard in this Bill, and, surely, there would be no difficulty in devising a minimum standard which would meet that objection. I am not myself nearly enough of an expert on this subject to be able to suggest one off-hand, but the first that occurs to one is that there should be a minimum number of cubic feet for each person rehoused, and that the local authorities should be forbidden to rehouse a person with less than a certain minimum of cubic feet. There might be a certain number of cubic feet per adult person rehoused, and a certain other number per juvenile rehoused, to meet the point made by the Parliamentary Secretary on that matter, and, if that could be done, some of the objections of my hon. Friend here would be met.

Cannot the Minister tell us that at any rate he will put some minimum provision into this Bill? I think I am right in saying that, unless he does that, this will be the first Housing Measure that has passed through this House which does not provide some minimum below which a municipal authority cannot build and obtain the subsidy. [Interruption.] I am told that that is not the case, but, anyhow, I think it would be following a bad precedent to follow those Bills which do not lay down some standard. After all, the Minister tells us that he will be administering the Measure and will keep the standards up, but his successors may not be so favourably inclined. We feel very strongly indeed that a safeguard of some sort is required in this Bill, and, unless the Minister can explain to us why a safeguard, either of cubic feet per person rehoused or some other formula of that sort, is unworkable, we shall feel the greatest difficulty in supporting him in this matter.


I do not in the least complain that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Bradford (Mr. Jowett) should have taken the opportunity of drawing attention to what I said in 1923, but the position in 1923 was this. The Bill of 1923, probated by a Conservative Government, was deliberratcly designed to promote private enterprise, and was concerned primarily with the building of houses for sale—houses which would not be under the control of any local authority, and which, once out of their control, might easly have been overcrowded had there been no minimum requirement. That was a point that was most strongly pressed. There was also the further point that the great post-War problem which assailed us as soon as we turned to the problem of housing was the need for an enormous number of family houses for normal families, and, in order to ensure that the houses so built should be fit for the normal family, it was necessary to prescribe minimum conditions. It has already been pointed out, although many hon. Members do not appear to realise it, that with regard to slum clearance that kind of provision has never operated at all. You can go round the slum clearance schemes to-day, and, without the imposition of any standard, you will find there houses every bit as good as those which have been built under the 1923 and 1924 Acts. That is A statement which can be put to the proof. Why is that so? It is because the local authorities have acted with a sense of responsibility, and have had regard to the needs of the people.


I would ask my right hon. Friend whether he has realised that there is a new method of calculation now? The subsidy is per person, and the inducement, therefore, is to overcrowd more than before.


I am afraid that I cannot go into that question on this Clause, but, if I had time, I could assure my right hon. Friend that that fear is quite unfounded. It is the case that we have not had these conditions in the past, and I do not think any charge has been made that, in the slum clearance schemes which have been carried out, there has been a degradation of standard. I do not want to degrade housing standards; that is the very last thing in the world that I should want to do. I should prefer to see standards raised. But we have to have regard to the population living in an area which is to be cleared. It is not a case of local authorities providing houses for normal families. You are making a cross-section through the people of this country—the people who live in a particular area—and you may find that your minimum and maximum requirements with regard to superficial area will not meet all the cases. The point that I want to put to the House is this. Are we in all circumstances always to provide houses of 600 feet odd? Is that the suggestion? [Interruption.] The suggestion is that there can be no rehousing—


I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend again, but I suggested that the Minister should specify some standard, such as a certain superficial area per room, so as to leave him able to subdivide houses.


We are perhaps getting a little nearer agreement, but what we have to provide is that local authorities shall at both ends of the scale be able to provide accommodation which is abnormal, either smaller than the average or larger. It is clear that local authorities must be in a position to provide houses larger than can be built under the Wheatley Act, and one wants elasticity at both ends. If the House will be satisfied that, in so far as we are building houses of the type built under the 1923 and 1924 Acts, with elasticity at both ends, that standard shall be maintained, I am prepared to see that that is done in another place, but I must keep latitude for dealing with lone people on the one hand and with large families on the other. It would mean that in all these clearance schemes the two and three bedroom houses would conform to the standard of the 1923 and the 1924 Acts. If that will meet the wish of the House, I will see that it is done in another place.


I am not satisfied with the statement the Minister has just made. He told us that local authorities in most of the slum clearance cases had built the sort of accommodation that he would like, because he said they had a sense of responsibility. When we are granting money, it seems to me that we should have a sense of responsibility, too. In this Clause it is not a question of settling any maximum standard, as the Minister would seem to lead us to believe, but a minimum standard. With regard to the lone people and so on, Clause 44 quite clearly provides that the Minister may make regulations for them. That seems to meet the case of those persons. It seemed to me that the Under-Secretary was only dealing with this Bill as if it was a temporary Measure, but it is a permanent Measure. I hope it is going to build permanent houses. It is no good building permanent houses for a particular lot of people that you remove from one particular area. The lone person may die, or the two spinsters may die, and then other people will come in and inhabit the houses, and immediately you get a certain amount of overcrowding. It is quite clearly overcrowding that makes the slums. There are excellent houses in South London, but there are three or four families living in a house that was designed for one family. You get exactly the same thing if you get a family living in two or three rooms which were really designed for the lone person or the spinster we talk of, and when you are building houses under a scheme of this sort, you have to look a little further afield than the immediate problem of resettling people from one small area, otherwise you are only building houses which, in their turn, will become a slum area themselves, and, instead of getting a slum clearance scheme, you will, if you are not careful, be creating another slum with monies provided by Parliament.

I should not like to see this minimum standard laid down for local authorities who, after all, are being helped by Parliament to provide these houses. A large number of us who have occasion to practise in the courts know some of the effects of crowded housing conditions. One hears cases in the county courts of scandalous over-crowding, and one knows criminal cases which have undoubtedly arisen from those overcrowded conditions. I do not want to see a retrograde step taken which will put back the standard of housing that previous Parliaments have laid down. I do not want the House of which I am a Member in 1030 to go back to the state of things in 1923 and 1924 and, for that reason, I hope we shall not be content with what the Minister has said but shall press the Amendment to a Division.


After the promise which the right hon. Gentleman has made, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.