§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. CRAVEN-ELLIS
This being my maiden speech, I am asking the House for very great consideration. I wish to call attention to the very serious question of housing. I wonder, sometimes, whether people generally realise the magnitude of this question. When the War ceased there were many estimates of the number of houses required. I hope to be able to make a short survey of the housing situation. In doing so, I must take the House back to 1910, the year in which the taxation of Land Values was introduced, and here we find the first factor which assisted in bringing about the present housing shortage. The War followed, and we had four years of DO building except for war purposes. The 737 Committee set up by the Government at that time known as the Advisory Housing Panel suggested that there was a shortage of 400,000 houses. While I was waiting for demobilisation I wrote a review on the housing situation, and it might interest the House to learn what by the end of 1919 was my estimate of the shortage of houses in this country. My estimate was divided into six sections. First of all, I dealt with the smallest type of house which we understand as being under £20 rental value pre-War. I estimated that by the end of 1919 there would be a shortage of 500,000 houses. The second section was houses of a rental value of £20 to £40, and of these I estimated a shortage of 125,000. The third section consisted of houses of a rental value of £40 and under £80, and for this section I estimated a shortage of 25,000.
I went a little further, and in my next section I dealt with the requirements to provide for agricultural needs. At that time, I anticipated that under the policy of the Government for dealing with agriculture there would be a large increase in the agricultural population, and I estimated 390,000 houses for that section. My next section dealt with insanitary dwellings, and there I estimated for 400,000 houses. At this time there was a very considerable number of our population living in over-crowded conditions, and to provide for these I estimated that 600,000 houses would be required. All these sections brought the total of my estimate to no less than 2,040,000 houses, and that was the position, in my opinion, at the end of 1919.
We know that building did not start very rapidly, and I propose to bring my estimate up to the end of 1931, so that we may have a complete estimate of requirements, and then I will compare that with what has been done since the War. According to the census of 1921 and 1931, the growth of population requires approximately 50,000 houses per annum. Over the period under review there has been little or nothing done to remove slum properties. We have approximately 9,000,000 houses in this country, and the life of them, generally speaking, is 100 years. There are a certain number which have a longer life, but I have put in my estimate that slum clearances require no less than 80,000 houses. In that way I 738 get a grand total to the end of 1931 of no less than 3,600,000 houses. The Government have done very substantial work, and they have given considerable assistance not only to local authorities but also to private enterprse. Over this period under review the number of houses which have been supplied is approximately 1,750,000, leaving still 1,800,000 houses short.
I do not wish these figures to mislead the House, and I may point out that they are based on the assumption that agriculture will respond to the new policy initiated recently by the Government, and in that connection it is interesting to note that 100 years ago the agricultural workers numbered nearly 2,000,000, while to-day they are under 1,000,000. I assume that the agricultural industry is going to respond to this new policy, and should it do so a large number of houses will be required in the rural districts. I also assume that slum clearances will be treated courageously and scientifically. My further assumption in order to justify this huge total is that deflation will stop and wages will rise, because housing is a wage question. To substantiate my argument it is interesting to note that when the War started the previous census showed that there were 3,000,000 people living in overcrowded conditions, but at the same time as people were living under these conditions, there were 275,000 houses unoccupied. Why should we have so many people living in over-crowded conditions, and at the same time have so ninny unoccupied houses? I have already said that housing is a wage question. The War started, and we had a large increase in the volume of currency put into circulation. What was the result? Within a very short time those unoccupied houses became occupied, and ever since there has been a shortage, and over-crowding has arisen through different circumstances.
I will explain my method of dealing with the slums. I assume for the purpose of my explanation that reconditioning is not to be a factor in dealing with slum property. I have already stated that the life of property, generally speaking, is about 100 years, therefore I make an allowance for the 80,000 houses required every year to replace slum property. That. is a very large number of houses, quite apart from the number required for housing the 739 increase in the normal working population. Are we going to close our eyes to the necessity of dealing with this problem as it should be dealt with? There has recently been issued by the local authorities a circular showing the number of insanitary dwellings. I suggest that the report of these local authorities is simply touching the fringe of the question, and is in no way an attempt to deal with the problem as, in my opinion, it should be dealt with.
I have an idea as to how this difficulty may be avoided in the future. The present practice of local authorities is to approve of plans for an indefinite period, and I suggest that local authorities should only license plans for the erection of houses instead of giving an indefinite approval. I would limit the licence to a period of 80 years, and, if the conditions at the end of 80 years were good, I would extend that licence to periods of 10 years, so that property owners would know what was to be the maturity date for that particular area. By that means I feel that we should keep better control over the slum situation.
There is another factor to bear in mind. There is a tendency for houses to be kept in better condition than they were 20 or 30 years ago, and that is due, in my opinion, to more enlightened local government. At the present time local authorities call upon owners to do many things which years ago were never thought of, arid that has a tendency to extend the life of property. I do not wish to mislead the House as to the housing requirements, and therefore I will leave out of my calculations the provision for prosperity in agriculture and the scientific treatment of slum areas. By leaving those two items out I come down to the net requirements of housing to-day, which I put at 500,000 houses. That is a very large number compared with what has been done in the past. I would like to ask: Are we building the type of houses which is required? I submit that we are building houses far in excess of the requirements of the people, and of the ability of the people to pay the rents necessary to maintain them.
It cannot be denied that the Government have done a great deal towards helping the situation, but after all, private enterprise has done a great deal 740 more, and of the houses built since the War no less than two-thirds are the production of private enterprise. Not only have the Government assisted in building too many houses of the wrong type, but no houses at all have been built for the lowest-paid workers. During the last two years the type of house which has been built has been produced in excess of requirements. What has been happening? I want this to be a warning to local authorities. They have induced tenants to occupy houses the rents of which they are not capable of paying with the result that the arrears have accumulated. They stand to-day at a very high figure in some districts in particular. Recently the Ministry of Health have issued a circular calling upon local authorities to build a smaller type of house. If those houses are erected, what is going to be the result? A large number of the people who have been put into the houses erected in the past will drift out of them into the smaller and lower rented houses. I can see that in the near future local authorities will find themselves with a very large number of houses for which they are unable to find occupants. Should that situation arise, there will be an additional burden put upon the ratepayers generally.
The type of house which the Ministry of Health suggested should be erected has a floor area of 760 square feet, and is let at an inclusive rental of 10s. But in addition to that 10s. there will have to be a substantial weekly allowance from the general public funds, because the local authorities could not erect a three-bedroomed house to let at 10s. a week inclusive economically. That type of house is too large. I suggest that more attention be paid to two-bedroomed houses. There are thousands and thousands of newly married couples who desire to occupy houses of this description. Such a house can be built at a figure which would enable the majority of the lowest paid workers to pay an economic rent. My warning to local authorities is that they should pay some consideration to the possibilities which affect houses. There is the emigration situation. In 1913 the net outward emigration was over 200,000. In 1927 it was 75,000. In 1931 there was an inward balance of 85,000. I am afraid that this emigration problem is likely to create a misleading situation regarding the growth of popula- 741 tion. Should it be that our Dominions are going to open the door to emigrants as wide as it was in 1913, we may possibly find that there will be a big outward flow, probably on a par with what was the position previous to the War, and it may be that in this we shall find another factor which is going to be responsible for putting a heavy additional burden upon the ratepayers of this country.
It is surprising how differently local authorities view local housing requirements. I will quote Manchester as an example. Recently Manchester issued a slum clearance order which affects something like 1,000 houses. Of that total there are only 25 to 30 per cent. which you can honestly call insanitary property. Under the 1930 Housing Act the Manchester Corporation has that power. What does Manchester propose to do? In place of those houses it proposes to erect houses seven or eight miles away on what is called the Withenshaw Estate. Recently the housing committee of the Manchester Corporation had a meeting, and there was a proposal put forward to build 500 houses to let at 10s. a week in accordance with the wishes of the Ministry of Health. The result of that discussion of the horsing committee was that they should not build 500 houses at 10s., but that they should go on building the type of houses I have already indicated, which is already over-supplied, and particularly so in Manchester and district. It is quite possible that the poor people who are to be turned out of the slum clearance area will have no accommodation at all, and overcrowding will be even worse than it is to-day.
There is another factor. The people who are living in the thousand houses affected by the clearance order are people who work at the docks, at the fish market, the fruit market and many of the factories which are almost in the centre of Manchester. Where are they going to live? Are you going to take people who find it necessary to live as near as possible to their means of livelihood, seven or eight miles away? There is a great deal. of indiscretion exercised by local authorities in deciding their housing programme. We in this House have a right to demand that more consideration should be shown, especially when we are authorising such huge expenditure. Last year 742 we authorised the payment out of public funds of over £11,000,000, and these moneys are going towards the upkeep and maintenance of the houses, and to provide for the difference between the rentals paid and the cost of the houses. We should have greater control. But, quite apart from the £11,000,000 which the Exchequer provides, there are many millions provided by the ratepayers directly. This will go on for something like 60 years. Therefore I feel justified in saying that there is not sufficient discretion shown in making up the housing plans of local authorities.
There is another factor that I wish to mention, and that is the continuance of the Rent Restrictions Acts. If ever there was an Act of Parliament which made a very large part of the population absolutely immobile, it was the Rent Restriction Act. It is creating a lot of disadvantages. A man may be living as a statutory tenant and may not be desirous of losing his statutory status in the north of London. Probably he works on the Surrey side of the Thames, and he has all that distance to cover. He could get a house probably in the area in which ho is working, but if he did so he would lose his statutory status, and the benefit of an uneconomic rent which is fixed by the Rent Restrictions Acts. The continuance of that Act is having an effect far wider than many hon. Members realise. The sooner the Act is removed the better. The probabilities are that when it is removed many local authorities will find that, owing to this immobility of a large part of the population, they have gone on with their housing programme, but the removal of the Act will cause the people to live closer to their employment, and there will he certain local authorities with an over-supply of houses of different types.
There is a further and new factor to be taken into consideration. We are threatened with the breaking of the Treaty with Ireland. I understand that there are something like 400,000 southern Irishmen in this country. If the Treaty is broken these men become foreigners. We are not desirous of having such a large percentage of foreigners in this country. Are we going to house these people? Many of these people will go back to their own country, but at the moment they are taken into consideration 743 in estimating the housing requirements of this country. There is a further point to which it is desirable and necessary to refer, and that is that local authorities are becoming very powerful landlords. In my own opinion it is an extremely dangerous situation. Some local authorities have power to trade, and it is possible, under the bureaucratic power of Socialism, that the great landlord of the local authority might make it a condition of tenancy that tenants buy their milk, their meat, or their building materials from the local authority. We have recently had a discussion in this House of a Kettering Gas Bill. Why? For the reason I have referred to—the power of the great local landlord. There they insisted upon the people in the Kettering houses using electricity. This House very rightly said, "No, you tenants have the choice of gas or electricity, or both." But still these possibilities may arise. There is a certain corporation, Birmingham, which has a savings bank. Birmingham may make it a condition of tenancy that corporation tenants shall put their small savings in the corporation bank.
For these several reasons, I think that the time has come when the local authorities should not be permitted to own houses, and that all those properties now held by local authorities should go under the control of public utility societies. One goes into districts and finds evidence of these great local, powerful landlords using their housing programme as a political machine. I have instances of a large estate being tenanted in the interests of the Conservative party, and I have an instance in another town of a big housing estate being used in the interests of the Socialist party, therefore I feel that this House should be warned of the danger of local authorities becoming such powerful landlords. In dealing with housing, there is the very important factor of the relation of housing to labour turnover to consider. Owing to the immobility of labour arising out of the Rent Restrictions Acts, labour turnover is affected by the fact that men and women have to live in unsuitable and insanitary houses, and there is the distance from their work, which creates 744 inefficiency. If people arrive at their work after 20 minutes' or half an hour's journey, they cannot be as efficient for their day's work as those who live nearer to their place of employment.
There is also the question of transport in relation to housing, and there again the Rent Restrictions Acts are putting a very great strain upon the transport of this country. It is helping to increase the cost of living of the people and creating a false impression as to the congestion of traffic in certain areas, which may cause a local authority to proceed with a street widening programme at a very heavy cost to the ratepayers, due entirely to the procedure and programme of local authorities, which are throttled owing to the existence of the Rent Restrictions Acts. I should like to see the local authorities doing no more building. Now that private enterprise can carry out the entire programme, and particularly in relation to the smaller type of house, I can see no objection to the Government guaranteeing the building societies to the extent of the difference between the advance made by the society say, up to 95 or. 97½, per cent., and the amount realised in case of default.
I believe that with the building society machinery, which is so highly developed and so efficient, and with the co-operation of the Government, it would be possible, in the case of houses selling freely up to £600, to arrange a programme which would free local authorities almost entirely from having to build houses and would provide a house at a rental which the people were able to pay. It would be infinitely less costly to the ratepayers and taxpayers. The 10s. house of the Ministry of Health will call for a heavy charge on the public funds, and this co-operation would be to the benefit of all parties concerned. You may say, "Why should the Government give their guarantee? Are we justified in taking that risk?" What is the risk? If you take a long period of the building society movement, it is surprising to find that the defalcations are only approximately a third of 1 per cent., based on the total mortgage capital, which is over £350,000,000, or to put it in another way, it is only a half of 1 per cent. based on the total number 745 Of mortgages; so that, with that record and experience, it does not seem that the Government would be running any material risk. It must be infinitesimal, having regard to the huge volume of business which would be done.
What would be the benefits? In the first place, you would be mobilising private capital; in the second place, you would be mobilising the earnings of the people; and, next, you would be assisting the building industry. There are thousands of houses which could be built under this scheme, and as a result you would help to reduce the figure of more than 300,000 people who are now unemployed in the building trade. What is more important still, I think, is that to give these people the opportunity of ownership will impress upon their minds the real duties of citizenship. It is remarkable, as a result of the building society movement generally, how people have drifted from Socialism as soon as they have realised and appreciated the benefits of true citizenship, through the ownership of houses. I feel that I can suggest to this House, without any hesitation at all, that the closest co-operation between the building societies and the Government would be extremely beneficial. They would have the whole of the building societies throughout the country behind them, and a long period, say, of 30 years for repayment could be provided, so that the cost to the occupier need not exceed quite a nominal rent.
May I give a few figures, because I have advocated that more attention should be paid to the two-bedroom type of home? Take, say, a house with 600 super-feet area. That house to-day can be built for £250, plus the land, say, £20, and roads and sewers £15, making a total of £285. Under a plan of co-operation between the building societies and the Government, that house could be let inclusive of rates and taxes at 9s.4½d per week, and there are many thousands of people who are wanting this type of house. That would be the lowest rented house which would have been built since the War, but it is possible, providing that the machinery which exists on both sides to-day—that is, the Government and the building societies—was brought closer together.
There is one very important factor which has a bearing on the cost of hous- 746 ing, and that is the monetary policy. I think the Government should pay attention to it and, as soon as possible, let us know what their future monetary policy is going to be, because we must have cheap money, not only for industry, but for housing, and we cannot hope to get to that position unless the Government will decide as soon as possible and let us know that their monetary policy is going to be one thing or the other. If we could have a programme from the Government as to what our monetary policy is going to be, it would be possible for many of the loans raised by local authorities at high rates—some as high as 6½ per cent.—to be refloated on a basis, I hope, under the monetary policy which I have at the back of icy mind, on which they could borrow money at as low as 3 or 3½ per cent. Therefore, I submit to the Government that this housing situation, which is so vital to many of the people of this country, should receive, not what I call the daily routine work of the Ministry, but something more practical. Let it have more sympathy from those who are responsible for its conduct.
§ Mr. SELLEY
I must apologise to the House for the fact, that like the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis), I am making a maiden speech. My hon. Friend has dealt so exhaustively with the subject that I do not propose to go over the whole field but I may inform the House that I have some acquaintance with the London problem. I think I should be the first to recognise that the housing problem is not solved at the present moment and it is certainly not solved for the County of London. I would like to make another observation far the benefit of the hon. Members in front of me and that is that a good many particularly on the Socialist side, have an idea that the solution of the housing problem depends on who builds the houses, who owns them, and under what conditions they are built; in other words, it is a good solution of the housing problem provided the houses are all built by a municipality and all done strictly tinder trade union conditions. With the latter point, I should entirely agree, but with the former I should disagree to the extent of saying that, in my opinion, the solution of the housing problem depends neither on who builds the house, nor on 747 the rent of the house; the solution of the housing problem is, houses and more houses.
May I say that one or two of the difficulties and confusion of thought that arise in the minds of many people in dealing with housing arise from the fact that directly you talk about housing they have an idea that you are dealing with horrible slums and horrible people and that you are dealing with a class of people that really you approach with very great difficulty. My view of the housing problem is that it is something far more than the slums. We have quite good and respectable tenants living in slums who can pay an economic rent. It is largely the difficulty of Ending a place to which they can move. I think it has been said that in the Act of 1930 we were trying to deal with a class of people which I and many others who have studied the problem are willing to admit we have not dealt with yet. I am talking particularly of the labouring man. The mechanic in most cases we are able to accept as a municipal tenant because he can pay the municipal rent, but we very often find also the unfortunate labourer, whose disability arises from two causes, first, that he may have and has, as we all know, a lower earning capacity and, secondly, it may be, that he has a larger family. Those two possibilities prevent the municipalities at the present moment from accommodating that lowly paid workman. I have seen it happen frequently and repeatedly, and am trying to find out whether there is a way by which we can bridge the gap.
Speaking particularly of London, and of our cottage estates, we are gradually getting down to a low cost of building, and I think it would be fair to say that the average cost of producing a house outside the London area is about £70 per room, or £350 for a five-roomed cottage. The difficulty, however, is that, directly you try to provide housing accommodation in the inner ring of London, in a block dwelling, you find that the cost works out at £160 per room instead of £70. The Minister, in his White Paper suggests that, the cost of building having fallen, we might try to base our rents on the cost of building production, but, quite frankly, I think that, so far as inner London is concerned, that is impossible.
748 There is another class of people who have to be housed, namely, the "difficult" tenant. The Act of 1930 sets out a form of public assistance in regard to rents, and it has been laid down that that assistance shall be given to those who need it, but only for so long as they need it. I suggest to the House, however, that no local authority has ever yet been found to put that into operation —at any rate that is the case so far as the London County Council is concerned —unless the housing of that class of person is turned over to the public assistance committee. I see no other way of doing it but to make the inquiry through the public assistance committee.
There is yet another very large section of people in London, to house whom a real effort is being made by public utility societies, and whom, for want of a better term, I may describe as the submerged class. There are undertakings such as that of Father Jellico in North St. Pan-cras, and that of Prebendary Carlile, of the Church Army. They are very much better able than a public authority to select the most deserving cases, and here I should like to make a suggestion. I do not know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer would accept it, but I have worked for many years with good Christian, Church folks who are anxious to do something for this very distressed and depressed class of people, and I know of no better way in which they could use their money than by subscribing liberally to these great public utility societies, who, if I may say so, do not select their people on the Nosey Parker system, but are understanding people who go among those who have been submerged, perhaps through economic causes, or, perhaps, partly the fault of one side or the other, but who at any rate need rescuing, because they have families who may be brought up to a proper level of citizenship.
I believe there is so much public spirit in this country to-day that it would be possible to raise quite a lot of money by suggesting, through the Ministry of Health, to people of good intentions, that, instead of a capital levy, they might lend their money to the country free of interest for a number of years, provided that the capital were secured to those who come after them free of Death Duties or under some such conditions. I have 749 not worked out this suggestion; it may be revolutionary, or it may be Socialistic, but it might be possible to find a means of bridging the gap for the money market. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton spoke of 3½ per cent., bun money is being raised to-day to my knowledge at 2½ per cent. by these philanthropic societies. I would, however, go further, and make an appeal to the Christian spirit of this great country for the loan of money for, say, 20 years, to see if we could clear up some of these horrible wrecks. Everybody in this House desires to take them out of the hovels in which they are and place them in a decent way of living and lead them back into self-respecting and decent citizenship. I am alluding, and I know my hon. Friends on the Labour benches will not misunderstand me, to the fallen and the derelict whom we who know London and the places where they exist are anxious should be housed, because their children will be future citizens of this great Empire.
Reference has been made to the fact that the carrying of this great burden of property by municipalities may become a political menace, and I do not think that any of us have our eyes closed to that possibility. A time may come, even sooner than we expect, when our municipalities may be relieved both of the selection of tenants and of the management of these great properties, by putting them into the hands of a sort of trust that would be above the elected bodies. We should in that way make sure that they had the interest of the country at heart, and were not looking for political opportunities or political advantage.
§ Mr. TINKER
I am sure that the House will agree with me in saying how pleased we were to listen to the two maiden speeches which have just been delivered. The two hon. Members occupy seats which were lately occupied by two of my colleagues, and we regret that fact, but at the same time we cannot get away from the feeling that both of them have given us very able speeches on a subject that is of very great importance. Although we may not agree exactly with the views which they have put forward, we are very pleased that they have had the opportunity of bringing their views before the House. To those of us who have lived under the conditions which 750 they have described the recollection comes very vividly to our minds. Most Members who represent working-class constituencies in this House have gone through all the stages of which the two hon. Members have spoken, and I do not know of anything that can create more bitter feelings in the minds of working-class people than bad housing conditions. I hope, therefore, that the Minister of Health will give close attention to what has been said to-night, and will see if something can be done in the matter.
The hon. Member for South Battersea (Mr. Selley) dealt with the problem of London, and I have here some figures relating to London which I think are typical of other parts of the country also, though London, being one of the main centres, is well worth describing. I am told that 100,000 persons are living in 30,000 basements in London. Such conditions cannot be pleasant for them. I am told, also, and I do not think anyone will dispute it, that in London there are at least 1,000,000 people living under slum conditions. That is a big question for any right-thinking body of men, and especially legislators. The Bishop of London's Housing Committee recently issued, to the members of the London Diocesan Conference, a statement which contained these words:Deplorably little has been done for the London slum dweller with whom this Committee is, concerned, or to cope with London overcrowding.The Bishop of London, therefore, has been paying attention to this matter, but I would say to the Church people that, while it is all very well to speak on a, matter like this, I should like to see them go more deeply into it, and try to get something done. Reports have been made of housing surveys in Chelsea, Shoreditch, Somers Town, Southwark, and other districts, by two very capable and gifted women, Mrs. Irene Barclay, B.A., and Miss Evelyn Perry, and I would like to quote an extract from the Southwark report which was issued about 1930:Throughout whole tracts of the borough the Housing Acts are virtually inoperative and the poverty, unemployment, low and irregular wages, so much in evidence, conspire to render the task of the borough council impossible of effective fulfilment unless and until public opinion accepts, not wily in theory but in practice, the position that houses must be built with public money and let at economic rents, the deficit being defrayed either by the rates or by taxes.751 Unless this is taken over and dealt with by the public, there will be no solution of the housing problem. The hon. Member who opened this discussion spoke of building two-bedroomed houses. I deplore that. I think there should be fewer two-bedroomed houses. The housing problem is chiefly a working-class problem. We want future citizens for carrying on the race, and a working-class household usually has three, four or more children. Two-bedroomed houses do not give the kind of living that we want for our people. When a child gets to a certain age, decent parents want to separate the sexes. Everyone who belongs to a working-class home knows that this has been one of the troubles of the parents. I can speak from my own experience as one of 10 children. The difficulty we were faced with was trying to get sufficient rooms to separate the sexes.
§ Mr. SELLEY
I think the idea of the two-bedroomed dwellings is not so much to put families into them as to relieve couples from occupying rooms which might be occupied by families. It is economy of space and not to cause any overcrowding of families into two rooms. That is not my idea or that of my friends.
§ Mr. TINKER
I am glad to hear that, and I can now see the hon. Member's point. As we are both agreed on that, I will not pursue it. I am faced with the same difficulty in my constituency as the hon. Member. It is rather curious that I received a letter to-day from a constituent asking me if T could do anything to get him a house. He has two boys, aged 14 and 16½, who have to sleep downstairs on a sofa. There is a family of 16 in a two-bedroomed house. He gets desperate and says if we cannot do something he will have to do something himself, and he asks if I would advise him to write to the Minister of Health. This is only an instance of what is happening all over the country, and it impresses upon the House of Commons, whose prime duty it is to attend to the wants of poor people, to see if something cannot be done with this pressing problem.
The Amendment on the Paper speaks of the need of houses, and goes on to say that the authorities could make better use of the money that is granted. I 752 have not heard any complaint about that. I think the difficulty is that there is not enough money to deal with the problem. We are evidently not keeping up with the shortage. What can be done to press forward with more houses. I believe environment is one of the prime factors in the moulding of one's life. I believe a person living under slum conditions can develop into a very bad citizen and, conversely, I believe that, put under decent housing conditions, the best possible can be brought out of those people. I have read several reports, among them Wakefield and Manchester, and have followed up the position of people who have been taken from slum dwellings and put on to housing sites. The reports show that in 95 per cent. of the cases, given decent housing conditions, the slum dweller has 'roved himself a decent and likeable citizen. If we would set out to give our people a decent standard of life, I do not know what we could do better than to give them improved housing conditions. Although I do not agree with the wording of the Amendment, I thank the hon. Member and his supporters for giving us an opportunity of dealing with the problem.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel CRUDDAS
I ask the indulgence of the House in rising to address it for the first time. I welcome the decision of the Minister of Health to concentrate on building three-roomed houses at a low rent. There is very considerable dissatisfaction among the lower-paid workers in the North of England. They see four and five-roomed houses built with the subsidy and then.et at rents that they cannot possibly afford. They see the wrong tenants getting into the houses. The housing committee of Newcastle, when asked about this, said they knew that they had the wrong class of tenant sometimes, but their capital expenditure was so enormous that they could not risk having tenant who could not pay the rent. So I welcome the idea of three-roomed houses, because they are the smallest in which a family can live in decency. In the North we have too many two-roomed houses.
Then I would ask the Minister to consider the cutting down of all unnecessary trimmings. I do not want cheap material or cheap labour, but I want to cut out all unnecessary things. I should 753 like to ask if a big bathroom is worth the money. May I take two classes who wash probably as much as anyone else. The miner takes a tub in front of the fire at home, and in some cases he prefers that to using the pithead bath. The British who live in India never see a big bath unless they are in Bombay or Calcutta. I was there for four years, and we always washed in a large washing-up basin, which made a very efficient bath. A bathroom is not essential—plenty of water and a good supply of hot water, but we can cut out the bathroom in some of these houses. I hope the Minister will overhaul all the plans, because an architect on going over them will get a considerable reduction in cost. Those houses, which would be to rent, would have to be built by the local authorities. Local authorities already have so large a debt that they will not embark upon a building scheme with the enthusiasm they once had, so I suggest that we should do something more to encourage private enterprise. The builder is building houses, but not houses to rent. He builds a house or a group of houses and sells them in order to get the money to enable him to go on building.
We want to attract more capital into the industry. It is a peculiar thing that the better use you make of your capital the less dividend you get in return, and there is really no better use that you can make of it than to put it into building. Therefore, I suggest that the Government should consider the possibility of the remission of Schedule A of Income Tax upon a certain class of houses. Suppose that one were to suggest that upon three-roomed houses built within the next five years to let at a low rent there should be no Schedule A tax for 20 years, upon a house assessed at £20 there would be a gain of £100. I am afraid that hon. Members opposite might not agree. They feel that they may be in office in the next 20 years. They feel that if they were they could not very well cancel an agreement under which a large number of houses had been built. They would not like to give such a large concession to landlords, but there is an easy and an honourable way out of it which would give satisfaction to everybody. They could reduce the rate of Income Tax and then the concession would be smaller. I hope that the Government will consider the possibility of attracting private 754 capital into this very necessary national work, and I welcome the decision of the Minister to concentrate upon smaller houses.
§ Mr. PEAT
I do not feel that the discussion upon the question of housing should be allowed to pass without some reference to a very important part of the housing problem, namely, the density problem. At the present time only 12 houses are allowed to be built to the acre in respect of which the Government subsidy is to be paid. I know that the Minister deals very sympathetically with all cases which are brought to his notice, and in which he is in a position to allow a greater density than 12 houses to the acre. I should like to take the opportunity of making an appeal to him not only to take into consideration the reduced rental which it may be possible to charge for the houses if they are built at a greater density than 12 to the acre, but also to take into consideration the surroundings in which the houses are to be built. You very often find, although the extra rental from building more than 12 houses to the acre may not be very much and that therefore a good case cannot be made on that basis, that at the same time one can prove that there are parts available with open spaces which should, in my opinion, very much influence the Minister in allowing schemes for building houses at a greater density than 12 to the acre. In the north of England in which I have the honour to represent a great industrial constituency our greatest and most pressing need is the supply of working-class houses, and we are prepared to go forward with big schemes for supplying those houses in order to get rid of the back-to-back houses and other insanitary dwellings, if we can build more than 12 houses to the acre. It is going to make a tremendous difference to my constituency, and, I dare say, to the north of England generally if we get those concessions when we ask for them from the Minister.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I would not have dared to venture into this Debate but for the two speeches which have just been delivered. I rather suspect that if we remain silent the right hon. Gentleman the Minister may be inclined to feel that we agree with the observations which have been made by his two hon. Friends. I am glad to observe that the Parlia- 755 mentary Secretary, at all events, was not suffering from that delusion. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Darlington (Mr. Peat) has appealed to the Minister to permit local authorities to erect more than 12 houses to the acre.
I have just been reminded that one of the hon. Gentlemen who preceeded me was making his first venture into the Debates of the House, and I think that I shall be expressing the feeling of all Members if I say that he performed his very delicate duty extremely well. Whether we agree or disagree with his contention, he has indicated that he knows something about the subject on which he spoke. We shall look forward to his further interventions with equal interest. The hon. Gentleman below the Gangway suggested that with the right hon. Gentleman's consent they would be willing to erect a large number of working class houses if only they could erect more than 12 to the acre. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's Department worked out the figures to a very fine decimal point and that in regard to the average houses, which, when prices were slightly higher, would have cost £500 to build, the net rent for land alone was estimated to be round about 3d. per week. If the hon. Gentleman represents an area where the housing problem is very acute, and where they are said to be bubbling over with excitement and enthusiasm to remove back-to-back houses, and it is 3d. a week or id. a week cost of land which is barring the way, I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that there is not a lot of enthusiasm in the district. If that seems to be the only obstacle, and if housing conditions are as acute as the hon. Member suggests, the Minister might very well bring pressure to bear upon that authority, and insist upon their providing the houses of which their people are, apparently in need.
The hon. Member who made his maiden speech referred to the mining population, the size of houses required, the provision of pithead baths, and so forth. Knowing something of mining districts, I would say to the hon. Member that, while it was the general rule in the past that a few miners' houses were given the luxury of a bath in the home, to-day the miners are as anxious for a bath in the home as any other section of the com- 756 munity, and we should regret if the right hon. Gentleman took the step of going back into the dark ages in regard to the provision of houses without baths. It is true that in certain mining areas there was antipathy to pithead baths, but if the hon. Member has observed recent developments he will know that wherever provision has been made for pithead baths the miners are taking advantage of them. Of all the social improvements made in mining districts during the past 20 years, nothing is comparable with pithead baths, where they have been provided. But having made provision for pithead baths so that the miner may leave the dirt at the colliery where he picked it up, what is to become of the wife and family? Are they not to be guaranteed the privilege of a bath, or must they be condemned to the tub before the fire, which was referred to by the hon. Member. The Minister is so well acquainted with the needs of the time that I am sure he would not for one moment consider the advisability of allowing local authorities to erect new houses, with Government subsidy or municipal subsidy, unless they contained the usual bath.
Both the hon. Members suggested that local authorities who were enthusiastic about housing had had their enthusiasm somewhat damped during the past three, four or five years. Particularly does that apply where unemployment has been very acute over that period. While it may have been that the average house with few of the present day amenities could be obtained at a net rent, including rates, of 6s. to 7s. a week, these same authorities are obliged to-day, because houses were erected between 1920 and 1926, to charge a rent varying from 12s. to 14s. a week and, as unemployment has been acute for a very long period, large arrears have accrued, large overdrafts at the bank have accrued, and the local authorities have been obliged to pay a 2d., 3d. or 4d. rate exclusively in interest on overdrafts, due to housing arrears over that period of time. While these circumstances exist, that is no reflection upon the local authorities and no reflection upon their housing enthusiasm or upon their desire to provide better home facilities than was the case 10 years ago. But it does indicate that the right hon. 757 Gentleman's Department might very well consider how, if possible, they might relieve the present day burdens of those authorities who were enthusiasts eight or 10 years ago.
The right hon. Gentleman is fully aware of the unfortunate position of many local authorities. I had the honour of introducing a deputation to the right hon. Gentleman a few months ago, and I know that he would be the first to admit that while it would perhaps be out of the question to make a general, all-round reduction of housing rents under the Addison scheme, something might be done in respect of a large number of houses which were erected over a considerable period of time, where a local authority has responded magnificently to the national call and has had to pay the price for their enthusiasm during those years, because of unemployment, short-time working and destitution on the part of tenants who would gladly pay if they had the money, who relish the idea of residing in a better house, who enjoy the privilege of cultivating their garden, back and front, and enjoying the fresh air facilities in the new houses that. have been erected since the War. If he could find any means whereby those local authorities, particularly in mining areas, could be relieved of some of the arrears that have accrued over a long time, whether by revising the terms of reference given to the rents tribunal in 1921, or by some other means that could be devised by the same department that devised the formula—those who devised the formula of 1929 could devise anything; there is nothing that they cannot do, if the will is there on the part of the Minister and the case has been made out—he would not only help to relieve certain local authorities but he might to some extent stimulate building, which would be a helpful factor in regard to unemployment and in other ways.
We have been told that private enterprise ought to be encouraged and that facilities should be given so that private enterprise can secure ready money with which to build more houses. That is a legitimate transaction. Since local authorities are pretty well driven out of the field for the moment, because of the demand for economy imposed by the Ministry of Health, or certainly encouraged by the Ministry of Health, and because of other factors over which the 758 Ministry of Health has no control, private enterprise have an open field to erect houses as fast as they like. The problem is not one so much of the Minister encouraging private enterprise, but that private enterprise have the field to themselves and can erect houses as fast as they can sell them. The problem of the lower middle classes, the would-be purchasers of houses, is almost as bad as that of the artisan who is only partially employed. There need be no action on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to discourage local authorities and encourage private enterprise, seeing that private enterprise have the field largely to themselves today, and the need for houses is well known. It is because private enterprise know full well that it is only in such places as Bournemouth, Torquay and Blackpool, where those who have retired from the industrial field to a more beneficial atmosphere are willing to buy houses, that it is possible for private enterprise to be really active at this moment.
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that while it may be that a few authorities are insisting on powers to build houses, the Department ought to encourage those local authorities who manifest any willingness to build houses. The Department have already conceded in many areas the power to build 16 and even 18 houses per acre, where the local authority were really anxious to get on with the houses. If the local authority mentioned by the hon. Member who spoke last will make such inquiries as are necessary, I think they will find that they require no special powers from the Department who, in the past, have always been willing to respond to the call of a local authority for any contracting down to eight or any expansion up to 18, where the conditions necessitated such a change. We suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should encourage local authorities, wherever he can, to build decent houses, and to remember that, while we may be passing through a crisis at this moment, we ere hopeful that the crisis will come to an end, that the houses, once erected, will not be disposed of in five or 10 years, and that their life will be somewhere about 60 or 100 years. It would be folly on our part, in 1932, to erect any kind of 759 house which 20 years hence may become a slum and require a further Slum Clearance Act for the purpose of demolishing what we build to-day. The better type of house is producing a better type of citizen. Men, women and children are benefiting from the Housing Act of 1919, and although it may have been costly it has not all been a waste of money. It may have been extravagant at the time but the benefit to health and an improved social outlook will far outweigh the colossal sums that have been expended on these houses under the Addison scheme. I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman would do well to follow the good line of his predecessors at the Ministry of Health by helping to maintain a decent standard of house; encourage local authorities to improve rather than depreciate the standard set up in 1929.
§ Mr. McENTEE
I desire to deal with one or two points mentioned by the hon. Member who opened this discussion. I regret that I did not hear the whole of his speech. I was interested in his remark that local authorities should no longer build houses. It is interesting to consider why they commenced to build houses for the working-classes. They did so because nobody else would build them for people who were needing them at that time, but there is a desire, apparently, to get back to the time when private enterprise can again exploit people who need houses just as it did prior to the War. After the War private enterprise found that it was impossible to build houses which they could let to tenants at a reasonable rent and at the same time make a profit. As a consequence the Government were compelled to assist local authorities to build houses for those who are called the working-classes. Incidentally, it is rather extraordinary that the working-classes in society should always be the people who need assistance from local authorities or the Government. In a well ordered society the working-classes, that is those people who do the work of the nation, would be the last to need any such assistance, but in the strange order of society of to-day it is the people who do no work who can afford to build houses and palaces, and the working people, who do all the work, who are compelled to ask for assistance from local 760 authorities or the Government if they are to have anything like decent houses in which to live. Local authorities built houses because it became essential in the interests of public health and decency that houses should be built and because private enterprise would no longer build them because they did not pay. If R e were faced with a position in which it did not pay private enterprise to make bread, they would cease to make bread and the people would starve.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. McENTEE
Probably they would, but they could not make it unless they had the wherewithal. My complaint is that people who need houses have not the opportunity to build them themselves. If they had the opportunity and the wherewithal they could do so. I could build a house from the foundations to the top.
§ Mr. McENTEE
The hon. Member cannot know much about trade unions. I have been a, member of a trade union in the building trade for 40 years and I have learnt something about trade unionism and about the building of houses. My experience in the building trade is that those who remain in it will be occupied all their lives in building fine mansions for other people. People in the building trade are very lucky if they can get a working-class house for themselves. That is a system of society which we cannot avoid, but ultimately I hope the people will wake up to the fact that those who are doing the work are not able to get a decent living themselves and are compelled to ask for a subsidy from the Government in order to enable them to pay a rent to the landlord, who is thus able to make a profit. The Rent Restriction Act was brought into existence solely because of the exploitation of private enterprise. The Government in the earlier period of the War, in the interests of public decency and quietness among the population and in order to prevent riots, passed that Act, and they are compelled now to keep it on the Statute Book still. What would happen 761 if the Rent Restriction Act were taken off the Statute Book to-day? I am afraid that quietness would not last very long.
I have had some experience of public utility societies, and I have a high regard for the work which they have done in the building of houses. A great deal more could be done and ought to be done by public utility societies in the provision of houses, but the limitations which are placed on them to-day are far too great. For instance, under the Development Act of 1929 "public utility society" is defined in a way which makes the benefit of that Act only possible to statutory public utility societies. Assistance can be given to railway companies, gas companies, electricity companies, dock and harbour boards, and bodies of that kind, but no assistance can be given to public utility societies engaged in building houses. I would ask the Minister when he replies to say if consideration can be given to the extension—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I am afraid that the Minister would be out of order if he dealt with that question, as it would involve legislation.
§ Mr. McENTEE
Perhaps the Minister will give consideration to the point which I have not been allowed to develop on the present occasion but which I hope to develop on some future occasion. What is the real drag on housing? It has been stated that it is trade union conditions. The hon. Member for South Battersea (Mr. Selley) who has far more experience of building than the Mover of this Motion, will agree with me, I think, that trade union conditions to-day are a necessity in the building trade just as in every other trade. The real drag on the tenant who occupies a council house to-day, is not the trade union, and not the builder, but the moneylender. I do not know if the Mover of the Motion is aware that in the case of a council house built under the Addison Act, 50 per cent. of every shilling goes into the pocket of the person who lent the money. Figures were quoted by the late Mr. Wheatley who was Minister of Health, to show that out of every 9s. paid by the tenant of a council house, 4s. 6d. went in interest. You will not, and you cannot get cheaper 762 houses unless you cheapen money for the purpose of building.
Very large sums of money are put into the Post Office Savings Bank by small investors who get 2½ per cent. interest. If that money or a large part of it were ear-marked for the purpose of building houses, you could cheapen housing very much. I hope that consideration will be given to this money octopus which is strangling housing and preventing our people from securing decent conditions. Everybody would desire to see our people get out of the slums, but if they are to be brought out of the slums one of the things that will have to be considered is cheap money for house building and I see no reason why part, at any rate, of the huge sum deposited yearly in the Post Office Savings Bank should not be used for that purpose. I suppose that it is used in other ways for Government purposes. The Mover of the Motion has pointed out that as high as 6½ per cent. is still being paid by local authorities who entered into borrowing arrangements during the period after the War. I have heard of one instance where 7 per cent. is being paid and in the case of the authority which I represent, had it not been that some of us were rather more farseeing than others, we would still be paying 7 per cent. for money borrowed at the time of the Addison scheme. Fortunately we were able to make an arrangement by which when money became cheaper we were able to pay off the old loan and re-borrow at a cheaper rate.
I hope that this discussion will have the effect of drawing the Minister's attention to the serious overcrowding of our people at the present time. No doubt he is aware of it but, in drawing his attention to it in this way, we are drawing public attention to it. At the same time I hope that consideration will be given to the fact that the real cause of dear housing is neither trade unionism nor builders; it is not the cost of wages and not even the cost of materials, although that is considerably higher than it need be. The real reason for the high cost of building is the high rate of interest which has to be paid over long periods.
Sir H. YOUNG
This Debate has been distinguished by the three admirable maiden speeches to which we have 763 listened with so much pleasure from the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis), the hon. Member for South Battersea (Mr. Selley)—who spoke with so much knowledge and with that touch of broad humanity which always illuminates knowledge and makes it available for our purposes—and, finally, from the hon. and gallant Member for Wansbeck (Lieut.-Colonel Cruddas), who spoke in a no less effective manner. The suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Wansbeck with regard to the Income Tax must, I fear, be passed on to a higher authority than myself. I should never venture to rush into that sphere, particularly at this season which may be described as a close season for Ministerial suggestions on the subject of taxation.
The note struck by the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) and by another hon. Member in this discussion has been that of the relation of the price of money to the high cost of housing, and the suggestion has been made that what is needed for the solution of the housing problem is cheaper money. If what is meant is cheaper money for all purposes and if the proposition is simply that cheaper money would benefit the country, then I quite agree. If it is a question as to what means are to be taken in order to secure cheaper money, that would take me beyond my province. But if the suggestion is that there should be cheaper money for housing alone, that simply means some form of concealed subsidy for housing, and to that I am opposed. If you are to give a subsidy you should give it openly and not wrap it up in the form of a reduction of the rate of interest or something of that sort.
As to the real relation of cheaper money to the housing problem, is it the fact that it is the dearness of money which is holding up the housing supply? I do not believe it. I do not believe for a moment it is that factor which is holding up the housing supply. I believe the holding up of the supply is due very much more to the other factors involved, namely, the high cost of material and the high cost of labour. Before offering some general observations on this question, let me reply to the query put by the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Peat) 764 regarding the density of houses. It is necessary in the interest of the proper supply of the kind of housing accommodation which is required by a locality, that no rule as to the density of houses should be as a law of the Medes and Persians. It is entirely a question of what is required in the actual circumstances of the locality in question.
I think that the most useful thing I can do in reply to the very interesting Debate to which we have listened is to suggest a few general propositions to the House by way of bringing the housing problem up to date with the most recent information available to His Majesty's advisers at the Ministry of Health, because, after all, that is the useful function which the Ministry can perform in such a question as this. The first fact that we can state is the actual cost to the State of the housing subsidy at the present time. Each house approved for subsidy will incur to the Exchequer a liability of £130, and that will usually incur a consequential liability to the local authority of £65, so that the liability to public funds incurred by each house approved for subsidy is £195. The charge on the Exchequer is equivalent to £7 10s. per year for 40 years. I mention that. fact to show, even with the fall in the cost of housing, how serious is still the financial liability involved in the approval of houses for subsidy, and to warn the House that in the present state of national finance it is not possible to look upon this obligation lightly. When we reflect that already our annual recurring liability in the national budget for housing is no less than £12,750,000, it is a financial obligation which cannot he regarded as trivial in the present economic conditions.
In regard to the supply of houses, let me refer for full information to the informing report on housing conditions made by a departmental committee of the Ministry of Health two years ago. Since the War, the number of houses built has been 1,820,000. The increase in population between 1921 and 1931 was 2,000,000. The result is—and this is the next interesting fact to which I would call the attention of the House—that at the present time over the country as a whole the average number of persons to a house is barely four. That does not show that there is no longer a housing 765 problem, because there is not an even distribution over every class of house and all over the country. It shows, if you take the country as a whole, that there is no evidence that the country is suffering from a housing shortage. It means that in each proposition made for fresh housing you have to consider whether the area in question is one of the areas that is in need of more housing accommodation. There are many areas which have no need for State effort for providing them with fresh houses. We cannot afford to waste public money in such areas, so it needs the most careful inquiry whether this or that area which makes an application for houses is in need of State subsidy to help them.
We know what the actual policy should be as regards economising in the State resources available for housing and making use of them to the best possible end in the present time of national difficulty. I am deeply conscious that the present is a time when, if you are failing to get the very best possible value out of every pound of the taxpayers' or ratepayers' money that you spend, even for the most important social purposes, you are committing a grave offence against the community. As to the extent to which we are getting value, the most important report to which I have referred will establish that there is no longer any need for a great State effort to provide the kind of housing which for the most part we have been providing, that we have provided enough of the better class subsidised house, and that what we have not done is to provide enough smaller houses for the poor person. If that be so, it follows as the night follows the day, that in the nation's present needs we must concentrate the whole housing effort on the provision of the smaller class of houses for the wage-earners, which are so difficult to provide except with State assistance. That is the policy of the Government at the present time, as it has been enunciated in the circular of the Ministry of Health, No. 1238.
What should be done at the present time is to concentrate the whole of the assisted subsidy effort on the provision of small non-parlour houses. That, I maintain, is the only possible policy in view of the actual facts at the present time. Does that mean that we are wholly to exclude the two-roomed house or the slightly bigger house for the larger 766 family? No, it does not. We have to provide the sort of houses which the country wants, and, if in a particular locality we find that there is a special need for the small two-roomed house for the old couple without children, let them build them. If in a locality a special case is made for the larger house for a family which is larger than normal, let the effort be devoted to meeting that special need. But as a national service, we find at the present time that we want to concentrate the effort that is assisted by the subsidy on the provision of houses of about 760 square feet area, three-roomed, non-parlour houses, which can be let at a maximum rent of 10s., including rates, and in London for a few shillings more. The situation needs careful watching, and will be watched to see if the circumstances change and need an alteration in the direction of the effort.
I have described what appears at the present moment to be the right direction of policy. The House will expect me to say, after a few words about the general state of the housing policy, a few words on another aspect of the problem which consists in remedying the evil of the slum area, and in the clearing away of unfit houses and the substitution of bad houses by better houses. That is an effort which must always continue along with the adequate supply of new houses of the type which the country requires. Under the Act of 1930, a very drastic method is applied for dealing with the problem. This Act is a very powerful engine, and when you have a powerful engine in your hands you need to use it with great caution. I am not surprised, therefore, to find that the local authorities are proceeding with great caution and that their policy is to go slowly. Nevertheless, under that Act schemes have been passed for clearance of areas which will finally lead to the clearing away of 13,500 unfit slum houses.
Another aspect is that of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926, which was extended in 1931. That is an Act which seems to me particularly appropriate to the needs of the present time. It provides for making the best of what you have got; in other words, for reconditioning existing cottages. It appears to me that in the difficult financial circumstances in which we find ourselves that is precisely the sort of general social effort in which we should he occupied. This may 767 be a time in which we cannot go forging ahead as fast as we should like, but although we cannot go ahead as fast as we might in prosperous times, nevertheless we need not be idle, because we can make good use of the period of marking time by looking round and making the best of what we have. That is the kind of work which is being done. I wish I could make that Act better known to those who might be interested in its administration. I should like to advertise it to-night and to enlist the assistance of hon. Members in bringing the powers of the Act to the attention of local authorities, with a view to its more widespread use throughout the country. So far, the number of houses dealt with is 4,469, and I hope further use will be made of the Act.
May I now refer to the Housing (Rural Authorities) Act, 1931, which was an Act passed towards the end of the last Parliament in order to make a special effort to deal with certain particular aspects of the housing problem? Under that Act the following action has been taken. The committee provided for under the Act has been set up and is in existence. The House would not be surprised to learn that they have met under the chairmanship of one who is extremely active in the promotion of the Act, a, recent colleague of ours and one with very great knowledge of housing—Sir Tudor Walters. The applications received for the construction of the houses under the Act, which applies particularly to rural areas, has not been as large as was expected. Nevertheless 112 applications have been received for some 2,000 houses, which are now under consideration, and the committee is continuing its task in the administration of the Act.
I think that I have now dealt with the principal matters raised in the course of the Debate, and I have given sufficient of the leading facts on the housing situation as it stands at present to enable a judgment to be formed as to the policy which seems to be required by the circumstances of the time. I will supplement what I have said in one further particular. I have seen it suggested—it has not been said to-night, but has been suggested in other quarters—that there is a substantial relaxation of the housing effort of the Government owing to the 768 influences of considerations of economy. That is not the case. There is a substantial redirection of that effort in the manner I have described in order to make sure that the resources available are being used for the purposes for which they are most required, but a relaxation of the total effort there has not been. At the end of February—and these are the latest figures available—there were 38,429 assisted houses under construction, and at the corresponding day of February in the year before there were 36,348. There is no sign of a falling off there, and there has been no diminution in the building effort of the country. I cannot tell the House to-night what the relative state of unassisted building and private building is at present in comparison with the previous year, for I shall not know the figures for some months to come. Whether or not there has been a falling off in unassisted building I do not know. If there has been, it has resulted from no policy of the Government. Undoubtedly there is some relaxation and diminution in other forms of building. There has been a diminution of building of the larger houses and of big commercial and public buildings. That is simply the result of the general economic state of the country and of the bad times through which we are passing, and is not due to any policy of the Government. Further there has no doubt been a diminution in the undertaking of works or maintenance repairs which constitute so large a part of the work of the building trade. That is most certainly the result of the general tendency on the part of the nation to economise in these bad times, and to postpone works of maintenance and repairs until a better year. It has not resulted from any policy of the Government. In so far as the policy of the Government is concerned, there has been no diminution of the effort to deal with the great housing problem, and in so far as the building trade is suffering from difficult times, it is the result entirely of the general economic state of the nation and the spirit of caution and the desire for economy.
Let me say one final word in answer to the question asked me by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). He put to me the hard case of the housing authorities in the de- 769 pressed areas who are unable to collect rents. I am afraid the answer I must give him on this occasion must be the one I gave on a previous occasion. It would not be in accordance with common sense or to the advantage of policy as a whole that there should be local and special reductions of rent. That would lead to impossible anomalies. What can be done is to give sympathetic consideration to the question of arrears. Where arrears are hopeless, it is the practice of those who are responsible for the finance in this respect to permit arrears to be written off, and if written off they count as subsidy. Some local authorities take advantage of that provision and some do not, but it is in that direction I believe that the remedy and help for the difficulties the hon. Member has described are to be found, and not the really illegitimate and unsound proposal of local and special reduction of rents. I think the Debate will have cleared our minds on the subject of housing policy, and I trust the House will permit us to pass to the next business.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether or not in regard to the more depressed areas where a large number of houses have been erected since the War a mere revision of the original terms of the rent tribunal might not operate as a less danger perhaps than merely disposing of these arrears? Many local authorities regard that as very dangerous, and it might conceivably lead to some individuals shirking their real responsibility. I do not know whether that has been considered or not.
§ Sir JOSEPH NALL
There are two questions arising from the very clear and informed speech of the right hon. Gentleman to which I should like to refer. He alluded to the annual cost per house as being £7 10s. on public funds. I understand that that is the cost to the State, excluding the additional cost to local authorities, which amounts to another £3 or £4. Will he make it clear that the actual cost on public funds is £11 or £12 per year approximately? There is one other question relating to the Act of 1930. I understood him to say that schemes of slum clearance affecting some 13,000 houses had been approved. 770 Can he say what steps are taken by his Department to ensure, before those schemes are approved, that the houses are, in fact, in a condition which justifies procedure under that Act? In certain places, particularly in Manchester, schemes are being adopted when it is quite clear, so I am informed by technical men, that is, architects and medical men, that not more than 25 per cent. of the houses in the area coups be regarded as in a bad condition. The other 75 per cent. only require normal repairs, and not all of them that. Consequently, it great waste is incurred by sweeping away three reasonably good houses for every one that it is desirable to demolish. What machinery exists for the Ministry to ascertain, independently of the local authorities, who are so wasteful in these matters, whether the scheme is justified before sanction is given to it?
§ Mr. McGOVERN
The Minister has made one or two statements about housing upon which I wish to offer a. few comments. He has told us that the housing subsidy imposes a burden of £12,750,000 a year on the Exchequer, and appears to regard that as a tremendous sum for the provision of houses. I say that such a sum is totally inadequate. It is, roughly, the price of two battleships, and if the nation has to choose between battleships and houses the great majority of the people would prefer houses, would prefer to pay for the protection of human life rather than for its destruction. Whatever the Minister may say about the intention of local authorities, I say that the so-called national crisis, when economy was advocated, provided an incentive to those men on local authorities who are not keen to provide houses for the workers to slacken effort in that direction. On many local authorities, largely dominated by Liberals and Tories, the house factors and landlords, who control them, welcomed the call for national economy, in order to shut down housing schemes which they regarded as being detrimental to their own interest. We have 214,000 unemployed building trade workers and we pay them in unemployment benefit one-third of a million pounds per week, or £17,000,000 to £20,000,000 a year, for which we get nothing in return, and then we grumble about spending £12,750,000 on a subsidy for housing. 771 I would rather see the whole of that £20,000,000 spent as an additional subsidy to improve housing conditions.
The Minister has told us that local authorities may, if they so desire, provide two-roomed houses for aged couples. I say that any easing of the restrictions which are in operation will be highly dangerous, because authorities generally do not provide them for old people only, but take advantage of the opportunity they provide for lowering the standard of housing for the whole of the working class. While we could agree with the provision of two-room houses for old couples, who do not want to be burdened with larger houses, we should require guarantees that such houses would be used only for aged couples, and not made use of to lower the general standards of housing. We have thousands of houses totally unfit for human habitation in various areas, but when we approach the local authority to ask why they permit them to be occupied we are told they cannot put a closing order into operation because there is no alternative accommodation for the tenants. We find that the sanitary department, the health department and the housing department of local authorities are working hand in glove. I have always contended that it was the duty of a health authority to issue closing orders and leave it to the local authority to provide the alternative accommodation.
I think it will be found that a large number of local authorities are working in the way I have described, and that houses which are a danger to health and a menace to civilisation are permitted to remain, because some of the people who own them are members of the local authority. They sit on the housing committee and prevent the health department closing the houses because to do so would be detrimental to their own interests. Yet, at the same time, we have members of a family, including children, suffering from tuberculosis compelled to live 8 or 10 to a single room or in a room-and-kitchen house, and the authorities are paying no attention to the matter and making no effort to house them better. One day I went myself to see the local authority in connection with a man and woman living in a single room with a family of eight.—[An HON. MEMBER: 772 "Was that in Scotland?"] It does not matter where it was, I am giving the illustration. I do not come here to speak simply for Scotland. I am asking for a general improvement in housing. In the case I was mentioning a man and a woman and eight children, that is 10 of them, were living in a single-apartment house. One of the children was a boy who had been in an institution for two years suffering from tuberculosis, and he was infecting the other members of the family. In face of those conditions why boast about paying £12,750,000 in subsidies for housing. If hon. Members think that £12,750,000 for improving the standard of the health of the people is too much, let us cut down the standard pay of the moneylenders, and give the money to those who are at the bottom of the social ladder.
I mention these facts because we are not getting that general improvement in housing that is required. We are told that £1,800,000 has been spent upon houses since the end of the War. May I point out that the increase in the population has been 1,000,000, and we are not even meeting the needs of the increase in population in regard to housing, to say nothing of making up the deficit which faced us at the end of the War. We hear that the reason why so many men are unemployed is the lack of tariffs. There are 214,000 men unemployed in the building trade, and it is the duty of the Government to see that these men are employed to provide houses in order to meet the needs of the community. We are told that we have now come to a dead end in the provision of houses for the class who are not able to provide houses for themselves. I think we should go on with the building of all classes of houses. I recognise that we have, in many areas, a number of empty houses, but they are three, four, and five-apartment houses, and when you inquire you find that they are in such a state that no tenant ought to be asked to live in them, because they spread disease and are dilapidated, and the tenants have moved from them to better houses. We hear the landlords and the factors crying out that there is no need to build houses of the three, four, and five-apartment type, but we have to recognise that we must provide houses for the whole community 773 who need them, and who are living in overcrowded conditions, and in houses unfit for human habitation.
It is the duty of the Government at the present moment to see that houses are provided at a greater rate than they have been in the past. In many districts it is a tragedy to see young couples who wish to get married looking for houses where there are no suitable houses to be obtained because the local authorities have accepted the cry that there should be no more houses provided this year. We have, amid all these unhappy surroundings, many tenants who desire better houses, we have the material and the labour, we have plenty of idle money in London, and we have all the elements required for the provision of good and adequate houses. Instead of imposing more restrictions and economics, I think we ought to go forward to raise the standard of the health of the community and provide conditions under which the children of this country can live in decency instead of placing them in sanatoria where it costs three guineas per week to keep a child.
§ Sir JOHN RUTHERFORD
May I make a very short maiden speech, and in doing so put in a plea for the claim of those who live in the slums to be rehoused on the site? I have had some experience of this problem, having been a member of the Liverpool Housing Committee for nine years, and chairman for two years, and I say to the Minister that, so far as Liverpool is concerned, our desire to deal with this particular type of housing was hindered by the Act passed by the Labour Government in 1930. It will be remembered that before that Act was passed municipalities were promised an increased subsidy to carry out the work of slum clearance, but, instead of receiving an increased subsidy, there was a decrease. There is one particular Section of the Act of 1930 which hits the local authorities and the municipalities very seriously, and I would suggest that in any fresh legislation that Section should be taken into account.
During the last 10 years there has been a great growth in municipal building in Liverpool four or five miles away from the centre of the manufacturing area, or the area where the inhabitants of the 774 slums have to work. We endeavoured to decentralise matters, but, in spite of all our efforts, there are no sites less than four or five miles away from the manufacturing centres on which we can erect houses at the present time for these people. If we endeavour to get any site near the area where the people work, we have to pay a bigger price for the land. It may be that we have to pay an excessive price, but there is a Section in the Act of 1930 which provides that, of. the two subsidies given by that Act, the higher subsidy is possible only in the case of a municipal corporation if you have paid the landlord from whom you purchase the land a sum in excess of £3,000 per acre.
It seems a curious thing for any Labour Government to have inserted in an Act—that the higher subsidy is conditional upon an extra consideration being payable to a landlord. But there it is. I shall not defend its logicality. I pleaded against it; I spoke against it. It has worked hardly. It has put an extra difficulty in the way of municipalities. If the Minister is considering any amending legislation—and in many respects the Act of 1930 requires extensive amendment—I hope that in particular he will get rid of that Section and make the extra subsidy payable at his discretion, or at any rate on the total cost of the house and the land, and not dependent on the mere sum of money paid to a landlord or vendor of land for land bought by a municipality. This land is bought for the erection of houses for people Who really need them, the worst paid people who are living in the most insanitary dwellings in the middle of the City—dwellings which require to be destroyed and replaced by decent houses. If the Minister did that I am sure that he would remove one of the many brakes which have been put on the progress of housing -by the last Labour Government.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
In spite of the criticisms levelled by the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken against the last Government, I feel sure that we shall all welcome his contribution to this Debate. It is his first effort, and I must congratulate him on the spirited criticism of his speech. I have listened to a great deal of the Debate, and I wish we could continue to probe housing a little further. But the Minister has a great deal of work 775 to do apart from housing. He is responsible for about £40,000,000 of expenditure on the original old age pensions scheme. He is also responsible for the expenditure of about £11,000,000 on the Widows', Orphans and Old Age (Contributory) Pensions scheme; and in addition to that he has the colossal task of dealing with the problem of administration of National Health Insurance.
Ever since I have been a Member of this House we have never allowed the Ministry of Health Vote to pass from our hands without having a word or two to say of the administration of what I think is the best social insurance scheme in the whole world. I have something to do with the scheme myself, and I think I am entitled to say that much about it. When Members have spoken of the rights of the community and the welfare of mothers and children and so forth, I have endorsed practically everything that has been said in favour of creating more enthusiasm for better housing of the people. If I have one comment to make on that subject, having had a little experience on a municipality, I would say that I have always had the impression that municipalities desire that they could solve a great number of these problems without coming to Parliament at all. That was my experience after 10 years on one of the largest municipalities in England.
But coming down to the problem with which I want to deal, I would very respectfully call the attention of the House to a very important document which has been issued recently. I do not know how many Members of the House care very much about the administration of the national health insurance scheme. If there are no slums in the areas represented by some hon. Members, it is certain that there are insured persons wherever they live, for there is no Parliamentary division without some persons insured under the national health insurance scheme. I want to draw attention to one or two very important points in connection with the last valuation results. The House will remember that this scheme is valued once every five years. It has now been in existence for about 20 years, and we have already received three quinquennial valuation returns.
776 I am sorry to say that the last valuation return was not as good as the one before, and it indicates that the approved societies are not in as good a financial position to-day as they were five years ago. The reason for that is that the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer reduced the State grant to the scheme, and he has deprived the approved societies of approximately £30,000,000 up to date. Not all Governments are alike, but in any case no Labour Government has ever taken a penny piece from the sick population of the country; no Labour Government has ever reduced the grant to this scheme and thereby reduced the disablement benefit of the sick people of the country.
On turning to this very important document we find some extraordinary results. As I have said, this is the best social insurance scheme in the world. I think that that is admitted by everyone who knows anything about the subject. It is called in Lancashire, "The old ninepence for fourpence." I do not know whether that title fits in to-day, but nevertheless it is known in some parts of the country by that title. The main point that arises in the return is that the rich approved societies are becoming richer and the poor approved societies are becoming poorer. That is the central fact that emerges. It is proper to ask the Government, this Government of all the talents that knows everything and can settle every problem, what they have to say in reply to a report that points out that great disparity. We have the anomaly arising that the contributions of members of the same family from the same household may be exactly the same in respect of the employer and the worker, but we find a differentiation in the benefits payable to those members of the same family because they belong to separate approved societies.
The very depressing fact arises, in addition, that these approved societies cover depressed areas. Depression seems to have a cumulative effect wherever you find it. The poor societies covering coal miners only are in a bad way. Not only does the depression bring about a greater amount of sickness, but there is no contribution income, and where there is no contribution income there is naturally no 777 fund available. What are the intentions of the Government in relation to those societies that are in deficiency through no fault of their own? I know the provisions of the law very well in connection with societies where maladministration takes place, but, happily, the number of cases of maladministration under this scheme is extraordinarily small. The report of the Government actuary is the best evidence possible that under the wings of the State you can have as clean a scheme as under private enterprise. The reports that have been given in the past in relation to this scheme are extraordinary in that respect.
This is an extraordinary Government, as I have tried to indicate. There was, prior to the advent of this Government, a fund called the Army, Navy and Air Force Fund, and the insurance committees of this country representative of the municipalities, approved societies, and medical profession, used to disburse the benefit to the men employed in the Forces. Lo and behold, one fine morning this Government, with all its power, dictatorial as it has been, issued an edict and took away from these insurance committees, without any argument at all, the disbursement of the whole of the benefit to the men in the Forces. I know full well that there is a provision in the law for the Minister to do that, but at any rate he ought to have consulted the insurance committees, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that he has created a very bad feeling among the insurance committees by what has been done.
I asked a question of the Ministry of Health on the Floor of the House, as to whether, in taking over the administration of this benefit, they have added to the staff of the Department, and I got the extrordinary reply that the Ministry of Health can disburse all these benefits without the addition of a single clerk, although it meant a considerable staff for the insurance committees to do this work. It is a marvellous Government and a most marvellous Department, and that is all that I can say about it. It seems to me, therefore, that if we handed the distribution of the benefits of all the approved societies in the country to this Ministry, the staff of the Department would decline proportionately, because the more work they are given, the less staff they seem to require. I would like to know how that 778 is done, because it is an extraordinary Government if it can do that. Then they made an arrangement with the doctors to reduce the panel fee by 1s., and—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It seems to me that this subject would be much more appropriate to the Ministry of Health Vote, on Supply.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is not usual, on the Motion for getting me out of the Chair, to raise all these details, which would much more suitably come on the actual Vote.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I will leave it at that and say that I think I am entitled to touch upon two or three questions that are shown in the Vote. We have ex-penditures—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is getting worse rather than better. He is getting on to the ordinary discussion that we have on the Supply Vote for the Ministry of Health, and that certainly is not suitable on the Motion for getting me out of the Chair.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I trust that the hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us a little more, at any rate, of the work of the Department, apart altogether from slumdom and housing.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
I am afraid that I shall not be able to do that without infringing the Ruling of Mr. Speaker, and I have never tried to do that during my time in this House. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), like myself, has been long enough in the House to know that Members' who were fortunate enough to get the luck of the ballot had the primary right of choice of subject on the Motion that the Speaker should leave the Chair, and all that I can say, in reply to his general observations about the third valuation, is that it has not escaped the notice of the Government. Indeed, there are some factors in the report of the actuary that are of the gravest possible character and that are having the gravest consideration at the hands of the Government. More than that I cannot say to-night, but there will be, no doubt, a 779 later occasion on which we may discuss it at greater length, the length which it deserves. As the hon. Member knows, this is a question of 7,608 approved societies, of which the report shows that 7,001 have a surplus and over 400 a deficiency. He knows, what is sometimes misapprehended outside, that the surplus is not the general property of the insured persons as a whole, but the property of the particular society, showing the particular amount which makes up the total that is sometimes quoted as a surplus on the fund.
I might say, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, one word in answer to the hon. Member's gibes about the Department. We know that it is a wonderful Department, and we are glad to have confirmation from the hon. Member, but when he twits us with being able to do this work without the addition of a single clerk, he has not quite appreciated, although his knowledge of the subject is very wide indeed, the amount of duplication that has always been involved between the Ministry itself and the insurance committees in the work of the Navy, Army, and Air Force Insurance Fund. The fact is that the bulk of the work was always done in the Ministry, and the explanation is not the sarcastic one of super-cleverness in the Department made by the hon. Member, but that the bulk of the work was always done there; and not only shall we save £1,200 a year by the administrative rearrangement, but there is no question whatever but that in the bulk of the cases the ex-Service men affected will be saved a good many delays and comings and goings between the districts and the central organisation.
The hon. Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) raised a point on housing, and I would like to tell him that under slum clearance, if any objection is raised to a compulsory purchase order or closing order, and is not on explanation withdrawn, a, public inquiry must be held, and the objector may attend it or may be represented, and the Minister then must consider the objections before confirming the order, with or without modification. I think that that will give the information that he wanted to cover the local case, of which I have not got the details.
§ Sir J. NALL
That is not quite the point. I wanted to know on what advice the Ministry assures itself that a scheme is justified and is not wasted.
§ Mr. BROWN
The answer to that is that the Minister receives all the facts concerned and all representations made upon those facts from every quarter, whether it be from the local authority putting up the scheme, or from those affected or likely to be affected by the scheme; and, of course, the House will readily assume that if no objection is raised, the scheme is probably justified. The Act itself provides—it is a very powerful Act—the machinery that I have outlined, and I think that will cover the hon. Member's point. If there is any difficulty locally, he might perhaps communicate with the Minister about it, but I can assure him that this machinery will give all those who desire to put a point of objection to the making of an order adequate opportunity, so that their views may be heard before the order is confirmed by the Minister, after hearing the representations.
The hon. Member is right about the addition of £3 15s. He noticed in the Minister's speech that he first put the £130 per house, then £65 from the rates, but that he then went on to discuss the subject from the point of view of the general taxpayer, and that is why the omission of the £3 15s., which corresponds to the £65 from the rates, was not mentioned by him. I believe it is now the wish of the House that we should pass on to another subject, and I once more assure the hon. Member for Westhoughton that this grave report. of the Actuary on the Third Valuation in connection with Health Insurance is now receiving the anxious consideration of the Government.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Before you put the Question, Mr. Speaker, may I ask you for a Ruling for future guidance? As I understand it, we are on the Motion that you should leave the Chair in order that the House may go into Committee of Supply on the Civil Estimates and Estimates for Revenue Departments. To that Motion an Amendment was moved by the hon. Member for Denbigh (Dr. Morris-Jones), and that Amendment was disposed of by being withdrawn. I understood that, after that, we could discuss in a general way the Civil Estimates, but 781 I understand from your Ruling, and from a remark made by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, that the Motion on the Paper limited the discussion to one particular phase of the Estimates. I should like your Ruling on that point, because it will be a guide for us in the future.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
No, Sir. The point is that the first Amendment was disposed of, and we understood that, after that was disposed of, we could discuss the Civil Estimates generally. I just want to know whether we are mistaken in that understanding or not.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The House can discuss the Civil Estimates on this Motion, but it is most unusual to discuss upon it questions of detail, the proper place for the discussion of which is on the Vote of Supply for the particular Estimate which concerns the particular item. It is usual, on the Motion "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," to discuss what I might call a large question in a general way, such as the question of housing which we have discussed this afternoon, but not questions of detail as to expenditure and so forth, the proper place for the discussion of which is in Committee of Supply, on the Vote which concerns the particular item.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I only want to get the point clear for the sake of the future. We discussed housing, and discussed expenditure on housing, and we did so to some extent after the Amendment was disposed of. The point that I wish to put to you is as to whether we are not entitled in a general way to pass from that, subject to another subject, such as the administration of National Health Insurance, as my hon. Friend was endeavouring to do. We went into detail on housing, and I want to he quite clear that we are out of order in dealing with National Health Insurance. It seems to me that they are on all fours—that in each case we were discussing part of the Estimates. I want to get the real Order on the matter.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is true that they are both part of the Civil Estimates, 782 which include innumerable different subjects, but the reason why I called the hon. Member to order when he war, discussing the question of National Health Insurance was that I thought he was going into details for the discussion of which the proper place was on the Vote of Supply concerned with that particular subject. I thought that we dealt with housing in a much more general way, not specifying particular items, on which there would be an opportunity on the particular Vote in Supply. That is all the difference.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
Further on that point of Order. May I call your attention to the fact that the report with which I was dealing affects a sum of money amounting to £120,000,000? I thought that, as the amount involved was even greater than the amount involved in connection with housing, I was entitled to raise some of the major points on that report. I would like to know whether there is a change ill that direction, because I have some recollection that we have been able to do this before on a similar occasion.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
I understand that you, Sir, would have made no objection whatever to the subject being raised in a general way had notice been given, but your objection was taken on the ground that the second subject that the hon. Gentleman raised had nothing to do with the report at all but was on details of the administration of the Army and Air Force Fund.
§ Lieut. - Colonel ACLAND - TROYTE
Are we not, in fact, discussing the Second Amendment on the Paper?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is not so. The hon. Gentleman got in on the main Question. As to the question he put me, I do not think the amount of money has anything to do with it at all, but questions of detailed expenditure are much better discussed in Committee of Supply. Had the hon. Gentleman dealt with the question of health insurance in a general way, I should not have called him to order.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
As I understand the tradition of the House, getting Mr. Speaker out of the Chair is an occasion for raising grievances before the grant 783 of Supply. This is the first opportunity, in Committee of Supply is another opportunity, and the Consolidated Fund Bill is a third. I have always understood that, in getting Mr. Speaker out of the Chair, we could raise any question connected with the Estimates in question. I want to enter the strongest protest against the doctrine that we are to give notice that we are to raise any subject. A Member of the House has the right to raise whatever question he thinks it his duty to raise.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
I had no intention of suggesting that at all. My remark bore upon the fact that our custom is that those who are successful in the ballot have the first choice.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am not making any variation in what has always been the custom of the House. To show that that is so, when the hon. Gentleman came to me and asked whether he could raise the question of insurance, I said "By all means," and he spoke for some time before I called him to order, which is sufficient proof that there is full scope for general remarks. When he came to smaller details of expenditure, I thought they were much more suitable in Committee.
§ Mr. MAXTON
The Leader of the Opposition wants to be very clear on the matter. I do not feel that you, Sir, have made the position clear to me. Is it your Ruling that, when the Amendments on the Paper have been disposed of, it is then in order to discuss any item contained in the list of Civil Estimates.—National Debt Office, Government hospitality, Secret Service, etc.—and that your further point is, not that it is a breach of order to go into details, but that that has not been the usual practice? Further to that point, it has not been the usual practice to have any time left for general discussion after the particular Motions have been disposed of, but on this occasion there is time left. I want to ask you, Sir, if your Ruling is in two parts—that it is in order to discuss any item contained in the Civil Estimates, and that you are only giving an expression of opinion that it is unusual to discuss these items in detail which are more appropriate on the particular Vote.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am afraid that if I have not made myself clear, it is entirely my own fault. It is not a question of opinion as to what is not only the custom but the convenience of the House. I have not given a Hiding. The hon. Member will understand that in the Civil Estimates there is every conceivable subject, and it really would hardly be fair to Ministers to raise all the subjects, or any subject in the Civil Estimates without giving some notice beforehand that it was to be done. Therefore, it is very much more convenient when a particular Vote is before the House, that the Minister knows beforehand the subject to be raised. The hon. Member asked definitely whether it is in order to raise any subject. I say yes it is, but it is not convenient to raise it except in a general way.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I havegiven no Ruling, but I said that it would be more convenient and only fair to give notice.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
When we say a thing is fair it is something of which we all want to take notice. I only wish to ask you whether you consider that it is fair that a Member who has altogether another point of view or other information upon a subject which has been raised is not allowed to put it. Surely there is nothing unfair or unreasonable in his doing that? It is the custom to tell Ministers of the subject we propose to raise, but I only want to safeguard the right of the individual Member who thinks of a subject during the Debate and wishes to put questions to the Minister.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Hon. Members have all sorts of rights, but they do sometimes consider the convenience of the House. The right hon. Gentleman has been a Minister and will realise that it is inconvenient if subjects are raised of which he has had no notice whatever.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I experienced that not once but at least several times, and I never complained. Hon. Members had a right to do it, and I was here to reply to them. The hon. Member opposite served me out one night but I did not complain. I only want to preserve the rights of other people.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman does not think that I am not preserving the rights of the House. I am desirous of doing so.
§ Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Captain BOURNE in the Chair.]