§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The House is aware that this is the second and last instalment of those Measures for adjusting our housing policy to the changed conditions, the first instalment, the Rent Restrictions Bill, having been passed on a previous day by what I may call a clear majority. In this Bill we approach yet a larger topic, and one even more vitally associated with the more intimate needs of the people of the country, because housing is indeed an intimate need. The house in which we live affects our goings-out and our comings-in; it affects all the ways of our life and all the incidents of life, and there is no over-estimating, therefore, the importance of the topic. The object of this Bill is to further a great social service by promoting the supply of houses by those means which alone, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, are efficient means, that is, means which are normal and natural to the economic life of the country.
In order to grasp the basis of the problem, let us look at the origin of the subsidy as we know it, an origin in the abnormal conditions which followed from the War, when, owing to the decrease in the supply of houses, there was a wide economic gap between the price which the wage-earners could pay and the economic rent at which houses could be built. To cover that gap, subsidies were introduced. if I may put it in this way, we erected a powerful engine to pump by subsidies capital into the supply of houses. Further consideration has shown that that engine is an expensive one, and that it is only necessary to keep it running as long as the capital has to be driven uphill, but if capital will find its way by natural gravity to supply houses, the use of the engine is no longer necessary.
I believe it will be common ground, if not to all members, at least to many Members of this House, that subsidies, 544 being abnormal and artificial machinery, ought only to be continued as long as they are necessary, and that policy should dictate their cessation as soon as it is possible to stop them, if for no other reasons for the most obvious of all reasons, because they are expensive, because they divert public money, which is badly needed for other services and other purposes, and because, as I shall, I hope, demonstrate to the House a little later, they have the positive evil that subsidies actually raise costs, and that if you remove subsidies you lower costs. I will take it, then, that I shall be on common ground with most Members when I say that we should get rid of subsidies as soon as we can, and the critical date is when we can get the houses without them. I shall have to suggest to the House that that critical date has now arrived.
Let me glance for a moment at the actual housing situation, and here I must give the House a few dreary figures. I must do so because this is a matter of such high importance that we must not decide it on mere prejudice or impression. We must decide it by strict reference to actual statistical facts. What are our housing requirements? At the end of the War, in 1919, there was a deficiency of 400,000 houses, and the best estimate one can make is, that since that time we have required more houses at the rate of about one house for every four of the increase in the population. If that be so, our total requirements of houses since the War would be somewhere—I will not try and give it too accurately—between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 houses. The precise figure is 1,100,000, but I would rather leave a wider margin. If our requirements were an additional 1,500,000 houses, the fact is that the actual provision has been no less than 2,000,000 houses in that time. Those 2,000,000 houses would be sufficient to provide accommodation for an additional 6,000,000 people, but during that period the actual increase of population has only been 2,000,000. So at first sight it looks as if there has been a more than ample provision of houses to meet our requirements, and we see it in the fact that the actual number of houses per thousand of the population has increased from 209 per 1,000 in 1911 to 212 per 1,000 in 1921, and up to the last date in respect of which I can give the figures, in 1931, it stood at no less 545 than 244 per 1,000 in comparison with 209 per 1,000 before the War, obviously a very remarkable increase.
Against that, of course, there are certain influences to be set which are well known to all students of social conditions. The principal one is the decrease in the size of families, which means that the roof of one house does not now cover so many individuals as it did 20 or 30 years ago. That influence has led to increased demand and has prevented the supply being as adequate as it would otherwise have been. Still the fact which we have to note on the figures is the very big increase. The House may ask: Is this argument directed to show that there is no housing problem? Of course it is not. We all of us know perfectly well that there is a housing problem, and a very grave one, but it is a problem, not of the total supply, but of the distribution of the supply. That is what was brought out in the proceedings on the Rent Restrictions Bill. The supply has not been equally distributed over the field. The better class houses have been increased more than the smaller houses for the lower paid wage earners. Let me refer to what are called the "A" "B" and "C" types of houses with which the House is familiar—the house of the well-to-do, "A," the house of the lower middle class and better paid artisans, "B," and the house of the lower paid workers, "C." I recall that on an average the "A" and "B" classes have increased 60 per cent. in the years to which I am referring, and the houses of the "C" class have increased by 13 per cent. That is a figure which demonstrates the nature of the problem of distribution and shows that we have perhaps even more of the better class houses than we strictly need, and not sufficient of the small houses to let to the lower-paid wage earner.
There is another aspect of the housing problem which is a grave one. In the period to which I have been referring the problem of our slums has hardly been scratched, and that is another aspect of the matter with which I will deal later. What conclusion do we draw as to what we want in the way of houses? That is the next question for us to answer. I think that the answer which all practical men have given is, that we want the three-bedroom non-parlour house with a 760 Square feet area which can be let within 546 the means of the lower-paid wage earner. That is the type of house upon which we have to concentrate our attention in this Debate. There is now a figure to be mentioned which it is of the greatest importance for us to have in our minds in order to have a clear idea of the present housing situation. When we set up the subsidy effort to provide small houses in 1924 the nation fixed the appropriate normal rent for a house to be provided under the subsidy scheme at about 7s. 9d. exclusive of rates, which would be about 9s. 9d. or 10s. inclusive of rates. The ideal which the subsidy has been established to serve is the provision of houses at that rent. That sum was fixed, the House will remember, as being the pre-War rent in 1914. We take the rent of 7s. 9d. for a house of the type which I have described as the ideal of what we want to provide. We want to provide the house which I have described—the three-room non-parlour house—at a rent of 7s. 9d. exclusive of rates.
That being so, we are bound to ask ourselves here and now: Is the subsidy any longer necessary to provide such a house at such a rent? We are bound to ask ourselves that question, because we are surrounded by a totally new situation in the building world—a situation which has developed very rapidly in the course even of the past few months. The House knows to what I refer—the new situation due, in the first place, to the great fall in the price of money and the fall in the return on capital. That was partly signalised by the national conversion scheme. In connection with that scheme—partly, as I say, in consequence of it—we may say that there has been a general fall in the price of credit from per cent. to 3½per cent., a very substantial fall. At the same time, there has been a remarkable fall in building costs, and that is the other new circumstance which we are bound to take into consideration. Here again I am afraid that I must give the House the essential figures because without apprehension of those figures there can be no sufficient judgment on the situation.
What is the measure of the recent fall in the average building costs? Again, I take it in reference to the houses which we want—the three-bedroom non-parlour house of about 760 square feet in area. I am allowing for land, sewers and roads about £65 or £70 per house, which is a 547 fair average for the whole country. We find that in the December quarter of 1930 the building cost of such a house, exclusive of the cost of land, etc., was £351; in the September quarter of 1931 it had fallen to £333, and in the September quarter of 1932 it had come right down to £295 as the average for the whole country. Obviously, here we were dealing with a very remarkable circumstance and one which was not foreseen by students of the question before it came to pass. In consequence of this fall the average all-in cost of a house built by a local authority of the type to which I have referred—that is, built with money which it borrows now at 4 per cent. for 60 years—has fallen as low as £360. The economic rent of a house costing no more than £360 is down to 8s. 2d. exclusive of rates—which is a reasonable allowance for the country as a whole—and to, say, 10s. 2d. inclusive of rates. Let me go back to the figure which I asked the House to remember, the 7s. 9d. exclusive of rates which was the ideal, as it were, of the subsidy system. It was about 9s. 9d. inclusive of rates. The House will see that owing to the fall in money and in building costs the gap between the economic rent of a house at the price at which it can now be built—the gap between the economic rent and the appropriate normal rent—is no more than 5d.
I have not told the whole story. I have given £360 as the average for the country of the all-in cost of the house we want, but, as a matter of fact, lower costs are already being realised in respect of such a house in many places. I know of four urban areas where the building cost of such a house is less than £260. I have seen houses in the neighbourhood of a great northern city built for a very few pounds more than that sum which are in every respect satisfactory and which no Member of the House would hesitate to pronounce to be houses precisely of the type we desire to provide as residences for the wage earners in question. The conclusion we have to draw from the price at which the houses we want can be built at the present time is whether they can be built at the rents for which we want to let them without a subsidy. I will not give my own testimony to the subject, but a testimony which will be more unimpeachable to hon. Members 548 opposite. I will give the testimony of a distinguished member of the Labour party, Lord Snell. I will quote his words. He says that:Owing to the long experience which has been gained and the conditions of the money market these small houses can be built without there being any charge, as it were, on public funds.The first conclusion I desire to submit to the House is the conclusion upon which we must base future policy with regard to the subsidy. I expect that the House will agree that if subsidies are unnecessary they are certainly harmful, and that if they are unnecessary we ought to economise them and free the way for more normal methods of house production. I do not want in this connection to enter into the great contention between State enterprise and private enterprise, but I say, in developing this matter to the House, that the lesson experience teaches us is that we shall not get a free and full supply of this essential commodity until we link up our system with the normal forces and the normal methods of production.
I know not what might happen in some imaginary world, constructed as a Socialist paradise, but I do know that in the world in which we live we shall not get the supply of houses that we want so long as we have to depend upon an artificial stimulus. The way to get what we want is to bring to bear those forces of production which certainly have been responsible for the production of the necessities of life in the past. I would not go so far as to say that if we desire to make that definite re-association of supply with normal forces in this case, it is now or never, but I do say that it is impossible to foresee an opportunity which is likely to be more favourable for making the return than the opportunity which is presented in this country at the present time, with the fall in building costs and the fall in the value of money.
I have referred to the hopes, I believe the better hopes, of a larger supply of houses through the reinvigoration of the forces of private enterprise, the forces of supply. In order to convince ourselves that the forces of private enterprise can give us the supply of small houses that we want, let us, in the first place, see what private enterprise has done in the past and judge it not by mere prophecies 549 for the future but by the experience of the past. What has private enterprise achieved since the War, the unaided force of private enterprise and private enterprise assisted under certain Acts by subsidies? Since 1920, private enterprise has been responsible for the supply of 1,250,000 houses out of a total of 2,000,000. Of the 1,250,000 two-thirds have been provided by private enterprise without any assistance from sub sidies. More than half of the small houses which have been built since the War have been built by private enterprise.
That has been the effort of the past, and it is a feature of particular encouragement, which deserves particular attention, that at the present time the rate at which private enterprise is supplying houses, is increasing. The numbers of houses that were built by private enterprise in the year ended March, 1931, was 128,000, the number for the year ended March, 1932, was 131,000, and in the first half of the present year the number was 63,000. The number in the first half of a year is always less than in the second half. We see from those figures that there is a, sharp increase in the rate at which private enterprise is at the present time supplying us with houses.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
Yes, for the greater part. We are forced to draw from that fact the conclusion that we have here a strong, vital, living force for the provision of what we need, private enterprise, which is activity personified, willing and eager to provide the houses that we require, and we should be most unwise not to take what steps we can to enlist its efforts for this social purpose. It may he said that if prices have fallen so low and if private enterprise is already doing so much, how do we account for the deficiency in the smaller houses. What is it that has deterred private enterprise from providing the smaller houses? I believe that there are two perfectly obvious reasons. The first reason is, that you can never expect private enterprise to come in with its full effort so long as you have the local authorities active with their housing efforts. The municipalities have great preferences in regard to housing 550 schemes. They have preferences and facilities that private enterprise can never have. They have preferences and facilities in regard to obtaining supplies, and so on.
But that is not the most important consideration. The most important consideration is this: how can you ever expect unaided private enterprise freely to compete with subsidised competition? Of course, it is impossible. The subsidised efforts of the local authorities can always undersell the private builder and the private investor, and so long as you had that force of subsidised competition you could never expect private enterprise really to take up the business of house building. The conclusion that we have come to is that if you wish to provide the supply of houses that we need, the most obvious course is the total withdrawal of the subsidy. It may be said in some quarters that we should proceed by steps and that instead of totally withdrawing the subsidy we should partially withdraw it. I am confident that by doing so we should get the worst of both worlds. We should damp down the housing efforts on the part of the local authorities and at the same time we should still get the influence of subsidised competition in the field, which would prevent private enterprise from coming in. If we think that the time has come, let us have confidence in common sense arguments and withdraw that form of competition which is preventing the normal forces of supply from coming freely into play at the present time.
I will not venture to give arguments solely on the unsupported testimony of myself. I attach, as the House will attach, very great importance in this matter to the opinions of practical men who are actually concerned in the industry. I have been in close consultation during the preparation of this Measure with those practical associations who have the greatest knowledge of the question in hand. I refer in particular to the National Federation of House Builders, which possesses so much valuable experience and knowledge in the building of houses. I will give the House a summary of statements made in consultation with me by the representatives of the National Federation of House Builders. They say, to summarise their statements, that on the withdrawal of 551 subsidies houses will, in their opinion, be built in very large numbers to supply the whole of the demand shown by the waiting lists of the local authorities, and that this building will continue until there is a margin of vacant houses comparable to that which existed before the War. I submit that it is impossible to neglect the weight of testimony of that sort, coming from the fountain, as it were, of knowledge on the subject.
If I have made myself clear in the figures which I have set forth, the House will see that there is still a gap between the economic rent at which the smaller houses which we want can be let, at the present cost of building, and the ideal rent of 7s. 9d. for that house. The gap is a very small one. It is only 5d. It has all but closed up, and the practical conclusion to which we are bound to come is that it would not be in accordance with reason and common sense to keep the whole of the expensive machinery of subsidy going now that the gap has been so nearly closed. Let me again refer to high authority. The House is aware that a Committee was recently appointed —a Committee on Local Expenditure—consisting of representatives nominated by local associations. That Committee was appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and it has reported upon this aspect of the housing problem. Here let me take the opportunity of saying a word of warm appreciation of the extremely close attention and great labour given by that Committee to this subject, and of the very clear nature and great value of their conclusions. That Committee was presided over by the hon. Member for Richmond (Sir W. Ray), and its conclusion was this:We do not consider that it would be justifiable to maintain the machinery of the subsidies scheme for the sake of a difference of about 9d. a week in rent.Since then, owing to the fall in building costs, I have been able to show that the gap is even less, and that it is only 5d. in the rent. That is the opinion of a committee representative of local authorities, nominated by their respective Associations. Moreover, another committee recently deliberated on the subject, a committee of Members of this House, who are members of the party to which I belong. A sub-committee of that committee, in a very interesting 552 report, came to the same conclusion. That sub-committee was presided over by the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy).
§ Major MILNER
The right hon. Gentleman does not suggest that the representatives of the associations on the committee to which he has referred had any authority to bind the local authorities?
§ Sir H. YOUNG
No. I have stated the manner in which the Committee was appointed. It was appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the nomination of the representative associations of local authorities.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
They spoke for themselves, but I have drawn the attention of the House to their origin. I have stated the reasonable conclusion to which we should be driven, even if this diminutive gap continued to exist, but there are practical reasons why we should suppose that that gap is likely to be diminished in the future and that building costs and economic rents are likely to fall even further. I guard myself against the gratuitous folly of prophecy. I am not going to say what is going to happen, but I am only going to draw the attention of the House to certain considerations which may lead them to be able to form a not unreasonable judgment as to what may happen. What are the influences which are likely to close the gap still further by the reduction of building costs? First of all, we have to recognise that private enterprise in the building trade is seeking a fresh outlet. It finds itself in a situation where it is almost saturated as regards the demand for the larger houses, and where it is seeking another outlet for its efforts. The demand for the larger houses being saturated, it will turn its attention to the smaller ones. What will be the result? There will be a larger supply of the smaller houses and in consequence of that larger supply the rent of the smaller houses is likely to fall.
There is another circumstance upon which I would build hopes, and that is that always in the past it has been found that when you abolish or cut a subsidy you reduce the cost of building. I can give illustrations. It was so in 1921, 553 when the Addison scheme was wound up, whereas in 1923, when the subsidy was increased, costs rose. It was so in 1924; when the subsidy was increased the costs rose again. It was so in 1927; when the subsidy was reduced the costs fell. It is not necessary to argue that there is any absolute connection between the subsidy and costs. I only say that we cannot ignore the lesson of experience, that if you cut or abolish the subsidy you reduce costs. On that lesson we may build with some confidence the expectation that the position will still further improve. Let us recognise quite freely that this Bill will result in a transition period, and that transition periods are always accompanied by certain doubts and difficulties. That is inevitable at any time. We shall never be able to get back to the normal working of supply without some transition period. But now is the most favourable time to confront it: We ought to take all precautions to help us over the transition. I will mention some that are proposed.
First of all we propose to have considerable elasticity as regards covering the gap, by still giving subsidies in respect of all applications which have already been made. That will act as a buffer. We shall undoubtedly have a considerable number of houses from applications attracted by the subsidy which came in before the Bill was introduced. Another precaution to cover the transition period is the precaution with which we are concerned in passing the Rent Restrictions (Amendment) Bill, It is to ensure that the pool of small houses to let for the wage-earners shall not be diminished during the next five years. It is wise to do that until we see our way clearly, and until the new forces of private enterprise have taken up the supply.
The third precaution is perhaps the most important. I have given reasons for supposing that we may expect a better supply from private enterprise. But although we cease the subsidy, the responsibility of the local authority to deal with the housing problem is still maintained. It is still the responsibility of the local authority, if there is any deficiency of housing in a neighbourhood, if private enterprise fails to provide the houses required, to come in and fill the gap. I suggest that the authority should 554 act in the second line of defence; we should look upon this, as it were, as an insurance, if normal methods of supply fail. If normal methods fail the responsibility of the local authority remains. There is no doubt at all that the local authority, with the cheap terms on which it can obtain money, can provide houses at an economic rent, without subsidy, at a rent which is practically indistinguishable from the appropriate normal rent. There is another circumstance to be considered in this respect, that when subsidies cease, when the public purse has no longer to be considered by the central guardians at the Ministry of Health, it is natural that the initiative allowed to the local authorities in providing houses, if they are to be provided without subsidy, should be freer and more unrestrained.
There are other essentials to help us to cross the bridge of the transition period. There are certain things needed to make sure that we shall get a supply of small houses from private enterprise. The first that we recognise, of course, is that we must have investors ready to come in and hold the houses. What we want is houses to let, and we cannot have them unless there is some investor who has bought them to hold and let. So we must make sure that we have got a supply of investors ready to invest funds, ready to hold the houses. Without that we shall never get houses let. I believe it is a matter of common knowledge to all those acquainted with the investing public and the conditions of investment at the present time, that there is a strong demand on the part of investors, small and great, for working-class house property as an investment. All over the country one hears the same thing that investors are ready to come in as they were before the War and to invest. The reason is not far to seek. The reason is the fall in the return on gilt-edged investments, and the difficulty of finding any other safe investments. That naturally drives people to seek this form of investment.
I have a very encouraging instance of that in my mind. It is an admirable association, if I may say so, called the Economic Housing Association. Associated with it are many Members who are ornaments of the Opposition party. I see that associated with it are Dr. Addison, the recent Minister of Agriculture, the 555 hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), the hon. Member for Walthamstow West (Mr. McEntee) and the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), all ornaments of the Labour party. So it is with particular encouragement, that in looking at their prospectus, I see that the association is created for the provision of houses at low rentals without a subsidy; and I read these extracts from the prospectus:It offers an investment with the maximum of security and protection against loss of capital. It offers a return by way of loans comparing favourably with that obtainable upon any comparable form of investment.I do not quote this as an unsolicited testimonial to the advantages of the capitalist system, though that is of some interest, but I read it to show that men of the high intellectual capacity of my hon. Friends opposite are prepared to risk their hard-earned gains, and to recommend other persons to risk theirs, in this particular form of investment at the present time.
There is another great need besides that of the investor to hold the houses, and that is of the capitalist to build them by cheap money. That is the second thing. I think that the economic return will attract capital, but I do not rely on that. I will take any means I can, and recommend the House to encourage any means that the House can encourage, to attract cheap capital into building. There is a scheme which I have to submit to the House in the Second Clause. It is a scheme under which the building societies will be encouraged to find the money which is needed for the building of the houses, to finance the housing. What are the conditions? The building societies have very large funds, more than enough to meet the whole needs of the situation, for which they are in need of reasonable investments. They are used to lending only to the owner-occupier on mortgage. That demand is saturated. The demand now is for houses to let.
The societies are prepared to use their great funds and to finance the building of houses to let. It is a form of business that is new to them. They must be prepared to lend a good deal more in proportion to the value of the houses. The ordinary proportion is 70 per cent. The 556 building societies must be prepared to lend up to 90 per cent. for this particular purpose. They cannot take on that responsibility without some assistance in the form of a guarantee. It is a social need that we should get the money. It is, therefore, a most reasonable proposition that we should be prepared to enter into this guarantee in order to encourage the flow of this great accumulation of building societies capital into the provision of the commodity that we most require. The details of the scheme are set out clearly in the Bill.
As regards the terms of the loans, would say that all depends on these. Unless we can get the money cheaply enough we cannot get the houses cheaply enough. I have had prolonged discussions with the building societies on the subject. I desire to recognise with the warmest appreciation the public spirit in which the building societies have approached the matter. Their record is an honourable one of encouraging social virtues in the past. They have recognised that they have a further duty to perform in continuing to serve a social purpose by helping us in the need for capital for housing in the future. In order to do so they have specified the terms on which they are prepared to lend money, terms which I think must be a gratification to the House. They are prepared to lend money for the term of 30 years at 1 per cent. below their normal rate of interest on ordinary loans—a very remarkable circumstance. The result will be that, at present rates, they will he lending their money at 4 per cent. in the Provinces, and at 4½ per cent. in London. We can see from those figures that we have here an important aid in the housing effort of the future. The economic rent of the house of 760 feet super to which I have referred, built upon these terms at 4 per cent. for 30 years, would be 10s. Id. exclusive of rates, and, say, 12s. inclusive of rates.
§ Mr. HOROBIN
The right hon. Gentleman has twice mentioned 30 years. Is the money to be repaid in 30 years, not 60?
§ Sir ARTHUR MICHAEL SAMUEL
How does my right hon. Friend calculate the 2s. for rates7 There are places where the rates are more than 20s. in the pound. How can my right hon. Friend guarantee that the rates will be only 2s. on a Ns. house?
§ Sir H. YOUNG
I can guarantee nothing of the sort. The figure of about 2s. is a fair average allowance to make for the whole country as regards rates.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
I will make a note of the questions of detail and will ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to reply to them later. The point of this scheme on which I lay particular emphasis is this: that this money is coming from people who are expert lenders to the building trade. I think it is of enormous importance in these matters that the lenders should be experts who understand the condition of borrowers, because, when you get expert knowledge on the side both of the borrowers and lenders, in our experience you get business done. If you get money coming from sources which do not understand the trade, then experience shows that, as a matter of fact, it does not come very freely, and the particular importance of this contribution is that you have it coming from people who are well acquainted with the conditions of their market.
I would refer again to the attitude towards this scheme of those who are well entitled to judge. I have consulted the representatives of the Housing Committee of the Association of Municipal Corporations. They tell me that they welcome this further accretion to their armoury and that they will make the fullest possible use of the new scheme and its funds. Referring again to the Federation of House Builders, their attitude is that the proposal made by the building societies is one of the greatest possible value and that they are relying upon it for the future provision of houses to which I have also referred. That statement was made by the National Federation of House Builders when the terms which the building societies were prepared to contemplate were first made and were less favourable than they are now.
558 The House will observe that I have not put this building society scheme forward as an essential or vital part of the scheme. I have put it forward as a most useful aid, one about which we may have hopes, but which is in no way essential to those prospects to which I have referred. Obviously, on the present terms the house which can be built with building society money and let at a rental, inclusive, of, say, 12s. a week, is not the very smallest and cheapest class of house which we, perhaps, most want. Nevertheless, it is a house for the working class which will cover a very wide area of demand and which will be a most important addition to the supply of houses. Further, as regards the future, one may hope that those forces which make for the reduction of costs will operate with respect to building society houses as much as in respect of any other houses.
A word upon the national standards of housing. Apprehensions are expressed in the Resolution and in the country that they have been reduced. The Government have agreed with no stipulation for the reduction of national standards of housing, as to size or condition. What will the situation be? Conditions as to standards are at present imposed by the Minister of Health in connection with the subsidy. If there is no longer a subsidy, there will be no longer the opportunity or the propriety of the imposition from the centre of conditions as to the standard. The natural guardians of housing standards were in the past, will be again, and ought to be, the local authorities, who are best acquainted with the local conditions. It will be their business to maintain the standards of national housing. They can do it, first of all, by the fact, which is apparent from the scheme, that their consent is necessary to the guarantee for building society money, and they can do it under general powers conferred upon them by the Town Planning Act which was passed last Session. In these circumstances, I believe that any danger that this Bill may be attended by the formation of new slums is absolutely without foundation.
The word "slums" brings me to the other aspect of the Government's housing policy. The cessation of the subsidy is looked upon, in the first place, as the best means of encouraging the supply of houses. It is looked upon, in the second 559 place, and this is my declaration to the House, as the occasion for the renewal of efforts in ridding us of the evil of slums. It has been my lot in the immediate past to have seen the worst types of this abuse that the country has to show—the wretched cave-dwellings dug into the banks of the Tyne, the back-to-back rows which are all too frequent still in the industrial districts of the West Riding; last, and perhaps worst, the basement dwellings of East London with their bare glimpse of the light of day.
I tell the House what the House expects to hear—that problem is a problem upon which the Government desire to enlist the assistance of the House, of the local authorities, and of the nation for a national effort to rid us of a disgrace. It is a public health problem. It is not in the first line a problem of housing; it is a problem of ridding our social organism of radiating centres of depravity and disease. For that reason, although subsidies may not be appropriate any longer elsewhere, subsidies are appropriate in this region as a measure for the protection and preservation of the public health. The cessation of subsidies would give opportunity for concentrated efforts in the slums. I should like to ask the House to look upon this action as a declaration of war upon the slums. The right policy is not to concentrate effort where we can get nothing done, not to fire our shots "into the brown." Let us, in the future, aim each shot at a slum house and knock it down with the subsidy. That is the policy which I propose to the House, making use of the weapon of the Bill which we owe to the right hon. Gentleman, the Slum Clearance Act of 1930.
A strong case has been made by the committee to which I have referred for the reduction of the subsidy for slum clearance. Financially, perhaps, it is justified. I do not ask the House to re duce that subsidy. I would not discourage the local authorities in the attack upon the slums in which we are inviting them to take part. A bigger subsidy is an impetus; let us leave the impetus as strong as we can. It may be that in the future we shall find more clearance done by reducing the subsidy and spreading it over a wider area. The smaller the subsidy the fewer houses you get cleared. Let us keep the subsidy at 560 the present figure until we get the forces of the local authorities concentrated in a fresh effort on the slums and then there will be an opportunity for reviewing the amount of the subsidy later.
§ Sir AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman's contribution to the slum problem is to leave the existing Act, to add nothing to it and detract nothing from it?
§ Sir H. YOUNG
As regards the provisions of the Act, I do not propose any legislative change; as regards detraction I will deal with that now. I want to deal with the programme of slum clearance, and that I think will answer my right hon. Friend's question. Since the Act was introduced, there have been clearances of 15,400 houses and there have been completed 5,600 replacement houses. That is the order of the effort that has been made, and I merely refer to the figures in order to show the standard of achievement with which we are dealing. What can we reasonably expect? In considering all the circumstances and what it is possible to do, I have come to the conclusion that the maximum which is practicable is a maximum of 12,000 houses a year to clear. Let the House observe that I state that as a maximum to which we should work. I cannot, of course, undertake that we can get up to it at once. It depends very largely upon the efforts of the local authorities, but I say that that is what we ought to try to obtain and can, I think, obtain with the good will of the local authority and a concentration of effort.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
May I ask whether new houses will be built on the old sites or whether the population will be moved away to other districts?
§ Sir H. YOUNG
That will entirely depend on the circumstances of the case. There will be some sites where it will be preferable to build on the sites; there will be others where it will not be. I can only say, in answer to my right hon. Friend, that the programme as regards that, in the hands of a reasonable local authority, will be to take those measures which are best adapted for getting rid of the slums.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
I am proposing no amendment or changes in the Act of 1930. I am proposing a vigorous campaign to have the Act carried out and a further financial provision in order to enable the Act to be carried out. The House will understand that this depends on finance. We can do more if we get more money. I am glad to say I have got more money. [An HON. MEMBER: "How much? "] At first, our anticipated normal increase of expenditure will be £75,000. I am authorised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that provision will be made in the Estimates to double that increase by an additional £75,000. I should like to close this branch of my subject by extending, as it were, a formal invitation to the local authorities, with a view to accelerating their programme of slum clearance under the Act of 1930. If the Act of 1930 proves inadequate for our purposes, then, in the future, we may have to contemplate other means, but with good will I believe that Act can be made adequate for this purpose to obtain a satisfactory rate of clearance of slum housing.
§ Mr. BRIANT
The right hon. Gentleman estimates 12,000 houses per year clearance of slum property. Has he the estimate of the total number of slum houses that have to be cleared, and will he say how many years it will take?
§ Sir H. YOUNG
I can give my hon. Friend the figures of schemes completed. There is another special problem and that is the problem of housing in rural areas. The House will observe that there is no cessation of the specially high grant for clearing rural slums made under the Act of 1930. That grant continues and will be available in the future as in the past and the policy which I submit to the House, in regard to rural housing, is that we should concentrate on the Act of 1926 which provides for the reconditioning of agricultural labourers cottages. What we want to deal with is the housing of the agricultural labourer and not the provision of weekend cottages for the well-to-do. The way to do that, as has been shown by experience and as is known to those who have practical knowledge of the rural areas, is to be found in the Act of 1926. The problem of rural housing is not so much a problem of a need for more houses, because the population of the rural areas 562 is not on the whole increasing. It is a problem of making the existing cottages decent and possible under modern conditions and that is precisely what the Act of 1926 is designed to do.
Under that Act we can provide a decent cottage at a rent of from 3s. to 5s. a week, which the agricultural labourer can pay, but to build new houses, even subsidised houses, involves a rent of 8s. or 10s. a week. That is no good to the agricultural labourer and is only wasted effort. I submit that the Act of 1926 provides the most practical way of dealing with the housing question in the rural areas. There, also, I invite the local authorities to renewed and even greater efforts by making use of that valuable Act of which sufficient use has not been made in the past. In particular I would propose to give sympathetic consideration to any application by a, rural district council for authority to administer the Act. In many cases the rural district council has more local knowledge and has a more lively interest in the reconditioning of agricultural cottages than the county council. The question of housing in the rural areas is one to which we must undoubtedly give particular attention. I cannot say what the future may hold in that respect, but if it is clearly shown that the Act of 1926, even though availed of to the fullest extent, as I hope it will be, is inadequate to meet the demands of the situation, then we must recognise that the question is one requiring special consideration in the light of varying conditions and in relation to the financial circumstances of the time.
The special subsidy under the Act of 1931 is considered to be no longer necessary in view of the fall in building costs, and no measures are taken to provide for its continuance. One final word on the financial effects of the scheme. Of course, the enormous outlay of £13,500,000 per annum from taxes and £2,750,000 per annum from rates in housing subsidies unfortunately goes on. I say "unfortunately" because that expenditure was not always wisely incurred in the past. The only subsidies that will represent an increase in the subsidy expenditure are those for slum clearance or for the reconditioning of rural houses. What then shall we save? I have not put forward this Bill as a measure of economy. I 563 have put it forward as a measure for the promotion of housing and to inaugurate an attack on the slums, but its effects on the National Exchequer must receive careful consideration in such hard times as these.
Subsidies are now increasing at the rate of £270,000 a. year in taxes and £130,000 a year from rates under the 1924 Act. That is a cumulative £400,000 a year—that is to say £400,000 this year, £800,000 next year and so on. We are stopping the subsidy expenditure under the Act of 1924. We have to set against that the additional £75,000 a year, the annual increase in respect of slum clearance. The effect is that there is a saving to the Exchequer of a cumulative sum of £200,000 per year, that is £200,000 this year, £400,000 next year, £600,000 the following year and so on, and there is an equivalent saving to the rates of about £100,000 per year, also cumulative.
Now I come to the end of the explanation of the Bill. I submit that it is a means of getting what we want in the way of small houses, more freely and with more certainty, and without the subsidy. I submit that the scheme for the provision of cheap credit through the building societies will be of valuable assistance in increasing the supply. I submit that this is a fortunate occasion upon which to invite a concentration of effort upon the problem of slum clearance and to announce the availability of bigger financial resources to help in ridding us of that great evil. I believe that all necessary precautions have been taken to ensure a continuance of supply during the transitional period and I submit this Bill to the House as the most practical measure that we can take to achieve the aim which we have in view and to relate our housing policy to the changed circumstances of the time.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which almost entirely abolishes the housing subsidies and, by discouraging municipal housing schemes and promoting the interests of private enterprise, will result in a return to bad pre-War conditions, nullify the density limit of 12 houses to the acre and other salutary 564 restrictions imposed by the Housing Acts, reduce housing standards, and leave tenants unprotected against excessive demands for rent or interest upon loan.I wish first of all to express my thanks that anything at all should have been saved from the wreckage of previous housing Measures. My gratitude is not very enthusiastic for reasons which I shall make plain later, but I do wish to acknowledge the continuance at any rate of the major provisions of the Act of 1930. The Bill is being defended, not as an economy Measure but as a means of getting a larger supply of houses, and, if you please, as an inauguration of a new attack on the slums. But there was no need for any new Measure for that purpose and instead of an inauguration this Bill in my view is going to be a discouragement to local authorities who are anxious to deal with the slum problem. The right hon. Gentleman's great crusade against the slums simply amounts to the suggestion of a maximum provision, which he insisted upon and repeated, of 12,000 houses a year. What a crusade! We are told that we ought to be grateful because the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to cough up a further £75,000 a year for this purpose. Why the right hon. Gentleman tells us that he is presenting the Chancellor of the Exchequer under the provisions of this Bill with a cumulative sum of about £275.000 a year. He could have asked for all of that sum back and, had he done so, I could have understood his claim that he was inaugurating a new and concentrated attack on the slums.
§ Sir FRANCIS FREMANTLE
The right hon. Gentleman never administered it himself when he was at the Ministry.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's rather feverish interruption. This Bill is important to all Members who are interested in the housing problem because it is a reversal of post-War national policy and it has to be proved that the circumstances of to-day warrant a complete reversal of the policy which has so far been found necessary to deal with this problem. My first criticism is that there was no mention of this Bill in the King's Speech. There was a reference to rent restriction but not to housing. I can only conclude one of two things, either that the Government consider housing so unimportant that this Bill is regarded as a minor Measure un 565 worthy of mention in the King's Speech, or else that when Parliament met the Government had not made up their minds on this question. As the Minister has told us that he regards housing as a fundamental national problem I conclude that the Government met Parliament this Session without any idea of what they were going to do about housing. If that be so the House has been very badly treated.
We have had the publication of the reports of two committees, one of them the foster-child of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the other of even more doubtful origin. We have had references to the reports of those committees this afternoon. Was it because of the panic-stricken proposals in those reports that the Government, quite suddenly and without notice, determined to introduce this Bill? It is a little hard on the House to be presented with a, Bill of this kind without any previous notice at all. We are asked to take it within a week and are given just one short day for the Second Reading, notwithstanding the Minister's admission that it proposes a revolutionary change. But, having got over the shock of the Bill's first appearance last Thursday morning, I am not surprised that the Government have taken this course. The whole drift of their activities, and I use the word "drift" advisedly, has been towards the re-establishment of unrestricted private enterprise. I quite understand that that is the policy of most hon. Members opposite. It is a policy which has found a great champion in the Minister of Health with whose economic views I have found myself in conflict more than once. Since the right hon. Gentleman took office he has quite deliberately and as part of the Government's policy restricted the housing activities of local authorities.
It is almost impossible for local authorities to get approval for the building of parlour houses and even decent-sized and medium-sized non-parlour houses are frowned upon by the Minister. What he calls "the house we want"—he does not, speak for me in this matter —and the kind of house which he has been compelling local authorities against their will to build during the last 12 months, is the smallest, meanest type of non-parlour house. As regards the type of house with living room and three bed- 566 rooms you cannot have three decent bedrooms in a house of 760 square feet. You may have two moderate sized bedrooms but you cannot have three real bedrooms in a house of that kind. Yet local authorities, whatever the local needs and circumstances, have been driven by the Minister, deliberately and of set purpose, almost to confine their activities to building these very small houses, thus setting a new and lower standard of working-class housing above which private enterprise when it gets into the saddle will not be expected to rise. I should be astonished if it were expected to rise above the standards established by public authorities.
That has been the whole drift of the last 15 months—to stop the building of any but the very smallest type of house —with the result that we are now scattering up and down the country rabbit hutches, which two generations of our people will have to live in and which will stand as a reproach to the national credit. It is not merely that they have restricted the activities of local authorities in the matter of the size of houses; they have not even encouraged them to build houses of any kind. There has been no real encouragement. Last week, in the housing Debate inaugurated by my hon. Friend the Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Briant), the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry quoted some figures, and we have had some quoted this afternoon by the Minister. The best test at any time of housing progress is the number of houses actually under construction, where there are men on the job and where you know that they are going to be finished. Not approvals, which may or may not materialise, but houses under construction are the real test of housing activity. Up to September of last year, month by month, the number of houses under construction increased; since I left office last year, month by month, the number of houses under construction has diminished and is still falling. Take the figures for October last year—44,000 houses or more under construction, and for October of this year 28,000.
The "News Letter" is becoming a very well quoted paper in this House. I do not subscribe to it myself, but this paper, I understand, is the organ of the Prime Minister, and I would commend hon. Members opposite and the Minister to 567 read the current issue, because there is an article on housing in it by Sir Raymond Unwin, who speaks with a certain authority on this question in the country; and the editor, in order to whet the appetite of the readers for what follows, explains in a heading that Sir Raymond Unwin "pleads for more house building by public authorities." The whole article, if I may say so, is an excellent comment on the present Bill. Sir Raymond Unwin quotes certain figures, which also show that building activities have been restricted in the last year. He quotes figures from the "Ministry of Labour Gazette," giving the value of building work, and the figures for the third quarter of 1931 are a total of £16,263,000, of which dwelling houses provided £11,536,000. For the third quarter of 1932, exactly a year later, the total figures were down to £14,000,000 and £9,000,000 respectively, and the writer goes on:While the fall in the value of all other building represents £632,000, the fall in dwelling houses represents £1,390,000.In face of that, it is very difficult for the Minister to claim that this year has been a year of great housing activity, and that more has been done, because I think it is obvious that a good deal less has been done, and I imagine that the Government must have had their tongue in their cheek last Wednesday when they gave their formal approval to my hon. Friend's Motion on the question of housing:That this House urges the Government to use its influence with local authorities, and employ any other practicable means, to speed up the building of dwelling houses, particularly for persons on low wages,knowing that for a year they have been slowing down the machine, knowing at the very time when they were acquiescing in my hon. Friend's Motion that a Bill was being printed which was going to hamstring the greater part of the activities of the local authorities. Having discouraged municipal enterprise during the past 15 months, it is not astonishing that they should have listened to the hon. Member's report and to a report of the Committee of Members of this House in much the same sense, and I personally am not surpised that the blow has fallen. I am not surprised that, having discouraged this kind of activity since the National Government took office, they have thrown cold water 568 on their efforts and are now trying to drown municipal enterprise in a sea of private enterprise. The cessation of the Wheatley subsidy, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, will virtually end all municipal housing schemes except slum clearance. That is the intention of the Minister.
It is admitted by him to-day, as it was admitted by him on Monday and by the Parliamentary Secretary last week, that there is still, whatever may be true of other classes of house, a shortage of working-class houses, and he now proposes to leave the solution of that problem to the speculative builder and private enterprise, the very people who left us with the trouble after the War. Private enterprise was, practically speaking, the only agency before the War for building working-class houses, and it never solved the problem, nor can it do so to-day. The right hon. Gentleman is handing over a machine that has been developed in the years since the War, or, rather, he is scrapping that machine and handing back to unrestricted private enterprise, which can adopt almost what standards it likes, the solution of a problem which private enterprise has never settled and can never settle. After all, it is private enterprise that left us with houses 30 and 40 to the acre; it is private enterprise that left us with all our congested districts; it is private enterprise that has created our housing problem; and my submission is that in 1932, after the extraordinarily valuable experience of the municipal authorities, they might still be allowed to continue to solve a problem that still remains, apart from and independent of the special question of slum clearance.
We have heard a good deal of criticism as to what has been done with regard to the housing of working people since the War, but I would like to know where these working-class houses would have been to-day if it had not been for public enterprise and local authorities schemes. They would not have been there. Whatever the conditions were, private enterprise was unable to tackle the question, and it was tackled, in so far as it has been tackled at all, by our local authorities, which have not only partially met the need, but have established new housing standards higher than any that this country has ever known before, and it would be a national disaster if we were to allow those standards to slip from 569 our hands. The Government's argument is that prices have fallen and that house building has now become a profitable undertaking again to the builders.
I have heard the argument so often in this House, and I have replied to it so often, but I do not believe we have had it in this Parliament before, that experience shows that subsidies increase prices and that the withdrawal of a subsidy diminishes prices. We have actually had the experience of 1921 quoted. Of course, housing costs fell. Nobody built any houses. All existing commitments were liquidated, and no more approvals were given. If you find, when a subsidy comes off, that prices fall almost invariably—and certainly all our housing statistics since the War prove it—it is because house building falls off. The demand falls off, and of course prices fall. But you cannot have it both ways. You cannot have your reduction of prices and expect to have the houses, because you do not get them, but when the demand begins to rise, the prices begin to creep up. That is the whole history of housing prices in this country since the War. If you put on a subsidy, that is an encouragement to building—that is what it is intended for—and the very first effect is an increased demand, which may for the time put up prices, but it is absurd to pretend that this is a direct cause of the connection and relation between subsidies and prices. The only connection is through their effect on the amount of building that goes on, and if you stopped all house building, I have no doubt you could build them even at three a penny, but then you have not got the houses.
The right hon. Gentleman has used the term "economic rent." An economic rent is a rent which, paid to the landlord, ensures him a profitable return on his expenditure. It may not be an economic rent so far as the worker who occupies the house is concerned. It is economic to the builder, but it does not follow that, because you can get a rent which is profitable to the private builder, it eases the position of the possible tenant. One of the difficulties we have always had in this country has been that our wage standards have never been high enough—and particularly in very big towns like London—to enable people to rent houses of a kind to which ordinary, 570 moderate public opinion thought they were entitled.
The question has been met very largely by a whole series of bankruptcies of small builders in the hands of moneylenders, and houses sold for next to nothing. That has happened by the hundred thousand in this country in the last 30 or 40 years. It has been met also by overcrowding, for which the tenant has had to pay. That is a subsidy. The destruction of the small builder through bankruptcy before the War was as much a subsidy as if it had come out of public funds. The industry of the country and the community had to pay it somehow. In those ways secret, hidden subsidies have been paid, but in fact the worker never has had a wage sufficient to enable him to live in the house which the conscience of the public demanded at the time; and to-day a larger proportion of the working-class income is going in rent than ever before. Our contention is that, the housing problem being so fundamental to national well-being, we cannot rest content merely because houses can now be built at an economic rent if large numbers of people are really unable to pay that rent. There is still an enormous unsatisfied demand for houses. The right hon. Gentleman feels that private enterprise will satisfy it, because he is going to get down to an economic rent, a rent which he tells us is now only 5d. per week more than the cost of houses that are being built. I do not know how he draws that narrow margin—
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
That is to say, the difference between the 1924 appropriate normal rent and the present cost is 5d. per week. That figure is obtained by the dodge of averaging rates over the whole of the country, and has no relation to the actual state of affairs in the big urban centres where, in the case of the 7s. 9d. houses, the rates may be anything from 4s. to 7s. 6d. a week. The right hon. Gentleman's figure of 2s. does not enable us to visualise the problem in the large provincial towns, where rates are high and where the 7s. 9d. normal rent is not a 10s. or a 12s. inclusive rent, but a 15s. rent—an amount completely outside the possibilities of the average working-class family. The Bill pro- 571 poses to substitute microscopically small guarantees for the Wheatley subsidy. I am not saying any word of criticism of the work of building societies, for they have performed a very important duty and have had a large and honourable place in the provision of houses, but to speak of this guarantee as a great act of patriotism on the part of the building societies will, I think, hardly hold water. It is not patriotic to offer money at 4 per cent. and 4½ per cent. to-day. I should have thought that it was highly profitable and that many of these societies will be delighted if they can get rid of their surpluses at the handsome return of 4½ per cent.
What we are doing is to get rid of the actual subsidy which has always been a driving force that has led to an increase in the amount of house building, and we are substituting for that a guarantee which, on the most favourable showing, is not going to cost the Government more than 8s. per house. It may be that the local authorities, now that they are deprived of the subsidy under the 1924 Act, will work the new scheme with as much enthusiasm as they can command. The very first authority which has talked about this since the Bill was published is that of the city of Nottingham, and it has just turned down a building society guarantee scheme. Many local authorities may find that this way of dealing with the problem is not one which satisfactorily meets their needs. There is no need to make any mystery about it; the Bill is a complete capitulation to private enterprise. We are back where we were. Slum clearance, which is the most difficult and the most costly of all housing problems, can be left to the public authorities, but other profitable kinds of building, now that it has become profitable—so we understand—
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY
Has not the right hon. Gentleman argued that it can never be profitable for a municipal authority to build houses?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I am saying that the solution of the problem of providing houses, now that it has become profit-able—
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I can quite understand that private enterprise wants to get rid of control and do without a subsidy so that they can be independent. I do not blame them. It is a perfectly logical attitude for them to take. I am not saying that they want the subsidy, for they prefer their freedom, freedom to do what they like in the matter of rents and do almost what they like in the matter of standards. After we have established national standards for the density per acre, the size of house, and so on, we are now to go back and put these new national standards into the melting pot and leave them to what any local authority cares to establish in their by-laws and regulations. This is no way of dealing with the housing problem. As house builders in the past before the War created problems, so they will create them again without solving what is one of the most fundamentally important of our social problems. I have no hope that my Amendment will be carried, but at least we can put our views strongly and take such measures as we can to oppose this Bill in the House and in the country.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
I trust that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) will not think me guilty of discourtesy to him if I do not attempt to follow the speech which he has just made. I rise for a much more re stricted purpose. I do not think that I am as competent as many Members of the House to deal with the general question which is raised by the Amendment, and, indeed, by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister, but there is one particular aspect of the problem about which I feel deeply, and I am glad to have the opportunity of bringing it before the House. All I can say of the speech of the right hon. Member for Wakefield is that, as some of my hon. Friends showed by their interruptions, I found a difficulty in following his argument that, as house building without a subsidy was profitable, it was a heinous offence on the part of my right hon. Friend the Minister to discontinue the subsidy. If house building, as the right hon. Gentleman said, is profitable, then the municipality or the local authority no more needs the subsidy than the private builder. The only excuse and justification for it was that it would get 573 built houses of a suitable character which we could not get in any other way.
I profess myself a supporter in toto of the Bill which my right hon. Friend has introduced. There are many points to be considered in Committee which I do not rise to argue now, but there is one point in which I thought his statement profoundly disappointing. My right hon. Friend said in the early part of his speech that hitherto we had barely scratched what he called the slum problem, and I waited anxiously and expectantly for the proposal which he would make for dealing with that problem. I am profoundly disappointed—and I speak, as my right hon. Friend knows, in no unfriendly spirit either to the Government or to him—that all he has to contribute to that problem is a statement that the existing Act dealing with it shall continue unaltered, unimpaired but unimproved. The slum problem, as we usually employ the phrase, covers a great number of entirely different cases for which entirely different remedies are required. There are slums properly socalled—cases like the cave dwellings to which any right hon. Friend referred—and I imagine that there is nothing to be done with them but to sweep them away and to replace them by something better. There are the cellars, which are a blot and a scandal on this metropolitan city. The same thing again may be true of them.
But there is another problem represented by my own constituency. It is called the West Division of Birmingham, but how shall I describe it? I have 43,000 electors. I suppose that 3,000 of these represent the business vote and its feminine equivalent. The other 40,000 represent working-men and small shopkeepers in working-men's quarters, and I doubt if there is a resident in the whole constituency, except perhaps some clergymen, possibly another minister or two of religion, and conceivably a doctor, who is not really of the wage-earning type, if you extend that type to include the small shopkeeper whose trade is done with men in a like social position. There are masses of houses in the Division. The bulk of the constituency was built in old times according to standards which are not our standards to-day, which I frankly confess cannot be brought up to our standards. I can take my right hon. 574 Friend into house after house, court after court, where the houses as they stand are not fit for any human being to live in. I can show him alongside, the same type of houses reconditioned, not up to all the standards which we would wish to adopt, but made habitable and decent at rents barely exceeding those charged before for accommodation in which you would not wish to see, in which you would not endure to see your own kith and kin. They are kept habitable and decent by the old tenants, who are profoundly grateful for the opportunities for comfort and decency with which they have been provided.
In house after house the tenant will show you a cracked copper, show you a door which he has to prop to and fasten with a chair at night because it is hanging loose upon its hinges. You will see that all the brickwork ought to have been repointed. You will see the paper peeling off the walls, paper which the tenant has put on out of his own money, because the walls so reek with damp that no paper will stay there. You go up into a bedroom and you see a bed propped on the tops of packing cases, because if the castors of the bedstead were left upon the planking of the floor they would go through, so rotten are the planks. Those are the houses of a large number of my constituents. Some of those houses belong to people as poor as those who occupy them. They or dead relatives have made provision for their old age, or the old age of those left behind when they pass away, by the purchase of one or two of these houses. But much of that property is in the hands of men of whose inhuman conduct in its management no words that I could use would be too strong.
What are the alternatives which the corporation have? They may order these men to put the houses into repair, and, if that is not done, may close the houses. No one knows better than speculators in this property all the loopholes of the law, no one knows better how to do just that amount which prevents the closing of a house and yet leaves it unfit for human habitation. In the other alternative the corporation must pull down the houses, at vast expense and must rehouse a large part of the population in some other place. Anyone who knows our urban conditions knows that the homes of the poor are often as dear to 575 them as the homes of the wealthy. Round those homes gather all their associations, and in the neighbourhood are all their friendships, all that gives brightness to their lives. And you ask them to go away to some new municipal site where they have to start a life as strange to them as life would be to me if I were transferred to Australia or Canada.
Many of them have gone to these new sites, but they find the cost of the journeys to and from their work too heavy for their weekly earnings, quite apart from that breach with all that they have known, all that round which their affection has gathered. Many of those who have moved out would move back by choice, even if they returned to a smaller house, one which, according to the standards of a medical officer of health, would be less desirable than that which they occupy. There are others who cannot move in any circumstances by reason of the nature of their work. What is the solution for that problem I do not find it in the speech of my right hon. Friend. He has not touched on it. Even if we had unlimited money to spend I am not sure that in any new houses we would consent to build we could rehouse that old population—unless we erected great blocks of flats. We have no blocks of flats in Birmingham, and I hope my fellow-citizens will be slow to adopt them.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member knows something of that system in Glasgow and in other parts of Scotland. We know something of it in London. Flat life means that in infancy a child can never leave the flat, and past a certain age, and at a certain stage of infirmity, a man or a woman walks up that long flight of stairs for the last time, never to come down again until carried down in a coffin. Blocks of flats may be ideal for their purpose, once you are in them, and ideal for those who can get in and out of them at will and freely, but we should do far more for the health, comfort and well-being, and would better meet the wishes of those of whom I speak in my own constituency, if we made their present houses decent. We could do that at small expense in preference to spending vast sums of money in pulling everything down in the hope that some day, 576 somewhere—I shall not live to see it—we shall have ideal houses in ideal surroundings.
The problem is an urgent and a pressing one. Alongside some of these houses in certain parts of my constituency and in other parts of Birmingham are a few odds and ends of property which a charitable institution, known by its initials—C.O.P. E.C.—has acquired and reconditioned. They may pull down one house in a courtyard, and let in light and air in preference to retaining the old approach, by a tunnel under another house. They have taken public houses which had lost their licences and made of them three decent flats—none of them very much above the ground. In one case, at least, they have laid out a little plot where the tenants can have gardens. They are able to re-let those houses at rents little more than those which the tenants were paying for them in their in-sanitary condition. My information is not quite up-to-date, but at the time when I last spoke with the representative of this organisation—some months ago; perhaps I had better say a year—he told me that in every case they had put the old tenant back into the reconditioned house and that they had only twice been obliged to evict a family because it would not keep the house in repair, both cases in which the mother was a mental deficient. In every other case, once the house was under good management, and had been put into a good state, the tenant kept it so.
I venture to say that we should develop this system of reconditioning—I do not say to the exclusion of the clearance of slums; we should clear out the dug-out, clear away the cellar dwelling—and we should then have throughout the country tens of hundreds of houses which, though they will never reach your exalted standard, will have been made decent at small expense. If we press forward with that side of the problem, we shall do more for health and happiness and do it more quickly than we can in any other way. My right hon. Friend spoke, I think, with proper enthusiasm—or appreciation is the better word—of the Rural Housing Act and its provisions for reconditioning. Why should not we have reconditioning in the towns? Why is the alternative in the towns to wait until these houses are all cleared away and 577 entirely new houses built to new standards, often in places to which it is a hardship for the old occupants to go? Why are we to wait until all that can be done when, with a tithe of the money that that will require, we can make thousands of these houses decent within a year by reconditioning them in the way the C.O.P.E.C. Society has done?
My right hon. Friend knows that I feel strongly, as he would if he represented my constituency. I sometimes ask, "Why should anybody who lives in the conditions which I see there vote for me, or the causes for which I stand and which I commend to them?" If I lived in such conditions I do not think my head would govern my actions. I should feel that the circumstances to which I was condemned were intolerable, that there was something rotten in a State which had permitted them to exist so long and which permitted them to continue, and I might go on to—well, I do not know what I might go on to do. I can conceive of myself taking any foolish action. You cannot see those conditions and not feel your blood boil. You cannot see those conditions and meet the decent people who pray only that they may have a wall that does not drip with water, a door which holds, sanitary conditions which are not nauseous in the nostrils when you approach them and a floor upon which they can sleep without fear that they may tumble through into the room below before the night is done, and not feel stirred. I do implore my right hon. Friend not to wait for that day which must be long deferred if he means us to depend upon the present Slum Clearance Act. Take this problem in hand at once and, pending the rehousing of the population in conditions which comply with our present standard, if that be found possible, let us do something immediate and direct to alleviate the conditions under which thousands of our fellow-beings are living, and which almost draw tears from anybody who goes to look and sees the slums as they are.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Sir PERCY HARRIS
We have just heard a very great speech which will re sound throughout the country. With his great knowledge and great influence, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bir-mingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) believes 578 that immediate measures should be carried through. We need not go to Birmingham to see pictures similar to those which he so vividly painted. We can tell the House of the constituency of my bon. Friend the Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Briant). There, one may see miles of similar conditions, and citizens living in a way almost analogous to those in Birmingham which the right hon. Gentleman described. It is so all around London, and is not by any means confined to the South or to the East. It is almost equal in the West where you see the bad, ugly, and sordid homes in which our fellow-citizens are living. The right hon. Gentleman would be the first to agree that the problem is not the same in all parts of the country. That is our difficulty. If by a stroke of the pen or by a two-Clause Bill the problem of housing could be solved, how simple it would be!
In Scotland, especially in Glasgow, and in Edinburgh, the problem, although it is the same in intensity, has to be handled and cured by different means. That is also the case in the rural areas. I have made considerable inquiries about the provincial problem, and it is a very different problem from that of London. So is the problem of Birmingham. For a quarter of a century I have been a member the Housing Committee of the great London authority, and we have been very much aware of the great work that was done in Birmingham, under what was familiarly known as the Nettlefold Scheme. We tried to apply some results of some of those experiments to London, and in a limited sense they have been successful in St. Pancras, largely through the work of a great voluntary organisation. It has produced marvellous results with what is known as reconditioning. Old houses have been joined together and remodelled, single houses removed and the backs opened up in order to let in the air and the sunshine, and have been made sanitary.
This is going to be the purpose of my speech: I want variety, and I do not want one golden rule for the whole country. The Minister has thrown his heart into the work of housing during the last six months. He has gone so far as to visit the East End of London for enlightenment and to acquire first-hand knowledge. I am afraid that he may have been too ready to be guided by in- 579 fluences which are not always disinterested and not necessarily right. I have no objection to the bringing in of the building societies. On the contrary, I recognise that in certain parts of the country, especially the Midlands where they have been the main agency for the provision of houses, their good work and co-operation are to be encouraged. But I doubt whether we shall get better results through the machinery of the building society than through the local authority, ordinary private enter prise or any other means. I am not going to oppose the suggestion that the building societies should be encouraged. I want to see every agency and every method tried. We should not limit ourselves. Let us try private enterprise by all means, and let us encourage it. Let the building societies come in and lend a hand. I dislike this Bill because it is—I will not say hostile, but it seems to ignore the tremendous importance of the local authorities to bring about housing improvement. I want a little more enlightenment as to the guarantees. If the State comes to the assistance of the building societies, will that bring about the right result?
I thought that the reference to the number of houses that are to be built per acre was a little sinister. Is there to be no limit to the number of houses to be erected except the fortuitous effect of town planning schemes? Reading between the lines of what was said by the federation of building firms I should say that they aim at removing entirely the limit of the number of houses per acre. We may return to the old drab miles of streets and houses all alike, all of one pattern, turned out as if by machinery, with no character or variety, the kind of thing against which we have been fighting for the past 20 years. Apparently there is to be no guarantee as to amenities. It is not fashionable to-day to talk about baths; they are luxuries. The 50 years of free education have improved the standards of the people, and every ordinary home is supposed to possess a bath. We hear stories about the baths being used for the storage of coal. That might have been true for some of the old people. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer was Minister of Health and was piloting his Housing Bill through the House of Commons, he pro- 580 vided that a house built with the subsidy was to have a bath, a fixed bath though not necessarily a bath room. Is this proposal providing amenities of that character, and is the State coming to the aid of the building societies and giving money to the private builder on condition that amenities of that character should be provided?
What guarantee is there that there is to be no other claim? One of the reasons why private builders can more successfully make profits when building houses is that they do not exercise the same control over the taking in of a lodger. I have no theory that taking in a lodger is a bad thing. A lodger in a working-class house sometimes adds to the gaiety of the home. But I object to overcrowding. One of the advantages of local government schemes is the strict supervision to prevent overcrowding of homes. I ask also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health what provision is to be provided in regard to the rents to be charged? Is there to be any limit or check and, if so, what is to be the check? Provided that those securities are assured, and that the local authorities are going to keep control over the houses which are to be provided under these new schemes, I wish God speed to the proposal to bring in the co-operation of the building societies.
Now I come to the broad problem of London, which is a problem on its own. I make no apology for asking for the special treatment of London. We are not a little village, and we are not a provincial town. [An HON. MEMBER: "Worse than that!"] We may be suburban in our outlook, but at any rate London is a problem on its own, I mean the Metropolitan Police area, stretching at least 10 miles from Charing Cross. It has a population, according to the Census Returns, of 8,250,000 people, and it contains one-fifth—it is surprising when you work it out in percentages—of the population of England and Wales. In the last 10 years—this is why I am going to defend London having special treatment —there has been an increase in the Metropolitan area of 750,000 people, equal to Manchester or Liverpool. London has been the magnet for Wales, the distressed areas and even some of the rural districts. Maybe that increase is due to unemployment in other parts of the country, but the fact remains that 581 while in many provincial towns the population has been going down, actually declining because of depressed trade, our housing while in many provincial towns the problem has been intensified and increased by the concentration of industry here. Places like Slough, which is familiar to anybody going along the Great West Road, are an example of the problem with which we have to deal. People come here to find employment and they have to be housed. If they are not housed, they overcrowd the existing, or what I might call the native, population of our capital city. The Census report puts it very well. The official is unprejudiced. He says:The circumstances in London, with its almost complete absence of available building land on the one hand and powerful competition from commerce and other nonresidential users on the other, are in every way exceptional and no doubt introduced factors of a restrictive nature not to be found elsewhere.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
That makes it all the worse. The problem of the centre is very difficult. It is not quite so bad outside, where there is a certain amount of unbuilt land, but in the centre it is so much the worse. The report goes on:With increasing congestion at the centre, created by the overwhelming competition of industry and commerce, the residential population is driven further and further out.The better paid workers, of course, hurry away to the nice pleasant suburbs nine, 10, and even 20 miles out, and, if it were not for their migration, our problem would be very much intensified. Men of the middle classes in regular employment go out to delightful suburbs like Surbiton, Richmond, and so on. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir W. Ray), the author of the Economy Report, is not here. He is getting those better paid workmen who are able to pay good rents and therefore do not suffer. Those who are interested in the housing problem were cheered by the advent of cheaper money and the lower cost of building, and they have been thinking that now, after 10 years of difficulty, our problem would be simplified and solved, because we were going to be able for the first time to build houses to let at a reasonable rent with a moderate subsidy.
582 I want the right hon. Gentleman to appreciate my point of view clearly. I am not particularly a lover of subsidies. On the contrary, if we could build houses economically and make ends meet without help from the State or from the rates, our problem would be very much simpler. We were doing it before the War. I was on the same committee of the London County Council then, and we were building houses without assistance from the State or from the rates and letting them at reasonable figures; and to-day, thanks to that foresight on the part of the local authority, those houses can be let at lower rents than the post-war houses, and are actually showing a profit of some thousands a year. I should like to see those conditions return, but it is not possible. Even with cheap money and the present exceptionally low cost of building, largely due to the slump in trade and the fact that suppliers of materials cannot find a market for their goods and are ready to sell at almost any price, while the builders cannot get contracts and are falling over one another in order to get a job—conditions which we cannot assume will continue—even under those conditions our accounts still show a loss on the cheapest houses of the crudest forms, the simplified models, as they are called. Even the mass production houses at Becontree, turned out by the thousand by super-contractors, with every advantage in the way of being able to import goods' to our own wharf on the Thames, we still show a loss, on the cheapest houses, of £3 15s. and more per year. That amount is, of course, being borne at present out of the rates. The right hon. Gentleman may say to us, "Carry on with your good work; find this money out of the rates"; but, if he thinks that that can be done, he does not know the ratepayers or the London County Council. It is a very significant and sinister fact that the Economy Report anticipates, not only a large saving to the taxpayers, but a similar saving to the ratepayers. I fear, reading between the lines, that, once the stimulus of national money is removed, local authorities will stop building.
I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should alter his Bill. I would like to see him withdraw it, but I am afraid he will not do so. By all means let him reduce the subsidy, but 583 let him keep the stimulus of the State for some districts. Where he is satisfied that houses have been provided by private enterprise, or can be supplied by local authorities without the assistance of State money or of the rates, by all means let him withdraw his help, but where he is satisfied, as I believe he will be in London, that that cannot be done, I think he should let the partnership of the State and the local authorities go on. The figure I have mentioned applies to cottages, but cottages only meet half the problem. In the case of the cottage estates that we have in London at Becontree, Roehampton, and so on, one of the troubles is that a large percentage of the people who go there are, I will not say undeserving of help, because they mostly come from overcrowded homes, but are a better paid and better class of working people. The most serious problem at the moment is that of the unskilled worker and the casual labourer in the more lowly paid ranks, such as they have in Liverpool and we have in the East End of London. These men, after all, are a necessity in a great industrial city living on world trade. They comprise dockers, carmen, packers, and all the various unskilled occupations, and they depend for their existence on being near to their employment and able to radiate, according to the changes that may take place, in all directions. If they are shoved out on to the outskirts, they are simply forced into the ranks of the unemployed. It is not merely a question of sentiment, though it is true that sentiment plays a, part. It is remarkable how attached the ordinary Londoner is to the district where he has been brought up, where his family and friends are, where he has the advantage of cheap markets, and, above all, the opportunity of getting employment.
I am afraid that in London reconditioning will not be of much use. It may do something, and I am all for including something of the kind in any Bill that the right hon. Gentleman may bring in. But we are forced to go in for those horrible things called block dwellings. They are inevitable in a big city. You find them in every town on the Continent—in Berlin and other German cities. In France, and even, as an hon. Member says, in Moscow, though we have not quite come down to the Moscow standard.
584 In Vienna, too, there are some of the finest examples of well-planned block dwellings. An immense amount has been done in connection with the design, planning and construction of block dwellings. They are being humanised, and are not the barrack squares that they used to be 20 or 30 years ago. But we cannot build block dwellings without State assistance or the help of the rates, nor can private enterprise do so. There is a small but charming experiment in South West London in the way of dwellings for better class workmen and lower middle class people, but even in that case it is not possible to make ends meet.
The reason is that we cannot buy land anywhere near the centre at less than £3,000 an acre, and, when roads, drains, and other necessities have been provided, I am assured by one of the highest authorities in the country that the cost works out at nearly £6,000 an acre. That means £200 a room. It is not possible on these sites to put up block dwellings—which necessarily must be fireproof, well-constructed and well-planned—even with the cheapest accommodation, the minimum of amenities, and a low standard of cubic space, at much less than £200 a room. I believe that in the case of a special contract, with a low standard of finish, the cost has been got down to something like £180. Thus, at £200 a room, a three-roomed flat works out at £600, and the loss on each flat is £15 a year. Who is to bear that loss? The ordinary working man already complains that he cannot live in our luxury flats, that they are too expensive for him, even with a subsidy from the rates. The right hon. Gentleman cannot run away from that special case; he must face it, and he cannot get over it by merely handing us over to the Act of 1930.
Perhaps I might be allowed to point out the vital distinction that there is between what is known as slum clearance and overcrowding. Many people appear to think that they are one and the same thing, but they are entirely different problems. The Act of 1930 does not attempt to touch overcrowding as such. Let me remind the House of the conditions which are necessary for putting the Act of 1930 into operation. It only applies to houses which by reason of disrepair are unfit for human habitation, or where the conditions are such, owing to 585 narrowness or bad arrangement of the streets, as to make it necessary for the medical officer to condemn them. It is very difficult to get a medical officer to condemn houses, and, when he does so, a hundred and one interests come in to prevent us from clearing the area. Most of these slum areas are not owned by high-class landlords who desire to help the State. As a rule, though there are exceptions, the landlords in these cases are the meanest and lowest of mankind. Many of them are speculators—"sea lawyers" who know all the tricks of the trade, who know every move of the game, and are very difficult to touch. Moreover, even if all these slums can be cleared, the problem of overcrowding in the working class districts of most great towns will still remain. I could take hon. Members through miles of apparently decent streets in my own district, where the houses, although perhaps rather drab and grey and dull, are quite passable and sanitary, each with its little back garden. They are quite decent streets, well lit and well paved, and it might be said that Bethnal Green is not such a bad place after all. Nor is it. But in every house, built for one family, there are now two, three and even four homes. My hon. Friend the Member for Mile End (Dr. O'Donovan) is himself a medical man, and will confirm every word that I am saying. The problem of this House and the country is to draw these people out of those homes, so that they can be left to one family instead of there being two or three families in each house.
That is the problem you have to solve, and that is a problem that the 1930 Act does not touch. We cannot touch it without some assistance from the State. As for slum clearance, if the right hon. Gentleman thinks that under the present powers, by a wave of the wand, those slums will disappear, he will soon be disillusioned. It is a long job. I am all in favour of slum clearance, but far more important than pulling houses down is the building of more houses. I remember the time, when I first went into public life, when there was a thing called the midnight flit. I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman ever heard of it. A midnight flit is when a man goes off with his furniture at night without paying his rent. I shall not be happy until those good old days return, and then I shall 586 know that there are enough houses to go round and that there is a surplus of housing accommodation. I am quite ready to punish the people who fly in the night, but, till those days return, you will never solve the housing problem. The business of the Minister of Health is not to stand aside and say it is no business of his. It is for him to stimulate the local authorities and to see that, by hook or by crook, there are enough houses in each district, so that each family can have a separate home.
May I put two or three figures to the House to drive the problem home? The average density is 58 persons to the acre. It is only 58 because, fortunately, we have the great Royal parks—Hyde Park, St. James' Park, Victoria Park and Battersea Park—which enormously reduce the density per acre and give a false impression. Southwark is at the top of the list of London boroughs for bad conditions, it has 151 to the acre, and Bethnal Green is a bad third with 132. The worst conditions are in the St. George's East Ward of Stepney, where they run up to 237 to the acre. It is not by any means confined to the East End, because there is a ward in Kensington where there are 209 to the acre. Slum clearance will not deal with that problem. The overcrowding will still remain. I am not quite sure that it will not be intensified because, unfortunately, you cannot force a slum dweller suddenly into ideal conditions. He inclines to drift back into his old neighbourhood and cause new overcrowding and new bad conditions in the district where he remains. This is not a housing Bill. Do not let us pretend that it is. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would suggest that it is a housing Bill. It is a finance Bill. No one could listen to the right hon. Gentleman's speech and not be impressed by his sincerity and enthusiasm. Let him try again, and bring in a real housing Bill. Let him get the inspiration of the Act of 1923, which was a housing Bill. I do not believe that this Bill will make any real contribution to the solution of the problem.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord E. PERCY
It is evident that the one part of this House in which we can expect no constructive suggestions on a problem of this kind is the official Labour 587 party. They have pledged themselves to the proposition that it is impossible to have any method of national planning for social purposes without a subsidy. They hinge the whole of their ideas on social reform and national organisation on the subsidising of vested interests, because that is what it comes to. The builder and the building labourer must have a subsidy in order to build houses. There is a mass of younger opinion on this side of the House which is determined to press on with the idea of national planning of housing and many other social services, but we have seen over and over again since the War that this slavish adherence to subsidies does not assist but renders impossible any long-term planning, because not only the expense involved in the subsidy but the entanglement of responsibility between the central authority and the local authority, between the taxpayer and the ratepayer, effectively prevents the carrying on of any long-term programme. Therefore, I am afraid the official Opposition, in attempting to oppose the Bill on those grounds, is arguing a case which has long been deserted by the great bulk of opinion in the country. We have got beyond that, and we are prepared to consider the question on national planning quite apart from subsidies.
Here I come to a criticism of the Minister of Health. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) has already criticised him for the inadequacy of his slum clearance proposals. It was a criticism of the inadequacy of the 1930 Act to give local authorities power in an improvement area to take over houses for the purpose of reconditioning, and I agree. I think the Minister would have been well advised to embody in this Bill, as he has not done, considerably more drastic provisions than those on that point contained in the Act of 1930. But there is another respect in which, I think, this Bill is inadequate. If you are going to engage in a great work of national planning and national development without subsidies, relying on private enterprise, which means relying upon the co-operative initiative of individuals throughout the country, you must be sure that you are providing that private initiative with the leadership, the guidance, the focussing of its activities which 588 are necessary to concentrate a great body of voluntary effort on the solution of this problem. An alliance between the State and private enterprise, the use by the State of private enterprise for the purpose of obtaining a public end, is a much more difficult thing than merely State or municipal action. It needs much greater organisation. It needs much greater developing power. If I may without impertinence say so, I did not feel, sound and lucid as was the Minister's speech, that it was exactly a trumpet call to all the voluntary forces in this country to come together and solve this problem.
I am dealing with this Bill solely on the grounds chosen by the Government. The Government have laid down a policy which I am prepared to accept, and for which I am prepared to work. It has laid down the policy that we must get on with slum improvement and slum clearance as we have never done before. I entirely agree, and I only doubt whether my right hon. Friend has provided himself with sufficient powers to get on with the job. A mere 12,000 houses a year, which may be as much as you can do in the way of replacement of cleared slums, is only a nibbling at the problem. When you consider that other problem of the control and management of slum property with a view to reconditioning, which every local authority ought to be engaging in. But, secondly, the object of the Bill has been declared to be that in five years' time it shall be possible to decontrol, so far as the Rent Restrictions Act is concerned, what are known as Class "C" houses. There are 5,700,000 of those houses, and the Minister has told us that there has been an increase in the number of those houses since the War of only 13 per cent., which is not sufficient, in his judgment, to enable those houses to be controlled. He hopes to be able to decontrol them in 1938. That is his programme. What percentage of increase must you have in those Class "C" houses in the next five years if you are to carry out that programme? I think the Minister will not be content with an increase of less than 20 per cent. additional to the 13 per cent. in the number of those houses, and that means the building every year for the next five years of between 150,000 and 200,000 Class "C" houses.
He has given us figures to show that we are getting up to the provision of 589 150,000 houses a year pretty rapidly but not, I think, 150,000 Class "C" houses. He has pointed out that, invaluable as the assistance of the building societies will be in financing these houses, they will not meet quite the need which he admits he regards as most important, the need for the house to let at about 8s. a week rent inclusive of rates. Does he think he is going to get, with the powers for which he is now asking, anything like the development of that class of house? We all know he is right, that private investors are coming back into owning houses to let, but they will not come back into owning that class of house until they have exhausted the possibilities of every higher class of house, because the smaller the house the less desirable form of investment it is. Is the Minister sure that he does not need further voluntary machinery? In the report to which he referred, and for which I was responsible, it is suggested that it might be necessary to create a public landlord on a large scale in order, as it were, to place orders, and take delivery, of large quantities of these small houses—a housing corporation acting as a public landlord, and not conducting a business for profit but aiming only at paying the rate of interest on its borrowed money. Does the Minister feel sure that he can possibly carry out the programme laid down in the Rent Restrictions Bill unless he adopts some such method of mobilising voluntary investment on a large scale, as well as public spirit?
The aims of the Government's policy I am prepared to accept, and I am prepared to support them and co-operate so far as I can in carrying them out. But the responsibility is on the Government, and has the Minister asked the House for all the powers which are necessary to carry out his programme? I believe that the great bulk of the party to which I belong, especially its younger members, will not easily forgive the Government if, after having launched out on their policy, they fail to ask the House for all the power, however drastic, they may need.
§ 7.2 p.m.
Miss RATH BON E
It is, I think, more than three years since, in the first speech I addressed to this House, compared our housing policy to building a reservoir, be- 590 cause of the need of people who were suffering from drought, and then giving the first call on the water to people who required it only to water their roses. Having listened to the speeches to-day, I think that is a true analogy. We are spending on houses under the 1923 Act over £2,500,000 a year. These houses have chiefly been sold to tenants whose first action, after obtaining possession, was usually to ask for leave to build a garage. For houses under the Wheatley Act we are spending £3,700,000 a year, and these houses, we know, are mainly let to higher paid wage-earners and the lower middle-class, at from 13s. to 20s. per week. Among the poorer wage-earners overcrowding is actually greater in London and other cities than it was 10 years ago. As to slum clearances, we have, as the Minister has said, scarcely scratched the problem, and there are tens of thousands of citizens as badly housed as ever.
I am not surprised that the Minister is tired of a, policy that has cost so much and effected so little. We might rightly ask why the great mass of unskilled labourers should be asked to pay higher rates and taxes in order to meet the cost of subsidies which have helped mainly persons infinitely better off than they themselves are. I admit that there is a strong case for a drastic change, but is the change effected by the Bill likely to get us what we want? It seems to be like cutting off a man's head to relieve him of an aching tooth. Because much money has been wasted on people who did not need it, are we in the future to have no housing subsidy except for slum clearances? Are we to depend on private enterprise aided by cheap money? The whole weight of the speech of the Minister seemed to rest on the assumption that because money was cheaper and building costs had fallen we could, therefore, go back to pre-war housing policy. But did the housing problem begin with the Great War? Before the War we had a fairly abundant supply of houses of a kind and at a mice. They were provided by private enterprise. But the kind was detestable and the price was even then beyond the capacity to pay of the poorer workers. The houses were "horrid little brick boxes with slate lids," as Mr. John Burns once called them. They were 591 without larders, coal-cellars or gardens, and stretched in. ugly, monotonous rows round every industrial centre. We had tens of thousands of them in my own city of Liverpool. I was, and am still, a member of the housing committee, and I know that, although there were usually half a dozen of these houses to let in every working class street, they did not meet the needs of the poorer workers. In order to find something cheap enough, the unskilled workers crowded together in underground cellars and in pestilential courts.
Even then there were on the Statute Book a number of Housing Acts stretching over a period of 50 years. Each of these Acts had been called for by the terrible conditions under which great masses of the people were living. They permitted, and encouraged, local authorities to build houses for the working classes. They permitted them to use the rates, but gave no subsidy, and these Acts were nearly all dead letters. It was only when the local authorities were encouraged by the granting of Exchequer subsidies that we saw the beginning of provision for the working classes in this country of houses which deserved to be called homes—homes planned by architects and not by jerry-builders, homes fitted with some of the amenities and conveniences that make the life of a working housewife something better than one deadening round of drudgery. Are we to go back to private enterprise for that type of house?
The Minister admitted that he would not be able to exercise any control when there was no longer a subsidy. He said that control should he left to the local authorities. It was left to the local authorities before the War, and the result was the disgraceful housing conditions with which we were then familiar. The local authorities were too much dominated by the property owning interest to be the safe custodians of working-class housing. We are asked to suppose that private enterprise to-day will produce better results. We have had calculations as to how cheaply it will he possible to build working-class houses. These calculations usually presume two things. First of all they assume large-scale production. It does not follow that because local authorities can now build houses for £350 that the speculative 592 builder, or the building society, building a few houses can put them up as cheaply. It is cheaper to build 500 houses in one scheme than to build a dozen. Still less does it follow that because local authorities could let the type of house with which we are dealing at the suggested rental of 7s. 9d. the speculative builder, or the building society, will be content with so small a rent. They will want to get the biggest rent they can, and they will want to cater for the most profitable sort of tenant. They will cater for the artisan rather than the labourer, and for the childless couple rather than for parents blessed with a quiverful.
Several speakers and the Minister himself acknowledged that we could not expect that the building societies could provide the houses we most need, that is the type that could be let at 7s. 9d. plus rates. The Minister did not indicate how he expected to secure that type of house. He did indicate that the small investor was coming into the housing market, but he did not give us any reason to suppose that the small investor was going to speculate principally in the cheapest type of house. It may be said we are still to have slum clearance and that that will deal with many of the poorest of the poor. But there are hundreds of thousands of working people not in the slums who need better housing and who are unable to pay full economic rents. Their need is just as great as that of the slum dweller. They are packed tightly together in the great monotonous pre-War streets and in the big tenement blocks, now adapted for housing large numbers of people, and they have no hope of help under slum clearance schemes. Their dwellings do not come actually within the category of slums. There are also people living in good council houses at a great sacrifice—at the sacrifice of paying for rent sums far beyond their real ability to pay, and doing it at the cost of the necessary food bill for themselves and their children. What is to be done for that class?
It may be said that I grumbled at the previous administration of housing subsidies as a waste of money and now I grumble because the subsidies are to be stopped. What then is my remedy? May I make some positive suggestions? My main suggestion, I believe, goes to the root of the failure of our housing policy. Instead of abolishing the Wheatley sub- 593 sidy, let the Government see that in future it is used to benefit those for whom it was originally intended, namely, those who are not in a position to pay a full economic rent. Hitherto the Government have contented themselves with seeing that the houses were built under certain conditions, and have ladled out public money to that end. But they have taken no control over the allocation of these houses once they are built. I once pointed out in this House that practically every Housing Act for the past three-quarters of a century has been called a "Housing of the Working Classes Act." I asked the Ministry for their definition of the term "working classes." I was told they had no definition—that they left it to the local authorities. The policy of the local authorities is, in the main, controlled by experts, town clerks, borough treasurers, architects and surveyors, but not by sociologists. These have treated the houses, when once built, very much as a private company would have done it, working on good commercial lines. They have let their houses to the best tenants, regardless of the fact that the subsidy has been voted, not to assist those who can do without it, but to help, those who could not pay the economic rents. They regarded poverty not as a qualification but as a disqualification. They required the tenants to show that they were not too poor to pay the rent, but they were not required to show that they were unable to pay a full economic rent. Where an upper limit of income has been imposed it is imposed on the entry of the tenant into the house, and no subsequent inquiry is made as to his circumstances.
I ask the House what would have been thought of the Ministry if it had administered other public funds in the same way I Suppose it was the rule regarding public assistance that a claimant for public assistance had merely to show that he satisfied a certain income test, and that he was then entitled to enjoy the sum allotted to him, whatever it was, for the rest of his natural life? What a burden there would have been on public funds. And what an outcry there would have been. I suppose the Minister would have come forward and said that the whole system of public assistance had then been a failure; that it should be abolished, and that we should depend for the future on private charity. Two 594 answers may be made to this criticism. First of all, it may be said that housing subsidies are not public assistance, and that there is no real anology between the two. If housing subsidies are not public assistance, what are they? They come from the same source—from the pockets of the taxpayers and the ratepayers. They are intended to benefit, just as is public assistance, not the whole population, nor even the whole of the working-class population, but that section of the working-class population who need the assistance of the public because they cannot secure the conditions of a decent existence without it. I suggest that it is merely a difference of nomenclature. Housing subsidies are a form of public assistance if only you spell "public assistance" with small initials instead of with capitals. Secondly, it may be objected that you cannot treat housing subsidies as you treat public assistance. You cannot bundle tenants out of their houses because their circumstances have changed. Of course you cannot, but you can meet the difficulty by a similar provision to that which is embodied in the Greenwood Act, but which ought to be applied with greater clarity and more vigour and made compulsory instead of optional as it is in the Greenwood Act.
It ought to be possible for the Government to insist that for the future the subsidy should be attached to the tenant and not to the house. This could be done by insisting that the standard rent for the future of all houses built with the aid of the subsidy should be the full economic rent, subject to rebates based upon the amount of the income of the tenant in proportion to the number of persons dependent upon him. If that is too complicated and a simpler method is required, I should prefer that no tenants should be admitted to any subsidised houses except those covered by a clear income definition. For example, they might be people subject to compulsory Health Insurance or of an equivalent economic status, and they should be subject to the full economic rent and granted rebates according to the number of their children. The amount of rent a tenant is able to pay depends upon the size of the income and the number of children he has to bring up on that income. The tenant should be asked to make a return annually showing the relevant facts and the amount of rebate to 595 which he was entitled should depend upon the particular scheme adopted. There is no serious administrative difficulty attached to this plan, no difficulty half as great as is attached to the other forms of means tests which the Ministry every day has to impose and to control. The local authority is, in any case, through its officers, in weekly contact with those tenants, so that it knows their circumstances. If the local authority is wise enough to employ trained women property managers, they will know the circumstances of the tenant, because they are the friends of the tenant, and no inquisitorial inquiries will be made in order to enable the local authority to administer a rebate system.
As a general rule, I dislike anything in the nature of a means test as a qualification for benefits out of the public purse, but if ever there was a case where something of the sort—and it is a very simple form of means test which I suggest—was justified, it is in the matter of housing subsidies. Just because every subsidised house involves such a heavy charge upon public funds, and because it is a charge which endures for so long, it is virtually impossible to administer the subsidy without some kind of personal relationship between the subsidy and the tenant rather than between the subsidy and the house without great waste of public money. In the past, the waste has been great, and we have seen to-day, and in all the discussions, how little these vast sums—these millions which we are spending—have helped to relieve the housing necessities of the people who need housing relief the most.
The Labour party must, to some extent, share the blame for the failure of our housing policy. They have been so anxious during the past 10 years to see the area of public housing extended as widely as possible, and they so much dislike the whole principle of any inquiry into individual circumstances, that, both in Parliament and locally, they have actually encouraged the allocation of the far too small and precious number of these houses put up at Such great cost to tenants without any regard to their means or needs. In that way they have, in effect, betrayed the very poor who have been crowded out of the houses, and they have led to the disgust of the whole system which has caused the in- 596 troduction of the Bill which we are now considering. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) when he was Minister of Health actually, under the Greenwood Act, made possible a system of rent rebates, and in a circular which he issued regulating the administration of the subsidy, he laid down the valuable principle that rent relief should be given only to those who needed it, and only for as long as they needed it. But he did little, and his successor has done less, to see that that principle should be carried into effect.
Instead of introducing the present Bill, I should have liked the Ministry, as I have suggested, to have continued the Wheatley subsidy and to control its expenditure in the way proposed. I know, of course, that they will not do so, and that they are determined to do away with the subsidy. May I, therefore, make a more modest suggestion, namely, that the principle of controlling the allocation of the houses should be applied to the very large number of houses which have already been built with the aid of the Wheatley subsidy or are under construction, and that as houses become vacant, or as they become ready for tenancy, rules should be laid down insisting that they should be rented at the full economic rent, and that it should be subject to a system of rebates according to the individuals needs of the tenants.
I have only one more suggestion to make, and that is merely to endorse the appeal made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) for some form of financial assistance for reconditioning. I was surprised, seeing that the Bill has been introduced by a Government in which the Conservative party are dominant, that it did not contain such a provision. They have always been, more or less, apostles of reconditioning, and we all know that the slum clearance scheme would be enormously assisted if aid to reconditioning was granted to local authorities. When the Greenwood Act was in Committee, I tried to secure an Amendment to enable financial assistance to be given for reconditioning. I think I had the support of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the Amendment was not accepted because the party then in power had their eyes fixed upon getting the greatest number 597 of new houses built with the aid the subsidy, and did not wish to divert public attention to the method of reconditioning.
The present Ministry is in a more economical frame of mind. If we are to rely in future for the only provision of houses suitable to meet the needs of the very poor upon the Greenwood Act, then at least it would be facilitated by enabling the local authority—it will cost very little—with the aid of some public money, to recondition the old houses which often lie round about the houses in the areas to be cleared. One of the reasons always put forward for those expensive tenement blocks is that you cannot ask workpeople to go long distances to suburban houses. But very often there are round about the slums from which they are being turned out old houses which can be reconditioned at relatively little cost. It would be a most valuable provision not only to enable the slum tenants to be temporarily decanted into reconditioned houses, but even as permanent residences many of them would find reconditioned houses much more congenial to their taste and within their means, than the very expensive houses often built on the outskirts of the town, or the tenement blocks built on the old sites.
I have very little hope that any of the more drastic suggestions which I have put forward will be accepted by the present Ministry, because I believe that their mind is set on short-term remedies rather than on long-term remedies. But I have some hope that the suggestion which has been put forward from so many hon. Members besides myself regarding the reconditioning of houses will be adopted. Until it is, I shall have no hesitation in voting against this Measure.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Captain HEILGERS
While I cordially support the Bill as regards the urban and small urban areas, at the same time, I cannot help feeling that there will be rather grave anxiety in the rural areas as to the procedure the Minister proposes to adopt. I cannot help thinking that it will not succeed in providing houses for agricultural workers by continuing with the system of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. At any rate, I am glad to think that the Minister is not 598 entertaining any proposals of having houses built in rural areas by building societies, for with wages as they are we could not possibly entertain houses at 12s. id. rent. I have been connected with the administration of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, ever since it came into operation, in the county council in my own county, and I find that it is a most difficult Act to work. In itself, the Act is most excellent. It does, undoubtedly, recondition houses in the way in which it was intended, and it enables workers to live in them for the next 20 years at a reasonable rent. The rent has to be very low, the maximum rent fixed in my part of the world being only 3s. a week.
The reason why the Act is so hard to work is because there is no general agreement as to how it should be carried out. In some counties, as we see in the "Times" this morning, for instance, in Scotland and in Devonshire, and as I know from my own knowledge in Norfolk, the administration of the Act has been carried out successfully, and undoubtedly a great help has been given towards housing the rural worker, but in my own county the Act is practically a dead letter. Since the Act came into being we have had two grants and eight loans. The opposition has come from rather an unexpected source. It has come from the men who one would expect to benefit to a certain extent by the Act—the landlords. They have opposed the Act consistently from a sort of highsouled and lofty patriotism. They felt that it was up to them to do what they could as long as they could to repair their houses rather than take money from the State.
Besides that fact, I think that the machinery needs speeding up tremendously. By the time an application has been put in, the county land agent has gone into the matter and inspected the property, and the plans have gone backwards and forwards, nearly nine months or a year elapses before anything can be done. How is the Minister going to after this state of things? First of all, I ask the Minister, Does be really realise the conditions of rural housing to-day l Does he realise that not one single house has been built for the worker in my district or anywhere round my area ever since the War? It is true that a good number of council houses have been built, prob- 599 ably four council houses to every 500 head of population, but those houses are not occupied by the rural workers. The rent is too high. They are occupied by the tradesman, the commercial traveller, the ex-schoolmaster and the overflow of the urban population from the towns.
How then can we deal best with this problem? I agree with the Minister that the only way at the moment is to press on with the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. I cannot see how even by continuing subsidies we could bring the houses down to the level of the agricultural workers' wages, unless the Minister took some very drastic step as regards greater subsidies, which I do not think he could do at the present time. But if he is going to continue with the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, he must be absolutely determined and firm in the matter. We need houses reconditioning not only for the sake of the agricultural worker but for the sake of the rural house builder. Unemployment in the building industry is great all over the country, but it is almost worse in the countryside than anywhere else. If we could get on with the reconditioning of the houses, I think we could roughly say that we should give about half-a-year's work to one man. I am told on expert advice that if you construct a new house of the so-called £300 type you are giving a year's direct work to one man, and possibly a little more indirect work. Therefore, we should be giving about half-a-year's work on a reconditioned house.
We have been told recently that back to the land is the policy of the Government, and that we are going to hear a great deal more about the necessity of settling the urban population on the land as far as possible. If we are going to do that, we must have the houses in which to settle them. Therefore, I beg the Minister to go forward and to grapple with the difficulties of the Rousing (Rural Workers) Act and to make absolutely certain that there will be the cooperation of the whole countryside, that the Act will be operated whole-heartedly and in no grudging spirit, and that it will bring at last better, more effective and more pleasant living conditions to the agricultural worker.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Major MILNER
The hon. and gallant Member will forgive me if I do not follow him into the rural areas, where I agree the need is very great. I should like, as the first hon. Member who has risen from these benches since the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) spoke, to say how much we appreciated the heartfelt nature and sincerity of the speech which he made. Having those feelings, he will appreciate how indignant many of us on these benches feel in regard to conditions which exist in the northern constituencies which we represent, where the conditions are even worse than some of those which exist in West Birmingham. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham will not mind if I say that I am afraid that reconditioning will not fill the bill. There are some cases, I know of some in my own city, whereby appropriate steps having been taken to recondition houses, which were fairly good to begin with, they have been made habitable for a further period, but, speaking generally, the alterations required in many thousands of houses in our large cities are so substantial that they would cost a very large sum. Questions of drains, sewers, baths, fireplaces, chimneys, etc. arise, and there is also the problem of doing away with insects and vermin, both upstairs and downstairs. In fact, many of the conditions are such that nothing short of absolute clearance is any use. Futhermore, in the great majority of cases the local authority would have to buy the houses before it could carry out the reconditioning which has been suggested.
§ Major MILNER
For the most part it has no powers to impose reconditioning on a private landlord who, generally, will not take those steps himself.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Surely the provisions of the 1930 Act give the local authorities power to impose that on the landlord, but I agree that it may not be effective.
Major MI LNER
That is the point. In many cases it will not be effective. Moreover, under the Act in question it is the whole area that has to be taken into consideration, which is a very big question. Therefore, reconditioning except in selected cases is not really satis- 601 factory. By all means in those selected cases go on with reconditioning, when a really good job can be made of it. Let us do anything to get rid of the housing conditions that exist in our large cities to-day. The Noble Lord seemed to be under a complete misconception as to the primary objection of the Labour party to the Bill. He seemed to think that we are fond of subsidisation for its own sake and that merely because it is proposed that subsidies should be done away with in this Bill we are opposed to the Second Reading. That is a complete travesty of what the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said, as I understood him. My primary objection is not to subsidies, as subsidies, being done away with, but that public control such as exists at the present time is being done away with and that the whole matter of housing is being handed over to unrestricted, uncontrolled and unregulated private enterprise.
We ought to go a little further into the history of things and not to begin, as the Minister of Health did, after the War period. One has to recognise that there was a shortage of houses in this country before the War. Sir Raymond Unwin says:The shortage of dwellings was seriously aggravated by the War, but the housing problem arose through private enterprise building long before the War.There may have been towns or villages where there were more houses than were required before the War, but, taking the whole country, there has not been any time when there has been sufficient houses for those who desired to occupy them. Therefore, housing being almost the sole prerogative of private enterprise before the War, private enterprise must be held responsible not only for the conditions created in the houses that were built, and which we are now told ought to be reconditioned, but for the absolute shortage which undoubtedly existed before the War. Private enterprise failed to deliver the goods, and we all know that the War aggravated the shortage. We know also that after the War there were arrears of building of all kinds. Conditions were as bad as they possibly could be, the cost of materials was high and building contractors had things their own way.
602 It was in those circumstances, especially as there had been a promise that there should be homes for heroes to live in, that the State took upon itself, with the assistance of the local authorities, to make a courageous attack on the housing problem. Organisation in a matter of this sort takes a long time to set up. The costs are high and there are many difficulties in the way, but gradually throughout the country an organisation has been built up by almost every local authority under which a high standard of housing has been established, and local authorities are able to build at least as well and certainly as cheaply as can private enterprise.
§ Major MILNER
A spirit of civic pride has been created among the people in the large housing estates which exist, and there is a sense of corporate ownership in the houses that almost approaches the Athenian idea of pride in their city. The Greeks termed it, "the good life."
The most elementary need of the people, that of housing, the provision of a roof of some kind for one's head, is to be handed over to the tender mercies of private enterprise and put into the hands of speculators, investors, landlords and so on. And this has been done against the advice of the most eminent and disinterested authorities. The Minister of Health quoted with very great approval the opinion of the National Federation of House Builders, that the time had now come when subsidies could be done away with, and they promised that the houses will be provided. I should have thought that they were the last people to whom one ought to apply for an impartial opinion as to what the result of the Bill will be. We can, fortunately, look to other authorities. For instance, there is the National Housing and Town Planning Council. On the 25th November, Mr. John G. Martin, Secretary of that organisation, said:Housing must he energetically dealt with by municipal enterprise, with adequate State assistance, for some years to Dome.We have further testimony in the fortnightly edition of the "News Letter " 603 from Sir Raymond Unwin, who is President of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He points out that,The houses now owned by our municipalities are as much part of the wealth of the country as any other capital assets and on the strictest financial basis should be valued according to their revenue-earning capacity; not as debts but as assets. They are at least as valuable in the hands of the community as if they were owned by any of its citizens and built with money borrowed from a building society.Sir Raymond Unwin further points out, and this is the objection which we on these benches take:The houses are urgently needed, and those most needed are least likely to be built through private enterprise. The principles on which private enterprise works restrict its operations to building houses for those people who can afford to pay a rent showing some margin of profit.He then goes on:To expect private enterprise to solve the housing problem for the poorer sections of the community, much less to solve the slum problem, is as unfair to private enterprise as it is hopeless for the slum dweller. Moreover, since the War the local authorities have created a vast organisation for securing the building of houses mainly by contract; building contractors are a branch of private enterprise. It would seem folly to scrap this organisation and waste the extent of experience gained, merely to take away work from building contractors working on land well laid out, to plans which have been the result of much experience, and hand it over to another set of builders working speculatively and in a much more haphazard manner.Houses are needed to secure a margin of accommodation which will render practicable the clearing of the slums and the re-planning and the rebuilding of the much larger decayed areas of our town. Only through the local authorities or some other public organisation can these surplus houses be built and made available for the purpose required.I much prefer that authority to the authority of the National Federation of Housebuilders. There are several questions that I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to answer later. Something has been said with regard to rents. What guarantee is there, or what control is to be exercised over the rents of houses so as to ensure that the poorer people can afford to occupy the houses erected by private enterprise? Is there to be any form of control whatever? Are the Ministry to make the giving of a guarantee conditional on the letting of a house at a certain rent? If not, why not? 604 It seemed to me that the Minister of Health in his argument to-day was rather like a gentleman of whom I read recently. At some public health conference this gentleman was constantly getting up and arguing that at all times and for all purposes water should be boiled. When he had done this two or three times a gentleman next to him said, "You are a medical man, I suppose?" "Oh, no," he replied, "I am a coal dealer.". Quite clearly the reason why he desired water to be boiled was that that would necessitate the use of coal.
The Minister of Health talks to some extent like a housing reformer. He suggests that the need will be met, that the nation will be better off, after State and municipal aid are withdrawn; but the real reason why this Bill is brought forward is, of course, that the right hon. Gentleman is an advocate of unrestricted private enterprise, and he wants to hand the housing problem, for the most part, over to private enterprise at any price. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned economy. I have looked into the question of the cost of housing schemes of local authorities throughout the country. I see that Dr. Robson, whose memorandum to the National Association of Local Government Officers has been sent to every Member of this House, has calculated that on the average the whole of the housing schemes entered upon before and since the War have necessitated the payment of a rate of only 2¼. in the pound. If that is so, it is a very small sum indeed to pay for the houses that have been built, and we can well afford to put a heavier burden on both local authorities and the State in that regard.
It is curious that the Minister in this Bill goes even further than the May Committee. The May Committee proposed only periodical reductions in subsidy. Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman pays no regard to the recommendations of the Private Member's Committee, which sat for so long behind closed doors. They recommended some form of public landlord. What we apprehend is that these houses will be let at exorbitant rents and will not in fact be available for the use of those whom we desire to see occupying them. I would also ask whether the local authorities have been consulted in re- 605 gard to the Bill. We know that the National Federation of Housebuilders and the building societies have been consulted. Have the Association of Municipal Corporations or the County Councils Association or the Urban District Councils Association been consulted If so, what view have they expressed on the Bill 7 The Minister admitted, in reply to an interjection from me, that the representatives of the organisations sit ting on the committee of local government authorities, had no authority to speak for their organisations and did not presume to bind them. It seems to me that the Minister might have thought it right to consult these associations.
I would also ask whether the five years' programme which was submitted about a year ago by the great majority of local authorities under the 1930 Act will he considered as proposals within the meaning of the present Bill. Many authorities submitted quite substantial programmes. Subject to the discretion of the Minister will they still be available for a subsidy? The City of Leeds has proposed to erect something like 2,000 houses. That proposal was made about a year ago. Is Leeds entitled to ask the Minister to approve for a subsidy the houses set out in that scheme? If not, it would appear to me that one may consider municipal housing to be practically finished.
Then there is the matter referred to in Clause 2. Speaking for myself, if subsidies are to be abolished I am thankful, as an enthusiast who is anxious that housing should be done to the greatest possible extent, that there are great organisations like building societies, public utility societies and so on, who may be the means of assisting in the production of housing. It may be that as one coming from the North, the home of the building society movement, I am biased in favour of building societies. I think they are to be congratulated on the initiative which they, and not the Minister, took in this matter. I gather that they saw the Minister on their own initiative on 14th July, and that the Minister then requested them to prepare a scheme, which in whole or in part is the scheme that the House is asked to support to-day.
I am always intrigued when travelling on the tubes to read the Spanish proverb, "Better the smoke by one's own 606 fireside than the fire of another." I hope that this Bill, and the assistance given by building societies, may result in many being able in the future to sit by their own firesides. At the same time I doubt very much whether the needs of the poorer classes are in the least likely to be met by the building society scheme. These people suffer now from reduced wages, from increased prices or the threat of them, and from insecurity regarding employment. I doubt whether there will be many in what are called the working classes who will be able to take advantage of the Government scheme and pay the rents or purchase the houses.
Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us whether this scheme is to apply merely to those who erect or buy houses in bulk, or whether the 90 per cent. will equally be available to the individual who may desire to purchase his own house? There will be few working men in any case who will be able to find the balance of 10 per cent. I would ask also who is to make the valuation in regard to the advance which is to be made by the building societies? Is it to be left to the building society or the local authority or the State, or is some sort of valuation department to be set up? It will be appreciated that on this valuation will depend largely the rents to be charged, and as speculators and builders will wish to obtain the largest possible advance they will put up the rents as high as possible so as to secure a higher valuation. There again the rents will be quite disproportionate to the cost of the houses built under this scheme.
I would ask also whether it is not possible to give a, larger guarantee which will bring us somewhere near the 100 per cent. There are societies and organisations which are anxious to build houses and to let them at the lowest possible cost, and one has been mentioned to-day. With it I have some association. Let me make it clear that my association with that organisation, and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) and Dr. Addison, is merely in a fiduciary capacity as trustees. We have no responsibility. But that was an effort which had to be made quite recently to build houses at the lowest possible cost and to rent them at a low rent, because the Government had restricted and discouraged every effort of that kind from other sources.
607 In my view under this Bill the Government are taking action which of necessity must prevent local authorities who have built under all previous schemes, scaling down or averaging out the rents of the various houses they have built under those schemes. Hitherto the local authorities, within certain restrictive limits, have been able to level up the rents of houses built under the Addison scheme and those built under later schemes, with the permission of the Minister of Health and so forth. I had something to do with an effort in that direction. The fact that the power is taken away from the local authorities will prevent that scaling down or averaging going on. That is very unfortunate, because it will mean that there will be one, two or three sets of houses, all having different rents though similar in type.
The Bill is also going definitely to open the door to the reduction of housing standards. The Government have, in my view, begun with the thin end of the wedge. I hope that those local authorities who have hitherto not done much in the way of slum clearance will take the object of this Bill to heart and will now commence work, and take advantage of the Act of 1930, because, if the present Government remain in power, I can see that within a year or two, particularly in view of the report of the Economy Committee presided over by the hon. Member for Richmond (Sir W. Ray), the subsidy will be reduced or abolished altogether. I hope, therefore, the Minister of Health will bring pressure to bear on local authorities. If ordinary housing is to be taken away from them, I hope they will bend all their energies in the direction of slum clearance.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. D. G. SOMERVILLE
In the course of the very useful address which the hon. Member has just 8.5 p.m. delivered I regret that he found it necessary to refer to what he calls the failure of private enterprise. The Minister of Health in his statement pointed out that out of the 2,000,000 houses built in this country since the War, over 1,250,000 were erected by private enterprise, and of these 1,000,000 were erected without any subsidy at all. The hon. Member then commented on the fact that the shortage of houses had not occurred only since the 608 War, but that there was a shortage before the War. The shortage of houses before the War was owing to a great extent to legislative action in this House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) had a great deal to do with the stoppage of house building in this country. It certainly stopped the somewhat maligned jerrybuilding that had been going on. I agree that during the War there was a great shortage of houses and that we have not yet made up the leeway. But I do agree with the Government most emphatically that they are doing the right thing in doing away with subsidies. Subsidies have put up the cost of house building. Every time a subsidy is put on the cost goes up, and every time the subsidy has been increased the price has gone up. I have some connection with the building trade, and I know that the invariable result of subsidies is to increase cost.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
Yes. The builder puts the money into his own pocket. He gets the benefit of the subsidy in many cases.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
On the top of his ordinary profit. The cost of building rose from £180, which it was before the war, to over £1,000. The subsidy has been stopped and the figure is down to-day to about £290, which, together with the cost of the land, is £360. The Government hope, and I think rightly, that. the cost of housing is to come down further. There is one point to which I want to draw the attention of the Minister of Health. I think that we are getting from labour to-day a very good return in the way of building, but that the cost of material is being kept up by certain rings. The cost of cement is too much, the cost of bricks is too much, and the cost of small castings is too much. If you want to buy you have to pay the same price for bricks anywhere. I suggest that this matter should be looked into very carefully, because I am certain the price of a house to-day could be brought down to £230 at least.
Several criticisms have been made of the Bill to-day. It has been said that 609 it is not really a housing Bill but a financial Bill. To a certain extent that is true, but to a greater extent I agree that it is necessary. This country has been carrying an enormous burden for housing, and we cannot go on carrying it. The figures are amazing. Since 1919 we have spent the colossal sum of£630,000,000,a further £20,000,000 was spent last year, and more this year, and the Exchequer contributions have amounted to £110,000,000. I think, and many will agree with me, that the want of housing would be solved if you could increase employment. If you were able to pay more and better wages, people would be able to buy their own houses or pay 'higher rents, and the housing problem would thus be solved. If you pile up the rates and taxes by housing subsidies and make the people pay more for their houses than they ought to pay, you will not get more people into employment.
While I agree with this Bill in principle, there are several weaknesses in it. The building societies are to lend 90 per cent, of the cost of a house. I should like to know how that valuation is to be arrived at. As a rule building societies want to see plans; they make a valuation of the house to be built and they advance accordingly. Very naturally, they will not advance more than they could get for a house if it were to come back upon their hands and they had to sell it. We want to be satisfied, if building is to be done through the building societies, that the valuation is sufficient to enable the builder to get ahead, because, if there is a loss, the Government guarantee will not be sufficient to cover it. One has to bear in mind that the building societies are to lend at 4½ per cent.
§ Mr.. SOMERVILLE
Four per cent. in the provinces; 4½ per cent. in town. This is really going to cost the builder altogether 6 per cent, and possibly 6½ per cent. He has to get his profit. What makes me anxious is this. If a contractor takes a job, if a speculating builder takes a job, if private enterprise takes it on and builds a house, what guarantee is there that there will be an adequate return? I think there is room for some national building organisation or borough council or local council to let 610 contracts. They could arrange the loans from the building societies, let the contracts to the contractors, and let the houses at a standard rent of 8s. or 10s. Of course, the biggest weakness in the Bill is what is called the standard rent, 8s. or 10s. exclusive of rates and taxes. That rent is too high. The whole problem we are dealing with is not the housing of the better-paid artisan or the clerk. That problem is practically solved. In the suburbs round the great towns they are building by the thousands, and to-day you can walk into these houses without paying a deposit at all. The problem is that of housing the man who can pay only 5s. or 6s. a week and that is the cause of the overcrowding.
The Bill which was brought in at the beginning of this week had provisions to do away with or reduce overcrowding. Where are you to put the people whom you are to push out of the overcrowded houses? You must build accommodation at the same rents that these people are paying now, 4s., 5s. or 6s. a week. This Bill is not to solve the problem in any way. No Government, Conservative, Labour or Liberal, has ever faced it, but it has to be faced now. It is the biggest canker in Great Britain, the cause of greater misery, unhappiness and immorality than anything else. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) who is an authority, I suppose, on the housing question, talked scoffingly or said it was impossible to build tenement houses or large blocks of dwellings to house these people. I entirely disagree with him. It has been done in Germany to-day. I think it is possible to erect very large blocks of communal dwellings in London. Communal-built rooms could be let at 5s. or 4s. a week, with additional accommodation for the man with a family. You could have communal recreation rooms, and communal kitchens—but not where you are to ask the wives to cook the dinner, because the British housewife will not do that along with her neighbour. She may be cooking a herring while the neighbour's wife would be cooking a steak, and there is a desire for privacy felt by the British housewife. But in each room you could put a gas-ring or a gas-stove at which the woman could cook and if she wants to go to the communal kitchen she can do so and purchase what 611 she wants there. I should also give them communal baths and other facilities and amenities.
In that way, you could house these people under proper conditions. I am not talking without having some reason for what I say. I am connected with a society in London which purchases freehold buildings in the slums in order to deal with people of this kind. We equip those buildings and put in proper washing accommodation and provide baths and charge 1s. a night or 7s. a week for a room, with free tea and bread and butter at night and in tike morning. If a small society such as that can do it and show that a return of 10 per cent. is possible—although as a charitable organisation we are not allowed to make a profit or declare a dividend—surely the London County Council or the Government or similar organisations could put up such buildings as those I have suggested. It is the only solution. Small houses let at 8s. and 10s. are no use to the casual worker who may be in a job for a month and then out of work for a week. He cannot buy a house; he cannot pay these rents but give him a decent room and a chance of recovering his self-respect, and he will work his way up and have an opportunity, perhaps later, of renting or even buying a small house of his own.
This Bill is not going to help at all in that respect. It is going to provide small houses for those who can pay 10s. a week and I agree that in the present state of the building trade, public work being more or less stopped, the Minister is right in saying they will concentrate on these small houses. But, there again, you are going to limit the building of these small houses to the suburbs. Now in the working-man's budget there are three R's, namely, rent, rates and rail. Take the colonies like Dagenham under the London County Council. Large numbers of people went to live in them but considerable numbers are trickling back to their old dwelling houses—their old slums perhaps—in London. They find that as long as they are in work they can pay the railway fares to and from London but, if they lose their work it still costs them from 3s. to 5s. a week to come up to London to look for other employment. Thus, in spite of worse living conditions 612 they find it better to return to the centre of London. You must house these people in London. It is no use sending them 10 miles out of London. This problem is getting bigger all the time owing to had trade and increasing unemployment and the only solution, as I say, is the building of central communal dwellings in London for the rehousing of those people whose position I have described.
I would also put in a plea for the reconditioning of houses. A great deal has been done in that way and a great deal can be done, but there is a difficulty owing to the earlier Measure. To recondition a house you have to take it out of the pool because you must get an increased rent for it, or else you have to get a subsidy from a Government Department to pay for reconditioning. Opposed as I am to subsidies I suggest that if you give a subsidy for slum clearance, as you do under the 1930 Act, of 45s. per person dispossessed, or 70s. where the land is over £3,000 an acre, it would pay to give a subsidy through the local council to those owners who are prepared to recondition houses, on condition that they do not charge more than the standard rent—much as I dislike the standard rent which I think is too high. One of the difficulties about the housing question is that it is treated so much as a party question. Housing is too important to the country to be treated as a party question. It is the basic cause of a great deal of our trouble and any Government which, in any way, solves it is going to be in power for a good many Parliaments. I would impress on the Minister that, if it is humanly possible he should see to it that houses built by money from the building societies are not let at more than the standard rent of 8s. to 10s. a week and I would ask him seriously to consider the proposal for building communal dwellings and in that way dealing with the appalling problem of slum property.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I would not have intervened in this Debate, knowing that we are promised a Bill specifically for Scotland at an early date, had it, not been for two considerations which are strongly in my mind. One is that, while there may be differences between the Scottish Bill and this Bill, yet we know from experience that the general Debate on an English 613 Bill governs to a large extent the contents of the Scottish Bill which follows. I want to get in quickly while there is yet time and to enter a caveat to the Government against attempting to foist on Scotland a Measure of this description. I associate myself, wholeheartedly, with the Amendment moved by the official Opposition. Like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) I would like very much to know how this topic, which was not even accorded a mention in the King's Speech, should suddenly have taken precise legislative form. I try, as is my duty, to keep my ear very close to the ground not merely about what is happening, but about what is going to happen in this House. Yet it was only last week, through the agency of a very capable Lobby correspondent, that I learned that this Measure was not only in contemplation but that it was proposed to take the Second Reading of it to-day.
We heard earlier to-day demands for the publication of papers dealing with discussions in the Cabinet 14 years ago. I wish we could get the papers dealing with the discussion in the Cabinet about the production of this Bill. It seems to me that not only has the decision to bring forward this Bill been made in a hurry, but that the decision to construct the Bill has been made in a hurry. The Cabinet apparently felt that they ought to do something about housing, and the Minister walked into his very capable Department and said: "Here boys, you might shove together something on the housing question." This Bill does not look like a Measure upon which tithe and constructive thought have been expended—constructive thought such as we know the Minister is capable of giving to any topic which he takes in hand.
I want to congratulate him on the rhetorical skill with which he has presented these Measures to the House. I have watched him in this Parliament bringing forward three Measures, each more reactionary than the one before, each taking away some social advantage that the people previously had. There was, first of all, the Health Insurance Bill, which made very serious inroads into the standard of the sick poor; then there was the Bill that we had on Tuesday, which made inroads into the amount of protection that the people had under the Rent Restrictions Act; to-day 614 there is this Bill, which makes big inroads into the public provision that was being made for the adequate housing of the people. On each of these occasions the Minister has brought forward a reactionary Measure, and the speech which he has made in presenting it has left the House under the impression that, so far from taking anything away from the people, he was really making a great step forward and giving them something. To-day he announced at that Box that the House was issuing a declaration of war on the slums. I would not attempt to tell the Minister anything about war—on that matter, as we all know, he has had a big experience—but he knows that you cannot carry on a war that is worth starting on an expenditure of £75,000 per annum, and he knows that the followers never fight in a war unless there is some definite, courageous lead from the leaders.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I do not know that that is any different. The point that the right hon. Gentleman is now making, I take it, is that the addition to what is being presently done is £75,000. I will put it the other way. He said that he contemplated making inroads on slumdom at the rate of 12,000 houses per annum, and one hon. Member said there were 1,000,000 houses just now that can be classified as slum houses. My arithmetic while on my feet is always a little dubious, and I use the figure with all hesitation, but that seems to me to put the achievement of the clearance of slums at—
§ Mr. MAXTON
Thank you. At 83½ years. My political slogan is "Socialism in our time," and I am prepared to agree that there is not a majority in this House for that point of view, but surely there is somevia media between "Socialism in our time" and the abolition of the 1,000,000 slum dwellings that we have to-day in 83½ years; and we must bear in mind that on the terms and regulations laid down by the Minister for the erection of new houses the majority of them will be slums before the 83½ years that it will take to wipe out the present 1,000,000 have expired.
615 The other reason why I was impelled to rise to my feet to-day was this: The legislation which is being repealed was the work of a very close and intimate friend of mine, the Minister of Health of that day. The right hon. John Wheatley was the man who piloted the Act that is now being repealed through the House of Commons, and to pilot a Bill through that House of Commons was a real task of statesmanship. The Government of the day had behind it a party that contained only about a quarter of the total membership of the House. The position then was entirely different from the position to-day, where the Government have only to come forward with any Measure, however reactionary, however bad, and they can be sure of their cohorts trailing into the Lobby behind them. Any bit of legislation can go through this House, because not only have the Government an overwhelming majority, but never have I seen a Government with a majority that was so completely subservient to the power of the Government, and never were there circumstances when the House of Commons should have been more vigilant over its Executive than at the present time. The whole conditions of its election, the whole conditions of its strength in this House are such that the supporters of the Government should be very critical and wary and very close in their examination of the legislative propositions put before them. On the contrary, there has never been an occasion yet on which, on any social Measure, the Government supporters have done anything but give to the proposals of the Government a most slavish support.
The conditions in the Parliament to which I am referring were entirely different. The Minister could only get each line in his Bill through by securing a majority in the House, and if there ever was a Measure which could be claimed to have been the definite work of the House of Commons, it was the Housing Act of that year that we are now repealing. Not only was it difficult to get it through this House, but it was a tremendous task to get the mechanism in the country to build houses, even after the legislation was passed. Practically no houses were being built. Private enterprise had failed to provide houses for the people. Not merely had it failed 616 to provide houses for the poor, but there was a definite lack of houses for all sorts and sections in society at that period. The only constructive proposal—and my hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) will remember this very well—that came from the Conservative benches in those days was that his trade union and other trade unions in the building trade should open their ranks to all sorts of unskilled labour, should dilute the whole of the building industry, for somehow or other they argued it out that it was because the trade unions had restrictive regulations that limited the total numbers that houses were not being built.
My right hon. Friend had to meet the representatives of the workers and of the employers in the building industry. He said at that Box time and again, "This is not a Socialist Measure; this is not substituting private enterprise by public enterprise. I wish it were, but it is not." It was an attempt to get the private enterprise forces of this country, by a certain amount of public, national support, to start performing the function that people were urgently needing; and he achieved it. He got those who had been engaged in the building industry to develop among themselves in an undirected way some form of organisation. He persuaded the workers in the building industry to ease certain of their restrictions and regulations, and to both he gave a guarantee, in so far as he could give it, on behalf of the House of Commons, that if they made the concessions for which he was asking in trade practices, if employers in the building trade would extend their operations and do it in a big way instead of a pettifogging way, he would guarantee that there would be an extended Bill that would make it worth the while of the building workers to ease restrictions and of the employers to expend large sums in getting plant and developing organisation on a scale bigger than they had ever done before.
It was his hope and a belief that as years went on the housing shortage would be overcome. He did not want in any way to deal with special housing for the slum dweller. He hoped and believed, he dreamed that by this period of time—that was eight or nine years after he was producing the legislation—we would 617 not have to build a special type of rat hole or dog kennel for a man who had only a few shillings a week. He dreamed —in a foolish and fantastic way perhaps —that poverty was going to be abolished quickly. The Minister of Health to-day —and this shows the amount of confidence that he and the Government have in their schemes for reviving industry—plans the future operations in housing for 30 years ahead on the assumption that we have to provide for the main proportion of our working-class population a three-apartment non-parlour house. This is the National Government's hope for the future, that the large proportion of our population 30 years hence, after having had the benefit of the great constructive guidance of this National Government, can look forward to a social position which will only enable them to have a three-apartment non-parlour house and an income which cannot afford to expend more than 10s. per week on house rent. It is a terrible confession.
I hope that hon. Members on the other side realise the full implications of the policy that is outlined here to-day. This is not a temporary Measure. It is not, as somebody described it, a hand-to-mouth Measure which is only to function for a year or two to carry us over a special period of stress and strain. This is a long-term policy. It represents the National Government's attitude towards the housing of the mass of the population. The constructive assistance that has been received from two ex-Cabinet Ministers goes on to a less optimistic level than that of the Minister himself. I listened with tremendous admiration to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). It disclosed a side of his nature which he seldom permits himself to display in the discussions in this House. I said to my colleague while he was speaking, "Austen is coming away with something to-day!" But it seemed to me to descend from the sublime to the ridiculous when I saw all that human pathos and great oratorical skill being directed towards the end of the reconditioning of houses that have been so long in existence already that they are falling to pieces, to make the slums of the last 50 years last for another 50 years.
The Government may not like my destructive criticism, but I hope that they 618 are going to scorn the constructive help that is being offered from their own back benches. I hope that not one penny of public money or that any public support will be given to the owners of diseased houses to make them or to bribe them to sell a wholesome commodity to the community. We compel people to destroy diseased meat, and in certain circumstances we put them in gaol. People who sell adulterated goods, people who sell things dangerous to the health of the community, are not bribed; they are imprisoned, and rightly so. Why we should by public funds coax or bribe people who are selling the community diseased houses, with the most deadly effect on the health of the people, to do the ordinary civic duties that the rest of us are expected to do by law—
§ Mr. MAXTON
Then they have no right to own the houses. They can do what I and any other Member of the House would have to do. If a particular industry in which we are in ceased to offer a livelihood, we would have to look for another job. You might as well say to me that, if I lost my seat in the House, I ought to go to the street corners and sell poisonous pills to the people.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
If a poor woman gets her livelihood from one or two houses, are her tenants to be thrown into the street like diseased meat because she has not the money to put those houses in repair?
§ Mr. MAXTON
When I talk about a poor woman living in my constituency, I am told that it is sob stuff.
§ Mr. MAXTON
But it is the only answer I get. I am going to answer the hon. Gentleman. Whenever my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) or I make any sympathetic plea for poor persons in our own constituencies, we are told that it is sob stuff, and that is regarded as an adequate reply. I do not think so, and I am going to reply to the hon. Gentleman that if there is a poor woman in my constituency who owns a shop in which she sells milk, it does not matter how poor she is, if that milk does not come up to the proper 619 standard laid down by the health authorities, that woman, even supposing it puts her out of business, will be imprisoned. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will resist absolutely all proposals for a special treatment of people whom the right hon. Member for West Birmingham himself condemned as not being good citizens when they engage in a trade of that description.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals, speaking on Tuesday on the Rent Restrictions Bill, accused landlords of not spending the requisite amount on keeping their houses in condition. He was told that was not true, that they were all good landlords and did all the repairs that were necessary. One cannot use that argument on Tuesday when wanting to get rid of rent restrictions, and then come forward on Thursday and say they are bad houses. If they were bad houses on Tuesday, they are still the same on Thursday, because nothing could have happened in the interval. These bad houses, in respect of which we are asked to provide their landlords with special concessions, are the bad houses for which those landlords are drawing rents 47 per cent. higher than they were getting in 1914.
We on these benches opposed the Government on Tuesday. The newspapers thought it was a good joke, a farce, that two Members should press for a Division and have no support in the Lobby. We opposed the Government because we felt that owners of pre-war houses should not receive post-war rents. Yet hon. and right hon. Members come in to-day to ask that they shall not only get their post-war rents, which are 47 per cent. more than when the houses were new, but that they shall have a special bribe to make them habitable. Our view is poles asunder from that of the right hon. Gentleman. He says that private enterprise can do this. We say, in reply, that private enterprise has not done it in the past. What the right hon. Member for West Birmingham was condemning was private enterprise. What we are destroying is not Socialism, because private enterprise was quite in the middle of the Wheatley Act and of the other Acts passed up to now. Private enterprise lent the money and, for the 620 most part, built the houses; because it was only in a small minority of cases that municipal authorities built their houses by direct labour. Private enterprise built the houses, and all that the municipalities did was to act as the owners of the houses.
What are we reverting to now? Private enterprise is again to lend the money, but to lend it to building societies instead of to the State. At a time when the State has just achieved a position in which it can borrow money at 3 or 3½ per cent., we decide that the building societies shall get 4 or 4½ per cent. Private enterprise is to erect the houses—it is doing it now—and building societies are to take the nominal responsibility of owning them, but private enterprise, in the financing of them, is to be backed up by the guarantee of the State. The State is still there guaranteeing and supporting it as it did under the previous Acts. The Minister has established no principle of private enterprise. It is true that he has drawn away from private enterprise certain Governmental supports which it has had for the last few years. He seems to think the building industry is now in a position to get ahead without those public supports.
What are the reasons that lead the Government to conclude that, they can now withdraw public support from the building industry, that it can carry on efficiently just at the time when it has been found necessary to give to other branches of private enterprise public supports which they have not previously had? In the organisation of agriculture, in the changes in our import system, in every possible direction, the State is trying to put its support, sometimes merely administrative support, sometimes financial support, behind private enterprise in order to make it function; but just when it is doing that for every industry, from cotton to agriculture and coal, it is reversing its action in this case. The Minister smiles, but I hope he will give me and my friends this credit, that if we can see a principle running through the operations of a Government, even though it be a principle antagonistic to our own, we can understand it, and can pay a tribute to the men who are consistently applying it in every branch of public life; but in this Measure we have something in complete contradiction to and in com- 621 plete conflict with every principle upon which the National Government have presumably been acting up to now.
The only justification for the Government's course is that it saves money, a miserable amount of money. The Minister himself has shown that only a relatively small amount per annum is to be saved. Will the Government tell us quite clearly and definitely whether it is their general political and social philosophy to make the population of Great Britain a band of serfs, living on a low level of existence, with life planned and arranged under unemployment insurance, under wage arrangements, under health insurance and the rest and also condemned to live in houses which shall be no better than the three-apartment non-parlour type, and which may, should the local authorities deem fit, be on an even smaller scale? Is it the deliberate policy to establish the principle that the State can only survive in present conditions by putting all its working class on to the barest levels, on to levels lower even than existed in pre-war days? If that is the view, we on these benches are the more confirmed in the view that our hostility to the Government and their various Measures is fully justified, and we shall never be more hostile to any of their proposals than we are to this Bill.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. CHRISTIE
The Minister of Health has told us of a number of schemes sent in to his Ministry a few days before he introduced this Bill. I would like to put before him the position of the Henstead Rural District Council, of which I am a member, as it is affected by the Bill. On the 6th December, the Henstead Council received the report of its housing committee in which there was a recommendation that houses should be built in order that the council might finish their programme of providing the houses that were necessary to enable the people living in insanitary condition to change into new houses. When this recommendation was brought before the council, the council adopted it unanimously, and the clerk sent to the Ministry of Health on the next day, that is the 7th December, the application for a subsidy on that basis. Nobody realised that the 7th December was the day on which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, was introducing his Bill. We may imagine the consternation 622 of the members of the district council when they looked at their newspapers next morning, and found that they were 12 hours too late.
I appreciate, and I suppose that we all do, that with a Bill which stops a subsidy, there must be a date beyond which the Minister cannot very well accept new applications, but when the Minister is using his guillotine I think it is not going too far to ask him to see that in its fall it does not cut off one of his best friends. I am justified in saying that the district council of Henstead has a very fine record of building and managing its finances, which, in its own little way, entitles it to be described as one of the Minister's best friends. I can understand that a programme of building might be hastened, if was not a genuine thing, in order to try to get the subsidy anyhow, before it was all over, and that such an application might be refused, but when an application get as near as 12 hours I ask the Minister whether he could see his way to take some step to enable the Henstead District Council to finish off their programme.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. CURRY
It is with very great trepidation that I intervene in the Debate, which has been carried on by the most experienced and knowledgeable Members. I am not intervening with the object of making a contribution so much as to try to get further informaton as to the actual working of the Bill which is before the House. The central purpose of this Bill is to withdraw entirely the subsidies which have assisted housebuilding during the last 10 years, and to substitute a new method of finance that is to apply over the whole range of housebuilding, with the exception of slum clearance schemes. As one who comes from the north-eastern part of the country, I was very glad to learn that the Slum Clearance Act of 1930 is to remain unimpaired. Our problem, as the Minister knows from his recent visit to Tyneside, is the problem of slum clearance. Serious though that problem is, it is not the only problem with which the authorities in that part of the country are confronted. Before we lend our support to facilitating the passage of the Bill, which alters the whole arrangements under which we have carried on our housing programme, we have the duty of satisfying ourselves that the provision 623 of houses will not be retarded as a result of this legislation.
At present costs it should be possible, in the district from which I come, where we have land at a price round about £300 an acre, to build, without the assistance of the subsidy, houses which could be let economically, but it would only be possible to do so with safety, on the assumption that the density is increased. I would like to know from the Minister, or from whoever replies, how far it is the idea of the Government that the density of newly-built houses is to be increased. I cannot believe that public opinion will willingly go back to an uncontrolled density for new houses. To do that would be to create for the following generation the very problem which is baffling all our housing experts to-day, that of slum clearance. I would also like to know, because this is my greatest puzzle about the Bill, how the new idea of finance is to work. Money is to be drawn from the building societies, and I do not think that it is a bad thing to endeavour to apply to public housing the large funds which are in the possession of the building societies. We understand that 90 per cent. is to be advanced, of which 20 per cent. is under guarantees. I am puzzled to know where is the extra 10 per cent. to come from? By what method is it to be raised? Is the local authority to be left to raise it by its own initiative?
§ Sir H. YOUNG
May I assist the hon. Member by replying to his questions at once? In the first place, the money will come from the builder who builds the houses, and, in the second place, from the private investor who buys a house from the builder.
§ Mr. CURRY
If that is to be the position, if the housing schemes of the future are to depend, first of all, upon the enterprise of a builder who is to build for supply in the same way as any other private trader, and if the number of houses which he is to erect is to depend upon the number of people whom he can find with the 10 per cent. ready for deposit, we must recognise that that means the end of municipal housing schemes as we have known them during the last 10 years. It becomes a mere 624 matter of speculation as to whether this new method is to be successful in providing houses in sufficient number and at sufficient speed to overtake the shortage in the overcrowded areas.
I recognise the difficulties of the position. I speak as a member of a local authority, and I realise that local authorities, in contemplating capital undertakings just now, lose sight of the effects which the 1929 legislation is to have upon the future rate burden, the gradual diminution of the block grants and the throwing back on to the local authorities of the 75 per cent. de-rating loss. That, of course, puts out of court the possibility of the local authorities going forward with their enterprises. I learned with a great sense of misgiving that the initiative is not to lie with the local authorities at all, but that the local authorities and the Government are simply to guarantee a risk which the building societies, in their capacity as trustees, cannot see fit to take. We hand back, as the result of this Measure, the whole of the housing in this country to private enterprise. I must confess that I look upon that with a great deal of misgiving. I have visualised a continual progressive movement for the rehousing of our people, which would gradually remove, not merely the slums, but the overcrowding, and which would gradually eliminate a large proportion of the expense of health services due to bad housing conditions. To one who has dreamed his dreams, perhaps, on the matter of the rehousing of the masses of our industrial people, this Bill comes as a great disappointment, and I am very much afraid I shall have to think seriously how far I can lend my support to the further progress of a Bill which I think must be a retrograde step in our housing policy.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I hardly know how to express myself this evening in regard to the revolutionary proposals that are placed before the House by the Housing Minister. It is not strange to find introduced here week by week Measures which seem to break down the ordinary procedure of the House of Commons. This evening I heard the chanting of theMiserere from West Birmingham, and I felt that I could hear the responseOra pro nobis coming from the Scotland Division of Liverpool in regard to the question of housing 625 policy. Every Thursday for 9½ years I have spent my time attending the meetings of the Housing Committee of Liverpool, dealing with the housing problem, and I naturally thought that when one got among experts in the House of Commons, and more especially with a National Minister, one would find some knowledge of the subject of housing in our great cities. This Bill, however, only deals with financial matters, and it is a travesty to say that it contains a solution of the housing problem. [Interruption.] If either of the two hon. Gentlemen who laugh would like to contradict me, I shall be happy to sit down and give them an opportunity of letting me know why they laugh. To me this is no laughing matter.
The problem of housing the great city of Liverpool, the question of homes and the sanctity of home life there, is to me more important than being a Member of Parliament. I only came to this House in order that I might be able, with others in the House, to help to remove the difficulties of the housing problem, to help to bring sunshine and happiness into the homes of our people, and to be able to go back and say that we had an educated body of men in the British House of Commons who seemed to understand the, problems of the day. I listened to financial Debates last night by antediluvians. Members who sit on these benches are not supposed to know anything either about arithmetic or the density of houses—we are considered too dense. This evening a Noble Lord, who is not here now, twitted Labour Members because we spoke about subsidies, but he had forgotten that there was a De-rating Bill, he had forgotten that there was a Wheat Subsidy, he had forgotten that there was a Beet Subsidy. It is very strange that only the Labour party have been thus twitted. If we know something of anything, we at least know something of housing. Every street tells its own story. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) spoke in the most graphic language. He might have been imagined to be speaking of Dante's Inferno:All hope abandon ye who enter here.When he spoke of the slum problems of Birmingham, Members of the House felt their throats filling up and their bosoms heaving, and they became sentimental; 626 but the Minister of a National Government, one who has the whole influence of the Empire at his back, comes to the House and tells us that for the purposes of slum clearance schemes a sum of £75,000 will be available, and he tells us that 12,000 new houses are needed for the purposes of slum clearance. I do not know whether the Minister of a National Government is aware of it, but in the little city from whence I come we dealt with 6,000 in one year by way of slum clearance. On our one estate we had some 6,000 houses erected, and if for the rest of the country 12,000 houses are regarded as the solution of the slum problem of England, I am very much afraid that we need a change of Government and new National Ministers to lead an advance in regard to the housing problem.
It is all very well for Members of the House, well clothed and well fed, to come here with pious exclamations and all this twaddle about slum clearance. That is all right when they go home at the weekend to their salubrious places, but, when one gets down to facts, what does this Bill propose? It proposes two things? It proposes once and for all to get rid of the system under which the municipalities have control of housing, and it sets up a system under which the money that has been accumulated in the hands of private owners or in the hands of building societies will he utilised for the building of houses. The Minister of a National Government is only too pleased that there is a surfeit of money to take the responsibility of national housing from a National Government. A National Government knowing its responsibility, and not being over-burdened with too great a majority, would rise to the occasion, but, on analysis, what do we find? We find an assumption, built on false premises, that, in regard to housing in the future, we are going to be able to meet the demand.
We all know that the municipalities during the last five or six years have been attempting to meet the demand in regard to houses. What is the position to-day? You talk about making advances. Have you taken into consideration that during the last eight or nine years the municipalities have bought land outside their cities and have been building houses? We have given increased value to the land we have bought. We have brought new housing estates into opera- 627 tion. Who is to have the sites that are now in the possession of the municipalities? Is it proposed that the building societies shall come in and take over the clearance sites, the insanitary areas that ought to be demolished, or are they to have the virgin sites which we have bought and for which we have created a greater value for the City? When we come to part with those lands, we shall want a proper price. No municipality, having speculated in holding lands as they have done for the last seven or eight years, can afford to part with them unless they get a decent price. Therefore, the question of interest will enter largely into the sale, because I understand from the Minister that the day has now come when municipalities will no longer purchase land, but building societies and speculators will come into the market and supply the goods. The Minister does not know what he is talking about when he makes such an absurd proposition. Along the dockside in Liverpool we have had a housing problem for the last 60 years and in every scheme that has been brought forward we have purchased virgin soil and taken those who could pay to the outer areas of the City.
What is the solution in this Bill in regard to the down and outs and the man who must live close to his work? If you remove the artisan outside you are going to add at least three or four shillings a week to his travelling expenses. I hope the Minister will pay attention to this because I passed one or two remarks today. and he did not reply. I want him to understand that I know this business. I am not playing the fool. I am here on real business. I want to get down to it, and I want something to do. The Minister has stated definitely—I suppose I must accept him as the authority in the House—that the rental will be 8s. 2d. a week and the rates 2s. I dispute those figures. There is not an authority in the House who can say that that is correct, but there are many who can say it is incorrect. The Minister has no reliable figures that he can produce showing that the rates will be 2s. In Liverpool the rates on that Ss. would come nearer to 5s. It is all very well to talk about equalising, taking the whole country, but we are dealing with industrial areas and with slum clearance.
628 I want to know how, under the system that is now being adopted, slum clearance is to come into operation. The Minister has told us that subsidies have got to go. We are told that in 83½ years this progressive Government will have been able to settle a thousand houses, and we want about a million. If we go on growing and having families in proportion, as we are doing, we shall want another 20 or 30 years added to that period before we have settled the problem. In my lifetime I have seen that about 30 years is the life of a house, and after that it is no longer required. I should like to know, in regard to repair, wear and tear, and the standing up of these houses, where they are to be at the end of 83 years. We have many amateurs in the House dealing with the problem of housing.
§ Mr. LOGAN
The Noble Lord is one of them. We hear of the noble homes of England, but in our neighbourhood they are only held together by the wall paper. You can put your hands through the bricks and shut the shutters outside. Our houses are the houses of 60 years ago for which the people are asked to pay rent, and, if they are not able to pay for houses which should have been blown to hell long ago, they are evicted. They are asked to pay for houses which should have gone at least 30 years ago. In the north end of the city, whence I come, we have never had a house built in 70 odd years.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I thought you were listening to what I said. I said that in Liverpool we had built 6,000 houses, but in the part of the city from which I come they have never built one in 70 years. When your building societies have bought the housing estates, giving us perhaps a fair price, what solution is that to us in the internal part of the city? What housing scheme is going to provide for the worker being near his work? Is it to be said that we are never to have a. housing scheme under the 1930 Bill? We have the power of demolishing the houses on those sites and having rehousing schemes on them. That means that we can build up in the inner area piecemeal. According to the system that 629 you are following, you will always have a dilapidated inside part of your cities. If you go on with your scheme, your outer area will become a demolition area in the course of time, and you will have to get back to the dockside. It would have paid those Members engaging in housing, instead of looking only to Birmingham and playing with the question of building societies, to go to the Continent and get a better vision of what can be done.
I have visited certain areas where there is light and beauty—beautiful landscapes and gardens, bathed in God's sunshine, and where you have the best housing conditions in the world. Yet a few years ago they were the most terrible spots in Europe from a housing point of view. I refer to a part of Vienna. Vienna had a clearance of 30,000 houses and turned it into a garden city, most beautiful to the eye. We find that in a city which is not able to pay its way and in a dynasty which we are told has passed out. The problem of human life and how to live even under those conditions has been solved there. You can get three bedrooms, a kitchen and a parlour at 8s. a month in the city of Vienna—that is, for an artisan with 33s. a week and a practically constant wage. We have artisans in England who are walking about and cannot get a living. We have them in the building trade. They have not got 33s., but can you offer them in this land of ours a home at 2s. per week? You cannot, and it is no use twitting Members on this side about the ideas that may be put forward in regard to private enterprise and Socialism when, on the Continent, you are able to see any time you visit there a living example of men and women who are benefiting by that system of housing.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I am ready to answer any hon. Member in the House who may he inclined to ask any question on this particular subject, because I know nothing more sacred or better in life than the creation of proper living conditions for the boys and girls in the great industrial centres. I know of neighbourhoods where there are six or seven people living in one room. In my own particular division I know of nine people living in one room, and they are unable to get houses simply and solely because they are 630 not able to pay rents or not what is considered to be an economic rent. Unemployment, with its terrible misery, is driving these people into the slum life of our great cities.
Are we to be told that the duty must wholly devolve on those who have money and that no public duty must fall on municipal authorities in regard to the housing of our people? If a panic or an epidemic broke out, you would be bound to remove the people. Surely there is nothing more disastrous than outbreaks of typhoid, small-pox, and fevers in the densely populated areas of our great cities? From the point of view of health alone, the nation should be prepared to get rid of the slum problem. It will never be removed if we are only to have what is announced by the Minister of Health. He says 12,000 people per annum are to be removed. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is an insult to the intelligence of this House to say that 12,000 houses are to be dealt with in slum clearance every year. Do hon. Members dispute it [HON. MEMBERS: "You said people."] Well, 12,000 houses per annum is the slum clearance programme of the National Government. You should be ashamed of yourselves sitting on benches here and professing that you represent the working class people without making a protest against the scheme that is put before you.
When I look round the House and find, as we have done most of the day, only 50 or 60 people sitting here when we are dealing with the housing problem of this country, I wonder if I am in a lunatic asylum. It is no good if we are not to consider the problem of the nation outside. The people outside think you are doing something, but the people inside here know the game which is going on. We had three or four hundred Members dealing yesterday with the National Debt, high finance, the fluctuations of gold, the Exchange Equalisation Account, and accounts in ledgers, but to-day, when it is housing, and when they profess to the people that they come here bursting with all that ardour and enthusiasm for the poor down and out and the fools who voted them in they are not present. As soon as the bell goes, they rush into the Lobbies without ever knowing what they are voting for and vote against this Amendment of the Labour party. This is the most unintellectual body I have 631 ever seen. [HON. MEMBERS "Withdraw."] There is no withdrawing at all, when you get a proposition so nonsensical from the Minister. If there is any common sense on those benches they must, understand that the proposition is ridiculous and absolutely out of date. Let hon. Members understand what housing means and go down and live in the slums. Let them go where 40 or 50 people are living in three or four houses, and then they will understand the lives of the people. This is a grave problem, and hon. Members should let other people come here who understand the question and can deal with it.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Sir F. FREMANTLE
I think we may now devote ourselves to the actual facts of this Measure. This is a great week for housing. In the midst of all the big problems, like that discussed yesterday, it is a good thing for this House to feel that it can devote half a week to the housing question. I hope it will justify itself, but I am bound to say I, like many others who have spoken, feel great anxiety as regards the future of the policy which is now being adopted. Whether we are working outside, whether we are working on local authorities, or working with voluntary societies, we must all feel this anxiety. It is bound to be prevalent. Having made up our minds to a policy, and having for 15 years depended on local enterprise and subsidies, we are bound to feel great anxiety, especially about the possibility of future difficulties, if we are asked to reverse that policy and to remove those subsidies entirely.
It is clear that the policy of removing the subsidy was practically, if not entirely, decided at the General Election of last year. I think that all hon. Members on this side of the House will recognise clearly that the definite implication of the financial crisis last year and the decision arrived at by the nation was that they had eventually to cut down all the extra financial responsibilities which had been taken on by the Government and see how far we could do without them. When we realise that £12,500,000 a year, plus another £3,500,000 from the rates, making £16,000,000 a year, is saddled upon us simply in respect of the provision of about half the number of houses which 632 have been built since the War, and that that has to go on for 40 or 60 years, it is clear that we must call a halt. That being so, we have to see if there is a bright side to the position. I should like to debate this subject privately with hon. Members on the opposite side, when it would not be necessary for them or for me to speak of constituents in regard to the effect of the subsidy.
The matter may be exaggerated by one side or the other, but it is only human nature, if you can rely on a subsidy coming from a source which is sure and certain—I am afraid we are too much inclined to think of it as an unfathomable purse—to make use of it one way or another. For instance, the hon. Member for East Willesden (Mr. D. G. Somerville), with his knowledge of the building trade, confessed that the subsidy went into the pockets of the builders, but I think that he would have defined it more clearly if he had said that it went, not only into the pockets of the contractors. but into the pockets of the labour section of the building industry as well. I do not wish to raise acrimonious controversy upon this subject, but the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), who is to reply to the Debate on behalf of the Opposition, has himself vindicated his position by fulfilling his duty as a representative of the building trade unions. He, and those who act with him, have a right—and it is their duty—to try to maintain the rate of wages at a very high standard. But I suggest that that position has been due to the subsidy. They were right in demanding higher rates of pay for labour. But if one examines the position in the Labour Gazette it will be found that, whereas the cost of living is 43 per cent. above pre-war, the wages of the bricklayers and their labourers vary from 85 to 105 per cent. above what they were before the War. That fact is not a reflection upon the hon. Member and his like. On the contrary, it is very much to their credit. They have done their job. But it is a position which suggests that there is a very clear and definite relation between the profit made in the industry on all sides and the actual subsidy.
I maintain, therefore, when the subsidy is withdrawn, that not only the em- 633 ployers in the building industry but also the employes can make a contribution towards a reduction of the expenses. An examination of the Labour Gazette will show that the wages in the building industry have increased on the average to the extent of 20 per cent. in excess of the increases in other trades. There is only one trade which has done better in that way, namely, the printing trade. I think that we shall probably have an opportunity, if it can be done in a friendly way—I do not want strikes or fighting between employer and employed—of asking the building trade generally to bring down their costs to some reasonable extent as their contribution. Together with the reduction of materials, to which reference was also made by the hon. Member for East Willesden—and certain materials are still unnaturally high in cost—it might be possible for such reductions to make up for the loss of the subsidy and to keep down the costs of building.
The hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) told us that they on his side of the House objected not so much to the removal of the subsidy as to the removal of control. It is a serious criticism to make of the policy which is now being adopted. As an old medical officer of health myself, I agree with that anxiety. There is no question that if you remove control over housing from the local authority you will go back to the dark ages. I do not see that the proposal involves any removal of control as regards the standard of houses. It is one of the points to which I hope my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary when he returns to the House prompted by my hon. Friend on the Front Bench will reply, and that he will tell us some of the secrets of the transaction and bargain made with the building societies. We should like to know what control there will be. I believe, reading the outline given to us in the Bill, that it will be open to the local authority and to the Minister to secure, in the terms of their guarantee in each case, the proper standards and the proper use of the houses which are to be so guaranteed. We should like to know if that is the case? As regards sanitary considerations, we can never go back to the bad days of 30 years ago before the modern housing and Public Health Acts 634 and building regulations. The local authority will still have its duty over every building erected and responsibility for its maintenance. The sanitary officers will still have their duties to perform and the building by-laws and regulations will always hold good.
There is another point which is of very great importance. The Minister has laid much stress upon the policy of building by the building societies. Two or three hon. Members who have spoken to-day have asked what number of houses built by the building societies will be called Class "C" houses. To what extent will they satisfy the requirements of the Class "C" people in regard to rental? We should like to know whether there is to be any control over the rental of these houses? If not, it will not deal with the policy shown to us during the course of the Rent Restrictions Bill on Monday. We shall not be increasing the pool of houses in Class "C"—the overcrowded class—which is the one real problem. We were given to understand on Monday that the builders would be able to satisfy all the needs in Classes "A" and "B." We want to ensure that this policy will meet the needs of the Class "C" tenants. Are we going to be satisfied under the terms granted? It is possible that we may. It is possible that the local authorities and the Ministry of Health may insist on these houses being kept for that purpose. In addition to the actual question of rental, the real reason why the Labour Government and other Governments failed to meet the slum problem and the problem of the really poor is the same perennial reason, that it is so difficult to control the people who go into the houses produced. Is there going to be any greater and better control of the tenants in regard to the houses that are to be built?
We have learned recently of a number of people who are really being assisted in State-subsidised municipal houses who can well afford to house themselves. Latterly, local authorities have taken a good deal of trouble to see how far they could get a voluntary combing out from the municipal houses of those who can afford to house themselves. The London County Council have done some useful and interesting work in that respect, on purely voluntary lines. It seems to me essential (1) that the houses to be built 635 should be kept for the "C" class, the people who require to be housed of that limit of income, (2) that we should house those people who require to be housed, regardless of whether they are good or bad tenants,. (3) that when certain houses are vacated care should be taken by the local authorities to see that the old houses vacated are occupied usefully, in order to help the problem of the Class "C" people, and (4) that the State-aided houses should continue to be occupied only by those who are of a class who require to be housed.
§ Sir F. FREMANTLE
I am not going into that question. I am talking of the kind of minimum that we heard of this afternoon.
§ Sir F. FREMANTLE
The hon. Member did not understand my point. Quite apart from the question of rental, there has been a custom followed by the owners of houses, whether private or municipal owners, under which only so-called respectable people, who would be sure of paying their rent and who have not too many children, were accepted. I want to ensure that the houses that are to be built shall be used for the people that we want to help—people who cannot always be sure of remaining in employment and of paying their rent and who may have too many children. All these subjects need a great deal of elaboration. I want to make clear two particular points about the Bill. The first is, that it must be considered in relation to the Rent Restrictions Bill. The two go together. The real problem is the problem of the class "C" house in the Rent Restrictions Bill. We are trying in that Bill to prevent further aggravation of the problem by stopping decontrol of those houses. It is for that particular class that we wish to provide. Secondly, we need to associate this Bill not only with the Rent Restrictions Bill but also with the Town and. Country Planning Act which was passed recently. That is ger- 636 mane to several of the criticisms raised in regard to the slum clearance problem to-day.
The argument of those who say that slum clearance work is so expensive and so difficult is largely met by saying that that depends upon whether the municipalities are making proper use of their town planning powers. If you can town plan properly you can get your slum clearance. The criticism which I made against the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) in connection with his original housing Measure was that he was putting the cart before the horse in bringing in his slum clearance Bill before his town and country planning Bill. But he thought that he could get his slum clearance Bill through because it was more popular than the Town and Country Planning Bill, and he proved right. These Acts must be worked together, and if they are worked together and slum clearance is brought in as part of the town plan then, as an expert, a man of great authority on slum clearance, told me, slum clearance is one of the parts of housing that less requires subsidy than any other, because by proper planning certain sites can be made of very great value for other purposes, and other sites can be used for housing. By working them together, you probably recoup yourself on the sites that are cleared, because of the enhanced value. Slum clearance must, therefore, be associated with town planning.
I want to make one last appeal to the Minister, and that is in regard to the work of those authorities who have done their very best to prepare schemes which may be suddenly cut off from the subsidy, after having been prepared on the basis of a subsidy, as was indicated in respect of the rural district councils by the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Christie). I want to make the same kind of appeal on behalf of the Sutton Trust, of which I am a member. In connection with that trust we have five big housing schemes for working classes in five of the main cities of the country at present on the carpet. They are either before the local authorities or before the Ministry. The Ministry has been consulted unofficially about each of these five schemes. It is a question whether they have been submitted "under the Acts," as the Bill says. The schemes are hanging in the 637 balance. 1,558 tenements are concerned in the five schemes, and if the subsidy is not allowed it will make a difference of 1s. 6d. rent on the average per tenant. I hope that latitude is left for schemes that are sufficiently on their way, to receive the subsidy. Some latitude ought to be given for schemes prepared on the basis of the subsidy.
Many of the speeches made to-day show how difficult it is to deal with this question and how necessary it is for us to focus on slum clearance. I interrupted the right hon. Member for Wakefield today to point out that in the working of his own Act he could only secure in the first two years after that Act had been passed, 6,000 houses cleared per year and that he must realise that in administration it is very difficult to get slum clearance effected. Therefore, we have to focus attention upon slum clearance. If we are not able in the course of the next year or two to get real and continued progress in housing as a result of the policy initiated this week, I hope that we shall devise some new scheme which, while escaping from the inevitable waste of public subsidy, will nevertheless, with a better use of such further help that may be contributed from the Treasury, be able to give an assurance that we shall make real progress, particularly in regard to the provision of Class "C" houses and in the clearing of slums.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. HARCOURT JOHNSTONE
I intervene for only five minutes to voice a few sentiments which are felt not only by myself but, I think, by the majority of my hon. Friends on these benches. In speaking for a Motion brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Briant) last week I expressed a little doubt whether the Rent Restrictions (Amendment) Bill was a good augury for the Housing Bill which we then knew was in preparation. Those fears, I regret to say, have been amply fulfilled. I would not deny, because it is undeniable, that the scheme of the Minister of Health will provide, or can provide, in the Provinces by private enterprise a considerable number of houses of the class which he contemplates building. It certainly cannot do it in London. I think that that has been shown quite definitely by an hon. Friend who has already spoken. I do not be- 638 lieve there is any question whatever that the building of houses in London at a rent, or anything approaching the rent, which a working man can pay, without a subsidy, is impossible. But the provision of the class of houses which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind is not the whole of the problem, or even half of it. Other questions arise.
First of all, there is the provision of the smaller and cheaper kind of house for which there is no provision whatever here; there is the drive for slum clearance, of which the Minister spoke but as to which he gave us no evidence; and finally, there is the problem of rural housing. The last named subject has not been much touched upon in this Debate. It may be said that it is comparatively a small problem, that the need of houses in the rural areas has been practically met. I shall await with interest the figures of the Parliamentary Secretary as to that. But whatever figures he may give, 3,000 or 30,000, he can be quite certain that without a subsidy no new houses can be built in rural areas to let at rents which rural workers can pay. That is quite out of the question. The right hon. Gentleman said that with the subsidy houses could only be built in the rural areas to let at 8s. a week. That is not so, for houses are being built and have been built to let at half that rent. All I ask for the rural areas is that the subsidy should at any rate be retained at approximately half the present figure. If it were reduced from £11 to £5 it would be possible to build houses in rural areas at the present cost at a rent which could be paid by rural workers.
I want to put one or two definite questions to the Parliamentary Secretary. Will he give us a little more information as to slum clearance. The clearance of 12,000 houses a year seems to me a very paltry figure. If the right hon. Gentleman calls that a great drive towards slum clearance, I do not. I think it is very difficult to justify this Bill and the abolition of the subsidy on the plea that the Government are going to get a great drive in slum clearance of 12,000 houses a year. There are a good many other suggestions that I could make if time permitted. There is the question of special provision for London, for example. Undoubtedly such special provision will in the end have to be made, because the Minister will find that no 639 houses at all will be built. For myself I must say that we are so disappointed with this Bill, and so anxious that something more ambitious should take its place, that we cannot consent to give it our support, and that we shall reserve to ourselves the right, unless the right hon. Gentleman can make very large improvements in it at a later stage, to vote against it on the Third Reading. The opportunity is a great one. The fall in costs has been tremendous, as the Minister himself has shown. I earnestly hope that after to-day's Debate, in which the Minister has heard criticism of one kind or another from all quarters, and mostly helpful criticism, he will reconsider his position to limit his housing programme to what is contained in this Bill, and that he will give us something wider and more imaginative.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Mr. HICKS
I rise to support the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wake field (Mr. Greenwood). I would like to say how much I have enjoyed the Debate, but I feel that the time given to us to discuss this very important subject is totally inadequate. The Minister, in explaining the Bill, said he was promoting it to deal with the housing problem, which he regarded as normal and natural. I do not know what is the Minister's conception of "normal," whether his is a mid-Victorian conception of normal conditions or whether he is looking at the problem in 1932. I do not know what interpretation he puts upon "natural" conditions. The Minister spoke about costs, and the information he gave appeared to me not to be quite accurate. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary will correct me on this point later. The Minister said that subsidy raised costs, and that the removal of the subsidy reduced costs. The figures that I have show that the average price of non-parlour houses, excluding flats and small houses for aged persons, included in contracts and direct labour schemes of local authorities other than the London County Council, is £307; but the average cost of a similar house during the three months ended 30th September, 1931, was £295. It would appear, therefore, that the cost is higher now than it was in 1931.
I was particularly impressed by the general assent that appeared to be given 640 to the statement that a house of 760 feet superficial area is the type of house that we ought to build to-day. That is a very mean conception indeed. One would imagine that we had had very little housing experience, or that we had very little capacity, in material or in organisation or in understanding of the problem. The problem is a working-class problem. It is not a problem for the middle class or the wealthy; they are always able to obtain housing accommodation. The right hon. Member for Wakefield referred, I thought, sarcastically to the type and character of the bedrooms that would be in a house of 760 feet superficial area. The three bedroom house has divisions, walls, I suppose, that give three rooms, but everyone knows how small those rooms will be. I suppose some of them, one, at any rate, will have no fireplace, but will have to be heated by an oil lamp or something of that kind.
A parlour for the working-class house does not seem to be considered desirable. If it is desirable why should it not be included? Surely, there is no use in giving our people a better education and a higher conception of the standard of life, and then saying that the accommodation which they shall have, apart from that for sleeping, must be found in the kitchen or in the scullery. From every possible angle, a parlour is a desirable thing in each home. The Minister says that the demand has been for the house of a non-parlour type. It is true that those municipal authorities which wanted houses of the parlour type have been definitely discouraged from building those houses, and that consequently the only type which has been put forward with any degree of confidence that the Ministry would sanction it was that of the non-parlour house.
Why have we always to be in this position of plaintively appealing to the governing classes of this country for higher standards of life for the people? We have to plead for bread and butter, for education, for everything. One would imagine we were bereft of the opportunities of being able to provide them, that a blight had fallen over civilisation, and that we were suffering from some famine, or other evil. Someone has said that it would take 83½at the present rate, to wipe out the slums. I suppose it would take longer than that, for I do not 641 think he took particular account of some of the boroughs. But these houses which the Government are proposing now are going to be slums in a few years time. Do you not feel a very painful responsibility when you say that families shall be cabined, cribbed and confined in such houses?
I was particularly happy this afternoon to hear the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) make his very fine speech on this subject. I can only assume that he must have been reading Mr. Garvin's life of his father. I have a quotation from that book, and I hope that all the right hon. and hon. Members of the same party will take the opportunity of reading the book. I am getting no commission by advertising it. A quotation from a speech of the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, at the Birmingham Town Council, in 1875, shows that he said this:Unless we go to the root of the evil, unless we deal with the dwellings themselves, unless we improve those dwellings off the face of the earth, our arduous work will be useless. So long as there is this canker at the root, morality is an empty name and our civilisation a thing to scoff at.The late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, by his initiative and drive, and his big personality, cleared, I think, something like 40 acres in the heart of Birmingham, to his eternal credit. While the right hon. Gentleman was making his speech on this matter this afternoon, and informing us of the terrible plight of persons in his constituency—what he said was very true and could be multiplied by thousands of instances—I wondered where his remedy was coming in. I quite agree with his description of houses which were of such a character that the tenants had to put chairs or boxes behind the door when they went in, in case the hinges came off, and where the wallpaper was leaving the walls because of the damp rooms. The right hon. Gentleman said that the beds were propped up on boxes, but that, I think, was an indication of poverty more than of anything else. He also said that they were afraid almost to go to sleep for fear that they would go through the floor. Now, private enterprise built those houses.
The Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), in the early part of his speech to-day, catechised us in regard to what proposals the Oppo- 642 sition would put up. He imagined that we should have no proposals at all. But I want the Noble Lord, in his support of this return to private enterprise, to say if it is private enterprise in the form of building houses of the type described by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham—houses with no damp proof courses, faulty in the construction of the floor, with the paper leaving the walls, the doors are not properly hung, and so on. We know that there has been in this country, and I presume he is not entirely eliminated, the jerry builder, who was a sort of by-word and joke very often referred to in music halls. I know something about practical building, having assisted in excavating the ground, putting in concrete, in construction work and in actually working and superintending house building; and I know of no commodity that lends itself more to adulteration than house building. All those beautiful little pictures you see, daintily painted and placed on the prospectuses, with nicely tiled roofs and rough cast fronts of the building, have very often behind them a house not so substantial as the person who comes to purchase them believes.
The building industry in all types of building and in private enterprise, has very definite conditions placed upon it. The architect acts as a policeman, and the clerk of works acts as a policeman and is on the job to see that everything is carried out in order. The building inspector comes to see that there is no evasion of the by-laws, and the sanitary inspector constantly watches for fear lest the general building practice is not observed. It is proposed to hand over to private enterprise the provision of houses of the 760 superficial feet type. But private enterprise will not build houses unless there is a profit. If they start building these houses and if there is no effective demand for them, will private enterprise continue to build them, and if not, who is to come in and provide the houses?
Private enterprise has had unfettered opportunities to build houses for our people. The Minister in a moving passage referred to the back-to-back houses, the slums, the sunless courts and alleys the long monotonous rows of brick cottages which, at present in many places are, I would not call it, housing our people, but providing our people with very un- 643 satisfactory forms of shelter. In some of these places the occupants of the houses find it very useful that there are numbers on the doors, otherwise they would have some difficulty in knowing which house to go into. So monotonously alike are they. You have these miserable dwellings, some containing six or seven families, standing to-day as a testimony to the efforts of private enterprise in the housing of our people.
We heard from the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) of the conditions in that city. We heard what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had to say upon this subject. He asks us to tackle this problem now. I agree with his diagnosis but what is his remedy? Apparently he wants a little whitewash and a little green paint applied to freshen up these filthy and pestiferous slums. Does he expect that we could take over these places and underpin them, put in damp-proof courses, add bathroom accommodation, and provide proper sanitary arrangements and electric light and heating—which are available and not very expensive provided there is efficient organisation and which we ought to make available to all our people? Are we to go into these places and put hinges on the creaking doors, and sash-cords into the windows, and a little fresh paint upon the window frames and the gutters and repair the chimney pots? That is not the proper way of tackling the problem. Instead of being repaired the present houses in these slum areas ought to be pulled down. The Minister of Health has to meet this problem in another form because he has to deal with all the disease which flows from this source. Under the conditions in the slums if one person living in a house gets a cold, all get it; if one contracts an infectious disease, all contract it; if one has tuberculosis, all the other members of a family are in danger, in these sunless and verminous habitation. Figures are available to show how unhealthy these places are.
I appreciate the public spirit shown by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) on the Town and Country Planning Act—although he often runs up to the fence but never jumps—and I am sorry that we were not able to get more reforms out of that Measure than we did. 644 He referred to building costs and to building trade operatives but he never mentioned how the doctors are getting on. Has there been any alteration in their scales? Let me tell him that while the hourly rate of building trade workers may be what he has said, it is a long way from indicating what is the weekly rent. The building trade operatives, exposed as they are to climatic conditions, are "knocked off" for frost, rain or fog and sometimes because the organisers of industry are unable to provide them with the necessary materials. The rationalisation which is taking place and the elimination of as many things as possible in the ordinary construction of houses have been responsible for jobs that used to take six months being done now in seven or eight weeks, and the casualisation of labour, with two or three days between the time of discharge from one job and the commencement of another has reduced that hourly rate until it has little relation to actual reality.
§ Sir F. FREMANTLE
The hourly rate was subject to exactly the same kind of casual differences and interference in 1914 as in 1932, and I was comparing like with like.
§ Mr. HICKS
The point that I was trying to convey to the hon. Baronet was that, owing to the introduction of fresh materials and new methods of construction, the elimination of many things that were in existence in 1914, and the rationalisation that has taken place, exactly the reverse obtain to-day. We know that doctors' practices may be the same as they were in 1914, but in the building industry they are not the same. I am unable to understand the figures of the number of houses required as being something like 400,000, as stated by the Minister to-day. He said he did not want to weary us with figures from the end of the War, but as I understood the position under the 1919 Housing and Town Planning Act, there was a compulsory survey of housing needs by the municipal authorities of Great Britain.
I think it was the Tudor Walters Committee that reported the figures at that time, and the figures which I have before me as expressing the then recorded desire of the municipal authorities of Great Britain—and, remember, they were not Labour majorities, but quite 80 per cent. 645 of them at that time were of the political complexion of the National party, either Liberal or Tory—were 840,000 houses for England and Wales alone. The Minister gave us to-day the figure of 400,000. Scotland was not included in the figures I have just quoted, but it was generally assumed by those who were interested in the question at that time that the requirement was something like 1,000,000 houses in England, Wales, and Scotland, but not including Ireland.
There was in the King's Speech at that time, I remember, a programme for 500,000 houses, and Dr. Addison, who was then Minister of Health, was instructed to proceed to build 500,000 houses. It was the policy of the Government of the day, but when the pressure of the public from outside became less insistent, Dr. Addison was very conveniently got rid of from his office, and we had the late Lord Melchett, who was then Sir Alfred Mond, as Minister of Health, whose contribution to housing was the one-room house. It was said that there was any number of people who could live very well in one room. I was taking part at that time, on behalf of the building trade unions, in the negotiations with the representatives of the Government. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) referred to-day to the fact that the solution which the Government of that day thought was the only way out was to increase the personnel of the building industry. I was then, as president of the building trade operatives, offered £250,000 out of the National Exchequer for the purpose of taking 50,000 ex-service men into the building industry. The whole idea was preposterous and ridiculous. At that time all the building trade material that was available was used up every week, and any attempt to increase personnel before increasing materials would only have increased the personnel without any opportunity for employment. The proposal was rejected because it was right and fair to reject it. There were over 20,000 mechanics who left the trade at that time because there was no opportunity for them to obtain a livelihood in the industry. I have not time to examine that now, but I only mention it in showing the policy of successive Governments.
We had the 1923 Act after that, and then the 1924 Act which, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton said, was the first real 646 attempt to reorganise the industry with something like a guarantee. It was a guarantee for 15 years. No wonder that people say that they cannot trust Governments, for the proposal to-day is at the end of eight years definitely to abandon the promise that was given publicly for a 15 years' guarantee. The type of house builders that we had before the War was not the type that we have developed since. The best contractors that we have had in the country since the War have devoted their time, attention, technique, organisation and business to house building, and, as a consequence, a better type of house has been built since the War. It is a house that will stand the test of examination in quality of construction and is not the jerrybuilt house to which I referred a little time ago. There were at that time 840,000 houses reported as short in England and Wales, and a statement was sent out by the Ministry of Labour to the training centres that we wanted 100,000 a year to replace those built 50 years ago. When I spoke last, I gave a figure of 300,000 marriages every year and said that even if only one house were supplied for every three marriages, another 100,000 a year would be required. Far from having caught up with the demand, house building is totally inadequate, yet the Minister says that we are getting back to normality and natural conditions.
A large number of people think that before the War the housing problem was effectively dealt with, but the demand was only met for those people who were able to buy houses. The problem to-day is a problem of poverty. There has been a reduction of over £5,000,000,000 in wages since 1920 according to the Government's own figures, and there has been a reduction since this Government has been in office of £10,000,000 a week. It is one thing to provide houses and another to provide means to enable people to occupy them. How can people with £2 a week afford to pay rent of a third or a half of their wages? How can they afford to buy houses? Even if they do buy houses, we get the very conditions about which the right hon. Member for West Birmingham complained, and we get houses in a bad state of repair because the owners are the poorest of our people and have not the means to keep the places in decent condition.
647 This is not the first time since the War that an attempt has been made to have private effort in housing. I remember vividly the Tory party taking up with enthusiasm the Weir houses that were only three inches between the outside and the inside. Anyone who knows anything about the thermal qualities of a house and the question of heat and cold transfusion, know how wicked was such a proposal to house people in conditions of that character. Weir houses were dotted about all parts of the country in an attempt to excite the interest of individuals and persuade them to ask municipal authorities to supply them on a great scale, but, thanks to the exposure we were able to make, together with the common sense of the municipal authorities, no progress was made with that scheme. I submit that this Bill is definitely reactionary, that housing is a public responsibility and should be a public service, and that any attempt to throw it back on to private enterprise will break the hearts of thousands of our people who to-day are suffering housing misery. If there had been any real effort by the Government or the well-to-do there would not be any slum property to-day; we should have wiped it out if there had been good will and co-operation. I repeat that the hearts of our people will be broken by this definitely reactionary proceeding in taking the provision of houses from public control and putting it back into the hands of private enterprise.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Mr. Shakespeare)
I have no coin plaints to make as to the speech of the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), who is a scrupulously fair opponent. He has raised several points of great interest, which I will deal with in a moment. I have sat here since four o'clock, with short breaks, and have received more advice and more criticism than I have ever received before, and, if I can only remember it all, it will last me for the rest of my life. For the advice I am grateful; to the criticism, I shall have something to say. There is only one general comment I can make: that this Bill of two Clauses was never intended by my right hon. Friend to solve the 648 housing problem in the course of one Debate. I do not suppose he imagined that he could solve it within one or even three years, and it is not fair to blame the housing conditions of the country on to my right hon. Friend and myself because after a year he has not been able to solve those problems which have broken the hearts of successive Governments.
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
At another time I might have been grateful for that interruption. If I had had more time I should have loved a little back-chat. The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) asked whether there were to be any guarantees under the Bill. The only guarantee is that these houses shall be let to members of the working classes. It is not the intention of the Government to buy a dog and do their own barking as well, nor to cut the painter and to hold on to it. If you are going to hand over to private enterprise or to the great building societies the function of building houses, and you hedge it round with all sorts of restrictions, you are defeating the very object you set out to secure The hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) asked whether we had consulted the local authorities. My right hon. Friend gave the answer when he said the local authorities would be prepared to make the fullest possible use of the new scheme and its powers. He asked whether schemes under the five-years' plans would come within the ambit of Clause 1. The answer is in so far as schemes have been sent to the Ministry and definite applications have been made, they will qualify for subsidy. In so far as they are only part of general plans for five years ahead, which have not been submitted to the Ministry, they will not comply.
He asked whether the building societies' scheme would apply in the case of a man who came along and put down his deposit as an individual. The answer is that that is not the real intention of the Bill. The intention is that this shall he done on a larger scale than that. It is contemplated that the man who wants help, the "C" class tenant, would not, in fact, have a deposit or go to the building society. We are thinking more of 649 applications from investment companies, builders, public utility societies and so forth. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Christie) and the hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) asked whether border-line applications will be considered. The answer is that they will. I am not sure, in regard to the case put forward by the hon. Member for South Norfolk, where the application was put in the post the night before. It might be held that that application was legally in time. Obviously, some date has to be fixed, and when we get to the Committe stage we will see whether a date can be fixed in order to include genuine applications and to exclude the spurious ones. I agreed for the first time in my life with a great part of the speech of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) spent most of his time attacking his own 1930 Act. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Johnstone) dealt with slum clearance.
Having answered minor points, now let me get on to the three or four main points of criticism of the Government's policy by which we stand or fall. The first point is the question of slum clearance. It is not fair to attack us for not solving the slum problem. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) made one of his rare intrusions into a domestic Debate with a very moving speech on the clearance of slums, and I wish he could have had a fuller House. His idea was to recondition houses. I ask: At whose expense At the expense of the State, the landlord, or the tenant? I would like him to pursue that argument on another occasion. I can only say that those who considered this problem prior to 1930, and particularly the Association of Municipal Corporations, who had knowledge of the reconditioning of slums, turned that policy down as too expensive and uneconomical. Put into a nutshell, why should the Birmingham Corporation receive public money in order to assist landlords to do what, under the Housing Acts, the Corporation can compel them to do?
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has been very unfairly attacked because we have not interfered with the 650 1930 Slum Clearance Act. We have kept on the subsidy against the advice of those who favoured economy; not only have we kept it on, but we have promised to double the present rate of progress. The Minister has been blamed because, after careful inquiry, he stated what he thought was the practicable limit of progress. He authorises me to say that if, in fact, the limit is exceeded, no one will be more delighted than he and the whole Ministry of Health. Everyone knows that you cannot solve the problem of slums in one or two years. The procedure is there. My right hon. Friend knows that from the time a medical officer of health walks out to review what he considers to be a slum clearance area and the time he reports to his council might often be as much as six months. If he takes less, he may not have done his job thoroughly. From the time we hear about it at the Ministry to the time the first tenants are cleared from those houses must be six months, if everything goes like clockwork. If you take from the time that the medical officer of health goes out to examine a particular area to the time that tenants are cleared under the 1930 subsidy—a very high subsidy—it takes from a year and a-half to two years. That being so, do not let us try to catch votes by pretending that we can clear away slums and solve the unemployment problem this winter; let us be fair and square; and let us take credit for what the Act can do. I pay an ungrudging tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), and I am surprised at the attack that has been made on his Act by his own supporters. After the Act has been in operation for two years, more people have been scheduled for clearance, and will be cleared in the course of the next year, than have been cleared in the last 12 years. Is not that something to be proud of? Are we to be blamed because we are adopting the machinery of this Act at a double rate of progress? All the time we are acquiring momentum. It is the initial stages that take so much time—the inquiries, the appeals in the validity period, the vacation period, the public inquiry, and so on. There is tremendous momentum now, and I think that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham will do much to add to it. This is not a party question, and I hope 651 that every Member of the House will make a special effort to see that the local authorities, now that the full subsidy is kept for them, devote their attention to working the Act of 1930. If they do that, and submit clearance schemes or improvement schemes, I can assure them that they will not fall on deaf ears at the Ministry.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Has not the Minister stated definitely that there is an expenditure limit to this development?
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
No; my hon. Friend is mistaken. I have said that my right hon. Friend has fixed what he thinks is double the maximum rate, and that, if it is exceeded, he will be delighted.
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
I think we may feel confident that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as a late Minister of Health, will do everything he can to encourage slum clearance schemes. Everyone admits that we must all join together in clearing away these plague spots that disgrace the names of our big cities and the name of this country, but my right hon. Friend and myself ought not to be blamed for the present position. The second point is the subsidy. Everyone really rejoices that the subsidy has gone. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield let the cat out of the bag. He said that we were handing this business over to private enterprise because we found that the municipalities were starting to make a profit out of it. That is true. The fact that a profit is being made out of it is the reason why we are taking off the subsidy. We come to bury the subsidy, not to praise it. The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green who knows so much about the housing problem, said that he had no objection to it—
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
I now come to the serious charge which has been made that we are in effect lowering the standard of housing. The hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) and the Noble Lord the Mem- 652 ber for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) wanted to know what assurance we could give that private enterprise would in fact build Class "C" houses. The first point that I would make is this: The upper limits of rental for Class "C" houses, as regards London, are 16s. or 17s., and as regards the Provinces about 12s., and we are already—
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
That is inclusive. Private enterprise is already touching the fringe of those upper limits, but, after all, we are entitled to expect that the result of removing the subsidy will be what it always has been. I cannot argue the question now, but I have satisfied myself that, whether it be a case ofPost hoc propter hoc or not, that in fact has happened.
I gave examples the other day of how we had in fact reached the house, inclusive of land, of £320 in particular areas and, therefore, it is not too much to hope that, as private enterprise gets busy, as the investor gets busy, as the building societies get busy, as the local authorities get busy—who lose none of their powers and who, borrowing money for 60 years at 4 per cent., will in a particular area be able to supply the need if private enterprise does not—with all these agencies, with the Minister sitting over their heads watching the whole position, it will be possible to reduce costs and to provide the houses wanted. If in fact—I do not think it is an extravagant hope—we get down to the figure of £300, at 4 per cent. the net rent will be 7s. 2d.—that is for the 60 year period, the municipal authority case—and for the building society case, with 30 years repayment at 4 per cent., it would be 8s. 9d. If you think how the present subsidy operates, the local authority, building direct, has about 3s. 9d. to play with. There is no incentive to the local authority to get down to a cheaper house. As long as it gets a big margin of 3s. 9d. it has no further interest. But if you bring into competition the builders in a particular area, who up to the present have not competed against subsidised municipal effort and will never compete, bring the building society in to watch them and finance them, bring the building society surveyor, a man of vast housing experience, not in one locality only but probably all over a, particular part of 653 England, to watch the builders now competing against each other, are we not entitled to hope that we shall get a cheaper and better house?
Let me give one example. If you buy a car to-day, you get about ten times as many gadgets on it as you did five years ago, simply because you have the competition of a dozen motor companies all competing for the favour of the public at reduced prices, with the result that the car is an infinitely better equipped car at a cheaper price. Cannot we expect the same thing when we give free play once more to that iniquitous force called private enterprise for which I, a Liberal, can hardly be expected to stand at this Box to apologise? I never thought the day would come when that would happen, and I am not going to do it. I believe that private enterprise, operating with a modern enlightened public opinion, checked by the building society, checked by the local authority if necessary, can and will provide better and cheaper houses than have hitherto been provided by one particular agency. I would not say a word against municipal effort. I know in my own city what it has meant. I should not like to argue that the point has not been reached when, if we maintain the subsidy now, we are taking a step which will prevent the improvement of housing. I can only give my opinion. I honestly believe that, if we bring in the experience of builders in competition with one another, if we bring in the check of the building society, with its vast knowledge of housing, with the check of the surveyor and of the local authorities, we shall not get a worse type of house but a better type at a cheaper cost.
The hon. Member for East Woolwich took exception to the 760 square feet superficial area. No one has ever called my friend Sir Tudor Walters a reactionary, but the hon. Member will remember that there was a committee appointed just after the War which examined the size of the housing accommodation, and what would be a reasonable superficial area, and the result of its deliberations was this standard of 760, which was then adopted. I am an enthusiast about housing, but I am a realist at the same time. I do not believe that the real friends of the poorer tenants are those who insist on such a high standard that it makes it impossible for these tenants to occupy 654 the houses. The houses are built, but the poor tenant remains in his old quarters, and somebody else, for whom the houses were never intended, get the houses which conform to some sentimental standard set up in the minds of some enthusiast who is not the real friend of the poor overcrowded tenant. I believe that the real friend of the overcrowded tenant is the builder, or the building society, or the public utility society which concentrates on economy, on simplicity of design and on the elimination of extravagances, so that you can build houses within the means of the poorer class of tenant.
I saw an attack in the "Daily Herald" because in a certain place in Norfolk called Walsingham we had sanctioned houses with one bedroom without a stove, with no picture rail, no plaster in the scullery and no second entrance and so on. That is under that reactionary housing enthusiast Sir Tudor Walters. What happened was that the application came up from the local authority at £337 per house exclusive of land, and the committee got busy and said, "Would you really think it an injustice to the tenant to cut them out?" Tenants do not live by picture rails alone. It is not really necessary to have two garden entrances to two houses as long as each house had its own street door. After all, there are many 'magnificent houses in London with only one entrance to the crescent. It is no real injustice, and what happened was that as the result of the care exercised by this reactionary committee set up by that reactionary man, Sir Tudor Walters, the price of each house was cut down below the level of the application of the particular rural authority from £337 to £293, and that £44 saved per house was equal to nearly 1s. off the rent, without doing any injustice to the tenant. I am sure those tenants were glad that a man like Sir Tudor Walters existed. Let us be idealists by all means, but always let us be idealistic realists.
I think that I have dealt with most of the points raised. As regards rural housing, we are continuing the slum clearance subsidy. There is a very heavy subsidy of £2 10s. a tenant. We have not yet got credit for it in the Debate. My right hon. Friend says—and I agree with him—that the real way of helping the poor agricultural tenant is to concentrate upon the method which does not 655 result in putting up his rent. I mean reconditioning under the Housing (Rural Worker) Act. My right hon. Friend, the Member for Cornwall, Northern, who knows ten times more about the matter than I do, realises what use has been made of the Act in Devon. The result has been throughout the country that wherever the Act has operated it has meant only an increase of 2d. or 3d. on the rent, which has been a blessing to the poor tenant receiving perhaps a wage of 28s. or 30s. a week. Therefore we believe that by improving the machinery of this Act for example by allowing applications to come from the rural district council instead of coming more or less exclusively from the county council, we shall be helping along the conditions in rural areas. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Captain Heilgers) made a point that rural housing was a special problem and said that not even the present subsidy enabled them to build houses in rural areas within the means of a man receiving a wage of 28s.
If any of my Liberal friends have any doubts as to this Bill I would recommend to them a very sensible leading article in the "Manchester Guardian," which is a very knowledgeable paper upon housing questions, and a very wise paper.
§ "There is no necessity to assume that economy is the sole or even the leading motive for the abolition of the subsidy. In other respects the attitude of the Government is distinctly encouraging."
§ I will not read the rest of the article. It appeared on 9th December, and it does justice to the housing policy of the Government, which, in a word, is that we have to take a decision in view of the fact that we are no longer justified in paying a subsidy which is onerous to the taxpayer and is keeping up the price of housebuilding. We have to allow for a transitional stage. We have the good will of the building societies with all their experience, and we have the good will of the local authorities. We do not interfere in any way with their standards. We believe that we shall get a better house, a house with better accommodation, at a lower total cost. We believe, at any rate, that in carrying on with the slum clearance subsidy and doubling the rate of progress under it we can confidently recommend our policy, not dictated on the grounds of hare economy but on those of a wise and sensible housing policy, to the good will and practical sense of the majority of the House of Commons.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 238; Noes, 42.657
|Division No. 27.||AYES.||11.0 p.m.|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Edmondson, Major A. J.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.)||Elliot, Major Rt. Hon Walter E.|
|Albery, Irving James||Gazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Elliston, Captain George Sampson|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J.(Kent, Dover)||Chalmers, John Rutherford||Emmott, Charles E. G. C.|
|Atkinson, Cyril||Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Emrys-Evans, P. V.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric||Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)|
|Balniel, Lord||Christie, James Archibald||Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool)|
|Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Clayton, Dr. George C.||Essenhigh, Reginald Clare|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Flelden, Edward Brocklehurst|
|Belt, Sir Alfred L.||Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey||Fraser, Captain Ian|
|Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton)||Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Fremantle. Sir Francis|
|Bird, Sir Robert B. (Wolverh'pton W.)||Conant, R. J. E.||Fuller, Captain A. G.|
|Borodale, Viscount||Cook, Thomas A.||Ganzoni, Sir John|
|Bossom, A. C.||Crooke, J. Smedley||Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton|
|Boulton, W. W.||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Galnsb'ro)||Gillett, Sir George Masterman|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Glimour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Cross, R. H.||Gledhill, Gilbert|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Glossop, C. W. H.|
|Brass, Captain Sir William||Dalkeith, Earl of||Gluckstein, Louis Haile|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.||Goldie, Noel B.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y)||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Gower, Sir Robert|
|Buchan Hepburn, P. G. T.||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Denville, Alfred||Greene, William P. C.|
|Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Donner, P. W.||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John|
|Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Duckworth, George A. V.||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E.|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Duggan, Hubert John||Gunston, Captain D. W.|
|Carver, Major William H.||Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Guy, J, C. Morrison|
|Cassels, James Dale||Dunglass, Lord||Hall, Capt. W. D' Arcy (Brecon)|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Eastwood, John Francis||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)|
|Castle Stewart, Earl||Eden, Robert Anthony||Hammersley, Samuel S.|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||McKie, John Hamilton||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||McLean, Major Alan||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Savery, Samuel Servington|
|Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Magnay, Thomas||Scone, Lord|
|Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsf'd)||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Selley, Harry R.|
|Hepworth, Joseph||Margesson, Capt. Henry David R.||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Martin, Thomas B.||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.|
|Hornby, Frank||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw 'k)||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Howard, Tom Forrest||Mitcheson, G. G.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Cot. J. T. C.||Somervell, Donald Bradley|
|Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Morgan, Robert H.||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Moss, Captain H. J.||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.|
|Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.||Muirhead, Major A. J.||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Iveagh, Countess of||Munro, Patrick||Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)|
|James, Wing.-Com. A. W. H.||Nail, Sir Joseph||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)|
|Jamieson, Douglas||Nail-Cain, Arthur Ronald N.||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Jennings, Roland||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||North, Captain Edward T.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Ker, J. Campbell||Nunn, William||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)||O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Kerr, Hamilton W.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Kimball, Lawrence||Palmer, Francis Noel||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Kirkpatrick, William M.||Patrick, Colin M.||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)|
|Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R||Pearson, William G.||Train, John|
|Knebworth viscount||Penny, Sir George||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Knox, Sir Alfred||Percy, Lord Eustace||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Law, Sir Alfred||Powell, Lieut. Col. Evelyn G. H.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Leckie, J. A.||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Lees-Jones, John||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir John S.|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Ides)||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Ramsbotham, Herwald||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Lewis, Oswald||Ramsden, E.||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn. G. (Wd. G'n)||Ray, Sir William||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)||Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Lockwood, Capt. J. H. (Shipley)||Remer, John R.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Loder, Captain J. de Vere||Rentoul, Sir Gervais S.||Womersley, Walter James|
|Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S' V' oaks)|
|Mabane, William||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|MacAndrew, Lieut. Col. C. G. (Partick)||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Commander Southby and Mr. Blindell.|
|McCorquodale, M. S.||Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tslde)|
|McEwen, Captain J. H. F.||Salmon, Major Isidore|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Maxton, James|
|Banfield, John William||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Milner, Major James|
|Batey, Joseph||Granfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Nathan, Major H. L.|
|Briant, Frank||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Price, Gabriel|
|Buchanan, George||Harris, Sir Percy||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Cape, Thomas||Hicks, Ernest George||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||John, William||Thorne, William James|
|Cove, William G.||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Lawson, John James||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Daggar, George||Leonard, William||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Logan, David Gilbert|
|Edwards, Charles||Lunn, William||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||McEntee, Valentine L.||Mr. Groves and Mr. G. Macdonald.|
Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Sir H. Young.]