§ Section two of the Act of 1920 (which provides for certain increases in rent) shall have effect as though in paragraph (c) thereof for the word "fifteen" there were substituted the word "ten" and as though in paragraph (d) thereof for the word "twenty-five" there shall be substituted the word "ten."—[Mr. Cape.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. CAPE
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
Subsection (2, c) of the Act of 1920, to which reference is made, contains the words:in addition to any such amounts as aforesaid, an amount not exceeding 15 per cent. of the net rent.Sub-section (2, d), to which reference is also made, contains these words:where the landlord is responsible for the whole of the repairs, an amount not exceeding twenty-five per cent. of the net rent.2468 By this new Clause we seek to substitute 10 for 15 per cent., and 10 for 25 per cent. If my recollection serves me right in the discussion of the 1920 Act when it was passing through this House it was stated that the landlord was not amongst the people who had benefited by the wave of prosperity that was then passing over the country. From 1919 to 1922 we were going through what was supposed to be, and was, a time of reasonable prosperity. People who were in employment were getting higher wages than those of to-day, and people who had money invested were getting better returns than they receive to-day. It was argued that the landlords or property owners of the country should have some share of the national prosperity. The 15 per cent. was placed on the standard rent as a sort of gift to the landlord at that time, and the 25 per cent. for repairs was added on the understanding that the landlord would have to do all the repairs necessary to keep a house in habitable condition. It was argued that 25 per cent. was not too high a figure because of the high cost of materials and the high wages paid to workmen.
I submit that the two reasons for those figures have now entirely disappeared. Instead of our being in a time of prosperity we are passing through very serious depression, and every one has suffered, and none more than the workers. Wages have gone down to a low level in all phases of industry. Therefore the claim of the landlord has entirely disappeared. As a matter of fact I think we have placed the figure too high at 10 per cent. If I had my way I would say that 5 per cent. was an adequate amount to meet the landlords' demand, but 10 per cent. is in the new Clause, and no one can say that it is an unreasonable request. In regard to the 25 per cent. there is a good case for a reduction. 2469 We ask that the figure should be 10 per cent., and that is not too big a reduction if all the facts stated in official publications are correct. The wages of building operatives of every type have been considerably reduced since 1920. The price of materials used in house repairs is also considerably lower. The wages of the men who produce those materials have been reduced. There has been a decrease all along the line.
It is not too much to ask the Minister to say to landlords who have enjoyed this privilege for all these years, "The time has arrived when you must make a fair sacrifice as well as everyone else." That is applying the matter to the good landlord. But I submit that there are many landlords who have taken this 25 per cent. and spent none of it on repairs. It is well known to all of us who live in boroughs that, generally speaking, before repairs can be carried out, borough officials have to be brought in to certify that a house is uninhabitable. Many landlords have not spent anything like 25 per cent. on the repair of their houses. Mat type of landlord has taken advantage of the 1920 Act, and instead of doing what Parliament intended that he should do he has evaded his responsibility. But all the time he has collared the swag. The good landlord, on the other hand, has kept his house in reasonably good condition. But even the good landlord in receiving 25 per cent. is getting more than the repairs would cost. Otherwise he got considerably less than he ought to have had in 1920. When the 25 per cent. was given, there were no complaints from the landlords in regard to the amount. They felt that it was adequate to meet their demands. It is quite obvious that to-day it must be more than necessary to meet those demands. In those circumstances, I venture to think that the Minister will accept the new Clause. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] There is no reason why the right hon. Gentleman should not accept it, but he has been adamant during the Committee stage on this Bill. I asked him, however, to soften or relent a little in this case, to look upon this matter from a reasonable point of view, and to meet out request.
§ 8.56 p.m.
In supporting the proposed new Clause I should like to draw the Committee's attention to the manner 2470 in which the rents question affects the tremendous number of people who, during the last ten years, have had to put up with reduced incomes while this 40 per cent. has been added to their rents. I do not think there is any single question affecting the economic life of the working class of this country which involves a greater burden than the question of rent. I remember reading the opinion of a great economist to the effect that when a man was paying more than one-tenth of his income for shelter, he could not maintain a reasonable economic standard for his wife and children. If there was ever any truth in that statement at any time, it is particularly true to-day. Nothing affects working-class people more to-day than this question of rent.
Let us endeavour to analyse the position dispassionately and solely with a view to ascertaining the truth. The landlords were permitted a 40 per cent. increase, and I think it would be fair to say that all the property included in the first Rent Restrictions Act was property built before the War. We sometimes lose sight of the fact that the rents which were being charged when the first Act was passed, were economic rents fixed before the War, without any obstruction or interference, and in regard to which it is safe to assume that the landlord had fixed a rent which gave him a good return for his money. There was no real complaint when Parliament took into consideration the high standards prevailing in 1920, when the landlord was given reasonable protection in respect of money expended on his property and this 40 per cent. increase was allowed. But to-day nobody can defend the continuance of the 40 per cent increase, in respect of property built before the War, in face of the decline which has taken place in incomes in all classes of society and particularly among wage-earners. One of the first things which a National Government ought to consider is relieving the working people of this burden of the 40 per cent. increase, which cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be defended in 1933.
I suggest that no bigger grievance exists in the country than that of tenants being called upon to-day to pay a 40 per cent. increase which was allowed to the landlords at a time when the general economic conditions were far different from what they are now. There were 2471 some landlords who thought the 40 per cent, excessive. In some isolated instances it was never applied. I know of some landlords who were satisfied with 30 per cent. But the majority took full advantage of the concession. We may not have grudged them that concession in the years from 1921 to 1925, but, in 1933, when the general economic conditions have changed, we consider it a. scandal to expect working men to continue to pay a 40 per cent, increase on the 1914 standard rent, having regard to the reductions which have recently taken place in their wages. I should like to hear the Minister attempt to defend a continuation of the 40 per cent. increase under present-day conditions. Wages have gone down; the cost of repairs has gone down, and nearly every respectable landlord in the country would be satisfied, at this time of day, with something far less than 40 per cent.
The Government came into office on the promise that they would endeavour to share the burden and adjust the sacrifice. Here is their opportunity. They can deal with one of the greatest scandals from which the country is suffering by reducing this 40 per cent. to a reasonable figure. Very few landlords to-day could justify anything higher than a 20 per cent, increase on the rents charged in 1914 for their property. We ask the Minister, at least in one piece of legislation, to consider the serious lot of the wage earners and the people with small incomes and to adjust this matter within the realm of reason. The proposed new Clause gives the landlord "a fair crack of the whip," having regard to the conditions of 1933 and it gives the tenant some reasonable redress for the reduction of income from which he is suffering. We think that the country would welcome this new Clause and that no reasonable landlord would deny this concession to his tenants.
§ 9.4 p.m.
Mr. G. BRAITHWAITE
In view of the fact that I have put down a new Clause which goes part of the way with that of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape), it may be advantageous if I put my views on the matter before the Committee at this stage. I assure the Minister that I do so in no spirit of hostility to the Government, but in order 2472 to carry out a pledge, given to a very large number of my constituents who were good supporters of the National Government, that I would raise this matter on the Floor of the House of Commons. As one who is neither landlord nor tenant, I have endeavoured to hold the scales evenly in this very important matter, which, I think, the Committee can reasonably discuss on a nonparty basis.
The Order Paper shows that there is a considerable difference of degree in opinion on this matter in the House. The Government are apparently satisfied that the whole of the 40 per cent. permitted increase should remain, but the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) proposes that the whole 40 per cent. should be wiped out, and hon. Members opposite propose to reduce it by half. My view, after weighing the matter up as dispassionately as I can, is that if the permitted increase stood at 30 per cent. in all, justice would be done, but I can at least go that much of the road with hon. Members opposite. I should like to refer to a passage in the speech of the hon. and learned Solicitor-General when he was winding up the Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill. Referring to this subject, he said:If you take off the permitted increase of 40 per cent., or any part of it, you are going again to indulge in a glaring instance of retrospective legislation of a confiscatory kind. Again let it be remembered that, on the faith of these permitted increases, which have now been in force, I think, for 12 years, and possibly in the hope of decontrol in addition, countless sales have taken place. Let it be observed, also, that to take off the permitted increase now would hit hardest the best type of landlord—the man who has spent up to the hilt on the repairs for which he got his 25 per cent. He has spent that money in the hope of being able to recoup himself out of the permitted increase, and it is now proposed that that permitted increase should be cut off." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1932: cols. 265–6, Vol. 273.]I want, with the greatest respect, to submit to the Government and to the hon. and learned Gentleman in particular, whom I am sorry not to see in his place, that there is no ground for the statement that to reduce this permitted increase of rent is anything like confiscatory legislation. It has been admitted on all sides that it was hoped this rent restriction legislation would be temporary, but the permitted increase has been renewed 2473 year after year under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. It may be that sales have taken place on the assumption that that 40 per cent. permitted increase would continue, but there is no justification for any transfer of property having taken place on that basis. Everybody must have known that there was a possibility at any moment of such a Government coming into office as might be formed from the benches opposite, which would for once have the courage to do in office what it talked about in Opposition, and actually bring about a decrease of rents. Everybody must have foreseen that possibility.
It is as justifiable to say that blocks of 5 per cent. War Loan changed hands on the assumption that 5 per cent. would be paid until 1947, the latest possible date at which redemption could take place, but within the terms of the prospectus, a conversion scheme is carried out, and the 5 per cent. is reduced to 3½ per cent; and if the people waited to be redeemed, they found it was impossible to obtain 5 per cent. in any gilt-edged security. No one would suggest that the Government, in doing that, were carrying out "retrospective legislation of a confiscatory kind." They were carrying out something which they were strictly entitled to do, and they are equally entitled now to make a reduction in the permitted increase of rent. I claim that it should be done in the permitted increase for repairs and that the 25 per cent. for repairs might be reduced to 15 per cent.
There was one other argument which the hon. and learned Gentleman put forward on the same occasion, when he said:I have never heard the hon. Members"—He was referring to the hon. Members below the Gangway opposite, the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and the hon. Member for Gorbals—for example, suggest that the baker who supplies a loaf to an unemployed man is obliged to charge 40 per cent. less than the market price for it, or that the bootmaker who supplies a pair of boots to a man who is in part-time employment is obliged to charge 20 per cent. less than the market price for those boots."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1932; cols. 266–7, Vol. 273.]There again, with great respect, that argument is just a little specious. That is what has in fact happened. The price of food has decreased since 1920, the 2474 price of boots has decreased, and what the Government propose to do, so far from allowing events to take their course, is to peg rents until 1938 at what may well be an uneconomic level. It is very difficult to prophesy what the situation will be five years hence, but there might well be a decline in the value of property, and the proposal of the Government is to peg these rents at 40 per cent. above pre-War rates till 1938. I suggest that that is a very poor result for their conversion scheme of last year, which was supposed to set in motion the whole process of the decline of these heavy overhead charges of one sort and another.
When I put these views forward in the Second Reading Debate—I hope with moderation, as I am endeavouring to do now—I had in consequence an extremely interesting post-bag, and I should like to inform the Committee very briefly what the gist of that post-bag has been. It is not often that I aim in agreement with the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Price). but it confirms one point that he has just made, namely, that the good landlord has not availed himself of the whole of this 40 per cent. permitted increase. I have had cases in my constituency of landlords writing to me, objecting to my attitude. When I have gone into their cases I have found that they have never put on the whole 40 per cent. increase, and they thought they were going to suffer a reduction on a rent which had not been put up to the figure to which they were permitted to increase it. While I have had letters of that kind from the good landlords, it is only right to inform the Committee that I have had a different kind of letter, couched in terms of abuse which are not British, over signatures which are not British, from many of the industrial centres of this country; and it might be a small part of the Government's policy of protecting the British working man against the foreigner to do something to protect him against the bad slum landlord in some of these great areas.
There is one other point which I am entitled to put, particularly from these benches. We have often spoken on behalf of the direct taxpayer, and got very little sympathy from hon. Members opposite, but I can assure them that, however bad the direct taxpayer may be in himself, the item to which he objects least when 2475 the Government put their hands into his pocket is that part of the taxation which goes to the maintenance of the unemployed. I have never yet met a direct taxpayer who objected to the Government's hands being put into his pocket to maintain the unemployed. But he has every reason for objecting to the Government putting their hands into his pocket and taking out money to give to the unemployed to pass on directly to the landlord, thereby depriving the unemployed man of the proper expenditure of that money upon the sustenance of his family, for which it is really intended. I feel very strongly that rent forms far too great a proportion of the household budget of our people in a great number of these industrial centres.
The other day, when we had a private Members' Debate, initiated by the hon. Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Boulton), on excessive taxation, a speech was made by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove), on the benches opposite, who said that the direct taxpayer and the rentier, the holder of Government stocks, were one and the same person. If that were so, I should not be so inclined to press upon the Committee the view which I have just expressed, but the fact is—and it is a very extraordinary and interesting fact—that anyone who sees, day after day, deeds of transfer of Government stocks knows what a tremendous proportion of them Are held by people in very humble circumstances, below the Income Tax limit; and those people, to a huge extent, having patriotically accepted the conversion of their savings from 5 per cent. to 3½ per cent., are entitled to see the proper effect of that action in something being done to lower their rents. I desire to air, on behalf of large numbers of my constituents, who are supporters of the Government, what I believe to be a really legitimate grievance, and I hope the Government will be prepared to give sympathetic consideration to that point of view. If they were to meet us on this matter, so far from doing themselves any harm. they would be doing themselves a great deal of good, not only in this House, but among the millions of people in the country who desire the National Government to continue in office.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. LOGAN
No Amendment before the Committee has greater importance than this proposed new Clause. The substitution of 20 per cent. for 40 per cent. would be a real boon. One can certainly say that if 40 per cent. was right in 1920 it is not right to-day. Landlords are able to get their materials cheaper and labour is cheaper. When men are being turned adrift, most of them to the public assistance committees to get transitional payment, the Government, if they wished, could reduce poverty by recognising the justice and merits of the claim which we are now putting before the Committee. We have a right to see that there is equitable treatment as between landlord and tenant. I pay due regard to those landlords who are keeping their houses in a habitable state of repair and fit for human being to live in, but I am depressed when I look at the vampires, mostly aliens, in my city who are speculating in the need of our people for housing. I look round Liverpool and see the speculation that is going on in property which is causing additions to rents, and then I find that by an Act of Parliament men without souls are able to turn people adrift and charge whatever they like.
I do not think that the imposition of the 40 per cent. was ever intended by the House of Commons to enable these people to suck dry the blood of the bodies of those who have hardly enough on which to live. A case will be tried at Liverpool Sessions to-morrow of a young man who is paying 6s. for a room. He has been stealing to maintain a wife, child and himself. He has 8s. a week on which to keep three souls and has to pay 6s. for one room. It was only after pressure that he had it reduced from 7s. The room is in a house which is being let for 12s. a week, and there are six rooms in it which are let at the rate of 7s. each. If a man wants a fair return for his money, no one will begrudge an equitable return for a safe investment in property. The Minister of Health knows from his visit to Liverpool of the slumdom in the heart of the city near the Town Hall. There you have the greatest slumdom in the world. I have travelled extensively on the Continent, and I have never seen anything so terrible as in the Exchange Division. There under this system of 40 per cent. you are allowing profiteering to go on, not by legitimate landlords and those who 2477 have invested in properties for years, but by the speculator who buys up demolition areas and retains them. These men—God forgive me for calling them such—are given the opportunity by Act of Parliament to get this 40 per cent.
They have not any heart and soul and are continually going to the court and having people turned into the street because they cannot pay the extortionate rents. They come along pleading the law of England which enables them to grow rich at the expense of the poverty of our people. When the National Government with its economy stunts are practising economy all along the line, surely we on these benches have a right after these Acts have been in operation for 13 years to say that there is no justification with a fall of wages and prices for this 40 per cent. increase. Every hon. Member must feel in his conscience that the first duty of the nation is to make provision for decent homes. No nation can be proud unless its people are decently housed. The criminal statistics will decline from the moment the people are given the opportunity of living in decent homes. The conditions in regard to letting houses have changed entirely. Houses to-day are let with key money of anything from £15 to £20 by some of the aliens who are speculating in property.
There is not a house to-day that need be untenanted, because the demand is so great. Municipalities are not able to keep up with the building of houses, and because of the shortage we have given to the landlord a 'security that no one else in the country has. You give him the facilities of the Law Courts to collect arrears, and he can put tenants out into the street, while other men in business have to lose their money. They have not the same protection in their businesses that is given to the owners of property. Is the Minister so adamant that he can say that there is no justice in our claim for a reduction in the increase? It has been said that there is no justification for the cry that goes up from every part of the land that people are paying too much in rent, and that the nation is not giving sufficient housing accommodation at an economic rent which the people are able to pay.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I am giving reasons why the Minister should take action. In the area in which I live there are houses of 60 or 70 years of age in respect of which the landlords are receiving the 40 per cent. increase. Instead of being depreciated and being brought down to 50 per cent. below the pre-war rental, their owners are receiving the 40 per cent. imposition. If these houses were fit and tenantable and could be reckoned on an equitable basis with newly-built houses, it would be all right, but the owners of these old houses should not be able to claim this 40 per cent. increase. There is no man who can come here and justify such an imposition. It is because of that and because the Minister, who has been round the various cities, knows as well as anyone the housing conditions which exist—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must ask the hon. Member to keep more directly to the actual Clause under consideration.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I will keep within the Clause. I am trying to impress on the Minister that conditions have changed. We are now advocating a reduction of this 40 per cent., and I am giving these illustrations to point out to him facts which cannot be disputed. I think I have a right to point out that when this agreement was entered into there were certain emergency conditions which have disappeared in the course of 13 years, and at the end of that period we come along and in honesty, sincerity and truth we ask the Minister how he can resist an appeal such as this, which is going to bring rentals down and give an opportunity to people to live at an economic rental while giving to the just and fair landlord an honest return for the money which he has expended? I put it to the Minister that there is not a Member in this House who is not anxious to see redress given in the industrial areas, and I trust the Minister may see his way to make this concession and accept the Clause.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Sir SAMUEL ROBERTS
I had not intended to speak on this Clause, but I feel bound, as a colleague of the hon. 2479 Member who preceded the last speaker (Mr. G. Braithwaite) to differ very respectfully from his attitude on this subject. I do not want to get into an argument with him, but I want to make it clear that he is speaking for himself alone and that that attitude is not one which I could follow. There is one thing I should like to say. I do not think the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) should have brought in prejudice against property owners by referring to the alien question as much as he did. It was quite unnecessary.
§ Sir S. ROBERTS
I thought it was quite unnecessary prejudice. Another thing which hon. Members forget is that the owners of property are practically the only people who have been restricted all this long time. When the cost of living was 200 per cent. up and wages were over 100 per cent. above pre-War, the property owner was kept down to 40 per cent., and he did not share in the boom. All this time he has not been able to sell controlled property. It is an unmarketable commodity, and it has been extraordinarily difficult to raise mortgages on it when money was required. The property owner has a distinct grievance under control. For the public good he has been made to suffer, and I do not think it is fair to attack him in this way.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
There is a good deal to be said on both sides of the question. We want it to be clearly understood that we are not here making an attack on the landlords. We do not desire to attack the landlord who has recognised his duty. I believe the hon. Member who has just Spoken was a Member of the House when the 1920 Act was passed.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
When that Act was passed wages were very high. In the industry to which a number of us belong we remember that particular time very well, because the country was flooded with statements about the high wages that miners were earning, which were said to be from 18s. to 19s. a day. That was 12 years ago, and we have 8s. a day 2480 now. There has been a very considerable reduction in the wages during that period. The coalowners occupy a considerable number of houses, and it is not a question of merely 40 per cent. I know of any number of colliery houses where the rents have increased by over 100 per cent. as compared with pre-war. These houses were built 30 years ago, and I also know houses that are over 100 years old and which are occupied to-day. There is no desire to act unfairly towards the landlord, but we do say that hon. Members on the other side should have some regard to the necessities of the tenant. There is no justification for the continuance of this 40 per cent. increase in rent. We are not asking that the full 40 per cent. should be taken off, although, personally, I would be prepared to support the Clause in that sense which is to be moved by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean). This is a proposal that the increase should be reduced by 20 per cent. I do not think that is an unreasonable claim in view of the fact that wages have fallen in every industry and particularly in what are called the sheltered industries, which form a very large percentage of the working-class population.
In my own industry there are hundreds of thousands of houses owned by colliery companies, and the wages of the miners have fallen from a comparatively high level from 1920 until they have now reached the point which it is fair to say is not sufficient to maintain them in anything like decent comfort or which would justify asking them to continue paying the increase of rent which is at present in operation. As far as we know, the Government are still prepared to stand by what is an absolutely unreasonable attitude to adopt. I do not know anything about the position in Liverpool, but I do know what the position in Lanarkshire is. It is not aliens, but natives of Scotland who are largely responsible for the bad conditions under which our people are living. I do not know whether the Minister on this occasion will be any more willing to accept an argument from our side than he has been in the past, but if I were a Conservative or a Tory Member I would accept this Amendment because of the advantage it would give me in the country. From a political point of view, I do not much mind whether this 2481 Amendment is accepted or not, because if it is rejected that fact will be of very considerable advantage to us when the Government are compelled to face the electorate. When that time comes, I am afraid they will not be able to justify the action they are taking to-night by continuing the 40 per cent. increase on rents. I appeal to the Minister on other than purely economic or moral grounds, from the standpoint of his own political party and its future, to consider favourably the proposal we have put forward.
§ 9.36 p.m.
Sir H. YOUNG
The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) has made an appeal to me on what he calls arguments other than moral or economic—if he will excuse me for saying so, very much other. If I were always free to consider a decision in such a difficult matter as this from the standpoint which he has referred to, I quite grant that one could often attain a very much better measure of popularity, though with a very much less measure of justice.
Sir H. YOUNG
Listening to the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) I have to remind myself of something which was said on the Second Reading of the Bill, that we are dealing here with a rent restriction Bill, and that we cannot hope that such a Bill will heal the age-long conflict of interests between landlord and tenant. As long as the world lasts, or, if he prefers it as a good Socialist, as long as the present state of society lasts, there will be such feelings as he has expressed tonight on the part of tenants towards landlords, and equally intense feelings on the part of some landlords towards tenants. The marvellous thing in an ordered country such as ours is the way in which people get down to their difficulties and puzzle out a somewhat reasonable relationship to each other even when their economic interests seem to be in conflict. In this matter, which is one admittedly of very grave concern, it has been the function of the Government to try to see what is the just thing to be done. This cannot be decided as a matter of passion or emotion, and still less, with apologies to the hon. Member for Hamilton, as a matter of party policy. It has 2482 to be decided on figures—on the figures which support the justice of the claim or the justice of the response to that claim. That is what I shall attempt to do.
Let me point out in the first place a single overriding circumstance which governs the whole of this matter. We are dealing here with a very exceptional state of affairs in which there has been a great national emergency, the lack of an adequate supply of houses and State action of a very special nature taken upon that emergency. The effect of that action has been to deprive a certain section of the community of their legitimate expectations of a return upon their investments in property, in the interest of the community as a whole. That has been the essence of rent restriction. The landlord has been singled out from among all other classes of property owners, all other classes of investors, to make a contribution to the benefit of the economic welfare of the community as a whole. When we realise that that is the basis of rent restriction I think we shall agree to approach the question with the most careful anxiety to see that we are inflicting no fresh deprivation—I will not say hardship or injustice—that is unnecessary upon this class which has already been selected for sacrifice in the interests of the whole community.
Let me in that spirit deal with the contention that there should now be a decrease in the 40 per cent. permitted increase in rent. First of all there is the argument stated by an hon. Member opposite that wages have decreased and that consequently there ought to be an allowance in the matter of rent. Even if there has been a decrease of wages, what justification could there be for asking from this particular class of investors a fresh sacrifice by way of contribution towards the necessities of the community as a whole? It would be very difficult to justify it; but I would rather get at once to the facts of the case. As a matter of fact the increase in the rate of wages is still greater than the increase in the permitted rents including the rates. That being so, we find ourselves confronted with another instance of the old tragedy of the conflict of theory with harsh facts. The harsh fact is that the increase of wage rates is still greater than the increase per cent. of rent.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM indicated dissent.
Sir H. YOUNG
That is a fact which can be proved if the hon. Member for Hamilton will take the precaution, before he contradicts me of referring to the figures of the Minister al Labour. In the second place the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) advanced the proposition that the landlord's claim to an increase had entirely disappeared owing to the fall in the cost of repairs. That is simply not the case. If we take the figure for the cost of repairs in 1914 as 100 it will be found that in 1932, the last year for which I can get an exact figure, the figure is 175, showing an increase of 75 per cent. over pre-War. Therefore, it is not the case that the landlord's claim has entirely disappeared. There is still a very substantial claim. Another aspect of the matter is that it is absolutely misleading, and will lead one to do grave injustice, to consider the position simply as it stands at the present time, because the point of view of the landlord, the investor in house property, is that his interests have been affected over the whole period during which rent restriction has been imposed. If we are to consider what is just and fair between the landlord and tenant we must not only consider the position now, at one instant of time, but the total effect of what has been happening during the whole period of rent restriction. It is perfectly true, it is a conspicuous fact, that recently there has been a decrease in the cost of repairs, and that by taking simply the figure at the present time one might frame an argument that 40 per cent. is too high an increase.
If you will look back and consider the trend during the time that rent restriction has been imposed, you will see that the figure has been by no means too high. Taking the basic year 1914 again, and the cost of repairs at 100 in that year, in the year 1920, which was the peak year, the cost of repairs was up to 280; there was an increase of 180 per cent. compared with a permitted increase of 40 per cent. The simple fact is that during a long period of many years, during which rent restriction has been imposed, 40 per cent, has been absolutely inadequate to enable the landlords to effect repairs upon an economic basis. In considering the circumstances at the present time, when the cost of repairs 2484 has fallen, those who have, during so many years, put up with a permitted increase which was inadequate, must be allowed time to recover from the effect of the loss which they suffered during that period. It is an obvious fact that if, at any time during those years, rent restriction had been taken off, rents would have jumped up by 40 per cent, or by 100 per cent. It is part of the case of hon. Members opposite that if you took off restriction now rents would jump.
Sir H. YOUNG
I beg the hon. Member's pardon, but that point is not relevant to my argument. Rents would have jumped up during this period, if restriction had been withdrawn, by reason of the fact that landlords were unable, without loss, to carry out repairs on the basis of the 40 per cent. increase. We must consider the whole period, when deciding what to do at the present time.
Let me now deal with the other argument advanced by the hon. Member who spoke about the bad landlords who have not carried out repairs. There is no controversy if there are such, as to tenants being able to make use of their rights to secure repairs being carried out. For that we must seek a remedy elsewhere. Remedies are provided in the Bill. A tenant can refuse to pay the permitted increase if the repairs are not carried out. In the Bill which we are now passing, we adopt further machinery to assist the tenant to secure those rights by enabling the local authority to give information as to what the tenant's rights are. I hope very much that that will enable a greater number of tenants to secure their rights. Those are the appropriate remedies against the bad landlords who refuse to carry out repairs. It is absolutely inappropriate to confound the good landlords with the bad, and to make a general reduction of the permitted increase which would not be applicable on general grounds.
After the most careful consideration which it is possible to give to this question, I suggest to the Committee that the conclusion is forced upon us that there is no case, at the present time, for a reduction of the permitted increase of rent. We must regard the whole period during 2485 which rent restriction has been running, and we must also regard the future. We must regard the special restrictions which are imposed upon landlords in the very nature of rent control, and we are driven to the conclusion that, so far from being able to make a reduction in the permitted increase in favour of the tenant, any further reduction would be imposing a fresh and a quite inequitable burden upon those who have invested their money in house property.
§ 9.51 p.m.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
Most of us would be very sorry if the Minister made such a reduction. I do not expect the Minister to accept the Amendment which is on the Paper. To decrease 40 per cent. to 20 per cent. is too much to expect at one time, and that is why my name is down to a proposed new Clause which would have the effect of reducing the 40 per cent. to 30 per cent. I am not quite convinced by the argument of the Minister as to the sacrifices that the landlords have made in the last few years. We have to remember that during those years their property has been let and that they have been quite certain of their rent for the whole of the time. As compared with other people with money invested, they have had a safe and certain return over the whole of the time. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] They never had any empty property.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
This Bill gives the landlord permission to continue the permitted increase of 40 per cent. How long are they to be permitted to charge 40 per cent.? There is nothing in the Bill to say that there should be a lowering of rents. We beg the Minister to reconsider his position on this point. I was not struck with the argument that the average increase of wages is above what is said to be the figure for the cost of living. I have always held that the cost of living figure was somewhat of a myth, and I am very doubtful as to how it is calculated. Take the City of Bradford, where rates have gone up to 17s. 4d. this week from 16s. 8d. Under the old assessment they would be 30s. in the pound. In this calculation it is very doubtful whether the figures can be said to be perfectly correct. The question of 2486 rent is a vital one. Many people have been on unemployment pay and have been asked to make sacrifices. At the last General Election the unemployed man gave his vote for the reduction of unemployment pay, and he is entitled to ask for some reduction in his rent. I wonder at times whether the hon. Member for the Scotland division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) does not, in his excitement, damage his own case. I am not concerned with the particular type of landlord about which he speaks, except to see that he has justice.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
I would like the Minister to reconsider this question and try to meet us. If he cannot go as far as the 20 per cent. asked for in this Amendment, we should be satisfied, so far as we are concerned, with 30 per cent.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I expected that the Minister would reject this Amendment. I propose to try to meet the two-fold case which is the only case that I have heard put forward against it, namely, the case that, in the first place, all landlords are under special restrictions, and as such are entitled to this increase; and, secondly, that, if it were not for these restrictions, property, on an open market, would fetch considerably more. I grant at once, because it is undeniable, that landlords have been and are under restrictions, but the State always has certain classes from time to time under restrictions. Let me take the case of labour. The general theory in this country is that working people are allowed to withdraw their labour from time to time and force wages up as high as they can. But the State from time to time says that it will not allow certain classes of workmen to do that, because they are in a different category from other classes of workpeople in the country, and, consequently, large numbers of workpeople who could from time to time use a certain weapon are not allowed to do so because of that difference. For instance, the civil servant is not entitled to use that weapon, because the State says that he is of a different type, and the State has a right from time to time so to order its affairs if it wishes to do so.
2487 The same thing is true with regard to property. It is altogether wrong to say that you can argue about property in the same relationship as about any other commodity. Even if there were no shortage, property is in an entirely different position. Even if there were no shortage, and there were a fair number of empty houses, once a person enters a house he is not in the same position in which he would be in buying, say, clothes. He can change his tailor by a sweep of the hand, but, once you enter a house, you cannot shift about from time to time. Apart from the question of the number of empty houses, you have to judge from the point of view of the family, from the point of view of access to school, and the husband's access to his work; and the consequence is that the relationship in regard to property is different from that in regard to any other commodity. Therefore, the State comes along and says, in regard to the sale of property, that a certain increase shall be put on.
I do not want to argue now on the question of wages, but in 1920 the House of Commons thought that a 40 per cent. increase would meet the demand of the landlords; it thought that that was an adequate return for him to get. Now, in 1933, the House of Commons is asked to review the increase that it granted in 1920. To my mind, there is no doubt that the last speaker was absolutely sound on one point. Broadly speaking, the landlord is faced with two considerations, if not three, which formerly he had not to face. The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Essenhigh), who interrupted just now, said that in some cases the rent was not recovered, but I venture to say that the amount of un-recovered rent now, as compared with pre-War days, is very small. We used to have in the West of Scotland numbers of cases such as we hardly see now. They were called "moonlight flits"; a person shifted out of his house during the night. That kind of thing has been practically abolished now in the West of Scotland. I do not say that there are not people who do not pay, but, comparatively speaking, that has gone. It has gone for two or three reasons. One is the difficulty of getting other accommodation. A second is that the standards of the family are such that they do not 2488 think that such a thing should be done. Lastly, there is the power of the landlord to enforce the decisions of the court, even in other houses. The consequence is that that type of thing has disappeared.
Again, as compared with pre-War days the amount of unlet property is infinitesimal. As regards the question of repairs, even the Marley Report admits that the amount of repairs now being done is entirely unsatisfactory. Why do not the landlords carry out repairs? Because they do not need to do so—they can get their houses let almost without doing repairs. We are faced here with the fact that a set of people are being asked to pay a rent that they cannot afford to pay. Many people, who are living on unemployment benefit or very low wages, are being asked to meet a rent that they cannot possibly meet, and suffering is being inflicted on those people which the House of Commons has no right to inflict. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) was twitted for using an argument about political motives, but the House of Commons does not think itself so "uppish" that it never considers political motives. Every one of us considers political motives from time to time. Even Cabinet Ministers do so, as will be seen when the question of taxing the co-operative societies comes up. They have done so, and will do so again on a host of subjects from time to time, and quite rightly, because political considerations are merely the considerations of an intelligent public trying to get the power that is vested in the Government to respond to the public will. There is nothing wrong or unfair in that, and, of all considerations on which at the present time a demand is made, the most important is this question of rent.
The last speaker thought that this Amendment went too far, and would have limited it to 30 per cent., as against the 20 per cent. asked for in the Amendment. We have an Amendment down, on which I hope we shall be able to get a vote—we do not intend to speak on it if we can secure a vote—in which we ask for the wiping out of any increase at all. Every other section of the community is now sacrificing far more than this section. Take the people who invested their 2489 money in the Post Office Savings Bank. Throughout the War years, members of the working class who invested their money in the Post Office Savings Bank received their 2½per cent., and ever since the War they have received their 2½ per cent., while during that time they could have obtained 6 per cent. for their money. During all that time these people, chiefly belonging to the working class, have never asked that the interest on their investment should be increased—
§ Mr. LOUIS SMITH
Does not the hon. Member realise that anyone who had any money in the Post Office Savings Bank could have withdrawn it and invested it at a higher rate?
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I know, but an appeal was made to them to do it voluntarily, and, surely it cannot be argued that, because people do a thing voluntarily, they are to be treated differently from those who are compelled to do it?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
We cannot, on this new Clause, argue questions relating to the Post Office Savings Bank.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I was dealing with the point that that section of the community was voluntarily making sacrifices throughout those years. There is no denying that they could have got more. You will not tell me that they did not do it for the benefit of the State. During the War a soldier earned a particular wage and he could have demanded more but for the fact that he was engaged by the State. Will anyone tell me that the soldier, who underwent terrible sufferings, did not do it for a wage which, if lie had used his economic power, he could have enhanced? Years afterwards in the boom period civil servants and others could have demanded increases if they had taken advantage of their position. This rent increase is an intolerable burden, and it ought not to be forced on the people. Some of the property which will be affected in Glasgow is 100 years old. If you take an average period, it is no exaggeration to say that the age is 50 years and the tenants are paying rents which have been increased by 47 per cent. We think it is a very moderate request that that should be reduced to 20 per 2490 cent. We shall certainly vote for the Clause, and we hope we shall be allowed to vote for our own Clause to reduce rents at least to the 1914 level.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ Mr. LEONARD
The Minister of Health said that among the things that have been taken into consideration was the justice of the case. I am not prepared to challenge that, but justice as it appears to the right hon. Gentleman may be different from justice from our point of view. We desires to weigh in the balance all the advantages as between the landlords and the people who require the houses that are in the control of the landlords. The Measures which have been brought into being to deal with the housing shortage number, I believe, about ten, and they were brought in to cover emergency circumstances. I think the right hon. Gentleman used the term the overriding circumstances of the time. Shortage of supply was the determining fact which brought them into being during the period of the War. We are simply suggesting that, if you had to meet the overriding circumstances of War, you are entitled to meet the circumstances which have been created as a result of the War. We cannot forget that these Acts were restrictions upon the greed of landlords, who saw a fine opportunity and were preparing to take all the advantage they could of it until you had to step in because you deemed it to be a national necessity to control them. It is equally a national necessity to reduce the advantage which has been given to the landlord for, I think, 11 years. I have listened to the statement of Ministers about fluctuations in the cost of repairs. When I hear these statistics, I remember the definition given by one who is regarded by hon. Members opposite as an authority, namely, Sir Josiah Stamp, that a statistician is a gentleman who is brought in when your own figures can neither stand up nor lie for themselves.
We must bear in mind that fresh types of people are being brought into unemployment as month passes month. I am not making any special plea for grades in society, but there is no shutting one's eyes to the fact that there are people now being affected by unemployment who are finding it very hard to keep the position in regard to houses that they previously kept. Some regard has to be paid to the 2491 anxiety and worry that attaches itself to large numbers of persons who, it was previously thought, would not be undergoing the turmoil of unemployment. People in overcrowded houses are prevented from going elsewhere and even a little respite in the form suggested by the new Clause might be helpful. With regard to Glasgow, the datum from which we start, namely, 1914, is not a very desirable one, because for a good number of years prior to 1914 those in control of property there pursued a policy which was creating a shortage of houses and that was taken advantage of to increase rents. I am sometimes asked by tenants in St. Rollox what rent I think they should be paying for their houses, and I would challenge anyone to accompany me into some of those houses and say what they think would be a fair rent to pay for them. As a matter of fact, what has been said with regard to the complete withdrawal of the increase would be justified.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. HARCOURT JOHNSTONE
I have felt a sense of disappointment at the speech of the Minister of Health. I understood and admired the way in which he put the statistical reasons for disagreeing with this Clause, and I say quite frankly to the hon. Members responsible for it, that the figure which they are asking is not the exact figure for which I myself would ask. In my opinion the Clause to be moved later in the name, among others, of my hon. Friend the Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) approaches justice more nearly. We ought not to forget that in the matter of housing and rent we are dealing with a very special subject. The Minister admitted it, and made it one of his pleas for the rejection of the Clause. He said that owners of house property had been treated by the State as a very special class, that special sacrifices had been asked from them as a result of housing shortages, that they had lost great profits which they might otherwise have made, and that the proposed permitted increases in the Bill were to some extent to be a compensation for the sacrifices which they had had to undergo in times when the cost of repairs was much higher than it is now.
Those facts are undeniable as facts, but I do not think that they are undeniable as reasons. Rent and housing come under 2492 a very special definition. Housing shelter is the first requirement of all human beings. The State has a. very special responsibility for it, and has accepted and assumed rightly in the post-War years a very special responsibility for it. Secondly, we must not forget that to people of small incomes, and particularly to those who are unfortunate enough to be out of work, rent is the most formidable item in the household budget. It is so formidable that sometimes it must stagger the imagination of those who do not have to deal with household budgets of that size. It is not only the size of the rent itself, but the recurrence of the payment week after week. The impossibility of getting round it and the impossibility of substituting anything but a house for a house—all those things put the weekly rent in a very special category of the burdens which the poorer section of the community have to bear.
We must not forget, in passing, the origin of the present House of Commons. It came into being at a time when sacrifices in the national interest were being called for from all sections of the community, and all sections of the community with a very remarkable unanimity responded to that appeal. I think that a Government which calls itself, with justification, a National Government, because it does in fact represent very diverse views in its composition, if it is to retain any justification for that name, should make a special effort to deal with the question of rent. There have been cuts in unemployment pay, cuts in the pay of the servants of the State, cuts in the return upon War Loan, and numerous cuts in all directions. Life has become harder for all sections of the community. It has become intolerably harder for the poorest, and among the burdens they have to bear the burden of rent is by far the most formidable. The Government, having undertaken so great a responsibility for rent and for housing, cannot argue that it must deal with this question of rent restriction on an ordinary contractual basis any longer. If it saw fit to fix the present increase at a time of grave crisis, in war time, at the present time, also a very special crisis in the lives of many of our poorer fellow subjects, it has an equal right to meet their case with special measures again. I would most sincerely ask the Minister if he 2493 cannot at a later stage give us some indication that he will make some concession, even if it is not the concession asked for by hon. Members opposite.
§ 10.21 p.m.
Sir H. YOUNG
I do not know whether I can appeal to the Committee to come to a decision on this new Clause. We have had a very full discussion. Hon. Members will recall that we have an understanding to come to an end of the Committee stage at a reasonable hour. There are many interesting new Clauses still to be debated. In the interests of the Committee in the use of its own time if we could come to a decision on the Amendment now, it would leave us more time for the other Amendments.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
I do not desire to detain the Committee very long. We have had expressions of opinion from all sides of the Committee supporting to some extent the new Clause that we have moved. It is true that there is a difference of opinion as to whether the permitted increase should be 20, 30 or 40 per cent. The fact that the Minister is not prepared to accept the Amendment leads to the conclusion that the Government are deliberately supporting the landlord element. They certainly have manifested a deliberate class bias in favour of the landlord class as against the tenant. There is hardly a grade of labour in this country to-day that is not down upon pre-War conditions. The miners are paid just about an equivalent of their pre-War rate, apart from the question of the cost of living. The same thing almost applies to the railwaymen and to all grades of the main key industries of the country, and there can be no case for the landlords receiving 40 per cent. in addition to the pre-War rent, which they stated at that time to be an economic rent. We would not agree that it was an economic rent in those days. There was an enormous shortage of houses in pre-War days and the landlords extracted substantially large rents for the houses in those days.
For the Government to agree that the 40 per cent. must continue until 1938 and from that date forward, and perhaps in any case so far as they are concerned to continue in perpetuity, is a grave injustice to the millions of people now living in controlled houses. We have made 2494 appeal after appeal to the Minister and we wonder whether it would not be possible for the supporters of the Government to support the Amendment. One of the hon. Members for Sheffield agreed not exactly with the terms of the Amendment but that there should be some reduction. After all the sacrifices demanded from the country, whether in unemployment pay, in wages, or salaries since the present Government came into office, the time has arrived when the Government ought to press the landlords by enacting that they shall be made to pay at least some contribution towards the economies of the country.
I wonder whether hon. Members opposite made pledges to the electorate at the last election on this matter? I know that in my constituency, and probably in many more, questions were asked and answered in relation to this subject and, unquestionably, it is the clamant demand of millions of people. There can be no justification for the continuance of this 40 per cent. increase on the pre-War rents when wages and salaries, which are related to the cost of living, are now back almost to pre-War level. This class has exacted an enormous tribute from the people of this country. It was purely an emergency measure. Undoubtedly the cost of living was high, but since that time wages in the mining districts have been reduced by more than 50 per cent., actually 54 per cent., and the wages of railwaymen, which are governed by the cost-of-living scale, have been brought nearer to pre-War level. The same applies to all grades of labour in the key industries of the country. We, therefore, appeal to the Government to accept the proposal.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I make no apology to the Committee for continuing the Debate. We have had no concession at all from the Minister of Health; yet he has the brass face to appeal to us to give him a concession while we, who have been appealing to him all day, have not got one little concession. The right hon. Gentleman rises quite confidently at that Box and suggests that, seeing he has been such a nice kind christian gentleman, we should give him a little concession. He will get no concession from me. May I thank the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. H. Johnstone) for his contribution to this Debate. What did 2495 the Minister of Health say when he rose a few moments ago? He said that we were dealing with an exceptional state of affairs. That is true. We are dealing now with the most serious thing which affects the lives of the great mass of the people—rent. If the Germans had won the War, they could not have inflicted upon our folks anything worse than is now inflicted by those who own the homes in which our people live by the manner in which they have increased rents. The greatest bugbear of working-class life to-day is to know how they are to meet the demand for rent. As the hon. Member for South Shields has said, to his everlasting credit, because he does not know what it is to be up against it, and all the more credit to him for the speech he has made to-night, the first charge on the household budget is the rent. They starve in order to pay their rent. The great desire of everyone is to have a home of their own, to have a roof over their head, and they will do everything they can to retain it. That is the subject that is under discussion now.
The Minister states that it is an exceptional state of affairs and that we should see that the property owners get a fair deal. I ask the Minister of Health and the House to remember why this subject comes before the House at all for discussion. It is because the individuals who own the homes of the people took advantage of the people when those people were up against it during the War. They raised the price of the homes when they had no right to do so. The statement by the property owners at the time was that when profiteering was abroad in the land they were going to have a share in the swag. But the houses they owned were not produced in abnormal times when the cost of material and labour was enhanced. These houses were built before the War, and there was no justification for raising rents other than a desire to take advantage of the country at a time when it was fighting for its life.
That is what the property owners did, and we were forced on the Clyde to take direct action. We went on strike. We gave the Government and the country the choice either of meeting us with reasonable demands or they would not get the shells. That was the situation. 2496 [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the lives of those in the trenches?"] What about the lives of those who were at home and those in the trenches When a test case was brought and you sent up Lord Hunter, we had 200 cases before the Rent Court in Glasgow, and of the tenants in those 200 cases no fewer than 180 had either brothers or fathers fighting on the bloody fields of Flanders. Talk to me about the boys who were in the trenches ! We always stood by the boys in the trenches. The workers on the Clyde did so. And the profiteers are here now to take advantage of the boys that were in the trenches. We always stood by the boys who were in the trenches and we are standing by them now.
Wages have decreased, and the Minister says: "Even suppose they have, why should we ask for further sacrifices on the part of property owners?" Every section of the community has been asked to make sacrifices, even Cabinet Ministers—who would have believed it?—never mind Members of Parliament. All have been asked to make sacrifices. It is beyond me and it has always been beyond me why this section of the community should get preferential treatment. I have shown what they did when the country was up against it, and my statement is irrefutable. [Laughter.] I like to see hon. Members opposite laughing. A minute or two ago an hon. Member referred to my colleague the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan), because he got a bit excited when discussing this matter. I wish the well-fed and well-dressed gentlemen opposite would go and live in the same locality as the hon. Member for the Scotland Division. They would then know what we are here defending. They do not know anything about it now, and cannot understand why we get a bit excited and make desperate attempts to defend the folk whom we represent. The Minister said that repairs are expensive and that 40 per cent. is not too much. But I want to remind the Minister that the property owners do not carry out the repairs. Yet rents were never paid better than they are being paid to-day, [Interruption.] Never mind. If you want to be insulting, I can be as insulting as anybody.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I think it would be better if hon. Members addressed the Chair and not each other.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Thank you for that word Captain Bourne.It nerves my heart, it steels my sword.I was speaking about repairs, and I want to tell the Minister of Health that landlords do not do the repairs. Before the War, before we had this legislation, they did certain repairs. Remember that this legislation had to be introduced to protect the people. There was no rent legislation before the War. This legislation was put on the Statute Book to protect the poor from these landlords and property-owners and the Minister now suggests that we ought to give them a square deal and that we ought to deal gently with them. Before the War, in Scotland at any rate, they did the internal repairs and decorative work. They whitewashed the walls in the ordinary artisan house, the two-apartment house. The poor labourer had only a one-apartment house consisting of a room and a kitchen. They papered the walls of the room, and as regards the kitchen the tenant got a line from the factor to go to a painter and get the paint and he did the painting himself.
Those were all matters that cost money, but since the War not a single factor in the West of Scotland pays out that money They only keep within the law, and all the law of Scotland says is that the property-owner must keep the house wind and weather tight. That is all the length they go, and indeed, as I am reminded, they do not even go that length. The Minister also said that in 1920—an unfortunate date for him to quote—the cost of repairs was 180 per cent. That is true but workers' wages particularly in the West of Scotland were up 200 per cent. That was the peak year for wages. Since then what a change has taken place. The engineer—my own trade—has had his wages reduced from £6 down to £2 17s. 6d., and that is for those who are working, but we have 38 per cent. unemployed, and they are reduced to £1 2s. 6d. and all that that means. The standard of life has been lowered in keeping with that. Their wages have gone down from £6 to £2, on the average, and surely we are not asking too much when we come forward with this proposal—we who believe in our inmost being that we 2498 are asking only a fair thing when we ask that the whole increase in rent should be removed.
We believe that that would be only justice, but in order to remove all the arguments that could be brought against us, that we were asking too much, we thought we would try this Minister of Health, who has quite a good reputation in the Labour party. We thought that by putting forward this mild Amendment we would get this concession. We have removed the idea that would be brought against us that, if we had tried the Minister with something less, we would have got it, but that we went too far in asking for all the increase to be removed and therefore got nothing. Now we have used all the powers we could, with such eloquence as we possess. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"] I know hon. Members would give all they have for the same eloquence. We have tried to put before the Committee our actual experience, and we have tried to get the Committee to realise the terrible conditions under which our own folk live. Never mind India. This House goes into ecstasies about India, and Russia, and Germany—any place but here. This House is always interested in those abroad, and we are going to move Heaven and earth to defend four or five men in Russia and may well go to war over it, but here we have tens of thousands of our own folk, of our own kith and kin, of the poor whom we asked to defend this country in the last war, to defend those homes in respect to which they are not able to meet the demands of those who own them.
My last word is this. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"] Hon. Members would like me to stop, but I am just getting into fettle. I am asking the Committee to remember something else which is very serious. We have not only to consider the increase of rent, but the increase in rates which it carries with it. Rents now are of such a character that while prior to the War in the West of Scotland the workers paid on an average one-twelfth of their incomes in rent, to-day they are being asked to pay one-quarter. It is ridiculous to expect that that can be met. Surely too much rent is being asked now. Is it too late in the day for the Minister to get up and accept this mild Clause? He has been appealed to from every side of the Committee. I 2499 am sure, that if the most hardened Tory went into a working-class area and saw the conditions, he would understand the terrible nightmare of the poor women and the mothers of the working-class who have a harder struggle to spend the money than the men have to earn it. The mothers of the working class are having a terrible struggle to maintain body and soul; they have to struggle as with a steel band, trying to get the ends to meet, but the ends never meet and are eternally bursting open. These are the conditions that prevail. It is on behalf of those folk that I appeal to the Minister of Health to give us this small Clause. If he does that, it will be a credit to him, and he will do something to justify his existence.
§ 10.47 p.m.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I desire to associate myself with the proposed new Clause, which is perfectly reasonable. I do not expect the Government either to accept it or to give any modification. I realise that the Government are a property owners' government, and that every house factor, landlord and sheriff's officer in the country has backed them. They are members of political organisations which they have backed and financed, and which have given the Government their energy at election times, and they expect the Government to operate laws and Bills in order to grant them the highest standard of rent which it is possible to extract from the working class. Realising that, I do not expect any concessions in any shape or form that would materially affect the interests of those who are behind the Government as a political force. There may be a case to be made out for some properties that were built at the time of the high cost of building, but there are houses which are a disgrace to a boasted civilised society. We have in the Glasgow area houses which, if the authorities were performing the task they ought to perform, would result in the owners being prosecuted for attempting to get rents for them.
We talk in this House about six men in Russia who may be in danger, as the Secretary of State said, of losing their lives, and the House gets into a state of passion because of them, but by your every action you extract the last drop 2500 of blood from every individual in the community in order to keep your class with its standard of comfort, while you grind the working classes down to the bottom of the social ladder. I cannot understand the ideas or the mental outlook of Members of this House who attempt to make the people believe that they are indignant because of danger to the health and life of six citizens, when they go on by systematic methods grinding the poor into their graves, into mental institutions and to the very utmost depths of poverty and despair. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Rubbish."] I hear an hon. Member say "Rubbish." I often hear this hon. Member with his sarcasm in this House in relation to working-class interests, and to me he is an individual who does not live in a world of reality but is a living man dead from the shoulders upwards who does not realise the problem of the working classes in any shape or form.
Let me give a typical example. I had a letter from a constituent of mine who pays 7s. 6d. rent for a small single-apartment house. That woman, with her husband, five children and another child expected in only two months time and with a boy who has returned after two years and two months in Rob Royston Hospital—although down in the very depths of poverty and despair, is being asked to pay a rent of 7s. 6d. for a house, the rent of which only 20 years ago was 2s. 9d. per week. Yet we are expected to sit in a docile manner like robots when an individual of this character, who realises nothing concerning the lives of the common people, pours his scorn, wrath and indignation upon working-class representatives who seek to represent truly the people who elected them to this House. We realise that in regard to these houses there are differences.
I go round with school teachers and sanitary authorities in the city of Glasgow to many of the houses for which increased rents are being paid. I went into one in the division of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and we discovered a little house where you had to bend down under the stairs to go through a doorway that led you into a small room which had been used as a washing house. The old boiler which had a fire under it was covered with wooden planks and here was living an 2501 old man who was sleeping four feet below the ground surface. There was water running from the walls, and not a single inch of ventilation and he was paying 6s. rent. The property was 235 years old. The original rent for the average room and kitchen in the house was 1s. 3d. per week, and they are paying as high as 8s. 6d. and 9s. for houses of that character at present.
I went to other areas where there were nine houses in a corridor with something like 54 adult persons living in these nine houses, using one common lavatory with an entry that had never seen paint for almost 20 years. Every window at the stairhead was broken and had been boarded over. Yet the authorities allow in a place of that sort in the city of Glasgow, rents to be charged of that character. I know something about the conditions of the common people in relation to houses. There is not a single house of the old pre-war character in the Shettleston Division in which I have not worked in the plumbing line. From my boyhood up to my manhood I have gone systematically through every house, in different employers' businesses and on my own for 15 or 16 years in the plumbing line, and I say that your stables for racehorses and your public lavatories are palaces compared to the homes for which you are expecting people to pay these increases of rent for.
We come to this House, without apology in any shape or form, and say that if there is to be equitable economy all over the country the landlords ought to be asked to contribute something to the national well-being. Why should they be allowed to go on charging for houses of that character? The Government connive at a system which gives these increased rents to men who are not entitled to them. Prior to the War tenants could go into houses in the month of March and have them rent free until the 28th of May, and in addition the landlords would paint and paper the room and kitchen and the bathroom and paint the outside doors—just in order to get the tenants. I have seen tenements in which three only out of 12 houses were occupied. Since then the law of supply and demand has operated, and to-day the houses are all occupied, and though the wages of those who inhabit the houses have gone down and down this selected section of the profiteer- 2502 ing class is being allowed to retain their high rents. No Minister of Health and no Government can put up a defence for that state of affairs.
Germany has, since the War, given three decreases of rent to the working class, had three rent reduction Acts, so that as the incomes of the people were depressed by cuts and reductions in wages and by unemployment they were to that extent relieved of the burden of rent. Here, since the War, the returns from property have steadily gone up. The losses which landlords previously had to bear through tenants quitting their homes in the dead of the night, because they could then move from one house to another, have disappeared. Tenants are now tied down to a house, with no opportunity of changing. They have got to pay up or get into the street or into the workhouse. The working class are held by the throat by the property-owning section of the community in the most ferocious manner. The Government, I know, will perpetuate that system. I say, frankly and openly, because I believe it to be true, that they are doing to death thousands of children who are unable to get the nourishment and the ordinary decencies of life because of the portion of the income which is extracted as rent from working class budgets. We are compelling them to contribute the lion's portion of the income as rent.
You apply the means test, you make reductions in salaries, in every way you go on making reductions, and we have to keep this class whose hands are dripping with the blood of working-class children. We have to go on maintaining them in their comfort and their serenity. The Government come forward with these Bills to keep faith with those behind them, these brute beasts of the jungle who control the means of life, who dictate to the Government. The Government are not free, and Ministers are not free, to make their policy. They are the servants, the puppets, the robots of those who are behind them, who control property and control finance. I shall be quite frank to-night. I make no appeal to the Minister. I realise that he is only a representative of that class in this country and has got to do his duty. He is paid so much per month or per year for carrying out the orders of the ruling 2503 class, but I can conceive of the time when the working class will come along and they will take possession of your houses, and of the means of life, and they will usher in a decent standard of society in which human comfort, happiness and health will be the most valuable assets and will be the first claim upon the community. You can, go on extracting your high rents, but one of these days
§ you will be shaken from your slumber by the awakening of the working class, and by their combination of brain power and energy they will displace you by a humane, civilised and Christian system of society.
§ Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 63; Noes, 241.