§ 7.36 p.m.
Sir H. YOUNG
I beg to move, in page 50, line 38, after "times," to insert:(or, if the house is occupied by an owner thereof and has been owned and occupied by him or by a member of his family continuously during the three years immediately before the date on which the order is confirmed, three times).This Amendment has been put down in order to fulfil the undertaking which I gave to the House on the Report stage to reconsider the question of compensation which can be paid to an owner-occupier when his house is marked for clearance under the provisions of the Slum Clearance Act, 1930. A very strong opinion was expressed from many quarters of the House, if not from all, that special consideration should be given to the case of the owner-occupier. If I can accurately summarise a long and interesting Debate, the basis of the opinion was that the owner-occupier 1212 deserves particular consideration in comparison with other owners, in the first place because his interests are so vitally affected; but I think what was more particularly in the minds of hon. Members was the circumstance that when an owner-occupier is living in a house which is unfit for habitation if there is any injury it is an injury which he himself suffers. He is imposing no injury upon any other person, he is not making a profit by an unsocial act towards tenants who obtain their accommodation from him.
On that occasion I had to deal with two Amendments, one proposed by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) and the other by the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), and in undertaking to give consideration to the arguments pressed upon me I pointed out that in meeting the case for providing moreadequate—more generous, if you like—compensation for the owner-occupier I must adhere to the principle ca relating the compensation to the actual value of the property which was being taken, and to no other value at, all. On that basis I come to the conclusion that we come nearest to our common intentions in an Amendment which is practically the same as that proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds, which extends the compensation to three times the conventional sum which can be claimed by the owner-occupier under paragraph (b) of The Clause to which we refer. The House will see that we confine this to a house which has been owned and occupied "by him or by a member of his family." That is to deal with the possibility ofsuccession through the death of the owner-occupier during the period, a period which is limited to three years. The purpose of limiting the period is to rule out the possibility of this provision being abused by fictitious transfers to tenants in order to put them in the fictitious position of owner-occupier when that is not the true position. I feel the 'Committee will consider that this Amendment fully meets the desire of the House on the occasion I have referred to, and I hope they will add it to the Bill.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. STRAUSS
I should just like to say that in the opinion of myself and of my friends, far too heavy burdens 1213 have been already put on the ratepayers in respect of compensation to owners of slum property. I do not want to discuss the justice of this extra compensation. If there is a case for better compensation it is the case of the owner-occupier, but I say that the Government have put an immense burden on the ratepayers, the effect of which will be to slow up the work of rehousing people living in slums and to make it very much more expensive. I think it is thoroughly undesirable to impose this further burden of compensation to which the Government have been induced to agree at the last moment. This additional burden should not be placed on the ratepayers but on the tax payers, and should come out of the Exchequer, as, in fact, should all the additional compensation which the Government are giving in this Measure to slum landlords of various classes.
§ 7.42 p.m.
Mr. D ENMAN
I regret that there should be any discordant note in the reception of this Amendment, especially from the bench behind the Opposition Front Bench. I admit that I had expected discord from the Opposition Front Bench Members, because they did their very best when this matter originally came up to prevent the owner-occupier having the benefit of this very modest little measure of compensation. They not only desired to prevent him from getting it, but did all they could to pre vent the subject even from being discussed. They tried to surround it with all manner of political prejudice, and they succeeded in deceiving the "Daily Herald." The "Daily Herald," as we all know, is strict in its presentation of facts. The Opposition Front Bench led them so much astray as to make them completely misrepresent the facts of the Debate and to mis-state the issue. I must quote the result of the Opposition Front Bench attacks, because they tended to create political prejudice which ought not to have been introduced into this matter. The back bench Members of the Labour party were perfectly right in their attitude. They understand perfectly well, as the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Opposition would understand, the fundamental difference between owning property for use and owning it for profit. Our Amendment dealt solely with those who were owning it for personal use, and 1214 the Members on the Labour back benches were entirely justified in giving it the support they did.
But let me return to the "Daily Herald." Their report of that Debate was given under a large headline, occupying half a page, saying "Minister gives in to slum owners." To designate these owner-occupiers as slum owners is to create an impression which, to say the least, is misleading. Then they went on to state, in large print, that the Minister had "acceded to Tory demands for an increase in the compensation to landlords under the Housing Bill." There, again, the owner-occupier is not a person whom one would ordinarily describe as a land lord if one wished to present a picture that would be understood. Then they descended from large to ordinary print to say:A group of Tories demanding high compensation for landlords, led by Lord Eustace Percy and Lord Winterton, added to the Government's discomfiture by demanding more for slum landlords.I have not the least doubt that to-morrow when the facts are pointed out the "Daily Herald" will make amends for these misstatements. It is merely the result of the series of speeches issued from the Front Opposition Bench on which all those statements were based. Just to make the position perfectly clear, and as the right hon. Member for Wake field (Mr. Greenwood) is present, I will quote his own words. He began with these words:We have opened the door in one Amendment"—mine is here referred to—to a rediscussion of compensation for slum landlords; we are to open it again in this new Amendment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May,1935; col. 1919; Vol. 301.]the Noble Lord's. As he led the "Daily Herald" astray, I hope he will do his best now to make the truth plain. The truth was perfectly plain at the time. The Noble Lord's Amendment and his own express language clearly con fined the case to the occupier owner. The House came to the conclusion that the occupier owners deserved better treatment. My right hon. Friend has taken the Amendment proposed by my Leeds colleagues and myself, and, as we should expect from my right hon. Friend, he has adorned and improved it. He has added buttons to it that make it in many ways more presentable and more accept- 1215 able to the occupier owner, and I thank him very sincerely on behalf of myself and my friends for the acceptance of the Amendment and for his conduct on that occasion, which though it occasioned some criticism has justified itself in the result.
I ought to close with one word of apology to the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) and his colleagues whose Amendment went so much further than mine. I feel guilty rather of the crime of blacklegging, of accepting something that is inferior to trade union conditions, in accepting an Amendment which does not go so far as the Amendment of the Noble Lord. My only excuse is that I have long learnt in this House that one gains more of one's objectives if one advocates some thing that a Minister may reasonably accept rather than something one would like to get.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
We came to an honourable understanding some time ago with regard to the completion of the Report stage of this Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Oh, yes. The hon. Member has thought fit to raise what he might have said in three words—his words of thanks to The Minister for accepting this Amendment—but he has gone out of his way to attack me for something for which I have no responsibility, the control of the "Daily Herald." I am bound to enter my emphatic protest against this deliberate violation of an honourable understanding reached in this House a fortnight ago. The hon. Member has had an Amendment accepted. He should have been satisfied. If he lets loose a large volume of criticism no doubt the Noble Lord will want to say some thing. That being so, agreements of this kind come to nothing. The speech which I made on this particular issue was not a speech either against the slum land lords or against the owner-occupiers. My first protest in this House was made because the hon. Member moved an Amendment to a recommittal Motion which no Minister ever in the history of this House has accepted. The Minister quite rightly and properly spurned the idea of accepting the hon. Member's Amendment to are committal Motion. But the large looming figure of the Noble Lord arose in the House and spread his long arms over the right hon. Gentleman 1216 on the Front Bench and cast a spell over him, and the Minister then accepted the recommittal. That was our first protest and a perfectly proper protest. Our second protest was that in this next stage of the Bill through a pure accident of machinery the House of Commons was used to open financial questions which normally every Member of the House thought would have been closed at the end of the Committee stage. We were entitled to make that protest. We were entitled also to make the protest that the right hon. Gentleman not only accepted the recommittal Motion but gave a little more money even to owner-occupiers in slums who there by are slum landlords.
§ Sir FRANCIS FREMANTLE
It is not confined to owner-occupiers in slums. What is the point of putting in the word "slums"
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) based his case on the owner-occupier. The Minister of Health made a concession greater than that asked for my the hon. Member for Central Leeds. It is a concession which goes far beyond, as I under stand it, what was asked for by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle).I am bound to protest against this suggestion that I or anybody else should go out of his way to try to influence newspapers. We are not as successful at it as the Postmaster-General. He is conducting a campaign on this question with the backing of hon. Members on the other side of the House. Here is a suggestion made for some reason or another by the hon. Member for Central Leeds, magnifying his own importance in this question, that we go out of our way to misrepresent what he and the Minister says. I am bound to say that it is a little unfair at this hour of the evening, one and a half hours after our understanding about the completion of the Report stage, that the hon. Member for Central Leeds should have thrown this problem into this maelstrom of political discussion. If hon. Members wanted it so much, they should have had it earlier. I have tried to be very reason able in conducting all the negotiations and discussions on this Bill. Nobody can say that either on the Floor of the House or in Committee have I followed obstructionist tactics. The House ought to know that my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House resent 1217 very much the intervention of a speech which makes so unnecessary and wanton an attack on people on this side of the House, and which makes an attack on a newspaper for something which has nothing whatever to do with the Amendment, thus impeding the House and undermining the confidence of Members in a gentleman's agreement.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Earl WINTERTON
In the whole of my experience I have never heard a more unjustifiable speech than that to which we have just listened. During a period which, by arrangement through the usual channel, was devoted to the Report stage, it is true to say that something like 80 percent. of the time has been taken up by Members opposite. Not content with that, they interrupt each other, and, if there has been any waste of time, it is solely due to them. As regards the immediate question at issue, the right hon. Gentleman, while ready enough to attack other Members and to impute the most mean motives to them, is furious with other people for attacking him. He thinks his position is so good in this House that nobody can dare to attack him. He con ducted a most ferocious attack on the hon. Member below the Gangway who merely pointed out the facts of the situation. The facts are that in the "Daily Herald" the day after the Debate there was a most disgraceful misrepresentation.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I will, of course, bow to your Ruling, but you permitted the hon. Member to quote the newspaper in question.
§ Earl WINTERTON
This places me in a very difficult position. The hon. Member below the Gangway raised the question of the action of this newspaper which made a direct reference to me. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, it said so in the paper. I do not wish to contravene your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Chairman, but I took so serious a view of the matter that I intended to raise it as a question of Privilege.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I did not do so, because this particular newspaper owes its huge circulation in this country to one thing and one thing only, and that is the accuracy of its betting news. I will not say any more about it.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
On a point of Order. The Noble Lord is now again making charges. I do submit it is absolutely out of order on the Motion.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
We had better not discuss what may or may not have appeared in a newspaper. I do not think that a charge of a newspaper having accurate betting news may be regarded as discreditable.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I will, of course, comply with your Ruling. In so far as any persons or institutions outside this House were led into a misinterpretation of the situation, it was largely due to the right hon. Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) who on a previous occasion used very much the same language in the House as has been used outside. When my hon. Friend below the Gangway is attacked the right hon. Gentleman can rest assured that others who belong to the party of my hon. Friend will always come to his aid. We know the motives for the treatment to which he has been subjected. We know how very wounding it is to Members opposite that they took the honest and courageous action they did in the past. I would like to say to the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary that we on this side of the House are very much obliged to them for the action they have taken in this matter. They had a difficult situation with which to deal. They have, quite rightly, adhered to what was clearly the opinion of the majority of their own supporters in the matter. They have been greatly attacked and abused for so doing, and here again they are attacked in this Amendment for what is doing no more than plain justice to a body of people in the country whom those of us who sit on this side of the House are anxious always to assist—that is, the small owners of property. We quite understand that the Opposition do not want to assist them. If the Opposition were consistent, which they never are, they would go into the Lobby to vote 1219 against this Amendment. I do not think that they will, and they are wise. They know perfectly well that if they vote in favour of this Amendment they would be voting in favour of justice.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Bill reported; as amended on recommittal, considered.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
In moving the Third Reading of this Bill, perhaps the House will allow me to express my personal pride to-day at being associated with a Bill of this magnitude, and one which, I believe, is fraught with precious consequences to the social well-being of our people. During the long Committee and Report stages we have been very near the picture we have painted—so near that we have missed its real significance. We have been heightening this tone or softening that, but now on the Third Reading Debate I think it right that we should all stand well back from the picture so that we can see the real meaning of this academy piece. The Bill represents the last stage of the Government's housing policy which has been continuously, and I hope courageously, pursued. The successive stages I need only mention in passing—thewithdrawal of the general subsidy, the liberation of private enterprise, the concentration of subsidy where it was needed, the launching of the great slum crusade, and, finally, this methodical, direct and scientific attack on overcrowding.
The cumulative effect of all these stages has led to results beyond expectation. The liberation of private enterprise has resulted in an output of houses last year by private enterprise without subsidy amounting to the astonishing total of 286,000, a greater total than has ever been achieved in any post-War year, even taking the total built by private enterprise and by local authorities. The number built by private enterprise has exceeded both. If we take our slum crusade, we have already rehoused under the 1930 Act some 200,000 persons, a total greater than the number rehoused in the previous 60 years. At the present moment we are rehousing at the rate of 150,000 slum tenants a year, and the rate is 1220 accelerating all the time. One can confidently predict that at the end of the year, or at the beginning of next year, we shall be rehousing at an annual rate of 250,000. The rehousing approvals we have given in the last four months mean that we are working at an annual rate of approval for rehousing—that is the last stage in slum clearance—of 66,000 houses a year. I give these facts, because it is just as well sometimes in these days of dictatorships to have some figures to show that a democratic country can dare, can conceive and achieve tasks like these.
In this Bill we are putting the corner stone to our policy of a nation-wide attack on overcrowding. Perhaps' I may recall that a very interesting little Act was passed in the reign of Elizabeth to deal with the same problem. One Clause ran as follows:Great mischiefs and inconveniences daily grow and increase by reason of the pestering of houses with divers families, harbouring of inmates and converting of great houses into several tenements or dwellings, and many idle vagrant and wicked persons have harboured there.The problem then was the problem that faces us now, and, though Act after Act has followed down the centuries, it is left to us, fortified by an awakened public opinion, to complete the task. In this Bill we demand, and I know we shall receive, the co-operation of all parties—local authorities, housing associations, landlords, owners and occupiers—in remedying an evil which we have all tolerated too long. Will the House allow me to summarise the method of our direct attack? I summarise it like this: we aim at providing on the right scale the right accommodation in the right places at the right rent and for the right people. Let me very briefly touch on each of these subheads. I shall have to traverse familiar ground, ground which is torn with many a shell hole, but I will be as brief as possible.
First, the provision of accommodation on the right scale. This will involve, of course, an estimate of the measure of overcrowding, a survey by local authorities, and the laying down of a national standard. We have chosen a minimum standard which should be tolerated at the present stage of our housing history. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, it is an adequate standard, a standard which we can enforce, a standard the in fringement of which constitutes an 1221 offence. Although we ask owners and occupiers for a curtailment of the liberty they have hitherto enjoyed to overcrowd their houses as they like, we have not met with any real opposition in the discussion on the Committee stages. It has been said outside this House that to impose a standard is to interfere with the liberty of the subject to do what he likes with his own house. This is un questionably an interference and it is said that an Englishman's home is his castle, but when as very often happens it is a dungeon—there are tens of thousands of basement dwellings in London alone—euphemistic proverbs like that cease to have any meaning at all. I remark, in passing, that we have met with no hostility from any section of the House to the principle of laying down a standard. I think I have detected in some of the speeches of the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) a doubt as to whether it is necessary. All these Housing Acts and Rent Restrictions Acts are necessitated by the fact that not all landlords have the same sense of responsibility as regards their tenants. f have some reason for saying, because I have had an opportunity of inspecting the houses owned or managed by himself under trust associations, that if all landlords had the same regard for working-class tenants as he has most of our restrictions would be unnecessary. But it is not so and, there fore, we are proceeding with this Bill.
I ask the House to remember that this is a novel principle and an experiment, and that it is vital to choose a standard which rests upon the approval of those who have to administer it. If you attempt anything less you fail. We have secured the general approval of the local authorities and medical officers of health to draw up this standard and they have to administer it. As my right hon. Friend says, we have chosen it, and we mean to enforce it. It can be enforced. If we chose a higher standard, I am afraid the whole attack might fail. When we have gained experience of this method we shall improve on it. But anyone who knows anything about the provision of a standard at the present time will agree that local authorities for the next five or 10years in our big industrial areas will have their hands filled with the over crowding problem.
1222 The next point was the provision of the right accommodation. Experience has shown that the mere building of accommodation is not enough. It must be the right accommodation and must be in The right place. As regards right accommodation, we have no preference for flats. All we say is that on expensive sites flats are inevitable. In the provinces it is different. Workers can be re-housed within two or three miles of the town. We believe that the improved technique in flat construction and the opportunities long enjoyed by the middle-classes to have labour-saving devices in modern flats will make the provision of flats accept able to the working classes. My experience is that where working classes have been put into flats they have welcomed the opportunity and all their prejudices have disappeared.
The right accommodation must be pro vided in the right place. There has been a long discussion as to whether you should re-house people near their work or take them out to the garden cities. There is nothing inconsistent between these two policies. I think the hon. Baronet has traversed this ground before. If you are dealing with any congested area in London and you are re-housing on the site in a normal case, you may not be able to get back on the site more than 70 per cent. of the population. There fore, you have to re-house the 30 per cent. somewhere else, perhaps in cottage estates. There is nothing inconsistent in these two policies, but we do say that in so far as it is possible it is essential for people to live near their work and for accommodation to be so provided. The argument that you must house the workers a day's march away, so to speak, is usually advanced by gentlemen of leisure who need not get to their work until 11 o'clock any morning of the week and need not turn up every day.
In connection with the provision of accommodation near work, one must mention, of course, the powers of re-development, which are, indeed, the kernel of the Bill as regards London 'and the big industrial areas. We believe that these powers will enable decisive inroads to be made in the central areas of congestion, and we have accepted several Amendments to make clear our purpose. We have given power to any urban authority to develop or re-develop in respect of 1223 areas containing 50 working-class houses, one-third of which are insanitary, over crowded or congested. We have given the widest possible definition. Experience of Kings way shows that over a long course of time re-development need not be a loss. Indeed, with the subsidy given by the Bill, it may result in a profit. I anticipate that housing authorities will choose large areas coming within the definition, will clear those areas at market value and then will plan and build, allocating space for business premises, shops, houses 'and recreational facilities. I hope they will build according to some of the most enlightened town-planning principles. We have enabled the owners to co-operate in these projects, and we have provided machinery by which that co-operation may be speeded up.
So much for the right accommodation and the right place. Now about the right rent. It is no good providing accommodation for the workers unless it be within their means. We are giving an automatic subsidy in regard to flats, and it will enable a three-room flat to be pro vided in the provinces at an inclusiverent—inclusive of rates—of from 9s. to 10s. per week. In London it will be slightly higher, from 11s. to 12s. a week. Those who know anything about housing conditions will welcome the generous subsidy provision in the Bill. The House will remember that the consolidation of subsidy, and the continuance of the slum clearance subsidy for five years will mean that money can be used from the subsidy pool to reduce rents below the average for needy cases. As regards the cottage subsidy, it is discretionary. Last week I was opening a very nice housing estate at Dunstable where, without subsidy, the local authority have provided cottages, that is, ordinary working-class houses, at an inclusive rent of 10s.ld. It is, there fore, clear that that subsidy must be discretionary. If rehousing involves a burden in relation to the past expenditure or future activity of the housing authority, by virtue of the problem of de-crowding being a big one and the rent paying capacity of the tenants who are to be rehoused being low, the discretionary subsidy is available to enable the provision of cottages at an inclusive rent at from 8s. to 9s. a week. As regards rural areas, the subsidy is very substantial, and will enable cottages to be provided 1224 for decrowded agricultural workers at from 3s. to 5s. For rehousing over crowded industrial workers in the rural areas, the discretionary subsidy under Clause 31 will be available, and will provide cottages at an inclusive rent of about 7s. We have provided the right accommodation and the right rent.
Now we get to the right people. In Clause 50 we give first preference in re housing, and in respect of the new houses that are to be provided by local authorities, to slum tenants, and to those in overcrowded or unsatisfactory houses. They have the first chance, as indeed they should. Hon. Members should notice that there is a duty on local authorities to provide accommodation for the needy tenant according to his need. Clause50 is so drafted as to secure by administration the subsidy for those who need it, but only as long as they need it, and provision is made for periodical surveys to see that that principle is being carried out. All of us who have had industrial experience know that frequent complaints are made by overcrowded persons who claim that, although lavish subsidies are being paid for the provision of houses, it is often the cream of the work ing class who have been rehoused. Let hon. Members note that Clause 50 puts a duty on the local authority to rehouse the needy and overcrowded worker, and to adjust the rent according to his need.
The provision of new accommodation will not always be necessary. We widen the powers for reconditioning, and we confer, for the first time, compulsory powers for the acquisition of suitable property at market values, subject to deduction for disrepair or overcrowding. In acquiring a cottage which is suitable for reconditioning a local authority is able, for the first time, to get a subsidy under the Act of 1926 which has hitherto only been available to the private owner. That means that if a rural authority possess a cottage suitable for reconditioning, one-third of the cost of reconditioning it will be paid by the Exchequer. We make a new experiment, and give an opportunity for a new experiment, in housing management. Housing management should be continuous, and we enable a local authority to submit a scheme to the Ministry for a housing management commission which will demand skilled application, of good business methods, and will take housing 1225 away from the interest of political parties who interfere with what should be a business proposition. We hope that many local authorities will adopt this method, which should be of great benefit to many of their tenants.
Although most of the work will be done by the local authorities, we bring into line the voluntary housing associations and enable them to co-operate in slum clearance, decrowding, re developmentand reconditioning. Where the housing association do that work it can secure the same subsidy as the local authority. We ease the position of voluntary housing authorities financially by also enabling them to go direct to the Public Works Loans Board. Subject to guarantee from the local authority, they can go to the board and can obtain advances up to 90 per cent. of the value of new construction. No word of mine can sufficiently express our admiration for the men and women who, in voluntary housing work in London and else where, have given devoted service to improving the housing conditions of their areas. The Bill is a recognition of the work they have done, and it will pro vide them with further opportunities for such work. A private person who wishes to redevelop can also go to the Public Works Loans Board, and can obtain an advance of two-thirds of the cost without any guarantee to anybody. If he can put down collateral security, he can obtain an advance of 75 per cent. of the value of the new construction. We also take power to recognise any central housing association as a sort of clearing house or advisory body of voluntary effort, and, if such a central housing association is formed, we take power to make financial contributions towards its expenses for five years. In administering the Act, the Minister will set up a Central Housing Advisory Committee, which will advise him on certain specified items. My right hon. Friend has given an assurance that he means to make this committee work, to get the right people on it, and to utilise their experience.
I have dealt with the main purpose of the Bill. The other provisions concern machinery and the re-equipping of local authorities in many respects, so that they can deal adequately with every stage of housing activity. I need not trouble the House with details of these matters. Finally, we take steps in the Bill to 1226 remedy several injustices that have occurred during the operation of the slum crusade. The first is the removal of the reduction factor, which arbitrarily imposed a fictitious value for land purchased for re-housing. As regards the good house which is a bad neighbour, we have removed that from the clearance area altogether. We have done by statute what we have been doing recently by administration. If such a house comes into a clearance order, it can only come in at market value.
Thirdly, we have distinguished between the two types of owner—the owner who makes exorbitant profits out of his house, and the owner who has kept his house in a reasonable state of repair; and we have given a measure of compensation to the latter. In this connection we have just accepted a further differentiation in favour of the owner-occupier, which will give special compensation to the owner-occupier of a house that has been well maintained. My view, after visiting industrial areas, and particularly areas where there is slum property, is that one of the primary causes of discontent is the exorbitant rent exacted for slum property by unscrupulous owners. Twice I have come across in my own constituency cases in which the rents have amounted to a 300 per cent. profit on the value of the house. The extraction of a profit of 100 per cent. is not abnormal. Therefore, I do not grudge a concession to an owner-occupier who does not look upon his house as an investment or as a means of extracting profit from it, but is pre pared to accept a lower standard for himself.
I should like to thank all those Members who served on the Committee, including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. R. Strauss) and the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith), who on several occasions moved Amendments which were accepted by the Government. On no occasion was there any obstruction. I must also thank the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Corn wall (Sir F. Acland), who gave us the advantage of their experience on frequent occasions. In my view, people may be judged by their reaction to big events, and this Housing Bill is no exception to 1227 that rule. I do not expect the Opposi tion to laud our efforts,but sometimes, during the Committee stage, if the ranks ofTuscany forbore to cheer, they appeared to me to be lapsing intosilent acquiescence.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the awkward squad—the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Thorpe), my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir R. Gower), and my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams). I want to take up the cudgels on their behalf. There were about 40 Amendments moved from that direction which were accepted, and in my view they substantially improved the structure of the Bill. Its foundations remain unimpaired; no Amendment was accepted that in any way altered the main principle of the Bill; but we accepted 40Amendments which materially improved it. To be quite frank, however, there was one occasion when my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, who was very successful in moving drafting Amendments, reminded me of a certain author who was writing his big work in collaboration with his wife. Naturally, he was so grateful that he dedicated his book to his wife, but in these terms:To my wife, but for whose loving and constant care this book would have been finished six months earlier.On one occasion I felt like that. Never the less, the response given by every section of the House to the Bill shows the new housing conscience in this country. Never once during the Committee stage was it suggested that the owner could do what he liked with his own property; and, although the Bill will involve us in a considerable annual cost, never once from any quarter of the Committee was the argument used that we could not afford it. Indeed, the general sentiment was that we could not afford not to afford it. As one who has always been interested in the housing problem, I should like to say how fortunate I count myself to be living in an age when a big step forward like this is possible. I re member as a boy reading an essay one sentence of which has always stuck in my mind. It was written by someone who was travelling to one of the big London termini, and, looking out of the 1228 window, saw the dingy dwellings in which teeming London lived. Although I have not read it for about 20 years, that sentence remains in my mind. He wrote:When I consider the frantic arithmetic of this unthinkable population, herded together in dingy dwellings, 1 console myself by the reflection that each clingy dwelling is for someone the heart of all things, and the end of travel.We have in this last generation attempted to provide, and, indeed, have provided, a measure of security for the worker in sickness, in old age, and in unemployment. In this Bill we are bent on providing for the worker that shelter within which conditions of health, amenity, privacy and independence can besecured—we are extending this security to a man's home, which is the centre of his social life and well-being.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
It would indeed be very ungracious of me, having regard to the kind words of the Parliamentary Secretary, if I did not say that we thank him very much. It is so infrequently that we have any tribute paid to our contributions in debate that this will stand out as a red-letter day in the history of the Government that a Member of the Government should have thanked my colleagues and me for the work that we did on the Standing Committee. But, having said that, we begin to part company. Often enough we have heard in this House the most extravagant claims made for Bills. The Parliamentary Secretary has used such extravagant phrases to-night. He calls this Bill—and I am not so sure that the artistically-minded people will think that it is really a compliment to the Bill—an academy piece. I understood that they are rather outworn and a little old-fashioned, and out-of-date and not responsive to modern needs. It may be that in his enthusiasm for housing, the Parliamentary Secretary has not been following the movements in the artistic circles in London, but I hope that he will withdraw this term, and not persist in calling this Bill an academy piece, because, although I do not think of it very highly, I should be very doubtful about casting such an insult upon it as to call it an academy piece.
As to the Bill itself. We have had 'to-day a White Paper dealing withHousing—House Production, Slum Clearance, etc., England and Wales.1229 It is very interesting, so far as I can find from having glanced through it two or three times rather rapidly, that the great contribution of this Government to the solution of the housing problem—the Act of 1933—is not mentioned. Mention is made of thousands and indeed millions of houses, but there is no reference to the great contribution of this Government to this question. I refer to this because it is very important, now that this Bill is passing from us to go to another place, that we should put this piece of legislation in its proper setting. I think that I am right in saying that the direct result of the operation of the Act of 1933, which was to liberate the resources of building societies and guarantees behind local authorities, up to the end of last year, in England and Wales was that local authorities were 3,513 houses better off than they were. But, of course, that is not the real effect. The real effect is the Act of 1933, the purpose of which was to hamstring local authorities and to liberate all the forces of private enterprise, the outcome being the large figures quoted by the Parliamentary Secretary as to the enormous number of houses that have been built, so large indeed that, were this enormous increase to continue for the next two or three years, this overcrowding Bill would not have been necessary. Of course, the truth is that all that private enterprise is doing now, broadly speaking, is just mopping up and soaking up what is left of the demand for houses for sale.
The vast majority of the enormous numbers of houses built in the last year or two have been built to sell very largely to hard-driven people who find it very difficult to raise the deposit, and who often enough have to realise on their house, or divide it into two and assist the overcrowding problem which this Government is so anxious to solve. It is perfectly dear from the figures published in the White Paper, if one looks on page 6, at the number of houses built in three successive half years of the small type, rate able value not exceeding £13—£20 in Greater London—less than a quarter of them are occupied by persons other than the owners. In the case of the rather larger houses the proportion it the occupation of people not the owners is about one-sixth, which means that the whole policy of the 1933Act has succeeded as the right hon. Gentle- 1230 man meant it to do, and as the present Chancellor of the Exchequer hoped it would do in 1923, 10 years earlier, when he introduced his Act to restore, revive, and reinvigorate private enterprise to solve this problem. The extent of the solution of this problem is to be found in the handful of houses which have been built to let, and because of the complete collapse of the1933 Act and of the fact that directly it had produced—let us keep the numbers in mind-3,513 houses up to the last day of 1934,some other policy had to be devised. I know what the reply of The right hon. Gentleman is going to be to this presently. The 1933Act has been a complete failure, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. He deliberately butchered the 1924 Act, he sabotaged part of the Act of 1930, to let loose these forces of private enterprise, and he has had to come back to this House to devise anew substitute and to invoke the aid of local authorities and public utility societies to deal with the housing problem, which must lie very heavily on his conscience, as it must on the conscience of every Minister of Health.
The reason for this Bill is the failure of the Act of.1933. This is only one more illustration of the gyrations of the present Government. They nearly always revert to where they started from. The right hon. Gentleman will have a Health Insurance Bill next week which will go back to where we were in 1931, or nearly so. I am glad to welcome their going back to where we left the situation, but I am bound to say that, from every point of view, they can claim no credit for it. It only means that, after bitter experience, common sense prevails, and we have some modicum of common sense in this Bill. What does the Bill do 7 It invents anew problem. There is one housing problem, and that is that there are not sufficient good houses to go round. That is the housing problem, and it is complicated by the special conditions of slum houses. That problem is an intensification of the fact that there are not enough good houses to go round. Because there were not enough good houses to go round in 1919, 1923, 1924 and 1930successive Governments pro vided financial assistance from the Exchequer to help to provide more houses so that there would be enough to go 1231 round on terms which people could afford to pay.
The right hon. Gentleman, following in the steps of his early predecessor in 1923, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, handed over this problem of dealing with the situation to the very people who helped to create it, the private builder and the speculator. That failed, and he has to come back to the House because he realises that he must get the powerful aid of the non-profit making organisations, the local authorities and the public utility societies. It is very difficult for him to comeback to the House and say: "I made an awful mess of the 1933Act; what is the way round it?" Being advised by skilful advisers he gets the idea about overcrowding. Nobody lives in an overcrowded house for fun. They do not do it because they like it but because they cannot find any house, or they can only find other accommodation on terms which are beyond the resources of the family.
The real way to deal with overcrowding is to build more houses and not to make a, fuss about it. The right hon. Gentle man, in order to get back on the old tracks that were laid 16 years ago and which have been followed by successive Governments, had to invent a new category, a new aspect of the problem. I am very grateful to think that he has come back to the point of view that the problem of working-class housing, as things are now, cannot be settled without State aid. Having decided that the overcrowding programme is a good dodge and a good way of getting back to the housing line, the right hon. Gentleman had to establish a definition. We have had Debate after Debate and I do not propose to detail in any detail with the standard of overcrowding. He has tried to draw a distinction between a penal definition as to what is illegal and the standard in the Bill. I have on more than one occasion said that once you get a standard, whether penal or not, in an Act of Parliament people begin to regard it as the gospel and private builders—goodness knows that building by-laws in many towns are hopelessly out of date—will tend to build down to that standard. Local authorities, under pressure, will tend to builddown to the standard which the Government and the right hon. Gentleman are trying to establish, and 1232 there will be an inevitable tendency for people to say that houses can be occupied up to or down to that standard as the case may be.
There is only way way of fixing an overcrowding standard and that is to do it by reference to bedroom accommodation. The only standard of this kind that stands as the law of the land up to now is to be found in Clause 37 of my Act of 1930. I will not detain the House by reading it, but if hon. Members will look at it they will see that that is a bedroom standard.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
So far as I and my friends are concerned we will never accept a housing standard where the living room can be regarded as a bed room;never in any circumstances. I have warned the right hon. Gentleman on every conceivable occasion, and I warn the House. It is a wrong provision and one that a later Government will have to remedy. I am satisfied that public opinion will not stand for it.
We have had a very interesting side light on the intentions of the Government with regard to flat development. I have been challenged so often when I have said that the real inspiring motive behind the larger subsidy for flat development was to persuade the local authorities in the provinces to build flats. I am not entering into the merits of the case, but only recalling the fact that provincial authorities, with the exception of the very large ones, do not like tenements. I think the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary has proved what I said on the Second Reading of the Bill, in Committee and on Report that the tendency of this Bill is in that direction. I have no objection to flat development, but if we are going to embark on a very large scale programme of flat development in the provinces, with the little knowledge that we have about it and without a public opinion that is ripe for it, I think it is wrong.
The Bill abolishes improvement areas for which provision was made in the Act of 1930. That is a mistake. The re development areas in the Bill are the alternative to the provisions with regard to improvement areas. The whole purpose of the improvement areas Clause in the Act of 1930 was to prevent districts 1233 degenerating into slums. That is entirely different from the process of re-development. It was intended to stop middle-class areas of the past becoming over crowded working-class areas of the future. I do not like this process whereby the working classes take little bits, cast off bits of the second-hand houses of the well-to-do, but it is happening in many parts of London and in many large towns. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has advanced the cause of housing by depriving local authorities of the power to demark improvement areas with a view to stopping their demoralisation down to the slum level.
We have had more than one Debate on the question of housing management com missions. On more than one occasion I have expressed not only my own view but that of my colleagues on this question. I regard with the greatest apprehension this developing move of demunicipalisation in the ranks of the Tory party. That is what it means, and I say that we are not bound by anything which appears in this Bill. If it should be that I or any body else has to deal with these problems the Housing Management Com mission will go.
This is an attempt, and a very unwise attempt, on behalf of this Government to go back on the tracks of normal municipal development. When we raised this matter before we got no kind of sympathy. The Government, indeed, speaks with two voices. I blame myself for my ignorance but I find it difficult to follow Scottish Housing Bills, they are rather too deep for me, and use language which is not the language I normally use. After we have been refused any kind of consideration to permit a local authority to change its mind after it has set up a Housing Management Commission I find that the Scottish Bill makes provision for this. Scotland is often ahead of us, unfortunately, in these kinds of matters. It must be that the Secretaries of State are more open to reason or that Scottish Members have more winning ways. The situation in this Bill is that if a local authority hands over its responsibilities and its existing housing estates to a Housing Management Commission it can not undo it. That is a monstrous position in which to place local authorities. Even if the policy was right a local authority is entitled to demand that it shall be able to change its mind, if it is in the public 1234 interests. We pleaded with the right hon. Gentleman to meet us in this matter. Now I discover in the Scottish Housing Bill, Clause22, Sub-section (4) which says:A Housing Management Commission may, on the application of the local authority, be dissolved by order of the Department, and any such order may provide for the re-vesting in the local authority of the property vested in the Commission and for any other matter consequential on the dissolution of the Commission.I ask: Are the Government going to speak with a single voice on this question? What is good enough for Scotland is surely good enough for those who live south of the Tweed. I have no doubt that this question will be raised in another place, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us a concession which appears in the original draft of the Scottish Bill. My next point is with regard to compensation. A few concessions have been made, but almost all to the advantage of the owners of property. I have not noticed that anybody else has got any concession of any value whatever. The right hon. Gentleman only last Thursday got himself into a most dreadful tangle through accepting an Amendment to a recommittal motion which was most irregular. I have searched to find an example and there is no recorded case of a Minister of the Crown accepting a re committal motion of the kind which was included in the motion of the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman). I am quite aware that I proposed a recommittal motion which was accepted, but that was when I was out of office. All.the concessions which have been made have been in the interests of property owners; practically none of amore generous kind. In the compensation the right hon. Gentleman has not provided that a single penny of it goes back to the local authority. It is so easy to be generous when somebody else has to foot the bill. The right hon. Gentle man is responsible for the Exchequer subsidy but he is not responsible for the burdens which he casts on the rates by the little concessions he has handed over to the landlords.
It is not as though his financial assistance was on the generous side. The most generous aspect of his assistance is that to be given to the building of tenements, but when it comes to cottage buildings we have it from the Parliament- 1235 ary Secretary that it is to be a discretionary subsidy. That is quite a new thing in housing subsidies. The assistance which is provided by the Bill is not generous, and in view of the rather stingy provisions made to local authorities one would have thought that the concessions made by the right hon. Gentleman would have been more generous. No, the little trader or the large multiple shop can go on for ever and ever being subsidised by the local authority. It is perfectly clear, as Clause 52 'stands now, that people who live in one borough can claim compensation if the local authority likes to give it in an adjoining borough, and goon for ever and ever; all at the expense of the local authority. We have never had any explanation from the Minister that it means anything different.
On these benches we have never opposed any Housing Bill which we thought would deliver any houses. We have criticised them and done our best to improve them. We have not opposed this Bill in the old factious party spirit. We have made our criticisms of it, and no doubt shall still criticise it. The Bill can go forward to another place, but I would give the House this impression of mine which time will probably prove to be true. This Bill will make no contribution to the solution of the housing problem. Local authorities have sufficient on their hands just now with the operation of the 1930 Act, which is more generous to them than the 1935 Bill. I had almost forgotten that I had anything to do with the 1930 Act; these slum crusaders seem to have stolen all the thunder and all the limelight. It is their crusade now.
Local authorities will prefer the 1930 Act to the provisional discretionary subsidy which is provided under this Bill. Their problem cannot be segregated as an overcrowding problem. It is primarily a housing shortage problem, and if this Bill had been an honest Bill it would have come forward with a straightforward subsidy on the lines of the 1924 Act, to enable local authorities to meet the housing shortage. The restrictions in this Bill will limit the activities of local authorities. The financial aid is not sufficiently generous. The standard of overcrowding is deplorable and will hang round the Minister's neck all his public life.
1236 If the Bill provides houses no one will be more pleased than myself. I will give the right hon. Gentleman credit if he can make any contribution to the solution of this problem. If in a month or two from now—one never knows when the right hon. Gentleman may depart, or when we may dissolve—the right hon. Gentleman can report that the Bill is producing houses, I shall be the first to get up and offer him my congratulations. But I doubt whether the Bill will do that. I think there has been a good deal of misplaced energy spent on the Bill, energy which might have been devoted to a Bill to deal with the problem with which the 1924 Act was designed to deal, that is the general shortage of houses for working people, to be let at rents which they can afford to pay.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
I want to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on his very eloquent speech. My only regret is that he had so small a House. It is one of the best efforts, if not the best effort, that he has made, and one of the most eloquent statements in favour of a for ward housing policy that I have heard in this House. The hon. Gentleman passed many bouquets all round the House, both to the Opposition, to my friends and my self here, and to hon. Members on his own side below the Gangway. If the Minister did not meet with any factious opposition, if he got the co-operation of the whole Committee upstairs and of Members here on the Report stage, it is due to the unfailing good humour and tact of both The Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, and also largely due to the problem itself. We are so conscious of the size of the problem and its urgency and complexity, that we are a little generous to each other in our attempts to solve the problem.
The Parliamentary Secretary spoke of the Bill as a Bill of great magnitude. It certainly is, with its 90 pages and 93 Clauses. I doubt whether any Member of the House has mastered every Clause of the Bill. It is a departmental Bill dealing with a great number of details that have arisen in the process of administration and as a result of experience both in the Department and among local authorities. When we come to its aims we find that it deals with two quite separate questions. The first is contained in the Preamble and refers to 1237 overcrowding. In so far as the Bill is aimed at the abatement of overcrowding it has general approval. Another part which is not mentioned in the Preamble is tucked away in one or two Clauses in the middle of the Bill—Clause 60 in particular—which will not add a single house, and in my view will slow up matters in dealing with the vital problem of slum clearance.
My criticism of the overcrowding Clauses has all along been that they are needlessly complex and likely to be slow in action. In Committee I tried very hard to get a time limit introduced. Allover the country local authorities are to start surveys to find out the size of the problem according to the standard laid down in the Bill. I suggested that they should not have a roving commission to go on indefinitely, but that there should be power to demand that schemes should come to completion within 12months. I repeat that there is no need to set up all this elaborate machinery. The in formation required is in the archives of almost every local authority, or if it, is not there the authorities are guilty of serious negligence, for since the Wheatley Act this information has been called for. The demand was reiterated in the Act of 1930, known as the Greenwood Act. By some rather sinister circumstances that provision is deliberately deleted from this Bill. Now we are to have this further survey to find out whether the very low standard in the Bill has been reached.
We had this afternoon a very long wrestle over the conditions in the Schedule. The Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary both admit that the standard is extraordinarily low. If this low standard is adhered to, even if the provisions of the Bill are carried out, I predict that at the end of it overcrowding will still be rife according to the public health standards in most of our great industrial towns. I mentioned this afternoon that where you have a three-roomed tenement; very often half a house, in almost every case, where there are children under 10years of age you will have the children sleeping in the living room. For the first time in an Act of Parliament that is to be recognised as not overcrowding. Housing authorities through out the country and many of those housing associations which have done such splendid work in connec- 1238 tion with this question are alarmed at the fixing by Act of Parliament of such a low standard. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary took part in the passage of another Act of Parliament dealing with housing at the end of 1932 and the begining of 1933. On that occasion he made a very interesting speech in favour of private enterprise in the course of which he said:We come to bury the subsidy, not to praise it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1932; col. 6,51, Vol. 273.]That was two years ago and now we have a reincarnation of the subsidy. He has to recognise now in the light of experience that to make real progress in solving this intricate problem it is necessary to have the willing co-operation of the local authorities. Experience also proves that you will not get that cooperation unless there is the stimulus of some financial assistance from the State. Unfortunately, from my point of view, the stimulus of the subsidy is hedged round with very severe restrictions and is weighted very much in favour of the flat as against the cottage.
I do not want it to be thought that I am opposed to or critical of that part of the Bill which offers financial assistance for the construction of fiats in our great cities where the price of land is high. On the contrary, when the 1933 Act was going through the House I spent considerable time in trying to persuade the Minister of the necessity of financial assistance if the problem of housing in the centres of our great towns was to be solved. I pointed out then that the cost of land in the centers of towns and cities was prohibitive against unaided private enterprise. In so far as the Government have recognised that fact I am duly grateful. Obviously, in the centres of great towns, where the population is congested and the price of land high, if men are to be housed near their places of employment, it is essential to build up wards and to construct flats. Someone has described it as a victory that that policy has been accepted by the Government and that they have recognised the necessity of departing from their principle of private enterprise in this respect.
The working-class family flat, however, at best can be only a substitute for a home. It can never give the same satisfaction or provide the same opportunity for home life as the cottage. I find that 1239 in the East End of London and in industrial centres, while many of the people go into flats, they do so under protest because there is no alternative. Even the small antiquated working-class cottage, without amenities, is preferred more often than not to the very best flat in the most modern building for this practical reason. Where a man has a cottage he has either a garden or a back yard, and he can keep poultry or rabbits and at the same time have the opportunity for a little social life and social amenities. It may surprise the right hon. Gentleman to know that in the most overcrowded area of London, Bethnal Green, we have, among the slum dwellers, an efficient and successful poultry club and also a very well-organised and successful rabbit club. The poultry are kept in the back yards, and the rabbits produced in the little gardens, even of slum streets. These things are impossible in, the case of block dwellings.
My persistent criticism of this Bill has been that under it the subsidy automatically goes to the flat but not to the cottage. Owing to the financial limitations under which we have been working, it has been impossible to move any Amendments to that Clause of the Bill. It is true that the Minister, at his discretion, can give financial assistance to the construction of cottages, but that provision is so hedged round by restrictions and so limited by the wording of the Clause that we have little prospect of local authorities being helped by the State to proceed with cottage construction. The right hon. Gentleman may say that he has not put anything in the Bill of a more definite kind because it is not practicable to build cottages in the centre of London and other large cities. Of course it is not, but during the last few years under the Acts of 1923 and 1924 large estates have been bought all round our great towns and developed as garden suburbs, with cottages and open spaces nicely planned and laid out. The practical difficulty of getting working-class families out of congested districts to these estates has been that when the cost of travel is added to the rent, the expense is prohibitive. Unless it is possible artificially to lower the rent, with the assistance of a subsidy from the rates and taxes, you will never be able to draw 1240 the population out from the centres to the new garden suburbs, and local authorities' estates that have been such a success up to the present while enjoying the advantage of Assistance in the form of a State subsidy.
Before we part with this Bill we ought to have a lead from The right hon. Gentle man on this point. Is he prepared to use the machinery of the Bill to encourage local authorities to rehouse a percentage of the people from over crowded areas in garden suburbs and cottage estates on the outskirts of our towns? If you attempt to rehouse them all, on the spot, in flat dwellings, you will only get another form of congestion, perhaps not so unsatisfactory as the present congestion, because the buildings are modern and better planned, but still unsatisfactory from the point of view of the health and well-being of the people. Then there is that aspect of the Bill already mentioned to which I take exception, namely, that contained in Clauses 60 and 62. Those Clauses alter the conditions under which slum clearances are carried out and, in so far as they treat more generously the occupier-owner, no one can offer any serious objection to them, but, in so far as they are going to make the great work of slum clearance slower and more expensive, I take serious exception to them. If the right hon. Gentleman would come down to a different basis of assistance, if he would say that in the light of experience the Government were prepared to increase the subsidy, in order to treat owners of property more generously, a case might be made out for his proposal. But under the machinery of this Bill the increased cost of this new basis of compensation will not come on the taxes or on the Ministry of Health; it will be a serious additional burden on the local authorities. That is a factor which in some areas at least will inevitably tend to slow up progress. We have had this basis of compensation in operation ever since 1919. Bill after Bill has gone through this House, piloted by every kind of Minister, including the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. No exception was taken to the basis of compensation. I believe that the basis of compensation was fixed as the result of an inquiry pre sided over by Sir Leslie Scott, at one time Solicitor-General. And I believe 1241 that in practice the old basis has proved fair and just in the majority of cases.
We are inclined to forget that the slum problem is no new problem. Slums have not grown up since the War; they date right back to the year 1890 and the first great constructive Housing Act. In London the slums have been scheduled ever since 1900. If you go into the archives of the London County Council you will find a complete map with every slum and every bad area marked on it in red ink. These scheduled areas have been known not only to the local authorities, but also to the owners of house property. What is more serious, they have been known also to the house speculator; and these properties have been freely changing hands in the last five or 10 years. Decent men and women have not like downing slum property. They have been ashamed of it, and they have been only too willing to sell; and business men, property speculators, have brought. this property cheaply, because it was condemned property, because it was marked red, and because in due course it would be cleared away. They have known since 1919 that it would be cleared with-cut any compensation for the house, and with nothing except the value of the site cleared of buildings from a housing point of view.
The right hon. Gentleman comes along as the result of pressure and makes a handsome present to these owners of property—not at the expense of the tax payer, but at the expense of the local rates. Most of these properties have been bringing in—as the Parliamentary Secretary rightly pointed out—high profits and in some cases 300 per cent. of the capital value. He mentioned—and I was very much surprised to hear it from him—two cases of this character in his own constituency of Norwich. I could quote thousands of cases in London where owners of this property, having bought it cheap, have been receiving very large profits from their investments. They have, it is true, been prevented from making full use of its value. The majority of these sites in our great towns are of very great commercial value, but the owners have been prevented from selling them in the open market because of the Rent Restrictions Acts. Now the 1242 Minister comes along and does away with the provision of the Act of 1919 and pro poses to give these gentlemen the commercial value and take away the reduction factor—which will quite largely add to the amount of compensation they will get. I think we are entitled to know, and I think the nation and the local authorities are entitled to know, what will be the cost of this change. The right hon. Gentleman said he had had an estimate made. He said the cost would be small. What does he mean by small? Will it be £1,000,000? Or £2,000,000? What extra burden will this change of policy mean to the local authorities? I think we are entitled to have that information.
This particular Clause—Clause 60—and those that follow are not going to add a single house or clear an additional slum. They are merely a contribution to a certain type of property owner who has felt the pressure of a forward policy under the Act of 1930.However, as far as I am concerned, I recognise that this Bill has got some good points. The Government now have changed their attitude and are asking local authorities for their co-operation in dealing with this problem is a step forward. For that we are thankful. We can only hope that when it comes to administration there will be the same driving force behind this Measure which, to do him credit, the right hon. Gentleman has applied to the problem of slum clearance. We have bad going through this House since the War Act after Act dealing with this subject. We had the Addison Act, we had the Chamberlain Act, we had the Mond Act, we had the Wheatley Act, we had the Greenwood Act, and now we have the two Hilton Young Acts—as I suppose they will be called after their parent. If they are to be successful, if they are to do what we really want them to do, and produce houses—which is the only real way to solve the housing problem—much will depend on the energy and initiative of the right hon. Gentleman. If he does show energy and initiative, they must produce some good results. As a Measure that will do something, however small, to lessen the congestion and reduce the difficulties of overcrowding by providing more homes to live in we shall not vote against this Bill.
§ 9.34 p.m.
When the history of the social legislation of this period is written, I feel sure that this Bill will go down as one of the most important ever put on the Statute Book. I should like not only to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on his speech to-day, and on the capable and sympathetic way in which he and The Minister have con ducted the Bill through the whole of the Committee stage upstairs, but also on what I might describe as their steward ship during the last six months, the record of which, just printed in a White Paper from their Department, must appeal to Members to-day as most encouraging reading. The most important aspect of this Bill is undoubtedly the fact that for the first time in history we are laying down a standard of overcrowding and making any increase of that standard a penal offence. This is in itself, I think, as momentous a reform as the first Factory Act in the last century. We all admit that it may not be a perfect standard, and I hope that it will not be used in any way, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said, as a "gospel." It is only a first step, but we will have far more chance of enforcing it than if we had allowed ourselves to be carried away by some of the Amendments moved by the Opposition. If these Amendments had been incorporated in the Bill, we should merely have had an Act of Parliament of words incapable of being translated into deeds and there fore accomplishing nothing towards the establishment of any standard whatever.
Representing as I do a London constituency, I welcome especially the schemes for redevelopment. Certain parts of London and other big cities have been crying out for action of this sort for along time, and I was more than glad to see the remarks made by the Chairman of the housing committee of the London County Council in introducing his Estimates the other day. He said that he hoped the powers conferred on local authorities by this Bill would enable the council effectively to undertake redevelopment, not only in the East End, but in other parts of London where redevelopment was the most effective, and, I think, the only effective method of dealing with overcrowded and in sanitary areas, including many of those large old-fashioned, 1244 decaying, barrack-like mansions housing six or seven families, which were origin ally built for only one.
The whole success of enforcing the overcrowding standard and of redevelopment schemes depends on the amount of alternative accommodation that can be provided in the first place. I hope that the Minister will stimulate local authorities to do some new thinking on this matter. New methods and new action are required to meet the situation. That is where I believe a really strong advisory committee will be of enormous assistance, because it is essential that with vast redevelopment schemes on hand that what has been so well described as those factors of "place, folk and work" should all be taken into account simultaneously. That is why I welcome the assurance that the Minister gave us in Committee that he means to have a really expert body of men and women to help him on this advisory committee.
I am glad that the method of appeal in the case of slum clearance is not to be altered. In the Debates in Committee I was criticised by hon. Members for saying that I thought any alteration in the present procedure would retard the work of this Bill, the argument being that justice was more important than speed. It seems to me, from all I have been able to ascertain, that both justice and speed are going forward to-day hand in hand in this matter. That is what we all desire, and why I am glad that no alteration has been made. My last point is really an appeal to the Minister with regard to the architecture and the outside appearance of the new buildings. I know that it will not fall on deaf ears, as I realise the Minister is deeply concerned in this matter. We all rejoice at the speed of house construction during the last few years, but many of us cannot rejoice in the same way at the appearance of some of the buildings. Under this Bill we shall expect a further big increase in block dwellings and houses, and it is most important that the Minister should recognise his responsibility as what I might call the beauty specialist for the outside complexion of houses as much as for their inside standards and amenities. This is another matter inwhich the advisory committee may be of the greatest help.
Everybody ought to have a home fit to live in. Nothing, I suppose, makes so. 1245 much difference to happiness as one's home. The rooms we live in, the stair case we go up and down, and the windows we look through make up so much of our day." These are not the words of the man in the street, but of the Minister of Health himself, whose heart as well as his brain, I believe, is thrown into this great task. They represent the spirit of this Bill and of the whole housing policy of the Government. With these words in mind, and judging by the huge success of the slum clearance scheme inaugurated by the Minister and the success of his other housing policies, one is entitled to feel assured that not only will this be another great Measure to the credit of the National Government, but, what is far more important, a step forward towards the betterment of the conditions of the people.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Mr. McENTEE
I want to remind the Minister, without reading them, of the speeches that he made when he introduced the 1933 Act and the speeches that some of us made who were critical of the result that he hoped from that Act. The Minister told the House then that he had had several consultations with the building societies and that, as a result, he would be able through the building societies to release large sums of money which they had available. As a consequence of reasonably cheap money and of the general reduction in the cost of building materials, and, incidentally. a reduction of wages, the cost of house building had been reduced to such an extent that he could assure the House that houses would be built in sufficient quantities to let in the future without the aid of the subsidy, The Minister at that time was hopeful, and he got the general support of the party that will be willing to vote for him tonight. The Bill, however, did not produce the houses. We heard earlier from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) that the actual result of those promises made to the Minister was only 3,513 houses. In a word, all the Minister's statements at that time were entirely wrong. They were based on lack of accurate information and on promises which he said he had but which were not fulfilled. They were based on his own definite lack of information and 1246 experience in regard to the housing problem.
It has been said to-night—in other words—that there is only one housing problem, and that it is the problem of providing reasonably decent houses for the people who cannot get them at the present time. The Minister's statement in 1933 was that private enterprise could provide those houses without a subsidy and would do so. Private enterprise has not done it and will not do it. Now the Minister comes back to the subsidy. Apparently he has learned, by the utter failure of his Act of 1933, that unless the Treasury provide a subsidy it is impossible to get houses to let at rents which can be paid by the people requiring houses. With his action in recognising again the necessity of a subsidy all of us would agree if we were reasonably hopeful that under this Bill we should get large numbers of houses, but I say that he will not get the houses by this Bill, any more than by the Act of 1933.
I have a word to say in regard to a difference between The Minister and my self about a statement made by me on a suggested new Clause dealing with the amenities in houses. I said then, and repeat, that those amenities have been reduced by the action of the Ministry, particularly during the last few years, to such an extent that the houses are not, in my view at any rate, what can be called decent houses for the working people. The Minister said that he did not accept my statement; in fact, his words meant that it was untrue; they could not have meant anything else. I have since got into touch with the people who were associated with me on deputations which attended the Minister of Health and with the officials of the local authority of which I was at that time a member and of which I am still a member, and I have here a letter reviewing some of the circumstances at that time. I want to bring the Minister back to this point, because I consider it is of the greatest importance in relation to the type of houses we are to build. To build houses lacking in ordinary amenities and not of a sufficiently high quality to enable them to last the period of the loans is a bad policy, and ought not to receive the support of this House.
1247 I have occupied practically every position in the building trade. I was a work man in it for many years and worked on all types of buildings. I have been a foreman, a clerk of works, a manager and to some extent—a very small extent—I have been myself a builder. I say that the standard of quality of the smallest type of cottages built prior to the War was better than the standard of modern houses such as are sanctioned by the Minister at the present time. Nobody who knows anything about the standard of quality of buildings will dispute that fact. If that he so, and it is so, then I say that the policy of building down to a standard so low as to be below the lowest standard in house building prior to the War is a wrong policy. I have here a statement from the clerk of my own local authority which I had asked him to look up, because I wished to re fresh my memory about the attitude of the Minister. In his reply to me before The Minister said that the policy of the Ministry was not so much to reduce the amenities of the house: He said: "We do not definitely lay down that we will not permit reasonably decent amenities." Of course they do not, but they do lay down a standard of cost—anything in excess of it they will not sanction—which makes it impossible for any council to give reasonably decent amenities in their houses.
I have a letter in which I am reminded of only some of the things which we were compelled to do because of the policy of the Ministry; and the same thing happened to every other local authority that happened to ours. We were compelled to put in two-coat instead of three-coat plaster. We were advised that that was one of the ways in which to reduce costs. We were told that two coats of paint, and paint of an inferior type to what we were using, was sufficiently good for this type of house. We were told that solignum was quite as good for a working class house as paint, or ought to be quite good enough. We were told that wardrobe cupboards were not necessary. Up to that time the Ministry had sanctioned them, but we were told that cupboards could be done without. We were told that the glazed fronts which we were putting into kitchen dressers could be done without. We were told that the hot water system was not really 1248 necessary in our houses. We were told that many other things could be done without. They did not say, "You must not do this," of course they did not, but they said that the cost of the houses must be kept down to so low a figure that these amenities could not be provided.
It is mere nonsense for the Minister to say that his Department was not responsible and did not out out the amenities from the houses. I have a whole list of houses which have been built, with the actual reductions which took place from time to time because of the necessity of cutting down casts on the instruction of The Minister. My own council were so incensed at the lower standard which the Ministry endeavoured to impose that they paid£10,000 out of the local rates rather than reduce the amenities of the houses in the way we were asked to reduce them by the Minister. I wish to make these observations because there are Members in the House who might easily have been left under the impression that the statement I made previously was simple lying and could not be borne out by the facts. I say emphatically that it was the policy of the Minister that the costs must be reduced—reduce costs, reduce costs. That policy was imposed on local authorities to such an extent that it was impossible to build a house which they would be prepared to call a house with areas on able standard of amenities, at any rate such a standard as the Ministry them selves had sanctioned up to that time, and such as they would not have sanctioned had they thought it too high a standard.
The Minister said it was not a question of economy. Then what was it? He said, "Reduce the cost; educe the cost." I can only attribute it to the desire of the Minister for economy in the cost of building houses and in their amenities, or the money with which they would enable the people to build houses. Everybody will welcome the return of the subsidy, and everybody who knows anything about it, including the Minister, ought to admit that those who were critical of the 1933 Act were perfectly right, and that he was entirely wrong when he said the time had arrived when the subsidy could be done without, and we were entirely right when we knew the subsidy could not be done without if houses were to be built under the Act. Houses have not been built 1249 under the Act to any appreciable extent. The Minister now recognises that fact and therefore comes back to the subsidy, and yet he has not the decency to admit the failure of his previous Act and to apologise to the House for many of the statements he then made.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. PEAT
The hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) has referred to the reduction in costs which, apparently, he thinks could only be achieved by reduction in amenities. I believe a reduction in costs could be obtained by increased efficiency. I believe the Advisory Committee under this Bill will have that effect.
§ Mr. PEAT
I got the impression that that was in the hon. Member's mind. As one who has, in a very humble way, followed this Bill in Committee and on the Floor of the House, I am very glad to have this last opportunity of saying that I, personally, give it my wholehearted support. I believe that this Bill provides opportunities, and also emphasises obligations. I think that if the opportunities are taken, and the obligations are shouldered, this Bill is going to be a success. The greatest opportunity I can see is the appointment of the Advisory Committee, which I believe, will revolutionise the building of the right type of house in this country. I believe it will bring the ordinary uniformity of efficiency of building in this country up to the high level at which it should be. I believe through that we shall get a reduction in costs without a reduction in amenities.
Housing associations have a very great opportunity, because I believe that in the housing association we have the solution of how to build houses at the right price in the distressed areas where we have local authorities who cannot afford to put up the money to build houses whereas in the more prosperous parts of England they can afford to do so. In the consolidation of subsidies we have a great opportunity of focussing all our opportunities, all our available money for subsidies, in the right direction, namely, that of giving relief where it is most needed. I believe those are very great opportunities which come about in this Bill. As I have listened to the debate, I have been betting with myself as to how many of 1250 the hon. Members who have been criticising this Bill through 99.9 per cent. of their speeches, and then ending up with vague praise at the end of them, will find their way into the aye or the no Lobby. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) criticised the Bill almost all the way through his speech but ended up with faint praise. I shall be interested to see to which Lobby lie finds his way if there is a Division. [Interruption.] I under stand that there is not to be a Division, which answers my query.
The rest of the criticism seems to have been very largely based on the suspected infirmities of human nature. We have had the criticism that the Minister was not a fit and proper person to decide a case of compensation; that if he saw a property owner round the corner he would immediately make up his mind that he would have to be exterminated, and the case would go against him. I do not believe that. I believe that Ministers of the Crown are sufficiently servants of the Crown and of the people to be unprejudiced in carrying out their duties. We have also been told that the local authorities will be influenced by graft and pressure brought to bear on them. There may be difficulties in front of the local authorities, but, taking it by and large, they are well suited to under take the obligations that this Bill places upon them. I believe that this is a good democratic Measure; that democracy in this country rests on a general belief in the honesty and common sense of the people of this country. I believe that this Bill, therefore, being a democratic Bill, rests entirely, and must rest entirely, for its success on the way in which the people of this country accept it and put it into operation. As I believe in democracy, I believe it will be put into operation with the very best in tent, and without any let or hindrance.
Before I close may I say that I very much appreciate the way in which the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have dealt with this Bill, and the tact and patience they have shown, particularly in Committee, which, to my way of thinking, was one of the best examples of parliamentary procedure I have seen in the four years I have been in this House. I believe that the results of a great Measure like this may be slow, but they are cumulative in their effect. 1251 I believe as the years go by we shall find that this Measure, which I am sure will be supported by the great volume of the people in this country, will bring more and more results, and that in time—and I believe in a very short time—we shall find the housing problem, which I quite agree is one problem, solved, and very largely by the Bill which is to get its Third Reading to-night.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Mr. BERNAYS
I gather from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Peat)that he has private information that the Opposition are not going to vote against this Bill to-night. Having listened to some of the arguments of the Opposition to-night, I am not surprised. The arguments they have brought forward are of a character I can well understand they would not be very ready to back up in the Division Lobby. There has been a most remark able change in the attitude of the Opposition on this Bill. I have been refreshing my mind with some of the remarks on Second Reading, and I have paid particular attention to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). He roared like the bull of Bashan against this Bill on the Second Reading and now, while I will not say he cooed at it, he got as near to cooing as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield can get. The change in the attitude of the Opposition is a great tribute to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary for the way in which they have conducted this Bill from Second Reading to its close.
As a critic of some aspects of the policy of the Government, I should like to take this opportunity of giving whole-hearted support to the Bill. The merit of the Government's policy on housing seems to me that it has taken the housing problem as a whole. Other Ministers of Health have dealt with it piecemeal. They have introduced Housing Acts, but they have been applied to a limited sector of the front, and the result has been that the amount of ground gained has been narrow and of limited depth. Here, for the first time, we have an offensive all along the line. It began with the Housing Act, 1933. That was, as it were, the opening barrage. It cleared the sub- 1252 sidy away. At the time, I must admit, I doubted the wisdom of clearing the subsidy away, but it has been abundantly justified in the event. It did set free the springs of private enterprise, and the result has been that we have this astonishing record in the number of houses built. It is no answer to this to wrangle whether these houses were built under the 1930 Act or under the1933 Act. The fact is that the houses have been built in immensely larger numbers than they were built under the Labour administration. The right hon. Gentle man the Member for Wakefield ignored the important point that the removal of the subsidy in the 1933 Act enabled the money that the State is prepared to spend on housing to be concentrated on the points where it was most needed. There has followed such a drive towards slum clearance that it may well be that within a measurable distance of time the slum house will be as much an anachronism as a hansom cab. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh. I advise them to wait and see. The policy they are adopting on this Bill is wait and see-saw.
Now has come this overcrowding Bill. The Hindenberg line has been pierced, and we are now in sight of that victory over the housing problem which has baffled and eluded successive Parliaments. In connection with this overcrowding Bill, I am delighted that the Government successfully resisted all attempts to set up an independent housing tribunal to settle the standard of overcrowding. Such a task surely cannot be taken out of the hands of the Minister and of Parliament. The right standard of overcrowding is our own responsibility and we are answerable for that only to our constituents. The experiment of establishing an extra-Parliamentary body to deal with a vital social question like housing has failed in the case of the Unemployment Act. I do not want to go into that, but it is an indication that these vital social questions cannot be taken out of the control of Parliament, and I am delighted that the mistake has not been made in this Bill.
Taken as a whole, this Housing Bill and the legislation that has preceded it seems to me to represent one of the finest achievements of this National Government. As a Liberal, coming into this 1253 House for the first time, I confess that I have always submitted any piece of social legislation to the measuring rod of the Liberal record from 1906 to 1914, when the existing foundations of our social structure were so well and truly laid. I cannot pay, from my point of view, any greater tribute to this Bill than to say that it is worthy to take its place by the side of the Unemployment Insurance Act, the Old Age Pensions Act and all the other great social Measures of that most fruitful epoch.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Major MILNER
I am sure the Minister of Health will be happy to know that he has the unsolicited support of the hon. Gentleman who represents one of the Bristol Divisions as a Liberal. I hope the result may perhaps be that he may succeed in avoiding a contest there. [Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Gentleman should take it on him self to attack this party. He referred to the Second Reading Debate and suggested that although on that occasion and on this occasion, this party had raised objections to the Bill, it did not carry those objections, or did not propose to carry those objections on this occasion, to a Division. If my memory serves me aright, the party did not carry its objection on the Second Reading to a Division.
§ Major MILNER
Perhaps the hon. Member who has the record there will be good enough to look it up. My recollection is that throughout, the record of this party has been general approval of the principles of the Bill, but we have at all times in all places commented on the detailed provisions of the Bill, and have endeavoured to improve them, and the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have paid tribute to us, and particularly to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood).
There is one particular matter to which I desire to refer, because I hope my hon. Friends on these benches will forgive my taking a rather different view on this particular matter from that taken by some Members of the party who sat on the Committee. I hope they will permit me to express that difference in view. I refer to Clause 85 which, as the House will remember, provides for a reduction in the permitted sum which local authorities 1254 may advance to purchasers of houses under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts. That sum at present is either £1,200 or£1,500, and the Bill proposes to reduce that sum to£800. I entirely approve of the reduction, and indeed, I think it would be in accord with the principles profess if the facility given to local authorities in this connection were done away with altogether. The reason I take that view is this: I desire, with the whole of my friends on these benches, the municipalisation of essential services, but I do so on one condition, that these ser vices are subject to public ownership and control.
When municipalities commence to hand out, either by loan or otherwise, sums of money to provide capital for the purchase of houses, there is no public ownership, and no public control. What is happening is that public money is being used to support private capitalists, indeed to create them, in the matter of house ownership—and let me say I am entirely in favour of a man owning his own house—without public ownership or public control, which should be a condition precedent to the handing over of public funds. There is no justification for the continuance of that facility, introduced in war time, or just after the War. It is not municipalisation, and it is certainly not Socialism. There is no difference, I would point out to some of my hon. Friends, between subsidising private owners to buy houses and subsidising shipbuilders, wheat-growers or beet sugar factories, and it is not in accordance with the principles to which we are attached.
I wish that that facility had been done away with altogether, first on general principles, and secondly because I am convinced that it must result in loss for the ratepayers. The costs of building societies are in the neighbourhood of 1 per cent. upon the amount advanced, and that covers administrative expenses, losses and so on. I invited the Minister of Health at Question Time to-day to tell me what was the cost incurred by local authorities. The answer was to the effect that the provision made was only per cent. I am sure no hon. Member will say that the difference between borrowing at 3i per cent. and lending at 3¼ per cent. is sufficient to cover the administration costs and the expenses of the local authorities. Authorities who are making use of the facility to which 1255 I refer are doing so for the benefit of certain private owners who are able to buy houses costing £1,200 or£1,500, and at the cost of the other ratepayers. For those reasons I wish the right hon. Gentleman could do away with the facility, particularly as there are private facilities which are cheaper and more convenient than ever. I hold no special brief for the building societies, but it is a fact that the facilities which they offer are cheaper and better than they have ever been. Private capitalism should be supported from private sources and not from public funds. I hope at some future date there may be a better realisation of that principle.
The hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays) has handed me a copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT, which indicates that, upon the occasion referred to, and upon reasoned Amendment, the House did divide, and that we supported that Amendment.
§ Major MILNER
This party, differing from that represented by the hon. Member for Durham(Mr. McKeag), has always been able to give reasons for what it does. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would give consideration to the points I have presented. I am somewhat troubled also as to the standard of accommodation set out in the First Schedule to the Bill, in regard to municipal estates. As I understand it, there is nothing to prevent a municipality from crowding up its tenants to the standard of the Bill. It would be quite possible for an economically-minded municipality so to arrange matters that its poorer tenants were crowded up, on thestandard of the Bill, into the cheapest and smallest accommodation, while letting dearer houses to smaller families of the better placed section of the population—a practice which, I believe, has prevailed in one or two places. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take some steps—for example, by having are turn from local authorities—to ensure that that course is not adopted by the few who might con- 1256 ceivably adopt it. We all know that there are some who would carry out slum clearance and de-crowding on the cheap, dividing the population by the well-known figure of five and building that number of houses. If that course were adopted, and all the houses were crowded up to the standard of the Bill, then, while the matter would look all right on paper, it would be quite wrong and contrary to the intention of the House.
With regard to the compensation pro visions, I supported the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), because I believed, as I believe now, that, if any section of the property owning community is entitled to compensation when compensation is being given, the owner-occupier is so entitled. I cannot agree with the taste of the hon. Member's speech to-day, but I did support the Amendment when it came before the House. The proposal to give compensation to retail shopkeepers creates a precedent which the Government must expect to see extended. The principle which the right hon. Gentleman is setting up in the Bill is, as I understand it, that, when anyone suffers a loss as a result of some action of the community, he is entitled to be compensated for that loss. For example, when, if it comes to pass, Woolwich Arsenal is removed, and there is a clearance of population from Woolwich, every interest affected in that locality can logically claim compensation; or, whenever some change in national policy brings disaster on some particular trade, not only the heads of the businesses concerned, but the work-people concerned, or the miners in appropriate cases, ought to be able to come to this House with a claim for compensation. If that principle is adopted and is applied to the results of the imposition of tariffs and quotas and so forth, and if the workpeople are to be included, the consequences of the step we are taking in this Bill may be very far-reaching.
As regards the finance of the Bill, I regret that, notwithstanding the appeals which have been made to the right hon. Gentleman, the local authorities are not being assisted to bear the burdens imposed upon them by this Bill by the provision of a single penny from the national Exchequer. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister, 1257 if he replies, to tell us whether it is expected or desired that the rates shall bear the extra expense incurred, or whether the housing authorities—local authorities and so on—will be allowed to put all those expenses on to the rents of the houses, or how the Minister pro poses that that extra expense shall be met. Will it come out of the rates or the rents? I am sure that in one case the ratepayers will have a just complaint, and that in the other case the tenants will have a complaint. I hope that at no distant date the national Exchequer will assume its just and proper obligations in that respect.
§ 10.25 p.m.
Mr. S ELL EY
I should like to help the House in dealing with the point made so many times about taking off the subsidy for cottages. I do not know whether the House quite appreciate that this Bill in no way takes anything away from the 1030 Act. Under the 1930 Act, if you are displacing people from the slums and rehousing them on any cottage estate, the subsidy is there, as it has been the whole time. I cannot understand why hon. Members keep accusing the Government of having done something to take away from local authorities the very means by which they have been enabled to build houses. The Minister, in the Act of 1933 for the first time in housing history, linked up the subsidy with destruction. Anybody who has studied the housing problem of the country knows that, had this not been done and the subsidy had been confined to cottage estates or to any buildings where the local authority chose to build, so long as slums remained, they would have been occupied and been a festering sore and never removed. It is the fact that the Minister had the courage to come to this House and tell local authorities that "Unless you will link up your housing programme with the destruction of these hovels, I will not supply the money."
What are the facts so far as cottage estates are concerned? I presented to the London County Council a return covering some 900houses on the St. Helier estate just before last March twelvemonth. The position was that, with the State loss of£9, which was given as a subsidy, linked with the£4 10s. contribution from the London ratepayer, we were able to build houses and let them at the ordinary muncipal rent, and the 1258 financial loss, instead of being £13 10s. was, minus the£9, £3 10s. only on the London ratepayer. After the National Government got going and established confidence, municipalities were able to raise money at something like 3 percent. It is that factor, the House should bear in mind, which has enabled local authorities to bridge the difference.
The complaint of hon. Members above the Gangway is that The Minister, under the Act of 1933, has been unable to pro duce the houses. I know that hon. Members above the Gangway say that any house built by private enterprise is not a house within the meaning of the Labour party's Act, It is something they do not like. They pay lip-service to it, and tell you that they like to see people own their own houses, but they say that it is no contribution to housing. I have been in the business for nearly40 years and I regard, particularly since I have been interested in the municipal side of the housing problem, every house of whatever sort as a contribution to housing. The figures which the Parliamentary Secretary gave this afternoon are a perfect answer. That Act has been thoroughly justified, doing away with the subsidy has been justified and this Bill is another step forward.
We have been told by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) that it will produce no houses. I would suggest that he should ask his friends on the other side of Westminster Bridge whether they think that it will produce houses. We have been securing 600 acres of land to prepare for the very Measure which we are reading for the Third time to-night. The right hon. Gentleman and his friends fear that this Measure will be such a success that all their thunder will be taken away from them. We have proceeded on the right lines. We have not set the standard too high, but we are hoping that directly the opportunity presents itself the standard can be altered, and that when the next Government comes in it will be able to bring forward another Bill for tightening up the standard. The Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary are to be congratulated. They are putting on the Statute Book a charter for the people of this country, and all that we have to do is to work with goodwill to bring it to fruition. I am sure that it is one of 1259 the finest Measures ever placed on the Statute Book.
§ 10.32 p.m.
§ Mr. ERNEST YOUNG
I join with other hon. Members in congratulating the Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary on the general structure of the Bill. One expects a Measure of this magnitude to be shot at from many angles, but I believe that the value of the Bill outweighs any considerations put forward by the Labour Opposition. There is still one criticism and that is on the question of giving adequate compensation. I was very glad, as I said on the last occasion I spoke, that the Min ister made a concession and agreed to give one and a half times the rateable value as compensation for those who are dispossessed of their houses. That has been increased to three times the rateable value. I assume that that is the net rateable value, which means that any person who loses his house will receive, broadly speaking, about £18. That is not enough when one has to deduct the cost of the demolition, which is about £10, and when there may perhaps be a mortgage of £100 or£150 on the property. I wonder sometimes whether the right hon. Gentleman really appreciates what happens in a case like that, where a man has put down his life's savings to own a house, not knowing that it will be eventually included in a clearance area. He has the building society mort gage to carry, possibly for another nine or 10 years. The result is that for all that period he has to pay practically double the amount of rent which he anticipated he. would have to pay when he took the house. In those cases special consideration ought to be paid to those people who have this heavy burden to carry.
§ Mr. YOUNG
The answer would depend upon the surveyor who goes round to survey the property. I could take the hon. Member to many houses not far from here which are not really slum houses and would never be considered to be slum houses if they had not been included in a clearance scheme. It is sometimes 1260 that inclusion which turns a house from a decent house into as lum house because it is in an area which is to be cleared. There are owners of property who are not occupants of their houses, who also are entitled to some compensation when their property is taken from them. For many years past it has been the general practice among poor people, shopkeepers and the like, to save their money and invest it in property so that in the event of their passing away their widows will have an income from the rents of these small houses. They are not speculators in the conventional sense; they are not rack renters who are despoiling their tenants, but they hope to get a small and secure income from property in which they have invested their money. It seems a great shame that some provision has not been made for people whose money is sunk in property under the impression that it would give them the same security as if it had been invested in Government or other securities.
Nothing has been said about site value—and this is my last point. Whatever condition the edifice may be in the value of the land increases automatically as the years go by. The present position is that, if a local authority takes over the property, and does not do anything with it, it may prevent the owner of the land using it until the whole area has been replanned, which maybe a matter of some years. If the Minister had been sufficiently generous or sufficiently wise to have said that in these special cases adequate compensation for site value shall be paid and that in every case where a local authority takes over the property they shall demolish it at the public expense and not throw the demolition charges on the shoulders of the outgoing residents, we, should have had a Bill which would have satisfied a sense of justice which most people feel has been outraged by this descent upon private property, almost amounting to confiscation in some cases. In spite of the objections which may have come from some hon. Members I believe that the general sense of the British public would have been more satisfied and they would have been less uneasy than they are now, when they realise that the Government have set a precedent almost amounting to confiscation of property and are asking what the Government are going to take away next. On the whole, the Bill 1261 is a good one. I have had 40 years' experience of the building trade. I think it is the best housing Bill we have had since the War finished, and I hope that it will fulfil the predictions of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary and of those who have spoken so optimistically of it, and that it will he the beginning of a, solution of our housing and slum problem which has perplexed this country for so many years past.
§ 10.38 p.m.
§ Mr. BOSSOM
I want to congratulate the Minister that for the first time in our housing legislation he has made it his business to find out exactly what the problem meant. He first of all called for a thorough survey of the slums, and now he is calling for a survey of overcrowding. I congratulate him on cutting out a lot of talk about housing and getting down to the real facts in order to find out what is really necessary. The result will be that he will be able, with the aid of his previous undertakings, to cure the situation. I also congratulate him on the report we had yesterday of the huge increase in private enterprise which has taken place. It is a great credit to him. Although he has been criticised by certain hon. Members, there is no getting away from the fact that a lot of houses are being built to-day at a price which the worker can afford and that it is not necessary to provide a subsidy when private enterprise can do the work. But there is one condition in connection with that to which I should like to call his attention. I am particularly anxious that this great conception of his shall be carried through to completion without interruptions other than those that are inevitable. There was a certain amount of unemployment in the building industry, but the vast work that the Minister has caused to be done has taken up that slack, and now we have got almost to a, point where, in our key industries, we have not any unemployment. I asked a question the other day as to the unemployment in certain trades. The Minister replied that he had not that information. I inquired from the trade itself. I found that the bricklayers, a key industry, had a very small amount of unemployment.
When we realise that this Bill has to produce the houses in face not only of slum clearance work and private enterprise, but also a large Air programme, 1262 we have to be very careful lest we find that the men in the key industries are not available when we want them. The Bill contemplates a vast expenditure of public money. It does not in any way provide for an increase in the cost of building, nor does it do anything to prevent an increase in the cost of building. The Minister is to have the assistance of an advisory committee. We do not know of whom the advisory committee is to consist, or how far it is to be given power, but I believe that if that committee is to succeed the Minister must give it the power of planning widely. The Bill, as has been said on all sides, is a Housing Bill, and housing consists of building houses, not of making laws, and it calls for men td build the houses. We know that con current with the work to be undertaken under the Bill there is the great Air expansion programme to be carried out, and we know that the Air work will draw men away from the towns. As a matter of fact it is doing so already. If inquiry were made it would be found that the men around Salisbury Plain are being attracted to the Air work and are not available for house-building.
We cannot build buildings without having an outside to them, and the man needed for the outside work is the bricklayer. I find from the secretary of the trade union concerned that in the bricklaying trade the unemployment is between 7 and 8 per cent. only. We find from various estimates that the need is for between500,000 and 2,000,000 new habitations. Those are estimates, but they are the best that have been made. Quite rightly the Minister is having a survey made to find out the exact figures. Let us take the lowest, 500,000 habitations, either new or reconditioned, to satisfy the needs of overcrowding. Assume that that work is to be completed in a. period of five years. It means 100,000 habitations a year, and in round figures a cost of about £30,000,000.
About a. week ago I asked what was the total building expenditure in this country yearly. The last year for which figures were available was 1930, and I was told that the total building investment yearly was about £234,000,000. Let us assume that to be increased to £300,000,000. It means.that this Bill contemplates an in crease of not less than 10 per cent. over what is being done to-day. When we 1263 realise that that is to be carried forward at the same time as our big air expansion programme, it will be seen that we have here a matter for very serious consideration. We will not get this work done un less the Minister gives the very widest powers to this Advisory Committee, and we all believe that if the Committee is given those powers it can revolutionise the building industry in this country.
There are other conditions which ought to be carefully considered by the Advisory Committee but I will not go into them now. I would urge on the Minister however, that he should try to standardise and modernise the building regulations, which are out of date. I would also ask him to ensure that there will be an opportnity of using new and improved methods, without having examinations of them by 1,500 local authorities before they are allowed. I also hope that lie will have a large broad-gauge time progress schedule made of all this work for the entire country. We must not forget that in 1920 no investigation was made as to the number of men or the amount of material available and the result was that the price of a house went up from, say,£350 to about £1,000. We do not want a repetition of that and I am sure that if the Minister will give the Advisory Committee the necessary authority, it will be possible to prevent such a situation developing again. The Minister has produced a Measure, which, with the energy he puts into dealing with the housing problem, can be made an historic one. It is a Measure which, if properly carried out can modernise the building industry. If the building industry is modernised, as this-Measure can modernise it, it will mean a saving to the nation of an amount equal to 6d. in the £ on the Income Tax or equivalent to paying the entire cost of the projected air development. My authority for that statement is to be found in the views held by the building trade operatives, the building trade employers, the architects and the surveyors. In congratulating the Minister on what he has done in this Measure, I ask him again to give the widest powers he can to the Advisory Committee.
§ 10.49 p.m.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
I must feel a deep sense of the occasion on arriving at the final stage in the House of Commons of this great Measure, especially when it 1264 falls to me to make the concluding speech for the Government in this Debate. Like all creatures born to live for a long time this Bill has been a long time in gestation. It is based upon 15years of intensive and varied experience of housing conditions since the War and many experiments in one direction and another. It is based also upon prolonged study of housing conditions by those responsible for its inception. It has been preceded by the closest possible consultation—I think closer and more frank consultation than has ever been before—with the local authorities who will have to be active in its administration. Finally, it has received from the House a long and careful consideration and a consideration which has been of so sympathetic a nature, that I desire here t6 pay my tribute of thanks and appreciation to the House for its reception of the Measure. Never has a Bill been more sym pathetically dealt with in Committee, or indeed on the Floor of the House, than this Bill. But the particular feature of this Measure as regards its history, which should encourage one's hope that so far as it is possible to command success beforehand success has been ensured for it, is that it is part of a long and an ordered plan for the development of housing policy by His Majesty's Government.
In modern battles, victory is usually found to be most easily won by the method of successive waves of attack, each following the other according to programme, and each timed to arrive so that it produces its maximum effect, and in creases the effect of that which went before. Somewhat of that sort has been the plan of campaign of the Government in its attack on the housing problem. There have been three successive waves of attack. First, there lease of private enterprise to make its contribution, a measure which has certainly been accompanied by the most conspicuous success, as is disclosed by the figures of housing returns which have just been published. The second wave was the wave of attack on the slums. The legislative provisions came from the Measure passed by the late Labour Government. That we recognise and appreciate. The Labour Government put the Act of 1930 on the Statute Book, but, unfortunately, they left it there, and an Act which remains on the Statute Book is not much good in the world of 1265 practical affairs. We have pulled the Measure off the Statute Book and sent it scurrying round the country, and the result is seen in the conspicuous achievement in the replacement of slum houses. At the latest, but possibly not the last, we come to the wave of attack represented by the overcrowding Bill.
What I would fain do in the few moments in which I shall occupy the attention of the House is to make one or two observations on what appear to me to be the essential outline which a housing endeavour of this sort must always follow in such a country a sours if it is to be successful. In support of those ideas, which I would state as simply and clearly as I can, I would only adduce the figures of those remarkable results which we have just attained, and which have just been published. If you are to succeed in solving our housing evils, you must, in the first place, provide the fullest possible freedom and scope to make the largest possible contribution to what I call the normal sources of supply in private enterprise. You must obtain from them the maximum of help in providing as many houses, and houses down to the smallest, as possible. Set the field clear for them in the first place. That is the greatest contribution that you can make. That we have done, and we have seen the astonishing result in the swingeing wave of the output of private enterprise, and, what is more, a steady advance on the part of. unassisted private enterprise to provide smaller houses to let for the poorest-paid wage earner. Let private enterprise build as small houses as it will, and let us always give it the fullest possible scope.
Your second rule must be this, must it not? Under existing conditions always to recognise that there is a margin of houses needed for the lowest-paid wage-earners, and therefore at rents so low that under present economic conditions private enterprise unassisted cannot provide them. We have to recognise the existence of that margin. We have to recognise that the demand that exists there has to be provided by public effort with the assistance of public funds, or not at all. That is the second rule, which, I venture to think, all policies must follow. When we are devoting public effort to house production, when we are devoting public funds to it in order to provide this margin of accommodation for the lowest-paid 1266 wage-earner at the lowest rents, we must make that effort direct. We must ensure that the efforts and the assistance of public funds go to the production of houses which shall be directly available for the class for whom they are erected. That is the secret of the success which has attended our recent efforts in dealing with the housing problem. It is that for the first time we have said that the houses provided with the assistance of public funds shall be provided for those who need them, and for those who need them only, that is, for the slum dweller and now for the overcrowded.
It is because that obvious link was not found in the chain of previous housing efforts that, although after the Armistice we built over 2,000,000 houses, very largely with the assistance of public funds, at the end of it overcrowding and slums were practically as bad as they had ever been. We have a faculty in this nation for profiting by experience, and for learning by the old method of "cut and try." I believe that the lessons we have learned together in the course of our legislative work in this House are the lessons to be learned for our guidance in future policy, and that any Government or Minister who departs from them in proposing legislation or the expenditure of public funds departs from them at the peril of waste and failure. So we come to this Measure which is before the House to-night. I am taunted by hon. Members opposite that this is a recantation of the Act of 1933. Unless and until hon. Members opposite understand the difference between the controlled subsidy as it will be paid under this Bill for the reduction of overcrowding, and the general subsidies which we abolished in 1933, I do not think the yare qualified to form even an elementary judgment. The test of a real understanding is to apprehend the difference between the controlled subsidy and the general subsidy. It is because our subsidies formerly were general that they failed. It is be cause our subsidies now are controlled and directed to the class which require them, that they succeed, and this Measure is a development of the policy of con trolled subsidies by extending them from the slum dweller to the overcrowded.
I would dwell for a moment on one or two essential aspects of this Bill. It may be useful to indicate what our hopes may be of this Bill, and how large are the 1267 possibilities—nay, the certainties—of its utility. I want to say this in the first place. The House remembers that this Bill provides powers for dealing with the old areas in the inner parts of our towns that need redevelopment. For success in this work, the first essential is to work upon a large enough scale. If the powers in the Bill are to be used in a merely tinkering spirit to put a few houses right here, and part of a street there, we miss a great opportunity. What is required and desired is that the local authorities should realise that they have here a weapon efficient from the financial point of view and efficient from the legal point of view with which to put right on a large scale the bad mistakes of past development in our towns and that to do so will need courage and vision. Great achievements have been accomplished in recent years in developing the areas round our towns, but the old centres are left, not good enough for the standards of modern accommodation 'and in some respects a disgrace to our past civilisation. Here opportunity on a large scale awaits the executive authorities to turn back their efforts from the circumference to the centre.
The second aspect of the work is not only the largeness of the scale required, but the necessity of relating the work that is to be done to courageous planning, the replanning of the town as a whole. They should contemplate an area so large that the town will be re-formed under the powers of this Bill, contemplate that they will be altering the character of cities and that in altering the character they will alter the general lay-out. In order that that work may be done to the best profit of the future dwellers in those cities it needs to be a replanning for the city as a whole; there should be a conscious idea of how the work to be carried out will fit into the city as it forms. Courage and vision both in the size of the work and in the intelligent planning of the work are the essentials.
Let me turn to one or two main criticisms which have been advanced against the Bill in our discussions. I do not concern myself on this occasion with the minor criticisms or the minor discussions, all of which have been dealt with at one time or another in Committee or in Report. Let me apply myself to the 1268 apprehensions expressed by those whose objects are the same as the Government's—the majority of Members of the House have the same end in view—the abolition of overcrowding, and the reforming of the inconvenient and obsolete areas of our towns. Let me deal with the apprehensions they have lest the Bill should fall short of achieving that purpose. First of all, there is a school of thought which is enthusiastic for the development of garden cities and satellite towns, but fears that this Bill may unduly stress re-development at the centre at the expense of development at the circumference. That is not the purpose nor should that be the effect of the Bill. What is required under the Bill is the plan which is appropriate to the locality, whatever that plan may be, which will provide, in whatever manner is required, for the re-housing of the people—at the centre where houses on central sites are what is needed, which must be the case in regard to a proportion of the people, and round the outskirts for another pro portion of the people. The subsidy is available for the development of undeveloped sites by the provision of cottage buildings as well as for the provision of flats in the re-developed areas, only not in the same automatic form and only where it is justified by the actual circumstances of the case. It is the case that we have upon our Statute Book two housing standards. The standard we are dealing with here is the standard to be applied to the worst type of accommodation, and that is, of necessity, a lower standard than that which we are considering in regard to new accommodation provided under re-housing.
I would like to refer to one particular criticism advanced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). He referred to the cessation of procedure by improvement areas. I understand that he regrets we are to dispense with the child of his labours, the Act of 1930. Let me sooth his parental heart by assuring him that the new Bill contains all the powers provided for improvement areas in the Act of 1930, although the actual procedure is not retained. All the powers exist in the new Bill, and the enforcement of them under the old Act would be hopelessly in conflict with the new national standard of accommodation which is established by legislation under the new Bill.
1269 As regards the agricultural areas, with which several Members have dealt, I would say that the application of the Measure to the agricultural areas will undoubtedly require very careful and sympathetic administration. There is a substantial difference in conditions between agricultural areas and urban areas as regards overcrowding. When you are dealing with a great number of dwellings and a great mass of over crowding which you find in the cities, conditions average up, and the arrangements which are made for classes and categories can be made generally applicable because of the large numbers to which you are applying them. Things are different when you are dealing with overcrowding in the rural areas. You do not get the mass of overcrowding in the farms and villages. Their case needs much more particular and individual administration. I think the provisions of the Bill are sufficiently elastic to he applied with as sufficient a measure of elasticity to agricultural areas as to the towns. There can be a large subsidy to deal with the particular circumstances which require such a large reduction of rents as is necessary in the case of the agricultural labourer.
The Bill, if I may put it in that way, ends a phase in our housing legislation. It certainly is not given to any Government, still less to any Minister of Health, to arrive at finality in so continuous a matter of social improvement and endeavour as dealing with the housing standards of our nation. No finality, indeed, can be attained. But I would say that in this Measure we have thrown our hearts over a very high fence. There is recognition for the first time of a standard of accommodation which is being imposed on the nation as a whole. As regards space and air, there is a standard of accommodation which every man, woman and child in the country can expect and which, if they do not receive it, it is the business of the State to see that they do receive it at the earliest opportunity. The State undertakes by the whole force of its housing administration, through Parliament, the Ministry and, the local authorities, to see that in no single case is that standard of accommodation not attained by any family in the country. This is a very great undertaking and I do not think that any country has done it before. I do not think 1270 that any country has had the means to do it—either in resources or in its degree of organisation of the local and central authorities. I doubt whether any country in the world but ours could undertake so high a task. But in undertaking it we must remember that we are setting ourselves a task of exceptional difficulty.
I would make a special appeal, if it be necessary, to the local authorities. I do not think, from their record, that any special spur is necessary. I believe the local authorities to be straining on the leash in order to get to work with the new powers and the new financial re sources of this Bill to improve their local housing condition's. But let me say on this occasion a word that will go out and reach the ears of those who will be concerned in the administration, and responsible for it. In the past we have greatly trusted the local authorities with powers and resources for social services. In the matter of housing in particular we have trusted them greatly, and made them the instrument of the achievement of the whole policy. We have not trusted them in vain—as their effort upon slum clearance shows. They have shown themselves ready and efficient in response to the national call for slum clearance. We are confident that they will be equally ready and equally efficient in their response to the call to deal with the evil of overcrowding. For their encouragement we would say that this Measure is sure of success with active administration on their part—from the standard to the survey, from the survey to the pro vision of accommodation, from the pro vision of accommodation to the transfer of families, all will depend on active administration on the part of the local authorities. As soon as this Measure is passed, there is nothing to prevent local authorities starting straight away on the provision of additional accommodation under the Bill, which will at once make a start in the improvement of conditions.
There is no reason why the provision of actual dwellings should not begin at once. Thus we shall prevent any undue delay or disappointment in the expectations now aroused in the minds and hearts of the people of the country that the end is coming to this evil in their homes. Let us remember that in passing this Bill we are awakening great expectations. We are setting the thought in the minds of families, particularly in the 1271 minds of the fathers and mothers who are living in overcrowded conditions, that the country, through Parliament, has pledged itself to a remedy of the evils under which they now live in the matter of accommodation. We are solemnly undertaking, with the assistance of the local authorities, that these evils shall be remedied with the least possible delay. We know that it can be done. While it is right that we should awaken these expectations because we know and believe that they can be satisfied, it would be wrong, doubly wrong, to awaken them and then disappoint them. Once we have passed the Bill to recognise a national standard of overcrowding and have undertaken to provide accommodation to reduce it, this Government and every Government that succeeds it is absolutely pledged to carry through this Measure. Bypassing this Measure we have done more than merely make an Act of Parliament which can be destroyed by criticism and superseded by other policies; we have brought into existence the most living thing, the most immortal of things in the country, an idea—anidea of social obligation and of the intolerability of a social wrong, the wrong of overcrowding like the wrong of the slums. We have brought that idea to life, and that idea can never die, however many Acts of Parliament it may take to carry it out.