§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Sir Kingsley Wood)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The purpose of the Bill is to provide continuing financial provision for the furtherance of our work in connection with slum clearance and overcrowding. It also makes special provision for agricultural housing, and to meet special conditions in a number of small urban areas. Provision is also made for a number of incidental purposes in connection with these proposals. Before I come to the exact proposals of the Bill, I would like to say a word or two, as I have no doubt the House will expect, on the present position in regard to these matters. Our present slum clearance programme covers about 400,000 houses. I am happy to inform the House that we have already made considerable progress. Some 800,000 people have gone from slums to new houses, with good conditions, and they are going still at the rate of 25,000 per month.
One of the most hopeful features of our present housing progress, particularly in this connection, and in that of overcrowding, is the fact that the number of small houses built for letting has steadily risen during the last few years. So far as overcrowding is concerned, the local authorities, as I think the House will realise, have been very actively engaged in slum clearance work, and, in addition, much work has been done, mainly of a preliminary kind, in eliminating the evil of overcrowding. The survey, of course, was a gigantic undertaking—the first of its character that has ever been made, I think, in the history of this country. That occupied a considerable time, and, even on the standard required by the Act of 1935, it showed that many thousands of houses were overcrowded, and that the people in them were living in very unhealthy conditions.
A serious beginning has now been made on the abatement of overcrowding. The fixing of the appointed days from which the statutory provisions began to operate against overcrowding is now practically 1728 complete; in fact, I think it is complete except in some half dozen districts. The abatement of overcrowding itself also has already begun. Hon. Members may have observed the statement of the medical officer of one of our large cities recently that, by means of co-operation between the municipalities and the owners of property, some 30 per cent. of the cases of overcrowding in that city, as disclosed by the housing survey, had already been abated. I made inquiries myself from a number of authorities, and I received, in a number of cases, the reply that, by the same operation, some 20 per cent. of their overcrowding had been abated. I do not think it is always realised that the local authorities have actually in their control to-day some 1,000,000 houses—a supply of low-rented accommodation which gives many opportunities for overcrowded families to be rescued from the conditions in which they are living. But, notwithstanding that progress, the House, I think, will agree that overcrowding cannot be eliminated without the erection of a substantial number of new houses specially built for the purpose. Some 17,000 have been either built or approved for that purpose.
But, undoubtedly, one of the principal objects of this Bill is to enable further and continuous efforts to be made for people who are living in bad and overcrowded conditions. Let me say a few words about our immediate programme so that the House can visualise exactly what we have in front of us in these efforts. It was estimated that for the execution of our present programme—I emphasise that—for slum clearance and overcrowding, and overcrowding on the present standard—I emphasise that also—a total of 600,000 new houses were required, 400,000 for slum clearance and 200,000 for the abatement of overcrowding. The position to date is this: Towards this total some 200,000 have already been built, another 70,000 are now under construction, and I am glad to say that houses are being completed at the rate of about 7,000 a month. Of course I claim no particular credit for it, because the credit is due to others, but I think it will be generally agreed that we have had a satisfactory year.
The building of new houses is proceeding at a rate which should ensure the maintenance of the local authorities' programmes at the same rate during the 1729 present year. The January figures show that 6,675 new houses were approved in that month. With the 8,742 approved in December and 7,065 in November, that is a total of 22,000 houses approved during the last three months—a substantial contribution to the building programme for the year 1938. The December figure of 8,742, which includes the comparatively large figure of 1,248 houses for general needs, was in fact, I am glad to say, the highest since August, 1935. It is a very welcome thing to be able to say to the House to-day for the first time that from the figures which have just reached me, since the Armistice the local authorities have built no fewer than 1,000,000 houses. I suggest that that is a great contribution to the needs of the people of the country. But having said that whilst recalling what has been done, I should not be doing my duty if I did not say as Minister of Health, and I think with the concurrence of every Member of the House, that much still remains to be done. There now remain about another 400,000 houses to be built to complete this particular effort, or five to nearly six years steady work at the present rate of building.
I ask the House to remember that with the building industry occupied as it is and has been for the last two years—the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) will no doubt confirm this—that broadly represents the amount of building that is immediately practicable. It is in these circumstances that the policy of the Government in urban districts is to concentrate Exchequer assistance on the provision of houses to deal with slum clearance and overcrowding. I emphasise both those great objects in conjunction, because unfit and overcrowded houses constitute the primary health problem in relation to housing. I do not hesitate to say that, much as I appreciate all that has been done, it will certainly need all the best efforts of the local authorities for several years to come to accomplish this work. Therefore, apart altogether from questions of policy, their energies are, and I have no doubt will be, concentrated on this vital work, and it will certainly take all their capacity and probably all available building labour for that purpose.
A few words about building prices. Fortunately, prospects are favourable on the whole. There is now a steadying in building prices. Local authorities are 1730 receiving more tenders for work, particularly in the south, and more contractors are seeking contracts. I need hardly assure the House that my Department will in future, as in the past, maintain a constant scrutiny of tender prices submitted, and that we shall take action, as we have done hitherto when occasion has made it necessary, to defer a scheme for a short time, because undoubtedly that has had a good effect with regard to high tenders. All these things would seem to justify the hope that the peak has been reached and that prices are now steadying for a fall.
Now I come to the actual proposals of the Bill. The House will recollect no doubt that existing legislation provides that the Minister of Health shall review the financial assistance for slum clearance and overcrowding after the 1st October, 1937, and that we shall take into account—I emphasise this because these are the statutory provisions—the expenses which are to be incurred and have been incurred; by local authorities. In case anyone may attribute any sinister motive to this particular matter, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) will no doubt recall that that was one of the provisions in the Act of Parliament which no doubt he always regards with favour, he having assisted in placing it on the Statute Book—the Housing Act; of 1930. The then Minister of Health, like all Ministers of Health, was careful and pointed out to the local authorities in a circular that in each case, after review, the Minister might by order provide for a reduction of the grant under-each Act, and might also revise the normal rate charge to be taken into account in the fixing of rent under both' Acts. Under the Act also it is laid down that the Minister of Health, whoever he may be, shall consult with the associations of local authorities.
Let me say a preliminary word about a matter which has been put by many; local authorities and one on which the. House would desire some information. Under the Act of 1936 financial assistance at the rates now in operation is provided for houses completed by 31st March, 1938, and in order to secure continuity of work I announced some months ago that the proposals to be laid before Parliament would include provision for payment of the present rates of subsidy for houses completed by 31st December, 1731 1938, which was an extension of nine months. I think that this assurance was generally appreciated by the authorities, and progress has thereby been maintained at the steady level which is so essential in the interests of our house-building programme.
Broadly, the arrangement proposed in the Bill is that houses completed not later than 31st December, 1938, will rank for subsidies fixed by the Acts of 1930 and 1935, and those finished after that date will rank for the subsidies fixed by this Bill. But the House will appreciate that certain transitional provisions are needed because of the change-over from one subsidy to another, and power is taken in Clause 10 to pay the subsidies for houses built in respect of the abatement of overcrowding or the general needs of the agricultural population included in contracts entered into after the introduction of the Bill, notwithstanding that the houses are finished before 31st December, 1938. I think that that provision will be generally acceptable to those who have raised this point, and it is included so that there shall not be any delay, which might otherwise occur, in building with the object of qualifying for the higher rate of subsidy.
I also provide in the Bill, following the precedents and examples of my predecessors, that a further review shall be made after 1st October, 1941, but that the contribution shall be payable on all houses completed by 30th September, 1942. Under this provision we shall therefore have a period of 12 months instead of six months between the date of the review and the possible operation of any change, because administrative considerations have shown that a longer period of notice than six months, the period previously provided, is desirable when changes are in prospect.
I would like to say a word or two on the new financial provisions and on two important changes which are being made. I believe that the two principal alterations suggested in the financial arrangements have generally commended themselves to the local authorities of the country, and I hope that they will be generally acceptable to the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Let me mention what they are before I hear those voices of dissent. The first is the fixing of the two subsidies for slum clearance and 1732 overcrowding at the same level. There is at present a very substantial difference in the amount of the contributions for slum clearance and overcrowding, and there is at present payable a fixed subsidy of £2 5s. per person in respect of slum clearance, and a possible subsidy, but rarely admissible—[An HON. MEMBER: "Almost impossible."]—I am getting some assent, after all—not exceeding £5 for 20 years in respect of the abatement of overcrowding, with special subsidies for flats on expensive sites and for the agricultural population. I do not think that there is likely to be found, or that there has been found, such a difference in the economic position of those who live in unfit houses, on the one hand, and in overcrowded houses, on the other, as warrants any general difference in the rents of the houses built by the authorities for their accommodation.
The arrangements authorised by the Act of 1935 for the pooling of subsidies have undoubtedly been much appreciated by many local authorities who are now freed from the necessity of determining the rents for their houses by reference to the particular Act under which they were erected. That has been generally appreciated and I am anxious—and I hope that I shall carry with me all my colleagues in this House—that local authorities should be in a position to attack both the slums and overcrowding with equal vigour. Undoubtedly the present material difference in the amount of financial assistance available is not conducive to that end. Moreover, it will, no doubt, be advantageous if local authorities are freed from the necessity of considering the financial implications of the present alternative procedure and are in a position in the future to consider solely the housing necessities of the people concerned. Therefore, I propose in Clause 1 the payment of a uniform contribution for houses built for slum clearance, and the abatement of overcrowding and a similar merging of subsidies will apply to flats.
I come to a matter upon which there must be some misconception, especially from a glance at the terms of the Amendment which has been put down on behalf of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The second important alteration proposed is that the contribution shall take the form of an annual contribution for each house that is built, payable over a period of 40 years. All the local authorities' associations 1733 and the London County Council consider this to be the most satisfactory course. I will give one example to the House, to illustrate the present difficulties. Take, for instance, the displacement of 10 persons. That might mean the building of any number of houses from two to live according to the number of families concerned, and the subsidy should vary accordingly. It was for that purpose that these proposals have been made. It is also undesirable to have two different bases of assistance for two halves of the one programme. I can tell the House, in support of the alteration which I am proposing this afternoon, that many local authorities have found that they are obliged to build as many new houses as there are families to be displaced. Therefore, considerations of practical convenience suggest the advantage of calculating both the Exchequer and the rate contributions upon the same basis, but I would remind those who are doubtful that, in fact, the rate contribution has always been charged upon the house basis, and that no alteration was made in that respect in the Act of 1930. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree with me when, in view of the explanation which I have given, and of the desires of the local authorities themselves, I commend both these main alterations to the House this afternoon.
The new financial terms are important and, naturally, I desire to explain them to the House. I have had regard to three matters with reference to the new uniform contribution. I have had regard particularly to the amount of the existing contributions, as I am enjoined to do by an Act of Parliament and, as I properly should do, to the changes in the cost of building and interest rates which have taken place since these contributions were fixed and, as I hope I shall be able to assure the House, to the need for the further provision of suitable houses at reasonable rents. Many of my predecessors on several occasions have said that they have had the advantage of close consultation with the local authorities, that they have seen figures and calculations, and they have seen ours, and I express my appreciation of the assistance which once again they have given to my Department. As far as the division of the total subsidy between the Exchequer and the local authorities is concerned, I have adhered to the ratio fixed by Parliament 1734 in 1935, under which the Exchequer pays two-thirds of the total subsidy, which I regard as favourable to the local authorities. This applies both to cottages and to flats. In considering the amount of the contributions I have had regard to the changes in circumstances which have occurred both in interest rates and building costs since they were fixed in 1930 and 1935.
To give an example of the matters which I have had to consider, there is the fact that interest rates have fallen by nearly 1½ per cent. since the subsidy was fixed in 1930. In the result, the uniform subsidy fixed by the Bill will, in respect of slum clearance operations, enable local authorities to let houses at practically the same rents as were contemplated when the slum clearance subsidy was fixed in 1930. Again, I do not think that due consideration has been given to this matter in view of the terms of the Amendment which appears on the Paper. At any rate, I see no acknowledgment of it. There is, of course, a considerable increase in financial assistance in connection with the overcrowding subsidy. As to rents, I will deal first with the cottages to be erected, for by far the greater part of the re-housing still to be done will be done by way of cottage building rather than the building of flats. In introducing the housing Bill of 1930 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, my distinguished predecessor—
§ Sir K. Wood
I hope that he will live long enough for that—estimated that with the aid of the subsidies to be provided under that Measure, it would be possible to accommodate one-half of the persons in houses where the rent would be as low as 5s. a week plus rates, and the other half in houses at rents of 7s. a week plus rates, an average of 6s. a week exclusive. This, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly said at that time, and I think that it applies equally to-day, would be a substantial relief to the hard-pressed slum-dweller. He also emphasised, as one would expect him to do in his responsible position, that a grant of this kind could not be made permanent. Under these proposals, taking the non-parlour houses with three bedrooms, which may be taken as the normal type of house built by local authorities, the subsidy proposed 1735 in the Bill will enable such houses to be built and let at rents between 6s. and 7s. a week exclusive. In view of the provision made for the pooling of subsidies in the 1933 Act, it will, of course, no longer be necessary to make a separate rent pool of these houses. The subsidy will be paid into the general Housing Revenue Account of each local authority and pooled with other subsidies, the rents being arranged as each local authority finds most suitable.
I emphasise, as has every Minister who has had to deal with this problem, that it is the average rents which I have to take into account. The rents which it is anticipated can thus be secured on the average under this Bill are approximately those aimed at by the right hon. Gentleman in 1930, and rather lower than those aimed at in 1935. The White Paper, which, the House will remember, I published in July, 1937, showed that the average rent of dwellings owned by local authorities was 6s. in rural districts, 7s. 2d. in county boroughs outside Greater London and 6s. 11d. in other urban districts. Under the proposals in this Bill local authorities will be able to provide houses at rents lower than those charged for existing houses in cases in which this is necessary owing to the circumstances of the tenant to be rehoused. If the new houses are let at the same average rent as those which I have mentioned, and which were shown in the White Paper, then the resources of the subsidy and rents pool will be increased. That is the position which I have tried to secure as far as cottage rents are concerned, and I hope that it will commend itself to the House.
A special provision is necessary for certain cases, such as the erection of flats. A contribution of £5 10s. may be regarded as the ordinary contribution payable for all cottages built in respect of slum clearance and overcrowding, but there is the case of blocks of flats on expensive sites in a few of our large towns in connection with which a specially high rate of contribution, varying with the cost of the site, is proposed. Special rates of subsidy were authorised in such cases under the Acts of 1930 and 1935. In this Bill the form follows that authorised by the Act of 1935, although the figures in that Act have been substantially increased on the amalgamation of the two subsidies. 1736 The minimum contribution that will be payable on sites costing more than £1,500 and less than £4,000 will be the substantial sum of £11 a year for 40 years, as compared with £6 a year for 40 years under the Act of 1935. There is a considerable advantage in a graduated scale, because the price which has to be paid for land where it is necessary to build flats is subject to wide variations. It is for that purpose that I have adopted the method laid down in the Bill.
I am advised that the new flat subsidy will enable flats to be built at a rental of between 7s. and 8s. a week on the average. Those are flats consisting of two and three rooms, and in other cases four rooms. Questions have been put to me as regards our policy on the building of flats. The Government's policy is that we shall continue to encourage the building of cottages where practicable and the building of flats where it is essential to provide rehousing accommodation in such places as the centres of large towns, and where it is impracticable and uneconomical to build cottages. In practice, therefore, the question of whether flats or cottages should be built on a particular site is determined by housing needs.
Let me say a few words on the position which arises in those urban areas where exceptional conditions prevail. Clause I (3) contains a new provision which will authorise a supplementary Exchequer contribution of £1 for 40 years over and above the ordinary contribution of £5 10s. accompanied by an equivalent contribution of £1 from the county council—to meet the needs of a limited number of small urban areas with exceptional conditions. We are bound to lay down these conditions which may be indicated as follow: (1) a general level of working-class rents substantially below those applicable to the working classes in urban areas generally, and (2) the very limited financial resources of those districts. The number of districts that will satisfy these conditions will not be large, but experience has shown a real need for special assistance of this kind. Instances may be found in the small boroughs and urban districts of rural Wales—my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) has an intimate knowledge of some of them—of small and poor urban districts where new houses could not be provided 1737 at suitable rents without an undue burden on the district. Lastly, in connection with the exceptional cases which we are endeavouring to meet as regards the non-agricultural population in the rural districts, I am advised that under the financial arrangements set out in Clause I it will be possible to provide cottages (A.3.) at a rent of 5s., with only the statutory rate contribution by the local authorities.
Let me deal with our proposals in connection with the agricultural workers. Some 3,500,000 houses have been built in England and Wales since the Armistice. That is an unparalleled figure. I do not think it has been approached by any other country in the world; but, notwithstanding these gigantic efforts, which are due to the local authorities, private enterprise and voluntary action, we have not been able to make sufficient provision for that section of people who are so vital to the nation—the agricultural workers. Undoubtedly, more and better housing is needed on the countryside. If we desire, as we all do desire in this House, that our people, particularly our young people, should remain on the countryside, we must provide them with housing conditions in which they can live happy, healthy and comfortable lives. There are three ways in which this can be done. We can attain it by improving sound, old houses. We can also do it by demolishing and replacing bad houses and, finally, by providing new houses for normal needs.
As regards the improvement and renovation of existing houses, I have noticed that a good deal has been written in the Press and other journals. Most people who have observed the figures will agree with me when I say that the Housing (Rural Workers) Act is proving an increasingly useful Measure. Approximately, 14,000 cottages have so far been repaired and reconditioned and made fit for habitation. The total number of dwellings in respect of which grants or loans have been promised under the Act is now about 17,000.
§ Sir K. Wood
We have been making further efforts to ensure that this Act shall be more widely known, and I am 1738 glad to say that applications for grants and loans are increasing steadily. More useful work could be done under this legislation to secure improved living conditions for the occupants and also, which is very necessary to-day, to preserve many of our country cottages. The Government, therefore, propose to introduce legislation at an early date to extend the operations of this Act for four years, otherwise it would expire in June next.
I should like to tell the House the position of rural housing in the light of an examination which has been made concerning it by the Central Housing Advisory Committee of my Department, on which are some of the best housing experts in the country. I should like to express my indebtedness and the indebtedness of the House to the Bishop of Winchester and the members of his committee who have given so much time and attention to this important matter. The question has also been considered by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and myself. All those who have served on that committee and my right hon. Friend and myself are satisfied that existing methods and machinery are not sufficient to enable new houses to be built for the general needs of the agricultural community and to be let at rents suitable to their resources. This is a special problem. The gap between building cost and the rents that are within the means of the agricultural workers is much wider than is the case elsewhere.
We also desire to bring about further substantial improvements in the conditions under which the agricultural workers live. The Housing Advisory Committee emphasise an important side of this problem. They point out that there is a shortage in certain parts of the country of cottages suitable for young workers. They also state that they believe that this is a material factor in driving young workers into the towns, notwithstanding the unsatisfied demand in many areas for competent agricultural labourers. The financial provisions of the Bill are designed to meet this problem and will enable cottages to be provided at average rents ranging between 3s. and 4s. per week, exclusive of rates. I do not think there can be any doubt that in this way we can immeasurably improve the lot of our agricultural workers and do much to make the industry more attractive, particularly to the younger generation. 1739 We have added a provision which will enable the Exchequer contribution to be increased by an amount not exceeding £2 a year for 40 years in cases where the cost of building is exceptionally high, such increase being accompanied by an equivalent increase from the county councils. Although housing progress is often, of necessity, slower in the country, I am assured that this new scheme will be gladly undertaken by the local authorities concerned and both the Rural District Councils' Association and the County Councils' Association are in full agreement with the new proposals and the financial arrangements in the Bill. I regard it as a matter of great importance that the new houses to be built, particularly in the countryside, should not only be structurally sound and suitable for the use of agricultural workers, but should be harmonious with the countryside.
The houses should be built as far as possible in or near existing villages. In many cases it is not desirable that they should be built in isolated positions, as there are great disadvantages to the tenant and his family if they are far away from the village. As far as building is concerned, I think local authorities should employ architects, and, where this is not possible, should forward their plans to the Ministry so that they may be advised and helped. The Council for the Preservation of Rural England has done much in this connection, and I know they will continue to do all they can to help. I also hope that it will be possible for suitable out-buildings to be provided and that arrangements may be possible to meet the needs of tenants for garden plots and the keeping of poultry and pigs. As soon as the Bill becomes law I propose sending a special communication to local authorities on these matters, and I have particularly in mind the provision of a special manual for their use which will contain special plans illustrating what can be done. A special sub-committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee is advising me on this matter, and I hope to issue the manual and a circular to local authorities directly the Bill becomes law.
I observe in the Amendment on the Paper a reference to another portion of the scheme which, I think, has not been fully appreciated by hon. Members opposite. It is true, and I think it is rightly 1740 so, that the assistance given by the Bill is not limited to the housing operations for the agricultural worker by local authorities. Provision is made in the Bill so that local authorities are able to make arrangements, subject to the conditions set out in the Clause, with other persons who may make housing provision and to pay to them the equivalent of the Exchequer contributions. Why has that been done? If hon. Members will look at the report of the Housing Advisory Committee, which includes all sections of opinion, they will find this justification, if I need one, for this proposal. They say:In a comparatively small number of cases it may be necessary to build new houses on isolated farms for the accommodation of stockmen, etc. In view of their situation such cottages will, we anticipate, only be suitable for the accommodation of the employés of the particular farm on which they are built. Local authorities will not always be able conveniently to undertake the erection of houses in such a situation and to meet this relatively small need we suggest that a subsidy equal to the Exchequer subsidy which would be payable to the local authority should be made available to private enterprise in the form of an annual payment over a period of 40 years on condition that the rents of the cottages erected shall not exceed the rent fixed for the area by the Agricultural Wages Board for new houses.I hope no one will dissent from the view or desire to vote against the Bill on the ground that the new subsidy will also be available to agricultural workers who wish to erect their own houses. Although the right hon. Gentleman may not know it, there are one or two areas in the country in which this provision may be of some help—the New Forest and the Forest of Dean—where there are persons who may desire to build houses for themselves with the help of the subsidy. With reference to the terms of the Motion of hon. Members opposite, I think it can be said that under all these provisions we desire to effect an improvement in the housing conditions of the rural workers, and I do not see why assistance should not be given to agricultural workers who may desire to provide houses for themselves.
My final word is in connection with the position of housing associations under the Bill. They are playing an increasing part in the national housing campaign and their numbers, I am glad to say, are increasing. Their work is not to be measured solely, or even mainly, by their housing operations. They help to keep alive public interest in housing, they 1741 serve as a focus for voluntary effort and being less restricted than local authorities they are able to undertake pioneer work and experiments. Clause 8 enables the Exchequer to make a contribution available for housing associations with whom local authorities make arrangements for the building of houses in the same way as all the contributions for slum clearance and overcrowding under the principal Act. I think the House generally will accept the proposals as far as housing associations are concerned.
I have only one word to say about finance. I do not think anyone in surveying housing operations, all that we have done in this country, can but acknowledge the considerable financial contribution that has been made towards our housing efforts by the taxpayers. Do not let us forget them this afternoon. Since the Armistice they have contributed nearly £180,000,000 to better housing alone, and it is estimated that when the present programme for the provision of houses, for the rehousing of slum tenants and the relief of overcrowding are completed, and the houses for the general needs of the agricultural workers have been provided, the annual Exchequer contributions payable under the proposals of the Bill will amount to £2,700,000 per annum. The present commitments of the Exchequer in respect of houses provided since the War are approximately £14,500,000 per annum. Therefore, when the present programmes of housing have been completed, the contribution of the Exchequer will reach a figure of £17,250,000. A word about local authorities' finance. Housing work done by local authorities themselves or to which they have made a contribution has involved a capital expenditure of about £750,000,000, but, thanks to the generous measure of the contribution borne by the Exchequer, the 1,000,000 houses owned by local authorities are let at working-class rents at a cost to the local rates of about £4,000,000 a year—an average local rate of 3½d. in the £. The present programme will increase the average rate by only about another penny in the £.
I have this to say in conclusion. I thank the House for the generous way in which they have listened to me. I claim that this Measure is one of major importance. I think I shall have general assent when I say that it will ensure that the great contribution which undoubtedly this 1742 generation has made to the better housing conditions of our people shall continue without interruption. Some 2,000,000 of the nation who are now living in housing conditions which we all desire to put an end to, will be able to obtain good and decent housing accommodation within the next few years. The Bill will also help to ensure a measure of planned building for some years ahead. In these proposals we have a firm programme of municipal building for the next five years. The additional number of new houses required will mean an output of 80,000 houses a year—an increase of 10,000 a year on the present output. The programme provides, moreover, an opportunity, if it is needed, for filling the gap which may be left by a falling off in the present rate of output by private enterprise, and, if the resources of the building industry permit—I emphasise that—the actual rate of progress may be accelerated substantially above the present output of 70,000 houses a year. Finally, I claim for the Bill that we shall be able by planning ahead to maintain a steady rate of output for the building industry of the country as a whole, and that the new proposals will have an appreciable effect in alleviating housing shortage in rural areas and will do much to promote the wellbeing and efficiency of our agricultural workers. For all these reasons I commend the Measure to the House.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House, realising the limited extent to which overcrowding can be abated under the operation o£ the Housing Act, 1935, and the need for more progressive measures, regrets that, on the contrary, a Bill has been introduced which, in so far as it becomes operative, will result in higher rents, and which substantially reduces the amount of State assistance in respect of slum clearance, abandons the sound principle of basing the subsidy upon the number of persons rehoused, and revives the objectionable policy of subsidising private enterprise in circumstances which will perpetuate the evil system of the tied cottage in rural areas.Whenever the right hon. Gentleman has followed me in the House, full of righteous indignation, he has invariably said, "We have listened to a characteristic speech from the right hon. Gentleman." Let me hand him the same bouquet this afternoon. We have listened 1743 to a characteristic speech from the right, hon. Gentleman. He has developed a technique which, I think, is unrivalled in this House. When the Bill or news of the Bill, was first published in the Press, the implication was that the right hon. Gentleman was embarking on a great new housing crusade. It was as if he said "Behold, the new St. George, the slayer of the dragon of bad housing." He has an art, which I am prepared to admit I do not possess, of persuading both public and Press that he is the author of all the beneficent housing legislation that this country has passed. On innumerable occasions he has even plucked the laurels of the 1930 Act from my brow—and this is part of his technique—and has remained discreetly silent on the massacre of the Housing (Rural Authorities) Act, 1931, and the mysterious death of the Act of 1933.
The explanatory and Financial Memorandum to this Bill is typical of this new technique. It carefully bides away far more than it discloses. The Financial Memorandum is easier to read than it is to understand, but when it is read by the mass of the people they will see that the Bill is really a masterpiece of evasion. It glosses over the retrograde steps which the Government propose to take in this Bill and leaves aside the worsening of housing conditions in which this Bill will, undoubtedly, result. Let us be perfectly clear at the outset. In this Bill there is nothing new in the way of ideas. This is no addition to, or development of, the housing policy of this country. It is a Money Bill, and not a very generous one at that. Here was an opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman, having raised his standard, to do something in the way of developing housing policy. I believe it was the first speech which the right hon. Gentleman made as Minister of Health in which he referred to the Act of 1935— now smothered in the Act of 1936—and it was perfectly obvious that his conscience was not very easy about the standards of overcrowding. He said:The standard adopted, in my judgment, is a beginning. It represents the minimum amount of accommodation capable of early enforcement and I hope and believe that the standard will no doubt be improved as progress is made with our present housing efforts,"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1936; col. 2290, Vol. 314.]1744 After having heard from the right hon. Gentleman's own lips this afternoon what progress has been made, I am surprised that he had not the courage to raise the overcrowding standard left by his predecessor. Sir Hilton Young, now Lord Kennet. I am surprised that he had not the courage to do that in his Bill this afternoon, rather than become the lackey of the Treasury, for this Bill provided him with an opportunity which he may never have again of applying himself seriously to the solution of the housing problem of our time. All he has been prepared to do has been to mess about with the balance sheet. The Bill illustrates the attitude of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite towards the housing problem. It always has been one of the maximum of window-dressing and the minimum of real assistance to the people who need new homes. I am sorry to have to dispel the glamour and the rosy glow which the right hon. Gentleman has created in the House this afternoon, but I must bring home to the House the stark realities of the housing situation and of the action taken by the right hon. Gentleman, in all their bleakness. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the contribution which the taxpayers have made. He ought to have said the contribution which the nation has made to the solution of one of its own problems, and that contribution is not an extravagant sum to have paid for the enormous increase which there has been in the happiness of the people who have been rehoused. I thought the right hon. Gentleman ended on a rather mean note when he boasted of what the taxpayer had done to solve this great national problem.
I want to put before the House three principles which were enunciated by the two Labour Governments in this country, for we must test this Bill by its agreement or disagreement with those principles. First, we have always held that subsidies should not go to private builders, but to local authorities, and that if in exceptional circumstances they did go to private enterprise, then there should be a commensurate social return irrespective of the profits of private enterprise. Secondly, we believe it right and indeed we established the principle in the Acts of 1925, 1930 and 1931, that there should be large scale differentiation between the richer and poorer local authorities, that 1745 is to say, between town and country. We established the principle in the Act of 1930 of recognising that in certain congested areas the cost of land made housing prohibitive, and special grants were made to meet that case. The third principle is one which the right hon. Gentleman has now completely abandoned, the principle of making the State grant apply per person rehoused, and not per house. I do not object to the grant applying per house where you are dealing with the general problem of a shortage of houses. It is right, and we followed the practice in 1924 to make a grant per house, but a special problem like slum clearance, which is overcrowding in disgusting surroundings, needs a new human and social principle, and that is to be measured by the number of souls taken out of those circumstances. I would say that the right hon. Gentleman, instead of scrapping our principle of 1930, ought to have applied it to overcrowding. This is half of the slum problem. I still believe that that principle of the State taking an interest in the person—man, woman or child—is the right principle, and not that of paying money for the houses—but I will refer to that later.
What does this Bill do in support of those three principles? It accepts our second principle of differentiation between the richer and poorer areas. Unfortunately, it has gone back to the principle of subsidising private enterprise, by which I mean the private landlord. Thirdly, it has scrapped completely what to me was the vital principle of the grants under the 1930 Act. This is only in line with the long history of housing legislation in this country as handled by the right hon. Gentleman and his friends. In 1923, I well remember the present Prime Minister introducing his Housing Measure. It was modest in its financial arrangements—£6 a year for 20 years—but it was intended to restore private enterprise as the primary agency for building working-class houses. That Act was a ramp on the part of the private builders, who obtained public money and rushed up houses for sale to people with whom this House was not primarily concerned. That Act, except in so far as it was worked by the local authorities, made no solution of the main housing problem of this country—the housing of the working people. Then the right hon. Gentleman, having permitted the private 1746 builder for a matter for four years to exploit the Treasury, reduced the subsidy from £6 a year to £4 a year. The Chamberlain subsidy, as it was called, began to suffer badly from malnutrition, and the poor thing died two years later.
In 1924 we established the principle that public money should not be utilised for the building of houses for people who could afford to buy houses, and the 1924 Act was concerned with the building of houses to let. It was on a scale which was very generous to the local authorities and it did yield results. When the present Prime Minister in 1927 decided to reduce his own subsidy he decided also to reduce the 1924 subsidy. That was done at the end of 1928. It is very important that the House should have this background in mind. The then Minister of Health, the present Prime Minister, decided on 1st October, 1929, that his subsidy was to come to an end and that the 1924 subsidy should be further reduced, but by the grace of God, a new Government intervened between 1928 and 1st October, 1929, and it was my privilege to introduce the Housing (Revision of Contributions) Act as one of the earliest Acts of the last Labour Government. The Prime Minister's baby died by the right hon. Gentleman's own hand, and it was not for me to try to apply artificial respiration. If the right hon. Gentleman thought that a subsidy to private builders was no good, who was I to think that it might be of service? But the Government did restore the State contribution of the Act of 1924, and I say this, that scores of thousands of houses have been built and are occupied to-day by working-class families which would not have been built if, in 1929, that subsidy had been further reduced.
In 1930 we introduced legislation with generous provisions to local authorities, and I do not apologise for it. That has remained intact until to-day. In 1931 one of the very last Acts that we placed on the Statute Book before what we regarded as our very untimely departure, was the Housing (Rural Authorities) Act, which was intended to supplement all that was being done under the Acts of 1924 and 1930. It was to provide an additional 40,000 cottages for agricultural workers. In order to speed it up, it was stated in the Act that builders' applications had to be made before 30th November, 1931. Then, again. Providence 1747 intervened, but unfortunately not on our side this time, and the result was that that Act was allowed to die in the interests of so-called economy and fewer than 2,000 houses were built. During the last six years, the National Government has robbed 38,000 agricultural workers of decent homes.
§ Captain Sir Derrick Gunston
How many applications were made under the Housing (Rural Authorities) Act?
§ Mr. Greenwood
I cannot say what was the number of applications, because I lost my job before the applications began to come in. [Interruption.] Hon. Members do not like this story. Do they mean to tell me that when rural authorities were being offered, if their circumstances warranted it, a contribution which meant meeting the whole of the loss, I could not, in six months, have built 40,000 houses? There is no doubt that in 1931 the National Government deliberately damped down that Act. Now the right hon. Gentleman is appearing as the hero of the piece. I am not saying that he was the villain who was responsible for the fatal blow, but at least he was an accessory after the fact, and, therefore, I am bound to say that I take his enthusiasm for rural housing with a grain of salt. The 1924, 1930 and 1931 Housing Acts presented a complete housing code for this country. What is the record of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite?
§ Mr. Greenwood
Before the hon. Lady came into the House, I proved on more occasions than I care to remember that their policy has resulted in not building houses. The National Government, having destroyed the Wheatley Act and having destroyed the 1931 Act, left a gap which had to be filled in somehow, so they introduced the 1933 Act, which provided for housing by guarantees instead of housing by grants. As every hon. Member knows, that Act was a complete fiasco. It did nothing. Therefore, somebody or other buried itdarkly in dead of night.I will not continue the quotation, because it was not that kind of funeral. As far as I know, there were no friends at the funeral, and no eulogy of the dear departed. The Act was allowed to fade off 1748 the Statute Book; but some of us who have a copy of it, as I have, regard it as a great memorial to Tory ineptitude in the matter of housing. But something more had to be done, so mighty minds got to work. There was that great gap to be filled, there was a problem to be solved; so some bright being invented the idea of overcrowding, a great new constructive idea. But it was all in the 1930 Act; and when the right hon. Gentleman talked about bringing the two things together, he might have risen to my level and not made me descend to his. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman was the author of that piece of legislation, but he was an accessory after the fact. There was an overcrowding survey of a very thorough kind, and the local authorities spent a great deal of money on it. We got a report on overcrowding which was worthless. It will still be possible, in the five years' crusade on which the right hon. Gentleman is embarking, for a house not to be overcrowded, but for some person or persons to have to sleep permanently in a living room. What is the good of the survey? We have no particulars of overcrowding on the basis of any decent, reasonable and civilised standard. The right hon. Gentleman has missed a great opportunity of fulfilling the hopes which he expressed in the House 18 months ago.
What a miserable grant that Act gave! It went up to £5 a year, and the right hon. Gentleman has admitted that, in his opinion, most local authorities could not even justify getting £5 a year. There is now to be rather more for flats on expensive sites, and so on. The whole thing was miserably inadequate, it was entirely discretionary, and, of course, it has been as complete a failure as the 1933 Act. How many applications had been received up to the end of July last? The right hon. Gentleman is very great on applications. Achievements are difficult; applications look better. Up to July of last year, applications had been received for fewer than 2,500 houses. I believe I am right in saying that up to the end of September last, that miserable Measure had produced about 4,500 houses. That Act is as dead as the 1933 Act. The present legislation is merely intended to exhume the corpse of the 1935 Act and to strike a blow at the 1930 Act. From what I have said, I think it will be seen that the whole history of the treatment of 1749 housing by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite has been one of favouritism to private enterprise and meanness towards local authorities. That policy is again being repeated in this Measure.
Before dealing with the details of the Bill—and I do not pretend that I can exhaust my criticisms in the Second Reading Debate—I would like to refer to the Financial Resolution, and to put one point to the right hon. Gentleman. This matter was raised in a Private Notice Question this afternoon. This Bill is the first one in connection with which the new Standing Order with regard to Money Resolutions is being operated. The new Standing Order is designed to give the House a little more elbow room in the matter of legislation and Money Resolutions, so that a Money Resolution shall not unduly cripple the House in modifying a Bill. I have looked very carefully at the Financial Resolution, as I always look very carefully and with just an atom of suspicion at anything for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible, although I do not make any charges against him in this matter, and I think the drafting more or less conforms with the substance of the Bill, except in respect of one paragraph. We have on the Order Paper two Amendments. I realise that the first one cannot be moved, but it was put on the Paper in order to draw attention to my point.
Under the Money Resolution, in the case of non-county boroughs and urban district councils, the subsidy may, in certain circumstances, be increased from £5 10s. to £6 10s., and in the case of rural district councils from £10 to a maximum of £12. As regards the former, the Resolution lays down explicitly the conditions contained in the Bill, whereas in the case of the latter, the Resolution merely states that the increase shall be allowed in such circumstances as are mentioned in the Bill. On the latter, therefore, the Committee on the Bill will have some latitude, within the limits of the Money Resolution, in deciding what the circumstances shall be, which is very right and proper, whereas in the case of the urban districts that will not be possible. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, as a gesture of his good will towards the new Standing Order, the same procedure should be applied in both cases, and I hope, therefore, that he will be 1750 good enough, since this is the first opportunity which has occurred of raising the point, to consider whether he cannot modify the Money Resolution before Thursday in order to give that latitude in the one case which has already been given in the other.
Coming now to the details of the Bill, I have already said that it contains no new principles, no new provisions, and no new standards. It seems to me to represent a determination on the right hon. Gentleman's part to pay for his Overcrowding Act by sweating the local authorities with regard to their slum clearance programme. The 1935 Act was so much of a failure that the right hon. Gentleman has had to come to the House this afternoon and support better financial terms, which he has done by increasing the amount to £5 10s., or it may be £6 10s., with an addition for flats on expensive sites. I plead guilty myself to having been responsible for additional grants for expensive sites, but I think the time has now arrived when this whole problem should be surveyed. The question of national planning of the distribution of our population should be seriously considered, and instead of building expensive flats, the money should be devoted to the decentralisation of our population. I mention that as a note for the right hon. Gentleman. He will have exhausted what he intends to do about housing when this Bill reaches the Statute Book; I have suggested new fields and pastures for him, and I hope he will think about the matter.
The grant which is to be made is obviously an increase and an improvement on the 1935 Act, but how does it stand with regard to the 1930 Act? The right hon. Gentleman made great play about building prices steadying for a fall. That seems to me to be an excellent description of the National Government. They may be steadying for a fall, but they have been staggering upwards for over a year, and who knows when, having steadied for a fall, something may happen to cause it? The right hon. Gentleman said, in reference to the grants, that nothing is permanent. Well, nothing is permanent, not even the right hon. Gentleman and his Government. It is certain that housing costs are not permanent. What does the right hon. Gentleman do? He talks about interest rates being 1½ per cent. down now as compared with what 1751 they were in 1930, but all that he is doing is to exploit the financial situation in the interests of the Government, irrespective of the interests of the people who need the houses. If that is a great principle of finance, I am bound to say that it is one that I do not understand. I still say that rents are too high and that the people who ought to receive the advantage of the rates are not the Treasury, but the people who are in the houses, where many of them to-day are struggling to pay rents far in excess of their real means.
The right hon. Gentleman tried to convey the impression that the local authorities of this country are eager for this principle, that indeed they are enthusiastically behind it, welcoming it with open arms. That obviously is not true. London will be no better off, but probably rather worse off. The very day after the right hon. Gentleman himself lauded to the country the virtues of his Bill, the housing director of Manchester told a most woeful story to the Press as to the adverse financial effects of this Bill on Manchester. Here is another municipality. Like many others, it is in arrears with its slum clearance programme. For that I am not responsible, but the right hon. Gentleman is responsible. Like many other towns, this town will not be able to catch up with its arrears before his grant comes down, and it will be penalised. It expects that by the end of the year there will be 500 houses in its present slum-clearance programme arranged for but not completed. Then it no longer gets the £2 5s. per person; it gets the right hon. Gentleman's £5 10s.
In addition to that, it is expecting to build a further 600 houses in order to clear the very worst slums. It has 1,100 houses coming under the new arrangement, and it is a matter of arithmetic—the right hon. Gentleman can work it out—to find the difference between the 1930 grant and the 1938 grant. That local authority will lose on this transaction, on 1,100 houses, £6,325 per year for 40 years. That is the measure of the right hon. Gentleman's generosity to the local authorities, with whom he has been in such close and perfect communion in recent weeks while he has been hatching out this wretched Measure. The town that I have quoted is Bristol. I make a present of that to the right 1752 hon. Gentleman. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Wakefield?"] I do not suppose Wakefield will be any better off, though I have no particulars. Here are local authorities struggling with increasing burdens imposed by the State, with often enough no commensurate reward or assistance for carrying out those responsibilities demanded by public opinion, and often undertaken by them from a sense of public duty and national service. They are going to be penalised by this Bill.
Now I will take the right hon. Gentleman's estimate. I do not accept it—I think about half this country wants rebuilding—but the right hon. Gentleman is concerned, according to his Financial Resolution, with 360,000 houses, which, I take it, is his measure of the national need. The right hon. Gentleman has talked in terms of the continuity of building, but will this Bill produce during the period which he has in mind these 360,000 houses or flats? He may exploit the public pressure for more housing accommodation, he may exploit the public spirit of local authorities, but if he does, it will be at a very heavy price, both for the local authorities and the wants of the people of this country, because in the case that I have already quoted, if these 1,100 houses are to be built with the new grant, it will necessitate increased weekly rents of 2s. 3d. per week. The right hon. Gentleman never says anything unpalatable. I do not blame him; his case is a bad one. On the other hand, local authorities, with their very limited resources, may not be able with the new grants to face the housing problem, and they may not be able to face this kind of increase which we are told on the responsible authority of Bristol will mean a very substantial addition to the rents of the houses. If that be the case, then fewer houses will be built than the local authorities know they need, and the right hon. Gentleman is not going to fulfil his programme.
I have heard the right hon. Gentleman juggling about with figures too often, and I want to press this point about rents a little further. With the present grants, rents will rise, broadly speaking. They may under the arrangements in the 1936 Act be spread over all the people who will have municipal houses, but that is only spreading the burden, it is not relieving it. The one thing certain is that 1753 in the aggregate rents will not fall. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has this fact in mind in introducing this Bill before his Measure on rent restriction. I do not want to press that point far, but it is the considered policy of the right hon. Gentleman's party to get rid of all forms of rent control so as to re-establish the freedom of the landlord to impoverish his tenants, and I can see the Rent Restriction Bill and this Housing Bill being part of a very cunning policy directed towards a general increase in the level of working-class house rents.
I do not pursue the finances of the Bill any further at this stage as there will be other opportunities. I have said that on this side we do not like the alteration of the principle with regard to the payment for persons per house. The right hon. Gentleman says he wants his latitude, and that it might mean two houses for five people or five houses for two people. Is not that wonderful? I fail to follow his reasoning. I say that under the principle of rehousing you have a greater latitude about the size of the house according to the needs of the family than you have under the right hon. Gentleman's grant, because what is going to happen is that with his average £5 10s. grant, he will get an average house, into which families of every size will have to fit.
The Minister made great play about rural housing. If his statement is a belated repentance for his friends having destroyed the 1924 Act and the 1931 Act, then I accept his apology, but I am afraid it is not enough. As the right hon. Gentleman spoke one almost felt that catch in his throat. On this side of the Table I could feel him throbbing when he spoke of the possibility of agricultural workers buying their own houses. This is not a Bill designed to enable agricultural workers to purchase their own houses.
§ Mr. Greenwood
What, with their own hands? What about local by-laws? This Bill becomes worse the more we hear about it, and if it is intended to be a blacklegging proposal on the building industry, some of my hon. Friends will want to say something about it. If, as I understood, it is a Bill to enable agricultural labourers to become possessors of 1754 their own houses, I am prepared to argue against either of these measures being adopted in this Bill.
§ Mr. Greenwood
If the hon. Member will give me a chance, I am coming to that very important point. The whole purpose of this proposal is really to give another subsidy to the rural landlords. Its whole idea is to allow landlords to build houses, tied houses, for farm workers, so that they can get higher rents. It is obvious that this is not going to apply merely to the stockman, the man who has to live on a lonely hillside watching his flock of sheep. This is going to be used, to enable farmers, whose houses are too bad to be reconditioned under the Act of which the right hon. Gentleman is so proud, to build with State and local authority assistance. I regard this side of the Bill as very unsatisfactory, and I am not wildly enthusiastic about this idea of pigs and poultry. This idea that the new houses will include accommodation for keeping pigs and poultry is a good way of keeping the standard of wages down in existing circumstances. I can conceive that kind of thing being a social asset, but I cannot see it being much of an asset in existing circumstances.
We do not feel that this Bill is a satisfactory Measure. We believe that it is not progressive, and that it is really retrograde. We would say to the right hon. Gentleman, "Give us back the 1924 Act and the 1930 Act with all its provisions; give us back the 1931 Act for rural areas, and give us an administration of these Acts which will put the public need before the interests of the Treasury and of private enterprise and private landlords." If the right hon. Gentleman would do that we should be satisfied. We cannot be satisfied with this Bill. It betrays the local authorities and the nation, whose burdens are carried on the backs of the common people.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Sir Percy Harris
We have heard two remarkable speeches. I do not think we could have had two speeches which contrasted so much in style. The Minister's speech was gentle in manner; he cooed like a dove as if anxious to show the House that he is reasonable. The right 1755 hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) was eloquent; I will not say he roared like a lion, but he was obviously sincere in his enthusiasm for housing. The Minister of Health is bringing forward yet another Housing Bill. We have had a great number since the War, and if the number of Bills could solve the housing problem, it ought to have been solved many years ago. We have had the Addison Act, the Mond Act, the Wheatley Act, the Chamberlain Act, the Greenwood Act, the Hilton Young Act and the Kingsley Wood Act. They are all attempts in various ways, chopping and changing about, partly under pressure from local authorities and partly under pressure from the Treasury, to meet this problem on the principle of trial and error. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we cannot treat it as an isolated problem apart from the other economic problems that worry us, such as rent, wages, the location of industry and size of family. They all have to be taken into account if we are really to find a final solution. I think I can say without offending anybody that housing has now become the monopoly of no party. The national conscience has been roused, and, although there may be degrees of enthusiasm, there is no section of society which does not believe that we cannot have social justice until the problem is solved. I would refer in this connection to the work done by the Housing Centre. If any hon. Member is in doubt about any problem, he will find there charts, designs and statistics to his heart's content, according to his bias or line of argument.
I have always argued that overcrowding as a problem is far more urgent and important than slum clearance. Slums are more visual and, therefore, the public is more conscious of them, but, from the point of view of the family which lives in a house, overcrowding is a much more serious problem. My view is that the best contribution we can make to the housing problem is to add to the number of rooms at rents within the competence of the ordinary working-class family. The work done on slum clearance is to a certain extent a great triumph for the local authorities, but it is as well to remember that while they have been building houses they have also been pulling them down. Up to the end of last year, according to 1756 figures I got from the right hon. Gentleman yesterday, no fewer than 151,000 houses have been pulled down, against 178,000 constructed in various ways by local authorities. That shows a balance in the number of houses of only 27,000. Do not let it be thought that I do not appreciate that effort. We have good houses instead of bad houses, but, as a contribution to overcrowding, we have to remember that while we have been building to rehouse, we have not at the same time been adding largely to the number of rooms available to the people who are the chief sufferers.
I have been reading the Debate in 1935 when the right hon. Gentleman who has been transferred to another place introduced his Measure of that year. We were promised great results. According to further figures which I was given yesterday, only 6,400 houses were completed up to the end of last year, 10,700 houses had been approved, and the Exchequer contribution was only £11,000. So that nobody can say the Act of 1935 is a great memorial to the right hon. Gentleman who inspired it and introduced it to the House. I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is anxious to throw its system of finance overboard. I do not depreciate the usefulness, such as it is, of the overcrowding survey, although it has proved to be a rather costly document. It cost £250,000, which is a large sum for a statistical inquiry. The standard provided in the Act of 1935 is a low one, and I tried in Committee and on the various stages in the House to get it raised. Some 9,000,000 houses were surveyed, and on the basis of the low standard in the Act, 341,000 houses, or 3.8 per cent., were found to be overcrowded. The standard was so low that children between one and ten, irrespective of sex, were counted as half persons, and a child under one did not count at all.
The survey makes an interesting calculation on page 12, that a variation of the overcrowded standard which reduced the permitted number per dwelling by 10 per cent., would increase the number of families which would be overcrowded by about 380,000. That means that 4.4 of the present uncrowded families are very near the borderline of overcrowding. If this basis had been taken, it would have more than doubled the number of persons overcrowded. It is not unreasonable to say, therefore, that the real problem we have 1757 to solve is to find houses, homes and rooms for something like 750,000 families. I see that the right hon. Gentleman nods assent. Even on the basis of the Act of 1935, the number of new houses required to abate overcrowding is 200,000, which represents 60 per cent. of the total number of families overcrowded.
The report of the survey points out that the abatement of overcrowding is well within the capacity of the local authorities, but they have not up to the present achieved any big result. The worst example of overcrowding is in the north of England. Sunderland stands in a class by itself. I do not know what the reason is. Over 20 per cent. of the working-class families there are overcrowded on the basis of the 1935 Act. The report also points out that the East End of London and North-East London have a bad amount of overcrowding. Shoreditch heads the list with 17 per cent.; then come Stepney with 15 per cent., and Bethnal Green just under. This is where I am going to criticise the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman. The report brings out a significant fact. The average overcrowded family is 74 per cent. larger than the average family. The accommodation that it occupies is 37 per cent. less than the average family. That is to say, it is the large families which suffer most from overcrowding and who have the least number of roms. I do not think it can be doubted that in a large number of cases the head of the large family is earning low wages.
The weakness of the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman is that he is to give his subsidy per house. It has been rightly pointed out that there will be a temptation for local authorities to build a smaller house. My experience is—I am having it constantly, almost every day, and any urban Member will tell the same story—that the problem we have to face is the applications for accommodation from men earning low wages who are either unemployed or partly employed. The local authorities are not able or not willing to meet those demands.
I want to make a constructive suggestion, because under our new financial provisions the right hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity of modifying his Financial Resolution. I suggest that instead of a subsidy per house it should be a subsidy per room. That would be a stimulus to 1758 local authorities to cater for the most urgent problem of all, that of the wage-earner with low wages and a large family. In our recent housing legislation that problem does not seem to have been met. I have referred before—and I was glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman went out of his way to mention it—to the overemphasis laid in recent years upon the construction of flats as against cottages. I am conscious of the fact that you cannot get a quart into a pint pot, and that in central areas it is necessary to build a certain number of block dwellings, but we do not want our cities to become, as on the Continent, cities of flat dwellers. Flats are all right for old people and couples with no children, but are a poor substitute for cottages for family life. The danger with local authorities, at any rate in London, is that in their efforts to bring about uniformity in an area they are inclined to sweep away quite decent streets and pull down houses with back gardens in order to substitute five-storey block buildings.
The right hon. Gentleman is very keen on voluntary associations, and from what I know of them they are well-meaning people, most anxious to make a real contribution to the housing problem. Could not they be used to some extent, under the control of local authorities, for the reconditioning of some of these houses with back gardens in quite decent streets, which are still fairly well built, if out of date according to our modern ideas? They could pull down a house here and there, add a bathroom to a house or put in a damp course. In that way many of these streets could be preserved, much to the appreciation of the people who live in them. I see it stated in a newspaper that in South London there was an indignation meeting of some of the people living in some of these side streets at a proposal to sweep away their houses and force them into block dwellings. At any rate I am sure that as Minister of Health the right hon. Gentleman will not ignore the instinct of an English family to prefer even a very commonplace old-fashioned house to one of these modern flats in a five-storey building.
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman used the phrase "planned housing," but although he took pride in his Bill I do not know where he can find any Clause which justifies that reference to planned housing. It is my 1759 criticism of most of the recent housing legislation that it does not provide for planned housing, but deals with housing in piecemeal fashion. In our large cities housing is part of the great industrial problem of location of industries, transport, provision of open spaces, etc. An hon. Member opposite has taken an active interest in the experiment of creating model villages. For some reason or other Ministers of Health in recent years have seemed to frown on the experiment of the satellite town, where we see the working out of the housing problem not as a question by itself but as a part of industrial development. There is a committee now sitting on the location of industry. All round London we see factories situated where there are no houses and houses put up in places where there is no employment, and big districts developed without adequate transport facilities. If the right hon. Gentleman wanted to make his name famous as a housing reformer he should have gone in for a much larger and bolder Measure than this, making it a real Housing Bill, attempting to link up the housing problem with the whole industrial life of the country and with town-planning as a whole.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies
I am sure the House has listened with gratitude to the speech of the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). It was a speech full of thought, full of matter, full of sound argument. He said rightly that the housing question is not to-day the monopoly of any party, but the concern of all persons. I could not help feeling what a great difference there was between that speech and the speech which immediately preceded it. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) has a very pleasant personality, he is a very attractive man, but I think it is time that the House had from him a reasoned speech such as we are entitled to when anyone speaks from the honoured position of that Box, and not the high falutin', flaunting stuff which might do very well in certain parts of Hyde Park but which we are not entitled to get in this House from a right hon. Gentleman who has himself occupied the honourable position of Minister of Health. Among other things he said this Bill introduced no new principle, no new idea. I personally am grateful to the Minister 1760 for introducing one new principle and one new idea, the principle that small, poor boroughs are entitled to special consideration. Hitherto, contrary to the experience of Scotland, they have been treated exactly in the same way as large industrial and wealthy boroughs.
I could wish, as the hon. Baronet has said, that the Minister had been bolder, but it may be a good thing, after all, that in this old country we cannot have all that we want, that we cannot have it all our own way, and have to proceed by degrees from one Act to another Act and, I hope, from one big improvement to another. I should have liked him to have seized this opportunity of re-defining urban areas and rural areas, because at the present moment the definition is absolutely nonsensical. The last census showed that my own county has a population of 48,473. The total population is less than the population of certain rural districts in the counties of South Wales. Within that county there are six urban districts. Four of them are towns which possess old charters and have the full panoply of a mayor, aldermen and councillors, and are treated as if they were urban authorities.
If the House will bear with me I should like to give figures concerning those six little boroughs. I do so without any hesitation because, until 1918, so curious are the anomalies which are allowed to persist in this country, those six little boroughs returned their own separate Member to this House. The largest town of all, which has not got the dignity of a mayor, is Newtown, with about 5,800 inhabitants, the next is Welshpool with 5,600, the next—a big drop—is Llanidloes with 2,350, the next Machynlleth with 1,830, the next, my own home town, Llanfyllin, with 1,440, and then comes the county town, Montgomery, with 888. They are all boroughs within a county, the population of which is less than that of many a town. It is interesting to see, also, what burden is put upon those small boroughs under the Acts which are at present in existence. A penny rate in Montgomery produces £9 a year, a penny rate in my own town produces £11, a penny rate in Machynlleth produces £27, a penny rate in Welshpool, £75. In my own town, if they pay the sanitary inspector the magnificent sum of £2 a week, it means 9d. 1761 on the rates, and yet it is treated as an urban area.
With some very few exceptions all those little towns depend entirely upon agriculture. At one time they had flourishing markets, and a little earlier there were factories where flannel was manufactured. In two of them there are small leather factories and clothing factories, and in one, I am proud to say because it is in a rural area, there is a foundry which is still capable of competing with places in South Wales or Sheffield. The incidence of unemployment is greater in my county of Montgomery than it is in Glamorgan or Monmouth. I agree that our unemployment figures amount only to 1,000; actually, 1,280 out of an insured population—leaving out those insured as agricultural labourers under the new Act—of 4,200. Therefore, we have over 25 per cent. of our insured people unemployed, and they have been unemployed since 1919.
§ Mr. T. Johnston
Will the hon. and learned Member tell us what a penny rate raises in the county since derating?
§ Mr. Davies
I have often mentioned it in the House in connection with my application for bigger grants for education. I have mentioned it because I keep on saying that my area is a permanently distressed area. A penny rate in the whole county produces £604, less than the salaries of two teachers. Agricultural wages, which remained for so long at 31s. 6d., have recently been raised in this area to something in the neighbourhood of 34s. 6d. All wages in the area are governed by the agricultural rate. The people in these small towns and villages—I know they will hate me for describing them—have their eyes upon the agricultural wage and the comparison is with the agricultural worker. If you get a permanently employed person on the road or elsewhere, his wages are some 2s. more, but the basis for them is the agricultural wage.
Those in the small town who happen to be in employment, are, at the best, casual labourers. In my own little town—I can well see it on all occasions—they rise qutie early. There are only two streets, the main street and another street turning off it. There are one or two little side streets which do not count. The people are out and about somewhere 1762 around seven o'clock in the morning. They stand around the old town hall from seven in the morning waiting to be called, until somebody has room for them, perhaps at about one o'clock in the afternoon. They prefer to stand round the old town hall until the night, and then they disappear. That is the state of my own town. The amazing thing is that those people have never lost their inspiration. They have as proud a record as any town in Wales, with their schools, regarding universities and positions won in the Civil Service and elsewhere by the children of people who, at best, are only casual workers.
Their houses are deplorable. It is an appalling sight to visit any of them, and they are rightly described as slums. Those little towns have done their best in difficult circumstances, individually and collectively, in pooling their information and advice. I am grateful to the Ministry for the help which it has given. At my request the six little boroughs met together, and we spent a whole day. The Ministry sent down a special inspector to hear them. I wanted him to hear their story from the people themselves. The figures which I am quoting now are known to the Ministry, but figures are dry, and you need a little imagination to get at the truth behind them. The inspector came down and listened all day to the stories which they had to tell. He advised them, and advised them well, and tried to guide them. Of course, the main trouble was "Where are we to get the money? We would like to put things right, but where are we to turn?" The inspector came back, and again I saw the Minister, who very kindly had regard again to our special conditions. I believe that what I am describing to the House now is typical of many another area, not only in Wales but in some of the hill districts in England and probably in Scotland also.
The Minister sent down at my request an inspector who remained in the county for something like six weeks or two months. I wanted him to absorb the atmosphere, to get into touch with the people and to see what they were doing and how they were living. I am emboldened to think that, as a result of his report and the further inquiries which the Minister has now made, we have how received the special concession of the extra £1—which is not much, but is something 1763 —for these smaller urban areas, and the extra concession which has been made for the rural areas. My deep regret is that the Minister did not go further and treat the smaller urban areas as what in truth they are, rural areas. Under the Clause, which is known in the Ministry as the Montgomery Clause, if a workman in one of our small towns now desires a house, the Ministry will, I take it, regard the circumstances as special and will make a grant of £6 10s. instead of £1. There will be the grant of £1 from the county council, and the little district will have to pay £2 15s.
On the other hand, if he happens to be outside the area of the little borough, but within its rural district, the grant is different, although he may be exactly the same type of person. The grant will be £10 or probably £12, and the grants from the county council will probably be £3 instead of £1. The amount that the rural district council will have to find will be only £1 or £2 in place of £2 15s. The people concerned will get precisely the same kind of accommodation and will be earning precisely the same living, marketing in the same town and earning their livelihood in the same little market. I should like the Minister to take the bold course and say: "In future an urban area will be defined by the population and the density of population. A rural area will be defined as one which has not that density. We shall not rely upon the mere fact that they have a charter "—of which, of course, they are intensely proud. I would keep for those little towns all their past glory and I would not take a link from the chain of a solitary mayor. Let them keep their mayors, aldermen and councillors, but, in matters of public health where they cannot afford the expense, it is but right that they should be treated as rural areas.
I may not do more than mention some of the evidence to which I have recently been listening. I have now the honour to conduct, on behalf of the Minister of Health, an inquiry into the incidence of tuberculosis in Wales, and I have already spent nearly a month listening to evidence. There is such a body of evidence still forthcoming that I shall probably be another month making my inquiry. It would be wrong to refer 1764 further to the matter or to suggest what has impressed my colleague and myself in listening to the evidence. We all realise that the position of Wales is worse comparatively than that of any other part of Great Britain, in respect of that dread and dire disease, tuberculosis. I am entitled to tell the House the kind of evidence which I have been hearing about the housing conditions in the rural areas, as they have been described to me, in Anglesey, Carnarvon and Carmarthen. Although I knew that such houses existed, it was only right that I should hear the evidence adduced by other men, chairmen of county councils, medical officers of health and officers of the authorities. There is any number of houses which are oblong built, where no sort of dampcourse was ever thought of and where the walls are, consequently, almost permanently damp. I put it to one doctor: "Can they paper it?" and he said: "Not unless they nail sacking on to the wall first of all."
The floor is in many instances beaten earth. Sometimes it is improved by having slate or stone. There is one entrance, and two windows on either side of the door. The space is divided by a partition, the original idea being that one part should be the kitchen and the living room and the other part should be the bedroom. As time went on and necessity arose because of the increase of family, boards were put across from wall to wall, and provided a sort of room in the roof where you could not possibly stand up because it tapered off and you reached the wall. For light, a hole has been knocked in the roof and the piece of glass about a foot square has been fitted in. Ventilation there is none and access to such a room has been provided in some cases by a staircase but usually by a ladder. One doctor described such places to me as tuberculosis tabernacles.
One place in particular, described to me on Friday, had horrible conditions. Under the partition between the two rooms and the kitchen was what was described as a puddle. Originally it was constructed as a well. From it the people still had water for the house. The Noble Lady who was here a moment ago was trying to impress upon the House, in an interruption, the importance of including a supply of running water. I could have assured her that the only running water 1765 that they know in some of those old houses is the water that runs down the wall.
§ Mr. Davies
Certainly. Usually the rent is from 1s. to 2s., and sometimes 3s. The trouble has been that although the houses have been condemned time and time again the local authorities are not in the position, do what they might, to erect new houses and to rehouse the people, and then to burn those other houses down, which is the proper way to deal with them. I have heard of effort after effort being made to try and put matters right. I would mention one other matter which shows the difficulties of local authorities and of those who try to call attention to conditions that exist. In my constituency is a village which is larger than two of the towns. I have given the House the figure of population of one town as 888 and the population of the other as 1,100; the population of this village is about 1,300. The village only has a parish council. From the year 1913 down to the year 1937, the parish council has reported twice a year to the rural district council which governs it that the housing in the village is dreadful. The district council has acknowledged the letters of the parish council, but has done nothing beyond acknowledging them. A special survey was held in that village as long ago as 1923, and on that survey 54 houses were found to be unfit for human habitation. They are still being used, and the district council is now building five houses in this bad patch. That is the position, and I feel it is only right that I should call the attention of the House to it.
I have often listened to hon. Members from distressed and semi-distressed areas, but some of the conditions I have described to the House would not be tolerated in the distressed or semi-distressed areas; there are too many people who would raise their voices and protest. But where the houses are scattered, and the people are few, they will suffer in silence and nobody knows. If people visit these places at all they will visit them in July and August, when the sun is in the heavens and the views are beautiful, but let them go in December and January when the mountain-side is bleak and the roads are deep in snow. 1766 Then they would realise how my people are suffering. In this Bill I see some new hope for these small urban and rural areas.
I told the House that I would refer again to one little urban area, the little town of Machynlleth. That amazing little town, with its population of 1,830, was bold enough last year to undertake to provide the site for the National Eisteddfodd of Wales, and it achieved a success that was second to none. The Welsh people came there in their tens of thousands. The position of Machynlleth is this: The population I have given, namely, 1,830. A penny rate produces £27, and the rates are already 13s. 6d. in the £. The authority is still faced with having to provide 75 houses for slum clearance. That will give the House some idea of the number that there are in a small place of that kind. I suppose that the total number of houses does not exceed about 400 or 500, so that nearly a quarter of them were slum houses.
The authority is still faced with having to provide 75 houses for slum clearance, and a further 20 houses for the abatement of overcrowding, or a total of 95 houses. The total rent is about 3s. to 5s., inclusive of rates. With the average building costs, the completing of the local authority's rehousing programme will involve a rate charge of 1s. 2½d. if the rents are kept at 5s. exclusive of rates. With the extra grant of £1 from the Exchequer, and £1 per house from the county council, the rents will be 5s. exclusive of rates, and there will be no need for the local authority to contribute more than £2 15s. per house, so that for an extra penny rate they will be able to produce 10 houses and keep the rent at 5s. exclusive of rates. That, of course, is too high a figure when wages are only 31s. 6d. to 34s., but it is better than the figure we were discussing when we met down there on the last occasion, namely, 7s. 6d. or 8s. That figure will mean that the local authority, in order to complete its programme now, will have to bear a 7d. or 8d. rate—a substantial amount, but one which will be easier for them to bear than under any former Act, and for that, on behalf of my urban district and these little towns in Montgomery, I am really grateful to the Minister. I should of course have preferred to see them treated as rural authorities, when the rent would have 1767 been about 3s. a week, which is about what the people can pay.
There is one other matter to which I should like to refer. The people who are to get the benefit of the extra grant which is to be made in rural districts where housing accommodation is required for members of the agricultural population—
§ Mr. George Griffiths
The hon. and learned Member has said that the rents were 5s. a week exclusive of rates, and that the rates were 13s. 6d. in the £. Can he say what is the rateable value?
§ Mr. Davies
I hope to be able to give the figure later, if the House will permit me to mention it again. I realise its importance. I should like the Minister to make some concession with regard to the question of the agricultural population. The definition in Section 115 (2) of the Housing Act refers to:persons whose employment or latest employment is or was employment in agriculture or in an industry mainly dependent upon agriculture.It includes also the dependants of such persons. That is a rather narrow definition, limited to persons who are actually engaged in agriculture or have been recently engaged in agriculture. The definition in the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926, is a wider one, namely:A person whose income is in the opinion of the local authority such that he would not ordinarily pay rent in excess of that paid by agricultural workers in the district or by an agricultural worker or employee of substantially the same economic condition.The House will observe that in the one case the extra grant can only be made in respect of persons actually engaged in agriculture, while in the other it applies to a person engaged in work at a wage where his position is almost exactly similar economically to that of an agricultural worker. As I have said, I have people who are not actually engaged in agriculture. They are probably engaged around the market on market day, or they may be engaged on the roads, where their wages are perhaps about 2s. more than those of the agricultural worker. But I have also some who until fairly recently were engaged in lead mining, an industry which is now closed down. Their wages were low, their houses were dreadful, and the incidence of tuberculosis 1768 among them is greater there than anywhere else. Those men are out of work; they are still living in the same hovels; they are living now on public assistance. If a house is built for one of these people who is not engaged in agricultural work, the extra grant cannot be given, but if the definition is changed to that of the earlier Act of 1926, it will be left to the Minisry to say whether such a person fulfils the conditions of that definition.
I hope the Minister will take that point into consideration before the Bill reaches its final stage. I have looked at the Money Resolution, and I think it is sufficiently widely worded that nothing need be done until a later stage of the Bill. This matter is one which will deeply concern a large number of people who are not directly engaged in agriculture but whose economic position is very similar. I have made my plea on behalf of the rural districts. Last Friday night, on my way to North Wales, I asked specially that I should go to some of the districts which are so familiar to many hon. Members opposite. I asked that I should go through Morriston, Pontardulais, and so on, on my way to the hospital which was once the home of Madame Adelina Patti. I passed along these narrow valleys, which are more like canyons, with the houses right on the roads. There are the people who had been engaged in industry, the relics of the Victorian age. It passes my comprehension how any inspiration can come to them, living there like that. They are about the third generation.
We are now losing our population. The manner in which the population of Montgomeryshire has gone down during the last 100 years is very striking. In 1841, the population of that county was 69,607, and in 1936 it was down to 45,950. One-third of the population of that rural area has left in 100 years. We were the life-blood, the source of supply of all these industrial areas. The stream will dry up unless it is made easier for the people to remain on the land. Because it gives a new hope to these rural workers and to those living in the small urban areas, I welcome the Bill.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Hicks
I am certain that the House has been deeply moved by the picture presented to us by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. C. Davies). If ever there was a need for 1769 activity on behalf of the poorer people in regard to housing, he has shown it to us this afternoon. Apparently, the old nobility were not too gravely concerned about housing their people, judging by the conditions which the hon. and learned Member has so vividly revealed, and which, we know, are not entirely confined to his district. They exist all over the country, and we are particularly anxious that steps should be taken to tackle this problem at the earliest possible moment.
My right hon. Friend who moved the Amendment gave a very good background of the history of housing legislation since the War and the efforts that have been made by the introduction of Bills in one form or another. He covered a fair amount of ground, and it is not my purpose to elaborate the point in great, detail. I am surrounded by friends here who live in rural towns, who have charge of housing committees, and who can show how this Bill will either help or retard them in the great work they have before them. I understand that the Measure is a compromise between the Treasury, the Ministry of Health and the local authorities. How it will work out, time alone will show; we can only state our experience of the way in which other Measures have worked out. We think that a number of the proposals will fall short of realising the desire expressed by the Minister. We are dealing with one of the greatest of social evils which has perplexed and baffled legislators for generations. There is not the slightest doubt that this is one of the greatest of our social evils. Ministers have come to it with enthusiasm and freshness and the desire to do something, and have found the problem much larger than they have been able to tackle.
I am glad the Minister has just come in, because I am going to read him a little note which I have received from the Woolwich Borough Council, and I am sure he would not like to be caught unawares when they ask him to increase the subsidy. Slumdom is an evil, difficult, obdurate and elusive, and simply appalling in its consequences on the physical and mental health of our people. Every Member here knows that slumdom exists in his own constituency. We are very anxious that it should be tackled. We are engaged now in a campaign for a healthier Britain. I think 1770 that that will be largely superficial unless we give our people better houses and a better standard of living. Only the other day, I was reading in the old "Trades Union Congress Journal" of a resolution, moved in 1898, which began with a demand for the feeding of necessitous school-children and the raising of the school-leaving age and other things associated with education, and I thought that, if that had been listened to then, the need for urging a healthier Britain would not have arisen.
Treasury compromises may be necessary, but there can be no compromising with the slums. I was pleased to hear the Minister deal with the programme that has now been laid out, and I hope that that reveals a sort of planned activity which will take us over a number of years. We have had some very bitter post-war experience of large-scale unemployment in the building industry. Ministers have come here and made proposals, there have been clamant demands for an alteration of the subsidy, and then some new situation has arisen. Three or four times since the War, we have had big housing schemes planned, and organisations created, and they have been then closed down very substantially, if not entirely, and we have had the spectacle of 250,000 building trade workers standing outside the Employment Exchanges. I was pleased to hear that there is in this scheme the potentiality, at any rate, of new activity in building. New circumstances have arisen. The Defence programme of the country has necessarily made substantial inroads into the supply of building material and building labour. Building labour is a class of labour that requires training if you are going to get competent work. The scarcity of building material, which is due to the effect of the Defence programme, has also increased prices. I would like to quote to the Minister what the Woolwich Borough Council are saying in this matter, so that he might mend his ways in order to receive the favours of his constituents when he next appeals to them:I am directed by the Woolwich Borough Council to state that they have had under their serious consideration the question of the recent general increase in building costs, as a result of which there will be a substantial increase in the cost of the dwellings which are now being erected and which are to be erected by the Borough Council in connection with the rehousing of occupants of clearance 1771 areas to be dealt with by the Borough Council, and which must involve an increase in the rents of the houses to cover this additional cost. Having regard to this increase and to the fact that building costs are likely to rise still further, the Borough Council are strongly of opinion that legislation should be introduced for the purpose of increasing the Exchequer subsidies under the Housing Acts, and the Borough Council, therefore, request that you will take the matter into consideration with a view to promoting legislation as suggested.I am sure that that will not fall on deaf ears.
§ Mr. Hicks
I am sure the borough council will be glad to hear that I have consulted the Minister of Health. There has been, for a long period, a tendency to cut out this or that amenity in the building of houses. I have seen one coat of plaster put on houses instead of the minimum of two. The minimum ought to be three. I have seen many parts of the building whitewashed when they ought to have had a coat of plaster. I have seen amenities of all kinds in houses very largely diminished by this constant insistence on lowering costs, which is lowering the standard. I hope that if there is an increase in prices the Minister will have sufficient latitude to meet that situation, and that it will not be reflected by a further lowering of the standard of houses. Many of the people living in these ho uses are complaining of the poor construction and the poor amenities, and I think that the criticism is justified. The cost of the land in built-up areas is very high, landlordism having done little or nothing but sit back and levy toll on the industrious community.
I am sure that everyone agrees with the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken and the hon. Baronet who spoke previously about the absence of purchasing power among the people who want to buy houses. Housing is a poverty problem. If we had no poverty, we should have no housing problem. For a large part of my own life I have had to live in very limited accommodation, because I could not afford better accommodation; but since I won the respect of my friends I have been able to do better. I am sure they could, too, if they had the opportunity. Any housing scheme that does 1772 not reflect an appreciation of the effect of poverty will fail, and fail badly. I was pleased to hear the Minister refer to the fact that the guiding principle underlying the expenditure of money through the building industry should be the highest possible standard, consistent with economy. I am not one of those who think you can put all sorts of embellishments on a building and expect it to be produced as cheaply as if it was a plain building; nor am I stupid enough to think that many buildings which are offensive to the eye could not be better produced, and yet produced more cheaply.
Up to about 1875, when the consolidating Public Health Act was passed, the local authorities had the task of dealing only with roads and sewers. I will recite some figures later on, showing how the whole character of the work of local authorities has changed. I do not think the local authorities themselves have changed with the changing conditions. I want to make no unfair criticism on the borough engineers and the civil engineers and so on, but many local authorities would employ a sanitary inspector to design a house, or else some draftsman under the borough engineer. Not only are houses so designed offensive to the people who have to look at them, but they are very often badly planned. I see that in this Bill the Minister has the power to deal with that. I am glad that that is the case. There should be the highest possible standard, both in the structure and design of houses.
The Minister should give the most careful consideration to the possibility of setting up machinery to ensure that all local authorities and private persons take advantage of this Bill and employ the highest standard of professional action and trade facilities. Provided that they seek for these they can get them. It is marvellous how people avoid taking advantage of the facilities which are available. The Minister should bring the facilities to their notice, and then we could get the best, and not the worst, services of the building industry utilised for housing. Hitherto, housing has had the worst and the lowest developed form of services. The best have gone into other building work. As to the complaint of ugliness, which is quite justified, I regret to say that it is due to the fact that the best advice and the best craftsmanship have not been employed for housing. If 1773 you get a good architect to plan the buildings you will attract the craftsmen. Why should you not have nicely constructed houses for the people? Why should they not be pleasant? Why should they not have relationship to the surrounding buildings, to the contour of the land and to the environment? There is nothing difficult about it. You have not to climb to the top of a mountain to discover some secret about it. It is on the table for anyone who will avail himself of such facilities as there are.
Far too little use has been made of open competition among qualified architects. Someone happens to have been appointed borough engineer to look after drains and sewers and the work is handed over to him. That is not the right way to do it. You are not getting the best out of the architectural profession unless you adopt the principle of open competition for plans and designs. Then you would get the best out of the profession and you would get the best for the country. If you take a motor ride through the country you will see the similarity of design in most of the blocks of flats—the same elevations in every town. It is a lazy acceptance of someone's conception. It might have been quite a nice thing where it was originally designed but it becomes objectionable when it is dotted about all over the country. This has been largely due to local authorities and private owners choosing from too narrow a field. It seems to me that the Ministry has a great opportunity in calling upon local authorities and private persons to use the fullest measure of architectural knowledge that is available. It could educate local authorities not to stalemate the architectural profession by confining their work to staff architects.
With regard to the rural aspect of the Bill, if it is intended to prevent further uglification of the countryside I believe it will require most careful handling. Not every architect can design a rural cottage but, when an architect has concentrated on rural practice, unquestionably he is the man to be brought in. Rural authorities have always been very parsimonious in their willingness to employ anyone from outside. The Minister should give preference to those who employ proper functionaries to design cottages in harmony with local traditions, and the local craftsman would follow the local architect. He would know the nature of the 1774 material round about, as well as the history of the countryside, and there is no reason why we should not have pleasant and beautiful houses. Local labour would follow the architect and the builder who knows something about it would be the competent person to come in and not spoil it by building a lot of square boxes and leaving them as a permanent eyesore. There is no need for that. The Minister has a great opportunity to get local authorities to come in and help him to beautify the countryside. They ought to think out original schemes. The Bill is in essence something more than just a financial Measure. It is the nucleus of a complete reorganisation of the conception of local authorities in relation to building. They must become more architecturally-minded.
I have here the figures of loans sanctioned by the Ministry of Health from 1922–23 to 1936–37. The total for engineering works for 1936–37 was £18,533,401. That dealt with sewage disposal, refuse and scavenging, land drainage, waterworks, gas works, piers, landing stages, etc. That figure represented 23.4 per cent. of the total loans for capital purposes. On the other side £60,604,598 or 76 per cent. of the total loans for capital purposes came under the heading of public walks and pleasure gardens, baths and wash houses, hospitals, tuberculosis, maternity and child welfare and housing—£38,000,000 for housing. The problem is a very serious one, in which we are all interested. We will readily give our hand to anything that can be done to improve it. We will encourage every help that can be given. I am certain that in many of these things the demand for a firm price for a contract is not the most economical way. If you give a firm price you have to give a price which will cover all possible risks—rising cost of materials or alterations in wages—which you do not know anything about. In order to guarantee that they are not losing they take as wide a margin as possible and you are frequently fleeced. It should be approached in another way, having a minimum and a sliding scale. I beg of you not to lower standards but to encourage the use of facilities that are available for design, lay-out and execution, which would not only improve the elevation but would substantially diminish the costs.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton
The hon. Member has delivered a helpful and constructive speech and I hope that at the end of the Debate we shall find him in our Lobby supporting the Bill which he described as more than a financial provision and as the nucleus of reorganisation in housing. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) trying to pump a little animosity by recalling the fate of the Labour Government's Bill. If I remember aright, that puny brat required far more than artificial respiration to get it going when the National Government came into power. It wanted some spiritual beverage poured into it, because for the 40,000 houses that he wanted there were only 2,000 applications, and the time had nearly come when it had to be weaned. I do not take it against the right hon. Gentleman that he had not the skill to devise this great Measure that my right hon. Friend has introduced.
I had hoped that this Bill would be supported by Members of all parties. I wish, however, to speak from the agricultural point of view. I am sure there is no one ony any side of the House who knows rural England, who is not worried by the depopulation of the countryside that has been going on since the War. Since 1920 no fewer than 230,000 agricultural workers have left the industry. I do not say for a moment that the only reason for the depopulation is the lack of housing facilities. I am certain that the first and chief reason must be the difference between the wages received by the agricultural and the industrial workers. But the second cause of that drift from agricultural England is the lack of housing facilities. Census figures show that two out of every five men who were working in agriculture at 25 have left it at 40. That means that, while they are content to be in agriculture when they are single, when they want to marry and settle down and have a family they have to leave it because there are not proper housing facilities for them.
Houses have diminished considerably. I know many Yorkshire villages which a hundred years ago had 20 or 30 cottages and smallholdings and which to-day have probably only two cottages and five farms. All the smallholdings have died out and the cottages have gone. It is to attract those men back and to build those houses 1776 that I think the Bill is so important. With regard to rural housing, the triumvirate of the Socialist party—the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield and the Socialist leader of the London County Council—are attacking the Bill on the ground that it is imposing higher rents and subsidising private enterprise and tied cottages. That is very different from the attitude of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), whom we look upon as the future dictator of the Socialist party. Only last week-end he told an audience of farmers that he himself was a failed farmer and he said we must build up the amenities of the countryside. This Bill will do it, not by imposing higher, but by lower rents.
If I wanted to build a cottage in rural England, I could not do it economically unless I charged a rent of something like 7s. 6d. a week, but the cottages that are to be built by my right hon. Friend will be let at an agricultural rent of 3s. a week, a saving of 4s. 6d. made possible by his subsidy of £10. That will be a very great achievement, and it also shows that the Socialist Amendment is quite beside the point when it accuses the Government of subsidising private enterprise. At the present time, if the agricultural labourer wants to live in a new cottage he has to pay 7s. 6d. a week, but if this Bill goes through, he will only have to pay 3s. a week. There is no advantage to private enterprise. The cottage will be of advantage only to the agricultural labourer. I can tell the Socialist party that up and down this country the agricultural labourers are welcoming a provision that will enable not only local authorities, but also bodies of private persons, to build cottages to be let at the restricted rent of 3s. per week.
I notice that the Memorandum to the Bill talks of other bodies or private persons being able to build under Clause 3. I want the Minister of Health or the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with the case of parish councils. There are in England parish councils which have cottages for pensioners and persons lately employed in agriculture. Some of these cottages have been reconditioned under the Act of 1926. In some places the parish councils want to build cottages, but they have no power to do so under the present legislation. I want to know whether, in this Bill, they will be given an opportunity 1777 to take advantage of Clause 3 so that cottages may be built by parish councils for the use of pensioners in the agricultural industry. The parish councils are anxious for this facility and will be quite ready to carry it out, either on the advice of the district council or, as I think they would prefer, under that of the county council. The reason for the preference for the county council is—I was very glad the Minister himself stressed the point—the importance, in building these cottages, of having the services of an architect. It is an unfortunate fact that many rural district councils have not the help of an architect in the carrying out of their building programmes, whereas the county councils have the county architect. These parish councils would prefer the advantage of having the advice of the county architect, and, if that is not possible, no doubt thay would be quite content with the advice of the rural district council, and the facilities which the Minister promised from the Ministry of Health.
I hope that that point may be dealt with, and I also suggest that, in order that persons of limited means may take advantage of Clause 3, in some cases the Minister might be able to give the subsidy by way of a lump sum. The Minister talked about farm labourers building their own cottages, and the Socialist party thought that there was something funny about it. Farm labourers and smallholders are anxious to have cottages of their own, and I should have thought that the Socialist party would have had no need to be derisive because men employed in agriculture want to own the cottages in which they live. It is a perfectly proper idea, and it is most unfortunate that we had that laugh from the other side. But in order to carry on it would help these persons if they were able to obtain a lump sum. Cottages have to be paid for when built, and these men usually have not the credit at the bank to enable them to borrow easily. It would be far easier for them to have this help in the form of a lump sum. The chief reason why I wanted to speak upon this Bill is the wider question of the rating of rural houses. The proposal is to restrict the agricultural rent to 3s. a week.
§ Mr. Turton
We are going to restrict the rent under Clause 3 to 3s. a week. It says:if let, is let at a rent not exceeding—(i) the weekly rent which, by any order of the appropriate agricultural wages committee in force at the time of the letting, is determined …I am sorry that the late First Lord of the Admiralty has not read that part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Turton
The right hon. Gentleman knows, with his wide knowledge of agriculture on the co-operative side, that the rents laid down by the agricultural wages committees vary between 2s. 6d. and 3s. 6d., and average 3s. For that reason he will find that if a subsidy is given, the rent will be regulated to 3s. a week. That is very good, but I want to know what the rates are to be. Unfortunately, if you restrict the rent to be charged, you do not also restrict the rate assessment. There was an unfortunate decision in the House of Lords in 1922, which said that if a rent is restricted under the Rent Restrictions Act, the rate assessment might be higher than the rent. Houses have been erected under Acts passed by different Governments where the rents charged are restricted, and yet they are rated very much higher. In case after case in my constituency, agricultural labourers or persons with a similar income find that, although the rent is low under the Housing Act, the rate is increased in the quinquennial re-assessment and the advantage of the low rent is taken away.
There is this one exception. Under the Local Government Act, 1929, which was passed by the Conservative Government, tied cottages are rated at only the agricultural rate. It would be unfortunate if this Bill passed without giving cottages erected under Clauses 2 and 3 the same advantages that Parliament gave to tied houses under Section 72 of the Act of 1929. If at the present time cottages are to be erected at a rent of 3s. with no provision to safeguard them with regard to rating, the rate will be a very heavy burden on the potential tenants of the houses. Although this is not strictly a rating Bill, yet we have had precedents for dealing with rating provisions in Housing Bills, and I trust that the Minister of Health will consider whether, on the Committee stage, he can put in some 1779 provision for the limitation of the rates on cottages erected in rural England under Clauses 2 and 3 of this Bill.
The only other point I wish to raise, and it is one which has been touched upon by other hon. Members, is that of design. It is most important to have cottages of pleasing design, and wherever possible use should be made of stone. It would increase the cost, but I believe that if the Minister could give some special concession where cottages were erected in stone, it would enable the beauty of the countryside to be preserved. The beauty of the countryside of England is something which is treasured by everyone in this House, on whatever side we sit, and it would be a great disaster if this very beneficent Measure went through the House with the result that the countryside was made as ugly as it has been made by some of the housing Measures which have previously been passed by this House. I end by welcoming the Bill and saying that in my area of Yorkshire every support will be given to carry out the provisions for increasing the number of house in the countryside.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Quibell
This has been a very interesting Debate, and I welcome the desire that has been expressed that there should be a little more variety introduced into housing in the countryside than we have hitherto enjoyed. This subject was stressed particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), but how is this to be done in practice? The policy pursued by the Ministry has always been to get the cheapest possible kind of houses. The position is limited by the restriction in the superficial feet of ground flooring, with so many superficial feet above, and the height of the rooms in some cases has been as low as 8 feet 3 inches or 8 feet 6 inches, and above something like 7 feet to the eaves. How are you to get this variety? You are certainly not going to get it out of the Minister of Health, because every time a local authority submits a price in respect of a housing scheme, it is measured by the cost in other neighbourhoods, where perhaps they have erected brick boxes with slate lids. It is measured in this way which results in the cheapest kind of houses being built. If that policy is to be pursued where can 1780 there be variety and room for imagination and improvement?
The firm with which I am connected once undertook a contract to build houses under the Ministry. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman was Minister then, but things would not have been a bit better if he had been. Those houses were built in one of the North Wales coast towns. At the time I was, unfortunately, ill, and did not see them until the contract was nearly completed. The hon. Member for East Woolwich has described them correctly. There were the cheapest kinds of materials and furniture, a bit of plaster and whitewash, with low-ceilings; in fact, they represented the Ministry of Health at its worst. I never want to build another house of that type which the Ministry of Health insists upon local authorities building. If examples are desired, they can be found in the division of the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). Let hon. Members go and look at some of the houses that have been built there. There are no slums on the countryside that are much worse. Some of the new houses that have been built under the Ministry of Health are quite as bad as some of the old ones that existed before. I am letting the Minister down lightly, and I warn hon. Members not to expect too much from his Department, otherwise they will be deceived.
Under the Bill it will be possible to say that so much per cubic foot is to be paid for. I should like to see an improvement in that matter. With respect to the variety of design which has been spoken about, I have seen only one local authority where they did really get variety, and I admire the houses there every time I pass them. Those houses are in Flintshire, North Wales. It passes my comprehension how that scheme passed the Ministry of Health. We have heard about the desirability of having an architect, and that he should be allowed to give his imagination free play. What room is afforded for the play of imagination when a house has to be built within the small limits of certain cubic space and at a certain height? The limitations are such that there is really no scope for imagination or colour. These ideals about variety and the use of good imagination in design are very good, and I should like to see them carried out for the benefit and the preservation of rural 1781 England, but I do not want the House to be disappointed, because I am afraid the Minister's scheme will fall very far short of the speech that he made. So far as plans are concerned, I do not think the House need worry itself much, because if one bedroom is made a little bigger, another bedroom will have to be made less, or if a little extra space is to be given in a bathroom, one of the bedrooms will have to be reduced in size. Until the Ministry of Health alters the principle upon which it acts in these matters we shall not get much improvement.
I listened with much interest to what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said respecting his own county. He painted a very sorrowful picture of the housing conditions there and, if I may say so with respect, what he said is no compliment to the local authorities in that district and the persons who are connected with them. Certainly, imagination and drive are needed in the hon. and learned Member's county in regard to housing, and if he could bring to bear some of the sincerity and influence that he uses in this House, he might do much to inspire a real desire in his constituency to do something to remove the scandalous conditions which he described. I do not think that the picture he gave was overdrawn. I have had experience in his county, and I say without hesitation that in most of the rural areas they are 40 to 50 years behind the rural parts of England in regard to general housing conditions and general sanitation. That has been my experience there, and I could give the details. Some of the things that he described I have seen on large landed estates in North Wales, only a few miles from noted beauty spots.
I want to see a forward move in housing as much as any hon. Member, but I am sorry that the Minister of Health still associates himself with a Government which sabotaged the Act that would have done precisely what he now wants to do. I note that the right hon. Gentleman does not like what I am saying, but it is his own medicine, and he must have it.
§ Mr. Quibell
Yes, I know it gives hon. Members opposite the headache, but we intend to remind them of it during the discussions on-this Bill. It is a fact that as far as the rural districts are concerned nothing of a real character has been done for the agricultural labourer. In the hope that something will be done to give him better housing, I welcome this effort to do something for the rural district. There is, however, one feature of the Bill which I do not like. This House was responsible for passing a Measure under which a subsidy was given for rural housing, and authority was given to allow private enterprise to carry out building. The result has been that in some rural districts houses have been put up by private companies who have been more interested in the financial side of the business and in exploiting the position by erecting houses which, as the Minister well knows, are a scandal and a disgrace.
I will pay the right hon. Gentleman this compliment, that when I drew his attention to one case he promptly sent an inspector to inquire into the conditions. There was no drainage, the sewage percolated under the walls, and the water was unfit to drink. The local authority had no power to deal with the builders except to call upon them to abate the nuisance under the General Provisions of the Public Health Acts. I went to the site and I said that Parliament never intended to give a subsidy where there was no water supply, no sewage disposal and where, as the inspector saw, the overflow from the sewer was running through the air grids, under the floor of the houses. These people have gone into villages as far south as Oxford and into my own division, putting up houses, because of the provision which allowed builders other than the local authority to erect houses. There has been a lack of supervision, and the plans are infinitely worse than those for houses which the local authority have built.
I understand that neither the Ministry nor the local authority had the power to refuse to give the subsidy. The Ministry has not sufficient power to be able to say: "Unless you abate this nuisance and carry out such and such work, we will withhold the subsidy from you." I 1783 understand that no such power exists. We had a meeting with the owners and the inspectors of the local authority, and we tried to induce them to carry out the necessary alterations, by way of a threat from the local authority. That work has not yet been completed, and people have had to live under these conditions for a considerable time. This is not a rare case. It is a pretty common experience. This company gets everything it possibly can out of the subsidy and gives as little as it can. The tenants of the houses say that the old houses from which they had come were better houses than the new ones into which they have gone. I hope, therefore, that the provision in the Bill with regard to the subsidy which states that owing to special circumstances people other than the local authority may be allowed to build, will be carefully looked into.
There is another aspect of the Bill which I do not like. There has been a general tendency on the part of all sections of the House to look upon any extension of the tied cottage system as being undesirable, and that it should be limited as far as possible, if not abolished. There has been a diminution in the number of tied cottages in recent years, and we had hoped that in this Bill the Minister would have dealt with that question so far as the agricultural labourers are concerned. We do not believe that a man can be free while he is tied to his cottage. Therefore, I look upon this side of the Bill as being a bad side, and I hope that the Minister will reconsider the question of the tied cottage before the Bill receives its Third Reading.
The financial provisions, so far as the agricultural labourer is concerned, are fairly generous, and I do not think that there is much to be complained about. The agricultural labourer will, however, complain that the £2 additional to be given by the county council will in a large measure come out of his own pocket, because agricultural and industrial concerns have been de-rated and the extra subsidy will have to come out of the county rate, which is precepted upon the rateable value of the county. There will also, I am afraid, be some objection from the urban population in regard to the subsidy. However, I hope that we may be able to secure Amendments which will improve the Bill in the way we desire. I hope the 1784 Minister will meet us in regard to the tied cottage system, and that he will give a promise to allow more latitude in regard to the expense of the houses. A house in one district cannot necessarily be built at the same price as a house in another district. It all depends upon local circumstances, such as transport, the availability of labour, material, etc. I hope that we shall be able to secure an Amendment in that respect, that we shall be able to obtain some real variety of design, and that there will be no extension of the tied cottage system under the Bill.
§ 7.45. p.m.
§ Mr. Christie
The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) has given us his views on the tied cottage. I am always interested in that matter because I have had to deal with it in my own area and also as a member of a committee which grants certificates. I have always noticed that when the Standing Joint Committee build new cottages for the police no one ever says that there ought not to be tied cottages for policemen, and also that wherever a railway company erects cottages for their employés in a parish there is never any complaint about the tied cottage system. It is only a tied cottage for an agricultural labourer which causes any annoyance to hon. Members opposite. As a matter of fact, the hon. Member has praised the provision in this Bill for cheap cottages for agricultural labourers; he does not seem to realize that he is giving his approval to a proposal which will very largely increase the number of tied cottages because these cottages will be available only to agricultural workers. I really believe that the serious part about tied cottages is this: it depends entirely on whether there is alternative accommodation available. The moment there is plenty of alternative accommodation the hardship of the tied cottage disappears. By this Bill my right hon. Friend is making provision to ensure that there shall be far greater alternative accommodation for agricultural workers, and therefore he is undoubtedly doing away with the tied cottage hardship.
He is doing a great deal more than that. He is doing a really fine piece of work for agriculture. Hon. Members have spoken of the advantage of keeping our young people on the land and preventing the drift to the towns. Two things have recently had some effect in 1785 increasing this drift. First of all, the starting of the sugar beet industry, which has casualised agriculture to some extent. If a man gets only eight months' work in a year in agriculture and has to be stood oft for four months, he is very vulnerable to the suggestion that he should find work in the town, and perhaps get a bigger wage. In the second place, unemployment insurance for agricultural workers has had much the same effect. Farmers are now much more prone to stand men off in slack times and men in that position are naturally glad to accept a job on aerodrome buildings and works of that sort. Unfortunately, I am afraid that once they have gone into the towns they are very unlikely to come back. That is a most tragic thing; and the right hon. Gentleman is really doing a fine piece of work in trying to retain them on the land and giving them an inducement to come back in the way of good cottages.
There is one further point. I was chairman of the housing committee of my area for a great many years. I have always taken the greatest interest in the building of houses in the country. When the Bill came out I went to the clerk and asked him to give me some particulars as to the occupations of the people in the houses which have been built in my rural area, and also the occupations of those people who have made application for houses but have not yet been satisfied. I found that only 38 per cent. of the present tenants are engaged in agriculture, and I was surprised to hear that in spite of that very low number the average income of the whole of the tenants—over 500—was only £1 16s. 7d. That suggests that all of them were only earning an income more or less comparable with that earned by an agricultural worker. When I looked at the list of would-be tenants, I found that only one-third of them were engaged in agriculture. That means that my rural district council has not only the job of building houses, which they will be able to do under this Measure, but that it will have to leave unsatisfied a large number of people who require houses, whose income, although not obtained actually from agriculture, is exactly on the same footing as the income of an agricultural worker.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) suggested that if the definition of the person who 1786 should be allowed to dwell in one of these £12 houses was the definition in the Act of 1926, people with an income comparable to that of an agricultural worker would be able to have the advantage of these cheap houses. If my right hon. Friend could see his way to come to such a decision, if, instead of deciding tenants by their professional calling he would decide them by their income or ability to pay, the problem as far as the rural population is concerned would be completely solved. If he maintains the present definition I have very great doubts as to how these other people are to get houses at a rent which they can afford to pay. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider this point and adopt the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery.
We have heard a great deal of abuse of rural councils because of the ugliness of the buildings they have put up. While in certain cases this is to some extent justified, in many cases it is not justified at all. My own rural district council has always employed an architect, and he has done very well indeed for them. I must say that in the case of my district council these remarks do not apply. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yours is the exception."] No, I do not think it is the exception. In a great many parishes in East Anglia you will find very good work done. It is all very well to talk glibly about what should be done, but when you are cut down in costs, the possibility of building beautiful houses is very difficult. I think, taking it all round, except in certain areas, the result has been quite good. May I say how very much obliged I am to the Minister for what he is doing in this Bill? He is doing a fine piece of work which I am sure will be welcome in every rural parish.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Silkin
The Debate has ranged over a very wide area, and I think it is time the House got back to the real purpose of the Bill, which is housing (financial provisions) and, after all, in the long run, the fate of slum clearance and overcrowding this country will be determined by the extent to which local authorities can be induced or encouraged to proceed with their housing activities by the financial provisions set out in the Bill. The Minister of Health in his usual amiable way is asking local authorities to swallow a large 1787 and bitter pill which is coated with a thin layer of sugar. It is true that the Bill confers some benefits on local authorities. It would be idle to dispute that. It increases the subsidy for the relief of overcrowding, but the Minister has himself admitted that local authorities are at the present time only at the beginning of their overcrowding programme, and that very little has been done towards the abatement of overcrowding. I can tell him the reason why. Experience has shown that the present overcrowding subsidy is hopelessly inadequate. The London County Council has done a certain amount of abatement of overcrowding; and the experience of London is that the rate loss is somewhat higher than the Exchequer contribution. Under the 1935 Act it was contemplated that the Exchequer contribution would be twice as high as the rate contribution, but, in fact, taking a site which costs between £8,000 and £10,000 an acre, by no means a high cost in London, the estimated deficiency is £21 14s. 1d. per annum, of which the Exchequer contributes £10 and the rates £11 14s. 1d. In these circumstances it is not to be wondered that local authorities have so far done very little in the direction of overcrowding. All that the Bill proposes to do is to restore the proportion which it was originally intended should exist between the contribution of the Exchequer and the contribution of the local authority.
There is a further benefit in the Bill which I freely recognise, and that is that a subsidy is now being provided for the erection of cottages for the abatement of overcrowding at the rate of £5 10s. per annum for 40 years, whereas hitherto the provision of a subsidy has been entirely optional on the part of the Ministry, and certainly places like London are expressly ruled out under the provisions. But even a subsidy of £5 10s. is not adequate to meet the needs. I understand that the actual loss in connection with the Chingford Estate is about £11 per house. The contribution which the Ministry is going to make is £5 10s. and the local authority will contribute £2 15s., so that there will be a total contribution of £8 5s., whereas the actual loss will be about £11 per house. Therefore, the increased Exchequer contribution is inadequate to meet the needs of large local authorities like London. That is, of course, on the 1788 assumption that the rents to be charged are such as will suit the pockets of those whom it is intended to rehouse.
There is a further advantage in the Bill which is that it proposes to unify the subsidy as between slum clearance and the relief of overcrowding. I admit that, administratively, it is a great convenience to local authorities to work under one subsidy instead of two. It enables them to decide, at the time when dwellings are built, for which purpose those dwellings are to be utilised. They need not appropriate dwellings in advance of completion to one purpose or the other. Having said that, I think I have exhausted the advantages of the Bill as far as local authorities are concerned.
§ Sir K. Wood
What does the hon. Member say is the view of the London County Council on the question of the payment of grant per house or per person?
§ Mr. Silkin
I do not think it matters very much to us whether the grant, in terms and in form, is given to the person or to the dwelling. What the London County Council and, I imagine, most local authorities will be interested in is the total effect of the contribution. It seems to me that the Minister has seized upon the opportunity given by this Bill to reduce substantially the subsidy on slum clearance, thereby striking a serious blow at the fine work which the local authorities have hitherto done in clearing their slums. Under the Bill the local authorities are to get a subsidy of £5 10s. a year for 40 years for cottages. Under the existing law they have been getting £2 5s. per person for 40 years and, taking five persons per dwelling, that means £11 5s. per dwelling. If the Minister insists that it should be only 4½ persons per dwelling, I do not mind, but five is the normal figure. Even at 4½ persons per dwelling, it comes to £9 12s. 6d. per dwelling. But instead of £9 12s. 6d., or, as I suggest, £11 5s. per dwelling per annum, the local authorities are now to get £5 10s.—a reduction of over £4 per dwelling for 40 years.
Take the case of flats, built on land costing £5,000 an acre, which is a moderate figure for London, though substantial for most of the other large towns. Under the Bill, the local authorities will get £13 a year. Under the existing legislation, on the same basis of five persons per dwelling, they get £17 10s., so that 1789 they will lose £4 10s. in that respect. I submit that that is striking a serious blow at the slum clearance work which is actually in operation, the loss being far greater than any gain which will inure to local authorities under other provisions of the Bill. Moreover, at present the proportion of the Exchequer contribution to the rate contribution is something like 4½ to 1. The Minister by this Bill is reducing that proportion to 2 to 1.
Even if we take into consideration the extent of overcrowding relief operations which local authorities have to undertake, the proportion of Exchequer contributions to rate contributions works out at something like 3 to 1 which the Minister is reducing to 2 to 1. The right hon. Gentleman gave some interesting figures showing the contribution which the Exchequer has made towards housing and the amount which local authorities have contributed. If I remember aright, even that proportion works out at about 4 to 1, but in the future it will be reduced to 2 to 1. I submit that the present time, when only about half the slum clearance work has been completed, is a singularly inopportune time for a change of subsidy. The Minister proposes to swap horses while crossing the slum clearance stream and I am afraid—and I very much regret it—that he will meet with the fate of most people who attempt that kind of operation. It will be a great pity, because we might get a worse Minister of Health than the right hon. Gentleman.
What is the cause for this deduction of subsidy? The Minister has been frank with the House on that subject. The cause is based upon the reduction in rates of interest. He tells us that in 1930 the rate was 5 per cent. and that to-day it is 3½ per cent. In fact, in London and some other large places it is 3¾ per cent., but I will make the Minister a present of the quarter per cent. and assume that there is a reduction of 1½ per cent. in interest rates. That, however, is not the only factor to be considered. There is also the increased cost of building which, I submit, more than outbalances the reduction in the rate of interest. We are told that up to 1935 there was very little increase in the cost of building, but since that time there has been an increase of about 20 per cent. Figures have been submitted to the Minister, and if he works them out he will find that the increase in the cost of building, as I say, more than 1790 outweighs the reduction in the rate of interest.
The subsidy was fixed in 1930, and under the Act of that year the Minister is required to review the subsidy at the end of three years, and thereafter at three-yearly intervals. In 1933 the then Minister of Health had the opportunity of revising the subsidy. He did not do so, and we are entitled to assume that that was because he was satisfied that there was no case then for a reduction of the subsidy. If the Minister failed to review the subsidy when there was a case for doing so, he was not doing his duty to this House. Again, in 1935 the Minister had the opportunity of reviewing the subsidy under the 1930 Act, when dealing with overcrowding, and again it must be assumed that the Minister then felt that there was no case for reducing that subsidy. I ask the Minister what change has taken place since 1935 which to-day justifies him in making this deduction. Since 1935 interest rates have actually gone up and the cost of building has gone up, but nothing has come down. Standards of building have gone up, and I personally welcome that fact. But it has gone to increase very substantially the cost of living.
The Minister has been foremost in urging, by manifesto, speech, circular and in every possible way that local authorities should improve their standards of building. These are some of the things which he has asked them to do, entirely at their own expense. None of these matters are taken into account in calculating subsidy. He has asked them to provide larger rooms; to increase the size of living rooms as the number of bedrooms increases; to provide fixed baths in separate bathrooms—that requirement has been imposed by statute upon the local authorities—and to provide private balconies for flats. Local authorities have also been urged to build with less density and to provide such amenities as community centres, children's playgrounds, and gardens as well as sheds for perambulators and cycles.
I have taken the trouble to work out the aggregate cost of these requirements, and the figure would be something like £200 per dwelling if all these things were provided in accordance with the requirements and the pressure put upon local authorities by the Minister. Some of 1791 them have been provided. These are changes which have taken place since 1935, yet instead of increasing the subsidy—and there is a strong case for doing so—the Minister proposes substantially to reduce the subsidy on slum clearance. The Minister ought to think again about this Bill. I believe that the clearance of the slums is an object which he has at heart, but I also sincerely believe that the effect of the Bill will be, not only to retard the progress of slum clearance, but, in the case of the better-off authorities to increase rents.
A statement was made by the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) which I ought to mention, because it was pointed directly at London. The hon. Baronet attacked the policy of London in building flats. I am bound to say that in this matter I agree with the Minister, who said that the policy of the Ministry is to prefer cottages to flats wherever possible, but that there are places where cottages are impossible. In the interior of London, at any rate, it would be impossible to build cottages. We are building on land the average cost of which is about £12,000 an acre, and very often we have to pay as much as £20,000 an acre. If we were to build cottages, we should be required to build possibly 12 to the acre, although perhaps the Minister in his generosity might allow us to build a few more, but the cost for land alone would be £1,000 a dwelling. I do not think I need say more than that to indicate the impossibility of carrying out what the hon. Baronet and everybody else would wish to do in London.
Apart from the financial aspect, there is the re-housing problem. In London, there are 60 or 70 families on every acre of slum territory which is cleared. Even by the erection of five-storey flats, one can get back only about 50 families to the acre, and the council has to provide new accommodation for 10 or 20 families for every acre of slum property that is demolished. If, instead of building five-storey flats, we were to build cottages, it would be possible to get back only 12 or 15 of the 60 or 70 families displaced. The House will easily understand the impossible position in which we should be placed after a very short time of slum clearance activity if cottages were built.
1792 I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider the drastic cutting down of the subsidy for slum clearance. The reduction of the subsidy will very seriously discourage local authorities, it will cut down the amount of activity, it will seriously extend the time that will be taken in solving the problem, it will be bound to have a repercussion on the rates, and it will cause an increase in rents, and so affect the very class of persons which the various housing Measures are intended to benefit.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mrs. Tate
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) in his arguments about London, about which he knows a great deal more than I do. I confess that some of his mathematical calculations surprised me a little, but mathematics is such a weak point with me that I will leave that matter to some other hon. Members to discuss. I was, however, particularly interested in one remark made by the hon. Member He said that, speaking on behalf of the London County Council, he had no preference as to whether the subsidy was given per person displaced or per house built. I think all hon. Members on this side of the House must have been interested in that remark, as it was one of the few coherent complaints against the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) was able to make. We are accustomed to a great division of opinion among hon. Members opposite on political platforms in the country, but when they present in the House a case against a Bill, however weak it may be, they ought at least to try to make uniform complaints. It would make it easier for us to know what we are up against.
Another complaint of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield was that the Minister, in introducing the Bill, had lost a golden opportunity in that he had not brought forward a new standard in regard to overcrowding. That is a point which interests me very much. I do not think any Minister or any hon. Member has ever pretended that the present standard in regard to overcrowding is an ideal one; but it is a beginning, and it is something with which we feel we shall be able to deal in a reasonable period of time. From experience which I have 1793 had both in urban and rural areas, I believe that we should have done irreparable damage in some respects if we had started with a higher standard. Many people at the present time feel that the decline in population is a serious problem. One of the things that might have been a very serious factor in the decline in population would have been to have started with too high a standard with regard to overcrowding. Many women both in town and country have said to me, "We would like to have more children, but if we go from our present house, there is nowhere else for us to go; if we have another child we shall, in a year's time, come within the overcrowding standard." I think that is a very serious point, and one which ought to be considered by hon. Members before they say that the time has come when we should embark on a higher standard in relation to overcrowding.
The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) said that hon. Members on this side of the House do not like to hear references to the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1931, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, from whom I think we had a right to expect more accurate information, accused the Government of having robbed the rural population of 38,000 houses. I do not know how the right hon. Gentleman had the temerity to come to the House with that information, when it has been refuted over and over again; but as his memory is so poor, it is just as well to remind the House of what in fact did happen and of what was stated in the House as recently as January, 1935. We had it on the word of the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health that the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1931, was forced on the Labour party by the Liberals, and as the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Liberal party at that time, he had a right to speak and to know what the Liberal party forced on the Labour party.
What was the condition? It was that the subsidy was to be given in the case of houses for which applications were made for four months after the passing of the Act, that is to say, until November, 1931. There were only 4,000 applications. Then came the crisis; and the committee, under the chairmanship of the late Sir John Tudor Walters, which investigated the matter, said that 2,000 of 1794 those rural cottages should be allowed, in spite of the crisis; but when the committee investigated them, they found that in order to let those houses at 3s. and 4s., it was not necessary to take a penny of subsidy under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1931. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield says that the Government have prevented the building of 38,000 houses, it is a great pity that he does not investigate more carefully how many were built, for although he speaks of the murder of the Wheatley Act, he does not remind the House that every house built until June, 1934, could get the subsidy given under the Wheatley Act. I hope that that nonsensical misrepresentation will never again be made in the House.
Speaking for a rural area, I cannot be sufficiently grateful to the Minister for this Bill. I think all hon. Members really are grateful for the Bill. An interesting and constructive speech was made by the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks). Housing is a problem which ought not to be a party matter. It is a problem in the solving of which the help of every person in this country is needed, if it is to be solved in the time in which all of us would like to see it solved. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health very rightly said that the shortage of houses is very largely a contributory factor to the deplorable drift of people from the country to the town, and that this Measure for building houses in the country should arrest that drift, but it will not arrest it unless we are able to build the houses where the houses are needed. Excellent as this Bill is, I think there is a danger that in some cases we shall still not be able to do that, not because of any lack of housing provisions in the Bill, but because of the conditions with regard to water in the rural areas of the country.
In my constituency, which is in Somerset, heaven knows, we have enough water falling from the skies—it is a damp county, and there should be no water shortage in out-villages—but there is a most serious water shortage, and only the other day an enterprising builder, because he knew the appalling scarcity of houses and the desperate need for them in one village, insisted on building two, only to find that he was immediately fined, because no more houses were permissible owing to the water shortage 1795 in that area. I realise that under this Bill it is not possible to arrange for finance for water supplies, but no Bill dealing with rural housing will be able to achieve what it sets out to achieve and what the Minister and all of us wish it to achieve, until the question of water in rural villages and rural cottages has been effectively dealt with. The comparative pittance which we have so far had from the Government towards solving the water problem, has, as the Minister knows, been wholly inadequate to do more than touch the fringe of the subject.
Now, to turn to the question of cost, I should like to ask the Minister whether he has approached the building societies in this country with regard to standardisation which was recommended by the Prince of Wales in 1935 and upon the subject of which a very admirable letter from the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) appeared in the "Times" in March, 1935. As all of us know, we want variety in the outside of our houses, but all houses are liable to have very much the same requirements inside, and I feel that building costs could be enormously reduced if there was a really planned system of standardisation of materials, and in the internal fitments in the houses, and I should like to know whether the Ministry has approached the building societies from that angle.
Hon. Members opposite have made a great complaint that under this Bill we are helping individuals—I think they called them the landlords—to build houses. Surely what we want is to get houses built. Hon. Members were very interested in the scarcity of houses in rural areas, and rightly so. No one will deny, I think, that the county councils already have their hands very full and that if they are helped by the individual builder and private enterprise, we shall get the number of houses we need very much more quickly than if it is left to the county councils alone. Also we hope that the county councils will build the houses in the villages, as the Minister said, but there are small farmers and in some cases agricultural workers who want houses in isolated places, and there, I should like to endorse what the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said when he asked whether the Government would consider, in the case of the small farmer or the 1796 agricultural labourer who has not got the capital to build a house, even with the £10 loan, of giving him the money in a lump sum. I feel that many people would build houses if they were able to have a capital grant, even if they had to pay interest on the sum which they borrowed.
We are grateful to the Minister for saying that he is anxious to see houses built more in harmony with their surroundings. All of us feel that this has unfortunately been an age in which much of beauty, particularly the beauty of rural England, has been destroyed, and I feel that pious aspirations are no longer quite enough. In the Town and Country Planning Act certainly we have a permissive Section, but I feel that when you look at many of the buildings which are spoiling the beauty of England, which, if it is once destroyed, cannot be restored again, you feel that the time has come for requiring some standard to be laid down before houses are permitted to be built. I do not think the fact of having been able to pass an examination and qualify as an architect necessarily ensures a standard of taste, and I should like to endorse what the hon. Member for East Woolwich said when he asked that houses should be put up for open competition in order that the better designs might be chosen.
There are so many other Members wishing to speak, and I am so well aware of the pain of waiting, that I do not wish to keep the House longer, but I sincerely thank the Minister for this Bill, and I feel that hon. Members opposite, if they cannot verbally appreciate it, will, those of them who are really interested in the welfare of the people of this country—and I think very many of them—appreciate it very deeply in their hearts.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
In supporting the Amendment, I desire to make particular reference to those words in which read:the need for more progressive measures,and also to make a few observations against the Bill, using the words, also contained in the Amendment:which substantially reduces the amount of State assistance in respect of slum clearance.Several hon. Members who have spoken has said that the question of housing in this country is not a party question. I want to dissociate myself from those statements, because this question is a party question.
§ Mr. Smith
As a matter of fact, life itself to us is a party question, and, therefore, I want to remind the House of the very dark and realistic picture by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). As he was painting that picture, he proved by the observations that he made that he was not in touch with the realities of the housing conditions in this country, because the picture that he painted of the county that he represents could equally be painted of many other areas in this country. I represent in this House an industrial area. I also live in the largest industrial area in this country. I am a product of the class that has had to live for centuries under the conditions painted by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomeryshire and I do not seek to ape anyone else. All that I seek is to do my duty in this House, to be worthy of the people among whom I was born, to be worthy of the people who have had to live under the conditions described so well by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomeryshire this evening.
Therefore, to me this Bill is a very disappointing Bill. After consulting a number of representatives of local authorities during the past year or two, and after they had reminded me of the promises and statements made by responsible Ministers during the last general election, I was looking forward to a great national housing scheme being launched by the Government. This Bill does not fulfil that requirement. Because of the letters I am constantly receiving from my constituents and from the area where I live, because of visiting the industrial areas week-end after week-end, because my wife is in touch with the working class in her district and in other districts living in similar conditions to those described by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, I want to say that the only adequate way to deal with the housing question is to introduce a bold, courageous, national housing scheme. I heard the hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) interrupt me, and if she or any other Member doubts anything I am saying, I will give them an invitation to come with me some week-end to the districts about which I am speaking. They would see a black picture similar to that 1798 drawn by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery.
The only way to deal with this problem is a bold attempt to wipe out the legacy we have inherited from the industrial revolution. I was hoping that the Government would introduce a Bill based upon our last 18 years' experience of housing. Since the Armistice Bill after Bill has been introduced, and one would have thought that in 1938 the Minister of Health, benefiting by our experiences of those years, would have introduced a Bill that would have been a great step forward. During the past few years, and particularly during the last few months, we have heard from Members of the House and from people outside acting in a representative capacity, much admiration for the German roads. Those German roads stand as a monument to slave labour. They were built under slave conditions, and I want to appeal to the House, and to the country through the House, that we should build in this country a monument to democracy. The best way to do that is to carry out a great national scheme of housing for our people. I want a monument to be built to democracy that will be the admiration of all progressive-minded people throughout the world. Just as so many well-placed people who are out of touch with the realities of life have seen these roads in Germany and admired them, so I want democracy in this country to force this Government to carry out a great housing scheme; and if this Government is not prepared to do it, to elect one that will represent the real aspirations of the British people in order that in our time we can build this great monument based on the needs of the people.
It was stated in the King's Speech that the Government proposed to embark upon vigorous action to provide housing accommodation in order to replace slum dwellings and to abate overcrowding. Is this Bill carrying out that promise? It is, in reality, only a finance Bill, and will not provide the houses that are required. The housing needs of the people of this country are not generally realised unless people are in touch with the local authorities or with the industrial areas. It has been admitted by the Minister in speech after speech that the basis on which the overcrowding survey was carried out was altogether too low, but, in spite of that 1799 low basis, we find that in Sunderland the overcrowded families were 20.6 per cent., and in Newcastle 10.7 per cent. One could go on giving percentages of that kind. Is anyone satisfied with that position? Let me quote the medical officer in the area that I represent, a fine, public-spirited man. He said:It must be stated at once that the standard laid down by the Minister of Health is a very low one, as living-rooms as well as bedrooms have to be taken into account. It is owing to this fact that only 3,539 houses were found to be legally overcrowded.When he carried out a further inspection he found that at least 5,000 houses would be a more reasonable figure. I would draw the attention of the Minister and of the Parliamentary Secretary to the fact that this public-spirited medical officer states:In 737 cases there are three, four, five, six, or even seven families living in one house, although these are not legally overcrowded.Such are the conditions under which our people have to live. One can see something of these conditions by analysing the informative reports which are published by the Unemployment Assistance Board's officers. They are in constant touch with applicants for benefit, and they are able to compose reports like these. The "Times" quoted from one of these reports on 1st July, 1937, and in a leading article entitled "Hidden Needs," it made use of these words:In the Hanley area cases have been found—the plural number deserves attention—of 32 people in a two-bedroomed house and 17 people in one room. Many houses are infested with vermin, rats and crickets.That is why some of us cannot speak with the complacent manner of so many Members who have taken part in this Debate. If we are to be worthy of the people living in such areas, who too long have been speechless, who too long have not been represented in our national assembly, who too long have made promise after promise at general elections which Parliament after Parliament has betrayed, if the aspirations and the need of the people are to be adequately presented in this House, it will be necessary for us to speak more and more in the way in which I am attempting to speak.
If any hon. Member thinks I am exaggerating, I would remind him of the 1800 able speech made by the Bradford Conservative chairman only 12 months ago, believe that, to a certain extent, he indulged in a slight exaggeration, but there vas a good deal of truth in what he said. The reason he felt himself forced to speak n that way was that he lives in the Bradford area itself. He does not live in the south of England, in Eastbourne or Bournemouth, or any place of that kind and go up to the North only at a general election or at the week-end to speak for the Conservative party. He lives among the people there, and he said:When I had finished my tour of the Bradford area I felt ashamed of my country, thoroughly ashamed of the National Government and thoroughly ashamed of the Conservative party.I am not ashamed of my country, I am not ashamed of my party, because I believe that sooner or later this party, representing the aspirations and the needs of this country, this party representing the outlook of the people of this country, will capture the confidence of the people of this country, and then we shall be able to translate our theoretical ideas into the concrete realities which will meet their needs.
Having said that, I want to pay a tribute to a certain number of housing authorities. One housing scheme for which I have a great admiration is the Wythenshawe scheme, Manchester. It is an ideal site, it is well planned, it is nicely laid out, and it has provided the people—hundreds of people whom I know—as good men and women as this country ever produced, who had lived in slum areas and overcrowded areas in Manchester, with a new environment which has inspired them to greater and better things. Its only shortcoming is that there is difficulty about transport, and this is a problem which will have to be faced both by the local authorities and the Government in connection with such housing schemes. Why cannot we have Wythenshawes in all parts of the country? Why cannot we have a Wythenshawe in order to deal with the problem of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies)? Why cannot we have a Wythenshawe for areas where the rates have gone up to 16s., 17s., 19s. and even 20s. in the £—areas like Merthyr, Stoke-on-Trent and others, where the local authorities carry on under difficulties of which outside people have no idea, and where, as a consequence of the policy pursued by the 1801 National Government since 1931, they have had to undertake more and more responsibilities, especially financial responsibilities? They are so weighted down and strangled that they cannot do justice to the housing needs of their districts, because they are not in the advantageous position of large areas like Manchester.
In addition to that, we find that more and more people are saving and scraping in order to purchase their own houses. This is a very good thing. Many of them are little palaces, a credit to the people living in them, with beautiful gardens and nice curtains at the windows. And that reminds me of people who talk about human nature. Many and many a time I have heard hon. Members say, particularly outside this House, "Human nature won't stand for this and human nature won't stand for that." I have heard them say, "Take people out of slums in one area and put them into another area and they will immediately make slums of that area." That is not true. Anyone who knows the people of this country will know that when they are put into a new environment they quickly respond to it, and anyone who talks about human nature in the way I have indicated shows that he does not understand human nature, because human nature is the reflection of all that is best in people. Once they are in an environment which is likely to bring the best out of that human nature, the people respond to the change.
I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to make a note of this point. The greatest need is for thousands of houses to be built to be let at rents which people can afford to pay. Those who require houses more than anyone else are those who cannot afford to pay a rent of more than 10s. a week, inclusive of rates and everything else. If those people are to be adequately housed it will be necessary for the Government to take action. It is for the Government to work out how the houses can be built without a lowering of the standard of housing, because, relatively speaking, only the best is good enough for the people for whom I am speaking. We want decent houses, of a decent standard, at not more than 10s. a week. I have put question after question to the Minister of Health in order to try to stimulate interest in another matter. The Minister of Health, the right hon. 1802 Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and the Prime Minister, and their wives, have at different times visited different kinds of houses in the Manchester district which are the admiration of all progressive people. Some of those houses have catered for widows, others for old-age pensioners. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to make a note of this, so that he and the Minister can give consideration to the need for houses of that type to be built in other parts of the country.
Now I have an observation or two to make about the Bill itself. I hope that before it goes to Committee the Minister will be good enough to reconsider this aspect of it. Clause 10 relates to the transitional provisions and in it appear the words:if the Minister thinks fit so to determine.We have found by experience that that phrase creates a great deal of uncertainty. It leaves the question too much open to various interpretations by officials of the Ministry of Health. I am not speaking critically of those officials, because having been in touch with a number of them I know the kind of men they are, and how eager they are to do the right thing. A Bill phrased in that way is left open to various interpretations. Instead of the matter being left to the Minister to determine, there should be a definite time, say, April, 1938.
I want to ask one or two questions about the White Paper published by the Minister of Health in July, 1937. It shows the need for a great national housing scheme, and it shows also the wide variation in the number of houses that have been built. We find that Bristol built 12,000 houses, Leeds 11,000, Nottingham 12,000, Sheffield 18,000 and similar areas 6,000, 5,000 or as low as 4,000. There must be an explanation for that variation, and I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that such great discrepancy in the number of houses provided for the people is not fair. These matters should not be left to the local authorities, but should be the responsibility of the Government, who should say how many houses should be built to satisfy the needs of the people in any particular area. In support of these observations I find that Lord Harewood, speaking only a short time ago, said that the greatest need of this country was houses to be built to be let at 10s. a week.
1803 America is going to tackle this question in a way which I would recommend to this country. Hon. Members who had the privilege of listening to the President of the United States when he broadcast a few weeks ago will remember the vigorous speech which he made and the determination that was shown in it. If democracy is to be worthy of the people, to hold its own and reflect and represent the aspirations of the people, something on these lines will be required. The President said he was going to embark on a housing scheme to supply the American people with 4,000,000 new homes within 12 months. Here I have, taken out of the "Manchester Guardian," a photograph of the kind of house that will be built in America. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield coined a notable phrase this afternoon when he said that the Ministry was the lackey of the Treasury. That is the key to the understanding of the problem. I remember hearing about the speeches that were made in the Committee rooms in this House in 1929, 1930 and 1931, when prominent people, who sat on our Front Bench and dominated this party to an unwarranted extent, were representing only the point of view of the Treasury.
The time has come when those of us who are born of the people and are sons of the people have to go out to the people and inform them that it is the Treasury that is holding up development in this country on various questions, and in the same way as we have embarked upon large-scale capital expenditure for rearmament purposes in this and other countries so we, as a democratic country, will insist that the Treasury policy of strangling the development of this country should be discontinued in order that development of the kind for which we are pleading should be carried out.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Tree
We have been told by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent (Mr. E. Smith) that he was very thrilled when he listened over the radio to the President of the United States telling us what he proposed to do to provide suitable houses for the people of that country. I beg the hon. Member to remember that if he had listened to similar broadcasts over the last four years he would have heard exactly the same kind of thing. The hon. 1804 Member has shown us pictures of what is going to be done in the United States, but in this country we can show him pictures of what we have done and of what we are doing. As Member for an agricultural constituency I would like to express thanks to the Government for the Bill that they are bringing forward to-night. I hope that it will give a much needed impetus to the re-housing of the rural population of this country. Many speakers in the course of the Debate have said how much has been done for the housing of the urban population as compared with the rural. I hope that this Bill will make it possible for the rural population to come abreast of what has been done in other directions. We all welcome the extension of the subsidy once more been given to private individuals. I agree with much of the speech made by the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) although I do not agree with his point that landlords are indifferent, or words to that effect, to the housing on their estates. Landlords obviously want the best possible housing they can get, if for no other reason than that they want to keep the agricultural labourer on the land.
In his opening speech, the Minister talked about the great drift away from the land. We who represent agricultural constituencies and live on the land know how serious that is. In many parts of England, at harvesting and haymaking time, you cannot get sufficient labour. From another point of view if the Food Defences of this country are to be fully maintained this is of vital importance, and the Government should regard the matter with great anxiety. Several reasons have been given for the drift away from the land. Some people attribute it to lower wages and others to the lack of amenities in the way of amusements, but we come back always to housing as the main contributory cause. You cannot expect young people starting off in life and hoping to bring up families to settle down in the kind of cottage which has been so aptly described by many hon. Members, where there are no damp courses or proper ventilation, and, above all, water supplies are scarce or at a considerable distance from the cottage. If we expect people to settle on the land we must supply them with the housing amenities they would get if they lived near a big town.
1805 That is particularly the case with regard to water and water supplies, to which I personally attach great importance, not only in the building of new cottages, but in the reconditioning of old ones. I understand that the Ministry require, wherever it is possible, that in every new cottage there shall be a water supply and a bathroom, and I think that that is quite right. But this means that in the very near future water schemes will have to be produced in a great many parts of England, including many villages where at present there are no such schemes. I understand that in some counties the schemes that are brought up are very quickly passed, and that very often the county councils and the rural district councils share the cost. In the case, however, of poorer counties, there are often considerable delays in getting such schemes passed.
I have had some experience of a particular case. In a hamlet on my own estate, in which there were over 20 houses scheduled for improvement, there was a very good water supply, and I advised the rural district council that, if they would supply me with a ram and a reservoir, I would put a water supply and a bathroom into every house that I was reconditioning. The rural district council turned down that proposal on grounds of economy, and there is no doubt that it would have been a great burden on the rates. This water problem is one which will have to be faced all over the country in the near future, and I would ask the Government whether it would not consider a further extension of the grant, made some two or three years ago, of £1,000,000 towards water schemes. That £1,000,000, I am told, yielded schemes to the amount of £7,000,000, and I believe that a further grant from the Government would have the effect, particularly in the poorer districts, of hurrying up and making possible the passing of a great many schemes which otherwise will take a long time to get through.
There is another point that I would ask the Minister to consider. In the minds of a great many local authorities at the present time there seems to be considerable confusion as to how grants can be obtained. I wish the Ministry would, in as simple and clear language as possible, get out a pamphlet very much on the lines of that in which they have described 1806 the possibilities of grants under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, and would send that pamphlet to every rural district in the country. I think it would help very greatly. I will now turn to the question of amenities. We are all grateful to the Minister for the encouragement he gave to those who are working for the improvement of rural England. I think that those sentiments are shared by an ever-growing body of public opinion in this country. It has taken a long time to arouse them, but I believe they have been aroused now. Within a comparatively short time we have seen London torn so much to pieces that it has lost all its old individuality, and to-day is just another great capital city. We have seen the suburbs of every city and town in England wantonly destroyed, and we have seen large areas of the country spoilt for ever. I think to-day there is a universal cry, as much from the townspeople as from the countryman, "Let us keep beautiful what is left, and, if building on a big scale is to be undertaken, let us see that proper sites are chosen and that that building shall be of good design." I believe, further, that if this opportunity is missed in connection with the very great amount of building that is to come about under this Bill, the damage will be irreparable. The difficulty in the past has been to arouse local authorities, and, naturally, they have been very largely guided by the question of expense; but by Section 142 of the Housing Act, 1936, the Minister was given full powers. That Section reads as follows:A local authority in preparing any proposals for the provision of houses, or in taking any action under this Act, shall have regard to the beauty of the landscape or countryside and the other amenities of the locality, and the desirability of preserving existing works of architectural, historic or artistic interest, and shall comply with such directions, if any, in that behalf as may be given to them by the Minister.It is necessary for the Minister now to use these full powers. This entails more supervision than at present exists. A few years ago, panels were set up, on a voluntary basis, of architects who would give their time and advice to those district councils who were willing to come to them for such advice. In certain parts of England they have done magnificent work. I am told that in about a third of the country it has been most effective, but that in another third, although these panels have been set up, they have done 1807 very little, while in the remaining third they have been entirely inoperative. That, surely, is not good enough, and, moreover, work of this importance ought not to be left to a voluntary body. I suggest, therefore, that under this Bill a qualified architect should be employed in each district by the local authority to give advice in the preparation of all schemes, and that the Minister should satisfy himself, before granting the subsidy, that a qualified architect has been so employed. The duties of that architect would include planning in collaboration with the town planning authorities, and dealing with all questions of siting and placing houses, which, in my opinion, is every bit as important as the design itself, with which also he would deal; and he would also help with reconditioning where that would be necessary under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. It would, of course, be difficult in the poorer districts to employ an architect for each district, but in those cases a number of districts could come together jointly and employ an architect.
I quite realise that the success of this proposal would depend entirely upon the architect who was so chosen, but it would make it possible to exercise a measure of control over local authorities that is at present missing. The Ministry of Health would then be able to keep in touch with these architects, and help them, by supplying plans of buildings. I would also ask the Minister to consider making the existing by-laws more flexible, so that good design may be accomplished more easily than under the present hard-and-fast rules. There is just one further question I would ask of the Minister. I would like to know whether it is intended to include, in any scheme for building rural houses, provision for cottages in rural areas for old-age pensioners and old women who want smaller accommodation than the houses it is proposed to build? In conclusion, I would say that all of us on this side of the House welcome this Bill. We feel that it is a very great advance, and that it is going to bring up the rural housing of the country to the same level as the housing in our cities, which has no parallel in any other country to-day.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Richards
I think that, as this Debate has continued, the complacency 1808 with which the House listened to the introductory speech of the Minister has given way to despair. It is well that speeches like those delivered by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) should occasionally recall us to the human aspect of this difficult problem. The fact remains that here we have a most difficult moral and physical problem facing us still. I do not propose to go into the analysis that has been made by successive speakers of the finances of the Bill, but I would refer to the rural aspect of the Bill. We all know the seriousness of the slum problem of the big cities. We feel that an attack has been made, at any rate, to clear away that blot. But I am not sure that something will not be done by this Bill to set back that laudable campaign. It would be very regrettable, indeed, if that were done. I hope the Minister will reconsider the grant that he proposes, and will do nothing to retard the very admirable progress that has been made in so many places.
We are all agreed that nothing adequate has yet been done for the countryside. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery did not exaggerate; he could have painted the situation in somewhat blacker tones. I am always puzzled that no account is ever taken in these Debates of the shocking conditions of so many farmhouses. We deal, quite rightly, with the housing of the agricultural labourers and the working classes, but I believe conditions in some of the farmhouses are much worse even than in some of the labourers' cottages, and I hope the day is not far distant when a review of the conditions of the farming community of the country will be made. It is proposed in the Bill that the grant should be extended to rural district councils, in order that the housing conditions of the rural workers might be brought up to something like the conditions on some of the new housing estates in urban areas. I am rather sceptical as to the possibilities of rural district councils doing this work adequately. I have some experience of rural district council work, and I do not want to be critical of the councils; but most of them are extraordinarily poor. They have not the organisation, and they have not the officials who would be necessary. We have heard about an architect being employed. I am in favour of that; but these councils 1809 cannot afford to pay anything like a decent wage to an ordinary sanitary inspector, and the sanitary inspection is in many cases thoroughly inadequate. Now you are going to impose on them the responsibility for building houses, in regard to which most of them have no experience.
It will be far better for this work to be delegated in most places to the county councils. They have adequate staffs, they are accustomed to this kind of work, and I think they would do it admirably. There is one aspect of the matter which interests me, though I do not know that it attracts any attention in the House, and that is the difficulty of housing the agricultural labourer. It is not merely a question of urbanising the countryside. That is happening under present conditions, and I do not know that any great harm has been done hitherto. It is quite natural for towns to extend their boundaries, and build the same type of houses as they are building within those boundaries already. If the country is to be covered over with houses of that kind, however, one of the most beautiful features of the English, Welsh and Scottish countryside may be destroyed in a generation.
The housing of the agricultural labourer is not a question merely of putting up these urban types of houses in the villages. It is in a great many cases a question of restoring the kind of house in which the agricultural labourer formerly lived. He lived not in the village in a great many cases—I am speaking of my own country chiefly. He lived, perhaps, remote from the village but quite near his work, and he was a part of the countryside. In Montgomery there are hundreds of houses which were formerly smallholdings, small in the sense of being 2, 5, 10, 12, 15 acres, and they are admirably suited for the life of the countryside and, before we talk of rehousing the agricultural labourer, we ought to review the position and get parish and rural district councils to reconsider re-establishing these holdings. I am certain that this is the one reason why the agricultural labourer has left the countryside. The house has been allowed to become derelict. The smallholding has been attached to a big farm. That is the usual policy of the landlord. Here is an opportunity for the State to step in and check the tide towards the towns, 1810 and it would be doing a great service to the countryside if we could re-establish these houses. There is no reason why we should not retain the characteristics of the various districts. A remarkable thing about this country is that the houses, the old houses particularly, are entirely different in character. That is a thing that I should very much like to see not only retained but extended. I am sure modern architecture could build beautiful houses in the countryside in suitable places, where the labourer would love to work and to live once again, and these houses would be a joy to look at, as well as a great acquisition for the nation and for the people who have to live in them.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Major Rayner
I, too, should like to speak about the rural side of the Bill, which is divided quite naturally into two aspects, one of which might be called accommodation and the other preservation. It has been said that the countryman is beginning to ask for a higher standard of living, that he gets about and sees men no more worthy than himself in the towns given good houses, and he requires the same kind of treatment. His womenfolk require it even more. The standard of housing that they are asking for is gradually becoming that of the council house, and I have even heard of a case where a young girl has refused to marry her young man until a council house was available. This is all to the good because the countryside has lagged far too long behind the rest of the country as regards the standard of living. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Taunton (Lieut.-Colonel Wickham) the other day coined a very good phrase, that every housewife has the right to be house-proud. I cannot imagine any woman being house-proud in some of the hovels that still do duty as agricultural dwellings. I think this Bill is going to lead to some thousands of women becoming house-proud for the first time in their lives, and I must add my congratulations to those which the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have received. It is no easy job, I imagine, for the Minister of Health. He is obliged to have a sort of two-way mind, half of it urban and half rural. It is no usual possession, but in this case it has enabled him to give birth to a good Bill.
1811 As regards preservation, I feel that this is very important. I represent one of the most beautiful constituencies in the country and I feel that, unless the present destructive tendencies are stopped, the beauty of England will become a memory kept alive only by the art of the painter and the photographer. We do not possess majestic mountains or rivers. We cannot boast of great cataracts or dense forests. We are built on a small scale and our beauty is all our own and is of a particularly English type. It consists largely in our hedges, our hamlets, our pleasant lanes and our quiet cottages. Rivers of concrete are eating up our fields, islands are bestriding our valleys, and gradually more and more of our typical English cottages are being pulled down and replaced by an ugly rash of bricks and mortar. Although some of these cottages are hovels and must be pulled down, we ought to go more slowly than we are doing. There is no doubt that the cheapest thing is to recondition the cottages if it is possible. The county surveyor of Devonshire told me the other day that in his opinion—he is an authority on rural housing—there are very few cottages which cannot be reconditioned.
I am sure the Minister realises that local authorities are very ready to meet him more than half way as regards pulling down and building. Armed by Acts of Parliament and encouraged by the Minister, they go ahead with their pulling down and building, perhaps with more enthusiasm than caution. Some local authorities have been very successful in persuading owners to recondition. Others have been just the reverse. I hope the Minister will make quite clear his wishes on the subject. Local authorities are able, under the 1926 Act, to take over cottages which the owners are not able or do not wish to recondition, and to recondition them themselves, and one feels that this power could be used more than it is.
As has been mentioned in this Debate, there has been a tendency on the part of some local authorities to refuse grants to owners who, they consider, are wealthy enough to do the reconditioning themselves. That is not in the spirit of the Act of 1926 or of this Bill. There is not much money in cottage property at the best of times, and I hope that this point also will be driven home to the 1812 local authorities. Another point is that the standard of fitness of cottages might be made more elastic. There is a tendency to apply a town standard to rural cottages, and the conditions are so often entirely different. Medical officers of health, with the very best will in the world, are also inclined to be too drastic and ruthless in their condemnation. It seems absurd to condemn as unfit for human habitation a cottage in which successive generations have lived to a ripe old age. I cannot help thinking that if water could be laid on, low ceilings would not matter a great deal. [An HON. MEMBER: "Would you like to live in one?"] I have lived in a house with a ceiling six feet high, perfectly happily as long as I was careful when I moved about. I feel that the composition of walls does not matter a great deal when they are thick, dry and comfortable.
§ Major Rayner
We have heard a good deal in this Debate about new houses. I am sure that the Minister will have noticed the remarks of various hon. Members with regard to watching the question of aesthetic values. Even in Devonshire I can think of five glorious views completely ruined by groups of cottages which stand out like carbuncles from the surrounding fields. The question of architects is important, and rural authorities, if they are to get the grants which are suggested, should be required to do more than employ a local builder or the sanitary inspector to design their cottages. I suggest that the Ministry itself is not guilty. I have taken steps to trace the ante-natal history of some of the ordinary examples of our cottages in Devonshire, and I have traced the responsibility to the Ministry of blue pencil. Ministry officials must realise that cottages in the same area do not necessarily cost the same price. Square, box-like cottages which may be perfectly suitable, if properly built for the semi-urban areas round a town like Newton Abbot, would be the absolute ruination of villages like Buckland, Lustleigh or Manaton if they were erected there.
The Ministry should realise that the yardstick has to be sympathetically applied to tenders and plans when they are put up by local authorities who suggest that beauty and stability of design 1813 are important factors. There might be a little mor elasticity as regards clearance and demolition orders. When the appeal period has elapsed they cannot be rescinded as the rule is at present, and there is no doubt that many owners are very slack in getting to work when conditions change. I actually know of several cases where very pleasant cottages would have been saved if the order could have been rescinded. Some organisation for listing and advertising cottages which the-owners were not prepared or able to re-condition might be a very good thing. The weekender is a much abused man, but as long as he does not occupy accommodation which really belongs to the rural worker he is an asset to the countryside. I am certain that there are many townsmen who are prepared to spend generously upon some of our cottages if they are able to pick them up for a mere song. Somebody might start an organisation of that sort and it might prove to be a very good thing. I am delighted that the Minister has assured us that the Act of 1926 is to be continued because it has had very good results and is likely to have more.
I apologise to the House for keeping it rather longer than the ordinary 10 minutes, but the countryside is in the melting-pot and it is necessary for even the most unassuming back bencher of back benchers to say what he thinks about the question of preserving our beauty spots. It is up to us not only to house our rural workers as well as we can, but also to do something really practical and definite to preserve these fast-disappearing beauties about which we are all, when it comes to the point, really so keen.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Boulton
I rise for only a very few minutes, but it is not to criticise the Bill, for it fulfils a promise given by the Government and also provides a generous contribution for an essential social service, which should not displease the local authorities. We have heard a good many speeches to-day with regard to the rural side of the Bill, but I want to refer to the industrial side, in which I am interested. Parliament is granting large sums of money to the local authorities, and in the words of the Explanatory Memorandum in paragraph (2): 1814Sections 105 to 108 of the Housing Act, 1936, provide for the payment of Exchequer contributions towards the provision of new housing accommodation for persons displaced from unfit houses, etc., or in connection with the abatement of overcrowding, including displacements occurring in accordance with a redevelopment plan.Is my right hon. Friend quite satisfied that all local authorities are carrying out their obligations under the Act in return for the large grants that they are receiving, and as Parliament intended? I for one am not satisfied, and I want to draw attention to two cases of persons who are affected under the Slum Clearance Act. The first one is with regard to houses for old couples and single persons. I am not satisfied, from all the information that I have been able to obtain, that sufficient attention has been or is being paid to the building of houses for single people and old couples.
The Sheffield Corporation, I suppose, is one of the foremost cities in this country in making great headway with the clearing away of slums, with which I am wholeheartedly in agreement, and which, I am sure, must have gladdened the heart of my right hon. Friend. That is only one side of the picture. The other side is what I might term the seamy side regarding the treatment of some of those who have been affected. I suppose I should not be permitted to go into that matter on this Bill, but I profoundly disapprove of those methods. The Sheffield Corporation have, I understand, built, or are in course of building, some 25,000 houses to rehouse slum dwellers. I believe that 18,000 houses have been built, but it is only recently that plans have been approved, as far as I know, for the erection of some 304 houses for old couples, of which 52 have been completed, to be let at a rental of 5s. 11d. a week—a high enough rental for an old couple drawing, say, £1 week; but a large number of people, including widows and single people, are waiting for these houses, and some of whom have been compelled to take larger houses than they can possibly afford, thus being deprived of the means of obtaining some of the essential necessities of life: a position which, I am sure, cannot have the approval of my right hon. Friend.
The second case is that of the small shopkeeper who has been deprived of his living owing to slum clearance. This is not the first time that I have pleaded in 1815 this House for the small shopkeeper, and I make no apology for again raising this question. Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is the policy adopted by some local authorities not to build shops either to sell or to let, on the large estates where the slum dwellers have been removed. The shopkeeper is compelled to build a shop himself, as a leaseholder, at a cost of £1,000, which is a prohibitive sum except for the negligible few. It is true that compensation is paid for disturbance, but from my information and from my own experience the sum that is paid works out at something like £30. What is the use of that to a man whose livelihood has been taken away from him and who has lost the capital that he originally put into his business? Many of these people are now on relief and they are not the only class of people who have been similarly affected. The consequence is that the trade on these great new estates, these great townships that have been built up, has fallen into the hands of the co-operative societies and the multiple shops, who can afford to comply with the onerous conditions that are laid down.
Is that what Parliament intended? Did Parliament intend by such action to subsidise co-operative societies and multiple shops, for that is really what it means? It was surely never intended, and I ask my right hon. Friend whether he cannot do something to remedy this most unsatisfactory state of affairs. Cannot he stipulate in this Bill that a certain percentage of the grant given shall be used for building more houses for old couples and single persons, and for the building of shops at reasonable rentals to be let to the smaller shopkeepers who have been removed owing to slum clearance? If that cannot be done, will he consider some other method between now and Report? There has been no greater supporter than myself of slum clearance, and I know and appreciate some of the many difficulties and weaknesses that have shown themselves and have been inherited by my right hon. Friend under the Act. But that is no reason why Parliament should not remedy these faults, in justice to a body of people who have been good citizens and ratepayers for many years.
I can assure my right hon. Friend that there is a deep feeling amongst a large number of people who are not personally affected but who see that the intention 1816 of Parliament is not being carried out and Parliament is blamed. I know my right hon. Friend's sympathetic attitude and his desire to remove any suspicion of injustice and I would ask him whether he will not consider even now doing something to remove a real feeling of injustice by letting those who are responsible for administering this Act clearly understand what the intentions of Parliament were when this Act was passed.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison
The hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) expressed the hope that the House would treat this Bill and, indeed, the housing question generally, as a non-party question. I agree that the housing problem in itself need not of its nature be related to party politics and party controversies. Nevertheless, there is a division of principle and a division of intensity of belief between hon. Members on this side of the House and hon. Members on the other side as to the relationship between public authority and the housing needs of the people. We cannot forget that it was a very long job for us to persuade the Conservative party to accept the principle of the public provision of housing accommodation for the people.
§ Mr. Morrison
If the hon. Member cannot recollect the history of the nineteenth century in this respect, it is unfortunate. Perhaps he has not read it.
§ Mr. Morrison
It is a historical fact that the Conservative party took a good deal of persuading to accept the principle that a public authority had a responsibility for housing. That is not only true in Parliament, but it is true of many local authorities also. Even when legislation was passed a large proportion of Conservative local authorities failed to administer it, and, indeed, a considerable proportion of Conservative local authorities are not properly administering housing legislation right up to this date. Therefore, there is bound to be controversy between the Opposition and hon. Members on the Government benches in regard to this matter. I should be happy if there were intensity of enthusiasm and 1817 determination on the part of the Conservative party to give to every British family good and healthy housing conditions within a reasonable time. If I and my hon. Friends could rely upon that, nobody would be more happy than we to lift the whole thing out of party controversy. Frankly, our experience of the past does not entitle us to believe that that will be the case. We feel not only that controversy on the subject is legitimate, but that there must be criticism of the Government, a gingering up of the Government by hon. Members on this side if we are to get them to do what they ought to do.
The hon. Lady told us that we ought to thank the Minister for the Bill as a material advance in the assault upon our housing problems. Honestly, looking at the Bill as a whole and with every desire to be polite and thankful, and looking at the Bill which is supposed to deal with housing problems, and which newspaper comment encouraged us to believe was a Bill which would make a real move forward, I cannot see what we have to be thankful for. On the contrary, I think we have a great deal to grumble about, and a great deal of reason to regard this not as a forward measure but as a backward measure in housing. I believe that in many respects it is meant to be a backward measure. We cannot lift this out of party controversy, and we cannot thank the right hon. Gentleman for his Bill. If there were something to be thankful for, taking the Bill as a whole, the right hon. Gentleman knows that I would thank him for it with great enthusiasm, but clearly there is not, and there is a great deal about which we must be critical.
I often wonder, when we are discussing Housing Bills and housing problems, whether the House as a whole and Ministers are conscious of the magnitude of the problem. I go about the country a good deal and I see, as hon. Members also see, towns, suburbs, and mining areas, and what appals me is that the great majority of working-class houses in this country ought to be pulled down, whole towns ought to be demolished Take the Potteries, not necessarily the worst of places. There are some good spots in the Potteries. I remember one dismal, dreary Sunday morning I spent walking about some of the areas in the Potteries and thinking 1818 that they were a disgrace to civilisation. It was not a case of individual streets but of whole areas which ought to be blown up, cleared and redeveloped nearer to a proper standard of public amenities. We have been really messing with the problem, taking the country as a whole when we ought to have been handling it in a large imaginative way, taking a really big sweep not for the purpose of making individual improvements here and there, but wiping out whole streets and making up our minds that within a reasonable period of years every slum in the country shall go and every bit of overcrowding. No Conservative Minister of Health has yet handled the problem in that spirit, and no Conservative local authority has yet handled the problem in that spirit. We are really drifting, patching up, playing with the problem. What we want is a big, comprehensive, energetic drive until the problem is solved and decency brought into the houses of the masses of our people.
§ Mr. Selley
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House why he told London that he was able, with the present administration and the present Housing Acts, to clear the slums of London in a few years? Why is he contradicting that statement now?
§ Mr. Morrison
I am not. Is the hon. Member for South Battersea (Mr. Selley) going to hand to the Minister of Health the credit for what the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) is doing on the London County Council? He does not need to hand the right hon. Gentleman the credit, because the right hon. Gentleman will take it without the hon. Member giving it. We said that we would clear away the slums of London in a limited number of years, and we adhere to that, but as soon as we made a start on the task, and really made a beginning in the matter of slum clearance, for which the Treasury has to pay its proportion, the Minister cuts the grant down. The right hon. Gentleman is a London Member; he is the chairman of a committee which is supposed to be saving London for the Conservative party. If you cut the slum clearance proportion down from 4½ to 1 to 2 to 1, the right hon. Gentleman will know at the next election that I have a first-class grievance about which he will hear in West Woolwich. We made a promise and as far as 1819 we are concerned we shall not break it, but the hon. Member for South Battersea and the Minister of Health are voting for a Measure to-night which will penalise the ratepayers of London and make our task more difficult than it otherwise would be.
The truth is that since the Wax on the part of local authorities governed by the hon. Members opposite and on the part of the Government there has not been a continuous and steady activity for housing reform. It has been vacillation all the time; stops and starts, a push forward, then an economy campaign; a push forward again, and then a reduction in the State grant; another push forward, and now to-day another reduction in the State grant. This is not unconnected with the private Member's Motion which was before the House last week. I believe that we are at the beginning of an assault on the social services by the Conservative party. [Interruption.] Did not the Prime Minister himself give an indication of it? Did he not say that you cannot have armaments and social services as well? It is just another way of repeating Field-Marshal Goering's observation, "Guns before butter." There was the Motion last week, and now we have this Bill the purpose of which, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, is to save money for the Treasury at the expense of local authorities.
This is not a Bill to provide houses. It is a Bill to save money for the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman has got his orders to save money at the expense of the local authorities, at the expense of the people who live in the houses, or at the expense of not getting the job done. The truth is that the Labour local authorities have been doing too much. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, it was all right to have these big grants when the hon. Member for South Battersea was in charge at the London County Council, but it is a different matter when my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham is in charge. The Treasury say, "These local authorities are taking the Minister of Health seriously, and these grants must be, cut down" Thus the process of slum clearance, as far as the Treasury is concerned, is, to be; slowed down in order to save money. Hon. Members opposite 1820 have spoken of the Bill as if it were a Bill for building houses and clearing slums. I assure them that, on the contrary, it is a Bill to stop those things or slow them down, for the purpose of saving money in pursuance of the Prime Minister's declaration of some months ago, that you cannot have armaments and social reform as well, and also in pursuance of the demand which was made recently in the Private Member's Motion to which I have referred.
We have had vacillation after vacillation on this question since the conclusion of the War. This is the latest piece of vacillation, though probably it will not be the last. I agree that, as regards overcrowding, the position is not materially changed. In one or two not terribly important respects, there is something in the nature of an improvement, but that improvement is subject to the statutory provision that there is to be an over-all, proportion whereby the local authority does not incur a loss of less than one as against a loss of two on the part of the State. The 2 to 1 proportion must be maintained, and as that was supposed to be the basis of the previous Act, there is, not much change there. But the terribly important change, the grave change, is in respect of slum clearance and there, certainly in the case of London, and, I imagine, of a considerable number of other local authorities, especially in the large towns of England and Wales, whereas the proportion of the State contribution to the local authority contribution was formerly 4½ to 1, it is now reduced to 2 to I. The over-all proportion, covering slum clearance and overcrowding, is reduced from about 3 to 1 to 2 to 1 and that will be a severe financial blow to the local authorities. It is no good saying that here and there improvement is made, because all the time, by statutory provision, that over-all proportion of 2 to 1, as between the State and the local authorities, will operate.
In the transitory period the Minister is taking power to act in a manner whereby local authorities who are already, in good faith, placing housing contracts, will be, as I think, unjustly penalised. The Minister admits that, on the whole, the financial position of the local authorities is being worsened, and his defence is that the interest rate is down by 1½ per cent. The actual figure is disputable, but, in any case, he ignores the consideration 1821 that in many respects costs have gone up. It has always seemed to me a great pity that the Ministry has not taken real steps to control the prices of building materials in regard to which local authorities are often victimised. In Scotland, for example, I understand that local authorities are complaining that the cost of building has gone up since 1930 by £110 per house in a number of cases. If the cost of construction has gone up, that probably more than cancels out any saving due to the reduction of the rate of interest.
In any event, while that argument of the reduced rate of interest might be a theoretical justification—I am not saying that it is—for the right hon. Gentleman saying that the total loss to the State and to the local authorities ought to be reduced, and that the total amount of subsidy from public funds ought to be reduced, it is no justification for changing the proportion in which the deficit is shared between the State and the local authorities to the damage and prejudice of the local authorities. The argument about a reduced rate of interest is only an excuse on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, who, in these matters, is much too bright to expect us to take that argument seriously. Again, I say that the purpose of the Bill is to save money for His Majesty's Treasury. It is one of the first of the economy Measures in the new campaign to be led by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health for a reduction of expenditure on the social services.
The Minister of Health in my experience is not a terribly good friend to the-ratepayers. Certainly he has not proved himself one to-day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Are you?"] I am the best friend the ratepayer ever had. I treat him honestly, and tell him what he is getting for his money. But the Minister in this Bill is not a good friend to the ratepayer. He is making a serious attack on the finances of the local authorities and either the ratepayer will be penalised or something else will happen. But the Minister is bent nevertheless upon maintaining his personal popularity, and so from time to time he makes speeches urging that this or that improvement should be made in municipal housing, and that the amenities of municipal houses should be increased. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham has 1822 pointed out the list of improvements regarding which the Minister has made appeals of one kind and another to local authorities. My hon. Friend, who knows what he is talking about, has said that if the advice of the Minister were followed in all respects the additional cost per dwelling would be about £200. But every time these speeches of the Minister come out, the publicity department gets to work, and I do not wonder that the expense of publicity at the Ministry of Health has gone up from £1,250 a year, which was the figure when my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) was there, to £3,350. Every time these speeches are made the newspapers are encouraged to say that the Minister of Health is asking for baths in these houses and for separate bathrooms and for improvements in this, that and the other respect, and that he is going to provide better houses. But does the Minister pay for those improvements? No, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman hands the baby on to my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside (Mr. Marshall) and other hon. Members who are on local authorities. The right hon. Gentleman gets the stories and we pay the bills. But the local authorities are beginning to wake up to the methods of the right hon. Gentleman. Nor do we forget that recently, in connection with superannuation, the right hon. Gentleman was very kind, but that we had to pay. Similarly, the hon. lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) wants to get the right hon. Gentleman out of a difficulty in connection with old age pensioners in public institutions, but again we should have to pay. I am getting a little bit tired of the right hon. Gentleman earning encomiums for solving these problems, not at the expense of the Treasury, but at the expense of the local authorities.
The right hon. Gentleman-knows as well as I do that the Standing Orders prevent me from suggesting any charge on the Government. If I had the right, I would make this a charge on the Government, because then I should know that the old people would get it.
§ Mr. Morrison
In that case, perhaps the hon. Lady will join with me one day in trying to get a new Standing Order making it impossible for the Minister to adopt any methods by which he makes charges on the local authorities. How is 1823 the deficit to be made up? If in future the proportion on slum clearance is to be two to one as between the State and the local authority, instead of four-and-a-half to one, it will mean that money formerly coming from the Treasury will have to come from somewhere else or that the work will not be done. Either the rents payable by the tenants will have to be increased, which will be a very serious matter for these poor people who come from slum areas—and let it be remembered that a great part of the overcrowded population is economically in very much the same position as the slum population—or the rates will have to be increased. If the rates go up by order of the Minister of Health, I suppose that he and his political associates will denounce us for having put them up; but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall come back and tell the truth about it.
§ Mr. Morrison
The Noble Lady is feeling very sore, because I have been speaking in her constituency recently.
§ Mr. Morrison
What will probably happen in some areas, either because the rates are already very high or because the local authority, being backward, will not face the responsibility, is that the local authority will tend to slow down or to stop slum clearance altogether. I would remind the House that this move backward follows another one in 1935 by the Minister of Health at that time. Sir Hilton Young. The Overcrowding Act was not only an Overcrowding Act, but one to increase compensation to slum property owners at the expense of the local authorities. The result has been that by altering the basis of compensation on the value of the site, local authorities are being involved in additional compensation to slum property owners to the extent of between 25 and 50 per cent. The Ministry of Health put that burden on the local authorities by legislation, but no additional grant was made towards it, Time after time the financial burden upon the local authorities is increased, there is a tendency for the State to reduce its own financial burdens, and yet we are asked 1824 to believe that this is a Housing Bill. Some hon. Members have been welcoming it as a move in the direction of better housing. I cannot see it. I say to the House again that I do not regard it as a Housing Bill at all, but I regard it as an economy Bill, the beginnings of a new Geddes axe applied to the social services.
Some hon. Members representing rural constituencies have really convinced themselves that this is a Bill for the encouragement, assistance, and development of municipal housing under the auspices of rural councils. I speak for myself, and I may get myself into trouble for saying so, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) in thinking, with great respect, that the rural district council is not an authority that ought to be expected to be able to deal with the housing problem. How long we are going on with rural district councils as housing authorities and—and here I may get myself into more trouble—with rural and urban district councils as town planning authorities, I do not know. I say that in these rural districts nothing less than the county council ought to be faced with the problem. But this is not a Bill for the increase of municipal rural housing. The financial terms which it offers to the local authorities are less than those which my right hon. Friend offered in his Bill of 1931, which was strangled by the National Government when it came in, with the results that my right hon. Friend authoritatively put before the House in his opening speech this afternoon.
But let us look at the Clause and let us see what the purpose of the Clause obviously is. It is a Clause which provides that the rural district councils can be paid by the State £10 per year for building a municipal house. The rural district council must pay another £1, and in certain circumstances the county council can be required to pay another £1. That can be a maximum of £12 altogether, but directly that is done the rural district council is given facilities, and in my judgment encouraged, to evade its municipal responsbilities altogether and to make an arrangement with the landlord or the farmer for the purpose of building cottages at the public expense under the tied-house system. The tied cottage is bad enough in all conscience, but to proceed to finance it at the public expense is not a progressive move forward; it is a 1825 backward move. Obviously that is the intention, for the Clause provides that any person may undertake the responsibility by arrangement with the local authority, in which case the whole of the Minister's grant is payable through the rural district council to the person in question. But then in Clause 3, paragraph (b), it is perfectly clear what is contemplated, because the rent is related to thepayment of wages in lieu of payment in cash for the purpose of any minimum rate of wages fixed by the said committee under the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, 1924.Therefore, what we are doing by this Measure is not encouraging the provision of rural houses by the rural district councils, but is a new form of subsidy to the landlord and the farmer at the public expense. That is what it is for. Just as the other provisions are to save the Treasury money, this is to provide, in accordance with Tory policy, subsidies in the rural areas at the public expense to the political friends of the Conservative party. On this point my right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) quoted in the House the statements of Committees and Royal Commissions in a speech which he made on the Housing (Agricultural Population) (Scotland) Bill on 9th November, 1937. This is what was said by one committee, a Scottish committee, whose report was signed by men of the type of Dr. Leslie Mackenzie and Sir William Younger. Speaking of rural housing, the committee said:The local authorities should build such houses and let them to tenants. In any event we cannot believe that public sentiment will permit of public funds being used to erect houses whose occupation shall be in the absolute control of the employer.Here is the Government doing exactly the thing that moderate-minded men condemned 20 years ago. This housing evil, slums and overcrowding, is a product of a century of the social order which is supported by hon. Gentlemen opposite; and if their social system had had any self-respect, and if they had had a proper sense of shame, they would have wiped away this evil years ago. Instead of wiping the evil away, they are bringing in this Bill to increase the financial difficulties of the local authorities for the purpose of slowing down the process of slum clearance, and of handing out subsidies to the landlord and farmer friends who vote for the Conservative party in 1826 the rural areas. This is not a Housing Bill. It is a Bill for two purposes: (1) to save the money of the Treasury, and, (2), to provide subsidies for the political friends of the party opposite. For these reasons we shall, without any hesitation, go into the Lobby for the Amendment.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Bernays)
After the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) to which we have just listened, it would be well if I spent the last half-hour of the Debate in trying to get back to the terms of the Bill. The Bill introduces two important changes in Exchequer subsidies. It provides a uniform subsidy for slum clearance and the relief of overcrowding, and a new specialised subsidy for the general needs of the agricultural population. That is the gist of the Bill. It is as well to state that when I recall how the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) described this very simple Bill. He said it betrays the local authorities, the poor and the nation. Anyone just coming into the House at that moment and hearing that sentence might well have thought that we were proposing to introduce a Bill to establish the totalitarian State. I wonder what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield would really say if the Government did produce a bad Bill. They would have nothing left with which to describe it but a bankrupt vocabulary.
I would like to deal first with a complicated question put to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield about the Financial Resolution. He asked whether in the Financial Resolution the Government would be willing to leave open the conditions under which the higher subsidy of £6 10s. is to be paid so that Amendments may be moved in Committee. I am advised that a limitation to show the fundamental conditions under which grant is to be payable is something which is regarded by the Government as essential, and must be included in the Financial Resolution. The fundamental condition as regards the £6 10s. grant is that it should be restricted to certain cases only, as defined. To leave out those conditions would open 1827 the door to the payment of this extra £1 generally. The similarly fundamental condition in regard to the second grant, the agricultural subsidy, is satisfied by the inclusion of the words "agricultural population" in the Resolution. [HON. MEMBERS: "No answer."] It is the only answer which the right hon. Gentleman will get. I am used to having my replies described by members of the Opposition as being totally inadequate.
Now I come to some of the objections raised to this Bill. There was the objection of the right hon. Member for Wakefield to the subsidy being paid per house. He said it was so impersonal, that what we had to consider was the souls of the people in these places. I agree, but we are still considering the souls of the people when we are dealing with their houses. The subsidy does not cease to be concerned with souls when it is concerned with houses. The main considerations in the decision of the Government to make this recommendation to the House were these: First, that it was undesirable to have two different bases of contribution for two heads of the programme. Considerations of practical convenience suggest the advantage of calculating both the Exchequer and the rate contributions on the same basis, and that the basis of the house. The second consideration was that the basis per house was preferred by the local authorities. I was waiting to see whether the right hon. Member for South Hackney would make this point strongly, considering that it is in the Amendment moved by the Official Opposition, but he evidently remembered that in the joint report of the Housing and Public Health Committee and the Finance Committee of the London County Council it was definitely stated that they accepted the proposal of my right hon. Friend that such contribution shall take the form of a payment for each new dwelling provided for this purpose.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Mind you, I was speaking for the Opposition. But will the hon. Gentleman be sufficiently fair to add for the information of the House that the Council attached this condition: provided it was thereby financially in no worse position than it is now?
§ Mr. Bernays
We were on the point that this is a subsidy per house, and that is supported by the London County 1828 Council. It is impossible to separate the right hon. Gentleman from his position, to see him as two different personages, one as the leader of the London County Council and one as a leading member of His Majesty's Opposition. We have to take him as we see him. We had an interesting and helpful speech from the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). He suggested that the subsidy ought to be per room. That proposal has been discussed, but has never found any general favour. The local authorities are of the opinion that it has no material advantage, and the general consensus of opinion seems to be that a subsidy per house is better.
Now I come to the objection of the Opposition that the cottage subsidy is too low. As the House knows, it is £5 10s. for 40 years, and it is available equally for houses to abate overcrowding and those to accommodate slum dewellers. Admitted that the subsidy under the 1930 Act for the average house, based on the number being rehoused, was about £9 but in calculating the value of the subsidy—and this point has never been successfully challenged—we must take into account the fall in interest rates. In March 1930, the interest on loans for the Public Works Loans Board was 5 per cent.; now it is 3⅝ per cent. It is difficult to exaggerate, in this question of the housing conditions of the country the beneficent result of the prudent and far-sighted policy of His Majesty's Government. [Laughter.]
I know that fact is not realised by the Opposition, but it is there for all to see in the number of houses the Government have built and in the number of houses, built by hon. Members opposite. Though the subsidy for actual slum clearance is being reduced in terms of money, it is not being reduced in terms of its value to the tenant and to the rent pool. When the fall in interest rates is taken into account, the amount of the subsidy is approximately equivalent on the average to the original subsidy authorised under the Greenwood Act of 1930. Further than that, many local authorities are better off than they were before.
The new subsidy will be given not merely for slum clearance but for overcrowding as well, whereas in the latter case the subsidy was previously given only for very special circumstances. In 1829 future, for every two houses built, one for slum clearance and one for overcrowding, the local authorities will receive an Exchequer subsidy of £11 where before they received an Exchequer subsidy of only £9. I cannot see how the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney can justify his statement regarding a great economy campaign.
On the question of housing prices, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield attempted to ridicule the statement of my right hon. Friend that building prices were steadying for a fall. What are the-facts? In May, the cost of houses was £370, which was the peak figure. In the intervening period, the list three figures available are £368, £365, and £360. I think those figures justify in the letter and in the spirit the statement made by my right hon. Friend. Now, on a question which mainly concerns London—
§ Mr. Silkin
Can the Parliamentary Secretary give us not the comparison with May but the comparison with 1930?
§ Mr. Johnston
The hon. Gentleman has given us figures relating to the decrease in interest rates between 1930 and now. Why does he not give us a comparison of the cost of building between 1930 and now? Why does he go back only to May?
§ Mr. Bernays
I have not actually the figure with me. I give the figures out of my head, and therefore I cannot be certain that they are accurate. I think that the difference is something in the nature of £25. It has been stated that whereas in the past there has been a subsidy of £21 5s. per flat, the minimum is now to be £16 10s. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney argued that there would be less subsidy in the future than in the past and that a much lower proportion of it would be borne by the Exchequer. What has to be taken into account is the fact that it is a subsidy graded according to the cost of the land, and, although the minimum is £16 10s. for a flat on a site costing between £1,500 and £4,000 an acre, it rises as high as £39 on a flat costing more than £28,000 an acre The estimates' of the Ministry of Health do not suggest that the London County Council will be placed in a worse position financially with the new subsidy than they would be in if the present subsidy were continued The improvement made under 1830 the new Bill in the subsidy for flats for the abatement of overcrowding is £5 per flat on land up to £10,000 an acre, and £6 per flat on land costing more than £10,000 an acre.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney argued that the present standard of housing could be improved. Clearly, however, that is essentially a question for the future, and the London County Council are hardly justified in asking the Minister to base an Exchequer subsidy on an assumption that the policy of the London County Council and other authorities building flats will be different in the future from what it has been in the past. The substantial increase which has been made in the scale for flats, as compared with that-provided in the Act of 1935, is the result of a careful review of all that has been said on behalf of local authorities, including such questions as the standard of accommodation and the density.
London, after all, is a very rich city, and I suggest that it is not reasonable to ask that the cost of these amenities, however desirable they may be, should be borne altogether by the Exchequer. As to the complaint of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the 2 to 1 basis of Exchequer and local rates contributions, it seems a favourable one by comparison with other grant-aided services. Only a few of the largest authorities build flats, and they are not those which have the largest rate burden. Wakefield, for instance, which, I think, builds entirely cottages, has a housing, rate of 1s. 1d. in the £, while London, which is the chief scene of flat building, has a housing rate, I think, of 2d. in the £.
§ Mr. Bernays
I would point out that the Exchequer contribution towards flats, is substantially higher than that afforded, under the Act of 1935. The minimum is now £11 a year for 49 years, as compared with £6 under the Act of 1935. The right hon. Gentleman has attempted to suggest that this Bill is part of a great, economy campaign. So far, however, from the Government spending less, money on their housing campaign as a result of this Bill, they are actually spending more. My right hon. Friend pointed out that we are now spending out of the national Exchequer £14,500,000 on the 1831 rehousing of the people, and it is estimated that, before this building campaign is completed, we shall be spending £17,500,000. That does not seem to show much evidence of an economy campaign.
Were it really true that the local authorities were expecting a reduction in their resources, there would be a rush to complete large numbers of houses at the present rate. Local authorities would be running up houses now at the desperate speed, of building firms rushing in cargoes before a new tariff is put on. But, in fact, nothing of the sort is happening. In formulating our proposals, the associations of local authorities were consulted, and, in general, they expressed their agreement. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield mentioned certain towns that were suffering. I was very interested, naturally, when he mentioned Bristol. That is a place where slum clearance will be extended beyond this year. At the same time, there is a serious problem of overcrowding, so that the reduction in one subsidy will be met by an increase in the other. The position of Bristol will be much the same as before. With regard to Wakefield, the right hon. Gentleman will be delighted to hear that the position will be improved. Wakefield, having completed the original slum clearance scheme, will gain from the overcrowding subsidy. This subsidy, of course, varies in different cases, but, on balance, there will be a total gain. It is significant that the towns which will benefit most are those, for the most part, on the north-east coast, where there are the worst housing conditions.
It is stated that the Bill will mean higher rents, and higher rents are stated as one of the objections in the official Amendment. But if I caught the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield rightly, he did not seem to wish to stand very firmly on the question of higher rents. He stated, after one or two sentences, "At any rate, rents will not fall." Far from increasing rents, this Bill will lower them. These new subsidies are sufficient to enable cottages to be built and let at rents 6d. to 9d. a week below the present average. They can be let at 6s. 3d. a week, as compared with 6s. 9d. to 7s. for existing houses.
Now I come to the question of overcrowding. There was a complaint from 1832 the right hon. Gentleman that the standard of overcrowding was too low. But, as my right hon. Friend said, this is only a beginning. It will take six or seven years. [Interruption.] At any rate we did begin. The party opposite never began. It will take six or seven years for local authorities, with the labour available, to meet the minimum standard laid down in the Act of 1935. The minimum had to be low, because there was a penalty provision, and obviously, therefore, you had to have a standard of overcrowding that could reasonably be established. There is no justification for the charge that our compaign against overcrowding has failed.
It was inevitable that, following on the 1935 Act, local authorities, whose output of houses must be conditioned by the labour available, concentrated their attention on the slum clearance programme that they knew. Before the job was begun, there had to be a survey as to the extent of overcrowding. That survey has taken place, and that in itself is certainly an advance, and from that local authorities have proceeded to the task of decrowding by better distribution of existing accommodation, the removal of lodgers and so on, and from there many have been able to make a beginning with the provision of new houses. Some 17,000 houses have already been approved for this purpose. There is abundant evidence that substantial inroads have already been made into the problem of overcrowding.
I should like to say a word or two about the agricultural side of the Bill. There is a new and specialised subsidy for agricultural houses. The "Times" to-day describes it as an enormous subsidy. Why is it necessary? Because of the gap between agricultural wages and the cost of building cottages. It is impossible for a worker with 32s. or 33s. a week to pay an economic rent. What are urgently needed are cottages at round about 3s. 6d. a week, and it is impossible to provide them without this subsidy. The Government believe that the provision of these cottages will be a real contribution to agriculture. The shortage of labour is particularly evident amongst the young men. I see from the most recent census returns that, of every five agricultural workers who were engaged in the industry at the age of 25, two have found work in the towns by the time they reach 40.
1833 It is generally agreed that the shortage of housing accommodation is one of the main factors of this steady drift to the towns. A young man comes to marry and his wife is not prepared to live in conditions which were good enough for his father. With new methods of agriculture a new type of agricultural worker is needed, and we shall not get him until we give him a new type of house. I was asked whether there was any proposal to give a special additional subsidy in areas like the Cotswolds in order to encourage building in stone. There is no specific provision for this but, where the use of stone is approved and it unduly raises the cost of building, the factor might possibly be taken into account in deciding whether the higher rate of subsidy provided for in Clause 2 ought to be given.
My hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) raised the question of amenities. I would stress the importance that my right hon. Friend attaches to the preservation of the countryside. The Ministry of Health is doing its utmost to secure that the houses now being built are aesthetically worthy of their surroundings. We shall not relax our efforts under the new scheme to secure that local authorities build houses which are good to look at as well as to live in. It is to be hoped that some of our best architects will turn their attention to cottage design. The beauty of the countryside is the greatest treasure, after all, that has been handed down to us from the past, and there would be nothing more disastrous or more insane than to waste, dissipate and destroy in our profligacy this priceless and irreplaceable heritage.
I have not time to deal with a point made very strongly from the Opposition—the complaint against the financial assistance that is being given to landlords. It is only being given in exceptional cases. The provision is designed to meet the situation described in paragraph 24 of the report of the Rural Housing Advisory Committee. Obviously, the best plan in rural development is group development near the village, but this is not always practicable; hence assistance to private enterprise to provide houses upon restricted rental conditions. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney, who was so indignant, that similar provisions were inserted in the Wheatley Act in 1924. I 1834 would call his attention to Section 2, paragraph (1) of the Wheatley Act. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield said, "Get back to the Wheatley Act." We have got back to the Wheatley Act in this connection.
§ Mr. Bernays
I ask the right hon. Gentleman, as I have not time to read it out, to study what I have said and he will find that it is substantially accurate.
§ Mr. Bernays
Neither does this specify the tied house. No doubt Mr. Wheatley held exactly the same theoretical views as the party opposite on the iniquity of assisting private enterprise, but that was before he had to draft a Housing Bill, and, like the practical and sensible man he was, when he came up against the difficulty, he knew that he could solve it only by subsidising private enterprise.
§ Mr. Greenwood
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House the number of private enterprise houses that were built under the 1924 Act?
§ Mr. Bernays
Certainly, but not without notice. This is only another illustration of how differently right hon. Gentlemen act when they sit upon these benches compared with what they say on the opposite benches. This Bill has been assailed by right hon. Gentlemen of the Opposition by every weapon of insult and indignity. What is it all about? In no other sphere of public policy have the National Government been more conspicuously successful than in housing. Judged on our record by any test, for the year ended September, 1931, the last year of the Labour Government, 200,000 houses were built, and for the year ended September, 1937, 337,000. During the period of the National Government 800,000 people have been moved from the slums, and 300,000 are ready to move when the buildings now under construction are completed. Compare that with the time when the Opposition were in power. Slum clearance was negative, a mere trickle, a bare thousand persons, and under the National Government that trickle became a rivulet, that rivulet a stream, and now it is not merely a river but a torrent. When the supporters of 1835 the Government go into the Lobby tonight they can, with regard to their housing record, look back to the past with pride and to the future with confidence.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 258; Noes, 137.1837
|Division No. 100.]||AYES.||[11. 0 p.m.|
|Acland-Treyte, Lt.-col. G. J.||Eckarsley, P. T.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||M'Connell, Sir J.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Ellis, Sir G.||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Elliston, Capt. G. S.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Elmley, Viscount||MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)|
|Assheton, R.||Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||McKie, J. H.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Everard, W. L.||Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tess)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Fildes, Sir H.||Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.|
|Baillie, Sir A. W. M.||Fleming, E. L.||Magnay, T.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (lsle of Thanet)||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Maitland, A.|
|Balniel, Lord||Furness, S. N.||Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.|
|Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.||Fyfe, D. P. M.||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.|
|Barrie, Sir C. C.||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Marsden, Commander A.|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||Gledhill, G.||Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Gluekstein, L. H.||Maxwell, Hon. S. A.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.|
|Bennett, Sir E. N.||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)|
|Bernays, R. H.||Grant-Ferris, R.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Mitcheson, Sir G. G.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Grimston, R. V.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Munro, P.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)||Nall, Sir J.|
|Brissoe, Capt. R. G.||Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N. W.)||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Nicholson, G. (Farnham)|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Hannah, I. C.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)||Harbord, A.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. G. A.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Burghley, Lord||Haslam, H. C. (Horncastle)||Owen, Major G.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Patrick, C. M.|
|Butler, R. A.||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Peat, C. U.|
|Campbell Sir E. T.||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Pilkington, R.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (lslington, E.)||Herbert, Major J. A.(Monmouth)||Porritt, R. W.|
|Channon, H.||Higgs, W. F.||Rankin, Sir R.|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)|
|Christie, J. A.||Holdsworth, H.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Hopkinson, A.||Rayner, Major R. H.|
|Colfox, Major W. P.||Horsbrugh, Florence||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Reid, Sir D. D. (Down)|
|Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)|
|Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Hulbert, N. J.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk N.)||Hume, Sir G. H.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Hunter, T.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||James, Wing-Commander A. W. H.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Craven-Ellis. W.||Jarvis, Sir J. J.||Rowlands, G.|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N' w' gt' n||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.|
|Critchley, A.||Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.|
|Crooke, Sir J. S.||Jones L. (Swansea w.)||Russell, Sir Alexander|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Keeling E. H.||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Salmon, Sir I.|
|Cross, R. H.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Salt, E. W.|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Kimball, L.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.|
|Culverwell, C. T.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Savory, Sir Servington|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)||Selley, H. R.|
|Davies, C. (Montgomery)||Leech, Sir J. W.||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Davits, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Less-Jones, J.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|De Chair, S. S.||Leighton, Major B. E P||Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'If 'st)|
|Doland, G. F.||Levy, T.||Smith, Brasewell (Dulwich)|
|Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Lewis, O.||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)|
|Duckworth, W. R. (Mass Side)||Liddall, W. S.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Lipson, D. L.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Duggan, H. J.||Locker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Loftus, P. C.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.|
|Dunglass, Lord||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.|
|Eastwood, J. F.||Lyons, A. M.||Storey, S.|
|Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.||Wakefield, W. W.||Wilson, Lt.-Co l. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)||Walker-Smith, Sir J.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-(N'thw'h)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)||Wise, A. R.|
|Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Sutcliffe, H.||Warrender, Sir V.||Wood, Hon. C. I. C.|
|Tate, Mavis C.||Waterhouse, Captain C.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)||Walt, Major G. S. Harvie||Wragg, H.|
|Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)||Wayland, Sir W. A||Wright, Wing-commander J. A. C.|
|Thomas, J. P. L.||Wedderburn, H. J. S.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Thomson, Sir J. D. W.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Tree, A. R. L. F.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)||Captain Hope and Colonel Kerr.|
|Turton, R. H.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple)||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Groves, T. E.||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Price, M. P.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'Isbr.)||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Hardie, Agnes||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Harris, Sir P. A.||Ridley, G.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Hayday, A.||Riley, B.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Ritson, J.|
|Barr, J.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)|
|Batey, J.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Hicks, E. G.||Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey)|
|Benson, G.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Sexton, T. M.|
|Bevan, A.||Hollins, A.||Shinwell, E.|
|Broad, F. A.||Hopkin, D.||Silkin, L.|
|Bromfield, W.||Jagger, J.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Simpson, F. B.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Buchanan, G.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Burke, W. A.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Cape, T.||Kelly, W. T.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Cassells, T.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Kirby, B. V.||Stephen, C.|
|Chater, D.||Kirkwood, D.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-Ie-Sp'ng)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lathan, G.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N)|
|Cooks, F. S.||Lawson, J. J.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Cove, W. G.||Leach, W.||Thurtle, E.|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Lee, F.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Daggar, G.||Leslie, J. R.||Viant, S. P.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Logan, D. G.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Lunn, W.||Walker, J.|
|Day, H.||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Watkins, F. C.|
|Debbie, W.||McEntee, V. La T.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||McGhee, H. G.||Westwood, J.|
|Ede, J. C.||Maclean, N.||White, H. Graham|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Marshall, F.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Maxton, J.||Williams, D. (Swansea, E.)|
|Foot, D. M.||Messer, F.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Frankel, D.||Milner, Major J.||Willams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Gallacher, W.||Montague, F.||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Muff, G.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Nathan, Colonel H. L.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Naylor, T. E.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Oliver, G. H.||Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Mathers.|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Parker, J.|
Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Thursday—[Captain Margesson.]