§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I confess that it is with feelings of very special diffidence that I venture to address your Lordships this evening upon this subject. I feel that I owe some explanation or apology that, standing in this place, I should address myself to this very important subject speaking only for myself and in no way representing the Bench on which I have the honour to sit. But I have been induced to take this course by my conviction of the extreme importance of the subject; by my feeling that it is very necessary that those of us who sit upon this side of the House should show ourselves alive to the necessity of dealing with it; and by the feeling that as there have been a good many methods of dealing with it put forward, as I think rather doubtful in principle and in method, it was fair that I should bring under your Lordships' notice a proposal for some sort of remedy conceived in a moderate and conservative spirit.
I do not think it will be necessary for me to trouble your Lordships by going into any great detail as to the necessity for something being done. I take it that the dearth of houses for the working classes in rural districts may be looked upon as an established fact. Most of your Lordships probably know it in your own experience, but if any one would wish to form a general judgment of the condition of things he cannot do better than refer to a very interesting article written by Lord Henry Bentinck and published in the Nineteenth Century of December, which gives in a most interesting form a great many figures bearing on this subject. It seems that 295 there has been an investigation by a body called the National Land and Home League. They consulted, or tried to consult, every district council in the kingdom, and in this article are published the results of their investigation. I am not going to trouble your Lordships with many going this evening. I will only say that, out of a total of 655 rural district councils, 182 have practically admitted, or could be forced to admit, the dearth of rural accommodation in their districts. That is a very big figure. I will give your Lordships the instances out of three or four counties. In Suffolk, out of eighteen rural district councils, fifteen must plead guilty to a dearth of accommodation; in Essex, out of seventeen rural district councils, thirteen must plead guilty; in Wiltshire, out of eighteen rural district councils, ten; and in Somerset, out of seventeen rural district councils, eleven. So that in the rural districts of those counties—and, of course, if the House wished it I could give a great many more—it is clear beyond all controversy that there is a lamentable and deplorable want of housing accommodation. Your Lordships may be inclined to ask what is the reason of this circumstance, what has brought about this want of accommodation. That is rather a difficult question to answer. No doubt in some districts it is partly the growth of population, but I should be more inclined to attribute it in many districts to a cause which must give us a feeling of satisfaction to some extent—namely, the raising of the standard of living throughout the country; that is to say, the accommodation which was satisfactory in the last generation, or perhaps the generation before, is no longer satisfactory either in quantity or in quality. Consequently there is this tremendous demand for sufficient accommodation. I will not apologise to your Lordships for not dwelling longer on that part of the subject, because I take it to be proved.
I turn and ask, What remedy does the existing law provide for this state of things? The remedy lies in the Housing Acts to which your Lordships' House has agreed from time to time. Under those Acts undoubtedly it is possible for a district council, with the consent of the Local Government Board, to raise capital money and with that capital money to build cottages, but as a matter of practice that has not gone very far. I think there have been, up to October 31 of this year, only 296 seventeen rural district councils out of a total of 655 which have raised loans for this purpose. Moreover, according to the present practice I am afraid it is not capable of being extended very far, because the Local Government Board insist—and I do not differ from them in their decision—as a general rule that these cottages should be rented upon a strictly economic basis; that is to say, that there should be no loss thrown upon the ratepayers by the building and renting of these cottages. A very small number of these rural district councils have been permitted to incur a substantial loss upon their cottage property so built. But, my Lords, if this remedy by the rural district councils, this power to build, can only be conducted upon an economic basis, then I am afraid it must be admitted that it does not meet the difficulty which we have in front of us, because the difficulty is that cottage property does not pay. That is the root difficulty which we have to face. Every landlord knows it. Every man even remotely interested in cottage property or who has it as part of his obligation knows that cottage property does not pay. Rich landowners, no doubt, build cottages at a loss, but they do not put up more than it is absolutely necessary for them to build. In the case of poor landlords, they have the greatest possible difficulty in building what is even the minimum necessary for their own estates. I need not say that there is no competition. No one else wants to build under such circumstances as I am describing, and therefore, as there is no competition, the quality of the houses naturally tends to deteriorate. That is the difficulty which we have to meet.
The fact is that the rent—it is a hard saying, but I must say it; it is the truth—the rent of cottages is too low. That is the solid fact which we have to face. Why are the rents too low? They have grown so. It has always been so, partly, perhaps, due to the softheartedness of the landowning class, for they are a softhearted class; but perhaps more due to the fact that the farmers, who in a great number of cases primarily rent the cottages from the landowner and sub-let them to the tenant, like the system under which cottages are let below their value. Why do they prefer that system? It is because they like to have a system under which the low rent of the cottage is part payment of the wages of the labourer. They like the system also because they have in that way 297 a much completer control of the labour on their farms thin they otherwise would possess. I have always thought that that is one of the worst systems in the world. I have always thought that farmers having this control by means of the cottages over their labourers leads to every conceivable abuse, and ought, if possible, to be put an end to. But such is the fact. The net result is that the cottages are let too low, cottage property does not pay, and hence the dearth of cottages throughout a great many of the rural districts in the country.
Now, what possible remedy can there be for this state of things? Can the labourers afford to pay a full rent for the cottages? In some districts they can. In well-to-do districts their gages are high, and there no difficulty ought to arise, and if a difficulty does arise there is nothing to prevent the district council coming forward, with the leave of the Local Government Board, and building cottages and letting them at an economic rent and thus solving the difficulty. But, unfortunately, we have not got always and only to deal with well-to-do districts. What of the poorer districts? Supposing the labourer's wages—and I know such cases—are not more than 12s. a week, how can he afford to pay an economic rent out of that wage? It is clear he cannot afford to do it. Therefore, my Lords, either we must raise wages or else we must consent that cottages must still continue to be let at a rent below their value. Now, can we raise wages?—I mean raise wages by legislation. I am speaking, of course, of a legislative remedy. Can we raise wages by legislation? I know that is a remedy which a good many persons think suitable and appropriate and possible. I do not think we ought to shrink from considering such remedies, though they are very novel in England, if reason can be shown for them; but I confess I shall shrink very much from the establishment of anything like a Wages Board in the calling of agriculture in this country. In the first place, it would be exceedingly difficult to apply. A Wages Board is a very new thing in this country. It was applied to the great coal-mining industry, but that is an organised industry. There is there an organisation of labour with which you can deal. There is no such thing amongst agricultural labourers. There is no one to negotiate with, to come to an arrangement with, to strike a bargain with. Nothing of that kind exists. That is one difficulty.
298 There is another difficulty. I am afraid that anything like a Wages Board and the procedure of a Wages Board would be, in agriculture more than in any other trade, very cruel in its operation, because most of those who are engaged in rural life know of a very large proportion of the labour which is no longer fully able-bodied labour. I refer to the men who are getting old and have lost their full strength, who must either be paid below what an able-bodied man receives or not be employed at all. Upon them anything like a rigid operation of a Wages Board with a fixed rate of wages would act with terrific effect. They would all be discharged. None of them could be employed except as a sort of almsgiving luxury by those of us who are rich enough to indulge in the pleasure; but in the ordinary business of agriculture that would be impossible. They could not be employed at all. They would be thrown out of employment, and in many cases would have to go to the workhouse. And lastly doubt whether for the particular purpose I have in view a Wages Board would be very effective. Why do I say that? Undoubtedly the wages in the districts of which I am speaking, the districts where they stand at 12s. or 13s. a week, are too low. They ought to rise altogether independently of any question of housing. Therefore I am afraid that it would be found that if wages were raised the labourer could not any more afford than at the present moment to pay a higher rent. What he would do, no doubt, would be to enjoy an increased income, an increased income which he ought to receive but which would not be avail able for paying an economic rent for his cottage. Therefore I am afraid that not only is raising wages by legislation exceedingly difficult, not only would it have, as I think, very disastrous effects, but it would be ineffective for the purpose we have in view.
Then I am driven back upon the other alternative. We must continue to have cottages let at a loss. That is the position which I fancy nearly all those who have attempted this subject of rural housing reform have arrived at. Upon whom should that loss fall? Some people say it should fall upon the ratepayers; others say it should fall upon the taxpayers. I shrink from both of those solutions. I wonder whether your Lordships have thought out how much that loss would amount to. I have tried to make some calculations. If 299 I am wrong I must apologise to your Lordships, but I have no head for figures. I have, however, tried to make some calculations, and I have come to the conclusion that, on the best hypothesis, the ratepayers would lose something between £2 and £2 10s. per annum on every cottage. Probably they would lose a great deal more, but as far as I can make out they could not lose less than that. Is it fair to throw such a burden on the ratepayers? Why should they bear such a burden? All of them are not interested in agriculture. Why should those who are not interested in agriculture be taxed at the rate of £2 10s. a cottage per annum for the benefit of those who are interested in agriculture? That is a question to which I have a great deal of difficulty in finding an answer. I do not know whether any of your Lordships will be morn successful. Other people say the loss should fall on the taxpayer. That is what is called the Irish system—the system under the Irish Labourers Act. There have been several calculations put forward as to how the Irish system would work if it were applied to this country, the principal difference being that in this country labourers could certainly afford to pay a higher rent than they can in Ireland. I have seen a calculation which places the loss to the taxpayer at £3 a cottage, but that is at a rent of 3s. a week. I need not tell your Lordships that a rent of 3s. a week in districts where labourers only get 12s. a week wages is quite absurd. Therefore the loss would be a great deal more than £3 per cottage.
In truth, my Lords, there is no reason when once you get to the ratepayer and the taxpayer why you should limit the loss. If a labourer is to live in his cottage at less than an economic rent and the loss is to be borne by the public, on what principle are you going to draw the line? Why should not he occupy his cottage at no rent at all, and the whole of the cost fall upon the State? The argument for one proposition is quite as good as the argument for the other. Indeed, it is quite evident that when once you start upon that course you are on a slippery slope which will lead you to every conceivable excess. Lastly, I am sorry to say that my experience of public administration in matters of this kind is that such administration is very extravagant. Take our experience of administration by the representatives of the taxpayer. Think of the cost which, for example, is forced 300 upon localities under the Education Act. I believe the extravagance in the building of schools is absolutely, I was going to say unparalleled, but certainly it is inexcusable. I speak with some knowledge because, finding the enormous price which in my own county it was proposed to spend on elementary schools, I built one myself, and I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that the county council spent half as much again as I did, and Hertfordshire is not specially extravagant in matters of this kind. I fancy that in London you will find a state of things far worse. It is not only the Education Department which is in favour of extravagance. It is just the same with the Board of Agriculture. The Board of Agriculture have to administer the Small Holdings Act. The noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, was in his place a moment ago. I dare say he will remember the incident to which I am about to refer. The Board of Agriculture tried to force expensive buildings upon the County Council of Hertfordshire. I admit that by a certain amount of publicity and Parliamentary pressure we induced them to forego their demands. But is it not amazing that a Department whose business it was to administer this Act and who knew full well that such an Act could only be administered successfully if administered economically, had to be pressed by outside opinion before they would consent to the most reasonable economies in the buildings put up under that Act? I think you will find it the same with all the great spending Departments. They have no conception of economy. And what is true of the representatives of the taxpayer is also true of the representatives of the ratepayer to a lesser extent. The truth is that public officials, I dare say in the Departments of State but certainly under the local authorities, have no real love of economy for its own sake. Your county surveyor and people of his description are really not intent upon saving the ratepayers' money and will not attempt to do so. On the contrary, they think it a little derogatory that the great county of which they happen to be an official should wish to save money, and they therefore spend it right royally. Therefore I am convinced that if we embark upon a remedy which depends either upon a subvention of the taxpayers' money or upon a subvention of the ratepayers' money under the control of the ratepayers' representatives, we shall have to face a degree of extravagance which will throw the estimates of loss which I have 301 given to the House altogether in the shade and impose a very heavy burden on the public.
If, therefore, the loss is not to fill on the ratepayer or on the taxpayer it can only fall on private enterprise, and the Bill of which I have the honour to move the Second Reading this evening is designed to put forward a system under which all the loss which is necessary shall fall on private individuals. In order to make such a plan work at all it is, of course, necessary to reduce that loss to a minimum. I propose that if possible, reducing the loss to its smallest proportions compatible with efficiency, we should persuade the landowners of England to undertake the loss. Is that an extravagant proposition? After all, they are quite used to it. All the cottage property they have administered up to now, as I have said, has been administered at a loss. If we can reduce the loss to smaller proportions than under present circumstances, may we not hope that they will do as they have always done, undertake the loss in the interest of their neighbourhood and in the interest of the public? Of course, there are good landowners and bad landowners, but I have always thought, if I may say so, that noble Lords opposite and their friends have singularly underrated the usefulness to the public of the spirit in which the ownership of land is conducted in England. We note from the Report of a recent Departmental Committee how satisfied the tenant farmer class is with the administration of land by the landowners of this country. The truth is that perhaps the latter are easygoing and not very vigorous in some repects, but they are a very warmhearted race of men and full of a sense of duty and public spirit which lead them to do things which are not commercially successful from their own point of view. That is a great asset of which we ought to avail ourselves, and if we can persuade them, by making the conditions as easy as possible, to step into the breach and build the cottages which are so urgently required we shall avoid all the difficulties to which I have ventured to call your Lordships' attention, all the loss to the ratepayer and to the taxpayer, and we shall have produced a remedy which will be a genuine remedy without great public loss.
If, then, the landowners can be persuaded to do it, let them build the cottages and let them manage them. I dwell upon that, 302 because not only is the public authority not very well fitted to build cottages but it is even still more unfitted to manage them when built. Is it likely that a large local authority can look after cottage property really properly and have what I may call that human feeling towards its occupiers, that elasticity of administration, which is so important in dealing with the poor and which the landowners understand so well how to extend to them? In the first place then, we must try and persuade the landowners to undertake it. How are we to persuade them to do so? I think it may be said with truth that, living in the country as they do, they are a little liable to accept an existing state of things, to use some such phrase as that what has been good enough in their father's time is good enough in their time, and so not come forward when it is absolutely required in order to apply remedies which ought to be applied.
In order, then, to convince landowners of the existence of the evil and the necessity for a remedy we must try, if we can, to bring public influence to bear upon them—to establish some machinery, that is to say, under which the evil may be fully disclosed and they may be approached with the information of the evil and with a request that they may do something towards remedying it; and I propose to secure the public opinion which I think so beneficial by throwing an obligation upon the constituted authority of the immediate locality concerned to make a report as to the condition of housing in their parish. Let them make their report to the county council, and then let the county council approach the landowners and convey to them the information which the parish council has reported to them, that such and such a condition of things exists in the neighbourhood where they live and that a remedy is called for. Some people may think that the parish council and the county council are not sufficient, that the stimulus which they can apply is not strong enough. If that be true, I do not mean to say that I would absolutely reject the assistance of the central authority. I have not provided it in my Bill, but I do not say I would reject it, If it be thought right that, in addition to the action of the parish council and of the county council, there should be a further precaution taken by way of reports from inspectors of the Imperial Government in London, I would certainly consider such a proposal; but 303 for my part I hope it would be sufficient without the addition of inspectors if a statutory duty were thrown on parish councils to make these reports, and if a statutory duty were thrown on county councils to do what they could to secure agreements with landowners in order to remedy the state of things. It has also been suggested to me that an approach might be made, not merely to landowners but to companies—I think what are called public utility companies, who have been formed and who may hereafter be formed in order to build cottages, I will not say upon a strictly commercial basis, but upon a quasi-commercial basis. If any proposal of that kind could be made I should be very glad to embody it in the Bill. By all means let there be companies, if it is possible to form such companies, to whom the county councils may apply for the sake of making good the deficiency in accommodation which the reports of the parish councils reveal.
In all that I have ventured to lay before your Lordships I have shown how I propose to deal with a case of lack of accommodation in a particular neighbourhood, and your Lordships will observe that it is all on a purely voluntary basis. But there is an exception in my Bill to this purely voluntary character. When I am no longer dealing with merely the lack of accommodation but with the existence of bad accommodation, then I introduce a certain element of compulsion. The difficulty is not merely that there are not enough cottages in these parts of the country, but that many of the cottages that exist are below, some of them far below, the standard of comfort which may reasonably be looked to; and in those extreme cases where cottages are condemned by the local authority, where they are demolished by their order, it should not be sufficient to proceed merely upon a voluntary basis. It seems to me that a landowner who has bad cottages on his property does not completely fulfil his obligations by merely pulling them down and throwing the people, as it were, into the street. People who have got bad cottages ought to be under some sort of obligation to build good ones in their place, and therefore if a cottage is condemned and demolished by the competent local authority I give power to the local authority to call upon the landowner to build a good cottage in its place.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
What the clause provides is this, that where a cottage is compulsorily demolished the county council may call upon the landowner to rebuild, and if he does not rebuild then under the provisions of the Bill they may enter themselves and build in his place.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The provision in the Bill gives power to the county council, if the landowner will not rebuild, to build in his stead. I would willingly consider even proposals which went further than that if I found they were likely to be successful; but there are great difficulties in the application of such coercive principles in finding the precise form of remedy which is to be resorted to in the case of cottages. That is the provision so far as the report of the parish council is concerned and the approach of the county council to the landlord. What kind of agreement do I propose that the county council should suggest to the landlord? I propose that they should suggest to him to build cottages where they are required if they make the process as easy as possible for him, as easy as possible by means of cheap capital and cheap by-laws—cheap capital, that is to say, within the limits of what can be advanced by the State by way of cheap capital without loss to the State. I do not go further than that. As I have already said, I do not want, if possible, to throw a burden on the State. There must be a certain administrative burden, but so far as the capital is concerned I want it to be advanced at its true value—3¼ per cent. and ½ per cent. sinking fund. Of course, the precise figure may be a matter of some discussion, but that is what I suggest so far as my Bill is concerned. That is the cheap capital which I suggest should be placed at the service of the landowner in order to persuade him to carry out this agreement. I think that with the assistance of that capital and with the assistance of cheap building a good deal can be done.
I am convinced that the building of cheap cottages has not even yet been thoroughly explored. I have done my best in my private capacity to do so, and I wish everybody else were engaged in the same operation in order that our combined 305 experience might be available. I have certainly succeeded in building a very good cottage for £130—I do not say in Hertfordshire but in Dorsetshire, where building is a good deal cheaper. I admit that that was two or three years ago and that building has gone up since then, and probably I should not be able to do it quite so cheaply now. But that is the fact. Even in Hertfordshire cottages have been built for £140 apiece, not only by myself but by the local authority, which a very striking example. An effort has been made at Letchworth, in Hertfordshire, to build cheap cottages, and from figures I have seen I have satisfied myself that they were built at £140 apiece. They were not, I admit, first-rate cottages, but they were very good.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Three bedrooms. There were certain circumstances about them which led me to suppose that they were not quite first-rate cottages; but I maintain—though the noble Lord may think me egotistical in making the assertion—that my cottages are first-rate cottages, and they were built, as I have said, in Dorsetshire for £130 and in Hertfordshire for £140 apiece. In some districts there may be a difficulty because of the by-laws. Of one thing I am perfectly convinced, that unreasonable by-laws must be swept away if any policy for meeting this great difficulty of rural housing is to be effective. Whatever plan you adopt, whatever method of approaching this great difficulty you resort to, you must get rid of unreasonable by-laws, and I am bound to say of the present President of the Local Government Board that he has gone a long way in that direction, and I think great credit is due to him for that circumstance. I think we ought to go further, and I have inserted a clause in this Bill giving power to county councils, who take so much part under the proposals I am venturing to make, to dispense with unreasonable by-laws if they think fit. I think the county council eminently qualified to be trusted with this power. They are a very responsible body; but, what is much more important, they know about the subject with which we are dealing. They consist in large measure of owners of cottage property and of persons interested in the subject, and they know quite well what is a reasonable by-law and what is not, and what is required for the 306 comfort of the poor. They know that far better than any person in Whitehall; and if the county council think a by-law is unreasonable depend upon it it is unreasonable, and the sooner it is abolished the better. Therefore with some confidence I have in my proposals entrusted county councils with the power of dispensing with by-laws where they are unreasonable. By means of cheap capital, cheap cottages, and cheap by-laws, I submit that I have reduced the cost of cottage building to a minimum. In these circumstances I hope that we may confidently approach the landowners of this country and ask them to assist us in solving the great problem which we have before us.
There is one other provision to which I must call attention. I have inserted a clause preventing the owner who builds with public money under the powers of this Bill from charging more than 5 per cent. on the capital by way of rent. That is done in order that he should not make a profit out of the transaction. I am very doubtful as to the merits of this provision. Such as it is, I think that your Lordships will admit that it is effective. Five per cent. will not enable him to earn a profit; for 3¾ per cent. interest and sinking fund leaves only 1¼ per cent. to spare. This 1¼ per cent. may be held to cover repairs, insurance, and management, but it will not go any further than that, if it goes so far. And there is site, there is replacement of capital, there are rates, there are bad debts, and there is the provision of water supply. So I think your Lordships will readily admit that with a 5 per cent. charge the landowner will not be able to make a profit out of his cottage property. I ventured to say a moment ago that I had considerable doubt as to the merits of this particular proposal. I inserted it principally because I thought that in the present state of public opinion it would be impossible to hope for any success if you proposed to give public money to landowners out of which they were going to make a profit. But I think public opinion is wrong. I think it would be far better and in the highest interests of the country if you gave the landowner cheap money and allowed him to do the best he could with it, because undoubtedly we must hope hereafter that cottages may become economic and the whole of the building and letting of them may be put upon an economic basis. There is no 307 thorough and absolute remedy except by that road. Therefore it seems to me a step perhaps in the wrong direction to say to a landowner that he shall only charge a minimum rent for his cottages. But I have put it into the Bill for the reason I have stated, and if your Lordships think it ought to come out I should not strongly resist such a proposal.
I have tried to explain to your Lordships the reasons of the proposals which I have ventured to make. If I might venture upon a summary it is as follows. There is a dearth of cottages. The cause of that dearth is an economic cause. We cannot raise wages, and therefore there must be a loss left upon cottage property. That loss should not be borne by the ratepayer; it should not be borne by the taxpayer; therefore it must fall upon private enterprise. That private enterprise should be stimulated by publicity. It should be assisted by cheap capital, and by means of agreements in the case of new accommodation and by means of certain indirect compulsion in the case of condemned accommodation. It is hoped that the landowners of this country may themselves provide a remedy for this great evil. I would ask your Lordships to remember that the proposals in this Bill in no sense conflict with the policy or operation of the existing Housing Acts. The existing Housing Acts, if the Government so please and the local ratepayers so please, can be used for providing a remedy. I should myself shrink, as I have said, from throwing a great burden upon them; but so far as my Bill is concerned I do not interfere with that in the least. That course is still open to them. That policy is still before them if they choose to adopt it. All I propose is that, failing the intervention of the State by means of the Housing Acts, some remedy should be applied, and for my part I can see no better remedy than an appeal to the landowners of England to come forward and help us as they have helped us in the past.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
My Lords, whatever opinion may be entertained in any quarter of the House as to the merits of the proposal laid before your 308 Lordships by the noble think it will be generally recognised that he has made, if I may say so, a very important contribution to the very difficult problem of rural housing in England, and I would apply that both to the Bill which he has laid before your Lordships' House and also to the speech with which he has recommended it. But I hope I may be allowed to say without offence, in passing, that his speech is very much better than his Bill, and if your Lordships think you are going to find in the Bill all that the noble Marquess said in his speech you will, I fear, be disappointed. The contribution to which we have listened is important for one reason at any rate—because it is put forward by a noble Lord who is himself a very large landowner, and who generally speaks, although he disclaimed it on this occasion, for a Party which contains a great many large landowners whose aggregate holding of land must represent a very considerable proportion of the rural districts of this country. And it is welcome because in it we find a recognition of the moral responsibility which rests upon landowners to provide accommodation for rural labourers, and I think we may deduce from the noble Marquess's speech that we may expect the co-operation of him and his class in any scheme designed to achieve the same object. Of course, large landowners possess not only great influence but also first-hand knowledge of the subject, and without their co-operation and sympathy any scheme, however wise and however drastic, cannot, I think, be completely successful; and so I venture to thank the noble Marquess for the manner in which he has introduced this subject to our attention.
I would also like to acknowledge some very good points, if I may say so, in the Bill itself. In the first place, I welcome the provision contained in Clause 1 which casts upon the parish council the duty of making representation to the proper authority—in this case the county council—in cases where accommodation is insufficient, and I further acknowledge with pleasure the provision in Clause 2, paragraph (b), under which the security offered for the advance is not to be less than double. I think that indicates that the noble Marquess wishes to free the public authority from any sort of apprehension as to the value of the security which is 309 to be offered in exchange for the loan. That, I think, is satisfactory. I go further. I welcome very much the provision which limits the rent to be charged to 5 per cent. of the capital spent upon the building. That, I think, is a very wise provision. The noble Marquess seemed to be a little bit shy of it himself, but I think it only confirms what is generally felt to be the right thing in cases of this kind. Then with regard to the question of the compulsory rebuilding of cottages, it is quite true, as my noble friend behind me (Lord Sheffield) said, that there is in the Bill no compulsory power on the landowner to rebuild a cottage in place of one pulled down under a demolition order. But the noble Marquess is anxious, as far as he can without applying anything of a drastic character, that landowners should recognise that when a cottage has been demolished under such an order their responsibility does not end with the demolition, but that responsibility attaches to them to replace that habitation, and in so far as that is an indication of the spirit in which the noble Marquess approaches the problem it is to be welcomed.
The noble Marquess laid stress on his provision with regard to by-laws. There, again, I find myself in agreement with him—I refer to Clause 12 regarding a modification of by-laws. I think it is generally felt that in many cases the bylaws in rural districts, very often taken, I believe, from specimen by-laws applicable to urban districts, are completely out of place. It is very pleasant to see that the noble Marquess contemplates that the landowner, far from making a profit out of the State, ought, if necessary, to bear a certain loss. That is very satisfactory as far as it goes. Indeed, there is a great deal that is attractive in this Bill. I think nobody who has read the Bill and the Memorandum which is prefaced to it can fail to admit that there is a good deal in the Bill that is attractive. There is something nice in the State and the landowner going hand in hand to the regeneration of rural England, and there is something rather plausible, I think, in saying that all we need is a little cheap money. "Here we are willing to do what we can," they say to the State, "give us cheap money and all will be well." All that is attractive and plausible. But I am bound to say I regret that all this which has so much attraction about it 310 seems to me only to conceal an underlying fallacy, of which I think the noble Marquess is partly conscious. That fallacy is that expedients of this kind, animated as they are by a spirit of benevolence, only tend to perpetuate and accentuate the very evils from which they seek to escape. I will have a word to say on that in a minute.
Before I go any further I ought, perhaps, to make some allusion to the financial proposal of the Bill, because, after all, the essence of this Bill is finance. If the finance breaks down, then really as far as this particular Bill is concerned we shall be, I am afraid, obliged to dismiss it from our consideration. The noble Marquess slurred over his financial proposals. He did not tell your Lordships very clearly what he desired the Exchequer to do for him and other landowners in this connection, and I think it would be useful if I summarised in a few words what the financial proposals are. Under the Bill the Treasury are to make certain advances to county councils who are to act as their agents, and the county councils are in turn to advance to landowners capital sums of money as to which they are under contract with the county councils to build cottages. The landowner who enters into such a contract has to pay an annual annuity of £3 15s. per cent. to the county council until the debt is repaid. The Treasury are to borrow from the National Debt Commissioners the money which they require to advance to the county councils to be advanced by the county councils to the landowners—it seems a little bit roundabout—and the county councils are to repay to the Treasury and the Treasury are to repay to the National Debt Commissioners the capital, plus the interest, in a period of sixty-five years. Those, I think the noble Marquess will agree, are the financial provisions of his Bill.
In the first place, the noble Marquess sets up a new lending authority. The Treasury are not in the habit of lending money for any purpose much less for this purpose. Such loans have heretofore been made by the Public Works Loan Commissioners out of the Local Loans Fund, and what the noble Marquess proposes is a complete departure from established practice with regard to loans of this kind. Then I notice there is no limit in the Bill 311 to the sum of money which landowners through the county councils may demand the Treasury to lend to them for this purpose, and there is nothing to prevent the Treasury incurring an indefinite liability in connection with the matter. Then there is another point, and I think it a material one. As I said just now, the period of repayment of the loan by the county council to the Treasury is sixty-five years. I am hound to say that in my opinion that is a very long period for the repayment of an advance for what are admittedly very cheaply built cottages. The noble Marquess talked of a £140 cottage. I do not say that you cannot build a cottage for £140, but if you contemplate £140 cottages it is a little unreasonable to expect so long a period of repayment as sixty-five years. Under the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, Section 67, the maximum period allowed is forty years, and the Local Government Board, who have to exercise a certain amount of discretion in this matter, regard forty years as a reasonable maximum.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The shorter your period of repayment the greater the burden thrown on the landowner or the cottager. If the burden is greater on the landowner it is less likely that the Bill will operate, and if the burden is greater on the cottager it is less likely that he will be able to pay the rent.
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
The interruption is a little ingenuous because the whole point turns on the amount of the sinking fund, and by extending the period you reduce the sinking fund. The noble Marquess's finance is based on a long period of repayment.
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
I am not sure about that point. If your security is not enough for sixty-five years then certainly the financial difficulties in which the noble Marquess is already involved are increased, as I think I shall 312 be able to show him. But that is not all. The noble Marquess lays down that the annuity to be paid by the landowner to the county council is not to exceed 3¾ per cent., but supposing at any time the Treasury were unable to borrow at less than 3¾ per cent. it is clear that that annuity would not represent any sinking fund whatever. In all existing matters of this kind provision is made for revision. Under Statute the Local Loans are not to bear any losses; there is always provision for reconsideration, and the interest is fixed according to the rate of interest at which the Public Works Loan Commissioners can borrow. Apart from these perhaps minor points, the noble Marquess comes down to this House and asks that, representing private individuals, he should be put upon an equal if not a better footing than local authorities at present occupy. The minimum rate of interest charged by the Public Works Loan Commissioners to local authorities is 3½ per cent. but the noble Marquess expects that he is to be lent money at 3¼ per cent., although there is this very great difference between public bodies and the noble Marquess, that whereas in the case of local authorities the reversion of the building goes to the local authority, in this case the reversion of the cottage is to go to the landowner. He asks that the Public Works Loan Commissioners should lend money to landowners on better terms than to local authorities, giving the landowner a longer period of repayment with the further advantage that the property is to revert to him.
Then there is another important objection with which the noble Marquess completely failed to deal. At the present time the Treasury cannot hope to borrow money at less than 3½ per cent. In order to secure the repayment of these loans at this rate in sixty-five years they would have to charge the county council an annuity approximately of £3 18s. 4d. per £100, but the county council under the Bill can only charge the landowner £3 15s. This annuity would only liquidate his loan to the county council in seventy-nine years, but the county council have to liquidate their loan to the Treasury in sixty-five years; therefore for the sixty-five years the county council would have to bear the difference, and that would amount to 3s. 4d. per £100. The noble Marquess said that he did not wish to 313 make a charge on the rates. He thought that the landowner ought to bear the charge. But it is perfectly clear under the provisions of his Bill that the difference between the £3 15s. and the £3 18s. 4d. for sixty-five years will have to fall upon the rates. Therefore this cannot be described as a scheme which is independent of rate-aid. I hope I have not detained your Lordships too long on this question of finance.
Now I turn to the more general aspect of the problem which the noble Marquess has brought before the House, the question of rural depopulation in England, because that is what it amounts to. I very much wonder whether his proposal is the best way to solve the admitted and undoubted evil of the scarcity of houses in rural districts. In my opinion this Bill only tends to perpetuate the present conditions. What are the present conditions? If you fairly diagnose the cause of rural depopulation you will find it is due in the main, I think, to two causes. One cause is partial and the other universal. Land is not everywhere easily available for building houses. We all know of cases where it is not available at all. That is the partial cause. The other cause, which is a universal one, is that nowhere, perhaps with the exception of Northumberland, are the wages of agricultural labourers sufficient to enable them to pay anything approaching an economic rent for their cottages. It is not that landowners are too poor to build cottages. Land is not owned as a rule by poor men. It is that the agricultural labourers are too poor to pay an economic rent for their cottages when they are built, and as long as the present standard of wages exists I venture to say there always will be a scarcity of cottages in rural England.
Then there is another thing to which the noble Marquess alluded—the question of the tied-house system. I believe that the tied-house system is very largely responsible for the depressed condition of wages in rural districts, and I think the noble Marquess will agree with me in that. What chance has a man to make any sort of effective representation to his employer himself or by means of combination with others, with the object of increasing his wages, when he is entirely in the hands either of the farmer or of the landowner? He risks being turned out of his home. 314 I do not say that such harsh would necessarily be employed, but he is at an economic disadvantage in connection with his employer in that respect, and I say again I believe that the tied-house system is to a very large extent responsible for the depressed condition of wages in rural England. As long as the tied-house system continues so long will benevolent action such as the noble Marquess contemplates, either private or public, tend on the whole not to benefit the employee but the employer. So long as you have the system of charity rents in the shape of tied cottages of this sort, so long as you have this truck system—for it is the truck system—the money the State or the private individual advances for building cottages to be let below an economic rent will in the long run tend, not to benefit the agricultural labourer, but his employer. That is an economic law which I venture to think it is impossible to escape from. In my opinion this discussion points to the fact that rural housing is primarily a question, not of rates of interest, but of rates of wages. What is the position of the agricultural labourer to-day? I do not think there will be any difference of opinion on either side of the House, especially having regard to present prices, that the position of the agricultural labourer, earning as he does in England an average of 14s. 6d. per week, is deplorable.
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
I have here the report of the Committee of Inquiry of the Board of Trade into the earnings and hours of labour of working people in the United Kingdom in 1907. I think we shall all agree that it is impossible to expect a man to bring up in decency and comfort, indeed in health, himself and his family on a wage which does not exceed 14s. 6d. per week on the average. I admit there is some addition to be made for allowances, but his cash wages amount to no more than 14s. 6d. per week. I venture to say that judged by the standard of wages—I do not say judged by other conditions—paid to men of a similar class in urban areas, the agricultural industry in this country is a sweated industry. The men are not getting a living wage, and I say with great respect that if ever there was a case for the application of the principle of the minimum wage it would 315 be to the agricultural industry. The noble Marquess shrinks from such a proposal. I do not know why he should. He is prepared to supplement wages out of his own pocket, because that is what it amounts to. He is prepared to go to the taxpayer and ask for cheaper money than the taxpayer can grant; he is prepared to go to the county council and say, "Assist us out of the rates"; he is quite willing to put his hand into his own pocket to increase wages, and yet he shrinks from the proposal of the minimum wage. I do not see the difficulties that the noble Marquess anticipates. I do not see the impracticability of the minimum wage or the difficulties which confront him. It seems to me, if we are agreed on the general principle, that there should be no difficulty in applying the minimum wage to the agricultural industry of this country, and I think that it is only in that way that we can hope to reach an economic equilibrium and to really solve the question of the rural depopulation of this country. All uneconomic schemes of private benevolence, or rate-aided enterprise, from whatever source they emanate, are vicious, pauperising, and financially unsound, and must lead to disaster and to stereotyping and perpetuating the evils which we find existing among us to-day.
The question then arises whether the agricultural industry is in a position to bear the imposition of a minimum wage. Can rural England stand on its own legs? I am inclined to think that very much better results are to be obtained from farming than are at present obtained. Speaking generally, and allowing only for large and important exceptions which suggest themselves to anyone, I venture to think that farms are as a rule under-rented, especially on what are known as large estates, although I believe that sometimes the owner has a sort of set back or return in the shape of sporting amenities, which I think is not a very fortunate thing for the agricultural industry. Perhaps that is why the tenant farmer is so pleased with the present system. On large estates I think it is not unfair to say that the land is under-rented. It is also under-capitalised, and, further, it is under-tilled. When you see the amount of weak grass lands that employ no labour I think you must admit that the land is under-tilled. It is also under-staffed, and I think you must admit it is under-paid. If that is the 316 condition at the present day, if the agricultural industry is a little out of date and behind the times, then this proposal of a minimum wage, far from striking a staggering blow at agriculture, may be the means of inducing the agricultural community to reconsider its position and adopt better methods and so obtain better results. We have only to look to the Lothians in Scotland to see what can be done in the way of agriculture. Take the East of Scotland, where we know the rents are very much higher in proportion to the productivity of the soil, I am told that the average wage of the agricultural labourer is 21s.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
Might I remind the noble Lord that in Scotland the landlord pays half the rates.
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
I did not pretend to deal exhaustively with the condition of Scottish agriculture. I merely ventured to quote the Lothians as an example where high rates of wages go with successful farming. Further, it must be remembered that agriculture is no longer in the depressed condition in which it was ten or fifteen years ago. We have passed through those times, and agriculture on the whole is in a very flourishing condition. I do not think I can illustrate the general prosperity of the industry better than by considering what the value of the tithe rent charge to-day is. That really represents the value of cereals. Whereas the value of a £100 tithe rent charge in 1900 was £66 10s. 9d., in the year 1912 it was over £74. That figure, I think, on the whole gives a very general idea of the great improvement which agriculture enjoys at the present time.
§ LORD SANDERSON
Might I ask the noble Lord why he chooses 1907 as the year for the average rate of wages, and 1912 as the year for the value of the tithe rent charge. Is there any particular reason for choosing 1907 for the average rate of wages?
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
No; I have no particular reason for giving that year. I have a great number of figures here which all go to prove what is generally known, that we have passed through a period of agricultural depression and things are very much better in agriculture to-day than they were fifteen or twenty years ago.
§ LORD SANDERSON
Yes, but the noble Lord quotes the average rate of wages in 1907, and I should like to know whether he has any particular reason for choosing that year for the purposes of his illustration.
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
No; it is merely that the Return for 1907 happens to be the only Return on which I can lay my hands at the moment. There is no significance in it. I think it approximately represents the condition of affairs to-day.
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
I am sorry if I have not the latest Return. This is the one that has been placed in my hands. I do not know whether the Return for the year 1911 shows any improvement, but in any case I do not think it would be substantial, and for the purposes of my argument I think it is generally admitted that about 14s. 6d. represents the average rate of wages in England. I am attempting to make a comparison between the present state of the agricultural industry and its condition some fifteen or twenty years ago, and in order to get an idea of the increased value of wheat, barley, and oats I have taken the value of the tithe rent charge of £100 calculated on the septennial average; and if your Lordships will look at that—it is to be found in the Agricultural Statistics for 1911—you will find that the tithe rent charge which to-clay is £74 was in 1900 only £66; in fact, it is larger in 1912 than it has been fur 20 years I think that gives a fair general idea of the improvement in agriculture in recent times. Take beef. I have here the Abstract of Labour Statistics of the Board of Trade, and it gives the percent ages showing the variations of prices. Taking 100 as the average number, I find that beef stands at 101, and it is 20 years since it was in as good a position. It has fallen as low as 9l. Then take bacon. Bacon is to-day 142, and you can go back indefinitely and there is nothing like it. The same thing applies in the case of milk and eggs. That bears out the fact that agriculture at the present time enjoys unparalleled prosperity, and all indications show that these advances are more or less permanent. The demand for meat is increasing on the Continent of Europe; we know that America is filling up, and, as far as we can foresee the future, 318 there is every indication that agriculture can expect to continue to enjoy at any rate the prosperity which it is at present enjoying. If that is so, I venture to think that the agricultural industry of this country is capable of bearing something in the nature of a minimum wage.
If that be agreed—and I think the noble Marquess is very near agreeing with it—we have this further question to consider. What is the right course to pursue? Given an agricultural population enjoying a wage which enables them to pay an economic rent, what is the right course to pursue to make up the deficiency of houses in rural districts? We may take the view of the noble Marquess and his friends that it is much better to leave the landowner to deal with the matter, but I would say to him that the action of the individual landowner is bound to be at best slow and partial. It may take many years before the public spirit which animates the noble Marquess has permeated to all landowners, and I think we should have to wait a long time before such a procedure would make very much headway Then, on the other hand, if we rely on local authorities, as the noble Marquess would, in part, there again I think we should run up against a rather unsatisfactory instrument, because county councils and parish councils are notoriously slow in making progress in matters of this kind. I cannot help thinking for myself that if we are to grasp the nettle we shall be driven back on a central authority acting through commissioners. The noble Marquess thinks that will be very expensive. I think it depends upon how it is done. It may be expensive to employ a central authority to build a few cottages here and there, but not if you employ them to build a great number of cottages.
Has the noble Marquess or his friends any idea of the number of cottages it is desirable to build in rural England? I am informed, and I have good reason to think that my information is not incorrect, that at the present time you might build 100,000 cottages in England without overstocking the supply. If that is true, and it has not been challenged, what does that mean? It is about 2,000 cottages per county; 2,000 cottages represent the equivalent of 100 villages, and it seems to me that there might be something to be said for building new villages, creating new 319 centres, well chosen centres, on or near a railway within reach of markets and with easy communications. It seems to me that a process of this kind would probably run up against fewer vested interests and involve the disturbance of fewer country amenities than increasing the present villages and building houses right and left in existing centres; and if that were done we might do something towards realising the ambition of the late Prime Minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, when he talked about colonising England and providing for country people new centres under perhaps freer and happier conditions. If that idea were possible, I think we should have made a step in advance. But anyhow it seems to me, if I may summarise what I have said, that the basis of the whole thing is the question of rural wages. Until that problem is tackled all proposals such as we have been discussing to-night will not get us very far, if indeed they do not get us into greater difficulties than we are in already.
Before I sit down may I say what my position is? I feel myself to be in somewhat of an anomalous position speaking on this side. I am not a member of the Government and I have no right officially to represent, far less to commit, His Majesty's Government on this question; but I should be deceiving noble Lords opposite and misleading my own friends if I were not to say that the views I have tried to express to the House represent more than my own personal opinions. I hope the noble Marquess will not press his measure, because we feel that it runs counter to the direction in which we are tending; and I hope that, having raised the subject and having made a very valuable contribution, if I may say so, to the problem of rural housing, he will be content to let the matter stand where it does.
My Lords, I have listened to this discussion with great interest, particularly to the speech of the noble Marquess, and as to many points I am in considerable agreement with him. This question of rural housing is not a new one. Historically it goes back very far. Noble Lords will remember that before union rating we had what were called close parishes. The law of settlement stimulated people to clear out old cottages from their estates. Some of you may have read the old Reports as to rural depopulation. Mr. Edward Stanhope made one in 1869 or 1870 320 referring to Lincolnshire especially, and he mentioned cases of the deplorable distances people had to walk to get to their work, sometimes seven or eight miles. Union rating arrested the tendency to pull down cottages in rural districts but did not stimulate people to build new ones. I think the noble Marquess dealt with this question too much as if the question of rural housing was one connected with the demands of agriculture solely. Rural districts comprise all kinds of industries and are not at all limited to agriculture. Secondly, I think he dealt with it a little too much from the point of view that noble Lords were under the dominion of their own surroundings and associations in considering this matter, and I think he spoke too much as if the condition of rural life in England was dependent upon the goodwill and the activity of the great landlords.
I believe if you go through England and look at the estates of great landlords you will find that on the whole more care is taken of the labourer and that a better state of things exists than where property is subdivided; but, after all, the great landlords of England are only accountable for a minority of the value of the rural land in England. I have gone through the Landowners' Blue Book published in 1873, which constitutes what has been called the new Doomsday Book, and I find that not one-third in value of the land in England and Wales is owned by persons owning upwards of 1,000 acres. To your Lordships the owner of 1,000 acres would no doubt seem a very small man and a man who hardly comes within the range of your typical landowner who does his duty to the peasantry round him. It must be remembered that this Bill deals with a large number of people who are not rural agricultural labourers at all. You have new mines and quarries and factories and things of the kind springing up in rural districts, and I think the noble Marquess will feel that there is an unavoidable obligation on any man who makes his income out of the land to see to the equipment of the land out of which he makes his income. Nobody thinks of saying when he is putting up farm buildings, "Will the cow-sheds and barns pay?" They do not pay in themselves, but they are, of course, part of the necessary equipment, and you will not be able to let your farm unless you put those buildings up. Cottages for the farm labourers are as much 321 a necessary part of the equipment of the farm as the buildings and the barns and other things for the stock on the farm, and whether landowners like it or not, whether they are flush of cash or weighted with mortgages, they must provide houses for the people employed on their estates in working the land.
One of the difficulties at the present day which the noble Marquess touched on comes from the higher standard of sanitation and comfort and self-respect which is demanded in the cottages of the present day. I agree with the noble Marquess that in some respects modern by-laws act oppressively in rural districts, but there ate certain fundamental requirements as to sanitation and aeration which ought to be insisted on in any by-laws. Then, again, I suppose no one would build a cottage nowadays with less than three bedrooms. You must have separate bedrooms for the labourer and his wife and the two sexes of the children. There are plenty of old cottages with only two bedrooms and some with only one, but the standard of life and comfort was lower then. We are very much in the position of the unhappy managers of Voluntary schools who used to allow an accommodation of 8 ft. per child and who now find themselves called upon to reckon 10ft. I think the noble Marquess must know that in rural districts not all the cottages are the property of what are popularly called landowners. In rural districts there are owners of small cottage property, and they cannot and will not put their cottages into any very superior order because they could not get sufficient rents for them.
There is also the difficulty that in rural districts there is not always a sufficiently high standard of desire on the part of the labourers as to proper accommodation. In a county with which I am familiar, the county of Anglesey, many cottages are in a disgraceful state, but it would be quite useless for a landowner to build a cottage costing £200 and ask a rent of 2s., which would not be 3 per cent. on the expenditure. So long as there are these disgraceful cottages existing at ls. a week the standard of desire is not high enough in the agricultural labourer to make him pay 2s. a week for a cottage which is worth 4s., and you must get the co-operation of sanitary and other authorities and endeavour to raise the standard. It is right that we should 322 discuss this matter, because it is one branch of the generally increasing standard of civilisation which is coming upon us whether we like it or not. We ought all to welcome it and co-operate with it; but whether we do or not it is bound to come, and we are bound to be drawn along with it. I do not like the Bill of the noble Marquess because I do not think it effects the great social reform which he and all of us desire to see effected. He said at the conclusion of his speech that he looked forward to the really sound solution of the problem in good cottages being built to be let on an economic basis, but he thought that that was an unattainable ambition at present. I would point out to him that if you start the building of cottages on an eleemosynary basis you throw back the probability of building them on an economic basis.
I served nearly thirty years ago on a Royal Commission with the noble Marquess's father. He was able to give a great deal of attention, among the arduous affairs of State with which he was occupied, to that Commission, and I remember the evidence of one of the most interesting witnesses we had, a lady who has lately died, Miss Octavia Hill, who did as much for the working classes, I suppose, as any man or woman of her generation. She gave evidence very strongly against any public interference with the question of the housing of the poor. She was speaking of urban housing, but the problem is in many ways the same. She referred to the various companies at work that provided accommodation for workpeople. You have those companies at work at the present day, and you have also that very much maligned person the speculative builder. You have them building houses in our country towns for the working classes and laying out hundreds of thousands of pounds a year of capital value all on the basis of commerce. You come in and hold this sword of Damocles over private enterprise, and if you admit the risk of competition of houses to be built and let at a not economic rent you at once destroy all that activity, and unless you are prepared to build by the State to the same extent as private enterprise builds you wreck all that labour. That is a serious view, and one which we must all appreciate.
I tremble a little in following the noble Lord, Lord Ashby St. Ledgers, who embarked on very wide social theories in 323 dealing with this particular branch of the question. But as to the rate of wages, I would say that the wages are not sufficient to secure adequate work on the part of the worker. As an illustration of that a farmer in Yorkshire once told me, "When I am not able to pay £1 a week to all my workmen I shall give up farming." They understand up in the North that if the human machine is to generate steam and force you must put something in the boiler, and an underpaid and ill-fed workman is more expensive than a well-paid and well-fed workman. I think it was Sir H. Rider Haggard, writing, I believe, in a Tariff Reform pamphlet or something of the kind, who said that he farmed in Northumberland and also in Norfolk, and that his rate of wages in Northumberland was over £1 a week and in Norfolk only 13s. or 14s. a week, but that his wage bill in Northumberland in relation to the product was lower than his wage bill in Norfolk. I do not think we need rush to the heroic remedy of statutory interference with wages, but may hope that the operation of natural causes and the intelligent self-respect of the people who cultivat the land will lead them to see that well-paid labour is economic labour.
People talk of the efflux of labour to the towns. I think that labour is perfectly right to go where it can find the best remuneration, whether it goes to the great fertile plains of Canada or to the industrial centres in this country. If you want to keep the labourer you must pay him sufficient to induce him to remain. I dare say it is true, as the noble Lord said, that for the moment agriculture has improved a little and very likely could stand out of the profits of the farmer a rather better wage for the labourer. But there is no doubt, if the wages of the labourer have to rise, that there is a fund out of which at the last resort that rise will come, and that is out of the rent of the landlord. It is quite obvious in a Free Trade country that the food we produce is sold in a world market and at world prices, and the agriculturist cannot get a higher price for his produce than the price at which the foreigner, plus the cost of transit and delivery, can bring it to this country. Therefore the cost of production must be brought within those limits, and if they yield an insufficient margin of profit and if a reduction is necessary the landlord will be the person to suffer and he will have to submit to it. I am quite sure landlords 324 ought all to recognise, and recognise cheerfully, that the maintenance of the man who cultivates the land ought to be a first charge on the land, and that the rent of the land comes afterwards.
I hope I am not going beyond what the noble Marquess has proposed. He does seek to raise the social status of the labourer. I think the noble Marquess will agree that if the State is not to be at a loss, the State must charge a rate of interest at which for the time the State itself can borrow. There is another little point that I would like to mention. In his Schedule the noble Marquess defines the working classes as meaning not only people receiving wages in agriculture but persons not working for wages but working at agriculture or some trade or handicraft without employing others except members of their own family, and so on. He includes artisans and the small mechanics of a village and a few more. But there is a very stringent provision in the Bill that if a man builds a cottage under the Bill and lets it to a person other than a person of the working class severe penalties follow.
I thought the cottage was to be taken over by the local authority and let by them to somebody else.
Very well, I do not want to press it; but any one will see how undesirable it would be if when a man slightly improves his position he is to be ejected from his cottage. There are more details than I could comment upon, but I do not want to lay any stress upon them now. I think in the case of a cottage to cost up to £250 and the rent of which was to be 5 per cent., a very heavy loss would not be inflicted upon the owner who built the cottage, having regard to the fact that when we build cottages now we are very thankful if we get 2 per cent. or 2½ per cent. on our money after all expenses are paid. The noble Marquess mentioned incidentally two things. One was a sinking fund. I do not think the owner of the cottage has any right to claim that, because that is funding his loan and ultimately the 325 cottage will belong to him. With regard to the rates, I feel very strongly that the rates should be a charge on the tenant and not on the landlord. I think if everybody, small as well as big, paid the rates they would take much greater interest in the question of rates and would look closer into local affairs. There are rural as well as urban districts in which compulsory compounding is carried on. I think if these cottages are to be built with public aid the landlord should be entitled to let at a bona fide rent to the tenant and keep the question of rates out altogether. I think the noble Marquess will find, if he is going to make the rates come out of his 5 per cent., that there are rural districts where the rates are as high as 6s. and 8s. in the pound. That is not the usual rate, I know, but there are places where the rate is as high as that, and that would swallow up a very large part of the 5 per cent.
Another point of detail. The noble Marquess, under the definition of "owner," excludes any lessee who has not seventy-five years to run. The idea is that the whole debt would be paid off in sixty-five years. Under this Bill owners of collieries and quarries and other enterprises in rural districts could in building cottages for their workpeople apply under this Bill to be financed. That would be a great advantage to them, because at present a colliery company building, say, 1,000 cottages for its workpeople is very glad to be financed at 6 per cent., and if they could get advances under this Bill they would be very glad to have them I am sure. I think you ought to make it possible, if this Bill is desirable, for the managers of great industrial enterprises, if they give security, to be financed and to build cottages which will last for the life of the enterprise. Perhaps I am wrong in going so much into detail, because I do not suppose, after all, that the noble Marquess expects this Bill to become law. It is brought in late in the session, and I take it his object really is to raise discussion of the question and see how far public opinion is with him in his desire to improve the condition of our rural population. But these little points are not unimportant, and if next session the noble Marquess brings in his Bill again I hope he will consider them in order to introduce some modification in the details of his Bill.
326 My impression, going about the country, is that you will not find as a rule on the big estates that there are too few cottages for the labourers employed on the estate, but you do find a great scarcity of cottages for the people who are not directly employed. Railway companies have in many districts built cottages for their platelayers and permanent-way men, and cottages have also to be provided for village postmen and people employed by the Government, but there is a part of the rural population as to whom it is nobody's responsibility to provide for. There is another point which I mentioned before about close parishes. You cannot draw a line like a high wall round the rural districts, because a large part of the rural labouring population live in the little towns and in urban districts. You cannot, therefore, deal with this question exclusively with reference to the rural districts, and I do not think it is desirable to try to do so. I am still old-fashioned enough to believe in individual efforts and private enterprise, and to shrink with some apprehension from calling on the State as a Deus ex machina to get us out of our troubles. I certainly do not think that the problem of housing is purely a rural problem. It is a problem mainly, I quite agree, of adequate wages and a desire for a proper standard of housing among the working classes, and a resolution on the part of the local authority to remove the temptation of the less self-respecting of the working classes to take refuge in hovels because of the lower rents would help progress. I hope I have not said anything unfriendly to the purpose the noble Marquess has in view, because I am sure we are all of us friendly to his purpose and that we would all like to see some housing scheme produced which would be not only economically sound but philanthropic.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I was glad that the noble Lord who spoke for the Government began his observations by complimenting my noble friend behind me upon the speech with which he introduced this Bill. It was a speech characterised by a very thorough and practical knowledge of the subject, and also by a great display of courage in grappling with some of the extremely thorny problems which this question of rural housing presents. It is constantly said on innumerable platforms that the housing problem lies at the bottom of the 327 question of social reform, and it is very easy to get cheers for statements of that kind. But the difficulty begins when you try to get to close quarters with the subject. It is not easy to frame concrete suggestions with regard to it, even in outline. When you come to embody them as my noble friend has in a Bill you obviously expose a very large target to the objections of innumerable critics and commentators. I will not add anything to what has been said during the course of this debate as to the urgency of the problem. My noble friend's Bill deals, of course, with rural housing and rural housing only, and it is generally admitted that there is throughout the country a considerable and lamentable shortage of housing accommodation. Whether the large figure given by the noble Lord who spoke for the Government, 100,000 cottages, is an entirely trustworthy estimate I am sure I do not know. The deficiency, so far as I am aware, varies very greatly in different districts. It is enough for the purpose of this argument to admit that it does exist, and we all desire that some steps should be taken to meet it.
With regard to the causes of the deficiency I am tempted to say just one word. It is, one would think, rather remarkable that at this particular period in our history there should he a shortage of agricultural cottages. One would almost have expected to find a surplus of them. Many causes during the last half-century have led to a diminished demand for rural housing. I think I am right in saying that in the latter part of the 19th century no less than 4,000,000 of acres passed from tillage to permanent pasture. That obviously was calculated to lead to a diminution in the amount of labour employed in the country. Then there is the disappearance of those rural industries of which the noble Lord, Lord Sheffield, spoke a moment ago. There was a time when almost every county of England had some special little industry of its own. All these—and I regret it greatly—have passed away, absorbed by factories, by the commercialisation of our industrial system. In the same way the village tradesman, who, of course, wanted a house to live in, has been pretty well wiped out of existence by the large stores and centres of trade which have grown up all over the country. On the other hand, however, other causes have contributed to create a 328 shortage. In the first place, there has been all over the country on a very large scale the demolition of bad and insanitary houses. People have taken advantage of the diminished demand for houses in order to get rid of the worst premises on their estates. A good cottage falls vacant and the occupant of a bad cottage is transferred to the good one and the bad cottage is pulled down. That has been happening, and even the Housing Acts have had a similar effect, for they require the demolition of insanitary premises, but they contain no provision obliging any one to replace them. Therefore it has come to pass that in many districts people have been content so long as a sufficient number of houses remained to satisfy the bare requirements of the neighbourhood.
Other causes have operated in the same direction. In many parts of England the villages have been invaded by an influx of non-agrarian population. Where you have, as you have now in many country towns, a factory of some kind or another the people who work in the factory like, and very naturally like, living in a village a few miles out of the town, and the bicycle, which plays a very important part in the rural life of England, has greatly encouraged that tendency. Then there is another cause—I mean the general acceptance of the policy of creating small holdings. The great difficulty of providing a small holding is to find a house to put the man in. It is sometimes not very easy to find the man, and it is not always very easy to find the land. But when you have found both the man and the land you can do nothing unless you have got a house to put the man in. The noble Lord who spoke for the Government repeated what I believe to be a complete fallacy and one which I have very often heard from the Bench opposite, to the effect that the main difficulty, or one of the main difficulties, is due to the impossibility of getting sites upon which to build houses in the country. My conviction is that in the greater part of the country there is no difficulty whatever in obtaining sites upon perfectly reasonable terms. The difficulty is in providing the necessary equipment in the way of buildings, and there is no doubt that that is what has made the progress of the county councils in providing small holdings so slow. I believe it is the case that in the four years previous to the 329 year 1911 only just over 1,000 small holdings had been provided with living accommodation by the county councils. That is a very disappointing result, and I believe it to be mainly due to the difficulty of supplying housing accommodation.
We start, then, with the assumption—which I believe to be a very sound one—that this shortage of accommodation exists. How are we going to meet it at the present time? The Housing Acts hold the field. I do not wish to speak disparagingly of the Housing Acts. The progress made under them in this direction has certainly been very slow, but I think it quite fair to urge that it was bound to be slow at first, and I think the head of the Local Government Board is perfectly justified in calling attention to the fact that during the last two years a great deal more has been done for rural housing and that there is every prospect of the increase proceeding at a greater pace as time goes on. But we should all of us like to go faster. Now I desire to press upon your Lordships the fact that my noble friend in his Bill does not for a moment propose to oust the local authorities or to supersede the Rousing Acts. What he proposes, on the contrary, is to supplement the existing machinery of the Housing Acts by the machinery of this Bill. For this purpose my noble friend desires, if possible, to bring the landowners of this country into line, into voluntary cooperation—I think that is the proper way to put it—with the local authorities. My noble friend hopes to induce the landowners to accept in regard to this matter a responsibility which is not theirs at the present time. I will explain to the House what I mean. What are the responsibilities of the landowner? He is, of course, as Lord Sheffield truly said a moment ago, bound to supply his farms with adequate cottage accommodation. That goes without saying. He is obliged to house his own estate staff suitably. He will be obliged by somebody else if he does not do it himself to close insanitary premises if there are any upon his property. He is also obliged, if required to do so, to provide sites if the local authority wants them. But I do not think you can go beyond that and compel him to invest his money in building cottage property if he does not want to do so; nor can you compel him to build upon his estate houses which he himself regards, and regards with perfectly good reason, as 330 superfluous so far as his purpose is concerned. That is, I think, a not unfair description of the responsibilities of the landowner. Now my noble friend comes in and says in these circumstances, "I am going to try and induce the landowner to assume a responsibility which does not strictly belong to him," and I venture to think that my noble friend is in principle perfectly right and that if he can secure the co-operation of the landowner it will be a good thing for the public. I agree with my noble friend when he says that in nine cases out of ten the landowner will build more cheaply than the local authority. I agree with him when he says that the landowner will manage the cottage more cheaply, and, I think, better than the local authority; and there is this also to he said, that the landowner will probably be content in a great many cases to submit to a loss on the transaction which the local authority would have no right to assume or submit to. My noble friend in his Bill attaches very strict conditions to the arrangement. He evidently anticipated that his proposals would be met by the charge which was made just now—of course in very civil and Parliamentary language—that this Bill is nothing better than a huge landlords' "job." The House should not lose sight of the fact that under this arrangement the bargain remains, if you consider it as a financial bargain, a very bad one indeed for the landowner. The introduction of the credit of the State makes it, it is true, rather less intolerable, but the bargain remains financially a very bad one indeed.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Very well. My noble friend protects the taxpayer, who gets the security of the rates. He also protects the ratepayer, who is secured by the hypothecation of property to the extent of double the advance. I cannot help thinking that if we could secure the co-operation of the landowners of this country upon such terms as these we should do a very good stroke of business. But I do not think the landowner would do a good stroke of business. The landowner is expected under this Bill to provide a free site, to be content with a wholly inadequate rent, and to make himself responsible for the upkeep of the premises and for any bad debts which may arise out of the transaction.
331 I now come for a moment to the criticisms of the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite. My noble friend Lord Salisbury has got to very close quarters with the subject and has faced all the minutiœ of it with great courage and closeness. The noble Lord who spoke for the Government painted his picture with a broad brush, and with very little regard for the details of the case. He told us airily that he saw no difficulty in dealing with this question, and he outlined a new state of things to the advent of which he apparently looks forward and under which there would be a general raising of rents all over the country—very agreeable to the landlords, no doubt.
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
I said that as a rule farms were under-rented; but what I looked forward to was a rise in wages.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I am coming to wages in a moment. I will not misrepresent the noble Lord, but he most distinctly told us that a great part of the land of the country was under-rented and that there was room for a considerable increase in that direction. He also hopes to see a general spread of intensive farming. He cited the case of the Lothians. I do not know whether he expects to see the farmers of the Wiltshire Downs pursuing a system of agriculture akin to that which obtains in the Lothians of Scotland. Then there is to be a central authority the duties of which are somewhat hazily described, but which apparently is to build village colonies all over the country. And, finally, the noble Lord came to the question of wages. I agree with him in thinking that in many parts of England agricultural wages are too low. We should all of us like to see them rise, and I think it extremely likely that they will rise. I agree, too, with what was said by the noble Lord on the Back Bench (Lord Sheffield) when he observed, in effect, that the cheapest labour is not always the best. It is very often much better to pay high wages and get good labour than to pay low wages and get indifferent labour. But what the noble 332 Lord indicated, and I was glad to gather from him that he was speaking rather for himself than for the Government of which he is a member—
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
I think there is some misconception. What I said was that although I have no right to commit the Government and although the views I expressed were my own views, they must not be taken to represent my own opinions only. I expressly said that they did not only represent my own views.
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
My position is a little anomalous, as the noble Marquess will understand. I am not a member of the Government.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Very well, I will take it in that way. The noble Lord at any rate has let us see that in his mind, and probably in the minds of some members of His Majesty's Government, the solution of all these difficulties is to be found in a statutory minimum wage. I am perfectly ready to discuss that question; it is, perhaps, rather a large One to begin discussing in a debate of this kind; but I must say that I entirely agree with my noble friend in believing that we should not contemplate too lightheartedly the adoption of so drastic a remedy as that which he suggests. A statutory minimum wage is a pretty serious thing when you are dealing with any industry. We have had some slight experience of it. I am not sure that it has been entirely satisfactory, but of this I am sure—that if we ought to be cautious in adopting the principle of a statutory minimum wage for ordinary industries, we ought to be doubly and trebly cautious how we adopt it in the case of agricultural labour; and for obvious reasons. The agricultural industry is not organised in the way that other industries are organised. But, besides that, the agricultural industry surely differs from other industries in this respect, that you have an infinite variety of conditions under which agricultural labour is performed, and you have a not less infinite variety in the efficiency of the labour employed. To set up an authority entrusted with the duty of fixing flat rates of wages for agricultural labourers in this or in that part of the country 333 would be a very serious enterprise, and I hope we shall none of us commit ourselves to that solution without the gravest reflection. Does it not come to this, that, whether we are contemplating intensive cultivation, or the central authority favoured by the noble Lord opposite, or the introduction of a system of minimum wage, all these things cannot be brought into operation all at once? They are great changes which could be effected only gradually, and in the meantime what are you doing in order to deal with this problem of rural housing? Are you going really to make no effort to deal with the question until you have solved all these portentous difficulties which the noble Lord sketched to us in the course of his speech?
One word with regard to the noble Lord's criticism upon the finance of my noble friend's Bill. Some of those criticisms seemed to me to be, if I may be pardoned for saying so, somewhat minute and trivial. I am sure my noble friend, if we are ever allowed to discuss this Bill in Committee, would be perfectly ready to consider the suggestions made by the noble Lord. I certainly am not going to dispute the importance of basing a proposal of this kind upon sound finance. Unless the finance is sound the whole measure becomes unsound. But when you come to the criticism that we are creating a new lending authority because my noble friend has brought in the Treasury instead of the Public Works Loans Commissioners, or when you come to the criticism that the percentage is not quite right—
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I think some one suggested just now that there might be power taken in the Bill to vary the arrangements according to the facility with which money was obtainable. But I quite admit that all these are points that do require to be very carefully considered.
There is only one other matter upon which I would like to say a word—I refer to my noble friend's suggestion that the whole question of by-laws requires reconsideration. I feel very strongly that my noble friend is right upon that point. I think the noble Lord, Lord Sheffield, was under 334 the impression that my noble friend was going to brush the by-laws on one side, and be content with a kind of go-as-you-please arrangement. I do not for a moment suggest anything of that kind.
No; I only thought we must be careful not to lead people to think they would get rid of substantial sanitary requirements.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Of course, the elementary sanitary requirements will always have to be attended to. What my noble friend has in his mind are the somewhat pedantic regulations which are sometimes insisted upon, and with regard to which some measure of elasticity might surely be asked for. These, my Lords, are really all the observations I desire to make. My noble friend has told the House that he and he alone was responsible for this Bill. He is not the only pioneer, for I have seen other Bills, and so no doubt has my noble friend, dealing with the same subject; and my noble friend will not for a moment contend that his Bill covers the whole ground, because, as we know quite well, there is the housing question which concerns not only rural housing but housing of all kinds, and that is not touched by the Bill. But I do hope, that your Lordships will consider my noble friend's proposal at any rate with an open mind. I, for one, shall do so with the single desire to find, without any reference to Party considerations, a solution of a problem which is unquestionably urgent and which will become more urgent with every year that passes.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (EARL BEAUCHAMP)
My Lords, the occasions upon which I am so nearly in agreement with the noble Marquess in charge of this Bill are unfortunately so rare that I am very unwilling to accentuate the differences which undoubtedly exist between us even upon this Bill which he has introduced to your Lordships this afternoon. Perhaps, however, he will allow me to say that during this discussion faint echoes have reached me of debates that we had in this House in the year 1909 upon the Housing and Town Planning Act of His Majesty's Government; and allow me also to say that it might have been possible, had we been more in accord at that time, that something further might 335 have been done by this time than has been done in the direction of housing in the rural districts. What has been done I shall be able to tell your Lordships in a few moments. I remember on that occasion that one noble Lord opposite who took the chief part in the discussion, Lord Saltoun, told us that the housing problem was not so acute in the country districts as it was in the towns, and I think at that time that was a very general feeling amongst noble Lords opposite. But now I think we are all agreed as to the urgency and the importance of this question, and are anxious that something should be done.
There is, I think, this criticism, which I hope the noble Marquess will not think an unfair one, to make of his Bill. He sets up housing machinery which consists of the county councils acting in conjunction with private landowners. The Act of His Majesty's Government which is now in force, the Act of 1909, set up a different machinery—a machinery which consisted of the Local Government Board and the rural district councils. These latter authorities are now really beginning to move, as I hope shortly to show the noble Marquess. But is there not a very serious risk that their activities may cease and that they will take refuge behind the county councils and let the landowners do the work instead of doing it themselves? Is it not inconsistent with the best work of administration that you should have rival systems set up trying to do the same work at the same time? I hope your Lordships will be satisfied with seeing how far and how well the present system is working. The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition spoke especially of the work which was being done with regard to insanitary houses. A great deal has been done in that direction since the Act of 1909. Up to March 31 of last year, under Section 15 of the Act of 1909, notices were served in no less than 23,667 cases, out of which some 14,000 houses have been made fit for habitation and some 7,000 are still under notice.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
Yes, of the action of rural district councils. Within a space of only two years before March 31, 1912, 336 in respect of closing orders, 9,162 houses are known to have been made fit, and proceedings are still pending with regard to some hundreds of other houses. In all, at least 32,000 unfit houses in rural districts alone have been made fit under the Act of 1909. Taking that small point by itself, that is not an unsatisfactory result, I think, of the Act. Let me take the case of the rural authorities which have borrowed under the Housing Acts. Altogether thirty-five rural authorities have borrowed under the Housing Acts, but out of that number twenty-seven have borrowed for the first time since the Act of 1909. Certain houses have been demolished, but their number is comparatively trifling as compared with the other ones. Here are some more figures with a regard to rural district councils which I think will interest the noble Marquess. Up to the end of 1905 action had been taken in the case of only five rural districts under Part III of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, to provide forty-four houses in five parishes, the total loans sanctioned being only £10,300. But since 1905, including the applications under consideration, action has been taken to provide 879 houses in forty-three rural districts involving loans amounting to £176,000, and with regard to those houses action has been taken with respect to 690 houses out of the total of 879 since the passing of the Act to which I have just referred.
Then there is also a Return which has been supplied to me by the President of the Local Government Board, and which has been brought up to date. It is a Memorandum which was issued last year by the Local Government Board having reference to what had already been done under the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909. I do not wish to trouble your Lordships with a great many figures, but I should just like to quote some of them briefly. The rural authorities who in 1910 borrowed were only two in number. In 1911 there were eleven of them, but in 1912 there were twenty-three. The houses to be erected in 1911 were only eighty-six, but in 1912 they numbered 354, and the loans have grown from £520 in 1910 to £66,926 at the present time. There are loans of £57,000 now under consideration, and if sanction is given that sum will be available at once for further building.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
This is a Return issued by the Local Government Board last year, CD. 6494, but specially brought up to date for the purposes of this debate this afternoon, and it shows so far as it goes a very satisfactory increase. There is this to be said, that very often we make the mistake of going to architects who are too eminent and too famous to engage in a matter of this kind. We go to architects who are well known because they build cathedrals. That is not what you want, and it is a mistake that people very often fall into. We need to specialise in cottage building, and it is more necessary to go to firms or to individuals who have specialised in this particular direction than to men who are better known as famous architects, but who, without that intimate knowledge of the many ways in which money can be saved, cannot help a willing landowner to build a cheap cottage.
Great progress on this subject has been made, and I understand that in the City of York excellent cottages have been erected lately at even a lower figure than that mentioned by the noble Marquess who moved the Second Reading of this Bill. But really what we have before us is the question of how to deal with the Bill which we are discussing this evening. We are all agreed as to the probable result of this discussion. The noble Marquess himself would be one of the last to wish that either House of Parliament should undertake more work during the present session, and we do not expect, even if his Bill were to pass Second Reading that it would pass through this House during this session and certainly not in another place. Therefore any action we may take with regard to it must be more or less of an academic character. If the noble Marquess presses his Bill His Majesty's Government will not oppose it. At the same time they must not be taken as endorsing it throughout or as promising that they will incorporate this particular method of dealing with the subject in any legislation which they themselves may undertake in the future. It must be regarded as a pious aspiration for the future rather than as a serious undertaking to proceed on these lines when the time comes to deal further with the matter.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I do not intend to trouble your Lordships with any long remarks in reply. My first duty, and it is a very pleasant one, is to thank your Lordships for the very kindly way in which you have received the Bill. I realise that it has been the subject of considerable criticism, but still the criticism has been of a friendly kind, and many of the criticisms were well founded. I do not think it would be becoming in me to trouble your Lordships with any further remarks. I would only say, with regard to what has fallen from the noble Earl, that I congratulate him and the Government upon what they have been able to do under the Housing Act for the improvement of bad cottages, and whether they have been demolished altogether or improved and made good their policy has been wholly justified. Where it has been a question of pulling down an old cottage and putting a new one in its place the result has been of a mixed character. A good deal of harm has been done in several places by the pulling down of bad cottages which deserve pulling down without replacing them by good ones and leaving the late wretched inhabitants no place to live in at all. Therefore I think that some proposal on the lines of my Bill is very essential. You cannot enter upon the process of pulling down bad cottages unless you are fully prepared to put other ones in their place. I should like to say, in further reference to that point, that although it is certainly satisfactory that twenty-three district councils have entered upon the process of building new accommodation, yet twenty-three is not a very large number out of 625, and of those twenty-three, so far as the Return which has been presented to the noble Earl is concerned, only four, I think I am right in saying, have been permitted to involve the ratepayers in any loss by their proceedings. In other words, in only four cases have rents been really low for the new cottages provided under the Housing Act. I am not contesting that that may not be quite right, but so long as the proportion remains as small as that it does not meet the difficulty in the poor parts of England where the population cannot pay, as matters stand at present, an economic rent. There was one question which Lord Sheffield put to me, which I will try and answer, as to whether rates were included in what the landlord had to pay. That was my 339 intention. That makes the bargain all the worse for the landlord, and it was one of the reasons why I said that whatever charge you might bring against my proposal you could not bring the charge that the landlord made a profit out of public money.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
No; all I made compulsory on the landlord was that he should not charge more than 5 per cent. on the outlay. Then Lord Ashby St. Ledgers called attention to the fact that he thought my procedure rather cumberous because the money of the taxpayer was lent to the county council. The reason of that is obvious. The central authority cannot know the local conditions; they cannot know whether the security offered is sufficient, and whether the cottages are required. On the other hand, the county council can know all those things and do know them. Therefore the obvious policy is to leave the county council alone in contact with the landowner who has the spending of the money—leave them to see that the bargain is a good one from the point of view of the State, and let the Treasury only be in contact with the county council, in which case they will incur no risk whatever, because, as my noble friend behind me said, they will have the security of the rates of the county for whatever loan they make.
I do not think that at this hour of the evening and in the present condition of the House I need go further into the subject. 340 But with regard to the actual procedure in connection with this Bill, I understand that the noble Earl does not make any difficulty on the part of the Government in reading the Bill a second time. He is perfectly right in saying that I can see no prospect of carrying it any further during the present session; but if the Government do not resist it I should propose to allow the Question to be put that the Bill be read a second time.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a.