§ EARL GREY had the following Question on the Paper—
§ To ask His Majesty's Government—(1) How many (a) urban, and (b) rural authorities have put forward definite building schemes in terms of the Local Government Board circular of March 21, 1918, and how many houses are provided for by these schemes; (2) whether local authorities are experiencing any difficulty in acquiring the necessary land; and (3) what assistance His Majesty's Government propose to offer to facilitate the erection of houses by other than local authorities.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, had I realised when I placed on the Paper the Question which stands in my name that your Lordships would be called upon to consider a Housing Bill which, I understand, received a Second Reading in another place on Monday, perhaps I should not have asked to occupy your time today; but the extraordinary news which we have listened to today and recently as regards the war brings this question of housing into the very forefront of the matters which we must consider without any delay.
Another point which I think makes this Question not inopportune is the statement made by the President of the Local Government Board on the Second Reading of the Housing Bill last Monday in the House of Commons. The President of the Local Government Board no doubt found himself in a very difficult position, in that he had to try to reconcile two irreconcilable elements. I should like to call your attention to two passages in his remarks which I quote from Hansard. In trying to free his Department from the imputation that they had committed this country to an enormous expenditure of money
without having received the sanction of Parliament, he used the following words—
I said that the Treasury had promised, so far as they could promise, to give to the county councils the terms which they had entered into with other local authorities. That could not possibly take place unless it was embodied in a Bill, and when it came to be embodied in a Bill then this House would have the fullest opportunity of considering whether or not that should be sanctioned.
It is quite true that this remark applied to a Bill which is not before your Lordships, but the circular which was issued by the Local Government Board to local authorities on March 21 is in exactly the same position. It promised, as far as the Treasury could promise, to assist them with the disbursement of certain moneys, and until that has been confirmed by a financial Resolution in another place the promise is not a legally binding one.
Having tried to safeguard the position of his Department and to refute the charge of having committed the Government without authority, the President of the Local Government Board went on to deprecate the criticism of the general housing policy of the Government. He said—
During the last month or two I have been busy going about the country endeavouring to persuade local authorities that the offer of the Government is final.
Now, it is quite impossible that both those statements should be true. If I may say so, I think it is a bureaucratic attempt to run with the hare and course with the hounds. As a matter of fact, the situation surely is that whereas there is no actual legal liability incurred, yet the country is pledged up to the hilt to the expenditure of a certain indefinite sum of money which has been variously estimated at anything from £100,000,000 to £200,000,000. I submit to your Lordships that it is one thing for a Department to pledge the country to such an expenditure in time of war for the purposes of war; it is an entirely different matter to pledge the country to that expenditure after the war is finished even if it is to remedy a defect which has largely arisen out of the circumstances of the war. Bureaucracy during the war is no doubt necessary, although it is hardly tolerable. I thought we were all pledged to knock it on the head as soon as we possibly could after the war. Therefore I submit that we ought to insist upon this position being regularised without any delay.
§ Mr. Hayes Fisher then went on to draw a rather pathetic picture of the disappoint 942 ment he felt that he had been given no opportunity of outlining his ideas; and he said that he had been very much surprised that he had not been called upon, as he was longing for an opportunity to put his ideas before the House, but nobody asked him to. And I hope that the Question which the noble Lord will shortly answer will give him the opportunity of affording us some of that information which Mr. Hayes Fisher was anxious to impart.
§ The Government policy falls into two sections, the first dealing with the building which it is proposed to do through the medium of local authorities, and the second through the medium of other agencies. If I may deal with the first section, that through local authorities, I think in the first place that the President of the Local Government Board is to be congratulated upon having come to a decision as to what his policy was going to be as long ago as last March; I do not know whether there were any other Departments in which preparations for the reconstruction period were so far advanced at that time. But it will be within the recollection of noble Lords that the Ministry of Reconstruction appointed a Panel, which was presided over by a member of your Lordships' House, to consider this problem of housing after the war, and the Panel presented to Dr. Addison a Report—I speak subject to correction, but I think it was as long ago as last January, or at all events in February—which Report no doubt was in the hands of the President of the Local Government Board some time before he issued the circular of March 21. It is rather noticeable that, if you compare the Report of the Panel as laid on the Table of this House in August with the circular, you find that there is no resemblance whatever between the policy of the Local Government Board as embodied in the circular of March, and the recommendations of the Panel. And, thirdly, we find that a Scottish Committee of Inquiry, which corresponded with the English Panel, in considering this subject came to conclusions which, on broad lines, were almost identical, though differing considerably in detail. It does not follow from this that the Local Government Board were wrong in the policy that they adopted, but it does constitute a very strong prima facie ground for submitting their case to the closest scrutiny; and it is impossible, when one does that, to come to any other conclusion than that the policy which was adopted in March was 943 very largely, if not entirely, influenced by the Treasury. Mr. Hayes Fisher has admitted so much himself, and we know, on his own authority, that neither his first proposals nor even his second proposals were accepted by the Treasury. Therefore when we find, in a matter of this overwhelming importance—the future housing of our people—that the policy of the Treasury has overridden the policy which commended itself on purely housing grounds to those who are best qualified to judge, we may surely not unfairly claim that the Treasury should justify the grounds upon which it came to that decision.
§ I have no doubt that the Treasury will make out a very strong case that it was quite impossible to contemplate, at the conclusion of the war, an expenditure running into such large figures as £100,000,000 to £200,000,000. But that is not really quite a fair comparison. What I should like the noble Lord to tell us is, what is the difference in cost between the policy proposed to the Treasury in the first instance by the President of the Local Government Board and the policy which he adopted finally at their instance. It is probable that the difference in cash to be found by the Treasury would not amount to more than, perhaps, £20,000,000 or £30,000,000. On the other hand, when you come to consider what the object is and what the effect of good housing may be, I suggest to your Lordships that this saving might be the most extravagant action which His Majesty's Government has ever taken. There is the difference between content and discontent, as has been answered in other countries lately in terms of life and death. And there is no branch of our social life, there is no question connected with health, no pain, no misery, nothing of that nature which is not aggravated by bad housing or alleviated to some extent by improved living conditions. Therefore I claim that in this paramount question of housing we cannot quietly accept the ruling of the Treasury as being the final word in this matter, even though it has received the endorsement of the War Cabinet.
§ I pass from the manner in which proposals have been put forward to the country to that of the measure of the success they have achieved. My first two questions really are connected with that first branch of the subject—building 944 done through the local authorities. The extent to which criticism has come from competent housing authorities all over the country, and the uniformity with which that criticism was directed to certain points, makes it very important that we should examine it very carefully. The critics have generally centred on three points. First, that the Government proposals put a premium on delay, because the loss incurred in building is expected to become smaller as the period of building gets further removed from the war; and as a proportion of the loss has to be paid by the local authority, therefore the longer they put off building, the smaller is their loss likely to be. Secondly, there is no incentive to economy; and, thirdly there is no safeguard whatever that the houses which everybody considers essential will be built within the specified time.
§ Mr. Hayes Fisher gave certain figures in another place on Monday which, I have no doubt, were intended to still this criticism. He said that 1806 local authorities had been asked certain questions; 1,676 of them had sent replies; 1,379 of them had admitted that houses were required within their area—your Lordships will note the declining scale—1,036 intimated their willingness to build, and finally many (that is the word used by Mr. Hayes Fisher) were actually making plans and had selected architects and sites. I think those figures really conceal far more than they reveal to us, and unless we are placed in a position of very much fuller information we cannot possibly judge whether the criticisms which have been directed against this policy are justified or whether they are not. Even at the best I would ask your Lordships to observe that only 1,036 out of 1,806 local authorities—less than two-thirds—have declared themselves as willing to build. As for the others who had already embarked upon making plans and selecting architects and getting sites, perhaps I may remind your Lordships that those are acts which cannot be undertaken without incurring expenditure. Therefore if the local authorities are being encouraged to incur expenditure it is very difficult to see how the President of the Local Government Board can maintain that Parliament will be free to repudiate the policy when the Bill is introduced to them for discussion.
§ I now come to the other section, which deals with building through channels other 945 than local authorities. We had hoped to have heard many months ago what policy the President of the Local Government Board proposed. It is eight months since he made up his mind on the larger question. We had his own testimony to the fact that 95 per cent. of this building was done in this country before the war by these other channels, and I think that it was not unreasonable to hope that he would have made up his mind as to how he was prepared to recommend Parliament to assist them, sooner than this date. Yet we find, although he had the opportunity of stating them, that he informed the House in another place that his further proposals would come forward in another and much larger measure, and that that measure would not necessarily be produced this session, or even, possibly, to this Parliament. Therefore we are to sit down and wait for an indefinite period before we are told what measures are proposed.
In connection with this, there is a rather curious passage in Mr. Hayes Fisher's remarks. He said that he would welcome debate, and added—
I should welcome it because then I should be able to say what the local authorities are willing to do, what public utility societies may be expected to do after the recent terms which have been offered to them by the Government, what groups of employers (large colliery owners, factory owners, landowners and people of that kind), may be expected to do, and to a certain extent what schemes are on foot to help private enterprise to come once more upon the scene.
This gives one the impression that the Local Government Board must foster a very large number of schemes on a series of different lines by private enterprise; but the sentence that particularly interested me was the one in which the President said he wished to see what utility societies "might be expected to do after the recent terms which have been offered to them by the Government." What are those terms? When was the offer made? Where was it made, and to whom? I confess that I have seen no public report of any general offer of the assistance that the Government propose to give. It is true that in the course of speeches in the country Mr. Hayes Fisher has made certain statements of what help he thinks ought to be given; but if there is to be a general measure of assistance given, the right place to make such an offer, if you wish to ensure its reaching everybody it should reach, is in Parliament, and in as much as
it entails expenditure of public money there is surely no other place where it should be made, so that, in the first instance, we may ascertain that Parliament is ready to endorse it.
§ As regards the schemes of private enterprise, I cannot help suspecting that the President of the Local Government Board has in mind a deputation which he received from the Federation of British Industries in September. This federation is a body which someday no doubt may wield a very great power in this country. It is true that they appointed a committee to go into ideal housing conditions, and that that committee adopted a memorandum. This memorandum contemplates a federation of all the big producers of building materials, and big employers of labour, and all trade unions. It contemplates an organisation which it will take years to create, and which in no circumstance could be expected to produce or facilitate schemes during the next twelve months or two years. After that deputation I happened to see the secretary of the committee which drew up that report, and I asked him how many firms he knew of who were preparing to build and were ready to build on the lines of the memorandum which his federation presented to Mr. Hayes Fisher, and his answer was that they had not approached any firm; in fact, he did not know of any firms. Their idea was merely for the future, to try and outline an organisation which might facilitate building in the future. But he did not know any firms at present, and as a matter of fact I was able to tell him of several firms in the north who would be prepared perhaps, to consider building on these lines. If, however, the President of the Local Government Board is relying upon the memorandum drawn up by the Federation of British Industries, I am afraid that he is liable to incur very great disappointment.
§ I will say one more word, and it is regarding the extreme urgency of publishing at once, without the slightest delay and in the most public manner, the way in which the Government are prepared to help public utility societies and other private enterprises. I have been for a good many years a director of the Co-Partner Tenants' Society which built Hampstead Garden Suburb, and which has built suburbs in areas within the jurisdiction of other of our large cities, such as Liverpool and Manchester, and which also 947 for a long time was in negotiation with Newcastle. Our experience has been, without any exception, that even when negotiations are proceeding in the most friendly way, and when the corporations are anxious to arrive at an agreement with a public utility society, the negotiations are inevitably protracted. Many months are lost if you are to attempt a big building scheme. You have to come to an agreement with so many different committees, all of which sit probably once a month. Very likely the education committee to the local authority will refuse to consider the scheme until the road committee has approved of it, and probably the education committee sits a day before the road committee. There are endless delays. Our experience is that probably a whole year can pass in bringing a big building scheme up to the point where you are ready actually to start building. If you do start building before you are ready, trusting to luck to settle details after you have begun, you get delays which increase the cost enormously, and friction springs up almost at once.
§ What we say has, I think, been proved—that the social life and development on the properties of public utility societies produces much more contentment, much more freedom, a much higher sense of civic duty than can be found on estates which are muncipally developed; and I think that the Government ought to make a great push to do all they can without further delay to assist the formation of such companies.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE NATIONAL SERVICE DEPARTMENT (VISCOUNT PEEL)
My Lords, the noble Earl, in his Notice on the Paper, has asked that a representative of His Majesty's Government should answer certain specific questions, and I will do my best to reply to those. But the speech of the noble Earl travelled rather wide from the particular subject on which he asked for a reply. His speech was very largely a general criticism of the housing policy of the Government. I am not going to complain of it, but if he would put down some Motion on the Paper corresponding rather more closely with the speech which he delivers I think it would give the representative of the Government some opportunity of fully considering the matter and giving him a full answer.
948 The noble Earl made certain criticisms and paid certain compliments to the President of the Local Government Board. I am very glad that he recognised all the work that that great official and his Office have already done in connection with housing. I think the criticisms that he made on my right hon. friend can be easily dealt with. I understand that his complaint was that the President had gone about the country saying that certain terms which had been offered to the local authorities were final terms, and he attacked him on the ground that this was a hard bureaucratic attitude, entirely forgetful of the influence or the power that Parliament itself might exercise upon those terms. I confess I see no weight in such a criticism. It is obvious that any demand for money must be presented in due time to Parliament. But what would anybody think of a Minister who had not made up his mind what money he was going to ask from Parliament? It is his duty, of course, to decide what those terms are to be, to present them to Parliament, and to stand by them; and on the very point on which the noble Earl was speaking—namely, the necessity of preparing their schemes as quickly as possible—it is highly important that the local authorities should know at once what financial aid, whether by loan or assistance, they are going to receive from His Majesty's Government. I consider that, on the contrary, the right hon. gentleman would have contributed very much to the delay of which the noble Earl complains if he had not at an early stage given to the local authorities an indication of the financial assistance that they were going to receive.
Part of the noble Earl's speech also consisted in a criticism of the Treasury, and he suggested—I confess I do not know on what ground, and he did not give any evidence at all—that the Treasury had been cutting down certain schemes which had been proposed by the President. I think I must leave the Treasury to answer the charges made against them. Anyhow, the noble Earl produced no evidence of his charge, and therefore it is extremely difficult to answer.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Two other points, I think, the noble Earl made. One is that no incentive to economy was given to the 949 local authorities. I confess that I am rather astounded to hear a charge of that kind. The President of the Local Government Board is, of course, attacked on both sides. There is one school of thought, very strongly represented in the House of Commons, which suggests that all the loss is to fall upon the State in connection with this building of houses. The other, to which apparently my noble friend belongs, says the contrary—that to do this, as he very wisely observes, would be to give no incentive to the local authorities to build cheaply. But the proposals of the right hon, gentlemen are that one quarter of the loss should be borne by the local authority, with the very aim and purpose of assuring that these houses are to be built more cheaply. I confess, in face of this, that I do not really understand what is the gravamen of the criticism of the noble Earl.
As regards the question of delay, I think he suggested that no time-limit was fixed within which the houses are to be built. That really was a strange demand. Is the noble Earl aware of what is going on? Is he unaware of the tremendous shortage of material and the uncertainty as to the supply of material, of where we are to get wood, of where we are to get cement, and all the other materials for building? Is he aware that during the last year or two all the local authorities have had a great number of duties cast upon them with very much depleted staffs? And yet he asks that at that time, or a few months ago, a strict time-limit should be put on the local authority within which these houses should be built.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I say that a wholly impossible and impracticable suggestion is made on that point. I think the noble Earl suggested that there is no compulsion that these houses should be built. I do not know what degree of coercion he wishes to apply to local authorities. I do not know whether he thinks that local authorities are going to refuse to build these houses, or whether he suggested such a lack of patriotism and lack of activity on the part of the local authorities that such coercion is necessary. I think it is very unfortunate, as regards the scheme, which must be taken in hand by these local authorities, if the suggestion is made at this early stage that some extra coercion should be put upon them. And though I confess 950 I am dealing with a matter quite outside the Question put by the noble Earl, I must remind him that at this very moment there is a Bill already introduced and read a second time in another place, by which, if these rural districts and other authorities do not show sufficient activity in the building of houses—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It is a very limited number of houses, which they build for their own employees only.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I do not think the noble Marquess knows the contents of the Bill. The provision is that if the local authorities do not do their duty in providing a sufficient number of houses, others will be called in to supply the deficiency. The noble Marquess is referring to another portion of the Bill. So that if coercion is necessary there is a degree of coercion. Moreover, the whole of the country has been divided into twelve districts, which are supplied with inspectors, who are constantly going round helping the towns and advising the local authorities in every way they can. These local authorities know the conditions of their own districts and the immense importance of supplying houses therein; they have the strong incentive of knowing that business cannot be carried out in their own districts unless houses are built, and I think it is very unfortunate if the noble Earl suggests that they will not do their duty.
The noble Earl asked me certain specific questions, and I will try to reply to them in detail. In his first Question he asks how many (a) urban, and (b) rural authorities have put forward definite building schemes in terms of the Local Government Board circular of March 21, 1918, and how many houses are provided for by these schemes. The number of local authorities who have now before the Local Government Board definite building schemes intended to comply with the terms of the circular of March 18 last is 82 (8,726 houses) made up as follows: Boroughs, 26 (4,325 houses); urban districts, 36 (3,301 houses); rural districts, 22 (1,100 houses). There are also 162 other schems of local authorities before the Board, most of which will no doubt ultimately be revised so as to comply with the terms of the circular; and if this is done a further number of 8,726 houses will be added to the number that I have already quoted. In addition to these schemes it is well known to the Local 951 Government Board that there are something like 350 local authorities who are acquiring land for the purpose of these schemes, and that those local authorities are rapidly proceeding with the preparation of these schemes. Those authorities include such large places as Southampton, Brighton, Stockport, Portsmouth, Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford, Bristol, Rochdale, Swansea, and Plymouth. If you examine the replies to the set of questions which was sent out with the Board's letter of July 28, 1917, and further information generally received, these replies indicate a willingness to provide something like 240,000 houses, which, giving five persons to a house, would provide, as the noble Earl will see, for a large portion of the population.
There has been and must necessarily be, as the noble Earl has pointed out, a certain delay. One cause of delay has been that the local authorities have been encouraged in certain quarters to suppose that they were going to get better terms from the Government than the Government has decided to give them, and naturally as business men they were rather reluctant to begin on those terms if they thought they could get better. Therefore it is important to remember that it has been announced that the terms put forward by the Government are final terms; and that, if known, will cause these schemes to come forward in greater numbers than before. I have already alluded to the difficulties of the local authorities owing to the multifarious war duties they have had to carry out with their already sadly depleted staffs.
Another matter which has caused certain delay and hesitation has been the waiting for the Reports of the Committees. One Committee—the Tudor-Walters Committee—has just reported on the provision of dwellings for the working classes and on methods of economy and dispatch in the provision of such dwellings. Further there has been the waiting for the Report of the Carmichael Committee set up by the Ministry of Reconstruction on the supply of building materials. So that to some extent and in some places the local authorities have treated the matter, in addition to one of uncertainty owing to the war, as one which might perhaps wait; and I should like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the Local Government Board, of impressing on the local authorities the neces- 952 sity for dealing urgently with the matter now. I would add that the number of housing inspectors has been recently doubled, and their activities are know all over the country. So much for first Question of the noble Earl.
In his second Question the noble Earl asks whether local authorities are experiencing any difficulty in acquiring the necessary land. The information that the Board has does not go to show that the authorities are experiencing any difficulty in the acquisition of land. The Board understand that five local authorities have found a difficulty in obtaining land, either on account of refusals to sell or of the hesitation of landowners to grant an option for a long period. Six others, without making any special complaint, have made inquiries as to the existing powers for the compulsory acquisition of land. In addition, 11 authorities have complained of the excessive price demanded for land; and attention has been drawn to their powers under Section 2 of the First Schedule to the Housing, Town Planning, etc., Act of 1909. The noble Earl is probably aware that under that section the local authorities have a very easy and rapid procedure by which they can obtain possession of land, but they are not all aware of the powers they possess under the existing law.
I think it would interest the House if I were to give some account of the replies of no less than 1,645 local authorities to the question included in the form of return enclosed with the Board's Circular Letter of July 28, 1917, the question being, "Could sites for the erection of the additional houses required, suitable both as regards condition and cost, be acquired by the local authority by agreement without material delay?" I think this bears very closely on the question asked by the noble Earl. Some 1,164 local authorities—71 per cent.—replied to this question in the affirmative—that is to say, that they had no difficulty; 339–21 per cent.—did not answer the question; in 75 cases—4 per cent.—the answer was doubtful; while only 67 local authorities—a little under 4 per cent.—have returned a direct negative. So, generally speaking, I think it may be said that the local authorities in an overwhelming majority of cases have not found any difficulty in acquiring land.
I come now to the third Question—What assistance His Majesty's Government propose to offer to facilitate the erection of 953 houses by other than local authorities. The noble Earl dwelt, I thought, with much force on the great advantage there would be in having schemes dealt with by these public utility societies, with one of which he has, as he says, been long connected. This question has been to a large extent, and is still, under the consideration of a committee known as the Hobhouse Committee; and I ought to give the House the terms of its reference. They were, "To consider and advise on the practicability of assisting any bodies or persons (other than local authorities) to build dwellings for the working-classes immediately after the war, whether by means of loans, grants, and other subsidies, and whether through the agency of State or Municipal banks, or otherwise."
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I have not the exact date, but I understand that its Report—which is the important thing—will not be long delayed. Meantime, while the Committee was sitting the President of the Local Government Board received a number of deputations from various societies, and so on, and he thought it better to make a statement as to the terms which the Government were prepared to give to these public utility societies. I am sorry if it is the case, as the noble Earl rather suggested, that sufficient publicity has not been given to these proposals, but they have been published freely in the Press, and it is regrettable that they have not come more generally to his notice. I think it will be valuable, therefore, if I state—although they have been published, and stated by the President—what those terms are. They are based, of course, on the terms which were promised to the local authorities, and if I state them first and show the difference between those terms and the terms offered to the public utility societies I think it will make the matter rather clearer.
The offer to the local authorities was that the Government would advance the whole of the loans where the local authority cannot borrow upon as good terms in the open market, and the period of repayment would vary from twenty to thirty years. The Government would pay 75 per cent., or three-quarters, of the estimated deficit as agreed in the revenue account for 954 the transition period of seven years; then at the end of seven years there is a valuation by an independent valuer, and the difference between that valuation and the amount of the loan properly outstanding is determined, and the Government shoulders three-quarters of the loss. Those are the terms offered to the local authorities. The same terms are offered to the public utility societies with two alterations. One is that instead of the varying terms granted to the local authorities for land, buildings, streets, and so on, there should be an equated period for the loan of fifty years, and that the Government instead of advancing the whole of the money should advance 75 per cent or three-quarters of it, leaving the remaining 25 per cent. to be raised by shares or otherwise. Those, then, are the terms offered by the Government to the public utility societies.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I said that all the other terms were exactly the same as those which were offered to the local authorities. The loss is borne in the same proportion in the case of public utility societies as in the case of local authorities. The only remaining point is as regards assistance to other forms of private enterprise which, as the noble Marquess knows, is a far more difficult thing to settle. As regards that, I am sorry to say that all I am able to announce is this, that, the Government is awaiting the Report of the Hobhouse Committee which is dealing with these matters, and which, as I have said, I hope will shortly report. I trust, therefore, that the noble Earl will consider that I have given a full answer to the three questions which he has put.
§ LORD BURNHAM
My Lords, my noble friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of National Service has given a discreet answer to the Questions of the noble Earl, but it is the official answer, and it seems to me that at this moment we are living in such a rarified and artificial air of officialism that we think that when a scheme is drawn up and approved by the Local Government Board the houses are built and the people housed. I happen to be chairman of the Building Trade Committee for the metropolitan police area, and I can assure my noble friend that both masters and men are united at this 955 moment in cordial detestation of Government Departments, and have even passed on part of that feeling to the local authorities. They ask to be relieved to a great extent of that bureaucratic interference and control which they say is playing havoc with their trade. What has been the history of the building trade—and you cannot carry out this scheme without the building trade. It is not only a matter of Committees and Reports. The state of the building trade is a very serious one, and nothing can be done unless you can secure sufficient labour and an adequate supply of raw material. At the present moment the building trade is denuded of raw material. I am told by those competent to speak that the only supply which exists in this country to any extent is the supply of slates. All the rest of the stocks have been practically exhausted.
I will, if I may trouble your Lordships, tell you something about the history of the building trade during this war. The building trade received no protection or consideration at the commencement of the war. It is the greatest outflow trade for the Services of any trade in the country. It lost 50 per cent. of its man-power at once, and it was considered that in the building trade it was not necessary even to retain the pivotal men, as they are called—the overseers, and those upon whom the labour of the great mass of workmen depends. They have had none of the pivotal men restored. Therefore at the present moment the building trade is utterly incapable of carrying out any contracts on a big scale, either for the Government or for the local authorities. I do not attribute what has happened to the Ministry of National Service, nor do I attribute fault for it to the military authorities, because the building trade itself at the beginning of the war did not consider that there would be much scope for its development.
Then came the sudden demand of the Government itself, which raised up edifices here, there, and everywhere for the accommodation of the myriads of clerks and officers who now serve in the new Departments of State. Therefore they were called upon for labour, and had to obtain it by calling in men who had been looked upon as incapable in the old days and many of whom even were in receipt of Poor Law relief, and by obtaining assistance from contingents of foreigners and in other 956 ways; but unless the pivotal men in the building trade are released at the earliest possible moment you may have all the plans drawn up which you like by local authorities and the Government, but nothing can be done. Therefore all the talk of drawing up schemes in the gay fashion to which we are accustomed in both Houses, without reference to the industrial conditions which prevail, is the mere spinning of cobwebs in the air.
Then as to the raw materials. The priority of trades and industries is not yet settled; that is to say, the priority in which they are to receive consideration in regard to transport from countries overseas. Unless the building trade is supplied with enough to make up the enormous gaps in its foundations, of course nothing can be done at all. In regard to labour, it is calculated that the building trade will require not only to make good the outflow during the war, but to have 30 per cent. beyond its pre-war man-power in order to carry out on any scale at all the schemes which are now being drawn up with so lavish a hand by local authorities. Unfortunately, too, it is not likely that you are going to have the best schemes, because to my knowledge architects' offices also have been drawn upon for the greater part of their man power. It looks as if we were going to have a system of official waste on a most profligate scale. I do not know whether that is so, but my strong feeling is that while committee after committee is appointed in order to arrange these things on a symmetrical plan, very little regard is had to the expert opinion of the trade. The Building Trade Industrial Council has been made up on the Whitley plan, and I would far sooner have the opinion of that council than all the reports which have been presented by these reconstruction committees.
My own view accords with that of my noble friend Lord Grey in regard to the means by which the re-housing and better housing of the people should be effected. I do not believe that municipal or local authorities employing direct labour will be able to carry this matter through with any measure of success. Nearly all the examples point that way. In the long run you must trust to the building trade, and to private enterprise, which, before the war, supplied 90 per cent. of the houses of the country, rather than to these fine-drawn and elaborate schemes of the official mind.
957 Therefore I appeal to my noble friend—I will not say to drop his official manner, because it becomes him so well—but when he gets away from the House, to apply himself to the actual facts of the case and to put himself or the Department for which he speaks in touch with the National Industrial Council of the trade, and to listen to masters and men who want to forward the great work of putting the living conditions of the people in a better state, but who think that they can do it far more effectively themselves than merely by the cast-iron Orders either of the authorities at Whitehall or even of the local governing bodies throughout the country. If I can impress upon your Lordships the need of coming to grips with reality in the matter and not just trusting only to reports and official answers, then I shall be quite satisfied.
I venture to say so because I have, I suppose, got something of the trade sense of the builders, through coming in contact, as I do, with both sides so often in connection with the governing body of Greater London. These Committees are Committees of equal panels of employers and employees. They are able to speak for both masters and men, capitalists and workmen, and they are of one opinion, of one mind only, that the more the matter is left to them, and the less you depend on inspectors and controllers, the better it will be for the country at large.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Peel expressed some surprise that the Question of Lord Grey had led him into a criticism of the policy of His Majesty's Government. One would think that Lord Peel had only taken part in the debates in your Lordships' House since yesterday, for I do not think I remember in the whole course of my experience any Question put by independent members of your Lordships' House with reference to the policy of the Government which did not lead them into a certain amount of criticism there upon. But, though I think the criticism of Earl Grey was fully justified, and though perhaps I shall have a word or two of criticism myself to offer, I desire to say in the first instance that I associate myelf with all that my noble friend behind me said as to the services which have been conferred upon the country by Mr. Fisher.
I have no desire to blame Mr. Fisher unduly for any misfortune which may have 958 happened to the housing policy of the Government. Mr. Fisher is in a very difficult position. He is not—very few people are now—in the Cabinet. And he is, of course, tightly controlled—he must be—by the Treasury and by Treasury considerations. He has a very difficult task to perform. But although I do not criticise Mr. Fisher, yet I must say I have a few words of criticism to make on the housing policy of the Government. Lord Peel, as he always does, made a very good speech, and, if I may say so respectfully, I thought he did very well, considering the amount of information he had on the subject. Of course, he is not fully informed on the subject.
One of the great difficulties of the debates in your Lordships' House is that the Ministers who answer for the several Departments have, as often as not, no knowledge of those Departments themselves. There are a few exceptions. One or two Ministers actually belong to the Offices for which they reply, but the ordinary rule is that a Minister replies who has nothing to do with the Office which he is commending and defending. Consequently, of course, Lord Peel will realise that it is not anything personal to him if I criticise some of the remarks which he made. The real thing is that we are in earnest on this side of your Lordships' House—those of us who have spoken. We are profoundly anxious about this housing policy of the country. It is a long tradition of the Unionist Party to promote the proper housing of the people. Act after Act has been passed by Unionist Ministers and Unionist majorities and therefore there is nothing surprising if we, having inherited the traditions of our forefathers, should be very anxious for the practical working out of a housing scheme.
What my noble friend criticised was the fact that these proposals are inchoate. They are incomplete. And why are they incomplete? Because the Government have not produced the Bill. That is what they should have done. Where is their Bill? My noble friend opposite talked about the "little Bill" introduced by Mr. Fisher in another place. Mr. Fisher himself said that it was a little Bill and only a small part of the subject; that it dealt, with county council employees' houses, and with powers to be given to county councils in default of action by the minor local authorities. That is the whole 959 Bill. He did not pretend that it was the policy of the Government. Why should we not have the policy of the Government in the form of a Bill? What was there to prevent it? The Government have had months to consider it—I was going to say years. My noble friend Lord Burnham, very properly, spoke in a sort of despairing way about the Committees which have been set up. I am not surprised at his feeling. Committee after Committee has been appointed. I had the honour to preside over one, and there were several others. We all reported, but nothing has come of their work in the way of a Bill. What is the good of a policy except in the form of a Bill? No one really knows what is actually proposed until they see it in black and white. Generalisations are no use. How can you expect the local authorities to act except upon black and white proposals in the form of a Bill? They do not know what the proposals are.
My noble friend said, How shocking to talk about a time limit! Why is it shocking to talk about a time limit? Are people of this country to remain without houses for an unlimited time? Is it really to be the policy of the Government that they are not going to see that within a limited period the working classes of this country, who have been deprived of houses because of the war, shall have that deficiency set right? Of course, they must have a time limit. I do not say that the provision must be entirely inelastic. Probably the Government in their Bill, if they ever produce it, will have a provision under which, for cause shown, in specific circumstances which can be defended the time limit should be extended. But that primarily there should be some time limit within which these houses would be erected scents to me to be elementary.
Then as to money, my noble friend said that the local authorities were entitled to know what money would be provided. Certainly, but it should have been in the form of a Bill—that is to say, it should have been in a form which, having been sanctioned by Parliament, left no doubt either of its finality or of its certainty. Then the local authorities would have known upon what they ought to go. Now, my Lords, this is an emergency policy. I do not want to go too far into the subject this afternoon, but let me say at once that in nothing I am going to say am I going to touch upon what may be called the per- 960 manent housing policy of this country; it is a very big subject, a very interesting and very important subject. But that is not what we have to do with for the moment; we have to do with the emergency policy—that is to say, with the deficiency, which may be 300,000, but may be 500,000 houses, which have to be made good as soon as possible after the war, and which have become requisite because, and only because, of the operation of the war. That is the problem, the emergency problem.
Now, what have the Government ascertained as to the actual figures? What have they been able to do? They have made an effort, and they have had a certain amount of correspondence, but nothing in the way of definite promises from the local authority seems to have come of it. I think it was in 1917 that local authorities—I speak without having verified it—expressed their willingness, generally speaking, to erect something like 240,000 houses, a very large number. What are the definite policies, in the shape of plans, which, in consequence of the correspondence, the Government have obtained from the local authorities? Some 16,000 houses—that appears to be the total; 240,000 was the vague intention expressed by the local authorities, but when you come to definite plans as the result of the Local Government Board action, 16,000 is all. I cannot compliment my noble friend opposite upon the efficiency of the Department which, for the moment, he represents.
My Lords, the Government must go to work in a much more businesslike manner; they must ascertain the deficiency of houses—they ought to have done it long ago—and if they cannot ascertain the extent of the deficiency of houses in detail by voluntary methods, they must do it by compulsory methods. Parliament is entitled to know, Parliament is entitled to have from the local authorities this report as to what the deficiency of houses is. My noble friend representing the Local Government Board—I do not suppose he was speaking his own opinion—shrinks from compulsion. He seemed to think it was a shocking thing that there should be compulsion applied to local authorities in the matter of the provision of these emergency houses. Our law simply reeks with compulsion, upon this and many other subjects, in respect to the relation between the Central Government and the local authorities.
961 Take, for example, the Small Holdings Act. That Act in many respects affords a very useful analogy with the housing problem, very munch less important probably, but covering many of the principles which present themselves to us in respect of the housing problem. What was the plan adopted The plan adopted was to call upon the local authority to provide small holdings, but to have in reserve a compulsory power if they did not provide them. And that is the method you will have to pursue in respect of this emergency housing problem. It is no good trying to avoid it; you had much better say, from the start, "we are going to ask you to provide these houses, but if you don't, very well, we shall have to apply some coercive method." It is not because we like compulsion. We, especially those of the political Party with whom I have always had the honour of acting, have always avoided compulsion as far as possible. But when you are presented with a problem like this—that in consequence of the war there is a deficiency of 300,000 houses, at the very least, in England and Wales—then it is absurd to shrink from compulsion. Of course, you must apply compulsion if the houses cannot be provided by voluntary negotiation.
It is always a very difficult thing, this relation between the Central Government and the local authorities. You want to stimulate local effort, but, on the other hand, you want to maintain central standards; they must come up to a certain point, both as to numbers and as to equity. Those are the essential things. In stimulating local effort you do not want that local effort to be grudging; you want the people to help you with their hearts as well as with their hands, as it were; and you want to produce an appeal to local patriotism, to local statemanship, if I may use, such a phrase. Where, among local authorities, are you to find local statesmen
And this brings me, any Lords, to one of the main differences between the policy of the Committee over which I had the honour to preside, and the policy of the Local Government Board. We were of opinion—and I confess I am still of opinion—that you will not find the requisite amount of local statesmanship in the minor local authorities. Of course, there may be exceptions; you may find, here and there, a very progressive minor local authority who will provide all the necessary local 962 patriotism and all the necessary local statesmen. But I believe this, so far as the country districts are concerned, to be the exception. If you mean to have local statesmanship you must not go to the district council, but to the county council. The county council has been, if I may venture to offer my own opinion, in our local administration a most conspicuous success. No doubt county councils have made mistakes; county councillors, like every one else, are human. On the whole, however, the administration of county councils has been a great success. In a large number of counties the administration has been very energetic and entirely uncorrupt, and that is saying two very important things. And I would urge the Government, even at this stage of the proceedings, to reconsider their determination to trust so much to the minor authorities. I do not want for a moment, of course, to run down the minor local authorities; many of them contain members of great public spirit. But on the whole they are not sufficiently important, and not sufficiently able to free themselves from influences which are much better avoided, to make them absolutely reliable in a question of this kind. These matters should go to the county councils.
I turn to the other part of my noble friend's speech, the question of the encouragement of private enterprise. My noble friend Lord Peel reminded us of what we no doubt ought to have been aware of before—the terms which have been offered by the Government to these public utility societies in order to induce them to take their share in building. I am not going to waste your Lordships' time in arguing the case of the public utility societies, because I do not believe there are two opinions on the subject. Everybody is convinced that if these public utility societies would take a large share in this reconstruction it would be a very good thing. I do not pretend that I think they can take, relatively, a very large share; the problem is so huge that it really is beyond the capacity of the public utility society to deal with, except to a minor extent. Still, to whatever extent they can be used these public utility societies should be encouraged. What is the encouragement which my noble friend and the Government have offered to them? They are not to be treated quite so well as even the local authorities. Whereas the local authority is able to borrow the whole of the capital from the State, the 963 public utility society is only to borrow three-quarters of the capital. I do not dwell upon that point so much as upon another. Under the proposal of the Government three-quarters of the excess loss—and I will explain in a moment what I mean by excess loss—is to be charged to the taxpayer and one-quarter to the ratepayer. I mean by the excess loss the extra cost which building involves above the normal cost—the extra war cost.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am not called upon to define it, because it is of the essence of the Government's own proposals. The way that the Government calculate it is the way that my Committee calculated it. They take whatever is the value at a period after the war—I think seven years—and the difference between that value and the value which it costs immediately after the war is struck out from the main cost. I call the main cost the normal cost. That difference is written off as a bad debt. Three-quarters of it is charged against the taxpayer and one-quarter against the ratepayer. That I believe to be the Government proposal. My noble friend says we propose to apply exactly the same plan to the public utility societies. He may think that this is very fair. The weakness of his proposal is that it will be entirely ineffective. How can you expect the public utility society to bear 25 per cent. of this dead loss? Why should they bear it? After all, public utility societies confer a great benefit upon the country. They come forward and devote a great deal of time and effort and energy to help in the solution of the problem, but they are a commercial organisation. They are out to make a dividend. Of course, they will not bear 25 per cent. of this excess as a dead loss. The thing is absolutely futile and will not work. It may be that it has a plausible appearance of fairness, but it is wholly and totally ineffective, and the Government may spare their breath in making the offer. I do not believe that it will be availed of, though it may be in certain special cases where a large firm employing a great number of workmen are anxious to house them and are willing to take advantage of these terms, writing off the loss as part of the cost of their work. In a case of that kind, no doubt 964 the proposal may be availed of, but not in the case of a society like the Garden City Society, which comes forward to the community and says, "We are prepared to give a great deal of thought and energy and effort to the erection of garden cities, but we are not going to incur a dead loss." Of course, such societies cannot avail themselves of this offer.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Does the noble Marquess suggest that the Government, in the case of public utility societies, should bear the whole loss, whereas in the case of local authorities they should only bear three-quarters of the loss? If so, what would be the incentive to economy in building?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
What I was saying was that the Government plan was useless. It is no good asking me what I should propose.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
What my noble friend is thinking of is this. He probably did me the honour of reading the Report which I signed. In that case we proposed that the whole of the excess loss should be borne by the central authority, but both in the case of the local authority and in that of the public utility society our plan would have been effective. Of course, it may be open to other criticism. I am far from claiming that our proposals were infallible. The point of my observation to the Government now is that their offer to the public utility societies is futile. If they intend the public utility societies to take part in this building reconstruction they must find another plan. That is the point of the observations which I ventured to address to the House.
I should like to say one word more. After all, you must treat even this Government as to some extent homogenous. The Departments must to some extent be considered to be responsible one for the other, and when we observe the action of the Wages Board I think that we are driven 965 to doubt whether there is any real intention to encourage private enterprise. In regard to rural housing, I should like to draw Your Lordships' attention especially to one point. As your Lordships are well aware, the common case—the more common case than any other—is that the houses of agricultural labourers are let rent free as part of their emolument. It is not so everywhere, but it is so in a very large number of cases. Wherever this practice prevails the Central Wages Board, I believe, have ruled that these rent-free houses shall be counted as the equivalent of 3s. a week. It works in this way. Let us say that the wage of the agricultural labourer is fixed, as it is in my own county, at 32s. a week. If the labourer has a cottage rent free, then he is given 29s. cash, and the balance is held to be made up by his rent-free cottage. That is a most disastrous decision, because a good cottage is worth a great deal more than 3s. a week; indeed, at present prices it is probably worth about 7s. a week. Observe the difference. If a labourer has not a rent-free cottage, then he receives the full 32s. in cash, but out of that, if the rent of his cottage is an economic rent, he has to pay 7s. a week for it. But let us put it at something less than 7s. a week in order to be moderate. Let us say 6s. a week rent for his cottage. He would then have 26s. in his pocket after he had paid his rent and his friend over the way, who had a rent-free cottage, would have 29s. in his pocket, so that one labourer has 26s. a week and the other 29s. a week. The situation is intolerable. That cannot go on. The labourers will never endure it. Think of the result.
What is going to happen to these Government cottages which we are now engaged in debating? Suppose they are let at their proper value, at 6s. or 7s. Then the labourers who live in them will consider themselves abominably treated because their cash wage is 3s. or 4s. less than that of their friends who happen to live in rent-free cottages on some landowner's estate. That, as I say, is an impossible situation, and I am afraid what will happen is that the local authorities will be driven to charge, not the proper rent, but the 3s. rent, and the balance will be a loss which will have to be paid by the ratepayers. I need not tell your Lordships what an awful vista opens out, because, once you get a system under which the ratepayers are going to part pay the rent, there is no 966 reason why that should stop. Of course there will be an agitation that the payment shall increase until finally the cottages will be held rent-free, the rent being provided by the ratepayers.
I need not say that this would have most disastrous consequences, and among other disastrous consequences it would put an end for ever to any hope of help from private enterprise. No private enterprise would henceforth be able to compete. Here you have the State building first-rate cottages, cottages that you cannot better, and letting them for 3s.—far below their value—or for nothing at all. And every landowner would know that henceforward it was impossible for him to build upon anything like economic conditions. Yet it is a commonplace of the whole of this housing problem that until economic rent can be restored the cottage problem cannot be solved.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am obliged to my noble friends in all parts of the House for that encouragement, for I was afraid I was being too long. But I do desire to impress upon the Government that if this decision of the Wages Boards stands then they may say good-bye to any assistance from ordinary private enterprise. They are destroying it. I said just now that if you take the Government as a whole you must interpret their sincerity by the action of their Departments. Perhaps that was unfair, because I am not quite sure that the Wages Board is a Government Department, and the Government may not be responsible for its action. I do not know how that is.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Then if they are responsible I must ask my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal to use all the influence of his great position to secure an alteration in that. I would far rather that the nominal wage should be much higher if we could restore the proper economic balance of the wages and the rent. Unless 967 that is done, all our efforts to encourage private enterprise in the building of cottage property in the country are doomed to disappointment.
I trust that the Government will think of all these points. I hope that they will take immediate steps to ascertain, if necessary by compulsion, what is the actual deficiency of housing in each part of England and Wales. I hope they will bring in their Bill, their main Bill, not next session, or next Parliament, but now. It must be ready. They must have determined on their policy. I hope that they will reconsider their attitude towards the public utility societies and devise, if possible, some machinery under which they can take their share in providing houses. Lastly, I hope that they will use their authority with the Wages Board in order to get a reversal of what I consider the disastrous decision at which they have arrived. I do not deny that the housing problem is a very difficult one. It is a very difficult one. The Government have a great difficulty in front of them, but they also have a great opportunity, and they ought to value that opportunity and rise equal to it in every respect.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, I wish, before the Lord Privy Seal rises, to put one concrete point to him in illustration of what my noble friend has just said. Certain points have come under my notice, and, without troubling your Lordships with a reiteration of what my noble friend has said, I will merely give one or two instances of where the Wages Board have failed. We have in Our county, in Surrey, thickly-populated districts like Croydon, and they have actually fixed the rent for cottages in the rural parts of Surrey, which are as remote from Croydon as any part of Yorkshire, at the same rate as they have fixed them just outside the town of Croydon. Actually this occurred outside the town of Croydon. Just before the Wages Board fixed these rents a carter was engaged at so much a week and his rent, the house being rent-free. The carter now gets a large increase on his wages, he pays 3s. a week, and he has sub-let one room of the house for 10s. a week.
I would give another illustration of what occurred in my neighbourhood in Ireland. In Ireland the local authorities have very large powers for building labourers' cottages, and in order not to entrench on 968 the rather exiguous wages before the war they used to let them at 1s. a week, although the cost of the ratepayers was 5s. a week. In one cottage to my knowledge, now that munition wages have come and a great increase in other wages besides, there are living at this moment a father and three sons, who between them are drawing in wages between £800 and £1,000 a year, and who are living at 1s. a week in a labourer's cottage which has cost the ratepayers 5s. a week.
Just one other point which I want to put, and which I am sure the Lord Privy Seal will appreciate. You cannot deal with this question satisfactorily, grave as it is, if you put it entirely upon local authorities. And remember that the position of private owners who want to improve their cottages has been rendered very difficult by the war. For five years practically they have not been able to obtain labour or material to do what they wish. They have arrears to make up, and besides, I freely admit, the type of cottage is much below what modern requirements demand. I ask the noble Earl to remember that this difficulty will be enormously increased if the Government has a great scheme going on before the supply of materials has risen to its old level in the next three years, and that the difficulty in which the private employer is will be enormously increased if you now handicap him by telling him that he must not charge an economic rent Those are points which I know have only to be put to the commonsense of the Government. This question should no longer be dealt with piecemeal, but the whole effect of the legislation which the Government anticipate carrying should be studied.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, this debate has very much enlarged its area, the Question on the Paper having been almost entirely of a statistical nature. I do not complain of that. But I would suggest to my noble friend Lord Salisbury that it would be well if he would put down on the Paper in a week or a fortnight's time a considered Motion which will raise all these points, which will give notive to all the Departments concerned—and there are many—so that we may have a comprehensive debate from all the inter-acting points of view which this housing problem raises. My noble friend and relative Lord Midleton just now told us a story about an opulent family in county Cork the father 969 of which is a munitioner, and about an astute carter in some remote parish of Surrey who is sub-letting his house. That arises out of the Wages Board question. It is no use trying to discuss it, however, unless one has the Board of Agriculture representatives warned and prepared to deal with the point. The Local Government Board clearly cannot expect to be taken to task over the sub-letting of a cottage, or over the misuse of the Labourers Housing Acts in Ireland.
Then I suggest that. Lord Salisbury should raise the very important question of policy to which he referred to-night—namely, the reconsideration of the duties of minor authorities. He wants to entrust much more to county councils than is proposed under the small Bill which is now being considered by Parliament. That is a very large question. I myself am not at all sure that the county council is necessarily the best authority to take the initiative in housing; and I am far from certain that the very large county council with which I am well acquainted would be at all anxious to be entrusted with such a duty. Whenever anybody is in trouble he says "Put it on to the county council." The work of these councils is becoming overwhelming, and if heedlessly Parliament, adds very much to their labours you will find that the excellent work of these great councils will be seriously imperilled.
I cannot help feeling that Lord Salisbury in particular—who is always looked upon by those on this Bench whom he is criticising as a very optimistic person—somewhat underrates the difficulties of the situation. Nobody this evening, for instance, has referred to the financial difficulty. But the Treasury, in order to carry out what most people would consider a moderate housing scheme, may have to find anything from £100,000,000 to £200,000,000, according to the value which you put upon the new cottage. That is not negligible. And the Treasury would be culpable if it assented off-hand to any commitment so gigantic without the most careful investigation. It is not merely the provision of the money. You cannot treat a grant for housing in isolation; it has to be considered in relation to the whole question of the National Debt, the whole question of refunding, the whole question of repayment of War Loans, the whole question of incidence and interest; and it is far from a simple problem, necessary as rehousing is, 970 that we are placing before the authorities of the Treasury.
There is another difficulty to which I think insufficient attention is paid. Lord Burnham pointed out to us that the pivotal men of the building trade had been withdrawn. That, of course, is so. But the difficulty is not that the pivotal men are absent; a far greater difficulty is that the pivotal materials of building are absent. If all is well we can get back every pivotal man we want in three months, perhaps less; but the raw material is a very much more formidable proposition.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
Yes, the noble Lord certainty said that. But in relation to that I wish to point out why I think Lord Salisbury unjustly blamed local authorities for not having prepared plans. The Local Government Board has by its inquiries asecrtained that something between 200,000 and 300,000 cottages can be expected, but that plans for, I think, only 18,000 or 20,000 have been prepared. Well, local authorities say to themselves, "Are we quite sure that we know in what particular part of our area the housing is to be required? Until we know that we do not prepare plans. When are we going to get our raw materials? As soon as we see our raw materials—shall I say within six months—we will have our plans ready in good time." Local authorities therefore, must not be hastily blamed because they have not everything cut, and dried. No self-respecting architect cares to sit down and draw the plans of a house today which he knows will not be erected for two, three or four years. He knows, that the conditions change, that the arts change, and that the sciences change. He says, "I will have my plans ready for the time when I know that building is an effective operation in view."
This, again, is the reason why one must not be too stringent about limits. Lord Grey scolded us because the Local Government Board had not been rigid enough about imposing time limits. It is no good imposing time limits unless you mean to enforce them; and it is no good pretending that you can enforce them unless you can guarantee to the local authorities the materials with which they are to carry out their schemes. It is no good saying that because the slates, and the drain pipes, 971 and so on, are not there, therefore you will extend and extend and extend; you will do more harm than good by that sort of thing. In the difficult circumstances which exist we should act unwisely by bringing undue coercion to bear on local authorities. Lord Burnham has a profound disgust of local authorities. He says, "Leave them out and allow the building trade—"
§ LORD BURNHAM
I want them to consult with the building trade, particularly with the Industrial Council.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I have no doubt that all agencies will be enlisted to meet this great difficulty. But it is not merely public housing schemes which are defective. I would remind your Lordships that the shortage of artisan houses did not begin with the war; we carried perhaps two and a-half years shortage into the war when the war began; so that it is very large and very serious. But for every house that the public authority has to build I would engage to say that private individuals have to build one and to repair three; so that the public housing side of the question is by no means the chief aspect of the problem. And of course, as my noble friend reminds me, it is not merely dwelling houses; it is factories, it is the extension of farms, it is the repair of industrial buildings, all over the country, which have fallen into arrears. The work therefore, is enormous.
How are we best to accomplish our need? I suggest to your Lordships that so far as the domestic housing is concerned, with which we are dealing entirely this afternoon, it will be unwise to trust too much to coercion. The Local Government Board occupies a delicate and a responsible position in relation to local authorities over the country. It would be fatal if at the outset the Local Government Board—which, notwithstanding criticism, enjoys the confidence of local authorities—were to approach these authorities with a threat, or with coercion, rather than approach them with a very much more potent influence—that is, trying to co-operate, to assist, to encourage, rather than to 972 threaten with punishments if there be default. There will be default. We recognise that default is inevitable. But on the whole I am sure that the public authorities are most anxious to do their duty. But some patience has to be exercised. Until the problem of raw materials can be faced we shall pass through a difficulty of very great stress in the whole of the building trade; but with patience, if the organisation be maintained, if during the interval strenuous efforts are made so that when building materials are available they shall be promptly, and effectually used. I am convinced that at the subsequent stage, which may or may not be long—personally I do not think it will be long, as already indicated to-night—we shall be able to make very marked progress and make good the arrears that everybody I am sure sincerely deplores.