§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the Bill to which I ask your Lordships today to give a Second Reading is a somewhat bulky one. It consists of a great number of clauses, and it is a Bill which undoubtedly requires considerable explanation. I cannot hope that I shall succeed in making a very interesting speech in explaining provisions which are very technical in their nature, but I shall content myself with the hope that I may be so fortunate as to provide in the pages of Hansard a guide—which will not be altogether, I trust, inaccurate—for those of your Lordships who are good enough to assist us by contributing to the discussions upon the Bill in its later stages.
1073 The Bill is divided into four Parts. Part I deals with the housing of the working classes; Part II deals with town planning; Part III contains some amendments to the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act of 1899; and Part IV is formal. I am sorry to say that the Bill contains a great deal of legislation by reference. This method of legislation is notoriously inconvenient. I have attempted, not without the expenditure of considerable time and labour, to make myself the master of the legislation to which reference is made, and I hope that I may be so fortunate as to be of assistance to your Lordships in this connection in the later stages of the Bill.
Had time allowed, it would obviously have been much more convenient in embarking upon new legislation to have consolidated the previous Housing Acts. This is a Bill of all others in which, for reasons with which your Lordships are thoroughly familiar, time is of the essence of the contract. Time, in fact, is on the whole at this moment the most important factor in the question of housing. When the Bill has become law it is hoped that it may be found possible to undertake the consolidation of all the Housing Acts, and I offer my own help for what it is worth in a task which it is earnestly hoped it may be possible to undertake at no distant date.
It is convenient that I should say a word at the outset in explanation—though I think little explanation is necessary—of the general nature of the problem which confronts the country at this moment. The housing needs of the community are universally admitted to be very great and serious at this time. Various estimates have been formed as to the number of houses required in order to make up the deficiency which I think no one disputes. It is not improbable that many of these estimates rather under-state than exaggerate the extent of the problem; and there is none of your Lordships who is not aware that since the beginning of the war the shortage of houses has been aggravated by the almost total cessation of building. The problem of overcrowding was a serious one even before the war. According to the Census of 1911 the number of persons at that time living more than two to a room was over 3,000,000. It also appears from the same Census that the number of uninhabited houses in that year was less in proportion to the number of inhabited houses than it had been at any of the four 1074 preceding Censuses, and that the proportion of houses being built was very much less than it had been at any previous Census.
Therefore as a starting point it is to be noted that three years before the war, in 1911, the circumstances to be observed already disclosed a very grave warning of the crisis which was in front of the country, and such a warning was presented without any regard, of course, to the aggravation of it which four years of paralysis has occasioned. There is no precise information available as to the number of inhabited houses in the country which are in their present condition unfit for human habitation, or which, if not quite unfit, are seriously defective. It so happened, however, that in the early part of the year 1914 the Local Government Board were endeavouring to procure information upon these points, and returns were furnished by 1,698 out of a total of 1,809 local authorities showing that more than 300,000 houses had been found on inspection to be seriously defective from the paint of view either of danger to health or structural defects; and, in addition, over 70,000 had been found to be in a state so dangerous to health as to be entirely unlit for human habitation.
One does not want to exaggerate in dealing with these figures. It is therefore right to point out that according to the returns many of the houses were repaired and improved as the result of the inspection of which I have just attempted to describe the results. But it is quite certain—and many of your Lordships know about this—that during the last five years the conditions in many districts have been going steadily from bad to worse, and if a fresh inspection were to be made to-day it cannot be doubted that an enormous number of houses would be revealed as wholly unfit for human occupation.
Further evidence throwing considerable light upon this point was made available before Mr. Justice Sankey's Commission—evidence which dealt, of course, almost entirely with the houses of coal miners, but there is some considerable risk that the case of the coal miners may be treated as a wholly exceptional case. It may be—it probably is—one of the worst cases, but it would be a very partial view to assume that coal miners are the only class of the industrial population which require more decent and more adequate housing.
1075 Even more recent light was made available as the result of the Industrial Conference which was called by the Government last February. This Conference laid special stress on the question of better housing, both as an end in itself, and, though I confess in this connection I think it has less importance, as a means of dealing with unemployment. A provisional Joint Committee which was appointed by the Conference, and which gave the most praiseworthy attention to this problem, stated on page 9 of their Report—In order to meet the present crisis the Committee recommend that the Government should without delay proceed with a comprehensive programme in order to meet the acknowledged shortage of houses. By this means—I make it plain that I attach in this connection, and ask your Lordships to attach, little importance to this argument, because it is of a different character—By this means employment would be secured primarily in the building and furnishing trades, and indirectly in almost all other trades. The Committee urge that when local authorities fail to utilise their powers to provide suitable housing accommodation, the Local Government Board should take the necessary steps for the erection of suitable houses in the area of the authority, and, under special powers if necessary, compel local authorities to act in accordance with the housing needs of the district.There was appended to this Report a Trade Union Memorandum, and I think it worth while, if your Lordships will be patient with me, to call attention to the terms of the Memorandum because many of the signatories were men who, as might be expected, were of great experience and some also were persons of known moderation in these matters. The following paragraphs were contained in the Memorandum, which was most striking—
I shall have a few words to say as to the economic implications of the scheme so put forward, but it is proper that your Lordships should be reminded that it was conveyed in the terms which I have read.
- "(a) The housing of the people must be regarded as a national responsibility, and the national resources must be utilised to their fullest extent in order to secure the immediate provision of enough houses to ensure a great general improvement in housing conditions for the whole people.
- "(b) If local authorities fail, under the conditions now offered by the State, to provide houses, the State must itself at once assume the responsibility of providing the houses which are necessary or of compelling the local authorities to do so.
- "(c) Far more regard must be given than in the past both to the conditions which are necessary for the maintenance of public health and to convenience and comfort of the working class household, and especially of the housewife.
- "(d) Provision must be made for the fullest participation of working class representatives,
1076 including women, directly chosen by the workers, in seeing that this scheme is carried properly and completely into effect."
No one, I think, will deny that to overtake a deficiency at once so grave and so generally admitted exceptional measures would in any event have been necessary, but the difficulties have, of course, been enormously increased by the great advance in the cost of building at the present time. Before the war—and this comparison may illustrate in a very clear way the unfortunate contrast between the pre-war conditions of this problem and the conditions to-day—before the war, it is calculated, private enterprise supplied at least 95 per cent. of the total amount of building. It is unfortunately true—no one knows it better than members of this Ifouse—that at the present time private enterprise cannot really be relied upon to furnish any contribution to the critical situation at the moment.
I hope that I have said enough to show that the present problem is evidently an emergency problem, and, being an emergency problem and one of the gravest possible character, it calls for, and can only be corrected by, emergency remedies; and I shall ask the indulgence of your Lordships, when economic difficulties and objections crowd, as they will and ought to crowd, over your Lordships' minds, to reflect, in extenuation of some of these difficulties and some of these objections, that we are face to face at this moment with a crisis greater, so far as I know, than any crisis of this kind which has confronted any one within living memory, and that a remedy of some kind must be found, and must be found now. I am sure I shall not ask too much of your Lordships if at least I ask this—that the observations and criticisms which the Government not only expect but welcome from those who are so experienced on this topic, will be criticisms and suggestions which will be framed while bearing in mind the observations to which I have attempted to call attention,
It is appropriate that I should now say something of the solution which the Government, after deep consideration, recommended to Parliament, and which 1077 has been adopted—not, I confess, without anxiety, but with a singular degree of unanimity—in another place. It must be—and it is hoped by the Government that, on the whole and having regard to the difficulties of the question, it has been—approached in a broad, comprehensive and generous spirit, accompanied by a severe pruning of every form of dilatory proceeding, but, in the background, by what was indispensable if the scheme was to be successful at all—drastic powers of compulsion that can be used, should they unfortunately and contrary to the hopes of the Government become necessary. The policy which the Government have adopted—I think I may say after an examination of every single alternative suggestion which has been made—has been to call upon the local authorities of the country to play the principal part in the provision of houses for the working classes during the emergency period, the State at the same time sharing the greater portion of the financial burden which will be involved.
It would, I think, be convenient that at this stage I should attempt to define and explain the burdens which are imposed by the Bill upon local authorities. Your Lordships have the Bill in your hands. Clause 1 for the first time imposes upon local authorities the definite duty to survey the housing needs of their area and to submit to the Local Government Board adequate schemes for meeting those needs. Some exception has been taken—it has been my business to examine various exceptions which have been brought forward—to the short time allowed to local authorities to prepare and submit their schemes, and it has also been complained in some quarters that the time which has been conceded to local authorities is not adequate for carrying out these schemes. I may perhaps point out, in reply to such criticisms, that local authorities have had much longer warning than would appear on the surface. The Local Government Board issued circulars in 1918, some of which were issued before the Armistice, and others of a more urgent character immediately after the Armistice. On February 6, a circular was issued in which the intentions of the Government and the precise offer of financial assistance which was thereafter incorporated were made plain and fully explained to the local authorities. It may also be pointed out 1078 that the scheme to be submitted under Clause 1 is really in the nature of a general programme. It is not a detailed scheme, with all particulars worked out as to the lay-out of sites, plans of houses, etc.
With regard to the time to be allowed for carrying out these schemes, it is hardly necessary to point out that the need is urgent and that the principal reason for giving this very considerable financial assistance to local authorities is to induce them to carry out their schemes at the present time when the cost of building is high, instead of waiting until prices fall. If prices had considerably fallen and the community could have afforded to wait for their houses the financial subvention given by the Bill would certainly have been of a considerably more modest character. The time to be allowed is such period after the passing of the Act as may be specified by the Local Government Board with the consent of the Treasury. Your Lordships will find that provision in Clause 7, subsection (1). In the circular of February 6, to which I have referred, the period mentioned was a period of two years from that date, or such further period as might be approved by the Local Government Board. The Draft Regulations, which were issued in the White Paper, contemplated a period of two years ending on March 31, 1921; but it has new been decided, with the concurrence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to allow a period of three years from the passing of the Act, or such further period as may be allowed by the Local Government Board, regard being had to the supplies of labour and material available from time to time, and other local or general circumstances affecting the carrying out of the scheme. It was found on the whole necessary to insert general words of that kind in order to provide for contingencies which cannot be precisely measured at this moment.
It is not intended—I wish to make this plain—that this should be a rigid limit of three years, but it must, I think, on reflection be admitted that the Government cannot pledge itself to continue the present terms of financial assistance when the post-war normal level of prices has been reached, or when it has been anything like reached. The present proposals can only be justified by the wholly abnormal nature of the position in which we find ourselves. Nor is the view taken that the Government would be justified 1079 in promising financial assistance to those local authorities who are not in earnest in speeding up their programmes and carrying them into execution in the shortest possible time. The Government will be perfectly ready to consider in a reasonable and sympathetic spirit any applications for an extension of time which may be put forward by any local authority of whom it can be said that it has done its best to formulate and carry out a complete programme adequate for the needs of its area.
It may be asked—I think I had better say a word about it—how the Bill deals with the existing housing authorities. It has not been thought possible, in the conditions under which we have to work now, to make any alteration in this Bill in regard to local authorities who are primarily responsible for meeting the housing needs of the country. There are, it is true, a large number of authorities concerned, small and large. Some of them are more efficient and progressive than others, though it is certainly not the case that their efficiency is always in relation to their size. But whatever the merits of the question may be, whatever might have been possible if we had been starting with a clean slate, it seems perfectly clear that any attempt in this Bill to re-allocate housing powers and functions among our existing authorities would have meant a loss of time, a loss of much productive energy, and the scrapping of a certain amount of good work which had actually been begun.
Your Lordships have great experience of the activities of county councils, and a word of explanation may well be expected on that subject. This Bill does bring into operation the resources of county councils, who, under its provisions, will be called upon to play an extremely important part in dealing with the housing problem. County councils, other than the London County Council, are not at present, as your Lordships know, housing authorities proper, but they have certain limited powers of supervision, and certain powers of acting in default of a minor local authority under existing Statutes. This Bill extends the powers of county councils in a variety of directions. Under Clauses 3 and 5 they may be authorised by the Local Government Board to supersede the minor local authorities both for the provision of new houses and for dealing with un 1080 healthy areas. Under Clause 3 they may be authorised to act as the building authority, not only in case of default but in any other case where it is desirable they should so act. A case in point under this head would be that in which a county council had acquired land for the purposes of land settlement. In that case the county council would already be the authority for equipping the small holding, and it is obviously convenient that they rather than the rural district council should be the authority responsible for building cottages on the land reserved for that purpose. Under Clause 6 provision is made for inspection by the county medical officer of health, and under Clause 8 county councils are given special powers to provide houses for their own employees. Where a county council does provide houses for its own employees it will be entitled to financial assistance from the State to an amount equivalent to 30 per cent. of the annual loan charges on its capital expenditure for this purpose.
The next subject on which your Lordships will think it right, however briefly, that I should say a word is on the scale of financial assistance which it is contemplated should be given to the local authorities. The terms of the financial assistance were outlined in the Circular of the Local Government Board of February 6, to which I have already made reference. The actual proposals will be contained in Regulations which are to be made under the terms of Section 7 of the Bill, which your Lordships will find at page 6. The Draft Regulations, together with a copy of the Circular of February 6, were issued as a White Paper just after Easter, and are of course available to any of your Lordships who may be good enough to examine them. During the passage of the Bill through Standing Committee the Government inserted a new subsection, which is now subsection (2) of Clause 7, the effect of which is to incorporate in the Bill the provisions of these Regulations.
Briefly, by way of such explanation as may be necessary at this stage, it may be said that the Government have undertaken to bear the whole deficiency on approved housing schemes undertaken by local authorities so far as such deficiency exceeds the produce of a penny rate. Thus the financial burden on the local authority, whatever the consequences may be upon the State, is evidently a closely limited 1081 one. The local authority, to put the matter in another way, is called upon to contribute t he produce of a penny rate, and the whole of the deficiency in excess of this, under the arrangement proposed, will be borne by the State. Those terms, I venture to think, are very generous, and I anticipate that they may be criticised from another angle, but it is sufficient for me to say in this connection that the Government are of opinion that clear duties should be imposed upon local authorities to carry out adequate schemes, and that in the event of any failure on the part of any local authority to perform its obligation the Local Government Board should be armed with powers at once to supersede them and replace them either by the county council in the case of the minor authorities or the Local Government Board itself in the case of the more important bodies.
The functions which it is contemplated should be committed to the local authorities have made it necessary to reinforce their powers. Additional powers are proposed by the Bill under a variety of heads—in the first place, in the acquisition of land and houses dealt with by Clause 12; the entering on land compulsorily acquired, which you will find in Clause 10; and dealing with land when acquired, in Clause 15. Special powers are also conferred upon them for acquiring water rights for the purpose of affording a water supply to new houses. Such a power is, of course, indispensable. Clause 11 contains some minor amendments of the procedure for the compulsory acquisition of land, but it, ought to be made plain that the Housing Bill does not attempt to deal with the general question of the acquisition of land, that matter being left to be dealt with by the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Bill, with which you will be asked to deal at a later period of the session.
My Lords, much speculation has been made public as to the probable effect of the Government policy upon private enterprise, and many apprehensions have been freely expressed as to the possibly disastrous consequences in this respect of the proposals which are now made. My Lords, let me say quite plainly, as I do, that if the Government could have relied upon private enterprise to solve the housing problem of the moment it would very readily have done so, but I do not think that anyone, however anxiously he may 1082 contemplate the additional burden which the State assumes in making these proposals, will be bold enough to maintain that the solution of even one-twentieth part of our difficulties could have been found by resort to private enterprise, having regard to the notorious present cost of building materials and of labour.
I may, perhaps, and am indeed bound to, point out this very plainly, that every Committee which has considered this subject—and the Committees have been numerous—has come to the same conclusion that it is absolutely impossible to count upon private enterprise to supply the deficiency. In order to satisfy the House upon this point, I might quote the conclusions of one Committee only, the Housing Panel of the Ministry of Reconstruction, which was presided over by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. The Report, if I may say so, is an extremely valuable one, and it contains the following passage—In our opinion, therefore, it is imperative that the Government should secure within the first year after the war the building of sufficient houses for the working classes, to make up the deficiency caused by the cessation of building and to supply some part of the special rural needs.Another passage in the same Report says—It will be clear then that, whatever other measures be taken, no considerable number of houses will be built in the year after the war unless financial aid is forthcoming from public funds to make good the inevitable loss due to abnormal prices.And it was added also by the Committee that—A direct subsidy from the State to the private builder appears impossible.I think I may, therefore, say that in the opinion of the experienced gentlemen who prepared this Report it was vital that in the first year a sufficient number of houses should be provided; that, in the second place, financial aid was an indispensable condition; and, thirdly, that the route of advance could not be along the lines of financial aid given to individual builders by the Government. Accepting, as I do, the conclusions of that Committee, I think that by the process of exhaustion I may maintain that the proposals contained in this Bill are the only proposals which afford any prospect of carrying out these paramount and peremptory objects without coming into conflict with the warning contained in the last paragraph.
1083 I think I have made it plain that it is far indeed from being the intention of the Government to place any obstacles in the way of private enterprise in the future. It is of the deepest importance to the community, economically, commercially, and from every point of view, that a state of things should be restored at the earliest possible moment which will make it possible for private enterprise and not the State to address itself to this great branch of our future activities.
The offer of financial assistance to the local authorities is, I need hardly say, an offer which will be strictly limited to the emergency period, and at the end of that period the Government confidently look for ward—I hope they are not too sanguine—to a time when private enterprise will once again enter the field. The Bill itself contains, I might mention in passing, provisions for assisting public utility societies and other forms of private enterprise, but the best criterion of the Government's intention in this matter is perhaps their declared policy in regard to the rents to be charged for the new houses which are provided by the local authorities.
It would be convenient at this stage of the observations, which I hope will not now be very protracted, that I make some remarks upon the very important subject of rent. The policy of the Government in regard to rents is stated both in the Local Government Board circular of February 6th and in the rules which are attached to the draft regulations in their circular of February 6th. The Local Government Board laid it down that the rents should approximate as nearly as circumstances permit to the economic level. That is, of course, a generalisation to which your Lordships may think no particular value attaches, but the rules in the schedule to the draft regulations are more specific. The subject is so important that your Lordships will be indulgent with me if I read them. They are as follows—
§ Rules with regard to the Determination of Rents.
§ (1) The rents to be charged after the 31st day of March, 1927, should be sufficient to cover (in addition to the expenses of maintenance and management of the houses and a suitable allowance for depreciation) the interest which would have been payable on the capital cost of building the houses if they had been built after that date.
§ (2) The local authority in first fixing the rents under an assisted scheme may have regard to the rents obtaining in the locality for houses for the working classes, and to the operation of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (War 1084 Restrictions) Act, 1915, and any Acts amending or extending that Act; but in that case the local authority should also have regard to:—(a) any increase of rents authorised by any such Acts; and (b) any superiority in the condition of the houses to be let by them under the assisted scheme or in the accommodation provided therein.
§ (3) If it appears that the rents as first fixed under the assisted scheme will require to be increased before the 31st day of March, 1927, in order that the intention of these rules may be complied with, such increase should be effected by yearly or half-yearly additions to the rents during the financial years or half-years succeeding that in which the rents were first fixed.
§ Your Lordships will naturally desire to read these rules carefully, and it may be to ask for some explanation, or to suggest some amendment in them in the later stages of our discussion, and I shall hope to be able, if it is in my power, to offer your Lordships assistance. But I may at this stage also say that the regulations provide for a reduction of the Exchequer subsidy if the rents proposed to be charged by the local authority are insufficient. The intention is that at the end of the emergency period the rents of the local authorities' houses should be fixed at such a rate as will not expose private enterprise to a standard of competition which it would be unable to survive.
§ If I may make a very few observations upon the question of slums, I will do so. The provision of new houses is, of course, the primary purpose of this Bill, but the problem of slum property is also dealt with. The offer of financial assistance, which I have attempted in general terms to explain, is not limited to the provision of new houses. It extends also to schemes for the clearance and the reconstruction of unhealthy areas; and, coupled with this offer—an entirely novel one in our legislation—the Local Government Board seeks powers to act in case of default by a local authority in dealing with insanitary property. In any case in which they are satisfied that a local authority has failed to exercise powers of dealing with unhealthy areas under Part I or Part II of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, the Local Government Board, under Clause 5, may require a local authority to make a scheme for the improvement of such areas, and in case of default the Board may themselves take any necessary steps to carry out a scheme for the improvement of slum areas. Clause 9 contains special provisions as to the assessment of compensation in the case of compulsory acquisition of slum property. The clause speaks for itself, and it will un 1085 doubtedly, as I hope, receive consideration and discussion in this House. I do not think it necessary to attempt to explain it further at this stage.
§ I ought, I think, to make a very few observations—I have almost concluded the demand I have to make upon your Lordships' time—upon that Part of the Bill which attempts to effect an amendment of procedure and to affect the relaxation of many by-laws which have been found either to be unduly narrow or unduly irksome in practice. The Bill contains a number of provisions destined in the first place to simplify and accelerate procedure. The provisions of the existing Housing Acts have been so hedged round with safeguards in the shape of local enquiries, notices, orders, and appeals that it has been found impossible in most cases to make anything like rapid progress, and I need hardly remind those of your Lordships who have studied this question that one of the main obstacles with which both local authorities and private builders have been confronted has been the existence of hampering by-laws, some of which no doubt were extremely necessary but others of which, long before war conditions, completely paralysed any prospect of building upon an economic basis. It might have been possible to deal with these by a complete overhauling of all existing codes, and by drawing up new codes designed to meet general and special cases of all kinds, but the Bill, long as it is, would have been infinitely longer if this course had been adopted, and a short cut, which it is hoped will be successful, has been adopted.
§ Clause 23 provides that if any plans for new streets and buildings which are approved by the Local Government Board as a part of the housing scheme are inconsistent with any existing by-laws, then the provisions of those by-laws shall not apply, and as an emergency measure Clause 24 enables the local authority to consent to the erection and use for human habitation of any buildings erected in accordance with plans approved by the Local Government Board in spite of noncompliance with the by-laws. That provision will no doubt be scrutinised by your Lordships, and it may be discussed. The object at any rate is clear: it is to allow and encourage experiments with new methods of construction, and not least to allow of the employment as a temporary expedient of the enormous number of 1086 army huts which, as is well known, are in existence, and which may be used as a contribution for our immediate necessities in the near future.
§ I have only one other point to deal with, and that is the question of central organisation. I have tried to make it plain that the Bill contains numerous provisions for simplifying procedure and expediting the operations of the local authorities, but in addition to that attempts have been made to improve, from the point of view of speed and efficiency, the central organisation. A special Housing Department has been created under the direction of Sir James Carmichael, whose experience is known in this House, with a staff of architects, surveyors and quantity surveyors. I can almost observe a shudder at the statement that any new stall has been called into existence, but I think that I shall carry the House with me when I point out that, if we are all agreed that there is an urgent national necessity for the immediate building of a very large number of houses, then it follows that persons who are highly competent and experienced should be employed in the general direction of the policy upon the execution of which so much will depend. In order that local authorities may have advice and assistance locally available to them the President has appointed a number of Housing Commissioners, whose duty it is to consider and discuss with the local authorities in their areas the needs of each district in relation to housing.
§ I expect that it will occur to many of those who are listening to me to ask the question, "What steps have the Government taken in relation to that enormously difficult question, the provision of building material"? As far as prevision can do it an attempt has been made, and it is hoped not unsuccessfully, even having regard to the magnitude of the problem, to secure that an adequate supply of material shall be available, and to stimulate the output of bricks, tiles, slates, drains, cement and various fittings. The Director of Building Supplies is purchasing large quantities of those materials on behalf of the Government. Over 800,000,000 bricks have been ordered, and 22,000,000 slates, and I may by way of re-assurance say that supplies of those, as well as of cement, are already available, which will undoubtedly be sufficient to meet all the demands that can be made in the near future. It 1087 should, therefore, be clearly understood by local authorities, should your Lordships be pleased to pass this Bill through its stages, that they need thereafter have no hesitation on this head in proceeding with schemes. I dismiss this statement of the effects of the Act by merely mentioning that it contains provisions giving assistance to public utility societies, trusts, and, in a limited class of cases, to private persons.
§ The enumeration of the provisions of a Bill which is lengthy and which contains many technical details can never be anything but tedious. I very much hope that I may have been fortunate enough to apprise your Lordships sufficiently for the purposes of a Second Reading debate of the general nature of the proposals of the Government. Even at a time like this, when demands are made which fill not only your Lordships but every class in the community with profound anxiety at the ever-growing claims which are made upon the public purse, I make bold to say that, whatever other claim may be resisted, or even postponed, this is a claim which the very maintenance of the fabric of our social system requires should be dealt with, and dealt with generously.
§ If there are any points which I have inadvertently omitted and they are presented in debate, an opportunity will be taken for giving such explanations as it may be possible to give. I would only say in conclusion very earnestly on behalf of the Government that they do not present this Bill to your Lordships as one which on its first appearance in this House is a perfect Bill. They present it rather as a Bill which is an honest attempt to deal with a problem which is staggering in its gravity, and they will very gladly welcome any observations or assistance which the experience and information of your Lordships may render it possible to give.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
My Lords, I desire to offer a few remarks, more of the character of a retrospect than of a prophecy, as to what may be the effects of the provisions of this Bill. I cannot help throwing my mind back to 1909, when the Finance Act was brought into this House and we were debarred from discussing the clauses in that Bill which had to do with land. The noble 1088 and learned Lord on the Woolsack has, I think, with great generosity avoided all mention of the principal cause of the lack of houses. I am sure he was not responsible. I do not think that there is any noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite, unless it be the noble Marquess (Lord Crewe), who is responsible for debarring this House from discussing the land clauses of the Finance Act of 1909, and I am quite sure that, if there is responsibility, he would be the last person in the world to dispute that he is to some extent responsible.
The noble and learned Lord has dwelt with a great deal of emphasis on the lack of private enterprise and the necessity of encouraging private enterprise in the erection of houses. It was the Act of 1909 which caused the lack of houses. It discouraged the private enterprise builder—not necessarily a jerrybuilder but a speculative builder—there are many speculative builders who have built extremely good houses. But whether they were good houses or bad houses that they built, they were absolutely discouraged by the clauses of the Act of 1909–10, which clauses were tacked on to the Finance Bill as I, and many other noble Lords held, and, it being held that it was a finance measure we were not allowed to amend them. What is the difference? Is there such a very great difference between this Bill and the Finance Bill so far as privilege is concerned? The Finance Bill was a Bill to which clauses affecting the building of houses were attached. I should have thought this was a Finance Bill. It involves the advance of money out of public funds for the purposes of building, and we are, as I understand the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack; to be allowed to amend. There is some extraordinary difference between now and 1909, and I should say that is partly due to the recognition that a gross mistake was made in 1909 in not allowing this House—which is quite as capable as the other House to do so—to discuss such subjects.
I rise now, because these matters are forgotten, to assert that it is largely if not solely due to the Government of that day that a very large proportion of the houses now wanted have not been built in the intermediate years. It is obvious that this Bill is indispensable. Something has got to be done, and as rapidly as possible. Whether the provisions of this Bill are 1089 going to encourage the private builder or no depends not only upon this Bill but upon what is done with the obnoxious provisions of the land clauses of the 1909 Act which are still preventing—they have never been amended although it was understood that the obnoxious provision would be amended—the private enterprise builder from coming in. I hope, therefore, that, pari passu if possible with this Bill, there will go forward an amendment to that particularly objectionable part of the land clauses of the 1909 Act.
§ LORD DOWNHAM
My Lords, I think we may congratulate ourselves that this most important, far-reaching, and very expensive measure is in charge of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, who has paid especial attention for many years past to the housing problem, and who is so fitted to guide this Bill through the House and to give us knowledge on the various intricate clauses of the Bill, which we shall subsequently discuss in Committee.
I myself have been connected with this subject somewhat intimately for the last three years. When the late Lord Rhondda was President of the Local Government Board he handed over the portion of the work connected with housing to my special care. He appointed a Committee, of which he made me chairman, to investigate this subject, and it was largely in consequence of the investigations of this Committee that the Government of the day, the last Government—and, after all, the present Government is almost the same as that Government—came to the conclusion which the noble and learned Lord has expressed to this House, that we could no longer rely on private enterprise to build houses for the working-classes; that inasmuch as it would be very expensive in all probability to rely on the State and that the State never had undertaken the obligation of housing the people, therefore we must enter into a partnership between the State and the local authorities; that we must make that partnership effective if we are in the next few years during the emergency period to overtake the arrears of housing.
I agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken that one of the causes of these arrears was the legislation of 1909–10. A co-partnership must be established between the State and the local authorities. 1090 I was authorised by the Government of the day to inform the local authorities that if they would undertake housing for the working-classes the Government would offer to them substantial financial assistance. The local authorities very naturally asked what was the meaning of "substantial financial assistance"; and later, in a Circular which I issued with the authority of the War Cabinet, I was able to inform them that the Exchequer would bear 75 per cent. of the annual deficit over a period of years of any scheme submitted by the local authorities, and that the local authorities should bear the other 25 per cent.; but if that 25 per cent. involved them in more than a penny rate then whoever was President of the Local Government Board would consider the matter generously from the point of view of the local authority and might very likely fix their responsibility—and certainly would do so in the case of the poorer districts and rural districts—at a penny rate.
That policy, I believe, was generally acceptable. It. was certainly acceptable to and was accepted by the London County Council. The same applies to Edinburgh. No fewer than 900 authorities expressed their willingness to put forward schemes under that partnership and to build something like 150,000 houses. I cannot say how much I regret that when the last Government was succeeded by the present Government they tore up that bargain, that "scrap of paper." They did not ask the local authorities—they certainly did not ask London, or, I believe, Edinburgh—whether or not they would be willing to have that bargain cancelled and whether they would accept the new bargain. The London County Council had accepted the bargain with the Government, and certainly thought that it ought to be carried out.
When the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack says that time is one of the most important factors in this matter, I agree with him. I now want to ask—Why, then, is there all this delay? Why did the spokesman of the Local Government Beard only yesterday inform the country that, although this bargain had been struck between the Government and the local authorities for a period of fifteen months, up to the present time there are only 900 houses in the course of construction out of the 300,000 required? I observe that 1091 Dr. Addison and Major Astor go about the country impeaching the local authorities and telling them that they are on their trial. Let me tell Dr. Addison and the Local Government Board that it is he and the Local Government Board who are on their trial and not the local authorities. The local authorities have done everything they can. They expect the Government to adhere to their written and pledged word and not to break a bargain when they have made it.
The fact of the matter is that at present, from the point of view of the local authorities, there is financial chaos. The local authorities do not know where they stand. I speak from the London County Council point of view, not only as belonging to a Party but for the whole of the London County Council. We do not know where we stand with the Government at the present time; we do not know what the financial arrangement is; all we know is that the bargain of March 18 was scrapped. The bargain of February 6, 1919, was substituted for it, and under that bargain it was absolutely impossible for the greatest local authority in this country to obtain one penny piece of financial assistance. My noble and learned friend on the Woolsack said just now that in this partnership the State was to bear the greatest share of the financial responsibility. Under the arrangement made on February 6 by Dr. Addison, so far as the London County Council were concerned, they would have to bear the whole of the financial responsibility. I admit that things have altered since then. The Government of the day is very squeezeable—not by Englishmen but by Scotsmen; and when the Scotsmen got this Bill in Committee in the House of Commons they fastened on this feature in the Bill. They said, "The old arrangement gave us seven years in which to carry out the housing scheme; your arrangement gives us only two years, up till March 31, 1921." They were not contend with that, and, by squeezing His Majesty's Government, they obtained a very considerable concession, I admit.
Now, any local authority in Scotland—I will talk about England presently—if it puts forward a scheme, will be able to obtain financial assistance from the Government if it can carry out that scheme within three years from the passing of the Act. I was very glad indeed to hear my noble friend on the Woolsack Say that that con 1092 cession, which was wrung from the Government by Scottish Members on a Scotitsh Committee, is now to be extended to England. But the English authorities do not know it. This is the first declaration that has been made on the subject. I have here the Regulations applying to England and the local authorities must go by the Regulations which are put into their hands. These Regulations tell the local authorities that unless they can carryout the scheme by March 31, 1921, they will obtain no financial assistance of any kind. Obviously, they are hanging bank. Now my noble friend on the Woolsack says, "What has been given to Scotland shall be given to England also." We are very glad to hear it, but it is not in the English Regulations, though it is in the Scottish Regulations. After all, will England form an important part of the United Kingdom, and we cannot help thinking that, not only in this respect but in other respects, we might be treated equally favourably with Scotland.
The noble Lord has commented on one feature of the Bill, and that is that all the local authorities must submit their schemes within three months from the passing of the Act. The Scottish Regulations inform the Scottish local authorities that, so far as they are concerned, the three months will not hold good; they have got twelve months from February 12 last. With a considerable knowledge, a very intimate knowledge, of this question, I maintain that it is really impossible for a great authority like the London County Council to submit its scheme within three months from the passing of this measure. We ask, and shall ask when we get to the Committee stage, that the same privileges which have been given to Scotland shall also be given to the great local authorities in England. I shall contend—and every one of my colleagues on the London County Council, irrespective of party, will contend—that London shall not be treated in an inferior way to Glasgow or Edinburgh. We have our housing problems; they are very great; and we have shown every possible desire to help His Majesty's Government. We have now put forward very large housing schemes. We are developing some of our estates; we have recently bought further estates; and we are now in negotiation for the largest purchase ever made by any municipal authority. We have undertaken to build 10,000 houses, if it be possible to build them so far 1093 as material and labour are concerned, within the next two years, and we are milling to build 29,000 houses within the next five years, if His Majesty's Government will meet us.
But I thought this was a partnership in which the State was to bear its share of the financial obligation. Up to the present Dr. Addison and the Local Government Board have put forward a scheme to us under which we cannot get any benefit whatever from the State. None! If the Government is in earnest I ask that the Government shall either adhere to the bargain which was made by the previous Government or give us a period of some-thing like five years in which to carry out our scheme. I did observe that my noble friend used very important words. He said that the extension of three years from the passing of the Act, which had been obtained by Scotland, would now be extended to England, and that, even as regards these three years, the period was not intended to be rigid. Though the Government could not pledge themselves to extend it, if the local authority does its best to carry out a really good programme of housing, the Government might not be averse to doing so. I say frankly and I say it with sorrow, that local authorities can place no reliance upon the statements that are made by the Local Government Board and Dr. Addison. If the Government can tear up one bargain because it does not suit them, they can at any time tear up another bargain for the same reason. In these matters faith must be kept, and rigidly kept, between one partner and another, and the first thing that Dr. Addison has to do is to restore the confidence of the local authorities that, when he makes a bargain with them, either he or his successor will keep the bargain.
If there is to be a partnership between the State and the local authorities, then the State must bear its fair share of the burden. Instead, what do we get in this Bill? We get Clause 4, which gives the most autocratic powers to the Local Government Board. It says that the Local Government Board may at any time hold any local authority in default, and say to that local authority, "You have failed to carry out the housing schemes which we think you ought to have carried out, and, as you have failed to carry them out, we are going to carry them out for you and we are going to impose a heavy 1094 rate on your district for carrying them out." But I thought it was a partnership. Is one partner to accuse the other partner of negligence and then to be not only the accuser but the judge in the case?
§ LORD DOWNHAM
I maintain, and I can and will prove it at any time if it is necessary, that the real negligence has been on the part of Dr. Addison and his Department rather than on that of the London County Council. Are the Local Government. Board to be able at any time to say to any great local authority, "You are at fault; we declare you at fault; now we are coining in and going to impose a heavy penalty upon you"? No. I think your Lordships will agree that some amendment ought to be made in Clause 4—that, as between two partners, each accusing the other of negligence, there ought to be some independent tribunal which shall find out where the negligence is and where the punishment ought to be.
There are several Amendments which I shall desire to introduce into this Bill. On Second Reading it is not necessary to discuss the clauses separately. I believe the whole of the real necessities of the case at the present time are represented by the financial situation. That is the real difficulty. There are many local authorities that are quite willing to build; they have their schemes all prepared; they have bought their land, have finished their lay-out and put out their contracts; but they cannot get the money. The Treasury says to the local authorities, "In the first place we expect you to raise the money." At what price are they going to raise it? This really opens up a very large question. What is contemplated in the way of finance? Dr. Addison constantly uses the figure 500,000 houses. I am not at all complaining; I am not saying we do not want 500,000 houses. But what is going to be the cost?
When this policy was initiated, I recollect, the cost of a house was never estimated at more than£500. I have here some wonderful figures. They were placed in my hands just before I left to come here this afternoon and they show what houses are going to cost now. At the London County Council we have received the first tenders for the first contracts which we have put out. Let me read some 1095 of the figures. The highest price for a cottage—that is a four-roomed cottage (not five rooms), three bedrooms, a living room, a scullery, bathroom and offices—is£865, and no land included in that, no rates, no sewers. You have to add£200 to each house, which makes£1,050 to build a four-roomed cottage on one of our own estates. A three-roomed cottage will cost£745, and I have here a five-roomed cottage (which is what we are all aiming at) living room, parlour, three bedrooms and offices, and the price for that cottage on another of our estates is£843. For a four-roomed cottage the price is£785, and for a three-roomed cottage£665; and you add all the time to that£200.
This opens up a very serious consideration—What is going to be the amount of money that will have to be found to build 500,000 houses if they cost£1,000 a piece? It is quite obvious that it is going to cost£500,000,000. What is the total indebtedness of local authorities at the present moment?—£500,000,000. You are therefore going to double the debt of all local authorities if they have to raise the whole of this money without any Government assistance. If they raise half of it you increase their debt by 50 per cent.
Now let us come to the deficit on these houses. The Government in their figures and leaflets never contemplate a greater deficit than£10 to£15 a year; and£15 is the maximum. If the figures which have been given to me are correct the deficit is much more likely to be£50 a year, or£45, but never less than£20 per year. That deficit will have to be shouldered by somebody; I merely say that it is a most serious matter. The noble Lord on the Woolsack says that the Government have recently been collecting a great deal of material—standardising material—bricks and timber, and all the many things that go to make up the building of a house. All I can say is that no benefit of that kind appears to be reflected in the figures I have given to the House. Why it is going to cost almost three times the amount of money it cost before the war to build a house which has little better accommodation than the house contained before the war?
Who is going to shoulder the deficit? The Government say to the local authorities "When you have spent a penny rate we will shoulder all the rest of the deficit." That goes then on the taxpayer. But the Government only shoulder it for three years 1096 from the passing of the Act. They say, "We only shoulder it on schemes you can carry out within three years of the passing of the Act." As Edinburgh says, "We can build only 2,000 or 3,000 houses within three years, and we want 10,000 houses." What about the other 7,000 houses? Who is going to bear the deficit on those? Is the Government or the local authority going to bear the deficit? Edinburgh says that if they have to bear that deficit it will run them into an extra rate of something like like 1s. 5d.
And when you come to talk about a penny or twopenny rate for housing, let me say that we on the London County Council are more than willing to spend a penny rate, and a twopenny rate if necessary, but we have to think also of our other obligations for schools and the immense improvements that have to be carried out, the maintenance of roads, and matters of that kind. We have to think also where we can go to raise the money. How many local authorities can go into the market at the present time and raise money at 5 per cent.? I doubt whether many of them could raise money under 6 per cent., and we on the London County Council are contemplating that we shall have to pay 5½per cent. on our loan. These are most serious considerations.
I wish the Government would tackle this question of the enormous increase in the cost of houses that are designed for the working classes themselves. I believe it is chiefly due to the demands of labour for shorter hours, for higher wages, and an unwillingness to put in all the good old spirit and good old work that was done. Yet these houses are supposed to be for the working classes. Local authorities will be put in this dilemma. If they build houses the economic rent of which is£40 a year, will they not be very tempted to let that house, not to a working man, but to a retired tradesman, a civil servant, or a curate—anybody who can pay£40 a year for the house. They will be very comfortable houses, only eight to the acre in the country, and twelve to fifteen to the acre in the towns, and will not many people come along and say they are willing to pay£40 a year? In that case what about the working classes? Will they not say, "They were built for us, and we are only willing to pay£20 a year, and no more." I am perfectly certain that local authorities who build these houses and have to shoulder 1097 the deficit themselves will be very tempted to let them to those who can pay an economic rent, and to a large extent, therefore, the purpose of this Bill will be defeated.
I think the very best thing the Local Government Board can do would be to abstain from abusing local authorities, who to my mind have done their duty, and set themselves seriously to examine the problem how they can reduce the cost of these houses. I welcome the Bill. It is a very good Bill in many respects. There are a great number of clauses that are quite excellent; I have seen some of them before. But I think we have to examine very carefully, as carefully as we are allowed to do in this House, the whole of this financial problem. I am quite certain of this, that unless the words of the noble Lord in charge of the Bill are adopted—namely, that this is to be an emergency policy and an emergency policy only, and that we get back the private builder as soon as possible—we are heading straight for financial disaster.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WAKEFIELD
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will forgive one who is not a layman venturing to address you on this question. My excuse is that we clergy have had unusual opportunities of knowing how the humbler classes live. Our duty is to deal with every degree of our population on equal terms. We live with them in their joys and sorrows, and therefore we have opportunities of seeing an Englishman's home from the inside which are not open to many of your Lordships on the same scale.
I want in the first instance to offer my congratulations to the Government on the introduction of this Bill. I have been studying this question, as some of your Lordship; know, for a great number of year, and I found myself in past years a kind of voice crying in the wilderness, whereas I have now discovered that I am one of the most popular lecturers in the industrial parts of my own country. I am not intending to do more than allude to one feature of this Bill which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack did not allude to in his opening exposition. I am not qualified to pass judgment upon the economic aspects, which certainly upset all one's old theories of sound finance and everything else, but these are strange 1098 times, and I suppose that, as the Lord Chancellor said, we shall all agree that times and conditions of emergency must be met by measures of emergency. Therefore I will not pass judgment upon those features of the Bill. It is quite certain that at the present time local interest, especially among the working classes, has risen to a very great point of intelligence as well as expectancy, and your Lordships are as well aware as I am that this is one of the questions which is more eagerly awaited by great masses of our fellow countrymen than almost any other I can only say that the Trade Union Memorandum, which was quoted by the Lord Chancellor, does accurately represent the feelings of the rank and file of our people, so far as I have been able to ascertain.
The one point upon which I venture to make any remarks is on the Town Planning Clause of this Bill. The noble and learned Lord did not, I think, touch upon the subject of town planning. Town planning is at last, as far as I can ascertain, to be made obligatory upon local authorities—boroughs and urban districts of over 20,000 population, and, if need be, on smaller authorities also. This may appear to be only a small point, but in my judgment it is a very important principle, and it is one which has been pressed upon the country by those who have studied the question for many years. I think it is of profound and far-reaching importance. It is impossible to realise what we have suffered in the past from the want of a little prevision and imagination. Except in the case of some of our largest and most enlightened centres of population, the growth of our industrial towns mar almost be described as the remance of ineptitude. People have been allowed to plant houses, and in districts for the working classes large buildings, works, and so on, on any particular piece of ground which happened to be in the market and which seemed to be available for the moment. Private interests haw been allowed to cut right across considerations of public advantage, and no one seems to have any interest in or control over the ordinary growth of his own city. Even in the last few years, under what have been described as town-planning schemes, there have been sanctioned developments which are likely seriously to interfere with the beauty as well as the convenience of many of our large towns.
1099 As I under tand it, Clause 41 of this Bill says that this state of affairs is to cease, and that after 1923 town planning will be obligatory upon these larger authorities and may be imposed even upon the smaller authorities by the Local Government Board—in other words, the citizens of our towns are to have a voice in saying in what particular direction and on what lines their city shall develop, in connection with its past history and its prospects for the future. What is wanting now, there is no doubt, in most of our local authorities, is a far deeper and comprehensive duty—a survey of all the conditions of the area before embarking upon even a restricted housing scheme. What is known as a city or regional survey is a somewhat new art or science, but it is obvious, as soon as you describe it, that from want of this detailed and comprehensive survey many mistakes are likely to be made. You ought to investigate the geological stratum, the contours o your surfaces, and all the aspects and scenery of your city—its railways, canals, and other means of communication; the grouping of its population; the character of its industries; its public spaces for recreation, its playgrounds for children and so forth—all these and other conditions should be brought together under one comprehensive survey and should be in the minds, and pressed upon the minds, of the local authorities, in order that they may in the future avoid those disastrous mistakes of which we have examples in almost every great city.
Your Lordships are all aware of the Chelsea Power Station, spoiling one of the most beautiful parts of the Thames, or that flat square brick wall which, as the train curves round to enter the Royal borough of Windsor, spoils and mutilates the wonderful view of the Castle—a kinema allowed to be planted at the foot of Windsor Castle for every visitor or foreigner to see. If we do not think much more of this regional survey we shall go on making, even under the best town planning schemes, exactly the same mistakes as have been made in the past, only comforting ourselves that we are doing it in a scientific way. Your Lordships who have studied this subject know that many city reformers have carried this question far afield, and that nowhere has greater progress been made than in India. Some of you have read the Reports sent home by Professor Patrick Geddes and Mr. E. V. Lanchester. 1100 I have had one sent to me with regard to Indore, which deals with even such matters as rats and mosquitos as causes of the diseases of the past, and which suggests the measures to be taken whereby the whole moral and hygienic conditions, as well as the religion, of the whole population may be lifted into a more high and fruitful atmosphere for the future. It is one of the most marvellous pieces of work that I have seen for a long time.
This matter of survey is obvious, when once it is stated; yet it has not been attended to in the past, and I do not see very much in the Bill, except this Clause 41, which gives me hope that this scientific survey is going to form a feature under our local authorities in the future. That is the one clause which I have risen to speak on to-night. I consider it a most important advance, and I hope it will be welcomed by your Lordships. I know that compulsory provisions are not particularly welcome as a rule in this House, but this is a matter of putting on a gentle compulsion with a view to exciting the imagination of our local authorities. This is not a thing which costs anything to speak of. It is a thing which will make it possible for our cities to grow in an intelligent fashion, and not in the curious haphazard way in which they have done in the. past.
I trust in the meantime, till those provisions come in and while His Majesty's Government have the power of the purse and have therefore complete control over the scheme, that they will insist, in the many schemes that are now before them, upon development upon really sound lines with a view to the amenity of the houses and the amenity of the city, so that we may grow up not only great powerful manufacturing centres, but that. we may be rid of a little of that dirt, smoke, congestion, and horror, which, I assure your Lordships, the best of the working class feel as sensitively and as profoundly as would any of your Lordships if you were condemned to live in those conditions.
What we want to see then, I think, is something even wider than this survey. The time has come for this country to make up its mind to have a large and far-reaching housing policy; that is to say, a policy which will look to the future. We must make up our mind upon that now, when the subject has, as we may say, a lifting power, and when we have the humblest of our people taking an interest in it. Why 1101 then not make up our minds now that in a certain number of years—ten, fifteen, twenty or whatever the number may be—that we shall not only have an England without slums, but that we shall have a standard of housing that will correspond to the higher standard of education and refinement which we demand for our humblest classes, a standard which will enable them, without at least some of the present material hindrances which beset them on every hand, to live a life more worthy of their birthright and their calling as citizens of a great Empire.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I feel sure that nobody will contest the observations made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in the course of his impressive speech regarding the urgency of the problem with which this measure is designed to deal. It is one of the oldest truths that almost all our social reforms in ordinary peace time have to some extent depended upon the housing of the people. It has been argued over and over again that you cannot deal efficiently with the problem of drink so long as the housing of the people remains bad. It has been argued, and truly, that all the various efforts that have been made for the improvement of the education of children are liable to be vitiated so long as many of them are badly housed. And we know, of course, that the problem which is now being faced—that of the health of the people—hinges to no small extent upon the manner in which they are housed. To that may now be added what is vaguely but appositely spoken of as unrest among the people of the country. That unrest must be held to depend to no little extent upon the housing defects which exist. Therefore there can be no two opinions in this House, or out of it, as to the necessity for the step which His Majesty's Government are taking.
My noble friend opposite, Lord Harris, in a brief but effective speech, throw back his mind to the eventful Budget of the years 1909–10 for which the present Prime Minister was responsible, and for which, of course, all his colleagues were also responsible; and as one of them—as my noble friend was generous enough to concede—I, of course, shoulder my share of that responsibility. My noble friend ascribed a very considerable proportion of the deficit in houses to the disastrous 1102 effects of particular sections in that Finance Act. There my seem to be something savouring of comedy my standing in my place at this side of the Table and holding a brief for my right hon friend the present Prime Minister, but I have not the faintest objection to doing so in this sense, that however far it may be the case that certain sections in that Act—in particular; the devising of the principle of assessing increment value—may have interfered with the operations of private builders, particularly after the judgment in a well-known case in the Court of Law, I think my noble friend Lord Harris rather over-stated his case. Whatever may have been the adverse effects of that Finance Act, they an have operated only between the years 1910–14, because it is quite evident that from 1914 onwards the ordinary building operations were bound to be suspended to a great extent, whatever the state of the law might have been. In the first place, more men were recruited from the building trade than from any other trade in the country, and, as most of us had probably occasion to observe, what little building went on was almost entirely conducted by elderly men. Therefore the noble Lord's strictures have at any rate to be modified to that extent.
The noble Lord spoke of the burden that had bean placed upon the speculative builder. I have never myself been one of those who have spoken hardly of the speculative builder, or indeed in all circumstances even of the jerry builder, who may have certain circumstances fulfilled useful functions. The speculative builder has had his defec[...] in the position which he has so frequently desired to occupy as a member of a minor local authority, but I have no desire to speak hardly of him as a class, and, like the noble Lord, I shall be thoroughly pleased whenever private enterprise is once more able to play its part in the erection of this vast number of houses. At the same time the speculative builder has not been the friend of the better systems, of which the right rev. Prelate spoke just now in his most interesting speech. He has not been the ally of the town planning system, which we should all, I am sure, desire to see wisely extended, nor of the operations of the public utility societies whose claims are, I am glad to see, definitely recognised in this Bill.
I have no wish to repeat what was said by my noble friend opposite, the Chairman 1103 of the London County Council (Lord Down ham), but I hope that the criticisms which he made upon certain parts of the Bill will be closely regarded by His Majesty's Government, and that they will consider the immense difficulties which my noble friend Lord Downham thought it right to set out before the House. I hope, in particular that they will bear in mind what he said regarding the necessity for giving in all reasonable cases a further period of grace for the preparation of schemes, and (what is, I venture to think, more important still) a definitely longer period for their execution. I feel sure that it is not reasonable to ask local authorities to meet this vast deficit of half a million houses, or whatever it may be, and to engage upon carefully-thought-out plans for meeting pro rala to their means and their area of operation that deficit, if only three years are to be allowed during which the Government subvention can be obtained. I notice that the noble and learned Lord—I think I am quoting him correctly—held out some hope that the term of three years might not be regarded as fixed according to the laws of the Medes and Persians, and that it might be subject to some extension. I sincerely hope that is so, because, if it is not, I feel certain that in many cases—in particular in the case of London, for which my noble friend opposite is so well entitled to speak—the attempt to carry out great building operations under this scheme will be a definite failure.
Nor is it necessary to labour the point which my noble friend made—and a most serious one it is—as to how these£1,000 houses that are to be designed for the occupation of the class of persons who have to be housed—namely, working men—are to be let so as to pay an economic rent. That is a puzzle which I do not profess or pretend to solve, but it is one, of course, which must be perpetually in the minds of the noble and learned Lord and of those who are responsible for this Bill.
There is only one other point upon which I wish to say a word. The noble and learned Lord spoke of the Housing Commissioners to be appointed under this Bill as persons who were designed to expedite the operations of local authorities, and who were to assist them by generally directing the policy at the root of the schemes which those authorities had to prepare. So far I entirely apprehend the 1104 reason for creating these officials, and I can conceive a number of cases in which they may be of real service. But are their operations confined to the direction of policy? I am informed not. I am told (and I have reason to believe that it is the case) that this is the kind of thing that happens—that in a rural area an agreement is arrived at between the rural district council—or, it might be in some cases under the Bill, the county council—and the owner of land upon which it is desired to build regarding the selection of a particular site for the erection of a stated number of houses which the authority is empowered and desires to put up. The local authority are also prepared to enter into communication with the owner of the land as to the price to be paid for it—the market rate, whatever that may be—and to conclude the bargain. But apparently that is not permitted. Although there is no reason to suppose in the particular case that the operation could not be carried through promptly and fairly by an arrangement between the local authority and the owner of the land to be sold, nothing can be done until the Commissioner or his representative under this Bill has been down and approved of the site, or possibly preferred an alternative site, with the result that an entirely fresh series of negotiations will have to be entered into, and also the price is to be fixed, as I understand, at the instance of the Government valuer.
It may be argued that inspection of this kind, centralisation of this kind as some would call it, may be a necessary safeguard in some instances against abuses, although I should have supposed that local authorities are as a rule competent to make simple bargains of this kind. But, at any rate, it cannot be said that the necessity of demanding this further reference and personal approval in every case can tend to expedite matters, or indeed do anything but delay it. I cannot help thinking that it will be found that if this rule is treated in all cases as a necessity, a great deal of building which might have been carried on during the building season of this year (which, after all, is now becoming advanced) will have to be postponed over the winter until another year. Noble Lords may also be tempted to agree that while all necessary safeguards should be maintained, yet this particular provision may be regarded as an indulgence in that tendency towards central as against local control 1105 which has become obvious in many matters beyond this question of housing.
I have nothing more to add. I am glad to think that this Bill is likely to receive the favour of your Lordship's House and to be read a second time. I have no doubt that some Amendments will be proposed, and I am assuming that the noble and learned Lord will not desire to hurry on the Committee stage unduly, although I have no doubt he will be glad to see it not too long deferred.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
On that point if your Lordships thought it convenient I intended to put down the first day of the Committee stage for Monday week, in the hope of continuing it on the Tuesday—giving two days to it.
TIIE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I am much obliged to the noble and learned Lord. As far as I am concerned, I have no complaint whatever to make of that arrangement.
§ EARL GREY
My Lords, I am sure that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack must have carried us all with him in what he said as to the need for this Bill and the impassibility of working through any different channels from those proposed in it. Therefore if any criticisms of substance and use are to be directed against the measure it seems to me that they must be directed to prove either that the Bill will not produce the houses we want or that it will not produce them in the best possible way.
I think the noble and learned Lord further qualified that by saying that no method of meeting this emergency would be a permissible one unless it was also of a temporary character, in view of the nature of the help to be given to local authorities. I am not quite sure what the "temporary character" Is it of a temporary character if the help to be given ceases after a certain date, irrespective of how long the effects of that help remain? or is not of a temporary character if you take into consideration the subsequent effects? It seems to me that it is very doubtful whether the effects of the help which the Government propose to give will cease when the period during which they will give loans is finished. Private enterprise, which produced such a large 1106 proportion of the houses before the war, is not really killed by the competition of local authorities which receive Government help; it is killed by high prices. That prevents private builders coming into the field. Therefore if the tendency of the Bill is to perpetuate high prices, I would suggest to your Lordships that private enterprise will be just as incapable of re-entering the field at the end of the period during which the Government propose to sub idise local authorities as it is now.
I, like the noble Lord the Chairman of the London County Council, have come into possession of the actual tenders offered to a local authority which is one of the satellites of the great authority over which Lord Downham presides. Those tenders go practically on similar lines to the figures which the noble Lord gave to the House. I was very pleased indeed to listen to what he said on that point; my only wish was that he had taken the same line on the last occasion when it was my fortune to come before him on the housing question. The example I have in mind is of a peculiarly favourable site which has been purchased for£625 per acre, and the cost per acre, taking the mean of the tenders for the roads and sewers, comes to£875, and the make up of the roads will be another£325, which together bring the cost of the scheme to£1,825 per acre before one penny is paid for bricks. I do not know what cost per cubic foot the noble Lord took in his calculations. The figure on which I am basing my calculation is 1s. per cubic foot in order not to overweight my argument, but I think it is absolutely impossible to build at such a low figure as that. Adding nothing at all for the on cost charges, I come to the position where the actual house, plus the cost of the share of roads and sewers and land, will come to£865 per house. The scheme allows for eleven houses to the acre.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord that the whole question hinges upon what is the sum the Government intend the local authorities to charge as an economic rent at the end of the period. I believe they consider that the 30 per cent. proportion of gross charges which they offer the county councils is more or less the same in amount as the offer ought to be in practice to local authorities in urban areas. Therefore I think that, in arriving at the economic rent which they may be expected to pay, it is fair to deduct 30 per cent. of the 1107 gross charges. That would bring a house in this particular local authority scheme down to£600, which would be the figure upon which the economic rent would have to be charged. The interest and redemption come to£5 18s. 1½d. per cent., and, at the very low figure of 1½per cent. for upkeep and administration, that brings the total annual cost to£45 10s. per year, exclusive of rates. That is 17s. 6d. per week; and if yon add 6s. for rates you are brought up to the position that the economic rent at which presumably, by listening to the speeches of Dr. Addison and of the Government, they may be expected to aim, in about seven years is going to be, in a case in which I have purposely loaded the dice against myself, 23s. 6d. per week. When local authorities reach the stage of examining tenders what is going to be the result when they get up against these figures? It must be perfectly obvious to us all that 23s. 6d. per week is not a rent which is going to be paid by the ordinary working man; or, if he is going to be content to pay that sum seven years hence, there will have been very great changes in the country in the interval.
What will be the attitude of the local authorities? They will either be aghast at the figures as worked out on actual tenders, or they will go on and say, "Well, the Government is going to bear the cost; we will gamble upon things panning out all right; we will proceed with our schemes and trust to luck that the Treasury will pay up in the end." It is true that that line of action will be open to local authorities, but it cannot be open to the public utility societies which you also hope will assist you to make good the deficit of houses. The public utility societies, as contemplated by this Bill, are of two kinds—(1), the societies formed by a firm or by group; of firms in order to supply houses for their own employees, and (2) the ordinary public utility Societies of which we have an example at Hampstead. The present cost of building absolutely disposes of any possibility of public utility societies such as that of Hampstead thinking of building at the present time. May I say how very warmly I welcomed the line which the Government have taken in trying to induce firms to form public utility societies for the benefit of their employees? I think they are absolutely right in that line. I admit that the indirect profit which they will draw through having more con 1108 tented workmen at their disposal may make it worth their while to go in for schemes on which they are going to get no interest at all.
I am a director of a shipbuilding firm on Tyne side, and I am bound to say that I had hoped very much to be able to induce my fellow directors to go in for such a scheme. But it seems to me that the Government, in the care they are taking not to offend the susceptibilities of those who are going to live in the houses, have rather overweighted this scheme. It is pointed out that the position is that if my firm build houses and fill the houses with their employees, there is nothing on earth to prevent all those employees going to work for a competitor next door and the firm have no remedy at all. I am not saying that is wrong, but I should like to point out to your Lordships how extremely difficult it is going to be to persuade a board to invest their shareholders' money in putting up houses for the benefit of their men who, perhaps, are going to work for competitors. Where you have individual works there may be no real difficulty in practice; but if you get into a great district such as Sheffield (where you have a large number of firms of a similar nature) or Glasgow or Tyneside, the only way in which you will persuade firms to take advantage if the offer you hold out to them in the Bill is by forming a great scheme between a large number of firms. That, of course, will be a very slow process and one not nearly to easy to achieve. I only wish to point out that this is one of the difficulties. By trying to introduce too many safeguards you sun a very Serious risk of defeating your object and not getting the help of [...] in building houses.
The noble Lord really touched the root of the whole difficulty when he alluded to the cost of labour. The Government have done everything they possibly can in every other direction, in appointing Committees to inquire into the supply of every sort of material, but they have not touched the real root of the whole difficulty, which is that you are paying your labour at least double what you paid before the war and are getting less for it. It is quite understandable that that should be so in the building trade, which closed down entirely during the war. There is no trade which has lost a larger proportion of its best 1109 craftsmen. It is very seriously handicapped in that way, and there is not only the loss of many of the most skilled workmen but there is also the knowledge of great unemployment in that trade and the feeling, which we know exists so unfortunately, that it is disloyal to your comrades who are out of work if you put in a fair day's work yourself. That feeling, which is based on a fallacy and which is handicapping us not only in the building trade bet in every industry of the country, has not been touched by His Majesty's Government. They have done nothing at all to try to persuade the workmen of this country that that is really at the root of all their evils.
It seems to me, as I read this Bill, that instead of trying to tackle that problem, they have deliberately encouraged masters and men in the building trade to put prices up still further, by guaranteeing the whole of the loss in excess of a penny rate unless it can be proved that authorities have not been as careful as they might have been. That is really holding out a direct inducement to the men to approach the masters and say they want 2d. or 3d., or 4d.an hour more, and the masters, who will be working for the local authorities (whose losses are going to be borne by the State), have absolutely no personal incentive whatever to refuse. On the other hand they have every reason to accede to that request, and in that way you are forcing up prices and creating a condition in which at the end of the subsidy period building will be so expensive that it will be quite impossible for private enterprise to come into the field again.
Therefore, if that is true, the only result will be that you are saddling yourselves with the responsibility of building in the future not only workmen's houses but houses for anybody who wants a new house, whatever their class may be. I do not, see how you can escape from that position if from lack of courage to go to the root of the difficulty you connive at the piling up of the cost of labour. We can blame nobody except ourselves if, for the sake of avoiding discontent at the present, you make promises which cannot possibly be fulfilled, and, which must cause unrest with compound interest piled on at a future time
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT PEEL)
My Lords, 1110 I think the Government have no reason to be dissatisfied with the treatment this Bill has received. Your Lordships generally have welcomed the Bill, and have only indicated comparatively minor points which you desire to alter in the Committee stage. There are one or two points on which I should like to say a word in reply to questions raised by noble Lords, and the first I shall deal with is the point raised by the noble Marquess opposite. He complained that the time for carrying out these schemes was not long enough, and that it should be extended. I should like to point, out that, the time has already been extended front two to three years, and I understand that it is now the intention of the Government., and the Chancellor has assented to it, that such further period may be allowed by the Local Government Board, regard being had to the supplies of labour and material available from time to time, and to other local and general circumstances affecting the carrying out of the schemes. I think the noble Marquess will agree that this gives a good deal of elasticity, and at the same time gives the Local Government Board power to pull up any local authority which is not proceeding sharply enough. He will also realise that the matter is one of extreme urgency, and that these very generous—the noble Earl said they were almost too generous—terms are given precisely because the urgency is great, because the necessity for building these houses is very great, and local authorities must be stimulated. It is obvious that these very generous terms cannot be indefinitely extended, and that a definite period must be placed on the time during which they can be granted.
The second point to which the noble Marquess referred was the question of the Housing Commissioners. He did not object, to the appointment of the Housing Commissioners if their duties were to be confined to general advice given in the locality. The point of his criticism was that they had the power of assenting to arrangements made between the local authorities and the owner for the purchase of land. I ought to point out to the noble Marquess that previously, when schemes under the Housing Act of 1890 were carried out and when the local authorities came to the Local Government Board to borrow money which was to be repaid for the purpose of these housing schemes, the cost 1111 of the site was always very carefully scrutinised by the central authority to see if it was a proper site before the money was lent. In this case you have a far more serious obligation on the Government. It is not only a case of lending money which is to be repaid, but it is the granting of a large sub idy which has to be paid out of the taxes. The obligation on the Government is therefore much greater than it was before, and I think the noble Marquess will agree that it would be strange indeed if a duty which the Government carried out when it had a smaller financial obligation was neglected when it had a larger financial obligation. The position of the Housing Commissioners is that a great many questions which previously would Lave to referred to the central authority—we ought, I suppose, to call it now the Ministry of Health and not the Local Government Board—can be decided by them. There will be some degree of decentralisation which will not delay the progress of these schemes.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
May I explain that I was not at all complaining of the operations of these gentlemen, except on the point of urgency. They must eventually lead to a great deal of delay, assuming the extreme need for promptitude to exist.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
One hopes that they will operate quickly; at any rate they will operate much more quickly than if the schemes have to be sent to the central authority. Very grave criticisms were passed on the whole scheme by Lord Downham. On one point he was a little severe, I think, on the present President of the Ministry of Health. He rather seemed to treat the President as if he and the local authorities were in different camps, and that some threats had been held out by the President against local authorities, who were described as being on their trial. He indicated rather an unfriendly attitude on the part of the President to the local authorities. In The Times of to-day, in a description of Dr. Addison's speech, appears this sentence—He urged the desirability of more real spade work, and at the same time testified to the enthusiasm displayed by many of the local authorities.Of course, the President may have made that statement under the stimulus of the 1112 noble Lord, but it is hardly fair to charge him with this unfriendly attitude. The statement that the local authorities were on their trial in this question of housing is, I believe, largely made by local authorities themselves, and it is not a charge merely levied against them by the President himself.
My noble friend Lord Downham also said that this was a partnership between local authorities and the central authority. It is a partnership of a kind, although it is a partnership in loss, which is a disagreeable kind of partnership. But the noble Lord said that one of the partners could stand behind the other partner (the local authorities) and condemn, and act in default if they did not build these houses. My noble friend, I think, was hardly fair to the Ministry in that criticism. Is it not clear that if you have this large amount of Government assistance to local authorities you must have some stimulus behind them. In the tremendous urgency and great necessity for having these houses—to which every noble Lord has borne testimony—it would not be possible to have 1,800 local authorities dealing in different ways with this housing question. There should be behind them a very strong stimulus, and the Ministry of Health should retain the right to act in default if they do not do their duty.
My noble friend also raised a point on I behalf of the London County Council and complained that the previous scheme of 75 per cent. and 25 per cent. had been scrapped, and that this scheme of any excess above a penny rate being borne by the Government had been substituted without proper consultation with the County Council. As an old member of that body I should regret that any step was taken without proper consultation of the London County Council. I understand that the arrangement was made owing to the representations of local authorities. They are not all of them in the same fortunate position in regard to rates as the London County Council. They represented that their losses ought to be limited, and suggested that they should be limited to a penny rate. When that was done it was, of course, unnecessary to keep the 75 per cent. and the 25 per cent; and it was almost better to have this simple plan of saying that all the deficiencies on these houses above the penny rate should fall upon the 1113 central authority—which made anyhow a simple principle on which the local authorities could act, they knowing that their deficiencies were absolutely limited.
I think that I have already to some extent dealt with my noble friend's point about the City of Edinburgh, which says "We can only build 2,000 houses, and what is to be done about the other 8,000 houses, as 10,000 ought to be built?" I do not quite know why they cannot build more than 2,000 in the three years, with the extra allowance, but there again all that can be said is that with these generous terms, in a case of such necessity and importance, there must be some sort of limit of time, although an elastic limit, within which these schemes must be carried out.
The most important; part of the criticism of my noble friend was that where he produced contracts and prices at which houses are to be built. One has not had an opportunity of scrutinising them, and undoubtedly in the Paper issued by the Local Government Board on April 28 certain estimates were made of capital expenditure and loss, and these were based upon the capital cost per house being£500,£000, and£700 It is obvious that this will be largely increased if the large prices mentioned are maintained, but I do not know on what basis these contracts were made, because if they are in the nature of ordinary contracts it is possible that the contractors, wishing to guard themselves against a rise in the cost of materials or wages, may have covered themselves very comfortably; and it may be that the forms of contract may safeguard the local authorities and reduce the price. I have had mentioned to me contracts in the North of England where very much less—
§ LORD DOWNHAM
There is a clause in every one of these contracts under which this very large sum of£840 will be exceeded if the price of materials or of labour rises during the period of construction of the house. Every one of these tenders contains that clause.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
That, I agree, makes the case far more serious. But does it not make the case for the Bill far more necessary? Because how can you possibly leave this building of houses to private 1114 enterprise when private builders are to be faced with difficulties of that kind. The houses would not be built, and yet they must be built.
My noble friend dealt with the question of finance, which everybody must agree is a matter of great seriousness. He pointed out that this great capital expenditure might equal tie present debt of the local authorities of the country; but I do not know that he, with all his experience, made any very helpful suggestion towards meeting that difficulty. After all, money has to be raised by the local authorities in their own areas or by the State. He is aware of the difficulties of raising these very large loans, and is it not better that as far as possible these loans should be raised in the localities, where they may be taken up possibly by persons who would not subscribe to State loans. Everybody must admit that the financial position is very serious, but I hope my noble friend will not take too gloomy a view of it, with all the great experience which he has of these matters. He tells us that if these prices continue the private builder will be driven out of the field. The position of the private builder is bound to be a serious one, but it is hoped that he may in many cases come in as contractor to the local authority.
Then my noble friend touched upon a very difficult point in asking how we are going to be sure that these houses are restricted to members of the working classes. He knows this difficulty extremely well, and I think the position now is more difficult in that respect than it was before the war, because owing to the great rise in wages the working classes often are far better off than those individuals to which my noble friend referred. I was rather surprised to hear that the wealthy curate was going to take the house rather than the comparatively better-off working man. This question has been gone into by Committees, and so forth, and they have all come to the conclusion that it is not possible to define, fur the purpose of these houses, who is a working man and who is not, and that therefore it is far better to define the type of house rather than the type of man.
In conclusion, I will only refer to a point raised by the right rev. Prelate. Apart from the question of town planning, which he alluded to and which he knows is made 1115 far more easy by the provision of the Bill because many of the elaborate precautions taken in 1909 have now shown themselves to be less needful and the necessity for houses to be greater, the right rev. Prelate said, "Why cannot you produce measures which will do away with slums—some comprehensive system?"
THE LORD BISHOP OF WAKEFIELD
I did not ask for measures, but for a constructive policy which would look forward ten, or fifteen, or twenty years.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I can only say for this Bill that it does a great deal to meet the wish of the right rev. Prelate, because it does two things. The right rev. Prelate knows very well that what stood in the way, in London at any rate, of dealing with these slums was the very large sum which had to be given for the slum itself. Under this Bill the price for these slums is limited to the value of the land, restricted for certain purposes, and therefore the work of clearing slums is enormously assisted. Again, when these houses are built to replace the slums, either in the same district or elsewhere, you get the financial assistance already detailed under the Bill. So in two ways this Bill does much to bring about that ideal to which the right rev. Prelate is looking forward.
Those are, I think, the few points on which I desired to say a few words. One must fully recognise the difficulties. The financial points referred to by Lord Downham are very grave points, and must be given very great consideration as to the best methods not only of raising the vast sums of money which are requisite for building these houses, but also of limiting as far as possible the annual obligation which falls upon the Government by making up the deficiencies on the schemes under the Bill.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I should like to be allowed to say a few words on this Bill. I have no desire to criticise severely its provisions. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was fully justified in his claim that this Bill is absolutely necessary, and that its main outlines are prescribed by the circumstances in which we stand—I mean that an enormous number of houses have to be built within a very short time, and that these cannot be built without substantial 1116 assistance from the taxpayer—and I may add that I agree with him that private enterprise in the ordinary sense of the term (I mean the enterprise of private individuals acting alone) can be relied upon to do but very little towards the solution of the problem.
I do not rise, therefore, to speak to your Lordships as a severe critic of the policy of the Government; but I think that the noble and learned Lord himself and the noble Viscount who has just sat down must have realised, in listening to the debate which has taken place this afternoon, how very much more formidable a problem this is than any one would have assumed from many of the speeches which have been delivered elsewhere upon this subject. The problem is much more serious than it was at the time when, as the noble and learned Lord had one me the honour to remember, I was connected with an inquiry on the subject. Not only has the lapse of time increased very seriously the waste of houses which goes on annually, but the enormous increase in cost has produced the consequences to which such notable attention has been drawn by my noble friend the Chairman of the London County Council (Lord Downham) and by my noble friend the noble Earl who sits behind me. I hope that the Government, both here and in another place, will face the very formidable character of, the situation.
It is not merely a question of money—that is bad enough—but it is a question of the absolute want of the necessary materials and labour to carry out the policy of the Government. I doubt whether it is possible to do much, even if we squandered money, to carry out the whole programme that the Government have set before the country. That is not their fault. I am not blaming the Government. I only desire to record the fact lest there should be disputes hereafter. I do not want to repeat the figures which have been given, but is it not incumbent upon us and upon the Government to look wherever we can for some means of mitigating the severity of the problem, and of making it, consistently with the essential requirements of the situation, as little burdensome as it may be made.
Let us try and examine one or two heads in that sense. The first one I should like to examine is the head of replacement. The right rev. Prelate mentioned the 1117 slums. I can assure the right rev Prelate that no one desires more than I do to get rid of the slums in this country. I have tried to do something privately myself in that direction, and I am sure it ought to be done. But there are slums and slums. There are slums in which it is absolutely intolerable for human beings to. Those, I agree, ought to form part of any urgent programme which is laid before the coop-try. But there are other so-called slams which though they do not come up to the standard which your Lordships would wish to see throughout the country, are not of a kind that require to be urgently dealt with, I observe that no distinction is drawn between these two classes of buildings which are to be condemned in the 'Bill, and I doubt whether any such distinction is drawn it the minds of the government. I suggest to them that a distinction ought to be drawn when you are face to face with—a problem such as we have to deal with—a problem which means that in England alone, I believe I am correct in saying, there is need for the erection of 500,000 houses at the cost which Lord Downham has mentioned, or of something like it. There is in addition the problem, which for the size of the population is still more urgent, in Scotland. As everybody knows Scottish housing is a long way behind English housing. When there is a problem of this kind we ought closely to scrutinise the cases of replacement which ale put before us. I think the Government would be very wrong if they allowed money and material and labour to be expended upon any but the most urgent replacements until the arrears of new buildings have been made up. I suggest, therefore, that the Government should instruct their Commissioners that no consent should be given to a scheme for replacement unless it is of the urgent type that I have described to your Lordships. That is the first limitation I should like to see made.
Although I agree with the noble and learned Lord that private enterprise cannot be relied upon to any very great extent, yet let us avail ourselves of it to the utmost extent that we can. May I suggest respectfully to the noble and learned Lord one direction in which assistance can be given to private enterprise. The Government have collected and bought in advance an enormous mass of building material that they are going to furnish to the local authorities at, I suppose, a moderate price.
1118 I think that any advantage of that kind should be afforded generally, and that if any private individual comes forward and. wants building material he should be treated upon the favourable terms that are extended to local authorities, so that anything he can do he shall be enabled to do. Otherwise, with the local authorities absorbing all the materials and he himself bring thrown bark an the market price—which; may be very munch higher, if there is any material available at all—he will be totally disabled from contributing anything to making good this great building deficiency. I suggest that as a second thing.
I come to the third point. I think the Government, as my noble friend has already said, must do their utmost to restrict the labour bill. I know that this wants courage in the Government, but I think they must do it. Let them observe how their plan works. This is only a detail, but it is a very important one. They are going to pay the excess cost; therefore it does not matter to the local authority how much that excess cost is. As has already been pointed out in this debate, whatever organised labour chooses to ask there is no reason in the world why the immediate employer should not concede, because in the end the taxpayer has to pay. Therefore the effect must be that the cost will rise higher and higher, and a great mass of money will be wasted. That ought not, to be. Why should not the Government adopt this method? Instead of paying upon the figure of the cost, why should they not pay upon the figure of the output—that is to say, why should they not pay so much per unit of house built rather than upon the total cost incurred? If that were done there would, of course, be a direct incentive to economic building. I suggest to the Government that they should do that. Very few words would be required to alter the Bill in that respect; indeed, I do not know whether any words would be required at all. It might be done merely by interpretation of the method under which they calculate the 30 per cent. of the cost.
I have only one more word to say. Your Lordships will no doubt scrutinise this Bill very carefully—scrutinise it in no unfriendly spirit, scrutinise it with the object of making it as good a Bill as it can be made, and of mitigating as far as possible the difficulties to which we have been alluding, But most of these questions 1119 turn upon cost, and all of them involve financial considerations. Your Lordships have a melancholy experience of what happens when the House of Lords tries to deal with topics of that kind. There is what is called the privilege of the House of Commons. I suppose that by education and upbringing I ought to be the first to follow these ancient traditions. But I confess I can hardly speak sometimes with patience of the way in which the privileges of the House of Commons are used in matters of this kind.
After all, it is not the object of your Lordships to invade the province of the House of Commons; that has never been our desire. But it is our object to make the Bills as good as we can, and that, I apprehend, is the object of the House of Commons too. When they send a Bill up to us and we find that in many particulars Amendments ought to be made which have a more or less direct financial effect, then are we to be stopped because of privilege? Is the country to be deprived of a good Bill and good provisions because of this very old-fashioned, out-of-date, and, I think, inconvenient limitation which is imposed upon us?
I have said this because there is a power in the House of Commons to waive its privileges. I earnestly hope that if we approach the House of Commons on bended knees and cap in hand we may induce them not to scrutinise our Amendments, if they are good ones, from the point of view of their privileges, but to examine them entirely from the point of view of the interests of the country at large. If they are good, let us bury privilege in the depths of the sea; if they are bad, of course the House of Commons will be not only entitled but under an obligation to throw them out. I earnestly hope that these very respectful words, through the kind intervention of His Majesty's Government, may be even more respectfully laid before the House of Commons, and that we shall not be met, after we have done our best in Committee to amend this Bill, by being told that we have done what we ought not to have done, and that, however good the Amendments are, however essential they may be shown to be for the working of the Bill, they must be throw out with contumely because they are a breach of the privilege of the House of Commons.
§ Lord CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, I will not detain the House for many minutes, but I think it is well to point out one thing. There is no such thing as charging anything to the rich man or to the State. It has all to be paid for, and that by the working man and his labour. And if the Government does not take the precaution to put a limit on the subsidy which it gives, it simply means that so much bread and butter has to be given up for bricks and mortar, and you cannot live on bricks and mortar. The Government must put some limit to the subsidy. If the subsidy is paid at the rate of 10 per cent, on the cost of the building and it is limited in some way so that it cannot react, well and good; otherwise it will give a privilege to the bigger towns, which will be able to build at a cost which will make it impossible to put up buildings in the smaller ones, and it will simply mean a decrease in the purchasing power of money. Whether it is increased wages or increased subsidy it has all to be met by a drop in the purchasing power of money, and that means that you can buy so much less bread and butter with what remains.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.