HL Deb 22 December 1920 vol 39 cc880-6

The Commons Amendment to your Lordships' Amendment are not printed, but I understand that with the general assent of the House it will be convenient that they should be considered in that form.


My Lords, I very much hope that the House will to-day consent to agree to these Amendments. The Commons have re-inserted in the Bill Clause I, and also the First Schedule, which was left out consequentially upon the omission of Clause 1. In doing so they have inserted three or four Amendments to meet the points which were in debate on the Committee stage in this House raised by the speeches of the Dukes of Atholl and Buccleuch, and by Lord Balfour of Burleigh. The Bill now is practically the same as Clause 1 of the Health Bill, which clause this House agreed to accept the other day. The noble Marquess, I think, mentioned that he considered Clause 1 to be non-contentious. The only difference is that a clause has been inserted which includes furnished houses. This proposal was inserted in the Bill as the result of a unanimous recommendation from the Scottish Committee in the other House. There are a number of places, mainly in the West of Scotland, where the housing congestion is very great, which contain many houses that are occupied only for a small part of the year. The fact that these houses stand empty while many people cannot find housing accommodation causes a very keen sense of grievance, which it is desirable to obviate, if it can be done without injustice. The safeguards provided in the clause and. Schedule should prevent undue hardship arising out of the operation of the clause, and the extended provisions as to compensation which have now been inserted should ensure that no real injustice is done. I cannot help feeling that, if the House refuses to agree to the reinsertion of Clause 1, not only will the Bill but the subsidy for housing be in grave jeopardy. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will agree to these Amendments.

Moved, That the Commons Amendments be now considered.—(Lord Stanmore.)


I hope that your Lordships will insist upon the excision of Clause 1 from the Bill. The noble Lord in charge of the Bill has told you Lordships that this Bill will not inflict hardship upon the owners of these houses. I venture to disagree with him. The injustice inflicted upon an individual owning, for instance, just such a house at a seaside resort as the noble Lord indicated, will be this. It is quite true to say that his furniture under the clause will be taken from his house and stored, that the insurance will be paid by the local authority, and that depreciation and reinstatement will be found; but there is the interest which he might have expected to obtain for the money which he spent on the furniture, which would, of course, be represented in the case of a let of a furnished house by the amount of the rent paid for the furniture in the house.

I hope it will not be said that the unfurnished rent, which is to be fixed by an arbitrator and which is to be paid I suppose for the whole year, will compensate the owner of the house for the furnished rent, which it is quite true to say would only be paid for a part of the year. It is common knowledge that those who build houses, or own them, by the seaside calculate and so frame their rents as to recoup themselves, capital and interest, for their investment daring what is commonly called the letting season. The fact does remain that the person who bought the house and furniture under this clause is to be mulct, SO far as it can reasonably be measured, of a sum of money represented by the difference between the furnished and unfurnished rent of the house. I venture to think that even if no money loss was involved, there is here a very serious question of principle. I recognise at once that the noble Lord's case, so far as it rests upon the need for housing, is good, but I ask your Lordships to say that the consideration of principle is paramount. These houses were bought and furnished by the persons now owning them in the faith of their legal right to do what they chose with them, and I do not know that stronger words can be used in this House than "their right so to do." So much for the individual case.

If you want to cure the shortage of houses in this country surely what you have to do is to seek by all means in your power to make the building of houses a remunerative investment, and to increase confidence and credit in that particular branch of property. It is quite true to say that this Bill is only operative for three years, but after all we are now at peace, and we have all learnt the lesson, I venture to think, that you cannot measure the advisability of such a Bill as this by the fact that it is only going to last for three years. It may very easily be continued year by year indefinitely. Then again the Government, no doubt realising the effect which the Bill would have on the building industry, from the fact that it would destroy confidence and tend to prevent building of new houses, has in Clause 1 set it down that the Bill is not to apply to houses built after 1919. But, my Lords, there is no guarantee that in 1930 such a Bill limy not be applicable to houses built in 1922.

I say that this Bill, so far as the provisions of Clause 1 are concerned, seeks only to a minute degree the alleviation of what is a very wide evil. I say also it contains a thoroughly vicious principle which is destructive of confidence and credit in that particular class of property. When the noble Lord comes down to this House and recommends your Lordships to accent this Bill he is, if I may say so, a purveyor— I use the word figuratively—of one of those dangerous drugs which, while they palliate symptoms, do but aggravate the disease. In the end I believe the admission of such a principle as this tends to strike hardest at those it appears prima facie to help. It tends towards depression in trade and unemployment which, in the long run, hits those who are poorest and are least able to shift the burden on to other shoulders. I hope I have not used words of exaggeration in asking your Lordships to resist the inclusion of Clause 1 in this part of the Bill.

On Question, That the Commons Amendments be now considered, Motion agreed to.


I beg to move that this House do not insist on their Amendment deleting Clause 1.

Moved, That this House doth not insist upon the said Amendment.—(Lord Stanmore.)


The noble Marquess has certainly made a very good case for insisting on your Lordships' Amendments, but there are exceptional circumstances. I think your Lordships must bear in mind that the Government did not, in the first instance, put this clause in the Bill, and probably would not have liked to ask Parliament to accept it at such a late period of the session had it not been that it was the unanimous request of the Scottish Committee in the House of Commons that this clause should be put in. I admit that there is a great deal in what the noble Marquess says. It certainly will create an amount of hardship. There is an appeal to the Board of Health, and there is an arbitrator to fix the rent. It may not be equitable, but the Amendments which have been inserted in the Commons to a large extent meet the criticisms of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh and others. Although I do not like the principle, I think on the whole that this case is so urgent that it would be wise of your Lordships not to insist upon your Amendment, and I hope my noble friend will not go to a Division.


I wish to say a word in support of the general principle laid down by the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow. I fully agree with Ins statement that the effect of all this legislation is to intensify the evil that you wish to rectify. You destroy confidence. The result is that people will not engage in building operations when they feel that the buildings are going to be taken over by the Government or by those whom the Government will allow to take them over. At the same time it is lamentable conduct on the part of the Government, who could quite easily put this Bill through with Clause 1 taken out of it if they wished to do so. Instead of that they come here with the threat that unless we agree not to insist upon our Amendment, we shall lose the whole Bill. That is very ungenerous conduct.


I have no special right to intervene upon a purely Scottish question. Generally speaking, your Lordships who do not come from that fortunate part of our Island abstain from interfering when a Scottish question is under consideration, but I am bound to say that I think my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch has given sound advice to your Lordships on the present occasion. I quite agree with my noble friend Lord Linlithgow that the great ultimate thing for the solution of the housing question is to restore confidence, because without confidence you will not have building, and without building you cannot solve the problem. But, for reasons which I have already had an opportunity of stating in your Lordships' House in support of the English case, the presence of these unoccupied dwellings where the housing pressure is very severe does constitute a point of offence to public opinion which I am sure your Lordships would desire if possible to avoid.

I know that I shall not be saying anything which any noble Lord from Scotland will think in the least beyond the fact when I state that there is no part of the United Kingdom where the housing conditions are less forward than the kingdom of Scotland. The evidence, as your Lordships know, upon Scotland was much more striking even than upon England as regards the shortage of good accommodation. The committee over which I have the honour to preside did not report, if I remember aright, on this particular point, because we thought the question of empty houses was outside the scope of our reference, but the great difficulty which this particular case involved was strongly represented to us. So much for the principle. As regards the details I should be very sorry, I must admit, if the compensation which is provided by the Bill is, as my noble friend says, inadequate. The noble Lord denies it, and I am very glad that he denies it. I hope it is adequate, for I think it would be most unfortunate if this property were taken possession of and proper compensation not given. I understand, in any case, that your Lordships' efforts in Committee have resulted in this, that several of the qualifications which Lord Balfour of Burleigh and others suggested as necessary have been accepted by the Government in another place. Even if we have not got all that would, in my humble judgment, be right as a palliation for what is undoubtedly a very strong but a necessary measure, at any rate we have got a good deal, and, having regard to the great emergency due to the war, so very different from the normal state of things, and provided it is not to be preyed in aid as a precedent, your Lordships would be wise to defer to the strong desire that there is to take advantage of any accommodation that can be found in order to try and mitigate this terrible problem. I therefore think that your Lordships should not insist upon your Amendment.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons Amendments

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendments.—(Lord Stanmore.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at half-past seven o'clock until noon to-morrow.