HL Deb 25 April 1923 vol 53 cc873-914

VISCOUNT ASTOR rose to call attention to the lack of proper houses, the need for slum clearances and town planning, and matters connected therewith. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, it is a somewhat strange coincidence that the discussion on the Notice which I placed on the Paper many days ago should coincide with the discussion in another place on the Second Reading of His Majesty's Government's Housing Bill. I shall try so far as possible, to-day, not to deal in detail with the points which are contained in that Bill. Your Lordships will have an opportunity of doing that, but I welcome the chance which I have of raising certain aspects associated with housing, important matters that require careful consideration in order that they shall be dealt with properly and adequately.

I need not remind your Lordships, because I know the real interest taken in this House, of the fact that there are thousands of ex-Service men, and women and children housed under conditions of positive indecency. No other word properly describes the conditions which exist in many parts. Your Lordships will remember the many real difficulties with which we were confronted after the war, the huge need for houses and the big expectations in the country. The Government and the country were anxious to deal with the whole subject, and yet it was extraordinarily hard to do so because prices were unstable and the country was dislocated by the war. A bold attempt was made to deal with the problem, and I am not at all ashamed of having been associated with that attempt. In three years we made up the deficit of the previous six or seven years in spite of the difficulties of instability of price and the-dislocation of the country. We did more than that. We established new standards for the housing of the working classes. Anyone who travels round the country will see different kinds of houses, with labour-saving devices, and houses which provide more air and sunshine for the inhabitants. Although the first housing policy of this-country was severely criticised in this House, I know by experience that it is the admiration of many other countries.

To-day, the position is this: We have not yet made up the pre-war deficit, and we have an increasing population. I think that in the year 1920 the net increase of population was something over 400,000; that is, the excess of births over deaths. It is true that many men lost their lives during the war, but that does not mean that the houses they occupied became available for other families. Their families still occupy the houses. In addition, there is another factor that we have to remember, and it is the unprecedented number of marriages that took place in 1919, 1920 and 1921, for in estimating the housing needs of the country we have to take into consideration not the gross figure of the population but the number of families requiring separate dwellings.

I will only say one word about the Bill which is being discussed in another place. The Government have quite rightly recognised that State financial assistance is necessary. I say, quite frankly, that if they had been in a position to announce their decision in December it is probable that the subsidy could have been less than it is now, because I have gained the impression that every adverse by-election tended to increase the subsidy which the Government had promised. The subsidy is a subsidy of £6 per house. Now I think it is quite likely that this will cause a large number of houses to be put up in urban districts, in large centres of population, but if £6 is the proper figure for large towns, I want to suggest to the Government that a larger subsidy will be required if we are to deal with rural housing. The cost and difficulty of putting up houses in the country are often higher and greater than they are in large towns.

I need not remind your Lordships that when we took on the housing problem we were not merely dealing with the urban problem, but also with the lack of modern sanitary houses in the country, and I think that if that shortage of houses in the countryside is to be made good it will be necessary to increase the subsidy for houses of that pattern. One other word upon this. The Government propose to give a flat-rate figure of £6 for each house, whether of minimum or maximum size. I suggest that if £6 is the right figure for the maximum-sized house, a smaller amount should be given for the minimum-sized house; otherwise, there is danger that builders will build the smallest type of house and draw the £6 subsidy. Now, the object of the subsidy is to stimulate building. What we want is to get the maximum output of houses that the building industry can produce, but we do not want to have a demand which is greater than the industry can supply, because if that should happen, and the subsidy is too big, the tendency will be for prices to go up.

The main factor is the output of the industry, which is determined by the number of operatives in the building trade. My information—and I hope that the Minister will confirm or check this—is that there are only 60 per cent. of the number of operatives in the building trade that there were before the war. That means that if we are to deal with this housing problem rapidly and efficiently, the Government must have a policy for increasing the number of operatives in the building trade. It is no good merely condemning the trade unionist for resisting the attempt to increase the number of operatives in the building trade. I have no sympathy with those trade unionists who do not give of their best, so far as house-building is concerned, in a matter of national urgency, but we have to recognise that their fears are to a certain extent due to the short-sightedness and selfishness of some of the employers of past generations. It is no good having Housing Acts unless we have men to avail ourselves of them. The best Housing Acts that Parliament will pass are useless unless the country is guaranteed a proper supply of labour to build houses in the next few years.

I suggest, therefore, that it is not only necessary for the Government to pass an Act increasing the powers of local authorities and subsidising the industry—that is quite right—but they have to agree with the building trade on a national housing policy for the next ten, fifteen, or, it may be, even twenty years. If the building trade know that there will be plenty of work for the next ten or twenty years it will be impossible for the unions to resist the national demands that more operatives shall be admitted by those unions. The Minister of Health stated quite rightly that the Bill which he introduced in another place yesterday did not pretend to tackle, the slum problem. It makes a certain advance, but it does not pretend to deal with slums as a whole. We have a moral obligation to the men, women and children who exist—one cannot say who live in any sort of civilised conditions—in many slums to deal at an early date with slums, and it devolves upon us particularly to give a lead in the matter of slum clearances. None of us in this House lives under conditions of overcrowding. Many of us have more than one house; it is a case of noblesse oblige. I know of no Assembly which has a greater responsibility than we have in this matter.

I entirely agree with the policy of the Government that it is necessary so far as possible to stimulate private enterprise, but I want to make it clear that in my opinion private enterprise will not and cannot deal with slums. I am fortified in that opinion by a speech which was made not very long ago by the present Minister of Health. He said that slum clearance is not an economic problem; you never get an adequate return from your renovated slum houses to pay you for the money you have to spend upon them to put them into decent order. Anybody who has had any experience of slum clearances knows that it is not a, paying proposition to clear slums and rebuild. It is because of that fact that private enterprise alone will not, solve this part of the housing problem; that is to say that further State action, further legislation, a tightening up of administration is necessary. It is most important in a difficult matter like this, where the most intricate questions of compensation arise, that the Government should be in a position to announce shortly a policy, so that local authorities not only may deal with the erection of new houses but may be making their plans for sweeping away the slums which, I regret to say, exist, all over the country.

I have referred to the need of having a, definite housing programme covering the next ten or twenty years. I am not in a position to say exactly how many houses should be built annually. I am not in a position to say what is the maximum output of the building industry at the present moment—60,000, 70,000, 80,000, perhaps 100,000 houses; it depends very largely on the amount of other building which is before the industry at the same time. But, in addition to the houses which we hope to see going up under the Bill which is now before the country, we have to face the fact that we have to demolish houses. We have not merely to build houses, to dell with the ordinary wastage, depreciation and replacement; we have, in addition to that, to demolish a large number of houses. That means that we have to put up a larger number of houses than is ordinarily contemplated when people talk of a housing programme.

I understand that there are something like two million houses in slums. Shall we say that perhaps one million of those ought to be pulled down in the next ten, fifteen, or twenty years? If a million slum houses have to be pulled down during the next ten years, that means that over and above the housing programme which is now contemplated we have to put up about one hundred thousand new houses every year. Many will say that an annual programme of two hundred thousand houses is excessive. Whatever the figure may be—even if it is only one hundred and fifty thousand—it is more than the building industry can now cope with. That is the point, which I want to snake clear. I do not believe that there is a sufficient number of operatives in the building trade now to deal with slum clearances and to put up the number of houses which the country needs if it really faces and tackles this slum problem. So it is essential that all parties (for this is not. a Party question) who are interested in the welfare of the community should join together, work out a national programme for the immediate future, announce that programme, and then take the necessary steps, whether it be by legislation, or by administration or by the enrolment of an increased number of operatives in the building trade, to see that we are in a position to carry it out.

Any programme on the scale that I have been sketching obviously must be a costly programme. Many people say that the country is not in a, position at the present moment to deal with houses on that scale. In my opinion there are more costly things than slum clearances. Slums are uneconomic; slums are expensive; slums are wasteful. They breed disease; they breed immorality. They not only breed disease and immorality, they are dangerous: they breed discontent, a feeling of revolution. Quite rightly: I should lose my faith in the people of this country if they were to be reconciled to the conditions under which many of them live to-day. Tuberculosis, a disease which is responsible for nine out of every hundred deaths, is a disease of overcrowding and squalor; it is a disease which sweeps men away in the prime of life; it is a long and wasting disease, an expensive disease. Venereal disease, the outcome of immorality, is very largely due to overcrowding. Crime is often directly attributable to overcrowding and environment.

I believe that this country is spending over £20,000,000 every year unnecessarily because of the bad housing conditions under which the people live. The indirect wastage of disease, of crime, of ill-health due to insanitary housing costs this country something like £20,000,000 every year. A policy of slum clearances may be expensive, but it is a policy which we have to face. It is an act of humanity and of economy; it is an act of national insurance. It is only if the people of this country really believe that we are tackling this problem seriously that we can look forward to a period of reasonable contentment on the part of our people. We have to face this problem, and to find the necessary money for carrying it out. It is because I think most people are agreed that, unaided, private enterprise cannot deal either with the rural problem, upon which I have touched very lightly, or with the slum problem, upon which I have laid more stress, that I hope the Government will be able to announce that they are considering further legislation—the Minister of Health gave an indication of that yesterday when speaking in another place—in order that the country may know that they mean to deal fully and comprehensively with this very difficult problem.

There is another side of the question on which I should like to touch, and that is town planning. The Housing Act of 1919 provided that all local authorities concerned must provide town planning schemes within three years of January 1, 1923; that is to say, that something like 1,800 local authorities have to provide town planning schemes in the next three years. The Minister of Health in the Bill which is now before Parliament proposes to extend that period from three years to six. I hope this will not convey the impression to local authorities that the question of town planning is not a matter of urgency. I regard it as one of the most urgent matters before the country. It is no good putting up 250,000 houses and then wishing that we had prepared our town planning schemes before those houses were built. It is only common sense and logical to say that town planning should so far as possible-precede the erection of any large number of new houses.

At the present moment town planning usually means town extension. The definition of town planning has been too narrow, and town planning has too often meant the mere extension of existing towns. I think that new powers will be necessary to enable authorities to re-plan existing cities. We ought to have powers for what is called zoning. There again, I am glad to see that the Minister of Health agrees with the view which I am putting forward—namely, that zoning is very necessary and important. Zoning means the dividing up of a town into districts and defining for each district the use to which it shall be put, allowing, of course, for a certain measure of elasticity, so that one district shall be commercial, another residential, and another industrial. It is important that local authorities should have powers which they do not now possess, to re-plan existing cities.

Then it is necessary to develop what are called garden cities. Garden cities will only be developed if there is some body or authority dealing comprehensively with the matter. Another very important matter is the question of regional planning. The increase in the use of our national roads has created an entirely new problem. New facts bear upon the question of housing. We have firms in London which send motor vehicles almost all over the country delivering goods from London throughout the neighbouring counties. There is a movement at the present moment to build a national road to join Manchester and Liverpool. I understand it is very necessary that there should be a big road connecting Liverpool with Manchester, and that the business community would be materially assisted were such a road in existence. But it is obvious that it is unfair and illogical to expect the smaller local authorities, burdened as they already are with heavy rates, to bear the cost of building and maintaining roads which are used by vehicles coming, it may be, from neighbouring areas and, it may be, from distant areas.

I believe that we have in the near future to face the fact that we must have a scheme of national roads, under a national authority, paid for by a national authority. We are moving in that direction. The Ministry of Transport is already engaged in classifying many of the roads in the country. The Ministry of Transport is already giving considerable financial assistance to local authorities to improve their roads. The difficulty at the present moment is that the road in respect of which assistance is to be given depends upon the initiative of the local authority and not necessarily upon the national need. You may have a recalcitrant or backward local authority which is not asking for financial assistance to deal with this matter. I mention the question of national roads because it bears upon the whole problem of regional planning. Towns are more interdependent than they used to be. The increased use of roads, railways, motor-cars, newspapers, telephones and all the rest of it has made the whole country more interdependent. Two hundred years ago, villages three miles apart led absolutely separate lives. Now, the increased facilities for travel have made it possible for business men to travel every morning thirty miles to their business and thirty miles back in the evening.

Another factor which has to be borne in mind is the influence of the geological formations upon districts. The discovery of coal or iron will alter a whole district by converting a rural district into an industrial one. We have only to travel to the industrial Midlands and North to see what happens when adequate foresight is not exercised. We have to see that rural areas in which minerals, coal and iron are discovered are not spoiled in the future as other areas have been in the past. There is also, at the moment, another movement which has a bearing upon this subject. Factories are being ruralised. Factory owners are building their factories in the country, sometimes to escape the burden of the rates and sometimes in search of cheap labour or power. But the point I desire to put before your Lordships is that the smaller local authorities who are now the town planning authorities cannot possibly cater for or appreciate the needs of large surrounding areas.

It is absolutely necessary to take a wide survey and to deal with the matter not by town planning but by regional planning. It is absolutely necessary to get adjacent authorities to join together and prepare a joint plan. That can only be done by wise administration at, and sympathetic assistance from, headquarters. It is because of those things that I am emphasising this particular point, and I hope the noble Earl when he replies will be able to assure your Lordships that the Ministry of Health is increasing its town planning section. Town planning is a very technical and difficult business. It needs experience and it takes time. It is a matter on which brains are cheaper than mistakes. We want to avoid the mistakes of the past. We can only do that if the Ministry of Health attract into the Department the men who are best qualified to assist and give guidance in this matter of town and regional planning.

The only other matter with which I wish to deal before I conclude is this. When the country is building a large number of new houses, when new factories are being put up all over the country, I urge upon the Government to deal with the question of smoke abatement. Legislation is necessary. I believe legislation has been contemplated and promised. If that is so, I earnestly urge the Government not to delay in bringing forward their Smoke Abatement Bill. It will mean more health and less expenditure. Now is the time to do it, when Parliament is not occupied with a large number of big proposals.

To sum up the matter, we have a shortage of houses; we have too many slums; and we have a great deal of ugliness where there ought to be beauty. In the country we have far too much disease directly attributable to bad and insanitary housing. We have a great deal of money wasted, directly and indirectly, through the existence of slums. Our slums, and our had housing conditions, are due partly to ignorance and to lack of foresight on the part of our forefathers. If we fail, we shall not be able to plead ignorance. If we fail, it will be through lack of civic consciousness on our part. If we fail, it will be because we have not had the necessary courage, attention, and determination to tackle this problem. I apologise for having gone so fully into so many different aspects of the subject, but I am sure your Lordships will agree with me that on such matters as town planning and regional planning it is vital that we should look ahead. There must be a national policy laid down. We cannot possibly deal with this properly if we go on in a hand-to-mouth way. I believe that I shall have the agreement of all your Lordships when I say that housing is one of the most important questions before the country to-day, because upon it depends the physical health, the mental disposition, the family life, and the national welfare of our people.


My Lords, the noble Viscount has done, I am sure, a good service, in initiating this discussion. It is timely. It may call attention to certain large and essential elements in this great and intricate problem which may be overlooked when, in another place or elsewhere, attention is fixed on the somewhat restricted issues of the Bill now presented to Parliament by the Minister of Health. It is needless, epecially after what the noble Viscount has said, to insist upon the urgency of the problem. It is immediate and pressing. But there is a danger, not I hope great but certainly not negligible, lest the very urgency of increasing the quantity of houses should lead to slackness as to their quality. We must take care that the necessity of building now is not taken as an excuse for building anyhow. It is most important that the houses which are to be built under the present Bill and in view of the present urgency should he of the right kind—right in standard, right in spacing, and right in planning with reference to future developments. It is true that the Government promise later legislation. The Minister of Health has said that his Bill is not a solution of the problem, but only the beginning of a solution. What is of great importance is that the beginning should not make the solution itself more difficult anywhere. Mistakes may be made now under the existing pressure which it will be difficult to rectify later on.

It is worth while, I think, remembering the very simple fact that a house is not merely the provision of a certain amount of room and shelter for an existing family. A house endures for at least two or three generations. The quality of houses that are built now by private enterprise or under this present scheme may affect the health, the comfort, and the happiness of thousands during these generations. Haste now may lead to repentance later on, but to repentance when there is no time for amendment. Let me say, first of all, a word about the quality of the houses—the standard which should be required. We shall probably agree that the general policy is wise of leaving a free hand so far as possible to the local authorities, and, through them, to private enterprise. It seems to me almost certain that, at least upon the local authorities, very strong pressure will be brought to bear which may lead almost imperceptibly to a lowering of the standard of the houses which are to be built, both as to size and quality.

I confess that I wish that the cubic space of the houses which it is proposed to subsidise could be greater than is at present proposed. I think the Minister of Health is justified in believing that in circumstances of natural demand there would be at present a very much greater demand on the part of the working classes for the smaller type of houses. In a housing scheme with which I am familiar, in circumstances of the operation of normal demand, the applications for the smaller houses as compared with those for the larger—I mean, to use the phrase which the Minister of Health himself rather deprecates, the non-parlour house—was about four to one. Yet I think it is of very great importance that in all the houses that are built now there should be an adequate quiet room in every house. We have to remember that increasingly the boys and girls of even the lowest paid working people attend our secondary schools, and it is of great importance that there should be some place where they can do their home preparation in peace.

Moreover, we are doing everything that is possible to enable working people to enjoy some real leisure in their own homes, and I believe that a very small extension of the space now provided for in the subsidised house would make it possible to provide a room which is a reality and not, as at present, rather a form. But apart from this, I most earnestly hope that nothing will induce the Ministry of Health to sanction local authorities giving way to pressure in the provision of unsatisfactory houses. At the very least, every house should have three bedrooms, a hot water supply, a bath- room, and—a point which is not mentioned in the conditions, I think, attached to the present Bill—the main entrance should not be direct into the living room. I apologise for these details. My point is merely to urge that whatever the pressure may be at the present time the Ministry of Health should stand by a high standard for all houses which it sanctions for subsidising.

Secondly, a word as to the spacing of these houses. I believe the standard recognised in schemes by the Ministry of Health is twelve houses to the acre. I do not think there is any prevision in the present Bill as to the spacing of houses. I think it is almost certain that many local authorities will either make proposals themselves, or sanction proposals made by private individuals, or building societies, for the building of as many as twenty houses upon an acre. We shall therefore have the old evil of overcrowding, not within houses but of the houses themselves, and I hope that whatever pressure or influence the Ministry of Health can exercise will be exercised in seeing that these new houses shall not be put on the ground in a larger number than ten or twelve per acre. Even if these points about the size and spacing of the houses should involve some slight addition to the proposed subsidy, I will hazard the statement that it is better economy to spend an additional £100,000 than to saddle two or three generations with unsuitable or overcrowded houses built under the pressure of the immediate necessity of the day.

Now I come to the third point, to which the noble Viscount has rightly attached the greatest importance; I mean the planning of these houses. Wherever possible, even the houses that are being built now to meet the present emergency should be built in accordance with well-thought-out housing schemes. We have no wish to add to our already overcrowded cities. It is a calamity to the social life of the country that our cities are so large as they are. No one can describe—the noble Viscount has attempted to do so in eloquent words—the loss to the community, and the stunting of the growth in intelligence, body and spirit, which is inflicted on those who are doomed to live in the dreary squalor of our city streets. It will be a great misfortune if these new houses are thoughtlessly built in the suburbs of the towns to increase the hideous tentacles which they are always throwing out into the surrounding country.

Again, we have no wish to dump down more of those sporadic groups of houses in our country districts with which we are painfully familiar. No one can travel through Lancashire and Yorkshire without deploring those miserable groups of houses, unrelated to one another, crawling about the countryside in the neighbourhood of pits or factories; groups of houses which have no interest or character of their own and which can give to those who live in them none of the benefits of any sort of community life. Our aim should be to keep the country free from the intrusion of the towns, to group the houses that are now being built so that they shall be the nucleus of some well-planned future township, with character, interests and resources of its own. We do not want more big towns; we want a larger number of self-contained towns with ample open spaces and access to the country, and industries of their own. We have an excellent example in the garden city at, Letehworth, which, I believe, has now a population of twelve thousand people and is gradually attracting a large number of industries which the people living tinder these healthy conditions may serve.

Above all, our aim must be to decentralise both industries and populations from our over-congested city areas and suburbs. There is a great lesson to be learned from Belgium, a very densely populated industrial country. I am told that although only twenty-three per cent. of the population of Belgium are employed in agriculture no less than fifty-six per cent. live in the country. I was informed that of the dockers in the great decks at. Antwerp no fewer than eighty per cent. are living in the country. It is impossible to exaggerate the difference that would come to the social life of this country if a larger number of our working people could be housed and could carry on their industry in communities where it is possible for them to have interest, occupation, stimulus to the health, and some connection with the country.

The moral of all this is, in the first place, that local authorities should be encouraged, and so far as it is possible should be pressed, to build now in accordance with planning schemes which have been prepared. It is good indeed that the present Bill proposes to extend the time within which local schemes can be submitted, but there may be a great danger that that should be regarded as a reason why local authorities should occupy themselves now with the building of new houses and suspend the carrying on of the equally vital point of the schemes under which these houses should be built. The moral, in the second place, is exactly what the noble Viscount has pointed out—namely, that wherever the circumstances make it desirable, local authorities should be encouraged at once to co-operate in what are called regional planning schemes.

I have in my hands a scheme which I think might well be taken as a model for other great districts where similar conditions prevail. It is the scheme adopted for the whole of that very important new industrial area which is surrounding the old town of Doncaster. The South Yorkshire coalfield has brought within immediate prospect the creation of what may be a now great industrial town occupying a large area in South Yorkshire. We are familiar enough in the old Yorkshire mining areas with the pitiful mistakes that have been made, and it seemed to many of us that here was a chance of showing what could be done in a more enlightened day. I presided at a conference of all the local authorities of the district before the war and pressed upon them the need of such a regional planning scheme. It was embraced with enthusiasm, but when the war broke out operations were, necessarily, suspended. I am glad to say that they have been resumed, and that all the local authorities of the area, as well as the county authority, have approved for adoption a scheme which embraces the whole of the great area of the South Yorkshire coalfield.

I hope I shall not be wasting your Lordships' time if I indicate what such a scheme provides. It provides for the development, within the orbit of Doncaster as a great civic centre, for some twelve or more well-defined self-contained towns, each of them surrounded by a large belt of country and making provision within themselves for parks and open spaces. It is proposed that these towns should each be of about ten or fifteen thousand people. It provides for that zoning of which the noble Viscount spoke, and lays down recommendations that the low-lying ground should be reserved for agriculture and dirty industries and the higher ground for housing, commerce and clean industries. The object is to prevent more houses being built on the low-lying ground, and to secure by local transport facilities a ready access from houses built on the higher sites to the industries or pits which occupy the lower level. It provides everywhere for a system of road transit, a matter which cannot possibly be dealt with in a haphazard way and may lead to every kind of mistake and misfortune unless it is taken in hand at once and treated with a view to the future.

The scheme also provides for the preservation of existing features of beauty and of open spaces on a systematic basis, and—I think this is a point of great importance—for the preservation of the character and beauty of the old existing agricultural villages. It provides—and I might relate this point to a discussion which recently took place in your Lordships' House—that new roads shall not make their way relentlessly through beautiful old country villages, but shall be diverted from them by a by-pass, so that their beautiful and historical features may still be preserved. Similarly, the scheme provides that pit heaps shall not be allowed to remain, but that all that material shall be used for filling up the lower lying areas for the erection of factories for the, employment of the people, who live in the higher zone. What I would press with the noble Viscount is that these regional plans should be undertaken under similar conditions all over the country. I think it would be a great misfortune if the pressure of the immediate problem were to be regarded as an excuse for postponing, and not accepted as a reason for pressing on, these general regional planning schemes.

I hope that no one will think that all this is the mere ventilating of ideals, and that in comparison with the immediate problem which the country is proposing to undertake all this is but an academic debate. That is the very heresy which I hope the noble Viscount's Question this afternoon may dismiss. We have before us the hideous and shameful legacy of the past and also the brighter possibilities of the future. We have to remember that the mistakes of the past were not made through wickedness but through want of thought, and we have to guard at this present moment against the danger lest the pressure of immediate necessity, leading to haphazard and ill-considered building, may repeat the mistakes of the past and cloud the prospects of the future. I trust most earnestly that local authorities everywhere will act with care and forethought and in reference to well considered schemes in carrying out the proposals of the present Bill, and that the Minister of Health will insist even now upon right standards of spacing and planning the houses that are to be built, and that in so doing he will be supported by the public opinion of the country.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies I should like to add one word to the hint which was thrown out by the noble Viscount who introduced this subject as to the possibility of a differentiation of grants for the different authorities who undertake housing. He said that if it were right that there should be a £6 grant for an urban authority, surely there was every reason to claim that a county or rural authority should be given a greater amount of assistance. I am sorry to note that my noble friend the Secretary for Scotland has just left the House, because I wished to impress upon him that, if there is a necessity for a differentiation of the grant in England, there is all the more necessity for differentiation in Scotland in this respect. Not only does Scotland have to deal with higher costs in building but there are a greater number of schemes for dealing with the rural problem.

I have in my hand a report issued by the district sanitary inspector to the County Council of Fife, of which I am a member, on January 16 this year. It brings out the fact that in one mining village in Fife there are no fewer than 350 people applying for two-roomed houses. Those people are at present living in sub-let rooms, probably in two-roomed houses. I put it to your lordships that people living under those conditions cannot possibly live in any state but that of discontent and unrest. There are one or two specific eases which I think I ought to mention. One is that of a sub-let two-apartment house occupied by two families, consisting of ten adults and seven children, or seventeen persons in all. There are also a two-apartment house occupied by three families, consisting of seven adults and one child, and a small single-apartment house occupied by two families, consisting of five adults and two children. Those are evidences that in the rural areas of Scotland, certainly in the western mining district of Fife, the problem is one in which action cannot be delayed.

During the last three years local authorities have been charged with forming schemes and building houses to meet this shortage, but the progress has been much too slow. I think there are two reasons which have contributed largely to that result. One is the centralisation required by the Board of Health. Local authorities have been charged with building houses, and every detail of planning, every detail of lay-out and every detail of every accessory to the house has had to receive the approval of the Board of Health for Scotland. That which has caused more delay than anything else in mining areas is the selection of sites. Your Lordships will all know that some doubt always exists in a mining area as to the stability of a site, and that some risks must be run. We have had great difficulty in selecting proper sites for these housing schemes. In one particular instance a scheme was started on February 4, 1919, and only last month was the consent of the Board of Health received for that scheme to make progress. I think that, that fact shows a lack of appreciation of the importance of the subject on the part of the central authority. If the local authority, the county council, are not able to carry out their duty they should not be charged with that duty, but if they are charged with it, they should be given the responsibility of carrying it through.

The other point upon which I desire to place some emphasis is the additional assistance which might be given to individual enterprise. Individual enterprise, as the noble Viscount who introduced the subject pointed out, cannot deal with the whole question of the removal of slums, but it can do a great deal in the way of building houses, both from the point of view of the builder who builds for speculation, and, above all, of the builder-owner who builds for his own occupation. I hope that, as the result of the Bill which is now before Parliament, we may see a great increase in the encouragement given to the independent enterprise of the man who desires to own a house when it is built.


My Lords, I will detain your Lordships only for a moment or two, but I wish to press upon you the urgency of this problem. I think there is no problem which more vitally affects the life and happiness of the people of our country than that of overcrowding, which is due to the shortage of houses. The present shortage of houses leads to the use of dwellings which are really insanitary, and also to overcrowding which is truly appalling. There are many dwellings which went out of use immediately before the war, but which are now crowded. I know of one, a large tenement building, in which 40 per cent. of the tenements were vacant before the war. Now, not only is every room occupied but there is a long waiting list of those who desire to find accommodation in these tenements, with foul atmosphere and small rooms.

The noble Earl who has just spoken gave us one or two instances of actual cases of overcrowding. I will give two that have come to my notice during the last few weeks. One was a very small room in which were two beds. There were seven persons in one bed and four in the other. They were living and sleeping in this room. In the other case there were five in the one bed, and the father and mother slept on a chair bed. The mother is about to be confined. These conditions are bad enough as they are, but unless they are dealt with drastically they will soon become worse, for streets which contain decent, sanitary houses are rapidly being ruined through overcrowding. A house intended for one family is now occupied by two, or three, or even four families. And that is not all. We are told, on very good authority, that a reasonably built house lasts about a hundred years before it turns into a dilapidated dwelling. In London, between 1820 and 1840, there was a very large amount of building to meet the increase of population that was then occurring. Now, these buildings, which are still inhabited, are very rapidly deteriorating, and within the next twenty years, in an increasing degree, their condition will have to be faced.

What are the results of this overcrowding? I want to mention two only. In the first place, there is growing up a population which has had none of the training and discipline which ordinary home-life gives. In London we have a very large number of adolescents between the ages of fourteen and twenty out of work. A very large number of them have literally no home to go to in the day. From early in the morning until late at night they live in the streets, wet or fine, occasionally taking refuge in a cinema when they are able to earn some money by an odd job or to win something by a bet; otherwise, they have to live in the streets. There is growing up a class which has none of that discipline in sacrifice and in the cultivation of the gentler virtues which comes so naturally from home life. That is a most serious situation for the future of the country. The other result has already been mentioned by the noble Viscount who introduced the subject. There is nothing which is making men more bitter, to-day, than the difficulty of getting houses. There is very little real revolutionary feeling in the country, but while you have bad housing you have a very fertile seed ground for the agitator, and men who would be untouched by revolutionary agitation on any other ground, find themselves almost driven to desperation when they have wages but are unable to find decent accommodation for their wives and families.

I recognise entirely that you cannot do away with the slums until you have built houses to which the people can move, and I should like, in conclusion, to endorse all that was said by the noble Viscount on the importance of providing labour for these buildings. I believe that however excellent the scheme may be, on paper, for providing new houses, it will fail entirely unless you meet the labour difficulty. There are not enough skilled men to build the houses which are absolutely necessary in the next few years. That, no doubt, is due to the restricting policy of the trade unions. Some form of dilution is necessary. I understand entirely the attitude of the working men in these trade unions, who oppose dilution, when they see an ocean of unemploy- ment all round them. I sympathise with their feelings on that matter, and I am convinced that the only way in which the Government can meet this difficulty is by a programme extending over ten years or so, on the condition that the unions are diluted. I do not think you would have any real opposition to dilution if the men felt that they were really certain of employment for a number of years. By this policy, I believe, you would not only meet the difficulty about housing accommodation, hut would also succeed in finding employment for a large number of ex-Service men.


My Lords, I should like to make a brief contribution to this debate on some purely practical points. As for the general considerations, which make this subject one of the greatest importance and the greatest urgency, I have nothing to add to what has been said by the noble Viscount who initiated this debate, and by the Archbishop of York. I would associate myself entirely, and on all points, with the speech of the noble Viscount, to which I listened with more sympathy and conviction than I have often felt for any speech on any social or political topic. I have said that I will not dwell upon the general considerations at all, except to express my conviction than there is no question, at this time of day, which more deeply affects the welfare and future of this country than the question of the conditions of life of the majority of the population, and that housing, important as it is, is only, as the noble Viscount pointed out, one side of this question.

If I may say so, there are three great branches of it—namely, the construction of better houses, the construction of better cities, and the supply of purer air, and you cannot really separate any one of them from the others, if you are going to deal comprehensively with the question of the conditions of life of our necessarily crowded population—forty or fifty millions of us—in these comparatively small Islands. That is the vital and pressing question of the immediate future, so far as home affairs are concerned. I cannot help saying this much about a subject on which I feel so intensely, but I apologise for delaying your Lordships when all this has already been better said by the noble Viscount and by the Archbishop of York.

To come to two practical points, I am familiar with the scheme which has been described by the Archbishop of York for the development of the Doncaster district. You have there, so far as I can understand, a very excellent plan indeed for controlling the development of that district in such a manner that the evils which have disgraced and defaced so much of our countryside in the past may be avoided in the future. One point about it I should like particularly to emphasise. We rather advanced social reformers are constantly told, when we urge this scheme or that scheme for tilt, amelioration of the conditions of the people, that it is all very well but we cannot afford it I think anybody who looks into that plan in detail will say that over a reasonable period of years the development of that district on the humane and enlightened principles which lie at the bottom of that scheme will be infinitely cheaper limn if you allowed the place to be tumbled up in the manner in which so many towns in the coal-bearing areas have been allowed to tumble up in the past.

I should like to ask the noble Earl who is going to reply for the Government a question which is really important. I defy ally number of competent judges studying the Doncaster scheme not to say that it is a great advance, and that it is eminently desirable that the district should be developed on those lines, instead of on haphazard lines. This scheme has been in existence for some years. What power is there really to compel the interested parties—the local authorities or the private people who are putting money into the development of this district—to work on those lines? It is all very well having this plan. I admire it, and I think that the money has been well spent. But it is no use at all if the scheme is merely to be pigeon-holed somewhere in a Ministry. What is the Government actually doing, if it is doing anything, to ensure that that district shall be developed on those lines, or on some reasonable lines, and not in a haphazard manner?

Secondly, I happen to live in a district which is going to follow the example of Doncaster district, in which there is now no longer any doubt that there are large quantities of workable coal, and coal-mining has already begun on a considerable scale; I mean the district of East Kent. It is a great national possession; it is one of the most beautiful districts of England, and it is also historically one of the most interesting. Do not let me be supposed to be speaking for my own interests. If I were driven out of that district I could go and live in one equally beautiful, and perhaps of equal historical interest; I actually have a little house in which I could live. But I am grieved at heart by the thought of the possibility that that region of England might be allowed to become a Black Country. It would be a national disgrace, as well as a huge national loss.

I have no hesitation in saying that, though undoubtedly the development of the coal mines must to some extent detract from the beauties and amenities of the region—that is, I am afraid, absolutely inevitable—with a little foresight, a little thought, and, above all, a little determination to carry out the plan to which foresight and thought may lead us, it is possible to develop that district in such a manner that, though it will suffer somewhat from industrial development., it will not suffer fatally, and especially that the most important points, like those to which the Archbishop of York has referred in speaking of the Doncaster district, will be observed. I hope the noble Earl when ho replies will tell me whether anything is being done to bring about such a combination of local authorities in that district as may lead to a general scheme being adopted, and adopted in time; and whether anything is likely to be done to ensure that, when such a scheme has been adopted, it can be carried out in practice.


My Lords, the noble Viscount at the outset of his very eloquent and able speech drew your Lordships' attention to the fact that, by an unfortunate coincidence, the debate which he has raised to-night falls on the day after the introduction of the Government Housing Bill in another place. In these circumstances, I think your Lordships may agree that a discussion on the merits of that measure would more profitably be postponed until the Bill itself is actually before you. My noble friend referred to the subsidy question, and the most rev. Prelate referred to the question of the size of houses and of their construction. I may inform the most rev. Prelate that this question of construction and size has not been lost sight of by the Department over which my right hon. friend presides. But I would prefer, with your Lordships' permission, rather to postpone the consideration of the policy of the Government for dealing with this problem until such time as the Bill is before this House for its Second Reading. I will therefore confine myself mainly to considering the three very important points which my noble friend has raised to-day, from the point of view of the existing state of affairs in the country.

Let me briefly review the situation as regards the house building trade during the last thirteen or fourteen years. Before 1910, private enterprise provided houses in considerable numbers. During that time and right up to the outbreak of war private enterprise was responsible for 95 per cent. at least—I think, perhaps, more—of the houses built in the country. Of course, fluctuations in the number of houses built each year took place, but on the average, before 1910, there were considerable annual additions to the housing accommodation, and ordinarily, in fact I might say practically always, there was a considerable margin of vacant accommodation to allow for expansion. Thus, in the five years ending in 1909 the average increase in the number of houses of less than £20 annual value was 80,000. Then in 1909 came an event with which we are all familiar, to which has been attributed the commencement of the housing shortage. I refer, of course, to the Budget of that year. The provisions of that measure undoubtedly shook the confidence of the builders; in particular, Sections 1 and 2, which imposed a tax on so-called increment value and a duty on undeveloped land. As your Lordships are aware, this has now been repealed, so that any difficulty on that score has been removed.

In 1910, the year which followed the famous Budget, the number of houses—and this is a very interesting figure, I think—of an annual value of less than £20 fell from 80,000, the average of the previous five years, to 5,813. Five thousand eight hundred and thirteen houses only were built in the year 1910! I should say that this was the lowest out- put during the five years subsequent to 1909; but the average for the five years from 1910 to 1914 was 46,000 per annum in comparison with 80,000 per annum during the previous five years. Therefore, there was a gross falling off in the number of houses built during the five years after 1909 of 170,000 altogether. This, of course, was a very serious blow to housing, but the margin in hand was so considerable that even the falling off in house building after the year 1909 had not produced an acute shortage of available houses when war broke out.

I may mention that in the Census of 1911 there were 400,000 empty houses recorded, and my right hon. friend recalled yesterday in another place the statement made last year by Sir Alfred Mond when he informed that House that when war broke out there were 430,000 vacant houses available. That fact was referred to by the right rev. Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Southwark, who told us of a tenement house which he knew in London in which there was then a great deal of vacant accommodation and which is now overcrowded and full to overflowing.

Of course, this slackening in building operations during the five years previous to the war enormously accentuated the difficulties which were created by the cessation of building operations during the war. As your Lordships are well aware, after the outbreak of war in 1914 and until 1919, or even later—because I believe only one hundred houses were actually completed in that year—building of all kinds, and not only house building, practically came to a complete standstill. When building of all kinds began again at the end of 1919 the actual building of dwelling houses suffered many serious handicaps. In the first place, there was a heavy loss in the personnel of the building trade. I shall have an opportunity of saying a few words upon that subject later in regard to the matter raised by my noble friend just now. That was the first difficulty. That loss, of course, had been reflected in the decrease in house building which took place during the five years preceding the war.

Thus, in the year 1901—that is to say, in the Census Year—there were approximately 940,000 men employed in the building trade. In 1911 that number had fallen to 873,000, and in 1919 the building trade had practically dissolved, because, except for war purposes, there was no building at all during the war, and the men had been mobilised and so forth, so that there was scarcely any organised building trade left at all when house building began again after the war. Even now it is estimated that there are only about 700,000 men in the trade. My noble friend said that the depreciation amounted to about 60 per cent. I have not worked the figures out, and I do not know whether they support his statement or not, but there has been a falling off of nearly 250,000 men between 1901 and the present time.

Further, the starting of building was seriously affected after the war by the lack of the supply of building materials. The manufacture of building materials, save in so far as they were required for military purposes, had ceased entirely and there was, of course, very little reserve in the country on which to draw. Naturally, the manufacture of building materials had to start before building itself could be proceeded with. And there was another difficulty. Directly after the Armistice house building was adversely affected by the imperative necessity for dealing with the arrears of repairs which had accumulated during the four years of war. I know from personal experience that a large firm of builders in the south of England employed a very considerable proportion of their available operatives to conduct these repairs. That, of course, militated against that firm being able to undertake house building on a large scale, or even to take up contracts. The employment of large numbers of men on repairs was going on all over the country. Then, again, there was another difficulty. In addition to repairs building other than the construction of dwelling houses was going on and was urgently required. A great deal of that kind of construction was necessary and it naturally competed with the building of houses.

All these causes contributed, in addition to the unfortunate falling off in building which took place before the war, to the great shortage of houses in 1919. It was further accentuated by the return of a large number of demobilised men many of whom intended to marry immediately and were looking forward to obtaining separate accommodation. I think that point was brought out by the right rev. Prelate in his eloquent speech. He showed how the sudden increase in the demand for houses was consequent upon the number of marriages which took mace in the years immediately following the war.

The noble Viscount told us of the measures undertaken by the late Government to deal with this situation. He referred to the first scheme, the scheme of building through the local authorities. That was the first scheme which was undertaken with the object of dealing with the shortage of houses. Under that scheme the liability of the local authorities was limited to a penny rate, while the State assumed the remaining unlimited liability. Then came the second scheme in 1921, the scheme of the granting of lump sums to private builders. Neither of these schemes has sufficed to meet the shortage of houses, although, of course, they have contributed to the reduction of it. The first scheme resulted in the erection of 176,000 houses at a cost to the State of about £9,000,000 a year, in addition to the cost to the local authorities of a sum of another £1,000,000, represented by the penny rate. This charge will continue for a number of years. The second scheme—that is to say, the private builders' scheme—produced some 39,000 houses at a total cost "all in" of about £9,500,000.

Your Lordships will see, I think, that the local authorities scheme was a very costly affair and that it is going to cost us a considerable amount of money in the future. The conditions under which this scheme was undertaken resulted in a great increase in cost. The highest average figure reached for the so-called non-parlour houses—I do not like the term—in September, 1920, was £881. I should say that a non-parlour house is one which contains a living-room, a scullery and two bedrooms; it is a four-roomed house. As I say, the highest average figure for that house was £881, and a similar high-water mark for the parlour house—that is to say, the house containing living room, parlour, scullery and two bedrooms—was reached in June, 1920, and was £972. Prices then fell, at first slowly and then more rapidly. Thus, in December, 1921, costs were respectively £514 and £566, and in December, 1922, £346 and £387.

Some pains have been taken to endeavour to arrive at a comparison between the cost of building in 1914 and the present time, and the increased cost is, roughly, fixed at about 60 per cent. in some places it may be higher, and in some places lower, but generally speaking the experience of my right hon. friend's Department and that of other authorities puts it at this figure. Therefore, houses costing £1,330 in 1914, which would be let for about £100 at 6 per cent., now cost £2,130; and £800 houses in 1914, which would let at about £60, now cost £1,280; £400 houses, which would let at £30, now cost £640; and a £215 house, which would let at £16, now costs £350. I take the figure £215, as it represents the pre-war cost on this calculation of a non-parlour house, costing £350 now.

I do not propose, as I said before, to discuss at length the Government proposals, as full opportunity will be given for that at a later date. I will only say this. The Government recognise that at the present moment it is impossible to proceed without some form of State assistance to houses. The fall in the cost in building, however, presents an encouragement to the hope that a return to private enterprise need not be indefinitely delayed.

I should like to say one word also upon a subject that my noble friend just touched upon—the subject of building materials. At the close of the war building materials were almost nonexistent, but I think I can say there is at present no shortage of material as there was in 1919, though the price is still high. The Government are attempting to deal with this, and my right hon. friend has appointed a very strong Committee, under the Chairmanship of Sir H. Mackinder, to examine the question. Its terms of reference are:— To he a Committee to survey the prices of building materials and to receive and consider complaints in respect thereof and to report from time to time to the Minister of Health and the President of the Board of Trade as to the facts, and in particular as to the extent to which in any case the price appears to be unduly high by reason of the operation of any trade combination, trust or agreement. As I have already said, 215,000 houses have been produced by the two Government schemes.

In addition to this, a considerable number of houses are built and building entirely outside the subsidy schemes. A return has been asked for from urban authorities of houses of this kind built and building, and so far as it has gone already—and the majority have sent in returns—we have been informed that 12,562 houses were completed between September, 1922, and March, 1923; 15,726 were under construction on the date of the return, and plans for 20,823 had been passed. It may be mentioned that the greater proportion of these was of the smaller middle class type. The total figure is 49,211, but this figure is in excess of the actual number as some of the houses described as under construction are also included in the 20,823 for which plans had been passed. But there are actually built or building 28,283 and an indefinite number ready to proceed with shortly.

I now turn to the second item of my noble friend's Notice dealing with the question of slum areas and unsatisfactory houses, and of course it cannot now be denied, nor is it attempted to be denied, that there are very many areas which are of a most unsatisfactory description and many houses which are in a state far from desirable, not in slum areas only, but in other areas also. I think I may say that all members of the Government individually and collectively agree with what my noble friend has said as to the very great importance of this subject. There is no question that this is an evil which must be faced, and faced as soon as possible, and in every possible manner. It is the intention of the Government to do all that is practicable to combat this evil. My right hon. friend yesterday, in his speech in the House of Commons, in proposing the Second Reading of the Housing Bill, referred to the fact that only a small portion of the Bill was devoted to this question of slum clearance, and went on to say that it was merely an earnest of what the Government hoped to be able to do, and that it was not their last word on this subject. To that matter I think the most rev. Prelate called attention, and I am very glad to repeat to him the words that my right hon. friend used yesterday in another place.

I would like to say something as to the difficulties which are met with in dealing with this question of slum areas. The difficulties are, of course, enormously accentuated by the shortage of housing accommodation. The usual method of dealing with a slum is to provide a certain number of its inhabitants with fresh accommodation, either by the construction of new houses or by finding new houses for other people and moving the slum population to those vacated. This is a simple means if it can be carried out, as the vacant slum, or part of a slum, can be demolished and fresh houses erected on its site. I think this is the method which was adopted round Millbank, and which has transformed that quarter of London from a very poor and unsatisfactory into a very pleasant quarter. But nowadays there is difficulty in proceeding by this method. If you erect houses to accommodate a slum population, in order to allow a slum us part of a slum to be demolished, you are retarding the general population from getting houses because you are increasing the demand for houses. That is one difficulty. You also run the risk of the accommodation provided for your slum population being absorbed by other people looking for accommodation, and the people who are turned out of the houses in the slum proposed to be demolished may get left without accommodation. That is another difficulty.

My noble friend drew attention to the question of the shortage of personnel in building. This is also a difficulty. Owing to the shortage of personnel it is very difficult to do more than cope with the number of houses required to accommodate those who are urgently in need of them. It is also very difficult, for the same reason, to proceed with slum demolition and reconstruction. The right rev. Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Southwark, gave us an interesting description of a plan he had in his mind, and I can assure him that that question will be given consideration. I shall be glad to bring it before the authorities in my Department for their consideration.

The next point is that owing to the shortage of personnel in the building trade, it is very difficult to do more than cope with the number of new houses which it is possible to erect. Those who study the returns of the Ministry of Labour will see that there is a constant number of unemployed in the building trade, and they conclude that, if all the unemployed in the building trade were found work, more houses would be built. This, of course, is the assumption which would naturally occur to anybody at first sight. It must be remembered, however, that the building trade is not really a single trade but the multiple of a number of other trades. You cannot, for instance, build a house with only painters and carpenters, nor with only bricklayers and plasterers. The building trade is like an army, which consists of cavalry, artillery, infantry, supply services, etc. The building trade consists of bricklayers, plasterers, joiners, carpenters, painters and others. A house requires a due proportion of each of these callings for its erection, and, of course, with a number of houses it is the same. Therefore, the total number of houses which it is possible to build is represented by the work of the total number of men of the various trades who can be employed in the proper relative proportions to one another. If you have, for example, a large proportion of bricklayers over other trades, the surplus of bricklayers would be unemployed and unemployable until you are able to find a complement of other craftsmen to do the rest of the work. That is another difficulty which we have to contend with in dealing with slum clearance.

Let me say one word as to the condition of houses in slums. Your Lordships are aware that it is the duty of local authorities to have their districts inspected from time to time with a view to ascertaining whether any dwelling-houses therein are in a state so dangerous or injurious to health as to be unfit for human habitation, and it is also their duty to secure that unsatisfactory houses are dealt with. I should like to give your Lordships a few figures for the year 1921 as an illustration of the action which local authorities have taken in this respect. The noble Viscount said that there were 2,000,000 houses of a slum nature. I do not know whether that figure is correct, but if he wishes I will have inquiries made. During the year 1921, 1,171,000 houses were examined and inspected under the Regulations. Of these, 627,101 were found to be in satisfactory condition requiring no remedy; of the remainder, 250,454 were immediately remedied by the owners without the service of formal notice. In the case of 289,902, the defects were remedied after the service of notice, and only in the case of 3,814, were the defects remedied by the local authority and, of course, charged to the owner.

Your Lordships will agree that a noteworthy feature of these figures is the very great volume of repair work which was secured by agreement with the owners without the service of formal notice, and, where formal notice was served, that the work was in the vast majority of cases carried out by the owners and not by the local authorities. I think that attention should be called to this, as owners have been accused in many cases of deliberately withholding repairs. Certainly, the figures at our disposal do not bear out this accusation.

The noble Viscount has referred to the necessity for Government action. I have alluded to what the Minister of Health said in the House of Commons yesterday, but beyond what is proposed by the Bill he introduced, with which I do not intend to deal to-day, I should like to draw your attention to the measures which the Government have taken in the past to make provision for this matter of slum clearance. An annual State grant has been provided towards the annual losses of local authorities' schemes for dealing with slum areas. This amounts to a maximum of £200,000 a year, and the grant will be available during the whole term of the repayment of such loans as may be required to carry out the schemes. This grant will be supplemented by a contribution of a like amount by the local authorities, thus doubling the effect of the subsidy. Up to the present moment, £123,000 has been provisionally allocated. I may be asked, perhaps, why the whole sum of £200,000 has not been allocated, and my answer to that would be the difficulty of proceeding with slum clearance pari passu with the construction of new houses at the present time.

The proposals for dealing with the worst areas are going forward now in the biggest centres of population. London are proposing to undertake schemes on a considerable scale, involving an annual loss of £100,000, a moiety of which will be borne by the Exchequer, and proposals are also under consideration in Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Liverpool and elsewhere.

I now come to the third item in my noble friend's Notice, namely, town planning. The main matters with which town planning schemes deal are: (1) the determination of the local road system with provisions as to the incidence of the cost. of construction; (2) the allocation of areas to their general uses, for example, industrial or residential, including the designation of land for open spaces, or other specific purposes; and (3) the allocation of the density (number of houses to the acre), height and space of buildings. All these points have been mentioned during the course of the debate. My noble friend Lord Milner asked me two questions. The first question he put was: What powers have the Government to compel these schemes to be carried out? My reply is that the powers are contained in the Act of 1919, and I will explain the method under which the Act proceeds.

When the war broke out—I hope my noble friend will bear me out in this—but little progress had been made in town planning. Something had been done in consequence of the Act of 1909, but the procedure of that Act was rather complicated. Then the Local Government Board, I believe at the time when my noble friend was responsible for that Department, brought in the Town Planning Act of 1919, which considerably simplified and improved the procedure of the Act of 1909 by enabling local authorities to take the initiative in the provision of schemes without previously applying for the authority of the Minister, except, of course, when they wished to plan land outside their own local government area.

That Act also extended the power of the Minister to make Regulations. Under these Regulations the stages in the provision of a scheme are three. First comes a resolution by the local authority; then the provision of a preliminary statement of proposals; and, in the third place, the submission of a scheme embodying these preliminary proposals after they have been approved by the Ministry of Health. The preliminary statement and the final scheme are both submitted and are open to objections and representation, and we find that it is during the course of the hearing of the preliminary scheme that negotiations are embarked upon and the whole thing takes its essential shape. That is the procedure which is now adopted in regard to these measures of town planning.

In answer to my noble friend's question whether the matter is being pressed forward at a satisfactory rate, I may point out that owing to the fact that local authorities have been very much occupied since the war in all kinds of matters, such as unemployment, housing, and so forth, neither my right hon. friend nor his predecessors pressed them or hurried them in any way in the provision of these schemes. I do not think it would be fair to do so, and I do not think that it would have been of any great value. Probably the only result would have been unnecessary irritation without any beneficial effect. In spite of that fact, the number of authorities who have commenced the preparation of schemes is very considerable. Up to the beginning of this month there were 183 schemes, covering 800,000 acres, and of these twenty-four have already reached the third stage and been approved, and we know that there are a large number of other local authorities who are undertaking surveys and making preliminary investigations for the preparation of schemes.

My noble friend drew attention to the question of zones. I may say that we fully realise the advantages of including built-on areas in schemes as a whole, but I think my noble friend, from his experience in the Department, Will appreciate that the extension of town planning to cover existing development would, if adopted, raise many new problems connected with development, and the transition from old to new standards which do not arise in the planning of undeveloped land. There are various other difficulties, but I can assure the noble Viscount that the matter has not been lost sight of in any way.

As regards the question of regional surveys, which my noble friend raised, your Lordships are aware that the municipal borough, or the urban district council, or whatever the local authority may be, does not always correspond with the area which would form a good town planning unit. You may have two boroughs adjacent to one another and constituting one urban unit although they are separate for local government purposes. This urban unit which I might perhaps better describe as an economic unit—it is difficult to give an accurate description, but I think your Lordships will understand what I mean—is, of course, the only useful unit for town planning schemes. As the noble Viscount has pointed out, this has been achieved by regional surveys, and joint committees of the local authorities concerned have been constituted to deal with this matter.

The most rev. Prelate drew-your Lordships' attention to what has been done in the case of Doncaster and gave us a very interesting description. Although Doncaster—or rather the Doncaster coalfield—is one of the outstanding authorities which have dealt with this matter in the way I have described, other districts, such as that of Manchester which includes over seventy local authorities, have formed joint committees, and the same has been clone in the Tyneside and Deeside areas. In all there are twenty-one such committees in existence, and others are being formed. The noble Viscount, Lord Milner, asked me whether East Kent were following the example of Doncaster. All that I can say in reply to that is that it is, of course, open to East Kent to adopt a scheme such has been adopted in the Doncaster area. The authorities are under an obligation to prepare a scheme in due course, and I should think from what the noble Viscount told us that it is extremely probable that they will combine together to form a joint authority, as has been done in so many other places.

In dealing with this subject, my noble friend mentioned the Liverpool and Manchester road and the difficulties which local authorities find in dealing with the question of road construction and road maintenance. He gave it as his opinion that this might be done under town planning schemes. I am a little diffident in agreeing with him on that point. I rather think it is a matter which would be dealt with more properly under the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, of which I have the honour to be Chairman, which is dealing with local government areas—and generally this is a question of local government—rather than separately by town planning schemes. I do not know that I can say anything further, but that is what occurred to me when I listened to what my noble friend had to say on this point.

I think your Lordships will agree with me that it is undesirable to press these schemes forward in too great a hurry. It is much better to give time and delibera- tion towards producing a good scheme than to hurry it through and to produce an indifferent scheme. My noble friend was concerned in drafting the Act of 1919, and he knows that provision was made in that Act for interim development to proceed pending approval, and I may tell him that last August., acting under the provisions of that Act of 1919, an Order was issued from the Ministry of Health to empower local authorities themselves to permit development in accordance with reasonable requirements specified by them. Applicants were given the right of appeal to the Ministry in case they were aggrieved. That Order was issued only last August, and we have not really had very much experience of how it has worked, but I may say that only fourteen appeals have so far been made, so that presumably it is working fairly well. I may add that when the second stage of the town planning scheme —namely, the preliminary statement—has been passed, development is permitted, as naturally follows, only in accordance with the terms of that preliminary arrangement.

As your Lordships are aware, the Act of 1919 compels every local authority with a population of 20,000 and upward to produce a town planning scheme. In addition, many authorities of under 20,000 are preparing or have prepared voluntary schemes. This, of course, is more particularly the case where joint committees have been established. In a place like the Manchester district many rural district councils are also concerned in the scheme, and are represented on the joint committee. Therefore, with a view of assisting the local authorities in these heavy burdens the Ministry of Health have endeavoured to take as much work as possible off the shoulders of ale local authorities by standardising the schemes and procedure, in such matters as allow of standardisation, and have prepared a set of model clauses, with an explanatory memorandum, for the use of local authorities and, of course, they have always been ready to give such advice as they could. Model forms have been prepared in order to facilitate the preparation of preliminary statements. Draft notices and advertisements and such like things have also been prepared in London, and everything has been done to relieve the local authorities of extra work, so far as possible.

I will refer for one moment to the last part of the Bill which is proceeding in another place. It has been the wish of the local authorities to be allowed an extension of time, and, as I think the noble Lord mentioned, the present Bill proposes to extend the three years provided in the Act of 1919 to six years. My noble friend expressed some alarm that the staff of the Ministry might not be adequate to deal with all the various and complex problems which present themselves in this question of housing and town planning. I can assure him that the present staff is adequate for the purpose, and although we, of course, do appreciate that it is possible that an increase may be necessary in the future, at present we have no fear but that our staff is adequate to deal with all the questions which come before it. I must remind my noble friend that the question of economy is always before our eyes, and before an increase was sanctioned careful consideration would have to be undertaken.

I am afraid that I have troubled you for a long time, but I think I have dealt with the three points raised in my noble friend's Notice as briefly as I can, and I have endeavoured to place before your Lordships the state of affairs as it exists at the present moment. The proposals of the Government dealing with the question will he laid before your Lordships on another occasion. In regard to the question of smoke abatement Lord Newton put a question down for to-day very much the same as that put by the noble Viscount, but as he has postponed it till to-morrow perhaps I may be allowed to postpone my reply also.


My Lords, the interesting discussion which has taken place shows the importance which your Lordships attach, and quite rightly, to this question, and think those of you who are interested in it will have been particularly gratified by the speech made by the noble Earl who has just sat down. He is evidently alive, as are the Ministry of Health and the Government, to the importance and urgency of the question. Therefore, we may congratulate ourselves upon the fact that this important matter is being pushed forward by the Government with as much urgency as possible. I am struck by the fact—with which all members of this House who are accustomed to take part in, or who listen to, our discussions are familiar—that there is no matter of first rate importance ever discussed in this House to which some member of the House is not able, from personal knowledge and experience, to contribute something particularly valuable. The most rev. Prelate the Archbishop of York was able to tell us about Doncaster, and the Bishop of Southwark was able to draw a distressing picture of the condition of affairs in his own diocese.

We are bound to recognise the fact that there are few questions which do so urgently interest the people of this country as does this question of housing. There are hundreds of thousands of people to whom Mesopotamia and the Near East are merely names, but to whom the question of housing is a matter of urgent and immediate importance, and they are anxious that something should be done without delay. I confess we find ourselves, all of us who take part in this debate, in some difficulty, because of the ancient custom of the House not to discuss here a measure which is being discussed in another place. This Rule has, at any rate, been more honoured in the breach than is the observance this afternoon, and if I find myself also erring I can only throw myself upon the indulgence of the House, and plead the admirable example which has been set to me by those who have already taken part in the discussion.

One of our difficulties is the old difficulty of all reformers: that the ideal is always the enemy of that which is practical, and I hope His Majesty's Government will not be led astray by the idea of doing great things into doing little or nothing at all. I hope that they will do what is practical, and do it as soon as they can, and as much as they can, and that they will be practical in this matter. I am led to this observation by some of the remarks which have fallen from more than one member of this House. For instance, in regard to smoke. With regard to the smoke nuisance abatement, I think that it is hardly relevant to the immediate matter before the House, and that we had far rather deal directly and practically with this question of housing. Here, naturally, we find ourselves faced with another old question, of quantity and quality. Some people are anxious for quantity, and some people think that quality is more important. We are entitled to remember, and perhaps mention on this occasion with particular honour, the admirable work done by some philanthropists, like the late Mr. Cadbury at Bournville, who have set an admirable example in this matter. We also have in this House Lord Leverhulme, who, in Port Sunlight, has done a great deal in the same direction. It is an example which I only wish more of the large employers of labour in this House could have seen their way to follow.

I confess that the speech made by the right rev. Prelate, the Bishop of South-wark, was a depressing speech. It seemed to me from what he said that the conditions were even worse, and the standard even lower, than before the war—that, at any rate, that is so in many important directions. I remember the horrible story which used to be told in my younger days, of the rooms in which there were a number of families, and each family lived in a different corner, and the complaint which was made was that they would get on all right if only the people who occupied corners two and three would not take in lodgers. I hope we have not sunk quite so low as that, but I think it is evident that things are very bad indeed at the present time.

The most rev. Prelate's speech alluded to the necessity of having more sites for garden cities, and the necessity for decentralisation. He, no doubt, is aware, as are other members of this House, that that is a matter upon which more than one opinion is held. Indeed, I am bound to say that I think there is some reason for the criticism that unless these garden cities are well designed we may find the beautiful countryside of England defaced by a number of horrible buildings. I do not know, going about this country, to-day, that there is a more melancholy sight than to see side by side with some of the most beautiful old cottages (they may be insanitary, but they are very beautiful) the new houses which have been put up by the local authorities. They are in many cases a positive eyesore, and it is indeed a dreadful prospect that we should have a number of those put up all over the country and the landscape defaced by them. I wish that one of our public societies would try to influence in some way the various public authorities, in order to see that the designs of these cottages which are being put up are more in accordance with the older traditions of this country, and that there may be some prospect that in two or three hundred years from now people will look at them with something like the same admiration with which we contemplate the old cottages erected two or three centuries ago.

In any matter of this kind I should like to have had some hint from His Majesty's Government that they were prepared to deal with this matter not entirely upon one scale all through. It is obvious that when you are concerned with building in towns the cost is very different from what it is in some remote village. It is well worth consideration whether some different rate of payment, or some different rate of grant, should not be made where building is more expensive than it is in places near a railway centre, or where there is already a large centre of population. It is not uninteresting for your Lordships to remember in this connection the very real change which has taken place with regard to the criticism about the building of houses. Many of your Lordships will remember that a generation ago the criticism was that it was the landlord who prevented the building of houses; that he would not allow his land to be built upon. Now, I think, the criticism is different. It is a criticism of the capitalist, who asks for too high a rate of interest upon the money which is used for building, and I think there are comparatively few cases in which landlords at the present time hold up the land from being built upon. And when you come to consider the cost of building a house, the amount which is paid for the land is trivial to-day compared with what it was a generation ago.

The noble Viscount who spoke from the cross benches (Lord Milner) asked His Majesty's Government a question with regard to the town planning in Kent—a district in which, like him, I have a personal interest, and also an official and a hereditary interest. I am glad to be able to tell him that I believe the matter is well in hand, that the rural district council which is most affected, that of Eastry, some time ago held a conference with the other rural authorities interested in the matter, and that, if it has not already reached a stage of definite plans, at any rate the matter is well under consideration. It has not been forgotten, and there is no chance at all that any building development will take place in a haphazard or unfortunate manner. I am glad to think that they have made preparations, at any rate, for following the example of Doncaster, which was mentioned by the most rev. Prelate.

The noble Earl who has just sat down made a passing reference to the Committee on Trusts which has been set up. I hope very much that any Reports which they make may be made available to the public without any delay. I do not know what the method of procedure may be. I imagine they make a Report to the Minister of Health, and it may be that some time will pass before that Report is either laid before Parliament or made available to the public. May I suggest that at the very earliest possible moment that Report should he made available for the public, because I am sure that, supposing this Committee finds that prices are being raised unduly against the consumer, there is no method so likely to bring down the prices as the influence of public opinion. I should be glad if the noble Earl would be good enough to refer that point to his Department, and to ask them whether they could see their Way to secure for this House, and also the House of Commons, the publication of any Report at, the earliest possible moment.

The only other question upon which I shall venture to touch is the question of time. Unfortunately, we find ourselves already very nearly at the end of April and within reach of Whitsuntide. It. is unlikely that the Bill which the Government have on hand will be passed by this House much before the beginning of August. It can hardly receive the Royal Assent before the end of that month.



Well, let us hope that it may be earlier. Certainly, I can assure the noble Marquess that on this side of the House we shall do all we can to help him.


In another place, I hope, too.


But, supposing it reaches this House by July a great part of the year which is most favour able for building will have passed, and we shall already have lost some of the months in which building makes the most rapid progress. I am sure the noble Marquess, who is Deputy Leader of the House, will remember another Housing Bill which was discussed here in the year 1907 or 1908. I had then the honour of conducting that. Bill in this House, and the noble Marquess was very active in opposing it. I can assure him that when this Bill comes before this House I shall certainly do my best to assist the noble Marquess, and I think that probably we shall find ourselves much more in agreement on this Bill than we were on the last occasion.


You have a Conservative Government in power.


I am talking of 1907. The only difference which is likely to occur on this future occasion as between the noble Marquess and myself is that we may try to urge him to go rather further than he is prepared to go, while on the last occasion he thought we were going a great deal too far. At any rate, he may depend upon this: that, in every part of your Lordships' Blouse there will be a very real anxiety to do what we can to supply more houses for the people of this country, and our only regret is likely to be that the plan which His Majesty's Government may suggest will not act so quickly as we should like to see it act.