§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION (THE EARL OF ONSLOW)
My Lords, a short time ago, in reply to a Question addressed to me by my noble friend opposite, Viscount Astor, I described, so far as I could, the general state of affairs in regard to the housing question in this country. In those circumstances I propose, 738 to-day, to confine myself strictly to the provisions of the Bill to which I am asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading this afternoon.
This is the third Bill which has been brought in during the last four years to deal with questions of housing. The first was Dr. Addison's Bill which was introduced in 1919, and which produced 176,000 houses at a cost of about £9,000,000 per annum. The next was the Bill of 1921, which I had the honour to introduce to your Lordships in that year and which resulted in the erection of 39,000 houses at a total cost of £9,500,000. That was Sir Alfred Mond's Bill. The present Bill differs from its predecessors in that it offers various alternatives and enables local authorities to assist building in different ways which I will endeavour to describe to your Lordships. The Bill, of course is mainly directed to assisting the solution of the housing question. Incidentally, it touches upon questions of slum clearance and town planning. I will deal first of all with the main point, which is housing. In doing so I should like to emphasise very strongly that this Bill is only a step forward in the process of dealing with the housing situation. It must not be thought that, because the provisions of the Bill are only temporary and cease in 1925, in that year the whole housing situation will be set at rest and no further Bill or measures will be necessary. This Bill is a step in, the ladder and one which we trust will take us some way towards the time when the housing situation will revert to the normal position in which it was previous to the war. We are not legislating for a long period because we do not know, we cannot possibly tell, what the conditions will be in the year 1925. We do not know whether this form of subsidy or the other provisions of the Bill will be applicable at that time. Other provisions may be necessary, or legislation may not be necessary at all; we cannot tell. Therefore, we have designed this Bill as a temporary measure. In doing so we do not wish it to be thought that we think it is absolutely the last word on the housing question. It is, as I have said, merely a step forward in the direction that I have described.
What we are endeavouring to do by this Bill is to stimulate the provision of more houses by private enterprise. We feel that the situation can only be solved by means of private enterprise, because 739 private enterprise is the sole agency for the provision of houses which permits of the necessary expansion. In a former debate, on the Question raised by my noble friend opposite, noble Lords called attention to the shortage of operatives in the building trade, and it was thought to be necessary that the Government should produce a long continued scheme in order to give that security in the labour market which is necessary to enable operatives to be recruited for the construction of houses. I must say that I do not think that that security is to be obtained by legislation. The security in the building trade is this. There is a demand for houses. That demand must be fulfilled. So long as the demand exists, and so long as houses are to be built, so long will there be an adequate opening for young men to learn the trade required in building. That is the security for the future which is offered to those who wish to undertake building as a profession. That cannot be secured by legislation, but must be secured by the ordinary laws of demand and supply.
I will endeavour to deal as briefly as I can with the Bill as it stands. Under Clause 1 the State is enabled to assist the building of working-class houses either by private enterprise or directly by the local authority, and we are already considering schemes made by local authorities for the purpose of assisting private enterprise. These schemes will be eligible for financial assistance in the shape of an annual Government contribution of £6 per house for a period of twenty years. This money will be paid to the local authority as the State contribution towards the expenses which that local authority may incur in assisting private enterprise. I should explain that there is a provision that if the total assistance given by the local authority is less than £6, then the State grant will only amount to the total of the assistance given. That is to say, if the total assistance given by the local authority is £12, the State will find £6 and the local authority £6, but if, on the other hand, the total assistance afforded by the local authority is £5, then the State will provide £5, and not £6. The second condition is that where the local authority themselves undertake the provision of houses the State contribution will be a grant of £6 per annum per house for 20 years, but in such cases, 740 where the local authority undertakes the construction of houses, the Minister will have to be satisfied that the needs of the particular area can best be served that way—in other words, that the provision of houses by local authorities is preferable to provision by private enterprise.
I come now to the second part of this clause, which deals with the class of house that will be eligible for this amount. I dare say your Lordships are aware that there has been considerable difference of opinion in regard to this matter. The Government have always held to the view that the class of house which they should assist should be the smallest type of dwelling-house, and for this reason. The larger type of house—I do not mean the large villa type of dwelling-house, but the middle-class house just above the standard of the working-class house—is being provided in increasing numbers without any subsidy at all. The other day, when I replied to my noble friend, I was able to tell him that over 28,000 houses were built, or building, since September last, and that a considerable number more were planned. I dare say those are now under construction. But the smaller type of working-class house is not a profitable speculation, and the chances are that if the Government had extended the subsidy to the larger house—the small middle-class house, if I may so describe it—the builders would have devoted themselves entirely to that type of house, and the smaller working-class house would have been neglected altogether.
But where the dividing line was to come was another great difficulty, and I think that in the Bill we have, on the whole, allowed considerable latitude. The houses in respect of which contributions are allowed are a two-storied house with a minimum measurement of 620 superficial feet and a maximum of 950 superficial feet, and a flat or a one-storied house with a minimum of 550 and a maximum of 880 superficial feet. It was represented that perhaps this minimum was too large for certain types of requirements—for instance, for old people, or single people, or newly married couples—and there is a provision in the Bill that where it is proved there is no other house of similar dimensions the maximum may be reduced to 570 superficial feet in the former case and to 500 superficial feet in the latter case.
741 I come now to Clause 2, which relates to the methods by which the State contribution may be utilised for the assistance of private enterprise. There are three main methods. The first is the lump sum grant system. The State may make a lump sum grant for each house, and in order to do that there will be borrowing powers, and the loan charges can be met by the subsidy of £6 per annum for twenty years. That will meet part, or the whole, of the annual loan charges. The second method is by an annual payment each year to the person who is responsible for the rates. I should point out that this is not a refund of rates, but is an annual payment of £6 a year plus the additional grant from the local authority, and it is made payable to the person responsible for the rates for the sake of convenience. If it were to be payable to the person who owned the house, the local authority would have to keep an elaborate list of transfers each year, and it would be difficult to know at the end of each year to whom the annual sum was payable. By making it payable to the person responsible for the rates the whole thing is simplified. Of course, the owner will adjust his financial relations with his tenant in respect of this grant by a private arrangement. The third method is by the local authority undertaking the payment of any part of the loan charges in respect of advances made by building societies, or by other similar bodies. Before making advances the local authority is empowered to make conditions under which the advances are to be made. One method to which prominence is given in the Bill is that they should make a condition that the house shall be inhabited as it stands as a single house, and shall not be altered or added to without consent. The object of this is to prevent people building two houses adjacent with a partition wall between them, getting two subsidies, and knocking down the partition wall and making the two houses into one house of a larger type than was contemplated to be built.
§ Clause 3 enables the State to deal directly with certain large societies or companies without the intervention of the local authority. Many of these societies would be willing to build if they received the State subsidy without any further contribution from the local authority. Therefore, under this clause, we take 742 power to deal with them direct in the same way as we deal with local authorities.
§ The fifth clause contains the provisions under which local authorities may themselves, without any State assistance or Government grant, make loans for the purpose of building houses. Here it should be pointed out that there is a great distinction between the type of house for which State assistance may alone be given and the type of house in respect of the building of which local authorities are empowered to lend money. The Government subsidy is confined to the smaller type of house. Under this clause local authorities may lend money in respect of a larger typo of house. They may lend to build any house the estimated value of which does not exceed £1,500. We do everything we can under the Bill to encourage building by means of these loans.
§ Local authorities have power, in the first place, to borrow money in order to make these loans for building purposes. They may lend during construction, but they must not lend more than fifty per cent. of the value of the work done, and they may guarantee building societies' advances of an amount additional to the usual advance made by a building society for the construction of houses. May I explain that further? In the ordinary way building societies lend up to seventy-five per cent. of the value of a house, but many people cannot find the balance of twenty-five per cent., not having the necessary cash to do so, and therefore they are unable to take advantage of the building society's loan. By this Bill we enable the local authorities to make an additional guarantee up to fifteen per cent. above the seventy-five per cent. which the building society usually advances. We believe that a number of people who, for lack of capital, have been unable to buy their houses will do so now by means of this additional guarantee by the local authority to a building society. The clause is experimental and only runs until 1925. Should it prove successful it may be extended in future legislation.
§ Under this clause the Government, also encourage the conversion of large houses into tenements or flats; and this must be a useful method of increasing housing accommodation. In many parts of large 743 towns, London, for instance, there are big houses situated in quarters which are no long inhabited by the sort of persons who lives now in large houses, and these may very profitably be altered into tenements or flats. If that is done the rate-able value of a house, so converted, may be increased, and we give power to the local authority to refund, over a certain period, the whole or part of the difference between the rates of the house after conversion and the rates of the house before conversion. Lastly, under this clause the local authority has large powers of lending. It can lend up to ninety per cent of the value of the property. When dealing with this question of loans I should draw your Lordships' attention to Part III of the Bill which deals with Amendments of the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act. At present advances can only be made up to £800. By this Bill we increase the amount to £1,200, and we also relax the statutory provisions whereby a person is compelled to dwell in the house for five years, making the term three years, and give power to the local authority to do away even with that provision altogether if it thinks fit.
§ Clause 6 repeals the liability of the State under the Addison scheme to contribute to the losses of a local authority in excess of a penny rate and make grants as part of the charges on loans raised by public utility societies or the county council. But the clause does not interfere with existing liabilities. They are safeguarded. It makes a concession to public utility societies which, I hope, will be welcomed. At the time when the housing situation was very difficult these public utility societies came forward in a public-spirited manner and contributed largely to the provision of houses. They point out that if, in 1927, the grants in aid of their loan charges are reduced to 30 per cent. they will be severely hit. We have given them aid, in respect of these loan charges, up to 40 per cent. in order to meet this difficulty.
§ Clause 7 frees local authorities from the conditions imposed upon them by the Housing and Town-planning Act of 1919, forbidding them to sell houses to employers for the occupation of their workpeople, and it also repeals the provision in that Act which made it necessary to charge only a fixed rental for a house built on land sold to private builders by 744 a local authority. The repeal of this clause was recommended by the Geddes Committee.
§ The next clause to which I should call your Lordships' attention is Clause 12, dealing with by-laws. House-builders have contended that one of the great difficulties in the way of building revival is the cost of street works, which they maintain are expensive owing to insufficiently elastic by-laws. This clause enables the Minister to draft a model set of by-laws which can be adopted by a local authority instead of the existing by-laws which may be insufficiently elastic. In the next clause power is given to the Minister to impose by-laws upon a local authority where the existing by-laws may be such as to impede building. In any public inquiry which may be necessary in such a case the local authority has every opportunity of being represented and stating its case.
§ Your Lordships will have observed in reading the Bill that the London County Council is several times specially mentioned. Its special position is emphasised and it would not be inconvenient, therefore, if I glanced at the position occupied by the London County Council and the Metropolitan borough councils under this measure. In Clauses 1 and 5 the London County Council is the sole authority to make grants for private enterprise and loans for house building. As regards building by local authorities, both the London County Council and the Metropolitan borough councils may build and obtain the Government subsidy subject to the approval of the Minister. Where a Metropolitan borough council builds the London County Council may make a contribution of £3 per house. If the total contribution is £12 then the State would contribute £6, the London County Council £3, and the Metropolitan borough council £3. This contribution by the London County Council acts in the same way as the equalisation of the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund. It equalises the loss over the whole county. In the making of by-laws the London County Council may suspend or relax the provisions as regards dwellings.
§ I said just now that the Bill, to a certain extent, deals with slums, but I should like to say that this is by no means the last word of the Government on that subject. Indeed, we trust that before long 745 it may be possible to introduce legislation in regard to it. This is mainly a housing Bill, and although in one or two clauses we touch on slum clearance, that is merely incidental. The main provision with regard to slums is in subsection (3) of Clause 1, which provides that the Government may contribute half the estimated losses on slum schemes. We have had before us already considerable proposals from the London County Council, from Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham. Bradford and other large towns.
§ In Clauses 11 and 14, and also in the First Schedule, we introduce certain simplifications in procedure. The most important is that a local authority is given the right of entry into property where a slum clearance scheme is proposed. This is, of course, subject to safeguards as to compensation. Then in Clause 10 we are simplifying the procedure in regard to repairs, and the most important provision is that we enable local authorities to ascertain the names of superior landlords and keep them informed as to the state of their property. I was informed the other day of a property in which there are twenty-tenants and sub-tenants between the freeholder and the rack-renter. Many of the people who own, or are interested in, such property really do not know what the state of the property is, and if they have information about it they will, I think, be induced to see that their property is properly looked after, so that the property itself and the occupants thereof will benefit by this additional supervision. Power is also given to the local authority to borrow to meet the cost of repair work when this is done in default. Previously, I believe, they had to pay in cash. Power is also given to the local authority to acquire a house which has been closed under Section 28 of the Act of 1919; that is to say, when the owner has declared that a house is unfit for habitation and has closed it altogether. This Bill will give power to the local authority to acquire that house, repair it and let it for occupation.
§ I come to the last part of my observations, and turn to the question of town planning, which is covered by Part II of the Bill. The main provision is the clause which extends the period within which, under the principal Act, local authorities were required to submit town 746 planning schemes. That period was fixed at three years, but local authorities have been very busy during the last three years and I think it will meet the convenience of all of them if the period is extended to six years. I ought perhaps to refer here to Clause 8, which, although it is not really a town planning clause, touches upon that question more than other clauses in that part of the Bill. This clause is designed to meet the difficulties which have arisen in the case of housing schemes carried out by local authorities outside their own area.
§ The object of the clause is to put such schemes in the same position as regards maintenance of roads, as the schemes carried out by the local authorities of the area itself. Some opposition has been raised to this proposal on the ground that the authority in whose area the scheme is carried out has to bear the expense of the roads and they wish to insist that the roads made by the other authority shall be as good as any other roads in the rest of the area. The constructing authority, on the other hand, may say that it is not necessary for their scheme to have roads forty feet wide, with pavements and so forth, but that a lighter and cheaper form of road would meet the case just as well. Somebody has to decide who is right in this matter, and we suggest that the question should be decided by the Minister, who would look at the matter from the town planning point of view. He would first see which are to be the main roads carrying the through traffic and which are the by-roads. That would be done, of course, in any town planning scheme, and that is the manner in which it is suggested that the Minister should decide on the questions raised by Clause 8. If it were found that the side-roads were sufficiently constructed by the planning authority, the Minister would be able to say to the local authority that it was not necessary to have a more expensive class of road and that the roads proposed would meet the case equally well.
§ I have, I think, explained before that one of the complaints of builders is the enormous cost of roads. That is what enhances the price of building, and I may point out that the difference in cost between the ordinary thoroughfare, the through traffic road, and the lighter roads constructed under the town planning 747 schemes such as those to which I am referring here is as much as 13s. 4d. a foot, which works out at something like £20 a house, and in the case of corner houses at a much larger figure. When such a matter comes up for decision before the Minister local authorities will naturally have power, before he decides, to bring their point of view before him. Unless it is decided to make all roads of a uniform type—that is to say, the most expensive type—I do not think it is possible to find any other means of deciding. Unless this point were provided for it might land the country in the enormous expense of having to provide through traffic roads in the place of side roads under a scheme of this kind. I think that is all I have to say on the subject of the Bill, which I venture to present to your Lordships' House and to move that it be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Onslow.)
§ VISCOUNT BURNHAM
My Lords, may I venture in the first place to congratulate your Lordships on the fact that for the first time this Session His Majesty's Government have presented for your consideration a legislative measure of urgent public importance? I do not rise to oppose this well-meant Bill, because in so far as it enables local authorities to promote and finance the building of houses, I believe it makes for good, but I rise in the hone that it may be possible by criticism to hasten its extensive amendment. This Bill is meant to satisfy and to supply the miserable deficiency in the housing of the people which I believe to be the radical cause of our social discontents to-day. Without decent housing no sort of decency in life is possible, and while people cannot marry because they cannot find a roof to cover them and while, when they do marry, they cannot have children, or, if they do have children, the children are turned into the gutter because there is no other place for them to go to, I think we are acquiescing in a state of things which is a public danger. I believe that the housing question has more to do with the condition of England to-day than any other with which I am acquainted, and I venture to think that this Bill, though well-meant, as I have said, will do very little to remedy the evil conditions which prevail. I say this with some knowledge, because for the past 748 five years I have been chairman of the Building Trade Employment Committee of the Ministry of Labour in this part of England, and I can tell your Lordships with assurance that there is not a master builder in London who believes that this measure will lead to the erection of a single house by private enterprise.
Before I develop that point I should like to give a concrete and a general example of what the present want of accommodation means. I ventured to put a Question on the Paper of your Lordships' House asking His Majesty's Government to supply us with the actual figures of the housing deficiency in this country in order to show how far they fell short of what was required under the model policy of the Ministry of Health. I was not able to put that Question, but if the noble Earl in charge of the Bill has the information I should be very glad if he could give it for the enlightenment of the public. I would ask your Lordships to consider what it means for people to live under such conditions. I have here two examples, one of them particular and the other general. The first is taken from a cathedral city in the south of England from which a member of the housing committee of the local authority recently wrote and told me of a ease that had been before his committee at the last meeting of a two-bedroomed house with parents and five children in one bedroom and parents and three children in another, there being recently born babies in both cases.
Then I turn to the report made by Mr. Appleton—who is well known, of course, as one of the most moderate and sensible, if I may say so, of the Labour leaders—in the ease, I think, of the excessive sickness in Dundee, when a special inquiry was ordered by the executive board of the General Federation of Trades Unions. I will only quote these figures. The occupied houses in Dundee number 42,000 odd and of those in which the size of the family is four, 622 one-roomed houses had 2,488 occupants; 4,000 two-roomed houses had 16,000 occupants, and 1,364 three-roomed houses had 5,456 occupants. Such cases as that, which are of recent report, show what the deficiency is and make it quite clear that unless it is possible to bring back private enterprise into active operation, any measure of this sort is a pretence and—I do not 749 use the word offensively—a fraud. I think no Government can have a more inspiring tradition in matters of this sort, because it was the Conservative Party that first of all inaugurated housing reform in this country. It was Disraeli whose policy of "Sewage," as it was called, was ridiculed so foolishly and so disastrously years ago, and the first Artisans Dwellings Act was passed in 1874, by a Conservative Government.
What I submit is that unless you can bring private enterprise back into its full efficacy and efficiency you will not really do much, merely by arming the municipal authorities with new powers, and expecting them to forget the interests of the ratepayers, or to take a more enlightened view than many of them are almost prohibited by their financial responsibilities from taking. Up to recent, times ninety per cent. of the houses for the accommodation of working-people were built by private builders, and, moreover, they were nearly all built, as your Lordships know, by email builders commanding slender resources of capital, and, unfortunately, furnishing the greatest quota of any class which goes into bankruptcy in the course of a normal year. The big builders and contractors do not touch this sort of business. I venture to say there is not a big builder in this area in which we are now who will have anything to do with such things, unless special inducements are held out in public contracts. It does not fit in with their equipment and organisation. It is true that in the war a great many of the large contractors in the country undertook work of this kind, and carried it through, but they regarded it as part of their duty rather than as part of their interest. When the war was over they reverted to the usual conditions of their particular line of business, and took no more, part in solving what is called the housing problem.
Therefore, you are driven back to a man who is contumaciously, but unjustly, termed the speculative builder, who is really a necessary agent of all those societies and groups of individuals who, out of their savings and by virtue of their thrift, have enabled the housing of the people to be carried on, such as it is, in great centres of population. Unless you can get back the speculative builder, you will do little to solve the problem, 750 and will only render a little less hard and difficult the conditions in which the working people have to live. If it be true that you will not get houses erected, your Lordships will want to know why, in the opinion of those who can speak with expert authority, it is not possible. I believe that it is because of the financial method which has been adopted for the Bill. The remission of rates or deduction from rateable value will not tempt any private builder to put up houses. It is the purchaser, who will buy from him, who may conceivably, in the next 20 years, derive, considerable benefit, but the builder is not enabled in practice to get more for the house which he has put up, and therefore he is not likely to engage in a hazardous business, when he has to obtain money from the banks in order to carry it on, and may have to pay at any time within measurable distance a high rate of interest thereon.
Then, the Ministry of Health do not make it any easier for him to do so. They hold up payments indirectly for months, even for over a year. Supposing the builder deviates in any way from the plan which has been approved by the Ministry of Health, objection is taken, and I dare say properly taken, by the officials of the Ministry. The consequence is that the representatives of the master builders have to press the Ministry, and also the local authorities who say they are powerless in the matter, in order to get their money. It does not seem much to a man in a great way of business, such as a great contractor, if he is kept out of forty or fifty thousand pounds for eighteen months, but it means a great deal to a small builder. Yet it is that policy which has prevailed, unfortunately, and which has discouraged men who have not large resources of capital from entering into so highly speculative a business as this building of small houses has always been.
It is my belief that the only way in which you could have tempted the small builder to come back into the business, and in which you could have got the building system of this country running again on the old lines, was by the grant of a lump sum. That is an inducement which every builder can understand. It is an inducement which would appeal to the small owner as well as to the small builder to erect houses, and it would undoubtedly 751 have produced far greater results than is possible merely from this system of allowing a deduction from rateable value, which does not, as a matter of fact, act as the stimulus which, no doubt, the Ministry hopes and imagines it may be. It is true, and the noble Earl has pointed it out, that the local authority is empowered to do the very thing which I am advocating, but your Lordships know how unequal and unsatisfactory that discretion may be. It depends entirely upon the character of the local authority. Some local authorities are what are called ratepayers' men, and others represent the Socialist bodies, but the proposal does not act evenly or effectively over the country as a whole, and the Bill would not have the same result as it would have had if, as the financial principle, it had adopted the lump sum to be granted to the man who built the house whether a builder or a private owner.
The only objection that I have heard urged with force against the lump sum argument is that it would have tended to an immediate rise in prices, and would have restored the rings which, it is said, have prevailed in the building trade. There is only one way in which the prices of raw material can be reduced, and that is by competition. To imagine that public control can do it was, I think, proved fallacious during the war, when building material went up to three and four times its pre-war value, in spite of the fact that there was rigid control, by the Departments of State, of the building industry, as of so many other industries in the country. It is only competition, and, I am bound to say, competition from abroad, that can bring down the price of building material. But the difficulties are very great. In all contracts made with the public Departments, and in many made with public bodies all over the country, a clause is inserted that only materials of British origin can be used. I do not like to argue against that, but I do say that the fact that only British material can be used defeats any attempt to limit prices, and to prevent them from rising in consequence of the new demand which is bound to arise under the Bill, because municipal authorities are giving out large contracts, and, so far as their activities go, there is no doubt that more-houses will be built.
Already the price of raw materials has risen in many cases since the Bill was 752 introduced All I can suggest is that, although I certainly do not want to speak hardly of British industry, if the organised bodies which deal on a big scale in these raw materials, such as cement and bricks, are not prepared to adapt their commercial policy to the urgent need for materials which has been created by public enactment alone, I think undoubtedly the clause which limits, in the case of public contracts, the use of materials to those which have been manufactured in this country is bound to be waived. That is to say, I do not believe that anything else can prevent the rise in the cost of raw materials; it is competition, and not control, which alone can effect that purpose.
On the point of policy I wish to urge upon the Minister in charge of the Bill that nothing should be done to prevent the erection of block dwellings, which in days past, in London particularly, have done so much for the accommodation of working people. I think the prejudice against them is, if not ill-founded, founded on bad cases. Those of us who know the East End of London are aware of the terrible habitations which pass under that name. At the same time, provided that block dwellings are of the right type, and that proper provision is made for open spaces and yards in their construction, and very often for communal rooms which can be used by those who live there, I believe they are a necessity of our urban state of civilisation. It must be recollected that those who live in block dwellings are saved the long journeys morning and night, often at very unpleasant hours, backwards and forwards to their work, and that, so far as that is not provided by subsidised fares, they gain a great deal of advantage in their out-of-pocket expenditure. So far as I know, there is no scheme under this Bill, and there was no scheme under the last Act, which provided for the erection of any further blocks of artisans' dwellings in London, or in any other of the big cities. I cannot think that that is a right policy.
I am aware, of course, that the average citizen much prefers his house, on the principle that the Englishman's home is his castle, to be separate from others, so that he may feel that he is his own master. But artisans' dwellings need not be uncomfortable; on the contrary, there may be facilities and amenities about 753 them which it is impossible to have in those long stretches of dreary, two-storied houses, which certainly do not enliven the neighbourhood in which they are erected. I do not think streets are any less drab or less mean because they contain no blocks of dwellings, which can be made just as attractive and just as habitable as any other form of house. Many of us who years ago were engaged in the attempt to provide for the housing of London turned naturally to block dwellings as being the best for the purpose, and there are types standing to-day in many parts of London which could be repeated with advantage, and from which certainly the working people have nothing to fear, either by way of coercion on the part of the landlord or of unpleasant intrusion on the part of tenants.
I have ventured to raise these objections to the Rill not at all in an obstructive spirit. I hope to see the measure extended very shortly when it has been proved to fail in its purpose, as it has been conceived in the best spirit by Mr. Chamberlain, whose zeal and experience none deny. I am only thinking of what can be done to remedy the social evil, which is far greater and, I think, more dangerous than some people realise. It is the best material for revolutionary agitation that there is in the country to-day. And the fact that the "Glasgow gang," as they are called, have been so prominent in this connection is largely because Glasgow gives perhaps the worst example in the country of what the housing of the people can be, At any rate, we are now a city-bred and a city-loving community. We have to provide for the conditions of city life, and it is not fair that the welfare of the people should he, hung up, as it is now, by want of civic courage, because, after all, money spent in this way, even on the scale of Dr. Addison's measure, represents to a large extent savings from the rates levied for the Poor Law and from the taxes levied for the prisons. It is from that point of view that I hope this Bill will be considered by the House, and if we are unable to do much by the present Bill we may provide for its speedy amendment in the near future.
My Lords, I venture to think that the anxiety which the noble Viscount showed to intervene 754 early in this discussion was fully justified by the amount of criticism which he had to make of the Bill introduced on behalf of His Majesty's Government. His criticisms went a great deal further and a great deal deeper than those which I shall make on behalf of the official Opposition.
May I, in the first place, congratulate your Lordships' House on their good fortune in having the Bill explained to them by the noble Karl who, with his usual lucidity, set forth quite clearly the somewhat; complicated contents of this Bill? If, indeed, I have a criticism to make of his speech it is rather of what he omitted than of what he actually said. He said very little of the other parts of the Government housing policy—matters such as rent restriction and decontrol; and he also omitted to mention yet another Housing Bill for which His Majesty's Government almost became responsible, the Housing (No. 1) Bill of this Session. That was, I believe, a very important Bill. Certainly, at one moment it affected the fate of more than one by-election and more than one Member of the Government, and that is the reason why this "No. 2" Bill is so labelled. I do not think any of us were allowed to see the provisions of the Housing (No. 1) Bill, important though it undoubtedly was.
It was important, as this Bill is important, because it is the largest measure which His Majesty's Government are introducing this Session. There is, I think, in their programme nothing which approaches this, either in its scope or in its possibilities, and I say at once that I believe my noble friends will be only too glad to join with me in giving every support which is necessary to the Government in passing this measure. We agree, generally speaking, with the principles of the Bill. The problem, of course, is a very large one, and this Bill only deals with part of it. It is bound up with the whole question of the unemployment of people in this country, with the progressive deterioration which always ensues when men are kept out of work, are inadequately maintained, and their children, owing to lack of maintenance, are very often brought up in an ill-nourished condition.
So far as this immediate portion of the policy of His Majesty's Government is concerned, it seems an easy matter to deal with it. It is not so easy as it seems to be. On the one hand, you have 755 a large number of unemployed, of whom something like 150,000 have been stated to be unemployed in the building trade. They are receiving unemployment pay and they are living in enforced idleness. They are receiving what seem to be very large sums indeed in the gross, but which to the individuals become but very small sums indeed, especially in the cases of men with families. Then, and while you have this large mass of unemployed on the one hand, you have, on the other hand, a great need for houses. It is not necessary to calculate the exact number of houses; let us say 500,000 houses. The question is how to bring these two opposing forces together. His Majesty's Government have by means of this Bill discovered a bridge and, with the help of the £6 per house, they hope to bring a solution of the double problem—the want of houses and the discovery of work for the unemployed. Money spent in this way is well spent. It is on the whole a sound method of economy, and I hope that it will go far towards abolishing doles.
This is no new problem. The problem of housing has been with us for a long time. I was almost sorry that the noble Earl, in reciting other measures dealing with this subject which had been before Parliament, made no mention of a friend and colleague of my own, Mr. John Burns, who was responsible for a great Housing and Town Planning Act in the year 1909. The noble Marquess opposite may remember that Bill. At that time we were sitting on opposite sides of the Table, and I would remind him that on this occasion he will receive from us a great deal more assistance in the passage of this measure than he gave me in the passage of the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909. I remember, at any rate, even if it escapes the memory of the noble Marquess, the large sequence of arguments which we held during the Committee stage of that measure.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
Except that nothing is more uninspiring in the way of literature than old numbers of the OFFICIAL REPORT, I would suggest to the noble Marquess that he might find to-day some amusement in looking up the 756 arguments which we then had upon these very same problems which are with us now. These problems have been made-very much larger by the war, and in this measure His Majesty's Government deal with only part of it. They confess quite frankly that they are not doing all that they hope they will ultimately be able to do. There is the great question of the clearing of the slums, the provision of open spaces, of reducing the quantity of smoke—a perfectly practical measure—and an increase in town planning so that we may ultimately provide healthy houses for every member of the community.
There is one special department of the subject for which I grieve to think that comparatively little is likely to be done under this Bill, and that is the provision of rural houses, one of the most important portions of the subject. The matter is a difficult one. It is not only that there is a shortage of houses, but that every year there is a necessity for more and more houses to be built. It has become a yearly problem how that deficit is to be made up and how the deficit (which, unless special measures are taken, must occur from year to year) can be met. This Bill, as the noble Earl has told us. deals only with a part of the whole question. It is, too, as he reminded us, only a temporary measure. It deals with the next two and a half years and comes automatically to an end on October 1, 1925. I cannot but remember one of the passages in " Through the Looking Glass" where the Red Queen seizes Alice by the hand and they start running as hard as they possibly can. They run faster and faster and Alice loses her breath, but the Red Queen urges her to go on still faster and faster until at last they stop and find themselves exactly where they were when they first began to run. I am not at all sure that when this Bill expires and the two and a half years are past we shall not find that the same problem is with us still—that there is still a shortage of houses, and that we shall have His Majesty's Government coming before us then, if they do not come before us at an even earlier date, in order to ask that fresh powers may be given to enable them to deal with the question.
I have said that we accept generally the principle of this Bill and I think it is urgent that it should be dealt with now. I hope that the Committee stage will be 757 taken without delay, and it would be of very great assistance if the noble Viscount who has just spoken were to put down Amendments which would strengthen the Bill. We have to remember that the building season is well upon us, that there is comparatively little time left, that valuable months have already gone, and that time is really the essence of the subject. Therefore, it is all the more necessary that we should proceed with the building of these houses as quickly as possible. That is why I was very glad to hear from the noble Earl who introduced the Bill that there were already schemes before his Department to which, I hope, as soon as the Bill is passed, he will be able to give approval. I am glad to think that the Ministry is going to take time by the forelock, so to speak, in this matter.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
That is excellent; it is all the better, because one is only too anxious that no more time should be lost. One is glad to think that the Bill tries to make, use of various methods of dealing with the question. Power is given to public authorities to deal with it on their own initiative or through other agencies. It encourages the private builder and associations, amongst whom I would include the Cooperative Building Guilds, and there is also what I cannot help thinking may prove to be of very real value—provision with regard to turning houses into flats. But, behind all these, there is the real anxiety on the part of His Majesty's Government, which I am sure the whole House shares, to get hold of that intangible something which is the confidence of those who are interested in the building trade. We want them to feel a real confidence that they may go ahead, that they may proceed without interference in the future. We cannot but regard the fact that they do not like the idea of State control whether it be exercised by the State itself or by the local authorities, and that is one reason which has been holding them back during the last few years. For myself I confess that, except with regard to some of the larger corporations, generally speaking I believe we shall find that some of the most useful houses will be built by the private builder. He is more 758 anxious to meet the wishes of possible customers and, with his experience, I think we ought to do what we can to encourage him to proceed in the future.
I confess that I have one or two criticisms to make on the details of the Bill. There is a matter to which I have already referred in your Lordships' House—namely, the question of the flat rate of £6. It is quite evident that there must be some places where £6 is too much and some places where it is probably too little. That is why, if the noble Earl will allow me to justify myself, I said just no" that I did not feel that we were so likely to get houses built in rural areas. I do not think that we shall get the houses built in places where the £6 is too little to cover the difference between the cost and the value of the house after it has been built. My next criticism is with regard to the control of trusts. His Majesty's Government, with great wisdom, have set up a Committee dealing with trusts, but that Committee has not all the power which I should like it to have. I think it ought to be able to send for papers, and to examine witnesses. We want to make quite sure that the advantages which His Majesty's Government are giving in this Bill are not absorbed by the wrong people. We want to assist the building of houses and not to increase the prices of the raw materials for building.
Another point to which I would refer is that of the size of the houses. The noble Earl, in moving the Second Beading, spoke of the smallness of the houses. I am not sure that they may not prove to be too small. If there is to be a fault on the one side or the other I am sure we should all agree that the fault should be in building large houses rather than in building houses that are too small. Then there is the question of whom you are to put into the houses, and in this respect we should consider the people who will be living in these houses a few years hence. One has a great deal of sympathy with the demand for small houses for old married couples without children. They are a class of people for whom provision should be made, but in making provision for them I fear that we may find, a few years hence, that the houses built for them will be lived in by a family with several children. The houses will have changed hands, and will be perhaps occupied at a low rent by a man and his wife with 759 two or three children. That is, indeed, a very real danger, because that is the way so many of our slums have been created. It is not usual that houses become slums the moment they are built; it is through a gradual process of deterioration and an increase of population that they become slums. That is the danger against which one wishes to guard.
I am not sure that we should not explore in this connection the possibility of giving to the local authorities some power with regard to the class of people who should live in these houses when they are built. These houses are being built, as the noble Earl told us, specially for the artisan classes in this country. It is not really fair to them that people who can afford bigger houses should come down, pay comparatively small rents—when I say "comparatively," I mean compared with their total income—and live in these houses for which Parliament voted money with the idea of their being occupied by quite a different class of person altogether. I am not certain, therefore, whether it would not be possible to consider the question of giving to local authorities some power of dealing with the classes of people who are to live in these houses. Those really are all the criticisms which I have to make upon this Bill. I will only say once more that, though I could wish it had gone farther, and that it did more, we wish it well so far as it goes, and the noble Earl may rest assured that he will have from us every assistance in passing it.
THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK
My Lords, I welcome this Bill as a first step. The noble Earl who explained it told us that it was only the first step, and I hope most earnestly that the second step may be taken in the immediate future. There is no problem so grave and serious as this. I know that there are some who take comfort from the fact that the census, as referring to London, showed that there were fewer persons overcrowded than in 1911. That undoubtedly is true, but against that must be set the fact that there are more families which are overcrowded—namely 34.2 as against 32.7 in 1911—that in seven of the London boroughs the overcrowding has increased, and that even in those boroughs in which there has been a decrease in overcrowding the situation is extremely serious.
760 Let me quote three illustrations. In the borough of Southwark there are 41,000 people living in overcrowded conditions, in the borough of Lambeth there are 36,000, and in the borough of Camberwell 33,000. The overcrowding in London is in some cases intense. There are no fewer than 900 instances of families, consisting of six persons or more, living in one room. Family life is an impossibility in such conditions. Health and decency are almost impossible. The conditions are nothing less than appalling. I welcome, therefore, this measure as an attempt to encourage the building of houses which will both lessen the overcrowding, and, by lessening the overcrowding, will enable the authorities to deal with the slum districts which long ago ought to have been closed, but which it has been impossible to close on account of the lack of accommodation.
There are one or two anxieties which I have over this matter. I should like, in the first place, to ask those who are in charge of the measure whether there exists any power of bringing pressure to bear on the local authorities if they fail to use the powers which are entrusted to them under this measure. In the 1919 measure the local authorities had to make a survey of the conditions, and had to produce some scheme. Does this apply under the present measure? Is the application of this measure simply left to the local authorities? There are some local authorities which, no doubt, will act wisely and promptly, but there are other local authorities which constitutionally are neither prompt nor wise, and I am anxious to know whether the Ministry concerned have the power to bring pressure to bear on the local authorities which may be apathetic in the matter.
Next, I am anxious with regard to a point to which the noble Earl referred—namely, the question of labour. Even if you have your local authorities eager to act, and the private builder eager to build, you have not at the present time a sufficient number of men in the building trades who can carry out the building which is absolutely necessary. For every 100 men in the building trades in 1910 there are now sixty, and among the plasterers—a most essential trade—the proportion is very much smaller. Nor is that all. A large proportion of the 761 men who are engaged in the building trade cannot be diverted to houses because they are concerned in building factories. I am told on very reliable authority that some two years ago, out of all those engaged in the building trade, only fourteen or fifteen per cent. were available for the building of houses. I do not see how you can carry through any large building scheme unless some provision is made for a larger supply of workers.
This means, of course, that in certain quarters the demand will be raised for dilution. But the trades unions are opposed—and I think perfectly naturally, in view of the present unemployment—to any suggestion of dilution, and the only way I can see to meet the difficulty is for the Government to adopt a housing programme covering a considerable period of years which will guarantee employment. If this is adopted after consultation with the trades unions, and if the fear of unemployment is removed, it may be possible for the trades unions to consent to the employment of many whom at the present time they hesitate to allow to enter their trade in case the unemployment should be increased.
One other point I wish to make. There is no safeguard in this measure against the new houses becoming slums in the future. It is really essential that some limitation should be placed on the number of houses which are to be built to the acre. In the past, before there were any by-laws in existence, something like sixty and seventy houses were built to the acre. You can see the result in the blocks of buildings off Blackfriars Road, and elsewhere. When by-laws were applied the numbers were reduced, and Dr. Addison, in 1919, made it a rule that only twelve houses should be built to the acre. In this measure there is no provision to that effect. Local authorities may crowd a large number of houses on a given area and in a short time you may have slums springing up. There is really need for caution in this matter. One of the greatest cities in the north of England is now asking for permission to build houses back to back. If they are built back to back, no doubt forty houses may be built to the acre, with disastrous results to the health and happiness of the people living in them. I hope some new clause may be added 762 at a later stage, which the Government will accept, limiting the number of houses which are to be built to the acre.
I welcome Clause 10 which deals, though indirectly, with slum property. The real defence against slum property is public opinion. Public opinion cannot act effectively because it is almost impossible to know the name of the owner of the property. It is possible to know the name of the agent, or the sub-tenant, but it is not possible, in all cases, to know the name of the actual owner. This clause makes it possible, in certain cases, to discover the actual owner. I am certain that public opinion would have been brought to bear very effectively in a number of cases if it had been possible to know the name of the owner of some dilapidated property. There have been cases—I have known them myself—where it was discovered that the owner of some disreputable property was sitting on the local health committee and opposing the various measures which were proposed by the Medical Officer of Health for that particular town. That kind of thing would be impossible if the actual owner of the property was known. It may be extremely difficult to draft such a clause but I am not without hope that it can be done. Public opinion would be aroused if the name of the owner could be made accessible to the public in every ease. With this reservation I welcome and support this measure as I believe it will do something to make home-life a reality to many who at present are living in conditions which are unhealthy and degrading.
§ LORD CLWYD
My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships more than one or two moments by what I have to say. I rise cordially to support the Bill, although I am not so sanguine as the Government appear to be as to the precise extent of its influence, when it is passed, in achieving the object we all have before us—namely, to supply as soon as possible as much of the increased number of houses as will approach at all events the normally adequate provision of housing required in this country. As the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading has said, it is a step, and a step only, in the direction in which we all desire to move. I entertain the hope that when this Bill has been tested it will be found possible at a later stage still further to develop 763 the opportunities it provides. We all agree on the outstanding fact of the situation. I agree with the right rev. Prelate who has just spoken, and with the noble Viscount, Lord Burnham, in their sense of the very serious character of the present position in this country owing to the shortage of housing accommodation. I believe that behind this shortage lie very grave dangers, and it is on all grounds imperative in the highest interests of the State that this shortage should be made up.
Let me, for one or two moments, make some observations on the business side of the Bill. The only way in which this country can provide a sufficient supply of houses is through the unfettered interplay of economic forces. It is only upon sound economic lines, which means the coming into play of the law of supply and demand, that in the long run this problem of housing will be completely satisfied. At the same time, the crux of the present situation is that owing to certain exceptional factors in the present situation, owing to certain circumstances in connection with labour and the cost of building materials, it is practically impossible to induce private enterprise to build houses, and we are faced with the necessity of doing something to induce the private builder to put his band to the work of satisfying the housing necessities of the nation at the present time.
One word as to my views of the sufficiency of the inducements provided in this Bill. I agree with Lord Burnham that the subsidy of £6 running over twenty years will not be sufficient to secure private enterprise in the task of supplying these houses. It is not enough. I welcome the further provision in the Bill which enables local authorities to offer a lump sum per house to private enterprise, but if that lump sum is to be limited to the equivalent of the capitalisation of the £6 per annum for twenty years I am afraid it will not be sufficient to secure the result we all desire. I note that there are other possibilities in the Bill which will, I hope, enable local authorities to add to the lump sum which may be payable to private enterprise. In my judgment the practical success of this Bill, so far as the immediate securing of private enterprise for building is concerned, will depend upon the measure of the possibility which this Bill provides 764 for local authorities to make that inducement of a lump sum sufficiently large to attain the object for which we are working.
In conclusion, I wish to say that I think the Government were wise in making full use of the local authorities in the solution of the housing problem. I am one of those who believe that we ought to appreciate very highly the contribution of local authorities, particularly in our large cities throughout the country, towards the solution of this problem, and as I have for some years had an opportunity of knowing a good deal of the way in which this problem has been dealt with by the Corporation of Liverpool I can appreciate not only the magnitude of the task, but the manner in which the municipalities have carried out their responsibilities in this regard.
I will not refer to more than one detail of the Bill. I concur with the noble Earl who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench as to the desirability, if it were possible, that local authorities should have some degree of latitude in regard to the size of the houses in respect of which subsidies or lump sum payments may be available. Your Lordships may remember that an Amendment was introduced into the Bill in Committee in another place enabling local authorities to go below the minimum of 620 feet superficial area if they were of opinion that circumstances in the locality made it necessary. I cannot help thinking that it would be wise if it were possible to allow local authorities similarly to go above the maximum of 950 feet if circumstances rendered it in their judgment desirable in the public interest. The noble Earl opposite, in moving the Second Beading, has already pointed out that Clause 5 will contribute in some measure towards the object which I have in view, but at the same time I think it would have been useful to give some latitude to the local authority in regard to this point, and had it been possible I should have been glad if an Amendment could have been introduced with that purpose. I will, if I may, conclude by associating myself with that which has already been said as to our extreme good fortune in having as Minister of Health, who framed this Bill and has been in charge of it in another place, one who is so exceptionally qualified by special experience and knowledge of 765 local government as is the right hon. gentleman the present Minister. I would also, if I may, congratulate my noble friend Lord Onslow upon the very clear and complete statement with which he moved the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ LORD DAWSON OF PENN
My Lords, I cannot, like so many noble Lords who have preceded me, claim to have any expert knowledge of local government, but I think I may say that I have had experience of the homes and lives of the working classes, and in the course of my life I have had opportunities of studying the conditions under which they live. It appears to me that this Bill has the virtue of limiting the amount of direct action on the part of local authorities to those operations which must necessarily be carried out by public enterprise and which there is small chance of private enterprise performing. In addition, it does all that can be done to encourage local enterprise to direct individual effort.
If one regards the matter from the point of view of health, surely no scheme could be large enough to meet the evils which admittedly exist. If one looks at the health of the community, one sees at once how gravely it suffers in existing conditions. We have workmen who cannot get fresh air and who have not adequate accommodation for resting. How can they be efficient in their work, and how can they be expected to possess themselves in contentment? If you look at the matter from the point of view of disease, tuberculosis alone would be more safely and securely squashed by a good housing scheme than by any other possible method. Germ diseases would be reduced, maladies of infancy would speedily decline, together with all those maladies which modern knowlege tell us are increasingly dependent on the absence of light and air, and the health that would arise from increased light and air would be compensation far out of proportion to the cost which would be involved in any scheme, however large. When one considers that in the cure of disease we are increasingly moving in the direction of open air treatment, and that probably in the near future our hospitals will to a large extent be constructed in the open with open wards with full confidence in the results which will follow, one is tempted to speculate, if we are going to 766 give fresh air in the cure of disease, how much more profitable it would be if we gave it in the prevention of disease.
On the other hand, though I belong to a profession which is credited with small business knowledge, I do not disguise from myself the fact that, however desirable it may be to proceed on a more ambitious scale than the present Bill provides, any remedy which was too ambitious would be crushed under its own weight and any reform which did not carry educated public opinion with it would defeat its own ends. It appears to me, therefore, that this Bill goes as far as it is wise to proceed, in the present stage of knowledge and in the present state of public opinion. One of its most useful features is, I think, that in a sense it is experimental. The Government have an opportunity under its provisions of making what I may call trial trips, and in this connection I should like to urge upon them that they should give very generous consideration to that experimental part of the Bill which is concerned with the housing of communities. This part of the Bill contains provisions which enable measures for town planning and the building of garden suburbs to be tried and extended. I think that no part of the Bill is likely to be more productive of permanent good than that dealing with the extension of town planning and garden suburbs, if one thinks of the communal life that is engendered, the way that the health of the people is ensured, and the fact that you are bringing about a higher ideal of citizenship than at present exists.
In this connection I should like to mention this. If you take the housing of the people as intimately intermingled with the medical care of the people, one of the difficulties at the present time in the medical care of the people is the need of organisation, the want of fabric and of provision for the cure of disease. Your Lordships are well aware that there have been considerable criticisms of late upon what is called the panel practice. Those criticisms are well founded, but are not due to any fault in the principle of insurance. There is no alternative to insurance outside whole-time State service, which Heaven forbid should ever be our lot to endure. The whole fault is the absence of organisation and the means whereby the best treatment can be brought 767 to the service of people of smaller means. I mention this as an example to illustrate what I want to bring forward—namely, that these communities enable an experiment of that kind to be made. They show the way. Whereas in a city or suburb, or community already established, it is extremely difficult and expensive to put up the means of improving the health of the people, in these new communities, where land is available and costs are low, such experiments can be made, and the way shown for useful and healthy development in the future. I would urge upon the Government to give as much encouragement as possible, and as generous a trial as possible, to the garden suburbs and housing communities referred to in Part II of the Bill. With that reservation I beg respectfully to support the Bill.
§ LORD, PENTLAND
My Lords, I should like, if I may, to say a word or two about the special position of Scotland, which has not been alluded to. I do not intend to offer any observations on the general policy of the Bill—it is an exceptional Bill to deal with exceptional circumstances—but I should be glad to know whether, as in earlier legislation of this kind, some recognition can be given to the special position of Scotland. It seems to me that the weakness of the Bill in its application to Scotland is that the conditions of building in Scotland are not recognised. By custom, tradition and practice, founded principally upon the more rigorous climate, the standard of housing in Scotland hitherto, house for house, broadly speaking, has been higher than in this country. Different material is used, and a more costly house is the result. The bearing of that upon this Bill is that the subsidy of £6 when applied to Scotland is not relatively the same assistance or encouragement to the building of houses as that sum is in England. I need not labour the point because it is familiar to the Secretary for Scotland. Houses are not only more costly in Scotland, but they take more time to build, and I think I am right in saying that under the Act of 1919 a longer period was allowed in the case of Scotland for the completion of schemes.
I hope that that point may have the consideration of the Government, and also the more vital point that the subsidy is not sufficient to give the same 768 encouragement to building in Scotland as it is hoped it will give to building in England. The ordinary financial relations between Scotland and England, as your Lordships are aware, is eleven-eightieths. If a grant is given to England, eleven-eightieths of the grant is considered to be a fair share for Scotland. It would be obvious, in the light of the criticism that I have ventured to offer, that eleven-eightieths in this case will not really in essence meet the case. What is desired is eleven-eightieths of houses and not eleven-eightieths of money.
There is only one further point, and it relates to the difference in rating law which exists in Scotland. In England, speaking broadly, the rates are paid by the tenants. In Scotland the local rates are divided between the owner and the occupier. Now if you imagine that the local authority builds houses in Scotland, you will at once see that from the rental which will be due to the local authority in Scotland, in respect of one of these houses, will fall to be deducted the share of rates which the local authority will have to pay. Therefore, again, there is a discouragement of the endeavours which this Bill seeks to promote for the building of houses. It is only too true, as has already been mentioned by the noble Viscount behind me, that Scotland is backward in its conditions of housing. Only a few years ago, in 1917, a Royal Commission, I think, confirmed that, and it is in the earnest desire that we may be able to assist on all sides in promoting progress in this direction that I have ventured to offer these words of criticism.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, I will not detain you more than a very few-moments, but I desire to make one or two remarks on this Bill, which, generally speaking, I welcome. It is a very great improvement on previous efforts made to deal with the question. I welcome very much the fact that on the Committee stage in another place the maximum area of superficial feet was increased. I do not consider that when the Bill was introduced the number of superficial feet was sufficiently large.
I should like to say a word about the subsidy which may be given by a local authority to a private individual who builds a house. I am speaking only about the lump sum, and I do not think 769 that it is made clear yet exactly what that lump sum may be. There is no doubt that a lump sum is what will appeal to the private individual more than anything else. A subsidy for housing is quite different from a subsidy given for any other purpose, such as a subsidy to a farmer to prevent him suffering loss when growing corn, because when a subsidy is given to a farmer, so far as the State is concerned there is an end of it, but a subsidy for housing is really in the nature of a perpetual loan. The State gains in the following way: It gets Income Tax, Schedule A, assessed upon the property, it receives Estate Duty, and it receives a contribution to the rates. May I take an example in round figures? A house is erected costing £1,000. The State contributes, through the Ministry of Health, £100, the individual finding the balance of £900. As soon as the house has been erected and occupied it is assessed, first, for Income Tax. Schedule A. The assessable value of such a house to-day would probably be £50. Taking Income Tax at roughly 3s. in the £, the average amount would come to £7 10s. And although it is true that the £900 owned by the individual would probably be paying Income Tax before the house was erected, the owner would, in addition, pay a tax on the £100 granted to him by the State. This would amount, in the case of the £100 mentioned already, to 15s. per annum, so that the State would receive ¾ per cent. interest on the £100 directly as Income Tax. The Imperial Exchequer, would, however, further benefit in Estate Duty, the sum actually receivable varying with the rate of duty levied on the particular property.
But there is something still more, and it is a very important consideration to bear in mind. The local authorities, taking rates at the average amount existing throughout the country, would receive probably £30 per annum as a contribution for a house of the nature described. The £100, being one-tenth of the total sum expended, would mean rates in respect thereof amounting to £3 per annum. That is to say, the total contribution to the Imperial and local Exchequer in respect of £100 would amount to 3¾ per cent. Where, of course, the local rates amounted to a fairly high rate in the £ the contribution would of necessity be higher, and I think it would probably be found that the 770 actual contribution made to the Imperial and local exchequers amounted to somewhere in the neighbourhood of 4½ per cent.; so that the whole nation gains by the subsidy, and the wealth of the nation, is increased.
I would ask my noble friend in charger of the Bill to look at Clause 15, which, begins:—For the purpose of facilitating the consolidation and of simplifying the machinery of the Housing Acts, the provisions set out in the First Schedule to this Act—.And when one turns to the First Schedule the first part deals with "Assimilation of procedure under Parts I and II." It is extremely difficult to follow exactly the procedure under this clause and the Schedule. It is nearly impossible to ascertain from the Bill what will be the procedure for making and confirming schemes, and, secondly, for assessing compensation. Might I ask my noble friend, if he could arrange it before the Committee stage, to issue an explanatory Memorandum on the procedure? It would be a great help to local authorities and to any individual owner who will come under the Bill. No doubt in time some consolidation Bill will be brought in. It is certainly rather necessary, but as I understand that this is only a temporary Bill, and we may expect another one shortly, we may have to wait until the next Bill is introduced.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, my noble friend who sits beside me (Lord Onslow) assures me that he is able to give a practically favourable answer to the questions which have just been addressed to us by my noble friend. There will certainly be a statement issued, in accordance with his wish, to explain procedure, and that will be done forthwith. As regards consolidation, I think he is perfectly right that there is a very considerable case for consolidation, even though this Bill is of a temporary character, and I am able to say that the matter is under consideration and that we have some hopes of introducing a consolidation Bill, but not in the present year. I think my noble friend would not expect us to go further than that.
I cannot say that every speaker to-night has received the Bill with enthusiasm, but everyone has received it with approval, and in one or two cases 771 its reception deserves a rather warmer adjective than I have given to it. But I must say at once that we are as deeply conscious as any noble Lord in this House of the absolute necessity of improving the housing of the people. It really hardly requires to be stated, but there was nothing which fell, for example, from my noble friend Lord Dawson of Penn to which we are not able to subscribe. We are grateful to him for saying that it is necessary not to attempt too much at first, but as to the necessity of providing better housing he has no difficulty in convincing His Majesty's Government.
Although there has been a certain coolness in some of the approval which we have received—the noble Earl who is now leading the Opposition certainly did not show any very great warmth in his approval, but he promised us his assistance, which I value even more than I should have done the warmth of his approval—although that atmosphere certainly has been present in the criticisms made, I do not, for my part, intend to give way to the pessimism which seems to invade the minds of certain noble Lords. Why should they be pessimistic? Is it because so many attempts have been made, and so many attempts have failed? That seems to me to show rather an unworthy spirit. Parliament and the Government must go on until they succeed. And the present Bill is not intended, as my noble friend who is responsible for it has already said, to be the last word in housing reform. It is, we believe, a very important step forward. We look forward with great confidence to its success, but we do not imagine that it will solve the housing problem, and no doubt the attention of Parliament will, from time to time, have to be directed again to this subject.
Why am I determined to be optimistic? In the first place, because your Lordships must be aware that the situation in respect of the building problem had already improved even before this Bill was introduced. The cost of building was coming down, and a great deal of building had been undertaken in all parts of the country. No one could travel about without seeing building going on everywhere. I admit that it was not building of the class which is most required. It was of the class just above that which is most required. But in 772 respect of that class of building a great deal is going on. I know it is in my own place, and I see it in every direction as I travel through the country. So that we see, as it were, facilities for building gradually approaching the level at which working-class houses can be erected, and it only requires a comparatively small impulse in order to make just the difference between what is not a paying proposition at the moment and what we hope will be a paying proposition in the future. It is not as if you had to bridge a very large interval. The change which has taken place has shown that the interval is comparatively small. The effort necessary is not nearly so great as it was in the time of Dr. Addison's Bill. Let us do Dr. Addison the justice of admitting that he had a much more difficult problem to deal with than we have.
We hope, therefore, that by the provisions of this Bill we shall be able to bridge this interval. And the Bill, as your Lordships see, tries to achieve its end in a great variety of directions. We want to have as much elasticity as possible in the particular details of the assistance which is afforded. My noble friend Viscount Burnham said he believed that there was no success achievable except by means of a lump sum. There is a lump sum provided in the Bill, and not only a lump sum contribution but an annual contribution. There is a method by which existing buildings can be adapted in every form. I think the noble Viscount spoke of turning large buildings into flats for the working classes. That provision is contained in the Bill. All these methods of approaching a solution of the problem are contained in the various clauses of the Bill. I do not mean to say that they are perfect, and please do not think that I assume any such confidence. With the assistance of your Lordships the Bill, no doubt, will be made perfect; but as it stands, at any rate an effort to approach the problem from all those points of view is made.
In other directions we try to make things as easy as possible. There is, for instance, the great problem of by-laws, into which I need not go, because your Lordships who are familiar with the housing question know the bearing of the point. But the great problem of the by-laws is attempted to be solved in this way, that what I may call obstructive by-laws should not be permitted in any 773 part of England or Scotland to interfere with the proper provision of houses. Having mentioned Scotland I might be allowed to say, parenthetically, that I am wholly unqualified to deal with that part of the probem, but I can assure the noble Lord opposite that it will be dealt with by my noble friend the Secretary for Scotland, if not to-night, on a suitable occasion. I know that the Scottish problem presents certain special features. I was surprised for a moment, because I thought the noble Lord was going to say that the standard of housing in Scotland was higher than in England when, notoriously, the contrary is the case. There are, no doubt, difficulties in Scotland which do not exist in England.
What else can be done? The right rev. Prelate said that you ought to use compulsion. I have not much belief in compulsion in these matters, nor have I ever had much belief in it, but in so far as compulsion is of value it exists in the law, under the Act of 1919. If the right rev. Prelate will consult that Act he will find that where a local authority does not do its duty the Ministry have power to mobilise the County Council, and if the County Council does not do its duty the Ministry have power to supersede both of those authorities and to do the work under their own authority. The right rev. Prelate will see that there are compulsory powers, for whatever they are worth, and I do not lay much stress upon that. What we really rely on, of course, is the tremendous demand which public opinion now makes for housing accommodation. That, demand which exists in every part of England is far more powerful, and much more likely to be effective, than any compulsory provisions of the law. We rely, as other noble Lords have done, not upon compulsion but upon stimulating the enterprise of the speculative builder.
I agree with everything that the noble Viscount, Lord Burnham, said of the small builder. This problem will not be solved by means of the assistance of the large builders. It is the small local builder, the man who works with his own hands, upon whom we must rely in order to solve this problem, and it is to him that we hope the contribution provided by the Government will appeal. The noble Viscount seemed to think that it was a very small matter, but, surely, the contribution is a considerable matter. 774 Capitalised, it amounts to something between one-fourth and one-fifth part of the total cost of the house. That is the best calculation I can make, and that is a very considerable subsidy. As I have said, it is given, or it may be given at the option of the local authority, in the form of a lump sum. The local authority gives a lump sum and pays itself back by the £6 subsidy, and pays the interest on the loan which it must raise for the purpose. In that way the lump sum is provided. It is perfectly true that a rise in the cost of building might absorb this or any contribution. All we can say is that there is no symptom of it at present. I have taken some trouble to look into the figures, to-day, and I find that so far there is no symptom that there has been any rise in the cost of building by-reason of the introduction of this Bill. Therefore, so far as we know, so far, at any rate, as our present information goes, we have no reason to fear that this misfortune will happen.
But the £6 and the capitalised value of the £6 is not the only contribution which can be made to the small builder. The local authority has power under the clauses of the Bill to make a contribution of its own, for which it does not get any return from the Imperial Exchequer. It is perfectly open to the local authority to do so. In fact, I should say that in my experience of Bills of this nature this is the most elastic that I have ever seen. There are very few conditions which bind those who are engaged in the working of this Bill, and it would be entirely open to the local authority to supplement the Government contribution by a contribution of its own if it saw fit to do so. Of course, we trust the local authority. We have always been partisans of local administration and of confidence in local administration. I do not believe that you can do any of these things except along that road. You cannot do these things centrally; you must use the local authorities for the purpose. If you use the local authorities you must trust them to the full in the hope that they will do their duty. A great number of them will do their duty, and upon those who do not you can bring the whole weight of public opinion until they do. That is the method by which you can achieve your end, and I believe there is no other method.
775 Now, as for the other provisions, the right rev. Prelate said, I think, that there ought to be a provision limiting the number of houses to the acre. I admit that there is no such provision in the Bill; but in the instructions which have been issued by the Ministry to local authorities there is an indication that in the view of His Majesty's Government twelve houses to the acre is the ideal. As I have said before, you must have elasticity. Twelve houses to the acre would not be suitable everywhere and would be too expensive. For my part, I hope that there will not be more than twenty houses to the acre. One would not like to lay down any absolute limit, but I think that the right rev. Prelate may be assured that His Majesty's Government and the Ministry of Health have indicated that in their judgment these houses ought not to be crowded, that they ought to be built under what are compendiously called garden city conditions, and that in that way the best result can be achieved.
The noble Earl opposite said that he was against small houses. He thought we had gone too far in the direction of permitting small houses. I cannot agree with him. If you are to suit the needs of the working classes you must not have the houses too large. I am not speaking merely theoretically, because I have myself had some practical experience on this particular point. What the working classes want are houses that they can afford to pay for. If you have a large house the rent must be large, and I think the noble Earl will find, if he makes inquiries, that the large house is not popular.
I was very much struck—if your Lordships will forgive me for relating a special example—by an incident which happened in the district council of the area in which I live. All the Labour representatives on the council set themselves against the building of expensive houses, and they induced the council by their pressure to adopt the other policy. That has not always been the policy of this council. There have been expensive houses. I am referring now to the houses which they are building at this moment, and for which they will get a subsidy under this Bill. The pressure of the working classes is not towards expensive houses but towards the cheaper and smaller houses, the rents of which come 776 within the limits of their purses. My friends in Hatfield who took that view are quite right. We want to go back as soon as we can to economic conditions. That is the real, fundamental solution of the housing question, and the only solution, and we must do our best to achieve it. I hope it may be achieved.
I cannot pretend that I believe much is to be done by new methods of design in house building, but I do believe that something more may be done in cheapening materials. I have been connected for some years with a research body whose business it is to try to find economical methods of building. Certain results have been achieved, and certain avenues have been opened for further investigation. I certainly am not without hope that by economic administration and judicious contribution where it is necessary, by the benefit of research and experience, we may ultimately solve the housing question.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.