HL Deb 14 May 1924 vol 57 cc432-7

LORD TREOWEN had the following Notice on the Paper:—

To draw attention to the effect on housing schemes of the recent statements made by the Minister of Health on the Government policy in regard to housing; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it will be within the recollection of your Lordships that on April I the Motion which stands in my name was on the Paper of your Lordships' House. On that occasion, in consequence of an intimation that I received from the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, I postponed the Motion, and it appears again to-day. I did so because I understood from the noble Earl that an opportunity would arise, probably before we separated for Easter, for a full discussion of the proposals of the Government in regard to housing. No such opportunity has been offered to your Lordships, and, therefore, a sufficient interval having elapsed, I felt there was no other course open to me than to place my Motion once more on the Paper.

If I do not press that Motion to-day it is for this reason. I was acting not with a view to bringing on a premature and probably futile discussion of measures which the Government have not yet disclosed to your Lordships, but I was acting on behalf of those local councils in the South Wales mining area who had taken advantage, of the Housing Act of 1923 to launch certain schemes, which undoubtedly would, to a considerable, degree, have relieved the congestion in their areas during the present year. I, therefore, did not think it desirable to abandon any means available of pressing the interests of those councils, and I had the privilege of a consultation with the Minister of Health. I wish now to pay tribute to the courtesy and frankness with which he dealt with me, and explained the main difficulty he had in this particular case. I will not enter upon that, however.

When his main difficulty was explained to me I could not fail to recognise his position. The view of it that I had assumed in my mind was that such a difficulty need never have arisen had it not been for the injudicious, premature, and, so far as I can see, perfectly useless statement of the Prime Minister in regard to the housing policy of the Government—a vague statement such as is made more often on the eve of an Election than by a responsible Minister at the outset of his career as a Prime Minister. That was the cause, as it seemed to me, of the main, difficulty, and I could not but feel some, sympathy for the Minister of Health in the situation in which he found himself placed. My object, therefore, in rising to-day is to move this Motion formally in the hope that I may get some information from a member of the Government as to when the proposals of the Government will be definitely placed before Parliament, so that your Lordships may have an opportunity of discussing them.

The situation created in the part of the kingdom with which I am most closely connected is very serious. I view the whole situation with grave concern. In these crowded areas in the South Wales valleys, the local authorities had taken advantage of a measure passed last year to launch certain schemes which undoubtedly would have provided, to a considerable extent, for the requirements of their areas during the present year. Those local authorities have been suddenly brought to an absolute standstill, and nothing is being done. The only thing that has occurred—and this has made everything more difficult for them—is that there has been a steady rise in prices during the last few months. Therefore, we are faced with this position, that instead of feeling certain that some hundreds of families would, in the course of the year, he lodged in good houses, and certain slum areas eliminated, we have to look forward to seeing nothing done by the beginning of next winter.

What can happen even if the Government has its programme prepared and were to produce, it to-morrow? We are already in the middle of May. Bills take some time to pass through another place, and the only thing that I foresee is that, if these measures are produced in the shortest possible time, they will come before your Lordships only towards the end of July in the heat and flurry that are associated with the end of a Session, when such measures cannot be properly considered and discussed. If your Lordships do give to them that proper deliberation which they require your Lordships will possibly be exposing yourselves to an accusation by the least scrupulous persons in the community that you are obstructing the achievement of a great promise made by the Prime Minister in one of his early speeches. I do not wish to open a discussion upon the general question of housing, because, until we have the proposals of the Government before us, it is impossible to have an effective and a useful debate I do not wish to press the question which I have put personally before the Minister of Health. He has given me his answer, and I must admit that it is a fair answer, and one that I must accept with all respect. I see his difficulty, but, for the sake of these people who are being disappointed of what they looked upon as a certainty—namely, getting relief during the present year—I do ask that some indication shall be given that the policy of the Government will shortly be placed before the country, and that we shall have an opportunity of discussing it calmly and not in the rush of the end of the Session. I beg to move.


My Lords, after the very generous words of the noble Lord, Lord Treowen, in regard to his dealings with the Government over this matter, it is hardly necessary to point out to your Lordships the difficulties with which we have been faced. Your Lordships will realise that our housing policy is entirely, or very largely, dependent on the result of agreement amongst countless numbers of different and varying bodies. I am afraid that, as the noble Lord has already said, it is impossible to start any general discussion now, or to make any definite statement. It might, however, interest your Lordships to hear the answer that was given to-day by the Minister of Health in the House of Commons. He said that he proposed to circulate with the OFFICIAL REPORT a copy of a letter which he Had caused to be addressed to the representatives of local authorities, whom he met at the end of last week, giving the result of the discussions which he had with them. He hoped to introduce the Housing Bill at a very early date.

This Report and letter, which I presume will be obtainable by your Lordships as well, will not I am afraid satisfactorily answer the Question of the noble Lord, but it will put your Lordships in possession of the facts, and will bring the information thoroughly up to date. Beyond that I cannot say anything definite. The Bill will be ready very shortly and will be introduced as soon as the exigencies of business in the House of Commons permit.


My Lords. I suppose it is not possible to press the noble Earl for a little more information, but it would have been convenient if he could have told your Lordships whether he expected the Bill to be produced before Whitsuntide. I was not quite sure from the tenor of his answer whether we are to understand that there will be a complete expression of the housing policy of the Government when the Bill is introduced. He said he was not sure whether the statement of the Minister of Health would be satisfactory to the noble Lord.


I was referring to the letter.


Then I will press the Government to state a little more clearly when the Bill will be introduced. A Bill which is not introduced before Whitsuntide generally has great difficulty in passing into law, and it is vital we should know that. It is not as if the Government are faced with difficulties for which they themselves are not responsible. If they had left our Bill alone a great deal more progress would have been made. They found fault with the policy of their predecessors and the result is that housing has stopped. They are no longer in the position of being able to say that it is no fault of theirs, for by their own optimism they have put a stop to housing. I almost guess from what the noble. Earl has said that we shall not see the Bill before Whitsuntide. In that case not much progress will be made with housing before the winter. That is a serious matter and one upon which I feel a great deal of anxiety, which I hope the noble Lord will be able to relieve.


The difficulty of relieving the anxiety of the noble Marquess is that there are unforeseen difficulties in the other House as regards the arrangement of business. Our desire is to introduce the Bill before Whitsuntide, and I have no doubt that when it is introduced a full statement will be made.


Is the Bill ready? I can understand that there are often delays in getting a Second Reading, and still more in getting the later stages, but there never need be any delay in introducing a Bill. If it is ready I imagine the Bill could be introduced tomorrow.


I believe the Bill is ready.


Are the negotiations with local authorities complete?


I should not like to be positive on that. I know they have been carried a considerable extent towards finality.