§ THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK rose to ask His Majesty's Government to state how many persons in the United Kingdom are now living under slum conditions; how many have been removed from such conditions since the Armistice by slum clearance schemes; how many will be affected by schemes already approved by the Ministry of Health, but not yet carried into effect; further, to ask whether His Majesty's Government have any proposals to hasten the abolition or the improvement of slum property; and to move for Papers.
The right rev. Prelate said: My Lords, towards the end of the last Session I asked His Majesty's Government if they could give us any information as to when they would introduce a Measure facilitating the clearance of the slums. I asked that question because at the opening of this Parliament, in the gracious Speech from the Throne, a definite promise was made in this respect. I would remind your Lordships of the words which were used in the Speech from the Throne:—
The housing problem is not merely one of overcrowding, but also of the existence of large numbers of houses which fall below modern standards of propriety and sanitation. Something is already being done under existing legislation to clear the worst areas and to remedy sanitary and structural defects in those which remain. As new building increases it will be possible largely to develop this process, and My Government will take every opportunity of pressing it forward with vigour.
The Government have been carrying out very faithfully their promise to build a large number of additional houses. The success which has been attained in this respect has indeed been remarkable. But the more successful the Government have been in building new houses the nearer they must come to the time when they carry out the other part of their promise—namely, to introduce legislation or measures for the clearance of slum areas.
The noble Viscount who replied to my Question at the end of last Session was, I thought, quite encouraging. He told us that the Minister of Health considered that the problem "must be tackled in a much more comprehensive manner if any considerable improvement is to be effected within a reasonable time." He also stated that a scheme was under consideration. We are now in the fourth
Session of this Parliament. It is therefore natural and reasonable that we should ask His Majesty's Government to tell us when they propose to take the steps which were outlined in the gracious Speech from the Throne. The problem, no doubt, is one of remarkable difficulty and extent. The extent of the problem can only be described as enormous. In every town, large and small, you will find slum districts. I may be asked how I define the word "slum." I think perhaps the best definition is that given in Murray's English dictionary:—
A thickly populated neighbourhood or district where the houses and conditions of life are of a squalid and wretched character.
In every one of our towns you find in a larger or smaller degree districts in which people are living together under conditions of a squalid and wretched character.
§ I need not trouble your Lordships with statistics showing how detrimental the existence of these districts is to the wellbeing of those who live within them. It is agreed on all sides that where you have a slum there you have a higher death rate and a lower standard of health than in any other district. Nor need I argue the point that from these slums there is danger not only to physical but also to political health. They becomes centres of unrest, discontent and disaffection. But the Question I want to ask His Majesty's Government is whether they can give us any information as to the number of people who are living under these conditions. I realise that it may be impossible to give a very definite clear-cut answer to that question; still, we ought to know the extent of the problem and we ought to be told, approximately at any rate, how many of our fellow countrymen are living under these conditions.
§ Unless there is some official statement on the subject exaggerated and highly coloured statements will be made, and have been made time after time. I noticed that a year or two ago at one of the Trade Union Congresses the statement was made that "there were three million of our people living in disease-ridden, fever-stricken slums." I do not know how the speaker arrived at that figure. It may or may not be accurate. It is a very serious statement to make and it has been repeated time after time. 553 If it is an over statement we ought to have some figures by which to correct it. But I am quite sure that whatever figures are given they will show that a very large number of people are living under these conditions. Taking London alone, quite apart from the 26,000 people who have been or will be dealt with under the slums clearance scheme adopted by the London County Council, there are, we are told, at least 100,000 people living in London under insanitary conditions; that is to say, a population as large as you would find in a City like Wolver-hampton. When you find the total number in the Provinces as well as in London who are living under these conditions the sum total will be nothing less than appalling. I hope it will be possible for the noble Lord who is to reply to give your Lordships' House some figures as to the number of those who are living under these conditions.
§ Turning to my second point, serious as the problem is, no existing methods of dealing with the housing question are affecting to any very large extent the condition of the slums. This is true, I think, of the large housing schemes which have been carried out during the last two years. The Government were perfectly right, if I may say so, in putting first the building of new houses. That was essential, and that part of their programme has been carried out with the utmost vigour. It is a great achievement that over a million houses have been built in the time. But I fear that the building of these new houses has so far effected very little indeed for the people who are actually living in the slums. This is partly due to the fact that the rents are too high. Men who are earning £3 or under a week cannot possibly afford a rent of 20s. or 23s., which is charged in many cases for the new houses that are built under some of these schemes. Then to the cost of rent there has to be added the inconvenience and cost of moving backwards and forwards from the house in the suburbs or in the environments of a big town to the place in which the man is working. Those who are living in the slums more often than not are living fairly close to the place in which they find their employment. If they have to move out to some of those distant new towns that have sprung up it costs them, I am told 554 by a competent authority, very frequently 5s. a week in moving backwards and forwards to their work.
§ It is a significant fact that the Chairman of the London County Council—and that Council has done admirable work in respect of housing—a few days ago stated that on the Becontree estate there were between 600 and 800 houses at the present time unoccupied. He went on to give the reason for this. The reason was that a very large part of the population could not afford to leave where they were now living because they could not pay the rent and could not afford travelling expenses, and he added that only 5 per cent. of the people living in very overcrowded conditions could, or would, leave the locality in which they were living. Great as the new housing schemes have been, so far they have not relieved to any appreciable extent, the pressure on the slum districts.
There is a more direct way of dealing with the slum—the method of slum clearance. This undoubtedly is the ideal plan to deal with slum districts. Sweep away the rotten insanitary buildings and re-house the people elsewhere, and then build on the space which has been so cleared. That is the ideal policy, but it is a policy which is very slow. It is a policy which takes a long time to execute. Often there is local opposition. There is always the question of cost, very often the cost being very high. From time to time, also, the question arises of possible injustice in compensation when a house which has been kept in good order is compensated on the same terms as the surrounding insanitary houses. Difficulties of various kinds arise, and these schemes of slum clearance are carried out very slowly. Reforms have been effected in this respect in London, but even now in London a number of approved schemes have not been carried out, and a number of districts which have been condemned for years still remain in existence. I am very anxious to know from His Majesty's Government how many schemes have been submitted for approval since the Armistice from the whole of the United Kingdom. There is another question which I also want to ask and to which I should like to press for an answer. Out of those schemes which have been approved how many have actually been carried out?
A large number of schemes may have been approved, but many of them simply remain on paper, and nothing has been done to carry them into effect. I am afraid the answer will reveal that only a portion of the total number of local authorities have applied for confirmation of any scheme, and out of those schemes which have been confirmed only a portion have actually been carried into effect. I am not for a moment blaming the Ministry of Health for this. The Ministry of Health is as anxious and keen on this matter as any one else, but the Minister of Health himself recognises that progress in this respect is very slow. Speaking in another place last month, he said:—
Really when one thinks of the vast masses of people who to-day are compelled to live under slum conditions, one cannot help feeling impatience that up to now so little has been done to help.
§ Then it may possibly be urged that a great deal is being done at the present time to recondition houses. I think I am right in saying that the Minister of Health, in the speech to which I have just referred, pointed out that action had been taken in a large number of districts by the sanitary and medical authorities which had resulted in the reconditioning of a number of houses. I must remind your Lordships that that word "reconditioning" is a very wide word indeed. There is a kind of reconditioning which I believe would go a long way towards solving this problem—the complete transformation of a house or a district, and the subsequent, management of that house or that district by the local authority under what is called the Octavia Hill assistance scheme. That kind of reconditioning or reconstruction was advocated by the Committee on Unhealthy Areas over which Mr. Neville Chamberlain presided some seven or eight years ago. But there is another kind of reconditioning which goes on year after year—very valuable, very important, and indeed quite necessary to prevent buildings from deteriorating into slums—but a great deal of this reconditioning is concerned with quite small details, putting a few tiles on, putting some paint on part of a house, stopping a wall from showing signs of collapse and so on. I am not for a moment under-estimating that kind of reconditioning. It is quite right that it should go on, but it hardly touches the 556 slums at all, for this kind of reconditioning cannot deal with the structure of the house, nor can it deal with the environment of the house, and the result is that, though a temporary reform may be carried out, the slum as a whole remains untouched.
§ I think I have said enough to show that the position is a very serious and difficult one. You have this great problem and at the present time none of the existing housing schemes are really dealing with it. I ask His Majesty's Government if they can tell us when they propose to produce some measure dealing with this extremely difficult and anxious matter. This is not one of those matters on which we ought to delay year after year. Every year's delay means another year of suffering and misery and unhappiness. I hesitate to quote to your Lordships' house some of the actual cases, there are so many. I will venture to quote only two cases, which have recently come to my notice. The first is the case of a vast tenement building—three blocks of flats, five storeys high, each containing about one hundred flats. Each block contains four staircases. Each flat has its own w.c. but the sanitation is very defective and the smell intolerable. Owing to the height of the building and the closeness of the blocks to one another, many of the lower flats get no sunlight at all, and have to be lit by artificial light all day, whilst mothers living at the top have to carry their babies up and down four or five flights of steep stone stairs. Many flats are shared by several families. There you have several hundred people living year by year under conditions which every one of us would regard as absolutely intolerable.
§ The other case is somewhat different. It is the case of a much smaller building, a building which was once intended for one family only. Now it is occupied by several families. One family is living in the basement. A family of five persons—two adults and three children—live in two rooms in the basement. The rooms are so damp that everything is covered with mildew. One boy, aged eleven, contracted rheumatic fever and may be a permanent invalid. Those are not exceptional cases. Those are the things which are happening up and down the country. That is why it makes some of us so impatient, so 557 bitterly disappointed when year after year passes and no comprehensive scheme is brought forward for dealing with this problem which affects the health and happinness of so many of our fellow countrymen. The Government have faced courageously the question of providing additional houses. I hope that with equal courage in the near future they will do their utmost to remove the slums which too long have been a real scandal to our civilisation, which remain persistent centres of unhappiness and discontent and which are a danger to morality and to the health and political welfare of our country.
My Lords, I feel that we must all be extremely grateful to the right rev. Prelate for having brought forward a second time this subject before your Lordships' House and in a speech so thoughtful and so temperate. The right rev. Prelate has the advantage that he can raise a topic of this magnitude without coming under any suspicion of Party bias or that he has any other end to serve than the good of the community. The fact that within a brief space he has again pressed the Government upon this topic is a sign that the country at large is very anxious about the absence of progress in dealing with this problem.
This is a matter which transcends all Party questions and I for one would never make the mistake of assuming that the Ministry of Health was not anxious to get rid of slum conditions. But it seems to me that there is a vast difference between the attitude of the Conservative Party and the attitude of those with whom I am associated upon this problem. The Government take the view, it would seem from the facts, that progress is desirable but that it is one of a great number of matters on which progress is desirable. To the Labour Party, on the other hand, this problem is absolutely fundamental. We regard the question of housing and the complementary question of slum clearance as underlying every one of our social problems. We would prefer to see every effort and all expenditure directed first of all to clearing away these conditions, because until that is done there is no real chance of social progress in a general way I imagine that I myself would not be accused of want of zeal in favour of education, but I would gladly see a halt called for a time 558 in educational progress if that was a means of enabling us to deal more adequately with such a problem as that of slum clearance. I have had the privilege of going into many of the necessitous areas in London to look at schools and it is perfectly astounding to see the results achieved by the teachers and the measure of progress made by children coming from homes which are hardly fit for human habitation. But it is obvious that all progress in education, all progress in hygiene and in sanitation and everything else, depends upon the steps taken to deal with slum areas.
The right rev. Prelate has put to the Government certain specific questions. I notice that only one of those questions deals with the past, one deals with the present and two deal with the future. I hope that in response to his appeal the Government will be able to give us the figures for which the right rev. Prelate asks. It is clear that we have a right to have them laid before us. But I hope that the noble Lord who replies for the Government will deal as far as it is possible with the two questions of the right rev. Prelate which deal with the future. We do not want merely statistics of houses built or a statement that these matters are still under consideration, receiving the earnest consideration of his right hon. friend the Minister of Health. We admit that in the last few years great progress has been made in the erection of houses but, as the right rev. Prelate pointed out, that is only one part of the problem and it is not the greatest part.
I would venture to quote from a report made by the medical officer of health for St. Pancras, which bears out this point. He says:—Although an enormous number of houses have been erected in and around London during the past three years, the greater portion have been designed for the use of what may be termed the middle classes, and the majority of these houses has been built for sale only—not to be let.It is obvious from a statement such as that, which could be duplicated and amplified in many quarters, that the erection of houses by itself is not a full or adequate means of dealing with this problem. It is, of course, related to the clearance of slums but it is only in indirect relation and it is perfectly obvious from these reports that slum conditions 559 are, to a very large extent, unrelieved still all over the country.
I will quote, with your Lordships' permission, a few extracts from reports of medical officers of health for the last year for which I have been able to obtain them—namely, 1926—taking different parts of the country. This is what the medical officers say:—Birmingham: "The practical fact is that there is still great distress because of house shortage.Cardiff: "The extent of overcrowding found in the houses coming under the observation of the officers of this department shows little or no abatement.Leeds: "The housing riddle remains unsolved and as far as outward appearances go the solution is as far off as ever.Ipswich: "The slum problem is more pressing at the moment than ever before.Smethwick: "Housing conditions are becoming more acute if anything.Sheffield: "The overcrowding in the City is still deplorable.One could go on quoting from the reports of medical officers of health and I find in other reports similar sentences with which I think it is unnecessary to burden your Lordships.
I will only add one from the report of the Scottish Board of Health for 1926–7, dealing with Glasgow. That report says:—It is impossible to draw any picture which could adequately describe the conditions under which we found human beings living in practically the whole of the houses we inspected. There were, it is true, differences in degree, but all were hopelessly unfit for habitation.Yet the report of the Scottish, Board of Health can go on to refer to "gathering the impression that in a number of districts the period of really acute shortage is past." Words of that kind leave one with the fear that there is a sense of complacency creeping into Government Departments because of the number of houses that have been built. You have sentences such as this one attributed to the chief engineer of Cardiff:—Overcrowding is worse than at the last census. Nor is Cardiff the only town where complacency has been but partially effective in avoiding the descent to Avernus.I give these quotations merely to show that all over this country, great as is the number of houses that have been built, both the problem of housing and the correlative problem of slum clearance 560 have hardly yet been begun to be solved, and from this quarter of the House we most earnestly hope that the noble Viscount who will reply will be able to answer specifically the questions which the right rev. Prelate has addressed to him. I should like to add another question in reply to which the noble Viscount may be able to give us some information.
It seems to me that it is a mistake to speak as if this problem were wholly urban. Of course the greatest and most condensed areas of slums are in our great towns, but there are slum problems in rural areas just as vital to those who are living in those conditions and as to which we should be very glad to have some information from the Government. There the problem is difficult and different. It is one that is less concerned with masses of people than with habitations unfit for human use in poor localities. It would be unfair, of course, not fully to recognise that this is a very real and difficult problem. It would be unfair to attempt to lay it to the charge of any one Government. It is a problem that has faced many Governments and it is one for which many generations must bear responsibility. What one is anxious to have from the Government is, not so much a statement of what has been done in the last few years in the matter of building houses, as a precise and explicit answer to the Question that has been asked as to what they are intending to do. After all, His Majesty's Government have had a tenure of office that is coming towards its end, and we may hope that, whatever may be their prospects, they will be in a position to tell us precisely what they are proposing to do in the near future. I would ask the Minister of Health and those associated with him in the Government to imitate the reputation of Adam Smith, of whom it was said that "he had a capacious and insatiable mind, deeming that nothing had been done while aught remained to do." I imagine that this spirit is the only one in which any effective results can be achieved in tackling this problem, which demands steady and resolute persistence spread over a large number of years. I hope that we shall have from His Majesty's Government something more than generalities, some attempt to deal precisely with the questions that have been addressed to them.
§ THE EARL OF CRANBROOK
My Lords, it is with great diffidence that I venture to address your Lordships' House, but there is one point with regard to slums that I should like to make. I think it is generally accepted that slum conditions and overcrowding generally are due not only to economic factors but also to the general lack of houses that has been experienced since the War. In the northern and eastern districts of London, in particular, this lack of houses has been largely increased by houses in residential districts being turned into workshops and factories. I have looked into the subject and obtained as much information as I can, and I find that, for instance, in the Borough of Hackney no fewer than 460 houses, which at one time were used as dwelling houses, are now used as factories. These are large houses which, if turned into flats, are capable of housing two or three working-class families. Very much the same conditions obtain in the surrounding boroughs.
I know that it will be urged by some that this moment, when trade and industry are starting to get on their feet once more, is not a time to hinder that revival, but the workshops and factories which are found in these houses are not of a type that should be encouraged. The houses were originally built for residential purposes and are entirely unsuited for workshops. Moreover, the local authority usually does not find them out for some time after the change has been made, and as a result you find the workers working in overcrowded conditions, in ill-ventilated rooms and very often under conditions of sweated labour. The Government have already recognised in its Town Planning Acts that some system of zoning is necessary in districts which are not yet built upon, and I hope that they will give some consideration to the town planning of built-on areas, so that at least such powers may be given to enable local authorities to stop this evil as they had under Section 6 of the Housing (Additional Powers) Act, 1919.
My Lords, the right rev. Prelate brings this subject to your Lordships' notice at regular intervals, and I have no doubt that he will continue to do so with perfect justification until the tragic circumstances to which he has given such eloquent testimony are mitigated. I do not intend to follow him 562 into these details, nor, I think, would it be proper that I should do so. My duty is to try to give your Lordships such facts as are available. I should perhaps mention that this does not indicate that the Minister is not very sympathetic to the points which the right rev. Prelate has made. I think that any one who studies the utterances of my right hon. friend, and, indeed, the quotations which the right rev. Prelate gave from them, will feel that they indicate the sympathy and urgency with which he regards this problem. The right rev. Prelate has asked for certain statistics about slum conditions. I am afraid that a certain difficulty arises at once—namely, the difficulty of defining what slum conditions are. This is an expression that is frequently used and conveys tolerably well to everybody's mind what is meant, but the right rev. Prelate himself has found it necessary to quote from a dictionary and the noble Lord opposite, Lord Gored, has brought in the question of slums in rural areas, which do not, I think, fall within the definition of slums in the Housing Acts.
There are really two separate problems. One is overcrowding and the other is insanitary conditions; and it does not necessarily follow that because insanitary conditions are remedied overcrowding difficulties will be solved, any more than it follows that when overcrowding is solved insanitary conditions also will be remedied. As regards overcrowding, I am afraid that the statistics for which the right rev. Prelate asks are not really sufficiently complete to be of any real value to the House. The latest returns date from the Census of 1921, and since that time conditions have greatly changed, there have been considerable movements of population and, of course, large numbers of houses have been built. A little more information is available from Scotland, but that again is not very accurate. If the noble Lord desires it, however, I can quote from the latest Report of the Royal Commission on Housing that dealt with conditions of housing in Scotland. I must remind your Lordships that in Section 35 of the Housing Act, 1925, the description of property that could be dealt with under improvement or reconstruction schemes was hardly covered by what I may describe as the sanitary definition.
563 It has been brought out in the debate that all houses are inspected by local sanitary authorities whether they are overcrowded or not, and I think it is only right that I should give the figures of these inspections. It has been said that it does not really touch the problem of slums, but the action of the local authorities in issuing notices and getting defects remedied has a considerable bearing upon the question of insanitary conditions to which the right rev. Prelate referred. In the last year for which statistics are available over a million houses were inspected for housing defects, and 13,260 were found to be unfit for human habitation. A further 352,643, or 30 per cent. of the number inspected, were found to be unfit in certain minor respects. The houses, however, were presumably capable of being made fit, and the local authorities are taking, or have taken, the necessary steps, by issuing notices and by negotiations, to secure their repair. I am afraid that I cannot give statistics as to the population of these houses. As a result of the inspections previously referred to, the local authorities, as I have said, have secured the repair of a large number of houses found to be defective. During each of the past few years remedial works have been carried out, and as a result of action taken by local authorities in 1926, 600,000 houses were repaired and put info a correct sanitary condition. It does really appear that the local authorities are taking energetic action where houses can be made fit, to secure the execution of the necessary repair works, and arrears in this respect, I am informed, are being rapidly overtaken.
The right rev. Prelate also asked how many persons have been removed from slum conditions since the Armistice by slum schemes. This is a difficult question to answer, because there is no certainty that people removed from slum areas return to those areas after reconstruction has taken place, but I may state, in connection with schemes which have been already confirmed by the Minister of Health since the Armistice, that some 6,600 new houses hare been completed, to replace houses demolished or to be demolished. These new houses would probably accommodate between 29,000 and 30,000 persons. The right rev. Prelate said that these schemes very often existed merely on paper; in other words, that 564 they had reached a stage where nothing further happens and when either the schemes have not been confirmed by the Minister or no work has been undertaken after confirmation has been received. I have here the particulars of every clearance scheme that has yet been undertaken. I have not the totals properly made up, but I can assure the right rev. Prelate that in the vast majority of cases considerable work has already been carried out, and if he cares to ask me with respect to any particular schemes, I think I could give him sufficient particulars for his purpose as to the position which those schemes have reached.
He further asked how many persons will be affected by slum schemes already approved, but not yet carried into effect. I said a minute ago that about 30,000 persons had been accommodated in reconstructed houses, and the total number of persons to be covered by reconstructed houses up to April 1 last was 69,000. If you deduct the 30,000 persons for whom provision has already been made, it will be seen that some 39,000 persons have yet to be provided for. Your Lordships are aware of the machinery whereby slum clearance schemes are undertaken. The local authorities make representations to the Ministry of Health, and a local inquiry is instituted. Then the question of compensation has to be gone into, and very often the total time occupied in the preparation of schemes is very large. Lord Gorell gave a quotation from the medical officer of St. Pancras. I think I can take as an example the slums clearance scheme of St. Pancras. The date of the official notice of the scheme was January, 1925. In February, 1925, the scheme was made, and it was submitted in June of that year. In August the inquiry took place, and the scheme was confirmed on April 27, 1926. That scheme covered 8 acres and 321 dwellings, and the number of occupants who had been displaced and who required re-housing was 2,557.
This indicates the great difficulty which exists in making a scheme, and shows that it is a very long and difficult process. The intervals are due to the great care which has to be taken to avoid any injustice to owners. Some of the houses in this particular scheme were inspected three times, and the Ministry of Transport also had to be consulted with regard to a road site. I mention the considerable 565 difficulty attending these schemes because I would like to point out that since the War 123 slum schemes have been submitted, and 113 have so far been confirmed. I understand that there are twenty schemes which the Ministry know of as being considered by local authorities. If I compare this with what took place before the War I do not think I can be accused of self-complacency in describing it as not unsatisfactory. Before the War, for a period of about a quarter of a century, only forty-four improvement schemes, and twenty-eight reconstruction schemes relating to small areas, were confirmed. As these schemes approved since the Armistice have had to be undertaken during a time of very acute labour difficulties, I think that the figure of 113, which I have mentioned, is not altogether unsatisfactory. One cannot be self-complacent about a subject like slums, but I submit that it must be borne in mind that these houses have not suddenly become insanitary since the War, but that these conditions did exist long before the War.
I am afraid that I cannot answer very effectively all the questions in regard to the future. It must be apparent to your Lordships that the Ministry of Health have before them the whole of the programme connected with the rating and valuation scheme, which will take a great deal of their time, and when it comes before Parliament it will take a great deal of Parliamentary time. The promise in regard to Section 46 and the promise in regard to the reconditioning which was made last year still hold good. But I am afraid that I cannot now give the dates at which these Bills will be brought in. It must be apparent that it would really be of very little value to give any pledges in the present congested state of Parliamentary business. I regret it very much and I can only ask the right rev. Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Gorell, to accept the very serious promise of my right hon. friend that he will bring in these Bills as soon as the Parliamentary position and the state of the programme give him an opportunity. He has this question just as much at heart as the noble Earl and the right rev. Prelate.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I think you will agree with me that the debate has been particularly distinguished 566 by two speeches, first of all, that in which the right rev. Prelate initiated the discussion, and I should like to say in passing that I think your Lordships' House are under a real debt of gratitude to the right rev. Prelate for the way in which he has more than once brought this urgent matter before the attention of your Lordships' House. The other speech was, I think, almost the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, to whom I hope I may say with perfect sincerity that I hope he will on more than one occasion in the future join in our deliberations. He contributed on this occasion a very practical and a useful suggestion, of which I have no doubt that His Majesty's Government will take some notice.
I do not think it is very easy to exaggerate the importance of this matter. On the Order Paper this afternoon there is another Bill down for discussion dealing with the liquor question. Now, the liquor question would never loom so large if it were not for the existence of the slums. It is because of the bad conditions in which so many people live that they go and drink too much, and it would have a real effect on the drink bill of this country, and cut it down considerably, if we could provide for the population proper homes in which to live. The importance of figures is really almost paramount. In any question that you deal with you desire to know the size of the problem before you really try to set about it, and I am disappointed that His Majesty's Government have not seen their way to give us more figures, especially in view of a Report which they issued themselves as long ago as 1921—the Report of the Unhealthy Areas Committee, of which no less a person than Mr. Neville Chamberlain himself was Chairman.
It is a rather vague, but an interesting, document, and at the end of it there is an appendix written by the secretary, who, dealing with London alone, spoke of 92 wards in the Metropolitan Boroughs possessing on an average over two hundred residents each per acre, and he distinguished four particular areas—dark areas, which averaged from two hundred to two hundred and forty-nine persons per acre; darker areas, averaging from two hundred and fifty to two hundred and 567 ninety-nine persons per acre; very dark areas, averaging three hundred to three hundred and forty-nine persons per acre; and black areas, averaging three hundred and fifty per acre or over, and covering nineteen wards. The present population of those nineteen wards is estimated as 295,860, and the number of residences of all kinds upon them is calculated to be 37,930. In view of those figures, which were already available in the year 1921, I think the right rev. Prelate had some reason to expect that we might have had still further information given to us on the present occasion.
The estimate has been made, and I think with some authority, that there are no fewer than 3,000,000 people in this country living now in slum areas. In Birmingham there are no fewer than 40,000 back-to-back houses, and there remain in Birmingham vast areas still occupied by houses which can scarcely be considered fit for human habitation in their present condition. In Leeds there are 72,000 back-to-back houses, something like seventy to eighty houses per acre. In Tyneside, according to the 1921 Census, there were 277,003 people, equal to 34.95 per cent, of the population, living in overcrowded areas with more than two people per room. Then the medical officer of health for Glasgow says that in 4,000 houses there are more than three people per room; in 14,131 single-roomed tenements there are four to six people per room; and in 21,139 one- or two-roomed tenements there are seven to nine people per room.
The noble Earl says that in 14,000 tenements there are from four to six persons occupying one room. Is that correct?
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I understand that is what appeared in the last report of the medical officer of health for Glasgow. All medical officers of health, as the noble Viscount no doubt knows, make a report.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
The last available date. But I have something still better. Here is an answer made by the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, replying to a Question on July 26 last year, said that in the Camlachie Division there were 1,300 houses condemned by the sanitary authorities, and the medical 568 officer of health in his report for 1927 said that in the Northern Division there were several single-room houses with thirteen people in each room, and in one two-roomed house in the South-Western Division there were twenty-nine people. It reminds me of the old story of the East End of London, where there were four families living in one room. Each had a corner of the room, but they did not mind until one corner was beginning to take in lodgers, and then they thought it time to protest against the overcrowding.
The Scottish Board of Health Commissioners' Report on Glasgow Housing in 1926 states:—Damp was present everywhere, the walls and ceilings of a large number of houses being literally soaking. Everywhere we noticed an almost total lack of sanitation, conveniences being few and for the most part being out of repair, and even in some cases leaking downstairs and even into the houses. Practically every property inspected was absolutely bug-ridden. The food itself will not keep owing to the damp and verminous condition of the holes in the walls in which it is kept. … In addition to the insects I mentioned we found evidences of perfect menagerie life, including lice, rats in great number, mice, cockroaches, snails and even toads. Can it be wondered that such places breed an unhealthy and discontented population?The right rev. Prelate has a perfect knowledge of the overcrowded areas in his own diocese. Let me take a place which is not very far from your Lordships' House—Fulham. Here we have a very interesting report, published in October 1927, on the housing conditions in the Metropolitan Borough of Fulham, compiled by Irene T. Barclay and Evelyn E. Perry, and done under the auspices of a very responsible set of social workers—the President of the Fulham Christian Social Council and their honorary secretary, Miss Moberly Bell, the Warden of the Bishop Creighton Settlement and so on. Let me make some quotations from the report because it seems to me that we must realise that these things are going on to-day, and that it is of no use to be content with mere generalities in matters of this kind.
First of all, I will take Stamford Place; they naturally do not give the numbers of the houses. Here is an example of overcrowding:—The tenant (a woman) who has three daughters, ages 17, 13 and 10, retains the 569 first floor front and ground floor front for her own use, and sublets the ground floor back and first floor back to her two married daughters and their respective families. In order to reach her own front room, she has to go through her two married daughters' rooms. This is an appalling example of overcrowding. In the ground floor back roam, which measures 10 ft. 6 by 9 ft., live a man, his wife, and five children, ages 7, 6, 4, 3, and 4 months. The room itself is nothing more than a passageway, and contains one bed, a table, and a chair. Other bedding has to be put down at night. The tenant keeps her room spotless.This shows the dreadful condition to which people are reduced who long for better conditions of life:—The tenant keeps her room spotless. The husband is a painter by trade but is at present out of work.Living in the first floor back, which measures 10 ft. 6 by 9 ft., is a man, his wife, and two children, and again, this room is merely a passageway.Let me take Field Road:—A man, his wife, and seven children, girls aged 18, 15, 14, 7, and 1, and boys of 10 and 5 years, occupy the first floor front, that is, nine people in one room.Then I take Aintree Street:—One basement room—a man, his wife and six children, one boy and five girls, that is eight people in one room.Then of a house in Cassidy Road the report says—In the ground floor, consisting of two small rooms and a kitchen (6 ft. by 10 ft.), is a man, his wife, and eight children, boys aged 12, 7 and 5, and girls aged 21, 19, 17, 14 and 3. The man is employed on the Fulham Borough Council as a dustman. The tenant states that they have to do their own repairs because the landlord will not do any.These are harrowing cases, but I think it is only right that your Lordships should be occasionally brought face to face with the sufferings of these people and the conditions under which they live.
I will take two more cases, the first in the Fulham Road:—This basement was badly flooded after recent rains, and backwash from the sewers was added to the storm water. … In this basement lives a man, his wife and four children, boys aged 7 and 3, and girls 10 and 5 years. They are particularly nice people, and want desperately to move. The father, a baker's roundsman, has been to a sanatorium and is still attending the local tuberculosis centre.No wonder he is still attending the local tuberculosis centre if he is living in conditions of this kind. The second is in Rock Avenue:— 570This basement is dark and damp. The paper is peeling from the walls, and repairs are neglected. The flooring is badly worn, and has holes in places. Conditions are made much worse in this instance (as in many others) by overcrowding. The front basement is occupied by a widow (who earns her living as a cook) and four children, girls aged 15 and 9, and boys aged 11 and 4 years. The room is quite unfit for sleeping purposes, and especially for children.It is obvious that people living in conditions like those have a large and what I would call an exaggerated infantile death rate.
Figures which it is easy enough for any of your Lordships to get hold of in the reports of the medical officers of health of any of our big cities, will show that practically speaking in the slum areas and the areas where the housing is bad there is twice the amount of mortality amongst infants which occurs in those districts where the housing is better. And all this exists in spite of admirable infant welfare work. Do not let us think that nothing is done for these people. There are a great many admirable agencies which do their very best for the children who are brought into the world in these un fortunate circumstances. The fact that that is so, and that there is so much infant welfare work being done, goes to prove that it is the housing conditions which are at fault. Certainly I take that as an example. The difference in the infantile mortality between the bad areas and the good areas is shown by the fact that it is 20 per cent. in the one and 11 per cent. in the other. We lose in this country a large number of lives of children under one year of age because of these conditions and we lose a large number in every subsequent year, differing perhaps in numbers as the children get older. I associate myself with what has been said by other noble Lords that we do not in this matter wish to say that it is entirely the fault of His Majesty's Government. All Governments are to blame, the whole community is to blame for not having realised the importance of ameliorating these conditions. What we want to know is whether His Majesty's Government are prepared to take action now while the conscience of the nation is being awakened to the serious nature of the problem.
Some of these people live there of course, we admit, partly because of their own fault. They waste in drink the 571 money which might go in rent. We do not say that is the fault of any Government. Some of them live there because they have not enough money to live elsewhere. Some live in these places simply because there is nowhere else for them to go to; they would like to go to other places. I must admit that when I hear so much about the importance of visiting the Empire, I cannot help thinking it is sometimes necessary that people should visit London as well as the Empire, and wondering whether, perhaps, an occasional meeting of the Cabinet in one of these overcrowded slum areas might not stimulate action on the part of His Majesty's Government.
It is owing to the size of the problem, of course, that it is very difficult to see how the matter is to be improved. There are a number of lines of treatment. We must, of course, begin if possible by wiping out the slum areas and we must replace the population near their work. The right rev. Prelate, with his almost unrivalled knowledge of these matters, pointed to the importance of these people being housed near the places where they are going to work. That is why it is that I, as I think all of us should do if we can, wish well to these garden cities where factories are combined with better housing conditions. I do not believe that we want to have only houses isolated and put by themselves; but that, if possible, they should be combined with the possibility of factories. I have naturally in my mind such instances as that of Port Sunlight, where you have factories together with the houses, all properly planned out on a good scheme. I think that the authorities should unite to do their best to prevent houses from lapsing into conditions of this kind. There are a large number of paper safeguards existing already—but they are inadequate, partly because there is no alternative. There are new dwellings. It may be necessary that these new dwellings should in seine cases be subsidised—about which I shall say a word in a moment. Then dwellings should be reconstructed with a minimum of decency. Thirdly, there should be better control. I think we are almost bound to admit that private enterprise in this matter is inefficient. It is inadequate and we must turn to the public authorities. I am hound to say this in exculpation of His Majesty's Government, 572 that if the full powers of the law were used there would be a great deal of improvement immediately in the condition of a great many of these slum areas. The local authorities have powers which they do not put into full force. The Minister of Health, in answering a question in another place on October 12 last, said that there were eight schemes which included from 900 to 1,000 houses only, which were being dealt with in twelve months. That does not seem to me to be a very large amount or to be an indication that as a nation we are grappling with the problem in anything like an adequate fashion.
But that does not finish the question. There may be those schemes mentioned by the noble Viscount who responded for His Majesty's Government, but how many more schemes there are which local authorities would be willing to seek sanction to carry out if it were not that they found schemes of this kind were disapproved of by the Ministry of Health, the authorities being told that there is no money with which these schemes could possibly be financed! £100,000 in three years is all that the Exchequer has found to spend upon these slum areas. I see that Sir Kingsley Wood, answering a question on November 24 last year, said that since 1924, £103,000 was all that had been spent by the State upon the slum areas. Now His Majesty's Government tell us that rating and valuation are absorbing the attention of the Department, and that we must wait still longer before anything more is to be done. The official optimism of the noble Viscount who spoke for His Majesty's Government will not, I feel, be shared by other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. We need economy, but is it not the truest economy to get rid of these plague spots in our midst? I am certain that a great deal would be done to mitigate the expense upon such things as illness and hospitals if plague spots of this kind did not exist. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) before now has been prepared to laugh at me for preaching economy at one moment and at another moment exhorting His Majesty's Government to spend money. I can assure him that if he will spend money on objects like this he will get no criticism from me. It is expenditure upon armaments which I criticise, as he well knows, rather than expenditure upon social reform.
573 We need, I am sure, measures to prevent this condition of things getting worse than it has been in the past, and I would venture to make one suggestion to the noble Marquess. Although I cannot expect him to give me an answer at once, I would ask him to be good enough to think it over. Is not the position as bad as it was when a Royal Commission was appointed towards the end of last century in order to go into the housing of the working classes? Has not the time come when a new Royal Commission might be set up to go into the matter, and try to co-ordinate all the various schemes and methods which exist for dealing with this problem and recommending which is the most hopeful line of advance? We all remember how His late Majesty, King Edward, then Prince of Wales, did invaluable service to the nation by serving upon that Royal Commission. I believe a new Royal Commission, set up now, might give us some hope of a big scheme being carried out by the nation in the near future, and of something being done to get rid of these slum areas, which, as has often been said, but always said with truth, are really a reflection upon and a disgrace to our civilisation.
§ LORD MELCHETT
My Lords, I do not know whether you would excuse my presumption on my first day as a member of this House in taking part in a discussion, but my excuse is that I may claim to have some expert knowledge upon the subject under debate. When I was Minister of Health in the Administration of 1921 and 1922 one of the problems that was presented to me was the question of slum clearances, and the very Committee from whose Report the noble Earl has just quoted was set up by me when I was Minister at that time. I think, to get a true perspective of the present position, there are one or two important factors which have to be borne in mind. One is that we were faced at the end of the War with a very acute housing shortage, unrivalled in our history, and since that time successive Governments and local authorities have been struggling to remedy and get abreast of the housing shortage which existed. No country has spent the amount of money or undertaken the financial obligation which this country did in connection with the housing scheme that was launched by 574 Dr. Addison when he was Minister of Health and to which I succeeded.
It involved upon this country, I believe—I am speaking from memory—a standing charge of some £9,000,000 a year, due to the subsidy given by the Government to local authorities. Although I should think every Minister of Health in turn would be glad to see subsidised building at an end, not one of my successors has been able to achieve that object. We have erected in this country a vast number of new houses, which are superior in type and very expensive, and which are laid out in a new way. I will not say that I altogether approve of it, but there it is. The number of houses so erected is unparalleled in the history of this country, and I have no hesitation in saying that if a new Royal Commission were appointed it would find that, speaking generally, the working classes of this country are housed to-day in a manner far superior to that which existed in any previous period in this country's history and far superior to that in which the working classes in any other country in Europe are housed to-day. Having said that do not wish to be understood as not agreeing that the slum problem still leaves a great blot on our whole social system. I went into the matter when I was Minister of Health and I was astonished to find how relatively small the problem was—how relatively small the areas concerned were, and how relatively small was the amount of money involved. In those days we lived under the dread of the Geddes' axe, and I was put in to effect economy, but even then I remember a grant of £500,000 being extracted from a reluctant Treasury for the benefit of the Ministry of Health to enable us to offer local authorities a subsidy.
The figures which the noble Earl gave to us reveal the melancholy fact that in spite of the money being available local authorities on the whole have not put themselves in a position to earn this money, and, speaking as an ex-Minister of Health, I say that I do not think it is the Department which is so much to blame as the local authorities themselves, for it is through the local authorities that the Department has to work. I remember having long discussions with the Chairman of the Building Committee of the 575 London County Council. That Council has an enormous building programme. There are a number of slum areas which the Council set out to clear in a systematic way. We can understand that, overwhelmed as they were, they found a difficulty in proceeding more rapidly. I am sure the present Minister of Health, who has always been one of the most zealous and active workers in this field (and was so long before he entered the Government) would be only too glad if local authorities would enable him to do more. I think more ought to be done. It is a scandal that in this twentieth century people should be living under the conditions in which they live in slums. But there are two or three practical difficulties which are extremely hard to solve.
One is that people who live in slum areas by no means are so anxious to leave them as people sometimes believe. I remember an inquiry held by the Ministry of Health not long ago amongst occupants of slum property, and it was found that they protested vehemently against being displaced. They lived in tumble-down houses with back yards in which they kept dogs, rabbits, pigeons, and where the sanitary arrangements were exceedingly bad, but they were used to it and liked it, and did not in the least welcome the idea of being displaced. But of course you cannot allow those people to stand in the way. One great difficulty is that they have to be housed somewhere while you are rebuilding the houses that you have to pull down. I know that local authorities, when requests have been made to them to move more quickly, have answered that they do not know where to put these people in the intervening period. We all know that during the War we learned to house large numbers of people very rapidly in all kinds of temporary buildings. Although such a process is not economical—on the contrary, it is costly—I still believe that for this purpose it should be adopted.
Then there is another difficulty, the difficulty of housing people close to their work, and that is a growing demand. I think that you will have to adopt some method by which people will be induced to live in blocks of buildings instead of in isolated cottages. It is impossible to spread the population of great towns 576 like London over endless garden cities. It is equally impossible to take the great industries that surround the Port of London and spread them all over the countryside. What is possible is to recreate in your slum areas modern conditions, conditions to which we are all becoming accommodated after all in the West End, and create them on such modern lines as to make them comfortable to live in, to make less work for women, to make them healthy for children and to prevent children from running about the streets by giving adequate playing ground inside. In that way you may induce your population to live close to their work under good conditions. I remember very well that when I was First Commissioner of Works I had a very able staff working out a scheme of that kind which would have been much cheaper per room and much more convenient than any isolated cottages or even rows of cottages. But the first thing that you have to deal with is the conservatism of the British workman, which is very intense. You have to persuade him to live in this kind of dwelling, but I am perfectly certain that that is the direction in which we ought to move. I do hope the Ministry of Health will not postpone the question or let it be interfered with in any way by the Rating and Valuation Bill. Speaking as one who was in charge of that Department, I ask why the two should be in any way connected or why staffs should not be created to deal with this problem.
I should like to point out that it is not a question for the Ministry of Health but a question of Parliamentary time. The formulation of a scheme of this nature would take up Parliamentary time and it is not possible to fit it in.
§ LORD MELCHETT
But why should you not proceed on administrative lines? As one noble Lord has pointed out (and it is a matter that ought to be borne in mind) local authorities have very wide powers to deal with slum conditions. It does not require action by the Ministry of Health at all. The medical officer of health in Fulham can condemn a house and the local authority of Fulham have power to compel a landlord to put the house in order or close it. The local authority have power to come in and put the house right. They have the widest 577 powers for preventing the existence of insanitary conditions. Really what is wanted is to make local authorities exercise their powers. Parliament has passed endless Acts since the Public Health Act of 1872. The Statute Book is full of provisions and yet those provisions are not put into action. It seems to me useless to ask Parliament to burden itself with the work of putting more provisions on the Statute Book when energy might be better employed in dealing with the law as it is.
There is one amendment of the law which is wanted, and wanted badly, because for want of it clearance schemes are being held up. In the time of the Coalition Government an Act was passed which dealt with the subject of compensation to be paid to the owners of property in slum areas. I would like noble Lords to remember that a slum area does not include merely a certain number of houses or premises which constitute a slum. A slum area is scheduled, and included in that area are factories, shops, public-houses and houses which are in every respect perfectly all right—a large amount of property which is not slum property at all. But under the law, as passed then—I am afraid that during the period just after the War there was a good deal of hasty legislation passed without the consideration which in more leisurely days it would have received—local authorities have power to declare an area a slum area and to pay compensation which is very unfair to the owners of property. I must confess that when one instance came before me as Minister of Health it seemed to me to be perfectly outrageous.
Local authorities themselves feel the law to be so unfair that they hesitate to put their powers into operation. A very short amendment dealing with the Act, I think of 1900, which relates to this question, which would prevent shops in a slum area being destroyed without any compensation for disturbance and which would not enable property, which is not slum property, to be taken at slum prices, would be a great step forward and would be of great assistance in many of these areas to the local authorities. We have in this country a rooted objection to inflicting injustice on any class of the population, even on landlords. Therefore I find that that provision of the law actually stands in the way. I do hope that this 578 question will be considered worthy of the attention of this House and that the interests of the people of the country will not be lost sight of. In all the agitation that is directed against our social system there is nothing which proves more useful to the agitator than the existence of slum property. To take a few examples of hardship and argue from them to the general social condition is a favourite line of controversy by the Socialists and Communists. For the sake of our social stability we cannot do anything better or wiser than to make even large financial sacrifices to wipe out, once and for all, as far as possible what still remains a stain on a great country.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, we have certainly a great advantage this afternoon in welcoming amongst our numbers the noble Lord who has just sat down and who has contributed to our debate upon a subject of which he is himself a master and of which he has great experience. I almost think that what he said relieves me of a good deal of the task of replying upon the debate and of answering the important speech of the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp. None of us would wish to yield to the noble Earl in the desire to remedy the state of things which he has described. I have been personally familiar with the circumstances for very many years. I have from the first taken great interest in it, as most of your Lordships have done, and it is really almost a commonplace to say that these odious conditions exist.
The question is not whether they exist but how can they be removed. That is the real problem. The noble Earl said: Why not appoint a Royal Commission? I admire the innocence of the noble Earl. Does he really think at this time of day that reform is achieved by Royal Commissions? They certainly perform a useful function in collecting statistics and facts, but I should have thought that nothing was more established now than that Royal Commissions by no means always lead to reform and very often delay it. A long inquiry, perhaps two years, a thick volume which very few people read—that has been my melancholy experience over many years of political life of Royal Commissions. I do not believe that the facts require to 579 be elucidated. I think they are known. The noble Earl gave many instances—no doubt extreme instances, as he himself said—and the facts, the whole proportions of the problem, are pretty well recorded, I think, in the archives of the Ministry of Health. The question is how the difficulty can be remedied. My noble friend who has just spoken said that he did not think that legislation was required. I hesitate to differ from my noble friend, who is a master of this subject, but I should have thought that even his own speech revealed a necessity for legislation if the problem of slum clearance is to be really grappled with, because he himself pointed out that the law of compensation in respect of slum clearance was so inequitable in parts that it acted as a serious handicap to the solution of the problem. That, of course, can be remedied only by legislation, though I quite agree with him that a great deal more might be done if the local authorities would only use their powers.
Let me say one word on behalf of His Majesty's Government. The noble Lord, Lord Gorell, I thought rather criticised the plea that had been made by my noble friend who represents the Ministry of Health in this House that the housing policy of the Government had gone a long way towards mitigating the evil. I cannot quite follow the noble Lord. Does he really say that the provision of a million houses has had no effect in diminishing overcrowding in this country? Where does the population come from to occupy a million houses?
If the noble Marquess will permit me, what I did was to quote the opinion of a number of medical officers of health—one could have given many more—who said that the position was just as acute now as it had ever been.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not know where the quotations came from, but it appears to me to stand absolutely to reason, whatever these reports may say, that the provision of a million houses must have beneficially affected overcrowding in this country. It is quite true that a great many of the new houses are too large for the people whom it is desired to house. I am afraid that great mistakes have been made in the standard of the houses that 580 have been put up, but even if many of the houses are not altogether fit for the working classes, yet the people who come to occupy these houses must themselves vacate other houses which, in their turn, become available for the working classes, and so, indirectly if not directly, these houses have a beneficial effect on overcrowding.
On the other hand, the effort of providing these new houses, beneficial as it has been, has directly militated against dealing with slums. I want the House to realise that fact. I had a personal experience of it. I forget the actual year, but some time after the War my attention was called to certain property of my own in Liverpool which was not fit for habitation. When I suggested that the houses ought to be pulled down, they said: "Oh no, the local authority will not allow you to pull them down. What will become of the population? You cannot get builders to build for you because they are all occupied in the new housing schemes of the Corporation." Nothing could be done at that period. I do not say that such conditions continue now, but the example shows that, while the new housing programme was in full blast and before the building trade had become adapted to it, you were not even allowed to pull down houses or slums that were unfit for habitation, even when this was obviously required. I hope that this period has passed away, but my illustration shows that it was physically impossible to carry through the great new housing effort and at the same time to remedy the slum evil in many towns in this country.
I earnestly hope that an effort will be made in the future course of new housing to provide, not a bad house, but a smaller and cheaper kind of house which is more suitable to the working class. I know that this is the hope of my right hon. friend the Minister of Health, and I think it was very notable that the right rev. Prelate himself called attention to the lamentable condition of things at Becontree, where there are a large number of new houses built but unoccupied, as he himself said, partly because of the amount of rent that it was necessary to charge for the class of house that had been built. This is a great lesson to us not to try to do too much, not to try to build too high a class of house, of 581 a standard that is not really suitable, at any rate so far as the rent is concerned, for the kind of population that we and the right rev. Prelate want to relieve. We want local authorities to act with greater vigour, but I am afraid I cannot accept from the noble Earl the charge that the Ministry of Health has restrained local authorities. I do not know where he gets the facts upon which he founds that charge, but I am instructed that there is no foundation for his accusation. I would ask him if he can—not now, but at any convenient time—to produce instances of a local authority desiring to remedy its slums having been restrained by the Ministry of Health. I am told that the statement is not accurate and I earnestly hope that it is not accurate, as, I am sure, does the noble Earl himself.
I would only like to say further that I welcome very much the little speech which the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, made to us just now, and, like the noble Earl opposite, I am very glad indeed that he should have taken part in this debate. I shall certainly convey to my right hon. friend his suggestion that some of the powers in the Town Planning Acts might possibly be extended to existing housing so as to prevent overcrowding being increased by the conversion of dwellings into places of business and, as he described them, very inadequate and ill-adapted places of business. That seems to me to be a very valuable suggestion.
Let me say in conclusion that what we are really considering is whether we cannot find some better way of providing a remedy, rather than these vast schemes of slum clearance and rebuilding. They are difficult, they are expensive, and they present all sorts of obstacles. If we could only re-condition houses which are capable of being re-conditioned, then a much shorter road, and a much cheaper road, would be found for achieving our aims. That particular problem has been under consideration by the Government for a great many months, but, like all legislative projects, it presents great difficulties of its own. I hope that my right hon. friend will add to his other achievements on this subject a solution of the problem on those lines, and that he will be able to produce some proposals by which the re-conditioning of 582 houses which can be re-conditioned may be achieved. I do not want to be misunderstood. There are many houses so bad that to re-condition them would be only throwing good money after bad, but that is not the case by any means everywhere in admitted slum areas. There are houses which can be made good for a comparatively small sum of money, and if the machinery can be constructed by which that end can be achieved, then I think we shall have found a better road to our aim than by the more drastic system to which reference has generally been made in this debate. May I join the noble Earl in thanking the right rev. Prelate for his repeated efforts in bringing this matter before the public? Nothing but good can come from those efforts, and I earnestly hope that they may be attended with success.
THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK
My Lords, I have no intention of asking the House to divide on my Motion. I asked for various figures and many of them have been given, although the noble Viscount explained that it was impossible to give at the present time the full figures of those who are living in slum areas. I would, however, call the attention of the House to the significance of the figures which have been given. We are told that since the Armistice schemes dealing with slum areas have been prepared which will affect 69,000 people. In London alone there are something like 126,000 people living in slum conditions. Of those schemes affecting 69,000 people, at the present time, according to the figures given, schemes affecting only 29,000 persons have actually been carried into effect. Those figures, I think, speak for themselves, and show the gravity of the position. I hope very much that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House will press upon the Minister of Health the general feeling expressed on every side that steps should be taken as soon as possible to deal with this problem, and that no other matter, however intricate, should be allowed to stand in the way of the fulfilment of the promise of the Government that they will take every opportunity of pressing forward with vigour the attempt to hasten the clearance of slums.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.