§ THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK rose to call attention to recent annual reports of medical officers of health on bad housing conditions, and to ask His Majesty's Government to state when it is proposed to introduce legislation dealing with the slums; and to move for Papers. The right rev. Prelate said: My Lords, from time to time I have drawn the attention of this House to the serious condition which exists through large numbers of people living in overcrowded and insanitary conditions. If I venture to do this again, it is because these conditions still continue and are proving a menace to the health and to the welfare of the people of this country. It is difficult, if not impossible, to produce any official figures which cover the whole of the country to show the extent to which overcrowding prevails at the present time. We still have to turn to the figures of the last census, which at that time showed that there were three and a half million people living in overcrowded conditions. If a slightly higher standard had been adopted there would have been found no fewer than nine million people living under these overcrowded conditions. But, of course, these figures are many years old and they cannot be taken as authoritative to-day, for in the interval a very large housing scheme has been carried into effect and during the last three years 1,480,000 houses have been built in England, Wales and Scotland.
§ That is a magnificent achievement of which any country might rightly be proud. Other countries may have tried more picturesque and imaginative experiments, but no country has faced the problem so thoroughly as has been the case in our own country. The success of the scheme has been largely due to the enthusiasm, the leadership and the thoroughness of the late Minister of Health. But notwithstanding this there is reason to believe that the slums are almost as overcrowded as they were some ten years ago and in many cases their condition appears to be even worse. The new houses have provided homes for tens of thousands of artisans, mechanics and clerks; but they have failed to draw away to any appreciable extent the population from the great overcrowded centres which are occupied by the wage-earners whose wages are at a low level. There 681 are, as I have said, no figures to which we can turn with any confidence. There is, however, one official report which throws a significant light on the situation. It is known that there must be several hundreds of thousands of houses in these slum districts—the estimate, I believe, varies between 500,000 and 1,000,000 houses—which are in an insanitary condition, not taking into account those which are overcrowded. There is a figure which throws light on what has been done in the clearance of slum areas. Last week, in another place, the Minister of Health announced in reply to a Question that since the War only 139 slum clearance schemes have been submitted. Of these 121 have been confirmed, but only 43 have been completed, and some of the schemes are comparatively small.
§ There is another source of official information to which we can turn with considerable advantage. I refer to the reports which are made year by year by the medical officers of health throughout the country. The medical officers of health form a body of capable, public-spirited servants of the State. They have done great work for health in their localities and they know their own districts thoroughly. They Approach this particular problem of housing simply from the standpoint of the health of their districts, and again and again in their reports we find them referring to bad houses as one of the causes most detrimental to the health of their districts. A number of these reports have been collected by the National Housing and Town Planning Council—rather over forty of them—and in addition I have read a large number myself which I have collected from various quarters. In a few of these reports there is mention of some improvement in the position. In others the writers declare that the position is worse. In all of those which I have read, or in nearly all of them, emphasis is laid on the fact that the situation is extremely serious. I would invite the Government to consider the advisability of making a return of the reports furnished by the medical officers of health in the last two years on the subject of overcrowding and bad housing. We should in that way gain a great deal of very valuable information.
§ I do not wart to weary the House with quotations from an interminable 682 series of these reports, but I want to take illustrations from three or four groups, and first from the group of boroughs which are included under the heading of London. Nowhere, I suppose, is the problem of housing more difficult than in London. The difficulty of obtaining sites, the high cost of sites, the huge population all make the problem extremely complicated. The London County Council have with great heroism and courage faced the problem. Huge housing estates have come into existence on the borders of north and south London, and lately the London County Council have been building large estates nearer the place of occupation of those who are likely to occupy those houses. But even in London the problem is very far from solved. In the last report on the housing estates of the London County Council it was stated that in one year there had been 90,000 applications in person for accommodation on the housing estates and 66,000 letters had been received asking if accommodation could be found for the writers.
If we turn to the reports from the various boroughs, we find that a serious position is reflected. From Stepney there comes the report:
Overcrowding was worse in 1928 than in any previous year, and in most cases it was impossible to abate it.
The medical officer of health for Hammersmith writes:
In recent years the shortage of housing accommodation has greatly increased in connection with working class property. Overcrowding still exists in a number of houses in the Borough, and there seems little prospect of any appreciable improvement in the situation for some time to come.
In Bermondsey we are told that there are over 2,000 families living in overcrowded conditions. From Battersea there comes the following report:
It is impossible, except to a very limited extent, to remedy these insanitary and otherwise undesirable conditions. There is still a large number of families living under conditions which are, on sanitary and social grounds, deplorable.
From West Ham it is stated that overcrowding of a gross nature is still prevalent.
§ I can give your Lordships one striking instance of the way in which overcrowding still prevails. Some four or five 683 months ago the Press gave considerable publicity to a statement that in a house of sixteen rooms there were living twelve families comprising seventy-two persons in all. A day or two ago I made inquiries about the conditions in that house and found that there had been no improvement. I am told that the situation remains exactly the same with one difference: that one family, consisting of a man, wife and six children, have moved away from the one room that they were occupying into four basement rooms, which they are renting at the exorbitant rent of 27s. a week. The basement is dark and damp, but they are thankful to have these four rooms to themselves.
§ I made inquiries about another street which for years has been condemned. I am told that it is still crowded. In one of the houses, a seven-roomed house with rooms of an average size of 10 feet square, thirty-three people are living: on the attic floor, in two tiny back rooms, a man, wife and three children; in the front room of the attic, a man, wife and two grownup sons of eighteen and twenty; on the first floor in the front room, man, wife and three children; in the back room, man, wife and seven children, aged from thirteen years to a few months; on the ground floor in the front room, man, wife and five children; and in the back room, man, wife and one child. The house is in an insanitary condition and is within five or six minutes walk of your Lordships' House. I have quoted those instances to show how grave the condition of overcrowding is. Here are cases of overcrowding that have been known for some time. The medical officers of health in those districts are doing their work most thoroughly; but, when they are asked why they take no action, their answer is always the same: "If these people are evicted there is no place to which they can be sent."
If we turn from London to the North, we again find overcrowding extremely serious. From Newcastle-on-Tyne comes this report:
There is still much overcrowding in the City, particularly in the poorest type of house. Very little relief has been afforded to occupiers of this kind of property by the Corporation housing scheme.
In Sheffield the overcrowding in the City is still deplorable, and the number of
families on the waiting list when the report was drawn up was 7,000. In Manchester there are 26,000 houses below a reasonable standard of fitness for human habitation. In Liverpool 123 cellars are still occupied as separate dwellings, while, in view of the shortage of dwellings, no closing orders have been made under the Housing Acts. In Bradford—
Many very serious cases of overcrowding continued to come to the knowledge of the department during the year, but, despite the increase in the provision of houses, there still remains great scarcity of housing accommodation.
There are two illustrations out of many that I will take from the Midlands. The medical officer of health for Coventry says:
It has again not been possible to put into operation the sections of the Housing Acts relating to the closure of unfit houses, owing to the absence of alternative accommodation for displaced tenants.
The medical officer of health for Stoke-on-Trent says that many of the conditions are still deplorable, and adds:
Until a greater number of houses are built per annum nothing can be done to abate overcrowding. The greatly increased liability to infection of persons living in the old overcrowded conditions, with their lack of sunlight and proper sanitary conditions, is well seen when one realises that the vast majority of the small pox cases have occurred in areas of the City where housing is at its worst.
If we turn to the South, we find conditions that may not be worse but are sufficiently serious. I have no report from the medical officer of health of Bristol, or rather there is no mention of this matter in the report that I have, but I am told that there are 2,000 houses in unhealthy areas, while another 3,000 ought to be closed. In Portsmouth it is said that, in spite of the large number of houses that were built last year and are now being constructed, the housing question remains the most serious problem of the day. From Ipswich, Hastings, and Bath—towns of a very different character—there come reports of overcrowding. I have given your Lordships selections from a few of these reports. There is only one other that I want to quote, and that is from the town of Blaenavon, in Monmouthshire, which is a small town of some 12,000 inhabitants. The medical officer of health in his report states:
Crowding is becoming rampant. This matter of overcrowding is not only harmful and detrimental to the health of the occupants, but requires serious consideration from the standpoint of decency and morality.
He goes on to state that in some of these overcrowded houses, when the birth of a child takes place in the morning it has to take place with the children still in the room. He has had that experience on more than one occasion. On the other hand, in the case of death occurring in these houses the corpse is usually laid out in the living room. In addition some of these houses are so badly infested with vermin and rats as to make the lives of the inhabitants almost unbearable.
§ These reports—and there are many others from which I could quote—show that the conditions of housing are still nothing less than deplorable. They emphasise the extent of the evil conditions, the danger to health, and also—I think this is a very important point—that it is impossible, while the shortage of houses continues, to put closing orders into force. The most insanitary houses often have to continue in existence because it is impossible to find room elsewhere for the tenants. The question naturally arises: How does this happen in view of the vast building programme that has been carried out? There are various reasons why the slums still remain crowded. Partly, no doubt, this is due to the fact that in some cases the slum tenants dislike moving from the homes to which they are accustomed. In many cases it is due to the slow and expensive process of slum clearance. I believe that, on the average, it takes eight years to carry through a slum clearance scheme, and the cost is considerable. It was stated last week in another place that the loss per year for every person removed under a slum clearance scheme was £2.
§ A much more serious difficulty and a fact which explains why these people so often dislike moving from their homes, is that very often the new houses are at a considerable distance from their work. The cost of travelling to and from their work means an additional item in their small budgets. The inconvenience often is great. I have known of many districts in which at first there were a number of tenants from the slums. After two or three years the majority of these 686 have moved back again to the neighbourhood of their old haunts. They could not afford either the time or the money incurred in the long journey twice a day. There is another reason which is much more fundamental. It is an economic reason. The man who dwells in the overcrowded house or slum cannot, as a rule, afford the rents required for these larger houses. It is very difficult to give an exact statement of what the rents are for the kingdom as a whole, but, exclusive of London, the average rent paid by the slum dweller is probably 7s. In London it is often much more. Sometimes in the Provinces it is less than 7s., but I think that 78. is a fair average to state as the rent of urban slum dwellings. It is almost impossible to get one of the new houses, with decent accommodation for a man and his family, at under 12s. and, as a rule, the rents range between 12s. and 18s. There is an admirable estate which now stands upon what was once a bad slum. When the people lived in the slum they paid about 7s. or 7s. 6d. for their houses. The rents of the new houses vary from 17s. to 21s. The new buildings are excellent, and they are full; but the old tenants are not living in them. They are overcrowding houses in the neighbourhood which were already overcrowded. In Manchester the gross rent of a slum house averages 7s. 6d. The average rent of the new houses is 15s. In Birmingham the gross rent of a slum house is about 7s., and that of a new house between 11s. 2d. and 15s. 6d.
§ You therefore have a gap between what a slum dweller can afford to pay and what is asked for a new house. How can that gap be bridged? It can either be bridged by the tenant paying more or by the cost of the new house being reduced. In some cases a slum tenant can pay more than he is paying at the present time. In many cases it is quite impossible. There are many men earning under 50s. per week and some under 40s. per week. Each has a wife and family to support on that. It is impossible for them to move into a house where the rent is 12s. or 13s. per week. On the other hand, it seems impossible to reduce the rent below 11s. per week. From time to time it is stated that this ought to be done, and can be done; but how can it be done? If a house is to be built as a minimum standard house with three bedrooms, with 687 a living room underneath, and with a superficial floor area of 760 ft., which I believe is the standard set forth by the Tudor Walters Report, and also by the manuals of the Ministry of Health, you cannot build such a house for less than £400, including site and road charges. You may be able to reduce the amount a little—last month, I see the figure was smaller—and there are many who say that the amount ought to be reduced, but nobody shows how it can be appreciably reduced.
§ You might be able to reduce the rent by reducing the rate of interest. If the interest were reduced from 5 per cent. to 4½ per cent. it would make a difference of 1s. per week in the rent; or if the rates were reduced, again it might be posible to charge a smaller rent; but there is little hope of the rates being reduced. AB things stand to-day it is impossible to see how a house can be built, with the utmost economy, which will let at less than a rent of 10s. 6d. or 11s. per week. There are in the slums numbers who can afford this, but there are a large number, and I am thinking especially of those who have families, who find it quite imposible to afford this sum. If they pay more in rent they and their children must suffer both in food and clothing, and the real problem before the housing reformer is how we can bridge this gap.
§ Various suggestions have been made. One suggestion, of course, is that an increased subsidy should be given all the way round, but that would mean a very heavy expenditure. There is another proposal which needs careful consideration—namely, that there should be a children's rent allowance; that when a man has wages of not more than 50s. per week, and has to support a wife and three children, he should be allowed 1s. per week off his rent for each child until the rent reaches the figure of 7s. 6d. per week. I know there are serious objections to such a course. It will be said at once that this will mean an increase in the birth rate among those who already have unduly large families. I am doubtful whether a shilling off the rent really 'enters into calculations in a matter of this kind, but I would remind the House that the census figures showed that fertility decreases regularly as the size of the tenement increases until six or seven rooms are reached, and then remains constant. 688 The criticisms of this proposal are no doubt very serious, but it is difficult to see where else there can be found a solution of this extremely difficult problem how to provide for the men with small wages and large families, and I hope that the Minister of Health in preparing his Bill will go very carefully into this question.
§ I should be sorry, however, if the House thought that this was the only reform which was needed in connection with this whole problem. There are many other reforms which are required. For instance, a simpler method of carrying through a clearance scheme and some different method of compensation. The present methods penalise the good landlord as well as the bad landlord. A larger subsidy is required from the Government in smaller clearance schemes. I think also that there should be some legislation which would penalise the tenant who deliberately and persistently damages the house in which he is living, though in this connection I would add that it has been found that the great majority of tenants who are moved from the slums make perfectly good tenants in the houses to which they are moved and keep their houses at a very high standard.
§ These and other reforms are undoubtedly required; but what we are anxious about at the present time is this: when is the Bill to embody these reforms going to be introduced? We have, I think, reason for some anxiety and some impatience. In the last Parliament, in the first Session, in the gracious Speech from the Throne, a Bill dealing with slums was foreshadowed. Session after Session we waited for that measure. We asked from time to time when it was to be introduced. We always received very sympathetic answer, but the answer was: "Not this Session, but you may hope for it next Session." And last Session even that hope was taken away from us. I am quite certain that the late Minister of Health regrets as much as any one else that he was unable to crown his work by bringing in a Bill dealing with this matter. The new Government have corm' into power, and again the slums were mentioned in the Speech from the Throne. There were rumours that a Bill would have been introduced last autumn. Then again we had hopes that it might 689 have been introduced immediately after Christmas. Already the Session is halfway through. Many claims are made upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Parliamentary time is already becoming very congested, and we are not a little anxious lest this Session shall also pass without this Bill being introduced and passed in both Houses. I hope the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government will give us some assurances on this matter.
§ Delay does not mean only the postponement of overdue reforms. It is a positive hindrance in the way of housing reform. There are many local authorities which delay bringing in their own measures, for they say they are waiting to see what the Government will do. In some cases it may be an excuse; in other cases it is a perfectly legitimate reason. This is not a Party matter. I hope it never will be a Party matter. Men of all Parties are agreed that something ought to be done, and done on a large scale, towards the reduction of overcrowding and the 'abolition of the slums. I hope, if the Government introduce a Bill in the near future and appeal to men of all Parties to support them, that they will obtain such a measure of support that the Bill will be passed into law this Session, and that before many years are over those who are now living in the slums may themselves and their children be able to move to surroundings which are both healthier and happier. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That there be laid before the House Papers with reference to recent annual reports of medical officers of health on bad housing conditions.—(The Lord Bishop of Southwark.)
THE LORD BISHOP OF LONDON
My Lords, I am sure you will all have listened to the right rev. Prelate's most excellent speech with great interest. He has made this subject especially his own. He has asked me to support him, and it is only in a few words that I will do so. Naturally I have the same difficulty on my side of the ricer as he finds on his side. I want to emphasise two points that he has made. It is surprising—and I think the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has himself expressed surprise at it—that the vast number of new houses which have been erected has not done more than has been the case to diminish overcrowding. I hope it will do so in time. 690 It has been a very great effort, and it is a very great thing to have done what has been accomplished, but I can myself bear witness to this, that at the present time these slums are as overcrowded as they have ever been.
We have had two expert surveyors who have taken house by house a census of the dwellings in Shoreditch, Bethnal Green, Westminster and Fulham, and I believe they are now taking one in Walworth. These experts have published their report. Therefore it is not a mere general statement that we have to go on; we have the actual housing of the people shown house by house. If your Lordships studied these reports you would be absolutely certain that the right rev. Prelate was right in what he said. We have father, mother and six children living in one room in case after case, and in many houses there is terrible overcrowding. The right rev. Prelate was perfectly right in saying that the great increase in the number of houses has not relieved the situation. The County Council kindly sent a motor car for me recently and took me all round their housing estates to show what they have done. Yet, great as that is, it has not so far relieved the congestion. The second point is that these people cannot pay the rents. They have returned to the diocese of the right rev. Prelate after having gone to live for a time at Dagenham and Becontree, and when they have come back they have said they could not afford to pay the rents out of the wages they receive. They say they cannot afford to pay rents higher than 7s. or 8s. a week and at the same time keep their children. Those are the two great points that are to be faced.
May I put before your Lordships an actual inspection that I myself made only a week or two ago? As many of your Lordships know, I lived for nine years in Bethnal Green and, therefore, I know very well what were the conditions during that time. I am not, however, speaking of those old days. A week or two ago I went and saw thirteen houses in what is supposed not to be the worst slum in Fulham. They were verminous, they were filthy. There was one large family On each of the landings. We bought each house for £150 and spent £150 on making it self-contained. Instead of one water tap for the whole of these people, 691 and one w.c. in the backyard, we made them all self-contained with requirements for each family. We have made a self-contained fiat in each house by building out a scullery, and the tenants, instead of paying 6s. or 7s. a week, have willingly paid an extra 1s. a week for the improvements. The rent they pay is equivalent to 2½ per cent. upon the money that was borrowed to buy the houses and carry out the improvements. That is only an illustration of what can be done. I agree it is charity, because 2½ per cent. is not the market interest in these days.
That is going on all over London. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who, I dare say, will speak presently, has one of these societies in Kensington and there are others in different places. But these public utility companies are only a drop in the ocean. They set an example of what can be done, and they stir up the public conscience of the locality. Let me show what happened in Fulham by way of an illustration. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, most kindly came and made an excellent speech. I was in the chair and the Mayor sat by my side. There is no reason why public utility companies should arouse any bitterness or misunderstanding on the part of the local body. We had a pretty warm meeting, because we put the matter warmly to the locality. The council itself was stirred up and the Mayor saw what could be done. Following this, the council bought, for I think £150,000, a large brewery and upon the site 400 houses are to be put up. I mention that as an illustration to show that the whole thing is not so impracticable and impossible as some people represent it to be.
What can we do? One thing I think we can do—and I hope the Government will do it—and that is to simplify the way in which the ground landlord can get at his property. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and I, as members of the Charterhouse Council, were horrified when we had a report to say that on our land there was slum property. Recently two or three members went to see it, but we could not get at the property to deal with it. Any Bill which may be brought in ought to make it much simpler for the ground landlord, who often has to bear the imputation of owning bad property, to get at his 692 property. At one time the Bishop of London was the ground landlord of the Paddington estate. That passed away from the Bishop some ninety years ago, but even now people write to me asking hat their rates may be reduced. I am not responsible for their rates. Even if I were the ground landlord I could not get at my property in order to deal with the matter. As I have said before, I think that ought to be simplified. Then it seems to me that very much more encouragement ought to be given to borough councils. These authorities have the powers, but they are not encouraged to use them and are timid about doing so. If the Government could do something to encourage borough councils to put their powers into force it would be a very good thing and a very great help indeed.
What is wanted really is to House the conscience of the country. At the beginning of last year I made every parson in my diocese preach a housing sermon on a particular Sunday. That had a great effect. It seemed really to go home, and the Press took the matter up. We want to House the conscience of the country so that the people will say that it is an intolerable thing that their fellow countrymen should have to live in verminous houses, that parents and six children should live in one room and that people should live in rooms infested with rats. A clergyman said the other day that he saw in Stepney a rat as big as a cat squatting by a baby's cradle. Such things ought not to be allowed to happen, and I believe that if the Government took the matter in hand with real courage and determination they would have the country at their backs.
§ LORD DARYNGTON
My Lords, I should like to support what has been said by the right rev. Prelates in reference to this question. I think your Lordships are under an obligation to the Bishop of Southwark particularly for bringing this question forward on so many occasions and putting before the whole country the deplorable conditions which exist. He has been a very honoured member of a strong committee which has been considering this problem. Any one who read the report of that committee could come only to one conclusion—that no man or woman in this country can be happy if they feel that 693 such conditions exist. There is not the slightest doubt about the truth of the statements that have been made, as to the verminous conditions of so large a proportion of the horses in this country, the fact that many children are born in surroundings which we must deeply deplore, in which a mother has to have her child with a very large number of people in the same room, and that children are laid out dead in rooms where other children are taking their food.
Only the Government can deal with this question. It has been said that if many of these people were moved from the slums into better houses they would turn them into slums again. But the committee of which I have spoken went very carefully into the question and came to the conclusion that about 90 per cent. of such people, if moved to better houses, would not do that. They consider that it would be possible to overcome the problem if sufficient houses were supplied at a rent of is. 6d. per week. I do not wish to go into the morality of the subject this afternoon, but anyone who knows what human nature is will realise that it is impossible to allow grown boys of eighteen and girls of fifteen to sleep in the same room without immorality. That is a very serious problem which we must really take to heart. It is impossible to feel satisfied from a Christian point of view when we hear the right rev. Prelate say that such conditions as those exist within five minutes of your Lordships' House. How can we expect to prosper as a nation if we allow these terrible evils to exist?
It may be said, of course, that the difficulties should be overcome by the local authorities. From some experience I may say that the local authorities are very much alive to the subject. In many towns of England one finds men and women who spend much of their lives trying to find a solution of this problem. The report I have mentioned shows that a most terrible state of things exists not only in London but in many provincial centres. I will give your Lordships two quotations. The medical officer of health for Norwich says in his report for 1926, which is the latest I have:There is a side to this picture of the City's life which shows many people living in dirty dwellings, often in one room, in congested courts and yards where the sun 694 and air cannot penetrate, except perhaps in summer….He goes on to mention the terrible conditions which exist in Norwich—that there is an inadequate proportion of window space to sleeping accommodation, that terrible difficulties exist from want of a proper water supply and other conditions which are so desirable. If one turns to other communities one finds very much the same thing.
I would like to make one or two practical suggestions to your Lordships this afternoon which might be applied to the question. If this were a question of shells which we had to make to defend ourselves we should find some way out of the difficulty. There is not the slightest doubt that if, as a nation, we desired to overcome this terrible evil we could overcome it. Your Lordships will remember the magnificent speech made by Lord Weir not very long ago on the question of making steel houses in this country; and the making of houses from cement blocks has often been discussed. There is no reason why there should be 150,000 men idle in the building trades at the present time. It was stated in The Times a few days ago that the number of unemployed in this country was 1,500,000, which I think is 60,000 more than the number this day last year. Is there no way by which these men can be employed to build houses or to do some work for the benefit of the nation in this respect? I should like the noble Lord who is to reply to-day to say, if he can, whether there is any possibility of meeting the need in this particular way. I know the difficulties; I know very well that the Party to which I belong would find it almost impossible at any time to overcome them. But as a Party man, as one who was in the House of Commons for nearly a quarter of a century, may I say that I should not mind another Party being in power for many years to come if the Party in power to-day could overcome this terrible evil which exists.
In conclusion, may I refer again to the question of individual effort? The Bishop of London mentioned utility societies and I should like to tell your Lordships of a little experience that I had in connection with this question. A society with which I am closely connected received a call one day from a lady who 695 said that she had £500 which she was willing to spend in any direction that seemed best in order to try to overcome the housing problem. Many of us thought that possibly the society was not the best fitted to deal with the question. However, as a result of her action we formed a utility society, which received her £500 and has since received very large sums from various directions at 2½ per cent., and has been the means of building no fewer than 250 houses which are very much appreciated by many of these people who really are absolutely unable to live in any house unless there is some kind of subsidy in connection with it. I realise that I am speaking this afternoon to many noble Lords who know much more about housing questions than I do, but I felt I should like to say these few words in order to see if one could not do some little thing towards getting rid of a terrible position which we all deeply deplore.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the noble Lord who has just spoken in his expression of gratitude to the right rev. Prelate who brought this matter before the House. We have not had a discussion on the subject of housing for eight or nine months, I believe, and I do not think it has been talked about in another place either, so that an opportunity for debating the housing question, and especially the question of slums, is one which I think we all welcome. The speeches which your Lordships have heard have shown that there is general agreement among all Parties on two things—on the necessity for dealing with this problem and also on the great difficulties which it presents. I saw a report of a speech made by the Minister of Health sometime last autumn—I think it was at Brighton—in which he said that slums could not be destroyed in a year, but that before the Government left office he believed a great step would be taken. I am sure he has our best wishes if he is able to press forward with a solution of this problem. I am glad to see that he recognised also the work done by his predecessor, and he said last November at Manchester that he was most anxious to complete that work especially with regard to slum clearance.
696 The right rev. Prelate who brought forward this Motion brought to your Lordships' attention the great problem which presented itself some ten years ago, that is to say, the shortage of houses all over the country. When I went first to the Ministry of Health—I think that was nine years ago—that was the most urgent matter which we had before us. It was impossible to deal with the question of slum clearance, of course, until something had been done at least to relieve the shortage of houses which existed all over the country. As the right rev. Prelate told your Lordships, since the War close upon 1,500,000 houses have been built. That, of course, has done a great deal to relieve the shortage, but—as pointed out by the right rev. Prelate—slum clearance has not progressed so much as might have been expected because these houses which have been built have been mainly for those able to pay a higher rent than is possible for those now occupying slum tenements. The right rev. Prelate the Bishop of London expressed some surprise that the building of these houses had not produced a greater effect in slum clearance, but, of course, the shortage of houses still continues and it is a little bit depressing to find that during the last quarter of last year considerably fewer houses were built than in the corresponding quarter of 1928, also that there was a slight increase in the cost.
That point was emphasised by the right rev. Prelate, as it has a very important bearing on the whole question. I see that in the December quarter of 1928 26,858 houses were built and 25.305 authorised; whereas in the last quarter of 1929 only 14,521 houses were built and 19,829 authorised. That was in England and Wales. In Scotland for the corresponding period, or nearly the corresponding period, up to November, 1928, there were 16,228 houses and for the same period in 1929 the figure was 9,613. I do not quite know how that reduction can be explained except, possibly, by the general depression all over the country. Possibly the noble Lord who replies for the Government may be able to give us a little information as to the number of houses which are being built now or are authorised, and reassure us on that point.
Then, on the question of cost, I see that in March, 1929, the cost was £339—I am quoting figures given in another place on January 23—and the cost in December 697 was £349. That increase of £10 is not very much, but as there had been a continual fall in cost from £451 (I think it was) to £339, it is a little bit disturbing that there should have been even a slight rise. Of course it has not been a continual rise because in the September quarter there was a fall from £349 to £343 and then the cost rose again to £349. We have now passed the turn of the year and the season is approaching when building operations are more easy to carry out. Therefore I trust that in the next few months we shall see a considerable change and a great many more houses built.
I think I may say that during the term of office of the late Government more progress was made in slum clearance than has ever been made before in a simliar period of four and a half years. But although that was the case we should have liked to have done a great deal more. To be perfectly frank we found that progress was somewhat disappointingly slow. Your Lordships have heard from the right rev. Prelate many of the difficulties which attend the solution of this problem. The main difficulty, of course, is the provision of temporary accommodation for those living in the slums. People do not live in slums because they want to, but because they have nowhere else to go, and they choose the particular area in which they live because they must be near their work. The right rev. Prelate pointed out the difficulties met with in one case, where people had been actually provided with better accommodation but, had to return to the slums because of the difficulty of getting to their work. That is one problem—to find suitable accommodation near the original area. The other problem is to find accommodation at a suitable and moderate rent. You cannot when you are clearing a slum take away the people and put them at a great distance away. You must find accommodation for them near their work.
The right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Southwark told your Lordship's that 121 schemes of slum clearance had been confirmed since the close of the War. During the four and a half years of which I spoke just now, that is during the term of office of the late Government, there were fifty-eight schemes initiated involving the reconditioning of houses and the re-housing of 34,396 people. Up to the 698 end of 1928 nine of these schemes were completed, and in fifteen others houses for people living in the unhealthy area had been provided, affecting some 7,000 persons. But I do not think it has been mentioned that slums are found not only in the large cities. Unhealthy areas exist in country districts as well. I am glad to say that a good deal of success has attended the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, which enabled cottages in the villages to be re-conditioned at a small price and made available for the country population. I am glad to say that more than sixty county councils have adopted schemes under that Act.
Another point regarding rural sanitary conditions struck me very forcibly when I was taking evidence for the Royal Commission on Local Government. I refer to the very insanitary condition that exists in a large number of quite rural areas, small villages in the country where people very often take their holidays and are very much surprised to find that they are not at all the healthy places that they appear to be on the surface. The real reason for the insanitary conditions in rural areas is that rural district councils cannot raise money to provide proper sanitary arrangements. It is not that they do not want to do it; they are very anxious to do it, but a penny rate sometimes produces as little as £11. They have very small resources for dealing with the difficulty. Fortunately, the solution is not a very difficult one. In the Local Government Act which your Lordships passed last year measures were taken (in Sections 56 and 57) to enable county councils to spend money on sanitation, and in certain cases, where necessary, to exercise default powers if the rural district council did not carry out proper sanitary schemes.
I think your Lordships will agree that the measures taken by the late Government have assisted and will continue to assist the solution of this problem, but I readily agree that improvement in the present procedure for slum clearance is very necessary. As noble Lords opposite know, schemes were drawn up by the late Minister of Health and are now, no doubt, available at the Ministry of Health. These schemes were well advanced at the time of the General Election. As your Lordships have been told by both right rev. Prelates, a great 699 part of the difficulty and delay in the solution of this problem is caused by the present unfair basis of compensation to owners and the ground landlord's difficulty in obtaining the property. I remember one case in which there were seventeen tenants between the ground landlord and the rack-renter. As the Bishop of London said regarding the estate that he mentioned, the ground landlord often has no power whatever. He cannot touch the houses until the leases that stand between him and the actual tenant have expired. I think that new powers are required by local authorities to enable them to acquire and recondition old houses.
The right rev. Prelate who raised this question did not speak of re-conditioning. I think he spoke only of the provision of new houses. The right rev. Prelate the Bishop of London, however, gave us a very interesting experience of his own regarding the re-conditioning of a very bad house that was turned into comfortable and convenient quarters, and I think your Lordships will have heard this with great interest. He told us that it was a charitable scheme which brought in only 2½ per cent., and the extra rent amounted to 1s. a week. If it had been 2s., which, after all, is not a very great sum, it would have brought in 5 per cent., which would have been almost on a business basis. I think the opportunities of re-conditioning are an important means of getting over the difficulty of slum clearance. Scientific schemes of re-conditioning will help a great deal, because they enable you to get houses in a proper condition without having to disturb the tenants, and you are able to complete schemes very much faster than by pulling down old houses and building new ones. You have to build new houses before you can turn out the tenants in order to pull the old houses down. I think that much might be done, and should be attempted, in the way of re-conditioning, wherever possible.
But, of course, the main demand is for new houses. The right rev. Prelate told your Lordships that one of the difficulties was the cost; I think he said it was something like £2 per head for the people who were moved from slum areas. The cost is, of course, a very great consideration, but it is by no means the only consideration. Expenditure 700 will be wasted if it is not undertaken with great care, wisdom and knowledge and, above all, with a very sympathetic consideration for the people who are affected. I think that this is a most important condition. You will not solve this problem simply by spending money on bricks and mortar or on building new houses, re-conditioning old ones, providing good sanitation, more light and air and cheap rents. In addition you must have first-rate management of your property. The estates must be thoroughly well managed by people who understand their business and who are able to prevent the very great evil of the exploitation of subtenants who take rooms in a house, either furnished or unfurnished, and are overcharged without being able to protect themselves. The great thing is to have good management. Otherwise your new buildings may in a very short time relapse into slumdom. That is one of the things you have to avoid.
Perhaps the easiest way of getting the right sort of management is to combine the ownership of these properties into large estates. This can be undertaken either by private enterprise or by local authorities. If suitable legislation were introduced, either private persons or local authorities could undertake the management of these estates on a large scale, the cost of re-conditioning and re-building would be much less and more houses could be made available for the same expenditure of money. This would assist to solve the great difficulty—perhaps the greatest of all—that was mentioned by the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Southwark—namely, the difference between the rents of slum tenements and of newly built houses. I think he said that in Manchester there was a difference between 7s. 6d. and 21s., which is almost three times as much. The Party to which I belong have formed their plans for shim improvement and clearance and the further steps that they would advise have been very carefully thought out. Therefore, when we are told by the present Government—I have no doubt that we shall be told this by the noble Lord who is going to reply—that they are anxious to complete the work of their predecessors in regard to this matter, we may hope that they will carry out a continuous policy, 701 which will not be likely to cause a violent break, and that they will follow the excellent counsel of the present Home Secretary, who, as I read, in the speech which he made at Bethnal Green last October, said:The slum problem has ceased to be a Party one: it is a national concern.
§ LORD JESSEL rose.
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, it occurred to me, with due deference to the noble Lord who has just risen, that perhaps it would be well to summarise the debate so far as it has gone and—
§ LORD JESSEL
May I intervene for one moment, if the noble Lord will allow me? I have been asked by the London County Council, which is perhaps the biggest authority in the country, to say a few words. Perhaps he would—
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, surely, when the representative of the Government rises to reply at this stage—
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, as a good deal of the debate has turned upon London—I am sure we are very much obliged to the right rev. Prelate who introduced the subject and to the Bishop of London—and as I have been asked by the London County Council to say a few words upon this matter, I wish to say on my own behalf, and for many who are interested in housing, how greatly we appreciate the fact that the right rev. Prelate has once again raised this subject in your Lordships' House, because it is only by stirring up public opinion that we can arrive at some definite solution of this matter. I am very glad to think that neither the Bishop of London nor the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Southwark had anything but praise for the manner in which the London County Council have done their duty as regards the question of houses. I am not going to weary your Lordships 702 with long statistics as to what has been done in the past in the erection of houses, but I would like to say what is being contemplated by the London County Council in the matter of slum areas.
The London County Council as late as June of last year decided to expedite their existing programme, and to embark upon a further programme to re-house about 30,000 people at a total estimated extra cost of £4,500,000. Pending the statutory or other removal of certain legal difficulties, several schemes have been held up under the new programme, and it is for that reason I was glad that the right rev. Prelate raised this question, because it will, I hope, accelerate the bringing in of the Government's Bill dealing with the matter. I would also point out that during the last two years the number of houses that have been completed has exceeded 10,000, making a, total altogether, with the 1928–31 programme, of 18,000 houses, which means re-housing for over 90,000 people. These are new houses and not merely re-conditioned houses.
I would also like for one moment—I have always taken a great interest in the matter because I happen to have been Mayor of Westminster in 1903, and in those days we put up houses costing over £100,000—to tell your Lordships what is happening at the present moment within a very short distance from this House. Your Lordships will all remember that in January, 1928, there occurred a great flood at Millbank, when, I think, unfortunately, two or three children lost their lives and the whole district was submerged. The Duke of Westminster's sympathies were aroused, and he gave to the Westminster City Council six acres of land for re-housing people on that spot. The amount to be expended by the City of Westminster altogether in housing nearly 3,000 people, is £645,000, of which the Duke has contributed £200,000 and is paying £113,000 towards the cost of buildings. I think your Lordships will agree that that is a very fine scheme. In addition to that the City Council themselves are putting up 210 flats, housing 11,000 people, at a cost of £244,000, so I do not think that this part of London can be said to be behind hand.
In spite of all this new housing there is this difficulty about slum property. 703 We have ourselves in Westminster several small houses which we would like to condemn, but, as Lord Onslow said, it is difficult to find room in which to put the people during the time in which you are providing new houses. That is one of the advantages of having property in the hands of big landlords. I know that big landlords are often attacked elsewhere, but by arrangement with the Duke of Westminster he has given us additional land on which we are erecting houses, and in those houses the population of the Millbank estate will be decanted before putting them into the new houses which are being erected. The difficulties are very great about these smaller properties which are not in very good condition. If only something could be done by each borough council in London to keep some buildings for the purpose of decanting those removed from slum areas, it would be a very good idea, because then they could house people during the building of the houses in which they are eventually to go.
There is another difficulty which I do not think anybody has mentioned in the course of this debate. You find people come to a locality and clamour for houses. Their work is elsewhere but they remain in the locality, and other people who come into that locality are unable to find accommodation. I have recently been furnished with statistics by one of the big utility societies in Westminster which bear upon this point. Your Lordships must remember that working-class people are constantly shifting from one part of London to another, and this intensifies the difficulties. There is one point which I would like to urge upon the Government to consider when bringing in their Bill, and that is the necessity for dealing with Section 46 of the 1925 Act. That is really a matter which I know from personal knowledge keeps a great many local authorities from putting into operation plans for the reconstruction of small areas. The law as it at present stands is that if an area is condemned you can only get the site value, and no compensation is given for buildings. A man may have a perfectly good building in an area which has been condemned, and it has always seemed to me a great injustice that an owner who has looked after his property, although the surrounding area may be bad, should get nothing at all for his 704 property. It is one of the things which, in the view of a great many local authorities, is a great injustice.
I am not going to dilate upon it because there have been numerous letters in the Press from time to time, and representations have been made to the appropriate Minister. So far, however, nothing has been done and it is a great hindrance to the carrying out of reforms. Surely some of these regulations can be simplified. It is not so very many years ago that I went with a large deputation from all over the country to the Minister of Health, asking that the procedure be simplified. During the time of the late Government we went again and asked to have the procedure simplified. As I have already said, a good many of the plans now before the London County Council are held up because of these regulations, and I think the difficulties put in the way of these plans should be got over more speedily in the future than they have been in the past.
Your Lordships would all be very interested to hear the speech of the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of London, who dealt with another part of the problem which, if it is properly dealt with, will greatly help slum clearances. That problem is re-conditioning. There is no doubt that can be done more cheaply than the building of new houses. If the public utility companies could be assisted to a greater degree in the future than they have been in the past to enable them to get money more cheaply they would do that work much better than any local authorities. There is another method which I venture to suggest to your Lordships, and that is to get the building societies of the country interested in this matter. There is no doubt that sooner or later—I hope it will be sooner rather than later—the demand for new houses for the working classes, though not satisfied—that is impossible—will be lessened, and the building societies might find an outlet for their money by lending it to people who want to re-condition houses.
I may quote to your Lordships a speech made by the Chairman of the National Association of Building Societies, Sir Enoch Hill. He stated quite recently in a presidential address:I can claim in your name that any well conceived plan, on sound financial lines, to 705 provide proper sanitary and healthy, if small, homes for the people and the utter abolition of slum areas, without confiscation, will receive the heartiest support of members of building societies from one end of the country to the other, and we shall give gladly all help in our power.That is a very important statement made by a very important person. As your Lordships know, these building societies are amongst the most flourishing institutions in the country. They are quite sufficiently democratic, I am sure, to enlist the sympathies of noble Lords who now adorn the Bench opposite, and I may venture to ask them if something cannot be done to enlist the help of these societies in this matter. The result of this debate will, I hope, bring about what we all desire without distinction of Party, and that is that a Bill may be speedily brought in that will be a just Bill, and one that will make a further contribution to what we all trust will eventuate in the future—the abolition of slums, not only in our large towns but all over the country.
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, I am sure the House has listened to the speech of the noble Lord who has just spoken with great interest. He speaks in defence of London, an area whose slums are more often quoted, I think, than those of any other part of the country, and it needs a great deal of defending. And of all the areas in it the worst is his own City, the City of Westminster. I am surprised to hear he was Mayor of Westminster only seven years ago—
§ LORD MARLEY
—and did so little to deal with the problem in his own area. I desire to summarise the debate in so far as it has proceeded and shall try to explain as a preliminary the attitude of the Government on this matter of slum clearances. I ask that the courtesy of this House may be extended to a newcomer who is attempting to make a maiden speech, and is very nervous in doing so. I have noticed that great courtesy is always extended to all speakers on these occasions. I think it has been stated on all sides that the thanks of the House are due to the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Southwark for raising this matter, and certainly, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, I express their gratitude to him for doing 706 so not only now but on the many occasions in recent years whereon he has spoken upon it.
The Convocation of Canterbury has just reported a resolution which they carried on this matter—a far-reaching resolution—and it is so hopeful that I look forward to a time when more sermons will be preached not only in London but all over the country in respect of the slum clearance scheme which His Majesty's Government will shortly be bringing in. It would be gratifying if noble Lords who are so keen on this matter would come over to this side of the House and support His Majesty's Government in their efforts. It has been supported by the most rev. Lord Davidson on a number of occasions, and I have a statement he has made which is so interesting that, with your Lordships' permission, I would like to quote it. He said:…no question of public or private money should be allowed to stand in the way of dealing with the conditions in some of the slums of our great cities. No stone should be left unturned and no effort unmade to find a solution for an evil so grave and utterly destructive of the mind's progress towards higher things.That statement is directly contrary to that of the last speaker, whose main object appeared to be to save money, to get what improvement was possible with the minimum expenditure of money rather than to realise that you cannot attack a problem of this magnitude without spending money; and money will quite willingly, I am sure, be voted by the country for the purposes for which it is required.
The medical officers of healths' reports which have been referred to by the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Southwark are very seriously disturbing to the Government and we feel that there is not only no exaggeration in their reports but that they are under-stating the actual position. The conditions of the workers in these houses are of long standing and I think we should pay a tribute to the morality and the highmindedness of workers in that, in conditions which have been referred to by so many noble Lords this afternoon and on other occasions, they have managed to come through with the spirit and the highmindedness that we know characterises the great mass of our population. At the beginning of the War, noble Lords will remember, when 707 we examined men of military age we found that on an average only three out of every ten were fit for military service. The indictment of the system under which we live, which such a state of affairs discloses, should surely bring more support to the political feeling represented by the present Government. The question of health alone should appeal to those who are concerned with growing expenditure. I have figures showing that in one slum area one out of every four children born died every year. I have the figures for Durham, where 247 children per thousand died in a slum area of the City; while in the country as a whole the average in ten years for the years under question is only ninety-four. In other words it did not pay to be born in that part of Durham because your chances of living were about a third of what they were in the rest of the country, purely and solely because of the housing conditions in the area which has been examined. Tuberculosis is something like four times as serious in some slum areas, and we know that the cost of tuberculosis in this country runs into millions and millions of pounds.
Many noble Lords have quoted their own experience. I want to be brief, but we all have our own experiences. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, will address your Lordships later. I should like to say that the Government recognise the great work he is doing in North Kensington and he, I know, would be the first to admit that a great deal of the success of the Kensington Housing Trust is due to the energy and skill of the secretary of that Trust. I went with the secretary a few days ago to see some of the buildings that have been erected there and some of the older houses which are still inhabited. I saw a room below ground with no natural light; the gas was always burning. A widow and three children were living in that one room all the time. It was not a question of money. She had a pension derived from the war service of her husband. It was a question of the inability of the local authority, because of inadequate Government help, to provide houses to replace the slums in which that woman and others are living.
The question of morality was touched on by a noble Lord speaking from the 708 Benches opposite Despite the difficulties the workers of this country are amazingly moral. I have a report from the Isle of Dogs about a bedroom measuring 8 feet by 8 feet 11 inches which is occupied by two boys of eighteen and fourteen and two girls of sixteen and fourteen, all four of them sharing one bed 4 feet 6 inches wide. There is only room in that place for one of these young people to dress at a time. That is an example of the state of affairs which renders morality very, very difficult. It is because of the knowledge such debates as this and the efforts of the right rev. Prelate and others are spreading over the country that we believe that the Government will be able to carry through its slum clearance scheme as soon as the time arrives. It would be wrong of me to suggest that nothing has been done. It is true that a large number of houses were built under the Addison and Chamberlain Acts and under the Act of 1924. Something in the neighbourhood of 1,400,000 houses have been built. But when it comes to the slum areas themselves the result of many years of work is disastrously disappointing. Certain figures have been given. We know that 139 slum clearance schemes have been submitted to the Government in the years from 1919 to 1930. Of these schemes, 121 have been confirmed and 43 have been completed. But the total number of houses in the confirmed schemes is only 15,000 and the persons actually to be re-housed under those schemes are just over 74,000. Roughly speaking. 8,700 houses have been abolished and 9,700 new houses have been put up in place of them.
§ LORD MARLEY
No, that is only the new houses. The local authorities have made many efforts, but I feel that it is no injustice to say that the late Government with its big majority failed to assist the local authorities to carry through slum clearance schemes in their areas. In the debate which took place in your Lordships' House in June, 1928, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said that the Government were considering whether some better remedy could not be found than vast schemes of slum clearance and rebuilding, which were difficult, expensive and presented all sorts of obstacles. Re-conditioning, said Lord 709 Salisbury also, would be a shorter and cheaper road for achieving their ends. You cannot do this cheaply, and as long as we continue to suggest that we must not spend money on it, we shall never get any further. I am not alone in my criticism of the late Government in this matter. Their own supporters in another place voiced serious criticisms. I see that Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, speaking in the House of Commons in May last year, said:The slum policy adopted by the Government I think is disappointing… We are told that the proper course to pursue is to extend the policy of re-conditioning property. I wish to enter a protest against that policy, because many of the houses which it is proposed to re-condition ought to be pulled down because they are reeking with vermin and disease, and the best policy to adopt is to sweep them away altogether.Your Lordships will be asked to support the Government in adopting a policy of that type.
A noble Lord referred in passing, and I was very interested in his remarks, to the effect on unemployment of the failure to deal adequately with slum clearance. It is true that we have at the present moment building trade operatives in house building and public works construction unemployed to the number of 192,000. Not a minor part of the effect of slum clearance work will be to help towards lessening tie volume of unemployment which exists in our midst to-day. There are very real difficulties in this question. A number of noble Lords have referred to the complication of procedure in dealing with slum clearance schemes. There is the question of the enormous cost. There is also the fact that we are dealing with the lowest-paid workers in the whole of the country. Therefore we have to face the fact that rents must not be higher than they can afford to pay; that they cannot afford the cost of travelling from a distance to reach their work; and, what is often neglected in this matter, that they cannot afford the time taken in such travelling. I know cases where men who have moved out of slum areas into houses built on the outskirts of towns have had to get up every morning at four o'clock in order to reach their work at seven or half-past seven. I would like to emphasise the fact—the surprising fact to many people—that something in the neighbourhood of 90 per 710 cent. of those previously dwelling in slums who were moved to new houses have proved themselves to be first-class tenants in their new houses.
The suggestion has been put forward that we ought perhaps to try to survey the extent of the problem. There are reasons against such an attempt to survey the problem. In the first place such a survey besides being exceedingly costly would be out-of-date almost immediately after it was carried through, and, secondly, we know that the problem is so serious at the present moment that the utmost energy of the Government and the nation put into a frontal attack on the slum problem will not be too much to deal with that problem for many years to come. I suggest that what we should do is to attack this question with the utmost energy and when we have dealt with the worst of the slum areas then we can have a survey to find out what is the further problem which the country has to face. There is of course the question of making use of the census figures. I do not propose to go into that except to say that it is under the consideration of the Government whether an alteration could be made in the questions contained in the census paper for 1931 so as to elicit a little more information to enable us to visualise the extent of the problem, As against that—and this is a point which I feel is a difficulty—it is advisable to alter the questions in the census paper as little as possible because if we alter them seriously we shall undermine the value of the comparison decade by decade, between the census results in 1931 and in 1921 and in 1911 and so on. That is an argument against altering the questions seriously.
The Government feel that the time is long past when a greater part of the energy hitherto concentrated on the provision of new houses should be directed to the replacement of unfit houses and the demolition of aggregations of such houses. The task does involve interfering with private property on a considerable scale. It involves great expense. It requires, as has already been mentioned, the provision of accommodation for a large number of persons who will be displaced, and it has to be remembered that these will be amongst the poorest of the population. The Government therefore in the Bill which it is preparing have 711 decided to simplify and shorten the procedure in dealing with slum clearance schemes. They will make provision for the necessary capital to deal with the cost of such clearances, and they will assist local authorities in the inspection of property and in its maintenance in proper repair. They are definitely prepared to encourage proper management of property in the replaced slum areas. The Government will also encourage the decentralisation of industry by taking factories out of closely-populated areas and putting them in more rural areas where town planning can ensure that they do not interfere with the amenities of those living there. Legislation dealing with this matter is also under consideration. There are difficulties in an overcrowded legislative programme, but I can assure the House that it is the full intention of the Government to introduce their slum clearance proposals very shortly indeed.
§ LORD MARLEY
I cannot give a precise date, but I can say it will be very shortly and as soon as possible. It is one of those matters which is very close to our hearts in the Labour and Socialist Party and we shall make no delay in introducing that measure. We believe that public opinion is sympathetic. If as much energy were put into slum clearance propaganda as has been put by some noble Lords into—shall we say?—anti-Russian propaganda, we should very quickly secure an assisted passage for this Bill.
§ LORD MARLEY
No, it will be introduced in the other House. May I join in thanking the right rev. Prelate for raising this question? There are a number of other speakers and there will be a final speech on behalf of the Government.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I only wish to say one or two words. The noble Lord who has just spoken on behalf of the Government has given reason for encouragement in holding out the hope that the long-deferred legislation is now impending. I trust that he will show in the introduction of this legislation that energy which he described as essential to the proper carrying out of the reforms which we all 712 wish to see. It was of course difficult to gather from what the noble Lord has just said exactly what is proposed by the Government, and we must be content with the sympathy which he has shown and with the promise of early legislation.
Certainly one must feel the gravest possible anxiety and indeed disappointment that after all that has been done it should still be possible for my right rev. friend to have brought before us the statistics he did which carry their own tale. It is lamentable to know that still 10 per cent. of our people are living in grossly overcrowded conditions, and not less than 10 per cent. in conditions that cannot be described as decently healthy. It is even worse to know that in Scotland out of four and three quarter million people, or, excluding the larger houses, out of the remaining four and a half million, no less than 43 per cent. of the population are living more than two in one room. Of course what quickens our sympathy and our desire that the Government may as speedily as possible fulfil the promises that the noble Lord has just made, is our human sympathy with those who are condemned, through no fault of their own, to spend their lives and give their work for the benefit of us all under conditions so lamentable. I note with great satisfaction what the noble Lord has just said about the marvellous way in which, in spite of these conditions, this great mass of our fellow-countrymen is able to maintain a patient and decent life.
I have the greatest possible regard and respect for many slum dwellers. I have been a slum dweller myself. I spent the first three years of my ministry in a condemned tenement of two rooms, measuring, so far as I can remember, ten feet by nine. I must add that when that statement was reported some little time ago I received, two days afterwards, a letter announcing that, in virtue of my statement, I had been elected an honorary member of the Ananias and Sapphira. Club. But the statement remains true, and I could not help realising what it would mean to dwell in those conditions with a wife doing all the washing and cooking and five or six children. It is our sympathy with those who are living in those circumstances and with the gallant struggle they make against the conditions that are imposed upon them which makes us eagerly anxious to 713 see the relief which the noble Lord has promised to offer. The progress made hitherto in dealing with the slum problem has been lamentable. It is very depressing to know that, in the three years from 1925 to 1928, only 6,000 houses in condemned areas have actually been destroyed by virtue of all these schemes. In a part of St. Pancras that I visited there are still standing fifty two-storey houses which were condemned as unfit for habitation thirty-two years ago. It really is time, therefore, that the matter was undertaken in a thorough and drastic manner.
I very sincerely hope that the Government will not, as I fear was hinted, discourage proper surveys before this immense national task is undertaken. There is very great danger in dealing with it piecemeal, and while, of course, what is immediately necessary in the way of slum clearance or the re-conditioning of houses should be undertaken where it is possible, I think it would be most unfortunate if any assistance were given to local authorities before they were able to produce, not necessarily a report upon every single house, but a planned survey of what was necessary within their area in the way of re-conditioning or re-building. I am sure that the Government do not mean to restrict these operations merely to the demolition and removal of slum areas. I hope that they will address themselves to what my right rev. friend pointed out as the real heart of this problem—namely, how, under the conditions existing now and, so far as one can see, likely to exist for a long time to come, you are to enable those now living in the slum areas and paying about 7s. a week, in any circumstances to pay the rent which a new house, however cheaply it may be built, necessitates. That is the real heart of the problem, and if the Government, in tackling it, are compelled to make considerable demands upon us all, I hope we shall be willing to bear the burden, provided it is not overwhelming. Certainly that problem of building a bridge between the rent that can now be charged and the rent which, under new conditions, so far as one can see, must be paid, is a social problem of such magnitude that it calls not only for the full attention of the Government but also for the sympathy of the whole country.
714 Meanwhile, though we expect the Government to deal with the matter fully and on a large scale, let us not despise the day of small things, which is still full of opportunities. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, will tell us what he has been able to effect in Kensington, and I am only sorry that a necessary engagement elsewhere will prevent me from listening to what he has to say, though I think I am familiar with what has been done. Do not let us despise what can be done, what has been done and what may be done more fully in the future by these voluntary public utility societies. It is true that what they have been able to effect is on a comparatively small scale. I think that, of the 159,000 houses built in London within the last three or four years, only 2,600 were built by these public utility societies. Yet they have a value of their own, not merely in giving adequate housing to a certain number of those whom we all wish to help, but also, and chiefly, in arousing public opinion and, what is more, in showing what can be done if the effort is made in a prompt and practical manner. They are a most useful stimulus to the activities of local authorities and, let me add, I hope they will never be a screen behind which the local authorities can conceal their inactivity.
I am very familiar with one of the best of those efforts, which is associated with the Mission of Magdalen College, Oxford, in St. Pancras. I have gone through it and inspected both the old premises and the new ones which have been very wonderfully and admirably erected in the very centre of the worst area, and I am satisfied that what they have done has not only been to re-house a large number of workers, with whom I have conversed in their new houses, about which they are most enthusiastic, but also to interest a very large section of the outside public. Here let me mention another admirable direction in which these public utility societies may show the way, which I hope that even local authorities, when they become possessed of many of these new houses, will follow, and that is to secure their management by intelligent and sympathetic rent collectors. It makes the whole difference in the life of the residents of a large block of houses if they are constantly visited by people having an interest in their affairs and sharing 715 their lives—by a man or, better still, a woman who not only collects the rent but gives every possible assistance in the management of the houses. I feel bound, as your Lordships are discussing this most important matter, to call to your remembrance the pioneer of this work, who fired my imagination when I was a much younger man than I am now; a name which I hope will always be honoured in this country, the name of Miss Octavia, Hill. I am glad to say that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in their large house property in London have from the first followed the example of Miss Octavia Hill, and made use of these rent collectors for the assistance of people who dwell in their houses.
Let me close by sounding one note of hope in the midst of rather depressing atmosphere. After all, consider what the Bishop of Southwark rightly described as an achievement of which this country may well be proud, the building of 1,400,000 houses, and consider the character of those houses and the standard of comfort and appearance which they represent. Contrast them with what in the enlightened nineteenth century was considered to be a decent mode of housing the people. Contrast them with the back-to-back houses in Birmingham. Contrast them with the 72,000 back-to-back houses in Leeds, 33,000 of which are crowded together, seventy or eighty to the acre. Yet many of these, in the memory of people now living, were new houses and considered to be satisfactory. We have travelled an enormous distance in our conception of the kind of house which is right and proper for a great country like ours. Consider again the raising of the standard, which I hope will never be lowered under any conditions, even for the sake of making it easy for people to get out of their present slum properties. Let us consider the examples which have been quoted to us, and how quick and sensitive public opinion in this country now is. It is because there is this new standard of homes for working people once for all created, and because there is this quickness and alertness of public opinion, which is bound to stimulate local authorities, that we feel that when the Government give a strong and hopeful lead we may look forward to the future, with all the difficulties which it presents, with some measure of hope.
§ VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME
My Lords, it is always possible that when there is discussed in your Lordships' House any matter which closely affects the social conditions of large numbers of poor people, the business aspects of the matter may be overshadowed by the pity and compassion felt in all quarters for the needy and suffering. Your Lordships are not, however, called upon primarily to express sentiments of sympathy. It is the function of Parliament not so much to record evils as to enact remedies which will be equitable to all parties concerned. In my capacity as President of the National Federation of Property Owners and Ratepayers I have been associated with a large number of organisations the members of which have suffered very considerable hardship as a result of experimental legislation intended to bring about slum clearance. I am afraid I must take your Lordships rather fully into the history of legislation affecting this matter. So far back as 1890 Parliament took the initial stages of this matter in hand when the Housing of the Working Classes Act was passed. In 1915, as soon as was convenient after the outbreak of War, another attempt was made to stabilise the housing conditions of the poorer classes of people. I refer to the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (War Restrictions) Act, 1915. Then in 1919 there was enacted the Housing, Town Planning, etc., Act. The "etc." in the title of this Act seems to have stood significantly for a large number of serious omissions from the Act. In this very same year an Act was passed which indirectly effected steps which might be taken to enable local authorities to clear slum areas—I refer to the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919.
Then in 1925 we had the Housing Act, Section 46 of which, with its peculiar rules for compensation, has caused so much unhappiness and misery to a very large number of deserving and unfortunate people. With regard to Section 46 I would like to read what was said by the President of the Law Society: it is pretty scathing:—Thus, by the simple manipulation of a paint brush held in the nerveless fingers of the Minister of Health, guided by an irresponsible official, a man may be deprived of property without compensation. From this decision there is no appeal. If this 717 lamentable principle were applied only to insanitary property, it would be bad enough. But is it confined to insanitary property? By no means. The view of the authorities, which they frankly admit and for which they bitterly contend, is that for this purpose a property, however sanitary, is to be treated as insanitary if situate in an insanitary district. So a man may seek by his good efforts to improve a slum area by building there a modern and in every way desirable building, and having done so is liable to receive the insult of being treated as the owner of insanitary property and, in addition, the injury of being deprived of any compensation for the building, however valuable, which he has erected.In spite of all this legislation your Lordships are to-day faced with a problem even more crucial than it has ever been before, and in the remarks which I propose to address to your Lordships I hope to draw attention to the salient fact that if the matter of slum clearance is to be dealt with on sound lines it must be tackled strictly as a business proposition and the balances of justice must be held evenly between all the parties who will be affected by new legislation.
It will be convenient if at this point I demonstrate how unevenly the balances have been held as a result of ill-considered legislation in the past. I need not refer to the Act of 1890 which has no bearing upon this aspect of the subject. I come, therefore, to the Rent Restrictions Act of 1915. That Act was forced upon the Government of the day at a time of national emergency. I am not prepared to say that in its time and in the circumstances which attended the passing of that Act, the Act was not justified as a temporary measure. I propose, however, to show that the effect of continuing this war-time legislation to the present time has created slum conditions and has had other relatively undesirable effects which should be borne in mind when new housing legislation is considered. The primary effect of the Rent Restrictions Act is to take the control of small dwelling-houses out of the hands of the owners, so that owners desiring to re-condition cannot obtain possession of their houses for that purpose. It is obvious that so far as the structural condition, both internal and external, of these houses is concerned, the tenants are not liable. The tenants can sublet the premises to the utmost of the premises' capacity and even much beyond what is warranted by decency.
718 Your Lordships will follow the necessary consequences of legislation having this effect. The small dwelling-house which is suitable for the occupation of a man and his wife and two or three children is not suitable for the multitude of people who often occupy it. Families increase, dirt and destruction follow in the wake, and the owner is powerless to deal with that evil. He finds himself between the tenant on the one hand demanding repairs and decorations owing to the destruction following an over-tenanted house, and the local authority who squeezes him on the other side demanding additional lavatory accommodation and continuous sanitary repairs. If you multiply this one dwelling into a thousand you get a slum area. This area has by this legislation been taken out of the control of the owners of the houses within it, both so far as overcrowding is concerned and so far as structural repairs and internal amenities are concerned. It was with this state of affairs in mind that the Rousing, Town Planning, etc., Act, 1919, was introduced.
By this time the representatives of the people had thoroughly convinced themselves, or had been spell-bound by Mr. Lloyd George, who was always so much against property owners of every sort, into the belief, that the responsibility for the evils which existed in the overcrowded and insanitary areas was entirely upon the shoulders of the owners of property within those areas. There can be no question of this, because the rules for compensation which were provided both in the 1919 Act and the subsequent Act of 1925 penalised the owners of property within these areas. Thus Parliament may be said to have assisted in the creation of an evil in 1915, and visited their own sins upon the owners of property, who suffered as a result of the evils which Parliament itself has assisted to create.
Turning now to the Housing Act, 1925, which follows the 1919 Act very closely, and which will be sufficient to illustrate my point, it will be found that in spite of the intention to penalise owners for owning property within unhealthy areas, a precautionary procedure was provided by which it was intended that there should be certain safeguards for the owners of sound and sanitary property although so unfortunately situated. I say that these safeguards have been deliber- 719 ately evaded, on the one hand by the application of a doctrine of environment, and on the other hand by a large number of illegal orders made by successive Ministers of Health. The doctrine of environment may be explained in this way. Suppose there exists in an unhealthy area a dwelling house in itself sanitary and in sound condition; and suppose that around this sound and sanitary dwelling, in close proximity, there are a number of unsound and insanitary dwellings. By virtue of the application of the doctrine of environment to the rules of compensation no compensation is paid to the owner of the sanitary dwelling house, because it is alleged that the sanitary dwelling house is rendered in-sanitary by its environment.
May I give your Lordships a few examples of this? I will take out a few from the large number I have here:Freehold, adjoining L.C.C. School. Cost, £735. Property in sound and sanitary condition. Under operation of the Housing Act, house confiscated by L.C.C. 28th October, 1927. No compensation paid for the buildings; £250 paid for the site. The property, although taken on the pretext that it was needed for a housing scheme and was not worth compensation, has been used by the L.C.C. in connection with the school and the L.C.C. is now collecting rents from the premises.I had the privilege of introducing a deputation the other day to the Minister and he said that sort of thing did worry him when rents continued to be received by local authorities. Here is another case:Seven houses for which owner paid £1,150. Property in sound and sanitary condition. Mortgaged for £500. Under the operation of the Housing Act no compensation paid for buildings. £340 paid for site. L.C.C. collected rents for eighteen months after confiscation, then pulled them down and built flats. L.C.C. is now drawing rent from fourteen flats on the site at 15s. 6d. per week per flat. Owner compelled to go to workhouse and threatened with proceedings to recover balance of the mortgage due.Listen also to this case:No. 53, Soho Street of which the owner is Mrs. Burn. This property is situated within the area of the Queen Anne Street slum clearance scheme. It has been scheduled as a red property by the medical officer of health, that is to say, as a property in respect of which no compensation whatever will be paid for the building. The building is a registered milk-house. It is difficult to understand how the building can be sufficiently sanitary for the distribution of milk and at the same time so insanitary that the Corporation of Liverpool are un- 720 willing to pay compensation for the premises.So far as the illegal orders of the Minister are concerned, when I say that these orders have been illegal I refer your Lordships to the case of Rex versus the Minister of Health, ex parte Davis. (1929) 1 King's Bench. That is a decision both by a Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal. Your Lordships will remember that the compensation section of the Housing Act 1925—namely, Section 46—provides that if the land is acquired by a local authority for the purpose of rehousing the working classes there shall be a reduction in the amount of compensation payable to the owner, which in practice amounts to from 30 to 50 per cent. I do not know upon what principle of law or justice this rule was ever made. Be that as it may, successive Ministers of Health have by their illegal orders enabled local authorities to refuse to disclose for what purposes land so acquired was to be used. In consequence there has been a general assumption on the part of arbitrators that the land was to be used for the housing of the working classes, and compensation has been so paid—that is to say, subject to the reduction factor.
It is fortunate that the National Federation of Property Owners has been able by the use of funds at its disposal to prevent the further perpetration of this injustice. It must not, however, be thought that the Federation of Property Owners is in any sense responsible for any delay in the work of clearing slums, with which work they are in full sympathy. In fact, some of the people who have joined the Federation and have been found out to be harpies have been turned out very quickly. It is obvious that the blame for the temporary set back to this very proper work of local authorities is due entirely to the fact that successive Ministers of Health have not been properly advised by their legal Department, or else their legal Department have advised them to bluff. I say, then, that in considering the position as it exists the balance of justice no less than the balance of reason has hitherto been held unevenly in adjusting the relation of the three parties to the necessary work of slum clearance—that is to say, the local authorities, the owners and tenants.
721 By the Rent Act slums are being created. By the Rent Act decent owners who look only for a fair profit on the respectable business of housing the people, and who regard their responsibility seriously, and the upkeep of their property as sound business, are in course of being driven out of the business. There is a danger of their being replaced by speculators, whose object is to get as much as they can out of the property before the State intervenes. By the Housing Act, 1925, the balances are again held unevenly, with the consequences that inadequate compensation is given to the decent owners of property within unhealthy areas, and the leaseholders and small traders are given no compensation at all. I hope that when legislation is introduced compensation will be paid to such people. Moreover, no express provision is made that the actual persons who are displaced from one slum area shall be rehoused under a housing scheme. The consequence of the absence of this last provision is, for example, that a thousand slum dwellers may be displaced and accommodation may be provided for a thousand municipal officials. The thousand displaced slum dwellers overflow to the area adjoining the cleared slum and create new slums, to the manifest disadvantage of the owner.
Having, I hope, demonstrated some of the fallacies and mistakes existing in present legislation, may I be allowed to offer some constructive proposals which I think would be of assistance to your Lordships in considering any remedial legislation? I am given to understand by the Minister of Health himself that the two outstanding difficulties with which he is faced are the necessity for haste and the need for economy. I trust this dos not mean that some of the old mistakes are to be repeated in legislation. I trust that the Minister will not seek to overcome the difficulty of constitutional procedure by methods with which we are too familiar, as, far example, by taking all power into his, own hands and constituting himself the dictator for all purposes connected with this matter without giving an appeal to the Courts.
It is true that the local authorities should be satisfied that their financial resources are equal to the enterprise they have in mind, and for this purpose approximate estimates at least of the 722 cost should be submitted to the Ministry of Health, or, more properly, to the elected body of councillors who will be responsible for imposing a proportion of the costs upon their constituents. This brings me naturally to the main difficulty which, from a business point of view, presents itself in this matter. Housing is of great importance. Work for the people is also of great importance. It follows that if a burden is to be placed upon business and industry you may aggravate unemployment. You are, therefore, faced with the difficulty that you have an evil which cries aloud for remedy, but your remedy cannot be applied without the greatest circumspection lest you create the great evil of unemployment to replace the evil of bad housing. If you create unemployment you will create at the same time a population which cannot afford houses. In consequence, the only effect of your sympathetically conceived legislation will be to bring into existence houses which must be built at the expense of the taxpayers and ratepayers and subsequently maintained by both taxpayers and ratepayers. I am going to suggest that to a very great extent the difficulty arising from the expense of slum clearance can be met, and can only be met, by carefully considered schemes of re-conditioning all old property which is suitable for such treatment.
I turn now to the question of compensation for all the interests which must be acquired in order to enable local authorities to carry out clearance schemes. I would preface my remarks on this point with the submission that local authorities should acquire as little of the property as possible within these areas for the simple reason that I know of no local authority which can afford to pay fair compensation to all the interests which are involved. The main object should be to re-condition the area and acquisition should only be resorted to where re-conditioning is impracticable. There must, of course, be a large number of cases in which it will be necessary for local authorities to acquire all the interests within certain limited areas. It seems to me that the only safe rule for compensation is the rule laid down in the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919, which may be called the charter for compensation and 723 which was enacted after the most careful investigation of a Royal Commission.
There are in that Act safeguards against the payment of compensation in undeserving cases. For my own part I am at a loss to understand why there has ever been any deviation from the provisions of compensation enacted in that Act. It is particularly remarkable that there should have been deviations in the very year in which that Act was passed, because that Act provided that no Act passed either before or after, if inconsistent with it so far as compensation was concerned, should have any effect. It is my submission that so far as cost is concerned there could be no fairer measure of compensation than that provided in the Acquisition of Land Act, 1919. I do not think local authorities should be called upon to pay more and I am morally certain that they should not be enabled to pay less. This is not only my own opinion but it was the considered view of the Royal Commission to which I have referred your Lordships. There is this additional advantage in following the rules for compensation laid down by this Act. The cumbersome procedure necessitating the difficult calculations involved by the Housing Act, 1925, are entirely avoided. The gaps in the Housing Act, which it is agreed on all hands should have been filled, would by the adoption of the Acquisition of Land Act be filled. When I refer to gaps I mean particularly the absence of any provision for the compensation of the small tradesman who may have paid £200 or £300 for the goodwill of his business or for the leaseholder who may have paid his life savings for a lease.
There will be this further advantage following from the adoption of the Acquisition of Land Act. Local authorities would be in no doubt when estimating their financial resources as to the costs involved in carrying out any scheme they might project. It would follow that you would reduce the danger of investing public money in the creation of insolvent housing estates—a danger which, as I have pointed out, would not only threaten the unfortunate occupants of houses within such estates, but would burden business and industry in such a way as to aggravate the evil of unemployment. I am sorry to have detained your Lordships so long.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for more than a few moments, but I should like to express my gratitude to the right rev. Prelate for having raised this important question of clearing the slums. We are all greatly in sympathy with the question and I am sure we should all welcome a good solution of it. The tragedy, to my mind, is that when re-housing is taking place on the cleared ground tenements are nearly always put up. It may be necessary, but it is very hard on the poor wife who, whenever she has to go in or out or to bring anything in from the street, has to go up and down three or four flights of stairs. In clearing away the slums in so many cases we are not dealing with large landowners but with men of very small means who, in many cases, have put the whole of their savings into this class of house property. Land and houses, as we know, are the investment of the poor man who likes to put his money into something that he can see and which he thinks will not run away. He does not understand investing in War Loan or railway shares. He cannot believe that a small strip of paper is a guarantee that his money is still there. I would earnestly ask, therefore, that the Government should deal kindly in any new legislation with the amount of compensation that will be paid. Of course, I put wholly on one side all property which is in a bad state of repair or unfit for habitation. I have no sympathy at all with those owners.
My noble friend Lord Bertie dealt at some length with the question of the acquisition of property when slum areas are being swept away. I should like to remind your Lordships that local authorities and the Ministry of Health draw a red pencil line round an area and say, "This is slum property." In that area there are very often shops and good houses, but as their environment is not good they are swept away and no compensation is paid. The curious thing is that if there is a ground landlord he gets compensation, but the tenants and the lessees lose their interest and get no compensation at all, in addition to losing their goodwill. I have come across numerous cases of hardship. I will quote one to your Lordships to show what is going on. It is not a hearsay case; it is one 725 that was tried lately before the official arbitrator and was fully reported. I will state the facts briefly to your Lordships. It is called Lithman and the National Provincial Bank versus the London County Council, and it was heard at Westminster by an official arbitrator in December, 1928.
This is not a case of a ground landlord making a claim. It is a claim by a, lessee. A claim for compensation was made in respect of two blocks of property in Stepney acquired by the London County Council for an improvement scheme under the Housing Act, 1925, and the area had been marked by a red ring pencil. Mr. Lithman held a sub-lease for sixty years from September, 1919. The bank was interested as mortgagee, because they had lent £1,000 in 1920. The rent reserved was £276 a year and Mr. Lithman paid a premium of £5,500 for this lease. The arbitrator found that in the circumstances the value of Mr. Lithman's interest was nil. Could legislation go further than that I Of course, I am not blaming the arbitrator. He had to give his decision in accordance with the Act. So the lessee lost the whole of his £5,500 and presumably the bank also lost their £1,000. What is going to happen in the future to trustees and mortgagees of this kind of property I do not know, but I can assure the Government that when they bring in their new legislation if it is on good sound lines, as I hope it will be, they will receive nothing but help and encouragement, from this side of the House.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, the right rev. Prelate who opened this debate was careful to emphasise the fact that at this Lime of day the housing question is a non-Party matter. That really is the case, and I am bound to say that I did feel it to be rather a matter for regret that the noble Lord who spoke for the Government, while claiming indulgence for his maiden speech, which this House is always very ready to accord, thought it right to import a somewhat hot Party tone into his remarks. I think it is unfortunate because previous Governments, whoever they have been, since the War, and I do not exclude the Labour Government, have been doing all they could for the housing question. We have now reached the stage when something has got to be done about these 726 slums. It would, no doubt, have been desirable to deal with the slum question more drastically sooner, but, as your Lordships know, a great effort has been made to deal with housing and the slums have perforce, being the most difficult part of the question, had to wait.
I am bound to admit I was also a little bit concerned at the attitude of the noble Lord with regard to the question of the expenditure of money. I got the impression that he thought the expenditure of money was a good thing in itself. Now, great as is the importance I attach to housing, I am not prepared to see money spent where a lesser expenditure could achieve the same object. We are all pressed by constantly increasing expenditure, and I do not think any good purpose can be served by taunting other people for laying some stress on the necessity for economy. After all, it is going to be a matter of value for money. We are all of us willing to spend money in order to get the result which we desire, but none of us—and I hope this may apply to the noble Lord and the Government as well as to other people—are anxious to spend money unnecessarily.
Now, as has been emphasised earlier in this debate, we cannot avoid coming to the conclusion that the real difficulty and the real need is the provision of houses at low rents. The problem can be put in a nutshell when we say that the houses which have been built up to the present have been houses for people who are earning a fairly substantial wage. The slum-dweller who can only pay a small rent has, as yet, hardly been helped. If we cannot get his wages increased, we must try to house him at a rent which he can afford. If there is no prospect of getting wages substantially up, then we have to get rents down. At the same time, we have to pay such attention as we can to the urgent need for economy. In the few remarks that I wish to make to your Lordships, I want to make one or two suggestions as to how this need for low rents can be met with due regard to spending as little money as possible.
Before I come to concrete proposals, however, I should like to suggest to the Government that the prevention of the creation of new slums is just as important as getting rid of the slums which exist at present. At the present time, 727 new slums are being created probably a great deal faster than slums are being done away with. The main cause of the creation of slums is the process which is taking place, as the right rev. Prelate knows very well, in Southwark and Shoreditch and other places, of industrialising areas which up to now have been working class dwelling areas. There is no more prolific source of the creation of slums than to have large factories springing up which, unless building is regulated, overshadow dwelling houses and shut out sunlight. Then, owing to rapidly rising site values, houses in these areas cannot be kept economically as dwelling houses, and they fall into decay. To prevent that going on there must be in London and other big towns a power of town-planning built-up areas. We have heard a great deal about regional town planning all over the country, but there is no power at present for town-planning built-up areas, and that is a most urgent necessity to which I hope the Government will give very careful consideration. In North Kensington, the district which I know best, the process I have described is precisely what will happen if powers are not taken to keep areas for working class dwellings. I imagine that the proper authority in the Metropolis will be the London County Council. In other parts of the country there are, of course, already town-planning authorities, but in built-up areas town planning powers do not exist and they are very urgently required.
The noble Lord, Lord Marley, referred to the question of census figures. He may have had in mind a question in which I suggested that in the next census particulars should be given as to the number of bedrooms so that the real extent of overcrowding should be brought to light. The noble Lord was not very encouraging. He spoke of the danger of vitiating comparisons with previous years. That really would not arise if my suggestion is put into effect, because it would really mean subdividing some of the information which is already there. It would not be a different form of inquiry but only a slightly more detailed form, and I very much hope that the Government will not give up the idea of getting that information unless they have some much better reason to produce than the one we have been told about.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I am very glad to hear it, and I may take the opportunity of returning to the point later in order to stimulate the noble Lord. We are told, and I was very interested to hear it, that by the Bill that the Government are going to bring in they are going to provide capital, to make capital available, to assist local authorities—
§ LORD MARLEY
I said they were going to provide "for the capital." That is a different thing. You can provide capital or you can provide, by subsidy or by other means, for the necessary capital.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I am bound to say that the distinction is not very clear to me, but if capital is forthcoming I do not mind whether it is provided or provided for. What I want to urge is that the Government should not neglect voluntary societies, public utility societies. Reference has already been made to the work done by these societies. I was rather surprised by the figures given by the most rev. Primate. I think the voluntary societies have really done a little more than the figures that he gave suggested. I earnestly hope that the Government do not think that, because these societies are run by private enterprise, they ought to be discouraged. As the noble Lord said, the problem has to be attacked from every angle, and these voluntary societies are doing excellent work and are capable of immense development. They can do some things which local authorities cannot do and, in particular, I think they can sometimes deal with questions of management in a better way than local authorities. They represent a, tremendous force of public opinion and good will which is being put into this work.
If I may refer to my own experience in North Kensington, in my small society, which has been referred to very kindly by more than one noble Lord, we find that new accommodation can be provided, allowing for the subsidy, so as to pay 2½ per cent., and reconstruction can be 729 made to return 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. on the capital. Both these percentages could be increased if higher rents were charged, but the whole essence of the problem is to keep rents down. We find that if we keep rents down to the level which the more poorly paid working-class people can afford, we cannot get more than 21 per cent. on new buildings and 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. on reconstruction. The most practical thing that the Government could do would be to make capital available for these voluntary societies. I know it may be replied that this is only another form of concealed subsidy, but I am not suggesting that the thing should be done indiscriminately. I think the voluntary societies, which will provide a sum to return 2½ per cent. and will keep the rents down to a level which will make that return, might be encouraged by the Government providing pound for pound of the capital. After all, this is a philanthropic effort. People who lend money at 2½ per cent. are practically halving the capital value of their money. A great deal could be done if the Government would give pound for pound at 2½ per cent. The societies would be under an obligation to keep down the rents to such a level as would make this return, or a return of 4 per cent. for reconstruction.
It is worth while calling your Lordships' attention to the difference that is made to the amount of rent when you have to pay 2½ per cent. and 5 per cent, for the money. In a building the, has just been completed by the trust with which I am connected in North Kensington the cost per flat was £665, including site. I know that this seems a good deal compared with the figure of £400 that was given by previous speakers, but, of course, they referred to the country. Even the London County Council cannot build flats in London in big blocks for leas than £600. These flats cost £665, and this, at 5 per cent., represents £33 5s. per annum, which is 13s. a week. If you can get this money at 2½ per cent., then this represents, instead of 13s. a week, 6s. 6d. a week, making a difference of 6s. 6d. in the rent for each flat. When you are dealing with a three-roomed or four-roomed house, that is almost the difference between what the poorest class of workers pay and what can be paid by the people who have already been provided for.
730 What we want to aim at in London—I am not speaking of the country, where they cannot pay so much—is to supply this accommodation at 3s. a room, inclusive of rates. This would mean 12s. for a four-roomed flat, and would meet the demand from the poorly-paid people. At present the rents charged for houses erected by the local authorities, even with the subsidy, in order not to put any further burden on the rates, amount to about 5s. per room. Accordingly, if you are dealing with a three-roomed flat, you practicallly save the difference between 3s. and 5s. per room if you can save 6s. 6d. That is the only way in which the problem can be solved. You have to provide a rent which people can pay, and the only way is to continue the subsidy and possibly to add something to it in one way or another.
The right rev. Prelate referred to the question of rent allowances for children. I should like to say that this also is an experiment which must be examined very carefully. In my trust, if I may once again refer to it, we have made what I consider a slight improvement in the way in which rent allowances are given. We give allowances so as to bring rent down to a sum equal to one-fifth of the family income. The principle is that it is reasonable for a family to pay one-fifth of its income in rent, and the moment any child grows up and goes to work or the family income is otherwise increased the allowance will be stopped. That is much more economical than an overhead rent allowance for children without regard to the family income. It certainly involves more careful selection of tenants, and that is a matter in which, I think, the voluntary public utility society is at an advantage compared with the local authority.
There is one other matter concerning which I was very glad to hear from the noble Lord. He referred to the fact that the Government intend to introduce legislation in connection with the decentralisation of factories. This makes me hope that at last we are going to have something done to encourage the promotion of garden cities. I suppose the garden city idea has been more talked about and theorised about than any other, but very little has been done. It is, however, a most important matter for the solution of slum clearance to have controlled decentralisation of the big towns. The fact is that the big towns, especially London, 731 are far too big, and instead of increasing them we ought to try to make them smaller, on account of all the problems of traffic and the other difficulties that arise. At present, as your Lordships know, industry is moving South. I believe the reason is that it is no longer necessary for industry to be near the pithead, owing to the development of transport and of electrical power. At any rate industry is moving South and adding to the congestion in London.
Regarding London as a centre, the situation would really be ludicrous if it were not so tragic. You have London as a centre; you have Becontree to the east, which is a dormitory practically without a factory; and you have Slough to the west, which is an industrial area without housing. You have thousands of workers who have to come into London from Slough, where there is work, because they cannot live there, and thousands more who have to come into London from Becontree because there is no work at Becontree. If an explorer were to find some tribe of aborigines which arranged its affairs in that way he would come back and lecture to the Royal Geographical Society and say that obviously they had no genius for organisation. The thing is really perfectly absurd.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, is no longer here, because, though I have the greatest admiration for what the London County Council have done in the way of housing work in London, I think they have shown a most lamentable lack of imagination regarding the garden city idea. They have turned the thing down time after time, with the result that at Becontree they have really created something that is very far from what it might have been. They are trying to get industry to Becontree now, whereas, if they had started it on the lines of a garden city, they might have married Becontree and Slough and created a really fine satellite town. I know there are difficulties. There is the difficulty of rating, and I do not want to detain your Lordships too long, but I would like to say very briefly that I would wish to see this thing introduced into Government legislation—that they should create powers whereby urban authorities or large corporations could 732 carve out areas and include them in their rating districts; creating a colony detached if necessary, because at present if they buy land for a garden city outside their area they add to the rating value by which they do not benefit, and they throw a burden of public service upon a rural area which is unable to bear it. If, however, they were able to include such an area in their own rating area, the difficulty would be solved.
Lastly, with regard to garden cities, I would like to see the Government set up a special ad hoc body, which would work something on the lines of the Development Commission. The reason why there are no more garden cities than there are is that there is no body with the driving force to keep the thing going. There is plenty of work for such a body to do, and I do not believe it would cause overlapping with other authorities. I can only commend the idea to the Government, because it is of no use patching up the clearance work. You have got to decentralise your big towns, and I should like to think that this Government are going to tackle this job. They must remember that they are a minority Government, and therefore have got to try to tackle things in which they will get the support of other Parties. Here is the idea of garden cities. Nothing is being done, and I think they will achieve a great thing, and will get the support of all Parties, if they really get the garden city movement going, and set on foot a real cure for the slums.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Buck-master I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Viscount Mersey.)
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I have no objection to the Motion if it is for the convenience of the House, and if the debate is to be adjourned I understand that Tuesday next will be suitable for everyone.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned until Tuesday next accordingly.
§ House adjourned at five minutes before seven o'clock.