§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I will endeavour to be as brief as possible in proposing the Second Reading of what undoubtedly is an extremely important Bill as regards oar national homes and our national health. I bear in mind the fact that this Bill, important as it is, received a Second Reading and a Third Reading in another place without a. Division and I think that when I have made such explanation of the Bill as I think necessary your Lordships will agree with me that, so far as there is any matter of controversy, it really is a question of the details or the clauses of the Bill and not of the Bill itself. At any rate I shall propose the Second Reading on the understanding, unless I am corrected, that the Second Reading will be allowed by your Lordships' House, and that dicussion will take place subsequently.
The Bill was well called in the other House a "continuity" Bill, the reason being that it takes its place in the sequence of a considerable number of Bills which have been passed in recent times in an attempt to deal with this great scandal, if I may so call it, of our slum districts. There was the Act of 1890; there was the Act of 1919, on which the compensation clauses of this Bill are founded; there was the Consolidation Act of 1925—I think the noble Earl opposite (Lord Onslow) was responsible for that in this House—and now we have this Bill, founded on experience, attempting to extend the area in which the other Acts are operative and particularly to alleviate as far as we can the duties and responsibilities of local authorities by whom the Bill will be operated. I may add that the association representing all the various local authorities has unanimously expressed an opinion in favour of the Bill. What perhaps operates most strongly in my mind is that, this being a Bill immediately affecting the health and sanitation of the homes of some of the poorer of the working classes, I believe it has a very large measure of support from the medical officers of health, who in reality are the inspiring persons upon whom the local authorities rely for advice in matters of this kind.
459 If your Lordships will look at the Bill, I will discuss its various Parts as shortly as I can. If I leave any matter undiscussed, it can be raised at a later stage, but if, in the desire to be short, I do not give sufficient explanation, I am sure the noble Earl opposite will be prepared to ask me any question even at the present time. Part I of the Bill deals with clearance areas. A clearance area is an area in which every house must be demolished for sanitary and health purposes. Every house in a clearance area stands condemned and, so far as houses are condemned, the first question that arises is this: though a demolition order may be made under which the present owners of those houses are required to carry out the demolition of the condemned premises, retaining, of course, whatever value there may be in the material from the demolition of the houses, no compensation case—I shall have to explain this a little further in a minute—arises at all. The other alternative is that the clearance area should be purchased by the local authority and that the demolition should he carried out under the control of the local authority, as distinct from the owners of the houses. Then, of course, the question does arise of the compensation payable under those conditions.
I want to make this point quite clear. So far as the compensation payable under those conditions is to be assessed, there is no difference between the proposals of this Bill and the proposals of the Bills of 1919 and 1925. The result of experience and discussion has confirmed the advisers of the Government in the view that the compensation principles then adopted have worked fairly, justly and equitably in their operation as regards the owners of property. The actual position is this. Within these clearance areas you have the site principle as regards the basis of compensation, and in addition, in particular cases, you have what is called the reduction factor—that is, a certain amount taken off the compensation which would otherwise be assessed owing to the fact that the land when taken over is either to be used for the replacement of houses or is to be thrown into an open space. I do not want to discuss that question in detail at the present moment, but 460 that is the actual operation which would have taken place under the present law, and I am told that transactions on that basis have taken place within these areas and the present owners knew perfectly well what the conditions would be.
There is one other matter which I think I might mention with regard to these clearance areas. They may be surrounded by adjoining areas which would also be called clearance areas under the terms of this Bill, but the compensation there is quite different. If the land is taken not on account of its insanitary condition or of containing buildings dangerous to human life and health, but merely to improve the scheme to be carried out by the local authority, then it is perfectly just and right that the owners of property taken for the purpose of making an efficient scheme and not on account of its inherent badness should have the ordinary measure of what we call market value compensation. The treatment of the clearance area will be found in Clause 5, and there is also a power for the local authority to purchase cleared land which owners have failed to redevelop. I do not think there is any mystery or change of principle in regard to clearance areas. The difference, as I shall show by and by, is rather in the method of procedure, through which an easier road towards the attainment of the desired result can be found than is applicable under the existing Acts referable to this subject matter.
The next portion of the Bill deals with improvement areas. As the noble Earl opposite will know very well, this is a new proposal and a provision which you do not find in dealing with these areas at the present time. It is in this sense, I think, a great improvement, that it limits what you have to do and the obligations of a local authority within the improvement area, the idea being, quite rightly, that if you intervene in time you will prevent an area becoming what I may call a regular slum area, or at any rate you prevent it being in a condition which, if it were left alone, would, in course of time, convert it into what is known as a clearance area. The local authorities may declare an unhealthy area to be an improvement area, and then the treatment of the area is as I shall describe it. You have a different system of compensation from that which obtains in regard to the 461 clearance area. I will draw attention to that point when. I come to the compensation clause by and by. It is necessary, in the case of an improvement area, that the local authority should make a declaration. It is a simple form of procedure, although the question whether that declaration is properly made or not would be a subject for discussion and appeal. Still it is a much simpler form than in the case of a clearance area. In fact the conditions are different, for in the one case you must have the whole of the buildings in the clearance area demolished, whereas in the improvement area you take only a certain number of buildings and deal with them in a different way.
Then we come to the general provisions under Part I, in regard to which there are one or two matters which ought to be explained to the House. First we come to the obligations of the local authority with regard to re-housing. It has often been stated, quite accurately, that one of the difficulties in these clearance or improvement schemes arises from the fact that there is no place to which the displaced population can have recourse for their homes. Under this Bill an obligation is imposed upon the local authority that they shall not proceed to get rid of these slum areas without providing alternative accommodation for the population which they displace. Your Lordships may know that this principle has already been adopted in a good many Railway Acts and other Acts, and the principle, I think, is perfectly sound. You ought to provide alternative accommodation for the displaced population, who have been turned out of an area under an area scheme of this character.
Then we get to the provisions as to the purchase of land. Clause 11 is an extremely important one, and I think it ought to commend this Bill in a very special way to your Lordships' consideration. At the present time, if an order is made by a local authority and confirmed by the Board of Trade the work goes forward, but is is always open to the possibility of a question being raised at a later stage as to whether all the matters have been carried out in a legal way and within the powers conferred upon the local authority by the Act. That is extremely inconvenient to all parties. It makes the 462 question of whether what is done is within the powers of the Act or not a matter of discussion at a time when it cannot be decided, and there have been cases lately, particularly the Derby case where, the matter not having been decided at an early stage, at a time when the scheme was almost brought into operation, and after great expense had been incurred, the whole matter, quite properly if it was so, was declared to be ultra vires of the local authority.
If your Lordships will look at Clause 11 you will see that a very much better plan of dealing with a matter of this kind has been adopted. If any person who is disquieted by anything that has been done beyond its powers by the local authority desires to question the validity of the action of the local authority, he may, within six weeks after the publication of the notice of confirmation, make an application for the purpose to the High Court, and if any such application is duly made (1) the order shall not come into operation before the final determination of the proceedings, and (2) the Court, if satisfied that the order is not within the powers of this Act or that the interests of the applicant have been substantially prejudiced by the requirements of the Act not having been complied with, may quash the order. Think what an advantage that gives. Your Lordships have often asked, as regards administrative orders made by local authorities, whether there was a danger that they might exceed the powers conferred upon them and at the same time have pointed out that to ascertain whether that was so or not was a matter of considerable expense, trouble and uncertainty. This clause proposes to deal with that great difficulty in a most efficient manner. It says that within a short time any person aggrieved may bring the matter to the judgment of the High Court, and there and then it can be determined whether what is proposed by the local authority is right or not, before great expenses has been incurred. Personally, I regard this as a most important and valuable provision. It is the greatest safeguard you can afford to the individual, and at the same time provides a method by which questions of right can be determined at the earliest possible moment. I hope when we come to consider the clauses it will be reckoned to the benefit of the 463 general provisions of the Bill that a clause like Clause 11 has been introduced.
I ought to refer at length to Clause 12, which deals with the assessment of compensation in respect of land purchased compulsorily. I think it is easily explained. In the case of land comprised in a clearance area the compensation to be paid for the land, including any buildings thereon, shall be assessed in accordance with the provisions of subsections (1) and (2) of Section 46 of the principal Act—the principal Act being the Act of 1925—subject, as regards the first of those subsections, to the modifications contained in Part I of the Third Schedule to this Bill. I hope the noble Earl opposite (Lord Onslow) will look at Part I of the Third Schedule, because he will find there that there is no difference in principle between the Act of 1925 and the present proposal, and the only object of what is set out in that Schedule is to make it clear that what is called the scheme in the Act of 1925 is the same as the clearance area under the present Bill. In fact it applies to clearance areas, ipsissima verba, the terms applied as to compensation to schemes in the Act of 1925. The third subsection of Clause 12 provides that in the case of any other land—except land in a clearance area—the compensation shall be assessed in accordance with the provisions contained in Part II of the Third Schedule to this Bill. If you will look at that your Lordships will find there really applied the well-known market value principle, subject to necessary deductions in respect of the condition of the houses which are condemned in the improvement area declaration.
Under that declaration, as I said before, the first proposal would be that the owners themselves should demolish or repair or do what is necessary with these houses, and compensation only arises at a later date, but in that case, as regards the provisions contained in Part II of the Third Schedule, I think there is ample compensation provision, and compensation provision in accordance with the ordinary principle. I am very anxious personally that on the arbitration point the right principle should be observed—that in all these cases where land is taken for public purposes compensation should be assessed properly fairly and justly, having regard to the 464 condition of the property when it is to be taken for public purposes. I do not think there is anything else under the head of "General" that I need trouble your Lordships with. I have pointed out what is to be done as regards clearance areas and improvement areas to bring them under the operation of the Act. I have referred to the safeguards, particularly in Clause 11, and to the principle of compensation which is already to be found in the Act of 1925, or, where the area is not itself a clearance area, under the provision contained in the appropriate Schedule of this Bill.
Part II of the Bill contains provisions with respect to the repair or demolition of insanitary houses. I wish to make this clear. We have dealt with clearance and improvement areas. This deals merely with individual houses, or particular houses, which have to be dealt with owing to their insanitary character, or owing to the fact that they are maintained under conditions dangerous to the health of the occupier. On this matter what I want to call your Lordships' attention to is Clause 22. Here again, I submit, an admirable improvement has been made. The question whether a particular house should be demolished as an insanitary house is a pure question of fact. There is no law involved in it at all, and it has sometimes been thought, and perhaps rightly, that the appeal of the owner whose house is said to be insanitary should be made, not to the local authority but to the central authority. Here is a very simple method and, I suggest, a far more satisfactory one.
If a house is declared to be insanitary, and the owner wishes to question that and to show that the facts do not constitute the house an insanitary one, he is entitled to go to the County Court Judge and to have his decision, which is final; and there is a provision that that inquiry shall be held under proper rules, and that in this particular case it is not a question for a jury but a question for the Judge himself. You find that in Clause 22, which is entitled "Appeals," and under the terms of the sections applicable to this case. That is an admirable improvement. In matters of this kind so much has been said about the prejudice introduced by various Departments. You have an appeal at the earliest possible stage to the High 465 Court, and an appeal in the other case, upon what is merely a question of fact, to the County Court Judge, whose decision can be given on the facts, and who can go and see and determine for himself.
The next Part of the Bill is Part III. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, is here, but before I go into Part III I should like to call attention to Clause 29. That is a power vested in the local authority to make arrangements for the provision of houses by public utility societies. There are some public utility societies which have done admirable work in this connection. The Kensington House Society is, I think, the name of one which was quoted when we had the last discussion on this matter. I think it is of great importance that local authorities should have this power to make arrangements with public utility societies. This is a valuable provision which, I should hope, might he adopted in other cases as an excellent precedent. There is one other matter I must deal with in Part III. The assistance to be given from the Treasury is on an entirely new scale, and on a new principle. The proposal, I think, is a very effective one. It is at once to make a fair contribution and to arouse the interest of the local authorities in pressing forward the beneficial provisions of this Bill.
You have two methods of pecuniary assistance which might help to lessen the too-high rents which are often chargeable for houses constructed under Acts of this kind by a local authority. First of all, the Government gives £2 5s. per individual. That is based on the number replaced—those for whom the local authority has to find replacement accommodation. At the same tune the local authority out of the rates provide a sum, not per individual but per house, of £3 15s. Let me give an illustration of how that would work. Suppose you replace 100 displaced persons out of a clearance area or a slum district, which, of course, is what is desirable. Each of those persons would he provided for by the State to the amount of £2 5s.; that would be £225 in all. Suppose those 100 persons occupy twenty houses, then you would also get the contribution towards their rent from the local authority, which would amount to another £75. In other 466 words, you would get £300 in assistance towards the rents to be paid by those dispossessed and replaced people. That is a very considerable sum.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Annually for forty years. I am taking an illustration which has been given to me. The replacement of the population, I imagine, under the conditions obtaining would mean an annual charge of about £600 per year. Thus you get half the amount provided, which is to go in mitigation of a rent that might be too high for the persons so displaced. The hands of the local authority are not tied. They have this money at their command in order to deal with such cases, where the rent, if an economic rent covering all the expenses, would really be beyond the means of the persons for whom the houses have been provided. I dare say the noble Lord, Lord Banbury of Southam, has had experience in country districts. But any one who has had experience in the housing of replaced persons from an insanitary area knows perfectly well that the difficulty is to give that replacement accommodation on terms which the person displaced can possibly pay. Here you have, it scents to me, an admirable system. It causes the least trouble to the central authority; it causes the least trouble to the local authority; it makes the interdependence of the two as little difficult as possible; and it provides a sum for the very purpose for which a sum is most wanted, that is, in lowering the rent which would otherwise have to be charged to the poorest of the poor.
As we all know, certain subventions have already been given, but never on this principle, which has been carefully thought out, and which certainly appears to us to be an admirable improvement on anything which has been done in this direction in former Acts. I hope the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who, I know, has taken so much interest in these matters, will very carefully consider this, because I am sure that he would approve of the provisions in Part III for the double purpose o ensuring replacement of the population and also ensuring replacement of premises.
§ LORD PARMOOR
The taxpayer will find £2 5s. per head of the replaced population—that has nothing to do with the houses, it is the replaced population. The rates will contribute £3 15s. per house. That will be a contribution for forty years.
The next Part with which I deal is really new, that is the provision of houses in rural districts. That is a matter with which I admit I have had much more to do than with the provision of houses in town districts. Anyone who has to deal with housing in rural districts will be concerned in the building of cottages. Many members of your Lordships' House are much concerned in the provision of cottages and will know how extraordinarily difficult it is to provide alternative accommodation on terms which can possibly be met by the poorer men in the country districts. In regard to the provision of houses in rural districts, it becomes the duty of the county council to see that they are provided, and that where slum areas exist they are swept away. Then you have agreements by county councils for assisting rural districts, who feel very much the heavy expense of schemes of this character. In the event of a rural district council failing to exercise their powers the county council can come in and operate the Act. If the county council does not act the Minister can take steps to enforce the execution of its provisions.
The last Part that I need deal with is Part V. I do not think I have omitted anything from my explanation so far as I have gone, although I have tried to be as brief as possible. There is what is called a standard of re-housing accommodation laid down in Clause 36. That is quite right; but I rejoice that under Clause 46 there is a modification regarding houses for aged persons. My experience, at any rate in the country, is that aged persons do not want a house up to the family standard, and not only do they not want it but it is a disadvantage. They cannot keep it tidy or warm, or provide in any way for its comfort. So that, although there is a standardisation of re-housing accommodation laid down, as there certainly ought to be, there is at the same time a provision that 468 in the case of the aged poor less accommodation can be provided. That is extremely important both from the point of view of expense and the point of view of comfort. That is one matter which I am sure would appeal to noble Lords opposite. No one Who has to do with cottage property in the country desires to do other than provide accommodation for the aged poor in his own parish or district, and it ought to be possible to do it in the most convenient form and at the least expense.
I ought, I think, to say a word about Clause 41 because that has been a much-discussed matter. Under these clearances you undoubtedly do harm to certain people who are dispossessed, particularly small business people whose customers have been in the cleared area. It is sometimes very hard that they should be dispossessed and yet get no contribution at all for the loss and expense which they have incurred. Under Clause 31 there is power in the local authority to make allowances to certain persons who are displaced. It is not compensation. It is an ex gratia allowance which ought to be made in order to deal as fairly as possible with all persons who have any interests in these districts. I think it is a great advance on what has been done before, because it has often been a matter of complaint that those who need assistance most if they are turned out of their house or small business in a slum area, have no consideration of any kind from the pecuniary point of view. They would not be entitled to compensation and that is not the suggestion. That would upset the whole idea of what compensation is meant for.
I do not think there is any other clause to which I need draw special attention. The remaining clauses of the Bill are really procedure and machinery. I fully admit that when we come to consider the matter in Committee, as I hope we shall without too long a discussion on the Second Reading, the representatives of the Government in your Lordships' House will be prepared to give full and detailed explanations of any questions that are addressed to them. A great deal of this Bill is merely the re-enactment of existing provisions. I think I have explained to your Lordships the special new points and, without spending further time upon it, I hope I may commend the Bill to 469 your Lordships' consideration. I hope that it may get at any rate a Second Reading as early as possible, because your Lordships must be aware that we are approaching the end of our Parliamentary time, though we cannot be exempted from our duties until we have dealt with the legislation which comes to us in the ordinary Parliamentary course. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Parmoor.)
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, in commencing his extremely lucid speech of explanation the noble and learned Lord said that this was a continuity Bill. It is certainly true that it consists of a great deal of repetition or re-statement, with a few alterations, of existing legislation, and in that sense it is, of course, a continuity Bill. But it also contains very complicated and involved clauses. Some of them, possibly, are not of vital but of very considerable importance, and I think they deserve very careful consideration by your Lordships' House. Your Lordships are well aware that had the late Government been returned to power at the last Election they would have given their most serious attention to this question of slum clearance. It is not a Party question. It is a question which everybody recognises, and everybody wants to do the best they can to remedy it. Indeed, it is not want of energy in any Government, whether a Coalition Government, a Socialist Government, a Conservative Government or any other Government, that has prevented this matter being radically dealt with before.
As I say, the problem of the slums has long been before Governments and local authorities and they have sought measures for dealing with it. The reason why it has proved difficult or impossible to deal with it drastically hitherto is the extraordinary complexity of the problems which it presents. I do not think I need go into them, but your Lordships are well aware of them. We have had many debates on the subject and it is a matter of common knowledge. The local authorities have not been idle, but it is only within the last year or two that they 470 have been able to concentrate upon the slums at all. The general business of providing houses for everybody has been so great that they have not been able to concentrate upon the slums. But it cannot be sail that nothing has been clone. If not so much has been done as we might wish, something at any rate has been done. A. great deal of unostentatious work in our great cities has been accomplished. On an average half a million of houses a year have been repaired on the representations of local authorities. I think I ought to say, and I am sure your Lordships will agree with me, that a great deal has been done and a great many houses have been repaired on the initiative of property owners without any incitement from local authorities.
That brings me to some of the defects of this Bill. I regret very much that this Bill makes so little provision for re-conditioning. We were told in the last debate on this subject that noble Lords opposite did not have much faith in the policy of re-conditioning.
§ LORD PARMOOR
May I interrupt? I ought to have said, dealing with individual houses, in regard to the question of repairs and demolition that reconditioning is one of the matters the local authority can insist upon.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
I am much obliged to the learned and noble Lord. I quite see that comes under Part II—the repair of the house—but I am talking of re-conditioning on rather a larger scale, such as was described in the last debate on housing in your Lordships' House. I do not want to go into this, but I am sorry it is not facilitated more under this Bill. I had hoped when this Bill was adumbrated, that it would have been referred to in greater detail. This brings me to another matter, and that is, there is no provision, so far as I can see, for encouraging the better management of property. I think that management is one of the most important things to encourage if you wish to guard against the future development of slums. Unless you have proper management you risk your property being deteriorated rapidly, and in fact going back to the state of slumdom from which you have rescued it. I do not know that the pro- 471 perty in question here is likely to deteriorate so far as all that, for I do not suppose local authorities or owners would be so foolish as to allow slums to grow up when modern conditions and modern facilities can prevent it. Still, without scientific management and administration, property is bound to deteriorate.
I come now to another, and I think even more important matter, and that is the lack of provision for town planning in this Bill. I should have thought that it is axiomatic that town planning should precede, or at any rate go hand-in-hand with, any great scheme for the clearance of buildings. When you want to build a house you do not go to the builder first; you go to the architect. It is he who provides your designs. Similarly, when you begin to reconstitute your great cities, it seems to me you should go to the town-planning experts before you settle exactly how you 'are to lay out your new cleared areas. I very much regret we have nothing more than a vague promise that a Town Planning Bill, which I believe is on the stocks, will be produced at some time. Your Lordships are well aware of the congestion of Parliamentary business, and I fear that it is very unlikely we shall see that Bill in the near future; at any rate not before this Bill has got into working order. I not want to bring any Party politics if I can help it into this discussion. I rather ask myself what is the reason of this; whether it is a political expedient, the putting of the cart before the horse, so to speak, and whether that is why we do not see any reference to town planning in this Bill. If the noble Lord opposite is contemplating a Town Planning Bill, as I believe he is, may I make him one small suggestion in regard to this matter? The difficulty which I think will be encountered will be to get a free area to which to transport your slum dwellers, because all these people are attached to factories and works near by their present residences. There is a tendency, as your Lordships are well aware, for many factories to go into the country if they can. Many owners of factories would like to do that, but they cannot afford it, and I am wondering whether it would not be possible to give some assistance to enable factories to be removed into the country 472 and so open up fresh land to which slum dwellers can go. It is only a suggestion, but I venture to put it before noble Lords opposite.
In regard to Part I of the Bill, it was referred to at some length by the noble and learned Lord. I think that in this Part we see the worst blot upon the Bill, the greatest omission in it. If your Lordships will turn to Clause 1, you will see that all buildings may be condemned in a clearance area and (this is the important point) not only because they are unfit for human habitation—of course we perfectly understand that a building which is unfit for human habitation should be condemned—but also because of the narrowness or the bad arrangement of the streets causing them to be dangerous or injurious. It does not say that these houses must be in a bad condition. They may be in a perfectly good condition. I know that it is probable that in many slum areas there are islands of property where the houses are in good repair, the landlords having spent money upon them, and where they are perfectly fit for housing people. I understand from what has passed that these will be excluded from the clearance area. You cut them right out.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
Quite so. Supposing you have a very narrow street—doubtless a very unsatisfactory narrow street—and in that street you have a good house. You might have a town hall even. I do not think it likely, but it is possible. You might at any rate have a perfectly good building in a clearance area, and if it is in a clearance area the building may be ordered to be demolished at the expense of the owner, whose only compensation would be that provided for in Clause 12, subsection (2). That is to say, that he would only get the site value. Let me turn to Clause 12, subsection (2). That perpetuates an injustice which has been on the Statute Book since 1919. I was rather surprised to hear from the noble and learned Lord that the fact that it has been so long on the Statute Book and was repeated in the Act of 1925—which, I would remind your Lordships, was a Consolidation Act and not an ordinary Act of Parliament—seemed to him to be a reason for its continuance. If the noble and learned 473 Lord continues to utter those sentiments I should rather expect to see him return to his original fold on this side of the House. To argue that a thing should remain because it has been so long in existence is an argument different from that which is usually used by noble Lords opposite.
I think that it is a great pity that this section has been retained. It has been responsible for more bitterness and more ill-feeling perhaps than any enactment of recent years, and that is only natural, because if you take away a man's property, which he has done his best to look after, and you treat him as if he was maintaining a house that was unfit for human habitation, you are perpetrating a really gross injustice. I go further—and I do not think this is denied for a moment—and say that local authorities have in the past bought, property under the Act at its site value, and they have not demolished the buildings but have proceeded to let them and to draw a handsome profit out of the rents. They are making a handsome profit out of buildings which they have condemned to be demolished after they have taken them over without payment. They are now making a good thing out of them.
There are several cases, but I will only quote one to your Lordships. The Batterby case may be familiar to many of your Lordships. In this case the Hull Corporation were undertaking a housing scheme, and Mr. Batterby owned property within the clearance area that was taken by the Corporation. He was paid the site value of £400, and of course he got nothing for the buildings. I understand Mr. Batterby still continues to live in his own house, as before, but now pays a rent of £25 10s. a year to the Corporation, and the whole rent of these buildings, which the Corporation got for nothing, amounts to £130 a year, and for that property Mr. Batterby only received £400. Noble Lords opposite will doubtless say that hard cases make bad law. Perhaps that is true, but what possible justification can you have for a law which permits a local authority to acquire buildings from the owner for nothing, and then to utilise those buildings so as to divert the rents to their own pockets and make a handsome profit out of them? I have always thought that this provision got into the Act of 1919 474 by inadvertence, and I think it is a great pity that the Government have not taken this opportunity to set right this injustice. I go further and say it is a very serious thing, because the attitude they have taken up of insisting upon these unjust provisions will go very far, I am afraid, to prevent owners from dealing with their property and spending money upon it. How are they to know, after they have spent the money, that an order may not be made and their property condemned and taken from them, in which case they will only receive the site value?
I do not want to say anything more about Part I, and as to Part II I do not think I need say much, because it has been gone through very carefully by the noble and learned Lord. It really contains minor matters, most of which, I think, are not without value. I come, then, to Part III, which deals with the question of finance and has been described—and rightly described I think—as the kernel of the Bill. Of course, the financial provisions are the most important part of the Bill. I said, I think, in my opening observations that this Bill contained very few novelties, but the noble and learned Lord told us that this new method of the subsidy is absolutely novel. It is very complicated. You have not one subsidy, but two subsidies—a subsidy per person and a subsidy per house. Then the local authorities—I am glad I shall not have to do it—will have to amalgamate these two and to deal out such justice as they may. The subsidy for the house comes from the local authorities and goes to the house, whereas the second subsidy, I understand, is to be used for the purpose of differential rents. I think I am correct in that.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Both these subsidies may be used for differential renting. They are calculated in different ways, one on the house and one on the replaced population, but when calculated they are both to be used for differential renting.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, but that only makes the matter more complicated. However, I do not think it is much good discussing the question, because the noble and learned Lord thinks it is an excellent system and will produce magnificent results. I do not know. He may be right, but we cannot 475 judge now. It is only from experience that we shall be able to tell whether it is of value or not. I will only say one word more on the subject of the subsidy. The main weapon, if I may so describe it, against slums in this Bill is the increased subsidy. I think your Lordships will all agree with that. I am not going to argue the question as to whether an increase in the subsidy increases the price of building or not. We have discussed that very often and it is a matter of considerable controversy. I will only point out that private enterprise can build houses without a subsidy at practically the same cost as with it, and notwithstanding the higher subsidy paid on the Wheatley houses the rents for those are not less than those paid for the Chamberlain houses. Will this Bill with its increased subsidy produce houses for which tenants can afford to pay? That is the crux of the whole matter. Only time can show. Previous experience has not encouraged me at any rate to think that increased subsidies lower the cost of building, and if the cost of building rises then the whole of the Bill will be really inoperative.
I pass on to Part IV of the Bill, which deals with the provision of houses in rural districts. I am rather doubtful whether a great deal may be expected from this Part of the Bill. The increase of the personal subsidy is 5s.—2 10s. instead of £2 5s. I will only say that we must see the scheme working before we can say what it will produce. Now I come to the more important Part, that dealing with facilities given to county councils to associate themselves with housing. They are very limited and seem to consist only of a permit—or an obligation I think it is—to pay £1 for every agricultural cottage. I think that is the main provision with regard to county councils. I must say I have always thought it would be a good thing were county councils to associate themselves more with housing. I have always advocated that. But if it had really been intended to put this duty seriously within the power of county councils, I think you would have to have a much more comprehensive measure than this. I do not know what the intentions of the Government are with regard to the Rural Housing Act, but if they propose, as has been suggested, to repeal that Act, and 476 if they think these provisions are going to replace it, I can assure them they are mistaken. I do not know whether those are their intentions or not.
I come now to the last part of the Bill, Part V. Your Lordships will see in that Part of the Bill one clause which was not mentioned by the noble and learned Lord. It is Clause 3S which deals with the duty of a local authority to have regard to the amenities of a locality. That has a remote relation to town planning. It also enables local authorities to preserve historic buildings and to preserve amenities, such as views and so forth. So far as it goes I welcome that clause. Then there is Clause 41, which to a certain extent—although I think only to a very limited extent—modifies the hardship of Clause 12 and enables the local authority to give soma compensation for disturbance to persons forcibly removed from a clearance area and to render a certain amount of assistance there. It is purely optional. Every local authority is allowed to deal with the matter as seems best to themselves in accordance with the conditions laid down in the Bill. It seems to me that the result will be very uneven working because one local authority may do one thing and another local authority another thing. That, I think, will produce a sense of injustice among people in adjacent areas, because you may have a slum extending from the area of one local authority to another.
Clause 46 was referred to in very glowing terms by the noble and learned Lord. It modifies the Housing Act of 1923. I was responsible in your Lordships' House for that Act, and I am very glad to see this amendment, but I wish the noble and learned Lord had been able to go further. Why does the Government intend to benefit only aged persons? There must be lots of people who are not aged but who do not want so large a house. Why should those persons not be accommodated?—spinsters for example, bachelors even, and other people as well. I do not see why aged people should be the only ones considered in the Bill. I have only one other clause to refer to, and that is Clause 47, which is a clause giving power to local authorities to advance money to people who want to repair their houses. There is one other clause which I think might have been added in this Part of the Bill, and that is one to pro- 477 hibit local authorities from imposing conditions, in respect of municipal housing esates, as to light and heat. I think that is really rather important and perhaps we may take the opportunity of discussing that in Committee.
I do not think the Bill goes very far. Its principal fault is that it perpetuates the injustice whereby a man with perfectly good property may be obliged to part with it at site value, or even less than site value when the reduction factor is brought into account. I cannot see why the Government have persisted in maintaining the clause of 1919. The Bill introduces very complicated subsidy, which no doubt will give a great deal of occupation and trouble to local authorities, but we must hope for the best and hope that it will work out in the way the noble and learned Lord suggested. Its main failure, I think, is that it fails to deal with town planning and I cannot see how any Housing Bill can really succeed unless, before it is brought into operation by the local authority, the whole question of town planning has been carefully considered.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I venture to apologise for speaking twice in the same evening, but I shall show the sincerity of my plea for indulgence by being really brief. I want to say on behalf of my noble friends and of myself that we are very anxious to support this Bill as far as it goes. It has been the subject of very careful examination in another place and I think it is on the whole an enterprising and workmanlike Bill. The criticism I make is somewhat the same as that made by the noble Earl who has just sat down, that in several respects the Bill does not go far enough. In the wise and shrewd criticisms made by the noble Earl he spent more time on criticising omissions from the Bill than in criticising what is in it. I am the more inclined to look at the Bill with a little anxiety because it has evoked so little serious hostility. If it were actually going to interfere with the class we call slum landlords, I cannot help feeling that we should have heard them squeal before now.
Generally speaking, I am bound to say I think these slums are held by small landlords. Usually a large estate is well managed. These slums, and the worst 478 property, in many cases belong to small men who have bought a few houses at a time and have allowed them to fall into disrepair, very often because they have not been able to afford what was necessary to get them into better condition. I doubt very much whether the provisions of this Bill go far enough. The problem of the slums is really a problem of vested interests—the vested interest in land and the vested interest in building material—and I cannot feel that these are attacked with sufficient vigour in the present Bill. If I could hope that the noble and learned Lord would, in the course of the passage of this Bill, introduce in Committee a series of Amendments of a more drastic character, I can assure him that he would receive my support.
I confess that I feel some doubt whether the Bill will do everything which the noble and learned Lord, the Lord President, expects of it. I doubt very much whether it will do a great deal in rural areas. After all, the unfortunate agricultural labourer is now earning an average of £1 12s. 6d. a week, and out of that he cannot afford 10s., hardly can he afford 7s. a week for rent. I could wish that there was some hope that His Majesty's Government might go further in this direction. There is the further difficulty that a great deal is left to local authorities, who, indeed, have a great deal of power now. Unfortunately there are some recalcitrant local authorities who do not take advantage of the powers which they already possess, and although the Minister of Health takes power to compel them, I feel very doubtful whether, under this Bill, he will take more drastic stems than he has taken in the past. He has had these powers, but has never used them in days gone by, and it seems doubtful if he will use them in the future.
With regard to the subsidy, I feel that His Majesty's Government might perhaps have done something more. The noble Lord who is always such an advocate of economy, Lord Banbury of Southam, is unfortunately not in his place, but I would venture to point out one direction in which something more might have been done by making a comparison with the analogy of the roads. Your Lordships who use these new arterial roads must have seen how on each side there 479 are springing up numbers of new houses. The land on each side of these arterial roads has increased in value, but the increase has gone to the landlord. If, when these arterial roads were first built, the Road Board had bought a sufficient area on each side of the road and had given fair compensation to the landlords, the increased value caused by the formation of the road and created at the public expense would have fallen to the public authority, and we should have had more money with which to deal with roads and in the end, no doubt, a great deal of wealth would have accrued to the advantage of the community. As it is, it is seldom that I use these roads without thinking how the community has wasted wealth which ought to belong to it at the present time. I cannot help thinking that, if this matter is tackled in a big way, there will be much more possibility of getting money than if it is done in a niggling and half-hearted spirit.
There is one question that I should like to put to the noble and learned Lord with regard to the Housing Department of the Ministry of Health. At one time I believe there was rather a large Department there, with special Commissioners. I do not know if they are still there or if they have been replaced, but I think your Lordships will be glad to know what is the attitude of the Ministry of Health in this direction. I say that I welcome this Bill and that my noble friends welcome it as a serious and sincere attempt to deal with the question, but we do not look upon it as the last word in the matter. It is not the end of the journey, but only a milestone along the road, and I hope that before long we may have a somewhat more stringent measure which will effect a great deal more than I am afraid this Bill is likely to effect.
THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK
My Lords, at this late hour in the evening I promise to keep my remarks within a very few minutes. It is quite unnecessary for me to speak either about the evil of the slums, on which we are all agreed, or of the failure of the great housing schemes, which have been carried through so successfully, to reduce to any extent the number of those who are actually living within the slums. I think that we are also agreed that the 480 causes that have stood in the way of any effective dealing with the slums are really three: the procedure has been very cumbrous and lengthy; the cost has alarmed local authorities; and it has not been found possible to provide houses at a low enough rent for those who are moved from the poorer districts. Those three tests I bring to this Bill, and I find, first of all, that the Bill does simplify the procedure considerably. It does away with the formal scheme which was originally required, it separates the acquisition of land from the disposal of it and, of course, in the case of individual houses, it simplifies matters considerably by giving the appeal, not to the Ministry of Health but to a judicial body, the County Court. All of us who have had any practical experience in the matter know that this will mean a considerable saving of time and the removal of obstacles.
Next, the Bill does to a certain extent remove the serious obstacle of cost. In any case the cost of slum clearance must be considerable, but in more than one way this Bill will help to remove it. Already, as the noble and learned Lord who introduced the Bill has pointed out, it makes it possible for the local authority, after the necessary order has been obtained, to turn to the owners who hold this slum property and to order them to demolish it at their own cost. That is perfectly fair, and it will save the local authority large capital sums of money. The local authority will also have the advantage of knowing exactly what grant they will receive. At the present time there is a good deal of uncertainty about it. The method of estimating the grant which they are to receive is somewhat complicated, and this Bill, by changing the basis of assessment from the loss on the house to the person, makes it very much more simple, so that at the very outset the local authorities know what kind of grant they will receive. Further, as regards the actual amount which they will receive, it will no longer he 50 per cent., but will be a larger amount.
In the third place, the Bill does help to meet the very serious difficulty of providing houses at a rent which can be afforded by the people who come from the poorest parts. The very centre of this problem is to he found in the difference of rent. The lowest rent of most of 481 the provided houses is, on the average, 12s. a week, while the slum-dweller as a rule pays about 7s. a. week for his accommodation. Of course you will find considerable variety in different localities, but that is a rough statement of the situation. This Bill will help not only because, as the Minister of Health said, it will afford a level increase of 2s. a house—it is doubtful if it will be quite so much, if taken all round—but, by the system of allowing local authorities to differentiate, it will be possible for the local authorities in certain cases to reduce the rent considerably below the ordinary amount. While the man who can afford it, the man with no family, will no doubt be charged the full rent of say, 10A. a week, the man who has a large family will, if it seems good to the local authority, be charged a lower rent. This becomes possible through the system of differentiation, which, I think, is the most striking feature of the whole Bill. It will enable the local authorities to try within certain limits what is often called the "children rent rebate," by which it is possible to allow a lower rent according to the number of children in the family. I believe that a good deal can be done in that way. On these grounds I am able to welcome the Bill as a whole.
It is significant that a number of conferences have been held by the National Housing and Town Planning Council with the local authorities. I believe eleven such conferences have been held within the last few weeks, and all passed resolutions in support of the Bill. Of course there have been criticisms in detail, and some of those criticisms have been heard this evening. There is criticism about the compensation clauses. I admit that I always feel some difficulty about the existing compensation clauses, but I understand that municipal authorities as a whole are against any change in them, as it would make the work of slum clearance very much greater than it will be if the Bill goes through as it now stands. It is, however, one of those matters which we shall be able to argue out in Committee.
Then there is an important point of detail which I would like to raise myself. It is that there is no minimum size of house provided for in this Bill. The number of rooms is stated, but there is 482 no standard minimum. The rooms may be very small indeed, and the houses extremely small. One of the things in which we have legitimate cause of pride in our housing policy of the last few years has been the high standard of house built. We hear of some ingenious and striking experiments on the Continent, but I think, apart from the interesting character of the experiments, and the picture, we shall find that the average house built on the Continent for the working classes is very much smaller than those built in this country. The Minister of Health on the Report stage in the House of Commons was pressed strongly on this matter, and he gave a promise, almost a pledge, that when the Bill came to this House he would see that this matter was set right. I hope that the able and learned Lord, in reply, will be able to tell us that some Amendment will be proposed in Committee by the Government, laying down a minimum size for these houses.
There is just one other matter to which I would like to refer. The whole of this housing problem is gigantic, and it is quite possible that the very bent measure will be upset through failure to carry it out. I am told that the number of houses which have been built this year under the Wheatley Act is less than in previous years, and, as the noble Earl pointed out, it is possible that in any district, if there is great competition, prices may go up and all the hopes which we entertain of reduced rents may be disappointed. The problem is not a local problem but a national one, and therefore I urge upon the Government, for consideration, a suggestion made originally by The Times, and then afterwards by others interested in housing, that for some years at any rate a Housing Commission under the Ministry of Health should be brought into being, and that the Housing Commission should have as its sole duty the work of seeing that the provisions of these Bills are properly used, and that various schemes throughout the country are co-ordinated. The Ministry of Health has so increased in importance to the country, and its work has so increased, that it is almost impossible for it to give full attention to the innumerable details which measures of this kind require. Therefore I hope that the Government will seriously con- 483 sider the calling into existence of a special Housing Commission, or Housing Council, consisting of four or five experts, who will deal with the different sides of the problem. I welcome the Bill. I believe that it is a powerful weapon placed in the hands of the local authorities, and that if rightly used it will do much to abolish slumdom, in which disease, poverty and unhappiness have found refuge for so long.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I offer apologies to the House for intervening at so late an hour, and without having had the advantage of hearing the earlier part of the debate, but I was unable, owing to matters beyond my control, to be here. One of the criticisms which I make of the Bill is that it does not make sufficient use of the public utility societies, and I hope to put down Amendments when the Committee stage is reached which may carry the matter a little further. I should also like to support what the right rev. Prelate said with regard to differential rents. I believe that a great deal of money has been wasted in subsidies owing to houses going to people who ought not to have had them. Differential rent may be in the nature of a real economy of public money. I welcome the Bill but, as I have said, I shall have Amendments to put down on the Committee stage.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, I should just like to add my protest to what has already been said with regard to the question of compensation, which in many cases is really quite inadequate. When one remembers that at one moment property may be valued for Death Duties at its full market value, and may shortly afterwards be acquired and demolished and the owner only receive a small payment, it does not seem to be fair and right. I would also like to point out to the noble and learned Lord that mortgages are in great danger under the Bill. Under the Rent Restrictions Act a mortgage cannot be called in, yet when a local authority acquires land and premises under this Bill, in certain cases the owner of the mortgage will receive absolutely nothing. It is quite right to abolish the slums, and when premises are insanitary and unfit for habitation we need not give consideration to the owners of the premises, but the Bill itself deals with premises in good repair which are going to be swept 484 away. Therefore, in Committee I shall move some Amendments to deal with the hardships and injustices of the Bill.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I feel grateful to the House for the general way in which it has received the Bill. I no not propose now to discuss matters like compensation, though I agree we shall have to discuss that subject in Committee. I should like to say one word in reply to the right rev. Prelate as regards the size of the houses, to which he referred. The Government will propose for your Lordships' consideration an Amendment dealing with that very question.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I would like to ask on which day it is proposed to take the Committee stage.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Of course time is getting on, if we are to get away, as many hope, by the end of July. I should have hoped that I might put the Bill down for Committee on Monday next.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
May I make a suggestion? I know the noble and learned Lord is a sanguine man and one only hopes that his sanguine character is justified in the present case. Personally, I am not so sanguine. He is going to make a statement about business to-morrow, and make a Motion, and for whatever day he now puts the Bill down provisionally for the Committee stage, I hope he will allow me to communicate with him, if necessary, after his statement to-morrow, and that he will not fix the Committee stage of the Bill definitely until then.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I always desire to meet the convenience of the House. May I put it down provisionally for Monday, and discuss the matter more certainly to-morrow?