§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion of the Lord Bishop of Southwark, That there be laid before the House Papers with reference to recent annual reports of medical officers of health on bad housing conditions.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I was prevented from being present when this debate began, but I have read, indeed I have re-read, everything that was said on that occasion; and, apart from the loss of the pleasure of hearing the speeches delivered, I do not think I have suffered by my absence. The debate, as might have been expected, ranged over an extended territory. The right rev. Prelate, who opened the discussion, spoke with a knowledge derived from the practical experience that we all recognise he possesses and with a feeling that made itself apparent even through the cold medium of printed words. The most rev. Primate and the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of London supported his views. Then, as I said, the debate began to range.
This could not have been unexpected, and it certainly was not undesirable. This housing question touches our national life at many points, and it is impossible in a debate of this kind to keep the discussion too closely confined to any one. The noble Lord, Lord Jessel, spent, as I thought, unnecessary time in trying to prove what it was that the County Council had done. It seems to me that that has very little value, if von think for a moment of what it is remains undone. Because that is the question to which we have to direct our minds; and by common consent, so far 745 as I can see, few people are found to dispute that the slum conditions of our great centres to-day have been but little improved for the better during the last few years. The noble Lord spoke of a matter in which I more nearly agreed with him when he said how desirable it was that these properties should be in the hands of large landowners. I think he was right. But I do not think he need have emphasised the generosity of the noble Duke, the Duke of Westminster, because, though any of us who Lave ever wandered down the desecrated sanctuaries of Park Lane may have our doubts about his artistic sensibilities, there is no one I have ever met who ever questioned the open-handed generosity of the noble Duke.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bertie of Thame, who, I any sorry to say, is not present, made a speech which, so far as I could gather from reading it, appeared to me to be far more like an essay which had been prepared for the annual meeting of the society of which he is the distinguished president. It struck me as adding very little to the value of our discussions. I do not propose to pursue the controversy which he opened. I do not know the circumstances of the cases to which he referred, and I am quite certain that it would be most unsafe to base action on those statements until you had heard all that had to be said by the county councils on the other side. After all, I have now had for nearly fifteen years the honour of helping your Lordships in deciding disputes between private individuals, and that experience has left upon my mind the conviction that; I would not consent to pass judgment or an indictment against the infernal powers until I had given Satan the chance of being heard in reply. So, what I think might be granted to him might also be granted to the county councils. I cannot think for myself that these cases have no hardships, though we are unable to decide their value here. I should like, however, to add, as a word of warning, this, that it by no means follows that a person whose property has been taken away in one of these schemes is as wholly meritorious as at first sight he may appear. I certainly have known cases where men, in anticipation of clearing schemes, have acquired property in the hope that the compensation that they would receive whet the scheme took place would abundantly recompense them for 746 their enterprise in purchasing the site. These matters have to be borne in mind before you pass a general judgment on grounds such as those which the noble Viscount suggested.
There were many other things that were mentioned, one, I thought, of great value by the noble Lord, Lord Daryngton, who pointed out the enormous dangers to the moral welfare of the people if these conditions remained unremedied. It was said, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Marley, that the fact that any form of morality was maintained under these conditions was a great tribute to the self-respect of the people who lived there, and I agree with him. I think that is true. At the same time it must not be imagined for a single moment that that self-respect is not frequently broker down, and that conditions do not occur in these crowded houses which it is terrible to contemplate. "The crowded couch of incest in the hovels of the poor" is not a mere figment of the poet's brain, but it is a statement of a stark and terrible reality.
One thing struck me as most significant about the debate, and that was that nobody attempted to deny the existence and the extent and the gravity of the evil to which the right rev. Prelate called attention. There was no attempt even to palliate it; it was accepted as an indisputable truth. That is a very grave thing for us to face and accept. One may well ask how is it that such things continue. This is not the first, nor the second, I am not sure it is even the third time the right rev. Prelate has brought this matter to public notice. Why do these things remain? I believe that the first reason is that nothing is easier than to bear the sorrows of other people when they are poured out upon you in the form of statistics. They lose all their reality. The statement that was made by the right rev. Prelate as to a house within five minutes walk of this Palace is one which I believe it would be impossible to accept were each one of us compelled to go and see it. It is just because these figures lack life that we accept them with the complacency that we do.
I remember seeing a great exhibition in which there were constructed some most striking examples of fine English 747 homes and at the same time the horrors of a mediaeval hospital, and I could not help thinking then, and I have thought ever since, why confine ourselves to the past? Why, if you want to let people see horrors, do you not let them see the horrors that exist to-day, so that they may then do what they cannot do with the horrors that they cannot set about removing? Supposing side by side with this magnificent English mansion that was most admirably produced you had put a bed about ten feet square, rat-ridden and vermin-haunted, lighted by a small window, within three feet of a wall, and then put figures inside it representing the man, his wife and two or three children, one at least of whom, if you wanted to do justice to the fact, you would have to represent as sick, and probably dying, in a cot. If that thing had been there, and had been labelled, "This is an English home," the sense of shame that would have struck everyone of us who saw it would, I am convinced, have stimulated us to take some more active and energetic steps than we have hitherto taken to see that this reproach was removed and taken away.
Is my picture exaggerated? I do not think there is any one of you that can say it is. I am not going to read again to you stories like those which the most rev. Prelate gave, but I would like to give you just one, in order that you may see that my picture, if anything, errs on the side of being too pleasant. A man, his wife and four children live in two basement rooms. Both rooms are extremely damp, and they were flooded to the extent of eight inches over the window sill in June, 1927, by sewage water forced back from the sewers. The husband has tried to cement the walls himself, and the woman has papered the front room. Three children have been born since these rooms were occupied, and have all died of double pneumonia. One of the other children has had pneumonia and bronchitis, and the woman has had pneumonia herself. It is reported that the woman and the children are extremely neat and clean, and the rooms are marvellously kept. That statement is far and away more grave than anything that I have represented as the picture of an English home. It is not an isolated instance. It can be multiplied not only through the parish in which it is, but through this City, and not only in this 748 City, but through the big towns all through this Kingdom. In Kensington alone, from which that case was taken, there are 13,000 basement dwellings, and in something over 2,000 of these the window is less than four feet from the wall of the area. You can find there every condition that has been mentioned by the most rev. Prelate.
And what is it that has been, or that is going to be done in order to remedy it? Yon may say to me: "Well, you complain; what do you suggest should be done?" I have my suggestions and I shall be glad, indeed, if they could be accepted. The first thing, of course, one thinks of is to call in national aid. I am bound to say it always seems to me that to call in State interference to remedy any mischief is very like asking somebody to mend the delicate machinery of a watch by putting boxing gloves upon his hands. It is the most impersonal, the most clumsy, and the most costly method ever conceived for the purpose of removing any grievance, and I often wonder if noble Lords opposite, who, I believe, are pledged to this method of curing our ways, are not really like children who play at wolves in the wood and would be terrified to death if the wolf really came to life.
Now if the State is not to interfere what is to be done? That money has to be found is beyond all things certain. I am speaking to you who have all probably read the newspapers and seen that at the present moment our taxation is going to be increased by £44,000,000 for the next year, and you may well wonder whether the constant attempt to carry and reduce our burdens is not something like the effort of the person who tried to ascend the moving staircase by going up the stairs that were running down. It is only by the greatest possible effort that you can maintain a stagnant position, and in this, if that effort is relaxed, you will be carried down to the bottom. That is what I feel about public expenditure. None the less any one who has studied the figures must at the same time have realised that the possibility of saving the money necessary for such a purpose as this is immense. The money can be found and it should be found for these purposes beyond all others.
Health, clean homes and the education of our people are the first three great 749 demands that ought to be made upon the public purse. How do I suggest, that that should be used in that connection? There was more than one useful suggestion made. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, whose work in this connection deserves to be more widely known and more widely recognised than it is, made a speech which I fear, due either to the fatigue which is the inevitable consequence of listening to prolonged speeches or possibly to the importunities of approaching meal time, was only heard by a mere handful of your Lordships' House. I sincerely hope, as I am certain each one of you is really interested in this problem, that you will at least do him the honour of carefully reading what it was that he said. He has undertaken a scheme in the imitation of which I believe is to be found part of the remedy for this evil. He has by great energy and industry raised sums of money both for the purpose of building and for the purpose of re-conditioning houses, and by this means he has effected quite a substantial improvement in that district.
Now the one thing that has got to be recognised by any one who is serious in this matter is the simple fact that it is absolutely impossible, under present conditions, to build houses, or re-condition rooms, for people who live in and come from those slums, at an economic rent. It cannot be done and anybody who thinks that it can deceives himself. Therefore it has got to be done from outside. It has either got to be done by taxation, or it has got to be done by voluntary aid, and to my mind voluntary aid is by far the most potent and important agency. You can by careful management so build and re-condition these houses that, while on newly-built houses you can get 2½ per cent, on your money, on re-conditioned houses you get 4 and perhaps 4½ per cent. Now the Government can, of course, raise money—if you disregard altogether the question of Income Tax that, they get back on it—at about 3½ per cent. They get from 1 to 1½ per cent. back in Income Tax on the average. If, therefore, they gave carefully selected voluntary associations pound for pound for the money they raised, or ever two pounds for every pound they raised, and charged that same rate of interest of 2½ per cent. alone, they would be only 1 per cent. out of pocket, and by 750 that means you would be able to stimulate this work throughout the whole Metropolis, and I believe that the results would be very remarkable indeed.
It is impossible to see what has been done in Kensington without seeing how far these efforts can go. Owing to the generosity of one man £20,000 was provided, and the houses that have been built are a pleasure for anyone to see. I merely mention Kensington as a place I know. It is a rich parish, and a hundred men in that parish could provide £20,000 apiece and never feel it. If they would do it to-morrow, I believe that the disgrace which attaches to the Royal Borough, one of the richest and proudest Boroughs of London, would be removed. The real reason why it is not done is the reason which I stated when I began. It is because the truth of this thing has never really been brought home to people's minds. If they lived in the presence of these things, and these things were in their minds the whole time, then it would be impossible that we should sit still and let them continue.
There are one or two other things that T should like to say. The right rev. Prelate referred to a matter which no doubt, does touch this subject most intimately, and that is the question whether, if you expanded the room for these people and gave them larger and better houses for living in, their families would increase, so that these difficulties would be revived. He pointed out that that, fortunately, was not shown by experience; but there can be no doubt that the unchecked growth of our population is associated with the creation of slums, and having given the best of my thought to this matter, I am quite satisfied that when, either by social or by scientific means, we have discovered how to control posterity, then, and not till then, will man be man and master of his fate. But that controversy is a wider one than this, and I do not propose to revive it. it is impossible, however, to pass it by, having regard to the fact that the right rev. Prelate and many others must have recognised the evil, that you can reduce almost everything to a state of squalor if you have more people in a house than people can afford to keep or a woman has power and time to look after.
That is the first suggestion which I have to make, but there are others. Lord Bertie of Thame referred to the Rent 751 Restrictions Act, as though that lay at the bottom of our grievance. I should very much like to know how many of these slums to which reference has been made are subject to the operation of that Statute at all, and until that is known, of course, all reference to the Rent Restrictions Act becomes perfectly worthless. There is one way in which undoubtedly the Rent Restrictions Act operates. It does not operate in favour of the slum dweller, but in favour of the slum owner. By-laws were made by the London County Council for the purpose of insisting upon improved conditions for houses, and by these by-laws it was provided that certain parts of them should not come into operation until six months after the Rent Restrictions Act, or any re-enactment thereof, should have ceased to be in force. That is to say, you cannot nut these by-laws into operation against houses which have nothing whatever to do with the Rent Restrictions Act until six months after that Act shall have ceased to be in force.
What are the by-laws which you cannot put into operation? One provides that every owner of a lodging house shall maintain and provide for the use of each family proper w.c. accommodation. You cannot put that into force until the Rent Restrictions Act has ceased to operate for six months. Other by-laws require accommodation for washing clothes, for storing of food, and accommodation for its cooking. Then provision is to be made for the lighting of a common staircase, and finally for the carrying out of works necessary to secure that the house shall have adequate stability. That is postponed in the same way. I do not propose to say too much to aggravate the sorrows of the slum landlord, and I certainly do not propose to say anything by which they can be assuaged, but so far from the Rent Restrictions Act operating prejudicially against him, in these respects they enable him to maintain the place in a condition which everybody must recognise ought to be stopped. The real truth was touched upon by Lord Jessel, who pointed out that these places should be in the hands of big landowners. Nothing is more undesirable than that a man should invest his savings in a small house with intent to sweat the last farthing out of the people who live there, to the prejudice of life and health.
§ VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME
May I interrupt the noble and learned Lord? I said quite clearly that if people belonging to my association were found to be harpies they were turned out quickly.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I do not say that these people belong to the noble Viscount's association, but he spoke, so far as I could see, in their protection. I do not desire to see them over-protected.
§ VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME
That is the last thing I should wish, but I was speaking for people who keep their houses in a proper condition or wish to re-condition them. Those are the only people for whom I wish to say a word.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I have yet to hear of anybody who wishes to re-condition his house being interfered with by anybody. I have never yet come across such a case. The extent to which this evil to which I have alluded goes can be illustrated by circumstances within my own knowledge. A house was taken originally for housing one family, and now it houses I do not know how many. There are a few sticks of furniture—twenty pounds would be a liberal valuation of it. The place is vermin haunted, and is always being the subject of notices served, and the total rent is £160 a year. So bad was the ownership of the house that charitably-minded people bought the house out, with the result that the owner immediately invested the purchase money in a similar house and began again. It is true that this small holding of houses is not a good thing. People ought not to be encouraged to put their small savings into these small places. It is by large holdings under intelligent supervision that these matters can be humanely met.
I do not propose to keep your Lordships any longer. I believe myself that a private effort, assisted by State aid, is the real way in which this matter can be met. I think we have got to awaken a public opinion which will not rest satisfied merely by the belief that when, with difficulty, they have discharged the demands of the tax-gatherers, they have discharged all their duties to their fellowmen. I should like to go further. I should like to ask those who represent the labouring people in this matter whether it is not possible that they can induce all the unions to relax every one of their restrictive rules, except those 753 relating to wages, in all cases where the men are engaged either in re-conditioning or rebuilding such houses as these. Surely, every one ought to make a contribution to what is a national problem. The pressure of the War by its cohesive action welded the nation into one. It surely is a profound pity that the disintegration of the peace should have once more separated us into various classes. Frankly I believe it can be done, but it can only be done if people will realise that the idealism which is daily manifested is the best product of our inconsistent life.
THE LORD BISHOP OF HEREFORD
My Lords, I should scarcely have ventured to intervene in this debate had it riot seemed to me is far as I have been able to follow it that one side of the difficulty of the question has scarcely been touched upon. It might be asked why the Bishop of a purely rural diocese should intervene in a debate on an urban matter. But I would venture to say that in country areas in many ways there is as grave a problem. Housing in country districts presents problems equally difficult though of a different nature from those which present themselves in the slums of our great towns. It is much more difficult in the country to rouse public opinion, much more difficult in small country towns to get public action taken for the improvement of housing conditions. At the same time it seems to me that in the country districts and under country conditions you get light thrown on problems of the life of the people which are obscured under the conditions of a great city.
One such point was brought to my notice some years ago. There was an agricultural labourers' strike. The strike was badly organised and the incidence of the violence of the strike differed in different areas. I was talking the matter over with a village schoolmaster, and the village schoolmaster probably knows more of the life of the people among whom he lives than almost any other individual. He said: "You will notice that the violence of the strike varies in inverse ratio to housing conditions. Where housing conditions are bad there the strike is manifesting itself in the most violent form. Where men are decently housed it is exceedingly difficult to get them out on strike at all." I 754 think that does throw light on the incidence of the problem on that side of the question.
The noble and learned Lord who has just spoken has referred, as I think everyone who faces the question must refer, to the financial side. I am bound to say that as far as my small experience goes private enterprise of itself does not seem likely to meet the needs of the situation. Private enterprise did not meet the needs of the housing difficulty after the War, and, if I may venture to say so, I believe the problem of the slums is a greater difficulty and more in need of public assistance. The noble and learned Lord did not refer, however, to one side of the financial aspect which I think warrants attention. One difficulty which presents itself in getting houses for men with low wages at an economic rent is the question of rates. If I may take myself as a standard of comparison I find that I pay 2½ per cent. of my income in rates. A man earning £2 a week living in a slum pays somewhere about 6½. per cent. A man earning 50s a week, who takes one of the lowest-priced Corporation houses in the City of Manchester, pays no less than 10 per cent. of his income in rates. That of course has been noticed by some who take up the matter of housing reform and there has been a very definite effort by some corporations to meet the difficulties.
Birmingham and Liverpool, in particular, have distinguished themselves in this way by insisting on a low assessment of property which has been reconditioned or has been built to meet the needs of the slum-dweller. The lowest type of standard house in Birmingham is rented at £6 per annum. In Manchester and Newcastle the same type of house is assessed at £15 10s. In Bristol a house of rather better type is assessed at £10 and in Manchester at £19 10s. It seems to me that the experiment made by Birmingham and Liverpool in lowering the assessment of houses might be extended, but it is an experiment which has been largely hampered by the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925. It is true that that has done away with grave inequalities by bringing down over-assessment in certain eases, but it has made it almost impossible for corporations who wish to assess houses at 755 a low figure to carry out that policy. That is a matter which seems to me to require attention. It is a matter on which some form of legislation is certainly necessary. Attention has been drawn to the fact that the bad landlord is always ready to take advantage of any opportunity to increase the rent of his property, and there will be people who, if low assessments are given, would make an addition to the rent and put into their own pockets that which was saved from the city revenue. That again requires attention and would have to be dealt with by an amendment of the Rent Restrictions Act.
But the point which I particularly want to make is this: It has been said that national expenditure is going up by leaps and bounds. That is true, but surely a distinction must be drawn between productive and unproductive expenditure. I want to ask your Lordships whether there is any more productive expenditure than expenditure on the housing of the people. If the words of the old Greek dramatist [...] be true, it means that the wealth of the nation consists primarily in the wellbeing, physical, mental and moral, of its people rather than in material resources. We are told that at present a large proportion—about one third—of the population is living below the normal subsistence level. If any legislative action or any other action is to be taken surely it should be that which will make the citizens of the future stronger in body, fitter in mind, sounder in character. Expenditure to that end cannot be put on one side as unnecessary, but must be justified on the ground that it is a good investment which will bear fruit for the nation in days to come.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
My Lords, I am sure the House will agree that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Southwark for having introduced this matter. I heard a number of the speeches last week and I read the debate next day in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I can assure my noble and learned friend Lord Buck-master that there was in my mind, after what I heard and what I read, none of the complacency to which he referred. My peace of mind was not increased at all by the debate. As one listened to 756 the right rev. Prelate, the Lord Bishop of London and the most rev. Primate, who spoke later, I think one felt almost as if one were listening to part of a chapter out of the works of Charles Dickens. Instead of that it turns out to be something which exists in this country in the second quarter of the twentieth century.
I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Marley, upon his maiden speech. We shall hope and expect to hear him frequently in the future. I hope he will not mind my saying that I thought it was a pity that, at the outset of his remarks, he went out of his way to import a Party note into what had hitherto been a harmonious discussion and to make an attack upon my noble friend Lord Jessel. To anybody who knows my noble friend and his work for London during the last thirty or thirty-five years, that attack must have sounded both un-just and unnecessary. I must also say that, during the whole of his speech, the noble Lord seemed to infer that we on this side of the House cared very little about slum clearance and were engaged only in counting the cost. Indeed he ended on a note to which I take great exception when he suggested that it would be a good thing if some of us put as much strength into our anti-slum propaganda as we have put into our anti-Russian propaganda. I can assure the noble Lord that, so far as it is a matter of Party politics, the longer the Russian connection goes on the worse it will be, in our opinion, for His Majesty's Government; but the noble Lord must really give us credit on this side of the House for having feelings regarding this Russian connection that rise above the natural desire of an Opposition to embarrass the Government. We really believe that the connection is injurious for the country, and we resent, and are entitled to resent, especially in a debate like this, any insinuation that we are actuated in that matter merely by Party politics.
I turn to the problem before us. The problem of the slums has for the most part been considered only in relation to London and our large cities, and I was glad to hear my noble friend Lord Onslow bring to your Lordships' notice the fact that it also exists in rural areas. Many of your Lordships have come across it 757 on your local bodies. I have come across it in a very small way as chairman of the parish council in my own small village. We unfortunately own some houses that are very badly in need of re-conditioning. Quite apart from the unpopularity which would accrue, as your Lordships may imagine, if a parish council were to strike a rate at all, the penny rate obtainable in a little parish like my own, as in hundreds all over the country, would amount to only a very few pounds—far less than the £11 mentioned by my noble friend. Accordingly the parish councils are powerless in this matter, and so are the rural district councils. It is useful, in this connection, to be reminded that, under the Local Government Act of last year, county councils are empowered to assist rural district councils in connection with such matters as sanitation, water supply and, think, re-conditioning; and I very much hope that their attention will be called to this matter. Possibly the Ministry might issue a circular calling their attention to their duties in this matter, so that they may be encouraged to exercise their powers to the full.
The second point to which I wish to call attention concerns re-conditioning. I rather gathered from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Marley, that this policy was to be ruled altogether out of court. I think that this would be a mistake. We all know that some houses are rotten through and through, but that is not always the case. In some cases only the insides of houses are rotten; the woodwork is dangerous and, to that extent, they are a danger to the community in every way. But very often the walls are perfectly good. It seems to me that these cases ought to be decided on their merits. Some districts require that such houses should be palled down altogether, but in others the houses can be re-conditioned. If we do not take this opportunity, I have a feeling that we shall be embarking upon a very large expenditure indeed. I know that we are apt to be misrepresented if we even mention expense in this connection, but, although I fully admit that expense is not the first consideration, I do not think it can be dismissed in such a light, airy and almost cavalier manner as that of the noble Lord in his speech the other day.
758 In this connection I hope that in the future steps will be taken to provide for the proper maintenance of houses or flats that are put up. I do not want to increase officials in any way, but I believe that steps ought to be taken, such as are now taken by private housing trusts, in the case of buildings that are the property of the ratepayers, in order to provide persons who not only go round and collect rents but instruct the tenants in the care of houses. Very often immense damage is done to house property, not out of malice (although that occurs sometimes) but simply on account of the very natural ignorance of the occupiers as to how the simplest parts of a house should be treated.
Although this problem is still with us, it is a great mistake to suggest that nothing has been done. I am glad that the most rev. Primate and, I think, the right rev. Prelate too gave credit to what has been done since the War by all Governments—I do not make a Party point—by the Coalition, by Conservatives, by Labour and by Conservatives again. I repeat, and I think it bears repetition, that nearly 1,500,000 houses have been built and that Exchequer subsidies alone in respect of these houses have amounted to £82,000,000. So far as London is concerned, no city in the world has during recent years made such a contribution towards reducing the house shortage. I do not think it is quite fair to say—it has been said, and I must controvert it—that the late Government failed in its slum programme. It would be more true to say that its slum programme proper had hardly begun. More slum clearance schemes were passed between 1924 and 1929 than during any previous period. The schemes totalled, I think, 58, affecting the housing of very nearly 36,000 persons. In no case was a scheme sent up by a local authority turned down or delayed by my right hon. friend the late Minister of Health, but the local authorities concentrated on new building first. That was the policy, and in this decision we think they were right.
As regards slum clearance, I believe it is true to say that schemes were drawn up by the late Minister of Health and are, no doubt, now available at the Ministry. I only hope that His Majesty's Government, in dealing with the slum problem, 759 will make use of those schemes, because, if I know anything of my right hon. friend, I am quite sure that they are very good and efficient ones. I have no more to say in this debate. I am much obliged to your Lordships for listening to me. In conclusion, I have only to congratulate the right rev. Prelate for having initiated such an instructive and, I think, useful debate, and to say to noble Lords opposite that, so far as we on this side of the House are concerned, we shall await their Bill dealing with this matter with interest, and shall examine it primarily with a view to assisting the solution of this terrible problem.
§ THE EARL OF IVEAGH
My Lords, I feel that, as I have for many years been deeply interested in this problem and as I now find myself chairman of the Guinness Trust, I ought to put before your Lordships certain facts that have come to my knowledge. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, seemed to think that rent restriction had nothing to do with the difficulties of this problem. I am afraid that I disagree with him entirely. The gravity of the problem which faces us to-day is the result of the difficulties that were met by rent restriction. The shortage of houses at the end of the War made it necessary to protect people and to prevent impossible rents being demanded of them by their landlords. And it is impossible to get hold of largish areas in order to reconstruct the houses upon them or even to build flats at a reasonable price owing to the right which was given to the tenants at that time. At this moment the Guinness Trust owns two sites which they hope some day to deal with. I am informed that we can buy out the tenants at a price, but that would mean additional burdens on those who will live on those sites. Somebody has to pay for getting the present tenants out. Therefore, it seems to me that the very basis of the problem is the shortage of houses at the end of the War and the fact that nothing was done for five years during the War.
Owing to the Rent Restrictions Act all the new houses were put up on areas that could be dealt with. Those areas were outside London and I assume that it was necessary to go outside of every other big city to vacant land on which to build the houses that everybody expected would be the right houses for people to live in. That, of course, was all right, 760 but alas! I the rents were high, and the expense of travelling backwards and forwards to work made it almost impossible for a very large number of people to enjoy the privilege of living in them. I am assured that many people have come back to live in the slums from such areas, not only because of the high cost to them of living in those outside districts, but because they want to live in the centre of things. As long as that is the case there will be overcrowding until you give these people the accommodation they want—I do not mean to say they want it because they ought to have it, but some of them wilfully want it because they like to go to cinemas or to live near to the shops. Those I think are actual facts, and it would be as well for us to realise that until the owners of land can more easily deal with their own property the further development of new buildings for the working classes will be delayed.
It is our experience on the Guinness Trust, and we have been in existence now for forty years, that you can make an economic unit only if you can get two acres of land vacant so as to be able to control and assist tenants by the proper supervision in each set of buildings. Tenement houses have a bad name, I know, but that is because they are not modern tenement houses. I invite your Lordships to go not very far from here to see some buildings which have been completely occupied only in the last week or two. I do not think they are so very bad. Indeed, I consider them very nice, and I hope your Lordships will go to see them. They are at the other end of King's Road, Chelsea. It seems to me that we could house a very much larger number of people if there were more houses of that kind, especially in the centre of London. Then we could liberate other houses for re-conditioning, and it would not be so essential that people should live so close together if we had more houses for them to go into. I agree that the practical difficulty of who is to finance these houses is very great.
I ought, I think, to deal with a fact which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, seemed to challenge. In the Holloway Road we own five acres of land. On that land at present there are twenty-five houses. We cannot get vacant possession of sufficient of that land to begin putting up buildings. If we were 761 to put up buildings I understand that we should be able to have 300 new tenants. That is a sample of London and there must be a great many other areas on which you would be able to house a large number of people and, therefore, ease the pressure on the centre. Another point which strikes me is this. I think it is inevitable in order to get reasonable rents that you must let these houses at rents below their economic value. You must not say to yourself, What is the highest I can get for my houses? You cannot even expect that all the population will be able to pay the full rate of interest which you would have to pay at this moment if you borrowed money and tried to make a commercial enterprise out of building. A very large number of houses would have to be subsidised either., as Lord Buckmaster said, by private purses—I agree with him that possibly that is the best way though it is a very difficult way—or by the public purse. In either case there must be supervision to see that the lower rent does not become the means of somebody getting an even greater profit than he otherwise would by letting another family share some of the room.
We are confident that our Guinness Trust buildings are free from such abuses. But we realise the extent of the difficulty and how much supervision is necessary to keep the surroundings of the tenants in a clean, sanitary and habitable condition. When a large population lives in a comparatively small space, it is only natural that rubbish, paper and other litter should accumulate, and somebody has to pay for the extra scavenging which is necessary. I hope I have not wearied your Lordships, but I thought it would he a good thing to put before the House and the Government who are going to deal with this problem one or two difficulties which seemed to me to stand in the way of further development and of any great increase in the accommodation which is wanted right in the very centre of our great towns and not on the outskirts.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, you will have listened with interest to my noble friend Lord Iveagh, who with his family has done, as everybody knows, an enormous work in connection with this great question of slum clearance. I only rise to ask His Majesty's Government 762 to consider more especially two points in the Bill which they propose to introduce. I was very much struck with a remark made by Lord Buckmaster regarding the Rent Restrictions Act, and I wish to give your Lordships an instance to show how important it is that the Government should consider the operation of that Act in connection with any measure they may bring forward.
I happen to be a trustee for a public body which has a certain number of leases of property of an inferior description. We are in this difficulty. During the War we made a lease with a perfectly solvent firm for the clearance of a certain area to be undertaken as soon as the War was over. That was fifteen years ago. The War has been over for eleven years. The property is not quite sufficiently bad to be shut up by the local authorities, but it remains undealt with to this day, because, under the Rent Restrictions Acts, the tenants must, if removed, be found similar and equally favourable habitations. Those are not to be found on the terms on which the tenants are now housed. I arm not saying for a moment that the rights of the tenant ought not to be considered, but we actually come to a deadlock when a lease has been made that cannot be made effective because up to this moment under the Rent Restrictions Acts all the tenants claim to remain in situ on exactly the same terms as hitherto. This is a deadlock which, it seems to me, ought to be in some way removed, and, though we have taken legal advice, I do not know at present how it can be.
There is another point. The re-conditioning of existing buildings, as has been pointed out, is all-important, whatever slum clearances may be made; but one of the difficulties about re-conditioning buildings is to get some place to put the people during the period when you are doing this. If anybody builds these large buildings, say 50 flats, ought he not to be forced to leave one of them vacant, so that when you attempt to do all the necessary cleansing and renovation you may have some place where you can put the people while it is being done? Here is another point. The same trust that I have referred to has used every power it possesses to induce our tenant—for we are only the ground landlords, with 60 763 years to run—to carry out the terms of his engagement. The terms are that he should cleanse and re-do some of his terribly bad dwellings. What is the result? We find an absolute revolt on the part of the tenants, who say: "Where are we and the children to go? We have only two (or three) rooms. How can we give up one room to have these decorators or painters in?" It is almost impossible to carry out the work.
Certainly, of the three possible alternatives you cannot acquiesce in the dwellings being left as they are. I really believe it is necessary by legislation to provide that in all cases where a very large number of lettings is made in a single building, there should be at least one letting to which you can remove a family while you carry out your engagements with regard to the others. That seems a small thing, but everybody knows that all dwellings go from bad to worse very quickly when dilapidation once begins, and it is because nothing can ever be taken in time that we are in many cases in our present situation.
There is one other suggestion. I ventured to make it once before when I was sitting on the Bench below. It received a certain amount of support, and yet it has never found its position in any Bill. I cannot believe that you will ever avoid the great difficulties of overcrowding so long as you leave it in the power of anybody to establish a factory at any place without the smallest regard to how those who are going to work in that factory or building are to be housed. My noble friend below me (Lord Londonderry) knows better than anybody that in the colliery districts you have to consider the rights of the people. Will your Lordships allow me to give you an instance to show how absolutely preposterous it is to leave the provision of additional accommodation either to a local authority or to private enterprise? Just before the beginning of the War Mr. Ford, who was born in the County of Cork, decided as a pure piece of philanthropy, or on account of his local connection, to set up a building there to employ 5,000 hands. I happen to own some property in the neighbourhood, and I know the immense difficulties under which we are from overcrowding at present. The local authorities, or the local landlords, had to take into consideration how this enormous influx 764 of persons was to be met. As it happened, the War intervened, and Mr. Ford, being unable to obtain the uprights or the steel girders for the buildings, was forced to proceed on a scale which involved a much smaller number of men. Not to put it in a way unpleasant to anybody, his experience with workmen on a much smaller scale made him decide that as a business man he would be throwing his money away if he were to attempt to house 5,000 workmen.
But remember, he was justified by our laws in bringing this large population there if he chose, and in insisting that other people, who are not in the least interested—because there is hardly any surplus labour in the district—should find the housing. Why, in heaven's name, should not the man who creates the demand be forced, after duly considering with the local authority how many people they can house under existing conditions, to provide capital to house those whom he is going to employ? I know that it has been rather a feeling in the Labour Party that it is undesirable to have tied houses. I do think, as the noble and learned Lord said in his eloquent speech, that this is so serious a matter, it affects so vitally the life of the people, that we ought to take advantage of everything that we can; and—seeing that for at least ten years to come all authorities, Imperial and local, must have their hands as full as possible in re-conditioning houses which already exist, and in replacing slums which have got to be cleared away—surely, where a fresh demand for housing accommodation is going to be made for a commercial body, a portion of the responsibility for that fresh demand should lie on those who are going to profit by it. You cannot do anything as things stand. Up goes a new building. Nobody can tell how many will be employed. It is nobody's business to see what will be the extra housing accommodation required. In a couple of years after the factory begins there is overcrowding. It is almost impossible to deal with the people. At the very best there must be some years of great discomfort.
I believe that this subject of housing, on which Parliament has been engaged now for over forty years, is one of the most vital, perhaps the most vital, of our social questions to-day. That being so, I would urge the Government not to feel 765 themselves tied down by any past expressions of opinion or pledges, but in the freest manner to endeavour to meet this difficulty, and I fully agree with the noble and learned Lord that a sacrifice is necessary on all sides—some sacrifice by the landlord, some sacrifice as regards the rate at which money is to be lent, and some sacrifice on the part of trades union rules in order that the cheapest possible labour may be obtained without interfering with the natural desire to get a proper and a living wage. In those circumstances, I have ventured to make these suggestions to the Government.
§ LORD DICKINSON
My Lords, it is with quite unusual diffidence that I venture to address your Lordships for the first time, but the subject is one with which I have bees connected for very many years on the London County Council and other bodies, and I know that I can count upon the generous forbearance of all noble Lords who are present. I was not here last week, but I have, of course, read carefully the speeches that were then addressed to your Lordships, and I confess to a feeling of hopelessness with regard to this question; not, however, because of any lack of sympathy or good will displayed towards the problem, for I am certain that not only here but amongst all authorities throughput the Kingdom there is a real desire at the present moment to better the conditions of housing all over the country. I realise fully that, although there is the very best of will to approach this question, it is one to which there seems to be no end You can solve part of it, and then new questions overwhelm you. I am sure many of your Lordships remember the Royal Commission of 1885 which was presided over by Sir Charles Dilke, and of which the most distinguished member was the then Prince of Wales, who was later King Edward VII. That Royal Commission brought to the public notice a condition of affairs which was really alarming, and at that moment there was an immense public enthusiasm directed towards ending a solution of the problem of how to abolish the terrible state of affairs which was shown to exist at that moment.
I remember very well, at that time, we were constantly using a figure that was given by the Royal Commission—namely, that in London there were no fewer than 766 900,000 persons living in a condition that was officially recognised as being over-crowded. That seemed to be an alarming figure, and many authorities all over the country set themselves to work at once to remedy the condition of affairs. But even at the present moment there are nearly 800,000 persons living in London in a similar officially-recognised overcrowded condition. The population of London is larger it is true; but nevertheless it is an appalling fact that after forty years of continuous labour on the part of local authorities, we still find that the London population contains nearly 800,000 persons who are living in conditions which we generally recognise as not being suitable for civilised people to exist under. This means that we have only just about kept level during the last forty years, and that is not because of the lack of will, but is because of the lack of power and of the difficulties that surround this problem on all sides.
The London County Council all through this period has been doing a very great work in relation to housing. Both Parties alike have taken up this question most seriously, and still the results of their work are not very great. Some years ago it was reported that there were 200,000 persons who were living in slums and who ought to be displaced. That was in the year 1911. Now, during the whole of the time that the County Council and the Metropolitan Board of Works have been engaged in clearing slums, they have only succeeded in clearing out 69,000 persons. At that rate it will take years and years before the number of persons who are living under these conditions can be more satisfactorily housed. These figures, I think, show that the problem is greater than one of merely pulling down slums and building houses in their place.
I venture to submit to your Lordships that the problem cannot be solved except by a thorough study of the causes of the overcrowding and the creation of slums. They are very different. Of course in a City like London the attraction of the centre is very great, and we find that the overcrowding in Westminster, which is very considerable still, is due largely to the fact that an ever-growing number of men and women are compelled by their avocations to reside within a very short distance of the centre. Then we find that 767 slums are created without anybody knowing that they are slums. There are many districts that your Lordships will be acquainted with, in Kensington, St. Pancras and elsewhere, that consist of middle-class houses originally inhabited by single families, but which, by reason of the change of sentiment or change of conditions in the locality, have become inhabited by numerous families and have gradually become slums. But during all that process it is almost impossible for the -local authorities to prevent that development. It occurs inevitably, and, unless you can have a thorough system of regulation, it is difficult to prevent the manufacture, so to speak, of that kind of slum.
Then there is also the change of habits, even habits of which we perhaps approve very highly. I have noticed from the figures of population that it would appear that. in London the people are becoming more in the habit of requiring and occupying three rooms instead of two, and it will he understood that when several millions of people who have been in the habit of being contented with two rooms attain their desire for three, that, of course, immediately means a great pressure on the housing accommodation, and a consequent increase in the amount of overcrowding in the neighbourhood. Further, there is the question of the building of factories and of places of business. These are erected without anybody being able to prevent it. They displace large numbers of working people, they overcrowd the neighbourhood by that process, and there is really no legislation which allows any public authority to interfere in that matter. And then, of course, there is the larger question of transport to the suburbs, which is urgently necessary to be considered by Parliament, and of course is now receiving consideration.
All those matters affect the question of housing, and for that reason I had the honour, in 1927, of introducing a delegation to the then Prime Minister, Mr. Baldwin, asking that there should be a Royal Commission appointed for the purpose of dealing with the whole problem of housing. We counted amongst the delegation representatives of almost every society in London that had anything to do with the housing question—representatives of the companies which provide industrial dwellings and representatives 768 of various charitable and social institutions—and they all had come to the conclusion that in order to solve the question it was necessary to have an inquiry which went far beyond such questions as the building of new houses and the pulling down of slums. I ventured to rise to-night merely to suggest to the Government that it might be well, perhaps, once again to consider that proposition. The reply given to us on that occasion was that a Royal Commission would delay the solution of the question too long, and would not really help things on; but we were convinced at that moment that it would be the only method by which all these questions of town planning, etc., which were thought necessary for the purpose of solving the problem, could be thoroughly considered and reported upon. In any case I am glad that the Government are going to produce legislation for dealing with this question, and I am sure that when legislation is produced it will help on to a great extent the solution of this problem.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, it falls to me to congratulate the noble Lord upon making his maiden speech in your Lordships' House, and I do so with great diffidence because we were in the House of Commons together some years ago, and I always looked upon him as a senior member to me. May I say, however, how much we hope that he will contribute to our future debates, and bring to bear upon them the knowledge which he undoubtedly possesses of these subjects. It is a great satisfaction to me that I find myself entirely in agreement with the noble Lord on this particular subject, and I feel we can all agree that his contribution has been a very valuable one. It is not my intention to detain your Lordships this evening, because I think that in the speeches which we have been privileged to hear we have seen this subject approached from every possible angle, and our thanks are due to the right rev. Prelate for having introduced the subject. Moreover, it is a most fitting subject for your Lordships to deal with.
I think I am right in saying that in the speeches that we have heard more stress has been laid upon the difficulties which face the Government in dealing with this question than upon the remedies by which we think it possible to deal 769 with this difficult problem. The subject is one which is peculiarly suitable for the present Government to introduce. They are a minority Government, and this is a subject on which it is their right and their duty to try to elicit the sympathy of all Parties for removing what is a curse to the civilisation of these Islands. In the speech which the noble Lord delivered on behalf of the Government last week, he gave us very few indications as to the plan which the Government were going to pursue, but I have no doubt that from the noble Lord who will follow me we shall get some idea of what is in their minds for the purpose of dealing with this problem. It must seem amazing to your Lordships that when there are these distressing circumstances in our midst public opinion does not take a far more active part in the removal of these terrible circumstances than it does. One feels, somehow, that if only the subscribing puklic—if I may use that term to describe that portion of the public—could be interested in the subject, we should find a great many of those difficulties cleared away which at the present moment are hampering the removal of the slum areas from the midst of our great cities.
The speeches which to my mind have gone nearer to touching upon these evils are those made by Lord Balfour of Burleigh and Lord. Buckmaster, and think that they are entitled to our gratitude for putting forward what they believe to be remedies. Lord Buckmaster, in very eloquent phraseology, repudiated the suggestion of public authorities or public control being brought in primarily for the purpose of removing these evils. I am bound to say that I fully share his opinion. I am quite sure that the successful way of solving these problems is by large landlords—by congregating, if I may say so, these areas into large holdings, so that they can be dealt with comprehensively for the benefit of those who inhabit the slums in these particular areas. Lord Balfour of Burleigh seemed to me to go straight to the point. He made a very correct suggestion When he said that what is required is the provision of houses at low rents, and that the great difficulty with which we are faced at the present moment is that under present conditions, in the building of new houses or the re-conditioning of others, it is quite impossible 770 for those who inhabit the houses to pay what could be called an economic rent.
It is for that reason that I hope than in the Bill which the Government are going to introduce they will give every encouragement in their power to those voluntary societies, to those institutions which have done as ninth as they could in the past. They have not been able to do very much, but they have done all they could, and I feel that it is by an extension of that system that we shall be able to grapple with the problem which is doing so much harm to the nation. Lord Balfour of Burleigh spoke very plainly about the necessity of capital, and Lord Marley in his speech mentioned that point, but did not deal with it very specifically or very clearly, if I may venture to say so. It seems to me that this is one of those problems which can be solved by the contribution of the State to private enterprise, in the nature of giving facilities for capital. We know that the late Government instituted what was called the Trade Facilities Act, and by that means a great many industries were brought into being which could not in any other circumstances have been produced with any success whatever. I feel that in these philanthropic undertakings—they are more than philanthropic undertakings; they are national duties—under a system on the same lines as the Trade Facilities Act, whereby the Government would be able to contribute, say, pound for pound, or perhaps two pounds for one pound, we should be able, as members of the taxpaying community, to help those societies who are already doing as much as they possibly can to relieve the difficulties under which we labour at the present moment.
It is not for me in the short time which is at my disposal to emphasise the great dancers which this problem presents to us at this moment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, and others have drawn pictures with which some of us are well acquainted. I only wish that the great majority of the population of this country who are fortunate enough themselves to live in comfortable dwellings, and, in a great many cases, not to touch the slum areas which exist in our great cities and in some of our small cities, could be made in some degree to understand the problem. Great sympathy 771 does exist in this nation for relieving evils and for doing what can be done by charitable assistance, and I am sure this sense would be awakened if people were fully alive to the problem as it stands at the present moment. We have had many difficulties put before us, difficulties with which the Government will be faced. They are very real difficulties and each one of them would take a longer time to go through than I have at my disposal. But one thing which I do feel we should keep before our minds is that this is really a national question. It is one also which not merely affects the population of this country at the present moment, but it is one which is going to affect the population for generations to come. The sooner we can solve the problem of removing from our midst these slum dwellings, which are devastating not only to the morals but to the well-being of the people of the country, the greater benefit we shall be conferring on the people it is our duty to serve.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, the noble Marquess in the speech to which we have just listened said with truth that we have heard more even of the difficulties than of the horrors of this question in the discussion this afternoon. I think that arises from the fact that there is a unanimous opinion in this House that the present condition of our slum areas constitutes what the noble Marquess called—not I think improperly—a national curse. The case on that side was put, if I may say so, once for all by the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. Anyone who heard him or read the report of his speech—and I take a different view of reading a speech from that taken by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster—must have been convinced, both from his obvious knowledge of the subject and from the statistics which he read out, that there was here an abominable system which ought not to be allowed to go on in any civilisation, much less in a Christian civilisation such as we boast in this country.
That brings me to the point which I particularly want to deal with as to the possible remedies and as to the difficulties. I cannot, of course, make to your Lordships this evening the speech which will be made on the Second Reading of the Bill when it is introduced into the House of Commons; but I think it is 772 a good omen for that Bill that in this House, if I understand the opinion which has been expressed, it will at any rate in its main lines be universally supported, although on particular points no doubt difference of opinion may arise. The first statement I should like to make, and make quite clearly, without any reservations, is that it is the intention of the Government to introduce a Slum Clearance Bill this Session and to pass it into law. We have been told about the projects of former Governments. I make no complaint. I think the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, dealt very frankly with the difficulties which were involved and also with the progress which had been made. I do not doubt for a moment that the present Government will have the advantage of the researches made and of the facts ascertained while the last Government were in power. It would really be a sorry idea of public life in this country if we did not gratefully take advantage of what has already been done in this large and difficult question.
There is a second matter upon which I should like to give an assurance. My own experience has largely been in rural districts. I know a village which not many years ago was almost depopulated by tuberculosis owing to the insanitary condition of the houses. In that particular village the houses have been rebuilt, or re-conditioned, and now I believe it is one of the healthiest villages that can be found in any part of England. It is true that this question cannot be solved unless the rural districts are considered as well as the slum districts in our large towns and industrial areas. I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Templemore, said on that subject. I am glad to say that the Bill which the Government are going to introduce will deal with the question of rural districts as well as with the slum areas in towns and industrial districts. It is intended to deal with the whole question of slum clearance both in the country and in the towns.
There was a statement made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, which I think makes it unnecessary for me to deal with a large amount of fact as to the existence of the evil. He said that what we had to look at is what is undone, and I quite agree with him. Whatever may be said as to what has been done—and I do not want to depre- 773 ciate the efforts made up to the present—undoubtedly there is an enormous festering evil still to be found, unfortunately, in large areas in this country. It is the duty, the absolute duty, of any Government to deal as quickly as they can and as fundamentally as they can with a great evil of this sort. It is a great encouragement to the Government to find that in this House they are promised what is really universal support, I do not say for all the clauses of the measure, but universal support in the desire of your Lordships to put an end to this great national evil.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, dealt, if I recollect rightly, with two special matters. I do not think he denied the necessity of State interference. I understood him to recognise that that was necessary. I do not think that this great problem can really be approached with a view to dealing with it except on the basis of a large measure of State interference. At the same time he made a reference with which the Government, and I personally, are in entire agreement. One of the most interesting speeches made the other night was that of Lord Balfour of Burleigh regarding the association with which he is connected in North Kensington. I think that such associations, quite apart from the large Government schemes, ought to be encouraged in every possible way. They introduce what has been called the human element, they bring the matter home to people, and they give an opportunity for people to make sacrifices in order to put an end to this great difficulty. It is true that with the human element in management and in other ways an enormous amount can be done, although, of course, when it has all been done, the great question still lies open for State interference and assistance.
Perhaps I may make a personal reference upon this point. Personal references have been made more than once in the course of this debate. I was first brought into contact with this great evil in London life through Toynbee Hall, and I took part, if I n ay say so, in the management and rent collection of the houses built in that district. It was the system of rent collection that really made them a success. It was the personal element. I speak rather warmly on this subject, because the first rent collector that I 774 knew down there was working with Miss Octavia Hill and was a sister-in-law of mine, Lady Courtney. In that way I was introduced fifty or more years ago to the actual practical treatment of the subject that we are discussing this evening. There is no doubt—as Lord Balfour of Burleigh said—that the personal element in management is of the first importance. I recollect very well that the lady managers under Miss Octavia Hill and the rent collectors, though they demanded regularity and would allow no arrears, yet, by their care and understanding of the human element and of the nature of their tenants, introduced a spirit which was almost a revolution in social conditions in that district. No one, I think, who has dealt with the problem—and I know that Lord Balfour of Burleigh has done so—can doubt for one moment that, apart from all other influences introduced by voluntary association management, the personal influence is of enormous importance and must be preserved and encouraged in every possible way.
The next matter to which the noble and learned Lord referred was the economic point. It has been referred to by every speaker in this debate. If I may again refer to a personal recollection, I remember some years ago going at great detail into this question of rents. The conclusion that we arrived at is very much the conclusion that we have stated in this House—namely, that the ordinary slum dweller cannot afford more than 7s. or 8s. a week for his rent. If you put his rent above that figure you cannot induce him to leave the slum and to go into the new houses. It is not in any sense his fault. He cannot afford to pay more. A man making, say, £2 a week cannot pay more than 7s. or 8s. a week for rent. Accordingly, when we are dealing with these voluntary associations, it is a great matter that they have been able to supply alternative healthy buildings at a moderate rent. The reason they are able to do so is that philanthropists and people interested in this matter have been content with 2½ per cent. on the money advanced, as against what might be the economic rate of 5 per cent.
So important is this known to be—I think Lord Daryngton referred to the point—that it just makes the difference between a rental which it is possible for 775 these people to pay and a rental which is entirely beyond their resources. We were told, I think, that every ½ per cent makes a difference of about 1s. a week. I am speaking from recollection. It is all-important that, in the matter of money, you should not confine yourself within what are called economic limits. You must realise that these houses ought to be provided on terms which make it possible to use them as habitations for the present occupants of the slums. In other words, it is no good building houses beyond the means of these people. I am quite certain that, whether from the State or from other sources, money must be provided, and that it is our social duty to provide it, in order that the houses built and prepared for these inhabitants of the slums shall not be beyond their means to occupy in a decent and orderly manner.
§ LORD PARMOOR
So much has been said to-day which I hope, in some sense, will influence the Bill that I will only say that I hope it will be. I certainly should be the last person to rule it out. I think that would be quite wrong. I hope very much that this debate will lead to what I may call an improved Bill. I do not want to lay down the limits too narrowly at the present moment. With regard to the next point to which Lord Buckmaster referred, I do not want to say that what he said was inaccurate, but it seemed to me to be stated in a way which was a little difficult to follow. Rent restriction, whether you like it or not, is not under the limitation of by-laws. Those limitations are placed in by-laws in these cases by the London County Council. It may be that the Rent Restrictions Act gives cause or excuse for by-laws of that character—of that I say nothing—but the Rent Restrictions Act in itself is wholly independent of any such by-laws. It does not sanction them, it does not refer to them and it really has nothing to do with them in any way at all.
The next speaker, Lord Templemore, made certain observations about which I should like to say a word. We very much welcomed his speech and the addition which he made to our discussion 776 to-night. He dealt mainly with two points. The first was rural housing. We all know his experience in that matter, and I think he will not differ from me in what I have already said. He also referred to the question of re-conditioning. Other speakers have referred to that point, and I must say a word or two about it in order that there may be no misapprehension. So far as re-conditioning is concerned, there will be nothing contained in the Bill to discourage it, but it will not be one of the main features or proposals of the Bill itself. Let me explain the reason for that. As noble Lords will know, the Association of Municipal Corporations have considered the problem of re-conditioning very fully and have made a report. Of course, as your Lordships know, not only is a report of that kind of great value, but when local authorities have to carry out the provisions of a Bill, any Government scheme is bound to give due weight to any objections which they raise.
I will read a passage from this report of the Association of Municipal Corporations. They say:Re-conditioning as a general policy has serious drawbacks … It may be anticipated that the cost of repairs to reconditioned houses will certainly be unduly high … Any large scheme of re-conditioning will probably hinder the carrying out of slum clearance schemes, which is today most urgently required …This, again, is from the report:To sum up, we cannot advise that reconditioning should not be allowed, in view of the experience of such Cities as Birmingham and Bristol, and we are of opinion that, when exercised, re-conditioning should be dealt with by the local authority. But"—and this is the exception—generally we consider that re-conditioning as a policy is open to grave objections, and we recommend that it be not encouraged. We do not consider that further legislative powers in respect of re-conditioning should be asked for.
§ LORD PARMOOR
This was given to me. I have not the actual report, but 777 this is an extract from it. I assume that it would not have been given to me unless the report had be en published. But if the noble Lord asks me in terms for yes or no, I cannot tell him.
§ LORD PARMOOR
It is a report made by the Association of Municipal Corporations on the question of re-conditioning. As I said before, we take the same view as that Association. We cannot advise—
§ LORD PARMOOR
I assume it is a late report. I am sorry that I have not these particulars by me. As I said, this extract from the report was supplied to me.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
It is very important in connection with the re-conditioning of houses that we should know what the report is.
§ LORD JESSEL
If the report was published and laid on the Table, it would be a very great convenience.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I think that question is to be considered by the right rev. Prelate, the Bishop of Southwark. I am sorry that the extract I read has raised these questions. Had I known I would have got those further particulars. I understand that a telephone message is being sent to see whether the information I have been asked for can be obtained. If I get it, I will communicate it at once to your Lordships.
Further matters were raised to-day, some of them in the very interesting speech of Lord Dickinson. I join with the noble Marquess in expressing the pleasure of the House at hearing the noble Lord's maiden speech this afternoon. We both knew him, of course, pretty well in another place. I was not, in the House at the moment and I do not know whether he stated it to your Lordships, but he has had great experience as Chairman of the London County Council and in various offices of that character. I have dealt with the main questions which have been 778 raised to-day, and I want to go back for a moment to questions which were asked me or raised in the debate the other day. The Bishop of Southwark asked me to deal with certain points which he raised not exactly in the form of questions, among them the economic position of many slum dwellers. I agree with him, of course we all agree, that their economic position is very unsatisfactory. Really, their economic position is as bad as the worst position of any workers in this country. The right rev. Prelate spoke of the heavy cost of slum clearance work. That is true, but I want to say definitely that the Government consider that, although it may be costly, this slum clearance work is absolutely necessary. By "slum clearance work" I mean the work of providing alternative dwellings while a scheme is carried out, whatever it may be.
Then he mentioned the delays inseparable from the present system. No doubt there have been delays, but I want to say that it is the hope of the Government, and it will be an object of the provisions of their Bill, to press on as quickly as possible with slum clearance which, in their view is an urgent necessity. No one knows better than many members of your Lordships' House how difficult it is in some cases to press on with these questions. May I take an illustration which was given in this House, the case of Rex versus the Minister of Health ex parte Davis. That was a case in which a slum clearance had been made and there were various suggestions as to the use of the area cleared. I am not criticising what the Courts did. I will assume, as we always do, that they were correct, but what the Divisional Court and what the Court of Appeal held was that the proposal could not go forward and be approved by the Minister because at the time of the slum clearance there had been no definite proposition made as to the use of the land after the slum had been cleared away. I should hope that a matter of that kind, which obviously is a most inconvenient or most obstructive provision found to have been inserted in an Act of Parliament, will be provided against in any future legislation.
There is also the question of re-housing, which is closely connected with what I have already said. I dare say that the noble Marquess and the noble Earl will 779 recollecI IhaI where railway companies interfere with workers dwelling houses they have to supply alternative accommodation. The Government accept that view and regard that as, in essence, a necessity of a re-housing scheme. Their object is to secure that the new housing provision shall be made available in advance of and step by step with the removal of slum properties. For years past, and here again I appeal to the noble Earl, it has been the practice of the Ministry of Health to impose an obligation on local authorities undertaking slum schemes not to displace persons from a slum area until new accommodation has been provided. That is what we are contemplating in our Bill, and the Government contemplate that this should be done on an extended scale and that local authorities should undertake in advance larger amounts of new buildings. That will put them in a position to deal effectively with bad conditions.
The noble Lord, Lord Buckmaster, is not in his place at the moment, but I am now in a position to state that the report from which I read just now was published three months ago by the Association of Municipal Corporations. I think that gives the information that was asked for. I regret that I had not that information at the time. I do not think there is any other specific matter with which I can deal. I do not shut my eyes to all the difficulties, nor do the Government, but they believe that by a proper realisation of State obligations to put an end to a terrible evil of this kind, and by urging on the local authorities to provide the necessary alternative accommodation, these great evils may, at any rate to a very great extent, be mitigated. It would be going too far to say that we ought to expect that they would entirely disappear. They have been too long in operation; but I feel that the time has come, and I hope it will be to the honour of the Government which I represent here, to introduce a real drastic measure in order that this abomination shall be ended.
THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK
My Lords, this House has expressed from every side its sense of the gravity of the problem and its eagerness to see some comprehensive measure introduced as soon as possible dealing with it. There are three very brief observations which I should like to make. Reconditioning 780 has been mentioned more than once as one of the ways in which we might well deal with this problem. I am sure that a great deal can be done by re-conditioning, and I hope very much that when this Bill is presented, notwithstanding the somewhat discouraging remarks which are made by the Association of Municipal Corporations, it will have in it some provision to encourage re-conditioning by property authorities, whether private or public. But, of course, re-conditioning has its limitations. There is a very large number of houses which cannot possibly be re-conditioned. It must also be remembered that experience shows that the re-conditioned house, being through necessity an older house, does not last nearly so long as the house which is built by entirely modern methods.
The second observation is in connection with the problem of rent. I welcome all that has been said in the most encouraging speeches from the Government Bench. Methods of slum clearance, methods of inducing people to live out in the country, around factories which will be built there, will all be excellent, but they will fail, and fail completely, unless the gap between the rent which is now paid by the slum dweller and that which will be necessary when he moves into a new house is bridged. Unless that gap is bridged you may build your garden cities, but the slum dweller will not move to them; you may clear away your slums, but the slum tenant will move into other buildings close beside, which are already overcrowded.
I noticed in The Times to-day a letter from a writer who says that the problem has already been solved, that in Warrington 1,000 houses have been built, which are now let at a rent of 8s. 4d. a week, and which, at the end of twenty years, will belong to the tenants. It is an admirable scheme, and a most interesting experiment. But I do not think that those who read that letter would gather all the facts. Those houses, if I may judge by an article written in The Times some months ago, are houses with two, instead of three bedrooms, and the rent of 8s. 4d. does not include the rates, which probably would be another 4s.; that would raise the amount to 12s. 4d. And that does not include the drainage, or the charge for the groundrents, which would mean at least another shilling a 781 week. This experiment, excellent as it is, means a gross rent of 13s. 4d., and therefore does not in the least solve the problem. I hope, therefore, very much that when the Government are dealing with the matter they will realise—and I think they will from what the noble and learned Lord has just said—that the rent question is really the crux of the whole problem.
My last observation is simply this. The noble Lord who spoke on the last occasion told us that the Government would very shortly introduce their Bill. That is a most encouraging statement, and I hope it will not be thought that I am unduly critical when I point out that, after all, "very shortly" is a relative term, and I wish it had beer: possible—it may be quite impossible, and I do not want to press it unduly—fcr the noble Lords who have spoken for the Government to define a little more what is meant by "very shortly." I should say that by "very shortly" it was intended that the measure would be introduced this month. If it was to be introduced before Easter possibly the word "shortly" would have been used; but if it is introduced after Easter I imagine there would be no prospect whatever of this Bill becoming law this Session. I wish it had been possible for some further definition to be given of that somewhat vague phrase "very shortly". But, at any rate, it does show that the Government are deeply in earnest about this matter, and hope to introduce this Bill as soon as possible.
782 I am afraid I troubled your Lordships on the last occasion with several quotations from reports of medical officers of health. I have only one quotation to give now, and that is from the report which, has been issued by the Douglas Haig Memorial Home. The trustees end their report by saying:Cases of shocking, degrading and inadequate housing predominate. Whole families, father, mother, and children of all ages are occupying one or two rooms. Decent people who have suffered in their country's cause are compelled to inhabit dilapidated premises infested with every sort of vermin. Consumptive fathers are sleeping in the same bedroom with mother and children. Disabled men and necessarily weakling children are herded in damp basements. And, on the other hand, there are the relatively fortunate few who have succeeded in obtaining council houses or other suitable accommodation, but are in daily danger of losing it because they cannot afford the rent.I have read that quotation because I could confirm every single statement of it from facts which have been brought to ray notice within the last few weeks. I have read it also to explain why it is we are so impatient in this matter, and are so urgently pressing that a Bill should be brought in at the earliest possible moment dealing with what has rightly been described as a great national problem. I do not press the Motion for Papers.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes before seven o'clock.