HL Deb 13 July 1931 vol 81 cc777-814

THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK had the following Notice on the Paper:—

1. To draw attention to the large number of persons who, in London and elsewhere, are now living in unhealthy underground dwellings.

2. To ask for information as to the number of houses which the local authorities propose to build in the next five years.

3. To ask if His Majesty's Government will appoint in the interests of efficiency and economy a Central Housing Council to encourage and to supervise the building of houses for the working classes.

And to move for Papers.

The right rev. Prelate said: My Lords, I do not propose to spend much time over the two questions which I have placed on the Order Paper. They arise naturally from the main problem which I am bringing before your Lordships' House—namely, the question of the occupation of unhealthy basements by a large number of men, women and children. The shortage of housing can always be estimated by the kind of buildings which have to be used for human occupation. When the shortage is very serious a large number of buildings which are totally unfit for habitation gradually come into use. At the present time the position is that in London and elsewhere there are a large number of buildings which I hope to prove to your Lordships' House are the most unhealthy buildings it is possible to use as dwelling places. I am not, of course, making a general attack on the use of basements as dwelling places. There are a large number of basements which are perfectly healthy, fairly light and fairly well ventilated. There are a large number of these in London, and it is absurd and impracticable to suggest that they should be dealt with drastically. I am speaking, not of the ordinary basement dwelling, but of the basement which, judged by any standard, is proved to be unhealthy.

I wish to direct your Lordships' attention first to the extent of this problem. It is difficult to get any exact figures, but there is one figure in an official publication which throws light upon the magnitude of the problem. The Medical Officer of Health to the London County Council, a man of great ability as well as of great responsibility, who has, I suppose, better opportunities of knowing the position than almost anyone else, tells us in his latest report that there are in London 30,000 basement dwellings unfit for human occupation. He says that they house 100,000 people. That is to say that in London, in unhealthy basements, there are dwelling now a population rather larger than the population of a town like Reading or Northampton. These basements dwellings are to be found in all parts of London. In St. Pancras, for instance, there are 1,493 that do not comply with the regulations and that are now used for sleeping purposes. In Kensington there are 648 with their ceilings at or below the level of the street. No fewer than 3,300 of these basements have front areas not exceeding 4 ft. in width.

The problem in the provinces, so far as I can learn, is nothing like so serious, though in a number of towns insanitary basements are to be found in occupation. In Liverpool, for instance, where very good work has been done in this respect, there are now 187 cellars illegally occupied, holding a population of over 700. In Bradford there are 97, and I am told that in Edinburgh there are large numbers, and some of them which are particularly offensive are double basements—that is, one basement below the other, both in human occupation. There are a number of smaller towns which have a certain number of unhealthy basements—towns like Hastings and, I am told, Brighton—while other smaller towns have such basements occupied. They are not found in large numbers, but they are to be found here and there, and I have no doubt that, if the full facts could be ascertained, we should find that the sum total was very considerable.

I want to bring before your Lordships the characteristics which make these basements so unfit for human habitation. In addition to the official statements that have been made by various medical officers of health, I have information from another source. I sent out letters containing a number of questions to people who are competent and careful observers, and I had in return the full details of some seventy or eighty basements in occupation. Most of these have certain characteristics. Most of them are dark and the light comes only through a grating in the pavement. In many of them artificial light has to be kept burning all day. Most of them are naturally airless, and the windows are closed from one end of the week to the other so as to prevent refuse from the streets getting into the rooms. I was told by a visitor who went to one of these basements that, in the middle of the day, the gas was burning and in that basement there were three children whom she described as extremely pale and looking like plants grown in a cellar.

But the worst of all the evils that affect these basements is that they are damp. We all remember that a few years ago there was a terrible tragedy through the flooding of basements. Year after year many of these basements are flooded through a sudden downpour of rain. In St. Pancras last June there was a violent thunderstorm and, as a result, in one crescent thirty basements, which were occupied, were flooded. An eyewitness says that in five minutes the rooms were from four to six feet deep in water. The flood went down very rapidly, leaving behind mud, sewage and all kinds of filth. But quite apart from these exceptional occurrences, a very large number of these rooms are always damp. Their walls are damp and their ceilings are damp, and clothes and articles of furniture are ruined by damp in a very short time. Add to this darkness and lack of air, and also the fact that a very large number of these basements are overcrowded. I find that, in the cases that have been sent to me, there are, on the average, three persons living in each room. Most of the rooms are very small, and in some of them there are four or five people living and sleeping. The results of these conditions upon health are perfectly deplorable.

Here I venture to quote from a report made on this matter by the Medical Officer of Health to the London County Council. He says: Without any question certain underground dwellings in London are the most insanitary houses to be found in the Metropolis. There are, in fact, no worse housing conditions existing anywhere than those to be found in the underground rooms in respect of which it is proposed to acquire additional statutory powers to enable them to be dealt with. The most insanitary areas do not, and never have, provided such intense degrees of insanitariness as are to be found in the case of the underground rooms under consideration.…. If the worst basement dwellings are selected for clearance, 100 per cent. of utterly insanitary rooms, quite unfit for human habitation, will, in consequence, pass out of use.

He goes on to say that in 1928 he reported on this matter to the Public Health Committee, and he quotes again the words that he then used. They are as follows: The basement rooms which, sanitarily sneaking, are most objectionable are not those used merely as sleeping places, but those which are occupied mainly by women and children who spend the daylight hours in rooms which perforce are lighted by artificial means. Quite frequently in basement kitchens artificial lighting during the daytime is continuously necessary and in operation. Such rooms are notoriously not only dark but damp and ill-ventilated, and no combination of conditions so injurious to health is to be found in domestic dwellings comparable with that which exists in underground rooms of this kind.

I would remind your Lordships that these conditions are the conditions under which, according to that same report, something like 100,000 people are living in London. I would like to point out how these conditions affect children specially. The majority of those who are occupying these basements are children under the age of sixteen. Out of the 70 cases or so which I have had sent to me, I find there are nearly 300 children, most of them under the age of sixteen, and although some of those who have sent me these reports make no mention of the ill-health of the children, and others expressly say that there are no apparent signs of illness, yet it was quite appalling to notice how again and again there was mention of the ill-health of the children—pneumonia, bronchitis and, above all, rheumatism. I am told on good authority—and possibly the noble Lord who is replying for the Government will be able to tell us something about the matter—that if children living in basements are compared with those living in shim property above ground, you find that the children in those underground rooms suffer twice as much from diphtheria and three times as much from rheumatism as the other children.

I hesitate at quoting actual cases to the House. It is always so easy, unconsciously almost, to take rather extreme cases, but I will give two cases, one normal and another which is bad. Here is the normal case: The parents and four children, from twelve downwards, are living in three dark and airless basement rooms. They pay 6s. per week rent. One room has no window, only an opening into another room. The family have lived here for seven years. The mother and the children have been, says the visitor, sickly and unhealthy since living in the basement. I could quote a large number of cases almost identical. Here is the other case: The parents and two girls, fifteen and twelve, and two boys, six and four, occupy two damp basement rooms, 12 ft. by 10 ft. and 11 ft. by 7 ft. in dimensions. The visitor says that the girl of twelve has had pneumonia three times, the two boys have had pneumonia, and all four children recently had diphtheria, from which another child died. Although that is an exceptionally bad case, yet from the seventy I could quote half a dozen equally bad.

We are sometimes told that we ought to be patient about these matters, that steady progress is being made, and that we ought not to allow our emotions to run away with our heads. What is the progress in this respect in London? I should like to say at once that the problems of London are quite peculiar. They are tremendous, and growing in extent and perplexity, and many of the borough councils, and certainly the L.C.C., have been doing a great deal towards meeting the necessity of providing more houses for the people; but there are no signs that these basements are being closed. The last figure, that for 1927, shows that only 174 of these underground rooms were closed in that year. At that rate it will take 170 years before the basements of London are closed. More than that, I am told by those best acquainted with the problem that the use of basements is now extending. I know of many districts in South London where there are certainly more in use now than there were eight or nine years ago, and I am told that this is happening all over London. In view of these facts, we feel that we have a right to urge the Ministry of Health to take every step possible to press upon the various local authorities the necessity of dealing with this question of continued basement occupation.

Various reasons are alleged for the continued use of these basements. We are told that the law is not sufficiently strong to allow the local authorities to deal with this problem. That difficulty is mentioned more than once in the report from which I have quoted. I think the law has in one respect undergone a change since the passing of the Act of 1930. I speak with a good deal of caution, as a layman, on matters of law, but I think that before 1930 it was not possible to close merely part of a house. In the Act of 1930, however, by Clause 20, power is given to make a closing order prohibiting the use of that part for human habitation and, in the case of any such underground room as aforesaid, make a closing order prohibiting the use of the room for purposes of a sleeping place. The authorities therefore have, I understand, power to prevent the use of a basement, if unhealthy, as a sleeping place. But this is open to two objections. It has already been pointed out in the quotations that I have read that there are serious results to health in the case of people, not sleeping in unhealthy basements, but living there all the day; and, in the next place, it will be extremely difficult to detect when a room is used for sleeping and when for living purposes. In some of these cases, one room is on the ground floor and the other in the basement. The room on the ground floor is supposed to be used for sleeping purposes and the basement for living purposes, but without perpetual inspection it is almost impossible to prevent the living room being also used as a sleeping room.

Therefore it does seem as if further powers were required to enable the local authorities to close living rooms in basements when proved to be unhealthy. Some say that the difficulty is due to the fact that a large number of the people who live in basements do not desire to be moved. There is an element of truth in that. There are people living under these conditions who do not want to move to other homes. They have been living so long in this unfavourable environment that they do not desire to be moved. That is one of the strongest condemnations you can pass on these basements. There are others who are afraid to remove from places which are protected by the Rent Restrictions Acts, because if they move their rents will go up. I have a list of cases of the rents of controlled and uncontrolled houses, and it is remarkable how the rent is raised at once directly a house becomes uncontrolled. There are others who prefer to have two rooms below ground rather than only one above. But I can say quite confidently that the majority of people living in these conditions are anxious to move if it is at all possible, and the truth of the matter is it is not possible for the majority of them.

Most of these poor people are receiving wages of less than 40s. per week; they have large families, and cannot afford much more rent than they are paying at the present time. At the present time many people living in basements are paying between 6s. and 10s. a week in rent. If they move to suitable buildings elsewhere, their total rent will be anything between 14s. and 20s. The London County Council has done most remarkable work in connection with its housing. No one who knows that work will express any other opinion upon it. But they have failed so far to meet the needs of the poorest people with large families, and until houses are built and let at a much lower rent it will be impossible for those people to move away from their basements to houses which are more satisfactory and sanitary.

The matter is one of very great urgency. And this brings me to the two questions which I want to ask. First, I should be grateful if the noble Lord could tell us what number of houses the local authorities propose to build in the next few years. Last May in Circular 1202 the number was stated to be 390,000 in five years, and this the Minister of Health said he regarded as a bare minimum; that means 80,000 per annum. It seems a very large figure, but it ought to be compared with two other things, one official and the other unofficial. There was a Memorandum issued by Mr. Wheatley in 1924, in which he proposed that the rate of building should be 170,000 per annum, and in an unofficial figure recently given by a Committee which considered the problem of the slums it was suggested that 150,000 houses should be built each year for ten years. The figure of 390,000 is a comparatively low figure. I hope very much that the noble Lord who will reply will be able to show that since then supplementary estimates have come in, and that the Minister of Health will be able to assure us that a very much larger number of houses will be built year by year.

My other question is: Will the Government consider favourably the appointment of a Central Council? This Central Council, to supervise housing, would be a temporary board, consisting of experts who would co-ordinate the efforts made in various parts of the country. This has been advocated by housing experts like Sir John Tudor Walters; it has been, I think, commended by The Times; and there are a number who believe that this Central Council might do something towards hastening forward the building of the houses which are required. I am not pressing that at all strongly. Whether that Council is appointed or not, and whatever answer the Government may give on that particular point, I hope they will take every step to deal with this problem of basements.

That is really the urgent problem. And I would ask them to do three things. I would ask them to urge the local authorities to regard the clearance of unhealthy basements as the first plank in their housing policy; I would ask the Minister of Health, by circular and by every means in his power, to urge the local authorities to regard this matter as the first matter on their plans. I would, secondly, ask the Ministry of Health to consider the legal aspects of the question, and, if they find the law wants strengthening on this matter, to introduce a Bill as soon as possible; and I would ask them also to make inquiries, if they have not already made them, about the effects of the basements on the health of those who dwell in them, and to publish any information they have on this matter. That, I believe, would do much towards educating public opinion. Public opinion is really ignorant as to what is happening in these matters. If we read of the murder of a child the whole of England is joined together with a thrill of indignation and pity. But a silent tragedy is going on year by year unnoticed and unknown by the multitudes. Through this tragedy year by year thousands of children lose the happiness which should be their lot, and later on they will face the battle of life crippled with rheumatism, and weakened with disease which they have acquired through their unfavourable surroundings. I beg to move.


My Lords, I do not propose to deal with all the questions raised by the right rev. Prelate in his most able and eloquent speech. I will, however, attempt to give him a few figures, as I have been requested so to do by the London County Council and the borough councils, showing what they are doing to help to solve this problem. I am sure everyone in this House will agree that we are greatly indebted to the right rev. Prelate for once more calling attention to the question of housing. Nothing affects the social life of this country more vitally than housing. Bad housing and bad conditions of environment are responsible for much of the ill-health, the sickness and the maladies, both moral and physical, which it is the earnest endeavour of every Government and every enlightened local authority to remove. I believe it is a great deal due to the efforts of the right rev. Prelate that the Housing Act was passed last year, and I well remember how eloquently in March, 1930, he pleaded the necessity of the Government taking more immediate action than they were contemplating at the moment.

I am glad to think that the right rev. Prelate does not attack the authorities in the Administrative County of London. He has written a most excellent book, and I should like to commend it to any one who is interested in London questions. I have it in my hand. It is called "In the Heart of South London," and came out very recently. The right rev. Prelate says in that book, and I think it is worth repeating: Since the Armistice great efforts have been made throughout England to cope with a critical situation. Successive Ministers of Health have done their utmost to encourage the building of houses for the working classes. Nowhere has this been done on a larger scale than in London and its neighbourhood. The London County Council has taken the lead in this, and has carried out a great programme of building cottages on its estates on the borders of London. Whole towns have sprung from the ground as at the wave of a magician's wand. While on the South side of the river there has been no one scheme of building as large as that of Becontree in Essex, the number of houses erected in Surrey and Kent by the London County Council, the Metropolitan Boroughs, and private enterprise has been nothing less than amazing. I think that is sufficient tribute to the energies of the London County Council and the borough councils.

I should like, however, to read to your Lordships some figures from another book which will also prove of great interest to those who are keen on this matter. That is the book published by the London County Council this year on housing. I do not want to go too much into detail, but it will be seen that in the last ten years, inclusive of what has been done by the outer local authorities, a total of 78,000 houses have been built by the local authorities—37,000 by the London County Council, 11,000 by the City Corporation and the Metropolitan Borough Councils, and 30,000 by the outer London authorities. Housing trusts and public utility societies have built 4,500 houses, and, last but not least, private enterprise has provided 160,000. That is to say, a total of 243,000 houses have been built. That means that the number of houses provided in ten years in Greater London, less houses demolished, was about 234,000, and, at an average of 4½ persons per house, that represents accommodation for about 1,050,000 persons. That, of itself, is not at all a bad record.

Now we come to the question which is dear to the heart of the right rev. Prelate—that of the underground basements. Those who are responsible for administering London know perfectly well what an extremely difficult question this is. It depends upon the alternative accommodation that you can find, and that is the greatest difficulty. There is also difficulty in condemning some of these houses because they are not technically insanitary according to the law. Those are two of the difficulties. Then, of course, there is the question of rents, which is also a root difficulty. The London County Council and the borough councils of London are fully alive to this question and very briefly these are the points concerning it. At present underground rooms cannot be used for sleeping purposes if the floor is more than three feet below the ground level, and the room is either less than seven feet in average height or does not comply with the regulations as regards ventilation, lighting, etc.

There is not, at present, any statutory obligation upon the authorities to rehouse persons displaced owing to the authorities exercising their powers as to closing orders. The position could probably be met by promoting legislation extending Section 18 of the Housing Act, 1925, in its application to London, to enable unsatisfactory basement rooms used as living rooms to be considered injurious to health and, therefore, unfit for habitation. This would make them subject to the provisions of the Act in relation to closing orders. At the moment the difficulty is that it would aggravate what is already a serious position in connection with housing. If basement rooms were closed on a large scale rehousing accommodation would be essential—a much more difficult task than the clearance of unhealthy areas as no accommodation could be provided on the site unless the houses containing unhealthy besements were demolished. This would not be contemplated generally as the houses themselves would not be unfit for habitation; merely the basements could be described in this way.

Wholesale action of this kind would probably take up most of the ordinary housing provision being made by the County Council and the borough councils. It is felt at the moment that further serious consideration must be given to the subject before anything of a drastic nature is introduced. The London County Council and the Metropolitan Standing Joint Committee, which, as your Lordships know, consists of representatives from all the borough councils in London, are in consultation with regard to this very serious matter. I am happy to report that there is a great deal of unanimity and, so far as the Metropolitan boroughs are concerned, very few of them are opposed to the object in view. In fact, an overwhelming majority have declared themselves in favour of some action being taken, although a number of them, while indicating agreement with the principle, think that the difficulties attendant on the proposal would make it very difficult to carry out at the present time. The London, County Council, in addition, are devoting much thought to the suggestion, and the London authorities as a whole may be in a position in time to suggest some means which will deal in a reasonable way with what is acknowledged to be a very thorny problem. If these matters could be arranged they would be embodied in a General Powers Bill of the London County Council. I think, therefore, your Lordships will see that the authorities in London are most sympathetic towards the closing of basement areas.

There is another point to which I should like to draw attention. The right rev. Prelate raised a question about the flood that occurred in Westminster. That, I think, has been extremely well tackled by the City of Westminster in conjunction with the ground landlord, the Duke of Westminster. Speaking from memory, I think 640 flats have been put up, 450 of which are being used for people who lived in the premises concerned, and the remainder are available for fresh housing purposes. I might remind your Lordships that one of the great difficulties, as the right rev. Prelate has stated, is the incidence of the Rent Restrictions Act. Tenants fear to move because they would lose the protection afforded by that Act. And one of the things that make it most difficult to make plans by agreement is that you cannot get rid of tenants in houses of which the rents are restricted.

With regard to the future of housing in London it is not necessary for me, having quoted the right rev. Prelate, to say what has been done, but may I adumbrate the future proposals. First of all, let me give a brief summary of the first quinquennial statement of the London County Council's proposals submitted to the Ministry on December 30, 1930. Excluding rehousing in connection with street improvements, the total number of houses which it is anticipated can be provided by the London County Council in the five years 1931 to 1935 is 34,670, with a total capital expenditure of nearly £22,000,000. These proposals are of a provisional character, but they are based upon present probabilities and the best information available. And what are the borough councils going to do? The London borough councils in the next five years propose to build 10,860 new houses and to repair 12,225 under Part II of the Act of 1930. The houses to be demolished are 4,779 and the persons to be displaced are 29,028. I hope that I have been able to convince your Lordships that the London authorities are doing their best.

May I point out also the very serious question that is raised by the shifting of the population. As your Lordships know, the recent Census returns show that the population of London itself has diminished by about 2 per cent.; I think out of 4,500,000 we have lost about 89,000 people. On the other hand, the population of what is called the outer ring of London has increased by nearly 1,000,000 people. The London County Council, I think, have provided accommodation themselves (I am not, of course, counting what has been done by private enterprise) for 150,000 and altogether it will amount shortly to 170,000 people. But the trouble is that nobody can go into the Council's house unless they live in London. Naturally, owing to the depression in the heavy industries and the shifting of the population from the North to the south-eastern corner of England, you find this big accretion of population. These people come into London, and the local authorities have no power to prevent the houses that are condemned or at least those which have been vacated by persons who have gone out of London becoming overcrowded again. So it goes on. Unless local authorities can get power to prevent the overcrowding of the houses that people have already left, their task will be made exceedingly difficult.

We all know that housing accommodation in London is more expensive than it is in any other part of the country. If you look at the statistics of London and the big provincial boroughs you will find that you cannot get similar accommodation in London at the same price as you can in those other places; but in spite of that the people come in. I am not going to be political or polemical; but owing to the fact that the Government have not thought fit to indulge in tariffs, the heavy industries of this country are greatly suffering, and the people are drifting South where there is more. work. The consequence is that we build and get people out of London, while these other people come in to take their places. The London County Council have done a great deal. They have reduced the rents at Becontree and on the other estates, and they are going to take into consideration whether they cannot reduce rents more, so as to enable that very class to which the Lord Bishop has referred, and which is the most difficult class to provide for, to have better hous- ing. I hope there may be good results from this debate this afternoon. I am sure there is no chamber in the world where more sympathetic consideration is given to this great question than in your Lordships' House, and I only hope the Lord Bishop will have the same success on his Question this afternoon as he has had in persuading the Government to pass as speedily as possible the Housing Act of 1930.


My Lords, I feel we are very deeply indebted to the right rev. Prelate for raising what is really a first-class question. He has made a very powerful statement, but I think in some ways it is an understatement. He has not exaggerated, because it is impossible to exaggerate what is the gravest of our remediable problems. The other day, in another place, a Member of Parliament attempted to arouse sympathy for those who need to be relieved from overcrowding in the East End by describing how he himself occupied a room so short that in order to stretch out full length he had to put his feet out of the window. I have seen, as many of us have seen, much more serious conditions than that. One has seen in street after street, in different parts of London, room after room occupied by a whole family in such a condition of life that you have a little room apparently mainly occupied by the bed—it fills a large part of the room—and there is scarcely space for a couple of chairs, which sometimes form another bed for the child. You have a fireplace, which probably has not a cooking stove; you have no place intended for rubbish; and no place for coal, which is kept in a bag. And in that crowded space, in thousands, in twenties of thousands of cases, you have all the events of birth, of sickness and of death occurring.. There is no chance for the small children to get to bed early, because there is no quietness till the whole family has gone to bed.

I recollect a case of two rooms, occupied by a large family, and seeing one room in which in one bed slept four members of the family, two boys of nineteen and fifteen, and two girls of seventeen and eleven. If you read the medical officers reports, you will see there are far worse cases than that. We have to face facts which are indecent, and speak of them, because it is necessary to do so. We are often told that the underlying truth to a great extent is that the pig makes the sty; but what surprises me when I see these places is the extraordinary struggle that these people make to maintain a decent life of some kind. I am amazed at their courage in attempting even in these conditions, to add a little ornamentation to the room by means of little pictures and pieces of china, which seem out of place in what reminds me more of the squalid quarters in which I have seen refugees in war time in, for instance, the Balkans, collected and herded without any attempt at anything more than shelter and the maintenance of life. Yet these people are not brokenhearted by conditions which would, I am sure, be quite heartbreaking to ourselves.

A very melancholy fact is that these conditions are not by any means confined to what we call slums. Nowadays, in streets that look healthy, which are broad and airy, you find that crowded conditions have arisen. I have seen them myself in North London and East London and West London on a large scale. Many of your Lordships probably know them better. The significance of this situation seems to be very extraordinary from the point of view of humanity. You are imposing on these people conditions extraordinarily cruel. It is quite true that vast numbers of these quarters are not places where we would put our dogs. When we hear that great numbers of these families really do not want to move, I think that on the contrary the talk you hear and the letters you sec from them are pathetic in the last degree.

One of the saddest things I have ever seen was when I had visited houses in the East End with the head of a social settlement, and we had returned to the settlement, about six o'clock in the evening. A young working man hurried in, having heard a rumour that somebody was going round the settlement, and that there was news of houses to be had. This man had applied to the council for many years past, and had been told there was no chance of his getting a house. Two of his children had tuberculosis, and he was quite unable to find a home which would take them in. The distress of that man was very poignant. He was perfectly willing and able to pay more rent, but there was no chance whatever of his being offered accommodation anywhere else by the council.

Take the point of view of health. As the right rev. Prelate said, it is not only a cruel but a wasteful state of things. Tuberculosis, I see, is twice as high in Shoreditch as in Hampstead. The President of the British Medical Association said not long ago: Is it a sound economic position to equip and to maintain, at the cost of millions of the taxpayers' money, sanatoria for the tuberculous, while we guard intact the very preserve of this disease … which can breed more tuberculosis in a week than all our sanatoria can cure in a year? The essential fact is that health, and morality, and efficiency at work are devastated by these conditions, and the public, in a sense, is blind to an extraordinary state of things at our doors, as if there were scales over its eyes. In a case of a grave atrocity the State acts quickly, but we are here in the presence of what is the gravest disorder and a daily atrocity, yet the public sense is dulled by long delay in arriving at any considerable improvement. When we have seen conditions like these we turn with a shiver back to the fresher air; a brief glance is all that we want. It is such a paradox that it seems to me not more absurd than if a town which had, with great labour, arrived at a pure water supply, allowed some stream of polluted water to be constantly entering and vitiating that pure water supply.

What a paradox it is, when we admit grave injury to happiness and health, direct expense to the public in more hospitals and more prisons, ample wealth to deal with it, and when we have vast expenditure on luxuries continuously occurring and 200,000 workers in the building trade standing idle, that the evil is not removed at a greater pace. Of course it may be said, as we have just heard, that a very great deal has been done. Optimists may point to the fact that we have spent since the War possibly £1,000,000,000—that is to say on assisted and unassisted housing—and with that money we have built houses of the scale that we are considering to the number of about 1,500,000. That sounds well, but on all the established estimates it is not 1,500,000 that we needed, but some 2,500,000 to make up for the wastage in war time and the annual wastage that occurs. At the most we have spent, let us say, perhaps £80,000,000 a year. It sounds well, but if you think of what is spent on other things it is not great. On drink the public spend nearly £300,000,000 a year and on tobacco about another £300,000,000. On those two luxuries £600,000,000 a year is spent, which would build another 1,000,000 houses, which is all that we require after a spell of years, and of course it would be largely capital expenditure.

Yet a kind of short-sighted parsimony produces comparative inaction which is callous and insane. Sometimes indeed it is not conscious parsimony but mere lethargy which is at the bottom of the main trouble. In a town I know there was a very great need of municipal housing but for a time not much, if anything, was done. When it was done it added several pence to the rates, but nobody complained at all. General satisfaction was expressed. Stagnation had occurred merely because of the want or a leader. There was no opposition, but there was a lack of someone to give a lead. We know that there are difficulties—we have just been hearing of them—but in the main while Government machinery is complete the chief difficulty is the lack of public opinion and of action on the part of local authorities. We are a very humane people—as humane as any in the world—but as ratepayers we act as if we were callous and narrow-minded, without imagination or sense of proportion. Some rousing of the public conscience would solve this question which is of extraordinary urgency. The Lord Bishop's appeal promises a hope that the Churches will arouse the ratepayer to some necessary Christian humanity. It is a test of civilised government whether people are provided with decent homes, and judged by that test we have woefully failed. I desire with all possible force to support the right rev. Prelate's appeal.


My Lords, the right rev. Prelate who introduced this debate certainly need not apologise to me because it is a repetition of a matter which he has constantly brought before your Lordships' House. I think myself that it should be brought forward again and again until, as the noble Lord who has just spoken said, public opinion is stirred upon the matter and is determined that the evils to which attention has been called should no longer exist. I admit regretfully that it does not seem that we have roused very much in this House this afternoon. No doubt there are many other things that are occupying people's minds at the present moment, some of urgent consequence, and this may well be thought to be a thing that is always with us and can be returned to at a later date. But, my Lords, to my mind it is the one thing on which we ought to concentrate the whole of our attention. How you can ever hope to maintain an honourable, stable, honest working population under conditions such as those to which the right rev. Prelate has referred, I cannot understand.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Jessel—though I understand why he did it—did not really help us much in this matter. What is the use of talking about the number of schemes you have on foot and the places where those schemes have operated when in fact there still remain these places which are unredeemed? And they are unfortunately more in number, as far as I can make out, than anything of which the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, gave us an idea. He said there are 29,000 people living in basements. I wonder if that is all. There are 10,000 in North Kensington alone. Is it suggested that there are only 19,000 in all the rest of the parishes?


I do not think I ever said 10,000. I quoted the medical officer's figure for London. He reported that there are 30,000 underground basements, and he calculates some 100,000 persons.


Then I mistook the figures. No doubt it was my fault. None the less if you have as many as 10,000 in Paddington alone—10,000 basements, I beg you to remember, not 10,000 people—I should be surprised to learn that there are only 20,000 anywhere else. But I think the worst difficulty in this matter is the sort of reply that is obtained when borough councils are asked to take action. You have heard the noble Lord read out this sort of reply: "Some action should be taken, but there are great difficulties in the way." We have heard that until we are tired. That some action should be taken no man dare deny, and if there are difficulties in the way surely it is the first object, and should be the first duty, of county councils and borough councils and individuals to take care that those difficulties are cleared away. Really they are not insuperable. They are grave, I agree, but they are not insuperable.

I agree with the right rev. Prelate that quoting figures is very little use—you can never salve the sore by quoting statistics—but none the less, there are figures in boroughs with which I am acquainted which are perfectly horrifying. Take a case like this: Two rooms, a man and his wife, boys 15, 10 and 6, girls 22, 18, 11, 8 and 3, the house dilapidated and all these people living in two rooms. Take again this case: A front basement room occupied by a man and his wife, a boy of 7, girls of 11, 10, 9, 6, 4 and 3. The room above on the ground floor having been at one time a shop the area has been partially covered in so that light only reaches this basement through bars of iron. The room is consequently very dark. My Lords, you had better live like a rat in a hole than live in a place like that with a growing family—living in a place where daylight hardly enters, covered by iron bars, the sort of thing you would expect in prison. These things can be multiplied many times over in almost every one of our poorer, and even in the richer parishes of London. The right rev. Prelate knows that as well as anyone, because he lives among these people and knows of his own personal experience.

There is another noble Lord in this House, whom I am glad to see here, who knows this matter through and through and whose single-minded energy has been responsible for redeeming some of the worst conditions in North Kensington. I speak of him freely, for he sits on the Conservative Benches. I refer to Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who has devoted his time to this matter and who cannot be satisfied with what the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, has said as to all that has been accomplished. Whatever has been accomplished, there remain yet to be done things that to my mind are greater than all that has been achieved. It is no use at all simply pointing out the number of houses we have built. Are the people who are living in these slum areas able to occupy them? In most cases we know perfectly well that they are not, because the rent is far too high for them to pay. When it is pointed out that the difficulty of moving these people from their basements is that they fear what may happen when, without the protection of the Rent Restrictions Acts, they are exposed to the severity of the competition for open spaces and the unrestricted greed and avarice of the people who own these slums, I am not surprised that they refuse to move.

This problem needs to be approached on a far greater and wider basis than that on which it is being approached at the present, time. I have long thought that, just as in Ireland, to remedy the wrongs of the tenants, it was necessary to introduce an Act by which fair rents were established, it will be necessary to do the same thing in London to secure that these people shall not be fleeced of their last farthing in order to maintain a roof over their heads. I have no doubt that people will call this extreme. I always suffer from this difficulty—that while I am far more of an extremist in many matters than noble Lords opposite, I am far more retrograde in many others than noble Lords who sit below me. In this particular matter I am prepared to go to any distance, for I find it difficult to live easily in contemplation of the horrible conditions in which people live close around me.

I want to add this. I do not think this matter is capable of being solved by approaching it. on one side only. I am afraid that in what I am going to say I shall get out, of line with the right rev. Prelate. I cannot help it, because it is my conviction. I am perfectly clear that, until you can provide some method by which the unrestricted and uncontrolled birthrate can be brought to an end, you will never be able to make the thing permanent. Whatever you do, you will get conditions in which the family will repeat itself in the way that I spoke of it in the case of the family with girls of eleven, ten, nine and so on, and you will have to make very large provision indeed if you are going to maintain a growing family like that. It is my firm conviction that the man who will devise some perfectly certain and simple method by which births can be put within the control of married people will be as great a benefactor to the human race as Simpson or Lister, and that until that is done this kind of thing is certain to recur.

But that is not all. There is another difficulty, the difficulty of providing at this moment the money that is required for the purpose of securing homes for these people that we must displace. I know it is a very great difficulty. I am strongly in favour of every form of economy, and I believe that economies that are not at this moment contemplated will become necessary if we are going to carry on this reform. It is no use at all, when you see the shadows lengthening day by day, comforting yourself with the belief that the dawn is near. We are going to encounter possibly conditions of even greater difficulty than those from which we have emerged, and everybody in the country will have to practise greater economy. It may even be—and I should not mind seeing it—that every post, every salary, every pension will have to be cut down. But one thing that I should never cut down is the money required for the purpose of securing that decent people living in this country may have the opportunity of living in decent homes.

There is one last point. Are you prepared to face that? Are you prepared to say that what is left of our monies that are fast falling through our fingers shall be used for this object? I believe that it would be a wise and proper course to take, and for this reason. What do you think must be the feeling of a man out of work and discontented, who has no home to go to but such places as have been referred to here? Do you think he is going to be a good citizen, that he is going to grow up with a sense of the power of the British Empire and a determination to sacrifice himself for it? No man can stay in such a place all day long and every day. He will drift about the streets, taking shelter in public houses in order to get protection from the elements. If you are going to have a people that you can trust, you must have. homes fit for them to live in. Therefore I rejoice that the right rev. Prelate, in the face of some discouragement, has brought forward this matter for our consideration, and I only wish that every single one of the members on that Bench who sit beside him thought—as they ought to think—as he does in matters of this kind.


My Lords, I should like to add a very few words to that which has been said on this very serious question. It is undoubtedly serious, and I think it is recognised as being serious by the local authorities. I am sure that the London County Council has always considered it one of its duties to find a solution of this question, and I understand that at present the Metropolitan Borough Councils have established a Joint Committee for the purpose of considering what practical steps can be taken to ameliorate the condition of these people who are living in underground dwellings, or rather how they can do away with those dwellings. The numbers, of course, are very large and are not yet accurately ascertained, but there is one thing certain, and that is that about two years ago the London County Council made an estimate of the figures, based on general experience, and they reported that there were 30,000 underground dwellings of this kind unfit for human habitation. These 30,000 were occupied for sleeping purposes.

The law regarding this matter has been in existence for some considerable time. I think it was so long ago as 1855 that an Act was passed, but obviously the legislation is not adequate for dealing with this subject, for here we are, nearly eighty years later, and we are in no better position. In fact I may safely say that we are in a worse position. I have here a report that has been prepared by a voluntary committee consisting of gentlemen who have been, and still are, real experts on this subject. I read in their report that the net progress made seems to be next to negligible. They add: The probable pre-War explanation is that, there being then a considerable margin of empty houses and rooms, there was comparatively little separate occupation of basements, and no need for an active policy in closing basements. The vast excess of the demand for housing accommodation over the supply, which has filled up every available room in the congested areas, is believed to be a post-War condition. As a result the underground rooms in the congested areas are now all in occupation with rare and extreme exceptions. Therefore we have this condition of affairs in which things really appear to be getting worse rather than better, and this, of course, is within the County of London, and as has already been stated, the population of the County of London has been going down during the last two or three censuses. The population has been decreasing within the County of London, and nevertheless the number of people living in underground dwellings unfit for habitation is really increasing.

Of course, it must be admitted that there are great difficulties in dealing with this problem. There is the difficulty of alternative accommodation. You have to get an order to clear out these places, and the magistrate does not like turning people out even from these unhealthy places, unless the authority can say, "Here is a house suitable for you at a suitable rental," and so forth. That is one of the obstacles in the way. Then there is the difficulty mentioned by the right rev. Prelate, that the prohibition is limited to using a basement room for sleeping purposes, whereas we know that there are many unhealthy places used as living rooms and, as we know, constantly also for sleeping purposes. Even if you have got a closing order for a basement dwelling, it is very difficult indeed to prevent it from being occupied again after a few months interval.

The question is what can really be done, and those who are interested in this question, and have been so for some time past, are making a number of suggestions. The first is that there should be a definite survey, which will show exactly all over London where are these basement dwellings, and where are the worst of them, which ought to be closed and something serious done to provide alternative accommodation. Secondly, it is suggested there ought to be a definite programme made, and I hope that this perhaps may be the outcome of the meeting, to which I have referred, of a Joint Committee of the Mayors of the Metropolitan Boroughs. They may perhaps devise means whereby there shall be a definite programme for next year or the year after, or at any rate show that they mean to tackle the problem seriously and in detail. Thirdly, it is suggested that if these underground dwellings were registered as common lodging houses—I believe it is competent for the authorities to do so—then it would be possible to ensure that they are not occupied improperly, and by that means a good deal could be done. I rose to make one or two suggestions, and I am sure we are all grateful, particularly those who are interested in London, to the right rev. Prelate for having raised this question. I agree very strongly with Lord Buckmaster that it is really a disgrace that for eighty years there have been on the Statute Book provisions passed for the purpose of preventing people using these underground dwellings which are unfit for human occupation, and yet there are quite as many people living under these conditions to-day as there were some forty or fifty years ago.


My Lords, His Majesty's Government join with the rest of the House in thanking the right rev. Prelate for once again bringing this very important matter before your Lordships' attention, and I wish it to be understood that if I have to appear to criticise some of the suggestions he has made, we are in complete agreement with him in regard to the main principles involved. Criticism such as the right rev. Prelate has offered this afternoon is welcomed, as it is from everybody who has, like himself, so close a knowledge of the prevailing unhealthy conditions which it is the common object to remove. No one who has read the little book, so penetrating and moving, that the right rev. Prelate has written, can fail to be impressed by the urgency and the horror of the situation with which he deals, and, if I might be permitted to say so, the right rev. Prelate is himself "In the Heart of South London" for the interest he has taken in this matter.

He felt it necessary to excuse himself for being impatient on this matter. His Majesty's Government does not ask him to be patient in regard to this great problem with which we are faced, and I am not in the least degree this afternoon going to defend the conditions or in any way to excuse them. The question of the extent of the housing problem is scarcely in question, because if there were only one family living under the conditions which the right rev. Prelate has described that would be in itself a sufficient reason why this House and another place should treat the matter as one of great urgency. If I have understood the right rev. Prelate aright, he has drawn attention to the conditions prevailing throughout the whole country, but with special reference to London, which has special difficulties that he has explained to your Lordships, and he appears to have associated himself with the annual medical report of the Medical Officer of Health of the London County Council, which deals specially with London problems.

The right rev. Prelate drew attention to the question of the powers of local authorities in this matter. I am not at all qualified to speak upon any question of law, but I am advised that the powers in the hands of local authorities are in fact adequate to deal with the problem that he has spoken of; that the powers for closing are adequate, even when the rest of the house appears to be satisfactory. The right rev. Prelate suggested that to deal with this question of slum dwellings and underground dwellings should be the very first plank in the programme of local authorities; that is to say, in regard to housing and slum clearance. So far as I am advised, the Housing Act of 1930 has substantially cured whatever deficiency previously existed in the law on this matter. Section 20 provides that any part of a house above or below ground which is let, separately may be closed for human habitation absolutely in similar circumstances to those in which a whole house may be demolished; and Section 18 of that Act preserves the old special powers of the Act of 1925 in regard to insanitary rooms, whether let separately or not, which are habitually used for sleeping purposes. These, if they fall within a certain category, can be closed for sleeping purposes only. It should be noted that this latter power in no way detracts from the main power to close any part of a house which is let separately if it is unfit for human habitation. And, as the principal mischief must in any case consist of insanitary basements which are let separately, there is, I am advised, no longer any ground for the suggestions that the existing powers of local authorities to close unhealthy basement dwellings are, in fact, inadequate.

The real difficulty lies not in the adequacy or otherwise of powers of closure, but in the difficulty of rehousing the dispossessed, displaced persons. Remember that the closing and replacing of unhealthy dwellings which are underground, horrible as they are and indefensible as they are, is but one aspect of the general problem of closing or demolishing and replacing unhealthy dwellings wherever they may exist. So far as the question of the campaign for abolishing underground dwellings is concerned, we must, as I say, remember that, bad as they are, they are but one aspect of a difficult and very complex question, and the local authorities, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, must not be diverted from their systematic attack on bad housing conditions generally for one aspect of it alone. It would be no real gain if, by being diverted from the general question of housing, their energies should be absorbed in one particular aspect of it. There is, in fact, no short and easy solution along those lines.

If you think for a moment of the real difficulties, they resolve themselves into this—where are the displaced persons to be rehoused? If you clear a site in London, that site provides itself the site on which people can be re-housed. But to close a basement does not provide a new site, and that constitutes the real difficulty. In fact, you can only deal with these displaced persons by rehousing on outlying estates, and for economic reasons, from the natural desire to be near work, people will submit to conditions near their work, and this makes a difficult problem. May I repeat that the local authorities already have adequate powers to close, and they should make full use of those powers as part of their general programme for dealing with unhealthy conditions. Under present conditions the London County Council can, and does, allot to borough councils 50 per cent. of the new accommodation which they provide, and borough councils in actual practice consider the relative urgency of the claims of those who live in insanitary basements in allocating accommodation. But the problem has to be looked at in its true proportions, and the Act of 1930 is, we submit, an earnest of His Majesty's Government's intention to deal drastically with the whole problem, and we should deprecate the defeat of this purpose by putting an undue emphasis upon one aspect of the matter only.

Now, if I might deal with the question of the outlook of building in England and Wales, I would point out that the outlook is not so unpromising as your Lordships may have feared. One of the provisions of the Act of 1930 to which the Government attach the greatest importance was that which required every large urban authority to envisage their housing or rehousing proposals as a whole, and to submit forthwith to the Minister of Health a comprehensive five-year programme showing their plans for rehousing persons to be displaced from unhealthy areas, or unhealthy conditions existing in demolished houses, or closed parts of houses outside such areas. Programmes have been submitted to the Minister of Health by 280 local authorities, covering five-eighths of the population of England and Wales. These local authorities propose to erect during the next five years a total number of about 340,000 houses. Of this number, 106,000 will be provided for the purposes of the Housing Act of 1930, and 228,000 for the purposes of the Act of 1924. Some 6,000 houses have not yet been allocated to the purposes of either Act. These figures, therefore, represent an annual provision of houses 80 per cent above the output of those 280 local authorities in the year 1930, and if this increase holds good over the whole country, and if the building by private enterprise without State assistance maintains its 1930 rate of production, an average output of more than 200,000 houses per year in the next five years may be expected.

The programmes also indicate that 95,000 houses will be demolished by the local authorities submitting the programmes in the course of the next five years. Of this number at least 60,000 will be demolished in slum areas, as compared with only 11,000 hitherto demolished in the whole of England and Wales during the 12 years since the Armistice. The right rev. Prelate laid, as it was expected that he would, special emphasis upon the position in London. In London, the programmes of the London County Council and the Metropolitan Borough Councils provide for the erection of a total number of 43,034 houses during the next five years, 9,773 houses being provided for the purposes of the Act of 1930, and 33,261 for the purposes of the Act of 1924. A total number of nearly 7,800 houses will be demolished, and 7,000 of this total will be houses in the slum areas.

The right rev. Prelate asked specially about the question of rents. I regret that I am not in a position to speak with any definiteness upon this matter, but within the next week or two certainly the Report of the Committee which has been considering this matter will be available for your Lordships to read.


Would the noble Lord say what Committee that is?


That is a Committee which has been sitting on the Rent Restrictions Acts, and that Report will be available, I think, within a week's time. In addition to what I have said, it has to be explained that there has been insufficient time for this proposed increase in the production of State assisted houses to be reflected in the return of houses completed, but an examination of the numbers of houses authorised by the Department to be built is encouraging. During the first five months of the current year the Department have authorised the erection of 31,993 houses as compared with 23,836 during the first five months of 1930. The number of assisted houses under construction at the end of March was 35,528 as compared with 28,177 a year before. The upward trend of the number of houses built by private enterprise without State assistance is also remarkable. The number so built during the six months ended March this year reached the record figure of 69,746 as compared with 51,788 in the six months ended March, 1930.

If we search for examples in London we find a striking illustration of the effectiveness of the new Act, if operated by energetic local authorities, in South London itself. Rapid progress has already been made by the Borough Councils of Bermondsey and Wandsworth in implementing their five-year programme. Last November Bermondsey declared nine clearance areas, inhabited by 1,363 persons, living in 207 houses which must be acquired and demolished. Already acquisition has been completed in all except two or three cases, and the first instalments of the rehousing accommodation have already reached an advanced stage of construction. They have now gone further and declared two more clearance areas inhabited by 300 persons. In Wandsworth rapid progress has also been made. The Council in January declared three clearance areas, inhabited by 258 persons, living in 62 Louses. One area has already been acquired, and orders have been made for the compulsory acquisition of the other two. The erection of the new houses for the persons displaced is actually well advanced. The Council have recently declared ten more clearance areas inhabited by 307 persons.

Your Lordships will recall perhaps that in the last six weeks a letter from the vice-chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council appeared in The Times giving an account of the housing activities of the Metropolitan Borough Councils. The letter gives certain statistics of what has been done in the past and what it is proposed to do. Among other things this letter said: The new quinquennial housing programme demanded by the Ministry of Health not only from the London County Council but from the borough councils has already given promise of a greater degree of co-operation and team work between all the London authorities than has ever yet been brought to hear upon the problem of the slums. Money alone will never solve this problem. Much hard and clear thinking, the individual treatment of each declared area, the modernising of our building methods and above all the constant interchange of news and experiences between the authorities charged with this gigantic task are far more vital to success than the mere provision of the necessary funds. The right rev. Prelate asked that local authorities should be urged along the line of their duty in this matter. His Majesty's Government have every sympathy with the desire that the local authorities shall be as energetic as they can be in this matter, but we have to lead, if we can, the local authorities and not drive them. As an old member of the London County Council—the most efficient body, saving of course your Lordships' House, with which I have had any contact—I know how keen is the desire of that body on all sides to promote the solution of this housing problem.

The Government in looking at this matter do not claim that they are satisfied. No Government could be satisfied with the conditions as we know them. They will never be satisfied until the present unhealthy conditions are finally swept away. It is true that the proposals of a few local authorities are notoriously inadequate, and the best means of inducing and, if need be, of compelling local authorities to take a more serious view of their responsibilities is one which is engaging the earnest attention of His Majesty's Government. At the same time the Government feel that the figures which have been given and other indications such as the letter from the vice-chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council, show beyond a doubt that the local authorities of the country, as a whole, have responded generously to the Government's appeal to them to make full use of the new powers and resources which the Act of 1930 has made available to them.

I will now pass to the third of the Questions put by the right rev. Prelate—that in regard to the proposed Housing Council. His Majesty's Government cannot help feeling that to choose this juncture to make such a completely new departure in housing policy as would presumably be involved in the setting up of a Central Housing Council would be unwise. It may be that the right rev. Prelate will explain more precisely what functions such a Council would perform, but those who have previously made this recommendation have left the Government in doubt as to whether what is intended is an organisation for building houses, or an organisation to approve or disapprove the proposals of local authorities for the building of houses, the initiation of the proposals being left as at present to the local authorities. If the latter is intended, the suggestion is merely one for substituting for the Housing Department of the Ministry of Health a new and untried body with precisely similar functions but without the experience of the present Department or its intimate contacts with other related aspects of local government.

If, on the other hand, it is intended that the Central Council should itself undertake the building of houses, the proposal is of a much more far-reaching character and appears to His Majesty's Government to be open to grave objections. Housing is essentially a matter for local government. Houses must necessarily be built to fit local conditions. There can, therefore, be no mass pro- duction houses in the ordinary sense of that term. Moreover, the local people must be the best judges of how many houses are wanted, where they are wanted, and what kind will best suit local circumstances. The answers to these questions depend on a large number of purely local factors; for example, how fast the population is growing, what sort of sanitary conditions prevail, how much overcrowding there is, and so on. The local authorities do not need a national body to teach them their own business in regard to such matters, although of course a central Department can and should, as at present, do much by encouragement and advice to ensure proper standards of accommodation and amenity on the one hand and, on the other, a due economy which alone will make it possible to charge rents that the lowest-paid workers can pay. Whoever builds the houses, it would presumably fall to the local authority to let and manage them, and it would be anomalous if they were called upon to do so when they had had no say in choosing the types, numbers or sites of the houses to be put up.

For these and other reasons, therefore, His Majesty's Government feel that it would be imprudent to over-ride local government and abandon well-tried methods of building by the local authorities with the aid of subsidies from the Exchequer. It is quite certain that both of these could not continue side by side. If the Government announced that they were going to undertake housing themselves on a great scale, the local authorities would certainly cease their own housing activities and leave the work to the Government. In this way we should imprudently throw away an immediate promise of certain performance for something quite uncertain in its prospects. As has been pointed out, the local authorities are already beginning to carry out their five-year programmes of housing and slum clearance under the Act of 1930, and to interfere with them at the present moment would, in the Governments view, be most unwise.

I think I have dealt with most of the questions which have been put to me by the various speakers. I have given the broad outlines of Government policy which, if it is not entirely satisfying, is at any rate far from being depressing. The nation is slowly overtaking arrears, some of which ought never to have been allowed to accumulate, and they are slowly—all too slowly perhaps—reducing the problem to manageable proportions. There remains, as your Lordships are aware and as His Majesty's Government does not deny, much that still has to be done. No Government is entitled so long as slums exist to feel satisfied about them, or to remain inactive, and until this thorn in our sides has been removed it will be the duty of people like the night rev. Prelate and those who have spoken in this House to urge whatever Government is in office to do its very utmost to meet the responsibility placed upon it. But these conditions that are so horrible to us are not new. Let us always remember that. We inherit them from previous generations. What is new is a growing shame that they continue to exist. It is in my view the duty of whatever Government is in power to take advantage of this awakened national conscience, and to take such steps that even in our time this problem of the slum dwelling and the underhousing of our people may be solved.


My Lords, if I rise at this late hour to continue this debate for a short time, it is only because I feel bound to criticise the attitude of the Government. I think they are acting in this matter with a lack of vision in one particular point that I shall come to in a moment, which is going to cost the country very dear if it is not rectified in time. Before I come to the precise point on which I wish to offer criticism of the Government's attitude, I should like to support wholeheartedly the case which has been made by the right rev. Prelate and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster. They both know the case inside and out, and never fail to present to your Lordships the cogent facts and figures. The housing problem is one which cannot fail to rouse the sympathy of anybody who gets into close touch with it. It is not only a mere matter of emotions which are aroused. Anyone who gets down to it and knows how the people are living becomes aware of the immense damage which is being done to the people, and the great cost to the social system which these conditions are causing.

On one point only I would like to amplify what the right rev. Prelate said, and that is with regard to flooding. In London, unfortunately, there are an enormous number of basements which are not only unfit for human habitation but which are liable to floods. The noble Lord, Lord Jessel, seemed to think that Westminster was the only place which gets flooding. I can assure him it takes place also on much higher ground, as, for example, in Kensington. During a thunderstorm in June, 1926, no less than one thousand houses were flooded, some to a depth of two and three feet, in Kensington. They produced a condition of affairs which it is impossible to imagine. In fairness to the L.C.C. I am happy to say that they have erected a storm relief sewer, which has done something to mitigate the flooding, but no longer ago than last year the same conditions recurred, although to a less serious extent. Last summer, the number of basements flooded in a particular storm was as many as 180, and anyone who knows the condition of a basement after flooding from the sewers has been in a day does not need to be told that 180 houses is a great many more than it is desirable to have flooded in that way.

The discussion with regard to whether the powers are adequate to close basements or not is entirely beside the point. Basements cannot be closed. I must admit that, however undesirable they are, they must remain until you can house the people now in them. The heart and the kernel of the problem is to provide houses and yet more houses, and at rents which people can afford to pay. Everybody knows, and nobody better than the Government, that the solution of the housing problem is wrapped up in the decentralisation not only of population but of industry. That point has been emphasised over and over again by Committee after Committee and Commission after Commission, beginning with Mr. Neville Chamberlain's Unhealthy Areas Committee in 1921; and everybody who has studied housing knows that until you get industry out and population out you will never get any solution of this agglomeration which is going on increasing the size of London. It is the garden city policy, the satellite town policy, which is to be encouraged. I am bound to say that in listening to the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, I was filled almost with despair to hear his recital of what has been done by the L.C.C. and what the L.C.C. is going to do. It leaves me entirely cold. If the L.C.C. had shown a little bit more vision in this matter, this satellite town and decentralisation policy might have been in full swing long ago. They might have had a satellite town which would have united the industries of Slough with the population of Becontree. But they have chosen to disregard the vital aspect of that policy.

If the L.C.C. has failed in this matter, what about the Government? That is the point to which I wish to direct your Lordships' attention. The Government, the Socialist Party, have never been tired of telling us about what they would do with garden cities and town planning when they came in, and, indeed, they have produced a Town and Country Planning Bill. In that Town and Country Planning Bill the Government are going to take powers to acquire compulsorily land which will be handed over to associations which will create these garden cities, and now the whole thing is going to be torpedoed by this Land Tax. The two Bills are utterly and absolutely contradictory. The Government have excluded from their Land Tax such societies as will provide houses for the working classes, but they refused to accept an Amendment which would omit these garden cities. They are providing for us on the one hand a Town and Country Planning Bill to encourage satellite cities, and on the other hand they are going to tax them out of existence. It seems to be really almost trifling with your Lordships to talk about the 1930 Act and what it is going to do, and to say nothing about this corollary Act.

We have been always told that the solution of the problem would be in the 1930 Act and the Garden City Act. Now you hear talk about the 1930 Act and the Garden City Act is entirely torpedoed. The noble Lord, Lord Snell, in his reply, said that the Government must not be diverted from its systematic attack on the housing problem. But they are being diverted. There are going to be no more garden cities created in this country owing to the action which they are taking about the Land Tax. It is rather interesting for your Lordships to observe how this was brought about. An Amendment was moved in the House of Commons to exclude from the action of the Land Tax these garden city associations. It was negatived on a Division in which the majority for the Government was five, and in the Government majority there were no fewer than ten members of the Liberal Party. I am perfectly certain that the Liberal Party supports the garden city policy but, rather than see the Government defeated, ten of them went into the Government Lobby and defeated this Amendment, which was quite obviously in line—I am putting it broadly—with public opinion in this country. And, my Lords, they are putting this clause about garden cities into a Bill which your Lordships cannot touch.

It does seem to me—it is not putting it too strongly—that that is a really degradation of Parliamentary procedure. I do not say that it was done in that way so that your Lordships cannot help garden cities, but that is the result of what they are doing. If there is one thing your Lordships' House is keen about, it is open spaces and town planning, garden cities, avoiding ribbon development and all the rest of it. It is a subject in which your Lordships' House have always taken the greatest interest. As a result of this, your Lordships are going to see the whole garden city idea torpedoed and you are not able to do anything at all about it. The Finance Bill is coming before your Lordships' House to-morrow. I believe it is your practice in that matter to negative the Committee stage, but it seems to me, when you have the Socialist Party flying dead in the face of public opinion in this way, that if you are not afraid of creating a precedent, you ought to go into Committee.


I do not wish to interrupt the noble Lord, but he must know that he is not in order in discussing the Land Tax now. You will have an opportunity to-morrow. I do not want to argue with him, because that would be out of order, but it is always out of order to discuss a Bill which is not before the House.


With great respect, I think I am in order in discussing garden cities in relation to housing, but no doubt a suitable occasion will arise to-morrow. I think it is very regrettable that the movement should be torpedoed in that way, and I warmly support the motion of the right rev. Prelate. I only wish it were possible to give effect to it in some more useful manner. A Motion passed in your Lordships' House may not produce any great effect, but at all events the subject has been ventilated and one may hope that some good will come of it.


May I, by leave of the House, ask a question of the noble Lord who represents the Government? He told us of certain provisions in the Housing Act of 1930 relating to underground dwellings, and he said that there were sufficient powers under the 1930 Act to deal with certain difficulties. I wonder whether he could circulate that to local authorities?


The answer to the noble Lord is really contained in Section 20 of that Act. I will read out the section if he wishes it.


I do not think it is generally known to local authorities.


Surely it must be.


I am quite unqualified to speak on a matter of law, but I am advised that the powers are, in fact, adequate. If you read Section 20 of the Act—it is not easy reading—it does really appear that the powers are adequate.


I am very much obliged to the noble Lord.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord for his reply, and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.