§ THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER rose to ask His Majesty's Government for information—
- 1. As to what steps have been taken by local authorities in England and Wales under the Housing Act, 1930, to deal with (a) clearance areas; (b) improvement areas; and (c) individual insanitary houses;
- 2. As to the steps proposed to be taken to provide houses which can be let at rents within the means of the poorer members of the working classes;
§ And to move for Papers.
§ The right rev. Prelate said: My Lords, I make no apology for once again bringing before this House the problem of the housing of the working classes. It is, I think, eighteen months since we last had a debate on this subject. In the interval many things have happened, and it is right that the situation should now be reviewed and that we should ask His Majesty's Government to make to us some statement of the policy which the Ministry of Health propose to adopt to supply the shortage of houses. Since the War something like 1,900,000 have been built. That is a wonderful record, a record of which any nation might well be proud. This gigantic figure, combined with the fact that on the outskirts of almost every great town new houses have sprung up, has led many to believe that the housing problem has already been solved either here or there, but I think it is doubtful whether the census figures, when we are able to examine them in detail, will show to us that that has indeed been the case.
So far as the London figures are concerned, which we now have in detail, they show that, notwithstanding the great efforts which have been made by the London County Council, the shortage of houses in the County of London remains very serious. Let me give the House two figures. In 1921 30 per cent. of the population was living three and more to a room in the County of London. Now that number in the last census was 32
per cent.; in other words, the number has increased from 129,000 to 150,000. In 1921 38 per cent. of the families of the County of London had separately structured buildings, in 1931 it had fallen to 36.7. To quote the Census Report,
two-thirds of the families in London fail to secure the exclusive occupation of a separate dwelling, but share in a majority of instances a common water supply, and common sanitary arrangements.
§ It is only right to mention that the overcrowding of two to a room has decreased in the last ten years, but the more intense form of overcrowding of three and more to a room has shown the same increase notwithstanding the reduction of the child population.
These figures, which we find in the Census Report, are confirmed by the reports of the medical officers of health. The country owes a great deal to these men, who have done so much for the health of their districts, and who have such an intimate knowledge of the social and health problems of the districts under their care. There are no fewer than fourteen current reports of these medical officers in which they speak of the insanitary conditions and the gross over-crowding under which so many are now living. Let me give three quotations as these three quotations give actual figures. Here is a quotation from Bermondsey:
Although 300 families have been moved during the year, there are at present 1,475 families known to us who are living in overcrowded conditions. It appears from these figures that the position is getting worse rather than better.
In Southwark, the report says:
Our housing survey shows that at the present time there are 2.113 families housed in 1,531 decayed and dilapidated houses or dwellings, many of which are grossly overcrowded.
From West Ham we are told:
The shortage of houses in this area is still very acute, and this naturally aggravates to a great extent overcrowding. There are, approximately, 3,000 houses where overcrowding exists.
§ May I give one personal experience? At the end of last year, during Christmas week, I had a letter from a social worker asking me if I could do anything to help a family to be moved from their surroundings, for in that family there were two girls who were diphtheria carriers. They 52 had not diphtheria themselves, but they could carry diphtheria. As this family was living within half-an-hour's walk of my house I went there that day. I found a street of some forty houses. The house I went into had four rooms. The front room was closed because it was impossibly damp. The kitchen was the living room, and the kitchen was infested from time to time by rats which gnawed any food that was left about. The two rooms upstairs were small, damp and dark. In one of the rooms a man and his wife and a boy slept, and in the other room four girls and a boy in one bed, which filled most of the room. It was possible, even that afternoon, to see vermin on the walls which dropped upon the children at night. I sent the facts to the owners of the house, who acted with great promptness and moved the family within a week. They told me that they wished to pull down this house, but it had been found almost impossible to secure accommodation elsewhere for the tenants. A week later—and this is why I am giving this illustration—I had a letter from the headmaster of the school of that district, and also from another welfare worker. Both of them told me that if I had gone into the other houses I should have found there conditions exactly the same as in this particular case. I asked to see the rent book to find out if there was any reason why these people had not been moved before, and I found the rent had been paid quite regularly for two or three years past.
It may he said that in London conditions are quite exceptional. No doubt London has got special problems which are not to be met with elsewhere, but from the provinces there comes the same kind of report. I have some forty-two current reports from medical officers of health and these reports all, in the same way, complain of the conditions of overcrowding. From Bradford it is said:
There still remains a great scarcity of housing accommodation.
It would almost seem as if the shortage of houses is, if anything, getting more acute in spite of the new houses which have been built.
In view of the serious shortage of housing accommodation there is a tendency to re-occupy cellars as separate dwellings, many of which have been closed for several years.
Of another place the medical officer says:
There are now 1,832 dwelling houses found to be in a. state so dangerous or injurious to health as to be unfit for human habitation.
In Wolverhampton, the medical officer reports:
Even with the present rate of progress it will take at least ten years to deal with the worst houses on the list.
From Stockport we are told that the housing conditions of many patients who have been visited by the tuberculosis officer are deplorable. It is impossible to insist on a separate room for the patient; it is, unfortunately, frequently impossible to insist on a separate bed.
I might go on giving quotation after quotation. I have given these quotations because there are a very large number of cases in which no improvement has been made in the housing conditions in the last two years, notwithstanding all the efforts that have been made, and it is no exaggeration to say that to-day there are literally, not thousands, but tens of thousands of our fellow countrymen, living under conditions of squalor, misery and wretchedness. That leads to the first Question which I put to the noble Viscount who is to answer—namely:
What steps have been taken by local authorities in England and Wales under the Housing Act, 1930, to deal with (a) clearance areas; (b) improvement areas; and (c) individual insanitary houses.
I know that in this House when a question is asked the speaker very often tries to give the answer, but says it is only a very partial answer, and he hopes it will be supplemented.
§ I understand that up to the end of October 160 Clearance Orders and 71 Compulsory Purchase Orders have been confirmed by the Minister, involving a displacement of 31,000 people. In addition resolutions in respect of 23 improvement areas have been passed by thirteen local authorities affecting about 1,050 persons. I wonder how many of these have actually been carried out. I know, of course, that it takes time even under the new procedure, but I wonder how many have been actually carried out. If all were carried out, if some 31,000 people were moved from slums to better surroundings. how small that is compared to the total number who are dwelling in slums. We are told that in London 54 alone there arc 100,000 people in unhealthy basements. I know the answer will be—and it is a perfectly fair answer —that it is impossible to move people from these slums until you have built houses which can be occupied by men who are receiving small wages and have large families. It is here that our great housing programme has failed. It has provided a very large number of decent houses for artisans and clerks and others who have regular wages, but it has provided comparatively few houses for those who have small wages and large families.
The housing problem, the overcrowding problem, the problem of the slums can never be solved until there are built a much larger number of houses which are generally called non-parlour houses, houses which have three bedrooms. It is these which are now lacking. The Ministry of Health recognises this. In Circular 1238, issued in January this year, it is stated:
It is generally admitted that the out-standing need at the present time is for the building of houses which can be let at rents within the means of the poorer members of the working classes. The Departmental committee on the Rent Restriction Acts, whose terms of reference led necessarily to a general review of housing conditions, show clearly in their report that, in spite of the immense volume and cost of house building since the War, the needs of the poorer workers are not in fact being adequately met …
The Minister has therefore suggested to the Associations whom lie has consulted that local authorities could concentrate their efforts on the provision of a type of house which can be built at a low cost and can be let at a rent within the means of the more poorly paid workers.
§ That leads me to my second Question: What steps are proposed to be taken by the Ministry to meet this recognised need?
§ So far as I can gather, the building of these houses has slowed down in almost every direction. Take, for instance, London. In 1930 the London County Council sent in its programme for five years, as it is required to do under the Act. It provided for 34,670 dwellings at a cost of £21,000,000. In 1931 it spent £3,000,000 and in May of this year it voted £1,650,000. That decrease in amount can only be interpreted as a very great slowing down in the rate of building, and I am told that that is generally the case throughout the country. Of 55 course, there may be exceptions, but there is, I think, undoubtedly a slowing down in the rate of building. I do not want to criticise the London County Council or the local authorities for this pause. They are working in extremely difficult times. The need for economy is so great that, naturally, they have paused in their building schemes to see where best they can economise and what best can be done in the future. But they are also waiting, undoubtedly, for a statement of policy from the Ministry of Health. They are riot certain what the future policy of the Ministry is going to be. They are doubtful whether they ought to launch some great scheme because they might find two or three months hence that another policy was to be advocated by the Ministry.
§ There are all sorts of suggestions pouring into the Ministry at the present time, and I have no doubt that the Ministry is considering them with great care. Some of these proposals are excellent, but other proposals I hope they may examine with very great caution. But until some clear and definite statement is made by the Ministry of Health, I think we shall find that there is a pause in the building of houses. I want to make this point. You can pause in the building of houses, but you cannot pause in the creation of slums. The slum does not remain stationary. Every year that a slum remains, that. slum gets worse, and not only that, but the houses in districts on the margins of that slum gradually deteriorate. Every year new slums are created unless there are houses to which people can be drawn. If we delay too long we shall find the problem has grown to such. a gigantic extent that it will be impossible for any Government, even in much snore prosperous days, to deal with the problem adequately.
There are two considerations which I should like to urge in support of immediate action. We have to-day, I think, all our difficulties notwithstanding, a real moment of opportunity for the building of new houses. In the first place we have a large number of unemployed men in the building trade. I believe that 240,000 is the right number. It is true that a considerable proportion of those are not engaged in the building of dwelling-houses. They are engaged in
decorative and other work. But I think that probably at least 10 per cent. of them are engaged in the building of small houses. It would be something to get 24,000 men working. I am told that if work was found in the building of new houses a number of these men now out of work, who usually are employed in the painting of houses and so on but who cannot get work in that direction at the present time, would move into other classes of work and find employment. Besides that, if you once start the building of houses on a large scale, a number of dependent and subsidiary industries would also find work for those who usually are employed in them. Some of your Lordships may have read an interesting article by Sir Raymond Unwin in the current number of the Spectator, in which he says that
it is calculated that the labour required to prepare the materials and build a house, if unemployed, involves an expenditure of about £80 for maintenance. This means that at the present time every dwelling that is not built is involving an expenditure of about £80 in unemployment relief.
§ The second consideration I want to urge is that the cost of building is to-day lower than it has been for a large number of years. In 1927 the total cost of a non-parlour house, excluding the site, was £413. Now it is £307. To put it in another way, the average cost per superficial foot of houses was 10s. 8d. in 1927 now it is 8s. 4½d. If interest is reduced, say, 1 per cent. on a house which at the present time would cost, say, £400, it would mean a reduction of something like 1s. 6d. a week in the rent. We have to-day a wonderful opportunity for building houses at a much lower cost than has been possible for many years past, and for the sake of the unemployed and for the sake of economy, I would plead that the Government should press on local authorities to go forward with building schemes, no doubt drawn up economically; but press them to use this golden opportunity of making good the shortage of houses. There is a great deal of suffering in the world that we cannot remove—we have to watch it with pity—but the terrible suffering which is clue to overcrowding and falls mainly on the children we can remove, and I venture to hope that we shall by the building of houses do much to remove it. I beg to move.57
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, I am sure the House is grateful to the right rev. Prelate for once again introducing to its notice this most important and very grave question. The constancy with which he has done this merits greater reward than he has hitherto received, and my noble friends and I desire to offer to him every support we possibly can in enforcing the view he has expressed upon His Majesty's Government. Next to the question of wages and food the question of housing is dearest in the minds of the working classes of the country, and the need that steps should be taken has been proved beyond doubt by the evidence presented by the right rev. Prelate in tin, speech we have just heard. It is possible that there are no fewer than three millions of people at the present time living in insanitary dwellings of one kind or another, in slums, in underground tenements, and in places altogether unsuitable to the development of bodily efficiency and spiritual qualities.
This need is not confined to the cities alone. Very frequently in village communities there is the same grave need that steps should be taken, and this is a very difficult time in which to urge heroic action because of the conditions under which we are living. There is, nevertheless, always a danger lest the wise word "economy" should be used to support uneconomic and even wasteful parsimony. We need to be on our guard against that also. As I understand the Act of 1930, it imposes on the housing authorities certain definite statutory obligations. They are, as often as occasion arises, to prepare and submit to the Minister proposals for the provision of new houses for the working classes. It is that aspect of those powers that the right rev. Prelate has brought before your Lordships this afternoon. In spite of what has been done, for which we are grateful, the problem is still exceedingly grave. The Ministry of Health Circular 1238, published last January, says that:in spite of the immense volume and cost of house building since the War, the needs of the poorer workers are not in fact being adequately met.It seems to me that I can perhaps best contribute to the usefulness of this discussion if I confine my remarks to the single question of the effect which a 58 building programme would have on the question of unemployment, about which every one of your Lordships is very much concerned. The number of people who are unemployed is prodigious, and these people do constitute a charge in one form and another upon public or private funds. If any way could be found of absorbing a great section of these people into profitable reconstruction work it would be not only a blessing to the people themselves, but a blessing and a real economy to the nation. The effect of their being unemployed is that the borne market is starved. These three millions of unemployed—I am speaking in round numbers —spend far less than they would if they were drawing full wages and to that extent their powers of consumption are reduced. Therefore there is every reason for promoting the policy of re-employing them if it can be done upon proper creative lines, and, as the right rev. Prelate has suggested, houses at the present time can be built under more or less economic conditions. It is the first great thing to remember that, owing to the. experience which has been gained in the building of small dwellings since the War, and the condition of the money market, these small houses can be built without their being any charge, as it were, on public funds. Your Lordships may say that if that is so why not leave it to the builders themselves who are always looking for opportunities to use their capital: but owing to the conditions of this time builders are not so heroic as they were and various things will hold up their activities. If a public programme could be inaugurated it would give a new start to the whole of the building industry.
I desire to press upon your Lordships the important fact that in all its forms the building industry absorbs the largest number of male workers of any industrial group in the country—that is to say, 1,145,890. The subsidiary groups that are almost wholly dependent upon the building industry add another 407,170, or a total exceeding 1,550,000. Then there are other groups not wholly dependent upon the industry, but indirectly affected, that reach another 750,000. This is, of course, a very large section of the workers of this country. At a conservative estimate some 2,000,000 workers are affected by the activity or otherwise of the building and public works group of industry. If you think of the number of unemployed in 59 the building trade you see the need for action. The Labour Gazette of August of this year puts the number at 351,000, representing 27.6 of the building workers and 42.5 of the workers in public works. This is the largest percentage of wholly unemployed males in any single group in the community—18.1 per cent. of the whole total.
We need to remember too that increased activity in building and public works would involve no adverse balance of international trade, because practically the whole of the raw materials are produced and worked up in our own country; so that the first effect would be a remarkable reduction in unemployment; and secondly, inasmuch as these people are not now employed, the saving of the charge upon unemployment benefits would be very considerable. Therefore, if you can re-absorb them into the greatest industry of its kind you are working upon economically sound lines. The financial effect of this enterprise would be of advantage to the community as a whole. The whole of this question has been worked up with extraordinary efficiency by a Public Relations Committee set up by the building industry itself, which presented a memorandum full of figures and information of a very striking character. The subsidiary industries that would benefit from work of this character would be such as brick, tile and pipe making, iron founding, saw milling, stone and slate quarrying, cement making, electrical wiring, paint and varnish making, and so on, so that if we could undertake a great building programme we could make a real inroad into the enormous number of unemployed who are, at present, vainly seeking work.
As I have said, the building industry absorbs more man-power practically than any other industry. It also has this advantage, that the greater portion of what is spent upon it is paid out in wages. For every £100 spent it is calculated that at least £80, in one way or another, goes in the shape of wages—£40 to the building trade workers, £45 to £50 for materials which are made at home, and £10 to £15 in overhead costs; but, from the £45 to £50 for the production of materials £35 is paid in wages; so that of every £100 you do put upon the purchasing market, as it were, without cost to the community, £80, whereas if no action he taken, instead of £3 per week, what- 60 ever it may be, in wages, which would sustain your home market, you have anything up to 30s. to be found from the public funds for which you get no return at all. If those figures are substantiated, and they have the authority of a most comprehensive committee behind them, His Majesty's Government need not fear even in these times to inaugurate an activity of that kind.
What I have suggested is not a wild Labour proposition. It really has behind it the authority of some of the hest minds in this country. Forty distinguished economists, writing in The Times on July 5 last, said:The Government should encourage departmental and local authorities to speed up their expenditure on all sound schemes of constructive development.Professor Macgregor, in The Times of October 13 last, said this:Just because depression means uncertainty, the private buyer is disposed to save beyond normal. This special parsimony, with its cumulative results, needs a special counterpoise. Otherwise we shall spend our substance in riotous saving.Sir Arthur Salter says:The building trade is always a key point in the economic structure, and any improvement there would quickly radiate.I should hesitate to ask on the strength of my own views that an enterprise of this kind should be undertaken, but our little group is always being pelted with the authority of great names, and if I can quote them in favour of something which I am personally urging, I think they would have greater weight upon your Lordships' minds than anything which I can myself advance.
I think that this time, as the right rev. Prelate has said, we are in a very favourable position. Money is cheap, we have learned a great deal about the way to produce houses, there is labour in abundance, and the need is beyond dispute. All that we require is, I think, to start operations on these lines, and then the results would show themselves in a better home market, in increased health, and in other ways which would be a blessing to the community. Because the need is so pressing, and because to do this would enrich the individual without impoverishing the State, I venture to associate myself with the right rev. Prelate in begging the Government to 61 assure the House that there will be a quick and effective response to the oft-made and entirely justifiable appeals which the right rev. Prelate has addressed to the House.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, am sure that every one of you will appreciate and endorse the reference that the noble Lord who has just sat down made to the energy of the right rev. Prelate who has brought this matter so constantly before this House. My own feeling is, and alway s has been, that we owe him a very great debt, and it has always been a matter of great regret to me to think that he is not supported actually, as I have no doubt he is in opinion, by all the body of Peers who sit upon the Spiritual Bench. The truth is that this is a matter that must he kept constantly before the public mind, because if it is not the whole thing is forgotten, and as there are only a very few people who have personal knowledge of the conditions about which he speaks, the matter is passed by as one which is not urgent, and which needs no immediate attention. It is because of his intimate personal. acquaintance with these conditions that his support on this question becomes so extremely valuable.
I often wonder how far it is possible to make people understand by words and figures what goes on in these dark back streets of our towns. You read, as you can in the medical officers' reports, that the average death rate for children per thousand throughout the whole of London is 67. And you read, if you take the trouble to examine them, that in the one district of Kensington alone, during one of the past years—the last year for which I examined the returns—the death rate was 101—and that, in one of the richest and finest parishes in the whole of London! My Lords, those are absolutely nothing but arithmetical calculations: they convey nothing to the minds of anybody who has not been into the houses, who has not seen the children sick and wasting, who has not realised all that those figures mean in sorrow and misery to the mothers of the children who are compelled to live there. There are dark, damp, slimy dens where people are compelled to live to-day under conditions which are the ruin of their health; and for that ruin we have, sooner or later, to pay.
62 The problem, always important, is to my mind more pressing to-day than ever. There are about 3,000,000 people normally engaged in occupation in this country who to-day are idle. Now, I want to ask you where they are to go. Where do you suggest that they are to spend their leisure? Is it the public house; or are they to walk up and down the streets, or try to visit the British Museum? The one place where a man like that might, if the home were a possible one, spend sonic of his time, is in his own home, but in such conditions as the right rev. Prelate has mentioned—which are not rare, which are common—to ask that man to spend his time in his home is ridiculous; you cannot expect it for a moment. I noticed the other day that a medical officer of health, a Dr. Millard, whilst speaking at the Public Health Congress here, referred to an instance within his own knowledge in which a family of a father, mother and nine children, for two years had been compelled to live and sleep in one room. The rent was 13s. a week. All the cooking, washing, and drying of clothes had to he done in the one room. There was no gas stove, no range, and no copper. To contemplate life in a condition like that makes one realise the truth of what Professor Huxley said, that the condition of savages is far better than the condition of life in which many of our people here are compelled to live.
That fact which I have quoted to your Lordships, which I -have merely gained from the newspaper by accident, is an illustration of what is going on; and the difficulty which I see is that the idea that you can recondition and build these houses at an economic rent is just an impossibility. It cannot he done, and it cannot be done because it is impossible to raise the wages of the men. We know perfectly well that at the moment every tendency is towards their depression, and yet the pressure on the houses is so great that the tendency is to lift the rents of these poor little places. The fact that a man is asked to pay 13s. a week for one room for himself, his wife and nine children, shows perfectly well that the settlement of this question on an economic basis is out of the question. I have often thought that a recollection of that fact must underlie all efforts in this matter.
63 It is suggested—I do not know with what truth—that the Government, in their laudable anxiety to keep down public expense as much as possible, are prepared to curtail grants which they were going to make to aid private charitable bodies in connection with this matter. Such economy is, to my mind, the gravest possible and most inexcusable waste. It is impossible that by saving money in that way you can effect what Mr. Baldwin himself said was the real purpose of this Government, national reconstruction. National reconstruction does not merely mean being able to balance your Budget; it must mean reconstruction of the national life; and you do not assist the reconstruction of the national life if you check the activities of these charitable private bodies, which have already done, ouch—I am glad indeed to see the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, here, whose work ought to be more widely known and more generally recognised—and could do more if they got only a little encouragement.
I feel, and I have often felt, that we shall never be able effectively to tackle this problem of London housing upon the old lines. I do not think it can be done. Private enterprise has its uses, and nobody is more ready to recognise and value them than myself; but private enterprise in the matter of slum dwellings has produced a condition of things which is deplorable to the last degree. How far it will be possible to remove the whole of housing out of private hands, I do not know, but I feel strongly that some step in that direction will have to be made. We live to-day in the strangest times, surely, which men have ever been called upon to face. We find, on the other hand, immeasurable production of goods that everybody wants; we find on the other hand that people are wanting them; and we find the means of transport which are to take them lying idle for want of freight. We find at the same time, people wanting houses, and with an ever-increasing desire, as I am glad to think, to lead a freer, a healthier and a better life than they have done before; and we find 240,000 men out of work in the building trade. The tragic confusion in which civilization has become involved would need the pen of one of the greatest 64 of the Greek dramatists in order that it might be adequately described.
I am not by any means certain that we shall be able to escape from these conditions by merely pursuing the old plans. I have often thought that it would be a good thing if there could be placed upon the mantelpiece of every politician, of every Government Department, and even in the sacrosanct chamber where Cabinets meet, a simple row of fossils of extinct life, and underneath, the legend: "We perished because we could not change." I feel certain, my Lords, that unless we change, and change quickly, with regard to our attitude to these! natters, the fate which awaits those forms of life will await us too. We need courage, we need faith, and we need to recognise that it is not merely by saving sixpence and a shilling here and there that we are going to achieve what we, all of us, hope to accomplish. I sincerely trust that whatever the Cabinet may think of in the matter of economies, they will not economise upon this one fundamental thing, but that they will do their best to reconstruct the nation in accordance with Mr. Baldwin's pledge, by attempting to build up homes for the poorest people at the very bottom of the structure.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I should like to join the noble Lords who have preceded me in congratulating the right rev. Prelate on his manifold efforts on behalf of this great cause. No one could have listened to his speech, nor to the eloquent words which we have just heard from the noble and learned Lord, without being deeply impressed with the necessity of grappling with those very terrible cases which the right rev. Prelate cited. I hope nothing I shall say in the few words I am going to venture to address to your Lordships will do anything to check the feeling of sympathy with what they have said and the feeling of hope that something may be found which can remedy these conditions. But I must say this respectfully, that I think Parliament ought to approach this subject with a certain feeling of modesty, for they have been hammering away at this question for, what is it, ten years and by the confession of the right rev. Prelate and others the policy has been a failure. Repeated Acts of Parliament, 65 passed not by one Party but by different Parties, different Governments, different Parliaments—all have failed. That is to say, they have failed in the particular for which the right rev. Prelate and the noble and learned Lord care—namely, the housing of these very poor people who suffer from bad housing and grossly overcrowded condition.
We have built wonderful houses up and dawn the country for artisans, for people who can well afford to pay a good rent—buildings which in some respects almost approach the confines of luxury; but, when it comes to housing the very poor avid getting rid of the very bad slums, there we fail. It cannot be that Parliament is so stupid as all that. there must be a real reason for it. We have been trying all these years, and yet we have failed. Let us approach this subject—if I may say so again respectfully—with a certain modesty; and let us say, in the first place, that we must not sweep away in a moment of sympathetic enthusiasm all considerations of economy. By all means let us spend money on these very bad cases, but let us also remember that nothing has been worse for the working class than the want of economy in the past, the heavy taxation which has followed, and the terrible effect which that has had upon industry. Let us remember soberly that side of the question.
Therefore it does seem to me that in approaching this subject we ought to think of how cheaply these reforms can be done efficiently. The subject divides itself into two heads. There is overcrowding, and there is the question of unfit dwellings—of course they interlock one into another, but we must look at the matter from those two aspects. So far as overcrowding is concerned, nothing can be done except the multiplication of dwellings. You must have more room for people to live, and in the very few observations I am going to address to your Lordships I do not propose to say very much on that head. But there is the other head, the rendering the houses fit for habitation; and it is upon that that I should very much hope that the Government will pay great attention to methods of restricting the expenditure within the narrowest limits consistently with efficiency. Upon that head I would suggest to them that they should investigate more closely the subject of reconditioning rather than of rehousing. I 66 have a little experience in this matter, or I would not venture to address your Lordships' House. Rehousing may be necessary because the structure of the buildings may be such that no process of reconditioning can really put it right; but that, I am persuaded, is a very unusual condition.
Generally speaking, the main structure of the unfit house is still reasonably sound—I mean the brickwork of the walls, probably the main structure of the roof and most that goes to make up the structural part of the house is riot, if I may use a colloquialism, past praying for. It is to houses of that description—an enormous number of them up and down the country at present unfit for reasonable habitation, but which can be made fit—that the process of reconditioning rather than rehousing can be applied. After all, the difficulties in the way of re-housing are very great, because you have to clear the site, which must mean that the people have to be moved and housed elsewhere whilst the houses are being rebuilt—unless, indeed, you build the new houses further off on the fringes of the city or the urban area with which you are dealing, in which case it is more likely than not that the Louses are built in places wholly unsuitable for the people to live in because they are so far from their work.
Therefore the process of rehousing, which involves pulling down, has great objections. But reconditioning, as I know from personal experience, can be carried out without depopulating the area at all. It can actually be carried out without emptying the house. I confess I was very much surprised that it was so, and nothing but the absolute conviction of personal experience has shown me that it can be done. You can recondition a house—with the good will of the inhabitants, of course—without emptying it. In those circumstances the process presents immense advantages over rehousing, and the greatest advantage of all, of course, is its relative cheapness. I think I am within the mark in saying that you can recondition a house for less than a third of what it would cost to rebuild it. Therefore you are in the presence of a very great economy. From the point of view of the working classes themselves economy is immensely valuable. If it be true that you can carry out a housing 67 policy by reconditioning which is effective and yet far cheaper, then I say it deserves the closest attention of, and investigation by, His Majesty's Government. I hope that may done.
As I have said, I would not have addressed your Lordships if I had not had some personal experience in the matter. That experience is not, I am glad to say, amongst the evil conditions of London, which the right rev. Prelate knows so well, but it is in respect of a great, very closely populated northern city, and I feel sure that if reconditioning can be studied from the point of view which I have indicated, and with the advantages which I have suggested, it may be found to be far the best way of treating the subject so far as making the houses fit again is concerned. As to overcrowding, that, as I have said, is a different matter, and upon that let us hope that any policy which His Majesty's Government may adopt may avoid all the mistakes of the past, the many mistakes of the past, and that they may at any rate build houses for the poor people, and so do something to solve the problem which the right rev. Prelate has brought before us.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, in connection with the housing question there comes the matter of the Rent Restriction Acts. I notice in the gracious Speech from the Throne, which we heard on Tuesday, a reference to the Rent Restriction Acts and as to possible legislation. A great many excellent housing schemes are being held up owing to the impossibility of getting possession of one or more houses. Although I do not know on what lines the Government will proceed when they legislate upon rent restriction, I hope they will bear that point in mind. I also earnestly ask the Government to bear in mind the necessity of making it easier to obtain possession of cottages in rural areas, not with a view to increasing rent—I am altogether against that—but because so many cottages in rural areas are now inhabited by artisans which are required for agricultural labourers. I most heartily congratulate the Government on the splendid zeal they are showing on behalf of the agricultural industry, and, if that industry revives, as I hope it is going to do, we shall require many more cottages 68 for agricultural labourers. With a revival of the agricultural industry I hope the agicultural labourers are going to flock back to the countryside again in thousands and thousands, and when they do that, where will they find houses? Many more houses will be required in rural areas, and I again ask the Government to bear that matter in mind, and to devise some machinery additional to what we have at present for creating a far larger number of houses for agricultual labourers in the rural areas.
§ LORD NOEL-BUXTON
My Lords, I desire to support the most rev. Prelate from the point of view of one who has taken a hand in some of the voluntary societies which have endeavoured to meet the shortage in some districts in London by limited-interest building ventures. From our experience it does appear that the solution which the noble Marquess who spoke just now put forward is one that should be pursued; but it will not carry you very far. Reconditioning is experimented in by several of the societies. It has carried one a certain distance, but the extent to which reconditioning can be applied to most of the property which has been dealt with is a limited one, and it cannot be a general solution. I want to support the most rev. Prelate, not as an expert on the housing question, but as representing the views of social workers whom I know, who are much more familiar than I am with housing conditions. Anyone with the slightest interest in public affairs, any one, for instance, who has done any canvassing in the poorer quarters of a great town, knows that the housing problem is pressing in the highest degree, and that in numberless districts the housing conditions are literally to be described as nauseating.
The experts deserve backing from the man-in-the-street in pushing forward schemes which are now required, not only to make progress but to maintain the progress, all too small progress, which we have achieved, and which is in danger of being lost. The experts are absorbed in statistical and general facts and in reformed building schemes, and it seems to me it is for the man-in-the-street, the non-expert, to support them, because the real basis of activity in the housing question must be the personal, the human, 69 individual suffering which is involved in such numberless cases to-day. I would like to mention to your Lordships one or two cases that I have seen in studying social work. Not very long ago I saw a case where a family of five—two parents and three children—were living in a very small back ground-floor room. My companion entered the room and had to come out before it was possible for me to enter, because the space where one could stand when the room was occupied by two beds and a table was very limited indeed, and nearly all the upper air of the room was filled by clothes hanging on the clothesline. The family was at tea so far as it could reach the table. There was room for two of the children, but the third, a girl of about twelve, had to sit at a small stool. She was a girl for whom the doctor had recommended urgently a convalescent home, but no home could be found at which entry was possible. One wondered that the whole family was not sick as well as the girl through her communicating sickness to the others.
I recently saw a case which, compared with that, might be regarded as a princely tenement. It was a two-roomed tenement above and below, and the living room below had beds for the parents and one child. There was a large family in this case, and when we were shown the bedroom of this tenement we found that the three beds of the bedroom were providing for nine children. The eldest of these nine children in this tiny bedroom was twenty years old, a full grown man. A very pathetic remark was made by the mother of this family. She was evidently alive to the feeling that would arise in a visitor's mind that things were not decent, and she said: "They are very good boys; they go to bed first, and then before the girls go they call out All clear.' Then the girls go to bed in darkness." This is done to maintain the standards of decency of which these people are very keenly aware. What kind of possibility of maintaining such standards of decency is represented by conditions such as those, which exist not in rare cases but in hundreds and thousands of cases?
When we think of what we regard as desirable for our own and our neighbour's needs, different rooms for eating and reading and working, cooking and sleeping and washing, not to speak of 70 washing-up or of storing coal, and reflect that everyone of these functions has to be ministered to in one small room, it really is incredible that public feeling is not stronger on the subject. When we think how necessary we believe it to be for children to go to bed early, and how entirely impossible it is for children to be put to bed early in those conditions, our interest in the matter ought to be redoubled. Not only are these functions in one room intolerable in health, but consider the position when there is sickness and when there is death, and there is no place to remove even a corpse without long delay from a room like that.
We ought to realise the extraordinary urgency of this matter. And these cases are not the worst, because we have in London an immense number, running into tens of thousands, of dwellings which are not only crowded but are underground. The right rev. Prelate has told us of the general conditions as well as of individual cases. The number and frequency of the urgent reports of medical officers of health strike one as rather increasing than decreasing. They show how the position is not even maintained. In many towns pre-War condemned houses are still being used, and actually some condemned houses which had been thrown out of use are once more coming back into use because the position is deteriorating. They talk of death, disease, vice, crime, unrest—that is a quotation from a medical officer of health—as being ministered to by conditions that he observed in his town.
In London, in no fewer than eighteen boroughs the standard of three to a room has increased, and in five of those boroughs it has increased by no less than 50 per cent. We have in London, 30,000 living at a rate of five or more to a room, in some cases up to eleven. We have 30,000 basements which are occupied by 100,000 people. When we look at health rates the situation is really alarming. It is very curious to compare the health rates in the central districts of large towns with those of the outer districts. In a number of towns the death rate as between the central and the outer districts is 15 to 10. The infant death rate is 101 to 55. And there is a terrible proportion in the tuberculosis rate, which is 16 to 6. The noble Marquess spoke of the housing policy of the last 71 few years as not having achieved a very marked success, but is it possible to argue that the situation could have been met without public assistance to housing It seems to me that with all the mistakes that can be brought against it the public housing policy has been amply vindicated. It has been a success in one way in which it was foretold that failure was certain. It was said that the pig makes the sty and that those who were moved from dilapidated dwellings would prove indifferent tenants of better houses. Experience has disproved that, and one after another medical officers report that the proportion of unsatisfactory new tenants is very small.
Has there been on the part of the Government an intentional slowing down policy? It looks like it in London. In. September, 1931, there were 42,000 houses building—that is in the whole county—and in September, 1932, there were only 28,000 building. If a deliberate policy of slowing down is denied, then we need an explanation of such cases as the Wythenshawe scheme and the Finsbury scheme which appear to have been influenced from above. The London County Council employed not long ago 14,000 builders' men and that number fell recently to less than 3,000. We cannot lay the blame on the lack of adequate machinery because. since the Act of 1930, there has been complete provision for every kind of problem. The suggestion now made that building societies should be asked to fill the bill does not really meet the cases provided for by Mr. Greenwood's Act of 1930. It is urged that private building could meet the slums question, but it is very noticeable that the building societies, while claiming to be able to deal with the other fields, definitely deny that they could undertake the slum sphere of action. Private building, in many cases very attractive as an idea which might leave other money to fructify, is no answer to the question, and it seems to me to be disproved by the statement of Sir Raymond Unwin. He says:Before the slums can be dealt with effectively, there must be a surplus of new houses… Private enterprise cannot afford to create such a surplus… Consequently, while welcoming other workers in the field,…nothing should be done to destroy the extensive organization… which has grown up among local authorities since the War.72 Slowing down was natural in the financial crisis of a year ago, but is it to be continued on really economic grounds? If it is continued, will it not be largely owing; to pressure instigated by other motives?
The desire to remit Income Tax is a motive which will naturally carry weight, but I hope your Lordships will agree that it is not a motive which in this matter of housing ought to prevail. I hope the Government can show that a speeding-up is now in prospect alike in regard to clearance schemes and improvement schemes and the general provision of new houses for the lower wage earners. Surely the situation is paradoxical in the extreme. On the one hand the extraordinary need, the extraordinary costliness in health and other respects resulting from bad housing; and against that unlimited capital idle, material existing in our own country, men idle and already supported out of the public purse. To do nothing is to admit nothing less than bankruptcy of ideas. As the right rev. Prelate said, it is not a case where it is beyond the wit of man to discover a remedy for the evil. It seems to me that your Lordships could do a good piece of work by strengthening the hands of the Minister in a policy which I have no doubt at all he desires to pursue. If I may venture to say so, Sir Hilton Young is a man who has inherited the broad tradition of humanity and who will be guided by his own ideas of the public need. Surely it is evident that, whatever was the case a year ago, the situation now has so greatly changed that inaction to-day is national waste, not only of health and happiness and of industrial efficiency, but, perhaps what is worst of all, of national character.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, the real difficulty in regard to rural housing lies in the heavy taxation from which landlords are suffering. There is the county rate of 10s. in the £ an Income Tax of 5s., possibly 2s. or 3s. for Super-Tax-say, altogether, about 18s. in the £ to come out of every sovereign of rent. Further there is the cost of insurance and repairs as well. In the old days, when taxation was light, landlords took great pride in having good cottages for those who were working in the rural areas, but now the state of things is very different 73 and the difficulties are very great. An old friend of mine, who is a member of your Lordships' House, told me that owing to the great expense connected with his cottages— he owns some hundreds — he gave instructions that they were not to be insured, because he said that if they were burned down he would not attempt to rebuild them!
The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has said that it was very desirable to recondition, where possible. To my mind a great deal could be done under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act of 1926. I do not think sufficient advantage has been taken of that Act by a large number of counties, and I hope that the Government may feel inclined to urge county councils to follow the attitude adopted by Counties like Devon and Shropshire. I understand that the Devon County Council have, at the cost of only one-sixth of a penny rate, reconditioned something like 5,000 cottages in their county. That seems to me a very desirable line to take, instead of having a large number of places built costing a considerable sum of money and let at high rents— because one of the difficulties of the council cottages is that, unlike those reconditioned under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, the rent can only be 3s. or 4s. at the outside for something like twenty years. Reconditioning is therefore of great general advantage to the ratepayer and I could only wish that the Government would turn their attention more to pressing this matter upon the authorities.
It is remarkable that when this measure was going through the House of Commons in 1926, Mr. Greenwood denounced it and said it was a plan for bolstering up neglected rural cottages. But the Bill was nothing of the kind. It was designed to turn insanitary into sanitary cottages. In my own county much has been done to add to cottages where there were only two bedrooms another bedroom at a small expenditure, say, of £30 from the landlord, £30 from the county council and £30 from the Treasury, and I am sure it will be agreed that that extra bedroom is very desirable from the, point of view of decency. I notice that Mr. Greenwood called it robbery from public funds, but I understand he changed his mind, because when he became a 74 Minister in the Labour Government he took the Act and worked it. I understand that he instituted a special inquiry in Shropshire and there was a very sensible report by Sir Arthur Lawley which pointed out that the value of the cottages was very great. I should like to ask the Government what steps are being taken on the lines of that report and whether they are trying to induce county councils to work the Act in the same way as Devon?
I should also like to know whether, from the point of view of the ratepayers generally, they do not think it desirable that instead of pulling down or shutting up cottages, and going to the great expense of building others, greater advantage should be taken of this Act? I am sure that some of the rural district councils would like to take control into their own hands. As the noble Viscount who will no doubt reply for the Government knows, the county council can delegate their powers to rural councils, and I think that in some cases it would be better if they did so. I understand that in Devon the county council surveyor asked the rural councils to assist him in seeing that where there were insanitary houses they should be put into a proper condition. If that were done generally over the whole country, instead of extravagant building of new houses, it would be of great advantage to agricultural labourers. For these rural district council cottages they have to pay something like 6s., or even 8s. a week, whereas the reconditioned cottages, which are quite as good, only mean from 3s. to 4s. a week.
§ LORD DICKINSON
My Lords, may I add a few words to this discussion from the special point of view of London? I am more particularly concerned with London because it is no less than fifty years ago that I first took part in London local government and I have watched the progress of housing during the whole of that period. In that time we have had in London very active work on the part of the London County Council and continuous, though not very active, work on the part of the borough councils. It is nevertheless clear to me that we have made no progress in regard to the housing of the poorer part of the population and the reason is that we have been swimming against the tide. The tide 75 against which we have only been able to hold our own is, of course, the immense and rapid growth of London.
In the last ten years the population of Greater London has increased by 722,000. In order to house the increased population there have been built, approximately, 300,000 houses, but there has been an increase in the families, according to the census, of 350,000. In ten years therefore, notwithstanding the immense amount of building that has gone on in and around London, you may say that there are 50,000 families who have come to London and have not been able to find accommodation. That may not be absolutely accurate but that is roughly what the census shows. If you consider the central part of London you see that the process is still more remarkable. The population has diminished by 80,000, the families have increased by 61,000 and the dwellings have increased by 42,000. Therefore, inside the administrative county in ten years there is an additional 20,000 families who, so far as we know, have not been able to get separate dwellings. People are really more crowded together than they were before, and if you look at the actual poor parts of London, the parts with which we are most concerned, you see that process going on in a very remarkable degree.
Taking the six Boroughs of Bermondsey, Bethnal Green, Finsbury, Shoreditch, Southwark and Stepney, which your Lordships all know something about, although the population has diminished by 67,000, the occupied dwellings have decreased by 3,425, and the number of families by 2,289, and therefore there is less room to the extent of 1,136 separate dwellings. What does that mean to the population? If you take Stepney, for instance, the average number of rooms occupied per family by the whole population was 2.78 in 1921 and in 1931 2.77. In Bethnal Green the figure was 2.83 in 1921 and 2.81 in 1931. That is to say, even with that extraordinarily low average, only about 2½ rooms per whole family of the population in Bethnal Green, it has become more and more overcrowded, and people have fewer rooms per family than they had ten years ago, notwithstanding the enormous building that has been going on and the considerable movement of population.
76 What does this mean? People have been evacuated from these central parts and moved into the suburbs, but these very places from which they have been moved are just as crowded as ever. Their dwellings have gone, but their place has been taken by warehouses, shops, and so forth, and the attempts to relieve congested areas in London have almost altogether failed. If you go into these parts you find no empty rooms, or any chance for people to move out of the cellar rooms which they do not want to occupy. There is nowhere that they can go, and so you have here in London, in these crowded parts, a population of the very poor who are practically immobilised for some reason or another. Very often as a result of the question of rent restriction and house control these people cannot move. This happens everywhere, and even in those boroughs where you do find a certain amount of mobility overcrowding prevails. I notice in the report of the medical officer for Deptford a statement that in the last six years 1,952 families have been removed to London County Council houses, and yet families in the Borough have increased by 1,241 between 1921 and 1931, and the number of dwellings has dropped by 125. What is the cause of this? As soon as you move people out more people come in, and the houses become fewer. People talk about the process of filtering out. It is said that if you build for the better class you release houses for the poorer classes, but it does not happen. In fact the subsidising of rents, in my opinion, has not helped the poorer classes a bit. We are not subsidising the very poor classes, because these are the people who cannot pay the rents of subsidised houses or the railway fares necessary if they go further out.
I have some quotations here from medical officers of health, which prove this very conclusively. I have one from the medical officer of health for Hammersmith. He is talking about the effect of excessive rents upon family budgets and says:Out of incomes of 28s. as much as 18s. is being used up in rent and the result is grave under-nourishment. The first question is why should these families be occupying accommodation so much beyond their means? The probable reply would be that they can find nowhere else to live and that every house is full. So it is that in the congested 77 areas, with the number of families increasing and the number of dwellings decreasing, families are being driven ever more and more into dwellings which are either unfit for human habitation or which carry too high a rent for the family income.These people therefore cannot move out of their cellar dwellings, if they want to. We have been told that in London 100,000 people are living in cellar dwellings, which they are not legally entitled to occupy, and yet from which you cannot move them because it is impossible to find other accommodation for them. In Islington—and the same thing applies in almost every borough in London—it is estimated that there are 1,400 cellar dwellings with ceilings at or below the street level.
I can only quote one of the reports of the medical officer of health for Bethnal Green. He says:But low as are the official standards of overcrowding it is well known that hundreds of families are living considerably below them. As it is also known that the great majority of these families are too poor to pay the rent for the accommodation they really require, even if it were available, we are compelled to close our eyes to the continued breach of the law.Your Lordships will find many other medical officers of health in London giving the same report: that they cannot administer the law because there are no houses to which they can move these people and of which it is possible for them to pay the rent. Of course, when the matter comes before the magistrates, they cannot make an eviction order in respect of people living under those conditions.
There are other things worse still than the underground dwellings, although the underground dwellings are tremendously harmful to the people. You have a comparison made by the medical officer of health of the London County Council with regard to children living in underground dwellings and those living above the ground. After giving various details, the report ends up with this statement:The figures show that the basement children have on the average double the defects of children living above ground level.And those are the people that we are bound to leave in these cellar dwellings because we cannot give them other accommodation! I saw one statement by a medical officer of health in which. I have no doubt with full knowledge of 78 the gravity of what he was stating, he said, with regard to the conditions in which life has to be carried on now in the poorer parts of London that:Abortion has now taken a definite place in the social life of the people and, with all its morbidity and mortality, it is no longer reasonable to ignore the issue.Every evil comes from this occupation of unhealthy dwellings, and these unhealthy dwellings, in spite of all that has been done in the last fifty years, are not very much better than they were before.
A great many suggestions have been made to-day with regard to what could be done. Of course we can go on building. As has been pointed out by other noble Lords, there have been a very definite slackening off in the rate of building, particularly in London. Comparing the two years 1927 and 1928 with the two years 1929 and 1930, your Lordships will find that the local authorities in and around London built 30,000 houses in 1927 and 1928, and only 16,000 in 1929 and 1930, so that there has been undoubtedly a very great falling off in building by local authorities. There has been an increase in building by private effort, but on the whole the number of houses which have been provided is far below what are necessary for the population.
Now may I say one word with regard to the question of housing the very poor, about which I have spoken especially? I cannot see why there should not be a definite attempt made to deal with this question among the first. There are associations who are dealing with this question; there are private housing trusts and so on who have very satisfactorily dealt, in one way or another, with the question of either reconditioning houses or rehousing the people, or dealing with the matter in other ways. It can be done, but it is being done at the present moment only to a small extent. There are perhaps twenty or so of these industrial housing committees which are doing very good work, but if that work were done to a really large extent, if they would launch out and spend enough money to recondition the houses in those districts and to build houses for the people of those districts, it would not cost such a very large amount of money but it would be grappling with the real evil.
79 As I have pointed out, the real evil in London consists of the poor part of London. There might be done what has been done by one or two of the housing trusts; that is to say, have a system of differential rates. It is perfectly clear that there is a certain and considerable portion of the population who cannot pay the rents which are demanded of them, and how are you going to give them accommodation You must pay them in one way or another, either by poor relief or in some other way. When you find a certain class of people who must have proper housing and cannot afford to pay for it, why should they not have special terms and special arrangements made for them I It can be done; it has been shown to be possible by one or two housing associations, and I believe it could be done by local authorities if they would do it.
But local authorities are always faced with the difficulty of the expense incurred in finding out what is wrong. They have now at last started on surveys, and I hope those surveys will be successful. I am told that it will be three years before the survey of Poplar will be completed, and that is more rapid work than in some other cases. I do suggest that if His Majesty's Government and local authorities would really put in the forefront of their programmes a policy by which we can give accommodation to those people who at the present moment would be glad to have something better but cannot pay for it, they would go much further towards solving the problem of the overcrowded people than we shall do by building these not elaborate but more or less comfortable houses for the upper grades of the working classes.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, my noble friend has referred to a slowing down in building, and he quoted figures showing that there had been a slowing down extending over recent years; but it appears to me that there was a particular slowing down in the autumn of last year. During 1931, up to that time, there had been considerable activity in dealing with the matter which is included in the Notice on the Paper by the right rev. Prelate, but after the autumn of last year, testing it by the number of people in employment in the building industry, one finds that there must have been a very great slowing down.
80 For example, in September, 1931, the number of unemployed in the building industry, speaking generally, was 255,000. My noble friend Lord Snell quoted the figure of unemployed in July of this year; by then, the number of unemployed—and when I speak of the "unemployed" I mean the number of unemployed insured workers—in the building industry had increased to roughly 340,000, so that the total number of unemployed had increased during that time by 85,000. As was pointed out, that represents a figure of unemployed in September of last year of 14.1 per cent. of the total insured workers, as against 18.2 per cent. in July of this year. I take the month of July because, the building industry being a seasonal industry, presumably most people are employed at that time of the year, and I wish to put the figures fairly before your Lordships; but if we were to take the figure which now prevails in the month of November, I have no doubt that that figure would be largely increased, having regard to the seasonal nature of occupation in the industry. No other industry has suffered in the same period anything approaching such a diminution in the number of operatives employed.
Upon a conservative basis the cost in payments to the unemployed insured workers in this industry during the past twelve months has exceeded £13,800,000. This sum represents only the amount paid to those enjoying unemployment benefits; it takes no account of the large sums paid by the country in the form of transitional benefit and Poor Law assistance, nor does it take into account the unprecedented amount of unemployment now prevailing in the ranks of the professional, technical and clerical workers of the industry, for which no figures are available. I have endeavoured to ascertain the amount which has been paid in respect of transitional benefit to those workers in the building industry who have lost their unemployment benefit. Consulting the best authority I could, I learn that the sum expended during the last twelve months is £7,000,000. This brings the total outgoings paid to unemployed workers in the building and constructional industry from public funds of one kind and another to a sum in the neighbourhood of £20,800,000, for which nothing in the way of stable wealth is produced.
81 This great sum is, however, but the index to the still greater loss to the community that naturally follows the decrease of purchasing power. The unemployment benefit payment represents as an average about one-third of the wage which a building trade operative would receive in employment. Accordingly, if we take that figure we find that the amount withdrawn from the purchasing power of the community during the last twelve months was £27,000,000. The loss to the community due to the degree of unemployment in this industry is therefore twofold: direct payment for which no return is made of £20,800,000; and spending power, upon which the economic life of the community as a whole depends, £27,000,000.
A question may arise as to how that difficulty is to be overcome, and what can be suggested by way of improvement. As has already been pointed out by previous speakers this afternoon, a great deal might be done by private building owners themselves, and occupiers of houses, doing the necessary repairs instead of postponing them to some future date, and also, undoubtedly, owners and occupiers of business premises might do a great deal to relieve the situation by reconditioning their premises and putting them into such a state of equipment as would be useful to cope with what we hope will arrive, the beginning of a world revival of trade. In the small country towns and villages, more particularly, much could be done in that direction by householders in the matter of repairs. Then again, the local authorities might reconsider their constructional programmes which have been cancelled or suspended since September of last year. I suggest that the local authorities should be advised to proceed with projects considered by them to be remunerative or to minister to real needs.
In considering whether a project can profitably be proceeded with, regard should be had not only to the cost of the building or buildings, and their probable annual return, but to the reduction of the direct cost of unemployment and public assistance and the advantages of the circulation of money locally. My noble friend Lord Snell referred to the fact that in building output and building payments about 80 per cent. goes in 82 wages. Further, when we remember that out of a pound saved 7s. 6d. goes in unemployment benefit and something like 8s. 6d. goes in the loss of spending power of the community, what you really save by saving a pound is not more than 4s.
What I am advocating to-day is really nothing more than what the Minister of Health himself advised as far back as September of last year. In Circular No. 1222, addressed to local authorities, after calling attention to the financial situation and the necessity for avoiding additional burdens of taxation, the Circular goes on to say:H.M. Government would not, however, contemplate that local authorities should embark on a wholesale and ill-considered course of cutting down expenditure whatever be its character or its purpose. Such a policy seems to them neither necessary nor advisable.After calling the attention of the local authorities to the necessity of appointing some appropriate committee to go into the question of expenditure, the Circular proceeds:In making such a survey, committees—that is, committees of the local authorities—should, in the view of H.M. Government, pay special regard, inter alia, to such questions as whether a service is or is not likely to be remunerative either at once or in the near future, whether it is required on urgent grounds of public health or other grounds of similar public urgency, whether it is justifiable on the ground of the contribution which it makes to the provision of employment for local workers, thereby avoiding the throwing of charges on national or local funds.I submit- that that is the policy which should be pursued, and that the local authorities should be reminded of that Circular and should be advised to proceed with necessary and proper work which involves a reasonable but not undue expenditure. I am glad to think that the Prime Minister, in another place yesterday, expressed a similar view. He said that the Government would encourage every normal expansion of municipal enterprise, and later on he added:Rates and taxes cannot, however, be drawn upon extravagantly.I should like respectfully to re-echo that sentence. I think it would be a pity if the Government were to embark upon a large measure of extravagant expenditure; 83 but if they applied the test which I have suggested I am satisfied that it would be a great relief to the building industry, and a great encouragement to those who share the point of view of the right rev. Prelate.
The local authorities ere not to be blamed if, in the anxiety and confusion of the autumn of last year, they applied the pruning knife of economy somewhat harshly, but the time has now come when the whole matter should be reviewed and the whole question of housing policy should be taken up afresh. I am convinced that it may be taken that building costs have reached the lowest economic levels, and that it is a. good business proposition to build or reconstruct now. In addition to that, during the last three or four years two separate bodies in the building industry have been investigating the whole matter as to how far economies could be effected in the industry and how far efficiency at the same time could be maintained. One of them, the Advisory Council of the industry, has issued certain reports, and the other, the Building Industry Council of Review, has issued two interim reports, the recommendations of which are most practical and sound, and, if given effect to, would undoubtedly lead to a great saving in building expenditure. The result, therefore, is that now is the time when building proceedings could be undertaken with the greatest economy and with the greatest efficiency and promptitude. The industry by these reviews has brought itself to a state of efficiency such as it has not enjoyed for many a day, if ever before. There is plenty of work to be done, and unfortunately there are plenty of men to do it. Now is the time, and to undertake such a work would, I am sure, be a matter of wise expenditure.
§ LORD CLWYD
My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the tributes which have been so generally paid to the value of the efforts of the right rev. Prelate to bring forward time after time this most important question, and to make statements in this House which I am sure have served not only to remind public opinion of the gravity of the issues at stake, but to inspire the Government of the day to make some efforts to relieve the position. I do not wish to say anything upon the first point of the right 84 rev. Prelate's Question, the question of the clearance of slum areas. I do not avoid that question because I do not realise its intense gravity, but simply because noble Lords before me have already dealt with it very fully.
One point is, happily, clear, that there is general recognition of the vital importance of the question which we have been discussing to-day. More than that, there is, I think, throughout the country generally a deep concern as to the means which should be adopted for the purpose of improving the situation. A great deal of work has already been done by local authorities in providing additional housing accommodation. As I have connections with Liverpool, I will give one or two figures that will illustrate the way in which that progressive City has dealt with the problem. The Corporation of Liverpool, under the various Housing Acts, have purchased for housing purposes a total approximating 2,642 acres of land, an area which is equal to that of a considerable municipality. In the estates there is a mileage of roads of ninety-six miles. The Corporation of Liverpool during last year built over 2,000 houses, which are now occupied. I had not time to go into the way in which the City of Liverpool has dealt with the question of clearance of slum areas, but everyone who knows what has happened there will admit that Liverpool has in this matter also a fine record. Taking the period from the end of the War to the present date, the Corporation of Liverpool have provided no fewer than 32,000 houses with accommodation for 145,000 persons, and what Liverpool has done almost all the other big cities throughout the country has done. I think it is important that we should on an occasion of this sort not forget that the public conscience has not been altogether dead upon this point, and that very extensive efforts have been made to provide the necessary additional housing accommodation.
There is another point I should like, if I may, speaking for myself, to emphasise. I am not unmindful of the important contribution made by private enterprise, both with and without subsidy. There are two facts which I believe emerge from the situation: first, that we are, as a country, indebted to private enterprise for a large proportion of the houses built in this country to 85 meet the serious shortage; secondly, that the contribution which has been made by private enterprise has been in the public interest. Another thing which has emerged of late is, I think, some encouragement to us in considering the present housing situation. The new factor is the increasing contribution of the great building societies in providing the necessary funds for the building of houses. It is a fact, as the House well knows, that through the loans made by building societies hundreds and thousands of houses have been acquired upon terms within the capacity of the purchasers, and I think it is one of the most remarkable things in connection with these transactions that, judging from the reports of the building societies themselves, very slight losses only have been incurred from default in payments.
Although it is true that local authorities and private enterprise have done a great deal to help the solution of this problem, and although it is true that building societies also have done much, the fact remains—a fact which has been acknowledged, I think, by almost every speaker in this debate—that in spite of everything which has been done, the real want, the supply of houses at a cost which will enable them to be rented by the great mass of the working classes, at, say, 10s. a week, has not been up to the present time adequate to meet what is required. I do rot blame anybody for that, but I think perhaps one of the most urgent needs that we have to consider is whether there is any possible way by which this type of house can be built. I lead with interest some weeks ago in the newspapers that a scheme had been put forward and presented to the Government by the National Association of Building Societies, suggesting a way by which these houses could be built. The conditions suggested were such that the liability in respect of the difference between the ordinary mortgage advance of 70 per cent. and an advance of 90 per cent. would be met by the building societies, who would be covered by a guarantee on the part, I think, of the building societies themselves, the local authorities, and the State. The risk would be a small one. I do not think it could be a serious one. I do not desire at this moment to express any definite judgment upon that scheme. I will only say that I think the principle of combined 86 action between the local authorities and the building societies is one well worthy of the consideration of the Government.
In conclusion I only wish to say this. We are to-day living in very critical times, and I am sure there is no question which is more grave than the one we have been debating this evening. Speaking for myself, I think that the best prospects of a solution of this social problem are to be found in securing the combined services of many sections in the community. What is it that is really required? It is that we should have, in order to produce houses available for the working class at a rent which the worker can pay under present conditions, first of all the efficiency and experience of private enterprise; secondly, a sense of responsibility on the part of the local authorities; and, behind that, the financial resources of the building societies. In this way, by encouraging as far as we can a combination of services in the State for the purpose of solving this vital issue, I am not without hope that we shall at no distant date see some veal improvement in the matter of providing the additional housing accommodation required for the poorer members of the working classes. I feel that we are much indebted to the right rev. Prelate for enabling this discussion to take place.
My Lords, it is not at all an easy matter to reply adequately to the very interesting speeches made this afternoon. Of course the Government are sympathetic, as any body of people would be sympathetic who had continuously under review the facts represented this afternoon. The right rev. Prelate has acknowledged that the Government's efforts since the War have been very considerable and I think that in the Report of the noble Lord, Lord Marley's Committee on Rent Restrictions, they are described as unprecedented in history. Therefore, when we are asked to accelerate our progress and to adopt various suggestions, I do not think it can be interpreted as unreasonable or unsympathetic if we point out the very complex and indeed paradoxical situation with which the Government are confronted.
Some of the facts have been pointed out already. It is quite clear that we do not exercise dictatorship over all 87 housing. We do not control the movements of the population or the allocation of housing accommodation in the way in which that is done by the Russian Government. Therefore the Government must constantly examine their policy and observe what are the reactions to that policy on building by private enterprise and on the movement of the population. Let us look at the question of the subsidies. Whatever the subsidy may have effected in the past the question we have to ask is how far it is assisting now in the production of housing for the working classes. That is a very vexed question. It is obviously by no means easy to determine, as anyone who has read the May Report will realise. The May Committee went so far as to say that the housing subsidy has been definitely responsible for keeping up—I think the exact words were "has played a part in keeping up"—the cost of building. The annual charges that we have to pay in respect of housing subsidies of one kind or another under Acts of Parliament already passed are £13,500,000, and I understand that those charges are increasing at the rate of £350,000 a year.
When we are urged, as we have been this afternoon—and if I may say so with all respect some of the proposals put forward have not been very definite—to adopt new proposals and to increase, as I take it, our annual charges with a view to relieving unemployment and so forth, I would point out that not only must we take this question of housing costs into account but we shall have to plunge immediately into the very deepest waters of economic controversy. If we set out to debate to-day how far Government expenditure will alleviate or will add to unemployment we should obviously get very far beyond the subject of this particular debate, and Cabinet statements would be required on matters by no means confined to the housing question. These general considerations do not by any means exhaust the complications with which we are faced. There is the question, already mentioned, of the rents of existing houses and of how far rent restriction hinders the mobility of labour and adds to overcrowding. I do not want to over-emphasise the difficulties of the Government, but I feel sure that all noble Lords who have studied this question, as so many have, will agree 88 that, however softhearted we desire to be, we must be clear-headed or we shall bring about new abuses as fast as we dissolve others.
What I may call the Government plea for cautious advance in these matters is strengthened, I think, by the fact that to-day the clearance of slums is proceeding at a record rate. The right rev. Prelate gave certain figures which are quite correct and which I will amplify in a moment, but he did not mention the fact that the progress since the passing of the Act of 1930 has equalled the entire progress for the previous twelve years. We are anxious to give full credit to noble Lords opposite for the success of their Act, but there have been certain factors operating which have facilitated that success. There is, first, the very large number of houses that had been constructed up to the passing of that Act. Then there is the very simple procedure —which we fully acknowledge—which that Act introduced and the principle of differential rates which local authorities are enabled to charge in respect of rehousing schemes; and of course the most important factor of all is the reduced cost of house building. In view of these advantages we might have expected a considerable acceleration in regard to slum clearance, and I am glad to say that there seems to be every indication that local authorities are making a determined effort to progress on a much more comprehensive scale than before.
These are the figures since the passing of the Act: 563 clearance areas with a population of 75,275 persons of the working classes have been declared as clearance areas by 144 local authorities. That compares with a population of 75,000 persons involved In the whole clearance operations during the entire twelve-year period from the War up to the passing of the Act. In respect of these 563 areas, 277 Clearance Orders and 108 Compulsory Purchase Orders were submitted, of which 160 Clearance Orders and 71 Compulsory Purchase Orders, involving 31,000 persons, have already been confirmed. In addition, terms have been arranged by local authorities for the purchase by agreement of 25 whole areas and 8 part areas containing approximately 3,810 persons. The right rev. Prelate quoted some of those figures, and asked for what I may 89 term a progress report. He wanted to know what actual work has been undertaken. The number of dwelling houses demolished is 1,575—that is, unfit houses —other houses,43. Persons displaced from demolished houses number 7,131. Those are the figures to September 30 last.
I have no doubt the right rev. Prelate will say that is a very slow rate of progress; but there are the question of surveying and scheduling areas, the question of notice, local inquiries with the consideration of objections, and the question of compensation. Then there are the rehousing of the inhabitants which necessitates the finding of new sites and again local inquiries, and perhaps compulsory powers are necessary; while on the top of that there is the building of new houses. Up to the present time some 16,000 houses have been, or are being, built for the purposes of rehousing under the Act of 1930. Of course, as has been stated before, it is really impossible for the Ministry of Health to make a survey of all the work that has to be done, but we quite agree that this only represents the beginning. Having regard to the fact that this Act is somewhat new, and that the local authorities are still not entirely familiar with its procedure, we consider the rate of progress is satisfactory and anyhow provides a good augury of what is likely to be done in the near future.
Some doubts, I think, were expressed as to what the policy of the Government is likely to be in regard to the continuation of these clearance schemes. Let me try to reassure noble Lords that not only has there been no attempt on the part of the Government, as has been suggested, to slow down the operation of the Act of 1930, but on the contrary that it has been, and is, the policy of the Government to give every encouragement to local authorities with a view to the expansion of the endeavours that are being made. I think it has been suggested that we ought to add to the powers, but; the powers are there, and we have no desire to curtail any of the activities of, local authorities in regard to the clearance of slum areas under the Act of 1930.
The next question of the right rev. Prelate related to improvement areas. 90 It is only natural that efforts here should be less noticeable, because local authorities are rightly concentrating attention on the worst areas which probably require entire clearance, and, of course, the procedure is novel and to some extent experimental and there have been difficulties in the delimiting of the areas to be treated as improvement areas. But some progress has been made. Thirteen local authorities have declared twenty-three areas to be improvement areas involving the displacement of 1,750 persons, and, in addition, they are opening up these areas, repairing certain houses and making by-laws to prevent overcrowding.
We have been asked about insanitary houses and some interesting remarks were made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, on the subject of reconditioning. In regard to insanitary houses the reports indicate that more than 1,000,000 houses a year are inspected to ascertain whether or not they are defective. It is not always found necessary to take formal action to secure the remedy of defects. On the average upwards of 300,000 a year are rendered fit by informal action on the part of the local authorities' officers. It must also be remembered that the local authorities have powers not only under the Act of 1930, but under the Public Health Acts. While some 42,000 unfit houses have been made fit as the result of formal notices under the Act of 1930, the average figures for the last five years show that action under the Public Health Acts results in some 227,000 houses a year being made fit, The number of individual insanitary houses which have been demolished under the Act of 1930 exceeds 4,000, a figure not including some 500 houses demolished in anticipation of formal action under the Act. In addition over 1,000 unfit houses have been closed, but not demolished, on an undertaking from the owners that they shall not be used for human habitation, and closing orders have been made prohibiting the use of over 700 parts of buildings for human habitation.
I think that is a fairly comprehensive reply to the first part of the Question of the right rev. Prelate. In regard to the last part, we have, as I have said, got into somewhat deep waters and we can easily continue to discuss very wide problems. But may I say that the local 91 authorities under the Act of 1930 seem to have adequate powers to rehouse at rents within their means the people who have been displaced from clearance areas? Apart from that, it is admitted that there is a shortage of low-rental houses and the Government, in Circular 1238, have pressed local authorities to devote particular energy to the provision of houses of this kind. The basis of the policy of the Government at that time was to encourage the erection of houses of the three-bedroom non-parlour type within a superficial area of 760 square feet, the type of house which many local authorities had come to the conclusion was adequate to the needs of the working classes. It was possible at that time to build houses of that description which could be let at an all-in rent of 10s. weekly after the subsidy of the 1924 Act had been taken into account. This policy has been adopted by the local authorities, and I might say that the whole of the policy of the Ministry was determined in close consultation with them and with their agreement.
One matter which had to be closely considered by the Government was the extent to which their policy would react on the building of houses by private enterprise. There was a distinct fear that private enterprise in this period of great depression might fail to keep up the normal production every year, but it was felt that there was a reasonable expectation of still further falls in building costs and that with those falls the rate of private building would not be diminished. That expectation has been justified. It has been found that the costs of production have dropped and that the number of houses provided by private enterprise —this refers to houses of a rateable value of less than 178 in the provinces and, I think, 105 in London—constituted last year a record number. From last year up to the 30th September last the number of these comparatively small houses constructed was 62,500, a figure which gives every indication that last year's total will be repeated, if not exceeded.
I think that the figures at which it is calculated that the house of the smallest type—that is the non-parlour type—can be built have already been given, but perhaps I may repeat them. It has been calculated that a small type of house can 92 be built at an all-in cost of £350, and, without the Exchequer subsidy or rate contribution, can be let at a rent of about 8s. per week, exclusive of rates. I have no figures as to the calculated price for the larger type of house, but the figure that I have given is the cost of production of the smallest type of house, and it is a considerably lower price than we have ever had before.
I have no immediate information on that point, but I think it is the average figure for the whole of England. I am asked if I have any statement to make regarding the future policy of the Government. I can say at once that I have no statement of new policy to make, but in view of the figures which I have given I think one fact very clearly emerges. Clearly, the time has very nearly arrived when the building of small houses is an economic possibility, and naturally that introduces a new and very important element into the discussion which has been recognised. The whole problem of overcrowding, of insufficiency of housing, and so on, I imagine largely depends upon the fact that it has been hitherto not worth anybody's while to build the houses, and to repair houses, as the people who were the inmates were riot able to pay a rent which would recompense for the capital expenditure. The difficulty has largely solved itself with regard to the type of house which the better-paid wage earners can afford. It is a remarkable fact that in this time of pressure a record number of that type of house should have been built, and, although we must admit that the lowest paid wage earners still cannot afford new houses, yet the time is approaching when it will be possible to build the type of house that they can afford.
So nearly is that time approaching that building societies have already approached the Government with a proposition with regard to large-scale building 93 schemes. Those negotiations have not yet reached a sufficiently advanced stage for it to be possible for me to indicate the basis on which they arc negotiating, or indeed whether anything will come out of them, but it is a matter which is interesting my right hon. friend very considerably. To show the way in which the wind is blowing still more it may be that some of your Lordships have been cir-cularised with a prospectus for an enterprise called Economic Housing. On, the board of trustees for the debenture holders appears the name of Dr. Addison. That enterprise, I think, sets out to raise money in order to build houses to be let without subsidy at 5s. 3d. per week. I only mention that, to show the state of building at the present moment, and to show what may be done in the future.
I have only a few words to add. These debates have taken place with some frequency, as has teen said before, and we certainly consider it quite right that while these abuses remain the terrible conditions in which so many of our fellow countrymen have to live should be brought to public notice as often as possible. But with this new factor of the reduced cost of building there is a distinct possibility that within a short time a much larger number of people will be able to pay for their own housing. That factor, together with the larger powers now possessed by the local authorities as regards sanitation and town planning, ought, I think, to lead us to the conclusion that the outlook for housing is better than it has ever been since the War, that a very encouraging beginning has been made, and that we may look forward henceforth to a great advance in the solution of a problem which has defeated so many generations of statesmen. Perhaps I might add one word in reply to some of the questions which I have been asked. I think Lord Buckmaster suggested that cuts had been made in the grants.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I wanted to know whether there is any foundation for the fears that voluntary societies entertain, that help may be withheld from them in the future.
My information is that it is not contemplated in any way to reduce any of the assistance which 94 the Government have given to these bodies, and the Government are grateful for the opportunity of expressing their thanks for the work which these bodies have done in the past. I think that Lord Strachie asked for the Government's attitude with regard to the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. We have always been anxious that more use should be made of that Act. The other questions were mostly of a general nature, and I hope were sufficiently answered in the earlier part of my speech.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I am certain that the noble Viscount's expression of sympathy on behalf of the Government was no empty one, arid I am grateful for the assurance which he has just given, in answer to Lord Buckmaster, that it is not contemplated that there should be any reduction in the subsidy for public utility societies. It would not be fair to the noble Viscount to ask him to make any statement of the Government's policy with regard to the subsidy, which I take it we shall hear before very long, but it is a very great. relief to many of us concerned in public utility societies to know that no change at present is contemplated in regard to the Act of 1930. I do not want to take the noble Viscount too literally, but if that does turn out to be the case it will be a very great relief.
I am a little sorry that the noble Viscount, on the plea that he did not want to dive into the deep waters of economic controversy, failed to refer to what I thought was the extraordinarily strong case put up by more than one speaker, and from all quarters of the House, on the subject of unemployment in the building trades. It is admitted that we have got millions of unemployed, hundreds of thousands of them in the building industry, that we have hundreds of thousands of people who want houses, and that no practicable means has yet been found of bringing together that demand and that supply. When you remember that this is an asset-producing expenditure, that we should get solid assets in the form of houses for it, it does seem unfortunate, to say the least of it, that no means has been found of bringing together the need on the one hand and the supply on the other. I should like to think that His Majesty's Government are really giving attention 95 to that aspect of the matter. It does seem to me lamentable that that state of affairs should be allowed to continue when there is so obviously business to be done (if I may put it so) between those two parties. I really believe that it is no exaggeration to say that every house that we are not building is costing us £75 a year in unemployment benefit.
I was glad to hear the tribute which the noble Viscount paid to the working of the 1930 Act, and I do sincerely hope that that is going to be continued. I personally should be quite reconciled to the abolition of subsidies under every Act except the 1930 Act, and I trust that when the time comes for the Government to announce their policy about subsidies —it may not be too late now to say something which they may consider—not only will local authorities be able still to draw their subsidies, but, as the noble Viscount indicated, also the public utility societies. If the Government look with favour, as I understood the noble Viscount to say they do, on the work of the public utility societies—which, after all, is a form of private enterprise—] should like to suggest to the Government that there is up and down the country an enormously strong feeling in favour of really getting on with the housing of the poorer members of the working class, to whom the right rev. Prelate has referred. It is something a great deal more than an empty feeling that something ought to be done.
I believe that there is a tremendous source of help up and down the country which would be available if an opening were given for its application; and the thing that I have in mind is this: I believe that if the Government were to say that in approved cases they were willing to help, and would offer for public subscription what might be called housing bonds, which would be Government borrowings, at a very low rate of interest, even 2½ per cent., people up and down the country would subscribe for them on the understanding that the money so raised was to be used for the purpose of housing the poorer working classes, through the medium of these public utility societies if you like, or if not, through local authorities. I think that the public utility societies under proper supervision afford an opening, and I believe that people up and down the country would subscribe their money at 2½ 96 per cent. in order to help in this matter of housing for the poorer working classes. The public utility societies have this great difficulty: they do borrow money at low rates—some of them have loan stock at 2½ per cent.—but it is difficult to make it redeemable. If you had a Government bond at 2½ per cent, that would be a marketable security. It is perfectly true that its market value would correspond to the market value of the Government 3 per cent. and 3½ per cent. stocks, but it would be marketable, and philanthropic people who are interested in housing would, I am perfectly certain, be ready to invest sums in that way. If the Government would show their approval of the idea, I believe it to be the fact, although it may sound unreal to your Lordships, that there is an enormous number of people who would be willing to help by subscribing for bonds in that sort of way.
There is one other point which I should like to suggest for the consideration of the Government, and that is in connection with those houses which have been built by public subsidy. It is quite obvious that owing to the money which we have available, that subsidy is very much reduced. We are all agreed that capital is necessary, and therefore the further we can make the subsidy go the better. It is constantly suggested that there are people living in subsidy houses, Addison houses particularly, who really could perfectly well have afforded to find houses for themselves. I am not suggesting that there is truth in that or that there is not. One does know of cases of Addison houses the occupants of which have garages and telephones and all the rest of it. I think that there ought to be a means test for people who live in subsidy houses, just as much as there ought to be a means test for people who draw unemployment benefit. I cannot see what is the answer to the suggestion that people who are living in houses which have been built by the aid of the taxpayer's money, should do something to establish the fact that they have real need of that assistance. If the abuse exists to any extent, then by displacing those people you will make those houses available for other people at present living in the slums and under bad conditions. If the abuse does not exist, then I think it will be a good thing for the public mind to be set at rest upon that subject.
97 The only other point that I want to make is that if the Rent Restriction Acts are modified in the way suggested there will have to be a tightening up of the by-laws giving power to local authorities to control overcrowding and bad conditions. Those powers are at present, as I know from experience, not sufficient, and in proportion as the Rent Restriction Acts are modified, so local authorities will have to be given greater power. I do not know whether the noble Viscount could indicate when we are going to have any statement of policy either about the Rent Restriction Acts or about the subsidy, but I can assure him that both those statements are awaited with very great interest, and it would be very helpful if we could have some idea as to when those announcements will be made.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
My Lords, I will only occupy a moment or two of your Lordships' time. I want to thank the noble Viscount for the care and fullness of the reply which he has made to us. I cannot say that I think the figures in connection with the slums are altogether satisfactory. Those figures show a very small number so far affected, but no doubt there must be a considerable interval before a new Act can be brought into working order, and it is most satisfactory to have the assurance that the Government propose to use that Act and to encourage the use of it in every possible way. I would join with the noble Lord who has just spoken in saying that I hope the Government will, before long, be able to make a full statement of policy on the matters which have just been mentioned. I am certain that the doubts which prevail about the policy of the Government on these matters does lead to a good deal of hesitation about going forward with housing schemes. This debate has been a remarkable debate in one way: that from every quarter of the House members have risen to impress 98 upon the Government the urgency of this problem, and appealing to the Government to take action. I would, of course, withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.