§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH had the following Notice on the Paper: To move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House the provision of one million houses to be let at a weekly rental, inclusive of rates, of 10s. and under, in addition to the slum clearance proposals of the Government, is an urgent national need, and to request the Government to consider the desirability of setting up forthwith, under the authority of the Minister of Health, a Housing Commission armed with all necessary powers, and charged with the specific duty of securing the erection of such houses by local authorities and public utility societies on a national plan and with the minimum of delay.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Motion on the Paper in my name before your Lordships to-day may be divided into two parts. The first part deals with the necessity, as I see it, for the provision of a large number of houses to let at low weekly rents, and the second part asks the consideration of the Gov- 698 ernment for the setting up of what I have called a Housing Commission as the necessary means for securing that object. I admit I cherish some hopes that the Government may see fit to accept this Motion. I feel quite confident that the general principle is one which your Lordships' House is prepared to accept at all events so far as the provision of the housing is concerned. The debates initiated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, and only a month or two ago by the most reverend Primate, have shown quite clearly that there is really no dissentient voice in your Lordships' House on the subject of the urgent need for radically improving the housing conditions of the poorer wage earners. The Minister of Health, whose zeal and enthusiasm in this matter we all of us admire to the full, has expressed himself on the matter on numerous occasions with the greatest possible eloquence and conviction. He has referred to the "necessity of ridding our social organism of the radiating centres of depravity and disease," and I take this early opportunity of assuring your Lordships and the Government that this Motion is not brought forward in the faintest degree in any hostility to or hostilely critical spirit of the Government, but solely with the intention of, if it may be, elucidating some of the difficulties which lie in the way to recovery and of making some constructive suggestions which may possibly have in them the germ of usefulness.
§ The intention and the desires of the Government are excellent, but as I see it—and perhaps I speak in the rôle of the candid friend—there is a danger of the failure of the Government's programme through lack of a coherent plan. We know of the plan for slum clearance. We have been told there is coming a, plan for overcrowding. We have not yet been told of any plan for additional new houses to let at low rents, and, as I see it, the Government have tackled this problem form the wrong end. I think if they were asked what was the origin of their housing programme they would have to answer like Topsy. When Miss Ophelia asked her about herself she said: "I 'spect I grow'd;" and I think the Government's housing problem has just grown instead of having been conceived on a wider and more comprehensive plan. The object of my Resolution 699 is to put before your Lordships a conscious aim, and the suggestion that there is need not only for a conscious aim and object, but a conscious direction of the national effort to secure that object.
§ What should be our conscious aim? I think it is now admitted as a principle—I think the Government are almost prepared to say—that the provision of a certain standard of housing accommodation for every family at a rent within the family capacity to pay must, as an ultimate aim, be accepted as a national duty and a public responsibility. Housing is by far the most important of the social services. It comes first in my opinion, before any other social service, education, the feeding of school children, anything you like, though perhaps the feeding of school children goes with it. But the provision of decent homes in my opinion is fundamentally the most important social service. If we accept that end, the question is whether it can be expressed in the form of a definite task, the definite task being the provision of the necessary houses to overtake the shortage. Given the desideratum of a decent home for every family within its means, the figure of the definite task is a component of two factors. It is a component of the physical deficiency in the number of houses and of the capacity to pay of the classes whom we have to rehouse. In my Motion I have put it down as a million houses at 10s. a week and under. That is a guess. I frankly say to your Lordships that it is a guess. But what a commentary on the situation!
§ We have had eight Ministers of Health since we faced this task after the War, and still we have not found out what the task is with which we are faced and have to accomplish. In itself that seems to me to be one of the strongest arguments for the establishment of the Housing Commission of which I am asking your Lordships to approve. There has recently been published the report of a Committee which has sat under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Amulree, and copies of it are on the Table available for such of your Lordships as may care to look at it. I refer to it because the points which I am trying to make to your Lordships this afternoon are there elaborated in much greater detail than is possible to me in the time I may per- 700 mit myself to have, and if I go rather lightly over some of the points it is because I would ask your Lordships to refer for more detail to that report which is on the Table of the House.
§ In the provision of a million houses there are certain factors to be taken into account. You have first of all the excess of families for the number of available houses. That excess of families has increased in the last census period and is now over a million. I know that is subject to qualification. There is also the degree of overcrowding. The Registrar-General's figures, I think, give us 2,600,000 people living more than two to a room—admittedly an excessively high standard. More houses are needed for them. Then there is the estimated future increase in the number of families. The economists tell us that it will amount to 600,000 more families in the next ten years. Then there is the progressive deterioration and wearing out of the houses. Many houses are now reaching the end of their useful career. I take a million houses at 10s. a week and I know that that is a figure like any other. But I regard it as a conservative one. I do not think I am likely to be contradicted on that point. If the stated object is accepted, if I carry your Lordships with me so far and if we ought to aim at providing a million new houses at these low rents, then I think we ought to adopt, and the Government will have to adopt, a totally new point of view. I think we want a new attitude. We can no longer go muddling along hoping that things will turn out all right. We have to make a plan and get the advantage of long-scale planning.
§ If we are going to have a million houses, where are they to be put? You have got movement of population and industry going on all the time. It is not safe to leave that to happen as it may. You want a long-term plan for that alone. Then you have the problem of derelict areas. What are you going to do with them? There is this further point: assuming that we want one million new houses, it may be perfectly safe to let local authorities go ahead with building now because of the universal shortage; but postulate that half the problem has been; dealt with and that need for half a million houses remains. Those half million houses will have to be put in 701 places where they ought to be put, and not in places where through the movement of population or industry they may fall out of use and be wasted. In this matter also we have to plan ahead. Private enterprise left to itself must build where land is most easily available and where circumstances most easily admit of the profit necessary. That seems to me to require to be regulated and planned.
§ Again, if we have an admitted national aim our outlook on finance must be altered. If houses cannot be built—and they cannot—at an economic rent, we have two alternative?—namely, between subsidy and guarantee. It must be remembered that the lower the rent the greater the number of people who can afford to pay it without subsidy. That seems to me a highly important consideration. To that you must add that the cost of the money is one of the most important factors in the weekly rent. Your Lordships will realise that if a house costs £350 and money is raised at 3 per cent, the interest charge per annum is £10 10s. If the house is built at a time when money costs 6 per cent, the interest charge will be £21. It boils down to this, that 1 per cent, on the cost of the money means somewhere between Is. and 1s. 6d. a week on the rent—a very large proportion of the whole weekly rent when you are dealing with these low rents. It seems; to me that the Treasury point of view has always been to prefer the limited but certain liability of a subsidy to the possibly much larger unlimited liability of a guarantee. If you turn to the Treasury and say it is a necessity that we provide these houses; it is not a passing phase that we have to subsidise them but it is a thing we have to meet; and if you ask the Treasury what is the cheapest way to do it, the answer must be What the cheapest way is through a guarantee, only using the method of subsidy when you must in specific cases for specific reasons.
§ We advocate in that report the issue of national housing stock. It is perfectly true that the larger local authorities will say they can borrow as cheaply as the Treasury. I know they can. But we are thinking of a much larger body of finance than, has yet been provided for housing. If a million houses are to be provided it will be at the cost of £350,000,000 or 702 £400,000,000 spread over the necessary period. I am not afraid of that. Any one who knows the gilt-edged market knows that at the moment money can be easily raised by the Government at about 3 per cent. I am taking £400,000,000 in order to allow for a possible rise in interest rates in the next year or two. Assuming that stock to be guaranteed, the risk seems to me to be very small. Even if nobody paid a penny rent the risk would be only the interest on the money, at most £16,000,000 a year, very little more than is being paid in subsidies now. But of course the whole principle of the thing is that rent must be paid even by those with the lowest incomes. None of your Lordships want to see them sitting rent free. Such an hypothesis is absurd. That is the point, that there should be a guarantee to provide cheap money inasmuch as that is far cheaper than a subsidy.
§ If the Government's policy on that point is open to criticism, I am afraid I must say that it is open to criticism also on another point—that is, on their attitude towards private enterprise. It is common ground that private enterprise now cannot provide houses of the required standard to let fit 10s. a week. I am afraid I should say private enterprise never has satisfactorily housed the main body of the lower paid working classes. Those of us who support private enterprise, as I do, have to remember that slums are the product of private enterprise. Whether private enterprise has worked satisfactorily in the past or not, I think it is quite certain that with modern standards, the standards which public opinion now demands, and in my opinion rightly demands, private enterprise cannot possibly meet the need. Private enterprise can provide a better class of house, and of course is doing so, and I hope will always continue to do so. My criticism is that the Government are relying on private enterprise beyond the point at which it can succeed.
§ Private enterprise has always been associated with houses for sale and not with houses for letting. Your Lordships know very well how it works. The small speculative builder is usually a man without capital. He has to borrow capital and he borrows as a, rule from lawyers. The lawyers advance money on certificates. If the houses are not sold quickly, 703 they take mortgages, and the builder is loaded with high interest costs. As a commercial matter there are three ways by which he can make profit—out of the land, out of interest, and out of building costs. And of course it is out of building costs that the speculative builder does make his profit. That is putting a premium on scamped work, because that is how profit can be made. What I want is to get rid of the speculative profit, which I do not think is a good one, and substitute for it in the building trade the legitimate profit which would be got in building on a contract for the local authorities and public utility societies. That will enable private enterprise to get a different kind of profit and one which to my mind is better. The one profit may be high because it is a speculative one; the other will be small because it is a certain profit.
§ The Minister of Health has told us that there is a boom in house building at the moment. I agree. I think the results of house building in the last six months are remarkable. But I am afraid I must add that I think it is a process which is being overdone. The production of houses for sale is very shortly going to exceed the demand. I think the result will be that there will be a fall in prices. I think it will involve the owners of those houses in loss. I think some of the speculative builders will be involved in bankruptcy, and I think the process will tend to come to an end. But be it a success or be it a failure, in no circumstances, as I see it, can it produce houses to let at rents which the poorer paid wage earners can afford.
Take another aspect of the same mutter, the question of the owner-occupier with which the noble Lord, Lord Moyne's Committee dealt fully. That Committee made out a convincing case, which I need not repeat, for the ownership of property of that class by either public or quasi-public authorities. The pathetic thing about it all is that there is nothing new about it. I have recently been doing some digging and exploration into some old Parliamentary papers in the form of the Report of the Select Committee on Town Holdings which sat from 1886 to 1892. Although the Moyne Committee referred to a number of previous Reports to support its conclusions, it did not mention that one. I should think probably the friend who directed my attention to these papers and myself are the only people
who have looked at them during the last twenty-five years. I am reminded of a sentence from the mutual friend of all of us, "Mr. Punch," who said three weeks ago:
It'll go on and on. Everybody will debate everything and find no remedy.…Nothing will ever happen again. Things will only be about to happen. Committees will sit upon them, and Committees will sit upon those Committees and ossify.
What really is pathetic is that in the proceedings of that Committee of fifty years ago, which was concerned with leasehold enfranchisement, you have all the evidence set forth on the question of the working man buying his house and becoming the owner of it, and the arguments are conclusive against it. There is only one strong argument in favour and that is that it would give him a stake in the country and that it would be an encouragement of thrift. In those days there were not savings certificates, and it was not at all easy for a man to be a small investor.
§ I think it must be clear that it is far better for a man with a little bit of capital to own Government securities than to own and occupy a house which he is going to find it very difficult to keep in proper repair. That Committee emphasised the advantage of what they called dwellings companies and associations, and emphasised that the more poorly paid wage earner was much better off sitting as the weekly tenant of a good and public-spirited landlord than he would be if he owned his own house. I am speaking of the more poorly paid wage earner who has no resources to fall back upon. The disadvantages of his ownership are obvious to your Lordships. His employment may fail owing to economic depression or to failure of his employer, and if he is not able to move he is in a very difficult position. He cannot afford to keep the house in proper repair; he may be forced to take in as lodgers undesirable tenants; and ultimately he may sell to some profiteer. That Report of 1889, to which I have alluded, referred in terms to speculators who squeeze the tenants and spend as little as may be on repairs. It is a fact which cannot be denied that the slums in many of our big towns are very often made up of small freehold houses which have not had the advantage of mass management by either a local authority or a benevolent landlord such as one of the great landowners 705 might be. For all these reasons I venture to say to your Lordships that the policy of the Ministry, which is to encourage the building of small weekly property, is going to lead to trouble.
§ In place of it I want to try to offer a more constructive plan. If the Housing Commission is set up, what is it going to do? The first task is to measure the plan—to find out what the need is and then make a plan to meet it. It would have to settle a policy and then carry it out. What we want is continuity in housing policy. Take the question of subsidies, and just recall the history of housing subsidies in the last fourteen years. We have had during that time eight Ministers of Health. Seven of them had subsidies. Everyone of them has reversed the policy of his predecessor, and I do not think they all have been wrong. I think they were all admirable people, all struggling with difficulties which were beyond their control because they had not set about the job in the right way.
§ First of all there was Sir Auckland Geddes in 1918, with no subsidy. Then there was Dr. Addison, with a very large subsidy, and an immense increase in the cost of building because there was no attempt made to do what the Housing Commission would do, that is, to organise the building trade, organise the supply of material and organise labour. After Dr. Addison there was Sir Alfred Mond, who said he would stop the subsidy. So he did. He stopped building, too. Then there was Mr. Neville Chamberlain; he put the subsidy on again. Then there was Mr. Wheatley; he put on a bigger one. Then Mr. Chamberlain had another one, smaller than Mr. Wheatley's. Then there was Mr. Greenwood, with a bigger one again. Then there was the present Minister, who started with the idea that we must have a subsidy to rehouse a person out of a crowded slum house but that there was no need for a subsidy to rehouse a person out of an overcrowded house which was not a slum house. It would be a farce if it were not a tragedy. It is a tragedy, because you have people in the shims waiting all the time for relief which is very slow to come. Now there is the new plan of the Minister. We do not know what it is, bat it concerns subsidies in connection with the cost of building on land where site values are high. I confess that I regard what I have heard about it with some apprehension.706
§ If I may refer once again to the Amulree report, which is on the Table, there your Lordships will find a case made out that with a guarantee of a national housing stock to reduce the rate of interest to the neighbourhood of 3 per cent., subsidies would be necessary only in these exceptional cases: firstly, where it is really necessary to build on land of high site value; secondly, where rates are high; and thirdly, where you are dealing with a population such as the agricultural population which really cannot pay anything like an economic rent. The standard which we have taken is the standard of a house with three bedrooms and a living room, of the non-parlour type, of about 760 square feet, known as the Tudor Walters house. We reckon the cost at about £350. That includes about £60 for the roads and sewers. We have taken about 2s. 6d. for rates. I admit that that may be too small. A couple of years ago the Minister took 2s. for rates, and I think that we must admit that that was too small. I think it may be that the right figure for the average of rates will be 3s. 6d. If that is so, it will make our rent 11s. instead of 10s. Even if we could get a million houses at lls. per week, it would be a very substantial contribution to the solution of the problem.
§ We want continuity. We want not only continuity in subsidies but continuity of plan, so that the building trade of the country will know where it is. We want organisation of the supply of material. We want the makers of all sorts of building materials to know that they can plan a long way ahead. So we shall get, I hope, a reduction in price. We want to avoid competition between local authorities for building materials. I believe that only recently two local authorities in the North of England found the price put up against them because they both wanted building materials and sufficient was not available. Then there is the provision of land ahead. To buy land by the acre or by the few acres is like building houses one at a time. We want a purchase of land for the whole job, not for part of the job. We want to know what the job is, and then purchase the land to see it through. Again, we want to spread the task over the period which it will take to build. The Amulree Committee said ten years. It may be more, but let us know what it is, so that when the task 707 is half done it may be eased off towards the end. You do not want to have large numbers of labourers thrown on the market when the plan is finished; you want to ease it out and make it fit in with the economic life of the country.
§ Then there is research. The Ministry of Health is already doing admirable research, and there is the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research doing similar work. There are private Committees such as that of the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, doing work which is full of utility. The Housing Commission would see that the fullest use was made of such results and would stimulate research in other directions. I will not weary your Lordships by describing them, but there are many directions in which research can usefully be carried out, both towards a reduction of cost and towards all the other factors which enter into a long range of housing policy. Then there is the public utility society. I would like to see the Housing Commission have as one of its departments a department charged with the stimulation of the public utility society movement exactly as described in the Moyne Committee's Report. I believe that the public utility societies have done so little hitherto because they have been stunted in the matter of finance. If you had the proceeds of a national housing stock which could be lent also to public utility societies you would get a very useful adjunct to the work of the local authorities. Then there is reconditioning, and the Housing Commission could do much to make the standard of reconditioning level all over the country and so perform a very useful function. Local authorities have no experience of reconditioning and will want all the help they can get.
If I may refer once again to the report the subject is so large that I think only a perusal of the report can do justice to what I am trying to tell your Lordships. I would like to give one quotation from The Times. I have not found in the past that The Times is apt to be too lavish in its praise of this sort of proposal and rightly it is a very strong supporter of the Government. The Times said about the report:
The report considers that these arrangements would result in the provision during the next ten years of one million houses to let at under 10s. a week without a subsidy, except where rates are exceptionally high or
land exceptionally expensive. It seems a feasible plan and a reasonable ambition. It interferes with nothing which the Government have done or had in contemplation in their forthcoming Bill to deal with overcrowding. It gives an answer to the vital question what more a Housing Commission could do than could be done under the existing organisation of housing policy.
Of course objections will be offered. I do not deal with the objection that the Housing Commission will itself build. Of course the Housing Commission will not build. It has got to work through the local authorities and public utility societies. There may be some local authorities who will feel that the Housing Commission will be a fifth wheel to the coach. I think the coach is lumbering now and that what we want to put into it is a motor engine to enable it to get over difficulties, and that, I think, the Housing Commission would do.
§ It could do much more than the Ministry of Health could do. The Ministry of Health is the Local Government Board and its function is supervision, to control and check the local authorities. It is not the function of the Ministry to have the initiation of a great plan of this kind. So far as the Ministry of Health is concerned there would have to be a division of functions, the Housing Commission having the technical functions while the quasi-judicial functions would remain with the Ministry of Health. Some friends have said that this is not the moment. I agree that this is not the moment. The moment was 1919, and I do not think it can be denied that if a Housing Commission had been set up in 1919 some of the mistakes of the past years would have been avoided and that if it be set up now mistakes which would otherwise be made will in turn be avoided. What I am suggesting is not a colossal bureaucracy but a central constructive organising brain to view the whole thing from a national point of view. It would be a change at the centre without a substantial change at the circumference, beyond correlation of long range organisation of the efforts of local authorities and public utility societies.
§ To sum up what is wanted are new houses at low rents which are only to be got through the local authorities and the public utility societies. The task must be measured and planned to get all the advantages of large-scale planning. Slum clearance plus overcrowding plus 709 reconditioning taken one by one are progressively making the task more difficult. That is to grope, to improvise, and to complicate. To measure to plan and to simplify is ultimately to accomplish. I sincerely regret if I seem unduly critical of the Government. The whole possibility of this plan is based on the success of the Government in getting the national finances into order. That was the first task which they had to accomplish. That done, there can be no greater task for a National Government than the provision of decent homes in which their people can live honest and happy lives. Your Lordships know the importance of the asset to be gained in decent citizenship. With the world in the state it is to-day the necessity testability and citizenship is obvious. The Government that succeeds, and no Government in this country has yet succeeded, in providing decent homes for the poorer wage earners will earn their affection and gratitude. The Government which fails will have a heavy responsibility to face.
§ Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of tills House the provision of one million houses to be let at a weekly rental, inclusive of rates, of 10s. and under, in addition to the slum clearance proposals of the Government, is an urgent national nerd.—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I am sure you will agree that the housing problem is one of the most important problems in social reform. The Motion on the Paper calls for a million houses. When one speaks of a million houses one might be inclined to infer that building in this country has been small. On the contrary building has been very substantial. Since 1919 there have been built 2,300,000 houses, and of that number 1,160,000 have been assisted by subsidy and 1,150,000 unassisted by subsidy. The unassisted houses are those of an annual rateable value of £105 in the Metropolitan area and £75 outside the Metropolitan area, and of the unassisted houses 738,000 have been built by local authorities, and 421,446 by private individuals. In addition, there have been about 31,000 built under various acts. So that since 1919 you have had a very large number of houses built. At the same time Parliament has not hesitated to grant money by way of subsidy for house building. The total 710 annual burden by way of subsidy upon the Exchequer is about £13,000,000, made up by various subsidies granted. These will continue to be paid for many years. In addition, there was another smaller subsidy of £1,500,000 paid by local, authorities from local rates under the Wheatley Act.
Although all that money has been expended and although all those houses have been built, these various schemes have made little or no provision for the lower paid worker, fie is still left in the slums and overcrowded houses. If every family, according to the report prepared by the Committee of which I was a member, is to be provided with a house within its means there is at the present moment a shortage of houses of very considerable dimensions. As a matter of fact, I endeavoured to arrive at the amount of the shortage of houses, but there are no published figures, and one has to select them from various sources as best one can. I have gone to the census figures, and got a certain amount of assistance there. The census of 1931 for England and Wales shows that, while the increase of population was slight during the preceding ten years, the increase in the number of families was great, the increase in the population was a little over 2,000,000, while the increase in the number of families was about 1,500,000, or 17 per cent. This was, it is true, accompanied by a fall in the average size of the family from 4.5 to 3.0 persons. The increase in the number of families was greater between 1921 and 1931 than the increase in the number of inhabited houses. The increase in the number of inhabited houses was 16.7 per cent.
There has always been an excess in the number of families enumerated over the number of inhabited houses. The excess has been much greater since the War than formerly, and in 1931 reached the formidable figure of 1,110,000. This is some measure of the overcrowding. The increase in the number of families between 1921 and 1931, relative to the number of inhabited houses, shows that notwithstanding the number of houses built between 1919 and 1931, overcrowding was as bad in 1931 as it was in 1891, the figures being in each case an average of 1.12 families per house, and overcrowding is generally found in houses occupied by the lower paid workers.
711 The real measure of overcrowding is to be ascertained on the basis of living accommodation per person. Two persons to a room is a low standard. The minimum standard is generally regarded as an average of one and a-half persons to a room. The London County Council on its building estates observes a standard of one and a-quarter persons per room. If you take an average of one and a-half persons to a room you find some very striking results. According to the census of 1931, 2,630,000 persons lived more than two to a room. The additional accommodation required to re-house them at one and a-half persons to a room may be estimated at a further 1,000,000 rooms, or 250,000 houses—probably 300,000 houses if you allow for the segregation of the sexes. Competent observers consider that the number of families may be expected to increase at an enhanced rate compared with the increase of population. The Economist, for example, has estimated that the next census will show an increase in the number of families in England and Wales of 668,000, as compared with 1931. Therefore, 668,000 houses will be required to house them separately.
Further, many of the present houses are gradually wearing out. If the average life of such houses as were built in the early part of the nineteenth century be assumed to be between ninety and 100 years, this would represent a considerable wastage, probably about 30,000 per annum, and, according to information I have received, this is likely to go on for the next fifteen or twenty years. If you take all these and other factors into account it is estimated that 1,900,000 houses must be provided during the next ten years to house families separately, and at least 1,000,000 of these must be provided at inclusive rentals of 10s. a week and under to supply the needs of the lower paid workers.
How is this shortage to be supplied? Private enterprise has been associated with building for sale rather than for letting. Where private enterprise has built houses for letting the houses have been of the more expensive kind. The Housing Act of 1933 has proved unsuccessful in substantially increasing the supply of houses to let. The Act 712 arranges for building societies to increase their loans on mortgage from 70 per cent, to 90 per cent, of the value of the houses, one-third of the extra advance being guaranteed by the local authority and one-third by the Exchequer. The building societies also agree to lend under the Act for a period of thirty years at rates of interest 1 per cent, below normal rates. The normal rate in London and the Southern counties is 4 per cent., and elsewhere 4 per cent. In March, 1934, guarantees were given in respect of 1,631 houses, and by May 14 negotiations were in progress or guarantees promised for 8,400 more. This is in contrast with 100,000 a year. Few of these houses are let at inclusive rentals of 10s. per week and under. This number may be increased to a limited extent, but that will do little towards cheapening houses on a scale necessary to overcome the overcrowding problem. If the houses are let at 10s. a week or less, inclusive of rates and other outgoings, the return will not leave a margin, large enough to cover interest payments when money has not been raised under trustee conditions.
It would seem, therefore, that private enterprise could not supply houses at that rental. There must be organised action. House building under present conditions is, necessarily piecemeal in character. There is little or no organisation for a nation-wide co-ordinated house production. What is required is a scheme planned for the erection of 1,000,000 houses at 10s. a week or under within the next ten years. The planning involves carrying through a large building programme organised on a nationally co-ordinated basis. The scheme should effect the assembling of all the programmes for the interior of towns, suburban developments, and satellite towns into one systematic whole. A survey of local needs to eliminate overcrowding and slums would be prepared, and then an accurate and workable estimate of the materials and mechanics prepared in each area from one end of the country to the other.
Long term, nation-wide agreements would be entered into with the suppliers of building materials and with the labour organisations in, the industry. These agreements would ensure continuity of employment, factories and workshops 713 working to full capacity, building operatives having continuous employment, ensuring the minimum overheads, and a consequent reduction in prices. A scheme thus worked out and effecting a reduction in prices would not involve any reduction in wages. Under, the scheme all the needs of materials and mechanics would be tabulated and the quantities of each available in each area. This would be compared with the requirements of each part of the country, so apportioning one to the other as to prevent unnecessary competition, which proved so fatal to the efforts under Dr. Addison's administration. The scheme would insist on the use of standardised fittings which could be purchased on a large scale, and it would insist also on the adoption of modernised regulations which would authorise the use of proved new processes and materials once they had been approved by the Government's building research station.
Next the pace of the programme should be controlled. It may be necessary to regulate the programme in the light of fluctuations in general business and in particular of fluctuations in building activity other than that connected with the programme. It is important that the programme should act as a stabilising and not as a disturbing influence on the general volume of employment. I have already mentioned the surveys of local needs. It would be necessary to see that local surveys are on a comparable basis and that full allowance is made for any probable change in the economic and social structure of the population. Attention would have to be paid to the distribution of families between different parts of the country in accordance with economic tendencies. Spasmodic and un-co-ordinated buying, as in several instances in the past, must be avoided, for, if not, it will, as in the past, result in a higher general levy of prices, which is waste. For this nation-wide undertaking a special board such as a Housing Commission is necessary. It is really a business job and not work for a Government Department.
The Ministry of Health is already overburdened with a multitude of duties, and should not, if the work is to be carried out effectively and efficiently, be required to carry out an undertaking of such a highly technical nature. At present the 714 Ministry has to exercise a large number of quasi-judicial powers in housing matters. The exercise of these quasi-judicial powers is incompatible with the exercise of administrative powers which are at present entrusted to the Ministry. An undesirable position will arise if, while engaged in stimulating local authorities and public utility societies to build a million houses, at the same time it were to judge of the fairness of the proposals as they affect different parties. The Commission would not supersede local authorities, but would assist them as well as public utility societies. Certain powers now exercised by the Minister would be transferred to the Commission. The Minister would retain general control over the borrowings of local authorities and would retain his quasi-judicial functions, such as the confirmation or rejection of slum clearance orders, compulsory purchase orders, and by-laws. He would be responsible for housing legislation, and would reply in Parliament to questions on housing matters. The Commission would be vested with the powers to approve location of sites and their co-ordination with town planning schemes, and thus could definitely prevent ribbon development. It would approve the purchase price of land, the cost of building, and the type of houses to be erected, and would act in the place of a local authority which had been declared in default.
My noble friend pointed out that the Housing Commission would make for continuity of policy. It is almost impossible to have continuity of policy under the present system. There have been seven or eight changes of Minister since 1919, and it is safe to say there have been seven or eight policies. The Commission should be in a position to carry out its functions as independently as possible of changes of Minister or Government. It would not own houses. A continuity of policy, based on a co-ordinated regional and national plan, will eliminate sudden changes in demand for materials, and the stability resulting from the fact that future demand is known should result in lower costs. Problems of local shortage of labour could be dealt with on the basis of the needs of the country as a whole, and provision could be made for continuity of employment both as regards general activity and seasonal fluctuations.
715 Everyone must feel sympathy for the building trade operative during recent years as well as for the building contractor. Great schemes have been undertaken resulting in intense activity for a short time, and then there has been a slacking off resulting in unemployment. If a scheme such as has been outlined by my noble friend is accepted it has been calculated that it will represent the employment of something like 50 per cent. of the building trade operatives during the next ten years. The other 50 per cent, will be engaged on building operations of a private nature and on works carried out by public bodies. The economic effect of a long-term period of employment in the building industry would beneficially affect the other staple industries of the country. The number of employees directly and indirectly dependent on the building industry is well over two millions, and a scheme such as is contemplated would tend to give a greater degree of constant employment, and thus relieve the widespread charges falling on the nation due to unemployment. The expenses of the Commission should not be heavy, having regard to the fact that many of its functions will be such as are already paid for out of public money. By setting up a Housing Commission as is proposed, there will be no introduction of divided control. There should be no sudden change from the Ministry of Health to the Commission. The Commission will take up its duties in a gradual and orderly way, and such duties as are proposed to be transferred would likewise be handed over. This would involve little interference with work in hand or with schemes already going through. Instead of divided action as at present, with some eighteen hundred local authorities going their several ways, there would, under the assistance and guidance of the Commission, be effective co-ordination between these bodies.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, it is my first duty, speaking on behalf of my colleagues on these Benches, and echoing, I am convinced, the general sense of your Lordships' House, to congratulate with the greatest possible warmth the two noble Lords and their collaborators on a very remarkable contribution to a final solution of the great social problem of housing. Their little book is indeed a remarkable document 716 and, not having been myself a member of the Committee, I am able to do something which neither of the two previous speakers were in a position to do owing to their natural modesty—namely, to recommend this document to any of your Lordships who have not yet had occasion to read it and, if I may do so, to extend my recommendation to all those in any part of the country who are at this moment gravely concerned by the state of housing accommodation in our great towns. I should like to add that this report comes at a quite extraordinarily opportune moment. We all know that the Government is now considering the second part of its housing campaign and that it is preparing a scheme which it intends to launch in the autumn. The Amulree Committee seems to be striking while the iron is red hot. Its proposals reach the Government at a time when the Government's mind is not already made up, and I should like to urge that they should consider its suggestions as thoroughly and as seriously as they are able, and that, without adopting an independent report of this kind, they should at least embody in their own Bill certain of its outstanding features.
The Party which I have the honour to represent in your Lordships' House has itself a policy to deal with the problem of housing, and I am entitled to say that we entirely concur with the suggestions outlined in the Amulree report so far as they go. In general, our only difference from the noble Lord and his collaborators, all of whom are strong supporters of the present Government, is that our ambitions for the housing of the people fly even higher. I should like, if I might detain your Lordships for a moment, to state the main features of the report which has just been discussed in so far as they agree with the policy of the Opposition in this House, and afterwards to suggest very briefly how this policy is to some extent divergent and aims at an even higher standard of housing accommodation. We agree fundamentally with the first principle which the Amulree Committee states at the outset of its report, and it is on the acceptance of this principle that logically the whole of the rest of the report hangs, because it is an attempt to provide housing accommodation, not for profit or as a result of the operation of the forces of supply and demand, but out of a sense 717 of duty owed to the citizens of our country, and out of an acknowledgment of their right to decent homes and to that environment which can alone give them a full life.
Because this principle seems to be so essential, I would like to trouble your Lordships for a moment by reading a short extract from the very opening of the report:One fundamental principle lies behind all our discussions. The provision of housing accommodation, not below a minimum standard, for every family in the United Kingdom at a rent within the family capacity to pay, should be accepted as a public responsibility and a national service.That is the basis for the uneconomic housing of the poorest paid section of the working class. It is the basis that we accept, and it is founded on a belief that individuals have the same right to decent homes and decent housing accommodation as they have to a minimum of education or to the protection of the law. It follows, inevitably, from this that as private enterprise has been unable to furnish these houses at a low rent for the poorest; section of the working class, the State and the local authorities have to step in and do what the business man has been unable to perform.
We entirely agree with what the two noble Lords who have just spoken have told us—namely, that the proper sphere for private enterprise has been, and is indeed likely to remain, the provision of houses for sale; and though even occasionally private builders can erect houses that are to be let, the rent they will charge is too high for the agricultural labourer and for the lower-paid artisans to be able, possibly, to afford without stinting themselves of the absolute necessities of life. A National Housing Commission or a National Housing Board or a National Housing Corporation, whatever title yon like to give it, has been much canvassed during past years, in fact ever since this Government came into office. We agree entirely that an organisation of this kind is essential for the practical fulfilment of any scheme of national housing. We are also of opinion that its functions should be limited and restricted to the planning of a survey on a national scale, to the raising of a large housing loan supported by Government guarantee, to the arrangement of facilities for building, for the purchase 718 of land and for the employment of the operatives in the building industry over a considerable period of years. This means that other, functions, such as the ownership of these houses, the management of these houses, the building of these houses, would not fall upon the shoulders of a body of this kind. So far the general outline of the Amulree report is one that appeals to us fundamentally.
There is one other matter mentioned in the report, not referred to by either of the previous speakers, which I should like to stress, if I might, for a moment. We believe, as indeed the authors of the report seem to do, one of whom was a director of the Bank of England, that this is the moment when a bold scheme of public works of this kind would give the best possible stimulus to trade recovery, and that its effect would be greatly to increase the pace at which unemployment is diminishing, both directly by increasing employment in the building trade, and indirectly by increasing employment in all those trades that produce goods which the wage-earner, now employed or receiving a higher wage, will be able to afford. At the same time any expense that the Exchequer would incur owing to the payment of subsidies, which, of course, are catered for on a very sensible scale in the report, or owing to the necessity for the payment of interest on a loan which would naturally not be immediately remunerative, would be amply set off by the return to the Exchequer in the form of a higher yield from Income Tax and in the greatly diminished expenditure of the Government on unemployment benefit and of local authorities on the administration of the Poor Law.
So far our sympathy has been complete. Now we diverge to a certain extent and our divergence is really because we accept, if you like, a higher standard of living as being desirable and indeed practicable. The noble Lord pointed out that his report was based on the Tudor Walters standard house as being the minimum of comfort and efficiency required by the working classes. I feel, reading between the lines, that his Committee was not satisfied by the standard and I should like, with your Lordships' permission, to read one sentence: 719We accept the figure ot 760 square feet as a fair estimate, though we are quite prepared to admit that the figure may have to be raised if the general standard of living rises.In view of the fact that the standard has been rising for the last 100 years it is not likely that it will remain stationary or fall. It seems to follow from the Committee's own proposals that they do not consider the Tudor Walters standard really adequate. We should like to see a parlour in every house as well as a living room, so that there would be a certain space reserved for leisure and for the development of cultural interests without any unhappy proximity to culinary enterprise. We believe that a room of that kind would be of the greatest value to the average working-class family and enable it to reach, a higher standard of life spiritually as well as physically.
My next point is that we maintain that a greater number of houses will be required in the next ten years than the number mentioned by the noble Lord and the number set out in this report. I will not trouble your Lordships with the basis on which our calculation is made, but the calculation is that over a period of twenty years at least 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 new houses will be required for the working classes—that is, that over a period of ten years 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 new houses should be built. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, and his supporters aim only at building 1,000,000 houses in ten years. While believing that their estimates have probably been cut down by the considerations of what can be done at the moment, nevertheless we would urge them to consider, if they are continuing their fine work, how far it would be possible for the Government to encourage and support a plan for a greater number of houses over the period they envisage.
There is one other point which I think is of material interest. They make no mention of any necessity for the control of prices during the period in which the national building scheme would be operative. I think it is very doubtful whether a scheme of this magnitude could possibly be carried through without some sort of public control over the price of materials and the price of land such as was exercised by the Government in the public interest during the years of the War. That is a suggestion which we should 720 like to offer to those responsible for this report, and it is something which would certainly be incorporated in any building scheme on a really large scale sponsored by the Party I represent.
In conclusion, I would like to ask one or two questions of the noble Viscount who I gather will reply on behalf of the Government. The first of these questions is, I think, justified by the statement of the Minister of Health which appeared last month in a very interesting periodical called Church and Slum in which he said that "the necessary legislation will be introduced in the autumn." He was referring, of course, to the second part of the Government's housing campaign. Autumn is approaching and I think I am entitled to assume that the general outlines of the Government's programme must be already matured. My first question is whether the Government have decided to encourage building on the periphery of our great towns as well as in the centre. At present we are not at all certain whether the proposals of the Government are not restricted to the acquisition of sites in the centres of large towns and the erection of tenements there. We should regret it very much if that were the case, because, except where towns are so large that the means of communication do not permit the provision of accommodation for workers on the periphery, the suburban cottage is infinitely preferable.
My second question is: How soon do the Government intend to ask local authorities for a complete national survey of overcrowded areas? They have already taken preliminary steps in their campaign against the slums and we very much hope that they are contemplating this further step at a very proximate date. My third question—I am afraid it may sound a note of pessimism—is: Do the Government still intend to build 50,000 to 60,000 houses a year under its original scheme for the clearance of the slums? My reason for asking that somewhat pessimistic question is that figures available to the most recent date seem to show that unless the rate of building is enormously increased the Government programme cannot possibly be adhered to. It appears that to the end of the six months ended March last the number of houses amounted to about 5,600, and that over the year would only mean about 11,000; as they are aiming at 50,000 721 or 60,000 houses a year the pace of building would have to be accelerated to about five times the present rate. We are most anxious to know whether the Government intend to take any special steps in order to oblige local authorities to build at a much greater speed under their Housing Act of 1933 than the speed at which they have hitherto been building.
I think that I should only like to say in conclusion that we are indebted very greatly indeed to the framers of a report which combines certain qualities which in combination are almost unique. It combines shrewd common sense with something finer than common sense, and this combination is so rarely met with that I feel certain that it will appeal strongly to all the members of your Lordships' House. I wish to urge upon the Government as heartily as I can that it is a report which on those grounds deserves very serious consideration, and to add that anything which they achieve on the lines of this report, or more indirectly under the stimulation of this report, will be received by us with the most complete approval, and that we shall be the first, if I may so express it, to shake them by the hand.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, it cannot be doubted that your Lordships' House has throughout shown the greatest interest in national housing. In my recollection there is not any subject of public interest which has been more often debated or more sympathetically considered in your Lordships' House than this housing question. I desire to associate myself with what has already been said, particularly by the noble Earl who has just spoken, who expressed it, if he will permit me to say so, very well indeed—namely, that the thanks of your Lordships are due to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, for the opportunity he has afforded us of having this debate to-day and also for the speech he made.
One cannot read the literature or listen to a debate in this House on this subject without being quite convinced that all classes and all Parties in the country are agreed that there is an essential need for housing to be provided for the working classes at low rentals, that is to say, at rentals of 10s. or about that figure, inclusive of rates and of course of interest and so forth, so that the 722 rent to be paid by the working man who has to live in the house will not exceed 10s. We are entitled to claim also that the subject we are considering is in truth national in the best sense of the word. If anyone doubted it I would refer him to the report just published, made by a Committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Amulree. If he reads that report he will assuredly be satisfied that those who have devoted their time to the consideration and investigation of the subject have done so out of public interest and from a really fine desire to stimulate the Government to carry out a bolder and wider programme than has hitherto been indicated by them. I am certain also that any member of your Lordships' House or the public who takes the trouble to study that report, as certainly I have done myself, will be very much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, for the report which he and his associates have published and have presented to the public and your Lordships, just as we are indebted to the noble Lord for his speech to-day, full as it was of information and suggestion.
What impresses me about the matter is that we have discussed this subject in this House again and again, and generally speaking, there has been agreement by the members of your Lordships' House that it is necessary to have something broader and bolder than the Government have hitherto indicated. In every debate I can recall that has been the view presented, and there has been scarcly a doubting voice raised upon it. If there has been a doubt, it has merely been as to the particular remedy prescribed. I start with this assumption, speaking on this Motion, that there is no necessity to-day in this House, whatever there may be outside, to emphasise the essential need of providing, and of providing by a national effort, for the cheaper housing of the working classes by the provision of houses at the rent already mentioned of 10s. per week, including rates, etc.
I am not proposing to trouble your Lordships with the figures of what has been done in the past, because they have already been given by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, apart altogether from the information which has been given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Bur- 723 leigh. We have discussed them again and again. I remember the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Winchester, giving them to your Lordships on various occasions, and I remember also a debate which I think was initiated by the most reverend Primate in which we had a discussion upon the very same subject. Wherever you look, to whichever side of the House you may turn, you will find this unanimity of desire, that something shall be done far greater than has yet been, I will not say accomplished, but even foreshadowed by the Government in any of the plans which they have made. I wish also to make it perfectly plain that in any observations which I may make, which will be very brief, I have no intention whatever of attacking the Government. If anything that I say may seem critical, it is said merely for the purpose of striving, by the support which I hope the views put before your Lordships will obtain in this House, to encourage the Government to be, I will not say only a little more but very much more courageous than they have hitherto been in their housing programme.
The final observation which I would desire to make upon this part of the matter is that whether you look to the Labour Party, whose views have been expressed by the noble Earl in the discussion upon the report recently issued by them and all that has been recommended, or whether you look to the Party with which I am associated, you will find everywhere the same view and the same desire that there should be a great national effort. I am not for the moment discussing the number of houses. I assume that that really is not a matter of controversy, and that whether it is a million, whether it is more than a million or whether it is several millions, as the noble Earl has said, really does not matter upon this part of the argument, because if you start with the lowest figure of a million, the one thing which seems to emerge from it quite conclusively is that you can never meet a demand such as that by a national effort unless you have some new system of organisation introduced throughout the country for the purpose of housing.
I wish only to say in this respect that I have been impressed again and again with the unanimity you find in reading, as I have read, what has taken place 724 for example in discussions in Church conferences and the views which have been expressed, and in writings which have emerged from them, and equally in reading the views expressed by many members of the Party whom I will call for the moment the Party supporting the National Government. Everywhere you have the same view, and yet really nothing sufficient is being done to meet the demand. I do not know what is going to be said with regard to it to-day. I do hope that the noble Viscount who will reply for the Government will give us some encouragement, and some hope that this subject is now going to be tackled in a much bolder spirit than hitherto.
May I say a few words only in regard to the National Housing Commission? I care little whether it is called a Board or a Corporation or a Commission. What we do care about is that there should be some executive body under the authority of the Minister, which should thus be armed with the powers really to give effect to the programme instead of merely having discussions which take up much too much time before anything is achieved. Also to my mind it would enable the Government to make the kind of survey that can be made, if you have a Commission of this character. I am not going into the various arguments which have been put forward. They are admirably put in the report issued by Lord Amulree and his associates, and also in documents issued by Mr. Rees and Mr. Nicholson who are enthusiastic, in support of this scheme and have done valuable work. It has enabled us to understand the programme, and to see what is being aimed at.
Take for a moment these considerations. In the first place you cannot have a true survey of the situation unless you have some executive authority, under the Minister, entrusted with the powers of making this survey and getting all the information necessary. No private body or association of individuals can possibly compass this task. It is essential you should have that survey in order to make your plan for the future. The next point which I think we must always bear in mind is finance. That requires very little argument from one point of view. That is to say, if we can get Government assistance in finance, and a Government 725 guarantee on national housing lines, the result must be that money will be raised at a very much cheaper rate than otherwise, and every one per cent, of interest saved makes a difference of at least one shilling per week in the rent which would have to be required in order to put the proposition on a sound business footing. Of course it would not be building for a profit, but merely to make payment for the money invested, and, if you can get a saving of 3 per cent., as you easily may by a Government loan, the result would be a saving of three shillings a week or more in the rent, a very considerable figure.
What is the objection of the Government to this? I have never been able to fathom their real objection to it. Of course, a guarantee is an obligation on the Government, but whether it is worth incurring or not depends upon the value of the benefit you thereby obtain. We are assuming the building of a million houses, costing somewhere about £350,000,000. At once you have got a figure which a Government is quite capable of taking upon its shoulders as a matter of guarantee. Supposing the whole amount is lost, the figure per annum is a comparatively small one, but nobody for a moment thinks that this would take place. I do not say it is an absolute certainty that there would be no loss of any kind, or that the Government might not be called upon to pay something on its guarantee in the years to come, but I doubt it very much. At all events you must take these things into account. Supposing you guarantee £350,000,000 or £400,000,000 over a period of years, you must take into account what that would mean in the reduction of unemployment and in the increase of trade, directly or indirectly. The results of such expenditure would be stupendous. It would mean increased purchasing power throughout the country, and every one would be greatly benefited.
One thing I will not hesitate to say, and that is that the Government certainly would not be losers by the guarantee, even if they were called upon at the end to pay some small amount under their guarantee, because so much would be gained from the benefits which would ensue, leaving entirely out of consideration the enormous benefits in the shape of healthier conditions generally and the better nutrition of the working 726 classes. It seems to me quite impossible to say that this is a proposition which no Government could undertake because of fear of the loss which would ensue. The noble Viscount is going to reply. I shall be very glad to know what objection the Government can have to giving a guarantee of this character, and what reason there can be for refusing to reduce the cost, as they would reduce it immensely, by lowering the rate of interest, consequent upon a Government guarantee. I would press upon the Government this fact, which cannot be disputed. However interested you may get the speculative builder in housing you will never get him to put his money into this kind of building, because there is no profit in it. The whole point of constructing these houses is to let them and not sell them, which is a disadvantage from the point of view of the speculative builder. Therefore one must assume that these houses will not be built by private enterprise. The fact that the demand has been growing proves conclusively that the speculative builder will not put his money into work of this character, and that the only way to get support for it is by the assistance of Government finance.
There are other matters into which I do not enter but which nevertheless ought to be considered, such as planning ahead, purchases of land, town planning and questions of that character. They must all come into consideration. There is also the taking into account of the organisation of purchases of supplies which will be necessary. The things I have mentioned are only a few of the advantages which will be gained by the proposal before the House, and I have never been able to understand the objection to such an organisation. It has been said that it would estrange the local authorities, or that it would in some way interfere with the control of the local authorities by the Minister of Health. Again, it is said the matter in so complicated that you have a number of local authorities who have questions such as gas, and water, and electricity to deal with in the local areas, and if you have a National Housing Board or Commission, their task would become more difficult than it is at present. I really do not understand why, because certainly the idea of this Commission is not to interfere with the local authorities, not to supersede the 727 local authorities, but rather to help and encourage them. And the only occasion upon which I can imagine that a Housing Commission of this character would require powers of interference would be if the local authorities refused to put forward a plan to meet the needs of the locality. But all that would be under the Minister, who is himself the Minister in control of the local authority, so that really no change would be made, because the Minister would always retain control.
I do hope that we shall hear from the Government something to-day which will give us a little more encouragement than we have had hitherto. I would myself very much have liked, had it been possible—as it may be, for all I know—if this question could be determined, assuming that there was resistance to it by the Government, by the views of your Lordships, expressed in the ordinary way. From what I have heard I believe that that is not likely to occur. The only reason why I am suggesting it is, not because I want to attack the Government—on the contrary, I want to support them—but because what we do want is to encourage the Government to take action. I cannot but think that really in this House, if we could get the views of your Lordships expressed recording your own ideas of what should be done, it would be apparent to the public that, whatever criticisms may be directed against your Lordships' House, they are by no means less sympathetic to the needs of the working classes in matters of this kind than any other body.
I would in conclusion make an earnest appeal to the noble Viscount who will reply for the Government that, assuming that he is not able to accept the Motion as it stands, he will at least not meet it with a pure negative, that he will give us some idea of what the Government intend to do, and also some hope. The very fact that the noble Viscount will reply, and that he is the Minister of Education and holds views which are well known to all of us, really makes me more hopeful almost than anything that has happened that we shall get some assistance from him, and that we shall hear that the Government are prepared to give a fuller consideration to this matter than has hitherto been given.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, my deep concern in this matter leads me to offer 728 a few observations to your Lordships even although the ground has been so well covered by previous speakers. I associate myself with what has been so admirably said by the noble Earl and the noble Marquess opposite about the gratitude we owe to the noble Lords, Lord Balfour and Lord Amulree, and their Committee for the report which they have prepared and for the way in which they put it before this House. They have rightly called attention to the one supreme necessity of this problem, which is, of course, the provision of a class of houses which can be let to the lower paid workers at a comparatively low rate of rent. But they have done a further service, they have taken in hand this question of a National Housing Corporation or Board or Commission, and given it, after careful thought, a full, considered and definite description. They have also enabled the Government to make use of the opportunity, which I hope they will take to the full, to let this House and the country know precisely what their attitude is to a proposal which has been so long considered and has at last been presented in so complete a form.
With regard to the noble Lord's Motion which is before us, with the first part of it, I need scarcely say, I am in the most entire agreement. I am not satisfied that private enterprise, or building societies, or public utility societies can possibly meet the need upon which the first part of this Motion insists. It is when I come to the second part of the noble Lord's Motion that I confess that I have some difficulties, which I feel bound frankly to express. I shall await with the greatest possible interest what the Government may say on the question of a National Housing Commission, and my attitude towards the noble Lord's Motion will be largely dependent upon what the Government may say. But, speaking shortly, the first difficulty is administration. The Minister of Health is already responsible for many matters essential to the housing of the people, such as questions of public health, the provision of water, drains, light and the rest, and I am not quite satisfied, even after what the noble Marquess has just said, that the administrative difficulty is a slight one of entrusting to one body one branch of housing administration, and retaining another branch equally import- 729 ant in a Department in which that other body does not have an integral and responsible place.
But I do not dwell upon that because I pass to my second difficulty, which I fear is more fundamental. I have always been attracted by this scheme of a National Housing Commission. I wish it had been introduced in 1919. I think it would have saved us a great deal of vacillation, uncertainty, and failure in carrying out a proper housing policy throughout the country. But I ask myself whether it is opportune now to introduce this new method of dealing with this national problem. There are, thanks to the energy of the Ministry of Health, schemes now being undertaken by local authorities. There are other schemes which they will be encouraged to undertake very shortly when the second part of the Government's plan is definitely laid before them. I understand from the Ministry of Health that they are encouraged by the readiness and willingness which local authorities have shown, under the impulse of the Ministry of Health, to undertake these schemes, and that there is very good hope that they may be carried into effect. I dare say there is room for a great deal of further encouragement and pressure, but, so far as I know, the local authorities throughout the country are addressing themselves with a real sense of public responsibility to this problem.
Now I ask myself, that being so, will it not mean a dislocation of existing effort, an arresting of existing schemes, if the local authorities throughout the country are suddenly called upon to undergo the supervision and control of a totally new body, a risk of dislocation and arrest at the very time when it is of urgent importance that these schemes, already undertaken, should be carried through with persistence and energy? At the same time I share the apprehensions which have been expressed that it may be beyond the power of any mere Department to carry through a task of this magnitude, one of the very greatest, most complicated, and most far-reaching that any Department of Government has ever had to undertake. Is it not beyond even the power and energy of the Minister of Health and those who assist him to carry out? Here I ask the one specific question I wish to put before the Government; I do so with some diffidence. The 730 question is this: Is it not possible to create within the Department, not apart from it, and in a manner fully responsible to the Minister of Health, what I shall venture to call a Departmental Council of Housing, consisting not merely of the leading officials of the Department charged with this special work, but of experts drawn from outside, either paid or unpaid—some possibly paid, some possibly unpaid—who, under the direction of the Minister of Health and as part of his responsible administration, may undertake many of the functions which this more ambitious National Housing Commission desires to perform?
Would it not be possible to have such a body to supervise the whole work of housing, continuing, I hope, like other departmental officials even if there were changes of Government and personnel, to survey plans, watch the changes of prices, arrange those matters of finance to which the noble Marquess has rightly called attention, and, above all, to exercise pressure upon the local authorities to see that they not only frame but implement their schemes? The noble Lord rightly told us that what we need is a central brain. All I ask is, is it necessary to organise that central brain outside the Department? Can it not be organised perhaps by a new method of Departmental administration within the Department itself! In particular, I would hope that such a Departmental Council would undertake those functions in the way of advising and assisting public utility societies to which the valuable Report of Lord Moyne's Committee attached great importance. These suggestions are modest in comparison with those that have been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and I do not suppose they would satisfy the noble Earl on the other side, but, if they were practicable, I think they could do something, without disturbing or dislocating all that is now being undertaken, to contribute to that concentration and driving force necessary to the carrying out of a national housing policy.
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
My Lords, I think we are very grateful to the noble Lord who moved this Resolution for giving your Lordships another opportunity of debating this pressing problem and bringing to a head this much-discussed question of a Housing Commission, and inviting the Government to disclose to 731 us this afternoon their own policy with regard to the abatement of overcrowding and telling us something of their financial problem. I should like also to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, and their colleagues on the very excellent report which has just been issued. I think, if they will allow me to say so, that report makes a very excellent political and financial half-section to the more technical document issued by the Council for Research on Housing Construction, which recently issued its first report and over which I had the honour to preside. The only thing about it I deplore is the costly precedent of laying these handsome volumes on the Table of your Lordships' House.
We have already heard in previous debates something of the Government's programme of slum clearance. The overcrowding programme is analogous to slum clearance. We all agree that there is a considerable housing requirement in this respect, and that to some extent it will also require a subsidy. I hope the noble Viscount who represents the Ministry will tell us something about what is proposed in this direction, because overcrowding is in desperate need of attention and, like slum clearance, it can only be dealt with by large scale replanning both in and outside our cities. What is the volume of these requirements? The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, estimates it at one million houses, and I do not dispute that figure, but he admits that it is entirely guess-work and not based on an accurate assessment. The Council for Research on Housing Construction recommends that a really effective survey, as I think does Lord Balfour's report, should be carried out to estimate carefully not only the volume of overcrowding but the rent-paying capacity of the families who now contribute to it. The noble Lord, from the terms of his Resolution, estimates the rent-paying capacity at 10s. a week or under, but we know perfectly well that in many cases it is well above that and, of course, in a great many cases far below it.
It seems to me that a survey is an essential background for any long-term policy, and only by this means shall we be able to clear the ground of guesswork and uncertainty and apply ourselves to an ascertained task. I hope the 732 Government will give us some idea today of what statistics they have available and how they propose to make further ascertainments in this direction. I am sure your Lordships will approve and endorse the Government's approach to the housing problem so far, which lays down, firstly, the scale and treatment of slum clearance; secondly, the abatement of overcrowding; and, thirdly, the residual problem which obviously can largely be dealt with by private enterprise and is in natural sequence to the filtering-up process which will ensue from the Government's programme for the abatement of overcrowding.
The chief criticism I have to make, in common with the noble Marquess and with many of your Lordships, is that although the necessary machinery is already available for the Government and needs little alteration, it requires a good deal of what the mechanically minded would call "revving-up," and I agree with Lord Balfour of Burleigh that some new body is essential in order to supply the necessary lubricating and generating element. Where I disagree with him and with the report issued by his Committee is in regard to the statutory powers which he proposes to vest in the Housing Commission and the division of responsibility between the Minister and that body. I, like the most reverend Primate, want an advisory council. The noble Lord wants an" executive one. That is the difference between us, and it is a difference of considerable importance. The Council for Research on Housing Construction feels that to create a new independent body with executive powers would throw the whole present machinery out of gear, especially before the essential facts are known. It would be less powerful than the Minister and, therefore, less effective, and it would tend to cause chaos and confusion amongst public authorities who still have to do the building, would retard instead of accelerating their housing programme, and would dry up the present flow of building by private enterprise. Its declared policy must necessarily take some time. It would most probably act as a drag on the financial facilities which are now available. Local authorities would be under the guidance of two directors, and the position would be an intolerable one for them.
733 I am sure that the majority of your Lordships will agrees that the prime responsibility must remain vested in the Minister and that the local authorities must remain the proper bodies to carry out subsidised building programmes in their own areas under his direction. They are the elected representatives of the people whose money they are spending, and the Minister is directly responsible to Parliament for the allocation of that money. What control does the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, propose that Parliament should have over the Chairman of his Housing Commission? It is proposed that the Commission should be entirely immune from any political winds that may blow, and I agree that it is most desirable, wherever possible, to divorce housing from politics, but so long as housing remains the great problem that it is, so long as it is necessary, as we agree it is now necessary, to assist it in some way by State subsidy, then so long will it remain in the forefront on every political platform.
I am rather surprised that the Labour Party, in the pamphlet recently issued, assented to this idea of an executive Housing Commission. What is going to be the position of the next Labour Minister of Health? Is he going to allow himself to be divested of his powers and responsibilities by a body of gentlemen the majority of whom do not see eye to eye with him politically? Of course he is not. It is true that they have very carefully left themselves a loophole to dismiss the lot on the grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity. On the other hand, a permanent advisory council under the Minister would be able to perform very valuable functions even without statutory power. It could collate all the experience and technical data necessary for the large housing grant, and its investigations and recommendations would cover the whole range of housing activity.
I am not going to weary your Lordships by enumerating the functions which we feel such an advisory body should perform. They are very similar indeed to those which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, and the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, recommend in their report, the difference being that they are purely advisory under the Minister, whereas the Amulree report recommends that a great many of the Minister's powers should be 734 transferred to that body. The gaps to be filled up in the present policy, such, for instance, as the operations of public utility societies in the common task and their relationship with local authorities, must be more clearly defined, and that is a question upon which we feel such a body could well advise. We propose also that it should investigate the question of the co-operation and the grouping of the smaller local authorities in order that no economy or efficiency may be sacrificed by virtue of their necessarily smaller experience, and that they should be at no disadvantage as compared with their bigger brothers when it comes to a question of raising a loan at the cheapest possible rate. It could do all this without interfering in any way with the Public Works Loans Board, the Department of the Ministry, or the larger local authorities against whom I am sure the majority of your Lordships feel that no criticism can be levelled.
In regard to the financial proposals made by the noble Lord's Committee, with the Housing Commission that is proposed, I cannot help feeling that these are mainly unnecessary. I cannot see how a Government guaranteed housing loan is really going to help matters. After all, under present conditions—I believe I am right in saying this—the larger local authorities can raise their loans just as easily and as cheaply as the Government can. And do not let us forget the fact that the problem we are discussing, with the exception of a very small percentage, lies under the jurisdiction of a number of local authorities which your Lordships can count on the fingers of two hands. Then, again, to separate pure housing finance from the finance of all the various public services that go with it is to court dangerous confusion and might very possibly lead to gross extravagance. At any rate, it is safe to say that the partial transference of the work of the Public Loans Board to the Housing Commission, which the noble Lord's Report proposes, would not lead to any economies, and it is difficult to see where any advantages would ensue.
All recent investigations—and there have been many—tend to show that the difficulties facing slum clearance and overcrowding are not so much financial as physical. The subsidy under the 1930 Act 735 was a most generous one, and appears to us to be quite sufficient. It is equal, I believe, to a reduction in rent of 7s. a week on tenements and 5s. a week on cottages. To secure financial facilities by Government guarantee below the rate obtainable would amount to a further subsidy which, in our opinion, is an unnecessary addition to the present subsidy. If it is found that the best method of subsidising housing is by means of a national loan then we have no quarrel with that method, but in that case I feel that it should be at a very low rate of interest, that it should be clearly denned In its scope in order not to hinder the vast amount of building which is now being done by private enterprise, and it must, above all, lead to a review of the present and contemplated subsidies. It would be quite unnecessary to have the present subsidies, or the further subsidies contemplated under the overcrowding policy, as well as the hidden subsidy which you get by a national loan at a low rate of interest. I understand that a low interest form of subsidy is in operation in France and Germany. But that is the only form of Government subsidy there.
The physical difficulties to which I have already referred are very great, and chief among them are the difficulties of finding unbuilt-on sites in central areas and a lack of vision in planning. The finance and the building technique are easily dealt with, but I hope that we shall hear from the noble Viscount who represents the Minister this afternoon that something really progressive is being done to tackle this side of the question and that the imagination of local authorities is being stimulated for large-scale re-planning in order to provide the amenities of life, full of beauty, space and light, for the poorest of our people which, with the proper mobilisation of our resources, is, I am sure your Lordships will agree, easy to achieve immediately and is no mere flight of fancy.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, like other speakers I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, on the way in which he has presented his case and on the very interesting report which he and the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, have brought before the public. My chief reason for intervening in this debate is that I have had considerable experience of housing. It was my privilege to be at the Ministry of Health 736 for a time and to administer housing matters. In another place I helped to pilot the 1919 Housing Act, I have helped to build a housing estate in the country, and for many years I have been a governor of one of the big housing trusts in London. It is common ground between us that the present situation can be improved upon, that there is overcrowding, that there are slums. I am not going to take up time by going over all that ground. I only want to mention one point. I have recently been connected with a survey of social conditions in a large city in the provinces. The report has not yet been published but when it is published it will show that one fifth of the population are living in what are called overcrowded conditions and that 25 per cent, of the income of the low-paid wage earners goes in rent. That is an additional reason why we must realise the vital importance of housing.
I gather that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, and other speakers feel that there has not been sufficiently rapid progress in dealing with housing because of the delays associated with our form of democratic government. Where houses are concerned we have to deal with Parliament, with the Minister and his Department, and we have also to deal with the local authorities. That is to say we have two democratic popularly-elected bodies that have to deal with housing. I know perfectly well how irritating it is to reformers when these popularly elected bodies do not seem to be going ahead as quickly as one would like. I remember being in a most unfortunate situation at the Ministry of Health. It looked as if we might have to put one local authority in default and it happened to be in my own constituency. I was expected to fight the battle of my constituency against the bureaucrats in Whitehall, but in Whitehall I felt that my constituency was not as rapid in dealing with housing as it might have been. Therefore I can fully appreciate the irritation of reformers.
As I understand the proposal of the noble Lord and his colleagues, it is that we should put housing in the hands of a Housing Commission. That is their main new contribution towards the solution of this problem. In the few minutes which I shall address your Lordships I should like to examine some particular proposals 737 which have not been touched upon in detail. The report suggests that the Housing Commission should take over certain housing powers from the Ministry. The Minister of Health would, of course, they say, "remain fully informed." The report contemplates that he should be informed but not actually responsible. It is very important that we should realise that. Then the report goes on to suggest that….the Commission would be vested with the power to approve (a) location of sites.…(b) purchase price of land, (c) cost of building and (d) type of houses to be erected … The Minister would make an order transferring the powers [in the matter of housing] of the local authority to the Commission.That is to say, the Commission is not only to supersede the Minister of Health, but in certain—
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
I was coming to that. In certain cases of default it would supersede, through the utility society, the local authority. The report goes on to suggest that "the Commission should be in a position to carry out its functions as independently as possible of changes of Minister or of Government." I take that to mean that in fact this Commission would be independent of Cabinet control, independent of Ministerial control, independent of Parliamentary control. The report says the Minister "will be responsible for housing legislation," but I gather he will not be responsible for administration of housing. The report says also that the Minister "will reply in Parliament to questions who housing matters." The noble Viscount who will reply to-day for the Government realises the difference between being a mouthpiece for a. Department and being the head of a Department. He is at the lead of the Department that deals with education and as such he controls and influences the development of education. To-day, as he may do on other occasions, he will merely reply for the Ministry of Health on housing and he would not claim that he has the same power or the same facility for influencing housing legislation.
It seems to me that if these proposals were adopted we should find the Minister of Health in that same, as I think, unfortunate position. There is to be a 738 full-time independent Chairman, and this Chairman is to have the right of direct access to the Prime Minister and to the Cabinet. That is to say, he is apparently to have the right of going over the head of the Minister of Health, who is responsible for housing and for contact with and stimulation of the local authorities who have to deal with housing. There is also, apparently, to be a measure of independence of the Treasury in finance. The local public utility societies may be endowed with such of the housing powers and duties of the local authority as may be necessary. That is to say, in certain cases the noble Lord contemplates that the local authority may be put on one side and another body may act. But the local authority is still responsible for dealing with water, light, gas, drainage, rates, and I cannot help thinking there would be a degree of overlapping and of irritation which I am afraid would very much impede the course of housing development. The real power in fact, as I understand it, would be taken from the Minister now responsible to Parliament and would be given to this Commission.
I am afraid that at the centre there would inevitably be divided responsibility between this independent Chairman who would have access to the Cabinet and the Minister of Health. If the Chairman of the Housing Commission was not in Parliament there would not be full Parliamentary control. Further, as I understand it, there would be duplication at the periphery and that duplication would, I am afraid, be accompanied by dislocation. One or two speakers have indicated to-day their opinion that the Minister of Health does not stimulate local authorities, help local authorities or plan for local authorities. My impression is that the Minister of Health tries to do all those things. If he does not do them energetically enough or fast enough then let us bring pressure to bear upon him; and of course as he is responsible to Parliament it is possible for Parliament to bring pressure to bear upon him in a way that would not be possible with the Chairman of a totally independent Commission not responsible to Parliament.
We have built up the whole of our local government, the administration of our national services of housing, health and education, by developing powers on 739 the local elected bodies and making them responsible. The system has its weaknesses, but it also has elements of great strength. It tends to create a healthy educated local opinion. You get housing administration and education administration carried out by people with local knowledge. It develops our civic sense. It trains future Members of Parliament, through participation in the municipal council or the county council. I am interested to notice that the noble Earl who spoke from the Labour Benches expressed mistrust of democratic local elected bodies. As I understood him, he had no confidence in their willingness or ability to deal with housing with sufficient rapidity.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I do not know on what part of my speech the noble Viscount, bases that statement. I thought that I made it clear that our policy is to give local authorities enormous authority and enormous powers, which they certainly are not exercising at the moment, and that the building of houses and house-ownership and management would be entirely in the hands of people on the spot.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
If the noble Earl has followed my speech he will have realised that I tried to indicate that a Commission, with its new local bodies, would in fact override and act independently of the elected body. That is the point that I was trying to make. I should hesitate before supporting a proposal to scrap entirely our existing machinery, which is what I believe this suggestion would in fact come to. Let us try to accelerate it. Like all social reformers I am not satisfied with the rate of progress made, but I do not believe that critics of the Government to-day have given sufficient credit for what has actually been done. Last year all records of housing were broken, and I understand that if things go right last year's record is going to be broken this year. I understand that already this year we have built more than twice as many houses as were ever built before the War in the best year.
Let us be dissatisfied with the rate of progress, but let us at all events acknowledge that a great deal has been done. If we are keen, as I am sure most of your Lordships are, on housing progress, let us be very careful lest we do any- 740 thing to discourage local authorities or to remove from them the sense of responsibility for dealing with housing which they now have. I see a real risk in taking away from them the sense of responsibility which they have to their constituents to deal with housing. I see a very great danger in creating what would be in effect new machinery unrepresentative and not based on our elected Government. Our progress, which I believe has been really substantial, has been based on a conscious effort and on the people's will expressed through our democratically-elected bodies, and I think it would be very unwise to endanger the progress which has already been made by substituting this entirely new body.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh talked about spending £400,000,000 on a million new houses, and doing it with a minimum of delay. Before so ambitious a programme is adopted I should like for a few minutes, if I may, to enquire into the success of the recent building of new houses in London. I do not exaggerate in saying that to-day in London there are scores of thousands of new houses which are a perfect curse to their inhabitants owing to the infestation of vermin. I am speaking of new houses, and I am going to talk for a few minutes, if you will allow me, about the bed-bug, Cimex lectularius, the terror by night; and that is, as I say, in thousands upon thousands of new houses in London, a real fundamental housing problem. That is the real health problem in these thousands of houses.
Our new housing areas are full of them. It has spread rapidly to every corner of London. One group of students of this subject, qualified in many ways to form an estimate, committed themselves to the view that 2,000,000 of the inhabitants of London are within this area of infestation. Others place it at a very much higher figure. It is really time that the facts of this horrible curse should be faced. It is unfashionable. At the County Hall it is not considered genteel to talk about bugs; it is not "refeened," so it is suppressed. Do you hear them talking about it in the House of Commons? Never, Or in the Press? Very seldom. This House is about the only tribunal in the country where you can get a nasty and at the same time 741 practical problem submitted to public opinion. I ask your permission to refer to this subject for a few minutes.
People do not realise the extent of this pest. They think that it occurs in Lime-house or Lambeth, here or there; but I should be very sorry to guarantee Park Lane or Portman Square against it, so great has been the growth of infestation. As I say, it is extending, and rapidly extending—in one way most rapidly extending—upon the newest of the new housing schemes. Flats two, three or four years old are to-day almost uninhabitable. The bug is a most dangerous creature. It is the most offensive of human parasites. The cruelty of the bug—this blood-sucking creature—to children is difficult to define, but there are very few medical men who work in these areas who will not agree upon this, that it produces a restlessness and a troubled form of sleep, and when those conditions go on day after day, week after week, and month after month—and it is only a very small proportion of people, even of children, who become innoculated against the bite of the bug—that produces a debility and a weakness which is the source of listlessness and ill-health.
Now what is the result of this? I take an ordinary block of new houses put up two or three years ago. That gets bug-infested. The man and woman who live in one of these cottages, if they can afford to move, do so as quickly as they can. The property immediately deteriorates, and the result is that the class of occupants of these houses will steadily fall. Unless we awaken to these facts and have the courage to tackle them, blocks of these new houses and housing flats are doomed to become new slums, respectable externally but in all that matters slums internally. I would remind your Lordships that the great landlords and the owners of these blocks of infested property are now the sanitary authorities. It is no good scolding the wicked slum-owner landlord; these new slums are going to be the property and under the jurisdiction of the sanitary authorities.
I ask for your Lordships' help in publicity upon this matter and I urge that the problem will be solved only by active and whole-hearted co-operation on the part of all those concerned, because although we laugh, or pretend to laugh, 742 about this pest—I do not know why we should, but we do—the danger, the physiological danger, of this animal is exceptionally great. To begin with he can live for six months without food; it is pretty certain that he lives for five years; it has been proved that he can get through the party wall of an average badly-built, new residential house, and he can take advantage, and does, of every nook and cranny, and oversight on the part of the builder. Above all things he thrives in the urban area, where his depredations are most serious. I am going just in two or three moments to suggest what we ought to do. In the first place do not let us rush our building programme unless we have some tolerable assurance that the new houses in a year or two will not be infested with this infernal curse. Secondly, do not immediately begin to rebuild upon a cleared slum area.
I will refer now to a Report on this subject—a Report on the eradication of the bed-bug, issued by the Ministry of Health just before Christmas, a very remarkable and important document, which has received singularly little attention from the public. On page 10, speaking about the use of old materials for other purposes, the Committee say:Under this heading the most likely source of bed-bug infestation is the sale of old timber as firewood. In investigations made by Mr. McKenny Hughes "—this is a Committee of experts, and Mr. McKenny Hughes is a civil servant at the Entomological Department of the British Museum, of which I happen to be a Trustee. The Report goes on to say that in his investigationsin Woolwich and Stepney it was found that wood from demolished cottages was removed to house-breakers' yards and sold for firewood. In this way wood from an infested source might carry bed-bugs into a large number of houses.That is a point which really ought to be made the subject of consideration by the Ministry of Health itself. These new houses are often wretchedly built from this point of view of sanitation. Their ceilings are often constructed in such a way as to be a positive invitation to these pests. I have seen them fitted with cupboards, jammed into recesses, with long impenetrable fissures into which the animal creeps, and in some cases it is impossible to get them out, unless care is taken in the initial stages. Finally, the bug is moved about not on the human 743 person but chiefly, I imagine, in old furniture, and in old portmanteaux in which there may be some pasted paper.
We do not know the whole life history of this animal yet, and in this Report a number of subjects, as for instance the whole history of its migration, are stated to be still inadequately explored. These gentlemen, under the chairmanship of Dr. Monier-Williams, give a list of things on which they think further information is necessary, but they say:It is obvious that it would not be possible, without a large expenditure of time and labour, to complete such a programme of research in its entirety. We think, however, that research on these lines will produce results of great practical value to local authorities in their efforts to deal with bed-bugs.Lord Balfour of Burleigh in speaking just now mentioned spending £14,000,000 a year. To carry out continued investigations by these experts £2,000, or perhaps £3,000 a year, or even less, would be sufficient, but with this document before you, unfamiliar as it must be to your Lordships owing to the fact that the subject is neither fashionable nor genteel, I suggest that it is the duty of the Ministry to take this matter up and to ensure that in carrying out these large and ambitious schemes we shall not continue to produce this gross and ever-growing scandal.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, I think we must all have been interested in the speech to which we have just listened, but I do not quite see what it has to do with the Motion on the Paper, which was so eloquently moved by Lord Balfour of Burleigh, unless it is intended to add a rider that this new Housing Commission should have charge of this question as well as the question of building. I, personally, had never heard of this great invasion of London. I think it must have occurred since the Party of my noble friend opposite gained victory at the recent London County Council elections. This Motion of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh has been very ably discussed this afternoon. I should like to say a very few words about it, but I must preface my remarks by thanking the noble Lord for having brought forward the question, and also by praising Lord Amulree and his colleagues for the earnest work they have done in sitting on this Committee and laying the facts before the House. I think we must agree 744 that anything which stimulates the question of housing is most valuable and important.
I was surprised in a way by the action of Lord Balfour of Burleigh, because he is a member of a very important local authority in London and Chairman of the Housing Committee of the Royal Borough of Kensington, and of a public utility body in that borough which has done most useful work. I am very much surprised that he, with his experience, should advocate taking away powers from local authorities and putting them in the hands of a more or less statutory Commission. I can only conclude that he has been dissatisfied, as an ardent reformer, with not getting that backing from his local authority which he might have expected. I am not at all surprised at the attitude of the Labour Party on this question, because from speeches that I have heard made, and especially one by Major Attlee, it seems the declared policy of that Party, when they come into power, which I hope will be long distant, to supersede the local authorities and put in boards to take over these duties. I could not understand the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, agreeing. It would surprise me if he is not aware of the great work that is being done by the local authorities throughout the country and the work that is being done by the Ministry of Health, and of the fact that all these questions have been carefully surveyed—questions of areas and programmes and questions of finance—day by day by the constant work of the Ministry of Health.
It has been charged that we have had eight different Ministers and eight different policies. So long as we are a democratic country and ruled by a democratic Government—and I hope we are not going to change that—policies have to alter according to the times. Public opinion has been rightly aroused on this question of housing, especially of housing the lower paid portion of the community, but I do not think sufficient credit has been given to the Minister of Health and his assistants for the enormous progress that has been made within the last year or two. No Minister in recent times has done so much as the present Minister, assisted by his Under-Secretary. They have gone down to town after town, persuading the local authorities to do this and to do that, a great many of the 745 obstacles that existed before have been removed, and everything has been speeded up. When the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, speaks about these million houses in ten years, well, I think the figures will show that, according to the present rate of progress, the Ministry will have outstripped that in about seven years. With that record, I think it is a pity that an attempt should be made to provide a fifth wheel to the coach. It is going to upset the local authorities, it may hinder even the progress that has been made, because some local authorities may make this an excuse for delay.
I should like to refer to the question of building supplies and co-ordination of materials. There, I think, is a very fruitful ground for consideration. The advice of an expert board in such a matter is most desirable. I should like to go perhaps a step further. I think that the local authorities themselves—and they have some very powerful central organisations—might call in the aid of these experts and set up committees to go thoroughly into that question. One word about this very able report. It seems to indicate that there is an enormous mass of workers in this country who are working for less than 50s. a week. I think those statistics are taken from the reports of the Ministry of Labour, and if you refer to those reports I think you will find included under the heading of male workers not only adults but boys. Therefore that is not a fair use to make of the figure. I think that if you look on page 66, where the number of males in certain industries is referred to with average earnings below given amounts in 1931, you will see that it is not the case that there is a majority of workers receiving under 50s. per week, because it is only one-ninth of the total of 2,700,000 who are earning under 50s. Therefore, that seems to me most misleading.
Much play has been made with the word "family." To the ordinary person a family means a father, a mother and children, and when you talk about overcrowding in that connection you picture to yourself a family of five or six persons; but, according to the census returns, a family can be a single person. I do not want your Lordships to be led away and to think that things are worse than they are. I am not surprised at the Labour Party trying to get rid of local authori- 746 ties, but I am rather surprised that the Leader of the Liberal Party in this House approves of this Board, because by this means he would be undoing a great amount of magnificent work which has been, and is being done, by the local authorities, and he would make confusion worse confounded.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
My Lords, the noble Lord at the commencement of his speech expressed considerable surprise at the speech which had just been made by the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, and he told us that he had not heard from the sanitary inspectors in London of the presence of bugs. All I can say is that for years past they have been a real problem in the poorer parts. I have known cases of children sitting out late at night on hot summer days because their parents knew they met with so much discomfort in the long nights, and I have known of cases where houses have been reconditioned and afterwards closed because it had been found impossible to exterminate the bugs. Therefore I would endorse all that has been said by Lord Crawford in his appeal to the Minister of Health.
I think this is one of the most important debates we have had on housing for a long time, for we have in front of us a definite policy expressed in the. Motion and also in the admirable report, for which many noble Lords have expressed their gratitude. I find myself in almost entire agreement with the Motion and with the speeches made in support of it. In regard to one point I feel a certain amount of hesitation. But let me quite briefly give the reasons why I am in agreement with the Motion as a whole. The Motion assumes that it is not sufficient merely to deal with the slums; you must also deal with the problem of overcrowding. There are many more poor people living in overcrowded conditions than there probably are in the slums. If you deal only with slums and leave overcrowding untouched, by the time you have abolished a large number of the slums new slums will have come into existence through the deterioration caused by overcrowding. Then I agree with the Motion when it calls for houses at 'a rent of not more than 10s. a week. The noble Lord who has just spoken, I think, minimised the importance of this.
§ LORD JESSEL
NO, I did not. I said there were not so many men as one was led to believe receiving less than 50s. a week.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
The figures given in the report which has been quoted show that something like 1,400,000 males are earning under 55s. a week.
§ LORD JESSEL
Forgive my interrupting. If the right reverend Prelate will look at the figures in the first part of the report he will see that it is only one-third of the number who are earning under 50s. a week.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
There are a very large number of people who are receiving much less than that; for instance, in parts of London it is undoubtedly true that the total earnings of the household in many cases are not more than 42s. a week. If the noble Lord will look at that most valuable and authoritative report which has been drawn up under the title of the New Survey of London he will find that in a very large number of cases people are earning less than 50s. a week. If that is the case it is quite impossible to expect these people to occupy houses which have a rental of more than 10s. a week. It is all very well to point out that a large number of houses have been built which are quite excellent in their way, but they are out of the reach of those who are unable to pay more than 10s. a week. A large number of those who are living in overcrowded and slum conditions are paying 6s. or 7s. a week as rent, and it would be with very great difficulty that they could pay even the extra 3s. a week required for a 10s. rental.
I agree with the Resolution that a million houses are needed. Of course, it is simply a guess, but it is an estimate on the moderate side. The Architects' Journal, in a very interesting survey carried out last year on the basis of the census figures, calculated that 1,400,000 new houses were required including those which were to replace the abolished slums; but one of the difficulties we have always been in, and which has been brought up in this House time after time, is that the Ministry of Health has never been able to give us an estimate of the number of houses required. We are told a very large number of houses are needed to solve the housing problem, but we can- 748 not get a definite figure. I do not know it the noble Viscount who is going to reply for the Government can tell us how many houses the Ministry estimates to be necessary if the housing problem is to be solved. I agree with the speakers who supported the Resolution when they expressed considerable doubt and anxiety about the way in which the million houses are to be provided.
I agree with everything that has been said in connection with the slum clearance programme of the Ministry. I think that programme has been a very fine one. It has been carried through with very great energy, and the latest reports in connection with it are most satisfactory. But when you have dealt with slum clearance there remains a far larger number of people who are living in overcrowded conditions. Where are the houses to come from for them? Private enterprise, quite plainly, is not building these houses. The Ministry of Health has given us a number of most striking figures showing how private enterprise has built a record number of houses in the last year, but when we go on to ask how many of these houses can be occupied at a rent of under 10s. a week we cannot get an answer. We are told there are 77,000 Class C houses which are now available for letting, but in London, as your Lordships know, the rent of these houses may be up to 16s. a week, and up to 11s. 6d. a week elsewhere. I want to know how many of these 77,000 houses can be let at under 10s. a week.
I should be very grateful if the noble Viscount who is replying for the Government could give us some information on this matter. It is really a vital matter, for it is only by the answer to this question that we can estimate the success of the Government's policy in dealing with those now living in overcrowded conditions. Local authorities are not now building houses which have no subsidy or, if they are building them, they are doing so in very small numbers indeed, and therefore we are driven back for these houses upon the policy which has been promised by the Ministry of Health. That policy as outlined by the Minister is an excellent one, and I understand the Minister will introduce a Bill early next Session. It is really on the comprehensiveness of that Bill that the possibility of supplying the necessary houses rests. 749 I do not suppose it is possible for the noble Viscount who is replying to tell us how many houses it is thought that Bill will provide for. But on the answer to that question depends largely our answer regarding a Housing Commission.
It is here that I have a certain amount of hesitation. In principle I am entirely in favour of a Central Housing Commission. Like others, I wish it had been introduced years ago. It would have saved a great deal of waste of time and energy; but I am doubtful whether it is wise to set up such a body at the present moment while the Ministry are carrying through a campaign for 300,000 houses for slum-dwellers and when they have in view a Bill which may provide a sufficient number of houses for those who are living in overcrowded conditions. If, however, the Ministry have not a sufficiently large programme for new houses which are to be let at a small rent, then, I think, it should be considered whether this Commission ought not to be set up. I agree entirely with the Resolution in asking the Government to consider this matter. That is all it does.
It could have been said some time ago that the matter had already been considered in the Moyne Report, but there is one very important difference. When the Moyne Report was issued it was assumed, I think, that private enterprise could provide these houses at a low rent. Now it is admitted by the Minister of Health that you cannot expect private enterprise to provide these houses, and I notice that the Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. Shakespeare, said in another place only a few days ago:Private enterprise can never eater for the really poorly-paid worker, and it has never been stated from this box that it can.I feel that that does make a big difference in the position. We see that private enterprise cannot provide these houses, and I think there is a real case for the Government considering afresh this proposal for a Central Housing Commission, though I am not at the moment convinced that this is the time to set it up.
There are two other observations I wish to make quite briefly. If I am doubtful about setting up a National Housing Commission for the whole country, I feel there is a very strong case for setting one up in London. In London a great housing programme has been carried out. Houses 750 have sprung up in all directions. They have been, I believe, well built, well planned, and well administered, but these houses nave not been for the poorest classes of the community. The authorities in London have failed to meet the needs of these poorer classes. I recognise that the difficulties are quite exceptional. The size of the population, the extent of the Metropolis, and, above all, the various conflicting local authorities, 113 in number, make the problem of Greater London quite peculiar and special. As long ago as 1920 Mr. Neville Chamberlain, as Chairman of the Departmental Committee on Housing, recommended that some Central Commission should be set up to deal with the London housing problem. I feel there is a very strong case for the establishment of a central body to deal with the special problem of London, which so far has not been solved.
The second observation I wish to make is in connection with continuity of policy. Several speakers have pointed out how serious is the way in which Minister of Health after Minister of Health has changed the policy of his predecessor, and one of the most attractive features of the proposed Housing Commission is that it would secure a certain amount of continuity. Unless you have continuity in policy you cannot plan many years ahead. There is unsettlement and uncertainty when you do not know whether the subsidy will be continued a year or two years hence, whether one Government will lay everything on private enterprise and another practically avoid it. This matter ought never to come into the region of Party polities. It is a matter so important that it ought to stand right above Party politics. As a rule in our country we have managed to keep foreign affairs out of the ordinary ruck of Party strife. Is it not possible to do the same with a matter of this kind? Is it not possible for the Leaders of Parties to confer together, to have a kind of round-table conference to settle in general the broad lines of housing policy which, whether they are in power or whether they are in opposition, they will carry out, say, in ten years' time.
They need not commit themselves to that period definitely, but at any rate they might commit themselves for a sufficiently long period so that a long-term pro- 751 gramme could be settled upon and carried out. Many of us who are deeply concerned in the housing problem have really no interest in the controversy which goes on about building by private enterprise or by public authorities. We want the houses and we really do not mind who supplies those houses. We do not mind whether they are supplied by private enterprise or by public authorities, provided that the houses are well built, that they are sufficient in number, and that they can be let at a rent within the reach of the poorest citizens of this country.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, I do not desire to trouble your Lordships with any of the general considerations which have been so admirably put forward, especially by the right reverend Prelate who has just sat down, but, in reference to his appeal, I should like to bring before your Lordships one consideration which has not found a place even in the recommendations of Lord Moyne's Committee. The noble Lord who introduced this debate to-night contemplates an expenditure of something like £400,000,000. The right reverend Prelate stressed throughout his speech the great, and indeed the paramount importance of these houses when they are built being brought within the compass of the incomes of those who are to inhabit them. One of the worst symptoms in some of our towns has been brought about in this way: Persons have been moved out to these more expensive houses, obtaining far better accommodation and far better surroundings, and after a few months' experience the fact that they are paying more than they were paying before has driven them back to the districts they formerly inhabited, and has accentuated in some cases the overcrowding in the very districts which they had left.
There is one other thing which has not yet been touched upon, and that is how the cost of production can be brought down. Directly after the War an arrangement was made with the trade unions which, as those of us who in any capacity had to deal with the question of construction ourselves discovered, led to a very considerable reduction in the cost of producing houses, and that without any deterioration from any point of view in the houses built. I have had some experience of building as a trustee 752 of various estates and I believe I am right in saying that but for trade union rules—and I am not going to challenge them at this particular moment—you could in almost every case where you have got an expert bricklayer, carpenter, or plumber, to a large extent supplement their labour by the labour of a labourer paid as a labourer. But that is not generally the system of trade unions. I made inquiry from authorities on the subject and I learned that a few months ago there were still 25 per cent, or thereabouts of those scheduled as trade union men in the building trade who were not employed. A large number of those men have now been assimilated.
What I put to your Lordships, and especially to the Government, is that when those men have been absorbed, even if not before, it ought to be made a matter of bargain with the trade unions that unemployed men may be brought in for all the work for which they are fit. By that means the cost of producing these houses, if this enormous programme is to be undertaken, would be substantially reduced. I have gone into the figures, and I believe the figures of the Ministry of Health will support those I am going to give. The payment for experts in the building industry is, speaking in round figures, something like 65s. a week; for labourers, speaking roundly, about 49s. a week, and, without troubling your Lordships with other figures, I may say that allowing 50 per cent, of the cost of the house for material, 45 per cent, for labour and 5 per cent, for overhead charges, there is a gain for the whole house of something like one-twentieth of the cost by adopting the system which was adopted for a period and which I think should be renewed under this great scheme. The right reverend Prelate will bear me out when I say that if the 10s. a week can be reduced to 9s. 6d. or 9s. it makes a substantial difference, a difference which, I venture again to point out, inclines people to remain in these houses and prevents them rushing back and crushing themselves into the old houses.
We have been appealed to in respect of sanitary conditions. My noble friend Lord Crawford has made our flesh creep with the account which he has given of the conditions in some of these new houses. I have no acquaintance with this subject, but a noble Lord who is a 753 much greater authority on bed-bugs than I am has asked me to suggest that the Report, issued by the Ministry of Health in 1934 should be re-issued as a Command Paper. I must say, after the serious indictment of our arrangements that my noble friend Lord Crawford, has given us to-night, that that is a very important thing to have before us. We all apparently desire—I think almost unanimously in your Lordships' House—that there should be a great scheme. Whether it should be carried out entirely by the Ministry of Health, or how it should be carried out, has been a matter of long debate, but the desire of the whole House is that we should give these people houses at rents which they can pay. For that reason I earnestly hope that in considering this question the Government will not, as Lord Moyne's Committee did, omit to consider whether in a very large scheme going on, say, for five or seven years we cannot produce houses at a rather less cost and, therefore, let them at a cost more within the means of the population thin we have done up till now.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
My Lords, the fact that this debate is, I think, the fifth debate upon this subject that your Lordships have had within the last seven months is significant evidence, if that were required, as to the importance that your Lordships attach to the topic which we have had under discussion. We certainly cannot complain of any lack of material on which to inform our judgment. We have long enjoyed the assistance of Blue-books. We have now been afforded the assistance of books black and books green and booklets white. Out of all these we may surely cull much wisdom. I should, I am sure, be speaking for my right honourable friend whom I to-day represent if I were to say that we, for our part, have nothing but feelings of gratitude to the noble Lord who introduced the subject. I certainly should be the last person to complain of the putting forward of constructive suggestions, even if, as he himself admitted, from time to time constructive suggestions become candid criticisms. It is only indeed, as I think, by pooling the ideas of those in all parts of the House who have pondered these problems that we can derive the maximum of advantage from our discussion.
754 Before I pass to the general discussion may I say one word in reply to my noble friend the Earl of Crawford who, in his speech, went somewhat outside the four corners of this Motion? To him I would only say that the subject to which he addressed himself is not one of course that is or can be absent from the mind of the Ministry of Health, but I shall take steps to see that the concrete proposals he made in regard to it are brought, as will be of course all others made in the debate, to my right honourable friend's notice.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
I will make inquiries and see what can be done. The Motion makes two proposals. The first is that your Lordships should support the view that the provision of 1,000,000 houses to let at a rent of 10s. or less a week is a national need, and in the second place the Motion discusses the machinery by which that could be done and suggests that the right means of meeting it is a Housing Commission. The establishment of a Housing Commission is a proposal that in recent months has been very widely advocated and those who advocate it to-day will forgive me when I say that it has not always in the past been easy to consider the proposal with the care that the position of those who advocate it would seem to claim because this proposal has too often been vague and not very closely defined. That has to-day been largely removed by the fact that we have before us the report of the Committee, to which such frequent reference has been made, of which my noble friend Lord Amulree was Chairman. We also have before us the report of the Committee presided over by my noble friend the Earl of Dudley, whose conclusions on this point showed material differences from those reached by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree's Committee.
I propose to confine myself in the main to the proposals of Lord Amulree's Committee. With your Lordships' permission I will deal first with the question of machinery, because it is, I think, fundamental to the whole of housing policy. It is proposed, as I read the Motion, that we should in the first place scrap part of our existing machinery and substitute 755 new machinery for it. That is a proposal, I need hardly say, that, emanating from whatever quarter, the Government will approach in a spirit of complete realism. If it could be demonstrated that a National Housing Commission of whatever kind would in fact be more efficient than the existing machinery the proposals would certainly enjoy Government support, but I am constrained to observe that throughout this debate no suggestion has been made even by those who advocate the Commission that the Ministry of Health does not in fact perform its functions with efficiency, and I hope I shall be able to adduce reasons to convince your Lordships that the existing machinery is, in fact, more efficient for the execution of any given policy than the substituted machinery would be.
There have been, at different times, three different types of Housing Commission proposed. It has been suggested in the first place that a Commission should be established in addition to local authorities to undertake the actual business of house building. There is a suggestion in my noble friend Lord Amulree's Committee's report, in the second place, that a Commission should take over part of the job of the Ministry of Health. There is in the third place a suggestion that a Commission should be set up to systematise the supply of building materials and the like, to perform, in fact, many of the duties that my noble friend Lord Amulree contemplates as part of the duties of the Commission he would wish to see.
I will deal quite shortly with the first proposal that a Housing Commission should carry out building operations. That, I readily recognise, is not what my friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh has in mind. Nor has it, I think, been in the mind of any of those who spoke this afternoon except it were in some degree present to the noble and learned Marquess, Lord Reading's thoughts when he used words that I thought were capable of some such interpretation when he said the Commission should be armed with powers to give effect to the programme. Those words seem to me to come dangerously close to this first type of Commission. I am only concerned to say that I think any machinery of that kind would be quite disastrous to housing progress, because if local authorities had any reason to suppose that a Commission sup- 756 ported by Government money and Government guarantee was in a position to relieve them of their local housing responsibilities, the finance committees of those authorities, human nature being what it is, would approach the question of rate responsibility in a very different attitude from that which now happily generally prevails.
It is the second type of Housing Commission that is presumably the proposal we are invited to approve in the present Motion—that is, a Housing Commission largely or partly to supersede the Ministry of Health. In the report that we have before us it is indeed recommended that the housing functions of the Ministry of Health—I think my noble friend in his speech accepted the proposal—so far as those refer to technical problems of execution, should be vested in the Commission, the supervisory and the quasi-judicial functions of the Ministry of Health and supervision of general policy remaining with the Minister. I am bound to say I find myself in complete agreement with those who have said, for reasons adduced, that they regard that proposal as adding a fifth wheel to the coach. I find it very hard indeed to believe that the rapid execution of a housing policy would in fact be facilitated by interposing a new body between the Minister and local authorities, upon whose intimate, close, rapid and cordial co-operation all our housing policy must ultimately and entirely depend. Such a body, I think, can hardly fail to be a barrier between the local authorities, who are immediately responsible, and the driving force of the Minister and the Ministry, to which I think my noble friend Lord Dudley made reference. In short, I should suggest to your Lordships that it is direct contact with the responsible Minister which can give the best encouragement and stimulus to local authorities, and that cessation of that contact and that stimulus would not be well calculated to promote their activity.
May I remind your Lordships of the two directions, each equally important, in which at present that control is exercised? It is exercised, of course, negatively, by the requirement that the Ministry can make of local authorities that their proposals—the numbers and types of houses, the exercise of their borrowing powers and the like—should be approved by the Minister; and it is exer- 757 cised positively by the power of the Minister, if he is satisfied that local authorities are not adequately performing their duties, to step in and to do the work himself, charging the cost to the local rates. It is at that point that I feel in the suggestion of my noble friend a great difficulty arises. In their report the Committee contemplated leaving that formidable weapon of default in the Minister's hands. None the less they recommend that the local authorities' estimates of housing needs should be submitted to the Commission, and that the Commission, and not the Minister, should have the power of approving sites and types of houses and so on. If that means anything it surely means that the adequacy or inadequacy of local authorities' proposals is to be determined by the Commission when their approval is sought, but at the same time the Minister will have the duty of adjudicating and determining upon the very same issues in deciding whether or not an occasion has arisen when he should exercise default powers. I would have supposed that that situation must inevitably result in deadlock, unless you can postulate that the Commission and the Minister will always see eye to eye.
What evidence in fact is there that the functions of a central housing authority have been inaedquately performed, as things are, by the Minister of Health? No one would contest the view that good housing is a central and fundamental element in health. However much Governments since the War have differed, they have up to now all agreed upon this principle, that the proper central executive authority to deal with housing is the Ministry which was constituted by Statute, as it was said, "for the purpose of promoting the health of the people of England and Wales." I suggest that in view of that intimate connection the decision of all the Governments on that matter has been wise. My noble friend Lord Amulree referred to the effect in the production of houses due to the partnership between the Ministry of Health and local authorities since the Ministry was formed in 1019. I do not repeat that beyond saying that, leaving aside for a moment questions of private enterprise and subsidy and the like to which I will come in a moment, the production of nearly 2,500,000 houses in fifteen years is a very stupendous and 758 remarkable national achievement. Such an achievement as that does to my mind suggest that whatever mistakes we have made in the past, due perhaps to lack of always complete foresight or an ordered plan, at all events the system of production cannot be held to be one which is incapable of producing good results.
I cannot, either, be satisfied that this proposed division of functions between Minister and Commission would in fact work any better in actual practice. My noble friend behind me suggests that the Minister should retain his supervisory and quasi-judicial functions as well as control over policy. What in fact does that mean? I quite agree that there may be a theoretical objection to the present position by which the Minister has it on his shoulders to confirm compulsory purchase orders and slum clearance schemes as well as executive responsibility for housing, but I am very doubtful whether in fact the position would be greatly eased by an arrangement by which a Commission admittedly working, if the scheme is to succeed at all, in the closest co-operation with the Minister, were openly to be assisting local authorities in the preparation of material for these inquiries. It seems to me to introduce an element of cross-organisation which would be highly inconvenient. After all the judicial functions of the Minister are a comparatively small problem, and I think that to set up a Housing Commission in order to remove that slight anomaly would be like burning down the house to roast the pig.
It has been said frequently this afternoon that it is important that housing should be taken out of Party politics, and that is adduced as an argument for the Housing Commission. Simultaneously, let me remind the House, it is said that the Minister is to retain supervisory functions and control of policy. Now those two things seem to me to be in violent and sharp contradiction. How the Minister is to continue to control policy and at the same time the Housing Commission is to produce the beneficial effect of taking the whole thing out of Party politics I do not readily see. I am quite sure that those are right Who pay that in fact it is not possible to take out of Party politics a subject which is so essentially political and arouses such sharp 759 and continuing political interest as does housing. May I remind your Lordships of another not wholly dissimilar case? Take the case of unemployment administration. I imagine that men of all Parties, or at any rate a great many men of all Parties, would agree that there is no subject which it is more pre-eminently desirable to keep clear of influences sometimes associated with Party politics, and yet because that subject is one of such immediate, universal and continuing interest there has been a general refusal to have it any way withdrawn from Parliamentary control.
It has been said two or three times this afternoon in relation to this matter that there have been eight Ministers of Health during the last fifteen years, and that that in itself is a sad commentary upon the discontinuity of our housing policy. As a matter of fact, the mortality among Ministers of Health has not meant discontinuity in the sense in which I think the argument has been used this afternoon. Pour major Housing Statutes have been passed since the War. The first one was the Act of 1919, and the action that was taken under that was stopped by the Government which passed the Act. The Act of 1923 was passed by a Conservative Government, was operated by a Labour Government, and ultimately brought to an end by another Conservative Government. The Act of 1924 was passed by a Labour Government and actively operated by a Conservative Government, and the Act of 1930 was passed by the Government of noble Lords opposite and is now being used as a statutory basis for slum-clearance schemes, which are being carried out to-day by local authorities all over the country. I have no doubt, I will add, that any Government that may possibly succeed this Government in years to come will continue and build upon legislation that my right honourable friend hopes to pass through Parliament this autumn.
The tasks which the Committee suggests should be undertaken by the Housing Commission are, if I may refresh your Lordships' minds, first of all, responsibility for organising a national survey of housing needs. The noble Lord who moved the Motion will perhaps permit me to say that as he and his friends have already decided the number of houses required, it is not perhaps 760 immediately apparent why a further survey is demanded.
LORD BALFOUR OF BUELEIGH
Perhaps the noble Viscount will allow me to point out that I did say this was only a guess, because we have not the data.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
I appreciate that, and in this matter the Government and the noble Lord are in complete agreement, because we also feel that a survey is necessary, and it will be undertaken. The position with regard to surveys is at present as follows. Surveys have already been carried out by the Ministry and local authorities with regard to unfit houses, and surveys with regard to overcrowding will be an essential part of the legislation which the Government propose to introduce in the autumn. I think that, perhaps, answers one of the questions which the noble Lord opposite asked me in his speech. It is also proposed by the Committee that this Commission should help local authorities by providing expert guidance, by co-ordination in different branches of the work, and in various ways that have been mentioned of helping the local authorities to carry through their great task, and to ensure, so far as may be, that new construction, the abatement of overcrowding, slum clearance, and reconditioning, are all brought together, as Lord Reading pleaded that they might be, under one coherent national plan. But, my Lords, for the most part I think all that field and scope of work contemplated for the Commission is exactly what is being done to-day by the Ministry of Health, and, so far as I am aware, as I have said, no one has said that the Ministry of Health are not doing it properly.
I think, however, I can carry the discussion a little bit further in one direction, not unconnected with this topic which I think was present to the mind of the most reverend Primate, and that concerns the use that can be made of public utility societies. In so far as more use might be made of public utility societies, my right honourable friend proposes to introduce legislation with that very object in view. The object of this legislation will be to authorise local authorities to hand over to public utility societies, by agreement, blocks of housing work. By that, I mean that the local authorities will be enabled to transfer 761 to public utility societies property acquired by the local authority with a view to making it fit by conversions, adaptations, etc. for occupation by the classes that we have in view. I contemplate that the public utility societies would carry out the necessary works and then manage the whole property. Provision also will be made to enable the society to submit proposals to the local authority for making such arrangements, either in relation to property already held by the local authority, or in relation to property which the society might feel was suitable for acquisition by the local authority. Perhaps I may add that when the work is such as would rightly be assisted by a subsidy from the Exchequer, that subsidy would be passed on to the society, and in any case it is proposed that local authorities should be empowered to make advances to societies and borrow for that purpose on the security of local rates.
The last point of my noble friend's case to which I feel bound to make reference is that it is suggested that, with the assistance of a State guarantee, money could be found by the Commission in almost unlimited amounts and at lower rates of interest than can be obtained under the present machinery. I am advised that the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, was right when he said in connection with this that in his judgment that proposal was largely an unnecessary one. At present, it is true, as he said, that the large local authorities raise their money as cheaply as His Majesty's Government can, and where that does not happen the money is available for smaller authorities through the Public Works Loans Board, which charges, I am advised, broadly speaking, for expenses of management, 1 per cent, in addition to the rate at which the Government are able to raise money. The present rate charged by the Board is 3½per cent. I am advised that the loans of the Commission could not be made available more cheaply than those of the Public Works Loans Board, and that if the ¼ per cent, were not charged by the Leans Board the costs of handling the money must be defrayed out of the Exchequer, which would be, in fact, a veiled subsidy in a new form.
The only other thing I wish to say by way of objection to the proposal of this type of National Housing Commission is to reiterate what fell from Lord Astor, 762 and was an element of doubt, I think, in the mind of the most reverend Primate—namely, the intimate and close relation between the housing work of the Ministry and all the other work which it performs. Especially close, of course, is that connection in all the field of local finance. The other thing I would say is that it would be unfortunate, and indeed disastrous, in the view of the Government, to make so radical a change in the organisation of housing administration when slum clearance is at its most active stage. It would cause delay and prejudice the new proposls that we intend to submit in the autumn.
The third proposal is one which it might well be possible to meet, and that is that consideration should be given to the proposals for systematising the supply of building materials, and so on. I can well suppose that your Lordships might be inclined to consider that however strong the case may be against any general form of Housing Commission, there nevertheless might be a good deal more to be said for the appointment of such a central body for such a purpose as this. There can be no doubt that the improvement in the methods of building and the business side of it is all a field that demands constant watching, and that for the reason that was put with convincing force by Lord Balfour and others—that the lower the costs the lower the rent. On the point that there is a great deal to be gained by steady development of mass production and the technique of all that side of it—upon all that the Government are in warm agreement with Lord Amulree, and owe a great deal to him for the thought that he has given to these matters. I think also that the co-ordination of contracts and orders, so that they may be properly related in time to the possible supply, is a factor to which due regard is essential as a means of preventing prices being put up against housing authorities, and I can assure your Lordships that the importance of all these matters is very present indeed, both to the Government end to housing authorities. As a matter of fact, I think the bigger housing authorities, owing to the large scale of their own operations, are in a pretty good position to secure the benefits of mass production on their own account, and it is to the small authorities that special attention in these respects is required.
763 In short, the view of the Government in regard to this matter is that the most practical and the best way of securing these purposes is not the establishment of a new Corporation, which would, I think, have many of the disadvantages to which I referred a few minutes ago, but it is rather by the way of organised cooperation between the different housing authorities, and I am at liberty to inform your Lordships that recently my right honourable friend has addressed a letter to the Association of Municipal Corporations, inviting their views on the subject, and enquiring whether they themselves would be prepared to provide machinery for systematising the purchase of building materials and other activities connected therewith. Their reply, when it is received, I need hardly say, will receive my right honourable friend's most careful consideration.
There is connected with that a correlated or complementary method of procedure, and that is through the instrumentality of an Advisory Council on housing matters, to which the most reverend Primate made reference, and which it is, indeed, proposed to establish in the legislation which my right honourable friend will bring forward in the autumn, and to which in another connection I must make further reference in a moment. But it is by such measures that we believe that the end in view can be most effectively secured, and with the minimum of interference with the existing machine. That machine, I would remind your Lordships, is at present working at the highest pressure, and if at any time it is found by the Government that the co-ordination to be secured by this means is inadequate, then it will be necessary to consider how far other methods can be introduced. I can assure your Lordships that the situation is one which will be constantly watched, particularly with the increase of activity in the building trade that must follow the development of these programmes.
But experience does not as a matter of fact—and I speak in the presence of experts—always show that a great development of building has the effect of putting up costs. The reason in part, I am advised, is one that is not always realised, and that is that the material that is required, even for the wholly unprecedented amount of small house building now in progress, forms a 764 relatively small part of the total volume of building that is going on in the country. But, none the less, so anxious is my right honourable friend to guard against every possible risk that might accrue in this field that he is continuing, and makes active use of, an Interdepartmental Committee that has been in permanent session for some years past, whose constant duty it is to review prices of building material and make reports for those whose duty it is to watch the course of them.
I do not know whether it would interest your Lordships if I gave you just one figure. Comparing the years 1924 and 1934, in the year ending March 31, 1924, the total number of houses built was 86,000; in the year ending March 31, 1934, the total number was 266,000—more than three times as much. And yet the prices of materials were generally considerably higher in 1924 than in 1934. I do not, of course, draw any sort of moral from that; I only quote those figures to show that an increased volume of house building does not necessarily carry with it soaring prices, as some persons have been disposed to fear. It will not be forgotten that Lord Moyne's Committee did definitely express the view that, while in theory no doubt there was much to be said for it, and that bulk purchase might result in large economies, yet the introduction of a large scale purchaser, supported by Government finance, in their view was not at all unlikely to have the very opposite effect from that which was intended.
Now I must turn to the general question of housing policy that is raised in the first part of the Motion and which has been, as I think, dependent upon the other part, the machinery to which I have referred. The proposal that the noble Lord has brought before us is, of course, amplified in my noble friend Lord Amulree's Report, which contains the recommendation that the housing of lower paid workers at rents within their means should be accepted as a national responsibility and as a public service. I am not quite clear what that language means. It might be held that the obvious meaning of it was that the Government should establish a universal test of means, should then determine the proportion of income which might in different circumstances be available for payment of rent, and then, by one means or another— 765 either by arranging transfer from home to borne of different values or by some system of rebates—should undertake that every family was charged with the rent which, on the scales laid down, it ought to pay.
That proposal I do not here or now discuss, because I do not believe it is what the Committee intended; but I permit myself this observation upon it, that the administrative implications of any such proposal would be of the most formidable kind. But if, as I suppose, the recommendation, means that the provision of houses for lower paid workers is a purpose which every Government must use every effort to attain, then I can assure your Lordships that, as I understand it, that does truly represent the existing position, and is, in fact, the reason why we are all here discussing housing to-night. Tine existing position, after all, is one in which local authorities are charged with the duty of considering and submitting proposals for working-class housing in their areas, as they are charged with the further duty of abolishing and replacing slums, and under legislation to be forthcoming they are also, I understand, to be charged with a similar duty in regard to the elimination of overcrowding. Therefore, I think I can assure the noble. Lord who moved that the principle stated in the Committee's report is the basis of the present Government policy, of which the instruments are the housing agencies of local authorities and private, enterprise, all co-ordinated by the National Government.
The question is whether the object of policy to which we should subscribe should, as the Motion suggests, be the production of one million houses at this level of rent. On the advice that is open to me, and for other reasons, I shell quite shortly endeavour to make plain that, while His Majesty's Government are not less anxious than my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh or anyone else with whom he may be associated to see real progress made with the housing problem of this country, I do not believe that the task of achieving that will be assisted by the acceptance of such a proposition. In the first place I venture, with great respect, to suggest that the solution of the housing problem is not facilitated by 766 round statements as to size, the evidence for which must inevitably be of doubtful validity.
The noble Earl opposite who spoke, I think estimated that several million houses were required—I am not sure whether it was two or three or four or five millions—in the next ten years. While I do not desire to criticise the figure of one million in detail, I think there can be little doubt that the calculations on which it appears to be based are very far from being secure. The figure itself is apparently taken, as I think the noble Lord stated, from the excess of families over the number of occupied dwellings. As he was the first to admit, from that many deductions had to be made: the large figure of vacant dwellings, the fact that many families entered on the census return, as Lord Jessel reminded us, consist of one person, and, lastly, the distribution of wage-earners at different rates of wages, to which also Lord Jessel made reference and which is set out in Lord Amulree's report. The upshot of these deductions must be that the number of houses required to be provided at these rents on the Committee's own calculation would be very much less than the suggested one million.
It is doubtless quite unnecessary to remind your Lordships that as regards the provision of houses for those who can afford some higher rent the housing problem is already in process of solution. If the present rate of house production should continue, the total output of houses during the next ten years would far exceed two millions, and I think that would throw an entirely different complexion upon the whole problem. At the same time my right honourable friend and the Government fully recognise the importance of that to which the Bishop of Winchester alluded, following the mover—namely, the need that exists for a sufficient pool of houses to let at rents within the means of the lower-paid wage-earners, but I can assure the House that steps are being taken by His Majesty's Government in accordance with a carefully framed and ordered plan. It is quite useless, in the view of the Government, to make an arbitrary estimate based on quite unreliable statistical material as to the number of such houses required. A much more scientific approach to the problem is in the opinion of my right honourable friend necessary, 767 and the position as it stands to-day is as follows:—A survey has been made by local authorities of the number of slum houses that may have to be replaced; the next step will be a survey of the number of families now living in overcrowded conditions for whom better accommodation is required; and, lastly, there remains the statutory duty resting on local authorities to meet any housing needs in their areas which may remain when account has been taken of the slum clearance scheme, the overcrowding scheme, and the large activities of private builders.
It is the view of His Majesty's Government that in that ordered fashion the housing needs of the country will be adequately ascertained and met. In their view it is wrong to base housing policy on hypothetical calculations, and that for a reason that is very fundamental. It is really for this reason that I hope Lord Balfour of Burleigh will not feel constrained to press, as the primary object of housing policy, the provision of a definite number of houses, whether a million or any other. That fundamental reason is this: That the principle of such a policy is the very principle which has been tried by successive Governments during the last fifteen years and has been discarded as unsound. I am well aware, of course, that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, is not suggesting that a subsidy should in general be provided for the provision of low-rented houses. He recognises that houses can now be built by local authorities to let at the desired low levels without assistance of direct subsidy. Private enterprise cannot yet provide houses to let at these rents, for the local authorities have the advantage of long-term loans and cheap money, and it is these advantages that make possible' such rent levels as Lord Balfour has in mind, except, as he said, where the land costs or rates are high or some other special circumstance exists.
Nevertheless it is the view of His Majesty's Government that to invite the State, whether in the form of the Ministry of Health or in the form of a National Housing Commission, and the local authorities to concentrate primarily upon the provision, at large—and I underline the words "at large "—of low-rented houses is to invite them to fall into the 768 very error from which our national housing policy has been rescued during the lifetime of the present Government. It has been said over and over again in this debate that during the last fifteen years we have built just about 1,200,000 houses with the aid of subsidy, and no fewer than 850,000 of these houses are lot at low rents, but they have made no more than a negligible contribution towards the solution of the evils of bad housing—namely, slums and overcrowding; and it is the recognition of that tragic fact that has led the Government to believe that the housing problem can be solved only by bringing to an end the era of unregulated State-assisted housing and beginning the era of regulated housing dealing with first needs first. Therefore it is that the policy which His Majesty's Government would invite your Lordships to approve would rather be that of providing, in accordance with an ordered plan, whatever number of houses may be needed to overcome the evil that rightly moved the country to indignation, and to do that by beginning, first, with a direct attack on the conditions which are the most intolerable.
In conclusion let me try to sum the matter up. May I remind your Lordships how this policy is to be carried out, of the steps that are now being taken, as we think with success, and of those which we intend should follow? Already local authorities have submitted plans for the demolition of all houses which they have found in their areas to be unfit for habitation, and for the provision of accommodation to replace them at low rents. During the next five years 280,000 houses unfit for human accommodation will be swept away, and 294,000 houses will be built for those who are now forced to live under intolerable conditions. Therefore at the end of five years there will, as we may hope, except in a few towns where a longer period is necessary, be no more slums.
In the second place in the autumn the Government will propose to Parliament legislation for the purpose of defining standards of accommodation and of providing a sufficiency of houses to enable those standards to be observed, and assistance will be proposed to enable local authorities to provide the housing accommodation needed, including accommodation at low rents for those who will no 769 longer be permitted to live in overcrowded conditions. These proposals will involve rehousing and replanning on a scale which it has never yet been possible to contemplate, and will be of a kind that neither this nor any other country has previously undertaken. In addition to those undertakings, it will remain the duty of local authorities to meet any need in their areas far low-rented houses. The extent to which that need will be met by private enterprise, or will require the intervention of the local authority, is one that must vary according to the circumstances and the needs of different districts.
We have endeavoured, and are endeavouring, to give every encouragement to private enterprise to provide the working class houses that are needed, but where there is evidence that private enterprise is not meeting the needs of a district my right honourable friend is prepared to entertain favourably proposals for the erection of un-subsidised houses by local authorities and will deal with this matter in a purely practical way and having regard to the two dominant conditions—namely, what is the need for houses and what is the extent to which that need is already being met by private enterprise. It is perhaps worth mentioning that in the progress of this business and legislation special regard will be had to the needs of rural areas, and provision will be made for them. I would ask that it should not be forgotten how great is to-day the development, indeed, the boom, in private house building. It is now going on at the rate of something like 240,000 houses a year. Of these of course many are built for sale to the comparatively well-to-do, nevertheless a substantial and an ever-increasing proportion is being provided for wage earners.
I cannot give the right reverend Prelate the precise figures he asked for, because I do not believe they are available, but I would ask him whether it is not true to say that, when the remarkable increase in the last few years of private house building and cheap houses is considered, it would be in the highest degree rash to assume that that process cannot be carried a little further and reach the point at which private enterprise can provide houses at rents within the means of the lower-paid wage earners. I think also it would be right 770 ignore altogether the effect which the provision of houses by private enterprise on so large a scale as that must inevitably have in releasing accommodation already occupied.
It is for reasons such as those that I have endeavoured, I am afraid at inordinate length, to lay before your Lordships that the Government find themselves unable to accept my noble friend's Motion, however grateful they are, and he will believe me they are indeed grateful, to him for the work he and his friends have done and for the contributions that they have made. To provide means whereby continuing assistance, as they hope, of this kind may be available to the Ministry of Health, His Majesty's Government propose, as an integral part of the next stage of their housing policy, to appoint a strong Advisory Committee of the kind which it seemed to me that the right reverend Prelate had in his mind also, to which the Ministry of Health would be able to refer at all stages for advice on the problems still to be solved.
I do not think that there is more that I need add. I have sought to give your Lordships the reasons why, in our judgment, the establishment, of a Housing Commission, however clearly defined, in contradistinction to the Ministry of Health would hinder and not help the work we have in view. With the other part of the Motion as to the need for houses, although for the reasons I have given I deprecate the suggestion of building at large, except in relation to ascertained needs, the Government, I need hardly say, are in complete agreement with the principle that all the citizens of this country should have decent houses in which to live. That is the goal which we intend to reach through our present policy, and I hope that I have not been wholly unsuccessful in satisfying your Lordships and the noble Lord who moved the Motion that we shall in fact achieve it. If the noble Lord is satisfied, as I think I am satisfied, that there is great common ground between us on this subject, and that if we differ at all it is on procedure only that we differ, I would, if I might, ask him not to press the Motion to which the Government would find it difficult in this form to assent, but, if he felt so able, to withdraw his Motion and continue to give us all the help that he can in the pursuit of a task on which we are all commonly combined.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I fear that even at this late hour there are one or two things I must ask your Lordships' permission to say. I would like first of all to deal with the extremely interesting topic raised by the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, the bed-bug. The only thing that astonished me about the noble Earl's reference to the bed-bug was that he seemed to think it was peculiar to new houses. The noble Earl gave it as a season for not building any more new houses and he seemed to think that the bed-bug was something new. Anybody who knows anything about housing and has had to do with housing knows that the bed-bug is one of the greatest scourges. There is nothing new about it. I venture to reassure your Lordships that you need not be alarmed by those pests that the noble Earl talked about. There is nothing new about the bed-bug, nor about the progress of the bed-bug.
At the same time I think everybody interested in housing has the greatest reason to be grateful to the noble Earl for giving the matter publicity. It is true there is a taboo on the subject. I think this bug should be talked about but not talked about as if it was something new or as if it supplied any reason for not building any new houses. The bug comes to the new from the old houses in the furniture and there are perfectly good means of dealing with it. The noble Earl referred to various methods but the real thing which deals with it is hydrocyanic acid gas. It is the only thing. As a matter of fact I made a speech about this recently and a gentleman who saw a report of the speech in the paper wrote to say that hydrocyanic acid gas was no use because a bed-bug could hold his breath for four hours. That is not strictly correct. Hydrocyanic acid gas has been used with great success by numerous local authorities.
The noble Earl referred to the danger of using old material. His two remedies were not to use old material and also not to build new houses at all. The real remedy is to organise a system which is being done by certain local authorities so that no tenant shall be put into a newly built house until his furniture and effects and his own clothing have gone through a proper systematic process of 772 disinfestation. That can be done and is being done. There is no reason whatever to stop new building because of the bed-bug. I should like to support the noble Earl's suggestion that the Report should be issued as a Command Paper It is a most interesting little creature. He has a proboscis which he sticks into you to suck your blood. As your Lordships know, human blood coagulates. This animal has a particular sort of saliva which prevents your blood coagulating until he has had time to have a good feed. It is an extraordinary provision of nature and it makes him quite an interesting creature.
To revert to the Motion which we have been debating this afternoon, I think my noble friend Lord Amulree and his colleagues have no reason to complain of the attention that has been given to their report. They stand rather in the position of the man who has a constructive proposal to make, and obviously the report provides a target which is much easier to shoot at and criticise than mere vague suggestions. I think a good deal of the criticism of the report has been based on some misunderstanding. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, referred to provisions which would only come into effect in the event of default. Provisions for action in the event of default exist already in legislation and they are there at the command of the Minister. But the alternative suggestion is that the powers of default should be exercisable through a public utility society or some other authority. There is nothing very startling in that and it would be exercised in very few cases. In point of fact I think the Minister has never defaulted a local authority yet. Therefore criticism on that score is a little outside the main attack which was intended to be made on the report.
Of course we all recognise that the main division of opinion is as to whether or not this new body should have executive or advisory function. Apparently everybody thinks there should be some new body although they would give it a different name. The most reverend Primate suggested a Departmental Council on housing. I do not much care what the name should be. A rose will smell as sweet by any other name. Everyone seems to want a new body to do many 773 of the things we suggest. I am not going to try to traverse in detail the criticisms. I will content myself by saying that we have already a precedent in the Electricity Commissioners and the Central Electricity Board in relations with the Ministry of Transport. I do not believe the difficulties are insuperable, although I recognise that in the matter of housing the Ministry of Health offers a peculiarly intricate problem because of all the other matters, such as sewers, roads, and other things, in regard to which the Ministry is already in relation with the local authorities. All I would say is that I think if it were determined to set up such a body with executive functions it could be done. Obviously, an unofficial Committee like ours is not in a position to suggest with authority the precise scope of the function to be conferred upon it. I think it could be done. I do not want to delay your Lordships by replying fully to the criticisms of the report which have been made in this debate.
I am bound to express my gratitude to the noble Viscount who answered for the Government for the kindly way in which he dealt with the suggestions made. I think he has given us a very substantial degree of satisfaction. He has told us that there is to be a new and comprehensive survey. After all, that was the basis of a good deal of my criticism—that until you had a comprehensive survey you could not tell what was wanted. Then you are to have this body, advisory in the first instance, to deal with public utility societies and to perform a number of these other functions which we suggested should be carried out by the Housing Commission.
The only thing I regret about the reply of the Government is that I do not think the criticisms that I made with regard to the provision of houses for sale were met. We were told that the boom in housing goes on. I gave your Lordships reasons, which I still think are convincing, to show that the boom is not really solving our problem. Figures of houses to let at low rents are not available. Nothing has been said from any quarter of the House to controvert the view that existing building is not going to provide houses to let at low rents. Nothing was said to controvert the view I expressed 774 as to the undesirability of the lower-paid wage-earner owning his own house. Many of these houses are undoubtedly being built for sale to small owners. They are houses that will fall into the hands of speculators and will undoubtedly contribute to the slum problem in the future. After what has fallen from the noble Viscount I do not desire to press my Motion to a Division. My attitude after this debate cannot be other than that of one who still continues to hope for the best. I do feel that the right way to set about the thing is first to ascertain what you have to do and then set about doing it—not begin to do it by degrees and then find out how big the task is going to be. I will not detain your Lordships longer, and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.