§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, in moving that the House do resolve itself into Committee on this Bill I desire to fulfil a promise which I gave to the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, when, on the Second Reading, he asked for further particulars in regard to this measure. Reconditioning Acts have been in operation since 1926. Progress at first was slow, and by 1931, when the original Act was due to expire, only 4,500 cottages had been dealt with in England and Wales, and 5,900 in Scotland. The Act has been extended for further periods and by 1938 over 20,000 cottages had been improved in England and Wales, and 28,000 in Scotland. In England and Wales there was a marked increase of activity in the three years before the war, and in 1938–1939 the number of cottages reconditioned had risen to 4,000 for the one year. The Acts are administered in England and Wales by 47 county councils, 3 county borough councils, 122 borough and urban district councils and 141 rural district councils, and in Scotland by all of the 33 county councils and 91 town councils.
The Rural Housing Sub-Committee of the English Central Housing Advisory Committee reported on the working of the Acts in 1936, and found that progress had been very far from uniform, there being 156 marked disparities between neighbouring counties, and even between rural districts where the circumstances might be expected to be very similar. They considered that very much more could be done if the right methods were adopted. In their view, the giving of sustained and continuous publicity to the facilities available was essential to encourage owners to make application for assistance, and they recommended the Minister to prepare suitable educative publicity material. They also stated that:Our investigations have convinced us that, where the Acts are administered by the county council, full success is only possible if there is close co-operation with the officers of constituent rural district councils.As a result of constant official pressure and encouragement, owners in country districts had before the war been made to realize more fully their responsibilities. The administrative measures already taken had not then had time, however, to come to fruition, and the rural housing situation still left room for considerable improvement.
Efforts would certainly have been intensified but for the war. War conditions have inevitably curtailed housing work, but, despite this, the Government have continued to approve the giving of grants under the Acts during the war in respect of the reconstruction of houses to be occupied by agricultural workers or by persons directly engaged in the war effort in other ways. There is no doubt, however, that much greater progress can be made with reconditioning under the Acts, and a big drive will be carried out as soon as the war ends. This will form part of the general rural housing campaign, for which plans were laid before the outbreak of war. These plans, with any necessary modifications due to the war, will be put into execution as soon as practicable. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Snell.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am very much obliged to my noble friend for his courtesy in making a very full statement on the first opportunity which he has had after the Second Reading. It is a very useful method of procedure in your Lordships' House that, where circumstances make it difficult to have a full statement on Second Reading, there remains the occasion, of which my 157 noble friend has availed himself, to make a statement of a general character on going into Committee on the Bill. I do not think that your Lordships will be surprised or disappointed that there has not been very much progress during the course of the war, but I notice that my noble friend in his statement did not hold out any hope that much could be done until the conclusion of hostilities, and that is very natural and proper on his part. For one thing, the want of money might stand in the way of progress.
There are one or two questions which one might feel inclined to ask, but I do not wish to press my noble friend if he does not desire to answer them now. In the first place, I should have liked to know whether the procedure by loan or the procedure by grant has turned out to be the more popular. As your Lordships will remember, under these Acts the help of the central authority can be given either in the form of loans to owners of cottage property or in the form of grants. One would suppose that grants would be the more popular of the two, because, unlike loans, they do not have to be repaid. It is that kind of information which I should be glad to have, because it might throw some light on the apathy which has been shown in regard to the working of the Acts in certain areas. I noticed that my noble friend, when referring to the findings of the Committee which he mentioned, said that there was a great variation in the efficiency displayed by neighbouring areas, even when the neighbouring areas were of a similar character. Of course there must be a great variation, because as often as not neighbouring areas are not in a similar position. But he used that phrase—that even when they were in a similar position economically there was great variety as regards the effect of the Act. He attributed it, as far as I understood him, to the weakness of the local authorities—not of the county councils, but of the minor local authorities who have to act in the matter. He told your Lordships that the Government were going to take steps to stimulate the minor local authorities in this respect.
But, of course, a great deal has been done in rural housing in our lifetime by private enterprise, and great progress has been made. Indeed, as your Lordships are quite as well aware as I am, for you are all interested in this subject, the whole standard of accommodation in rural housing 158 has gone up, and what was considered to be adequate fifty years ago is not considered adequate now. All of us will be very glad that that should be so. I am sorry that the Government should have to announce a disappointment in the working of the Act. Of course, I do not want money to be spent recklessly, but there is no question of that. So long as the houses are made habitable, really habitable—fit for habitation—that is all that is absolutely necessary. In many districts with which your Lordships are connected, there is not much complaint to be made, but in others it is not so. As you drive through the country—if you have any petrol to let you drive through the country—you notice many houses which evidently are very much in need of repair. That is all I have to say. I would only thank my noble friend once more for his speech, and say that I am quite sure that your Lordships will be very much interested to see how the Act prospers as soon as hostilities are concluded.
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend I wish to thank the noble Marquess for having been instrumental in eliciting this statement. It is not appropriate or desirable, I am sure, for us to enter into a discussion on it now, but if a statement of this kind means anything it is an abundant justification for all those who have said for fifteen years that this Act would certainly be necessarily ineffective. Twenty thousand houses out of the hundreds of thousands of houses returned in this survey as unsatisfactory—that is all that we have to show after fifteen years or more of that Act. The subject bristles with points for useful discussion, and I will only conclude by again expressing our thanks to the noble Marquess for having elicited this statement.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, perhaps the House will allow me to answer the inquiry of the noble Marquess respecting the popularity of loans as against grants. I am sorry I am not able to give him a satisfactory answer to-day, but as the point is of some importance your Lordships will no doubt allow me the opportunity to give the information on the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly: Bill reported without amendment.159