§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Macpherson)
I beg to move,That the Bill be now read a second time.Quite recently I had the opportunity of explaining at considerable length the proposals of the Government in regard to Ireland. I discussed then the desirability of providing in Ireland a large number of new and additional houses. I also discussed the reason why I considered it necessary on the part of the Government to introduce a special Housing Bill for Ireland. We know in this House that the housing conditions in Ireland are different from the housing conditions in England. Indeed the Irish housing enactments have created a separate tradition so far as housing in that country is concerned, and I thought it might be as well to conform to these housing conditions while at the same time getting the best advantages which are in existence in the various Acts passed for England, Scotland and Wales. The House will recollect that at the time of the Convention a Committee was appointed composed of men who were deeply interested in the housing problem as it affected Ireland, and of that Committee, I think the Lord Mayors of the two great cities of Ireland were members. The housing problem in Ireland was, in the past, largely a rural problem. Three-quarters of the housing in Ireland really meant rural housing, while in other countries of the United Kingdom three-quarters of the housing really means the industrial homes of the people in the large cities. Nothing has been so remarkable as the success of Irish rural housing. I believe that within a comparatively short time no fewer than 50,000 houses have been built, and it is a great satisfaction to anybody touring through the country to see these small houses dotted all over it, where happy and contented people live, doing the agricultural work of the country. We are now faced with a more difficult problem—the housing problem as it affects Ireland in the cities. I saw a computation made recently which showed that in any case 50,000 houses should be 1474 built in Ireland, and almost as many more restored and made homelike and suitable for living purposes.
Looking at the financial side of the question, I do not think the Government can at present give the same facilities to Ireland in its urban aspect as it gave to Ireland in its rural aspect. When the rural problem was started agriculture was in a very low state. The agricultural labourers were poorly paid, and it was absolutely necessary that the State should come in with some sort of subsidy of a very generous kind. The proposal that I submit to the House now as regards finance is a simple one. The financial proposals in the other housing Bills were based upon rates. The rates referred to large industrial centres in this country. In Ireland, apart from Belfast, there are no such large industrial centres, and it is a significant fact that the rateable value of the great majority of Irish urban areas, is less than £200,000. There are only two places in Ireland where the rateable value is over £200,000. The financial scheme divides itself into two parts. First of all the local authorities must find the money with which to build their houses. When I introduced this scheme in Ireland I was vigorously attacked on all sides because I ventured to state that the Irish local authorities could easily acquire the necessary loans in open market I was pressed to say what I meant by the open market, and I said "the banks."I found there was a good deal of difficulty about that, and I have now arranged with the Treasury that all the urban areas in Ireland shall be able to borrow from the Treasury the necessary amounts for the building schemes if the rateable value of the urban area is less than £200,000. There are only two places—Belfast and Dublin—which will have to go to the open market to acquire the loan, so I do not think there will be any difficulty in regard to that. In Belfast, particularly, you have a very large industrial population, where wages have been very high, and where, I understand, there are deposits in the local banks to the extent of £56,000,000. In Dublin the case is not quite the same. Largely, through no fault of the Dublin people, the housing conditions are very bad. One of my experts in housing, Mr. Cowan, perhaps one of the best known experts in the United Kingdom, told me the other day that 340 out of every 1,000 of the popula- 1475 tion in Dublin lived in one room tenement houses. That, very likely, is not the fault of the people themselves. Every respectable working man is desirous of getting into better surroundings than that, but circumstances and fate have been too much for them, and they are now anxious to get the opportunity such as the Government is now prepared to give to get into better surroundings and to provide a better home for themselves and their families. The rates at Dublin are enormous—16s. 11½d. in the £, and I believe the rate for houses is as high as 6d. in the £. That is a sore burden on the people of Dublin, and if it is absolutely hopeless as far as they are concerned, if they cannot possibly provide or get the money, as I hope they will, in the open market, with the very good security which the Housing Bill provides, I must do my level best to try and approach the Treasury again and see what I can do. I am particularly anxious that in Dublin the housing scheme should proceed apace, and I am hopeful that the Corporation will come forward and do its level best to get this loan.
It will be asked what the Government propose to do if it does not accept as being suitable for Ireland the financial proposals of the other Bills. I have had to consider what is the best line, and I was helped in my consideration by the recommendation of this Committee of the Convention to which I have just referred. That Committee recommended that the Government should come in and give a 50 per cent. subsidy by the payment of 50 per cent. of the loan charges. I think I have gone a little better than that, though it is very handsome and generous. The Government is now prepared to pay not only 50 per cent. of the loan charges, but 50 per cent. of the management and upkeep and various other expenses of the houses. In other words, for every £1 of rent charged and collected for the houses now being built, or which are now being repaired and made habitable, the Government will place another £1.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
If my hon. Friends will look at the Bill, they will find, on page 4, the financial provisions, and at the foot of the italicised paragraph they will see that the money is provided by Parliament, "such part of the loan as may be determined to be so payable under regulations made by the Board, with the 1476 approval of the Treasury, subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by those regulations." I find that neither in th Scottish Bill nor the English Bill are the financial details set forth. My right hon. Friend and other Friends in the House will see that this is the case, and that none of the Bills incorporate the Treasury Agreement. I shall see that the Treasury Agreement is placed before the House on the Money Resolution. I am led to understand that it is the intention to have the Treasury Agreement, as far as finance is concerned, for Scotland, discussed on the Money Resolution, and, consequently, I hope it may not be necessary to enlarge this Bill by the inclusion of what is proposed by the Treasury for Ireland. I shall be glad to give my right hon. Friend particulars of the arrangement come to.
If the House will allow me, I would like to take the Bill Clause by Clause briefly. I think that will be the best way. The first Clause, as the House will see, is merely the adoption of the Act of 1890. Part III. of this Act was adoptive in its character, and the first Clause makes that opportunity good. In regard to Clause 2, the House will see that it is a very short one, and concerns the duty of the local authority to carry the scheme into effect within such time as may be specified in the scheme, or within such further time as may be allowed by the Local Government Board. The Local Government Board have already issued letters to the various local authorities explaining what the scheme should be and what time is given for the preparation of those schemes. I think each local authority is compelled to have schemes prepared and submitted to the Local Government Board before April, 1920. The third Clause is the default Clause of the Bill, and is taken bodily from the English and Scottish Bills. It amounts to this, that if a local authority refuses to exercise the powers conferred by this Bill the Local Government Board can come in and use them to the advantage of the people Clause 4 gives power to act in default of the local authority under Parts I. and II. of the principal Act. I have already dealt with the fifth Clause. The sixth Clause is a very important Clause and a very far reaching one. In the old days it was extremely difficult to get possession of land because one had to examine titles and perforce to undergo a good deal of legal trouble before the land could be acquired. Under this Clause the 1477 procedure is very simple. Notice is given, and within a fortnight occupation of the land may take place and the scheme may proceed. I propose also to include a similar Clause to that which is included in the English and Scottish Bills dealing with slum property and the compensation to be paid to the owners of slum property. Clause 7 gives additional powers as to the acquisition of land, and is an addition to Part III. of the Act of 1890. It extends the powers of that Act, and gives powers to the local authorities much more than they have at present. I do not think there is any other material Clause in the Bill to which I need draw any special attention except Clause 9, which deals with the provision of houses by public utility societies. It is the case that in Ireland at present public utility societies have received assistance from the Government, and this Clause amplifies the power to do so. I understand that a number of houses have been built by public utility associations, and I am hopeful that this Clause by extending and amplifying the powers we have at present will be highly beneficial to the community.
Are they receiving the same financial terms as the local authorities, that is 50 per cent.?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
They are not on the same basis at all, but I will tell my hon. Friend later what is the basis. I think the basis is not nearly so good as that of the local authorities, and it could not possibly be so good. However, I will make further inquiries and let my hon. Friend know. Clause 16 is an Amendment of the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act, which has proved to be a very useful measure. It is highly creditable to the occupiers of small houses that they should so ardently desire to become owners of those houses. In the past the Treasury refused sanction to the acquisition of any house which cost more than £400. It has been forced upon me that the value of money is now quite different, and £400 before the War would be the equivalent of about £800 now. I do not know whether it is the wish of my hon. Friends from Ireland that I should request the Treasury to alter the word "four" and make it "eight hundred." If it is, I will do my level best to meet them, because I was particularly struck by a deputation which I met of working men who were anxious, and they told me so were their 1478 fellow workmen, to be not only the occupiers but the owners of the houses in which they lived.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am told so. The £800 now represents about £400 before the War. I am told that the cost of building has doubled, or in many cases more than doubled. The Treasury in the past was quite willing to sanction £400, and if you want the same class to have the houses now, you will have to go as far as £800, and, as has been pointed out, the Government has never lost a penny under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act. I should be very happy to listen to any criticisms of the Bill. There is no doubt that the housing problem is an urgent one in Ireland, and I should be very glad to get this Bill through as quickly as possible, and I will do my level best to make it as perfect as possible, with the guidance and criticism of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman has pressed on the introduction of this Bill. Something may be ascertained of the backward condition of legislation with regard to the housing of the working classes in Ireland if you turn to the Schedule which, for the first time, brings in certain of the enactments of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1903, which has been fifteen years in force in this country, and also brings in the effective Sections of the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909. Parliament in its wisdom thought that town planning might be all very well for England and Scotland, but that it was a matter that was not at all useful in Ireland. I am very glad my right hon. Friend has taken care to introduce these Sections into the Bill. It is only one more instance of the folly of Ireland not insisting upon having all legislation and the same benefits conferred upon us that are conferred upon the other parts of the United Kingdom. As regards this Bill, my only fear is that it will operate very slowly. Everything has to pass through the Local Government Board. I do not want at all to criticise the Local Government Board, but, having regard to the want of houses in Ireland, if we are to have a really speedy, go-ahead policy, I would ask my right hon. Friend to take care that a very efficient, go-ahead staff is set up ad hocfor this particular purpose at the Local Government Board. You really can- 1479 not have, in a matter of this kind, schemes, costs, finance, contractors, bricks and mortar, and everything else in the present condition of affairs. It cannot be left to the ordinary red-tape methods of Government, and you want really somebody of driving power. I am sure my right hon. Friend will not think that I am making any hostile criticism either upon the Bill or upon the Local Government Board when I say that really everything as regards this Bill and the pushing on of it will depend on what is the motive power and the driving force at the Local Government Board.
As regards the houses, there is one point I am extremely anxious to make and to bring to the notice of my hon. Friend, and that is this: I most earnestly hope that in the selection of sites for these workmen's dwellings you will not select sites for their cheapness, and because they are ugly. I think one of the most miserable things, even where fairly good workmen's dwellings have been erected, is to see them in street after street, dull, uninteresting, with no playground near, and not a particle of garden, or flower, or vegetable, or tree, or anything that would interest the occupants after their day's work or their children as they grow up. I do most earnestly press upon the Government to insist, when their inspectors go to look at these schemes, that they will take care that they are in really healthy places. Take the case of Belfast. I have seen houses—and very good houses—in Belfast which are built in a swamp, which is the wrong place in which to build them. On the other hand, near the Waterworks in Belfast there are 400 houses erected in a most beautiful district, with avenues leading up to them, and with trees and gardens. They are houses fit for anybody to occupy, and it did one good to go into them. What was the secret of those houses? The people who occupy them were the owners. I believe those 400 houses are owned by men in the shipyards, chiefly engaged in Harland and Wolff's, and Workman and Clarke's. I went in and chatted with many of the occupants. They were as proud of those houses as any man might be of a castle, and rightly so. The comfort that was evident there and the furniture generally belonging to those people were worthy of the best in the land.
I think the right hon. Gentleman would do well to see whether as regards the Acquisition of Dwellings Act he cannot extend it much farther. I asked one or 1480 two of the wives of the men who showed me over the houses: "What is the secret? How do you get all these people in these 400 houses, down these avenues, to have such neat gardens and neat window curtains and the whole place having an appearance of prosperity which I have not seen in any other part of the city?" "Oh," they said, "if anyone comes here and does not keep up to the standard of neatness that we have we very soon get rid of them." I also asked this question, which is one I have heard discussed over and over again, "What happens when someone dies?" One man said "I have only just come into this house. The previous tenant died, and there were a dozen applicants, only too willing to pay their deposit and pay off their instalments." That is the kind of thing you want to encourage in a great industrial district. We hear a great deal in this House about the health of the people, and a great deal about liquor traffic and about discontent. I most honestly believe the question of housing is at the back of all these questions. I believe, taking it in a most selfish way for what are called the very wealthy classes, they may very well contribute in any way they are asked to the housing of the people even if nothing more. No matter what your medical arrangements may be, no matter what doctors you may have, no matter what Poor Law system you may have, you cannot expect that there will be good health if there are bad in sanitary houses. I believe the majority of men would rather go home to these houses and settle down for the evening than go into a public-house, squander their money and come home in a bad temper to their wives and families. At the root of the drink question is this question of housing as much as any other, and now that we are starting out on this policy let us not do it as a sort of jerry-building transaction. Let them be really proper houses, and let us not imagine that every inch of ground is a gold mine which has to be purchased at gold-mine prices. I should like to see these houses extend more and more out into the country, and facilities given for electric trams.
I should also like the right hon. Gentleman to consider, although I do not think it is in either the English or the Scottish Bill, whether the employers ought not to be encouraged to build houses, and better houses. One of the things that always struck me, not being in business myself, being merely a professional man, as so 1481 extraordinary, is that the employer of large works, employing a great number of men, will spend any amount of money on an engine-house or a machinery-house of some kind, but he seems to grudge spending it upon the house of the real machine that sets everything else in motion. I suggest whether in connection with utility societies, which I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman has provided for here, there might not be schemes either by the employers or by the men. The men are now beginning in many of these large industries to have a considerable amount of savings, and it would be very well to consider whether you might not have schemes, either by employers or by the men or jointly by the employers and the men, with a view to seeing whether the houses could not be built more quickly and further and further improved.
My one adverse criticism of the Bill is my scepticism as to the finance. I am not at all sure that under the Bill you will get the money. I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman said that in the case of urban districts under £200,000 rateable value, the Government means to advance the money. I think he might very well go the whole way of saying they would advance it in all large districts. I am not for a moment questioning that there is an obligation on Belfast and Dublin to erect their own houses. I regret to introduce what may appear, but really is not in my mind, one word of politics. We are asking the urban authorities of Belfast and Dublin to raise loans. At what price do you think they will be able to raise loans in the present condition of Ireland? The Corporation of Belfast to-morrow issues a loan. Will it be 5 per cent.? You can get an Imperial loan at that. Will you get it at 6 per cent., 7 per cent., or 8 per cent.? Are we going to have an Irish Republic? If so, what is the money being lent for? As long as you have Imperial credit I quite agree you will get the money, but the one thing the right hon. Gentleman was rather optimistic about was when he said you have a number of banks in Belfast, and now I know all the banks of Belfast are united with great banking institutions in this country. He said, "All you have to do is to go to the banks." Good old banks! No, I do not think the banks will be very easily induced at ordinary rates to part with their money to erect these cottages when they do not even know what is going to be the future government of Ireland. It is all very 1482 well if the Imperial Government will say, "Whatever happens, if we cannot get it out of the Corporation, we will back you up," or if they were able to say "good and solid government will be kept up in Ireland." That might be all right, but it is no pessimism on my part that prompts me to make this point, because I feel perfectly certain, when Dublin and Belfast float these loans, they will have very grave difficulty, and I doubt very much whether any banks, except on a very small scale from time to time, and in accordance as schemes are completed, will allow large sums to be advanced on security of this kind in the political circumstances of Ireland. I hope I am wrong. I had a conversation a short time ago with a man who dealt largely in the North of Ireland in iron contracts, and he told me he was about to close his account. He thought things looked so uncertain there. Therefore, I am not optimistic. I may even be coloured by political bias, as the hon. Member (Mr. Devlin) would say—and he is the best judge of that, as he never is. But, be that as it may, there is one thing that he and I will agree upon. We should like to get the money for the purpose, and that is what I am at. I do not want this to be a failure. It is a very serious thing in my Constituency. It is a very grave thing in Belfast. I remember a few years ago people used to say, "There are a lot of mad builders here. The whole place has been overbuilt." There is not a house to be got now for love or money, and the truth of the matter is that Belfast is extending at the rate of about 5,000 a year in population, and if this Bill is a failure, so much the worse for Belfast. I should, therefore, like to see the whole Bill a success, and I throw out these matters not in the least in a spirit of hostile criticism, because I feel grateful that we are having the Bill, and I feel grateful for some of the matters that the right hon. Gentleman has done as regards the Treasury in relation to the Bill. The most advantageous thing we can do is to get it passed as soon as possible, and I hope when it goes into Committee we shall have a sympathetic tribunal which will do the best it can for our country.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I thought the right hon. Gentleman and myself had a sufficiently wide field day last Friday without either his offering the invitation or my accepting it to have another one to-day, because on a matter so vital as the education of 1483 the people one necessarily must have strong views. There is not the slightest necessity to-day for either him or myself to engage either in placid or in violent controversy, because the question of housing is one on which I think we can all agree. Therefore, with regard to the future system of government in Ireland I do not propose to enter into arguments with him. Apart altogether from the almost universal passion that exists in these Islands for a higher, a better, and a nobler standard of life, we must all universally congratulate ourselves upon the high civic instinct, and the ambition to try to create for the toiling masses of these Islands a higher and a better life. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that of all the great social problems which require and are ever pressing on the attention of public-spirited men, this question of housing takes precedence. Bad housing is, in my judgment, at the root of nearly every evil. Good housing is, in my judgment, the inspiration of cleanliness and the development of character and the fashioning of that higher and nobler life which the mass of humanity are aiming at in every intelligent community to-day.
Those of us who have followed the agricultural development of Ireland during the last twenty years, must recognise how splendid is the monument which was erected in Ireland by the passage of the Agricultural Labourers Act. I remember once reading a dispatch by General Buller, when he was sent to Kerry in 1884, to stamp out what was then a great political movement of the Land League. He wrote a letter, in which he asked to be recalled, and in the course of that letter said, "The Land League is the salvation of these people." He said, "Would you believe it? I have seen the East African in his kraal and the Hottentot in his cabin, but I have never seen such appalling conditions as exist in this country"—the horrible slum conditions in which these agricultural labourers were compelled to live. Under the Agricultural Labourers Act, 60,000 labourers' cottages have taken the place of the squalid and scandalous slum dwellings, and what do we see in Ireland? We see these little rural palaces raised up all over the country, beautifying the landscape and being the homes of an almost transformed peasantry. These houses not only give comfort and health and cheerfulness to the inmates, but they exalt and elevate the character of the in- 1484 mates, and they breed a finer generation and inspire a potential manhood that is bound to be the very foundation and bedrock of a great and successful country. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. Give a man a clean, healthy and well-lighted home, and you keep him in his home, instead of sending him out to enjoy the meretricious attractions of a well-lighted public-house. I do not think you can complain or attack working men for rushing into a public-house out of a slum dwelling in one of our large cities, because what do we find? I have in my own Constituency walked into the houses of some of these poor working people. I have seen for a family of five or six a little room upstairs and one downstairs, and a kitchen, and in the kitchen a mother and family engaged in the weekly washing. The children are gathered round, and the man comes home after his day's laborious toil in either the shipyard or other great industry, and this is the sight that presents itself to him. How, under these circumstances, can you inspire sobriety; how can you attract working men to home life? How can you have anything else than the dull, sordid, uninteresting life which the great mass of toilers in the great centres of our industrial life have to undergo?
We want to see in our towns and cities precisely the same results springing from the building of genuinely comfortable and clean dwellings as we have witnessed in the agricultural areas of the land. The condition of the people through improved housing makes also for a sense of responsibility and civic dignity. It creates cleanliness, it gives comfort, it makes home life attractive. I do not make this as an Irish complaint at all. I think democracy all over these islands has the right to make this complaint. But what is, in my judgment, the most vital and pressing of our great social problems has been so long neglected that, although twenty years ago the Irish Housing Act was passed, we have had to wait for twenty years before we have had an opportunity of grappling with this ever insistent demand of the people for a more elevated life in the form of better housing. I would have been glad if the right hon. Gentleman had given a more ample explanation of to why these financial proposals are different from the English financial proposals. The English financial proposals are that, where the local authority strikes a 1d. rate, the State will pay the remainder. I would have 1485 been glad—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will do so later on—if he had explained why similar financial conditions are not being laid down for Ireland. I hope he will let us know whether he is prepared to press for Treasury aid for this Irish scheme, at least as good as that which has been given in England and in Scotland.
I now come to the suggestion made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Duncairn Division (Sir E. Carson) with regard to the appointment of Commissioners. I agree with him thoroughly that there should be a special ad hoc set of Commissioners appointed to carry out this work. The very nature of the case makes the demand urgent, and if you are going to set up old machinery, or machinery fashioned out by an institution like the Local Government Board with antiquated notions, if you are going to burden that Board and its inspectors with a colossal task of this character—for it will be a colossal task to build 50,000 houses at the rate, probably, of 3,000 or 4,000 a year if the thing is efficiently and properly done—I do suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he ought to appoint a special ad hoc set of Commissioners to do this work. I have no doubt he will give very sympathetic consideration to that suggestion. I also agree that it is most important that compulsory powers should be embodied in the measure to enable occupying tenants to buy, and, in the case of new houses built, I think every facility should be given to the occupants of these houses to buy them if they so desire. One of the most eloquent appeals—in fact, it was not one eloquent appeal; it was a series of appeals continuously made by Ministers—was for the well paid working classes to try and save money during the fat years when they are receiving large wages. What could be more inviting or encouraging to a working man who is able to save 5s. or 10s. a week, than to invest it in the ownership of his house, giving him that security which is, in my opinion, an inspiration to thrift in the highest degree, because it is not the healthy character of the house; it is not even that it is built where it is; it is not even that it is an improvement upon old conditions. It is the sense of security that makes the man take a great interest in his home and in his work. If a man has a house, he will say, "This is mine." What is the secret of the splendid growth and development of sobriety and character! 1486 It is the sense of ownership. An Irish tenant no longer feels that if he improves his land the fruits of his labour will go to another. An Irish farmer beautifies his cottage, makes all that is round him bright and cheerful. He can say, "I am doing this for myself and my family." A sense of security is the best asset he has, and a source of encouragement to him to be thrifty, and he ought to have every opportunity extended to him to enable him to acquire his house. The money advanced for this purpose ought to be for sixty-eight and a half years at 2½ per cent., covering principal and interest.
I think also there ought to be—and that is again why I say it is most vital that there ought to be independent Commissioners appointed—greater attention paid to the character of these houses. I am not here to defend the Dublin Corporation and I do not represent it, but I do say that the two great municipalities in Ireland, the Dublin Corporation and the Belfast Corporation, have done as much as civic virtue could inspire men to do to improve the housing in these two great cities. When we hear the Dublin Corporation attacked, we must remember that a year or six months before the Revolution they attempted to raise a loan of their own without any State assistance at all for the purpose of clearing away the squalid slums that so disfigure the life of the metropolis of that country. But the Government would not allow them, owing to the financial exigencies of the War. I venture to say that if they had been allowed to raise the loan at the time, clear away these slums and provide better dwellings for the people, much of the trouble which has arisen since might have been avoided. No municipality in the three kingdoms has done more for housing than the Dublin Corporation.
The Belfast Corporation also has done its duty in this matter, though I must say my experience of the houses built by the Belfast Corporation does not inspire me to believe that sufficient thought is given to the character of these dwellings. I do not think there is any difference of opinion about that. I am not saying that it is the Corporation's fault, but I know that in my Constituency, where something like 300 or 400 houses have been built, in one house I was in during my election while canvassing, I found there was not even a back yard to this house or any sanitary accommodation of any sort or kind. It was the 1487 last house in a row of new houses. I do not know the cause of it, but I must say that when I went into these houses one by one I thought they might have been far bigger and I marvelled at the life these people live. They were all mill-workers, mostly women, and a great many widows of men who had gone to the War and were killed. Yet the mere fact that they were in the houses, though there was some discomfort, the great cleanliness encouraged me to believe that if you build decent houses for the people, if you only give them a chance when they come home at night from their work to see a clean and cheerful habitation in which to spend an evening with their children, it would be one of the most precious pieces of legislation that was ever fashioned in any country in the world.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I have brought the hon. Member, I am glad to say, into agreement with me, but, of course, being an Englishman, he is keeping his eye on the moneybox.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I am not sure, though, as to what is the capacity in which he sits. In the one capacity he will probably find that he has been the sole custodian of the Treasury in this House. To return to the housing. In these houses there ought to be three small bedrooms, if possible, a little parlour, and, again if possible, some sort of garden. Who can justify the conditions existing in our great urban communities when it is said that there are children up to eleven and twelve years of age who have never seen a blade of grass? [An Hon. Member: "Oh!"] Yes, that is so. They have never been brought out of these districts, out of the narrow streets where they have no place to play. When I go around London, one of the finest things, in my judgment, that the London County Coucil has done is that wherever they can get a piece of vacant ground they grow flowers upon it. Wherever they build houses they make it a point to see that there is a garden for the children, or a playground adjacent. My experience of the building of houses 1488 in Ireland is that those concerned rush up a series of commonplace buildings which look like one great workhouse. There are neither flowers, nor green grass, nor anything of beauty to teach the eye or to inspire the imagination of the children with a sense of what is beautiful. This ought to be a Bill not only to rush people into rooms where they can live and sleep, but it should be one for the purpose of making the whole surroundings a thing of beauty, an attraction, a fascination, something which will make those who live in the houses believe that, after all, we are not engaged in camouflage when, in Parliament or outside, we say to the people that we want to make these Islands lands for heroes to live in. We cannot put up a real place for heroes where there is an absence of cleanliness and good sanitation. You require sweetened home conditions and beauty, and where these things are absent heroism will not spring up until we realise that we will have failed to discharge the first functions for which we were sent to Parliament.
That is all I desire to say, because, like the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, I have no desire to do other than to expedite any genuine attempt to solve this problem. The Bill will now go before a Committee of the House. We shall be there able to discuss it in all its details, and in a calmer atmosphere than the right hon. Gentleman and myself enjoyed in our peregrinations through the various Clauses of the Proportional Representation Bill. After all, this Bill proposes to do some work of public utility. I do not believe that this Parliament has any right to legislate for Ireland at all. I am not here to do any good. I am here to prevent mischief. But if I see a good thing for Ireland, or anything that will benefit my country, I will support it, pending the time when the Fourteen Points of President Wilson will be recognised by the members of the Coalition Government. Until we realise that we have fought for the right of small nations to fashion their own destinies—until that time comes—I am not going to allow my Constituents in Belfast to live under sordid conditions in squalid slums if I get the opportunity of giving them better homes, and improved human conditions, thus creating a higher and a finer life, and giving them the advantage of enjoying some of the things which Providence ordained they should have. These have been denied to them by the iniquitous, economic 1489 and industrial system under which they have been crushed down. So long as I have the opportunity here or elsewhere of rendering the service I suggest, I shall be prepared to render it.
§ Major O'NEILL
It is possible that some English Members who are listening to this Debate may put down the unusual measure of agreement with which we, the Irish Members, have approached this Bill, to the fact that it is a Bill which is to provide British money for the advancement of an Irish cause. I, for one, do not quarrel with the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken when he welcomed that state of affairs. We in Ireland are always agreed when the British Treasury feel themselves able to come forward and advance by financial help a measure such as this, which is of real benefit to the people of the country. Both my right hon. and learned Friends, the Member for the Duncairn Division and the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, referred to the fact that good housing is one of the most important and vital necessities, for a contented and happy population. They further acknowledged, which is an un-controvertible fact also, that bad housing and bad conditions, people living under conditions which are not fit for animals, and in houses which should be condemned by every decent member of society—conditions such as these are the breeding ground of discontent and much else from which to-day many countries are suffering. Not only is bad housing largely responsible for the drink evil, not only is it largely responsible for other evils of that character, but it is largely at the back of that greater evil, Bolshevism, and the extreme Socialism which is stalking through Europe to-day, and is causing so much difficulty, not only to the Government of this nation, but to the Governments of nearly every civilised nation of the world.
There is one point in regard to this Bill on which I shall be glad if the right hon. Gentleman in charge of it will give me some attention. The first Clause provides for the adoption of Part III. of the principal Act of 1890 by every urban district or town in Ireland. I want to know what is the position of a town not having the status to have town commissioners, or an urban district council? There are many large villages in Ireland much larger than the average village in this country, but not large enough to have an urban district council. I know many in my part of the country. In some of these places the 1490 housing conditions are as bad or worse than they are even in the larger centres of population. If we are going to have Housing Bills such as this, upon a large and comprehensive scale dealing with the question of housing in the Irish urban districts I say that the Bill is not complete and it does not carry to a logical conclusion its full functions unless it contains some means whereby these smaller places, which are not villages and not towns, which have a population of anything between 500 and 2,000 can benefit and the disgusting hovels in which human beings now live in these places are swept away and new houses put up.
The size of this problem has been referred to by the last speaker, who was a member of the Housing Committee of the Convention. He gave the number of houses required. But the Convention Report stated that the houses required throughout Ireland in the urban districts were not 50,000 but 67,000, and they put down the cost at £27,000,000. That shows the immense size of this problem. Perhaps it will bring it forth even more strikingly if I mention a matter which appeared in the Report of the Local Government Board for Ireland for 1918. This gives the total number of loans which have been advanced for housing purposes in Ireland since the passing of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890. The Report states:Since 1890 the total amount raised by loan for this purpose has been £1,638,950.So that in this one Bill, if it is to carry out its express object, we propose to spend more, thirteen and a half times as much, upon housing as has been spent in Ireland during the whole of the intervening period since 1890. That is an enormous proposition. I should have very grave doubts whether it could possibly be done by any Bill were it not for the fact that this Bill contains two attributes not contained in any previous Housing of the Working Classes Bill. First of all, it provides financial aid, as we have heard. Secondly, it contains a mandatory provision in respect to local authorities, to which reference has also been made. I hope, and believe, in spite of the fact that we have had Housing of the Working Classes Bills before, that these Bills have passed this House, and that in all the years during which they have been in operation we can only at the end see ourselves faced with this appalling problem both in Ireland and 1491 Great Britain, that there will be a greater hope for the future of this Bill by reason of these two provisions—financial aid and mandatory powers—that the local authority shall do their duty. The finance of the Bill is, of course, by far its most important aspect. I should like to ask the Chief Secretary one or two questions, and for more details than he has given when he spoke. One of the principal difficulties troubling the minds of those taking an interest in this matter was where the money was to be borrowed. As my right hon. Friend stated, borrowing money by local authorities now, under present conditions, would not be an easy matter. We are now told that the amount is going to be advanced by the Treasury—
§ Major O'NEILL
Yes, upon loans by the Treasury. At what rate of interest will it be? I presume that question cannot be answered, but I expect it cannot be less than 5 per cent. What is to be the date of these loans? Then, quite apart from where the money is to be got, there is the equally important question as to how, when it has been obtained by the local authorities, it can be expended as a commercial proposition. We know it cannot be a commercial proposition under the present condition of affairs, with the great increase in the cost of labour and the rate of interest on money. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that the Treasury propose, first of all, to help the local authorities with regard to the service of these loans to the extent of 50 per cent. I take it that would be an annual payment.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
As far as the Treasury are concerned, there are two conditions. First of all, in regard to these local authorities, where the rateable value is less than £200 it loans the money. Secondly, for every £1 of rent charged by the local authorities the Treasury puts down another £1.
§ Major O'NEILL
Then the amount of the rent goes in payment of the service of the loan? It is an annual payment, and a payment of 50 percent. of the rent received from these houses every year. So far, so good. I do not agree with the hon. Member for the Falls Division (Mr. Devlin) that this financial arrangement is less favourable than the one contained in the English Bill. If anything I think it is more favourable, and I thank the Chief Secretary for 1492 the way in which he has successfully approached the Treasury on this matter. We must not forget one point about the finance of these Bills, and it is that it seems to me most undesirable that this question of housing should ever come to be regarded as a question which cannot, under any circumstances, be self-supporting and pay its own way. If the Treasury give help, as they are doing, I think that that help should be recognised as a special payment to meet the unprecedented conditions which now exist and to meet an unforeseen and extraordinary state of affairs which has arisen out of the War. As that state of affairs passes away I do feel that the building question in Ireland should eventually be able to go back to be a commercial proposition so that it can be carried on in the future without the necessity for Government aid. I do not believe that you will ever get a really successful condition of Government housing for the people in any country so long as it depends upon Government doles for its success, and you will never get private enterprise to enter the building trade and put up houses so long as the matter is an utterly uncommercial undertaking dependent upon Government aid. I feel that for the future it is most vital that these rates should be framed upon such a scale that they will enable private builders to undertake building propositions as a commercial business, and that eventually you may restore the building trade, which is, of course, a private enterprise, and which a Bill such as this for the time being has utterly killed.
I wish to echo what the hon. Member for the Falls Division has stated about the type of the houses. I believe the Convention recommended two types and that the bulk of the houses should be self-contained with two or three bedrooms, a kitchen and scullery, and a bathroom, and the other class was to be slightly better with a parlour. That, I presume, will be the basis upon which the houses will be built, and those kind of houses to-day are not going to cost less than £400. I was going to mention an economic rent on that point, but I am afraid that would be trespassing upon the financial part of the Bill. Apart from the type of the house inside I also hope that the Government will consider the architectural qualities of these houses. Ireland is a country of many wonderful attributes. My hon. Friend who has just spoken drew a wonderful picture of a peaceful, contented, happy, and pros- 1493 perous rural population enjoying the great benefits which have been bestowed upon them by the beneficial legislation of a British Parliament in passing such Acts as the Labourers Acts and the Land Purchase Acts. He drew a most eloquent picture of all that; in fact, if any foreigner or any stranger unconnected with the world as it is at the present time had been in the House at that moment he might have thought, of all countries in the world, here at least we had come to the ideal spot where the people were spending their days in repose and quietude. Those of us who know Ireland will realise that the picture he painted was possibly not quite an accurate description of the state of affairs as they exist to-day in Ireland.
§ Major O'NEILL
I merely refer to a picture which has been painted, partly by the hon. Member opposite and partly by myself, and I am merely referring to it on the question of architecture in Ireland. In spite of all this wonderfully contented population I do not think there is any country in Western Europe in which the architecture of the bulk of the houses to be seen is so utterly bad as it is in Ireland. I have travelled in most parts of Europe, in North and South America, and in the East, and I have never seen in any civilised country so little decent architecture as is to be seen in Ireland.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Has the hon. and gallant Member ever seen the houses built by the Wexford Town Council?
§ Major O'NEILL
I am speaking of the average Irish village, and I will go further and say that the average Irish farmhouse is a creation of hideosity such as it would be difficult to find in any part of the world. You find a plain slate roof with a single gable and a door, with one window on one side and one on the other. It is a curious thing, but I suppose it is that the people, for some reason or other, do not care about having their houses really looking decent outside.
§ Major O'NEILL
I hope that as a result of this Bill houses will be built which, as far as it can be done, will to some extent cure this architectural deficiency from which Ireland suffers more than any other 1494 country in Europe. It is necessary when we have built these houses and when we have got the people to live in them that they should be properly kept. I think, it is most important that the women who are to be the housewives and who have to live in these houses should know how to keep them. We all know that when we go into some workers' cottages you find one clean, spick-and-span, neat, and well looked after, the pots and pans clean, and the floors well washed. You go into another cottage next door—
§ Mr. PARKINSON
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I want to know are we washing the floors of these dwellings or listening to a discussion on this Bill?
§ Major O'NEILL
I was referring to the difference which all of us have noticed when we go into working-class houses between one person's house and another. In some you do find everything clean, whilst in the next house there may be a man with the same income, and you find things in a very different state, everything dirty, and the house altogether in a state in which it should not be. Therefore, I feel that it is important, whilst providing these houses, that measures should be taken in our educational system, or in whatever way it can be done, to keep the houses decent, and make them houses which are really worth living in. The whole of Ireland has been taking an interest in this Bill, and, of all the reconstructive measures that have been brought forward, none has excited more interest or greater hopes than this scheme, and I sincerely trust, when the Bill becomes law, it will be carried out under the authorities set up by the Local Government Board, who should do nothing else, and, if all that comes about, I believe, as a result of this Bill, you will have done something to hasten the day when at last we shall have peace in Ireland, and, at any rate, you will benefit the working classes of that country.
§ Mr. E. KELLY
It would have been of great assistance to the House if, before this Bill came on for Second Reading, the Chief Secretary could have supplied us with explanatory statements such as 1495 have been supplied by the President of the Local Government Board in the case of the English Bill. Those statements contained a very large amount of information. One, for instance, gave an estimate of the probable expenditure, another gave details of the financial assistance to public utility societies and housing trusts, a third gave the financial assistance to local authorities, and a fourth gave a statement of the procedure under the existing Housing Acts and the effect of the proposed Amendments with regard to housing and town planning. Those statements were very necessary, and very helpful in the case of the English Bill, where so much was simply referred to the Local Government Board. The same procedure is being followed in the case of the Irish Bill, and such assistance is no less necessary to enable us to understand the true purport and tendency of its Clauses. I defy anyone to have the remotest inkling of the real purpose of the financial Clauses in the Bill without some such fairly complete explanatory statement. I hope, therefore, that the Chief Secretary will see his way to supply us with similar statements at as early a date as possible, and, at any rate, before the Committee stage of the Bill. The great fault that I have to find with the way that this Bill has been fashioned is the want of certainty in which it leaves the local authorities. Contrast the position of an Irish local authority with that of an English or Scottish local authority The President of the English and Scottish Local Government Boards is in a position practically to say to the English and Scottish local authorities, "Go home and levy a penny rate, and we will do the rest. You contribute the proceeds of your penny rate to your housing scheme, and all the deficit will be borne by the Treasury."
This Bill, of course, makes it obligatory on the various local authorities to carry out housing schemes, and the threat is held over their heads that if they do not do so the Local Government Board will come down and do it for them. These penal Clauses are very stringent. Therefore, a duty is cast upon the local authorities, and they are bound to carry out that duty. I submit that the path should be made as easy as possbile for them, and that they should be given all the financial certainty possible. That financial certainty is given to the local authorities in England and Scotland. They levy their 1496 penny rate and go ahead with their housing schemes, and they know the extent to which their local finance will be affected, no matter how large the housing scheme may turn out to be, no matter what unforeseen expenditure may be involved, and no matter to what length they may be led in providing housing accommodation and perhaps in engaging in some moderate scheme of town planning. Such certainty has been denied to all the Irish authorities, and it is a very great blot on the Bill. What does the financial proposal of the hon. Gentleman really amount to when it is boiled down? We are driven every time to contrast our finance with the finance in the year 1913–14. The real effect of this Bill is to put the Irish authorities in a position to borrow money from the Treasury and to make them responsible for the repayment of the whole sum. Houses which cost £250 in 1913–14 cost £500 to-day. The Treasury come in and say that they will pay half the cost of the repayment of that loan. First of all, the local authority has to apply for the loan on the terms of to-day, which are double the terms of 1913. The Treasury then offer to pay half the interest, thereby placing the local authorities in the same position as if in 1913 the Treasury had said to them that they were willing to lend them the money, say, at 5 per cent. outside the sinking fund. I do not think that is a very great concession, or that it would have been regarded as a very great concession in 1913, if the Government had then lent the local authorities money at the current market rate of interest to build houses for the working classes. I do not think it would have been a very great concession then, and I do not regard it as a very great concession in these days of inflation—an inflation which has been deliberately and steadfastly produced by the Government themselves—for the Government to say that they will assist the local authorities to undo some of the mischief which they themselves have been perpetrating ever since the War started.
I should like the Chief Secretary to make it clear if the Treasury contribution towards the repayment of the loan is to continue until the loan is completely paid off. He has already been requested to state the terms and duration of these loans. He is, of course, aware of the very generous terms granted to the local authorities in the case of both the English and Scottish Bills, and that the period of repayment has been lengthened to an 1497 extent which we must all admit is most generous, and which is the utmost that any local authority could request. I am not at all sure that the financial terms which have been offered to the Irish authorities by the Chief Secretary can at all compare with those offered to the English and Scottish local authorities. The Chief Secretary believes that the Treasury have given us better terms than they have given to England and Scotland. We have heard of the Treasury lucky bag before, and we Irish Members are accustomed to find out that these golden promises do not fructify. There is some revision of regulations, or something that was overlooked, or something that was understood in a different way by the people who were giving and by those who were getting. Take, for instance, the case which will be characteristic of a great many Irish towns. Let us suppose that an ordinary Irish urban district finds that it needs to build fifty houses. Taking those houses at £500 each, that urban district will have to apply for a loan of £25,000. The interest on that sum at the lowest rate without any sinking fund will be £1,250. I take the rent of each house at £10, because that is the rent which seems to be contemplated for a £500 house in the English financial proposals. Those fifty houses at a rent of£10 each produce £500. The Treasury put down another £500, making £l,000. There is, therefore, a deficit of £250 on the interest alone. Can we hope to raise that at a less rate than 5 per cent. May we not expect to have to pay a higher rate? Then is there not ½, ¾, or 1 per cent. for sinking fund to be added? How is this deficit of £250, of perhaps £300, or £400, to be met? I presume that it will have to be met out of the rates.
§ Mr. E. KELLY
The remark of the right hon. Gentleman shows the difficulty in which the House is placed by having rather intricate financial statements made verbally when they might just as easily have been put on paper and hon. Members have been given time to digest them. I understand that 50 per cent. of the loan charges will be paid by the Treasury, and that the local authorities will pay the other 50 per cent.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
If a house cost £500, 15s. per week, including payment of loan charges, interest, management and so on, would be a good rent if an ordinary builder had built it. The occupier of the house will pay 7s. 6d. per week and the State will come in and pay the remaining 7s. 6d., so that the ratepayers will not pay a single penny.
§ Mr. KELLY
I am still not clear in my mind that the Treasury contribution plus the rent of the occupant will exceed the interest, the sinking fund, and all the charges, but I will not pursue the question any further as no doubt it will be elucidated when the figures which are promised are forthcoming.
§ Mr. KELLY
There is one other point in regard to which I would like to join in the appeal which has been made by the right hon. and learned Member for the Duncairn Division (Sir E. Carson). There is a total omission from the Bill of any town-planning Clauses. The only reference to town planning is in the Schedule, which enables the Lord Lieutenant, by Order in Council, if he thinks fit, to enact for Ireland certain Sections of the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909. That Act is not obligatory, and a Section enabling the Lord Lieutenant to bring it into force is not obligatory, so that when we examine it we find that in drafting the Bill town planning has almost disappeared altogether. I have looked at the Sections of the Housing and Town Planning Act which maybe incorporated in this Bill, and I think there is only one contained in the Act of 1909, and a very weak Section at that. It provides that any local authority, in connection with the exercise of them by their powers under Part III. of the principal Act, may lay out and construct public streets or roads on land acquired or appropriated by them for the purpose, or may contribute to the laying-out and construction of such streets and roads.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I think that is contained in the Schedule. Certainly other Sections are being made applicable in this case.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Sections 2 to 3, 5 to 7, 14 to 29, and 36 to 51. I shall be happy to give my hon. Friend full particulars.
§ Mr. KELLY
I am very glad to hear that. I had it always in my mind that this was a suitable opportunity for dealing with a matter like this, and I have thought that on the Second Reading the House should have an opportunity of expressing its opinion thereon. I should like to direct the attention of the House to what has been done in France with regard to town planning. A law was passed there as recently as March last, making it compulsory in every town with a population of 10,000 and upwards to go in for town-planning schemes, to make new roads, and to determine the extent and disposition of public gardens, playing-fields, parks, open spaces, and so on. The provision also applies to holiday and seacoast resorts, health resorts, and other places in which the population is increased by 50 per cent. or more at certain periods of the year. In order to further encourage towns to adopt this Act, and to make the most of it, the French law provides that the whole coat of these plans shall be borne by a central authority. Now, reference has already been made by hon. Members to the ugliness of Irish houses and Irish towns. Hon. Members who know Ireland will recognise that many of their finest seaside resorts are made exceedingly ugly and have become eyesores, owing to the houses having been built in a straggling manner by any investor in a piece of land at his own caprice and in all varieties of style. An opportunity is given by the introduction of this Bill, which should be seized upon in order that we may prevent this thing going any further, and that, if possible, some coherent scheme may be adopted for all seaside resorts and all cities, so that the mistakes of the past may be avoided in the future, and the development of our towns may proceed on the most business-like and artistic style.
I need not say that we on these benches join in the appeal that has been made by the right hon. Member for Duncairn (Sir E. Carson), that Dublin and Belfast should be included in the scope of this Bill. With regard to Dublin, there is only one argument which need be put forward, and that is the fact that the rates are 16s. 6½d. in the £, and how a board of directors of a modern banking 1500 company could accept the security of the municipal body in view of those high rates, is almost a mystery to me. I must say that several Irish banks were approached in order to ascertain how they would view applications from municipal bodies for loans, and they one and all declared that it was a class of business they would not engage in, and that it was not really such a commercial enterprise as should be put before a modern bank. Unless the Treasury and the Chief Secretary can see their way to come to the assistance of the great municipalities of Dublin and Belfast I am afraid that the housing scheme will prove a dead letter. I am certain that neither the Local Government Board nor the right hon. Gentleman want to be forced by the provisions of this Act to assume the functions of the Dublin Corporation with regard to this question of housing.
§ Captain DIXON
I welcome this Bill as one of the greatest Bills ever brought in for Ireland in our time. I need not refer to the benefit it will bring to individuals in Ireland. That has been painted in most eloquent colours by my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Carson) as well as by my hon. Friend the Member for the Falls Division of Belfast (Mr. Devlin). This Bill will add to the comfort, happiness and prosperity of everyone in Ireland. It will do more; in advancing money to carry out its provisions, England will perhaps be offered one of the finest investments which she ever made. I go so far as to say that England would be well edvised, purely as a business investment to give the poorer parts of Dublin and Belfast 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 pounds absolutely free. I am satisfied that if the antecedents of the men who have committed crimes in Ireland during the past twenty years were looked into, it would be found that they had been born in wretched slums. This Bill is intended to do away with those slums, and thereby to breed a race of men who will have a sense of responsibility to the State. But there is one criticism I would like to make, and it is on the financial side of the Bill. We are entering into enormous engagements, for I believe the actual amount of money required at the present moment to carry out housing schemes in Ireland is £40,000,000. For the City of Belfast alone, £5,000,000 is required according to the finance of this Bill. Dublin and Belfast are to raise the money they require locally through the banks. Curiously enough the 1501 actual bank balances now in Belfast amount to £5,000,000, and if this money is advanced by the bankers, not a single farthing will be left free in Belfast for the ordinary calls of trade. I do not think this Bill will be the success we hope it will be unless the Treasury come forward and advance the money—or at any rate secure it.
I would like to put forward an idea for the consideration of my right hon. Friend, and it is this. At the present moment there are immense sums of money in Ireland uninvested. The money has been made by the farmers and small traders who have been led to believe that it is wrong to invest anything in British securities. But I am satisfied that if these men could be convinced that the money they put into a loan for this housing purpose would be spent on Irish houses, and used for Ireland only, they would, instead of allowing their money to lie idle in the bank, be glad to invest it for this purpose. I throw that suggestion out, because there is an immense amount of money in Ireland which can be used for Ireland, if the people can only be convinced that it will be used for Ireland and Ireland only. There is another point with regard to town planning. Not only should the local authorities build houses, but they should not cover open spaces. They should preserve all possible and convert them into small parks. Money should certainly be advanced for that purpose. In my own Constituency—an immense labour district in close proximity to Harland and Wolff's, the land is being very rapidly built over. But there are some small spaces and corners left, and I think every one of these should be seized upon now, and made into a small park or garden. Not only do the working classes need good houses, but they want open air spaces for their children. It is absolutely deplorable, when one gets into the slum parts of our cities—and Belfast is not perhaps so bad as many other cities—to see some of the places where children live—children who, it may be, till they are ten or twelve years of age, never see a blade of grass. I would like to press upon my right hon. Friend that it is essential for the Treasury to advance money if this Bill is to be a success, and if it is to be that, as it will, it will prove a magnificent investment for English capital.
§ 6.0. P.M.
I am very glad to have this opportunity, the first I have had of addressing this House, of speaking on the subject of providing houses for the working classes. I have no doubt whatever, when some of us speak here on the question of the working classes, there is a feeling in some minds that we are seeking to make sure of the working-class vote in our own Constituencies. But I have been connected very intimately with the working classes all my life. I thought I knew them. I have got to know them better during the past five years. I have spent three and a half years with them in France and Belgium, and I yield to no man in my appreciation of the merits of the working man, and of what he deserves at the hands of this nation. When this House has done everything it considers it ought to do and it thinks that it has dealt generously with the working man, I feel inclined to say that they have not done half they ought to for the heroes whom we left in the countries beyond. The provision of houses for the working classes is one of the most certain of temperance reforms that could possibly be imagined or devised. It has been said that these homes are not attractive and that provision is made for outside attractions. Here we are given an opportunity to provide some counter-attraction to the public-house in the home. I believe that if temperance reformers for the past thirty years had spent all their life and energies in providing some counter-attraction to the public-house, this country would not be in the state it is in to-day on the drink question. Here is the opportunity for the Government of the United Kingdom. I am glad that the opportunity is being taken now to provide homes in which it will be possible for the people to live in peace and comfort.
There are one or two points in connection with the Bill to which I should like to refer. A good deal has been said about the finance of the measure. I hope that the Government will deal generously with us on this occasion. I have no doubt that some hon. Members wonder what is the matter when we are having an Irish Debate without breaking each others heads. We are all agreed on this subject, and for the purpose of marking their appreciation of the common sense of Irishmen on all sides on this question the Government ought to make it a red-letter day in the history of Ireland by coming out handsomely and 1503 generously in the matter of the finance of this Bill. It is difficult to understand the proposal in Clause 5, Sub-section (1), which says:The Board may, if the scheme is carried out within such period as may be specified by the Board, with the consent of the Treasury, pay, or undertake to pay, to the local authority, out of moneys provided by Parliament, such part of the loss as may be determined to be so payable under regulations made by the Board.What we want to try to do in Committee, and what I hope we shall succeed in doing, is to place it beyond question how this money will be supplied. The possibility of a loss is being discussed by the councils. Some of the councils will want to know about the finance. Some of the urban councils in the past have borrowed money for this purpose. I am not referring to such places as Belfast or Dublin, but to some of the smaller urban areas. Some of those areas, which I know very well, have taken the matter in hand, but it has been at such a cost that the rents of the houses received from the people who occupy them do not cover the cost of the outlayor the interest thereon. They will be asking themselves the question, "How are we to be financed? Is it to be a burden on the rates in the future, as it is at present in regard to the houses we have already built?" It is only reasonable that the finance of the Bill should be made perfectly plain to these urban councils. Another point not yet touched upon which ought to be considered by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, is that there are some urban councils who have provided their areas with an excellent water supply up to a certain point. Everyone of us will agree that the water supply of the houses we propose building under this scheme is most essential. It is necessary that everything that can be done should be done thoroughly and in an up-to-date fashion. For the sake of the health of the people who may occupy these houses that is absolutely necessary. But the water supplies that were laid on at considerable cost twenty-five or thirty years ago by certain urban areas are not sufficiently powerful at the present moment to supply an additional quantity of water to their particular areas. If they undertake the burden, as they must do under this Bill, of increasing the number of houses in that area, and consequently of increasing the supply of water which would be necessary for those houses, the result will be that the water 1504 supply will be taxed beyond its utmost limit. Any urban council with business ideas and characteristics, and which holds that anything done under this Bill ought to be done well, in the first place, will ask, "What about the water supply for these houses? We are at the utmost limit at the present moment, and if we add 300, 400, or 500 houses, our water supply will break down." I know of one particular case myself where there is an ample reservoir in the largest lake in the United Kingdom. But they must have a pumping station. They placed a reservoir on the highest point of the district. The first thing that an urban council will ask itself is, "What about the additional supply of water? What about the additional power required?" In other words, what about the expenditure on the additional pumping machinery that will be necessary for that supply? When the Government come to the consideration of the finance of this Bill they will have to be careful that expenditure on houses is not the only thing to be borne in mind, but also the sanitary conditions of the houses and, consequent upon that, the water supply. If it is necessary for any urban area to provide additional pumping machinery for its supply of water to these houses, it is only fair and reasonable to include such outlay in the cost of the erection of these houses. I hope the Government will look into that question when they come to consider the financial aspect of the Bill.
There is another aspect of the matter to which I would like to refer. I dare say that some hon. Members noticed two questions in to-day's Question Paper, both of which had reference to floods—one to the flooding of mines and the other the serious and dangerous floods which have recently taken place in a part of Hackney owing to the overflow of the River Lea, causing many premises to become unfit for human habitation. What was the reply? That some engineers were at work at this moment on the overflowing of that river, and the consequent loss of property and to the people who inhabited those houses. In my Constituency we have the River Bann. For upwards of fifty or sixty years we have been agitating and trying to get the Government to assist us to drain the flooded areas caused by the overflowing of its banks by the Bann, one result of which, apart from the loss to cereals and wheat crops, is the serious deterioration in the health of the people who live in that district When some of the Debates took 1505 place in the House on the food question I thought of between 30,000 and 40,000 acres of land that were constantly being flooded there because of the rising of the River Bann in the autumn and the smallness of the expenditure that would have been necessary to put the matter right, and I wondered when the attention of the Government and those resposible would be turned to that point. My object in raising this point at this time is because of the houses that are situated in this area. I was very much disappointed when I saw in the paper the other day that a deputation desired to wait upon the Chief Secretary for Ireland concerning the flooding of these 40,000 acres by the River Bann, and the report stated that he refused to see the deputation. I hope it is not true. I would like the House to compare the way in which the question has been met in England with regard to the flooding of these houses on this river with the way in which the Government have met it in Ireland. I hope that the Chief Secretary will put his mind to this question also. Sometimes in this House we begin at the wrong end of the stick. I have no doubt whatever that if the vast sums of money which have been spent on sanatoria for the cure of consumption had been spent on new houses for the working men, very much less money might have been spent on the sanatoria themselves. The money has been spent on these large buildings to try to cure those who have come from the squalidness and the wretchedness of these houses. Spend the money in pulling down these houses and putting up new ones for them, and you will do good work. I hope with all my heart that this measure, which I am glad to say has the blessing, for once, of every Member from Ireland who is in the House at present, will be passed. I have no doubt whatever that the House generally sympathises with this Bill, and I believe it will have an easy passage. Again I would like to impress upon the Chief Secretary the necessity of pressing the Treasury to act generously for once with Ireland on this question, and I am perfectly certain that if he does so he will receive the thanks of a grateful nation.
§ Captain REDMOND
Perhaps I may be allowed to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down upon the extremely patriotic and, if I may say so, common-sense utterance which we have heard from him for the first time in this House. I feel sure that it will not 1506 be the last, and I hope that on every other occasion when he addresses the House he will be in consonance with the party to which I belong as much as he is on the present occasion. I do not desire at all to enter upon grounds already traversed by hon. Members from all parts of Ireland I am as much in agreement with the general principle of this Bill, and as ardent a supporter of the principle of proper and immediate amelioration for the working classes in regard to better housing in Ireland, as is any other Irish Member, and representing, as I do, an urban constituency which requires as much attention in this regard as any other portion of my country, I am naturally most anxious and desirous that this Bill should be made as good and as profitable a Bill for Ireland as possible, and that it should be expedited in every possible way to the Statute Book. But there are one or two matters upon which I wish to make a more or less personal appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. I want to place before him, as I feel sure has already been placed before him by the local authorities concerned, the case of local councils or authorities who during the course of the War have themselves made provision for the housing of the working classes in their districts. This Bill is mainly to enable local authorities to recoup any annual loss which they shall undergo by reason of the increased cost of building materials, and of labour, and of every other means of erecting dwelling-houses for the working classes. As far as I am aware, there are only four local authorities in Ireland who, from the commencement of the War till the present time, have done anything in that regard, one of them being the city of Waterford, which I represent, and the appeal that I want to make to the right hon. Gentleman is to ask him if he cannot see his way to make this Bill and this scheme retrospective as from the commencement of the War, in order not to penalise those local authorities who have fulfilled their duty and their obligation, and not only done so, but done so at increasing cost year by year since the War commenced? As he is probably aware, these schemes were approved of at the commencement of the War. The loans were made, and the burden was taken by the local ratepayers on their own shoulders. What is the result now? It is that if this Bill is not made retros- 1507 pective in their regard, which I can hardly believe, as it is really a matter of such small consequence, these very councils and local authorities, including the Waterford Corporation, will be in a worse position to-day than they would have been if they had not advanced an inch along the path of progress, but had simply waited for something to turn up and had then come along with the rest of the country to take advantage of the present housing scheme I ask the Chief Secretary, and I cannot see how he can disagree, if that is fair? After all, the amount required to meet these cases is very small, and if the Treasury will not be prepared to advance that amount now, I say that they are behaving in a very niggardly fashion, as of course they have nearly always done in regard to Ireland, and in a fashion which shows them up, because if these local authorities had not taken the step that they did, the Treasury would not have to fork out under the Chief Secretary's scheme a considerable amount more than even I am asking them to do now. This Bill is, boiled down, nothing but a recognition that the proper housing of the Irish people is a State obligation which no longer should rest upon the shoulders of the local people only, and, that being so, I feel confident that if the Chief Secretary will investigate these cases he will come to the conclusion that he will bring all his powerful influence at any rate—and I hope that he has got some—upon the British Treasury to assist these enterprising authorities to the same extent as they are now going to assist authorities who for one reason or another have done nothing in the meanwhile.
As regards the general finance of the Bill, I must say that I think, agreeing this time with the right hon. and learned Member for Duncairn (Sir E. Carson), that we should have been left in Ireland in precisely the same position as was mapped out for England. Why not let us strike a 1d. in the £ in Ireland, and let the British Treasury come along and supply the deficit? They have done that in England, and, for one reason or another—I perhaps need not mention why—they say this rule shall apply to England, but where Ireland is concerned the British Treasury must close its fist. Think of what the British Treasury is getting out of Ireland. Many hon. Members in this House remember the time of the passage of the Home Rule Act, 1508 when the revenue in Ireland was actually less than the expenditure in that country. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), who fought that Bill Clause by Clause, will certainly recollect that provision was actually made, and is in existence still in the Home Rule Act for the time when the revenue in Ireland would be greater than the expenditure, that not being so only a few years ago. What about the state of affairs to-day? The revenue in Ireland, according to your own most up-to-date statistics, is now at least twice as great as the expenditure of all sorts, kinds, and descriptions in that country.
§ Captain REDMOND
I am not going to debate that question with him now. It may be the result of war, if that is what he calls good government. But, at any rate, be it the result of what it may, that is neither here nor there. The fact is that the revenue derived from Ireland now is more than twice the expenditure, and that being so, I do not see why the Treasury in this case should not treat Ireland fairly. In this case all Irish Members are agreed. Not a single Member returned from Ireland is not in favour of a broad, wide, generous, and immediate Grant from the Treasury for Irish housing, and in this instance more than in any other, where the whole Irish representation in this House is agreed, the British Treasury again closes the door and will not treat Ireland in the same way as it is treating this country. There is a small point which should perhaps really be raised in Committee, but as the Chief Secretary is here I would like to mention it. Representations have been made to me from the Irish Institute of Architects and others that some of the schemes in the past have not been under the supervision of proper architects, and I hope that when the Committee stage arises the right hon. Gentleman will see that provision is made that proper architects, and I hope Irish architects, are brought in to secure proper sanitation and healthy dwelling houses for the working classes. This, undoubtedly, is a great reform for the whole country. Bills have been introduced for every part of the United Kingdom, but there is no part of the United Kingdom which requires the Bill as much as Ireland. There is not an urban area in Ireland at the present time 1509 which is not a disgrace to a modern community such as Ireland should be. I am not going to apportion the blame, but the fact remains, and we are here to remedy the state of affairs, and I hope, therefore, that I shall have the support of the Chief Secretary and also of hon. Members from the North of Ireland in the appeal that I have made to him in regard to these special cases that I have mentioned.
§ Sir M. DOCKRELL
I thoroughly endorse what the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Redmond) has said in asking for the sympathetic consideration of the Government in reference to those districts in Ireland which took the plucky course at the outset of the War of starting these housing schemes. Tennyson said, "It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." They loved their people so much that they started these projects, and I am sure that at a later stage the Government will give sympathetic consideration to that expenditure. I would also like to endorse what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said in regard to architects. It is a most important thing to have good architects. With the exception of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech the remarks that have been addressed to the House have been from Ulster. You have been long accustomed to hear the voice of Ulster in this House and you probably regard it as the representative voice of Ireland, but I happen to represent the metropolis of the country. I am the only Member representing Dublin in this House, and speaking from that point of view, as a Dublin man who is thoroughly conversant with all the labour conditions and other conditions that prevail in that city, I am only sorry that the Labour Members are not here in greater numbers to hear of the shocking conditions that prevail in Dublin. It is only those who know of the shocking conditions under which the working men in Dublin live—I will not say live, but barely exist—who can realise the crying necessity there is for this great measure. These tenement houses in Dublin are old houses which have long since fallen into decay. Many of them are sewage-sodden andrat-eaten, and the people live under the most terrible conditions. I know of a man who sat up for three nights to beat off the rats while his wife was lying ill. I know of a woman who lived high up in one of these tenement houses, a fine, sturdy woman, with her wash-tub in front of her, and she was 1510 asked how she managed, owing to the state of the roof, to deal with the wet which came through the roof in copious quantities. She replied, "If you look at the skirting you will see that I pass it on to my neighbours." As regards the sanitary conditions, they are non-existent. In these high houses they have to carry all their water up by hand. Everything that is undesirable exists in the most frightful condition in these houses, and I impress upon this House with all the earnestness I can the importance of proceeding with this housing scheme at the earliest moment. A few weeks ago, in relation to the Medical Treatment of Children Bill, I said that such was the shocking condition of these houses that people who had to traverse the streets in which they were situated took to the middle of the road rather than the footpath. Those who know Dublin know that that is so.
I wish we had the good fortune to have two or three more citizens such as we have in Dublin in the family of an hon. and gallant Member of this House—a gentleman who has done a monumental work for that city. Any hon. Members who pay a visit to Dublin and see the splendid play centre he has provided for that city and see what one man has done, would certainly be astonished. We very often hear in this House, and elsewhere, about the working man that he drinks too much. All I can say is that if Members of this House lived under the same conditions as the working men in Dublin they would drink too much. I know I should drink too much if I lived under similar conditions. Those of us who know the psychology of the people of Ireland know that it is very largely their social instincts and the extraordinary environment in which they find themselves that accounts for the excessive drinking that exists. During the War I have been assisting a good deal in recruiting in connection with one very famous regiment, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. These men have been largely reared under the conditions I have mentioned. The wonder is that they ever lived to take their part in the War. It is due to the fact of the survival of the fittest. If they were not, as they are, super-men, they would never have lived through their surroundings to take their part in the War. If I have the good fortune to be on the Committee which deals with this Bill, I shall reserve some of my criticism for that stage, but I would like to say now that I am not looking a gift 1511 horse in the mouth. I welcome this Bill. I think it is a splendid attempt on the part of the Government to grapple with a serious difficulty. I wish it God speed, and I will not make any attempt to embarrass the Government in regard to it.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel W. GUINNESS
I do not quite agree with the hon. Member that we must not look this gift horse in the mouth. I am not at all certain that we shall not find that it will be a very costly gift horse. I have listened to the whole of the Debate and I am in a complete fog as to the financial conditions. The Chief Secretary told us definitely that no loss will be thrown on the rates.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel GUINNESS
I am not certain, however much care is taken, that it will be possible to prevent a considerable charge being thrown upon the rates unless rents are raised to a point far higher than any present charge under the Labourers Acts in Ireland. If the rents do not produce at least half the loan charges, a loss will be thrown on the rates. The last return, which was issued in 1915, under the Labourers Cottages (Ireland) Act, shows that the total amount which had to be raised annually in repayment of the loans was £315,000, and of that only £128,000 was raised as rent. In other words, four years ago the rent received from labourers' cottages in Ireland did not amount to even half the loan charges. That was under conditions of cheaper money and far cheaper buildings, and it does seem to me that under present conditions it is quite certain there will be a very heavy loss thrown on the rates. The whole of the financial proposals are so very uncertain at present that I hope the Government will be able to give us some more definite information during this Debate. It is not only in this case, but always in connection with such proposals as this, that we have very little opportunity of discussing the financial bearings of the proposals brought before us. Clause 5 of this Bill says that the proposals are to be framed with the approval of the Treasury, but there is no provision whatever for laying these financial proposals before the House.
It would, I think, help hon. Members very much if the representative of the Government who is going to reply on this 1512 Debate would give us more definite information and would tell us how, on the actual level of rent which they expect can be charged in Ireland, the figures will work out. In the original schemes as sent round to the local authorities in Ireland I understand it was said that half of the loss would be borne by the Imperial Exchequer for seven years, and that after that time there would be reconsideration of the whole matter. Perhaps we may be informed whether that limitation is still in force in these new proposals. The effect on the ratepayers of this scheme must obviously depend on the length of the loans which will be provided from Imperial credit, and the rate which is to be charged. It is very important that we should be given that information while the Bill is still before the House, otherwise what will happen will be that we shall not get any opportunity for discussing it, because the Bill will go to Committee, and one cannot discuss financial proposals there. The only form in which it will come before this House will be in the Financial Resolution. In the case of the British Housing Bill, I understand it was not within the Rules of Order to discuss the financial arrangements under the Financial Resolution. The total amount only could be discussed, and it was only possible to put in a limit. In view of the large sums which may be involved, I think we ought to have all the facts before us while we are still in a position to discuss them.
The original proposal certainly seemed likely to break down owing to the impossibility of the local authorities being able to raise money on satisfactory terms, and I think the right hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on his persuasive powers with the Treasury which have induced them to improve upon the original suggestion. He now wishes to limit the necessity for raising money locally to the cases of Dublin and Belfast. What kind of rate will Dublin have to pay for its money under its present condition with its local taxation at 16s. 11d. in the £? How can she get money on such economical terms as will enable her to compete in cheapness of houses with other parts of Ireland? Obviously, it will be unsatisfactory if Dublin or Belfast have to face a larger burden on their housing and a larger difference between the rent which they can collect and the economical rent which would pay for the loan charges, and if, consequently, they are in a worse con- 1513 dition in that respect than the rest of Ireland. For that reason alone, in order to allow the financial conditions to be uniform throughout the whole country, there is a very strong case for the Chief Secretary to put before the Treasury to allow the whole of this new money which is required for housing to be found out of Imperial sources. As to the machinery of the Bill, if there is any criticism I think it will be that it follows the British model rather too closely. There would appear to be two considerable differences in the position in Ireland compared with the position which the English Bill is framed to meet. First of all, there is financial difference. It is said that no loss need be thrown on the Irish rates. If that is so, the local authorities will really have no incentive to economise. In the machinery of the Bill that which is suitable to England, where the local authority has an incentive, is not by any means necessarily suitable to Ireland, where apparently the financial responsibility is different. If there is to be no loss put on the rates, I am afraid you will find there will be considerable temptation to prodigality. There was a case before the Dublin Corporation a few weeks ago, a report of which I saw in the "Irish Times," in regard to the question of employing direct labour on these houses. At that time I believe it was understood that no cost would be thrown on the rates. Obviously, under those conditions, it is likely that strong pressure will be put on the local representative to employ direct labour and to ignore economical considerations in view of the fact that the burden will not be thrown upon the ratepayers whom they represent.
In Ireland the problem is much more exclusively an urban problem than a rural problem. That means that the houses are to be erected far more closely together and therefore more easily under the control of a central authority. Both from the administrative and financial point of view that strengthens the case for a central body of ad hoc Commissioners to carry out this work, as has been already suggested in this Debate. I would further suggest that these Commissioners should be helped by local advisory councils representing each of the four provinces with possibly an advisory council representing Dublin and Belfast as well. I am quite certain that local authorities will not be able to tackle this matter themselves without very much more help than the Local Government 1514 Board, without such special housing Commissioners, will be in a position to give them. The right hon. Member for the Duncairn Division (Sir E. Carson) referred to the incorporation in this Bill of certain provisions of the 1909 Housing and Town Planning Act. Those provisions are not satisfactory. The town planning which was expected under the 1909 Act has not materialised, and in Great Britain, where certainly far more attention has been paid to the matter than has ever been in Ireland, only ten town planning schemes have been produced during the last ten years. Therefore there is a strong case for making town planning powers of local authorities compulsory, and to incorporate in this Bill merely the feeble ineffective powers contained in the 1909 British Act will give very little advantage to Ireland.
If we do not have some really effective town planning powers there is great danger that new slums will be built—long rows of houses without cross streets or open spaces. Besides that, town planning gives great economy. In London alone, £15,000,000 has been spent by the authorities on London street improvements, due to the necessity of street widening, which might have been avoided by a rational system of foresight in town planning in the first instance. We have had so many housing Bills in the past, both in Ireland and in England, great in promise and disappointing in results, that I think that this Bill will have to be strengthened if we are really to get what is expected. Housing and town planning work is, in its nature, very difficult and troublesome, and calls for much initiative and foresight. The actual planning, the architectural side of the work, is very difficult, calling for special experience and qualifications in those who are responsible for it, if full advantage is to be taken of the site. The local authority in many cases have very little experience of any save the poorest class of labourers' cottages and have not got the necessary technical knowledge to enable them to undertake this work. For this reason I do hope that the Chief Secretary will see his way to accept a proposal to set up a strong body of housing Commissioners working through advisory provincial councils, and will also make town planning compulsory in order to strengthen the framework of the Bill, and enable it to support that very heavy strain which will inevitably have to be thrown upon it
§ Mr. LYNN
As representing a large industrial constituency I would like to join in congratulating the Chief Secretary on the speech which he has delivered this afternoon. So far as lucidity, grace and literary style are concerned, it leaves nothing to be desired, in fact, I prefer the speech very much to the Bill itself, but, unfortunately, it is the Bill and not the speech which we have to consider. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to realise that, so far as we on these benches are concerned, we have no desire to indulge in captious criticism. We want to help him to make the best possible scheme we can. In Belfast this problem has been thrust upon us by the action of a recent Government. In 1909–10, when the land Clauses of the Finance Act were passed, we had in the city of Belfast 5,000 vacant houses. At the present moment we have only got 164. I mention that not for the purpose of reviving an old controversy, but simply in order to point out to the Chief Secretary that the Government is under an obligation in regard to this matter. There is no doubt whatever that the policy then initiated prevented house-building going on in Belfast. If this rare and refreshing fruit had not been offered to us, then, so far as the Members for Belfast are concerned, we should not be here to ask help from the Treasury or anyone else, because we should have had quite as many houses as we needed. Though the population of Belfast increased much more quickly than the population of any other city in the United Kingdom, we had been enabled to keep pace with the growth of population in the way of providing houses, and we could have maintained this position if it had not been for the legislation to which I have just referred. Therefore I urge upon the Chief Secretary that he should be generous in dealing with us in this matter.
I look upon this Bill not as a final settlement of the building question, but as a temporary expedient which is absolutely necessary in order to get rid of the results produced by the folly of the past. To my mind, the weak point under this Bill is that so much of the work has got to be done under local bodies. I have watched local bodies carefully for many years. Even the best of them cannot do this class of work so well as the private individual. Therefore, I think that my right hon. Friend would be well advised if he would give serious attention to the encourage- 1516 ment of private enterprise. Of course, it is absolutely necessary that public bodies should step into the breach at the moment, but what my right hon. Friend should aim at is getting back to normal conditions, when this work will be done, not by public bodies, who are always slower and much more costly, but by private enterprise. I am glad that in the course of his speech he was sympathetic with regard to the Small Dwellings Act. Belfast is one of those places where it has been put into operation for some years, and neither the municipality nor the State has lost a single penny by reason of it. On the contrary, it has accomplished splendid results, and it would be a great advantage if the Small Dwellings Act were extended, so that it would meet the exigencies of the present time. Under that Act you can only get money from the Government for a house valued up to £400. The Chief Secretary has agreed to urge that the limit should be raised from £400 to £800. I think that that is not quite enough. I have gone into the question very carefully, and have been told by those who are best able to give an opinion on the subject that a house which could have been built before the War for £400 will cost to-day at least £1,000. If that be so, my right hon. Friend would be well advised to induce the Treasury to increase the limit from £800 to £1,000. I know his difficulty with the Treasury, because it is a body which is often penny wise and pound foolish. The wisest course in this case would be to encourage private individuals to build. Indeed, under the present scheme, it would be wiser for them, because under the Bill as it stands the State must lose a considerable amount on that part which is to be undertaken by public bodies, whereas under the Small Dwellings Act the State would lose practically nothing except whatever concession would be made by Order in Council as defined in Section 14 of the Bill. Therefore I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider the advisability of extending as far as possible the provisions of the Small Dwellings Act.
There is another point which has not been touched upon by any speaker. When municipalities build houses they should be at liberty to sell these houses to the tenants on favourable terms. I hope that he will take that point into consideration. I have listened with great care to all the discussion on the financial part of the Bill. I am sorry the Government cannot see its way to lend money at pre-war rates of in- 1517 terest, rather than make what is in reality a subsidy. I do not know that it would not in the end be simpler and cheaper to lend money at a reduced rate of interest rather than make the terms which they are going to make, but I do hope that the scheme which my right hon. Friend will offer will be one that will facilitate house building. There is one matter which may do much harm. At the end of seven years the State subsidy may be cut down. I am afraid, from the recent statement issued by the Local Government Board, that it will be cut down. If that idea becomes prevalent, it will undoubtedly prevent local bodies from entering on large schemes of house building. I have discussed the question of raising money for building houses with a great many directors of banks, and I have discovered that they have no great love for raising money for this purpose. For one thing, they say that it would be investing their money too long. They prefer to have their money in circulation. I am very much afraid that, so far as the Corporations of Belfast and Dublin are concerned, there will be considerable difficulty in raising this money. I hope that the Chief Secretary will press on the Treasury the advantage of lending this money at a reasonable rate of interest.
We are anxious that the Chief Secretary should establish a generous and sufficient scheme of housing. He has got an excellent chance now. I am sure that if he does carry through, as he hopes to do, a first-class scheme, he will have the gratitude of every man and woman in Ireland. One of his most distinguished predecessors, a Gentleman who, fortunately, is still a Member of this House, was, when he came to Ireland, probably the best abused man in the country, but, by undertaking work of social reform, while at the same time maintaining the law, he left Ireland one of the most respected Chief Secretaries who had ever been in the country. I refer, of course, to the distinguished Foreign Secretary (Mr. Balfour). I do hope that future generations will be able to say that the present Chief Secretary also earned the gratitude of the Irish people, and that he is worthy of being given a high place amongst the highest holders of the office which he has the honour to hold at the present time.
§ 7.0. P.M.
§ Mr. HARBISON
I did not intend to intervene in this Debate after all the speeches we have heard on this Bill. I am 1518 an Ulster Member, and I am bound to say that we Ulster men are, for once, voicing the feelings of all Ireland. We are all united to-day, and I only hope this unity will be the forerunner of further union later on. I would not have intervened, but that there was one point which I think was only slightly touched upon by a previous speaker, and that was with regard to the construction of these houses. I think the principle should be laid down in this Bill in regard to the construction of these houses, that there should not be in any house less than three sleeping rooms. I know of a case in point, in a certain district in my Constituency, where a scheme has been put through in which there are only two bedrooms. That is a state of affairs which should not be allowed. The object of this measure is to make the life of the people sweeter and better, and, if I may say so, more Christian. And I think that object will not be gained unless in every artisan and labourer's dwelling in the country at least three rooms for sleeping are provided. Another point was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh (Lieutenant-Colonel Allen), to whose speech I listened with the highest admiration. We hope we shall often hear him in this House, and if his first speech is anything of a sample of what we shall hear later on, then the oftener we hear him the better the House will be pleased. The point he raised was with regard to the improvement and sanitation of a lot of the houses already built in some of the industrial communities. If the hon. and gallant Member were here I hope he would forgive me for mentioning the fact that in a very important industrial part of his own constituency, in the town of Portadown—I have very often seen it with my own eyes—there are hundreds of these houses, already built, which are flooded to their very doors by the overflowing of the river for a great many months of the year. A clause should be inserted in this Bill to meet a case like that, for I think it is as necessary to make existing houses sanitary as to build new houses. So far as I can see, when this Bill is whipped into shape, and if the financial provisions—which as far as I am concerned I do not understand yet, but we shall get the memorandum which the right hon. Gentleman has promised—are anything at all feasible, we shall have a measure that will certainly go a long way to relieve the crying evils in all the big industrial centres 1519 of the North. There is just one point which was raised by a hon. Gentleman opposite, and which applies to cities and boroughs in urban districts. There are in the North of Ireland, and I suppose there are some in the South of Ireland also, a number of small towns, bigger than villages but not large enough to be towns, under the Towns Improvements Acts. Something should be done for these industrial centres, especially in the county of Antrim and in my own county of Tyrone. There are a number of small towns, where hundreds and hundreds of workers are without suitable dwellings, and I think this Bill should be so constructed as to provide for these industrial areas. I suggest that when the Bill goes into Committee an attempt should be made to insert a Clause to deal with these areas. If this is done then, I think, notwithstanding that this is a foreign Parliament to Ireland, that we shall have done one good day's work for Ireland.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. A. W. Samuels)
I think my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland is to be congratulated on the way the Bill has been received. I know that during the period in which he has held his office he has been devoting himself with great energy to the perfecting of this Bill. He has consulted a great many authorities and people, and has been working with the Local Government Board in fashioning a measure which, at any rate, as far as the expressions of opinion from all sides of the House this evening go, has been received with universal approbation, and, I hope, will speedily become an Act. I wish to deal very shortly with the very valuable criticisms made from all sides of the House in relation to this matter. The right hon. Gentleman who represents Duncairn (Sir E. Carson) at the beginning of his speech made observations which have been reiterated from all sides of the House. He spoke of the great necessity of having sites well chosen; of having the small dwellings and houses for the artisan made as beautiful as possible; that they should have the best accommodation, open air about them, and playgrounds for the children; and the sanitation thoroughly up to date. I think that was the burden of the speeches of almost every hon. Member on both sides of the House this afternoon. I can assure the House and my hon. Friends that this matter has been most fully 1520 attended to already. There has been a most interesting Memorandum issued by the Irish Local Government Board through the Housing Department, which has been sent round to all the local authorities in Ireland, and which I hope my hon. Friends will get into their hands before the Committee stage. There they will see how every one of the very valuable suggestions that have been made this afternoon have been already embodied in the directions given to the local authorities who are to undertake this great and important duty. The Memorandum begins by dealing with the selection of suitable sites which, as the Committee says, demands great judgment and skill. They say that to secure satisfactory results they must have two prevailing ideas dealing with the houses and the situation. They say,Hitherto a most mistaken policy has been common of crowding thirty or forty families on an acre of land with no reasonable provision of spaces on which children can develop themselves by playing in a healthy and satisfactory way.They add,No rigid rules are possible in respect to the sites—They all differ. I hope that we may have no more of these long, unlovely streets which have been referred to so often in this Debate—Most of the houses should be built on large sites, on which there is room for development in a way which will make each of the new houses satisfactory, and the effect of the whole scheme beneficial, instead of detrimental, to the adjoining areas. The main essential is to secure ample space and to lay it out under the best expert advice obtainable.So that your streets may be larger, and that once you have acquired your site there will be a chance for further developments. They suggest that there should be:An ample width between the building lines of the houses of at least seventy feet. Garden spaces should be provided in front of the houses; wide spaces on main roads between the front garden fences.So that, instead of having brick walls to look on, you would have as far as possible pretty hedges, and small areas planted with trees and shrubs. Every one of these things are touched on in the Report also. All existing trees should be carefully preserved. Then as to the grouping of the houses. They say there should be as much variety as possible, so as to avoid the dead monotony which has been referred to, and which is so deadly—A good architectural effect can be most satisfactorily secured, not by expensive ornamental treatment or great variations in the design of the houses, but by grouping them skillfully so 1521 as to avoid the monotony of long, unbroken building lines. Corner sites should be treated with special care so that blank gable walls may not be prominent features.All these things have been gone into most carefully in the directions sent round to the local authorities. Then, with regard to the internal character of these houses, they say:It is most important that the internal plan of each house should be carefully adapted to its site. The living room and principal bedrooms should have the sunniest aspect,and so on.The average number of houses to the acre should not exceed twelve, and on no single acre should the number exceed twenty. The latter density will only be permissible when, in addition to moderate-sized gardens attached to each house, permanent open spaces for allotments or recreation grounds are provided within the area which is being dealt with by a scheme.They also provide thatIn all large schemes land should be set aside, unless sufficient provision already exists in the immediate vicinity, for the future erection of shops and public buildings.With regard to minimum accommodation, it is suggested thatThe minimum accommodation that should be provided in a new house is a living room, scullery and two bedrooms.There are a great many houses where a family will not want more than two bedrooms, but that is the minimum.
§ Mr. HARBISON
There is the scheme I mentioned, which has only two bedrooms. Will the right hon. Gentleman put into the Bill that there should be three bedrooms?
§ Mr. SAMUELS
We will take notice of that for the future—but in most of the houses three bedrooms should be provided, and in large schemes a few of the houses may, with advantage, have four bedrooms. In at least 40 per cent. of the houses it is desirable that parlours should be provided.The great benefit of that is that the lady of the house would have her own parlour, which would be private and would tend to the development of family life. It is provided that each house must have separate sanitary accommodation. There are also provisions with regard to suitable storage space for a ton of coal, a small larder ventilated to the open air, and a convenient space for a bicycle or perambulator. Then there is the provision at the end that all schemes should be prepared by competent architects. I may say that already a competition has been arranged for by my right hon. Friend, and plans have been provided, so that the housing 1522 shall be of as good a character as the sites permit. All this, I think, shows that my right hon. Friend and the Irish Local Government Board Committee have not forgotten all those most important matters and ideas which have been suggested this evening, and which are developed here.
Now let me come to the next point, the question of finance. We can deal with finance to a much fuller extent when we come to the Financial Resolution. Before that Resolution is laid on the Table of the House we shall have out a White Paper dealing with the matter, showing the financial position
§ Mr. SAMUELS
Yes, Sir. With regard to this paint there is a very important matter which relates especially to Dublin and Belfast. At present, where the rateable value is under £200,000, the local authorities are able to borrow from the Treasury. I know my right hon. Friend has been pressing in this matter, and I hope he will be able to press satisfactorily, so that this limit may be taken away, and that towns whose valuation is over that amount will also be able to borrow from the Government. There is another very important matter, and that is that, after seven years, there should be a revision of the financial terms. I think that had better be left over. It is under close consideration at present, but I think until the financial position comes to be considered it should stand over. It has not been lost sight of, and my right hon. Friend is dealing with it. Someone has said that England has had better terms and Scotland has got better terms than Ireland. I think our Irish terms are quite as good as the others.
§ Mr. SAMUELS
But there are many other matters borne by the ratepayers here. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Waterford (Captain Redmond) mentioned a matter of great importance, and my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary has every hope that he may be able to meet the desires of the hon. and gallant Member in this respect. I know that my right hon. Friend thinks it is a most reasonable proposition, and I can assure the hon. Member it is not being forgotten, and the best possible will be done. I desire, before I conclude, to congratulate 1523 my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Armagh (Major Allen), who has made his appearance here after many years, and who initiated an appeal on behalf of the working men, who have served with him so gallantly. I am sure he will assist us in the discussions on this Bill, and in our legislation generally. There is no city in the United Kingdom which deserves more any assistance it can get, and should get under this Bill. Anything that can develop and assist it, the hon. Gentleman has the right to demand, and I hope he will find his desires carried into effect by the Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.