§ THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY moved to resolve, That this House welcomes the measures proposed by His Majesty's Government with regard to slum clearance and the evils of overcrowding, and hopes that they will take early steps to secure the effective operation of these measures. The most reverend Primate said: My Lords, you may have noticed that I changed the form of the Motion which for some time had been standing in my name. The reason is obvious. It is that important and farreaching announcements were made last Thursday by the Minister of Health in his Address to the Association of Municipal Corporations. It seems superfluous to ask the Government to take early steps to supplement their programme of slum clearance by a further programme of dealing with the evils of overcrowding, but I thought it was well to have some Motion upon the subject, partly as a sign of the interest which this House has taken and ought to take in this vital matter of national welfare, partly to give the Government the opportunity of putting in outline these new proposals for the first time before Parliament, and partly to give your Lordships an opportunity of making any comments or criticisms of those proposals. I think it is possible that my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, with his very great knowledge 301 and experience of housing, who will follow me, may have some pertinent criticisms to offer.
§ It is needless to dwell upon the legacy of bad, haphazard, ill-planned housing which has come down to us from the nineteenth century. The acquiescence of the community in reaping all the benefits of the industrial revolution almost without paying any heed to the housing of the workers is very little removed from direct responsibility. Certainly it is the duty of the community now, we should all agree, to remedy the evils we have inherited and to be willing even at some cost to make reparation for the neglect of the past. Post-War housing activities and subsidies have, in some respects, had a very good result. They have covered the country, as we can all see, with multitudes of decent arid seemly cottages, but they have left three major problems unsolved—the clearance of the slums, the provision of houses at rents which can be paid by the lower-waged workers and the evils of overcrowding. These have remained, in spite of all that has been done, almost untouched.
§ The first of these great problems has been tackled with great energy by the Minister of Health, by the Acts of Parliament of 1930 and 1933, and by the Minister's Circular of last April. I think we have reason to congratulate the Minister and also the local housing authorities—the first for the full scheme that he put forward, and the second for the prompt and public-spirited response which they made to his effort. I think it is remarkable that 1,428 out of 1,716 housing authorities in this country have already submitted schemes which have been approved. The White Paper which has just been issued shows, I think, that one of the greatest efforts in housing policy which has ever been contemplated is definitely on foot. If this great scheme is carried out there will be the demolition of 266,851 slum houses and the building of 285,189 houses in replacement. That means that whereas for 58 years up till March, 1933, only about 195,000 slum dwellers had been rehoused, between 1933 and 1938 an average of 248,000 slum dwellers will be rehoused each year. Those figures show the magnitude of the enterprise upon which the Government and local authorities have embarked. True, there will be some cost to the community 302 in taxes—I fancy about £4,000,000 a year for forty years—but when it is remembered that the Addison schemes, although they only built houses which were in this respect less needed, cost the community £8,000,000 for sixty years, it will be seen that there is a very considerable difference. If, therefore—and, my Lords, it is a very big "if"—these schemes are carried out with energy, there is almost for the first time in our history since the industrial revolution the prospect of the stain of the slums being removed from the face of this country.
§ I am sure that your Lordships' House will most cordially welcome the efforts which have been made by the Government and the local authorities. But even if this scheme is carried through, there still remains the evil of overcrowding. Take London, for instance, though I may leave London in the hands of the Bishop of Winchester, if he is able to speak. In London there are 150,130 persons living three or more in a room. If you take fifteen cities, including London, throughout the country there are more than half a million people living more than three to a room. Plainly, not all of those are living in slums. All over the country, as we know, there arc multitudes of houses decaying, in bad repair or grossly overcrowded. The cause, of course, is the shortage of low-rented houses such as the poorer-paid workers and their families can afford. At present, as we all know, it is almost impossible for the poorer-paid working people to afford a rent of more than 10s. a week inclusive of rates. Very many of them can only afford 5s. or 8s. a week for their rooms in overcrowded houses. Mere replacement of houses after slum clearance will not do more than provide better, it cannot provide additional, accommodation. The Minister seemed to have hoped that these additional houses would be supplied by private enterprise, or by private enterprise assisted by building societies, or by unsubsidised municipal enterprise. These hopes were not fulfilled.
§ I am told that private enterprise has succeeded in building within the last twelve months only about 11,000 houses at low rents. The building societies, so I am told, have in very few cases made use of the guarantee which was offered in the Act of 1933. Therefore it became quite plain that the hopes of the Minister 303 were not being fulfilled. If so, it meant that the evils of overcrowding would only be touched on the fringe—that neither private enterprise nor municipal enterprise, nor the building societies, were providing adequately the rehousing which would be necessary if overcrowding was to be dealt with—and it was also equally plain that unless something on a very different scale were done there would in five or six years be a series of new slums taking the place of those which had been cleared. In these circumstances, my Lords, very great criticism was brought to bear upon the Minister of Health, and I think justly; and I am bound to say that the Minister of Health did not seem to realise very fully or clearly the gravity of the position. It had therefore been my intention to have moved this afternoon that this House should beg and press upon the Government to supplement their slum clearance scheme with an adequate scheme for dealing with overcrowding. I would have pressed upon the Government the necessity of adopting many of the recommendations of the Moyne Report, and particularly I would have pressed upon the Government the necessity of providing a new subsidy for enabling local authorities compulsorily to acquire overcrowded areas, to recondition houses therein if it were worth while, and to build additional houses at low rents.
§ Now that has become unnecessary. Last Thursday, with almost dramatic suddenness, the Minister of Health broke his silence, and announced that he was now undertaking a new campaign to follow immediately upon his campaign for slum clearance. It is not for me to say how far the Minister of Health was influenced by the strong criticisms to which he listened with more silence than apparent recognition of their force, or whether all the time he was holding in hand this second stage and was ready to begin it as soon as the first stage had been arranged. It is idle to enquire into the mind of the Minister of Health. It is enough to say that certainly these last proposals of his go a very long way to meet the evil which the slum clearance scheme would have left largely unsolved. I am sure that the House welcomes this proposal so far as it goes, and I think that without distinction of Party—and I hope that on this vital matter we shall 304 keep always above the spirit of Party—we may congratulate the Minister. If—again, my Lords, a very big "if"—this second proposal can be completed, then the Minister of Health will have put a coping stone upon a scheme of home-building unprecedented in this country, upon which he will deserve the gratitude of the country.
§ Anyhow, the Minister of Health has very successfully spiked the guns which I had hoped to bring to bear upon him this afternoon. But there remain certain matters about which, with your Lordships' leave, I should like to make some comments and about which I should like to ask for some information. First of all, I note that special emphasis is laid upon the need of rehousing at or near the original homes of the people who are to be displaced. I think there are very effective reasons for that provision. There are numbers of our people, particularly our lower-paid workers, and especially in London but also in other towns, who must live near their work, because they are unable to pay the fares for transport in addition to their rent. Moreover, they like their neighbours, they like the districts with which all the associations of their lives are bound up, and they shrink (and I think sometimes naturally) from the isolation and dreariness of these great new housing estates. If this be so, then in the inner areas of towns, where land is scarce and costly, the building must be upward in flats and not outward in cottages. I view that with some regret, but we must remember that the new flats are very different from the old tenements with which many of us have been perhaps too familiar. They certainly make for economy in provision of materials in bulk; and they provide new amenities, such as playgrounds for the children. And after all, it has to be remembered that even the wealthier classes are now betaking themselves to flats for their homes. Therefore I think it is very important that special emphasis should be laid in these proposals on rehousing near the original home.
§ But I hope that the Government will not press this too far. It would be a great pity if, insisting too much upon this kind of housing, they were to increase, or even to maintain, the congestion of population in the inner areas of towns and cities. There are many most admirable 305 town-planning schemes, some of them being adopted by certain of our larger cities, such as the City of Manchester, which contemplate self-contained communities living in or near or around their industries, in cottages which have the very great boon of gardens attached to them. Now what I should like the Government to make plain this afternoon, if they will, is that the Minister will not confine his subsidy to these urban tenements. Doubts about this have been expressed. There is nothing said about it so far in the statements of the Government, and I venture to hope that it will be made clear that the subsidy will be equally available low-rented cottages outside the central areas of the towns.
Then, secondly, my Lords, you will see a great deal in these proposals about management, and it is a subject of the greatest possible importance. It is not only a bad landlord, it is often a bad tenant, who makes a bad house; but it is no good harrying these bad tenants. If I may use a phrase in the Report of the Moyne Committee, what they require is "education in good tenanthood"—a very good phrase; and that is exactly, as your Lordships know, what was urged long years ago by Miss Octavia Hill—to all who care for housing the people nomen semper venerabilis. Let me quote some of her words:
You can hunt the poor about from place to place, rout them out of one place and drive them to another, but you will never reach the poor except through people who care about them.
So she inaugurated an admirable system of house managers, and I think with some satisfaction that it was the Ecclesiastical Commissioners who were amongst the first, if not the very first, to adopt her plan. Certainly it is one that deserves to be in every way encouraged. I gather that the Government propose to adopt the recommendation of the Moyne Report, that the local authorities should have power to entrust the management of the properties which they have acquired, either for this particular purpose or by lease, to, I think they are called, house management commissions. I think that would be a most admirable plan. Here is a matter in which the public utility societies could step in with the greatest possible advantage. Do what you will about building homes, it is the mother who makes them, and the
mother can only be reached by women sympathetic and understanding. I see here, if these proposals are carried out, an opening for a large class of trained women, and I should hope, ultimately, that the Board of Education will have to take into consideration the training of numbers of women for this new and most useful branch of public service
§ Then, thirdly, you will notice that in these proposals special importance is attached to the redevelopment of overcrowded areas. I gather that it is the intention of the Government to give wide powers to the local authorities to acquire compulsorily overcrowded areas and to treat them on the lines of new development. Might I use the words of the Minister? He said that the redevelopment should be related to a wider-range plan for neighbouring areas, and, indeed, for the whole town. If this is done these proposals will not hinder, but will be of the greatest assistance in town-planning schemes everywhere.
§ Lastly, I would like to notice the special importance given in these schemes to the work of the public utility societies. They have already, in many ways, done most admirable pioneer work, and I do not think we can sufficiently thank the public-spirited people who, raising finances themselves and refusing to wait until the local authorities stepped in, have reconditioned houses. Nobody can speak with greater authority as to the work of these societies than the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, but their place will be even greater in the future. These enormous schemes which are now being launched will take an immense time to fulfil. Meanwhile there are these families living in overcrowded dwellings. They ought not to wait until these schemes can be carried through, and here it is that the public utility societies, if they receive proper assistance from the Government, can step in and act promptly and effectively. They can interest people as nothing else can in these housing problems, and see to it that the tenants are managed in a sympathetic way. Therefore I hope that the promises which seem to be held out that the Government will be able to give increased facilities to these public utility societies, mean that they are going to adopt the recommendation of the Moyne Commission and appoint a Public Utility Council, which will assist these societies, advise the 307 Minister about financial help, and secure their co-operation with the local authorities. These may seem to be details, but each one is of the greatest possible importance.
§ Now I come to one or two points about which I have to express some concern or ask for some information. First of all there is the question of compensation. That is of fundamental importance if the carrying out of this new campaign is to be effective. What is the compensation to be paid to the owners or lessees of property, plainly in bad repair, or decaying, or permitted to be grossly overcrowded? Ex hypothesi these persons are entitled to no consideration. All they are entitled to is the barest justice, and I should like the Government to say whether it is proposed in these new schemes to adopt the recommendation of the Moyne Report, and make the basis of compensation what is called the "refund basis." That is, that these persons are to be paid what they paid themselves and nothing more and nothing less. Then there is always danger of future overcrowding. What is to prevent these new houses which are to be erected becoming themselves overcrowded? I would like to ask the Government whether they are satisfied that they possess sufficient powers to prevent overcrowding in the future, and, if not, whether they are ready to arm themselves with powers to prevent the reappearance of this old evil with all its ugliness.
§ Next, I have to express some concern about the position of housing in rural areas. Your Lordships will notice that in these new proposals the Minister of Health does not even mention rural areas. He deals entirely with urban areas. Not a word is said about the country. Yet it is, I think, notorious that in the country there are some of the gravest evils of bad housing and overcrowding, and I am afraid it is in the country that there is most apathy on the part of local authorities, and, perhaps, I may add, most evidence of the effect of private and vested interests. Let me give a case of which I have just heard. Here is a country village where six houses were bought for £25 each. Just imagine the condition of houses which could be bought for £25 each. The man who bought them is willing to gamble 308 on the chance of their not being condemned, and on sufficient influence being brought upon the rural council to see that they are not condemned. The houses have been bought on those terms; they have not been condemned, but have been merely patched up, and will continue on their evil way. Here is a question that I should like, in my ignorance, to put to the Government. How far is it true that the right of appeal in rural areas is very different from what it is in the towns? I mean the appeal to the Minister of Health. I am given to understand that in the country districts the appeal is to the County Court Judge, who is under no obligation to make a personal inspection of the premises. What I would earnestly urge upon the Government is that in their pre-occupation with these large schemes of slum clearance and rehousing in urban districts, they shall not forget the equally important claims of the country districts.
§ I have kept your Lordships longer than I intended. You will notice. that what I have been saying is largely conditioned by an "if," and I must call your Lordships' attention to the importance of that "if"—if these schemes are really to be carried out. In the first place, are we not placing too great a burden upon the local authorities? They have already undertaken these vast schemes of slum clearance, and now just when, so to speak, they are taking their breath after preparing these schemes, another immense plan of housing is placed upon their responsibility. Can they bear the double burden? Will there not he a very great risk, either that they will be diverted from slum clearance into dealing with overcrowding, or from dealing with overcrowding into dealing with slum clearance? Is it possible for them, so to say, to run the two horses at the same time? Well, there are many who doubt that possibility, there are many who think that just because of the magnitude of these schemes there will inevitably be delay, hesitation, evasion, grumbling about expense, lack of coherence of policy. The plans for slum clearance are already determined. The plans for this other and second stage are still vague. There are those who ask whether it is wise to entrust this second burden to already overweighted public authorities, instead of entrusting at least this part 309 of the great problem to an independent National Housing Corporation.
§ I do not wish to go into the details of that matter. The claim is that such a corporation would be able to keep the whole problem—clearing, reconditioning, rebuilding, planning—in one whole, to see how it was being carried out in different parts of the country. It would be independent of the pressure of Parties, whether central or local, it would be free from the intrusion of private interests, it would be able to secure great economies in the purchase of materials in bulk, it would be able to adjust the supply of labour, and in many ways it would be able to keep the whole matter moving along steadily and coherently. Well, I know that the Moyne Committee, though pleading that this was not within their reference, on the whole decided against this proposal, and I can quite see the reason why it is desirable to give the problem of housing to the authorities who supply the other necessary services of roads, drainage, sanitation and the like. But at this stage I think that public opinion in the country requires that the Government should let it he known whether they have carefully considered this alternative proposal, and that if they have rejected it they should give the grounds upon which that rejection has been based.
§ If, however, the local authorities are to be entrusted with this double task, then it is plain that the whole force of the Government will be necessary to see that the plans are pursued and that performance is kept up to promise. It would, indeed, be disastrous if these schemes were to prove to be mere paper schemes, and this they may well be unless the Government arms itself with sufficient power to control, regulate, and prosecute the actions of the local authorities. But in the long run the action, both of Government and of the local authorities, depends upon the pressure of public opinion. As the Minister has said himself, the work will need the continuous and firm support of the will of the nation. It is very disquieting that the citizens of London seem to show such little interest in the work of their own County Council—work which, you will remember, its first Chairman, Lord Resebery, said was of more immediate importance to the life of the people than most of the 310 legislation which passes through Parliament—that only 33 per cent. of them took the trouble to take part in the recent Election. I have watched similar elections in other parts of the country, and the lassitude of the public in local government is even more apparent. It is in the country districts, I think, that there is the greatest need of a vigilant public opinion, where there is the greatest apathy, and where there is the greater need of people stepping forward and seeing that the rural authorities discharge their duties. But the Government have, I think—whether they have gone as far as some of us would like or not—shown vision, they have shown courage, they have given an inspiring lead. It is now for the great body of the citizens of this country to show that they will suffer no excuses, no evasions to delay the time when the slums will be removed, overcrowding will be abated, and the poorest of our people may at last have the chance of living in houses which can, without irony, be called their homes.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House welcomes the measures proposed by His Majesty's Government with regard to slum clearance and the evils of overcrowding, and hopes that they will take early steps to secure the effective operation of these measures.—(The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury.)
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, in rising to support the Motion of the most reverend Primate I am sure that he will forgive me for saying that I would have greatly preferred that the Motion should have continued to stand in the form in which it stood for several weeks on the Paper. It was in a more mandatory form, and the reason why I would have preferred it so is that I believe that in that mandatory form it expressed the opinion of your Lordships' House. Moreover, I am perfectly certain that it adequately expressed the views of the people of this country. However, the form of words does not make much difference. The important matter is the change which has been announced by the recent speech of the Minister.
May I remind your Lordships very briefly what was the gist of the speech of the Minister of Health last Thursday to the Association of Municipal Corporations? I had the privilege of hearing the speech as a delegate from my own 311 local authority. The Minister first told us of the progress of the slum clearance scheme: that there was to be the replacement of 280,000 slum houses by 300,000 new dwellings—a very fine programme and, when completed, a magnificent achievement. He then told us that when that was done the evil of overcrowding would still remain. He told us that he was alive to the importance of the new houses being built closely adjacent to the old. He said very truly that you cannot disregard domestic ties, social ties, economic ties; that it was in the main a problem of the inner areas, where site value is high, where land is dear, where vacant] and is scarce, and that therefore not only had you high costs to pay for sites but that you would have to some extent to go in for a more costly kind of building—flats. He added that the cumulative effect of those two causes for high costs brought about the result that private enterprise could not fill the need on a business basis, and therefore some grant or subsidy would be necessary, which would be forthcoming in a generous spirit.
I welcome that speech of the Minister. I welcome it much as I would welcome the return to consciousness of a friend who has been in a prolonged period of insensibility. I welcome it as I would welcome the restoration of sight to a friend who has been temporarily blind. That is a speech that has been heard in your Lordships' House for I do not know how many years, from every quarter of your Lordships' House. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester has told us all that over and over again, and not one of your Lordships has been found to disagree with him. Eight months ago that was all in the Report of my noble friend Lord Moyne. And nothing has happened—not a word. Lest your Lordships should think I am being unfair to the Minister, let me quote two very short extracts from his speech in introducing the Second Reading of his Housing (Financial Provisions) Bill in December, 1932. He introduced that Bill in another place with these words:The House is aware that this is the second and last instalment of those measures for adjusting our housing policy to the changed conditions, the first instalment, the Rent Restrictions Bill, having been passed on a previous day by what I may call a clear majority.This was the "second and last instalment." And a little later in the same 312 speech, after outlining the building societies' guarantee scheme and emphasising the importance of slum clearance work to be undertaken, he said this:In considering all the circumstances, and what it is possible to do, I have come to the conclusion that the maximum which is practicable is a maximum of 12,000 houses a year to clear. Let the House observe that I state that as a maximum to which we should work. I cannot, of course, undertake that we can get up to it at once. It depends very largely upon the efforts of the local authorities, but I say that that is what we ought to try to obtain and can, I think, obtain with the good will of the local authority and a concentration of effort.What happened then? There was, what has been referred to by the most reverend Primate, an unexampled uprising of public opinion. Nothing more happened much on the part of the Minister until April, when he sent out his Circular No.1331, and ever since, under pressure of public opinion which has been aroused and Nilich is universal throughout the country, local authorities have been stimulated to prepare their programmes.
We now have the complete result of those programmes. Instead of 12,000 houses a year which the Minister thought was a maximum, we have 300,000 houses in five years, which is 60,000 a year. I am not belittling that achievement—it is a great one—and I do not want to harp unduly on the past, but I do want to point out to your Lordships that this is a change of plan, that there is now a recognition that overcrowding is the larger part of the problem. We are told that there are to be 300,000 new houses in place of the slum houses. There is no authority whose opinion carries any weight who will tell you that the total houses needed to remedy the housing position of the country is less than 1,000,000. That only shows that the slum part of the problem is only one-third of the problem with which we have to deal. Jobbing backwards, as we say in the City, is fatally easy, but, looking back, I do not think it can be denied that the cancellation of the 1924 subsidy has proved a costly error. It has not saved any money. All the money that has been saved on the subsidy has been paid in another form to the same men to remunerate them for not building houses. I cannot give your Lordships any exact figures, but I have reason to believe that there is a very exact correspondence between the amount paid in unemployment 313 pay to the bricklayers and that which has been saved on the subsidy. If no money has been saved, time has been lost. When one considers the marvellous building season of last summer at a period when building costs were low, and when we contemplate the shortage of houses, which is only another way of stating the extent of overcrowding, one cannot help feeling that it is lamentable that that time has been wasted to no purpose at all.
The only object in examining the mistakes of the past is to see to what extent one can profit for the future. The Minister himself said in his speech that so far as the subsidy was concerned we must learn from the mistakes of the past. What is the new plan? The new plan, in brief, consists of giving to the local authorities large powers of compulsory acquisition for two purposes—for reconditioning and for redevelopment—and the allocation of a subsidy which is to be proportioned to the need, which I take to mean the cost of site; that subsidy to be directly attached to the remedying of overcrowding. The error of the Government lies in this idea that slum clearance and overcrowding are two separate problems. They are merely two different Angles of exactly the same housing problem. It is quite a mistake to suppose you can deal first with one and then with the other. Overcrowding is simply a reflection of the shortage in houses, and the great difficulty in clearing the slums is due to the existence of that shortage. It is quite a mistake to suppose there is a first stage and a second stage. Dealing with the matter in Hut way is not planning; it is patchwork; and that is what this housing question has suffered from for the last dozen or more years. We have had patchwork, we have had reversal of policy, and now this is, I think, one of the greatest examples of all.
There is more to it than slum clearance and overcrowding. There is the question of where all the new houses are to be put. It is not merely a matter of building new houses and knocking down old ones. There is an immense question of planning involved. That loads me to the reference in the Minister's speech to flats, and also to the very sympathetic reference by the most reverend Primate to the same subject. There are two ways of development, there are two ways in 314 which the population can be redistributed. One is vertical in flats, the other is horizontal out in the country. I do not think any of us consider flats in great blocks as anything but a necessary evil. Where site value is high it may be necessary to some extent to have them. My own Trust has put up five-storey blocks which we regard as a necessary evil. Anything more than that—plans for ten-storey blocks have been contemplated—I regard as an abomination that ought to be avoided by every possible means.
I should like to direct the attention of the Government to the Interim Report of the Committee in 1921 presided over by Mr. Neville Chamberlain—the Committee dealing with unhealthy areas—because the essence of the whole matter is contained in that Report. There is no question of first and second stages there. One of their findings was:In view of the impossibility of carrying through reconstruction schemes in unhealthy areas on a large scale while the present shortage of houses exists, we recommend as a temporary measure that local authorities should be urged…and so on. They recognised that to get at the root of the slums you have to deal with overcrowding. There are only four pages of this Report, but it is the essence of the whole matter. In their conclusions they say:Among these measures we recommend that the development of self-contained garden cities, either round an existing nucleus or on new sites, should be encouraged and hastened by State assistance in the early stages.That is the horizontal development as opposed to the vertical. I believe there is a Committee sitting at this moment under the Chairmanship of Lord Marley. Has not the time now come when slum clearance, overcrowding, real town planning, and garden city development should be taken as a comprehensive whole? I know there are difficulties in garden cities —there are difficulties of rating, difficulties of administration, difficulties of ownership. But it can be done. With determination it is nothing like so difficult as the problems which were faced in the War. It can be done and it ought to be done. Thus you would have a comprehensive plan instead of the patchwork which we are at present undergoing.
I think the difficulty about it is that it has been nobody's job. I do not think 315 it is any use blaming the Ministry of Health. It has not had powers. I do not think it has been its business. That is what has led to this demand in so many quarters for a National Housing Corporation. I would like to say a word about that. I think there is one thing for which quite definitely a National Housing Corporation must not be set up; that is to be a central authority, to centralise the direction of building in the localities all over the country. It is not the faintest use doing that. You would be setting up an authority to compete with existing local authorities already getting on with the job. You would be setting up an authority in some kind of relation to the Minister of Health, in some kind of relation to the local authorities. It would do nothing but create confusion and difficulty, and undoubtedly would do more harm than any good it could possibly do. That is only the "Aunt Sally" which is always set up by anybody who wants to have the pleasure of knocking it down. I do not believe anybody really thinks that you could centralise in one place the detailed construction of houses all over the country in that way. It would be folly to attempt it.
There is much more than that in this idea. I do not like the name National Housing Corporation because that suggests the building of houses. What we do want is an authority of some kind greater than and different from what exists already. It will have to be in relationship with the local authorities all over the country and with the Minister. The relationship already is so close between the Minister and the local authorities that the precise constitution of this new authority is a matter of very great difficulty. There is no analogy with electricity, water, the British Broadcasting Corporation—no analogy at all. Houses have to be built on sites all over the country in a particular way, with a particular problem in particular cases. Mass production can help you. I believe the benefits of mass production can be got from the centre. There is a benefit to be got there, but it must not be got at the expense of upsetting the existing organisations which are at work. There is yet another thing to which I think the most reverend Primate referred—the question of continuity of policy. It does seem that there is scope for something either inside the Ministry, or so near the Minis 316 try as not to interfere between the Ministry and the local authorities.
There are one or two other matters on which I was going to ask the Government for information. I think the most reverend Primate has touched upon them all. They are all in the Moyne Report. There is the question of public utility societies. Are we going to have a Central Council? When I heard the Minister the other day he was talking to municipal corporations, and, of course, it might not have been the occasion on which to elaborate it, but I hope the proposals of Lord Moyne are not going to be lost sight of. In the public utility societies you have a weapon and an instrument for producing houses which is capable of great expansion and would not interfere with the work of the local authorities. I can give you one example of the difference between the public utility society and the local authority. There is a tendency in the local authority for tenants to be chosen on the score of their capacity to pay rent. The public utility society is much more ready to choose tenants on the ground that they have need of a subsidy. There is all the difference in the world between it and the local authority. The local authority has to guard its rates. The public utility society may be willing to take a risk and, therefore, there is a potential saving of subsidy and of public money. I would like to know from the Government whether that scheme is to be gone on with and the public utility societies given not only an advisory position but any sort of position with real powers and capacity to get on with the job.
Then there is the Octavia Hill management. The most reverend Primate mentioned it. The Minister only suggested local housing commissioners. I thought the idea was that local authorities should combine in the management of houses and could hand them over to commissioners. I would be glad to know whether the Government propose to push forward with the encouragement of the Octavia Hill system, because, as has often been said in your Lordships' House, that is the essence of the education of the slum dweller and the only way in which a variety of circumstances can be met. There is also the refund basis. I would like to know about the refund basis, the money-back basis, which the most 317 reverend Primate has mentioned. I would like to know whether the Government are considering that. Under that system money would be saved by both sides. In many cases the small man, who under the present system would get nothing, would get something, and the public authority would not have to pay more. Money would be saved in the fees of valuers and lawyers and the expenses of a public inquiry would be saved. It seems a most valuable basis. I do not think it is any use saying it is not practicable. The Government Valuer recommended it. I understand the difficulties would be less under that basis than under any other scheme of compensation which has been suggested.
I am going to venture in conclusion to make a suggestion to the Government. I am one of those who believe that the continued existence of the National Government is a matter of extreme importance to this country, but I do not think there is much chance of the National Government continuing unless they are able to convince the people of this country that they mean business about this housing question. The people of this country are not convinced of that at the present moment. What the people of this country want is action and not words. What they want is performance, not programme. The slum clearance programme at present is still a programme and overcrowding is not yet even a programme, for it is still in the stage of consultation. The suggestion I will make to the Government is this. We talk about keeping housing out of politics. Is there not now a real chance of doing that?
The Government have been forced by the logic of circumstances to go back to the policy of subsidies for overcrowding. I believe that was the main difference between their policy and that of other Parties. One cannot foresee at this stage what the alignment of Parties is going to be at the next Election, but I know noble Lords of the two Parties who are in Opposition to the Government well enough to know what they would answer if the Government were to say: "Now what about a long-term programme—ten or fifteen years? Five years is not enough, five years is nothing like enough; I doubt if it is enough for the slum clearance. If the Government were to say: "Might we not 318 agree on a great programme of slum clearance, overcrowding, town-planning, garden cities, basis of compensation, a real campaign such as was undertaken in the War?" would not the response be such as to get the thing really on to a national basis? If we could do that we could have a national Government engaged on a national task, and no task is more fit and more necessary to be undertaken by a National Government. If that were done there would be some chance of this housing problem really being dealt with. Unless that can be done housing conditions will continue, as they are to-day, a national danger and a national disgrace.
My Lords, as several of your Lordships desire to speak on this important housing question, it perhaps might be convenient if I said something on behalf of the Ministry of Health at this comparatively early stage in the debate and that my noble friend Viscount Halifax should conclude for the Government. May I begin by saying how much we appreciate the commendation of the most reverend Primate, as conveyed not only in the altered terms of his Motion but in the very eloquent speech which he has addressed to your Lordships? It was a commendation which I think perhaps we might have expected, because for some time past members of the Episcopal Bench in particular have been reminding us of the evils of overcrowding and have been urging us to make further provision for accommodation for the working classes in thickly-populated areas. At the same time I think it is only right to point out that the Government have had this question under consideration for a very long time, but they have only been able to announce this very important second stage in their programme as a result of the extremely hopeful progress of their slum campaign. It has been suggested that the announcement ought to have been made before, but the very full inquiries we have made convince us that it would have been a great mistake to have made this announcement before the slum campaign was well under way.
It is a somewhat remarkable tribute to my right honourable friend to suggest that the whole of this very large programme had been prepared and announced between the date of the 319 original Motion being put down and the present time. It is obvious that so important an announcement and such an important departure in policy must have been considered for a very considerable period. There seems to be in some quarters of the House—or at any rate there has been up to the present—a tendency to under-estimate both the magnitude of the Government's slum programme and the effort which has been necessary, and still will be necessary, to carry it out. May I express the hope that the success of the preliminary stages will he sufficient to induce greater optimism even in the minds of noble Lords opposite as to the ultimate result of the energetic prosecution of their own Act? At any rate my right honourable friend has come to the conclusion that the progress made is sufficient to justify us in proceeding now to this second stage. The Bill will be introduced at the earliest possible moment that that progress permits.
Your Lordships will remember that the appointment of the Committee presided over by my noble friend Lord Moyne was made almost simultaneously with the initiation of the slum campaign. The terms of reference to that Committee were limited. While the adoption of their major recommendations as they stand would undoubtedly have led to an improvement, it was felt that a measure confined to implementing those recommendations would be inadequate as the next step. The essence of the overcrowding trouble is that more people desire to live on a given piece of land than the houses there at present can hold. Unless additional sites are available no amount of reconditioning can solve the overcrowding problem. Reconditioning and the alleviation of overcrowding must mean to some extent moving people out of existing houses. If the population desire to live in the centre of the town or in some other place to which people are accustomed, or in which, it may be, they are compelled to live by the cost of transport and so on, it is really useless to try to move them to new houses on the outskirts of the towns. It is in these circumstances, where sites are either non-existent or prohibitively expensive, that the Government agree that new methods are necessary.
My right honourable friend the Minister has made so full and clear a 320 statement of his new programme that I hardly think your Lordships will expect me to add much to it. Let me, however, remind you that, as he has stated, legislation to be effective will have to be both comprehensive and drastic. It may be necessary in extreme cases to acquire existing buildings which are good buildings, to pull them down and to erect large blocks of tenement flats in their place. As he has said—his words have already been quoted—it may be necessary to effect a complete and thorough redevelopment of an overcrowded area which should be related to a wider range plan for neighbouring areas, and, indeed, for the whole town. Of course an essential condition of the whole scheme is that effective action should be taken to prevent overcrowding of the new dwellings. The decision that overcrowding should eventually be prohibited by law is no light one.
My noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh said, if I understood him aright, that this is patchwork. Surely, my Lords, it is one of the biggest steps ever taken in the whole history of housing. It is a proposition to which, I would remind you, hardly one of your Lordships has objected in the four or five debates that have preceded this one. I only hope that when the actual proposals come before your Lordships they will be accorded the same unanimity of support as the more general proposals have received. Your Lordships will see that the Government's proposals are a considerable advance on anything proposed by the Moyne Committee or, indeed, on anything which that Committee were empowered to propose. That, however, does not mean that the recommendations of the noble Lord's Committee have been forgotten. On the contrary, the Government have decided to follow those suggestions which deal with the compulsory acquisition of properties for the purpose of reconditioning.
We have been asked for a large number of details of the proposals, and I am afraid that satisfactorily to answer all of them it would be necessary for me to make a speech suitable to the Second Reading debate when legislation is introduced. But I think I can, in a general way, answer one or two points. The Government, although agreeing in general with the conclusions of the 321 Moyne Committee, are not satisfied at present that their specific proposals regarding the refund method of compensation are really practical. I would say to my noble friend Lord Moyne that I can quite understand the importance of the question, but as it has been introduced incidentally in this debate I am not in a position now to give him a full explanation. With regard to the public utility societies, I cannot say exactly what position they will occupy, but they will occupy a well-defined position in the machinery. We are in general agreement with the suggestions regarding management. We have been asked whether local authorities will be able to carry out these new responsibilities. The Minister is convinced that they will, and is proceeding in close co-operation with them in the preparation of his final proposals. The question of whether it would be desirable at this juncture to set up completely new machinery is a question of major policy upon which my noble friend Lord Halifax will have something to say, but perhaps I may remark in passing that the Government see no reason to depart from the course adopted in relation to this proposal by the late Labour Government. In July, 1931, the noble Lord, Lord Snell, gave a very clear exposition of the reasons which led that Government to reject this proposal, and his arguments appear to the Government still to hold good.
The most reverend Primate raised the question of overcrowding in rural areas. I think he would agree that in rural areas conditions are very different from those which have been so often and so eloquently described to your Lordships in regard to London and other towns. On the whole it is true to say that sites for building in rural areas are quite easily acquired. It has been conclusively shown that small houses can be put up by private enterprise at approximately £250 a house, and I have here a publication which represents the result of a competition, initiated by a corporation called the Building Centre, which incorporates sixty designs for three-roomed cottages, each costing on the average £225. Each of these examples is accompanied by an actual builder's estimate. I think in those circumstances, even with the cost of land and the rates added, it is quite easy to build houses to let at considerably under 10s. per week. If 322 unhealthy overcrowding persists in these rural areas and elsewhere, and if private enterprise shows no sign of remedying it, it is, as the Minister has pointed out, the duty of housing authorities to build such houses, which they can easily do in these areas without subsidy and without loss.
I am not, of course, suggesting that these houses could be built to be let rents comparable with the rents now frequently charged to agricultural labourers, but in that connection I would remind your Lordships of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926. On that Act a most interesting return was fnrnished some time ago—I think last autumn—which showed the very different degrees to which that Act had been taken up in various counties. In the case of Devonshire, for instance, it showed that the work done under this Act represented several times the average work done by other counties. It is quite obvious that there are no special circumstances in Devonshire which enable this Act to be used except this, that the Devonshire authorities have taken up this matter with very great energy. Your Lordships must remember that the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926, provides for reconditioning and for the addition of rooms, which is the very thing to alleviate rural overcrowding of the kind to which reference has been made.
The most reverend Primate, I think, also asked questions about Section 22 of the 1930 Act, which deals with appeals by owners of individual houses against decisions of the local authority in respect of demolition or repair. My information is that that is not by any means confined to rural areas. Of course we have no information—there are no reports sent in—with regard to decisions of County Court Judges, but, we have had no complaints of the working of that system. If the most reverend Primate has examples to bring before us, they will of course be most carefully considered.
To revert once more to the more general question, by this new legislation the stage will be set for the steady abolition both of slums and of overcrowding. The obstacle of expensive and nonexistent sites will be swept away, and in places where sites are cheaper, we believe, from indications which we have 323 already received, that private enterprise has made a start and will continue to satisfy the demand on a more extensive scale than hitherto. During the last debate I think I showed your Lordships that private enterprise was proceeding with general housing activities at an unprecedented rate, and, from sample tests which were taken, that somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 per cent. of those houses were "C" houses. I gave your Lordships to understand that more complete statistics, especially referring to the number of those "C" houses which were built to be let, were being obtained, and I regret that as they will only be prepared for the half-year ending March 31, they will not be available until next month. I wish to repeat what I said before, that the Minister has clearly stated that it is the duty of local authorities to relieve unhealthy overcrowding where private enterprise is failing to do so, by building without subsidy, not only in rural areas but elsewhere.
I think it is just as well to remember one or two facts. As we have been reminded by the most reverend Primate, there is nothing new, unfortunately, about slums or about overcrowding. As he pointed out, they date from the industrial revolution, when houses were erected without any regard to what are now considered to be the requirements of houses. They have defied the efforts made by successive Governments, though of course those efforts were greatly interfered with by the War; but it must be remembered that since the War the Government and the local authorities have together spent a sum which is calculated to be no less than £450,000,000, the object of which expenditure was to relieve overcrowding and slum conditions. Now we find, not that the expenditure of that sum or the 2,000,000 houses which have been erected since the War have been useless—for they have obviously added greatly to the comfort of those people who live in them—but that comparatively few new houses are occupied by the people who were enduring these shocking conditions at the time when this effort was begun. The Government are convinced that in view of this experience they must make full use of the fall in interest rates, and place, where possible, the provision of cheap houses on a sound economic basis. That is why the subsidy 324 is confined to places where sites are expensive and perhaps almost unobtainable.
The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, has referred to the dropping of the subsidy and he said that it was a mistake. I think he is a little difficult to please, because I did notice that in a debate in February, 1933, he said quite definitely that he would be reconciled to the abolition of the Wheatley subsidy if the 1930 subsidy were retained.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I thought the noble Viscount would say that, and that is why I said what I did about jobbing backwards, which is always easier than looking forward.
The noble Lord did make a good deal of reference to previous episodes in the housing controversy. I should like to point out in regard to exceptionally bad conditions, and the Government proposals to deal with those exceptionally bad conditions, that the Government's efforts have had very considerable indirect effect in stimulating private enterprise. There is no doubt that the initiation of the slum campaign has had definite effect in inducing property owners to remedy housing defects before it is too late. No figure can be given, but we estimate that it is far in excess of the quarter of a million houses affected by the slum programme. It is estimated again that the replacement of demolished houses will provide considerable accommodation, and that in London alone, as an example, the demolition of 30,000 houses will require the erection of 55,000 houses or flats to replace them. I think we may fairly claim that the effects, direct and indirect, of the Government's schemes for demolition and replacement, coupled with the encouragement that has been given to private enterprise, are promoting the improvement of housing conditions on an unprecedented scale.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
My Lords, so often when the noble Viscount has spoken have I had to rise and express some disappointment at the statement made, that I am very glad indeed to be able to say with what great satisfaction housing reformers have heard the statement which he has now made, and also read what is in the White Paper. The rate of progress for the clearance of slums in the next five years is excellent, and far exceeds anything that I think we 325 dared expect some short time ago. I think the results shown in the White Paper are largely due to the energy in this matter of the Minister himself, and I am not detracting from the value of the statement when I remind the House that the programme is still a paper programme. It still has to be carried into effect, and if the Minister found some difficulty in inducing some of the local authorities to produce satisfactory programmes, I am quite certain that the local authorities will find themselves in many cases opposed to every kind of obstruction and difficulty when they try to carry out these proposals. This programme will not be carried out during the next five years unless we have both steady and persistent pressure from above, and steady and persistent pressure of public opinion.
I do not think I have ever criticised the Government's policy about slum cllearance. My anxieties have always been in another direction. I have been afraid that in their efforts to sweep away slums they might forget that after all the slum problem is only part of a much larger problem, and that by a frontal attack alone you will not clear away slums. As soon as you succeed in sweeping away one set of slums another set of slums comes into existence through overcrowding, for the overcrowding problem is a larger problem than that of slums, and I think that overcrowding is probably responsible for much more misery and unhappiness than actual dwelling in the slums. In the slums you frequently find that people have got together a home which is happy, but where you have four or five families in the same slum house it is almost impossible to avoid friction of all kinds.
The Minister has always recognised that, but I think he made a very serious miscalculation. He thought that the problem of overcrowding would be dealt with by private enterprise, and that private enterprise would be helped by the great building societies, with the guarantees provided by the Government. Most of us felt that it was extremely unlikely that private enterprise would build the necessary houses; and, in fact, private. enterprise has completely failed. The noble Viscount has told us that a record number of houses has been built by private enterprise in the last year. That is undoubtedly true, but he was un- 326 able to tell us how many were built for the class who need housing accommodation most of all. I think I am right in saying that on the last occasion a statement was made which, when we analysed it, showed that only 11,000 of the "C" houses would be available for members of the working classes; and as to the guarantee offered to building societies, I am told that only eighteen of the larger societies made any use of it. Private enterprise cannot possibly afford to provide the houses required for those who can only pay a small rent.
The noble Viscount has told us that in the rural districts much can be done by reconditioning. That undoubtedly has been done, but in many villages there are houses which it is not possible to recondition. They cannot by any conceivable means be reconditioned, and people live in them only because they cannot find houses anywhere else. It may be true that private enterprise ought to build houses which can be let at low rents, but I find it hard to discover any rural districts whose houses have been built by private enterprise which can be occupied by the agricultural labourer, who earns a small wage. The Government, in their statement of policy, will, of course, to a large extent meet the criticism which we have made in the past of their failure to deal with overcrowding. Here, again, I welcome the general statement of policy made by the Minister. If it is carried out, and given full affect to, it ought to mean a very great reduction in the amount of overcrowding which now exists.
There are, of course, various questions which I should like to have seen more fully answered in connection with this new policy. I do not think that the answer which the noble Viscount gave to the most reverend Primate's question about the subsidies being available not only for central sites but elsewhere, was satisfactory. You will not solve the problem of overcrowding if you only deal with central sites. You will have a great mass of overcrowding untouched. I would like to have heard more about the financial provisions of the scheme. How is the money going to be raised? Are the Government considering a large housing loan, for which they will draw, at a low rate of interest, a good deal of the money lying on deposit at the banks at a still lower rate of interest? I notice 327 that in the Moyne Report it is said that a loan might well be considered. It may, however, be desirable for the Government to consider the issue of a special housing loan. I was also not a little anxious when I heard the noble Viscount say that the Government felt doubts and difficulties about the revaluing proposals. I hope that Lord Moyne himself will deal with that proposal. The proposal was made by the Chief Valuer, and the Moyne Committee, having considered all the objections to it, thought that this form of compensation was on the whole the simplest and the best. It is quite right for the success of such a policy as the Government are now setting forth that there should be a simple method of compensation which would avoid endless and interminable delays.
My real object in rising to speak is not to discuss the general question but to press the need of urgency in dealing with this matter. The Resolution hopes that the Government "will take early steps to secure the effective operation of these measures," and I want to press as strongly as I possibly can that there should not be undue delay in introducing and in passing this legislation. I think that such an appeal is excusable. Remember that last March the Moyne Committee was appointed, and we generally understood that it was asked to report promptly so that the Government might be able to be guided by its decisions. That Committee reported very promptly, in July. Then there followed a long interval, and we heard nothing as to the proposals or the attitude of the Government towards that Report. The next statement came, I think, in November, and there has followed another long interval of silence, only broken the other day. Now I do urge that this question of overcrowding should be dealt with by legislation as soon as possible. I know, of course, that with a large complicated measure it is impossible to prepare it within a few weeks. Of course, time must be spent over it, but do not let the time be unduly prolonged. I urge this because the problem of overcrowding is rapidly becoming so vast that, if it goes on unchecked much longer, it will be impossible for any Ministry or any Government to deal with it adequately.
Let me take London as an illustration. I know that in London there are special circumsfances and difficulties—a large 328 number of people pouring into London from the provinces, hoping to find work there, the difficulty of discovering suitable sites and so on. But, with all allowances given for these facts, it remains true that the position of overcrowding in London becomes increasingly serious. Two-thirds of the families in London share a house with one or two other families. In 1921 there were 137,000 more families not in possession of a separate dwelling than at the previous Census of 1911; and at the last Census there were 75,000 more families, in addition to the increase on the last occasion, which did not possess separate houses. The intense overcrowding—three or more to a room—increased by 45,000 in the last ten years. The London County Council and the local authorities have done a great deal in the past in providing splendid estates, but they have failed so far to deal with the poorest members of the community.
If we compare the London figures with the figures of some of the great cities of the provinces we cannot help noticing the difference—that while Birmingham and Liverpool built respectively 76 per cent. and 67 per cent. in proportion to the increase in population, London has only built 24 per cent. I know that during the last fifty years every Election has been won through the awakening of an intelligent democracy, or has been lost through the indifference of supporters and the misrepresentation of opponents. But, when both those explanations have peen freely applied to the recent London County Council election, I think it remains true to say that there is also mother explanation—namely, that a very large number of the electors were profoundly dissatisfied with the housing policy of the London County Council. The London County Council will point, of course, to the great difficulties they had to contend with. I think that these new proposals, if they are carried into effect, will be of the greatest possible help in reducing overcrowding. I do, then, most earnestly urge the Government to do everything in their power to press forward this Bill. If this new policy is passed into law and combined with the active prosecution of the Government's slum clearance policy within our own lifetime, we shall have gone some distance towards the removal of the twin evils of slums and overcrowding, which have been the source of an 329 almost incalculable amount of unhappiness, degradation and ill-health.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, we owe a heavy debt of gratitude to the most reverend Primate for reopening the question of housing at so opportune a moment, and I wish to assure him, if I may, that those of us who sit on these Benches are just as sensible as the other members of your Lordships' House of the very signal service he has rendered to our common cause. I think that, in spite of the very valuable and important contributions to the debate that we have heard, and that no doubt we shall still hear from those who speak from the fullness of their knowledge and experience, the real focus of interest in this evening's debate lies in the reply that we expect from those who represent His Majesty's Government. What we want to know, to put it quite plainly, is whether the utterance of the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Health last week, in an address delivered to the Association of Municipal Corporations, was one of those good intentions which, as the proverb has it, paves the path to hell, or whether it really represented a definite and practical scheme which the Government have in mind at the present moment to deal with the great evil of overcrowding. In a nutshell, that is precisely what I think every member of your Lordships' House present this afternoon desires most earnestly to know.
And I must confess that the speech of my noble friend who represents the Government did not satisfy me at all. It seemed to add not a single word to what we already knew through the columns of the Press. That is why I hope my noble friend will pass these questions on to the noble Viscount who is winding up the debate, as I regret to see that he is not here to hear the criticisms of the Opposition; and it is why we are taking this opportunity of asking a number of pertinent questions, which I hope will raise all the issues on which the success of a policy to deal with overcrowding must depend. We, in common with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who does not share our views in other respects, are not satisfied with the efforts made by the Government to meet the legitimate demands of the working class for decent housing accommodation. The limited measures actually taken have 330 been due much more to the irresistible pressure of public opinion than to any real concern on the part of National Ministers for the welfare of the impoverished millions. I wish to prove this statement, if I may, by various references and quotations. If I may draw your Lordships' attention to the Government campaign for the clearance of the slums, which, according to their representatives, is the first part of a much larger crusade against the housing evil launched by the Housing Bill passed in 1932, I would like to show that the policy of the Ministry has been completely reversed in the very short period of a little over a year.
This, I think, may be seen from some words used by the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Health in another place on the occasion of the. Second Reading of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Bill. I apologise for quoting exactly the same passage as has been quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and I would assure your Lordships there was no collaboration at all between us. I can only claim the honour of thinking on the same lines as the noble Lord opposite. In the course of this speech the Minister said:In considering all the circumstances, and what it is possible to do, I have come to the conclusion that the maximum which is practicable is a maximum of 12,000 houses a year to clear. Let the House observe that I state that as a maximum to which we should work.But we notice with the greatest joy that in the White Paper issued last week the total number of houses to be built by means of the subsidy under the Greenwood Act of 1930 is 285,000, the programme to be completed, according to the intentions of the Government, not later than 1938. This gives an average output of 50,000 or 60,000 houses per annum, so that in a little more than a year I think anyone would admit that, thanks to a popular outcry, thanks to the debates in your Lordships' House, thanks to the columns that have appeared in all sections of the Press, the maximum effort of the Government has been more than quadrupled. That is indeed a very remarkable achievement for any Government, and I think probably unique.
We, of course, are the first to congratulate those who are responsible for 331 any speeding-up in the demolition and rebuilding that will go on under the 1930 Act, and we welcome this part of the Government campaign as one that will certainly effect, if successful, a substantial inroad into the national evil of slum dwellings. But I would draw your Lordships' attention to the hypothetical nature of that statement. At present we have absolutely no guarantee that the Government will be able to translate their figures into facts, and for this assurance we must wait as patiently as we can—but I fear rather impatiently because we are so aware of the urgency of this matter—for a review of progress under the scheme adopted by the Government. We shall hope to have such a review in the near future, and it may be even possible for the Government representative to tell us when we shall hear what has been accomplished under the Act of 1932. At the same time, even if a scheme which is at present figures and, alas, not facts, is successful, the claim of the Minister of Health to have demolished in the course of a five-year plan every slum throughout the length and breadth of the country is as fantastic as it is without warrant when confronted by the actual facts; for, accepting as a minimum standard of housing accommodation the standard actually approved by the Minister of Health, we discover that there are approximately 4,000,000 houses that do not satisfy the minimum requirements of what the poorest section of our population have a right to expect.
The figure of 300,000, although it may be very large compared with what has been effected in the past—we shall be the first to admit that—is insignificant when compared with the enormous figure which shows the real need of the country and which, in fact, should determine any housing campaign which has as its aim the abolition of all those dwellings which are unfit for the accommodation of our working-class families. If I may express it so, the Government are only touching the fringe of the great problem of inadequate dwellings, and their policy is only a beginning which, even if successful, will have to be carried out much more boldly in the future. As I think has already been pointed out, the increase in the total number of cheap houses that already exist cannot possibly lessen overcrowded conditions. 332 There is the second aspect of the housing question, which the Government professes to be tackling in the course of the second part of its housing campaign.
I shall refer for a moment to the past, not because I do not realise that the essential need is to get on with the provisions of housing accommodation, but because I do not think it just that honour should be given where honour is not due. It is only fair that those who deserve the credit of preparing and putting into practice a housing scheme should reap the reward of their efforts. I should like to point out that in the early stages of the present Government's tenure of office they brushed aside this difficulty of overcrowding as long as they could, but they seem at last, thank heavens, to be aware that Parliamentary action is an absolute necessity if the evil of overcrowding is to be mitigated to any considerable degree. A little more than a year ago the Minister of Health was cheerfully removing the subsidies granted to local authorities for this purpose under the Wheatley Act, promising us at the same time that unassisted private enterprise was now in a position to build for the poor man. If I may again quote from the very important speech which the right honourable gentleman delivered during the Second Reading of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Bill, he said this:The conclusion that we have come to is that if you wish to provide the supply of houses that we need the most obvious course is the total withdrawal of the subsidy. It may be said in some quarters that we should proceed by steps, and that instead of totally withdrawing the subsidy we should partially withdraw it. I am confident that by doing so we should get the worst of both worlds. We should damp dawn the housing efforts on the part of the local authorities and at the same time we should still get the influence of subsidised competition in the field which would prevent private enterprise from coming in.The right honourable gentleman only a few days ago said quite clearly that dm Government were prepared to give subsidies in the case of overcrowded areas, and by doing so he acknowledged that private enterprise was completely incapable of coping with this great evil.
We all said at the time of the Minister's first message that the deus ex machina of private enterprise was simply a bluff to disguise another move in the 333 illustrious economy campaign. We all knew that private enterprise had never been able, and would never be able, to build decent homes for the poorest sections of the working classes. Our prophecies came true. Since 1932, during a period when building prices touched rock bottom, not a single house has been erected by an unassisted private builder for an economic rent of 10s. or less. I should be very much obliged, indeed, if the noble Viscount who has already spoken for the Government would ask his noble friend whether any of the 40 per cent. of Class C houses which he mentioned are to be let at an inclusive economic rent of 10s. or not. It would be extremely valuable to your Lordships' House to know the figure, although have not any optimistic expectations myself. The proper sphere of private enterprise is to build houses for sale and not houses to let. That has always been the case, and it is inevitable under our present system that it should remain the case in the future. But. again, in this case of overcrowding, the Ministry has been unable to stem the rising tide of popular indignation, and in the speech delivered by the Minister last week we find what is in fact a complete reversal in the policy of the Government on this head. We are now told quite explicitly that private enterprise cannot solve the problem of overcrowding, that the local authorities must be brought into action, and that they cannot build cheaply enough without the assistance of a Government subsidy.
Perhaps I may be allowed to quote a passage from the speech of the right honourable gentleman, because it summarises in a nutshell the new turn in the official policy. The right honourable gentleman said:Effectively to deal with overcrowding will need, we see, much building, involving two factors of special cost, the costlier site and the costlier structure…. Private enterprise certainly cannot do it on a business basis…. Once again the nation must help the local authorities and its help will be given in no ungenerous spirit. For these reasons the Government propose to provide subsidy or grant for the purpose.In fact this speech represents a belated conversion to the principle of the Wheatley Act, 1924, whose operation was suspended by the Housing Bill that opened Sir Hilton Young's housing 334 campaign in 1933. It is a return to the principle of the Wheatley Act. because His Majesty's Government has realised at last that it is impossible for private enterprise to deal with overcrowding, and that the only hope for these unfortunate human beings who live in overcrowded areas is that the Government should step in and assist to provide different and more hygienic accommodation.
If I may, I will address a few questions to the noble Viscount who will wind up the debate in the hope that he will be able to throw real light on the significance of the second part of the campaign of the Government. I apologise for the number of these questions, but I hope he will take it from me that this is only due to the fact that I believe that on a satisfactory answer depends the real success of any scheme for dealing with overcrowding. I am sure he will recognise that we on these Benches wish him success so far as he can go in the matter, although, as we have always said, the Government are only touching the fringe of an immense national problem. The first of these questions is this. Does the Government intend to ask local authorities for a review of overcrowding within their boundaries as it did in the preparation of its building scheme under the 1032 Act? We have not, so far as I know at present, any account of the total number of people in overcrowded areas, or any knowledge of the extent of these overcrowded areas in the different cities of our country, and it is obviously necessary before any serious steps are taken that adequate knowledge in this matter should be provided.
My second question has already been asked by the most reverend Primate and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, and it is, I think, one of very great importance. Are the Government really prepared to provide this subsidy for houses built on the outskirts of towns, or will it only apply to the erection of tenement buildings on sites where overcrowding exists at the moment? I will not labour that point, because it has already been put much more ably than I shall be able to put it by other speakers. I would only say that from the point of view of the welfare of the working class, it is of the very greatest importance that the Government should 335 be ready to help building in areas which are more congenial and more convenient from the point of view of those who occupy houses there. Will the subsidy that the Government intend to grant be sufficiently ample to enable these local authorities to let the flats—which I understand, so far as one can gather from the general sketch which was provided us by the Minister, are to be built—for 10s. or under? It is common knowledge that flats as a rule are more expensive than houses, so that if the rentals are going to be high they will be of very little assistance to the poorer sections of the working classes.
Can the Government give us any information as to the number of tenement buildings or houses—if they intend to subsidise houses—that they expect may be erected under the new scheme for dealing with overcrowded areas? Under the Wheatley Act as many as 60,000 houses were cleared, and it would be most enlightening if the Government would give us any information on this point. Another question which I think is extremely important is: What steps will the Government take to prevent the subsidy going to the better-paid workers who can manage without it? This point has already been raised by previous speakers, and I am quite certain the Government are aware how the operation of the Wheatley Act was to a great extent vitiated simply because no provision was made for taking the poorest class of worker into the subsidised houses. We must be certain that the same error will not be repeated.
Another question of great importance which has not yet been mentioned is whether the Government are prepared to take steps to check such a rise in building costs as would completely defeat their aims and make rents soar. It is obvious that, at the moment, prices in general are tending to rise, and it is certain that any great demand on the building trade will have the effect of putting up the price of materials and labour. We want to know whether the Government have faced this, which I fear is a probable occurrence, and whether they are prepared to take such measures as were taken during the War to regulate prices. The housing question is a national emergency. It is just as serious and as great an emergency as that with which we were faced during the War, and we should like 336 to know whether the Government are preparing to take whatever steps should be taken in order to keep down the level of prices.
Those are all the questions I wish to ask the noble Viscount. I apologise again for their number and sincerely hope that they will be received in the spirit in which they are asked. Our view is that the Government's housing programme, although at present it is in the sphere of conjecture, would certainly make an appreciable difference to the most unfortunate members of our population if it were carried into effect. But what we desire most urgently to know is the precise nature of the scheme that the Government intend to pursue. We do beg the Government to give us as much information as possible on this head, both because we wish to criticise helpfully any scheme that the Government may have prepared, and because we feel it is only fair to the country as a whole that the people should know precisely what their rulers intend; and that they should not be put off, as so frequently in the past, by words which read so admirably in print but which are never translated into actions, into deeds, into real achievements, which are what the country asks for and what we all desire.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, we have had a most interesting and instructive debate and in the few observations I shall make I shall try to avoid repetition and shall not discuss the details of the programme put forward by the Government. At the outset I wish to associate myself with those who have already expressed their gratitude to the most reverend Primate for introducing this debate. No subject I can recall has been discussed in this House on which there has been greater unanimity than on this question of housing, of slum clearance, of overcrowding and generally of the steps to be taken to remedy the present situation. Your Lordships' House reflects, I believe, the general opinion of the public and is in the fortunate position of being able to put pressure upon the Government and of being able to make its voice heard.
From many quarters there has been a constant demand for action. There was the Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Moyne. Of course, they were not entitled to travel beyond their terms of reference and could not go into all the 337 questions, but they have made a valuable contribution. Like the Public Utility Committee, and the Church Housing Association and other associations, they have done their best to impress upon the Government what I really think the Government ought to have known without any pressure being put upon them, that there is a national demand that this national situation should be met. I do not intend to travel into the past nor to quote observations made by Ministers or any answers given on behalf of the Government. The Government have been slow to act, but we are grateful that they acting now.
The most reverend Primate's Resolution makes it plain that we welcome the programme put forward, but I am sure we shall all associate ourselves also with the very important "if" that he added to his congratulations. For myself I do not desire to make too little of what the Government are proposing to do. That would be ungracious. I am quite ready to welcome heartily the proposals that are made, but from the moment that I first read them I felt—and I think almost every speaker who has addressed your Lordships has the same impression—that this is not an adequate advance to meet the national demand. Although we welcome the proposals and will give them on our support and will strive to help in passing the Bill as quickly as possible, I cannot help saying that to my mind the Government have missed a great opportunity, and that I am sorry. It is a National Government with opportunities and advantages such as no Government before ever possessed. If only the, Government would realise that not only is there a general demand on the part of the public for this question to be dealt with, but that there is a general demand that something should be done to meet the problem of the 2,300,000 or 2,400,000 unemployed, if only the Government would rise to the occasion and put forward a truly national programme so that they would lead instead of following, because of the pressure of public opinion upon them forcing them to act, how much better it would be both for the National Government and for the country.
I was very struck with one observation—I am not sure whether all your Lordships caught it — which fell from the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, 338 who has contributed so much valuable effort to the solution of this problem. Speaking about the suggested National Housing Corporation he said—and I agree absolutely with him—that if yon had any such board or corporation it certainly should not attempt to centralise all the details into one particular spot, London. I do not believe that ever has been the intention. For my part, although I have been an advocate of something of that character, I have never imagined that any such centralisation should take place, because I realise quite clearly that it really would make the situation impossible. It is a misunderstanding of the whole position to think that a National Housing Board, or Corporation—I care little for the name—was intended to take that place and fill that position.
As I have listened to the debate I have thought of the various criticisms that have been made, and of the answers which have been pressed, during some of our debates, to any such suggestion, and I have tried to avoid using such words as "National Housing Corporation"—a phrase which to some people suggests a great deal more than it really means—or "National Housing Board." As I have said, I care nothing for the words. But is there not still some opportunity of the Government getting together with the two other political Parties in the country and coming to some agreement as to a programme which should be put forward, solving a problem which we all agree is a national problem by a real national programme? I am not suggesting that we should give the go-by to the important recommendations of Lord Moyne's Committee—not at all. I am not suggesting that any board should interfere with the local authorities so as to abolish their pilans; again, not for a moment. What I want is that this authority, which should be at the head for the purpose really of co-ordinating the effort being made, should co-operate with all the authorities, with all the various associations, with all private enterprises —with everyone who is ready to help to solve the problem.
If I may, I would ask the Government, even at this late hour, even after they have given (as they must have done) a great deal of time and thought to this scheme of the Minister of Health, to take this opportunity where they find that in 339 this respect, perhaps more than in any other respect of which I can think at the moment, they are really representing a Government governing nationally. I want them to invite the co-operation of the other Parties, get them to sit round a table and try to arrive at a solution of this problem. I would venture to remind them what wonderful opportunities they have which may never recur. Money is cheap, it is plentiful, and it is seeking investment. At the present moment you have low prices, though they are already showing a tendency to rise, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has rightly pointed out; and of course unless there is some co-ordination you will get prices rising further as your scheme takes shape. What steps are the Government taking, what steps do they propose to take under the scheme, to prevent this rise in the price of material, which will have the inevitable effect of counteracting the very scheme they are trying to make effective? What I would ask them to do is just to pause and think whether, if they can get (as I believe they can) national agreement upon this matter, they could not then set up a Board, responsible, of course, to the Minister, and through the Minister to the Government and to Parliament, which would deal with this whole situation. That would really be acting in a way which would enable a great problem of this kind to be solved; and I cannot but think would mean in the end that the National Government would have met a national requirement to remedy what is a national reproach.
§ LORD MOYNE
My Lords, the Government have certainly no cause to be dissatisfied with the reception with which their programme announced last week has met. It is true that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, did speak in rather contradictory terms. At one moment he said that this scheme was going to help the very poor, he described it as a revolutionary change of policy, and then he seemed to forget that and said that it was hardly going to touch the fringe of the question.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I apologise very much for interrupting the noble Lord, but may I explain? I think he misunderstood me. When I used the term "revolutionary" I meant that it was revolutionary in the sense of being 340 completely contradictory, because it stood in contradiction to the original ideas of the Government as expressed by the Minister of Health in his speech on the Second Reading of the Housing Bill in 1932. I think therefore that he misunderstood the sense in which I used that epithet.
§ LORD MOYNE
I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble Lord, who also appears to have certain gifts of thought-reading, because he told us that the Government (I am again only paraphrasing him) were not doing this from any conviction but because they were being, in effect, kicked on by public opinion. I really do not see any evidence in that direction. It is an immense and complex problem, and surely it is better that they should look before they leap. We have had far too many vain efforts at the solution of this question, and this is the first time since the War that we have had a comprehensive attack all along the front. It is quite true, as the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, pointed out, that the Government have been slow, but they are now attacking a problem which has never even been scratched before—I mean the problem of overcrowding. Slums have been attacked, and the question of reconditioning has been examined, but no Government before has ever offered a solution for overcrowding in the central areas by direct methods.
Of course, this scheme goes very far beyond the Report, and the terms of reference, of the recent Departmental Committee. We cannot measure the size of the problem which is going to be touched until we know the financial terms, and the definition of overcrowding which was indicated in the speech of the Minister of Health. I think that the Minister has shown great wisdom and great courage in recognising that it is essential that the population in these crowded areas should be enabled to live near their work, rejecting the easy half-solution which has so often found support, that we can provide for them far out in the country districts, and leave them to add to the burden of their working hours many hours spent in travel at a cost Which they can ill afford. I think, also, that it is a great advance on any previous scheme that for the first time large-scale public ownership is to be achieved, 341 because it is by that means only that you can get the understanding management to which the most reverend Primate and other speakers have alluded this evening. If one really enquires into what examinations have taken place and how the ground has been prepared, it appears to m that the Minister of Health has taken no more time than was necessary for a thorough, a scientific and a direct approach to this problem.
I agree with the whole of the most reverend Primate's observation on the main question, except with regard to the doubts which he expressed as to the wisdom of rejecting a solution by a great centralised agency. It seems to me that this problem of housing does not lend itself to such a spectacular solution. You cannot get away from the past and scrap the present, and get a new world, by such easy methods. There are almost inextricable complications in the present problem and it would be, I think, absolutely fatal to interfere with the slow and ordered development of the schemes which local authorities are developing. It seems to me that those who have been pressing for the creation of a new agency —of course I do not want to suggest for a moment that the most reverend Primate did press; he only asked the Government's views—have greatly underrated the efficiency of the organisation which has been built up under the Ministry of Health, and the tremendous efforts which local authorities have recently devoted to finding a solution. Although I think a central housing monopoly would involve very great danger, I do think that a case is made by the Departmental Committee for some central body to coordinate and initiate the efforts of the public utility societies, and it is worth examining for a moment the answer to the noble Marquess's question: What type of central authority would be advisable?
Perhaps it would be easiest to deal with it by saying what would be dangerous. Anything in the way of a monopoly, which was to build at large throughout the country, would, I think, be fatal. It would lead to a great extravagance, to the pouring out of money in subsidising rents for tenants who do not need such assistance. It would not merely be a fifth wheel for the coach; it would be a four-wheel brake, Which for many years would prevent that advance which we 342 are all so eager to see. It seems to me essential that if we do have any increased central organisation it should be absolutely subordinate to the Ministry of Health, and work in close co-ordination, through the public utility societies or other agencies, with the local authorities.
There are only two other points to which I would like briefly to refer. This afternoon several questions have been addressed to the Government about what is known as the money-back proposal for compensation. The noble Viscount who answered earlier in the debate said that the Government were not satisfied, at present, that this scheme would be found workable. I am very glad that his answer was not a final one. It is natural that people should feel a certain difficulty about this proposal at first sight. When it was brought to the Committee by Sir Harriss Firth, the Government Chief Valuer, I think we all felt very grave doubts. I have looked up the examination. We all put very pointed questions, and clearly felt difficulty about adopting any such rough-and-ready method of compensation; but as the Inquiry went on, and as we became convinced of the terrible difficulty involved by the complications of existing methods of compensation, and when we had examined witnesses as to any possible alternatives and found that they were absolutely devoid of any workable suggestion, we all came round to this money-back suggestion as the essential of any scheme of large and swift increase of public ownership and public management of this reconditioning and overcrowding problem.
We had evidence from the staff of the Government Valuer and others that prices in this type of property are already rising; that the mere talk about increased activity on the part of public utility societies had caused a marked increase in the prices which were demanded; and we were satisfied that it would be extremely difficult for public utility societies to obtain the properties which they would need for reconditioning, not only without compulsory powers but without a very different method of compensation. There are two obvious criticisms which spring to anyone's mind in connection with this money-back method. The first is that it deprives the owner, the seller, of any possible increment. That does not shock me in the least. We have had so many precedents 343 for depriving people of increment value in their property where it is against the public interest for them to reap it. We know perfectly well that town-planning has shattered a vast amount of previously existing prospective value in this country. Why should not the house owner be content in the same way if he gets 'his money back? The greater part of this poor property was not bought as a speculation. It was bought because people wanted an investment, and if they get their money back on the last transaction, or the valuation for Death Duties, I think they will have no grievance whatever.
The proposal is obviously not satisfactory to those professional interests who have been concerned in these arbitrations in the past. We were told by the Government Valuer that he was quite aware that this proposal was arbitrary, and from the technical valuation point of view would shock his colleagues throughout the country; but that surely is no reason for rejecting it. We were assured by the Government Valuer, who knows more about the cost of arbitration through his Department than anyone else, that though in some cases owners might get a bit more than they do at present, it would, in his opinion, certainly cost the public less, because there would be such a vast saving, not only in time and convenience but in the heavy costs of arbitration. I do hope that the Government will give further consideration to this proposal, because I believe that the more it is examined the more advantage people will find in it. I am astonished to learn from newspaper cuttings and so forth that certain meetings of property owners, whom I should rather have expected to feel doubts about such a change, have welcomed it as certainly better than the existing methods of compensation, which in many cases they consider very unjust.
There is only one other point arising out of the Report of the Departmental Committee. The Committee found that it was outside their terms of reference to recommend any public charge for housing at large, and therefore, though they heard in some detail recommendations for a great Central Housing Corporation or National Housing Board, they did not examine alternatives to that most ambitious measure, because those alternatives would have involved a public charge. We 344 now are free from that restriction, and it seems to me that there is a case for enabling public utility societies, where need is proved owing to the breakdown of private enterprise, to go into the field and to erect houses at large with the support of public finance. We felt grave fears as to the effect of a nation-wide housing effort regardless of local conditions. We felt, as I think the noble Earl opposite suggested, that anything of the sort might easily lead to subsidising people who did not need it. If you had housing at large with public money it would be inevitable that a great many people would get the benefit of it who did not need it. It would drive public enterprise out of the field altogether, and it would eventually cause the State to assume the whole responsibility.
But it does not follow that the same evil result would ensue if such activities were limited to the areas where private enterprise had been found wanting. The Minister of Health has powers at present to allow local authorities to build where necessary, and by having maintained those powers he apparently has appreciated that they could wisely be used in certain cases, and that the effect in discouraging private enterprise would only be local. I think it is obvious that if you build houses in one centre because private enterprise has broken down, it does not discourage private enterprise in another centre. And the Minister at the present time does not allow local authorities to build unless they have previously held an inquiry, had consultations with private enterprise, and are able to satisfy him that it is necessary for them to come in with public funds, and to do the work which private enterprise is failing to perform. I therefore hope that this further extension may be made.
If one looks at the position to-day there is no doubt that the provision of houses to let is very disappointing. We have not had the exact figures, but the Minister stated the other day that of all the houses supplied in the six months up to last September, 17½ per cent. were estimated to be to let. He could not separate the figures for the houses which were within the limits for compounding with rates, but they are only 31,000, and if only 17½ per cent. of those are to let, it will be seen that it is a very miserable 345 contribution to this crying demand. I do not see how that is to be solved by private enterprise, and it seems to me to be a gap which might well be filled by public utility societies. Though this goes beyond the Report of the Departmental Committee, the members of which were, of course, debarred from considering that point, it is, I think, necessary to bring in local authorities and public utility societies in these cases, because, as has been pointed out over and over again, local authorities are likely to be overburdened by the other demands which will be made upon them.
It would be easy at the present time to mobilise financial support to the utmost that might be found necessary by means of a housing loan if the National Debt Commissioners and the Chancellor of the Exchequer found it well to take advantage of this sentimental appeal. But in any case public money could be had in abundance, and I think it is a very excellent outlet for investment. There have been so many representations to the Government about a national housing loan that it really makes me rather uneasy to see them take no advantage of it. The programme would then really cover the whole ground, and could be said that the Government had taken advantage of all fertile and useful suggestions, and neglected no sound expedient to find a solution for this problem on which all Parties are prepared to co-operate.
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
My Lords, I want to add my voice to those which have expressed the hope that as regards this national movement of slum clearance and abatement of overcrowding the Government will need no pressing. The whole nation is fundamentally agreed in its condemnation of the present system and when it comes to a question of tackling the problem I personally would far rather see the nation panting to keep up with the pace set by the Government than the reverse position. As regards slum clearance, the National Government have already given a lead of which they have every reason to be proud, and I am very glad that they now intend to include, by subsidy or otherwise, a policy of abatement of overcrowding, because I think that the necessity for the coordination of the two problems has been abundantly proved. The whole community is eagerly awaiting a strong line 346 in this direction, and I hope that the Minister of Health's policy will be sufficiently stringent to rectify the present evil and to prevent its recurrence; that it will regulate the present anomalies of rent in proportion to income, and make available to the lowest-paid classes of the community both sites and dwellings at low rentals at present occupied, and indeed over-occupied, by persons some of whose means enable them to pay a higher rental.
I have no desire to minimise by any criticism or suggestion the work which the Ministry of Health has achieved so far. Indeed I feel that one of the most encouraging documents presented to Parliament for many years is the White Paper of March 9, in which the Minister of Health gives an account of his stewardship to date and his programme to follow. This document is all the more praiseworthy when one remembers the independence of local authorities, and realises that the Minister's successes have been successes of tactful persuasion unaided by force. It is marvellous to those who have studied this problem of land purchase and housing development that he has succeeded to the extent that the White Paper shows, but I think we have reached a point when a still greater measure of co-operation between the central and local authorities is desirable by Statute. Until now the housing problem has been one wherein it was reasonable that local authorities should have a good deal of latitude in regard to planning, to standard, and to design, but the class of house with which in the main they have been dealing during recent years has now, by reason of lower building costs, very largely passed into the hands of private enterprise.
The problem which immediately faces the Government is the provision of an adequate supply of dwellings for the lowest-paid classes at a maximum rental of 10s. a week. These must be provided to a large extent in expensive built-up areas because the people who are to inhabit them, as has been pointed out this afternoon by many of your Lordships, cannot possibly afford the costly travelling expense to and from their work which would be entailed by living in a suburban zone. Whatever anyone may say, I submit that this cannot be left to the haphazard methods of private 347 enterprise or on an unsubsidised basis. Let us face that fact and accept it. Personally I am very doubtful whether it can be accomplised by local authorities working separately and individually on their own housing programmes. One of the most essential factors is standardisation, which entails a combination of programmes. I suggest that this can only be brought into effect by some central co-ordinating board armed with the necessary powers. I do not suggest that this board should take on actual building, but I suggest it should be charged with such powers as to advise the Minister on the comprehensiveness of his national programme, that it should in conjunction with the Minister control the application of subsidies, that it should fix the standards of component parts, and advise where a variation of the by-laws is desirable, and that it should handle bulk purchases where necessary, and control prices.
I agree with other speakers that prices will have to be controlled, but I submit that it is very much easier to control standardised components than it is to control the multitudinous sizes, designs and varieties of shapes at present required by local authorities for their individual housing programmes. I cannot agree with those experts who are apt to throw cold water on the necessity for such an organisation or upon the value to be obtained from standardisation and mass production. I consider, if you do that, you are running counter to the most accepted practice in up-to-date business. It will be obvious to your Lordships that the problem of slum clearance in suburban districts cannot be solved by the provision of three-roomed or four-roomed cottages. Firstly, the sites are not available, and if they were the price of land would be too costly to allow of this method. I have no quarrel with reconditioning where reconditioning can be carried out, but obviously it is only going to make a very small contribution to the solution of this problem. It can only in the main, I submit, he tackled by the provision of multi-storied apartment dwellings, and this fact was rightly emphasised by the Minister in a speech he made about ten clays ago. In that speech he also pointed out that the building cost of flats was higher than that of cottages, and prima facie that is so, 348 but I think it is unfair to compare statistics in two cases which are so entirely dissimilar. I am not at all sure that if you include the greater cost of public services such as roads, sewers, transport, lighting, and so on entailed by the ribbon cottage development, and the saving and convenience to tenants living in flats through the private supply services afforded to them and the saving in fares and other matters—if everything is brought into the picture there is not such a very marked difference between them at all.
I am sorry to see that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, is not in his place at the moment, because, if he will allow me to say so, I think he showed an extraordinary lack of imagination and a lack of study of continental methods when he described the modern working-class apartment dwelling as an abomination. He showed that he has taken no trouble to make a study of the happy community that has sprung up in contemporary times in these modern, magnificent apartment dwellings. In these continental countries which have made a far deeper study of apartment dwellings than we have done, why should they make a practice of erecting them even in suburban areas in preference to cottages? The most reverend Primate referred to the advantage of every individual having his own garden, but I submit that in these days a garden is a rather questionable boon. We all know it is very much cheaper to buy cabbages than grow them, and I think that all a working-class person desires nowadays is a well-kept, spacious, pretty, communal garden. The individual back garden "run" provided in the municipal housing schemes is of doubtful value. There is a great prejudice to the tenement dwelling throughout the country—there is no doubt about that—but I am sure if your Lordships would study the modern type of apartment dwelling you would change your view.
A private comprehensive committee of experts over which I have had the honour of presiding, known as the Council for Research on Housing Construction, has for the past ten months been examining the problem of housing costs from every angle, and has given particular attention to the design and cost of flats. We have succeeded in reaching costs for a good working-class flat as a result of which, given reasonable land charges, the subsidised 349 rent should be well under 10s. a week for three- and four-roomed dwellings, with separate bath and kitchen. We found that the cost of building elements can be very substantially reduced indeed by standardisation and by uniformity in principal components, and we have applied the best results of manufacturing experience in building construction, engineering, mechanical, and other industries not only in this country but abroad. We found that the actual cost of the erection of multi-storied flats can also be greatly reduced by standardisation coupled with good planning and good design, and with all the additional open space which high building makes possible. This has been achieved by starting on the basis of modern building method, with the framework exact in its measurements at every point, where the builder knows that his standardised walls, his partitions, his windows, his sanitary equipment and so on, will fit exactly into his standardised frame as soon as they are delivered at the site and are ready for erection. The building fits together as easily and efficiently as a boy's meccano set.
We plan to a time-process schedule, where every single element of a big construction is delivered to the site at the time when it is needed and is erected in due order, so that the next process on the list can take place without loss of time or efficiency. The block, therefore, can be erected in the minimum period of time, which is such an essential factor in the rehousing of displaced tenants, especially where the decanting process has to take place. I think that our report would prove that there is nothing wrong with British building costs and that we can build just as cheaply as any continental country. We provide, when necessary, lifts and an adequate supply of hot water, and it will be possible, if the scheme is big enough, to supply within the limits of our financial resources such social services as swimming baths, laundries, halls, recreation rooms, public gardens, playgrounds, etc., and a small outside private lock-up, which will take the place of the backyard outhouse which is so dear to the heart of the workingman.
My only reason for intervening in this debate is that I believe that the work which my Council have undertaken can be of service to the Government in dealing 350 with this problem. On their behalf I shall offer the Minister their report as soon as it leaves the printer's hands in a few days' time, as well as the willing service of all those who have co-operated in producing plans, specifications and data relating to upkeep and supervision and so on, such as we believe he will need in his work during the next few months. Admittedly building costs are only a part of the problem. In the far more complicated field of land costs, of rates and of interest on capital, it is impossible for industrialists to subscribe to a solution. All these matters are infinitely more variable than building costs, and we feel that the subsidy should be tuned in to a greater degree to meet these various things. But if we can contribute in some small way towards ameliorating the lives of our fellow-men and in transforming localities at present an outrage and a disgrace, of which we are all ashamed, into places of beauty and spaciousness of which we can be proud, we shall feel that our labours have been adequately rewarded.
My Lords, may I open by offering hearty congratulations to the Minister of Health on the progress which has been revealed by the White Paper and his speech last week. The noble Lord, Lord Moyne, stated that in his opinion the progress shown was not due to any criticism which had been made on this question, but, speaking as one of the minor critics of the Government, I feel sufficiently encouraged by the increase of more than 40 per cent. in the programme of a year ago to offer further criticisms, from one point of view particularly. We have heard to-day two or three criticisms upon the idea of having some central non-political body to look after housing. I should like to see adopted some scheme such as that out lined by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, when he appealed for a real national scheme for housing. I do not see how, unless you form some housing association or housing body, you are going to get away from the difficulties we have had ever since the War of changing policies when you get successive Governments.
May I read a short extract from a pamphlet issued by the Ministry of Reconstruction in 1918: 351It will be seen that the Government is taking active steps to Prepare to deal with the vast housing problem which will arise at the conclusion of the War.The noble Lord, Lord Moyne, stated that although it was true the Government had proceeded slowly in this housing question he thought progress really was being made, and at a sufficient rate considering the complexity of the problem. But are any of us satisfied that after sixteen years the Government should be still actively preparing to deal with the housing situation? So far as we have got at the moment they are not more than prepared to deal with this problem. It is to avoid this swing of the pendulum from subsidies to non-subsidies and so on that I am so anxious to lend all the support I can to the suggestion of having some central housing authority, which would be a non-political body to look after this big question.
Your Lordships have heard it stated this afternoon that there are 1,700 local authorities dealing with this question of housing. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester wished to know how the housing question was going to be financed. Surely it is obvious to all of us that a central authority backed by a Government guarantee could borrow money much more cheaply than 1,700 different local bodies. The industries in the building trade, generally speaking, are well organised, and you have already heard that prices are rising. Those of your Lordships who are interested in these matters probably know that, merely owing to the Minister of Health announcing a date when the subsidy would cease, there was a rush to complete houses by that date, and in consequence a sudden demand for bricks. The price of bricks rose from something over 60s. to over 80s. and even up to 90s. for the same bricks. It is because of these enormous variations in price, owing to a sudden demand or a cessation of demand, that there is such force in the plea for a long-term programme such as was outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh.
I would also say a word in support of the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, who asked for the erection of blocks of flats for the working classes on the sites of houses that are demolished. It seems to me—and here I differ from such an acknowledged authority as the noble Lord, Lord 352 Balfour of Burleigh—that the height of the building does not much matter provided there is enough land around it. Instead of the little gardens in which it is very difficult to keep small children, it is much better to have a well-planned block of flats surrounding a large open space in which children can play and be kept off the streets. At this late hour will not detain your Lordships longer, mit, I would like to say that in my opinion there is no one thing the National Government could do which would redound more to their credit, or when the time comes for an Election give them more of a surprise in the size of the majority they get, than an adequate solution of this tremendous problem of housing.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, the point I want to emphasise is one that has already been mentioned by two or three noble Lords. It is the question of compensation. I want to emphasise the importance of that from the point of view of the Property Owners Federation. This is not a new grievance, but the injustice of the present law on compensation in clearance areas is becoming more widespread owing to the spread of the various schemes that are now coming into force. I want to say at once that the interests for whom I speak are not in any way acting on behalf of what you may call the slum speculator, or the slum profiteer—the man who buys bad property in order to charge big rents and make a profit at the expense of the health and welfare of the tenant. The Property Owners' Federation has no sympathy with that type of owner and will not give him support.
The type of owner who is suffering injustice under the present law is the small man who has put all his savings into the purchase of his own and possibly two or three other houses. Very often he has been compelled to borrow money to do it and has had to raise a mortgage on the houses. It very frequently happens that the rents form either his sole income or a very great part of it. Included among such owners are ex-Service men, widows, cripples and invalids. The other day I heard these people all branded together as "slum speculators." I was told that when the case of a "widow" was investigated, it turned out nine times out of ten that the "widow" was 353 some hard-faced grasping speculator who seldom or never went near his property. That is a most unjust accusation. I can produce ample proof that the genuine cases of hardship of the type to which I have referred are by no means so few as it suits some people's convenience to make out. It is on these people that the legislation embodied in the Acts of 1930 and 1933 as regards clearance areas presses hardly. They have either to bear the expense of ejecting the tenants and demolishing the buildings with no compensation, or, on the demand of the local authority, they must sell their property at site value or less. The argument used to justify this procedure is that the buildings which are in such a condition as to come within the orbit of the Acts have no value whatsoever. In reply to that I would like to say that when Occasion arises for these same buildings to be valued for the purpose of Death Duties they are usually found to have a very considerable value. It is hardly fair to put a considerable State value on property for one purpose and none at all for another purpose.
The second grievance which is felt by property owners is that houses are condemned frequently for no fault of the owner. One reason for declaring a clearance area is the density of the houses and the narrowness of the streets. Is that the owner's fault? I venture to say that in many cases it has nothing to do with him. It seems very Lard that an owner of the type I have mentioned should be compelled to forfeit not only his income but his entire capital, his entire savings, owing to the faulty building of his neighbours. Many cases have come to my personal knowledge in which an owner will have no option but to apply to the public assistance committee in order to keep himself and his family alive. I have a great many instances here, and if I had been speaking earlier I might have inflicted some of them upon your Lordships, but I will not weary you with them now. I can assure you, however, that those instances are by no means isolated from the many hundreds, probably thousands, of similar cases.
Everyone must admit that there is very serious injustice and, indeed, the Minister of Health himself admitted it in a speech at Birmingham last year when he said: 354There are cases in which the congestion of the area has to be considered also, but in general I do not think it is in accordance with the spirit of the Act that buildings of this sort which are not in themselves unfit for habitation should be cleared away without compensation under the Act. That is certainly the spirit in which the Act will be administered as long as I am myself responsible for its administration.That is most satisfactory so far as it goes, but it is to a great extent negatived by the fact that under the Act, I am told, there is no possible means of giving that compensation, however much the Minister may desire to do so. It is very gratifying to have the sympathetic consideration of one Minister, even if it is of no value, but unfortunately it is not by any means binding on his successor. I should have thought that if the injustice is real enough to merit the sympathetic consideration of the Minister, it is also real enough for the remedy to be embodied in the Bill itself, so as to be of a permanent nature.
I was very interested to see one thing which the Minister of Health said in his speech to the Association of Municipal Corporations which has already been referred to. I do not know that these were his exact words, but they are certainly a report of what he said:The basis of compensation must be so safeguarded as to ensure that the price paid should be fair to both sides of the bargain.That is all that we property-owners ask for. Under the clearance schemes we are not getting fair treatment, and I do urge the Government in considering a new Housing Bill to remedy what is at present a very grave injustice. Whether it can be remedied in some of the manners which have been suggested—giving the money back or in another way—I do not know, but some way can surely be devised which will bring about greater justice. The members of the Property Owners' Association throughout the country are unanimous in their support of the abolition of slums and overcrowding, and will give the Government all the assistance they can, but an alteration in the policy of compensation must be recognised as no more than equity and justice them.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
My Lords, I hope that even at this late hour you will consider that the importance of 355 the debate upon which we have been engaged and the quality of the speeches made warrant me in asking for your Lordships' indulgence for a few moments to reply so far as I may to some of the things that have been said. I do not know that I can hope in the time available, or indeed with the knowledge at my disposal, to answer every point that has been made, but I shall endeavour so far as I may to cover the main lines of the ground taken.
I think your Lordships will agree that we have listened to a very remarkable and wide-ranging debate. I have had the opportunity of hearing all of it with the exception of, I think, five minutes of the speech delivered by the noble Earl opposite, Lord Listowel; and I tender to him my apologies for having been so unfortunate as to miss five minutes of his speech which otherwise I heard in its completeness. I think that with the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, I will associate myself in thanking the most reverend Primate for having introduced the subject to our discussion to-day. Certainly the Government have no cause for anything but gratitude to the most reverend Primate for the publicity which his debate has been the means of giving to the facts of a problem which is quite evidently, in the universal judgment, second to none in urgency or in importance.
I must confess that I have found my mind the victim of a rather surprising feeling during the debate. It has been suggested very freely that in this matter the Government have been acting only in consequence of severe and continuous pressure exerted from various quarters. I do not here and now specify the quarters which have been indicated, but various speakers have left their audience in no doubt as to where they thought the principal motive-force for the policy of the Minister of Health had come from. The conclusion which is left on my mind is that everybody has been responsible for the new housing policy except the Minister of Health, and apparently he and the Government have acted at most as willing instruments in the whole affair. I, your Lordships will not be surprised to hear, I am quite unable to accept the suggestion that in this matter the Government, in a circle round my right honourable friend, should stand in white sheets of apology for past inertia. That, believe 356 me, is not the position, nor is it the truth. I have had the honour of being a member of the Government for some eighteen months only, but I can assure your Lordships that during that time no subject has been more constantly or more prominently before the thought of members of His Majesty's Government than this question of housing policy. I venture to think that Lord Moyne was profoundly right when he said that no one who realised the complexity of the issue and the multitude of counsellors to whom, fortunately or unfortunately, the Government are subject, would be likely to complain that the Government had taken reasonable time to work out schemes whose effects for good or ill must be so far-reaching.
It is, indeed, cause for great astonishment and wonder, as has been observed, that during the sixteen years which have passed since the War—I think the noble Lord, Lord Trent, fell into error if he intended to suggest to the House that the output of houses since the War has been insignificant; it has, in fact, been well over 2,000,000—we should have made this immense effort, as measured in money (£450,000,000 is the figure which has been quoted) at a time when the population of the country has increased only by some two millions, and should have achieved so little of consequence or benefit to the slum dweller and to the overcrowded; and I assert without any fear of contradiction that if any justification be needed for prudent planning of a campaign those figures and that experience amply supply it. I remember that in a debate which your Lordships had some month or two ago the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, who has taken part in the debate to-day, found fault then with the Minister of Health for deciding to build a tower, as he called it, without sitting down to count its cost. I am inclined to think that the Minister of Health more strongly resembles a wise general who does not flaunt great staff plans for a campaign until he is satisfied that he has the forces with which to carry it out, and I think that no one except the irresponsible or the tendencious would affect to think that evils which have taken more than a century to establish and to entrench could be swept away in a day. The most reverend Primate, think, recognised, and we must all recognise, that the campaign in this 357 matter cannot be a short one. It will most certainly, as the most reverend Primate said, involve sacrifices, and heavy sacrifices, by both taxpayer and ratepayer, and hard work by men and women whose help will be needed in the carrying of it out.
The noble Earl opposite, Lord Listowel, said that he did not approve of honour being given where honour was not merited and that he would only give honour where it was deserved. I could not but relate his observations in my mind to the eloquent pleas made in the first place by Lord Balfour of Burleigh and in the next place by the noble Marquess opposite, for some great community of Party action, inspired and led by the Government, and I made the reflection that if the spirit which seemed to inspire the speech of the noble Earl opposite was the spirit which was going to prevail in the future, then any Party unity would be singularly difficult on the subject. The truth is, however, that there is, I think, an essential unity of purpose over the whole field of English thought and life, and it is certainly true that the Government can, and think, and plan and stimulate, but all it can do will avail but little unless, as has been repeatedly emphasised, the force of public opinion, which is now running so strongly behind it, remains persistent and determined.
It is, therefore, for the purpose of focussing that public opinion that the Motion of the most reverend Primate, to-day, is so warmly welcomed by myself and by the Government, and the debate to which we have Listened derives much benefit and value from the admitted knowledge that your Lordships who have taken part bring to the practical issues involved in the question. I think no one has taken part in the debate who has not a very definite contribution to make. I would like particularly, if I may, to thank my noble friend Lord Dudley, for the contribution from the practical business side of it that he made to our discussion, and I can assure him that my right honourable friend will be only too ready and glad to avail himself of any of he knowledge that he expressed himself as ready to place at his disposal.
My noble friend Lord Gage who spoke earlier dwelt, I think, upon the main features of my right honourable friend's proposals, which he had previously made 358 known to the public. I do not, therefore, dwell upon them again in any detail. A good deal that has been said has turned upon the question of whether or not it was profitable to consider the establishment of a National Housing Board or Housing Corporation, for the better focussing of action and thought on these great matters. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, carried the general sense of the House when he—as did Lord Moyne, I think, later—said that the suggestion of establishing such a corporation as that to take over the business of building in localities from local authorities, was really an "Aunt Sally" which ingenious people sometimes liked to set up in order to knock down again. I do not think it necessary to dwell upon the reasons which led them to arrive at their conclusion, with which the Government agree. The question whether or not it might be desirable that something of the kind should play a part in the assistance of public utility societies is, of course, quite another matter, and was a suggestion made from another quarter during the debate—I think by Lord Moyne. That is a definite suggestion on which I would prefer to express no final opinion, but one which I shall undertake to lay before my right honourable friend for consideration along with the general matters that fall for consideration under his proposals for encouraging the work of public utility societies.
The noble Earl opposite asked me a series of questions, numbering, I think, six in all, to all of which I conceive myself highly fortunate in being ready and indeed able to give an answer. The first question was: Do the Government intend to ask for a review of overcrowding, as they did in the case of slums? If he had been able to inform himself before he spoke of the actual terms employed by my right honourable friend in making his speech last week, he would have seen that he used the phrase: "We must decide by survey exactly how much overcrowding there is, and where it is." Therefore I think he may take it that my right honourable friend has the point clearly in mind. The next question the noble Earl asked was whether the subsidy would be available on the outskirts of towns. He will appreciate that the conditions by which the subsidy will be governed are at present under discussion 359 between my right honourable friend and the local authorities, and he will not expect me at this stage to be more precise than that those conditions will be decided broadly by the question of the production of results. Where the conditions are such that results will not be produced without a subsidy, then we shall take that fact into consideration in the conditions by which the subsidy will be governed. The consideration will be whether the subsidy suffices to enable houses to be produced which can be let at cheap rents. The whole object of the subsidy is to enable buildings to be erected of a kind which will discharge the purpose required, under conditions where, but for the subsidy, they could not be placed within the range of the classes for whom they are required.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
That was not passing from my mind, and while I are unwilling, or indeed unable, to commit myself to an actual figure, with my present knowledge, I can assure the noble Earl that a point of this kind is very fully in the mind of my right honourable friend. Then the noble Earl asked whether we know the number of tenement buildings that we expect to build. The answer to that, I think, must clearly be "No," because much must depend upon the survey which the Minister has announced his intention of undertaking. The noble Earl also asked what steps would be proposed to prevent the subsidy from going to better-paid workers who do not require it. I think my right honourable friend also had that point in mind when lie made his speech, because he said, referring to the past:The basic reason why the outlay has been to a large extent ineffective is that the use of the subsidy was not properly controlled. That error must not he repeated or prolonged. We must see that in future public grants are used so that they secure those purposes, and those only, for which they are intended.The noble Earl will no doubt be prepared to take that as a sufficiently precise expression of intention at this stage, and I suggest that when the Bill is introduced will be the appropriate time to see whether adequate effect is given in draft form to this intention which my right honourable friend has expressed.
360 The most reverend Primate asked whether the Government are satisfied that when the present overcrowding is ended it will be possible to ensure that it shall not recur. I think that the answer to that is that there are, or at least will be, ample powers, one may assume, by Statute and by by-laws-as indeed in many cases there are to-day, but those powers are impossible of exercise because of overcrowding and because there are not enough houses. Therefore, if one contemplates the state of affairs where, thanks to this pressure and drive, enough houses have been built, then it will be possible so to operate Statute and bylaws as to prevent overcrowding again recurring.
A good deal has been said about the question of the basis of compensation. My noble friend who spoke last and my noble friend Lord Moyne had a good deal to say about that. I can assure my noble friend who spoke last that nobody desires to do less than justice in this matter. I was not sure whether, as he spoke, there might not be a conflict of judgment as to what did and what did not constitute justice, having regard to the classes of property that in many cases were involved. With regard to the money-back basis of compensation, I fully realise the force of what my noble friend had to say about it; but, on the other hand, I am bound to say that, so far as I have been able to inform myself, it has always seemed to me rather a rough-and-ready plan under which—so it seemed to me—the foolish purchaser might very frequently do better than the more prudent purchaser, and I should have doubted whether that would, in all cases, for that reason have been very easy of defence.
§ LORD MOYNE
It was recommended by the Committee that there should be a one-sided option in favour of the local authority. They would not have to apply it in the case of the unwise purchaser.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
If I understand my noble friend correctly, that would to a great extent diminish my objection; but there are, as he knows, others.
There has been great anxiety expressed, naturally enough, as to whether or not in fact private enterprise would be able to provide the third plank in the programme—namely, houses to let at low rents. The right reverend 361 Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and, I think, the most reverend Primate had a good deal to say on that point. It is the belief of the Government that there is evidence that private enterprise can and will play an adequate part in this scheme, not only from past experience of what private enterprise has attained —and one or two of the figures that have been given this afternoon have been, I think, an under-estimate—but from the most recent figures of houses built by private enterprise since the subsidy was abolished. Your Lordships are aware that not less than 166,000 houses were so built in the year ending September last, which was a very substantial increase over the figures of the previous year, although—and this is the significant point —the subsidy had only been dead for nine months of the year in question.
I have no doubt myself—at least I think it is legitimate to have no doubt —that that movement of the return of private enterprise into the field is likely to gather momentum, so that I hope that when we see the further increase for the current half-year, which will be available in a month or so, we shall see considerable improvement. Your Lordships must, I think, in fairness remember that this is the first time for many years that the private builder has had a chance to show what he could do unhampered by such disorganisation of supplies of labour, material, and prices as ran the price of working-class houses up in Dr. Addison's day to something like £1,200. But I willingly say that the progress in this field will be very closely watched, and the powers of local authorities are still available and will be used if need should arise. His Majesty's Government have a Committee closely watching prices, which is not disconnected with this problem. They do not anticipate a rise—prices are not rising now—but, if they should rise, the Government would at once take action in regard to it.
The most reverend Primate expressed the hope that the scheme would not remain a paper scheme. I share that hope with him, and my right honourable friend is now inviting representative associations forthwith to discuss with him the form of measures to give effect to those principles. I am here to-night to say on behalf of the Government that they are determined that there shall be no delay and no interval in a continuous progress, 362 as fast as they can make it, to push on with the programme that they have laid before the country. I regard, and the Government are well aware that the country regards, this question as a great moral and great human issue. It is one of the most significant things, I think, in the history of our people, and it is indeed democracy at its best, that from time to time the conscience of our people becomes, somewhat mysteriously as I think, aroused to evils that it has tolerated too long. It was so with the slave trade, it was so with the worst evils of factory labour after the trial revolution, under the guidance of Lord Shaftesbury; and I believe that in this House the housing urge occupies much the same position as those great moral issues in the mind of the country as a whole. The country is therefore determined that an evil that has lingered on for so many years should now be wholly swept away, so that the country may build well and truly for the future. In this matter it is fortunate that the standard both of our consciences and of our houses has risen, and there is in consequence this wave of feeling driving men and women of all classes and of all Parties to rise against the intolerable injury that had housing conditions inflict on the comfort and on the health and morals of many, many thousands of our countrymen.
As Minister of Education I had an interesting illustration placed before me not long ago of the effect of slum life upon children in the schools. Out of 100 children from the slums compared with 100 children from better homes, not less than sixty-four slum children were below the standard as against eleven of the others; thirty-four poorly nourished as against nine of the others; and at the age of eleven only three slum children had reached a class attained at the same age by thirty-seven of the children from better homes. I will not weary your Lordships, but I only say so much to show you that we at least are fully alive to the implications of these social problems. My right honourable friend's scheme accordingly aims, not at new homes for thousands or tens of thousands, but for millions of the badly and least-well-housed of our people.
I know we must do it, and I believe we can do it. As the most reverend Primate said, let us not overlook the fact that the financial burden will be great, 363 but there is everything to be laid on the other side, and the Government welcome and are grateful for the opportunity of crystallising into action what they believe to be the feeling of the public conscience on this matter. The most reverend Primate may rest assured that there is and will be no delay in pressing forward with the preparation necessary for bringing these measures into effect. If we have every cause, as I think we have, to be ashamed of the extent to which bad housing has in the past sullied the fair name of a country that is still proud to call itself Christian, we may at least find satisfaction in the fact that with such support of public opinion as I believe we command to-day on this matter the Government are now submitting to the nation a programme which they can fairly claim to be the most comprehensive measure of its kind ever submitted by any Government.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP of CANTERBURY
My Lords, at the close of this long and most useful debate it would be inconsiderate to offer anything but the shortest observations. Let me only say I am most grateful to the noble Viscount for his speech, for the spirit of it, for the promise which it holds forth that nothing will be lacking on the side of the Government in pressing forward with the completion of their scheme. I think he met very fairly most of the points which he mentioned. I would only ask him to bear in mind one or two other points which he did not mention. I think it is very important that power should be given to public utility societies, especially in the country, to acquire compulsorily ground for houses, or property, which the local rural authority is not willing to undertake. I also hope the Minister will give further consideration to the question of fuller financial assistance to the public utility societies by housing loan or otherwise, and I hope it will be made plain that while the subsidy should be mainly used for building in crowded areas in great towns, it should not be barred from being applied on appropriate occasions in rural districts or in the neighbourhood of towns. I hope your Lordships will feel that the debate which I had the honour to initiate has served a good purpose in reminding the Government of the eager interest we take in their programme and of the vigilance, sometimes critical vigilance, with which 364 we shall watch their performance of it. It may also remind citizens outside of their share of sacrifice and effort that will be involved if the intentions of the Government are to be fulfilled.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.