Clause 2. — (Amendment of Section 1 of 9 and 10 Geo. 5, c. 99.)

Orders of the Day — Ministry of Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill – in the House of Commons on 8th December 1920.

Alert me about debates like this

(1) Sub-section (2) of Section one of the Housing (Additional Powers) Act, 1919 (which proscribes the conditions under which grants may be made to persons constructing houses), shall have effect as though two years where therein substituted for twelve months.

(2) Every Regulation made by the Minister of Health prescribing the conditions under paragraph (a) of the said Sub-section with which houses whereof the construction is begun after the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and twenty-one, shall comply, shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament as soon as may be after it is made, and if an address is presented by either House within twenty-one days on which that House has sat next after any such Regulation is laid before it, praying that the Regulation may be annulled, His Majesty in Council may annul the Regulation, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder.

Photo of Mr Stanley Holmes Mr Stanley Holmes , Derbyshire North Eastern

I beg to move to leave out the Clause.

9.0 P.M.

I want to say straight away that I am not taking into account in any way the merits of the Clause. I am asking the House to reject this on purely financial grounds. This Clause is asking us to continue the housing subsidy for another year. The housing subsidy as given in the present year by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is now something between £15,000,000 and £16,000,000. What it will be in the full year 1921–2 under this Clause, I do not know, but I assume that, as £15,000,000 does not represent a full year the subsidy will be more than that.

Photo of Mr John Lorden Mr John Lorden , St Pancras North

Fifteen million pounds represents the total.

Photo of Mr Stanley Holmes Mr Stanley Holmes , Derbyshire North Eastern

Surely I am right in saying that in the Budget this year the housing subsidy is given as £15,000,000?

Photo of Dr Christopher Addison Dr Christopher Addison , Shoreditch

This relates to quite a different matter. This relates to the lump sum given as a subsidy to private builders to build houses. It is not the amount required for local authorities' schemes.

Photo of Mr Stanley Holmes Mr Stanley Holmes , Derbyshire North Eastern

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me what the financial effect of this Clause is? Because it is obvious, if you are going to continue these grants for another year, you are going to spend more public money. The point I want to put is this. We are all urging the Government to reduce expenditure day by day. We are going to have a Debate on economy to-morrow. A number of Members will doubtless vote in favour of reduced expenditure, but whenever a proposition comes before the House which, on its merits, is good, the House votes for it, and involves the country in fresh expenditure. I am sorry for the hon. Members who find themselves on the Black List, but, in many cases, they are simply guilty of hyprocrisy, because they pretend to be economists, and desire to reduce the national expenditure, but they vote for education, health, houses, and anything else that comes along which they regard, on its merits, as good. I am perfectly willing to admit that this may be a perfectly good thing on its merits. I am quite willing to agree that education and all sorts of collective benefits which may be given to the nation by legislation are good things, but I do suggest that, at the present time, the country is not able to afford a great many of these collective benefits which social reformers of all parties desire to give them, and I ask the House to say at the present time that, having regard to the position of the national finances, we cannot afford to spend more money on social reform until we have got our finances right. For that reason I move the omission of this Clause.

Photo of Mr John Hopkins Mr John Hopkins , St Pancras South East

I beg to second the Amendment, and largely on the same ground, that of finance. As I understand it—1 may be wrong—the House voted a lump sum of £15,000,000 to be used in doles to encourage private builders to put up houses. I understand by the end of the financial year, 31st March, that of that sum there will not have been expended more than probably £4,500,000 or £5,000,000, and the object of this Clause, which looks so innocent, is to enable the Minister to spend the £9,000,000 remaining, and to spread the period over to next year, at his goodwill, for a further four months. If that is so it is exactly equivalent to our voting to-night the expenditure of new money to the extent of £9,000,000; otherwise this unexpended balance of the £15,000,000 would automatically go back to the Treasury, would lapse at the end of the financial year. I think the country can ill afford this expenditure at the present time. If it was injudicious and improper to have voted the £15,000,000 originally for this purpose, it is more than improper now, it is scandalous, knowing what we do about the financial needs of the country, and the ever-growing burden of taxation, which is less well borne to-day than when we voted the £15,000,000.

There is another reason beyond these. I am sorry, very sorry, to say that the whole result of the policy of the Minister in giving these doles and subsidies for the building of houses has produced a most disastrous effect. It has had the effect of making the houses built the most dear and expensive in the country. When we first talked about a Housing Bill here we spoke with bated breath of houses costing £500 to £600, which in pre-War days cost from £250 to £300. But the doles came along, and steadily the prices of these houses mounted up, and now we talk, without bated breath, of £1,000 to £1,200 as the cost of a four or five-roomed cottage. The doles have been all absorbed by the building trade. I am quite confident that if by some good fortune the Minister had devoted his activities to some other business than the building of houses, the law of supply and demand would probably, before now, have given us more houses built and in course of erection, and at an infinitely cheaper price. It seems to me, looking at the result of the activities of the Minister— and I have come very regretfully to the opinion—that the Minister of Health is a luxury, and a very expensive one, and one that I am doubtful, very doubtful, the country can afford at the present time.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

What the hon. Gentleman is saying is rather interesting, but it is also rather irrelevant.

Photo of Mr John Hopkins Mr John Hopkins , St Pancras South East

i am sorry to appear irrelevant, but I was endeavouring to reinforce the criticism which might be made against the Minister who proposes to spend this money under this Clause; but I will conclude by seconding the Motion for the rejection of the Clause.

Photo of Dr Christopher Addison Dr Christopher Addison , Shoreditch

The hon. Gentleman, I think, cannot have carefully examined the facts of the case. If he really wishes to allege that it is due to some action of the Minister that building is so dear, may I remind him that if he is building a factory or a warehouse he has to pay enormously more for it, just as the Minister of Health has for the bricks and materials. The Minister individually is no more responsible for this thing than are the unfortunate people who have to extend their mills and factories. What my hon. Friend opposite has inquired about has been quite correctly answered by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. It is to carry over into another year the unexpended portion of the subsidy authorised last year. The money referred to by the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway relates only to England and Wales, or, roughly, £12,500,000, of which some £5,500,000 has been spent during the present year. The £15,000,000 is applicable to the United Kingdom. If my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Holmes) is one of those who take the view that all this effort should cease then I absolutely disagree from him. Nothing, in my opinion, at the present time will be more dangerous to the best interests of society. If we want any evidence of that, one has only to look at the daily papers for the last fortnight. This whole matter was gone. into fully on the Financial Resolution and on the Second Reading of the Bill, and I think there was a consensus of opinion that, so far as any assistance by the House of Commons was concerned in this matter of housing, this was the most economical way, because, at all events, we do get rid of our liabilities on the spot; it is not a continuing liability over a long term of years. Amongst the schemes it is, I think, universally accounted the best and the most economical. It is on that account, when in these days we certainly get as much as we can for as small an expenditure as possible, that this particular class of expenditure is advocated, for in it we do get return for the money expended. Therefore I hope the house will not accept the Motion.

Photo of Mr John Lorden Mr John Lorden , St Pancras North

On this point the Minister has touched the very spot when he alludes to the question of costs. What is the cheapest form of house building? It is the subsidy scheme. You are limited to a subsidy of £260 for every house you are building, whereas if you adoptee) other schemes the cost might be £1,000 more.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Williams Mr Aneurin Williams , Consett

The schemes of public utility societies do not cost any more

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

We cannot have a general discussion on the housing policy. The point is, are we or are we not going to have this subsidy to the private builder for another year.

Photo of Mr John Lorden Mr John Lorden , St Pancras North

I was trying to show that this was the best and cheapest way of dealing with the problem, and of the two evils I think we should choose the lesser. The system we have adopted is an evil, but it is very much less than the evil of the municipalities dealing with it themselves.

Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER CLAY:

I want to know whether it is possible under the present arrangement for a man to arrange to build a house and having come under the scheme, can he add two or three more rooms and make a larger house. I think that would be obtaining the subsidy for a different class of house. I want to know if the right hon. Gentleman can take any steps to prevent this questionable practice being adopted. I hear rumours that it is being done and I think it should be stopped, because the money should not be given in such cases.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham and Worthing

I do not think in the Clause as it stands there is much to which we can take objection. As I understand it, in reply to a speech which I made on Committee, the Minister of Health gave a distinct pledge that under no circumstances would the Government contemplate the extension of this principle longer than the period mentioned in this Clause, that is, for another year. The importance of that pledge may not be apparent, but if you are going to lead builders to suppose that Parliament is going to encourage builders to rely upon a subsidy for many years to come because it is the cheapest way, in that case I should vote against this Clause. If the idea is going to be that the Government are going to encourage house builders in this way permanently, we should never get back to the provision of houses on an economic basis. You will never achieve this if the private builder is led to believe that he is always going to get a subsidy. The Minister of Health assured us that we should never be able to solve this problem until we got back to an economic basis.

We now come back to the justification for extending this practice for another' year. The hon. Member (Mr. Holmes) said you have to cut your coat according to your cloth, and that it is no use on one occasion reducing military expenditure if you keep silent with regard to reducing other forms of expenditure; and he further said that you can never get real economy unless expenditure is reduced all round. Does the hon. Member think that anybody who went to his constituency in England and asserted that he was going to vote against spending any more money on houses would have any chance of being returned again? We have heard a good deal about squander-mania, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make it clear that in no circumstances is he going to carry on this policy for more than another year. I regard with some apprehension that he is going to carry on this policy for another year, but I hope that that period may suffice to bring us back once more to an economic-basis. I confess I have no very great enthusiasm for the method adopted in this Clause, but on this occasion I shall support it.

Photo of Major John Molson Major John Molson , Gainsborough

Although we are all trying to effect economy, I think it would be a mistake to stop this subsidy. I believe that houses will be more cheaply built by the aid of a subsidy than if they were built by public authorities, and for that reason I am against this Amendment. On this point I am quite at one with the hon. Member for St. Pancras (Mr. Lorden), and I agree that the cheapest way of building houses is by leaving them to private individuals.

Photo of Mr Augustine Hailwood Mr Augustine Hailwood , Manchester Ardwick

I would like to know whether the unexpended portion will fall into the Treasury at the end of the financial year, and will it come into the Estimates next year?

Photo of Dr Christopher Addison Dr Christopher Addison , Shoreditch

It will appear next year.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Williams Mr Aneurin Williams , Consett

I think we are all agreed as to the value of a subsidy as a temporary expedient, but I would like to urge upon the Minister of Health the necessity of seeing that the rules and regulations laid down by his Department are such that the local builders have a wide latitude as to the way they shall build the houses, provided that they are good and efficient. I bring up this point because I realise that I had to approach the right hon. Gentleman's Department on this question a short time ago. It was merely a technical detail, in which an obstruction was put in the way of a local individual. There was some form of regulation which affected the question whether a house in a slate-producing district should be fitted with slates or not. The right, hon. Gentleman was extremely sympathetic in this respect and gave every assistance. I should like to urge him to use his powers very widely and to try to do away with red tape as far as possible in the construction of these houses. Only in that way can he hope to expedite the building question.

Photo of Dr Christopher Addison Dr Christopher Addison , Shoreditch

We framed our scheme with a view to its being as elastic and simple as possible. I think the Government scheme works exceedingly simply, but we have often been criticised because the regulations are too lax and easy. However, I will bear the point which the bon. Gentleman has raised in mind.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

My hon. Friend (Mr. Hailwood) asked whether unexpended balances would fall into the Treasury. I think not, if this is carried. As T understand it, a sum not exceeding £15,000,000 has been authorised for one year. Now, we say that that sum should be authorised to two years. Therefore, until the end of two years, no money which is unexpended will fall into the Treasury. At the end of the two years, if the period is not renewed, any unexpended balance will fall into the Treasury and go to the reduction of the National Debt. Of course the money will appear on next year's Estimates. I think I am right in that?

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

This is really a very difficult question. There are a great number of matters which probably the majority of the Members of this House would like to see done; but you have to consider your resources. However good a thing may be, if you have not the money to do it, and if you borrow the money, the only result will be what happens in the case of a spendthrift who, not having sufficient money to dine at the Ritz, borrows in order to do it. He will come to an untimely end, and so shall we. Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not seem to realise we have to get the money from somewhere. One hon. Gentleman said that if a man had not got a house and had no money he ought to have one. That is a very crude doctrine, although, if I had no money for a house, I should probably agree with it. If that doctrine were carried to its logical outcome we should abolish all civilisation and go back to a savage state where the strongest person took what he wanted from the weakest. That would not tend to the prosperity of this or any other country I do not like subsidies, and I believe that the only real solution probably is private enterprise. I am afraid we are killing private enterprise, and that all those Bills, which are supposed to assist in the provision of houses, will result in frightening the speculative builder or the investor.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

The next Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for St. Pancras North (Mr. Lorden) does not read. There is nothing about the floor area of houses in the Clause. The following Amendment in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), substituting five years for two in which grants may be made to persons construct ing houses, involves a charge. The hon. and gallant Member will remember the Resolution passed by the Committee on which this Clause was founded. The next Amendment, in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Moss Side (Lieut.-Colonel Hurst), providing that no grant may be made to persons constructing houses unless they satisfy the Minister of Health that at least 33 per cent. of the workpeople employed by them in the process of constructing such houses served in the armed forces of the Crown during the late War, is too indefinite in form for the Report stage. The Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for South East St. Pancras (Mr. Hopkins), is one that I pass by.

Photo of Mr Godfrey Locker-Lampson Mr Godfrey Locker-Lampson , Wood Green

I beg to move in Sub-section (2) after the word "made" ["every Regulation made"] to insert the words "after the passing of this Act."

Unless we put in some sort of Amendment of this kind it will be possible for the Minister of Health to issue a Regulation before 31st March next altering the subsidy payable on each house, and also, for instance, altering the number of houses that can be built in a particular area. In the past the right hon. Gentleman has issued orders, without coming to this House, altering the number of houses which can be built in any area, and altering the amount of the subsidy. Without coming to the House he altered the subsidy by Regulation from a £160 maximum to a £260 maximum. This Amendment is to ensure that before issuing a new Regulation, or before such Regulation should have binding force, the right hon. Gentleman must lay it on the Table, and give the House an opportunity of saying whether it wants it or not. The Amendment is a reasonable one. After all, we ought to have control ever very important matters, such as the subsidy payable, the area, and the number of houses in a particular area.

Photo of Dr Christopher Addison Dr Christopher Addison , Shoreditch

I quite agree with the hon. Member that his Amendment makes the matter clear, and quite specific. It was our intention to deal with it, but I have no desire to avoid the procedure which he advocates, and I think his proposal will meet the case. I accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In Subsection (2), leave out the words, "Subsection with which houses whereof the construction is begun after the thirty-first day of March nineteen hundred and twenty-one shall comply." — [Mr. G. Locker-Lampson.]