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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 13th March 1922.

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Photo of Lord Robert Cecil Lord Robert Cecil , Hitchin

I beard her speech advocating improved housing conditions, and I earnestly hope that no section of this House is going to write on its banner that it is against housing reform, that it believes that the State should cease to interfere to protect the housing conditions of the poorer citizens or any nonsense of that kind. It is all very well to say that people ought to pay for their housing. So they ought to pay, perhaps, in one sense, for everything, but we, at any rate, in this country have very clearly laid it down that, for good or ill, there are many things in which the State shall assist the poorer citizens of the country. We have done it with regard to education and with regard to disease. We have done it with regard to housing in various ways. It may be wrong or right. I myself am quite confident that it would be fantastic folly to go back on that course of legislation. How far you must go may have to be decided in each case, but to say, as my right hon. Friend says to us, that we are to abandon all attempt to assist the improvement of the housing conditions of this country, seems to me to be reaction gone mad. After all, the case for State intervention in housing is a very strong one, indeed. We have heard it elaborated in many aspects by much more eloquent tongues than mine. They have told us that the interests of morality, health, and everything that constitutes the well-being, require good housing.

My hon. Friend who has just made that very interesting speech on the medical aspect of the tuberculosis question has said, and no one will disagree with him, that good housing is one of the most important things in the prevention of tuberculosis. I remember, years ago, hearing strong evidence in connection with a Private Bill upstairs, which showed quite clearly that the worse the housing conditions, the greater the death-rate from tuberculosis. It is a false economy to spend vast sums of money in combating tuberculosis, and providing sanatoria and the other things which my right hon. Friend rightly desires, if you allow such housing conditions to prevail as create breeding grounds for the disease. There are many other aspects of this question, even more serious and more urgent than that. I have no doubt a great deal of money has been wasted by the Government's vacillation and incapacity to lay down one sound policy and follow it. I have no doubt some of the schemes proposed were too extravagant. I only hope my right hon. Friend is not now being inadvertently guilty of extravagance in too hastily scrapping some of these schemes. I was told to-day a story concerning a village in the constituency which I have the honour to represent. Fifty houses were originally authorised, and this was suddenly cut down to 18. The sites had already been bought and had to be disposed of under conditions not likely to be remunerative. A large amount of material had been stored in the street. It was left absolutely useless, and I suppose will eventually have to be carted away. Nothing is easier than in the name of economy to be guilty of mere extravagance. I trust my right hon. Friend will be careful of that. I do not quarrel with the general line he takes. I do not quarrel with the view that one has to be careful with expenditure even on such a vital matter as housing. I do not even quarrel with his view that it is perhaps wiser not to fix the definite number of houses we intend to build, but I earnestly beseech him and his colleagues not to allow themselves to forget for one instant the vital needs and the interests involved in this housing question. I do not complain, in the very difficult situation in which we are, of a desire to save money even in that respect. Yet I confess it is one of the very last heads of expenditure which I myself should be inclined to cut down.