I beg to move, to leave out the word "twenty-five," and to insert instead thereof the word "thirty."
I think the House will agree that this Amendment is one of very great substance, and that it will either make or mar the value of the Bill. In considering this question, it is just as well to ask ourselves why houses were first controlled, and in answering that question I think we shall probably find there were a number of reasons which induced the Government of that time to control houses. One of the reasons, which, I think, were operating in the minds of Members in the House of Commons at that time, was that the landlords were at least suspected of desiring to increase rents very materially, and everybody will remember that in certain districts in Scotland and in England we got very near to a condition of riot and when there might have been bloodshed in consequence of threats of landlords to increase rents to a very great extent. There was also the possibility of those tenants who were not in a position to pay large increases of rent being evicted as a consequence, and those who were out of work—and there were many out of work at the time—and those who because of small wages were quite unable to bear any big increase in rent, became more or less noisy, and great numbers of meetings were held in protest against the desire of the landlords to increase rents.
I suggest that all those things were very clearly before the eyes of the Government at that time, and, consequently, they saw at once the necessity, for many reasons, no doubt, to put a limit on the rents that could be charged by landlords for particular kinds of property. If those conditions prevailed at that time, I think the House ought to ask itself whether the conditions have materially altered at the present time, and, if not, is there any real reason to believe that by the date mentioned in the Bill, namely, 1925, there will be any real alteration in the condition prevailing then as compared with now, or as compared with the date when control was first put on? I suggest that the tenants are, probably, in a worse condition now than they were when the rents were first controlled. The number of houses is less than then compared with the population. There is a far greater shortage of houses now, and I think anybody who was at the discussions in the Committee on the Housing Bill will agree that it was mentioned, not only by Members on this side of the House, but by Members on the other side, and, I think I am correct in saying, by the Minister himself, that they did not expect to get many new houses under the new Housing Bill. I do not think that anybody could reasonably argue that by 1925, the date when the first part of the decontrol Section of the Bill comes into operation, there is any reason to believe that the housing problem will be less acute than it was when control was first put into operation.
Therefore, I suggest that it would be a very dangerous thing, indeed, for this House to say that in 1925, quite irrespective of whether there are any houses for the people to go into or not, that the houses in which they are now living will be decontrolled, and that while wages are falling, and probably will continue to fall between now and 1925, rents are going to be suddenly increased by probably 50 or even 100 per cent. I say the House ought very seriously to consider the condition of things that might arise in consequence of the action the Government ask us to take to-day. What will be the feelings of hundreds of thousands of workers whose wages are continually falling, who are continually being told that the cost of living is going down, and, consequently, that they must accept reduced rates of wages, and when decontrol takes place on a given day, when it is generally admitted by all sections of the House that the condition of the housing problem will be very little, if at all, better than at the present time, or at the time control was first put on rents—what, I ask, will be the feelings of people at that time? I say, in all probability, a state of things will arise in which the Government of the time may have to use force to repress violence. It appears to be a very serious problem indeed. It must be remembered that when control was first established, it was influenced more by the riots, or threatened riots, and the rent strikes that took place on the Clyde and in other districts. Those things were probably more responsible than anything else for bringing about control. Are we going to risk that state of things again in the near future? It would be a far more reasonable attitude of mind to ask, when can we reasonably hope, by the operation of the Housing Bill that will soon be coming into force, that we shall have a reasonable sufficiency of houses, though perhaps not a full sufficiency, that will enable tenants to have some chance to get another house, in the event of the landlord putting up, to any large extent, the rent of the house in which the tenant is now living? I do not think the Minister would argue that we could reasonably hope for that condition a things in 1925. I think I am right in saying that he on more than one occasion said that he did not think that state of things would exist in 1925, but I understand his argument to be. "We will partly decontrol houses in 1925, and will take off the remaining control in 1930." I do suggest it is reasonable to believe that it will take at least until 1930 before we have anything like the number of houses that will be required to meet the demands that we have at the present time. Everybody admits that, including the Minister himself.
If that be so, would it not be far safer and far more in the interest, not only of the tenant, but of the landlord, to say that we believe that there is a reasonable chance of a sufficient number of houses in 1930, and therefore we will decontrol the houses in 1930, because there will be some alternative accommodation for the tenants, who may have to go out of their present houses, and there may be some reasonable hope of getting other houses? I have heard it argued from the other side that it is to give confidence to the people who will build houses. You want to let them know some definite period at which they may expect houses to be decontrolled, so that we will get back as near to what we call normal conditions in a reasonable number of years. In consequence of that confidence we can (they will say) safely decontrol the houses, and at the same time know that building will be going on to a very much greater extent than at present. Will the right hon. Gentleman seriously argue that the amount of decontrol in this Bill is going to give confidence to anybody to build houses? I suggest it will not. I suggest that anybody who has this in mind will say—I would myself if I were building houses, and I think that most other people whatever their views politically may be would say the same—that if they are going into a speculation such as this of building houses they will argue along the same lines, assuming that they have the common knowledge of what they are undertaking to do. In that case most people will say, "What hope is there that the Government will decontrol houses in 1925?"
They told us before they were going to decontrol. Then they changed their minds and their policy. They told us quite a number of things in this matter, so that nobody knew what they were going to do. Ultimately they gave a date at which they were going to decontrol. Then they changed their policy again. What hope have we that another by-election may not make them change their minds again? After all, what reasonable hope have we that in 1925 there will be a sufficient number of houses for the people to live in? Is the position, too, safe from the landlords' point of view? To say that "irrespective of the conditions of the housing problem, irrespective of whether there are houses for the people to live in or not, we will, on a certain day in 1925, increase your rents just as much as we like"—of course, with certain reservations stated in the second part of the Act. It is a condition of things about which no landlord would feel satisfied. No thoughtful landlord, reasonably regarding the possibilities of the situation, and of getting his rent in certain districts, would look to that state of things with any confidence. I had a conversation on Friday last with two landlords—at least, one of them is a house and estate agent— and both of them told me, though they do not belong to my political party—they belong to the one to which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health belongs—they told me that it was their firm conviction that this Act, which is being brought in supposedly in the interest of the landlord, would not be approved by the great bulk of landlords and rent collectors over the country. The landlords are getting their rents now. They can remember a condition of things, before control came in, when they went to collect their rents on a certain day in the week, and found they were lucky if they got 75 per cent. of the rents. The same general condition applied to other districts where the collectors did not even get 50 per cent. of their rents on a particular day; but because of the operation of this Act, and because of other features, they are to-day getting their rents in nearly every case in full.
What will be the condition of things when this Act comes to an end in 1925? The housing shortage will be as great as, perhaps, if not greater than, now; the whole state of the country will be disturbed. Nobody can possibly have any confidence in the Government, or in Parliament, that they are going on a certain date to be brought completely under another condition of things without another very great change in legislation in this matter? With no alternative accommodation for the tenants, and the general state of things at least equally as bad as they are to-day, and probably much worse than they were when the first Bill controlling houses in the country was brought in, where will we be? 1930, from every point of view, is a reasonable time when we may expect that the housing shortage will be to a large extent met, will be, at any rate, met to the extent that we can avoid the possibility of bloodshed, riot, and trouble, as we only did a few years ago. One must at least hope that some better accommodation for the tenants than they have and the houses they are now living in will be provided. It is a date that, speaking generally, I think most people will admit, whatever their politics may be, is a reasonable date for expecting something like normal conditions again in housing.
It appears to me to be simply playing with a serious problem to suggest that in 1925 the conditions will be so materially altered that we will be able to decontrol the houses, or the great bulk, and to allow what is called supply and demand to have its usual effect. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take the date 1925 out, and give some stability or hope of stability to the people who build houses, and, as well, hope and stability to those who live in the houses, and some reasonable hope that normal conditions will have arrived, or something like them, before at all events he decontrols houses, or he may find himself compelled, as he is now, and as the Government were some time back, to again inaugurate control. That sort of thing would not do good. It will not be good for the tenant nor for the landlord, and it will be exceedingly bad for those who, as it is hoped they will do, build houses.
I beg to second the Amendment.
We have heard the Minister state that it is necessary we should have more houses, and in order to have them it is necessary to get rid of these restrictions. When the Minister made that statement he gave us no evidence whatever which led him to that conclusion. I myself cannot understand the theory that it is necessary to decontrol old property that we may expedite the erection of new. The provisions of this Bill, I believe, exclude new property from its operation, and to argue that 1925 will be a better date to the great majority of investors in new houses than 1930 is, in my judgment, to suggest that there will be a greater number of houses erected by 1925 than there is likely to be in 1930. To me the arrangement is a most peculiar one, and the reasoning of the Minister equally peculiar. The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out that this industry of house building is one of the industries in which it is necessary that confidence should prevail. In the Housing Bill it is supposed that in 1925 100,000 will have been erected. In 1919 the Minister of Health stated that there was required in this country something like 500,000 houses. Since that time 215,000 have been erected; that is in four years. Look at the number of houses that must be required to make up the normal leeway in the four years since the War.
In Derby well before the War there was a genuine shortage of houses to the extent that it was necessary to have a Local Government Board inquiry. After that inquiry reported, in 1914, something over 100 houses were ordered to be put up at once. Derby was only similar to many other towns. Since that time, the War and other things have added to the difficulties and complexities, and in face of this the Minister comes forward and says that in a couple of years he proposes to decontrol housing while at the same time saying that the principal requirement of this industry is confidence. I do not believe there can be any confidence in this industry when we see the deplorable position of housing in this country to-day. I think it is necessary to fix a date which is reasonable in view of present-day circumstances, and not to fix it in 1925 when, on the Minister's own statement, there is not the remotest possibility that the houses will be provided. That state of things in the industry is not likely to attract investors if it is essential that investors should be attracted for the purpose of securing what is aimed at.
This is really, if I may say so, the key to the Bill. I refer to the question of the date, which is the foundation of this Bill. On the Second Reading of the Bill I pointed out there were many good features in this Bill, but that two years was totally inadequate for the purpose of securing what we wanted. I suppose the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health hopes that his Government will be in office in two years' time, and also, perhaps, thinks that he will still then be a Member of the same Government, and will be in office. Does he look forward with any relish to this whole question being reopened in two years' time? Can he imagine himself still having to face the responsibility of some similar Bill extending the time, for the third or fourth time, the provisions of the Rent Restrictions Act? I think that is a prospect that he will not like to face the House with, especially in view of the fact that he has spent so many, many days on these various Bills, and he might be inclined in his own mind to take advantage of that fact, for would it not be wiser to face the fact that as every housing expert knows, it will be quite impossible in two years' time to make up that housing shortage that makes legislation of this kind necessary.
When the right hon. Gentleman introduced the Housing Bill which is now an Act, he was very careful to say to the House that he did not for a moment suggest that that Bill was going to solve the housing problem. On the contrary, he only put it forward as an instalment. That being so, I think it is unreasonable that in two years' time we should have to face this problem which will be very much then as it is to-day, and that the Government themselves, the Government then in office, will have to face similar legislation and again come forward and ask for a reinstatement of these provisions. Therefore, I say that it would be wise to come forward and to put in a more reasonable date than 1925. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that in his Housing Act, which was hurried through Parliament, he did extend the date for the completion of houses from early in 1925 to early in 1926, because it was urged, even on his own side, that his scheme would not be completed. That being so, it is all the more unsatisfactory to put this Bill in force for so short a period. I think he is conscious of it, because in the latter part of the Bill he put forward proposals for Committees which have caused great consternation among some of the absent Members, who usually sit behind him. They are so concerned that they have taken the unusual course of putting Amendments down to defeat these Clauses, because they suggest that they will be setting up something like a rent court. Personally, I am rather attracted by some of the proposals in the latter part of the Bill. A good many of my hon. Friends feel that if the proposals of this Bill were to be continued for a considerable period we should not be inclined to vote against these Clauses and risk putting the Government in a minority.
We are anxious to give stability to the tenants, instead of them always having the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, and being uncertain whether their rent is going to be raised or whether the Rent Restrictions Act is going to come to an end. That is the feeling which is causing so much unrest. I would remind the Minister of Health that stability is the very foundation of Conservatism, and to have the danger of a renewal every couple of years of legislation of this kind must be a serious cause of unrest, and would undermine the authority of those constitutional forces to which the right hon. Gentleman is so much attached. For these reasons, I hope he will reconsider the period fixed in the Bill so as to enable this Measure to continue for a reasonable time, and thus save the House of Commons having to go through this business of reconsidering this Measure every two or three years.
The Minister of Health during the Committee stage positively assured us that it was necessary that in this Bill we should have a fixed period. During these discussions we have criticised private enterprise in all industries very severely, but we have never criticised it so strongly as the Minister has done or regarded builders as being so stupid as to believe that in 1925 there is going to be decontrol. This Bill is proceeding on the assumption that there is going to be decontrol in 1925, but even if it were true the fixing of a date is not going to have any effect in encouraging the builders. The Minister stated that while it may be true that many working-class houses will not be built other houses of a larger type will be built, and that is going to allow people who are living in insufficient housing accommodation to move into the larger premises, and so release those who are living in still smaller houses to move up. This filters down to the working classes having to wait until smaller houses are built. There may be something in this argument, but there is not a great deal. This kind of thing is not going to supply a great deal of accommodation for the working classes by 1925. May I point out that there is no great scarcity of houses of the larger type? It is not a question of lack of accommodation in those cases, but it is a question of the rent being already too high. More houses added will certainly created competition, but if the landlord is in as strong a position as he is to-day he will not consider the interests of the working-class tenants in the end.
Even if it were true that the building of larger houses is going to provide in the end more housing accommodation for the working-class tenants, it is argued by the Government's own supporters and the Minister that there is no encouragement to builders to-day to provide working-class houses, and it is admitted by everybody that they will not build working-class houses at rents which the working-class tenants can afford to pay. If that is so there can be no objection, from the point of view of encouraging private enterprise to extending the date to 1930, thus giving the protection to working-class tenants which the period of 1925 is going to deprive them of. It is also quite true, as the Minister of Health has argued, that from the passing of the Act decontrol is going to commence, and that by 1925 a large number of houses will already have been decontrolled. It is not true, however, that the majority of working-class houses are going to be decontrolled by 1925, because that would presuppose a great migration of the people from one part of the city to another, and probably wholesale evictions. By 1925 the majority of the houses will remain controlled, but in 1925, or even earlier, if a Resolution is passed by this House and another place, control may continue.
There is nobody even on the Government side of the House who believes that it would be possible to decontrol with safety to the tenants in 1925 in so far as additional housing accommodation will make it safe by allowing competition amongst landlords to let their premises while rents are kept down, accordingly. There is no one believes that that can be done by 1925. It means that you are going to have a recurrence of the conditions which existed during the War period, and there is going to be trouble in every part of the country. It is not a question of threatening the House, and it is merely a statement of the facts. Those who come from working-class constituencies, and who have lived under working-class conditions, know that they are so bad that any attempt to decontrol rents and to allow landlords to force them up is going to create a condition of unrest which will be a very serious danger.
There is no question of anyone requiring to stir up strife, because there will be plenty of people willing and ready to do that. Where there is discontent there is always great scope for the agitator, but if you remove the cause then there is no room for the agitator. The tenants will combine and form tenants' defence associations and other organisations, and the mere prospect of decontrol in 1925 will organise the tenants to such an extent that they will be able to resist any attempt at decontrol in 1925. If that date for decontrol is insisted upon, you will have rents strikes as you had before, and you will have the agitation going on, defence committees formed, and rent strikes occurring in every part of the country. We are no more desirous of that than the Government are. It is true, as a previous speaker said, that the very foundation of Conservatism is stability. I have pointed out that the best ground for the agitator is instability and insecurity. We do not want to feed on that. We want to see order brought about; we do not want to live on Red strikes and Red agitation.
Some hon. Members opposite may think that Labour Members are greatly concerned to see the Red agitation going on, and to see bad housing conditions continue, because they will have something to work on. That is a very much mistaken idea. No one would be better pleased than the Labour Members of this House to see this rent question swept completely out of the way. It is taking up our time and causing us to neglect things we are more concerned with. After all, the conditions of labour, the existing wage system and rent questions are not the matters with which we are concerned chiefly. They are incidentals merely, but we are compelled to deal with them. They add fuel to the fire throughout the country. We want to get rid of them; we want to get on with bigger things. The Government do not want this continual agitation over rent and housing, either. They want to get on with something else. We are suggesting that if they will give security until 1930, the security of control, they will then have at their disposal all that period of time, and if they will give us some guarantee of having sufficient houses built, they will be free from the discontent attendant on the rents question up to that period, and they will be free to get on with topics much more important. No one would be better pleased than we to have some sense of security, some freedom from the continual pressure from our constituencies on rent questions. Believe me, we do not want our time taken up with matters of that kind. It is as much to our interest as it is to the interest of the Government to have them cleared out of the way, so that we can get on with those bigger questions in which we are all more concerned. I hope, therefore, the Minister will seriously consider accepting this Amendment to extend the period of control until 1930.
Since I have had an opportunity of making myself familiar with the right hon. Gentleman's speeches in Committee on this particular matter, I can anticipate what he is likely to say when replying on this Debate. As I understand it, he objected to the year 1930 being included in the Bill, because he desired to make this delicate operation of decontrol a very gradual one. He was afraid that if decontrol took place suddenly it might result in considerable confusion and have the effect at the same time of preventing building speculators from engaging in building operations. I want to submit, in reply to that argument, that precisely the same effect is likely to result from the inclusion of the year 1925 in the Bill. What will happen? Simply this. In the first place, the tenants will be in a state of suspense. They have no security. It has been argued in Committee that under Part II of the Bill they have certain privileges which will protect them to a considerable degree. These privileges consist largely of appeals to the Court, and so far as I can ascertain from my reading of the Bill there will be constant litigation proceeding after 1925 on this question of decontrol. If there is one thing we desire to avoid, it is the continuance of unnecessary litigation on this question of rent.
Everyone knows that litigation is costly. I have had experience of it myself, for in a case to which I referred in a previous discussion, I was mulcted in a charge of £29 10s. for Court expenses in merely defending myself against a landlord who desired to make me pay more rent than I thought I was legally entitled to pay. I do not suppose any hon. Member of this House expects a working-class tenant to stand up to a financial difficulty of that kind. It is true that I lost my case, as an hon. Member opposite interjects, but may I be permitted to remind the House that on the principle which I contested in the Court, and which the learned Judge decided against me, the Court of Session of Edinburgh ultimately upheld my point of view, and the House of Lords confirmed the decision of the Court of Session. But I did not get my £29 10s. back. Your working-class tenant has hardly sufficient with which to pay his rent without proceeding to defend himself in a Court of law, which he well knows will involve him in expenditure he cannot afford to incur.
That is the whole crux of the question—that the only manner in which you can deal with decontrol after 1925, with the exception of certain cases such as new buildings, constructed from now onwards, is by means of litigation, or, at all events, by reference to a Court of law. I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree there is no desire, except, perhaps, on the part of the legal profession, to proceed any further with litigation on questions of this kind. Apart from the suspense of mind, which tenants find themselves thrust into, there is the suspense of the landlord. I know hon. Members on the other side are very anxious to protect the landlord, and, possibly, with some justification from their standpoint, but there is no protection to the landlord here such as they desire to give them. Again, the question of reference to the Court of law comes in, and the landlord does not know whether the Court will decide in his favour after 1925. So there is no protection for the landlord, no protection for the tenant, there is a complete sense of insecurity, there is suspense all round, and, in the meantime, are we legislating for what we believe will lead to stability of mind of both landlord and tenant in this country. I think the ostensible wish of the Minister is, in some measure, to stimulate house building in the country.
Let us get down to hard facts and try to ascertain how far any of the provisions of this Bill are likely to stimulate house building in any degree. I join issue at once with the Minister and his friends on this question. I cannot see how building speculators, and particularly those who cater for working-class tenants, are likely to engage in house-building operations in face of the steady diminution in the wages of working-class tenants, which, obviously, deprives them of the privilege of paying the rents which will be demanded of them; and in face—and this is a very formidable point, which I think will receive the respect of the other side—of the continual high prices that are being charged for building materials. This, perhaps, if I may digress for a moment, is the most formidable obstacle of all. If the minds of building speculators in the country could be relieved as regards the prices of building materials, it would, probably, have more effect on the building of houses than any other thing that could be done. The Minister has not yet faced that difficulty, except by the appointment of a Committee, about which we know little or nothing, and which does not appear to be doing anything of moment. That is probably because it lacks the power, but, at all events, the fact is, as I say, that very little is being done, whatever may be being attempted.
For these reasons, cogent as I think they are, there is a substantial case for continuing control until a later period. The question may be asked of hon. Members on this side, and I admit that it is a very pointed question, whether, assuming control to be continued until 1930, we would agree to a complete lopping off of control at that time. That question has to be faced, and, speaking from my own personal standpoint, I would agree to the ending of control in 1930, because I believe that by that time we shall have in this country a sufficient supply of houses for the working classes, if the Government are prepared to apply the powers they possess in other directions so far as the price of building material is concerned. That is a matter for themselves. Personally, I say at once, I dislike control. Control is an artificial product, justified, perhaps, only by war circumstances and by the abnormal circumstances which have arisen since the War; but control under the existing capitalist system is no more justifiable in the case of rent than in the case of food. I dislike it entirely, and would much prefer to allow the ordinary economic law of supply and demand to operate, provided that you abolish the restrictions which apply to building materials, to the raw material of housing, and to questions of wages and things of that sort. But, if you will not legislate for one thing, obviously you have to legislate for another. I believe, however, that, if you make no attempt to bring about a partial measure of decontrol in the manner I have indicated, and as is desired by hon. Members on the other side, if you continue control until 1930 and then put an end to it completely, you will have solved the question in a thorough manner. If you are not prepared to do that, I submit that all your efforts will be in vain. I do not know how far the Government are susceptible to by-elections. It has been argued from this side, probably with some measure of justice, that they have been susceptible to recent by-elections. I think it is a very bad thing that a Government should allow itself to be swayed by the result of a by-election, and if we are to have—
I bow to your ruling. I was about to submit that it is very serious and awkward, not to say unconstitutional, that legislation should be influenced by considerations of that kind. I am anxious to avoid that, and, therefore, would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman not to allow his mind to be influenced by the arguments which have been submitted by hon. Members on his own side in the Committee, but to face this matter boldly. He has earned a reputation for boldness during the last day or two, to say nothing of ability. Let him earn that reputation now. Probably no Member of the House is more able to earn and sustain a reputation of that kind. I ask him to apply boldness in a constructive fashion to this problem. If you only attempt to deal with it in a halfhearted fashion, the problem will remain, and in 1925 you will be faced with precisely the same condition of things with which we are faced to-day.
We have heard a very interesting speech from the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell), and he has made some striking admissions, which some of us, perhaps, will remember on a future occasion. I am very glad, in the first place, to note that the hon. Member, so far as he himself is concerned, is not in favour of the system of control, either in connection with building of with, as I undersand, any other matter. That is a very interesting observation. The point, however, which specially strikes me in his speech, and in regard to which I think we shall want some little further explanation, is why he fixes on the year 1930, any more than, say, 1929 or 1931. I wish to make my own position perfectly clear. I am quite content to accept the year which has been put forward by the Minister, namely, 1925, but I accept it with, at any rate, this reservation, as I think almost every Member of the House must do, that we shall again have to consider in 1925 exactly what the housing position is, and whether the supply of houses then justifies the putting into operation of Part II of this Bill. If the year 1926 had been selected by the Minister, exactly the same objections could be advanced against it as have been advanced against 1925. The utmost that can be said for the year 1925 is that it does give a date from which gradual decontrol can begin, but it must obviously be dependent upon whether there is a sufficient supply of houses, at any rate to meet the paramount needs, as I believe, of a very large number of the people of this country. As to why 1930 should be chosen, we have heard no argument from the hon. Member opposite. He also made this observation, that, when 1930 came, he was prepared to allow decontrol to disappear; but I noticed that, as I expected, knowing him as an able debater in this House, he made a very important qualification. Of course, directly we get to 1930, the same considerations will arise, and he will be amply safeguarded by the statement he has made in this House to-night.
If the hon. Member will forgive me for interrupting him, I pointed out, or, at any rate, attempted to point out—perhaps I did not do so clearly—that the Government would be compelled to do other things.
Certainly. The hon. Member said that his fixing of the year 1930 was dependent upon whether the Government put into force certain powers which he thinks they ought to put into force. I can well understand the year 1930 arising—and I hope the hon. Mem- ber will still be here—when he would say, "Oh, but the Government have not done this, they have not done that, they have not put into operation all these things which I think they ought to have done." When 1930 comes, if decontrol cannot be put into operation we must again face the question of further control. In my judgment, it is largely dependent on the housing situation in 1925 as to whether we can continue to go on with any question of gradual decontrol, but I think very ample provisions have been made—they may perhaps be improved in the course of this stage of the Bill—by which gradual decontrol can take place. Hon. Members opposite will agree that that is a far better proposal than the suggestion of the Onslow Committee, by which decontrol should take place in accordance with various classes of houses in proportion to their rent and matters of that kind. At any rate, there is some scheme by which we can get back to that position which the hon. Member opposite desires, namely, absolutely decontrol of all houses in the country.
I do not think for a moment it can be said there is no security in the future for tenants who may be subject to applications by their landlord for dispossession. I have very carefully studied what has taken place in the Committee, and certainly most of the concessions which have been made are in favour of the tenant and also against any immediate decontrol or dispossession of any one of them. We shall never get back to the period of decontrol which the hon. Member desires until we are able to assure people who have previously invested money in the building industry that it is likely at an early date that there will be absolute decontrol. The position of the private builder is not so much dependent upon the desires and acts of the ordinary builder. It is really dependent on the people who are prepared to lend him money, and the private builders in the past were really put in motion, in the matter of finance, by a very large number of people who at present are refusing to put their money for investment in house building. It is not so much what is the position of the building trade, it is really what is the state of mind of the people who have hitherto invested their money in house building. Very large numbers of people who are of the same political thought and opinion as hon. Members opposite have in days gone by invested very large sums in house building. It is a very striking feature of the attitude of mind, we will say, of the average workman that in days gone by he was prepared to invest his money either in a mortgage on a house or in having a house constructed for himself. To-day they have not that condition of mind at all. All that source of finance, so far as the ordinary private builder is concerned, has dried up. Why has it dried up?
The hon. Member opposite rather put upon one side the explanation that I desire to offer of the attitude of mind of a very large number of people with regard to the present position. He said that because rent restriction did not apply to new house building people would continue to go on investing and erecting houses, but the facts are that people do not and will not to-day invest their money in house building because—and it is very difficult to convince them to the contrary—they think that somehow or other there is a prejudice against that form of investment and they are liable at any time through some Act in Parliament to have their security jeopardised. That may be a quite unreasonable frame of mind, but there it is, and if you go to any surveyor or any professional man and say, "Why is it that people are refusing to invest in house property, and how is it that they take up that attitude when restrictions do not apply to new house building?" he will tell you exactly the same as I am stating. Therefore, I agree with the Government that it is most essential to put some scheme before the country by which gradual decontrol will take place. If you alter the date to 1926, or if you like to 1930, you will undoubtedly confirm that impression amongst vast numbers of people. I support the year 1925 simply for the reasons I have stated. I hope by that time there will be sufficient houses to justify gradual decontrol. At any rate it is well, perhaps, to fix that date and await the event. I certainly would not, so far as any vote of mine was concerned, if 1925 arrives and the housing position is by no means met, take any step to put decontrol into immediate operation. But the same argument exactly applies to 1926 or 1927 or 1930. There is no magic in any of these figures. All I think you can do is to put forward a reasonable present- ment of the position as it appears at the moment and to aim at the figure 1925 in the hope that gradual decontrol will then take place. If there are not sufficient houses by that time, I believe there will be sufficient pressure in the country to operate on every Member of Parliament to see that Part II of the Bill is not put into operation. I think hon. Members opposite will be making a very great mistake and will be undoubtedly prejudicing the future of house building, which after all is dependent on people putting their money into housing enterprise, if they seek to postpone this figure and put it at 1930, as to which we may direct every objection which has been taken against the year 1925.
The hon. Member who has just sat down has admitted the grave element of uncertainty which attaches to the date that is inserted in the Bill. It appears to me one of the most glaring defects of the Bill as it has emerged from Committee that we should have had a hard-and-fast date fixed. We are all agreed that decontrol could not possibly come in sooner, much as we should all desire to see it. It is dependent upon circumstances which will have to be clearly defined as at the date when decontrol takes effect. But I put it to the Government that, in fixing this date, they must be aware of the very serious risks which they are taking. I put it to the Under-Secretary for Health whether he is prepared to say he is satisfied that, at the end of this period, there will be sufficient houses provided for Scotland to meet the existing needs. We have had it recently in a Report of the Board of Health that there is a shortage of 100,000 houses in Scotland to be made up—the figure which was put forward by local authorities under the original Addison scheme. I put it to him whether it is not clear to all who have studied the problem, that there is no likelihood, to say the least, of an adequate number of houses being built before the period which is fixed in the Bill. It may be said we are to have another period of modified control to follow, but this modified period of control takes us into an entirely different region. It is not the character of control which has to be provided to secure the necessary protection for those who may find it impossible to secure adequate housing accommodation. What will happen is that you are going to throw all questions with regard to tenants securing occupation of premises into the Law Courts. You are going to create a system in which the obligation will be placed on every tenant, on every man or woman who desires to secure occupation of a house, to bear the burden and expense of legal proceedings in order to establish their claim. Is it a right and fair thing to regard that modified control as a system which ought to be recommended or adopted? Under that system you are creating difficulties which are insuperable, and you are putting an unfair strain upon the County Court Judges and Sheriffs, and all those who will have to deal with this matter, which it will be an impossibility for them, with all good will, to discharge.
Under these circumstances, there is one course which is open to the Government, whiich was suggested to them in Committee, and which we might now consider. I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) that the same difficulty attaches more or less to other dates, in that you are in an element of doubt depending upon contingencies as to whether that particular date will exactly fit the situation. Before 1925 in no circumstances can there possibly be sufficient houses, and decontrol, and when that date arrives, and the Government have again to review the situation, might it not be advisable for them to adopt a method with regard to the termination of control which would leave it to the Houses of Parliament by Resolution to determine whether or not that date should be extended after the end of 1925. That principle is adopted in Part II of the Bill. I put down an Amendment to that effect in Committee, but it was not fully considered. The Amendment has not been put on the Paper again, but a general discussion has been allowed on the question of date.
If the Government have set their faces against extending the period of control in the Bill, would they be prepared to accept a condition under which, at the end of 1925, if the Board of Health for Scotland or the Minister of Health here are not satisfied that the houses have been built in sufficient numbers, they might, by Resolution of both Houses of Parliament, extend the date until such time as might be necessary. They have allowed that elasticity in Part II, and why should not the same elasticity be allowed in regard to Part I of the Bill. My suggestion is put forward in all good faith, realising the difficulties with which the situation is surrounded, and with a single desire to see that we get decontrol as soon as possible, but that we should not have to go through all the whole stages of another Act of Parliament, but we might, if Parliament so desired, by Resolution extend the date when the time arrives.
This is a matter on which it is rather difficult to speak. One is apt to be led away into a general discussion of the Bill, and into a Second Reading discussion of allied Bills. We have had discussions on the Housing Bill, and other Bills, and one might be led into a general discussion embracing the whole of the points raised on these allied Bills. The difficulty of the problem can be realised when one considers the many suggestions made for dealing with the admittedly difficult and intricate situation which at present confronts us. We have had a remarkably interesting assurance from the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell) that he is opposed to all forms of housing control, and he would sweep them away as soon as it may be done.
I am not surprised to hear that sentiment from the hon. and gallant Member, because he is one of those who is opposed to almost any form of Government, or, at any rate, he is of opinion that the less one has of it the better. That is rather a peculiar attitude to be adopted by one who holds a high position in a party which is hoping to come to power. The hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) said that after the period of 1925 he would be prepared to consider the matter again, and he suggested that the Government would need, to consider very seriously whether control should be extended or not. He has himself put down Amendments for limiting the operation of a portion of the Bill which was designed actually to continue the control. We have also the somewhat extraordinary suggestion of the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Millar) that control should come to an end definitely and completely in 1925, but should be continued if Resolutions were passed by both Houses of Parliament. That seems to me to be entrusting to the House of Lords a confidence which one is surprised to find on the other side of the House, because, if the other place did not pass a Resolution in favour of the continuance of control, the hon. Member is willing that it should cease in 1925 without any further protection to the tenant.
These suggestions show the great intricacy of the problem. The two suggestions which have been brought forward have been the general suggestion that decontrol should not come at all at any period which we can see in front of us, and the further suggestion, which has only been sketchily brought forward, that some other machinery should be adopted for dealing with the position. Hon. Members opposite generally incline to the opinion that control should not come to an end, or that it is not possible to see a situation arising in which we can decontrol houses, because they say there is no possibility of an adequate number of houses being provided so as to enable decontrol to come to an end. That is exactly the problem with which we find ourselves confronted. Control is leading us in a state in which the housing shortage is not being removed but is becoming more acute. It is not a question merely of the cost of building a number of houses and then decontrolling them, because by hypothesis they suggest that only by public bodies can a supply of houses be produced. But they never suggest that public bodies will produce a number of empty houses, which is the only way in which control would really come with perfect safety. So that you would have not merely a house for every family but that you would have a surplus of empty houses competing for tenants. It is not supposed that municipalities would produce a situation of that kind. The two things are intimately related. It is not possible to separate entirely the question of the provision of houses from the question of the decontrol of houses, because while you have Government control you have a shortage. Government control is the distribution of a shortage, sharing it among a number of persons. You do not get a surplus produced under Government control.
It has not been insisted on from this side that the municipalities are going to build all the houses. What we were claiming was, as the Government freely admits, that private enterprise does not build houses suitable for the working-class tenant. Nobody suggests that the municipalities are going to build a surplus, but it is not correct to say that the municipalities are not going to build houses, as the Parliamentary Secretary suggests.
I say that we do not claim that they would build a surplus, but it is conceivable that they would display more foresight than the speculative builder and build in advance of population, which would leave a certain surplus. I did not say definitely that they would not.
The fact that they have not claimed such a thing must be taken as tantamount to a general admission that they will not. But let us the general position. If it is said on the other side of the House that you can, by some machinery or other, produce a surplus of houses while the present control lasts, then we definitely join issue. That is the real reason why we are bringing in this legislation. This Bill continues the period of control up to 1925. It then produces a shock-absorber period during which we pass from the period of control to the period of decontrol. An early date of termination of the present control is essential. After that we must have a period of shading down in passing from the present control to full decontrol. You must have an intermediate stage. We say, let us pass as rapidly as we can to the intervening period, because it is only by doing that that you will get the increasing supply of houses which are necessary for the people. Hon. Members on the other side argue that you can retain rigid control up to a certain point, which they take at 1930, 1940, or some other date, and then suddenly bring down the guillotine and pass to complete decontrol. In these circumstances you will not produce a surplus of houses, in which you will find houses competing for tenants and not tenants competing for houses.
I am sorry that we have been led into a Second Reading discussion of the Measure because it is to some extent the kernel of the Bill. The kernel of the Bill is to bring to an end complete control, followed by a period of modified control. Members on all sides of the House agree that the period of complete control has to come to an end some time or other. Some Members agree with and some disagree with the period of modified control, but the position supported by Members on this side of the House allows for a period of modified control in the period intervening between complete control and complete decontrol. That is a position from which it is not possible at this stage to depart, and therefore we shall ask the House to support the Government in its present contention, not because we think that there is any magic about the figures 1925 or 1930, but because we do conceive that the system of gradual tapering-off of control is a good one, and we think that 1925 is a much better date for beginning it than 1930, if we are to pass, as we all hope to pass, to a period in which, as an hon. Member has said, free trade in houses will again become possible.
I listened with close attention to the Minister's speech, but I have not been able to understand what he is driving at. He has not gone near answering any of the questions put from this side. He speaks of some buffer period. If his argument is right, if it is true that you will not get houses built until you cease control, and that when you do cease control you will get houses built, then why not decontrol at once? Why wait two years for these blessings? Why not start at once this mysterious process which will accelerate house building, and produce a surplus, so that we may have ten houses for one tenant instead of ten tenants for one house? The hon. and gallant Gentleman has been a Member of the Government since about Christmas. I think that he commenced earlier in the year on the Government bench. Since then he has supported two policies. He used to support the policy of the Government, which was that you could not decontrol unless you were in sight of sufficient houses. He remembers that period, of course. I remember the time when the Minister of Health, whose representative he was in Scotland, said that.
I was thinking of a discussion upstairs in the Scottish Committee, with an English Minister, because the Scottish Minister was engaged on Scottish Estimates downstairs. The hon. and gallant Member was not in disagreement with the policy of the Government in February or March of this year, because, if he had been, he would have resigned.
But then the policy of the Government was not in accord with the policy so lucidly and persuasively explained by the Minister this evening. The Minister, speaking as an authority at that time, said:
There is no doubt that the housing shortage is grave in practically every populous centre throughout Great Britain. This housing shortage can only be met by a constructive Housing Act.
That was then the policy of the Government. Now the argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman is that the housing shortage can be met only by decontrol and not by a constructive Housing Act. So we have two policies. For the time being it suits the Government to fix 1925 as the period. But when 1925 arrives they will be driven to continue this Act. I prophesy that in 1925 this Government, if it exists and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is holding responsible office then, will come forward and propose that the period of control shall be prolonged. The reason is very simple. There is not the least prospect that in 1925 there will be a surplus of houses or even anything like sufficient houses to meet the present needs. The Government have the proposal of this Bill, which has merits but many demerits, but behind it all is their grave deficiency in their other proposal. There is no prospect of the shortage being met by the construction of houses, and, so long as that is so, there
is no justice and no expediency in control not terminating at a later date.
I want to take up one or two points of the last speaker, because, as usual with the party to which he belongs—for which I have the highest respect—he tries to get the Government on the horns of a pure dilemma, and he tries to argue on one specific point only. He asks whether the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Scottish Board of Health suggests that housing can be met by constructive processes or by decontrol. He suggests that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary has said that at one time it could be met only in the one way, and that at another time he said it could be met only by decontrol. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, with his varied experiences and interests, has not had time to be a practical housing reformer, but every practical housing reformer knows that the housing question is so complex that there are innumerable principles and methods entering into it. Decontrol, on the one hand, is essential to encourage the supply of money for the industry, in order to produce houses, and, on the other hand, constructive processes are equally necessary.
I admit it, but I was anxious to meet the points of the hon. and gallant Member opposite. The question is whether you can get houses with decontrol in 1925, as proposed in the Bill, or with decontrol in 1930, as proposed in the Amendment. It is necessary to say quite clearly that in this question of decontrol there are two principles that the House has to meet. On the one hand, you have to meet the fact that decontrol will produce houses, and that therefore the sooner we decontrol the better. The Onslow Committee, of which I had the honour to be a member, definitely suggested that decontrol should be so rapid that in 1923 it would be established, with an extension in certain cases to 1924 and 1925. But I equally recognise that if you are to have decontrol you will have definite hardship in certain cases, unless alleviation is provided by the jurisdiction which the Bill gives to the County Courts. The question is whether 1925 is the right date for meeting this requirement. The Onslow Committee advocated very rapid decontrol. Personally, I differed from my colleagues on that Committee and held that the decontrol suggested was too rapid. The question to me was how you could meet the cases where, obviously, there was a great deal of difference between localities and between particular instances. My suggestion, embodied in a minority reservation, was that you should have decontrol by localities. Unfortunately, I was in a minority of one.
The Government have suggested a different method. They have suggested the method which is represented in Part II of this Bill. If we believe in the method suggested in Part II as a method for meeting the difficulties of individual tenants, we have a complete answer to those who say that 1925 is too early for decontrol. It seems clear to me that 1925 is a good date and that the method of dealing with individual cases through the County Court is a good method. Hon. Members on the opposite side, at any Tate those of the Labour party, are definitely against building by private enterprise. That being so, we do not argue with them on this Amendment. But many of its believe that the chief means of getting houses built for the working class must be by private enterprise, and in the immediate crisis we must encourage it. If we must encourage it, we must get decontrol as soon as possible, consistently with the protection of the tenant. Therefore, I believe that 1925 is the right date. It should be a firm date, with no latitude in the Act for extension, and the further method of Part II of the Bill should be made effective.
There is one point raised by me in Committee which has not been dealt with to-night. It is a practical point that the House should have before it, before it decides on the date. By fixing 1925 we allow only one complete building season for working-class property before we bring about decontrol. During the current year no great amount of working-class building will be done in the country. There are a few local authorities which are building houses, but they are building very few houses indeed. Next year is the only year in which there will be a complete building season before decontrol. Of the working-class houses now being built, I have been unable to find any in my own county that are being built to be let; they are all being built to be sold. We have to recognise that, no matter what we should like, a great many of the working class in this country cannot expect to live in houses that they have to buy, and that, therefore, we are doing nothing at present to reduce the housing shortage, as far as they are concerned. I noticed with some consternation a speech made the other day, in another place by Viscount Burnham, a nobleman for whom I have every respect, who gave in my opinion, a very serious view of the situation with regard to the building of houses under the Government's Bill. Whether we like it or not, we are bound, in considering this Amendment to-night, to take into consideration what the position is likely to be in 1925, and much as the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) may have cheered private enterprise during the earlier part of his speech, his last few sentences must have dashed its hopes to the ground, because he told us that in 1925 he would not be prepared to take any steps toward bringing about decontrol unless the houses had been built. Private enterprise knows, as everyone else knows, that in 1925 the houses will not be there. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Scottish Under-Secretary for Health said that public enterprise would never produce a surplus of houses. When, within any of our recollections, did private enterprise deliberately produce a surplus of houses?
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will only read the Reports of the Local Government Board for the years before the War, he will find that while there were empty houses, there were always overcrowded families—who should have been inhabiting those empty houses—and slums which ought to have been cleared away. There never has been, in the lifetime of any hon. Member in the House, a real surplus of houses in this country. There has been occasionally such a shifting of the population that some district has been left by accident with a surplus of houses, but the facts of the past few years have removed that surplus from most of the districts. Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman think that in the future private enterprise is deliberately going to produce a surplus of houses in any district, or that it will put the tenants in a position of being able to force down rents—
That is what I do believe, and that is what has happened. In the first place, there are 13,000 uninhabitable houses in Glasgow to-day, which are inhabited under the Rent Restrictions Act. It is not in any way because I want to see bad houses, but because I want to see good houses, that I propose to abolish control.
I was not brought up on the shorter Catechism, therefore I cannot follow the logic of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's interruption. He said there were 13,000 uninhabitable houses in Glasgow which were being inhabited, and that that was a proof that private enterprise would produce a surplus of good houses. That is a metaphysical subtlety that may appeal to Scottish minds, but which leaves me in the dark.
We ought to know whether private enterprise is going to produce the surplus of houses necessary before we settle the period of decontrol. I agree with what has been said by hon. Members, that the present state of uncertainty is bad for private enterprise in the building trade. After the speech of the hon. Member for West Woolwich to-night, that uncertainty will be converted almost into certainty that decontrol is not coming in 1925. The date deliberately selected, for reasons given, by the minority members of the Onslow Committee, was 1930. I have heard nothing on the Committee stage nor in the House to-night that has convinced me that 1925 is going to see that surplus of houses which, it is admitted, must exist before we can safely bring about a change. The hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) said that decontrol would produce the houses, but he gave us no proof that it would produce the houses at rents that the ordinary wage-earner can pay, if there is to be one house per family. If we are going to go on the assumption that two or three families are to be regarded as the normal occupants of a working-class house, then it may produce the houses, but until the hon. and gallant Gentleman can produce some evidence that within the period up to 1925 houses will be produced in sufficient numbers and at a rent to enable one family to occupy one house his remarks are beside the point. I have not heard any argument which has convinced me that the Onslow Committee were wrong when they gave 1930 as the date of decontrol, and this House will be wise to insert that date, because nothing has been said to foreshadow that the houses will be there before then.
We have been interested in the speeches made on the opposite side of the House. We have had the advantage of hearing speeches, both from the Government Front Bench and from the Third Bench below the Gangway. It is interesting to observe that both the speakers belong to the same profession.
I was dealing with the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) and with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Scottish Under-Secretary. Those were the two Gentlemen with whom I was concerned for the moment. I was frankly disappointed with the speech of the Scottish Under-Secretary. I thought, when he deferred his reply to such a late period in the Debate, that he meant to announce some concession on behalf of the Government. I observed that the arguments put forward in the course of the discussion from this side of the House were, obviously, influencing him, and I hoped that the Government would not adhere to the figure they had placed in the Bill. While the result was not as I expected, there was clear evidence in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech that he had been influenced by the arguments, because he is very rarely reduced to the obscurity which marked his speech tonight when he is able to place a sound argument before the House. There were many points which he took up which amazed all those who, at other times, have been impressed by the lucidity of his reasoning. He said that until decontrol took place we should get no houses, and that, in other words, house-building will only begin in 1925. That is an interesting prospect, both from the point of view of the House and of the Government but it is most interesting of all from the point of view of the poor people outside, who have then to face decontrol. In other words, they are to be no better off in 1925. They are to be left in exactly the same position, with the same problems, the same perplexities, and the same difficulties.
There was one illuminating observation in his speech. He described this Bill as a shock absorber. It is not a contribution to the problem of housing at all, it is a shock absorber. It is to absorb the shock of Mitcham and of Willesden, and I make bold to say that when 1925 comes it will be necessary to have another shock absorber, and that, in those circumstances, we shall have another two years added, possibly to tide over a General Election. This is all in keeping with the hand to mouth and haphazard method in which this question of rent control has been dealt with from the beginning. We had one temporary Act in 1915, another in 1917, and another in 1919—
I agree, but the soundest ground for prophecy is the experience of the past. It is on that basis I build up the predictions which I now make. I do not wish to amplify the illustration. I have already enumerated
the Acts which we have had, all of a temporary nature, all intended to deal with this situation and all to bring decontrol to an end when the particular Act expired. Let us take what happened under the original Act. We are now amending and continuing that Act, and I hope I am entitled to refer to what happened when it was under discussion in this House and in another place. The House of Commons then was working under conditions of great difficulty, and the Report stage was taken at a single Sitting, and wound up at 3.30 in the morning, which accounts to some extent for the character of the legislation. At the end of the Report stage, there was not a word of discussion on the question of the duration of control—a monstrous situation. When the Minister of that date introduced the Bill, it was on the basis that when the three years had expired, there would be an adequate number of houses and control would come to an end. That was the prophecy then confidently made, and the same thing was said by another Minister in another place who stated:
We realise it is essential to get back to the ordinary economic basis to encourage people to build houses and invest money in houses.
They are saying the same thing now, but are they going to do anything towards that end in his Bill? The same Minister said on that occasion:
This Bill is a step in the direction of the restoration of normal uncontrolled conditions.
That was the original Act. How far have we got?
The condition in regard to the housing shortage is practically as bad to-day as when those words were uttered. There are as many people living to-day in overcrowded and slum conditions as there were when those words were uttered. It has been no step at all. On the argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Under-Secretary to the Scottish Board of Health, it was a barrier and an obstacle to the provision of houses. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says so long as you have control, houses cannot be built, and here is the extraordinary dilemma in which the Government are placed. They say, "Let us have control for another two years. As a consequence, no houses will be built; therefore there will be as great a demand at the end of the two years as there is now, for the continuance of control. Then we will have another period of control, during which still no more houses will be built." Is it not better to have a figure, a date such as that suggested in the Amendment, and put forward by the Minority Report of the Onslow Committee? Why not fix 1930 as a definite time at which there is some reasonable hope that houses will be provided, and we will have an end of this legislation altogether? I am sure that commends itself to the hon. Gentleman opposite. Even the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) has not had the hardihood to suggest that there will be houses in 1925. What is then to be the result? You will have another series of by-elections in 1925. [Interruption.] Of course, the Government will not have them of their own accord, but will do everything possible to avoid them, but there are reasons why by-elections occur, and they will have the same effect upon the Government as the effect which produced the policy contained in this Bill.
We shall have an interesting situation thereafter. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Under-Secretary to the Scottish Board of Health has invented a new description for the Second Part of this Bill. It is to be called the intermediate state or what in theological language is known as purgatory. I believe the hon. Member for West Woolwich will accept that description. It precisely describes these intermediate provisions which are so unsatisfactory from the points of view of landlords and tenants, that the hon. Member is opposing the Second Part of the Bill. It would be out of order to quote the Second Part of the Bill, and what it actually proposes, although I should have liked to point out how unsatisfactory its conditions are from every point of view. As I say, it would be much more satisfactory to have a definite date when control is to come to an end, and that date should be fixed with all the authority of Ministers, as the date at which it is likely, at any rate, houses will be provided for the people and no further legislation of this kind will be required. If you do not, we have this new form of bureaucratic and semi-judicial administrative control, something such as nobody has ever seen before in this country, a system which is to be settled by regulations made by the Minister, setting up shadowy Committees with no sort of legal authority at all, who are to intervene from day to day and month to month as between landlord and tenant. Surely nothing could be worse or more unsatisfactory and nothing should less commend itself to the House and the country. The interesting feature of this Debate is the complete admission from the colleague of the Minister of Health that the Housing Bill which is now going through Parliament is worthless from the point of view of providing houses—that until there is decontrol, there are to be no houses, and that therefore the new Housing Bill is absolutely useless. I agree with the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson), who is always so consistent about these matters, and I am sorry I was not here when he moved the rejection of that Bill on the Third Reading, or I should have supported him. The Government is in a position of hopeless absurdity and inconsistency. With the one hand they are offering the Housing Bill which is to provide houses, but with the other hand they are offering this Bill with a limitation in it under which they confess houses are not to be supplied. Then when 1925 comes along we will have another panic on the part of the Government, another surrender, another hasty, ill-conceived, ill-adjusted and ill-drafted Measure, rushed on to the Statute Book which will do nothing except provide work for lawyers and decisions in the Law Courts.
I should not have intervened had it not been for two statements of the hon. and gallant Member the Under-Secretary to the Scottish Board of Health. He said we had a surplus of houses prior to the War, and he quoted the figure of 50,000. I remind him that he also told the House recently that we have 51,000 empty houses in Scotland at the present time. If the fact that we had 50,000 houses is a proof that we did not require houses, then we have 1,000 more to-day to prove that we do not require them now—according to the logic of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The Government appointed a Royal Commission on housing in Scotland in 1913 which reported in 1917 that we were still thousands of houses short of the required number at that time. Yet we have the hon. and gallant Gentleman, in a responsible position in this House, trying to lead us to believe that we had no shortage of houses until the War. The War did not shorten the housing supply at all, but simply accentuated a process which had been going on. As far back as 1905 the building of houses for the working people had practically ceased, and I do not believe you intend, with your Bill, to provide houses, either in 1925 or in 1930.
The suggestion is made that we favour municipal building. The Members on these benches favour the building of houses by any means by which they can be got. The need is so great that we do not care who builds them. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why did you not let the ex-Service men build them when they came back from the War?"] I was one of the men who promised to help the ex-service men when they came back, and in pursuance of that promise I am advocating the building of more houses now. We do not care who builds the houses, but I do not believe that private enterprise will provide houses, either in 1925 or 1930, for this reason, that, supposing they set to work with the best will in the world, other private enterprises will hinder them by raising the price of building materials. We have the light castings combine already increasing their prices; they are trying to make hay while the sun shines, and with the best will in the world private enterprise will not provide the houses. Your terms and conditions are such that very few public authorities will move in the matter. We have a shorter building season in Scotland than you have in England, and the two years under this Bill are practically useless as far as we are concerned. We have thousands of houses that have been condemned, and instead of being given any hope, we get Bills of this kind and speeches of that kind, which mean nothing. I hope the House will agree to make the date 1930, but even at that date, if this Government be still in power, we shall not have houses for the people.
|Division No. 276.]||AYES.||[9.49 p.m.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot||Nicholson, Brig.-Gen. J. (Westminster)|
|Ainsworth, Captain Charles||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton, East)||Furness, G. J.||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Alexander, Col. M. (Southwark)||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Ormsby-Gore. Hon. William|
|Apsley, Lord||Gaunt, Rear-Admiral Sir Guy R.||Parker, Owen (Kettering)|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Col. Sir Martin||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Pattinson, S. (Horncastle)|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Wilfrid W.||Goff, Sir R. Park||Pease, William Edwin|
|Baird, Rt. Hon. Sir John Lawrence||Greaves-Lord, Walter||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Penny, Frederick George|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Gretton, Colonel John||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Perkins, Colonel E. K.|
|Banks, Mitchell||Hall, Rr-Adml Sir W. (Liv'p'l, W. D'by)||Perring, William George|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Halstead, Major D.||Pielou, D. P.|
|Becker, Harry||Hamilton, Sir George C. (Altrincham)||Pilditch, Sir Philip|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Pollock, Rt. Hon. Sir Ernest Murray|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton|
|Bennett, Sir T. J. (Sevenoaks)||Harrison, F. C.||Price, E. G.|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish-||Harvey, Major S. E.||Privett, F. J.|
|Berry, Sir George||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Rae, Sir Henry N.|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Raeburn, Sir William H.|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Raine, W.|
|Bird, Sir William B. M. (Chichester)||Hiley, Sir Ernest||Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. John Fredk. Peel|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Rawson, Lieut.-Com. A. C.|
|Blundell, F. N.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Rees, Sir Beddoe|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Reid, Capt. A. S. C. (Warrington)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Reid, D. D. (County Down)|
|Brass, Captain W.||Hopkins, John W. W.||Remer, J. R.|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Remnant, Sir James|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Houfton, John Plowright||Rentoul, G. S.|
|Brown, Major D. C. (Hexham)||Howard, Capt. D. (Cumberland, N.)||Reynolds, W. G. W.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. Clifton (Newbury)||Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Col. C. K.||Richardson, Sir Alex. (Gravesend)|
|Bruford, R.||Hudson, Capt. A.||Richardson, Lt.-Col. Sir P. (Chertsey)|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Hughes, Collingwood||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)|
|Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Hume, G. H.||Robertson-Despencer, Major (Islgtn, W.)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis||Rogerson, Capt. J. E.|
|Burney, Com. (Middx., Uxbridge)||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Rothschild, Lionel de|
|Butcher, Sir John George||Hurd, Percy A.||Roundell, Colonel R. F.|
|Butler, H. M. (Leeds, North)||Hurst, Lt.-Col. Gerald Berkeley||Ruggles-Brise, Major E.|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Hutchison, G. A. C. (Midlothian, N.)||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Button, H. S.||Hutchison, W. (Kelvingrove)||Russell, William (Bolton)|
|Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.||Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.||Russell-Wells, Sir Sydney|
|Cassels, J. D.||Jephcott, A. R.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Jodrell, Sir Neville Paul||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Johnson, Sir L. (Walthamstow, E.)||Sanders, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert A.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Kelley, Major Sir Frederick A.||Sanderson, Sir Frank B.|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur||Kennedy, Captain M. S. Nigel||Sandon, Lord|
|Clarry, Reginald George||King, Capt. Henry Douglas||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Clayton, G. C.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Lamb, J. Q.||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Lane-Fox, Lieut.-Colonel G. R.||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Colfax, Major Wm. Phillips||Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)||Shipwright, Captain D.|
|Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Sinclair, Sir A.|
|Cope, Major William||Lloyd-Greame, Rt. Hon. Sir P.||Singleton, J. E.|
|Cory, Sir J. H. (Cardiff, South)||Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Skelton, A. N.|
|Cotts, Sir William Dingwall Mitchell||Lorden, John William||Smith, Sir Allan M. (Croydon, South)|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Lorimer, H. D.||Smith, Sir Harold (Wavertree)|
|Croft, Lieut.-Colonel Henry Page||Lort-Williams, J.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Crook, C. W. (East Ham, North)||Lougher, L.||Somerville, Daniel (Barrow-in-Furness)|
|Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Loyd, Arthur Thomas (Abingdon)||Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L.|
|Davidson, J. C. C. (Hemel Hempstead)||Lumley, L. R.||Stanley, Lord|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Stephenson, Lieut.-Colonel H. K.|
|Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury)||Stott, Lt.-Col. W. H.|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Dixon, C. H. (Rutland)||Manville, Edward||Sugden, Sir Wilfred H.|
|Dixon, Capt. H. (Belfast, E.)||Margesson, H. D. R.||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.|
|Du Pre, Colonel William Baring||Marks, Sir George Croydon||Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Martin, A. E. (Essex, Romford)||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Martin, F. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, E.)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Ellis, R. G.||Mason, Lieut.-Col. C. K.||Thornton, M.|
|Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith||Mercer, Colonel H.||Thorpe, Captain John Henry|
|Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Erskine-Bolst, Captain C.||Mitchell, W. F. (Saffron Walden)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Evans, Ernest (Cardigan)||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Tubbs, S. W.|
|Evans, Capt. H. Arthur (Leicester, E.)||Molloy, Major L. G. S.||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Eyres-Monsell, Com. Rt. Hon. Bolton M.||Morris, Harold||Wallace, Captain E.|
|Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray||Morrison, Hugh (Wilts, Salisbury)||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Fermor-Hesketh, Major T.||Morrison-Bell, Major Sir A. C. (Honiton)||Watts, Dr. T. (Man., Withington)|
|Fildes, Henry||Murchison, C. K.||Wells, S. R.|
|Flanagan, W. H.||Nall, Major Joseph||Weston, Colonel John Wakefield|
|Ford, Patrick Johnston||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.|
|Foreman, Sir Henry||Newson, Sir Percy Wilson||White, Lt.-Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Forestier-Walker, L.||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Wilson, Col. M. J. (Richmond)|
|Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George||Wood, Maj. Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Winterton, Earl||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Colonel the Rt. Hon. G. A. Gibbs.|
|Wise, Frederick||Yerburgh, R. D. T.|
|Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke||Hardie, George D.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Harney, E. A.||Riley, Ben|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Harris, Percy A.||Ritson, J.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Hastings, Patrick||Roberts, C. H. (Derby)|
|Ammon, Charles George||Hay, Captain J. P. (Cathcart)||Robertson, J. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Attlee, C. R.||Hayday, Arthur||Robinson, W. C. (York, Elland)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hayes, John Henry (Edge Hill)||Rose, Frank H.|
|Barnes, A.||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (N'castle, E.)||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Batey, Joseph||Herriotts, J.||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Hill, A.||Sexton, James|
|Berkeley, Captain Reginald||Hillary, A. E.||Shaw, Hon. Alex. (Kilmarnock)|
|Bonwick, A.||Hirst, G. H.||Shaw, Thomas (Preston)|
|Broad, F. A.||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Shinwell, Emanuel|
|Brotherton, J.||Irving, Dan||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Simpson, J. Hope|
|Buckie, J.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Simpson-Hinchliffe, W. A.|
|Burgess, S.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Burnie, Major J. (Bootle)||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Smillie, Robert|
|Buxton, Charles (Accrington)||Jones, R. T. (Carnarvon)||Smith, T. (Pontefract)|
|Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North)||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Snell, Harry|
|Chapple, W. A.||Jowett, F. W. (Bradford, East)||Snowden, Philip|
|Charleton, H. C.||Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Clarke, Sir E. C.||Kenyon, Barnet||Sullivan, J.|
|Collie, Sir John||Lansbury, George||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Collison, Levi||Lawson, John James||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West)|
|Cotts, Sir William Dingwall Mitchell||Leach, W.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Darbishire, C. W.||Lee, F.||Tillett, Benjamin|
|Davies, J. C. (Denbigh, Denbigh)||Lees-Smith, H. B. (Keighley)||Trevelyan, C. P.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Linfield, F. C.||Turner, Ben|
|Dudgeon, Major C. R.||Lowth, T.||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Duffy, T. Gavan||Lunn, William||Warne, G. H.|
|Duncan, C.||MacDonald, J. R. (Aberavon)||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Ede, James Chuter||M'Entee, V. L.||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Edmonds, G.||March, S.||Weir, L. M.|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Marshall, Sir Arthur H.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Emlyn-Jones, J. E. (Dorset, N.)||Millar, J. D.||Westwood, J.|
|Fairbairn, R. R.||Morel, E. D.||White, Charles F. (Derby, Western)|
|Falconer, J.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||White, H. G. (Birkenhead, E.)|
|Foot, Isaac||Mosley, Oswald||Whiteley, W.|
|Gosling, Harry||Muir, John W.||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Murnin, H.||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)||Murray, R. (Renfrew, Western)||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Gray, Frank (Oxford)||Newbold, J. T. W.||Wintringham, Margaret|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||O'Grady, Captain James||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Oliver, George Harold||Wright, W.|
|Groves, T.||Paling, W.||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Grundy, T. W.||Phillipps, Vivian|
|Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Ponsonby, Arthur||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Potts, John S.||Mr. Morgan Jones and Mr. T. Griffiths.|
|Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Pringle, W. M. R.|
|Hancock, John George||Richards, R.|
Where a sub-tenant is in occupation of part of a dwelling-house the landlord may apply to the Court to determine whether any room or rooms in the part of the dwelling-house so sub-let shall be given up to a person who is prepared to purchase the dwelling-house as a residence in the event of the Court deciding in favour of the applicant.—[Mr. Penny.]
I beg to move "That the Clause be read a Second time."
I do not think many words are necessary to explain the object of this Clause the terms of which are, in themselves, sufficiently explanatory. Cases have come to my knowledge of sub-tenants who are left in possession of part of a house, and the portion which has been vacated by the tenant is such that it is next to impossible to find another tenant to take over the vacant part. It is not my desire to interfere with those sub-tenants who have no more than reasonable accommodation, but as it now stands a hardship is inflicted on the small owner in this respect. In the case of a man who has invested all his savings in one house, a sub-tenant should not be entitled to claim the right to retain an unreasonable amount of the accommodation of that house, merely because the previous tenant was content to live in limited accommodation and "just anywhere." The Clause leaves the matter with the Court to decide and cannot lead to any arbitrary interference with the rights of the sub-tenant because it may safely be assumed that the Court would require conclusive evidence before deciding in favour of an applicant.
I understand the object of this Clause is to meet a case where a landlord could make an arrangement with a tenant to sell a house, if it were not that the sub-tenant will not part with his sub-tenancy. The Clause as it stands does not appear to give any directions to the Court as to how they are to determine the question which is put to them, but assuming that the Court is intended to determine in such cases in favour of the landlord, I would suggest to my hon. Friend that the sub-tenant has as much right to protection as the tenant. That is the whole theory of the Act. I think if my hon. Friend will consider what might take place, he will see that the landlord is not the only party in these cases. He could sell the house to the tenant, subject to the condition that the tenant would have to take over the sub-tenant, and, if that were done, the tenant would then be, as regards the sub-tenant in the same position as the landlord was in with regard to the tenant. Therefore, being a landlord who had obtained possession of the house, after the 30th June, 1922, he could claim and get possession of the house under Clause 3, Sub-section (1), paragraph (b), of the Bill, and unless greater hardship was caused to the tenant than to himself, he would not have to find alternative accommodation. In these circumstances, I think perhaps my hon. Friend might not think it necessary to press his Amendment.