Clause 24. — (Central Housing Advisory Committee.)

Orders of the Day — Housing Bill. – in the House of Commons on 20th May 1935.

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8.6 p.m.

Photo of Sir Gerald Hurst Sir Gerald Hurst , Manchester Moss Side

I beg to move, in page 20, line 34, after "Committee," to insert: of whom one member shall be a representative of the Society of Women Housing Estate Managers. This Amendment refers to the constitution of the Central Housing Advisory Committee in which very important functions are reposed by Clause 24 of the Bill. But the Bill as it has come back from Committee leaves the Minister free and unfettered discretion as to the number and personnel of this important Committee. I can understand the repugnance in the House to fettering unduly that discretion. On the other hand, in the Clause as it now stands Parliament delegates very important responsibilities to the Minister and one is not always certain of the attitude of the Minister towards the people whom he is going to choose for this Committee, and it is a matter of great importance to the House and to the country that there should be good types of various interests on this Committee and that people who are particularly competent to give expert opinion to the Committee should be represented there. The Society which is named in my Amendment is a national organisation of women who have received very complete technical training in the business of housing management. They have over 200 members and they carry on the torch first lighted by Miss Octavia Hill in 1865. They manage something like 2,000 tenancies on Crown lands, 2,500 under the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and something like 6,000 tenancies under public utility societies. Since 1927 a consider able number of municipalities have also employed them on this work. So distinguished has the success of the members of the society been that persons come from as far away as Sweden and the United States of America to learn their methods and members of the society are employed overseas and in training women in the Colonies and Dominions. The utility of their services has been testified to and recommended by the members of the Moyne Commission.

The purpose of having women estate managers is that as collectors women deal with women and you get the rent collector as something more than an economic personage entering the house. The collectors are the people who are responsible for repairs, decorations and reconditioning. They select and allocate the tenancies. They are not sentimental but business women, very highly trained, usually surveyors, with certificates and a very practical training in estate management. It is found that there are less arrears in respect of their tenancies than with regard to most. It is in fact a new profession for which women are peculiarly suitable.

8.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Bourne Mr Robert Bourne , Oxford

That may be absolutely accurate, but I hardly think it rises on this particular Amendment which has to do only with the Central Advisory Committee.

Photo of Sir Gerald Hurst Sir Gerald Hurst , Manchester Moss Side

Perhaps I may ask your forgiveness, because I have already said what I wanted to say about their qualifications. I am only anxious that the House should know about the type of society which I wish to be represented here. In moving this Amendment, I hope that, if the Minister does not see his way to waive the present width of discretion, he will hold out some hopes to us.

8.11 p.m.

Photo of Miss Eleanor Rathbone Miss Eleanor Rathbone , Combined English Universities

I beg to second the Amendment.

May I just add one reason why I hope the Minister will accept the Amendment to those which have been so well put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst). It is not merely that the organisation has all the qualifications that he has stated, but it would be peculiarly valuable if we were certain that there would be on that Committee some persons who were specially interested in the problem of allocation and management. It always seems to me a curious fact that the whole side of the housing problem which deals with the allocation and management of houses excites so much less interest than questions relating to the production of houses. As a member myself for 25 years of a housing committee which has perhaps done more of the kind of housing which comes under this Bill than most, I am convinced that a large part of the difficulty in the housing problem arises not merely from the shortage of houses but from the careless, unscientific method of allocating houses, so that the wrong people get into the houses and the right people do not. These particular people have peculiar experience in this matter. I will not keep the Committee longer, but that to my mind is the strongest reason for the acceptance of the Amendment. I feel that this is a side of the housing problem that is persistently and consistently ignored. We hear extraordinarily little about it in the discussions on housing in this House. Discussion always relates to the putting up of houses rather than to whom exactly you should give the houses when you have put them up. I am very much afraid that most people who get on the committee will give their attention as usual to the big problem of building houses rather than to the equally important problem of allocating houses.

8.14 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crossley Mr Anthony Crossley , Oldham

I always try to op- pose these Amendments that there should be one woman on a particular committee on principle. I have a higher view of the status of women in our political life than the hon. Lady who has just spoken. She has worked for a good part of her life for the complete equality of women, and she is always coming here to ask the House to grant her some petty privilege.

Photo of Captain James Duncan Captain James Duncan , Kensington North

The Amendment says: a representative of the Society of Women Housing Estate Managers; not necessarily a woman.

Photo of Miss Eleanor Rathbone Miss Eleanor Rathbone , Combined English Universities

May I draw attention to the fact that I did not stress the question of the appointment of a woman. That was quite secondary. The point was that it was to be a trained housing estate manager.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crossley Mr Anthony Crossley , Oldham

I am very glad to have that statement from the hon. Lady. My object in opposing the Amendment is that there ought to be the best people appointed to these committees, whether women or men. My blood boils when I see these little Amendments asking that one woman should be on this or that committee.

8.16 p.m.

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

I am glad to support the Amendment on principle, but obviously the proper place for such an Amendment would be in Subsection (2). I am afraid that the Minister may say that it is not right to make it a statutory obligation that there should be one particular kind of appointment to the Committee and that it should be left to the Minister. I agree, if the Minister was always going to be the present Minister, bat one of the most unfortunate indiscretions of the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) was that he was sick of the name of Octavia Hill. After such an expression of opinion he would not, presumably, be in sympathy with such a proposal, if he were Minister. Therefore I hope that my right hon. Friend will go out of his way and do the opposite of what he probably proposes to do, and accept the Amendment.

8.17 p.m.

Sir H. YOUNG:

Let me say how warmly I agree with the mover of the Amendment, and the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) as to the great importance they attach to management as part of good housing administration. I hope that this Bill vindicates that principle and I hope that it will lead to a new phase in that respect. The woman manager is one of the bright hopes. I recognise that the Society of Women Housing Estate Managers is a most admirable organisation, which gives a local habitation and name to this most beneficial development of housing administration, hut I do not think it would be right to begin to legislate as to the particular members of the Committee. If we did that, the only possible thing that we could do would be to set up some form of Schedule, and do not think it would be an advantage to try and form such a Schedule on Report. However, and this may meet my hon. Friends, I will undertake to give full consideration to the representations made to-night on behalf of the Society of Women Housing Estate Managers when it comes to the formation of the Committee.

Photo of Sir Gerald Hurst Sir Gerald Hurst , Manchester Moss Side

On behalf of those associated with me, I thank the Minister for what he has said and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.19 p.m.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

I beg to move, in page 20, line 34, after "Committee," to insert: of whom one member shall be nominated by the organisations representing the profession of estate agents. I do not move the Amendment in the expectation that the Minister will accept it, but primarily for the purpose of raising briefly the issue of what character this central committee is going to have. We can approach the appointment of a committee of this sort in two ways. We can try to get a number of public-spirited men and women and ask them to serve on this central housing advisory Committee. The other method is to set out to try and collect together a number of people who are technical experts, under the chairmanship of someone not necessarily a technical expert but one who takes a wide view of public affairs. There is a good deal to be said for both classes, but in this case there is probably something to be said for having a Committee drawn from people who are technically experts. When the Minister is appointing the Committee he might seek, for example, the assistance of one of the bodies representing the municipal organisations and from them obtain the services of someone who has had lengthy experience as chairman of a housing committee. He might possibly get someone from the architects. If the Committee is going to be built up in that way there is a body of people who have experience in these matters, namely the estate agents, who might be represented. I move the Amendment in the hope of inducing the Minister to give us some general explanation of what is in his mind in regard to the matter. Some other Minister may have to make the future appointments, but the right hon. Gentleman will be responsible for the first appointments. Therefore, it is what is in his mind that matters.

Photo of Sir Gerald Hurst Sir Gerald Hurst , Manchester Moss Side

I beg to second the Amendment.

I do so for the purpose of eliciting the statement to which my hon. Friend has referred.

8.23 p.m.

Sir H. YOUNG:

I feel a little doubtful whether my abilities are equal to the task put upon me by my hon. Friend. He wants me to give the House an account of the right principles for the constitution of such an advisory committee as that proposed in the Bill. I recognise the value of both the elements to which he has referred, the element of representatives of special types with knowledge and experience and also the importance of selecting for this very important duty those of outstanding gifts for the task which we have in hand. One would hope to find the right via media between them. As regards the Amendment, I would apply to it the same remarks as I did to the last Amendment, that we ought rot to make any statutory obligations with regard to appointments to the committee, but I will give full consideration to the very important institution named in the Amendment.

Photo of Dr Christopher Addison Dr Christopher Addison , Swindon

The right hon. Gentleman's promise is not to appoint but to consider the appointment of representatives from such bodies.

Sir H. YOUNG:

When I am consider ing the constitution of the committee I will certainly take into consideration the particular institutions mentioned.

8.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Griffiths Mr George Griffiths , Hemsworth

I am interested to hear the last statement. The first Amendment asked for the appointment of a representative of the Society of Women Housing Estate Managers, and another hon. Member now asks for a representative of the estate agents. We had better ask the Minister to think about the brick burners, the bricklayers, the slaters, the clay diggers, the joiners, the window-makers, the plumbers. If hon. Members are going to make requests repeatedly from their angle we ought to make requests from our angle. I hope that the Minister will not bother his mind very much about these double-dyed experts but that he will think about the practical men who understand the job better than a lot of experts.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

After what the Minister has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.