I was referring to the financial implications of the programme outlined in the Bill and observing that there are good grounds for assuming that local authorities will put forward their programmes in equal proportions so far as slum clearance and overcrowding are concerned, and that in the completion of the programme there will be a payment of £11 by the Exchequer for each two cottages instead of about £9, and for each two flats completed there will similarly be paid into the pool, instead of about £26, a sum of about £28 where the average cost of the land is between £6,000 and £8,000 per acre, so that, excluding houses to be built for the needs of the agricultural population, the additional Exchequer subsidies to be paid into the pool will be £1 per dwelling—a total of about £330,000. If you add to this the cost of providing houses for the needs of the agricultural population, the increase will be in excess of £500,000 per annum. I should like to say a word about costs, because the statements which have been made in connection with the financial commitments of local authorities are somewhat misleading. The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), who is associated with housing in London, referred to the reduction in the rates of interest since 1930 as being mentioned by me as a justification for a revision of the subsidy and went on to say:
That, however, is not the only factor to be considered. There is also the increased cost of building which I submit more than outbalances the reduction in the rate of interest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 193S; col. 1789, Vol. 331.]
I have had this matter examined, and that is not a correct statement of the case. Hon. Members opposite must understand that a comparison has to be made with the rate when the subsidy was originally fixed and the new provisions of to-day. The increase, as a matter of fact, in building costs in 1937 as compared with 1930 is only about £25 per cottage or flat, and the increase in loan charges is only about £1 per annum, whereas the decrease due to interest rates in the case of a
cottage is about £4 15s. per annum and in the case of a flat about £8 per annum. Therefore, on the total cost of building a cottage, including the land, there is a net decrease in loan charges on a 60-year basis of about £3 15s. and in the case of a flat (allowing about £1 for an increase in loan charges on the higher cost of land) a net decrease of about £5 15s. per annum.
I should also like to answer some criticisms which have been directed against myself and my Department in connection with the class of buildings which local authorities have been able to erect with financial assistance and which they will be able to build under the financial provisions of the Resolution. The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) has had considerable experience in building operations, and the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) speaks with an almost unrivalled knowledge of certain aspects of the building trade. They complain, not very severely, of pressure to secure cheapness, the cutting out of amenities. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Peckham delivered a considerable indictment against me, and complained of the additional expenditure which I was imposing on local authorities by requiring that they should improve their standards. He said that I had actually suggested improvements in housing which would mean an increased cost of about £200 per flat. I am, therefore, confronted with criticisms from two quarters, one which complains that I am extravagant and the other which complains of my meanness. I think really the answer lies between the two. What I have endeavoured to do, and what my predecessors have endeavoured to do much better, is to secure a proper but not too extravagant a standard of housing. It may be that I have made local authorities withdraw certain tenders and obtain others, but that has been done because I am anxious that local authorities should get proper value for their money. That is the object why on some occasions, with success, I have turned down tenders.
I should like to make this declaration, that with the exception of pruning down what may be called extravagances I have no intention or desire to cut down the specifications of local authorities, and my answer to the indictment is to draw the attention of hon. Members to the recent circular I have issued to local authorities where they will see statements regarding the unfortunate tendency to have a sort of minimum standard of building in this country. If they will look at the circulars which I have issued during my administration, they will see that I have constantly urged local authorities to make provision of houses of a more mixed type. Quite recently I made special reference to the need for a larger proportion of larger houses, and I am glad to say that the tendency of local authorities is to make greater provision for the variety of needs of the people for whom they are providing houses. I have emphasised this matter just as much as I have emphasised the need of houses for larger families, and I have also endeavoured to urge the need of houses for old people.
Let me say a word on the overcrowding standard. The present standard is, in my judgment, a beginning. I have said that before, and I adhere to it. I also adhere to what I have said, that it represents the minimum amount of accommodation that can be enforced. It must be remembered that it is a penal standard, and certain steps have to be taken if this penal standard is not complied with. As far as the housing programme envisaged by the Financial Resolution is concerned, I emphasised on the Second Reading of the Bill and I repeat it to-day, when people say that I am not showing the vigour which they expect from me in not improving on the overcrowding standard already on the Statute Book, that there is a simple and an effective answer. It does not mean that there is any lack of desire on my part to improve on that standard, but, as a matter of fact, the programme envisaged in the proposals represents the amount of building which is immediately practicable. It will, in fact, engage all the efforts of local authorities, and probably all the available labour for that purpose, a point which, sometimes, hon. Members opposite are apt to forget. The hon. Member for East Woolwich emphasised this point, because he has considerable knowledge of the situation and realises that we have to face, regrettable as it is, a Defence programme for the country, which has necessarily made inroads into the supply of building material and the supply of labour. That is really the answer.
The programme will give steady work for local authorities for some years ahead and is the maximum overcrowding standard that is practicable in the present circumstances. My answer as a practical administrator is that in this programme you have, subject to the limitations I mentioned on the Second Reading, a planned programme which local authorities will be able to carry out for some little time ahead, and if we attempted to do any more the hon. Member for East Woolwich would be the first to deprecate it. He indicated in his speech the consequence of trying to force matters. When this programme has been completed we can consider as a practical matter the improvement of the overcrowding standard in this country.
I have given them once or twice in the House, but, as I said on the Second Reading, the position has eased during the last few months and in certain parts of the country tenders are coming in much more freely. There was some criticism about the proposal, which I think is desirable, to give assistance to private enterprise in regard to agricultural housebuilding. It has been described as a proposal to give another subsidy to rural landlords. I can assure hon. Members that as far as I am concerned there is no such sinister intention. I have followed the recommendations of my Rural Housing Advisory Committee, the members of which are experts holding different political views. They advised me to take this course. It does not mean that there will be an extensive amount of this sort of building, but the Advisory Committee thought that in certain parts of the country it would be an advantage if this provision were inserted in the Bill and financial arrangements made for it.
The proposal provides for cases where a private person is prepared to build a house on terms which provide for the payment of rents at an agricultural level, and the local authorities must be satisfied that, owing to special circumstances, housing accommodation for the agricultural population can be most conveniently provided in this way. If hon. Members will look at the Clause in the Bill, they will see that those two conditions are very definitely laid down. I hope it will be of some assistance to hon. Members opposite who object to the proposal to know that the provision by private persons of houses to let at restrictive rents was authorised by the 1924 Act. It is true that only 2,062 houses were provided in that way in agricultural parishes, but I think it can be safely assumed that the Government at that time, when including the provision, hoped that it would be more widely used for the benefit of the agricultural population. I would point out to hon. Members opposite that, except for the rental condition in the present Bill being somewhat stricter and the subsidies being available only for the agricultural population and not indiscrimately, there is no material distinction between the conditions imposed in the 1924 Act and those to be imposed in this Bill. I think that in this matter I have followed faithfully what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield laid down in his recent speech, as being one of the first principles of housing.
Why is it necessary to make the grant conditional upon the council's sanction, since the council will not contribute anything to it? It is conceivable that because of sheer prejudice against private enterprise, some member of a council might try to obstruct the building of houses in this way. Would it not be possible to make it a question purely for the Ministry?
That can be considered when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill. One of the reasons which has actuated us in including the provision concerning the sanction of the council is that the local authorities are responsible for the housing conditions in their areas, and therefore they should be in a position to survey the needs of their areas and to see what is required. Hon. Members opposite will perhaps be able to tell us whether local authorities would adopt an attitude of that kind and, simply because they object to private enterprise, ignore the needs of the people. If they did so, it would be very unfair. The question whether, Parliament having passed this proposal, local authorities might endeavour to avoid the law and say that because they do not like private enterprise they will not give active co-operation, is one that I shall have to consider, but it can be dealt with when we reach the Committee stage.
The suggestion has been made that the operation of these financial provisions should be entrusted to the parish councils. Now, the parish councils have no power to build houses, and I think it would be undesirable to have more than one authority engaged in the provision of houses in a district. From the outset. Parliament has made the rural district council the responsible authority. There is, of course, no reason why the rural district council should not build houses for pensioners in the agricultural industry. When a parish council knows that there is need for such houses, I think the best course, in order to avoid duplication of authorities in the district, would be for it to bring the matter to the notice of the rural district council. I assure the Committee that I shall do my best to see that local authorities are encouraged to do all they can for old people. I have constantly emphasised that in the course of different Debates, and I am glad to say that an increasing number of houses-suitable for old people are being included in the normal housing schemes of local authorities.
I think we had better discuss that when we come to the Committee stage. A suggestion has been made that there should be the payment of a lump sum grant in certain cases. I would point out to the hon. Members who made that proposal that the whole basis of grants both to local authorities and to other persons is annual payments. Why we have done that, and why I do not think it is possible to give a lump sum grant in respect of building a house under these proposals, is that these grants to private persons are payable subject to certain conditions which must be observed in order to obtain payment of grantsannually. They are laid down in the Bill. If we gave a lump sum beforehand, I do not see how there would be any practical means of enforcing the conditions of the Bill. While I want to help' people who build in this way, I am equally not prepared to assent to granting: public money unless these provisions are observed and unless in a reasonable way it can be seen that they are observed. I would remind hon. Members who are interested in this question that, as I dare say they know, local authorities already have wide powers to make advances, as distinct from grants, and I think that the exercise of these powers would meet the difficulty.
I had intended to deal separately with the question of London, but I feel that I have already trespassed too long on the time of the Committee, and I hope therefore that those interested in the question of London will not feel that I intend any discourtesy in not saying anything on that subject. Perhaps in the course of the Debate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary could, if necessary, deal with that matter.
Can the right hon. Gentleman inform me what will be the position with regard to obligations that have been entered into already between the Ministry and a local authority? We have a slum clearance programme extending over a period of eight years and covering 15,000 or 20,000 houses. The subsidy will end on 31st December, 1938. How will the loss be made good?
I do not think I can go as far as seven years ahead. I have gone as far as I can in the proposals in the Bill. I would remind the hon. Member that in the City of Liverpool, while on the one hand there may be a reduction in connection with slum clearance, there will, on the other hand, be considerable assistance for their overcrowding programme. I have no doubt that Liverpool will be able to adjust the two programmes as other authorities are doing. As a matter of fact, from the point of view of the needs of the people, there is no difference in the social and economic position of those who unfortunately have to live in slums and those who are living in badly overcrowded conditions.
In conclusion, I am encouraged on the whole by the speeches that were made in the Second Reading Debate. I am not too seriously concerned by the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield said that the Bill betrays the nation and the local authorities. I am accustomed to hearing the right hon. Gentleman say such things. I remember that when the great Local Government Act, 1929, was brought before the House, he moved the rejection of it. I suppose that the right hon. Gentleman has moved the rejection of more beneficent Measures than any other hon. Member. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman said that the Bill was born in sin and conceived in iniquity. He said it was the offspring of a demoralised and reckless father and a reluctant mother. When he came to administer that Act, with great success, as Minister of Health, I am sure he looked upon it with a certain measure of satisfaction. I also remember that when the Widows' Pensions Scheme—a Measure which has done so much for so many people—was introduced, when I was Parliamentary Secretary, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was Minister of Health, the right hon. Gentleman had the duty of moving the rejection of it; no doubt he could not help it, but was asked by his party to do so. He described that beneficent scheme as a travesty of a scheme. The fact is that some 2,000,000 widows, orphans and children are receiving benefits under it to-day. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman describes this scheme as the betrayal of the nation and the local authorities, I am not discouraged. I know that I shall live to see the day when he will probably claim that he had some share in framing it. I feel that we can look forward to a continuous and steady programme on the part of local authorities under the proposals of the Bill, and I suggest that on the whole we have given the local authorities adequate financial assistance by the proposals which we are considering this afternoon.
Before calling upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), perhaps I had better refer to the fact that he has his name down to two Amendments on the Order Paper. I do not propose to call those Amendments now, and perhaps I might take the opportunity to tell him what I think, it will not surprise him, that the first Amendment is out of order.
The first Amendment was placed on the Order Paper with a view to raising a point as to the Money Resolution, and I did not regard it as being in order. We shall have the general discussion, and we shall be satisfied with a Division on the other Amendment.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health always likes to have his little joke. I feel flattered to think that he should have remembered since 1929 those gems of oratory of mine, and I hope they have been of some advantage to him. I imagine this is not the last occasion on which he will quote my speeches against me. I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman dealt with the question which I raised in the Second Reading Debate concerning the amendment of the Money Resolution because of the discrepancy between rural housing and urban housing. I understood the right hon. Gentleman's point very well; I think I understood it on Tuesday night. I realised that where he was dealing with a problem of 30,000 houses the latitude was reasonable, but that where he was dealing with 260,000 other houses, with a possible increase of nearly 20 per cent., it would be very substantial, and that is as satisfactory an answer as I ever expected to get. But I must make my protest against the Parliamentary Secretary's treatment of this question on Tuesday evening. I may say that I regarded his statement as discourteous, and my hon. Friends on this side regarded it as grossly impertinent. It only showed that the hon. Gentleman really did not know what the question was about. I may remind the Committee of the words which the hon. Gentleman used:
I am advised that a limitation to show the fundamental conditions under which grant is to be payable is something which is regarded by the Government as essential, and must be included in the Financial Resolution. The fundamental condition as regards the £6 10s. grant is that it should be restricted to certain cases only, as defined. To leave out those conditions would open the door to the payment of this extra £1 generally. The similarly fundamental condition in regard to the second grant, the agricultural subsidy, is satisfied by the inclusion of the words agricultural population in the Resolution.
Hon. Members on this side, quite naturally, said that that was no answer, and then we have this gratuitiously impertinent statement from the hon. Gentleman:
It is the only answer which the right hon. Gentleman will get.
I am glad that the Minister had the courtesy this afternoon to give us a fuller and clearer answer. Then I have to complain, in connection with a very important part of this Money Resolution, of another statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary on Tuesday when he misled the House, either in ignorance or deliberately.
Hon. Members who were present will recall the occasion. This was in reference to the question of grants to private enterprise in rural areas, and the hon. Gentleman said:
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney, who was so indignant, that similar provisions were inserted in the Wheatley Act in 1924. I would call his attention to Section 2, paragraph (1) of the Wheatley Act. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield said, Get back to the Wheatley Act. We have got back to the Wheatley Act in this connection.
Then my right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) said, "The tied house," and the Parliamentary Secretary said:
I ask the right hon. Gentleman, as I have not time to read it out, to study what I have said, and he will find that it is substantially accurate.
At that point I asked the hon. Gentleman whether he would tell the House the number of private enterprise houses that were built under the 1924 Act and the hon. Gentleman said:
Certainly, but not without notice.
And he went on to say:
This Bill has been assailed by right hon. Gentlemen of the Opposition by every weapon of insult and indignity."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 15th February, 1938; cols. 1826–34, Vol. 331.]
I regard that statement as offensive.
I am not concerned about the hon. Gentleman's invective. My shoulders are broad enough to stand all he can give. But as regards the substance of what he said, I have taken the trouble to look up the figures. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the conditions which he proposes to operate this Measure are much the same as the conditions in the Act of 1924. I do not want to quarrel with him on that point now. We shall have that out on Clause 3. Provision was made in Clause 2 of the Act of 1925 that houses might be built by a local authority or by a society or body of trustees or company within the meaning of Section 3 of that Act, and Section 3, which is far more elaborate in its protection of the tenant than anything in this Bill, makes it clear that we had in mind something very limited. The real spate of houses built by societies of one kind and another came under the 1923 Act.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not like the "lump sum down," because he could not control the cottages afterwards. Quite right, but the terms of the 1923 Act—£6 for 20 years which would be capitalised in terms of £75—provided a company with State capital to build houses, either as a colliery company would, or to sell, as the case may be. Under the 1924 Act there were built over 520,000 houses, the biggest contribution ever made by one Act of Parliament to the housing of the people of this country. In town and country alike private enterprise built fewer than 16,000. That is not the position under this Bill, and I cannot help feeling some indignation that the Parliamentary Secretary should have chosen to compare the Act of 1924 with this miserable Measure. The hon. Gentleman, I say, misled the House on Tuesday as to the purposes of the 1924 Act. Quite wrongly he made a comparison between it and the present Bill, and on that point I think he ought to apologise to the Committee. There is another point on which it may be that I have misunderstood the Bill and the Financial Resolution. He said:
It (the subsidy) rises as high as £39 on a flat costing more than £28,000 an acre."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1938; cols. 1826–34, Vol. 331.]
In the terms of the Memorandum the maximum is £26. I have no doubt the hon. Gentleman was adding the London County Council's £13 in order to make it £39, but the point is not clear, and perhaps it will be made clear later. Then both the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary on Tuesday tried to defend their 2 to 1 basis. On the proportion of 2 to 1 as between the State and the local authorities, com pared with what operates to-day, the local authorities are losers. The right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary talked about the need for low rents. This financial aspect of the problem is worth analysis. The truth is that the right hon. Gentleman is very substantially reducing the slum clearance subsidies.
He is, in a measure, increasing the overcrowding subsidies. His idea of generosity to local authorities is to bring the slum clearance subsidy down to the level of the overcrowding subsidy. I cannot see how that is going to do what the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. He gave us some figures—all hypothetical. Actually his figures never work out right. He has assumed slum clearance and relief of overcrowding in equal proportions. He said he was told that that might be the case. I am not so sure that it is so. The slum clearance programme in many towns is in arrears and the authorities will be badly penalised, because in no circumstances can they complete their existing commitments before the end of this year.
The insistence of local authorities in the past few years has been on the slum programme, and the natural emphasis must lie there, because, as I pointed out on Tuesday, overcrowding is a grave enough problem, but when you get overcrowding with the other evil conditions which make the slums, then, obviously, that is the problem which ought to be dealt with first. This new grant, therefore, is going to penalise local authorities who feel that it is their duty to continue with slum clearance. It will encourage them to deal with the problem of overcrowding which is much simpler, and in many cases much cheaper. I am satisfied that if you were to analyse the housing needs of our local authorities to-day they would work out at the rate of one slum clearance house to one overcrowded house. I think it is pretty certain that local authorities will be faced with increased expenditure if they are to carry out the Minister's five-year programme.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about "prices steadying for a fall." I think it is probably true at the present time that the price level is fairly stationary, that there are no violent fluctuations, but what guarantee has the right hon. Gentleman that there will not be fluctuations during the five years of his programme? There is no guarantee at all. When we were discussing the Rearmament White Paper I said the £1,500,000,000 was not the end of the expenditure and that the cost would be found partly by new imposts upon the masses of the people. I said that one inevitable result of the rearmament programme would be a rise in building costs, and therefore higher rents, and if we take the three years from March, 1934, to March, 1937, it will be found that non-parlour houses rose in price from £286 to £342. Those are not my figures, but the right hon. Gentleman's. The cost of flats between March, 1934, and March, 1937, rose from £400 to £501, an increase of 25 per cent.
It is true that that increase has slackened up now, partly because of a diminished demand for houses, partly because of the difficulty on the part of local authorities in getting supplies. What does the right hon. Gentleman know about the possible course of building costs in the next five years? Nothing; and he is basing his proposals now, and trying to prove his generosity, on the assumption that building costs will remain fairly stable. If building costs rise, further burdens will fall upon local authorities if they are to carry out their programmes, and we are entitled to ask, Will local authorities be prepared to face that burden? They are very heavily pressed as it is, and they are now being asked to enter into commitments on a basis which will not be to their financial advantage and may be seriously to their disadvantage.
What is to be the effect on rents? The right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary made a great song and dance about rents. I want to bring the Committee back to the case of Bristol that I quoted on Tuesday. The hon. Member was good enough to get up and say that my constituency would benefit. Time will prove that. I want to take him back to Bristol. This was not the letter of an irresponsible person, but the letter of the Town Clerk of the City of Bristol, who presumably sent it under the advice of his experts. Their case is that they have 500 slum cottages in their proposals for this year which they cannot possibly complete before 31st December, 1938. They have in immediate prospect an additional 600 slum-clearance houses. The first lot will not get the present rate of subsidy, which operated when the tender was made, because it will be beyond the time, and certainly neither will the second lot. Therefore, they have to face the building of at least 1,100 houses on the lower rate of subsidy, and they calculate that that will involve them in a loss for 40 years of £6,325 per year. Their statement goes on to say:
If the rate contribution is limited to an annual contribution of £2 15s. per house for 40 years, as proposed by the Bill, it will be necessary to increase weekly rents by 2s. 3d. per week, making 9s. 9d. instead of 7s. 6d. as at present. Even if the rate contribution be maintained at £3 15s. as at present, rents must advance by 1s. 8d. a week or the additional loss be borne by the rates, as there is no pool in the Housing Account upon which to draw.
That is a very serious situation, and there ought to be a reply to it. In the "Manchester Guardian" to-day we have the official views of the Manchester authorities on housing:
Mr. Leonard Heywood, the city housing director, complained not long ago that by substituting a subsidy of £5 10s. per house for its present slum-clearance subsidy, calculated on the number of persons rehoused, the Government would be giving Manchester a bad bargain.
Alderman Sir Miles Mitchell, whom the right hon. Gentleman knows very well as the chairman of the housing sub-committee of the Association of Municipal Corporations, a man of great experience and knowledge, which he is ever ready to put at the disposal of the Minister for the time being,
disagreed definitely, so far as it concerned Manchester, with the contention of Mr. Bernays (Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health) in the House of Commons on Tuesday that houses built under this Bill could be let at an average of sixpence or nine-pence a week less than existing houses.
Sir Miles Mitchell has been building houses under every Housing Act since the War. He is, perhaps, the most experienced local administrator on this Subject, and he disagrees flatly. Well, he knows. This is not theory from inside the Department; this is a statement of fact by a man who is in touch with these matters:
'In the big towns at least, he said, the probabilities are that the rents will have to be increased, not reduced. It would become difficult also for the local authority to allow the present rebates to poor tenants.
While the proposed change in the slum-clearance subsidy would throw a heavier burden on the rates, it was also designed, he pointed out, to provide increased grants for building on expensive sites; this would be an incentive to landowners to charge more for their land.
Mr. Leonard Heywood said he did not see how Mr. Bernay's claim that it would mean cheaper rents could possibly be made to fit in with the facts. In the case of a family of four the present subsidy of /9 (45s. for each person) would be replaced by a subsidy of £5 10s. The housing authority and the tenant would lose. Tuesday's Debate did not seem to have altered these facts.
We need an answer to these things. It is no good trying to hocus-pocus about lower rents and advantage to the local authorities when people who are concerned with this problem do not believe it.
The right hon. Gentleman made great play with the fall in interest. When the rates were higher, local authorities had to charge higher rents; when they fell, local authorities passed on the advantage to the tenants in lower rents. That was done in the City of Bristol, where rents of 9s. and 10s. a week were brought down to 7s. 6d., and they did that because they realised that they were dealing in slum-clearance cases with people
The right hon. Gentleman referred to overcrowding and repeated the formula which he had used on at least two occasions in the House before. It was the beginning of the present housing standard, and it was the minimum amount of accommodation capable of early enforcement, and he quoted words to the effect that his five-years' programme represented the building immediately practicable. That entirely misses the point. I am not arguing whether you can or cannot build more houses in the next five years, which is the right hon. Gentleman's programme; all that I am saying is that you might build better houses, because, remember, these houses, fulfilling the right hon. Gentleman's standard as to what is not overcrowding, will be there for two generations, and before a generation is over this community will look upon them with disgust. There is no reason why, even if he cannot build more houses, at least his overcrowding standard should not be put at a level consonant with what recent opinion in the country requires.
The right hon. Gentleman also spoke of his rural provisions. He has tried again to make his point of view clear to us, but I am not so sure that he has done it with any very conspicuous success. He falls back on his Housing Advisory Committee, which states:
Ina comparatively small number of cases it may be necessary to build new houses on isolated farms for the accommodation of. stockmen, etc.
There is nothing in the Bill confining it to "stockmen, etc." In fact, it is chiefly "etceteras." It is not what the Minister says, it is what the Bill permits that matters, and this is not a case of a company, a body of trustees, or a society building houses under the strictest of conditions. This is where anybody can blow in and build them. My hon. Friends on this side of the Committee can only come to the conclusion that this does open the door to landlords and farmers building tied cottages, largely at the public expense, and if the Minister desires to keep it to the lonely cottage of the stockman, he really ought to put provisions in his Money Resolution and in the Bill to that effect. I said that his conditions and ours do not quite square. There are practically no housing standards left now, and under this Money Resolution the right hon. Gentleman can allow pretty nearly what kind of houses he likes in these rural areas. We are bound to come to the conclusion, it seems obvious to us on this side, that this is still another subsidy to rural landlords and to farmers and a further attempt to perpetuate the evil of the tied-cottage system, which is ceasing to be necessary in these days of modern locomotion, even for stockmen.
The evidence, I think, goes to show that the local authorities, upon whom rest very heavy responsibilities for the housing of the people, regard this Bill with something approaching consternation. I have never read anything in any paper which showed that any local authority felt that it was going to get anything out of this Bill, and I am sure that if the right hon. Gentleman could have quoted cases of local authorities which had passed a vote of thanks to him for his Bill, he would have done it. What is perturbing the local authorities is that they do not see how they can fulfil their responsibilities. They are very harassed, as I have said, financially, they have more and more duties crowding in upon them, they live among people who are miserably housed, many of them, of all political parties, are desirous to do something to improve housing conditions, and they are feeling to-day crippled by this new move on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. The local authorities, moreover, fear—quite rightly, it seems to me—that the rents will rise, in which case, if my prophecy comes true, the poor will pay a heavy price for this so-called prosperity boom and for the rearmament programme.
The Minister has been more unconvincing than usual and the Parliamentary Secretary far more unconvincing than him. We have had this kind of struggle in the House repeatedly, the right hon. Gentleman claiming that his Measures are beneficent and in the great interests of the nation, and so on, and we have had to criticise them severely. This Measure is no exception. I do not think it will add to the glories of the right hon. Gentleman. I think it will be added to that long list of Tory Measures which have satisfied the taxpayer at the expense of the poorest people of the land.
I would like to add another point to those which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) has made with regard to the provisions of this Financial Resolution which will reduce the subsidy for slum clearance. I want to refer to the position of some of the smaller authorities. I welcome many of the provisions of the Bill as they affect rural and agricultural districts, but there is also a problem of slum clearance and overcrowding in the areas of rural district councils. This will be made much more difficult to deal with by the present Bill unless the interpretation of an agricultural worker is so wide that it will be possible to build new houses for people who are not strictly agricultural workers and who will be able to come under that part of the Bill which deals with the subsidy for agricultural workers rather than that which deals with slum clearance and overcrowding.
I would like to give as one instance a group of 95 houses for which tenders have been accepted in a rural district in a Special Area in the north of England. In spite of the fact that the Commissioner for the Special Area is meeting the contribution which should be provided from the rural district and in spite of the assistance under the existing legislation, the rents which will have to be charged for these houses are much higher than the existing rents. Although this has been announced only a few days it has already created something of an outcry locally. If the same programme had been carried out under this Bill the position would indeed have been difficult. It is not only in the large towns that the new provisions will be difficult. In the slum clearance schemes in rural districts in the north with which I am familiar it was possible to let houses at rents within the capacity of people to pay, but the rise in building costs has made a considerable difference, and we have noticed it very severely in the last year or 18 months.
Many of us welcome the new proposals for dealing with houses for agricultural workers, and the only criticism I would make is that some action of this sort is long overdue. Hitherto the only work which has been effectively done for the agricultural worker has been done under the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts. The amounts spent under those Acts, however, when compared with the enormous sums which have been spent under the Housing Acts for urban dwellers, is seen to be a trivial amount. Figures supplied to me by the Minister in the autumn showed that the total amount promised but not spent then was short of £1,000,000. He told us that 14,000 houses were to be reconstructed. The present Bill proposes to spend another £310,000 to build 30,000 houses. We welcome that, but it is a provision which is long overdue.
I would like the Minister to throw some light on what the position will be in rural districts where houses are built partly under the slum-clearance provision of the Bill and partly under the £10 subsidy. It will create a very anamolous position. There will be rural workers who are not earning more than agricultural workers in many instances, and, unless the definition of rural worker is wide enough to include them, there will be created a sense of jealousy and hardship among the people who are excluded from these cheaper houses. The striking thing about the Rural Workers Housing Acts is the patchy way in which they have been used. Taking at random some of the figures with which I have been supplied, I find that Devon has spent £167,000, Dorset £24,000, East Suffolk £68,000, West Suffolk £5,000, part of East Yorkshire £3,000, North Yorkshire £28,000. I submit that it is possible that this Bill will be used in rural districts as patchily as the present facilities.
I notice that the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has an Amendment which suggests that parish councils should be given power to build houses. The Minister has already indicated that he would not welcome such a suggestion, and I agree with him. There ought to be more power given to parish councils or to substantial numbers of individual ratepayers to make representations directly to the county council, or, failing that, to the Ministry; and the machinery should exist by which the Ministry can direct that houses should be built if a clear case is made out for the need of them. Such powers may exist, but I do not see them in the Bill. Many small rural district councils are not energetic in carrying out their responsibilities. They have been very negligent in the past in applying the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts, and in condemning insanitary housing. They have not been active in providing water supplies and sewerage. The administration in rural districts of these essential services has been exceedingly patchy, and I would ask the Government whether they would not consider using some means by which the rather somnolent councils should be brought up to the standard of efficiency equal to the best.
I would like an assurance from the Government that the facilities in the rural houses which it is hoped will be let at reasonable rents shall not be sacrificed. It is essential that new houses built in rural districts should be supplied with bathrooms, water supply and proper sewerage arrangements. There is a tendency to suggest that such amenities, although they may be necessary in the towns, are not necessary in country districts, but that is a complete fallacy. The damp and insanitary room in a country cottage leads as much to tuberculosis and rheumatics as a similar room in the town, and the standard of houses and the services supplied to them should be kept as high as that which exists in the towns. With regard to the question of grants to private persons and the problem of the tied cottage, I believe that the real solution is that there should be an adequate number of cottages in the country districts. In some instances an isolated cottage is needful, but if there is an adequate supply of cottages, so that if a man loses his job he will willingly go to another house, it would be a way of meeting a real difficulty. Whether the right way to meet that need is to lend money to private owners or not may be a moot point. I do not believe the principle is necessarily wrong, but I think that under this Bill some rural workers will be enabled to build their own cottages.
As the Minister has pointed out, powers exist already for local authorities to lend money to people who have not sufficient capital; and the district council of which I have the honour to be a member has in one or two cases used those powers under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act, 1899. There is no reason why the stockman or a retired agricultural worker should not build his own house, and in many instances they do own their own houses. That is a development which might well be encouraged. I hope that the Ministry in granting these facilities will keep a tight watch on the local authorities to see that they are not shirking their responsibility and shelving it on to other people. It is no use having a low-rented house if the rates are too high. I would ask whether the Minister would consider issuing some direction as to how these low-rented houses are to be assessed by the local assessment committee. At present a house in a rural area may have a rent of as much as 2s.
I am sorry that I was led away on that point. It only arises in considering what the general cost to the tenant of living in one of those houses will be. I would only add that while it is a little difficult to estimate what will be the full result of this Bill, and while we deprecate as strongly as possible the reduction in the assistance given to slum clearance, I shall not be exaggerating in saying that the main principle of the rural subsidy is welcomed in many parts of the House.
To many of us who were in the House 13 or 14 years ago, when the subject of housing so frequently came up and so many tempers were lost, and it was a matter of such party strife, it is, indeed, pleasant to think of the atmosphere in which the Second Reading of the Bill was debated and into which this Financial Resolution has come. I think it is true to say that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent (Mr. E. Smith) and the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) did their best to inject a certain amount of party feeling. I could not help feeling a little amused at the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent when he said that all life was a matter of party strife—a gloomy outlook for one of his youth and promise. Of course, we do not connect the right hon. Member for Wakefield so much with youth and promise as with age and promises, and he, naturally, has attacked this Bill in a way which shows the real fundamental difference between us on housing. We on these benches are anxious, of course under common-sense limitations, that as many houses as possible should be built. The tendency opposite seems to be to agree with that on condition that the houses are provided through certain channels, and preferably under the direction and aegis of the right hon. Member for Wakefield. I do not pretend to know too much about the question of housing in our concentrated areas of population. That is a matter with which hon. Members opposite are more closely connected, and, may behave greater experience, but I should like to say a word about housing in the rural areas, with which one of the most important parts of this Bill is concerned, a part which I was glad to hear the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) welcome in his speech.
In all the efforts for re-housing made since I have been in the House we have managed to deal, to some extent, anyhow, with great portions of the problem, but primarily the urban part. We have dealt with considerable success with slums and overcrowding, but one thing which has never been successfully tackled has been the provision of houses for rural workers. An effort to fill that gap was made by the Rural Workers Act, but that has been a great disappointment to many of us, and I should like to put forward a suggestion, which perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will pass on to his right hon. Friend, as to one reason why it has not been the success we had hoped. I know of so many cases where local authorities have said, "We feel that this is an assistance by us to landlords, and we are not going to give that assistance unless we are sure that houses will not be built without that assistance." I do not believe it was ever intended that the Measure should be interpreted in that way. It seems to me that where there were buildings which could be reconstructed to provide cottages, or cottages which could be brought up to date, and the need was there, that under the terms of that Act it was the duty of the local authorities to do what they could to assist.
Perhaps I have been rather long in getting to the point I wished to make, which was the encouragement to be given towards providing houses for those in the countryside. Naturally this increased subsidy is a great step forward in that direction. Hon. Members have expressed a fear of the misuse of tied cottages under the provisions of this subsidy. There is a good deal of misapprehension and, if I may respectfully say so, nonsense talked about the danger of the subsidy becoming an encouragement to tied cottages. We are told that it is wrong that when a man loses his job he should lose his house, but when a man gets a job it is an advantage to him to get a house with it, looking at it from the other point of view, and so developments which may conceivably be assisted by the financial provisions of this Resolution may, in the end, work both ways. The tied cottage grew up partly in the interests of the farmer or landowner, but largely in the interests of those who were to occupy it. Stockmen's cottages are not necessarily confined to vacant and lonely areas. They are often found in an area where there are residents already, near farm buildings, near cowsheds and stables, and not necessarily out in the wilds where the sheep may be under semi-ranching conditions. While there may be something in the objections against subsidising private enterprise, the limitations under this Financial Resolution are such that undesirable features are avoided, and we should concentrate upon every means which will enable houses to be built for those who need them.
It is my own view it is desirable that the houses should be built as much as possible in occupied areas of villages, because it is less lonely if amenities are available, particularly water supply. I know that is outside the immediate scope of this Financial Resolution, though it materially affects the cost and location of such cottages. There are many other considerations about which I should like to speak, but I will confine myself to saying that the one part of our housing problem which has not been dealt with has been that of providing houses for rural workers at rents which they can pay, and that consideration outweighs all the others. What every decent landowner or employer has at heart is the provision of housing facilities up to modern standards at reasonable rates. If, as I think, the Financial Resolution and the Bill facilitate that, then I say that in spite of the Cassandralike warnings of the right hon. Member for Wakefield and some other hon. Members, we shall feel that we have done a good piece of work by passing this Bill.
In his opening remarks the hon. and gallant Member for Yeovil (Sir G. Davies) said there seemed to be much less difference now between hon. Members on this side of the House and on his side than was the case 12 to 15 years ago, and he instanced only two hon. Members on these benches who, he thought, still regarded this question from a purely party standpoint. If there is less difference now than there was 12 years ago it is largely due to the efforts of my hon. Friends on these benches, whereby hon. Members opposite have been brought nearer to the point of view that only by public activity in housebuilding shall we ever really solve this problem.
I was only answering the hon. and gallant Member, and I will not pursue that point any further, but come back directly to paragraphs A (2 and 3) of the Financial Resolution, which refer to rural houses. I will admit that the provisions for rural housing are certainly more generous than those provided in the Act of 1935, which was the last Act dealing with rural houses, but having admitted that I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will regard my criticism as the more reasonable when I say that the present Measure is much less good than the Act of 1931. The comparison is rather between this Measure and the Act of 1931 than with the Act of 1935. The Minister has told us that even in the Act of 1931 there was a provision for the review of the subsidies. That may have been so, but I think he is only quibbling there. It is true that it was possible to review the subsidies from time to time under the Act of 1931, but there was no evidence that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) if he had been in charge some years after the Act was put on the Statute Book, would have reviewed them downwards, which was what actually happened; because it was the murder of that Act by the economy measures of 1931 which led to the grave failure to deal with the rural housing problem.
In the Act of 1931 the principle was first established that the contribution by the State towards rural slum clearance should be on the basis of so many persons rehoused rather than on the basis of so much per house. Moreover, the contributions were such as would take the financial conditions of each rural district council into consideration, those less able financially to deal with the problem receiving greater assistance than those who were not. In other words, the contribution was of such an amount as might be deemed appropriate for each particular council; and in fact a capital sum of £2,000,000 was laid down for the construction of 40,000 houses. If they had all been constructed the contribution would have been at the average rate of £50 a house, an extraordinarily generous contribution, and we should certainly have made a big hole in the rural housing problems. This is some advance on the Act of 1935, and I am glad to see also that it will enable a rural district council not merely to deal with slum clearance but with the problem of overcrowding in rural areas. It will also enable them to provide new houses for a possibly expanding population. It was felt that the old Measure was very much confined in its operations because it allowed rehousing only for people who live in condemned houses and would not permit local authorities to construct houses to meet the needs of an expanding population, as is essential if we are to make it possible for agricultural labourers to stay on the land.
Standards of living are rising. The younger generation will not marry and live in houses in which their fathers and grandfathers lived. They demand modern standards, in the countryside as well as in the towns. I know of young people who would have stayed upon the land if better facilities had been offered to them, but they have taken the opportunity to go into the town. I do not say that they could not get accommodation in the country, but the accommodation was not decent enough to meet modern standards. I know, and I daresay that other hon. Members know, of cases in various parts of the country, in which people who live in towns bought country cottages as an investment, very small people, and have put the rents up to 3s., 5s., and even 7s. a week, which is too much for an agricultural labourer. I recall a case in point in which the labourer had to leave the district and go five or six miles away from the farm where he works and bicycle to the farm every day.
That is the kind of thing which is going on, and making a problem which rural district councils cannot meet. They have not been able to build houses under any Act in order to meet demands of that kind. They can build houses only in order to rehouse people who are living in places condemned by the sanitary authorities. It is essential that we should have an Act upon the Statute Book at an early date to make it possible for agricultural labourers who are not living in condemned cottages but in houses which are over-rented and a long way from their farms to be supplied by the action of the rural district councils, aided by the State, with satisfactory houses near their work at rents which are within their capacity to pay.
In the opening speech which he made on the Second Reading, the Minister of Health referred to building costs and re marked that building prices were steadying for a fall. I am a little anxious about what he seemed to be aiming at. He did not say so in so many words, but the implication was that because interest rates have come down and because there was a prospect in future of building costs coming down, it was possible for him to revise in a downward direction the subsidies and grants for slum clearance. I do not think there is any evidence that building costs are likely to come down yet in such a way as to make a revision of the subsidy desirable. The Financial Resolution will have the effect of making local authorities of towns dependent upon a grant per house rather than upon a grant per person, which will seriously interfere with and hit local authorities in their slum clearance programmes.
There has been a fall in building prices in the last four or five months, but the prices of building materials are still very much above those of 1935, which was the date of the last Act dealing with rural housing, and 1936, the date of the last consolidating Act dealing with housing in general. The rearmament programme, moreover, and the considerable building which is in progress in this connection, will surely mitigate any large weakening in building costs. It would be good, of course, if they were to come down, but the actual fact seems to be as I have stated. I have looked at some of the figures. Copper has come down a bit, but it is still £12 per ton above the 1935 price, and lead £8 a ton above the 1935 price. Taking Baltic timber of the standard sizes, the price of 7-inch battens has come down about £1 a standard in the last four months, since last Autumn. The price rose however about £3 a standard between 1935 and the Autumn of last year and it is still £2 a standard above the price of 1935.
There have been considerable falls in the prices of certain classes of timber, particularly Columbian pine and imports from Canada and Western America, largely due to conditions prevailing there. Owing to unsound financial conditions, some of the companies exporting from those districts are inclined to unload their stocks on the market very suddenly. That is no criterion as to what the timber market is likely to be in the near future. I suggest that there is need for considerable caution. We ought not to assume because of a prospective fall in building prices that we should be more economical with our assistance.
I would turn to that part of the Financial Resolution which deals with tied cottages and with assistance to private individuals who build houses in the country. I recognise that it is not easy to get rid of the tied-cottage system—the service house, in other words—attached to the farm. On the Second Reading Debate an hon. Member argued that the tied-cottage system was reasonable and ought to remain, like the laws of the Medes and Persians. The police, he said, lived in tied houses, so why should not the agricultural labourers? My reply to that is that the police have a very different status from agricultural labourers. The police are guaranteed their jobs and are granted a pension. The agricultural labourer is not guaranteed his job and has no certainty of the same kind of pension as that of the police. He has the old age pension and nothing more. One cannot argue that because the police are living in tied houses the man working in an industry which is subject to such fluctuations as agriculture can therefore be put into the same category.
I agree with the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) that there is clearly a case for increasing activity by the public authorities to provide alternatives to the tied cottage. That is the only way to do it. I know that hon. Members opposite are still coquetting with the idea of assisting private enterprise. Up to a point the Act to recondition country cottages had something to be said for it, and in my own constituency there is a district council confronting very peculiar conditions owing to the fact that many miners of the Forest of Dean own their own houses, in many cases, and have been able, under that Act, to recondition their houses. Many of them are now living in much better conditions than they were 10 or 15 years ago. In those special conditions, the reconditioning Act of some years ago——
I quite understand, Captain Bourne, but I am really only replying to speeches which have been made in this Debate. However, I will not pursue that line of argument any further. I will merely say that it is an altogether dangerous provision to give public assistance for an extension of private building. Tied houses may be necessary up to a point, but one hopes they will be eliminated.
My final point concerns the preservation of rural amenities, which has been referred to. I would like to see provision made in this Financial Resolution whereby it should be an obligation upon the Rural District Council to consult such bodies as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and others concerned with the preservation of rural amenities, in the construction of houses in the countryside. A few years ago I sold some land to a rural district council for the purpose of building rural houses and I put into the agreement that the rural district council should consult with the local representative of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England in order to ensure that the proper kind of material suitable to the district should be used in the construction of those houses. I hope very strongly that we can do something as this Financial Resolution passes through Committee to strengthen that obligation on the rural district council to deal with such a matter, along the lines I suggest.
I do not condemn this Financial Resolution root and branch. I admit that it shows a distinct advance over the Act of 1935 dealing with this subject, but I maintain that it contains dangerous provisions and that my hon. Friends are fully justified in moving an Amendment to it, particularly where it relates to assistance to private enterprise for houses which ought to be built by public authorities.
I agree with much that was said by the last speaker, and particularly his closing remark that we should do all we can to ensure that the amenities of the countryside are preserved. I doubt if it will be practicable to put into the Bill an Amendment to enforce consultation with any particular body. I congratulate the Minister upon bringing forward a Bill which will be of very great use in improving houses in rural districts. We know that the condition of housing in those districts is not as good as it should be and has not kept pace with the improvement in urban areas. It is true that much has been done under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, and I was glad to hear the Minister on the Second Reading refer to that Act, and say he means to extend it, and I hope amend it. I should be out of order if I discussed it now but I hope to communicate with him on the subject.
I would very strongly urge my right hon. Friend to make an alteration in the definition of agricultural workers. It is now the same as in the Act of 1934, but I think a better definition is that which is given in the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. I understand that under the Bill the £10 grant is only to be given to rural district councils in respect of people within the rural district council area, but surely the question whether the grant should be given should be decided on the basis of the employment of the man who lives in the cottage, or the wages that he earns, and not on whether he is on one side or another of an imaginary line which means nothing to-day, though it may have meant something 1,000 years ago, when the parish boundaries were formed. Take the case of the Tiverton Borough Council, which rules over some 17,600 acres. Of that area, about 1,000 acres are town, and over 16,000 are agricultural land; and a great part of that agricultural land is much more isolated and out of the way than a great part of the land which is ruled over by the Tiverton Rural District Council. But the Tiverton Rural District Council will get this grant, and the Tiverton Borough Council will not.
Moreover, the Bill will operate very unfairly as between property owners. A property owner within the area of the rural district council will get the grant, but a property owner within the area of the borough council will get none; and it is quite possible that even one owner of property, while he may get the grant if he builds a house on one part of his property, if he builds another house on the same property just over the boundary line will get no grant, although the people who live in that house will pay the same rent and be doing the same work and getting the same wages as those who live in the other house. That seems to me to be an absurd provision, and I hope the Minister will be able to alter it so that borough and urban district councils may get the grant, and so make a great improvement in the Bill.
I had hoped that the Government would have found it possible to carry out the recommendations of the Housing Committee in full, and put private individuals and district councils on the same footing. Under the Bill the district council is certain of the £10 grant and may get £12, whereas the private owner can get only £10 as a maximum and may get less. Obviously, the houses which will be built by private enterprise will be those in isolated positions, and, therefore, the most expensive to build. I do not think that the landowner is going to get any financial advantage from the Measure. It will not put anything in his pocket, because the rent is fixed. His only advantage will be that he will have the satisfaction of knowing that the workers, men on his estate are well and comfortably housed
Personally I have no objection to any restrictions in that direction. I should like to see it made quite certain that houses built by private enterprise with Government assistance are used for the purpose for which that assistance is given. Hon. Members opposite object to the tied cottage, but I have never been able to understand that objection. I think that the tied cottage is just as much to the advantage of the worker as of the employer. If a farm worker wants to change his employment and cannot get a cottage on the new farm, he cannot change his employment, and, therefore, I think the tied cottage really increases his freedom.
We cannot, on this Resolution, pursue the question of policy with regard to the tied cottage, he question whether any money should be granted to private individuals for the purpose of building cottages is in order, but the general question of policy as to whether money should be granted or not is beyond the scope of the Resolution.
I apologise. A great deal has been said on that subject in one way and another, but I will not pursue it further. I hope that the Minister will be able to see his way to make an alteration in the Bill with regard to the councils to which the subsidy can be paid. If he can, I think he will make a good Bill a very much better one.
I desire to express my personal regret that some hon. Members from rural districts have complained of the inactivity of the rural district councils in dealing with these housing problems in their districts, and to say that my experience in my part of the country is that the rural district councils, having regard to their limited resources, have approached the housing problem just as vigorously as the urban districts, or even the municipalities. The two district councils in my constituency have both approached this housing problem with real vigour, and have done all that they possibly could with their limited resources.
I want to deal with the problem from two aspects, fully realising the limitations to which we are subject in discussing the Financial Resolution. To my mind there are really two problems, the one that of overcrowding, and the other that of the cost of building. As I understand the Bill, the intention is very largely to superimpose its financial provisions upon the Acts of 1935 and 1936, but I cannot understand why the Minister has not thought fit to approach the problem of overcrowding in a wider sense than he has up to the present. The problem can be looked at from many angles. The Minister has sought to look at it from the standpoint of slum-clearance and of the overcrowding which in no small degree is consequent upon the question of slum-clearance; but I would like to look at it from the standpoint of local authorities who have made vigorous attacks upon the housing problem and have done all that they possibly could to abate overcrowding as well as to clear away slums.
I come from a district in which, before 1930, the authority had cleared away practically every slum that there was in the district, so that no application at all has been made to the Minister from that district for assistance under the Act relating to slum-clearance. The problem of overcrowding, however, is creating serious concern in the country, and I want to ask the Minister whether we cannot, within this Financial Resolution, consider seriously the question of relaxing the standard with regard to overcrowding which was fixed in the Acts of 1935 and 1936. I have in my area a small urban district where there are 467 houses which are regarded as overcrowded. In that area, as in many similar areas, work is taking place during the whole of the 24 hours of the day, so that the problem there is essentially different from the rural problem.
In those areas, from many of which hon. Members on this side come, you have three-shift and four-shift systems at work, and it is impossible to apply, in areas of that kind, the standards provided for in this Resolution. In the area from which I come, there is bedroom accommodation for 6,836 people out of a population of 12,000, and, unless there is a relaxation of the standards to which the Financial Resolution is related, we shall only have power, on a generous interpretation, to build 64 new houses, whereas, on the basis of bedroom accommodation, and taking into account the methods of work in the district, we require 467 houses. That problem, in a developing area, is causing considerable concern. The position is that, if the Bill is passed and the Resolution goes through without alteration of the standards, over 1,000,000 families in this country will be living in houses for which no provision can be made within the standards of the survey of 1935 and 1936. It has been worked out that, after we have passed this Bill, 2,000,000 married couples with families in this country will have no provision made for them. In face of that, I ask the Minister whether he can look on the Bill with the complacency which he seems to be showing. If it is desired that the population should be increased, this is the wrong way to bring it about. I am quite astounded that the Minister, in both his speeches, should have indicated to the House that, as a result of this Bill, there will be practically no increase in rents. This Financial Resolution is making provision, I suppose, for a subsidy to reduce rents. I have evidence on that point from my own local authority. I find that there are houses which are rented to-day at 7s. 6d. a week, inclusive of rates, and that when the Bill is passed we shall be called upon to pay, for similar houses, 10s. 7d. per week; while rents of 8s. 6d. a week will be raised to 11s. 9d., and rents of 9s. 6d. a week will be raised to 14s. 2d. I am sorry that I cannot get enthusiastic about this Bill. I think the House is not justified in approving a Bill which has the effect of deliberately raising rents in developing areas by 3s. to 5s. a week, and which, in addition, confines 2,000,000 people to houses for which provision has not been made at all. I cannot understand the Minister saying that the big municipalities, and that bodies such as the County Councils' Association and the Rural District Councils' Association welcome this Bill.
Before hearing the Debate on Tuesday and the speech which has been delivered this afternoon from the Front Opposition Bench, I thought that everybody would have agreed in congratulating the National Government on the magnificent achievement of its housing programme. I know now, however, that I was wrong. The Minister described to us the other day how, under this Bill, he envisaged the building of some 80,000 houses a year, making a total of 400,000 in five years. That is about double the number for the last five years. It is a tremendous increase on anything achieved by the Labour party when they were in power, yet we have hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Labour benches describing this is a "retrograde" Bill, "to stop, or slow down," the building of houses and slum clearance. When the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) questions what he calls the inaccuracies of the Parliamentary Secretary, one is justified in suggesting that he should remove the beam from his own eye. In many cases, though not all, the actual planning necessary under the Government's campaign has been carried out with great forethought and vision. I have in mind an area at Huyton in Lancashire which has been planned and built by the Liverpool Corporation with great success. The woods, and even the brooks, in that area have been not only preserved, but incorporated in the estate.
I was trying to lead up to the question of the extent to which community centres should be adopted by local authorities. The other day the Minister was asked to give a list of local authorities which have provided these centres. He gave some 15 names. But, surely, in all the new estates which are some way away from the main centre of the town there should be these community centres provided under the Bill.
I will pass on from that, and only express the hope that there will be an opportunity to discuss the matter soon, because it is very important. Under the present Act, the assistance given in respect to each house varies with the size of the family. That is not the case under this Bill. It seems very unfair that a town should be penalised because of the number of large families it has. Towns vary in the proportion of their large families to their total population. In my town of Widnes, the number of large families is very considerable. It is a town of only 42,000 people, yet it has some 75 families with 10 or more children, and one family with 25 children. Would the Minister not be prepared to see that the proposed rate is varied for those places which need a larger number of big houses, compared with small houses?
I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to the financial provisions of the Bill. In passing, I must comment on the speech of the hon. Member who has just spoken, and who referred to the housing estates of Liverpool at Huyton. It is interesting to hear hon. Members from other parts of the country congratulating us upon the spread of the city of Liverpool. To-day, we are dealing with the passing of the old Act and the bringing in of a new one. The financial arrangements must be taken as a debit and credit account from the point of view of accountancy. In the city of Liverpool we calculate an average family for the purpose of housing to be 4.25 persons. On that estimate, £9 3s. 11d. per annum is the amount of subsidy we receive under the present Bill. The Minister may recall that I asked him during the concluding passages of his speech what would be the position in the case of obligations already entered into between the Ministry and the local authorities. He said that where they had accepted liabilities nothing could be done under this Act.
I want to call the Minister's attention to a gentlemen's agreement, as it might be termed, which exists in the City of Liverpool. There we are dealing with a most able housing director, one of the best in the country. We have entered into obligations, and they must be taken into account—not only with regard to the responsibility of the Treasury, but to the responsibility of the citizens of Liverpool in footing the Bill, if we are in advance of our time. There was an agreement entered into that there should be a 10 years' slum clearance scheme in operation. Then the Minister asked whether we could not acquiesce in an eight years' agreement, and, in order to expedite this scheme, an agreement was accordingly come to. The Ministry, whatever its financial arrangements, in a Bill which deals with urban district councils and other areas with a smaller number of houses, having entered into an arrangement, not in writing but tacitly, must at least meet or exceed the financial obligations over and above those stereotyped obligations that will be of general application. In regard to this particular scheme, having got rid of 40,000 to 60,000 houses, we have now scheduled, and have to deal with, 10,000 houses in the inner area of the city. That being so, we are right up against the financial responsibility, and I am extremely surprised how wonderfully well the representatives of Liverpool appear in this House to back up the overburdened ratepayers of the city. The voice of Liverpool is always silent in regard to costs to the city, and no criticism is to be offered. I offer this condemnation, not as a criticism of the Minister, but on the financial aspect of the Bill and the question of equity, which ought to be suitably met in regard to the provisions of the Bill.
I have gone into the housing commitments of the City of Liverpool, which looks like having a warrant issued against it, because it will not be able to deal with the commitments on account of the new Act. It will have increased liabilities after 31st December, 1938. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that he must meet the local authority in some way because of the difficulties of the situation there. Overcrowding is a very great problem, and, therefore, the financial relationship of the Bill means a lot to Liverpool. It also means retarding slum clearance, because both these things cannot go together unless we are able financially to meet our obligations.
I will give a summary of the position as received from the Town Clerk of Liverpool, in response to a telegram which I sent him asking him to let me have particulars in regard to housing operations and the position at Liverpool. There can be no doubt of the correctness of these figures. Taking the flats and the houses still required under the slum clearance programme, the present subsidy from the Exchequer would amount to £141,233 17s. 6d., whereas under the new Bill, the Exchequer contribution, based upon the city's existing plans of £10,000 per acre, would be reduced to £129,553, while in order to obtain this financial assistance the local rate contribution would be increased from £39,765 to £64,776 10s. They say that they do not disagree with the deficiency question as mentioned by the Minister. They say that it is correct, but they also say—and I agree with them—that it is unfair that the share to be taken by the local authority should be increased, and that the proportion of two to one is inadequate.
I am fully convinced that these proposals may be the best, and, no doubt, in many ways this is a good Bill for the purpose of relieving some of the difficulties, but it will create greater difficulties and delay in the City of Liverpool. It will increase our rents, and anything that is going to increase rents ought to be met in this House. There can be no redress in regard to the difficulties of a city like Liverpool, which has a town-planning, redevelopment and rehousing scheme. Ten thousand houses are scheduled to be dealt with in the inner area of the city. They are now going to suffer a loss. They could satisfy the Minister that they have carried out their duty up to a given point and yet their obligation has to go on. The Minister ought to be empowered under the provisions of the Bill to meet such an obligation. This is a penalty upon the people of such a city.
We are all anxious to have rehousing and to get rid of the slums. Unless we are able to fix reasonable rentals, this can be brought about only by Exchequer assistance. It will be intolerable to tell these people that if they are rehoused they will have to pay a higher rent. The financial obligations we have incurred, and the provisions of the Bill do not give us an opportunity to meet the requirements which are absolutely necessary for the home life of our people. Our housing programme will be stayed because of the financial arrangements of this Bill, and I ask the Minister, knowing how anxious he is—I do him that credit—to bring about a better sanitary state and healthier conditions in the land, to see whether some method can be brought about to relieve authorities which have had to incur these increased obligations.
I have listened with considerable sympathy to the speech which has just been made by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan), and all the more perhaps because the point I wish to make is not dissimilar. I want to indicate a certain inconsistency in the financial proposals now before the Committee. That inconsistency shows itself in the difference of principle that has been followed in determining the subsidy to be given to local authorities for slum clearance and that in determining the subsidy to be given for overcrowding. During the course of the Debate it has been pointed out that the subsidy to local authorities for slum clearance is to be very much less than it was under the old system, and fears are being raised as to whether that will not lead to an abatement of the energy of local authorities in dealing with this great evil. I hope that it will not, because that would be a great calamity, but I must point out that the proposal to reduce the subsidy for slum clearance at this stage has at least this merit. Those local authorities who have been energetic in dealing with this problem and who have made considerable progress can congratulate themselves on their early start. It will be a reward for them for having got on with the job, whereas those local authorities who have been slack in dealing with it will perhaps regret that they were not more energetic in their action.
When we turn to overcrowding exactly the reverse principle has been applied. The subsidy for overcrowding under the 1936 Act was a discretionary subsidy. A local authority could not be certain how much it was going to get by way of subsidy, even indeed if it was going to get anything at all, but the most that it could hope to get was £5 a year for 20 years—that was the maximum—a total of £100 per house. Under the new proposals the subsidy for overcrowding is £5 10s. a year for 40 years, £220 a house, a difference of £120.
I wish to draw the attention of the Committee to the injustice to those local authorities who have already entered into contracts and have either built or are in the process of building houses in order to do away with overcrowding. I should like in this instance to quote the example of the borough which I have the honour to represent in this House. The town council of Cheltenham is a most progressive body. It has been foremost in working every Measure passed by this House for the improvement of the housing conditions of the people, and it has already contracted to build 124 houses under the old subsidy in respect of overcrowding. It has applied for a subsidy, but it has not been told yet whether it will get any subsidy at all, but the most it can hope to get will be £100 per house, spread over 20 years. If it had been slack in working this Act, and if it had waited for better terms, it would now be getting as a right £5 10s. a year for 40 years. Therefore, owing to the fact that it was energetic in working the Housing Act of 1936, it stands to lose £120 on 124 houses, a matter of £14,880, and those local authorities who have been laggards in dealing with overcrowding can congratulate themselves, because they are going to get better terms.
I submit to the Minister that it is unfair that the authorities which have been energetic in this matter should be penalised in this fashion. It is unfair, and it is also unjust, and I would also point out that it would be very unwise for him to give to local authorities the impression by any act or his, that if, when any Measure is passed by this House and certain subsidies are offered to local authorities, they only wait long enough, they will get better terms. That is bound to produce an element of uncertainty and delay. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will make some effort within the Financial Resolution to provide for those authorities who have already built houses to deal with overcrowding. He gave us the figures during the Second Reading Debate. Already some 17,000 houses have been built or contracted for to deal with this question. There is not a very-considerable sum involved for the Government, and I hope, therefore, that he will see whether it is not possible to make retrospective the overcrowding subsidy, and let it apply to those houses that have already been contracted for or built.
I would point out to him that the attitude which was adopted by Cumaean Sibyl was very much wiser than that proposed in this case. The Committee will remember that the Cumaean Sibyl went to Tarquin and offered him nine Sibylline books at a certain price. Tarquin thought the price was too high and refused to buy. She went away and burnt three and came back and asked him the same price for the six. He again thought that it was too high and refused to buy. She went away again, burnt three more, and came and asked him the same price for the remaining three and he paid it. The moral if it was that he had gained nothing by waiting, but that if he had taken the opportunity when it first came, he would have been better off. That is the moral which, I hope, the Minister will try to impress upon local authorities, that they will gain nothing by not administering the Acts which this House passes. Therefore, I trust that he will make such arrangements within the Financial Resolution as will not only do justice to these local authorities who have done their duty, but will not create a dangerous precedent so far as his own Department is concerned.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) upon his stimulating and courageous speech in criticism of the Government. I want to associate myself with him in one point of view only with regard to the financial part of the Bill in relation to the promotion of housing. The Bill is called Housing (Financial Provisions) Bill, but I submit to the Committee that it would be more appropriate, as far as the financial Clauses of the Bill are concerned, to describe it as the Housing (Obstruction) Bill. I do not relate that to the parts of the Bill dealing with rural housing. I agree that in that respect a generous spirit, foresight and an enlightened attitude have been displayed. But when we come to consider its effect upon housing in urban areas, particularly industrialised areas, which are largely concerned with the question of slum clearance, I fail to see in what way the Bill is going to be stimulating. Slum clearance is the great practical present question. Overcrowding has come into the arena in recent years, but the immediate question which still remains a blot on our housing system is the prevalence of tens of thousands of disgraceful slums in our great cities.
Under existing powers the Government make a contribution in the case of a slum clearance house providing accommodation for poor persons of £9 a year, on top of which the local authority contributes a further £3 15s. With these two contributions it is possible to take people who have been living in slums, and are often very poor, into decent houses at the same rent that they paid before. Now the Minister reduces that £9 to £5 10s. whatever the number of persons in the house. Under present arrangements, if there were 10 persons, £25 would be contributed, stimulating local authorities to deal with the slum clearance problem. Further, the local authority is to contribute £2 15s. for each house in place of £3 15s., which is a distinct encouragement to backward local authorities to slow down housing. Under the Bill the Treasury will be liable, for 270,000 houses, to an annual charge of £1,500,000. As the law stands now, for the same number of houses the State contribution is £2,500,000, so that local authorities will lose £1,000,000 a year. Instead of being a Measure to encourage housing it will slow it down and will discourage local authorities from going on with slum clearance work and it will inevitably raise rents. Who is to make up the difference between the £9 and the £5 10s.? It will have to be made up either by increasing rents, raising rates or reducing the cost of building. It is unlikely that there will be any substantial reduction in the cost of building. It is morely likely to go up. The effect of the Resolution will be either to place a larger burden of weekly rent upon poor people in slum clearance houses or an increased rate charge on local authorities, and to that extent it will discourage housing. If rents are increased, instead of being willing to go into the new houses, the people who are moved will seek other houses of a slummy type.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said that these financial provisions had not met with the approval of local authorities. There had been no favourable comment. I think he has overlooked the fact that such bodies as the Rural District Councils Associations have approved the Government's proposals with reservations on certain Committee points. They have said that the subsidies to be granted are, in their opinion, fair. I wish to deal with the question first, whether parish councils should be enabled to apply for a subsidy under Clause 3 of the Bill. The Minister said they were not housing authorities, and he did not wish to include them. Parish councils own a great number of houses. They have taken advantage of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926. I hope at a later stage it will be made possible for them to build houses and get the necessary subsidies. Certain parish councils have greater facilities than rural district councils for obtaining architects and for that reason they stress the importance of this aspect of the question.
My chief reason for rising is the Minister's remark about my views on lump sum grants, which are shared by certain other Members on this side of the Committee. I understand that he said he could not see his way to make that arrangement because, if he gave a lump sum beforehand, he did not see how there would be any practical means of enforcing the conditions laid down in the Clause. If that were established, I should agree that I had not made out my case. However, in the Housing (Rural Workers) Act lump sum grants are given for reconditioning, and there are stringent conditions attached as to the rent to be charged, and who are to occupy the houses when reconditioned. Where any of these conditions are broken the whole of the money given by way of Exchequer grants is recoverable immediately from the grantee or his successor in title.
For that reason, I hope the Minister will reconsider the matter if it is not too late. We believe that there are numbers of persons who have not great means, especially agricultural labourers and people of similar status, who wish to build cottages in which to live in their retirement. They cannot possibly take advantage of Clause 3 unless the Government, instead of making annual contributions, make a grant towards the erection of houses. The Minister has drawn my attention to the way they can get advances from the rural district council. If that is the solution of the problem—I do not say that it is not—there must be some power which can encourage, if not force, rural district councils to give it, otherwise I fear in many cases they will not feel encouraged to grant a loan to a man who, quite clearly, is not of great substance. On this side of the Committee we regard Clause 3, and the part of the Resolution directed to it, as a great encouragement to rural housing in the smaller villages, where rural district councils have never built houses. These houses are required, and I hope the Minister will see that the financial arrangements for building houses under Clause 3 are adequate to enable these houses to be built.
My last point is directed to that part of the Financial Resolution which says that houses built under Clauses 2 and 3 are to be occupied only by the agricultural population as defined by the principal Act. I am afraid—I hope that I am wrong—that by that method of wording in the Financial Resolution it will not be possible for us to amend this part of the housing proposals in Committee, because we shall be restricted by the definition under Section 115 of the principal Act. That definition is different from the definition in the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926. The difference is that in the Housing Act, 1936, agricultural population means
persons whose employment or latest employment is or was in agriculture or in an industry mainly dependent upon agriculture and also includes the dependents of such persons.
where as in the 1926 Act, in addition, there is the provision that they may be persons whose economic condition is substantially the same as that of the agricultural workers. In other words, they need not necessarily be agricultural workers or persons engaged in occupations connected with agriculture, but persons of the same wage basis, such as roadmen, who could have the advantage of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926.
Unless we can amend this definition at some stage of the Bill, men such as roadmen will not be able to enjoy the facilities under Clauses 2 and 3. I had hoped that it would have been an appropriate Amendment to have moved in the Committee stage, but I fear that by the close drafting of the Financial Resolution such an Amendment might be ruled out of order at this stage. For that reason I should like to stress the point and to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider very carefully whether he cannot extend the classes to whom the facilities under Clauses 2 and 3 are to be granted, so that not only agricultural workers but all those people in rural England of the same economic status may be included.
One or two facts have emerged from the consideration of the contribution that may be helpful and may call for some reply. The contribution, as I understand it, is £5 10s. in the case of a house or flat, and where the flat is built on an expensive site the contribution ranges from £11 to £26. The cost of the site attracts my attention. It amounts to £17 where the cost of the site is £12,000 or more per acre, and rises to £26. The cost of the site to qualify for the £26 contribution appears to me to be £30,000. That seems an extraordinary price to pay for land for the building of houses for working people to live in, and it would appear that the Minister is driven to one of two alternatives. Is the £30,000 an inflated sum to pay to the owners of what well may be slum land? That land is being put to a use to which it would not be normally put. Land of that character costing upwards of £30,000 an acre would normally be used for industrial purposes, but it is being subverted for use for residential purposes. I should like to hear the Parliamentary Secretary choose as between these two horns of the dilemma.
With regard to large cities other than London, there is land in the centre which is very costly, but just outside that central belt there is land which could very likely be purchased at £1,500 to £4,000 an acre. Under the Bill only flats can be built on that site in order to qualify for the £11 contribution. If a house is built on the site, the contribution for which the house will qualify is only £5 10s. I am informed on very high technical authority that a cottage can be built more cheaply than and quite as substantially as a flat. As a Scotsman who frequently came to England before the War, I was very much struck by the type of terrace house south of the Border. Those houses had gardens and the rents were relatively cheap, something like £35 to £40 a year. I always found that Englishmen were very proud of those houses. They were the envy of the world, the Englishman's castle, and were available for working people. To me as a Scotsman accustomed to the warehouse conditions in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Greenock, they were admirable. The children could run into the gardens to play without being dressed up in order to go to a public park or a private garden.
Since the War south of the Border that very fine tradition seems to have been abandoned inexplicably in favour of the building of cottages, about 12 to the acre, away on the periphery of the city. They were necessarily built there in order to get cheap land. The alternative to that class of dwelling was to build blocks of tenements within the town. We are accustomed to these big blocks in the north. We know what they lead to, and Scotsmen may perhaps be able to render a service to their brethren south of the border by calling attention to the facts. So far as England is concerned these blocks of flats within the town are definitely unpopular. They are certainly unsuitable for family life and are likely to reduce very seriously the birth rate. Again and again I receive letters from women in my constituency saying very plainly that they are not going to bring children into the world in the overcrowded conditions that obtain there. Under this Financial Resolution we find the very same policy being introduced south of the Border that has been so hurtful north of the Border.
This Bill offers in the case of sites valued at £1,500 and up to £4,000 overwhelming inducements to local authorities to pay just over £1,500 an acre for their land, and having bought it to build flats on it. According to the Financial Resolution those are simply blocks of flats, but according to the Bill they are blocks of flats of not less than three floors, and there is no limitation that I can find either in the Financial Resolution or in the Bill of the number of flats that may be built per acre. The contribution is payable for 40 years. Forty years at £26 a year means £1,040, and I am credibly informed that that is about twice the cost of building a flat. That is to go on for 40 years and, apparently, there is no limitation of the number of flats per acre.
The Minister of Health has entered upon a campaign to produce two things. He is going to endeavour to increase the birth rate and he has initiated a physical fitness campaign, but this Bill is going to do the very opposite. Why drive people into flats? Does the Minister intend that his right hand is not to know what his left hand is doing? He wants physical fitness on the one hand, but, on the other hand, this Bill will drive people into flats, where their physical condition is bound to deteriorate. I suggest to the Minister that he might well consider these two matters and, if it be still possible, he might make provision for the continuance of the tradition of the terrace house of which the Englishman used to be so proud, and which Scotsmen were delighted to come South to admire.
I hope the Committee will pardon the intervention of another Scotsman. I have been asked to say a few words by one or two organisations which operate in England and with which I am associated. There are two or three questions which I should like to address to the Parliamentary Secretary. To save time I have given him notice of the questions and, therefore, I can restrict my remarks. The Bill is concerned principally with local authorities and also with private individuals. Those are the two parties who are to get subsidies, but there is another type of body. There is the sort of semi-public body, such as the Land Settlement Association, and a few others that one could mention, doing public work in housing, social development, land settlement and so on, and I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary how the Bill affects bodies of that kind. Is a body like the Land Settlement Association, which is registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, entitled under the Bill to obtain a subsidy for the building of houses for, (1) farm workers employed on its central farm, and (2) smallholders who have been established on holdings on a rent paying basis on land owned by the Association? Is a body of that kind entitled under the Bill to obtain a subsidy for the building of such houses? Are there any special circumstances governing the granting of subsidies to such an Association as that for the building of these two types of houses?
The second question is one with which hon. Members opposite are familiar. The Land Settlement Association has recently developed a phase of activity by establishing what are known as cottage homesteads around large cities, a house with three bedrooms and about one-third of an acre of land which is equipped to provide the family with a considerable amount of food. It is possible that the Land Settlement Association may be able to establish several big schemes of cottage homesteads in association with employers in places like Liverpool, and I want to know whether if such a scheme is carried out the subsidies under the Bill will be available for such work?
I have listened to the Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary in connection with this Bill. The Minister of Health can always make a very plausible speech when introducing a Bill, and I remember he said that the Bill of 1935, the overcrowding Bill, was going to create a new heaven and a new earth in a very short time. What is the reason for this Bill?
The reason is that the 1935 Act, instead of providing a new heaven and a new earth, has provided a new hell it has been a complete failure. The Government have not got the houses they hoped to get. The Minister said on Tuesday night that the housing rate for the entire country averaged 3½d. in the £, and that the cost of housing in London was 3d. in the £. The cost of houses in Wakefield is 6d. in the £ and in my own local public authority it is 1s. 8d. in the £. If this Bill comes into operation it will be another 4d. on the rates of the locality. I am speaking of the Hemsworth Rural District Council. I have heard representatives of rural district councils say that they have not built houses. I was interested in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) who desires that a number of urban authorities in his division shall be made rural authorities because they are too small and are not able to build houses. The exact opposite is the case in the Hemsworth rural district. This rural council has built more houses than any other rural council in the British Isles, and they desire to build more.
The Minister of Health came to Harrogate on the last Friday in November and said that he wanted local authorities to be quickened up—they were not building fast enough. The Hemsworth Rural Council asked for the approval of 200 more houses and the right hon. Gentleman refused to sanction them. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has spoken about parish councils and the building of houses. There is no need for parish councils to build; it is the rural councils in the North Riding who want the needle stuck into them, and if the rural councils will not do the work, then the county council should have the power to do the work for them. The Hemsworth Rural Council have built over 1,000 houses, and as to parish councils, I have one in my district with a population of over 12,000, another with 8,000 and the next one with 5,000. There are four parish councils who desire to become urban councils. They have a population of 35,000, and the Minister says "No." Why? Because if they are made urban councils they will cease to be able to help the outlying parts of the rural council in building houses in the agricultural areas. At the moment they are helping in the rates to put up these houses for agricultural workers. The main reason why I intervene in the Debate is to point out that people who are working part-time in mining and other industries have to help by means of the county rate the housing programme for agricultural workers. I agree with the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton that a low-paid worker in a rural area, whether he is an agricultural worker or not, should share the same facilities as an agricultural worker. Under this Bill they do not do so. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) speak about the Overcrowding Act as only a beginning.
I want to point out that the overcrowding standard is in the Bill, and I am speaking of the Financial Resolution. I want to prove, if I may, that I can go to a five-roomed house with 18 persons in it before it is overcrowded.
I accept your ruling, Captain Bourne. I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary this question: "What are you going to do about the parlour-type house?" Not a word has been said about working-men having a parlour-type house. The Minister spoke about a living-room and a scullery. I ask that they shall have a parlour-type house. I am asking that the boy and girl who are making an attempt to get a scholarship in a secondary school shall have somewhere to study. How can a boy or girl be expected to pass an examination if he or she has to study in a room with five or six other persons there all the time? I have been interested in safety classes for miners' boys, and I am proud that I was one of the originators of the safety class in the Miners' Welfare Committee in South Yorkshire. At some pits boys are not taken on unless they possess a safety badge. I wish they would not take anybody on at a pit unless they has passed through a university. Then we should not have so many miners, and wages might get higher. But I want to ask how you can expect a boy to study after he has been to a night school, or before he goes, when there are eight or ten other persons in the living room? It is an impossibility. I am appealing to the intelligence of the Parliamentary Secretary to give us the parlour-type house for these people.
There is another point, and some hon. Members may regard it as humorous. I am desirous of a parlour-type house because when a young girl and a young man are getting ready for marriage I would sooner see them in the front room in the evening than trailing down the street at night into the lanes. I would ten times sooner see them courting in the parlour than I would have them courting outside in the lane. It may be humorous, in a sense, but how can they do their bit of spooning in a room where they are eight or ten other people? I think, when all is said and done, the point is worth consideration. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to do what he can in this matter, and to deal with the question of the cost of building parlour-type houses, as the Minister did not speak about the cost, but only said that the rents of such houses would be from 6s. to 6s. 6d. a week. I wish now to draw attention to paragraph A (3) of the Money Resolution. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and I have an Amendment on the Paper. We are opposed to that part of the Bill which gives a grant to a private person. That means that in the rural areas, the tied cottage will go on until eternity. We are bitterly opposed to the tied cottage. Some of my hon. Friends on these benches know what it is to live in the employer's house; it means being tied body and soul.
I do not think the hon. Gentleman was in the House earlier when I pointed out that it is in order to argue that no money should be given to a private individual, but that it is not in order to discuss the question whether or not there shall be tied houses.
I will try to talk about the matter without mentioning tied houses. I am opposed to any money going out of the Treasury to a private owner. I believe it is a retrograde step and that it will not help the agricultural worker. Many agricultural workers living under their employers have almost been afraid to attend a political meeting or to go to the poll while the boss has been about. This will help to perpetuate such a system. In the Debate on Tuesday last, one hon. Member from a rural constituency said that this Bill would stir up the rural councils. If they have not been stirred up to the necessity for houses in the countryside before now, I think they ought to be put to sleep for ever, and not stirred up. If a rural council is not prepared to build houses, the power ought to be taken out of its hands and put into those of the county council; but where a rural council is building houses, let it continue to do so.
There is another point that I would like to put to the Parliamentary Secretary. For the time being, I am chairman of the housing committee of my urban district council. As soon as the Overcrowding Act came into force, we asked the Minister of Health for some houses under that Act, as there is a Section in it which says that the Minister may make a grant. We asked for a grant, and although the housing rate in the locality was 1s. 8d. in the £, the Minister refused to give us one. One of the men in the Department, whose name I will not give, said, "Why do you not go back and try to get a slum clearance area?" So we got a slum clearance area, and we got the plan through. We are building four-bedroom type of houses, because we in the north do not believe in sleeping downstairs. Under this Bill, the Minister has power to say that, although the scheme has been passed, those slum clearance houses may, if he thinks fit, come under the £5 10s. figure. We are going to clear a slum area, and five persons will go into each of those houses. Five times £2 5s. comes to £11 5s., but instead of £11 5s.—I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will listen to me.
I was saying that I do not want the Minister to have the power to say that he will not give £11 5s., but will give £5 10s. I do not want him to have the power to say, "I know the slum clearance scheme has been passed, I know I ought to give £11 5s. for 40 years, but I now have power to give £5 10s." The slum clearance scheme has been sanctioned and if we house these people under that scheme before 31st December, 1938, I do not want the Minister to have the power to take away from us the £11 5s. and to give us £5 10s. If the grant is reduced to £5 10s. and £2 15s., it will mean that the people going into those houses will have to pay not less than 2s. a wek more, which means over £5 a year. My people have to count their pennies before they go to market, because they have nothing to throw away. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary at least to give us a definite pledge that, in the case of a scheme which has been passed under the Slum Clearance Act, the £2 5s. shall not be taken away.
I agree with the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) that it is extremely desirable that, as far as possible, houses of the parlour type should be built, not perhaps so much for the reason which he gave, that it was desirable for his daughter to have somewhere to "spoon"——
The hon. and gallant Member must not put into my mouth words which I did not say. I did not say I wanted to see her spooning, but that I would sooner it was in my house than down the lane.
The hon. Member also said that he would like to see a needle put into rural district councils, and that he would like housing in the rural areas to be put in the hands of the county councils.
I said that I wanted a needle put in where they had not started to build, but that where the rural councils were building, I wanted to allow them still to have the power.
I apologise if I misunderstood the hon. Member. I believe that rural district councils are the proper authorities to do housing in the rural areas and that they have done very good work.
I think the county council is too big and wide a body to deal with housing and that in many counties, particularly as regards the Housing (Rural Workers) Act with which they have had to deal, they have put up a rather poor show. I would not recommend that housing should be given to them. The hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. R. Gibson) spoke about flats. I do not know what the procedure is in Scotland, but I feel that flats for the agricultural population are entirely undesirable. I remember that in a previous Debate in the House, I described flats as soulless and soul-destroying. I do not believe there is the slightest need for them to be erected for the agricultural population. I would like now to refer to the question of private individuals building houses in agricultural areas. In my part of the country, with the problems of which I am familiar, there are very large farms; I think that in West Suffolk there are 87 farms of over 500 acres. That means that the farms are very widely scattered and at some considerable distance from any village. Therefore, although I agree in the main with the proposition of hon. Members opposite that, in general, tied houses ought not to be encouraged to any great extent, there is undoubtedly need for cottages for key-men on these big farms. May I give the Committee my experience on my own farm? I farm over 1000 acres and I have 15 cottages. Last year I built two new houses on the lines of council houses, but they cost me a sum which I could not continue to spend. Unless I got some assistance, I could not attempt to provide any further housing accommodation for my employés. Living in those 15 houses are 56 persons, of whom 15 men and five boys work on my farm. But I want more than 15 keymen. I want 16 keymen to run a big farm of this description, but I have no houses for them. Under this Bill, I shall be able to get the necessary assistance to build houses for those keymen.
The hon. and gallant Member is hoping that the Government will give money for him to build these houses. In the event of his falling foul of one of his employés, will he have the power to sack that employé and turn him out of the house which the Government have built to shelter him?
That is a very reasonable question. I would remind the hon. Member that I said that I do not think too many tied cottages are desirable; but if I did fall out with one of my men and he wanted to go. he would have certain safeguards. In the first place, there is the safeguard, although not a very big one, that if I wanted to put another keyman into the house, I should first of all go to the agricultural committee of the county council and apply to it for a certificate that the cottage was necessary for the purpose of carrying on the good husbandry of my farm, that is to say, to put in another keyman.
I am sorry, Captain Bourne. I was only trying to answer interruptions. Those who live in villages—and I think it is desirable that housing should be concentrated in villages—suffer from some disadvantages. I came across an instance the other day. I was asked to visit some people in my own village. Their trouble was that at a recent sale of a farm the cottages in which they live had been sold to some landlord who lived in Oxfordshire, about 120 or 150 miles from our area. They could get nothing done by that absentee landlord. So, there is something to be said for the landlord who is on the spot and is aware of the troubles which may afflict the man in his cottage.
Do I understand the hon. and gallant Member to say that he is anxious to get Government money under this Measure to build houses in his own interest and for his own servants, whom he can dispossess?
That is true, but I would also point out that one man who works for me and who recently got into a brand new council house of the latest type, has asked me to build a house for him because he wants to be nearer his work.
I agree, but under this Bill we are going to build houses more cheaply, and we hope to be able to let them at reasonable rents. I could not afford, myself, to build houses. The houses which I built last year cost £700. and I am getting 5s. a week rent for them, and that is not an economic proposition. I make one plea to the Parliamentary Secretary. It seems a great pity that while we advocate the building of houses in villages and the provision of amenities such as community centres, the one thing that is left out is the provision of village halls.
I am sorry if my feelings on that subject have led me beyond the Rules of Order. I believe that this Resolution will provide an adequate subsidy. No subsidy is any use, unless it provides houses within the means of those who are to live in them. A penny on the rent means a penny less for bread. I think it can be said that in slum clearance and dealing with overcrowding under the provisions of recent Acts we have made a very good start. All over my constituency houses are going up as a result of those Acts. I know one village in which there are no fewer than 48 houses, either built or in process of construction under those Acts. But once we get to the end of these slum clearance schemes and schemes for dealing with overcrowding there will be a hiatus. The Bill fills that hiatus in regard to providing for the general needs of the population. We want not only better houses but more houses, and I believe that this Bill will meet that need.
The main issue between hon. Members on this side of the Committee and hon. Members opposite is whether or not the Government are entitled to reduce the subsidy on slum-clearance, and, if they are, whether they are justified in reducing it by this amount. On the Second Reading I gave the House certain figures and details which in my opinion supported the assertion that there was no case for the reduction of the slum-clearance subsidy. The Parliamentary Secretary had not the courtesy even to refer to my speech and he certainly made no answer to it, but the Minister, having slept on those figures for two nights, offered the Committee to-day some sort of answer. The only case put forward for the reduction of the slum-clearance subsidy is that rates of interest have fallen. This afternoon the Minister gave a figure of £4 15s. as the fall in the rate of interest in respect of cottages. But even assuming that there is no other consideration to be taken into account he is reducing the subsidy on cottages from £11 5s. to £5 10s. which is a reduction of £5 15s. On the asumption that there has been no increase in the cost of building at all, how does the Minister justify a reduction of £5 15s. when, according to his own figures, the fall in the rate of interest is £4 15s. Why is he taking an extra £1 per annum over and above the fall in the rate of interest?
In addition to that consideration, however, the Minister has admitted that there has been an increase in the cost of building, of £25 per dwelling. That means an increase of £1 a year or thereabouts on loan charges. I dispute the figure of £25 per dwelling as the increase in building costs. Experience in London shows that the first flats erected under the 1930 Act cost £400 per flat. To-day the cost is £580 per flat, an increase of £180 and the loan charges on £180 would give a figure of £9 per year. I have no reason to think that the experience of London differs from the experience of other towns. Indeed I understand that London is building flats more economically than many other large towns. But in London there is an increase in respect of building costs of £9 a year.
I am including debt redemption as well as loan charges. I have calculated the figure in exactly the same way as the Minister calculated his £4 15s. The two figures are comparable. The fact is that, apart from any other consideration, the erection of flats is costing £9 a year more and the Minister is accounting for only £4 15s. I accuse the Government of being unable to justify this reduction in subsidy for slum clearance and of making a definite attack on the work of slum clearance in this country. I asserted on the Second Reading and I repeat, that the Minister has, by circular and by speech, constantly urged on local authorities the desirability of improving dwellings and providing additional amenities. I think that the improvements which he is advocating are justified, but the whole of the additional cost involved is being imposed on the local authorities. There is no suggestion that any part of the cost should be borne by the Exchequer.
I said on Tuesday that the additional cost of these amenities and improvements would be £200 per dwelling. The Minister saw fit not only to challenge but even to ridicule that figure. These are some of the things which the Minister has urged on local authorities—the provision of larger rooms; increased size of living rooms as the number of bedrooms is increased; the provision of fixed baths and separate bathrooms; provision of private balconies and a reduction in the density of flats. When the original calculations were made, they were based on a density of 60 flats to the acre. To-day, the average is under 50 to the acre. The Minister will appreciate the fact that that involves, not only additional cost of building but additional cost of land, for which we get no additional subsidy. Local authorities have also been urged by the right hon. Gentleman to provide such amenities as community centres, children's playgrounds, gardens, and sheds for perambulators and cycles. I have made inquiries since the Minister challenged my statement, and I have verified the figure of £200 per dwelling as the cost involved if all these amenities and improvements were provided. If the Parliamentary Secretary again challenges these figures, I hope he will give the Committee some justification for suggesting that it is less than £200 per dwelling.
Finally, it may be urged that there has been, to make up for the reduction in the subsidy for slum clearance, an improvement in the subsidy for overcrowding, and that I admit, but as a matter of fact the latter is merely a recognition of the fact that that subsidy was never really adequate. The 1935 Act was passed on the assumption that the Exchequer contribution for overcrowding should be twice the rate contribution. In fact, the experience of those local authorities which have actually undertaken a certain amount of abatement of overcrowding has shown that on actual results the rate contribution was higher than the Exchequer contribution. The improvement in the Exchequer contribution under this Bill is merely, in my view, an act of restitution and an attempt to make the Exchequer contribution double the rate contribution, as was intended under the 1935 Act, and it would be quite wrong and in my view unfair to set off the improvement in the Exchequer contribution for overcrowding against the reduction of the subsidy for slum clearance.
So far as London is concerned, we are this year finding that in addition to the compulsory rate contribution in the Consolidated Fund we have actually had to make a further contribution from the rates of £100,000, which indicates that the State contribution at the present time is quite inadequate to meet the needs of a town like London, and I should be very interested to find what is the position in other large towns and in small towns. In my view, if dwellings are to be let at rents within the means of those for whom they are intended, it is essential that there should be an additional subsidy beyond the State subsidy and the fixed rate subsidy. I repeat that this Bill is definitely an attack on slum clearance, and I am quite satisfied that the result of these financial provisions will be that slum clearance will be slowed down, that rents will be increased, and that a number of local authorities will be called upon to make an extra payment out of the rates.
Mr. David Adams:
It is interesting on this Bill to recall that it is just 50 years since a serious campaign was initiated for the better housing of the working classes, and thanks to the growing sense of responsibility of the workers Parliament has been induced or compelled from time to time to make provision for the continuance of that great crusade. I think it is true to say that but for the setback embodied in this Measure, a period of 10 years might have seen this country freed from the scourge, for it is nothing less, of ill housing of the working classes. The Minister mentioned that he had received support for his proposals from various local authorities. I should have been interested to have heard the names of those authorities, excepting perhaps certain rural authorities which may admittedly, under parts of the Measure, obtain satisfaction, but so far as urban authorities are concerned, I am satisfied that there is not one in the country that will declare in favour of these proposals; and had the Minister, who attended the great Harrogate Housing Conference on 26th November, declared then the amount of the reduction which is contemplated, I am certain that he would not have been received, as he was, with approval and cheers for favours to come, but in an appropriate manner otherwise.
There is not any question that the reduction in the amount for slum clearance will create great difficulties and disabilities for many of the local authorities in the Kingdom. The 1930 Act has worked well for a period of seven years, and we see no justification whatever for abandoning the provisions of that Act as affecting either slum clearance or the equally important question of overcrowding. It has been done at this time, when there are new and greater burdens placed upon the local authorities of this Kingdom and upon the workers, to whom undoubtedly the Bill means increased rentals. The masses of the people are being burdened by this Parliament, by increasing rates of indirect taxation.
In the matter of overcrowding, the Minister has admitted, very happily and frankly, that equal treatment should be accorded in his financial proposals to that given to slum clearance, and one would have expected that he would have merely applied the 1930 Act to both forms of housing disability. The County of Durham, of which I desire to speak a word or two, has become seriously alarmed at the revelation shown in the overcrowding survey, and a conference was held of all the local authorities in the administrative county on 12th January last, when resolutions were sent on to the Minister and the Government demanding that there should be nothing less than the figures embodied in the 1930 Act, both for slum clearance and for overcrowding, with certain other resolutions regarding the provision of houses for aged persons. The declaration of Durham County is that it is a Special Area, and that whatever else the results of this Bill may be, that Special Area ought to have special treatment, and will require special treatment if the housing situation is to be effectively dealt with.
I would not be astonished, in regard to this great mass of overcrowding in the most overcrowded county in the United Kingdom, where there are 40,000 families, or 12 per cent. of the entire working-class families, living in overcrowded conditions, if little or nothing is done under the proposals submitted to the House at present. The urban areas of Durham reveal a situation which is really a scandal to our present civilisation. In Hebburn 25.2 per cent. of the entire working-class families are overcrowded, in Jarrow 17.5, in Felling 15.8, in Ann Plaice 13.7, in Benfieldside 13.6, in Blaydon 12.6, and in Durham Borough 12.6, as compared with the less overcrowded areas, where in some cases there was no overcrowding, up to a maximum of nearly 0.3 per cent. It is the same story with regard to the rural districts. The percentage is 13.2 downwards compared with the rural districts in other parts of the country, which have an overcrowding ranging from only 0.3 to 0.7 per cent. Of the county boroughs in the United Kingdom, Sunderland has the worst overcrowding of families, amounting to no less than 20.6 per cent.
The Durham County Council prepared a statement showing the activities of the Council and the financial position resulting therefrom, and I should like to read a little from it to show the multitude of small houses upon which this new burden will fall. Statistics taken from the 1931 Census of England and Wales
show that in the administrative county of Durham there is a larger proportion of small houses and consequently a smaller rateable value than in any other county and conversely there is a smaller proportion of large houses than in other counties.
The statement then gives a table indicating a comparison of the size of occupied dwellings in the administrative counties of England and Wales with those in the county of Durham. This shows that houses of from one to three rooms in England and Wales number 14.5 per cent., but in the county of Durham there are no less than 42 per cent. Houses of from four to five rooms in England and Wales are 51.8 per cent., and in Durham 48 per cent. Houses with six or more rooms number 33.7 per cent. in England and Wales and only 9 per cent. in Durham. The statement continues:
From the above figures it will be seen that the proportion of houses of six or more rooms which may be taken as having a rateable value which will produce in rates more than the cost of the services provided by the local authorities for these houses and their occupants is very low in the county of Durham, and that this county is at a serious disadvantage compared with other counties, there being no other county in England and Wales where the percentage of houses of this type is so low, the next lowest being 4·8 per cent. and the highest 53·9 per cent.
An analysis of the rateable value of houses in the county of Durham containing six or more rooms shows that of these only 0·2 per cent. have a rateable value of £50 or more, and it is abundantly clear even after a cursory-consideration that this figure is very low. The de-rating of agricultural, industrial, and freight transport hereditaments has resulted in an administrative county with a large working-class population almost entirely debarred, for one reason or another, from all
rateable value, except that arising from the relatively poor property in which they reside, the result being that the essential local services can only be provided by the ratepayers of the county assuming an unduly harsh burden.
I quote these figures, with the kind tolerance of the House, upon the injunction of this conference which was greatly perturbed at the situation as regards overcrowding and the proposals of the Government for dealing with it. In Durham County the rateable value is only £3 us. per head, against the average for the counties of England and Wales of £5 17s. The rates borne by the small houses and the shopkeepers amount to no less than 90·5 per cent., industrial hereditaments bear 7·6 per cent. and freight transport hereditaments 1·8 per cent. For Poor Law relief, which indicates the impoverishment of the county, the rate is no less than 9s. 5d. in the £, as against an average for the country of 3s. The cost of the social services amounts to no less than £4,000,000 per year.
I am not discussing it from the point of view of a Special Area, but from the point of view of an area which will be gravely affected, in the opinion of the local authorities, under the provisions of this Measure. If we are to have the serious overcrowding situation in Durham, which is greater than that of any other part of the United Kingdom, dealt with, it must be by adopting either the provisions of the 1930 Act so far as finance is concerned, or by some other financial method by way of the Commissioner for the Special Areas.
I rise to endorse the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) when he asked for a little wider discretion in the Bill. I would be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would represent to his Department the desirability of including among agricultural workers people such as the village nurse, and to allow the village nursing association, the village nurse herself, or the local authority on her behalf, to apply for and to benefit from this grant. I would make a strong plea for widening the definition so that it should be on a salary rather than on an occupational basis.
I gladly take the opportunity of replying to this less contentious Debate than that of Tuesday, and I will do my best to restrain my natural pugnacity within reasonable limits. I have been accused of showing discourtesy on Tuesday, and I shall wait until the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who I am sure will come in, is here before I deal with it. Meantime, I should like to say a word to the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin). I think it is a little unreasonable to accuse any Minister or Under-Secretary who speaks from this Bench of discourtesy because he has not had time to refer to a particular hon. Member's speech. If that was really the case there would not be an hon. or right hon. Member on this Bench who had not been discourteous to some Member, and the same would be true of hon. and right hon. Members opposite when they themselves sat here. Even now I could not possibly find time to deal with all the questions the hon. Member raised, and, indeed, I cannot deal with all the points raised from various parts of the House, but there will be opportunities for considering them in detail on the Committee stage. The hon. Member for Peckham made the point that the reduction of subsidy was greater now than the reduction in interest rates. Let us examine the figures. The present subsidy is £2 5s. a person. The number of persons in an average family is four. £2 5s. multiplied by four equals £9 a house. The proposed subsidy is £5 10s. Take away £5 10s. from £9 and the answer is £3 10s. The drop in interest is £4 15s.
That is not the information in my Department. Now I come to some of the points made by the right hon. Member for Wakefield. He said that the new grant would penalise local authorities with big slum clearance programmes. Put another way, that means that it will be most beneficial to authorities with large overcrowding problems. I would also put this point to him: He compared the subsidy not with its actual value as compared with 1930 but with its value to the tenant and local authority. The value to the tenant is much the same, and the statutory rate contribution is £1 less. If you look at the general average of rents of houses built by local authorities, including Bristol and Manchester, you will find that they are higher than the rents of houses which can be produced under the Bill. Then he asked the pertinent question, "Why has the fall in interest rates not been passed on to the tenants?" While we want to produce houses at low rents, there is a limit to the extent to which the cost can be passed on to the general taxpayer. I think the right hon. Gentleman himself admitted that principle in the Housing Act of 1930, when he said:
In each case after review the Minister may by order provide for the reduction of the grant under each Act and may also revise the normal rate charge to be taken into account in fixing the rents.
The object of my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman, and the aim of all previous legislation, was to produce houses at rents between 6s. and 7s. a week, and we believe that we shall be nearer to attaining it under this Bill than we were before.
Then a question was asked about the cost of building materials in relation to the cost in 1930. During the past year they have risen £12 per house. During these times of slightly rising prices I do not think that figure can be regarded as a considerable one, and in fact during the last two or three months it has remained the same, so, in my right hon. Friend's phrase, one might say about building materials that they are perhaps steadying towards a fall. The right hon. Member for Wakefield also made a point, which he made on Second Reading, that really the problems of overcrowding and slums are the same, but in my view and that of my right hon. Friend, that really is not the case. Overcrowding is not by any means always found in slum conditions. In the houses which have been demolished the average number of occupants has not exceeded 3½ per house, and what we have started to deal with are evil housing conditions which, in our judgment, would not have come within the ambit of the Act of 1930.
Next I should like to say a word about one or two questions in connection with the agricultural problem. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) asked for an assurance that the quality of the houses in the villages would not be sacrified. My right hon. Friend has no intention whatever of reducing standards. The only control exercised by him as Minister of Health is in the direction of seeing that local authorities do get value for their money. I was asked by another hon. Member from the Labour Benches—I think it was the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price)—whether it could not be made an obligation on the part of rural district councils to consult the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. As I said in my speech on Second Reading, my right hon. Friend attaches very great importance to the preservation of the amenities of the countryside, and he believes, as I am sure does everyone who has at all gone into the problem, that it is not necessary to make the country ugly in order to prevent its being insanitary. My right hon. Friend has constantly referred to the advantage of having panels of architects, and will do all he can to encourage this practice. No doubt this point will be thrashed out when we come to the Committee stage.
The hon. and gallant Member for Tiverton (Lieut.-Colonel Acland-Troyte) raised the question of the agricultural worker in urban areas, which I think was also touched upon by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths). The difficulty we have to face there is that there is not the same likelihood in urban areas that cottages built for agricultural workers will always remain in the hands of agricultural workers, but that, again, will be thoroughly discussed in Committee, and we can examine it again when Amendments are moved. The hon. Member for Hemsworth also asked whether there would be parlour houses. The answer is that the local authorities must build for the needs of their localities and, if necessary, a proportion would be parlour houses. He also submitted a particular question about his locality. I have the answer here, and perhaps it will be more convenient if I give it to him afterwards, as we wish to get to a Division.
I hope it is. My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) asked whether this Bill would enable subsidies to be paid for cottage homesteads. The Exchequer subsidies under this Bill are paid direct to local authorities. Where the housing of the agricultural population is in question, the local authorities may make arrangements to grant assistance up to the amount of the Exchequer subsidy, and so far as an association is providing houses for the agricultural population there is no reason why individual local authorities should not make grants for the purpose he had in mind.
Yes, and I am coming to that point. Grants for housing under this heading are limited to the agricultural population. With regard to the second point relating to cottage homes, I understand that these are proposed for the urban population. In so far as families are living in insanitary or overcrowded conditions it may be possible for the association to make arrangements with individual local authorities which will secure the objects in view, but the matter will in the first instance have to be explored locally. If the hon. Gentleman wishes any more information on that point I shall be happy to give it to him.
If the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to discuss it with us we shall do what we can, but it is very difficult to give an answer merely on the spur of the moment. With regard to the provision of flats, the policy of the Department is to encourage cottages where possible but, particularly in London, and I think in Liverpool and Manchester, where land in the centre of the town is of very great value, something like £5,000, £8,000 and £12,000 an acre, it is not possible to build cottages. In those cases we reluctantly agree that, in the conditions, flats are necessary.
I will examine the detail points. In conclusion I want to deal with the attack upon me made before this Resolution was discussed. The right hon. Gentleman uttered a most serious and portentous rebuke. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will remember the conditions under which I had to reply in the Debate and particularly they will remember the continuous barracking to which I was subjected. I only stated what were the facts. Why should hon. Gentlemen think that they can attack us and we listen to them in silence and then we must never answer back?
I was not referring to the hon. Gentleman. I was referring to someone much more important. What actually happened, I remember very well, was that I gave a detailed and as I
thought careful answer, and there was a shout—here it is in the OFFICIAL REPORT——
[HON. MEMBERS: 'NO answer.']"—
You can imagine what a noise that made. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield had got up to the Box and asked me a question, I naturally should have answered him, but he shouted above the din: "No answer." I answered:
It is the only answer which the right hon. Gentleman will get."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1938; col. 1827, Vol. 331.]
I believe that is the only thing I have done. I need not come in a white sheet. If an apology is needed it is from the Opposition for this continuous barracking, Really, we are not thin-skinned on this side and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen should not be thin-skinned either.
I hardly think that the hon. Gentleman's apology has been a handsome one. I speak as one who has been subjected to barracking as much as anybody in this House from hon. Gentlemen opposite, and from right hon. Gentlemen opposite also, and I do not complain. My complaint was that the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary was discourteous. He accuses me of shouting above the din. I rose in my place only once, under the greatest provocation, to ask the right hon. Gentleman a simple question to which he did not know the answer. I did not intervene at that time, but the hon. Gentleman thinks his remark is fitting because there was a perfectly legitimate Parliamentary interruption from hon. Members whose views must have been shared on that side, because he had given no answer to my question. It is proved that he gave no answer to my question because the right hon. Gentleman himself spent the first quarter of an hour of his speech this afternoon giving me an answer which I said was as satisfactory as I could expect from him. If the Parliamentary Secretary had made the same kind of answer I should have been perfectly satisfied, and I think some of my hon. Friends would have been. It is discourteous, and—I repeat what I said this afternoon—impertinent for the hon. Gentleman to say that that was the only answer I was going to get. I am glad that he has been reproved by his chief this afternoon.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has exceeded the time taken by the hon. Gentleman in referring to this matter, but if he is going to continue very long I shall think that he is moving to report Progress.
I should not object to that. My point is a perfectly serious one. The right hon. Gentleman thought it worth while to begin his speech this afternoon with a very full explanation on the point which I had raised on Second Reading. In so far as he did that, I regard it as a reproof to the Parliamentary Secretary.
I want to deal with one or two of the points made by the Parliamentary Secretary about the Financial Resolution. I gather that under the Bill—I think I quote his words exactly—the value to the tenant is much the same. I knew that, and the hon. Gentleman has given us our case. That is putting the best interpretation upon it. Time will prove whether the assertions which I have made are right or not. Then the hon. Gentleman tried to defend his policy by saying there was a limit to the expenditure which the taxpayers can pay. What about the ratepayer? What about the tenant? Are there no limits to what they can pay? That, again, is no answer to our case. Then the hon. Gentleman referred—it has been referred to two or three times—to the provision I made for a review of the State contribution. If I were ever responsible for another Housing Act I should do the same thing. I am not against making provision for a review of the circumstances. At the time of the passing of the Act of 1930, conditions in the building trade were quite as stable as they are now, but one can visualise circumstances in which the cost of building might fall, and in that case it would be perfectly right for the State and the local authorities to revise their views of what was necessary. But let it be said for me that I myself have never been guilty of revising any State contribution downwards. I did, in 1929, save this country from the wreck which was intended of the Wheatley Act. That wreckage was completed in 1931.
The hon. Gentleman talks about rents of 6s. and 7s. per week. That is just preposterous, and it will be even more preposterous under the present legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) has dealt with the rise in the cost of building in recent years, and very staggering the figures are. I say that it is not possible, at present building costs, and with this subsidy, to build houses on any kind of basis for the vast majority of the people at that rent. Time will prove whether I am right or not. There is another misconception with which I should like to deal, about the distinction between slums and overcrowding. With all respect to the hon. Gentleman, I understand the slum problem as well as he does. I have said on previous occasions, and I say again to-day, that overcrowding is an element in the slum problem. Broadly speaking, it is in the slums that you get the worst overcrowding, combined with very bad physical environment. The Parliamentary Secretary tells us that overcrowding is not always found in slum conditions. Admittedly that is so, but my case has been that, where you get the double evil of overcrowding and bad physical environment, that is the primary problem. In overcrowded conditions you have slums in the making. You will find them within a mile of this House—large middle-class houses, once occupied by wealthy people, now overcrowded and degenerating month by month down to the slum level. I say that in principle there is no difference between the two problems. You cannot define a slum once and for all, because, with every year that passes, these overcrowded conditions are degenerating down to the slum level.
A wise statesmanship would have taken the overcrowding problem in its stride with the slum problem, now that we have attacked it, and would not have brought down the financial assistance to the overcrowding level, but, in order to make a good job of this great national duty would have raised the level of the subsidy up to the one which I instituted. I suppose that, as this Bill continues its course, the right hon. Gentleman will persist in saying—he is very good at publicity—that it is a fine Bill; but I am afraid that on this side of the Committee we shall have to persist in saying that we do not think very much of it. I am bound to say, with all respect to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, that I do not think they have answered the arguments which we have put in Committee on the Money Resolution and which we put on the Second Reading, and we shall continue, as we have done all through, to assert what is fundamental with us, namely, that this is no contribution whatever to the solution of the housing problem of this country, and that its motives lie outside the solution of the housing problem.
|Division No. 103.]||AYES.||[9.3. p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Cower, Sir R. V.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. G A.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Plugge, Capt. L. F.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh)||Grimston, R. V.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Apsley, Lord||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)||Radford, E. A.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
|Assheton, R.||Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N. W.)||Rankin, Sir R.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Hambro, A. V.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Balniel, Lord||Hannah, I. C.||Reid, Sir D. D. (Down)|
|Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Riekards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Haslam, H. C. (Horncastle)||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Salmon, Sir I.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)||Salt, E. W.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Holmes, J. S.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Hope, Captain Hon. A O. J.||Savery, Sir Servington|
|Brass, Sir W.||Hopkinson, A.||Scott, Lord William|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Horsbrugh, Florence||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Hulbert, N. J.||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'st)|
|Brown, Brig-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Hume, Sir G. H.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Hunter, T.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Hurd, Sir P. A.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Hutchinson, G. C.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.|
|Cary, R. A.||Jones, L. (Swansea W.)||Spens, W. P.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Keeling, E. H.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||Storey, S.|
|Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark N.)|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Leech, Sir J. W.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk N.)||Levy, T.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Crooke, Sir J. S.||Lewis, O.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Liddall, W. S.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Loftus, P. C.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Cross, R. H.||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Thomson, Sir J. D. W|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Maclay, Hon. J. P.||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Davies, C. (Montgomery)||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Markham, S. F.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Danman, Hon. R. D.||Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Turton, R. H.|
|Denville, Alfred||Maxwell, Hon. S A.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||May hew, U. Col J.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Dunglass, Lord||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Eastwood, J. F.||Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|Eckersley, P. T.||Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Morgan, R. H.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Everard, W. L.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Fildes, Sir H.||Munro, P.||Wragg, H.|
|Fleming, E. L.||Nall, Sir J.||Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.|
|Fremantle, Sir F. F.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Nicholson, G. (Farnham)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. Furness and Major Herbert.|
|Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple)||Hardie, Agnes||Parker, J.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Harris, Sir P. A.||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Hayday, A.||Pearson, A.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Pathick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Alexander, R (. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Price, M. P.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Holline, A.||Quibell, O. J. K.|
|Barr, J.||Hopkin, D.||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Batey, J.||Jagger, J.||Ridley, G.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Ritson, J.|
|Bonn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey)|
|Bromfield, W.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Shinwell, E.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Silkin, L.|
|Buchanan, G.||Kelly, W. T.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Burke, W. A.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Cape, T.||Kirby, B. V.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Kirkwood, D.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Cooks, F. S.||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Cove, W. G.||Lawson, J. J.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Gripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Leach, W.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Daggar, G.||Lee, F.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Leonard, W.||Thurtle, E.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Leslie, J. R.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Logan, D. G.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Dobbie, W.||Lunn, W.||Viant, S. P.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Walkden, A. G.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||McEntee, V. La T.||Walker, J.|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||McGhee, H. G.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Foot, D. M.||MacNeill Weir, L.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Frankel, D.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Westwood, J.|
|Gardner, B. W.||Marshall, F.||Williams, D. (Swansea, E.)|
|Garro Jones, G. M||Mathers, G.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Gibson. R. (Greenock)||Maxton, J.||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Messer, F.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Milner, Major J.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Montague, F.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Naylor, T. E.||Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Charleton.|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Oliver, G. H.|
Bill read the Third time, and passed, without Amendment.