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Housing (No 2) Bill

Volume 65: debated on Saturday 8 August 1914

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I beg to move "That leave to bring in a Bill to give the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in rural districts, and the Local Government Board in boroughs and urban districts, powers with respect to housing; and to make similar provision for Scotland."

It is thought to be very advisable at this juncture to press this measure through the House as a temporary measure having application only for one year. It is considered that in case there should be considerable distress through unemployment in this country, that distress will very likely extend to the building trade, and that it would be absurd in such circumstances to spend great sums of public money in giving relief to persons out of work instead of setting them to work at their own trade to make good the deficiency in housing accommodation, which has long been admitted on all sides to prevail both in town and in country. Consequently, I understand there will be general agreement in the principle of a Bill which would give to the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries the powers which were asked for in Clause 1 of the Bill which was lately before Parliament, and give similar powers to the Local Government Board with respect to the town districts, and that the Bill should also apply to Scotland. At the same time I should like to make clear that my own Department does not contemplate setting up a new branch in London, with architects and the necessary staff, in order to let contracts and itself to build houses in Manchester or Liverpool or Cardiff, or wherever the need may occur. What I contemplate doing, if this Act is passed, is to arrange with public utility societies and with local authorities for taking the necessary measures in order to provide for the deficiency which may exist in the district. The Board of Agriculture will proceed according to plans which have already been made for dealing with housing difficulties in the rural districts. While the principle of this Bill is agreed, the conferences which have taken place between the two sides have been somewhat hasty, and I should not like to ask the House to proceed further to-day than to pass the First Reading, that is to say, to give leave to introduce the Bill. There would then be an opportunity for the Bill to be printed, and for hon. Members opposite to consider its terms with a view to representing any Amendments of detail that they may consider necessary, and we should then ask the House to proceed further with the Bill at its next sitting on Monday.

I only rise to say that we thoroughly approve of the course which the right hon. Gentleman has taken. This is, as the House knows, a Bill which, at the ordinary time, would take a very long period to get through the House, but we all feel that, in a crisis like this, we must trust the Government in regard to all matters which deal with the situation which has arisen out of that crisis. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for saying he will not proceed further to-day, but I can assure him that we shall offer no carping criticism, but will do everything in our power to facilitate a measure which may give employment where it may be needed.

The President of the Local Government Board said, in relation to the procedure of his own Department, that he will in urban districts assist both public utility societies and local authorities. I wish to ask whether the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, both in England and in Scotland, will assist, not only the public utility societies, but local societies where they are willing to act.

While we all desire to co-operate with the Government in any proposals that they may bring for ward for the relief of distress, I hope there will be opportunities of asking questions upon this Bill and even possibly of making some suggestions for its improvement, and that we may have on Monday a more or less detailed statement from the right hon. Gentleman. There are questions which one naturally wishes to ask. For example we wish to know whether the money for the purposes of this Bill is to be part of the £100,000,000—

Then I understand that it is to be supplementary for the relief of distress, that is to say, to build houses with the view to the relief of distress. That is what I understand from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and it makes a very great deal of difference whether the money is to be devoted to the building of houses with a view to the relief of distress, or to be employed on the old lines of the former Bill, namely, the building of houses which would involve the charging of an economic rent. There are many questions which could be debated shortly on this Bill without going into the whole housing policy which we wish to promote as soon as the House is able to deal with the question. I hope we shall have an opportunity of discussing to a small degree the question of housing and of making such suggestions as we desire to make to the House.

I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the grant will cover the building of houses on areas which have been cleared for rebuilding in the County of London and in other urban districts?

Yes, it will enable assistance to be given in any direction that is necessary. At the same time it should not be regarded as a sum of £4,000,000 devoted to the relief of distress. The £4,000,000 would be spent on building houses which at the end of this period of crisis would exist and bring in revenue, and, therefore, it is rather in the nature of an investment than a charitable grant.

May I make a suggestion? I think at a time like this it is almost impossible to discuss the Bill in this House, and what I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman is that he should by some means or other enter into communication with my right hon. Friend (Mr. Hayes Fisher) and other hon. Members who are specially interested in the matter, and try to come to an agreement with them before the Bill is again brought before the House.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for North - West Lanarkshire (Mr. Pringle), I can assure him that the powers extended to Scotland include the local authorities in the country as well as the urban authorities.

Supposing an arrangement is come to with hon. Gentlemen opposite in regard to the Bill, will it be put through all its stages on Monday?

May I ask the Secretary for Scotland to bear in mind that this Bill is passed as a non-controversial measure temporarily and for only one year, and also bear in mind what my hon. Friend behind me said with regard to public utility societies and local authorities. If by means of this Bill we enter into arrangements with a large number of public utility societies, we might create an interest, even in one year, which it would be very difficult to deal with. Our view is that, in this one year, more regard should be paid to local authorities than to public utility societies.

Of course, the local authorities will always have the preference.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Herbert Samuel, Mr. Runciman, Mr. Herbert Lewis, and Mr. McKinnon Wood. Presented accordingly, read the first time, and ordered to be printed. [Bill 373.]

To be read a second time upon Monday next.