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Volume 161: debated on Wednesday 14 March 1923

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Condemned Houses


asked the Minister of Health how many towns have reported surveys made of houses not reasonably fit for human habitation; how many houses have been so condemned by medical officers of health and local authorities; and the total population covered by these reports?

As the reply is somewhat long, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the reply:

Reports received from medical officers of health for 1,060 boroughs and urban districts for the year 1921 show that, 994,005 houses were inspected under the Public Health Acts and Housing (Inspection of Districts) Regulations. 13,279 houses were reported as unfit for habitation and 226,713 as not in all respects reasonably fit.

Notices under Section 28 of the Housing Act, 1919, were served in respect of 30,818 houses, and of these 23,453 were rendered fit by the owners and 912 by the local authorities.

Notices were served under the Public Health Acts in respect of 266,549 houses; in 240,310 of the houses concerned the defects were remedied by the owners and in 2,757 houses by the local authorities.

Defects were remedied in 223,546 houses without the service of formal notices.

Closing orders were made in respect of 1,416 houses, while in the case of 287 houses closing orders were determined after the houses had been made fit.

There is no information regarding the population inhabiting these houses.

Building Materials (Prices)


asked the Minister of Health whether, in view of the demands made upon the building operatives for a reduction of wages in order to reduce the cost of houses, he will state what is being done by his Department to secure a corresponding reduction in the cost of building materials by breaking up the rings and trusts which are artificially inflating prices to the great detriment of the public?


asked the Minister of Health whether, in view of the urgent necessity of a large number of houses being built in the near future at a reasonable cost, he will state what steps he proposes to take to prevent, the rise in price of building material through the operations of rings, trusts, and combines?

The Ministry of Health and the Board of Trade are fully alive to the question raised by the hon. Members. The situation is being carefully watched and the question of what steps can be usefully taken is now under consideration.

is the Noble Lord aware that a similar reply has been given in this House every time a question on this subject has been put for the last 18 months. Cannot the Noble Lord, who is fresh to office, expedite action in this matter?

I am very glad to know our predecessors also appear to have carefully watched the situation.

If that is the only satisfaction Parliament is going to get, will the Noble Lord—still strictly in accordance, with the line followed by his predecessors—institute an inquiry after the exploitation has been going on for a year or two?

The hon. Member is aware there have already been a number of inquiries. I can assure him the Government do not propose to sit idle on this question, but it would be exceedingly ill-advised to do anything without careful consideration first.

Is it not a fact that the present President of the Board of Trade told the House in March, 1921, on the Board of Trade Vote, that the Government would introduce legislation?

Has the Board of Trade any knowledge of any shortage of any class of building materials for houses?



asked the Minister of Health the latest figures available, showing the balance of houses still required to make good the shortage reported by local authorities in 1919, as the result of the official survey of their requirements made under the Housing, Town Planning, etc., Act, 1919; and how soon he anticipates this shortage will be met?

The difference between the number of State-assisted houses completed up to the 1st February last and the gross estimate of shortage due to overcrowding, according to the survey referred to, is 312,505. Information is not available as to the number of unsubsidised houses built since 1919. In view of the difficulty of obtaining reliable estimates the hon. Member must not take it that I regard this as representing the present effective demand for houses. With regard to the last part of the question, I regret that I cannot at present express any opinion upon the subject.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House any idea as to how soon he will enable the local authorities to start building houses, by the introduction of the Bill promised for so long?

Upon what basis does the right hon. Gentleman form his estimate that there will be 312,000 houses short, because before the War we were building houses at the rate of 80,000 per year, and there has been a shortage now, for eight years?

Land (Transfer Fees)


asked the Minister of Health whether he will, in connection with his housing scheme, consider the desirability of recommending to the Government the cheapening of transfer fees in respect to land?

I will give the matter careful consideration, and if my hon. Friend has a concrete suggestion to make I shall be glad if he will send me a note of it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the transfer of a house value £400 costs about £15, including £5 for registration and £2 10s. Stamp Duty, whereas on the Stock Exchange you can transfer £400 worth of stock for £2.

If the hon. Member will give me any suggestions he has to make, I will consider them.

State-Aided Houses (Average Age)


asked the Minister of Health whether he can give the estimated anticipated average age of the houses built under the subsidy scheme of the late Government?

It is the practice of my Department to allow a period not exceeding 60 years for the repayment of loans by local authorities for the erection of houses under the Housing Acts by ordinary methods of construction, and it may be taken that this period represents a conservative estimate of the life of the houses.

Is the Minister aware that under the Rutherglen housing scheme a term of 60 years is given, and the average payment of interest on that becomes £60 per year? How does the Minister think working people can pay the interest, apart altogether from the rent?

Empty Houses


asked the Minister of Health if he has any information as to the number of empty houses in the United Kingdom which are to be sold arid which are not available as ordinary tenancies?

Statistics on this point are not available, and I am afraid that they could not readily be obtained.

Is it not possible to obtain these particulars from the local authorities, as they have a very important bearing on the housing problem? Will the right hon. Gentleman make application to the local authorities?

I will consider that, but I am afraid it will be difficult for the local authorities themselves.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the London County Council said recently that there are 3,800 empty houses in London?


asked the Minister of Health if he will include in the forthcoming Housing Bill a provision for the rating of empty houses?

I am not at present in a position to make any statement as to the provisions of the Bill.

When the right hon. Gentleman does make a statement, or when he does consider the question, will he also consider the advisability of taxing as well as rating land values?

Unoccpied Workhouses


asked the Minister of Health if, as only 204,000 persons are being relieved by the Poor Law authorities in workhouses whereas there is accommodation for 282,000 persons, he will consider the possibility of converting the unoccupied portions of the workhouses into workmen's flats and thereby relieve the rates to the amount of the rents received?

It would seldom be practicable or economical to convert temporarily unoccupied portions of workhouses into dwellings, but I am quite ready to consider any proposal that may be made for this purpose.

A large number of dwelling houses are occupied by the rich, or rather only partly occupied; would the right hon. Gentleman consider turning them into houses for working people?

That does not arise out of the question; this reference is to workhouses.

Local Authorities' Schemes


asked the Minister of Health if he will issue a return giving the names of local authorities who have undertaken building under the Housing Acts, the number of houses erected by each, the various rents at present charged for the several types of houses, and the rents charged when the houses were first let?

The preparation of such a return would involve considerable time and labour and it is not considered that ifs value would be sufficient to justify the cost of preparation and publication. A return showing the rents agreed with local authorities for each type of horse in the assisted housing schemes of those authorities was given on the 21st ultimo in reply to a question by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West.

Colliery Companies


asked the Minister of Health how many colliery companies received a subsidy under the Housing Act, 1919: how many houses were erected for which subsidy was received by colliery companies: and can he state how many mine workers have been turned out of these subsidised houses because they, went to work at some colliery other than the one which owned the houses?

There is no information in my Department which would enable a reply to be given to the hon. Member's question.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the more unscrupulous kind of colliery officials can inflict intolerable conditions upon the workmen residing in colliery houses, and will he refuse any further applications for subsidies to colliery companies unless he gets a guarantee that evictions shall not take place?

I have no information to that effect. If the hon. Gentleman has a case in mind I shall be glad if he will communicate with me.

Dwelling-Houses (Factories Andworkshops)


asked the. Minister of Health whether he has received a communication from the Stepney Borough Council urging the Government to introduce legislation granting to local authorities, including Metropolitan boroughs, powers similar to those contained in Section 6 of the Housing (Additional Powers) Act, 1919, to prevent the user of dwelling-houses as factories or workshops; and, if so, whether he is in a position to state what action he proposes to take in the matter?

I have received the communication referred to and the suggestion is receiving my careful consideration, but I am not yet able to make a statement.

Subsidised Houses


asked the Minister of Health whether all the houses built under the subsidy scheme of the late Government have now been completed and, if completed, are occupied; and whether any steps are taken or can be usefully taken to ensure that untenanted houses are not kept vacant for sale only?

It is assumed that the hon. Member refers to the State-assisted houses erected by local authorities and public utility societies. On 1st March, 157,235 houses had been completed, and I think it may be taken generally that there is no delay in the occupation of these houses. As regards houses built under the private builders' subsidy scheme, information as to the occupation of the houses is not available, but I may point out that this scheme was limited to houses completed so long ago as last June. With regard to the last part of the question, I have no information which would lead me to suppose that any action by my Department is required.

Will the Government provide in the new Bill that no subsidies shall be given for houses built for sale, and not to be let?

Leonards Place, Kensington


asked the Minister of Health whether his attention has been called to the fact that the London Couny Council, notwithstanding the opposition of the Kensington Borough Council and of the residents in the locality, have recently granted a licence for the erection of a super-cinema in Leonards Place, Kensington, which will involve the destruction of a considerable number of middle-class houses; and whether he will make representations to the London County Council and other local licensing authorities that, during the existing serious shortage in houses, it is undesirable for them to grant licences for the erection of cinemas or other places of amusement which will involve the destruction of residential property?

I have made inquiries, and find that the facts are as stated. I have no power to intervene in a case such as this, but the tenants will have the protection afforded by the Rent Restrictions Acts. The suggestion in the latter part of the question will receive my careful consideration.

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider in connection with the forthcoming Bill whether it would not be well to take temporary powers to prevent the destruction of private houses during the existing shortage in order to build cinemas and theatres?

Local Authorities (Reports)


asked the Minister of Health how many local authorities for the purposes of Part II of The Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, have failed to furnish reports, as required by Section 44 of that Act, for 1921 and 1922 respectively; what is the form required by the Ministry of Health under that section; and what particulars are required to be furnished by the local authorities?

The Return referred to was discontinued for the period of the War by Sub-section 4 of Section 13 of the Local Government (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1916, and the provisions of this Sub-section were further extended by the Expiring Laws Act, 1922, to 31st December next. Medical officers of health have, however, been required to include in the annual reports a statement as to action taken by their authorities in relation to unsatisfactory houses, and a summary of these reports is given in the Annual Report of the Ministry of Health.

Can the hon. Gentleman say what action he proposes to take against the local authorities who have failed to furnish these reports?

I have hardly had time yet to look into this question, but I will see about it.

Water Supply (By-Laws Andregulations)


asked the Minister of Health Whether his attention has been called to the draft model bylaws and Regulations which have been submitted by the British Waterworks Association for approval by the Ministry of Health; whether he is aware that in the specification attached to the proposed Regulations many onerous conditions would be imposed, involving increased outlay on the part of the public; whether he has received a deputation from the owners of artisan dwellings in the County of London praying that the sanction of the Ministry of Health may be withheld until a public inquiry has taken place; whether the Ministry intend to hold a public inquiry as suggested; and what action it is proposed to take in the matter?

The proposals of the Association are under consideration. Various written representations against the proposals have been received, but no deputation. I doubt whether a public inquiry would be of advantage, but I can assure my hon. Friend that any representations made by interested parties will be carefully considered.

Shop Tenants


asked the Minister of Health what steps he proposes to take to Protect small business people who occupy shops to which there is no home attached?

Miners' Wages


asked the Prime Minister whether, seeing that miners' wages are so much below the cost of living as compared with the year 1914, he will consider the amendment of the Coal Mines (Minimum Wage) Act, so that the cost of living will be considered in relation to the fixing of wages?

The wages of coal miners are governed by an agreement with the coal owners which contains provision for minimum "subsistence" wages being fixed in each district. I cannot regard as practicable any scheme for fixing wages in relation to the cost of living regardless of the general state of trade. Coal miners, I regret to say, are not peculiar in being financially worse off than before the War.

Are we to understand from that answer that the miners have no hope of legislation by this Government, and that they must rely entirely on industrial action?

I cannot at present hold out any hope of legislation on the subject.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Minimum Wage Act, 1912, would ordinarily have come to an end in 1915, and that this question does not arise out of the agreement between the two parties, but under the Minimum Wage Act?

But since then an agreement has been made between the two parties, which, I think, largely supersedes it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the agreement is an entirely different thing from the Minimum Wage Act?

Empire Trade


asked the Prime Minister whether he is in a position to state when a Cabinet decision will be taken with reference to Grants-in-Aid to the Crown Colonies; whether the present Trade Facilities Act will permit of loans to Dominion Governments for purchases made in this country; and, if so, at what rate?

I hope to be able to announce a decision shortly. It is open to any Dominion and Colonial Government to ask for a guarantee under the existing Trade Facilities Act.

Is it contemplated that new legislation will be necessary to effect loans to the Overseas Dominions?

Committee Of Imperialdefence (Meetings)


asked the Prime Minister how many meetings of the Committee of Imperial Defence have been held during the past year; and how does this number compare with previous years?

From March, 1922, until the present date the Committee of Imperial Defence, including the Standing Defence Sub-Committee has held 15 meetings, and there have been 115 meetings of its Sub-committees, making a total of 130. These figures compare with 8 meetings of the Committee of Imperial Defence and 117 of its Sub-committees for the same period in 1912–13. In addition, there have been 133 meetings of Cabinet Committees dealing with defence questions, the secretarial service of which have been supplied by the staff of the Committee of Imperial Defence. The total number of meetings, therefore, is 263.

State Assurance


asked the Prime Minister if he is aware that the Queens-land Government by instituting State Assurance has reduced rates 33 per cent., saving the insured .£350,000 in five years and building up a. surplus of £70,000; if the Government Assurance Office doubled the weekly rates of compensation for accidents and also the compensation paid for deaths; and if, in view of this, the Government will consider the advisability of introducing State Assurance in this country instead of proceeding with the Industrial Assurance Bill?

A State scheme of life insurance is already in operation in this country under the direction of the Post Office, premiums being payable weekly if desired, and the Health Insurance Scheme provides a small measure of accident insurance under State auspices. I am not prepared to extend these facilities, and I think it would be very undesirable not to proceed with the Industrial Assurance Bill.