§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. HARRISON-BROADLEY
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
Members in all parts of the House will, I think, admit that there is a real reason for this question to be brought up at the present time. We have heard a good deal as to the need of cottages in our rural districts. We have heard a good deal of the people from the villages going to the towns. This Bill is intended to assist both aspects of this question. I do not intend to deal with the matter except from the-agricultural or rural point of view. We have many measures for building houses in the urban districts; but in the rural districts it is a very different matter. There if we were to follow up the expensive methods that are in vogue in the urban districts, we should find that the agricultural labourer would not be able to pay the rent demanded by the authorities. There is nothing at all in the Bill of a charitable nature. We do not intend that the people should go into these houses on. 1523 a charitable basis, but that they should pay a rent, sufficient to pay the small interest on the money borrowed for the building of the houses. The Bill will act in two ways. It will not only supply houses for aged people in the villages, but it will supply houses for many of the younger people, who will take the houses vacated by the older people. I do not know how many hon. Members have studied rural life, but in the villages throughout the country there is a large— a too large—percentage of aged people occupying houses. We do not wish to drive them out of our villages. Exactly the contrary is our wish. We wish to retain these old folk who have served their country so faithfully for so many years. Perhaps they have been born in these villages, and having lived and worked there, we wish still to retain them. But in their old age we desire to give them a house at a small rental, so leaving the other houses for the use of the agricultural labourer—for the younger men who are able to do a full day's work. In our villages throughout the country the houses were built for the occupation of those ordinarily employed upon the farms. It is just the same at present when building houses for our small holders. There we build houses big enough to hold the people who are to live in them and to work on the land near our villages.
At present there are many cottages filled up with old people and with people who in some cases are able to do part of a day's work, but in many cases are not able to do any work at all. In some cases widows, mothers of families, reside in the neighbourhood; they are occupying these houses, and the young men when they grow up and marry find there is no house in the neighbourhood for them. What happens then? They have to leave and go into the towns. That is what is happening in our villages all over the country, and in that way we are driving away men more useful to the land than any you can import from the neighbouring towns and urban districts. By this Bill we hope to be able to build houses at the small cost of £120 per house. A house can and will be built for that sum, because, in the first instance, this Bill lays down that the land shall be given to the authorities, whether parish council or whatever it may be, free of cost. We have no doubt but that in every village we can find men willing to give to that authority enough land to build a 1524 number of cottages in that village. I have made inquiries into this question during the last few months and I have found out that the number of one for every hundred of population, as provided under this Bill, is not too large. In villages of from 300 to 400 population we find there are often more than three or four houses occupied by old people not able to do a full day's work. We find, indeed, there are seven on the average and that has been taken by me in many of the northern villages I have been in as the average. We wish to let these houses to respectable old people and people who are able to maintain themselves without the help and relief from the parish. In this way I think we can do very much indeed for these villages. We know there is great need in all our villages for extra houses, and I hope the House will consider it a good thing to pass a small holdings measure of this kind for the assistance of the agricultural labourers. I shall not deal with the different Clauses of the Bill because they have been brought before the House on previous occasions and are pretty well known to hon. Members. It is only through the fortunes of the ballot that I have had the opportunity of introducing this Bill again to the House of Commons, and I hope the House will consider it worthy of a Second Reading.
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
In the absence of the hon. Member for Newmarket (Sir C. Rose), who was to have seconded the Second Reading of this Bill from the other side of the House, I have great pleasure in carrying out the somewhat easy and extremely pleasant task of doing so. I cannot remember any Bill submitted to this House since I have had the honour of being a Member of it with which I feel more heartily in sympathy than this Bill the House is about to consider. I should like to say on behalf of my agricultural friends, both employers and employed, that we feel under a deep debt of obligation to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) for having made this subject his own, and for having formulated his ideas in the Bill which we are considering, and which is not only extremely useful but economically sound and eminently practical. There is one advantage to my mind with regard to this measure which has not been a significant feature of housing schemes emanating from the other side of the House, and that is that for the first time there is an attempt made to bring about co-operation between 1525 landowners and local authorities in the provision of cottage accommodation. I have long held the view, and hold it very strongly to-day, that more good is to be done in rural districts by stimulating co-operation between those who can best provide for the needs of our village residents than by taking steps through a Government Department or otherwise, and so create difference of opinion, if not active opposition, between local authorities and those who would naturally work in co-operation with them for these purposes. There is no doubt, as already emphasised recently in this House, that local authorities require something in the nature of a stimulus in order to induce them to provide cottages in circumstances which do not admit of economic rent being charged for a cottage in a case where both the value of the land and the cottage have to be taken into account in reckoning capital outlay upon which interest or rent has to be paid. In this case it is suggested that the stimulus be imported by a gift of the land by the landowner who is so disposed to the parish council, in consideration of the parish council for that gift being prepared to erect suitable cottages for aged persons, and to let these cottages at a rent which may be considered as more or less uneconomic but which will not involve the local authorities or the ratepayers in any considerable loss, if in any loss at all. It may be said £120 is a low figure at which to put the necessary capital expenditure upon any cottage. But it should be borne in mind that the cottage contemplated in this Bill would be a two-roomed cottage upon the ground floor, which is eminently suited to the requirements of old people, who do not like to climb up stairs in order to get to their sleeping apartments, and is just the sort of cottage to be found in many villages to-day, but provided, as I think, in an undesirable way as a matter of charity and known as almshouses.
This Bill enables us to substitute for the old-fashioned almshouses, the very name of which indicates some loss of dignity on the part of the occupants, houses in which any self-respecting old man or woman can live at a reasonable rent which they can well afford with the help of the old age pension without any loss of dignity to themselves and without any loss of rent or interest to those who are interested as owners of the property. This Bill does not appear to me to meet the case of such requirements in purely industrial districts, 1526 more particularly in mining areas, out it does meet the case of the old farm servant who has long occupied a cottage let with the farm, which is now required for an able-bodied farm servant, whom it is necessary to keep living on the farm to attend to the horses, cattle, or other stock which work necessitates residence near the place where the daily work is curried on. In many cases, to my knowledgs, old persons are turned out, and necessarily turned out, of such cottages to make room for the able-bodied men who have to carry on the work of the farm and be on the spot in order to carry out that work with efficiency and punctuality. In many of the cases the old people, undoubtedly owing to the increasing lack of accommodation in our country villages, have been driven out of their own village altogether into some other village, or have actually been driven into the workhouse. All those who are well acquainted with the conditions of country life and with the feelings of old farm servants will realise that they have an almost sentimental affection for the village in which they live and with which they have been closely associated during their working lives. I cannot conceive of anything more cruel than to be instrumental in any way in driving those old people into another village, where they will live amongst strangers who have no interest in their welfare and no sympathy with their special wants.
It is more unfortunate in the case of those old people who have no people or young people connected with their family to look after them. Very often the children go out into the world and take up employment at a distance, and consequently they are not available to attend to the necessities which old age brings into the homes of the old people. Those acquainted with village life will realise that there is an extraordinary and most commendable amount of sympathy on the part of the labourers in the villages for the requirements of the old people whom they have known all their lives, and if you are going to allow the old workers to remain in the village in close touch with those old sympathies with their friends close at hand to help them you will be conferring a very great boon upon those old people, and upon those who will find a real pleasure and happiness in being able to assist the old people in case of necessity. Criticism has been brought against this Bill on account of the authority which is asked to undertake this work. The parish 1527 council has been selected as opposed to the district council or the county council for many reasons. One of them is that the parish council is composed largely of working men whilst the district council and the county council is not composed so largely of working men who are naturally well acquainted with the conditions of the locality and the special requirements of its inhabitants. In addition to that it must stand to reason that the local landowner is far more likely to meet the requirements and respond to the appeal of a parish council, all the members of which he is probably well acquainted with, than if the appeal came from an outside authority altogether. One other criticism brought against this Bill is that it does not present an economic proposition. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) is likely to put forward that suggestion. I submit to the House that the proposition contained in this Bill is economically sound. In the first place you have to discount the value of the land. You start with an inexpensive scheme upon which it is proposed to charge rent up to a limit of 2s. per week. Anyone who will take the trouble to work this out in figures based upon a sixty years' loan which is provided for in the Bill will find that the rent up to 2s. a week will provide a sufficient return in interest upon such a loan as will be required for a cottage of this value.
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
I am glad my hon. Friend is prepared to admit that if the rent is 2s. it will be a sound economic proposition. The cost of these houses if built as detached houses at a cost of £120, will be considerably reduced by building two and possibly more together, because the cost of the outside wall will not be so great in such cases. I do not want to suggest that this Bill is not open to criticism in regard to its details, but when it reaches the Committee stage, as I hope it will, I intend to put down Amendments dealing with certain matters suggested in some of the Clauses. For instance, Clause 4 provides for the consent of trustees for the purposes of the Settled Lands Acts being required in all cases where a tenant for life under a settlement desires to make a gift of land for this purpose. The trustees for the purpose of the Settled Lands Acts are not persons who 1528 exercise any discretion as to the action of the tenant for life under the settlement. They are purely mechanical persons who receive the capital sums on the sale of the land of a tenant for life. If the limit is only one acre, in such cases I think this provision might be dispensed with altogether and no consent be required by any trustees for the purposes of the Settled Lands Acts. I see some little difficulty with regard to carrying out Clause 9, which provides for the grouping of parishes together for forming the authority for the purposes of this Bill. My experience of country villages teaches me that there is an extraordinary amount of independent feeling on the part of villagers in a particular village. I am inclined to think it may be very difficult to get two or more villages to work together as the authority for the purposes of this Bill, and, even assuming you constituted such an authority, I think there is likely to be considerable difference of opinion, if not squabbling, between them as to which place shall have the preference in the event of there being applicants from the various villages for the available cottages. Clause 11 will also, I think, admit of some amendment with regard to the way in which it is proposed to raise loans. I question very much whether under the existing machinery in county council government it would be possible to obtain loans in the manner provided. I am inclined to think those loans would have to be raised by the county council as is done in the case of loans for the building of elementary schools. In the case of the elementary schools three-quarters of the total capital expenditure is charged upon the parish by the county council as a separate assessable area, and I am inclined to think some similar machinery will have to be attempted in the case of this Bill.
I venture to ask the House, as one who-does know something about the conditions prevailing in country districts, which are totally distinct in this matter from the conditions prevailing in the towns or in the mining areas, to allow the Second Heading of this Bill to be taken to-day; and, in support of that appeal, I may tell the House that the Central and Associated Chambers of Agriculture considered this Bill on 4th April, 1911, when there were present representatives of fifty-six chambers of agriculture and agricultural societies throughout the country, including, I may mention by the way, several Liberal 1529 Members of Parliament, and a resolution was passed unanimously in favour of this Bill and of its acceptance by the House of Commons. Those representatives were intimately acquainted with the conditions of life in our villages and upon our farms, and that resolution was carried as the result of similar resolutions which had been passed by various chambers of agriculture all over the country. I venture to think, in face of such support as that, the House would be dealing unfairly with this Bill, at any rate so far as the agricultural population is concerned, unless it permitted its further consideration by accepting its Second Reading. I earnestly appeal to the House to accept the principle of the Bill, and to consider hereafter any Amendments which may be made with regard to its details. I would venture, before I sit down, to appeal to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood), who made a somewhat severe and caustic speech on the subject of the last Housing Bill before the House, to treat this Bill in a serious spirit, and as one upon which many earnest-minded and sympathetic men feel very strongly, and, whatever may be his criticisms, not unduly to indulge in satire, which will not kill the Bill, but which is only calculated to create sympathy with its provisions.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I beg to move as an Amendment to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add instead thereof the words, "this House, while recognising the importance of the housing question in town and country, refuses to treat the question in a piecemeal fashion, and expresses its desire that the Government should consider the whole question on receipt of the Report of the Departmental Committee on the Incidence of Local Taxation, giving due regard to their responsibilities as custodians of the public Exchequer."
This Amendment, of course, is meant to be in direct conflict with the passage of the Bill through this House at this stage, and I have purposely included in it a reference to the Departmental Committee on the Incidence of Local Taxation, because of the extraordinary Clause in the Bill which seeks to exempt this particular property, which is to become the pet protégé of some indulgent country landlord, from the scope of the Budget.
§ Mr. BOOTH
Special care is sought to be taken by Clause 10 to protect this property from the scope of the Budget. That is clearly so. The Clause says:—No person shall be assessed or rated to or for any Parliamentary tax or local rate in respect of any land or buildings used exclusively or mainly for the purposes of this Act.I believe the real father of the Bill sits on the Front Opposition Bench (Mr. Prety-man). He is a severe antagonist of what is known as the Lloyd George Budget, and he is averse to building a few cottages for people of sixty-five unless they are exempt from any Parliamentary tax or local rate. That seems to be such a daring proposal that I have thought it best to call attention to it. No defence has been offered by either the Mover or Seconder of the Bill, and I did not expect they world do so. I regard this Bill as another instance of these Imperial Friday doles, and it seems to me it is about the most terrible instance we have yet had, because it is distinctly framed to subsidise low wages. I am against Imperial doles on principle. I am against hon. Members coming forward and appealing for public money to go to their constituencies in the shape of some little relief from some burden or other, but in this case not only is the Imperial Exchequer to be drawn on by these rural areas, but it is done in such a way that the man with decent wages cannot get any benefit, and the people with low wages are to enjoy the entire property.
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
That is the limit within which it is possible for an Old Age Pension Committee to award a pension.
§ Mr. BOOTH
The Bill deals with people of sixty-five, whereas old age pensions are not given till seventy. Of course, if I am to have explanations of that kind, I do not think we shall get on with the discussion. The Bill deals with people of sixty-five, who have an income of £31 10s. The hon. Member distinctly informs the House this is not earned money. If you are putting up these cottages for agricultural 1531 labourers who have received such handsome wages that they have bought stocks and shares to give them an income of £31 10s. out of their savings, you are dealing with a class of whose existence I have been hitherto unaware. I hope hon. Members opposite will not object to my criticism that this is an Imperial dole simply because it deals with local taxation. It is the habit of hon. Members to pass legislation increasing the local burdens and then come here and complain that the Imperial Legislature has passed a measure which involves a large local contribution, and suggest that the Imperial Exchequer should pay the amount. On the very bench on which the hon. Member for the Wilton Division (Mr. C. Bathurst) sits there have been such Bills proposed on behalf of the London County Council. When the House passes such legislation and it has to be administered by a department at Whitehall which imposes regulations increasing the financial burdens of London they come here immediately and say: "We did not pass this legislation at Spring Gardens, and we must therefore ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to foot the bill." Hon. Members themselves, if they were successful in passing this Bill, would be the first to say that the question of local taxation was concerned and to claim that this House must be responsible, and to say that it is an enactment which imposes a local burden and Parliament must find the money to finance it.
Reference was made to the speech of the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, and I acknowledge his moderation and his good intentions, so far as I can judge his attitude on the subject. I do not challenge the hon. Member from that standpoint at all. He hinted in his speech that the present houses would be vacated and that the old people would go into these one-storied cottages of two rooms to make way for young people coming into their present houses. Are all the old people over sixty-five years of age to live in these cottages apart from their children and grandchildren? What is the object of that? The hon. Member for the Wilton Division said they should stop in their own villages, and he spoke of some of those old people at present going into another parish. But this is a problem which, as I understand it, is a burden on all parishes alike. Why then should he say that old people who were a surplus in one village might go away into another? They 1532 cannot do so, if they are short of houses in all the other villages. He said they might also come into the towns. It is not the old agricultural labourer who comes into the towns. One reason why there is this large proportion of old people in the rural population as against the towns arisen from the fact that the older person is still denied those ordinary privileges which his son or grandson demands, and he suffers from circumstances against which the more virile young man would revolt. The young man is not prepared to go on living the same kind of life in the same atmosphere as his father. I will give hon. Members a case which came under my observation. Mr. Joseph Arch once held a public meeting in a district in North-West Norfolk, and he was putting forward the claim which this Bill professes to put forward for the agricultural labourer, and he was boycotted by the squire and the parson. One old labourer, with whom I had a conversation afterwards, told me he was walking down the street on the day after sitting on the edge of the platform with Joe Arch, and he was insulted by both the clergyman, I regret to say, and the churchwardens. "Well," said the old man, "he hoped they would not press it upon him; he never said a rude word in his life to one better educated than himself, and he did not want to do it that time, and he wanted to avoid oaths or swearing, and if they would kindly drop the subject he would be able to accomplish his purpose." The sons of men like that come into the towns. They are not prepared to submit to what they saw their father submit to, and the result is that the demand for artisans' dwellings in the towns is increased and the artisan has to pay more in consequence. There are many things to be done in country places in order to better the lot of the agricultural labourer and make him more reconciled to country life, and enjoy it by taking greater pleasure in it.
There are one or two points of detail in this grotesque piece of legislation—as I should call it if I were a university member—and some reference to them will enable me to show the House what is the real spirit behind these proposals. I am astonished that the Members whose names are on the back of the Bill, or Members either on this side of the House or on the other side, can stand in their places and support this scheme. It proposes to give powers to build these cottage homes to the local authority or the parish council, 1533 which later on is defined as the parish meeting. Do hon. Members know what a parish meeting is? It meets once a year. When I was about twenty-one years of age I took the chair at a parish meeting in my own parish, and we had bread and cheese and beer distributed free at the expense of the rates, whilst we discussed local affairs. The meeting came to an abrupt termination because my father, who was a Wesleyan society steward, hearing I was there, came to the "Bull's Head" and demanded that I should come out, and the meeting broke up and the affairs of the parish were thrown into confusion for years and years. The hon. Member opposite proposes that this parish meeting, which usually meets once a year, and which just a few people attend, should undertake the business of building cottages, because the erection of cottages is a business. No more unsuitable proposition could be made than that such work should be entrusted to a parish meeting. If that is really the best that agricultural Members of the House can do I have very little faith in their plans for the rehabilitation of rural life. How many of them would like to live in a mansion which was built by a parish meeting, which would pass the plans and specifications for it? It is important in this case that the ordinary by-laws relating to building cottages are to be suspended. If these little model cottages advocated by the Front Opposition Bench have to be built in the country districts, surely they should really be models.
The rural authorities have now to adopt model by-laws designed at Whitehall, but when these little show cottages are built the by-laws are to be suspended. These one-storied two-roomed cottages will not be subjected to the ordinary by-laws at all. Why should that be so, when the private owner, the colliery master who builds cottages for the colliers, the farmer who provides cottages for his men, and the go-ahead landlord who meets his responsibilities, have to obey these laws? What is the reason? It is for cheapness. There can be no other motive than cheapness. As a rule, these by-laws are to prevent draughty cottages being built. Surely the old persons over sixty-five years of age should be all the more protected from the east wind, and they are all the more likely to suffer from chronic rheumatism if they inhabit these cottages which are not built subject to the by-laws. I 1534 pass on to Clause 2. There is one thing in that Clause which has my unbounded approval. It is the only thing in the Bill except the last Clause which I really admire. Clause 2 refers to the people who are to be eligible for cottages, and it says they must have lived within the area for twenty years. We have just got rid of that, or at any rate modified it in the Old Age Pensions Act, because it was found to be too harsh to insist upon twenty years' continuous residence. The framers of this Bill want to reimpose the old law of settlement. The idea is that the workman should stay in a village all his life, and should not choose his job or where he should live, and should never get up to that standard of independence which is so nauseous to the authors of the Bill. They want him to be there slaving awry for twenty years before he is to be eligible for this bounty. I think that proposals of that character are antagonistic to the working classes of the country. There is one little gleam of sunshine, one little ray of hope in the Bill. There is a desirable class who will be exempted from that qualification of continuous residence. The term "residence" means "actual presence in the area of the cottage homes authority, uninterrupted otherwise than by temporary absences." That is surely intended to bring in the poacher. It is distinctly provided here that this temporary absence, without too much explanation of the locality of the holiday, shall not disqualify a man from being entitled to a cottage. I am confirmed in that, because the hon. Member for the Wilton Division distinctly said that these men were not to earn wages—
§ Mr. BOOTH
I remember the case of a man who was offered some employment. He was asked, "When can you start? He said, "I can start in the morning." Then it was said, "We have not said anything about wages"; to which he replied, "Oh, there is many a little thing lying about here that will do for me."
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
What I pointed out was that these cottages are not intended for the ordinary wage-earners, that is to say, the man in regular work on the farms.
§ Mr. BOOTH
That is to encourage the employment of casual labour. The more information I get about the Bill, the more difficult I find it to use moderate language 1535 about it. I think that under the hon. Member's definition we might include a poacher, who is a man who does a little work occasionally, without being in regular employment. Then these eligible persons must have attained the age of sixty-five years. Why is that? If you are going on merit, why only encourage people of sixty-five to live in these comfortable surroundings? The great need of the rural districts is to reconcile them to the healthy and lusty youth, and to give him a hope in life. Give him the chance of a home in the country, where the birds sing and the flowers grow. If you do that he will live in the country instead of going into the collieries and the factories. I live in surroundings which were the terror of Ruskin's life. It has been a most peculiar effect of the recent coal strike that many of us have gone through districts and have seen hillsides and certain of their beauties which have never been open to our gaze before. I agree that the cause has been a sad one, but the absence of smoke has allowed us to see what was the natural beauty of many districts in the West Riding and Durham before the stacks were built. If you want people to avoid the life in a smoky place you want to encourage them while they are young. Give the young man who is starting in life, who is thinking about getting married, a decent wage. Give him freedom of worship and freedom of speech, and he will find he has a stake in the country. Nothing drives him out of it so much as religious or political oppression. I agree that it is diminishing, but it still obtains in many a countryside. I find that the dominant party do not feel the hardship of these things so much as those who are Nonconformists or Liberals in the country villages. Why should you take the age of sixty-five? That is not the way to solve the housing problem in villages. It would do much more good to give cottages to the young man starting in life, with his children being born. It is desirable that those who become contributors to the Insurance Fund should begin their lives in clean and healthy surroundings. This Bill begins at the wrong end. I speak in the presence of the hon. Member for Tavistock (Sir J. Spear), who is chairman of the Association of Poor Law Guardians for England and Wales. He will agree with me that the greater part of the time of guardians is spent in dealing with people in their unfortunate days. The duty has 1536 to be done, but many guardians have given up the work in order to go in for educational work.
We now come to the provision as to the income of £31 10s. a year. Apparently the promoters of this Bill are prepared to say that anybody getting a decent wage should not live in these cottages. If a man earns about 12s. 6d. a week he can come in, but if he joins an agricultural labourers' union, as I hope he will—I think some agricultural societies formed under the National Insurance Act will try to develop in that direction, and I do not think that any good landlord need be afraid of it—if he joins an agricultural labourers' union he may get an advance from 14s. to 16s. a week, it ought to be doubled or trebled if Tariff Reform comes, and if he gets an advance of wages he must vacate the cottage. It must be remembered that men of sixty-five in the country districts are not done for. They are not obsolete, or only fit to be thrown on the scrap heap. The Clause says that the combined annual income of a couple must not exceed £50. Look at the Machiavellian subtlety of that! It is brought in to exclude anyone earning £l per week, or £52 a year. One pound may become a sort of ideal sum which an agricultural labourers' union will ask for, and agitation may fix it in the public mind. If the labourer succeeds in getting £1 per week he is disqualified from getting a cottage. I protest against legislation of that kind. A person to be eligible for a cottage home must satisfy the authority that his industry and mode of life have been such as to recommend him for the benefits under the Bill. That is introducing an inquisitorial inspection into the lives of the people of this country which will not be tolerated. Under the Insurance Bill it was found impossible to provide for police inspection; the country would not tolerate it; but here you are to have this parish committee, this parish meeting, or this parish council, consisting of a publican, a blacksmith, a churchwarden, a little shop-keeper, and, perhaps, a labourer or two, you are to have this coterie deciding the question of a man's industry and mode of life. The whole thing is abhorrent and repulsive in the extreme, and I cannot trust myself to do justice to my feelings regarding it.
Turning to Clause 3 I see that it limits the number of cottages to one 1537 per hundred of the population. I represent a rural parish where housing is badly required. What is the good of one cottage per hundred? It is monstrous; it is playing with the question. We have about 1,000 population, and we want at least fifty good houses. What is the use of my going back to my own parish with a trumpery Bill like this, under which, by paying a few shillings per annum, we may get one cottage per hundred? What the country wants is good landlords, and a good landed system. Houses are tumbling down, and people are leaving them when the roofs fall over their heads, while the landlord is getting his ground rents from a Yorkshire town. There we are with our rates at 10s. 4d. in the£ and no houses. What good is it to us to tell us we can spend rates on houses when we have no money to spend for water? We have a drainage system and no water to flush it and no water for the people to drink. They get it from the filthy River Aire and let it settle in buckets. However, if I begin to talk about that I may take up more time than I wish to, but that is the position. How will Acts like this affect the village where my house is situated? It will simply be a mockery, and will lead people to have disgust in all legislation which emanates from this House.
§ Mr. BOOTH
No legislation of this kind will provide a remedy, but there is a way to remedy it. The people referred to in this Act, the people to whom the land is apportioned—I do not regard them as owners of the land at all—have had control over both Houses of Parliament, and by a series of laws have gradually put money into their own pockets and given themselves the rights and privileges which surround the holding of the land and the true province of the House is to free the land again and free the people from the shackles which now hind them. The free operation of natural laws unhampered by legislation will work a great deal for the countryside. Now I come to one point which, I think, is the key to the attitude of mind of many Members opposite. No Liberal and no democrat, and I should not think any moderate Conservative, could possibly support a Bill framed on these lines. Clause 4, Sub-section (2), says that a tenant for 1538 life with the consent of his trustees may give an acre now and again for cottage homes, but it must not be part of the pleasure grounds, or the park, or the lands usually occupied by the principal mansion house. In Henry IV a dandy officer on the field of battle objected to a corpse being borne between the wind and his nobility. Here you get the idea of a permanent mansion house with its pleasure grounds, its park and even your own pets, these people you want the dole for in these little houses, are not to come too near your own mansion house. To put legislation of that kind before the working man is enough to make him lose all confidence in the representative principle. What does it mean? I suppose they are afraid of the smell of fried fish from one of these cottages reaching their nostrils as they walk round their ample grounds or are afraid of them keeping hens or pigeons and picking a stray piece of nourishment from the home park. Why is that in at all?
§ Mr. BOOTH
That docs not make it any better. I dare say the hon. Gentlemen opposed the Clause at the time. Or perhaps it was put in as a bribe and a sop in order to remove obstruction. I have not been sitting here all these months and seeing the meetings behind the Speaker's Chair without learning something. I want to protest against legislation of this kind. Even if our own party has done it let there be an end of it. This is the time when we want labouring men to work in harmony and keep in the fabric of commercial life and the Constitution. This is like a red rag to a bull. It is inviting trouble. You are making food for Anarchist publications and leading articles in capitalist newspapers, and making a rod for your own backs. The labour troubles will not stop with the coalfields. They will come down to these villages, and the next Jack Cade or Wat Tyler who appears from the country districts of England will receive a hearty welcome from the artisans of the North. If hon. Members discern the signs of the times they will realise that they cannot meet the situation by legislation of this description. We want something very different. To come to Clause 5, why put these figures in the Bill? The whole party opposite objected to put the figures in the 1539 Minimum Wage Bill. We are to put in the amount of the house, £120, and the wages, the unearned income apparently of the tenants. We are now to put in the rents, between 1s. and 2s. Why should we always have to pay 1s. a week and never more than 2s.? No reason has been given. The objection of many hon. Members opposite to legislation upon these points, and it was also the opinion of our own Front Bench, was that if you put definite figures in the Act political candidates will go down to the constituency and bid against each other. Hon. Members opposite now get fairly large majorities in the rural districts, but they will not if legislation of this kind passes. We shall soon put up candidates who will suggest that the 2s. rent comes down to 1s. 6d. and the 1s. to 6d., and if you make a lower bid there will be someone to make a counter bid, and you will not have the easy times which you now enjoy. I object to Clause 11, Sub-section (3), which says that money borrowed for this purpose shall not be counted in the debt of the local authority. How the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) can pass legislation of that kind—
§ Mr. BOOTH
I see, the battle between urban and rural. I am an equal mixture of both. But this does not allow this sum to be reckoned. That is a vicious principle. Why should the sum used for housing not be reckoned in the debt of a parish while the sum used for water or drainage is? Take my own township, where they cannot get water. The Local Government Board refuses to allow any more borrowing to take place. Why should the Local Government Board be so firm as it is against the slightest increase of borrowing powers, in that township of Brotherton, which is not in my Constituency, meant for the supply of pure water? The ground landlord does not seem to think he should go to much expense and no one else can, and there we are with an absolute veto. Of what use is it to come and build more houses where there is no water for the houses already there? I do 1540 not see how you can justify removing the limit of debt for this purpose unless you do it for other equally beneficent purposes. I am exceedingly surprised to find the name of the hon. Baronet (Sir G. Younger) on the back of the Bill. As I read it through Clause by Clause, I thought it was entirely opposed to all his breezy and independent political advocacy. The only explanation I can offer is the presence of Sub-section (3) of Clause 14, which says the Act shall not apply to Scotland. I can find no other justification from beginning to end of the Bill for the hon. Baronet attaching his name to it. I suggest that this was the price of his support, and I shall be glad to hear whether I am correct in my surmise. I warn him against mentioning this problem of housing in this piecemeal way, dealing with just a few years at the end of a man's life. Unless hon. Gentlemen are prepared to show more courage they will do much more harm than good. The next labour problem in the next generation, to my mind, will centre round the condition of these villages. If the prospect of a mere handful of cottages at this low price would stave off a rural revolution there might be something in it, but it would precipitate it in my view. I do not know whether hon. Members realise that I have been down to several country districts in the South of England, and that I made an inspection in Sussex, where I found men living on small allotments in small houses of one storey, such as are contemplated by this Bill. These men are living on the lands of men who were press-ganged for Nelson's Fleet when we were fighting against the French. While they were away from home their lands were stolen. You will find in the names of the press-gang the same family names which appeared in the next generation in the workhouse books. Since then their sons and grandsons were turned out to break stones on the roadsides. That is why there is a burning feeling amongst the people, and sooner or later it will break out. I do not know whether the men who have large houses and pleasure grounds and parks wish to keep them away merely because they do not wish the cooking smell of their neighbours, and are not aware that the Socialistic Goths are thundering at their gates and the Syndicalist Vandals are climbing up the statues to look at the "rare and refreshing fruit" in the orchards.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I should like to assure my hon. Friend who moved the 1541 Second Reading of the Bill (Mr. Harrison-Broadley) that if I were an agricultural labourer there is nothing I should like better in life than to be employed on his estate. We on this side of the House know perfectly well that as regards everything he brings forward in this House he is absolutely honest and sincere. I do sincerely trust that nothing I say about the Bill which he brought in last year or about this Bill will be taken by him as indicating any sign of disrespect or as casting doubt on his sincerity in relation to the work he does in this House. We should like to help him. Our main objection to the presence of the hon. Member for the Wilton division of Wiltshire (Mr. C. Bathurst) in this House and to his sitting on the benches opposite is that he makes it very difficult for us to attack measures such as this in the way we ought to do. I wish I could make him understand the detestation we have for Bills such as this. They are brought forward by intellectual people, who spend their time living on working men, and at the same time in devising schemes to make the lives of these people a little more tolerable than they are. They bring forward measures to palliate the existing condition of things, but they never think of touching legislation, except to oppose it, which goes to the root of the evil which they seek to palliate. That is why, in the first place, we object to this measure. In the second place, we object to such legislation because we recognise that the result of passing this into law would be absolutely nil. Anyone who has had experience of local authorities will know perfectly well that not one single almshouse would be built as the result of the passing of this Bill into law. But I think these Friday afternoon discussions on Private Bills serve a useful purpose, because we have brought before us those measures of the Tory democracy, and we are able to show to the democracy the sort of measure that would be introduced if hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power.
Recently there was introduced a Bill which showed at its true value Tory finance. Provision was made in that measure for the local authority borrowing money at 3½ per cent, and lending it to selected friends at 3 per cent. That is an example of Tory finance. There is nothing quite so bad as that in this Bill. Here in this Bill I think we have a most astonishing example of old-maidishness and futility. The restrictions to be placed upon local authorities as to the building 1542 of almshouses are detailed with elaborate fullness in the Bill and are too astonishing. For instance, they have got first of all to satisfy themselves that there is a demand for cottages. Well, there is a demand for cottages everywhere. They have got to satisfy themselves that it is so before they can take steps to deal with the question of accommodation. They have to satisfy themselves that the demand for cottages is by persons who fulfil the conditions laid down in the Act. Then you have to consider what the conditions are. But that is not enough. They have not only to satisfy themselves that there is a demand by the right persons, but they have to satisfy themselves that there is not already suitable accommodation obtainable.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
If you choose to pay a high enough price you will, I suppose, get suitable accommodation. If you offer a high enough rent to pay the interest on the money required to build houses, the supply will automatically follow. The conditions laid down, and the restrictions placed upon local authorities as to the sort of persons who are to live in these houses are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) has shown, not only impertinent in their interference with private life, but extraordinary in their interference with the local authorities. The people have got to be there twenty years previously. They have got to be sixty-five years of age. They have got to be in a position to maintain themselves, and they must not have an income of more than £31 10s. a year. My dislike about these conditions particularly is that you are setting up what is to be the status of poor men. You are trying to divide people under statutory conditions provided for by Acts of Parliament introduced by Conservatives.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
It does set up some such conditions, but that was not done with the approval of some hon. Members on this side of the House. We tried while the Old Age Pensions Bill was before the House to make an Old Age Pension a statutory right, whether for rich or poor, and any co-operation which we can get from the other side of the House to bring 1543 that about will be accepted by those who took that view, and if brought about, it will be to the advantage of the whole country. Under this Bill you have got to see that a man is not only poor enough to come under its provisions, and has not only lived long enough in the parish, but also thathis industry and mode of life must have been such as to recommend him for the benefits under this Act.Really no one except a Conservative Government would think of bringing forward a condition such as that. The man's industry and mode of life must satisfy the local authority. I do not come to this House in order to improve the morality, the thrift, and the general good behaviour of the working classes. We are not here as grandmothers to instruct people and make them good, thrifty, industrious, and honest. We are here to see that they get freedom and justice, and the best possible conditions. Really the desire of the well-meaning people opposite, in the governing of the working classes, to put them in their right place, is what is causing the industrial unrest in this country. The working classes do not wish to be interfered with in this way, and they would much rather that we left them free to govern themselves. In Section 2, Subsection (2), you find all the regulations laid down which will govern the local authorities as to the exact method in which they are to allot these almshouses, if they ever build them, which, as I shall show presently, they never will.
Sections 2 and 3 lay down the order in which applications shall be considered, and if there are not enough people to fill the houses when they have been built the order in which they shall gradually relax the conditions; and finally it provides that they may be permitted to let to any person cottages which have been unoccupied for at least a month. It is really very kind to the local authorities to permit them to do this. But why not give them a free hand? If you give them this power why not trust them to exercise it rather than spend a whole page of an Act of Parliament tieing them down on hard and fast lines to deal with this question in one way and one way only? In Section 3 there is the further restriction that they must not spend more than £120 on a cottage. If you trust the local authorities at all, why not trust them to build cottages on economic lines and to use to the best advantage their vast knowledge of the demand 1544 for houses and the sort of people who want them? Everyone knows that in many parts of the country you cannot put up a house fit for people to live in for £120. Section 4 embodies a further restriction. The local authorities can only build these cottage homes if the land is given to them or if they get it at a peppercorn rent. But there is absolutely no restriction upon the landlord securing the reversion of the lease, so that he may charge a peppercorn rent, and at the end of the lease get back not only the land but the houses as well. It is all very well to say that the landlord gets nothing out of the land, but if he gets back the land with the cottages it means that you are using the ratepayers' money directly to benefit the landlords of the country.
The hon. Member for the Wilton division (Mr. C. Bathurst) said that the provision as to the exclusion of pleasure grounds, park land, or land occupied by the principal mansion house was taken word for word from the Small Holdings Act. But that provision was opposed by some of us on this side of the House in Committee upstairs, and it was put in, as the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) suggests, at the request of the Conservatives, and therefore it finds itself in this Bill because the Conservatives insisted on having it in the Small Holdings Act. Under Section 5 the general management, regulation, and control of the cottage homes shall be vested in the cottage homes authority, who are to look after the tenants. But they are also to fix the rent, which may not be less than 1s. and must not be more than 2s. a week. On what grounds of political economy do you start fixing rents in this way, deciding exactly what rents shall be charged? Two shillings a week will, I believe, be a fair rent upon a £120 cottage. But by what right do you tell these local authorities that they must pay so much for building those houses, that having built them they must let them at this exact rent, and must only let them to such and such people? Surely this legislation is the most extraordinary case of interference, not only with the local authorities, but with the individual, that was ever brought forward in Parliament. You are legislating for the most intimate details of business and of family life in these homes. Such legislation is not what ought to be brought forward in 1912, even by the Conservative party. Like the hon. Member for Pontefract, I looked at he names on the back of the Bill, and I notice that very few of these 1545 hon. Members are here to-day; they seem to have thought better of it; but I was surprised at the presence of the name of the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger), and asked myself what was the reason of it. I came to the conclusion that it was not because Scotland was exempted, but because of Section 10, which seems to show some awakening of conscience on the part of hon. Members opposite. It provides that no person shall be assessed or rated to or for any local rate in respect of any land or buildings used for the purposes of this Act. Well, that is the beginning of the new era. There is a principle underlying the exemption of rates with which we on this side of the House heartily concur.
We believe that buildings should not be rated. If you want to encourage building cottages or any other sort of buildings, the best way to do so is to take rural rates off buildings so that new buildings may be erected. Here we find the thin end of the wedge introduced by hon. Members opposite—by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) himself. It is very pleasant to see this principle embodied in this Bill by the hon. Member for Chelmsford. What is the ground of exemption from rates of these houses, the building of which he wants to encourage? His ground surely was that it was only by exempting them from rates you could afford to let them at 1s. or 2s. a week. That is perfectly sound, but what is not sound is that you should make this exemption from rates applicable to only one sort of property and thereby penalise unfairly other sorts of property. All we ask is that they should come forward a little bit and not leave this principle to apply merely to cottage homes for the aged and deserving poor, but should extend it to cottage homes for everybody in the country and exempt them from rates. By doing so they would encourage the building of them, and at the same time would be able to let these cottages at rents which are not so extortionate as those charged at present. Section 10 undoubtedly shows an improvement in the attitude of hon. Members opposite, and I do hope that they will be encouraged to go further with this principle of exemption from rates, and that they will be encouraged still more when the Report of the Committee dealing with the question of local and Imperial taxation comes up. The whole question depends upon the Report of the Committee; it depends upon some radical reorganisation of the rating 1546 system, the readjustment of local and Imperial burdens, and the exemption from rates of buildings and improvements as recognised in Clause 10. Because of Clause 10 I believe that the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs put his name on this Bill, and seeing that the other Clauses were impossible he has not backed the Bill here to-day. Along the lines of that Clause you do go to the root of the question, the solving of the problem. Along the other lines you are simply tinkering with it, if any local authority is ever enthusiastic enough to put this Bill into actual practice. You are only dealing with the problem piecemeal and not generally, and what is required is that you should deal with the whole problem and not try to stave off serious legislation by tinkering measures of this sort.
§ Sir JOHN SPEAR
As I was privileged to bring into the House last year a similar Bill, I ask the indulgence of the House while I give my reasons for strongly supporting the present measure. I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth), and, if he will allow me respectfully to say so, I am sure his presence in this House as a critic is of great value, though I am bound to say that, after the interesting experience which he gave us of his perfomance at a parish meeting some years earlier, he has shown by his speech to-day that he has not forgotten altogether the principles upon which he acted on that occasion. I was surprised to hear my hon. Friend criticising so severely parish councils, because I remember that, in the setting up of those bodies, we were told by hon. Members opposite that they were to be the regeneration of the rural districts, and yet my hon. Friend to-day ridicules their being entrusted with consideration and co-operation in seeking to procure manifestly necessary dwellings for the working classes.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
The Bill provides that parish councils shall be the motive power where parish councils exist, and they exist in nearly every parish.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
Where there is not a parish council, of course a parish meeting would be the acting authority. Pausing 1547 away from that, with all respect to the opinions of the Mover and Seconder opposite, I would ask hon. Members to recollect that this question has been considered carefully by the Board of Agriculture representing the agriculture of this country. The hon. Gentleman appealed to me as the president of the Poor Law Association, and I am bound to say that, though the association did object to the non-contribution of the rates, as the hon. Member has done, generally they gave warm support to the effort as being a limited but necessary one to meet the existing evil. With those two facts before it I hope the House will not be too much swayed by the criticism of the two hon. Gentlemen. We are proposing upon this side of the House to deal with a great evil, which is causing inconvenience and privation to a good many dwellers in the country, and I regret that the hon. Member did not deal with the question in a little less satirical manner. We on this side of the House who support this Bill do not propose it as a substitute for the moral responsibility which rests upon the employers of labour to provide suitable dwellings for employés. Let me say that in the rural districts we who are employers of labour have perhaps acted up to that principle quite as well as manufacturers and employers of labour in the towns have done; and if my hon. Friend will come down into Devonshire and spend a few days with me at Tavistock I will show him that there has been done by employers of labour there that which will, I think, a little bit surprise him.
I will show him cottages that have been built and provided, and for which the landlords only get 11d. per week. There are plenty of convenient cottages which are let at 1s, 1s. 3d., and 1s. 9d. per week; and I think the hon. Member should be a little bit slower in attacking men who recognise their responsibility quite as much as the hon. Member does, and try as much as in them lies to meet that responsibility. But there has grown up, and there has been created to no small extent by the Old Age Pensions Act, a further need for cottage accommodation, because we find that there is a large number of old age pensioners who have to go to the workhouse simply because they have not cottages wherein to reside. We want to see an opportunity given to provide that these old veterans of labour shall be able to end their days in the locality in which they live, aid by this system of providing these little homes we shall contribute in that 1548 direction. The difficulty that arises is this: There is a limited number of cottages in the rural districts. Hon. Members opposite must not think that this is the whole housing policy of the Unionist party. Not a bit of it. We have another larger, broader and more far extending Bill which we hope will be passed into law, and we say that this is a temporary expedient to meet an evil that has sprung up and become aggravated more recently in consequence of the passing of that beneficial measure, the Old Age Pensions Act. Therefore, we hold that this is not a substitute for the larger scheme at all, but is a proposal to meet a crying need in a way which I think will be inexpensive and justifiable. There has always been difficulty in providing sufficient houses in the country. We know quite well that to build a house in the country and let it at a rent which the workman can afford to pay is an economic impossibility.
We build a house or a cottage for £200. That at 5 per cent, would be £10 a year. Instead of charging £10 a year we charge £3 10s. Even under these circumstances there are not sufficient houses in the rural districts for the working classes. We want more houses, and we believe that the Bill will help in that direction. I would point out that menacing speeches such as we have heard from hon. Gentlemen opposite to-day tend to deter men from making an expenditure which is uneconomic in regard to remuneration. Such speeches do tend to deter men from providing housing accommodation for people in the rural districts, especially having regard to the increased charges now imposed upon real property. A great many men would build houses for the working classes if they could afford to do so, but they cannot afford it. The State, therefore, has a responsibility which did not exist before those circumstances were created which cause the imposition of heavier burdens upon real property. We must see that the people are well housed; it is their right; it is in the interests of conserving labour; we are bound to do it, and, because of the legislation that has taken place, it is more imperative than ever that we should press forward with schemes of this kind. We know that on many farms there are cottages for labourers, but when labourers get into the seventies unfortunately they cannot do the work any longer and the farmer is often unwillingly compelled to get the cottage for a younger man to do the work which is indispensable 1549 in carrying on the business. Under those circumstances the old man has nowhere to go, and we want to provide him with some place where he can end his days in the rural district instead of going to the workhouse, which is his only refuge. I am sure the hon. Member for Pontefract does not wish to drive him there, but if he will allow me to say so, by his opposition to this Bill he is taking a step to forcing that class of deserving residents in the rural districts out of those districts and into the workhouse. We want this Bill passed so as to do something to prevent that. It is not to the wishes of the employer to have to turn out these veteran employés, and it will be a relief and a boon to him as well as to the men to know that the men are getting nice little cottages where they may end their days.
The hon. Member, with some unfairness I submit, spoke as if this Bill was proposed only for those people who lived twenty years in the district. That is not so. The Bill provides that those people should have the first chance to become occupants of these cottages, but beyond that it is open to others. This is essentially a Housing Bill to meet the especial need of the old age pensioner and the veteran worker who is obliged at the end of his life to make room for a young man to do his work. I submit that the Bill is one worthy of every consideration. I may say that at Tavistock at the present time there are several old age pensioners in the workhouse. They cannot get little homes. We want to see a high standard of cottage promoted, but in the meantime, seeing that it is impossible that that can be accomplished, we want to meet the crying needs which have become manifest to us. Speaking in the presence of the President of the Local Government Board who is, I know, an enthusiast in favour of the better housing of the working classes, I am bound to say that the too rigid adherence to the by-laws is one of the greatest hindrances to the doing away with slum districts, and to the provision of suitable dwellings for the people who have resided in those slum dwellings. The proposal in this Bill is to modify to some extent the by-laws. I believe in a thoroughly good cottage for all workpeople as soon as we can get it, but we are doing nothing to get it by legislation. The hands of the municipalities are tied, and sometimes the by-laws are so rigid that they cannot build houses and let them at prices that the people can afford to pay. I say we must be practical, and in the meantime 1550 do not let us let the people fester in the slums because we do not recognise that it is necessary as a first step to better things that we should have smaller cottages on which the people can afford to pay the rents.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
Because we want to secure a cottage to meet the needs of the class for which we are catering. The old people would be unable to pay the rent of a cottage which would have to be built in accordance with the general existing bylaws. The cost of the cottage would be so great that they would be prohibited from having any opportunity or chance whatever of becoming occupants. I appeal to the common sense of hon. Members, is it not better for us, especially in the rural districts, with pure air and good sanitary conditions, to have a less expensive class of cottage, sanitary, air-tight and all that sort of thing, to secure the comfort of the old people, who will get a cottage for which they will be able to pay? I think it is very important that we should do nothing to interfere with or discourage the private provision of houses. After all, I regard State interference as a necessary substitute to cover any ground that is not covered by private enterprise, and it is of great importance that we should not apply State interference in a way that will throttle or destroy private enterprise or perseverance. I submit there is room for both one and the other, and that in this case especially the State is responsible. The State, by certain legislation, has checked the provision of houses in the rural districts, and unless some effort is made in this direction there will be, unfortunately, a much greater dearth of houses in the rural districts in the not distant future, and that will be calamitous. We all want to see more people living in the rural districts. The way to secure that is to make it better worth while for the worker to stay there, and one of the first things necessary is they should have a sanitary dwelling wherein to live.
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board must be 1551 aware of, and regrets, I am sure, the slowness of the public authorities to do away with slum dwellings. Why is it? It is because they know that they must provide houses wherein the evicted persons must find shelter. This Bill will do something, though I would rather it did more, to meet that difficulty. I know that in some of the country districts there are cottages which are unfit for the people to live in. I never heard of a district council, or scarcely ever heard of a district council, closing one of them, and that is simply because they know if they close them they must provide cottages for the dispossessed persons to go to. While I admit that there are defects in the Bill on one or two minor points which must be amended in Committee, I think it is an honest attempt to meet the very serious difficulty in which the older and poorer classes of our people find themselves placed. I would not support the Bill if I thought for one moment that it would lead to employers of labour disregarding their moral responsibility to provide houses for their own working men. The hon. Member for Pontefract has a very poor opinion as to how we treat our agricultural employés. [Mr. BOOTH: "No."] I venture to think if he will come with me to my district I will show him scores of instances where the feeling between the agricultural labourer and his employer is equivalent to the feeling between members of the same family. In days of sickness and in days of poverty our wives and daughters attend and nurse them, and there is a feeling existing generally between the agricultural labourer and his employer which, I think, is an example to many sections of the community, and especially to the manufacturing interests.
I know that we would all like to see agricultural labourers better paid. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite cheer that, but they nearly always oppose any proposals brought forward that would contribute in that direction. They are always anxious to place on the land, which is our raw material, increased burdens, which mean an increased disability on our part to pay the agricultural labourer the increased wages which we are anxious to pay, and which we acknowledge he deserves. Though I would not support this Bill as a substitute for or a relief of the moral responsibility of the employer to provide good dwellings for his workpeople, I know that there are 1552 among the agricultural labourers old people, seventy or seventy-five years of age, who have to leave their cottages in order that younger men may take their places, and the old people have to go to the workhouse. We do not want them to do that. We want them to have these nice little cottages in which they can end their days in the district in which they have lived. There is a call upon the local people, the proposal being that the land should be given. There will be plenty of landowners only too glad to give sites for these cottages. The proposal will call forth an expression of that appreciation of the work of the people in the rural districts which is not absent from the general agricultural employer, as the hon. Member for Pontefract would lead us to believe. We love our labourers; we care for them; we would gladly provide land for the cottages; but we say that through the action of the State it is difficult for us to build the cottages as a business proposition, and therefore the State must co-operate by helping us to make good the deficiency which they have created. This is a small instalment, and must not supersede a large scheme of housing reform. But I submit that the Bill is an honest effort in the right direction. If passed and acted upon, it will bring happiness and comfort to many an old couple who deserve well of their country, and will enable the old age pensioners to end their days in the district in which they have lived instead of being driven into the workhouse.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BARNES
There is one line in this Bill which, if the measure had any chance of becoming law, I, as a Scottish Member, should heartily welcome, and that is the last line, which says that the Bill shall not apply to Scotland. I believe that the Scottish agricultural labourer, even at sixty-five years of age, has sufficient strength and robustness of character to reject with scorn a Bill of this sort if offered to him. I oppose the Bill on two general grounds. First of all, because it is of a piece with many Bills that I have seen promoted in this House, having for their object the saddling of the general taxpayer with the responsibilities and liabilities that ought to attach to rural landlords. I do not say that this Bill on the face of it turns over any liability on to the taxpayer? It does not. It provides that certain things shall be done, first of all, by people giving the land, and then that the additional cost 1553 shall come from the rates. But, as has been pointed out, there would come a time, and probably very speedily, when we should be told: "This Act was passed by the House of Commons; we are not responsible for it; therefore, expenditure having been incurred in consequence of the action of Parliament, the House of Commons ought to turn the cost on to the general taxpayer." Therefore, from the point of view of the general taxpayer I object to the Bill and to all similar Bills, and I have voted against every one that has been submitted to the House since I have been a Member. I object to the Bill on another general ground, namely, the pettifogging discrimination that it sets up between man and man. The Bill provides that these poor old agricultural labourers, who, I suppose, in ninety-nine cases out of 100, have earned their living by the sweat of their brow, and have received a miserable wage, scarcely enough to keep body and soul together, shall, at sixty-five years of age, before being entitled to benefit by the Bill, be subjected to an inquisitorial examination as to how they had lived during the last twenty years, where they had lived, whether they had been industrious, and generally as to their mode of living. First of all, the poor old man must have lived twenty years in the parish in which the application is made. That is entirely contrary to the first principle of Trade Union organisation, and I object to it on that ground.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
I am sure the hon. Member does not wish to be unfair. A man who has resided in the district for twenty years would have the first chance. But the Bill does not exclude all others.
§ Mr. BARNES
I have not forgotten that, if the hon. Member will allow me to continue. In the first place, speaking generally, a man is to live for twenty years in the parish in which the application is made. That would be against the principle for which we stand and must stand— a principle entirely contrary to the old Act of Settlement, which bound a man down to a particular area—that is to say, in practice, to a particular landlord. We stand for the principle of every man being free and independent, going where he likes, and identifying himself with his fellow labourers where he pleases. This proposal is entirely contrary to that principle and would upset it.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
The Bill does not interfere with that at all. A man may have left a district at any time during the twenty years. The Bill merely provides that those who have resided in the district for twenty years shall have the first chance.
§ Mr. BARNES
I have not forgotten that. The hon. Member says that the Bill does not prescribe that a man shall have lived in the parish for twenty years. It merely provides that he shall have a preference over the man who has not lived there for twenty years. What, as a matter of practical effect, does that amount to? The Bill says that you shall build one house for every 100 people in the district. Will there ever be any houses to spare for the men who have not that preference? Has that occurred to the hon. Member opposite? I have not forgotten the point made by the hon. Member, but I am a Scot, and of a practical turn of mind, and I look at things in the light of how I think they are going to turn out. This Bill will work out in the direction of tying a man down to a parish, to a landlord, and interfering with that mobility of labour that is at the basis of trade union organisation. Therefore it is a Bill which, from that point of view, must have our unhesitating opposition. Let me mention another point. Why should you assume that a poor old man of sixty-five is not going to have a house which is to meet the general requirements of other houses for other people? This Bill actually lays down the principle that the poor old man of sixty-five, after having worked and lived in a particular parish for many years, and earned his living there, when his house is required for another man, young and strong, to make something for his landlord, is going to be tucked away in another place, separated from the young people, and put into a house of less than the ordinary requirements, sanitary and otherwise.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
No. But if you defeat the Bill you are contributing to his having to go to the workhouse. We want to contribute towards his having a comfortable cottage wherever he has lived.
§ Mr. BARNES
Even if it means his going to the workhouse, I am not concerned in only offering the paltry alternative to the workhouse which is put forward in this Bill. I stand now, as I stood when the Old Age Pensions Bill was before the House, for doing away with all these petty 1555 discriminations between man and man, and giving every man, not at the age of seventy, but of sixty-five, a pension sufficient to enable him to live decently and in comfort for the remainder of his life, as some recompense for having earned his living, and of having added to the wealth of the country. I object to the Bill, as I say, because it contains provision for the relaxation of the general conditions applying to the building of houses for ordinary workmen, and because it makes further provision for getting rid of the old man of sixty-five, after he has been sweated during his working life, to make room for the younger man, who, in turn is to be sweated. All this is to be done instead of giving the man a wage sufficient to allow him to make provision for himself. I am not going further in detail into the Bill. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract, in his own inimitable way, has covered the ground, and has dealt with many of the points I meant to take. I content myself with saying that as a Member of the Labour party I shall certainly vote unhesitatingly against this Bill if it goes to a Division. I hope and trust that the working people of this country will take note of the sort of Bill proposed for their housing, and the sort of way hon. Gentlemen opposite would treat working people by sifting them out, sorting, as it were, the wheat from the chaff.
§ Colonel LOCKWOOD
I desire to speak because I have placed my name on the back of this Bill. I will very shortly explain to the House my reasons for doing so. Meanwhile, I thoroughly object to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow, when he wishes to point out to the country that this Bill is a Tory endeavour—he did not use the word "Tory"—but an endeavour on our part, that is the backers of this Bill, to provide for a peculiar system of housing for the working classes. That was never my intention when I placed my name at the back of the Bill. Nor is it my intention now. I do not mean to say that this Bill is a perfectly drafted Bill, or a Bill which meets all the requirements for the housing of the working classes. No, in many ways it is open to objection. I thoroughly understand the criticisms and objections of hon. Members opposite. My reason for backing it was that I know, the same as hon. Members 1556 opposite, of the various difficulties that surround the question of the housing of the working classes. I know the absolute necessity of providing cottages in the country districts. The difficulties are not insuperable, because they are being daily overcome.
Nothing gives me more pleasure than when I am going through country districts, not in my own Division merely, but in the whole of the Eastern Counties, to see the marvellous improvement in the cottages during the last forty years. I put my name on the back of the Bill because, although it is a piecemeal piece of legislation—I honestly confess that—it at all events docs something. It is a tangible and visible effort to endeavour to provide for a particular sort of hardship that falls on a particular class of rural individuals. The mere fact of its having found favour with the Chamber of Agriculture is an additional reason for me not only to back the Bill, but to speak in favour of it. One of my colleagues, the hon. Member for Tavistock (Sir J. Spear), gave an invitation to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract to go and stay with him a fortnight in the country.
§ Colonel LOCKWOOD
I shall not extend an invitation to the hon. Member, because I am sure he would come and probably stay a month! In the meantime I think that many of his remarks were not only inappropriate, but also, I venture to think, unfair. Whatever fault may be found with the way in which this Bill is drafted, I think it cannot but be acknowledged that its objects are good—that is to provide a home for men of sixty-five and thereabouts. I do not say that there are no labourers unfit for work at sixty-five. There are some, though there are not very many. When the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Blackfriars Division says that this is an unfair attempt on the part of the landlord to tie a free agent down at the age of sixty-five, I would point out that there are not many labourers of sixty-five, or many other men either, who want to change their habitation after having been that time in a parish and after having arrived at that age.
§ Mr. BARNES
It will tie them down long before sixty-five. In the hope of getting the benefit of this Bill they must work in a given place for twenty years.
§ Colonel LOCKWOOD
That is exactly it. The hon. Member pursues the same line of argument that was pursued by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract. It does not seem to me that some hon. Members opposite ever give us on this side the benefit even of a decent motive for bringing forward Bills. The whole speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract was directed to seeking out what petty and wicked motives underlie this Bill. The landlord, he said, was oppressive. We had practically stolen the land, and we should reap the fruits of our iniquity! In short, his was a speech such as I have often heard delivered in Hyde Park. But surely there are some men amongst us who have at all events a higher motive when Bills, even of faulty drafting, are brought forward! I venture to say that the practice of continually imputing motives, such as the hon. Member imputed to those who backed this Bill, are of any use to his side, nor are they criticisms of the Bill. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme said that this was an endeavour to do something by those who spent their lives in robbing the poor. I do not think that is a fair description, even of the ordinary landlord in country districts. I am not aware that I myself, or that Members opposite, have spent their lives in robbing the poor. I confess this Bill is open to a good deal of criticism. It is said we are legislating for a special class of individual. That is perfectly true, but they are a special class of individuals very often overlooked. Farmers, who are certainly not earning a large percentage upon their capital, are obliged to employ young men, and very often find it necessary to take a cottage occupied by old people in order to have men fit to do work put in possession of it, and are compelled to dispossess from their homes those old people who were practically brought up and lived in these cottages all their lives.
I think a Bill of this sort, however faulty its drafting, is worthy the attention of the House. It may lead, on lines such as proposed in this Bill, to a further system of legislation as regards the housing of the poor, which may be of advantage to a greater and a larger class, but I repudiate on the part of those people who take an interest in the housing of the working classes the idea that we are invariably to be looked upon as robbers and persecutors of the poor. I have myself, as a man not overburdened with this 1558 world's goods, found how difficult it is to build enough cottages to satisfy the requirements of the poorest people. I have tried it and done my best, but the requirements are outstripped by the difficulties of providing the money. Although I do not say that this Bill would make a substantial difference in many districts, still I have placed my name at the back of it. Those who see my name on the back of it will not, I believe, regard it as an attempt to bring forward a vote-catching Bill, but as a real endeavour to provide accommodation for that class of man in the country districts whose claims are very often overlooked.
§ Mr. LEACH
I am sorry the hon. Member for Tavistock is not in his place. I was very glad to hear him give the glowing description he did of excellent cottages which they have at Tavistock, where a man can get one for 11d. per week. I certainly advise my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract to accept the invitation of the hon. Member for Tavistock, and if he extends that invitation to the hon. Member for the Colne Valley I promise him it will be accepted. He said that this Bill was an argument for bringing forward a larger scheme of this nature by the Conservative party. I think that is an argument for the rejection of this Bill. Why hamper the larger scheme, which may commend itself to the House, by a Bill of this kind? I believe the intentions of those who bring forward this Bill are good, and I associate myself with them in the desire to provide not only cottages for the poorer people, but also for the younger people in the country districts. It seems to me a sad and sorrowful thing that the men who are producing the golden harvest every year for other people should themselves reap such a small proportion of it and should be so badly housed and badly treated. Before the Old Age Pensions Act they were compelled in their old age to find shelter in the workhouses. I gladly welcome any scheme to improve the conditions of those people. It seems to me that the best way to do that would be for the party opposite to associate themselves with us in endeavouring to alter the economic conditions under which the poor toil and earn their bread, so that when men get beyond the working age they shall not be compelled to accept charity.
I do not attribute any improper motives to hon. Gentlemen upon the other side in this matter, and I do not associate myself 1559 with those who attribute improper motives to them, but I believe they are mistaken in their ideas. In my opinion what this Bill would do will be this. It would encourage lower wages and would not give that relief which the promoters of this Bill expect it would give. It would encourage cheap labour to an extent perhaps that they have not quite calculated. If they are anxious to provide cottages for people in the villages and if suitable houses can be provided at so low a rate, why do not the rich landowners themselves build those cottages? I do not think it is within the range of possibility to build suitable houses for people to occupy, even after sixty-five years of age, at the price mentioned. I have built, bought, and sold cottages, and I am sorry to say it has never been my good fortune to be able to buy or build cottages at any such price as those mentioned. I much question that decent or proper houses could be provided at such a figure. I am entirely in favour of everything calculated to improve the conditions of the poor, but I am bound to say I do not think this Bill would help in that direction. It may be a very admirable measure, and may relieve a few here and there, but the harm and the mischief which would result from the Bill would outweigh any good it might do in isolated cases. The best way to improve the conditions of the poor is to increase work, to pay better wages, and to provide better conditions under which the people may live. I shall certainly oppose this Bill.
I think however small the efforts we make in matters of social reform and for the betterment of the condition of the poor should receive sympathetic consideration of the House. This is not a Bill to provide houses for charitable purposes. It is a Bill to provide the old people in the villages with some place to live in in their old age, instead of having to look forward, as many of them have had to do, to the workhouse. Old age pensions have provided a better lot for many of our old people in the country, and I think that with their old age pensions, when their sons marry and have families, and when the house becomes too small for the whole family, it will be a great advantage if the old people were able to look forward to living in another house in the same village, instead of having to leave it to seek shelter somewhere else. I am not a landowner; I do not own a 1560 single yard of land in this country, and therefore I should like all those who are in the same position, whenever a Bill is brought forward by men whom they think own large estates, not to at once prejudice the case of the Bill because prejudice exists in their own mind against landowners. I am perfectly certain that the farmers and labourers and the old people on the large estates owned by rich men are in an infinitely better position than the labouring classes in towns, where there is no money forthcoming to help them in times of distress and need. I think sometimes hon. Members opposite are a little hard on the landowning classes, a large proportion of whom have done so much to better the condition of the people on the estates they manage. Talking quite honestly and straightforwardly, I think it is impossible for any human being to own a large estate, if he has a humane touch at all, without taking an interest and a fellow-feeling for the people living on his estate. It is from that point of view that I support this Bill. We all wish to see the people become gradually more prosperous and free, but we cannot get the millennium all at once, and we must go on gradually, and if we have such small measures as this brought forward immediately it will be a great benefit. You hear a good deal of the cry, "Back to the Land," but very often you put back people who have not had the practical experience. In this case, by this measure, we are endeavouring to keep the people on the land. The hon. Member for Pontefract said this measure was no good for the young man, but I think it is, because it enables the young man to have a house provided for him.
With regard to the urban districts you have to clear away your slums before you can provide for the working classes, and I think the fresh air of the country is better for them to live in, where their relatives have lived for hundreds of years before them. I take a great interest in the working people in the country, and I think hon. Members on the benches below the Gangway will agree that the wages in the country are very small. At the same time, let me remind the party opposite that they have not taken into consideration the lowness of their wages in regard to the Insurance Act, because all those little cottages and gardens are taken into account in computing how much money the labourer gets per week, with the result that frequently a labourer earning 15s. a week 1561 has to contribute the same amount under the Insurance Act as a man in the town earning 60s. per week. There is another point in regard to which this measure may meet with the approval of the hon. Member for Pontefract, and it is that this is an optional Bill; therefore the districts that do not like it need not have it. As far as I am concerned, this work will have my sympathy. I think in these matters of social reform we ought to get above party and disabuse our minds of prejudice and try to raise the lot of the people. Hon. Members ought to remember that by giving their opponents credit for good intentions instead of imputing bad motivés, they are doing something to encourage landowners to assist in this work. I hope that the Second Reading will be carried to-day. We have had some speeches which have not been Second Reading speeches at all, because they have concentrated criticisms upon nearly every Clause. I approach this question from a broad point of view, and I believe this measure will be of some benefit to the working classes in this country, who do not often have a chance of having the word said for them. If it is going to do some good, and I think it will, I hope the House will agree to give this measure a Second Reading.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
There is no doubt that there are cases of hardship which might be met by this Bill if it could be made to work. I do not think it follows that because there are cases of hardship it is right to come down to this House and say that the State or the ratepayer must come forward to relieve those cases of hardship. I disagree with my hon. Friend who has just spoken that whenever there is a case of hardship you should call it social reform and come down, either on the State or the ratepayer, and say you must remedy it. When my hon. Friend uses that kind of argument I see no difference between that principle and the principles held by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury).
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Let us consider for a moment what this Bill is supposed to be going to do. It is intended to meet the case of those old men who have worked for a number of years in one village, and who find that owing to their cottage being required for younger people they are to be put into cottages provided under this Bill. This measure is not going to benefit 1562 the working classes generally in the rural districts, because it is only going to apply to these particular cases. The applicants must be sixty-five years of age, and they must have lived twenty years in the village, and if there is no person who has lived twenty years in the village, then you may take some man who has lived there for a shorter period. What is going to be the effect of that? Supposing there is a man who has lived there for twenty years and he is over the age of sixty-five he gets a cottage. Supposing he dies and there is nobody of sixty-five years of age who has lived twenty years in the village, and somebody else has to be put in, and before he dies there turns up another man who is sixty-five and who has lived in the village for twenty years. Are you going to turn out the other man who has usurped his position? If not, what becomes of the preference provided for under this Bill? No doubt there are cases of hardship, but they are diminishing. When I was a young man in every part of the country I knew the labourers lived in the villages for a great number of years, and probably their fathers before them, but at the present moment in the country in which I live and in my own village the number of labourers who have lived a long time in the village is very small. We have a system of yearly hiring, and when October comes round there is generally a change, and the man leaves his cottage. I regret that very much. I find, as a landlord, that is not a good thing. I find my cottages get knocked about, because the people are only in them a short time. Personally, I prefer the old man who has lived for a great many years in the village, who knows the country and the conditions of life there, who knows everybody, and who takes a pride in his village and in his cottage. Those conditions are changing very rapidly, and this Bill in that part of the country will have no effect whatever except in some cases I have in mind at the moment of a few people who have lived for a great number of years in the village. Is this Bill going to be any remedy for this particular hardship? Everybody who has spoken has assumed it is purely a rural Bill. It is nothing of the sort; it applies to towns. My hon. Friend below me (Mr. Pretyman) will say it is quite true it applies to towns, but it will never be put into effect there, because there are always plenty of spare cottages and houses. The Bill says, if the council of any 1563 borough or urban district are of opinion that there is a demand for cottages or houses, and that sufficient suitable accommodation within the means of the persons making the demand is not obtainable, then certain things may ensue. I do not admit there is in every borough or town a preponderance of cottages and houses. There is in a great many, but there is not in every one. Clause 1 says:—within the means of the persons making the demand.Even in towns where there are a large number of houses unlet, it may be quite true that the rents asked are not within the means of the people requiring them who have incomes specified in this particular Bill. Consequently, and especially if you have a very progressive and radical borough council, you may have a town attempting to provide houses under this scheme. Are we going to become a State-managed concern in everything? Is the State to come forward and build houses and see everything possible is done for us? I have never been brought up in that belief. I have been brought up in the belief that the proper way to make a great Empire is for everyone to rely on their own individual efforts. I admit there have been Bills introduced, especially for Ireland, with which I have not agreed, but I never remember a Bill having been brought forward quite on these lines, and I am certain, if it becomes an Act, it is not going to remain on these lines. The very first thing that will happen will be that people will come forward and say the provisions are unworkable. "We cannot, in a town, build a house for £120, and the limit must be increased." Then they will say it is necessary the age should be reduced. "There are many cases of hardship where the man is not sixty-five, but where it is necessary he should have a house found for him. He is not in a good condition of health." You will, therefore, have the age reduced. Once you introduce this principle, you will have to go a great deal further than my hon. Friends desire, because their object is to meet cases of hardship in rural districts. I have had some experience of building cottages in rural districts, but I have never been able to build one for £120. I do not pretend to be a rich man, and I do not throw my money about; and if I could build a cottage for £120 I would do so; but I have never been able to build a pair of cottages under £410, and then 1564 they were not very good ones; and they were built with stone, which was provided free, and which came from a quarry only one mile and a-half away, so that the cost of cartage was not great. They were built with 12-inch walls, which is not sufficient for stone, and the next pair I built had 18-inch walls, and they cost £450.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I did after a great deal of trouble. In neither of those two cases did I build any drains. I do not think they are necessary in the country. The local authority said I must build drains, whereupon the Thames Conservancy said I was not to do so, because they would communicate with a ditch, which communicated with a stream, which communicated with the Thames, and the sewage would eventually come to London. I had one inspector saying, "You must do it," and I had another saying, "If you do we shall fine you," and I exercised that fertility of resource with which some years spent in this House in conflict with hon. Members opposite has provided me, and I managed to defeat both the inspectors. It is quite true the cottages have three rooms upstairs and two below.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Yes, I have a bath, but not a bathroom. It is quite true they have three rooms upstairs, but, though, of course, it costs more to build a house with a first floor, the cost of the roof is the same, and the extra is merely the cost of heightening the walls, and it does not therefore make such a very large difference. Even if £120 is going to provide a house with two rooms, how is an old man going to live in it, and in what way are the working classes going to be benefited? It is absurd. The only result would be that the limit of £120 would be raised to £200 or something of that sort, and even then you could not do it. That is a self-evident proposition. I went down to the Garden City at Letchworth, and saw there a pair of houses, very nice cottages, which it was said could be built for £300. I said to a gentleman there, "Will you put up a similar pair for me at that price? He asked "where" and said he would 1565 communicate with me. He did so, and said the conditions of labour where I happened to live were different, and that they would cost £420. There was no greater imposture than that show at Letchworth. The houses were put up at a very cheap rate, which was really less than cost price, at a place close to the station on the Great Northern Railway and with a very good connection to Peterborough, where you could get bricks at 13s. per thousand, which was a very exceptional circumstance in the case. That was about five or six years ago. I am very glad to notice that my hon. Friend opposite, the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. John Burns) who has considerable experience in this matter, has just indicated that he agrees with me. The hon. Member for the Wilton Division said it was not a charity. I maintain it is a charity. The rent is not to be below 1s. and not above 2s. What would be the result? The parish council would take the lowest rent, pressure would be put upon them to fix the lowest rent, and 1s. is £2 12s. a year. That, upon £120, is less than 2½ per cent., and provides nothing for sinking fund or for keeping in repair. If you are going to obtain the money at 2½ per cent., or even less than 2½ per cent., and I will come to what you can obtain the money for in a moment, and you are going to charge 1s., you are providing a number of persons with houses on what is practically a charitable basis. That is to say, it is going to be an extension of the Poor Law, and it therefore ought to be done through the Poor Law and not in a separate measure of this kind. With regard to finding the money, it is to be found by the county council in one of two ways, I suppose, either from the Public Works Loan Commissioners or by the county council borrowing in the public market. If they borrow it in the open market they would have to pay 4 per cent. at least, there can be no question about that. Four per cent, on £120 is £4 16s.
Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present; House counted, and forty Members being found present—
§ Sir F. BANBURY
When the interruption took place I was saying that 4 per cent. would be £4 16s., and that, taking the rent at 2s., which is the top rent to be charged under this Bill, we would get £5 4s., consequently there would be a margin to provide for sinking fund and 1566 for repairs of only 8s. Now the sinking fund charge, if it is to be for sixty years, would amount to 10s. at least, and therefore even at the top rent there would not be sufficient money to provide for interest and sinking fund on the loan and provide also for repairs. Of course, the Public Works Loan Commissioners could come in, and they are at present prepared to advance money at 3½ per cent., but it must be remembered that we cannot go on in this way. This thing is not going to stop at old people who are sixty-five years of age. Everybody who had got anybody of that kind in his particular constituency, whether it is a town or a village, and who would like something for nothing, or something at someone else's expense, would be encouraged by this Bill to come forward and do the same thing. That means a tremendous drain upon the State. The Public Works Loan Commissioners, however, can provide the money at present at 3½ per cent., and if that were done there would then be a sufficiency, supposing 2s. rent was charged, to provide for interest and sinking fund and a very small amount for repairs. It must be evident to anyone who has studied this kind of legislation, that 2s. will not be the rent and that in ninety-nine cases out of 100 the 1s. rent will be charged.
There is supposed to be a safeguard in the proposal that only one cottage for every hundred persons is to be built, but what would happen to that safeguard in a case where there is a vacancy because there does not happen to be anybody at that time who is sixty-five years of age and who fulfils the other requirements? The cottage will either have to stand empty, and in that case there will be a loss to the ratepayers, or it will have to be filled up until there is a person ready for it. But how in that case are you going to turn out the man who has been put in when the other applicant has reached the age of sixty-five and has been twenty years in the village? The result will be an amending Act to provide more cottages in order to provide for the requirements of those particular people. The debt which was alluded to by an hon. Member opposite is not to be counted as a debt. Speaking with some little knowledge of finance, I say it is absurd to come forward and say that debts are to be incurred and are not to be counted as debts, because if you incur a debt it is a debt, however much you may bring forward Acts of Parliament to say that it is not called a debt and it will remain a debt and will have to be 1567 reckoned with by the ratepayers. It may have this insidious effect that, not being called a debt, it would not appear in the accounts of the parish council and it may be the ratepayers would not know what they were liable for by the action of the parish council. That brings me to the question of the parish council. I think it is the very worst authority that could have been chosen. The parish council consists of very worthy people, but a good many of them do not pay rates. Yet they are to have the opportunity under this Bill of spending the ratepayers' money. The very first thing that should have been provided is that the people who are going to put this Bill into operation should have been people who pay the rates, and who would have to provide the money in case the Bill was a failure or in case the rentals of the cottages were not sufficient to pay the cost of repairs. The district council could have been chosen, but the parish council has been chosen, for reasons which no Member who supports the Bill has stated to us. We have heard a great deal about the housing of the rural population, but this Bill has nothing whatever to do with that, because this Bill deals with only a very small and limited portion of that question.
I suppose hon. Members opposite will agree with this, but I cannot agree with it, namely, that a person who is going to be in receipt of charity is not to be disqualified. The very first thing which I should have thought all Conservatives would have held is, that a person in receipt of relief from the Poor Law, or from any other charity, should be disqualified from exercising the franchise. What will happen under this Bill? The whole object of these people in voting will be to vote for the person who says their rent shall be 6d., and that there shall be repairs to the cottages. Their centre of life will be in their own cottage. No doubt they will find that even 1s. a week, supplemented by 5s. in the form of an old age pension, is not very much to live upon, and that if they can get another 6d. it will be of benefit to them. It is certain that they will say, "We will vote for the Member who will reduce our rent, or give us an extra wash-house, or another room in which our daughter can come to live and look after and comfort us in old age." Then there will be the spectacle of one Member of Parliament saying to himself, or to his agent, "I do not think this is quite right," and the agent will say, "If 1568 you don't, Mr. Booth, or some other gentleman, will do it," and then my hon. Friend will say, "After all, I cannot afford to lose votes, and therefore I shall do it." The result will be pitiable from the point of view of people who regard the prosperity of the country as the first consideration. There is one other matter to which I wish to draw attention. That is the question of income. I cannot quite see what income has to do with the matter, but the Bill says that in the case of a married couple their combined income must not exceed £50—that is, just under 20s. a week. I do not take the same view as the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Booth) upon this subject. I do not think there was any Machiavellian design in the minds of the promoters of the Bill when they put in £50. I suppose they thought it was a good round sum, and put it in for that reason.
Why should the State or the ratepayers provide a cottage at a low rent to anybody with £l a week? One pound a week is more than most agricultural labourers receive. Why should we do all this for people who have just under £1 a week? I can understand that where a man has not saved anything, and has nothing but his old age pension to fall back upon, but who has 2s. or 3s. a week given to him by his late employer, I can understand in that case hardship arising. Personally, I hope the House will understand that I should like to meet them, that I should prefer to meet them out of my own pocket, and not out of the pockets of the ratepayers or taxpayers. There is no case of hardship in the case of a married couple with £1 a week. There are plenty of houses they could get in small towns or round about a village. There is no particular necessity for two people who have £1 a week to live in a particular village if they can go a mile or two off, and if they have 2s. 6d. or 3s. a week, which will enable them to live in perfect comfort. I cannot understand why this particular limit should be put in. It should have been a much smaller limit. Fifty pounds a year is a great deal too much to compel us to come down and make the ratepayer pay for the provision of a house for people who, especially in the country, are very well off as they are. I do not quite agree with all the criticisms which were made, especially by the hon. Member who seconded the rejection of the Bill. I do not look upon the landowner in the country as a robber. I do not think 1569 the owners of property, either in the country or in towns, have committed what the hon. Member appears to think are acts of robbery in acquiring their property. They acquired it by purchase or inheritance, and if by inheritance, their predecessors have at one time or another acquired it by purchase, and in a proper and legal manner.
Therefore, I do not go quite so far as the hon. Gentleman who seconded the rejection, but I do say that this is one of those Bills which does credit to the heart of everybody whose name is on the back of it, and to the heart of everybody who has spoken in favour of it, but it does not do much credit to their heads. It is one of those foolish little things which, when it is put in practice, will be quite unworkable, and if it becomes law it will have to be extended. It commits us to serious problems in the social reform of this country. An hon. friend of mine used the term "social reform." I should like to ask him what "social reform" means. It is a phrase used on the platform if you want to get cheers all round, but beyond the effect of generally drawing those cheers, neither the person using the two words, nor the audience who cheer, know what either of them means. It is one of those sort of efforts to say, "After all, we are not backward; we are not behind other people." As a matter of fact, the Bill will do very little good. In the first place the land is to be given, and unless the land is given the cottages are not to be built. There will be a good number of cases where the land will not be given, and it will not be long before an amending Act is brought in to say that the land is to be taken. There are many people who will not give the land, especially where there is not a large landowner. It is not the large landowner, but the small landowner who will not give land. I have one particular district in my mind's eye containing about 1,500 people, where farms are let off from 100 to 200 acres. They will not give up part of their land in order to build cottages. The consequence is that in that particular town they will have to go a mile or two out into the country, to a larger landowner, who may or may not give the land, otherwise the Act will be a dead letter. What will happen? Finding that in these districts the Act is a dead letter, some philanthropic person, moved by the spectacle of an old man of sixty-five who cannot get a house, will come down and say, "We must get the Act amended." So we shall go on until we 1570 find ourselves involved in a new Poor Law scheme caused by a Bill brought in on a Friday afternoon, which everyone who has been for any length of time in the House knows is generally a bad Bill. I am very sorry to have to dissociate myself from my hon. Friends on this side of the House, but I shall be compelled, if there is a Division, to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Herbert Lewis)
Whatever the merits or the demerits of the Bill before the House may be we shall all agree that we have had a very interesting and instructive Debate upon it. The Bill has one enormous advantage, that of a very fascinating and a very alluring title. I have more than once during a rather lengthy experience in this House seen the Second Reading of a Bill carried on a Friday afternoon simply, as I believe, because of its title. I remember one Bill particularly which had an absolutely identical title with this which was read a second time and sent to a Select Committee of which I and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Pretyman) were members, and the Committee very soon made up its mind that the Bill, which I do not contend was on all fours with this Bill, was absolutely unworkable. The same difficulty which would arise in connection with this Bill also arose in regard to that. But my point was that the Second Reading of that Bill was secured very largely owing to its title, and I should hope, whatever view the House may take of this Bill, that it will disregard the title altogether and will think simply of its contents. There is one consideration that we ought always to regard as essential in regard to a Bill of this kind before we take the serious step, for we ought to regard it as a serious step, of giving it a Second Reading, namely, that it has behind it an adequate amount of support and popular backing in the country. One hon. Gentleman has stated that a resolution has been passed, I agree by a very important body, namely, the Central Chamber of Agriculture, with regard to this Bill. With the exception of the Wadhurst Farmers' Club, that is the only resolution that has been sent to the Local Government Board in support of this Bill. As the Mover said, it has been before the House for some years past, and there are 7,000 parish councils in this country to which this Bill will apply, and yet not one single one of 1571 those authorities has done so much as pass a resolution in favour of the Bill. Certainly not one of them has sent it to the Government Department concerned. Before we give our assent to the Second Reading of a Bill of this character we should have considerably more evidence than is now in our possession of public support and backing of the Bill. There is one very important fact which has received hardly any mention in the Debate, namely, that the Bill sets up an entirely new housing authority. I think we ought to ask ourselves very carefully whether it is desirable that we should set up a new housing authority, and whether the parish council should be that housing authority. This is not the first time by any means that this particular question has been specifically brought forward in the House of Commons. The Housing Bill of 1906 proposed that the rural district council should have power to delegate the building of houses under Part 3 of the Housing Act to parish councils. The Committee of 1906 considered that particular question, and this was the conclusion at which they arrived. They said:—The Committee are of the opinion that it is desirable to keep the administration of public health and housing as far as possible under one authority. The two matters are so closely allied that any attempt to divide the administration would only lead to confusion. Both are at present in the hands of one authority, and whatever change may be made, both as far as possible should remain so.Then the Committee proceeded to recommend that the power to erect buildings under Part 3 of the Housing Act of 1890 should be retained in the hands of the rural district councils holding power concurrently with county councils in case there should be some rural district councils able and willing to carry out the work. At the same time the Committee were of opinion that from an economic and administrative point of view the rural district councils were less favourably circumstanced than the county councils for carrying on this work. My point is that the Committee held and enforced the view very strongly that the work should be entrusted not to the smaller body but to the larger body. Their conclusion therefore was in direct opposition to the proposition contained in this Bill. But there is another and a very serious difficulty to which this Bill will give rise. At present there is one authority in each area, the rural district council, which is entrusted with housing functions. The Local Government Board have recently again and 1572 again been urged to bring more pressure to bear upon rural district councils with a view to the adequate housing of the poor. If this Bill were to become law the rural district council would be able to say, "You have charged the parish council with the duty of housing the aged poor. It will be quite sufficient if they act under this Bill." It often happens that in a village the housing difficulty will be removed by the provision of a very few houses, perhaps two or half a dozen, and the rural district council will say, "If the parish council were only to do its duty under the Bill it would be unnecessary for us to do anything at all." And then, on the other hand, the parish council may excuse their inaction by saying that the case should be dealt with by the rural district council under the Housing Act, and the danger is that between these two stools housing may fall to the ground. That is the real difficulty.
I have not formed that opinion without giving the matter considerable thought in the light of the information I have been able to gather. I would ask the House to conceive the position of the Local Government Board if they should make any complaint of default against the rural district council under the Housing Acts. I contend that the existence of a Cottage Homes Act would make it extremely difficult to enforce upon the rural district council a duty which, apart from the Act, they might have no excuse whatever for not performing. I am afraid the effect would be to paralyse the hands of the Department in bringing to bear on the rural district council the pressure which is sometimes necessary in order to induce them to do their duty in that respect.
Let me assume for a moment a case in which a parish council adopts this Bill, supposing it were to become law. I join with hon. Gentlemen who have already spoken in expressing every possible respect for the members of parish councils, but I would venture to ask them whether it is really wise to lay upon bodies like parish councils a task of this kind. A parish council has had no experience in building, and I am sure many hon. Gentlemen will bear me out when I say that if there is anything in which experience pays it is building. As a general rule those who have to undertake building have to pay hardly and heavily for their experience, and I am afraid that a public body like a parish council would have to pay more heavily at the cost of the people they 1573 represent. They have no expert staff to advise them, and they must select and pay their own experts. The number of houses to be erected under the Bill, as has been pointed out, is strictly limited. I suppose in the ordinary small parish there would not be more than half a dozen. In the case of a parish containing 600 people the number of houses a parish council would have to build would range from two to six, but the same preparations will have to be made in some respects as if they contemplated building twenty or thirty houses. It will all mean an expense utterly disproportionate to the end in view, and it is an expense which will have to be borne by the ratepayers, who have already to bear very heavy burdens.
The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) has spoken of the cost of erecting these cottages and of the probable loss to the rates. May I be allowed to supplement what he said by a few words on that particular point? Let us assume that the cottages cost £120 each. I agree with all the criticism that has been made as to the difficulty of building satisfactory homes at £120, but assuming that each cottage costs £120, the repayment of loans—the principal and interest—would be £5 6s. 2d. per annum in respect of each cottage. Rates are remitted to the occupier, but the effect would be that the parish would have to bear them. I think that is pretty well understood. Then we have to take into account insurance, the charge for water supply, the charge for repairs and maintenance, not to speak of the cost of collection, supervision, empty houses, and bad debts, which are absolutely excluded from my calculation altogether. Including the cost of collection, supervision, empty houses, and bad debts, the amount would be brought up to £7 6s. 5d. per annum. Let me take the case of an ordinary small village containing a population of 500 where a penny rate would produce £10 a year. The loss in that case would be equal to a rate of a half-penny per pound per cottage. I am calculating upon an extremely low basis. I should be very much surprised indeed if the parish council managed to build houses at a loss of a halfpenny in the pound for every cottage that is put up. I believe really under these circumstances it would be impossible to find parish councils willing to undertake the trouble and expense, the risk, and the certain loss which would undoubtedly be entailed. The hon. Member for the Tavistock 1574 Division (Sir J. Spear) told us that he knew landlords who were willing to give land for the purposes of this Bill. I may say, as representing the Local Government Board, that we should be only too glad to hear of landlords in various parts of the country who would be good enough to give land for the purposes of housing schemes now before the Board. It would help us very considerably. So far we have not had any names. I am not casting any discredit upon any class of the community whatever, but it would be a very great help to know the names of landlords who are willing to give land for these purposes.
§ Mr. HERBERT LEWIS
I will close with that offer, and I hope that the excellent example which the Noble Lord has publicly given will be very largely followed. There is just one other point to which I wish to draw the attention of the House. Let us assume that the Bill has been passed, and that parish councils have been found willing and able to undergo the somewhat onerous duties that the Bill has laid upon them. They will have to select as between individual and individual, and there will be a fruitful field for all kinds of rivalry. There is nothing that occasions more heart-burning in a village than the distribution of public favours, whether they be charities or any other form of gift or privilege, or exemption, and if you conceive a case in which the tenancy of a house at a low rent is in the gift of a parish council, you can imagine the canvassing and possible favouritism to which that will give rise. May I turn now to one or two points of detail in the Bill? We have already heard some very powerful and incisive criticism of the Bill. Indeed I have seldom heard a Bill in this House more completely riddled through and through with criticism than this Bill has been. May I ask one or two questions on points of detail which, so far, I think have not been touched upon? These cottages are intended primarily for persons over sixty-five years of age who have lived in the parish for twenty years, and who have an income not exceeding £31 10s., or, in the case of a married couple, £50. May I ask whether a man aged sixty-five years married to a wife aged sixty years would be eligible, or whether the man and wife must be over sixty-five years of age? 1575 There is another point. Take the case of an inmate of a cottage home with an income of £21 a year. When he is seventy years of age he gets an old age pension. That will bring him above the £31 10s. limit. Is that old man in those circumstances to be evicted from the cottage home? Then the Bill says that the sum expended out of public funds in respect of the erection of a cottage home shall not exceed £120. Assuming that £120 to be a possible figure, although there is very grave doubt about it, does it include drainage, water supply, fencing, paving the yard and paving the approach, or merely the cost of putting up the bare cottage itself? Of course, if those items are Included, the price must be very much higher than £120. One hon. Member complained very strongly that existing by-laws were detrimental to housing. We hear constantly that these local by-laws discourage building, and it has been assumed, although not by the hon. Gentleman, in some quarters that the malign influence of the Local Government Board has some effect in this direction. The policy of the Board was stated quite clearly in a circular issued by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Burns) very shortly after he had acceded to office. It contains this paragraph:—The Board are desirous that no obstacle shall exist which can properly he avoided in the way of extension of housing accommodation, whether by local authorities or by private persons, and the object of this circular is to secure that whilst sanitary requirements should be strictly observed—I do not know that any hon. Members would wish these requirements to be abrogated—all unnecessary impediments in the development of building shall be avoided.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
There is a misunderstanding. The hon. Gentleman will see that it is only by the authority of the Local Government Board itself that any alteration can be allowed.
§ Mr. HERBERT LEWIS
The Local Government Board go on to invite rural district councils to make modifications of their by-laws and promise them every possible assistance. About one-third of the rural districts in the country have absolutely no by-laws whatever, and therefore there is no restriction of any kind upon building in this respect. So far as modifications are concerned, the Local Government Board are perfectly willing in every reasonable case to help local authorities in obtaining modifications 1576 of the Bill. It is said that this is an optional Bill, and that it is not forced upon any parish, but at the same time we have a right to inquire whether a Bill of this kind which has not received, so far as we are aware, that public support which it ought to receive when it is brought before the House of Commons, should be allowed to encumber the Statute Book, seeing that it is a Bill which is only likely to be a dead letter, and which, as far as it is operative, would only do harm. Take as an example of Bills of this character the Bill to which my right hon. Friend referred the other day, the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act. My right hon. Friend had no partisan motive whatever in making the reference which he did. His object was to point out that that Bill had been practically a dead letter. The object of that Bill was to vest dwelling-houses in members of the working classes. Only about 100 houses a year have been so vested, on the average, since the passing of that Act. But this Bill does not ask us merely to vest houses already existing in members of the working class. It asks the parish councils to provide houses for this purpose, and if the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act after twelve years has provided only 1,000 houses in circumstances of that kind, when all that is necessary is to vest the actual houses in the individual without any loss whatever to the rates, how many houses, I should like to know, would in ten or twelve years be built under this particular Bill?
This Bill proposes to create a special kind of property with special exemptions for a special class of persons, to be selected by parish councils. It creates a special class of privileged people, who are to be assisted in a special way, and this special class is to exist in very small numbers, in a few cases scattered here and there throughout the country. I think that this country is very tolerant of anomalies. It is the most patient country in the world under anomalies, but we ought to pause before we created another anomaly of the character proposed by this Bill. There have been other housing proposals before this Act, and the arguments brought forward in support of those proposals were—I am not assenting to them; I think my right hon. Friend disposed of them conclusively —that housing in this country in the rural areas will not succeed unless you have three conditions added to those which already exist. In the first place, you must have Commissioners whose 1577 duty it is, in the elegant language of political affairs of the present day, to ginger up the local authorities; in the second place, you must have a Grant to stimulate the local authorities to do their duty; and, in the third place, you must give the Local Government Board ample coercive powers in addition to those they already possess. We were told that housing would not succeed in this country unless those three principles are adopted. Here we have a Housing Bill which contains not one of those three proposals. It does not contain Commissioners; it contains no reference to a State Grant; and it confers no additional coercive powers upon the Local Government Board. If housing in ordinary circumstances is not going to succeed, how is it going to succeed without those things which we are told are absolutely essential to its success? I submit to the House that not only has no case been made out for this Bill, but that the actual effect will be harmful.
It will be a deterrent to housing, because it will set up two authorities in some respects antagonistic, each throwing the blame upon the other, because the other cannot do its duty. It is a Bill which, having regard to the criticisms which have been passed upon it this afternoon, is one that ought not to be passed into law. I am certain that no one in this House will accuse my right hon. Friend of any desire to do anything or to prevent any measure that will be for the real welfare of the aged poor. My right hon. Friend, after all, belongs to a Government which has done more for the aged poor than any Government of any country in any period of the world's history. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] That meets with some derision on the other side of the House, but I should like to hear anything to the contrary. Last year we provided nearly £13,000,000 for the aged poor. With their 5s. a week nearly 1,000,000 old people are free to live where they like. They are not necessarily confined to the two-roomed cottage, which this Bill apparently contemplates, and they can if they like, live with their children or their grandchildren, or they can live with their families, and with persons who can take care of them. If I were to imitate my right hon. Friend in the matter of similes, I could compare this Bill with the Old Age Pension Act, and say that this measure follows the Old Age Pensions Act like a dinghy, and a very leaky dinghy, behind a "Dreadnought." I think that those who have done so much for the 1578 aged poor cannot be accused in any way of lack of interest in any measure which really brightens their lot in life. I suggest to the House that a Bill which has been before the House for some years, which has not been demanded by a single public authority in the country, and which will add another and unnecessary and futile anomaly to our system of local government, is one which the House of Commons will do wisely to reject. I trust that we shall not add another burden to those of which the contributors to local taxation so loudly and, I am afraid, so justly complain.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I think that a good many dwellers in the rural districts, if they read the report of to-day's Debate, will peruse with some surprise the speech which has been delivered by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I think they would have expected that the representative of a Public Department, whose special charge is matters of the description dealt with by this Bill, would, in discussing a measure of this character, have first of all devoted himself to an examination of the question whether there was real need to have such a provision us is found within the Clauses of this Bill, and, if there was such need, that he would have shown that this Bill fails to provide it, and that at any rate from a Department in that position some sympathy might have been shown for the aged poor of the rural districts whose lot at the present moment, notwithstanding the help which they have received from old age pensions is in many cases a very hard and unfortunate one. The only comfort which these old people received from the hon. Gentleman was that he called them a "special class of privileged persons." The aged poor in rural districts, who have to leave their houses and for whom there is no other housing accommodation available, are a "special class of privileged persons" for whom the Local Government Board has no sympathy. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] Yes, that is exactly the case. If it is nonsense, it is not what I say. If the hon. Gentleman opposite did not mean that, why did he use that expression. He said that this Bill was intended for a "special class of privileged persons." I desire to point out what are the conditions in which that special class of privileged persons live.
The hon. Gentleman used the simile of a leaky dinghy towed behind a "Dread- 1579 nought." If the hon. Gentleman were travelling on board the "Dreadnought" and happened to fall overboard, he might happen to be saved even by a leaky dinghy. There are a great many persons entitled to the pension of 5s. a week who are thrown overboard from the hon. Member's "Dreadnought," and this Bill is the dinghy which is to save them. I do not despise this simile at all. But what I do quarrel with is the attitude of hon. Members opposite, who say that unless we produce a "Dreadnought" we are to do nothing; that unless a Bill is introduced to deal with the whole question of rural housing and with all the difficulties attendant upon that enormous question; that unless we follow certain great principles and bring in a comprehensive measure to deal with the entire matter, then this House cannot fairly be asked to consider even the Second Reading of a Bill of this character. I propose in asking the House to give this Bill a Second Reading to state perfectly clearly what the conditions are which this Bill is designed to meet, and why, in my opinion, I think it will meet them. In the rural districts, particularly in the eastern counties, there are many parishes where no houses are available except those which are required for able-bodied labourers upon farms. Let me say in passing that the system of hiring agricultural labourers varies very much in different parts of the country, and there are immense numbers of parishes throughout the country where a man lives and works practically his whole life on one farm in a particular parish. Those are the particular cases we desire to meet.
The criticism offered by the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) and by the hon. Baronet behind me (Sir F. Banbury) in that respect falls to the ground as far as the Bill is concerned. What the hon. Member for Pontefract said in that regard merely meant that it would not help his particular parish, and the same remark applies to the hon. Baronet, although I would not be surprised, should the Bill be adopted, if the parish council in his parish did not adopt it. Where there are thousands of parishes, and where there are labourers living all their lives in one parish, and who at the end of their working career find themselves deprived of the house in which they live—there are, of course, many parishes where this Bill would not operate—I do not think there is any ground for denying the opportunity 1580 to those parishes who do require the Bill to have the advantages of its provisions. When a man who has worked on a farm all his life is drawing towards the time when he is unable to work any longer, this condition of things arises. The cottage is probably part of the equipment of the farm. It has been provided by the owner of the land, and is let with the land to the tenant farmer, who lets it to the labourer, not at an economic rent, but at a rent usually of 1s. 6d. per week for the five-roomed cottage, with a quarter-acre of land. The position of the man in a cottage of that kind working on a farm is really analogous to the position of a domestic servant working in a house in which he or she lives. It is really part of his wages, and it is necessary in order to carry out the duties that the man should live on the spot. I do not think any hon. Member opposite would suggest that it would be reasonable when a domestic servant leaves the employer to expect that that servant should continue to reside in his house. That is really the position in a somewhat modified sense, and the same principle applies to the man who is living on the farm and whose work is as necessary to the cultivation of that farm as is that of a domestic servant to the ordinary work of a house. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why turn them adrift?"] If the hon. Member has a servant for twenty years who becomes past work, does the hon. Member keep that servant in his house all his life, or could he do so? He might provide for that servant in another way; that is what we propose to do for him under this Bill, and it is exactly the whole object of the Bill.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
That is exactly the point to which I wish to address myself. That is the very reason why the parish council is made the authority to deal with this matter. The man has lived honourably and worked in the parish the whole of his life. By that means he has conferred an obligation upon the parish as a whole, and this Bill gives the opportunity to that parish as a unit of population to combine together to tend and care for the last years of that man's life. First of all, the owner who provided the house originally in which he lived is now asked to provide the land. The occupier who has obtained the advantage of the man's labour is asked to pay a small rate, and is willing to do so in order to provide for the old man's declining years. Not one of the 1581 hon. Members who discussed this question has any agricultural knowledge or experience. They know no more of the actual daily conditions of life in an agricultural parish than I do of the intricacies of the work of the officials of the Local Government Board. I have lived since the day I was born in an agricultural parish. I have spent thousands of pounds in building hundreds of cottages for agricultural labourers. I have been intimate with them from the time I have been able to have sensible discussions with anybody. I know by daily practical knowledge how this difficulty arises. The hon. Gentleman says that there has been no public demand for this Bill. If he wants resolutions from the parish councils I could get them for him by the hundred. There is not a parish council, I think, in the Eastern Counties but would pass a resolution in favour of this Bill. Let him go and talk against this Bill in the Eastern Counties, in Lincolnshire, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and in Suffolk.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Rural technically, but it is an industrial district. The hon. Member in his remarks about the water of the River Aire and in other ways showed that it was an industrial district under industrial conditions—[Mr. BOOTH indicated dissent]—and remote from the problem which arises in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and which exists in the rural districts of Sussex and Essex. What I and my Friends desire to do under this Bill is to give the parish and all who are interested in the man—the owner, the occupier—the opportunity of assisting him The occupier at the present time is put in this horrible position. He has a man living in a house, and for that man he has a high respect. The man has worked for him perhaps forty years and is now past his work. On the other hand, he is bound 1582 to provide labour for the working of his farm, and he is in the position that he has either to go without the labour which the farm requires or to ask that man to leave the house, knowing that there is no other house available in the district. That is a problem which was constantly presenting itself to every occupier of land in the rural districts. They have spoken to me about it hundreds of times, and it is discussed as a problem of daily occurrence. I do not mean to say that fresh cases occur every day, but it is a problem that is always with us. The occupiers have every consideration for their men, and they feel that it would be far better from a financial point of view to pay a small rate in order to enable the man to live in a house of this character than it would be, to keep him in the five-roomed house and starve the labour on the farm. The position of the landowner is that he would willingly and gladly provide land for the last years of the man who has lived on his estate all his life. The position of the occupier is that he would gladly pay an additional rate to enable him to get the five-roomed house in which the man is now living. The position of the parish is that the man is known there all his life and has perhaps relatives and friends, and they think that he should not be driven to spend the last years of his life in a town at a distance.
Surely, if sympathy is required for anyone, it is for those old people who, just at the time of life when they most require sympathy and help from their friends, are driven off to a distance and are obliged to spend their last and declining years amongst those who have no knowledge of or sympathy with them. Therefore, taking everyone concerned, the owner, the occupier, the man himself, and the inhabitants of the parish, you have there a common interest and common sympathy. What this Bill asks for is that those different interests and different individuals should be given through the Bill the opportunity, if they so desire, of co-operating in order to bring about a desirable result, and to provide for that man at an infinitesimal cost a house in which he and his wife can live comfortably during their last years. Is not that a good object? Has any Member opposite anything to say against it? If not, surely I am entitled to say that the object is a good one. Does the Bill meet that need in a practical way? I will take first of all the important point of the cost. 1583 The Bill does not contemplate the building of single houses. We must assume that parish councils have some little knowledge of business, and would have proper guidance in the matter. No one would contemplate building a single house. That is why the Bill allows two parishes to unite if they desire to do so. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that there is great clannishness in parishes, and that as a rule each parish would prefer to act for itself. That is why I think that provision is a safe one. I do not imagine that it would be availed of by any considerable parish. But in the rural districts there are very small parishes, with a population of forty or fifty or one hundred people. Sometimes they are obliged to have a common board school because the parishes are so small.
In these circumstances parishes might be allowed to combine to erect cottages in blocks. For practical purposes a minimum block would consist of two cottages. If they are erected in that form I can say from practical knowledge that cottages can be and have been erected well within the cost of £120 named in the Bill. They are not limited to two rooms. I feel very strongly that in many cases it is necessary that old people should have someone to look after them. The late Sir Cuthbert Quilter, for instance, built a block of six cottages, which were ornamental as well as providing the necessary accommodation, and they were well within the cost contemplated. The plans are available to any critic of the Bill. The cottages were built on the principle which I advocate— namely, that there should be below one large room divided into a sleeping apartment and a sitting room—that is to say, there should be a cubicle in it which could be shut off; and upstairs there should be a nice small habitable room in the roof which would be available for a child of the old people, or for a nurse to look after three or four inhabitants in the block. That might be provided in one cottage or in all. The principle adopted is that of co-operation, and the limit put upon the rates is £120. If necessity arises a little more may be provided by private assistance. It is not necessary that the land should be provided at the sole expense of the present owner. Where there is a large landowner it will no doubt be provided, and very properly, as a gift by him; but where there are only small owners and a particular site is required, all that is necessary 1584 is that he should provide the land at something less than its value and that there should be a subscription amongst the other landowners to make up the sum required.
The great difference between this Bill and the Housing Acts at large is that the parish is a unit with complete personal knowledge of itself, which has a real clannishness and which can and will and does co-operate for the benefit of the parish as a whole. One of the greatest difficulties, almost the supreme difficulty, in carrying out the present Housing Acts is that you have a rural district and the rural district council is the authority for erecting cottages. If a demand is made for cottages for one parish in the district, the whole district is rated to provide them, and there is the greatest objection from all the other parishes, because rates are being imposed upon them to provide cottages for one parish only. This Bill gets over that difficulty. The parish is a patriotic self-contained unit. There will be no feeling of jealousy. Cottages will be provided by the parish within the parish, and everybody will be interested in them. Therefore you will avoid the parish difficulty which applies in regard to Housing Acts with a larger authority.
§ Mr. HERBERT LEWIS
The rural district council at the present time is able to charge a parish. The difficulty is that when a charge is placed on a parish the parish under existing circumstances refuses to undertake the work.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
The council has the power to charge the parish, but the parish objects because the cost of erecting the cottages is necessarily so heavy. The houses erected under the Housing Acts are five-roomed houses, and the rent has to cover the entire cost of the erection. To my knowledge it has happened in rural districts, where cottages have been erected on that principle, that the agricultural labourer cannot afford to pay the rent.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Surely the principle is that the rents must cover the rates. There may be exceptions, but I know concrete cases where houses have been erected under the Housing Acts, agricultural labourers have been unable to pay the rent, and people have come in from 1585 outside to occupy the cottages. That is one of the difficulties, but it would be out of order to discuss the Housing Acts at large, except so far as they bear on this Bill. One objection raised was that the Bill would interfere with the general policy of providing better houses throughout the country. Another criticism was as to the limitations which this Bill imposes on parish councils. One criticism answers the other. The limitations are imposed for the purpose, and I believe will have the result, of putting the operations of this Bill entirely outside the ordinary ambit of the provision of houses for the working classes at large. If you are going into the question of providing houses for the working classes throughout the country, it is quite obvious that you can provide only the class of house which is suitable for occupation by a family. This Bill does not touch that. And the limitations of which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract complained are not inserted through any want of confidence in the parish council. Nor should I put forward the absurd proposition that the parish councils are not to be trusted in this matter.
What I do entirely agree with is where you are dealing with the housing question as a whole it would be unwise to set up a dual authority, to set up competition, as an hon. Member suggested, by allowing two different authorities to excuse their own negligence by each throwing the blame on the other. It is for this reason that these limitations were imposed, to make it perfectly clear that the parish council was not to be saddled as the public housing authority in regard to the general housing problem when this matter is to be dealt with. These limitations were especially put in because we are dealing only with this particular case, with providing a class of house which would not be suitable in any sense for the ordinary housing of a family. I am bound to admit that I think this is one of the best features of the Bill. The hon. Member criticised it very strongly. Another hon. Member criticised it because he said it was going to do nothing for the young man. Indirectly it is going to do as much for the young men as for the old ones, because it liberates the five-roomed house on the farm for the young man to occupy.
§ Mr. HERBERT LEWIS
The rural district council has the power now to provide this particular class of house.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
No, they would not; and that is the very reason why I have suggested the parish council. It is because—to come back again to the point—if you want the Act carried out you must have on the part of the people who are to carry it out a real sympathy with its objects and a real desire to give effect to them. I maintain that in the rural districts where you are dealing with a larger area you have not to the same extent that desire which they have in the smaller districts to carry the thing through. Surely it is true from this that the demand for housing of this character, or housing of any character, does not come from the rural districts; it comes from the parish. You cannot get away from that. I quite agree that on that principle it would perhaps be better to make the parish council the unit under the Housing Acts as a whole. But when you come to large schemes, dealing with large amounts of money, you are obliged to go to the higher authority, which has more experience and more knowledge. That I admit. But for this minor matter—important as it is, it is a comparatively small question—there is no necessity to go beyond the parish. You have sympathy in the parish. You have everything in the parish. That is what I would put to this House. You have the need for housing in the parish. You have within the parish itself all the elements which are able to meet that need. Surely it is hard if this House is to deny to any parish which desires to use its capacity to meet the needs of these old people the right to do it! I am bound to say that I do fee that hon. Members opposite take up a very unfortunate attitude on this question. They have certain theories. They may be good or bad. This is not the time to go into them—
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Exactly! They go to-the root, and while they are going to the root the unfortunate people are perishing in the branches, and get no assistance. The hon. Member and certain of his Friends have certain theories. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackfriars is an ardent trade unionist. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme is an ardent land-taxer. Every Bill 1587 that is brought into the House on any subject is merely put to the test: "Will it advance the cause of my trade union? How does it bear upon my theories of the taxation of land?" If it does not happen to fall in with either of these particular objects it is forthwith condemned. We in the rural districts have no fads of that kind. We ignore the operations of trade unionism in our rural districts, and, in view of some of its later phases, perhaps it is well for us to do so. In regard to land taxation we certainly suffer under it, and have no particular cause to like it. This Bill has no connection with either of these matters. In the rural districts we suffer, and have suffered for many years, from the fact that a minority of the people of this country, and consequently a majority of their representatives in this House, come from great industrial centres and represent large urban populations. Surely hon. Members who represent that class of constituency might realise that, as we do not pretend to dictate to them, they might allow us some little latitude in dealing with our own problems under existing conditions. Hon. Members consider existing conditions are wrong, and desire to alter them. It may be two generations before you have altered them, and meantime we find old people having to go to workhouses, and certainly compelled to leave houses in which they have lived for a greater part of their lives. What we ask in this Bill is that we should be allowed, if we can ourselves, without imposing any burden upon the general taxpayer, to minimise that evil. Are we to be denied that simply because hon. Members who have experience of urban conditions do not realise what are our conditions?
Surely the Central Chambers of Agriculture, which unanimously supported this Bill, have more knowledge as to whether the Bill will operate or not than hon. Members who represent great urban constituencies! It is within my own personal knowledge that throughout the rural districts, wherever this Bill has been discussed and considered, there is a real desire that it should be passed into law. I do not profess to say that every detail and every Clause of the Bill is perfect; certainly not. All I ask is that the Bill should be given a Second Reading, because it meets a real grievance which every rural member 1588 who has given consideration to the subject recognises. It is a Bill that will go a long way to remedy the grievances of which we complain. We ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading, and by that means to shows some practical sympathy with the rural districts and those who live in the rural districts and desire to do something to help themselves. We quite recognise the intentions of the House to deal with our difficulties in one great measure, but, pending that measure, we ask the House to allow us this little measure of latitude to help ourselves at our own expense. I believe, if we receive the authority we ask for, there will be a good many poor people who, under existing circumstances, would be driven from their homes to pass the latter years of their lives in strange surroundings, who will be enabled to live in happy surroundings. The Bill does no injury to anybody, and the opposition to it appears to me to be pure pendantry in one form or another. I ask hon. Members to rise above this pendantry, and from a purely practical point of view, and from the point of view of real sympathy with the actual suffering of the working classes, to allow the Bill to be read a second time.
Sir FREDERICK CAW LEY
Although I have not followed closely the whole of the details of this Bill, still I think there is something to be said for it, and I am going to vote for the Second Reading. I think the need for something being done in the country districts for the housing of the old people, and the young people as well, has been proved up to the hilt. How are we to get these cottages built? There is no machinery at present in existence by which they can be erected. Some people say, "Why do not the rich landowners build them?" May I point out that all landowners are not rich, and many of them, although they have a large annual income, have not very much ready money to build the houses which are required. But, whether the landowners ought to build the houses or not, there is no doubt that the people who want the houses have to go on wanting them. This Bill, by co-operation between the rural authority and the landowner, does find some means of houses being built to meet this want. The very fact of putting up these cottage associations will do a very great deal to provide the machinery for erecting the necessary houses. Already by this discussion we have had one landlord in this House promising to give land to build cottages.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I point out that that landowner is not affected by the Bill, because it does not apply to Scotland.
§ Sir F. CAWLEY
That may be so, but I do not think so badly of the hon. Member that he will not be prepared to carry out his promise. No doubt if there is a cottage building association formed in different villages the landowners will give the land, and other people will come forward to help on this scheme. In the part of the country where I live it is usual for large farms to be let with from one to five cottages upon them. The farmer pays the rent of his farm, which includes the cottages, and I think that is a very bad system, because when a labourer is discharged he has to leave his house. In many cases the farmer requires a younger man, and the older man has perforce to go about his business, which necessitates him leaving his cottage. I think it is a great pity that there are not some small houses to accommodate these people. This Bill, by co-operation between landowners and the rural authority, will provide houses for those people. I do not see why the local authority which can borrow money at 3½ per cent, interest should not build the houses without putting any burden upon the rates. The figures already given show that by the payment of a rent of 2s. per week the houses can be built and interest paid upon the capital and the sinking fund. The want of these houses has been proved up to the hilt. I think this scheme will meet the difficulty, and, although my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme objects to anything that would palliate the lot of the agricultural labourer because he wants some great scheme of land reform, I do not think we ought to listen to that sort of argument. We ought to do something to benefit the people who live now, and may have to live for many years, under the present conditions rather than wait for this Utopia which the hon. Member is going to bring about by an alteration of the Land Laws. I think this Bill ought to go to Committee, where it can be knocked into shape, because it will induce more people to remain in the rural districts, and will thus benefit the country at large.
§ Mr. INGLEBY
I desire to say a few words on this subject, because perhaps I am the only Member addressing the House on the Bill who has had practical experience of putting up the class of cottages contemplated. I was residing in 1906 in the constituency of Norfolk which the late 1590 Mr. Joseph Arch represented, and. there was a strong feeling in the parish against the old people being crowded out of the village and driven into what is called the place on the hill—the union—some miles distant, and where of course they were cut off almost entirely from their friends and relations. I was chairman of the parish council, and, knowing that Feeling to exist so strongly, I called a parish meeting, and I believe I am within the truth when I say that every single person in the parish contributed towards the erection of the houses which were then put up. The subscriptions ranged from 1d. to £20. We paid no architect and built cheaper on that account. After great consideration we adopted the plan of a Lancashire architect—I am not sure, but I believe he is employed by the Borough Council of Preston—and came to the conclusion that all that was wanted for this purpose of housing old people was a single room of sufficient dimensions. This model was not only used in Lancashire and in the place of which I am speaking, but I used it myself subsequently else where, and it has been found to act admirably. It is a large room downstairs with a recess curtained off for the bed. There are two or three adjuncts, coal cellar, scullery, and so on, and the whole cost of the five cottages we put up was £340, or about £70 apiece. It may be that a few accessories—I do not exactly remember, though I know we did not have to pay the architect—would bring the total up to a somewhat larger figure, but £360, we will say, would cover the whole thing.
§ Mr. INGLEBY
Yes, all in the same block. I wish the President of the Local Government Board could see some of these cottages, both in that parish and in adjoining parishes, and he might take them as a model of that class of cottage. We found by experience of the rent we were able to charge that there was no charity. The rent charged was 6d. per cottage, and at this moment the bank balance in our case is over £50. That would work out, under the scheme of the Bill, at something like 1s. 6d. required as rent. That seems to me to be within the bounds of possibility. I am under no illusion in regard to this Bill. I think the difficulty commences when you put the matter before the parish council. I was glad to hear the hon. and gallant Member (Mr. Pretyman) say that he thought the parish 1591 councils would jump at a scheme of this sort. I was glad to hear them say that because I was of the opposite opinion and I thought that the parish councils did not jump at such schemes and that pressure would have to be brought to bear upon them to get them to adopt this Act if it came into force. If they could only get the councils to adopt it I am perfectly sure it would be a workable scheme.
§ Mr. W. CROOKS
The hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford Division (Mr. Pretyman) and other hon. Members have treated this question as though we thought they had no sympathy with the poor and that all the sympathy was on this side. I never thought that. I think the House is always full of sympathy; there is more sympathy than practice; and I believe that when the country knows that this Bill has been before the House it will agree. If we take the example just given by the hon. Member, and if you can do what he says can be done, what is the need of coming to this House? There is not need at all. If you are full of philanthropy, generosity and sympathy, that sympathy should carry with it a little help, and there is nothing in the world to stop you from doing what you say you can do without coming to us. The hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford said he wanted the parish council because they knew most about the needs of the people. There are some small villages in the country where everybody is not so happy, free, and independent as they look when you are riding about on a motor car. If you live with them you will soon find out how independent they are and how anxious the squire is about them with all his wealth. They are very polite—"Please, Sir, if you can, I shall be much obliged to you." There is no independence about that. These people, you say, know the needs of the district, but you are only going to get it working in one case out of a hundred. It is only an adoptive Act; and what we are doing to-day is only making a pretence; it is like playing at shops; there is nothing practical in the whole business. Take the wonderful Second Clause. For at least twenty years preceding, the applicant must have been resident within the area of the local authority, must have attained the age of sixty-five, must be in a position to maintain himself in a cottage home; his annual income must not exceed £31 10s., or in the case of a married couple it must not exceed £50. Poor agricultural labourer! He is 1592 so poor and he finds no one who will help him, a man with £50 a year coming in. That particular poor man will take some, finding. And you are going to leave his character to the parish council before he will be entitled to be even thought about. Is there a man living at sixty-five years of age inside or outside of this House whose character is so beautiful and splendid that no person can find fault with it?
Let young men, much less men of sixty-five, ask themselves what would happen if they were to go to a parish council which knows them very well. I can see myself and one or two of my colleagues, who are getting on for sixty-five, going, down to some parish council, and pointing out that we have now arrived at the age for certain things, and being asked, "How have you spent your life, sir?" The parish councillors will say one to the other, "Are we to be rated for this fellow? I knew him when he was a Tariff Reformer," or "I knew him when he was a Free Trader, and we have no sympathy with that." Anything and everything will be an excuse for doing nothing. I think the county council would have been a much better authority. Then we are told of turning men out of cottages who have served another faithfully and well. "You have had forty years' constant employment; you have now got past work, and you will have to make room for a young man." I should have thought that of all the things we ought to do in this House, we ought to maintain the family life. If the House had moral courage it would have said, rather than play at shops with a Bill of this character, "We have £6,500,000 surplus on the Budget this year. We will reduce the age for old age pensions from seventy to sixty-five, and spend the money on these people in building cottages," the country would have gone with you like one man. I am always alarmed at anything that carries the reward of good character with it. None of us have good characters. I remember the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) pointing out, in connection with the question whether people of seventy should be allowed to enjoy the privilege of an old age pension if they had ever been guilty of drunkenness, idleness, or gambling, that no one could give a definition of what those three awful crimes meant. Much less will you be able to convince a parish council as to the purity of any man or woman's life for whom they are called upon to subscribe something. 1593 They will say, "We will pass you on to our next-door neighbour." They would be on the look out to ascertain whether at any time during your life you had in harvest time demanded an extra allowance of beer, or whether you had not, on a very hot day, when the cider had run out, knocked off work for a little while. If you had you would be out of it altogether. If a man when young had been unfortunate enough to "back a wrong'un," he would be wholly out of it. If everybody seems so extremely good in providing cottages, why stop them from being good? The hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Ingleby) says that private enterprise can do it. I think that is an excellent thing. But I do not believe in turning people into one room, away from their sons and daughters. You may make your workhouse ever so comfortable, you may make it a gilded cage if you like, but the old folks hate it, because somebody has the right to walk in. I hate anything that takes away the old people from their children. Sons and daughters can give them what money cannot buy, love and sympathy. Old folks live in their past, and I do not want to separate them from their children. Twenty years in a place without a blemish on your character and it was arranged that two old men or two old women should live in these apartments by themselves. Everybody said, "What a beautiful idea." I visited them. I said to one old man whom I found in a cottage, "How are you getting on?" He said, "Oh, middling like." I said, "A decent old chap that you live with?" "What?" and he called him a wicked word that blighter does not quite cover, but something in that direction. I said to another old man who was enjoying a bit of gardening, "Decent old chap that mate of yours inside?" "You have to live with people before you know them." I hope the House will reject this Bill and wait for something better. If you pass the Bill now you will be told you have already done something for the poor. What did all these people do before there were old age pensions. We might bring the old age pension down to sixty-five and spend that £6,500,000 surplus on the aged people of the country who are the backbone of the country. The employer will have the right to ask whether the man's character is such as to encourage the local ratepayers to carry the burden. That is the very thing to kill the Bill. You have so few of 1594 these men. There are not hundreds of thousands of them nor are there hundreds of thousands of complaints. The hon. Gentleman was wondering where the hundreds of thousands of complaints come from and where the hundreds of thousands of villagers come from. I know very little of them, but what I know does not redound to the credit of the agricultural districts nor of the squire or the parson. Do you ask the character of the man who is going to vote for you? You would not mind what his character was so long as he voted for you. When I have gone into these districts and asked these poor men, "Why do you do this and why do you do that," what is the answer? It is not the answer that hon. Gentlemen will get on one side or the other of the House. "It is all right for you. You are in the town, and you can keep independent. Here we are obliged to do what we are told." I do not see much of this independence. The whole blot of the Bill is in the second Clause. I do not think you will do a bit of good in attempting to get it through. I hope you will not, but if you do I should like to know who is to set up the authority to deal with the character of these poor men.
§ Mr. BAIRD
I have in my own Constituency instances where the need for such a Bill as this has been very clearly shown. The particular case which the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) brought forward as showing the unsuitability of the rural district council for dealing with this question is not the kind of case to be met in other places. I do think that this Bill, although by no means perfect, is a step in the right direction, and will meet a genuine want in the country. After all, no stronger argument in favour of the Bill could be found than the fact that there has been an absolute lack of argument on the part of those who oppose it. The Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth), with amazing frankness, admitted that he had had his first glimpse of the country when the coal strike removed the blue pall which generally hangs over the landscape. If the strike had lasted a bit longer he would obviously have known a great deal more about the rural districts. The details covered by this Bill are exceedingly important for those they are designed to benefit. I regret that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) is not in his place, but I think it is perfectly fair to say that he 1595 is a recognised fanatic on matters relating to land values. Whatever he said must have been founded upon the knowledge derived from watching geraniums growing in window pots. I do not think he has a very much more extensive relationship with land. There was an attempt at a reasoned argument against the Bill by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board. I do not suppose hon. Gentlemen opposite thought they were opposing the Bill on its merits. They were opposing it because it came from this side of the House.
§ Mr. BAIRD
The hon. Member (Mr. Herbert Lewis) attempted to advance some arguments why this Bill should not be adopted, and I am bound to say that they can be summarised in this way: "The Government have introduced old age pensions and have done more than any other Government under the sun for old people; therefore, we must leave this alone." His argument amounted to the suggestion that this Bill is not going to be of any assistance to old people. I am quite ready, if I am misrepresenting the hon. Member, to stand down.
§ Mr. BAIRD
I quite agree that from the electioneering point of view the Old Age Pensions Act was a stronger weapon than this Bill. This Bill is designed to help a very much smaller number than are benefited by the Old Age Pensions Act—people who do not come in for very much assistance from this House. It is for that reason I think they are deserving of attention. The points in the Bill to which criticism has been directed were surely Committee points. No hon. Member ventured to say that a Bill to facilitate the provision of homes for old people of sixty-five years of age is not a desirable one. All they say is that the methods proposed by the Bill are unsuitable, but these are matters which could be dealt with in Committee. There has been no counter proposal brought forward. I think hon. 1596 Members who represent industrial constituencies, and whose knowledge of agricultural subjects is somewhat limited, are taking a great responsibility when they oppose this Bill. Are hon. Members going to say that they will oppose a measure designed to give cottages to these people? From the party point of view, I only hope that the Radical party will oppose the measure. Nothing could be more satisfactory. Nothing would prove better the insincerity of their claims on behalf of the agricultural labourer and the aged poor. Here is a practical measure supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The hon. Member for South-East Lancashire supported it. The hon. Member for Tavistock and the hon. Member for Wiltshire, and every hon. Member connected with an agricultural constituency knows that there is a demand for a Bill such as this. If the Bill is not perfect, it is the business of the House of Commons to give it a Second Reading, and let its imperfections, which nobody denies, be threshed out in Committee, and let the Bill be put on the Statute Book. Nobody will deny that the difficulty of housing in rural districts is appalling. In many cases it is impossible for young people to marry in agricultural districts because there are no houses where they can live. If you make the houses now occupied by the old people available for the young people and put the old people in houses which are perfectly suitable and adequate for them to spend their declining days in, you will be doing good not only to those old people, but to the whole agricultural district. Whatever may be said as to the details of the Bill, the principle on which it is based is sound; the demand for housing is very great, and I hope that the House will see fit to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Dr. CHAPPLE
The hon. Member who has just sat down must, I am sure, have exaggerated notions of the difficulty which exists with regard to housing. The hon. Member (Mr. Ingleby) told us that houses can be built in these rural districts for about £70 apiece, and hon. Members on the Opposition benches told us that landowners are willing to give free land. In fact, the Noble Lord (Marquess of Tullibardine) made the offer of an unlimited amount of land for this purpose during the currency of this Debate.
§ Dr. CHAPPLE
The Noble Lord offered a limited quantity of land for this purpose. If land for this purpose is to be given free by the landlord and houses can be put up for £70 apiece, why come to this House and ask State-aid for the purpose? The issue surely is narrowed down to a very small one indeed if the whole difficulty can be met by an expenditure of £70 for each cottage and a free grant of land is available. My real objection to this measure is that it deals with effects and not with causes. The object of this hand to mouth legislation is the picking up of evils and the application of immediate remedies while ignoring the causes that produce these evils. The evil in this case is that there are agricultural labourers who arrive at the age of sixty-five having worked for fifty years without having been able to put aside a sufficient amount of their earnings to provide a home for the rest of their days. The real difficulty is low wages. Wages have been so low that the agricultural labourer has not been able, as every toiler should be, to put aside a sufficient amount to make a home when he is unfit for further toil. Landowners say that they cannot afford to pay higher wages to agricultural labourers. Why not? It is because they do not get out of the soil its maximum productivity. If they paid higher wages they would obtain results from the use of scientific methods of cultivation which would enable them to bear the cost of those additional wages. Where wages have been raised and hours shortened in the industrial walks of life, it has led to the adoption of improved methods of production. If higher wages were paid to the agricultural labourers, scientific methods of cultivation would be adopted in order to get more out of the soil and a better result from the money expended on labour. The real evil is that the people who own the soil do not make half the use of it that they might. They have other sources of income, and the result is that an enormous amount of land is either absolutely idle or relatively idle; it does not produce the maximum results which might be obtained by the adoption of improved machinery and those scientific methods of cultivation which have been demonstrated at experimental stations and experimental farms throughout the world, and by which it is possible to enormously increase the productive power of the soil. If the landowners put their land to its best use they would be able to 1598 pay additional wages, which, in turn, would prevent that poverty among the agricultural class which deprives them of opportunity to put sufficient aside to make a home at the close of their working days.
MARQUESS of TULLIBARDINE
The hon. Member knows well certain land which is nearly all let to tenants.
§ Dr. CHAPPLE
Under the tenant system the tenant does not put the land to its highest use. As a rule, he has only a short lease. I know landowners who only let their land from year to year. A tenant cannot afford to improve the land and manure it unless he has security of tenure. It has been demonstrated that land treated with ordinary farm manure for eight years in succession, will go on yielding a return in consequence for at least forty years—
§ Dr. CHAPPLE
I do not know of any. tenant who does that, but I know of scores of tenants who appeal year after year for a longer lease, knowing that otherwise it is impossible for them to spend money in improving the soil.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not discussing this Bill at all, and there are only a few minutes left in which to do so.
§ Dr. CHAPPLE
I am endeavouring to discuss the condition of the agricultural labourer, and to point out that with better wages, which could be paid with the adoption of more scientific methods of cultivation, he would be in a position to make for himself a home. You must go back to the evil at its source and not follow this hand-to-mouth way of dealing with it. You say here are men at the age of sixty-five who cannot afford to pay normal rents and therefore we must come to this House and ask the State to erect cottages for these people who after fifty years of toil with an inadequate return for their labour, now find themselves absolutely destitute. The landlords have made such defective use of the land, and therefore of the labour, that they come to the State to mitigate an evil which it is in their own power to remedy. Look at some of the newer countries which are producing the food of this country. Take Canada, where 1599 they can afford to grow wheat and send it here, while the users of land in this country profess themselves absolutely unable to compete with our oversea Dominions. That is an illustration of how land has gone out of use in this country, not because there is anything wrong with the land, but because there is something wrong with the land users. The agricultural labourer is suffering to-day either because those who own the land have other sources of income, and do not require to make the best use of it, or because the tenants themselves have such insecure tenure that they are not able to undertake those improvements which would increase the yield and enable them to pay a higher rent to those who own the land and higher wages to those who work it for them. This measure is one of those that deal with results and ignore causes. I do not think it is en-
§ titled to the serious consideration of the House, and I will have much pleasure in voting against the Second Reading.
§ Mr. ALBERT SMITH
I hope the House will refuse to pass this Bill. No less than four speakers have used the argument that it would be preferable to have these houses than go to the workhouse. I should like to know why they used that argument if there was no element of charity in the Bill—
§ Question put accordingly, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 69; Noes, 131.1601
|Division No. 69.]||AYES.||[5.0 p.m.|
|Amery, L. C. M. S.||Gastrell, Major W. Houghton||Mildmay, Francis Bingham|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major William||Gibbs, George Abraham||Newman, John R. P.|
|Baird, j. L.||Goldman, Charles Sidney||Newton, Harry Kottingham|
|Balcarres, Lord||Goldsmith, Frank||Nield, Herbert|
|Barrie, H. T. (Londondery, N.)||Gordon, John (Londonderry, South)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William|
|Bathurst, Hon. A. B. (Glouc., E.)||Grant, James Augustus||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Guinness, Hon. Rupert (Essex, S.E.)||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Beresford, Lard Charles||Hall, Fred (Dulwich)||Pretyman, Ernest George|
|Boyton, James||Hambro, Angus Valdemar||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Bull, Sir William James||Hamilton, Lord C. J. (Kensington)||Royds, Edmund|
|Burn, Colonel C. R.||Henderson, Major H. (Berkshire)||Sanders, Robert Arthur|
|Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Herbert, Hon. A. (Somerset, S.)||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Cassel, Felix||Hoare, Samuel John Gurney||Talbot, Lord Edmund|
|Cawley, Sir Frederick (Prestwich||Ingleby, Holcombe||Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.)|
|Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Thompson, Robert (Belfast, North)|
|Clyde, James Avon||Lewisham, Viscount||Thynne, Lord Alexander|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Lloyd, G. A.||Tobin, Alfred Aspinall|
|Dalrymple, Viscount||Locker-Lampson, O. (Ramsey)||Tullibardlne, Marquess of|
|Doughty, Sir George||Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Col. A. R.||Valentia, Viscount|
|Faber, George Denison (Clapham)||Lonsdale, Sir John Brown'ee||White, Major G. D. (Lancs., Southport)|
|Fell, Arthur||MacCaw, Wm. J. MacGeagh||Yate, Col. C. E.|
|Fetherstonhaugh, Godfrey||M'Laren, Walter S. B. (Ches., Crewe)|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes||Malcolm, Ian||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr.|
|Gardner, Ernest||Mallaby-Deeley, Harry||Harrison-Broadley and Capt. Weigall.|
|Abraham, William (Dublin Harbour)||Crawshay-Williams, Eliot||Ffrench, Peter|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Crooks, William||Field, William|
|Allen, Rt. Hon. Charles Peter (Stroud)||Crumley, Patrick||Flavin, Michael Joseph|
|Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.)||Cullinan, John||George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Davies, Timothy (Lines., Louth)||Glanville, Harold James|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Delany, William||Goldstone, Frank|
|Barnes, G. N.||Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Griffith, Ellis Jones|
|Barton, William||Denniss, E. R. B.||Gulland, John William|
|Benn, W. W. (T. Hmts., St. George)||Devlin, Joseph||Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway)|
|Boland, John Pius||Dillon, John||Hackett, John|
|Bowerman, C. W.||Donelan, Captain A.||Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, W.)|
|Brady, Patrick Joseph||Doris, William||Hayden, John Patrick|
|Burke, E. Haviland-||Duffy, William||Hayward, Evan|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Healy, Maurice (Cork)|
|Byles, Sir William Pollard||Edwards, John Hugh (Glamorgan, Mid)||Healy, Timothy Michael (Cork, East)|
|Chapple, Dr. William Allen||Elibank, Rt. Hon. Master of||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)|
|Clough, William||Elverston, Sir Harold||Higham, John Sharp|
|Collins, Stephen (Lambeth)||Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.)||Hodge. John|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Esmonde, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.)||Holmes, Daniel Turner|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Esslemont, George Birnie||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey|
|Cotton, William Francis||Farrell, James Patrick||Hudson, Walter|
|Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Meehan, Patrick A. (Queen's Co.)||Reddy, Michael|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. Sir Rufus||Menzies, Sir Walter||Robertson, John M. (Tyneside)|
|Jones, Leif Stratten (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Molloy, Michael||Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.|
|Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)||Mooney, John J.||Scanlan, Thomas|
|Jones, W. S. Glyn- (T. H'mts, Stepney)||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Joyce, Michael||Muldoon, John||Sheehan, Daniel Daniel|
|Keating, Matthew||Munro, Robert||Sheehy, David|
|Kelly, Edward||Munro-Ferguson, Rt. Hon. R. C.||Sherwell, Arthur James|
|Kennedy, Vincent Paul||Nannetti, Joseph P.||Smith, Albert (Lanes., Clitherce)|
|King, Joseph||Nolan, Joseph||Smyth, Thomas F.|
|Lansbury, George||Nugent, Sir Walter Richard||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, W.)|
|Lardner, James Carrige Rushe||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Thomas, J. H. (Derby)|
|Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)||Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|Leach, Charles||O'Donnell, Thomas||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Lewis, John Herbert||O'Grady, James||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas||O'Kelly, Edward P. (Wicklow, W.)||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Lundon, Thomas||O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)||Wilkie, Alexander|
|Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||O'Shee, James John||Williamson, Sir A.|
|McGhee, Richard||O'Sullivan, Timothy||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.),||Palmer, Godfrey Mark||Young, Samuel (Cavan, E.)|
|MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)|
|M'Callum, John M.||Power, Patrick Joseph||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.|
|McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)||Booth and Mr. Wedgwood.|
|Meagher, Michael||Radford, George Heynes|
Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ And, it being after Five o'clock, and objection being taken to further proceeding, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at Ten minutes after Five o'clock till Monday next, 15th April.