Mr. STANLEY WILSON
I wish to call attention to another subject, of which I gave notice at Questions to-day, namely, to call attention to the unsatisfactory condition of certain cottages on Crown property. It is a question of considerable importance, and the answers of the President of the Board of Agriculture were of a very unsatisfactory character, because in his reply to me to-day he said that there was no need of intervention by a Government inspector. I should like rather to amplify the condition of the particular cottage to which I called attention. In this particular cottage there is no through ventilation of any kind. The walls are covered with black damp, and there is no staircase and a step-ladder leads up to what is called the sleeping accommodation. There is no closet of any sort, either inside or outside the house. The only convenience is a chair or a sort of night-commode in the kitchen. That is a most unsatisfactory and insanitary state of affairs. I can vouch for the truth of this statement, because I sent a gentleman to the place, and he told me that the condition is as bad as it can possibly be. Such a cottage is absolutely unfit for human habitation. One agricultural labourer told the gentleman whom I sent over that when he was a lad this cottage used to be a pig-sty. He added that it was only fit for pigs to live in at present, and that Lloyd George ought 607 to know about it. There is another cottage on the same farm in nearly as bad a condition. The only thing that can possibly be done with cottages in this condition, and what any private owner would be compelled to do, is to pull them down and build up-to-date cottages. When I asked that a Government inspector should be sent down, I do not think I was asking too much. There ought to be some sort of inspection of these cottages. It seems to me a wrong principle that Crown property should not be subject to exactly the same conditions as apply to the property of private owners in this respect. Crown property does not come under the sanitary by-laws, and no sanitary inspector can enter it. That is manifestly wrong. I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to place all these cottages under the control of the local authority, whether it is the county council or the rural council. The Government are bringing in a Bill on Friday dealing with the housing of the working classes, and I would urge them immediately to set to work to put their own house in order.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Runciman)
The hon. Gentleman opposite suggested, in the first place, that these cottages should be open to inspection. I informed him at question time that the whole of the cottages had been inspected more than once already this year by the Crown Receiver. The Crown Receivers are men who are experienced Government inspectors. They apply to these cottage not only the standard of the local authorities but a standard very much higher. I have not been able to identify the cottage to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I must repeat what I said at question time that the whole of the buildings on this farm have gone into a bad state of repair during the tenancy of the recent tenant. He went into bankruptcy, and his affairs have been a source of considerable trouble to the Crown. During the time he held these buildings the Crown expended a good deal of money on them. He held them under a repairing lease. The Crown from time to time had them inspected, and most of them had been kept well in repair.
But the cottage that the hon. Member referred to had been empty for some time, and is now empty. From his description of it one might imagine that it had been occupied by human beings. 608 Nothing of the kind! It is not meant to be so occupied. It has been kept empty during the time that arrangements have been made for its entire reconstruction. Long before the hon. Gentleman took up the case the matter had been discussed, and we had decided to do these repairs that, according to the description of the hon. Gentleman, are obviously necessary. A new staircase and scullery was to be added, new floors, new fireplaces had to be fitted into every room, there were to be new partitions, new windows of a much larger size—we were practically reconstructing the whole place! I think the hon. Gentleman can have no complaint to make either against the Department or the Crown Receiver, for they are making a thorough good job of a rotten place. The hon. Member never gave me the name of the cottage, but I have given him the worst cottage on the whole estate, and have told him what we are doing. He also complained of another cottage, and here also he did not give the name.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The only other cottage on the same farm which is not provided with three bedrooms, and is in a similar condition to the first, is one which I understand is on what used to be called the Old Farm House.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
When that came into our hands we found that it was not in good order. As soon as the tenants went out I ordered—on the report I had got—the following repairs: Five new windows to be fitted, repairs upon the plaster, provision of an extra earth-closet, etc. That covers both the cases mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. I can assure him that after a detailed examination of the whole of the cottages on this estate—and there are a large number—there is not one of them which would not be a credit to the most benevolent landlord. Under the circumstances I think he has not been very well advised to take the instances he has as proof of bad Government management. In conclusion, I would say that the standards up to which the cottages are kept on the Crown estates in every case exceeds those which are required by the local authorities. We have had a Return made under the direction of the Crown Receivers of every cottage on Crown properties. We have gone through it carefully, 609 not only with the idea of examining into its condition, but of seeing how far those who live there are provided with sufficient space. We have in some case made rearrangements, and we have prevented some of the tenants taking in lodgers where there could be no provision for lodgers. We have done everything we could to see that the accommodation provided for them is properly used. I venture to say there are no set of cottages covering a very large area that could compare favourably with those Crown cottages. They certainly do no discredit to the Crown Receivers, who have carried out their work admirably.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman has been able to assure the House that the Crown is doing its duty as landlord. I also think the prima facie case produced by my hon. Friend is one well worthy of the consideration of the House. The conditions described was one that called for grave suspicion and consideration on the part of those who have housing in the country at heart. There is one matter about which I venture to ask the right hon. Gentleman. I understand, according to his statement now, that the Crown is not subject to, as I thought was the case, to the ordinary sanitary laws of the country on the general principle that the Crown is not bound by Statute unless expressly named therein in these circumstances I fail to understand the answer he gave me at question time. I asked him if that was so, and he replied the Crown was subject to the laws and customs that affected property belonging to private individuals.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I am sure I did not say that; it is not the case. What I did say was we did comply with the hygienic requirements—that was the phrase used by the Noble Lord himself—and in most cases exceeded these requirements.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The right hon. Gentleman may not have heard me. I did say hygienic law, but he said the Crown was subject to all the laws and customs. I am sorry to contradict the right hon. Gentleman, and he will not misunderstand me when I say he used the phrase, as he will see in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, "All the laws and customs." He may have used it unintentionally and did not moan to assert it, and indeed it is not the case. Of course, I accept his statement. But it is a matter of very serious consideration that that condition of affairs should continue to exist. The right hon. Gen- 610 tleman assures us, and we accept his word, that the present condition of the cottages of the Crown are satisfactory. Of course, he does not know personally; he has to rely upon the reports of his officials. I am sure they are excellent officials, but at the same time it is not a satisfactory state of things. The whole principle of our sanitary laws is that it is in the interest of the public as well as of the individual occupier that the cottage should be kept in a proper sanitary condition, and we have given the sanitary authorities certainly very extreme powers to see that sanitary conditions are properly observed. You may have a careless receiver—I am not in the least suggesting anything against the present receivers—you may have a corrupt receiver. Such things must happen as long as human beings are human beings. Under these circumstances it would be more satisfying if Crown property was subject to the ordinary sanitary laws and sanitary inspection. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider that. I do not think it would be possible to make that change in the Housing Bill, but I hope he will consider in future legislation that that change should be introduced. If my hon. Friend has done no other good he has done great service in calling the attention of the House to that condition of the law.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I wish to thank the hon. Member for Holderness for bringing this question forward. I heard the answer given by my right hon. Friend and I do not think he quite meant what he said. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman's intention was to state that in the management of their estates they tried to comply with the same regulations of the local authorities which were applied to private landowners. I remember a case in which the Earl of Ellesmere had some alterations to make in an old house, and I discovered that he did not need to submit his plans to the local authority. But although the Earl of Ellesmere was not compelled to submit those plans ho did submit them, although legally and technically the local authority could not have asked for them. That was the way his lordship treated a humble district council. I am sorry to say that I do not think local authorities always receive that consideration in these matters which private owners invariably show towards them.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-seven Minutes after Twelve a.m. Thursday, 23rd July.