HC Deb 24 July 1924 vol 176 cc1617-22

Amendment made: In page 11, line 7, leave out "one-third" and insert "twenty-five per cent."—[Mr. Greenwood.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Duchess of ATHOLL

I should like, as a rural representative, to express my appreciation of the fact that the needs of seine agricultural areas are being met by the concession which has just been made by the Minister. At the risk, however, of wearying the Committee, I must repeat to the Minister that the concession still leaves out many typical rural areas in Scotland. I tried to show on the Report stage that the Minister of Health has kept his eyes fixed on two considerations only in a very complicated problem. He has not solved the problem simply by giving more on one basis if he continues to ignore the other factors. On a somewhat hasty calculation of the effect of this new Amendment on the parishes which have hitherto been excluded in Perthshire, I find that the result of the Ministerial Amendment will make very little difference to the position—that parishes that will not be benefited by the Amendment are such parishes as Glendevon, Aberfoyle, Callander, and Killin. The right hon. Gentleman ignores the very great effect of the presence of waterworks and of considerable sporting rents valuation on the valuation of the parish. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman takes credit to himself for having increased the population basis from 35 to 50 per 100 acres. That, no doubt, has brought in many parishes that are more populous, but there are many rural parishes in my own part of the country where a population of 50 per 100 acres is regarded as semi-urban. The highest population among the parishes I have just enumerated is about 5 per 100 acres, and two of the parishes have a population of less than one and a quarter persons per 100 acres. These are parishes which, in spite of the Minister's concession, are still excluded; yet it is apparent to anyone who knows these parishes, or to those who have studied the population figures, that they are typical rural parishes. You could not find any more typically rural if you searched throughout Scotland.

Another very important point, which I do not think has been sufficiently emphasised in the House, is that, although this is a Bill for Great Britain, which, I understand, seeks to treat Scotland and England alike, in that it makes the calculation on the same basis of population and valuation, and proposes to give the same grant, there is one important respect in which the Bill is different: that is, that the calculation in England and Wales is to be made on the net valuation, and in Scotland on the gross valuation. I tried to make this clear the other day. I tried to show what a serious effect this different treatment would have in parishes which included waterworks, because very much larger deductions were made off waterworks than off other subjects. Therefore the presence of waterworks in calculating the net or the gross valuation respectively really completely alters the proportion that the agricultural valuation bears to the other subjects in the parish. I submit that, although we have had this concession from the Minister in respect to some areas, we have had no explanation from either the right hon. Gentleman or the Secretary for Scotland as to the reason why this difference has been made between the two countries. It is extremely unsatisfactory, and I suggest that the House would like to know from one or the other why this distinction, which so seriously prejudices many rural parishes, is being perpetuated.


I want to take a point in respect to Scotland. I think the Minister adopted the wrong policy altogether by adopting preferential treatment for rural parishes. I think the moment he started on that basis, that moment he drifted into the difficulties with which we are now faced. I agree that when the right hon. Gentleman started to take the agricultural worker, and the worker in the town, the mail who worked in one place and resided in another, and refused the subsidy to the parish where the man resided he made a mistake. What is the position that we have in Scotland? You are giving the agricultural parishes, those agriculturally rated, a subsidy of £12 10s., and presumably that subsidy is being given because of the low wages obtaining in the agricultural areas. But you go to Glasgow, and you find that the steel workers, the labourers, and other men are working for 33s. and 34s. per week, and they are only receiving the £9 subsidy, whereas, as I say, four or five miles away in an agricultural parish where the labourers' wages are three or four shillings a week more they are receiving the £4 10s. We agree, I think, if agricultural wages are low, it is wrong in principle to give the extra subsidy. It should be the duty of Parliament to endeavour to secure what is required by a legal minimum wage. The differentiation between the agricultural worker and the town labourer was wrong, and could not be defended when it came to the Floor of the House. I say frankly to the Noble Lady opposite that while she speaks of her part of the country, we can bring from a number of other districts people receiving as low wages, and lower, than her area; these are only receiving the £9 subsidy and have to pay more rent. Let us also not forget this very important fact. I reside in a highly industrial parish when our burden of unemployment has given us a parish rate of at least 5s. 9d. in the pound; but I know agricultural parishes a few miles away where, in addition to this subsidy being granted, there is practically no unemployment, and the rate is something like 5½d. in the pound. Therefore, in addition to having been granted the extra subsidy, they have practically no poor rate, although possibly they are receiving higher wages.

For my own part, I regret the Minister ever went on this policy of differentiation between the town and the rural areas, and that he now finds himself faced with certain difficulties which can only be met, in my opinion, by giving £10 or £11 subsidy over the whole country. To me, that is the only possible method of meeting the difficulty. I raise the point because I have noticed a tendency to think that low wages are only in the rural areas, while, at the same time, it is forgotten that there are as low wages in our bigger centres of population amongst the steelworkers, the shipbuilders or others as there are in any of the rural areas.


I am sorry to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals, for reasons upon which we may all congratulate him, has not, perhaps, given that attention to the Committee stage of this Bill—


May I say, in reply to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Penistone, that I have only been absent one day this week. As regards the earlier stages of the Bill, while I did not make so many speeches as the hon. Member for Penistone, I was more regular in my attendance, and certainly, I think, gave more attention to the Debates.


I accept the correction of my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals without modifying my congratulations to him. An effort was made to raise the question so often referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Thomson), the question of necessitous areas. I quite agree that there are many urban areas where unemployment is exceptionally severe, and where the housing difficulty is as great as in any part of the country, where, under a heavy burden of rates, the local authorities will have as great difficulty to deal with the housing problem as any of the agricultural areas. There was an Amendment down from this side which, however, had not the honour of being selected, and in these circumstances the matter has not been discussed in the House at all. I hope, however, that on some future occasion this matter of the arrangements in regard to necessitous areas will receive the attention of the Government.

8.0 P.M.

Captain ELLIOT

I just wish to point out that some of us pleaded a little while ago that this Bill should be recommitted in respect of certain of these Clauses, so that we might have a chance of discussing some of the Amendments with the object of seeing whether any alternative proposals could be found or one or two more of these more important points, which seem to have landed the Minister deeper and deeper into the morass. Only two or three Members had a chance of speaking before the Parliamentary Secretary got up to make the concession that he announced, and, after all, there are Members for other parts and other areas than the agricultural areas who scarcely have had any opportunity of making themselves heard in respect to some of these matters. I thoroughly agree with the contention of the hon. Member for Gorbals, who has pointed out that in Scotland particularly we do not have this wide disparity between the agricultural worker and the urban worker which is such a feature of the English economic system. In England you have this very wide differentiation. Be-cause of this a high cost is being thrown upon the cities in this matter of housing than in the country. There is a danger in Scotland that the highly-paid agricultural worker is being subsidised in respect of housing at the expense of the industrial part. I do think that in Scotland there ought to have been more investigation into the circumstances than the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary gave, and I do say that the concession will land the Minister, when he comes to work the thing out administratively, in a very much larger problem than he had any idea of at present. I am seriously alarmed at the result that these Amendments may have when the Bill is subsequently worked out in practice. For example, the question of placing these houses eight and 12 to the acre, I am certain, will involve the Minister in great difficulties, and may be a serious handicap to the progress of the Bill. I still say the Minister should consider, when the Bill is in another place, whether it is not necessary to give further consideration to some of these concessions, such as this one, which, it seems to me, has been given without anything like sufficient consideration.


I think it is necessary to draw attention to the real need and justification for making this discrimination between the rural and urban districts. There has been a strange concensus of opinion that this difference between the rural and urban districts is made because of the lower wages paid, and that this is to be a subsidy to wages. I think the real reason for this distinction is that in the rural districts the cost of building is greater, because of transport and labour, and because of the difficulty of connecting-up drains, water, and so on; and because of the further consideration that the rural areas are not so well able to bear the cost on the rates. But to-night we find that the one discrimination which is made between the rural and urban districts is the lower wages paid to the agricultural worker. If we are going to proceed on those principles, we ought to recast the whole Bill, and base it on the principle of restricting it to people with the lowest wages. That is a very had principle to adopt, and I should certainly have had a different attitude towards this Bill from the first if the discrimination was regarded as a subsidy to agricultural workers in particular, because I know that is not going to work to the benefit of the agricultural labourer, but will simply go into the pockets of the landowner in the end. I hope it will not be accepted that the Labour party has made this subsidy out of consideration for the low wages of the agricultural worker, but that it is really for the economic reason of the greater cost of building in rural areas, and the inability of rural areas to bear the strain on their rates.

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Bill reported; as amended (on recommittal) considered; to be read the Third time To-morrow.