HC Deb 03 August 1926 vol 198 cc2839-919

Order for Second Reading read.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Neville Chamberlain)

I beg to move, " That the Bill be now read a Second time."

In the course of the De-bate on the Housing Bill of 1923, I expressed a view that, whenever any further housing legislation was introduced into this House, some preference ought to be given to the rural districts which had not had sufficient attention devoted to them up to that time, and this afternoon I am happy to carry those views into effect and to present to the House proposals which are designed to try and improve the accommodation for agricultural labourers and for other country workers. There are two features which, I think, distinguish the rural housing problem from the urban problem. One is that in the country districts we have a population which is, generally speaking, stationary, if not declining, and consequently you have not there the problem which you have in the towns of having to provide for a constantly increasing number of families. The other feature is that even in pre-War times the agricultural labourer was never expected, and, as a matter of fact, was never in a position, to pay an economic rent for his house. Perhaps to that fact must be ascribed the practical stagnation of house building in rural districts for a great number of years. That still remains approximately true, because, while the wages of agricultural workers have increased compared with what they were receiving before the War, yet those increases have by no means kept pace with the increase which has simultaneously taken place in the cost of living, and, as a matter of fact, although many things are cheaper in the country than in the towns, that cannot be said of new houses, for the position in the country makes house building there actually more expensive than it is in the towns.

Therefore, in looking at this problem of rural housing, one has to bear in mind the peculiar difficulties owing to the great gap that exists between what the workers can pay and what would be an economic rent for a house built to-day. On the other hand, the problem is certainly strictly limited in its extent. At the same time, I do not want the House to suppose t hat I am under the impression that there is no shortage of houses in the country districts. As a matter of fact, there is quite a considerable amount of overcrowding in the country villages. Thai overcrowding has arisen partly from the fact—owing to the economic position I have described—that a large number of houses have gone out of repair and according to our modern ideas are uninhabitable—that does not always mean that then are uninhabited—and partly from the fact that in many districts, particularly near the large towns, there has been an invasion at the country by the town dwellers, whether because they could not find what they; wanted at the right price in their own areas or because they wanted to spend their week-ends in the country. At any late, the town dwellers, who can afford to pay a higher rent, have frequently taken possession of the new accommodation in the villages and have thus deprived the agricultural workers of the opportunity of getting improved houses. If, therefore, it were possible to provide a certain amount of new building to take care, as the Americans say, of the town dwellers and at the same time to bring up to modern standards the existing old houses in the villages, then I think one might say that the rural housing problem would be solved.

This Bill does not attempt to deal with the question of new building. That was the subject of attention in the Bill which was introduced by my predecessor, and lie dealt with it on a theory which, I observe, he has been recently expounding in another connection, namely, that the way to deal with difficulties of all kinds is to give a bigger subsidy. The subsidy, which was increased in the case of town houses under the Act of 1924 from £6 for 20 years as it was under the Act of 1923, to £9 for 40 years, was increased in the ease of agricultural parishes up to as much as £12 l0s. for 40 years. Even that has not been sufficient to produce any marked activity in the rural districts, but it has produced some. Up to the present about 200 local authorities have submitted for the approval of the Minister of Health schemes for providing some 7,190 houses It is not a very large number, but still it is a contribution. It is, however, a very costly one. The capital value of the Exchequer contribution towards these agricultural houses may be put at about £220 per house and to that you have to add another £80 which is the capital value of the extra subsidy to be provided by the local authority.

I must say that, when I read that the Leader of the Opposition declared on Saturday that the Labour party felt itself obliged to oppose this Bill for the sake of common honesty, I could not help wondering what it was he saw in this Bill which caused him to put forward a ground for opposition that I can only describe as comic when he saw nothing deserving of censure in a scheme by which no less than £300 of public money is given to a comparatively small number of favoured individuals who occupy the agricultural houses subsidised under the Act of 1924. Perhaps we shall hear some elaboration of the argument this afternoon. I think it is obvious that, if you con get an equally satisfactory house for a subsidy of £100, it is a very desirable course to take.

There is another aspect of the case which I should not like to omit, although it is not perhaps quite of the same order of importance. Our country villages contain a great deal that is characteristic of old England in style and material and in the architecture of their cottages. To look at cottages, such as you may see in the Cotswold district in Gloucestershire, or in East. Kent, where I was the other day, is a constant pleasure, not only to country dwellers, but to town dwellers too, and I must say that it seems to me it would be something like an. act of vandalism if we were to destroy these reminders of an older and more picturesque world in order to replace them with buildings which, though they may be sensible, are of a different style and cannot be said to harmonise with their surroundings. It is not only an Aesthetic question. I cannot help feeling that the existence of an environment of this kind must do a great deal to preserve what I may call the genius of the place in the minds of the inhabitants. I believe it must encourage in the minds of the parishioners a pride in their place and an affection for it which does prove a powerful counter to the attractions of the town. In that way the preservation of these old houses may do something to help to keep the balance between the town and the country which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) described yesterday as one of the most important social and economic problems of our time.

On those general grounds, it seems to me that there is a strong case for the underlying idea of the proposals in this Bill, namely, that we should devote ourselves now to an attempt to make it possible to recondition the old houses in the country and to bring them up to modern standards of comfort and of sanitation where they are substantially built. Of course, it will be asked: "Why do you propose to use public money in order to induce landlords to do what they ought to do themselves without public assistance?" The short answer to that question is that a good many of these landlords are people of small resources who have not the amount of capital which is necessary to make even such comparatively small alterations as we have in mind, and it is not likely, without seine extra stimulus, that they will do in the future what they have not found it possible to do in the past. On the other hand, the Bill is so drafted that the benefits arising out of this use of public money must go practically entirely to the tenants and not to the landlords.

I will now proceed to describe shortly the Clauses of the Bill, and I think the House will see that there has been an earnest, and I hope a successful, endeavour to put into the Bill every safeguard in order to make sure that these benefits shall go where they are intended to go and shall not be diverted in one direction or another. Clause 1 of the Bill enables local authorities to submit for the approval of the Minister of Health schemes for the improvement of houses in the country, and it provides that the schemes are to specify, first of all, the class of house to which the improvements are to be applicable£a class which is to be defined by value—secondly, the nature of the alteration, which is to consist not of ordinary repairs but of real structural alterations, such, for instance, as the addition of an extra room, perhaps the raising of the roof, the enlargement of windows, the provision of a larder or a wash-house, the laying on of water or the insertion of a damp course—those are the sort of things that we have in mind—and, thirdly, the date by which the works of alteration are to be completed.

The second Clause defines the power of the local authority to give assistance and says that the assistance may be either by way of grant or by way of loan or by both. The assistance is to be given only to houses whose value after they have been altered does not exceed £400. On the other side, in order to make sure that this assistance shall not be used for such ordinary works of repair as re-papering and things of that kind, the assistance may not be given where the total cost of the alteration is less than £50. The local authority has power to refuse to give any assistance at all if they are not satisfied that the house, when it is completed, is going to be satisfactory for habitation, and a special provision has been put in which is intended to prevent the Clause being applied to slums. Further, there is a time limit on the operations of the Bill. Applications for assistance of this kind must be put in within a period of five years.

Where the assistance is by way of grant, the grant may be made either by way of lump sum or by way of an annuity. It must not exceed two-thirds of the estimated cost of the works, and it is also limited to a maximum of £100 per house. It is subject to various conditions which restrict the rent and limit the class of occupants. If any of these conditions are afterwards broken, then the grant: which has been given by the local authority becomes repayable, together with compound interest, and is made a first charge upon the house. Where the assistance is given by way of loan, the loan may be made on mortgage up to 90 per cent. of the value of the altered house, and advances may be made while the works are in progress up to an amount of 50 per cent. of the work which has at any time been done. A loan is not to be paid unless a. valuation has first been made of the property, on behalf of the local authority. In the Schedule will be found the rules governing the procedure of making applications for assistance of this kind, and, as they are quite. straightforward, I do not think any comment or explanation on my part is necessary.

In Clause 3 we have the conditions which attach to dwellings for which assistance has been given by way of grant. It is there provided that for a period of 20 years the house must not be let to anyone whose income is not comparable with that of an agricultural worker, and, furthermore, during that period of 20 years, the rent is not to he more than the normal agricultural rent plus three per cent. upon the amount which has been expended upon the alterations by the owner himself. The normal agricultural rent is defined for the purposes of the Bill as the average rent paid during the preceding five years, if the house has been let as a separate dwelling. If it has not been so let, the local authority has to take what is generally paid in the district by agricultural labourers. As to the three per cent., I do not know whether that is to be a subject of animadversion by the Labour party, but I would ask the House to consider what it means. I do not anticipate that the expenditure contemplated by the Bill on any particular house can exceed £150. Out of that sum the owner will spend £50 of his own and 3 per cent. upon that £50, means an increase in the rent of 30s. a year. That is not a very formidable amount —


A week's wages.


—but I am bound to add that I think, in a large number of cases; the owner will not be able to obtain even an increase of 30s. a year. He will probably find that he has to charge the same rent as he has been charging hitherto, and he must get his satisfaction, not in any commercial return on his money, but in the consciousness that he has now got his people properly housed. It has been represented to me that these conditions might he a source of difficulty in a case where the owner died and the executors desired to sell the estate. They might desire to sell the estate free of any conditions of this kind. A proviso to Sub-section (1) of Clause 3 will be found to provide that, with the assent of the Minister of Health, the owner may rid himself of the conditions which he has undertaken, provided he repays to the local authority the amount of the grant which he has received, together with compound interest up to date.

Clause 4 defines the Government contributions to the expenses of the local authorities. These contributions are only made in a case where assistance has been by way of grant. The Government contributions must not exceed one-halt of the assistance given by the local authority and, as the local authority's assistance is two-thirds of the total cost, it will be seen that we contemplate an equal division of the cost, one-third being borne by the Government, one-third by the local authority and the remainder by the owner himself. The Government's assistance, however, will not be given in a lump sum, but will be given by means of annual instalments extending over a period of 20 years, and where a condition has been broken, and the assistance given by the local authority has become repayable to that authority, the local authority, in its turn, is liable to repay to the Government any contributions hitherto made, together with compound interest. The same thing applies where the owner has got rid of the conditions by means of the repayment which I have already described to the House.

Clause 5 defines what is to be a local authority for the purposes of the Bill. I have given a good deal of consideration to this matter because it is one on which there will probably he some difference of opinion, and, in fact, there is a great deal to be said on both sides. That is to say, there is a good deal to be said for making the authority the county council, and there is also a good deal to be said for making the authority the district council or the non-county borough. It. will be seen there is a proviso that in certain special circumstances the Minister may, after consultation with the county council, substitute for that authority the council of the district, but, undoubtedly, I contemplate that in the majority of cases the work will lie done by the county council. I will tell the House why I have come to that conclusion. I think on the side of the district council it may be argued that the district council is likely to have a better knowledge of the actual conditions existing in the area, and that it does not want to have the ideas of the county council or the county council's architect stereo- typed over the whole county. On the other hand, there are some weighty considerations in favour of the county council. To begin with, it has rather better borrowing powers than the district council. It must also be admitted that, at any rate in a large number of cases, it has a more competent and highly-trained staff, and I do not think there is likely to be any particular difficulty about the supervision which would be necessary, seeing that the operations of the Bill will be spread over a period of five years, and that the number of houses to be dealt with is strictly limited.

There is another point which has weighed a great deal with me. Where the county council is the authority, the expenses which it incurs will be spread over the whole area of the county, but if the authority is the district council, then the expenses will be charged wholly upon the area of the district council which, of course, in its turn, will be relieved of any county expenses in respect of other areas in the county. See what the effect of that is. It means that the local landowner is going to receive assistance towards the improvement of his houses, at the expense of his own immediate neighbours, whereas, if he is receiving it from the county councils, the expense is spread over the whole county. I am anxious, of course, that advantage should he extensively taken of the provisions of this Bill. If it is to effect its purpose that must be done, and I can quite conceive that in a good many cases a man might be very sensitive about this matter, and might hesitate before applying for assistance which everybody in the district would know had to be borne by that district and which would cause him, therefore, to be regarded as drawing assistance from his own neighbours and friends.

For these reasons, I have come to the conclusion that, on the whole, the county council is the best authority to undertake this work in the majority or cases, but I recognise that special cases may arise where it would be better that the district council should be the authority, and I think those will be provided for by the provision which gives the. Minister a certain amount of discretion. Clause 6 deals with the application of the Bill to Scotland and provides the necessary modifications for making the Bill applic- able to that country, and Clause 7 does not require any special comment from me. That, then, is the Bill which I am submitting to the House. I do not put it forward as a startling or a revolutionary proposal, but I do think it is a practicable and serviceable proposition, which will do, in a short time, more than has hitherto been done to provide better accommodation for the agricultural worker, and will enable him to remain on the land, without subjecting him to conditions which injure either his own self-respect or the health of himself and his family.


I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words, "upon this day three months."

I do so, in the first place, as a protest against the political sharp practice in which the Government have indulged on two recent occasions in regard to questions affecting agricultural workers. A few Fridays ago we were stampeded into passing an Allotments Bill; to-day we being asked to give a Second Reading to an important Measure of this kind on the eve of the Adjournment. I think that is fair neither to this House, nor to the big questions of rural housing and allotments for agricultural workers. The right hon. Gentleman has told us this Bill is riot a revolutionary Bill, but it has two important features which call for a great deal more consideration than the House is able to give to it at this stage of the Session. As the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, it gives new powers to county councils in respect of housing. I am not saying, at the moment, whether that is right or wrong; but it is a great departure from the existing state of the law and it raises questions which merit more consideration than I imagine they will receive to-day. The second feature is that, while it may not be revolutionary the Bill is, at least, disturbing to Members on this side of the House because, notwithstanding all the Minister has said, it is an attempt to make the land safe for the landlords. The right hon. Gentleman, fresh from his triumph over the West Ham Board of Guardians, has now introduced what is virtually a rural landlords' out-relief Bill. Because of the importance of the questions raised, submit the House would have been more fairly treated if this Bill had been introduced earlier in the Session or had been postponed until the Autumn Session.

But greater than that objection is the objection to the Bill itself. The right hon. Gentleman referred to certain difficulties inherent in the problem of rural housing, such as the low wages of the agricultural worker and the low rateable value of local authorities in the country, on which he did not put much stress but which I regard as one of the most important difficulties in the way of publicly-provided houses. Then there is the peculiar difficulty of the tied house, which this Bill, no doubt, is intended to perpetuate, there are difficulties with regard to transport, there is the real difficulty that we have a much larger proportion of older houses in the country districts than in the towns, and there is a further difficulty in the character of the local authorities in the countryside. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that there is a really serious housing problem, a problem partly of overcrowding and partly of unsatisfactory housing conditions, two problems which have been complicated by the fact that the law of the land has never been carried out in the rural areas of this country. Twenty years ago a Select Committee of this House, which was considering the Housing of the Working Classes (Amendment) Bill, reported that the housing laws had never been enforced in the countryside, and the process of deterioration has gone on so long that the right hon. Gentleman is now compelled, in his view, to come forward and provide public money to get rid of the neglect of a generation. A further difficulty is the fact that the countryside has not had its fair proportion of the new houses that have been built since the War. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that, as a result of the 1924 Act, some 7,190 houses have been built or are to be built — I am not quite sure which.


Are to be built.


Some 7,190 houses are to be built in the rural areas under that Act. That, I think, is a real contribution. I am not at all certain that it is not a larger contribution to the housing of the agricultural worker than the houses built in rural areas under the Act of 1923. I think that anyone who has paid attention to this question realises that the greatest need is the provision of more houses in the rural areas, but this Bill does not deal with new houses. This Bill is concerned only with improving the existing supply of houses, and, if it is to be successful, it is going to mean an enormous expenditure, because the standard of rural housing is already so very, very low. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that at least 5 per cent. of the rural cottages of this country could not be made fit under any circumstances, and I should think that there must be 20 per cent., or perhaps more, that can only be made moderately fit by substantial expenditure on them. I would like to quote the kind of conditions which were discovered in a rural district in the County of Essex. From 39 to 80 per Cent.—

Brigadier-General CLIFTON-BROWN

From what is the hon. Member quoting?


This is a Report which was made by the consulting medical officer of health for the County of Essex.


What year?


The Report was published in 1919. It states: From 39 to 80 per cent. (average 61 per cent.) of all the cottages have privies with cesspits. From 10 to 96 per cent. (average 17.6 per cent.) have no private closet accommodation. From 2 to 31 per cent. (average 13.6 per cent.) have no accommodation of any kind for storing food, and probably 99 per cent. have nothing which can be called a larder. From 70 to 100 per cent. (average 96 per cent.) have no sink; and From 60 to 95 per cent. (average 85 per cent.) have no proper water supply. That is a deplorable state of affairs, which can be repeated in rural district after rural district in this country, and to attempt to deal with that problem by means of this Bill seems to me perfectly hopeless. What does the Minister propose to do? He proposes to make grants or loans to landlords. He desires to retain his reputation as a housing reformer, and at the same time give some practical assistance to the landed classes. This Bill is in direct descent from the private enterprise Housing Bill of 1923, against which Members of this House protested, because it almost appeared to us that the right hon. Gentleman's first desire was to re-establish private enterprise in the building industry, and secondarily to deal with the housing problem. This Bill follows that line. It is a subsidy to private owners of houses, just as the 1923 subsidy has, in the vast majority of cases, gone into private hands. It is a plan for bolstering up neglected rural cottages. There may be something to be said for it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—I am going to admit that, but it is not the major problem, and it is not the way to deal with it. This is really, as I have tried to show, a dole to the landlords. It is, as my right hon. Friend pointed out only the other day, a subsidy to landlords by the Government that has refused, and finally refused, with indignation, to give any kind of substantial financial assistance to the key industry of this country.


It has had:£25,000,000!


This is a Bill that is going to fasten the tied cottage system, which is one of the greatest abuses of the countryside, round the neck of the agricultural worker. It is going to add to the amenities, the prestige, and the pleasantness of rural estates almost entirely by an expenditure of public money. Rural landlords will be able to get £150 worth of work done for £50, which, no doubt, will be an admirable thing for them, but is a robbery from public funds.


Who are going to live in the cottages?


The people who live them now. Personally, 1 am strongly in favour of the improvement of the existing cottages in the countryside. I would rather see those sound cottages made to conform with modern standards than see the countryside strewn with Weir houses, which would be entirely out of keeping with country surroundings and have nothing in common whatever with local architecture and traditions. Let that he admitted. Our case against the Bill is not that the right hon. Gentleman is going to improve the existing cottages, but, first, that he is going to do it in the wrong way, and, secondly, that that in itself is not suffi- cient. There are on the Statute Book today provisions to enable local authorities to deal with landlords in the country, as well as in the towns, who do not keep their houses in a proper state of repair. I would like to see that kind of provision extended. I would like to see the obligation on the landlords to maintain houses which are fit to live in strengthened in accordance with modern needs. Local authorities in the past have been far too tender to both town and country landlords. People have been permitted year after year, generation after generation, to inhabit bad houses. A milkman who dares to sell milk with water in it, or a butcher who tries to sell bad meat, could be and would be dealt with by the local authority, but a man, a landlord, may apparently let a bad house, and the local authority will permit him to continue to do so, and it seems to me that there ought to be stronger provision made to compel the fulfilment of reasonable standards of housing by the landlords of the country.

In my own view, and in the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health himself, that is unlikely so long as these houses remain in private hands. The case is not exactly parallel, I admit, but after the War the right hon. Gentleman, who is now the Minister of Health, was then the Chairmen of a Ministry of Health Committee on Unhealthy Areas, and in his interim Report he made a suggestion for the improvement of existing houses and districts under public auspices, while in the final Report, so convinced was the right hon. Gentleman of the wisdom of this policy, that it was reaffirmed. The Report states: Considerations of this kind draw us to the conclusion that the management of old property on the Octavia Hill system, which has in London raised the general standard of living very considerably among the tenants concerned, might be extended with advantage to the community, but we felt hound to add that we did not see how such extension could take place under the present system of private ownership. We found general agreement that, in spite of the powers given by various Acts of Parliament to local authorities to insist on the maintenance of an adequate standard in private property, it is not to he expected that areas will be satisfactorily improved under private ownership. And the Report goes on: Accordingly, we are confirmed in the opinion that the local authority must do the work itself after the purchase of the property to be improved in the pursuance of a scheme. That represents the policy for which we stand on this side of the House, and had the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to the improvement of existing houses by the method of purchase by the local authorities, if necessary with State assistance, I, for one, would have been very glad to go into the Lobby with him.


The Report from which the hon. Member has lust quoted was dealing with slums in towns, not in country districts.


I was aware of that, but it is quite irrelevant. What is the difference between a slum in the country and a slum in the town? What is the difference between one slum house and 20 slum houses? If the right hon. Gentleman, after considering the question in London and in other towns of the country, comes to the conclusion that the only solution is public ownership of those houses, why are we not entitled to say that the same principle should be applied to the rural landlords, whose misdeeds are even greater than those of the town landlords? [HON. MEMRERS: "No!"] Oh, yes. Some of the foulest slums in this country are in the country districts, and if there is a case for public ownership of these houses so that they can be put into a proper state of repair under public authorities, the case is even more strong in the rural areas than it is in the towns. But when everything is done that can be done to improve existing houses, we shall still be left with the major problem. I do not believe that more than a minority of the houses are likely to be put into a reasonable state of habitation in accordance with modern standards, and, therefore, there is a grave need for new houses.

There is a grave need for new houses also, because some of the alterations that are required to make that housing accommodation satisfactory would be so large as to fall outside the £100 limit. We have in this country an entirely inadequate supply of three-bedroom cottages. The number of three-bedroomed cottages in the country is relatively small in proportion to the needs of the population, but to add to the one-bedroom cottage, two bedrooms, even if it were practicable, is a proposal which is going to be so costly as to put that provision and improvement—an essential, necessary and vital improvement—quite outside the bounds of this Bill. Therefore, we do need more houses.

The right hon. Gentleman opened his speech by referring to a statement which he made in 1923 when he introduced the Housing Bill of that year saying that he hoped that the next step would be to give a preference to agricultural houses. But he omitted to mention in his speech to-day what we did in 1924 when, for the first time in the history of our housing laws, some additional assistance was given to the agricultural parishes over and above that allowed to the remainder of the country. The right hon. Gentleman has tried to belittle that effort, but it is producing some thousands of houses. But he says that it is a costly contribution. Then we come to one of the purposes of his Bill which I must confess I had not thought about until I heard the right hon. Gentleman's speech. This is a new Economy Bill. This is a bill which is going to do the job more cheaply than could be done by building new houses. These 7,000 houses built in rural areas under the Act of 1924 will be houses which will be publicly owned and which will, I assume, go to the people who need them. These houses will improve the standard of housing in the countryside. The right hon. Gentleman, while belittling that effort, has himself, not added one house to the number of houses in the country; he is doing very little indeed to improve the rural standard of housing. What he prefers to do is not to build new houses but, because it is cheaper to patch up old houses, he is proceeding with this policy of tinkering with the old houses. This is a Tinkers' Bill and not a Housing Bill. It is the most amazing Bill that has been before this House. Under the guise of a Title which is most misleading, it seeks to confer direct pecuniary benefit upon the most pampered class of the community, who happen to be the strongest supporters of the Conservative party.

Captain FRASER

How do they get pecuniary benefit?


To the extent of two-thirds of the cost of the improvement of their estates. It is perfectly true to say that there is no section of our people who have been assisted more than the farmers and the rural landlords. They already escape their fair share of rates and taxes; they are permitted to continue abuses which would never be tolerated in the towns; they maintain conditions of employment which would never be tolerated in any industry other than agriculture; they are hankering after the full-blooded Protectionist system which the Government would give them if it dared. Notwithstanding all these benefits and all these hopes for the future, the members of that industry are now going to have their property improved, primarily at the expense of the public, and the sum which the right hon. Gentleman took away from the insured persons earlier in the year is to go to provide another additional subsidy to the many already enjoyed by the landlords of the countryside. In other words, the Government are pursuing their economy policy at the expense of the masses of the people and in order that their spoilt and petted supporters should receive direct financial benefit. The Bill is the most amazing piece of class legislation we have ever had. Masquerading under the Title of a Housing Bill, it is a Bill which does nothing more than improve property at the expense of the people for the greater glory of the landlord. I should have thought that if hon. Members opposite had considered this Bill seriously, they might have had some compunction about giving their support to it. The Bill is full of deceptions. Its principle is one with which we cannot possibly agree. It violates what we believe is an essential principle, that public money should not be devoted to the interests of private gain. If public money is to be devoted, it should he devoted under public auspices. Had the Bill even approached that method of dealing with the problem, our opposition to it would have been modified. But, as it is, regretfully we have to offer this Bill every opposition we can.


I beg to second the Amendment.

The Bill will go further, even than other Measures which we have been discussing in connection with matters of subvention to certain classes in the community, to help the landlord class than probably any other Measure that we have discussed during the lifetime of this Parliament.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

What do you know about it?


I know as much as anybody else, for I was brought up in a village and I know very well what Toryism in a village means.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

That was 40 years ago.


I desire, before I finish, to say a word or two about the attitude of Toryism and landlordism in the villages with which, I think, I am well acquainted. The subventions that are paid in connection with this Measure to the landlord class will be paid in connection with houses which have been recognised for many years past to be, perhaps, the worst disgraces in connection with our housing problem throughout the land. Bad as town slums are, bad as the overcrowding in industrial districts may be, the country cottages—not, be it noted, the country cottages in Chipping Campden or the beautiful villages of the Cotswolds or Yorkshire or East Kent—but the cottages scattered far away from the industrial centres, are known, hundreds and thousands of them, to have been breeding-places of disease these many years. They have been damp, they have no proper ventilation, in tens of thousands of them their walls suck up the moisture from the ground, and the people have been mouldering and rotting in them like the timberwork of the cottages themselves. It is in order to improve those things that this excuse is found to pay away into the pockets of private landlords large public moneys.

I was interested to note, when the Minister was introducing his Bill, that he assumed that the landlord was an extremely sensitive individual and that he would be loth to go to the local authority, had that authority been selected in too small an area, as possibly he would be known to them. That is not my experience. As one who has lived in a village and who has had to do with the local politics of a village, I know how the local landlord class for years past has been glad to improve its property through local rates, however small the area. But the Minister in this case is willing to make it easier for the landlords to come for public money. He is willing to take a large county area which will provide the funds and, at the same time, many in that area will know nothing at al of the landlord for whose benefit ultimately these funds are paid. What justification can there be for this method of dealing with the rural housing problem? Those who sit on this side of the House, and especially those who have lived in the villages, are as keen as any Members in this House to see a very big improvement — an improvement even bigger than anything that may be suggested in the towns—in connection with the housing of our rural population. What we complain of in regard to this Bill is, that instead of frankly admitting that the landlord class in countless cases has shown its incapacity to own rural houses and has by its attitude created problems which now need to be got rid of, this Government bolsters them up in wrongdoing and provides means out of the public exchequer to make money out of the needs of the community.

5.0 P.M.

I notice that in another place yesterday, in discussing another question the Duke of Northumberland, when complaining of paying a 5 per cent. tax upon royalties for certain improvements in the miners' lot, asked why should not a compulsory levy be imposed on all landlords for the welfare of the agricultural labourers? The Duke need not have asked that question. There is no need, as this Bill shows, to put the levy upon the landlords to pay for the welfare of the agricultural labourer. What this Government does in this matter, instead of proceeding as it has done in connection with the pit-head baths, is to neglect the landlords with a capacity to pay a .5 per cent. levy and to place the general burden upon the community as a whole. There was no need to have done this. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who I observe has kept away from this Debate, knows well how the money might have been raised. He could have worked out how a levy might he placed on the agricultural landlords. His first speeches in the country, in the years that have gone, resounded with claims for special taxation upon the land in order to meet the special needs of the land either in this or in other directions. But he prefers, as, indeed, the Govern- ment prefer, when they come to deal with this issue of rural housing, to forget all the complaints which they have made against the subsidy when practised in far more needful directions than this issue. At last the subsidy is put forward as the main, means for the settlement of our great social evils. The worst of it is that, when this process has been adopted, it is very likely that all the evil conditions now appertaining to tenure of country cottages will remain. This Bill does nothing to remove from the landlord the right to tie his cottage. He, probably, will get an improved cottage with the assistance of this Bill, and, instead of making the cottage available to the best type of labourer, he will still have the right to fasten it down, as he fastens it down at the present moment, not in the labourer's interest, but in his own interest. In fact, I go further and ask this question: Is it not likely, when you have paid what amounts to a subsidy to the rural landlord for the improvement of his cottages, that at the end of a period—and the period may not be longer than the period during which you tested the payment of a mining subsidy—you will discover that, instead of improving the agricultural labourer's condition, you will have missed as completely as you missed when you tried to deal with the miner's conditions in connection with the subsidy. A subsidy paid to private capitalists, for whatever purpose, will, in the long run, generally be used for the advantage of the private capitalists. That was proved in connection with the mining subsidy. It was not the miners, as was so well shown by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Bench on this side, and in this case, also, you cannot prove that the farm labourer, in the long run, is going to be helped.

I do not know whether it is a fanciful suggestion, but I put this forward for what it is worth—I stand open to correction, and shall be glad to be corrected—that it will be possible, in connection with this Bill, for the week ender to put a tenant—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—let me finish what I was saying—for the week-ender to put a tenant into a country cottage for housekeeping purposes, let the cottage stand in the name of the caretaker, let the care- taker put in the claim to the local authority for the granting of a loan to improve the property, and it will be possible to do it. Indeed, it is becoming quite the custom for the week-enders to put caretakers into these week-end cottages, and, unless something more, effective can be said than the mere negative of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, I shall still continue to feel that there is something in the contention I am putting before, the House.

The right hon. Gentleman suggested that this Bill would have no part in the perpetuation of the village slum. I am not so sure. One provision of the Bill says, that if you have got a row of agricultural labourers' cottages, or a series of them, you may raise a loan for drainage improvements on those cottages if it exceeds £100 for the lot. There may be 20 cottages for which you are going to make certain slight modifications of water supply, of drainage, of damp courses, and so on. You will not have removed the village slum by the expenditure of £100, or £110, on some 10, 12 or 20 cottages. You may make them fairly habitable for the people in those cottages, but, in the long run, you are perpetuating the slum; you are not really dealing with the root difficulties with which our village population is con fronted. It is very likely that in many villages in the country, under this Bill, the village slum will remain; indeed, the village slum will rather be strengthened in its position.

I object, as all of us on these benches object to this Bill, because the Government, while they have had an opportunity to deal radically with one of our great social evils have preferred, as my hon. Friend said, to tinker with that evil, and in the process to pay further grants to their friends the landlord class. Hon. Members make that charge a matter for laughter, but I assure them that, both in the country districts, where this issue is understood, and in the towns, where it is better understood than it used to be, the Tory party is coming to be understood as the party which always helps its friends, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer so well put it. The people in the towns, and more and more the working people in the villages, know that they are not the friends of the Tory party, and it will be seen, in the practical experience of this legislation, that there will be a new accession of strength to those of us who are struggling for better conditions for the agricultural labourer, and the day of judgment is not very far distant.


I have had a certain amount of sympathy for the hon. Members who proposed and seconded the rejection of this Bill. I think it was the mildest thing in the way of cursing which has been done since the days of Balaam, and I have been wondering who could have played the part of that benevolent animal which arrested Balaam in the course of his journey. The fact is, it is pretty generally realised why this Bill is necessary. In the past, the cottages in the village have been provided at the expense of the landlord. Agricultural cottages have never been an economic proposition. They have never paid their way, and the difference between the rent which an agricultural labourer pays and what the landlord has to spend on the upkeep of the cottage, and the interest on the capital he has expended in building the cottage, is really a heavy subsidy which the landlord is paying for the benefit of the agricultural labourer. There are very few landlords who can afford to go on doing that now.

The hon. Member who has just sat down talked about a levy of 5 per cent. upon the landlords for the benefit of the agricultural labourers. The keeping up of cottages and the cost of the cottages amount to a great deal more than a 5 per cent. levy. Five per cent. is a trifle to what the cost of keeping up an agricultural estate is to a landlord. The hon. Member has spoken about the bad state of certain cottages. It is quite true. That is one of the reasons why this Bill has been brought in. You have a very good measure, as you go about the country, of the wealth of the man through whose property you are going, by the state of repair in which you find the cottages are kept. The need for this Bill is that very few landlords can afford to pay that subsidy any longer. It would not be in order to go into the various reasons why that has come about, but it is a fact that the subsidy is more than they can now pay, and if you want to keep these cottages going, you have to fall back upon some other means than simply making a draft upon the pockets of the landlords.

The opposition to this Bill has been on the ground that the landlord would get too much out of it. Remember, that in addition to any grant which may be made, the landlord has got to spend a certain proportion, a third of the whole, out of his own pocket. On that third, he can only get 3 per cent., and that is for 20 years. I will undertake to say, that in almost every case, if, instead of spending the money in the improvement of the cottage, the landlord put it into the public funds he would, at the end of the 20 years, in spite of the subsidy, be a richer man than if he had spent the money on improving the cottages in this way. The loss which the landlord will incur in keeping a cottage going is much more than the subsidy can possibly compensate him. I have said he can only charge 3 per cent., and that if he put his money in any ordinary security, he would be a very much richer man at the end of 20 years than he would be by repairing his cottages.

My fear is, not that the landlords are going to get too much out of this, but that the terms are not sufficiently liberal to induce many landlords to touch it at all. But it is worth trying, and it is worth trying because no other alternative is suggested. I listened to the speeches of the hon. Members who proposed and seconded the rejection of the Measure. I tried to see if they had got any glimmering of a practical idea as to how what is an admittedly grave evil is going to be solved. The present schemes have been very little good indeed to the agricultural labourer. I have got the return from a rural district council. It is an entirely rural district, and the council is a fairly enterprising one, as anybody would acknowledge. Up to the beginning of last year, they had built 230 houses, out of which there were only 12 inhabited by farm labourers. There are heavy subsidies with all those houses. To whom is the money going which has been provided out of public funds on houses erected not by private individuals, but by the elected public authority? Let us see who gets the subsidy under conditions pretty closely approaching what hon. Members of the Labour party want to bring about. For those 230 houses, the subsidy goes to 40 people of no occupation with private means, 37 railway employeés—I will not trouble the House with a long list—9 farmers, 7 school teachers, 6 rural postmen, 7 motor drivers, 4 grooms, 3 gardeners, 4 butchers, and a Congregational minister.


May I ask whether those houses were built under the 1923 Act?


Under the 1919 Act.


All of them?


I think all of them. Those are the people who are getting the subsidy, and the reason is plain. These houses have to be let at a rent which is usually 7s. 6d., plus rates, and in no case is less than Cs. 3d., plus rates. That is a rent very few agricultural labourers can pay; and, moreover, these houses arc bigger than an agricultural labourer wants. I do not say that is so in every case, but the house which is generally put up by a district council is a bigger house than the agricultural labourer wants and bigger than his wife is prepared to look after. As to the 1924 Act, we cannot tell who arc going to inhabit the houses put up under that Act, but for those houses the rents will have to be 5s. 6d. plus rates, a total charge of nearly 8s. a week. How can an agricultural labourer afford to pay that? We know he cannot do it. The scheme of the late Minister of Health, which was designed specially to benefit the agricultural labourer, will not be sufficient for the purpose. We gave a big subsidy—it is an enormous subsidy—and yet we cannot get rent down to a level which will enable agricultural labourers to take the houses.

The problem has remained unsolved up to the present and that is the justification for this Bill. The liability on the houses under the Wheatley Act is a very heavy one indeed. The charge on public funds is about £300 a house—a very expensive matter to the country. What is now proposed is a Measure under which the expense will not be anything like so great. We are not landing ourselves in for anything like £300 a house. I think the expense will be about £100 a house, and in a great. many cases is likely to be less. But that is not the only consideration, for what really matters is to get decent habitations for these labourers, which our legislation so far has failed to do, and which the legislation which is coming on—the 1924 Act—will fail to do, as far as we can foresee. No other solution is proposed from the benches opposite. Now the right hon. Gentleman has brought in this Measure let us give it a trial. The risk under it is very small. The fear is that it may not be very largely adopted, but even in that case it has done no harm to anybody, and, personally, I think there are a considerable number of estates on which the landlord will avail himself of it. He will get no pecuniary benefit himself, but he will be doing some service to the community, and the Bill will enable him to help a class which gets too little of the help that is given by this House, though not the least deserving of those who work with their hands. It is because I think the Bill will help those who are not too often helped by Parliament that I am anxious to support it in every way I possibly can.


As one who has been chairman of a housing committee and as the representative of a purely agricultural area, I welcome this Bill very heartily indeed. We have spent a great deal of money in building houses under the existing Housing Acts, and our ratepayers are alarmed at the amount of our indebtedness. If some such Measure as this be passed it will enable local authorities to deal with what is a serious state of affairs without adding to local indebtedness. We find now, especially since the break up of estates, that many people who have bought cottages as a small investment have not got the money to make the necessary improvements. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have said district councils are too kind to landlords in not asking them to do repairs which they ought to require them to undertake; but the fact is the councils know very well that the landlords have not got the money. This Bill will provide an instrument whereby the councils can urge landlords to do repairs. They will say to the landlord, "Certain repairs are necessary, and under this Bill you can apply for assistance to carry them out, and if you will not do so we will force you to execute the repairs under other Acts."

As regards the financial side of the Bill, I would like to point out that this is the second Measure we have had before us lately which necessitates expenditure of money by a local authority if that authority is to receive help from the taxpayers. There was a similar provision under the Small Holdings Bill; before the local council could get assistance, it would have to find some part of the money out of the rates. If all counties were equally wealthy, that would be a perfectly reasonable thing, but it is absurd to compare the county from which I come, Norfolk, with counties such as Surrey and Hertfordshire, and to suggest that we are able to put up money as easily as they can. The position is that the more wealthy counties will take far greater advantage of these Bills than counties which are poor. Not very long ago, when a certain amount of assistance was given by the Ministry of Transport in respect of rural roads, the principle was adopted of giving the poorer counties a larger grant than the richer ones. I would appeal to the Minister to see whether it is not possible for him to adopt some such principle in this case, because if Measures like this and the Small Holdings Bill are going to confer more prosperity on the richer counties, we shall get into a vicious circle. The richer counties will get advantages from them and become richer, and the poorer counties will have to stand aside, although they will be subscribing as taxpayers towards the expenditure of the richer counties.

I should have thought it would have been possible for each county to have an index figure to regulate the contributions from the Treasury, based on its rateable value and possibly, also, on the work it has done, in spite of its limitations, in the provision of small holdings and so on. Such index figure should be the basis of all grants from the Treasury, either under a Bill of this sort, or the Small Holdings Bill, or in respect of contributions from the Ministry of Transport towards road expenditure. That would give us ordinary justice, and give the poorer counties the chance of taking advantage of these grants in the same way that the richer counties can.

Perhaps I am prejudiced as a member of a district council—I am a county councillor as well, so I suppose I may be regarded as more or less neutral—but I am rather sorry to see that the power under this Bill is to be granted almost entirely to the county councils. District councils have done splendid work for housing, and it does seem illogical to say to them: "We will trust you to spend thousands of pounds in building new cottages, but we do not think you are men enough to repair the old ones." I can see that there may be difficulties, but I hope the Minister will be able to overcome them, because the district councils will be rather hurt by this proposed arrangement, and the county councils already have plenty of duties to occupy their staffs. As it is the county councils have to go to the district councils to get advice from their medical officers and their sanitary inspectors, and from the members of the district council themselves who know the local conditions, and, therefore, there is a good case for delegating power freely to the district councils. I would say in conclusion I have not made these criticisms because I do not like the Bill, for I like it very much indeed, and I think it will do a tremendous amount of good, and I hope it will speedily be passed into law.


I wish to congratulate the Minister of Health for doing one thing in this Bill which other Governments are to be condemned for leaving undone. For the first time in our housing legislation, the county authority is to be in some small measure the housing authority. The hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill said something about the county authority having this power, but did not commit himself to the extent of saying whether the proposal was good or bad. I think he knows as well as I do that the mistakes which have been made and the slow progress with housing in rural areas have been due to a very large extent to the county authority having had no power. In another respect the Minister is taking the same old road — subsidies. It is a subsidy every time when any improvement has to be made. There was a demand from more than one quarter of the House for a subsidy for sugar beet, for a subsidy to the mining industry, and for housing in suburban areas—not only a subsidy for the local authority in suburban areas but also for the individual who wanted to build his house; he could have a handsome subsidy, even though he had a handsome income. Some hon. Member above the Gangway has said that, as usual, the Government are very anxious to help their friends,, the landlords. I am anxious to help my friends. My friend is the agricultural labourer. It is he, his wife and his family that I have in mind. Why should policemen, roadmen, railway workers, teachers and others employed by the Education Department, the Home Office and the Ministry of Transport occupy houses which are required by agricultural labourers? Why should a policeman, who is paid half his wages by the Home Office and half by the Standing Joint Committee of the county live in a house which is required by an agricultural labourer? Take the school teacher, who is paid under the Burnham scale, why should he live in a cottage which is required by an agricultural labourer? I think pressure ought to he brought to bear upon these various departments of county councils to see that they make proper provision for the policemen, the roadmen, and other sections of their employés. I think that is another reason why there is at the present time a shortage of cottages.

I know that some county authorities have been very anxious to house their own officials, and they have done that without much encouragement from the Government Department. When a person has a few cottages to sell who is generally the best purchaser? Why, the county authority. Who do they purchase them for? Do they purchase them for the agricultural labourer? Nothing of the kind. Generally they put a school teacher in one and a policeman in the other, and consequently in our rural areas we have been going from bad to worse simply because it was left to the rural district council, and they are not the best authority for getting on with housing schemes for agricultural districts. Government Departments have left this question far too much to the local authorities instead of prodding them on to provide houses for the particular public officials who are employed by the authority. Much as I dislike a subsidy either for coal, sugar beet, or anything else, I think this Bill does at any rate go a little way towards providing more and better accommodation for the agricultural worker who sorely needs it. It does do that. It may be that I am not in agreement with some of my hon. Friends, but in all matters of this kind I take my own action; and if this Bill does anything towards helping the agricultural labourer, I shall support it because I am out to improve if possible rural housing accommodation, and help the agricultural labourer, because it is always best to help the man who has been neglected the longest, and in the rural areas the agricultural labourer has been neglected the longest.

A good deal has been said about the landlords, and if I wanted to enter into a tirade against landlords it would not be difficult to do, although I do not know that it would redound to my credit if I did, because there are different kinds of landlords. Some landlords are good, some are very had, and some are very poor. I am not speaking of the landed proprietors. I know there are many people who do not own a row of houses, but perhaps own two houses, and they live in one and have the other to let. I find in rural areas where the landed proprietor owns the cottages they are often falling into disrepair, but I also know that in some of our villages where there are a large number of freeholders and individual holders who own perhaps one or two houses there you have as much falling into disrepair as you have in the ease of the landlords. I say there should be the same equity of treatment in the case of the poor landlord and the small owner as there is in the case of the man who owns perhaps 20 houses. There are some proposals in this Bill which I dislike and disagree with, but when the Measure conies before the Committee, if I happen to he a member of the Committee, I shall endeavour to improve this Measure by moving Amendments. On the general principle, from the human point of view in rural areas, I shall support anything that will help to provide better accommodation.

I want to ask the Minister one question. He is going to use public money, and he says in one clause that if the houses are in a narrow street there will be prohibition with regard to the operation of this Bill, and that it will be no use asking the Minister of Health for money to improve cottages in a narrow street. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that possibly the highway authority of the county council may say, "We want to widen this road, and we will pull these cottages down. We shall have to purchase them"? Is that the reason why the Bill is not intended to encourage improvement in narrow streets?

I would also like to put another question to the Minister. I may not have correctly interpreted what was in the mind of the framers of this Bill, and it may he that instead of a grant there will be a loan, but that is immaterial for my argument. Suppose in the next 10 or 15 years it becomes necessary for road improvements under the grant of the Ministry of Transport to pull down a cottage that has been put into a good state of repair out of the money provided under this Bill. In that case are you going to make the person owning the cottage and selling it for road improvement purposes to pay back the amount of money paid to the owner for putting the cottage into tenantable repair? If some provision of this sort is not made, then you are hardly doing justice. I wonder whether the Minister of Health has had in mind putting something in this Bill whereby the evils of the tied cottage can be in any way reduced. The evil I speak of is where a certain cottage goes with the farm, and under the Act of Parliament there is a Clause which says that if the cottage goes with the farm, and if the agricultural labourer leaves his employment, he can by a certain practice adopted by the county agricultural executive committee be turned out because his cottage is required for another labourer. A man may only have two cottages, and he rents them to a farmer because he thinks he is sure of the rent, and then the farmer rents them to two labourers who work for him. That is the evil of the tied cottage system, and in this case, where there is a scarcity of cottages, the farmer is not the owner and they do not go with the farm; but immediately the agricultural labourer who is the tenant under an independent owner has to leave the village, there is not another cottage provided for him and his family.


He cannot be ejected under the Rent Restriction Act.


I am not so sure about that. It all depends upon the Courts, and Parliament has no control over the Courts. It also depends on the particular outlook of the bench at a particular time in regard to a particular case. That is how it works out in practice. I see the name of the Minister of Agriculture is on the back of this Bill as well as the name of the Minister of Health. I would like both those Ministers to have looked completely round the whole rural situation from the point of view of housing instead of bringing in a Measure to deal with these little improvements which I welcome. I am very disappointed that the present Government, with its powerful majority, has not taken a much broader outlook with regard to the rural problem. I think we have a good deal of ground for complaint in regard to 'the treatment of rural areas, and the Government have been lacking very much in their vision and action with regard to dealing with the whole of the problem, and doing something to put on a much wider plan a scheme likely to do a great deal more good. Nevertheless I welcome this Bill, small as it is, although I do not think it will do very much to repair the mistakes of the past. I think this Government will go down to posterity as having neglected the agricultural problem at a time when they had an ample opportunity of doing something which would have been a credit to this country.


Although on general political questions I differ as widely as the poles are asunder from the hon. Member who has just spoken, I find myself not for the first nor second time in agreement with a great deal of what he has said on rural matters and particularly with the views he has expressed on the effects on our village life of this Bill. As to his complaint about the delay in bringing it in, I think he ought rather to welcome its being produced so late in the Session, because it will enable him as well as us to devote the whole of our vacation to its consideration. I desire to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health on bringing in this Measure, which, in my view, and I have had a considerable number of years' experience of rural affairs, will do more to bring comfort and health to the working population of our rural districts than any Measure that has been introduced into this House for many years. I am very glad to be able thus to congratulate my right hon. Friend, because I have not always seen eye to eye with him on matters affecting our rural legislation. I am glad, however, to see that he has benefited from the views that have been expressed by myself and others of us on these matters, and has learned successfully the fact that the needs of our rural districts are not necessarily the same, or capable of being dealt with in the same way, as those of more thickly populated municipal areas.

I was very disappointed at the speeches of the late Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and of the hon. Member who seconded the rejection of this Bill. I take exception to Members from towns trying to force town views on rural areas. In my view, the country districts have been ruled and governed by the townsmen in this House for 50 years past. I had hoped, seeing the large number of Members of the Labour party who are presumably interested in the conditions under which weekly wage-earners live, that they might have seen with us that the needs of the country worker are as great as those of the town worker. What is their objection to this Bill It is that it is a subsidy. But how much subsidy have the constituents of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. H. Hudson), who seconded the rejection of this Bill, had out of the. Government How much have they had out of the rates in subsidies granted to houses built under the Housing Acts in their borough? How much have the town dwellers who are represented by Labour Members in this House had in subsidies under the Housing Acts? I say nothing of the subsidy given to the coal industry, which is a totally different matter, but how much have they had to help them to get their houses provided, mainly under the B brought in by my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Health? What is the condition of the housing question today? Thanks to the Measures that have been passed, and mainly to my right hon. Friend's Measure, the housing question in our towns is nearly settled. 180,000 houses have been built within the last year, mainly under the Act of 1923. and some under the Act of 1924.


Come down to my constituency.


I said mainly. I agree that it is not completely finished, but it is well on the way. I should like to ask the Minister what is the amount of the subsidy that has been granted to townsmen under these Measures—a subsidy towards which we who live in country districts have had to pay our share for the benefit of those who live in the towns? What is the second objection of hon. Members opposite? It is that they would rather have new houses built. So would we all, but did the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood) provide the means for building new houses? He did not. He failed in his great generosity at the public expense. Even under the generous subsidy given under the Act of 1924—which I have heard for the first time amounted in capital value to £300—houses cannot be built in the purely rural districts without putting a heavy charge on the ratepayers. In those areas the rateable value is too small to bear these charges, and, therefore, they cannot proceed to build houses under either scheme.

I remember that after the Act of 1924 was passed I called a meeting of all the housing authorities in my district. It was attended by representatives of eight housing authorities, and we discussed the various methods of pushing forward the building of houses under either Act. We got one or two built, but on the whole we failed, and the housing question to-day in our rural districts is in such a condition that new houses cannot be built. We are left, as the Minister has told us, with, in many cases, a proper number of houses, or a sufficient number of houses; but they are houses which are not in an up-to-date condition, and are not such as our people ought to live in. If we cannot get new houses built, what is the next best thing to do? It is what the Minister is doing, namely, to provide the means for improving these houses and bringing them up to the necessary standard of comfort, health and sanitation for our people.

Who are the people who are opposing that? They are the Labour party, who boast that they are the friends of our working population. I shall take great care that the hon. Gentleman's speech in opposition to this Bill is read on every platform that I attend in my district. What is the cause of the present condition of housing in our rural districts? I am an old hand in politics, with a number of years' service, and I can remember the time when it was a fashionable and regular thing for the Liberal party to come into our rural districts and, with cheap gibes at the squire and the parson, hold them up to the scorn of the electors. That is now old-fashioned, but it had this effect, that while, in those districts where the rural land was in the hands of one or two big landowners, they, in spite of these attacks, did their duty and provided cottages, in other districts, where there were smaller and more numerous landowners, men were not going, as they had done in the past, to invest their money at a return of 2 or 2 ½ per cent. and be held up to obloquy and scorn by any tub-thumping politician who happened to come into the district. The result was that the houses were not built.

Then, on the top of that, we had the land legislation of the party below the Gangway opposite, which stopped house-building neck and crop. The shortage of houses was not due to the War; it had begun four years before the War. It was accentuated by the War, but the stoppage of house-building by people who were content with a low rate of interest led to this result—it is frequent in my Division, and we are feeling the ills of it now—that such houses as were built were -built by speculators, and we have the spectacle of agricultural workers whose wages are 25s., 26s., 28s. or 30s., paying Os. or 10s. a week for these old houses that were built 20 years ago. Then, on the top of all that, we had the excessive and unfair Death Duties—unfair, not necessarily because of the rates, but because of the way in which properties are assessed. They have driven many landowners to sell their estates, and their successors have not been too strong financially. The result has been that many houses have got into weak hands. The older estates have been impoverished, and the houses have suffered, and have got into such a condition that they are not up to date and are not sanitarily sound or such as we know they ought to be.

We who represent rural constituencies are only too anxious that they should be brought up to date. If the old owners who had the money and could do it have gone, if the modern persons who are in possession cannot do it, if the local authorities cannot do it, even under the generous Act passed at the public expense by the party opposite, and if, under what I call the more economical and sensible Act of our own Government of 1923, it cannot be dune, is the agricultural labourer, or the worker—as I would rather call him, because it applies to all classes, agricultural labourers and others—to remain, because the Labour party will vote against this Bill and have no other substitute, in these old houses, without an effort on the part of this House to put him in a better position? That is what the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne says is the right course to adopt.

6.0 P.M.

This Bill enables the houses to be put into a sanitary condition and brought up to a standard that is not fixed by the landowner or the landlord, because it has to be approved by the housing authority. It has to pass the housing authority, it has to pass the medical officer of health, and, even then, as I read the Bill, there is no power to compel the local authority to grant a subsidy—the local authority has a discretion. What becomes, then, of the suggestion that was made, I think, by the hon. Member for Huddersfield? He says that slums in villages will be perpetuated. I do not know what he means; I have not Been a village slum. I admit that individual houses in many parts of the country ought to be altered, and we want to alter them, but there is not the slightest ground for any such fear. The housing authority has absolute discretion before granting this money. Then, says the hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill, and also the hon. Member who seconded, this subsidy is going into the landowner's pocket. Has the subsidy granted to townsmen gone into the landowner's pocket? Has it not gone into the occupier's pocket, by reason of the fact that he has a good house at a reasonable rent, owing to the subsidy, such as he other wise would not have had? What is the difference in principle between a subsidy on a new house and a subsidy on an amended house? Do hon. Members suggest that the subsidy in the case of the new house has not gone to the occupier of the new house, but to the people who built the house or to the landlord? If not, where does their argument lead them, and how are we to accept the arguments they use to-day when they say that the subsidy given to a house which is not to be built from its foundations, but which is going to be amended under this Bill, is going to the landowner and not to the occupier? Under this Measure the tenants are limited to rural workers. The amount of money to be expended is divided into thirds. The owner has to spend at least a third, and he cannot get more than 3 per cent. on it. Where is he getting any of the subsidy money, The House has to be let and occupied for 20 years at least, which is practically a generation, and will be occupied, whenever it is let, by a person of the class for whom we are to-day legislating, that is our rural working population. The opposition to this Measure is short-sighted and foolish and is not based on any solid foundation at all, and, when you remember that it is opposed by persons who have given a bigger subsidy towards housing than any since Dr. Addison's day, I fail to understand the reason for it.

May I make one observation on the Bill? It may be that the Minister has good reasons for appointing the county council as the housing authority instead of the rural district council, but he has not explained them to my satisfaction. I am sorry the Minister is not here, because it rather affects the Poor Law Measure he is bringing in. I myself, who am very keenly interested in rural government, believe the most effective and popular engine of local government in our rural districts is the rural district council. It is an area that is known to the people. If you get a county council extending over an immense area, one part of the county is not known to the others, and the local people themselves cannot take part in their local government because the distance they have to go makes it absolutely prohibitive to a person small means. I believe the rural district council is the best fitted by its knowledge of local needs. Its members can get over the locality. If houses are to be reconditioned and become available under the Act, they will he known to everyone without any trouble. So far as I have seen the work of rural district councils under the Housing Acts, it has been done extremely well, and I think it is a pity to extend it to the county councils. Their time is fully occupied. In my own county we have great difficulty in getting members to become county councillors, because the work is too heavy, and the demands on their time too great. If rural district councils have done their work in the matter of houses well in the past all over the country, and I think they have, it seems a pity to take away from them, when we have entrusted them with the building of new houses and the expenditure of very much larger sums, the minor duty of repairing the old houses.


I do not wish to follow the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) further than to refer to the oft-repeated statement that the stoppage in housing was due to the Finance Act of 1909–10. I was for three years a member of the Royal Commission on Housing, which was composed not at all of those holding the views we entertain on this side, but more largely of Liberals and Conservatives, and the Majority Report states that they considered the whole question and came to the conclusion that many years before the War there had been a stoppage in the supply of houses on the private enterprise principle. They examined very fully this question of how it was affected by the Finance Act of 1909–10. I should like to repeat a sentence: We are unable to agree with the suggestion that there is any evidence to show that the difficulty of finding capital for housebuilding has been to an appreciable extent brought about by the Finance Act. It is well worth quoting that, because the tale has been repeated so often that some people have come to believe it.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

Which year was that?


The hon. and gallant Gentleman should know that the Commission reported in 1917, so that they had the whole facts before them and during the whole period right up to the War.

I come now to consider—because this Bill applies with modifications to Scotland—the position of rural housing in Scotland, and I think we may admit that it is in a deplorable condition, perhaps more so even than rural housing in England. I would sum up what is to be said, and what is said, in the Royal Commission's Report regarding the condition of housing so far as it relates to conveniences in these rural houses, the houses of the ploughmen and the like. They say: In the rural cottage there are seldom to be found any of the conveniences that are necessary for the ordinary carrying on of family life, such as water supply, scullery, wash-house, coal shed, bath, or water-closet. We have the evidence of farmers—of M'Connachie—saying it is a very rare thing that there is any water supply in any of these houses. We have the evidence of men like Dr. Huskie, in regard to the rural area with which he is so familiar, in Dumfriesshire, in which he says the condition of things is scandalous in regard to the lack of lavatory accommodation of any kind We have a farmer like James Esselmont, who, when it was put to him what was the provision for sanitary convenience said, there is none—absolutely none—and we have a farm servant, George Ramage, a ploughman, who was asked "Do you know of any case where proper sanitary appliances are put in ploughmen's houses? " and he answered "No"; no case in all the countryside."


Is the hon. Member aware that the local authorities can compel the provision of the conveniences he has mentioned?


I think I can refute the hon. Gentleman by this fact that one of the recommendations of the Scottish Conference on Agriculture which met not long ago was that the houses to be provided should be of three rooms and that they should be provided with a bathroom except where the local authorities ordained otherwise. That, I think, is a complete answer to what the hon. Gentleman has brought before us.




The hon. Gentleman can give his answer on the Floor of the House afterwards. My object in stating the present position is that I may face the question how far it can be remedied by mere reconstruction and mere repair. It is pointed out in many reports that many of these houses in Scotland were built before there was any provision for damp courses and that that, of course, would need to be provided, as indeed the right hon. Gentleman suggested. That just shows one of the great difficulties. I may here quote from the Report the evidence of Mr. James Middleton, a factor on the Kilmarnock Estate, whose whole interest would be to repair and reconstruct the houses if it were possible to do so. This is what he said in answer to a suggestion that the problem might be met by reconstruction and repair: A great many are in this condition: You would require to pull them down and renew them, but to patch them up, it would not be worth while. The right hon. Gentleman said it would be quite good if we could get equally satisfactory houses. In Scotland by this method, whatever it may accomplish—I am not decrying the effort; I take it for what it is worth—you are not going to solve the problem or get an equally satisfactory house. The Minister of Health desired that some of these houses should be preserved as a kind of antiquarian illustration of the architecture typical of old England to remind us "of an older and more picturesque world." I also would be willing that a few of them should be preserved as ancient monuments of what the peasantry of Scotland have had to endure through the generations.

My next objection, and my next difficulty with this Measure is that I am very doubtful that it will be effective even for the limited purpose it has in view. It has been admitted that the efforts made in the past have in many ways been disappointing. Power was given to make a special grant to crofters where their buildings were not equal to those of the general scheme, and sums of £80 up to £130 were given. The result was that only 96 houses were built under that scheme. In the Housing and Town Planning Scheme of 1919 the liability of the local authority was limited to four-fifths of a penny, and that was exceedingly favourable to the local authorities. This is what the Report of the Scottish Board of Health for 1925 says: For some reason or other, it was not taken advantage of to any great extent by the local authorities in the rural areas. The explanation given here is that there was in their minds an idea that reconstruction and repair might meet the case, but that there was no grant possible, but only a loan and yet, notwithstanding the loan, this is what they report: It is not thought that this latter power (of loan) has been put into operation to any extent. Further, under the Acts of 1919 and 1923, it was possible to take advantage of the lump sum which could be given to private builders. With what result? The Report says: There is no information to show to what extent these subsidies have been used for the purpose of providing houses for farm servants. That really means that it was not taken advantage of at all. It is a euphemistic way of saying nothing was done. In the Act of 1924, because the building of new houses in rural districts was more expensive than in towns in many cases, the grants were raised to £9 in towns and to £12 10s. in country districts, but even this additional sum has not induced local authorities to come forward in this matter of housing. Therefore, we have a statement in the Annual Report of the Scottish Board of Health that, of 453 houses completed, and of 4,640 under construction, only four of the completed houses were in rural areas, and only 78 under construction were in rural areas. I fear that this Measure, which has no compelling power behind it, is not likely to be more effective than the others. It does nothing to get at the root causes of the evil. There has been a great dereliction of duty on the part, of landlords in regard to ploughmen's houses. I am not saying that on my own accord. Dr. Dawson, the medical officer for Galloway-Kirkcudbright and Wigton-shire, said: The cot houses are about the last thing that are attended to by some proprietors. It is the duty of the proprietor to take, or, at any rate, he is supposed to take, a paternal interest in his estates, and to see the condition of the houses. would draw attention to an answer given by a ploughman, George Ramage, before the Commission. He was asked: Do you find that on those estates that you have been on, the factor or the landlord goes round occasionally and asks you what repairs you would like to have done? His reply was: No. That is a thing we have never heard of. The landlord is an absentee in these districts; he has abrogated the very functions on which his existence is attempted to be justified.


Does not the Report give credit to some landlords?


I am going to pay my tribute to the other landlords. I am not going to take an undue advantage. I hope the hon. and gallant Member will note that I shall pay tribute to a certain type of landlord. I would, however, refer to a leading article in the "Times" of this morning, which says: it is a melancholy thing that old families have had to part with their heirlooms in order to provide for the payment of Death Duties, and to keep the houses of the agricultural workers in order. I am bound to say, as far as Scotland is concerned, they may have paid their Death Duties, but they have certainly not kept the houses of the agricultural workers in order. This Measure does nothing to meet the question of dual responsibility. That is the great difficulty in Scotland. The landlord does the reconstruction, or he is responsible for it, while the farmer is responsible for the repair and. upkeep. The agricultural labourer suffers between them, and does not know where to turn. I think I have mentioned in a former discussion that, when a farmer is looking for a farm which is in the market and there is keen competition, he has to satisfy himself—we are not blaming him, because he has to pay the rent—that the steading is sufficient. Lora Lovat, Milne Home, and other land-owners and farmers have testified that when they had done that, they did not like to raise too many questions or to speak about the cottage of the farm worker.

I can quote from a statement by the county sanitary inspector of Kirkcudbright, who says: I could take you to farms where hundreds of pounds have been spent on the steading and not one penny on the cottages. That dual system still obtains. In a Measure of this kind, under which grants are to be given by the county council and by the Government, it was surely a suitable occasion to deal with this matter by public control, and not to have the cottages tied, as they are, to a particular farm. They should be put under the county council, and the man should be given his independence. We know that in Ireland, under the Irish Labourers Acts, that has been done. Up to March, 1915, over 45,000 of these cottages had been planted. The Government provided a subsidy of 36 per cent. of the cost, while the loans amounted to £8,907,000. By the testimony of those who gave evidence before the Royal Commission, the labourer, by no longer being in a tied house, was in a position of much greater freedom and much better economic status.

What are the Government doing to induce the county councils to lay down conditions so that in return for these grants and subsidies there will be some real control over the property? When the Royal Commission examined this question, they said that if such subsidies were given there should be some Department that would exercise continual supervision over these peasants' houses, that would take the value from time to time, that would see that the value was not depressed below the sum that had been advanced, and, if need be, would take them over for the Government itself in certain cases. The hon. and gallant Member for North Lanark (Sir A. Sprot) has raised the question of the provision of baths and other sanitary conveniences. In Clause 1, we find that all that is said is that the scheme may prescribe for the provision of water supply or sanitary conveniences. The county councils in Scotland as at present constituted argue that there is no need to supply baths, because they are not appreciated. One farm servant, Mr. James Rothney, who, think, became the general secretary of the Farm Labourers' Union, dealt with this point before the Royal Commission, and indulged in some pleasantry. He said: There are some who cannot appreciate it, because they do not know what it means. They have not had a bath so long as they remember, and they look upon it as something that is likely to be a source of trouble. On the other hand, we had it from the covenor of the county of Dumfries and from the sanitary inspector for Kircudbright, that not only were baths appreciated, but that they were well kept. That applies to whole houses and not to baths only. If you give a Scotsman something that is worth keeping, he will keep it and keep it well. I remember that when we were dealing with this matter in the Royal Commission people said, "Why give baths to miners? Why give baths to agricultural labourers? They will put coals in the baths." Why does any woman put coals in the bath? Because she has not been provided with a coal cellar. So long as you are not willing to give her a coal cellar, it is a proper form of protest to go on putting coals in the bath.

The, hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Price) said that all landlords were not to blame. I agree. There was a landlord on the Commission, and he was the most advanced man on the Commission—Sir William Younger, of Auchencastle. I think he was once a Member of this House. He led the Commission on the question of baths, and he put his faith into practice and provided modern up-to-date houses, equipped in every way for his ploughmen. When he found that the farmers were letting these new houses and keeping the ploughmen in the old dilapidated houses, he took steps and insisted upon the new houses being used for the ploughmen. Here was a man of large means, living in a castle in Dumfriesshire, but acting on the truly Christian principle, with the desire, as far as possible, to give to these people the same comforts and conveniences that he himself enjoyed. The agricultural labourer is as much entitled to a bath and a lavatory as the farmer or the landlord.

The question of subsidy was fully dealt with by the Royal Commission. The Association of County Councils and the representatives of the landowners put this question before the Commission. They said, "The crofter has been given a subsidy to build his house, why not give a subsidy to the landlord?" The answer of the Commission was that you give a subsidy to the crofter to build his own house, but to give a subsidy to the landlord would be to give him a subsidy to carry on his business and to make it a revenue-producing subject. These are the words they used, and they sum up the situation in a nutshell: The assistance would be given from the public funds, at a loss to the public, to enable the proprietor to maintain the equipment of his estate, and so the revenue therefrom. It would he in the nature of a special subsidy to a particular business interest, and would be given to an individual whose inability or unwillingness has created the problem we are dealing with. I do not depreciate altogether some parts of the Bill, but it seems to me to be lacking in vision and thoroughness. It seems to he setting up a mere patchwork as a solution of the housing problem in Scotland. It is said of a famous Roman Emperor that he found Rome built of bricks and that be left it built of marble. It will be said of this Government, in relation to the urban part of Scotland, that they found Scotland built of stone and, aided by Lord Weir, they left it built of wood and iron, and that in the rural districts, where they found dilapidated houses, they perpetuated the evil system of housing which has too long obtained in those districts.


I think that the majority of the House will join me in congratulating the Minister on bringing forward this Bill. Many of us put it forward in the front of our programmes at the General Election. I am sorry that the Opposition has adopted the line it has, because their opposition seems rather bitter, and not inclined to help. I am glad that Scotland is included in the Measure and is not to be dealt with in a separate Bill, as has always been the case in regard to housing. I hope it will afford some measure of relief to the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Barr), who has been so scathing in his criticism, that it was to cover most of the points to which he has referred that this Bill has been brought in. It will deal largely with water supply, drainage, and damp courses in floors. I cannot entirely share his opinion as to the state of the housing of the ploughmen and farm workers in Scotland. In my constituency the shell of the house is of stone and the roof of slate. To replace them with anything new would he impossible within the figure that the subsidy will allow. The only solution in that case is to arrange for the accommodation, water supply and drainage to be brought up to date. An important thing is to get rid of the stone floors with which most of these houses are built.

The Bill will afford an immediate measure of relief to many people in Scotland. It is certainly one which has my warmest support, and I believe it will give intense pleasure to hundreds of people in Scotland. The one thing that cannot be done is to build houses to the extent hon. Members opposite have indicated. To do that it would be necessary to have the accelerated programme put forward by the Secretary of State for Scotland, and when you have a large number of structures, it is impossible to do anything but recondition them. Reconditioning is a question with which I have been familiar in the Army for many years. It has been carried out in a systematic manner and presents no new features whatever. If it had been possible to carry out reconditioning under civil conditions we should have had no slums to-day. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood) said it would be far better to purchase these buildings and then rebuild them entirely. He has not considered what this would cost. Instead of having to go through the very cumbrous process of rebuilding, which is quite unnecessary, any buildings which are fairly good can be brought up to date quite easily. In the case of buildings which are condemned, I would ask hon. Members opposite to consider the time it would take to replace them.

We have heard a good deal about tied houses. In my view, this sort of house is very popular, and the rows of farm cottages are much preferred to isolated cottages, particularly on large and exposed farms, and any movement to break up these buildings would be extremely unpopular. This Bill is very applicable in cases like this, and I hope Clause 2 will cover such work. I am told that it only covers drainage and water supply, but I imagine it will' cover any work which will benefit the whole row of such cottages. There is a wise provision as to the limit of value when finished. I do not think anyone can say that a grant of £100 is unnecessarily large—and the landlord only gets 3 per cent.. for his expenditure. It hardly merits the slurs which have been cast upon it as being a. landlords' improvement Bill. As to the idea that the State should take over these houses because private ownership has failed, I would ask hon. Members opposite to consider whether they are prepared to bring in a Bill to buy up all the rural cottages in Great Britain I That would be necessary in order to carry out their proposal. The provision that the county councils should run this scheme is a wise one, and I hope it will he the precursor of a general co-ordination of effort in counties. You would get much better engineering and architectural advice in this way than if a small authority was called upon to put this Bill into operation. There is no hardship on county councils or rural district councils, as many estates come into more than one email authority.

The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill considered it was sharp practice, as it gave more power to the county councils, but, if a scheme of purchasing was brought in, it would undoubtedly give much more power to county councils than is suggested by this Measure. He also said that this was being done only for the landlords. He does not realise to what extent large estates are being broken up, how numerous are the small holdings, and how impossible it is on the rent to do anything to improve buildings. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Motherwell pay a tribute to Sir William Younger, because I know that estate very well. But his remarks do not apply to one person only. I could give him many other cases in my own constituency. We appreciate what they do, but you will find that such persons are not entirely dependent on the money they get out of their farms; otherwise, it would be impossible for them to improve their cottages. That is where this Bill is useful, and I hope hon. Members opposite will consider this point. I shall be satisfied in explaining the position to my own constituents, and I know what the effect will be among the farm servants. I think we must all congratulate the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, I hope, will be able to carry out the provisions of this Measure in Scotland at the same time as they are put into operation in England.


The great majority of hon. Members of the House will agree with what has just fallen from the hon. and gallant Member. I do not propose to follow him into the details of this Measure, but there are one or two points which I desire to put to the Minister. In Clause 1, Sub-section (2), it will be seen that ordinary repairs are excluded from the Bill, and in Clause 2, that the cost of each one particular operation is not to be less than £50. Let me put these two cases together. There are to be no ordinary repairs within the scope of the Bill and if any additions or improvements are to come within the Bill, then they are to cost not less than £50.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

The hon. and gallant Member will see that the Clause says: but shall not in any case consist solely of works of ordinary repair and upkeep.


I admit it says "solely," but I understand that ordinary repairs are not to come under this Bill. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will clear this point up. I wish to say this. In the country you very often find a row of six, eight or 10 cottages, purely rural dwellings, which have fallen into a very bad state of repair. Possibly they may belong to a widow, are heavily mortgaged, and to-day these dwellings from an ownership point of view arc worth nothing. The rents barely pay the interest on the mortgage. If this Bill is to be a success and we are to get a larger number of rural dwellings made habitable, surely it is a pity to exclude all costs of repairs in cases of buildings of that kind. Why make a limit of £50? It may be that a cottage for an expenditure of less than £50 might he made quite habitable, and where you have a row of cottages, £300 or 400 might be spent on eight or 10 cottages, which would bring each cottage below the £50 limit. I hope this point will receive some consideration by the Government between now and the Committee stage, because I feel sure that the majority of hon. Members really want this Bill to work. Everybody in fact wants it to work except hon. Members above the Gangway.

There is also a point in Clause 2, which is not quite clear. Who is to decide whether the assistance is to be by grant or loan? Is the local authority to decide, or is the applicant to decide? When I first read the Bill I took the view of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Christie) that the authority which should put this Bill into operation should not be the county council but the rural district council. I felt it would be better it should be the rural authority rather than the county authority, and the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) said that if you are going to allow the rural district council to undertake the major operation of building, surely it is rather ridiculous to deny them the privilege of carrying out repairs. That is a strong point, but the arguments put forward by the Minister of Health rather shook my view on this point and I think that on the whole the Bill makes a very fair compromise. The county council is to be the authority under this Measure, but there is a saving clause whereby the duties may be deputed to the rural council, and I think that compromise meets the circumstances of the case as well as can be expected.

What I cannot understand in regard to this Bill is the position of the Labour party. I listened with keen interest to the speech for the rejection of the Bill made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood). I waited for the arguments; I only heard gibes. T heard no argument at all. In fact, the hon. Member seemed to be in the greatest possible difficulty in deciding on what grounds to oppose the Bill. First he tried to make out that it was merely making the land safe for the landlord, but then he left that argument and said that the moment at which his Bill had been introduced was the worst possible moment. He complained that it was not brought in last year, the year before, or earlier this Session, and, in fact, he said that he would prefer it was brought in next Session. Whenever we try to help the agricultural labourer, as the Conservative party has always tried to do, whenever we put forward a Measure for this purpose, the Labour party always say it is not a good time to bring it forward. I ask the Socialist party above the Gangway when is the time if now is not the time? I would like to examine one argument put forward by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. He said that this Bill would be a present to the landlords. If it is going to he a present to the landlords, the hon. Member must mean either that it is a present to him in the nature of a capital present, a lump sum, or it is to be a present to him in the nature of an increase of his income. There is no other form which this particular present could take. Let us deal first with the argument that it is a present to the landlord on the capital side. What is the position? We will suppose that a scheme is to be carried out involving an expenditure of £150 on a particular house.


A rotten house!.


If it were a very good house there would be no need to spend the money. Let us suppose there is a scheme for the expenditure of £150 on the house. The State finds £50, the local authority finds £50, and the landlord finds £50. What is the landlord to get for his expenditure of £50? It may be that in order to find the £50 he will have to sell out securities which now pay him 4 or 5 per cent. He will sell those securities in order to invest the proceeds in the improvement of a particular building. But under the Bill he is limited to 3 per cent. interest. How can it possibly be said, then, that this is a present to the landlord, when what is involved is a sacrifice of 5 per cent. in order to get 3 per cent.? But suppose it is said that the improvement of the building will add largely to its value. The landlord is unable to realise that value. The Bill says that there shall be no alteration for 20 years; he is not able to put the building in the market for 20 years. But if he must sell, it has to be with the consent of the Minister and of the local authority, and after having sold the property he has to pay back to the local authority and the State the whole of the money advanced, plus compound interest.

Again, I ask, where does the present come in? It is a curious thing that for many years past it has always been one of the chief arguments of the Liberal party to attack the landlords. It would appear now that the limbs of the Liberal party have become so attenuated that that particular mantle has fallen from their shoulders on to those of the Labour party. The more Royal Commissions inquire, the more investigations are made into matters connected with the rural life of this country, the more is the fallacy of the wickedness of the landlord exposed in all its nakedness. If the Labour party in opposing this Bill can bring forward no better argument than the slinging of mud out of the gutter, where it was dropped by the Liberal party, there is very little real criticism which can be levelled against the Bill.

Major G. F. DAVIES

When my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health introduced this Measure he said that he could only describe the position as comic. That was before he had listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood) from the Front Bench opposite. I do not know which was more striking, the comedy of the atmosphere of the Marble Arch on Saturday afternoons being brought into the House of Commons on a Tuesday, or the tragedy and pathos of the ignorance and prejudice displayed by so many hon. Members opposite when they come to deal with anything in the remotest degree connected with the land and agriculture. Whether it has to do with farming or with rating or with housing, however remotely connected with someone who owns property, at once King Charles's head is trotted out in the form of the wicked landlord, and our ears are wearied with vain repetitions by hon. Gentlemen opposite, whose ignorance in these matters is equalled only by their determination to display it. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said that we had not touched the fundamental condition. He carefully avoided the real fundamental condition which has to be borne in mind, and that is that housing, the provision of houses for workers in agriculture, has never been on an economic basis.

Those of us who are connected with the agricultural industry have it constantly flung in our teeth that our agricultural workers are grossly underpaid. That we admit; we admit that their pay is low. But it has always been forgotten that the housing accommodation which they get is in the nature of a subsidy on their occupation. An ounce of practical experience is worth a pound of theory. In my own particular case I have cottages which, for repairs, may cost as much as £50 at a time in trying to bring them reasonably near to the standard of to-day. The cottages were built decades ago. I get the magnificent rental of is. 6d. to 2s. 6d. a week for those cottages, and I have to pay for repairs, upkeep and rates. Who is going to be such a fool as to do that under the conditions of to-day?


The Labour landlord.


It is the. easiest thing in the world to be generous at someone else's expense, but even the Labour land- lord is unable to be generous with anyone's money now, and that is largely on account of past legislation in the way of taxation imposed upon landlords by avaricious Chancellors of the Exchequer and others. Even from such an unlikely source as the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) we received yesterday a tribute as to what the landlord had done in the past. The right hon. Gentleman did not mention what he had done himself to make it impossible for landlords to continue their work, but he turned to the landlord and said in effect, "Poor fellow He is no longer able to carry out his responsibilities, so we will take his property away from him, and do the work for him in future." This Bill will help to deal with the situation with which we are immediately faced, and that is that we have to provide housing accommodation for the workers in the scattered rural districts of the country. The housing Measures that have so far been passed have not been such as to induce the putting up of new buildings. Meanwhile the need for houses continues, and this Measure follows the line of least resistence, and shows how we can get improved housing for agricultural and similar workers with the least expenditure of money and in the shortest possible time. For that reason 1 welcome the Measure.

Let me say something on the question of the tied house, which is like a red flag to a bull when presented to hon. Members opposite. The tied cottage system has grown up in the interests very largely of the occupiers—not only of the landlord but of the occupier. What is the use of taking a farm in which you want to get employés, particularly those who look after live-stock, if you have not housing accommodation to give them? It is not only in the interests of the man but also in the interests of the farmer, I admit, but it is a fifty-fifty proposition. If you are dissatisfied with a horse-man and you get rid of him, but he remains in his cottage, and you have nowhere to house his successor, both you and the man concerned are in a difficulty. Let me give an experience of my own. It was the case of a man who had to cycle 3½ miles to look after some stock because I could not get another man out of a cottage. If you are going to attack the whole question of the tied cottage you have to face the position in which local authorities will have dotted all over the countryside alternative accommodation waiting to house those who want to be near their work. The thing is as fatuous as most things which come from the party opposite, and the reason is that they know nothing whatever of the problem.


I wish to support the opposition to the Bill. I would congratulate the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken on the fact that he is graduating very rapidly for, if he has not already reached, the Hyde Park stage. The probability is that he will be a shining light in the Conservative party, once he gets his vocabulary improved a little, and he seems likely to improve it as a result of this Bill. A number of men and women own land in this country, and in order to get labour they erected hovels instead of houses, and in the course of years these places have got into such a state of disrepair that they are uninhabitable and bad for the health of the people. Instead of improving his housing as he ought to do, the landed proprietor now comes to the House of Commons, and wants the State to undertake what is obviously his duty. The landlords have no shame in asking for a subsidy. I notice that the last speaker went dangerously near to asking for a subsidy for the upkeep of the cattle, in the interest of the cattle. I expect that in a short time it will be said to be in the interests of horses that the State should provide decent cottages. The Labour party is opposed to spending money on property that belongs to someone else. We are in favour of good houses for the rural workers. This Bill provides a way of adding to the value of houses owned by someone else. As a party we are opposed to subsidising the landlord to that extent.

7.0 P.M.

I hope that, Tory Members opposite will pay attention to the fact that they are not the only party in the country who own tied houses. In the industry that I have the honour to represent, the mining industry, the colliery owners have tied houses. Will the Secretary of State for Scotland help the owners to improve their houses? If such a claim is made will Members opposite get up and make speeches against it? Why the landed interests should always be singled out for benefit I cannot tell. They have nothing they can boast about, except in the odd case of some good landlord. I have never met a good landlord; I have met bad landlords but never a good one. When I do meet a good landlord I will give him credit for being good. I sincerely hope Members of our party will press this matter to a division and let the country know just exactly what is taking place. If a house becomes unhealthy, why should not a public authority do its duty and issue a closing order? All the money we can spend will not make a bad house a good house. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I do not know the meaning of the interruption. One of the arguments that we have heard is in regard to getting rid of the stone floor. That means digging. Your walls are not high enough to allow ventilation, and no matter how much money you spend you only make a bad house still a bad house. Compare the position of the agricultural labourer to that of the landed proprietors. The poor house he occupies compared with the house they occupy. He is giving useful service to the State. That is more than most of the landed proprietors in this House can say. I hope the question will be carried to a division and that the House will reject another subsidy to landed proprietors.


The House will agree that one thing that has emerged in this Debate is that the agricultural worker is not properly housed. That is agreed on all sides. We had a picture of the miserable condition of the agricultural worker painted by the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Barr), and then we heard the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood) reading an extract from a report of the Medical Officer of the County of Essex, and I should have thought that that report, coupled with the statements made by the hon. Member for Motherwell, was the strongest possible reason why we should support this Bill. It is not disputed that the agricultural workers are badly housed. It is not disputed that this Bill, if placed upon the Statute Book, will, to some extent, assist those workers by improving their habitation. I should have thought no single Member on the Opposition benches would have been prepared to raise his voice against this proposal.

The country is told every day that the Labour party are the friends, and the only friends, of the working classes, and yet, when the Government come forward with a proposal which will to an extent—possibly not to so large an extent as some of us would like—alleviate the unfortunate position of the agricultural workers so far as their houses are concerned, Member after Member on the Opposition benches is prepared to get up and say that they are not willing to support this Measure. If that be a token of friendship, I should imagine the agricultural workers throughout the country will say of the Members of the Opposition, " Heaven help us from our friends." In my mind, there are overwhelming reasons for placing the Bill on the Statute Book. Apart from the question of providing better accommodation, there is the other point, which was eloquently referred to by the Minister in introducing the Bill, namely, the necessity of retaining our old cottages and old buildings that make so much for the beauty of our rural country. After all, that has to he considered. We are all very proud of our country. There is this further consideration to be remembered. The fact that we have those beautiful cottages in charming surroundings brings a great number of visitors to this country. I should hope, if only on that ground, that the Bill will be placed on the Statute Book, so that many delightful old cottages, charming to the eye, may be preserved and retained for many years to come.

I am going to refer in particular to Clause 2 of the Bill, where, as hon. Members will observe, assistance cannot be given if the value of the house, on the completion of the work, exceeds £400. As I read the Bill, it is framed with the object of assisting owners of separate dwellings, but hon. Members are aware there are a good many cases in the country where an old house has fallen from its high estate and been converted into tenements for a number of families. I can call to mind one in a village in Hampshire, occupied by five or six families, where the value is over £400. The owner of that particular building will be barred from receiving any grant or loan under this Bill. I know there is a proviso to the effect that, where the proposed works will constitute improvements to two or more dwellings by way of the provision of water supply, drainage, or other works for the joint benefit of the dwellings, assistance may be given if the estimated total cost of the works is not less than £100. It must be clear that in a case where there is a large house converted into tenements and occupied as a number of dwellings, the building of any addition to one part of the house could not be regarded as other works for the joint benefit of the dwellings. I hope that when this Bill comes to the Committee stage the Clause will he amended so as to cover the class of building to which I have referred.

As regards the restriction of the cost of work to not less than £50, I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Major Ruggles-Brise). I do not know why there should be this restriction. The aim and object of this Bill is to provide better and additional accommodation, and, if you can provide that by an expenditure of £25, I do not know why the owner should not be at liberty to go to the local authority and ask for assistance by way of grant or loan. Sub-section (3) of Clause 2 provides: The local authority may in any case refuse to give assistance under this Act on any grounds which seem to them sufficient, and in particular on the ground that the house or building in respect of which the works are to be executed cannot, by reason of the narrowness, closeness, or bad arrangement of the streets or buildings in the immediate neighbourhood thereof, be converted into a satisfactory dwelling or dwellings. I hope that Clause will be amplified so as to make it obligatory on the local authority to see that whatever alteration is made to a building it will not prejudice the amenities of the district. All over the country beautiful places have been ruined by the erection of buildings quite out of character with the buildings in the district. For example, in a stone county, you will see hideous red brick buildings put up with ghastly tiled roofs. I hope the local authority will be able to take that into consideration and see that nothing will be allowed which will prejudice the countryside. I think that is important.

Then there is the question of default being made by anyone who has received a grant. It is provided that thereupon the amount due shall become a charge upon the property. I do not know whether the draftsmen in drawing up this Bill considered the position of a mortgage on a particular property. This Clause will at once convert a first mortgage into a second mortgage. It may be said that that is not very material, but it is material when you have trustees lending on a mortgage, because they are not entitled to lend on second mortgage. The result of this Clause will be that the trustees will hesitate in the future to lend on this class of property. I hope that will he taken into consideration when the Bill is dealt with in Committee. I would like to ask whether leasehold, as well as freehold property, is to be the subject of a loan. There is nothing in the Bill to say that leasehold is included. Again, who is to pay the cost of the valuations and of the proposed mortgages which may or may not mature? Is that to fall upon the local authority or upon the owner? I suggest that the usual course should be adopted, and those who borrow should pay the fees for the accommodation they require. That seems to be reasonable.

I would like to refer, in conclusion, to the question of the authority who will have the carrying out of this Bill. Some Members have suggested that it should be the local councils, and others have agreed with the Minister that the county council is the appropriate authority. I consider that the county councils should not have the power delegated to them at all. The county councils have already sufficient work to do. Members of the House will remember that the Minister has on more than one occasion referred to his proposals of Poor Law reform, and I believe I am right to saying he has in view the handing over of the powers of the guardians in the main to the county councils. The county councils will, therefore, have upon their shoulders additional work. I do not think they are the proper authority to decide these questions. For this reason, 1 trust that the local council and not the county council will have the right to carry through the administration of this Bill. In conclusion, I want to say that, in my opinion, it is a good Bill; it is a Bill that is overdue; and I hope it will be accepted by the majority of this House, and be placed on the Statute Book.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

There are two things that are peculiarly piteous to those who have the practical dealing with the housing difficulties locally and on the spot. The first one is when the obvious needs of housing are made a cockpit of politics and are opposed, not on reasons of housing, but for reasons of political theory pure and simple. That is the state of the opposition this afternoon. The second thing is when one sees the old long-tried remedy repeated in different forms, again and again brought into this House and put into legislation, with the same kind of ideas and ideals behind them, and consigned to the same pigeonholes, again to be perfectly useless and worthless in actual practice. I want to follow those two remarks out from the point of view of an old and tried county medical officer of health. With regard to the need of this repair of housing, it is obvious on paper that it would be infinitely better to sweep away old and bad housing and rely upon new housing. We have tried that for the past seven years. We have tried it for years before the War, and since -the War, and what has been the result? A few thousand houses for the country, but yet it is not touching the real problem especially the need of the labourer. We know that the people depend upon houses in which they are to live. They cannot possibly wait until you have got the extra new houses and can close the existing houses. I know this idea of repairs of houses is not a new one. I know the idea of compulsory repair is not a new one. Under the scheme which was initiated after the War, a Memorandum was sent round by the Ministry of Health regarding unfit houses, in which this matter is dealt with, and that Memorandum stated that if the owner does not comply with the requirements and did not give notice declaring the houses to be closed as unfit for habitation, the local authority may themselves do the work and recover the expenses from him. It was also provided that Any expenses incurred by the local authority may he recovered from the owner, together with interest at a rate not exceeding 5 per cent. So it was all the way through. It was a case of closing orders or repairs and power was given to the local authorities right and left to inspect property and to require the owners, wherever the houses were bad, to have the repairs done. There has been no lack of effort to carry out these duties and cases have been reported to the authorities again and again. It has been the one constant endeavour of medical officers of health especially under the 1909 Act, to pull together the work of all the district officers throughout the county, to summarise their reports, to bring the results before the county council and to work hard in co-operation with the district authorities in order to see that action was taken, where they could not bring in the county council itself to use its own powers or else take more drastic steps.

What has been the result of all this procedure? The result officially is very slight, but in actual practice, I would not say that it has been so very slight. This procedure has meant all kinds of pressure being applied and has resulted in education of a most valuable kind. In one way or another it has succeeded in "geting a move on," but as regards this procedure being officially effective there has been more than a little doubt. The question will be asked, "How can we get these things done, and why have they not been done?" It is for the very reasons which were given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health in his speech when he was explaining why he chose the county council rather than the district council as the authority, generally speaking, to carry out this Measure. The district council is too close down to the man who is to be coerced to be able to use powers of coercion properly. In the country we do not live in a state of constant warfare. We know that we have to live and let live and we work together, and in the district areas we try to get the landlord, the farmer and the labourer to co-operate, and the district council is not going to exercise any coercive pressure if they can help it. You are too close to the actual point of attack to be able to achieve the desired effect.

If you take the larger area, the county area, I think you will be able—I hope you will be able—to act more effectively. Whatever power you give to a district council which is in any way coercive or punitive will be futile. That has been proved to be so all through the history of housing, and it will continue to be so in the future except in one or two rare districts where you have men of outstanding character who can carry such things through by the force of their own personalities. You must give such powers to the larger authority, and I am doubtful if even the larger authorities, supposing it to be composed entirely of members of the Labour party, will get much advance merely by corecion. That is not the way to get improved houses. Coercion does not do ft. We have to look at the economic facts of the case, and the chief reason why it has always been so difficult to deal with this question is that-people have refused to recognise the real difficulties of the case. You are up against one obstacle in the political controversy about the landlords, because you have one party concentrating all its attention on the bad landlord, and another party concentrating all its attention on the good landlord. The proper way of regarding these difficulties of the countryside is to recognise that the owners are not land "lords" but are the stewards, trustees or managers of the property. If you had nationalisation, you would require managers, and where would you get managers better suited to the land and to the countryside, and better qualified to run these estates, than the men who come into them naturally, and who love them, and who love the countryside? Would you get managers to run these estates any cheaper than the men who run them now? They do so very largely out of their own pockets or out of pockets filled from other sources—very often from loans and so forth which cannot immediately be met. I believe that is the cheapest way of running them, but like many a cheap thing it does not give altogether satisfactory results.

I had hoped that the Opposition would put forward some constructive proposals calculated to lead to more effective results. I thought they were bound to do so, but my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood) made what I think was the worst speech I have ever heard from him. I do not often hear him make bad speeches, but to-day he did not face the difficulties of the case, and merely proposed, vaguely, a national taking-over of these houses in order to put them into repair. I gather he does not propose any compensation. A forcible confiscation of property would be bad enough in itself, although I do not think many landlords would mind being dispossessed of their cottages, if the State undertook to provide cottages for their labourers. But the hon. Member did not suggest any way in which this was to be done, nor did the Labour party when they sat on this side of the House propose to deal with this question. They did not touch the question of repairs. They did not even mention it. Why? Because they bad their hands full merely trying to get more houses built. I am perfectly certain it would be impossible for the State to take over the question of these bad houses in order to put them into repair, deal with them and manage them. We must at the present moment deal with the situation as it is. I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Minister that more attention might be directed to the district authorities and to the possibility of their carrying out some provisions which have been to a large extent dead letters in the past.

A real difficulty exists in regard to houses which are owned by small people who have bought them as speculations. In one of the country villages which know, some of the worst property was bought by a chemist in North London, and by degrees he sold off one or two houses to people—but not to people in the village. Nobody in the village would touch them, because they knew it was not a business proposition. The houses were past praying for. Some were bought by a man from Islington, and they are all owned by small people who have invested their savings in this way and who know they can make both ends meet by not carrying out the repairs which are required. Those are cases in which, I think, pressure ought to be brought to hear. I think, generally speaking, a good deal wore could be done to induce the district councils and the local sanitary authorities to exercise the powers which they possess. Notices should be sent round—as was done in 1919 and on several occasions since to the county councils—not simply printed notices, but suggestions that they should make more use of their power of reporting any default of the district councils, and, where necessary, of taking action.

On the question of whether the county council or the district council should be the authority in this case, I wish to say that I can conceive only one way in which the county council can properly manage public health affairs and that is by the firmest co-operation between the two bodies. I am certain that the district council is, in many cases, quite unequal to the responsibilities which a much higher standard of public health wishes to impose upon them, and it is there that the county council must come in. But it is quite clear, from other points of view, that the people who are close to the actual conditions know most and see most and have before them the requirements of the situation. You have this difficulty in the way of combining the two authorities, that you must give responsibility to the one or to the other. The responsibility in housing is generally given to the district authority, with power to the county council, in certain circumstances, to take over those powers from the district council. In this Bill the proposal is the other way round. The authority is given, in the first instance, to the county council, but they have power to devolve it, in certain eases, to the district council. I think that is probably the right line as between the two, but I hope the Minister will be very lenient in those cases where the county council wishes the district council to carry out the working part of the scheme as distinct from the punitive or drastic part—where the county council really wishes to "get a move on" by enabling the district council to carry out schemes in contact with their housing policy. I think in many cases it will be found that the district councils are able to carry out the work, but, generally, and on the whole, I think the authority should be given primarily to the county council and that they should have the power to draw back to themselves any authority that has been delegated to the district councils.


The impression left in my mind after listening to practically the whole of the Debate is that hon. Members opposite have come to the conclusion that they have got hold of a political "good thing." The agricultural labourer, however, is not so simple as some of them imagine, and he knows perfectly well the difference between legislation which is aimed primarily at helping him and legislation which is aimed primarily at applying public funds for private ends. There are two classes of landlords to be dealt with when we deal with this problem—about the existence of which there is no division of opinion at all. The division of opinion is, first, as to the principle upon which it should be approached and, secondly, as to the method that should be adopted. There are, as I say, two classes of landlords. There is what may be termed the rich landlord who, in 99 cases out of 100, does not derive his income from his land but from business of one kind or another, or at any rate from sources outside his land and estates. That is the type of landlord who, as a matter of fact, has landed estate in order to spend money and not to make money. One very conspicuous example was quoted this afternoon. A good many of these are excellent landlords. Unlike an hon. Member who spoke from behind me. I have met good landlords. They are not the old type of landlords but, so far as money can do it, they do their duty by their estate. But a great many others of them are not good landlords, and on the estates of many of these landlords there are cottages which ought not to exist at all.

So far as that section of the problem is concerned it ought to be drastically dealt with by the coercive power which the local authorities now have and to which the hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) has referred. They cannot close those cottages, but repair them. They can repair them in a way that will be satisfactory to them, and then charge the landlord with the expense, either putting in a bill or taking his rents. Then there is another section, and that is the one that this House is being asked to consider now. It is the case of a landlord who has either very little income or no income at all, except what he gets from his estate. That case was put, if I might say so, very fairly, by the right hon. Member for Wells (Sir It. Sanders). It is the case of a landlord who would like to provide better cottages for his labourers, but who cannot do it because he has not got the capital. This Bill proposes to step in and do what that landlord, as the custodian of his estate, ought to do. Whenever we raise a question regarding British agriculture the plea is always put up—and I am sorry to say very often with too much justification—that the landlord, the English and Scottish landlord, in the 20th century, unless he owns minerals or something like that, the purely agricultural landlord, in the 20th century, has not the capital that he used to have in the 19th century; consequently his estate has become more and more derelict. If the State is going to step in and help him, as this Bill proposes, to provide cottages, why not help him to provide improvements, drainage, and so on? As a matter of fact, it has been done to a certain extent, but it is a very bad principle I am going to argue that it is a very bad principle to help him to supply his estate capital, because that is what it is. If hon. Members belonged, say, to a Stock Exchange company, which, in the due efflux of time, became a derelict community, and they were to come to ask capital from the State to enable them to keep going, they would be in exactly the same position as the landlord is in at the present time.


Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that stockbrokers have to house their clerks?


I am giving an illustration, because we get into the habit of regarding landlords as a class apart by themselves. But it does not matter whether it is housing clerks or not. It is a question of whether this House of Commons is going to take up this position, that if any section of the community cannot perform their social obligations, or social functions, functions that have been historically attached to the possession of certain kinds of property, a class that has got into that state has a claim upon the public purse and can use that claim, when it is met, for the improvement of their own personal possessions. There is no question of lack of sympathy with the landlords or with any class of the community, distressed or otherwise. It is a good, sound principle of public policy which is being violated by this Bill, and the point is this, that when they have got this help, then the property improved by the public still remains their own. [Interruption.] It certainly does. The property still remains their own, and that is a very moderate way of stating it, because, as I shall show, so far as this Bill is concerned, it is the improved property that still remains their own. [An HON. MEMBER: " There are reservations!"] The reservations amount to nothing whatever as a matter of possession.

Hon. Members opposite, in supporting this Bill, are going to try to maintain private ownership at the public expense. That is a good Tory doctrine, and I hope, when they publish to their rural constituents the stories that they are going to tell about this Debate—[HON. MEMEBERS: Hear, hear !"]—I have no doubt they will, and my appeal to them is not that they should not do it, but that they should do it honestly. Will they make this clear? The position we take up is this, that we are opposed to this Bill, and the reason why we oppose this Bill is that we are opposed to private ownership being maintained at the, public expense. I shall look with great interest for those stories, and perhaps hon. Members opposite, especially those who are friends of my own, will do me the pleasure of sending me a copy of them, which is going to give an accurate account of the position of the Opposition to-day. "But," it is said, "the owner under this Bill has to spend one-third of the cost of the improvement, and for that, he is only going to get 3 per cent. interest."

There are two observations that have to be made in connection with that statement, which is a perfectly true statement. The first is this: If the condition of the landed classes—I am not going to use the term now with reference to any of those landlords with outside interests, because I leave them out of account for the purpose of the argument, but I am referring to the landowner, for whom I have a very great affection—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—Oh, yes—who owns land, who wishes to do his duty by it, who has inherited not merely property, but a condition. That is the man we are considering, and we are asked to believe that this is the position, that he is practically scraping the bottom all the time, that he has no margin, that when he pays his bills year by year he has nothing left over, but just manages to do on his income. What is the use of this proposal to that man? It is no use at all. It is absolutely useless to that man. " You provide one-third, and when you have provided the third, you are only allowed to charge 3 per cent. upon it." That man, as described, cannot take advantage of this Bill.


He can borrow up to 90 per cent,


The hon. Member who interrupts, or, if not himself, then one of his colleagues, made the point that, though he is only allowed to charge 3 per cent, for the capital sunk in housing, he has to pay 5 per cent. or 6 per cent. for that capital when he borrows it. That class that has got to pay 3 per cent, for borrowed money and increase the rate of the estate's debts and mortgages, is not, as a class, to be benefited by this Bill.


Hear, hear! It is the labourer who benefits.


: I hope hon. Members are not going to be too smart. What I mean by saying that that class will not be benefited—


The labourer will have a better house.


I must put it in a different form of words in order that hon. Members may understand. I am always willing to accommodate them. This Bill is of no use to the labourer under those conditions, because his landlord cannot supply the money that he has to supply in order that the Bill may be put into operation. Therefore, this Bill, from the point of view of increasing the burdens of the bankrupt landlord, is just the ordinary sort of Tory proposal which looks all right on paper, but which, in practice, as experienced by the agricultural labourer, will be found to have nothing whatever to do with him. But the landlord who does take advantage of it, what does he get? He gets this: His property, according to the statement of the Minister, at the present moment is derelict. When he has paid his third and got the other two-thirds necessary from the public purse, he then has got a marketable property, which is rather an important thing.


He cannot sell it for 20 years.


If the hon. and gallant Member will read the last Subsection of Clause 3, he will find there is no question of 20 years about it.


The house cannot be sold, unless the Minister and the authority agree, within 20 years, and if they give permission for it to be sold, the whole of the money loaned has to lie paid back by the landlord, plus compound interest.


Supposing 1 was going to offer the hon. and gallant Member a gift of a certain sum of money, with absolute security, and say he could not draw it for 20 years, would he refuse it as being nothing? Of course not. This property is being improved, otherwise what is the use of the Bill? It is perfectly true that it is being improved on conditions, but the conditions cease to operate at the end of 20 years. Is the estate going to disappear into thin air at the end of 20 years? I know people who are putting money into estates that they will not realise for 80 years. What about afforestation? The capital that is put into afforestation is not realised in 20 years.


People cannot live in trees.


It is extraordinarily clever, undoubtedly, to make the observation that people cannot live in trees. No; but the landlord who puts money into trees goes through exactly the same economic operation as the landlord who puts £50 into these cottages in order to bag £150 in 20 years. The capita.' operation of this Bill is that a landlord pays £50, and gets value for £150. If this Bill is going to be enormously useful, as hon. Members opposite say. the capital value of the houses on the estate is going to be enormously increased, and that is why hon. Members opposite are in favour of it. Farm labourers! The hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans said, why did we not introduce a Bill like this? It has taken his own party two years—

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

I did not say a Bill like this; I said anything to do with repairs.


This is not an agricultural Measure; it is a landlords' Measure. It is perfectly plain to those Members who are owners of land, and especially to those who are agents, that unless the landlord interest—I am not thinking of individuals, but of the economic interest—can now dip its hands liberally into the public purse, it cannot continue to exist. By talking sym- pathetically about improving labourers' houses and keeping all the control in the hands of the landlord, they are not merely improving houses; they are adding to the landlords' interest at the expense of the public interest, in order td keep the landed interest going. Supposing it were in the labourers' interest, would any Government allow this opportunity to pass without imposing conditions upon how the ownership of these houses is to be used regarding the people who live in them? There is the question of tied houses. What is the position? One-third of the money is going to be supplied by the State, one-third by the local authority and one-third by the landowner. Although the public authorities supply £2 for every £1 that the landlord provides, with the single exception of 3 per cent. for 20 years on his one-third of the capital, the landlord is absolutely master of the expenditure of the money. The public authority should, at any rate, control to the extent of its holding, instead of which you have the pettifogging control given in the Bill.

This is not an agricultural labourers' housing Bill, but, a Bill to support the landed interest. I doubt the value of this Bill altogether. It is going to take away from the rural district councils all incentive to use coercion. The matter is handed over to the county councils. Why? I have tried to visualise the landlord who is borrowing money in order to do this beneficent work, and being so ashamed of the work that he is doing that he cannot go to the rural council and ask them to help him. There must be something in the Bill which has not been described from the benches opposite. If a man feels he is benefiting his labourers, that he is putting his property into good repair, that lie is making life tolerable to scores of people on his estate whom he could not help without assistance, why cannot he go to the district council in a proper businesslike way and say, "I want to take advantage of this Bill. The House of Commons has given me that advantage. I come to you and ask you to approve these plans of beneficence." It is said that he would be too sensitive, that he has too much self-respect to go to a rural district council, but he is not too sensitive to go to a county council. The argument is too absurd. What is the real reason? I venture to say the real reason is that if a county council be made the authority under this Bill, there will be much less done under this Bill; there will be much less pressure brought to bear upon housing conditions by the county council than would be the case by the existing housing authority, which is the rural district council.

This Bill is brought in at the last quarter of the eleventh hour of the Session. They want something for window-dressing; they want to be able to go into the rural districts, and say "This is what we are doing." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear!"] I am very much obliged to hon. Gentlemen for admitting that is so. They want some encouragement, and with that encouragement perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health may go back to Ladywood. The Bill strengthens the very evils which, it is said, its object is to cure. The right hon. Gentleman looks upon it as a Bill inspired by the great desire of the Tory party to improve the housing conditions of the agricultural labourers. I beg to assure hon. Members that things are happening very fast, and one of the things which is happening fastest of all is that the agricultural labourer is becoming far too enlightened to be taken in by this sort of thing.


I think we have never heard such a vague, contradictory, confused speech, remote altogether from the difficulties of the housing question, than that to which we have just listened, and if I may venture to say so to the right hon. Gentleman, one which showed a complete absence of knowledge of the contents of this Bill. Those of us who sit on this side, are, of course, not unused to expressions such as those which have been used concerning this Bill and other similar pieces of legislative work which have come from these Benches. I remember very well, in 1923, that when my right hon. Friend introduced his Housing Bill, the Measure was described in very much the same terms as the right hon. Gentleman has used to-day. On that occasion he said, or, at any rate, one of his colleagues said, that that Bill would stereotype poverty in housing for half a century to come, that it was sheer political bankruptcy and matters of that kind. We know to-day that that Act has brought about the building of 169,000 new houses —a larger contribution than has been made by any other Act of Parliament. I remember, too, very well when the Widows' Pensions Bill was introduced, the right hon. Gentleman and his friends, I think, referred to the Measure as the most fiendish, heartless and cruel fraud ever perpetrated. We have heard the same kind of thing this evening. I venture to say, apart from partisan and prejudiced opinion, such as has been evidenced here to-day, there is no doubt that this Bill will considerably better the housing conditions of the agricultural workers of this country. There is one thing, at any rate, which the discussion to-day has shown, I think, generally in all quarters of the House, and that is that there is a great deal which remains to be done to secure further and better housing accommodation in rural areas. The only difference, as I see it, between one side of the House and the other, is that we are bringing a practical proposal before the country to-day, and, as far as I have teen able to gather from the speeches made opposite, they are absolutely bankrupt and barren of any proposal.

8.0 P.M.

I would like to say a word or two upon some of the points which have been raised. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood) who moved the rejection of this Bill referred to what he called the enormous expense that apparently, was to go into the pockets of the landlords. In any event—and this is what, I think, the right hon. Gentleman overlooked when he talked about differentiating in the matter of rural landlords—anyone who knows anything about the housing conditions at all, knows that there is a special case for assisting rural housing. That was done by the right hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) in his Bill of 1924. Special arrangements had to be made, and when the hon. Gentleman opposite accuses this Government of embarking upon enormous expenditure of this kind, I would remind him of the provisions of the 1924 Act which were introduced into this House on the ground that they were going to provide houses at rents which the humblest could pay, and for that reason, mainly, a subsidy of £300 was going to be contributed by the State and the local authority. When you compare the proposals under that Act with this scheme, there are two very striking differences. In the first place, there was no provision laid down in the Act of 1924 as to who was to occupy those houses, with the result that to-day a very curious class of people are in occupancy of them. There was also the marked difference in the two schemes that, under the Wheatley Act, the rents of the Wheatley houses would be at least double the amount of the rents of the cottages and houses we are assisting under this scheme. Under that Act, so far from providing houses at a rent which the people in the poorest circumstances could pay, notwithstanding the very considerable expenditure, there is practically no difference between the rents of rural houses and those of the houses erected under the other schemes. Let us assume that 20,000 houses may be assisted under the provisions of this scheme. There would be a cost to the State of £80,000 for 20 years, and no one would say that that was an extraordinary contribution to make, having regard to the good which may be achieved. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maldon (Major Ruggles-Brise) asked what was meant by "reconditioning." I would refer him to the general wording of the Bill, which will be dealt with by the local authorities, subject to the scheme being approved by the Minister of Health. There are all sorts of things—the substitution of slates for thatching, the replacing of old stone floors, the provision and enlargement of windows, and matters of that kind. One of the greatest needs in the rural areas to-day is adequate water supply, and it will be quite possible under this Bill to arrange for a number of houses to be dealt with so that proper sanitation can be provided at comparatively small cost.

The hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) raised the point about the £400 and the £50 limits. These are Committee points which we can discuss when we come to Committee; but I think the House will agree that, in the first place, we must have some limit. It is not the intention of this Bill, for instance, to provide money for papering houses and matters of that kind. It is not the intention that money should be utilised for large houses, but only for houses suitable for agricultural workers. There is one other matter which has not been mentioned to-day, and that is the considerable advantage which the scheme has inasmuch as it will not fall upon the ordinary building labour of the country. Even at this moment I believe it is true to say that there are two jobs for every man in the ordinary building industry, and I read in one of the trade journals, not very long ago, that, taking a conservative view of the existing conditions and prospects of the building industry, it may be affirmed, short of a national economic collapse, that there is twice as much work in the building trade than can be undertaken in the next 20 years. When you are considering different proposals as to how you are to advance further with housing, it is a very important matter when you are able to introduce a scheme of this kind which will not make demands on the ordinary building labour of the country. In many districts you will be able to fall back on local labour, and still further advance the progress of housing.

The chief criticism in relation to the details of this Bill, especially from hon. Members behind me, has been the fact that we have chosen the county councils to do this work. I would like to put one point which weighed with me in support of that proposal. One of the things that will have to be done in connection with this scheme is to keep a very careful check of the estimates of all the reconditioning schemes put forward by various local authorities. It will be fairly easy, I think, for a central department to keep control and see that reasonable economy is exercised if you deal simply with county councils, but, directly you say that the district council must be the body, or possibly, as it might be under this Bill, urban district councils, or possibly councils of non-county boroughs, you will immediately be presented with a very great difficulty. Then the central department would have to deal with some 648 rural district councils, 791 urban district councils, and 247 councils in non-county boroughs; in all a number of authorities totalling 1,686. I am afraid that the difficulties in that event would be very considerable indeed. There is an important proviso in relation to this matter, in Clause 5, which gives the Minister, after consultation with the county council, power to relegate the work to the district council. Obviously, if a county council were to say that they did not want to do the work, and the district council was anxious to do it, that would be one of the instances which we had in mind when we drafted this Clause. This, I think, may be regarded as a reasonable compromise between the different points of view. We hope that we shall have authorities who will be desirous of working this scheme, and one of the most gratifying things said this afternoon was the statement by the hon. Member for East Brad- ford (Mr. Fenby), who said he would go to his own county council and urge them to put this scheme into operation.

I would like to refer to the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) and his complete misconception of the provisions of this Bill. I do not think that he could have read this Bill. I must confess I was not able to follow him; no doubt it was my own fault, when he endeavoured to prove that, somehow or another, a great advantage was to be conferred upon the landlords, and that the Bill had no regard, or very little regard, to the interests of the agricultural labourer. He has made various suggestions as to what could be said when hon. Members on this side of the House are in the agricultural areas. When he goes and makes another speech on this subject, will he tell his audience that there is no possible opportunity for any landlord, under the provisions of this Bill, to get any practical benefit in money which he can put in his pocket for 20 years to come? That might be a good start to any explanation of the provisions of this Bill. I wonder whether he will tell them that, under the provisions of this Bill, the most rigid safeguards exist whereby no one can occupy a cottage which has been assisted, for 20 years to come unless he is of the status mentioned in Clause 3, and that, so far from being, as in the houses which have been assisted under the Wheatley Act, and which anyone can go into of any type or kind, under this Bill, the dwelling shall not be occupied except by a person, whether as owner or tenant, whose income is, in the opinion of the local authority, such that he would not ordinarily pay a rent in excess of that paid by agricultural workers in the district. That condition is supported by very drastic powers given to the local authority. If a condition like that were broken, let us say for a month, the person who did so would place himself in very great jeopardy. The whole of the money advanced to him immediately becomes due, and the local authority could step in and exercise all the rights which are conferred on mortgagees under the law of the land.

The right hon. Gentleman also has forgotten to say that this scheme absolutely prevents any possibility of these dwellings being used by the. Week-ender. There is no provision of that kind in the Wheatley Act. The Bill also ensures that the landlord himself has to make a considerable contribution to this scheme. I must say I did not quite follow the right hon. Gentleman in regard to his arguments in this matter, because, as I understood him, he said a certain number of landlords would not be able to benefit. Therefore, I do not quite sec how he calls this a landlords' Bill. The conditions, to which considerable time and attention has been given, have been very carefully studied with a view to seeing that the people who benefit are the occupiers of the houses or cottages themselves. I venture to suggest that the real ground for the opposition to this Bill has not been revealed by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech to the House to-day. He was more frank when he was speaking on Saturday at a garden party. He then said—I am quoting from the "Times" report— They had got to build up the countryside as part of the great national problem of the effective use of economy.


It should have been "of their resources."


Of their resources. The Labour party was going to oppose the Bill that was to be introduced into the House of Commons next week, because it gave a subsidy to landlords under the name of an aid to housing. One of the most melancholy things today was to see the old families having to sell their heirlooms in order to pay their death duties. But, if they were to justify themselves, they must keep their estates up to the mark. Did they want a lots of vulgar people, nouveaux riches, to come down and dominate them? Whatever could be said of the old landlords, they were not vulgar people. They did not destroy the soul at the expense of the body. Now they were told to save the body at the expense of the soul. He was not having it. The only way out was nationalisation. So what the agricultural labourers have to choose between are the proposals—I venture to say the practical proposals, of this Bill—and, apparently, nationalisation, by which, I suppose, the right hon. Gentleman means putting the State into control, using the municipalities as agents to let and recondition the houses, and do everything else that has to be done in that way. There is not much doubt as to what would be the reply of most agricultural workers living in the conditions which have been described to us by hon. Members in all parts of the House. I venture to suggest that, so far from abusing or repudiating this Bill, a very large number of people who, unhappily, have lived for so long in these unfortunate conditions will gladly welcome the Bill. It is a considerable step forward in the housing programme of the country. The Labour Opposition, if they like, can vote against this Bill, as they voted against the Housing Act, 1923, and as they voted against widows' pensions, but if they do so they will vote against a Measure which will provide many agricultural workers with decent sanitary dwellings at rents which they can pay; and we shall see by the votes of the Opposition to-night whether political partisanship is to prevail over an opportunity to improve the conditions of agricultural workers.


It is marvellous to hear such an expert agriculturist as the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed us, who sits for a constituency opposite to my own, admitting even at this late stage of the housing problem that there is an agricultural housing question He belongs to the party who pretend to be the particular friends of agriculture and who now have to admit that the housing conditions in the rural areas are so bad that there must be an alteration, but, as usual, it is to be at the expense of the nation. If the landlord has to foot the bill, then there is nothing doing. People in the agricultural areas have been badly housed ever since I can remember. I am the son of an agricultural worker. Pig-styes would have been a good name for the houses we used to live in, but now, owing to the fact that there is a Labour party in existence, hon. Members oppo- site have discovered the necessity of a Housing Bill for rural areas. But the landlord is going to be master of the situation. He finds one-third of the money and the nation and the local authorities find the remaining two-thirds. What will be the position of the agricultural labourer? Will he be allowed to get a house under this scheme if he does not agree with the political opinions of his landlord? That is a straight question. Are we going to subsidise the claim of the landlord still to continue tied tenancies? That is what it means. We are going to subsidise a landlord to keep his tenant in thrall. The right hon. Gentleman himself admitted it when he spoke of the kind of tenant accustomed to occupying these dwellings. Anybody else who comes along is not to have the opportunity of occupying one of these cottages. What does that mean? The job with the house; the house. with the job; and if you are up against the landlord, out of your job you go and out of your house. The State is going to subsidise victimisation. Some of us know something about it. We have lived under those conditions ourselves.

The landlords say they want to carry on—the old landlords, of course. The gentleman from the Prudential who used to feed his chickens according to his leavings—he was a great old English gentleman but the new landlord is a different kind of person. He cannot carry on, and therefore he wants the nation to come to his assistance, and two-thirds of the cost of this housing scheme is to be borne by the taxpayer and the ratepayer. The landlord pays only one-third, but takes two-thirds of the power. He is still the man who controls the conditions of housing in his own area. This is the Tory scheme- of housing! I would like to meet the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) in his own constituency and argue this Bill with him. Will he subsidise Woolwich to house people there'? Is he prepared to bring forward a housing scheme and find one-third of the cost, let alone two-thirds, out of public funds? I ask the hon. Gentleman. It is no good his talking to an bon. Member from Scotland; let him talk to England. I live opposite the hon. Member, on the other side of the Thames, and I want to know if he is prepared to go down to the Town Hall at Woolwich and argue with me whether housing shall be subsidised in the way proposed in this Bill. I am putting it straight and plain.

The housing problem in the working-class districts of East London is just as great as it is in the rural areas in England. Why cannot we have the same kind of subsidy? When West Ham ask for a loan to build houses they are told they cannot have it, except at 6 per cent. Yet we have this Bill. It is a piece of political hypocrisy, an attempt to buy votes. Talk about corruption! The right hon. Gentleman who happens to be the foreman of the hon. Member for West Woolwich charged us in West Ham with being corrupt. What is this Bill? Simply a bribe to get votes in the countryside at the next General Election. The Tory party never troubled their heads about housing in the rural areas until they found themselves up against the industrial problem in the great industrial centres. How can the hon. Member opposite justify this Bill? If two-thirds of the expense of housing the people is to be borne as a local and national charge, why should the landlord be allowed to have control. Give us the same amount of control in the industrial centres of the country and the housing problem will be solved.

The hon. Member knows what he is doing. He is out to justify the Tory party, the only thing he can do. He is asking the people of this country to find money to bolster up a rotten system in the rural areas. Who has been responsible for bad housing in the country districts? The people whom he is defending here to-night. Everybody knows that the landlords have neglected their duty. They have been subsidised by being given a reduction of agricultural rates, and now they are wanting another subsidy. His Master's Voice—Edison Bell Record—decides the issue! They have to pay for the votes they get, and they are paying by this Bill. They say they are going to give better houses to workers in I he rural areas. [HON. MEMBERS "So we are!"] Yes, mansions in the skies— There is a happy land far, far away. What kind of houses will they be? Glorified rabbit hutches, and one-third is to he paid by the landlord in 20 years, and two-thirds by the taxpayers and the ratepayers. A bigger infliction was never made upon the people of this country. This is an attempt to make the rural workers believe that the landlord is their real friend, but as a matter of fact he is their old-time enemy. If you want to settle the housing problem, why not make the land the property of the nation, and then we shall no longer have these parasites living at the expense of the masses of the people.

Rear-Admiral BEAMISH

I wish to congratulate the Minister of Health upon bringing this Bill forward, because I believe it will do an immense amount of good. Of course, it must be taken as only part of an attempt to solve this great national problem. The Socialists have never made the slightest attempt to assist agriculture; they have always exploited and sweated the agriculturist. We have heard the late Chancellor of the Exchequer calling agriculture the pampered pet of the Tory party. It is not the pampered pet of the Tory party at all. The simple fact is that the Tory party realises the immense importance of this industry to the country. There are something like 500,000 workers in this industry and it is one of three or four of the greatest industries in the country. This Bill is intended to give the agriculturist some sort of assistance by improving his housing conditions. We hear a great deal about this Bill being a subsidy for landlords but the people who make those remarks must be those who make certain trips in chars-a-bane into the country; they certainly have never studied the tremendous efforts made by landlords up and down the country to improve rural conditions in every possible way, and who let their property at uneconomic rents. In addition to what landlords of that type do, there are countless landlords who are the owners of small cottages and cottage property who will gain enormously by a little bit of assistance in the way of capital to help them to improve their cottages. In my own constituency there are plenty of cottages owned by quite small capitalists, and what they would like is just a little bit of help to enable them to put down £100, or a little bit more, in order to bring their cottage up to date. There are many hundreds of cottages which have been successfully renovated and reconstructed. I know of many cottages which, with the addition of a damp course and other minor improvements, would be turned into admirable dwellings which anybody would be delighted to live in.

There are certain points in this Bill about which I should like a little more information. I think it is a Bill which may easily be improved in Committee, but there are certain things in it about which I have considerable doubt. One is that we shall unquestionably find obstinate landlords who will be prepared to say: "I get my rents all right without bothering about getting this money through the county council, and I am not going to bother about it." I think the Bill should make it possible to bring pressure on landlords of that type. There is quite a considerable number of cottages which are incapable of being reconstructed. They are of the wrong type and only just hold together. It does not matter how much money is spent upon them, they could never be made fit for habitation. I would like to know how that kind of cottage is going to be dealt with. I also know of cottages where the inhabitants are doing their best to live under beastly conditions in buildings which ought not to be standing and ought to have been pulled down long ago, because they have been condemned. The people are only living in them because there is nowhere else for them to go. I do not feel that this Bill covers that point at all.

The most serious question of all is the unwilling local authority. Speaking of local authorities, I agree that it is better to put the responsibility on the higher and less get-at-able local authorities like the county council rather than the rural district councils, which have to live at peace with all their neighbours. These are the points which strike me as important, and which it may be possible to put right when the Bill is in Committee. We have heard that love is blind, while some people have said that it is a lucky thing that it is blind. I see no reason why hate and prejudice should also be blind, although they seem to be blind when considered by the Socialist party because they are blinded by prejudice and hatred of the landlord as though he was some vile sort of beast, incapable of doing a good thing at all. The country landlords are the people to keep the country going if they are given the least possible encouragement. The Socialist opposition, of which we have heard so much this afternoon, is not born of any desire to improve this Bill, and, undoubtedly, it is in furtherance of a plan to accentuate trouble and difficulties. I have one very strong hope, and it is that the Socialist party will not go back on their promise to divide on this Bill. I can only congratulate them if they do divide upon digging just a little bit deeper the pit they have already dug for themselves in agricultural constituencies.


I should not have intervened in this Debate but for the fact that the hon. Member who has spoken made a statement that the Socialist party had never done anything for the agricultural labourer. It is for the purpose of correcting that statement that I have risen to speak. Evidently the hon. Member who made that assertion does not remember the Wages' Board, a constructive measure which has done more than anything else to enable the agricultural labourer to pay a decent rent for the house he desired to occupy, and it has at least raised the average wage of the agricultural labourer in this country.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)

I would remind the hon. Member that we are not now discussing the question of the Wages' Board.


All I was pointing out was that the agricultural labourer is in a better position to pay a reasonable rent now than he would have been but for the passing of the Act to which I have alluded. That Act was passed by the Socialist Government, and, on the average, the wage of the agricultural labourer to-day is between 4s. and 5s. a week more than it was, thanks to the passing of that Act. We are desirous of raising the wages rather than bringing down the rent to meet the wages. As has already been said in this Debate, new houses cannot be erected to-day at such a price that the rent will be low enough to enable the agricultural labourer to meet it. The proposal before the House is devised, as has been stated by the Government, for the purpose of enabling the agricultural labourer to pay the rents obtaining at the present time in agricultural areas.

The subsidy or grant that is going to be given to the landlord is to be met out of public funds, but the general public is to have no control over that grant after it has been given. We prefer that, where money is advanced from the public purse, there should be control. Otherwise, I fear we are justified in saying that this is not merely bribery, but one of the worst forms of jobbery; and that jobbery is going to take effect through the agency of the county council. The county councils to-day are controlled by the landowning class, by the landlords in the agricultural areas, and they are going to take good care that they look after their friends, as the Tory party are looking after their friends to-day. It is nothing short of absolute jobbery in that respect. The buildings that are to be repaired as a result of this Bill are buildings that, in my view at least, are, in the main, not worth spending this money on. From our point of view it is far preferable to embark on the erection of new buildings. Then you will get value for money, and they will be an economic asset to the community. That will not be the effect of this Bill.

Further, as my hon. Friend the Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) has said, the agricultural labourer will undoubtedly be more under the control of the landlord. We know what happens. The agricultural labourer has only to let it he known that he is a member of a trade union, he has only to take part in a trade union demonstration, and invariably he loses his job; and, in addition to losing his job, he is evicted from his house. We are desirous of ending that kind of thing, but this Bill

is not going to assist us in ending it. It is still going to continue in the hands of the landlords the power to evict from these houses those people who do anything contrary to the desire of the landlord. The Bill will undoubtedly keep Toryism enthroned in the rural areas throughout this country, and if only from that point of view we should be justified in opposing it.

In the first place, it is going to be reactionary in its effect; secondly, it is not going to give economic value to the community; and, thirdly, it is going to keep the agricultural labourer under the control of the landlord class in the rural areas. It is reactionary from every point of view. Rather should we embark upon a policy which will give the corn-inanity economic value for the money it is spending. The policy should be such as to give to the agricultural worker a greater sense of freedom than he has at the present time. When the Socialist Government was in office it did as much as it possibly could in the interest of the agricultural labourer. The Housing Act,, 1924, as applied to rural areas, will give to the agricultural worker a house that is at least habitable and far more sanitary than ever these cottages can be made, whatever expenditure is incurred upon them. I feel, therefore, that I am justified in going into the Lobby, as I hope my party will do, in opposition to this Bill.

Question put, " That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 213; Noes, 7].

Division No. 424.] AYES. [8.42 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonet Broun-Lindsay, Major H. Crookshank, Cpt. H.(Lindsey, Gainsbro)
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks, Newb'y) Cunliffe, Sir Herbert
Albery, Irving James Buckingham, Sir H. Davies, Dr. Vernon
Applin, Colonel R. V. K. Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil)
Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover) Butler, Sir Geoffrey Davies, Sir Thomas (Clrencester)
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward Dawson, sir Philip
Balniel, Lord Campbell, E. T. Dean, Arthur Wellesley
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Cassels, J. D. Dixey, A. C.
Barnston, Major Sir Harry Cautley, Sir Henry S. Drewe, C.
Beamish, Captain T. P. H,- Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston) Eden, Captain Anthony
Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.) Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood) Edmondson, Major A. J
Bellairs, Commander Canyon W. Christie, J. A. Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington)
Berry, Sir George Clarry, Reginald George Elliot, Major Walter E.
Birchall, Major J. Dearman Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D, Ellis, R. G.
Blundell, F. N. Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir G. K. Elveden, Viscount
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Conway, Sir W. Martin Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s-M.)
Bowyer, Captain G. E. W. Couper, J. B. Fairfax, Captain J. G.
Boyd-Carpenter, Major Sir A. B. Courtauld, Major J. S Falle, Sir Bertram G.
Braithwaite, A. N. Courthope, Lieut -Col. Sir George L. Fanshawe, Commander G. D.
Brass, Captain W. Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.) Fenby, T. D.
Brassey, Sir Leonard Crawfurd, H. E. Fermoy, Lord
Brittain, Sir Harry Crooke, J. Smedley (Derltend) Flelden, E. B.
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick) Ford. Sir P. J.
Forestier-Walker, Sir L. Knox, Sir Alfred Rye, F. G.
Foster, Sir Harry S. Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R. Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Foxcroft, Captain C. T. Little. Dr. E. Graham Sandeman, A. Stewart
Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley) Sanders, Sir Robert A.
Galbraith, J. F. W. Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman Sanderson, Sir Frank
Gates, Percy Mac Andrew, Major Charles Glen Sandon, Lord
Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)
Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Simms, Dr. John M. (Co, Down)
Glyn, Major R. G. C. Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart) Skelton, A. N.
Gower, Sir Robert MacIntyre, Ian Slaney, Major P. Kenyon
Grace, John McLean, Major A. Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Greene, W. P. Crawford Macmillan, Captain H. Smithers, Waldron
Grenfell, Edward C. {City of London) Macquisten, F. A. Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Grotrian, H. Brent MacRobert, Alexander M. Sprot, Sir Alexander
Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Makins, Brigadier-General E. Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F.(Will'sden,E.)
Gunston, Captain D. W. Malone, Major P. B. Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)
Hacking, Captain Douglas H. Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn Storry-Deans, R.
Hammersley, S. S. Margesson, Captain D. Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.
Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Streatfeild, Captain S. R.
Hartington, Marquess of Meller, R. J. Styles, Captain H. Walter
Haslam, Henry C. Merriman, F. B. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Hawke, John Anthony Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark) Sugden, Sir Wilfrid
Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley) Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden) Tasker, Major R. Inlgo
Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle) Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr) Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-
Hennessy, Major J. R. G. Moore, Sir Newton J. Tinne, J. A.
Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford) Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Hills, Major John Waller Morden, Col. W. Grant Trvon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Hilton, Cecil Murchison, C. K. Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Hoare. Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph Watts, Dr. T.
Hohier, Sir Gerald Fitzroy Neville, R. J. Wells, S. R.
Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) White, Lieut.-Col Sir G. Dairymple
Holland, Sir Arthur Nicholson, Col. Rt.Hn.W.G.(Ptrsf'd.) Williams. A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)
Holt, Capt. H. P. O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton) Williams. Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar) O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Hugh Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)
Hopkins, J. W. W. Oman, Sir Charles William C. Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)
Howard, Captain Hon. Donald Ormsby-Gore. Hon. William Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N). Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple) Wise, Sir Fredric
Hume, Sir G. H. Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome) Withers, John James
Hurst, Gerald B. Phillpson, Mabel Wolmer, Viscount
Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose) Pilcher, G. Womersley, W. J.
Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H. Pilditch, Sir Philip Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde;
Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Con'l) Power, Sir John Cecil Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.).
Jacob, A. E. Price, Major C. W. M. Woodcock, Colonel H. C.
Jephcott, A. R. Raine, W. Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Kennedy, A. R. (Preston) Ramsden, E. Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Kidd, J. (Linlithgow) Remer, J. R.
Kindersley, Major Guy M. Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
King, Captain Henry Douglas Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth) Captain Viscount Curzon and Lord Stanley.
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro') Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.) Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Ammon, Charles George Greenall, T. Ponsonby, Arthur
Attlee. Clement Richard Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Potts, John S.
Barr, J. Groves, T. Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Batey. Joseph Guest, Haden (Southwark, N.) Scrymgeour, E.
Bondfield, Margaret Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Slesser, Sir Henry H.
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Hardie, George D. Smith, Rennie (Penlstone)
Broad, F. A. Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon Snell, Harry
Bromley, J. Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley) Stephen, Campbell
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute) Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Sullivan, J.
Buchanan, G. Hudson. J. H. (Huddersfield) Sutton, J. E.
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown) Taylor, R. A.
Charleton, H. C. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Tinker, John Joseph
Clowes, S. Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Viant, S. P.
Cluse, W. S. Kelly, W. T. Walsh, Rt Hon. Stephen
Connolly, M. Lawrence, Susan Watson, W. M. (Dunfermilne)
Dalton, Hugh Lawson, John James Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Lee. F. Whiteley, W.
Day, Colonel Harry Lunn, William Williams. T. (York, Don Valley)
Dennison, R. March, S. Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Duncan. C. Mitchell, E. Rosslyn (Paisley)
Dunnico, H. Montague, Frederick TELLERS FOR THE NOES—
Gibbins, Joseph Naylor, T. E. Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. Riley.
Gillett, George M. Palin, John Henry
Gosling, Harry Paling, W.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.