§ 4.0 p.m.
I beg to move,That this House is of opinion that, in the interests of agriculture and the nation at large, every effort should be made to improve and increase the housing accommodation of the workers in rural districts.I am extremely gratified to have the opportunity of dealing with this subject, in view of the experience which I had during my service in the Army, when opportunities for new construction and the reconstruction of buildings presented themselves very frequently. Under the former head, I had to do with large barrack construction and drainage contracts, while under the latter head the reconstruction of barracks fell to my lot, particularly those required for married quarters which were almost parallel in their requirements to the housing needed in rural districts to-day and, as a result, one was able to bring these buildings up to date. I may say, in passing, that among the barracks requiring most attention was the military guard wing at Buckingham Palace, where the conditions were extraordinarily bad. Hon. Members will be interested to hear that there are bad cases even so close to us as that. I and my colleagues in the corps to which I belonged were freely criticised in the Service and by the Service for our alleged lack of knowledge in connection with our work. Taunts were thrown at us about building barracks unsuitable to the climate in tropical countries owing to designs for barracks at home having been sent abroad by mistake. We were also criticised for omitting staircases. That omission was rectified by putting up outside stairs, and this incidentally proved of great value in the design for married quarters and similar buildings.
I must give credit to the War Office for having persistently carried out reconstruction work on lines identical with those obtaining under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. This led me when I was a candidate for Parliament to refer to the subject during the 1924 election campaign. I should like to read to the House 1984 the reference which I made to the subject in my election address:I will urge the extension of the Housing Acts to provide funds and facilities for the improvement of existing houses, and particularly those of farm servants, so as to bring them up to date in accommodation, water supply and sanitation.It was a matter of great gratification to me when the Minister of Health brought in his Bill dealing with the housing of rural workers. I would commend to hon. Members a study of the Circulars issued by the Ministry of Health and the Scottish Board of Health on rural housing, and the excellent housing manual published by the Ministry of Health in 1927. The manual is a very remarkable work and forms a very good guide for anyone interested in different styles of architecture and in all forms of improved accommodation. I will not attempt this afternoon to discuss the merits of the various Acts, but I would draw attention to the fact that the Wheatley Act has been of considerable assistance in rural districts, owing to its increased subsidy, but it hits a certain numbers of burghs and urban areas whose population is practically rural, where owing to the conditions of the Act they are not able to qualify for the increased rate. To a certain extent the Wheatley Act and others are meeting the shortage, but their usefulness is discounted somewhat by seasonal and week-end visitors using the accommodation which had been built to meet the local housing shortage. I think shortcomings in this direction have been met by the Rural Workers Housing Act, which assures up-to-date conditions for that very desirable body of people who are the backbone of British agriculture, and whose conditions have long merited sympathy and improvement. The Act also applies to other people in the same economic conditions in burghs and urban districts. I made an inquiry from the Ministry of Health on this point as to buildings not necessarily occupied by rural workers, and received this reply:There is nothing to prevent a dwelling in respect of which assistance may have been given under the Act being occupied by a fisherman if his income complies with the conditions prescribed in Section 3 (1).There is nothing to prevent assistance being given in respect of a house or building situated in a borough or urban district.I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my gratitude to the 1985 Minister of Health and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and their staffs for the assistance they have given me in supplying figures with regard to rural housing in England and Scotland. Let me place these statistics before the House. In England and Wales, up to March, 1928, 168,951 houses were completed in rural districts since the War under the various housing Acts. Up to the 30th September, 1927, 108,877 were completed by private enterprise, giving a total of 277,828 houses. It is impossible to allot these figures to rural workers or agricultural parishes, but under the 1924 Act, which gave a higher subsidy, over 10,000 houses were completed. Let me refer to the statistics of two counties which I have taken at random. The County of Wiltshire built 690 houses under the 1919 Addison Act, 111 under its Additional Powers Act, 923 under the 1923 Chamberlain Act, and 588 under the Wheatley 1924 Act, making a total of 2,312. while 799 non-subsidy houses were built, making a grand total for that county of 3,111 houses.
In Yorkshire, East Riding, 161 houses were built under the 1919 Act., 263 under its Additional Powers Act, 690 under the Chamberlain Act, and 109 under the Wheatley Act, making a total of 1,223, while 522 non-subsidy houses were built, making a total for that county of 1.745, which I think shows a satisfactory improvement from the agricultural point of view. It is interesting to note that rough data taken from the rural district returns shows that the average product of a penny rate in Wiltshire is £3,200, and in Yorkshire, East Riding, £2,325. I give these figures because I am going to base a few remarks on the effect of a penny rate on the housing problem. The annual charge on the rates incurred for these various housing schemes is £5,200 in the case of Wiltshire, and £2,514 in the case of Yorkshire, East Riding, which means an average rate of 1.6 of a penny in Wiltshire, and 1.1 of a penny in Yorkshire. It shows that it is not a grievous addition to the rates. Compare this with the corresponding road rates in these two counties of ls.. 10d. in Wiltshire, and 1s. lld. in Yorkshire, East Riding, an education rate of 2s. 10d. and 2s. 3d., and a general purposes rates of 3s. and 2s. 7d., it shows that the housing in the country 1986 districts bears a very small proportion to the cost under other heads.
Let me now deal with some figures for Scotland. Up to March, 1928, 13,485 houses were completed since the War under the various housing Acts, and 7,011 by private enterprise, making a total of 20,496. In the same way we cannot allot these houses to purely agricultural workers, but under the Wheatley subsidy 804 houses were completed. Let me give figures from one of the counties. In Perthshire 59 houses were constructed under the Addison scheme, none under the 1923 Act, and 138 under the 1924 Act, making a total of 197. By private enterprise, 177 houses were built, making a total for that county of 374. In a great scattered county like this these figures do not compare favourably with the English figures. When we turn to the Housing (Rural Workers) Act you get rather different conditions. I will start with some of the English results. Under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 45 county councils submitted schemer. There were 16 counties which submitted no scheme, but in 13 of these the district councils were the declared authority. Out of 64 non-county borough councils, 12 have submitted schemes; out of 96 urban district councils 17 have submitted schemes, and out of 143 rural district councils, 103 have submitted schemes. The total applications in England and Wales were 599, entailing grants of £10,852, and loans of £1,275 were promised in the case of 151 houses. In Scotland the progress has been more remarkable. Out of 107 district councils 68 have presented schemes, some have intimated that they do not propose to do so as their share of the grant was too heavy—notably in the crofting areas of the Highlands.
Let me give three counties in Scotland including one in my own constituency, so that the House will be better able to appreciate the position. In Aberdeenshire, a grant of £1,200 was promised to the Garrioch District Council which meant that the local authorities' responsibility was £600, or say £50 annually for 20 years. A penny rate brings in £298, so the liabilty is only about.2d. It shows that in the case of Aberdeenshire the effect of a penny rate is infinitesimal when you compare it with the road rate of 4s., an education rate of ls. 9d., and 1987 a general district rate of 3s. 5d. In East Lothian Western District, a grant of £9,500 was promised, but since then it has been considerably increased. This means that the local authority is responsible for £4,750, or say £380 annually for 20 years. A penny rate in this district produces £730, and the liability is therefore about.5d. annually. The road rate here is 2s. 2d., the education rate 2s. 8d., and the general rate 1s. In Peebles, a grant of £1,200 has been; promised, which means that the local authority has to find £600, or £50 annually for 20 years. A penny rate in this district produces £462, which means that there is a liability of about.1d.; in comparison with a road rate of 3s. 5d., an education rate of 2s. 2d., and a general rate, of ls. 7d. These figures are extremely instructive as showing the infinitesimal amount that has been incurred on work carried out under the Rural Workers Act, compared with the road rate, the education rate and the general rate.
These facts and figures ought to tend to awaken interest in the subject. The total applications received in Scotland were 493, and the grants promised were 284, representing an amount of 226,000, or £13,000 against the local authority. A further interesting comparison is possible. The local authority's maximum contribution of £50 means £4 annually for 20 years as against the rates. If you put this against the £4 which is roughly the local contribution under the Wheatley Act, but for 40 years, I think it will be seen at once that you get twice the effect under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act that you get under the Wheatley Act. As the £50, which is the maximum local authority contribution, is not likely to be necessary in every case, the prospects are still better. In East Lothian the county authorities estimate that they will be able to deal with 200 to 250 houses with a penny rate, as against 200 Wheatley houses on the same rate, only for double the time; as it is 20 years under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act and 40 years under the Wheatley Act.
I anticipate that there will be some reference from the Socialist Benches to tied houses, but I do not quite understand the objection to them. It seems to me that they supply security of tenure 1988 for the class of rural workers on farms. In Scotland this is particularly necessary in view of the annual hiring system and what are called the flitting; which may result in all the workers on a farm changing yearly. If there were not a system of houses allotted to rural workers on farms the situation might be very awkward. This would be particularly the case in many places which are popular from the seasonal point of view, when there might be very little accommodation left for the farm workers. Scotland particularly stands to benefit more than any other country from the Rural Workers Act, as it enables their buildings which usually contain four to six cottages to be easily brought up to date and thus ensure the comfort of the rural worker.
The figures I have given show that there is need for a stimulation of effort under the Act. I would like to read an extract from a statement by one of the local authorities in my constituency. The statement accentuates the view that I have expressed, and is as follows:It would not seem that a 2d. or even 3d. rate for improvement of rural housing is out of the way, looking to the benefits which will be secured in many directions, both direct and indirect, and in a way which we probably do not realise at the moment.That shows what the benefits of the Act will be to those employed on the land. The same authority criticises the very high road rates. Although it is not in order for me to discuss that subject on this Motion, I have to refer to it because the road rates operate very heavily in many of the counties of Scotland by reason of the heavy through traffic which does not benefit the county. I hold that the Housing (Rural Workers) Act requires stimulating for the following reasons: In the first place the benefit to agriculture would be immense in comparison with the cost likely to be incurred, as it would keep people contented on the land and would enable farms to be kept up to the mark. This is a very important point, as it is impossible for owners who are without independent means to do this work. As properties are now getting much more into the hands of those who are working them, the necessity is greater than ever. Secondly, the Act would improve the condition of the workers and the standard of living of a very deserving class. One has to remember that this class has all the 1989 amenities and advantages of town life denied to it. For a population which constitutes the backbone of the country it is necessary to give every help that can be given to this end. Thirdly, it would preserve the amenity and the picturesqueness of our cottages.
This applies more particularly to England. I will refer only briefly to specimens which we have in England and which do not exist in any other country. There are the half-timbered cottages of the Midlands and the South, there are the Cotswold stone houses, and in Northamptonshire the yellow stone cottages. Those who advocate new houses as against bringing these beautiful old buildings up to date do not realise what they would lose if they supplanted the old buildings. This Act enables the old buildings to be improved according to modern ideas without impairing the beauty of the English landscape. One regrets that in Scotland the conditions are not quite so picturesque, but that does not necessarily mean that the Act is not equally beneficial. In Scotland the buildings are much more appropriately designed to get the benefit of the Act, as they are generally in blocks of four or more dwellings, and by providing water supply and drainage and other improvements they can be brought up to date at reasonable cost.
As against these three advantages, the Bill has been criticised as a landlord benefit Bill by Socialist Members. We have heard from them a great deal about housing the workers in stables and pig-styes. This was particularly the case during the Committee stage of the Act. I would like permission to read an extract from a letter by Sir William Younger, who, as is well known, is intimately connected with housing in Scotland. In that letter, which appeared in the "Times" in December, 1926, Sir William Younger said:Mr. Wheatley talks of 'patching up old houses' and that the Government is acting on the belief that it is 'folly to provide new houses' as 'the old ones will do quite well,' inferring that the Government considers that any old shanty is good enough for working people. Mr. Greenwood also, … said that 'This is an attempt to nationalise the worst dwellings in the countryside, while leaving them in private ownership.'Sir William Younger continues:Why scrap them in these days of financial stringency when, at less than half the 1990 cost of building new ones, they can be brought up to the standard which was laid down by the Royal Commission on Housing in Scotland as necessary for modern requirements?There is probably some measure of truth in the contention that the Act may be to the landlords' benefit, but I ask the critics of the Act, what objection is there to that fact? Are these buildings to be allowed to deteriorate until new construction is necessary at vastly increased expenditure? Are we in Scotland to scrap, or allow to be scrapped, all the existing buildings because they belong to someone—I do not know whom—and to replace them by new buildings? It must be remembered that many owners, the proprietors of small farms, having regard to the conditions of the last two or three years, have not very much money left to spend on improving buildings. I hope, therefore, that that contention will cease.
In regard to the criticism of stables, I would refer to a point which I made in Committee regarding the experience I had in South Africa, I was building barracks at Potchefstroom for cavalry. Before they were occupied by cavalry we were told to convert them into infantry barracks. The buildings were turned into infantry barracks, and after a year or two were, reconverted to cavalry barracks. That, shows what is practicable, and I cannot see any odium attached to the conversion of stables into dwellings. I would like to refer to something of the same kind nearer home, as Hon. Members, if they like, can see mews being converted into residences every day in London, and very proper and practicable residences they make. Any stigma as to stables is not worth a moment's thought, and if the contention of hon. Members opposite is that this is a landlord's benefit—and when I say "landlords" I mean owners, because "landlords" is used as a term of reproach—I would point out that if buildings were allowed to deteriorate, they would soon become pig-styes, and that is the other side of the story. Therefore, I do appeal to hon. Members and to all property owners, farmers and members of local councils, to co-operate, and to consider the necessity and desirability of studying the provisions of this Act, to learn its merits and apply 1991 the advantages offered. Let me refer to what it does. It enables water supply and drainage to be put into buildings where they do not exist, and, if they do happen to exist, stone floors, sculleries and sanitary conveniences. Carrying the water supply into the sculleries saves women having to go out to draw water from the well, which, I think, is one of the tragic things in country life for the working woman. In the same way, closets can be connected up instead of being outside, as is the case almost throughout the country. I think we can all feel for the woman or child who, under any conditions whatsoever, has to go out when these places can be connected with the buildings so very easily. Finally, if required, gas and electric light can be introduced. It shows the elasticity of this Act.
The procedure is extraordinarily simple. I would refer to the pamphlet issued by the Ministry of Health in England and the Board of Health in Scotland on the subject, explaining its application to local conditions. I think, too, that articles in the Press, if I may suggest it, would be beneficial. I found in my own constituency, and in general conversation, how little the conditions were understood, and I will ask the leave of the House to read a small portion of a letter I addressed to "The Scotsman" on the subject.Irksome stipulations as to accommodation, etc., are wisely avoided, and that for a fixed bath was, in my opinion, very rightly defeated. Wives of workers will readily appreciate this in which I thoroughly agree, after considerable experience in the Army in reconditioning married quarters for all ranks, and its provision is optional.The principal point to realise is that conditions vary in almost every case, but in most extra accommodation such as a larder, scullery and inside water-closet is, I am sure, of first importance, and if in the scullery a wash-tub and boiler are fitted which will provide hot water for a moveable bath without the fuel consumption necessary in a hot-water service from the kitchen range, it will be agreed that the want is far better met.I think that is a very important point. Recently, in my constituency, I was heckled about it from the cottagers on the minefields. I had to point out that coal there is a very much cheaper commodity than in the part in which I have to live, some 600 feet up, and a long way 1992 from any station, where it is quite impossible for the rural worker to obtain sufficient fuel to have fires not only for daily cooking but also to heat water. To begin with, these wants generally come at different hours. I commend that to those who are obdurate on the idea of fixed baths, and it seems much better to use your coal for cooking purposes and heat the bath with a few sticks in a copper. I trust, therefore, that the opportunity offered will be made use of before the time limit of the Act is reached, 30th September, 1931. I think that any failure to do so will only result in a lower standard of life on the countryside, and will produce a situation which can only be relieved by evacuation orders and new construction at a very much greater cost, not only to housing authorities, but to individuals, the State, and posterity.
I must refer to the possibility of rings being formed by trades or contractors in connection with this Act. I am sorry to say I have an example in my own constituency, into which I shall have to inquire later, where the estimated cost for 11 cottages was £1,780 or, say, £162 each. The lowest tender was £2,134 or £185 each. There may be special circumstances concerning this, but I fear there may be the possibility that trades or contractors may take advantage of the conditions which offer themselves under this Act to close their ranks. I trust, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health in England and the representative of the Board of Health in Scotland will take this into consideration.
In conclusion, may I express my gratification for the consideration which the House has given me in my appeal for this Motion. I trust the House will record in no unmistakable manner its approval of this Motion, that every effort should be made to improve and increase the housing accommodation for workers in rural districts. It is in the interests of individual Members and of agriculture and the nation at large that we should exert ourselves to stimulate the interest of the housing authorities concerned, so that, at all events, the slur of lack of accommodation or of inferior accommodation shall not be laid on the countryside where this opportunity is more favourable than is unfortunately possible to town-dwellers. One knows the difficulty in the case of slum clearances in 1993 towns. Here we have an opportunity in the countryside to bring conditions up to modern standards, and I trust, therefore, that the House will support me in this Motion.
§ Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN
I beg to second the Motion.
I was one of the unfortunate cavalry officers who occupied my hon. and gallant Friend's reconstructed barracks at Potchefstroom, South Africa. Therefore, if I have some grumble against housing conditions, it is because I have had an experience of reconstructed barracks. Like everyone else in houses, we always have our grumble. I should like to draw attention to the serious problem of the housing of agricultural workers. Every Commission we have had—Lord Selborne's Commission, the Agricultural Tribunal of Investigation, the Agricultural Council of England, 1925, the Surveyors' Institution, the Central Landowners' Association, and the National Farmers' Union—have all expressed their opinion that the housing of agricultural workers is one of the most important considerations to help agriculture. I know that Governments have been alive to the fact, as witness the Housing Act, 1923, the Housing Act, 1924, and this last Housing (Rural Workers) Act. Though much has been done, I am one of those who think that more ought to be done, and can be done, without really increasing the burden of rates and taxes.
I propose, first of all, to refer to the Rural Workers Act, not only with a view to criticism, but also to let the Minister know how things are going with the agricultural workers, and I am very sorry that experience in England, as he knows quite well, is not so happy as compared with Scotland—I am not going to appear in a white sheet because I am an agricultural landowner. I spend many hours round my cottages, and know what is necessary, and how difficult it is to get these necessary things done, both for a private individual and a local authority. But my own opinion has been very much reinforced by the clerk of the rural district council in Hungerford. I think this is a district as typical of rural districts as any you can find in England. They have made efforts to cope with the housing problem in a way second to none in England. 1994 Before the War they had 14 houses, and they put up 94 houses under the Addison Act, and 120 under the 1924 Act. The last-named are rented at 5s. a week, and cost them £4 10s. per house per annum. I wrote to my friend the clerk of the council and asked him what was the matter with the Rural Housing Act and why they did not use it more? One reason he gave—and I quite agree with him—was that there is hesitation on the part of owners, owing to the cumbersome procedure in complying with the requirements, particularly in the conditions set forth in Section 3. I, myself, thought of using that Act, but that Section troubled me, and I preferred to go to the Lands Improvement Society, or borrow from my bank, rather than use the Government facilities. I think if the period were 40 instead of 20 years, much more use would be made of this Section of the Act.
Another point which he put—and this is really the vital point—is that there is also great hesitation on the part of the authorities, both county councils and district councils, on account of the extra burden thrown on the rates. This particular council has now before them 23 housing applications for grants, amounting to £2,000, of which £1,000 is money to be found out of the rates. This Act is not used as much as it might be, because, like a good many other things, it puts up the rates. The third point to which he drew my attention is that there has been a good deal of misapprehension that this Act is only for small owners and not for big owners. As my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hurd) knows, cases have been turned down for that very reason, and I hope that if the Minister wants the Act to be used, he will let the councils know whether it can be used by large owners as well as by small. There are two parts in Section 3 of the Act, one relating to loans and the other to grants, and I understand that the loan part is not a burden on the district, like the grants part. That is why loans are used more. The Newbury District Council the other day, in regard to some charitable trust houses, refused grants because of the burden on the rates, but sanctioned loans.
I believe it would be better if more were known about the provisions of this Act, and I suggest that the surveyors 1995 and other officials should, on the backs of the notices which they send out for repairs, print an intimation that this Housing Act can be used. That would go a great way towards making the provisions of the Measure better known than they are at the present time. The district council to which I have referred—and I suppose the same thing applies to other district councils—is just beginning to wake up to the possibilities of this Act and applications are being sent in. On Wednesday next they are to consider these matters and I gather that most of these applications, if they are granted—they may not be for one reason or another—will mean that the houses in question, when repaired, will be just as good as new houses. There are, however, one or two things to be considered in that connection. Old houses on agricultural estates are generally a long way from a road. People used to be happy under those conditions in former days, but things are different now, and great expense is involved in making roads to some of these cottages nowadays. It is really cheaper and better in many cases to build new cottages on account of the situation of the old cottages. Furthermore, a great many estates have changed hands and a great many farms are farmed in a different way, and consequently houses which were in the right place in their own day, are not now suitable.
In the change which has come over agricultural land, a great many of these buildings which were built for the housing of agricultural workers have ceased to be suitable and, in a great many cases, rather than patch up the old cottages, which are out-of-place rather than out-of-date, it is better to build new cottages. There is one means by which more encouragment might be given in the matter of rural housing. At present, if improvements are made under this Act, if new cottages are built, if practically anything is done to better the condition of an estate, the owner is immediately assessed on the actual improvements he is making. Some way should be found of dealing specially in this respect with bona fide improvements, whether made by local authorities or by private owners. The owner ought not to be fined for doing the right 1996 thing, but ought to be allowed a few years exemption from the extra assessment. It would encourage private enterprise and would help public enterprise as well in this respect, and would lead to a general all-round improvement in housing conditions.
Hon. Members opposite will forgive me, perhaps, if I throw a half-brick in their direction on this question. I know they will return it to me, later on, but I would point out the answer which was given to a question put by me the other day as to the number of houses completed by rural district councils in England and Wales up to 1st March. The answer was to the effect that under the 1923 Act there were 92,532, and under the 1924 Act, 24,525, and the houses built without any subsidy at all, up to April, 1927, numbered 76,387. Whether that was due to private enterprise without subsidy, or not—whatever you like to call it—it is a great addition to rural housing in this country and people who do anything to discourage this sort of building do grievous harm to the cause of rural housing. There is another point on which I am sorry the Ministry will not answer me, and that is in regard to the question of rents. I do not in the least claim for these 76,000 houses that they are houses at the rents which we want, namely, 5s. a week or less. I think the mistake that has been made in connection with these rural housing Acts is that the matter has not been looked at, to begin with, from the point of view of a rent of 5s, a week. The rural district council to which I have just referred brought up a scheme three years ago to take advantage of the Wheatley Act, and the first thing they did was to start at the bottom and to inquire "What is a rent suitable to rural workers?" They based their calculation on the fact that rural workers could not afford more than 5s. a week, and I suggest that any further housing legislation in connection with rural areas should be based on that principle.
We should begin at the right end and ascertain the rent which the agricultural labourer can pay. You are getting something for nothing out of the big landowners, and out of the people who have built these 76,000 cottages, and I quite fail to realise the Socialist point 1997 of view in trying to do away with these very people who are helping the situation now, and who have helped more than anyone else in this matter in the past. Hon. Members opposite are very fond of quoting people like Lord Ernle in favour of their schemes of nationalisation. They know perfectly well that though they may quote an occasional sentence which, when isolated, gives that impression, Lord Ernle is dead against such schemes. If they will read Mr. Dampier Whetham's book, which deals with the subject not from the political but from the purely agricultural point of view, they will see that in referring to this matter he says:Even if rural rents rise to their true relative level, the gain will not all go to the privy purse of the landlord.it is remarked by Colonel Peel and Professor Orwin—and I understand hon. Members opposite think a great deal of them and are following a great many of their proposals:The net income is rarely available for the landowner to the extent that the incomes of other investors are, for the owners of agricultural property have behind them a tradition of sharing their possessions with the community in which they live, to an extent unknown in any other class.No fair person can deny that statement. I am not talking of any landowners other than agricultural landowners. I have often heard the Minister of Agriculture in the last Government say that all nationalisation of the land meant was to have things done as well as the good landowner had always done them. I have reason to know that the new landowners are carrying on this tradition, and it is unfair to run down landowners as a class. There are bad landowners, as there are bad people everywhere, but hon. Members opposite are only spoiling their own case in making unfair suggestions against those who are doing more to help in solving this problem than almost any other body, even the Ministry. I cannot understand the suggestion contained in the Amendment to the Motion which refers to the tyranny of tied cottages. If hon. Members opposite were at a round table conference with, say, the committee of the Council of Agriculture, or with any other representative body, I cannot imagine that they would ever advocate this policy in regard to tied cottages. 1998 Supposing their own Government comes in, and they want to put their Prime Minister into Chequers, is it not right to turn out the other Prime Minister? In the same way, if a good cowman is being brought in on a farm to replace one who has not been a success, why should not the latter be turned out to make way for the better man? If it is good enough for a Prime Minister, why should it not be good enough for the cowman or the agricultural labourer?
I do not think, however, that we shall get much "forwarder" with the discussion of the rural housing question on political lines. This is an important problem and all parties have made their contributions towards its solution. The local authorities should use all these Acts and try to get things on to a better footing. There are other ways to help as well as lowering the rates. As has been pointed out already, the rates in respect of roads, constitute a handicap on the provision of houses in rural districts but there is also the Rent Restrictions Act. Many of these cottages are occupied by week-enders who have no real interest in the country at all, except to go there occasionally and they deprive the agricultural labourers of cottages. It is true that they pay bigger rents, and it is a great temptation to a landlord to get 9s. a week instead of 3s. a week. Although I do not believe in too much interference, I think the local authorities should have some power in their own districts regarding matters of this kind, which are to the detriment of the agricultural industry as a whole.
I wish also the Minister would impress on county councils and district councils and other authorities the necessity for housing their own employés. It is nonsense for the Government and for local bodies to lay down regulations about housing when they will not see after the housing of their own officials, such as school teachers, postmen, police, road-men and others. I am glad to see that local authorities are beginning to house their own people because the shortage of houses for agricultural labourers has been aggravated in the country villages by the inaction of local bodies in this respect. These public bodies should recognise that it is part of their duty to provide for their own people. The 1999 old-fashioned squire always did so for his people, and the example should be followed. Then facilities could be given in villages with regard to the accommodation of old age pensioners. I think some of the builders of the old almshouses in our country towns and villages possibly did better work than they knew. They realised that an old couple only require two rooms, and I suggest that it should be possible to amend the regulations in these Acts, so as to permit of two-roomed cottages for the old people instead of tying them down to three-roomed or four-roomed cottages.
There does not seem to be any reason why old age pensioners should not be provided with two-roomed cottages somewhere near the place where they have lived all their lives, and this could be done without very great expense. These old people may have sons, working possibly on the estates or farms where they themselves have worked. When the children grow up they must have cottages of their own, and I do not see why the old people could not be accommodated in these smaller and cheaper cottages. The provision of two-roomed cottages for old age pensioners and others whose needs they suit, would be a great help to the countryside. I hope also that steps may be taken to deal with another menace which is growing in the countryside, namely, the erection of bungalows. The local district councils ought to have some power to prevent the selling of land for that purpose. It is not the landowner who is to blame. The landowner may have to sell his land, and it then gets into the hands of a speculator, and it is the speculator who is putting up these bungalows, which are going to become slums some day. There is no doubt that the Society for the Preservation of Rural England is on the right lines—and I hope the Government will give it some support—in wanting all the villages, instead of being spread out along the roadside, to be grouped together. It would be more economical and more sanitary and better in every way, and it would not spoil the look of the countryside. That is all a part of the rural housing question, and I hope that whatever Government is in power will take action in that direction before it is too late.
2000 Lastly, I believe again in the old country squire and what he did. The first thing that he did when he got his estate was to think of his workmen and build for them and put up cottages, and then, of course, he had to build steadings for his cattle. Now you have this great change in England, and businesses, they tell us, are coming down from the North. They put up their factories, and what do they do for the housing of the people whom they employ? There are many factories being put up in Southern England, and they are causing the overcrowding in those areas. I think the local authorities in this matter, in the same way as I should like to see them have power over the licensing of greyhound racing, should have power, when factories are built in their areas, not only to give the necessary permission for building the factories, but also to withhold that permission until the management have made proper arrangements for housing the people who have to work in those factories. I will conclude by thanking the House for listening to me for so long.
§ Mr. BARR
I am very pleased that the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and Haddington (Colonel Crook-shank) has brought this subject before the House, both because he himself has taken great interest in it, but still more because it is of the most urgent importance and because it gives us an opportunity of reviewing the progress, or rather the lack of progress, under the Act of 1926. I will take the opportunity, even if I strike a personal note, of reminding the House that I did not, when this Act was under discussion in 1926, give it indiscriminate condemnation, but I said that I would take it for what it was worth. I said that I did not deprecate it altogether, and that there were certain parts of it that I would not criticise or decry, but I think it would be well to bring back to the attention of the House the claims that were put forward at that time by the Government and their supporters as to the wonderful things that this Act would do, in order that we may examine how far those predictions have been fulfilled. The Minister of Health said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1926; col. 2947, Vol. 198.]2001 The hon. Member for Norfolk South (Mr. Christie) said:It will do a tremendous amount of good."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1926; col. 2864, Vol. 198.]The hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) said:This Measure … 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1926; col. 2868, Vol. 198.]
§ Sir HENRY CAUTLEY
But the Minister killed it by not leaving it to the rural district councils. He handed it over to the county councils.
§ Mr. BARR
I certainly think, from that remark, that I have done some service in bringing to our notice that, in the opinion of the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead, we are to-day thrashing a dead horse and that the Act is already killed. I might also quote just one other of the tributes to this Act when it was in the passing. The hon. and gallant Member for Yeovil. (Major G. Davies) said:This Measure … shows how we can get unproved housing for agricultural and similar workers with the least expenditure of money and in the shortest possible time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1926; col. 2888, Vol. 198.]When we compare these high expectations and, if I may say so without offence, these high pretensions with the actual figures, we reach a complete anti-climax. We have heard to-day of the great amount of housing that has been done under the various Acts, of the tens of thousands of houses that have been built over a period of years, and I should like those figures to be borne in mind when I again give to the House the figures which I think were submitted by the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Motion. The applications for the whole of England up to the 31st December last were 599; assistance was promised in the case of 151 houses, and work was in progress on 89 houses. Both the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and Haddington, who moved the Motion, and the hon. and gallant Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown), who seconded it, prided themselves that Scotland had done something more, and indeed it has, but even there the applications only numbered 395, 281 houses were approved, and 2002 the grants promised were not more than £25,763; and the work completed at that date—and remember that this Act only runs for five years, and that almost a year and a-half had been completed at the date in question—was 62 houses, the grants paid were £4,380, and 156 houses were in progress. It is indeed "the day of small things." The hon. and gallant Gentleman said we should have to apply some considerable stimulus to this Act. There is a variety of opinions about the value of stimulants, and we have our own opinions, but in modern times, I believe, doctors never administer stimulants unless the patient is in a most precarious condition indeed. I think this physician has come in at the point of death and can think of nothing more than a little stimulant.
§ Mr. BARR
Perhaps the hon. Member for Royton (Dr. V. Davies) belongs to an older school of physicians. I am speaking of the more modern physicians. To go on with my metaphor, when the hon. and gallant Gentleman went on to a eulogium of this Bill it seemed to me that the patient had died on his hands and that he was giving a funeral oration over the remains. He made one admission that I must notice. He said that this was of value because in these days there were so many landlords who for various reasons were no longer with the means in hand to do these improvements. I think his words were that it was impossible for the owners to do it without assistance. Certainly that is a fair paraphrase, and he admitted that in some way it might be counted for the landlords' benefit, but I would wish to ask this: If the landlords in large numbers cannot perform their former function of providing houses for the rural workers on their estates, what is the function of the landlord other than that of a rent collector?
I should rather like the hon. Member to think of the case of the owner-farmer who has a small property.How is he going to 2003 carry out his work in view of the situation during the last three years?
§ Mr. BARR
The owner-farmer has the greatest difficulty in carrying out his work because during the War the large landowners took advantage of the situation and forced him in many cases to buy his land at inflated values, and therefore he is in his present difficulty. I think that cannot be refuted by the hon. and gallant Member or by anyone else in this House. I would like to know from the Minister in charge what has been the indirect value of this Act. When it was before the House we were told that it would have a great indirect value in this respect, that authorities would be able to go to landlords and say, "Your property is derelict, and unless you take advantage of this Act, we will put the Act into operation and will oblige you to repair." I would like the Minister to tell us how far, if at all, this Act has been effective in that way, and how many prosecutions have ensued because of the derelict conditions in the country. I should also like to ask, in regard to these small numbers of houses that have been built, bow many of them are inhabited by agricultural workers. I should like to have asked the hon. and gallant Member for Newbury how many of his 76,000 houses were inhabited by agricultural labourers.
That is one question that I wanted the Minister to answer, and I said that he ought to find that out, but I know personally that a very great many of those houses are occupied by agricultural workers.
§ Mr. BARR
Then the hon. and gallant Member and I are agreed in pressing the Minister to give us this particular information. I remember that when this Bill was under discussion one hon. Member gave an instance from Somerset of 230 houses provided in rural areas, only 12 of which were inhabited by agricultural workers, and when you remember that, you see how very slender is anything that has been done under this Act. The condition of our rural housing in regard to agricultural workers is deplorable. I had the honour for three years of being a member of the Royal Commission on Housing, and we had evidence from farmers; proprietors, and medical men all over the country that in many 2004 parts there was not such a thing as a sanitary convenience of any kind in these houses. I think it was one of the hon. and gallant Members who introduced this Motion who asked why we should scrap some of these old houses. I will tell him why some of them should be scrapped, and not in my own words, but in the words of a factor from my own district of Kilmarnock, who gave evidence before the Royal Commission on Housing and who said: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.Therefore, when we have our minds on the little that has been done, and the great need that exists, it will be agreed that something more than stimulus is wanted from the Government. I will not trench on the subject of the tied-house, because that will be referred to afterwards in connection with the Amendment. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member that, perhaps in some parts, there may be a distinction to be drawn between the difficulties in Scotland and those in England.I will give one illustration of the tied system. In Ireland, under the Irish Labourers Acts, up to March, 1915, 45,000 houses were put up by the county councils, and they departed from the system of the tied house. A grant of 36 per cent. was given by the State, and there was a loan of £8,900,000. The inquiries of the Commission showed two things: first, that the houses were much better kept, because the Irish peasant had a house worth keeping: second, that he had a position of independence which he had not had before. Goldsmith speaks of a "bold peasantry," but it is not a bold peasant that we have to-day; it is a cringing peasant, and we want, by giving him his own house and his own security, to give him a new independence. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who seconded the Motion used the argument that, after all, there was nothing wrongful in evicting a labourer——
§ Mr. BARR
My hon. and gallant Friend might have allowed me to finish the sentence; he would have seen that I was not going to use words intending to misrepresent his arguments. His argument 2005 was that if we on this side could evict the Prime Minister from Chequers, there could not be so much wrong—if I did not misunderstand him—in the tied house system.
I said that there was no more hardship in the Prime Minister changing than there would be in a cowman changing his quarters.
§ Mr. BARR
I accept the statement, but it only confirms my argument, and I do not think that I stated it unfairly after all. He seems to look on the Government as having a kind of tied house, or having control over the tied house in this regard. If, without any great hardship, the landlord can evict an agricultural labourer, then, without so great a hardship, and certainly with very just cause, we can evict the Prime Minister from Chequers. As it is usual to give notice in such case, I would say that the term for which the notice will be given will be Whitsun Day, 1929. I should like to refer to one other aspect, namely, that of divided control, which we know so well in Scotland. The whole matter of repair falls between that dual control of the landlord and the farmer, and we had evidence from landlords and others on the subject before the Commission. Lord Lovat gave testimony that very often, when the farmer takes the farm and looks round the cattle sheds and the stables, and finds everything in proper order, or asks that it be put in proper order, he does not like to ask too much, and perhaps does not visit the houses of the labourers of all. We desire to see something which will put the labourer in a much better and more independent position.
I should like to emphasise what fell from the hon. and gallant Gentleman as to the creation of a higher standard of housing, and a new sense of its value, and what he said about the small amount spent on housing as compared with other services. We need a totally new sense in regard to this matter. It is admitted on all sides that under all Acts the progress has been slow. In Scotland, under the powers that were given by the Crofters Act, and the Acts of 1919, 1923 and 1924, the results were disappointing. Last year was the best in Scotland. Including all kinds of houses, 14,000 were built, but when the Scottish Board of Health admit that 10,000 a year 2006 are required normally, even that is no great progress. In the Annual Report of the Scottish Board of Health of 1924 or 1925, it was pointed out that of the houses that had been planned only four were completed and 78 under construction in rural areas.
There is only one way of getting a new sense in regard to housing, and that is by setting up worthy houses, which refine and ennoble the character In the admirable report of the Scottish Board of Health reference is made to the common saying that if you give people good houses they cannot use them properly, and will put coals in the bath, and turn the houses into pig stys, and so forth. I was very glad that the Scottish Board of Health said that in all the visits to houses that had been made, they did not find a single case. It is a fact that, if you give people something worth keeping, it will tend to uplift and refine them. The agricultural labourer is as worthy of a bath and modern conveniences as the farmer or the landlord. The name of Sir William Younger has been quoted, and it might appear, from what was read, that he does not take an advanced position in housing but there was no man on the Royal Commission on Housing who took a more advanced position than he did. It needs to be said that the welfare of the agricultural labourer should have first place. The hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of the old squire who built houses for his men first and then thought of his cattle. I do not know much about the old squire, but I will read two extracts to show what the new squire is doing. Dr. Dawson, the medical officer of Galloway, said before the Royal Commission:The cot houses are about the last thing that are attended to by some proprietors.We desire this to be the first thing. The county sanitary inspector of Kirkcudbright said:I could take you to farms where hundreds of pounds have been spent on the steading, and not one penny on the cottages.We want a higher standard of living for the agricultural labourer all round. Housing has never been an economic proposition, because the farm servant has had so unworthy a wage. That is true in England, as in Scotland. We wish to put him in a better economic position. One of the witnesses before the Commission said that, after all, you do not need 2007 to give a house of more than a couple of rooms to a farm servant, because he has so little furniture. That gives cause for thought why they have so little furniture, and I appeal to hon. Members opposite to be true to their own assertions in their White Paper on agricultural policy in which they said:That it should furnish a basis of life and a reasonable livelihood to the greater number of people.We heard the other clay that the franchise should be based on the broadest possible foundation. We should seek the broadest possible basis of comfort, and equal comfort, in agricultural areas for all sections of the community. The nation which will make it its first principle to give a worthy standard of living to its agricultural labourers is the only nation that will ever build up a prosperous agriculture or a prosperous commerce in the country.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. HURD
When the hon. Gentleman says that we want to do all that we can to raise the standard of the agricultural labourer, he has the sympathy of every section of the House, and we should all be glad if the Motion enabled us to bring into action that spirit, because the question of housing, especially in the rural areas, need not become a matter of division between the two parties at all. We are approaching this question to-day in a spirit of disappointment. I am sure that, when my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, rises to speak, he will say that he and the Minister are disappointed with the comparatively small extent to which this Act has been brought into force. When the Act was before the House, we thought that it would prove a useful means of filling up a gap. The council houses had gone forward at a great and useful pace, and had provided for those who could pay a rental of 6s. and 8s. and upwards a week, but there remained this serious gap, and to only a small extent had the needs of the agricultural labourer been met. We thought that this Act would prove the means of filling that gap. The figures given by my hon. Friend show that that gap has not so far been filled. We have made some progress, but it is very small.
In my county of Wiltshire 41 applications have been made and only 17 have been put on the list for grants, and the rest have been refused. I am sorry to say that, even when Members of Parliament 2008 in the various divisions of Wiltshire, have applied to the county council for the reason why the refusals have been made, the county council have replied that it cannot give an answer.
I should have thought a body like a county council would have felt it to be its duty to give information to Members of Parliament who were seeking to know why applications have been refused, especially when those Members have taken the trouble to find out for themselves whether there seemed to be a prima facie case for the acceptance rather than for the refusal of the application. Parliament casts this duty upon the county councils, and we shall serve a useful purpose if we ask ourselves why that duty has not been more effectually carried out. I think there is a good deal in what my hon. and gallant Friend said regarding the rates. There has been some general fear that this Act might add to the burden of the rates. Undoubtedly it does impose a burden, but the area over which the rate is spread is so large and the expenditure is so comparatively small that the addition to the rates is absolutely negligible, and there is no real cause for uneasiness on that account.
The second reason, and one which has more to do with the hesitation about using the Act, is that there is a feeling—certainly this is the case in my part of England—that it is not right to subsidise the well-to-do—that is the phrase. It is felt that landlords themselves ought to do the work in respect of which this Act grants a subsidy. I have here a letter which the Minister of Health has addressed to my own county council on this very point. They took the line that in considering applications they ought to use discrimination between those who could, and of their own means, and those who could not, adopt the Act. The Minister said:The Minister is of opinion that no such test ought to be imposed under the Act, the benefits of which go to the tenants rather than to the landlords.Then he refers to certain paragraphs in his circular of January, 1028, after which this sentence occurs:While the Minister does not propose to question the decision of the local authority on any individual applications, he thinks it only right to acquaint them with his view as to the methods which should be adopted in investigating such applications, 2009 and he has no doubt the county council, sharing his desire that the fullest advantage should be taken of the Act for the improvement of agricultural housing, will co-operate in administering the Act on the lines already clearly indicated.I shall be glad if the Minister will tell us what sort of response has been made by county councils to that latest move on his part. To look at this matter without bias and quite fairly, it must be admitted that the return to the owner is so poor that this must be reckoned as one of the causes why there have been so few applications. The House is quite familiar with the terms—3 per cent. interest and a limitation of the rent to the 3s. basis, say. Figuring it out, hon. Members will see that there is nothing in it for the owner, except as being an improvement of the amenities of his estate. But the point remains that we want the cottages, and want them badly in many areas, and I hope that as the Act passes into its second year we may find that the county councils will become more active. They are bodies which naturally move slowly, meeting only quarterly, and you cannot expect to find an express machine in a county council, at any rate you do not get it.
I come to the third reason, the chief reason, I think, why this Act has worked so slowly. It is because the Ministry have placed the operation of the Act in the wrong hands. There are some 600 rural district councils in England as against something like 60 county councils. If you have 600 propagandists for an Act you are far more likely to get that Act operated than if you have only 60. The rural district councils are the housing authorities, and I say unhesitatingly that in the rural areas the rural district councils have, in the main, done their housing work remarkably well. They are the authorities in the locality, they know the needs of each village and they can indicate cottage after cottage which is worth reconditioning and other buildings which can be converted into homes for agricultural labourers. Not only do they know the whole circumstances, but they have their officers on the spot who can go to the owner, and say: "Your two cottages in this village are on the medical officer's list. They will be condemned so can find alternative accommodation We do not want to take strong measures, and we think those cottages ought to come under this rural 2010 housing Act. Why do not you bring them under it?" If you had such direct means of access, and information were conveyed to owners in that way, I believe many more applications would be filed than is the case now.
This is the easiest means of helping the rural district councils to solve their housing problems. It is far less expensive than putting up new cottages, because with present-day costs new cottages cannot be provided at a rental which agricultural labourers can pay, whereas reconditioned cottages would be available at the same rental, or but little more, than the labourers pay now. Moreover, it is one of the best means of dealing with the problem of the tied cottage. One of the main difficulties is that if an agricultural worker leaves his job there is no alternative cottage for him to go to, and if by reason of an increase in the number of cottages available there was such alternative accommodation the tied cottage problem would lose a great deal of its present acuteness. I hope the Ministry will see their way to reconsider the question of the authority which is to operate this Act.
I regret very much the absence to-day of the Minister of Health, because I know how keenly he feels on this subject. The rural housing committee of this House has sent repeated deputations to him, and he has always shown himself to be singularly well posted in the facts, and very desirous of helping forward a solution of this question. When this Bill was before the House we implored him to put the working of it into the hands of those who are at present the housing authorities in the rural areas and were keenest to bring it into fullest operation. Unfortunately, this is what happened. The Minister was good enough, at our instance, to put in a Clause by which rural district councils were permitted to make applications to be the authority under the Act up to 31st March of the year of the Act's operation. But when applications came in from the rural district councils, what did the Minister do? He did not consider those applications on their merits, but used them as a lever to impel county councils to put forward schemes. In the operation of this Act he proved that he was working upon the county council policy, and I can quite understand it, because it is much easier 2011 to carry on administration where you have only 60 authorities to deal with than where you have something like 500 or 600.
After all, what is the purpose of municipal government in this country? The main purpose of Parliament in extending municipal government was to develop the spirit of local patriotism amongst the largest possible number of the community. We all know the good service which is rendered by these rural district councillors and other councillors, and it is discouraging to them when a duty which in other Acts has been thrown upon them is, in this instance, taken away from them, because this reconditioning of cottages is a work which they are particularly well fitted to carry out. I think even now that it would be well if the Minister were to reconsider this matter. The Parliamentary Secretary will perhaps recollect that when the Minister put in the Clause with reference to the date of 31st March he also inserted words of his own. The Clause states that the Minister is to have power to hand over the working of the Act to a rural district council "if special circumstances should arise,"—or some such words. I wish that in cases where the county council has proved itself unable or unwilling to work the Act the Minister would consider whether special circumstances have not arisen which entitle him to say, "In this area arc cottages which need reconditioning the rural district council did originally make application to work the Act; I will now hand the working of that Act over to them in that area."
The Motion before the House refers to the "improvement" of housing accommodation. The hon. and gallant Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) spoke of the work of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England I had the pleasure of introducing a deputation from the council to the Minister of Health some little time ago, and he was most sympathetic in his reception of the proposals which were put before him with a view to providing modern accommodation for agricultural workers without destroying the architectural beauties of our villages. I would very much like to know whether the Minister is following up the developments of that work? Voluntary panels composed of professional 2012 men and of laymen have now been set up to advise local authorities. Architects and high authorities, men whose names are familiar to everyone in this House, have voluntarily given their services as members of these panels. There is a central panel and local panels The proposal is that when local authorities contemplate reconditioning a cottage, or turning any building into cottages for the purpose of providing homes for agricultural labourers, that that scheme should be put before this voluntary advisory council. They will be able to advise the district council or the county council of any alteration which they think would keep the scheme in harmony with the existing amenities of the village and preserve any architectural beauties which the village already enjoys.
After all, the villages of England are one of our greatest possessions. I have just come back from the British West Indies. Their civilisation is about as old as ours, going back to the Elizabethan age, but their villages are an appalling spectacle—shacks; and much the same applies to large districts in Canada. In this country we have a unique possession in our villages, and we ought to welcome the voluntary assistance which these great architects are anxious to give in order to preserve the picturesque character of those villages. I hope the Minister will develop his sympathetic attitude towards this movement and encourage the panel to get to work, and if he can encourage the county councils, and the rural district councils, where they are the operating authority, to seek the advice of these panels, it will be so much the better. After all, the local authority retains the last word on the particular schemes. Perhaps the Minister would not go as far as I would go, but I would lay down the principle that where Parliament grants a subsidy for houses or the reconditioning of cottages, it should be made a condition that the scheme should be submitted to some such advisory panel as this, that they might give their view as to how far it would fit in with the village as we should all like it to be. I repeat that the local authority would still retain the final word. I am glad to say that the Central Committee is now bringing the panel into immediate existence. I have received the following communication from the 2013 Council for the Preservation of Rural England:It is now the intention of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England to invite those of its constituent bodies likely to be able to assist, such as the National Federation of Women's Institutes, the Rural Community Councils, and the various local preservation societies affiliated to it, to circulate their members and branches with a view to giving greater publicity to the terms and advantages offered by the Act, and obtaining for the panels information in regard to houses which may be reconditioned as a result of its provisions.I think the importance of that communication will appeal to the House. It is extremely likely that we shall get through such institutions as the women's institute expressions of public opinion of a more vigorous kind in favour of the reconditioning of cottages. It is to public opinion that we must appeal. If in 1926 the rural district councils had been made the authority to deal with housing, I think they would have used their influence to carry out the reconditioning of country cottages. As a rule, the county councils are very remote bodies so far as the rural districts are concerned, and the central authority is often far away. I hope that public opinion will be brought more forcibly to bear upon this problem, and that we shall see in the near future a large accession to the number of cottages in our country villages.
§ Mr. SMITH-CARINGTON
I fully appreciate the immense amount which has been done in the rural districts, and I congratulate the Minister of Health and the Ministry upon the enthusiasm they have shown in coping with this great housing problem. It seems to me remarkable that such a great success should have been achieved in the rural districts when we consider the practical difficulties in the way of getting houses built in agricultural villages, because builders as a rule prefer the larger contracts which they obtain in the towns. It was no attraction to those builders to have the offer of a contract for building one or two pairs of cottages in some remote village. The same difficulty, in a slightly different form, has occurred in the delivery of materials. I would also like to draw attention to the very disastrous result which followed the announcement that a reduction of the subsidy would take place as from October last. The immediate effect of that announcement was 2014 a great acceleration of house building in the urban districts. The building of large blocks of houses was hurried on so as to secure as much of the full rate of subsidy as possible, and that rush of building in the towns meant a certain diminution in the country districts where the building material was not forthcoming, and the few houses under construction in the country villages at that time were almost put into abeyance.
The result was very discouraging to those who lost the subsidy, more especially in the case of private individuals and the local councils. Private individuals who had budgeted in the belief that they were going to get the full subsidy found that they were deprived of a portion of it. The local councils in the same way were budgeting upon a small rateable value, and they had an experience which was rather discouraging for a future occasion. Yesterday, in answer to a question, the Minister of Health was good enough to inform me that in strictly agricultural parishes it was not possible to give statistics of the results under the 1919 and 1923 Housing Acts. With regard to 1924, the statistics of agricultural parishes have been kept separately and the figure given shows the insignificant number of 9,735 new houses in all the agricultural parishes.
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
Is the hon. Member referring to rural parishes or to agricultural parishes under the Act?
§ Mr. SMITH-CARINGTON
I am referring to agricultural parishes under the Act. Of the total number of new houses which have been built an outside estimate would be only about 2 per cent. in the agricultural parishes. I think that is a very small addition as far as new houses are concerned. We have to consider not only those which have been demolished but also the far greater number which have been occupied, not by rural workers, but by townsfolk and others as week-end cottages and so forth. If you balance all these facts together, they tend to show that the housing problem has not been in any way coped with, and they have not produced any net gain in the number of cottages in the parishes to which I have referred.
I notice that an hon. Member is going to raise the question of tied houses, and I think that will emphasise the desire 2015 we have to see more houses built in our agricultural parishes. Of course, the tied cottage question would have no significance whatever if we had an abundance of alternative accommodation. Taking things as they are, I think it is just as well that we should face the facts with regard to tied cottages. The first point I would like to urge is that the tied cottage is really a necessary part of the equipment of a farm or an estate, and it was built for that particular purpose. If the building of such a cottage was not necessary, as an economic proposition it would never have been built. If any Measure is passed which tends to make it impossible in the future for owners to have the same control of their cottages as they have had in the past, then I think the immediate effect will be to add to the trouble, because no fresh cottages of that kind will be built. There is a little misapprehension about those cottages. It is often spoken of as a great hardship when the man occupying one of those cottages has to leave in order to take up some other employment. I do not deny that there may be cases of that kind, but my experience is that the farmer, as a rule, is a good employer, and I am certain that at the present time, when skilled labour upon the farm is difficult to get, no one would be more reluctant than the farmer to give notice to a good worker. There may be occasional cases of rather capricious action, but very often in cases where that kind of thing has been urged a full investigation of the facts shows that there were faults on both sides.
These tied cottages on farms, as a rule, are not occupied by the agricultural workers who are receiving the minimum wage, but they are generally occupied by the more skilled workers who get a somewhat higher wage. The purpose of those cottages is to house horsemen, stockmen, shepherds, and those in charge of animals, and the necessities of their calling require that they should be close to their work, more particularly at certain seasons of the year. When one of these workers leaves the employment of a particular farmer, it is necessary that his successor should occupy the same house to enable him to take over and carry out efficiently the duties. I do not wish to be unsympathetic, and I know that cases 2016 of hardship arise on account of these workers having to give up their cottages. I am afraid, however, that such cases arise in all walks of life, and I believe that there is a great deal of truth in the old saying that "hard cases make bad law." It is just as much a hardship to the successor of a man employed on a farm not to be able to get possession of the cottage of the man he succeeds, as it is for the predecessor of that man to have to give up his cottage.
I am afraid that the depression in agriculture and the impoverishment of the landowners has played sad havoc with the question of housing in the rural districts. Many owners cannot afford to build fresh cottages, and we find that local authorities, knowing what a burden the rates have already become feel very shy about imposing fresh housing schemes upon the neighbourhood It seems to me that if some fairy godfather could, within the next few weeks, cause a little bit more money to circulate on the countryside in the form of grants in reduction of the rates, then we might see the way somewhat eased for dealing with this great problem. I ask the Minister of Health to stimulate the solution of this question by urging upon local authorities to function with the powers they already possess in order to get more new houses built, and above all, to recondition many of the older houses which we now find upon the countryside.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
An occasion like this offers opportunities for the expression of views on some question on which most people will agree, and the pious Resolution which has been put down by the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and Haddington (Colonel Crook-shank) is like a general admonition to everyone of us to be good. With the Resolution I have no quarrel, though I feel that it could well be improved by the addition of the words of the Amendment which I understand is presently to be moved. We have become accustomed on this side of the House to the Conservative party regarding England rather as the estate of a particular party, and we are aware, on the statements of many hon. Members opposite, that agriculture and the countryside provide the backbone of the Conservative party. In view of that, one would have thought that a rather 2017 stronger Resolution might well have been put on the Paper, and something more definite suggested.
The housing problem, as everyone in all quarters of the House is now agreed, is one of fundamental importance. It is difficult enough to solve in the towns; it is infinitely more difficult to solve in rural areas. There, conditions in very many villages are too appalling for words, and we are in a vicious circle. The old semi-feudal system, whereby the farmer or the landowner provided his employés with cottages, enabled him to pay those people insignificant wages, and the insignificant wages came to be too small to enable them to pay rents for new cottages. That unfortunate vicious circle has never been broken. I think it is fair, however, to remind the, House that the first step that was taken in Great Britain to deal specially with the problem of rural housing was taken by the Government of 1924; and when the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Smith Carington) speaks of 9,000 houses as being insignificant, I would point out to him that that is a tremendously large number compared with the number of houses that have been reconditioned under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926. It is at least creditable that, on the 1st February of this year, in agricultural parishes, and therefore in really rural areas, well over 9,000 houses had been completed under the Act of 1924, and that nearly 10,000 families in really rural areas are to that extent better off, and are infinitely better off than they would be at the present rate of improvement under the Act of 1926.
I am sorry that the Minister of Health is not here. I should have liked to see him here to listen to the explanations of his supporters as to why the Housing (Rural Workers) Act has proved such an utter fiasco. Unfortunately, this is not the only fiasco of the right hon. Gentleman. It does not seem so very long ago that he was going to rejuvenate the countryside and the urban areas by an enormous policy of steel houses. He had to admit that that policy was an utter failure. His next effort to deal with the housing problem, which has had and is having the most unfortunate reactions in the rural areas, was his decision to reduce the subsidy. The effect of that is already apparent, and I assume that the effect in the rural areas will be pretty much 2018 the effect in the country as a whole. On the 1st March, 1927, in England and Wales, there were under construction, under the Acts of 1923 and 1924, nearly 103,000 houses. On the 1st March, 1928, under the operation of the reduced subsidy, there were under construction 51,000 houses. In other words, at the moment, the actual. building programme that is going on in the country is one-half of what it was a year ago. That means that in the rural areas to-day only half the number of houses are being built that were being built a year ago; and if one separates them out—
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
Has the hon. Gentleman any figures to show that? I should have said that it was very different, looking at the number of houses that are going up, certainly in the South of England.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I am making an assumption, which was not challenged. No one can prove this, but I make it as a fair assumption——
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
My assumption is that the reduction which is taking place in building to-day is taking place in the countryside as well as in the towns, and I think it is a perfectly fair assumption, because, if houses cannot be built in the countryside with the old subsidy—and building has certainly lagged behind—then I am sure it will not be possible to build them with the new reduced subsidy, and one effect of the reduced subsidy is bound to be a restricted amount of building in the rural areas.
The third mistake and the third failure of the Minister of Health is the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. Figures have been quoted to-day as to how much has been achieved by this Measure. We remember with what high hopes the Government set out upon this Bill. Some of us on this side of the House who opposed it—I myself moved its rejection on Second Reading and on Third Reading—were held up to opprobrium as standing in the way of a great housing movement which was going to do an enormous amount to restore the prosperity of the countryside. I remember that, at the time of the Second Reading Debate, in the early 2019 days of August, 1926, even the advent of holidays did not take the minds of hon. Members opposite off the possibilities of this great Measure, and, although I do not think that the Minister of Health used really extravagant language about it, compared with that of his supporters, there is no doubt that the impression created in this House, and probably outside the House also, was that, as the result of the operation of this Measure, an enormous impetus was to be given to the re-housing of the people. The Minister s own words during the Second Reading Debate are worth recalling. He said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1927; col. 2847; Vol. 198.]The very last words which were spoken in this House on that Bill were the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary in closing the Debate on the Third Reading, when he said:When this Bill goes to the Statute Book and, as I believe will be the case, very considerable additional housing accommodation at reasonable rents for the agricultural labourers of this country is provided, houses for people who need them very much, hon. Members opposite must not complain if' we do not refrain from pointing out the conduct of the Labour party in connection with this Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1926; cols. 1824–6, Vol. 200.]I think we might now ask about the conduct of the Government. At the beginning of this year, this Bill was so dead that the Minister felt called upon to issue a circular of appeal to the local authorities in rural areas, in which he then admitted, in spite of the brave words spoken by him and the Parliamentary Secretary when the Bill was going through the House, thatThe amount of work which has so far been put in hand under the Act is comparatively small.Although the building of nearly 10,000 houses in rural areas under the Wheatley Act is not a solution of the problem of rural housing, it is, at any rate, a contribution which dwarfs into insignificance the accomplishments under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926, of which, in England and Wales, at the end of last year, the total harvest was 89 dwellings 2020 in which improvements were being made. In Scotland, at the same date, 62 houses had been improved, and a further 160 were in course of improvement. By that time the Bill had run a quarter of its course. Let us assume, if you like, that in that first quarter it could not expect to yield its fullest possible results. Let us suppose, if you like, that in the next 15 months, and the 15 months after that, and in the last 15 months of the five years in which it operates, there is a progressive increase in the amount of improvement that takes place in rural dwellings under the Act. What is it going to mean at the end? Suppose that in each 15 months you double the amount of work accomplished in the preceding 15 months; at the end of that von will not have improved as many houses as will outnumber the new houses that have been erected already in agricultural parishes under the Act of 1924. In other words, the crop is bound to be a very small one.
I do not believe that the problem of rural housing can ever be solved by leaving it alone. I think it is quite clear that the level of wages in agriculture, and the difficulties of the agricultural industry, make it impossible to hope that there will be any very large amount of building unless such building is aided out of public funds. I am not against the improvement of existing houses; I said that 18 months and more ago, when the Housing (Rural Workers) Bill was before the House. My objection is broadly this, that the Government are prepared to give approval to the expenditure of £100 of public money on the mere improvement of a house, as against a grant of £50 payable for a new house under the Housing Act of 1923. I think that those figures are not comparable. For the nation, whether through the State or through the local authorities, to expend twice as much on the improvement and adaptation of old cottages as it gives for the building of a new house, with a much longer life, so far from being economical, is a waste of public money, more particularly as that expenditure, while it is incurred out of public funds, passes into the hands of private owners of property. I am convinced that, although the Minister of Health is desirous of reducing the general subsidy still further, and of bringing the subsidy for new houses to an end as soon as possible, it will be a 2021 long time before he will dare to do that in the case of the rural areas. The truth is that greater headway has been made in the towns than in the country districts. That, I think, is admitted. The figures given for building in rural district council areas tell us nothing whatever, as hon. Members know, about the real problem of rural housing, because so many of these houses built in rural district council areas are in fact on the edge of urban district areas. Everyone knows that the amount of house building that has been carried out in the rural areas is relatively less than in the urban and semi-urbanised areas.
I spoke against the reduction of the subsidy last year and will speak about it when it comes on again, but, whatever may be said for the subsidy for urban houses, I do not believe there is the remotest possibility of bringing rural housing up to the new and rising level of urban housing except with the assistance of public money, and, although I think everything should be done to improve existing rural cottages and to prevent the countryside being besmirched with the buildings which are now so common a feature, it means the expenditure of public money on a generous scale and in such a way as to provide cottages that are in harmony with the surroundings. It will not be an immediate business proposition in the sense that a return will be immediately forthcoming. Agricultural wages are too low to permit of anything like economic rents being paid under existing circumstances, but the wise expenditure of public money on the improvement of housing in rural areas will not only be an economic advantage reflected in the efficiency of the agricultural worker, but will do an enormous lot to raise the standard of health of the rural population, because it is a very disconcerting fact that, whilst the standard of health of the urban child has been rising in recent years, there is no comparable improvement in the health of the rural child. That is very largely a question of housing, and if, by this wise expenditure of public money, we do not reap any immediate return, I feel convinced that in the added efficiency of the agricultural worker, in the improvement in the lot of the agricultural workers' wife and in the improved standard of health of the 2022 rising population of the countryside, that should provide a sufficient return for the expenditure of money by the State and by local authorities.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Sir Kingsley Wood)
I have to congratulate my two hon. Friends on bringing forward this Motion. In the first place, they have been able to put on the Paper a Motion of which the hon. Gentleman opposite does not think it his duty to seek the rejection, and, secondly, they have called attention to a very urgent matter which is well worthy the attention of the House of Commons at this time. The problem of housing in the rural districts is a very difficult one and is entirely different from that presented by urban housing. The shortage of housing accommodation in the rural areas is not, as it is in the urban areas, a legacy of the War, because for decades before the War there was stagnation in house building for the workers in rural areas. Private enterprise, I agree, has not been able to operate, chiefly owing to the fact that the customary low rents obtainable for housing in the countryside are considerably below an economic figure. In large centres of population the local authorities can, of course, meet the situation, when it has not been done by private enterprise, by acquiring large sites which lend themselves to a comprehensive scheme of development. In rural areas it is generally a question of erecting a few houses on scattered sites, and, while in the first place in urban areas large schemes generally result in an economy of costs, in scattered rural areas, very often far removed from a railway, they do not lend themselves to such rapid and economical development. Very often the water supply and drainage are very expensive items indeed.
That is the problem that confronts the House to-day and has confronted successive Governments. I have no doubt the hon. Gentleman desired to give a fair presentment of the case as he saw it, though we have had some statements which are not perfectly accurate. There is, in the first place, operating in connection with rural housing the 1924 Act, which was designed, as I understand it, by giving a higher subsidy, to meet the higher costs that were necessary. I am not very clear whether the hon. Gentleman 2023 thinks we must rest on the 1924 Act or whether he has any other solution to put before the country on behalf of the Labour party. The subsidy under that Act is a very liberal one. The State contribution is an annual one of £11 per house for 40 years, as compared with £7 10s. per house in other areas, and the Exchequer subsidy, plus the contribution by local authorities, is equivalent to a capital sum of no less than £253 on a five per cent. basis.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I was going to make that observation. Somewhat severe criticism was made by the hon. Gentleman opposite of the fact that the Minister of Health, with the sanction of the House, has taken steps to cut the housing subsidy. I do not know whether his solution of the housing problem, that the higher the subsidy the country pays the more expeditious——
§ Sir K. WOOD
We will come to that in a moment. I want to put the proposition first. Is it the contention of the hon. Gentleman that the bigger we make the subsidy the more progress we are going to make with houses? I remember full well when we were paying the highest amount of subsidy, in the days when Dr. Addison was Minister of Health, the cost of housing went sky high. Houses which before the War cost £250 or £300 were actually costing the nation, the local authorities and the citizens of the country anything between £1,200 and £1,300. Do hon. Members want us to go back to those days? One of the greatest needs of the moment—this applies equally to the rural and the urban housing problems—is to have houses erected at such a cost that they can be let at rents that the lower-paid workers can afford to pay. I do not know whether it is suggested that there is any other way of getting lower rents than by a reduction of the subsidy, and I should have thought the events that have occurred since the reduction of the subsidy at any rate demonstrate that aspect of the question and show that something has been done, because I find in the period of 12 months 2024 since the subsidy reduction, the prices of non-parlour houses included in contracts made by rural district councils have fallen by some £60 per house. I should have thought that certainly was a step in the right direction and should not be the subject of complaint. It should surely be a matter of congratulation to everyone who is interested in getting lower housing costs and lower rents.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Yes. Then the hon. Gentleman said that the rate of house building has come down by a half. I do not know where he got his figures. At any rate, it is obvious to anyone who has studied housing progress that what happened in the few months before the subsidy was finally cut down was a great rush by builders to obtain the full subsidy. The number of houses built was as great as the number built in the twelve months before the War. It is very unfair when a great effort of that kind was made to say: "You are not building at the same rate as in that period," when the builders were naturally anxious to get the full subsidy.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the rate of building in the first two months of this year was less than that of the first two months of 1926, when no announcement had been made?
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Gentleman is indulging in the habit of pulling up the plant to see how it is growing. I invite him to wait a little and see the result of our efforts at the end of the twelve months. Obviously after the reduction of the subsidy the local authorities have been arranging their plans, and, human nature being what it is, they are probably waiting a little too long to see whether prices will fall still further. I should have thought that we might have had a word of praise from the hon. Gentleman in view of the fact that the rate of house building is at the highest in its history and that he would agree, whatever Government happened to be in power, it would be a matter of some 2025 slight congratulation to my right hon. Friend, who has put such great work into it. At any rate, so far as rural housing is concerned, we cannot complain with regard to the operation of the 1924 Act. I very well remember the speeches that were made in this House when this, Government came into power. Hon. Members said "Oh, this Government is not going to do the fair thing by the 1924 Act. Some base design is on foot, and this Act is going to be tripped up in some way and put on one side."
No one who desires to speak fairly can say that we have not given a fair opportunity to the 1924 Act. It has had a very fair opportunity in the rural areas. As far as my right hon. Friend and his Department are concerned, and as at present advised, they have no intention of impeding that Act. We hope—quite contrary to the hon. Gentleman's views about rural housing, to which I will refer in a moment—that as many houses as possible will be built under the Wheatley Act either in rural or any other areas. We do not grudge hon. Gentlemen opposite any credit they may have owing to the fact that houses are being built under that Act. Perhaps it may surprise them that houses have been built under that Act, but it is so, and we do not grudge the fact that it has been so. If there were twice as many houses built under the Wheatley Act in rural areas than have been built, I should be twice as happy as I am now, because I am anxious to see, regardless of the particular Act of Parliament under which the houses are built, that the people of this country get the benefit of better housing accommodation. We have the Housing Act of 1924 in operation, and, as far as my right hon. Friend and myself are concerned, we are doing our best to make the greatest advance that is possible under it.
There is another aspect in connection with this matter to which I would like to refer this afternoon. It is perfectly true to say, when you give the figure of the houses completed in the rural districts, that it is not the same as giving details of the number of houses erected in agricultural parishes, but it is a figure which ought to be taken into account. It gives some proof of the housing situation. It is a remarkable thing that, of 2026 the total of 1,065,000 houses completed in England and Wales since the Armistice, something like 278,000 of them, or about 26 per cent., have been completed in rural districts. Let us have that figure placed on the records of this House, for, after all that we have heard from the hon. Gentleman this afternoon, one might think that very little progress in housing had been made. It is necessary that we should know these figures, and realise that they represent the biggest housing effort that has ever been made not only in this country but in any other country in the world. One of the most excellent features of this is—and I commend it to hon. Gentlemen opposite who have complained about the cutting down of the subsidy—that of the 278,000 houses which have been erected in rural districts, something like 108,000 have been built without any State assistance at all. That, at any rate, shows that something has been done. Why hon. Gentlemen opposite should complain of that I do not know. I should have thought that it would have been regarded as a satisfactory state of affairs when the State was able to save money in this way. I cannot conceive how anyone can have an idea that the housing problem is going to be solved by subsidies. Subsidies are just as vicious for the building trade as they are for any other trade.
Let me answer another question. It was asked, I think by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Barr). He said that when the Housing (Rural Workers) Bill was introduced the Minister of Health and I claimed that there would be an indirect advantage, apart from the actual number of houses erected and put into proper condition, and that a very large number of houses would be repaired in other ways. I am very glad to be able to give him the figures, because, in surveying what has been done in the rural areas, I can say that very good and useful work has been done by the rural district councils, partly in co-operation with the owners.
The latest report and figures are for the year 1926. I find—and this will, at any rate, show the work that authorities are doing—that in 1926 there were 147,870 houses inspected. That was the first thing that was done. That is not a small amount of work. Of this number, it is very interesting to find, there were 3,021 2027 houses found to be unfit for habitation. The number of houses found not reasonably fit for habitation was 31,432. Then action was taken. Twenty-nine thousand and thirteen houses were rendered fit in consequence of the informal action of the rural district councils. This was a considerable step towards meeting the housing situation in rural districts. This was done by agreement with the owners, and I am glad to think that the first object of the authorities is, if possible, to come to arrangements with the owners by calling their attention to the matter and getting the work done. The work in respect of these 29,013 houses was done without having to take any further steps whatever.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
Would the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the rents were increased after the improvements were made?
§ Sir K. WOOD
We are not discussing that matter now. I shall be glad to discuss it with the hon. Member on some future occasion but not now. The houses which were rendered fit in consequence of action under statutory powers—that means that the district council took steps in the matter—accounted for another 17,298 houses, so that the number of houses found during the year to be unfit or not reasonably fit was about 34,000, while the number of houses that were rendered fit was over 46,000. That is a very considerable step. Anyone who knows the discomfort, and the danger to health of living in an unsatisfactory cottage or house must value the considerable housing work which has been done in rural areas in this particular connection. When we survey the field, as we are entitled to do on a Motion of this kind, I say that that is a very considerable contribution and that it ought to he remembered by every Member in this House.
I now come to the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, regarding which a certain amount of criticism has been made in various parts of the House this afternoon. The first thing that we have always said in connection with that Act is that it is supplementary to the effort which is being made in many directions to erect new houses. No one contends that the provisions of the Housing (Rural Workers) 2028 Act ought to take the place of other provisions for the erection of new cottages or houses in the countryside. It was put forward as a method of supplementing the existing operations, and, if possible, to meet a want which, I think, every observer of housing in rural districts must admit. In other words, it was to provide a liberal subsidy for the reconditioning of old cottages.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept this statement which he made before, that it would make a very considerable addition to housing?
§ Sir K. WOOD
Yes, but that is certainly not dealing with the point that I desire to make at the moment. I will endeavour to face that statement of mine in a moment. I will again state my point, because I am afraid I have not been able to make myself sufficiently clear to the hon. Gentleman. My point is, that it has never been intended that the Housing (Rural Workers) Act should substitute all efforts in connection with new building. It was a supplementary line of approach to the betterment of rural housing conditions, and I think that every one will agree that many of these houses can undoubtedly be given a new lease of life and be converted into healthy and comfortable homes. When we made the proposal we were opposed by the hon. Gentleman opposite who has taken some pride in the fact that he moved the rejection of that particular Bill. I hope he takes equal pride in the fact that he moved the rejection of the 1923 Bill, which has accounted for the building of a larger number of houses than has ever been built in the same period in the history of this country. The hon. Gentleman has moved the rejection of every Housing Bill that has been brought forward since the Conservative party has been in power, and he takes his chance as to whether his efforts are successful or not. This particular scheme was put forward with the object that I have stated, and I should have thought that it would have received the assistance, when it was understood, of hon. Gentlemen opposite. After all, they may have some particular objections to the finance of the scheme. They may say, as the hon. Gentleman said just now, that £100 was too much to spend on this particular effort, but, having been placed on the Statute Book and having been put into operation, one would have thought 2029 that the Act would have received the support of hon. Gentlemen opposite even if only a single home were made better and more comfortable. However, we have not had their support.
I agree to a certain extent that during the first few months of the operation of this particular Measure, my right hon. Friend and myself would have been very glad to have seen much greater progress made. The latest figures we have are three months old. As hon. Gentlemen know, the authorities were specially circularised by my Department in January, and it is too early yet for us to be able to say—because we do not want to keep asking these authorities to be continually giving us figures—exactly what the result of that further effort on our part may be. I hope—I may be too sanguine—that we shall see some improvement in this connection. I should have thought that it was obviously the interests of all members sitting on county or district councils, whatever their political views might be, to make the very best of this particular Measure, and not try and impede it. I commend that suggestion to hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite at this particular moment. I want to emphasise that this is only a temporary Act of Parliament, and is only to be in operation for a certain period, and that unless advantage is taken of it within measureable time the benefits which the Act gives will no longer be available.
I agree with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hurd) as to some of the reasons why this Act has not operated more advantageously. The very arguments that were advanced by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that this particular Act would put private profits into the pockets of the landowners of the country, have proved utterly false. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons, in my judgment, why this Act perhaps has not operated as much as we should have liked is the fact that there was not sufficient inducement to the landowners of the country, and that they had to submit to conditions, which, perhaps, in some respect are onerous and rather difficult at the present time. Affairs do move rather slowly in the country, but we are still hopeful that as the merits of this particular Measure become more 2030 widely known, greater progress will be made. We hope that everybody will help in their own particular way not only in urging the local authorities to act more quickly, but in getting people to make applications and to take advantage of the scheme. I do not want to criticise the action of any authority, whether it be a county council or a district council. What I am anxious to do from the point of view- of improving the housing conditions in the country, is to get more people to help. I do not wish to say anything in the way of criticism, but 1 do say that much more progress could be attained under this Act if there were more publicity in connection with it. If the landowners and others knew much more widely than they do the very considerable benefits that would follow from adopting the Act and the steps to be taken to obtain them, much more progress would be made.
I do not think it would be worth while to discuss the steps that we have taken for dealing with this matter in the Act of Parliament. In the great, majority of cases we have entrusted the work to the county councils. That step, which is provided for in the Statute, has been taken, and we must give the scheme some little time longer to run before we come to the question of altering a fundamental matter of this kind. I would like to give the House the exact position, because some hon. Members who are associated with me in the desire to see this Act work well feel that if other authorities had been entrusted with the work it would have proceeded more rapidly. The number of counties which have submitted schemes is 45, and the number of counties which have not submitted schemes is 16. In the case of 13 of these counties some or all of the district councils have been declared authorities under the Act, and the other three, Peterborough, Merioneth and Radnor are under the consideration of my Department. The number of councils in the county districts which have been declared authorities under the Act are, non-county boroughs 12, urban districts 17, rural districts 103, making a total of 132. We are still hopeful that progress will be made under this particular Act of Parliament, and we invite those who are opposed to us in regard to the Act to assist. As the hon. Member for 2031 Motherwell indicated, whether we object to an Act of Parliament or not, when it is on the Statute Book and it gives better opportunities for the housing of the people, it is worth while to sink one's prejudices in order to further the better housing of the people.
Reference has been made to-day to the necessity of preserving the rural character of England, and our doing nothing to destroy some of the best features of our country scenery and life. I was glad to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes of the action which the Council for the Preservation of Rural England has taken and is taking in this matter. He knows the attitude and sympathy of my right hon. Friend and myself. We shall do all that we can to assist that council or any society in their efforts in this direction. We have no desire in connection with any of our housing efforts that the amenities of the countryside should be destroyed or disfigured in any way. Sometimes I have regretted, in going up and clown the country, to see some of the erections which are called houses which have been put up. I hope that we shall more and more, without in any way retarding our housing efforts, not be unmindful of the necessity of doing all that we can to preserve the best features of our rural scenery.
I do not desire to say anything about the Amendment which will be moved later. As far as housing generally is concerned, and as far as the progress in rural districts is concerned, we would like to see more work done. The Government have no intention other than to pursue the policy, which has not been unsuccessful, of doing all we can to promote the interests of rural people. I agree with the statement made by one of my hon. Friends that to a great extent the future of agriculture depends on good housing, and in helping to get better rural housing we are helping agriculture. As far as my Department is concerned and as far as my right hon. Friend and myself are concerned we desire to see further progress made, but we do not feel that we need be ashamed in regard to our housing efforts, which have not been exceeded by any Government which has been in power in recent years.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words:and in particular to encourage local authorities to make such provision as will free agricultural labourers from the tyranny of the tied-house system.Before dealing with the specific question contained in the Amendment I would like to make a few observations in reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary. He said that the Government are still hopeful, and it seems to me that that is the only thing that the rural workers can expect from his speech. He has reviewed the housing conditions and the improvements that have been made since 1919, but so far from getting any real indication that any definite effort is to be made to try to overtake the arrears in purely rural areas, little or nothing has been said, except what may or may not happen as a result of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926. He suggested that the Addison scheme was a typical example of what not to do. He said that houses which previous to the War could have been built for £250 went soaring up to £1,200 or £1,300 because of the subsidies given in the Housing Act of 1919. Surely, the right hon. Gentleman must know that the only reason why that took place was because there was no Profiteering Act in existence at the moment. Private enterprise in various forms took advantage of the national need and sent the prices of houses up to the highest possible point, and when the Addison scheme broke down we found just what we find to-day as a result of the decrease in the subsidy.
What has been the result? The right hon. Gentleman is very pleased. He tells us that the cost of building houses has fallen, I think he said by £60 a house, and that we ought to feel very grateful. He ought to know that there is another side to the balance sheet, and that as a result of the slowing down of housing we have 118,000 building operatives and labourers unemployed requiring £120,000 per week unemployment pay to be given for no service rendered. Approximately, £6,000,000 per annum has to be paid for unemployment benefits and not a single house will be built as a result of that payment. Does it not seem rather unsound economics that we 2033 should take a step in a direction which of necessity must incur colossal expense and no real results are forthcoming? Yet the right hon. Gentleman expects us to be grateful because the cost of housing for the moment happens to have fallen. In 1928, as in 1922, the net result of the policy of the Government is that there is a definite slowing down in the building of houses, both in urban and rural areas.
The right hon. Gentleman stated that there had been stagnation in rural areas for many generations. In rural areas alone there was the need before the War of anything up to 100,000 houses. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that out of the more than 1,000,000 houses which have been erected since the War, 10,000 are occupied by agricultural labourers. With the continuous dilapidation which goes on, notwithstanding the action of rural district councils, the need of houses in purely rural areas must he greater to-day than before the War; yet nothing has emerged from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that would give any sort of comfort to the Mover and Seconder or the supporters of this Amendment, who really do desire to see more houses erected for agricultural labourers in various parts of the country. The right hon. Gentleman tells us how many houses have been built in rural district council areas out of the total number that have been erected since the War; but he must know that only an infinitesimal proportion of those houses are tenanted by agricultural labourers.
My own Division is a typical example of what happens. There have been four or five new collieries started since 1914, each one in the heart of a rural area. The colliery company must erect, approximately, 2,000 houses for their employés, and these houses have largely been erected by the National Housing Association as a public utility society; but of the 6,000 or 7,000 houses which have been erected in that Parliamentary Division, every one of them in a rural district council area, not a single house is occupied by an agricultural labourer. Therefore, whether it be 270,000 or 470,000—whether they have been erected by the rural district councils or by private enterprise makes no difference—the problem of the agricultural labourer and his housing to-day is where it was 10 2034 or 20 years ago. From that point of view little or nothing has been done to deal with what we conceive to he a great human problem in the rural areas. The Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926, has proved the colossal failure which many of us anticipated it would. While it may be true that county councils, rural councils and urban councils ought to have done more, the net result so far has been that in England and Wales we have 151 houses in regard to which grants have been made by the various local authorities.
The Amendment deals specifically with the question of the tied house. We shall never solve the rural housing problem whilst the tied cottage system remains. The rural district councils invariably are composed of farmers and the friends of farmers. There are two reasons why rural councils have not built houses in sufficient numbers to enable agricultural labourers to have any sense of freedom. The first is that farmers are afraid of a rise in their rates; and they are the last people in the world to build houses, or do anything else, if it is calculated to increase the rates and, incidentally, increase their expenses. The second reason is that farmers do not with to lose the powers they have over their workmen which the system of the tied cottage gives. If agricultural labourers had the same freedom which other workers have the tyranny that is practised to-day, and which I shall prove by one or two examples, could not obtain in any part of rural Britain. The real cause of the agricultural housing problem can therefore be laid at the door of our rural councils, and through them to the farmers who are represented on these councils. They have never made any attempt to solve this problem, and they never will, because they desire to see the tied cottage system retained. We think it should be abolished, and it can only be abolished by erecting a sufficient number of houses to enable alternative accommodation to be provided in every district where agricultural labourers live.
The agricultural labourer has less freedom than any other body of workers in the country. He has no sort of protection under the law. The Rent Restrictions Act applies to almost every class of property except the property occupied by agricultural labourers.There are 2035 three types of tenant. First, there is the servant occupier who must occupy the house owned by the farmer for whom he works. Under the most flimsy pretext the farmer can turn his tenant out any day in the week without going to the county agricultural committee for a certificate, or to the Court, or indeed doing anything at all except that he must not use too much violence in turning the tenant on to the street. That particular type of agricultural labourer does not dare to ask for the wages to which he is entitled, does not dare to resist any reduction, does not dare to refuse to work longer hours——
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The statements I am making I am prepared to justify. We have a number of cases on record in which members of the legal profession have been involved very often on the side of the owner.
§ Sir WILFRID SUGDEN
Do I understand the hon. Member would prefer that the tied house system in colliery districts should he eliminated?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I do not know whether the hon. Member was in the House in 1924, but if so he will remember that I moved an Amendment to the 1924 Housing Act, which would have made tied houses in mining districts an impossibility in the future, especially where Government financial assistance had been given towards their erection. The miner can take care of himself, because he happens to be a member of a strong trade union organisation. Rural workers are scarcely organised at all and have no defence against a tyrannical employer who happens to be the owner of the house they occupy. I do not wish to imply that all farmers are men of this type. There are good and bad farmers, just as there are good and bad miners, but we have to legislate for the worst type of individual. There is another kind of tenant, the individual who lives under his employer and who can be turned off at any moment his employer likes, as long as the employer can prove to the Court that he has entered into a contract with another employé to take over the work. He can dismiss his employé, give him 2036 notice to leave the house, enter into an agreement with another workman, and turn his previous employé out of the house any day of the week. No alternative accommodation need be provided before that transaction takes place. We say that this power in the hands of the worst kind of farmer is not only a danger to the workman and his wife and family, but is a positive danger to the farmer himself.
There is also the kind of tenant who happens to live in a house owned by a farmer for whom the tenant does not work. In this case the farmer, if he desires, can go to the county agricultural committee and inform them that he wants the house for the purpose of carrying on his work. As the county agricultural committee invariably consist of farmers they are prepared to grant the certificate on the least pretence. If the man happens to live three or four miles from the farm it makes no difference, he is turned on to the streets, and no alternative accommodation need be provided for him. We suggest that this tied cottage system is the most disturbing factor in the agricultural life of this country and is the real cause of the housing problem in rural areas. There can only be one way of solving it, and that is to insist on the nation itself being responsible for a national survey and superimposing a national rural housing scheme in rural areas in spite of the rural district councils.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
If the nation makes itself responsible for a national agricultural housing scheme, I suppose the nation will provide the means and the machinery for carrying it out. We are confronted with this position. No matter what Housing Acts have been passed, 1919, 1923, 1924 and 1926, we are still left with this rural problem, and one of two things will have to be done. We must either leave the situation as it is without providing a solution or we must take steps other than those which have been tried in the past and have proved a failure. I make this suggestion as an individual Member of Parliament. The rural district councils have failed because they prefer the tied cottage system to the free workmen and the free cottage, and it, therefore, is the duty of the nation to do in rural areas what the rural 2037 councils have failed to do. Tenants are turned out of their houses on the most flimsy of pretences.
Let me give one or two cases to justify that statement. The National Agricultural Workers' Union deals with hundreds of these cases every year. It may be argued by hon. Members opposite that the abolition of the tied cottage would inconvenience the farmer, but I submit that the inconvenience would be incomparably less than that which is now felt by the agricultural labourer and his wife and family whose goods and chattels are placed on the street. We have transport facilities to-day, as well as telephonic facilities, and the inconvenience to the farmer would he very small indeed. The fact that a man is leaving his employer of necessity implies that he has obtained employment elsewhere, and he naturally wants to remove to his new employer's surroundings. He would leave the cottage at the earliest possible moment. We say that alternative accommodation should he provided. If housing in rural areas could be undertaken on these lines we should breed a healthy body of keen workers who would make our agricultural life what it should be.
Let me give one or two cases. Hon. Members will remember that in. 1923 there was a big dispute in Norfolk. The farmers gave notice to reduce wages from 25s. to 22s. per week. One large farm changed hands, and. the new farmer bought 20 cottages over the heads of the existing tenants. He went to the county agricultural committee for 11 certificates to have 11 men turned out of their house. A strenuous fight was made, and it was only because of the trade union strength that it was possible to resist for a time the efforts of this particular employer. In almost every county in the country, with perhaps the exception of Durham where there is a fair sprinkling of Labour representatives, these certificates would have been granted. There is another case in the Isle of Wight, where the owner of a cottage tried every device he could to get the man turned out. He only worked for him periodically. Finally, proving that he did not require the house for his own purposes, he sold it, and the new employer is taking this tenant to Court in order to have him turned out on the pretence that he wants it for one of his own employés, If the order is granted 2038 against this workman, he will be mulcted in costs of about £10. That is what no agricultural labourer dare contemplate for a moment. All sorts of things happen as a result of men having no protection. Here is another case from Yorkshire—I do not desire to mention names and thus give them a free advertisement. This summons was received this week:I … hereby give you notice that unless peaceable possession of the dwelling-house and premises situate at, Fairburn near Ferrybridge in the said county of York which were held by you of me under a tenancy which was duly determined on the 14th day of March, 1928, and which dwelling house is now held over and detained from me be given to me on or before the expiration of seven clear days from the service of this notice, I shall apply on Thursday, the 12th day of April, 1928, at 11 o'clock in the forenoon on that day at the Court-house, Sherburn, to His Majesty's Justices of the Peace, acting for the Division of Upper Barkston Ash in Petty Sessions assembled to issue their warrant directing the constables of the said division to enter and take possession of the said dwelling-house and to eject any person therefrom.The feelings of the farm labourer and his wife on reading a summons like that can be better imagined than described; particularly when they hear that constables are going to eject them and put them on the streets. This course has been taken against this tenant because it alleged that he has made statements concerning the farmer's daughter and some other person who lives in that neighbourhood. For that flimsy reason the man is given notice to leave his house, and is going to be robbed of his wages and his home. The rural housing problem will not he solved by rural district councils unless and until this House determines that the tied house system has to go. I hope that this Debate will at least inspire those who realise the injustice of the tied cottage system into attempting to provide a national scheme which will enable agricultural labourers to be as free as any other body of workers in the country.
§ Mr. RILEY
I beg to second the Amendment.
We on this side of the House desire to acknowledge the record which has been detailed to the House in connection with the progress of rural housing. That progress has not, of course, been as wide as we would have liked to see it, but 2039 none the less there has been a substantial achievement in the last three or four years, not only in the urban areas, but in rural areas as far as housing is concerned. There still remains a great deal to be done, and the Amendment is aimed at trying to concentrate public attention upon a very pressing aspect of the problem, namely, the question of the tied house. The hon. Member for Stamford (Mr. Smith-Carington), in speaking in support of the Motion, expressed some sympathy with the Amendment, but said that he saw difficulties in the way. He referred to a point to which I wish also to call attention. He seemed to regard the grievance as not substantial, and while undoubtedly it was true that there were cases of great hardship in connection with tied houses, he thought they were not as numerous as they might be made out to be by the supporters of the Amendment. My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment, referred to certain actual cases, which have come under cognisance of the Agricultural Workers' Union. These cases are extremely numerous. I have here a report detailing case after case in which the Agricultural Workers' Union has been concerned during the last two or three years, in an attempt to protect its members against the arbitrary action of farmers who had the power of the tied cottage system at their disposal.
§ Mr. RILEY
With varying results. In some cases the employer has been mulcted in damages for illegal ejectments, and in other cases the employer's applications have been granted. I will quote one or two cases. Here is the case of a man, a member of the union. He entered into a contract to work as a cowman. After he had been working for a fortnight his employer wished him to take on work as an ordinary labourer. This the man refused to do, claiming that the agreed employment could not be altered in that way. Thereupon there was a dispute, which resulted in the man's dismissal at a moment's notice. The man's wife was then approached by the employer and told to remove from her 2040 cottage within the next few days. The request was not complied with, and as a result two men attended at the house, a policeman standing by, and the man's furniture was put upon the roadside. That was in England, not in Russia. It happened in the county of Norfolk in 1923. We took up the matter on the ground that the employer had no right to eject without an order from the Court. The employer, through his solicitor, claimed that he was entitled to act as he had done, as the man was not a tenant of the cottage but only a servant occupier. We took counsel's opinion through our solicitors, who advised us that we had no ground for action, because the man was not a tenant, and that when the man's employment ceased he was a trespasser in the cottage. Moreover the employer had not used too much force in ejecting him.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. RILEY
On the ground that he refused to carry out the instruction of his employer to do the duty of a labourer instead of that of a cowman. I will give another actual case. It is a case where a man objected to a reduction in wages and an increase in hours. He was the occupier of a tied cottage under his employer. When he objected to the reduction of his wages proceedings were taken against him, and we were successful in geting them dismissed on a technical objection. Further proceedings were then threatened, and as there was no further defence an order was made for possession and the man eventually had to leave his cottage. Here is a third case. It is the case of a man who met with an accident and as a result was dismissed. An application for an order was made, and, the man being unable to obtain other accommodation in the time allowed by the Court, he was ejected by the police. These are actual cases amongst scores and scores. What we protest against is not only the injustice which these cases imply; it is the unfair power which one citizen wields over another in a matter of this kind. There is, for instance, the effect upon wages. A man working for an employer and living in a house owned by his employer knows that he is dependent upon the goodwill of the employer for the continuance of his domicile, and he is subject to a pressure 2041 to which he would not be subject if he were an entirely free man. That position deprives a man of self-respecting independence in the pursuit of his daily work.
This power of the tied cottage gives to those who wield it the right to defeat the objects of the laws that are passed in this House Take the case quoted by my hon. Friend with regard to a parish in Norfolk. It was the case of a farmer taking a farm upon which there had previously been a dispute. In. the parish there were 20 houses not in the possession of the farmer. They were occupied by independent people, tenants who were not working for the farmer. Among them were people who had been born there and had been living there the whole of their lives, some as long as 50 years. The farmer had a very large farm, and when the houses came into the market he purchased them in the ordinary way. He then made an application to the agricultural committee to secure a certificate for 11 of the houses, which he said it was necessary should be occupied by men in his employment. He failed to get the certificate. Why? Because fortunately there were men on the committee—not all Labour men but some Labour men—who said it was not equitable to give this power to a man to eject 11 tenants who had committed no crime and had lived in their cottages for years.
But what would have been the case if the committee had been sympathetic to the farmer? You would have had men who would have said, "Oh, well, there is a case made out. This farmer is extending his farm and needs more labour, and he has not sufficient house accommodation. We must therefore accede to his request. He needs the accommodation to carry on his industry." Suppose that that had been done and that a certificate had been given and that ejections had taken place. The farmer could have put in for a short time some men in his employment. Suppose that those men after 12 months came out of the houses and went elsewhere. There would be a change of tenancy and under the law those houses would cease to have protection under the Rent Restrictions Acts and any new tenant going into the houses could he charged any rent that the farmer could get in the market. This unfair use of the tied cottage gives the farmer power to influence the rate of a 2042 man's remuneration and may prevent a man from getting what he ought to have.
What is the argument against the Amendment? It was stated by the hon. Member for Stamford, who said that, while he had great sympathy with the purpose of the Amendment, he saw practical difficulties in the way. He said that after all one could not shut one's eyes to the fact that there must be some houses attached to farms for certain classes of work—the tending of cattle and horses, and so on, which involved men being near the farm and their work. I want to concede that there is something in that argument, but nothing like as much as there used to he, because in modern times there have been great improvements in transport, and in the last 30 or 40 years the push bicycle, the motor bicycle and the motor omnibus have been made available in almost every parish and rural district. There is, therefore, no need to have men tied to particular houses. There are scores of farms up and down the country employing as many as seven or eight men without any tied cottages at all—farms with a milk department, and they are able to carry on their work.
Assuming that there may be some little substance in the argument of the hon. Member, surely there is a remedy for it? What I suggest is this: There should be extended to the tied cottage the protection of the Rent Restrictions Act, so that if the occupant has to go out, alternative accommodation should be found for him. Why should the farm labourer be in a less advantageous position than a town-dweller in that respect? The town-dweller has the protection of the Act, and cannot be turned out unless the owner can prove there is adequate alternative accommodation. If the Government want to he sincere in their desire to assist the farm labourer, they might at least give him the same protection as the town-dweller.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I should like, at the outset, to pay a tribute to the Minister of Health, because he is the only Minister of Hearth that I know of who goes round the rural districts. He has been round a great many parts of the rural areas, and has seen not only the tied cottages but cottages in rural towns, 2043 and slightly larger towns where agricultural labourers are housed, and he saw for himself the kind of conditions which would admit of a Housing Act to improve them.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
That is not the point. It was not the practice of the Labour Minister of Health to go round the rural areas and see for himself, and I hope some day hon. Members opposite will also see for themselves the conditions in the rural areas. If they did, they would modify their views. I think we are all extremely attracted by the idea of doing away with the tied cottage, but I should like to hear of a possible way of doing away with it. We did not get that information from either the Mover or Seconder of the Amendment.
§ Mr. SHEPHERD
Might I remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that both the Mover and Seconder said that the Rent Act should apply to all cases, to rural housing as well as in the towns.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
The point is that by that Act of Parliament it is not possible to provide alternative accommodation. I want to say, first of all, that there is a grave objection to doing away with tied cottages in sparsely inhabited areas. As the Mover of the Amendment is a miner he must be accustomed to the tied cottage system, and he must be alive to the fact that there is an extraordinarily good reason for it as alternative accommodation is not available, and cannot be economically provided. I should like to know from some of the miners whether the co-operative societies have done anything with the tied cottage system in their collieries.
I want to speak about the difficulty of providing alternative accommodation in sparsely populated areas. There are farms the adjoining farms to which are perhaps miles away. The villages may be five, six or seven miles away. When a man gets a job, he wants to find a cottage near his job, and it is also to the interests of the farmer that he should do so. It is most important that he should get the cottage near where he 2044 works, because he has to be on the spot when anything happens to the stock. That is the first objection. The second objection is this: Supposing you have a man with a tied system of cottages and he is at present paying a very low rent. When the tied cottage system is done away with, whoever takes them over, the State, local authority or private owner, will charge an economic, which will be an increased rent, and there will be no guarantee that these cottages will be used by agricultural labourers but by anyone who wants them. There is also the question of the distance from work. Hon. Members opposite are quite accustomed to going several miles to their work by underground, omnibuses, and so on. No doubt in the country people can go a certain distance on bicycles, but they cannot effectively carry out their work by this means, certainly not in the condition of some of the country lanes. In regard to what was said by the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Barr), I should have thought Scotland was one of the most difficult places in which to abolish the system, especially in the North-East and West of Scotland. I think we ought not to pass from the subject without going into the reasons for the shortage of cottages if we would do away with the tied cottage system. The system depends on the shortage of cottages in the rural areas. There are two reasons as far as a private landlord is concerned, the incidence of Death Duties, which is a scheme more suited for those who have their capital in shares than in land, and secondly, the scheme of taxation of land values, for which the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is responsible.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
The next reason for the shortage is the present land policy of the two parties opposite.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I hoped to show that the difficulty of doing away with tied cottages was that we could not provide alternative houses to take their place, and it is because the policies of the two parties opposite have so 2045 largely eliminated the value of the land that it does not pay to put new cottages on the land. I just want to say to the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment in this respect that they have brought forward several grievances. How many grievances were there in the whole country?
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
The Agricultural Council deals with hundreds of these cases, and it must be assumed there are tens of thousands of them.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
There are 1,000,000 agricultural workers in this country and 200,000 farmers, and until the hon. Members prove their case, I intend to keep an open mind on the subject.
§ Mr. HASLAM
The hon. Member who moved the Amendment and who was supported by the Seconder, asserted it was the tied cottage system that was holding up housing, and that the farmers were strongly in favour of keeping on the system, and on account of that were against the rural district councils fulfilling their duties under the various Housing Acts. I must confess that, coming from the part of country that I do, I entirely fail to recognise the picture painted of the farmer by the Mover and Seconder. The farmer is represented as an oppressor and a sort of bully who would get a man into his cottage and use that opportunity for endeavouring to take advantage of him. Cases were cited where a man could be turned out at a moment's notice. I am not a member of the legal profession, but I was unaware that any employer could turn an employé out at a moment's notice. I think that wants more substantiation than we have been given. The farmer to-day is in rather a different position, at any rate, in my part of the country.
I can give the hon. Member opposite cases of farmers who have had men in their employ 10, 15, and even 20 years working side by side with them; and what the farmer is concerned with today is not how he can oppress them, but how long in the disastrous circumstances that he has got to face he will he able to continue to pay wages out of his reserves or by means of borrowed money. He is trying to keep the farm going and 2046 is paying wages which in the circumstances are comfortable and good wages and meet the men's wants, and he has been doing that in adverse circumstances for some time. To come to the point about rural district councils, the hon. Member opposite maintained that these councils do not do their duty because they mainly consist of farmers and farmers' friends. Let me give to hon. Members a few facts regarding an exclusively rural district, the district of Spils by in Lincolnshire, which contains no large towns and has no mines or factories in its neighbourhood. Since the War, the council of this district has erected 112 houses, 54 under the Act of 1019 and 58 under the Act of 1924. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am quite willing to give credit to every Measure that has done its part in this matter. In addition, that council has granted subsidies to those who have put up houses by private enterprise. Under the 1919 Act there were 20 such houses; under the 1923 Act 154, and under the 1924 Act, two, making a total of 176. There have also been loans granted under various Acts such as the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act, the Housing Act of 1925 and the recent Housing Act of 1926, and the total number of houses provided is 315.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Do I understand that these houses have been erected for tenancy by agricultural labourers?
§ Mr. HASLAM
I am saying that they have been erected in rural districts and in villages. I will come to the point about the agricultural labourers. These houses cannot be let by the rural district council at the same rent as the tied cottage, because of the economic conditions. These houses cost 6s., 7s., or 8s. a week, and the tied cottage costs 2s. or 3s. per week. I question whether the agricultural worker would pay that increase of price and regard it as a good bargain for the sake of being independent and away from the farmer. I do not think there would be many in this district to take such a view. At any rate, the facts and figures which I have quoted relating to a rural district council with farmers on it, shows that the farmers have no disposition to refuse to provide houses because they want to maintain only their own tied cottages 2047 for agricultural workers. The position of the farmer is entirely different from that nowadays. Labour is scarce and the good man can obtain employment on good terms. I had intended to make one or two remarks about the previous part of the Debate, but as I gather it would be out of order to do so I will close with the statement that I regard improved housing, whether rural or other, as the most important of all material means whereby the condition of the people can be raised. I am prepared to support any scheme produced by any party which will improve housing conditions and give us more and better houses in the country districts.
§ Mr. SHEPHERD
I intervene in this Debate for two reasons. The first is to express my amazement at the remark of the last speaker when he referred to many farmers giving their men good and comfortable wages.
§ Mr. SHEPHERD
Yes, in the circumstances. The average wage of a farm labourer is between 30 shillings and 32 shillings per week. I wonder if the hon. Member ever tried to live not for a lifetime on such a. wage but for one week on 31 shillings, would he then describe it as a good and comfortable wage—even in the circumstances? I beg hon. Members opposite to put themselves in the position of these men, many of whom are employed by those who have been defending the tied-cottage system.
§ Mr. SHEPHERD
We are endeavouring to do so. I can illustrate my point by the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) when he put forward the argument that one of the reasons why we must have tied cottages is that the farm labourers could not pay an economic rent.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
What I said was, that if the tied-cottage system were done away with, the rents all over the rural areas would have to be adjusted economically.
§ Mr. SHEPHERD
I think that is the same thing. It means that the farmers must have the tied cottages, because the farm labourers cannot pay an economic rent. Why cannot they pay an economic rent? One of the chief reasons is the weapon—I say it deliberately—which the employer has in the form of the tied cottage. Whenever the labourers try to secure an improvement in conditions or to bring about, by organisation, any advance in wages, the tied cottage is used against them. They are afraid to make any protest because they know that, if they do so, not only their wages hut their homes are at stake.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
Can the hon. Member explain why there is a shortage of labour in the agricultural districts?
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
Those who know the Englishman, know that he makes a protest just when he judges it to be necessary.
§ Mr. SHEPHERD
I am afraid I did not catch that remark. I ask hon. Members, do they realise that the farm labourer will never be able to improve his condition to any extent until we have got over this difficulty of the tied cottage? I am a teacher, and not many years ago I was as good a Tory as any hon. Member on the benches opposite. I was a Tory until I had a school of my own in the country. I spent 18 months trying to put into practice all the wonderful ideas on education, of a young man who thought he knew everything that there was to be known about teaching. I failed utterly, and I discovered at length I had failed because many of my pupils were hungry. I was attempting the impossible task of teaching hungry children. I made investigation in the village and I found that the wages of the parents were not sufficient properly to feed the children. Therefore, I attempted to improve those wages by the only weapon possible—by teaching the parents to organise for better conditions. What was the result? I tried to help those men, and in a few months time I found that, in three cases, where I had visited certain villages trying to organise the men, the farm labourer who bad the courage to become secretary of the local branch of the organisation, had been evicted from his cottage. On three occasions 2049 I had the horror of facing a man in this position, with his wife and children, his goods and chattels on the roadside. I wonder whether hon. Gentlemen opposite realise how we feel about this matter, and how utterly impossible it is for those men to get any improvement in their condition as long as you have the weapon of the tied cottage to use against them. I would not have intervened at all in this Debate, were not anxious that hon. Members on the other side should understand how we approach this question.
§ Major PRICE
I think the last speaker knows more about the theory than the practice of agriculture——
§ Mr. SHEPHERD
I am a country man myself and 1. would like to be in the country again. Most of my hon. Friends on these benches originally came from the country, and were turned out of the country into the towns.
§ Major PRICE
I adhere to the remark which I have just made, because it is certain that if the hon. Member knew country conditions, he would know that the tied cottage is necessary for carrying on the farm in the proper way. The only reason for the tied cottage is that it shall be attached to the farm, and the farmer cannot get possession of a tied cottage unless it can be proved that the cottage is essential for carrying on the farm in a proper manner. The farmer has to prove that to the satisfaction of the agricultural committee before he can go to the Court and, ask for an order for
§ eviction. The idea that a fanner can turn a man out on to the road without a word of explanation is perfect nonsense.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman not aware that a farm servant can be turned out without reference to the agricultural committee?
§ Major PRICE
That is a different point altogether. That is not the case of an agricultural labourer. That is the case of a servant who pays no rent at all. That is service occupation and not farm labourers' occupation. If the Mover of the Amendment had any knowledge of agriculture he would know that perfectly well. I am certain that half the objections raised by hon. Members on the benches opposite are due to pure ignorance of agricultural conditions. The idea that the farmer can pay more in wages than he can earn by the sale of his produce is also nonsense. When hon. Members opposite help us to get agriculture back into a proper paying condition then the farm labourers' wages can be raised, but not before. Any suggestion to the contrary is like the theory that you can provide houses by passing Acts of Parliament. It is something that has never yet happened and never will happen. The whole trouble about the question of housing both rural and urban is that you penalise anybody who manufactures a house and treat him as a criminal.
§ Question put, "That those words he there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes,77; Noes, 165.2051
|Division No. 70.]||AYES.||[7.30 p.m.|
|Alexander, A.V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Gosling, Harry||Lee, F.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Greenall, T.||Livingstone, A. M|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Lowth, T.|
|Baker, Walter||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Barr, J.||Griffith, F. Kingsley||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||March, S.|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Groves, T.||Maxton, James|
|Broad, F. A.||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Montague, Frederick|
|Bromley, J.||Hardie, George D.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Naylor, T. E.|
|Buchanan, G.||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Paling, W.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Ponsonby, Arthur|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Compton, Joseph||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, slivertown)||Saklatvala, Shapurji|
|Cove, W. G.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Day, Harry||Kelly, W. T.||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Dennison, R.||Kennedy, T.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Dunnico, H.||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Kirkwood, D.||Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)|
|Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Lansbury, George||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Gillett, George M.||Lawson, John James||Snell, Harry|
|Stamford, T. W.||Viant, S. P.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Stephen, Campbell||Wallhead, Richard C.||Mr. T. Williams and Mr. Riley.|
|Thurtle, Ernest||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Tinker, John Joseph||Wright, W.|
|Albery, Irving James||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)|
|Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Forrest, W.||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Foster, Sir Harry S.||Perring, Sir William George|
|Apsley, Lord||Fraser, Captain Ian||Pilcher, G.|
|Atkinson, C.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Pilditch, Sir Philip|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Ganzonl, Sir John||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Balniel, Lord||Glimour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Price, Major C. W. M.|
|Banks, Reginald Mitchell||Goff, Sir Park||Raine, Sir Walter|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Gower, Sir Robert||Ramsden, E.|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Rees, Sir Beddoe|
|Berry, Sir George||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Rentoul, G. S.|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.|
|Blundell, F. N.||Hacking, Douglas H.||Ropner, Major L.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Hamilton, Sir George||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Hammersley, S. S.||Rye, F. G.|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Salmon, Major I.|
|Braithwalte, Major A. N.||Hartington, Marquess of||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Brass, Captain W.||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Haslam, Henry C.||Sandon, Lord|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Headlam, Lieut. Colonel C. M.||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Henderson, Capt. R.R. (Oxf'd,Henley)||Sinclair,Col.T.(Queen's Univ., Belfst.)|
|Brocklebank C. E. R.||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon|
|Buchan, John||Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Burman, J. B.||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Smithers, Waldron|
|Caine, Gordon Hall||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Campbell, E. T.||Hilton, Cecil||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth.S.)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney,N.)||Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Hume, Sir G. H||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Huntingfield, Lord||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-|
|Chamberlain,Rt. Hn. Sir J. A. (Birm.,W.)||Hurst, Gerald B.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Turton, Sir Edmund Russborough|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||King, Commodore Henry Douglas||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Knox, Sir Alfred||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Little, Dr. E. Graham||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.)||Long, Major Eric||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Croft, Brigadier-General sir H.||Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Lynn, Sir Robert J.||Wells, S. R.|
|Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)||McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus||White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dalrymple|
|Cunliffe, Sir Herbert||McLean, Major A.||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford)||MacRobert, Alexander M.||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir John H.||Margesson, Captain D.||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Dixey, A. C.||Mason, Colonel Glyn K.||Withers, John James|
|Elliot, Major Walter E.||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Womersley, W. J.|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||Meyer, Sir Frank||Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Fermoy, Lord||Nall, Colonel Sir Joseph|
|Fielden, E. B.||Neville, Sir Reginald J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Ford, Sir P. J.||Oakley, T.||Colonel Crookshank and Brigadier-|
|General Clifton Brown.|
Question put, and agreed to.
That this House is of opinion that, in the interests of agriculture and the nation at large, every effort should be made to improve and increase the housing accommodation of the workers in rural districts.