§ Order for Second Beading read.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now road a Second time."
The House is already familiar with the main provisions of the Bill. The Financial Resolution contained the proposals which are set forth in the Bill. It is therefore unnecessary for me to go over the ground which I covered in explaining the Financial Resolution. I propose to deal with the scope of the scheme as embodied in the Bill, to explain how it will work and, if I can, to remove certain misunderstandings which appear to have arisen on the Financial Resolution. The scheme is one to help necessitous rural district authorities. Clause 1 (2) provides that only those rural districts will be eligible that can show that their financial resources are insufficient to enable them to make adequate provision. There is no intention to let off the rural district which has sufficient resources to make adequate provision for its agricultural workers. We have no desire to relieve them of any responsibility, and we intend as far as we can to ensure that they shall carry out their full responsibilities under the Housing Acts. As I explained in the Debate on the Financial Resolution, there are ample powers under the Housing Acts to deal with the apathetic or recalcitrant authority. Those powers are there to be used when occasion demands.
We are dealing with those rural district authorities whose housing programme is small, not because they are apathetic or unwilling but because they are unable to proceed further. It is desirable to concentrate what financial resources we have on those local authorities who are willing but have not the financial resources and who without further assistance will not be able to carry out the necessary housing programme. It is important that we should bear in mind that we are dealing with a clearly defined problem, that of the agri- 2438 cultural worker and the people similarly circumstanced. We have therefore to limit the financial provision which is being offered to areas where those people predominate. Unfortunately, our classification of local government areas in this country is somewhat peculiar. The style and title of a local authority does not necessarily bear any relation to the facts of the area. A large number of so-called rural districts are almost entirely industrial in character. There are others which are mixed urban and rural in character, while there are some which are predominantly rural. It is necessary therefore to confine the scheme to the agricultural parts of the rural districts.
The most convenient and satisfactory definition of the agricultural part of a rural district is that which was incorporated in the Housing Act of 1924, in the definition of an agricultural parish, and we have adopted that as our precedent for areas of that kind. An agricultural parish as defined in the Act of 1924 is referred to in Clause 1 (1). The agricultural parish definition is bound to give rise to certain difficulty. If you make any kind of classification you always find a number of cases on the border line. That, I am afraid, cannot be helped. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler), whose interest in rural housing we all know, has raised this point and would wish to take out the words "in agricultural parishes." My contention is that that would not be in the best interests of the classes of people we have in mind, because if the scheme were not restricted to the agricultural parishes but was extended to all the parishes in rural district council areas, the limited sum of money, however much it may be, the fixed sum of money, would not go as far in the provision of cottages for agricultural workers, and a certain amount of the money would be spent on other people in other districts that could better afford to pay.
I am prepared to admit that we shall get, here and there, accidental cases of agricultural parishes which do not fall within the scope of the definition. Hon. Members who were in the House in 1924 will remember what happened in regard to the definition of agricultural parishes. The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Ernest Brown) took a very active part in those 2439 discussions. The definition first proposed by the late Mr. John Wheatley seemed to me sufficiently wide to cover parishes which were, in the main, agricultural. That definition was a much narrower one than the definition which ultimately got into the Statute. The definition was widened in Committee, and, if I remember rightly, it was further widened on Report. It was widened so far that I think—while it may be true that certain parishes here and there which look as though they ought to be agricultural but are not, for some special reason were excluded—we did bring in a number Of parishes that were very near the border line. On the whole, I think the definition in the Act of 1924 is a generous one, because over two-thirds of the parishes of rural districts are within the definition. If we consider the rural districts which are mainly urban, or partly industrialised, then I think the proportion of rural agricultural parishes which come within the definition is very high. Experience shows that an alteration of definition tends to create more anomalies than it gets rid of, and any alteration of the definition of an agricultural parish would not help us very far.
The scheme is to be worked through a specially appointed committee, which I hope to appoint shortly with the approval of the Treasury, and a separate committee to be appointed by the Department of Health for Scotland. What one wants in a committee of this kind is a small and active body with a certain amount of experience, and I am proposing to appoint a committee with a chairman and about half a dozen members, with a representative from rural district councils, a representative from county councils, a representative of building employers, a representative of the building trade workers, a representative of farm workers, for whose benefit the scheme is devised, and perhaps one or two business men of experience. Before the remaining stages of the Bill are completed I hope to be in a position to announce the actual personnel of the committee to the House. The committee, when it comes into existence, will consider applications made by district councils and take various considerations into account in making their recommendations. The committee, on the basis of the application made by a district council, will 2440 determine the number and kind of house in respect of which this special additional assistance may be given. It will lay down the date by which the houses are to be completed, fix the rent at which the houses are to be let and also fix the amount of the special annual grant in respect of the houses which have been approved. That gives the committee power really to settle all the important questions and to see that the houses are proceeded with as quickly as possible.
It is necessary for the reasons already given, to establish a test of poverty. With a fixed sum of money the wider you spread it the thinner the results, and I am satisfied that there are rural councils which are well able to carry their responsibilities, whose financial resources are as high and in some cases higher than some urban districts. Let me give one or two examples of prosperous rural district areas where to pump in additional money would be a sheer waste and others which are so poor that it is quite clear that they cannot carry their responsibilities without this additional assistance. Godstone, in Surrey, has a general rate of 7s. 6d. in the £, and is obviously not overburdened. The produce of a penny rate approaches £900, and they could build 100 houses at a cost of less than one half penny on the rates. If you go to Swaffham in Norfolk the general district rate is 13s. 6d., a heavy burden, and the produce of a penny rate instead of being £870 is £87, and it would mean an additional 4d. on the rates to build 100 houses. In Bucklow, in Cheshire, the general rate is 8s. in the £, and the produce of a penny rate is £530. They could build 100 houses for less than a ¾d. rate, but in Torrington, in Devon, the general rate is 11s. in the £ and a penny rate only yields £85. They could not build 100 houses except by adding a further 4d. in the £ on their rates.
Let me give two other illustrations. In the Isle of Thanet the general rate is 8s. 6d. and a penny rate yields £459. They could build 100 houses for less than a penny rate, but in the Isle of Axholme the general rate is 11s. 3d. in the £, and a penny rate brings in only £48. For them to produce 100 houses would mean an additional 7½d. in the £ on the rates. It is quite clear that there are widely varying circumstances in the position of rural district councils, and 2441 the same applies to Wales. I have before me an area in Anglesey where the general rate is 12s. in the £ and the produce of a penny rate £79. They would have to add a further 5d. on the rate if they built 100 cottages. If you go to a different area in Radnorshire, the general rate is 7". 3d. in the £ and a penny rate brings in £272. They could build 100 houses for less than a three-halfpenny rate.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I understand there are some illustrations from Scotland which will be given by my right hon. Friend. I maintain that we are justified in concentrating what resources we have on these poor areas and in not relieving the more prosperous rural district councils of their proper duties.
§ Mr. MAITLAND
The right hon. Gentleman, I take it, is merely putting forward these cases to demonstrate the prosperity or otherwise of particular rural areas and is not suggesting that there is any need for the erection of rural houses in these particular areas. I know the district of Godstone quite well and while admitting at once what the right hon. Gentleman has said in regard to the prosperity of that area, there is no suggestion, I take it, that they have neglected their responsibility in providing rural accommodation?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
No. I am not giving these illustrations as illustrations of places where there is any great need for more houses. There may be, but the point is that if there is a need for more houses Godstone can provide for its own needs whereas some other areas cannot do so. If we admit, as we must on the facts, that there must be a poverty test, the next thing to do is to try and define it. The conditions of the test will require the approval of the Treasury, as provided in the first Clause of the Bill. On the Financial Resolution I explained that it would be a double test, first, that the product of a penny rate was less than 5d. per head of the population, and, secondly, that the general district rate was more than 10s. in the £. Hon. Members who have worked on this problem will agree that these factors of rate pro- 2442 duct and rate poundage are the best index we can get of the sufficiency or insufficiency of financial resources. The actual figures taken, 5d. per head of population and 10s. in the £, are generous in the sense that they will bring within the scope of the scheme many areas which can make some contribution towards dealing with their own housing problem. It is for that reason that the Committee is being empowered to make a variable grant having regard to the financial circumstances of the area. In certain exceptional cases discretion will be left to the Committee. One does not want this to work in too hard a way in cases where real poverty occurs, but the general principle will be that of the 5d. and the 10s.
It has been suggested that the general directions by which the Committee will be guided should be inserted in the Bill. I dealt with that matter the other night and I will not go over the ground again; but I suggest to hon. Members that this does not seem to me to be necessary, in view of the nature of the Bill and the limits laid down, and the fact that the scheme is a special emergency scheme, applications to benefit under which must be received before the end of November. It would be most unusual for the general directions to be incorporated in a Bill of this kind. It was not done in the case of the Housing Act of 1930 and was not done in the the case of the Unemployment Grants Committee. I am satisfied that it would not be in the best interests of the Measure if we were to be tied hand and foot in the Bill to conditions which we cannot alter, however minor the alterations might be, to meet difficult circumstances, unless we came to Parliament for further powers. As I have pointed out, the scheme is an emergency scheme and the applications have to be in before the end of November, and if it may be necessary to make slight adjustments in the conditions, in the light of experience, it seems to me that the committee and the Minister should be able to do it without having to promote another Bill.
Sub-section (3) of Clause 1 provides that the assistance shall be in the form of contributions payable annually for a period of 40 years, like the ordinary housing grant, and also provides that the county council contributions of £1 per 2443 house permitted under the 1930 Housing Act shall be payable in respect of houses occupied by members of the agricultural population.
§ Mr. ALPASS
I notice that some county councils are refusing to make that contribution under that Act. Will it be made compulsory by this Bill?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Under the 1930 Act they must make their contributions in respect of cottages inhabited by agricultural workers, but not by persons of like economic circumstances. Here a grant will be payable on a similar footing. It will be payable in respect of cottages for farm workers. The Housing Act of 1924 provides that the houses which are grant-aided should be let, where possible, at the appropriate normal rent which was defined by the Act. Where, however, the cost of the houses has been such that if the houses were let at the appropriate normal rent a greater charge than £3 15s. per house would fall upon the rates, the local authorities were permitted to charge a higher rent and to limit their contribution to the £3 15s. per year for 40 years. As the object of this scheme is to relieve the local authorities of some of the rate charge, it has been necessary in this Bill to amend the rent provision of the 1924 Act as regards houses for which special assistance is given, and this is done in Sub-section (4) of Clause 1. It is proposed there that the rents to be charged shall not exceed such sums as the committee may recommend. We have in mind houses at a maximum inclusive rent of 4s. 6d. per week; that is to say, rent, including rates. In some areas it is to be hoped that that sum may be substantially reduced.
Clause 2 of the Bill deals with the power of the Minister to assist rural district councils to acquire land and erect houses, that is to say, the power of the Minister to build on behalf of local authorities who are unable to undertake a housing scheme. This of course ought not to be confused with the powers of default under the Act of 1930, where the Minister can step in and build when local authorities have been recalcitrant and have refused to carry out their responsibility. The case we are dealing with here is that of the 2444 poor but willing authority which has not the resources, knowledge and experience to be able to build houses satisfactorily. In that case it seemed to be necessary to have further means of dealing with the problem, and we propose to do it in the way indicated in the Bill. During the earlier discussions on the Bill right hon and hon. Gentlemen opposite complained of how little had been done about rural housing, but I have to remind them that it is only a Labour Government that has ever done anything effective at all for rural housing. The Act of 1924 was the first piece of legislation with special application to rural areas.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I have referred to that before. The Act is making the best of a bad job; that is the truth about it. It has done something for the reconditioning of house property in the rural areas, but there is an enormous amount of property for which complete destruction is tie only remedy. No Tory Act of any kind has ever done anything special for the rural areas. I have explained before that we have succeeded in extracting from the Housing (Rural Workers) Act more than the authors of the scheme themselves did. This Measure, together with the Measure of last year, will make a very substantial contribution to the solution of this special and difficult problem of housing in the rural areas. It will reinforce the Act of 1930 without impairing the structure of that Act; it will add further opportunity, and in my view will be important partly because of the provision for houses that are to be built under the scheme, and partly because it will inaugurate steady and progressive housing developments in the rural areas. Because of its double value in that respect I commend it to the House.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister began his speech by saying that his purpose was to remove fears and misunderstandings which he stated he observed when we dealt with the Financial Resolution. I am not surprised at the right hon. Gentleman making that statement, because every 2445 speech on that occasion, with the exception of the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman himself and the Parliamentary Secretary, expressed disappointment or complete disagreement with the proposals. The only person who gave a hesitating if unqualified support to the proposals was the right hon. Gentleman himself. He may, of course, be right and everybody else wrong. I observe that he attended last night the 21st anniversary dinner of the Mental Hospitals Institutional Workers' Welfare Union, and he made the following interesting announcement:When I look round the House of Commons, I wonder whether I am sane or they are not.It may be that the right hon. Gentleman was thinking of this Bill and of the occasion when he alone was in favour of it, and everybody else was either disappointed with it or in complete disagreement with it. I desire to make some remarks upon certain of the implications of these proposals, especially as the Bill sets out and indeed implements the policy of the Government in still further increasing the amount of housing subsidy for the rural areas. It is noteworthy that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir J. Tudor Walters)——
§ Sir K. WOOD
It is noteworthy that the right hon. Gentleman said, most explicitly that he was no party to asking the country to pay an increased subsidy for housing, and he made the statement with which we may or may not agree, that his own proposals would mean no increased subsidy to the country. But the Minister has not yet replied—and I hope that a Government spokesman will reply—to the question: What are the observations, if any, of the Economy Committee on these proposals? The Chancellor of the Exchequer at the request of the Liberal party set up the Economy Committee. It is true that, in doing so, he said he could write its report before it sat, but nevertheless the Committee has been sitting and hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, at any rate, believe that it is a useful Committee, and likely to produce some proposals which may be 2446 of value. It is extraordinary that whereas, when further expenditure was required in relation to air policy, the Prime Minister was able to announce the view of the Economy Committee on that proposal, we have had no such statement in relation to these proposals.
I believe that the payment of this increased subsidy may have a detrimental effect and put a considerable handicap on private enterprise in building. The right hon. Gentleman made a curious statement at the end of his speech. He referred to the credit which he claimed in connection with rural housing for some Socialist Act of Parliament. It was a curious statement because I have before me the last report of the Ministry of Health which was signed and approved by the right hon. Gentleman, and in dealing with the problem of rural housing, the report refers to the difficulties of providing agricultural workers with houses and states that the Housing Act of 1930 contains provisions for dealing with that problem. That is a rather remarkable statement in view of the fact that we have fresh proposals here to-day. But I want to call attention to the fact that there a short time ago the right hon. Gentleman presented a statement to this House regarding efforts by local authorities and private enterprise respectively to assist housing in rural districts. I find that of the house buillt since the War, 77,000 were built by local authorities while private enterprise was responsible for 289,580. That is rather different from the statement which we heard just now, and I wondered as I listened to the right hon. Gentleman what would be the condition of the rural districts, but for the assistance of private enterprise which has provided about three houses to every one built by the local authorities. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman when ho introduced these proposals, had regard to the serious consequences which may follow on giving a special subsidy, as is being done by this Bill. What will be the effect on private enterprise which has already achieved a great deal in connection with rural housing? The effect may well be to retard it in many respects.
Then I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Minister, or the Lord Privy Seal who is, I understand, to reply, if they have taken into account the 2447 effect of this increased subsidy upon general housing costs. It will be most unfortunate if this increased subsidy should increase still further the cost of housing all over the country. I daresay that other hon. Gentlemen will call attention to the fact that one of the great weaknesses of the scheme is that almost the same case that can be made out for the rural areas can be made out for many urban areas. Why has the right hon. Gentleman not been able to explain how it is, if his arguments are correct and if the housing legislation already on the Statute Book is not sufficient, that only the rural areas have been included, and nothing is being done for the urban areas under these proposals? It would be very unfortunate for the urban areas if in consequence of further expenditure by way of subsidy in relation to rural housing, the general cost of housing again went up.
We have had many experiences of that kind in connection with housing legislation, and one of the most unfortunate results of the present Government housing policy has been to check the reduction in the price of houses which had been going on progressively during the previous four or five years. If anybody denies, the grave necessity of tackling this question at the present time, they have only to look at the observations of the Minister himself on this matter. It was only in April last that the right hon. Gentleman told us that the reluctance of housing costs to decline was causing him considerable anxiety. He then stated that there is still room for economy in the cost of house building, and he told us that he had asked the committee which deals with the prices of building materials to consider a new survey, that he had been in consultation with the local authorities on the matter, and that he had presided at a conference of the building industry on standardisation. We have had no explanation as to what has happened since, but as I think most hon. Members who are acquanted with the building trade and with the work of the local authorities in housing will agree, there has been no such reduction in the price of houses as we ought to expect. The only thing that I can say about the right hon. Gentleman in this respect to 2448 his credit is that at any rate he has not thought of introducing a profiteering Bill.
I saw the other day that the housing problem in America was causing discussion and a certain amount of anxiety, and that the American President himself had intervened in the matter, and had said that one of the major objects which he desired to achieve was to reduce the cost of housing, because by that means he believed that he could make the best and most real improvement in the housing situation in America. I hope the right, hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth will tell us what he thinks about this proposal, because I would remind him, as I have reminded him and shall continue to remind him, that he is the one man who said that he believed in no subsidy at all being paid. It is for that reason that I have such a great admiration for him and his Character.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has referred to a matter which I think will bring endless confusion, difficulty, and danger so far as rural housing is concerned, and it has already been the subject of considerable criticism. I refer to his endeavour to apply what he calls a poverty test and to differentiate between those rural areas which are to be the recipients of this extra subsidy and those which are not. Anyone who has followed the discussions which have been going on for many years on the question of what is a necessitous area and what is not knows the great difficulty of defining what is poverty in a district and what is not, and which really are poor districts and which are not. The right hon. Gentleman has put forward a test, which he described on the Financial Resolution and to-day, and I would ask the House whether they really think that this is a fair test and one that is likely to work.
The test briefly is this: In order to satisfy the test which the right hon. gentleman has put forward, he says the local authorities are to show that the estimated yield of a penny rate is under 5d. per head of the population and that the poundage of the general rate actually levied is over 10s. in the £. That raises very many difficulties. What about those areas where the rates are high due to their own extravagance and bad administration? Are you going to give them the extra grant and refuse it to local 2449 authorities which, by their efficiency and good management, have been able to keep the rates under that particular figure? What is the answer to that question? Is that going to be the test in those cases where the local authorities concerned have actually refused, while still capable of doing it, to put into operation Acts of Parliament in connection with housing which are still on the Statute Book?
Take the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Alpass), who induced his local authority in Gloucestershire to only put into operation a portion of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act—very short-sighted advice, as I think he will probably now agree.
§ Mr. ALPASS
I should not like to think the right hon. Gentleman was wilfully misrepresenting me, but the action which I took with regard to the operation of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act was not to try to induce my county council to refuse to administer it. I am too good a constitutionalist for that. I moved a resolution that any assistance given under the Act should be by way of loan and not a grant. If I may say so, we have some very rich people in our country, people connected with some of the right hon. Gentleman's friends on the front Bench now, very rich people, who would apply for grants in aid, and my policy was to lend them the money and work the Act in that way.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Member has not helped himself with that explanation. I was very careful to state that the hon. Member was one of those who took the responsibility of only advising his local authority to put into operation part of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act that part in fact which dealt with loans, and that he did not advise them, as the Minister of Health, his own leader, has constantly advised them since, to put into operation all the provisions of that Act. He has shown by his explanation how much he misunderstands the Act, because, if he will read the circulars of the right hon. Gentleman, he will find that one of the things which he tells the local authorities that they are not to take into account when they put the Act into operation is whether the people who are to operate it have means or not. I hope the hon. Member will spend the week-end in readjusting his position.
2450 But what about these local authorities which may fulfil the test put forward by the right hon. Gentleman but have not done their duty with regard to rural housing? Are you going to hand out to them the extra sums which are available, and which I have no doubt hon. Members will say are badly needed in other districts? Are you going to allow those local authorities to receive these sums if they have failed to carry out the Housing Acts already on the Statute Book? The right hon. Gentleman again endeavoured to combat what we have urged, and shall continue to urge when we come to the Committee stage of this Bill, and that is that it is obviously desirable—as I am more and more convinced, after hearing the speeches of the right hon. Gentlemen on the Financial Resolution and this morning—that we should thoroughly thrash out in this House what these tests are going to be, and either place them on the Statute Book or in some other way have them definitely fixed.
On the financial Resolution the right hon. Gentleman said that we desired to insert alarming conditions in the Bill. Nothing of the kind; but it is, obviously, in the interest of the administration of this Measure that this House should decide that the tests and conditions are to be. I say that all the more after hearing the speech of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in relation to these proposals, because he has already begun to say after the Minister of Health told him that the parishes in his county were not going to qualify, that there ought to be no test at all, and thatOnce you begin, you have to put it right through and undertake this as a national enterprise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th July, 1931; col. 2037, Vol. 254.]—and I know the right hon. Gentleman's temperament so well—with no conditions whatever. I know what will happen if we allow this Measure to go through without any proper conditions. The first person to go round to the Ministry of Health when the Bill is on the Statute Book in its ill-defined condition, will be the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and he will be round there every day. I know sufficiently about what happens when the right hon. Gentleman goes to the Ministry, because the Minister of Health always get up in 2451 a public place afterwards and says, "I will never belong to a minority Government again as long as I live."
Then I foresee, if we agree to these proposals, the great difficulties as to the differential rents which are going to be charged in the various rural areas. I do not know how those hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House who have a good many of these rural districts in their constituencies are going to explain why there should be some people in the same class earning the same rate of wages, and under some particular State scheme, say the Wheatley Act, should be paying a certain rent, and others under the Chamberlain Act paying a certain rent, while others under this Act are paying a much reduced rent. I do not know how this differentiation in rent is going to be defended to the people living in those areas. It is no use quoting to them particular Sections from the Statute and saying, "I am very sorry, but you are in a Chamberlain house or a Wheatley house". [An HON. MEMBER: "Not in the workhouse."] As my hon. Friend reminds me, those who are under the pleasant shade of this Greenwood tree will, of course, be in an entirely different position, and I think apart from the position which is going to arise as to which local authority is to receive this grant, there will be endless confusion and bitterness as to the people who are to inhabit the houses at a lower rent. I should like to have some explanation from the Lord Privy Seal this afternoon in regard to that matter.
§ 12 n.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Gentleman will not get away with that. I have been noticing him with considerable interest, because he always says on these occasions "Why did not you do it when you were in?" After two years of office, during which little or nothing has been done by the Government in connection with housing, the hon. Member, like his hon. Friend, had better go away this week-end and try to think of something else. We take strong objection because we do not think a case has been made out for the intervention of the State once again. I think that there is a complete misconception, especially by the right hon. 2452 Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, as to what this Bill does and does not do. He thinks this Bill can compel local authorities who are not doing their duty in housing, and that the State can step in and build houses, and charge the local authority with the cost. It does not do anything of the kind. I am one of those who do not desire to see the present foundations upon which our housing policy is built unduly or vexatiously interfered with. We built it up on a dual foundation of private enterprise and local authorities, and it is no good beginning, as I am afraid the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs desired the other day, to threaten local authorities, and for the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health to come in with some overriding policy. I have not heard one word why the Office of Works should be brought in on such an occasion. I am reassured to hear that the right hon. Gentleman is going to appoint a committee, which, we hope, will be an impartial and a fair one, and have due regard to the national and financial needs of the nation.
In conclusion, let me say I have, perhaps, criticised a little the Minister of Health in regard to these proposals, but there is one thing on which I desire to commend him. He has made no forecast as to what this Bill will do in regard to unemployment, for instance. I notice that the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), who is always so cordial in regard to the efforts of the Government, said at some meeting at Darwen in June, that these proposals would find work for a considerable proportion of the 156,000 men unemployed in the building trade. I wonder whether, except on a public platform, any right hon. or hon. Gentleman would care to make a statement of that kind. Obviously this Measure will not find employment for the great proportion of the men in the building trade now unemployed. I would like to call attention to what the right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth wrote to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs at a Liberal conference, where, I understand, there was some little difficulty about which policy was to be adopted, and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who was assailed by all the young and vigorous members 2453 of his party, got out of it in this way. He read a letter from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth, and he said:—We have been putting forward very practical proposals. Sir Tudor Walters has been conducting most of the negotiations.The letter which he read from the right hon. Gentleman at any rate served its immediate purpose, because the conference came down quite heavily on the side of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. This is what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth said:I am now convinced a really bold move is to be made without delay upon lines that meet with my full approval. I am sure you will be gratified to learn that the Government are dealing so frankly and promptly with us in the matter.I wonder what has become of those proposals to which the right hon. Gentleman was referring. How can we sum up the situation so far as these proposals are concerned? Certainly its sponsor, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, is claiming very little for this Measure; I will give him that credit. What does the chief negotiator, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth, say about these proposals? He says that he would prefer another method of dealing with the matter altogether. What does the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, the chief inspirer of these proposals, but for whom we should never have seen this Bill, say? He says heregrets that stronger action has not been taken and that a real grip has not been taken of a serious situation.We can well leave the Bill there. It is an uninspiring, doubtful, minor, rather pathetic but typical contribution of the Government to the needs of the country-Bide and to the requirements of those agricultural workers to whom such fulsome and foolish promises were made at the last general election.
§ Sir J. TUDOR WALTERS
I hope that my right hon. Friend who has just sat down will not think me at all discourteous and unappreciative of his witty and interesting speech if, instead of dwelling on a number of abstract economic propositions, I make a few observations about the Bill itself. However limited its operations may be, it does promise 2454 to us and emphasises some very real and substantial benefits. It contemplates and sets up machinery for providing 40,000 houses within the next 12 months for people living in agricultural parishes. That means a population of something like 200,000 men, women and children, 200,000 human beings, housed under healthy conditions in the countryside instead of being driven to swell still further the crowded areas in our great cities; 40,000 or 50,000 men retained for work upon the land when so much talk is indulged in about the development of the countryside and so little really done. This population will be a substantial contribution to a revivified countryside.
I have belonged to the countryside all my life, and I deplore more than words can express its continued depopulation. The neglect of the agricultural population is a grave national danger. We have allowed all sorts of commercial principles connected with the production of manufactures in our great cities to blind us to the necessities and the realities of a healthy agricultural population, and sooner or later—I fear when it is too late—we shall wake up to realise that we have wasted what is the greatest asset of a nation like ours. Therefore, whether it be a Labour Government or a Tory Government that suggests any measure upon sound and well-considered principles that will do anything to develop the resources of the countryside, it will have my warmest support. We must not forget that this scheme was born during a Debate on unemployment, and an appeal to the House of Commons to pass this Measure is based not only on the benefits it will confer upon the agricultural population, but on the material assistance it will give in dealing with the problems of unemployment.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) seemed to think that there was a great deal of vagueness whether this Measure would give employment or not. He appealed to someone to enlighten him. He is indebted to me for a considerable measure of enlightenment, but I will respond to his appeal, although I dislike saying over and over again things that I have said in this House before. The House must be bored with everlasting speeches on housing, but I am tempted by the 2455 Opposition to go on saying the same thing. It is a fact which no practical man would gainsay that it takes 1½men to build one house in 12 months. That is to say, if these 40,000 houses are built in 12 months, it will directly and immediately employ 60,000 building operatives. That is not an insignificant factor. In addition to that number, there are the people who supply the materials, the workmen engaged in quarrying, in brickmaking, in transport and so on, which I estimate as well within the mark when I put it at another 40,000. That means 100,000 men with work for 12 months at full trade union rates of wages. Look at the increased spending power of these men; look at what that means to the local tradesmen; look at what it means to the manufacturers and producers of the commodities which they consume. I venture to say that 100,000 men employed in that way will have a real and appreciable effect on the prosperity of the country. I do not think that there can be any doubt about that.
There is another factor. This number of men out of work and on the Unemployment Insurance Fund would receive in 12 months £5,000,000. The total amount of additional subsidy under this Bill is £2,000,000. That means that there will be a profit on the transaction. Every house which is built under this Bill will be a saving from the Unemployment Insurance Fund equivalent to twice the amount of the subsidy. That is not bad finance, is it? It is thoroughly sound and good. It is said that it will increase the cost of building. A great many factors have to be taken into consideration in considering the cost of building. It is not because you build a large number of houses that the cost of building increases; that depends on the ratio between the building programme and the available men and the available material. Looking at the present state of the market as regards the surplus of unemployed labour and the surplus of materials, there is no reason why 40,000 or 50,000 or even 100,000 houses should affect appreciably either the cost of labour or the cost of materials.
I have had this gone into very carefully. My people approached some of the leading men in the building trade, and they gave me, as a cautious estimate, that 50,000 houses could be put up 2456 in the next 12 months without the slightest effect either upon the price of labour or of materials. I believe the Government have also made inquiries on their own account. So there will be 40,000 houses at rents within the capacity of the agricultural labourer to pay; there will be a substantial contribution towards the problem of unemployment; and more money will be saved on the dole than is spent in the extra subsidy. Then what is all this fuss about? We might be committing ourselves to expenditure on another war. When talking about the countryside it is only fair to remember what has been done for the urban areas. We are paying something like £12,000,000 per annum in subsidy on urban houses. What we pay for rural houses is almost a nominal sum. It is time the countryside had a chance, and this is a very modest instalment.
I come to what is to me the most important question in connection with this matter. We are for the first time going to set up an Advisory Committee. When I talk about a National Housing Board people get angry. The Labour Government in particular get angry, because it sounds like Socialism. This is not a National Housing Board; this is an Advisory Committee. I never intentionally say one word that is disrespectful of our eminent public servants, for we have a magnificent staff of public officials, but, though they know a great deal, they do not know everything. Let us get that into our heads. They are capable and efficient, but it has not been their lot to deal with the rough and tumble of human affairs in business life. A man cannot handle great questions like this on textbook information, or because he was an honours man at the university. One can only deal with these problems if one has been face to face with the realities of daily life.
The Minister in charge has so many functions to perform, such a riot of duties, that he cannot give them all personal attention. More than once when I have had to go to a Government Department about a matter in which special over-riding power is reserved to the Minister I have found an interesting young man in a top attic exercising all the powers of the Minister in that matter. Before I have left I have 2457 sometimes induced in that young man some realisation of his own unimportance. This new departure, which is vital to the Bill, of an Advisory Committee means a great deal to the present and future policy in housing, and I think in many other departments. I do not imagine that the Committee are to have absolute power to do anything they like at their own will and pleasure. That would be absurd. They will work under the direction of the Minister of Health. Of course, if they are self-respecting men and know their job they will not submit to meticulous interferences, they will not have their decisions held up and delayed, part accepted and part not accepted, but it is not at all likely that the Ministry of Health will deal with business men in that way. On the other hand, if they become too obstreperous, take too much into their own hands, the Minister can dispense with their services. It is freedom of operation tempered by assassination.
I welcome that part of the Bill which gives to the Advisory Committee discretionary power both in fixing the rents and the scale of grants. In our previous Housing Bills we were dealing with huge schemes and there was a fixed scale of grant, and I think that was the correct procedure there; but we need a measure of elasticity for the special and peculiar case of agricultural housing. I am always distressed when I hear people advocating some particular method of housing as the one and only remedy. Some people think everything ought to be left to private enterprise. Others think we ought to go in for municipal housing. As a matter of fact we want all the agencies we can get working together. There is no one simple method of solving this housing problem. Indeed, there is no one simple method of solving any human problem. In housing we need the assistance of the local authorities.
I remember the battle we had—I was in the fight—in 1919, when I think my right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich was a colleague—even a subordinate—of mine. We had a tremendous battle then because, for the first time, we were putting upon the local authorities the obligation to undertake housing. It was predicted that it would ruin private enterprise. It was said that no-one would ever again invest his money in building. 2458 The answer to that is that last year private enterprise made the largest contribution to house building that it has ever made. I notice that my right hon. Friend cheers me. He was with me in the municipal housing enterprise, but now he is introducing exactly the same kind of tirade about State housing that the reactionaries whom we fought in 1919 talked about municipal housing. If it is not Socialism for a local authority to build houses it cannot be Socialism for a Government Department to build them. There are occasions on which the State ought to intervene. I do not want universal State building, and I do not want universal municipal building, but as a rational and practical man of affairs I want to make use of all the agencies in their proper place and at the right time.
I want to see private enterprise functioning. I know the great work the housing associations are doing—that is private enterprise, a combination of employers. I have been working with them. Then there are the co-operative societies and the public utility societies—and all these agencies are urgently needed. The time has come, however, when we have found a gap in our housing policy. We have discovered that neither municipalities nor housing associations nor public utility societies nor private enterprise have provided for the unfortunate agricultural labourers. Let me try to ascertain what is the reason. If I scan all the Housing Acts I find that, except for the Measure which provided for the renovation or reconstruction of old houses—and just as one cannot go on repairing clothes for ever but must at some time have a new suit so one cannot live for ever in reconstructed houses—no adequate step was taken to meet the necessities of agricultural labourers.
This is a tentative experiment. I do not want to find fault with people because they have not so much courage and boldness as I have myself—I do not expect that from anybody; but an instalment on the right lines is a thing to be supported. If I ask for 100,000 houses and get 40,000, well, I should be a fool if I grumbled and said that because I could not have all I would have nothing. The 40,000 houses promised in this Bill are amply sufficient to demonstrate the value, or otherwise, of the policy. If the policy is 2459 sound and is proved by experience to be worth continuing, then we will have more houses. If, on the contrary, the policy proves after experience to be unwise, then it can be discontinued. I think that is a rational way of dealing with this question. You cannot supply an agricultural labourer with a house at anything like the rent which he can afford to pay unless you have some very special arrangement. Under this Bill the subsidy will be more than covered by the saving on the Unemployment Fund, and consequently I think it is a wise thing to undertake the policy wich is set forth in this Bill.
I welcome the particular Clause giving the committee or the Minister power to undertake housing for local authorities who ask for their assistance. I know in my own experience of more than one agricultural parish where the rural council would like to undertake the building of a few houses, but they do not possess the necessary organisation. Very often there is no one there with a practical knowledge of how to proceed. They want solicitors, and they need someone to interview the Ministry of Health, but they have not the men they require, and sometimes they do not know exactly what kind of houses they require. If these local authorities could approach the Minister of Health and say, "We need 50 or 30 houses, will you put us in the way of providing them? You have the plans and the men who know all about the work, will you do this for us," how foolish it would be if the Minister of Health had not the power to assist in such cases. The object of the Clause to which I have just referred is to assist local authorities in this way when they ask for assistance.
We are very much in need of a real centre of collective experience in regard to the building operations which are going on all over the country, and it is surprising what a volume of information and experience can be gathered together in this way. Experiments have been tried here and there, but unless there is some collecting centre of the kind which I have suggested the local authorities go on trying the same experiments over and over again, although some of them have proved futile. With administration I think the Advisory Committee will not only be able to ensure the building of more houses, but under this Bill they 2460 will be able to give the assistance of various kinds which the local authorities need. I am making no reservations or qualifications in regard to this Bill, which I support whole-heartedly. I do not care whether it is the policy of the Labour party or the Liberal party, but what I do want to see is more houses being built on the countryside. The Government are responsible, and I respectfully ask the House to have done with all these small differences, and make a supreme effort to realise the magnitude of the work before us. Let us pass this Bill unanimously, and in God's name let us get on with the job.
§ Mr. QUIBELL
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir J. Tudor Walters) has welcomed this Bill as an instalment of housing for the countryside. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I deplore the fact that, so far as the countryside is concerned, the census figures show that the population in many of our important villages is steadily but surely declining. The population of several villages in my own division has declined considerably during the last 10 years. When one considers the condition of the houses in many of our villages, this is scarcely to be wondered at, because not only in most of the houses do they lack the ordinary decencies of civilised life, but in many of our villages there is not an adequate water supply and other necessary essentials of civilised life. I was making inquiries the other day in a village to which the housing policy of hon. Members opposite has been applied, and I found that in one of those houses there was no toilet accommodation whatever, no bath, no pantry and no coal-house. If hon. Members opposite could be shown a photograph of these houses, I am sure they would be prepared to agree with me when I say that, from a public health point of view, they ought to have been demolished years ago, but before they can be demolished, a building programme must be instituted.
What are the conditions that obtain there? I have been pretty strong in my criticisms of what I consider to be the slow pace at which the Ministry of Health has been dealing with the housing problem generally, and that makes me all the more pleased that we are getting a move on at last. In three of the villages 2461 in my division houses have been built for the working-classes. I have made preliminary inquiries from the persons who occupy those houses, and I have also got some information about them from the rural district council. In one village I found that there was not one agricultural labourer, and in the three villages there was only one occupying a house under the whole of the three schemes. That one was charged 9s. a week rent, and his wages were 32s. It is small wonder, therefore, that we who come from country districts say it is high time that something was done. As the right hon. Gentleman has just said, we want courage, and drive, and the will to remove the difficulties that stand in the way, instead of the fatalism which says that we can do nothing in the countryside.
I greatly appreciate the fact that the Minister of Health has at last introduced this Bill, in order, as I think, to remedy some of the grievances of the countryside. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) cannot escape some responsibility. He was like a little sparrow on the roadside who walks round his breakfast every morning, picking up little bits here and little bits there before attending to his toilet, but he never got near the subject. I have in mind the case of one authority, of which I have given the Minister the facts, where a housing scheme under which private enterprise proposed to build 50 houses in the village was turned down. A sewerage scheme was necessary before the authorities would allow the houses to be erected. The rural district council employed an engineer to get out the sewerage scheme, but, owing to de-rating, the cost of that scheme worked out at 3s. 8d. in the £ on the rates of that parish. One could multiply instances of that kind, and it is this which prevents some rural district councils, with the best will in the world, from persuading parish councils to go in for these schemes. I have been as strong in my criticism of some rural district councils as the Minister himself, but I am bound to face the fact that these poor people in the villages cannot tackle such a financial problem, and it is due in this case to the de-rating policy of the last Government. As to the constitution of the board I am not very much concerned, though for my part I think that the smaller a committee is the better.
Mr. QUI BELL
A committee of one in most cases, provided that I can be the one. What is important is the character of the houses. Some years ago, the Caistor Rural District Council were advertising for tenders for houses, and offered a prize for the best type of house. I am not an architect, but I had sufficient confidence in myself to submit my own proposals on paper. I got an architect to work out the costs, and we won the first prize. It was not worth much to me, but I got a great deal of satisfaction from having my type of house chosen out of 19 competitors. It was the type that I think is needed on the countryside—the type with one big family room 15 or 16 feet square—and I commend it to the Committee who, I understand, in conjunction with the Minister, will be considering this matter.
The parlour type of house is not needed in the country. There seems to be an idea in some places that a house with a parlour is necessary, and that that is the only type that should be built, hut many Members of the House, at any rate on this side, will know that, if you go round the housing schemes, you will find many rooms with not a pennyworth of furniture in them, and many others which are never lived in, and which I should describe as a museum in which people occasionally dhow their friends their best furniture, and perhaps allow them to go in for an hour on a Sunday evening.
I do not agree also with the remarks that have been made with regard to costs. I believe that the costs of building are as low now as they will ever be in the lifetime of any of us here. After all, wages are a fixed quantity, and in the building trade to-day are, at most, 1¾ times what they were pre-War. The only materials I know of in which a reduction can be hoped for are slates, particularly—[An HON. MEMBER: "Bricks."] Bricks might be reduced a little, and I will refer to them presently. The only materials that I know of in which a reduction can be hoped for are slates and light castings. Slating now costs at least three times more than pre-War, and, as wages are only double, there is no reason for such a large increase. There is no better roofing to put on a house than slating, as anyone 2463 with building experience will tell you. With regard to light castings, I believe that the prices for those used in building could be considerably reduced. These are the things on which the Ministry would do well to concentrate. The interjection with regard to bricks has reminded me of what is happening in that connection. Talk about sending coals to Newcastle! The London Brick Company are sending bricks to the Humber-side—to Grimsby—and they are selling them cheaper in Grimsby, in spite of the added railway rate, than the people on the Humberside can sell them. They have one price in Grimsby and another in London——
§ Mr. QUIBELL
You may call it dumping if you like. There are millions of bricks available on the Humberside, and yet they are charging an exorbitant price in London, where they have a ring, while in Grimsby they are charging another price. It would be quite possible for the Minister to deal with that side of the matter, particularly in the Peterborough district, where there are natural supplies of the materials from which bricks are made, and where it takes less coal to burn a brick than it does anywhere else.
I again congratulate the Minister and the Government on having brought in this Bill. I believe that the greatest task to which any Minister could set his hand is to build some decent cottages for some of the finest men in this country, and to take steps to remove some of the abominable hutches that exist, both in England and in other parts of these islands. I was talking a little while ago with the late medical officer of health for the Division of the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), and he told me that he actually had to go, to deliver a woman of a child, into an outhouse where there was not even a floor, and no convenience whatever. He described to me the abominable conditions that obtain in some of these rural parts. In North Wales there is no floor whatever except the quarried stone which has been laid for them to walk on. You cannot condemn those houses. What are you to do with the people you displace? In many places in England the position 2464 is the same. For that reason I congratulate the Minister on bringing in this Bill. When we have completed these 40,000, those who are enthusiastic for rebuilding the countryside will come back and ask for more.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I regard it as quite a privilege to follow the hon. Member. His division adjoins mine, and I know a good deal about the work he has done on local authorities, and I know he has had practical experience of the building trade, and, indeed, is engaged in it now when he is not in Parliament. I am satisfied that the House will listen to anything he has to say with great interest. But I want to cross swords with him over one point. He mentioned a certain area in his own constituency where a difficulty arose because they had not a proper sewerage system nor a proper water system. There are many districts in North Lincolnshire and other parts of the country where the same trouble is experienced, but it is not on account of de-rating, because the provision of a sewerage scheme for houses built 50 in one parish surely should never have been a charge on the farmers of the district in any case, and the only de-rating, as far as those areas are concerned, was the small amount accorded to the farmers.
§ Mr. QUIBELL
Surely the hon. Member will understand that the erection of 50 houses in a group represents an entirely different problem from the ordinary cottage on the roadside, the drainage of which went into a field a long way off. These are concentrated and need a sewerage system, which was previously not necessary.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
That is true, but the point where I come to issue with the hon. Member is whether, if there had been no de-rating of agricultural land, that district could still have gone on with a sewerage scheme. It could not. It would have been just as impossible. He knows a district in the neighbourhood of Grimsby, built up from what was purely agricultural into a sort of residential suburb, without any drainage scheme whatever. Grimsby came to the House of Commons and asked permission to take over the district because they realised that it was time something was done. They had to spend an enormous sum in providing sewerage. But they can 2465 spread that over the whole of an industrial area. In the case of the houses that the hon. Member mentioned, if there had not been de-rating of the agricultural land, that district could not possibly have put that scheme in without some assistance. The one disappointment that I have, as one who has taken a deep interest in the housing question, is that there is nothing in the Measure to provide for assistance as regards sewerage and water, which are two very important things. My experience in rural areas is that, owing to the circumstances we have been discussing, it is impossible to provide what I call the real amenities of life as regards these houses. I should have liked to see in this scheme some Clause which would give assistance to these districts which want to put in a proper water carried system as regards sewerage, and let us have something in the way of real healthy conditions in the rural area. I must congratulate the hon. Member. He has made a very valuable contribution.
I should like to say a word or two to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir J. Tudor Walters). We all realise what an enthusiast he is, and we congratulate him on his enthusiasm. I believe in having enthusiasm in these matters, but I do not believe in letting that enthusiasm run away with my better judgment. He told us we were really going to save £3,000,000 by this subsidy, because we were going to save £5,000,000 on unemployment pay. I doubt that very much indeed. I have been a Member of an unemployment committee and have had to go very carefully into this question as to how, by starting certain schemes, you can provide work. The only way in which you can save money to the Unemployment Insurance Fund is by confining the work of building houses to men who are actually unemployed and hand it over to your local unemployment committees to deal with it. Then you can say you are saving money. But to get figures and put them on a blackboard and say, "We are going to save all that money," is beside the mark. We must face it as a subsidy for houses and not as a question of relieving unemployment, or we shall be a long way wrong.
When we were discussing this matter the other day, the right hon. Gentleman 2466 said the Minister had watered down his whisky, meaning, of course, that the original scheme, which we now know was his scheme that he put before the Minister, has been considerably whittled down. It is sometimes a very good thing indeed to water whisky: and, if anyone is foolish to take whisky neat, he may get a little exhilarated in the evening, but there is the morning after. If the Minister had been foolish enough to carry out the scheme that he outlined last February, it would have been a case of having the morning after for the country and for the Treasury. Thank goodness, we have a corrective in this matter in the representative of the Treasury, who is responsible for that part of our administration, and he knew very well that the scheme of an enthusiast—I must again congratulate him on that—was not a practical scheme and would have led us into a very great disaster. He talked about 1919 and how even since then we have not ruined private enterprise, and private enterprise is still providing houses. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman had to build any houses about 1920 and 1921?
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I had, and I had to pay four times the real value for them because of the competition from the local authorities acting under the Addison scheme, prepared to pay any price whatever to have the houses built, and you struck a very heavy blow. It is to the credit of private enterprise, and it shows that there is really something in it, that it rose again almost from the dead and is to-day providing most of the houses that we are getting. Indeed the Minister in his report gave the figures—410,000 houses built since the War, 84,000 of them by local authorities and the rest by private enterprise. Anything that you may do by this Measure, or any other, that is going to strike a blow at private enterprise in the building trade is not going to be in the best interests of housing.
I want to ask why it is that we have not had greater benefit from the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. When the amending Bill was before the other place, Lord Marley, speaking on behalf of the Government, said this was a splendid Act, and he talked about improvements—the very things that the hon. Member for 2467 Brigg (Mr. Quibell) said he wants to see in these cottages.The improvements generally consist of adding additional bedrooms, the putting in of water supply, the building of sculleries, the putting in of baths, and, where possible, w.c.'s, the repair of defective roofs and defective floors, and doing away, where possible, with dampness and poorly constructed or damaged windows.—every little item that the hon. Member said ought to be added. Then we got the figures given by another noble lord who was supporting the Measure. From the figures given us, I gather, after doing a hasty sum in addition, that some 10,000 houses in Scotland and England have been dealt with under this Act It means, counting the tenants of the houses and their families that probably 40,000 or 50,000 people have been made more happy and comfortable than before. I want to see that Act used to greater effect than has been the case before. The Minister claims that more houses have been dealt with during the period that he has been in office than during the period that my right hon. Friend, the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain), was in office. It is true. Why? Because the Act had just been passed and like every other Act of Parliament—the Minister will find that it will be the same with regard to this Measure—it took a considerable time to get the local authorities to work it. We were just beginning to reap the benefit of the Act when the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister came into office. Therefore, he ought not to take any credit except for this, that after condemning that Act root and branch when the Measure was before Parliament, he has now told us what a wonderful thing it is, and he has asked Parliament to extend it for another period of five years.
In a Debate in this House some time ago we were told that the Government were not putting anything of a push into the question of rural housing. A push has now been brought about by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth and we must give him credit for it, but I want to know why he was not able to convince the Minister that this was such a good scheme that a matter of 40,000 houses was not enough? He says that it is an instalment in the right direction. There are something like 2468 13,000 rural parishes throughout this country. How many of those parishes will make application for assistance under the scheme? The whole lot of them will if they think that they are going to get something for nothing, and I do not blame them, as it is the usual thing in regard to Government subsidies in these days. Someone gets up in the local council chamber and says, "Well, gentlemen, we really do not want this at all, but, if the next parish is going to get it, let us have a finger in the pie, and let us have it." You will have at least 10,000 applications, and, if they are all right, what are they going to get? Four houses per parish. How is that going to help and benefit the whole position?
There is also the question of the type of houses. I am at one with the hon. Member for Brigg in the opinion that you should not have stereotyped houses, but that you should have elasticity in this matter. He says, "Do not let us have a parlour, because many people regard it as a museum." That may be true, but I have known families who, in the winter time in particular, regarded the parlour as valuable, especially if there was a daughter of 18 and a boy friend coming to see her. I saw from a report in the Press that a deputation from the National Union of Agricultural Workers waited upon the Minister and clearly laid down what they required in the way of houses. They said that they wanted houses with at least three bedrooms, and, if at all possible, they would like to see a large number of parlour houses erected, and they made this great stipulation—for agricultural workers only. This is where we are going to experience a little difficulty in this matter.
The Bill says, "agricultural workers and persons of substantially the same economic condition." I assume that that means men earning similar wages. Take an agricultural parish near to a large town like Grimsby. We have old age pensioners who, immediately they can obtain a house, go into the country because they desire to be in what they consider to be more healthy surroundings and because the rent is cheaper. It will be found to be absolutely impossible in many parishes to confine the provisions entirely to agricultural workers. Speaking as a representative of an urban area, it will be quite unfair to many old people 2469 in urban areas if they are not to have an opportunity of renting Government subsidised cheap houses, when at the same time a person who is a rural worker can obtain such a house. In some of the rural areas of Lincolnshire the wages are almost equal to the wages paid in urban areas. I am not speaking of large industrial centres where wages are fairly good, but in many of the smaller urban areas the labourers' wages are no more than the agricultural labourers' wages. It is a bad job that it is so. I do not like that at all, but nevertheless those workers will claim the right to have the same privileges accorded to them.
With regard to the financial conditions it is laid down that there shall be a double test:(1) That to be eligible the estimated product of a 1d. rate for the present financial year does not exceed 5d. per head of the population, and (2) that the poundage of the general rate levied for the year 1930 exceeds 10s."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th July, 1931; col. 1999, Vol. 254.]1.0 p.m.
That sounds very much like a formula. When we had another Bill before the House in the last Parliament we heard an awful lot about formulas from the hon. Lady the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. It was suggested that she was so enthusiastic about formulas that she should bring a blackboard into the House and show the House how to do the sum. Her enthusiasm, however, was not for formulas but in condemnation of them. I am surprised that she is now supporting a formula in order to ascertain whether or not certain local authorities should receive assistance. It looks to me as if the hand at the Ministry of Health which prepared this formula is the same hand that prepared the other formula and that therefore we are not going to depart from the formula system even now that the hon. Lady is assisting the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health.
I am not sure whether the committee which is to be set up is going to be the right way to carry out this proposal. The committee will have power to fix rents subject to the Minister's control. What about Parliamentary control of this matter? It is all very well for the Minister to say, as he did, "I do not want to have to come back to Parliament to obtain an amending Act, but wish to 2470 get on with the job." We want him to get on with the job, but he knows that this can be done by laying orders on the Table of the House. Gas undertakings and electricity supply undertakings before they can do certain things have to come to Parliament and an Order is laid upon the Table of the House, and after Eleven o'clock at night those Orders are moved. This is done in order to protect the public and the consumer. The question of fixing rents ought to be under the direct control of Parliament. We shall have a good deal of trouble over the question of rents. In one parish the rent might be 4s. 6d. and in another parish 3s. 6d. I know what would be said by the people paying 4s. 6d. when they get to know about the 3s. 6d. people. I am not satisfied to leave this question either to the committee or to the Minister. This House should retain some control over a matter of such importance.
This Bill amends a certain part of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1924, which has worked very well indeed. No one can say that the Act has not worked with smoothess and satisfaction all round. It is wrong to take away from Parliament the control that Parliament ought to have over a question of this sort. I come to that part of the Bill dealing with the question of the Department being able to hand over to some other Department the right to build houses on behalf of local authorities. That is the one little bit of Socialism which the Minister has been able to extract out of the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth. It is the one bit of Socialism he has collared and put into the Bill, saying, "It is a little bit of sop for my side and will make it a little more palatable to them". This is a wrong principle entirely. It will kill the Bill as regards its effectiveness. The idea is that it is going to put drive into it to induce authorities to do something which they do not wish to do. When you have State interference you destroy the object that is sought. A housing scheme operating from Whitehall will not be a successful scheme. If that proposal were out of the Bill, I should not have much criticism to offer against the Measure. I believe that we are agreed that anything that can be done to improve the conditions in agricultural parishes and 2471 in urban areas should be welcomed and supported. I hope that the Minister will have more success with this housing scheme than he has had with the others that he has brought forward, because it cannot be said that any one of them has been really successful up to now.
§ Mr. RICHARDS
We are all very grateful to the Minister for the courage which, at long last, he is showing in tackling the very difficult question of rural housing. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the conditions in some of the rural districts, particularly in my country of North Wales. Unfortunately, very little is known about the conditions generally. I remember reading the Green Book produced by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) some years ago, and the revelations of housing conditions were deplorable. It is a matter for congratulation that the Government are seizing this opportunity of doing something for the rural areas. The difficulty of rural housing is peculiar. It is not a matter merely of extending the urban type of housing into the rural districts. I should be very sorry to see rural villages being urbanised. I appreciate the difficulty which district councils have experienced so far, because they always feel that the type of house provided for urban areas is not the type that is suitable for the rural areas. Certain rural district councils, for example, feel some difficulty about tackling this problem because they realise that it is bound up with the question of a certain amount of land holding.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs knows very well that we have in Wales still existing the right type of rural house. They are not concentrated in villages. Celtic people have never been accustomed to live in villages. The rural house that has attracted the rural worker is to be found distributed widely over the area. From that point of view it is not sufficient to have a committee dealing with England and Wales together, and I would appeal to the Minister to consider whether he could not set up a committee to deal exclusively with the problem of rural housing in Wales. I feel sure that this Bill, if worked properly, will do something to solve the problem of unemployment and a great 2472 deal to bring the people back to the countryside. The matter needs to be thought out very carefully. The houses must be put into such positions that they fit into the rural life. If we merely concentrate on the villages so far as Wales is concerned that will be a fatal mistake. I would appeal very strongly to the Minister to realise that in Wales there is a special problem. I am convinced that there will be conflict between the rural and the county councils as to who is to provide the houses and who is to provide the small holding, and there ought, to be an investigation of this question from that point of view. I know of no better way of doing that than by setting up a committee to deal with the problem from the point of view exclusively of Wales.
Miss LLOYD GEORGE
I should like to take up the point raised by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) when he urged upon the Minister that there should be a separate committee for Wales to deal with the housing needs there. Such a committee is necessary, not only because we have separate circumstances and conditions in Wales, but also because I believe, fundamentally and on principle, that Wales in this matter as in many others should govern herself. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will give favourable consideration to that point. We welcome this Bill, because it is the first real attempt to deal with the housing needs of the agricultural labourer. It is true that special provision was made in the Wheatley Act and in the Act of 1930, but, except in very isolated cases, the agricultural labourers have not benefited from those Acts.
The final test, as far as the rural area is concerned, is not whether the subsidy is more generous than its predecessors, but whether it is generous enough to enable the local authority to build cottages at a rent which the agricultural labourer can afford to pay. Up to date, not one of the Acts has fulfilled that test. No doubt, with the additional assistance given in this Bill, the rent will be beaten to a much lower figure. The Minister gave us a figure round about 3s. to 4s. 6d. inclusive of rates, but even that reduced figure would be a severe strain upon the resources of the agricultural workers. The average wage all over the country is 32s. 6d. What is is that for a man with two children or 2473 for a man with eight or ten small dependent children? The hon. Member for Wrexham talked about the conditions in North Wales. There, at this moment, they are paying only 2s. or 2s. 6d. inclusive of rates, as rent, but the housing conditions are appalling. I am grateful for the concession that the Minister has made, but there are many of us who are afraid that it will not cover a great many of the really needful and hard cases. Many of us would have liked to "see not merely a poverty test applied to local authorities, but a more elastic poverty test applied to the agricultural labourer. The resources of many of them are so meagre and their burdens so great that they cannot afford the extra 2s. that this Bill will put upon them.
The right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) expressed some doubt as to the parentage of the Bill. There can be no doubt that it bears striking resemblance to the scheme propounded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir J. Tudor Walters), but it is not as robust as it was. It has gone down in weight, probably because its rations have been cut down. Its features are the same, though perhaps not quite so prominent, but its form and figure have been considerably reduced. The 100,000 houses for which my right hon. Friend asked in his speech have dropped to 40,000. The right hon. Member for West Woolwich asked whether these proposals have been submitted to the Economy Committee. The capital sum involved in this Bill is £2,000,000, and, if there has been any squandering of public money in recent years, it has certainly not been upon the agricultural labourer. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth mentioned a figure of £12,000,000 which he said had been used for urban subsidies, and that the figure for rural districts was a purely nominal figure. I think it is something like £500,000. It really does not look, from these figures, as if the activities of the councils have been very prodigious or that they have seized upon the provisions provided by the right hon. Gentleman with such avidity that they have bled the Treasury white. We have only to look at the facts to see that they have not really had anything like their fair share of the subsidy and the beneficence 2474 of the State. Take the houses built since the 1930 Act became operative. As a matter of fact, not one single house has been completed. 96 houses have been authorised under that Act and 84 under either of the alternative Acts. That makes a grand total of 180 houses authorised in nine months. If my arithmetic is right, that gives us 240 houses in 12 months.
Miss LLOYD GEORGE
I am glad that my right hon. Friend is supporting his follower. These are the results of the great housing drive which was to follow the 1930 Act so far as rural housing is concerned. At that rate of progress it would take 160 years to build the 40,000 houses mentioned in the Bill. That looks like pushing the theory of the inevitability of gradualness to the extreme. It may be said that it is hardly fair to pass judgment on the 1930 Act as it has hardly had time to come into operation.
It may be said that there are all sorts of forms and formulas to be complied with, that local authorities have to make surveys and investigations and that their plans have ultimately to be submitted to the Minister—and I gather that the correspondence between the councils and the Minister is not always express, that sometimes it is carried on on the deferred rate. Then the medical officer of health has to be called in to give a verdict on the conditions in the locality. It is hard to believe that it would take him very long to do that, because most of the hovels and tumbledown houses in the locality are already known to him. He has already condemned them, he has already passed a closing order upon them. He has been passing a closing order for years, but there are families still living in them in spite of these closing orders, in these infected and defective houses, simply because you cannot turn them out into the streets, and there is nowhere else where they can go. We are told that these regulations have to be complied with, but, if they are to be allowed to hold up for an indefinite period housing schemes, the question is not being treated as an emergency problem, either from the point of view of public health or unemployment.
2475 I hope that the procedure will be considerably speeded up and that the Committee which is to be set up under the Bill will be given powers to deal with recalcitrant authorities; that it will not only act on the request of a council, as stated in the Bill, but also on the default of a council. I hope that the power of the Minister to override authorities will be operative in this Bill as in the 1930 Act. The Minister has said that he has no intention of letting off authorities and that he has ample power under this Bill to compel them to take action. The right hon. Gentleman armed himself with powers in the 1930 Act, he armed himself with a weapon with which he was going to do the most awful slaughter amongst local authorities. I understand that the Secretary of State for Scotland has been brandishing his claymore in Scotland, but, as far as I know, the Minister of Health has not as yet unsheathed his sword. I hope that he will now not only unsheath it but use it, and to good purpose.
The right hon. Member for West Woolwich was a little scornful this morning about this Bill as a measure for unemployment. I think he ought to compare it not with the employment which would have been given if the 100,000 houses of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth were built, but with the employment that would have been given in relation to rural housing if this Bill had not been brought forward at all. If we take the figure of 180 houses which have been approved since the Greenwood Act became operative and the estimate of the right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth as a basis of calculation, that is, that direct employment will be given to 1½ men for a whole year and indirect to I man for a year, that would mean that employment would be given normally, without this Bill, to 450 men. Under this Bill, according to his calculations, employment would be given to 100,000 men. That is considerably below the original figure, but it is a great advance upon 450 in one year or 900 in two years.
There is one final point which I should like to raise. The Minister of Health in his speech on the Financial Resolution said that he would not lay down a standard for a house and that the accommoda- 2476 tion might vary. I hope he will fix a standard below which the Committee cannot fall and that he will not leave it too indefinite. No one wants to see the evils of bad houses and overcrowding perpetuated. We do not want to see new houses springing up which have many of the worst evils of their predecessors. I hope we shall not be able to say of these new cottages in rural areas what someone said in regard to another matter, that they have passed from the stage of barbarity to degeneration without passing through the intervening stage of civilisation. The need of the rural areas is great; the need of the agricultural labourer is greater still; and I hope that the Minister will take his opportunity of building civilised houses, which I believe that a civilised country can provide.
§ Mr. ALBERY
I am sure that the whole House has listened with great pleasure and interest to the able and charming speech just delivered by the hon. Lady. There was one point in particular which seemed to me to merit the special attention of the Minister. I agree entirely that it is quite undesirable in considering the question of whether a subsidy is to be given, that the subsidy should depend entirely on the financial position of the local authority. There are many other considerations which ought to be taken into account. One I would mention, and I hope that the Minister when he replies will be able to give us some information about it. It appears to me that in an agricultural area, if you are going to select the local authorities that most need assistance, you will in all probability select just those districts where there is the greatest unemployment; and the point arises whether it is wise to choose, for the erection of houses, a district in which there is already insufficient employment. The greatest need is rather in those districts where there is comparatively good employment, but no proper housing accommodation.
We all heard with interest the enthusiastic speech of the right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir J. Tudor Walters), and especially his remarks about the committee. He said that he believed and hoped that the committee would stand no nonsense when it was set up, and he implied that if the Government did not 2477 live up to what appeared to be their intentions, and give the committee every opportunity to carry out the purpose of the Bill, the committee would probably resign. One cannot help feeling that this particular Bill is, after all, a very small and apparently the first instalment of the great Liberal scheme for the cure of unemployment. One is inclined to doubt whether the members of that Liberal committee have been very strong or have stuck to their guns or have taken any serious action when their plans were not carried out. In those circumstances the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth does not carry quite as much weight as it otherwise might have done. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) seemed to think that the committee should consist of one member. That was his idea of the best committee that could be got. There are many people who share that point of view, but it comes perilously near to private enterprise.
To come more closely to the details of the Bill, I consider that on the whole it is the most interesting Housing Bill that has yet been introduced into this House. I say that for the following reasons: First of all the Bill appears to show a complete change of outlook on housing matters by members of the Labour party. I remember well that in the days of the earlier Housing Bills hon. Members of the Labour party were always saying that they would have nothing whatever to do with any houses except what they then considered to be good class, houses. Such a house had to have all kinds of amenities—it had to have a parlour and a bathroom. The result, as I have myself seen, has been houses where the bathroom has been put on the first floor but on account of the expense no hot water has been laid on. Whenever anyone here suggested that our greatest need was moderate and modest house accommodation for just that section of the population which mostly needed it, we got no encouragement from any hon Gentleman opposite. They referred to rabbit hutches and pig-stys, and would not listen to anything of this kind in those days. But this Bill is an important change of policy. It is a pity that the change did not take place several years 2478 ago. If it had done so, our housing problems to-day would be far nearer solution than they are.
Most Members on this side of the House, at any rate those in my party, do not believe generally in subsidies for houses. I do not believe in them myself. I believe that private enterprise has been held up by subsidies, that the cost of housing has been kept up by subsidies, and that the houses which have been built with subsidies have for the most part been dear houses. The houses under the Wheatley Act of 1924 must have been a bitter disappointment to those people who hoped to live in them. Most of those people could never afford to do so. The rents were 12s. to 16s. a week, and they certainly did not give housing accommodation to the people who most needed it in the country. But, having said that, I must add that I have always been of the opinion that we cannot house the poorest section of the people in the country without a housing subsidy. I hope to see the day when all subsidies will pass away, except the subsidies for housing the poorest section of the population.
There are things which have happened in this country, the legislation which has been passed, for much of which the Liberal party was responsible, which have made it quite impossible for private enterprise to erect houses for the poorest sections of the population. You cannot get people to undertake the work as a commercial proposition; you cannot get people even to look at the owning of such houses as a kind of property which they want to possess. Therefore, I think that we shall have to go on for some time still, and perhaps always, with some kind of subsidy for the housing acommodation of the poorest sections of the community; but the sooner we discontinue the other subsidies, which are chiefly subsidies for houses for people who really do not need the assistance, the better it will be for the country at large.
There are one or two other points in the Bill on which I wish to touch. One is the question of rents. I believe a rent of 3s., possibly 3s. 6d., has been mentioned. There, again, it seems to me most undesirable that this question of rent should be settled on the lines of the Bill. It would be far better that a maximum rent should be inserted, say 3s. 6d. or some- 2479 thing of the kind, and that then any variations should be confined within very narrow limits. I do not think we have yet arrived at a condition of affairs when we wish these State subsidies to be treated, not as in unemployment insurance, or anything of that kind, but absolutely as if they were a Poor Law contribution—State subsidies which are to be given out purely as doles to confer benefits without consideration of merits.
There is another point on which, I hope, the Minister will give us further information. I much regret that I was not here when the right hon. Gentleman spoke, and I would like to hear some explanation as regards the part of the Bill which provides for State action. We on this side do not believe in State action, in such matters, unless it cannot be avoided. We wish to see as little as possible of it; but I think there is something in what has been said about rural district councils not always having the proper facilities for carrying out building schemes themselves. Is it not possible, however, for the Minister to give such councils the necessary assistance and to supervise and even frame schemes to be carried out by those councils, perhaps under inspection or in some such way, without entirely taking over the responsibility for the building of houses? Speaking generally, one can only hope that this Bill may realise the wishes expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth. We on this side desire that the Bill should give the assistance to agricultural workers and people in a similar economic position which it intends to give. There are some points of detail on which we do not agree with these proposals, and on which we intend to move Amendments in Committee, but those Amendments will only be moved with the object of making the Bill a better Bill.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Westwood)
I propose to address my remarks to the application of the Bill to Scotland and the Scottish rural housing problem. Before I finish I hope to deal with the misconceptions which seem to have formed the basis of the speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Pollok Division (Sir J. Gilmour) on the Money Resolution, and also to prove 2480 the need for a Bill of this kind in Scotland. The Bill proposes to provide a capital of £2,000,000 for housing in rural areas and, of that sum, approximately £240,000 will be applicable to Scotland. As regards annual expenditure, the income of this £2,000,000 can be stated, approximately, as £112,000 a year, of which Scotland's share will be approximately £13,540. It is expected that approximately 40,000 houses will be built, and Scotland's share is estimated at from 4,000 to 4,.500. The same definition applies to "rural area" in this Bill as that which applied in the Acts of 1924 and 1930, and that definition in its application to Scotland means a landward parish where the gross annual value of agricultural lands and heritages exceeds 25 per cent. of the total gross annual value and where the population, according to the last public census, is less than 50 persons per 100 acres.
That definition of "rural area" applies to all parishes in the Highland counties of Shetland, Orkney, Caithness, Sutherland, Boss and Cromarty, Inverness and Argyll. Under the 1924 Act these counties, with the exception of the burghs, are "rural area" and it may be interesting to the House to note what is proposed in connection with the 1930 Housing Act in relation to Scotland and in particular these rural areas. Under Section 22 (2) of the Housing (Scotland) Act we are entitled to call on the respective housing authorities in Scotland for statements of their housing needs and their housing proposals for the next three years. Of the seven counties which I have mentioned, four up to the present have not submitted statements under this Section. The three areas which have submitted statements are Argyll, Caithness and Sutherland and we find that the number of houses required in these areas is Argyll 785, Caithness 400, Sutherland 110. It is only proposed to build in these three areas, 240 houses in Argyll, 60 in Caithness, and 20 in Sutherland which leaves a deficit in those three areas on their own statements of their requirements of houses to take the place of those already declared unfit for human habitation, houses to deal with overcrowding and houses to meet the normal growth of population. The deficit in the case of Argyll is 545 houses, Caithness 340 houses, 2481 and Sutherland 90 houses, or a total in these three northern counties of 975 houses. I may also point out that in these three counties there have only been built up to the present by county councils; in Argyll 22 houses, in Caithness 51, and in Sutherland 60.
I hope to give some explanation as to why these seven counties are unable to provide more houses or at least to state the reasons which they gave for their inability to do so. There are three reasons why we have more difficulty in Scotland and particularly in these northern areas in dealing with the housing problem. These are, first, the low assessable value in these areas; secondly, the very high cost of building in comparison with other areas, and, thirdly, the very low rents which are charged or which can be received for the houses which have to be built in those areas. Those three causes not only make the housing problem in Scotland even more difficult than it is in England, but they explain why the problem in the northern counties is even greater than it is in the urban and more industrialised areas of Scotland.
I now come to deal with certain statements which were made, I am sure under a misapprehension, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Pollok Division. He seemed to be under the impression that we were going in this Bill to dragoon the local authorities in Scotland and to take away from them the rights that had been given them either by previous Housing Acts or by the Local Government Act of 1929. The Bill does none of these things. It simply provides additional money for the purpose of building houses in the areas that can claim that they are too poor to build them with the financial arrangements already made by previous Acts. There is no attempt in this Bill to superimpose upon the local authorities the Office of Works or any other Department of State. It is at the request of the local authorities, and can only be at their request, if the Office of Works steps in to build houses which the local authorities themselves first of all state that they are unable to do, or have not the necessary machinery, or equipment, or technical staff to help them to build them, so that the argument used when the Money Resolution was before the House falls to the ground.
2482 I come to another statement that was made by the right hon. Gentleman that rather surprises me, because, like the right hon. Member for Pollok, I myself belong to Fife. I think I know its geography and its housing conditions, and I was rather surprised when the statement was made:Under the suggestion of the Government, the Department of Health in Scotland, as I read the report, have in their hands great coercive powers under which they can go to the local authority and say, 'You are not doing so and so. Equally, if a medical officer of health operates in that district, as he operates in the one in which I live, he goes, to my knowledge, to the proprietor of a cottage and says, 'This cottage is deficient either in sanitary arrangements or something else, and it must be put in order.' It is done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th July, 1931; col. 2034, Vol. 254.]It so happens that living in Fife and having had something to do with local administration, I myself knew the difficulty of getting even into our public schools in the County of Fife a public water supply. I knew the fight that I had against the very district council and in the particular district in which the right hon. Gentleman resides, a rural district of the County of Fife. I thought I would ask the Department to look up some of the reports from our own inspectors. We are sending inspectors into various parts of Scotland to carry through inquiries into the housing conditions, and I thought I would ask for a report as to the housing conditions, or some of them, in the rural districts of Fife. Here are three which I think will be of interest to the House. Here is Ceres, a beautiful wee village, a bonnie wee village, one of the kind that we read so much about which have got the ivy-clad cottages, but no water is carried into them for human consumption. The only water is that which streams down the walls. Here is the report:Houses visited were all damp.Evidently there was not a dry house in the village—Wooden floors showing damp; damp walls.…The inspector reports that in conversation with the inhabitants it was frequently stated there was not a dry house in the village of Ceres.Here is another case:A family of nine with two apartments, house damp, family anxious to get a good house and quite able to pay from £15 to £20 rent, but no house available.2483 Then there is Dairsie, a village in the County of Fife:Houses damp, slightly lower than ground level. Fires required in every room.Then I come to Springfield, in the County of Fife. In Fife, of course, when we hear the word "Springfield," we laugh, because it has the biggest mental institution in the county. This is after a statement being made that the medical officer merely goes round, finds out the defects that have to be remedied, says they have to be remedied, and it is done. Here is the report:Two apartment house with a small scullery behind used as a sleeping apartment. The house is occupied by the parents and 13 children. The ages of the girls, 23, 22, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8½, 5, and another whose age is not given. Ages of the boys 24 and 7.It was admitted in this case—I am emphasising this, because there is a desire by many of our people to get better housing; the houses are not being provided, and I am merely giving the facts from rural areas—that the family have been unable to get a house, although they were willing to pay a higher rent. In another house the walls were soaking wet at the time of the visit.In one apartment where an invalid was lying the walls looked as if they had been soaked in water. House in its present condition was not habitable.I do not think there is any need for further quotations to prove that even in Fife the medical officer does not merely go around and say, "This is to be done," and it is done. In this particular part of Fife there is not a single house that has been built by the local authority under any of the housing schemes. That also applies to another area in Fife. May I suggest that even although a little pressure were brought to bear on that authority there would be no dragooning? Both the Department and those responsible to this House would be merely carrying out the instructions of this House to see that public authorities do carry out the Acts of Parliament which they are elected to administer in the different areas.
I want to give one quotation from my own constituency, because people may say that it is all very well quoting from another person's constituency where you 2484 have neither votes to gain nor votes to lose. Here is a report on one of the houses in Midlothian.Two-roomed house; one room with a cubic space of 1,132 feet contained two beds. One of these was occupied by a boy of 16 suffering from tuberculosis. The other bed was occupied by a boy of 12 and four girls, whose ages ranged from 10½ to five years.I could give other illustrations of the impossible housing conditions that we have in Scotland at the present time. Here is just one from a Northern area:In a house in Harbour Street the ground floors were below the level of the street; the ground at the rear of the house still higher. Foundations soaking wet, rotten flooring and damp walls, with boulders in one of the rooms; very uneven, filthy and wet; rain coming in through the ceiling, ceiling paper hanging on one's head in the apartment; over the kitchen a sheet of corrugated iron is placed to catch the rain as it falls.I will not weary the House by giving any further quotations in connection with housing conditions, though I have plenty here, taken from reports of medical officers in these areas. I find that the housing conditions require something in the way of improvement. From the last available figures which I have—I do not know what this census will reveal—there were 28,007 one-apartment houses in Scotland at the last census, and when we talk about a one-apartment house in Scotland we mean it.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
I could not give the total at the moment, but if the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants the figures for the respective areas, I can give them. For instance, in 561 one-apartment houses in Aberdeen there are 1,098 persons living; and in Argyll, in 433 one-apartment houses, there were 966 persons living.
I want to give reasons why this Bill ought to receive the whole-hearted support of this House. It is for the purpose of helping the poor authorities, those authorities who, with existing financial provisions, cannot possibly build houses at a rent which the agricultural labourers, or those of a similar economic position in rural areas, can pay. The right hon. Member for Pollok suggested that he could hardly credit that there were any areas in Scotland which were too 2485 poor. Let us see what the facts are. Four-fifths of a penny rate—we use the figure four-fifths in Scotland as against a penny in England—four-fifths of a penny rate in the case of Zetland produces only 7d. per head of the population, and gives an income of £54. That is for a county. In the ease of Orkney, four-fifths of a penny only produces £65; in Caithness, £117; and in Selkirk, £75.
Surely that is sufficient evidence when you keep in mind that there are three factors which make housing in Scotland more difficult than in England, or more difficult in some parts of Scotland than in the urban areas of Scotland—low rateable values, increased cost of building these houses, and the rents than can be paid by those who occupy these houses, compared with the rents which can be paid in the more industralised areas. For these reasons, I think that there is every justification for the Bill. We have got to build houses for those who reside in the rural areas. The total number of houses built under the Wheatley scheme in Scotland up to the present time is approximately 53,000, but it is rather a remarkable fact that of that number only 2,206 have been built in rural areas as defined in the Act, and it is a still more remarkable fact that all those 2,206 have been built in 19 of the counties, which means that there are 14 counties in Scotland in which there has not been a house built in the rural areas under any Housing Act. That is an appalling state of affairs. We have four types of authorities in Scotland, as there are in England—the wealthy authority that attempts to do its duty and the wealthy authority that does not trouble to do its duty; the poor authority that tries to do its duty, and the poor authority that cannot, because it has not the money to build houses and let them to agricultural labourers at a rent which they can afford to pay.
I submit that I have advanced sufficient arguments to prove the need for this Bill, particularly in its application to Scotland. It will also help us in Scotland to deal with the unemployment problem as affecting the building industry. The capital expenditure for the 4,500 houses necessary will be approximately £1,750,000. It would help us to deal with the unemployment problem in Scotland and help us, above all things, to build houses in the rural areas, where no houses have been built up to the present time.
2486 I come to the last point. We are attempting to encourage the utilisation of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act in Scotland, but that Act does not touch the fringe of the question which is proposed to be dealt with in this Bill. That Act is not intended to be used to patch up or deal with any houses declared to be unfit for human habitation. In the county of Midlothian we have 511 houses declared unfit for human habitation. We need houses to take their place, and we have to get all the drive we possibly can, so that at the end of 12 months from now we shall be in a position to say that in England and Scotland we have provided, approximately, 40,000 houses in rural areas, and have done our best to give Christian habitations instead of the uninhabitable houses they are compelled to occupy, producing as they do, in many instances, epidemics of disease—housing conditions which no Member in this House belonging to any party can possibly defend, and which we ought to do everything possible to improve at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. MAITLAND
I am sorry that, as a representative of the county of Kent, I am not able to appreciate, as I am sure hon. Members from my native country do, the very full survey which the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has given of the conditions in the rural districts of Scotland. In passing, may I say I am very sorry to think that, judging from the sombre report the hon. Gentleman has given, there must have been a very serious decline in the general housing conditions of Scotland since the time when my parents left there. But I am sure that the Scottish Members of this House will appreciate very much the full details he has given, and Members on all sides of the House will apreciate that he—and in this respect he followed the Minister of Health—did not attempt to lay too much stress upon the claim made in certain quarters of the House that this Bill is a contribution to the solution of unemployment. With the problem of unemployment constantly facing us, it is a great temptation, on all occasions when any Bill is introduced, to bring in some suggestion, if at all possible, that it is a contribution towards helping to solve that problem. I was glad to find that the Minister of Health did not stress that point too much.
2487 I am not for a moment minimising the gravity of the unemployment problem, but the right way in which we should approach this question is to ask whether there is a definite need for the proposed expenditure and for the action which the Government suggests should be taken. Is there a need? That is the ease that has to be proved. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland gave some very alarming and startling statistics which went a long way to suggest that in the areas for which he was speaking there was a real need for Government action. I should like to deal with a question which was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir J. Tudor Walters) when he raised the question of cost. He said that if you take the cost which is provided for in this Bill, £2,000,000, and take, on the other hand, the cost of 100,000 men unemployed for 12 months; if you take 1½ men as directly employed on each house and one man indirectly employed, you will spend £2,000,000 and save £3,000,000 which would otherwise be spent upon Unemployment Benefit. That is a very specious argument. It is a dangerous argument, because it appeals to people who really want to contribute something to help to settle the unemployment problem.
Any proposal that is put in that form should be able to withstand analysis. If by spending £2,000,000 in that way you can save £3,000,000 on unemployment pay, there is not a Member on any side of the House who would not be prepared seriously to consider it. Either that is a correct statement or it is incorrect. I think that I can demonstrate that it is entirely fallacious, and I am extremely sorry that it should be associated with the name of a right hon. Gentleman who, in all quarters of the country, has earned for himself the highest esteem and regard as one of the ablest authorities on housing questions. With regard to the cost under this Bill, it is not £2,000,000. That is the present capital sum——
§ The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Mr. T. Johnston)
May I, in fairness to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir J. Tudor Walters), whose views I know pretty accurately, point out that what he said was that by the expenditure of this additional 2488 £2,000,000 we shall set in motion Housing Acts which will absorb the numbers of men he mentioned.
§ Mr. MAITLAND
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here himself. I appreciate the desire of the Lord Privy Seal to defend him, because I noticed that immediately the right hon. Gentleman resumed his seat after his speech, so anxious was the Lord Privy Seal to go to his assistance, that he went and sat by him. What the right hon. Gentleman said was that there would be a profit on this transaction. That was his phrase. The actual cost of this Bill is not confined to £2,000,000. That is the present capital value. The actual cash which is to be paid by the country over a period of 40 years on the basis of £50 per house is £4,480,000. That is the figure.
§ Mr. MAITLAND
It is no use the Lord Privy Seal dissenting. I will refer him to the Financial Memorandum which repeats the figures I have just given, that the cost will be £112,000 per annum for 40 years. If he will do a little sum in arithmetic, he will find that the cost is not £2,000,000, but £4,480,000. That is not all, because if you take the speech of the Minister of Health, that will be in addition to the subsidies which are already given by existing legislation. Take the figure which the right hon. Gentleman gave as £200 per house. That is just four times the amount which is proposed under this Bill. That makes £17,920,000. That is additional to the subsidy that has to be paid under this Bill if these 40,000 houses have to be built. That is the further subsidy represented in cash from the Treasury of £4,480,000. If you add these two, the total cost of the houses to the State is no less a sum than £22,400,000.
You have, in addition to that, £100 per house which is not covered by any subsidy; it has been arrived at, as the Minister of Health said, on a rather flimsy basis because the estimate of 3s. a week is not going to be enough to pay for depreciation and repayment of capital charges. When the right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth said that the cost of this scheme will be £2,000,000, and that £3,000,000 will be saved on Unemployment benefit, I want 2489 to say at once and most emphatically that the cost to the State is not £2,000,000, but £22,400,000, or £560,000 per annum for 40 years. In addition to that, you have £100 per house which represents another £9,000,000, so that you arrive at a total cost of £31,000,000. This statement of figures may be rather confusing to hon. Members, but I am certain that if those who are interested will pay me the compliment of carefully reading such figures as will appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT, they will find that they are unchallengeable.
Having said that, I should not for a moment desire it to be thought that I am opposing this Bill because it will cost £31,000,000. The real test of the need should not be the test which the Minister of Health suggests, the test of any particular area. Most of us will agree with the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) that it is difficult to explain to people who are in the same circumstances, that because they are in one area they are not entitled to something which another person in an adjoining area is able to get. The real test ought to be what is the need, not of an area, but of the people themselves, and the method which is proposed is, it seems to me, open to that very grave objection. The next point is whether the country can afford to spend £31,000,000. All of us would like to do certain things, in our private lives as well as in public affairs, but the test is not what we wish but what we can afford. The decision as to whether we can spend this sum of money—not £2,000,000—rests with those who are sitting on the Treasury bench, and I believe that when their proposals are subjected to that rigorous scrutiny which one is justified in expecting from the Treasury we shall find that this scheme is not going to be carried out in any very effective way.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has from time to time counselled his friends on the Government benches to be audacious. It is a far cry to the days of the first Insurance Bill when, in order to popularise it, the right hon. Gentleman told the people that he was offering 9d. for 4d.—in the language of the turf, odds of just over two to one. But audacity! If this Bill really means what it says it 2490 means that the Government are offering the agricultural workers not 9d. for 4d. but 250 pence for 100 pence, and, what is more, they are offering that not in pence but in pounds. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman was not sufficiently restrained by his colleagues when he introduced that phrase 9d. for 4d. He is always dangerous unless he is restrained, and I am rather sorry that the occupants of the Treasury bench should be made responsible for the enthusiasms of the right hon. Gentleman, who may galvanise them into activity while himself sitting in the background and having no responsibility. The time may come—one gets accustomed to surprises in politics—when the same right hon. Gentleman who is speaking now with so much enthusiasm for these proposals may be visiting various parts of the country and condemning them with that language of which he alone is a master. I am afraid that in dealing with the financial aspect of the matter I have rather neglected some of the other parts of the Bill, but the financial aspect is important; and I would merely add that, though I have deemed it my duty to point out discrepancies in the right hon. Gentleman's figures, as regards the general principle of improving the rural housing of this country there is no member who would not take a practical and sympathetic view of the Bill, and do all he could to improve the housing conditions of our workers in the country.
§ Mr. GOULD
It is not my purpose to follow the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Maitland) into the realm of high finance, but I shall read his speech when it is in print. It is a very abstruse argument that he has put up. But I would venture to point out to him that if I were to go down into Somerset and show that by this Bill we were meeting the needs of the poorest paid agricultural workers and at the same time taking unemployed builders' operatives off the books of the Employment Exchanges, the people there would accept it as a wise provision in the circumstances of the times. With all our legislation and expenditure on housing we have not, so far, met the needs of the agricultural workers. That is a fact which has not been challenged. Before coming to the House I read once again the manifestos 2491 of the three political parties on the subject of housing, and particularly housing in the rural areas, and I find that all three parties are definitely pledged to improve rural housing conditions. When I come to the House I find that the party which presume to be the custodian of agricultural interests are the only critics of this Bill, which will at least tackle the immediate needs of the situation. The Minister of Health has told us that 80,000 houses have been built in rural areas and in agricultural parishes, and that 15,000 have been let to agricultural workers. The picture presented by my own county, which has been very progressive in house building in the rural areas, is very similar to the picture drawn by the Minister of the country as a whole. In the county of Somerset we built in 10 years 8,340 houses. The Rural Workers Housing Act has reconstituted 76 houses. I asked the Medical Officer of Health of the county what are the existing needs, and in his letter to me in reply he states—I am afraid, however, that this large number "—that refers to the 8,000 odd houses—has not met the needs of the purely agricultural workers, as the rents are too high for them to be able to afford to live in them. There is still considerable need for houses for the purely agricultural workers.I listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), but I wish he would spend part of the recess in rural England living under the conditions in which some of the people there are existing. I am not saying that he does not know rural England. His experience at the Ministry will have given him a vivid picture of it—and he has got plenty of imagination, too. But I wish he would stay for a month in a cottage such as those I know of, where all the social amenities to which we are accustomed are absent, where there is no provision for the common decencies of life, where, lying in bed, he could write his speeches on the ceiling, or at least could sketch them out: where he could put one foot out of the window and the other out of the door; where there is no air space and no accommodation for growing children. A couple desiring to take that great step called marriage have to leave the village in order to get a home. Those 2492 conditions are driving our best young men and maidens away from the villages.
While that is the condition of things, here we are with round about 200,000 unemployed in the building trade, with the plant for making the necessary building materials lying idle, and the conditions in agriculture such that the workers in that industry cannot pay an economic rent. I know a rural area which has built 162 houses under the Wheatley Act and 72 under the Addison Act, and the cost to the ratepayers is £1,200 a year, equal to a rate of 7d. in the £. Within that rural area there is a parish in which a sewerage scheme has been sanctioned, the cost of which will be a 5½d. rate, and for those two services, housing and sewerage, there will be a 1s. rate charged to that parish. I hope these things will be borne in mind because a 10s. rate basis may be right as a formula, but there are areas in which an 8s. or a 9s. rate will be a bigger burden than a 10s. 6d. rate in other areas. We have to consider the economic circumstances in those rural areas where the wages are 30s. for agricultural workers and £2 2s. for miners. I am now speaking of those who will have to bear the burden of the rates, and that is why I am asking that the formula should not be made so tight. I hope we shall take into account those areas in which they have spent the rates on housing schemes, and have done their bit during difficult times, and who may not fit within the four square walls of the formula. We have to consider what are the circumstances of those living within a particular area, and to me that is the real test.
As far as the people living in the countryside are concerned, this Bill has been welcomed as heartily as any Bill which has been passed within the last two years, and I believe it will meet a real need. It says to the local authorities: "Put up your scheme." This Measure puts everybody to the real test and says to them: "Are you prepared to house properly the lowest paid, the most silent, and one of the most industrious classes who have to bring up their families upon very small wages?" It is going to say to the rural areas: "Tell us what you can do, tell us what is your rate burden and your needs, and let us test it by this formula." At the Rural Associations' Conference held last month 2493 the general provisions of this Bill were foreshadowed by a representative of the Ministry of Health, and we hailed with delight what was thought to be a fair proposition as far as the local authorities were concerned. I want the local authorities to test this matter and to use the powers which they have got. If it is found that they have not sufficient financial power, I hope that considerable latitude will be given to the Advisory Committee on the basis of the formula. If that is done, I can see a better condition of housing taking place in the countryside, and I hope the beauty of the countryside will be retained as well. I hope the beauty of our Somerset villages will be preserved and not spoiled by unsightly housing schemes. I hope the beauty of the countryside will not be spoiled for the want of extra land being made available. Land is cheap on the countryside. We have been adopting schemes to fit men for working smallholdings with a view to them obtaining bigger holdings later on, and to provide them with a good cottage to start with would be a great advantage, and I hope that will be borne in mind.
I hope we shall not forget that the uneconomic rent is not the best way of dealing with this problem. What we ought to aim at is the rebuilding of agriculture, and that is the real problem for us to consider. What we have done in the past has been rather to build down, and I would rather build up from the bottom. We should give the workers an abundant supply of good cottages in order that we may free the countryside from the tyranny of the tied house. I have had some experience in connection with the system under which stockmen, herdmen and those engaged in breeding and in milking cattle live under a service contract, and I shall always fight to free those men from such a system. The only remedy is a further development of housing. The tide cottage system is part and parcel of a tyranny which binds a man to the land and to his employer, and makes it impossible for that man to change his occupation. I hope the Government will keep faith with the people who are asking for the acceleration of building programmes, and personally I believe that there will be a second instalment, despite the figures which have been placed before the House.
§ Captain CAZALET
The hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Gould) has admitted that this Bill does not go to the root of the problem, which is that we ought to rebuild our agriculture on such a sound basis that sufficient wages would be paid to agricultural workers to enable them to pay economic rents for their houses. That is a very sound principle, but there is very little in this Bill to achieve that object.
§ Captain CAZALET
There is very little in this or any other Bill which has been produced by the present Government which is likely to bring about a condition of affairs which will place agriculture upon a prosperous basis. I should not be in order if I followed that argument now, but I should like to associate myself, as I am certain all Members on these benches would, with the desire which has been expressed for improved conditions for the agricultural workers of this country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir J. Tudor Walters) turned to the Conservative benches and said, "What is the matter? What is all this fuss about? Here is a proposal to build 40,000 houses. We should have preferred 100,000, but 40,000 are better than nothing. Here you are on the Opposition benches making all this fuss; you ought to welcome it." But unless we are to abrogate all our rights, both as Members of Parliament and as an Opposition, surely we may be allowed to criticise any Measure that the Government produce. In fact, it is our duty to do so, especially when the Bill is being produced and nurtured under such curious circumstances as we have been led to believe. This, of course, is not a Government Bill. It is a Liberal Bill. It is the result of a conference. I do not know whether the Liberal party are the more to be congratulated on having got 40 per cent. of their demands, or the Socialist Government on having resisted 60 per cent., but, if this Bill actually does all that is hoped of it, and if the difficulties and doubts and problems that have been put before the House this morning can be solved, I, for one, shall be very glad to see the housing conditions of agricultural workers benefited to the extent of 40,000 additional houses.
2495 When the right hon. Gentleman asks what the matter is I would point out that the matter is, among other things, that we are about to vote, or to confirm a previous vote, for the spending of an additional £2,000,000. That, surely, is something. If we are to take literally the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we can ill afford an additional £2,000,000 at the present moment, and I think it behoves some Member of the House to put in that word on behalf of the overburdened taxpayers and ratepayers of this country, because there are very few agricultural or urban districts in this country to-day that are really in a position to bear any additional burden. We deal in so many millions in these days that £2,000,000 is almost an insignificant figure, but I do think we have a right to ask how this £2,000,000 is being spent; and it is because some of us on these benches doubt whether the best use is really being made of this sum of £2,000,000 that we have expressed our criticisms and apprehensions to-day. I have been on a Committee investigating various problems with regard to housing in this country, and, as a result, I have been confirmed in the conclusion that since the War neither municipal, State nor private enterprise has really provided any adequate or appreciable increase in the number of houses for the poorest section of the community, and what makes me doubtful as to the efficacy of this Measure is that I am not sure that the greatest shortage is in the agricultural areas.
In my view, the greatest shortage still exists in municipal and urban areas, and I think my right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) made that point. This is a grant to help rural districts, and Members who represent rural areas will naturally be grateful for it, but what about the urban areas? I feel certain that, if this act of generosity on the part of the Government in regard to housing had been carefully considered, they would have come to the conclusion that the urban and municipal areas really deserve this grant almost more than the rural areas. [Interruption.] I quite admit that there are rural areas in which the housing conditions should be improved, but I still maintain that my proposition is correct. Again, the Minister pointed out that there are 2496 many areas which are semi-rural and semi-urban, and that it is almost impossible to make a clear division between the two. In my constituency, although there may be agricultural parishes where more houses are required, it is principally in those areas which have been semi-industrialised since the War that this need exists. There has been an orientation of industry towards the country districts during the last 10 or 12 years. Some industries in those cases have prospered, and some have failed, but it is in these semi-industrial areas where there is the most pressing need for additional houses.
As far as I understand the matter, the Treasury are going to hand over £2,000,000 to a Committee to spend as they think fit. It may be argued that, as long as you have an efficient Committee, that may be the best means of dealing with the money, but, as has been pointed out, Parliament thereby abrogates all its rights as to the details of the way in which the money is to be spent. We have to take it on trust that the Committee will be the best possible Committee, and we shall have to wait till the Committee stage of the Bill before we are satisfied that the Committee which the Minister intends to set up is the best and most efficient for the purpose. I take it that the conditions in regard to a penny rate producing 5d. per head of the population, and so on, are not rigid conditions, but only guiding principles—that the Committee will have full power to examine any proposition which may be put forward by any rural district coming under this Measure, and that, if the Committee consider that in a particular locality these conditions should not apply, they may go beyond their actual scope.
I would like to ask the Lord Privy Seal, if he is going to reply, how it will be possible to make certain, when these houses have been erected, that they will be occupied by agricultural labourers. No one knows better than the Lord Privy Seal that in many areas in this country where wide-awake municipal authorities have built large numbers of houses a proportion of those houses have not been and are not occupied by the people for whom they were built. What guarantee have we that exactly the same condition of affairs will not occur under this Bill? I know that there would be 2497 technical and practical difficulties in making a regulation stipulating that no one should occupy these houses whose wages were above a certain figure, but we should like some guarantee that the houses built with this grant will be occupied by the people for whom they are intended.
I hope that the greatest possible variety of houses will be allowed. In agricultural districts, the best agricultural worker is often the old worker. He may not have any children, or his children may have grown up and left the district, and it may well be that a suitable house for him and his wife, and the kind of house that they would prefer, is a two-roomed house; and I would like to know whether it will be possible for this Committee to provide any type of houses that they consider most suitable for the particular district. Again, supposing that an agricultural labourer receiving the average wage occupies one of these new houses, and then, a few months or perhaps a year later, he gets another job of a different nature, where his wages are no longer 32s. 6d. but 50s. or 60s. a week, will the local authority have power, after giving him due notice, to take away that house from him and require him to vacate it so that it may be again available for a person of the class for whom it was originally intended? Naturally, there must be reasonable safeguards against hardship in any case of this kind. Even with the best will in the world, unless there are regulations in regard to the matter, in a very short time you will have a large number of these houses, built originally for agricultral workers, occupied by people who have nothing whatever to do with the land, and who will be, therefore, living at the expense of the other workers who really deserve these houses and for whom they were originally intended. If this Bill fulfills the hope of its originators and brings a real measure of relief and additional comfort to a large number of agricultural workers, I shall be very glad to have given my support to it.
§ Mr. SCOTT
We have had from these benches approval of the Bill from English and Welsh Liberal Members and, as a Scottish Liberal Member, I should like also to give it approval and hearty support. It must have been 2498 through an oversight that the hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) did not impress upon the Government the desirability of having women represented on the committees that are to be set up. Although women may not be very efficient clerks of works, for want of experience, I think they are first-rate architects, and they might be of great assistance to the Minister in working the Bill, because they can plan a house about which they know the working. I offer the suggestion with all deference to the Government, and I trust that on both the English and the Scottish Committees there will be representatives of women.
I hope the Lord Privy Seal will supplement the illustrations given by the Minister of Health by giving us some illustrations from Scotland with regard to authorities where the poverty test would apply and where it would not. The illustrations that the Minister gave were somewhat unconvincing, because they were not, as he admitted, those of areas in which there was a clamant need for rural houses. I trust the Lord Privy Seal will select illustrations from Scotland which will show the House the way in which he intends the Act to operate. It is clear that, while there are poverty-stricken councils in Britain, and you will find illustrations of them certainly in Scotland, it is because of the operation of the Local Government Act, 1929. The 1d. in the £ rate has shrunk to such an extent that any new development that is planned, such as this for the housing of rural workers, unquestionably falls mainly upon the un-derated citizens, and the un-derated citizens are the householders, who are the largest number, the shopkeepers, and the owners and tenants of business premises and, accordingly, I should have been surprised if the party above the Gangway had offered any serious objection to the Bill, because they would at once have recoiled upon their heads the reminder that it is they who have made this Bill to a large extent necessary.
If one should ask why it is that houses to suit this particular class of persons have not previously been built, I think the answer is that the county councils, in Scotland certainly, are to a large extent dominated by the landlords, by the 2499 factors, and by the large owner-occupiers, and they do not want houses built which would to any extent compete with the tied houses at present on their estates and farms. A worker on a farm takes a situation with an eye to the house which he and his family are to occupy. The selection of the situation is decided very often by the size of the house in order to meet the growing needs of the man, his wife and family, and when he accepts the situation he is more or less tied to it by the occupation of the house. In every sense of the term he is not a free agent. One of the benefits of the Bill, by the multiplication of houses suitable for rural workers, will be that you will have a large number of houses from which the workers can choose and that they will, therefore, not be entirely dependent on houses connected with the farm where they are to work, and you will have done a great deal to emancipate the personal and domestic freedom of the farm worker.
There is more to it even than that. There are many single farm workers who, if there were houses available, would be married to-morrow. One constantly receives complaints of the want of houses from that class of people. It is very necessary that houses should be provided for them, and I think there will be a benefit indirectly in regard to the morality of our rural districts, which is so often examined critically in the Press and in church reports and so on. The remedy for that is to provide a large number of houses for rural workers. It is for these reasons that I cordially support the Bill.
§ Mr. BUTLER
The point I wish to raise was mentioned by the Minister, and I thank him for mentioning me by name and for bringing up this point, which is really the question of the agricultural parish. I believe this Bill has a very serious defect in that it restricts itself to agricultural parishes alone. By doing that, it omits a great number of parishes in the rural districts from receiving its benefits. I believe the Minister is right, that there would have to be anomalies if you took away this definition on the other side, but I should like to mention one or two anomalies which arise through the definition of agricultural parish being left in and being a feature of the Bill.
2500 First of all, to take my district only, every single rural district is included in the Bill under the poverty test, and, coming from one of the most depressed rural areas, I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly. However, in the various rural district councils there are from two to four parishes in each case which are not agricultural parishes under the definition of the 1930 Act, and in nearly every single case they are just as rural and just as depressed as their neighbours, and they, therefore, deserve the benefits of the Bill as much as their neighbours. In the Belchamp rural district the parishes of Lamarsh and Bures Hamlet are non-agricultural parishes, although in character they are totally and absolutely agricultural. In the parish of Bures Hamlet, I know that there is great need for houses, and they will not be able to be built under this Bill in that parish. In the rural District Council of Dunmow, the villages of Little Dunmow, Takeley, and Little Easton are non-agricultural parishes. Little Easton is non-agricultural because of Easton Lodge and Park in the middle of it.
The village of Takeley is not agricultural owing to the fact that the rating value is tipped over against the parish because there is a railway and a main road through the whole length of the parish, which otherwise is recognised as being one of the most rural districts in England. Little Dunmow is not regarded as agricultural, because there is a beet sugar factory in it. In the rural district of Halstead there are six parishes regarded as non-agricultural under the Bill. Pebmarsh, Colne Engaine, and Great Maplestead are non-agricultural, the last named because there is a Home of Mercy of the diocese there which has a high rateable value, and the other two because the balance is tipped over against agricultural hereditaments by other operations in those parishes. Those parishes are totally agricultural, and I maintain that it would have been much better if they could have been included under the benefits of the Act. In the case of the Saffron Waiden Rural District Council there are four parishes to be regarded as non-agricultural. I believe that when, in a district of North Essex where you find so many anomalies as that, it is worthy of the consideration of the Lord Privy Seal, and I ask him and the 2501 Government to give the matter further consideration. I do not wish to go further into the Bill, and I will conclude by saying that I believe that if we had a proper policy for corn growing we could get the cheapest method of building houses, and that is a policy of letting private enterprise build them and the capital made from farming apply to building them.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) for making his speech so short. I regretted that it was necessary for him to do so, but his contribution was extremely valuable and most concisely and tersely put. It revealed one of the difficulties which will exist, and I hope that we may be able to enlarge the Bill in order to deal with difficulties in really genuine agricultural parishes. At the same time, it points to the real danger of this Measure in the precedent which it will set. Here for the first time, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir J. Tudor Walters) pointed out, instead of having a subsidy fixed by Parliament to deal with the housing question, you are going to have a variable extra subsidy which is to be applied for certain very limited areas, which certainly are not most in need of housing reform however much we all agree that they are in need of housing improvement. What is the reason for this sudden anxiety of the Government to give some kind of help to agricultural areas? We shall be the last not to welcome it. We welcome it with open hands, as their first genuine attempt to help agriculture during the lifetime of this Parliament in a matter which really vitally affects them.
It is true, as the hon. Member for Kincardine (Mr. Scott) said, that one of the difficulties is due to the help given by the late Government to agriculture, and of which all classes of the agricultural community are so cognisant in the de-rating of agricultural land. It has made the difficulty greater in the purely agricultural parishes which have a much smaller area of rateable value to fall back upon. The help was given with the object of assisting the whole of the agricultural community to do away with the quack medicine of subsidies, and to be able to 2502 deal with their problems on a proper basis, namely, by having a proper wage and economic payment for all the necessaries of life. That matter has been dealt with admirably by the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Gould). We were startled by the concluding sentences of his speech, coming from a Member on those benches, but we all recognise the valuable contribution he has made, because it shows that he at least—and I think he is almost unique on those benches—realises that in our proposals for dealing with agricultural housing we must not depend upon this kind of temporary dole, but look forward to the time when we can improve agriculture and put it upon a paying basis. We have our own proposals, but it would not be in order for me to go into them on this occasion. They emphasise the reason for hesitancy in accepting this Bill.
We yield to no one in our desire to improve the housing conditions, and we welcome help being given to the rural parishes. It is going to be a very remarkable kind of "help, if the Bill is to be put into force with the general agreement that has been proposed for it. My hon. friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Maitland) has made a remarkable contribution to the debate by showing that the expenses are probably going to work out at something like £1,000 a cottage in the long run. We are repeating—I do not say that it is not necessary to repeat—the experience of the Addison Act in 1919. I never joined with those who criticised the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister of Agriculture for doing what he did at that time, because I recognise that it was the only way to get housing upon its legs again, but it was at an appalling expense. I am afraid that this Bill is rather comparable by reason of the fact that it has been forced forward in order to try and get housing upon its legs in agricultural parishes at an expense which will work out very much on the same lines. This tremendous expense of building a few cottages is not equally justified at the present time. It was justified in 1919 and 1920 all over the country for several reasons. It was justified mainly because the housing industry was practically dead. The Government could not get private enterprise to move in the housing industry, and they could not get the local authorities to move. Local authorities would not move even 2503 with a big "bribe of 75 per cent., and they had to be promised that they would be relieved of all expense except a penny rate before they really undertook building. That was a most expensive and extravagant scheme.
Why is it that we object in theory and in principle to this question of subsidies? It is very clear that the subsidy often finds its way into other pockets. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Everybody has a picking at it. It is not that they actually collar the subsidy, as such, but it prevents the natural economic fall which there should be if we are trying to get back to normality. Everybody collars it on the ground of expediency—the contractors, the manufacturers, the officials, through their authorities. They do not cut down. They do not economise. They say: "We cannot economise any more. Therefore, it is not only the actual builders, but the suppliers of building materials, and not only those who employ, but those who are employed, who get at the subsidies. Those hon. Members opposite who said" Hear, hear," a moment ago, must recognise that they are included in the indictment. The trade unions, equally, say that there is no further reason to cut down wages, even if the cost of living is going down. That is what has happened in connection with the other subsidies, and I am afraid that this subsidy, as has been the case with subsidies in the past, will keep up costs.
Those who want to get the cost of building down are often oppressed by the feeling that the cost will not come down any more. The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) seems to have that idea, but that is not the view of those who are largely concerned, non-politically, with this matter. In their latest statement, the National Housing and Town Planning Council say:Compared with the position at the beginning of this year, building materials are in most cases definitely cheaper, not perhaps by reason of any official reduction in the scheduled prices laid down by the manufacturers, but rather owing to the pressure of the law of supply and demand on a shrinking market. Keener competition has forced all sections of the trade to cut prices, and for that reason house building is definitely cheaper than a year ago.We ought always to be reminded of that fact when we are dealing with the 2504 housing question. We cannot expect that house building will be governed by other economic laws than those which govern other parts of our lives. They are the same. It is supply and demand which to a large extent governs prices, and if we are going suddenly to raise the demand in order to get a supply of houses, we shall be keeping up the prices. In housing we ought to turn our attention not only to house building, but to making the most of what we have. In that respect I would like to take up one point which was mentioned by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. He took the line that because a house has been condemned as unfit for habitation, it is never going to be fit for habitation. That is one of the dangers into which we have fallen. Medical officers of health, and I have been one, have always condemned houses where they have been deficient in certain vital necessities such as water supply, sanitary accommodation, etc. Those houses may be no longer fit for habitation, but there are many old cottages—I speak from personal experience as a small landowner who owns cottages—that can be put right and made fit for habitation.
It was for that reason that this House passed the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, which has been found to be a very useful Act when properly used. This question has a bearing upon the supply of new houses. When we get back to normality, we can look forward much more to the improvement and reconditioning of old houses and making the most of those that we have. In that way we are providing a supply of houses for the poorest of the working-classes. With every sympathy for working men, and with every desire that they should have the best which they can possibly use, I think it is quite wrong for certain classes of workers, those who are casual and careless, to be put into these new houses. I do not say that they are not often improved thereby but that is not putting our resources to the best use. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the children?"] It is the same with regard to the children. The family of the more careful worker will make the best use of a new house. I am thinking of the kind of worker like a man in my constituency who goes to bed without taking off his clothes—incidentally he goes to bed on the floor generally. These are not the 2505 kind of people to put into these new houses. The normal procedure is to recondition these older houses for the people who can afford to pay least, and to put the better class of working men into new houses. They and their friends the public utility societies, the friendly societies, will be able to undertake the building that is necessary and it will not be necessary for the local authority to come in at all. Through the agencies of building societies and friendly societies you will get houses properly supplied.
That being the procedure in the case of normality I come back to the present situation. It is only as a temporary measure that we believe in supplying houses in this abnormal and uneconomic way. Like the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), I feel that there is an occasion here for applying this quack remedy, there is a necessity for applying the funds of the State. A great deal is going to be left to the committee to be appointed under the Bill. Much will depend on the composition of this committee, but so far we have not been told anything as to its membership. I was agreeably surprised to hear the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland defend the position of local authorities and say that there was no intention of dragooning them. When I looked at Clause 2 it seemed to me that local authorities were to be over-ridden, and I am glad to know that that is not going to be the case. The hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), who gave us such a charming speech, will be much disappointed because she hoped that the Minister will bring local authorities up to the mark.
The Under-Secretary on the other hand said that they did not intend to dragoon local authorities. Which is right? That is a nice little connundrum for the Lord Privy Seal when he comes to reply. May I remind the hon. Member for Anglesey that provision is already made quite apart from this Bill, for bringing pressure to bear on local authorities who do not do their work in connection with housing or anything else by the beneficient and far-sighted Measure which was passed in 1929 and which provided 2506 the only practical way by which local authorities can be dragooned—namely, by the pressure of the purse. It has to be remembered that under that Act local authorities have to prove to the Minister of Health that they are carrying out their duty in all the essentials of public health and housing, or else they suffer at the time in regard to grants and still more at the end of five years. Therefore we have a clear and definite solution of the problem as to whether or not local authorities are reactionary in carrying out this rural housing business and seizing the opportunities that are given to them. It is very hard to have pressure brought on them by the Minister, and I hope that the Minister will be able to exercise the pressure carefully, tactfully and gently, but surely and firmly, so that the local authorities will feel the necessity of moving forward.
I would bring back the attention of the Ministry and of the House to one instrument that is not sufficiently used. It is often felt that one great thing required is publicity—publicity regarding what is good and publicity regarding defects. It often happens that these things are not known. But there is one method which is always available to the Ministry of Health and to the public, and that is to make use of the annual reports of the Medical Officers of Health. The Ministry could call for a definite survey of a particular area regarding housing, leaving aside for the time being the normal report on public health. I mean a survey by the medical officers of health both in the districts and in the counties. Such publicity would go a long way towards showing to all concerned what are the actual facts and needs
§ Mr. ROSBOTHAM
I rather regret that the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) curtailed his speech, because he was making a valuable contribution to the Debate, and in support of the Bill. I regret also that he made way for the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken, a member of the medical profession, who has fenced all round the Bill until one does not know definitely whether he is in favour of the Bill or not. I should have thought that the medical profession would have been whole-heartedly in support of any housing schemes in rural, urban or municipal districts.
§ Mr. ROSBOTHAM
I take exception to the statement of the hon. and gallant Member that the speech of the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Gould) was unique. It was not unique in any way. If there is one question upon which we are united on this side of the House, and on which we agree with the Liberals, it is on the question of the better housing of the people, especially in the rural districts. I represent a very important rural and agricultural division, and I whole-heartedly welcome this Bill as a step in the right direction. After all the evidence which has been brought forward to-day by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and the cases which have been brought to the notice of the House by the reports which he has obtained, and the evidence of the hon. Member for Frome, I am sure that every Member of the House should welcome the proposals of the Bill, and should do all that is possible to pass it into law.
§ Viscount WOLMER
We have had an interesting discussion on this interesting Bill and I think one of the most interesting thing about the Bill has been the way in which the Government has introduced it at the very tail-end of the Session, in a great hurry and as a sort of afterthought. As they have not done anything else to help agriculture this Session—anything that can be productive of immediate benefit to the farming community—I do not want to look a gift horse in the mouth. I am not going to oppose any Bill which holds out the slightest prospect of improving conditions in the countryside, even though I may be of opinion that there are other and better ways of achieving the same result. Therefore, I am going to say "thank you" to the Government for having, almost in the last week of the Session, at last remembered the agricultural labourer and done something on his behalf.
This Bill was supposed to be a result of the confabulations between the Liberal party and the Minister of Health, and we were told that it was to be the adoption of the Liberal housing policy. Of course this Bill is nothing of the sort, and although the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir J. Tudor Walters) blesses the Bill, 2508 I was glad to hear him repudiate all responsibility for the scheme which the Government have brought forward. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that houses could be built without a subsidy, but this Bill increases the subsidy. He wanted to cut out red tape, he told us, but this Bill is simply tied up in red tape, and will bring red tape into every parish. I was particularly interested in the defence which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth gave of the subsidy principle which up to now he has condemned. I would like to have the attention of both the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of Health on this point. Evidently the negotiations are still going on, but while the Minister will doubtless learn a great deal about housing from the right hon. Gentleman, it would be more convenient to the House if the negotiations were pursued on other occasions.
The right hon. Gentleman justified the subsidy principle which he has hitherto condemned by saying "We are asked to sanction £2,000,000 to build these 40,000 houses but, on the other hand, we save £5,000,000 in unemployment benefit." Apart from the important financial considerations which the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Maitland) put forward, I would point out that that is the ground on which we defend all subsidies. We defend the sugar beet subsidy, for instance, on the ground that you are spending so much money on keeping going a certain operation, as a result of which there is a lot of other money coming in from outside, and you are giving employment to a large number who would otherwise be on the dole or on poor relief. But how is it that the Liberal party oppose the sugar beet subsidy on every occasion, and yet advocate this subsidy, on precisely the same arguments as those used in favour of the sugar beet subsidy?
§ Viscount WOLMER
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Therefore this Bill is not the right hon. Gentleman's Bill at all. It is really a revival of the Addison scheme, so far as cottages for agricultural labourers are concerned. It 2509 rests on exactly the same principle as the Addison scheme, with no greater financial responsibility upon the local authority and all the increased financial responsibility to fall on the shoulders of the taxpayer. That is the way by which you can spend a maximum of money and get a minimum of result. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham was quite right when he said that the total bill for these houses is going to be much more in the neighbourhood of £30,000,000 than £2,000,000.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I was not accusing the right hon. Gentleman in the least in that respect, but there has been an impression abroad, which has been fostered by quotations such as that which I read out from the speech of the right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth, that if you spend £2,000,000, you will save £5,000,000. Here you are not spending £2,000,000 at all; you are spending much nearer £30,000,000, if it does not in fact really exceed that sum.
My chief criticism of this Bill is that it is badly conceived from the point of view of helping the agricultural labourer. The Government have assumed that the housing shortage, as far as the agricultural labourer is concerned, is worse in the poorest parishes, and they have limited this Bill to the poorest parishes. I want to point out to the Lord Privy Seal that the exact opposite is in fact the case. If he will look into the figures for a few minutes, I think I can show him that that is so. If he will look at the return of agricultural workers, he will see that their number is not increasing, but is steadily diminishing every year, and that it has diminished more rapidly in the last two years than in any previous corresponding period.
According to the official return for England and Wales for 1821, the number of agricultural workers was 869,000, and last year it was 741,000, or a drop of 120,000 in nine years. Therefore there is not a demand for fresh houses for agricultural workers in the sense that the number of agricultural workers is increasing and that therefore you have to provide new houses for them. What you have to do is to keep the existing houses in a good state of repair. I agree that 2510 there is a percentage of them which cannot be properly repaired, but which have to be pulled down, and for that percentage you have to build new houses, but I submit that that is a comparatively small percentage and that it is a very much better proposition, from every point of view, to repair an old cottage, if you can repair it satisfactorily, and to let it to an agricultural labourer at 2s. a week than to build him a new cottage for which he has to pay a rent of 4s. 6d.
I should like to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal that the agricultural labourers of this country will not thank him enthusiastically for cottages at 4s. 6d. They are getting now, from the much abused and much despised landowners, in hundreds and thousands of cases, cottages at 1s. 6d. and 2s. a week. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is more than they are worth!"] The hon. Member opposite, who knows nothing about the matter, says it is more than they are worth. I shall respect his opinion more on this subject when I find that he is willing to build a cottage and to let it for 1s. 6d. or 2s, a week, and I should like to protest against the sneers that have been made against those who have provided the cottages for the agricultural workers in the past. Up till this moment, practically every single cottage that has been built for the farm workers of this country has been built by the landowners and let at a totally uneconomic rent.
I am prepared to agree that a number of these cottages may not be ideal, and that a certain proportion of them are bad, but the remedy for such evils as exist is the development and the enforcement of the Housing (Rural Workers Act), 1926. The record of hon. Members opposite in regard to that Act is particularly bad. In the first place, they fought it tooth and nail when it was in this House; then they obstructed it in the country, like the hon. Member opposite, who actually takes credit for having advised his county council only to put it partially into operation; and they have done everything they could to prevent the full use of that Act, but when they have responsibility put upon their shoulders, they find they have to extend it. I suggest that, before building, at great expense to the State, houses which can only be let to agricultural labourers 2511 at 4s. 6d., you ought to put into a proper state of repair every agricultural cottage which can be let to farm workers at 2s. or 2s. 6d. a week. That is the way you will help the farm worker.
I believe that I shall carry hon. Members opposite with me in this. It is a great mistake to think that cottagers do not appreciate the beauty of their cottages, provided those cottages are sanitary and healthy. Most of us present would prefer to live in a beautiful old cottage, if sanitary and healthy, than in a new and ugly building, and I heartily support what fell from the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Gould) in that respect. These people love their old homes, and that would be doing them much better service to put those old homes into repair, and make them healthy and comfortable, than to give those people more expensive, ugly and new cottages. Therefore, I hope that the Government, with the experience they have, will pursue that Act of 1926 further, and that the assistance afforded under this Measure will not be given to counties and local authorities which have made no attempt to work the 1926 Act.
Before the local authority comes to the taxpayers for the extra assistance offered by this Bill, they ought to be able to show us that they have put all the cottages in their area into a proper state of repair. I should also like to say that I thoroughly agree with the hon. Member for Frome when he said that the whole system of providing cottages for agricultural workers at an unremunerative rent is a profoundly unsatisfactory one. You will not get the problem on to a satisfactory basis until agriculturists are paid wages with which they can afford to pay rent. You will not arrive at that until you have done something to carry out your election pledge to make farming pay, and if hon. Members opposite would only show some energy to deal with that end of the problem, they would find that the housing problem, as well as other problems, would be solved at the same time.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
In due course I hope that we shall be in a position to state what we have done for the benefit of agriculture. This afternoon we must confine ourselves to a specific measure 2512 for providing houses for the agricultural labourers which our predecessors never dreamed of providing. I do not wish to make a provocative speech, particularly as I understand that by general agreement it is desired, if I sit down in good time, to get through another Measure. [Interruption.] I understood that was so, but we need not quarrel about it. The Noble Lord in his statement, with nine-tenths of which I most profoundly disagree, said that this Bill was the Addison scheme writ large. It has nothing in common with the Addison scheme. The Addison scheme fixed subsidies which were determined after the houses were built. Here we are providing a fixed sum in advance, and everyone knows that the local authorities' contribution thereafter will be determined by the ultimate cost of the houses. The Noble Lord in answer to an hon. Friend behind me said that this Government had done everything they could to obstruct the operation of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act——
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I am not aware of the distinction. The Noble Lord conveyed the impression that we who sit on these benches had obstructed the operation of that Act. The very reverse has happened. Under the Government of the Noble Lord and his friends in 1928, the Act was operated in only 44 cases in England and Wales——
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
In 1929 we operated it on 792 houses; in 1930 on 1,086 houses; and in 1931 on 1,455 houses. It is a sheer misuse of words to say that a Government which multiplies the use of an Act twenty or thirty times the extent their predecessors did, has obstructed it. What is this Measure that we are bringing forward? There are local authorities in England and Wales and Scotland—I think this is common ground—which are unable for financial reasons to operate any existing Acts. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) represents a county where the medical officer of health certifies that there are 400 houses presently inhabited unfit for human habitation, and where the cost, at present prices of building, 2513 of producing houses in place of these 400 and letting them at rents which the people can pay, would add 4s. 2d. in the £ to the rates. The County Council of the right hon. Member for Boss and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) solemnly passed a Resolution that because of financial stringency partly arising out of the De-rating Act, which threw the whole burden of rating on small shopkeepers and persons of that kind, they were compelled to cut down their education programme, and to cut down their health services; and it is utterly impossible for the Department of Health for Scotland to put into operation the powers of default against county councils or local authorities who, as everybody knows, are financially unable to operate any housing Act.
The powers of default under the 1930 Act ought to be put into force in any number of cases. Wherever a local authority is financially able to fulfil its obligations and does not fulfil them, then it should be the duty of the Government, with the active assistance of every Party in the House, to see that those default powers are exercised. We have begun under the 1930 Act. From my own knowledge of the situation I do not credit the statements put up to us by any number of county councils that they can deal with the housing situation by providing a mere handful of houses. In my own constituency, a county area, I asked for a special survey of four villages in which the county council said there was no need for a solitary house to be built. I have the report of that survey, and it is an appalling document. I do not intend to read it here, but there is one village where the water supply to 34 houses is obtained from four washhouses. Yet that is a village where the county council say there is no need at all to build any houses! In another village where the rents for houses inhabited by agricultural labourers, are as high if you please, as £14, there is a total sanitary accommodation of only two dry privies for 17 tenants. It is absurd at this time of day to say that any Government will tolerate the continuance of such conditions.
Some county councils say they cannot operate the existing Housing Acts for financial reasons, and I believe that is true, and if that be so ought we not 2514 then to come forward with additional petrol, with a little additional oil to enable the existing machinery to be operated? That is all this Bill does. We estimate that by the use of this extra £2,000,000 we can set going housing machinery to the value, possibly, of £13,000,000 or £15,000,000, that we can build 40,000 houses in rural areas where those houses are proven to be necessary. The right hon. Member for Falmouth (Sir J. Tudor Walters) said that in building those 40,000 houses we should employ, directly and indirectly, 100,000 men. That figure may or may not be absolutely accurate, but not only shall we find useful employment at their own trades and occupations for anything up to 100,000 men, but employment will be provided in the satisfaction of the new wants which those houses will create. Those 40,000 houses will create a demand for new pots and pans, new furniture, and so on, and that will provide a stimulus for other trades and industries.
One hon. Member opposite sought to make our blood curdle on account of the what he called the extraordinary cost of this Measure. It is true that the present burden of extra subsidies is £2,000,000, and the Wheatley subsidy is about £8,000,000, making a total of £10,000,000 as the extra capital subsidy provided by the State. The local authorities have put up a subsidy of the capital value of £5,000,000, but they get back that £5,000,000 in rent, so that the total capital sum which the House is being asked to assent to this afternoon, in fact which the House has already assented to, amounts to £10,000,000. For the expenditure of this sum we are going to find work for anything up to 100,000 people, and we are going to start it this winter. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth asked the Government to be bold and go a good deal further, but nobody knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that 40,000 additional houses is the maximum number that the building industry can deal with this winter, and, if that is so, why ask the Government to go in for larger schemes? If that number of houses is all that the industry can deal with, if we can employ the skilled men in the building industry by an additional expenditure of the capital value of £2,000,000, I submit that the Government 2515 are doing everything that it ought to do, and all that it can reasonably be expected to do, and for that reason I think we deserve the commendation of even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth who has taken such a keen interest in this question.
In the few more minutes that remain I should like to deal with the necessity for this Measure, not only from an employment point of view, but from the housing and the national point of view. We cannot allow our villages to become derelict, and they are becoming derelict. I do not care whether you try to save them through the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, the Wheatley Act, or any other Act, but this House should not stand on any silly points of dignity or priority of authorship. Let us face the fact that the villages are going down. I know that there are instances where people are sleeping 12 and 13 in a room, adult men and women.
We have had Royal Commissions dealing with the sex question, and they picture horrors—which never appear in the daily Press—of crowded homes in which the agricultural poor are compelled to live. When the Government are able to point out that there are country districts where no houses have been built under any Act, where the living conditions are appalling, where the tuberculosis death rate is frequently higher than it is in our cities, and where every municipal administrator, when we go to them and say, "For Heaven's sake build houses," replies, "We cannot; our financial commitments are such that it is impossible," and when the Government come forward with a Measure of this type, we ought to have, and I trust we shall have, the assent and approval of every party in the House, and that, when this Measure becomes an Act of Parliament, every party will set out to see that it is fairly operated and that nothing is done to crab it.
Suggestions have been made that we ought to go over the heads of the local authorities, but I, for one, do not want to do anything whatever that would crab or diminish local government in this country. The more devolution from this House that we can have, the better; the more power that the districts have, the 2516 better; the more power that the people have who know the facts, the better. The experience that we have had of a National Housing Board in Scotland, which shows a present loss of almost £14 per house per annum—under very difficult circumstances, I agree—does not lead me to believe that any financial advantage will accrue to the State from smashing up local government. I ask the House to remember that, if we go over the heads of the local authorities, if we build houses and attach them to their water mains, their drainage systems, and their gas supplies in some instances, and if we do not get their good will and co-operation, they will naturally and inevitably sabotage our efforts.
What this Measure does is to invite applications from local authorities. We fix a level of what we call poverty. The penny rate has to raise not less than 5d. per head of the population, and the aggregate rate has to be 10s. in England or 8s. in Scotland. With the exception of five counties in Scotland, every county becomes eligible, and I think I am right in saying that three-fourths of the agricultural parishes in England become eligible. We agree at once that there are anomalies, but what we are doing this winter is, in three-fourths of the rural parishes in England, and perhaps five-sixths of the rural parishes in Scotland, to offer to distressed local authorities, not necessarily all their commitments, not necessarily all their requirements, not necessarily the full grant in each case, but a chance to come forward and apply to the Committee, to convince the Committee that the need is there and to get the Committee's consent. Let us begin this effort to provide useful economic work for some of the 150,000 unemployed building operatives who are waiting for a job, and to provide healthy habitations for one of the most deserving classes in our land, who have never had any assistance from any previous Housing Act. Let us give to the next generation in our villages the chance to grow up healthy and strong. If we do that, this old Mother of Parliaments will have performed this Friday afternoon a very useful service to the nation.
§ Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS
I hope the Bill Will go through without any opposition at four o'clock, but I should like to join the Lord Privy Seal in the 2517 appeal that he has just made that the Bill will Dot be worked in any partisan spirit. I hope the partisan spirit which was used in one or two cases as far as the Rural Workers Act was concerned will be entirely absent. I will use any influence I have with the Tory party to see that the action taken by the Liberal and Socialist parties in connection with that Act in many parts of the Kingdom is not repeated. I hope particularly that, when the time comes for appointing the Chairman of the new Committee, he will not be a Member of Parliament or a person connected in a prominent way with any of the parties in the House. I want to see him an impartial person entirely outside the run of party politics. I do not want to see it made a sort of git to any party or any section. There is no need to go into the airy figures that were given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir J. Tudor Walters). In reality there are subsidies amounting to £14,000,000 in one way or another. Although they will go into agricultural cottages, yet they must come out of trade and industry. Although it may be money well spent, if it is spent by means of Government administration, there is waste from the time it leaves the taxpayers' pockets until the houses are put up. If you gave remissions of taxation for money to be put into new houses, and reconditioning rural cottages, 2518 you would get more and better houses which would be of greater use to the community. I shall support the Bill, but I hope something may be done to show that we shall not have so much State interference, and possibly not so much local authority interference. It would be better if these houses could be built by the people who really know rather than by Government officials. I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland will urge the Minister of Health in England to use the means he already has under existing Acts so that no time shall be wasted between now and when the Bill really comes into operation. I shall certainly not divide against it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Tuesday next.—[Mr. T. Kennedy.]
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at One Minute after Four o'Clock until Monday next, 13th July.