HC Deb 16 July 1931 vol 255 cc927-33

It shall be the duty of any rural district council in respect of whom any contributions have been made under the Act to make an' annual report to the Minister showing the amount of contribution received, the number of houses provided, the extent to which such houses have been occupied, and the rents received therefor.—[Mr. Womersley.]

Brought up, and read the First Time.


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

I think there will be no difficulty in the Parliamentary Secretary accepting this proposed new Clause, because it has been put down with the express desire of assisting her Department to deal with the question of whether or not local authorities are really doing their duty. From time to time, when questions have been addressed to the Government as to how their housing schemes were progressing, we have been assured by the Minister of Health that the reason such slow progress has been made is that certain local authorities are not pushing along with their schemes. Indeed, we have been told that on so many occasions that we begin to wonder whether it really is the fault of the local authorities. For instance, we have been told that no houses have been produced as the result of the passing of the Housing Act nearly twelve months ago. Schemes have certainly been approved for under 200 houses. We feel it will be helpful to the Minister and the Department if returns are made from time to time, so that what the rural districts are doing may be known, especially as we have been told that this scheme is in the nature of an experiment and that only 40,000 houses are to be built, an average of about 4 per parish for the whole country. It is because of our desire to assist in strengthening the Bill that we have put down this Clause.


I beg to second the Motion.


We are grateful to the hon. Member for his good intentions, but I must ask the House not to accept the Clause. The first provision is that rural district councils shall make a return showing what we have paid them, and that seems unnecessary. The second point is that under the present practice, the information referred to will be forthcoming. The Clause would only make a statutory provision of what is now a common practice, and we see no reason for adopting it. Anybody who has administered a Department will see that a provision of this kind is unnecessary.


The reply of the hon. Lady strikes me as being one of the most inadequate I have ever heard, even from this Government. The hon. Lady has expressed her gratitude to the Opposition for the solicitude they show on the Government's behalf and I am bound to say it is a tribute to which we are entitled, because this Government is not so full of good deeds that it ought to complain of anybody who will encourage it not to hide its light under a bushel. We invite the Government to use a little publicity. We invite it to require rural district councils to put into the form of a public return a statement of the combined efforts of the Government and the council. If the Government had any confidence in its scheme I should have thought it would welcome the suggestion, because that report, advertising the success of the scheme, would be a feather in the cap of the hon. Lady. Her second reason for resisting the Clause struck me as being one in favour of accepting it. She said that what the Clause proposed was already the practice. In that case what harm can there be in putting it into the Bill? When we have found a good thing let us enshrine it in our legislation. And supposing it were not the practice, do I understand the hon. Lady to say there is anything objectionable in it? On the contrary, I understood her to say it is such an excellent practice that it will be followed in the future. Therefore, the only difference between the hon. Lady and ourselves is that we want "probably" turned into "certainly." We want to make it statutory that this practice should be followed in future. I agree that it seems unnecessary at first sight to state the amount of the contribution received, but that is only part of the return, and it is desirable that not only the Minister but the public should know this. Imagine the excitement in a rural district when the local paper published a report showing that the Government had produced one house in a rural district, and had actually taken an interest in agriculture. In the interests not only of the rural district council but of the countryside and of the Government they should accept this proposal. It is desirable that the proceedings of these local authorities should be advertised as widely as possible.


This is a private report to the Minister.


I cannot imagine a private report to the Minister not being made the subject of publicity if the Minister is proud of it. I have no doubt that the Minister will get over that little difficulty and will not be anxious to regard it as confidential if anyone wants it published. Besides anything which stimulates the interest of the public in the affairs of the rural district council is in the interest of the nation at large. This country has been built up in the tradition of local government. At one time it was the magistrates at quarter sessions, and they did a great deal of admirable work in training the British nation in local government. The rural district councils have inherited those traditions, and we should give them the publicity to which they are entitled when they co-operate with the Government in providing cottages for the people. On reflection, the hon. Lady will see that this excellent practice should be made statutory, and I am surprised that she should have treated it with the levity which she has.


I support this Amendment in the interests of the rural district councils. If there is one matter upon which they feel more sensitive than any other, it is the lack of knowledge of the Ministry of Health of their activities and the lack of direct communication which this Amendment will help to remove. If there had been a provision of this sort in previous Housing Acts under which rural district councils were the housing authorities, and they had been called upon to make annual reports of their progress, there would have been more satisfaction on both sides. The tendency in recent years has been to submerge bodies like rural district councils, which have very important local duties, and any movement tending to do away with that I should support.

I also support the Amendment on the ground mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend. You cannot hope to get this or any other Measure affecting local interests working satisfactorily without an acutely active local public opinion, and nothing can awaken public opinion more effectually than the knowledge on the part of each rural district council that it will be called upon to make an annual report on what it has done under the legis- lation passed by Parliament. It would be a thousand pities to miss such an opportunity of trying to awaken opinion in the localities and in the Ministry. The Parliamentary Secretary said that it would be only a private report to the Minister. I wonder why? This annual report would be brought before the rural district council at its annual meeting; it would be the subject of discussion in the council, and therein would be of great value; it would be published in the local Press, and the council would be proud of it; or, if they were not proud of it, they would try to see that the next report they made was one of which they could be proud. On every ground I think that this is a movement which ought to be encouraged.


I think that if the Parliamentary Secretary considers this matter a little longer she will realise that it is essential to have these reports, unless there is something to be afraid of. Does the hon. Lady believe that houses will not be provided, or that when local authorities have built them they may not be occupied? I do not understand this shyness on the part of the hon. Lady. She is not generally in that state of mind. It is the Lord Advocate who generally refuses to give information. Suppose that in a year's time there were a change of Government, and this was the only Act of the present Government that had been successful. Think of the honour and glory of the Minister in being able to compel the Conservative Government to admit that the Socialist Government had done something good and valuable.

It may be that there is another reason than the hon. Lady's natural shyness. Possibly it is to be found in the last word of the last line but one. There have been very brief promises during this Debate on the matter of rents under this Bill, and it is quite likely that the reason for not wanting a report published year by year as to what is being done by the local authorities is that it

will not only be found that the Bill is not as successful as was promised, but also that it is not possible to live up to the standard of rents which the Minister has said will probably prevail. I can understand the Minister of Health not being too keen on this matter, but there is another side to the question apart from the purely English side, because the Bill deals also with Scotland, and we know that the Scottish authorities have been very active in this respect. One or two counties, like my own, have been active. I want to see some means of comparing the active with the inactive counties, and I should have thought that the Lord Privy Seal, who is now here, would be only too pleased to have this Clause, to enable him to show how much Scotland has done.

I suppose the Government refuse this because, by some chance or other, as the time has gone on they have not that real belief in the Bill that they should have. I believe it can be made operative and for that reason, if for no other, I support the Clause. Let the Government take their courage in both hands and show a little confidence in their own policy. They have every reason to have confidence in it. They are being supported by the Conservative party in the main principles of the Bill and, when that happens, they probably will not go very wrong if they would only do it thoroughly. I would ask them to consider whether they cannot meet the desire of the Opposition. It will not be a very costly matter and it must be to the advantage of the community as a whole that we should know exactly where we stand under the Act when it is in operation. That in itself would give us an additional means of amending it if it was necessary, but I hope it will not be. I should like the Government seriously to consider accepting the Clause, which would be in the interests of the Bill as a whole.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The House divided: Ayes, 38; Noes, 126.

Division No. 436.] AYES. [11.43 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y) Greene, W. P. Crawford
Albery, Irving James Butler, R. A. Gunston, Captain D. W.
Beaumont, M. W. Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry
Bracken, B. Fielden, E. B. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.
Broadbent, Colonel J. Ford, Sir P. J. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Framantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Hurd, Percy A.
Inksip, Sir Thomas Remer, John R. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Latham, H. P. (Scarboro' & Whitby) Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. Womersley, W. J.
Llewellin, Major J. J. Salmon, Major I. Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Merriman, Sir F. Boyd Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Muirhead, A. J. Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Oman, Sir Charles William C. Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East) Captain Margesson and Captain
Owen, H. F. (Hereford) Train, J. Sir George Bowyer.
Penny, Sir George Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Hardie, David (Rutherglen) Paling, Wilfrid
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Hardie, G. D. (Springburn) Palmer, E. T.
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Hastings, Dr. Somerville Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigie M. Hayday, Arthur Phillips, Dr. Marlon
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro') Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick) Picton-Turbervill, Edith
Ammon, Charles George Hirst, W. (Bradlord, South) Potts, John S.
Arnott, John Hoffman, P. C. Ramsay, T. B. Wilson
Aske, Sir Robert Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield) Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)
Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston) John, William (Rhondda, West) Ritson, J.
Batey, Joseph Johnston, Rt. Hon. Thomas Romeril, H. G.
Bennett, Sir E. N. (Cardiff, Central) Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Rosbotham, D. S. T.
Bennett, William (Battersea, South) Kelly, W. T. Rowson, Guy
Brooke, W. Kennedy, Rt. Hon. Thomas Samuel, Ht. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)
Brown, C. W. E. (Notts, Mansfield) Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Samuel, H. Walter (Swansea, West)
Buchanan, G. Lawrence, Susan Sanders, W. S.
Burgess, F. G. Lawrie, Hugh Hartley Sawyer, G. F.
Burgin, Dr. E. L. Leach, W. Sherwood, G. H.
Caine, Hall-, Derwent Lee, Frank (Derby, N. E.) Shillaker, J. F.
Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.) Lees, J. Sinkinson, George
Cluse, W. S. Lewis, T. (Southampton) Sitch, Charles H.
Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock) Lloyd, C. Ellis Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)
Daggar, George Lunn, William Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Dalton, Hugh MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw) Smith, Tom (Pontefract)
Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd) McElwee, A. Smith, W. R. (Norwich)
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) McEntee, V. L. Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)
Dukes, C. Mander, Geoffrey le M. Sorensen, R.
Duncan, Charles Manning, E. L. Stephen, Campbell
Ede, James Chuter Mansfield, W. Sullivan, J.
Edmunds, J. E. Markham, S. F. Thurtle, Ernest
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) Marshall, Fred Viant, S. P.
Edwards, E. (Morpeth) Mathers, George Walker, J.
Egan, W. H. Matters, L. W. Wallace, H. W.
Foot, Isaac Messer, Fred Walters, Rt. Hon. Sir J. Tudor
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) Middleton, G. Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)
Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley) Mills, J. E. Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)
Gill, T. H. Milner, Major J. Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Gillett, George M. Money, Ralph Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Gossling, A. G. Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.) Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Groves, Thomas E. Muggeridge, H. T. Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Murnin, Hugh Wilson, S. (Oldham)
Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Naylor, T. E.
Hall, Capt. W. G. (Portsmouth, C.) Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn) Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley) Mr. William Whiteley and Mr.

Question. "That those words be there inserted in the Bill", put, and agreed to.