§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ Mr. DAVIDSON
I have not be far taken any part in the proceedings on this Bill, but it is a question in which for many years I have taken a very keen interest. I would not have intervened had it not been that I have certain observations which, I think, one ought to make before letting the Bill pass to another place. In the first place, we have had a very detailed examination or the Bill through all its stages, and what has emerged, I think, more than anything else is the fact that it ought never to have been necessary to introduce a Bill of this kind, if only the Government had fulfilled their election pledge to make farming pay.
The Bill itself is practically a hybrid Bill. Its parentage is Liberal, and it has been foisted upon the world by a Socialist Government. It provides, quite inadequately, for the solution of the rural housing problem, which has arisen very largely because of the gradual breaking up of the great estates of the country. Some people seem to think that the shortage of houses and cottages in the rural districts of the country is due to the ineptitude and the parsimony of the landlords. That is nothing but a complete travesty of the truth. It is due to the great depression to which the agricultural industry has been subject ever since the War. It is due to the immense burden of taxation which has fallen upon a particular class in the community, namely, those who happen to be in the occupation of land, and which has made it impossible for them to maintain in their own possession their great estates. It is largely due to the breaking up of the great estates of the country that there is a shortage of cottages, owing to the fact that they have been taken possession of by persons, who are in no way connected with the agricultural industry, for week-end and other social amenities, and also because 974 of the fact that the money available for the building of new cottages, and for the repair of old cottages, has not been in the hands of those who, before the War and for generations, had made it their business to maintain, if not on our modern standards of comfort, at least in decency, the labourers at work on the land.
That being the case, I certainly shall not oppose, nor, I think, will any hon. Member on this side of the House oppose, this Bill, because, though completely inadequate, and, in spite of the fact that it is also reactionary, because it reintroduces a system which we hoped we would gradually rid ourselves, namely, subsidy, nevertheless it is a Measure which is aimed at the purpose which we all have at heart, that is, the decent housing of the rural workers. But it is felt on these benches, and it has been expressed through all stages of the Bill, that it will not have the effect which it is intended to have. We have no guarantee that it will, in fact, house rural workers. One of the great needs, as we all know, is to build cottages in the country where the agricultural labourer will be near his work, and that is where our Bill of 1926 was an admirable Measure, because it was to re-equip cottages which were sited properly in the country, for the agricultural industry is an industry which is not subject to movements from one centre or district to another. We have found when many a scheme has been produced, and which has resulted in the erection of what are known as council cottages in the rural districts, that the cottages have been occupied, not by rural workers, but by workers in other industries, plumbers, carpenters and so forth, who are not engaged in work upon the land because rural workers cannot pay the rent at which the cottages can economically be let.
That is one of the things which we, on this side of the House, feel ought to have been included in the Bill. We ought to have made it clear to the rural district councils and to the committees which are to work this Bill, that they must enable cottages to be let at a rent which an agricultural labourer can pay. What is the good of putting up in a rural area a cottage which cannot be let at a rent of less than 5s. or 4s. 6d? Landlords 975 have come in for a certain amount of criticism, but in the old days it was the landlord who put up cottages for the workers, with no thought in his mind of an economic rent, but solely in order that his labourers might live near their work under decent conditions; and he charged them a peppercorn rent of only 1s. or so. It is because that type of employer is disappearing owing to heavy taxation, that the country is faced with this problem. We on this side of the House disagree with the principle of subsidies, but if you are to have a subsidy, it is only justifiable if it has as its purpose the housing of those people who under any scheme at present existing cannot get houses for which they can afford to pay, in other words, the poorest people in the country, and the poorest are the agricultural workers.
I hope that the Minister, in his instructions to the committee and in the policy which he pursues in relation to this Bill, will make it clear beyond any doubt that if this scheme is used for the housing of better-paid workers, it must be scrapped and something must be substituted which will enable the agricultural labourers to get houses. A great deal has been said in criticism, and a good deal is now said in cynical amusement, with regard to our Act of 1926. I hope that the Minister and the committee which will work this Bill will, when they are treating with rural district councils, make it clear that their policy is to investigate very closely whether those councils have done their duty in regard to cottages already existing within their borders. I admit that there are many agricultural cottages which ought to be pulled down and replaced, but where it is possible, houses should be converted and improved for the existing tenants.
Cottages already in existence are better built and have stood the ages very much better than a great many houses that have been built under council schemes. Of course, they are not up to the standard of modern civilisation, but if they can be brought up to that standard, the first and most economical thing for the committee to do it to satisfy themselves that they have been renovated. [Interruption.] The hon. 976 Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) and I are both Scotsmen, and as such are naturally and morally conservative, and I am certain he will agree that the people on Clydebank would rather live there where they have their roots than in other parts of the country. The same thing applies to the agricultural labourers. They do not like to move out of their villages when they have lived in the same place all their lives. If, therefore, by spending £50 or so you can put into good condition a cottage in which an agricultural labourer has always lived and which is near his work, it is far more economical that putting up a new house which may in the end be inhabited by someone for whom it was never intended under this scheme.
A good many of us on this side of the House have a sort of feeling that this scheme is a rather inadequate makeweight for the shrinkage which will take place in ordinary housing owing to the threat of the Land Tax, which has already led to the cancellation of contracts for houses and which will lead to a great many other cancellations. We all know the figure of shrinkage which created the crisis from which we suffered after the War, and which began with the land taxes of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). The first year's shrinkage was 40,000 houses, and it is an odd tiling that this Bill provides for the erection of 40,000 houses. It will enable the returns, if the 40,000 houses are built, not to show the real effect of the threatened Land Tax but to hide up the situation very satisfactorily from the Government and Liberal point of view. We on this side of the House do not propose to divide against the Bill. We think it is a bad Bill in many ways. We think that Parliament ought to have the right to lay down the conditions under which the subsidy is to be given and the regulations under which the Bill is to work. We think also that we ought to have had in the Bill the maximum rent which should be charged to an agricultural worker, for that would have given a clear indication to the district councils that this is a Bill to benefit the rural workers and no one else in a way which possibly even the regulations of the Minister would not do.
Bad as the Bill is, we think that if it does anything to produce an addi- 977 tional cottage where it is needed for the rural worker, in spite of its extravagance, it spite of the fact that it is spending public money at a moment when we ought to be saving it, it is deserving of a measure of support, and it is not possible for us to oppose it. It is a makeshift. If the Socialist Government had only been able to implement their pledge to make farming pay, there would have been no need for the Bill. I hope that after the General Election, when we occupy those benches and put into operation a strong and constructive agricultural policy, the country will be able in the ordinary normal course of events, as it has done in years past, to put agriculture on to its legs so that there will be no need for any State subsidy and agriculture will be able to find cottages which its workers need.
§ Mr. COCKS
I congratulate the Minister on this Bill, and also the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir J. Tudor Walters) for the assistance which he has given, which I hope will be continued. The consultations ho has had with the Minister have produced a rare and refreshing fruit. This is one of the best Bills that the Government has yet produced [Laughter.] It is a Measure which, in spite of the laughter of hon. Members opposite who are supposed to represent agricultural interests, will give homes for 40,000 agricultural workers and their families, which will give employment to 100,000 workers, which will save the Insurance Fund £5,000,000; incidentally, this is a better way of saving £5,000,000 than the method adopted under the Measure which this week kept us up all night. This is a Measure on which the Minister is to be congratulated. I regard it as one of the first steps of recent years to bringing about the renaissance and regeneration of the countryside. The right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), who is not here this morning, last Friday made great play with the name of the Minister of Health. All I can say is that the peasants of England would rather take shelter under the greenwood tree than in the dank recesses of the trackless wood where lurks the spotted snake with double tongue.
All of us, whether we represent industrial areas or not or whether we come 978 of families who have lived, perhaps, for generations in urban surroundings or not, have a great love and devotion for the countryside, because it is the countryside from which we originally sprang. In the country we feel a plenitude and a satisfaction, a peace and a benediction such as nothing else can give—because we have come home. I am never so contented as when I am wandering among the lanes, the meadows and the wooded hills of Nottinghamshire, but never do I feel so distressed as when I see the conditions under which some of the workers have to live. A Royal Commission reported 25 years ago that there was a shortage of 200,000 cottages in rural England, and, as the Minister of Health showed the other day, very little has been clone since then to improve that state of things. As a result of that shortage, farm workers have to live many miles away from their work, have to walk or cycle for miles to and from their work in all weathers; and as the young people grow up and want to get married they find there is no cottage where they can make a home and are forced into the towns to swell the stream of unemployed.
Many of the cottages which do exist are unfit for human habitation. The country is a healthy place in which to live; the air is fresh and not polluted by the results of industrialism; but in spite of that we know that the health of the children and of the grown up people is very often not what it ought to be. The reports of medical officers of health for the rural districts show an appalling state of things. Consumption, bronchitis, rheumatism and all sorts of ills exist there on account of the conditions under which the workers have to live. I have heard a story of an old woman who said that at night time she could shut the door and she could close the window, but that she could not be sure of keeping out the cat—it came in at some crevice somewhere. Members may also have read "The Awakening of England," in which the author relates how a curate in one village said that when he visited the sick in a certain row of cottages—and they were always sick there—he usually found on rising from his knees at the bedside of one of his sick parishioners that the knees of his trousers were wringing wet, if there had been any rain. Those conditions are 979 shocking, visitors from America and elsewhere who go round our villages and admire the roses about the doors and the honeysuckle under the eaves would not care to live in those cottages during a typical English winter. This Bill will do a great deal to improve the present state of things by giving us 40,000 cottages at rents which the workers will be able to pay. At the same time I would like to say that 4s. 6d. ought to be the maximum rent. I should like to see the rents at 3s. 6d. or 3s. and I think that might be possible if the committee does its duty.
The right hon. Member for West Woolwich talked a good deal about economy. He said "Where is your economy now, spending this £2,000,000?" I say that to spend money on providing houses for the workers of the countryside is the truest national economy. Besides giving health and happiness to 40,000 workers and their families the Bill will help to get rid of that great curse of the country side, the tied-cottage system. It is very distressing for people to be unemployed in the cities, but after they have gone about looking for work and come home tired in the evening at any rate there is a home waiting for them. If they become unemployed in the countryside and happen to live in a tied cottage they are turned out of that cottage, and are on the road and have nowhere else to go. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The hon. Member who has just sat down spoke about families being rooted to the soil, having lived in villages for hundreds of years, and we know that families of the same name have lived in villages from Saxon days, like one of the characters in "Tess of the D'Urbervilles." If these people are turned out of their tied cottages they have nowhere else to go, and often must leave the district and go into the towns, and are lost to the countryside.
There is another result of this tied-cottage system which is especially noticeable in the South of England. I have fought a constituency in the South of England, and I know. It is notorious that many workers in the villages are afraid to show their political opinions by attending political meetings. They are afraid it may get to the ears of their employers, 980 who are often their landlords, and that they will suffer in consequence. I have stood at a crossroads in the country making a speech and it seemed that no one was there to listen. The people were there, but they were not visible. I have looked a few yards down one road and a few yards down another road and have seen groups of people. They were listening, but they were afraid to let it be known that they were listening; they were afraid to be seen at the meeting.
I was told by one old campaigner that if I wanted to get a really good meeting in the countryside I should have to hold it out of doors, when it was dark, and when there was no moon. I did so. The whole place was as dark as a wolf's throat. It was crowded with people. There was an enormous crowd of people. [Laughter.] I do not know what hon. Members are laughing at. I felt very humble about it when I heard that there were farm labourers there who had walked four or five miles across the downs in order to attend that meeting. My point is not that the farm workers should be allowed to ex/press Labour views, but that they should be allowed to express any views they may hold, and it is a shame that they are afraid to do it under present conditions. If we abolish the tied-cottage system, as this Bill will help to do, the farm worker will be able to express his own views, he will be able to look his neighbours in the face, because, like the blacksmith in Longfellow's poem:He owes not any man.I believe this Bill will prove to be the first clause of a new charter of health, of hope and of happiness for the countryside of England.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) has told us that in some parts of the country farm workers, because they lived in houses owned by their employers, were afraid of expressing their political opinions. I am afraid that the hon. Member has had a rather unfortunate experience and that has not been my experience. If the hon. Member for Broxtowe will come with me to certain mining areas of this country and try to address a Conservative meeting even in constituencies which now return Conservative Members—
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I thought it only right, Mr. Speaker, that both sides of this question should be stated. The hon. Member for Broxtowe is ruggedly honest when he expresses his views in this House, and he has told us that in his opinion this is the best Bill which the Government have introduced. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, I will say that he stated that it was one of the best, and on this side of the House we are going to examine it from that point of view. The hon. Member for Broxtowe spoke of rare and refreshing fruit. I think it will be wise to examine this Bill very closely in view of what has been said in the past. On the 18th of February this year the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fenryn and Falmouth (Sir J. Tudor Walters) said that this question of rural housing was not merely one affecting rural workers, but it was a great scheme for relieving unemployment, and therefore we must consider this Measure from that point of view. In addition to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth, other people have held the same view, and have stated that a scheme such as this would be of great assistance in reducing unemployment. I have in my hand a newspaper issued on behalf of the Holland-with-Boston Labour party, and the writer gives details of the splendid proposals which have been brought forward by the Government for relieving unemployment. The writer says, in regard to these proposals, that the first one is a proposal for a great rural housing undertaking. It is No. 1 on the Government's programme for relieving unemployment. The next is in connection with the extraction of oil from coal, main line railway electrification, and methods by which Russian trade can be extended. The next proposal is to encourage tourists to come to Great Britain. This writer finishes up by stating that another proposal is the utilisation of waste land for afforestation.
That is the programme, and I will examine for a moment how it applies to the particular scheme which we are discussing. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth is always listened to with great respect in this House. The right hon. Gentleman knows that we have had three successive holders of the office of Lord Privy Seal during the existence of the present Government, and they have been specially 982 charged with the task of finding work for the unemployed. Those Ministers have examined this scheme for rural housing and schemes for housing generally on their merits as schemes for relieving unemployment. We know that the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Thomas) examined the scheme we are now considering and evidently did not think much of it, because he did nothing at all to put it into operation and turned it down. The late Mr. Vernon Hartshorn took a great interest in this question. I should like to pay him that tribute. I remember that he intervened in a debate and wanted to know when hon. Members talked about the large amount of employment that would be given by such schemes as these how small the total really was. Speaking on the 18th February, 1931, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth said:I am going to suggest a scheme of housing by which the Government may employ directly 250,000 men, and indirectly another 250,000 men.The late Mr. Hartshorn intervened, and asked:For how long a period?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1931; cols. 1293–94, Vol. 248.]That was a reasonable question. I have every reason to believe that the late Lord Privy Seal did pay attention to the suggestions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth, and he also submitted a report to the Cabinet dealing with all the schemes that had been brought forward for the relief of unemployment, including the scheme under discussion. What has happened? We have heard nothing further of that report, and apparently the late Mr. Hartshorn did not think much about this scheme.
§ Sir J. TUDOR WALTERS
The late Mr. Hartshorn was the first to meet me in conference with respect to the proposals which I made, and he expressed warm approval of the proposal that 100,000 houses should be built. Unfortunately, before the next Conference, Mr. Hartshorn passed away. It was on his suggestion that the Conference adjourned, so that precise detailed figures might be examined to test the soundness or otherwise of my proposals; but he expressed the opinion that a scheme of 983 this kind should be carried out. It is only fair to his memory to point out that the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), quite unintentionally, is inaccurate in suggesting that the late Mr. Hartshorn was not interested in this scheme, and was not prepared to support it.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
My information was that he did not include it in his report. I know that the late Mr. Vernon Hartshorn took a deep interest in this question, but unfortunately he has passed away; or, otherwise, we should have heard more about the scheme. The present holder of the office of Lord Privy Seal must have examined this scheme, because it would be passed on to him. I know that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth is not satisfied with a measure that provides only 40,000 houses, because he talked about the necessity of providing 100,000. Therefore, it is quite clear that the Government are not whole-heartedly in support of this scheme, or we should have had a much larger provision of houses than that which is provided for in this Bill.
I agree with what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Davidson), that we should be doing a wrong thing by opposing this Bill, miserable as it is in regard to the number of houses provided. Therefore, we are not going to stand in the way of placing it on the Statute Book, because no one disputes the cottages are wanted in the country areas. We have to have the committee set up which is provided for in this Bill, although we do not yet know what its composition is going to be. We do not know even the chairman's name. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us who the chairman is going to be. I hope it will be someone who has had experience in providing houses in rural areas.
Now I come to the question as to what has been done by private owners during the last few years. We have the Minister's own statement to the House that since the War 410,000 houses have been erected in rural areas, and that of these 84,000 have been built by local authorities under various Acts—and he said, quite rightly, that the local authorities had not done as much as he 984 would have liked. That means that 326,000 houses were provided in rural areas by private enterprise since the War, and, considering the condition of agriculture in the past few years, it cannot be said that landowners and farmers have not done their duty as far as they were able. In Lincolnshire we have some splendid houses in the rural areas, provided by landowners—some of them very large landowners—at a time before the present high taxation, when farming was really being made to pay, and they were able to receive rents from their land. These houses on the countryside have been provided by these beneficient landowners—[Interruption.]—that is quite a correct description, because never on any occasion has the rent charged been an economic rent, and, therefore, we must not belittle these efforts.
I hope that this Bill, with its subsidies, will be more effective than other Measures which have provided subsidies for housing, and will not have a bad effect on the cost of building. We were told that the Addison scheme was going to do wonderful things. I was a member of a housing committee when the present Minister of Agriculture came down and addressed a large meeting, and gave details of how the scheme was going to work out. I am sorry to say that it did not work out as he said it would. There was a great increase in costs, and local authorities had to bear a burden which, although it only represented a small poundage, is still there, and will have to be borne by ratepayers who have not yet grown up to manhood, because it extends over many years. We do not want to put any further burdens of that kind on the backs of prosperity. Why was that scheme a failure? In my opinion it was because right and proper conditions were not laid down in the Act, and that is why I have been so keen in these debates to see to it that the present Minister put into the Bill exactly what he wanted done, so that the instructions would go forward to the local authorities and there could be no deviation from them.
As to the question who should occupy these houses, it is true that the Bill says that they are to be for agricultural workers or persons in a like economic position. That leaves the door very wide open. Under the Addison Act we said we were going to let the poorest people 985 have the houses—the man with the largest family, the man in the most need; but in the long run the position became this, that the first thing an applicant was asked was what was his occupation, and if he said he was a casual labourer he could not have a house, while if he were a railwayman or a local government servant with a regular job and a regular wage he could have one, and houses which were intended for the poorest working people were afterwards occupied by people who could afford to take a house elsewhere.
As regards the financial conditions, I think we ought to have more information from the Minister. He laid down, in the formula that he stated in the Debate on the 7th July, that for an authority to be eligible the estimated product of its 1d. rate should not exceed 5d. per head of the population, and, secondly, the poundage of the general rate levied for the year 1930 must exceed 10s. Already there has had to be a climb down as regards the 10s. It has been discovered that, as far as Scotland is concerned, it will have to be 8s., or no one will come in at all.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Alfred Greenwood)
That represents exactly the same figure, comparatively.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
The right hon. Gentleman did not tell us that on the 7th July: it has been discovered since.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
Anyhow, the right hon. Gentleman will find that this figure of 10s. will not work in England if he is going to provide cottages in the districts and for the people that are most in need of them. He said on the 7th July that these seemed to be reasonable conditions which would establish a level of real poverty. I hope that he will reconsider that part of his speech. It is not laid down in the Bill, so that it cannot be said to be guaranteed by Statute, even if the Bill passes. Then we are told that the committee is to be guided by any general directions which may be given to them by the Minister with the approval of the Treasury. Will this mean that the Minister will give directions as regards rents? We made an attempt to include in the Measure a 986 definite instruction that rents above 3s. a week should not be charged, but we were voted down by hon. Members opposite.
We also tried to get in a condition that the rents should not be more than 10 per cent. of the standard wage for agricultural labourers, realising that that is the figure of 3s. per week which is always taken into account in dealing with agricultural labourers' wages. Again, however, hon. Members opposite voted us down. It is quite evident that they are not in deadly earnest about guaranteeing a cheap cottage for the agricultural labourer, because otherwise they would have been prepared to include in the Bill a definite instruction to the committee that a rent in excess of 3s. should not be charged. This is a big controversy. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth, in his speech, talked about 2s. a week, with additions for repairs and so on, making an absolute maximum of 3s. The Minister talked about 4s. 6d. inclusive of rates, but he was not prepared to make even that an absolute maximum; he said that it must be left to the discretion of the committee to decide. I suggest that it is quite wrong to leave out of the Bill some instruction to the committee as regards rent.
There is one matter for which I desire to thank the right hon. Gentleman. We made a special effort to include in the Bill a provision that Parliament should have some control over the cost of the houses, the rents charged, and other matters that will be handed over to the committee, and, after a big struggle, the Minister agreed that such a condition should be put into the Bill. It has made the Bill a much better one. I am sorry to say that we were not able to get him also to agree to lay down a condition that British materials only should be used as far as practicable in the construction of these cottages. If this is to be a scheme to assist employment, surely such a condition is necessary. How are you going to help British unemployed people if money is to be spent on Russian doors, Belgian tiles and bricks, and so on? When we were discussing this matter, an hon. Member representing a Welsh constituency made a plea that Welsh slates should be used for the roofing of these cottages, and 987 talked about tiles imported from abroad which were causing unemployment in his district. That was from a real, staunch free importer.
How hon. Members on those benches, when it comes to their own constituencies and the industries there, are all out for protective measures such as those suggested by hon. Members on this side, or in any other way! I have heard Liberal Members for agricultural constituencies holding forth that protection should be given in the case of certain commodities grown in their districts, but, when it comes to helping other people, that is a different story. The London County Council have shown in their housing schemes that they can build houses cheaply when British materials are used as far as practicable. They have carried out that principle, and have provided an enormous amount of work for British workmen by so doing. I should like to see the Government have the courage to follow the excellent example set by the London County Council, and do the same.
I also hope the Minister will see to it that there are no restrictions as regards service supplies to these cottages and no such thing as laying it down that the housewife can only have electricity. If gas is available, and she wants it, she ought to be allowed to have it. We have had case after case where, under housing schemes, local authorities have laid it down that the occupants should only use one method. The tenants have resented it. They regard it as a system of tied houses, and it is nothing else. Workmen in the gas industry have expressed through their representatives in this House, that they do not agree with any system of tying the tenant down to any particular form of service. I hope the Minister will have a consultation with the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) on this. He knows all about the question and feels very strongly about it. I had a conversation with him only the other night.
One thing in the Bill that I do not like is this compulsory power to build by the Ministry in connection with some other Government Department. We know what that is. It is a little sop for their followers on the benches behind. The Bill itself is a concession to Liberal 988 opinion and this is a sop to Members behind, to make it palatable to them. It is not going to work very well. It will show that many of the theories that they preach are all wrong when put into practice, and that, if you want cheap houses, you will not get them from Whitehall.
I trust that, when we have finished with the Bill, the Minister will settle down to departmental work and will not bring any more Bills forward. There is a glut of legislation. The people in the country are sick of it and are saying, "For goodness sake close the House of Commons for five years and get on with the work." The Housing Act of last year has not functioned yet at all. We have not had any houses built. Schemes have been put forward, but that is as far as we have got. The reason is that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have been too busy with Bills in the House, instead of getting on with departmental work and putting some push into the matter. If we had a legislative holiday we could get on with business much better.
There is no doubt that the Bill has been well discussed. Various points of view have been fully ventilated and Amendments have been accepted, which proves that it has been well worth while to examine its provisions thoroughly. I congratulate many of my colleagues on the fact that they have devoted much time and thought to considering its provisions and have made an honest attempt to improve it. I hope the local authorities will work the Bill in conjunction, of course, with the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926. If they neglect to work it in conjunction with that Act, this is not going to be very much good. Something like 10,000 parishes will apply, and that only works out at about four houses to the parish. That is not going to be much good unless something else is done. There are many houses in rural areas which could be put into first class condition at a small expenditure, assisted by the Act of 1926, and, because local authorities have been indifferent, there has not been enough push from the Ministry as regards the matter and we have not had the houses reconditioned. The Bill is a poor attempt to placate the Liberal party but is a little step forward 989 though not, I hope, the best Bill that this Government is going to introduce. If it is, God help the Government.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
I should like to thank the hon. Member for his somewhat tardy recognition of the fact that the Liberal party has taken the lead in many of these social reforms. At any rate, he has shown that there is a coalition of all parties in the House to assist the agricultural labourer to get better houses. The main part of his speech was devoted to demonstrating the old thesis that Codlin is the friend and not Short. Codlin has failed very badly and we are going to give Short a trial of this most urgent problem, because that there is urgency there can be no doubt whatever and, naturally, the Liberal party will be found in support of the Measure if there is a Division. A very great deal has been done with regard to housing in general by the Acts of the preceding Government and also under this Government. No one can go about the country without realising that a very large number of houses have been and are being built under the Act passed by this Government, the late Government and the one preceding it. The real case for the Bill is this. Notwithstanding what might have been done with regard to, other classes of the community, the agricultural labourer has so far had little or nothing done for him, and where the need is greatest there the least has been done. This Bill is an endeavour—I hope it will be a successful one—to mitigate, if there is no hope of entirely curing, that evil.
I should like to deal with the interesting proposal of associating an outside committee with the administration of the Bill, most interesting development which the House is witnessing not only in this Bill but in others. In all probability we are seeing the first steps of the development of a system which I hope will be successful. At any rate, something must be done so to organise national efforts for the remedying of national evils that we shall be able to bring into the machinery for dealing with these evils some force other than this House and the departments of the Civil Service concerned. Undoubtedly, with the best will in the world, houses built solely by public authorities, and controlled by this 990 House and the Civil Service, have not been cheap, have been far fewer in quantity, and to a large extent have failed to meet the national demand. The House of Commons, in the subconscious but practical way in which so many of its difficulties are mainly solved, has hit upon what may be a practical working solution of some part of the evil by linking up outside committees composed of practical men and women who, not as a vocation associated with financial pay but by way of devoting themselves with such time as they can spare to the public services, so that they can ally themselves to this House and to the Civil Service in order to allay some of our most important and devastating social evils. Therefore, I welcome this breakaway from precedent. Whoever the chairman may be—and I hope that he may be a gentleman who will be able to give the necessary time—I trust he will possess practical knowledge, and that the committee, with the good will of this House and of the Civil Service behind it, will be an effective driving force for handling for the first time a problem of this kind on sound financial and practical lines.
We know the difficulties of the county council who are over-burdened with work. Each succeeding Session piles more upon them. I found myself in considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) when he said that he thought it would not be a national disaster if this House closed down rather longer than is anticipated and thereby cut down the output of legislation. I think that instead of suffering from a lack of legislation we are suffering from too much of it. I speak after some thought upon the matter. [An HON. MEMBER: "You are becoming a Conservative."] I am as I always shall remain, I hope, a sound Radical prepared to face the facts of the situation. Undoubtedly, there is an immense number of Acts being piled upon the Statute Book which are incapable, as the Civil Service now stands, of adequate administration, but hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree with me that this Bill will not be one of them. It is a, genuine attempt to deal in a new way with an old problem. I have every hope? that with the good will of the House behind it—it is evident that the good will 991 of the House is behind it no matter what the criticisms may be from one side or the other—it will, in the interests of a class of the community which, above all others, deserves not only practical sympathy but the help of the country as a whole, do a great deal to mitigate the evils of that problem.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), in reply to the hon. Member for Broxstowe (Mr. Cocks), said that he and his colleagues could not get meetings in the mining areas and that—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I suggested to the hon. Member who dealt with that subject that he had better not pursue it, and the hon. Member should not pursue it either. It is not in the Bill.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I am bound to bow to your Ruling. It was really the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Davidson) that has brought me into this debate. He struck a chord deep down in my nature when he said that, like me, he was a Scotsman and therefore a Conservative, because in all my experience—and I have met men and women of many races—I believe that we are the most Conservative race on earth. With your kind permission, Sir, I will try and explain how that comes in, because this is really a housing question. The right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead went on to speak about rural houses, the homes of the cotters, and as our national poet Burns described it in his "Cotter's Saturday Night." He described those homes and played upon it as only a Scotsman, and particularly a Tory, can, In the rural and agricultural districts of Britain there is Conservatism deep down. The Tory party wish to keep their grip there.
What are the conditions in those houses? My interjection, when he brought me into the field, was that they were dens of consumption. Let him go through his native land where Socialist propaganda 992 has not been able to pierce yet and where we have not been able to convert the local councils to the advisability of the better housing of the people. What will he find in the lonely glens and straths of Scotland to-day? Hovels, and you have to go to the kraals of South Africa to find their equal. Those black houses were not built by the Labour party. They were built by the landlords—the men whom the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead stood up and defended to-day and to whom he paid a great tribute, the men who chased the finest breed of men and women out of the Highlands of Scotland and drove them to the uttermost parts of the world, the landlords of Scotland. Nobody knows better than the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead what happened through the Highland clearances. It was not the Socialists who broke up the family life of the Highlanders of Scotland. It was the landlords. He mentioned the Irish. It was the same in Ireland. It was the same the world over. Nevertheless, I have always maintained that it is the home life of the common people of our country that is the backbone of the great British Empire. Those who have been responsible for the Government of this country, those who made our songs understood that well. Lady Nairne knew it well when she penned the lines:Oh! the auld hoose! the auld hoose!What though the rooms were wee,For kind heart's were dwelling thereAnd bairnnies fou o' glee.Lady Nairne penned that verse to a generation different from the generation of to-day. Not that the landlords of that day were any more kindly, because she was writing after 1745, the Jacobite Rebellion. They were not any kindlier disposed than are the landlords of to-day. It is because of that love of homeland, that love of home ties that it is essential for any Government to look at this housing problem in its proper setting. I believe that we have men in the Government who understand that position—and to see that the common people, the poorest people, are well housed.
I hope you will permit me one word, Mr. Speaker, because I think I ought to be allowed it, in answer to the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), who put a slight on the Minister of Agriculture of to-day in respect of what he did when he was the Minister of 993 Health in the Coalition Government. He said that the Minister of Health of that day had handed on to unborn generations a heavy debt, handed on to generations unborn, high ideals, ideals that are causing trouble to-day. He raised the ideal of the standard of housing, the like of which had never been before. It was the present Minister of Agriculture who devised the idea of no more single apartment houses in Scotland, no more one-roomed houses. In 1919 he committed the most grave crime that could be committed so far as the ruling classes of this country are concerned, when he put on the Statute Book an Act which provided that nothing less than a three-apartment house was to be allowed to be built. The powers behind the throne could not tolerate such a man.
The three-apartment house meant a three-apartment standard of life for the natives of my land as against the single-apartment standard of life. It meant a three-apartment standard of education. It must be remembered that our standard of education had always been higher than that of England. We had been able, our race, the common people of my race, had been able to take their place among the races of the earth although they had been reared under conditions of the single-apartment standard. What would it have meant, had we been able to get the money, if that same race had been reared on the three-apartment standard? The powers that be could not afford to give the working classes of my country the three-apartment standard of life and at the same time pay £1,000,000 a day in interest on War debt, and as they could not have those two things together, the present Minister of Agriculture was shifted from his job. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who was then the Prime Minister, had all the power and wealth of this country brought to bear on him and he was told that, he had to sack the Minister of Health of that day, now the Minister of Agriculture, because he was a dangerous man.
To-day, the same power, the Tories, is being exercised to try and keep down the standard of life of the rural worker. I agree readily, and I have said it before in this House, that the ruling classes of England, including the employers of labour, are more generous to their people than the ruling classes and employers of 994 labour in my country. I admit readily that the Lords of the land in England, many of them, take a delight in acting generously, in being the big man of the village, and if the lady, kind and gentle, and the daughters dispensing—
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I am very sorry that you have found cause to intervene, Mr. Speaker, because this is something which I honestly believe. I leave the future to judge betwixt you and me. Everything that I have said has to do with the housing of the people and with rural housing.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I am saying that the housing of the agricultural labourer or, as we call him in Scotland, the country serf, is a very serious business. Up to now the housing of those folk has been in the hands of the men who are represented on the Opposition benches to-day. Their forefathers built the houses which it is suggested should be altered; houses not fit for cattle to live in. The Tory party is a party of fear. They fear that the present Government will be able to demonstrate to Britain that they are going to house people in a manner which the present generation never believed was possible. I will try to keep within your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I will not mention names or constituencies, but, think of it. It makes my blood boil to hear the Tory party suggest what should be done with houses which have been built by themselves for these rural workers, houses which have neither light nor water, nor any conveniences at all. They come forward to-day and suggest to this Government, which is going to house these people in better conditions, people who have never had any amenities at all except natural amenities which would have been taken away if it had been possible—come forward and suggest what shall be done with these houses. They come forward and say: "See to it Minister of Health that none of these houses have electricity or gas." What hyprocrisy, Mr. Speaker, to talk in that fashion to folk who have never had gas or electricity and who, when they go into the big house as servants and are told to 995 put the gas out blow it out. Then, when the mistress rings for the servant in the morning and she does not answer, it is discovered that she is dead.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I have got that across, anyway. Hon. Members opposite may laugh at me, but it is God's truth I am telling you. The Housing Act of 1930 gave the Minister powers of default, that is power to take steps where local authorities neglect or refuse to build houses—he can step in and build them. That is a power that is in the Bill. Why has he to take that power? It is because of the landlord power all over the country. What has the Lord Privy Seal had to do in Scotland? He has had to go round the country and threaten local authorities with the power of his great office and to tell them that the housing conditions in their district are a disgrace. I am not saying this, it is a Minister of the Crown. This Bill gives us £2,000,000. It will be divided between Scotland, England and Wales. Scotland will get 11/90ths and England and Wales with take 89/90th, and there will be a separate Advisory Committee for Scotland.
As far as it goes, I welcome this Bill very much with its 40,000 houses, but, after we have done that, it is infinitesimal to the contribution that ought to be made to this great problem. I have to admit the contention put forward by the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead that the workers in these rural areas will not be able to pay the rent, but this Government is not responsible for that position. The right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead will not say that these houses that are to be built are too elaborate, that they are too good. He will agree with me that these country folk ought to have the best possible conditions of life, because once the peasantry of our countryside is destroyed it can never be replaced. This Government is making some attempt to retain the people in the countryside, but it is not these 40,000 houses that is going to make any effect on the great question behind it all, and that is the question of poverty. This Government is not responsible for that. You, hon. Members opposite, and your fore- 996 fathers are responsible. The Tory party—
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I will finish. I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, to have transgressed your Ruling so often to-day. I have not in recent months disturbed the House very much. It will depend on circumstances whether I disturb it in the future. That is not a threat, I believe in acting. The nation requires houses for health and decency and self respect. The way to tackle this problem is nationally. As we tackle defence so we must tackle our existence. The Socialist way is the only way.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WINDSOR-CLIVE
Undoubtedly the Bill is to be welcomed as the first attempts this Government has made in the interests of agriculture. I cannot accept the very rosy estimate made as to some of its effects. I think it will do something to help the agricultural labourer, though I do not believe it will have any effect whatever in making farming pay. Reference has been made to tied cottages. The tied cottage system is a thing that cannot be abolished, in the interests either of the farmer or of the labourer who works on a farm, but of course it has certain drawbacks, and I believe that the Bill will do something to remedy those drawbacks by providing a larger number of houses in the country districts generally. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) said that agricultural labourers did not go to political meetings because they were afraid to reveal their political opinions. Really, that is not the case. Let me suggest another reason why agricultural labourers do not attend political meetings.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WINDSOR-CLIVE
I thought I might reply to the hon. Member for Broxtowe, but if I am out of Order I shall, of course, not pursue the subject further. During the Debate reference has been made to the necessity of making houses harmonise with their surroundings by the use of materials suited to each locality. That is a very 997 important point. I have noticed that hon. Members of all parties have been urging the claims of the materials produced in their own constituencies, and very naturally. I certainly agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), that at any rate the materials used should be British materials. Of course, if we are to have a large number of new houses built we shall probably want some more roads. I would remind the Minister, therefore, that the best road stone in the country comes from the quarries on the Clee Hill. There is the question of water supply, which is often a most difficult one in the agricultural districts, particularly in hilly country like that which I have the honour to represent, where there are so many houses not assembled in villages but scattered all over the hillside. The question of a water supply is a very serious one, and I know very many cases of houses where every drop of water used has to be carried 200 or 300 yards, sometimes uphill, and it is a very great burden and hardship. I know that it is extremely difficult to solve the problem, but I hope that all possible attention will be paid to it.
Then there is the question of the advisory committee to be appointed under the Bill. The right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir D. Maclean) made some very interesting remarks on the general subject of these committees, and there was a good deal in what he said. Gradually powers should be delegated to these committees, apart from this House. That would relieve the House of some of the congestion from which it now suffers. I wonder whether the Minister will be able to do what I understood he said he would do during the Second Reading Debate, and that is to tell us the composition of the committees before the Debate closes. In view of what took place last night, perhaps he will tell us who will be specially charged with representation of the interests of Wales, and whether that individual will be able to talk Welsh?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I cannot complain of the tone of discussion this morning, though an attempt has been made by hon. Members opposite to minimise the importance of the Bill. That is not unnatural. We should have expected hon. Members opposite to water down the 998 generous terms which the Bill guarantees. Let us first refer to the question of the advisory committee. I am very sorry that last night, when I was not here, this question was raised again, as I thought I had appeared in sackcloth and ashes and expressed my sorrow for having misled the House. I should have thought it would have been sufficient co have left the matter there, but it was discussed last night. On the Second Reading of the Bill I unfortunately made a statement which I did not mean to carry into effect and have not carried into effect. It was an inadvertence on my part, for which I am sorry. I am not the only person who has stood at this Box and made a mistake, nor shall I be the last.
I feel that as a result of the expression of opinion of Members of the House, the committee will have to be a little larger than I had originally intended. That has made it impossible for me this morning to be able to announce the full personnel of the committee, though I hope to do that as soon as the committee is constituted. When we know who will be the members of it a statement will be made in the House. The Chairman has been appointed. He has appeared at the psychological moment. I think I may say that if we had put to a vote of this House the question as to who should preside over this committee, there would have been a unanimous vote in favour of the right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir J. Tudor Walters). I believe that he fulfils all the qualifications for which the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) asked the other day, in so far as any person less than perfect could possess all those qualities. I am thankful to the right hon. Member for Penryn for acceding to my request, and I am sure that the House will agree in heartily thanking him for having met our suggestion.
The two main criticisms raised again to-day in the course of the Debate relate to the directions and conditions. They have now been dealt with in a way different from what I intended. The principal point at issue is that hon. Members opposite wish to have these conditions and directions specifically stated in the Bill, whilst I wished to act in the light of experience. We have arrived at what is a compromise, which 999 will enable us to deal with the matter by Order, to be laid on the Table of the House. That ought to meet the desires of hon. Members opposite. The question of a specific rent has been raised again. I do not want to go into that question now, because the Lord Privy Seal last night dealt fully with it and explained the need for a certain measure of elasticity. I gather from the views expressed by hon. Members opposite that this is a bad Bill and is also a fiddling Bill. It is a Bill on which the party opposite had not the courage to divide on Second Reading, and it is one on which they will not divide on Third Reading. If it be so bad as they allege, I should have thought it would have been their moral duty to have carried the war into the Division Lobby.
I can only conclude that, at bottom, they know that this is not a bad Bill as it was described by one right hon. Gentleman, nor is it a fiddling Bill as it was described by another hon. Member. The 1926 Act, to which so many references have been made, has in five years resulted in the reconditioning of between 3,000 and 4,000 houses in England and Wales. Here is a Measure which in a far shorter time is going to produce at least twelve times or fifteen times as many houses. If this Bill is to be regarded as a fiddling Measure, then what about the much vaunted Housing (Rural Workers) Act, the one ewe lamb produced by the Tory party and trotted out on every possible occasion for our view, as a far nobler beast than it really is. To produce a very large number of new houses is an entirely different thing from reconditioning not merely as to scale, but also in the quality of its effect. Believe me, whatever may be done in the way of rural reconditioning does not completely meet the problem of to-day in the rural areas. Therefor we have to make this provision for new buildings. I think that hon. Members opposite know that the need exists for cottages at low rents. Their Amendments were directed towards rents lower than the maximum which I suggested in my speech, but they did not feel so strongly about that matter as to throw their forces into the Division Lobby.
§ Captain GUNSTON
We know that the right hon. Gentleman could not be here last night but he will find that we did press an Amendment on that matter to a Division and that his party voted against low rents.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I am not dealing with that at the moment but with the point made by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) when he said that the Government were not in earnest in this matter of low rents. My reply is that considering the very large number of people in the Conservative party it is remarkable that they could only produce less than 30 to go into the Lobby on this question. If the motives of the Government and their earnestness are being challenged, I am entitled to point out that the earnestness of hon. Members opposite on the subject does not appear to be of a very high order and I follow that by saying that in the past they had unlimited opportunities for dealing with this problem—opportunities which were denied to us until the last two years.
I have never in this House pitched too high my hopes for any proposal which I have brought before it. I have always thought it better to err on the side of modesty but I am bound to say, as the Bill leaves the House, that of the many Measures with which I have had to deal during the past two years, none has given me greater pleasure and I am glad now to be passing it on to another place. The picturesque appearance of our rural cottages hide unhealthy and unwholesame interiors in only too many cases. These houses are ofter over-crowded and it is also true that in the country villages young couples are unable to get married because of the lack of housing accommodation or can only get married if they drift from the country to the town. The building of houses under the Bill in those poor areas, where otherwise they would not be built, will do something to deal with the problem of the over-crowded houses in the rural areas and with the drift of young people to the urban centres.
Incidentally, it will deal with another problem. It has been suggested that farm workers always live next door to the farm on which they work but that is not true. In many cases rural workers have to walk, or cycle or travel by motor 1001 omnibus considerable distances to their work and those who live next their work are, for the most part, living in tied cottages. The houses that will be produced under this Bill will, I hope, obviate the necessity for long distance travelling between the worker's home and the farm, and the Bill will provide cottages, every one of which will be untied cottages and as regards which there will be no restriction by the farmer on occupation.
The Bill, in providing homes nearer to their work for these farm workers and in dealing with the heavy congestion which exists in some areas, is making a substantial contribution to the solution of the problems of the countryside. The effects of this Measure will not cease when the houses have been completed. In so far as, in agricultural parishes, you relieve the rural district councils, you give them resources to develop their housing proposals in other areas which are outside the definition of "agricultural parishes." You also teach the countryside a new tradition and new standards of housing, and therefore, the effects of this Measure will last long after the Measure itself has really ceased to operate. All I need say in conclusion is that the Bill leaves this House and goes to another place with the benediction of the overwhelming proportion of the Members of this House. Whatever shortcomings hon. Members opposite think the Bill still contains I think we can now send it to another place registering our view that it should be fully implemented when it is on the Statute Book, and that all of us to whatever political parties we belong, will do our best to make it a success.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I am not one who should be included in the category coming under the condemnation of the Minister, because I think that this is quite a good Bill, as far as it goes, though it is a very little one. There is no doubt that the rural housing problem has become very bad, especially within 50 miles of London. In that area the picturesque cottages of which the Minister has spoken, are all being bought up by middle-class Londoners with motor cars, at handsome prices which the owners cannot resist, and the result it that the agricultural labourer is simply being dehoused. We must put 1002 something in the place of these cottages. The people who buy these cottages are able to put them in proper condition and as to the new cottages which are to be put up under this Measure, I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman whose services the country has been so fortunate as to secure as chairman of this committee will see that they are good cottages and that they are put up with economy. The only thing about which I am disappointed is that the Government did not adopt the right hon. Gentleman's whole scheme, because he announced to the House that he could build something like 100,000 houses and that, with the relief in unemployment benefit, the cost would be very little indeed, making it possible to let them at very low rents.
I have one suggestion to make to the right hon. Gentleman as regards the rents of these houses. There is only one way in which to make these house rents cheaper. That is by giving the agricultural labourer sufficient ground in which to grow his own food, to keep his pig and his hens, and the farmer should assist him and feed his animals and poultry for him, so that his money wages will not matter so much, but he will have an actual profit out of his holding. That used to be the practice in Perthshire long ago. The workers on the farms were really smallholders living round about, and they did the farmer's work and their own work, borrowing the farmer's horses and so on. They bought very little in shops, and therefore they did not have to pay the shopkeepers' and, middlemen's charges. They got their food direct from the soil, and the result was that the money wage was not the most important matter. What mattered was what they could win from their own bit of land. If it is possible for them to make a profit out of their land, the rent will not seem so high, but if you are merely going to build cottages with a larger number of rooms, which means a larger rent for the agricultural workers, you are loading them with a burden. What you must do is to give them the necessary bit of land extra, so that they can make their own wages out of it.
Then I hope it will be possible to manage to give them a decent water supply in the way that I have seen it done in the Colonies, where every house 1003 has facilities for catching the rain water—very large corrugated iron tank bigger than the house. A great deal might be done in the way of preserving the pure water supply from heaven if these cottages which are to be built were equipped with tanks; that would be a very great help. I wish the Government had given the chairman power to carry out his whole scheme, but as far as it goes I regard this as a beneficial scheme, because the housing question is the essence of the depopulation of our country districts. If the young people can get houses, they will stay on the land, but if not, they will continue to be driven into the towns.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.